A/N: Many of you asked for more of Faith growing up and for more Michael and Sara, so while I think this one-shot is still a bit rough, I thought I'd throw it out there. Hope you enjoy. Obviously, this is in the Afterward/Something New universe and it helps to have read Night at the Pearl first (though not strictly necessary).
Faith at age 3, according to Sara.
While Faith, like her brother Henry, favored Michael in looks, Sara knew her temperament mirrored her own. Sometimes, witnessing Faith's eyes snap over some minor clash of wills or another, Michael would just chuckle as he walked on past the confrontation. "Let me know when you'd like some tips for dealing with that look," he'd tell Sara.
"Oh yeah?" she'd snapped back once, at an impasse with Faith at the tender age of three. "You think you're an expert, do you?"
He'd wisely offered her a diplomatic smile and a kiss to her forehead. "Just years of experience."
Mike at this age had been a dream. And while Henry had been more of a challenge, he'd worn his mischief on his sleeve, wiggling out of trouble by charm alone. But Faith? Lord help her, sometimes having a daughter made Sara finally understand why her mother used to drink too much.
Today, the two of them squared off in the entryway of the house. Faith wore the small backpack she'd desperately wanted when they'd taken Mike and Henry back-to-school shopping, but apparently, it had not occurred to her until now that she would not be attending Sable with them this first day of school. Michael stood mutely in the doorway, keys in hand, frozen at the sight of his daughter crying to be included.
"Just boys? No girls?" she sobbed, her face bereft as she stared up at her father, and Sara watched Michael's face contort in misery in response.
"Just go," she told him, before he could start to cry, too, shooing him and the boys out the door. "I'll deal with her." To Faith, she said, "Of course not just boys. You just need to be older, Faith."
"But Henry gets to go this year," she said slowly, hiccuping back the last of the tears (they disappeared once Daddy left). "And he's…" She worked it out on her fingers. "Only less than three years older than me, and three times less than 12 months is less than 36, so only 'bout 34 months, so only…only 147 weeks older. That's not many, Mama."
Yes, good job with multiplication. "That's true, he's not very much older. But he's just enough older to go to Sable." She reached for Faith's small arms, crossed tightly across her chest. "You'll get to go so soon, baby girl. I promise."
"Maybe you just tell Sable they gotta let me go now," Faith tried, allowing Sara to hold her.
"No, that's not how it works." She brushed her hair back from her face; a strand of her long curls had stuck to her wet cheeks.
"Maybe I ask Daddy."
Dammit, he spoiled her. "Daddy won't let you break the rules."
Faith eyed her in challenge. They both knew this wasn't true. "Maybe I ask him," she said again stubbornly.
Sara purposefully turned away. Disengage, all the parenting books said. Never succumb to a battle of wills. She was certain these authors would change their tune if they met her daughter. "How about finishing breakfast?" she offered. "Ellie will be here soon, and then maybe you can read together."
"No thank you Ellie today," Faith said cooly.
"No baby girl, that wasn't a choice." Sara kept her tone light, while trying not to glance at her watch. "Mama needs to go to work, so Ellie will be here soon." The irony was, Henry would trade Faith places in a shot: he'd far rather hang out with his beloved Ellie all day and let Faith take his place at his school desk.
"How 'bout I come to work?" She looked at Sara hopefully, her father's intelligent blue eyes beseeching her, and son-of-a-bitch, she felt herself wanting to cave.
"I'd love that, Faith, but there are too many sick people at work right now." Flu season had seemed to arrive early this year. "I don't want you to get sick."
"How 'bout I work with Daddy?"
"Daddy has meetings today."
"She can come with me," he said, entering the kitchen and tossing the keys back on the counter. Sara hadn't even heard him come back from the car pool run. She frowned at him.
"But Ellie is scheduled."
"Well, I was thinking," Michael said, scooping Faith up from her seat at the table and releasing her prematurely from breakfast, "it really isn't fair she can't start school yet."
"Michael Scofield, so help me, if you—"
"So," he interrupted, "maybe we can have some Daddy school, hmm? Learn some things together?"
