Cinders

Summer Short Story #9

(Story Prompt: Write a story with a Cinderella story structure: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, life-changing moment. Include “eyes” per the Daily Post prompt.)

———-

(The day of ‘Penny Verses the Storm’ and immediately afterward)

“Look squarely into my eyes and tell me, again.”

“You really are a masochist, John.”

His offer of marriage at the prow of her ship might have been romantic… the first time. However Clarice, Capt. Wendigo of the HMA Hermes, was not an indecisive woman.

“Get up or I’ll have you thrown off my ship.”

“You can’t fault me for trying.”

“I can, and I will.”

“You will! You said, I will!”

John’s glee–although, entertaining–was unbecoming, and Clarice was finished with his antics.

Picking up a nearby telephone and dialing directly, she ordered, “Security, please escort Mr. Stockholm off of my ship.”

“Clarice!”

“When aboard this vessel, it is ‘Captain.'” Turning away as the security detail came to stand at John’s sides, she included, “Am I clear?”

John couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. Indeed, she was the clearest presence there.

Nodding, he agreed, “Completely, irrevocably and forever.”

Narrowing her glare to a squint, Clarice turned her back as he was led off ship. John Stockholm was a persistent man, and the ire he drew clung. Walking the length of the Hermes was the least she could do to shrug off the irritation. Inspecting as she passed, the rigging looked in order, sails repaired or replaced as needed. The engines had been overhauled and were being calibrated on the morrow. Ahead of schedule, she’d have her ship in the air within the week.

In a much better mood, she made her way to her quarters to go over crew assignments and pending promotions. Settled at the desk, deep into reading evaluations some time later, a letter came careening through the ship’s message tube.

Opening it, she read:

My dearest, Captain,

Clarice, what can a man do but keep asking whilst there is breath in his body still? We have been long acquainted, and though you act otherwise, I know you call me friend. Do not forsake me overly. Until then…

Here, she had to turn the page. Although, he’d left more than enough space.

Will you marry me?

Incensed, Clarice almost crushed the letter in hand. Instead, she stuffed it into a personal documents folder. Document everything–a motto ingrained and hard to ignore. There were other things in that folder, some of little consequence to her but of great importance to others and others… There was another letter from John Stockholm in there, not from Stockholm the third, but the name’s original bearer.

Reading across the aged paper and glancing at the attached photo, she thought, “Funny how blood tells sometimes.” Staring at the elder Stockholm’s image, the eyes seemed to follow. They were too like the younger man’s for peace of mind.

“Damn you, old man.”

But he couldn’t hear those words, would never do so. She was ten years too late for such things. She fell asleep later that night, cursing a ghost. It made for uncomfortable dreams, and the next day proved even less agreeable.

Not one to be superstitious, learning of the attack  and subsequent damage to Doctor Gadson’s house and property made her more inclined to believe, however, that cursing the dead–perhaps–was an activity best not repeated.

“Doctor, why didn’t you immediately notify me?”

“It was late, my good lady, and we were–in relative terms–well. Besides, we had John on the ground. He’s an intrepid fellow, as you know, and was good enough to spring for a few rooms at the inn. Though everything is fairly intact at Mrs. Cooper’s, she probably now rues being so closely situated to my own home. Her rooms reek of smoke. She will stay with Rosamond at the inn, at least until her rooms have aired out enough.”

“Surely, you don’t mean to stay there the entire time repairs are made?”

“Honestly, Clarice, I’ve not thought that far ahead. These are early times yet. Truthfully, I just wish to give Rosamond a spot of calm first. Look at her, poor girl.”

Clarice did, and it hurt. Rosamond was withdrawn, in shock.

“She’s thinking of her father, no doubt.”

The captain quietly agreed and then thought of a friendly accommodation.

“Listen. I sail in less than a week. Why don’t you stay in my apartment while I’m away? It’s yours for the duration if you like. Mrs. Cooper is kind enough to look in from time to time on my shorter deployments. She’ll find it satisfactory, as will Rosamond, I’m sure. What say you?”

“Clarice!” The doctor’s face beamed. “I don’t know what to… You’re too kind to this old man.”

