Let Your Faith Ascend
The faint, yet distinctive scent of burning candles filled the air as Claire marched in the middle of the almost-empty Westminster Cathedral. Even as she walked with her head down, both eyes focused on every step she made to the altar, she could tell she had company by hearing the audible brushing of fabric against a kneeler, and the loud sneeze that echoed throughout the giant, Neo-byzantine edifice. It was already nearing closing time, she thought, seeing that some of the lights by the front of the hollow hall were being flicked off. The hushing of the chandeliers now becoming a subtle notice to every churchgoer to hasten their prayers and bring it to a close for the night.
Claire immediately shuffled to the nearest pew and knelt down, not wanting to waste precious time. The past hours, or days, or weeks (even she had not kept track of the time and tears) had been nothing but cruel and painful, almost too much to handle, and in times of great sorrow this cathedral has always been her haven of consolation, not much on the relics and statues that ought to make God's presence be known to every churchgoer, but more on the weight that this place has brought in her heart. All the heaviness of the incident many years ago—that one Sunday morning when her parents, already on their way to pick her up from Quentin Lambert Beauchamp's house, strolled out of Westminster's first Sunday Mass and skidded down Victoria Street, where a speeding cab took their lives in an instant.
Lambert, or Uncle Lamb as she'd call him, took her to the cathedral annually, on her parent's death anniversary. And now that he too was gone, Claire's visits in the church had transformed from being an act of honoring the dead to a rather odd attempt of speaking to them, as though they were alive.
Let your faith ascend.
"Oh, Uncle Lamb." She sniveled the first tear that would break the entire dam of pent-up grief. "If you were only here."
If you were only here, it would have been bearable.
And she broke, head down with both hands clutching onto the wooden armrests as reality sank deep. She was indeed alone in this battle now. With no family, no parent, not even a husband to come home to.
Claire was on her own.
Not wanting to make heads turn like the old man who sneezed for the entire church to hear, Claire folded her hands and pressed them against her lips. She could only do so much to quell her sobbing, and so she dwelt on recounting the piercing events of the previous month in her head: the tipping point of her marriage with Frank. Perhaps the dead could find their way in looking through her thoughts as she played moments over and over inside her head like a videotape nearing its decay. She imagined her Uncle Lamb, sitting idly beside her by the pews with his brows furrowed, eager to listen as she spoke the mess that she'd endured over the past weeks.
I thought Frank loved me. I was a fool to hold onto that thought for years.
Claire wept at the memory six years ago, when she and her then husband Frank were both huddled by the breakfast table after a visit at the urologist's clinic, still processing the heartbreaking news brought to them one cold November morning. She remember lovingly pulling her husband into her arms, comforting him, trying to put back the broken pieces of his heart after the news that shattered it.
Frank was sterile, unable to give Claire the children that they both hoped for.
"You know I'd still love you anyway," She pressed her lips against his moist cheek; Frank had been crying his eyes the moment he started the car on their way home, and he was still at it. They were already married for two years, and after an endless cycle of trying and failing and trying once more to conceive a child of their own, they thought something might be amiss.
But now that the doctors had already deemed it impossible with the diagnosis...
"It's my fault that we can't—"
"Stop, Frank. It is not your fault. It's nobody's fucking fault!"
"Oh, must you bluff? You know you're disappointed Claire. You wanted kids, and now all of that's taken away! Gone!" With a swing of his arm, he sent their breakfast plates crashing on the wall. "I can see the disappointment in your eyes, the dismay in your face is so...so obvious that I loathe myself all the more when I look at you!"
She can't help it, she has never been good at concealing things. Her face and expressions were as clear and transparent as glass that anybody who tried to gaze into her whisky eyes would know exactly what she thinks.
"I am disappointed, yes I am. But not at you. How can I not love you, Frank?" Claire was begging—literally begging—for him to stop blaming himself for something none of them would have had the power to control.
"Is this not enough reason? Am I not a terrible person for being like this? An invalid who can't be the man you wanted." that was all Frank had to say in his anguish. He stared at her with weary, bloodshot eyes. "I have failed you greatly."
"No, you haven't." She said with a bit of force in her voice. She can't let him falter. If he did, then she was more than prepared to pull him back up on his feet. "No. Look at me, Frank Randall. You are not giving up on us. I am your wife, and I love you for who you are, regardless of anything."
