A FAIR TO REMEMBER

 

An original fanfic

by Gidget

 

TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista Television/Walt Disney Co.  The rest of the characters are created by me, and may not be used without permission.  As usual, my deepest gratitude to Ted for his fabulous AND honest feedback and support.  A big thank you to Cody for reading the drafts I was unsure of.  (Rated PG for mild coarse language and occasional violence.)

Chapter 7


“Well,” Rebecca said when Baloo had finished his story. “I’d better get Molly some dinner. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

Kit nudged Baloo and mouthed ‘Louie’s Party’ to him.

“Oh, uh, before ya go, there’s a party at Louie’s a coupla weeks from now, on Saturday night.”

“His nightclub’s sixth anniversary,” Kit added. “It’s the big one.”

“So, ya wanna come?  Louie’d love it.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”  But she smiled ruefully, taking the sting out of the words. “All right.  Thanks, Baloo.  I’ll get a sitter for that night.”

After dinner, Rebecca gave Molly her bath.  After a story and a kiss goodnight, she closed her daughter’s bedroom door and sat down at the kitchen table to sort out her bills for that month.  But twenty minutes passed and she found, to her annoyance, that she couldn’t concentrate on her work.

I should do something else, she thought. I’m just not in the mood.

She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of steaming hot cocoa, then she carried it carefully into the living room, settling into her favorite chair with a romantic novel that she’d just started to read.  Sometimes she grew tired of reading newspapers, stock pages and charts, but there never seemed to be time for her and her alone. She loved Molly dearly, but there were days when she would have liked to spend time with another adult.

After twelve pages, Rebecca set the book aside.  It would have to feature a dashing sea captain as the hero.  She sighed, remembering that brief, tender interlude with Captain William Stansbury, nearly two years ago.  The pain of letting him go had eased with time, but now and then, a pang would prick her heart.  Sometimes she’d lie awake in bed, tears sliding down her cheeks.  She barely remembered his face in detail --- just a faint impression of gentle, yet masculine features, fair hair and beard.  After a romantic stroll along the beach, they crossed a little footbridge at Louie’s, hand-in-hand in the moonlight, talking and laughing.   She realized, with a shock, that she missed the giddy uncertainty of courtship and being held in a pair of strong, loving arms.  Although she was now sure that it was right that they parted ways, she missed the feeling of that one special night.

Rebecca’s eyes again filled with tears; angrily she wiped them away.  The Captain (she could never call him William) was never meant to be hers… he’d been dead for nearly a century. It was foolish to crave the embrace of a ghost.  And pathetic that he was the only one who was truly interested in her.  Wildcat had that nice Clementine.  Even Baloo had Joanna, although her rude sarcasm did nothing to distract him from her earthy, sultry allure.

That man always could see better than he could think. But what does Joanna see in that lazy bum?

She really liked him, but to be honest, he was an irresponsible, unsophisticated oaf who she sometimes wanted to strangle.  It had taken time to get used to his deep, raucous laugh, loud chewing and melodious singing voice.  He loved to sing and dance and play loud, horrible music, especially that awful Banana song.   He was, in her words when they first met, ‘sloppy, careless and rude’.   But despite his inability to run a business, enthusiastic appetite for food, and love of partying, Baloo had proven himself a true friend when it counted the most.

Am I being too hard on him?

Frowning, she realized that today was the second day he and Joanna had seen each other since that beach incident they told her about.  What did Joanna see in him without the time taken to get to know him and his faults, yet like him anyway?  Rebecca remembered the last time a female had shown instant interest in Baloo… and it nearly cost them their carefully built friendship… not to mention their lives.   He just had no social skills, no instincts about people. 

Face it… the man needs a keeper.

Pull yourself together!  she scolded herself.  He’s a big boy and can take care of himself.  He wouldn’t be stupid enough to fall for the same type of girl twice.  Hmmm… then again, maybe he would!  Oh, forget it --- I can’t baby-sit the man every time I get a funny feeling about the girl he’s with, for heaven’s sake!

