Adventures with a French Pirate

Captured By French Pirates

Argh! Welcome aboard me ship matey!  Before we cast off let me set the scene . . .

It was a dark and stormy night . . . okay, maybe there wasn’t a storm, but it was night and half of the Playroom family was vacationing in France over February break. Their hotel was infested with fire breathing, flesh-eating ants, so the local orphanage allowed them to stay there until the magic pest control specialists had the problem resolved. But something happened that night in the orphanage to Marie-Grace, the newest member of the Playroom family. She is still trying to wrap her head around this whole idea of Time Travel, magic, and a crazy new family like the Playroom. To Marie-Grace, magic is frightening and baffling. She doesn’t want to be here in the year 2016, and she doesn’t yet feel at home in PFV. Marie-Grace is homesick and yearning for the past when she is suddenly. . .

Captured By

French Pirates

(OOO-La-La)

The Story of my captain and his Prisoner

                                     By: Mime #52

Although I’ve taken the vow of silence, that doesn’t mean I can’t write. You see, I’m a French Mime who works for the crew of the French Pirates. Nothing really interesting happened, well except for the usual Pirate business, until my Master took a Prisoner. I followed them around and decided that their story needed to be told.

           -Mime #52

A light mist veiled the ship as the last fading rays of sunlight broke over the bow. Waves splashed high against the hull and wind pulsed in her unfurled sails pushing the pirate ship onward with every beat.

          The young, yet wistful, French captain stood at the helm as whimsical crew of mimes scurried about on deck. As captain, it was his duty to decide their next course of action. Should they undermine the Agency by stealing the orphans? Or should they annihilate them completely by mounting a major attack?

          Suddenly, the captain flashed back to his past when he was a little kid, trapped in a solid white room where a man beat him with the cruelest weapon of the sea, the cat o’ nine tail. He could still feel the sting of the lashes slapping against his back and the voices growling in his ear: You are an orphan, no one cares about you and no one ever will. You will never belong to anyone but us. The only way to make a difference in this world is to obey our every order. And with that in mind, the captain knew what action they must take. 

“Mimes!” the captain shouted. “Do you see that orphanage on the distant shore? Well, it is our mission to kidnap the orphans inside who are held captive by the Agency.”

          With no answer from the mimes, the pirate captain continued, “We must save those orphans because if we do not then no one will. They will forever be minions of the most powerful organization of our time. They will forever be captives in windowless rooms. They will forever be without a place to belong. We, mimes, are their only hope.”

No doubt they were a strange crew with an even stranger captain, but the mimes were resilient in their duty to their captain and his duty to the orphans.  As a salty sea breeze whistled throughout the ship, the misfit band of French pirates went speeding off not to steal treasure but to steal the greater prize of freedom.

******************************************************************

          Marie-Grace Gardner, the newest member of the Playroom family, shuffled timidly behind her oldest adopted sister Samantha Parkington as Samantha led them through the streets of Paris  (in PFV, Paris is on the coast) In the distance, the setting sun gleamed brilliantly off a dark, foreboding building that soared high above the surrounding town. With every step, the Playroom family drew ever nearer to the massive orphanage. There were turrets, arches, and flying buttresses beautifully decorating the outside, but there were also solid bars on the windows, tall gates enclosing the property, and mean looking guards surveying the area. 

          “This is where we’re staying?” Bitty Fatterson complained. “If only I had known, then I would have gone with my parents on their cruise to the Bahamas.”

          Marie-Grace glanced over at her in surprise; there was nowhere else she’d rather be than visiting an orphanage.

          “Really, Samantha?” said Felicity as she tucked a few magical explosives up her colonial skirt. “I thought you had better taste than this. We’re in Paris for crying out loud! And it’s not like we don’t have any money to burn.”

          Just then, Gwen came running by with eight suitcases, eight carry-ons, and all their snow gear strapped to her back. “W-wait . . . for . . . me,” she huffed doubling over in pain. “And can anyone help carry something?”

          “No!” came the resounding shouts. Under their noise, no one heard Marie-Grace say meekly, “I’ll help.”

Gwen looked pleadingly over at Samantha, but Samantha only said, “Sorry Gwen.  Luggage is your job. You can’t break tradition. Everyone has their own role to play. For example, I’m the leader, Felicity is the armed guard and —-”

“And I’m the pack mule,” Gwen muttered under her breath as she set down their luggage.

“Now you’re getting it,” said Samantha.

Finally noticing the tall military building in front of her Gwen said, “We’re staying at a prison? Aren’t there any hotels in this country?”

          Samantha sighed in frustration. “Get over it! You guys should be glad the hotel found some other accommodations for us instead of turning us out into the street.”

          “Yeah, but now the orphanage will probably make us take care of some snotty kids,” said Felicity.

          Marie-Grace had at least a million arguments she wanted to throw back at her, but she stayed silent, still very fearful of Felicity.

          Samantha said to Felicity, “If you prefer, you can go spend the night with the flesh eating insects. I, for one, am staying here.”

          “Maybe I will,” Felicity grumbled as she went inside. “It would be more exciting that way.”

Marie-Grace stayed behind with Samantha as the rest of her family filed in after Felicity. As she looked over at her sister, Samantha seemed to read Marie-Grace’s thoughts as she said, “Don’t worry about her, Marie-Grace. She’s almost harmless. I know you’re new here, but this vacation is going to be so much better than last year’s disaster. I have it all planned out. Just stick with me and you’ll be fine.”

What happened last year? Marie-Grace wondered, yet she only nodded mutely, realizing she really didn’t want to know.

          The Playroom family settled down for the night on air mattresses in a room overrun with orphans.  Gwen hauled up all the luggage as everyone else went to bed. But Marie-Grace noticed one orphan girl off by herself, her face downcast and her expression one of sorrow.

          Marie-Grace dragged her mattress over to her. “Bonjour mademoiselle my name is Marie-Grace, what’s yours?”

The girl didn’t answer; she just stared off into space which was rather awkward for Marie-Grace. She was wondering if she should leave or just lie down and feign sleep when the other girl said, “They’re coming, I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but someday we’ll be rescued from this dark place and we’ll never have to serve the Agency again.”

Marie-Grace frowned. “What do you need to be rescued from? I’m sure this orphanage isn’t so bad.”

The girl’s eyes filled with tears. “Don’t you see? We are to be forever enslaved to these cruel monsters. They our only chance at escape.”

“‘They? Who is coming?”

Finally, Gwen dragged in the last of their suitcases. “Whew! Am I glad that’s over! Can someone tell me what’s with all the mimes hanging around? I swear I saw at least a dozen on the way up here.”

The orphan girl screamed with delight. “We’re saved!”

“What?” said Marie-Grace. “What do you mean you’re saved?”

          “Would you guys please be quiet!” Samantha shouted from the other side of the room. “Some people are trying to sleep over here!”

And with that, it was lights out for everyone at the Agency’s orphanage.

******************************************************************

It was midnight and Marie-Grace woke with a jolt, her ears straining, for she thought she heard heavy footsteps echoing down the long corridor. Maybe she just imagined it, but then the approaching footsteps grew louder. Marie-Grace sat up in bed, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. She knew Samantha, who literally slept with one eye open, was in all probability already awake so she whispered, “Psst, Samantha, do you hear that?”

Before Samantha could answer, the door creaked opened and the captain of the French Pirates stormed in to take as many orphans away as he could.

Marie-Grace leapt from her bed and demanded, “Who are you? Why are you stealing orphans?”

Rather than confront the girl, the pirate chose to bolt. Marie-Grace was about to let him get away, but when she thought of the teary orphan girl and her plea for salvation, Marie-Grace darted after him. They raced on through the streets of Paris until they reached the harbor. Her eyes scanned the docks, searching for the pirate savage enough to steal children. Being midnight, there weren’t many people around, only a line of orphans waiting to board a pirate ship.

“Why was that boy taking orphans?” Marie-Grace asked the nearest child.

“They are taking us from the bad people who will make us into agents.” Marie-Grace wasn’t satisfied with that answer so she asked Mime #52. Asking a mime probably wasn’t her smartest move, but he acted it out anyway. The mime was promptly ignored as she spied the boy she was looking for.

“Hey, You!” she shouted.  The pirate’s head shot up at whoever was calling him. His eyes narrowed as he saw the girl from the orphanage. This foolish girl was brave enough to follow him which meant she was either incredibly stupid or a spy. And what do pirates do with spies? Well, my friend, you are about to find out.

          “Hey, You!” she called again loudly. “Who is taking orphans for –?”

          The pirate silenced her by gripping her arm and holding his sword to her throat. Marie-Grace’s eyes widened in fear as he dragged her to his ship.

          Then Marie-Grace found her voice, and she screamed. “Let go of me!” But there was no one to hear her cries for help.

          The pirate winced at the racket she was making. He put a hand over her mouth because the last thing he needed was the police on his trail.

          Marie-Grace struggled against him, desperately trying to free herself. She fought to get his hand off her mouth, and the fight left her gasping for breath.

          “Let me—–!”

          He cut her off with one word. “No.”

          Marie-Grace fell silent. The tone of command in his voice said that he was used to giving orders and having them obeyed without question. But there was something there that soothed her. It didn’t sound as if he was going to hurt her. Then again, nothing is ever as it seems.

          Once they reached the ship, he pulled her down several flights of stairs. He grabbed both of her arms and practically threw her into the cell.

          “What —?”

          He cut her off again. “You are to be my prisoner.” At least until I figure out what to do with you, he thought, as he backed away into the shadows of the ship. 

          Marie-Grace was frozen in place as she stared unseeing into the shadows where her captor disappeared. How did this happen? One minute she was vacationing with her family and the next she was a pirate’s prisoner.  It just didn’t make sense but then nothing in this strange new world ever did.    

          “S’il vous plait,” she said. “Tell me why I’m your prisoner. At least give me that.” There was no answer, just the sound of her own voice echoing back to her. Marie-Grace gave up and sat hunched over her knees on the chilly, old wooden floor of the hold. As her teeth chattered and she shivered from the cold bite of the February breeze, Marie-Grace realized that in her haste she had forgotten her coat. That should be the least of my problems now, she thought. Some brave heroine I am, worried only about my frigid body. 

          Lurking in the darkness, the pirate finally couldn’t take it anymore. The sound of her suffering by his hands tore at the little heart he had. This pathetic creature wasn’t an enemy at all. Yet he was a pirate and to set her free would break every pirate oath he was bound to. What kind of buccaneer would he be if he kidnapped a girl only to let her go? No, she must remain his prisoner, but there was one small comfort he could provide for her.  The captain took off his coat and slid it between the bars of her cell. Later in the night, he would feel guilty sleeping in his nice warm bed as she slept in on the floor,  caged like an animal.

          Marie-Grace snatched up the jacket without a moment’s hesitation.  She gasped as she looked up to see the horrible pirate boy who had kidnapped her in the first place. However, even she couldn’t deny how handsome he appeared under the shafts of moonlight casting a shadow over his face. Marie-Grace shuddered to see a scar cut across his features. She could almost feel pain etched there, and she longed to trace her finger along it, as if her mere touch could erase the agony of all his past wounds.

          Marie-Grace shook her head to clear her thoughts as she snuggled deeper in the warmth of his jacket. She fell asleep wondering why she was a prisoner but more importantly why her captor was being nice to her.

******************************************************************

The sun streamed through the porthole to shine down on Marie-Grace, who slept curled up in the pirate’s coat. She woke to the first rays of the morning dawn shining down on her face.

Disoriented, she yawned fully expecting Samantha to start making a terrible racket to get them all out of bed. Slowly, Marie-Grace remembered where she was as the hazy sight of the brig came into focus. Are they looking for me? Marie-Grace pondered, then discarded the thought knowing there was far too many of them to notice her absence and that they were too busy enjoying vacation to care.

A shadow of a boy, near her own age, blocked her line of vision.  Boldly she called out, “Why did you keep me here?”

“You know too much about us—,”

“Too much! I don’t even know who you are; never mind why you bother to steal orphans!”

Normally, the pirate would slip his hands between the bars to wring his hands around the prisoner’s neck but with her sweet, heart-shaped face and innocent doe eyes blinking up at him, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead he hissed, “I am captain of the French Pirates and if you wish to make it out of here alive then you’d best remember it.”

Marie-Grace fell silent, suddenly terrified of this situation she had found herself in.

     “But out of the kindness in my heart,” the pirate continued. “I am willing to offer you a deal.”

“W—what is it?” she asked with a shaky breath.

Mon dieu! How she was so innocent in and pure in a way he never was, thought the pirate not wanting to be her villain. But he had no choice.

“You can either choose to rot in the brig for the rest of your days or join me as part of my crew.”

“But I still don’t even know what it is you do!”

He raised an eyebrow at her outburst then realized she probably didn’t know. Maybe I should just let her go; he thought, then scowled at his softness. A pirate never let a prisoner go.

“Along with the normal pirating business, we capture orphan children from the Agency. The Agency not only strips away their childhood by making them into agents, but they also turn them into killing machines and sometimes send them to destroy pirates.

“I imagine you’ll come on missions with us to help calm the children. You will also be expected to cook, clean, and do the crew’s laundry like any other common servant.” There. With her knowing that he’d have to keep her.

Marie-Grace considered the matter. She knew she would never see the light of day again if she chose to rot in this cell. Yet she didn’t want to be a pirate who hurt people either. But he seemed like a good pirate who saved people, if such a thing were possible, and she could already tell that he wasn’t nearly as cutthroat as he wanted her to believe. Besides, being let loose among the crew might give her the chance to escape.

“I’ll take it,” she said.

They shook hands on it as the pirate captain unlocked her cell door. It opened with a rusty groan, and he said, “Welcome to the crew.”

******************************************************************

Marie-Grace stepped lightly on deck as she placed a hand to her forehead to shade her eyes from the sun. Everywhere she looked there were mimes. There were mimes on the rigging, in the crow’s nest, swabbing the poop deck and even steering the ship.

          “What’s with all the mimes?” she asked just as the only other crew member on board who wasn’t a mime said, “Who’s the girl?”

          The captain clapped his hands to call everyone to attention. “Crew, I would like you to meet . . . I’m sorry,” the captain said to Marie-Grace. “Comment tu t’appelles?”

          “My name is Marie-Grace.”

          “Okay. Crew meet Marie-Grace. Marie-Grace meet the Crew. If you haven’t noticed they’re all mimes.”

          “Except me!” said the one vocal guy.

          “Yes, except him. He is my best friend and second mate.”

          The second mate saluted. “I’m second mate and proud to be.”

          “Marie-Grace is our prisoner,” said the captain. “Feel free to treat her as such.” Or you could try being polite and give her a warm welcome. The thought came as an unbidden surprise that startled the captain.

          Fortunately, he was distracted by the second mate who asked the prisoner, “Why are you wearing a dress ?” It was a dress straight out of the 1850s with a long, wide skirt and old fashioned pattern.

          “Oh, I’m from 1853.”

          “Did you live in France?” the pirate said.

          “Oui, and I can speak French.” They started talking in rapid fire French and everyone followed what they had to say with ease.

          “In case there are any English speakers around,” said the second mate. “What did she say?”

          For a moment, the captain ignored him. “You can’t be part of my crew wearing that dress.”

          “And why not?” said Marie-Grace in scandalized horror because she hadn’t exactly had time to bring her suitcase.

          The captain threw a raggedy old dress and apron at her. “Here, try this,” he said.  She glared at him, and he stared back, refusing to feel remorse. 

          As she went below to change, the captain told the second mate, “She said she is from a small village in France 1853 and lived with her parents, brothers, and a sister named Cecile. Her grandparents were exiled noblemen from the French Revolution. They were lucky to escape with their lives. Then one day a crazy lady

from the future stole her away so she could join the circus. Marie-Grace escaped and was living in the orphanage until I took her prisoner.”

          “The circus, really are you sure?” the second mate said as if that were the only thing far-fetched about her story.

          “Well, that was what she said,” said the pirate. Just then Marie-Grace entered wearing a crinoline hoopskirt  under her clothes. “What is this?” the pirate said. “I thought I told you to change!”

          “These are my underclothes which are none of your business!” 

          “You can barely walk never mind work as a sailor! And it is my business if my prisoner falls overboard, now isn’t it?”

          Marie-Grace hung her head, still very aware of the mimes watching them. Their silence unsettled her. They always had their eyes trained on their on their captain.

The pirate waited impatiently for her to take it off. When she didn’t, he took his knife and let it fall to the deck.

Marie-Grace gasped, utterly aghast that he did that. “Have you no manners?! A gentleman never reaches up a lady’s skirt!”

The second mate chimed in, “We prefer the term ‘gentleman o’ fortune.’” 

          The pirate ignored the second mate as he scoffed, “Gentleman! I am a pirate! I can assure you that I am no gentleman and you are certainly no lady!”  He threw a bucket of cleaning supplies at her. She failed to catch it and it clattered to the deck. “Now get to work,” he growled. Marie-Grace obeyed her captain without comment. After a few hours, the captain rounded everyone up with a whistle. “It’s time for a mission. A plane is bound for Minnesota. Prepare-toi.”

******************************************************************

Bonjour, It’s me again Mime 52. So sorry to interrupt but I must say something important. The scene with the plane is being skipped. It is being skipped mostly because no one remembers what happened and because it’s not important. Well, the only important thing you should know about it is that it went horribly wrong. Plane missions are tricky to start with but this one backfired because the second mate spotted the wrong plane. 

******************************************************************

           The pirate and his mimes returned to their ship in defeat. The mimes sighed in disappointment. They always strived to be the ferocious pirate crew the captain wanted, but they were mimes for goodness sake! They were mimes who had dreams of miming. Mimes who were, for today at least, frightened of an irritable captain. And not one of them wanted to suffer under his wrath.

          “How dare you!” The captain bellowed at his prisoner. “Are you trying to get us all killed?! You are lucky the second mate messed up when he did!”

          “Hey, still here you know,” said the idiot second mate.

          He was ignored again as Marie-Grace screamed, “And it’s my fault you didn’t teach or even tell me a thing!” It seemed to the pirate that Marie-Grace didn’t respect or esteem her captain as so many others in her place would have. Marie-Grace could feel the mimes trembling behind her, but she held her ground.

          The pirate was puzzled by her reaction. Why would a lowly prisoner even try to quarrel with her captain? But behind the anger, he saw fear in her eyes. And as he looked into her eyes, the pirate struggled to maintain his rage and had to remind himself more than once that he was a pirate, a fierce and scary one at that.

          “You are right, of course,” he said. “You must know how to defend yourself.” He took his dagger and held it against her throat. His bloodthirsty smile leered over her and Marie-Grace couldn’t help being enthralled by it as he said, “How would you survive?”

          She swallowed nervously, the cold point of his weapon digging into her skin. She slowly retreated, her gaze never leaving the dagger.

          It was a game of cat and mouse, Marie-Grace warily eyeing her captain while the pirate taunted her with every hiss of his blade. The pirate bounced in playful suspicion as he slashed his dagger at her. Marie-Grace leapt out of the way, her skirt catching in the wind, rather distracting to the captain.

With daggers gleaming in the sun, Marie-Grace and the pirate parried and danced in a heart-stopping rhythm. Eventually their daggers clanged together. His eyes met hers in challenge.

          “How will you manage your way out of this one?” he asked with arrogance, knowing she couldn’t.   

          “Like this!” She exclaimed and ducked as he thrust his dagger forward.  Marie-Grace sprinted away from him, and he charged at her, running full speed across the deck.

          All of a sudden, a massive wave heaved the ship to the port  side throwing Marie-Grace, who hadn’t quite found her sea legs yet, off balance. The pirate rushed towards her, this time not in a mode of attack but instinctive concern. Marie-Grace struggled to stand, but the ship rolled starboard and the wet, slippery deck moved beneath her feet as she was hurled over the gunwales.

          “Marie-Grace!” the pirate screamed. She was hanging over the side from the waist down. Her legs kicked comically in the air, her dress and petticoats waving in the breeze. The mimes laughed silently but there was no humor in it for the pirate.

          Marie-Grace’s face was icy cold with the salty ocean foam splashing against the side of the ship. She quickly heated up when she realized that everyone on deck, including the captain, could see up her skirt.