Frank, despite Claire's tears and sweet assurances, just made a throaty sigh, standing up from his seat, retreating to their room. His head was sunken and feet dragging with every step he made out of the kitchen, not even bothering whether he stepped on the mess on the floor.
Clearly, she didn't know how else she could convince him of her commitment and unending devotion to him, because as days passed, not even the most passionate of kisses nor the amount of nights they would spend making love, re-exploring they way their bodies would react to their touch could keep Frank from slipping through her fingers—subtly, away from the happy life they had dreamed for themselves—since the day they found out.
He knew how badly I wanted a family of our own.
He knew I wanted kids. I think I had made that an obvious wish even before he married me.
He knew all of that. And just when the circumstances were on our favor, I thought he was willing to give that a try... Claire sighed from where she knelt. Another row of lights were flicked off in the big church.
...he wanted to give it a try, even if it meant they wouldn't be his.
The blissful memory of Frank taking her to dinner at one of Clapham Common's neighborhood restaurants was brought into mind. A fine night it was, as far as her memory could take her, and it made her chuckle a bit at the reminiscence of the way Frank stared at her lovingly with his dark, soulful eyes flickering with the reflection of the candlelight, or how the deep, visible creases that stretched across Frank's cheeks curved back with his delighted grin the moment she agreed to undergo an artificial insemination procedure.
"For real?" Even Frank could not contain his joy. He held her hands, trembling with excitement even in his calm collectedness. "Will you do it for real, Claire?"
She nodded as she took in the sight before her; it has been a while since she saw Frank this happy. All the more did it made her think that perhaps going through this procedure was their answer, not only as their ticket into making a family of their own, but also as their one chance to bring back the deep intimacy and devotion they have lost along the way as a married couple.
"Of course, I agree. I will do it." The enthusiasm in her voice grew all the more when Frank began to clasp his hands together, pressing them both to his lips to muffle down a deep sigh of relief. "But it is not only me doing this, Frank. We're a team, remember?" She was more than ready; adoption and foster care were always among the options that they had over the previous months, but they both knew that among all choices, conceiving, birthing and raising a child of their own from their very first breath of life was the option that would stand tall among others. Frank agreed to give her all the time that she needed to think about it, and now that she's given him her answer, Frank was satisfied.
"Good things do come to those who patiently wait, don't they Claire? God, you have no idea how happy I am right now."
He did look very satisfied.
"We'll start this from scratch, you and me. Consider the way we'll make a nest, the time we'll put into preparing for the arrival of our little one. We'll have each other, Claire." He beamed as he held her hand tightly on top of their table. "We'll build this family together. Oh, Claire, I'm...beyond words." He gently lifted her hand—the golden wedding band on her finger shining winsomely in the dim light—and he bent his head to kiss her knuckles fervently. "All the while I thought we could never make it happen. Well, technically we really won't with just the two of us but with a donor--"
"Silly you," She laughed, Claire was the one pulling his hand this time, placing his long and slender hands against her cheek. The tips of his calloused fingers, brought about by constant writing, grazed down from her ear and down to her jaw. For a brief moment, she dwelt in her present reality: her and Frank being at their happiest after a long time of grief. It felt too good to be true, but she thanked the heavens for bringing them back on track. "Parenting isn't just about blood, or genes, or whatever biological connection you have. It's intention. And we have a whole lot of it with us, Frank. A lot. Don't we?"
"We do, honey." Frank huffed, still overwhelmed and unquestionably merry-hearted.
"All I need to know, Frank, is that you will be there for me, as I will be the same for you." Claire whispered tenderly against his fingers. You'll be there for me, won't you?"
"Of course." Frank answered, without a hint of posturing or ruse. To her, his words were genuine promises she knew she could always count on and. "I will."
Or at least it did sound genuine at the time.
She felt stupid for saying all those baseless words, much more believing in what he had to say. Had she known he'd discard all of it the moment he no longer wanted anything to do with her life, she would've brought her guard up at every word. But how was she to know that, when he'd vow her a lifetime?
While Claire had kept the doors of her heart open, waiting for him to come back despite the lonesome years they spent afterwards, Frank had already shut the door.
