Her daughter’s words finally registered in Stacey’s mind. She had been so distracted with dealing with her own shit. This place brought back almost as many memories as that cabin had. And none of them were pleasant.
Except today and Elena’s wedding. But even at her daughter’s wedding, she had stood on the steps. On the outside looking in. But that’s how she had dealt with life for as long as she could remember. Like it was a bad movie that was happening to someone else.
Mercy’s confession broke through all that. She heard the depths of her little girl’s pain. How much did her daughter know of what had happened?
But that was not possible. Her girls had been safely in bed. She had kept quiet. So that she did not wake them.
Oh my god, Mercy had come down the hall after Kerr left. She had grabbed the quilt from the back of the couch, but maybe she had not been quick enough? Perhaps Mercy had seen the bruises? She was only five, so Stacey had assumed that if she did, it would not register. But maybe Mercy had remembered later?
Stacey did something rare for her anyway. She could probably count the number of times she had hugged her girls. That day when Elena and Brad had left. But now, Stacey wrapped her sobbing daughter in her arms. “It was no biggie. It was just a candy bar.”
But Mercy broke free and what she saw in her daughter’s face had her clutching the walls. The girl’s words only confirmed her worst nightmare as a mother. “No, Mama. I know the truth. I was there. In the hall. I heard…”
Stacey’s knees gave out, and she fell against the side of the building. She shook her head violently, but she could not deny the truth written in Mercy’s eyes. “No,” she was crying as hard as her daughter.
But through it all, the same need to protect her children, which had forced her to give in to the man’s threats that night, had her reaching out for her youngest child now. “It wasn’t your fault, Mercy.”
“If I hadn’t stolen that candy…”
The truth hit Stacey then, and it hurt. It was as devastating as the rape had been, as watching helplessly as that cabin burned. But it was a revelation that she knew would change her life and others as she spoke it forth.
“If it hadn’t been the candy, it would have been something else. A parking ticket, speeding, a broken taillight. Something. As long as society turns a blind eye to men like that, women will be vulnerable.”
She shook her daughter, but in fact, it was herself that was shaken. “I won’t have you blaming yourself. Women have been conditioned to do that for too long. To question the clothes we wore or the route home we took. Or the look we gave some man.”
“But that has to stop. Earl Kerr was a monster. He was the only one responsible for what happened that night. Not you, or Laura, or me. We didn’t do anything that justified his actions.” That truth finally registered in her fractured mind. And it freed her in a way nothing else had. Except maybe Reb.
“Maybe it’s too late for me. And I’m so sorry that you kept this all inside of you for so long. I’d like to think that you could have come to me, but to be honest, if you had back then, I would have probably just yelled at you. Not because I was angry or blamed you, but because I blamed myself for not protecting you.”
It was hard to face that too. To realize how she had pushed away even her girls. Oh, she had done everything she could to feed them, clothe them, and educate them. But from that moment, some part of her had been locked away even from her daughters.
“But this has to stop.” She reached out her hand and placed it on her daughter’s flat stomach, “This little girl, Chloe, Rahab, her sisters, all these little girls deserve that better world Brad talked about. And it is up to you and me, babygirl, to give it to them. To stop hiding, to speak our truth, and to stand together with other women. To say – no more.”
She brushed the tears and the trail of dark mascara stains from Mercy’s cheeks. Then she used the back of her hand to dry her own. “I’ve always told you girls that Reynolds women are survivors. But that ain’t good enough no more. Just surviving is what victims do. And we’re not victims.”
“Reynolds women are ass-kickers and world changers.” Stacey chuckled and smiled as she saw Elena come around the corner, “Even the quiet ones.”
She held out her other arm for her middle daughter. Elena laid her head against her mother’s shoulder on one side, and Mercy did the same on the other. “I know I don’t say it enough, but I love you all. And I am so fucking proud of all of you.”
“Mama,” Elena exclaimed.
“So, that’s where all of you have gotten off to? A Reynolds’s family reunion, and I’m not invited?” Laura’s eyes were dancing with laughter as she joined them. “I’ve got something to tell you.”