A Suitable Attraction

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

A Suitable Attraction

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.” -Fydor Dostoevsky

Pic from Wikipedia

Celeste watched as the water fountain rushed almost to the point of over-flowing.  The brim of the stone-walled bowl tried to contain all the demands that were forced upon it, but the supplier just sending more and more liquid its way.  Celeste decided that the splashes that occasionally hit the ground were not the bowl’s fault.  The poor fountain was simply overworked and overtaxed.  She knew how it felt.

In forty minutes, Celeste was to give a presentation to her supervisors and decision makers.  It was her job to persuade everyone in the room that the funding they were considering allowing her would make their company more profitable.  Celeste was mostly concerned about the extra staff that the money would pay for.  She was doing the work of three people and wanted to share it with at least one other.  The problem was that Celeste wasn’t very successful at singing for her supper.  She had tried to hire support staff for several years and this was the first time that the board had shown signs of willingness.  If she failed this afternoon, Celeste would have to wait at least another year to ask for help.  She would never last that long with the work load that had in mind for her.

That was how the woman in her mid-twenties found herself at the park.  It was only a five minute walk from work and Celeste appreciated the congenial nature of the area.  Women who couldn‘t have been much older than her walked by with their double-wide strollers while talking on their phones.  An old woman walked an excited dachshund on the leash.  Behind the hunched over woman with the purple hair and the excitable pup came a man with bony arms, a loose plaid shirt, and a John Deere cap that was too big for his pale head.  He smiled and waved as his wife called for him to catch up.

Even the squirrels were friendly.  Most of the creatures would scurry away and hide in a garbage can, but one had learned from its years spent in the park.  It stood in front of Celeste, its head cocked to one side.  Celeste stared at the squirrel.  The squirrel looked back patiently.  Celeste blinked.  The squirrel munched on something in its mouth and took a step closer to the woman’s feet.  Celeste held out her empty hands, palms open, showing that she had no treats.  The squirrel squinted.   It seemed annoyed at Celeste’s lack of people food and then ran off to climb the closest tree.

Underneath her dark blue jacket, a small watch lay comfortably on Celeste’s right wrist.  She slid her sleeve back and checked the clock.  She wanted some time to prepare a few sections, but she also desired to be outside enjoying the park for as long as possible.  She brushed a small cluster of crumbs off her suit pants; the residual bits fell and mingled in the tall blades of grass.  She saw with relief that her white blouse was still clean and crisp and her straight blonde hair was free of leaves and tangles.  Celeste was a picturesque executive, properly poised and attired to take charge of the meeting room.

Of course, the situation wasn’t meant to last.

Celeste saw the unexpected variable in her lunch break as it barreled towards her.  She only had time to cry out, “Watch it!“  After that, Celeste was knocked backwards by a bike messenger.  She felt herself being lifted into the air.  A second or two later, she came crashing back down to the ground.  If Celeste had been in control of the situation, she probably would have liked to land on the soft patch of grass that was only inches away.  Instead, she collided on the concrete at the base of the fountain.  She slid along her bottom and felt the concrete and rocks scratch up her posterior.

“I’m so sorry!”  The bike was hastily tossed aside and the operator leapt to his feet.  “I didn’t see you, and there was this kid running in front of me so I had to veer so I wouldn’t… oh man.  I’m so sorry.”

“Ow”, Celeste replied.  She struggled to her feet.  Her hands had been scrapped by the impact, but most of the injury was to her bottom.  “Ow, ow, ow”, she repeated as her injured muscles protested and complained with each movement.  Even with the biker’s hand helping her up, she still felt the pain shoot along her body.

“Are you okay?”

Celeste raised herself to her full height.  Her jacket had scratched cuffs so she took it off.  The blouse had held up remarkably well.  Okay, Celeste thought to herself.  It isn’t ideal, but the top works without the jacket.  She adjusted her white gold chain necklace and freed the lingering strands from their awkward perch in front of her nose.  I can fix this, Celeste reasoned.  The sound of children laughing around her woke Celeste from her confidence boosting.  Now the small ones were pointing as they giggled.  Worse, they were pointing at her.

“Oh, man”, the biker replied.  “Uh, your pants… well, they didn’t make it.”

