The train stopped suddenly, jerking Sadie from her dreams of Mother Dear and her family left behind in Alabama. “GREENWOOD STAY-SHUN!!!” cried the conductor. Sadie gathered her things quickly and shuffled off of the train.
“Excuse me Miss, you dropped this,” said a deep voice.
“Oh, thank you Mister-Uh,” Sadie mumbled while distractedly fumbling with her handbag.
“Montgomery. Ezekiel Montgomery.” He looked at her, smiling.
His hand was outstretched, holding the envelope containing the letter from Greenwood. Sadie was not used to being speechless. Ezekiel stood several inches taller than her with a figure more representative of a bronze statue than a man. The right sleeve of his shirt was pinned back, revealing that he was missing an arm. She snatched the letter, clutching it to her chest. It would be horrible if this letter became lost. It was a source of comfort to her now.
“Thank you again, Mr. Montgomery,” she said curtly.
She turned and walked briskly. Picking up her luggage and heading from the station, she thought of her parent’s anxious faces. Best not to talk to strangers.
It wasn’t until she had put several feet of distance between her and the train station that she began to get distracted by all of the lovely shops. Ice cream parlors, deli counters, local grocers, and a butcher shop. There were restaurants with the finest smells wafting through the air, a bookstore and a theater. She hadn’t been to a theater since New Orleans. Sadie then found herself in front of The Cypress Inn, a small, yet beautiful brick building adorned with pink roses. She had easily navigated the local streets as she had purchased and studied a guide to Greenwood as soon as she had accepted the teaching position. Preparation was key to everything she did.
The Cypress Inn was the most quaint building that Sadie had ever had the pleasure of being inside of. A deep green wallpaper containing bouquets of pink flowers greeted her at every turn, and the faint smell of peppermint lingered in the air. A deep feeling of coziness enveloped her.
“Hello, um- excuse me Ma’am,” Sadie said softly.
“WILL YOU GET THAT ROOM READY, GAL!! SLOW AS MOLASSES!!”
A very short woman had shoved her way into the room, fussing as she organized some pencils and paper behind her desk. Sadie wasn’t sure that she was able to even see over it. She tried again.
Clearing her throat, she said, “Hello, excuse me. I would like to inquire about a room.” She whisked back a curl that had escaped from her tidy bun and fallen over her brows.
The little woman raised her head and a smile spread across her face. Like a flash, she stumbled up a few steps and was at eye level with Sadie. Sadie smirked. She knew that lady couldn’t see over the counter.
“Why, Little Josephine is that you?” the lady asked wide-eyed. “Your mother didn’t tell me that you were coming back into town. Look at you! All gussied up.”
“No Ma’am. My name is Sadie Latimer,” she said a little louder than necessary.
“HA! Should’ve known. You much too pretty to be Josephine!” she cackled, “WELL, what can I do for ya?”
“I’m looking for a room for the night. I guess in my haste to get into town, I arrived a day earlier than I expected.”
“Oh. SURE! SURE! Cost is 50 cents per night. Check out is at 10 a.m. Is that gonna work for you, darlin?“ she said as she grabbed her room log.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Sadie said eagerly.
“Oh heck girl. You can call me Mrs. Johanna. If you need anything you can ask for me, as I run this establishment.” Mrs. Johanna smiled broadly.
“Oh lovely,” Sadie fumbled in her handbag, searching for her coin purse. In frustration she muttered to herself. After a few more moments, she was able to reveal two shiny quarters as payment.
Mrs. Johanna was a talkative woman. Sadie barely had time to catch her breath or add anything constructive to the conversation as they ascended the stairway.
“Where are you from, Miss Latimer?” she asked.
“Uh, Alabama, Ma’am,” Sadie said awkwardly, tripping over her feet.
“Oh, Alabama? That’s nice, that’s real nice. I have family out there. An Uncle and a few cousins. They own a nice little patch of farming land in M-M—Oh my goodness, I forgot the name. Anyway, I remember that Uncle Julius was trying to get us to move back down there after Bartholomew died. But, I says to him ‘Now who in the world am I going to get to run the inn if I’m livin’ down there with you all?’”
