Wade disappeared on us when I was nine years old, and then he showed up out of nowhere the year I turned twelve. by then I'd spent nearly three years listening to Mom blame him for everything from the lights getting turned off to me and ruby not having new shoes to wear to school, and by the time he came back I'd already decided that he was the loser she'd always said he was. but it turns out he was much more than that. He was also a thief, and if I'd known what kind of people were looking for him I never would've let him take me and my little sister out of Gastonia, North Carolina, in the first place.
My earliest memories of Wade are from my mom taking me to the baseball stadium at Sims Field back before she died. She'd point to the field and say, "There's your daddy right there." I wasn't any older than three or four, but I can still remember staring out at the infield where all the men looked the exact same in their uniforms, wondering how I would ever spot my daddy at a baseball game if he looked just like everybody else.
It's funny to think about that now, because on the day he decided to come back for us I knew Wade as soon as I saw him sitting up in the bleachers down the first-base line. I'd always called him "Wade" because it never felt right to think of him as "dad" or "daddy" or anything else kids are supposed to call their parents. Parents who got called things like that did stuff for their kids that I couldn't ever imagine Wade doing for us. All he'd ever done for me was give me a baby sister named ruby and enough stories for my mom to spend the rest of her life telling, but she ended up dying just before I turned twelve, which was the only reason Wade came looking for me and ruby in the first place.
I'd just made it to third base, and I had no problem acting like I didn't see him sitting up there. My eyes raised themselves just enough to spy ruby sitting on the bench, waiting on her turn to kick. She had her back to the bleachers and hadn't seen him yet; she might not even have recognized him if she did.
To look at ruby and Wade you wouldn't even know they were related, but you could've said the same thing about me and her. Ruby looked just like Mom. She had long dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin even in the wintertime. I was just the opposite. My hair was strawberry blond and straight as a board, and my skin was more likely to burn and freckle than tan. Ruby was beautiful — she always had been. I looked just like Wade.
The bleachers were empty except for him, and I looked around the field and saw that none of the other kids had noticed him yet. Up the hill on my right, Mrs. Hannah and Mrs. Davis stood talking out on the school playground. Neither of them had seen him yet. But I didn't have to wait long for somebody to spot him.
"Look at that man up there," Selena said. She was playing third base and stood bent over with her hands on her knees. She was black just like most of the kids we stayed with after school and just about all the kids we lived with at the home. Her hair was fixed in thick braids with bands that had marbles on them; they clinked together when she moved her head. I'd wanted to ask her to fix my hair just like hers, but my hair was too thin to stay in braids, which was fine with me because Selena was taller than me and seemed a lot older than me too, and I was always too nervous to talk to her. "Why's he just sitting there watching us?" she asked.
I didn't know if she was talking to me or if she was just talking to herself out loud. "I don't know," I finally said. She looked over at me like she'd forgotten I was standing on base beside her. I said a little prayer that she wouldn't mention nothing about me and Wade looking alike, and I found myself wishing again that I looked more like Mom, like ruby.
A third grader named Greg stepped up to the plate, and even though something told me I shouldn't do it, I ran toward home as soon as he kicked it. The ball didn't do nothing but roll right back to the pitcher, and I got thrown out at the plate. I headed for the bench, but I kept my head down and didn't look up at the bleachers. My face felt hot and I knew it had gone red, and I made myself believe I was embarrassed only because I'd been thrown out at home, not because it had all happened in front of Wade.
Ruby sat by herself on the end of the bench, swinging her feet back and forth. When I got closer, she moved that dark hair behind her ears and stuck out her hand and waited for me.
"High five," she said. I sat down beside her without saying anything, and then I bent over and dusted off my shoes. Ruby left her hand hanging just above my knees. "High five," she said again.
"It's only a high five when it's up high."
"All right," she said. "low five, then."
I gave her palm a little slap, and I looked up and saw Marcus watching me from the infield at second. He was wearing a white Cubs jersey with Sammy Sosa's number and name on the back. The school year had just started and it was only the third Friday in August, but Mark McGwire already had fifty-one home runs to Sosa's forty-eight. Me and Marcus were both rooting for Sosa to get to sixty-two and break roger Maris's record first. He smiled at me, but I looked away like I hadn't seen him. It made me nervous, and I pulled my hair back in a ponytail and let it drop to my shoulders. When I looked up at Marcus again he was still smiling. I couldn't help but smile a little bit too, but then I heard a voice whisper my name. "Hey!" it said. "Easter!"
Excerpted with permission from This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash, published in January 2014 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2014 by Wiley Cash. All rights reserved.