Warning: This scene contains violence and/or graphic language that some may find offensive. Please read with caution.
Daddy had been calling Momma’s cell phone for almost an hour. He’d dragged Madison down the stairs and demanded to know where Momma was. She had no idea and he ordered her to sit in a kitchen chair. He began to pace, phoned Momma and left a message to call him immediately. A minute later, he redialed and left another message. He repeated the process for the next forty-five minutes.
She’d never seen him so keyed-up or worried. Of course, Momma usually kept him apprised of her whereabouts.
“Please, Lord,” he looked toward the ceiling, “keep your all-knowing eye on my beautiful, wonderful wife and bring her home to me safely.” He hit redial after the desperate prayer and left another message. Madison rolled her eyes.
Momma entered through the kitchen door with a KFC bag dangling from her fingers and a singsong, “I’m home!”
Daddy was at her side before she could close the door, hugging her, confessing his worry and demanding where she’d been.
Madison tried to scrunch further into the kitchen chair by pulling her feet into the seat and wrapping her arms around her knees. Too bad she couldn’t evaporate into thin air.
No explanation came from Momma. “Madison, get the plates.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She rose, making sure to keep her eyes downcast.
“What happened to your face and throat, Celeste?”
Madison’s gaze snatched to Momma. Daddy tilted her head back to get a better look at the damage.
Bruises mottled her mother’s throat. A bright pink mark that looked a lot like a handprint covered her left cheek. Surely, the deacons didn’t do that to her face.
“I’m okay, Bruce.” She winced as he touched the injuries with his fingertips. “I had a minor fender bender. The seatbelt caught my neck and the airbag got my cheek.”
Madison frowned. Seriously? Fender benders couldn’t wrap bruises around your neck that looked suspiciously like fingerprints. And airbags didn’t leave the outline of a hand. If Daddy believed that bull, he was a bigger fool than she realized because the excuse sounded lame.
Daddy tugged the KFC bag out of Momma’s hand and shoved it across the counter into Madison’s grasp. “You go rest, sweetheart.” He kissed her forehead. “Madison and I can get dinner.”
“How bad did it hurt your car?” Madison asked at the same time as Daddy. “Sorry.” She flashed him an apologetic half-grin because he could get mean when interrupted.
Momma looked at her and she held her breath, waiting for something…she didn’t know what because there was no way Momma would say anything about what she’d done with those deacons. Not in front of Daddy.
“It wasn’t bad.” Her mother slid onto a barstool across the counter from her, looking way too comfy for Madison’s peace of mind. “I dropped it off at Rick’s body shop, Bruce. He said he’d have it fixed in no time.”
Madison nodded and dug out the box of chicken, while Daddy got a bag of peas out of the refrigerator freezer for Momma’s shiner. “What’ve you done today, Madison?”
Momma’s bold question threw a lump the size of an asteroid into her throat. Her belly churned and she stared at the contents of the KFC bag. She swallowed hard. “Tutoring with Jen.”
“I went to the park afterward.”
Momma smiled, one of her I got your number kind of smiles that always made Madison squirm.
“I’m not hungry.” Momma turned toward Daddy, accepting the bag of peas and holding it in place against her cheek. “I fed—ahem…I mean ate earlier. I’m going to go soak in a hot bubble bath. Loosen up these achy muscles from the accident.”
She rolled off the stool, somehow making it look sexy. All of her moves were provocative and Madison had envied that natural talent until today.
“Let’s pray first, Celeste.” Her daddy held his hand toward her mother. “We should thank God for answering my prayers and delivering you safely home.”
Momma took Daddy’s hand and leaned against his chest. She kissed him on the cheek. “You’re too good to me, Bruce.”
Daddy offered his hand to Madison and she shook her head. “I’m not praying to your god.”
“Madison, at the encouragement of your mother, I’ve allowed your disobedience because she said you were distraught over Jack Moore’s death. I’ve given you more time than you deserve. We will thank God for returning Celeste to us unharmed. He is due praise for sparing her further injuries. She could’ve been killed.”
Madison quietly opened the box of chicken and pushed it aside to make room on the counter for the side items. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of getting a rise out of her. “I’m thankful Momma’s okay, but I will not thank Him—” she pointed upward “—for anything!”
