A Spouse Never Forgets

Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.” –Samuel Richardson

**********

“Em, I’m home. Time to hide all your boyfriends.”

“Oh, but they brought me flowers and everything”, came the response from the dining room.

Tyler Cohn kicked his shoes off and rolled his eyes. He found the mail by the door and thumbed through it carelessly. Not seeing anything in the stack of bills and donation requests to catch his eye, he let the stack fall from his hands, most of it landing back on the table. He shrugged at the mess, tossed his keys in the general direction of the mail, and walked towards the living room.

Tyler had not been the most attractive person in high school. His odd skin tone made him stand out in a crowd, but his unruly hair had singled him out even more. It was not until college that he discovered the real him was only a few buzzes away. Coupled with a roommate who introduced Tyler to the joy of working out, and a new version was born. Tyler found that the quick, aggressive, thrilling move of hefting weights was an adrenaline rush that he loved. His muscular physique, olive skin, and shiny dome now all complimented each other. He had lost his childhood nervousness and now approached life with what his wife could only describe as swagger.

“For the record, I saw you first”, he countered as he doffed his jacket and let it land on the living room couch. In front of him was the large gray mass. He avoided looking at it, as always, and turned into the dining room. “Where are you?”

“I’m on the other side of it”, Emily called back.

An alarmingly loud trumpeting sound blared three times from the living room. Tyler and Emily both hurried to cover their ears, and by the time the noise had stopped, Tyler was almost in the dining room.

“I swear, The Moustache is going to drive me crazy”, Tyler said as he looked to his wallet and pulled out the receipts that he had collected over the day. “He keeps telling me that his business is going to get sued. I swear, that man thinks his workers are just there to collect on disability. I respond to all his e-mails but he won’t believe that we have his risks all covered. If he gets anymore up my butt, that facial monstrosity of his is going to start tickling my stomach. I wish I could get him out of my haiiiiiiiiir.”

Tyler had looked to Emily for the first time and was shocked at what he saw.

“Hey”, Emily said with a smile as she went towards him.   With her typical elegance and grace, she made every small step look like it had been planned out for months. Her composure had been the first thing that attracted Tyler to her. However, much to his delight, he found that when she went to hug him, her perfectly straight spine curved into him. Her hips ever so slightly leaned into his waist, her shoulders softened, and her long neck listed to the left, finding his nape and taking up residence there. With her normal ballerina-like stance, Emily stood a solid two inches taller than her spouse. But when they were having their quiet moments, he ended up being a bit higher up. She didn’t really care. Many of their best talks had been shared in this position, starting with when her father died. Tyler didn’t worry about being the tallest when they went out and Emily wore high heels, and Emily didn’t worry about her poise when she was alone with Tyler.

However on this night, Tyler found the embrace a little awkward. Normally he would feel her long, wavy chestnut hair against and under his chin. This was not the case tonight.   Instead Tyler felt a soft cushion of hair, then short bristliness, then another tuft of long hair. Had her entire head fit, Tyler would have felt another shaved section. And, to his great horror, sections of the hair were dyed orange and blue.

Is this what it feels like for her to kiss me when I haven’t shaved?

The only long hairs that felt familiar were the ones attached to the tail from the gray mass as it swished and brushed against Tyler’s leg from the living room.

“I got a text from Tess and Burt.”

“Are we supposed to be having them over for dinner? I don’t have enough cooked to feed us and my greedy siblings.”

“Greedy, or filled with a hunger for victory?”

“Greedy, Tyler. Definitely greedy. You play tennis with them, but you never had to share LEGOs with those two. Susan was the worst though. Leave it to the middle child to always cause the problems.”

“Em, there are four of you”, Tyler said as he tried to decide whether he should pull away from this painful dome or if it was best to keep her hair as out of sight as possible. “That makes you a middle child too.”

“Yes, but she was the first middle child”, she replied, pulling slowly out of the embrace. “You only children don’t know what we had to go through.” She kissed him, showing more passion than usual, and went back to the spaghetti on the stove.

“Regardless, your siblings want to know if we would play tennis tonight.”

“Tonight? Tyler, it’s seven p.m.”

