Screwball RomCom in Mitty style. WIP. Seeking blunt, helpful feedback. Chapter uploads. RW
|Chapter 1: The Beginning
"And our resident genius is back!" Shirley squished me in a hug. "Did you have a good flight?"
"No. Ah, turbulence. Parietal bone struck overhead bin. No concussion. I-"
"I don't know what that means, but you seem fine to me. I just had to say something before I pounced. Have a pizza. When will the ending be posted?" Shirley stood on her tiptoes to look over my shoulder to see if I had been typing.
"I, I finished it on the plane. Not typed yet. No posting. I-"
"Well, c'mon. I want to know what happens!" She put her hands on her hips. "I know that Tyrone is bad news. I told Marguerite to pay attention and learn. She is completely fooled, but that little comment about the piece of mail addressed to Harrison Clyde which he said was for him. Big clue. He's a conman, an identity thief! I know it! I'm finally going to get it right this time. Why aren't you eating your pizza? Eat! Then, get to work. Text me when it's posted.
Everyone is dying downstairs. Jason's set up a betting pool on which guy gets Fiona in the end. That money's mine. I'm backing Tadros. Everyone else put money on Tyrone. I told them not to trust him, but they wouldn't listen. So, it's $75 all to me!
Back to pizzas. TEXT ME!"
Obediently, I put my suitcases in the corner to unpack later. I found my carry-on, my school messenger bag which held my tablet, pens, and my sacred five subject writing notebook. Purple this time. I sat down at my desk, taking a piece of pizza with me. After eating the required slice, I started typing, "Chapter 27 - The Edge". Page after page traveled up the story's rising action to the climax. "I faced Tyrone with determination. I knew him now. A liar. A scoundrel. He had taken everything from me.
Yet not myself.
Not my self-respect.
For the first time in months, I was my own woman again."
Shirley had been right about Tyrone. The first time she ever figured it out. I was so proud of her.
As I started page 342, the final page, my phone alarm played Endless Love.
10:00. My self-imposed bedtime.
I broke it to stay up long enough to finish my ending with "Carter held out his hand to me. 'Come to me, Rose. Let the past be gone. Let the future be only ours.
I love you, Rose.
I leaned back and stretched. First draft done. Best feeling in the world.
I heard the front door lock downstairs. Shirley's Pizza was closing. As fast as I could, I got the last five chapters ready for posting. Find "Rose". Replace All "Fiona". Find "Carter". Replace All "Tadros". Find "Carmichael". Replace All "MacDonough". Find "Everington". Replace All "DeMetrios". Save as .pdf.
I updated my personal website where I posted my drafts and sold my completed books.
I texted Shirley, "Done."
Immediately, I heard Shirley's voice reverberating through the floor, "It's ready. JASON! Stop! Don't leave! I want my money!" Shirley must have committed the sacrilege of reading the ending first because two minutes later while I brushed my teeth, I heard Jason yelling "NOOO! ROSE!" followed by Shirley's strange, celebratory whooping.
After unpacking some necessities, I prepared for the start of classes tomorrow. Out of curiosity, I checked to see if there was any feedback on my novel's conclusion yet. 158,349 views. 9,365 comments. I guess more people than Shirley and the kitchen staff were waiting for the ending. And they liked it.
With a happy, satisfied feeling of accomplishment, I laid down in my cozy twin bed which was the best part of the little apartment that I rented from Shirley. My mind drifted back to thoughts of the coming day. As I did so, a pain presented to the sagittal midline of my abdomen. I easily diagnosed the cause as psychological. Trepidation for what the next day would bring. In the colloquial, first day of school nerves. Even the sheets' supposed "relaxing smell of lavender" as promised by numerous laundry commercials did not ease it. I doubted whether an overdose of Valium would be effective.
The source of my psychological condition was also known to me.
