“If you see her, will you please call me?”
“Yes, about a thirty minutes ago. She just ran off. You haven’t seen her?”
“I was hoping she might have shown up at your place… Okay. Can you ask Parker if he knows where she is?”
“Alright, thanks. Yeah, keep me posted,” Luke hung up his cell phone with a heavy sigh. Everything was accompanied by a heavy sigh anymore. Everything was heavy. His eye lids, his head, his chest… Life was just weighing him down right now. His dad was gone. Gone, for good, and Luke was at a point where acknowledging the heaviness was a lot less painful than acknowledging the loss.
And now Faith was gone. Not in the same way, thank God, but she was still missing. Apparently she had come back to the house, had a confrontation with Lily and Damian, and ran off. Now Luke was dragging himself through this search party. Huh. He couldn’t really understand why it was called a search ‘party,’ when there was absolutely nothing fun about what was going on right now.
“Anything?” Lily asked him desperately, looking up at him from the spot where she had collapsed on the couch. If Luke could describe himself as heavy, than his mom was definitely ‘collapsed.’ He shook his head unwillingly, and her eyes instantly glazed over with tears.
“She’ll turn up, honey, you know she will,” Emma consoled quietly. “She’s just taking some time.”
Lily nodded absentmindedly, and couldn’t help but turn hopefully to her own mother. Lucinda shook her head as well. “I’ll put in a few more calls, darling. Someone will find her.”
Luke watched as Damian took the seat next to Lily, holding her hand gently. “We’ll all put in a few more calls. Everything will be okay.” Lily didn’t try to nod this time.
Luke watched all of this, trying to find it in himself to react to the sight of Damian holding his recently-widowed mother’s hand. But he didn’t react. Instead he pulled out his car keys. “I’ll go take a look around town, check out her favorite spots.” He offered a smile, weak as it was. “Someone’s bound to see her sooner or later…”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It was getting late, and Noah’s feet hurt. In all the time he’d worked at Java, they still got sore from standing up and walking around for eight hours straight. Not to mention his headache which had been pounding for days. He just needed one good night’s sleep, but he didn’t know how to make that happen. There was too much stuff going on inside his head, too much to worry about…
He only had about an hour left until he could close, and Noah was this close to punking out and locking the door early when of course it opened. And in shuffled Faith Snyder. Noah’s eyebrows rose involuntarily. He hadn’t seen Faith since before the funeral, but Luke had told him about her freak-out at the church. Looking at her now, Noah could tell whatever was troubling her was nowhere near settled. “Faith?”
She just stared at him for a moment, with eyes that looked so much like Luke’s that Noah couldn’t help but be pulled closer. She took a quick step backwards, and Noah instantly stopped, recognizing the request for space.
“What are you doing here?” He didn’t ask what was wrong. He didn’t ask if she was okay. He already knew those answers. She continued to stare at him before shrugging silently. “Okay.” He felt a little uncomfortable but didn’t know why. He’d always gotten along really well with Faith, with all the Snyder kids. Maybe because he hadn’t seen her or talked to her since Holden’s death. Grief always made him uncomfortable, probably because he’d had more than his share of it in life already.
He pulled from that experience now, remembering how he’d felt, how others had treated him. He gave her a half-smile. “Want something to drink?”
She smiled gratefully. “Iced mocha?”
He bowed gallantly, quirking an eyebrow. “Coming right up.” She slid onto a stool next to the coffee bar as he worked. He stayed quiet and so did she. Neither of them had a need to talk just yet. It was something that had always bonded the two of them from the beginning, their ability to be quiet even in the presence of two very boisterous people (Luke for him, Natalie for her). He finished the mocha, making sure to add extra whip cream and sprinkles, and passed it over to her.
“Thanks,” she responded. She picked up the cup but didn’t drink from it, playing with the straw instead.
Noah cleaned up after himself before taking a seat at the counter next to her. “So what’s up? It’s a little late for you to be here,” he said conversationally. She shrugged again, not meeting his eyes. Noah felt himself frowning in concern. This was more than just a late-night caffeine fix. He began to wonder if the rest of the family even knew where she was. Did Luke know she was here? “Hey, since you’re here, can you watch the front for me for a sec? I have to run in the back and get stuff together before I close.”
