This might be the hardest thing she had ever done. Stacey Reynolds inhaled deeply as she stared at the woman in the mirror. She had not been to that place in four decades. Not since the day she turned eighteen and told her preacher-father to fuck off. She had run off with Iggy then. She realized now that she never loved the man. Infatuated maybe. Saw him as an easy way out, away from her life and parents, absolutely. But loved, no.
Could she do this? But she knew she would. For her daughter’s sake. Elena, Bradley, and Rehab had made it back last night. Her baby had called, almost in tears. There was a letter waiting when they got home. There had been complaints to the Arch Diocese about Bradley. His ongoing missions had been cited, but what upset Elena most was the thinly veiled racial bias – ‘highly inappropriate appointment.’
Someone from the diocese would be there today. And rumor had it, and Patsy at the general store was reasonably reliable, that the whole church was boycotting the service. After everything that had happened in the past few weeks, it was the final straw. Stacey was determined that this town was not going to beat them. Reynold’s women were strong.
So, she and her girls had called in favors. They had gotten on the phone with all their friends in the area and asked for their support this morning. Mercy had taken to social media, too. Something she called tweeting, whatever that was. And this Facebook? Whatever.
Stacey wasn’t sure how many would show up. Most people around here went to the Baptist church anyway. Even when her daddy ruled, Sunday services usually had no more than three dozens butts in the pews. She was hoping they managed at least twenty. Hell, their family alone almost amounted to that.
But she had put down her foot on one thing. No dress. So this time, she wore her jeans, the nice ones, and a real shirt, not a t-shirt. But that was as fancy as she got. She picked up the cup of coffee and took a big swig. She needed something stronger for this. But it was barely ten in the morning. Damn, it had grown cold while she lollygagged.
“Mama, what’s taking you so long. We’re all ready.”
Her baby was home, too. She had gotten to know Will better these past few days. She liked him as much as she did Ryan and even Bradley. She might have shit taste in men, but her girls had done good. Correction – had shit taste. Reb had been by her side, almost hovering, all week long.
But nothing was settled yet. Stacey fingered the bulge in the back pocket of her jeans. They needed to talk. What would happen then? She had no idea. But she knew where she belonged and what she had to do.
And if Reb did not want to come with her? Stacey told herself that she would survive. She didn’t need no man. She has raised three girls alone once. She could do this, too. But those words were hallow even in her own mind.
One final glance in the mirror at the lines in her face and the gray hair peeking through the red dye. She called up all the courage that had gotten her through this past week. Hell, a lifetime, and she opened the door with a smile. “I’m ready, baby girl.”
Mercy wrapped her arms around her and squeezed. Leaving this one, all her girls and grandbabies would be the hardest part. But she had been right. This past week had shown her that they did not need her. They had lives and families of their own now. But those others…
“Let’s get this over with.”
Reb was by her side in a heartbeat. She wanted to believe that he would be when he heard what she had to tell him. But there were no guarantees. He too wore jeans and a shirt. As did Mercy. Will had gone a bit dressier with slacks and a button-down shirt.
“We got all the food?” Brad and Elena did not know it yet, but she and the girls had arranged for a picnic lunch after the service. Putting their best foot forward for some bureaucrat from the church in Austin irritated the bejesus out of her. But she’s always said she would do anything for her girls. She just never imagined it meant going back there.
“Yeah, Mama.” Mercy held up a stack of plastic containers.
“I made buttermilk biscuits. Since I know how much you like them,” Rose smiled at her. They had gotten even closer these past couple of weeks. Stacey would be sad to see the woman go. She’d never really had friends before.
The other guests were a mixed lot. Chad wore jeans but a fancy Western shirt. Rose wore a lovely dress. But the two teen girls were strictly jeans and t-shirts. Chad’s family would be leaving for their home after church and lunch. Rose was feeling well enough now for the three-hour journey.
As for Bebe? The girl barely said a word to anyone other than Grace and occasionally Mercy when her daughter instigated a conversation. She avoided her cousin altogether. It wasn’t like she was difficult or anything. She did anything you asked her to around the trailer. She just didn’t say much. Even when they began to pile into the trucks, Bebe rode with Chad’s family rather than them and her cousin.
When they arrived at the small wooden A-frame building erected almost a hundred years ago, Stacey was pleased to see a few other vehicles. Laura’s little economy car was there as well as Jack’s baby. And a couple others that she did not recognize.
She checked the time on her phone. The others had chattered away for the few moments it took to drive into town. But she could not tell you a word they said. Just as she hoped, they had made it on time. But not too early. She might be able to force herself through those doors but making small talk was beyond her right now.
At the top of the steps sat a basket filled with homemade masks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. A note on the table asked that everyone wash their hands and take a mask as a gift of love, one for another. Their group each took one and cleaned their hands before stepping through those doors.
Stacey paused for a moment in the doorway. The place was as close to packed as she could remember it. A crowd rivaling ones of her daddy’s homecoming or revival services. Probably more than the three dozen people she had hoped for.
She noticed something else too. Behind that sea of rainbow-colored masks, most of the faces were shades of brown. Jack seemed to have brought a contingent of Native Americans, probably his employees.
Mercy’s friend Lizzy was there, too. She stayed at the back of the church because it was the only place for her brother’s wheelchair. How had they managed to get it up the steps? Stacey looked around for her daughter’s other friend Abby Jean, but she was not there. At least, not yet. The others about the room she did not recognize at all.
Then she noticed them. The others. Grandfather, Rex, and Angel, though Jaycee was not there. She had given birth to their baby boy, oddly enough, last Sunday evening. As everything was happening at…
Stacey wanted desperately to slip into that back row alongside Lizzy and her brother. But Laura waved to them from the front pew. The front pew. Could she do it?
She had sat on that front pew for the first eighteen years of her life. Some of the worst beatings came on Sunday night, if she had fidgeted too much. She felt that arm around her and turned to look into those warm brown eyes. “I’m here, sweetheart.”
She returned the smile and reached over, lacing her fingers through Reb’s other hand. The words, ‘yeah, but will you be…’ were on her lips when Elena stepped to the raised dais in front of the church.
Her middle daughter had always been quiet and shy. The only one of the Reynolds women who was. It was incredibly easy for her to get lost in that middle. Until she picked up a guitar.
The first had been one that Stacey found in the thrift shop. It had been Elena’s tenth birthday present. The one she held now was much nicer. And the chords more in tune. Brad sat to the side with a small drum of some kind between his knees.
Rehab sat at her father’s feet. Stacey felt the anger rising inside of her. She wanted to run down the aisle, scoop her granddaughter up, and let loose a string of cuss words. How dare they put that child on show like this?
Except when she looked at her grandbaby’s face, it was love and happiness that shone there, not fear.
She reluctantly allowed Reb to usher her into…her seat. How had it come to this? Full-circle it seemed.
But the hymns were not what she expected. Tears came to her eyes as her daughter’s lovely voice filled the church, “Someone’s crying, Lord. Kumbaya. Someone’s crying, Lord. Kumbaya. Oh, Lord, Kumbaya.”
When Rehab stepped next to her mother and begin to sing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ in a voice so like she remembered Elena’s as a child, Stacey could not stop the tears.
Elena stole the show back when Rehab bowed and jumped off the stage into Mercy’s waiting arms. Stacey was not the only one with tears on her cheeks by the time her daughter finished with ‘You’re in the arms of the angels. May you find some comfort here.’