There was a 1:7 chance that I may see him tomorrow on campus. I took comfort that he would not be in any of my classes. He was Premed like me, but for two whole years, we'd never had a class together. It was a personal goal of mine that we never would. I intentionally planned my schedule based on my observations of his preferences to ensure I would always make a different choice than he would. I never even passed him in the halls so perfect was my planning.
Statistical probability combined with behavioral psychology is a powerful ally.
The next day, I arrived at 7:37am for Organic Chemistry 3. I hoped it would be somewhat challenging. All my classes were less than challenging somehow.
I was the first person in the room. Other students arrived for class. Students who were not Carter Everington. The chairs like the points of a compass around me were empty. The clock above the door registered "8:02". Dr. Kingmore walked in, slamming her books, tablet and purse down on the provided teacher table as usual. She furiously picked up a dry erase marker, walked to the front of the room angrily muttering about "Frank" and "commitments" before faking a smile and opening the school year with a "Welcome, Everyone. This is-"
The door opened.
"Sorry, Dr. Kingmore. I just got my new schedule this morning. I came right over. I'm sorry for disrupting the class and interrupting you."
Dr. Kingmore nodded, smiled in a devious way, and pointed at me. I was aghast as I heard her say,. "Don't worry about it, Carter. The start of the semester is rather chaotic. Go sit down. As you see, there are several open seats by Rose."
Carter Everington was coming to sit by me.
My hands started to shake. My pen fell onto the floor. I didn't touch my tablet to keep it from joining the pen.
Carter dropped into the chair to my right. He leaned down and picked up my fallen pen. "Yours?"
I nodded and didn't move. I sat on my hands so that he wouldn't see them shaking.
Carter put it on my desk and smiled at me. "Good to meet you, Rose."
I nodded once again as thanks and stared straight ahead, busily recalculating the probability in my mind. Where had I gone wrong? What had I not accounted for? Such an error unnerved me. I discovered that I was bouncing my head around as I multiplied. I stopped, but not before I had seen him in my peripheral vision staring at me and smiling broadly. No doubt he was thinking, 'This Rose girl is crazy.'
Dr. Kingmore quickly took roll.. "All right. Michelle, would you please show up for some labs this year? Is that a 'yes'? No, I'm telling you. That's a 'Yes, Dr. Kingmore. I wouldn't miss it.' Xia, did you do that extra work I assigned over the summer to learn English medical terminology? Excellent. And last but never possibly least, Rose. ROSE!"
I stared at her as Dr. Kingmore started shouting, "Can you HEAR me, ROOOSSSEE?"
"Yes." I could not fail to hear her. She was speaking at roughly 80 decibels. People outside the windows stopped and looked around as they heard her too. Perhaps, she was growing hearing impaired as she aged.
"No blank zombie stares this year before you effortlessly crush my class and leave me polite little notes in my evaluations about 'trying harder to make your class somewhat challenging'?"
I didn't answer. She hadn't actually asked me anything. Why was she looking at me as though she expected me to say something?
I continued staring at her, unsure whether or not to speak.
Dr. Kingmore sighed before saying, "Well, I can't have everything." She put back down her marker and prefaced her lesson with a long speech that she expected us to talk back to her about. After twenty minutes, she began to teach. With my textbook loaded on my tablet and my right hand writing down class notes, I was ready to get to work.
Wait. Carter. Carter was here. Garnering together all my courage, I moved my eyes to the right. Carter was furiously typing on his laptop, paying no attention to me. I could do this. While peaking over at him, I noticed his sideburns were longer than usual, rather like a hippie's.
A hippie. The '60's. History.
That would be a good change to my recent, rather formulaic novels. Why not do a series of historical romances? Carter and Rose together through all time.
Where should I start? I could start chronologically, but I wasn't sure that my readers would want to read about a love story in ancient Sumer and if I did every historical era in every geogra- Dr. Kingmore had gone to the 2019 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Her coffee mug said so. I could see it on the table.
Rodeo. Texas. The West. Carter would make an excellent cowboy. No, I had a better idea.