“Okay,” she said again, her voice very small. She still hadn’t drank any of her mocha.
“Thanks Snyder,” he said, laying a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it for just a second before standing up. He moved into the stockroom and closed the door behind him, pulling out his phone. He hit Speed Dial 1 and waited for Luke to answer…
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Luke hurriedly picked up his cell from the passenger seat of the car, checking the ID to see if it was anyone calling him back. It was Noah. Luke sighed, putting the phone back down next to him. Noah would understand. He needed to keep the line open in case someone called about Faith. Whatever Noah wanted to talk to him about, it would have to wait. This was more important.
The phone stopped ringing, then immediately began ringing again. Luke checked- still Noah. This time Luke hit the button to send the call to voicemail. If Noah wanted to talk to him that badly, he could leave a message. Luke would listen to it when he had the time…
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Noah stared at the phone in his hand, surprised when it went to voicemail a second time. What the hell was going on with Snyders today? Noah took a deep, calming breath, pushing back the tiniest bit of panic. Faith hadn’t come running to Java because something had happened to Luke, had she? No, no, somebody would have called him. Somebody would have told him. Right?
He waited for the beep, then, “Luke, it’s me. Faith is here at Java, she just came in and looks really upset. I’ll try to keep her here as long as I can, just thought you should know. Call me, please. Let me know if something’s wrong, okay? I love you.” He hung up, running a hand through his hair nervously. What was he supposed to do now? Should he call Lily? He didn’t know if he could speak to her right now, or Emma. Maybe Lucinda would know what to do, or Jack…
“Please don’t call them,” a voice spoke up from the doorway. Noah jumped and turned around, feeling like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Faith was holding onto the doorframe, iced mocha cupped protectively against her chest. “Please? I just… I just don’t want to be there right now. I can’t.”
The look on her face persuaded him before her words even registered. Taking a break from a stressful situation, taking time for yourself- if he couldn’t relate to that, who could? “Okay. You can hang out with me for awhile, if you want. That sound cool?” Without waiting for a reply, he moved past her back into the coffee shop, grabbing a towel to start wiping down the counter.
Faith smiled at his back, following him out. “Sounds cool.” She hopped back on the stool, finally take a sip of her drink. “Thanks, Noah.”
He grinned back. “No problem, Snyder.” Then his face got more serious. “I should text Luke though, just so your family knows you’re-”
“No! Please, please, just…” She fidgeted, glancing at the door as though the whole Snyder family (minus one, he reminded himself sadly) was going to burst through at any second. “Can you wait a little while? Besides, you can’t keep me here. If you tell them where I am, I’ll just leave before they get here. I don’t want to see them right now.”
Noah held up his hands, placating. “Okay, okay, no problem. I won’t call. But you have to do something for me. Well, two things.”
She narrowed her eyes, suspicious. “What two things?”
“At some point tonight, you’re going to tell me why you’re here, because I know it’s not for my awesome iced mochas.” He tried to give her a stern face, the same one he gave Luke when Luke got little-kid whiny and wanted everything to go his way. (And yeah, maybe Noah thought Luke was adorable that way, but it didn’t mean he had to give in.)
She didn’t quite have the stamina (or stubbornness) that Luke did, so after a few seconds of wavering, she nodded. “What’s the second thing?” she asked warily.
He tossed the dishrag over to her. “I have to close up by myself. Can you help me out, keep me company?”
The next hour went by so much quicker with Faith around. He showed her how to count out the register and clean up the machines, and she helped clean up the stockroom while he wiped down the tables and counter. The two of them talked about TV shows, movies (he had finally convinced her to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s a few weeks ago and of course she had loved it), and whatever else they could think of that didn’t have to do with families and funerals and fathers.
Or, at least they did until Noah finally locked the front door, switching the open sign over to closed. “Did you feel like this when your dad died?” a small, drained voice that couldn’t possibly be Faith asked from behind him.
