The Ugly Duckling - EpiloguebyPaulSandarac©
[This particular story can be read as a stand-alone piece, but was written to respond to many, many requests for a further chapter to "The Ugly Duckling", which enjoyed so much positive feedback, (much to the astonishment of the author!). It is not composed for the Valentine's Day story contest, but it does use Valentine's as part of the setting - PS]
[This story contains a few incidental references to real people and places, but it is entirely a work of fiction; and all characters in this story who are involved in serious sexual situations are at least 18 years old - PS]
* * *
Alice stood beside the freshly covered grave, using her coat sleeve to wipe away the traces of the tears that had streaked her cheeks. The funeral and interment had been only yesterday, but she was somehow drawn back to the cemetery, to grieve by herself. Her father had died when she very little, and now her mother was gone ... gone to what J. R. R. Tolkien had so poignantly described as: "the loss and the silence." As she stood there, alone, some whitish grey clouds scudded across the January sky, and she pulled her coat lapels together against the chilly wind. In the freakish way of the winter weather in the city, yesterday, Friday, had been quite cold, while today was well above freezing, and the skiff of snow that was on the ground was turning into slush.
Her mother's life, she thought, had ended too early. She had always had poor health, and even a combination of constant care and new medications had been unable to forestall the inevitable. At least she had lived to see her granddaughter. Her younger sister Susan had produced this miracle last summer, and her mother's final Christmas was marked by the joy of it. Susan and Alice were not close, but the arrival of the baby did give her the chance to play the doting aunt, so perhaps the relationship would be more tightly bound in the future.
Susan, like herself, had gone into teaching, but then met and married an up and coming young lawyer. Susan was off on a full year maternity leave, but Alice suspected she wasn't going to return to her profession ... motherhood seemed to suit her better, and Dave, her husband, was doing very well with his career, and seemed more than happy to be the sole provider for his family. More babies, and more baby gifts, she thought to herself, smiling inwardly for the first time, were definitely in the near future. As she thought about her new niece, and her mother's untimely death, the juxtaposition of the two events became vividly clear ... the promise of a brand new life; and the finality of death ... as Tolkien had also written: "If this is indeed, as the Eldar say, the gift of the One to Man, it is bitter to receive."
She turned away from the grave, but not before taking a handful of wet earth from the top of a pile left by the excavating equipment, and then tossing it onto the low mound that covered where her mother now rested.
"Goodbye mom," she whispered through her tears, feeling more alone than ever before in her life.
* * *
Driving towards her mother's house, she couldn't help but to reflect on her circumstances. Thirty was fast approaching; her birthday was on Valentine's Day, and she still had no one to share her life with. Once, a long time ago, there had been a love ... a tender, young passionate love ... in the way that only eighteen year olds can experience it. Since then there had been a number of men in her life, and she had even slept with some of them, but somehow nothing had "clicked", so each relationship had somehow ended, with either she or he, or both of them, recognizing that this wasn't "it".
She pulled into the driveway in front of the now vacant story and a half house. It was one of the last small ones left in the district; the rest had been demolished to make way for large new dwellings, or renovated beyond recognition, as the gentrification of the well placed little community proceeded apace. Her mother had very little in the way of financial resources beyond the house, and Alice, as well as Susan and Dave, had helped her when she became too ill to work. Last year, she and Susan had had encouraged her mother to sell the house, because the lot it sat on was worth so much, and relocate to an apartment, but events overtook this plan, and she had died in her own bed ... in her own place ... that was comforting somehow!
Alice mounted the steps to the front door, and turned the key, stepping inside. There was a pile of mail scattered on the front mat, and only silence, to greet her. She and Susan, heeding Dave's advice, had decided to remove any personal items, but to leave the house furnished until it was sold. In the emotion of the days leading up to the funeral, she had frenetically cleaned out the kitchen and the fridge, but the upstairs was untouched. She went into Susan's old bedroom, and observed that her sister had been good to her word. The closet and bureau were empty. She debated about starting on her mother's things, but just couldn't bring herself to this today ... maybe tomorrow ... so she decided to do her former room.
