Keeping Promise Rock: Book Four
Crick has been home from Iraq for five years, Jeff and Collin are finally married, and Shane and Mikhail are quietly making lives better for the dispossessed teenagers who come their way. Everything is right in Deacon’s world, but nothing ever stays the same.
When Deacon’s best friends, Jon and Amy, answer the call of an opportunity in Washington, DC, Deacon figures that’s life. You love people, and they leave you, and you survive. Even Benny, Crick’s little sister, is close to grown and ready to start her own future. But Benny loves Deacon, and she owes him—she may move beyond The Pulpit and Levee Oaks one day, but not without leaving something of herself behind. And so she offers Deacon and Crick an amazing gift… and a terrifying decision.
WHEN Bernice Angela Coats was three years old, her older half brother,
Carrick James Francis, cut church one day and never went again for the rest of
No, that lucky fucker got to spend his weekends at The Pulpit, a horse
ranch run by Deacon Winters and his father, Parrish, and if Crick’s new best
friends hadn’t spent their time taking Benny and her sisters out to the park or
the movies as they got older, she might have hated Crick for that.
What she did instead was fall in love with Deacon.
Benny was a smart girl—she couldn’t possibly hate Crick. Crick made her
dinner and did her laundry and put Crystal and Missy to sleep after they came
along. When Benny was six, Crystal was three, and Missy was one, both the
littler kids had some sort of explosive diarrhea, which meant their mother
must have cooked. Anyway, Bob (as Benny called her father in her thoughts,
because that’s what Crick called him) got home and both the kids were crying
and dinner was burning on the stove and Crick had Missy on his hip and she’d
just crapped all over them both while he was turning off the heat on some mac
and cheese that was never meant to be.
Bob backhanded Crick as he stood and the water of the boiling pot
splashed up and burnt Missy, and Crick had to tend to her and his split lip
It wasn’t a new thing—Bob hit Crick all the time—but it was, perhaps,
the first time it really sank into Benny’s head that it wasn’t fair. It was the first
time any of the girls had gotten hurt, and Benny realized a lot of what Crick
did for them was take the punishment Bob ordinarily dished out.
temper and shotgun mouth, she started to understand they were all lucky.
Crick had some of the things that made him a lot like Bob, but was spending
weekends at The Pulpit, so he had Deacon and Parrish too, so those bad things
didn’t mix in the right way, and he stayed her big brother.
And that was why, when Crick came out as gay in the middle of a funeral,
she didn’t begrudge him to Deacon.
Deacon was the one to come collect him off the front lawn. She’d seen
them picking Crick’s shit up, like it wasn’t even a question. She’d seen how
Crick had yearned, even then, when she was ten years old. She had a home,
still, and Bob wasn’t hitting her yet, so she could give Crick to Deacon. She
hadn’t known, really, what gay meant, or why Bob thought it was so bad, but
she knew her brother deserved the kindness in Deacon’s eyes more than
anyone else she knew.
As time passed, and she had to duck more often because Bob started
noticing she was the one in charge of the little kids, and all of that shit little
kids did—crap, cry, need food—was all on her head, she started to dream she
would have a Deacon one day, who would come and save her from what her
life was when Deacon and Crick and Parrish weren’t around.
When Crick signed up for the military and ran away like a filthy coward
(okay, maybe she was a little angry at him), she watched helplessly from afar
as Deacon fell apart.
When he started haunting the liquor store like the ghost of winos past, her
disappointment was acute. She’d woken up pregnant after a night she didn’t
remember with a kid she hadn’t been all that crazy about before he’d roofied
her, and Deacon was her last best hope. By that point, he had the DTs so bad
after just a day she was shocked he didn’t lose his lunch right there in front of
the liquor store. When he came through for her? Stopped drinking cold
turkey? Showed up on her doorstep with his friends, picked her shit off the
lawn, and then (and he didn’t know she knew this) decked Bob in retaliation
for the black eye the fucker had left her with?
She’d sensed, even then, that she was going to love Deacon helplessly,
like a brother, a mentor, and a hero, for maybe the rest of her life.
