Will did not even try to stop the tears from falling as his future sister-in-law picked up her guitar and began to sing, ‘You raise me up to more than I can be.’ Rahab, who had been passed from family member to family member during the service, struggled in Mercy’s arms to get down. Brad nodded at them, and Mercy let the toddler down. Once again, the toddler stole the show by dancing and singing along with her mother in the aisles. But no one seemed to mind.
He knew the tears were coming faster, especially when Mercy laced her fingers through his and squeezed tightly. She lay her head on his shoulder, and nothing had felt that good in a very long time.
The man’s words had been an arrow to his heart. It was as if his grandparents whispered in his ear. He looked over his shoulder where Bebe sat with the Wilsons. Chad and her friend were no longer there, but his cousin and the woman sang along. There was no doubt where his reconciliation must begin. As soon as this was over.
And yes, he would be back. Will still wasn’t sure what his beliefs were when it came to god or religion, but he could definitely buy into this man’s vision of a better world. Beginning with this small town where they had decided to raise their family. He liked that name – Reconciliation, Texas.
And he wanted to be a part of re-building this place. So, whether Mercy could get over her aversion to church or not, Will knew where he was spending his Sunday mornings. Maybe she would enjoy sleeping in while he brought the kids? He could almost see them, running and dancing down the aisles with their cousins and other children from the community.
The song ended, and his soon-to-be brother-in-law stepped forward. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
The young family walked down the center aisle together and stood by the door. The pews began to empty. People shook the man’s hand and chatted. Will was anxious. He could feel the seconds ticking away like the old grandfather clock that was Etta Mae’s pride and joy. He wondered what had become of it. Probably another family momento and historical artifact for his mother and aunt to fight over.
He saw the woman leaning on his cousin as they spoke to the preacher. They were just a couple of people ahead of them. He considered leaving Mercy’s side to talk with Bebe. But not only was it rude, but there was also something he wanted to discuss with the man.
Mercy leaned in and kissed him softly, “You’re sure about this?”
He brought their joined hands to his lips and pressed a kiss to the ring she wore. It was one heirloom the women would not fight over. His grandmother had slipped the rings from her fingers herself as he sat holding her on that cold floor. She had pressed them into his hand, “You’ll know her when you find her.” And he had.
He had taken grandfather’s wedding band that she had worn on a leather string around her neck as well. He knew they weren’t fancy. The bands were made of silver because black preachers in the fifties could not afford gold. And you could not even call the stone in the engagement ring a diamond. The tongs that held that sliver in place overshadowed it.
But Mercy understood. She had cried as hard as he did as he went to his knee in the storage unit where they had taken his stuff that they cleared out of his apartment. These rings had blessed one perfect union of two souls that had stood by one another’s side through some of the darkest days of this countries history. And come what may they would another.
Mercy let go of his hand to embrace her sister. This one did not look as much like their mother as Laura and Mercy. There was something softer, gentler, quieter about Elena Reynolds Williams. But it was still obvious the women were related. “Thank you,” the woman hugged Mercy tightly.
“You know what. That place was almost full. How did you all do it?”
Mercy laughed as she held up her phone, “A couple of calls. A few posts to social media. That’s all it took.” His woman turned to face the man by her sister’s side. “Brad, you know how Mama, Laura, and I feel about god, and about this church in particular.”
Will wanted to laugh at the way the man shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, “Are you going to threaten me with the shotgun again?”
Mercy laughed, and the music filled the early summer morning as sweetly as her sister’s singing. “No, I was going to say, but you gave me some things to think about this morning.”
“Then, maybe you’ll come back sometime?”
Will stepped forward, “I know we haven’t been introduced formally, but I’m Caleb Williams. She’s right, you know. I haven’t heard a sermon like that since my grandfather died.”
“That’s right, Elena told me about your grandparents. I’m humbled you’d say that, and I hope that you’ll come back, too.”
“Oh, you can count on that. But actually, Mercy and I have a favor we’d like to ask you. We were wondering if you might have time soon to perform a wedding?”
The man laughed, and his eyes twinkled, “Funny, you should ask that. I’m performing a wedding ceremony Friday evening for Laura and Ryan.” He turned towards Mercy, “What do you say? Check with your sister, but maybe the Reynolds women tie the knots together?”
Mercy nodded, “I will. I think that’s a great idea. I’ll go find them now, and we’ll get back to you.”
“Thanks, man. I look forward to getting to know you better,” Will held out his hand to the man who, through some twist of Fate, shared his name, if not his lineage. Through the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the one person he was looking for. Bebe stood on the edge of the property near an old wire fence. She was off to the side as the Wilson family shared a group hug.
He turned to Mercy, “Darlin,’ would you mind talking to Laura and Ryan alone? There’s something I need to do, first.”
Perhaps she had seen the directions of his gaze, or maybe she just knew. That had happened a couple of times lately, when somehow they just seemed to know what the other was thinking, even finishing their sentences for them. It was freaky nice. She nodded, squeezed his hand, and said, “Go.”
Will did not need to be told twice, taking the little church’s wooden steps two at a time. He covered the distance in no time with a light jog. “Hey, Bebe, I wanted…”
His cousin jumped out of his reach as he approached her. “Don’t touch me.”
It ate at his heart and gut that she felt that way. He understood why, of course. But it seemed another reminder of how deeply he had failed her. “I’m sorry.”
“I figured you’d find me.” The girl crossed her arms over her body and stepped back even further.
“I just want to talk…”
“No. How about you listen instead, Will?”
He nodded silently. Whatever she needed or wanted. He would do whatever it took. He’d stand by her side, help her to adjust back into society, the family. Even if he wasn’t so confident, either of those were good things.