“No doctor, not kind enough. Here. Take my key. You know where it is. I regret that I must be back aboard ship within the hour and can’t settle you in properly. Calibrating the overhauled engines this afternoon, and my presence… Well,  you understand.”

“Of course, Captain. I do.  And thank you, most profoundly, but you need not part from your key so soon. The inn is quiet comfortable. We’ll stay there until you must quit  your abode for the high clouds.”

“As you wish.”

“And you must consent to allow me to express my gratitude in a fine meal. Will you meet  me for dinner tonight at the inn, with Rosamond, please?”

Never one to turn down a good meal, she happily agreed…

Only to wish she had not a half hour into what would have been a lovely evening.

“Ah! I was afraid I would miss you. I know we’d not made plans.”

John Stockholm III, of course, he’d be present.

“John! I have wonderful news. It will lighten the pull upon your purse. The good captain has allowed me the use of her rooms while she is away.”

Before he even had a moment to ask, Clarice stated in no uncertain terms, “You will have to either stay here at the inn or find other accommodations, I’m afraid. My rooms are significantly smaller than those of the doctor’s. It will be a crush as it is, but he is a stalwart man.”

“No doubt. Though never a burden, my purse strings and I thank you.”

Catching her eye, Clarice said, “Rosamond, go ahead and speak. I’d like to know what has made your face even graver than I’ve seen it this day.”

“I’m afraid… Captain, I don’t want your rooms damaged like the doctor’s. I don’t want Mrs. Cooper’s damaged. What if it grows worse?”

“Do you expect it to do so?”

“I don’t expect, but I do suspect it will. It’s happened before.”

“Doctor?” She turned to the man, wondering when this same scenario had played out in his past.

But Rosamond answered, “No, my father. I have fled a burning house before.”

Because he didn’t look surprised, she asked, “Doctor, what is it that you know?”

“Enough, my dear Captain. Enough to know the world is smaller than we believe. Rosamond and I have mutual acquaintances beyond you and John. Rosamond, are you feeling unwell?”

At her sickly nod, he placed his napkin upon the table and added, “Alas, your rooms will be safe enough. We’ll talk in a more private situation tomorrow at your convenience, if that’s agreeable.”

“Of course. As you will.”

“Let me walk Rosamond upstairs to Mrs. Cooper. Please excuse us.”

When he escorted the pale child away, Clarice turned to her unusually quiet companion.

“Will you consent to be my wife?”

“Damn it, John. Now is not the time nor the place!”

“Isn’t it? Alone at a table, a quiet dinner for two… I would think this apropos.”

“Why do you insist?”

“There is still breath in my body. I can do no other.”

“You realize there is yet breath in your body because I’ve considered you a friend? This insane parody of courtship would have ended with your first proposal otherwise.”

“I realize no such thing. Your eyes tell another tale.”

“You’re blind, then.”

“Blinded by you.”

She threw her napkin down upon the table in disgust and left him to his meal.

Later that evening, again at her desk, reviewing the next day’s responsibilities before retiring, a letter came down the tube.

She knew by whom it was penned before breaking its seal.

My dearest Captain,

Clarice, if I don’t ask, if I cease my persistence, you will think upon me only some of the time… and then none of the time–leaving me with nothing but regret. I know you have my grandfather’s letter, and I know what your possession of it means. Damn the old man. I don’t care if I bear his name, I am not him! Though I possess a playful spirit of adventure, I know enough not to toy with yours. I ask repeatedly because I know you’d not make it easy–not for any man. I ask because I love you, Clarice.

Have I never told you before?

Perhaps, I am an idiot, as you are so fond of telling me… a persistent fool. The fact that you believe I jest whenever I lay my heart out for your pleasure tells me so.

Clarice, I love you. I will always love you.

Yours as you wish,

John

Clarice wiped the tear that spilled, despite no one being the wiser. It was a point of pride.

“Damn him too. The one time the man doesn’t propose…”

What would it hurt to curse the living? … Especially if the only ghost there resided in her chest, where her heart tried to beat.

Eyes

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