Closing her eyes, she thought about her husband, Kenneth.  In her mind, she flipped the pages of several snapshots.  In college, when she became captain of the debate team, no one was surprised.  Argumentative by nature, Rebecca enjoyed it immensely.   But when she met, dated and married her opponent, everyone was surprised, including her.  She smiled wistfully, remembering their quiet wedding, attended by a few family members and friends.  Kenneth had accepted the position of junior bookkeeper in a textile firm by then, and was sure to get a promotion; he was that smart and ambitious.  The only thing she regretted --- although she never really thought about it until years later --- was quitting college to be a housewife.  Neat and organized by nature, she did not exactly enjoy cooking and cleaning every day.  Easily bored, she began to long for a baby, just to have something to do.  

Despite her growing restlessness, it was a happy marriage, and for the most part, uneventful. Then Molly was born a year later, completing the circle.   Kenneth was thrilled to be a father and loved playing with the baby.   He loved to take her for walks in her carriage, pushing it in a slow, stately fashion as if they were the main attraction of a parade.  People often stopped them and cooed at the baby until she tried to grab someone’s tie or earring.

Kenneth was a romantic.  Every week he would ask a neighbor to mind the baby while he took his wife to an intimate, quiet little restaurant so they could be alone.  Over lobster and champagne, he would talk about his work --- marketing, debits and credits, gross and net profit --- things he didn’t believe that she could possibly understand, of course, but he enjoyed her flattering attention, pleased that Rebecca found it so entertaining.   Her eager questions amused him and he indulged her, keeping the answers in simple terms that even a woman could grasp.  He would have been very surprised to know that behind that pretty face was a churning mind impatient for knowledge, speedily filing the information into the busy recesses of her brain.

Sometimes she would excuse herself to powder her nose, then sit in a stall and furiously scribble notes on a notepad she kept in her purse.  She had the feeling that although her husband loved to talk about his work, he would consider it unromantic, not to mention unfeminine, for her to take notes. 

“I married the prettiest girl on campus,” he once proudly told his colleagues and their wives when they came over to their small apartment for dinner.  “She’s one of the few girls I know who listens to me gab about work… really listens.  Most girls would be bored to tears.  Not my Rebecca.”

“Doesn’t talk your ear off, eh?  I like that in a woman.  You’re a lucky man,” his boss told him.  “My Nellie never stops talking… I think she was vaccinated with a gramophone needle.”  He laughed loudly at his own joke. His wife sipped her wine and scowled. 

The following morning, Kenneth left for a business trip and she saw him off at the train station.  Before boarding, he’d kissed her and Molly, now barely two, good-bye and in a moment, waved to them from the window as the train pulled out, taking him further and further away until he disappeared.

She never saw him alive again.

On his way home, the train derailed and crashed into a chasm, killing Kenneth, along with seventy-five men, women and children.  There were no survivors.

Rebecca remembered feeling, to her shame, a pang of jealousy that Molly used to prefer Kenneth to her, squealing with delight when he approached.  Exhausted from the strain of giving birth and the overwhelming responsibilities of motherhood, she simply did not have the energy to do more than feed and bathe Molly at the time. But now, Rebecca was grateful that he and Molly were blessed with the brief time they had together.  Naturally, his face would have faded in Molly’s memory, but Rebecca, with her mother’s help, organized several photo albums for her to keep when she grew up.  She liked to think that he might appear in the little girl’s dreams, even if she did not remember him in the morning.

All too soon, Rebecca’s father succumbed to a deadly bout of pneumonia, followed by her mother several days afterward.  Rebecca thought wryly: Those two always did do things together.

She berated herself for her restlessness.  Not everyone found true love.  I was lucky, she thought.  At least I had it for a short time.  And I’ve got Molly now. I’m not the same girl he married.  Would he even like me anymore?  Rebecca was not sure… and did not really want to know. 

