DISCLAIMER: Kemper & Co. don't seem to want her much anyway, so I thought I'd be her fosterer. They still own her, though.
SUMMARY: Would anything in America make up for what she left behind? A Leslie & Jack Crichton story.
ARCHIVE: Anywhere, just keep the headers and let me know.
NOTES: Wow, this story got away from me. Much longer, and much different, than I'd imagined. I know there's nothing in canon that directly supports the idea of Leslie Crichton being an immigrant, but there's also nothing that directly contradicts it, and it'd go a long way toward explaining that funky accent we heard in WGFA. I apologize if any of the historical facts herein are incorrect - I did my best to thoroughly research and present historical events accurately. Unending thanks to Sarah Wait for listening to my panicked drivel, and just generally being the best beta a girl could ask for.
"I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints..."
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Leslie MacDougall was fourteen, awkward, and utterly alone when she landed at Ellis Island. She could hardly believe, confronted with this strange new world, that only six months before she'd knelt in the church at Charcrossings and prayed for the immortal soul of her father. Leslie supposed she would find out whether it worked or not when she finally died, because Mother had told her she was going to Hell for renouncing the Church.
Father had been stupid enough to walk in front of a tiller while it was being operated, and since the week she spent kneeling in the church praying for his life hadn't been to much effect, Leslie doubted that her pleadings for his soul had fared much better.
New York was a truly formidable city, and Leslie felt lonely and afraid as she stared up at the Statue of Liberty across the bay. The skyscrapers behind her were just as foreign, but good Lady Liberty seemed to be judging her from on high, just like Mother. That passive expression surely held a reckoning spirit. Not for the first time, Leslie felt regret for her lost saints.
The wind was blowing there on the island, and Leslie's hair whipped around her head wildly, copper streaks in front of her eyes. Her hat had been claimed by the wind and the sea, and all she had in the world were the books she clutched in her arms, the contents of her shoulder bag, and one trunk waiting to be claimed at the checkpoint. Her coat was threadbare, and she shivered, leaving the dock to start the tiresome process of immigration.
Perhaps, if Father had not been drunk the night before, he wouldn't have walked in front of that tiller. Perhaps, if her damnfool oldest brother Billy hadn't gone to London ten years ago to work, he wouldn't have been killed in that Luftwaffe raid. Perhaps, if Leslie's faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost had been more unshakable, her mother wouldn't have sent her to live with her aunt down in Pensacola now that the family's resources were gone. The MacDougalls were a family of girls, some married off, some still struggling along at home. Leslie was pigheaded, and just another mouth to feed.
The immigration office was not much warmer than outside, but at least the wind did not cut through her skin. She set her books down to pull up her kneesocks, holding up the line in the process, and was glared at by the impatient Polish family behind her. When her turn came, she had her papers ready. Aunt Maureen was an emigre of years before, the green card bride of a naval doctor, and her presence in the country smoothed Leslie's way. They sent her to an exam room, where they checked her for things like dysentery and lice. Humiliating, if boringly routine to the nurses. They asked many questions, and Leslie was almost more embarrassed that the American accent she'd practised so assiduously on the boat was now spotty at best. Her Irish heritage kept seeping through, and her voice sounded like a strangled mesh of the two. Her accent had been perfect on the trip over; she'd sounded just like Katharine Hepburn. It seemed unfair that she should be unable to prove it on American soil.
Making it to the train station was the hardest part of the whole venture, what with her heavy trunk in tow. The harbormaster put it on the ferry for her, but she dragged it off the gangplank herself, finally making it to the side of the road, where it took her an hour to hail a taxi. She explained, in her stilted, half-American voice, where she needed to go.
It appeared that the taxi driver spoke very little English.
Riding around aimlessly, Leslie was beginning to think she'd die in the streets of New York, a street urchin like Oliver Twist. Finally, they passed a building she'd seen in many pictures when she dreamed of coming to America - Grand Central Station. She cried out for the driver to stop, and he did, right there in the middle of the street. Leslie hardly noticed as she burst from the checkered cab, looking in awe at the life thriving around her.
"I'm in America," she whispered, as the implications finally sunk in. Men in sweaters and ties and women in hats and sensible shoes fairly seethed along the streets.
The driver helped drag her trunk to the ticket booth, and Leslie remembered to tip him. It was easy buying her train ticket and checking her trunk, and she began to think the rest of the way would be smooth and simple.
While Leslie was waiting for her train, a purse-snatcher stole her shoulder bag. It contained the rest of her traveling money, save the little she had in her coat pocket. Fortunately, she was holding her ticket.
The thought idly occurred to her that perhaps God was punishing her lack of faith.
The train ride from New York to Florida was long and dirty, and the farther they traveled south, the stuffier the car became. Leslie stared out the window most of the time, watching her new country speed by. Seeing the scenery blur past in chaotic mystery, she felt more displaced than she had the entire way, save the day she had sailed for America. The sense of adventure was waning, rapidly giving way to distrust.
Leslie wondered if anything in America would manage to make up for her lost saints, and everything she lost along with them.
Six years later, at twenty, Leslie still vacillated between wariness and enchantment with regard to the U.S. The people didn't always understand her, and she didn't always understand them, but she decided, for her own sake, that a little cultural dissonance was something she could live with.
