Old and Bold

Clarisse bit back a sigh as her guest droned on. The older man was the deposed Crown Prince of a four square-kilometer "country" on the edge of Switzerland and Germany. The fact that the deposing occurred nearly a century ago, when Prince Ivar was two months old and his father had readily given up the throne in exchange for keeping his head attached to his shoulders, did nothing to daunt Ivar's continued claim to the crown. It was a matter of tradition among European royalty that Prince Ivar and Princess Rotina be entertained periodically.

It was, unfortunately, Genovia's turn.

Ivar's wife chimed in about the deplorable state of the continent and Clarisse closed her eyes, praying for patience. When she opened them, she saw her husband watching her, laughter in his eyes.

"Isn't that so, Clarisse?" Rotina asked.

"Oh, yes, of course," Clarisse replied, hoping she wasn't agreeing to anything that would create outrage if leaked to the public. She looked to Joseph.

"Certainly," he agreed, as if reading his wife's mind. "Widespread use of the automobile has wreaked havoc on the countryside. Horse and cart are far superior."

That Joseph could say such a thing with a straight face was one of his best qualities; he could bluff.

"And do you know why that is?" the princess asked.

Neither Joseph nor Clarisse answered for fear of another long-winded diatribe. Rotina's eyes widened expectantly.

"Ah, no, I don't," Clarisse finally replied, fearing her guest would have a fit of apoplexy.

"I shall enlighten you, then. First there is the problem of paved roads…."

Having heard the very same discourse over fish during dinner the night before, Clarisse felt no guilt in letting her mind wander, searching for something to distract her, something to amuse. Across the small, wicker table they were having luncheon on, Joseph slowly ate his dessert, no doubt ready to strangle her for opening her mouth.

A smile touched Clarisse's lips. She had an idea.

Joseph was making the dessert last as long as possible; however small, it was a distraction, at least, from Princess Rotina. If she went on for more than five minutes, he decided, he would claim he'd noticed a security breach in the garden, and escape. Clarisse, his love, would just have to manage on her own.

He lifted his water glass then froze as something- no, someone's foot- touched his leg and slowly began to rub, up and down, along his shin.

Oh, please don't let it be Princess Rotina! he thought, his eyes closing in near panic at the thought.

The princess rambled on, bemoaning the loss of hay farmers across Europe, her husband listening in rapt attention.

Joseph cast a hopeful glance at his wife. Eyes half closed, she had a look of innocent amusement on her beautiful face that had nothing to do with hay or toll roads. He relaxed.

Clarisse lifted her foot slowly, running her foot along his leg then stroked the area beside his knee with her toe. He smiled lazily, the promise of retribution unspoken. She slipped her foot under the hem of his trousers, letting her foot slide along his leg. He sipped his coffee and Clarisse thought there was almost a dare in his blue eyes.

Wondering if the distance across the table was small enough for her foot to reach his crotch, she slipped down in her chair a few inches and stretched her leg, pointing her toes as they slid along his leg, his knee, his thigh…..Bingo!

Joseph lifted a brow, surprised.

"Yes, I'd say you hit the matter right on the head," he said, ostensibly in answer to Rotina's query about the dearth of wild rabbits across Europe. His gaze never left his wife."It's a matter needing much attention."

She felt his hand on her foot, squeezing it gently. She wiggled her toes and saw him suck in a breath, his chest rising. Cheeks flushed slightly, his eyes darkened.

Best not to overdo it, Clarisse thought, proud of what she could arouse in her husband. With a final wiggle, she slowly withdrew her foot away and up. It bumped on the underside of the table….and caught.

She pulled gently and felt her hosiery pull taut.

It was snagged.

No need to panic, Clarisse told herself, trying to sit up a little straighter as she moved her foot backward to unhook it. It didn't' work. Neither did wriggling it side to side.

Joseph watched her, a slight frown crossing his face, and she noticed that Rotina had finished her speech. Dessert was finished; they were waiting for her to suggest coffee in the solarium.

Clarisse pulled her leg straight down, forcefully. The tableware rattled.

"So sorry," she said. Her hosiery stretched, her foot now dangled several inches below the table. "I bumped my…leg."

A corner of Joseph's mouth quirked.

"Would anyone care for more dessert?" she asked hopefully. How in the world was she going to get it loose? She couldn't very well pull her hose off under the table! Clarisse yanked harder and felt her garters start to give. If they popped….

No one wanted any more pear pie. They sat, waiting.

Clarisse thought fast. "Have either of you ever noticed that dear little Matisse by the mirror?" Ivar and Rotina craned their necks to see and Clarisse frantically pointed under the table, mouthing 'help!'

"Yes, quite lovely," Ivar said. His brow furrowed."It is a shame that the state of artistry on the continent has hit a low. Do you know why?"

Joseph picked up his fork and let it fall to the floor.

"I dropped my fork," he said evenly, never taking his eyes off his wife's reddened face. "Excuse me while I retrieve it."

"Really, can't you leave it for the servants?" Rotina asked, looking down her nose disdainfully.

The princess would, he thought, be laying the failure of manners in modern society on his head, after this.

"It's most unseemly for a prince consort to go rummaging around on the floor," Rotina added.

"That fork is a particular favorite of mine," he said seriously, resisting the urge to tell Rotina that he was no more a prince consort than she was a princess. "I do not trust its care to the staff."

His head and chest disappeared under the floor length tablecloth.

Princess Rotina carefully pressed her knees together lest Clarisse's husband tried to take a peek.

Ivar leaned closer to Clarisse. "I say, my dear, is your husband always this odd?"

Clarisse felt Joseph's hand on her foot and it was suddenly free.

"Er, ah, no, he isn't," she replied.

"Just at times, is he?" Rotina nodded, understanding. "Has a touch of madness in his family, most likely. Nothing to be ashamed of- all the best families do."

His fingers ran lightly over the bottom of her toes.

"Oh! Oh, yes. That must be it," she said, trying to sound normal. "I was…ah…did you attended Minister Beltrop's funeral in Amsterdam?"

"A terrible way to go, was it not?" Ivar replied, shaking his head.

Her huband tickled the bottom of her foot then let his fingers wander up her leg.

"Joseph! Ah, Joseph said the very same thing."

His hand slipped under her skirt…and upward.

"Stop! Stop…stopping people from overdosing on prunes should be a…a priority," she blurted out.

Under the table, Joseph withdrew his hand and slipped her pump back on her, folding the stretched and cut hose under her foot. A moment later, he reappeared.

"Got it," he said, holding up the fork. In his other hand was his pocketknife.

Clarisse could not look him in the eyes.

"Well, shall we go have coffee?" she asked brightly, coming to her feet. Her right stocking, already stretched to the max, popped its garters and floated down to her ankle.

She sat down.

"I think we shall have it here, instead."

Joseph picked up his spoon and let it fall to the floor.

Something silly that just occurred to me- hope you enjoyed it!