Frank motioned Claire towards a tall, well-built, bald-headed man with a labcoat and a prominent beard. "This is my wife, Claire Randall. Claire, this is Dr. Dougal Mackenzie. He's the resident reproductive endocrinologist in this establishment." The doctor, who donned a pair of thick spectacles beneath his warm, hazel eyes, came out abruptly from his clinic to greet them.
"Ah! Reproductive endocrinologist. What an introduction. Ye can just call me a fertility doctor instead, to make things simpler." He then nudged his glasses up a little higher on the bridge of his nose while he swiveled towards Claire. "At your service, Mistress Randall. It's good to see ye, finally!" He said dotingly as he held his hand in front of her, waiting for a shake.
"Hello," She took it, shaking his hand briefly before letting go. It was a helpless situation; nervousness had begun to creep in the moment they stepped in the clinic, and heightened all the more at the sight of Doctor Mackenzie, a man who towered over them, the doctor who had the answer to her and Frank's concern.
"Mr. Randall and I have had the pleasure of making each other's acquaintance a month ago. He's told me about your shared dream of parenting, ye ken." He explained quickly, sensing that his statement had caused her to raise a brow. "Were ye no aware of his visits to the fertility clinic?"
"Oh, not to worry, I'm entirely aware why we're here. I just thought this was our first visit, you know, together," She said as she eyed the tall doctor. He appeared to be an obliging and amiable bloke despite his great stature, standing tall and brawny in his smock; for a man in his late forties, he still managed to maintain a good vigorous figure.
"I'm sorry I didn't bother bringing you here on my first visit, Claire. I went out looking for a clinic the day after you agreed," Frank placed a hand on her shoulder as she explained. "Fortunately, I was able to book an appointment with a certain Doctor Dougal Mackenzie."
"Lucky yer husband visited my clinic that day, Mrs. Randall. He was able to secure a donor to yer liking." Doctor Mackenzie smiled. Claire was grateful for the doctor, but perhaps at that moment she felt a slight tinge of regret that came from the thought of Frank never telling her about his plans to visit the clinic, or even him not bringing her along with him to discuss things with the doctor.
Nonetheless, she just huffed and let those little regrets pass. Maybe Frank was too overjoyed he forgot. Or maybe he didn't want to make her fuss about it. There was clearly no valid reason to hold a serious grudge on.
Instead she reminded herself how fortunate they were now; they did not only secure themselves a doctor, but they also found themselves a good donor. All that was left was for the procedure to be done.
Taking a side-step, the doctor gestured the couple to the clinic's door. "We shall make our first examinations, then," She nodded in reply, her nerves getting wildly upbeat as they were greeted by the scent of that peculiar, aseptic scent of his clinic when the door opened. Doctor Mackenzie oriented her with every area, item and equipment in display as they walked in. His clinic was a bit spacious, she observed, with a sliding wooden door that divided his office and receiving area from the space where Claire was led to sit on a blue gynecology chair.
"Please make yourself comfortable here, Mrs. Randall." Doctor Mackenzie said in a low tone, although she had no idea how an intimidating examination chair with leg stirrups and the grueling thought of letting him see her lower regions could make her comfortable.
Relax, she hummed in her head. He's a doctor. A professional.
She sat stiffly with her loose black sundress that fell just beneath her knees, wanting to get on with what was necessary. Wasn't this supposed to be quick and easy? Frank may not have oriented her well about the meeting with the doctor, but she had an idea of how insemination procedures happened, as it was briefly discussed during her lectures in medical school. It simply involved the donor's sperm, and a special tube. Or did it involve more?
Or was she even listening to her professor when it was brought to discussion?
Claire breathed in, held her breath for a few seconds, and breathed out again. The sight of the leg stirrups peering from either side of the chair made her break a sweat in that airconditioned room. It's not that she was not used to spreading her legs for a man other than Frank, as she had enjoyed a liberated life dating a few men before tying the knot with him, but this was different. It felt invasive. To say the least, embarrassing.
"I ken what ye think now, Mrs. Randall. But ye can trust me," Doctor Mackenzie said calmly as he settled beside her, "And Mr. Randall could stay by your side if ye want him to."
Of course, Frank promised her he'll be by her side. She looked past the leg rest to see him standing nearby with a look of concern in his face. "You'll be alright, Claire." a whisper crept from his lips.
