Disclaimer: There isn’t one. These characters and this mini story are mine and are part of a much larger in-progress story. They have been excerpted specially for the Academy Valentine’s Invitational. The mini story is complete in and of itself.


There is a narrator’s voice that speaks in the first person. It is a key part to the larger story, and provides insight into this one.


Special Thanks: To Phil, who had to read this line for line to pick up all the letters I dropped along the way.


Christian’s Faith
By D


The Industrial Revolution changed so many things in the surrounding world. Progress became a watch word and though it would take decades to reach fruition, many alterations within society took root during this era.


In 1890, Faith returned home after two years in a finishing school for young ladies. Though the oldest of the Sanders’ girls, she was the only one without a beau and she had been sent in the hopes that would find a husband in the interim. It didn’t happen, and at the age of twenty she returned home to take her place helping her parents in what had evolved into an apothecary.


Things were different when Faith came home. Hope and Charity were both newly married and settled into nearby towns. Sam and Nora were redoing both upstairs floors and an ice cream counter had been added downstairs. Faith spent the first few weeks settling in... Sam and Nora turned the third floor over to their eldest daughter, and took over the second floor for themselves.


They established a comfortable routine between them, and Sam found he liked having his afternoons free to spend with Nora, and he slowly turned more and more responsibility over to Faith. Then six months after Faith came home a set of events took place that changed everything.
************


Faith was downstairs in the apothecary waiting on the kids who stopped by for ice cream on their way home from school. She enjoyed this time of day, though she tried not to let on too much. She heard all the gossip and rumors, and helped with broken hearts and the like. It was fun, both for her and the youngsters, and they all knew that ‘Miss Faith’ could keep a secret with the best of them. It didn’t hurt that she made a great banana split either. And even the cooler weather didn’t keep the kids away.

On this particular day in late fall, she was trying to console eleven-year-old Suzy, who was lamenting the fact that twelve-year-old Billy had found himself a new girlfriend. Faith listened sympathetically, then reminded the girl that there were plenty of boys to choose from, discretely pointing out one or two who were casually observing her. Suzy smiled through her tears and Faith patted her hand and smiled back, then moved down to serve two boys who were having an animated discussion on the possibilities of motorized vehicles.

Faith shook her head. It was so interesting to listen to the ideas that children could come up with. But having seen the changes that had already occurred in just the last few years, Faith had learned not to discount anything, no matter how bizarre the original idea seemed at first.

When the first rush was over, Faith stepped back and fixed herself a sarsaparilla. She took her first swallow just as the phone rang. It was a very new gadget, and everyone in the room jumped and fell silent.

She moved to the tiny closet that housed the instrument and stepped inside, leaving the door open. She knew most of the children were good kids, but she felt better knowing they knew she was still in the room watching. Besides, she was going to have to yell to be heard anyway... it wasn’t like privacy was a big factor to figure into the conversation.

“HELLO?” Static answered her and Faith tried again.

“HELLO? WHO IS THIS PLEASE?”

The entire building was silent, listening to Faith’s side of the conversation.

“YES, THIS IS FAITH SANDERS. YES, OPERATOR, I CAN HOLD.”

Faith could hear crackling and static before a voice came on the line. Then she nearly dropped the telephone in shock.

“CHRISTIAN?” A pause.

“I’M GOOD... BETTER FOR HEARING YOUR VOICE. HOW ARE YOU?”

There was a long bit of silence and Faith’s empty hand flew to her now flushed cheek.

“YES!!! WHEN??” Her excitement was clear to everyone in the room.

“OKAY... WIRE ME THE TIME AND I’LL MEET YOU AT... HELLO?? HELLO?? OPERATOR, I THINK WE WERE CUT OFF.”

A pause.

“THANK YOU, OPERATOR. GOODBYE.”

Faith stepped from the tiny closet well aware of her flushed cheeks and the fact that everyone in the room was watching her. She calmly stepped behind the counter and resumed her duties, pleased when the buzz of conversation overrode the silence that had been. She couldn’t help the tiny grin that crossed her face or the twinkle that sparkled in her eyes for the remainder of the day, though.

The following day found Faith just coming downstairs from her morning cleaning when a knock on the door caught her attention. She flew down the last few steps, then took a deep breath before calmly opening the door for the delivery boy.

“Hello, Charlie.”

“Hiya, Miz Faith. Got a telegram for ya.”

“Thank you, Charlie.” She signed his paper and took the slip of paper from him with trembling hands. “Wait right here.” Faith closed the door and took a deep breath, then retrieved her purse and handed the youth out a coin. She fully expected to see him in the store later spending it.

Faith took a moment to collect herself then made her way upstairs as swiftly as she could manage without running. When she reached the third floor, she locked the door behind herself and moved into her bedroom, locking that door as well.

She sat down on the edge of her bed and took another deep breath before opening the envelope and sliding the missive out. She smiled through the tears as she saw the words on the paper.


