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Authors: Katherine Hall Page

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BOOK: The Body in the Wardrobe
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There had been so many questions on the tip of Faith's tongue that she didn't know which to give voice to first. Uppermost was the notion that Tom had been thinking about something so major
for God only knew how long (and of course must), without this representative on earth telling his nearest and dearest. They didn't have that kind of marriage—the kind where one spouse kept things from the other. Maybe Faith had on occasion for Tom's own good, but
he
wasn't supposed to follow suit. She'd tried to keep her voice calm.

“I thought after the sabbatical in Cambridge, you had decided to stay in Aleford.”

“I decided to stay in a parish ministry, but I never said I would always be in Aleford.”

Faith had noted that it was the kind of semantics she would have expected from her teenage son, not her grown-up husband.

Tom had continued, “I've been thinking about how long I've been in Aleford for some time. I was here for a year before we were married, remember. I'm not sure it's the best thing for the life of a church to have one minister so embedded. What First Parish needs is new blood. Rattle the pews maybe.”

Ignoring the wildly mixed metaphors, Faith had said, “Well, they do that on their own.” First Parish dated back to the eighteenth century, and not only were the benches hard, but the pews also had doors that closed from the aisle—the better for a captive audience? Over time the hinges had loosened and were apt to emit audible creaks as the congregation stood up and sat down.

“The new parish would be near Norwell. After last summer, I think we should be closer to my parents.”

Marian and Dick Fairchild were a forty-minute drive away, less without traffic. Tom's sister, Betsey, lived in the neighboring town. Faith had also been shaken by Marian's cardiac surgery in July, but her mother-in-law had made a full recovery and was talking about a trip to Cuba.

Faith thought back to her own next words, chosen carefully. “Both good reasons, but how about a third? Maybe it's you who need the change?”

Tom managed a slightly lopsided smile. “Maybe.” He'd pulled
her in for a hug. “They have an interim, so the job wouldn't start until June, maybe the end of the summer. We'd have time in Maine together. And from what the two people who have contacted me have said, it's a church that is struggling. An older congregation, although it's a town that has seen an influx of young families in recent years.”

“Ripe for the picking,” Faith had said as she reflected on the problem that was facing all denominations. Dwindling numbers. Even the arrival of young families didn't mean an increase in a congregation. Weekends for families meant precious break time, a respite from the work and school week, which kept families on such different schedules that few ate dinner, or even breakfast, together. Saturday and Sunday meant a somewhat slower pace—soccer and other activities to attend, but it was together time—a different kind of together from attendance at services. So far First Parish had a very active Sunday school, and the congregation was diverse in age and other respects.

“So, what do you say? Should I go for it? I know it's a big change,” Tom had said.

What she saw then was as clear now. Her husband's face—somewhat like that of a kid who has found a new bike from Santa under the tree. Faith had replied, “Yes, and they'd be lucky to get you, darling.”

Tom had left the house to go to his office at the church, where he had the phone number of the search committee head, to arrange to preach in January, and Faith had headed for comfort in the kitchen. This was all happening fast. Too fast, she thought. Could it be that after all these years, Aleford had well and truly become her home? She was filled with a deep reluctance to leave. Well, not the parsonage itself. It dated back almost as far as the church, and coping with the uneven floors, small windows that let in precious little light, plus a Vestry that funded only basic repairs made Faith appreciate the smaller house on Sanpere that at least was completely theirs. She could paint it bright pink if she wanted.
The parsonage's clapboard had always been white, and its interior walls had always been neutral colors—world without end. After dinner she'd resolved to Google the South Shore church. Maybe their home page had a photo of the parsonage. Or maybe, with luck, there wasn't one and Faith could go house hunting. She'd stopped dead still, a lump of cheddar in one hand, a grater in the other.
House hunting! Moving!

The outside kitchen door had opened and the tall handsome stranger with the deep voice that her son had so quickly, and alarmingly, become strode into the room, dropped his knapsack, grabbed an apple from the bowl on the table, and said, “What's for supper, Mom?”

