By the time Claire found all the bedding and made the beds, she was practically faint with hunger. The fact that they’d left England at eleven in the morning and arrived here at two in the afternoon had made her forget that it had, in reality, been almost five hours since they’d been served food on the plane; and that had been no real meal. Claire had also managed to unpack some of Faith’s toys and arrange them lovingly on her bed before she decided to look up somewhere to get food. She’d heard quite a fuss over the pizza on Long Island; it was apparently the only place in the entire world that had “real” pizza. She would like to be the judge of that, eventually. There were so many different Italian places it was making her head swim. She decided to let Faith decide what they would eat since Claire couldn’t seem to make up her mind.
Claire knelt on the floor in front of the couch, which was haphazardly placed in the middle of the room at a very inconvenient diagonal. Bloody movers. Faith was humming in contentment, rocking back and forth.
“Faith?” Claire tapped her knee, but she did not look up from the tablet. “Faith.” Claire gently removed the headphones, causing her to groan in protest. “Faith! Listen to Mummy before you get upset.” Faith grabbed the headphones again, but Claire firmly kept her hands on her wrists. “Are you hungry, baby? Do you want food?”
Faith’s tune immediately changed, relenting her grip on the headphones and nodding enthusiastically, humming increasing in pitch and volume.
Claire smiled, chuckling. “I thought so. Here.” She held up the screenshots of menu samplings that she’d collected. “Do you want pizza? Or…” She swiped to the next image. “Spaghetti? Or Chinese food? Or a hamburger?”
Claire allowed Faith to take her phone into her little hands, watching in amusement as Faith scrolled between the four images, eventually handing the phone back to her mother.
Her humming heightened again, her hands and fingers twitching and twisting with excitement; stimming , the doctors called it. To Claire, it was just Faith being Faith.
“Ask and ye shall receive, little girl.”
Claire sat back on her heels and searched for the restaurant she’d gotten the spaghetti screenshot from. Christ, there were about forty restaurants called “Uncle Joe’s” in a four mile radius. She eventually settled on the closest one that was on DoorDash and ordered spaghetti and meatballs for Faith, her standard when it came to Italian food, and decided on penne alla vodka for herself. Gillian had insisted the Italian food here was better than in England, so she was quite excited to see for herself.
When the order was placed, she looked up at Faith, expecting her to be engrossed in the tablet again, but she was instead staring at her mother quite intently. She slapped a little hand over Claire’s screen and gave a little grunt.
Claire smiled knowingly. “Spaghetti won’t be here for another thirty minutes, darling. You have to be patient.”
She grunted in defiance, slapping the screen again.
“Hey. Be gentle.” Claire grabbed Faith’s wrist and looked her firmly in the eye. “Do not hit.” Claire unconsciously ran her tongue over the cut on her lip she’d been gifted with this morning.
Claire suddenly had a perfect idea to pass the time; that dance party she’d thought about a few hours ago. Claire smiled to herself and clicked onto Spotify, hitting shuffle on the Disney playlist. Faith’s stubborn demeanor immediately changed when the opening notes of “Under the Sea” began to play. Her face melted into that absent half-smile that Claire had grown accustomed to, and she began swaying back and forth on the couch.
Claire giggled and took Faith’s hands, pushing them back and forth, side-to-side in time with the music. Her grin widened, and she began humming with excitement again. It wasn’t long before the tablet and the headphones were forgotten on the couch, and the two of them were jumping and dancing around the living room, haphazardly avoiding the piles of boxes. Claire couldn’t explain it: Faith’s Disney obsession. She became a different kid when she watched a Disney movie, or listened to the music. Her entire countenance changed. If Claire could throw away every responsibility and every pound she owned to take up permanent residence in Disney World, just so that her daughter would always be this happy and carefree, she would do it in a heartbeat.
In the middle of Claire’s intense performance of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” Faith giggling madly and jumping up and down to encourage her mother, the doorbell rang. Claire almost jumped out of her skin and then she laughed, pausing the music.
“Spaghetti is here, lovie!”
