Mercy watched Will grasp hands with Chad Wilson. She knew well the tensions between the men. Even when Chad had sought him out in the hospital to talk things through, she knew that Will had been unable to accept the absolution the man offered. Would he now?
She knew how heavily it had all weighed on his broad shoulders. The choices he had made. But he took far too much of the responsibility on those shoulders. He was no Sisyphus or Atlas to bear the weight of eternal punishment. He had done what he had to do. When no one else would. They both had.
Of course, maybe she was a bit of the pot calling that kettle black. Her mother’s words of exculpation were still hard to accept. But Mercy was finding the woman’s war cry a far sight easier to embrace. It was time for this world to change. To become a safer and more accepting place for everyone.
She smiled as she approached the men, “Stay in touch. And I promise I’ll look out for her like one of my own.” Chad nodded at her as he walked away.
“What was that all about?”
“Bebe is going to stay with the Wilsons’ for a bit.” Will reached out and drew her into his arms, resting his head against her shoulders.
Was that such a good idea? But how did she even ask that question without revealing her own secrets and the woman’s? That was not her place to do. To be fair, she was not even sure what the doctors had told the woman, what Rose remembered of her time in Torreon, or whether the woman even knew she had miscarried. Maybe she was just borrowing trouble, as Mama said.
If it was what Bebe wanted, she had to trust the girl to know what was best for herself. And her brother’s child. They had had only a short time to talk last night while her famous lemon pound cake was baking. She and Bebe had sat on the front porch, looking up at the stars. The girl wore some of her clothes that Mama had given her, and in the moonlight, it was hard to say if she was a child or a woman. But that was Bebe’s problem. Stuck somewhere between the two.
“What about her parents? I thought her father…”
Will nodded and pulled her closer, “Yeah, he does. But I’ll speak with my aunt. See if I can make her understand. If not… Well, your sister spoke with Bebe earlier about going to court for emancipation. Especially since… Did you know? That she’s pregnant? With his kid?”
As hard as it was, Mercy would never have an untruth between them. She nodded slowly, “But only since last night. I asked her to tell you herself. I assume she did?”
“She said that she didn’t want to live with us because she can feel my anger and hate. I know she’s right. I just don’t know how to fix it.”
She pulled him closer, wrapped her arms around his waist as she felt his tears wet the shoulder of her t-shirt. They stood like that by the old weeping willow. The writer in her appreciated the imagery of that one as she held the man she loved.
She drew back just enough to look him in the face. “There’s only one antidote for hate, Will. That’s love. And I believe we’ve got a pretty good start on that one. We just need to give her some time. Bebe has her own shit that she’s dealing with. Let her heal.”
“Maybe this baby isn’t such a bad thing? I know that’s hard for you to see. She’s just a little girl to you. But the things that happened to her there… She can’t go back. Perhaps this baby gives her a reason to go forwards?”
“You sound just like her,” his smile sent those butterflies into flight in her tummy. Mercy had a feeling that it might always.
“Perdóname por favor,” a young man, he couldn’t be much older than Bebe, approached them.
His hands were stuffed in the pockets of his jeans, and his shoulders slumped. Mercy could not see much of his face behind the mask, but those dark eyes pulled at her heartstrings. The pain in them was almost overwhelming. She recognized it. She had seen it before. In a cornfield in Bumfuck.
“You are Senor Caleb Williams, no?”
Will nodded his head as he stood straighter, but he kept his arm around her waist. Mercy was glad that he did. They both might need that reassurance. “Yes, do I know you?”
“No, senor. But did you mean it?”
“That all women deserve justice? Did you mean that?”
There it was. Somehow Mercy knew it was coming. Was this more than merely his calling? And she had no doubt that it was Will’s purpose. But her Mama’s words rang in her ears, ‘ass-kickers and world-changers.’ “Yes, we meant that.”
The boy’s eyes drifted to hers as he nodded, “I remember you, too. The writer lady?”
Mercy nodded with a smile, “And his partner.” She would have sworn that Will growled. “How can we help you?”
“It’s my sister. Selena has been missing for almost a week. But the policia won’t listen.” Those dark eyes almost pleaded as loudly as the boy’s words as he looked at Will, “They say that she is an adult, and since there is no evidence of foul play, they can’t help us.”
Will started to shake his head, “I’m sorry, but we’re getting…”
Mercy elbowed his ribs hard enough to knock the wind out of him. “What police? Austin? Dallas? Houston? Have you tried the Texas Rangers?”
“No, Senorita, Selena was interning at some fancy law firm in Los Angeles. But the LAPD will not listen… I tried to get Mama and Papa to go to Telemundo with the story, but they are afraid…”
“Si, senor. Selena and I are citizens; we were born in El Paso. My tio and his familia live there. Selena stayed with them so she could go to high school in America. She got scholarships to college and now law school. But…”
“She would not do this, senor. She knows that Papa worries and that Mama’s heart is not so good. She would not become involved with people like that…”
“People like what? I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?” Mercy asked with what she hoped was a comforting smile.