“Right. Still daylight out there.”

“Honey, we have dinner to finish. And eat. Then, if we change into gym clothes, play several matches—“

“Then we can still be home by ten. C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Plus, knowing those two, they’ll bring up the haircut so I don’t have to.

Now out of their embrace, Tyler had the full effect. The left quarter of Emily’s hair was shaved off, except for a tiny, bristly layer of what used to be beautiful hair. That prior hair was hinted at by the next fourth, which was neon-orange and flopped around with four inches of length. The third section was the same shaved style as the first. And to finish off the monstrosity of it all was a section of long hair, looking just as it had before, only now filled with blue streaks in abhorrent strands.  

“Tyler, I know you. When we drive to the gym, under the auspices of playing tennis with my siblings, you’ll want to lift. This, as we both know, will require a change of clothes. And you’ll want me to lift with you. Honey, I just don’t have the strength.”

“You can always go swimming while we lift. The pool should be pretty empty. Maybe you’d have it all to yourself?” Maybe your new hairstyle will act like a fin that will help you steer in the water. Like a graffiti-obsessed dolphin. Or The Rocketeer on his worst day.

“Why don’t you just come out and admit that you want to see me walking around in a bathing suit?”

“Naturally”, Tyler said as he retrieved a mammoth bag of peanuts from under the kitchen counter. He took one, broke it, and nibbled on the nut while he tossed a handful into the next room. “I will always admit to wanting to see my wife in her element. You are a sexy woman and I appreciate that about you.”

“Uh huh”, she said with a look of disbelief behind her eyes. “I should never have taken you to that first swim meet of mine in college. It set a bad trend. Speaking of which, don’t go filling up on peanuts. Dinner is almost ready.”

“You don’t want me stocked up on protein before the gym? Besides”, he said as he threw another heaping handful into the living room, “how many do you think I’ll get the chance to eat?”

“We both know I’m going to be the one to clean those shells up, one way or the other. Go easy.”

“I will if you go to the gym with us. Please?”

“Fine”, she said with a feigned sigh. “But we are getting home no later than eleven. Got that? I’m still trying to get the payroll system up and running. Also, some of us don’t get to set our own hours. Twerp.”

“What can I say”, Tyler said with a shrug as he stirred the sauce, “it is truly challenging being a highly sought-after risk assessor.”

“Emphasis on ass-essor.”

“You’ll stop making that joke one day.”

“Plates please, Monsieur. And I’ll stop making that joke when it ceases to be funny.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think you’re already cutting it too close.”

“What?” Em pulled the noodles off the strainer and carried them to the table.

Stupid, Tyler. Stupid, stupid choice of words. “Nothing. I’m only trying to defend myself against your rapier wit. You do love to cut me to the quick.” Again?!?! What is wrong with you? Dig yourself out before you get into a close shave. Tyler had to stop from slapping himself in the face. What is wrong with you? Freak.

They sat down at the table as munching noises became audible from the living room. The two often talked about eating by candlelight, but they knew that the constant threat of methane from the gray mass made that unwise. The whole situation lacked the romance that they yearned for. One day they would seek out a solution, but their everyday lives demanded their attention.

“So are we going to talk about it or what?”

“Talk about what?” Tyler filled his mouth with a forkful of spaghetti so that he would not be expected to respond anytime soon. Unfortunately, he had made the sauce hotter than he realized and was forced to take a swig of water and add it to his already full mouth.

“The hair, you twit. You don’t like it, do you?”

Tyler made a show of chewing and swallowing, trying to think of the proper response.

“All those sitcoms from my childhood and I still don’t know how to handle this”, he half-joked.

“So you hate it”, Emily replied as she set down her fork with purpose. “That’s great. You couldn’t come out and say that?”

“Risk assessor, remember? Not risk creator.”

“Don’t do that again. I’m being serious here.”

“Look, I didn’t lie to you. I just didn’t say anything.”

“Because you don’t like it.”

“Honey, it’s three different lengths and three different colors. Maybe when we were in school, but in our 30’s? I’m amazed you think people will take a human resources person seriously like that.”

As if to accentuate the finality of his argument, a large tooting noise came from the living room.