He would never know—never know—how hard she’d had to work to not
fall in love with him as well as love him. Her worthless, cowardly shit-for-
brains brother obviously had Deacon’s entire heart. That didn’t stop her from
being just a little bit moony over the man after he held her and helped her
deliver her baby. Waking up in the middle of the night during those first
fluttery, but she was so not going to go there.
That didn’t mean that etched in her memory, forever and ever, she didn’t
hold a picture of Deacon, his boy-pretty face relaxed and sweet, his hazel-
green eyes closed, lying on his back on the old plaid couch with Parry,
wearing a pink onesie, tucked on his chest, both of them fast asleep. Deacon
was that guy, the guy who would get up with a baby and who would give the
baby’s mother a room of her own and an education and safety when she
couldn’t really remember having any of those things after Crick left.
When Andrew Carpenter showed up on their doorstep with the dubious
claim that her worthless brother actually saved his life, Benny was willing to
look beyond that obvious falsehood and see that Andrew was a fine young
man. (Deacon bought it, and only Benny’s deep and abiding love for him kept
him from losing serious esteem points in her eyes.) Drew was more than fine,
in fact. Drew was stalwart—he stayed at The Pulpit even when all Deacon
had to pay him was room and board. He didn’t fuss if he was suddenly
babysitting instead of horse breaking, and he never, not once, asked her who
Parry Angel’s father was. When he did learn who the guy was, he clocked
him in the jaw, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that when his slow
white smile broadened his dark face, the way he looked at Benny let her know
that smile was just for her.
It made her stomach flutter and her palms sweat. It made her feel like she
had a wasp waist and a size-D rack instead of her plain, thin body with the flat
chest; and long, flowing, perfectly styled blonde hair instead of flyaway
mouse-brown hair that needed to be cut to her shoulders or it would get all
From the time she was sixteen, when Drew started working at The Pulpit,
to the time she turned eighteen, right about the time of her misguided attempt
to leave Levee Oaks to go to school, Drew’s smile seemed to grow deeper and
more electric, and more and more just for her.
Benny started to love it that way.
When she returned from school, frightened (terrified!) because Deacon’s
health was piss-poor and everybody in the family was afraid for him, Drew
had been the guy to greet her. She’d kissed him in front of everybody, in spite
of the fact that as far as she remembered, she hadn’t kissed anybody that way,
and if her body didn’t remember the entire pregnancy and birth thing she
endured with Parry Angel, she’d flat-out swear she was still a virgin.
It didn’t matter.
and he was solid and kind and stalwart and funny in a sly way that sort of
snuck up on you when you weren’t paying attention—she liked that!—and
Benny decided that if a man as young as Deacon, who wasn’t even thirty,
could get so sick so fast, she didn’t have any room for dithering about or
Besides. She’d been dying to kiss Drew for two years.
He kissed… beautifully. He opened his mouth and let her tongue in, and
he was warm and dark and safe. His big hands were easy on her skinny little
hips and he pulled her in against his wide chest and she knew she was home.
When the family—Deacon’s entire little assembled family—stood on the
porch and applauded, she flipped them all off not because she was mad, but
because she wanted them to know this moment was for her and it was for
Drew, and as much as everyone had seen it coming and wanted it, she’d made
it come, and she wanted it more.
Of course, then she went inside and saw Deacon, white-faced, his jaw
clenched in pain, so immersed in the misery of congestive heart failure he was
barely there for his family.
At that point, Jon, Deacon’s best friend since diapers or close enough,
took Deacon into his and Crick’s room and called an ambulance. Jon was a
lawyer, and he might look like a surfer or a Hollywood pool boy, but the truth
was Jon was smarter and more ruthless than probably anyone else at The
Pulpit, and Benny was one of the few people who didn’t forget that.
Jon was made to do things like that. He could tell someone to fuck off,
they were being stupid, and not sound mean about it. Benny said those things,
but she always sounded mean. Jon just had all that authority around him. It’s
why his little wife adored him, even though she was a bossy little shit, which
is why Amy and Benny got along so very well.