She checked the bed; it was covered with a duvet, but not made underneath. That made sense. Her old dresser had very little in it, just some high school yearbooks and a few photos. She set them on top of it, until she could go to the basement and find a carton for them. Lastly she looked in the closet, there wasn't much there, just an old dressing gown, and behind it a garment bag. Unzipping it, she beheld her first prom dress, still a vision of blue organza dreams that shimmered in the light, as she took it out and laid it on the bed.
Seeing the dress brought back a flood of memories. Her first and only love, Christopher ... and some magical nights filled with romance. His parents had bought the dress for her; her mother couldn't afford such a thing. It was good of them to come to the funeral; and very unexpected. They were as unfailingly nice to her as they had always been, especially during her "Summer Place" romance with Christopher ... but the sadness was there, behind their eyes; Alice could see it.
After high school Christopher had attended the Royal Military College at Queen's University; his father had also started his career as a soldier. Once Christopher graduated, he received a posting as an officer in the Canadian Army. He had married shortly thereafter, and had one son.
But Christopher was gone ... dead ... just like her mother; the only two things in her life that she had loved. The Canadian contingent of the NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan were responsible for the incredibly dangerous Khandahar province, and along with their US and UK compatriots were very, very much in harm's way, unlike the European troops, and there were many casualties. Christopher had gone on patrol ... and never come back. His official status was: "Missing in action -- presumed dead." That was four years ago, and although his parents continued to hope against hope for his return, something about them, yesterday at the funeral, told Alice that the awful reality was closing in all around.
Rather remarkably, Christopher's son, Ryan, was in Alice's kindergarten class that year. In late August when she received her class roster, she was very surprised to see his name on it. Upon investigation, Alice discovered that his mother and stepfather had used Christopher's parent's address; they lived just a short distance away from her mother's house, in order to qualify him for the superior public school in the area; the one where she taught. Of course she didn't report this infraction; she would never in a million years deny Christopher's wonderful parents, who had always treated her so well, the opportunity to have their grandson enrolled in the highly sought after school.
Little Ryan reminded Alice so much of his father; it was like a ghost walking! Certain words, or gestures, even after all these years, took her back in time to that carefree summer; and, as Van Morrison had captured so perfectly: "making love in the green grass ..." There had been plenty of that, and so much else, between them as they explored first love.
Alice was never quite sure why something so intense finally ended. When they parted that September, they had agreed that it would be OK to see other people, although neither one of them looked very certain about the idea she recalled. As the years passed she saw less and less of Christopher, he was either away at school, or spending his summers at basic training, or on manoeuvers, and gradually, when they did see each other, it had become increasingly awkward, especially with the spectre of sex, or no sex, hanging over every conversation. By third year, during one of his brief visits home, they agreed to just be friends.
Alice had met Christopher's widow, Jackie, during kindergarten orientation, and she didn't seem at all like the kind of person he would choose to spend his life with. Christopher had met his wife at Queen's, she did know that, and they married quite quickly right after graduation.
As she looked at the prom dress, another memory, this time a pleasant one, filled her mind, and she smiled as she recalled it. It was the weekend after the prom. They had only experienced sex twice before, a very unsatisfactory first time in her basement on prom night; and a second more successful encounter the next day in Christopher's bedroom, when he managed to take much more time, so much so that she experienced an orgasm as a result of his caresses.
Her mother and Susan had gone away for the weekend, and she had received permission to have Christopher over on the Saturday night. Her mother probably suspected that her daughter was now intimate with Christopher ... no doubt it was written all over her face ... and she had therefore also likely decided that "the horse was out of the barn" in terms of Alice's virginity ... and, Alice thought a little ruefully, her mother could certainly see that she was totally smitten ... so perhaps her mother had just decided to accept that her daughter was almost a grown up!
