TWO

PRESENT DAY

Dalia sat on the grass beside her mother and grandparents headstone and read one of the letters written from her mother to her.

”My dear Dalia,

If you
e reading this letter, it means Leah fulfilled her promise to deliver each one and also take care of you. For that, Im grateful. Oh, I wish I were there right now to see the beautiful lady youve grown into. My deepest regret is not fighting hard enough to live and be with you and your papa. I spent my last days thinking of you and I am proud to say those thoughts were without regret.

It broke my heart to leave you at such a tender age; please forgive your momma. I love you, baby, now and always. ”

She folded the letter, turned to her mothers headstone and smiled. ”She is taking care of me and so are Uncle Luke and Aunt Judith. I miss you too, mother, more than you can imagine. ”

She pulled her phone from her bag to check her voicemail. It was Caleb.

”Mother is planning dinner and she needs us both to be home for the weekend. Where can I pick you up?

Dalia dusted her trouser and picked up her bag. ”Well, dinners ready, momma. I will visit again. I love you. ”

”Hows school, Dalia? ” Luke asked, picking the baked beans from his plate. He drank from his glass and looked at her, waiting for a reply.

She smiled, ”School is fine, a bit overwhelming but Ill get used to it. ”

”She met someone new in school, ” Judith smiled and Luke made a face.

”Who is he? Is he giving you trouble? ”

Dalia picked on her salad, ”He is nobody interesting. I tried being friends with him but he is acting like an asshole. ”

”Language please, ” Judith cautioned and Dalia mouthed a sorry.

”If he is trouble as you claim, ” Luke winked at Judith who smiled, ”then don let him get into your head. He probably is trying to get under your skin. Do you know about this Caleb? ” He asked.

Caleb nodded, ”We hardly talk about boys father. Dalia minds her business and I mind mine but I doubt hell be a match for her. She is strong and can handle anything. ”

”I see, ” Luke responded and dropped his fork. ”I have to work late. Lots of profiling for the office, so the earlier I get it done, the better. Excuse me, ” he kissed Judith on the cheek and left.

THEN

Dalia tried to adjust her gown so she could breathe. She was five years old and growing big as the days went by. Grace saw her discomfort and beckoned on her.

”I can seem to tie the knot properly mother and this gown is uncomfortable, ” she stomped her feet on the floor.

”A proper lady doesn do that, Dalia Victor Broody. I could change the dress for you but well be late to mass. ”

”Ill manage. Im ready mother. ” She paused in her position, ”Is father coming too? When will we go home to see him? Doesn he want to see us? ” she asked. Grace smiled to hide her worried look. Her greatest fears were raising their heads to the surface and she didn have the means to push them down. ”Come, well be late to church ” she picked Dalia up, tickled her and she laughed. Her hymnal in one hand and Dalias hand in the other, Grace walked to the nearby church beside her sisters house. She waved at older women walking to the same building and Dalia greeted them with a smile. Inside the church, she could hear whispers of women talking to one another and she strutted to where her sister and her husband sat on the bench in the third row. She smiled and asked to be excused and then sat down.

The congregation got up when the priest walked in with the altar boys. He made the sign of the cross and everyone did the same as Dalia watched in awe. She had never been to a church before. Everyone sat down.

”In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, ” the priest said.

”Amen, ” everyone chorused.

”Well sing our hymn What A Friend We Have In Jesus… ”

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer…..

Dalia slept most of the service in her mothers lap and when mass was over, Grace lifted her and she rested her little head on her shoulder. She excused herself from the crowd and sat behind the church at the back. Eugene sat down to attend to her friends Glinda, Patricia and Omar.

Grace arranged her bags and that of Dalia. She sniffed, picked up her shawl and carried her child, strapping the girl to her back with a wrap shawl. The conversation with her sister rang like a bad thought in her head. She had left Victors house with the help of Leah and had sought refuge with her sister, now her shelter was gone.

”You know I would want you to stay for as long as you can find your feet but Im afraid theres just a little I can spare for Earl and me, ” Eugene stood by the door and stared at Grace. She tried to say something but the words didn sit right with her. Eugene had been gracious to accommodate her after she fled from Victor but she had nowhere to go.

”Don be stubborn Grace. Go back to Victor and see reasons with him. Hes your husband and the father of your daughter, ” she paused and looked at her sister. ”What will you tell Dalia when she asks about her father? Go back, Grace. ” Eugene closed the door behind her and Grace swallowed hard at the choking tears in her throat. Going back to Victor was her last option. She recalled Victors rage when he heard she was pregnant for the third time. He had rushed at her, seized her by the throat and choked her for a while until she felt life leaving her, and then he let her breathe.

”I can keep on like this Grace. You can have this child, ” hed told her and sat down, tapping his legs furiously. Grace had sat on the floor beside the bed and wept. It wasn her fault that she wanted children. She just couldn fathom why the man shed fallen in love with could be so cold towards her having children.