My eyes glided from staring at the mug to the whiteboard. I breathed out slowly and relaxed. Slowly, the room faded from my view. Dr. Kingmore's voice sounded faint, distant, inaudible. My right hand never stopped moving.
The pounding hooves of the horses matched the pounding of my heart.
I could see the fort. We had almost made it. The wail of the baby and little Mary's terrified screams gave me new strength. The leather slipped in my bloody hands. The team was too strong for me, but with Ben dead, there was no one else to drive the wagon. The team foamed and frothed.
I heard the sickening twang of an arrow shoot past my head. The bareback riders were in range.
A cloud of dust appeared by the fort. It started to move.
Closer and closer.
Help was coming.
As a troop of horsemen thundered past the wagon, I slowed the team to a walk. My arms shook from the strain. My throat was parched. My hands were a sea of red. My hair lay flat with sweat and grime.
I had saved my children.
Ben was dead. Dead. Thank God. Ben was finally dead.
I was free.
I felt a strong poke on my arm. I looked around vaguely to realize that Dr. Kingmore was still talking. I could not see any poking thing. What was that?
"...lab partners by the end of tonight's session. Michelle, you will grace us with your presence so that we have teams of two. Else, I will fail you this semester. Are you coming? Wonderful. See you then. DID YOU GET THAT ROSE? Lab. Tonight. Get a partner. That means you too."
I nodded vaguely. Dr. Kingmore drank some cold coffee before coughing and pouring it out the open window. She picked up her phone, shook her head and walked out texting her husband. I could tell by the violent way that she texted.
I looked at my desk. My notebook had ten pages full of notes, diagrams and comments. Strange ones like "See if this matches with Hyle's research. Think she misspoke."
I packed up swiftly to go to my next class. Carter was in the hall, talking to Cathy and her boyfriend. I slipped silently past so that none of them would see me.
I speed walked over to the Mathematics building and rushed into the tiny classroom on the third floor. I sat by the most empty chairs. The girl to my left got up and moved. I wasn't offended. I knew no one liked me. I came to college to get an education not to win a popularity contest. Besides, blowing the curve on every single exam makes you exceptionally unpopular.
I was taking my notebook, pen, and tablet out of my bag when I heard someone sit down behind me. Nick walked by and stuck out his hand to slap hands with whoever it was.
I heard, "Everington."
From right behind me. Carter was sitting by me for ANOTHER class. I froze. My heart rate increased. I evaluated myself for shock. I did not require emergency medical treatment, but I did need Carter to change his schedule.
I dropped my tablet. It bounced off Carter's backpack and hit the floor unharmed. From the corner of my visual field, I could see male arms. Male Everington arms with hands attached - outstretched, moving towards my tablet.
Carter picked it up.
I knew that I had to turn around. I would have to look him in the face. Take it out of his hands.
I couldn't do it. I did nothing.
I heard Carter moving to my left, saw my tablet appear on my desk and heard him sit back down before he whispered to me, "Don't worry, Rose. My sister is very shy too. You don't have to say anything."
Dr. Wu walked in brusquely, gave his usual quick bow and started Differential Calculus. Another far too easy class.
I looked down at my notebook that I was quickly filling up with the board's example problems as Dr. Wu's soothing voice began.
Time to begin. I looked up at the blank spot on the whiteboard, intentionally blocking out all sound. I slowly blinked my eyes and let them lose focus.
I knew that the girls would be safe with the minister's wife. She had a tidy, pleasant home with smiling children. The girls both had already eagerly sat on the porch to have bread and butter with the other children after a time of play. Their little smiles warmed my heart. My girls were on their way to being safe and happy.
