by Nann Dunne
Leah spoke right after Sarah came into the kitchen and took her seat at the dinner table with the others. "I stopped at the Post Office and there was a letter for you. Do you want it now?"
"Where is it?" Sarah started to get up, but Leah was already up and getting the letter from the counter. She handed it to Sarah, who opened and read it.
Jessica paid no attention as she attacked the slice of beef roast Lindsay had cut into pieces for her. And Amy followed suit, keeping one eye on Jessica. But Lindsay and Leah halted any pretense of eating and waited for Sarah to tell them her news.
"It's from a publisher." Sarah looked up with a big smile. "My book has been accepted."
Both women applauded by clapping their hands, and the children joined in, not knowing why, but laughing and clapping anyway. Sarah bowed her head in acknowledgment.
"What book?" Lindsay prodded her for an explanation. Sarah raised a hand and kept reading. When she finished, she laid the letter on the table and gazed toward Lindsay.
"I wrote and illustrated a book about one soldier's experiences in the Civil War."
"I told you it was good," Leah interrupted.
Sarah winked at her and continued. "I submitted it to a publisher in Philadelphia, and he wants it. He sent me a signed contract for me to sign and get notarized and send back 'as soon as possible.' I'll have to take it into Cape Girardeau tomorrow and get that done."
Which means I can't see Faith tomorrow, she thought. And that reminded her of the picnic.
"I almost forgot. Faith suggested we all have a picnic together Saturday. And that includes everyone-Phillip too. Can you two make arrangements about the food? As for where and when, I think at Maier's Point around ten in the morning should be good."
"That sounds like a wonderful idea!" Lindsay said.
"Maier's Point is a beautiful spot for a picnic. We'll take care of everything," Leah said. "Don't you worry about it."
"Thank you both. I have to send Faith a note about being away, and I'll let her know the time and place."
Early the next morning, Sarah sat at the breakfast table, penning her note.
Both Lindsay and Leah welcome the idea of a picnic and suggest meeting this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Maier's Point. Please excuse my absence from walking you home today. I've received a contract from a publisher in Philadelphia who wants to print a book of mine, and I have to be away tomorrow to have my signature on the contract notarized. I will see you at the picnic.
Please ask Benjamin to watch carefully for snarly bears. I don't want either one of you to be endangered.
Sarah's heart leaped at such a simple thing as writing "Yours truly." She signed her name, then blotted the ink and folded the paper in thirds. She handed the note to Leah who tucked it behind the apple in Amy's lunch kettle.
For the tenth time, as usual on school mornings, Leah looked at the clock on the mantel above the kitchen fireplace. "Get your things together, sweetie. Elmer should be here soon. And remember to give Mrs. Pruitt the note from Miss Sarah."
"I will, Mama."
As Amy passed her, Sarah reached out and patted her shoulder. "Thank you, darlin'. I appreciate your help."
Sarah drove the buggy toward Maier's Point on Saturday morning, listening contentedly to the chatter of the women and children in the back. Her publishing contract was signed, sealed, and sent off, and now she would be spending the day with Faith. Her future looked brighter than it had in years.
Too many years, she thought. Maybe it was time to let go of the war and all the pain and guilt resulting from her part in it. She cocked an eye at Phillip sitting quietly beside her. He'd been damaged too, but he'd been able to forgive and forget. Maybe she could too. Maybe she could even forgive Faith whether or not she received an apology. Well, she admitted, that still needed some work.
She nudged Phillip and tilted a smile at him when he turned toward her. "Beautiful day for a picnic," she said.
"That it is."
"Are you sure you're all right with Faith and me?" Better to get this out into the open than to be hurting Phillip all over again.
He returned her smile. "I wouldn't be here if I weren't. In fact . . ." He hesitated, and Sarah's ears perked up. "This probably isn't the best time or place to say this, but I'm more concerned about you and Scott."
"You mean about his reaction to Faith and me?" Sarah sighed as Phillip nodded. "I can't control what he thinks. And I can't change who I am. Do me a favor, Phillip. If you have occasion to speak of us to Scott, please just act as though it's the most natural situation in the world. Can you do that?"
"Of course I can."
"Part of Scott's distaste comes from worrying about what other people will think. If he sees that some people can accept that his sister loves a woman, he might eventually accept it too."
"You may be right." Phillip gazed at the ripe wheat fields they were passing through. To their left, glimpses of the river were just coming into view through a stand of trees. "At least it's worth a try."
"All we can do is try. See, I'm not the only Coulter who is hardheaded."
Phillip's booming laugh pleased Sarah. It always reminded her of earlier, happier times. "Sarah," he said as the laugh ended, "next to you, Scott is a mere amateur at being hardheaded."
Sarah slapped his thigh, but she knew he was right. "I'm working on that, Phillip. I'm determined to be less obstinate."
"Of course you are." The words came out with a chuckle.
Sarah slapped his thigh again. "Just you wait and see. I can change."
"Sarah." Phillip's voice had lapsed into a serious tone, and Sarah's head turned to meet his gaze. "Don't change too much. I love you just the way you are."
A lump formed in Sarah's throat. She reached over and patted the thigh she had been smacking. Phillip grabbed her hand, squeezed it, then let it go. His gaze shifted away as Sarah steered the buggy off the path, through the trees, and brought it to a halt. A wide, green, open area lay bordered by the trees. Slightly elevated, the ground sloped toward a small beach next to a gleaming blue river that was crossed upstream by a railroad trestle. Birds flitted among the trees or chirped and sang, accompanied by a woodpecker's intermittent drumming. Several hawks glided soundlessly across a cloudless sky.
"I would assume we've reached Maier's Point," Phillip said.
Sarah sat under one of the trees, out of the afternoon sun. Her head was bent over her drawing pad as she contemplated an addition to the portrait she had worked at off and on all day. She made several bold strokes, then stopped for a moment and looked around. Faith and Lindsay sat near her on the blanket that had served as a safe spot to spread their picnic food. The meal had been consumed awhile ago, and the residue cleared, and the women were now relaxing and chatting.
Sarah and Faith were still a little edgy with each other, but Sarah knew that Lindsay enjoyed Faith's company, so she had stayed in the background to give them time to visit with each other. Her own reservations about her relationship with Faith could be settled later. Today, she was content just to have Faith near and be able to look at her.
The children played at the edge of the trees, and off in the distance, she saw Phillip and Leah walking along the river's small beach. The day was too cool for bathing, but everyone had shed their shoes and stockings and stepped barefoot into the water. Even Phillip had rolled up his pant legs, doffed one shoe and stocking, and dipped one foot in. Now all the shoes and stockings rested in a pile next to the blanket.
Sarah's eyes crinkled as she thought about Phillip and Leah. Now wouldn't they make a sweet pair? They were caring, loving, generous-and forgiving-people. Leah would be so good for Phillip, and Amy practically adored him, as all the children did. Sarah's eyes switched to Lindsay, who happened to be watching her. Lindsay gave a knowing smile and nodded. Sarah grinned broadly. With Lindsay on the job, Phillip and Leah didn't stand a chance.
