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Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A tale of love, friendship, and facing unavoidable challenges - Reflections by Jena Baxter

Description:

When Juliette has a domestic servant beaten for pursuing a young man above her station, she finds herself cursed by a witch to live in a world behind her own mirror. She is unable to leave except on the first night of a full moon.

Juliette is forced to seek what food and shelter the new world provides with the help of a unicorn, a man who is half bear, and a centaur. Together they struggle to survive against lions, wolves, and the challenges of watching their friends live and die through the back of the mirror, as their own world, family and friends moves on without them.

Reflections begins in Regency era London, and ends in Clover Springs, California, an all but abandoned Gold Rush town.

A tale of love, friendship, and facing unavoidable challenges.

EXCERPT
Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” --Charles Dickens

Chapter 1

London, England. 1807

Juliette shut the front door behind her, and slowly climbed down the stairs of her home, cringing at every creek of the steps. She walked down the paved road, back straight and chin up, until the house was out of view. She looked around, pulled off her bonnet, and ran all the way to the beach.

Stopping to catch her breath, she scanned the riverbank until she spotted Emily, gazing into the clouds above the Thames. It was a gray and dreary day, but a fisherman stood in the water trying to entice the fish, and a few people were scattered along the shoreline. Sea birds flew back and forth, seeking a tasty morsel. Juliette joined Emily, and sat in the scrub.

“It took you a long time to get here,” Emily said, smiling.

“Sorry, it’s my birthday and mother is hosting a party tonight. I had to sneak out of the house, but no one saw me. Then I ran all the way here.”

Emily shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.” She held out her arm, and opened her hand. “I made this for you.” 

Juliette took the hair pin with a tattered yellow ribbon tied in a bow attached to it.

Emily’s cheeks colored. “Sorry it’s not new.”

Juliette hugged her. “It’s wonderful. Thank you. I have to go back now, before they notice me gone,” she said, pushing the pin carefully into her hair. 

“Okay, I’ll go with you. How old are you today?”

Juliette smiled. “I’m six years old,” she said, as they made their way back to the road. “How old are you?”

“Seven, since last month.” She ran dirty hands down her tattered and stained black dress.

“Look!” Juliette stopped, and pointed toward the water.

Emily followed the direction of her finger. “Oh! What a beautiful chestnut horse.”

Juliette shook her head, ringlets blowing in the wind. “No, it’s not a horse. It’s a unicorn sighting for my birthday.” She continued walking toward the road.

“But unicorns aren’t real,” Emily said, looking back at the animal.

“How do you know they aren’t real? That horse has a black horn. Trust me, that’s a unicorn.”

They stepped onto the dirt road.

“I’ll race you there!” Juliette yelled.

Laughing, they ran until they found Mrs. Barrows waiting at the front door of Juliette’s home. Juliette went silent and ran to her mother. Emily stopped in the road.

“Where have you been? Look at your hair, it’s a mess … and what is that ugly thing sticking out of it?” 

Mrs. Barrows swiped the pin off Juliette’s head. She winced as strands of her hair fell with the ribbon to the ground. 

Juliette followed her mother’s eyes as she glared at Emily, standing on the road. 

“What have I told you about spending your time with people like that, Juliette? That girl has no business talking to you, and you have no business playing with our domestic help.”

“But she’s not our domestic help, Mother.”

“The girl is as good as employed by this household with her aunt Zylphia, working here.” 

“I don’t want to see you with her again. Do you understand me? What if someone saw you?” Mrs. Barrows shrieked. “You embarrass the entire family associating with people like that, Juliette. Get in the house!”

Juliette jumped when the door slammed shut behind her.

Juliette picked up a glass of punch and sat with the children attending the party. She watched her mother laugh and sip tea with her guests. The children chattered beside her, she ignored them. Her mother had made it clear that the only reason she hadn’t received a strapping was so she could sit down at the party. Juliette struggled with the sting of tears, holding them back, but just barely. 

