Mercy did her best to listen to whatever Abby Jean was saying. She really tried. But she couldn’t keep her eyes off Will. He was across the grass field, where the old church bordered with Old Lady Milton’s pasture. He was talking with Bebe, and from the look on his face, whatever his cousin was saying was not good.
She knew that Bebe felt estranged from her family, Will included. The only one who might have been able to reach the girl was their grandmother. But Etta Mae Williams had died a couple of weeks before she met Will.
She understood; she truly got it. Bebe’s trouble with Will was his attitude towards her baby brother. She could even empathize with the girl. Roberto Garcia, for a few weeks, had been almost like family to her. Or as close as she’s come in that place.
But she got where Will was coming from too. She was under no illusion that the man had been a saint. She knew he had kidnapped Grace, beaten Rose, and committed murder. But the sin that Will could not forgive him for – was taking a fifteen-year-old girl as his lover.
Mercy watched tears roll down the girl’s face as she took a step back from the man who had destroyed the career he loved and put their lives at risk to bring the girl home. That, too, was the problem. For Bebe, there was no going back. She would never be that innocent little girl at the bus stop, if she ever indeed had been. She would never be like other teenage girls either.
Yet, she was denied the right to determine her own future. A minor. Her father was demanding that she go back to Dallas. Will wanted her to stay with them. Not that she would mind. But Mercy just was not sure it was the right thing for the girl or the man she loved.
“Earth to Mercy,” Lizzie called her back.
Lizzie’s arms were wrapped around Abby Jean. Their friend was a total and utter mess. She had driven to Austin and back yesterday. It was a fucking miracle she had not run Miss Myrtle’s precious mint-green 1957 Chevy Bel Air off the road or wrapped it around a tree.
And for what? A man? No, a spineless, cheating, worthless weasel. No, that was not fair to the cute rodents. John William Cummins might have Texas blood bluer than even the Monroe’s, but he was not worth this. She and Lizzie had been trying to tell Abby Jean that for the last year and a half. Honestly, she was out of patience with the girl.
“What do you want me to say? He’s a worthless piece of shit. Are you really surprised to find him with another woman?”
Abby hiccuped; the girl was not a pretty-crier. Her peaches and cream complexion was mottled, her long blond hair was tangled. “Damn, girl, you need a shower. Pull yourself together. It’s just a break-up.”
Lizzie sent her one of those scathing looks. Mercy was sorry if her best friend didn’t like this brand of tough love. But dammit, what did Abby Jean Monroe know about life anyway? Sure, she was Miss Myrtle’s bastard granddaughter. But in Sebida, the name Monroe carried more weight than that.
Mercy was not as close to Abby as she was Lizzie. Maybe it was the age difference? She was the oldest at thirty-two. Lizzie was only a couple of years younger. But Abby was the youngest. At twenty-seven, the girl was a mere babe. But Lizzie had drawn the young girl into their protective circle, almost like some mascot. At least until Miss Myrtle found out that her precious granddaughter was hanging out with that ‘wild Reynolds’ girl.
Aside from the handful of times that Lizzie and Abby had lied to the girl’s grandmother so they could have a sleepover, she had not really known the girl. Not until Abby Jean came back here eighteen months ago to care for her dying grandmother. Miss Mrytle had mellowed in her old age. She had even welcomed Mama into her home when she took over a casserole and pound cake.
Perhaps she was not fair to the girl, but dammit, wasn’t it time for her to grow the fuck up? “Listen, Abby Jean, go home. Take a shower. Find your big girl’s panties, and put those fuckers on. The man ain’t worth this, and you know it. It’s not like you even really loved him. Otherwise, you would have let J.W. punch your V-card sometime in the last… What five years?”
Lizzie frowned at her and shook her head, but maybe a heaping helping of the truth was what the girl needed right now. “Come’on, Lizzie. You know I’m right. J.W. Cummins was nothing more than Abby Jean trying to impress Miss Myrtle with the right kind of boyfriend.”
She grabbed Abby by the shoulders and shook her, “You know it, too. Andrew Jackson Greywolf is the only man that’s ever gotten your panties in a knot. So, what you gonna do about it?”