Sara watched Faith's perfect mouth curve into a beaming smile. Michael's mirrored it. She was absolutely fighting a losing battle. "What about your meeting? The one with the school district superintendent?"
Michael just lifted his eyebrows at Faith like this was an unexpected but welcome surprise. "Sounds like we're going to school after all," he told her, chuckling as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. He leaned over to kiss Sara, Faith clinging to him like a monkey. "It'll be fine. We'll have a fun day." He peeled their daughter off of him gently and said, "Go potty and find your jacket."
She ran to go do his bidding.
"Michael, you can't give her everything she wants," Sara whispered, once Faith was out of earshot.
"But I can give her everything she deserves, and I will," he told her. When he caught her eye, his expression looked every bit as stubborn as Faith's. Maybe that look she could deliver wasn't all Sara, after all.
"Sweetheart?" he called after Faith. "Don't forget your backpack!"
Faith at age 10, according to Faith.
"But why not?" Faith insisted, trying to stay calm. A ball of anger was knotting in her stomach, but she forced it to stay put. She knew yelling and crying wouldn't get her what she wanted. The best way to nudge the scales when it came to debating with Mom and Dad was sound reasoning and a carefully constructed argument, but in this case, it was really quite simple. It just wasn't fair. Her whole 5th grade class was going to visit a real life prison, talk to guards and see the bars on the windows and stand in the towers and everything, and she didn't get to go? "I got an A on my sociology report and I was approved by Mrs. C and everything!"
"It's not about your school work, Faith," Mom said calmly. "We know you've done very well."
"We'll think of something else we can do to reward you," Dad added. "You can skip school that day, and we can go somewhere fun."
"I don't want to go somewhere with you!" she shouted at him, the ball of anger winning. It bounced right out of her and seemed to explode. "I want to go to the prison tour!"
Dad looked hurt, she noted with a pang, but then he said, "Faith, I won't change my mind," and her own hurt swallowed her guilt.
"Why is this family so…so…stupid?!" she shouted, and that was enough. Off she was sent to her room.
Only, she didn't stay there. She crept back downstairs to the landing, so she could hear if maybe Mom could talk Dad into it. Sometimes, Mom was very good at this. She heard them in their room on the second floor.
"What sort of asinine field trip is that for children?" Dad was saying.
"They do it every year," Mom said. "I remember, it was always in the spring, and—"
"Over my dead body is my daughter stepping foot in Fox River," Dad interrupted, "And even then, she'd still better not, because you'd still better stop it," he'd added to Mom.
Faith didn't suppose Mom was winning this time. Dad just kept carrying on: "Can you imagine? Have you stopped to think…" Faith could hear him pacing their bedroom, back and forth. "God, Sara, someone in there could recognize her, have you thought of that? Someone could know she's coming, someone could…God! I can't even handle the thought—"
Dad got quiet so maybe Mom was somehow making him see that tons of kids went on this prison trip every single year, just as she'd said. That no one there knew her, Faith Scofield, a kid from Sable. What a dumb thing to worry about. But then she heard Mom add, "Okay. It's okay. Of course I know. Of course I agree."
And it was all Faith could do not to cry again. She was still trying to keep that stinging feeling out of her eyes when Henry came up behind her in the hall and poked her in the ribs. It felt good to have a reason to shove an elbow back in his direction.
"You're gonna get in trouble out here," he told her joyfully.
"I already am, for no reason at all," she let him know stonily. She studied him thoughtfully. Henry was in 7th grade. "Did you get to go on the 5th grade prison field trip?" If he did, she was going to be so mad.
Henry laughed. "No way!"
But that was the annoying thing—okay, the most annoying thing—about Henry. When he was told no, he didn't even mind. He usually just shrugged and said okay (and then if he really wanted to do something, he just did it anyway). She turned on her heel and marched herself back to her room before he could enjoy watching her get caught in the hall.
She lay on her bed and stared at her ceiling, where she'd put Cubs posters up when she was smaller. She kept thinking she wanted to take them down, but never did. All those old stats lining the side of the photos were like old friends. Sometimes she still liked to run the numbers in her head. Sometimes, though she didn't tell her parents this, she still texted Uncle Linc which games to bet on.