Her glance moved to Faith, who looked away when Sarah met her eyes. Sarah restlessly shifted her position on the blanket.
"Mama!" Benjamin raced toward Faith, yelling loud enough for even Sarah to hear. "We can't find Jessie!"
Everyone jumped up. "What happened?" Faith asked.
"She ran into the woods, and she never came back out. Amy and I ran after her and called, but she didn't answer."
They all started toward the trees with Benjamin leading them all. Suddenly, he slowed and pointed. "There she is," he yelled and took off again at full speed. Sarah followed the line of his pointing arm, then she charged after him.
"Oh my God," Lindsay cried, "she's on the trestle."
"I hear a train!" Faith yelled.
Sarah couldn't hear the train, but she heard Faith. "Go to the river," she yelled back to the women. "I'll get the children."
Even with her feet bare, Sarah could run faster in trousers than they could in dresses. She reckoned that when she reached the children-oh, God, if she reached the children-they might have to jump from the trestle into the river. She didn't know whether the women understood her thinking, but when she looked back, she saw Faith grab Lindsay's arm and pull her toward the river.
Sarah slipped twice in the damp undergrowth, and her bare feet crunched over small stones and dead branches, but she hardly felt it. Her leg pained her as though she had been stabbed, and that wasn't as easy to ignore. No matter what, she had to keep running. She knew what railroad trestles were like; she had crossed dozens of them. A small child crossing one without slipping and getting stuck between the ties would be a miracle. And with a train coming, they would need a second miracle.
After an agonizing eternity, she arrived at the trestle. On the dead run, she had full view of the children. Jessica was closer to the other end, and Benjamin was just picking her up. But the train was coming around a bend and about to enter onto the trestle. Even if the engineer saw them, he couldn't stop the train in time. Benjamin turned and ran toward Sarah. He would never make it. And Sarah wouldn't make it to him.
As she ran toward him, she threw her arms sideways in a tossing motion. "Jump!" Her mouth moved but no sound came out. She had run hard and was out of breath. The train chuffed so noisily, Benjamin wouldn't have heard her anyway. She kept running and swinging her arms to one side. As she got closer, she realized Benjamin wasn't even looking at her. He was trying to watch where his feet landed, so he wouldn't slip between the ties. Tears streamed down her face. The train would reach the children before she could. Oh God, Benjamin, jump! her mind screamed.
She faltered, crushed by the futility of reaching them in time. Just then Benjamin looked up, the defeat in his eyes mirroring hers. Sarah came back to life. Once more, she started running, tossed her arms sideways, and pointed to the river. Benjamin didn't hesitate. He jumped.
Sarah jumped at almost the same time. She flailed her arms to keep straight. If she hit the water sideways, it could knock her out. A groan escaped her as she saw Benjamin hit on his back just before she plummeted into the water. She kicked and pulled against the water's current as soon as she could, hurrying herself to the surface. She broke the water and swept it with her gaze. There! Benjamin was about thirty feet from her, and she swam hard to reach him. He lay facedown in the water, unmoving. Where was Jessie?
She saw movement about twenty feet past Benjamin. Fear and the pain of impending loss squeezed her heart. She couldn't get to them both. She had to choose the closer child. She reached Benjamin and lifted his face from the water just as he gasped for air and started choking and coughing. Thank God, she thought. With the air knocked out of him, he hadn't breathed in much water. He started flailing around, and it took all her strength to encircle him with her arms and stop him. "It's all right, Benjamin, I have you, I have you," she repeated over and over until he quieted into a limp rag.
Her heart hurt like it was being battered. Benjamin was too weak to let go of him, but how could she save them both? "Benjamin," she said, "can you hold onto me? I need to go after Jessie."
He nodded, but when she tried to swim with his hands fastened to her clothing, he kept slipping off and slowing her down. Sarah was frantic. The daughter she had hated and had given away with such foolish willfulness was drifting away to her death. Remorse shuddered through Sarah as she realized-too late-that she loved her child. Even beyond the grief she knew would come to Lindsay and Scott, her own grief filled her.
She turned one more time to haul Benjamin back to her. Suddenly, she heard a yell, but she couldn't understand the words. Then it came again, louder. "I've got her!" a man's voice shouted.
Phillip? Sarah had been so focused on calming Benjamin and keeping him afloat, she hadn't seen Phillip swimming out to Jessie, who now was a good hundred feet downstream of her and Benjamin. She cried when she heard his words. She had doubted that the other women could swim, and she hadn't even considered the possibility that Phillip could help. He must have removed his artificial leg. A profound thought jolted her. Had she saved Phillip's life so he could save Jessica's?
Sarah paused a moment, treading water, and lifted Benjamin with one arm so they both could see Phillip heading to shore with Jessica. Benjamin's smile was happy, but tired, and he leaned his head against Sarah. Sarah gave him a squeeze. "Let's get us back to shore too."
She had been exhausted from her furious running even before she went into the water, and it was taking a long time to swim the short distance to shore with one arm. When Phillip showed up next to her, she almost cried again. "Jessie?" she asked.
"Lindsay has her. She's fine. You look like you could use some help," he said as he took hold of Benjamin's collar and released Sarah's fingers from it. "Let's go, Benjamin." He swam away with the boy in tow.
Sarah made better time now that she had two arms to swim with, but Phillip easily outpaced her. For the first time, she realized that her sore leg and her heavy pants were slowing her down. But she was almost to shore; no need to shuck the pants now. She'd worry about the leg later.
She saw Benjamin run through the last bit of water and land in Faith's arms. Leah had tucked her skirt up, and she came into the water to help Phillip hop to the riverbank. Then she came back into the water just as Sarah's feet touched bottom. Sarah waded to her and when they met, Leah flung both arms around Sarah's waist and laid her head on Sarah's shoulder. Through her tears, she said, "Thank God, you made it."
They stood for several moments, embracing, and Sarah patted Leah's back and kissed her hair. "I'm all right, just tired enough to melt. Will you help me to shore?"
She looked up and saw Faith and Benjamin standing near the wagon they had come to the picnic in. Faith's arm encircled Benjamin's shoulders, and the blanket used for the picnic draped his body.
Thank goodness, he's all right, Sarah thought. Then she saw that Faith was watching her with an odd expression. As Sarah and Leah moved toward shore, Faith waved and shouted something, then she turned and helped Benjamin into the back of the wagon. She untied the horse's reins from the tree, climbed onto the seat, and they left.
"What did Faith say?" Sarah asked.
"She said 'Thank you. I'll see you later.' I'm sure she wants to get Benjamin home and into dry clothes."
Sarah nodded. "He's probably just as tired as I am."
"Most likely," Leah said. "You're both heroes. And Phillip too."
