***Sebida Methodist Chrurch***
Stacey Reynolds fought back the tears. They were all so beautiful. Her daughters and granddaughters all buzzed about the tiny Sunday school room. It was overcrowded and loud, not at all her thing. But today was different.
Today was the day she had lived for…. She smiled as she realized that she had lost count. Sure, she was confident that if she tried, she could still calculate to the minute how long it had been since….
But this was a new beginning. A new day. A fresh start for all of them. And she was not going to bring that old shit into it.
She had worked her ass off to make this day happen for them. The buzz in the news was of things called lockdowns that were sweeping the planet. She couldn’t see that shit flying in America. But who knew? It certainly added an element of urgency to this day.
Though both her girls were pretty damned happy to rush into this marriage thing. Stacey had to remind herself that Ryan Ranger and Caleb Williams were nothing like Ignacio Garcia. They had proven over and over again that they were good men. Good partners for her girls.
Not that she had not been blessed with a pretty damned remarkable one of her own. But this was not their day. Hell, theirs wasn’t this kind of….
“Dammit, Mama, I can’t get this skirt zipped.”
She had to laugh at her baby. Mercy was the one that insisted she was not wearing any damned white dress for this shindig. Instead, Stacey had cut off a pair of her daughter’s favorite blue jeans and sewn layers of lace around it. They fell just above her daughter’s knees. Mercy’s ‘wedding dress’ was completed by her cowgirl boots and an autographed Redneck Woman t-shirt with an ATV and a woman holding a baby on her hip. They had battled her youngest daughter to get a few of the wildflowers from her bouquet laced into her long dark hair. It was not the traditional wedding look, but it was totally Mercy.
“I told you….”
“Here, lay down on the table. Now, suck it in,” Laura was the opposite of her little sister. With Ryan’s mother, they had gone into Bryan looking for the perfect dress. But her eldest was having trouble adjusting to the changes that pregnancy had wrought to her body.
Stacey and Ingrid Ranger had both feared the trip would end in a disaster when Laura broke down in tears over lunch at Freebirds Burritos, her favorite. They had gotten her laughing about all the clothing she had once worn from Betterwill. Laura had insisted they stop at the one Stacey had so often frequented for their Christmas and birthday gifts. It was also where most of their clothing except for unmentionables had come from.
At first, Stacey had been uncomfortable with the idea. Ryan’s mother might have been a single parent too, but things had been markedly different for them. With the help of her family, Ingrid had never faced the same poverty she and the girls had. Even if she and Ryan had been the center of gossip for years. Maybe things would have been better for them too, if….
She breathed deeply and tried to clear her mind as Celestine and Indie taught her. But it was hard, being here, in this place. She supposed today was not fair to Elena. She would not even come inside the church for her middle daughter’s wedding, standing on the stoop out front. But things were different now….
So much had changed. So quickly. And it was about to again. She hadn’t told the girls yet. But as soon as the church was cleaned, she and Reb were hopping into Elvira and heading back to Agartha. They probably should have already. Beth Kerr was already asking the tough questions and demanding answers they had agreed were best given face-to-face.
Sixteen was such a hard age, especially to lose your mother. Sometimes Stacey wondered if she could do this. Could she really raise that man’s children? She felt her heart speed up at just the thought.
Thankfully, she wouldn’t be this one alone. They had all agreed to honor the letter that amounted to Wanda Kerr’s last will and testament. Those three girls would remain at Agartha, at least until they came of age. They would all receive new identities, which wasn’t as easy as it used to be with computers and technology. But the domestic abuse network was helping with that one. Together they would make sure the Kerr family never discovered where Wanda had taken the girls.
Stacey looked down at a sleeping Chloe in her arms. She kept reminding herself that those children were as innocent of their father’s sins as this baby. No matter what her father had preached about sins of the father. And she would treat them no different than she had her girls. Okay, maybe a little different. She had made so many mistakes with her girls…. But they had turned out alright despite her.
Laura looked beautiful in her wedding gown. They had found it for ten dollars in Betterwill. The old woman that used to give her ‘special discounts’ was no longer behind the counter. The younger woman with the spiked pink and green hair was not nearly as nice or as compassionate.
The dress was perfect for Laura. The high empire waistline hid those few extra pregnancy pounds that concerned her daughter so much. The sweetheart neckline was trimmed in lace with a row of pearl buttons and loop closures up the front. The only alteration she had made was to shorten the long lace sleeves and use that material to make Laura’s veil. She could never remember Laura looking so…dainty.
Elena held Rahab on her hip. They wore matching sundresses, but it was the bright geometric designs that made them unique. She had brought the material back from Africa with them and sewn them herself.