Noah sighed, leaning his forehead against the cool glass of the door for a moment before turning around. This was a Snyder, so he had to tread carefully with his words lest they be misunderstood. But it was also Faith- honesty always worked best with her. She’d had enough people lie to her, keep stuff from her, in her life already. (He could so relate.) “No,” he finally answered straightforwardly.
“Really?” she asked, surprised, almost embarrassed.
He sat back down next to her at the counter, releasing another sigh in relief as his aching feet got a rest. Now if only his head would get a break too… “Really. But, Faith, you know there was so much going on with my dad, none of it good. It’s not the same thing. It never is.”
“Everything just seems so… fuzzy,” she finally said, pushing away her now empty mug. “And I’m just so mad.”
“Mad about what?” Noah asked, intuition telling him that this was the crux of the matter. This was why Faith had shown up at Java at ten o’clock at night not wanting to see her family.
But Faith just shrugged, not wanting to get into it now. Another thing Noah could understand. She stared at him intently again. “But you got over it, right? After your dad died? I mean, I know he didn’t really die, but you thought he was dead. Did it get better?”
Noah opened his mouth and closed it several times. The truth, he reminded himself. He owed Faith at least that. “Honestly? I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten over it. I don’t know if it gets better. It just gets more, um, manageable.” He leaned in closer, a hand going to Faith’s tiny, trembling shoulder. “But you can’t compare our experiences, Faith. Don’t base what you’re feeling on anyone else. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. It’s your choice.” He knew that much.
She nodded. “Did you cry over your dad?”
“Yeah,” he answered quietly, remembering. He had cried in Luke’s arms. It had been the first time he could remember crying since he was three.
She looked at him curiously then. “Did you cry over my dad?”
“Yeah,” he said again, even quieter.
Her eyes widened almost comically. “You did?” she semi-squeaked. He nodded. “When?”
He shrugged, finally breaking eye contact. “When I was in LA.” He relived that night- checking into the hotel, dropping his bag in his room… and everything just hitting him. Everything. Holden was dead. Luke had insisted he go. And he was such a selfish bastard, he was actually upset that the Snyders hadn’t asked him to stay for the funeral. How horrible was he? And now that he didn’t have Luke to focus on, his own emotions wanted to get the better of him.
His self-control had started to slip, and suddenly Noah had found himself hiding in the bathroom, turning the shower on and letting the sound drown out his crying. Sitting on that tiled floor for hours, arms wrapped around himself, tears falling. Wanting desperately to call Luke, but feeling way too stupid to do so. So he had curled up in the bathroom nearly the entire night, reliving every moment and every thought he’d ever had of Holden Snyder. That was the beginning of him not getting any sleep, he realized. And possibly a factor as to why his meeting with Mr. Hollywood hadn’t gone perfectly the next day. But Noah found he didn’t care.
Faith eyed him knowingly, eyes way too mature for someone her age. “And Luke doesn’t know, does he?” she guessed. “Why not?”
Noah rubbed at his headache for a second. “Because this isn’t about me, Faith. It’s about your family.”
She frowned. “Aren’t you a part of the family?” she asked, as though the answer were the most obvious thing in the world.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But instead of getting into that gray area, Noah directed the conversation back to her. “Luke doesn’t know about you either. That you’re here, I mean. And matter of fact, I still don’t know why you’re here.” Faith swallowed heavily, glancing away. “Come on, Faith. This was part of the deal. What happened today?” She stayed quiet. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
“I know,” she answered softly. She did know. Noah had always been easy to talk to, because he was quiet and didn’t interrupt to talk about himself and was always honest. Even though he was older and she was just a ‘kid,’ he never treated her that way. He was always… respectful, she decided, was the best word to describe him. Noah treated everyone like they were important.
“Faith?” he prompted quietly.
She sighed, blowing hair out of her eyes. “You have to promise you won’t tell anyone.”
His face gave way from reassuring to doubtful. “I don’t know if I can. If whatever you tell me could hurt someone else, I may have to. But I promise I won’t do anything without you knowing.”