What most people born in this country knew about Ireland was limited to potato famines, drunken brawls, the Blarney Stone, St. Patrick's Day. Too many viewings of "The Quiet Man," she had long ago determined - not that she could fault anyone for getting their ideas from the movies. She'd done the same at fourteen, assuming that most Americans walked around with perfectly coiffed hair and expensive clothes, smoking cigarettes in long, vicious-looking holders.
Still, Leslie couldn't shake the idea that she should feel more connected to this place. This was the country she'd dreamed of coming to as a little girl, walking three miles to see the newest picture, later sitting under the haystacks with her older sister Brigid and telling each other that people in America saw the same stars. Then Leslie left the Church, and Brigid didn't speak to her the day she started for America.
It was no wonder, then, that Leslie still felt alienated sometimes. Even now, sitting here quietly on the beach with Jack. He was a nice enough fellow, but he made too many jokes about her red hair.
The sun was setting behind them, and the sky over the ocean was already a deep indigo. Jack tentatively reached over to take her hand. He was a gentleman, she appreciated that about him. She'd been to a few USO parties, and from what she had seen, there were two types of men in the service -gentlemen and cads. It seemed odd that there should be nothing in between.
"The sun sets on the wrong side of the ocean, here," she said, apropos of nothing.
The sun sets on the wrong side of the ocean. Leslie laughed to herself, imagining a world where physical realities could be changed on a whim. Leslie doesn't like it, so let's change the Earth's rotation. What would her professors say about that?
"You lived on the west coast of Ireland, then?" Jack asked. He had a strong Carolina accent, and Leslie liked that about him, because he didn't sound like he was in the movies either.
She laughed. "I didn't live near the sea. We visited Dublin now and again, it's on the Irish Sea. But...it seems like it should be different, here. Shouldn't it be different?"
He didn't answer, and Leslie lay back in the sand, picking up a handful and letting it sift through her fingers. She watched it fall and thought about the science involved. "It doesn't make any difference, anyhow." She explained to Jack that the Earth's magnetic poles reverse every 70,000 years, and that Albert Einstein had tried to tell the world that everything they saw around them was relative. Leslie was only now beginning to understand.
"Speaking of relatives..."
Leslie smiled. Jack liked to make these jokes. He didn't mean to belittle her, and so she forgave him for it. "Hm?"
Jack cleared his throat and let go her hand. His fingers raked through the sand, making deep furrows. "My family's important to me."
She flinched, and was glad he wasn't looking at her. "I know," she said quietly.
"I'm just saying - if I lost them, somehow..."
Sighing, Leslie sat up and brushed the sand from her hair. "Then you know why it should be different. Because everything is different."
Jack nodded slightly, looking out at the turbulent Atlantic. "It's getting dark. We should get going." She supposed he was right. He had to be on duty that night, and she had studying to do.
They drove west, back toward the college and the base, chasing the sun. Leslie kissed him when he dropped her outside her dormitory. He didn't understand Ireland, but he understood her, and that was enough. She'd left that other country behind, anyway.
The magazines were all over five years old. It didn't make any sense. *Good Housekeeping* five years ago didn't tell her anything about good housekeeping now. Not here, in 1962, when the world had about gone mad. Not that a near-miss with nuclear war had to do with housework. Leslie flipped through it anyway, trying to glean some little pearl of information. She knew how to iron a knife-sharp pleat into a pair of slacks. Knew how to make meatloaf. Knew about wifely duties. What no one could answer her was *why*?
Why would she devote her life to his dream? That she even asked the question had frightened her, because it made her wonder if she'd been blinded by love. That she'd agreed to it anyway...well, that was something altogether different. It was transcendental; didn't need an answer. Didn't need a question. Maybe it was blindness, after all.
Love only causes pain. She had loved her family, and they had disowned her. She had loved her God, and He had abandoned her in her days of need. What pain would Jack bring upon her, now that she loved him as well?
Leslie wished she still believed in prayer.
There were arrangements to make. Superiors to contact. Blood tests to take. The marriage license to secure. Leslie's head was full of ordered lists, lists of theorems and natural laws and equations. And this new one, in big black letters, labeled "MARRIAGE."
She had taken care of her blood test this morning. The needle had pricked and stung, but not as much as people could prick and sting, so Leslie let it pass. There was a small purple dot in the crux of her elbow, now. This was what her life had become.
"Miss MacDougall?" The receptionist looked up from her clipboard.
Leslie stood and advanced to the desk. "Yes."
"The registrar will see you now."
Leslie stepped into the registrar's office, tucked away in a corner of the campus. He was an older gentleman, but not too old; steel hair and stocky build. Leslie thought he must have been a new registrar; she didn't recognize him.
She held out her paperwork, offering a weak smile to his impassive face. Her accent always seemed particularly muddied when she was nervous.
"I'm here to withdraw. From the Masters in Earth Sciences program."
And she had been so close, too.
In an entire decade, America had never been what she expected.
All the same, there were certain things she'd come to accept. Base life, for instance. More of her life in the States had been spent on a military base than off, and it had taken some getting used to. Leslie's childhood was full of free-roaming afternoons and a close-guarded mind. Now, her mind was free to roam, and it was the locations that were close-guarded. It was one more mile in the distances separating her worlds.
She even had a different name now.
Leslie's fried chicken was not like Jack's mother's, and somehow that mattered. It was always the little things, with them, because they couldn't address the big things. Jack wasn't around enough. He wanted children, and she wasn't ready. Leslie had given up her education, her career, her passions for him, and still he kept asking more, and more, and more.
Marriage wasn't what she had expected, either.