Emily turned her nose up at the new smell but was not done talking. “That, well that is a load of crap.”

“Cute.”

“Don’t cute me, it’s true. Work didn’t factor into your thoughts. You wanted someone else to tell me it was ugly.”

“Emily, that haircut isn’t you. Why would you do that?”

“Because it isn’t me.”

Tyler leaned away from the table. “Okay, well now you’ve lost me.”

“You don’t think I see how people treat you? You’re the cool one. You’re the one that travels around putting out fires. You work in crises. You get to watch cars get smashed and houses collapse. You think I don’t noticed that my siblings, my own family, they text you more than me. And why wouldn’t they? I sit behind a desk and deal with coworkers that can’t play nice with each other or decide they want to play nice in the bedroom, and then they come to me when it’s over and, guess what, they can’t play nice. You’re exciting, I’m dependable. Why wouldn’t I want a change?”

From across the table, Tyler could see Emily’s eyes tearing up. She picked up her napkin and dabbed her eyes with it. Tyler backed his chair away from the table, stood up, and slowly made his way to the other chair. He knelt down in front of his wife and put his arms on her legs.

“Because you are perfect.”

Another tooting sound came from the living room. No no, you’re timing’s perfect. Please, keep it up.

“More crap”, Emily replied sadly.

“What I’m saying is not crap. Do you know that half of the time I’m talking to Tess and Burt, I’m bragging about you? They’re the only ones who get it. They’re the ones who love you as much as I do and can’t stop being blown away.

“You? You spend forty-plus hours a week taking care of people, making sure that they get paid. In addition to all you do for me. On top of that, you make time for your church committees. It’s all I can do to get to church each week. Yet you somehow find the patience and the energy to tend to others. That is amazing to me. Why are you trying to be more like me when I’m trying to be more like you?”

“If you’re just saying this to get yourself out of the doghouse…”

“I’m not. You have this inner peace about you. I try to find little doses, little spurts of that in me. For you, it just happens. You define grace for me. I see all these people that have lost things, all these homes that have been wrecked, and while I’m trying to comfort them my brain is screaming that I should get back home to you right that second. Learning in the field is great; being away from you is not.”

“But people still like you more”, Emily said through small sniffles.

“I don’t think that’s true. They certainly love you more. Not a Sunday goes by when someone doesn’t pull me aside and sing your accolades. Even strangers, visitors to church; they talk to you for brief moments and then they meet me and tell me how blessed I am to be with you. They like both of us, sure, but they’re in awe of you.”

“Really? ‘cause this is stuff you could be telling me.”

“And I probably should. I’m sorry.”

“While we’re at it”, Emily said as the color in her cheeks, if not her hair, returned to normal. “You could also hang up your jacket when you come home instead of lazily throwing it on the couch.”

“People have been commenting on the straw odor.”

“It would also make your wife happier”, she said with a smile.

“What if I offered to shave your head? Would that help this situation or should I leave you be?”

“You know, that was what I was tempted to do”, Emily replied. “But the hairstylist said this would be less extreme.”

“I’m sorry… what?”

“She thought I might want to ease my want into this.”

“That’s ridiculous. Shaving your head is much less traumatic. I mean, you’re already halfway there, for corn sakes.”

“I said that, but she got so worked up about it”, Emily said.

“Okay, let’s try this. Do you like it? Not me, not the hairdresser; you.”

“Maybe if they had used hair dye colors that were found in nature. But as is? Notsomuch.”

“Will you let me shave it then?”

“You think you have enough expertise? I’d need someone who was used to having their hair short.”

“I think I can manage to figure it out”, Tyler said with a grin.

“All right, let’s do it. The sooner it’s over, the sooner my hair will grow back.”

“You know, I’ve never seen you with short hair. That could be cute.”

“Well, you’re going to find out. And we’re skipping the tennis and gym tonight. Now I really am too tired. And you have to help me.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll send them a note after we finish dinner. Then you’ll get your head all shorn.”

“Where do you think we should do it, over the sink?”

“I was actually thinking the shower”, Tyler said as his smile grew. “That way, you know, we wouldn’t make such a mess.”

