A happening documented in early September in the year 1883, at a small resort town near New Haven by the sea, involving the irrepressible Mr. Alexander Endicott and the charming Miss Adelaide Montgomery.
Reaching a hand up to better insure the safety of her new straw bonnet, Addie gazed across the shimmering water thoughtfully. Her other hand clutched the pale green calico of her skirts to keep them in line against the faint breezes. The waves cresting in broke gently, a quiet day at sea, and the bright sunshine reflected with a riot of sparkles in the aftermath of each wave. The white foam of the crests dispersed quickly. Squinting, she watched a boat in the distance. She licked her lips thoughtfully, for the moment forgetting any possible audience. "I wonder," she murmured, "where that craft is going. It doesn't look big enough to go very far."
Her forgotten audience followed her gaze, considering the idle comment more then it probably deserved. "A local fisherman, probably."
Alex was enjoying being by the ocean. The smell of the shore farther away from the city docks was fresh and reminded him of being at sea.
"They would make day trips in small boats, not staying out overnight."
"Oh." She considered his answer and then turned to face him with a smile. "Thank you, teacher. I suppose it wouldn't be safe to stay overnight in something so small, would it?"
"It would be alright if the weather was calm, but not particularly comfortable. Safety is really less and issue then supplies." He returned her smile, "But I don't think I should be allowed to be called a teacher, just for knowing something about fishing."
"A teacher is someone who knows more than someone else and is willing to share that knowledge," she returned lightly. Then she laughed and shook her head. "Never mind. I'm being ridiculous. I think it's the location." She moved her hand to indicate the water, the sand, possibly him. "I feel ages younger."
"I'm pleased you're enjoying it." He said it with the air of someone who has shown a friend something they really love and are pleased to find their enthusiasm is shared, "But you aren't being that ridiculous. Anyway someone is only a teacher if they have something to share and the person they are sharing it with wants to learn it. " He laughed, "And I don't expect you want to learn about fishing boats."
Her hazel eyes sparkled. "Are you sure?"
Alex tried hard not the laugh again, "No, I guess I'm not."
"See? That will teach you the dangers of assuming."
"I suppose it will. I wouldn't want to deprive you of knowledge about the local fishing practices."
"You never know." Addie turned back to study the ship in the distance. A faint, teasing smile hovered at the corners of her mouth. "A sailor might just steal away my heart and I would have to know the family business."
As if she realized her words could be taken strangely the moment they escaped, the redhead flushed prettily, freckles standing out. She steadfastly refused to turn to see whatever expression had appeared on Alex's face.
The blush made things much worse. Without her own reaction, her companion might have missed the implications. Though she was not looking to see his reaction, he was required to clear his throat before saying anything, "Do you think so?"
"... In this day and age, anything's possible," she answered, still blushing. Then she turned a bit to look at him sideways. Something in her eyes asked him to forget the awkwardness, almost begged. "Or haven't you heard we're living in an age of marvels?"
"So I'm told. They dock airships at sea now, I've heard." It might have helped Alex's smile that Addie looked quite pretty when she blushed.
"Have you ever seen it, though? I imagine it would be both terrifying and amazing."
"I've not seen it. Although I should like to, I'm afraid my interest in it is far more practical." He laughed, "I'll grant amazing, but admit that I think of the time it saves."
"Maybe some day we'll see it." Addie relaxed the final bit after her words and smiled at him warmly. "Until then, we'll read and learn." A playful breeze tugged at her hat and she squeaked, clapping her hand harder to it.
Alex was forced to cover his mouth to hide his laughter at her squeak of alarm. "What are you reading and learning at present, since we know its not about airships or fishermen?"
"I'm actually re-reading Ivanhoe," she admitted, sending him a knowing glance. "And go ahead and laugh if you must. I know I look absolutely ridiculous."
He did laugh, and was then forced to explain himself, "You look lovely, but I had not expected you to be rereading Scott." He paused and then added, "And I was laughing before at your reaction to the wind threatening your hat."
"A combination of nostalgia and using a kindly given gift," she explained in regards to her reading material. "Bartholomew thought I'd like it."
