|A Touch of Paradise
Author: Vamptanzen PM
As Mrs. Muir deals with a terrible family crisis, Captain Gregg sends her a lovely dream to ease her cares ...Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Fantasy - Chapters: 5 - Words: 16,336 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 1 - Published: 08-18-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3730909
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A Touch of Paradise
-- Chapter One --
The day was appropriately gloomy as Carolyn Muir trudged up the flagstoned front walk of Gull Cottage, her shoulders slumped in weariness. Her black umbrella dripped crystal tears all around her, nearly as profuse as the teardrops she herself had shed over the past few days. She could not recall crying as much, nor being so heartsick, since the days immediately following the death of her husband, Robert, nearly five years ago. She sincerely hoped that she would not have occasion to bury another loved one, so soon ... too soon.
As she climbed the stone steps to the front porch, she sighed and lowered the umbrella dejectedly, shaking the stray drops from it even as she tried to shake the dark foreboding thoughts from her mind, fishing in her raincoat pocket for her house keys.
As she approached, key at the ready, the door swung open noiselessly, apparently of its own volition. Carolyn pocketed the keys again, unfazed by the sight of the door opening itself, and stepped across the threshold of Gull Cottage.
A tall, distinguished figure waited in the foyer. "How is the lad, Madam?" Captain Daniel Gregg (or rather, the spirit who, in life, had been Captain Gregg) asked Mrs. Muir as she slid the damp umbrella into the stand next to the door, slipped out of her raincoat and hung it on the coat tree in the hall. She let her red-rimmed eyes rest for a moment on the dark-clad figure of the ghost, touched by the look of undisguised concern on his ruggedly handsome, ginger-bearded face, then averted her eyes to the floor with another shaky sigh.
"No change. He's still ... unconscious." She couldn't bring herself to utter the dreaded word the doctor had used ... coma. Her voice was flat and tired, and her body ached miserably from lack of sleep and from sitting vigil for two days and nights at Jonathan's bedside. The only reason she was home now and not at the hospital was due to Martha's dogged insistence.
"No use making yourself ill, too," the gruff, matronly housekeeper had argued despite Carolyn's protests that she should remain with her son. "You still have a daughter who needs you." Yes ... Candice. Martha had blessedly had the presence of mind to leave Candy in the care of the mother of one of her schoolfriends, as Carolyn sped to the hospital in the ambulance with Jonathan.
Martha, as ever, was indispensable, keeping a cool, level head in the midst of this crisis, making sure Candy was cared for as Mrs. Muir refused to leave Jonathan's side, then joining her to take turns watching over Jonathan as Carolyn hastily gulped down the food Martha had kindly thought to bring. Now, the formidable Martha had taken over the vigil and exerted her considerably strong will over Carolyn to convince her to go home and rest, with the promise to call her when (she refused to use the disheartening word "if") Jonathan's condition improved.
So, with great reluctance, Mrs. Muir had returned home to Gull Cottage ...
"I am sorry, Madam," the cultured, ghostly voice continued, filled with compassion. "I only wish there was something I could do to help Jonathan. You know how fond I am of the lad."
A flash of anger flickered through Carolyn, quick as summer lightning. Then where were you when he was tumbling off that cliff? Why weren't you there to protect him? she thought irrationally and, she was quick to admit, unfairly. Then, close on the heels of that thought, she murmured aloud, "Why wasn't I there to protect him?" Like a sleepwalker, she moved into the living room and sank to the sofa. She was past the point of tears, so she merely dropped her head into her hands, torturing herself with self-recriminating thoughts.
Captain Gregg hovered behind her, reaching for her though he knew some ghostly code of honor prevented him from touching her. "You mustn't think that, Madam," he said soothingly. "Had you known he was in danger, neither hell nor high water would have kept you from doing everything within your power to keep him safe from harm." He smiled fondly at Carolyn, though she could not see his concerned and tender look due to her bowed head. "Dear lady," he said quietly but with feeling, "You are without doubt the finest woman and the most devoted mother I have ever known. You must not blame yourself for the accident which has befallen Jonathan!"
Despite herself, Carolyn drew comfort from his words, albeit only a small amount. She lifted her head and, still not meeting the ghost's clear blue gaze, said, "Thank you, Daniel. I know in my mind that it's not my fault, but my heart and my conscience keep telling me otherwise."
He smiled slightly at her use of his first name. It was not often that she spoke to him in familiar terms -- usually she used the more formal "Captain Gregg" or simply "Captain" -- and he treasured the times when she did honor him by using his given name. It hinted at an intimacy he knew, sadly, could never be consummated -- at least not in her lifetime -- and demonstrated the bond of friendship and trust which had grown between them since she and her family moved into his home. His smile grew warmer at the thought, No, not my home ... our home.
Carolyn rose at last from the sofa, and made her weary way to the staircase. "I know I promised Martha that I would get some hot food into me, but I just don't feel up to preparing something. I'm going up to bed. Goodnight, Captain." She slowly climbed the stairs.
But as she pushed open the door to her darkly-paneled room -- which had formerly been Captain Gregg's, and reflected a decidedly male aesthetic, softened here and there by Carolyn's homey touches -- she was surprised to find a meal laid out and waiting for her: a bowl of hot soup, a warm loaf of bread, and a steaming mug of her favorite jasmine tea. In spite of her fatigue, her appetite perked up at the delightful aroma of hot food, and she approached the tray neatly set out on her writing desk, pleased and more than a little touched. "Dear Daniel ..." she murmured to herself as she set down her purse, then looked around the room and called out, for his benefit, "Thank you, Captain. Though I don't know how you managed all this." The sweep of her arm took in the tray and its contents, complete with a single red rose in a crystal bud vase.