Faith clapped her hands and hummed again as Claire shuffled around boxes to the door. She gratefully accepted the hot bag of food, mouth watering at the smell of it. She hadn’t realized how damned hungry she’d been. She inwardly panicked for a moment, realizing she hadn't at all bothered to unpack any silverware, but was relieved to find there was plastic cutlery in the bag. She made a mental note to put them in the sink when they were done instead of throwing them out in case they needed them before she found the motivation to unpack the kitchen boxes.
“Alright, Faithie! First meal in our new home! How’s that?” She, of course, didn’t answer, just kept on with her humming and hand twitching while Claire unpacked their meals. “This is so exciting, darling. Mummy is so happy to be here with you.” She kissed Faith’s forehead as she tucked a napkin into her shirt.
Claire had often caught Frank rolling her eyes at her when she spoke to Faith like this.
“She can’t bloody understand you. Why do you bother?”
Claire’s face turned beet-red with rage. “Just because she can’t talk doesn’t mean she can’t understand.”
To Frank, their daughter was dumb, as well as mute. He could not comprehend that she was a little person, despite her quirks.
No. Not our daughter. Not his.
So, Claire talked to her, despite knowing she’d never talk back, despite not knowing if she ever fully understood what she was saying. Claire knew well enough that the sound of her voice was soothing to her daughter, and that was enough of a reason to talk. And as far as she could tell, she understood quite a bit. Not as much as Claire wished, but enough.
The steaming tins of pasta were opened and Faith dug right in, moaning in pain and dropping her fork into the tin.
“Be careful! It’s hot, darling. You have to blow, remember?” Claire took a forkful of penne and blew on it lightly before putting it in her mouth. “See?”
Faith took a new forkful and heaved an enormous breath before blowing with all her strength, sending a veritable spray of tomato sauce all over the table. Perhaps Claire should have admonished her, told her to be more gentle, but she could not think over how loud she’d burst out laughing. Quite pleased with herself, Faith stuffed the entire forkful of spaghetti into her mouth, humming and bouncing as she did. If Claire was seeing correctly, it looked like she was smirking .
Doesn’t understand, indeed!
Christ…how could anyone not see how special she was?
Eventually, Claire had to inform her daughter that she was, in fact, blowing too hard, and so the rest of the meal proceeded in a slightly less messy manner. When Faith had apparently had enough, she unceremoniously ripped her napkin off and slid out of the chair, disappearing from the kitchen.
“Faith! Come back, please.”
She, of course, did not.
Claire sighed, setting down her fork despite not being quite full yet. She got up to see what she was up to, but paused upon hearing the music start up again. Faith quickly scampered back into the kitchen, Donny Osmond’s voice getting more clear with every step. Claire laughed again.
“Ah, missing the music were we?”
Faith began swaying back and forth again.
“Would you mind if I finished eating, then?” Claire sat back down, and Faith continued bobbing. “Why don’t you dance for me while I eat, hm?”
She didn’t need to tell her twice.
Faith had the choreography from the film memorized, of course, and it was the same for every song thereafter. Claire paused her eating to give hearty applause and many a “Brava!” after each song. If Claire listened closely enough, she could hear Faith’s buzzing hum morph into something that almost resembled the melody of the song that was playing, and it made her heart soar. She’d read online dozens of stories of children with autism that were completely nonverbal, but then all of a sudden they would sing entire songs word for word flawlessly. She prayed the same would hold true for her little princess someday.
Perhaps music therapy would get that out of her.
Jesus H. Christ, one thing at a time, Beauchamp.
After dinner was ended and the leftovers were sufficiently tucked away in the fridge (and the plastic cutlery was put in the sink), Claire followed Faith into the living room and was overwhelmed by the pile of boxes. She exhaled through puffed cheeks, anxiety crawling its way into the pit of her stomach.
“Faith,” Claire said, suddenly having an idea. “Would you like to sleep with Mummy tonight?”
She hummed, bounced and clapped.
“Lovely.” Claire smiled. “Let’s go look at your room first, hm? Because sleeping with Mummy will not be a permanent arrangement.”
She took Faith’s hand and led her into the room, where Faith promptly flung herself onto the bed and scooped all of the stuffed animals into her little arms. Claire broke into an enormous grin.
“I’ll bet you missed them very much,” she said. “And they missed you, too.”