She stared at him for a long moment, deliberating. “I saw Mom and Damian kissing.”
“What? When?” Noah really hadn’t been expecting that. Though, considering the way life had been going lately, he shouldn’t have been surprised. “Today?”
She nodded, eyes starting to well up. “Today… and before Dad left on his trip.”
Noah felt the ground fall out from under him and wondered how he could still be sitting on the stool. Lily and Damian? No, no way. They wouldn’t… would they? He knew Lily had had problems with infidelity in the past, and Damian wasn’t exactly the Saint of Malta, but… they were kissing? Before and after Holden had died? These were two people he respected so much, who- He shook his head, focusing back on Faith. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.
She looked him over cautiously. “You believe me?”
“Of course I do,” he answered immediately, surprised. “You wouldn’t lie, I know that.” He thought for a second. “Did someone think you were lying? Is that why you came here tonight?”
She shook her head. “No one else knows. At least not about today. I told Parker about the first time. But I hadn’t seen them kiss since, and Mom was so upset about Dad, I thought maybe it was a one-time thing. And Damian’s supposed to be with Aunt Meg, so… But then I saw them again today. And I yelled at them, and Damian told me I was imagining things.” Her eyes, still filled with tears, turned angry. “But I wasn’t! I’m not stupid!”
“It’s okay, hon. I don’t think you’re stupid,” he said soothingly, rubbing her back a little. Somewhere in the back of his mind he felt a rise of anger at his boyfriend’s biological father for making Faith feel this way. Something was not right about all of this, that was for damn sure.
She sniffed, wiping hurriedly at her face. “No one’s going to believe me. They’re going to think I’m making it up because I’m upset about Dad. Everyone else thinks Damian is so great right now, but he’s not. But then… things are bad enough. And if people find this out it’ll just get worse.”
He studied her sadly, trying to wrap his head around this. “Are you sure you want to keep this a secret? It seems like it’s really hurting you, Faith. I’m glad you told me, but there’s not much I can do about it either. Maybe if we told-”
“No. I can’t tell Luke. Or anyone. At least, not right now. And I don’t want to go back home, he might still be there,” she shook her head.
They had been kissing in Lily’s house?! Noah couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Okay,” he drew out the word, glancing around the now-dark coffee shop, trying to come up with a solution that would hurt the least number of people possible. “How about this, how about I call Luke right now-” he held up a hand as she tried to interrupt. “And I tell him you’re over at our apartment watching a movie with me, and you’re probably going to crash there for the night because you’re tired. I mean, even if you don’t want to go home, they’re still your family and they need to know you’re safe. Please let me do that?”
She sat thinking for a moment, Noah carefully quiet next to her, giving her time. Finally she offered a tiny smile, that familiar Snyder spark coming back to her face. “Can I pick the movie?”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Luke re-entered his family’s living room, exhausted. There had been no sign of Faith anywhere in Oakdale, and they had checked everywhere they could think of. Luke had even swung by Java and peeked in the window, but had only seen Noah cleaning up at the counter and talking to someone in the stockroom, so he left without going in. He hadn’t wanted to explain the current drama- no reason to bother Noah with yet another Snyder crisis- and Luke was just too damn tired to go in, say hi, and pretend everything was okay. Noah would have seen through it anyway.
Grandma Emma had gone back to the farm in case Faith showed up there, and Damian was still out looking, so it was only Lucinda and Lily in the family room when Luke stepped in. He shook his head before they could ask. Lucinda put her hand on Lily’s arm when she made a pained noise, but no words were said. Maybe they were all too damn tired.
The ringing of Luke’s cell phone caused the three of them to jump, and Luke fumbled for his phone shakily as he checked the screen. Then he shook his head. “It’s Noah,” he told them. He quickly sent the call to voicemail and put his phone back.
“You’re not going to answer it?” Lily asked, somewhat surprised.
Luke shook his head. “I have to keep the line open in case someone calls about Faith.” Off of his mom’s still-surprised expression, “Noah will understand. He’s probably just calling to tell me he’s off work and headed to the apartment.”
