Authors: Alyssa Cole
Tags: #civil rights, #interracial romance, #historical romance
Let It Shine
Sofronia Wallis knows that proper Black women don’t court trouble by upending the status quo, but it’s 1961 and the Civil Rights movement is in full swing. Sofie’s spent half her life being prim, proper, and reserved—as if that could bring her mother back—but the nonviolent protests happening across the South bring out her inner agitator.
Ivan Friedman has devoted his life to boxing, loving the finesse of a well-delivered punch and the penance of receiving one. His family escaped from Europe before the horrors of WWII, and Ivan decides to help fight injustice in their new country, even if it goes against all his instincts as a fighter.
When Ivan and Sofie meet, they realize that their pasts are intertwined and—with the sparks that fly between them—perhaps their futures will be too. With everything in their society lined up against them, will Sofie and Ivan be able to beat the odds? Or will their chance at love be destroyed by the tumultuous times they live in?
LET IT SHINE
Copyright © 2016
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission, except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.
Sofie usually felt at peace after church—there was comfort in the rote liturgical acts, and in the familiarity of her fellow parishioners. She sorely needed that familiarity after almost two semesters of college at Virginia Union, where she felt more out of place than she ever had. But for some reason, Ms. Simcox’s pained repetition of “Praise Jesus” hadn’t made her giggle, as it had when she was a girl; instead, she nodded along at the soul-weary sound. Reverend Mills’ showmanship and bluster, which often made her suppress an eye roll, resonated with something deep inside of her this time.
“Change is coming!” he’d shouted while mopping his brow. “If you believe in the power of God Almighty, you know that change is on the way!” A chill had gone through her as those words rang through the small church, echoed by the approving shouts and soft murmurs of the congregation. Sofie didn’t know if Reverend Mills could actually channel the will of the Lord, but his words seemed like an answer to the doubt that had been gnawing at her all semester.
You went to school to learn, not to fight
. Her father’s words echoed in her head.
You know better than anyone what fighting gets you.
Sofie glanced at her father across the basement of the church, where he sat with his brows drawn, shaking his head at something one of his friends was saying. She wished, just once, that she would look over and see him laughing like he used to.
“They finally let that child out of jail today,” Mrs. Pierce said, pulling Sofie back to the after-church social gathering. “It wasn’t right for them white folk to arrest her, but Patty knows better. The girl can read! Had the nerve to sit right under the ‘Whites Only’ sign, like she was daring them.” The woman ran an age-spotted but manicured hand over her exquisitely coiffed gray hair, and passed a plate of food to one of the visiting pastors working his way down the buffet line. The young man accepted it with a gracious nod and a lingering glance at Sofie, who was just the right age to attract the attentions of promising young men in need of a good, obedient wife. Sofie scooped a spoonful of macaroni and cheese and let it fall to his Styrofoam plate with a moist plop. He fumbled to keep the plate from tipping and moved on.
“She lost the baby, you know, after they threw her off that bus,” Melba Adams said in a hushed tone. Sofie almost dropped the next spoonful of food she was distributing. Her usually steady hand was shaking like old Mr. Duffy’s when he needed a nip but couldn’t afford it. Melba shook her head sadly. “It’s sad, but I can’t help but think it’s for the best. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and she was awful young to be having a baby.”
The women continued gossiping, but Sofie felt the bite of food she’d snuck earlier rising up her throat. Patty’s baby was dead? She couldn’t call the younger girl a friend, exactly, but just last week—in this very room—Sofie had felt that baby move. She’d felt its enthusiastic kick right against her palm. Why was everyone acting like that was okay?
Sofie felt a pressure building up in her chest, a burning hot anger that surprised her. She didn’t get mad. Everyone knew that, and if everyone knew it, it must be true. Just like everyone knew that a black girl who sat at the front of the bus deserved whatever she got for causing trouble. The belt that cinched Sofie’s favorite blue dress suddenly seemed too tight.
She took a small, tight breath and tried to calm herself, an act that was second nature to her by now.
It was why, when people described her, they used words like
as if they spoke of the cows on Harris Withers’ farm instead of a young woman. She should’ve been happy—that was what she’d wanted, right? For everyone to see how good she was? But, if Sofie were honest with herself, she’d felt like none of those things lately. Every time she had to give up her seat on the bus, she considered saying no. Every time a store clerk followed her as if she had the word CRIMINAL stamped on her forehead, she wanted to whirl and demand they leave her be. And every time a group of men, white men usually, shouted crude insults from their car and made her fear the worst, then she wished she could damn them to hell herself without waiting for God’s plodding judgment.
Mrs. Pierce snorted in a most unladylike way. “Awful young? How about awful fast?”
“Oh, come on now, Sister Pierce,” Leonia Grant said, with a hand on her hip. “Tread lightly.”