Her very favorite, a very worn out Sorcerer Mickey, had, of course, remained with them and gone in her carry on. But the others--the Minnie’s, the other Mickey’s, the teddy bears, the plush baby dolls--had been packed away and shipped here a few weeks ago.
“This is your room now, lovie. You’ll sleep here tomorrow, and every night after that. But tonight is a special night. Yes?”
Claire outstretched her hand, gesturing for them to head across the hall into her own room, and Faith responded by scooping every stuffed animal into her arms and waddling out past Claire. Claire chuckled breathily through her nose and followed her into her own bedroom. She breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, this room, sparse as it was for now, was at least empty of all boxes. Faith plopped her little friends onto the bed and scrambled up.
“Ah-ah, PJ’s first, little girl.” Claire scooped her off the bed. “We’ll not be spending our first night in this bed in dirty airport clothes.” Claire dug through one of the suitcases for a fresh pair of pajamas for herself and Faith. If Claire really wanted them to be clean, she would have insisted on a shower for both of them (ever since Frank had left, Claire had always taken Faith into the shower with her; she didn’t want to leave her alone for that long). But she was far too exhausted, even if it was only six o’clock on the Eastern Seaboard. She was in no mood to fight with Faith to get clean after the day they’d had.
When they were both properly accoutered for bed, Claire scooped her up again and deposited her in bed. She retrieved the tablet from the couch, trying her best to narrow her vision to avoid seeing the Box Everest in her living room. She wondered when the hell she’d feel like tackling all that…
For now, she settled next to Faith in bed, laying on about four stuffed animals in the process, much to her daughters dismay given the loud moan Faith uttered.
“Well, I’m sorry! They’re quite the bed hogs, darling.” Claire pulled the toys out from underneath her and pushed them closer to Faith. “Now, what shall we watch tonight?”
Their collection of DVDs was far grander than the few movies that they had on digital download on the tablet, but the thought of finding them, then the DVD player, and then sitting in that room with the rest of the boxes made Claire nauseous. So their pickings would be slim tonight. Not that Faith minded in the least.
Claire half expected her to put Frozen on for the third time today, but she instead settled on The Little Mermaid . Claire smiled warmly.
“This was my favorite when I was your age, baby. I remember seeing it in theaters. Ariel was my Elsa back then.”
She allowed Faith to hold the tablet, of course, and she snuggled into her, gathering her tiny body into her arms as the movie’s opening chords began. Despite how rowdy their dinner had been, Claire had a feeling that she would not at all be fighting sleep tonight. They’d been awake a hell of a lot longer than it seemed they were, and the meltdowns of the day were enough to wear even Faith out.
Not shockingly, she was out like a light before they even got to “Part of Your World,” which disappointed Claire just a bit; she’d been looking forward to hearing Faith hum along.
Gently and oh-so-carefully, Claire pried the tablet from her sleeping hands and shut it off, setting it on the nightstand to her left. She adjusted Faith’s little body so she was properly lying down before getting up to turn the light off. Claire smoothed her unruly curls before bending down to press a kiss to her temple as she settled under the covers beside her. Again, she laid atop of several stuffed animals. Chuckling to herself, she picked them up and gingerly put them on the nightstand with the tablet.
As Claire’s head hit the pillow, she began running down the mental list of things she had to do tomorrow. Breakfast, then call an Uber to get to the dealership — shit, what the hell were they going to have for breakfast? Leftover pasta?
Scratch that. Call the Uber right away, get to a diner or somewhere else for breakfast. Faith will be quite excited to have chocolate chip pancakes. That thought made Claire smile. Then get a second Uber to take them from the diner to the dealership. Put that new Instacart to use and order some groceries so that they didn’t have to go to the diner every morning for the rest of their lives. Claire had shopped online for a car to lease when they arrived, and if everything went smoothly at the dealership, she’d be driving home in it tomorrow.
She also made a note to stop somewhere for a new SIM card and to cancel her international phone plan and start up a local plan. The thought of having an American phone number seemed strange, but also comforting. Not only did it seem to be the last step in finalizing her new permanent residence in the States, but it was also a comfort to know that Frank would never be able to contact her again.
She didn’t plug in her phone.
Groaning in annoyance, Claire peeled herself from her daughter’s side and out of bed to rifle through her purse for her charger. When did I get so damned scatterbrained…?
Well, that was a dumb question.