He was late, again, and though Leslie supposed he couldn't really control it (following orders, Leslie, I'm just following orders), it made fear tighten in her gut every time he didn't call. Some nights he was gone until daybreak, and she never knew where he was.
This wasn't the life she'd envisioned when she was young. She'd pictured a snappy romance, with clever comebacks and maybe a romantic moment or two. Hepburn and Tracey. Jack was wonderful, she loved him wholly, but he wasn't Spencer Tracey - of course, she was demonstrably not Katharine Hepburn. Time to get over it, Leslie, she would scold herself.
And then this would happen, Jack would be late, far into the night, and she pictured his chest blooming with blood geraniums after an accident during training exercises. Surely they'd let her know about something like that, wouldn't they? Something like this happened, and Leslie sat up in long, anxious vigil, and great God, she could have been somewhere else. Leslie had wanted to win a Nobel prize in Physics, or Geology maybe. Dreams and reality, shifting past her and leaving her here, with dark-rimmed eyes and a husband who was late yet again. All for the sake of his dreams.
She was in the kitchen for more coffee when she heard the key scrape in the lock and the door click shut. The light was on in the living room, her blanket and book lay casually on the sofa - surely he must have known she'd waited up. But she heard his footsteps making their way up the stairs.
Leslie found him in the bedroom shedding his clothes, and yes, he looked exhausted, but was it too much to ask that he give her consideration, when she sat at home all day while he pursued his career?
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
He looked at her wearily, but she didn't give a damn if he didn't want to get into this again. "Sugar, how come you're still up?"
"Don't 'sugar' me," she snapped. "I was waiting up for you, yet again I may add, and you just wander off to bed without so much as an 'I'm home, sorry I didn't call?'"
Jack sank to the bed. "Leslie..."
"Jack, you're never around."
"You know damn well I can't always call the little woman to tell her I'm not gonna be home! It's part of this life, Leslie, don't--"
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Jack. You call me 'little woman' again and I'll take your eye out! Is that what I am? Your little woman? That's rubbish, Jack. I gave up my career so you could have yours. What did you give up for me, Jack? Bachelorhood?"
"Now that's damned unfair. I never *asked* you to-- Jesus, Leslie, don't do this again! I'm *sorry* I didn't call. I was doing night-time test maneuvers in one of the new planes - I couldn't exactly take a break to call the missus. It was--"
"It was too much to ask to let your wife know you weren't dead!"
"I figured you realized it was all part of the business!" Jack opened the top dresser drawer violently, and it stuck on its tracks. "Dammit. And *don't* you interrupt me!" he added, almost as an afterthought.
"Well," Leslie said tightly, "don't concern yourself with me. After all, I'm just your *wife,* and it's all *part of the business.* I'm not even a very good wife, at that, so why *should* you bother? Can't get the pot roast right, don't know how to mend your socks, burned one of your shirts ironing it the other day - how do you ever put up with me, Jack?"
"Leslie, if you weren't always thinking of something else, something you read in one of those books or something, you wouldn't do halfa those things. You just don't pay attention when you're--"
Leslie stalked over to the dresser and grabbed hold of the drawer, pulling one side so that it opened and closed smoothly. "You are insufferable, John Crichton."
Jack stared at her, open-mouthed, but Leslie left the bedroom with a slam of the door. The sofa was comfortable enough.
Leslie got up in the morning and made him breakfast like always, but his movements were tight and jerky, and he wouldn't make eye contact with her. Maybe he felt bad. Maybe she felt bad. Maybe she'd said some things she shouldn't have, but he was in the wrong and there was no getting around that.
Not that it would have mattered. MacDougalls didn't give. They just didn't.
Leslie was waiting for him to walk in the door. She didn't do that often; it was too much like waiting at his feet, but Leslie already had a bag packed and she had a plane ticket for the day after tomorrow.
When Jack got home, the expression on his face told her that matters had just become ten times worse.
Before either could say a word, he caught sight of her suitcase sitting by the door. The anxiety on his face was abruptly replaced by alarm. His glance at her was keen and regretful.
Leslie suddenly realized what it must look like. Here, she had heartache on her face and a bag by the door. His stomach must have dropped to the ground.
"No, no," she assured him quickly. They were still walking a tightrope of tension from last night, but she wasn't about to leave him. What a preposterous idea.
"I have bad news," Leslie said. He was still standing by the door. She hoped he'd come sit next to her on the sofa, because she didn't know if she could move at the moment.
Jack eyed her carefully and moved farther into the room. "So do I," he answered grimly. Leslie nodded. That much was obvious from his face. She couldn't let herself think about what it might be.
He was now sitting on the arm of the sofa - how many times had she asked him not to do that? - and they stared at one another warily. Leslie took a breath (calm, Leslie, don't crack) and said, "I received a telephone call this afternoon. From my sister." She didn't want to cry. She couldn't, yet. "My mother died last week. She had a tumor in her breast." Leslie paused, looking out the window at the base housing yard. "They didn't bother to tell me until now."
Her fingers were tight on her arm, white-knuckled and bruising the fair skin.
"The suitcase?" Jack asked, still trying to take it in. He was, maybe, a little sympathetic.
She looked at him from the corner of her eye. "I'm leaving in two days. There are complications with the estate."
"I didn't know there *was* an estate," Jack said, surprised.
"There isn't, not really. But there's the farm, some equipment, a few family heirlooms. There's some question of how to divide it between seven remaining children. There aren't any boys left, so the farm could be sold, but...Brigid is still unmarried, and I understand she wants to hold on to it and work it herself."