Alice wanted to surprise Christopher, and so she put on her prom dress; and nothing else! When she lured him into the discovery that she was completely naked underneath the folds of the skirt, and then let him explore the more than ready womanhood of one very sexually aroused young lady, the desired result was obtained; the prom dress ended up in a heap on the bedroom floor, and they quickly engaged in a wildly passionate half hour on the very bed she was standing next to. Their lovemaking ended with them both reaching a climax together, and then lying tenderly in each other's arms, overwhelmed by the feelings of love and desire that had enveloped them. It was, she recalled, one of the best moments of her life ... and she would remember it always, for Christopher's sake, if for no other reason.
Alice put the prom dress back in its garment bag, and laid the dressing gown on top of it. She had grown up in this house, and this room, but there was nothing left for her here ... only an intense sadness, and memories.
* * *
Several weeks later, Alice was preparing her classroom for Valentine's Day. She was receiving the able assistance of little Ryan, she often kept him after school to be her helper, until it was time for him to leave; and then she escorted him to the after school babysitting program at the other end of the building, where he could play until his mother picked him up after work. Ryan was a wonderful child, so helpful, and respectful, and eager to please ... just like his father, she often thought to herself wistfully. She was several rungs up a stepladder, so she could reach the upper windows of the classroom.
"Somewhere out there is another little Alice," she thought to herself, as he passed her another large red cardboard heart to affix to the windows, "and she is going to fall deeply in love with you Ryan, just like I did with your father."
When all of the upper windows were decorated, she told Ryan to get his coat while she packed up her desk, and placed her daily planner by her car keys, so she would be able to do tomorrow's lesson plans at home.
As they walked down the hall, little Ryan suddenly said, "They found my daddy."
"Was he lost?" Alice replied, seeking clarification. When you worked with 5 year olds, you quickly learned not to accept confusing statements at face value; because a little probing often elicited surprising, amusing, or even hilarious information. It was one of the more remarkable aspects of her job!
"The soldiers found my real daddy," Ryan said in a serious way, "Mommy told me."
Alice stopped dead in her tracks, scarcely believing what she had just heard! She crouched down beside Ryan so she could look him directly in the eye.
"Do you mean your daddy in Afghanistan," she asked; and then not wanting to confuse him, "in the war far away?"
Ryan nodded gravely.
"Now I have two daddies," he said, looking worried.
Alice was stunned, but after a moment managed to compose herself.
"Everyone thought your real daddy was dead," she said, trying to be reassuring, "he hasn't seen you since you were a baby ... you won't remember him."
"But I know your real daddy," Alice added with a smile, "and he is a very nice man ... you'll like him."
"But mommy says she can't have two daddies," Ryan asserted, again looking worried.
"That's something for the grown-ups to figure out," she said sympathetically, "but don't worry, everything will be all right. There are lots of children who have two daddies, because their parents aren't in love anymore, and they go off and marry other people. Your mommy married again because she thought your real daddy was dead. Nobody did anything wrong."
Ryan looked somewhat relieved by this explanation.
"Will I have to go to live with my real daddy?"
"I don't think so ... but your real daddy will certainly want to see you ... because he loves you."
She took Ryan by the hand and led him along the hall towards the after school room, her heart singing ... Christopher was alive! And then another thought occurred to her, Christopher was now single, because Jackie would have had their marriage annulled in order to re-marry. Would he want to go back to Jackie, or would he remain available? Maybe ... just maybe, lightning could strike a second time! She felt a tingle down below at the thought of possibly seeing Christopher again, and letting him get reacquainted with the often very needy region hidden beneath her skimpy panties. For a school teacher, she certainly had a weakness for silky frilly bits of nothing! Maybe it was her single status, or because she didn't have a man to regularly ravish her?
Only Christopher, and no other man, no matter how skilled at lovemaking, had ever given her a sexual experience that approached that Saturday night so long ago. She still hungered for it, that almost mystical connection of physical and emotional need between a man and a woman; that was only satisfied, as Tennessee Williams had more or less observed, when they were naked in the dark.