Eyes widening, Celeste reached for her backside.  Where the dark fabric had once covered, there was now only undergarment.  Horrified, Celeste reached lower until she discovered that, much like the pajamas in Norman Rockwell paintings, the seat of her pants was now a flap that exposed that precious area below the waist.  Even the loose material was torn into strips.  Celeste threw her jacket around her waist and tied the sleeves in front of her midsection.

“That’s great.  Freakin’ great.  Son of a dadgum, mother-lovin’, horse poop pile of squat.  Crud.”

“I really am sorry”, the biker apologized yet again.

“You!”  Celeste turned upon the man intent on having a focal point for her anger.  “You did this!  You and your bike with no brakes and your no-steering!  What the sam hill!”

“I’m so sorry!  I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear!”  The man took off his helmet and revealed a pained expression.  The embarrassment and shame on his face was as clear as the skin on his shaved head.  “What can I do?”

“Do?!  Do?  There’s nothing to do.  I have to give a presentation in…”  Celeste paused to look at her watch.  The result horrified her.  “Twenty minutes!”  The torment of it all was wearing on Celeste.  “There are no clothing stores in a park!  I have people to impress!  What am I supposed to do?”

“Uh, I know where you could get some new pants.  Or maybe a dress.  I guess it would depend on you.”

Celeste’s brown eyes which had previously been fully visible in excitement and frustration now slammed into thin slits of determination.  “Don’t you dare mess with me.”

“I would never…  Look, I just live in that apartment right over there.”

The woman followed the man’s finger and saw a small three-story brick building near the border of the park.  It was nothing fancy, but it added a quiet charm to the open area.

“I’m so happy for you”, Celeste replied.  “Congratulations on living nearby.  How does that make it better?  You have a mall in your apartment?”

“No, a closet.”

Strange and worrying notions started to swirl around Celeste’s head.  She began to back away slowly from the man she had been focusing her anger on.

“No!  It’s not like that”, the man laughed.  “I live with my sister.  She’s about your size.”

“So, you don’t just keep a closet full of women’s clothes in your room.”

“No.”

“You aren’t some weird guy that injures people and then lures them back into your abode so that you can lick their hair or wax their fingernails?”

“What?”

“There are people”, Celeste defended.

“Where?  Where are there people like that?”

“I saw a special on it.”

“Like a news broadcast?”  A smile was introducing itself to the man’s otherwise bare face.

“Not exactly”, Celeste responded.

“What exactly?”

“Okay, technically it was a movie.”

“Uh huh.”

“On HBO”, Celeste said quieter.

“Got it.”

“But it said it was based on true events!”

“They all say that”, the man replied with a laugh.

“I guess they do”, Celeste said begrudgingly.  She shrugged.  “All right, so that may have been a little paranoid.  I’m sorry; this whole thing has thrown me off.”

“No, I’m the one who’s apologizing today.  You’re allowed to be cautious.  But the offer still stands.”

Celeste considered her options.  Either way, she would have to get back to work soon.  If she passed up the offer, she would have to go back dressed like…  Celeste didn’t know what she was dressed like, but it wasn’t someone with the authority to hire more staff.  Without more suitable attire, there really was no point in attending the meeting.

“All right.  I’ll head to your place.  But I have mace in my purse!  Any funny business and you’ll be the one looking for help.”

“Understood”, the man said as he jogged towards the building and motioned for her to follow.  “Despite the initial onslaught you incurred, I really do bring tidings of peace and good will.”

“Sure”, Celeste said as she picked up the pace and thanked her shoes for being flats.  “You’re a winning example to the U.N. for how to exude warmth and decorum.”

The biker pulled his keys from his pocket as they ran up to the front door.  Without pausing, he threw his bike to the curb and bolted up the flight of stairs with Celeste matching him step for step.  At the top of the stairs, the man made a quick right and then unlocked the door.  He waved Celeste inside.

“Welcome to our home, sorry for the mess, no time for the tour now”, he yelled as he opened a door.  “This is Jamie’s room.  She’s out of town.  Pick something you like.”

“Your sister’s going to understand all this?”  Celeste slammed the door shut, not waiting for a reply.

“She won’t be home for another week”, the biker called through the door.  “Besides, she owes me two months’ rent.”