          The pirate reached an arm around her abdomen and pulled her upright. He felt her falling and struggled to catch her before she collapsed. 

          “Are you alright?” he murmured low and urgently in her ear. She nodded, limp in his arms, too weak for words.

The pirate could have held her there forever, but he came back to reality when he noticed the mimes staring. The second mate coughed politely, “Ahem.”

The prisoner stirred in his arms. “You saved me,” she croaked. “Why?”

The pirate chose not to answer the prisoner or his crew. He glanced uneasily at them before whispering to Marie-Grace, “Do you think you can stand?”

Marie-Grace looked up at him, his face a blurry vision of concern, and then at the rest of the crew. She saw a blood thirsty glint in the mimes’ eyes and realized they still expected her to get up and continue the duel. Even as the pirate pulled her closer to him, she elbowed him in the gut and the crew cheered quietly.

          Before he got over his surprise, Marie-Grace stuck out her leg. Still concerned over her well-being, the pirate didn’t see it until it was too late. Marie-Grace murmured an apology as the captain did a face plant onto the hard wooden deck of the ship.

          Marie-Grace winced and hurried to his side but predatory instinct overtook him and he kneeled reaching for her feet. Marie-Grace danced out of the way. He couldn’t help admiring the swirl of her skirt before she threw herself on him.

He clumsily got to his feet with Marie-Grace clinging to his back. He felt the warmth radiating from her body and shivered with delight. Then he remembered that this was war and she was only a prisoner. He tried to shake her off, but Marie-Grace’s grip around him was too strong.

Marie-Grace’s heart was pounding so hard, she was certain the pirate could feel it. As he thrashed about, her fingers slid loose and she crumpled into a heap behind him.

The captain made a menacing figure, standing over her with his dagger held high. The mimes silently chanted behind him, “Get her! Get her! Finish her off! Win!”

But the pirate didn’t care about them. He gazed at his prisoner softly before reaching to take her hand. Marie-Grace hesitantly took it, and he pulled her to stand.

          He backed her against the wall of the quarter deck, and Marie-Grace kicked him in a place that won’t be mentioned here. He crashed to the ground in defeat, withering in pain. The Mimes mocked him with their silent laughter.

          With a rather smug look on her face Marie-Grace said, “How does it feel to be beaten by a girl?”

          The captain didn’t reply, but as she celebrated with the crew, he crawled up behind her and grabbed both legs sending her crashing to the deck. He towered over her in victory as she sighed heavily and let her head fall back against the deck. 

          “A pirate’s battle never ends,” he said. She closed her eyes in defeat knowing she could never win. For the remainder of the day, training with the pirate continued in a similar manner and with a similar outcome each time.

******************************************************************

          “All right Crew!” called the captain. “It’s time for a boat mission! You know the drill; we have approximately three minutes before she comes into view!”

          The mimes took their positions, preparing for the brutal fight ahead. Marie-Grace panicked and looked to the captain for some type of direction. He gave none. “Second mate!” he barked. “Are you sure this time?”

          “Aye, aye Cap’n!” he saluted. “At least, I hope so.”

          But the pirate wasn’t listening for he was already gazing at Marie-Grace. Dazed, he shook himself out of it and walked over to her. She looked up at him with a mix of awe and fear written across her features, “What am I supposed to do?”

          “You’ll figure it out,” he said with a sick, cruel pirate smile, “Or else.” Marie-Grace gulped, her palms sweaty and her stomach jittering with butterflies as she anxiously followed the pirate. Little did she know, he was fighting the urge to hold her hand and keep her safe.

          Salt spray blew off the bowsprit as the ship sliced through the waves, her speed increasing with the wind in her sails. Marie-Grace’s heart was in her mouth as she realized they were aimed to ram the oncoming ship. But the captain’s goal wasn’t for her to founder. With inches to spare, the pirate veered sharply starboard.

          “Rope lines and boards ready!” called the second mate.

          The captain brought her in close as the mimes connected the two ships with ropes, boards and pulleys. The prisoner stood alone and forgotten as the crew jumped to obey the captain’s orders. For Marie-Grace, the rest of the world seemed to fade away as she gazed up to where he was standing at the helm. He’s handsome in both sunlight and moonlight; she noted, then scolded herself for even thinking such outrageous thoughts.

          “Go! Fight the enemy! And rescue those children!” the captain shouted as all the mimes rushed over to the Agency ship. “But don’t forget to defend our own ship!” Mimes came running back. The pirate was about to grab hold of the rope and swing himself over to join in the battle when he remembered Marie-Grace. She seemed lost, a deer in the headlights amongst the crowds of fierce pirate mimes and enemy sailors.

Marie-Grace had her dagger out and at the ready as she tried to recall all that she had learned in training earlier that day. Perspiration trickled down the back of her neck. She could no longer hear the crashing waves or the steel clang of swords for the pounding of her heart. Every which way she turned she was surrounded by the growling faces of the enemy forces. Amidst the bloody battle, Marie-Grace braced herself for the very ugly fate that seemed to be upon her.

At the last possible moment, strong arms lifted her into the air as her pirate captain scooped her up.  “Merci,” she whispered to the wind.

Suddenly they crash landed on deck. The pirate was on top of Marie-Grace trying very hard not to squish her yet at the same time protect her from the chaos that surrounded them. The pirate leapt to his feet drawing his sword as he began battling the enemy crew. As he fought, he said to his prisoner, “Find and bring the children to our ship.”

Marie-Grace nodded and did as her captain commanded.

******************************************************************

Deep in the belly of the ship, Marie-Grace found the orphan children. Their pale, dirty features were imprisoned behind bars even though they were anything but a threat. In their ragged apparel, they stared up at Marie-Grace with pleading eyes. The younger ones cried softly, and Marie-Grace could see relief shining in their eyes. The pirate was right, thought Marie-Grace, they are relieved to see a friendly face that isn’t a creepy pirate mime or one the Agency’s guards. Marie-Grace’s heart broke in that moment, when she first laid eyes on deprived children who were parentless, used by the Agency, and exposed to fighting. And as she set them free, Marie-Grace vowed that she would do whatever it took  to help them.

“As we go out there,” she told the children. “Be very careful. Stay close to me, my captain or any of his mimes. Think of it as a game. Whoever gets to the French pirate ship first, wins.”

Marie-Grace led the children through the hold and up to the opening of the hatchway. She cautiously poked her head to see how the battle was commencing. She needn’t have worried for the mimes had practically won and were returning to their own ship.

         Marie-Grace’s captain took charge of leading the children over as she turned to bring up the rear. The captain quickly ushered the children across. The ropes holding the ships together were about to fray and the boards were about to snap. The pirate did a headcount and came to the heart stopping realization that only one was missing, Marie-Grace.

Moments ago, Marie-Grace was stopped by an enraged Agency  employee who was more than a little upset by their loss.

“You’ll pay for this girl,” he snarled angrily as he cornered Marie-Grace and a whimpering orphan against the port side rail. His sword thrust forward aimed directly for her heart. Marie-Grace trusted her instinct and ducked. Then she used the momentum of his strike to push him overboard. She wasn’t satisfied until she heard a distinct splash as he hit the water.      

          On the pirate ship, the captain screamed orders at his crew. If there was any chance to get Marie-Grace and the child off that ship then he would do it, no matter the cost.

Marie-Grace calmed the scared little child as she lifted him onto her back. “I’ll get us out of this somehow,” she promised. Marie-Grace ran over to where the ships were diverging. The ships split apart with a loud crack and a groan as the wood splintered. The Agency ship shuddered as she moved away from the pirate ship. Marie-Grace was more afraid of being sent adrift in the vast ocean alone than she was of anything else.

On the French pirate ship, the second mate glanced at his friend, the captain, who was gripping the helm with a pale tight expression on his face. A cold dread seized his heart. For the first time in his life, he knew what real terror felt like.

“Why do you care so much?” the second mate said. “Prisoners are killed all the time.” The pirate was horrified at the thought of Marie-Grace dying as much as he was horrified to realize that he cared so much.

As she scrambled up the rigging with the orphan child, Marie-Grace said to herself, “Don’t look down, don’t look down.”

But of course she looked down. It was a dizzying sensation to see the powerful waves churning in the ocean below. The wind tugged at her skirt and played with her hair blowing it in all sorts of directions. She gripped the rope tightly to keep from falling. She bit her lip, unsure of what to do next. Marie-Grace thought she heard the pirate calling her name, yet this time she couldn’t wait to be rescued. She would have to take matters into her own hands.

Marie-Grace glanced quickly at the rope and then at the dagger in her hands. “Shh,” she murmured  to the whimpering orphan. “We’re going to be just fine. I’ve got an idea.”

The kid looked at Marie-Grace and then down at the pirate who was waving his arms and shrieking hysterically and said, “We’re doomed.”  

Marie-Grace pretended not to hear him. She was overcome with a fierce determination to, for once in her life, take part of some adventure. To be the girl daring enough to do something rather than wait for someone else to do it for her. To be a bit more like Felicity.

She cut off an extra piece of rope from the sail and fastened it securely to her dagger. Marie-Grace lifted the orphan kid onto her back as if for a piggy back ride. She took a firm hold of the rope and aimed carefully.

“What is she doing up there!” exclaimed the pirate. “If only I had done something sooner, we could have reached her by now.”

The second mate and the rest of the mimes were doubtful, but they kept such thoughts to themselves.

RIP! Was the only sound on the silent ship of mimes as Marie-Grace’s dagger buried itself in the mainsail. She was clinging onto the dagger for dear life with an orphan attached to her back when the sheer force of their combined weight caused the dagger to slice downwards through the rest of the sail.

The pirate first thought was that Marie-Grace was going to fall and paralyze herself. His second thought was that she was ripping his best sail. He decided that he must do something to save her because he was too late to save the sail.

Marie-Grace couldn’t hold on much longer. Her arms were shaking under the strain and looking down, it was a long way to fall from the topsail.  She knew it was only a matter of time before the dagger ripped through the sail completely.

The pirate felt, rather than saw, Marie-Grace fall. She let out a shrill, earsplitting scream, and with less than a moment’s notice, he ran forward with his arms opened wide. Just in the nick of time, strong arms caught Marie-Grace and the orphan kid before she could meet yet another horrible end. Gently, as if she were made of glass, the pirate carefully set her down on deck.

“Wow,” remarked the orphan child clinging to Marie-Grace’s skirt. He was in awe that they were still alive after the day’s excitements.

The captain of the French pirates looked directly at Marie-Grace as he addressed the crew, “I believe a celebration is in order. We need to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”

The silent crowd cheered. The only celebrating they ever did was at their annual Christmas party. That could hardly be described as a life of a party and those hardworking mimes were ready for some fun.

******************************************************************

“I can’t believe you!” the second mate cried. “You wouldn’t even give me a birthday present, never mind a whole party! And since when do you throw parties for your prisoners?! Is it because she’s a pretty girl?”

“No!” the pirate snapped. “And I’m not doing it for her. I’m doing it for the crew. Think of it as a late birthday present.” The second mate stormed away in an angry huff. The captain, his best friend, seemed a little too enchanted with their prisoner.

The captain didn’t notice the shift in his friend’s attitude. Maybe it was because he was too distracted by and proud of Marie-Grace to care. La celebration must be perfect for her, he thought. It’s the least I can do after kidnapping her and needlessly risking her life. The pirate shook his head to clear his thoughts. This was a stupid idea! He couldn’t believe himself; he who doesn’t even throw himself a birthday party was celebrating his prisoner’s actions in battle. But he was set on this course of action. It was far too late to change his mind now. The only thing he could do was go along with it and hope his second mate would have fun regardless. Now back to important matters, which decorations would Marie-Grace prefer?

******************************************************************

After preparing dinner for the crew and getting the children settled in, Marie-Grace stood in front of a mirror and tried her best to make her hideous rags look presentable. She told herself it was the party she wanted to look nice for, not the pirate who was throwing it. The children stared at her with wide eyes. She wasn’t fooling anyone.

“I used to be scared of pirates,” said one child. “But you’re not scary.”

“You should be,” said Marie-Grace. “Because even though not all pirates need fearing, they can still be tough, mean, and deadly. And besides, I’m not a pirate, just a prisoner.”

“You’re in love,” said one little girl. Was it that obvious?

“No I am not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No.”

“Oui.”

“No.”

“Oui.”

“I saw how you looked at the captain,” the kid said.

Marie-Grace’s cheeks flamed red.

“And how he looked at you,” added another kid.

“I don’t know what you think you thought you saw but it wasn’t that,” said Marie-Grace.

“Deny it all you want,” said the first girl. “But I should know because I saw the same looks on my parents faces before they died.”

Marie-Grace didn’t quite know how to respond to that so she simply stated, “Let’s just go to the party.”

The girl shrugged. “Sure. But someday you’ll see that I was right.” Not in a million years, thought Marie-Grace. Nevertheless, she reached for the girl’s hand as the other children followed them to the pirate’s party.

******************************************************************

Lanterns glistened overhead, gently bathed in the light of the moon as waves lapped at the ship’s hull. The mimes along with the orphan children were in a   la fete type mood or in other words deliriously happy. Neither group has ever partied

 as hard before or since. What a great day, sighed both Marie-Grace and the pirate.

“Let’s have some music!” said the second mate reaching for his violin. The mimes nodded as they too grabbed their instruments.

“All we need now is a singer,” said the pirate looking at Marie-Grace.

“What! I can’t sing!” she said even though her best friend Cecile once said she was born to sing. “I don’t know this song!”

“You’ll learn it,” he said dragging her up to the stage. “And besides you’re bound to be better than the mimes.” He pointed to the mimes who were “singing” into the microphone. The pirate shooed them out of the way as Marie-Grace stepped up to the mic. Singing in front of people made her very nervous, but she had no choice but to comply as the music started up. As the night wore on Marie-Grace gained confidence and even began to enjoy herself. Soon everyone was dancing except the captain. Marie-Grace danced over to his side of the ship and hooked her arm around his waist.

Surprised, he shook her off saying, “I don’t dance.”

“You do now,” she said. “Besides you’re bound to be better than the mimes.” His gaze followed her arm pointing to the mimes who were doing the sprinkler and other interpretive dances. Marie-Grace pulled the pirate onto the dance floor and together they danced the night away.

Around midnight Marie-Grace tucked the children into bed. They wanted to stay up and party with the mimes, but Marie-Grace insisted they get some sleep. It was good thing too because tomorrow would prove to be a big day for everyone. She had just returned to the main deck and was gazing out at sea when the pirate snuck up behind her.

“Bonsoir mademoiselle,” he said. He yearned to put his arm around her, but of course he did not.

“Merci,” she said, “Not only for a great night but for saving my life as well.”

Her words touched him, but he wouldn’t let her know that. “Don’t let it happen again.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

They were quiet for a moment, enjoying the other’s company and the beautiful night out at sea. It was Marie-Grace who broke the silence when she suddenly said, “Why?”

“Why what?” said the pirate. 

“Why do you save those children and why did you take me prisoner only to save me?”

The pirate wasn’t prepared for any of these questions. But there was something about her that made him want to trust her. He said the first thing that came to mind which happened to be the truth. “I save those children because I myself am an orphan. I almost had the same fate. It’s rewarding to know there is some way I can do some good in this world even if it does take a back seat to pirating.

“I took you prisoner because I am a ruthless pirate who has a reputation to uphold. Also, I must protect the secret of what I do. Usually those who know too much are silenced by my sword, so if you tell another living soul about this then…” He let the threat hang in the air.

Am I supposed to feel intimidated by this, Marie-Grace wondered? If anything she felt closer to him. “Why did you save me?” she said softly.

“What?” said the pirate taken aback because he really didn’t think she would press for an answer.

“The third question I asked, what is the answer?” Marie-Grace fervently hoped she wasn’t asking too much but then she really did want to know.

“Because you changed me,” the pirate said, then inwardly cursed himself because pirates don’t have feelings nor did they share them. Marie-Grace didn’t understand but then maybe it’s a pirate thing she decided.

Out the corner of her eye, she noticed the captain absentmindedly thumbing through a miniature treasure chest. “What’s that you’re playing with?”

“Oh, this?” said the pirate. “It’s just a magical treasure chest where I keep something of value from all the crew members ensuring they’ll all stay loyal and return to me. It’s an old pirate tradition in PFV.   I don’t believe in it myself but the second mate insisted.”

“Oh, may I see it?”

“I’d rather if you didn’t. It’s between me and my crew.” He didn’t mention the fact that she was just his prisoner and for that Marie-Grace was grateful. “It’s late,” he said and she yawned on cue. “We should get some rest. Come on, I’ll take you back to your cell.”

Marie-Grace was too tired to protest but not tired enough to fail to notice how he gently led her into the brig instead of viciously throwing her or how he had forgotten to lock the door.  She settled down on the floor and waited what felt like forever until she was absolutely certain everyone, except the night watch, was asleep. Marie-Grace quietly opened the door and tiptoed up the stairs. With every squeak in the floorboard and creak of the ship, she would wince and remain completely still before continuing onward.

As she passed the captain’s quarters, Marie-Grace paused and put her ear up to the door. The only sounds to be heard were the waves gently rocking the ship and the captain snoring away. Quickly, she crept inside and appeared at his bedside table where the treasure chest sat unguarded. She took off her necklace and carefully placed it inside.

“A bientot, my Pirate captain,” she whispered. Then she tiptoed out of the captain’s quarters and out of his life where she made her escape into the night.

******************************************************************

The pirate tossed and turned in his sleep while dreaming of talking mimes, of Marie-Grace falling to her death, and of his second mate stabbing him in the back.

“Dude,” said someone shaking him. “Wake up!”

The pirate shut his eyes tight muttering, “We’re sinking!” then he felt a cold splash on his face as his second mate doused him with a bucket of ice water.

“Finally, you’re awake!”

“Was that really necessary?” the pirate said wringing out his shirt.

“Oui! The prisoner escaped!!”

“WHAT?!!!” The pirate slammed his dagger into the nearest table. “What did you just say?”

“The prisoner is gone!”

“C’est impossible!”

“Then explain,” said the second mate through gritted teeth. “Why her cell is wide open and how it happened on your watch!”

The full depth of what he said took a moment to sink in. When it did, the weight of it came crashing in like a sword wound. “Marie-Grace is gone.”

“Oui, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! Don’t you listen to me anymore? Or do you only have eyes for her?”

But the pirate didn’t hear him. “We have to find her and bring her back.”

“And hang her from the yardarm,” said the second mate, “Unless she’d like to taste the bite of the Cat-o-nine-tail on her back!”

“NO!” the pirate said with force driving another dagger into the table. “We are not to harm a hair on her head. Not a single hair! Do you understand?”

“But she’s only a prisoner,” whined the second mate, “who deserves to be punished.”

“Oh, she’ll be punished all right, but I’m the one who is going to do it.”

“But you’ll go easy on her!”

“Second mate,” said the captain in a great and terrible voice. “Who is the captain around here?”

“You are,” the second mate said bitterly.

“And need I remind you who actually doles out the punishments around here?”

“Non, Monsieur.”

“Tres bien. Now that we are on the same page, go gather a small search party.”

“Oui monsieur, but sir I still think she should suffer.”

“And she will,” said the pirate. “I’ll make sure of it.”

As soon as the second mate was out of earshot the pirate muttered, “But it will be on my terms.” Then he raced from his room and began running through the streets of Paris (which in PFV is on the coast). The captain was determined to find the prisoner before anyone else did because if he failed, Marie-Grace would be as good as dead.

******************************************************************

Marie-Grace arrived at the hotel room just as her family was leaving. It seemed the flesh eating ant infestation was taken care of, so they didn’t need to stay at the orphanage any more. It also seemed like her family hadn’t noticed her absence and Marie-Grace intended to keep it that way. She hid in the shadows of the early morning dawn,  a little hurt and a little surprised because surely, she thought, nothing ever slips past Samantha.

As she organized the troops Samantha asked, “Has anyone seen Marie-Grace?”

“No,” chorused the rest of the family.

“She’s probably off helping at the orphanage,” said Felicity. “Isn’t that her thing or something?”

“You’re probably right,” said Samantha just as Gwen said, “She’ll turn up eventually.”

With her sister already forgotten, Samantha addressed everyone again. “Does everyone have their checklists from yesterday?”

