This is a sequel to my story Close Courters, I recommend you read it first, available on my profile. Everything will be explained so you don't HAVE to read it first, but it's fun and I promise you won't regret it.

INDEPENDENT FAITH

Chapter 1. Just A Small Town Girl

I'd never seen myself getting out. The thought of leaving had never even crossed my mind, and I'm not entirely sure of what changed. I grew up in a little farm town in Nevada. It was three and a half hours to San Francisco, less than that for Reno, and I'd never been anywhere. In fact, I was still working in the same Starbucks that I had been since I was sixteen.

I was now twenty-five years old, serving coffee to my neighbors. But this was going to be my last day, I looked at the clock anxiously, waiting for my shift to end so that I could untie my green apron strings once and for all.

"I see you watching that clock." My boss, Linda, said from behind me, making me jump. I turned around and smiled at her sheepishly.

"Sorry." I apologized automatically as I straightened.

"Don't apologize. I'd be watching the clock too, if I were you." Linda came and rested against the counter next to me. The Starbucks had a few customers that were sitting at chairs and tables throughout the room with Styrofoam cups in front of them. It might seem a little strange that I called my boss by her first name. But I'd known Linda for most of my life, along with everyone else in the town. It was a sleepy town and most people there had lived there for their entire lives, it was for people who loved the feeling of family and community. I had been one of those people. Most people grew up and just stayed there, as I had been planning to do. "I hear that you've got everything packed up and shipped off." Linda said.

"I'm all that's left." I smiled excitedly. That's right, I was not only quitting my teen-level job but I was moving out of the state. To San Francisco. The plans that I had made growing up changed over the past year. And it all started with the reappearance of my childhood best friend; Jaycee Marsh.

Jaycee and I met in first grade, the details are a little fuzzy but (long story short) we hit it off and were nearly inseparable through high school. There were plenty of times when all we had was each other. I was shy and had a hard time making friends, I never knew what people expected of me. Jaycee had been...strange. She had a hard time growing up in the shadow of her popular older brother, Aaron. And she was even overshadowed by her younger sister, Kaya, who had good looks and a big head. The three of them were practically my siblings growing up.

But, tragedy struck when, the summer after Jr. High, the Marsh family took a rare vacation to San Fransisco. All three kids came back with stars in their eyes and nothing but the city on their minds, and that was when the fad started. Aaron left for the city when he was 20. Jaycee joined him a year later as soon as she turned 18. Kaya waited a while and was around 20 when she left for the city, leaving me completely alone. I was not comforted when I heard the news that Aaron accepted a job a couple hours north of San Fransisco and moved there over the last year. It just made them all seem father and farther away.

The reason that I changed my plans was because during this past year, Jaycee came back. Temporarily, anyway. She had lost her job in San Fransisco and moved back in with her parents, taking over a local radio show while she tried to get back on her feet. She wasn't quite there yet when something, she never told me what, sent her screeching back to the city at top speeds. From Internet conversations I'd had with her since, it was over a guy. Typical. So I wasn't expecting her to come back anytime soon. But when she was here, we had talked about some things, mostly about my life. My best friend had asked me where I saw my life going, whether I wanted to stay in the same town I was born in, work the same dead-end job I got in high school forever, marry my high school sweetheart and have kids that I would then raise in this town. My answer, surprisingly, was no. I was inspired by her, I wanted to see things, go to a city, dance at a club, meet new people. A few months after she drove out of my life for the second time, I decided to follow her, and started making arrangements to leave.

"I'd love another muffin." 80-year-old Mr. Peterson said to me as he came up to the counter, holding out the exact change. I smiled widely, I'd been serving Mr. Peterson Raisin muffins since I was sixteen, I wondered if I'd miss it.

"Of course." I said as I handed the muffin to him, he took it with an expression so happy that it made me laugh as I put his money in the cash register.

"I'm going to miss having you around, Ginger." Mr. Peterson informed me solemnly, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Even though for the past nine years my name tag clearly displayed the name "Faith Miller" Old Mr. Peterson had been calling me "Ginger" for the duration of my career there in what I could only assume was a reference to my straight, thin, strawberry-blond hair and blue eyes. I wasn't offended anymore, having orange-colored hair and a sprinkling of freckles on my nose, I had been called a Ginger for my whole life, I was over it. I'd had a lot of nicknames: skinny, olive oil, ginger, Weasley, the works. I was freakishly skinny with bony limbs and no chest, the perfect target for lame nicknames. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr. Peterson slip a $20 bill into my tip jar.