TO: FAITH SANDERS
FROM: CW
LOVE THE WEATHER. <STOP> YOU WERE RIGHT. <STOP> NEVERENDING TRIP OVER NOON TUESDAY. <STOP>
CHRISTIAN


Faith was amazed at Christian’s brazenness in sending such a private message so openly, then realized no one aside from herself would see what Christian had written. Smiles wreathed her face as she made her way downstairs and into the kitchen where her mother was preparing lunch.

Nora wondered about the glow that surrounded Faith, but chalked it up to the quickly approaching holidays. When she started humming, though, Nora called her on it.

“Faith, girl... what has gotten into you today? You are positively giddy.”

Faith swung around and kissed her mother on the cheek before resuming her table setting. “I’m happy, Mama. It is a beautiful day, Thanksgiving will be here soon, and I have a friend coming to visit me. Life is good today.”

Nora immediately picked up on the pertinent part of the conversation. “A friend, hmm?” she asked with a sly smile. “I don’t remember you talking about a friend before. Is this someone you met while away, dear?”

Faith’s eyes dropped and she blushed. “Yes, Mama.”

Nora waited, but when nothing else was forthcoming, she prompted. “WELL? Don’t keep me in suspense, girl. Tell me about him.”

“I’d rather you met Christian in person, Mama.”

“Christian, hmm? Well, I like his name well enough. I’ll try not to be nosey until he arrives. When does he arrive, Faith?”

“Christian will be on the noon train Tuesday, but Mama... I’d like to meet the train privately.”

Nora’s eyes widened. “You care for this Christian, then?”

Faith nodded, but did not meet Nora’s gaze. “Yes, Mama, I do.”

“All right, girl. But I’ll expect to meet him first thing, and I will expect exemplary behavior at all times from both of you. I won’t have the neighbor’s tongues wagging any more than necessary because of his presence here. Understood?”

“We’ll behave, Mama.”

Nora cupped Faith’s face gently, and peered into her eyes, surprised to see tears there. “I know you will, Faith. You’ve never been a disappointment to your father and me. Now c’mon,” Nora chided, placing a kiss on Faith’s cheek before releasing it. “We’ve still got work to do,” and she bustled back to the stove.

“I hope I never disappoint you, Mama, but I don’t think you’re gonna understand this,” Faith whispered, then wiped her face surreptitiously before moving to complete her task.

Nora watched Faith and noted as Tuesday drew near, she was both excited and nervous, thought to all outward appearances she was completely calm and in control. Only Nora’s knowledge of her daughter allowed her to see past the tranquil facade and in to the tension in her very bearing.

Faith, for her part, spent her days being busy, willing the time to pass swiftly. She cleaned her living area until it shone and the floor was almost unsafe to walk on. Twice Nora scolded her for waxing it so hard that she slid.

“Honey-girl, Christian is coming here to see you. I highly doubt he is gonna be conscious of the state of the floor.”

Faith accepted the rightness of Nora’s words, knowing them for the truth. “I know, Mama. I just....”

Her words trailed off and Nora took her eldest daughter in her arms. “I know, girl. I was the same way when your father and I were courting. Everything had to be just perfect.”

Faith hugged her mother tightly and chuckled. “Mama, you’re still that way.”

Nora looked around and had to chuckle. “I guess you come by it honestly then, huh?”

“I guess so.” But the talk had its desired effect, and allowed Faith to settle down until Tuesday arrived.


************
The next bit I had to piece together from both events that took place here within my walls and the old biddies who came to gossip with Nora. Had I been able, I would have cast them all out into the street, but it wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I had to watch things play out as Faith’s life slowly unraveled.
************


Tuesday dawned overcast and rainy, and Faith sighed fearing she would be soaking wet before Christian’s train pulled into the station. The rain couldn’t dampen her spirits, though, and she was up before dawn with last minute preparations.

Nora and Sam chuckled as they heard water running in the newly installed bathing room just as the cock in the backyard crowed his morning salutations. The five days since Christian’s telephone call had been a whirlwind of activity, and they found themselves anxious to meet the friend who seemed to mean so much to their eldest child.

It was shortly before twelve when she finally came downstairs into her parents living area. Nora gave her a once-over, eyebrows going up over her neat but plain appearance. Faith wore a simple blouse and skirt neatly pressed with a pin Nora didn’t recall ever having seen her wear before. It was a gold panther with tiny sapphire chips for eyes.

“That’s a beautiful pin, Faith. Is it new?”

“No, ma’am, thank you.”

Nora waited for Faith to add a bit more information, but when she remained quiet, Nora asked. “Was it a gift from Christian?”

“Yes, mama,” but when she didn’t say anything else, Nora sighed and gave into defeat gracefully.

“You look lovely, honey girl. Even allowing the plain clothes for the weather, I’m betting Christian will be bowled over enough by your beauty to propose marriage!” She said it with a smile, shocked when Faith turned away from her with a sharp exclamation and tears in her eyes.

“MAMA!!”

Nora misunderstood, and took Faith into her arms. “It’s okay to be nervous, Faith. Love and marriage is a big step for everyone. It’ll be okay.” Faith returned the hug and nodded, though not for the reasons Nora assumed. “Now get along with ya to the station. You don’t want to keep your young man waiting.”

Faith nodded again, accepting her mother’s kiss on the cheek. She wanted to savor the moment, because she knew when she came home again, everything would be changed.