“My tolerance of your blasphemy is at an end.” He slammed his fist down on the counter, causing the plates to shimmy. Madison stared at his hand. “You’ll do as you’re told, or you’ll bear the brunt of my wrath.”
“On my knees praying? I don’t think so.” She snorted, rumpled the plastic bag and tossed it in the garbage, before centering her focus on Daddy. Everything fell away as their stares connected and held. “He’s your God. Last time I checked, he doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners.”
A strangled noise emerged from his throat. “We’re all sinners.” But his eyes said she was the biggest reprobate of them all.
“I’m the Wescott dirty little secret, remember?” He coughed and she knew he recalled making the statement months ago. She shot a quick glance at Momma. She was the real Wescott dirty secret. “Got the devil inside me. Remember that, Daddy? Your words. I’m pretty sure God doesn’t have anything to do with the devil’s spawn. And you know what?” She pulled the lid off the side items, mashed potatoes, coleslaw and corn, and tossed them aside. “I have no wish to be associated with an obnoxious, overbearing, ego-tripping deity that’ll damn me when I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Daddy’s face went blood red and he stopped breathing for a long moment.
“Breathe, Bruce,” Momma instructed, patting his arm.
Madison flicked her finger through the mashed potatoes and licked it off her digit.
Daddy wheezed in a strangled breath. “Blasphemy isn’t tolerated under my roof!”
He stormed around the counter and Madison lifted her gaze to look him dead on as he approached. He smacked her, hard enough to knock her against the Formica countertop. The violence was so unexpected she touched her cheek and stared at him in amazement. He’d never hit her before.
“I’ll not endure further disobedience from you, daughter!” He released a shaky breath. “You’ll give God his due and pray with us, or suffer the consequences.”
Madison stood straight. All the screaming and threats in the world wouldn’t bring about her consent. In a level tone, she said, “I won’t. And you cannot make me.”
Daddy slapped her harder, putting his weight into it. Madison cried out as her torso sprawled over the top of the counter.
“You will!” Daddy screamed so loud she wouldn’t be surprised if the neighbors heard him.
Slumped over the counter, she bit back a groan as she touched her cheek. Her face stung from the violence and spread upward, burning her eyes. Tears didn’t come, just the conviction of her words. Jaw achy, she opened and closed her mouth.
“Bruce, it’s okay, she shouldn’t—” Whatever Momma would’ve said strangled off in a shocked squeal when Madison shoved off the counter and hit Daddy back.
Silence rung in Madison’s ears and she ignored the throb in her hand. Her daddy looked just as surprised by her counter-violence.
“I’m sick of taking your abuse.” Madison went toe-to-toe with him and glared, unblinking. “It. Ends. Now. Lay another hand on me and you will suffer the consequences.” She had half a mind to go to Micah anyway, just to spite Daddy.
“Tempers are high and no one is thinking clearly.” Momma’s said in a shaky voice, her expression one of mild panic. “Bruce, really, violence is not your style. Madison, what has gotten into you defying him like this?”
“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” Daddy quoted the Bible. “I fear for her soul.”
Madison put her finger in her mouth and made a gagging motion. His cheeks flamed bright and a purple vein pulsed in his temple.
“Apparently, Momma, the devil has gotten into me.” She couldn’t be certain but she thought her mother bit back a smile. “Can’t expect the dirty little secret to obey, can ya’?”
“Madison Grace Wescott—”
Madison interrupted what she figured would become a screaming tirade. “Like Momma, I’m not hungry. I’m off to my room.”
Head held high, shoulders straight, she took a step to the right and he followed suit, blocking her path. She’d expected him to halt her exit from the kitchen, so she wasn’t surprised.
“Let her go, Bruce.” Momma surprised her with her no-nonsense tone. Daddy never gainsaid that voice.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” he whispered low, his eyes a flash of fury. “I’ll pray for you tonight, daughter. Pray He forgives your impudence.”
“Don’t bother. I don’t want his mercy or his forgiveness. He should be asking me to forgive him for judging me so harshly.”
“God forgive her, she doesn’t mean those words,” Daddy whispered.
Madison smirked. “You keep believing that.” Holding her head high, she walked out of the kitchen. Her audacity surprised her, but having Micah in her corner seemed to give her newfound fortitude.
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