She smiles up at me and it’s like my heart cracks open. “What are we doing?” I whisper to her as I slide in beside her.
“We’re going to church,” she whispers back.
I kiss Benji on the forehead and he kicks his little feet at me. Emilio goes to sit on the other side of Marta, and Sam scoots into a pew behind us. A few minutes later, Peck and their baby join them, and pretty soon the rest of them come too. Star and Josh, and Logan and Emily arrive with their little girl. Emily lays a hand on her pregnant belly and Logan looks down at her, and they don’t look displeased to be here. Lark and Wren arrive, and Wren comes and kisses me on the cheek. Then Star shoves the side of my head and I know that we’re all right. We’re going to be fine.
“Why is everyone here?” I whisper to Finny.
She cups the side of my face and tells me, “This is what family does, Tag.”
My heart does that cracking-open thing and I have to wipe my eyes. “But no one here is religious, are they?”
She smiles at me. “Does it matter?”
“I guess not,” I say, more to myself than to her.
For the next hour, we listen to a sermon about the importance of being kind, and I watch as Sam and Logan bow their heads during prayer, looking so reverent and earnest, and I’m flummoxed by it all, but it feels right to me.
They do the altar call, and I drag my sweaty palms against my thighs.
“You should go,” Finny whispers.
“You want to go with me?” I ask her.
She nods. I take Benji from her and we go hand in hand with my son in my arms to the front of the church. I drop to my knees and Finny kneels beside me and takes my hand. The preacher says a few words and I look over at Finny. “I’m going to ask your dad if I can ask you to marry me,” I tell her.
She blinks hard, but she nods. “Okay,” she whispers, and she squeezes my hand. “He might say no.”
He’d be a fool not to, I think. I chuckle.
We listen as the preacher prays over us, and a sense of peace settles over me. I lost my faith a little when Julia left me and then she wanted to give our baby away. But I’ve found it again. And it’s all because Finny has led me back to it.
“I’d say yes,” she whispers, looking at me out of the corner of her eye, her head still bowed.
My heart soars.
We walk out of the church and find Jason and a few other members of security standing on the steps. He’s wearing a cast on his arm, but he looks fit and healthy.
I throw myself at him. “When did you get here?”
“Just arrived. Couldn’t let you go to church without me, could I?”
“I’m glad you’re back at work.” And I really am. He’s like family.
He picks up my hand and puts a wad of rolled up money in my palm, then closes my fist. “I never did give you the money you earned that night at the bar. For the homeless.”
I had completely forgotten about it. I see the donation box on the wall of the little church, and I shove the bundle of money inside.
Emilio winks at me and gives me a nod of approval.
“That was a beautiful service,” Marta says.
I nod. My heart is still in my throat over the way they all showed up at church for Tag. My family is awesome. And some day, I hope he’s going to become a even bigger part of it.
Star points off into the distance. “Look, there’s a carnival!” she cries. She squeezes Josh’s shoulder. “Can we go?”
I can see a roller coaster in the distance, and a Ferris wheel—and my heart stops.
“You guys go ahead,” Tag says. His hand squeezes mine. “We’ll go back to the bus.”
“Come with us, Finny,” Star says. She looks from me to Tag and back.
“We can go,” I say quietly. I step onto my tiptoes and pull Tag’s head down to mine. “I can handle it.”
“You don’t have to handle anything,” he tells me. “We can just go back to the bus.”
“I’ll take the babies if you all want to go,” Marta offers.
I shake my head. “We’ll take him with us.” I hold Benji close to me. “You guys can come too.” I hope they come.
No one but Tag knows about the fair incident with my mother.
He looks hard at me. “Are you sure?”
I nod. “I’m sure. I’ll be fine.”
We walk hand in hand toward the fairgrounds, and Emilio pays the entry fee for everyone. We buy cotton candy and walk through the fun house, taking time to look at ourselves in the big mirrors, wowing over the way our bodies get distorted. We look at the animals and laugh when Sam steps in cow manure. We ride a few rides, and then we get to the Ferris wheel.
“We’re going to skip this one,” Tag says. “You guys go ahead.”
I square my feet. “I’m riding this one,” I say. I will do this. I will not be stuck with a terrible memory for the rest of my life. “I can do this.”
Tag stares into my eyes. “You don’t have to.”
“I do,” I say firmly.
Tag passes over tickets for us, and we get into the little car.
I get in and Tag reaches to take Benji from me. “I want to hold him,” I say.
He doesn’t try to take him from me, but he looks worried.
“I’ll keep him safe,” I rush to say. “I promise not to let anything happen to him.”
The realization of the truth of this settles deep inside me. I have an instinctual need to protect him. I don’t know where it came from or how it started, but I would die to protect this kid that’s not even mine. My insides suddenly stop roiling quite as much.