“Then one day, a new family bought property in this here town, and a woman with eyes that matched yours walked into our church. She was beautiful, and Samuel noticed, as did I. I didn’t take offense to it because, at the end of the day, he’d come home to me. We had that arrangement. Out of respect and loyalty, he’d come back to me. But then, he’d end up working later each night. Some nights, he’d come home so late, I swore I’d see the sun rising through the blinds. He’d stopped saying I love you, and I could smell her all over him. Honeysuckle and raspberries.” She closed her eyes as more tears fell down her cheeks. “I had my suspicions about who the woman was, but it became very clear once the news came out that your mother was killed in a car accident. I’d never seen a man truly mourn until I watched my husband fall to the ground and cry out for your mother.”
“You’re lying,” I choked out, stunned.
“I’m not, and I think you know it.”
“Get off my property,” I barked.
“Why do you think your father attacked the church all those years ago, Jackson? Why do you think he’s so hell-bent on hating my family?”
“I said leave.”
“Fine, I will. But tell me this… Can you really be with my daughter—the woman whose father is the reason your mother left all those years ago—and fully love her? Can you give yourself to Grace without resentment and anger? Can you stare into her eyes that match her father’s and not attach her to that horrific event? I know I couldn’t do it.”
I didn’t reply because I didn’t have a clue how to gather any kind of words. I marched straight into my home and closed the door behind me as her words invaded every inch of my being.
* * *
“Is it true?” I barked, barging into Dad’s house. He was sitting on the couch with his eyes half-open as he watched the morning news. The place was once again trashed even though I’d just cleaned it a few days back.
He looked like a zombie. Heavy bags under his eyes, greasy hair, filthy clothes. Nothing about my father resembled life.
“Well?” I badgered, tossing my hands up in annoyance. “Is it true?”
“What are you talking about? Is what true?”
“Was Samuel Harris the man Ma was having an affair with?”
The way his brows lowered and his lips slightly parted made it apparent to me that it was, indeed, the truth.
“Are you shitting me right now? Are you telling me this whole time you’ve known Samuel Harris was the man pretty much responsible for my mother’s death, and you didn’t find the need to tell me?”
“I told you to get that car out of my shop. I told you to stop fucking with that girl. What more did you want?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe the fucking truth, Dad? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was none of your damn business, boy,” he told me, picking up his whiskey bottle and taking a swig. “You had no right to know.”
I snatched it from his hand and threw it across the room. “I had every right to know.”
“Piss off, Jackson. I don’t have time for this.”
“My mother’s dead because of this situation, and your life is shit due to it all. You could’ve told me. I would’ve never let that family anywhere near our shop. I would’ve fought for you, for us. I would’ve—”
“That shit is over and done with. Get the hell out of my house.”
“Look, your mother is dead, and she ain’t ever coming back, all right? Let it go. Don’t make me tell you again. Get out. I don’t want to see your face.”
He spoke to me in his drunken state as if it wasn’t a big deal. As if my mother’s death was nothing but a passing memory instead of a daily soul-burning sensation. He spoke as if he didn’t relive the nightmare each day, the same way I did. He spoke as if she were nothing when, in fact, she was everything.
And the man responsible for her tragic ending lived right down the road.
The father to the woman who I had the nerve of almost falling for.
A few more days and I would’ve let her into my heart.
A few more days and I would’ve told her words that I’d never discovered before.
Yet that morning, the chains on my soul locked up tight once again, and there wasn’t a chance I’d let Gracelyn Mae anywhere close to me.
“Okay, Jackson, two things. One, I only have about a week left in town to finish the last two seasons of Game of Thrones with you, so we better start doing two-a-day marathons. And two, I’m hungry, so I think we should order in Chinese food for the episodes tonight,” I expressed, walking into the auto shop where Jackson’s head was under the hood of a car.