That quality was why, Benny thought on this achingly hot August day
about two and a half years after Deacon’s heart attack, Jon made such a
splendid officiator for the weddings they kept having out at Promise Rock.
Today’s victims stood suffering in the heat. Why Jeff and Collin thought
August was a good time for a wedding was beyond Benny. But they’d had it
early enough in the day to stifle the sadistic heat, and the fashion de rigueur
was cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirts for the men and sundresses for the
women. Benny thought that must have been Collin’s idea, and she didn’t
mind. Any excuse to buy a new sundress was an opportunity she’d take
advantage of, even if she was sweating through the side of it already. But it
didn’t matter that the wedding was unseasonable, or that it would be so hot by
pedestal. Jeff must have still been lost in the romance of the whole thing,
because he was crying such a steady stream of quiet tears that Benny had
needed to go up to his elbow a couple of times to switch out his Kleenex.
Jeff was dressed impeccably—natty ecru linen suit, double-breasted,
nipped in at the waist, with trousers tight enough to bounce a quarter off his
ass. Of course, underneath the jacket he was wearing a pastel T-shirt, Miami
Vice style, but that just made it better. His angular, bony features with a
slightly aquiline nose had been pretty and, well, gayer than a roaring twenties
revue. He managed to look like a dandy out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald book as
he’d greeted his guests at what amounted to a private swimming hole in the
middle of nowhere.
Collin, his intended, looked nothing like him. Collin’s hair was long and
blond, blow-dried straight and tied in a queue; his jaw was square, and his
nose turned up on the end. Collin had been the one who insisted on putting
“dress comfortably” in the wedding invitations, and he was wearing khakis, a
short-sleeved button-up shirt, pink suspenders, and a matching bow tie. He
was (and people gave Jeff shit about this all the time just to make him turn red
and duck his head) nearly ten years younger than his soon-to-be husband. It
was funny, though—Benny had taken one look at the two of them when she’d
gotten back from college and told Drew, “Oh yeah, but you can bet that kid
calls all the shots!”
Drew had laughed then, but watching the two of them over the last two
and a half years had proved her right. Not that she lived on I-told-you-so or
anything, but once Deacon moved her out of her parents’ place and helped her
get her shit together, she got pretty used to being the one who knew best.
She was also damned proud of serving her family quietly and
competently. Those things had become her trademarks in the beginning, when
Crick was still in Iraq and it was just her and Deacon, trying to keep Deacon’s
business afloat. She’d been afraid then and had worked like her place in
Deacon’s home depended on her usefulness, and although she’d outgrown the
fear, mostly, she hadn’t outgrown that love of being needed.
So she was surprised when, the third time she dodged behind his elbow to
take one Kleenex in a plastic bag and replace it with another, Jeff stopped
responding to the vows Jon was reciting, wrapped a playful arm around her
head, and grinned.
“Benny, my love, are you angling for the same service when it’s your
and tousled his absolutely perfectly cemented hair. “Damned straight, Jeffy.
Right after you and Collin bear me up the aisle in my own sedan chair.”
That elicited a laugh from the crowd, and Jeff bent down and dropped a
teary kiss in her hair. “It’s a deal, oh short one. You take good care of us.”
She smiled at him, a little watery herself. She’d practically sobbed
through Crick and Deacon’s wedding three years ago, hadn’t been much
better through Shane and Mikhail’s, and had barely held it together through
Lucas and Kimmy’s. The only reason she’d been able to tough it out through
this one was because Jeff was doing all the crying for her, but now that she
had to talk and look the happiness straight in the eye, she might not make it.
“Well”—she sniffled—“you guys always take good care of us right
back.” Her voice broke unapologetically on the last word, and Jeffy crushed
her to his chest for a good, solid hug.
After a moment, Jon said, “Now, Benny, until it’s your turn, you really
don’t get to spend all that time up here, you know that, right?”