“And yes, I'm fine thank you. Toasted pimento cheese [see
recipe
] sandwiches, salad, and fruit kebabs for dessert.” Faith had discovered that her family would consume much more fruit if she cut it into chunks and put it on a wooden skewer like an hors d'oeuvre with some sort of yogurt dipping sauce than if she simply put it in a bowl or cup.

“What's pimento cheese? Aren't pimentos those weird little red things in olives?”

“Those ‘weird little red things' are diced cherry peppers and when you combine them with grated cheddar, mayo, and one or two other ingredients you get what some people call ‘the caviar of the South.' It makes great grilled cheese among other dishes.”

Ben made a face. “You know I don't like fish eggs.”

“Not yet anyway. But you'll like this. If you had grown up in Georgia or South Carolina you'd have had pimento cheese sandwiches in your lunch box instead of peanut butter.”

“Whatever,” Ben had said and loped out of the room. He was now taller than Tom. He didn't slouch but still managed to move as if he were one of those folding yardsticks not fully extended.

Since then, Faith had continued to think about what taking this position would mean for the Fairchild family. Ben would definitely not be happy to leave his friends, especially with only two years left
until graduation. And she predicted just as the movers were packing boxes, Amy would have found a terrific group of new friends and have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of Aleford. What about Faith herself? She'd moved her catering business once, from Manhattan, and could do it again; but she had a firm client base here. She'd have to start from scratch, and would Niki be willing to commute to wherever the new site was? She lived in Watertown, conveniently close, now. And the other part-time employees?

Yet the worst would be leaving Pix—and Ursula. Yes, she'd see Pix in the summer and Ursula, too. But in Ursula's case for how long? Faith couldn't go there. Couldn't picture a world without Ursula Rowe in it.

What happened next on what was fast seeming a momentous Sunday night was taking a backseat to Tom's declaration, but not by much.

“Mom,” Ben was back and standing next to her. She hadn't heard him come in and startled, dropped the knife she was using to slice radicchio for the salad. “Mom,” he'd repeated. “I don't want to rat her out, but you may need to hear what Amy is saying to Daisy. They're Skyping.”

He'd slipped away again and Faith picked the knife up off the floor, putting it in the sink. She'd given Amy permission to Skype with Daisy in her room for privacy. Hard to go back on that, but Ben wasn't a tattletale. The opposite in fact, often to Faith's dismay. He seemed to inherit his secret-keeping capacity from his father and he wasn't ordained.

Sighing, she'd gone to the bottom of the stairs, slipped her shoes off, and walked up to the hallway. Amy's door was open and Faith could hear both girls clearly.

“It really works,” Daisy was saying. “You distract her somehow. Like tell her you're going to throw up and while she's getting a bucket or something, you hold the thermometer near the light. But not too near or it will be crazy high.”

“Okay, got it. Gym tomorrow and I can't say I've got my period again so soon.”

“I wish you could come out here and go to school with me. Everyone would love you and the teachers are so nice.”

“I wish I could, too. Well, I gotta finish an essay for English. Really stupid. We have to write about something that changed our life. I mean, I'm only thirteen. Nothing has happened yet.”

“I wouldn't have a problem with it,” Daisy said, and both girls laughed, although the reference to what had happened the summer before to Daisy's family hadn't been a laughing matter at the time.

“At least everything is okay now,” Amy said. “I could write about how changing school changed my life for the worse, but Miss Stolfi reads some out loud and it would be just my luck to have her pick mine. See what I mean? Nothing at school is safe.”

Faith had quietly crept away. She'd hoped things were getting better at school for Amy, but it sounded as if they were the same or worse. The old thermometer trick. She and Hope had tried it more than once on their mother and she'd never been fooled. Faith wouldn't be, either, and even though it was tearing at her heart, she'd send her daughter off to school in the morning, off to the wolves. At least she'd try to introduce the topic of gym. Find out what was going on—in the locker room, most probably. Would that all those middle school female wiles could be harnessed for good instead of evil. It would solve a whole lot of world problems. An army of thirteen-year-old Mean Girls would be formidable.