"I will," she whispered that much more to herself, even if she had doubts of her own. "Yeah, I will be alright."
"If ye will allow me to make one final examination to make sure that we have an ovulation to our advantage," The doctor said. "Just a wee ultrasound., is all."
Oh. Ultrasound. Claire nodded calmly, thinking it would not be that bad until the bald doctor tossed her a blanket and asked her to spread her legs. She never knew the ultrasound procedure they'd be doing would be the invasive one, but despite her qualms, she placed her faith on Doctor Mackenzie, reminding herself over and over that he knew what he was doing. "Spread yer legs, Mrs. Randall,"
And spread her legs she did.
The entire internal examination took them three agonizing minutes before Doctor Mackenzie gave a content huff as he readjusted his glasses. "Alright. That'll do."
"What do you mean?"
"Ovulation had just begun," He grinned, pointing towards the screen that had projected a fuzzy, grainy picture of something that neither Frank nor Claire couldn't even understand. "We could start the procedure as early as now, but it would be best if we wait until Thursday. The way I see it, it's when your body is at its peak of fertility."
"That means we have three days," Frank immediately clasped her hand with his own as he spoke. "Should we do something and prepare? For good measure?"
The ultrasound transducer was already put away, something that brought Claire back to her relaxed state, and all the more when the machine was switched off. "Weel, what ye can do Mr. Randall is to go easy on being intimate. No advances, no sex, whatsoever."
"Oh, alright." Frank nodded, taking that in mind. "Not even teasing?"
"No. Ye've got an eternity tae do all o' those things, ken? A few days of only seeing yer wife isna gonna hurt, will it?" the doctor jested with Frank in a remotely playful manner. "And ye, Mrs. Randall, ye ought tae enjoy plenty of rest. Try eating a bigger breakfast rich in antioxidants. Zinc, folate, and fiber would be among those ye'll need. We have to keep yerself healthy and at yer most fertile state come Thursday."
"Thursday," repeating the words helped Claire prepare herself for the big day. "Alright. We'll see you three days from now, Doctor."
"I look forward to meeting ye both again, Mr. and Mrs. Randall," he replied as he and her husband guided her up the chair and to her feet. As she began to reach and fasten the small, golden buckles of her sandal straps together, she heard the doctor hum a tone of wonder from behind the chair. Looking up, Claire found him perusing something on top of her head, or at least somewhere near it. "I must say, though I'm no' in the position to give compliments wi' my bald head, ye've got one of the most beautiful locks o' hair I've seen." He said as an observation, and not in a flirtatious way.
"Oh, thank you," She coyly replied, tucking in a few strands of her brown tufts behind her ear. Her thick curls were not really something worth complimenting as it was always a mess even if she'd tie it back with a scrunchie, and so kind observations, although very much welcomed by Claire, would always send her cheeks flushing a tiny hint of rose pink. "I never thought I'd hear such kind compliments from a fertility doctor,"
"Not what ye expected, no? Not from a bald man such as I!" The two of them shared a good laugh at that, and even Frank was found snickering behind her. "All these research and laboratory work had taken a toll in exposing my head. I still have a lot of work to do with pending tests on sperm preservation."
"So you're also conducting research now, Doctor Mackenzie?" Frank asked while he helped Claire with the other buckles.
"Aye, it's something I'm verra proud of." He beamed, crossing both his arms which emphasized the tight muscles beneath his white coat. "I'm currently participating in a joint study in creating new technologies for sperm preservation, ye ken. Pushing boundaries could mean making a hundred failed attempts, and I'm fortunate to find myself to be verra close to the answer."
"And the price for it is your...hair?" Frank chaffed, and Doctor Mackenzie bellowed with a hand ghosting his shiny bald head, muttering in an incomprehendable Gaelic, as though he was reprimanding himself of something. "At least you were able to save the beard, though."
"To have a full beard is still a blessing, I reckon. Weel, I shall now see ye out o' the clinic while I get back to work." He nodded, finally signalling them both that it was time to go. "Claire, dearest, make sure ye're well-prepared and in good health on your next visit, aye?"
And so they left and followed the doctor's advice. Frank went to work, while making sure Claire stayed home eating healthy and having a good amount of rest in preparation for the Thursday meeting. Three days passed like three years for both of them as they waited in great anticipation until they both found themselves seated on their carseats, driving down the busy London streets towards Doctor Mackenzie's clinic.