Margaret sashayed over, and stood with her hands on her hips. She always has something to say about everything. Juliette frowned, waiting. All of the children stared at her. 

“I heard you were playing with a servant girl today. Robert Beale said he saw you running and laughing on the road like it was the most normal thing in the world. You’re liable to get a disease spending your time with something like that.”

“It’s not your business, Margaret. I’ll spend time with whomever I want.”

“Suit yourself, but I don’t want any part of that, or you.” Margaret lifted her chin and joined the other children.

Juliette turned to see her mother, who had been just out of view. Her knuckles white as the dish she held. 

“Go to your room, Juliette.”

Tears spilled down Juliette’s cheeks. She tried to think of something to say, but couldn’t. She ran to her room.

Minutes later the razor-strap slammed into her bare buttocks. The humiliation of knowing the party heard her screams was part of her punishment. When the governess finished, she had been instructed to return Juliette to the party where she remained until the last guest departed. 

Her mother turned to her. “Get to your room. I don’t want to see your face again tonight.”

Juliette obeyed moving much slower than before. Her bottom and the back of her legs stung with welts. She crawled onto the bed, and wept into her pillow.



Ten Years Later


Juliette grunted, eyebrows narrowed as Emily tightened the laces on her corset, pulling her breasts straight and high. She slipped the heavily embroidered bodice on each arm, then smoothed the fabric with her hands. When she was finished, she bowed her head, and backed out of the room. 

Juliette moved right and left, twisting at the waist to admire herself in the mirror. She was wearing her favorite dress, white embroidered muslin, with a gathered bust, tiers of ruffles at the bottom, and long sleeves with small puffy shoulders.

“I’ll be ready to go in five minutes, Emily,” Juliette called, from her bedroom door. “Be sure to get a basket from the kitchen.” 


That girl always has her head in the clouds. Let’s see, all I need now is … she fumbled through a small grey hatbox on the bureau … a head dress. Juliette turned back to the mirror, pushing the comb through her hair to hold the head dress in place. When her ensemble was finished she smiled. Perfect. She looked good, but the sun was streaming through her bedroom window and the layers of the shift and petticoat were already making her hot.


Rushing down the stairs, underskirts rustling with every movement, the wooden planks creaked with every step. She called for Emily, and found her at the bottom, putting on her plain white bonnet. The picnic basket sat on the floor beside her scuffed black shoes. Juliette’s mother stood at a table near the hearth, brown ringlet curls hanging perfectly down her back, her deceptively warm brown eyes belying the severity of her anger. She threw some coins into a small purse. Ignoring Emily, Juliette went straight to her mother, and held out her hand. Mrs. Barrows dropped the beaded, pink and yellow purse into it.

“It is absolutely absurd,” Mrs. Barrows said louder than she needed to. “That I should have to send my own daughter to buy what is needed because of dishonest servants. My husband pays a generous wage. You have no reason to steal from us or anyone else. All of your salaries will be fined a farthing. Not just this time, but every time I send Juliette to the market.” 

She turned back to Juliette. “Don’t be late, darling. The dressmaker needs to take some measurements for a new dress,” Mrs. Barrows said, fingering some of the new materials she had purchased, sitting on the back of a pink and white sofa.

Juliette grinned as her mother kissed her cheeks. 

“Don’t worry, Mother. I won’t be long.”

Juliette walked out the door with Emily trailing behind her.



Juliette closed her eyes at the bright morning sunshine. She crinkled her nose and opened them again at the smell of fresh baked bread. There were vendors with carts selling household goods and colorful linens, and a cobbler had a table set up along the street. A woman with chubby cheeks and braided corn silk hair, sold flowers of every color, and across the road a young boy knelt, breeches tight, as he shined the shoes of a man in a brown suit and hat. A black carriage drove through the village square, horse hooves clip clopping on grey and brown cobblestones.

