Excerpt from Restoring Faith

CHAPTER ONE

Friday, June 27, 2003

 

WITH HER FINGERS HOLDING TIGHT to the remnant of what was earlier a lengthy piece of chalk, Faith Young drew a line on the greenboard. The chalk screeched across the hard surface with a grating sound, and a chorus of groans from the handful of summer school students taking extra math rose behind her. She turned around and smiled.

“And that, class, is how you do a linear equation.”

A book slammed closed, and Faith raised her gaze to the back of the small class. Without a word, she strolled between the desks, stopping at the farthest one.

Dark brown eyes stared back at her from the good-looking grade eleven student. Faibian Walker. He raked his fingers through his wavy, shoulder-length brown hair, the tips already sun-kissed from the arrival of summer . There was something so hauntingly familiar about this young man, but Faith couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was. “Is there a problem, Faibian?”

When it came to math and Faibian, there was always a problem. Sometimes Faith wondered if numbers were his issue, or due to his home situation. A single mom raising him, no father figure to look up to, to guide him, to help him with his homework…

At least Michael, her son, had that. Not only a father who was always there for him, but one who excelled at numerics. And with a high school math teacher for his mom to boot, certainly a win-win for their thirteen-year old. No disadvantages like Faibian Walker.

“I still don’t get it. I’ll never get it. I hate math!” Faibian’s chair toppled over backward as he shoved to his feet. He grabbed his books and fled the classroom.

“Faibian, come back!” Faith called after him, but the troubled boy’s footsteps could be heard pounding down the passageway.

She wished she could help him more. Frankly, she’d been rather surprised to see him sign up for her summer class, nevertheless disappointed that he hadn’t really seemed to want to be there. Then again, what teenager wouldn’t prefer to be on vacation, enjoying the outdoors, than spending an extra month at school…learning math?

Maybe in the new school year she’d schedule a meeting with his mother—see what could be done to help Faibian not fail math in his final year of high school. She could offer to tutor him over weekends or after school for free, or something like that.

She strode back to her desk and addressed the students. “Class dismissed. Have a good summer vacation everyone.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Young. You too,” the students chorused as they filed out of her classroom.

Faith gathered her teaching material and stuffed it into her briefcase, thankful these extra few weeks of teaching were over. Now to get home and prepare for her guests. Her older brother, Brody, and his family were arriving tomorrow afternoon for a short visit. She couldn’t wait to see them.

At least with visitors in the house, Charles would be more affectionate toward her. Heaven forbid the world knew their marriage was in trouble.

 

***

 

The two-week family stay had come and gone in a flash. Faith’s heart squeezed against her chest as she stood on her tiptoes, one arm stretched high in the air, waving as her brother’s SUV grew smaller. How she’d enjoyed having them visit. She would miss them dearly. If only they could visit more often, but an entire day’s drive separated Cottonwood Falls, Kansas from her corner of neighboring Colorado.

The person she’d miss the most though, was her fourteen-year-old niece. As would Michael. With only a year separating the cousins, Charity the eldest by eleven months, the two were almost inseparable.

Almost.

Thirteen-year-old boys didn’t do kitchens. So when she and Charity did, Michael headed outside with his basketball to shoot some hoops.

What a lovely young lady Charity had grown into, and while Brody and his wife were off for hours on end, armed with their canvases and easels to capture the beauty of the Rockies, she and her niece had bonded once again over cupcakes, aprons, and a hot oven.

“Enough with the waving now, Faith,” her husband muttered as he swung around and headed toward the house.

“Dad…” Michael dragged out the word and shook his head. “That’s so not necessary.”

Charles paused. He turned, jutting out his chin. “Well, your mother is still waving like a crazy woman. Their car is long gone.”

So was the pleasant man she’d lived with for the past two weeks, it seemed. How thrilled Charles must be that he no longer needed to pretend they were still a happily married couple. Even though Faith hated the charade, she’d enjoyed her husband’s touches of affection, made purely for the sake of her visiting family. Maybe they should’ve gone camping during Brody, Maddison, and Charity’s visit—stayed in one big communal tent. Perhaps that way she would’ve felt the warmth of her husband’s embrace during the night too. Instead, once behind closed doors, physical touch ceased, and Charles took his usual place in their bed…on the edge of the mattress with his back toward her.

Michael lifted his bicycle from where he’d discarded it on the grass and hopped on. “I’ll be at Jeremy’s house.” He took off up the road.