Celeste made sure the door locked and then set her eyes on the closet.  The first things that met her eye were swimsuits and exercise gear.  The articles of clothing would certainly make an impression on the older, male members of the board, but not in the way that she would like.  Brushing past bathrobes and sweaters, Celeste started to get frustrated.  She had ten minutes.  All she wanted were dress pants.  Something resembling professionalism would be great, but she wasn’t finding anything close.  Next up came what she could only assume were bridesmaids dresses.

“Doesn’t your sister ever wear work clothes?”  “I mean, what is with her closet”, Celeste yelled to the hallway.

“She’s a swim instructor”, the man replied.  “We don’t really go for fancy too often.”

“Well every once in a while wouldn’t hurt!”  Celeste almost stopped to consider if she could make a wedding party-reject work, but she continued digging.  Finally, at the back of the closet, she found it.

A tan dress hung in the closet.  In contrast to the gaudy and skimpy clothes around it, the dress was a true standout.  Even in a department store, Celeste would have picked this sleeveless dress.  It was work appropriate, yet elegant.  The shoulders were covered and there was a square cut to the neckline.  The folds and lines hugged the waist casually; not in a confining or suggestive way.  The hemline appeared to reside just above the knees and allowed for brisk walking, which Celeste would need on her way back.

“It’s pretty quiet in there”, the biker called in.  “Does that mean you found something?  Or have you taken to sneaking her television out the window to your accomplice?”

“No”, Celeste answered back.  “I’m actually just trying to get this mattress out the window without opening it all the way.”  She tossed her purse aside yanking off her skirt and blouse as she kicked her black shoes aside.  Her eyes locked in on the hanger which she quickly removed.  She pulled the dress over her head and thanked whatever power above that the dress wasn’t strapless.  Somehow, someway, this perfect dress fit Celeste like it was made for her.  She kicked her shoes back on, grabbed her purse, and threw the door open.

The biker who had been leaning on the opposite wall stumbled to stand up.  “Uh… wow.”

“Zipper”, Celeste demanded as she walked towards him.

“What?”

“Zipper!”  Celeste lifted her hair above the base of her neck and pointed to the back of the dress.  “I need you to help me with the zipper.”

“Oh, right”, the biker said as he moved closer.

Celeste stood impatiently waiting for the final stage to be complete.  Nothing happened.  She was about to turn around when she felt the biker’s hand rest clumsily on her right hip.  Celeste swore she heard a gulp of nervousness from behind her.  The other hand slowly raised the zipper up to its topmost resting spot.  The right hand remained on her hip.

Celeste turned, putting her hand on the biker’s.  She stopped for a moment, facing him, and enjoyed the half embrace of his arm.  “Thank you”, she said kindly.  “I’ll bring your sister’s dress back after my work day.  She’ll never even know I borrowed it.”

Running towards the stairs, Celeste heard a voice call after her.  “I really wish you wouldn’t”, the man replied.

“What?”  Celeste stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked up.  “Why not?”

“You… I… you can’t bring that dress back to my sister.”

Celeste looked at her watch impatiently.  Only six minutes remained.  “Of course I have to.  Why wouldn’t I?”

The biker started to hurry down the stairs, his hand rubbing anxiously on his shaven dome.  “I couldn’t take that.  My sister in that dress; she’s pretty enough.  But you?  I… I’ve never…  Look, that dress wouldn’t be right for her.  Not after the way you wear it.”

“So”, Celeste said cautiously, “I look okay?”

“Stunning.”

“Professionally stunning or corner of Third and Boston at two a.m. stunning?”

“Oh, the first one.  I’d sign whatever contract you’re negotiating.”

“I actually don’t deal with…”  Celeste stopped herself.  “Thank you.”  She looked at the stranger for the first time and took him in.  “In all this craziness I don’t think I ever got your name.”

“Bryan”, he replied.

“Well, Bryan.  If you won’t let me give back the dress then maybe we could go to dinner.”

Bryan stood stock still.  “After all I did to you, you want to go to dinner?”

“Why not?  The first part was an accident.  A painful one”, she said as she rubbed her bottom, “but an accident nonetheless.  Ever since then you have been the perfect gentleman.  Going out of your way to help me, apologizing the whole time; it isn’t something most people would do.”  She stepped forward and rubbed her hands on his head.  “And I like bald guys.”

“Seven?”