Emily cried out and crashed into Juliette. Juliette pushed her away, then slapped her without a thought. A thin young man with dark hair, brown eyes, and the longest eyelashes Juliette had ever seen jumped in front of Emily. Emily’s hand rested on the angry red mark forming on her right cheek, and she was weeping. Juliette smoothed her skirt mumbling under her breath. I am going to kill her when we get home. The stupid little sheep.

“Please excuse us, Jonathan, this fool of a girl--“

Jonathan’s hands waved back and forth. “No, Miss Barrows. Please, I am sorry. The fault was my own, not the servant girl’s.”

Juliette smiled. “This one is inept and bumbling at times.” 

Jonathan reached into his bag and pulled out a muslin pouch. He held the contents in front of Juliette. “Turkish Delight. Would you like one? A small offering to make up for the trouble I caused.”

Juliette’s smile lit up her face. “Yes, thank you.” She chose a red square powdered with sugar from the pouch.

Jonathan held the bag out to Emily. Juliette’s eyes flashed. What is he doing? Why is he even speaking to her? She’s a servant! Emily shook her head back and forth, then looked away. Jonathan held them closer.

“Please, I insist.”

With a trembling hand, Emily took one, but before she could eat the sweet, Juliette pointed to the basket.

“We need to go. I have an appointment this afternoon.” The courtesy was a show for Jonathan’s sake.  She would take care of Emily at home. “If you’ll excuse us Jonathan, we really must be on our way. Thank you for the sweetmeats.”

Juliette purchased the potatoes and carrots Cook required, the dirty-faced farmer extended his thanks, and she turned to see Jonathan smiling at Emily. The girl looked away, but not before her cheeks colored. Juliette had had enough. She grabbed Emily’s arm.

“Good day, Jonathan.”

Juliette had never been so embarrassed in her life. A servant girl! And one that was stumbling all over the place. What was he thinking? No! What was she thinking?

Juliette stormed up wooden steps and through the door without waiting for Emily to open it. “Mother!” 

Emily wept openly. 

“Emily was flirting with Mrs. Walsh’s son. She even received a gift from him.”

Mrs. Barrow’s porcelain face darkened, and her fingers clutched the folds of her dress as Juliette recounted the story. Moments later, Juliette’s mother grabbed Emily’s arm and pulled her to the Governess’ room. A heavyset woman in a plain black dress and long white apron, her brown hair tucked beneath her bonnet, sat at an old oak desk looking grim. The room was modest, with only a narrow bed, and a plain wooden bureau against the opposite wall. The only color was a handmade quilt the woman had made for herself, and a full-length blue dress hanging in a tiny closet. 

Agnes stood when Mrs. Barrows entered the room, and stared at Emily, blue eyes icy cold. The Governess opened a drawer, and pulled out the razor strap used for disciplining the household. 

Emily’s sobs grew louder, her eyes wide. She grimaced, shaking her head frantically. 

“No,” Emily whined, looking at the thick leather with three long flexible straps. “No, please.” Her sobs grew louder still as the Governess dragged her out the door to a wooden shed. 

Juliette’s mother smiled as Emily began to scream incoherently. Standing by the new material, they heard the whack of leather meeting the flesh of Emily’s bare backside.

Juliette fingered the soft new pink and yellow fabrics, frowning. I’m not fond of yellow. Mother knows that. 

“Emily will be indisposed for a while, Mother. Could you send Bessie up, please? I really need to freshen up before we leave.”

“Of course, dear.”

Juliette bustled up the stairs, hands clutching her skirt, listening to Emily scream. That’s too bad. She won’t be flirting or accepting treats from boys above her station anymore. But she shivered inwardly.  Juliette knew well what it meant to be on the receiving end of that strap. She had been beaten for spending time with Emily when they were girls. Juliette was younger then, and hadn’t understood how important it was not to entertain people below her station. She knew better now. Emily wouldn’t be able to sit for a week. Perhaps then she would learn her lesson and not entertain people above her station.

Juliette entered her room, letting the door shut behind her, and took off her head dress.