”Im leaving for Eugenes, ” shed told him the next morning. She assumed his silence meant he didn care and she was right. Her marriage had crumbled to pieces. She had seen it coming but she hoped having children would change his mind. Seven months into her pregnancy, Grace had an early labour and birthed a still baby boy. She had cried from holding her dead child and two weeks after Victor was not home, she packed her belongings, Leah gave her some coins and she was gone, to her sisters.

Now she was leaving Eugenes. She knew nobody close by except her father and the thought pricked her inside. Palmer and Dorcas lived in the city and she hadn spoken with them since her marriage. The last time she saw her father, she was leaving with Victor. Hed warned her and she didn listen. Now she sought refuge in the same house where she grew up, where she knew happiness and comfort. She picked up her bag and that of Dalia and left as Eugene watched her walk away until she was out of sight. She prayed the simple prayer she had memorized in her head when she thought of going back. Please God, let him forgive me. I know I don deserve his forgiveness. I long for peace and comfort once again no matter how its given to me. As she approached the little village sign board of North Dock, her heart started thumping hard. Was she doing the right thing going back? She hadn even taken Dalia once to see her grandpa.

Samuel Cherington was handsome and dark with a pointed nose and hairs on his hands and legs. His hair sat beautifully on his head with a mix of black. He had a deep authoritative voice that could command an army and also soothe a heart. He met his wife, Ella, when he served his country in the civil war. Ella had been one of the women who came to feed the men on the battleground. Samuel had caught sight of her beauty; slender dark legs, the skin of smooth caramel and hair dark and wavy. Her eyes were hazel and could pierce into the soul of any man and capture their heart. She walked with elegance and spoke with wisdom. Samuel had sworn to marry her and after two years when the war ended, he did.

They had birthed nine children, Grace inclusive and lost three, the last, twins, died during birth, taking their mother Ella with them. Her father had withdrawn after that. He was no longer himself. Hed sit for hours staring at her headstone and one could see tears well up in his eyes. His grey hairs grew out more and the once-built man who carried his children and sang to them every day was gone. What was left of Samuel was a shadow of who he would have loved to be if Ella had been alive.

Grace saw their family house from a distance and prayed again silently for forgiveness and to see her father once more.

The house sat in the middle of the street opposite the catholic church a few villagers went to. The walls of the house weren painted. The farm her father and mother once tended to with love had overgrown and almost dried from lack of care. Her mothers headstone was covered with vines and stains of green dirt from rain and algae. Grace felt a pang of pain from looking at it. Her mother was dust and had returned to the Creator but why did it still hurt every time she thought about the wonderful memories her parents had shared in that house with them? What would her mother have said when she went away with Victor? Would she have supported the idea or stuck to supporting her father against her decision? Dalia had turned and finally woke. Grace dropped her down and both of them looked at the house. Thoughts ran through Graces head and she didn know when her father came out and watched her hesitant to walk into the house. She had thought of turning back when her father called her name as he used to, Gracey!

”Is that you Grace? ” He asked, looking at her as she looked back at him, tears in her eyes. She let go of Dalias hand and ran towards her father, tears flowing at ease. She had longed for this embrace from her father when she couldn handle the pain she got from Victor.

”Oh my Gracey, ” he sobbed and hugged her tight. Dalia stood in her position, not willing to move until her mother told her who the old man she was hugging was and when theyd go back to her father and Leah.

”Ive missed you Grace, ” his voice sounded so soft, it broke Grace

”Ive missed you, father. Ive really missed you. ”

They stood holding each other for a few minutes before they both let go and looked into each others eyes.

”What took you so long? I thought Id lost you forever, ” Samuel said and moved the hair that was stained to her face with tears.

”I wanted to come papa…so many times I wanted to come to visit you but I thought youd never forgive me for leaving with Victor. Im so sorry Papa, ” she smiled at him through the tears. Samuel looked at her eyes and saw she had the same colour of eyes as Ellas. Her hazel eyes were sharp and beautiful even when she cried. Regaining her composure, she turned to Dalia and beckoned on the little girl to come to her. Dalia walked shyly to her mothers side and stood behind her.

”Papa, this is Dalia, ” she nudged the girl forward to Samuel, ”your granddaughter. ”

Samuel stared at the lost little girl and opened his arms for her to hug him. She took a look at Grace and she nodded with a smile. Dalia walked to her grandfather and hugged him, then withdrew from his warm embrace.

”Itll take a little getting used to but shell get to know you. Oh papa, ” she smiled at the seventy-three-year-old man by her side. The loss of her mother had shown all over him.

”How could he do this to you? ” Samuel looked at the black scars that were fading on her face.

Grace had given him the reason for her visit and it pained her to realize that if she wasn in such a circumstance, she wouldn have seen her papa in a long while. She closed her eyes and hoped the dreaded thought would go away.

”Im sorry Papa. I truly am. All these years I didn come around, not once to see you and now Im in a mess, its the first place I run to, ” she lowered her head in shame and cried. Samuel walked to her and rubbed her back.