General laughter echoed from the small crowd of friends and family
under the oak trees. They stood by the granite outcropping that marked the
swimming hole, and for a moment in the shade, her Uncle Jeffy hugged her
and she was happy. Then she felt a hand on her elbow as she stepped out of
Looking up, she saw Deacon, his small, square-jawed face with those
pretty green eyes and brown-blond hair, and he engulfed her in his arms. He
smelled so good. She picked his fabric softener and bought his bodywash, but
there was more to his smell than that. Deacon had worn a suit, to keep Jon
company because Jon never wore suits, and she could smell sweat underneath
and the ever-present, honest smell of horse, and there was Deacon. For six
years that smell had meant comfort and home, and as she lost her nut for
happiness in his arms, a part of her was crying because she knew that very
soon, that would have to change.
Jon finished speaking and Jeff and Collin exchanged what appeared to be
a very chaste kiss. Benny knew most of the people there in the shade of the
oak trees, even Collin’s family, although there were a few friends from Jeff’s
work that she hadn’t met yet, and they all applauded happily. Deacon relaxed
his arms around her shoulders, and suddenly Benny’s pride and joy ignored
her mother and said, “Deacon, I was so good, I didn’t talk at all!” at the same
time Benny’s beloved said, “Deacon, I’ll trade ya!”
Angel into his arms. Her riotously curly brown hair was strung up with
ribbons, and even though she was nearing six, she could still squeal like a
toddler when he swung her plump little body high in the air.
Benny turned to Drew with a sniffly smile only to see something alien
shadowing his eyes.
He reached out with a thumb to wipe a leftover tear, and she felt her
eyebrows knit. “What?” she asked.
He grimaced, and it wasn’t his comforting bright smile. “Benny, you
know I love the guy like a brother, right?” he asked soberly, and she nodded.
The rest of the company had moved into the receiving line, and she worried
about not being there. Drew backed them up into the shade next to the boulder
“Yeah, so do I,” she told him, trying to lighten the moment.
Drew just shook his head. He had wonderful eyes—dark, dark brown,
intelligent, soulful. When he blinked, dark lashes, obscenely long, swept over
his cheekbones, and when he opened his eyes again, they were both hopeful
and fearful at once.
“He’s a tough act to follow,” Drew said softly. “Have you told him yet?”
Benny gnawed on her lower lip. “That I’m ready to move out of the house
on his property and into the other house on his property?” she asked
factiously, hoping the facts would obscure what a big step this was.
“If you’re ready to move you and Parry into my home. Benny, I love it
here, and I’m happy to live here, go to school when you’re done, raise a
family working in Deacon’s business. But I need you in my own home. Is that
so much to ask? I want to….” He grimaced again and looked around at where
they were. It was a swimming hole, plain and simple, but it was also the
family church. The shade from the oak trees kept the August sun from
pounding too hotly on the two of them, and the water from the irrigation
stream burbled as it rounded the bend. It was a pretty place, carved by
necessity in what could be a harsh world, and when they weren’t having
weddings or summer parties or greeting new babies or making love (at least
with her and Drew it had happened here the first time), it was the summer
swimming hole and family thinking spot.
Important things happened here, and apparently Drew had decided that it
was time for one more.
blinked and smiled huge, delighted because she thought this conversation was
going to get a lot more serious than this.
“To you? Because, well, duh!” she laughed. “What do you think, Drew?
Two and a half years we’ve been seeing each other?” Her voice dropped, and
she splayed her small hand across his chest, hard with weighty muscle
underneath his pink dress shirt. “Do you think I… I mean, my whole family
knows about us. Do you think that would happen if I didn’t want us to be
Drew covered her hand with his larger one, and she resisted the
temptation to examine it, as she often did, to contrast the coffee color of the
skin on the back with the tender pinkness of the palm and the pads of his
fingers. These things fascinated her, and she never made any secret about the
fact his skin color delighted her as much as the rest of him. She was unafraid
of their difference in race, and unafraid of the skin under his prosthetic leg,
and unafraid of the complete contrast in culture between his upbringing in the
South and hers in Northern California. About the only thing she did fear about
her relationship with Drew was that somehow it would take her away from
“I want us to be permanent,” he said softly. “But you know that means
that you’re going to need to move you and Parry out of that house. And
someday—not now, but someday, after we’re both through school, and when
we’ve had another baby or two—we may have to move way from here. From
The Pulpit. From Levee Oaks. From Deacon. And I need to know you’re up
Benny swallowed hard and tried not to tear up—she still had that leftover
hot feeling behind her eyes from the wedding, she told herself stoutly. It was
“You mean choose you,” she said, knowing that this was where it was
“Over Deacon,” Drew affirmed. He glanced furtively up, and Benny
looked to where Deacon was holding Parry Angel, and now she had to wipe
her face with her hand again.