Phillip had been sitting on the bank clad only in his underdrawers and shirt, with his pants and artificial leg lying on the ground nearby. Lindsay and Amy stood next to him with Jessica wrapped in a sweater and struggling to be released from Lindsay's arms. "Here's Aunt Sarah, another one of your saviors," Lindsay said. Jessie stopped struggling and looked.
When they reached dry ground, Sarah decided her bad leg could hold her, and she and Leah parted. Leah gave Amy a hug, and Sarah limped toward Lindsay. She stepped into Lindsay's embrace, folded her arms around both woman and child, then leaned to give Jessie a kiss on the cheek. She grinned and ducked away when Jessie's hand batted her in the face in an enthusiastic welcome. "Thank God, she's all right," Sarah said.
"Yes, and thank you, and Benjamin, and Phillip too," Lindsay added. She released Sarah and stepped back. "But more of that later. Right now, we need to get you all back home and into dry clothes." Sarah's and Lindsay's heads turned toward a voice they heard raised in exasperation.
"This is no time for false modesty. I helped you take the dang contraption off. Now let me help you put it back on." Leah held Phillip's artificial leg in her hand and was slipping it onto the stump of his leg. Amy stood next to them, holding Phillip's pants.
"Don't fight her, Phillip," Sarah called out with a chuckle. "Even I don't win all my battles with Leah."
"That's right," Leah said. "Now just quit being silly and let's get you dressed, and we can all skedaddle back home and get warm and dry." By the time she was finished talking, she had the leg strapped onto the stump and was reaching for Phillip's pants.
Sarah caught Lindsay's gaze and winked. Her heart was reviving after today's onslaughts, and a possible connection between Phillip and Leah warmed her. Maybe some good would come of this ordeal after all. And if the gleam in Lindsay's eyes was any indication, the matchmaker held the same thoughts.
Now that Phillip was ready, they headed to the buggy for the trip home. Leah insisted on driving. She pointed out that she was in better shape than either Sarah or Phillip, and besides, they would be warmer in the back. So they all surrendered. Lindsay, still holding Jessie, sat with Leah to keep her company, and Phillip and Sarah sat opposite each other in the back, with Amy huddled up to Sarah. When Sarah mentioned she would get wet, Amy answered, "I don't care. You almost died." Sarah put an arm around her and pulled her even closer.
"Quite a day," Phillip remarked.
Sarah gave him a tired smile. "This time it was Phillip to the rescue."
"Not so," he said. "I was the second tier. If it hadn't been for you, those children would be dead."
"You mean if it hadn't been for Benjamin, they would be dead."
Phillip threw his hands in the air and shrugged, laughing. "All right, so I'm the third tier." He leaned in to reach for Sarah's shoulder and squeezed it. "I'm proud to know you, Sarah Coulter. I saw you had to make a quick choice out there. You never hesitate to do the right thing, even when it's difficult."
Sarah was irritated at the tears that spilled over onto her cheeks, and she slapped at them. "Let's just forget about that, shall we? I still can't believe Jessie is all right."
"I'm going to tell you something you'll find hard to believe," Phillip said.
"Well?" Sarah said, when he hesitated.
Phillip sat back and his face creased into a smile. "That little girl is cut from the same cloth as her Aunt Sarah. She didn't give up for one second. When I got to her, she was swimming."
Tired as she was, laughter bubbled from Sarah, and Amy giggled. "She is just like you, Miss Sarah. Mama says you never give up."
Phillip agreed. "And she never does, Amy. That's one of the best things about her." His grin turned wicked. "And sometimes, one of the worst."
The next morning, Sarah waited as long as she could before showing up on Faith's doorstep at what she hoped was a decent enough hour. She had refused to show up using crutches, even though she was in agonizing pain from her leg. She stood on the porch, hesitant to knock. Just as she raised her fist to the door, it opened to an unsmiling Faith. "Come in, Sarah."
Sarah grit her teeth against her pain and stepped in. Faith took Sarah's hat from her hands and hung it up. Then she stepped forward, embraced her, and laid her head on Sarah's shoulder. It didn't feel like a lover's embrace, but it loosened Sarah's fragile hold on her emotions. She held fiercely to Faith while struggling to recover.
"Oh, Sarah, no matter what doubts I have about your feelings for me, you saved my son, and I'll be forever grateful for that."
Doubts? The word pushed Sarah closer to the edge, and her words leaped out without thought. "Your son saved my daughter." As soon as she uttered the words, Sarah realized her slip.
Faith stepped back, and her head snapped up to meet Sarah's distressed gaze. "Jessie is your daughter?" she whispered.
Sarah didn't answer. She didn't have to. Faith gasped and lifted her fist to her mouth as her eyes widened. "Of course, she is. From the soldiers who attacked you."
"Please, forget I said that. Lindsay and Scott are Jessie's parents now. I have no claim on her." Saying those words hurt Sarah more than she expected. But she knew they were true, and she needed to accept that.
Faith moved her hand to cup the scarred side of Sarah's face, stepping forward as Sarah stepped back. "How awful for you. No wonder you hated me."
Faith's hand dropped like a heavy stone when they heard Benjamin's voice. "Why do you hate Mama?"
"Benjamin," Sarah said, relieved that he had interrupted a distressing subject, "I'm so glad you're all right. You were so brave yesterday, just as brave as any soldier could be. You risked your life for Jessie." She reached out to him and shook his hand, then she pulled him toward her and embraced him. "Thank you for saving her."
Benjamin's tanned cheeks glowed with his blush. "You're welcome," he said, always mannerly. But as soon as Sarah let go of him, he repeated the question she had tried to detour. "Why do you hate Mama, Miss Sarah? She never does anything bad."
Oh, God, Sarah thought. How can I explain without lying to him? She could only try her best. Maybe Faith would admit her guilt and get it out into the open.
"Benjamin, remember you said you saw the Union soldiers take me away from your home?"
Faith's face was as closed as a slammed door. She waved her hand toward the couch and chairs. "Perhaps we should sit down," she said, and the Pruitts waited until Sarah limped to one of the chairs. Faith took Benjamin's arm and led him to a seat next to her on the couch. She looked at Sarah. "Are you sure you want to pursue this?"
Sarah ignored her and addressed Benjamin. "No one saw me come to your house. No one but the doctor knew I was there. But the soldiers said someone had told them about me." Sarah stopped to let Benjamin absorb this information. Then she continued. "Was it the doctor-and I don't think it was-or was it someone else? I think your mother knows who it was and won't tell me. That's why I've been upset." She threw a glance at Faith. "But I don't hate her. I could never hate her."
Benjamin frowned and turned to Faith. "Do you know who it was, Mama?"
Sarah had to strain to hear her low answer. "I'm not sure, Benjamin."
In contrast, Sarah spoke too loud, with an edge to her tone. "The soldiers said a woman with red hair told them."