She lay there a long time, until she felt pretty sure Mom and Dad had forgotten they'd sent her here. But then the door opened a crack and Mom poked her head in and said, "May I come in?"
Faith wanted to say, I guess you'll do whatever you want no matter how I feel, but instead she said, "Sure."
She sat down on the side of the bed and ran her hand softly over Faith's hair. She liked that, but tried to not to show it. "I'm sorry you're disappointed," Mom said.
Faith sat up, dislodging her hand off her head. "I really, really want to go, Mom," she pleaded.
"I know you do."
"And it's not fair that I don't get to." Was she going to have to state the obvious all day?
"I know it's not. It's really, really not fair."
"I think you know why, Faith," Mom said softly. Faith hadn't expected this. "You're a smart girl, and you have older brothers, and an uncle who talks too much, and you've probably overheard things and you've probably paid attention. So you tell me: why do you think Dad and I won't let you go to Fox River?"
She didn't know. Not for sure. People seemed to be careful, talking around her. But maybe… "Because something bad happened to you there? Or to Dad?" she ventured. This was what she'd kind of feared, catching little bits of information here and there.
Mom said, "Not exactly." She leaned back against Faith's headboard and sighed. "Here's what I think it's important my ten-year-old girl know. Before Dad made it his job to keep people out of buildings and keep them locked securely, he figured out how to get into, and then break out of, Fox River." She glanced at Faith, who kept her face very still, all calm. She didn't want Mom to stop talking about grown-up things like this. "He had good reasons," she added.
"Did you see him do that? Were you there?"
"I was working there, as a doctor. So…yeah. I did." Mom toyed with the ruffled edge of Faith's pillowcase. "So when he did that, try to imagine: it made some people very angry. People who wanted the prison to be safe, right?"
"And it made some other people glad…kind of hopeful, you know? That maybe they wouldn't be locked in prison anymore."
"But shouldn't they be?" Faith's voice sounded super quiet. She didn't mean for it to.
"Yes," Mom said. Then more quietly. "Yes."
"Is that why Dad doesn't do work for prisons now?"
"That's one reason," Mom said. Faith got the feeling she wasn't saying everything, exactly, but that what she was saying, was all the way true. This seemed like a good compromise to Faith. She wasn't sure she wanted to know everything. "So, even though all this happened a long time ago, before you were born, people know Dad's name there. And you have the same name," she pointed out.
Faith nodded again.
"And that scares me and Dad."
"Maybe you should have named me with a different last name," Faith suggested.
Mom just smiled, sort of to herself. "No." She settled down into Faith's bed, drawing her against her shoulder. Faith found she didn't mind kind of snuggling up. "I love your name, and mine, and I hope, actually, that you'll never change it. Even if you get married one day."
"Ew, Mom. Weird."
But Mom looked at her really serious. When Dad did that, it could be intimidating, like one of Henry's dumb staring contests where she tried hard not to blink first, but when Mom did it, it was softer, somehow. Warm. "It means something, being your father's daughter, Faith. Being a Scofield. Today, it means you'll miss out on a field trip, and I'm sorry about that, but every day, oh Faith.…I'm not sure you can understand how much your dad loves you. How much good he's done, and keeps doing, for this family. For you and your brothers and me. To make your name something you should be very, very proud of. So when he has to say no to you, which you know is almost impossible for him"—she gave Faith a playful nudge—"you can give him a break, right?"
The anger in Faith had been fading, and now, she found it was gone…poof. She still wished she could go see the prison, but she'd decided she could wait. Maybe she'd still see it one day, but if Dad had already figured it all out, maybe she wouldn't even bother.
Faith at age 13, according to Michael.
Michael had been sitting sentinel outside the ladies dressing room in the juniors section of some brightly lit clothing store for what felt like entirely too long for Faith to try on a few dresses. "Please?" she had said. "Just a quick stop," she had promised. Apparently, something called the middle school fall formal was coming up.
He glanced at his watch. Sara was at a medical conference in Cleveland all week. He had picked Faith up from school an hour ago, and had planned to head straight home to get some emails sent for work. Thank goodness Henry could drive himself home after soccer practice, because at this rate, he'd be lucky to get dinner on the table.