The Randalls have prepared well over the past, long days; Frank had already requested a leave of absence in the university from Thursday up until Friday, and Claire had chosen a longer dress for the doctor's appointment as she would never want herself fussing uncomfortably on Doctor Mackenzie's chair of terror ever again. The nights leading to that day had been spent for late-night conversations about Frank's first visit to the fertility clinic, and the anonymous sperm donor he had selected to bring their family to fruition. It turns out, that as he conversed with Claire, Frank did not have much of a preference about the donor, for as long as it was close to their ethnicity. The spot was open for any man who was of Irish, Scottish, French or English descent, and they were fortunate to narrow one down: a donor born and raised in the UK, currently working as a coach of a university football team. "Are you sure this isn't your friend Arthur from Oxford's football club?" She interjected while Frank had been imagining what their child would look like.
"Arthur? That fuckup football coach?"
"He isn't a fuckup, if you'd ask me. I mean, Arthur's really good at his coaching career. And ethnicity? He's a Scot. You said you'd take anybody who's Irish, Scottish, French, or English, right? The chart also says that. He fits the description."
Frank gulped. "Arthur has a boyfriend, Claire. And they've been sexually active ever since they got together. He surely would not qualify for the sperm donorship."
"Tch." Claire's little muttering sound followed a giggle. "I know that. I just wanted to make you nervous, and it turns out I succeeded," Claire wriggled beneath the sheets, her body curling and pressing towards her husband to give him a slight tease, but Frank was not having it as he spanked her butt. "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! What was that for?"
"I would never, ever, allow Arthur to sire our kids." Frank grumbled.
"Wait 'till Doctor Mackenzie finds out you've slapped me."
"Wait 'till I tell him my wife teased me to bed her by giving my cock a little touch. Christ." Frank sighed, pulling her closer into his arms as he whispered softly just above her ear. "Of all people, you'd vouch for that man? You think I'd let Arthur be the father of our kids? I could just vomit right here at the thought of it."
"Hah! You jealous bastard." Claire grinned and made a slight moan as Frank nuzzled warm breaths against her neck. She swore, if Frank kept up his pace in rousing her, then she might end up not following Doctor Mackenzie's instructions. "Who says anybody will be the dad here, other than you? Come here." Claire pulled Frank closer to her lips, and he closed in all too eagerly, pressing his lips against her own. "Our baby may look like another man's child, but they can never be our child's father. It's only you who could be that man, Frank."
"That's what scares me, Claire." He said before kissing her once more. "What if there's more of the other man--"
"You know, I'd like it if we quit fussing about how the donor looks like."
Frank shrugged. "I just wanted to make everything to look more like... us. Ours."
Claire cupped his cheek endearingly in an attempt to bring him into her own thoughts on the matter at hand."We will look like us because of us, the way we love and care and build up one another. Our family may be different, but I would never trade it for anything." A part of her did want Frank to be more open-minded than he is now; perhaps, she thought, he still has not fully come to terms with his saddening incapability in giving her children, but she had wished for them both to move forward and accept whatever the future promised them, most especially what awaits them on their doctor's appointment the following day.
"But what if I don't do well, knowing that..."
Frank balked when she forced up an answer, but he gave it nonetheless. "Knowing that, well, that they won't be mine?"
"Look." She narrowed her eyes, but maintained a soft expression that captured his attention. "Our child, and all the children that would follow after, are yours to call your own. This is our family, Frank. So long as we are committed to be the best parents, nothing can go wrong," A kiss was planted on Frank's lips. "I really can't wait."
Frank made a sleepy grin, gently raking his slender fingers through the natural brown curls that rested wildly atop her head. "It's going to be a big day tomorrow, I reckon."
And a big day it was.
They now found themselves standing hand in hand in front of the doctor, eyes bright with a hint of uneasiness pooling in their stomachs. It could be due to the terror of the unknown, but the Randalls knew it was more from the excitement.