"Your mother didn't have a will?"
"No." Leslie pressed her knuckles to her mouth, looking out the front window again.
Jack didn't say he was sorry.
He cleared his throat, and stood. Then he shuffled, paced back toward the door, and finally came and sat next to her.
"You know about what's been brewing in Vietnam?"
She blinked, and looked at him sharply. He was grim, yes, but proud.
Leslie didn't sleep that night.
The envelopes tasted different than Leslie remembered, she noted, sealing a letter to Jack. Many things were different than Leslie remembered, and she began to wonder if Ireland hadn't become a symbol in her mind, like other Americans', rather than a reality. It had been ten years, and while the town hadn't changed at all, Leslie knew she had.
She had no way of knowing if her letters were reaching Jack. She had to send them first to Aunt Maureen, who forwarded them on through APO. Leslie hadn't received any replies, but it had only been a month. Brigid was starting to get irritated with her, constantly tuning the radio to BBC News. They didn't talk about Vietnam much.
A lawyer was coming from Kildare this afternoon. A month, and her sisters and their husbands were still fighting. Who cared if the tractor was less than two years old and the dairy cows had produced only sour milk this year? Brigid had been grateful when Leslie arrived; oddly, she seemed to be the only one of them who realized that Leslie didn't want anything. This was her family, and they needed her help. None of the girls had gone to school past age sixteen. Leslie wasn't a legal expert, but at least it didn't sound like a different language.
Mother had left instructions on the dispersal of her personal effects, but that was all. Leslie tried to remember her; hard-eyed and careworn, dirt staining her sunburned face. The picture she had in her mind didn't match this woman who had succumbed to sentimentality above practicality. However, when Leslie tried to imagine her mother lying in bed, shrunken with the pain of cancer...well, she looked like a different woman, so maybe the transformation had made Mother go wrong in the head.
She'd left Leslie a silver crucifix; wishful thinking, most likely. Leslie wore it more out of respect than sentiment. The wedding jewelry and grandmama's mother of pearl hair combs had gone to Leslie's sisters. They fought over garnets, gold and pearl while Leslie wore the symbol of a faith she had lost.
Brigid was the only one who didn't think Leslie had hated Mother. But Leslie still hadn't cried, and her chest felt heavy.
The sun crested in the sky, and the lawyer came and spoke words even she barely understood. She introduced herself as Mrs. Crichton, and he asked who their American friend was. Leslie's voice sounded flawlessly American here in her motherland. She didn't quite fit anywhere.
The lawyer talked about entailments, explained the liens on the property, and discussed the MacDougall's meager savings bonds. He spoke rapidly, and Leslie tried to translate it for her six sisters, sitting around the parlor looking angrier and angrier. He scribbled out equations more quickly than even Leslie could follow. The expediency of greed, perhaps. When he was done, the bad news came.
It wasn't possible for Brigid to keep the farm.
Leslie pulled her suitcase from under the bed that evening, folding her blouses crisply and laying them inside. The estate was settled; all that was left was the execution. She stood at the window when the candle guttered, looking out at the moonlit fields and at the stars sparkling in the cold night.
She didn't want to leave yet. Leslie turned, and unpacked her bag. There was still more work to do.
They sat beneath the haystacks, bundled in wool socks and blankets. It was far too cold to be here, but there was something they meant to recapture, and so they dressed warmly and let the wool blankets wick moisture from the sodden earth and away from their bodies.
Brigid was not Leslie's nearest sister. That was Catherine, too caught up in her own domesticity to be of any interest. Then there was Anne, the oldest, still half-mourning her brother's death twenty years before. Mary might have more in common with Brigid, and Lucille and Peggy might deserve their attention as the babies, but Leslie and Brigid had a childhood bond the other sisters couldn't understand.
It was why it hurt more when they turned their backs on one another years ago, Leslie supposed. And why they cared to sit here now, freezing their faces in the October night.
"What will you do now?" Leslie asked, her breath turning to fog after warming her lips. Her mother's necklace was frigid against her skin.
Brigid looked still at the sky, and Leslie wondered if she'd watched the sky these ten years, like Leslie found herself doing at times. "I don't know."
The air was still, and Leslie was grateful. If it had been windy, the breeze would have carried their words away. Instead, they remained here, shared between the two of them and binding them together.
Brigid's face changed, eyebrows arching, and she remarked, "Sean Murphy asked me to marry him when he heard."
Leslie shook her head. Sean Murphy was at least seventy years old. When they were children, Brigid idolized Elizabeth Taylor, with her lipsticked mouth and tragic love stories, while Leslie loved Hepburn's independence. Leslie wasn't the only one whose life hadn't turned out the way she had planned.
"Marriage is difficult enough without love," Leslie responded.
Brigid nodded, and asked Leslie about her husband. Leslie laughed about Jack's stubbornness, smiled warmly at his honor, and skipped the part where he was a Southern Baptist.
"No, that's the Pythagorean Theorem. Hypotenuse of a right triangle, remember? *Force* is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration."
Brigid was not a slow learner, but learning physics and algebra in the course of two months had to be madness. Still, Leslie felt somehow responsible for her older sister, wondering if things would be different if she hadn't been sent to the States. Father O'Henry had taken up Brigid as a charity case, and secured her a position teaching at a private Catholic school in Kildare. Now, she needed something to teach - besides catechism, of course. Brigid would be teaching future nuns and housewives, so perhaps what Leslie could feed into her brain by means of sympathetic desperation in the next few weeks would be enough.