He stared at the entrance to the dressing room, realizing that when he'd sent her in there, he hadn't thought things through. How to tell her they had to get going? Because of his own stubborn insistence, Faith, in 7th grade, did not yet own a cell phone. How Michael wished he could send her a text right about now. It would say something like, They all look great. Pick one and let's go. Or, better yet, skip the dance and we'll go get ice cream? She used to love that.
He waited another five minutes, then stood up and started pacing. A moment later, a middle-aged woman came out of the dressing room area, looked around and approached him. "Sorry," she said, "But do you have a daughter in there? she pointed back toward the dressing rooms.
He nodded. "Yes. Everything okay?"
The woman apologized again. "I told her I'd come out and ask you for your phone for her to borrow? She says her mom's out of town, but she needs to talk to her."
That sounded odd. Michael hated how familiar warning bells sounded in his head, no matter how long it had been since he'd last needed to heed them. "Why?" he asked the woman.
She looked flustered but held her ground. "I'm sure she just wants her opinion on an outfit or something," she said.
Michael stared her down. If this didn't add up…if she thought he'd hesitate to barge into that dressing room if he felt he had to… But she genuinely looked like she'd rather be doing anything else right this moment, so he fished his phone out of his pocket and handed it to her. "She knows my passcode," he told her, for good measure.
"I'll be right back with it. So sorry," the woman said.
She disappeared back into the dressing room, and Michael paced for another few minutes. Why would Faith call Sara right now? She knew she was busy. But the woman emerged again pretty quickly, and after returning his phone, said, "She'll be right out."
He wasted no time opening his recent call log. Sure enough, the last call made had been to Sara, not three minutes ago. He hit redial.
"Baby, I promise it will be okay. Did you try what I suggested?" Sara said without preamble. She sounded rushed, like she was trying to do several things at once.
"Sweetheart, it's me." Obviously, she'd assumed Faith had called her back.
"Oh jeez, Michael, I'm so sorry to saddle you with this. I can't believe I'm stuck at this thing."
"Saddle me with what?" he asked carefully. Sara didn't sound alarmed or upset, so he wasn't scared, exactly, but he was getting nervous. "What's up with Faith?"
Sara hesitated, and this did not make Michael feel any better. "Where is she? Not with you yet?"
"Still in a dressing room. I'm stuck at the damned mall."
"Listen," Sara said after a beat, "don't make a big thing of this, or she's going to hate me for saying, but you're going to need to make a stop on the way home." She paused again, long enough for him to think, another stop? then added with careful emphasis, "For maxi pads for her. Okay, Michael? You understand what I'm saying? I told her what kind."
"I'm sorry I'm not there," Sara said only. She sounded more than apologetic. Almost deflated, like she was missing something important.
But…maxi pads? "What do you mean?" he said numbly. "She's way too young for that."
Another beat of silence. "No. She's thirteen."
Right. Thirteen. Just a child.
"She's already upset and embarrassed. Just act like everything's fine, please."
"Is it fine?"
"Of course it's fine," Sara said. "She was just caught off-guard, that's all. She didn't know to prepare for it. Poor girl," she added in that same sad voice.
"Well here she is…she's coming out now," Michael said, and hung up on Sara, just like that.
Faith made her way over, face flushed. She never could hide anything on her pale skin. "Was that Mom? Were you talking to Mom?" she asked in a somewhat frantic tone.
"Uh, yeah, just…briefly," he said lamely. "Sweetheart, are you—"
"Let's go," she said swiftly, eyes on the floor. If it were possible, her face had reddened even more. "Please." She issued the word just as Sara had.
"Okay." Whatever she wanted.
But near the doors, she suddenly froze. "Ah, I forgot I have this!" she said, tugging the tags off a hoodie that Michael now realized he didn't recognize. She'd tied it around her waist. Oh. Poor girl was right. She thrust the tags into his hands. "Mom says you have to buy this, okay?" She looked at him a bit desperately then back at her shoes.
"Sure, no problem," he told her. "Faith," he tried. He touched her arm. "It'll be al—"
"Just please hurry?" she begged.