The wind passed for the moment, Addie removed her hand and toyed with the green ribbon beneath her chin thoughtfully. "You were sensible to not wear a hat. Then again, you look just as handsome without as I remember you looking with."
Alex smiled slightly and turned his gaze from Addie to the horizon at her explanation, maybe attempting to hide some of his expression, "I don't think you should attribute it to sensibility, it didn't occur to me that I might ought to wear one. And I think you're teasing me now."
"If I am, it's in the same vein you tease me." She stepped closer and touched his sleeve briefly before turning her gaze in the same direction that his lingered. "I mean it, though," she murmured, almost hopefully. "We've known each other too long to play silly games, right?"
"You mean we won't be playing hide and seek any time soon," He answered, lightly, unwilling to take the statement seriously.
She was quiet at his response for a moment. Then she laughed softly. "Of course not. Perhaps follow the leader? Mother may I?"
"Because those are much graver then hide and seek." He nodded, "I see. I might suggest tag, but I would have an unfair advantage."
She looked down at her skirts and sighed dramatically. "Yes, I think you do."
"Not that you weren't once quite good at catching me regardless of skirts." He grinned widely, "But I've gotten much taller."
"I think that is a challenge, Alexander Endicott." She eyed him, fighting a smile. "I should warn you that I still don't play very fair."
"And I should warn you, I've had a great deal of exercise, even lately."
"And you would not humor me?"
He considered that, "You know, I fear I might."
"Oh. Well... That wouldn't be fair to either of us." She shifted to face him and smiled sweetly. "Just promise not to tear my dress please?"
"Oh dear. That would be absolutely inexcusable." He lifted a brow at her, wondering if she really meant to take off down the beach and expect to be chased.
"As it's relatively new, it would be an absolute crime. It might even make me cry." She remained still but her expression held only mischief.
"It would break my heart to know I'd made you cry."
"Oh, good." With that, Addie turned on her heel, hoisted her skirts just over her ankles, and skipped off with a laugh.
Alex was a good long moment in follow, owing entirely to the fact that he caught himself standing and staring.
At approximately ten feet, Addie looked over her shoulder at him and grinned. Then she refocused ahead, aiming for an outcropping of rocks ahead.
After being grinned at, Alex followed, trying to decide if he really would humor her and let her win. After a fairly short distance he decided that actually, he thought he'd rather catch her.
A few feet from the rocks, she chanced another glance over her shoulder and her eyes widened at how close he had managed to get. With a mutter at her own silliness (she refused to think what had possessed her in the first place), she angled her run slightly further down the beach to firmer sand. She was nearing the rocks but he was nearing her and certainly a lot faster.
She made her choice.
Nearly to the line where the waves lapped the sand, the rocks a handful of feet from her, Addie stopped and spun, holding up her hands in defeat and supplication. It might have been too abrupt.
Finding Addie suddenly stationary in his path forced Alex to step sideways to avoid running into her (and although catching her around the waist and spinning her around might have been appealing it wasn't particularly gallant). He hopped a few more steps stopping himself at the rocks Addie had been heading, and regarding her with one foot braced on a stone, "Surrender is entirely unfair."
"Is it?" She regarded him with wide, innocent eyes. Her mouth threatened laughter, though, and her color was high from the exertion. "I thought it was sensible."
"Fine, then I claim to win." He laughed, less winded then Addie by the run. "Though it's harder to run in sand then I remember."
She laughed then and attempted to readjust her bonnet; it was helplessly askew and a curl had escaped from beneath. "Does winning come with a prize?" she asked.
"Does it?" He stepped forward to reach out and tuck the escaped lock of hair to one side absently, "It's your game."
Her eyes dropped, masked by eyelashes, flushing at his help. "I suppose games usually have prizes," she conceded. "I should pay a forfeit."
"You did deprive me of being able to claim a victory by skill."
"Did I?" She looked up at him and studied his face. "I'm sorry."
He grinned crookedly, "I don't think you are. You did ask if I would humor you and allow you to win. And my spirit is too competitive, apparently, to allow it."