“Make sure you’re home in time for dinner, son,” Charles called after him.

Faith knew why Michael preferred to be at his best friend’s house rather than home with his mother and father. The Hamilton house was his place of escape from what wasn’t going on at home.

Love.

She followed Charles up the garden path and inside, her heart beating in time with the dragging of her feet. How did they get to this place of…nothingness?

 

***

 

Charles grabbed the latest Wilbur Smith book from where he’d left it earlier on the kitchen counter and headed to the deck outside. He sank into the cushioned two-seater, nicely positioned in the shade.

For now.

He flipped open the thick paperback to the bookmark holding the spot he’d last read. The pages blurred, and Charles squinted his eyes. With a huff, he removed his reading glasses from the top pocket of his plaid button-up shirt then slid them onto his face.

Better.

He hated being over forty. So many things didn’t work the way they used to when he was younger. Not that forty-two was old by any means. Nevertheless, he certainly was starting to feel the effects of the aging process. Perhaps that was the logical explanation to his waning marriage. Or was he going through the dreaded midlife crisis? If so, why hadn’t he gone out and bought a sports car then? Or a Harley? That certainly would have been far more fun to deal with than this daily burden of feeling nothing for his wife, the woman he’d vowed merely fifteen years ago to love and cherish until death parted them. The woman he couldn’t get enough of…until a few years ago.

What had changed between them? How had they drifted apart like this? Had it been the move from Loveland to Fort Collins that started eroding their marriage? Or Faith’s inability to bear a sibling for Michael? Or his own pursuit of the dream job, the dream house, the dream car? Well, he had them all—maybe not quite the dream car, although his Lexus SUV wasn’t a bad fit. Had a red sports car filled his garage, however, he’d definitely have ticked the box for possible midlife crisis. And he had the dream wife to go with all his accomplishments. Faith was beautiful, classy, and intelligent. So why did he feel so empty, so unsatisfied, so distant?

Did the fault lie with Faith? Raising Michael plus still teaching high school math wasn’t easy on her, and many nights she just flopped into bed, ready only for sleep. Many of those nights he’d had to bury his yearning for her. Had he buried his ardor one time too many?

Charles raised his gaze and stared out into the large back yard, the summer lawn a lush green, the trees clothed in leaves a darker shade. Deep down he knew part of the reason for his disquiet. Not only had he drifted away from Faith—whether her fault or his, or both of theirs—he had lost his belief in God as well. But who would’ve guessed? He put up such a good front, wore just the right masks to get by every Sunday morning. Or when family visited.

But did he fool his son?

Michael was growing older now. Wiser. And from his son’s outburst earlier, he doubted it. Michael could obviously sense that things at home weren’t as they should be, as they had been for most of his life.

Faith saw right through him quite some time ago, so he’d given up pretending. Though he loathed himself for what he was putting her through, he just couldn’t seem to stop—the scathing remarks flew out before he could take them back, and intimacy between them had reduced to meeting his physical needs alone. He’d come to care little for her emotional need to be held, to be told that he loved her. Even during those times, he just couldn’t conjure up the old feelings that had made him fall in love with her.

Maybe they’d merely gotten too used to each other—returned to the friends’ zone that had set them on this life path together. Except, he wasn’t even a good friend. And he was a worse husband. A provider? Yes. A good father? Yes. A husband and friend? Not by Faith’s definition.

Not by his either.

And then, perhaps this was just what growing old was all about. That’s all. Fading sight. Fading hair—at least the color, his temples streaked with silver. Fading love.

Charles pushed the thoughts aside. There were better things to dwell on. He focused on the small print, bringing the book a little closer to his face.

“I’m off to the store, honey.”

Faith’s voice drew him from the words before he could even get lost in them. Without the slightest glance over his shoulder, he mustered an “uh-huh.”

“Anything you need?”

A red Harley?

“Nope,” he said, his answer curt as had become his habit. He chewed on his bottom lip, staring ahead at the garden again, his breathing rising.

There was a pause before Faith’s sandals slapped against the wooden decking. He knew that walk. She was mad. And he didn’t blame her one bit.

 

***

 

Tears stung as Faith hurried toward her Subaru station wagon. She opened the driver’s door and sank onto the seat, slumping over the steering wheel. Her chest rose and fell as she struggled to contain her emotions. Lord, how am I ever to fix my marriage when I don’t know what went wrong, when my husband seems content not to try?

