“Brie? Babe, are you okay?”
I look over from my position on the bench to see Al eating a box of communion wafers whilst Jayce moves to help me sit up.
“Yeah, fuck. Did I pass out?”
There’s a slight cough from behind me that I recognise as Coles and I now realise I’m swearing in a church. Shit.
“Yeah, you’ve only been out for a bit though. Quick, drink this.”
He hands me a glass of water as I try to hold my head together with my hands to stop the pounding in it.
“You got any wine to go with those wafers? Because I’d rather the whole blood of Jesus thing right now.”
Al smiles gently but shakes her head as I take in a little more of the water. It needs gin.
Suddenly I remember why I passed out, fear suddenly rising through me again. “Where the hell is May?!” Oh fuck, has he got her?
Jayce grabs me quickly as I try to stand. “She’s fine Brie, Mum took her back with her. She’s fine, Brie breathe.”
I hadn’t even realised I was holding my breath until he pointed it out to me. He tries to rub my back as I attempt to steady my breathing but one thought keeps stopping me from filling my lungs. “Is that thing still here?”
Jayce’s fists clench behind my back and I see the vein in his neck start to tick.
“No. Josh followed the cunt all the way to the edge of town just to make sure he left. He’s not here and he’s not fucking coming back.” Okay, so apparently we’re all just swearing in church now.
Jayce pulls me to his chest, his chin resting on the top of my head as Al takes my hands in hers. “Brie... do you want to speak to Hannah...? He shouldn’t be out there free after what he did...”
I shake my head against him. It’s been too long, it would be my word against his now Granny’s gone. I don’t want to put myself through that, I just want him away from me.
“Did you at least hit him?”
Jayce chuckles but there’s a pain to it. “I fucking wish. I wanted to smack his teeth clean out of his mouth but um... someone else kind of beat me to it.”
I look at Al, ready for her to tell me she finally unloaded those hormones on someone, but she shakes her head, looking around nervously. “Brie, she wants to talk to you but I said I’d make sure you were okay with that first. Tara warned her not to come near May, and she didn’t, but she said she had some stuff she wanted to tell you.”
I feel utterly confused until I see Cole go over and open the door to the pastors office, the last person on earth I expect to see stepping out in a modest black dress.
“We can tell her to go fuck herself if you want, I’ve got no problems with dragging her out of here by her hair, but the way she smacked the guy lead me to believe she may know something you might want to hear.”
I stare over at her, no cocky attitude or boobylicious dress. In fact she just looks like a mom... my mom.
“Anna.” She steps forward sheepishly, so I make sure to sit up straight, the way Granny taught me. “Give us a second guys.”
Jayce and Aleah walk over to the pew Cole is now resting on, all three of them looking like they’d rather swallow glass than have to acknowledge my mother.
She sits next to me on the bench but neither of us look at each other, both completely focused on the vision of Christ nailed to a cross on the window in front of us.
We sit for a minute and I can feel the bench underneath me vibrate with how much she’s been shaking the entire time.
Finally I can’t take it anymore and I have to ask.
“Why are you here?”
She let’s out a deep breath. “She was my mother Brianna. I know I was a terrible daughter, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love her. She was still my mom... I was just going to stay at the back and keep myself quiet I swear, I just wanted to pay my respects.”
I glance down at her dress. “So this covered up outfit was your attempt at a disguise?” Chuckling to myself.
She smooth’s over the fabric that covers her knees. I recognise the design of the dress now and I know it’s not cheap.
“Not exactly. My boyfriend doesn’t like a lot of flesh on show, he bought it for me.”
I fall back against the back of the pew. Honestly, I’d laugh if it wasn’t so pathetically predictable. “So, there’s a new guy and you’re bowing to him already. Don’t you ever learn?”
She smiles gently. “It’s not like that, it’s just respectful for my new position in his family. It’s complicated.”
Yeah, what isn’t with you? I don’t want to fucking know anyway.
“Why did you hit him? If you wanted to stay quiet and sneak out then why go and hit that old cunt?”
She freezes, glancing down at her hand before holding onto her elbows. “I know what he did to you Brianna... I know I’m the worst mother on the planet, but even I couldn’t let someone doing something that disgusting to my daughter just go. I swore to myself if I ever saw him again, I’d make him pay for what he did to you.” She turns to face me and I watch the first tear my mother has ever shed for me run down her cheek. “He will pay Brianna, I promise you. I’m going to see to it.”
I’ve never seen my mother determined before, never. Right now for the very first time in my life, I actually fucking believe her.
My lip starts to shake as I look at her. “How did you know?... Did Granny tell you?”
She shakes her head, the tears now flowing from her eyes. “She didn’t have to, I saw you that day. I recognised the look on your face.”
I don’t remember seeing her that day, then again I don’t remember much other than the fear, the pain and the blood. That all stays with you no matter how much you try to push it away.
“W-What do you mean you recognised it? How the fuck would you?” I hadn’t realised I was crying now too, until she lent over and smoothed away the tears from my cheeks.
She holds my face in her hands, I can’t remember the last time I let her get this close to me, it feels surreal.
“It’s the same look I’d get when he was done with me in that tub too.”