It was the longest twenty-five minutes of their life, if Claire could recall how the anticipation thickened as she saw the tall, well-built doctor skillfully prop his instruments with both hands—now covered with those elastic surgical gloves. While Doctor Mackenzie exited and entered the room, Frank never left her side; his hand was always there for her to hold onto, especially when the doctor reappeared with a tiny speculum, a catheter, and the vial of translucent liquid they both knew contained the answer. Before coming here, Claire had already done her own research on intrauterine insemination—as stock knowledge had proven her bereft of such information—and was prepared for the worst as much as she was hopeful for the best.
"Some couples come back for another cycle of IUI, but most of them get it right in one go, at least in my clinic," the doctor said with a happy and hopeful tone in his gruff voice as he proceeded to arrange the extra instruments by the table. "I pray and hope ye both dinna come back. Or if ye do, may ye come back with nothing but good news. Or if ye wish tae have another child."
"Thank you, Doctor Mackenzie," Frank said.
"Dinna thank me yet, son. Not until we find this procedure successful. But of course, I have much faith it will." It was, for Claire, endearing to know that their fertility doctor was not only concerned about doing his job and getting on with it, but he too deeply cared for them so much so he wished for them to claim the success of today's procedure. "Ready, Mr. Randall?" Doctor Mackenzie asked.
"Certainly," Frank said in a low voice.
The bald man now looked at Claire. "Ready now, Mrs. Randall?"
She made one gulp to bring down any hint of fear back in her gut. "Yes, Doctor." Claire gripped on the handlebars of her chair.
"I am ready."
Another row of lights flicked off.
Even with her lids closed, she could tell that the room got a whole lot dimmer. But this time, she decided to blink her eyes open, now even redder and swollen than how it was when she entered the doors of the humongous sanctuary. Looking around, she could only see empty pews; the churchgoers were long gone, and most of the lights were too.
Alone, she trembled as she sank on the kneeler, defeated by the darkness that began to envelope her until she was brought to stare at the tiled floor and saw that there was a reflection of what seemed to look like light.
There was only one more row of chandeliers shedding light in the dark. She slowly pulled herself back up to her former kneeling position to see that she was stationed in one of the center pews lined in between the sources of the warm luster: two candelabrums on either side, both fashioned with bulbs instead of actual flames, were faintly shining in the dark in their warm and golden hues. Claire stared silently towards the one on the left, and then proceeded to the one on the right after a few moments.
Let your faith ascend, dear niece.
It may have been a voice in her head, but it was her Uncle Lamb's words—the only memento she had of the man that still existed, and echoed in her heart. It had been the words he gave her when she lost her parents, and the last words for her before he too departed from the world. Lamb was downright frugal for his own good; most of what he owned, save his clothes and house, were artifacts he either sold or donated to the Natural History Museum. Working as an known archaeologist among others earned him great recognition, and so much more when he died on a plane crash back in 2011. Claire had no clue what to do with all of her uncle's footprints, and after weeks of mourning over the death of her beloved uncle, she decided that each item in his household had a recipient. The man's books, notes and research files were to be sent to his colleagues at Oxford. His collection of rocks, fossils and other unearthed objects of history were all gladly purchased by the museum, the money she used to sustain her education in medical school. Some of what could still be used, she kept, while all else went to the fire. To say the least, Claire was confident that Lamb was proud of what she did; he made it clear to her with the way he lived his life that possessions could only do nothing but keep human beings from moving forward to the next—one important thing he learned as a man studying human history through possessions. He probably would have done the same thing if his death was of a disease that gave him time to prepare. But unfortunately, it was not. He was taken away without warning. His passing, likened to a dropped bomb. Or one of her experiences with Frank and his annoying, sudden brakes that had sent her coffee spilling all over the carseat.
No, she thought. This isn't anything similar to a coffee spill. She couldn't laugh it off, nor could she wipe off the liquid with a towel and go on as if it never happened.
This grief was not some accident that she could laugh off. Her grief over her parents' and Lamb's death felt similar to when she and Frank found out that they could never have children of their own, but the latter proved itself to be more painful. Now, yet another bomb has been dropped--something much more painful than the previous one; her life was completely shattered when Frank came to her doorstep with divorce papers that morning, just hours before day turned into night and she wept her way to the cathedral after making a short visit to Geillis' house.
She lost these people. None of that could be compared to a little coffee accident.