Silence filled the cabin.

Great, even God wasn’t talking to her.

She needed to unload on someone or she’d go mad.

Faith turned the key in the ignition. She was about to put the car into reverse when she paused. Leaning over, she dug out her cell phone from her handbag discarded on the seat beside her.

“Becky…” Faith sucked in a breath to steady her voice.

“Hey girlfriend, what’s wrong?”

She and Rebekah Roberts had been best friends since preschool. Becky knew Faith better than she probably knew herself.

“Are you free for coffee?” Faith asked.

“Name the place, and I’ll see you in fifteen minutes.”

“HuggaMug Café?”

Becky sighed. “Oh dear, this must be worse than I thought. Be there as soon as I can.”

Faith cut the call and backed out of her driveway.

Ten minutes later, she arrived at the coffee shop, at the same time as Becky. Her friend wrapped her in a hug before they entered and found a seat. Probably the last table available. The place was pumping. But then, it was midmorning on a Saturday during the summer holidays.

Faith placed their order—a tall caramel macchiato for Becky, and a vanilla one for her.

The waitress had barely turned her back when Becky grasped Faith’s hands across the table. “What’s he done this time?”

What had he done? Nothing, really, as usual. Just the same old indifference.

Faith pulled back her hands and shrugged. “Why blame Charles? Maybe I’m just feeling a little fragile because my family left this morning.”

“Because I know you, that’s why. And I know this has nothing to do with your family visit coming to an end and everything to do with your husband returning to the same self-centered jerk he’s turned out to be. I know the drill. We’ve had this same conversation more times than I care to remember.”

“Aren’t you being a little harsh? He’s not like that, Becky.” At least he wasn’t until a few years ago when he’d started to change. Somewhere around when the big four-oh crept closer. “Do you think this is just a phase, a midlife crisis he’s going through?”

“Maybe. But whatever it is, it’s not pretty, and I hate him for putting you through this hell. I’ve a good mind to—”

Faith’s hand shot out, clasping Becky’s arm. “Don’t. Please. You can’t become involved. Charles would be mortified if he knew I confided in you.” Not to mention furious.

Becky leaned back in her chair as their coffee was delivered to the table. Eying Faith, she flicked her long, strawberry blond curls over her tanned shoulder. “You know what you need? You need to have an affair. Show him he’s not the only fish in the sea.”

Groan. She should have known Becky was the wrong person to offer marital advice. Her friend had already shown three husbands they weren’t the only fishes in the sea, and Faith feared fiancé number four would suffer the same fate. She loved her friend, dearly, but what was Faith, a believer, doing seeking advice on such important matters from a non-believer? She should confide in someone at church. But who? There was nobody but her friend she trusted with her secrets. And at the end of the day, advice wasn’t really what she sought. All she wanted was a caring ear to listen to her, someone she could unload on, and Becky fitted the bill perfectly.

“An affair? You are joking? This is me we’re talking about, not you. Besides, look at how that worked out for you…the first, second, and third time.”

Becky pouted. “It might not have saved my marriages—perhaps I wasn’t even looking for them to be saved—but it certainly made me feel a whole lot better.”

Faith shook her head. “We’re different that way, Becky. I just couldn’t. I made vows to Charles—I won’t break them, no matter how much he hurts me, or how unloved he makes me feel. My beliefs won’t allow it. Neither will my morals.”

“Never say never, girlfriend.” A smile curved Becky’s coral-colored lips.

Faith stared at her for a moment before blurting out, “What shade of lipstick is that?” Better to change the subject fast lest she entertain Becky’s notion in the slightest as a last desperate attempt to get her husband to sit up and smell the coffee.

Speaking of, hers was getting cold. She lifted her cup and took a long drink.

“Coral Crush.” Without giving her the manufacturer’s name, Becky continued, her eyes bright, “Hey, Jeremy is out of town next weekend—conference of some sort. Why don’t you and I take in a movie? Pirates of the Caribbean—The Curse of the Black Pearl released two weeks ago. Looks like it’ll be loads of fun. A good place to forget about the world for a few hours over a bucket of buttered popcorn.”

“I’ll think about it, let you know during the week. All right?”

“Don’t take too long. The tickets are bound to sell out soon.”

Maybe going to the movies with Becky was a good idea. She didn’t have to have an affair to catch Charles’s attention. Creating the illusion might do the trick. She had to do something to fight for her marriage. She was at her wits end.