“You know these fast-tailed girls are always getting themselves into trouble,” Mrs. Pierce said with an elegant shrug as if that explained everything.
Usually, Sofie would have just listened to the women gossip and ignored the urge to give her own opinion, but the new anger in her was a grease fire that wouldn’t be doused. It bubbled and popped, pushing angry words out of her mouth like they were too hot to be contained in the caldron of her chest. “If she’s fast, what would you call the man twice her age who put the baby in her? A speed demon?”
She almost laughed when all of the women’s heads whipped in her direction. “Sofronia Wallis! Hush, now,” Melba said, her eyes wide. Sofie glanced across the room, where the man in question was showering his attentions on yet another girl young enough to be his daughter. They were only worried he would hear, she realized, not that he’d offered Patty help with her singing and gotten her with child instead. Melba looked at Sofie again. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Not Jim Danielson, and thank goodness for that. Otherwise, I’d be the one you all were showing such kind Christian compassion for.” Somewhere inside of her, the old Sofie was already cowering and begging forgiveness. That Sofie was worrying about what her father would say when, not if, word of her rudeness got to him. But the grease fire in her chest was still going, fueled by thoughts of Patty and the little baby who would never get to grow up. By the pictures in the papers of white folk beating people who looked just like her as the police looked on with smiles. Sofie felt like she would combust from the unfairness of it all.
Mrs. Pierce pulled her shoulders back. “How is it that you can’t get out more than a squeak at choir practice, yet here you are now trying to get involved in grown folks’ business?”
It seemed Mrs. Pierce, who also served as choir director, would never forgive Sofie for the fact that the young woman’s promising voice had gone silent right around the time when it should have been coming into its own, as if it had been a tributary of the river that was her mother’s powerful contralto and had dried up when the woman passed on.
Heat streaked up Sofie’s neck and warmed her face, and she shoved the spoon into the pan of macaroni. “I don’t feel well. Please excuse me.” With that, she turned and walked across the basement of the church, sure that a tsunami of gossip was building behind her and would soon arrive at her shores, courtesy of a scolding from her father. She trotted up the stairs, her long pleated skirt swishing around her calves.
When she stepped outside into the warm spring afternoon, she felt she could finally breathe again. The fringe tree flowers scenting the breeze seemed to clear the troublesome thoughts from her mind.
She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling utterly alone. She hadn’t ever felt like this when Mama was alive. Even though Delia Wallis had died years and years ago, and everyone told her that God didn’t make mistakes, Sofie still resented her absence.
Mama would know what to do. She always knew. If only—
Sofie cringed at the thought that assailed her then, shoved it away into that hot place inside her; maybe her anger could burn it up and make it so she never thought about that horrible day again. But even if she forgot, her father never would.
After her mother’s death, Mr. Wallis had embarked on a mission: to raise a respectable black woman. Not just a good, God-fearing woman, but the kind her mama used to roll her eyes at in the supermarket and department stores. Thus, each Christmas from the age of twelve on, Sofie received prim new dress patterns and a new etiquette book. Sofie loved making her own clothing, but the books were worse than anything her teachers could dole out. The first had been
The Practical Self-Educator
. On her eighteenth birthday, she’d unwrapped
Golden Thoughts on Chastity and Procreation
and nearly died of embarrassment. That had been the last one, two years ago, as if everything she needed to know stopped with tips on how to keep herself chaste for marriage.
It was like Daddy had forgotten how Mama always pushed Sofie to speak out, to take guff from no one. The last time Sofie had tried to make her mama proud had been the day her mother died. Sofie had felt the anger grow in her chest, the same that she felt now, and she’d done something a little black girl was never supposed to do: stand up for herself. The screaming, red-faced boys who’d been attacking Ivan, her mother’s charge, had turned on her, too. When her mother ran out to stop the melee, she’d collapsed in the middle of them; her mama’s last moment had been loud, frightening, and humiliating.
The doctors said it was an aneurysm, but Sofie had thought of something her Sunday school teacher often said: “God don’t like ugly.” So she accepted her etiquette books gladly, and read them until the pages were worn thin. She sewed her dresses with skirts well below the knee and made sure to wear her gloves and hat. Her hair was always pressed straight, or pin-curled just so. She nodded along when the women at her church told her the rules she would have to follow forever. But now the anger was back for some reason, and she knew that the solution to her particular problem wasn’t covered in any of her rule books.
“Lord, please tell me what to do,” she whispered, crossing her arms over the starched fabric of her dress. The buttons pressed into her arms as she waited, but as in every other instance, she got no reply. She opened her eyes and shook her head, and was about to laugh at herself when a sign pinned to the center of the community message board caught her eye.
TONIGHT, MAY 12, AT 7:30
COMMUNITY CENTER, ROOM 203
STUDENT NONVIOLENT COORDINATING COMMITTEE