Abby sniffled, yeah, a runny nose too. This girl was definitely not a pretty crier. Mercy turned to the table of food a couple of feet away and grabbed a handful of napkins. They might not be Miss Myrtle’s fancy, monogrammed handkerchiefs, but they’d wipe up tears and snot just as well.
She pressed them into Abby’s hand. “You know what you need? To get good and drunk. Cry into your beer, or white wine, or girly drink. Get that man out of your system and get on with your life.”
Lizzie gave her a vicious stare then. “Yeah, I know how you feel about drinking, and I get that, Lizzie. But we won’t let her drive. You have my word on that.”
“Alcohol never solves anyone’s problems.”
Mercy put her arm around her other friend. Lizzie had been nineteen and in her first year of college when she got that call. The one that no one wants. There had been an accident. Her mother and step-father had been killed instantly. Her eight-year-old half-brother was in bad shape.
A drunk-driver had cost her best friend her whole life as much as he had her parents or her younger brother his legs. Lizzie had been the good girl, quitting school, coming home to care for Gareth, and taking over the diner to keep a roof over their heads and food on the tables.
Mercy squeezed Lizzie’s shoulders, “It’s one night. And it’s my bachelorette party.”
“What?” Both of her friends squealed like the teenage girls they had all once been in another life. But Mercy had never been like them. Even back then, she had carried a heavy load. And while Lizzie had joined that club, Abby Jean was still incredibly naive. The damned girl needed a protector. Maybe she’d help that one on a bit…
“Yeah, Will and I are getting married.”
“What? When?” Lizzie helped Abby Jean to dry her eyes, though they were red and puffy. That girl really should not cry.
“We’re having a double wedding here with Laura and Ryan on Friday evening.”
“What? So soon? But there’s no time…”
“Don’t even think it, Elizabeth Chandler Patterson. I am not wearing any damned dress. Blue jeans and a fancy t-shirt. That’s it.”
“But that’s final. So, what you two say? A final girl’s night? How about at the casino? My treat, since I’m a best-selling ‘author’ now.”
They all giggled, and Lizzie smiled, though Mercy could tell it was not easy for her friend. She knew some pains ran deep. “Okay, it’s a date.”
Abby Jean pasted a fake smile on her face, “Alright, but no kissing or feeling one another up this time. I turned that offer down once this week already.”
Now that Mercy could understand her friend being upset about. She would have never thought J.W. had the balls to suggest that her prim-and-proper friend join him and his lover in a poly-relationship. Not that it was genuinely poly, the man had gotten caught with his pants down, quite literally. But she would bet there was nothing worth looking at anyway.
“It’s a deal. I’ll text you the details. But I have something I need to do now. And girl, go fix your make-up, girl, it’s just a break-up.”
Before she could get another note out, Lizzie was smiling and joining her in the chorus, “Run and hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady ’cause I raised you better. Gotta keep it together, even when you fall apart. But this ain’t our mama’s broken heart.”
By the end, even Abby Jean was laughing and nodding. No, what this girl was going through wasn’t her Mama’s broken heart.
That went much deeper. A pain that her mother had borne alone for most of Mercy’s life. But no more. Neither of them might buy Brad’s Jesus bullshit, but there was no doubt where reconciliation began for her. And if she was to start a new life with the man she loved, it was time to let those old secrets go.
She walked over to her mother, who was putting more food out on the table. Yeah, it was long past time, “Mama, can we talk?”
“Sure, babygirl. Just let me finish getting these out.” Mercy took the platter from her mother and began distributing cookies and cakes, too. Now that this moment had come, she wasn’t sure she had either the words or the courage to go through with it. Especially as they finished their task all too quickly.
Stacey drew her daughter away from the crowd around the side of the building. “What did you want to talk about, Mercy?”
She shifted from foot to foot, her head down, unable to look this woman in the eye. She wrapped her arms around herself and started rocking back and forth. She was back there. In that dark hallway. Listening to her mother’s stifled groans and pleas.
“Mercedes, snap out of it,” her mother shook her gently as she had Abby Jean.
Her eyes met the woman who had sacrificed everything for her. Over a stupid candy bar, and the tears came in a torrent of pain. “It’s all my fault. Everything. I’m sorry, Mama. I stole that chocolate, not Laura. And…”