“Yes,” said Gwen as she crumpled it up and threw it over her shoulder.

Samantha rolled her eyes. “Just make sure you know where we are meeting for lunch and when your group switches activities.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” said Gwen.

Their voices faded as the family moved down the street. As soon as they were gone, Marie-Grace breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then she picked up Gwen’s discarded checklist and dashed up to the hotel room to change out of the atrocious rags.

******************************************************************

He was going to kill her if the crew didn’t beat him to it. Half the day gone and still no sign of her. He knew where she was not, the orphanage. As a pirate he was hardly welcome back there any time soon, a fact he had learned the hard way. On the outskirts of the park, the pirate flew around a blind curve. He smashed into a browned haired girl wearing an old fashioned Victorian dress.

“Hey buddy, watch where you’re going!” Une Americaine, he could tell by the attitude.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “Wait a minute . . . you’re a wack-o from Play Road.”

The girl sighed. Everyone it seems has heard of the Play Room. She eyed his sword. “And you’re a pirate.”

There was no denying it, and the pirate was about to push her aside when he realized this girl might also be from history and therefore somehow lead him to Marie-Grace. “What is your name?” he asked.

“Samantha. I’m from 1904.”

“Do you happen to know a girl named Marie-Grace?”

“Know her? Ha! I live with her. She’s my sister.”

“Sister?” the pirate echoed.

“Well,” said Samantha. “She’s not technically my sister because we’re all adopted.” 

So that’s what Marie-Grace meant by the circus, the pirate thought. She was talking about the Playroom. But something still didn’t quite add up here. “What possessed your family to adopt her if she is from France 1853?”

“France?” Samantha frowned. “Where did you hear that? Marie-Grace is from New Orleans.” 

“What?!” the pirate growled. His hand automatically touched the hilt of his sword. “Do you know where I could find her?”                                                                                                            

Samantha hesitated. What does a pirate want with Marie-Grace, she wondered? Samantha glanced at her watch. The babies were trapped in the basement of the Eiffel Tower where Molly and Emily were about to set off explosives to flush out an evil villain’s movement. It was set to go off in T-minus 10…9…Whatever. Marie-Grace could take care of herself. Right now it was the Babies who required her immediate attention.

      “She’s on the other side of the park,” Samantha said. She took off like a rocket and was gone before the pirate could even comprehend a word of what she said.

******************************************************************

Marie-Grace was enjoying a lovely stroll in the park as she tried to figure out how she was going to catch up on all the tourist attractions she missed yesterday. Perhaps because it was her first vacation in PFV or maybe it was because the mother who was taken from her too soon was originally from France. Either way Marie-Grace didn’t want to miss a moment of it. And thanks to that pirate she had already missed the best parts.

          She turned around the bend to see the pirate charging at her. Speak of the devil, she thought as she spun around and ran back the way she came. Because you changed me, Marie-Grace remembered his words from last night and a faint blush rose to her cheeks. She hoped he had changed enough not to send her back to the brig to rot or worse.

          Marie-Grace was fast but the pirate was faster. Doesn’t she know the crew will probably make me kill her if I don’t recapture her now? he thought angrily. He didn’t have time for this, not when there’s treasure to steal and orphans to save.

          In her high button boots, it was easy for Marie-Grace to trip and fall on a tree root. The wind blew her hat away and her dress caught in a brush pile. She tugged at it with all her might but by now she was tangled up in her own clothes. Drat! She thought. I guess the pirate was right about these hoop skirts. Suddenly it came free and she rolled backwards down the hill and into the waiting arms of the captain.

          The captain tightened his grip around her until Marie-Grace could barely breathe. His hand was clamped over her mouth, which made even the idea of screaming impossible. He then half dragged, half carried her all the way back to his ship. It was the longest walk of his life.

          Marie-Grace put up a good fight, but it wasn’t enough to free her from the captain’s iron grip.

          As soon as they arrived, the pirate signaled to his crew to make a fast getaway, then he stumbled down the stairs with Marie-Grace. He threw her into the brig and slammed the door shut.

          “Enough!” he cried. “Enough struggling and escaping and questioning my authority! You are a prisoner who is so very lucky she hasn’t hit the icy water yet!”

          Marie-Grace was quiet. She saw his anger and it terrified her.

          “You purposely lied to gain my trust and to learn all my secrets. Now the only question is what were you going to do now that you caught me at my weakest?”

          Weak? Marie-Grace had never thought of him as weak and was about to tell him so when he continued.

          “Just so you know, today I ran into a girl called Samantha.” He saw her eyes flash with recognition. “And she told me the truth even if you didn’t.”

          Marie-Grace cringed. Oh Samantha, why did she have to be such a blabber- mouth? But Marie-Grace knew the truth would have come out eventually. Maybe it was better that she wasn’t the one to tell it.

          Frustrated, the pirate wanted to rant and rave even more. But then he saw her lower lip begin to quiver. Not so angry anymore. He thought maybe he was being too tough on her. After all, every prisoner’s priority should be escape, that and staying alive of course.

          Marie-Grace held strong. The last thing she wanted was for this pirate to see her cry. Miserably, she held back her salty tears. The pirate saw the defiance blazing in her eyes and came to his senses. Too hard on her! By the crew’s standards, she was getting away with murder! The second mate was right; he was going too easy on her.

          “I don’t care if you die in this cell,” he added in a deadly whisper even though it was the farthest thing from the truth. “Anything to ensure my secret is safe and my reputation is intact. Remember that you will always be my prisoner.”

          After he had stormed away, Marie-Grace picked up his jacket from the first night and buried her face in it. His scent still lingered, but his warmth was long gone. As his harsh words echoed in the chamber around her, Marie-Grace felt numb. She didn’t want to be his prisoner, yet she hated to disappoint him. Maybe should would die in this cell, if he left her here long enough.

******************************************************************

          High above her in the crow’s nest, the captain gazed out at sea. This was his hideaway where he came to escape the pressures of life at sea because sometimes even a captain needs a little privacy. And unlike the walls of his cabin, this place was much less confining with the wind in his face and the promise of adventure on the horizon.

          Today, however, the pirate pondered what to do about the situation with his prisoner. He, the foolish pirate that he was, made the rookie mistake of trusting her with all his secrets. And what did she do in return?  Lie and try to escape, although he really couldn’t blame her. She was a pitiful liar and escape artist, where he was a rather fearsome pirate.

          Trying to distract himself from this current predicament, the captain reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out the treasure chest. As he fumbled through the crew’s personal items, he touched a vaguely familiar heart shaped locket. Frowning, he held it up to the sun wondering where he had seen it before. It obviously didn’t belong to the crew for it was much too feminine and delicate. Upon opening it he found a picture of a woman who reminded him of someone.  Inscribed on the opposite heart were the words: Ma Cherie Ti-Marie, Je t’aime ma fille precieuse.

          Then the pirate understood. This was Marie-Grace’s necklace, the one that was always sparkling around her beautiful neck. But what was it doing in his treasure chest?

          Without pausing to think, he snapped the locket shut and carefully put it back into his pocket. He ran his fingers through his hair debating his next course of action. He couldn’t let Marie-Grace go. They’d both be dead within the hour if he did that. But he couldn’t just leave her locked up in the brig forever either. But maybe there was something he could do, even if the second mate wouldn’t approve.

******************************************************************

          Marie-Grace suddenly dropped the jacket as the captain came marching down the stairs. She didn’t want him to see how pathetic she was or give him another reason to be angry with her. She stood up against the hull of the ship which was as far away from him as she could possibly get.

          “I’m going to do something I know I’ll regret and give you a gift you don’t deserve,” he said. He took the big brass key hanging on the wall and unlocked the door.

          As the door swung open, Marie-Grace wanted to come running into his arms and tell him that she was sorry. More than anything she wanted to say that she would never lie to him or try to escape ever again, that this time she would be a good prisoner if only he would forgive her. Marie-Grace wanted to say it, really she did, but there was some stubborn part of her that refused.

          The captain of the French pirates desired to hold her in his arms and whisper the truth, the secret truth of his heart that even he didn’t quite realize yet. He loved her and was willing to risk everything for her freedom. He yearned for her to know that he longed for her happiness just as she longed for freedom.

          They could have done it right then and there. This would have ended our story, but alas they did not and instead their icy glares sent a chill through the ship. Even the mime writing this story shivered when he saw the icicles swirl in the air between them.

          Wordlessly, the pirate chained Marie-Grace up. It was enough to keep her from throwing herself overboard, but it wasn’t enough to stop her from fulfilling her servant duties. 

          Waves splashed up on deck in a salty sea breeze as gray clouds rolled in to block the sun. Marie-Grace was up to her elbows in suds while she worked on her hands and knees to clean the poop deck. The chains were more of an annoyance than anything else, and Marie-Grace was fairly surprised that they hadn’t started rusting yet. Amazingly enough, she was still trying to draw out this task as long as possible because the next job the captain had in store for her was keelhauling, a punishment not many prisoners survived.

          The captain called for attention. “Ecoute!  Your very lives may depend on it! Do you see that light house in the distance? The Agency has trapped helpless and innocent children in that tower.”

          The mimes silently groaned. They knew where this was headed.

          “To free them,” the captain continued, “we must work together. To ensure we all make it out alive we will have to work with stealth and the element of surprise. But if I at any time call the signal for retreat and you are unfortunate enough to not make it back in time, then you will without a doubt be left behind.

          “This mission requires strength, obedience, a surprise attack and a speedy getaway. I believe this is something we can do, but it is up to all of you to make it happen.”  Then the captain proceeded to ready his crew for battle. He walked among the rows of mimes awaiting orders but stopped when he reached Marie-Grace. She was still hard at work scrubbing the deck but sat back on her heels when she noticed a shadow standing over her. 

          “Even you,” he nearly spat, because even though she wasn’t part of the crew he still believed he needed her to complete the mission. Marie-Grace scrambled to her feet as he unlocked the chains. The message in his eyes was very clear. If she tried to run during battle it would be a death sentence.

The ship eased up next to the rocky coast, unnoticed against the backdrop of an inky black sky bleeding into the dark ocean. Mimes took off into long boats and scurried up the beach. They crept up to the base of the tower where they quietly knocked out the guards.

The captain rowed to shore with the prisoner by his side. As they landed on the beach, he signaled the mimes to hide in the greenery until the moment arose when they would attack. But Marie-Grace missed the memo. She stood alone, utterly exposed in the silvery moonlight. She wondered where everyone went when the guard in the highest point of the lighthouse noticed a girl standing in the path.

Not believing his eyes, the guard rubbed them and looked again. This time he saw an arm reach out from the bushes and grab her. He glanced around and saw a mime sneaking toward the tower window where the children were kept. He then took out his binoculars and saw a line of rowboats heading out to sea. Sure enough, they led to a ship. The guard immediately sounded the alarm. Red emergency lights flared out into the night as sirens sounded off the water.

For the French pirate and his crew, the battle turned ugly. As much as the captain wanted to succeed, he knew the risk wasn’t worth it. They were pirates and to be caught by a group as powerful as the Agency meant they would all meet a  hang man’s noose. Finally, he gave the command for retreat. The mimes raced back to the ship, and the pirate could tell at a glance Marie-Grace wasn’t there. Rescuing her this time wouldn’t be so simple. The pirate knew that in order for everyone to make out alive, it had to be now. He was left with a grim choice to make. It was either leave Marie-Grace for the enemy or sacrifice himself and possibly all the members of his crew.

Marie-Grace had heard the enemy’s sirens as they called for backups. But she had also seen the desperate faces of the children trapped behind bars. Les pauvre petites choses! Just like Marie-Grace they too were prisoners. Surely the pirate won’t leave them here, she thought as she made up her stubborn mind to ignore the captain’s call for retreat.

          Marie-Grace was just about to be captured by the Agency when she felt an arm grab her by the waist. She turned to see the determined face of the French pirate pull her along as he ran to catch up with his ship.

          To the left of the lighthouse, cliffs met the shore. The crew pulled the ship up alongside the cliffs as their captain and his prisoner ran to meet up with them.

          Both the pirate and Marie-Grace knew they had to be on that ship or they were both doomed. To gain even more speed, the captain of the French pirates literally swept Marie-Grace off her feet. As he neared the edge of the cliff, the pirate jumped, leaping for the ship. He flung Marie-Grace forward, and she managed to grab hold of the stern. But the captain wasn’t so fortunate.

          Marie-Grace and the crew looked over the side to realize a very wet and a very angry pirate was in the water. Although it wasn’t very funny at the time, Marie-Grace couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

          The crew hauled the pirate from the icy waters of the cold February Sea. The mimes placed a blanket around his shivering shoulders, as the pirate searched the crowd for the girl who dared to defy her captain. As pleased as he was to hear her laughter, it came at his own expense and everyone on board knew she had gone too far. This couldn’t go unpunished, the escape, the disobedience, and by laughing at him, she had pushed the limit. The pirate captain approached her with thundering steps as the crew watched in nervous anticipation. 

          Marie-Grace was startled and more than a little ashamed. She took one look into those eyes and knew a captain’s word is law. To disobey it means endangering herself and others. And that’s precisely what she did.

The pirate opened his mouth to speak but closed it because he thought he saw a tear on her cheek.

Marie-Grace closed her eyes as she took a deep breath in. With all those people staring at her she simply melted under pressure.

She turned and fled down the creaky old stairs of the ship. Once she reached the hold, she fell to her knees and cried all the tears she had been holding back since the moment she had been taken prisoner. She was sobbing not only because she could have killed everyone on this ship but because she wasn’t a pirate. She wasn’t fierce or brave or even adventurous like the pirate.  She didn’t like stealing and plundering because she believed it was wrong. Although rescuing the orphans really was a great cause, what cost it did it come at? Her freedom. She just wasn’t cut out for this sort of life. It was her brave friend Cecile, the girl she might never see again, who yearned for adventure not shy Marie-Grace.

Marie-Grace sobbed even harder when she was overcome with a wave of homesickness. She still missed New Orleans, her family, her friends, her life, and her home. More than anything she wished she could go back especially when she remembered her last words to Papa and the anger in his eyes as they fought.

She thought of her new family, the crazy Playroom citizens who were known as wackos all across PFV.  Even though they weren’t perfect they were the closest thing to a family she had. Marie-Grace had even started to believe Samantha when she said the pain of losing her life in 1853 would soon fade with time. Then Marie-Grace was captured by French pirates and no one had bothered to investigate or to be even a little concerned that she was missing. To top it all, they were scheduled to leave France tomorrow for the next part of vacation which happened to be at a snowy resort in Sweden.

And Marie-Grace was stuck here in France, a prisoner aboard a pirate ship. She continued to cry, sobbing so hard that she didn’t hear heavy footsteps echo down the corridor.

After Marie-Grace had left, the pirate made the crew scatter, “Back to work you lazy bums! Haven’t you got more important things to do than pry into other people’s business?”

For a moment, the captain continued to stand there for what felt like an eternity. Then he followed Marie-Grace below because she looked to be truly upset.

Soon he was kneeling down beside her. “Ti-Marie,” he whispered. “What’s wrong?”

Marie-Grace cried even harder, for that was her late mother’s old nickname for her. Noticing her distress and obvious need for comfort, the pirate captain got his wish and held her in his arms. Although it wasn’t nearly as sweet as he first envisioned because she was busy making a snot rag out of his puffy white pirate shirt. 

“Shh, here now, it’s all right,” said the pirate who began stroking her hair.

“It’s not all right,” she whispered.

“Then tell me what’s wrong and I’ll make it right.” And he vowed to himself that he would, regardless of what might happen to him.

          Marie-Grace began her tale, spilling everything from her lonely childhood in the Northeast with her father, to finally finding a home in New Orleans during the yellow fever epidemic of 1853, and then jumping to today in France, February 201 6, with her family leaving tomorrow for Sweden. She concluded with, “So now you hate me for lying, escaping, and all the trouble I’ve caused.”

          “No, I don’t,” he said realizing it was true. “If I were you, I would have done the same thing or maybe tried harder to escape. What I really think is that you’re incredibly brave telling your story to a pirate.”

          She blushed and lifted her head to look into his eyes. Those fierce dark pirate eyes were now soft and gentle.

          “I’m going to do everything I can to fix this,” he said. “Which means tomorrow you are going to Sweden with the rest of your family whether I have to take you there myself.”

 “Je ne comprends pas,” she said as tears of joy welled in her eyes. “You’re setting me free?”

The pirate nodded solemnly. “C’est vrai. But enough of that,” he said wiping away her tears. “Because before you go I will personally give you a tour of France so you’ll get to see everything you missed and more.”

With that said, the pirate couldn’t resist any longer. He kissed her, savoring the moment. Her first kiss, Marie-Grace realized. She had never had any idea that something which appeared to be so gross could in fact be so merveilleux.

I’ll miss him; she thought, an unusual thought for a prisoner. I’ll miss her, he realized suddenly. He could keep her imprisoned, but that wouldn’t be right, not after the adventure she had put him through. At the exact same moment they both gazed into the other’s eyes and thought: But he/she wouldn’t miss me. In that moment Marie-Grace did something daring. She kissed him back. She was advertised by the Time Travel Company American Girl as shy, but no more because if she were with her pirate captain, she felt as if she could do anything.

When they had finally come up for air, the pirate said sternly, “We’ll tell no one of this moment.”

“Agreed,” she replied with relief.

“What I’m about to do is illegal to the pirate community. We’ll both be publically executed if anyone finds out. So let’s keep it a secret and pretend you escaped again.”

Marie-Grace was silent knowing their very lives hung in the balance of their ability to keep such a secret. She had just pulled away from his strong welcoming arms as the pirate said, “Could we ourselves forget what happened just now?” But the pirate knew she was a prisoner he could never forget, this innocent girl who dared to defy her captor.

“Absolutely, let’s never remember,” said Marie-Grace even though she knew that in her heart she could never forget the vacation that had changed her life forever.

          “Oh, and Marie-Grace?” said the pirate.

          “Yes?”

          “Tonight you won’t sleep on the floor in the brig. You’ll have a real bed in the captain’s quarters while I’ll be up on deck.”

          “Merci,” she whispered. “Merci beaucoup, my pirate captain.”

Arm in arm, they set sail for a future without the other. But they were oblivious to one important sound, footsteps that weren’t their own.

Secret Life of a Historical Preteen and the Secret Life of a French Pirate

The Secret Life of a Historical

Preteen and the Secret Life of a French Pirate

                             By: Mime # 52

Night was fading and a new day was dawning over the city of Paris as water lapped at the ship’s hull. A black flag raised high above the mainstay and waved proudly in the wind. It was a flag meant to strike fear into the hearts of men. It was an omen of fierce battles with the ruthless raiders who sailed her. It was the mark of pirates, French to be exact. The Captain, who at that moment in time, just happened to be smuggling a prisoner off his ship.

In the dim lighting, no one could tell there was a girl in the burlap sack that was thrown over his shoulder. If anything, it was the Captain who looked suspicious, tip toeing off his own ship. The goal was to get Marie-Grace off his ship and out of France as quickly as possible. Like so many others, this plan called for stealth and perfect timing. But even in the most detailed of schemes, there is always room for something to go wrong.

As The pirate cautiously crept along, the Second Mate crept up behind him and said rather loudly, “Hey Captain! Where are you going?”

The Captain jumped. “I’m . . . I’m um . . . I’m off to bury some treasure.”

Inside the crammed sack, Marie-Grace smacked a hand to her forehead. Real smooth Pirate, she thought. He won’t suspect a thing now.

The Second mate’s eyes narrowed. “I wasn’t aware that we had any treasure to bury.”

“Well, we do,” said the pirate. Marie-Grace was pressed up against The pirate’s back in a rather awkward position and she chose that moment to shift. The whole bag moved instead.

“That’s some lively treasure,” said the Second Mate. “It looks like you’ll need some help. Can I come?”

“NO!” The pirate said a little too quickly and a little too loudly. “I mean, there’s a Captain’s convention and I’ll be gone all day. Did I mention you’ll be in charge while I’m gone?”

Before the stunned Second Mate could say another word, The pirate jumped off the ship and hit the dock running. Once they reached a secluded spot a few blocks away, The pirate set Marie-Grace down.