Bessie entered the bedroom, picked up the brush and pulled it through Juliette’s curls. Her hands trembled and she winced at every thwack of the strap on, Emily’s, bared flesh. At one point she wiped a tear from her eye. Juliette smiled, and ignored her.



Zylphia dusted a lampshade trimmed with burgundy roses. She had already gone over the end tables and swept the floors. She tucked runaway strands of brown hair under her already loose bun, and saw something smeared on the wall. Emily walked in, concealing her face, and staring at the floor.

Zylphia motioned with her hands as she spoke. “Emily, go get me a cleaning cloth for the wall. Bessie will get one for you. They’re in the kitchen.”

Emily nodded her acknowledgement to the floor, stiffly leaving the room. Zylphia stared after her.What is wrong with her today? Emily had always been a shy girl. She was quiet, but that was expected of a domestic servant. You did what you were told, bowed and backed out of the room as quiet as you could, hoping that no one would hear you. These things had never been a problem for her niece. That was why Zylphia had brought her here. She got along with everyone, was quiet, kept her own counsel, and took her work seriously.

Emily returned with the cloth. Zylphia watched her shuffle across the room.

“Why are you walking like that? Come here.”

Emily’s speed picked up. She whined and winced, until she slowed down. She gave Zylphia the towel.

“What is wrong with you? Look at me when I talk to you, girl!”

Emily looked up. Zylphia saw chocolate brown eyes, similar to her own, except they were red, sad, and swollen. Her brown hair was a tangled mess. She took Emily’s hand. 

“Come with me.” 

Emily obeyed, but wept all the way to, Zylphia’s, bedroom. Zylphia removed Emily’s white apron, and black uniform dress. Zylphia gasped, fire red welts blistered, and covered Emily’s buttocks and the back of her legs.

“Who did this to you?”

Emily told Zylphia about the boy at the marketplace, the candy, and Juliette’s anger. “I tried to say no, but he insisted.” Tears fell down already swollen cheeks. “I t-tried to s-s-say no. I didn’ know what t-to do.”

Heat flushed through Zylphia. She pulled a jar of ointment from under her mattress, and slathered it over Emily’s welts. The response was immediate. Zylphia couldn’t take away the welts, that would have been too obvious, but the swelling went down, and the redness faded. Emily shuddered, then sighed with relief.

“It’s over now.” And I’m going to make certain it won’t happen again. “Go back to work. It’s alright.”

“What are you going to do? Please don’t curse her Aunt Zylphia. We were friends once. She even gave me a doll when we were small.”

“Juliette isn’t the person you used to know, child. She’s grown to be callous, and cruel. Trust me to know what to do. She needs to pay for what she’s done. You need to help in the kitchen. Now go.”

Emily looked skeptical, but did what she was told.



“Why can’t I take Bessie?” Juliette demanded. “I don’t want that insolent girl anywhere near me.”

“I’m sure you don’t, darling, but Bessie has chores to do for your father. The only other servant I can send with you right now is Zylphia.”

“I don’t want Zylphia.” Juliette stomped her foot. “She’s not normal.” That one hardly knows her station, and the way she looks at me is frightening sometimes. I don’t trust her. “Mother!”

“That’s enough, Juliette. Take both if you choose, but Bessie cannot go.”

“Emily! Zylphia! Get down here. Now!” 

Moments later, Emily and Zylphia entered the room.



About the author:
Born in Ojai, and raised in the San Fernando Valley, California, Jena always loved to read, and dreamed of writing a novel. Having the ability, but lacking the confidence to do so, she enrolled in the UCLA Writer’s Extension, and soon her first novel was in process.

Jena writes YA, historical fantasy, and paranormal romance. She is also a screenwriter, and reads for a screenwriting contest annually. She spends her free time with her husband, amazon parrot, and toy maltese. You can visit her at:


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2 comments:

Kathleen Higgins-Anderson said...

Thank you for hosting the virtual book tour. - Kathleen Anderson, PUYB Tour Coord.

Jena Baxter said...

Yes, thank you for hosting. I love your site and mysterious artwork.