“Javier. Javier Ortiz. Me padre is Jesus and me madre Jimena.”
“You said that your sister would not become involved with ‘people like that,’ what people? And how do the police know who she is involved with?” Mercy’s panties got wet just from the tone of his voice as Will asked questions that would not have occurred to her.
“Gangs. Bloods and Crips. The police traced Selena’s cell phone. All of the hits were known gang hideouts. That’s when they told my papa they would not get involved. They said that she must have gotten involved with the wrong people. But she would not do that. Selena had big dreams… She wanted to be President one day.”
Mercy braced her hand against Will’s abdomen. She knew how hard those words were for him. How much they mirrored another little girl’s. And how deeply he felt he had let Bebe down.
She looked up at him, “Does it seem strange to you? That the girl would be involved with both? I thought they were enemies?”
“Yeah, but if she’s a courier or a messenger, it’s possible.” He turned to the young man, “Was your sister acting differently? Before all this happened?”
“Si, senor. Since right after she started this internship, she has been quiet. Not the same. I thought that something was wrong… She swore it was just the work and long hours. But then, right before it happened, she told Mama that she might come home for a while. That she needed to get away and think.”
Will shook his head, “I want to help. But I’m not sure how much I can do. Los Angeles is…”
“The perfect place for a honeymoon. I’ve always wanted to go there. And my agent said there are a couple of studios interested in making my books into movies.” She batted her eyes at Will but was not pleased with his frown.
“We just came back from Torreon. I don’t want you or that baby in danger again, woman.”
“Pish-tottle. If we’re with you, we’ll be perfectly safe. This could be that window, Will. That higher-purpose. Please, at least, let’s look into it a bit further.”
“Please, senor. You are our only chance. We can’t pay you much. But Papa and Mama have been saving money for me to go to college. It is only a few thousand, but…”
“Keep your money. You’ll need it for school. Didn’t you hear I’m a famous author now? Please, Will, you know we have to do this. I know you if anything happens to this girl and you didn’t at least try, you’d never…”
His dark eyes closed, and his head dropped, “Blessed, woman. We’ll do it.” He looked back up at the young man, “But we can’t leave until after the wedding on Friday. And I’ll need everything you have. The police files. Any emails she sent you or your parents. Access to her phone records if you can. I’ll look those over first, and we’ll talk more. But not here, not now.”
The young man nodded. Mercy was almost sure he was smiling behind that mask, “Garcias, senor. Garcias.”
“I’m not promising anything. The statistics… They aren’t on our side. All I can do is have a look at those files. You understand?”
“Si,” the young man held out his hand but then seemed to remember that the world they lived in was changing.
Mercy grabbed a napkin from the table and scribbled her number and email on it. “How about we meet for breakfast at my friend Lizzie’s diner tomorrow morning? You can’t miss it. It’s the only one in town.”
The young man nodded and took the napkin, pulling it towards his heart like some precious artifact or treasure. “Garcias.”
She snuggled closer to Will’s side, “I know that you’re worried about me, sweetheart. But honestly, I believe this is it. That window. What you’re meant to do. Someone has to do it, has to go after these women and girls who have fallen through the cracks. And I can’t think of anyone better equipped than you are.”
This time there was no doubt, he growled, an actual growl as he buried his face in the crook of her neck where it met her shoulder. “You’re going to be the death of me, woman.”
“No, I’m gonna be the strong woman who stands by your sides.”
Mercy watched as Ryan and Laura walked towards them. The man looked so adorable with his sleeping daughter in some contraption on his buff chest. She definitely had to convince the man to do a photo shoot. That was one-hundred percent e-book cover material. Every woman’s ovaries would burst at that one.
But she doubted her sister would agree to her husband posing topless. Then again, she wasn’t putting Will on a cover half-naked either. Some things were for their eyes only. Hmm, she’d have to ask about where Laura got that thingy.
“Just the man I’m looking for. I have a proposition for you, friend…”
Mercy had almost forgotten her sister’s surprise earlier. She was pretty sure she knew what that proposition was too. And a half an hour ago, she might have even encouraged Will to accept her future brother-in-law’s offer, but she was confident that was not what Fate had in store for her man.
“Sorry, Ryan. You’re too late. We got a better offer.” She did not even wait for the questions that she was confident would come from Ryan, her sister, or even Will.
No, this was the right path. Mercy was certain of that. She was lucky enough to finally be making money doing what she had always loved. Enough money that they could afford for Will to do what he wanted…without worrying about finances. That, too, seemed like Fate.
And maybe, as Bradley said, they could make a difference. Not just for Sebida or Reconciliation or whatever you wanted to call it, but as Mama said, ‘to stop hiding, to speak their truth, and to stand together with other women. To say, no more.’ Mercy could almost feel Walter and Etta Mae Williams smiling down on this next generation of ass-kickers and world-changers.