“Of course I choose you,” she whispered painfully, because it wasn’t that
cut and dried and they both knew it. They both owed Deacon so much.
Leaving him alone seemed a horrible way of paying him back. “I’ll tell him
we’re moving out tomorrow.”
fallen from his sturdy shoulders. He pulled her close and rested his forehead
against hers, and she smiled into his eyes.
“I really love you,” she said softly, thinking that it was true, and her heart
felt so swollen in her chest it hurt. “You know that, right?”
“I love you too, Bernice.”
“Oh hell, Drew. I’ll take it all back if you don’t stop calling me that.”
He laughed and closed his mouth over hers, and she relaxed into his kiss.
And it might have stayed there. She might not have taken that next step in
her thinking, or in what she asked of Drew, or what she wanted to give
Deacon, if her stupid brother hadn’t had a weak spell with his injured leg and
needed to be driven back home. She was going to offer to do it for him, and
get her stuff to stay the night at Drew’s if that was okay, but she needed to
find Deacon first and tell him. Besides, Crick would need help walking across
the grounds and the cattle gate to get into the truck, and nobody could do that
She looked around the clearing—it was later in the day, and Collin and
Jeff were sitting on a couple of folding chairs, talking to anybody who wanted
“The flowers?” Jeff asked, gesturing to the assortment of wildflowers in
glass decanters that Benny had helped him scavenge from yard sales
everywhere. “Pinterest, girlfriend! I know, they look totally rustic, like you’d
think that’d be easy, but omigod! Tracking them down was a nightmare, and
Benny and I rubbed our fingers raw tying off the little burlap bows!”
“I was not allowed to help,” Collin said, pulling his lean lips into a
Kewpie doll moue.
“Hello, you’d get grease on them!”
“Because rustic is only cool when it involves dust,” Collin said dryly, and
Jeff nodded his head in complete seriousness.
“Of course! If the wedding was in your garage, then you could have
gotten grease on the burlap!”
Everybody wanted to talk, and although Collin mostly sat back quietly
and let his new husband tell the stories with flamboyant gestures and razor-
lightning quickness, he was good for a snarktastic quip or two. Jeff’s job was
pausing to let him get those in too, and together they could entertain at their
own party like nobody else.
creek, holding her youngest by the hands so he could dangle his feet in the
“Heya, Jon-Jon,” she murmured, and the baby—a tow-headed, brown-
eyed version of his blue-eyed father—giggled. His little baby three-piece suit
(his father’s idea of a joke, since Jon only wore a suit to officiate at weddings,
even when he was in court) lay neatly folded in the diaper bag over Amy’s
shoulder, and the royal crowned King of Promise Rock was wearing a diaper
and a smile.
Lila Lisa, Amy and Jon’s little girl, crouched with Parry Angel; they were
looking to see if any minnows flitted in the sandy part of the shore. The little
girls wore matching lavender sundresses, because that’s why you had girls, so
you could put them in frilly things that made them smile. Of course, the skirts
of both dresses were now tucked, wadded, and otherwise fixed firmly between
their legs so they didn’t get the hems wet, but since Lila was so short, her
bottom was dragging in the water anyway.
Benny stopped for a moment to bend down and kiss Parry on her curly
little head, and then turned to Amy—pretty, dark-haired, dark-eyed Amy, the
only girl Benny knew who was tinier than Benny herself—and smiled. “Have
you seen Deacon?”
To her surprise, Amy looked troubled and a little sad. “Yeah. I think he
and Jon are off talking on the man’s side of the rock.”
Benny snickered. “There’s a man’s side of the rock?”
