Charles had won Jack over eventually by doing manly things with him, but he had never paid any attention to Faith simply because she was a girl. She had scarcely existed for him. It was Jack who had been her only male role model, her only sane bond to the masculine world. And unlike their mother and Charles, Jack had been affectionate and loving and happy and warm, just as Faith had been then. The woman he married was much as their mother had always been, distant and unemotional and cold. She seemed unable to warm up to him. They had separated several times, and in a fifteen-year marriage they never had children, because Debbie couldn't stand the idea of them. Faith could never understand the attraction he'd had for her. But he had been devoted to her, in spite of their difficulties, always made excuses for her personality, and saw things in her no one else did. She had stood stone-faced at his funeral, and shed not a tear. And six months after his death, Debbie had remarried and moved to Palm Beach. Faith hadn't heard from her since. Not even a Christmas card. In a sense, she was yet another loss, however little Faith had cared for her. She was a surviving piece of Jack in a way, but had disappeared.
In truth, Faith had no one now, except Alex and her two girls. She felt as though her own world were growing smaller and smaller these days. The people she had known and loved, or even cared about, were leaving one by one. If nothing else, they had been familiar to her, like Charles. And in the end his sanity and wholesome-ness, even if cool and aloof, proved to be a safe place for her. And now they were all gone. Her parents, Jack, and now Charles. It made Alex and the girls even more precious and important to her.
She dreaded Charles's funeral the next day. She knew it would remind her of Jack's funeral, if nothing else, and that in itself would be hard enough. She was thinking about it as she walked past the study where Alex liked to read at night. He was poring over some papers and didn't look up at her as she paused in the doorway. He had a way of isolating himself, of letting people know he didn't want to be touched or disturbed. It made him unreachable even as he sat across a room from her. The vast distance that had grown between them over the years couldn't be bridged. Like glaciers, they had moved imperceptibly, each of them moving slowly away from the other, and now all they could do was look at each other from the distance and wave. There was no way to get close to him anymore. Alex had successfully isolated himself, while living under the same roof with her. And she had long since given up. She simply accepted it, and went about her life. But the emptiness that she felt now that her daughters were gone was overpowering. She still hadn't found a way to fill the void, and wondered if she ever would, as she watched Alex put his papers away without saying a word to her, and then she moved silently toward the stairs.
He followed her to their bedroom half an hour later. She was already in bed, reading a book Zoe had recommended to her. It was an amusing novel, and she was smiling to herself as he walked into the room. He looked tired, but he had done most of the reading he needed to do for his meeting in Chicago the next day. He glanced at her, and went to change, and a few minutes later, he slipped into bed next to her. It was as though there were an invisible barricade down the middle of their bed. It was a Maginot Line neither of them crossed, except in dire necessity, once every few weeks, or even once a month. Making love was always one of the few times when she felt closer to him, but even that was ephemeral. It was more like a reminder of what they had once shared before they had gone their separate ways, than anything they shared now. Their lovemaking was brief and perfunctory, though pleasant at times. It was a reflection of their reality, not the realization of the dreams they had once shared. It simply was what it was, and nothing more. Remarkably, due to good therapy, she had no sexual problems, despite her father's early travesties. But due to the lack of communication and warmth between her and Alex, their lack of sexuality was sometimes a relief to her.
And tonight, as he got into bed, Alex rolled over on his side and turned away from her. It was a signal that he wanted nothing more from her that night. They had had dinner together, he told her where he was going the next day. He knew where she would be. And she knew from his schedule that she was going to a business dinner with him the following night, after the funeral. It was all they needed to know about each other, and were able to share. If she needed something more, some gesture of closeness or affection in her life, she would have to get it from the girls, and she knew that. It was what still made her miss Jack all the more. With the marriages they each had respectively, they had needed each other, for coziness and solace and warmth.
Faith had loved her brother desperately, and she thought it would kill her when he died. It hadn't, but a part of her had wandered like a lost soul since that day, as though it had lost its home. She couldn't tell her daughters or anyone else the kinds of things she had shared with Jack, and always had. There had never been anyone else like him in her life. He had never disappointed her, or failed to be there for her. He had never forgotten to make her laugh, or tell her how much he loved her, and she had done the same for him. He had been the sunshine in her life, the heart, the life preserver she had clung to at times. And now with Alex snoring softly next to her, and her daughters having moved away, Faith quietly turned off the light, and felt silently adrift in a lonely sea.
ALEX HAD ALREADY LEFT FOR CHICAGO WHEN FAITH woke up with the alarm at eight o'clock the next day. The funeral was at eleven, and she had promised to pick up her stepsister in the limousine. Allison was fourteen years older than Faith, and at sixty-one, she seemed a thousand years old to her. She had children who were nearly Faith's age. The oldest of them was forty, and Faith scarcely knew them. They all lived in Canada, in the north of Quebec. Allison had never had any particular bond to her stepmother, nor to Faith. She was already married and had children herself when her father and Faith's mother had married. And her stepsiblings, Faith and Jack, were of no great interest to her.
Allison and her father weren't close, for the same reason he hadn't been close to Faith. Charles Armstrong had no particular use for girls. He'd been a graduate of West Point, and career army. He'd been forty-nine when he married Faith's mother, and recently retired. And he had treated his stepchildren like West Point cadets. He inspected their rooms, gave them orders, meted out punishments, and had left Jack out in the rain all night once for failing a test at school. Faith had let him in her window and hidden him under her bed, and in the morning they had splashed water on him so his clothes would be wet, and he'd sneaked back outside when the sun came up. Charles hadn't caught on to it, but there would have been hell to pay if he had.
Their mother had never intervened on their behalf, just as she hadn't in their previous life. She avoided confrontation at all costs. All she wanted was a peaceful life. She'd had a difficult, emotionally barren first marriage. And two years of dire financial problems when her husband died and left her drowning in debt. She was grateful that Charles had rescued her, and was willing to take care of her and Jack and Faith. She didn't care that Charles seldom spoke to her, except to bark orders at her. All he seemed to want from her was that she was there and cleaned his house. And all he wanted from Faith and Jack was for them to follow orders, get good grades, and keep out of sight. It had helped set the stage for both of them to marry people who were as removed and unemotional as Charles and their mother had been, and Faith's father before that.