"Mr. Peterson!" I protested, opening the jar and pulling it back out. On his first trip up to the counter that day he'd already given me $5, which I had argued to. In fact, I had spent most of my day protesting over-generous tips. Everyone who came up to the counter and saw me slipped a $5, $10, and even a couple $20 bills.

"Nope." He shook his head as I offered the money back to him, "You'll need it when you get to the city. Think of it as a going away present." And with that he walked out the door, leaving me with the 20 in hand. Carefully, I replaced the bill in my tip jar, biting my bottom lip.

"Speaking of which," Linda looked up at the clock, "Your shift is over for the last time." She reached into her apron pocket when I looked up at the time with surprise. When my gaze returned to my boss she had pulled out my final paycheck. I took it carefully, looking at the amount.

"I didn't make this much." I noted the extra $40 on my check.

"It's a bonus. And don't argue about it, you'll be grateful for it when you get to the city." Linda watched me take off my apron with serious eyes, "We're going to miss you, Faith." I handed her the green piece of fabric with a shaky smile.

"I'll come back to visit." I assured her. She looked doubtful.

"We told Jaycee to come back and visit, too." She said sadly. Unable to help myself, I gave my long time companion a hug.

"She did. Eventually. Don't worry about it, when I come back, I'll drag her along." I let go and stepped back, opening my tip jar and emptying it's contents...for the last time. "Oh my." I said in surprise as I leafed through the bills and change.

"What is it?" Linda asked in alarm. I looked up at her, completely dumbstruck.

"I made over a hundred dollars in tip today." I said dazedly.

"You did good work." Linda smiled, "Good luck, darling, come back soon." She took my place at the cash register and I walked towards the door, stopping short when I remembered that I didn't drive that day, like I usually did. Just as I remembered the door swung open and my ride stepped inside. Jim Bryant had been my on-again off-again boyfriend since I was 15, he had been 16 at the time. Jim was about half-a-head taller than me with mussy brown hair and hazel eyes. As soon as he saw me standing just inside the doorway he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me closer.

"How was your last day?" He asked, his smile not quite meeting his sad eyes.

"Just great." I answered, dancing back playfully, "I got these crazy tips from everybody." I looked around the Starbucks quickly, "And tomorrow I'll be gone."

"Yeah. Gone." Jim said unenthusiastically, "I'm sure Linda will give you your job back, it's not too late to change your mind."

"It is." I insisted. Even though I'd miss the little town that I grew up in and even though I was sad to leave everyone I'd ever met, I was really looking forward to living in San Fransisco. "Jaycee and Greg are expecting me to meet them at their place, I think they're having a welcome party. Or a small get together. Because then they want to drive me to my new apartment with Kaya, she's looking forward to us living together, I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. I've got a job set up there as an executive assistant, which is only the first step. And I'm so excited that I can hardly stand it!" Greg was Jaycee's fiancee (yes, the guy she left me for), and I was dying to meet him, I was dying to get started with my new life. Jim continued to look at me.

"If you're sure." He said with another smile. He slung his arm around my shoulders and guided me from the coffee shop, "I'm glad that you're so happy about it." He opened the car door for me before getting in his side. When Jim was in the car he turned to look at me, "But you're going to come back, okay? Don't forget about us." I stifled a sigh. Jim and I had decided (more me than Jim, really) that we would "see other people" for the time being. Actually, at the moment I wasn't planning on seeing anyone, I had too many other things to think about. But I knew that I was moving to San Fransisco for a fresh start, new people, and a new life. I knew we couldn't do long distance, and in any case I wasn't sure how much of my old life I wanted to bring with me anyway.