Sometimes she wondered what her life would have been like had Kenneth lived.  She had changed from a naïve young wife and mother to a hard-boiled businesswoman and proprietor of Higher for Hire.  Not to mention boss and nursemaid to an eccentric mechanic and that fat, lazy bear!  The way he snores, I don’t know how Kit can sleep in the same room with him without bouncing a brick off his skull!

I should be happy for him --- and I will be --- just as soon as I get used to the idea of Baloo having a… g-girlfriend.  Then:  Oh, let him enjoy himself!  If he has a girl to impress, then maybe he won’t be such a slob!

Maybe Louie’s party is just what I need.  I just know that bear will do something stupid in front of Joanna, especially at Louie’s.  And I’m going to be there to see it.

Although she knew she was being rather mean, Rebecca smiled… just a little.

 

* * *

When Thursday dropped them off, Pearl was still sniffling, but uncharacteristically silent. Joanna walked along next to her, thinking.

“Pearl,” Joanna said quietly. “Why did you tell that detective that Lance already had luggage with him when the boat docked?”

“You-you wouldn’t understand.”

Almost admiringly, she said, “You lied to him.”

“Look who’s talking!”

Joanna scowled.  She’d hoped that keeping her mouth shut would encourage Pearl to spill more dirt on Lance… dirt she could use.

Pearl sped up her pace, heading for the trailers.  With her longer legs, Joanna easily caught up, and forced her to stop, planting herself in front of her.

“Leave me alone!”  Pearl tried to get around her.

“No.  If he’s the guy they’re talking about, then he’s dangerous.  You shouldn’t be alone with him!”

“It’s not Lance,” Pearl said stubbornly.

“But it could be.  Even if it isn’t him, he lied about the ring.”  Joanna threw up her hands in disgust.  “Dammit, why are you protecting him?  He doesn’t care about you.  That crummy ring proves it.”

“Shut up!  You—you’re so jealous of me that you can’t stand it!”  Pearl’s voice became shrill.  I’m the one who’s getting married.  You-you’re just jealous!”

Joanna stared at her incredulously, then gave a bark of laughter.  “Of what?  Who’d want to be you?”

Screeching with rage, Pearl suddenly flew at her, knocking her to the ground.  Startled, Joanna fell backwards, landing hard on her back. “Ow! Cut it out, you idiot!”

“Say you’re jealous of me!  Say it!” Pearl screamed at her.  Joanna had agility and speed but the other woman was solidly built; her weight easily anchored her.

“Don’t be stupid.  Ow!  Pearl pulled her hair viciously, coming away with several long red-gold strands.  Instinctively, Joanna managed to catch her flying hands, and encircled her wrists, immobilizing her.

“Let go of me!”

“Get off me!”

What’s all the ruckus about?” Helen’s bellow silenced them.  Suddenly, Handy and Big Al dragged them apart, their resisting heels sending up little clouds of dirt.

“Hey, I love catfights.” Big Al held Joanna from behind, his big paws clamped around her arms, holding them down.  Though she could not see his face, she could hear the barely concealed glee in his voice.

“Yeah?  Too bad they’re never fought over you,” Joanna growled, stomping on his foot.  He yelped and let go.  While he was hopping on one foot, she gave him a hard shove, sending him crashing to the ground.

Sitting up and wincing, he looked up at her.  “No hard feelings, doll.  I like ‘em feisty.”

“Look at ye --- ye two are an absolute sight!  Brawlin’ like common hooligans,” scolded Helen.  Joanna and Pearl glanced at each other; she was right.  Pearl’s face was streaked with dirt and tears and her wrists were still red where Joanna had grabbed them.  As for Joanna, her black ribbon again lay in the dust for the second time that day and her long hair straggled down her back and in her face in tangled strings.   She swept it aside, her dark eyes hard and defiant.

“Hey, she started it.  And I wasn’t brawling, she was,” Joanna protested.  “All I did was grab her wrists.”  She noticed that more carnies had come out to see what was happening, including Strummer, Violet and Lance.   This made her angrier than she was at Pearl. 