"Ah. I see."
"I did consider it."
"Very honest of you, Alex." With that, she suddenly went on her toes, tilted her bonnet back a bit, and leaned in to brush the lightest of kisses across his cheek. A butterfly's wing would have made more of an impression. "There. Honor is satisfied."
Alex was suddenly grateful for the breeze and the run, in the hopes that they might make the fact that his face flushed at the kiss less obvious. "I should be pleased to allow you to surrender at any game in the future."
"The forfeit might change," she cautioned, her own cheeks still pink.
"Oh, well in that case," He grinned, "Never mind."
"Hmph." Smiling yet, Addie reached up to resettle her hat once more. "I assure you they shouldn't be anything unpleasant, though. I hope."
"Well perhaps I shall test my luck then, at some point." He paused, then chuckled, "And I have gotten sand in my shoes."
She looked down at her own shoes and her posture changed as if she were rebalancing to wiggle her toes within. "I believe I do, too. The price of sand, I suppose."
"Well if I can go barefoot in the park, I suppose you shouldn't mind terribly if I take my shoes off on the beach? I think it's probably more excusable when there is sand."
"Of course not." She smiled. "How can I say no when I've already said yes?"
"The danger of setting a precedent." He laughed, and moved to sit on a rock in order to remove his shoes. "It's pleasant to feel your feet in the sand anyway."
"I can't hardly remember it." She hesitated for a moment and then moved to sit on a nearby rock. She stretched out her legs beneath her skirts and regarded her shoes thoughtfully.
"I think it's worth experiencing again." Alex suggested, innocently.
"I'm sure you do." She shot him a sideways smile and then tugged up her skirts a bit before bending awkwardly to pluck at the bows of her boots. Her nose wrinkled as she tried to ignore the discomfort of her corset reacting to the pose.
Perhaps more aware of his behavior since his previous small impropriety, Alex removed his own shoes and stockings before turning to his companion and asking, "Shall I assist you?"
She paused, still bent over. Slowly, she sat up and smiled at him a bit crookedly. "Well, as I said, I've already said yes once. A precedent has been set." She paused. "Though I don't want to be a bother."
"It's definitely no bother." Then, as if realizing how that sounded, he turned his gaze to focus entirely on the laces of her boots.
She watched the top of his head silently for a moment. Then, as he managed to undo the first boot, she murmured, "Thank you."
If his hand lingered on her ankle longer then necessary, he was pretending it was unintentional, "You're welcome."
"Sometimes I envy you men and your trousers," she announced in a light tone. As if she had noticed the slight frission of tension and was trying to dispell it with conversation.
"I imagine it's quite difficult to vault fences and climb trees in skirts." He answered, with the same lightness, as he freed her of her second shoe.
"Incredibly. Not to mention the petticoats and all."
"You might dress as a gentleman, start a new trend among young women of fashion."
"And promptly lose my livelihood." She sat back and braced her hands against the rocks behind her as she looked down to regard him with amusement. "I would become a pauper and have to count on the kindness of others who wouldn't be repulsed by my unnaturalness." She waggled one of her feet at him, ankle and all. Then she pulled herself back a bit and bent before pausing. "Um, speaking of my unnaturalness, I thank you for helping with my shoes but I think my stockings are best left to myself and... a bit of privacy?"
"Oh..." He cleared his throat, and this time the color in his complexion was perfectly obvious, "Of course, I'll...er....I'll just cross to the other side of the rocks then shall I?"
"If you please." Her own cheeks matched his. "I'll call when it's all clear."
"Certainly." He jumped up the rocks a little bit to quickly, forgetting his shoes, although he managed to avoid losing his balance before hopping down on the other side.
Whatever she had to do apparantly took very little time at all. Within a few minutes, Addie's voice called to him over the rocks. "It's safe."
Alex crossed back to her side of the jetty, looking much less flustered, and with less ill considered haste. "You know what we must do now don't you?" He asked, pausing to retrieve his shoes before offering her his arm.