Benjamin turned toward Sarah as she spoke, then looked back at his mother. Benjamin looked puzzled. "The only lady with red hair is Mrs. Spain, William's moth-" He stopped and stared at Faith. Sarah watched, appalled, as Benjamin's face crumpled. He pushed his hands against the sides of his face as though trying to hold it together, and Faith put her arm around his shoulders. "It was me," he said, then he turned to Sarah and repeated it, almost shouting. "It was me." Sobs pounded against his chest as tears ran down his cheeks. "I told William . . . when I ran to get the doctor. Then when Mama said not to tell, he promised me he wouldn't say anything." He closed his palms against his face and wiped his tears back toward his ears. "But he must have told his mama. He lied."
Sarah limped over and grimaced as she knelt in front of Benjamin. Sobs continued to shake him while he tried to keep his flooded eyes on her. "Oh, Miss Sarah," he said, "It's my fault you got hurt so bad. I'm the one you should hate, not Mama."
Sarah took his hands into hers. "Benjamin, listen to me. Listen carefully. I know you never meant for me to get hurt. That was three years ago, and you were just a little boy. You couldn't know your friend would tell. I don't hate you for it. I don't even hate William. He was just a little boy too. And I truly don't hate your mama."
But I did, she thought. I hated Faith because I cared about her and I thought she had betrayed me. I let my distrust of her nearly ruin our chance at a life together. Now, I've allowed it to tear Benjamin's heart apart.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was bad." Benjamin was crying so hard, he got the hiccups.
Sarah began to weep too. "No, please don't cry. You don't need to apologize. You didn't do anything bad, Benjamin, and you're not a bad person. I'm the one who's been wrong, not you." She dropped her hands, placing one on Benjamin's knee and one on Faith's. "I should have trusted your mother. I've been a fool." Her breath caught as Faith's fingers covered hers. But the fingers stayed there, and a thumb brushed the top of her hand. She could breathe again.
She struggled to find something to say to make Benjamin feel better. She lifted her hand from Benjamin's knee and wiped at her cheeks then gazed up at Faith. Her eyes were on her son, and her cheeks were wet too. Sarah looked back to Benjamin and poked him gently in the side. "Think, Benjamin. You're a hero. Yesterday, you saved Jessie's life. No one else could have done that. You know I got there too late. No matter how much I wanted to save her, I couldn't. Who grabbed her, Benjamin?"
Benjamin sniffled and swallowed, and his tears slowed.
Sarah poked him again. "Who grabbed her, Benjamin?"
"I did." He wiped his cheeks on the gray cotton sleeves of his shirt.
"So, who saved her?" Sarah poked her finger at him several times without touching him, and Benjamin gave a teary smile as he jiggled from side to side to avoid the finger.
"That's right." Sarah slipped into Bren Coulter's drawl. "And do you think I could ever hate the young man who dashed through the woods to get to that trestle? Who gave no thought to his own life when he went charging across that dangerous footing to get to Jessie? Who saved her with that enemy train breathing fire down their necks?"
Benjamin's eyes never left Sarah's. His tears stopped, and a smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
"And," she said, "let's not forget how you followed orders without question and jumped when I said 'jump.'"
"Which was especially brave," Faith added, "because he doesn't know how to swim."
Sarah was thunderstruck. The last iron band that had imprisoned her heart shattered, freeing her emotions. There on her knees in front of the boy, she opened her arms wide. "Please give me a hug, Benjamin." He slipped off the couch and nearly choked Sarah with the strength of his arms around her neck. "I love you, Benjamin," she said, "like you're my own son."
Benjamin spoke against her neck. "I love you too, Miss Sarah. And I never ever want to hurt you again."
"That score is settled. No need to worry about it anymore." Sarah's hands moved to his shoulders, and she leaned away from him. "I think we've both had enough of this sweet talk. Don't you have a horse to care for?" She looked toward Faith who was using her palms to dry her face. "Is it all right for Benjamin to see to Redfire?"
Faith stood up. "I think that's a good idea. Wear your brown sweater, Benjamin. It's a little cool out this morning." Benjamin lifted his sweater from the coat rack and started toward the door. Sarah made an effort to stand but was hampered by the pain in her leg. Without a word, as naturally as though she did it everyday, Faith placed her hand below Sarah's elbow and gave her a boost.
Sarah nodded her thanks, then called to the boy. "Benjamin, when you finish your ride on Redfire, ride him again for me, will you?"
"And you can stay out until lunch time," Faith said.
"Thank you, Mama!" He hurried out the door.
Sarah watched through the window as Benjamin hopped down the steps. "He's a wonderful boy."
Faith's soft ripple of laughter lapped gently at Sarah's sensibilities. "You won't get any argument from me on that."
Sarah turned toward her. "I'm astonished that he can't swim. He never hesitated when he saw me motioning him to jump. He just jumped."
"He trusts you," Faith said. "We both do."
"I'm not sure what I've done to deserve it, but thank you. And I hope you'll forgive me for not trusting you." Sarah raised a hand then let it drop. "That was a very trying time for me, and I came to some wrong conclusions. I'm sorry."
Faith stepped closer. "It's all right."
Sarah suddenly felt edgy, and she took a step back. She wanted to throw her arms around this woman, but some things needed said first. "Faith, I know it's easy to say now. But I had made up my mind to tell you I didn't care whether you admitted your betrayal or not, I would forgive you anything." She rubbed her neck. "That near tragedy yesterday woke me up. Life's too unpredictable to waste time holding a grudge. You mean more to me than my own hardheaded, misplaced sense of honor. Besides," she continued, "you were right. I deceived you and Benjamin too. And I ask your forgiveness for that also." She took a deep breath. That was the most she had said at one time in months.
The twinkle was back in Faith's eyes. "There's nothing to forgive, Sarah. I tend to lose my temper pretty quickly, and when I do, my tongue sometimes says things it shouldn't. I understand that you couldn't tell us the truth. I was just being defensive."
Sarah's tension eased as another load of worry lifted from her back. She raised one eyebrow. "You knew all along, didn't you?"
Faith frowned. "Knew what?"
"That Benjamin had told someone I was at your house."
"I suspected it, but I couldn't be sure. He was in too much distress to question him about it. You saw how he reacted. I was trying to spare him that. And if my suspicions had been wrong, questioning him could have done worse damage."
Faith lifted her arm toward Sarah's face, and Sarah flinched away. But the hurt that flickered in Faith's expression brought her back within reach. "I'm all right with you touching my face," Sarah said. "Pulling away was just a reflex."
Faith put her palm against Sarah's cheek and caressed the scars with her fingertips. "Benjamin does love you, you know. He grieved over your capture for months. He would open your journal and sit for hours trying to reproduce your drawings. Sometimes, he would smooth his fingers over the pages as though he could connect with you."
Sarah put her hand over Faith's to hold it still, then turned her head and kissed Faith's palm. "I love him too." She dropped her arms to Faith's waist and pulled her close as Faith's arms twined around Sarah's neck. "And I love his mother."
