Friday, 13 May 2011
Gray got in her way, when Nikki stepped into the willow garden, keeping her from going directly to Mercy Grace's marker. She reached down to grasp his collar to turn him aside, but something in the big dog's eyes made her shiver and pause. She saw Brock move past her and turned to watch him.
His legs wobbled a little. His shoulders hunched, just enough to be noticeable. He clenched his fists.
"Oh, please," she whispered.
What bothered her more? The tears that touched her eyes as she realized this moment hurt him? Or her anger? What right did he have to hurt for their murdered child? He had ordered her to abort when Mercy Grace was little more than a handful, not even visible inside her mother's body. He had slapped her and tore up the Gideon Bible she had found in the nightstand and devoured, begging God for guidance and strength.
"I'm sorry, baby," Brock whispered, and bent over, reaching out as if to touch the bronze marker and the new carpet of cherry blossom petals strewn across it.
A tear fell off the tip of his nose, sparkling in the afternoon sunlight as it tumbled down to the marker.
Lord, please help me forgive him. I can't accept Your forgiveness to me, for all the stupid, selfish things I did, until I can forgive him.
Nikki choked on mixed laughter and tears as her prayer echoed through her mind and heart. How many times had Joan and Vincent and the Carters counseled her on being forgiving and accepting forgiveness during her year of training at Quarry Hall? So many times, she had lost count.
She thought she had forgiven Brock, until she saw him again.
"How did you get out of prison so soon?" she asked. Her voice creaked a little, startling her.
"Good behavior." He shrugged and knuckled his eyes before turning completely to face her. Gray strands in his hair gleamed in a single stray sunbeam for a moment. "I was already working with the authorities when everything went down. I testified against Ringo. Gave them a lot of people in the organization, a lot of contacts. And I just wasn't high up enough in the organization to be worth the trouble."
"They let you out because they were afraid someone would kill you inside," she guessed, listening to the shiver that ran up her spine. Nikki tried to blame the suspense novels she had read, on Joan's recommendation.
"Shouldn't you be in Witness Protection or something?"
"Probably. But Ringo got himself killed two months ago -- territory fight inside the prison -- and things are so shredded, with people fighting over what's left of his territory, I'm more of a benefactor to the winners than an enemy. If it wasn't for me, they wouldn't be on top now."
"That's the world I was living in." He took a deep breath, let it out, jammed his hands in his pockets. "Nikki, I swear, I tried to protect you from that. Keep you sweet and innocent."
"Ignorant, you mean. And I guess I'm grateful," she added, her voice cracking.
"I really did love you."
"Brock--" Nikki shook her head. She had to get out of here. She had to head back to Tabor and get to work, focus on her reasons for being home, not dwell on the past. Learning from the past was one thing. Regretting it and trying to change it was something else altogether. "You know how to get here now. I have to get going. I have work to do..." She stared at him for a few racing heartbeats, wondering why in the world she was telling him all this. "I'll -- I'll probably see you again before you leave town, huh?"
"Invitation?" He tried to smile. At least he didn't try to approach her again. Gray stood as a barrier to them both, Nikki realized.
"No. More like giving in to the inevitable."
"I don't want to hurt you anymore, Nikki."
"Thanks," she whispered.
For a few more seconds she watched him, seeing the moisture in his eyes, the aching that pressed on his shoulders. She could imagine him clenching and unclenching his fists in his jacket pockets. Brock kept so much inside, she knew. It was his habit. She had always admired his self-control. It had been more shock at the sudden violence than pain when he hit her, and that shock had prompted her to run away.
Nikki nodded, unable to say good-bye for some reason, and turned to take the long way around the estate to get to the parking lot. The last thing she wanted was to run into anyone and have to explain what she was doing back, when she had driven to Tabor Heights only three hours ago. Worse was having to explain what Brock was doing there. Gray pressed against her leg as she walked. She welcomed his warmth even as he nearly knocked her off balance with every step.