“Oh,” Clisty grabbed Jake’s arm as her legs wilted under her.
“Are you alright?” Jake asked, as he put his arm around her before leaving Ralph and Roma’s house. He leaned over and kissed the top of her head.
“I’m okay, I guess. But, I feel like I’m rattling inside.” She felt safe in Jake’s arms. All of the fear and adrenalin rush had reached its peak inside her mind and body, and hadn’t yet slipped down anywhere near a normal range. She didn’t want him to leave.
“You’ve experienced a traumatic event, Honey. Not many people have a Glock’s laser beam zeroed in on their forehead, especially not in a town where the only target is within the goal zone at the Coliseum. You’re going to be rattled for a while, shaken but not broken.” While still holding her in his arms, he rubbed her back and breathed with her, gradually slowing his pace, which steadied her panic-breathing.
While Jake comforted Clisty, Roma and Ralph reached out to Faith and Pooky. Becca directed Clint to film the moment.
“I’ve gotta go,” Jake whispered. “I need to start the interrogation and begin the paper work. Have dinner with me at seven?”
“Absolutely,” Clisty reached up and kissed him. It felt good to be open about the feelings she had hidden from herself and others. She felt released from the love-phobia, as she called it in her quiet moments alone, released from the need to control everything and everyone close to her. Would it last? Would control dictate her new position with the network, or would love finally win?
“Absolutely,” he winked and it sent a warm ripple down Clisty’s body. She knew his response had nothing to do with supper.
Becca placed Clint to the side of the group where he could get an angle shot on everyone. “Is everyone okay?” she asked. “As the producer, I’d like to film the deprogramming we need to do now. But,” she turned to Faith, “it is all up to you, Faith. I will not push you in any way.”
“I think we’re all okay,” Roma answered. “Faith, if you want to tell everyone what happened today, yesterday and all the yesterdays we lost, that is up to you. Talking about it might help you release some demons that continue to hold you captive. I will support anything you choose. And, yes, my dear, you do have choices.”
“Choices ... wow. I have choices. I can’t remember having a choice in anything. Not since Clisty and I tried to decide which bike path to take to the park. It feels like I can stand up a little taller. Or, ride a little farther,” Faith exhaled heavily, slowly and smiled at Clisty. She sat on one of the side chairs and pulled Pooky onto her lap.
“You were both very brave today,” Roma said as she went to them and kissed their cheeks.
“Okay, Clint,” Becca directed, “you can film. As much as you can, Faith, just ignore the camera ... you too, Pooky.”
Clisty sat on the couch and leaned on her knees. “Faith, when you first came back to Fort Wayne, you were nearly empty, helpless, hopeless, and weak. Today, you were on the attack. How did all that change so fast?”
“I could feel the difference. When I was in that other house, in that other town ... what did you call it?”
Clisty looked at Roma and Ralph. Baffled by so many inconsistencies, she struggled to understand Faith’s word-gaps. “Naperville, Faith. You lived in Naperville for eighteen years.” She shook her head as she tried to understand.
“I was never in Naperville, though,” Faith reminded her. “I was never out of my upstairs room, then two rooms with my husband, Steven, except an occasional meal downstairs. When I left the black house, I was completely confused, disoriented, lost, both emotionally and physically. I had just lost Steven.”
“How did you know what direction to go when you got to the end of the sidewalk outside your front door?” Clisty asked.
“I didn’t. Steven had driven Pooky to school for two weeks, and he had gone the same way each time. She remembered how to get to the highway. I like to think her Daddy was showing her the way out.”
Clisty was proud of Pooky. “You helped save yourself and your mom, Pooky. You remind me of your mother when she was your age. Full of adventure, ready to take on the world.”
“I do?” Pooky asked with wide, smiling eyes.
“You sure do.” Clisty thought for a moment and directed a question to her. “Pooky, your grandma and I haven’t been with your mom for a long time. Have you ever seen her act with such courage before?”
“Sure. She was always talking back to The Guardian—to Grandpa. He used to hit her for not minding him or for sassing him, but she never cried. It scared me, though.” Pooky started to cover her face, and then she grabbed her mother’s arm and squeezed it as those memories still seemed to have the power to frighten her.
“Why do you think she sassed him?” Clisty asked while Clint adjusted the lens for a close up.
“Daddy was so sick and The Guardian wouldn’t call the doctor. Daddy kept holding his chest. He wrinkled up his face and it looked like he hurt. I cried, but Mama screamed at Grandpa.” Pooky’s eyes filled with tears.
“Did your daddy get well?” Clisty asked, while Pooky’s grandparents showed their own sorrow.
