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Stairway to the Sun
We had always known that Mother was sick. Hope and I didn’t like to pay attention to it. And I think Mother liked it that way. She would roam outside in the garden with us while we’d play hide and go seek. Or she would dance inside with us, twirling both Hope and I while Father played the piano. But even though we were happy, my heart had always pounded in my ears when she began coughing or when her face would grow pale and she would have to sit down. There were days when we wouldn’t see Mother at all. Father would have to tell us to go play in the library or to go outside. Millie, our cook, would sometimes be asked to entertain us while the doctor was led upstairs to Mother’s bedroom.
One night, Hope and I walked upstairs to say good night to Mother. We held each other’s hands tightly as Hope knocked on the large, wooden door with her free hand. Mother’s voice would answer weakly but still clear, as if saying I am just tired, there is nothing wrong.
We walked in, still gripping each other’s hands, and faced Mother in her four poster bed. Her dark curls were flared around her face, and her blue, clear eyes were shut. But they opened once we reached either side of the bed. Hope on one side, me on the other. We climbed on, laying ourselves next to her.
She took either one of our hands and pressed it to her lips.
“I love you so much, Hope. I love you so much, Faith.”
In unison, Hope and I whispered, “I love you so much, Mother.”
Mother laughed softly and whispered, “Most mothers only get a chance to have one baby at a time. I was blessed to have two at one time.”
We smiled and rested our heads on her shoulders. Mother began singing a song she had always sung to us, her soft yet firm words drifted around the room, surrounding me with its warmth. My mouth moved soundlessly along with the song:
“Together we stand,
We all stand tall.
Facing our fears,
Until together we fall.
I will always be with you,
No matter what happens in life,
Look for me in your heart,
And you’ll me find there,
If we ever part.”
I closed my eyes and felt tears threatening to fall. I blinked hard but they still fell like little waterfalls dripping down my cheeks.
“I love you, Faith,” I heard Mother whisper in my ear. And I knew even then that those would be the last words she would ever say to me.
~ * ~
Eleven years later
My feet hurt. Really bad. I groan and sit down on the edge of the bed, reaching down to take my shoes off. Hope comes in not long after I do, and flops down on her bed.
“Was your day as bad as mine?”
“Worse,” came the muffled reply. I grin and find that my cheeks are sore from smiling all day. Hope sits up tiredly and says, “The kitchen was in such an uproar! Millie going around barking orders to everyone, it’s no wonder she’s in danger of losing her voice!”
I do feel bad for her. The kitchen is the worst place to be when you have a full house. We are both quiet for a while, thinking about the day. And what day it is.
I whisper softly, “I miss her.”
Hope sniffles, “I do too, Faith. She would be so proud of us…taking care of the inn and everything while Father’s away.”
I agree. “Hope?” I ask tentatively.
“Do you think…she minds us working instead of going to school?”
I hear Hope sigh.
“I dunno…it’s not our faults, Faith. We do learn, just not, mathematics and things like that. We learned those when we were younger…”
Silence. “But, don’t you think we can learn more? Travel maybe?”
Hope sits up straighter. “Oh Faith. I know how much you want to travel, to get out of this place. But we need to stay here. We need to help Father.”
I lay down, rolling over to the side so that Hope doesn’t see the hot tears slowly trickling from the corner of my eye.
“I know, I know.”
Dawn arrives too soon for me. I groan and stretch when I hear Fanny’s rambling voice reach our doors.
“Girls! Get up! It is dawn and you know what that means!”
Do I ever, I think as I reluctantly get out of bed, the morning coldness chilling my legs even though they are covered with the long nightgown I wear to bed every night.
Even though I have been doing this for the longest time ever, I still take such a long time to get ready. I don’t think I am a morning person.
Whereas Hope is the opposite. She bounces out of bed and slips on her shoes and work dress before I can even mumble good morning.
“Come on, Faith! We must hurry! The guests are beginning to awaken!”
She brushes her hair twice and leaves quickly.
I grumble and try to put on my clothes quickly and efficiently. I walk over to the mirror and grab my wash rag. A basin of water is placed in front of the mirror and I tiredly wash my face and comb my stick straight hair.
I see my reflection in the mirror and I stare thinking, why can’t I look more like Hope?
Sure, we are twins but everyone can tell that Hope is the prettier one. She has blonde banana curls that twist perfectly and chocolaty brown eyes framed by dark lashes. Her lips are pink and plump and her skin always glows.
My hair is as straight as a pin, hangs around my shoulders in a boring way, and is the color of mottled bean soup. Hope and I share the same nose, which is from Father, and the same angular face. But my lips are small and pale and my lashes are not thick at all.