“I should probably take my blouse off too. It will keep the hair from getting everywhere.”

“That is an excellent point. Less clothes, less mess. And I know how you hate messes.”

“First thing’s first”, Emily said with a look in her eye. “You have some business to take care of.”

“Oh”, Tyler said as he adopted his “come-hither” voice. “Do I?”

“Yeah”, she said plainly. “Dumbo over there. He needs to be tidied up.”

“Yes ma’am”, he said with a chuckle.

“Trust me”, Emily said as she brushed her long strand away from her right eye and winced at the blue dye. “Things will all be better after we’ve dealt with the elephant in the room.”

A Very Disney Wish

You broke my smoulder! -Tangled

(My coworker, who is quite the Disney fan, just got engaged. Since the congratulations note was rather non-specific, I figured I would share it with you folks. If nothing else, there is a video at the end for those of you that have forgotten your Disney childhood.)

———-

It’s clear that your friends should all say “Congrats”,
And the gents walking by should doff their hats.
In a life where dating seems quite harried,
You are content to be getting married.

You’re a cute couple, go walk down the aisle,
We’re curious if you’ll do it “in style”.
The groom will be handsome, the bride will beam,
Even more so with a colorful theme!

The classic setting calls for some stained glass
To light up the storybook lad and lass.
Oh, the joy to be wed in a castle.
Though the dragon might prove quite the hassle.

And yes, fairy godmothers would be nice,
But still, you should probably think twice.
Invite them, you’ll get Maleficent too,
Her ivy grows everywhere; who knew?

Let’s avoid a ceremony with vines,
You could always get married in the mines?
We know seven dwarves who’d help, they’re all kin.
But you’d have an abundance of groomsmen.

Here’s something that would go swimmingly well,
Go get married at sea, like Ariel!
There’s the woman dressed like an octopus,
That’s only a problem if you’re a wuss.

What, something like her would bother you two?
Or is it nixing crab off the menu?
We can see how his feelings might get hurt,
Ask Sebastian if he’d like the desert.

Have the event in The Cave of Wonders;
You’ll have to watch out for social blunders.
If one guest tries to take a souvenir,
You’ll all have to yell, “We are outta here!”

The walls falling down is hardly the worst,
You could be in a whale, dying of thirst.
We think Pinocchio is a cute boy,
But you want a ring-bearer, not a toy.

We think it’s time that you start to settle,
Simple entertainment, like a kettle.
You can still have a fancy chandelier,
(Gaston might get you a good deal on beer).

Hey, have you planned out the bridal shower?
We think it’d be cool to use a tower.
You’ll need a ladder so gals could get down,
Y’know, if they all wear their finest gown.

Perhaps if your sister is feeling nice,
She would host you in her palace of ice?
But then a kid would try to lick a wall,
Or an elderly man might slip and fall.

At this point we don’t know what to say.
Why are you smiling and laughing that way?
Silly us.  You don’t need all that glory,
You’ve already got your own love story.

You two just don’t need a real fancy plan,
He’s got his lady, and she’s got her man.
We’ll be the background characters for you,
In your fairy tale that is coming true.

An Affair Worthy of the News

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.

An Affair Worthy of the News

Be faithful to your love and you will be recompensed beyond measure.” -Albert Schweitzer

“What do you think we should do?”

“Make out.”

“Tom”, Gretchen said with exasperation.  “We made out yesterday, now we need to be serious.”

“You think I’m not?  Well if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m always serious about making out.  I am all about serious.  I think we should do some serious making out.”

“Funny guy”, she said.  “But we need to come up with some sort of a resolution here.”

Tom lay on his side looking at Gretchen who was doing the same.  The weather was far too nice to be ignored and the couple had taken a blanket to a small patch of grass.  Tom saw his relaxing day off turning into a, “we need to have the talk” ordeal.  He took his right hand off of Gretchen’s hip and reached all the way around her back.  He rolled her on top of him and locked his arms tightly behind her lower back.

“What are you doing”, Gretchen asked.  A smile eked out of the corner of her mouth, proving that she was only partially resisting.  “We’re supposed to be talking out a plan of action here.”