“No. Grandpa said to pray for him. He said if Mama didn’t pray hard enough, Daddy would die and it would be her fault.” Pooky collapsed in Faith’s arms. “Daddy died,” she sobbed.
“You both know it wasn’t your mother’s fault, don’t you?” Clisty asked with an edge of anger to her voice. She could not understand how anyone could put so much guilt on someone else, especially a child.
“I know,” Pooky looked up. “It was Guardian’s fault!”
“Do you accept that, Faith? Do you know it wasn’t your fault?”
“I know it wasn’t my fault,” Faith said as she smiled. “Mama Roma taught me to pray and prayed with me since I was a baby,” she smiled at her mother. “I know how to pray. God must have had other plans for Steven, other than mine.”
“Why didn’t you go to his funeral, Faith?” Clisty continued her interview.
“I was never allowed to leave the house. The funeral was just one more place I couldn’t go to, as far as The Guardian was concerned. But, it would have meant a lot to Pooky and me if we could have said our goodbyes.”
Clisty knew she had to ask the hard question. “Faith, for the ride back to Indiana, how did you happen to accept a ride from Melvin Dean Fargo, of all people?”
“Because, of all the people, his was the only face I recognized. In the whole world outside the stone house, there was only one face that looked familiar to me. It was Melvin Dean Fargo’s face. Pooky and I had walked up to the main road and saw a filling station. There was a man inside a pickup truck, and I recognized him. I didn’t know how I knew him. He just seemed familiar. I asked him if he was going to Indiana and if we could ride. He said okay, but first he’d have to make a phone call. He called from a small phone in his hand but he said no one was home,” Faith recalled, as if she saw the pictures in her head.
“He may have been calling Stratton, but his cell phone would have been off due to the funeral,” Clisty said as she began to put some of the threads together.
“He tried to call several more times.” Then she remembered he had talked to her a little. “‘Do you have any money?’ he asked. I said no, we have nothing. He said, ‘Then, I’ll have to go to the bank again in a few days?’”
“Again?” Clisty asked. “Are you sure he said, ‘again’?”
“I heard him too,” Pooky assured her. “I know he said, again.”
“Do you remember having seen Fargo before?” Clisty hoped to pull another piece of the case out of the back of Faith’s memory. Each clue seemed to reach like centipede legs back to the original kidnapping, so long ago.
“No, I just knew he looked familiar,” she said with growing confidence.
“Faith, Emily Stratton, the woman you called Lady, would like to see you and Pooky. The important thing is, are you ready to see her?” Clisty looked from Faith to Roma. She hoped she had not alienated Roma, a solid supporter for the Heartland story. The full telling of the tale expanded far beyond the bank robbery. “Roma, what do you think?”
“Faith ...” she started slowly, “this morning, I’ve seen how strong you have become. It sounds like you always were—standing up to Stratton.” She took Ralph’s hand. “Here in our home, your home, you are free to go anywhere you want to go. And ... if you want to see Emily and if you want us to meet her, your dad and I can go with you.”
Faith took a deep breath and words tumbled out. “Yes, oh please yes. That would be wonderful.” She stopped and rubbed her hand together. “Mama, I have to make you believe that I always called that woman, Lady. You were, and always be, my only mother, my mama. I thought about you and Daddy every day of my life.”
• • • • •
“Thank you for arranging our meeting with Emily Stratton, Detective Davis,” Clisty spoke into the camera in a conference room at the police station. “As we have reported over the last few evenings, our story began when the image of Faith Sterling appeared on the ATM surveillance camera outside Fort Wayne Bank. Recognized as the woman, kidnapped from Fort Wayne at nine years of age, by Ezra Stratton, Faith Sterling escaped and made her way back home. Melvin Dean Fargo, the self-confessed robber of Fort Wayne Bank, was the accomplice to the kidnapping and was a friend of Stratton’s. Faith lived in Illinois as the captive-daughter of Ezra and Emily Stratton.” Clisty walked over to the large table, opposite Faith, so they could both be in the scene. “We have met here today in a neutral setting so Faith can have the opportunity to confront Emily Stratton. She is the person Faith called ‘Lady’ the entire eighteen years the Strattons held her captive. Faith’s parents, Ralph and Roma Sterling are here with her. They will join us in a moment.” Clisty turned from the camera to Emily.
Clisty faced the woman who sat on the other side of the table from Roma and Ralph. “Thank you for coming, Mrs. Stratton. I know you have wanted to see Faith and her daughter since you came to Fort Wayne. Will you tell the audience what you called Faith during those years?” Clisty was warm yet professional.