The world had come crashing down on her the day Frank told her he was through. Everything seemed to spiral out of control in that moment, and every single thing she had done since then had been an attempt to regain that control. It worked, for the most part, but she still felt like she was losing brain cells by the second since he’d dropped the bomb on her.
Faith was having a meltdown. It wasn’t necessarily one of her worst ones, but it wasn’t a walk in the park, either. Needless to say, things could have been better. Nothing in particular had set her off as far as Claire could tell, and Claire was beside herself trying to get it out of her.
“What’s wrong, baby? I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong…are you hurt? Hungry?” She felt her head for a fever, but came up negative. “Faith, darling, what’s wrong?”
“For fuck’s sake, Claire! She isn’t going to answer!” Frank slammed a hand on the kitchen table.
Faith shrieked and clamped her hands over her ears, her eyes wide with terror.
“Frank! Don’t do that!” Claire’s voice hitched. “Shh…it’s alright baby, Mummy is here…” She cupped Faith’s face in her hands as her daughter carried on, hands still firmly pressed into her ears.
“You know she can’t handle loud noises, Frank.” Claire tried to keep her voice level and quiet, not wanting to upset her further.
“She can’t handle anything Claire! That’s precisely the issue!”
“Do not raise your voice.” Claire was losing patience. “You’re making it worse.”
“Everything makes it worse! And what is it ? What did it this time?”
“It is autism , Frank. You bloody well know that.”
“Christ, I know! I hear the word hundreds of times a day!”
“Oh, for God’s sake…” Claire’s face became hot with anger. “You have been nothing but difficult since her diagnosis, Frank. I feel like I’m doing this all alone! Why can’t you set aside your personal feelings for her? She’s your flesh and blood! How can you talk about her like this?”
Frank shook his head. “No flesh and blood of mine would turn out like that.”
Claire felt like she’d been kicked in the stomach. “What are you saying…?”
“I don’t…want this, Claire. I can’t do it anymore.”
“You can’t… You can’t do it? You haven’t done a bloody thing!” Her voice was near to shouting now, and Faith looked like her head was about to explode from the sheer force with which she was squeezing her ears.
“If you want to be burdened with someone like her for the rest of your life, be my guest. I’m through.”
“So that’s it then? You’re walking out on five years of marriage?” Claire stood up, leaving Faith in the kitchen and following him to the front door. “On your four-year-old daughter?”
He turned and gave her a grave, disgusting look as he opened the door. “That is not my daughter.”
Claire found her eyes welling up with tears again, as they had nearly every night since. And for perhaps the thousandth time she asked herself: How could she have been so wrong about somebody? How could she have married someone that would be so despicable towards his own child?
And for perhaps the millionth time, she silently vowed that she would do anything and everything for her daughter. God, she would walk through fire for her. She practically did. She vowed to be everything Faith needed, to fill the empty position of father, to devote every breath and every beat of her heart to raising her with love and patience. Every time she was harsh with her, and simultaneously every time she relented to her to avoid a meltdown, she felt like she was doing it all wrong. She could’ve been more patient, she could have reasoned with her instead of giving in…
But the truth was, every day was unpredictable, and no two situations were the same.
I’m doing the best I bloody can. And I always will, baby.
Luckily, her residence didn't start for another two weeks, so she and Faith could get settled, and Faith could get to know Mrs. Lickett before she had to watch her full time. The thought left knots in her stomach and a hard lump in her throat. Finding a sitter in Oxfordshire with the right qualifications had been a nightmare, and Claire had almost up and quit medical school because of it. Thank God she didn’t. Mrs. Lickett seemed more than qualified, however; it was just a matter of whether or not Faith would allow her to…well…exist in this apartment at all.
Claire absently rolled over to check the time on her phone, and she groaned audibly. 9:02. She’d been lying awake, mind racing, for nearly three hours. That was another thing she hadn’t managed to recover: a quiet enough mind to allow her to sleep. Sighing deeply, she gathered Faith’s sleeping little body into her arms, burying her face in her curls, breathing her in.
We’ve got another long day ahead of us, lovie. If you wouldn’t mind sharing some of that strength of yours, I’d quite appreciate it.
The truth is plain to see, Faith. You were sent to rescue me.