Sadie was in disbelief at Mrs. Johanna’s ability to climb the stairs and rush through conversation while bringing the trunk upstairs. She had magicked the trunk so that it was lighter but, it was still very heavy. As Mrs. Johanna continued on, her voice became dim. Sadie caught whiffs of things like the words “Boy” and “Jail” and “His poor mama” but, she wasn’t listening with the attention that it deserved.
Before she knew it, she had collapsed on a very fluffy quilted bed full of pillows. The room was just as quaint as downstairs had been. Beautiful paintings and cross stitches hung from the walls. She quickly unpacked her bags, finding a place for everything and gazed out the window. It overlooked the street, making it that much easier to people-watch. With so many people moving about, Sadie felt the sudden urge to explore town. She grabbed her handbag and key and darted out of the room and down the stairs.
“Are you following me?” A familiar deep voice asked, jokingly.
It was Ezekiel, from the station. He had startled her; she had been mere seconds away from tripping over him.
“I could ask you the same thing,” she huffed, side-stepping him. “Do you always follow girls from the train station?”
“Only the ones that leave an impression,” he said smoothly.
Mrs. Johanna once again entered the room with a loud boom. Though the noise had made them both jump, Sadie was grateful for the distraction. She had turned a violent shade of red and was betrayed once more by her rebellious curl falling out of place.
“I SEE YOU’VE MET MY BABY BOY!” Mrs. Johanna announced, her voice echoing in the room. She dashed between them beaming. “HE’S JUST COME BACK FROM EUROPE!”
“Europe? A soldier?” Sadie mused.
“Yeah! Went off to war and fancy himself roaming the countryside! Bout scared me halfta death! Had me sending letters to all those hospitals—” Mrs. Johanna began.
“Mama—” Ezekiel frowned.
“AND THEN I GET SOME LETTER ABOUT HIM STAYING THERE!!” she smacked his shoulder.
“Mama, I just— I just needed some time,” he said. It was now his turn to be embarrassed it seemed. He fumbled, rubbing his hand across his brow.
“Well, I don’t care about the details. I’m just glad you’re home!” Mrs. Johanna beamed. With impressive strength, she gave him the biggest bear hug, lifting him slightly off the ground. Sadie couldn’t help but smile. Mrs. Johanna was a force.
“Where you headed off to, darlin?” she said, now remembering that Sadie was in the room.
“I was thinking of exploring a bit. I passed a few stores on my way here and I’d like to get a little more familiar with town,” Sadie said quickly.
“IS THAT RIGHT? I HAVE AN IDEA!” she clapped, “Can’t see a new town without a tour guide! Zeke! why don’t you show Miss Latimer around! I’m expecting a package from Mr. Wallace down there at the mail carriers. You can get it on the way,” Mrs. Johanna continued, grabbing Ezekiel’s luggage.
Before either of them had the chance to refuse, Mrs. Johanna had pushed them out and closed the door. They looked at each other, Ezekiel shrugging and headed down the front steps.
The walk through town was pleasant. Shop owners from just about every store stopped them to greet Ezekiel as they passed. And Mr. Wallace held them up for an extra 30 minutes as he took a bit of time lightly scolding Ezekiel for “worrying his mama.”
“You’re quite popular around here,” Sadie said, shaking her head and giggling as they exited the postal office.
“Oh that?” Ezekiel said pointing at Mr. Wallace, “He’s just sweet on my mama.”
They both laughed heartily.
“Hey, Miss Latimer…You like ice cream?” he said abruptly.
“It’s Sadie. And I LOVE it,” she smiled.
Two butter pecan cones later, they found themselves sitting outside of Mr. Jenkins’ ice cream parlor on the curb like best friends of years past.
“I can’t believe that you know so much about plants.” Sadie said grinning. He had pointed out just about every species of plant life that grew in the patches of grass they passed on their way to the shop.
“It’s an old hobby,” he said returning the smile, “used to get made fun of for it growing up.”