Amy had a piquant little face and adorable little chipmunk cheeks, but she
could manage a look of total disgust if it suited her. “Yeah, the other side of
the rock, the side without shade. It’s where they go to talk when they’re pretty
sure the rest of us plebeians with tits don’t want to sweat and won’t follow
“Is that what we are?” Kimmy asked, walking over to the creek. She was
looking at the children wistfully, and Amy smiled at her and hefted Jon-Jon
up so Kimmy could grab him and blow tummy bubbles. Kimmy was a
beautiful woman in her thirties, with brown hair that hung unbound to her
waist, in spite of the heat, and a serene oval-shaped face with brown eyes
exactly like her twin brother’s. She blew the tummy bubbles and Jon-Jon
“Heya, Puppy. Have you had any cake yet?”
Jon-Jon’s eyes got big and round. “Cake?”
“That’s all right,” Kimmy said warmly. “I’ll wash him off when we’re
done.” She hefted the toddler over to the table, and Amy stood up from the
bank, keeping a careful eye on the two girls.
“Are you going to hang around, Benny?” she asked.
Benny looked over to where Crick sat, looking embarrassed. He tried,
while she was watching, to stand up completely, but his leg gave out, and he
gritted his teeth. He’d been putting a lot of stress on his leg and his arm,
trying to get ready for this event, and he’d overdone it. Pretty much the only
person he’d let help him when he was like this was Deacon.
“Crick needs to go home,” Benny said quietly. “He’s going to need
Deacon’s help to get in the truck.”
Amy looked up and frowned. “God—I knew he shouldn’t have been
helping load chairs yesterday! He said he was fine, but—”
Benny shrugged. “He’s stubborn,” she said, because it was true. But it
was also true he pushed himself, like he hadn’t almost gotten himself blown
halfway to hell, and he didn’t like people to know he wasn’t just as fit as
anyone else. But then, part of that was Crick’s reluctance to give up even one
iota of the job of taking care of Deacon.
“I’ll go find Deacon,” Benny decided, because hey! How bad could a
conversation with Jon be?
“Hey, Benny—” Amy called behind her, but Benny was already halfway
to the tree, and Lila picked that moment to fall into the surprisingly cold water
and shriek loud enough to break the plastic glasses for the sparkling cider.
Amy didn’t try to get her attention again, and Benny didn’t look back.
She rounded the corner of Promise Rock quietly, expecting to have to
wait until the boys were done talking to get Deacon’s attention, and what she
heard in Deacon’s voice made her pause.
“Damn, Jon! That’s a hell of an opportunity!”
Jon’s reply, when it came, was rough and shaky, and she stayed quiet in
the shade of the oak tree while Deacon and Jon stood facing the sun, their
backs to the rock and to her. “It would mean leaving you.”
“Yeah, well, that would suck,” Deacon said, clapping Jon on the shoulder.
Jon made a strangled laugh sound, and Deacon settled back against the rock
probably weak to Deacon as well. “My family loves it here. We grew up here,
and my kids love it here—”
“Jon, let’s get one thing straight. Nobody loves Levee Oaks that much, not
even the founding fathers, whoever the hell they might have been. You love
us. Now, when I was going to uproot this place four years ago, you were
going to move with me, so I know you can do this—”
“Okay, so this place sucks, but Deacon—!”
“Jon, do you realize what you’ve been asked to do?”
“Yeah—wear a fucking suit!”
“No! You’ve been asked to go to Washington and work for a cause! Do
you get that? All this bullshit Crick and me, and Shane and Mickey and all
those kids in Promise House, have been through—hell, Jeff and Collin’s
medicine and treatment—all of that bullshit, all of that difficulty, has been
given the stamp of approval by the powers that fucking be. You got asked to
go change all that, Jon! Jesus, do you know how huge that is!”
Benny clapped her hand over her mouth, because for once in her life, she
needed to keep it shut. Oh hell. Hell, this was enormous. Jon? Jon was
Deacon’s rock. Crick was passionate, wound up, and high maintenance—Jon
was Deacon’s one chance at sanity, and he was going?
“I know,” Jon said quietly. “I do. And Amy would love to help, and that’s
big too, because as much as she loves the kids, she didn’t get her law degree
for nothing either. And we got hired on as a team—I mean, who does that?
