I am now more desperate for escape than ever. The one person I can ask is Ernest, but no one knows about him except for Ava--yet she won't speak about it. She was whipped publicly this morning, and I didn't stop them. Not this time. I watched. It is a sick feeling, but with every crack of the whip, I remembered the way she had endangered me. The suffering I would go through.

Betrayal is like a poison that spreads to your core, and feeds on it, slowly eating away at all the walls you've built. You try forgiveness, but one day you realize the only cure is revenge. It's taken me years to learn that.

It's not a good thing when people disappear without a word around here. Well, it never is. But they like to make it public--who has the power, and who suffers from it. Something is wrong. The overseers are harsher on us lately. They seem nervous too. There's no time to question anything--only pick cotton.

I glumly accept my breakfast, work in the fields, and go through the next few weeks in the same fashion. It is exhausting and I feel broken. I hear no word about Frederick, so I hope they dropped the court case. But I don't know, and the ignorance gnaws at me.

Isaac asks constantly what's wrong with me, but I don't want to tell him what's wrong. I can't. Because if I'm taken away one night without word, I don't want him to know why. It would kill him that we never escaped. He'd blame himself for not getting us out, but I know he couldn't.

I think it's killing him knowing for once, he can't know what I'm thinking. He can't help me.

But I've already decided that this is one battle I have to fight alone. I'm going to free myself.

I walk to the manor house at dusk, determination plastered across my face. I run into Ava, just the person I was looking for.

"Tell me" I say bluntly, "tell me where he is."               

Her face and back are scarred from being whipped, and she glares at me.

"I have no business with you, girl."

"You got me in this mess--and you're getting me out."

"I owe you nothing," she sneers.

"You owe me everything. Where. Is. Ernest?"

She sighs. "Will ya leave me alone for god's sakes if I tell ya?"

I nod, though I lie. I will never leave her alone. I will never let her rest. It is a corruptive thought, but it comforts me.

"He tried to poison Massa Whitley last month. Slipped somethin in his drink, but Winston saw 'im. They whipped him dead."

"Dead?" I whisper, thinking of the cranky but determined man.

She nods. "He was old, they din't need 'im and he sure was a trouble maker. There's a whole fuss 'bout it now--killing off a man. Abolitionists gettin' all riled up and wanting a law change. Trouble in the North, see. Ernest's death shore ain't helping the Massa's case. He's mad".

I squint my eyes at her, something not fitting to me. "And how do you know this?" I frown.

"I work in the bloody manor house, girl. I was there when they took Ernest. Now leave me alone."

I spin on my heel, my mind racing and unsure of what to believe.

"Oh, and one more thing" she calls.

I turn to face her, fists clenched.

"Jarrah asked me tah give you this." She draws a crumpled paper from her apron, and I grab it quickly and stuff it into my pocket. "But girl, you oughtn't be getting mixed in his business. He knows yer to be sent ter Mississippi. Best stay with yer own kind and leave him be."

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