Sadie grabbed a newspaper that had been ditched nearby and Ezekiel busied himself with a small leather bound journal that he seemed to make appear out of nowhere. There was a light breeze that she was thankful for because it was such a warm day.
“Hey, what’s that?” Sadie asked, eyeing the journal.
“Oh, umm…something I’m working on,” Ezekiel raced to hide the journal as Sadie reached across his midsection, grasping at it.
Before she had a chance to object. A loud greeting caught their ears.
“Hey ya Zeke!” a freckled, auburn haired man about their age called out.
“Oh my goodness. Chuck, is that you?” Ezekiel, jumped up quickly extending his hand for a handshake.
“Yeah, Man. Your Mama said you’d be back soon. I’m glad I caught ya. It’s been a month of Sundays since I seen you around these parts!” Chuck beamed, “Who’s your lady friend?” he said, raising his eyebrows in Sadie’s direction.
“Oh,” fumbled Ezekiel, “This is Sa — I mean, Miss Latimer. She’s new in town. Ma, thought it would be a good idea to show her around.”
“Pleasure,” Sadie nodded, extending her hand as well.
Just then, a man bumped into Chuck and continued moving at a frantic pace across the street.
“Hey Man! What’s your problem?” Chuckie yelled, following after the man to a group of agitated people huddled on the corner.
“Chuck!” Ezekiel called out, “Man, same ole Chuck. Starting fights.” He shook his head.
Chuck and the man started to engage in deep conversation and suddenly he turned and called to Ezekiel, waving them both across. Puzzled, Ezekiel and Sadie crossed the street abandoning the day’s newspaper.
“They’re gonna kill that boy if we don’t do something about it!” an authoritative voice rose above the crowd.
“We have to do something!” rang out another.
Ezekiel and Sadie made it to Chuck’s side. He was engrossed in the conversation happening before them.
“Hey, Chuck, What’s going on?” Ezekiel asked in a hushed whisper.
“They have the Rowland boy up there at the jailhouse,” Chuck said quickly, “They’re saying that he attacked some little white girl in an elevator.”
“What?!” Ezekiel said, shocked.
“Yeah, course there’s nothing he could say once she said that,” Chuckie said bitterly. “There’s been some talk about a mob outside the jail, they wanna lynch the poor kid,” he breathed deep, “This group here is talking about going over there to watch over everything, make sure the kid sees another tomorrow ya know? Thinking about heading over there with them.”
Ezekiel’s eyes widened. He gently guided Sadie to the side. He met her eyes with furrowed brows and for the first time, she noticed that his eyes were light brown with specks of gold throughout.
“What are you thinking?” she asked searching his face.
“I-I think I should go with them,” he said staring down at his shoes,”I know Rowland, he’s a good kid. And we know how things could go.”
She shook her head knowingly, “Yeah. You should go. At least then we can figure out what’s going on.”
They exchanged knowing smiles and after a brief pause, he said, “They’re headed out now. Do you want me to walk you back to The Cypress first?”
“Oh, no. I know the way. Umm…maybe I should take that,” she said pointing at the parcel in his left hand.
“Yes. Yes of course,” he said, placing it in her palm, “Do me a favor…Can you tell my mom where I’m off to? She’ll throw a fit if she thinks that I abandoned you.”
She chuckled, “Yeah, wouldn’t want that.”
And with that they gave each other one last look. There was too much to be said in the short amount of time that they had known each other. He raced over, matching the pace of his friend’s stride as they headed off to the jail.
There was a sense of calm that fell over Sadie as she walked back toward the small brick building of The Cypress Inn. The smell of peppermint caught in her nose immediately as she walked up the steps and through the doors. Briefly, she updated Mrs. Johanna, who was annoyed by her son’s “hero complex” and thanked her for bringing the package. She climbed the stairs quickly and pulled out a delicate sheet of stationary with the intention of writing her mother. She accomplished writing the date May 31, 1921 in the top right corner but the bed was so comfortable and inviting, and she soon fell asleep with the cool breeze wafting through the cracked window.