I walked into the small outbuilding used for storage. Emily Johnson, the minister's wife, had assisted to prepare a bath for me. I locked the barn door and eased into the large basin. My body was being externally cleansed, but the damage done by Ben would never truly leave me. The branding iron scar on my stomach given as a "present" when our second child also failed to be a boy would be a lifetime reminder of Ben and his brutality. I closed my eyes trying to not to remember the terror I had felt as I pulled away from him screaming as he walked towards me after locking me in the barn with him. He had chased me, laughing, waving the iron, and saying - No. I would not remember it again. He no longer held any power over me.
The Lord had heard my prayers. He had delivered me and shown me such mercy that I was able to pity Ben as much as I would a suffering beast in the end. Galerina mushrooms are a fearful way to die, but he knew best.
He ate them despite my pleas not to. I could have kept quiet when he brought them home, but I wanted a clear conscience before my God. I could not help wishing him dead, but I did nothing to hasten his passing. I told him of their danger.
I pleaded with him, repeating over and over that those little brown mushrooms were deadly, that he had confused them with another kind. He bellowed at me to never tell him that he was wrong again. He backhanded me across the face and knocked me to the floor. From there, I watched him eat more than six of them raw.
When his wretching and pain had turned to stillness and finally death five days later, I had broken out singing a hymn, yelled "Praise God! Mary! Ma is going to get Caroline. Please get all your things and put them into the wagon. We are leaving to go to town." I packed that wagon as fast as I could.
I did not bury him. I felt my tiredness again begin to overtake. I turned my thoughts away from the horrors of the past to my coming meeting with the colonel.
My bath concluded, I carefully put on the too big clothes lent by an officer's wife. They hung off my frame awkwardly. I was as gaunt as Ben had been fat. Somehow, there had only been enough food for him, but I made sure my girls ate - and took my nightly blows for doing it. I brushed out my limp, thin hair before I arranged it into a pathetically small knot. I shook my head at the mirror. I would never struggle with vanity, that was certain.
Within five minutes, I stood outside a large wooden door. A smart, young officer addressed me, "Colonel Everington will see you now."
I stepped into a plain, neat office.
A side door opened as a man about 30 walked in. He wearily threw his large yellowish leather gloves on his desk and turned to me with burning eyes. "You are not permitted to settle on Indian lands."
"And what does that mean? Is that an apology?" The colonel's black eyes held my gaze with a unyielding, enraged stare. "You decided to break our country's treaties, to build a cabin on Sioux land! Did you not understand that you could have started another Indian War? Are my men to die for your inability-"
"Colonel Everington!" I forcefully interrupted him. "I repeatedly pleaded with my late husband not to settle near the Sioux. I feared every day that we would be discovered. I knew that you would not come to our aid as we were breaking the law. I knew what would happen to us, if the Sioux found out as happened today as I fled their territory. I had no say in the matter. No one could have lamented the building of that cabin more than me."
Colonel Everington regarded me quietly for a moment. He threw himself down in his chair. "Sit down, Madam."
I remained standing.
"Stand if you want. Fine."
I set my face firmly. "I will no longer take orders - though you have me flogged for it."
The colonel watched me silently. I could discern no emotion on his face.
I continued, "My husband beat me into submission or simply because he enjoyed it. Daily. My life has been to follow orders - or pay the price. I will do it no longer."
Colonel Everington soberly rose to his feet, walked around his desk, and offered me his arm. Gallantly, he walked me two steps to the chair opposite his desk. "Would you be so kind as to join me, Madam? May I offer you a chair, Mrs...?"
"I will no longer use Ben's name. I will use my unmarried name. For me and my girls. Carmichael. Rose Carmichael."
"Mrs. Carmichael. Ward! Bring this woman a tray of food. And wine mingled with water." The colonel's eyes surveyed my dress. "And clearly, this Ben starved you as well. We will put that to rights. He is dead?"
We sat in silence as Colonel Everington began to look through papers on his desk and write on some of them. I saw him glance up at me once or twice, but otherwise, he did not seem to remember that I was there.