"Let my faith ascend," She uttered his words throatily as she watched the two chandeliers. "Let my faith ascend." she said again, in an attempt to give her some solace. Despite the soft light the two chandeliers brought into the darkened hall of the church, they were blazing bright enough to make Claire realize that she was not alone in the world. And she noticed them, shining their little light in the huge dark hall.
Let my faith ascend.
Faith and Brianna.
A glimmer of hope. At the realization of it all through a distant memory of pain shifting into joy, Claire smiled. She wasn't alone.
She had them.
That distant memory was five years ago: the moment she first laid eyes on the two fraternal twin sisters—her two beautiful and precious daughters, flame-haired and all; upon seeing one, and then another, both of them covered in blood and fluid as they wailed with their hands kept to their chests, she knew her life shall no longer be lived for her own sake. She could remember the moment she saw their angelic faces for the first time, or the moment she held both fragile bodies for the first time, and was reminded how the immense power these first moments with Faith and Brianna was far greater than any of her sorrows. Claire would go through a heartbreak, but will always find herself coming back to the memory of finding her pregnancy test positive, how she almost lost her voice screaming with excitement at the news of life growing within her. She remembered that at that very same day, she called Frank—
No, none of him. She breathed, skipping a few memories of the man who had deliberately tore her heart today, and instead shifting the lens of her thoughts on her and the two bundle of joys she loved dearly. Being made aware that no one was there to see her sniffling by the pews, Claire decided to take in the solace of the darkened room and the two chandeliers to her advantage. She had to learn how to take Frank away from the happy memories from now on, no matter how difficult it may seem to detach him from it.
He no longer deserves to be in them.
Closing her eyes, with an attempt to quell the pain in her heart through the imagery in her mind, she takes herself back to Doctor Mackenzie's clinic, telling him of the great news. The delighted doctor pulled her to a hug that day, wishing her safety and health.
She remember calling Geillis, and how she immediately scampered to her home to share the joy.
"Does this mean ye'll no be joining our classes any longer?" Geillis asked with the most extraordinary smile on her face, it could make anybody think she actually doesn't want Claire to continue attending medical school for the sake of her pregnancy, but Claire knew better. With Geillis Duncan being her constant class companion and friend ever since she began studying Medicine, she knew that this tall, young lady with the pretty, green doe-eyes, and the peculiarly malicious grin only thought about her well-being. She had been the second person to be enlightened about her personal life; Geillis Duncan knew about Frank's sterility, Claire's IUI adventures, and all of that she kept secret, most especially the former.
She remembered the moments she would have in class where her hands would find themselves hidden beneath her desk, smoothing around the distended part of her abdomen—the sign of life growing within her—while she listened to lectures. She admired how her body changed into something foreign with each day that passed, her heart swelling with joy at the thought of bearing a sweet miracle.
Or sweet miracles, rather.
"The joy's doubled, Mrs. Randall. You're having twins," the fuzzy memory of her gynecologist beaming with so much pride was still kept in mind. Claire could not remember vividly how the clinic room was, what she was wearing, or what time of the day did she visit the clinic. All that mattered was the news that she was, all this time, nurturing two innocent tiny human beings inside her now swelling stomach. She had been warned it would be a difficult birth afterwards, that she might experience complications if things would not go smoothly, and through that great ordeal leading to the moment she began to experience the first signs of labor, one thing kept ringing in her head.
Let your faith ascend.
And she did. With her heart out, Claire braved it all, and outlived every pang of pain in her gut. She didn't need Frank. She did it herself.
Finding her newborn babies neatly swaddled and kept in tiny nursery beds after her being drained and well-fatigued from labor and childbirth brought her indescribable joy, something she had never experienced in her life until that very day.
The moment she became a mother.
Claire was filled entirely with awestruck wonder at the sight of them both, that even as her body was telling her to rest, she can never resist seeing her twins sleeping with gentle smiles, so much so that she was prepared to give the world to them if they asked for it. That love has never wavered, not even when she had to squeeze her final review before her graduation in medical school, not even when Frank had began to slip away from their marriage each passing day.
She won't let that love flicker away tonight, either.
Opening her eyes, she was transported back to her reality in the empty church. She stood up too hastily, almost stumbling at that, but as soon as she found her balance, she immediately dried the tears away from her cheek with her palms. Let your faith ascend, dear niece.
The words ruminated her thoughts again as she made one final glance at the two chandeliers before heading for the door.