“We called Faith, Joselyn. Of course I wanted to see her. She’s my daughter,” Emily stated with a sweet smile on her face.
“I understand that’s what you think, Mrs. Stratton,” Clisty said firmly. “You do know, however, if you call Faith, ‘your daughter,’ or use the name, ‘Jocelyn,’ she will leave the room.”
Emily looked down at the table. “Yes, I hear you.”
Clisty was ready when Jake brought Roma and Ralph into the room. “Mrs. Stratton, Faith wanted her parents to be with her. They have come in first so you can meet them before their daughter comes into the room. This is Roma and Ralph Sterling.”
Emily looked at both of them, her mouth open in apparent surprise. Stunned, she said nothing at first and then stood. “I ... am so sorry.” She started to explain. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know that Joselyn had living parents ... that she had been kidnapped.”
“We understand that,” Ralph said, his body tense. “Her name is Faith. It always has been. Faith was kidnapped; Faith was missing; and, Faith has returned, on her own, not from anything you did to help her.” He and Roma sat down at the end of the table.
“Yes, Mr. Sterling,” Emily spoke with humility. “I am sorry to say, I agree. I didn’t help her,” she hung her head and didn’t make eye contact, “even though she told me she had parents in Fort Wayne.”
“You knew?” Roma lunged in the woman’s direction. Ralph tugged gently on Roma’s shirt sleeve and patted her back as she settled again in her chair.
“Yes, I knew what the child told me, but my husband said something else.” Her body grew tense and she wrung her hands. “I didn’t know who to believe and … I wanted to keep her,” she whispered.
Jake opened the conference room door. “Are you ready for Faith?”
“I don’t know,” Clisty spoke with control and authority. “You all tell me. Are you ready for Faith to come in? I will demand that she not be upset or I will shut this meeting down. Any uproar might make good TV, but I will not permit it at Faith’s expense.”
“Yes, yes,” Emily begged. “Please, don’t blame me for Ezra’s crimes. I was his captive, too. Now, I just want to see her.” Her voice broke under the emotion that was evident in her tears.
“Alright,” Roma answered and stared at the broken woman beside her.
Faith came in the room, hesitantly. She looked at her parents and then at Emily. “Mama, Daddy,” she said as she sat opposite Emily and beside her parents. “Lady,” she nodded an acknowledgement. “Are you alright?”
“I’m okay, Jos—” she stopped quickly, “Faith. Are you okay? How is Pooky?”
“She’s fine. She wants to see you.” Faith twisted a childhood handkerchief she held in her hands. Embroidered little red roses were in one corner, a symbol from her lost childhood she could hold onto.
“Pooky wants to see me?” Emily started to reach for Faith’s hands then pulled back. “Faith,” she looked at the woman she had called daughter for eighteen years, “I want you to know, I had absolutely no idea that Ezra had kidnapped you. He told me he had adopted you.”
“I told you!” Faith whispered forcefully. “Why didn’t you believe me? Why did you pretend to love me but not let me call you Mom? Why did I have to call you Lady?” Faith had sadness in her voice, not anger. Those were surprising emotions to Clisty. She didn’t think she was past the anger herself and she had only lived the memory. Faith had lived the tragedy.
“You wanted to call her Mom or Mother?’ Clisty asked.
“Not Mother. I had a mother. And, not Mama,” she looked at Roma and took her hand. “But, I needed to have someone who claimed me. I needed a mom, even if she wasn’t my mom.”
“I know, Faith. You’re right,” Emily admitted. “Lady was all you could call me. Ezra said I had to keep a wall between us. He said you might die like our first daughter did. He said it wouldn’t hurt us as much if it happened again, if we didn’t get close to you. Ezra was so controlling. He controlled you, me, Steven, everyone and everything.”
“Was I actually married to Steven?” Faith asked, shaking her head in disbelief. “Lady, I had no last name.”
“Yes, Ezra had a license to marry people. You and Steven were married and your marriage license was filed and recorded properly.”
“Did I sign it? I don’t remember,” Faith threw her head back in frustration and confusion.
“Yes, you signed it,” Emily said. “Don’t you remember? Ezra always had a way of manipulating people so they didn’t know what they were doing. You signed, Joselyn and then Ezra spilled some water on the document. He said, ‘That’s okay. When it’s dry, you can finish it.’ He put it in his office and signed Stratton for you the next day and mailed it in.”
“But my name has never been Joselyn Stratton. The wrong name is on my marriage license,” Faith put her head in her hands and leaned on the table. “If the authorities agree that I was Joselyn Stratton at the time I signed the marriage license, then my real name would be Faith Stratton. Is it all a lie?”