“That was close,” he said. His hand reached to hers in order to help her up. “And you ma cherie, are awfully heavy for a girl who is only eighteen inches tall.”

Marie-Grace blushed furiously. “At least I wasn’t the one who almost gave us away!”

“Hey! I was doing fine until you moved!”

“You were not! And how is it my fault you almost got us caught?”

“You have no right to argue,” said The pirate. “You could very well be rotting away in the brig right now.”

Marie-Grace crossed her arms as she turned away from him. “Just take me to the hotel.”

“No.”

She raised an eyebrow in confusion.

“I promised to show you everything here in France and I will.”

Marie-Grace’s face light up into a glorious smile as she threw her arms around his neck. She could hardly dare to believe he cared enough to follow through on his word.

“Oh merci monsieur,” she said with her eyes sparkling up at him.

Surprised, yet strangely pleased, The Captain of the French Pirates looked down into those eyes and said, “It’s my pleasure mademoiselle.”

As they set off for the day’s adventures, neither one noticed a shadow crouching in the bushes behind them.

******************************************************************

         

The sun streaked its last golden rays across the sky as afternoon gave way to evening. A hot air balloon soared over the city with a pirate and his prisoner on board for the ride.

          Marie-Grace let out a happy sigh, admiring The pirate’s silhouette along the skyline. She had the most wonderful day exploring everything France had to offer with the Captain of the French Pirates by her side. He showed her famous cathedral after famous cathedral, boring  museum after boring museum, medieval ruins after medieval ruins, and even the catacombs under the city before stopping for lunch at an outrageously expensive restaurant Marie-Grace otherwise never would have went to. Then he took her to secret yet beautiful locations most American tourists never get a chance to see. They strolled through luxurious gardens of the Royal Palace and even snuck in to see the King at work. The pirate refrained from stealing the crown which was a step in the right direction. Finally, they ended the day with the Eiffel Tower and even though it was undergoing a few repairs due to a few playroom citizens, it was still the highlight for Marie-Grace because it was where The pirate first held her hand (in a non-rough kidnapping kinda way).

          Now with the last drops of sun on her face, Marie-Grace closed her eyes and leaned out over the basket as she listened to The pirate speak of his adventures on the high sea. His voice was softer now, more like deep rich molasses than when he barked orders at his crew.

          “And that is where I met you,” he said. He was closer now with both arms wrapping around her to grip the railing of the basket. Marie-Grace had just relaxed enough to lean back against him when she spotted another balloon with someone awfully familiar in it.

          “Marie-Grace and a French dude sitting in a balloon,” shouted Gwen. “K-I-S-S-I-N-G first comes love, next comes marriage then comes—”

          Before Gwen could say more, The pirate took his dagger and threw it at Gwen’s balloon. POP! Air leaked out sending Gwen hurtling downwards. She shouted something neither Marie-Grace nor The pirate caught.

          The pirate cleared his throat. “It’s getting late and I should have you back with your family before the crew comes after me or sails away without me.”

          “Yeah, we’d better get back to where we belong,” said Marie-Grace with dismay. The day she never wanted to end was now over.

******************************************************************

          “Well,” said The pirate as they reached her family’s hotel. “I guess this is goodbye.”

          “Yeah, I guess so,” said Marie-Grace her face downcast and her voice hollow almost as if she’s prefer to be his prisoner.

          “Hey,” said The pirate. He lifted her chin so her eyes met his. Marie-Grace’s heart was pounding but what he said next wasn’t at all what she was hoping to hear. “The secret goes to your grave.”

          “Which one? Letting me go or the—”

          “Both.” Then the Captain of the French Pirates kissed her cheek and walked down the hall, the task of releasing his prisoner complete.

          Marie-Grace’s adopted sister Samantha Parkington chose that moment to walk up behind her from the other half of the hall. “Who was that?”

          Marie-Grace sighed as she touched her cheek. “No one, if anyone asks, you never saw him.”

          Samantha shrugged. “Okay, whatever you say. Wait, where have you been the last three days?”

******************************************************************

          The pirate walked back to his ship alone, the weight of Marie-Grace’s absence already resting heavily on his mind. He knew he would probably never see her again, and that right now was best because she was much safer far away from him than here with him. It was silly, since she had only been his prisoner for a grand total of two days, but there were still so many subtleties about her that he loved and would miss dearly.

          He loved the sound of her musical voice when she was lightly teasing him or even seriously arguing with him. He liked the way the wind playfully blew her skirt around on the deck of his ship and the innocence in her eyes as she questioned his commands. But mostly, he loved the way she fit so perfectly in his arms even if she was blowing snot all over him.

          The pirate shook his head to clear his thoughts. He shouldn’t waste time thinking about things that could never be. It was his duty as Captain to put his personal life last and the welfare of his crew first and if that meant never seeing Marie-Grace again then so be it.

******************************************************************

          The next morning, Marie-Grace woke to a roomful of questions as the playroom people demanded to know where she had been. Why is it, she thought, that when I was gone they made no attempt to rescue me but now they want to know where I was?

          “Guys!” Samantha called over the noise, “Leave Marie-Grace alone! Where she has been is her business and you have no right to pry!”

          “It’s alright Samantha,” said Marie-Grace. “I’ll tell them.”

          “You will?” Samantha said in disbelief.

          Bitty Fatterson hugged Marie-Grace as she squealed with delight, “Yes! I knew you weren’t like the other Big Girls!”

          “Well, out with it!” said Gwen “Where have you been?”

          “I was kidnapped by pirates.”

          This started an uproar as everyone gasped in a mix of shock and horror.

          “What?!” demanded Felicity.  

          “Why?” asked Emily.

          “How?!” cried Big D.

          Gwen said, “Is that the guy I saw you with in—”

          “Why is that so shocking?” Marie-Grace interrupted. “You guys do crazier things every day.”

          “True,” said Felicity, “but never anything with pirates.”

          “Yeah,” said Gwen. “And you’re new to PFV. Most newcomers are too conflicted, homesick, and confused to take part in any action so if you really were captured by pirates and lived to tell about it then I’m impressed.”

          Felicity said, “So how did you make it back here if you were a prisoner?”

          Emily felt brave enough to ask, “Did they let you go?”

          Gwen laughed before Marie-Grace could panic. “Yeah, and Bitty is president.”

          “Hey!” said Bitty. “It could happen.”

          “No, it couldn’t.”

          “I escaped,” Marie-Grace said quietly.

          “What?!”

          “Where?!”

          “When?!”

          “How?!”

          “Guys!” Samantha shouted. “Does it matter? She’s here now and our plane is going to leave without us! I suggest you stop talking and get packed!”

          It’s truly amazing how much influence Samantha has over them, thought Marie-Grace as the room got quiet and everyone closed up their suitcases. Almost like a captain, she thought which immediately sent her mind to thinking about the French Pirate.

          “We’re still going to Sweden?” Marie-Grace asked Samantha.

          Samantha shook her head. “No, there’s been a change of plans. We’re going home.”

          “What! Why?”

          “This vacation has gone on long enough and we’re all a little homesick. Plus, I’m tired of apologizing to foreign governments for destroying famous landmarks.” Samantha glared at Emily.

          “Sorry,” Emily mumbled.

          “Anyway,” Samantha continued. “Is that going to be a problem?”

          “No . . .” Marie-Grace began then realized what she was asking. The pirate though she’d be in Europe so he might head to the Americas to avoid running into her. But what were the odds he’d come to Boston?

          “No,” Marie-Grace said firmly. “We’re all set.”

          “Are you sure?” Samantha asked.

          “Yes, I’m absolutely sure.”

          “Okay, then let’s go home.”

******************************************************************

          “Alright Crew!” The Captain announced. “We’ve searched the entire European continent for her yet we still haven’t found her.”

          “Except Paris,” muttered the Second Mate.

          “What did you say?” The pirate demanded.

          “Nothing,” called the Second Mate as the closest two mimes snickered silently.

          “I propose we give that tower mission another try because we didn’t quite succeed last time.”

          “It’s more like we failed miserably,” grumbled the Second Mate.

          “Okay, what is wrong with you?” said The pirate.

          “Me?!” cried the Second Mate. “You’re the one who is in love with the prisoner!”

          The mimes gaped in astonishment.

          “I AM NOT IN LOVE WITH HER!” The pirate bellowed.

“Oh yeah,” said the Second Mate. “Then you wouldn’t mind showing us exactly where she is!”

“I don’t know where she is!” The pirate protested which was actually true.

“Liar!”

The mimes egged them on by mouthing the words: “Fight! Fight! Fight!” A few even put their fists up as a demonstration.

The Second Mate said, “If it’s a fight they want then it’s a fight they’re going to get!”

But the Captain was already shaking his head. “No, I refuse to fight you.”

“Why? Are you afraid to lose?”

“No I—”

          “The poor Captain,” mocked the Second Mate, “too weak and powerless to fight his own crew!”

          The truth of the matter was that the Captain was shocked his Second Mate was insisting on fighting. It didn’t make sense, it didn’t sound like his friend at all but the Captain didn’t realize that was because it wasn’t his friend standing here on deck with him.

          “Fine,” said The pirate. “If you must insist, then we’ll have a duel tomorrow on shore at noon. Weapon of choice, swords of course.” This is how it’s done in the pirate world. All fights, whether they are between the Captain, quartermaster, or lowest cabin boy, should be settled on land in a proper manner (well, as proper as you can get with pirates). 

          “To the death!” added the Second Mate.

          “No,” the Captain said sternly.

          “Oh, so the Captain is afraid of dying!”

          “No,” said The pirate with a hint of danger coating his voice. “I just don’t want to be forced to kill you.”

******************************************************************

          Everyone prepared for the duel. Bets were placed because all pirates, even mimes, are fond of gambling. As the captain cleaned and sharpened his sword, he thought of Marie-Grace. If he did die, it saddened him to think that he never got the chance to see her one last time. He knew she would be against the duel and if she were here she’d probably say something like: Why are you doing this? You could be killed!

          And he would reply: I have no choice. To keep my position as Captain I must stamp out any and all resistance or they’ll mutiny.

          She would protest: But he’s your friend!       

          He would say sadly: Not tomorrow, because at noon we’ll be two young men fighting for our lives.

******************************************************************

          The bright blue sky seemed endless as it stretched on for miles while the plane soared across the Atlantic Ocean. Its destination was Logan airport in Boston Massachusetts which happens to be owned by the Playroom’s very own Logan.

          Marie-Grace had a window seat next to Bitty Fatterson, her youngest adopted sister. Marie-Grace closed her eyes as she rested her head against the cold window pane. This was only her second or third plane ride but coming from 1853 it was more than a little frightening to find herself miles off the ground in a metal box that flies. She thought longingly of the solid deck of the pirate ship as she rode smoothly over the waves. The Captain of the French Pirates didn’t need to be suspended this high in the atmosphere to cross the Atlantic.

          “Oh, Marie-Grace!” Bitty said in a singsongy voice.

          “What is it now, Bitty?” Marie-Grace had never had mal de mer and now she was wondering if there was such a thing as being plane sick. 

          “Tell me a story!”

          “No,” said Marie-Grace.

          “Why not?”

          “Maybe if you asked nicely . . .”

          “Okay, please tell me a story now. I’m bored!”

          “Do I have to?”

          “Yes!”

          Marie-Grace thought for a moment, and then clutched the arm of her seat as the plane hit more turbulence. Right now, she’d rather be climbing the rigging because at least The pirate would be there to catch her.

          “Well,” said Bitty. “I’m waiting!”

          Marie-Grace sighed, “Fine. Once upon a time—”

          “Heard it!”

          “Do you want a story or not?”

          “Yes, but not that one!”

          “You don’t even know what I’m going to say yet,” said Marie-Grace. “Once upon a time there was a pirate crew of mimes.”

          “Mimes?” said Bitty wrinkling her nose. “That’s not weird.”

          Marie-Grace laughed. “It’s more creepy and unsettling than anything else. But this story isn’t about them, it’s about their Captain.”

          “I’m not sure I like this story.”

          “Trust me; it gets better because one day the Captain takes a girl prisoner.”

          Bitty thought hard for a minute. “Is this a true story?”

          “No of course not, what makes you say that? This story is completely fictional and all references to persons real or imagined are completely accidental.”

          “If you say so,” said Bitty F.

          “After a long time, more than two days because that would just be absurd, I think they fell in love.”

          “You think? You don’t even know? What kind of narrator are you?”

          Marie-Grace ignored Bitty, her mind already lost to the plot of the story. “He gave her the biggest adventure of her life and yet she was a prisoner still. If he let her go, they’d both be in danger from the crew. But despite the personal risk, he did let her go, not knowing she would miss him terribly. They never saw each other again. He died in battle and for the rest of her life she wondered what became of the pirate captain who had stolen her heart. But she lived in the nuthouse so her life was over quickly. The end.”

          “That’s the worst story I’ve ever heard!” said Bitty. “And I’ve sat through Samantha’s and trust me that is really saying something.”

          As Bitty flagged down the flight attendant, Marie-Grace stared out the window wondering what her pirate captain was doing. She hoped it wasn’t dying in battle.

******************************************************************

          Swords crashed, blood flowed the battle had begun. The Captain and his Second Mate fought ruthlessly as pirates should. They parried, thrust, cut, and did every sneaky underhanded move they could think of as they waited for the other to tire first.

          “Are you prepared to die, Captain?” the Second Mate said. “Or are you wishing you could have seen your girlfriend one last time?”

          “She is not my girlfriend!” The pirate growled as he shoved the Second Mate back in a burst of strength. “And if I die, I’m taking you with me!”

          “Oh, I doubt that.”

          The Captain said nothing, knowing if he rose to the bait he might make an error that proved fatal.

          “Come and get me, Captain!” the Second Mate taunted as he danced out of the Captain’s reach. “You know you want to!”

          Again the Captain ignored him but by now he knew something was seriously wrong with his friend. This wasn’t the person he had met all those years ago at the orphanage.

          “You know,” said the Second Mate casually as they parried back and forth. “Maybe once I’m done with you, I’ll go after the prisoner. What was her name again? Oh yeah, it’s—”

          What The pirate did then was so unexpected and happened in such a split second the Second Mate could only gape in amazement. The pirate didn’t care if he was threatened but if Marie-Grace was brought into it, then he was not a man to cross. The pirate crouched low and grabbed the hilt of the Second Mate’s sword all while keeping his own sword aimed at the Second Mate’s throat. The Captain lunged to his feet and now there were two swords aimed for the Second Mate’s heart.

          “You were saying,” The pirate snarled.

The Second Mate only smiled and dashed to the side. The pirate thrust the sword in his left hand centimeters away from the Second Mate’s flesh. The Second Mate darted to the right and the Captain’s other sword followed as he growled deep, low, and dangerous, “DON’T—-”

          To the left, “YOU—-”

          To the right, “EVER—-”

          To the left, “DARE—-”

          To the right and back again, “TOUCH MARIE-GRACE—-”

          Until finally the Captain had the Second Mate locked in a position where he could kill him if he chose, “Or I swear I will make the rest of your life living agony.”

          The Second Mate was certain he was going to die when The pirate sent both swords clattering to the sand. The captain looked him in the eye and said, “We’ve been friends far too long for it to end like this.”

          Then The pirate stalked back to his ship confused by his friend’s actions but more determined to protect Marie-Grace than ever before.

******************************************************************

          A week had passed since they left Paris and being back in the Playroom held some challenges for Marie-Grace. First and foremost she was still considerably new to PFV and the shock of being in this future world with magic and a whole new family hadn’t yet worn off. Second, she was homesick and missing Cécile who was still back in 1853. Everyone in the Playroom has a best friend from their time who they do everything with. To not have a best friend left one lonely or a third wheel which was exactly how Marie-Grace was feeling. Samantha assured her someone would be coming in a month’s’ time on give me presents day for the Jackie half of the family. But even then it might not be Cécile. There was talk of this other girl, Caroline from 1812. Marie-Grace hoped with all her heart that it would be Cécile but it was not her decision to make. For now though, Marie-Grace spent all her waking hours with the Bitties who were more than delighted that a Big Girl wanted to hang out with them.

          “We’re going to have so much fun Marie-Grace,” said Bitty F.

          “Yeah,” added Bitty Q. “We still have so much to teach you about magic, history and PFV in general.”

          “Did you know—-?”

          Marie-Grace had stopped listening a long time ago. Most of what the Bitties “teach” her isn’t accurate anyway. Unlike most Playroom citizens, Marie-Grace likes the babies and finds them only slightly annoying. She feels responsible for them because they are young children growing up in the craziest house on earth and they are lacking in parental care on all fronts. Samantha and Nellie could only do so much and so Marie-Grace took it upon herself to look after them. But taking care of them is one thing and putting up with their endless chatter is another. After a while, Marie-Grace would tune them out while trying to look like she was listening. 

Today, Marie-Grace daydreamed about what it would be like if Cécile ever came to PFV and how Marie-Grace hoped they could explore this strange new world together. Then her thoughts would turn suddenly to the French Pirates or more precisely their Captain. She remembered every detail of their time together vividly in her mind’s eye. She knew she would never see him again and that was probably best, yet one corner of her heart couldn’t help holding onto hope. After all, if magic, planes, time travel and who knows what else were possible then anything could happen.

          “Marie-Grace!” Bitty Q. said sharply. “Are you even listening?”

          “Huh?” said Marie-Grace a bit dazed and a little love-struck at the thought of meeting her Pirate Captain again.

          “She’s not even listening?!” Bitty F. shouted in outrage. “How will she ever learn anything?”

          “I guess we’ll just have to start over,” said Bitty Quansa.

          Marie-Grace suppressed a groan. Maybe this Caroline girl won’t be so bad, she thought. Anything was bound to be better than this.

******************************************************************

          Since Marie-Grace was vacationing in Europe, or so The pirate thought, and he didn’t want the Second Mate anywhere near her, The Captain of the French Pirates reasoned that the best course of action was to set sail for the new world. And where else in America is a better place to go than Boston?

            “Set sail for Boston!” commanded the Captain.

          “Why?” said the Second Mate. “That’s on the other side of the world!”

          The more oceans between you and Marie-Grace the better, thought The pirate. “You want to know why?” he heard himself saying. “Then I’ll tell you why, mimes strike up the music!”

          The way to any crew’s heart, no matter how rough, tough, deadly, or silent they were is through a big musical number.

          “We are the pirates who can do anything, we travel and save the world, and if you ask us to do anything, we will stand up and save the day.”

           Only now did The pirate distantly remember the Playroom was located somewhere in Massachusetts, near but not actually in the city of Boston.

          “Well we always go to Greenland, and we’ve even been to Denver, and we’ve buried treasure in both St. Louie and St. Paul, we’ve already been to Moscow, and we’ve been to Tampa, but we’ve never been to Boston in the winter!”

          If his crew wasn’t made of mimes, The pirate would have passed off the mic a long time ago.

          “We are the pirates who can do anything, we travel and save the world, and if you ask us to do anything, we will stand up and save the day.

          “We always hoist the mainsail, and we all swabbed the poop deck, we constantly veer starboard, cause we always help in steering, we’ve all walked the gangplank, though we’ve never owned a parrot and we’ve never been to Boston in the winter!”

The Second Mate stepped up for a turn. “I like to pluck rosters, and I’m very good at ping-pong, I’ve even thrown my mashed potatoes up against the wall, I’m always kissing chipmunks, and we’ve have had head lice and a bit of scurvy, but we’ve never been to Boston in the winter!” 

The pirate looked at him, but didn’t comment as they went to sing the chorus together. “We are the pirates who can do anything, we travel and save the world, and if you ask us to do anything, we will stand up and save the day.”

The Second Mate continued. “I’ve already licked a spark-plug, and I’ve even sniffed a stink bug, I’m always painting daisies on a big red rubber ball, I like to bathe in yogurt, but I’ve never been to Boston in the winter!”

All the mimes were dancing and enjoying themselves by the time they lined for the big finish. “We are the pirates who can do anything, we travel and save the world, and if you ask us to do anything, we will stand up and save the day.”

The last thing the French Pirate wanted to do was bring danger to Marie-Grace, and that was exactly what he was unknowingly going to do.