"Thank you, Uncle Lamb."
After a few minutes of apologizing to one of the churchkeepers for staying too long past closing time, Claire hurried to her car and received a call. It was Geillis.
"Hello, Geillie girl, did I—"
"Mummy?" the sound that echoed from the other line of the call almost broke her heart. "Are you coming home?"
She swallowed. "O-Of course, sweetheart."
Claire knew that it was Faith speaking to her, with her tiny voice and her unique way of stretching her words too much gave the hint. Between the two five-year-olds, Faith was the curious and inquisitive one; it was only expected she would be the first one to go look for her. The little girl had a lot of questions about even the simplest of things, something which Brianna does not dwell much on.
The other twin, Brianna, was instead the loud and active girl who inhibited no such sense of danger. She could go the entire day focused in play and games, oftentimes causing trouble by breaking a vase or making her sister cry, until she drains herself to sleep.
Now realizing that Faith has made a call using her Aunt Geillis' phone, her best friend must have tucked the twins to sleep hours ago, but perhaps the curious little one had woken up in the middle of the night to see that Claire was not yet around. "We were waiting for you," Faith whined on the phone, her voice echoing as she did. Was she in the bathroom? How on earth did little Faith end up in Geillis' bathroom? Or worse, could she have strolled too far to be at the building's fire exit?
She had to leave, now.
"Oh, baby! I'm so sorry I got you worried. I'm on my way home now, okay?" She struggled to sniffle, and her curious daughter had caught the noise.
"Are you still crying, Mummy?"
Jesus H. Christ. She reprimanded herself for being too loud to be heard, and now she was all the more worried that she might cause a spillover of sorrows to her daughter. "Well... Just a little. Very, very little tears flowing here and there. But Mummy's feeling b-better now, sweetie. I'll be home soon. Sounds good?"
"Okay..." She hummed. "Five minutes?"
"Uh." She grumbled. "Five?"
"I'll try, Faith." Her daughter's innocent request made her smile. Westminster Cathedral was a twelve-minute drive to Geillis' Soho apartment, but if Faith wants it five, then she'll try to make it happen. "Mummy's going to try to get home in five minutes. I'll try. Does that sound good?" When she heard her say a little tut, she continued. "Is your Aunt Geillis there?"
"Asleep. I sneaked out. You won't tell her I called you, right?"
"What?" Claire giggled. "How did you...didn't Auntie Geillis phone have a password?"
"I uh...know it." Claire stifled a laugh of amusement.
God, my daughter is a sneaky genius for a five-year old.
"Please don't tell her, Mummy!" Faith squealed on the phone, getting Claire's attention all too quickly back to the present. Right. Go home, Claire. Go home, now.
"Alright. It'll be between you and me."
"Yes, I promise! Mummy's good with promises, isn't she? Pinky swear." Claire could hear her daughter hum in content on the line. "Oh Faithie dear, thank you for calling me!"
Truly, that call meant so much for her. All those tears have been instantly replaced with the joy of hearing one of her daughters on the phone. It could have been better if Brianna was awake, but she thought about how they could quarrel on who gets to go hold the phone and talk to Mummy, and begin to scream at each other. One of the two was enough for the night, perhaps.
"You're welcome, Mummy. I love you," Faith simply replied at that.
"Oh, I love you too! I love you too, sweetie. Now, I'll be home soon, okay?"
"Put the phone back where you got it?"
Faith tittered. "Okay,"
"Good girl. I'll see you soon, baby."
"Okay. Kiss kiss?"
Claire puckered her lips to make an audible smooch before ending the call. Her heart was recharged, and she knew deep within her that she could brave this entirely new life with her beautiful daughters. She made a mental note that she was not driving all the way back to her house, and that she was going to make that twelve-minute (or five) drive to Soho, where her daughters and Geillis will be waiting for her. Frank's house may be a lot bigger and better: a townhouse near Oxford which was more than an hour away from the cathedral was surely a ride worth its miles. But it simply was not home.
Faith and Brianna was, and turns out has always been, her home.
Frank stepped out of the ride, then I shall speed away, far enough for him to never see me nor my daughters again.
She buckled her seat and started the car. As soon as she had everything in place, she backed from the parking lot and into the street, maintaining a speed that would make her arrive at Geillis' house in five minutes.