Still beautiful as ever, Willie thought as she watched Deacon Tim Walters shake the hands of the parishioners. The ceremony for her nephew had been a blur of screams and cries, so slipping back into her seven-year-old mindset was unwelcome. Timothy was thirteen, on the cusp of puberty and his face changing slowly but enough to catch her eye. Willie was about to turn eight, sitting on the fence with her two older sisters watching the boys play baseball.
"I'm just sayin--" Willie trailed off as Tim rounded from first to second.
"Sayin what?" Cynthia sneered.
"Sayin you can't go leave us and move in with Horace Adams!" Pernella chimed in. She grabbed her sister's left hand and inspected the ring. "He didn't even give you a big ring! What kind of man is he?"
"He's a good man," Cynthia assured them. Willie noticed Cynthia brushing her hair down over a new dark mark on her neck.
"Cynthia, what made you want to get married?" Willie asked. "How do you find the right person?"
"Sometimes you just know," Cynthia murmured. "It's like God drew an outline around someone and made you notice them. That's what happened with Horace."
"Why? Do you like someone?" Pernella nudged Cynthia.
"No!" Cynthia grumbled.
Stephen hit a home run and Thelma Boone, the only girl who played, ran home. She screeched and tossed the baseball cap from her head. "We won! We won! We won!"
"Whatever," Luke Walters grumbled. "Go get the shit."
"But I don't--"
Luke punching Tim in the chest quieted him. Tim grunted in pain and wandered over to collect the bases.
"I'll help," Willie said. She ran after Tim and reached for the base.
"Move," Tim grumbled.
He pulled the base away, knocking Willie down. She bit her lip and grabbed her knee, which was gushing blood. Tim turned around, saw her, and his brow furrowed.
"Shit. I'm sorry. Here."
Tim pulled Willie to her feet and ushered he towards his apartment. Before she could protest, Willie was greeted by the orange hue and cigarette smoke of Haywood Apartments. Tim grabbed her hand and she followed him up two flights of stairs and into a small dark apartment. Loud coughing masked the kids' footsteps. Tim pushed Willie into a bathroom and pulled a bottole of rubbing alcohol out.
"It's gonna hurt," Willie whined.
"Don't be a baby."
"Will you hold my hand?"
Tim grabbed her hand and pressed the rubbing alcohol on her leg. Willie squirmed and whined as the alcohol seeped into the scraped flesh. Tim carefully rubbed the bits of asphalt and torn skin away with the cotton swab. Then he pressed a bandage across her leg. Willie wiped her face as quickly as she could to keep him from noticing but Tim laughed at her.
"You're such a baby," he teased.
"I'm not a baby," Willie grumbled. "One day you'll look at me like a woman."
"You don't even know what that means," Tim teased. He helped Willie off the toilet seat. "You should stay young."
"Trust me, being an adult sucks. Everyone's mean and they expect you to know stuff they never told you and then they hit you and yell at you cuz you didn't know what they didn't tell you. It's just better to be a kid."
"Oh," Willie looked down at the floor then looked up in time for Tim to kiss her.
As soon as he pulled away, Tim pushed Willie hard onto the floor. She hit her back on the bathtub and started to cry.
"Don't ever tell anyone about this," he growled.
Willie cried and ran out of the apartment. Days later, she lied to her parents and said the bruise on her back was from falling off her friend's bike. She was scolded for playing too rough and given some ice. Tim and his brother were sent to military school several months later after a theft attempt left Luke with a bullet in his shoulder. The next time she heard of him, he was deacon. He did the service for her mother after cancer claimed her life and then officiated her brother's wedding.