Quite soon Private Ward put down a tray with a sort of stew before me on the desk, I tried to be refined but hunger consumed me. I ripped the bread and devoured the stew, drinking from the bowl at the end. I had not eaten this much food at one time in over seven years. Private Ward returned with a second tray. Both he and Colonel Everington appeared angry for a reason I could not discern. I apologized, but the colonel shook his head with a firm, "There is no need, Mrs. Carmichael. Can you eat any more?"
I thanked him and shook my head "no". I had long forgotten such a sensation. I became almost overwhelmingly tired.
The Colonel pleasantly addressed me with "I understand you have two children, girls I believe. May I be introduced to them before you fall asleep in my chair?" He stood, rounded the desk again and politely looped my arm through his. as we walked to the little clapboard house next to the church, he told me of the fort town and its inhabitants.
On the porch, Mary and Caroline played with a litter of three week old puppies. The girls giggled and clapped their hands. Both rushed over to me, pulling me along to see the dogs. I sat on the porch and allowed them to fill my apron with puppies. Colonel Everington removed his hat and sat next to me. He began to tell the girls little stories about what the puppies were thinking, mostly about the kind, clever girls who were playing with them as well as the puppies adventures on the porch. One with a chicken particularly amused them. As he talked, Mary wished to sit on his lap. Two year old Caroline followed her example, but was not so brave. She crawled up into my lap instead, but listened rapt to the colonel's delightful stories. Both girls fell asleep in our arms.
The colonel followed me into the house and laid Mary next to little Caroline in the trundle bed provided for our use. He carefully tucked the blankets around them and ensured that the hearth was cold and that the candle was properly extinguished.
The Colonel whispered to me, "Before you join them, would you please follow me to the back of the house, Mrs. Carmichael? I would speak to you, if you are willing."
The colonel and I stood next to the water pump out back. He paced without speaking for a short time before inviting me to sit down on a little wooden bench. He resumed his pacing before me. After a short time, he stopped and faced me. "Mrs. Carmichael, I must speak with you. I will seem impertinent, but I assure you that I am sincere. I request, Madam, that you allow me to speak all my mind before giving your answer."
I waited as he gathered his thoughts, unable to understand what he could possibly wish to discuss with me. He sat down beside me and carefully took my hand. "On the frontier, time moves apace. We act out of necessity. We make decisions based on principle and faith in our God, if we are true men."
The colonel released my hand and stood to his feet. "What I am saying is that I would like to ask you to be my wife."
I was astonished.
Colonel Everington knelt on the ground before me, taking both of my hands in his, speaking rapidly, earnestly. "I remember you. Distinctly. I saw you when you bought supplies here. It was three, four months ago. I recall your husband too. I felt contempt and wondered how such a boorish man had married an angel."
"My parents died. My uncle sold me to him. He was 25 years older than me." I answered without thought. How could a man like him wish to marry me?
"I have never forgotten you. I see your face in my dreams. We, we spoke. If you recall. You were in the wagon while your husband was inside. When I inquired if you needed assistance to load the wagon, you graciously told me that you did not. As we spoke, I saw a much too thin little girl - Mary - be given your food while you no doubt went hungry. You smiled at each other. Her love for you was evident. Then, your husband's voice was heard within the shop. Terror spread on her face as she retreated quickly into the back of the wagon. I understood your plight at that moment, but I could do nothing to save you from it." The colonel gently caressed my hands. "Such a sacrificial, loving, and gracious woman. I have respected you greatly since that day.
Respect from a single day is not much to build a life upon, but more than many have.
Will you consider my offer? Naturally, I do not expect that you will give me an answer immediately. If you would take a few days or longer."
I silently considered as he continued speaking. I had no money. No prospects. No home. No future. I had expected to descend into abject poverty, but here was an opportunity to give my girls a life, a home, a future, possibly even an education. I did not hesitate.
"I do not need time to consider. Yes, Colonel. Yes, I will marry you. Moreover, I thank you, sir, for it. You cannot understand-"
The colonel stood, lifting me to a standing position along with him. "I understand more than you know. Please understand me. You do me great honor."