“Seven”, Celeste said as she pecked him on the cheek.  “I’ll meet you here”, she called out as she burst out the door.

Celeste sprinted across the grass to her office building.  She had four minutes until the meeting officially started.  She thanked her paranoid nature for setting up the meeting room before her lunch break.  The breeze blew her hair about, but Celeste paid it no mind.  She was enjoying herself.  She might not be a great health buff like Bryan’s sister, but she enjoyed a run now and then.

Celeste couldn’t help but grin.  She was going to own that room.  She was going to show how confident she felt and it would come across in her presentation.  The men and women that she answered to would see how well-thought out her plan was and give her the staff she needed.  Her office rose into view as Celeste covered the distance quickly.

At the street outside her work, she made sure to pause for any oncoming cars or bicycles.  Seeing nothing to impede her travel, Celeste darted across.  She was already getting excited for her victory dinner that evening.

Award-Winning Attire

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Award-Winning Attire

Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim.” -Jane Austen

Nicolette was ready for her moment in the spotlight.  Not even the unreasonably cold weather outside could deter her excitement.  She gave herself one last glance in the mirror.  The actress had worn many elaborate dresses, but this one she had selected personally.  The long blue gown was, by Nicolette’s standards, quite lovely in the front.  It was a solid dark blue color and covered her legs and arms rather well while still letting her feel swanky.  That impression was further perpetuated by the back of the dress.

Nicolette craned her neck and twisted to take one last look at her gown.  The dress cut away dramatically, exposing most of her shoulders and back.  The fabric returned midway around the small of her back and Nicolette liked how she was showing off a nice chunk of skin but not too much.  She breathed a sigh of relief at the butterfly tattoo that she had almost gotten during her high school days.  She thanked her teenage self for chickening out.  Nicolette was trying to cultivate a reputation as a serious actress. She didn’t feel that a tattoo on her lower back that had been acquired in a third-world country under drunken circumstances would have helped her image.

Many choices had been made to preserve Nicolette’s profile.  She seemed to be the only one of her actor friends who had escaped being in a horror movie.  Granted, she had missed out on a few paychecks and the chance to work under some fun directors, but the roles simply didn’t appeal to her.  If Nicolette was going to run around in a white tank top and short-shorts, she wanted it to be for a better reason than portraying “girl who gets attacked in the cabin”.

Ever since playing the leads in her high school’s productions, Nicolette had done her best to only audition for roles that she truly wanted.  She liked being the responsible and studious character.  There was value in being the female lead that ran around with the action hero and acted in front of a green screen, but it was not for Nicolette.  She preferred to adopt period costumes and act off of other actors rather than scream and reply to computer graphics.  Of course, she too had made a kids movie where she was the plucky lady that the dad falls for, but happily the script had been well-written and the small boys had some experience in the craft.

The buzzing of the door shook Nicolette from her pondering.  She grabbed a small purse and wondered one last time if she could get away with wearing sneakers.  Her dress was certainly long and it seemed to flow enough.  She once more reminded herself that she had the possibility of winning tonight and the last thing she needed was her photo taken with an untied shoelace peeking out of her gown and decorating the red carpet.

She adjusted her hair a final time.  Nicolette was glad that her hair was pulled back in a simple fashion, but that one strand that dangled down was going to be trouble.  When it was positioned just right, it added an air of mystery to her charming face.  However, when the hair became tempestuous, it flapped against her nose and blocked her vision.  Nicolette moved the strand one more time and headed for the limousine.

ImageSitting in the back of the spacious car, Nicolette tried to gather her thoughts and fine tune the speech that she hoped she could give.  She didn’t really want to thank her agent, but she knew that she had to.  Once again, she was grateful that she hadn’t bothered with a date tonight.  Companionship was all well and good, but she had too much to do without checking in with one person over and over.  She had established herself as a capable and confident woman; she didn’t need any males to drape herself around.  Nicolette liked men just fine, but she was unfocused enough this evening without their tuxedos distracting her.