******************************************************************

Marie-Grace happened to be in the city that night, the one when the pirates arrived. Nighttime is when the Playroom comes alive and its residents all creep out into the streets to conduct their secret lives behind each other’s backs. Lately, Bitty Quansa has been taking skydiving lessons and Marie-Grace, overprotective mother hen that she is, walks her there and home each night, since with magic the Playroom is in walking distance of the city.

During the lesson, Marie-Grace was free to do as she pleased and tonight she happened to be taking a stroll down by the docks. The harbor, she discovered, may be buzzing with light and activity during the day, but was awfully quiet and spooky at night.

The golden glow of the street lamps shone on the unfurled sails of a ship as she eased her way into the harbor. Marie-Grace gasped to realize she recognized that ship.  Her heart was pounding with every step and her mind whirled with possibilities. She remembered all The pirate’s warnings about the crew and decided to keep going until she was eventually hidden in the shadows of an alleyway a few blocks away.  She heard a stomp, stomp of heavy boots on the pavement and her worst nightmare seemed to be coming true as a figure of a man kept coming closer. The hairs of her neck stood on end as she saw a sword gleaming off his left hip in the moonlight. But as he came closer, Marie-Grace realized who it was and she ran to him with all her might. He caught her in his arms as she clung onto him mumbling something about the Playroom, why was he here if it was so dangerous, and how much she missed him when she thought she’d never see him again.

The Captain of the French Pirates laughed and kissed the top of her head, feeling happier than he’d ever been in his whole life. Once, he had no idea the how the mere presence of one person could change his whole outlook on life. “Life was unbearable without you,” he murmured so softly she almost didn’t hear.

After a few fleeting moments passed, Marie-Grace felt brave enough to ask, “What are you doing here?”

He was looking at her intently with concern and longing written on his features as he returned the question. “What are you doing here?”

“Um . . . I live here.”

“Yeah, but you’re supposed to be on vacation!”

“Change of plan?” Marie-Grace said meekly.

“That’s no excuse! If the crew or rather the Second Mate finds you then . . .” he stopped not wanting to admit his next thought aloud. And if any harm comes to you then I’ll never be able to live with myself.

“Well then,” said Marie-Grace. “Why come? Why bother taking that risk when you didn’t have to?”

The same thing occurred to The pirate and the best answer he could come up with was not one he wanted to share. “You’d rather I leave?”

“No!” Marie-Grace shouted hastily before adding in a whisper, “S’il vous plait, don’t go.”

“I won’t ever leave you willingly again,” The pirate promised. “But we both need to use extreme caution.”

“It was nice, really nice,” she amended, “seeing you again, but I need to get Bitty from skydiving and—-”

The pirate broke her off with a kiss, surprising them both. “The secret of this kiss also goes to your grave,” he murmured.

That is not the most romantic thing a girl wants to hear while she’s being kissed, but Marie-Grace agreed nonetheless. After a while, she tore herself away from him. “I have to go.”

“Wait!” He grabbed her hand. “Meet me here tomorrow, same time, same place.”

Marie-Grace nodded and he released her sending her on her way.

******************************************************************

Thus began their secret life together, midnight meetings during Bitty Quansa’s skydiving lessons. Sometimes they would just sit and talk about their day over a picnic in a dark alley, sometimes they would do a little more than talk and other times they strolled through the city of Boston enjoying their precious yet limited time together. All of this felt particularly scandalous to Marie-Grace who was coming from a time when it wasn’t proper for young men and women to be alone together for five minutes without a chaperone.

In the secret of the night, Marie-Grace and The French Pirate began to really get to know one another. Almost every night, they saw another side of the other person they never knew existed. To The pirate, it was like watching a fleur blossom and bloom before his very eye. To Marie-Grace, it was like discovering a thrill of a lifetime only to realize there was more to the adventure than she’d ever dared to imagine.

But during the day they each lived separate lives that were spiraling in different directions.  The French Pirate found himself having more and more of his crew not wanting to do as he commanded and siding with the Second Mate. He knew it was only a matter of time before they kicked him out of the Captain’s quarters and mutinied all together. Marie-Grace on the other hand, was getting more used to the Playroom, how this future world works, and the crazy people she now calls family. It was still tough without a friend to share it with yet she managed by looking forward to each night spent with The pirate, even if they had to keep it a secret.

But they weren’t the only ones who wandered from their beds at night. Mimes roamed the streets of Boston, trapped in invisible boxes, running down nonexistent stair cases, and doing other mimish things as The pirate roamed those very streets with Marie-Grace. The pirate let his guard down in her company so perhaps that’s why he didn’t notice them. Mimes are also a very common sight in Paris so to see one out the corner of his eye now wasn’t too alarming. Except this wasn’t Paris and these weren’t just any random mimes.

The pirate and Marie-Grace walked by the alleyway between two buildings unaware of a villain hiding in the shadows. He laughed evilly as sparks flew off his body, like he wasn’t human and instead a creature created out of metal.

“With him so in love,” said the villain, “it will be easy to set the crew free.”

******************************************************************

The Babies were bored one day, having already taught Marie-Grace everything about PFV, so they decided to put on a show. It was more of a dance recital than a play but it would be the start of a long and famous directing career run by the Bitties.

“Marie-Grace and Parker!” called Bitty F. off the clipboard she was holding. “You’re needed on stage pronto! Bitty is running your number now!”

“But my dress won’t close!” said Parker. “And why am I wearing a dress again?”

Bitty sighed angrily. “There’s no time for that now! Give me the duct tape.”

As Bitty was taping Parker together, Marie-Grace glanced at the clock and groaned inwardly. Today she received a note from The pirate for an emergency meeting. She hoped it wasn’t too urgent because it looked like she wasn’t going to make it there anytime soon.

“Where are the people for ‘One Dance’?!” shouted Bitty Q. “They should have been on stage ten minutes ago! Are they coming or what?”

Bitty F. shoved them out there and they all heard a loud rip as Parker’s dress fell off. “They’re ready Bitty!”

“But I’m naked!” Parker protested.

“Do it in your underwear for all I care,” said Bitty Q. “We’re behind schedule!”

“Cue lights,” said Bitty F. into her headset. “And cue music.”

The intro began and Big D., who was not allowed anywhere near the spotlight used magic to create stunning special effects.

There is music in the air

It’s in two

Marie-Grace entered via stage right as some other kid entered stage left.

No maybe three

Parker danced onto the stage in his underwear.

Or maybe four

Another kid entered.

And I see they dressed in white

With two feet that feel so light

It’s as though they’ve never ever touched the floor

One dance

Just you and me

Beneath the moon, beside the sea

One Da—–

“Cut!” said Bitty Q. as she glared at Marie-Grace. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Um . . . dancing?”

“Really, because that’s not what I saw. And Parker!”

Parker looked up from taping his dress together.

“That was pitiful! Let’s do it again only this time I’m going to show you how it’s done. Bitty, music please.”

They began again only this time Marie-Grace craned her neck over to see what Bitty was doing and clumsily tried to copy her movements.

“Cut! No, no, no,” said Bitty Q. “Don’t do what I’m doing, do something you’re capable of!”

The day wore on, the same stop and restart pattern in effect. With enough coaching, Marie-Grace was finally able to put on a decent enough dance. Dancing was clearly not her strong suit. She was much better at singing and acting.

When the Babies finally stopped for a late lunch, Marie-Grace snuck out of the theater and began running to where The pirate was waiting for her, if he was still there. It had been so many hours since their set rendezvous time and Marie-Grace was worried he thought she stood him up. She had to take the long way to get there because she wasn’t familiar enough with magic yet to just appear there. And on the long way, there were many melted slushy mud/ ice puddles that don’t mix well with white dresses. By the time she arrived her dress was tattered and mud splattered. I guess Parker won’t be the only one up there in his underwear, she thought. Then realized she was completely alone, The pirate was nowhere to be found. Marie-Grace was kicking herself for not sending a messenger ahead when she heard a voice in the alleyway behind her.

“Bonjour, ma cherie Ti-Marie, where have you been?”

******************************************************************

“Hey Bitty!” said Bitty F. smacking her lips together as she finished lunch. “Have you seen Marie-Grace?”

“No, but she must be around here somewhere,” said Bitty Q.

“I haven’t seen her since this morning.”

“Well, we need to find her because “One Dance” still needs a lot of help.”

“Marie-Grace?” said Parker a little slow on the uptake. “I saw her sneak out of the building a little over an hour ago.”

“What?!” exclaimed both Bitties.

“Yeah, it looked like she was in a rush to get out of here.”

“And you didn’t think to follow her?” said Bitty F.

Parker shrugged. “It didn’t seem important.”

“Didn’t seem . . .?  You know what? Bitty, you hold down the fort. I’m going after her,” said Bitty Q.

*****************************************************************

Bitty appeared in the shadows of a dark alley to see Marie-Grace with a young man who, judging by the sword, was clearly a pirate. Quickly, Bitty used magic to make herself invisible as she listened in to their conversation.

“Bonjour, ma cherie Ti-Marie, where have you been?”

“I’m sorry,” gasped Marie-Grace utterly breathless from running. “But there is this show I’m in an—-”

The pirate raised an eyebrow. “Dressed like that?”

Marie-Grace ignored him as she tried to explain. “The Babies—-”

He put up a hand. “Say no more,” he said and with a snap of his fingers her dress was mended, clean, and much more comfortable than before.

“How did you—-?”

The pirate Captain smiled. “It’s magic. You should really learn to use it. Now, on to important matters.” Even though he had been waiting for at least five hours, The pirate decided that if Marie-Grace says she couldn’t get here, then she couldn’t get here, end of story no questions asked no matter how frustrating those five hours had been.

“What did you need to see me about?” she asked.

“The crew is getting restless and it’s only a matter of time before they find out about you know what.”

In the shadows, Bitty Q. frowned as she tried to understand what they were saying. Even though most of it was in English, their cryptic words confused her.

The pirate continued, “I came to say au revoir and that we’re leaving, the crew and I.”

“What! But—–”

The pirate hushed her and took hold of her hand to gaze deep into her eyes. “It’s too dangerous, Ti-Marie I enjoyed our time together just as much as you did but it’s over. Tonight, I’m going to French Canada or rather Quebec. It’s nearby but the crew would be even more suspicious if we went all the way back to France.”

Marie-Grace hung her head but she knew their midnight meetings couldn’t last forever. “When can I see you again?”

“Hopefully never,” he said without thinking.

Marie-Grace looked up at him.

          “I meant,” said The pirate, “soon, very soon. I’ll contact you. Don’t try to find me.”

          Before Marie-Grace could respond, Bitty Baby slipped on a banana peel and came tumbling in to land neatly between her adopted cousin and the strange pirate man. “Hi!” she said and looking up into The pirate’s face she decided to make a little mischief. “You’re handsome. No wonder Marie-Grace likes you so much.”

          The pirate was more than a little surprised but what could you expect from Playroom citizens.

          “Bitty!” said Marie-Grace sharply with her hands on her hips. “What are you doing here? Were you eavesdropping?”

          “Maybe.”

          She dragged Bitty to her feet. “Come on, we’re leaving.”

          “Aw, but it’s just getting interesting! And I have a few questions for you.” Bitty Q. turned to The pirate.

          “No, you don’t,” said Marie-Grace as she pulled her along.

          As they started to leave, Marie-Grace waved and whispered over her shoulder at The pirate, “Bon voyage my Pirate Captain.”

          “Au revoir, ma cherie Ti-Marie.”

******************************************************************

          Just in time for the show, the Playroom was abuzz with rumors about Marie-Grace and the young man she had been seen with. Gwen and Bitty Q. concluded that the guy Gwen had seen her with in the hot air balloon was the same guy Bitty Q. saw her with that afternoon. Felicity remembered Marie-Grace mentioning she had been kidnapped and Felicity declared that same man must have been her captor. They all reasoned he must be a pirate because why else would you carry a sword and hang around the harbor?

          What none of them could figure out was what this pirate wanted with Marie-Grace. Gwen strongly believed he brainwashed her and was using her to spy on the Playroom so he could slit their throats and steal their stuff. Felicity was certain he was paid by a vengeful villain they had already defeated to pick them off one by one and Marie-Grace had turned traitor to save her own skin. Samantha, however, had a good idea of the truth and somewhat approved of Marie-Grace’s growing relationship with The French Pirate. As the Playroom’s lightest sleeper, she had seen Marie-Grace sneak out each night without fail. Knowing her family the way she did, Samantha didn’t need to follow her to know exactly what she was up to.

          For the show, Samantha and her best friend Nellie O’Malley sat down in the “seats no one would pay good money for” as the Babies instructed. They were quietly discussing Marie-Grace and The pirate when the Captain of the French Pirates wandered into the auditorium. He had to leave his sword at the door of course, but that didn’t stop him from sitting in the fancy, comfy, expensive, reserved seats in the very front row.

          “Speak of the devil,” muttered Samantha as she nudged Nellie and eyed The pirate.

          “What?” said Nellie and then seeing The pirate stated, “Well, he’s handsome, I suppose.”  

          “You suppose? Look at him! He’s almost perfect! He could do without the scar though.”

          “True,” Nellie agreed. “But he’s a pirate! Are you sure we shouldn’t intervene?”

          “I don’t know,” said Samantha. “Maybe we should give him a chance. I mean, how would you feel if you were Marie-Grace right now?”

          “Okay,” said Nellie. “And if he is her true love, then there’s nothing we can do to stop it anyway. But if he gives her any trouble, then he’s going to wish he hadn’t messed with the Playroom in the first place.”

          “I’m with you on that one, Nellie. Let’s keep a close eye and see how this all plays out, shall we?”

******************************************************************

          The backstage area was in turmoil. The only thing separating the dressing rooms from the audience was a chalkboard, a curtain, and a soundproof bubble Parker installed at the last minute to keep the chaos contained.

          “Parker! Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Bitty F. demanded.

          “My dress is itchy!” Parker whined. “And Bitty said I could do it in my underwear.”

          “That was a figure of speech!” said Bitty Q. “Now put it on or I’m going to glue it to you myself!”

          “Bitty,” said Big D.

          “What!?” Bitty Q. shouted in exasperation. “What is it now?”

          Big D. gulped. “Um, we’re having a CD crisis and the delivery guys dropped the fancy magical special effects machine in the snow.”

          Bitty Q. growled in frustration as she went to attend to these matters.

          Meanwhile, Marie-Grace was so nervous she felt like crawling under a rock and staying there for the rest of her life. Never before did she perform in front of an audience this large. And as she peaked over the chalkboard for the millionth time, she saw a young man sitting in the front row. His presence sent her heart pounding even faster and made her fear of the stage all the more real.

          “What are you doing here?” she whispered, her throat suddenly dry and the need to escape all the more dire, “I thought you left.”

          The Captain of the French Pirates felt someone looking at him and he turned his head to see Marie-Grace staring up at him wide eyed and fearful. He smiled, for she must know by now that she had nothing to fear from him. To reassure her, he waved and mouthed the words, “Bonne chance, mon amie.”

          But the intense weight of his gaze did nothing to reassure her and she wondered how she would ever dance before him. Marie-Grace turned away from him and announced to the Babies, “I can’t do the show!”

          “Nonsense!” said Bitty F. “The show must go on! Parker, pin her down, we’re about to start!”

          Despite being behind schedule all day, the Babies managed to start the show on time. In the audience, the pirate Captain yawned as he flipped through his program. This show could drag on for hours! He suddenly regretted coming and was inching his way towards the door when what he heard next made him pause:

There is music in the air

Can you hear it?

It’s in two

          Then Marie-Grace danced onto the stage and the pirate sat back down, transfixed with eyes for her alone.

No maybe three

Parker entered stage right with duct tape dragging behind his dress.

Or maybe four

I see they dressed in white

With two feet that feel so light

It’s as though they’ve never ever touched the floor

And even though Marie-Grace wasn’t the greatest dancer around, the French Pirate couldn’t help gazing at her like she was. She’s beautiful up there, he thought, perfect in ways a pirate could never be.

Once dance

Just you and me

Beneath the moon beside the sea

One dance and it’s happily ever after

Marie-Grace’s nerves seemed to fade away as she focused on dancing for an audience of one. She knew exactly who she wanted to share that one dance with.

One dance

And he will see

We’re not so different you and me

Just us two

Me and you

One dance

There are stars that fill the night

Can you see them?

          Backstage, Big D. pressed a big red button to light up a beautiful and magical backdrop on the ceiling of the auditorium where she had spent all day gluing the alien star dust.

There are two or three or gee, a million more

And I see you in their light

Who me? A dance alright

Just to move and glide with you across the floor

          The pirate suddenly found himself longing to take her away to his ship where he could dance with her away from the prying eyes of the stage. He longed to hold her in his arms as she glided across the deck, dancing to the music of the waves. All he wanted was one dance that was different from the jigs and reels they had danced that night at the party with the crew. But most of all, the Captain French Pirates wanted to finally and truly get a chance to be with Marie-Grace yet knew he was asking for the impossible.

One dance

Just you and me

Beneath the moon beside the sea

One dance and it’s happily ever after

One dance

And you will see

We’re not so different

You and me

Just us two

Dream come true

One dance

******************************************************************

          As soon as the song was over, Samantha saw the pirate sneak out the back door. “Alright Nellie, there he goes. Let’s follow him.”

          “Aw, do we have to?”

          “This is our chance to find out what his intentions are towards Marie-Grace!”

          “I don’t know Samantha,” said Nellie. “I don’t think that is any of our business.”

          “Do you want to stay here? This show is more boring than one of Grandmary’s old lectures on being proper.”

          “You’re right, let’s get out of here.”

******************************************************************

          Samantha’s knuckles rapped sharply on the solid wood door to the Captain’s quarters. She heard a gruff, “Entrez!” as she and Nellie shoved their way in.

          Before the pirate even had a chance to react Nellie screamed, “Who are you and what do you want with Marie-Grace!”

          The pirate was on his feet with his sword drawn in an instant. “And who are you to come aboard my ship uninvited?”

          “What my friend here means,” said Samantha nudging her way between the sword and Nellie. She bobbed a clumsy curtsy, “How do you do? I’m Samantha and this is Nellie. We’re here from the Playro—”

          “You again!” the pirate’s eyes blazed as he re-sheathed his sword. “What do you want now?”

          “We want to know what a pirate like you wants with our sweet, innocent, little Marie-Grace!” said Nellie.

          “Marie-Grace? That’s what this is about?”

          “What else would this be about?” said Samantha. “Marie-Grace is part of our family and families stand by each other.”

          “Not all families,” grumbled the pirate thinking back to his own childhood.

          Nellie ignored him. “And we’re not so sure we want her off gallivanting around with a treasure stealing, scoundrel of a sea dog like you!”

          “Yeah, what she said!” added Samantha. “So tell us exactly what is going on between the two of you or I’ll forbid her from ever seeing you again!”

          “Forbid?” Nellie whispered to Samantha. “Isn’t that a little extreme?”

          “Yes,” Samantha hissed back. “But I’m not actually going to do it. I just want him to think I will. When dealing with bad boys, Nellie, you have to lay down the law.”

          “But you girls forget,” said the pirate dropping his voice down to a low whisper. “Pirates obey no laws.”

          “Oh no,” whispered Nellie. “He heard us. What do we do now?”

“We don’t panic, that’s for sure,” Samantha whispered. She cleared her throat before addressing the pirate. “We know you’re a pirate and all, but can you please just tell us what the heck is happening between you and Marie-Grace?”

          “Nothing is happening,” said the pirate. “We’re just friends, that’s it.”

          “Oh for Pete’s sake,” said Nellie. “This is getting us nowhere. We should have just asked Marie-Grace.”

          Samantha exclaimed, “No! Do you have any idea how awkward and uncomfortable that would be?”

          “And you think this is any better?”

          “Ladies please,” said the pirate, “no fighting. If we’re done here, would you mind getting out of my office and off of my ship?”

          “Gladly,” said Nellie. “Come on, Samantha, let’s get out of here.”

          Samantha waved her away, “In a minute.”

          Nellie sighed in frustration as she left the building. As soon as they were alone, Samantha slammed the door shut behind her and said, “Listen buddy, I don’t know what your problem is, but I need to run a full background check starting with the day you were born to why you’re nosing around in Boston today.”

          “And what if I don’t think that’s any of your business?”