Their lips met softly in a tender, searching kiss. Before it deepened, Faith leaned away. She grabbed the hair on both sides of Sarah's head and gave several short tugs. "There's one more thing to settle."
"Only one?" Sarah was undaunted. It felt wonderful to have Faith's hands entangled in her hair. "What is it?"
"Leah. Whether you admit it or not, there's something going on between you."
"Of course there is. Ouch!" Sarah laughed when Faith's hands pulled harder. "But not the way you think. Leah fusses over me like a mother hen, and I treat her like an ornery sister. I told you before, we love each other. We've been through some tough times together, and we've become very close, but we're not in love. She likes men. In fact, Lindsay and I are hoping Leah and Phillip might get together."
Faith's grip on Sarah's hair eased. "Now, that would be wonderful."
Sarah's arms tightened. "Leah and I are close, but we've never been this close." She bent down and covered Faith's mouth with her own. Slowly, their tongues explored each other, fanning the passion that was on constant simmer. The kiss deepened and grew stronger. Their tongues touched and tasted and engaged in a mock battle that would end in mutual surrender.
Sarah's hands moved up to press her fingertips against the sides of soft breasts. Faith broke off the kiss and pushed her gently away. Stymied, Sarah opened her mouth to protest then clamped it shut when Faith took her hand and said, "Come." She led Sarah to the bedroom, then dropped her hand to work the bolt that locked the door.
Sarah cursed inwardly at the trembling she couldn't control. Faith's eyes were gentle. "Are you afraid?"
"No!" Sarah barked the word, then she shrugged her sagging shoulders. "Yes. I don't know what would please you. I've never made love to anyone else."
Faith's brows went up. "Anyone else?"
Sarah turned red. "I . . . uh . . . I asked Leah for advice." Faith's expression changed, and Sarah held up her hands to stifle Faith's remarks. "It's not what you think. You have to admit she knows way more about making love than I do."
"And just what did your mentor say?" Faith asked with a hint of sarcasm. "Or should I ask what she did?"
Sarah wondered how the hell she had got into this conversation. When she imagined making love to Faith, nothing like this had entered her fantasies.
"She laughed at me."
"That's it, she just laughed at you? That couldn't have been much help." Faith's expression was bland, but Sarah suspected she was being teased. As they talked, Faith had steered Sarah to a chair and sat her down in it. She lifted Sarah's good leg and pulled off her boot and stocking. Sarah stopped talking and helped her remove the other boot and stocking. Well, she thought, at least we're heading in the right direction.
Faith stood in front of Sarah and put her hands on her hips. "Did she say why she was laughing at you?"
Sarah was getting downright hot from blushing so hard. "I remember her exact words. She said, 'I'd bet my last dollar, darlin', that you've been making love to a woman for quite a few years now. You just haven't had anyone to share it with.'"
Sarah figured her humiliation was worth it when the room lit with peals of laughter. Faith clapped her hands and nodded her head up and down, shaking her curls loose around her face. She looked so beautiful that Sarah had to suck in some extra air to handle the pleasure that rippled through her.
"Oh, Sarah," Faith said when she caught her breath, "my whole attitude about Leah just changed. She's a treasure."
Sarah stood up and pulled Faith to her. "You're the treasure," she whispered into a pink ear before she kissed it. She nibbled the earlobe that she couldn't think about without imagining her lips on it. That brought images of other parts she wanted to kiss and nibble and suck on, and her fear disappeared. Her lips moved down Faith's neck, and the resulting quivers sent messages to Sarah's whole body. Her fingers moved lower, unbuttoning Faith's blouse, and her mouth followed and approached a rising curve. Faith's breast rose and fell against Sarah's chin while her lips moved farther along the soft rise that led to a rose-tinted nipple.
Suddenly, Sarah gasped as a hand slipped under her tunic and slid partway under her belt, flattening against her stomach. Oh, God. She had to stop her own journey and just bask in this unbelievable feeling. Moving a little away from Faith and leaning her forehead on Faith's shoulder, she offered freer access to the wandering hand. A thumb found her navel and played with it. In all of Sarah's dreams, she hadn't come close to imagining the excitement aroused by the touch of Faith's hand against her bare skin. And the hand was only on her stomach!
She concentrated on the absolute pleasure flowing through her, but a moment later, the hand turned over and unbuckled her belt then loosened it. The hand flattened against her skin again and moved up between her breasts. There it stopped, and Sarah ached to be touched. "Sarah," Faith said in a voice almost too quiet for Sarah to hear. She turned her good ear toward Faith, and the next words were still quiet but a bit firmer. "I want to take off your shirt." Sarah nodded dumbly, and as Faith's hands closed over the hem of her shirt, Sarah reached back and grabbed her collar and they removed the shirt together.
Faith gazed at Sarah's body, and the look of desire on her face increased Sarah's awareness of her disfigurement. She turned her head to put the undamaged side of her face toward Faith. But Faith put a hand on her chin, turned her head to the front, and looked into her eyes. Faith's voice was intense. "I don't want you ever to hide your face from me again." She rubbed her fingers over the scarred skin. "I love every bit of you. When I look at you, I don't even see these scars. I see the woman I love. And to me, you're beautiful."
Sarah's voice was thick with emotion. "You are too." She reached for one of Faith's curls, brought it to her tongue and tasted it, then kissed it. "Do you have any idea how many times I've imagined your curls tickling my skin as your mouth traveled down my body?" She tensed as Faith's hands moved, expecting them to touch her breasts. But instead, they dropped to her waistband and pushed down on her trousers. In a rush to help, Sarah hooked her thumbs in her underdrawers and removed them with the trousers.
While she was still bent over from pushing off the trousers, she took hold of the hem of Faith's dress and kept lifting until it, too, was off. Faith easily removed her shoes and stockings and the camisole that she wore next to her skin. The women spent several moments just letting their eyes enjoy each other. Then they stepped forward and entwined their bodies, and Sarah thought her pounding heart would burst through her chest. Her hands moved over Faith's back to feel and smooth her skin.
"Wait, Sarah," Faith said in a voice that Sarah could feel vibrating through them both, "this is your first time, and I want it to be special. Let me show you how wonderful it can be." She loosened Sarah's hold on her and stepped back, and Sarah had to fight the impulse to just shove her to the bed and fall upon her. Instead, Faith walked to the bed and turned down the covers. She climbed in, turned on her side, and beckoned. "Come here . . . let me make love to you," she said, her voice as passionate and inviting as her words.
Sarah lay down next to Faith and moved into her arms. The full length of Faith's body was against her, and Sarah trembled again. "I'm not afraid, now. I just want you so much I can't stay still." She kissed Faith, and the trembling increased as Faith's tongue teased her and a hand rubbed across her breast. Faith fingered her nipple, rolling it and tugging against it. Sarah pulled back, and her breathing was heavy, her voice ragged. "I swear, if you touch me just once more, I'm going to come."