The pimento grilled cheese had been a big hit and there was enough of the spread left over so Faith could stuff celery with it for lunches. It had been Amy's turn to clear the table and help clean up the kitchen. Faith had tried to steer the conversation to school, particularly gym, but her daughter kept steadily directing
it to other topics, finally the one Faith now knew Amy had to write about.

“So, Mom, what would you say was an event that changed your life?”

Pick one, any one! Faith thought, realizing that the kinds of things on her list weren't ones Amy could write about.

“Now or when I was your age?”

“My age, I guess.”

“Hmmm. That's hard.” She honestly couldn't think of any. “What would you say?” It wasn't playing fair, but Amy
was
the one who had to write the paper.

“I'd say nothing. Like I haven't had anything happen to me yet. Getting Daisy as a best friend, but I can't put that in an essay. It would sound lame.”

“Why not write just that? Nothing has happened that is life changing so far. And maybe that's a good thing?”

Amy had given her mother a big hug. “That's a great idea! I can even write about how sick Granny was last summer, and if she had died that would have changed my life, but she didn't so it stayed the same, which is a
very
good thing.”

She'd dashed out of the kitchen.

Faith sat down. Child rearing was exhausting. Which brought her back to Pix again—Pix, her guide and mentor for all things familial. They'd talk on the phone and meet for lunch in town; but it wouldn't be the same as having her Sacajawea right next door.

Oh, Tom!

It had been a busy morning at the catering kitchen on Monday, but Faith squeezed in the baking she wanted to do for Millicent. She'd also had to squeeze her mouth shut. She and Tom had agreed that until things were definite, they wouldn't mention a possible move to anyone. Faith kept looking at Niki, and Tricia,
who lived farther west than Niki did and would not be able to make a commute to the South Shore. She also kept looking at the facility itself. When the kids were little she'd created a play space well away from the main part of the kitchen so that she could keep them with her when they weren't in school. The bonus was that as both grew up, each had learned some simple cooking techniques. Future spouses would thank Faith. Now Niki's young daughter was enjoying the play area, making it possible for her mother to be with her, plus saving the young parents child care costs. Faith made a mental note to include this provision on the list when she started searching for spots where she could relocate her business.

“All morning you've been looking as if you just lost your best friend,” Niki said. “What's up?”

Make that plural and you'd be on the money, Faith thought.

“Oh, the holidays. Feeling kind of stressed. And Amy.” Faith had the feeling that if it hadn't been a gym day, Amy would have saved the trick for another time. Good old locker room bullying. “She tried to convince me she had a temperature and couldn't go to school this morning.”

“My friends used to do that,” Niki said. “If I had tried it, I'd still be grounded. You can imagine what my mother was like when I was a teen.”

Faith could. She loved Niki's mother, and the whole Greek American family, but Mrs. Constantine was a force of nature.

“Keep an eye on her,” Tricia said. “I never tried any tricks with my mother. Just got dressed, grabbed my books, and skipped. Nobody seemed to care, and I was very good at forging her signature on the absentee notes and report cards.”

Faith knew Tricia had dropped out as soon as she had turned sixteen, which made it all the more admirable that the young woman had gone on to get a GED and an associate's degree in culinary arts from the local community college. Again she felt a pang. Tricia and Scott's kids were in elementary school now, which
had meant Tricia could be at Have Faith both as an intern and working part-time. Would she be able to find a similar position if Faith moved?

“I'm going to head out. I want to drop these off at Millicent's,” Faith said.

“Oh
that
will really cheer you up,” Niki said. “Why don't you just bang your head against a wall? It will be something like she noticed poor Tom had two different-colored socks on the last time she saw him or your poor neglected children were hanging out in the center with undesirable companions.” These were two of many items in Millicent's litany regarding Faith's shortcomings.

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