"Of course. Yeah." He walked swiftly back to the check-out counter and slid his card at the cashier.
In the car, they endured the first awkward drive they'd ever shared, until mercifully, Michael saw a Walgreen's and swung into the parking lot.
"Do you have cash?" Faith asked.
He thumbed through his wallet and came up empty. "It's fine. I'll come with you."
Faith blanched. "Really?"
He wasn't sure what else he was supposed to do. His thirteen-year-old couldn't use plastic without an ID. He explained to her that trying to do so would only bring more attention down upon her. This fact had her reaching for the door handle with a resigned slump of her shoulders.
In the feminine hygiene aisle, there were so many choices, they both just stared at the pink and teal packaging that spanned floor to ceiling. "Okay," Michael said. "No problem, we got this," like he was encouraging Mike before taking the goal. Faith just kind of stared at him pitifully.
She asked for his phone again to text Sara. "I forgot what brand she said."
He handed it to her, and then said, "You know what? I think we need some milk and some dish soap, too. I'm going to go get that, and I'll meet you at the counter." He departed the aisle to collect things they didn't need, giving her space.
They next endured their first awkward purchasing experience together, Faith staring straight ahead in mortification as Michael handed the box of pads over the counter to the elderly man ringing them up. A display of pain relief meds caught Michael's eye, and trying to be thoughtful, he added a box of ibuprofen to the pile.
"Just kill me now," Faith mumbled.
Back in the car, he decided he loved his daughter too much to let this remain horrible. "Faith," he said bracingly, "I'm sorry Mom's not here, but you know what? It's okay. It doesn't have to be a big deal."
Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say. "But it is a big deal," she said. "Mom gets that."
At least she was talking to him now, though. "Okay, well, you'll have to forgive me," he told her, glancing at her sidelong as he eased onto their off-ramp. "Last I checked, you were about five years old, so this is all a bit of a shock to me."
"Dad!" she protested. "C'mon." But she laughed. The sound cheered him. Maybe she wouldn't remain locked in endless embarrassment after all.
"Thank God for that lady," she said. "In the dressing room."
Michael nodded, wishing he'd been nicer to her. "The hoodie was her idea?" he asked.
"Mom's. But the lady had the hoodie." Faith paused. "I think she planned to buy it." This struck her as very funny, and Michael was happy for a reason to smile at her again.
"Do me a favor," he told her. "Never wear that thing again, okay?" He smiled at her. "I just…can't."
They both laughed again at the absurdity of all this. Faith's nose crinkled just like Sara's, and the sight made Michael's heart swell. Somehow, this loosened the tight grip anxiety had held on his chest since calling Sara. Their girl would be fine. Not to make this about him, but well, yeah. He'd be fine, too.
Faith at age 16, according to Sara.
The night of the annual Sable vs. Lincoln Park High School lacrosse game, Henry returned home just shy of curfew, pulling into the drive at 11:59 pm. To his credit as a loyal brother, Sara noted that he tried to slip past her and Michael straight to his room with a quick, "Goodnight!", and wave of one hand.
"Wait a sec," Michael called to him. "Where's your sister?"
Henry slunk back into the living like his father had pressed reverse on a film roll. "Uh, she decided to stay a bit longer," he hedged.
"That wasn't the agreement," Michael shot back, leaving it to Sara to point out that if Faith had made the (very poor) decision to skip curfew, this wasn't Henry's fault.
"Yeah, I told her to come home with me," Henry agreed. "I can't help it if she doesn't listen."
"Well, what was she doing?" Michael wanted to know. "Who was she with?"
Henry looked like he was thinking fast: refuse to rat out his sister or come clean with his father? He chose wisely. "She wanted to get a ride out to the Back Nine," he admitted slowly.
Sara heard herself groan.
"What's that?" Michael shot at Henry.
But Sara knew: the Back Nine had been a local hangout for teenage parties since she'd been in high school. Some things really never changed.
"It's just because she's never gone before," Henry added quickly. "I'm sure she'll realize it's stupid and be home right away."
Fat chance, Sara thought. She eyed her middle son. "Hand over your phone."