The rain became a downpour as people began to crowd beneath the small overhang at the station. Faith hid against the building, protected from the onslaught by the crowd that threatened to overwhelm her. She wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or sorry as she was almost suffocating from the press of people.

Then the train whistled from down the tracks and she forgot to worry about it as everyone pressed forward instinctively to catch their first glimpse of the massive iron horse. Faith concentrated on breathing, becoming dizzy when she felt the butterflies stir in her stomach. She knew a lot of it was due to her excitement at seeing Christian again, but she was honest enough to admit that a great deal of it was also due to fear at the reaction her family would have to Christian. She let her mind move back to the day more than two years prior that she had first set eyes on Christian, and the friendship that had gradually developed between them.


The city was so different than her own town and Faith was inundated by the sights, sounds and smells that surrounded her as she stepped off the train into the unknown. She looked around, searching for the buggy that the school had sent to pick her up, still angry that her parents had shipped her off to find a husband. Not that any mention was ever made of that, of course, but she knew.

A tall statuesque young woman approached her dressed in a neat suit with a straw hat perched on top of the blonde hair twisted up on her head. She extended a hand towards Faith eyebrow raised in mute question.

“Miss Sanders?” She waited politely for Faith to nod and accept her hand, then she smiled and gestured to the surrey set just to one side of the station. “I am Miss Morton, teacher at Mrs. Nottingham’s School for Young Ladies. Your trunk arrived yesterday and is already at the school. Come along. Sam is waiting for us. It is a relatively short ride to the school grounds and then you can meet Mrs. Nottingham and get settled in today.”

Faith nodded, not sure what to say. Miss Morton pointed out a few of the sights along their route and Faith nodded with polite interest. The eighteen-year-old was still fuming over her parent’s insistence that she attend this institution. Her manners and deportment were impeccable, thank you very much. Just because she was not particularly interested in marriage yet was no reason to ship her off to school for two more years.

Faith shook herself internally and brought her attention back to her surroundings just as they turned into the gate. She noted absently that the grounds were beautiful and well-kept, and she saw several other young ladies working among the plants. She smiled for the first time since leaving home. She might actually learn to like it here.


************
The screech of the train whistle brought Faith out of her reverie and she noted with a bit of joyful trepidation that she could actually see the slowing engine approach. She smiled to herself again and turned her attention back to the past, and her introduction to Christian.
************


Miss Morton led Faith through the wide hallway of the finishing school, winding up in front of a set of double wooden doors. She knocked lightly, waiting for the command to enter before opening the doors and motioning Faith to step into the room in front of her.

Faith waited until Miss Morton entered and closed the door behind her before following the counselor to stand in front of a woman about her mother’s age sitting behind a desk.

The schoolmistress looked up and Faith was surprised to see a twinkle of mischief dancing in the back of her brown eyes. The woman directed her attention to Miss Morton, who was quick to perform introductions.

“Mrs. Nottingham, allow me to present Faith Sanders. Miss Sanders, this is our headmistress, Marie Nottingham.”

“Welcome, Miss Sanders. It is a pleasure to have you join us.” Marie extended her hand and waited for Faith to accept it.

She did so graciously, though all she said was, “Thank you, Mrs. Nottingham.”

Marie paused, then turned her attention to Miss Morton when it became clear Faith had nothing else to say. “Thank you, Miss Morton. I will see you at the evening meal.”

Miss Morton acknowledged the dismissal with a nod of her head, then stopped short when Faith extended her hand. “Thank you, Miss Morton,” she offered quietly. “I appreciate your escort.”

Miss Morton shook her hand briefly and left the room without another word. Marie gestured to a seat, and waited until Faith was comfortable before she sat back and regarded the young woman sitting in front of her. She could still see the sparks of anger and resentment that her good manners couldn’t disguise.

“I think it is time to let you in on the real reason you are here, Faith.” A question was clear in the green eyes, but Faith didn’t interrupt. “I know you think that your folks sent you here in the hopes that you would find a suitable man, but that is not entirely true.”

“Isn’t it?” Faith retorted bitterly. “I have heard about nothing else since Mama decided I needed to come here. ‘We’ve decided to send you to the city, Faith. Marie Nottingham is an old friend and I am sure she can introduce you to some suitable, eligible young men.’ I’d say she made her intentions pretty clear.”

Marie rubbed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose before putting on her glasses and folding her hands on the desk in front of her. “Well, I certainly can if that is what you want, but I get the distinct impression you’re not interested in that.”

“You would be correct in that observation,” Faith answered curtly.

Marie sighed. “I had asked your mother to let me explain why I asked for you to be here. I didn’t realize she was going to give you that kind of justification though.”

She lifted her clasped hands to her lips and sighed. “I love Nora... she has been one of my best friends since we were in primary together, but sometimes....”

“Excuse me a moment. Did you say you asked my mother to send me here?”

Marie sighed again and nodded. “Yes, I did. I was hoping you could help me.”

“I’m listening... please continue.”