”Thats how the Heavenly Father is Gracey. He loves you even when you don feel you need it and his heart is always open to receive a lost lamb. You haven offended me my little Gracey. Indeed I am pleased that you came to me. This house needs your smile and laughter again, ” he kept his head on her hair and she bent even more to feel his embrace. Thank you Father she muttered and smiled.

The days to come were filled with anxiety for Grace. Victor knew her fathers home and she hoped he would come begging with sincerity in his heart for them to come home, that he was ready to have children, that he loved her and was sorry for everything he had done. Dalia had adjusted to her grandfather and was always by his side, touching his hair, keeping her head on his lap and telling him to braid her hair into a pigtail. Grace smiled at the joy a child could bring to her father. She was comfortable that he saw Dalia and treasured her. She was like a soothing balm to his aged soul.

Once inside, Grace tucked Dalia into bed as the little girl slept without debris in her eyes. She smiled at the one gift Victor was able to give her and she prayed for the ones she lost. She hoped she would have children again to be playmates to Dalia.

”Have you sent word to your brother Luke? ” Samuel asked Grace after dinner. Grace cleared the table and avoided the question and worried look on her fathers face. She walked to the window and stared out into the evening which rapidly changed into the night as people rushed home.

”Grace! ” Samuel called again, looking at her back. He could read the expression on her face.

”You know he hates me, papa. He was never in support of Victor. I don know what to say to him.

Hes as stubborn as mother, ” she let the words sink as she closed her eyes. She remembered his words the day Victor came to speak for her ”Youll never be happy Grace and when that happens, don come crawling back. Those were the last words Luke, her elder brother, had spoken before she left with Victor.

Samuel walked to the window and stood beside her. He placed his hand on her shoulder and sighed. Grace was his favourite child. She looked like the spitting image of her mother, with hazel eyes and a stubborn mind. He had named her Grace, for she came at a time when things had become rough for him and Ella. After they birthed Luke, they had a girl Martha and then there were complications in Ellas womb. The doctor said she couldn give birth again and they both wept. God had given them a second chance at birthing children and she came.

”Talk to Luke. He adores you. He might not like your hasty decisions at times but he loves and cares about you. The letters you sent to him while you lived with your husband, ” Grace looked at her father. It was the first time hed addressed Victor as her husband. Up until that moment, he had been Victor to her father and siblings, ”Luke received them. He was furious and left Lake Tions to come to visit me. He wanted to come for you. I stopped him. I figured, nobody would drag you out of his house except you left on your own, ” he closed his eyes and went to sit down. Grace watched him. Her father had left her to learn to take the first step on her own, see life, know whats good and bad and walk away from toxic relationships. She classified her marriage as toxic. She didn know what Victor wanted in a marriage. Now she was back home and determined to move on, find a way to go to Luke before Victor came looking for her.

”What do I say to him, papa? I lack words when it comes to Luke. I don want him to see me as who I am right now, a loser. ”

”You
e my daughter Grace and hes your brother. Youll know what to say. I think its time both of you see each other and move past this pain. ”

Grace walked to her father and knelt down in front of him, then kept her head on his lap and cried herself to dryness in her heart. She needed to be whole again. Her father had been an easy step and she hoped Luke won reject her. She figured shell deal with Dorcas, Palmer and Anthony later. She had to set things straight and Luke was a stepping stone to her redemption. The remaining days of her countdown to Lake Tions were a dread to her. She memorized words and apologies for Luke but it didn feel right. She paced to and fro, changing her mind about seeing Luke and determining to see him. She stepped out to the front and sat down as Dalia played with sticks and drew in the sand with them. She raised her head and smiled at the sight of her mother and Grace waved at her. She walked in and cried so hard at the decision shed come to conclude within her heart. She would leave with Dalia tomorrow for Lukes. She prayed for strength to go through with what she planned.

”Where are we going mother, ” the little girl asked Grace the next morning when she saw their bags packed. Grace smiled.

”We
e going to Lake Tions. We
e going to see your uncle Luke, ” she said and smiled.

*************************

Hope Shepherd stood by the bridge, staring down into the black waters below her. She adjusted her glasses to sit on her nose as she sobbed quietly. What did she do wrong? She did everything wrong in Daniels eyes. He complained about her cooking, her dressing and her lack of independence. She loved him so much and he said he loved her before. So what went wrong in two years? These thoughts crawled up in her head like a to-do list. She tried to block the thoughts from her head but Daniels hurting words were all she could think about. Her sobs turned to cry and then a loud scream. She deserved to be happy but what price did she have to pay to get a dose of happiness? The only words that came to her head were ”My yoke is easy and My burden is light… She smirked. For all she knew, Sunday school was a sham and Sunday Service was more about the rich and what they could do for the church. No one cared about nerdy Hope or lonely Hope or quiet Hope or whoever Hope chose to be every day. She had every right to end her life on this bridge no one will notice if you
e gone Hope; lets face it, you are hopeless. She squatted on her knees and cried more. How did life get so difficult for her? She was a wonderful person by her standards and how her friends assessed her. She began to think back to know where her life had gone wrong.

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