He gave it reluctantly. Though Henry generally enjoyed troublemaking, he didn't seem to be relishing his sister's demise. Sara called Faith, and before she could finish her greeting of, "Just back off, Hen, I'm fine!" Sara told her darkly:
"Get. your. ass. home. Now."
Her ominous tone had Michael repeating, "What is the Back Nine?"
She explained the location of the wooded park where kids tended to congregate on Friday nights while they waited for Faith. Henry seemed unduly impressed that she knew of it. "I was eighteen once, just like you," she told him hotly.
After about fifteen minutes, a car screeched to a halt outside their house, and they moved to the window to see Faith jump out and slam the door. Michael had the car license plate number loaded into a database he probably wasn't authorized to have on his phone in seconds.
"Who's Charlie Bennett?" he asked Henry. "Seventeen. Lives here in Lincoln Park."
Henry half-shrugged. "He's on the debate team at LP. Seems nice." He watched him peel away from the curb the second Faith was out of the car. "Currently shitting his pants."
Sara shot him a look, and Michael said, "Language," but kind of on autopilot. She supposed they were past that, tonight. The front door handle turned slowly, almost as if the door was reluctant to open, and then Faith walked through resignedly. Michael's eye seemed to scan their daughter head to toe in quick assessment, and, coming up short of any type of damage, emotional or otherwise, his concern shifted to anger. He pointed upstairs silently.
"Thanks a million, Henry," she threw at her brother on her way to the stairs.
"Don't you put this on him," Sara called after her. "You made your own decisions, sister." Michael moved to follow her to her room, but Sara laid a hand on his arm. "Let me."
Upstairs, Faith tossed her jeans and sweater into the dirty clothes hamper in a huff, tugging on her pajamas. "I know," she said, without looking at her mother. "I'm going to bed. Right now. Everyone can just call off the National Guard or cavalry or whoever else Dad probably alerted. Jeez."
Sara just raised an eyebrow as Faith brushed past her to the bathroom and shut the door in her face. "It's just so embarrassing, do you know that?" she called out. "Making Charlie drive me home before the part—before it was even late? Can I not have any fun?" When Sara said nothing, she added, "Mom!"
"Oh I'm sorry. I thought that was rhetorical," she told her. She'd learned years ago to stay as neutral in her emotions as possible once Faith ramped herself up. "I'll answer any serious questions when you open the door and can be civil."
The door opened as abruptly as it had closed, and Faith marched herself back to her room. She sat down on the bed and exhaled. "Sorry."
It seemed all she could muster, but sounded pretty damned inadequate to Sara. "For?"
"Yelling," Faith offered. She sighed again. "And staying out past curfew. Trying to stay out past curfew," she amended.
This was a slight improvement. Sara pulled up Faith's desk chair and sat down wearily. It had been a long day, and she'd really rather be in bed herself than dealing with teenage angst. But she'd vowed a long time ago to be more present than her own parents had been when Sara had been this age. "Were you drinking?" she asked point-blank.
Faith considered lying. Sara watched this flash across her face like a neon sign. Her girl did not have a future as a poker player. "Just a few sips of a beer before…" Before the unwelcome phone call from her mother. "Why is this such a big deal to you?" Faith asked rather desperately. "Didn't you drink in high school?"
This question was thrown up in challenge, but Sara could hear the genuine curiosity behind it, so she answered it. "No," she told Faith honestly. "As you know, my mom was an alcoholic," she said. "And when you grow up seeing that…" She glanced away from Faith, not especially enjoying how reliving this made her feel. "…it just takes the shine off, you know?"
"But you took drugs," Faith told her, as though she needed reminding. "Which is like, way worse. I don't get why you did that, Mom."
Sara was surprised by the agitation in her daughter's voice. Perhaps because past conversations on this subject had been more abstract. Hypothetical. "There is no good enough reason," she said slowly, trying to pick the best way through this. "But if you want the reason I gave myself at the time, it was because I needed relief. I was in med school and I was working 20 hour shifts and I was miserable in general and I was seeing horrible, awful things at the hospital, up to my elbows in blood every day, and…it was like that stupid game you kids used to play, where you'd squeeze each other's hands until someone cried mercy. I cried mercy."
