Clayton watched from a short distance. It hurt him to see, partly because another man kissed Maddie. Mostly, because he knew Gabe’s sorrow. They’d talked and he’d consented to one kiss. Clayton understood. Had he been the one giving her up, he’d have wanted that, too.
“I had to know, Maddie. I had to be able to tell myself we had that much.”
As Gabe got in the car, Maddie kissed his cheek and closed his door. His mother drove slowly away. Gabe leaned back, closing his eyes. A single tear escaped.
“You all right, Baboo?”
“Fine, Mama. Just tired.”
Maddie watched the car pull away. Touching her lips, she could feel Gabe’s kiss. It was the saddest moment of her young life. She knew it was goodbye. Clayton put his arm around her and she clasped him around the waist, burying her face in his chest.
“He’s okay, Mads. He’s alive because of you.”
“Because of us. I could never have done that without you there.”
“Not much I could have done against guns, babe. We could both have been killed.”
“I had to trust that Ramon was more bluster than action. He could have raped Claire, but all he did was take some dirty pictures. That made me wonder why. I was just flapping my lips when I said that about being gay.”
“Totally nailed it, though.” He chuckled, kissing the top of her head.
“Time to load up, kids!” Craig called.
They piled into the station wagons and headed back to the Sunday school building. Everyone got ready for bed with a hint of sadness. Tomorrow was their last day, then it would be goodbye. Patti and Maddie got ready in the downstairs bathroom and weren’t surprised to find Clayton and Daniel in theirs. After face washing and teeth brushing, they kissed goodnight until Craig came looking. He didn’t seem terribly surprised to find them kissing, but looked relieved that it wasn’t more. He sent the girls up to bed, but kept the boys behind for a talk. Maddie and Patti were glad that he hadn’t included them.
Too excited to sleep, the girls sat around talking about their time in New Mexico. Their experiences had cemented a firm friendship that surpassed anything they could have anticipated. Patti and Maddie found out that Beverly and Denise were actually interesting, lovely people once they weren’t influenced by Claire’s hate.
“She has changed,” Denise said. “The old Claire would never have protected Jane. She would have used her as a shield.”