Why don’t you just put me in a jar so you can study me!

Pearl wriggled out of Handy’s grasp. “That’s not all you did, you liar!”

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who started it!”

The others looked from one combatant to the other, as though watching a tennis match and unsure who to root for.  Strummer edged cautiously a little closer to Joanna and saw the forgotten ribbon on the ground.  He picked it up and timidly handed it to her.  Without comment, she took it and quickly tied her hair back.  He retained his proximity to her, and tried to look manly and supportive.  She was too furious to notice.  Both Big Al and Violet smirked.

“Enough.  Just tell me why ye two are at each other’s throats.”

Pearl and Joanna remained mutinously silent, glaring at each other.

“I’m waitin’.”

Finally, Pearl blurted out, “Lance, she said you gave me a fake diamond.  Tell her it’s not true.”

For a moment, he was speechless. Inside, he panicked, searching his racing brain for the magic words. “Er… it’s not true?”

Pearl shot Joanna a triumphant look. “See?”

“Gee, I guess that about wraps it up.”

“Diamond?”  Helen asked.  “What on earth are ye talkin’ about, Pearl?”

Pearl went to Lance and possessively took his arm.  With her free hand, she proudly showed Helen her ring. “Lance and I are in love.  We’re engaged.”

Her eyes round with surprise, Helen breathed, “Oh, me goodness… ye mean all this time…” Then she squinted.  “Ain’t this one of our prizes for the ring toss?”  Blushing, Pearl quickly repeated Lance’s story of getting his mother’s heirloom altered.  The prospective groom closed his eyes, wishing the ground would open up and swallow him whole.

He saw himself wearing a black-and-white striped convict’s uniform, was roughly shoved stumbling into a dark prison cell.  Waiting for him, lying seductively on the lower bunk was Pearl; She wore a low-cut frilled white nightgown, decorated with pink hearts.  The heavy steel door slammed.

“No!” he screamed, pounding on it. “I don’t belong here!  Let me out!”

“Congratulations, buddy,” he heard a guard say behind the door. “You’ve got life.”

“Life! Life!” Pearl shrieked, holding out her arms. “Until death do us part!”

Opening his eyes, Lance felt sick with dread.  He wanted to run out of the park screaming.  “Pearl… perhaps this isn’t the time to…”

“Oh, Lancie, it’s the perfect time.  We shouldn’t have to hide how we feel about each other.”

Not yet, you little fool, he thought.  It took every inch of self-control he had to keep from throttling her. 

Tell them, Lance,” Pearl nearly pleaded. Her tears had left her eyelashes clumped in clotted groups of three and four.

He carefully schooled his features to a doting, fond look.  “Ah, well… we were going to keep it our little secret just a little while longer.  But yes, I have asked sweet Pearl to do me the honor of becoming my wife.”

Big Al snorted. “Your funeral.”  Handy elbowed him in the ribs. 

“That’s swell,” The old beaver said sincerely.  “Congratulations.” 

“Wait a minute,” Helen said sternly, “this still don’t explain why ye girls were tryin’ to kill each other!”

Both Lance and Pearl froze. 

Joanna said, “Well, are you going to tell her what Detective Thursday said, or should I?”

“Shut up!”

“Girls!”

Pearl whispered, “Helen… Lance… the detective saw my ring and started asking questions.  He did some sort of test on glass and said it’s not r-real.”

“N-not real?” Lance felt his stomach form a knot.  Sweat beaded on his forehead.  “But of course it is, you silly darling!”

“Just get it appraised,” Violet suggested.

Joanna nodded enthusiastically. “Good idea.”

Helen held up a hand for silence.

“Here, let me see it.” Reluctantly, Pearl wriggled it off her finger and gave it to the jaguar. He pretended to weigh it in his palm, his expression changing from thoughtful to shocked outrage. “Why… the detective was right!  It is a fake!”