          “If you plan on continually kissing my sister, then I have a right to know.”

The pirate’s face flushed a deep red. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, trim the sails a bit there girly, who said anything about kissing?”

Samantha rolled her eyes. “You’re so obviously in love I’d be surprised if you haven’t already.”

The pirate was about to make a snarky remark when the ship heaved starboard and there was a ruckus on deck. The Captain flew open the door to his quarters when he and Samantha suddenly found themselves standing in the brig.

Samantha turned an accusing glare on the pirate. “What did you do that for?”

The pirate shook his head. “It wasn’t me.” He wasn’t even all that shocked; he knew this day was coming.

Just then, the Second Mate came thundering down the stairs. “Well, well, well, at long last the high and mighty captain stands where he belongs.”

“What have I ever done to you?” The pirate growled in anger at the injustice.

Samantha looked back and forth between the two pirates and decided to stay silent, things were about to get very interesting.

“What haven’t you done?” countered the Second Mate. “You pretended to be my friend all those years ago in the orphanage only to make me second mate! We both know I deserved to be Captain or at the very least first mate!”

The pirate hung his head in shame; he would always regret that mistake.

“You brought aboard a prisoner only to set her free and you enslaved those poor innocent mimes to do all your dirty work for you!”

WHAT!” cried the pirate. “The mimes have nothing to do with anything! They knew what they were in for when they signed up; they are cowards to desert with you now! And as for Marie-Grace. . .”

          The Second Mate said nastily, “It’s only ever about that girl with you isn’t it? Ever since you met her you’ve been acting a loopy. She’s just another reason why you’ve found yourself in this predicament.”

          The pirate’s eyes could burn steal there was so much fury in them. “Marie-Grace is a better friend than you’ll ever be! I was wrong to take her prisoner and I don’t think I can ever forgive myself for putting her in danger.”

Samantha nodded in approval. He must really love her then she thought and she sighed sadly, what I would give for a guy like that.

The Second Mate only laughed. “So sweet of you to say so, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it when I tell her.”

“Stay away from her or else I swear I’ll—–”

“Or else you’ll do what? Locked behind those bars the only thing you’re good for is becoming a prisoner yourself. I can do whatever I want to your precious Marie-Grace and you won’t be there to stop me! Unless . . . there is one way to save her, of course.”

“What do you want from me?” said the defeated Captain.

The Second Mate said, “What I want is for you to die a slow and painful death while I make off with your crew.”

With that, the Second Mate disappeared in a puff of smoke leaving his best friend to die with his own sinking ship as a coffin.

******************************************************************

“Samantha, how do you think we should approach Marie-Grace?” asked Nellie oblivious to the fact that Samantha wasn’t following her. “I mean, the interrogation tactic won’t work for her like it did for the pirate but it never hurts to try.”

When there was no response, Nellie turned around. “Samantha! Where is that girl,” she muttered. Just then, her ear chip rang.

“Nellie!” It was Samantha. “The pirate and I are trapped in the brig. The Second Mate ran off with the crew. Come save us!”

“What?!” cried Nellie. “So the Captain is a prisoner on his own ship?”

“Yep,” said Samantha. “And so I am! So stop talking and save us!”

“Alright, I’ll be there in a minute.”

Samantha huffed out a “thank you” as Nellie hung up and hurried to the brig.

******************************************************************

“So,” said Samantha trying to make small talk with a sullen pirate. “How’s your day going?”

The pirate glared at her. “How do you think it’s going?”

“Um . . . not well.”

“Yeah and how would you feel if your best friend turned on you by stealing your mimes, sinking your ship, and threatening to go after the woman you love?”

“You forgot wishing a ‘slow and painful death’ upon you.”

“Like it makes any difference!”

All of sudden, Nellie appeared. “Nellie!” Samantha exclaimed. “It took you long enough!”

“Yeah, yeah, now how do I bust you out of here?”

Without any warning, the Second Mate jumped out of nowhere and locked Nellie in the brig with them.

“Hey!” said Nellie. “You can’t do that!”

The Second Mate said, “I can and I just did. Now I hope you’ll enjoy this!” He took a lit match and threw it in a barrel of gunpowder. KABOOM! The barrel exploded as the rest of the ship caught on fire.

They could hear the Second Mate’s evil laughter echoing through the chamber as he left them to their fate. The pirate thought that this would be the end. He believed he was going to die that night, not only as a failure of a Captain for letting his crew get out of hand being locked in his own brig with innocent strangers, and not only as a failure of a friend to the Second Mate, but also as a failure of a man. He would never get his “One Dance” with Marie-Grace and now he was leaving her in the path of a psycho monster like the Second Mate. It was his fault and now Marie-Grace was going to pay the price for it.

But Samantha and Nellie hadn’t yet given up hope. They looked at each other as if to say, who’s going to save us now?

******************************************************************

Logan was leaving the theater when she got the call. “Logan! We need you!”

“Huh? Who, what, when, where, why?” Logan sputtered.

“This is Samantha and we’re having an emergency. You need to come help us immediately!”

“No way, I’m very busy!”

“Doing what?”

“Nothing,” said Logan.

“Logan!”

“Fine, what do you want?”

“Nellie, The French Pirate and I are all locked in the brig of ship that is sinking.”

Logan could hear Nellie in the background, “You forgot to mention flaming! Tell her to hurry up!”

“No way,” said Logan. “You got yourself into this mess you can get yourself out.”

“Logan!” Samantha shouted. “You get yourself on this ship immediately or so help me I’ll. . . ”

“What? To punish me you’ll have to get out of there.”

Samantha said, “Fine, if you’re not going to help us then at least tell Marie-Grace what’s going on. She’ll probably want to know why her pirate won’t be contacting her anytime soon!”

“Okay,” said Logan, “But Samantha?”

“What?”

“If there’s only time to save one of you, then make sure it’s the pirate. I don’t think I could stand Marie-Grace’s blubbering otherwise.”

“Gee thanks,” said Samantha her voice dripping with sarcasm, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind!”

******************************************************************

After the show, the Babies sent Marie-Grace home even though she insisted she should stay to help clean everything up. They told her she wouldn’t know where anything goes and would just make a bigger mess so she was free to go for the rest of the evening.

Marie-Grace was hoping to run into the pirate but he was nowhere to be found so she decided to head home. She was walking down Play Road when she heard a voice behind her say, “Marie-Grace! Just the girl I was hoping to see.”

Marie-Grace spun around. “Oh hey Logan, what do you want?”

“Geesh, does just saying hi automatically mean I want something?”

“Sorry,” said Marie-Grace. “How are you?”

“Cut the chitchat Marie-Grace! There’s an emergency!”

“What? But you just said. . . ”

“Don’t you care that your pirate friend is in danger?”

“WHAT?!!!!”

“Yeah,” said Logan calmly. “Apparently the Second Mate trapped him, Samantha, and Nellie in the brig before taking off with his crew and setting the ship on fire.”

Recovering from her shock, Marie-Grace said, “We have to go rescue them!”

“‘We?’” said Logan.

“You are really just going to leave them there?”

 “Yep,” Logan said. “They’re not my problem.”

 “I thought you took pride in saving everyone.”

“You’re thinking of Felicity,” Logan commented as she started to leave. “Well good luck, ’cause you’re going to need it!”

 “Logan, wait! I need you to help me rescue them!”

“What do you need me for? It should be simply enough.”

“S’il vous plait, help me! I’ve never rescued anyone before, I don’t know how!”

“Okay fine,” Logan said. “Let’s go bust their booties out of pirate jail.” *****************************************************************

The Captain of the French Pirates was reduced to banging his head against the walls of his own brig while Samantha and Nellie chattered on seemingly unaware. “What is wrong with you guys?!!” he cried.  “We are about to die, my worst nightmare just came true and yet you guys just talk on and on and on as if you haven’t a care in the world!”  

Before either Samantha or Nellie could respond, two silhouettes entered the hold. It was hard to see for the smoke but The pirate exclaimed, “Quelle horreur! Ti-Marie, you should not be here!”

“And why not?” said Marie-Grace. “We’re here to save you!”

“Merci, Mais non! I could have figured out a way to get us out of here.”

“Speak for yourself!” Nellie said as she shoved him out of the way. “Now let us out!”

“I’m with Nellie,” said Samantha. “Let us out!”

          “How?” asked Marie-Grace.

          The pirate said, “There should be a key of some kind hidden behind the third false panel on the other side of that wall of fire.”

          “I don’t see it,” said Marie-Grace squinting through the flames.

          “But I do!” said Logan. She used magic to stick her hand through the fire and then reached up the wall directly across from their cell. Logan put the key in the door and unlocked the cell with a resounding clang. “Now was that so hard?”

          But Marie-Grace wasn’t listening for she was already melting in The pirate’s embrace. “J’ai presque perdu vous,” she whispered, her face pressed up against his chest.

He kissed the top of her head. “I know.”

          She pulled away to look up into his face. Before she could stop herself, Marie-Grace’s finger lovingly traced the scar on his face. He flinched and she tried to pull away, but The pirate snatched her hand and held it before she could get too far.

 “Don’t ever scare me like that again,” she said.

          “I certainly don’t intend to, but accidents do happen especially when—–”

          “—you’re a pirate,” Marie-Grace finished. “I know, yet I cannot help but worry—-”

          “Well, I hate to break up this touching scene,” Nellie interrupted. “But if you haven’t noticed, we’re still standing on a sinking ship!”

Samantha added, “And Pirate, don’t you have a traitorous friend to hunt down?”

The Captain sighed wearily as he released Marie-Grace’s hand. “I know, let’s get you girls to safety then I’ll go figure out what state my crew is in.”

“No!” said Marie-Grace as they walked away from the burning ship. Her adopted family ran on ahead. “I want to come with you.”                                                                

“Je suis désolé Ti-Marie, but it is still too dangerous for us to be seen together and this is something that I need to do alone. Besides, I don’t think all the Mimes are traitors.” He peeked over her shoulder to see Mime #52 who looked up from his notebook and waved. 

But Marie-Grace couldn’t tear her gaze away from The pirate. She was near hysteria as tears blurred in her eyes. She said, “But what if I never see you again? Je ne peux pas vivre sans toi!”

Both of The pirate’s eyebrows shot up as Marie-Grace’s flustered cheeks burned bright red. Nevertheless, he pulled her close before kissing her fast and furious. It left them both breathless and as soon as it was over he pushed her away and said, “Go, get out of here.”

Marie-Grace backed away slowly, her eyes never leaving his. She stumbled and he made no move to catch her. Instead, the image of her leaving his life forever was seared into his mind.

******************************************************************

          The pirate stood on the dock of Boston Harbor as he and a few remaining mimes watched their ship plummet to a watery grave. The good news was that the Captain had enough loyal mimes remaining to sail a ship but the bad news was that they didn’t have a ship to sail. Suddenly the Captain felt a tugging on his sleeve.

“Yes?” he asked Mime #52. The Mime gestured frantically to an old weathered ship tethered to the dock.

The pirate grasped his meaning. “That’s ours?”

The Mime nodded as his Captain asked, “But how?”         

Mime #52 shrugged as if to say, does it matter? We’re pirates after all.

The Captain grinned as he rubbed his hands together. “Alright boys, the original plan stands. Let’s go to Quebec. I have a feeling we’re going to find some treasure.”

They did indeed go to Quebec, but what they found wasn’t treasure.

******************************************************************

A week had past and Molly and Emily were preparing to go on an extreme winter camping trip. 

“Sleeping bags?” asked Molly.

“Check,” said Emily crossing it off the list.

“Thermal socks, magical firewood and space heater?”

“Check, check, and check. But Molly, have we even decided where we are going yet?”

“Nope,” said Molly, “Why?”

“No reason, I just had an idea of where we should go and who we should take with us.”

“Tell me!”

“Well,” said Emily, “I was thinking we could go to French Canada and we could bring Samantha, Nellie, the Bitties, and Marie-Grace with us.”                                                                                               

Molly laughed maniacally, “That’s such a great idea! If Marie-Grace can’t tell us why she can’t go to French Canada then she might as well show us.”

******************************************************************

          Marie-Grace was actually very excited to go on her first camping trip with the Playroom people. Everyone else going on the trip had been camping a million times before and they were more than happy to tell Marie-Grace all about their previous catastrophes in the woods. Despite this, Marie-Grace thought it would be a fun adventure. How very wrong she was. Of course, Marie-Grace had no idea of where they were taking her until they arrived.

After the Second Mate took off with half the crew, Marie-Grace wasn’t sure if it was okay for her to see The pirate or not. She assumed no since he still left her and she was filled with an overwhelming amount of panic when she saw the sign:  Bienvenue au Quebec.

“W-what are we doing here?” Marie-Grace asked Molly.

“What do you mean by that?” Molly asked. “We’re going camping in Quebec. Does that bother you?”

“No,” Marie-Grace whispered softly, when in fact it really did.

Strange things kept happening at the campsite in Canada. The Playroom people were struck by lightning, thrown into toxic lakes, stranded in raging blizzards and wildfires, and many other weird events happened while Marie-Grace missed out on the family disasters.

She spent most of the trip hiding in the tent, partially afraid of what PFV’s magical version of nature would do to her if she stepped outside but mostly she was afraid of what would happen to the Captain if any members of his crew found her. Just because the remaining mimes didn’t desert with the Second Mate didn’t mean they approved of their Captain releasing a prison because she was his friend. No, they’d still report him to the pirate Patrol Police, a system the pirate King uses to govern his violent and unruly people. They would uphold certain laws that demanded the Captain of the French Pirates pay with his life for breaking his oath to them.  Marie-Grace shuddered at the thought; she simply couldn’t bear it if someone happened to him especially if it were her fault.

******************************************************************

          Night crept up on the campers like a swarm of silent mimes. A silvery moon sparkled off the newly fallen snow as Samantha, Nellie, Molly, Emily and the Bitties were all lost and miserable in the frozen woods somewhere while Marie-Grace huddled alone in the tent. She saw the warm, inviting golden glow of the campfire outside and suddenly thought that it was ridiculous to freeze to death in here when there was no chance anyone would see her.  They were camping in the middle of nowhere during a winter blizzard. If that wasn’t secluded enough then she didn’t know what was.

 Tentatively, Marie-Grace poked her head out the tent flap. She looked both directions and seeing no one, decided to step outside. Crouching down beside the fire her sisters had built, Marie-Grace really started to regret wasting time inside the tent while her family had amazing adventures without her.

          But hiding in the forest was one mime in particular. He tiptoed around the trees and signaled to his buddies. Recognizing their Captain’s former prisoner, the mimes rushed back to the ship to alert him.

          Standing tall and proud at the helm of his ship, The pirate was thinking they should start to head back to France soon. Thoughts of Marie-Grace tormented him at all hours and he believed some distance might do the problem some good.  Then Mime #52 disrupted his thoughts by yanking on his arm. The mime gestured as he acted something out and suddenly The pirate understood perfectly what he was trying to say.

          “Marie-Grace, here?”

          The mime responded by nodding vigorously.  The Captain flew down the gangplank and darted off into the night.

******************************************************************

          Mimes circled the camp as they glared down at Marie-Grace like they were vultures waiting to pounce on a tasty meal. Marie-Grace was blissfully unaware of their presence until she heard a twig snap in the forest behind her.

          She spun around and called out in a quaky voice, “W-who’s there?” 

          The mimes in the forest glared at each other accusingly. One shoved the other and he fell causing an even bigger ruckus. Marie-Grace strained her eyes to see. “Mimes,” she gasped.

The mime in the brush pile looked up at the mime that pushed him as if to say, now look what you made me do!

The mimes were closing in on her and Marie-Grace panicked. She crawled between a mime’s legs and scurried off into the forest with only one thought resonating through her mind, I have to find The pirate.

******************************************************************

The pirate arrived at the camp site with Mime #52 to see the other mimes staring at each other and shrugging their shoulders to say, where did she go?

          “Alright guys,” said The pirate. “What’s going on here?”

The mimes immediately started quarrelling with each other and realizing he wasn’t going to get an answer, the Captain nodded to Mime #52 and they left to go find Marie-Grace.

******************************************************************

          Marie-Grace ran through the forest, fear blinding her to everything else. She heard a crunch of footsteps behind her and she suddenly stopped, relieved. “Pirate?” she asked. “Is that you?” 

           There was no answer and Marie-Grace stiffened somehow sensing a presence behind her. She felt a sharp pain and briefly cried out as she was rendered unconscious.

          “No dearie,” said the Second Mate. “You precious pirate captain isn’t here to save you now.”

******************************************************************

          The pirate and his mime were walking through the forest when they heard a woman cry. They looked at each other and then broke out into a run. They passed Samantha and Nellie who were heading back to camp.

Nellie called out, “Hey! Slow down! Where’s the fire?”

The pirate didn’t stop running but called over his shoulder, “Marie-Grace is in trouble!”

Samantha and Nellie paused only for a minute before racing to catch up.

The pirate, Mime # 52, Samantha, and Nellie arrived at The pirate’s ship to find Marie-Grace bound and gagged beside the Second Mate.

The pirate drew his sword as he snarled, “Unhand her, you filthy animal.”

“Not so fast!” said the Second Mate drawing his own sword. He held it against Marie-Grace’s throat. “You wouldn’t want me to hurt your little darling, now would you?”

The pirate screamed in agony but the Second Mate laughed in delight. His hot breath on Marie-Grace’s neck made her gag especially when he said, “You’re mine, now Ti-Marie.”

With Marie-Grace’s eyes pleading eyes looking up at him, The pirate lunged forward but the Second Mate pressed the sword farther into Marie-Grace’s skin until a trickle of blood flowing down her neck stopped The pirate from making any movements. It was a hopeless situation, The pirate knew. Until . . .

“Hey guys!” said Logan as she walked by. “Whatcha doing?”

For those who don’t know Logan, she always carries so many weapons that she is literally a walking time bomb. In a desperate, last minute attempt to free Marie-Grace, The pirate scooped Logan up and threw her at the Second Mate.

 Samantha and Nellie covered their ears as she hit. Kaboom! Logan’s weapons exploded as she bounced off the Second Mate. The pirate rushed forward into the smoking mass and pulled Marie-Grace to safety. She coughed, sputtered, and choked on the smoke and debris in his arms but at least she was safe from the Second Mate.

Logan stood up and shook herself off. “Surprisingly, that’s not the weirdest thing that’s happened to me today. Hey, where did he go?” The Second Mate was nowhere to be found.

“Are you okay?” The pirate whispered to Marie-Grace.

Marie-Grace nodded, her eyes watering. “Merci, you always seem to be saving me.”

He smiled at her and was about to reply when his ship started sailing away without him.

 “Oh Captain!” said the Second Mate from the helm. “I’m taking your crew and your ship and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!”

As long as you leave Marie-Grace alone, I don’t care what you do to me, thought The pirate. Besides, not all the mimes left. There was one exception. Mime #52 stood by his Captain.

“So what are you going to do now?” Marie-Grace asked The pirate.

He sighed tiredly. “I’ll have to go dig up some treasure, buy a ship, and a crew. Luckily, I know some guys who might be willing and won’t desert like those mimes did.”

“Come on Marie-Grace!” Samantha called. “It’s time to go home!”

“In a minute!” Marie-Grace called back. To The pirate she said, “I have to go.”

 “I guess this is goodbye then,” said The pirate.

“Yeah, I guess it is.” She turned to leave.

“Wait!” said The pirate. He fished something out of his pocket. “I’ve been meaning to return this.”

He held out his hand as Marie-Grace exclaimed, “My necklace! I thought it went down with your ship.”

“No,” said The pirate. She moved her hair out of the way and he placed the locket around her neck. “I couldn’t allow that to happen. It was the only thing I managed to save.”

******************************************************************

One Week later . . .

The pirate had just sat down after an exhausting day of treasure hunting and orphan rescuing when Mime #52 burst through the door.

          “Do you mind?” said the Captain as he put up his feet and sat back in his chair closing his eyes. If Mime #52 could have shouted he would have but he settled for shaking his captain awake and pulling him through the streets of Paris. He didn’t stop until they arrived at the palace where a ball was being held. The mime mimed being a woman and pointed in the window to where Marie-Grace was standing alone.

