That morning, I needed to believe in the kisses.
“You’re up too early.” Judy yawned, walking out of the house still in her pajamas.
“Just wanted to feel Jesus’ kisses,” I joked, taking a deep breath of the crisp morning air.
She walked over to me, took my cup of coffee, and sipped it. “How did you sleep?”
“Makes sense. I didn’t sleep at all either. It took everything for me not to go into your room and check on you. I’ve been so worried.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said even though I wasn’t certain I’d be okay, but I had faith. At least enough to get me to every next breath. “Everything always works out, right? Don’t worry about me.”
“You’re my sister, my heart, Grace. I’m always going to worry about you.”
I believed her. The same way she worried about me was the same way I worried for her.
“I just wish I could do something for you. I wish I could take away all your hurting. I’m just really sorry,” she told me, so truly sincere, “for what they did to you.”
We stood there staring out into the morning light, and as my hand rested on the porch railing, my sister placed her hand on top of mine. I didn’t know why, but her gentle touch made tears fall from my eyes as we stared out at the waking sun. For a moment in time, I felt less alone. Maybe that was the whole point of family—to make you feel less alone in a lonesome world. Sometimes, family got it wrong; sometimes, they said and did the wrong things because they were, after all, only human. Yet then there were those moments when they were right on time with their sparks of love.
Home is healing.
“Did you bring clothes for church service?” Judy asked, yawning again. “Or do you want to borrow some of mine?”
“I don’t think I’m gonna go. I’m not really in the small-town church mood today.”
Judy laughed, tossing her head back, and then when she stopped giggling, she looked at me and her jaw dropped. “Wait, you’re serious?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Grace. You’re the daughter of the pastor, and you’re back in Chester. Everybody already knows you’re back. Do you know what it would do to Mama if you didn’t show up? She’d have a heart attack.”
“Mama will be okay,” I lied. I knew she wouldn’t.
Judy cocked an eyebrow. “I can already hear Mrs. Grove badgering Mama with questions of why you weren’t at service, which would lead to Mama badgering you. Do you really want to deal with that?”
I sighed. I didn’t, but I wasn’t certain I was ready to talk to anyone, really. I hadn’t even been able to look in the mirror without tearing up. Plus, I’d already been receiving text messages from the townsfolk who saw me at my lowest of lows with Jackson yesterday. They kept asking if I was okay, and it was all so much. The idea of facing the whole church seemed so unbelievably overwhelming.
Judy must’ve noticed my hesitation because she squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry about it. Mama can be a bit peeved for a minute, but that’s nothing new. The most important thing right now is taking care of you and that heart of yours, okay? I’ll cover for you and tell everyone you weren’t feeling well.”
I laughed. “You’d lie in the church for me?”
“I’d do anything for you, Grace. Anything.”
“Even help me hide a dead body?” I joked.
“Only if it’s Finley James’,” she replied.
That made me smile, but then I felt guilty for thinking about Finn being dead.
It was sometimes hard to be God’s follower when the Devil’s whisperings sounded more satisfying.
We went back to staring at the horizon, and every now and then, I took a few small breaths.
Only a handful of people in town didn’t make it to church service on Sunday mornings, and Josie Parker was one of those individuals. Her mama, Betty, opened the doors of The Silent Bookshop a few years back after her husband, Frank, lost his hearing in a freak car accident. For a long time, Frank struggled with depression, but the only thing that kept his head above water were the words in the novels.
Each night for months, Betty sat beside her husband, holding a book in her hand, and they’d silently read the words together, flipping the pages as their fingers brushed against one another.
Whenever you saw them in town, they were either holding hands or holding a book. Their haven lived between their love and their novels, and when the idea of opening a bookstore where the one and only rule was complete and utter silence, Betty dived right in.
I spent many of my teenage years inside that store, sitting in the back corner and falling in love with men and women from faraway places. It was because of that shop that I knew I wanted to become an English teacher. I wanted to teach children the importance of words.