She paused in neatly hiding her stockings - long and white and slightly lacy - within her boots, looking over her shoulder at him. Then she straightened and took his arm with a faint smile. "What is that?"
"Stroll through the waves with our shoes off." He grinned as she took his arm.
Addie laughed. "Perhaps we can leave our shoes somewhere. I'm going to have to hold up my skirts, you know. If you don't object to ankles, that is."
"We could leave them here, I expect. No one is likely to run off with them, and the tide won't reach this high." He held out his hand (with hers still on his arm) for her shoes.
She handed them over without any hesitation.
He gently disengaged her arm, and moved to settle both sets carefully on a rock, so that they were out of the sand (perhaps in defense of Addie's delicate stockings). When he returned, he offered his arm again, "The water is cold, brace yourself."
She drew herself up with a smile playing at her mouth. "As you order, general," she answered solemnly. "We'll go into the breach together."
"You're still going to jump and squeak just like you did when you nearly lost your hat." He grinned, mischief sparkling a little in his eyes, while he lead her towards the waterline.
"Is that a dare?" Despite her tones, she still eyed the water warily.
"What about a bet?"
"Betting is a highly risky activity for a young lady."
"The terms could be entirely at your discretion." He offered, sounding a bit as if he were still teasing.
Addie considered the waves in front of them and then looked at her companion out the corner of her eye. "I think we should just face the cold together, unbothered by bets."
"I like the cold," He grinned sideways, and tugged her forward.
She gasped at his sudden pull and, by necessity, went with him, willy-nilly, into the water. The shock of the cold made her gasp once more and she sucked in the breath and held it, eyes closing.
"You see?" Even with her eyes closed she could hear the smile in his voice, "The moment the water touches your skin, you can feel it all the way through you. But then, after a moment, it doesn't feel cold anymore. Just cool enough that you can feel it, every time a wave pushes the water over your feet."
"It... I forgot how it felt," she whispered, finally releasing her breath.
"There's no place in the world I like so much the edge of anywhere, where the land meets the sea." He drew in a deep breath, and let it out in a sort of sigh, absently covering her hand with his own where it rested on his arm.
Addie finally opened her eyes and looked at him more fully. She smiled a bit. "It's like coming home for you, isn't it?"
"I don't know," He shook his head, turning to meet her gaze, "I don't know if I have words to explain it."
"You don't have to. Not if you don't want to. I can..." She smiled more and leaned slightly into him, shoulder pressing against his upper arm briefly. "I think I can see what it means to you. Even if I don't understand."
"Here....close your eyes." He turned a little more, so that he could speak more quietly, while her arm was still linked with his, "Close you eyes, and curl your toes in the sand, and feel the wind in your hair and listen to the sound of the waves."
A visible shudder went through her at his words and she licked her lips absently. Her eyes remained closed, though, obedient to him.
"Standing at the edge of something so vast, and empty, just the wind, and the sound of the ocean. It feels like there's nothing else, just....you and the wind. Everything is just how its meant to be, for that one moment." He had closed his own eyes without thinking about it, trying to find the right words to express so intangible a sensation, "It's that feeling."
She nodded slightly as she focused on sensations. She curled her toes in the sand, feeling the grit of the sand and the coolness of the water. She breathed deeply until she thought she could almost taste the salt in the air. Unconciously, she swayed into him a bit, not quite touching. "It's...amazing," she whispered.
"If I can have that moment. That one moment when everything makes sense. Then I can always keep going." The wind brushed strands of Addie's hair across the bridge of his nose, and he opened his eyes with a deep breath, reestablishing a more normal distance between them. But only with a reluctance he couldn't entirely ignore.
She kept her eyes closed and her voice was soft and almost dreamy when she spoke again. "Is this why you went to sea? To chase this feeling?"
"Something like that, yes." He smiled wistfully, watching her expression.
"It's amazing," she repeated. Unconsciously, her chin lifted a bit to face the wind better and the few escaped tendrils of hair blew against her fair cheeks.
He shifted, freeing her arm so he could bring her hand to his lips and hold it there for a moment, "It is."