“Oh, dear,” Joanna remarked to everyone in general.

“I-I’ve been swindled!  The jeweler must have exchanged the real diamond for this…imitation!” He clasped Pearl in his arms, who began to sob anew. “Oh, darling, what you must have thought of me!”

“Oh no, what you must have thought of me…” she wailed. “I almost believed them!  And Joanna was so nasty…”

“Joanna, Pearl… I’d like to speak to the two of ye alone in my office,” Helen said.

In her trailer or ‘office’, Helen laid down the law.  They had to shake hands and apologize to each other.  Handy had repaired the broken lock of their trailer but Pearl and Joanna would have to exchange roommates.  It was agreed that Joanna would move in with Violet; Bonnie would move into the repaired trailer with Pearl.  Nobody objected to this arrangement, especially Pearl and Joanna. They were too relieved not to lose their jobs.

“Another performance like that one and ye’ll both be dismissed,” Helen warned.

Joanna stiffened at this, and wasn’t quite able to hide her hurt.  But she nodded wordlessly and turned to leave the cramped trailer.

“Don’t go yet.  I’d like to talk to ye.” Helen sighed. “Pearl, why don’t ye get some dinner?  Joanna and I will be along in a jiffy.”

When they were alone, Helen said, “Sit down.”

“I’ll stand, thanks.”

“Please, dear.”  Reluctantly, she did so.  Helen continued gently, “I know ye think I was ‘ard on ye, but I ‘ave te be fair.”

“Fair!” Joanna blurted, “You weren’t fair at all.  Pearl attacked me.  I never hit her, not once… even though she asked for it.”

“I know that. Yer a good worker, Joanna, an’ much too talented a musician for a place like this.  But ye’ve got a temper, luv.  I’ve seen it.”

Lady, you haven’t seen my temper!

“Ye ain’t the type to start a fight but ye have a sharp tongue that lands ye into trouble sometimes.  Yer very good at pushin’ folks’ buttons.”  Helen took a deep breath. “I gotta say it  Sometimes I fear for yer safety.”

 “I can take care of myself.”

“I ain’t so sure about that. Ye don’t act afraid of nothin’ and that’s dangerous.  There’s some nasty people out there who would figure ye as bein’ uppity and decide to teach ye a lesson.”

Joanna fell silent.

“Take Big Al for example. Ye thought nothin’ of kickin’ an’ knockin’ him over.  I’d say he was a gentleman about it, considerin’.  Another man his size woulda sent ye to the hospital… or the morgue.”

“Well, he should’ve kept his hairy mitts to himself. Why are you taking his side?”

“I ain’t takin’ anyone’s side.  I’m sayin’ ye gotta have a care who ye rile up.”

Funny, that’s what Violet’s always saying to me too. Nobody understands, she thought, frustrated.  Suddenly, a sly, soft male voice whispered into her brain:  People like us are different.  Their stupid laws and petty rules don’t apply to us…

Involuntarily, Joanna shivered.  She did not want to remember that voice.

“Okay,” she said, more to end the conversation than actual compliance. “I’ll try to watch what I say.”

“Good girl,” Helen said warmly, patting her hand. “And next time, do try to come home at a decent hour, will ye?  I was right worried.”

“Okay,” she said again, too tired to argue, although a tiny rebellious part of her growled, What am I, sixteen?  She got up to leave.

“Yer young man is a right nice gent.  Will ye be seeing him again?”

“I guess.”

“Oh.” 

“This is perfect,” Violet told Joanna later, as she helped her carry her belongings next door.  “Bonnie stunk of horses.  We’ll have to air it out.”

“Great.”  Joanna sullenly carried the heavier of the bags and her blue leather spoon case.

“Gee, try to control your excitement.” Violet sounded hurt.