“I am”, Tom replied.  “I just want to make sure that I have your full attention.  I know how you get distracted.”

Gretchen’s penchant for being distracted was what had caused the two to meet in the first place.  She had decided that the life of a reporter would be enough of a hustle to keep her brief attention span occupied.  The bosses liked her enthusiasm and had asked Tom to show her the works.  Neither of them had meant for anything to happen, but they certainly weren’t complaining at the results.  Tom had started off by showing her the press box at the arena, showing her the best secret places around the city, and generally sharing with her the secrets that came from years of reporting in they city.

In return, Gretchen had let Tom have an outlet for his playful side.  At work he was seen as reliable and professional; one of the true grunts that would work until the job was done.  Gretchen loosened him up.  Whenever she rushed off to explore some new sight in the city, she grabbed him by the hand and took him racing along with her.  Her laugh, the way her long hair bobbed up and down in the loose ponytail as they darted from one place to the next; it was all too much for Tom to resist.  Everything had come to a head at the boxing match.

Despite Tom’s protesting, his editor had enlisted him to help out while one of the sports writers was on maternity leave.  Things were quiet in the features section and the boss assigned Tom the wrestling match.  When Tom started to vent his annoyance to Gretchen over their morning cup of coffee, she excitedly revealed her secret love of the spectacle.  A quick call to the stadium resulted in a second press seat being obtained.

Tom was astounded by the fun he had at the event.  Gretchen was the main reason why.  She reached a level of excitement Tom could scarcely believe.  She screamed and cheered, calling each wrestler by name and crying for such attacks as “the whirlwind of destruction” and “the bang-town boom”.  Tom had tried to understand the actual proceedings for the first half hour, but he ended up watching Gretchen.  She was clearly having the time of her life and she only became more enthralled as the night went on.  Finally, as the victor pinned his weary opponent, the crowd echoed in one massive cheer.  Gretchen clutched her hands in front of her, her tiny hands balled up into eager little fists of glee.  She looked to Tom, unclenched her hands, and lunged at him.  Her right hand grabbed the back of his head and she pulled him close, her lips fiercely pressing against his.

Tom felt her warm kiss send sparks throughout his body.  He hadn’t expected this kind of attack at the arena.  Gretchen pulled away, realized what she had done, and blushed.

“Sorry” she apologized.  “The spandex, the chaos, the crowd”, she gestured around her.  “I guess I sometimes forget to censor myself.  Please don’t be mad?”

The reply came quickly as Tom put his hand through her hair and leaned close.  “I won’t if you won’t.”  Slowly, making sure he was okay, Tom pulled her towards him and the two enjoyed their exchange in the madness around them.

Ever since that night of kissing, the two had been having the time of their lives.  Their different assignments and pre-existing obligations kept them from spending as much time together as they liked, but they managed to sneak in a date or two each week.  If nothing else, they tried to always grab a quick cup of coffee at work.

Work, although it was the reason the two found each other, was also the biggest problem looming in front of them.  Gretchen had stated in her interview that she had big ambitions, and she had meant it.  From the day she sat down in her business suit and answered the questions asked her, the goal had always been present in her mind.  She wanted to be an editor.  She wanted to be the one making the shots and keeping tabs on all the activity around town.  She cringed at the idea of being trapped behind a desk, yet that was a sacrifice she thought she could handle.  That drive and passion was appreciated by the higher-ups.  But the part that they bristled at was the obvious affection that Gretchen had for Tom.

The newspaper had a rule.  The rule made sense.  The rule was strict.  And for Gretchen and Tom, the rule was a problem.  The rule stated that no employee should be in a relationship with an employee that could be answerable to the other.  Tom showing Gretchen around town and taking her places; that the bosses could excuse as a professional courtesy.  However two employees out and out dating while one made choices that could affect the other; that they wouldn’t have.  Gretchen had made informal inquiries to Anne, an editor she had grown to respect and like.  Anne explained it as softly as she could; management wouldn’t let an editor date a reporter, even if they weren’t assigned to the same sections.  The company wanted to avoid any and all appearances of nepotism, no exceptions.