He appeared near the bay window, leaning against the brass telescope mounted on its pedestal in the alcove. "What do you mean, Madam?" he asked with the curious arch of one eyebrow.
She seated herself before the tray, and sniffed the fragrant steam rising from the hot food. "I mean, I just can't picture you puttering around the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove ..." She couldn't help smiling as the absurd image of the Captain wearing a frilly apron over his customary sea captain's garb popped into her head.
He drew himself up to his full ghostly height. "Madam, remember that, in life, I was a confirmed bachelor. The culinary arts were not outside my scope of knowledge. In fact, I made do very well in the galley." He grinned somewhat sheepishly, and added, "In any case, you don't have to be a twentieth-century housewife to operate an electric can opener! The soup, by the way, is courtesy of Campbell's."
She laughed then -- for the first time in two days -- and smiled in genuine affection at the Captain. "Well, I still thank you," she said. "Your consideration is greatly appreciated. If you weren't a ghost, I'd kiss you!" She turned back to her repast and didn't notice Captain Gregg's flustered look, which quickly melted into a tender expression akin to adoration. Once again, he silently cursed the fact that she had not been born a century earlier. How he would have loved to have known her while he was still a creature of flesh and blood!
He cleared his throat (a quite unnecessary gesture, since he was a ghost, but an effective affectation nonetheless), and said solicitously, "You are very welcome, m'dear. Now, as I know that you have dire need of rest, Madam, I will not keep you from it. I bid you goodnight." With that, he vanished, leaving Carolyn to finish her dinner alone.
The vacuum made so much noise that Carolyn neither heard Scruffy's frantic bark, nor Candy's terrified cries until both had burst through the front door.
"Mom! Mom!" Candice cried out. At her horror-stricken expression, Mrs. Muir quickly thumbed off the vacuum and rushed to her daughter's side, a cold hand of terror gripping her heart at the look on Candy's face. "Mom, hurry up! Jonathan's fallen off the cliff! He's not moving! Please, hurry!" She pulled on her mother's arm as Martha hurried in from the kitchen, and they all rushed after Candy, down to the beach. All the while, Candy related what happened, her narrative broken by occasional sobs.
"We were playing. Some of the bullies from school came down and started picking on us. They dared Jonathan to climb the rocks up to the cliff. I screamed for him not to, that he might get hurt, that you wouldn't like him doing it. But he wouldn't listen. He was so angry because they teased him and called him a sissy. He was almost to the top when he fell!" She was crying uncontrollably now. "Mom, he wasn't moving! And there was blood!"
By then they had arrived at the beach, and found Jonathan lying in a crumpled heap at the foot of the cliff. His jacket was torn, and his head was bleeding from a gash in his temple, apparently made by one of the jagged rocks which littered the cliff's base. Carolyn felt a sickening wrench of fear in the pit of her stomach as she saw the still form and starkly pale face of her rosy son.
"Jonathan!" she cried out and rushed to him, dropping to her knees beside the motionless figure. She almost reached out to clutch him in her arms, but then remembered through her panic, No, I mustn't move him ... his back might be injured. Recalling the first aid training she had taken shortly after Candy was born, she ripped the triangular kerchief from her hair, pressing it to the wound to stanch the flow of blood. Martha arrived, out of breath, and Candy turned and threw herself into her arms, burying her face in the housekeeper's starched white apron to stifle her sobs.
"Martha!" Carolyn cried frantically. "Call an ambulance ... quickly!" As Martha hurried off at full trot with Candy in tow, Mrs. Muir turned back to her unconscious son, cradling his face in her trembling hands while the tears streamed down her face. "Jonathan, you have to be all right! Please be all right! I can't lose you. You can't ..." her voice choked on the word, "... die!" She repeated this litany over and over, willing her son to be all right ...
"No!" Carolyn murmured in her restless sleep, tossing and turning in the relentless grip of the nightmare, as she relived those tragic moments. "Jonathan!" she cried out, and sat up in bed, shaking with fear and premature grief. The light evening rain had blossomed into a full-blown thunderstorm, and Carolyn stared about her with panic-stricken eyes before she realized dimly that she was at home, in bed.
"My dear, are you all right?" The indistinct form of Captain Gregg hovered at her bedside, gazing at her with concern. He had appeared at the sound of her cries.
Instead of replying, she buried her face in her trembling hands and sobbed uncontrollably, crying tears she thought had been completely spent over the past two days. The Captain looked on, distressed -- he never could bear to see a woman cry! -- and murmured soothing words, his insubstantial hands stroking Mrs. Muir's forehead, wishing he could do more, cursing the fates that kept him from putting warm, comforting human arms around her.
Eventually her sobs subsided, and she fell back on her pillows, exhausted, dropping back into a restless sleep without ever acknowledging the Captain's presence.
Captain Gregg looked down upon her cherished, tear-streaked face, then bent over her sleeping form. "I may not physically be able to give you the comfort you need, my darling," he whispered, passing his ghostly hand over her face, "But I can give you restful slumber ... and a lovely dream." He smiled as her care-worn features relaxed, and she fell into a deep sleep ...