The only thing I like about my face, if I had to like anything at all, would be my eyes. Just like Mother’s, they are a clear, sharp blue. And the only thing on my face that Hope envies.
I dry my face and tidy up the room a bit. A sharp knock at the door brings my attention to it.
“Yes?” I call.
“Miss Andrews? Are you decent?” It was Miriam Harvey, another maid.
I nod then remember that she can’t see me so I call, “Yes, Miriam.”
She enters and curtsies.
I sigh, “Miriam, you know you don’t have to curtsy! We have been working side by side since we were eight years old, for goodness sake!”
She smiles shyly and stutters, “I-I’m so sorry, Miss Andrews- I mean, Miss Faith. I just can’t seem to get used to it.”
Miriam is two years older than Hope and I, and we are the best of friends. Her mother is the cook, Millie Harvey and she came to live with us in the inn when Hope and I turned four. I immediately liked her.
She was sitting in the tiny lobby of our inn and seemed extremely shy. Millie was explaining to Father that she needed her daughter there since her father had left them both a couple days ago. Father, being the accepting man he is, agreed without delay and wanted Miriam to stay there.
Hope and I were curious and asked Miriam billions of questions. She was someone from the outside and had news that we would never have heard until probably three years later.
She finally smiled and loosened up, but still treated us as like little princesses. Curtsying and rushing to help us everywhere.
But we love her. And now that she is turning nineteen in a couple of weeks, Miriam will have the choice if she wants to stay or leave.
I don’t blame her if she decides to leave. As much as I love being here with Hope and Father, I can’t help thinking that there’s a whole world out there, waiting for me to explore it.
I smile at Miriam and say, “It’s okay. Did you need me for something?”
She nods and asks, “Well Master Andrews needs the whole staff including his daughters to meet before the rush in the storage room.”
I raise my eyebrow. “Is that so? Then we should leave right now.”
We rush downstairs and to the connecting door that leads to the inn. People are still in their rooms, dreaming away.
We arrive at the storage room and join everyone else who is gathered there.
Father strides in not a moment later and greets everyone. I stand tall; proud that he is my father.
He is still quite handsome for his age, and well fit. His eyes are a light brown and match his light brown slightly graying hair. Many older women who come through the inn doors come just to see and talk with Father. I know he is still in love with Mother though. I remember it was a couple weeks after Mother had died and he told us, “Your mother was the most beautiful women I had ever met. Not just beautiful on the outside, but on the inside as well.”
He was somber yesterday, as it was the day that Mother passed away. Eleven years now.
I look up at my name. Father is looking at me saying, “Faith? Did you hear what you were assigned to?”
I blush and stutter, “N-no sir.”
He shakes his head but smiles as he repeats, “You need to clean up the Royal Suite in time for His Majesty.”
I raise both my eyebrows. His…Majesty?
“Sir?” I ask, interested.
He sighs, “Faith, please listen to what I am saying. Prince Jack is visiting the town of Grillet on his way to Claridge.”
I nod swiftly, eager for him to move on.
“Are we clear then?”
He moves on to talk about the way we must present ourselves and to be in top condition for when he stays tonight.
“Whatever he needs, please be there as quickly as possible. This inn has a good reputation and I would like to keep it that way.”
He dismisses us then and I look around for Hope. I find her next to Tyler Dunton, our storage boy. He helps around with moving barrels and packages.
I scrunch my nose in disgust when I see the way he looks at Hope. He looks like a boy gazing wide eyed at a piece of candy in a shop window.
Tyler, in my opinion, is a priss. He likes to order you around and bring you down. At least, that’s how he treats me. Hope, of course, gets the better treatment ‘cause she’s gorgeous.
I let it go over my head. Boys are always after Hope. All the storage boys are. Only one, Patrick, ever really wants to talk to me. We are friends, Patrick and I. I know he fancies Hope but I don’t mind as much. He’s a good guy. I know he’s going to treat her right.
Miriam taps me on the shoulder and is wide eyed with excitement.
“Prince Jack! Who would have thought?” She squeals.
I roll my eyes but smile. “Oh Miriam, don’t tell me you’re head over heels for this one too!”
“Oh Faith! I have heard interesting things about this one!” She leans in, whispering excitedly, “Why, I heard just the other day that all the teachers despise him because he gets up in the middle of the lesson and runs out, gets on his horse, and rides like the wind!”
Miriam sighs dreamily. “And I’ve heard he’s extremely handsome. Oh Faith, I’m so excited!”
Then a small frown appears. “But, he probably won’t want to pay any attention to me.”