"I know." I compromised finally. Sure, I'd miss Jim Bryant, but the part that really got me was that he didn't think I could do it. Since we'd known each other so well for such a long time he knew everything about me, he knew that I was a small town girl. He knew that I didn't do well with directions or maps. He always said that he couldn't see me in a city, and I agreed with him on the point he gave: we were both worried about my severe claustrophobia. I couldn't take elevators, or planes, or buses, or even cars for too long. Thinking about the way city buildings were all crammed together made my head ache, I even got claustrophobic sometimes from just wearing a sweatshirt. But I'd never grow out of it if I didn't test it, that was my logic, anyway. My claustrophobia wouldn't stop me from living. It was odd that I was afraid of small spaces when I was growing up because my best friend, Jaycee, had a terminal fear of the dark and to this day she still sleeps with a nightlight. The Marshes have lived in an old farm house since before anyone can remember, and there was a "secret" tunnel that lead from the house out to the barn. I remember how Jaycee used to love that tunnel. She'd drag me down there day after day on numerous make-believe adventures. We had fought mummies, discovered aliens, and starred in our own horror movies, it was our own little world underground. But the tunnel was long and the doors were heavy, and it got very, very dark when you didn't have a flashlight. When we were seven, Aaron played a prank on Jaycee and locked her in without a flashlight, without anything. It was ten hours of chaos. He'd forgotten about her, and I'll never forget the way my mother's voice sounded when she got a call from Mrs. Marsh, asking desperately if we knew where her daughter was. Half the town was out looking for her, I had never been so scared, I wanted to run and find Jaycee, but my mother was holding my arms as we searched. I remember screaming at her to let me go, and struggling, but she pinned my arms to my side, not letting me go anywhere. After a couple of hours, I didn't like the feeling of not being able to move my elbows, I didn't like feeling my mother against my back, I needed to move. When we finally searched the barn and Jaycee crawled out of the tunnel, falling into my arms with uncontrollable sobs, she was afraid of the dark, and I was afraid of restriction, and neither of us ever wanted to go into the tunnel again.

Jim drove us through the tiny downtown and the three minutes it took to get to my house, my mother's car was already in the driveway as we pulled in.

"Since I know you don't like surprises," Jim said as he turned off the car, he turned to look at me and I finally saw humor in his eyes, "your mother will be dragging you to the park this evening for a going away party in which the whole town will be attending." Hearing this new, I groaned. Yes, I hated surprises, and I also hated parties where everyone fussed over me. "Don't put up a fight." Jim said with a smile, "Just try to have a good time and let everyone say goodbye."

"Fine." I sighed, opening the door and climbing out, "I'll behave." I shut the door and headed into the house, turning on the stoop to wave goodbye to Jim.

"Faith?" My mom called as soon as she heard the front door close behind me. I rolled my eyes.

"Who else?" I called back. I grew up living in that very house with my parents. I'd never been very close to my mom but I had a strong bond with my dad. I was a daddy's girl. But he got a severe tumor and died last year. I missed him a lot. I walked into the living room and saw my mother standing next to the fireplace, reading something from a folder. My mom looked a lot like me, but fast forward about 30 years. She was a little more filled out than I was and you couldn't see any of her bones through her skin. She had crow's feet next to her blue eyes and stern wrinkles around her mouth. Her red hair, slightly faded from age, was pulled back into a severe bun.

"Work." She explained as she closed the folder, adjusting her black, horn-rimmed glasses. She didn't need to explain, Mom always brought work home. "The sun's about to set, are you in for the night?" Oh, mother. You know perfectly well that I'm not in for the night because of the party you planned. As I thought over my answer, something occurred to me. There was one last thing that I wanted to do before leaving town.

"No." I said blankly, running up the stairs to my room. Everything had been boxed up and shipped, all that remained was an overnight bag and a jacket. I took the slick brown jacket and threw it on over my yellow shirt. I habitually checked the mirror as I left the room. With my tight blue jeans and thigh-high, high-heel brown boots I kind of reminded myself of Indiana Jones. Giggling, I let myself into the laundry room and stood on my tip-toes, grabbing a flashlight from off the top of a cabinet. "I'll be back soon!" I called to my Mom before running out of the house and hopping into my car.

Thankfully, Mr. and Mrs. Marsh weren't home when I pulled to a stop at the end of their driveway. I cut the engine and got out of the car. The Marshes lived on the edge of a forest that I was always afraid of, they had a field for their animals on the left that also bordered the forest. The sun was disappearing, leaving the sky pink and purple, growing darker behind the black trees. I took a deep breath for bravery and headed to the right, into the barn. The stalls were filled with a couple of cows, a few horses, and some pigs (their chickens were in a coop out back, which was good because chickens were noisy). The barn wasn't in the greatest shape, I knew that Mr. Marsh was working on repairing it. There were parts of the roof missing and the hayloft wasn't safe to set foot on. One stall, at the end of the barn, was left vacant, that's where I headed. I used my foot to kick away some of the hay and straw on the ground in the corner and came across the big, black ring that served as a handle to the trap door.