Gretchen had tried to have fun with Tom, and that part had succeeded entirely.  The choice they would have to make soon continued to loom over their heads like a giant typewriter.  Any day it was going to fall and one of them might be crushed.  Gretchen warned Tom as they walked towards the park.  A decision had to be made.  She would prefer it to be made today.  Tom nodded quietly; a sign that he was trying to figure out a way to phrase the thoughts in his head.  That was one of the things Gretchen loved about Tom.  His thoughts always came out perfectly formed because of all the time he spent developing and arranging them in his head.  Tom rarely went through drafts or needed revisions; his writings, just like his conversations, emerged from his head ready for their audience.

“Here’s what’s going to happen”, Tom said.  He watched as Gretchen tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her.  She pulled her long hair out of Tom’s face, only for it to fall back towards him after she had readjusted it.  “Leave it”, he said.  “Here’s what we will do.  We will continue to fall deeply and madly in love.  It’s that simple.”

“Okay, she said as she ran her thumb against the line of his jaw.  And when I become editor?”

“Then I’ll quit”, Tom said quietly.

“Wait, quit?”  Gretchen broke free of Tom’s arms and sat next to him.  She stared down at him in disbelief.  “You can’t quit.”

“Sure I can”, Tom replied.  “People do it every day.”

“You can’t quit”, she repeated.  “You’re great at your job.  You love it.  You’ve spent years developing all those contacts.  What would you do if you quit?”

“I could still write”, Tom replied.  “I put some feelers out and there’s freelance work available.  Plus, my agent seems to think that there’s a book or two in this noggin of mine.”

Gretchen was stunned.  “You talked to your agent?”

“Well yeah”, Tom said has he sat up.  “You’re not the only one who’s been thinking this out.”

“Do you really want to quit, though?”

“No, I don’t”, Tom replied sadly.  He saw Gretchen was about to argue, so he spoke first.  “But I will.  You and I both know that editor jobs are rare in this city.  The media outlets just aren’t what they once were.  If you think a job is going to open up for you, then you have to seize it.  Period.”

“I don’t want you to have to quit”, Gretchen said.  “You’re good at your job.  You enjoy it, I know you do.”

“Very true”, Tom replied.  “But I enjoy you more.  And I care about your happiness more than a job, no matter how good I am at it.  Of course, if you ask my current editor, he may disagree with just how talented I am.”

“Don’t do that”, Gretchen snapped.  “I hate it when you put yourself down.”

Tom smiled.  “Yeah, I do.  Sorry.”

“You really plan to quit?”

“The way I see it, I have two choices.  I can keep seeing you, keep building on this wonderful stretch of, what, seven months?  Or I can have my job.  My job is interesting, but it isn’t everything.  I’d rather have no one calling me, offering jobs, than not have you call me at the end of the night.  It’s really that simple.  I’m supposed to support you, right?  Cheer for you when you want to have something for yourself?  Well then, consider it done.”

“You”, Gretchen said as she choked up, “are amazing.”

“No, the version of me that’s with you is.  I like myself more when I’m with you.  You make me feel more happier, smarter, and more confident.  Life is better when you’re with me.  It’s that simple.  You make me feel attractive, and it’s not just because you’re so stunning.  Which in case I haven’t told you today; you are.  The sun shining through your hair?  It’s pretty great.”

“You’re not so bad yourself”, Gretchen replied.

“Oh, I know.  I’m kinda perfect”, Tom said as he lay back on the blanket.

“Says the guy who forgot my birthday last month”, she retorted.  Gretchen lay back down and nestled next to Tom.  She put her head on his chest as they watched the few clouds above float lazily by.  A large cumulus in the shape of a sitting camel seemed to wink at her, wishing her the best.

“I did forget”, Tom admitted.  “But I promise to buy you flowers when you get promoted.  I’ll have them delivered to the office.  It’ll be a grand spectacle sure to embarrass you.  Hey, maybe you can use it as a reason to fire me?  Wouldn’t that be a fun story for our coworkers to gossip about?”

Gretchen rolled her eyes and sighed.  She wanted to be annoyed at his bad joke.  She couldn’t; Gretchen was far too busy enjoying a quiet day with a man who truly loved her.

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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