Sally Potts was a self-important fake, a poisonous gossip, and a jealous nitwit, but she was not always a liar. Felicity tried to believe otherwise as she raced home through the snow, tried to believe that Sally was so envious of Felicity's life that she would make up stories to try to wreck it, tried to put the whole thing out of her mind and forget why her legs were still pumping furiously although her lungs were burning from lack of oxygen.
She clattered through the front door, boots caked with snow that began melting all over the entryway as she stopped in her tracks. Her parents were pulling away from a tight embrace, and her mother's eyes were red.
A strange calm settled upon her. She went back outside, scraped off her boots, and set them carefully by the door upon re-entering the house.
"Felicity," said her father. "Come in here for a minute."
"I have things to do," she said. "Letters to write. Upstairs."
He took her by the wrist before she reached the second step. "Felicity."
To be polite, and not because she thought there was really anything in it, she came into the parlor and sat down.
"If this is about Sally Potts and her mean little joke, I don't want to hear about it."
"Captain Crane called," Alec King said. "He'd been trying to get through all day. It's about Gus."
"He didn't call. It wasn't him."
"It was him," Alec insisted. He sighed. "The Maid of Calais...."
"It didn't. It's a mistake."
"Oh, darling," her mother half-sobbed, reaching a quivering hand to Felicity's knee.
Felicity swatted the hand away. "It's a mistake. A horrible mistake, but a mistake, nonetheless. I can't believe you'd actually think it was true." From far away, somebody laughed. It sounded like her own laugh, except hollow.
"Listen," began Alec, but she cut him off.
"I won't! I won't listen until people start talking sense!" She jumped up and ran to her room before anyone could stop her.
With the door closed and her head buried in her pillow, Felicity waited for the world to stop tossing around beneath her like a ship in a storm.
When the newspaper clipping arrived with the story of the wreck of The Maid of Calais, she went out to the barn and climbed into the hayloft. Really, it was ridiculous how rumors got around. People would believe anything, just because they heard it over a telephone line or saw it in print.
Because Gus couldn't be...he couldn't be.... It was impossible. She would know, she would feel, she would sense if it were true, if he were really.... Surely something in her heart would dislodge, ripped away along with its anchor.
For the first time, she let herself wonder what would become of her if it were true. Who would keep her honest? Who would fight for her happiness?
She had been counting on Gus to return, counting the hours until she could sit with him and talk things over—her decision to put off medical school, if not drop the idea entirely; her options for permanent employment; her guilt at not being able to save Colleen Pritchard. She hadn't written to him since before any of that happened, not for over a month now, as a matter of fact. Things had been so confusing and she hadn't known what to write. She had been sure he would understand, when he got back, that she couldn't put things like that on paper.
She wished she had put other things on paper. He had written of his feelings readily, easily, constantly. Her own letters to him had been so restrained, so proper. What had she written in the last one? She missed him? She loved him? Was that really all she had managed to say, and that over a month ago? If she were writing that letter again now....
Not that it mattered. He was coming home. He was. She could tell him everything then, or at least, he knew her well enough that he could practically read her mind. They wouldn't need words, not for talking about their feelings. He would just look into her eyes and he would see them. He would know.
Everyone wanted her to give up. Her mother and father. Great-aunt Eliza. Even Felix, and he was almost as upset about the news as she was. But how could she do it? How could she disgrace his memory like that? Especially when he wasn't gone forever, couldn't be.
It had only been a week. Nobody was giving him a chance. Nobody believed in him. They wouldn't give him the time he needed to get home. Any number of things could have happened to him. Who knew where he wound up, or how injured he was? Maybe he'd lost his memory—temporarily, of course—and was recuperating in a hospital somewhere on the east coast of the United States.
Hearing that Aunt Hetty wanted to plan a memorial service was the final straw. All Felicity knew was that at this most crucial time of her life the one person she needed to talk to most was the one person who wasn't there for her, and he'd promised he'd always be there for her.
Her head started spinning and her stomach clenched. She threw her scarf and coat on and ran to him, as close as she could, ran to the lighthouse that was crowded full enough of memories that it had always been the next best thing to having him beside her. Sometimes just sitting in its shadow was enough to calm her and set her thoughts in order, especially if she were looking at his ring, thinking of everything it meant that she wore it.
But the next best thing wasn't enough anymore. Not if....
She would recognize that voice anywhere. "Gus?"
"Felicity!" someone yelled again. It was Felix. He and Cecily were coming to check on her, make sure she was all right.
She wasn't. Of course she wasn't. They left without much prompting. Nobody knew what to say around her. Nobody ever knew what to say at times like these except for him.
Had that really been his voice, somehow? Was he calling to her from somewhere far away, someplace she had no way of knowing about? Did he need her as much as she needed him, and she couldn't get there? Or...was it his way of saying good-bye?
She should know. But she didn't. And there was no one to ask.
Because Gus Pike was dead.
For the first of many times to come, she let the tears fall.