She shivered again and her eyes flew open at his touch. Pink glowed high on her cheeks but she still smiled a bit. It was shy now as she left her hand in his. "And beautiful," she whispered. "Like nothing could go wrong and everything is correct if it happens here. It's at peace."
"Yes. Just that." He wasn't willing to let go of her hand yet. It occurred to him that anything he did would end the moment, and he didn't want to.
Her smile broadened. "Thank you for sharing it with me."
"You're very welcome." <i>Like everything is correct if it happens here</i>. "I'd like...that is....I hope maybe you understand, now?"
Addie nodded. "I think I do." She shifted her hand within his until she could tangle their fingers for a brief squeeze. "It means so much that you'd share this with me."
"Does it? I fear I'm being rather selfish." He lowered their hands, but turned, so the was facing her, and could catch her other hand.
She cocked her head to one side. "Why would you say that?"
"I'm hoping you'll forgive me."
A crease appeared between her eyebrows, nose wrinkling a bit in a very familiar look of puzzlement. Her hands squeezed his again as if to reassure him even as she tried to understand his words. "Forgive you?"
"For leaving. For not being there." He bent forward, and then, realizing what he wanted to do, what he'd been about to do, shifted, to brush his lips against her forehead.
"Oh." The syllable was more an exhale than anything else and Addie's eyes half-closed at his gesture, lips parting. She drew a slow breath and, glowing pink, offered a crooked smile. She deliberately loosened her grip on his hands. "I forgive you," she murmured. "I missed you, though. We all missed you. Bart said... That is, I hope he forgives you, too." She glanced down at their hands and curled her toes into the sand, swaying a bit unsteadily with the action. "I, um, we want you to stay."
And that was it, wasn't it. Addie was, still, his brother's girl. That was fair after all, Bart had stayed, Alex had left. Bart had been present, and real, and Alex had been far away. "He hasn't." He didn't quite pull away, "Bart, doesn't. I mean....I don't think..." She suddenly pulled one of her hands away and lifted it to touch his cheek tenderly. The hesitation before the touch only resulted from fighting the impulse to touch his mouth directly. "He will. He has to. You're brothers." Her fingers lingered against his cheek, almost stroking, as she met his eyes. "Please don't leave me here... And, well, go off."
It was enough to break a man's heart, the way she said it. "If you want me to stay, I'll root myself in place." It was true, and at the same time frightening - leaving was easier. Always being able to drift to a new place, never having to deal with permanence.
He turned into her hand slightly, "Anyway, Bart had more to forgive me for. We hardly know one another anymore."
The corner of her mouth twitched up to make her smile more lopsided but yet she did not remove her hand. "The two of you? You can learn again, I'm sure." Whatever had half-frightened her had apparently been dealt with and there was laughter in her voice again. "I'm learning you all over again myself," she admitted. "I'm enjoying the experience."
"Now you know about my fascination with the seashore." He smiled softly, "What else would you like to know?"
Strangely, she looked down at his question and her hand came away from his face. It did not leave him entirely, though, as she returned it to holding his hands. "You're going to laugh," she warned.
"I doubt it very much."
"Then even if I laugh I'll still answer it."
She was silent for a while, hands in his and her eyes on the ground. Finally, she shook her head a bit and lifted her head. Her nose wrinkled to show her level of self-annoyance but her eyes shone a bit. "Did you miss me?"
He blinked, "You thought that was childish?"
"Well, yes. Of course it is. I mean..." She trailed off, blushing hotly. "It's selfish of me."
"Yes. I missed you." He grinned.
Her face lit up with a bright smile and she squeezed his hands. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He squeezed her hands back and then as if doing so made him think of it, he glanced down, "Ah....is your dress getting wet?"
She started at that and looked down without releasing his hands. Noticing the sea water wicking up the fabric that had fallen forgotten, she laughed sheepishly. "Oh, a bit, yes."
"I must be a bad influence." He released on of her hands, and with the other, tugged her toward the edge of the waters reach.