Marie blew out a breath and rose, walking over to look out over the gardens. “I had a sister who married and headed west when she was still very young. She kept in touch as she was able, but letters were few and far between. I was younger than she was and didn’t really understand the dangers and difficulties of her life in the west until I was much older.”

“Josephine and Matthew had what my mother referred to as a brood... seven children in five years. Three sets of twin boys and one little girl, who was the apple of their eye. Even her brothers doted on her.”

Marie turned back to face Faith, noting that her attention was riveted on the story she was telling. She walked back to her desk and sat down, clasping her hands tightly together to keep them from shaking.

“John and I had just married when we received word that Josey and Matt lost three children... the youngest set of twins and their daughter. They were seven and just five at the time.”

Josey and Matt spent years searching in vain... hoping beyond hope that their children would somehow miraculously be returned to them.”

Faith interrupted then. “Wait,” she said, holding up a hand. “Why were they searching? I thought you said the children were lost to them.”

Marie nodded. “They were. For the longest time, Josey and Matt didn’t know what happened, then about eight years after they disappeared, Matt spotted them in an Indian encampment. We still don’t know if they were abducted or wandered off. But when Matt found them, they were full members of the tribe, and obviously well-loved and taken care of. He couldn’t convince them to come home, and Josey had to settle for the knowledge that her children were indeed alive and well.”

“Another almost six years passed before Matt saw the children again. The boys had become strong warriors, but his daughter... I never asked exactly what happened. I continue to hope that one day she will share it with me.” Marie sighed in frustration and she wiped savagely at the tears in her eyes.

“The boys brought her back to Josey and Matt carefully wrapped in a blanket and left as quietly as they had come. For more than a year she tried living with them, never speaking, never happy. She actually ran away twice, and was returned to them both times.”

“Finally, Josey wrote to me, asking if I would try to help her daughter. So six months ago they shipped her here, and we have been struggling ever since.”

Faith nodded thoughtfully, carefully considering the story she’d been told and her own words. Then she turned to face Marie Nottingham and asked seriously, “What exactly is it you need from me, Mrs. Nottingham?”

“Faith, I brought you here hoping you could make friends with my niece, and perhaps become her mentor. She is twenty-two years old and cannot read and write English. Her knowledge of manners and etiquette is nonexistent, and she insists on sleeping on the floor. I have tried everything I know to try. I don’t know of anything else to do if this doesn’t work.”

“Why me? I’m only eighteen and you don’t even know me.”

“But I do know you. Your mother and I have kept in touch over the years, and I have watched you grow up through her eyes. I probably know more about you than you do about yourself. As for you age, well, you are close enough to her physical age, and your maturity level is well above that. I am confident you could help her.”

“Mrs. Nottingham, did you ever consider she might not want the help?”

Marie nodded unhappily. “Yes, but I have to try. There is something bothering her... something deep, and if I could just... I don’t know, Faith. Maybe you can reach her, because more than anything, she needs a friend.”

Faith got out of her chair then and walked to the far window. She stared unseeingly out at the vista that lay just out of reach, and noted the solidarity of one young woman. Just then a bell rang and groups of two or three began moving into the building.

Faith’s eyes focused on the solitary figure whose shoulders seemed to drop with defeat. She glanced up at the sky as though mourning the loss of sunshine she was soon to encounter, then shuffled her way indoors behind the others. Faith noted that the instructor was waiting patiently enough, though she grimaced before shutting the door behind them both.

Faith remained at the window even after the yard was empty, contemplating the story she had been told, and the innate sadness that seemed to shroud the young woman she knew instinctively was Marie Nottingham’s niece. So much more than her age gave her away, though that was a big clue. Finally, she turned back to the room to find Marie’s eyes focused on her, patiently waiting for her answer.

Faith resumed her seat and said calmly, “I’ll do it Mrs. Nottingham, but you have to let me do things my way.”

“Anything, Faith. If you could only make a little headway with her, I’d be more than grateful to you. I’d be indebted to you.”

Faith nodded and rose as Marie stood. “Come along, then. I’ll show you to the room you will be sharing and introduce you to my niece. Then you can refresh yourself before the evening meal.”

Faith picked up her valise and followed Marie up the stairs and down the hall. Marie paused and knocked, before opening the door. She looked around, spotting her niece on the pallet she’d made for herself on the floor by the fireplace. She waited to be acknowledged, and when the young woman turned around, Faith gasped at the intensity and the pain facing her.

Marie seemed oblivious to Faith’s reaction, though something imperceptible flashed in the bright blue eyes. She started to introduce the two. “Faith, this is my nie....”

But she swallowed her words when the young woman rose from her spot in front of the fire. It was the first active participation Marie had seen from her since her arrival. She stood back to watch the interaction unfold.

Faith stood still, eyes locked on those of the other woman. She watched in fascination as a sun-darkened hand slowly rose to her face and a touch as soft as down traced her fair hair and features. Faith could feel the older woman trembling, and clasped the larger hand in her own.

With her free hand, Faith patted her own chest and said softly, “Faith.” Then she touched the taller woman, who flinched at the initial touch, then relaxed when Faith didn’t make any other advances.

She stood mute for a long minute just staring into Faith’s green eyes, then said in such a bare whisper that Faith had to concentrate to hear it, “Christian.”