Leslie didn't use the word "charity" around Brigid. Anne had offered her a room, but Brigid refused to take it. She wasn't about to be the burden the family; the old spinster aunt.
Mary was at the stove making soda bread. The farm was up for sale, and the sisters all felt some kind of guilt; they were trying to show Brigid it was nothing personal. "Michael made me insist," Mary had offered with a crooked grin. Catherine, in the parlor dusting and packing the china, had called back, "Same's Patrick and me," almost as an afterthought. Leslie tried not to pay any mind.
Brigid was bent over her books, occasionally mumbling that twenty-seven was too old to go back to school. Leslie sat making notes all over Brigid's exercises in her orderly handwriting, trying to block out the mundane gossip of her sisters. What this person was doing, what that person had done, last year's potato crop, recent scandalous rumors, the best recipe for pound cake, their husbands tracking mud all over the house, complaining about their monthlies. Domestic concerns Leslie was trying not to relate to.
It was all so--
Leslie stopped writing. Her eyes widened.
She turned over the page she'd been correcting, swiftly making hash marks and little calculations.
"Oh, my God," she said.
She'd been so busy, looking after the farm, helping pack up the house, teaching Brigid. Worrying about Jack (she had finally received a letter, sent just after he arrived), and calling Aunt Maureen, in Bethesda now, every other week. It had completely slipped her mind. She stared at the hash marks - over three months' worth.
Brigid and Mary were looking at her curiously. "Is it as bad as all that?" Brigid asked, wounded.
"Oh God," Leslie repeated.
"Leslie, don't swear," Mary hissed.
Leslie stood abruptly, offering a distracted smile to Brigid. "It's not that. Keep working. I'll be back...later."
She threw on her jacket and her boots, wrapping a scarf around her head. The doctor was within walking distance.
Leslie returned late, feeling utterly numb. She went immediately to the kitchen, where her paper and envelopes were kept, trying to be quiet. She didn't feel like eating. Being sick now seemed so useless, when she would have given anything for a little morning sickness; some kind of warning, at least.
Jack wouldn't receive this letter for at least another two months. She sealed and addressed the envelope, tucking it safely in the pocket of her sweater. Sending the letter would make it real.
The parlor was quiet, now that Catherine wasn't tearing it apart, making inventory of every teacup and saucer. Leslie lay down on the sofa, staring out the window at the image of the firelit room superimposed on darkness.
The stairs creaked, and Brigid appeared at the bottom, holding her text open. She had a small pair of reading glasses perched on her nose. "I thought I heard you come in."
Leslie closed her eyes, and the heaviness in her chest seemed to grow. Brigid looked so much like Mother in the firelight. "When Mother died," she asked, "was there...a lot of pain?"
Brigid frowned, closing the book and brushing the hair out of Leslie's face. "Yes."
Leslie closed her eyes at the light pressure of Brigid's fingers. Brigid used to do this frequently when they were children, and she thought she was so much wiser than Leslie.
"Did she miss me?" Leslie choked.
Brigid nudged her to a sitting position, and sat down herself. "I don't know," she sighed.
Leslie still couldn't cry. She noticed Brigid didn't cry either. Leslie offered up a smile, somewhere between emptiness and sincerity. "I'm pregnant."
The words were overwhelming for such a small room.
Leslie Crichton's hand strayed to her belly, the way she'd seen certain of the base wives do when they were expecting their first. It was cold here in Brigid's new flat, with its view like a plaintive wail and its faulty boiler. But it was what her sister could afford, starting her life here in a city she'd never liked, in a job she'd never imagined.
Imagination overtook Leslie every now and again. She had thought of this, a little apartment (as the Americans said), a teaching job, a life to live as she pleased. Brigid, she was sure, had imagined herself in Leslie's place, married at twenty-two, with a child on the way afterward. A tingle ran up the back of Leslie's neck, trying not to think of words like "coincidental" and "synchronicity."
It was cold in the flat, and the air smelled the way Leslie remembered Ireland smelling. She'd never quite gotten used to the way the U.S. smelled, and now she tried to absorb all she could, because she was leaving in two days and there were still boxes to unpack, as her sisters' husbands brought them up the narrow stairwell.
This cold couldn't be good for the baby. She put on a sweater of Brigid's and turned on the hot plate, hoping to warm her hands. How very provincial. But Leslie didn't want the baby to be cold.
She was fairly certain it was a boy. Some women just know these things.
Michael O'Grady - he was Mary's husband, Leslie reminded herself -shouldered into the room, tracking mud on his shoes. He set the box down with a thump, and Leslie cringed at the crashing sound from inside.
She didn't care for Michael. When they'd met, he had said, "So you're Mary's heretic sister."
"What did you do?" she screeched. Opening the box, she found Mother's good china, all in pieces. Michael shrugged and went back down for another box, and Leslie picked at the jagged porcelain shards. The china was supposed to go to Anne, but she'd given it to Brigid. At least half of it was ruined. Catherine hadn't packed it that well.
Brigid came in from the bedroom, where she had been putting linens on the bed, and saw the chintz-patterned china piece in Leslie's hand.
"Michael did it," Leslie said, frowning. "I think you should make him pay for it."