Much like the actor herself, the roles Nicolette took on were about strength.  She had been the intelligent and outspoken daughter on the dramatic television show, become the college student that in a movie where she raged against the chauvinistic professor, and gone back to being a high school student who took the field to win the game for the hometown.  Withering push-overs held no draw for Nicolette and her most recent role was evidence of that.  Susan Flin had quarreled with a father that ignored her while taking care of a mother that had cancer.  Then there were the advances of her boss who sought to fire her for not having an illicit affair with him.  All of that had gone on while World War I waged in the background and she found her family threatened due to their heritage.  Then, in the second act, her character had been struck blind and lost a leg when she fell down a well during a tornado.

Nicolette had known as soon as she heard about it that the role was one that she could relish.  Upon the film’s release, multitudes of fans and critics alike had rushed to extol her with accolades and admiration.  The role had not been an easy one.  Many days she had wanted to remove the brace that held her leg out of sight, but she had pressed on regardless.  She had spent three months walking around her apartment and the neighborhood blindfolded and had broken more than her share of appliances and décor in the process.  In the end, it had all been worth it.  The film had turned out well, she had felt pride in a job well executed, and now she was on her way to hopefully win the award.  Nicolette told herself that awards were not everything, but they certainly would help her career.  Best of all, she was doing it on her own terms.  There would be no squealing actress who giggled and had footage of swimsuit shots.  Nicolette was determined to survive the world of acting with class and dignity.

That was how Nicolette found herself ascending the stairs to the podium.  The walk out of the limousine had been a bit of a challenge with the cold air whipping against Nicolette and her dress, but she remained confident that she had posed for all the photos without shivering.  The food had been too rich, but at least the host had been amusing enough.  Nicolette had even gotten to exchange a little pre-scripted banter with him during the intro.  Her film had been awarded Best Actor, and her fellow actor had taken the stage again to announce her category.  With a wink and a broad grin, the actor read Nicolette’s name and the audience cheered and applauded.

The situation was entirely under her control.  Nicolette had practiced her walk and climbed to the stage without once stepping on her dress or stumbling.  The joy and delight of the moment was starting to wash over her.  She was truly happy to be having this fleeting time in the spotlight.  Nicolette was the picture of professionalism.  Unbeknownst to her, Nicolette’s fellow actor was about to change all of that.

Her speech started exactly as she had planned.  Nicolette had the initial and unplanned wave of emotion, but she regained her composure before she came off as unstable.  She hugged her fellow actor who elbowed her jovially.  She thanked her parents, her teachers, a remarkable cast and crew, and made sure she mentioned her agent.  She made a comment about how blessed she felt to be awarded such an honor.  Then, right as her time ran out, she thanked the audience and heard the music begin to play.  She took the award and held it triumphantly in her hands.  Then, her handsome actor friend put his icy hand on her back to lead her off stage.

Frigid sensations like icicles shot into Nicolette as the man’s cold hands shocked and chilled her.  Nicolette let out a scream and crouched forward in a quick move to escape the frozen fingers that had attacked her.  The music stopped.  The crowd gasped.  An awkward silence filled the giant auditorium as all eyes fell on Nicolette.

The award-winning actress felt her improvisation skills failing her.  She couldn’t explain the unfortunate complication of her attire; she’d look like a fool.  Still, Nicolette knew that the actor was about to put his hand back on her naked back to lead her off stage and she would shiver yet again.  She had only seconds until she became one more freak in the gossip columns.  Nicolette clutched the shining statue in her hand and straightened up to her full height.

“What can I say”, she said with a laugh.  “I’m just so excited!”

Her gambit worked.  The audience now bought that her outcry was merely an outpouring of her elation, not an explosion of shock.  They laughed along and she floated off stage with all the grace she could muster.  Nicolette’s reputation remained intact and she made a mental note to save her backless dress for warmer days.

Old Fashioned Romantics

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Old Fashioned Romantics

Be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.” –Mark Twain

From the very beginning it seemed that Charles and Caroline would make the perfect couple.  They met at Lord Dirkshirke’s annual ball.  Lady Dirkshire, who always considered herself the ideal matchmaker, despite what others said when she was not about, had taken it upon herself to make introductions.

Charles was a businessman whose success was already being murmured across the countryside.  He had stakes in several townships and owned the third largest home in the town.  His was a life that of guaranteed servitude, success, and security.

Caroline’s reputation was entirely acceptable, if not quite less extraordinary than Charles’.  Her father was the lead exporter of cattle, though he of course was never required to actually handle any of the filthy animals himself.  He was in the process of acquiring areas of land, but was finding few members of the community will to part with their lots.  However the people took notice of his efforts and applauded him.  Whoever was charmed by Caroline was sure to be allowed a sizeable dowry, especially with her being the only daughter amongst her family.

