Notes: A story in the 'Echoes the Sea/Aces Immortal' AU series. These ficlets take place between 1847 and 1883, beginning when Ezra is ten.
Characters: Ezra Standish, Charlotte Sparrow, Cecily Black
Summary: Ezra recalls five memories of his sister.
A Good Con Is Based On Subtlety
Ezra peered through the keyhole. “She’s gone,” he told his sister.
Cecily nodded, a grin on her face. “I have learned a new piece of music. Shall I play that?”
Pausing to consider, Ezra paced around the music room. “I think not. After all, a good con is based on subtlety,” he explained. “Cousin Charlotte might not believe I had learned a new piece of music all on my own.”
“Then you should make some mistakes on my sums, since I am sure Aunt Charlotte would be hard-pressed to believe I had suddenly become so skilled in the subject.”
“Just so!” he agreed. “I think you should play the Chopin.” He pulled the sheet music out from inside the piano bench, handing it to Cecily. “It’s what I’ve been practicing the last week.”
She nodded her agreement and proceeded to play, while Ezra set himself near the music room door so he could hear his cousin’s approach. It really was an excellent plan, he thought smugly. Cecily enjoyed the piano and hated math, while Ezra held the opposite feelings. So it had occurred to him that she could play the piano, posing as Ezra, and he could do Cecily’s math lessons. As long as Charlotte could hear music coming from the room, she would never know the difference! All in all, he thought it was a topnotch scheme; mother would be proud.
Several days had passed, and their small subterfuge seemed to be rolling along without a hitch. Ezra was enjoying himself immensely, most especially the high esteem Cecily held him in for his cleverness. She thought him the best brother in the world, and Ezra had a warm feeling of belonging and acceptance from her love. They were of an age, but Ezra couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility for the girl he had been so rude to only five years ago. He considered her his sister, and nothing would ever change that.
The two of them were in the back garden, sitting under the old magnolia tree, drinking lemonade and reading; it was the one thing they both enjoyed and never tried to shirk off. Soon, Charlotte joined them, as was her custom, with fresh baked sweets and a book of her own that she would read aloud from. Ezra felt complete contentment – or he did till his cousin set aside her book and made her announcement.
“I am so proud of your talent at the piano, Ezra.” She patted his hand. “So proud in fact, I have arranged for you to play at my next Ladies Aid meeting. Isn’t that wonderful?” she asked delightedly.
Ezra gulped, flashing a look at Cecily, who seemed stricken. Frantically, he searched for an excuse. “Cousin, I am not nearly talented enough to play for such a group of esteemed ladies.” He pasted his most convivial smile on his face. “Surely Cecily should be the one to perform for such an august gathering.”
“Oh, didn’t I mention? Cecily shall play after you,” Charlotte informed him brightly. “You don’t mind, do you, child?”
Cecily looked as if she might cry. “No, I would be delighted, Aunt Charlotte,” she said a little breathlessly.
“Good! Then it is settled; a week from tomorrow. Plenty of time for you to both be perfect.”
“What are we to do?” Cecily demanded.
The two were huddled in Cecily’s room after the household was long abed.
“I can’t play at the recital! I would shame Cousin Charlotte,” Ezra wailed.
“But if we confess, we’ll be punished,” she pointed out.
There was that. The last time they’d gotten into trouble, they’d been confined to their rooms for three days with no contact between them. Ezra had thought he’d go mad. No, there had to be a better way.
“What if you learned the Chopin?” she asked suddenly. “You have a week.”
Ezra looked at her as if she'd taken leave of her senses. “I can’t learn to play it well enough in a week to perform it in public!”
“Of course you can!” she retorted. “You have talent, you are just are too lazy to work at it.”
He gave her a look. “I wouldn’t talk, Cecily darlin’.”
She sniffed. “Do you want me to help you learn how to play the Chopin, or do you want to confess to Aunt Charlotte that we’ve been running a con on her?”
Well, when she put it like that…. “Fine, we’ll do it your way.”
Ezra slumped against the wall outside the music room; he’d done it. He had practiced for hours, Cecily a determined taskmistress, and it had paid off. The women had applauded his performance, and he realized Cecily had been right; he did have talent. It was the first time he’d actually felt a love for the music that he knew Charlotte and Cecily had.
A few minutes later, Cecily joined him. “You were magnificent!” she told him proudly.
“Thanks to you.”
“Thanks to both of us,” she corrected.
He nodded, too exhausted to argue.
“You were both wonderful!” Charlotte told them, appearing in the corridor.
“Thank you, ma’am,” they said in unison.
“You’re welcome.” Then she smiled a smile that made Ezra very nervous. “I believe, that in future, each of you shall do your own lessons. Am I correct?”
Ezra and Cecily glanced at each other guiltily; she had known all along. Then they looked back at Charlotte who had an expectant look on her face.
Both children stumbled for words, before she finally took pity on them. “I think you have both learned your lesson, so there will be no punishment other than what you’ve put yourselves through this last week. But if you ever try and run a con on me again, there will be serious consequences, is that quite clear?” There was a hint of steel in her voice.
“Yes, Cousin Charlotte,” Ezra said, looking her in the eye. Next to him, Cecily had started to sniffle. He took her hand in his, squeezing it comfortingly.
Charlotte handed Cecily a handkerchief. “Now don’t cry, child; I’m not angry with either of you. Just try and put the enthusiasm you have for shirking your lessons into actually doing those lessons, hmm?” She reached out, pulling both them into a hug. “I love you both very much, and I always shall.”