"It's all right," Brigid murmured, taking the shard and running her fingers along the jagged edge. A moment later, three of the nephews came running into the apartment, ran a circuit of the room, and left again, in some inexplicable child-game. Leslie smoothed her hand over her abdomen again.
Finally, the noisy crop of relatives had gone, and Leslie and Brigid sat in what was supposedly the kitchen, drinking orange pekoe from chipped cups. The hot plate came in handy, in a kitchen that contained a sink and an icebox and not much more. At least, Brigid said, there was a shop around the corner that sold bread and biscuits. Brigid said she'd never liked baking that well anyhow, voice dismissive and airy.
"Will you miss Charcrossings?" Leslie asked, because there was nothing else to say.
"I'll miss the farm," Brigid replied almost instantly. Well. No one really missed Charcrossings. "I'll miss the church," she added. "Father O'Henry has been my priest all my life."
Leslie nodded absently, and tried to think of something she really missed in Charcrossings.
Haystacks, perhaps. They weren't the same anyplace else.
Brigid was biting her lips, and she set her teacup down resolutely. "What will you christen the child?" she asked nonchalantly.
Leslie's jaw tightened, and she looked out the window. The automatic response was "John Robert, Junior," but what she ground out was, "Why would I christen him at all?"
Brigid, unlike years ago, just looked sad. "I thought..."
"You thought. You thought what?"
She nodded to the crucifix Leslie still wore around her neck, and it instantly felt pounds heavier. The metal almost stung her skin.
Leslie ran her fingers over Mother's heirloom. "I need more hot water," she said, rising to fill her teacup again. She paused at the counter, thinking it was a mistake to wear the necklace at all. Her attitude had softened with the years, along with her regret, and that was why she'd been willing to wear the cross. But she hadn't thought that it might mean something different to her sister. Her back to Brigid, she asked, "Have I been to Mass with you once since I've been here?"
"No," Brigid said bleakly.
Leslie turned back and smiled. "Don't worry about our souls, Brigid. Worry about your students, and your pocketbook. You have enough to think about without adding a passion play to the list."
Brigid's face hardened, and she rose as well, washing her teacup in the sink.
Leslie left two days later, and they did not say goodbye.
Coming to America this time, Leslie realized, felt like coming home. In a way, she felt like she'd slipped into another universe between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four. The journey that took two and a half weeks in 1954 now took three days, but the figurative journey had taken ten years and eight thousand miles. The concourse at the airport in Washington was busy, and it took her several minutes of straining to locate Aunt Maureen.
Leslie had to wonder if Uncle Bill was shipping out (so close to retirement, too), because Aunt Maureen looked just awful.
"Oh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph," Maureen swore, when Leslie finally found her. Leslie didn't look that pregnant yet, but her family was able to tell. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Leslie said nothing, only stared back with a bewildered expression. "Something's not right." Tired, that's what it was; Aunt Maureen looked tired, like she hadn't slept in three days. Three days. Leslie swallowed the bile rising in her throat. "It's Jack, isn't it?"
Aunt Maureen shook her head. "Not here," she said. "We're going to my house, for a little while." She refused to say anything else.
Maureen and Bill had guests. Leslie walked into their living room and saw Ruth Crichton sitting stiffly on the sofa, twisting her fingers nervously.
"Where's your mother?" Aunt Maureen asked, frowning. Leslie had stopped dead in the doorway, and her entire body felt unnaturally cold.
Ruth had a drawl even worse than Jack's. "Mama's lying down." She stood and held her arms out to Leslie, and for a moment Leslie envied her mothering instinct. "Oh, honey, come here. You need to sit down, honey."
Leslie's eyes closed; worse than Ruth's words was the unintelligible way she said them, accent thicker than all that honey. Leslie collapsed into the sofa and a terrible sense of loss washed over her. "Oh God." Oh God, indeed. It had been many years since she thought her prayers had any weight.
She heard Aunt Maureen's footsteps ascend the stairs, a heavy note under her sister-in-law's voice. "Now, honey, it's not as bad as you're prob'ly thinking." She pressed a wrinkled telegram into her hands, but was kind enough to realize Leslie wasn't of a mind to read it. "Jack's Skyraider was shot down near Bien Hoa," she said gently, "right after takeoff. He's...he's missing in action, Leslie."
Leslie's hand grasped convulsively at the telegram, and she did read it then, hungrily, for any shreds to hold on to. *Ruth honey, you don't have to treat me like I'll break.* She did break, of course, if only in her mind - shattered pieces of grief fell to the ground and, when they came to rest, vaguely resembled anger. "How can he have been shot down?" Leslie snapped. "We're not even *doing* anything over there. Those soldiers are there to lend their expertise, not fight a goddamned war!"
Ruth gave her such a sad smile. "Honey, there's gonna be a war. Maybe you didn't see it coming, all the way over there, but there's gonna be a war, and our boys are already in the thick of it."
Leslie pulled her hair back from her forehead and started to pace. "Okay, fine. Fine." Jack was shot down. Missing in action - that could mean almost anything. It could mean his charred remains hidden under twisted bits of metal. It could mean captured and tortured by Viet Cong guerrillas. Hell, it could mean wandering through the jungle looking for friendly civilization, surviving on leaves and navigating by the North Star. She wondered if Jack was praying for himself, even if he didn't go to church much anymore.
Leslie couldn't stop walking, because if she stopped long enough to think, it'd be over. Things like this happened to people in books, not in life. Her hand pressed to her belly again, a reflexive gesture lately. Ruth caught it, and her eyes widened as her lips thinned. Wise enough not to say anything, Leslie guessed.