"Perhaps," she thought to herself with a sly smirk, while letting her imagination run wild, imagining she and Christopher in a series of torrid embraces, "I could finally give my vibrator some time off for good behavior!"
But these pleasant fantasies were shortly swept away as she brought herself back to reality.
"You are past depraved," she scolded herself, shaking her head from side to side, and wrinkling her nose, "who knows what the poor Christopher must have gone through, and all you can think about is having sex with him!"
* * *
Over the next several days the media went bananas over Christopher's story. He had been held captive inside Pakistan in a series of cave hideouts for almost 4 years. After the Americans killed Osama Bin Laden, his captors became increasingly nervous, and finally decided to move Christopher, and several other NATO soldiers they were holding, to a place they thought was safer. But during the transfer, there was an air attack, and the convoy was scattered. Christopher, and a few of the other hostages, managed to escape. It had taken weeks to get back to Afghanistan, as Christopher helped another Canadian soldier, who had received serious wounds during the air raid, travel; they had made it on foot all the way back through the mountains in the dead of winter, travelling mainly by night, stealing food and water wherever they could; until finally they were picked up by an American patrol and brought to safety.
She read that he was in hospital, with frostbite, and badly emaciated, but expected to make a more or less full recovery, except for a few toes, which had to be amputated. The army had also announced that he was to be decorated for his heroism in saving his fellow countryman, who would have undoubtedly been shot by the insurgents had he been left behind; they had no use for wounded hostages. He was expected to be airlifted home very shortly, the reports said, although the official army position was simply: "Soon."
* * *
It was Valentine's Day, and little Ryan was helping Alice straighten up the classroom after the party. He had quite a little stack of mostly homemade cards on his desk ... he was clearly a favorite of many of the little girls in the room, although that would change soon. It was entirely fascinating to watch how the two sexes separated themselves at age 6 or so, only to become intensely interested in each other again as puberty approached. She had read some literature about this during her training as a teacher, there were theories, but they were just that; theories. Alice erased the mostly pink and red drawings from the whiteboards, they were the usual mixture; mostly terrible, but the odd glimmer of artistic talent, or just better motor control, made a few of them decent ... for 5 year olds.
"Happy Valentine's Day ... and happy birthday," a familiar voice from the past said from the doorway of her classroom.
It was Christopher!!!
Without even stopping to think, she turned around and rushed to greet him, crushing him with a hug, crying tears of joy that he was alive ... that he was real again!
Finally, almost embarrassed by her behavior, she released him ... he was smiling, but looked so much older, and so tired, and careworn.
"I came looking for Ryan, and the office said he was probably still here with you."
That brought her back to reality.
"Ryan," she said gently to the little boy who was looking in a confused way at Christopher, "I want to introduce you to your real daddy."
"Hello Ryan," Christopher said with a smile, "will you give me a hug too?"
Alice nodded her head in agreement, but Ryan was hesitant.
"It's OK," Christopher said, "this is all new and strange to him ... I understand."
"I brought you something ... from Afghanistan," Christopher said to Ryan, proffering a very large package wrapped in brown paper which he had just retrieved from outside the doorway, "because I missed all your birthday's and Christmas' for the last few years ... would you like to see what it is?"
Ryan looked at Alice, still clearly unsure about things.
"Why don't you look at what your father got you?" Alice said in an encouraging way, "it's come from very far away."
Cautiously, Ryan approached the parcel, and finally, getting up his courage, or perhaps because of curiousity, began to open it.
"The air crew on the transport gave it the VIP treatment," Christopher explained proudly, "because they knew who it was for."
As Ryan tore the brown paper away, a beautiful kite was exposed, shaped very much like a manta ray, imprinted with the wings of a blue butterfly, and with two long red tails.
"I had it made especially for you," Christopher said to his son, crouching down so he could speak at the same level as Ryan, "the people in Afghanistan make these ... they are very special ... maybe in the Spring we can go to the park and fly it. Would you like that?"