************
The shrill train whistle and a screech of brakes brought Faith out of her reverie and back to the present. She was happy to see the rain had abated, though it was still very cloudy. Faith waited patiently for the brakeman and the conductor to set the steps. The she waited even longer for the passengers to begin disembarking.

One by one people descended the stairs and were quickly claimed by a friend or loved one. Finally, the crowd thinned, and Faith looked up to see the bright smile and flashing blue eyes she had come to love. With a little cry, she ran to embrace the taller woman, and found it returned in full measure.

“Oh God, Christian! How I have missed you!!” She pulled back just enough to see Christian’s answer in her eyes. Then she took her hand and led her to a small buggy that now stood alone. “C’mon. Let’s make arrangements for your luggage, then find a quiet spot. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
************


As luck would have it, the storm returned and forced them back here to talk. Nora and Sam were both in the store so they didn’t see them arrive and did not find out til much later that Faith and Christian had been upstairs for hours before their introduction to their daughter’s friend. Not that I expect it would have made much of a difference in anything. There are just some things some people can’t seem to accept, no matter what.

I have often wondered what made the human race so judgmental. Hatred of the most mundane runs rampant in society, and punishment for the slightest infraction of a perceived moral code can be harsh and cruel.

Now don’t misunderstand me - humans need rules. Builders above know that humans cannot function properly without some sort of structure. But nothing can convince me that humans are superior enough to segregate themselves because of race, religion, creed or (taking from a word I learned from my present humans) orientation.

However, don’t let me get on THAT soapbox, or we will never finish this story, and I think it is important for you to hear what happened to Faith and Christian. Maybe it will make you think a little harder before judging the next time something or someone different from you crosses your path.


************


The rain had started again before they were properly settled into the buggy, and it became a race to go the short block between the railroad station and the corner building at Franklyn and Rhodes. Faith idly noted that the store was crowded with folks trying to get in out of the weather. Then her attention was forced to corralling the horse into the small shed they kept the animal in.

Christian hopped down as soon as Faith pulled to a stop and she unharnessed the animal with expert ease. Working together, it didn’t take them long to finish the chores. Then they dashed through the rain and into the back entrance, not pausing til they reached the third floor landing.

Faith opened the door and ushered Christian into her home, self-conscious in a way she’d never been before. Christian looked around interestedly, seeing Faith’s personality stamped all over. Faith waited quietly, letting Christian become comfortable with her surroundings. When the blue eyes tracked to hers, she smiled and took Christian’s hands, giving her a tour.

Faith had worked hard to establish a home for herself, and it showed in her surroundings. The parlor area was the first room off the foyer area where they stood, and its fireplace butted onto what was Faith’s bedroom. The large bathroom ran along the back of the third floor and the rest of the space was committed to the kitchen, dining and pantry and storage areas.

Christian nodded approvingly as she noted several things they’d shared during their time together at the school. Faith led her back to the bathroom and opened the door.

“I thought you might want a chance to freshen up.”

Christian leaned forward and brushed a soft kiss on Faith’s cheek. “I would. I am not fond of trains.”

Faith cupped the soft face above her own. “I know. Thank you.” She smiled and Christian smiled in response.

“Where will you be?”

“I need to change, then I’ll be in the kitchen. I think something hot to eat is probably a good idea right now.”

Christian nodded and walked into the bathroom. She looked longingly at the claw-footed tub, having grown accustomed to the luxury of taking a hot bath. She noted the shower head with interest and smiled again. That will do nicely, she thought before turning on the water and stripping out of her traveling clothes.


************


Faith changed into a warm sweater and a woolen skirt, then pulled thick wool socks on her feet. They didn’t really do much for her outfit, but she figured Christian would be more concerned with her not getting sick than with how the socks looked.

She stepped into the kitchen and stoked the stove, pushing the soup she’d left warming towards the middle of the stove where the heat was centered. Faith was in the midst of mixing a batch of biscuits when a pair of warm arms slid around her waist, and she relaxed into the hug.

Christian didn’t speak, but simply stood absorbing the sensations she’d missed for the almost seven months she and Faith had been separated. She hoped that Faith would be open to the proposition she had come to make. It could be the beginning or the end of everything for them both.

Faith felt the shiver that coursed through Christian’s frame, and she stepped out of the embrace long enough to turn in the arms that cradled her and face the taller woman. The blue eyes that gazed back at her held love, confusion, and more than a hint of fear.

“Christian?”

Christian sighed and held out a hand. She wanted the worst over with quickly. “Come. Let’s sit down and talk.”

Faith slid the biscuits into the oven and grasped the extended hand. She led Christian into the parlor where a fire had already been built. Christian had to smile when she saw the small nest Faith had made for them on the floor in front of the fireplace. Sharing that spot had been a favorite past time, and Christian was glad to see that Faith had apparently missed that intimacy as much as she had.

Faith sat down and pulled Christian down beside her, and Christian was quick to claim her place. She laid her head in Faith’s lap and closed her eyes in bliss as the small hands began gently massaging her scalp. Long moments passed as they both reveled in the renewed connection between them.