"What did it feel like?" Faith breathed.
God, she didn't want to talk about this. "Morphine? It felt like…floating. Like instead of trying to swim through a choppy ocean every day at work, my head barely above water, I could skim over the surface."
"The problem was, I skimmed over everything else, too. I barely noticed how I spent my free time, or who I spent that time with. My dad noticed," she added, feeling a sad sigh escape her. She offered Faith a quiet look. This she'd understand. "And he let me know they were not people worthy of me."
She watched Faith swallow. "Anyway, what I learned is, I wanted to be present for my life. I couldn't aestheticize it, even when it was painful."
"Ironic, Mom," Faith said softly, "because now you can't take anything stronger than Tylenol, even if you're in pain." Sara knew she was thinking of the time she'd sprained her wrist a few years ago.
She gave Faith a sad smile. "True. And I can't drink, and I'll always need to attend NA meetings." She patted Faith's pajama-clad knee. "And that's me, not you, and I'm very aware of that. But baby girl…I don't want you to ever feel that. That…disconnection, where you realize suddenly that you've been off-course. That you're somewhere you don't want to be, or with someone you don't want to be with. That you've become someone you don't like, without quite agreeing to it. I know that doesn't exactly make sense to you right now, but it's important to me that you always be the woman you decide to be."
She had to look away from Faith's wide eyes on her. It overwhelmed Sara when she tried to catalog all she wanted for her smart, beautiful, articulate daughter.
"I understand, Mom," Faith told her, perhaps because it was clear Sara was in danger of crying.
Of course, she didn't understand, not yet. She couldn't possibly, at age sixteen, untouched by any of the misery the world would try to throw at her. But she would, one day. Sara could only hope she and Michael had raised her with the confidence and self-assurance and support necessary to make decisions she could look back upon and be proud of.
Faith at age 19, according to Faith.
"Faith, sweetheart," Dad called from the living room, "I'm sending you with your semester room and board check tonight, alright? Go by the college registrar tomorrow to deposit it?"
"Thank you, Dad," she called back.
"You're still paying for a dorm room?" Henry observed conversationally, dutifully chopping vegetables for dinner next to her at the kitchen counter. He chuckled. "Isn't that basically just providing Emma with a single?"
Faith shot him a look. "Shut up, Henry." She glanced at their mother, prepping the roast at the other end of the kitchen. She couldn't tell if she'd overheard his comment.
"What? I just figured the college had forwarded all your mail to Rogers Park by now."
God, he loved stirring up trouble. It was his favorite pastime. Faith intensified her glare. Shut. Up. "That's ridiculous," she said, for the benefit of their mom.
Henry feigned confusion. "You don't have to get so testy, Faith. I like James. He's grown on me."
"No one asked you," she told him viciously, but it was too late. Mom, of course, missed nothing. Faith saw her glance between her second and third-born before putting the roast into the oven.
The doorbell rang, and they were saved, ironically, by James who came bearing the French bread from the specialty bakery Mom had asked for and a bottle of Scotch for Dad. "It's like he's the perfect son," Mom threw Henry's way, which gave Faith hope. Maybe she'd be cool about what she'd heard from her brother.
But after dinner, when Henry had begged off for a date of his own and while James, Dad and Mike enjoyed the Scotch in the library, Mom requested Faith's 'help' with a glitch in her staffing software even though she clearly didn't need assistance.
"What Henry said earlier," she began quietly, once they were alone on the couch together. "Are you really sleeping over at James' apartment?"
She spoke calmly and without weight to her words, but Faith still squirmed. "No," she answered automatically, then felt ashamed at the lie. She was trying to be an adult, wasn't she? "Not all the time, like Henry made out," she amended. She couldn't quite look at her mom, and disliked herself a little for it. She was doing nothing wrong.
"But you do spend some nights there?" Mom pressed gently.
Faith took a breath. "I do spend some nights there," she confirmed. "Mom, I—"
"It's okay," she said gently, a hand on Faith's arm. "I just…I'd wanted you to tell me, you know? When you'd…started doing that."