Sarah's building passion paused as Faith pushed her away. "Not yet, not yet," Faith said. "I want to touch you in a way you've never been touched before." She slid halfway down the bed. As she lifted Sarah's upper leg and pushed it toward the side of the bed, she turned a still trembling Sarah onto her back. Faith climbed between Sarah's legs, lay down and lowered her head. Sarah tried hard not to come right away, but as soon as Faith's lips and tongue touched her, she groaned and came in a rush of sensations. She grabbed fistfuls of red hair and bucked in a fury of motion while Faith accompanied her movements with her tongue and lips. Sarah nearly screamed aloud when fingers were added to the symphony of instruments. Faith plunged two into the moist opening her tongue had already tasted, while she groped with her other hand to roll Sarah's taut nipples into submission.
Finally, Sarah's movements slowed and Faith stopped. Sarah flung a hand over her eyes and sighed. She heard a voice and removed her arm. She looked down her body toward Faith and smiled at the picture she saw. Faith was resting her forearms near Sarah's knees while her red head rose above Sarah's mound. With her hands splayed at the top of Sarah's thighs, she danced her fingertips against the soft skin at the junctures of thighs and belly, unfurling tiny ribbons of delight through the area.
"What did you say?" Sarah asked in a lazy voice as a satisfied smile spread slowly across her face.
"I wondered if you had your eyes closed the whole time," Faith said. She smiled wickedly and dropped her head to offer one last touch of her tongue.
Sarah gasped as another jolt went through her. Then she ran her fingers into Faith's hair and hummed her satisfaction, tugging the hair for emphasis. "Mmm, I watched almost everything. I enjoyed every single movement I could see, and I took pleasure in every single touch. You are unbelievable." Sarah motioned with her arm. "Come here, woman. I want to reward you."
Faith laid her body against Sarah's as she slithered up to meet her. Sarah hadn't reckoned that tasting her own fluids on her lover's lips would be so erotic, but it was. "I want to make love to you now," she said, as soon as their kiss ended.
Faith kissed her again, quickly but deeply. "I want that too," she said in a voice suddenly hoarse with passion. Sarah rolled on top of her and again began kissing her way down Faith's neck. But this time, she found no cloth to impede her and she caressed Faith's breasts with her hands, then her mouth, then both. Faith moaned as Sarah kissed and sucked on her nipples, raising them into hard points, then flattening them again with her tongue.
Sarah lowered a hand to massage Faith's stomach, bringing more moans. She touched damp hair with her fingertips and Faith began to writhe. "Sarah," she said with a quaver in her voice.
"What?" Sarah whispered. Her whole being thrummed with the excitement of exploring Faith's body. Intent on pleasuring the woman she loved, she almost missed hearing her.
"My husband was a conservative lover."
Sarah vaguely wondered what that meant. Her attention was focused elsewhere.
Faith's next words rapidly refocused her attention. "No one's mouth ever touched me there, either."
Sarah smiled as Faith woke with a start. Faith's head lay between Sarah's breasts, with her arms around Sarah's body. Faith's head lifted, and she looked at Sarah, her eyes wide. "Oh, my God, it's not lunchtime yet, is it?"
Sarah's smile widened. "Not yet, but we better get moving."
Faith's gaze locked on hers, and she smiled back. "Do we have time for a kiss?" She moved up Sarah's chest, breast to breast.
"By damn, we'll make time. The bedroom door's locked. We can always tell Benjamin we were talking privately."
They kissed as though they would never get another chance to. Sarah didn't want to ever let go of Faith, but common sense prevailed. They used the pitcher and basin on the bureau to wash up and got dressed.
"Seeing each other can be a problem," Faith said after they had helped each other with their clothes.
"We can work around it. We'll be discreet." Sarah pulled on her second boot and stood up. "Eventually, I'm hoping you'll move into my house."
A puff of laughter came from Faith. "You call that being discreet?"
"We could pose as great friends. No one needs to know the truth. Besides, the town council would be so happy not to have to provide for you that they would overlook any gossip. As long as no one can point to anything specific, we should be all right." Sarah looked down at herself. "Of course, they might have their suspicions about my clothing . . ."
"We'll see. We can make those decisions later."
They walked to the door, and Sarah took Faith into her embrace. They kissed, and when they finished, both women were breathing heavily. Sarah lowered her head for another kiss, but Faith pushed her away with a laugh. "Get out of here. If you had your way, you'd be kissing me when Benjamin walked through the door, and the devil be damned."
"Oh really?" Sarah lifted one eyebrow. "You think you know me so well?"
Faith's expression sobered. "I don't know you well at all, Sarah. In my more lucid moments, that scares me a little."
As Sarah lifted her hat from the rack, her expression turned serious. She twisted the hat in her hands and looked at the floor. "You have a right to be afraid. I have some dark places in my soul that affect my moods. Sometimes, I have pretty bad nightmares."
"Do they have anything to do with losing Jessie?"
"Some." Sarah reached behind her neck and rubbed it as a look of anguish crossed her face. "I'm having a harder time adjusting to that situation than I ever thought I would have." She inhaled deeply and let the breath whoosh out of her. "But . . . what's done is done." With her head still bowed, she glanced up at Faith. "Most of my nightmares come from my guilt about the war. I tell myself I was only doing my duty, but the faces of men who died because of me still haunt me."
Faith's answer fanned a flicker of joy in Sarah's breast. "Benjamin and I will do our best to change those dark places into happy ones."
The joy grew as Sarah raised her head to gaze intently at Faith. With the help of both Pruitts, how could she lose?
"Neither one of us knows the other well," Sarah said. "But I'm hoping we can spend the rest of our lives getting acquainted." A smile touched her lips. "You make me feel like I can do anything I set my mind to." She struggled down to one knee and held her hat over her heart. "I love you. I promise myself to you until death do us part. Will you promise yourself to me?"
"I will. I do," Faith said. "I think we just sealed that promise . . . for better or for worse." She put a hand on Sarah's shoulder and leaned close. They kissed one more time, then Faith helped Sarah stand. "Go now," she whispered. "Keep that love warm for me."
"You sure make it hard to leave." Sarah let her arms drop away from Faith. Opening the door, she looked out and could see Benjamin at a distance, coming home. She turned back to Faith. "That 'for better or for worse' part . . . We're both pretty strong minded. Do you think we can live together without disagreeing very much?"
"I doubt it," Faith answered solemnly. Then a bubble of laughter burst forth. "But I can think of a thousand wonderful ways to make up. So disagree with me whenever you dare."
"Dare, huh?" Sarah winked. "Somehow, I don't think I'll be the disagreeable one." Before Faith could form a rejoinder, Sarah hurried through the door and closed it, then stuck her hat on her head and stepped off the porch. She heard the door open as she limped toward Benjamin and saw his wide smile. She lifted a hand and waved, acknowledging the woman standing behind her and the boy running toward her.
Her heart soared. We can do this.
