A/N: Once again, this is another one shot that will be up for the vote to see which piece will be continued into a full length flash fic. Thanks and enjoy!


Class Distinctions

OCFF#19: It was a cold and foggy night…

Blowing on his frozen digits, the stable hand attempted to revive his immobile fingers, but the warmth and the moister of his own breath did not suffice, and he his hands were left in their numbed state. Winters were always bitter cold in England, but that night was particularly miserable. Perhaps it was his general dissatisfaction with life, or it might have just been the eerie feeling the fog brought him, but, no matter the reason, Ryan couldn't wait to go home in the morning.

Most countryside manors only employed one coachman. He would trudge to work in the first light of dawn and leave with the setting sun unless his master needed his services in the evening, but not the Coopers. No, Lady Julie Cooper insisted that her stables always have a hand available, just in case the sudden whim to go riding in the middle of the night struck her. Even though it was a slightly curious notion, the wealthy wife of Lord James Cooper often did just that.

She was an eccentric woman, but, because of her place in society and her husband's wealth, her uniqueness was tolerated, even doted upon by some. The ladies of the ton claimed she was an original, a fire cracker, and, in an age when women were starting to question their role in society, Lady Cooper was often heralded as a beacon of change. True, the stalwarts, the proper, imperial dowagers of London often frowned upon her activities, but his mistress didn't care what they thought of her. It was just this attitude towards life and propriety that made Ryan uncomfortable around his employer's wife, and, if he could manage it, he attempted to avoid her at all costs.

Unfortunately, that was easier said than done, especially since it was common knowledge, even among the working class, that the Coopers' marriage was an unhappy one. Often, even out in the stables as he cared for the horses and carriages, he could hear the Lord and Lady arguing late at night, and, when that happened, it was always inevitable that he would get a visit from someone in the household looking to go for a late night ride.

His master would sometimes approach him tentatively. Always polite, always almost docile, Lord James Cooper would apologize for the inconvenience of asking his stable hand to drive him into town on the evenings when he quarreled with his headstrong wife, despite the fact that it was Ryan's job to do so. When the leader of the household went into town, he often times went to the pub or to his selected gentleman's club to smoke cigars and drink fine brandy, and, while he was otherwise occupied, Ryan was granted the opportunity to socialize with the other coachmen or to merely sit by himself with the carriage. Most of the time, he chose the latter, reading by the light of the moon and the streetlamps.

If it was Lady Cooper who sought his assistance at night, he always went home in the morning with a headache. She was shrill with her haughty arrogance and quite demanding. Nothing he ever did was deemed right by his mistress, and, when he displeased her, she would turn her sometimes seemingly forked tongue in his direction, giving the stable hand a 

verbal lashing. On those nights, he never got a moment to himself, and, by the time the lady of the manor retired for the evening, Ryan always considered asking his employer for a raise… not that he would ever dare be so bold or impertinent.

The rarest late night visitor to the stables was the younger of the two Cooper daughters – Miss Caitlyn. She was a quiet girl, shy and almost timid in nature, perhaps overshadowed by her boisterous mother, and, when she visited him, it was often to simply pet her pony and offer the fine animal whispered secrets, no doubt of her girlhood dreams. Just a year short of entering society formally, the youngest mistress of the Cooper household seemed hesitant to join the whirlwind of the ton and, instead, found her enjoyment in life from the simpler things. Or, on the other hand, she might have been loath to enter society in fear that she would stand overshadowed by her older, much more beautiful sister.

Miss Marissa Cooper was the pride and joy of her parents. Deemed one of the most promising catches in London society, she was courted by dukes and earls, counts and even several princes. She had the pick of any husband she chose, and, perhaps because of her favored reputation, she was, in Ryan's opinion, conceited, vain, and rude. For years, they had hated each other, and, personally, he couldn't wait for his master's oldest daughter to marry and leave the Cooper household. Despite the fact that he sometimes questioned her mother's sanity, he would rather deal with Julie Cooper on any night than even come within spitting distance of her eldest daughter, and, luckily for him, the blonde, blue eyed young woman was far from being partial to going out on late night rides.

The dampness of the dreary land seemed to seep into the coachman, and he shuddered with chill. He knew he would be lucky to survive the frigid evening without coming down with some kind of ailment. Because of his lowly job and the fact that he was an orphan supporting himself in a country rather unfriendly towards those who were poor, his living conditions were one step away from being deplorable, and he often came down with head colds. On the upside, however, he didn't fear a visit from anyone in the Cooper household that evening. The other stable hand had informed him that it had been a quiet day, and, with the miserable weather, Ryan was pretty certain no one, not even Lady Cooper, would risk a ride that night.

With those thoughts in mind, he settled down on a bale of straw. Chaffing his hands together, Ryan tried again in vain to send some warmth to his frozen digits, but, after failing once more to inspire feeling in the bare appendages, he gave up, assuming his efforts to be towards a lost cause. Between the cold, and the boredom, and the late hour, he eventually started to drift off, his head bobbing forward to rest against his chest while his heavy eyes drooped shut. When, all of a sudden a noise, the noise of a trespasser, startled him, he awoke without delay, wondering just how long he had been asleep and praying he would be able to scare off the thief. If he failed, no doubt, his employer would question his ability to perform his duties, and, without his job for the sometimes strange and oftentimes temperamental Coopers, he wouldn't survive.