Faith looked down at her lap. "We waited…almost a month," she told her. Each word was difficult to say, but she wanted to say them. "We waited until we were both sure how we felt. When you asked me? That night we got home from St. Paul? I was telling you the truth."
Mom nodded. "Okay. Good."
"He loves me."
"I know that, baby girl," she said. "Anyone can see that." She smiled. "Do you really think he'd be sitting in your dad's library, talking schematics and drinking Scotch, if we weren't sure of his feelings for you?" She hesitated, and Faith both wished her mom would drop this subject and also wanted to hear what she had to say, at the same time. "It's just that he's older than you, and bound to be more experienced, so I've felt…concerned."
Faith sighed a bit defeatedly. "Anyone would have been more experienced than me, Mom," she admitted quietly. "C'mon, you know that."
"Ah, well," Mom said softly. "Yes." When Faith braved a look at her, Mom looked pained. "The first time can be…was it…" She lifted up both hands in a surrender gesture. "I don't want details, but it was alright for you?" she asked in a rush.
Faith managed a soft, small smile. "It was, Mom. It was good."
Her mother looked profoundly relieved. She offered her a quick nod. "Okay, and, you're being careful, right? Safe?"
"Because you can't rely on a man to remember—"
"James is a very careful person, Mom." She felt herself blush despite her determination to have this conversation like the adult she was.
Her mother studied that blush while Faith squirmed a bit more and said gently, "It may be a good idea to go to your GYN on campus and get a prescription, now that you have a um, regular partner."
"Mom…" This conversation was rapidly becoming too painful to bear.
But Mom was in doctor mode now, which could be hard to stop. "Mirena may be a good option for you, or Lutera. I could write you a scrip, but I'd rather you get an exam, too."
"Okay, Mom. I will."
"Both of those would interact with alcohol consumption, though." Mom looked at her steadily.
"I don't drink, Mom." When her mother tried to protest, she said, "Really. Hardly ever. That bar thing, the fake ID, it's just to go out with my friends. And James does not buy for me," she added. Trying to imagine him doing so, after that first disastrous experience in McCoy's, was almost humorous. She actually wondered if he'd ever buy her a drink again.
Mom nodded again and didn't argue. "Faith," she said carefully, "I know you're a different person than me. We've talked about that. I don't expect you to live your life exactly the way I've decided to live mine. I just…I can't help checking in, because as you know, I lost a lot to addiction. And obviously, I don't want that for you."
"I know," Faith whispered. "I'm aware of what you've taught me, I promise."
Her mom smiled. "Thank you, baby."
She looked relieved again and simultaneously still worried and sad and contented and just so many things, Faith impulsively hugged her. And the moment she wrapped her arms around her mother, she realized how badly she needed this, the comfort of her embrace. She tightened her hold on her mom and felt her press her lips to Faith's cheek and heard her whisper, "I love you so much." And Faith nearly cried.
When she pulled back, Mom kept an arm around her as they settled deeper into the couch. "So, what do you know about this young woman Henry's seeing?" she asked.
"Next to nothing," Faith admitted. Which was pretty typical: it could be hard to keep up with Henry's ever-revolving love interests. He could usually take some ribbing to this effect, but… "These days, he's all about offering his own unsolicited opinion without giving me opportunity to voice mine," she complained. Which made her think: "It might be serious."
Mom mulled this over. "He told me she works with him at the agency, in intelligence, so I can only assume she's been trained to see through that charm act he can turn on."
"If she has, Henry's in trouble," Faith smiled.
Mom nudged her. "Give him a break. You know he's a good brother to you."
Faith agreed. She wondered briefly if he and Mike had had to brave the safe sex talk she'd just endured, then decided that knowing her mother, they most definitely had.
They both heard the sounds of things wrapping up in the library. "What we talked about," Faith confirmed, "you won't bring it up to Dad, will you?"
Mom squeezed her hand. "Your dad knows you're grown, sweetheart, and he's immensely proud of you, even if he'd rather pretend you're still about six years old."
Faith smiled. She knew this was true.
"And he genuinely likes James, which you should consider to be a significant miracle. But…no, I don't think he needs or wants details."