My eyes filled with tears. Surely, this must all be a dream.
"We must talk. I do have conditions that I believe you may wish as well." The colonel held both my hands and held my gaze with his black eyes. "To begin, I do not expect your love. I ask only for your faithfulness. To be unloved by my wife is bearable, but to have a wife who loves another is not."
I nodded. "I agree and request the same. Have you a mistress?"
Solemnly, the colonel shook his head, "No, I do not. And never will have. I swear it."
I nodded again, unable to speak.
He continued. "Second, I ask to be a father to your children under your guidance. I wish to love them as my own."
I stepped forward without realizing I did so. "But you must never-"
Colonel Everington's face grew stern. He strongly interrupted me, "I do not harm, harass, or deal harshly with anyone, especially not women and children. I promise you. None of you will ever have cause to fear me. I will never do so to you."
I looked away from him, moved by the thought of treatment that would be so different from what I had always known as a married woman. Before I had turned again to face him, he finished with his requirements. "Finally, I do not expect you to share my bed." He dropped my hands and turned away from me.
I firmly refused. "No. I will not agree to that."
He spun around sharply. "Why? Do you wish to lie with a man you don't even know?"
I stared at a nail sticking out the fence. I could not look at him, see his eyes as I told him. With a dead voice that reflected my feelings towards Ben, I felt myself begin to shake as the old feeling of fear consumed me. I whispered with a shaking voice, "Every day I feared the night. I watched the sun set with, with a fearful dread. Agony. I hoped he would be too drunk or distracted or gone, but that almost never happened. He, he-" Tear poured down my face. I burst out saying, "I no longer wish to fear the night. I no longer wish the thought of a man's arms being a place of cruelty and pain." I lost my preposition and began to sob into my hands. The colonel gently took hold of my arms and pulled me close into his chest. He rested his head on mine, said nothing, and waited.
When I had calmed sufficiently, I concluded, "Besides, it is not right for me to refuse you any happiness. It is not good for me as well. A man learns to love his wife better through his times with her. If I am to be your wife, I must be it. We must be knit together in every way. If we were to be married today, I would be with you tonight."
Colonel Everington laid his hand upon my hair. He gently kissed my head before he promised me, "You will never receive anything but respect from me, Mrs. Carmichael. I will-"
"Rose. My name is Rose."
"Rose, I cannot express my feelings to you. You are a woman of great worth. It is my honor to take you as my wife."
"Thank you, Colonel Everington. The security, safety and sanctuary that you offer me and my girls. I cannot thank you enough. The thought that I will be treated with kindness and affection, even though you can feel none. I cannot express how grateful I am. I will do my best-."
"Yes, yes. I understand, Rose. You do not need to say more. And my name is Carter. As to the kindness and affection, I will be more than happy to demonstrate tomorrow. I fear that a dinner obligation and our sleeping children prevent us from being married tonight."
I inhaled sharply, rather shocked. He laughed heartily, winked at me, and kissed my forehead. I found that I was not beyond the age of blushing. Carter smiled delightedly at me and kissed my cheek before he offered his arm to me which I accepted. He walked us into the house, announcing to the pastor and his wife, "Parson Johnson, we wish to be married."
The next morning, I left the house as Mrs. Everington, the Colonel's wife.
As I walked down the dusty streets to the colonel's house, the inhabitants of the fort town gazed with incredul-
"Carmichael?! I am speaking to you!"
"No, it's Everington." I answered.
Dr. Wu irritatedly replied, "No, Everington just did his. YOUR turn, Carmichael. Number 8."
I quickly got out my homework and answered.
"Correct. Dermott. Number 9."
My breath caught. I almost got caught that time. I cannot do that again. And in front of Carter too!
After Dr. Wu had bowed to the class and dismissed us, I snatched up my already packed messenger bag and ran all the way to the library.