And it’s a chance to… I don’t know….”
“Change history? Make your mark? Do something important with your
“I thought I was doing that by practicing here!”
Deacon laughed a little and ran his hand through his thick dark-blond
hair. “Yeah, well, as great as it’s been having our own pet lawyer in our
pockets, Jon, you really were made for more. I mean, how do you think you
got noticed in the first place?”
“You sent my name in to that website,” Jon said flatly, and Benny had to
try hard not to cackle hysterically when Deacon shrugged.
“It was Crick’s idea. They were asking for community members who’d
made a difference. That’s you, big guy—can’t fight it!”
“Jesus, Deacon did you have any idea—”
the lobbyists in DC would want to come sweep you away? Not a fucking clue.
But Jon….” Deacon took two steps out and turned back around, and Benny
looked hungrily at his face for some clue as to how he really felt about this.
Anybody who loved Deacon knew what he said, even the inflection of his
voice, was not a real barometer. Deacon was a master at putting the things he
wanted on hold for the people he loved.
But his eyes….
Benny had learned to look at the way his eyes crinkled in the corners, or
the skin tightened over his cheekbones, to know what he was really thinking.
The night her stupid brother called him to say he’d cheated while in the
service, Deacon’s eyes had been wide and earnest when he told Benny he’d
be okay. But the crinkles in the corners of his green eyes had been bunched
together, like his jaw was clenched too tight to let them get as wide as they
They looked just like that now.
“You and Amy were always meant for bigger things than me or this town
anyway,” Deacon said gruffly. “I’ll miss you—God, we’ll all miss you. But
telling you not to go because we’d miss you is pure selfishness.”
“And God forbid you be selfish, right, Deacon?” Jon said bitterly, and
“You know, asshole, me and Crick managed to keep together for two
years of writing actual letters and tweets. We got two face-to-face chats on
satellite phone in two years, and we did just fine. We’ve got Skype and we’ve
got texting and I’m pretty damned sure I’m not going to whither and die
because you left me behind.”
Jon shook his head bitterly. “Yeah, Deacon, I remember ‘just fine’.
Remember the DTs? ’Cause I do, and if I ever have to even know that you
took a drink again, I will come back here and beat you dead.”
Deacon rolled his eyes. “Jon, you know damned well that pacemaker or
not, if I ever had to do that again, no one would have to beat me to see me
Jon took a swing at him.
Benny might have cried out if it had landed, but Deacon was quick, and
he’d been taking very good care of his body since his heart attack. He dodged
sideways, grabbed Jon’s arm, and pulled, and Jon’s forward momentum
brought him straight into Deacon’s arms.
force. “We’ll miss you,” he muttered.
“God, I hope so,” Deacon said back, and he’d turned enough for Benny to
see his face over Jon’s shoulder.
Drew found her ten minutes later, huddled in the little hidden spot where
the sun and shade met. Deacon and Jon had gone round the other side, back to
the reception, and Benny was pretty sure he was giving Crick a ride home.
Which was good, because she hadn’t been able to stop crying, and she
wouldn’t have wanted to confess to Deacon why.
“Benny?” Drew asked, crouching down by where she was dragging the
hem of her new dress in the dust. “What’s wrong, baby?”
Benny wiped her eyes with her palm, boy style, and wanted to swear
because her carefully applied makeup was now smeared all over her eyes and
it stung like a sonuvabitch.
Drew was prepared, though—he pulled out a little package of tissues and
handed them over, and she spent a few moments getting the mascara off her
cheeks while she pulled herself together.
“Drew?” she said tentatively, hating that she was going to ask him this but
not able to change it.
“We need to give him something,” she whispered. “Something that he can
keep. Something that will make his family always here.”
Drew’s questioning look was hard to face. “I have no idea what you’re
talking about, Bernice.”
It took her a while to explain it to him, and when she was done, it took a
week to make it right between them. But in the end, he saw that she was right,
that it was a perfect solution. In the end, even Drew saw that if they wanted to
leave Deacon, it would sit right with both of them if they promised him