Finally, Christian took a deep breath and opened her eyes, finding green looking back at her with love. Faith spoke softly. “Are you ready to talk to me now? I know something is going on with you.”

Christian had to smile. Faith had always been nothing if not direct. She decided to bite the bullet and return the courtesy.

“I’m going home, and I want you to come with me.”

The words fell into stunned silence, and Christian waited patiently for Faith to process them. Her first indication that her words had sunken in was a widening of Faith’s eyes. Her mouth opened, and she raised a hand to cover it. Then she closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing. When she felt she had a handle on what Christian had said, she opened her eyes and returned her now trembling hand to resume its tender stroking of Christian’s head.

Christian felt relief flood her at the renewed touch. It meant there was a chance for them to be together.

Faith let the thoughts swirl around in her head a while longer before giving voice to any of them. “When? Where? And why now? I thought you were happy living with Marie at the school.” It was not an accusation. Christian could hear the honest confusion in Faith’s voice, and considering their last conversations before Faith had come back home, she could certainly understand her bewilderment. She started with the obvious question first.

“I gave civilization without you a chance like I promised you I would.” Tears welled up unexpectedly in the blue eyes and Faith gently wiped them away. “I hated it. I want to go home, and I want you to go with me,” Christian reiterated fiercely. “We can make a life together out west without drawing much attention to ourselves. Marie gave me her blessing and a little money to get started with. Please say you’ll go with me.” Christian knew she was pleading, but was past caring.

“Do you know where you want us to go, and when you want to leave?”

Christian’s heart soared at the promise those words held. She took Faith’s hand in her own and held it against her chest, knowing Faith could feel the pounding beat beneath her fingers. Green eyes widened.

“You doubted so much?” almost hurt by Christian’s lack of faith.

”NO. I wished so hard. I have very little to offer you, Faith.”

“You are everything to me, Christian.” Then the conversation was over for the duration.

************


It was the smell of burning biscuits that brought them out of the light doze they had fallen into. Quickly they moved into the kitchen and rescued the black lumps from the oven. Faith looked at Christian sadly.

“I guess we’ll be eating our soup without bread.”

“It was worth it,” Christian replied with a dazzling smile. She ran a hand up Faith’s side and chuckled when the smaller woman squealed as she moved away.

Faith turned around with her back to the stove and shook a spoon at Christian. “No tickling. That’s not fair.”

“Sure it is,” Christian answered, beginning a slow, methodical stalking of Faith. “Just because I’m not ticklish.... Besides, haven’t you ever heard that all is fair in love and war?” She continued to pursue Faith, gently moving her into a corner. When Faith realized she had nowhere to go, she lifted her hands in surrender.

“I should know better, shouldn’t I?” she asked, putting her hands on Christian’s shoulders.

“Yes, you should.” Whatever else she was going to add was disrupted by the growling of two stomachs in tandem. They looked at each other surprised for a moment then burst into laughter.

“C’mon,” said Faith. “Let’s feed the beasts before folks send a posse out looking for the monster.”


************


The time after lunch was spent in quiet conversation making plans and sharing dreams about the future. They didn’t even notice the passing of time until they heard the slam of a door on the floor beneath them. This time, it was Christian who felt the shiver pass through Faith’s small frame, and she turned concerned eyes to see a tendril of fear shadow Faith’s face. She tilted Faith’s chin up until she could look directly into green eyes.

“Faith?” Christian questioned softly.

For an answer, Faith burrowed herself into Christian’s embrace, simply breathing in the comfort Christian so ably provided. After a few minutes, Faith looked up to find blue eyes pinned to hers filled with love and concern. It was nearly her undoing, but she took a deep, shuddering breath and spoke softly.

“My folks have closed up the shop and come upstairs for the night.” She paused and took another deep breath. “They expect to meet you tonight.”

Christian nodded, understanding so far, but unable to see the problem.

“They don’t know you’re a woman, Christian. They know that I care deeply for you, though I have not shared with them how much.” She reached out and stroked the smooth face above her own. “But my mother assumed you were a young man, and I did not see fit to correct her.”

“You think that it will cause a problem for us then?”

“I think if they knew how much I loved you they would lock me up in my room for the remainder of my natural life. I dread to think what they would do to you.”

“Then we will not let them see what we are to each other.” Faith closed her eyes in pain at that statement. She and Christian had been hiding all their lives together it seemed, and the unfairness of that situation hit her squarely in the chest. She knew that what both she and Christian had said was the truth, and was resigned to it.

“I hate that!! It is so unfair!!”

“Yes, it is, but we will manage, and we will leave here and make our own home together as quickly as we can.”

“Whither thou goest, I will go.
Whither thou lodgest, I will lodge.
Thy people shall be my people.”

“You mean that,” Christian stated, not questioning the words or the intent behind them.

“With everything that I am.”

“Then we have nothing to worry about. Let’s go meet the parents.”


************


Nora and Sam were exceedingly gracious to Christian, once they got over the shock of finding out she was a woman and not the male suitor they’d imagined her to be. Nora couldn’t help but be a little disappointed... she had been certain from Faith’s attitude that Christian was a man.