3 Months Later-December
"I'm glad you and Benjamin came before the weather got so bad." Sarah pulled back the window curtain for a clearer view of the flakes coming down like bits of fluffy cotton.
Faith glanced up from washing their coffee cups at the sink. "Me, too. I guess we're in for a heavy snowfall." She pointed a wet finger. "Your woodpile is completely covered already. It looks like a hill."
"Luckily, we have plenty of dry wood in the side shed. You can barely see the footprints Scott and Phillip made going into the woods. Benjamin's have already disappeared. You might have to stay here for the weekend."
"Oh, what a hardship that would be." Faith's cheeks dimpled. "Two whole days with you." She dried the cups and hung them from hooks on an open shelf in the cupboard.
"Heh. Me and half a dozen other people." Finding time to spend with Faith over the past three months had been relatively easy. Finding time to make love to her had been a different story.
"You know you enjoy having your family here for the holidays, and I like it, too. Most of our Christmases were very solitary."
"Move in here with me and your Christmases will never be solitary again."
"I . . . still haven't said anything to Benjamin."
"Obviously." Sarah lifted an eyebrow. "Even if he doesn't know about us, he knows we're friends. You could still move in." This discussion seemed never-ending, but Sarah wouldn't quit asking. Maybe sheer persistence would win out.
"If we move in with you, Sarah, I want to feel free for you and me to put our arms around each other, and even kiss, without worrying that we might be found out."
"Oooh, you sound pretty bold, woman. I expect we'll still be discreet."
"Not bold enough to speak to Benjamin." Faith hesitated. "I just need to find the right moment." She nodded toward the window. "All that white makes everything look clean and pure. It's lovely."
Sarah recognized a change of subject when she heard one. She let go of the curtain, moved behind Faith, and slipped her arms around her. "You're lovely, too." She nuzzled Faith's hair aside and placed a kiss on the bare neck. Faith leaned into her and kept the contact as she turned around within the embrace.
"This feels lovely." Faith's arms lifted around Sarah's neck and they kissed. "Umm, and you taste lovely, too." She laid her head against a tan cheek, and Sarah kissed her hair.
"Let's go outside." Sarah thought that cold air sounded like a good idea at the moment.
"What?" Faith looked up, her expression a cross between a puzzled frown and a wry smile. "In this weather?"
"Yes!" Sarah's eyes gleamed as she pulled Faith toward the coat rack by the kitchen door. "Lindsay and Leah are upstairs with the children, and the boys are out hunting for the perfect Christmas tree. We can do our part by playing in this gift of snow." She helped Faith into her coat and donned hers as Faith pulled on galoshes. Sarah put a hand against the wall for balance, shucked her regular boots, and stomped into a heavier pair. "Let's get outside before we get too warm."
Sarah grabbed her hat, and they put on gloves as they went out. Faith blinked as some flakes stuck on her eyelashes. She took a deep breath.
"Mmm. The air is invigorating."
"So is the snow." A handful of the chilly fluff caught Faith in the face.
Sarah laughed and jumped aside as Faith bent and swept a pile in her direction. After a few moments of wildly slinging snow at each other, they were both red-cheeked and covered in white from the steady snowfall.
Sarah raised her hands. "I surrender." She removed her hat, stepped to Faith, and set the hat on top of snow-covered curls. "You're turning gray before your time," she teased.
Faith grabbed the brim with both hands and pulled the hat down until only the curls in front of her shoulders showed. "Well, Miss Sarah," she cackled, "even an old crone like me thinks you're an outstanding catch." Her eyes shone as her mouth turned down in a futile attempt to stop her smile.
"Your hair's too pretty to cover up." Sarah lifted the hat and put it back on her own head. She couldn't resist the picture Faith made with her curls all tousled, her freckled cheeks glowing, and her eyes sparkling with mischief. "And I'll still love you, even when you're an old crone." She pulled Faith to her and kissed her.
"Sarah . . ." Phillip's voice cleaved between them. The kiss halted abruptly, and the women whirled toward where Phillip stood at the edge of the woodpile. Sarah kept one arm around Faith's shoulders, and she squeezed her for courage as they saw Scott and Benjamin several yards away. The chosen tree lay abandoned on the ground.
Scott put a hand on Benjamin's shoulder, and a silence as heavy as the snowfall drifted upon them all.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves." Scott's icy tone shattered the quiet. In the corner of her vision, Sarah could see him scowling, but her gaze remained on Benjamin.
Faith opened her mouth as though to speak, but urgent fingers tightened on her arm, and Sarah spoke instead. "Benjamin, I'm sorry for not having told you this before, but I'm in love with your mama." Benjamin's face didn't change, and Sarah took a deep breath. "And she's in love with me. I know that's different from the usual way of things-for a woman to fall in love with another woman. But it happens sometimes, and it happened with us. Being different is not something for us to be ashamed about." She glared at Scott and brought her gaze back to Benjamin. "What other people think about us being in love doesn't matter. But we do care what you think."
Faith spoke up in a sure and steady voice. "Miss Sarah and I are in love with each other, Benjamin, and she wants us to come live with her as her family." Sarah warmed at the pride that glowed from Faith's words, but chilled at her next sentence.
"But we won't do that if you don't want us to." Faith raised her arm toward her son, and he lifted his booted feet high to step quickly through the thickening snow. When he reached the two women, he flung his arms around them as best he could. He leaned his head back and looked at his mother, his eyes squinting against the falling snow.
"It's all right, Mama." He turned to Sarah. "You make Mama happy. You make me happy, too. I want to live here. I want to be your family."
"Thank you, Benjamin." Sarah could hardly speak. Her hand trembled as she touched his head, her fingers tumbling snow from his knit cap. She glanced toward Scott, and to her satisfaction, he looked positively stupefied.
Just then a snowball hit Scott in the shoulder, spraying snow into his face. Almost immediately, one thumped Sarah in the back. "What the . . ." She turned her head and ducked as another ball just missed her. Benjamin laughed and grabbed at the snow.
Safely barricaded behind the woodpile, Phillip was pelting them with snow as fast as he could form it into balls. Sarah and Faith both bent to the task of securing their own ammunition. When Sarah looked up, she saw Scott pointing.
"You and Faith get him from that side," he shouted. "Benjamin and I will flank him on this side." The four rushed behind the woodpile, showing Phillip no mercy. Within moments, Leah dashed out of the house to come to his rescue. The bombardment deteriorated into rubbing snow into faces and stuffing it down collars. At last the skirmishers laughed themselves into exhaustion, calling a halt to the battle. They staggered inside and feasted on the sandwiches and cocoa that Lindsay had prepared and the younger children had already sampled.
For the moment, any unpleasantness remained under truce.
After lunch, Leah and Phillip volunteered to take the children outside for more play, but only after Phillip secured a promise that no one would try a sneak attack. He offered to put the tree in the shed-"If I can find it under all that snow." Sarah and Faith went to Sarah's study, leaving Lindsay and Scott to their own pursuits.