"Last chance, Miller." I muttered to myself to keep from chickening out. It took a good amount of tugging to pry up the door, it hadn't been used much since Jaycee's ordeal. After a few minutes of getting it to slowly creak open I dropped the lid to the floor, it landed with a loud, echoing bang! I jumped and braced myself against the noise of the now-frightened farm animals. My breathing became shallow and shaky as I put a foot down the dark hole, scrambling for the ladder. I went down the ladder slowly and when I finally touched the ground I turned into the darkness of the tunnel and flipped on my flashlight. Cobwebs covered the dirt walls and floor, the rotting wood beams were all that held it up. I looked from my left to my right, the walls were close together and I was feeling the first licks of panic. I took a deep breath and whispered to myself, "You can do this." I moved my right foot forward, then my left, going further and further into the tunnel, shining the flashlight over everything, taking it all in. I hadn't been in this tunnel since I was seven, and I'd never been alone in it before. It looked the same as it did when I used to hunt mummies with Jaycee, it was almost like I had literally stepped back 18 years and was a care-free kid once again. The tunnel was different without Jaycee's imagination to light it up with adventure, it was sad that she lost that quality, she was afraid to light up anything now. It was cold and dark and real. I had never been more aware that I wasn't in a mummy tomb or on an alien planet. I was underground beneath cows and a farm house. My boots caused the gravel in the dirt beneath me to crunch and the sound echoed eerily as I continued to walk deeper and deeper into the dark oblivion. I was leaning against the wall, having been in the tunnel for about 20 minutes, part of my mind wanted me to get out of there and run away. But the part of my mind that kept me stationary was proud. It said: See this, Faith? You're in the tunnel that you've feared for 18 long, long years. Let San Fransisco try you because, right now, you can do anything. And that was the part of my mind that I listened to. All that was left for me to do was to say goodbye.


The park was decorated with tiny white Christmas lights and, true to Jim's word, everyone was in attendance. It took hours for everyone to wish me a good journey and remind me to visit. I kept a smile plastered on my face the entire time, not letting my guard down for a second. When Jim approached me and saw my expression, he doubled over laughing.

"Somehow I pictured you looking like that!" He hooted.

"Bite me." I said through my teeth, my smile aching.

"Don't be like that." Jim came to my side, "Be honored that everyone cares this much. Jaycee didn't get this big of a party. Either time."

"No one knew she was leaving the second time." I reminded him.

"You should have taken that page from her book." Jim laughed, "Disappear into the night and everything."

"Too bad I can't pull off stealthy." I complained. We walked together to the food table where the "Good Luck Faith" cake had already been cut and served. I grabbed one of the small plates with a piece of the vanilla cake complete with pink frosting and a fork, then I followed Jim to one of the nearby benches. I let my face go slack while I ate the cake.

"How's it going?" Jim asked, watching me devour my cake in the most unladylike fashion.

"My whole face hurts." I complained, "It so doesn't take more muscles to frown than to smile, smiling is hard."

"Not if you have a cheery disposition."

"Whatever." I flicked a piece of cake at him, Jim dodged and raised his eyebrows.

"Now, there was no call to waste perfectly good cake." He chastised, I responded with the flinging of more cake. Jim gripped my right wrist (the one that was holding the fork) and held me there, I laughed as I tried to get away. When I determined that he was too strong for me I relaxed, sitting on the bench and looking out over the park. Jim was looking at me, "I am going to miss you." He said ruefully.

"Yeah." I agreed, "I'm going to miss you, too. But I'm so excited."

"I know. I'm happy for you. You'd better have fun in San Fransisco, okay?" He took his hand away from my wrist and replaced his arm around my shoulders, "Make sure you say Hi to Jaycee and Kaya for me. Make sure you call, make sure that you have a good life over there." I blinked, my throat suddenly constricted and my vision suddenly blurry.

"You're going to make me cry." I half-laughed, wiping the tears from my eyes.

"Sorry." Jim apologized as he pulled me closer, "But you started it."

The next morning I woke up bright and early, unsure of what to do with myself. In the end I hugged my mother goodbye and climbed into my car over an hour earlier than I had originally planned. I called Jaycee and told her I was on my way, then I didn't look back as I headed to the city.


So what do you think of the first chapter?

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