          “Oh no,” said the Captain. “Pirates do not go to balls.”

          Mime #52 frowned.

          “I meant I can’t just waltz in there. I need to make an entrance.” He pointed to the stained glass skylight.

          Giving his captain a thumbs up, Mime #52 smiled in agreement.

******************************************************************

          Marie-Grace sighed dramatically, bored to the verge of tears as she stood on the side lines of this random French ball. The Playroom people are just so weird sometimes, she reflected. If we feel like going to a ball, then let’s just drop in at any old one since they’re all the same whether we are invited or not, she thought angrily, why don’t we all go to a random ball in a random country just for the heck of it? A week had passed since she said farewell to her pirate and already it felt like years had passed. Samantha and Nellie believed they could cheer her up by taking her to a glittering ball in Paris but all it did was make her miss The pirate more.  

Out of the corner of her eye, Samantha noticed a figure standing on the roof near the stained glass skylight. Mildly curious, she took a closer look and realized it was a mime. What’s he trying to say, she wondered and then she saw The pirate. Knowing what was about to happen, Samantha ran over to Nellie and whispered in her ear. Nellie’s eyes widened as she looked up at the skylight. She nodded and moved into action.

Samantha pushed Marie-Grace out to the center of the ballroom as Nellie cleared out all the extra people. Everyone’s gaze drifted up to the skylight as Marie-Grace looked at them in puzzlement, wondering why she was left alone in the middle of the ballroom floor beneath the skylight.

Crash! And the sounds of shattering glass echoed across the now silent ballroom. The Captain of the French Pirates flew from the skylight to face a stunned Marie-Grace. Standing before him, he only had eyes for Marie-Grace, a vision of beauty and elegance in her historical ball gown and more precious to him than any piece of gold pirates fought for.

 “What are you doing here?” she whispered, her throat dry and her heart racing.

“Shh,” he said as he swept down in a gentleman’s bow before her. “Remember what we promised to forget and give me just one dance.”

Suddenly shy, Marie-Grace could only nod and take his hand as he led her across the colorful glass pieces coating the ground. The sounds of their feet crunching on the shards were the only audible sounds before Samantha nodded at the conductor of orchestra to start up the music.

The pirate encircled Marie-Grace in his arms as they glided across the ballroom floor. By magic, they floated and spun in the air, colorful glass shards rippling around them in a tornado of magic, beauty, wonder, and love. This was nothing like the jigs and reels they had danced to the familiar sea shanties that night on his ship. It was breathtaking and otherworldly because they were together at long last.

          Far too soon, the song came to an end. The musicians struck the last chord on their instruments and before The pirate even realized what he was doing, he kissed Marie-Grace soundly in front of all those people. Then he took off as if being pursued by vicious hounds leaving Marie-Grace alone in the center of the ballroom wondering if that really just happened or if it was just a dream from her own imagination.

Orphans Run Wild

Orphans

Run

Wild

By: Mime #52

Marie-Grace’s best friend Cécile has finally come to the Playroom after much debate. After giving her a few weeks to settle in, Marie-Grace is going to introduce an old friend to a new one.

Note to reader: If your best friend is fresh off the time travel machine then you should consider that taking her to a pirate ship may not be the best idea there ever was.

Warm yellow sunlight trickled down to the icy snow covered road. It may have been April but the weather sure seemed to disagree. Marie-Grace Gardner breathed in the chilly air as the earth finally started to thaw. Yes, she thought, today’s the day I’m finally going to do it. Yet as she entered the Playroom, doubts began to clutter her mind.

          What if I’m not welcome on his ship? No, she didn’t think that was the case but one never knew.

          What if Cécile was so scandalized by the mere sight of the pirate ship never mind the fact that her best friend was potentially falling in . . .

          Marie-Grace stopped that train of thought before it could even leave the station.

          Or the worst scenario: What if they didn’t like each other? Marie-Grace hoped with all her heart that wouldn’t happen and if she were lucky it wouldn’t but apparently Marie-Grace wasn’t lucky.

          In truth, Marie-Grace hadn’t yet told her best friend about the whole pirate incident. She figured from her own experience that coming to the future, the changing of time and place, all technology, magic, and a brand new family was all shocking enough without her adding to the mix. But now Marie-Grace was growing desperate, keeping such a big life changing event from her true friend. She had given her time to adjust and besides, Marie-Grace wanted to make a move before a certain French Pirate packed up and sailed away from Boston forever.

          Marie-Grace saw Cécile casually chatting with the other big girls and decided she had better do it now before she lost her nerve. “Cécile, can you come with me for une minute?”

            Cécile jumped down from her seat and smiled cheerfully. “Sure, what do you want to do today?”

          “Follow me, there’s someone I want you to meet.”

          Cécile’s smile faded as she cautiously followed Marie-Grace out of the room. “Um . . . Marie-Grace where exactly are you taking me?” said Cécile as they neared the harbor.

          “You’ll see,” Marie-Grace said mysteriously before walking farther and farther away from the coast guard and closer and closer to the pirate ships.

          “Are you sure you know where you’re going?”

          Marie-Grace didn’t answer, instead choosing to drink in the sight of their destination. Pirates scurried about on deck jumping to the orders of their young captain. He stood tall and handsome at the helm and Marie-Grace’s heart lurched at the sight. When The Pirate spied Marie-Grace his face lit up into a glorious smile as he beckoned them aboard.

          Cécile tugged vigorously at Marie-Grace’s sleeve. “Ah, Marie-Grace I really do not think we should be here.”

          “It’s okay Cécile; I know what I’m doing. Besides, haven’t you always wished for adventure?”

          Cécile swallowed nervously trying to calm her racing heart. True, she did always dream of adventure but not like this! After living in one of America’s busiest and most historic shipping ports she knew the dangers and evils of piracy. Marie-Grace must be completely off her rocker to have brought them here, thought Cécile, and the magic of this strange new world must have changed her so much for her to believe a dangerous, highlight on the dangerous, criminal is her friend. Cécile shook her head sadly and was about to beg Marie-Grace to leave when she saw him.

          Tall and very handsome, the stranger wickedly grinned at them making Cécile feel uncomfortable. He wore black trousers that were tucked into black lace up boots and a puffy white pirate shirt that billowed in the wind. A long sharp sword gleamed in the sunlight as it hung off his left hip, ready to be drawn in an instant. But the most noticeable feature about the figure was his eyes. Intelligent but dark, they looked out at the world with cold suspicion as they told the story of a lifetime of adventure and heartache. Yet there was a hopeful light and a focus of love when The Pirate gazed at Marie-Grace.

          Cécile took one glance at the love-struck expression on Marie-Grace’s face and promptly felt as if she were going to be sick.

          “Cécile, are you alright?” whispered Marie-Grace.

          Cécile nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Now for the moment they’ve all been waiting for . . .

          “Cécile Rey, may I present to you the Captain of the French Pirates.”

          Cécile felt faint and refused to curtsy as if this were any other proper introduction.

          “And Captain, may I present to you my very good friend Cécile.”

          The Captain gave a gentleman’s bow and kissed Cécile’s gloved hand. “Bonjour mademoiselle, it’s a pleasure meeting the tres belle and very famous friend of Marie-Grace that I’ve heard so much about.”    

          “Well, I’ve never heard of you,” Cécile said flatly.

          “Oh,” he said softly, his excitement fading. Marie-Grace sheepishly looked down at her hands.

          After the shock, curiosity set in and Cécile felt the need to ask, “How do you know each other?”

          The Pirate’s grin returned. “That’s easy, I kidnap—-”

          Marie-Grace abruptly cut him off by elbowing him in the gut. He grunted as Marie-grace steered Cécile away from the ship. “I think that’s enough introductions for one day,” she said and they were silent for the rest of the way him.

          “Are you mad at me?” Cécile asked earnestly as Marie-Grace rummaged through a stack of paper muttering, “Where is it?”

          Marie-Grace looked up at her. “No, of course not, but I do think this will help clear a few things up.” She handed Cécile a story titled Captured By French Pirates by Mime #52.

          With magic it only took Cécile a few seconds to read. Upon finishing she exclaimed, “It’s a tale une orginale! No wonder . . .” Then she smiled. “Never fear mon amie your secret is safe with me.”

          Marie-Grace frowned. “What secret?”

          “The fact that you’re in love!”

          Marie-Grace nearly choked, “I’m . . . what?”

          “In love and it’s so very obvious too,” Cécile replied dramatically.

          “No! I’m not . . . in whatever you said! He kidnapped me and gave me the greatest adventure of my life, and then let me go free. End of story! Now I don’t know about you but when this sort of thing happens to normal people they become friends and that’s exactly what we did. Today I simply introduced my best friend to my . . . um . . . my good . . .” she faltered for the right word then finished lamely, “my good pirate friend.”

          “Oh, I see.” Now it was Cécile’s turn to frown. “Is it because he’s a pirate?”

          “No!” Marie-Grace screamed in frustration. “The man rescues orphans for Pete’s sake! The fact that he’s a pirate shouldn’t matter! So he may steal a little treasure to get there, but at least his heart is in the right place!” The rant left Marie-Grace gasping for breath. “I may admire him but I DO NOT LOVE HIM!”

          Cécile merely went about her business. If she were at all distressed by her friend’s odd behavior, she gave no sign of it and stated calmly, “Come on Marie-Grace, you kissed him so you must feel something.”

          “He kissed me first,” Marie-Grace grumbled crossly.

          “But you kissed him back and that’s what matters. We don’t have to talk about it now but someday you’re going to tell me in your own words exactly what happened on that ship. Understand?”

           Marie-Grace nodded but she’d spend years dreading that day.

A few

Days

Later

Clang! Metal on metal, steel against steel in the heat of the afternoon sun blinded the two fighters who were at it again. Sweat poured off the Captain and his crew as they practiced their swordsmanship.

          “Mail’s here!” said the Mailman appearing in the midst of the action. The Pirate immediately withdrew and ducked as he missed a deadly strike from his opponent that nearly chopped the mail carrier in two.

          “Don’t shoot the messenger!” the mailman said as he cowered on deck. “I only send them, I don’t write them.”

          “Thank you, I’ll take that,” said The Pirate as he snatched the letter addressed to him. Using his sword as a letter opener, he took out an invitation from the Playroom. With each word he read his small smile spread into a wide grin

          “I’ll be back boys,” said the Captain as he jumped off the ship and ran to Play Road. 

******************************************************************

           The bright lights of the playroom spotlight shone down on Marie-Grace as the sweet notes of the melody faded in.

                     If there’s a prize for rotten judgement,

               I guess I’ve already won that

******************************************************************

          Walking briskly down the lane, the Captain of the French Pirates heard music. But it wasn’t just any music for it was Marie-Grace who was singing. He could recognize her voice anywhere and not wanting to miss her song he went up to the door of the Playroom and peered in.

******************************************************************

                     No man is worth the aggravation

          The piercing notes of a trumpet came in as Marie-Grace flipped her body to the beat.

                     That’s ancient history,

               Been there done that

******************************************************************

          Just outside the door, The Pirate’s head almost got crushed in in the door frame as the Playroom security man Parker slammed the door shut.

          “I’m sorry,” said the Parker. “I have orders not to let you in yet.”

          “What?!” exclaimed The Pirate. “But I have an invitation.”

          Parker took the letter out of The Pirate’s hand and ripped in half. “Not anymore you don’t.”

Normally, The Pirate would have taken his sword out by now but this troll guy was part of Marie-Grace’s family and The Pirate couldn’t fight him. So he instead put his ear up against the door to hear as much of the song as he could.

******************************************************************

          The babies with the exception of Parker joined in the song as backup singers.

                    Who’d ya think you’re kidding?

                He’s the earth and heaven to ya

                Try to keep it hidden

                Hon, we can see right through ya

Oh no,

                You know you can’t conceal it

                We know how you’re feeling

                You’re feeling like . . .

No chance, no way, I won’t say it

No, No

Marie-Grace poured every ounce of energy into that performance. She stubbornly crossed her arms and said no as the babies dared to convince her otherwise.

******************************************************************

The Pirate lurking on the other side of the door heard her sing, “I won’t say it,” and he wondered what it was she wouldn’t say. He leaned closer and wished to be in there. When Parker received the signal, he opened the door and in waltzed the Captain of the French Pirates.

******************************************************************

You swoon, you sigh

Why deny it, ut-oh

It’s too cliché

I won’t say I’m in love

Marie-Grace is a much better dancer when she had words and a purpose to sing along with. At one point she came as close to the edge of the stage as she dared and unable to see in the blackness beyond the stage, the poor girl had no idea who she had just came face to face with.

                     I thought my heart had learned its lesson

               It feels so good when you start out

               My head is screaming get a grip girl,

               Unless you’re dying to cry your heart out

               You can fine deny it

                   Who you are and how you’re feeling

               Baby we’re not buying

                Hon, we saw your face, conceal it

 Face it like a grown up

               When you gonna own up

That you got it bad

Whoa, no chance, no way

I won’t say it, no, no

Give up, or give in

Take a clue, you’re in love

This scene won’t play

I won’t say I’m in love

You’re doing things the way

They are aren’t meant to go

Oh, no way

I won’t say it

Get off my case

I won’t say it  

          Now girl, don’t be proud,

           It’s okay you’re in love

Oh, at least out loud

          I won’t say I’m in love

******************************************************************

Utterly shocked, The Captain stood there speechless. He didn’t know what to make of this until disappointment came as a crushing blow. Why in the world should he even care when his former prisoner may or may not be in love with someone who was most certainly not a ruthless pirate who kidnapped her? When they had made their final farewells, The Pirate thought she would want out of his life for good. Since then he realized he didn’t want to see her get away. Now hearing her sing that song had rattled his solid confidence and he wasn’t so sure if he should go ahead with his plan or not. He shook his head to clear his thoughts when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Just because she won’t say it, doesn’t mean she isn’t,” said the voice that the hand belonged to.

“Thanks, I think,” said a rather confused pirate turning to see Cécile standing behind him.

“No really, I’m serious. Don’t let that stupid song impact you in any way,” she said wishing to say more but knowing it wasn’t her place.

“Too late for that,” he grumbled.

Hearing this, Cécile grinned and decided to have a little fun with him. “You must be the famous pirate I’ve heard more about.” She said replaying their previous conversation.

“Really?” The Pirate’s eyes widened as his excitement grew. “She, that is, Marie-Grace talks about me?”

“To anyone and everyone who will listen,” Cécile exaggerated just a little for she indeed had to pry the information out of her.

I wonder what she says, thought The Pirate. If he had known she’d be such a blabber mouth maybe he wouldn’t have kidnapped her in the first place.

******************************************************************

Marie-Grace was quietly enjoying the party alone in a dark corner by herself when she saw her best friend talking to . . .

No, it couldn’t be, could it? Not him, not here, not now. And yet as she squinted at the figure standing in the shadows she realized it could. Marie-Grace scrambled over chairs, balloons, and party goers to get a better view.

“Excusez-moi, pardon me,” she muttered. Yes, she could see now that it was definitely The Pirate. The last time they had met was a month ago at a very fancy French ball where windows shattered and dreams came true. To this day, Marie-Grace wasn’t sure if it really happened or a fantasy she somehow conjured up.  A month too late and Marie-Grace realized she should have gone after him right after the ball because they had had no contact since and now the mere thought of him being here sent her heart racing. Then the horrifying reality of The Pirate seeing her sing that song stopped her dead in her tracks. Taking a deep breath, Marie-Grace told herself to be brave. With Cécile there, what could possibly go wrong?

******************************************************************

Marie-Grace joined them just as Cécile was saying, “Well, it was nice meeting you again.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” said The Pirate.

To Marie-Grace, Cécile whispered, “Have fun and I’ll see you later.”

Marie-Grace glared at the supposed friend who left her stranded in the world’s most awkward position. “Um . . . hi!” she said then inwardly winced.  

“Hey, stranger,” The Pirate said smoothly. He couldn’t help but add, “Great performance.”

Marie-Grace’s face burned as if it were on fire. Seeing this, The Pirate took her hand in his and said, “No really, you were truly magnifique.”

She swallowed hard as he patted her hand then left to join in the party. Once he was gone Marie-Grace noticed a note in the palm of her hand. It read:

                   Meet me in the Alley

 The note swept Marie-Grace off her feet so much she could scarcely breathe. It reminded her of their secret life days, when they were sneaking out at night, hiding from his crew and running from her family. Marie-Grace quickly scanned the crowd to see if anyone would notice her absence. She deemed it safe to go and quietly stepped outside. So caught up in the moment was she, she didn’t notice the note flutter to the ground and she especially didn’t notice someone pick it up.

******************************************************************

Darkness ate at the little splashes of light dancing in the alley way. Marie-Grace nervously tiptoed down the street jumping at every shadow. By the time she reached her destination she felt brave enough to call out in a quaky voice, “Hello? Pirate, are you there?”

With only an echo of her own words as a reply, Marie-Grace slowly backed out of the alley. But when she turned towards the street, she saw the handsome face of the Captain leaning against a lamppost with his arms crossed and his jaw set.

“Glad you could make it,” he said in a voice that was anything but thrilled. Marie-Grace swallowed her disappointment as the impulse to throw her arms around his neck in relief flew out the window.

“I have something important I want to discuss with you,” he said casually inching his way closer to her. On the inside he too was dying to take her in his arms once more.

“W – What is it?” she asked cautiously.

The Pirate wondered when they had gotten so stiff and formal when he decided he had better get to the point. “Right after the French ball I found some evidence to lead me to believe that my second mate either ran away or was kidnapped.”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “You mean he might not be evil? And if that’s the case why would he leave or why would someone kidnap and replace him with an imposter?”

“I don’t know Marie-Grace,” The Pirate shrugged helplessly. “Anyway, I also found this mark on a burlap sack.” He leaned close to show it to her. It was an eyeball with the letters V.F.D.

“Where have I seen that before?” she murmured. Then she remembered. “Logan was talking about an organization called V.F.D. a couple of days ago. Sorry, I can’t remember what it was. I’ll go ask her.”

“Wait!” The Pirate grabbed her arm. “There is more I want to talk about.”

“Really?” Marie-Grace squealed, excitement flowing through her veins. She couldn’t wait to hear what he might say next.

******************************************************************

Meanwhile . . .

Cécile saw Marie-Grace dash from the room and she ached to follow. Then she spied a note on the ground where Marie-Grace had been standing seconds earlier. It said:

             Meet me in the Alley 

Cécile was just as horrified as she was curious. Who would write such a creepy note? Obviously she was still new to the Playroom because dark alleys are the girls most favorite and casual hangouts especially at midnight.

But Cécile was frightened and realizing her friend could be in serious danger, she decided to watch from afar in case Marie-Grace needed help. So Cécile tiptoed down the street armed with nothing except her fanciest hat and silk gloves.

******************************************************************

When she arrived in the alley behind the dumpster Cécile gasped to see her best friend in a private meeting with that scoundrel of a pirate. Whatever does this mean? She wondered but then again she should have expected this.

Cécile leaned in closer at the edge of the shadows as she tried to make out what they were saying.

The Pirate seemed slightly, ever so slightly, nervous to Marie-Grace, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out why. After all, she was a far cry from a dangerous foe and she wasn’t anyone important, as far as she was aware. Suddenly he startled her by breaking the silence.

“Marie-Grace, I know we vowed to forget each other and move on but I’ve missed you. We should at least remain friends because the goodbye thing hasn’t really worked out, has it? You may want nothing to do with what I’m about to propose and that’s okay, but I want you to hear me out.”

Marie-Grace smiled encouragingly, her heart aching for him to just say it, whatever it was he wanted to say.

“You know how the crew and I rescue children from the Agency, and how scared little kids don’t mix well with pirates even if they are trying to save them. The last time you went on a mission with us you did very well and . . .”

A light of understanding dawned on Marie-Grace and she quite liked where this was going.

“I thought . . . or rather hoped . . . you might want to join me in a partnership like deal. You’re good with orphans and I’m good with ships and together I think we make a great team.”

Marie-Grace was shocked and thought there was nothing in the world she’d want more than this. But before she could say anything, he gently cradled her hands in his, “And maybe, just maybe, our first journey could be finding the real Second Mate.”