“I’m really too tired to have this conversation.” Then she winced.  It wouldn’t do to alienate Violet.  Maybe Helen was right.  She did have a way of setting people off.  She sighed, weary of all the ruffled feathers she had to smooth today. “Nothing personal, Vi, but I’m just getting tired of sleeping in trailers and being told what to do like I’m a little kid.  Okay?”

“Forget it.” Violet gave her a crooked smile. “Sometimes I get real sick of this place too.  I swear our trailer smelled like horses and hot dogs.  I couldn’t seem to get the smell out of my clothes.  All them rubes yammering for their hot dogs.  I’d like to ram it down their---!”

But Joanna was not listening. 

I am sick of this place, she thought bitterly.  Routine.  Smile at the rubes that come in for a few laughs, pack up after a few weeks and do it all over again in some other town.  How long do I have to do this?  All I want to do is to rest.

“I just wish I could sleep in a real room again.  Even the Peppermint Ferry had more privacy.  Remember how we had our own cabins?”

“What?” The tigress blinked. “Oh, yeah, those were the days.”

“I had to share a room with my sister. The whole room was pink and white.  Looked like the birthday cake from hell. I hated it.”

“I know. You told me.”

 

They passed Pearl and Lance, who were doing the same thing.  Lance carried Pearl’s cosmetic bag while she carried two heavy suitcases of clothes and the headless doll Matilda.  Not a word passed between them.  Joanna was so preoccupied with her own thoughts that she did not notice the dirty look he gave her.

 

Confound that harpy, he thought, eyeing the blue case.  I didn’t see that one!  She must have hidden it. Of all the rotten tricks. How did it happen?  Not only did his plan to use Pearl as a spy backfire, but now he was practically shackled to the stupid girl.  It wasn’t fair! 

That night, as Joanna tried to drift off to sleep, a strange picture blotted her mind…

Marie was now fourteen.  She and another girl --- a hyena --- faced each other on a large square rubber mat, dressed in red, pajama-like clothing.  Young people of different species, identically attired --- all attractive, hard-eyed and eager, surrounded them.  Each girl --- Marie and --- Penny or something --- placed their hands together, assuming a prayer-like posture and stiffly bowed. The teacher --- a dark-haired tigress --- blew a shrill blast on the whistle hanging around her neck, then stepped back.

“Now --- strike!”

One-two!  With each fist, Penny threw two punches in rapid succession.  With her forearms, Marie managed to block the blows, then caught her opponent’s slender wrists in each hand.

“Hey, no grabbing, Gellar!”

For reply, Marie released her left wrist, but continued to hold the right one --- her writing hand.  Then she caught the girl’s pinky and wrenched it back, making Penny howl.  A roar of horrified approval greeted her.   The teacher blew the whistle and caught her arm, raising it in triumph.

“The winner!”

Later, in the recreation room, the students were busy playing ping pong, chess and other games to enhance their skills.  There was no pleasure in the activities. Nearly everyone had a tight look of intense concentration.  Marie sat alone in the corner trying to study for a math test.  She wished she had her own room so she could shut out the noise.  But no, that was against the rules.  They did not allow you to be alone, except in pairs.  Each dormitory housed twelve people.  The bathrooms had twelve sinks, twelve toilets each. There were no doors, no way to hide.   She remembered those first few days when they insisted on broadcasting that man’s voice for hours at a time in the room with blinding lights, until a couple of kids went mad and had to be carried out.  They were never seen again. 

When Marie saw Penny and the teacher, she stood up.  A wooden splint was heavily bandaged around Penny’s broken finger.  Her eyes were red-rimmed but dry.  The woman prodded her forward.

Penny’s tone was civil.  “Good match, Gellar.”

“Good match,” Marie agreed, equally polite.

Although they smiled at each other, their eyes burned with hatred.

Lord, Joanna thought, shivering, heart hammering in her chest.  Those were the days.  She pulled the covers over her head, trying to shut out the bright lights, even though the trailer was pitch black, and the man’s voice, even though the only sound was Violet’s gentle snoring in the next bed.

End of Chapter 7

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