The smallness of the house clutched at her, and in a panicky rush, she knew she needed open space. Her suitcase had been dropped in the foyer. Leslie zeroed in on it, fetched it off the floor and offered Ruth a weak smile as she opened the door. "Thanks," she said, and wasn't sure what for.
Oh God, oh God. Oh Jesus, Jack. Bull-headed jackass that he could be sometimes, this wasn't the way it was supposed to end. Leslie went home to wait, to shrug off offers of assistance and comfort, to worry. She walked a path in her carpet, and refused to believe that Jack was dead, if only for the sake of the boy. It just had to be a boy.
"Come on, Johnny," she'd say, "help Mama bring Daddy home."
What kind of luck that was supposed to be, she didn't know.
Three weeks of waiting. Of worrying, and cocooning. It was a long time to go on automatic pilot, and Leslie neglected the everyday things, like washing the dishes and brushing her hair and sleeping. She only remembered to eat because her maternal instinct outweighed her trepidation, but she held her plates in her rapidly-shrinking lap, staring wide-eyed out the front window while she ate. The carpet was definitely worn in places now, from the front door and around the sofa and past the telephone, then into the kitchen for more peppermint tea, which was the only kind the base obstetrician would let her drink. She drank peppermint tea like it was aged Irish whisky, even though it had nothing like the right effect.
Leslie was starting to wonder if she was capable of crying. The weight pressing on her chest settled in.
On the first day of the fourth week, she was staring out the window, waiting for that fateful message when something happened.
It never came.
No, instead, a young officer came to the door across the way, at Rebecca Carlisle's. Her husband, Col. Fred Carlisle, had been in Vietnam longer than Jack. And, Leslie heard a few hours later, he'd been captured by the Viet Cong. The neighbors refused to tell her how he died, glancing nervously at her swollen stomach, then at the mantle where the Crichton's wedding picture sat.
Leslie sat in her living room and watched as Rebecca's parents led her, hysterical and savage, into their waiting car. It was horrific to watch; such a calm, gentle woman pulling at her own hair and pounding on her father's chest.
It left Leslie shaken, and she knew that she had to get out of the house. She needed to be anywhere, *anywhere* but staring across at the Carlisle's house, with its big, empty windows. Leslie just had this feeling suddenly, this horrible foreboding that she was next. They'd come to her house next, the same as all the others, the same as the Carlisle's and their empty windows. And Jack would be dead, and her baby wouldn't have a father, and good God, she needed to be someplace else.
Anywhere, *anywhere* else.
When all was said and done, Leslie honestly couldn't remember how she got to St. Patrick's.
She stood at the back of the nave, wondering why in hell she'd go to a goddamn church, when that had never worked before. Leslie still wore her mother's cross (again, she couldn't say why), and the feeling of the metal on her skin, and the hushed air in the church, the candles flickering in the apse, the faithful kneeling in prayer, the guilt at swearing in a church -it all descended on her between one breath and the next.
Our Father, which art in Heaven...
Leslie crossed herself - a simple motion, oddly comforting. She'd almost forgotten how much so. Connecting her head with her heart, intellect with faith. It was more than symbolic for her. What was more, it came automatically, a sense memory. She didn't know if she believed. Didn't even know if it would help. But it did give her a sense of purpose. That, she remembered from praying for her father. Let the anger and the abandonment come later.
Maybe it was desperation that drove her here in the back of a taxi.
Leslie found, a little while later, that the confessional smelled almost the same as in the church at Charcrossings. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been...almost eleven years since my last confession." The priest made sympathetic noises. She was betting he got a lot of this in times like these.
Her taxi pulled up at the house as a clean-cut young soldier was turning sharply from her door. Oh God, she thought, this is it. Her heart thrummed and trundled in her chest, beating out a pattern like the rattling of a train. She paid the driver without paying attention, and went to meet the soldier on wobbly knees.
"Mrs. Crichton?" he asked.
Leslie thought she nodded, but she couldn't be sure. She waited for him to tell her how bravely Jack - no, Lt. Col. Crichton - how heroic and patriotic he was, and glance at her unborn son piteously and on the sly.
He was speaking, but she didn't really hear what he said. She'd invented her own dialogue, and when his words finally sunk in, Leslie fell to her knees in the parcel of grass out front.
God, he was alive.
Jack was alive.
The messenger prattled on, about avoiding capture and making his way to safety on a broken leg (poor dear, a part of her mind supplied, I'll have to pamper him when he gets home.) He was being awarded a Purple Heart. But no, more than that. He'd be at Edwards Air Force Base in two days.
He was coming home.
Leslie had never been that interested in going to California. Oh, perhaps a few times when she was younger, she dreamed of Hollywood, of palms and glamour and red lipstick, but it was never an imperative, as it was now. She had to get to California. A few more weeks and they wouldn't have let her fly, but she was just now at 20 weeks, and the airlines said that was okay. Leslie just had to get that first glimpse of Jack when he set foot on the ground. It had been almost five months without seeing him. It had been three agonized weeks of thinking she'd never see him at all.
The afternoon passed in a blur, a spinning fascination that Leslie would never be able to remember later. There was Aunt Maureen, and Ruth, and Jack's mother, both come up again from Raleigh-Durham. There were officers, neighbors, base wives, staring children from the neighborhood come to see what all the fuss was. Leslie collapsed in bed at nine o'clock, exhaustion overruling agitation. She slept soundly for the first time in a month - for the first time, perhaps, since Jack had gone. It was midmorning when she woke, startled, realizing her plane left at one and she hadn't even packed yet.