“Then why don’t you go on home too? You must be tired,” she commented. “Go home to Noah and I’ll call you if anything turns up.”
He shook his head again. “No way, I’m not leaving now. Not until I know Faith is okay. Noah will understand,” he repeated.
Another moment’s silence before Lucinda spoke. “How is your young man, speaking of? Feels like I haven’t seen him in ages.”
Luke put a smile on his face. “He’s fine. Busy, with school and work and the film project. But he’s fine. He was upset he couldn’t come to the funeral-”
“Of course he was, dear, we know he would have come if he could,” Lucinda said assuredly. Luke felt a smack of guilt for that, knowing it was because of him that Noah wasn’t at the funeral. Just another bad decision Luke had made in a long line of bad decisions. He shook himself when he realized his grandmother was talking again. “How is he doing, dealing with all of this? It must bring back some painful memories for him.”
“He’s fine,” Luke said again, eyeing his cell phone when another voice mail icon popped up. He sighed, wondering where Faith could be right now, if she was okay, wondering what had made her run in the first place. He couldn’t believe he had let this happen- he was the older brother, it was his job to look after his siblings when bad things happened. And this was pretty much the baddest of bad things. And yet here he was, helpless and scared. And feeling like such a failure. First with his father, and now his sister. When was it going to stop?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
They settled on the couch with a bowl of Kettle Corn and two mugs of tea, Noah pretending to groan as they started to watch My Fair Lady for fifteenth time this month. It was Faith’s favorite movie, Noah knew, which was why he only put on a show of protest even as he got comfortable in front of the TV, Faith leaning in close next to him.
“You called Luke?” she asked hesitantly, even as she scooted in so she was tucked in close to his side.
“I left him a message,” he answered, lifting his arm so she could get comfortable, then dropping it back down so it rested on her shoulders. He didn’t want to think about why Luke wasn’t answering. He was just worried about Faith and distracted, Noah was sure that was what it was.
They were both quiet for a few seconds when suddenly, “Do you think my mom loved my dad?” Faith near-whispered.
The question threw Noah so much he almost physically jumped. But he couldn’t have jumped, because he was oh-so-very frozen right now. Frozen. How the hell was he supposed to answer that? Damn it Luke, where are you? This was so out of his area of expertise. Movie talk? Fine. Heart-to-heart reassurances about parents? No friggin’ way. But it was Faith, so he had to try. “Yeah, I do.”
“Then how could she-”
“Faith, I’m not exactly an expert on parents,” he managed to say without sounding completely pathetic. “But I do know they make mistakes. Just like kids do, only their mistakes can have way bigger repercussions. But, just because they sometimes do… bad things? It doesn’t mean they’re totally bad people.” Well, that goes against everything he thought about his own father, but Lily? Holden? Even Damian? He had way too much belief in them. “Your mom’s not going to be perfect. But I totally, without a doubt, know that she loved your dad. Still does.”
Faith was silently crying, tears dropping onto his shirt. He didn’t move beyond squeezing her shoulder tightly, dropping his chin onto the top of her head in some semblance of a hug that wouldn’t crowd her. “It’s just that… when she makes mistakes, she really makes them,” Faith grumbled.
Noah fought to keep his slightly-hysterical laugh down to a soft chuckle. “I’m starting to think that’s the Snyder way,” he teased lightly, laughing again when Faith smacked him in the chest. “Come on, let’s watch the movie, Snyder,” he suggested.
Even though the lights on screen and the hum of the television set was aggravating his headache, Noah pressed play on the DVD player, sliding down a bit so his head rested on the back of the couch. Faith curled up next to him, head still resting against his side. The feeling of warmth next to him, of someone depending on him and wanting him there (still such a selfish bastard, Mayer) was enough to calm Noah’s headache to a dull throb. Pretty soon he was asleep. After pulling a blanket up over the both of them, Faith was nodding off not long after.
And that was how Luke and Lily found them an hour later…
TO BE CONTINUED