Blindly, he reached for a pitchfork, the only weapon within grasp. Wrapping both of his hands around the wooden handle, he advanced on the intruder, the sharp tines of the 

farming tool aimed directly into their back. The shadows of the night prevented him from seeing the person's face, and the fog which had seeped in through the open door, made the prowler's form almost shapeless. However, as he got closer to the interloper, he could see that they were slight of build but relatively his same height as he was, but it wasn't until he jabbed the fork into their back that he realized the trespasser was not a thief but a woman. The revelation only confused him more.

"What the bloody hell do ya think you're doin in 'ere?"

"Mr. Atwood," a self-important, superior voice commanded icily, "if you want to retain your position here at Cooper manor, I suggest you remove that sharp, dirty object from my back at very this moment."

Each word she uttered was perfectly succinct, and it made Ryan frown momentarily. That was another reason he detested the eldest of his master's daughters. Every word that dripped from her mouth was uttered in disdain; each syllable properly pronounced compared to his providential accent. Unlike him, though, Miss Marissa had been educated in the finest schools in France, given every opportunity to succeed despite the fact that her education, her training, her knowledge would be of no further use to her than a mere amusement. While in her presence, he never failed to feel inferior, even unintelligent, and he hated her for the sheer fact that she had everything in life handed to her on a silver platter while he scrimped and struggled for practically nothing.

Eventually, though, he recovered from his surprise and obeyed her charge. Lowering the pitchfork to the ground, he dropped it loudly, its metal tines bouncing off the floor, the sound of it landing echoing throughout the wooden stable. When she was out of harm's way, the belle of society whirled around to face him, her sharp, unforgiving eyes piercing him with contempt.

"My 'pologies, Mistress," Ryan mumbled, averting his gaze from the young lady's.

Instead of accepting his request for forgiveness, though, she simply changed the subject. Tilting her chin even higher into the air, she ordered him, "fetch me the carriage, Mr. Atwood. I wish to go to town."

"Now, Miss? But it's the middle of the night. What business do you 'ave in town at this time? And," he pressed her, suddenly becoming aware of her rather common appearance, "why are you dressed like that?"

"Like what exactly," Miss Marissa inquired haughtily.

Despite his curiosity, he recognized her tone, and he realized she was anything but welcome to the idea of being questioned by her coachman. So, submitting to her mood, he remarked in a mumble, "nothing, Miss."

As was his job, he prepared the coach for travel, hitching the horses before helping the 

young woman he loathed so much into the carriage. He wondered where she was headed, and if her parents knew of her impending trip, but it wasn't his place to question those of his superiors, so he remained quiet and simply drove the blonde to the destination she requested. Fifteen minutes later, after obeying her directions from inside of the moving vehicle, they arrived at the waterfront, and, immediately, Ryan's curiosity turned to dread.

He knew that his mistress was up to something, and, if he wasn't careful, she would drag him into her mess. But he was between a rock and a hard place. He could obey her every command, or he could rebel, refuse to let her out of the carriage, and quickly drive it back to Cooper manor, waking her father and informing him just what his eldest daughter had attempted to do that evening. And he wasn't sure whose wrath he feared more – Lord James' or the woman sitting ramrod straight, a simple valise waiting patiently at her feet, in the back of the coach.

Second guessing himself the entire time, the stable hand decided to do what he was told. After all, according to society and his employers, he was nothing but a brainless waste of space. If he claimed he had no idea what Miss Marissa had been up to that evening, they would probably believe him, simply ridiculing his obtuseness behind his back, but, if he disobeyed her orders, he would have to suffer the wrath of his mistress, and that was something he always strived to avoid.

As they made their way towards the ship that was preparing to depart, neither of them said a word. He carried her tote for her, as was expected of him, and she walked by his side, for the first time in her life not demanding he follow at her footsteps. And, suddenly, just like that, because of her less than proud attitude on the wharf, he realized what Miss Marissa Cooper was up to.

She was running away, purchasing a chance to flee her home, her country, and the expectations of everyone around her and striking out on her own. She was going to America, a place Ryan only dreamed of seeing one day, of escaping to, and it made him take notice of the young woman in a different light. He started questioning what exactly had made her so miserable in England that she had been forced to take such drastic measures, and, for the first time since he had met her, he wondered if they perhaps did actually have something in common.

The man at the plank stopped their progress, holding up a hand to signal that they must stop. Without words being exchanged, Ryan watched as Marissa purchased her way onto the ship, and, just as he was prepared to walk away, just as he was about to turn around and go back to the empty carriage parked discreetly out of view, the sailor smiled warmly at the both of them and ushered them onto the boat.

"Welcome to The Newport," he stated grandly. "You and your wife can wait on deck to watch us leave port if you'd like," he offered kindly. "She'll be pulling up anchor in just a few minutes."

And, just like that, Ryan Atwood was going to America… with Marissa Cooper, once future 

duchess, countess, or princess and now just as poor, just as common, just as unimportant as he was.