Week 5, Wednesday 1 PM, Agartha, Arizona
Stacey walked barefoot down the rocky path from their cabin to Shangrila. Though it was well into fall now, even at this elevation, it was still relatively warm. At least during the day. But the nights were always another matter. Which was why she was so glad that she had someone to cuddle up with when it got too chilly.
She stepped around a pointy rock with a smile. Just that idea would have been unimaginable a few short weeks ago. But she was coming almost to need Reb’s tender hugs, those gentle squeezes of her hand, and those reverent forehead kisses. She was beginning to think she was ready for more.
No, not sex. Like he said, sex, or at least intercourse, may never be part of what they shared. And surprisingly, both of them seemed okay with that. But kisses. She was still intrigued by what it might be to kiss the man. In fact, her curiosity grew each day.
But it seemed they had time. She would have thought that would bother her. All this time on her hands. No work. Neither her daughters nor granddaughters to fuss over. They had not heard from Mercy since the text message informing them that they had made it to Torreon. Yes, she was concerned, but something told her that she would sense it if anything bad happened.
And Laura was safely ensconced on some ranch somewhere with Ryan and Chloe. While she missed seeing the changes in her newest granddaughter, Laura had risked sending a couple of photos and videos. She replayed those when she could.
There was not much word from Brad and Elena. They had made it to their sister church in Belize alright. But they had gotten stuck there. There were no direct flights to Africa. And without visas and passports, this pilgrimage seemed doomed. Then as if by some miracle, an acquaintance had connected them with someone who could forge such documents. For a price, of course. Not that that was a problem.
The last she had heard, almost a week ago, was that they were in London and were booking flights to South Africa. While there, Brad was hoping to meet the religious and world leader that had been his hero since he was a boy. The old friend from his seminary that they were staying with had some connections with the great man. Even Elena and Rehab were doing well. Honestly, her ordinarily shy and reserved middle child seemed to have burst like a butterfly from her chrysalis.
Stacey’s laughter danced off the rocks and trees around her. She had spoken with them. The burner phone was usually turned off, of course. No cellphones, tablets, or computers was not only one of Agartha’s rules but honestly, this far out and high up reception sucked. But they had sent the office phone number to everyone. It had been good to hear their voices.
No, things were going well. She had not felt this kind of peace or safety in… Well, never. Maybe part of that had to do with the therapy she receiving? When they had come back from their retreat and training exercises in the desert, Celeste, Cellie as she insisted Stacey call her, had approached them about speaking with a counselor. She had been reluctant. She did not need a shrink.
But Reb had encouraged her to at least give it a try. Of course, he got caught in his own trap when Barry had insisted that he set an example. Reb did not want to talk about any of it with either his mother or Indie. But the older woman who had trained them both in working with survivors of rape, assault, and domestic violence had retired to Agartha a few months before. She agreed to work with Reb as a special favor to Cellie.
Now, they both met with counselors twice a week. Of course, Reb did not attend the group session that she was on her way to now. While Indie and Cellie were coming to terms with their prejudices regarding rape as a feminist issue, everyone agreed that it might be too disconcerting for the other women to have a man in the group. Of course, Nancy, Reb’s therapist, had encouraged him to substitute an online forum for men in its place. It was an exception to the no electronics rule.
No, if anything, things were just about perfect. Then she walked into the conference room. The same one where she and Reb first faced down his family. And the world shifted beneath her feet. What was she doing here? Stacey’s first reaction was to run. Not just from this room but from Agartha itself.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” smiled Indie. “We have a new member of the group today.”
“I see.” Her eyes never left the woman standing across the room, chatting to Cellie.
Had he sent her? Had he somehow discovered where she was? Sent the woman to spy on her. To betray her. And she did feel betrayed. Not just by the woman that she had known her whole life. But by them. By Reb’s family, his mother and his sister. Why had they let her in?
Indie’s hand on her shoulder tried to draw her further into the room. But Stacey shook her head. Maybe flight was not the best response to this latest threat, though? But she needed to shake off the ‘freeze’ that she was in now. No, she was going to meet this newest challenge head-on. As she always had. But to do that, maybe she needed information?
“I’ll just sit over here, today.”
The corner of the room closest to the door was usually reserved for those newbies like that woman. A place to safely observe without being expected to participate in the sharing circle. Stacey had spent her first couple of weeks there. After being included in that circle’s closeness, it felt strange to be relegated to it once more. But it was safer here.
Indie studied her face. Her hand rested on her overly distended abdomen. The woman still had several weeks to go. But with twins, that was unlikely. Now they were on the count down to thirty-five weeks, the point at which the local midwife felt it safe enough to attempt a homebirth. They were less than a week from that point. And it showed in the awkward way the woman moved. “Okay, if you’re sure. But you can join the circle at any point if you change your mind.”
Stacey nodded her head as she dropped into a bean bag by the door, and Indie waddled across the room to join the others.
The next hour was going to be interesting. To say the least.