I frown as well. “Miriam? What do you mean?”
Miriam drags her gaze to Hope and whimpers, “Why, with Hope around, none of us girls have no chance at all, I tell you.”
I don’t really care about Prince Jack but I do care about Miriam. Oh love, I think, is true love really that important to a girl who, once she turns nineteen, can do anything she wants?
My gaze goes to Hope and Tyler as well. I watch them work around each other, Tyler gazing hopelessly at Hope.
I humph. Well, if Prince Jack makes any of my girls cry, he will have to report to me!
~ * ~
Miriam is devastated. Prince Jack never arrived. Instead there was his said-to-be fiancée, a Miss Charlotte Temple. I disliked her from the moment I saw her. She was loud and obnoxious, head filled with golden, tight curls, and her nose so high up in the air I kept thinking she was about to lie down.
I feel bad for Miriam so I ask Millie if I could make her some pumpkin bread, Miriam’s favorite.
Millie agrees saying, “That sounds wonderful, Miss Faith. I’m sure she’d appreciate it.”
After making it, I wrap it up and bring it up to her room. I knock softly on the door. Nothing. I knock and wait another moment. Silence. I decide to just leave her be and leave it at her doorstep. It is getting late anyhow, and I need to get back to my room. The maids’ quarters are next to the storage room and the storage room has a narrow stairway that leads to the door to the small house that Hope, Father and I share.
The sun has already settled down in the hills behind us and the stars begin to spot the dark sky above. As I make my way to the storage room doors, I hear a sound like footsteps shuffling softly across the wooden floor. I bend down below the small narrow windows on the doors. I strain to hear more sounds coming from inside. Nobody would be in the storage room at this time. Everything we need is already taken out.
I gasp and place my hand over my heart when I realize that it must be a burglar.
I look around to see if there is something that I could use as a weapon. A large brick used to stop open the door when deliveries arrived catches my eye. I creep over, bending low so that the person doesn’t see me, and I reach down to pick it up. I hear another shuffling, this time a shuffling of bags.
I don’t waste anymore time.
I swing open the doors and hurl myself at a shadowy figure next to the barrels of potatoes. We hit the floor hard and I struggle to keep the person pinned on the ground.
He is strong though and resists by pulling my arms toward him so that I end up with my back towards the ground.
I growl, “Who are you and what do you want with us?”
There’s no answer. But he gets up off me and backs away, the waning moonlight hinting through the narrow windows on his face.
I jump up and search for something I can knock him out with. But by the time I find a broom and scramble for it, he is gone.
I c*** my head to the side and close my eyes. How could I let him escape? Father is not going to be happy to hear about this in the morning.
I walk to the doors and gaze through the windows at the hills behind us. My eyes squint through the darkness, seeing a running figure sprinting up the hill and disappear.
Huh, so he lives on the other side of the hill, I think. But, there are only woods behind all those hills. I shrug and rub my eyes, sleep finally catching up to me. Oh well, I’ll think about it tomorrow.
~ * ~
Father is furious.
“What did you say?” His eyes seem to be bulging out of their sockets when I tell him that there was a burglar last night.
“Father, I-I’m sorry I let him go. I did my best to-”
“That’s not what I am worried about, Faith!” His face is red now and everyone scurries around us, trying to pretend they have no idea what is going on.
“I am worried about my daughter in the middle of the night, finding a burglar who could have very well hurt you or even worse-” His words choked off, and his eyes became wet.
“Faith, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to yell at you. I,” He sighs, “was just worried about you.”
I nod. “Of course, Father.”
He smiles and pats my arm. “Just please, if there ever is another burglar, run and get help.”
I nod, gulping.
“Fine,” Father gives me a hug and asks, “Have you had breakfast yet, Believer?”
I smile when he calls me the nickname that he called me when I was younger. Faith was the name that my mother came up with. When hard times came along, she always wanted to me to believe and never doubt. After she passed away, I lost that. Faith. Faith that something better would come along in these hard times.
I shook my head, “No, but I’ll get something. Don’t worry yourself about it.”
He smiles and squeezes my arm softly, “That’s my girl.”
We had been standing in the hallway, and as he walks away, I just stand there thinking to myself, that’s right. I have to keep myself out of trouble so Father won’t have to worry about me.
I stand there, staring at the bare hallway in front of me when Hope runs in, huffing.
“Faith! What are you doing just standing there!”
I give her a blank look. “Uh…”
She rolls her eyes and grabs hold of my arm. “We need your help out in the dining area! Get your apron!”
I blink and follow her to the kitchen.
I had never seen it so chaotic.