Reb watched them. Maybe he was wrong. Perhaps Stacey did belong here with her daughters. Did it really matter where they lived? As long as she was by his side, that was enough, right? Maybe her son-in-law was right? Perhaps it was unnecessary to live in an isolated community like Agartha to find that kind of paradise? Goddess knew that place was not perfect either.
So, why did something about that not sit right with his soul? How could the place that he had spent more than two decades running from have gotten such a hold on his heart? It was like the place was calling him home. But that couldn’t be right. Home was this woman. Wherever she was.
Her daughters laughed as they drifted away. Laura tried to pull her mother with them, but Stacey shook her head. Their eyes met. How long had she known he was there? Why did it not surprise him? She smiled and said something. Her daughter nodded and moved away to follow her sisters.
“I’ve been looking for you. We need to talk.”
Her words so closely mirrored his own thoughts. Reb nodded and closed the distance to her side. As he approached, she held out what looked like a folded square of paper. “What’s this?”
He took it and unfolded the scrap. The words on the page were barely legible. Not only had they been quickly scrawled, but the ink was smeared, and the paper pockmarked with tears. The woman’s for certain. But something told him that some of those stains belonged to the woman he loved.
“Will your mother and sister help? Will they honor her last request?”
Reb nodded without hesitation, “Of course.” But his mind was filled with the implications in that brief paragraph. It took him a moment to gather his thoughts and courage, but she spoke before he could.
“I’m going back there.” She was crying again, and those tears ripped his heart out his asshole. “Even before this, I knew Agartha was where I belonged. But now… Now, I have some purpose, some meaning to my fucked up life. Or what’s left of it?”
Her words ate at his soul. This incredible beautiful soul, without a thought, would take on the responsibility of raising the daughters of the man who had raped her. Sure, there were stories like that preacher talked about, women having and raising their children conceived in rape.
But this was different. These girls were not related to her at all. Just three children who had seen too much. Three girls who had endured goddess knew what at the hands of their father. And who now had lost the one parent that had found the courage to protect them. Three young women alone in this world.
Her eyes stared up at him, overflowing with those tears. Her hand reached out to caress his cheek, and Reb leaned into it. He turned his head and kissed her palm. “I’m sorry, Reb. I know how you feel about that place. I know you only went back there for my sake.”
“But from the moment I looked out at that sunrise, Agartha spoke to me.” Her shoulders slumped, “I know my daughters have decided to stay here. I hope Brad is right, that they can be this change. And I’ll miss seeing my grandbabies every day. But these last weeks have shown me, I can still talk to them. Share their lives in chat, or videos, or pictures. They can come to visit, or I can come back here. Once in a while, maybe.”
“This place was never my home. And these last couple of weeks have shown me, it never can be. There are just too many bad memories. They’d always be here. Always hold me back.”
“And now this…”
“When?” was the only word Reb could manage to force out his lips. His heart was pounding. Tears filled his eyes so that her face blurred but never her beauty. This woman’s beauty came from within. And he saw that crystal clear.
“I found it in my purse. When I was switching them out for the funeral.” He knew she had been reticent that day. She had been ever since. But this…
“Are you sure? My mother and sister will care for those girls, raise them. You don’t have to…”
“Yes, yes, I do. Maybe this is my reconciliation? Going back there, raising those babies. I know things are going to be tough, especially for Beth. She’s been through so much. Now, this.”
Stacey dropped her head. She silently stared at the ground for a moment, “I just found out that Mercy knew. That she was hiding in the shadows the first time, he raped me.” She looked up at him, “She blamed herself. A five-year-old little girl thought it was her fault that a man raped her mother. Because she had stolen a fucking chocolate bar.”
“We have to break these cycles of violence and blame. I’ve done all I can here with my girls. They have to make their own choices. And they’ve got good men, real partners, by their side.”
“But those girls have no one now. I’m sorry, Reb. As much as I love you, I have to go back there. Back to Agartha. I have to do this.”
Her words knocked the air from his lungs. Did she even realize what she had said? He’d play it cool, just in case. Just this once. He didn’t want to spook his woman now that she was coming to realize the truth. Reb laced his fingers through her hair and pulled her forward. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Your girls aren’t the only ones with ‘real partners,’ sweetheart.”
She shook her head, “I can’t, Reb. I know how you feel about that place. I can’t ask you…”
“How I felt. How I felt about Agartha was bound up in a whole bunch of shit to do with my fucked up family. But as daddy reminded me, it was my connection to that place that started it all. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not promising you this is going to be easy. My family is still a mess.”
She started to shake her head in denial, “Trust me, woman. If we go back there… When we go back to Agartha, I’m sure it won’t take long for my mother’s husband and my little brother to show up.”
“But I thought that…”
Reb shook his head and laughed, “Trust me, darling, as gifted a visionary as Celestine Rainbow Moonmother may be, when it comes to men, she’s blind as a bat. And the moment they find out that I’m back, I’m sure that Edward and Malcolm Stanley-Neville will descend on Agartha like locusts. Somehow or the other, they feel that a piece of paper makes Malcolm more my mother’s child than Indie or I. But we’ll deal with that when it happens.”
“I came here to tell you that wherever you are, I’ll be by your side. And while Sebida is… Okay, I can’t lie. No matter what your son-in-law said, I don’t much like this place. It seemed from the moment that we crossed the county line, you shrunk back into that shell. That I lost you.”
“But if this was what you wanted, where you wanted to live, I’d do it. Damn, am I glad that you don’t, though. So, when can we go home, woman?”
“Home? Partner? But I…”
“You’re stuck with me, woman. So, best you get used to it. I asked a question. When do we leave? I can be packed by sundown. Hell, screw that, let’s leave now.”
Stacey shook her head and laughed. The first genuine one he had heard since they left Agartha. He knew the road ahead would not be smooth or easy. He wasn’t totally sure that she even understood the task she had set for herself. But he knew that if anyone could set aside her personal pain and the past to do the right thing by three innocent girls, it was his woman. And damned straight, he would be by her side. Every step of the way.
Sebida, Texas, wasn’t the only place that could do with a healthy dose of that Reconciliation. And maybe, just maybe, it was time that he stood fully into his own calling. The one that had brought them to Agartha. This woman was a hell of a priestess to fulfill that vision together.
“Afraid, we have a few more days here. Seems I have a wedding to plan. A double wedding.”
He shrugged, whenever or wherever, as long as they were together. “So, when is the big day?”
“What the fuck?”
But as with everything else, if anyone could do it, it was Stacey Reynolds.