This might be the last quiet moment she had with her girls. Stacey had been debating it long enough. She pulled the envelope from her purse. She and Reb had discussed this. It closed doors and burned bridges, but her gut told her this was the right thing to do. She stood up and cleared her throat. The girls stopped their chattering and turned as one to her.
She held out the envelope towards them, “Mama, what’s that?” Of course, it would be Laura that asked. She supposed rightly this belonged more to her eldest, but she didn’t think Laura would object to what she had in mind.
“It’s the deed to the trailer and land.”
“Yeah, but what’s….”
“I want ya’ll to have it.”
“Mama, I bought that for you….”
“I know that, Laura, and if this isn’t what you want, then….” She paused; perhaps she was saying it all wrong. But she’d never been good with words the way that Mercy was, or Laura. Maybe Elena was most like her, the quiet one. Not that life had given her many choices to be silent.
“Reb and I are leaving after the wedding. We’re going back to Agartha.”
Laura, of course, knew about Wanda’s letter. They had consulted her and Jaycee, trying to figure out if the document was legally binding. But with both their parents dead and without the letter being notarized, it would never stand up in court. The Kerrs claim to those girls would take precedent. If they found them. But only Laura knew the why, and she was bound by attorney-client privilege.
“This place has too many memories.” She walked to where her girls stood huddled together. She pressed the envelope into Laura’s hand even as her daughter shook her head. She brushed tears from her eyes, “You reminded me the other day that there are some good ones. Or at least bittersweet ones.”
She turned to Elena, “I know that you and that husband of yours have big plans for this little town. And I know how hard that battle is gonna be for ya’ll. I want to believe that this can be a place of Reconciliation. And I know that if anyone can do that, it’s ya’ll.”
Tears slid down her middle daughter’s face, and Rahab reached up to brush them away. This time Stacey did not have the will to rebuke her daughter for crying in front of the child.
“But Mama, please….” It was Mercy. Her child. Or that was how it had always seemed. Ignacio had no part of this one. Maybe one day they would talk about the man. But that cold, frail shell that Stacey had seen lying in that bed was nothing like the man she had once known.
“Mercedes Reba Reynolds, don’t you ‘but Mama’ me.” She leaned in and kissed the tears from her baby’s eyes. “We’ve both learned that there is life out there beyond our family and our home.”
“Don’t think I’m abandoning ya’ll.” She forced a smile, “I promise we’ll text and video call every day.” She sighed, “But there’s just too many bad memories here. I could never…. I couldn’t be anything more than ‘that Reynolds girl.’ Things may be changing even in Sebida. And I do believe that all of you have your roles to play in that. But not me. I don’t belong here. Not anymore.”
Laura was the one that stepped forward, taking her sleeping daughter from her arms. “I understand, Mama. Better than you know. I had to leave this place to discover just how much a part of me it was.” She held up the envelope in her other hand, “And no matter what a piece of paper says, you’ll always have a place here with us.”
Stacey smiled as her oldest granddaughter practically jumped from her mother’s arms into hers. But it was not until those tiny fingers brushed her cheeks and that sweet little voice said, “G-ma no twy,” that she realized the truth. For the first time in their lives, Stacey was crying in front of her girls.
She laughed, and it felt incredibly freeing. Maybe it was right? That this place where so much of her misery had begun was where this new beginning started too. Perhaps those tears that all of the Reynolds women seemed to be shedding at the moment were necessary? Maybe it was like a late afternoon thunderstorm after one of those hot summer days? Perhaps their tears like those raindrops would settle the dust and cool things down.
“Okay, so tell me if I’m crazzy. But what do ya’ll think about four homes on the land? I know it’ll be tight quarters for everyone. But there’s almost an acre of land. Our kids could grow up together….” Laura hugged her tighter.
“Terrorizing Sebida like we did? I like it,” Mercy laughed. “Our very own trailer trash park?”
“Tiny homes. They call them tiny homes now, Mercy. And they’re quite posh,” Laura used her best British accent on the word, not that it sounded very posh.
The room rang with laughter and a few more of those tears. Stacey stood back just a step and watched her girls laugh and giggle as they planned their ‘tiny homes.’ Yeah, things had been tough. Yes, this place held more pain than she could bear. Not even those bittersweet memories could balance those karmic scales, as Indie said. But all things considering, she hadn’t done too fucking bad. She had played the hand that life dealt her.
And now she would play this new one. Except this time, she wasn’t playing the game alone. She knew that not only would Reb be by her side, but so too would Celestine, Barry, Indie, hell, the whole Agartha community would be there to help those girls…and her. Yeah, she’d probably need to spend some extra time in counseling. But maybe, perhaps, this was her reconciliation. To raise his girls?