“I know you thought you were doing the ‘right’ or ‘honorable’ thing. I get that. But what you don’t understand is that I don’t belong here. I’m not that innocent and idealistic little girl you knew. She died. It wasn’t a quick or merciful death either. I’m not even sure when it happened. At the bus stop? When they turned me over to that sheriff? When they auctioned…”
Bebe paused and stared at the ground at her feet. Her words were knives plunging deeper into his soul. He wanted to take her in his arms and promise her that everything would be alright. He wished he had some magical words to ease her pain. But all he could do was honor her pain with silent space.
“You don’t need the dirty details. That would just be me striking out, trying to inflict my pain on others.”
She looked up at him then. Tears raced down her cheeks, and more glistened in her eyes as she spoke, “It wasn’t your fault. You did what you could. I absolve you of whatever guilt you feel.”
So, why did her words not make the ache in his heart any lighter? “So, what next? I know you don’t want to go back to Dallas. I get that. You’re welcome to stay here with Mercy and me…”
She was shaking her head so violently that the curls danced about her face, some caught in those tears. “No. I can’t.”
Her eyes met his again, and his heart pounded in his throat at the ice in their dark depths. “You’ve changed, Will. You and Gran were the only people whose touch I could stand.”
“I know what they call it, sensory processing disorder. But I always knew better than to tell any of them the truth. When I touch someone, I feel them. Their emotions. Their memories. You were the only ones that were pure enough that it didn’t overwhelm me.”
Others, his aunt, her father, and certainly those doctors and ‘experts’ who had diagnosed her might think her mentally unbalanced, but Will did not doubt her gifts. Anymore than Gran had ever doubted his. Had his grandmother known? About Bebe’s abilities as well as his own?
Then it hit him. The reality of all his cousin must have endured. Not merely the repeated violations of her body but the torment of her mind. He knew that many people never recovered from such atrocities. It was a testament to her strength that she survived at all.
Her next words cut him to his core and almost brought him to his knees. “When you touched me in Torreon, Will, all I felt was anger and hate. I can’t handle that right now. I don’t want that kind of energy around my baby.”
He wanted to deny her words. Not that. How could she ever move on now? “Baby? Are you sure? Do you…” He could not even bring himself to say the words.
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve known for a few weeks. But the doctors at the hospital in Laredo confirmed it.”
Will wanted to push the thought in his mind aside. He knew that it went against everything their grandmother believed, but still, maybe it was the only way. “You could…”
“Terminate? No, I planned this baby. It’s Bobby’s. And yes, before you ask, I’m sure. That place was Garcia’s top-end whorehouse. And he made damned sure that everyone used protection.” Those words revolted him.
Perhaps she read his thoughts, the expression on his face, or his body language? Bebe’s shoulders slumped, “I don’t know, I suppose I thought if I got pregnant with his child that Bobby would… But none of that matters now.”
“I know you can never understand this. Hell, I’m not sure I do. But this baby is all I have. I know exactly how you feel about Bobby. Trust me, you broadcast those feelings so loud and clear that it overwhelmed me.”
Will stepped back as the impact of her words registered. That was why she had passed out in the barn?
“Will, ask yourself, what would it be like if I stayed with ya’ll? Watching my belly get bigger right alongside Mercy’s? How are you going to feel? Are you going to project your anger at Bobby onto his child? I know you’d never mean to. But…”
“But, like I said, this baby is all I have to live for right now. You know I can never go back to my parents. You know how daddy would feel. He’d say that my skirt was too short, or I must have looked at them the wrong way. It always some Jezebel or harlot, the woman’s fault.”
“Maybe one day, I’ll go back to school.” She laughed bitterly, “Hell, even Bobby wanted to send me to Harvard. He graduated there, you know.”
They were both silent for a long moment. His mind raced with images of that smiling and optimistic young girl. The woman-child before him was neither of those things.
“I know you’ll never believe this. And I’m struggling with it myself, but he wasn’t all bad. Yeah, I know, better than you can imagine, the things he did. But in the end, he kept his promises. To you and to me. He saved them,” she motioned to the Wilsons, who were beginning to break that hug.
“Maybe it is Stockholm syndrome. I don’t know. But I’m not that little girl they stole from that bus stop. The child you knew. And I can’t be like other teens. Even if it weren’t for this baby, I just could not bring myself to give a shit about make-up, clothes, boys, or some stupid video on the internet. But this world won’t see me as a woman or let me make my own choices either.”
“So, thank you. I do appreciate your offer. But no. And no, I don’t know where or what I’m going to do. Other than this child. That’s the only sanity I’m holding onto right now.”
Will felt the ground shake beneath his feet at the honesty in her words and face. He wanted to deny it all. But Bebe was right. Somewhere along the road, he had lost his faith. Not only in his grandparent’s god, but in humanity. In his own ability to make a difference. And in its place, hatred and anger had grown.
She was accurate about something else too. He could not see this child she carried as a blessing like he did the little girl growing inside Mercy. But no matter who had fathered it, the child was innocent. It deserved to be wanted and accepted as his cousin seemed to. And he admitted that he would struggle to do that.
He had no words to offer, so he only nodded as Bebe walked away. He had come looking for reconciliation with her. What he had gotten was the hard truth. A deeper look at that man in the memory. And he did not like what he saw. It was easy to blame men like Roberto and Diego Garcia. Hell, even ones like J. T. Tyler for perpetuating unjust systems.
It was harder to face the prejudice and hate in yourself. But at least, he knew where he stood and what he needed to do to become the kind of man that Bebe needed him to be, that Mercy deserved, and that would make Etta Mae Williams proud.