“We’ll contact our attorney the first time his office is open, and see if we can get it all straightened out,” her dad assured her. “You loved Steven and Pooky loved her daddy. That’s all you need to know now. None of that is a lie, Faith.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sterling,” Emily said as she turned to them. “That means a lot to me that Steven is honored. He loved them both so much.” Again she had to blot tears from her eyes.
“It’s not for you, Ma’am,’ Ralph barked. “It’s for the girls.”
“I know,” Emily said apologetically.
The door opened a crack and a small voice came from the other side. “Can I come in?” Pooky asked softly as she stuck her head through the small opening.
“Are we ready for the little miss?” Clisty asked Faith.
“Sure,” Faith said as she turned around and reached out her arms to her daughter. “Come on in, Honey.”
Pooky hugged her mom and sat down beside her. She looked over at the Sterlings. “Grandma!” she squealed, jumped up, ran around the table and embraced her. She stepped back a little, still holding on to Roma. “Did you see her? My other grandma is here, too?”
“Yes,” Roma answered her granddaughter. “We’ve been talking.”
“Do I need to hate her? I will if you want me to,” she asked with probing eyes. “Or, is it okay if I love her too?” Pooky asked without turning toward Emily. “’Cause if I’m supposed to hate her, I’ll pretend she isn’t here.”
Roma choked and cleared her throat as tears streamed down her face. “There has been enough living like a ghost, Baby. It’s like people look right through you,” she patted Pooky’s cheek. “Yes, sweetheart, as long as your Grandma Emily loves you and treats you right, it is perfectly alright for you to love her, too. We can never have too many people in our lives who love us.”
“Oh good,” Pooky squealed as she ran to Emily and threw her arms around her. “I missed you Grandma.”
Emily could not control her emotions and dropped her head into Pooky’s shoulder. “I missed you too, Baby,” she cried.
Faith smiled at the closeness of her daughter and Lady. She didn’t join in the embrace. Instead, she went around behind her own parents and embraced them with eighteen years’ worth of love.
“Cut, I think that’s enough for now,” Becca said as she wiped her own eyes.
As soon as the filming stopped, Clisty’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and decided she needed to take the call. She got up from the table, went over to the window and put a finger to her free ear. “Hello, Clisty Sinclair.”
“This is Bradley Funderbird in New York,” a voice said. “Your local station was able to connect the interview you just had with Faith, her parents and Mrs. Stratton.”
“Oh yes. Becca was hoping that the feed would be able to reach you without actually broadcasting at this time,” Clisty said. “How did it come through?”
“It was great. Our offer to you is firm. Regardless of how Ezra Stratton’s trial turns out, and we do want you to be there to report it, we are offering you a weekly segment on our Network News Magazine, titled, Stories from the Heartland. We would feed story ideas to you that come in to our New York office from the middle of the country, with an emphasis on wholesome, upbeat, down-to-earth people and how they manage to overcome the difficulties that are present in today’s society.”
“Sir,” she gasped, “that is wonderful.” She looked at Jake, “Can you give me a little while to decide?”
“Of course. I’ll have to admit, I don’t know what you have to decide. This is a promotion, Clisty. You have to seize the opportunity when it comes. It may not come again.”
“I know, Sir, but so much has happened.” Clisty studied Faith’s face and looked again at Jake. She had been afraid to love and let people get close enough for her to experience messy, complicated relationships since Faith disappeared. Now Faith was back and Clisty’s emotions were set free to experience feelings she wondered if she would ever have. With Jake, maybe—
“I think a good time to respond would be after Stratton’s trial,” Funderbird said with a voice of authority. “That will wrap up that first network story you are doing. Here in New York, we’ll start gathering the story leads. The segments will run, with you or with someone else, Clisty.”
“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Funderbird,” she said as she looked up and saw Jake listening to her end of the conversation. “Please, go ahead and send the ideas as you receive them. I would like to have the opportunity to see if I can relate to any of them.”
“I certainly will do that, Clisty,” Funderbird said. Clisty pressed “end call” on her screen.
Jake threw his hand to his chest in a disclaiming gesture. “I was not eavesdropping, Babe. You were talking in front of us and—“
“Honey,” Clisty laughed,” I know you weren’t trying to listen in on my conversation. You couldn’t help but hear it.”
“Funderbird? Interesting name. Who’s he, if I may ask?”
“That’s okay.” She leaned into Jake and rested her head on his chest. “Bradley Funderbird is the president of the network.”
“In New York?”
“In New York City,” she said and kissed his cheek.