All Will Be Well
"Not that one," Ezra told her, "it washes out your eyes."
Cecily held the amber silk dress out, eying it. "But it's such a pretty colour," she protested.
"You can't take everything you own to Paris," he pointed out.
"I could if Aunt Charlotte would just let me take two more trunks!"
Chuckling, he sprawled in the overstuffed chair next to the fireplace in Cecily's room. "It would be feeding your vanity if she let you have your way." He easily caught the dress as Cecily flung it at him in a fit of pique. "Now, now, temper, sister dear."
"I do hate you sometimes, Ezra!" She pouted, turning back to her bed and the pile of dresses and hats that lay upon it.
"And yet you will miss me desperately while you are away at art school." He flashed a cheeky grin. "Paris will be ever so dull without me there to cater to your many moods and whims."
In two days, Cecily was to set sail for the Continent to attend art school in Paris; she was a gifted artist and Charlotte had thought her talent should be cultivated. She currently had the contents of her wardrobe strewn over every surface of her room, in a tizzy about what to pack for the voyage.
But she didn’t respond as he’d expected, her mood seeming to shift like a candle flame in the wind. "I shall miss you, Ezra," she said quietly, absently pulling at a feather on the hat she now held in her hands.
"Nonsense! You won't have time to miss me. This is your dream, Cecily!"
"I suppose it is," she admitted. Tossing the hat onto the bed, she turned back towards him. "But I don't want Aunt Charlotte to be alone."
"She won't be," he assured her.
"But you said Aunt Maude thinks you're old enough now not to have to come here when she travels. What if she won't let you come back?"
He snorted, hooking his leg over the arm of the chair. "Do not fret, darlin’ girl – I can handle mother."
"You're sure?" she asked, walking over to where he sat.
Kissing him on the cheek, she smiled at him fondly, but she still looked worried as she sat down on the hassock in front of him. "Ezra...I'm afraid something terrible is going to happen."
"It is just nerves, that's all," he said confidently.
"You've met the Walkers, haven't you?" she asked suddenly.
Why was she asking him about the Walkers? "Charlotte's abolitionist friends? Yes, you know I have. Why?"
"But you haven't met Mr. Walker's brother, Tim.” She leaned in, her body language making clear her agitation. “Ezra, he's a true believer, and I do think Aunt Charlotte is quite taken with him. In fact, she may even love him."
Ezra sat up in his chair. "What is it you're trying to tell me?" It had been nearly six months since his last visit, but it seemed much had been happening during his absence.
"I'm afraid, Ezra! Afraid her involvement in the movement is going to get her killed," she said in a rush. "You don't know what it's been like, these last few months. Something's changed, it's in the wind."
He took her hands in his. "Cecily, listen to me, nothing is going to happen to Charlotte! She goes to meetings and hands out pamphlets. You're acting as if she's working the Underground Railroad!" When she didn't respond, he squeezed her hands. "Dear sister, you can't honestly think our Charlotte is involved in such an enterprise?"
"I do believe she is," she said simply.
He laughed, shaking his head. "You are borrowing trouble. Charlotte is dear to me, and I have the utmost respect for her, but she is a gentlewoman. Why, I doubt she has ever harboured a violent intention towards another in her life! The very idea that she is some sort of...vigilante, is preposterous!"
She looked uncertain, but nodded. "You have known her for far longer than I. But I’m not sure—“
"Cecily, Charlotte and I both want what is best for you, and that means you going to a place where it is not assumed you are chattel," he said forcefully. Taking her chin between his fingers, he looked her in the eye. "All will be well, trust me."
"You don't know that; there's talk of war."
"All the more reason for you to be in Paris," he told her firmly, releasing his grip.
"You won't go to war, will you, Ezra?"
Ezra avoided her gaze.
Sighing, he finally said, "I am no coward; I will do what needs to be done."
"I wish…," she didn't finish.
She didn’t have to. "I know, Cecily, I know."
This Moment In Time
"I am finally going to see Paris," Ezra said, holding Cecily's hand as they walked along the creek behind her home. He smiled, watching Cecily’s ten-year-old twins, Charlotte and Esther, splash in the water ahead of them.
"Do you really have to leave?" she asked softly. "No, never mind, I know you do, just like Charlotte did."
"It's the way of things for us, dear sister. My time here is done and it is time to move on to a new life. Much longer and people would begin to notice I hadn't aged."
"I am going to miss you," she told him fiercely.
"And I you." He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, handing it to her. "Do not cry, Cecily, we will see one another again."
She laughed through her tears. "Do you remember that first day we met? You were such a rude boy!"
"And you were an insufferable girl," he shot back with a grin.
"Did you ever think, all those years ago, that this is where we'd be?" she asked.
Ezra looked around at the brilliant New Mexico morning, thinking back to where they had started. "Absolutely not; but I'm glad we ended up here despite it all."
"As am I."
"Yes?" He looked over at her.
"You and Charlotte will keep watch over our children and grandchildren and their children as the years pass, won't you?"
"I promise you, we shall."
"I like to think that one day, many years from now, you'll show Paris to my great-granddaughter, and the two of you shall fall in love, and for a little while, you won't be alone." She gripped his hand tightly as if trying to hold on to this moment in time.
His heart clenched a little, the reality of his immortality like a knife to the heart. Taking a shaky breath, he drew her close. "I would like that."
The scent of Cecily's perfume, the laughter of her children, and the feel of the spring breeze against his skin coalesced into a memory he knew he would hold close to his heart forever.