“Did Granny kn-”
She shakes her head, cutting me off. “No, she didn’t. I never told anyone until Nigel. I thought he loved me Brianna, I swear I really did. I never realised he was just making sure he had all the information he could on me to keep me there. When I was in prison I saw it, woman after woman walking into those cells because they’d been beaten and abused by men who took advantage of the trauma that the system failed to protect them from. I realise what he did to me now, but I’m not innocent either, I’m not worthy of forgiveness.”
“You can say that again.” This doesn’t change anything with us. It doesn’t change what she did to me or to May. She left us.
I look at her now though and for the first time in our history I actually feel something that connects us. Something horrendous and painful, but a connection none the less.
She pulls her hands from my face. “I never deserved you Brianna, or May. I see the way that woman.. I mean, Tara.. looked at her today before she took her home, she was more mother to her in those few minutes than I was to her in her entire life. I’d love to say it was because I was young or stupid but it wasn’t, I was just too selfish to be a mother. I’m glad she has that, I hope one day I could be worthy of you both but I know that day is a long time off and I have no plans to interfere in your lives any further... I’m moving in a few weeks Brianna, out of the country. My partner has arranged for me to live with him in his home country and I don’t plan on coming back.”
I’d love to say my heart broke at the news but it honestly made such little difference in my life, she had been gone from it for a long time and now she was just going to be gone from it somewhere else.
Going into her phone she pulls out a business card, it’s completely blank except for a phone number written on the back with a country code I don’t even recognise.
“I will keep this number active, I’ll check it once a month just in case either of you ever need me, or want me in your lives again.”
“Don’t hold your breath.”
She looks down at where her hand shakes holding the card out to me but I refuse to take it so she just places it on the bench next to me as she stands to her feet.
“I won’t, don’t worry. I fully expect to never see that phone receive a single call but I still have to try... I’m sorry Brianna, for all of it. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the mother you wished for, I’m sorry I hurt you that night I tried to take May, I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you the way I should’ve. But mostly, I’m sorry I never said sorry before, you were owed this a long time ago Brie. I’m so sorry.”
There it is, the apology I’ve been waiting for. Yet, now I have it, I realise it doesn’t change what she did. Nothing she says will change it now, there’s just too much water under the bridge for us.
I look out at the flowers marking the freshly filled grave, my heart pumping deep in my chest.
“You’re wrong Anna.” She puts her bag over her shoulder but looks at me with confusion until she follows my line of sight to the grave. “You did give me the mother I deserved.”
I see the last tear I know I’ll ever see that woman cry roll down her cheek. I can’t speak for May, but I know for us, this is it.
“I hope you find happiness Brianna. I really truly do.”
This would be a lovely moment to say the same but it’s not what I feel, I have to say what I feel.
“I hope you get herpes Anna.”
The laughter erupts from the back of the room and even Anna can’t help but join in with my best friend as she almost falls from her pew whilst Jayce struggles to hold her on the seat through his own giggles.
Anna leaves, Cole following behind her to make sure she doesn’t come back.
I fall back against the pew and notice the card, slipping it into my purse for a rainy day right before I feel my favourite preggers wrap her arms around my shoulders.
There’s a short sense of calm before I look back at the grave.
“Can I have a minute alone with her?”
Al nods. “Of course babe. They need to lock up but we’ll wait for you by the cars.”
I make my way out towards the side door, Pastor Jones is sitting at his desk with a small glass of whiskey when he notices me, giving me a nod with his tear drenched face. I wish I could go comfort him but it’s not in me right now.
My heels sink into the ground as I walk and I realise it must have rained while I was passed out because it definitely wasn’t this muddy before.
It keeps sinking with every step until eventually I just pull my heels off altogether and walk barefoot to the graveside. I want to be cremated, scattered somewhere free in the world, but not Granny. She said her body was a temple, not fire wood.
Falling to my knees I know right now I’ll be going home covered in mud, with this dress completely ruined, but I don’t care.
“Hey Granny. You won’t believe who just turned up here, covering her tits and everything. It’s absolute fucking madness without you already. Don’t you dare shout at me for swearing! I can feel your wrath from here.... Turns out she’d been through her own shit too, doesn’t change what I crappy human being she is but just thought you’d like to know that she wasn’t always dead inside... someone made her that way....”
Someone made me that way.
“How am I supposed to do this? I don’t understand how I’m supposed to do this without you... You were who kept me in line, what am I supposed to do now? Keep myself in line? Because that feels like a fucking disaster waiting to happen.”
I laugh to myself before glancing back down at the grave and my cries take over my voice.
“I-I’m... I’m not r-ready to do it without y-you...”
As the sobs squeeze out of me like someone has an elastic band around my chest, my body falls forward until I’m resting my head against the loose earth below me.
“I need you.”
A hand runs over my back as I let my tears loose into the soil, I don’t need to look to know who it is, his gentle strokes have always given me this sense of calm.
He doesn’t stop me as I continue to cry, he doesn’t pull me back when the rain starts to drizzle. He just leaves me sit and let it all out until I’ve got nothing left and land back against him.
His arms hold me, his black suit layered in mud now but he doesn’t attempt to get up. I glance up into his blue eyes and it only makes me crumble again.
“Let it out Brie, I got you.”
For a second I forget it all, I forget the baby, I forget Chrissy, I forget the pain he caused me when he let me walk away. I just let him be what I need right now – a king protecting his queen.