The next few days passed fairly routinely for everyone. Nora and Sam continued to work in the shop while Faith and Christian spent time together doing what, Nora had no real idea. Something about their interaction caused a tingle to run up her spine, and she watched them together as much as possible. Twice in the week, they came down in the afternoon and shooed the older couple out to enjoy some time off, and Nora and Sam were quick to accept.

Six days after Christian arrived, it occurred to Nora just what was niggling at the back of her mind, and she decided to confront Faith about it privately. Little did she know that Christian had no intention of letting Faith be subjugated to any sort of interrogation alone. Nor did she realize how prepared they were to simply disappear.


************


”Faith, I need to speak to you.” Nora couldn’t help the censored tone that came out of her mouth and it sent the hair standing up on the back of Faith’s neck. Christian moved to stand behind her, a silent sentinel, and Nora shivered as she was caught in a deep blue regard. She managed not to show her suspicions, but her adding, “Alone, please,” confirmed to them that she was aware of what was between them.

“Mama, Christian is my friend. You can say whatever you need to say in front of her.”

Nora could tell by her stance that Faith was not going to give on this point and sighed. She was glad she had caught them alone on their way out, so Sam wouldn’t become involved in what she was sure was going to be a nasty confrontation.

“Very well, Faith. I think Christian needs to leave. I know it is too late for her to catch the train out today, but I want to see her heading out of town on the noon train tomorrow.”

“I see,” Faith replied coldly. “And do I get an explanation for your request, or do you expect simple, blind obedience?”

Now Nora’s ire rose, and her eyes flashed. “Don’t you speak to me in that tone, young lady. I am still your mother.” She paused and took a breath to reign in her temper. “I feel that your friendship is inappropriate, and will not allow such an abomination to continue under my roof.”

“I see,” Faith answered again, in an even icier voice than before. “And what *abomination* do you think is taking place here?”

Nora found herself unexpectedly on the defensive from the anger Faith was clearly emitting. Then she remembered the evidence that she’d witnessed with her own eyes, and took the moral high ground she felt was hers in this situation.

“I’ve seen the way you two look at each other, the way you act together.”

“And how is that exactly?” Faith pushed. She wanted to hear her mother say whatever she had to say outright.

Nora flushed in both embarrassment and anger at having to spell it out so completely.

“You act like a married couple, Faith! You’ve tried, but you can’t hide it. The looks, the touches... everything. It’s wrong... perverted. God said it is an abomination, and I will not permit that sort of behavior in my house.”

“I see,” Faith said one final time. “So the fact that we love each other doesn’t matter.”

“No, because it’s not real love. It’s...”

“That’s enough,” Christian finally broke into the argument. “I will leave, but you will not discount what we feel for one another. Do you understand?”

For the first time, Nora felt real fear from the sheer intensity Christian was directing towards her. “I....”

“DO. YOU. UNDERSTAND??”

“Y...yes.”

“Very well. Now if you will excuse us....” Christian took Faith’s hand and the two younger women passed in front of Nora on their way out the door. Nora flinched back reflexively at the open affection between them, and Faith’s breath caught. Christian gently squeezed the small hand clasped in hers for support, and led Faith into the bright sunshine.


************
That was almost the last time I saw them. I know from some of the local building gossip at the time that they spent the remainder of the day at the park a block over from here. I’ve been told it is a lovely place, and apparently there is a solitude there that humans crave. Even now, that park is held in high regard by the humans who live around here as a place to find peace.


Faith cried in Christian’s arms, then they spent the remainder of the day in quiet conversation. Along toward sunset, they made their way back here and upstairs to the sanctuary of Faith’s room for their final night together within these walls.
************


Nora, for her part was angry and confused. She never made it down to the store, causing Sam to come up during a slow period to check on her. She couldn’t explain to him what had happened without bursting into tears, so he simply held her while she wept before returning to the shop to finish out the day.

Nora heard Faith and Christian come in and quietly go upstairs. She thought briefly about confronting them again, then decided against it. There had already been more words spoken in anger than she’d ever wanted to speak or hear. She’d leave them alone together for the night, then when Christian was gone she and Faith would sit down and talk like two rational adults.

If that didn’t work, well, there were places to put Faith to help her overcome the madness she seemed to have contracted. Nora wiped her eyes. She hoped it didn’t come to that. She really loved her eldest daughter. She just couldn’t accept what her eyes and heart told her were true. It was a shame, too, because she actually liked Christian as a person... just not as Faith’s suitor.

When morning came, Sam noticed a distinct change in Nora’s bearing, as though she had come to a momentous decision sometime in the night. Whatever had upset her seemed to have passed, and for that he was grateful. She accompanied him to the store with an almost cheerful demeanor.

The day passed swiftly, and Nora waited patiently for Faith to come downstairs. She knew that Faith was furious with her, but figured that if given enough time to calm down, they would be able to have a sensible discussion.

Faith didn’t make an appearance that day or the next. By the morning of the third day following Christian’s departure, Nora was becoming very concerned. Faith still hadn’t ventured downstairs, and Nora was beginning to fear the worst... that her pushing had cause Faith to do something foolish.