Sarah sat on her drawing bench, and Faith stood behind her, massaging her neck and shoulders. "That feels so good. Promise to do this everyday when you live here?" The hands moved to lift her hair, and she felt warm lips on the back of her neck. Delicious pleasure pulsed through her like a thousand inner caresses, and she shivered. "On second thought . . ." She reached back to tangle her fingers in Faith's hair and turned to almost meet her lips. "I might not get much work done." Faith's teasing smile made Sarah ache to touch her, but when Faith closed the distance between them, she settled for a kiss.
This feels so perfect, so right, Sarah thought. How could anyone, especially her own brother, believe it's wrong? She wanted to ignore Scott's disapproval, but it hurt. They had always been so close.
A knock at the door separated the women, and Faith moved to sit in one of the chairs.
"Come in," Sarah called. Lindsay entered and closed the door behind her. Contrary to her usual manner, she appeared nervous.
"Sarah, Scott told me about the episode in the yard." Sarah waved her hand at a chair, but Lindsay shook her head no. "He's very upset about it."
"That's just too damn bad." Sarah spoke with such vehemence that Lindsay cringed. "I'm sorry, Lindsay, I know it's not your fault. I just don't understand who the hell he thinks he is to pass judgment on me. And especially when it's not his concern."
"You misunderstand," Lindsay hurried to say. "He's upset precisely because of his 'pigheaded ways,' to quote him. He muttered something about learning a lesson from a boy, and he asked me to come persuade you to talk to him. Or maybe 'listen' to him would be more precise." She tilted her head toward the door. "He's right outside."
Faith rose. "I'll come back later."
"Oh, no, please," Lindsay said. "He wants to talk to both of you."
Sarah beckoned Faith with her fingers. "Come, sit beside me, my sweet. I feel stronger with you next to me."
"That's the first you've called me 'my sweet,'" Faith said as she sat on the bench. "Except when-"
"That's enough." Sarah's cheeks colored and she swatted Faith's thigh. "That just shows how nervous I am," she admitted. She looked to Lindsay and nodded. "Go ahead. Send him in."
"Remember, Sarah, he's nervous, too. I don't want to hear any shouting match going on in here."
"I can't promise that, but I'll try." Sarah rubbed the back of her neck.
"There won't be any shouting," Faith said. She and Lindsay exchanged looks.
"Thank you. I'll send him in." Lindsay disappeared through the doorway, and a moment later, Scott entered.
"Have a seat," Sarah offered.
"If you don't mind, I'd rather stand. I can think a little better on my feet. Not a whole lot, but a little." His fingers twiddled with the edge of his jacket pocket. "I came to . . . to . . ." He stopped and cleared his throat.
Apologize? Sarah opened her mouth, but Faith squeezed her hand.
"Let him speak, Sarah."
Scott said, "Thank you. I wanted to speak to you both, because I'm finally beginning to understand how wrong I've been to meddle in your life." His glance met Sarah's and flicked away. "Lindsay tried to tell me I should accept your decisions. Even Phillip tried." A grin quirked one side of Scott's lips. "He's talking about opening a carpentry business here, so I know your . . . situation . . . isn't bothering him."
"Leah might have influenced him a bit about coming here," Faith interjected.
"She has," Scott agreed, "but he warned me about meddling in your lives before he knew Leah very well. I didn't pay him any attention then or later."
Scott nodded to Faith. "It was Benjamin who opened my eyes." He paced a few steps and turned back. "You might find this hard to understand, Sarah. I'm not sure I understand it myself. But I feel responsible for you. Lord knows you've taken more care of me than I ever have of you, but the fact remains. I feel responsible for you and responsible for your happiness. I always have." He waved a hand. "Maybe it's because I'm a man." When Sarah remained silent, Scott cocked his head. "You aren't going to help me with this, are you?"
"Yes,' Sarah answered quickly, "since you ask, I will. I feel responsible for you, too. And it has nothing to do with being a man. We're twins. We have a special connection. I've felt it all my life, and I know you have, too. That's why your disapproval has hurt me so much." Sarah's voice rose. She felt Faith's fingers entwine with hers and went on more calmly. "I guess I expected you, of all people, to accept me as I am. You know I've never pretended to be like other women."
"I do know that. You've always been honest and true to yourself. I'm the one who got on the wrong track, thinking I could tell you how to live. Society doesn't understand or accept women who love women and men who love men. Some call it an abomination, and I couldn't imagine you wanting to cope with that."
"It's not a case of 'wanting' to cope with it. I don't like the attitudes any more than you do. But I can't change my nature to satisfy 'society.' Sarah's grin was wry. "I keep telling you, 'I am who I am.' I'm in love with Faith, and we're going to make a life together. That's just the way it is."
"I know you don't need my blessing, Sarah, but you have it now. I saw your face when Benjamin said, 'You make Mama happy.' Scott wiped at a tear trickling down his cheek. "That really says it all. I've been worried about you finding happiness, and you found it without me-even in spite of me." He walked to his sister, placed a hand on each side of her head, and kissed her cheek. "You've found it with Faith, and I'm happy for both of you."
He backed away as Sarah stood. She grabbed his shoulders, pulled him into an embrace, and returned his kiss. "You've just given me another measure of happiness."
They stood for a moment, hugging. Both fought to stop their tears, but neither succeeded.
They released each other, and Scott turned to embrace Faith. He whispered, "Take good care of my sister," and kissed her cheek.
"That's a solemn promise, Scott. You take good care of Jessica." Scott's head flew up, and when he met Faith's knowing look, he nodded.
"That's a solemn promise, too, Faith."
Sarah, wiping her tears on her sleeves, didn't hear or notice the exchange. She looked up as Scott stepped back, and a boyish smile widened his cheeks. "I better go show Lindsay I'm still alive." He pulled at his shirt to straighten it.
Sarah grabbed a handful of his shirt and yanked it awry again. "Don't let her think it was too easy," she said, her voice roughened by her tears. She kissed Scott's cheek again and gave him a quick hug. "Thank you, brother."
Scott didn't even try to speak. He tightened his lips, nodded his head several times, and left.
"Are you all right?" Faith moved to Sarah and embraced her.
"I am now." They kissed. As they held each other, Sarah could feel the tension draining from her. When she lifted her head, a smile crept slowly across her face.
"You and Benjamin are moving in, Scott's given us his blessing, and all my family is gathered under one roof. This will be the best Christmas I've ever had."
"Me, too," Faith whispered as their lips met again.
I hope you enjoyed The War Between The Hearts. It's tentatively scheduled to be published by Intaglio Publications this month (February 5, 2005).
I truly welcome all comments to PruferBlue@aol.com A couple of notes:
I'm building a new author site at my Just About Write domain that I hope to have up within the month. The url will be http://www.justaboutwrite.com/ND.htm
When I have it completed, fans will be notified at Just About Write ezine (www.justaboutwrite.com)
An online magazine for and about the Lesbian Community.
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