So it was that Caroline and Charles met.  Caroline was immediately taken with his friendly demeanor; approachable and charming, but never overstepping his bounds.  Secretly, she was also quite taken by his very handsome feature, especially his facial hair that looked handsome as it stopped right before his chin.  Charles found Caroline and her raven hair to be fascinating.  She had been renowned as a terrific entertainer, both singing and playing the piano to the appreciation of each party she attended.  However no one had mentioned her wit to Charles before.  She was clever to the point of being brash.  For any topic that Charles hit upon as they danced about the room, Caroline paused for only a moment before returning with some statement in reply.  Her quips were well thought-out and at the same time, heart-felt.  Charles did his utmost to occupy all of his time with Caroline that night.

Thus the courtship began.  Two days later Charles had been called away on business.  But he had sent a letter of intent to Caroline.  He apologized for not making such a declaration in person, but he wanted it known that he fervently desired Caroline’s company and would be honored if she would accept his admiration and return it in kind.  Caroline felt the blood rush to her cheeks.  She asked the servant to wait while she made a reply.  As fast as her quill would allow, Caroline wrote that she held Charles in only the highest esteem and should be delighted to further make his acquaintance.  She felt sure that her parents would be entirely agreeable to his paying a visit when it was convenient to him.

Their walks became frequent and lengthy.  Charles returned from his work and set himself to the task of learning more about Caroline.  They walked all the paths of Caroline’s estate and beyond.  Charles was kind enough to loan his jacket when the rain began to pour down.  He apologized that he could do nothing about her feet, but Caroline only laughed at the mud that that splashed up to meet her.  Even with the turn in weather, the two were reluctant to end their stroll.  It was only the threat of the rapidly approaching night that caused the two to cease their adventure.

When Charles returned Caroline to her doorstep, he soon asked permission to call on her again.  As he removed his jacket from Caroline’s shoulders he saw her smile invitingly as she encouraged him to visit often.  He did just that, returning not five days later.  Within weeks, it seemed a guarantee that there would be a wedding coming to the countryside; though the townsfolk knew not when.  In the meantime, there were still social functions to attend.  To the approval of all, Caroline soon found herself linking arms with Charles at each of these.  If these engagements had all been held in a central location, the couple would never have found themselves in the midst of a scandal.  Though, it seems that every romance has a degree of gossip that it must undergo and Charles and Caroline’s relationship was no different.

ImageBlame for the ordeal that followed might be laid at the feet of Duke Kelling.  He had retired from the public life and spent many months in his quiet country home.  However his position and the boredom of his wife required him to host a gala once a year.  The marble dance floor, the high chandeliers; all had been put into their home with the assumption that glorious gatherings were to occur in this residence.  Duke Kelling did not seek out extravagant parties himself, but it kept his wife content and assured his place in the community, so he acquiesced.  This year, Charles and Caroline decided to attend as all assumed they would.  However the estate was located in the middle of their two homes.  Caroline’s family was invited, and Charles would be coming from working, so they agreed to meet at The Duke’s.

Caroline’s driver was a reckless sort.  He always got the family to their destination, but it was not uncommon to find that he had overindulged in spirits.  When Caroline went to visit the fowl of her home, she often found Stuart sleeping in the barn.  He seemed to have no regard for his reputation and only went about his tasks after being roused from his slumber.  Caroline’s father had kept him on despite his wife’s disapproval of the lout.  Caroline’s father maintained that Stuart’s family had been with his home for years and he would not chop down an entire family tree only to spite one decaying branch.  He continued to hope that Stuart would wake up to the state he was putting himself in and better his manners and attitude.

Stuart drove the carriage with the three family members bouncing about on the dirt road.  Normally, even with Stuart’s haphazard skills at controlling the horses, the ride was pleasant enough.  The week’s weather had been unseasonably wet, and the roads were much the worse for the five days of rain that had beaten upon them.  Driving the horses too fast around a sharp turn in the road, Stuart soon lost control.  Caroline and her parents screamed as they felt their carriage turn over and they were tossed about inside.  They found themselves in a ditch on the side of the road.  The four of them all had scratches and bruises.  Caroline went to check on the horses only to step in the byproduct of one animal’s terror.  She was glad that her two favorite horses were not injured, but she knew that the putrid scent on her shoes, along with her now muddy and torn dress; would render her quite inappropriate for the formal affair.

