“Your mother is my best friend, Jackson.” His eyes glassed over, and he sniffled a bit. “She’s my whole world, just like you. You both mean more to me than you could ever know.”
“You love her?”
“Yes, son.” A tear rolled down his cheek, and he nodded, wiping it away. “With all that I am.”
“Okay.” My stomach stopped hurting as much. I leaned back against Dad and nodded slowly. “You can keep reading now.”
He cleared his throat and sighed, looking back at his book. “Chapter fourteen…”
Sunday morning church was the highlight of the week in Chester. It was a staple in our lives, and my father was the man who ran it. And boy, was he good at what he did. I just wished my attention could’ve been on him more that morning.
“Sit up straight, Gracelyn Mae,” Mama whisper-shouted at me in the pew on Sunday morning. “A proper lady doesn’t slouch.”
I sat up straighter and rolled my shoulders back as I listened to Dad preach his sermon. A few people sitting behind us began to whisper, and my ears perked up as Finn’s name fell from their lips.
“Yeah, he came straight from Autumn’s home last night. I wonder if she even knows,” they said, making my stomach twist into knots.
“It’s sad to see their marriage crumble. I thought they were going to make it.”
“Yes well, that’s today’s generation. They don’t even fight for their partner anymore. I heard he wasn’t the first one to step out on their relationship.”
“It’s always the good girls, isn’t it?”
I moved to twist around and snap at the gossiping women, but Mama placed a firm hand on my knee and shook her head back and forth slightly.
“Straighter, Gracelyn Mae,” she told me.
I sat up even more.
“Rumor has it Finley wanted a family, but Grace didn’t want to get pregnant. Didn’t want to ruin her figure. Even though it looks a bit…different.”
“I noticed her weight gain, too. It’s a shame.”
My mind began to spin as I was forced to sit there and be ridiculed by townsfolk. I wasn’t even allowed to stand up for myself because I was Gracelyn Mae Harris, the well-behaved angel of Chester, Georgia.
What hurt the most was the fact that those people who were whispering were the same ones hugging me in the marketplace. They smiled to my face while literally talking behind my back.
They’re gonna bleed you out till you’re nothing, and then they’re gonna ask how you died.
I did my best to blink away my tears, too, because the perfect princess never cried.
“Can you just not?!” a voice snapped, making the whole church go silent. Dad stopped preaching, thrown off by the sudden shout. I turned to my left to see Judy facing the rude individuals, who had looks of shock painted across their face.
“How about you listen to the sermon instead of gossiping about things that you know nothing about?” She then turned back to the front, and the room remained quiet. She nodded once toward our father and cleared her throat, sitting up straighter like the proper princess. “Sorry, Dad. You can continue.”
He did exactly that, completely unmoved by the disruption.
After the sermon, I caught Mama giving Judy a stern talking-to in the corner of the church. I moved in close enough to hear Mama preaching her own words. “How dare you embarrass us like that, Judith Rae!”
“I’m sorry, I just couldn’t listen to them talk about Grace like that, and I’m shocked that you could. They have no clue what’s going on in her life!”
“That’s on them, but it’s not your job to educate them on it. Their gossipy ways are between them and Jesus.”
“Yes, well, maybe Jesus wasn’t listening that closely today, so I decided to join the conversation,” Judy snapped.
She snapped back to Mama.
Who was this new sister of mine, and how could I tell her I loved her with more than words?
“You’re acting like a child, Judith. Stop it.”
“You’re acting like those people are your family. You’re so concerned with how the church views you that you don’t even care how your daughters do. What ever happened to always and always, Mama? When did you stop believing in it?” she asked before walking off in a huff.
I was stunned. Simply stunned. Never in my life have Judy or I stormed away from Mama. We always waited for her to leave the room in a huff and puff because that was how it was meant to be. We never sassed our mother, and she always had the last word. Until that afternoon.
I felt as if I was in a weird twilight zone, and I hadn’t a clue which way was up.
Mama glanced my way and hurried over to me. “Are you happy, Grace? Are you pleased that your sister is acting out like you now?”
“No,” I whispered, shaking my head. “Of course not. Mama, I didn’t plan for any of this to happen.”