The kettle's whistle didn't irritate her this morning, as it had the entire time of waiting. She brushed her hair smooth and quick, dressed in record time. Leslie still had the habit of watching everything carefully out the front window, and she just gathered all of her clothes, and a suitcase, and dumped them in the living room to pack.
The phone distracted her, momentarily; one of Jack's cousins filled with relief at the narrowly-averted family tragedy. Leslie hardly knew any of these people - Jack was close to all of them, but she'd hardly had time to get to know them. There was a staggering list, though Leslie was used to that.
She didn't see the man coming up her front walk, and when he rang the bell she jumped. He was dressed as a civilian, in a suit and tie, not at all what you'd call good-looking. Leslie stared at him blankly, and he introduced himself at Mr. Alvin Trent.
She nodded absently and went back to packing. Jack, she was leaving to see Jack in a mere two hours.
Mr. Trent took obsequiousness to an extreme. He stood in her living room, smiling smugly while she frantically packed her bag. "Well, Mrs. Crichton, I can't express how glad we are that Colonel Crichton is coming home."
"Colonel?" she asked, nonplused, still folding clothes with lightning motions and tossing them in the bag.
"Oh, well. Not official yet, y'know. But we've got big things on the horizon for the, um, Lieutenant Colonel." He had a bit of a nasal voice, Leslie decided. A bit irritating. Who *was* he? He'd handed her a card -what did she do with it?
"Mm-hmm." Shoes. Her shoes needed to go in the bottom of the suitcase. She hastily removed the blouses and piled in five pair.
"Tell me, d'ya like Florida?"
"I grew up there," she replied without thinking. It was a non-answer, actually. Leslie hated Florida.
"Well, you just might be going back," he said triumphantly. Leslie stopped listening right about then, but he just kept going on, and on, and *on*, about opportunity and greatness or somesuch.
Something in the back of Leslie's mind told her he was talking about some kind of transfer. Right now, all she could think of or cared about was getting Jack safely on the ground. That nasal voice of Mr. Trent's, it was so grating, and he kept getting in her way while she was trying to pack. She turned to him, hands on her hips.
"Mr. Trent, do you notice something about me? Something slightly unusual, perhaps?"
The man actually blushed - *blushed!* - and glanced furtively at her midsection. "Well, yes, we all know. In a family way, and all that."
"Have you been around pregnant women much?"
"Well...m'wife, with our little one. But it's good, for the image, y'see." He wouldn't look at her, and frankly, she didn't care.
"Did your wife's hormones fluctuate? Because I'm going to tell you this only once. I leave on a plane in two hours to meet my husband at Edwards. I still have to pack my bag, and besides packing clothes that don't *fit* me anymore," she punctuated this by reaching into the suitcase and pulling out all the smooth-waisted size-six skirts, "I've packed more pairs of shoes than I took with me to Ireland. I'm attributing all of this to you. You have thirty seconds to get out of my house before I pick you up and move you myself, 'in a family way' or no."
Trent, muttering apologies, left with his tail between his legs, and Leslie dumped the contents of the suitcase on the sofa. A couple changes of clothes was all she needed; call the taxi, catch the plane, meet Jack. Jack's alive, and he's coming home.
She was waiting on the tarmac when his plane taxied to a stop, burning under the California sun. Her cheeks and nose were turning pink. It seemed like an eternity, waiting for the men to begin debarking, searching each one for Jack's familiar face. Leslie had special dispensation to wait for them here; amazing what a pale, pregnant woman could get if she demanded it.
She should have known he'd be the last one off the plane, limping down the stairs on one good leg and a pair of crutches. Seeing Jack's face was something akin to having a religious vision, she thought. Leslie actually put her palm over her heart, to keep it from beating right out of her chest. His stubbornness, his sometime-preoccupation, everything she'd given up for him; all of the problems were burned out by the sun when she saw him, alive and in the flesh. Her grudge against the Father might have dissipated, but this was what she believed in now.
He was everything she'd never known she wanted. She didn't know where this road was going to take her, but she'd chosen it, and there was no turning back.
Jack walked slowly, and Leslie hung back, waited on the moment when he would see her, would see his son growing inside her. He still didn't know - she never did send that letter, and everything else had just happened so fast.
The moment came, and it was everything she asked for. He stopped, staring, and time slipped around them, birds and planes freezing in their flight. The look on his face was something she'd carry with her until her dying day.
"Is it really you?" Jack squinted against the bright sun. Leslie smiled. He must have felt the same way.
"It is." Her throat was tight, and she thought it very strange that she'd be crying now.
Jack looked long and hard at her belly, and she knew what was going through his head. God, had he wanted kids. A whole houseful of them. Compromises could be reached.
Leslie laughed through tears, nodding. "Yes. I'm really. Never got a chance to tell you."
He laughed. Jack laughed, and it was the best sound she'd ever heard.
"I love you," he said, and she echoed it in return.
Jack reached for her then, kissing her with an arm around her waist. The weight of his hand, and the weight in her belly, felt good. They felt right. If she were a woman inclined toward poetry, she'd have something beautiful and profound to say, but she was not. Instead, she held her husband tight, hoping he understood. When all was said and done, Leslie could do nothing but thank God for her lost saints, and everything she'd gained along with them.
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