Addie went willingly, laughing again as she dropped her hand to tug her skirts up a bit even though she realized it was already too late to save them entirely. "We've already established that. Way back at the park. Remember? You doubted your ability to impugn my honor."
"I suppose we have, though," he added, "I think your honor remains safe."
Alex moved her hand to his arm as if to underscore the point. "Shall we adjourn to the board walk, and fetch you a warm drink? I will not be responsible for a damp skirt causing you to take ill."
Her smile lingered and she leaned into his arm a bit, unconciously relaxing and turning towards him. "I think that would be a wonderful idea," she agreed. "You take such good care of my well-being, Alex. You really have grown."
"I'd offer to carry you back to your shoes, but then your honor might actually be in some danger."
"You'd drop me?"
"Never!" He laughed, "But as you are uninjured and there is no looming emergency, I suspect it would be considered to much unnecessarily familiarity."
"Shall I feign injury?"
"Oh I see, you <i>want</i> to be carried," There was enough mischief in his expression to be dangerous.
She giggled and wrinkled her nose at him, her freckles standing out with the childish gesture. "I would never think to dare you. I remember our little race still."
"And I might be tempted to spin you around and we would both fall. I would be careful to make sure to cushion your fall by allowing you to land on top."
"Such a gentleman! No wonder I feel completely safe in your hands." Her eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Tsk, a lady such as yourself putting so much faith in such a disreputable figure," He shook his head in mock dismay, "Shocking."
She touched a hand to her chest, indicating her heart, and gave him a wide-eyed look. "Are you saying you're a rogue out to do me mischief?"
"Don't I look the part?"
"Not really." She lifted a hand to brush fingers quickly along his cheek. "Too clean-shaven."
He flushed, in spite of himself, "I'll have to bare that in mind for the future."
"And start forgetting to shave?"
He laughed, "Perhaps not."
"Thank you." Addie smiled. "You look much nicer clean."
"How should you know?" He teased, "you've not seen me any other way."
"... This is true and now you've made me a liar."
He looked taken aback, "That wasn't my intention."
Addie giggled. "Please, don't." She squeezed the arm she leant on a bit and glanced towards the boardwalk. "I probably should have said something else."
"Never mind, you're probably right anyway. We'll put our shoes back on, and spend the rest of the day being as proper as I can manage." Never mind that he wasn't sure how proper that was.
For some reason, this seemed to distress her more than anything and Addie tugged a bit on his arm, forcing him to look at her. "Please, don't," she repeated quietly, insistently. "We're having too much fun to worry about such things. Aren't we, Alex?" Her hazel eyes stared up at him almost pleadingly. "I like being here with you, enjoying the ocean and the sand and all."
Alex stopped, alarmed by her distress, and reached up to cup her face with one hand, in unconscious imitation of her earlier gesture, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that." He smiled ruefully, "But what would you think of me I wonder, unshaven, with dirt under my fingernails, wearing patched up work clothes?"
"I'd think... Poor Alex. I hope you're okay... And then I'd try to get you to accept a meal and a bath and a warm bed." Her smile was crooked, pink dusting her cheeks. "I certainly wouldn't think any less of you."
"You would worry?" His hand lingered where it was, "But I feel more foolish in a collar and tie."
"You needn't wear it if you were relaxing," she murmured as if telling a secret. Standing close with his hand on her cheek turning her face up to him, wisps of her apricot hair pulled free and teased by the wind, Addie looked a far cry from the respectable, prim school teacher he had encountered at the library weeks prior. She looked far more as she used to, a curious feeling of deja vu. "I think that's the true value of old friends," she admitted with a hint of wryness. "It's nice to forget things like collars and ties sometimes."
"I could do without them all together, worthless articles of clothing." He moved his hand to brush and strand of hair out of her eyes before reluctantly letting it fall to his side, "I could still do with that hot drink. I promise I won't try to hard to remember my manners."
"Alright. And I'll try to forget mine."
"Come on then, otherwise you're dress will be dry before we even get there, and we shall lose half the effect."
"Oh, you can always do with more warming up." She settled her hand on his arm again and nodded. "First, shoes."