Dark bags layered beneath Daniel’s eyes, his hair was a mess and his clothes were wrinkled, and naturally when he stepped into the dining room that morning our mother turned to give me and gave me a blatantly disappointed look that brought a sigh from me as I rose to my feet, walking towards my brother, and putting an arm around his shoulders to lead him from the room.
For a sudden moment, I expected him to push me away, but he instead leaned against my side and into my embrace, and I tightened my hold on him. I suppose I should have felt some sort of emptiness at the fact he was only searching for comfort from me because he was being forced into a marriage he wanted no part of, but I was so pleased that he was finally letting me near him without glaring that I could care less of the reasons.
I found a clean shirt from his wardrobe and sat him down at the foot of his bed before handing the clothes to him with the order to change, then picked the bristled comb from his dresser and worked to clear the tangles from his hair, brushing it back away from his face much like the style our father’s hair was in, as well as mine. It was a practical way to style your hair, so that the bangs wouldn’t hang in your eyes, but Daniel never seemed to care for the neat and well-mannered look.
He moved lethargically as he shed his wrinkled shirt, I acted as if I didn’t notice the red marks on his neck and chest, a direct result of indecent activities. Any other time I would question Daniel, but there was an echo in his eyes that kept me silent, buttoning the front of his shirt when I decided he was taking too long and smoothing the collar before running my hand through his hair to smooth the strands that were stubbornly sticking out.
When I was finished, and he looked somewhat presentable, I pulled a chair in front of him and sat down, “This is a shock for you, I understand, but arranged marriages are common for families of wealth,” his eyes rose to me, tired and tortured, and I swallowed the tightness in my throat before continuing, “It was going to happen someday, better you marry Temperance rather than a woman you’ve never met.”
“You can’t lie to me, Henry,” Daniel said, and I sat straighter.
“I would never lie to you.”
“You love her,” he stated, and I stared at him, unsure of what to say in response, “I can tell, because the way you look at her,” hesitation, his eyes lowered, “You look at Miss Temperance the same way Josiah looks at me.”
I couldn’t fight the scoff, “Then it isn’t love.”
Daniel had never been violent, he just wasn’t that kind of person, so when my cheek began to burn from the slap, I could only sit there and stare off over his shoulder, eyes wide as he hissed at me, “I feel sorry for you, Henry. I know you’re in love with her, but you have no intentions of fighting for her? Instead you want to criticize me and invalidate my love because you’re too scared of our father to validate your own!”
My hand rose instinctively like I was about to slap him back, and instead of flinching he sat straighter as if to challenge me, and my fingers curled against my palm to make a fist before I forced it down and pressed my knuckles against the seat of my chair.
“I am trying to protect you, Daniel,” I said in a frustrated voice, and he looked away with a scowl on his lips, “All I want is what’s best for you! Why can’t you understand?”
“Your version of what’s best for me is brainwashing me into believing the same lies you were tricked into believing,” he snapped, “Why can’t you understand? What do I have to do to prove that what Josiah and I have is pure.”
“Nothing,” I breathed, “He’s dangerous, he’s brainwashed you, he is a slave, we own him, he is property, he has no rights because he is not human!”
“Who are you trying to convince, Henry?” Daniel asked unexpectedly, “Me? Or yourself?”
He stood up and stepped past me, and I ran a hand over my face, back through my hair as I took to my feet and caught him as he reached his door. He didn’t acknowledge that I was standing there and instead pulled the door open, both of us pausing when Temperance was revealed just on in the hall, a hand lifted in the shape of a fist in preparation of knocking.
Her cheeks darkened with rose and she pulled her hand back against her chest as she averted her eyes from mine, “Ah, forgive me, I-.”
“You were looking for your fiancé,” I stated, and instead of getting flustered as I’d expected, she lifted her head in defiance and sent me a furious glare, as if I’d insulted her.
She turned on her heel with a scoff, “Your mother sent me to find the both of you, breakfast has been served, unless you’re already full from your ego.”
“Thank you, Temperance.”
“You’re welcome, Daniel.”
We both watched her leave before Daniel turned to me, “You see? She is as thrilled about this arrangement as I am. Do you know why?” I opened and closed my mouth without answering, so he just continued, “Because she loves you,” he turned and started to walk down the hall towards the stairs, “God bless her patience. At least you have a right to contest the arrangement, as a woman she has no power with her own voice, if she argued her father’s decision, she would be shamed,” with that said he paused in his steps and looked back at me, “You realize what that means, yes? It’s your duty to speak for her, to protect her. Stop obsessing over me, because I am not in danger, but Temperance would be miserable if she married me, and I would be too. Fight our father’s decision, speak for yourself and fight for yourself. Fight for her.”
I shook my head, my frustration rising, “I cannot go against our father any more than you can.”
“On the contrary,” Daniel said, mild amusement in his voice as he turned his back to me and began to hike down the stairs, “I go against him every chance I get.”
“Which is why I’m the one who is constantly getting into trouble,” I argued, following him, and he sighed.
“Which isn’t fair for you. Just because you’re my brother, doesn’t mean it’s your job to raise me. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t, our oh so loving parents were just so busy with themselves that they didn’t care enough about the fact children shouldn’t be raising children. Face facts, Henry, our mother and father are petty and pretentious and so distracted with themselves that they forced you to raise me because they didn’t want to. It was a job you shouldn’t have had, they stole your childhood, and that wasn’t fair.”
Instead of defensively arguing for our parent’s sake, I simply felt numb, stopping in my steps halfway down the stairs, “I didn’t mind being the one to raise you, Daniel,” I argued, and he paused at the last step, “Look at the kind of man you are now. Independent, smarter than I could hope to be, you’re an individual and I admire everything about you,” I stopped, shaking my head and rubbing my hands together as they began to ache and hurrying the rest of the way down the stairs, “My only failure is that I slacked, I didn’t pay near enough attention and I didn’t spend enough time with you, so you looked for companionship with the slaves. That was my one failure as your brother.”
“I didn’t spend time with the workers because I was lonely, Henry,” he argued, “I spent time with them because they were the ones who seemed lonely, and because I liked them. They’re deep and intelligent people, they are worth so much more than they are credited.”
“No, I know you were lonely,” I looked over my shoulder at him, “because I was the same,” his eyes widened, and I realized then I had never talked to him about mama before, “That was stopped before I could be brainwashed, mother and father both were very vigilant in raising me when the offender had been dealt with.”
I rubbed my hands together again and looked down at them, at the scars, and Daniel whispered, “Oh Henry…”
“They’re waiting for us, Daniel,” I snapped, storming forward away from him, “Any longer and father will be furious.”