A discussion of returning home was quickly been dismissed.  The rear axle of the carriage had snapped in half and the Duke’s manor was considerably closer than their own home.  Stuart stayed with the horses while the family trudged their way the last two miles to the Duke’s home.  They were met with horror and shock at the front door.  Lady Kelling quickly pulled the ladies aside while the Duke took care of Caroline’s father.  Caroline’s mother was easy enough to fit with new attire.  She and Lady Kelling were of roughly the same size, so with some tidying up, a quick wash, and a borrowed gown, Caroline’s mother was ready to make merry once again.  Caroline, however, was not suited for such an inconspicuous return.

Caroline’s physique tended more towards her father than her mother.  Consequently, she was a good deal taller than her mother and Lady Kelling.  The woman did her best to furnish Caroline with a suitable dress, but she was simply too short to be of any help.  Caroline found a dress that she thought would do, cleaned her shoes as best as she could, and attired herself with what she hoped would be suitable clothes.  She hoped Charles would not be too upset by her appearance.

As soon as she stepped into the ballroom, the room took notice.  Caroline could feel attention being focused on her, but not due to her musical talents or her conversational skills.  The hushed tones all turned audibly towards the same conversation topic; Caroline’s ankles.  When she had rushed to put her shoes back on, she had forgotten to find some sort of legging or stocking to cover her feet.  With the dress being far too high to cover the last six inches of her legs, Caroline’s ankles were scandalously naked for all the room to see.  The onlookers gasped and chittered to each other.  “How could Caroline think this sort of fashion was allowable?”

Caroline was mortified.  She had not meant to cause a scene and debated her options.  Her own dress was quite suitable in length, but was currently quite hideous in every other way.  It might recover some of its former grace when cleaned.  However that would take some time.  She considered searching out Lady Kelling for some assistance, but could not find her in the crowd.  Caroline started to believe that it was too late.  The damage to her reputation had already been done.

At the main entry, a servant announced Charles’ arrival.  He shook a few hands with agreeable companions, took in the room, and smiled when he saw Caroline.  Excusing himself, Charles made a straight line to the one he adored.  Charles approached, placed a kiss upon her hand, and bowed to her.  Caroline was too embarrassed by her attired to reply.  Charles looked at the redness on her face and knew something was wrong.  He looked to his intended and noticed what she was wearing.  Then the voices around him began to register in his mind.  Caroline felt tears welling up in her eyes as she saw a dark scowl take over Charles’ face.  She began to fear that she had lost his favor due to her appearance.

The Earl of Pudd came up to Charles and launched into one of his famously obnoxious observations.  “I see, Charles; that you are as mortified by this heinous situation as I am.”  The Earl shook his head in disapproval and the chins on his neck all swayed back and forth to punctuate his gesture.

“Indeed I am”, Charles replied.

“Surely you think this situation should be remedied?”

“Are you asking me to take the matter into my own hands?”

“If you do not, then I certainly will.  Why, a woman looking like this…”

“Very well then”, Charles replied.  He turned, addressing not only the Earl but all in the room.  “I find no fault with the woman’s attire.”  The attendees gasped.  “I am quite positive that I find her the most wonderful lady in this entire room.  Should certain parts of her be visible, then I see no cause for concern.  For this woman is a creature of magnificent grace.  These are the legs that allow her to move and float about with a loveliness and polish that have no equal.  I believe they should be complimented, not scorned.  I happen to be quite in love with this woman’s ankles”, Charles paused, and turned back to Caroline smiling, “along with everything else that makes this beauty who she is.”

The crowd continued to chatter, but Charles paid them no heed.  Whether or not his speech was scandalous, possibly even lewd; he was still one of the wealthiest men in the town.  None wished to incur his wrath on the matter, certainly not when there were so many to bear witness.  Charles led Caroline underneath the giant chandelier and held her hands.  She smiled at him, he did the same.  The gossiping and whispering were soon drowned out by the orchestra.  The musicians played a waltz which the happy couple serenely danced to.

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