With a heart full of trepidation, she slowly mounted the stairs, fearing the worst, but hoping that Faith had simply locked herself away to mourn. Nora knocked softly and waited, then knocked again when no one answered. Hesitantly, she turned the knob, surprised when it turned easily.

“Faith?”

She stepped into the foyer and called out softly, not getting an answer. She slowly moved through Faith’s home, looking in each room. Only silence greeted her.

The fireplace was cold and the bedroom was vacant. The bathroom door stood wide open, indicating its emptiness. When Nora reached the kitchen, her confusion was clear. She saw a note propped up against the empty fruit bowl, and she crossed the room to pick it up. Her hands shook as she saw her name written across the front firmly in Faith’s distinct handwriting.

Dear Mama, (it read)

By the time you read this, Christian and I should be more than halfway to our new home. I respect your beliefs Mama, but I will not give up Christian because of them. I love her, and you would see why if you could see past her gender into her heart the way that I do. She is a beautiful person, Mama, and she loves me in a way that I never imagined.

I know you will never accept Christian and me, but I hope someday you will be able to be happy with the fact that with her I am happiest. With her I am complete.
Much love to you and Papa. I love you both very much.

Always your daughter,

Faith

Nora crumpled the paper in her hands and sank to the table, sobbing. She knew she had well and truly lost her daughter, and she cried for what was gone and for what would never be. Finally, Nora cried herself out and she smoothed the paper, raising it to her lips and kissing it in place of her absent child. Then she moved towards the door, shutting it firmly behind her before heading down the stairs to tell Sam about what had happened.


************
Nora did come to terms with the fact that Faith was happy where she was. I think it is the only way she could deal with the fact that Faith had left so abruptly.
We went a very long time before we heard from Faith again, but she did send one more letter after she left.
Nora was so excited when the letter arrived that she called her family together to hear it. I particularly was glad for that fact as it allowed me to hear it too.

************


Hope and Charity hadn’t seen their mother this animated since Faith had left home unexpectedly more than five years previously. So when her telephone call came, they bundled their families up and rushed over to find out what all the excitement was about.
It took a while for everyone to get settled. There were six children between them, though the oldest one wasn’t even old enough to remember Faith clearly. Nora put them in the play room, knowing they wouldn’t understand the importance of what she had to share.
Charity seated herself carefully on the couch since being eight months pregnant made her a little slower than normal to do much of anything. Hope sat down next to her and their husbands took up posts on either side of them.

The pleasure in Nora’s face was clear, and the girls found themselves anticipating the news.

“I know you girls have always wondered about Faith and why she left so suddenly.”

Nora drew a deep breath and wiped her eyes. “For a long time, I couldn’t accept the life she’d chosen or the person she’d chosen to spend it with. I think the time has come to share some of those things with you.”

She took a folded envelope from her pocket and slid the contents from it. She opened the letter and began to read aloud.

Dear Mama, (it read)
I hope time and distance has softened you towards Christian and me. I still think of you and papa daily and offer up a prayer for the family every night.

Mama, you should know that writing you again was Christian’s idea. She knew how badly our rift had bothered me, and she encouraged me to take this first step. So think kindly of her Mama. She loves me enough to look out for me, even when it hurts her. And knowing that you think poorly of her does hurt. She is a very sensitive soul.

Life here in the west has been very good to us. We have a small spread with a few cattle, a couple milk cows, some chickens and a garden. It is a completely different life than I ever expected to lead, but I am so happy in it.

We have a few neighbors, most of whom are friendly and don’t really question our relationship too intensely. I have learned that most folks will see what they want to see and ignore the rest if it bothers them to look too deeply.

It is very beautiful out here. I wish I had words adequate enough to convey the true majesty of this land. From the living room window where I sit writing this missive, I can see the mountains as a backdrop to the valley where we live. There’s a waft of apples from the orchard, and the scent of rain in the distance. The colors here are bold and vibrant, and the air is fresh and clear.

I can just make out Christian’s form on the range driving the cattle towards the upper pasture. She has just blossomed here. And I have to admit to loving the life we have here very much.

Our house is good sized... more than plenty for the two of us. It is made of stone, mostly, with a little bit of the native wood. All in all we are very secure.

There really isn’t much more I can share with you without making this letter go on for pages and pages. Besides, I don’t know how much you’d be comfortable knowing about us and our life together here.

Rest assured that I am happy, though I continue to miss you all everyday. I hope you think well of us, as we do of you.

Much love to everyone.

Still your loving daughter,

Faith


Nora finished reading and folded the paper back up, tucking it away in her pocket before looking up to meet her other two daughters’ eyes.

Charity scooted to the edge of the couch, her husband offering her a hand for leverage as she stood. She walked the two steps to her mother and took the older woman in her arms as much as her bulging belly would allow. The baby between them kicked its unhappiness at being sandwiched, and the two women chuckled as they separated.

“Thank you, Mama. I know it was hard for you when she left, and knowing why, I guess I can understand. But Faith is still my big sister, and I love her no matter what. So thank you for sharing her letter with us.”

The rest of the family gathered round then and rejoiced that the one they had thought lost to them was lost to them no more.


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