Thinking back to the moment he had first kidnapped her, The Pirate realized that he didn’t want to be alone anymore. He wanted someone by his side to share in all his adventures. Sure, he had a friend in the Second Mate for a time, but they weren’t that great of friends. The Second Mate couldn’t tell his every need and desire just by looking at him.  The Second Mate never understood him the way Marie-Grace does, with such care and compassion. For the first time, The French Pirate was ready to admit his longing for friendship to someone he trusts and someone he loves, someone like Marie-Grace.

“So what do you say Ti-Marie, will you or will you not like to have a part in all of my quests?”

This was it. The adventure and opportunity she had been waiting for. Yet she couldn’t leave behind the Babies and Cécile, could she? In the time they’ve been apart Marie-Grace had established a life here in the Playroom. She couldn’t just walk away. Then again it wouldn’t be everyday more of a once a month type of thing. Before her lips could form the word oui when a dark figure came tumbling out of the shadows in an unconscious heap.

The Pirate and Marie-Grace leapt apart with Marie-Grace exclaiming, “Cécile! Oh my goodness, what happened?”

She knelt by her friend’s side desperately trying to awaken her. The Pirate stood by, not knowing how to react until he saw the wordless plea for help on Marie-Grace’s face. The Captain of the French Pirates scooped up Cécile and carried her into the Playroom.

******************************************************************

The party ended when The Pirate came in carrying Cécile. He gently set her down in one of Samantha’s wicker chairs. What he wanted to know was why she was spying on their conversation in the first place, but when Marie-grace anxiously pushed him out of the way The Pirate decided to let it go.

“Cécile, please speak to me. Are you alright?” Marie-Grace clung to her friend’s side longing to hear her voice.

“What’s going on here,” said Samantha as she and Nellie arrived at the scene.

“Cécile collapsed while The Pirate and I were outside talking,” said Marie-Grace.

“And what were you two talking about?” said Gwen emerging from the bottom of a bunk bed.

A blush rose to Marie-Grace’s cheeks as The Pirate snapped, “That’s none of your business!”

“Ooo,” said Logan. “I bet there wasn’t a whole lot of talking going on.”

Marie-Grace turned an even deeper shade of red as The Pirate desired to strangle the pair of them.

“That’s enough!” shouted Samantha. “We have an actual real crisis here and you two are acting like imbeciles.”

Nellie rolled her eyes. “Like usual.”

“Whatever,” muttered Logan rolled over in her bunk to play video games.

The Pirate stood awkwardly to the side as the girls fussed over Cécile. He was wondering if it was appropriate for him to even be here when Marie-Grace unconsciously reached for his hand in support. Looking down at their clasped hands, he realized that there was no place on earth he’d rather be than here. If even was the capital of crazy town.

Suddenly, Cécile started thrashing about and speaking in a robotic tone, “Must report to V.F.D. data overload.”

This got Logan’s attention “Did someone just mention V.F.D.?”

          “Yeah, Cécile just did,” said Marie-Grace and earlier The Pirate was saying something about it too”

“WHAT?” shrieked Logan. “What did he say?”

The Pirate cleared his throat. “I’m standing right here you know. And yes I did talk about V.F.D. Recently, I found an eyeball shaped logo engraved with the letters V.F.D. on a cliff side I sailed by. There seemed to be a break in the cliff for an entryway of some sort and then I saw the agency logo engraved on more cliffs.”

Marie-Grace stared in disbelief, wondering what else her “partner” hadn’t told her.

Logan paced back and forth muttering, “Oh no, not good. What to do, what to do?” Then she turned to The Pirate. “Why didn’t you tell me immediately?”

The Pirate blinked. “Why would I?”

“Because this is extremely important info, that’s why!” Logan raged on. “Who do you think you are, coming here and—-”

“Stop it! Please stop,” begged Marie-Grace. She guessed this was the danger of having someone who grew up in the Agency and someone who worked against the Agency in the same room.

“You think this is funny, huh?” said Logan to The Pirate who was getting madder by the minute.

Marie-Grace shouted back, “Well, what are we supposed to think if you haven’t told us anything!”

Logan sighed. “Fine, V.F.D.  is an acronym for . . . something. They are the Agency’s worst enemies.”

“But isn’t that a good thing?” said The Pirate.

Logan looked horrified. “No, it’s not a good thing and just because some people around here are destroying everything the Agency is made of—-”

“Those children deserve better!”

Logan laughed. “Ha! Do you really think their lives are better out in the big bad world than on their own without an organization to help them save the world one villain at a time?”

The Pirate growled. “Is that what you tell yourselves? Your so called Agency forces children into dangerous situations. It isn’t their responsibility to rid the world of villains.”

“And you’re what, setting them free? In your deluded quest you’re actually depriving them of a home and a place to belong and when you’re an orphan those are the things that matter most.”

The Pirate’s hand automatically slipped to the hilt of his sword. He took great pains to ensure every orphan he rescued found a home at the end. And as an orphan himself, he knew very well what it was like to wish you had somewhere to belong to.

Marie-Grace tugged gently on The Pirate’s arm to stop him from making a huge mistake. She knew just how serious both The Pirate and Logan were about the Agency.

Shooting a glare at The Pirate Logan said, “Anyway, the Agency used to be the best organization there ever was but we have a new head and it looks like they teamed up with V.F.D. V.F.D. uses its power for evil. What they do to their agents is so much worse than the Agency.”

Cécile’s eyes flew open and in the same robotic tone she said, “Must take action, V.F.D.” Then she jerked out of this strange trance to blink up at the concerned faces hovering around her. “What’s going on?”

 “You collapsed and then talked about V.F.D.,” said Marie-Grace.

Cécile frowned. “V.F.D.? I don’t know what that is.”

 “Well, you must,” said Gwen.

“Wait; is that the thing where they taught us the finer points of being a spy?”

Everyone gasped as Logan sputtered, “Who, what, when, where, why?!”

“Yeah,” Cécile continued, “after I left New Orleans and before I came here, American Girl made us go through some kind of training.”

“What?!”

“That didn’t happen to me,” said Samantha.

“Nor me,” added Nellie.

“How about you Marie-Grace? You’re the newest besides Cécile.” Samantha asked.

“No, nothing like that happened to me.”

“American Girl must be using a different time travel company,” said Gwen, “because that most definitely didn’t happen when I came here.”

Samantha snorted, “Clearly.”

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

Cécile said, “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get up now.”

Apologies were mumbled as the crowd began to filter away.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Marie-Grace asked for the millionth time.

“I’m fine,” Cécile said breezily before collapsing in a heap on the floor.

Both Marie-Grace and The Pirate reached to help her up. Cécile just waved them away. “I’m fine,” she said as she collapsed again.

“Maybe I do need to sit,” said Cécile.

Her friends nodded, “Oui.”

******************************************************************

“You there,” The Pirate pointed to Marie-Grace. “Swab the poop deck.”

Marie-Grace quietly scurried off to work, unaware that swabbing the poop deck may have been the easiest job on board a pirate ship but it was also the highest form of insult.  She scrubbed the deck as the Captain assigned more jobs to his crew.

“You, keep lookout.” A day had passed since the party and Cécile, insisting that she was better, wanted her first taste of real adventure.

“Go below and ready the cannons.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” So Marie-Grace innocently suggested The Pirate and his quest to find his Second Mate.

“Starboard, heave ho men! Make sail to exit port.” Cécile said she didn’t know but Marie-Grace coaxed her into by saying it would be fun. Needless to say, it worked because here they were.

As the ship eased out of the harbor, The Pirate counted off on his mental checklist to ensure everyone was given a task. He realized he missed one.

“You,” he spun around to see Cécile, who was daintily perched on the rail soaking up the sun.

“Yes?”

“Get to work!”

“Work?” she laughed lightly. “I’m a lady, I shouldn’t have to do any of your sailor jobs and neither should Marie-Grace.”

Marie-Grace looked up in surprise. Here she was back on the ship of her dreams as The Pirate’s partner. She was counting her lucky stars he let her come aboard and it didn’t even occur to her that she was a lady who really shouldn’t be doing the low and dirty work of swabbing.

The Pirate glared at Cécile. “On board my ship, every man must pull his own weight.”

“Yes, man not lady,” said Cécile trying to prove a point. “There’s quite a difference between us ladies and you barbarians.”

The crew gasped for that was a low blow to The Captain who in another life may not have ended up where he is today. The Pirate was tempted to draw his sword to teach her a lesson or two but he knew he could never use it against an unarmed girl, especially if that girl was dear to Marie-Grace’s heart.

The Pirate took a deep breath in an attempt to simmer his mounting anger. “At sea, a Captain’s word is law and I say she works.”

“As a lady, I say she doesn’t,” said Cécile. “Come Marie-Grace, let us leave this place.”

“No,” Marie-Grace said much to their surprise. “Cécile, it’s okay. I’ll do it, I don’t mind.”

“You may not but I do,” Cécile grumbled.

After a few minutes of thought, Marie-Grace realized Cécile brought up a very good point. If this were really a partnership then they were equals then he had no right to order her about like some common cabin boy. She was embarrassed not to see it sooner, but how fair or equal is it if she does the low and dirty work of swabbing while he all high and mighty captain orders her about.

Her adopted sister Felicity would be horrified right now because Marie-Grace shouldn’t have to clean his ship like she was a prisoner anymore. She should clean it because it’s filthy dirty not because it might win his approval, just like she shouldn’t secretly take sailing lessons at night because she secretly hopes to impress him with her seafaring knowledge.

  Overcome with her new found confidence, Marie-Grace sent her mop clattering to the deck as she said firmly, “Cécile’s right. I don’t have to work for you.”

The Pirate swiftly picked up the mop and gripped onto her wrist as he placed the cleaning material back in her hands. “While aboard my ship you’ll do as I say.”

“Aboard your ship I am now an equal partner, not a prisoner.”

Cécile smiled and clapped, giving a little cheer.

“But . . . I . . . you . . .,” he stammered at a loss for words then he found them. “Aboard my ship everyone does their share.”

“Well, my share isn’t to swab your filthy deck.” Marie-Grace knew she was pushing it but at this point she didn’t care. “My share is to help and guide you as your friend.”

The Pirate softened at her resolve. True, she wasn’t a prisoner still but he hadn’t had much experience with friendship. “Tres bien,” he said finally. “You can ride for free as my partner.”

Marie-Grace smiled sweetly at him before grinning in victory at Cécile.

“But . . .”

Her smile faded, there’s always a catch.

“I have a surprise for you below deck and you must come with me.”

Marie-Grace’s grin returned as she followed the Captain into the belly of the ship.

*****************************************************************

Back in the Playroom, Samantha and Nellie waltzed into the room holding brochures for a children’s baby camp.

“Babies!” Samantha said fiercely and they immediately stopped bouncing off the walls.

“What do you want?” snapped Bitty F. who was sitting by the blender covered from head to toe in chocolate.

“We’ve found a camp for you to go to,” said Nellie.

“A what?” said Bitty Q. as she was about to put her skydiving lessons to the test by jumping off the highest shelf.

“A camp,” said Samantha, “that you will go to so you can meet other kids your age and have safe, restricted fun.”

“Boring!” Bitty F. declared.

“Why?” said Bitty Q. “We don’t need friends when we have you.”

“I’m flattered,” said Samantha. “But this will be good for you.”

“Besides,” added Nellie. “Marie-Grace usually watches you and who knows how long this journey of hers might last.”

“She doesn’t ‘watch’ us,” said Bitty F. “She hangs out with us.”

“Which is more than you’ve ever done,” grumbled Bitty Q.

“Anyway,” said Samantha. “You’re going to the camp whether you like it or not.”

“They have no beds so I suggest you pack in your cradles,” said Nellie.

“The bus will be here in two hours.” Samantha lowered her voice so she could speak privately to Nellie. “And in two hours, we’ll be free.”

They sat back in their chairs as they clinked their tea cups together. “And the best part is,” said Nellie.

“We’ll have the house to ourselves!”

“With no babies!”

******************************************************************

“Watch your head,” The Pirate called offering a hand to Marie-Grace. He led her past his cabin and past his office to a room she had never seen before.

“After you, m’lady,” he said as he guided her in. Marie-Grace felt a nervous flutter in her chest as the door creaked closed. But she needn’t have worried for The Pirate soon struck a match and a warm golden glow bathed the room in light, “Voila.”

Marie-Grace gasped as she took in the sight. It was small but cozy, complete with a beautiful bed and decorated just to her liking. “What is this?”

“This,” said The Pirate, “is our brand new guest bedroom so our guests never have to stay with the smelly crew, or rot in the brig, or sleep on an air mattress in my office.”

She touched the wall paper which just happened to be her favorite color. “How?”

“It was a simple renovation, really. I just had to cut my own quarters in half by moving the walls and build all the furniture, all for the comfort of our guests of course.”

 “And how many guests do you plan on having?”

The Pirate gazed at her intently, making her heart melt, “Just you.” Then he took her hands in his as he said, “From now on you’ll always have a place on my ship.” As well as my heart, he almost added but of course didn’t.

Suddenly the whole ship rocked unnaturally backwards. Marie-Grace toppled onto him and he caught her. Their eyes met briefly before they quickly untangled themselves and ran up on deck.

As one of his crew members went by the Captain grabbed him by the arm and demanded, “What’s going on?”

“We’re under attack, monsieur!”

“I can see that! But by who and why?”

The boy shrugged before racing off to help his comrades in battle. The Captain wasted no more time in asking useless questions and dashed off to take the helm. Marie-Grace tried to follow but he was too quick and soon she was lost in a sea of pirates.

The Pirate bellowed orders to his men as he steered his ship to ram the oncoming attackers when he realized Marie-Grace wasn’t with him. His eyes scanned the deck until he spied her, alone, unprotected and cornered by the attacking force. She had her dagger held out in front of her but The Pirate knew it would be of little use. At the same time, Cécile too was trapped by enemy forces.

The Pirate abandoned his post but the jarring impact of the ship as she sliced through the attacker’s midsection knocked him off course. Now he was even farther away from Marie-Grace and no one was steering the ship.

The first earthquake pushed Marie-Grace off balance but the second nearly hurled her into l’ ocean. She clung to the rail and ducked, missing a deadly strike from an opponent. But then to her shock and amazement, The Pirate was there killing off her attackers one by one. 

“Have you no manners?!” he screamed. “It’s the unspoken law of the sea to never attack an unarmed woman!”

On the other side of the ship, Cécile managed to spring forward and punch, sending her attackers sprawling overboard.

The last of the enemy crew was retreating and the battle seemed to be winding down. Marie-Grace threw herself at her rescuer and he held her close. “How was that for an adventure, Ti-Marie?”

They broke apart when a crew member cried, “Oh Captain, my captain! Look what we caught!”

Marie-Grace and The Pirate both gasped to see the Second Mate, or someone who looks remarkably like him bound up in chains.

“Surprise, surprise,” said the smirking Second Mate. “I don’t suppose you lovebirds would welcome the visit of an old friend?”

Ignoring his sarcasm, The Pirate pointed his sword at the Second Mate’s throat. “Why did you attack us?”

“What makes you think I had anything to do with it?”

The sword drew ever closer as the Captain shouted, “Answer me!”

“Maybe I don’t feel inclined to answer that. Careful with that,” he said glancing down at the sword. “You might poke someone’s eye out.”

“And whose eye do you think it will be?”

“Alright, alright, hold your sword and I’ll tell you.” The Pirate really doubted that but went along with it anyway.

The Second Mate leaned close and whispered, “I know something about your ship that you don’t.”

“And that made you attack, because?”

“Shh! Not so loud. I’ll get to that.”

The Pirate made an impatient gesture.

“Fine, you have something hidden on this ship that I want.”

“What? Where is it?”

“Between the two hulls of course.”

“Two hulls?” The Pirate frowned. Something definitely wasn’t right here. 

“That’s right, you have two hulls!”

The Captain nodded to his crew. “Search the ship.”

Marie-Grace and Cécile looked at each other then decided to help. Cécile knocked on wood planks. “It sounds hollow.”

Marie-Grace noticed a small corner of beam sticking out. When she touched it, a section of wall opened into a secret passage was. This must be the space between the two hulls, she thought. To The Pirate she said, “Did you know this was here?”

He shook his head. “No.” then he looked back at the Second Mate only to realize he wasn’t there. “Where did he go?!”

The two people on guard shrugged.

“How did this happen? I looked away for less than half a second!”

“Hey Captain!” a voice called from over the side. Sure enough, it was the Second Mate escaping in a life raft with two mimes rowing.

“Looking for me?”                              

“Why I ought-a!” The Pirate shook his fist at the escaping prisoner. He wanted to chase him down but the smell of smoke filled his nostrils and he saw flames erupting from one side of the ship. The Captain joined his crew as they tried to put it out yet they only succeeded in creating more flames.

 Finally the Captain gave up. “Abandon ship! Every man for himself! Except you two.” He grabbed Marie-Grace and Cécile  and pulled them into a lifeboat.  He lowered them down and rowed away sadly. A pirate is nothing without his ship.

Marie-Grace stared at the churning waves as The Pirate’s beloved ship plummeted to the bottom of the ocean. Poor pirate, she thought. This was the second ship of his that sank. And after he had just finished renovating too.

The Pirate sensed her thoughts and laid a hand on her arm. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I can always get another ship. That can be fixed with treasure and a little magic. As long as you’re safe, that’s all that matters.”

She nodded and took her seat, suddenly glad pirates don’t follow the old tradition of captains always going down with the ship.

Activity stirred on the other lifeboats as the crew spotted an island in the distance. “Land ho!”

“That was quick,” said The Pirate as he towed their rowboat up on shore. He helped the girls out before taking a look around. It was your standard abandoned tropical island but The Pirate felt like he had at least seen it before. Then he shrugged. One abandoned island tropical island was the same as the next , he thought. Then he took Marie-Grace’s hand as they set off to explore the island.

******************************************************************

The babies boarded a bus to leave the Playroom. After a few hours they were transferred to a boat. Their destination loomed ahead in the form of a large stone gate on the seaside of a cliff face. And as they passed through, Bitty F. noticed two logos carved on either side.

“Um Bitty,” she said. “You might want to take a look at this.”

But Bitty Q. just crossed her arms and turned away from her, still fuming at all the Big Girls. Big D. and Parker were in a different section because the “camp counselors” separated them by age. Bitty F. was left alone to ponder their fate.

******************************************************************

The last drops of daylight filtered down from the treetops spraying the island of splotches of shade and sun.

THWACK!

The Pirate and his men cut through the overgrown jungle as they tiptoed through the forest. Enemies could be lurking behind every brush pile and no one wanted to sound the alarm. Every few minutes when the crew felt someone had made too much noise they would pause, go completely still, and shush the person behind them. It was grueling work that was slow going in the tropical heat and soon sweat poured off everyone.

Marie-Grace thought this set up was completely ridiculous and a complete waste of time but she was too shy to say anything.

Until finally, Cécile spoke up for her and said rather loudly, “Oh for goodness sake! This is a complete waste of time!”

Her voice cut through the steady whack of swords and everyone jumped around to shush her.

Marie-Grace sighed. “Cécile’s right. This is a waste of time.”

“What!?” cried The Pirate abandoning all pretense of quiet.

Cécile nodded. “C’est vrai. And even if there were people on this island they would have heard us coming from a mile away by now!”

The Pirate was about to argue when one crew member tripped and fell on a bush. “Ow!” he rubbed his elbow. “That hurt!”

He moved the branches back to reveal a stone cave. The Captain went in first. “It’s a tunnel,” he said.

The girls pushed past him. “Let us see!”

Then Cécile got a great idea. “Let’s follow it!”

She skipped down the passage with Marie-Grace on her heels. The Pirate and his crew took off them with The Pirate shouting, “Come back! You don’t know what kind of dangers could be waiting in there!”

******************************************************************

“What kind of place is this?” Bitty F. whimpered. All the kids for “camp” were herded into a stone cavern where horrors unfolded around them. High up in the walls, tucked deep into the shadows where no one could see and circling the whole building, where these stone arches that acted as entrances to tunnels that opened somewhere out on the island.

“I don’t know Bitty,” said Bitty Q.

“But if Marie-Grace knew then she’d never allow—-”

“Well, she doesn’t,” Bitty Q. interrupted sharply. “She’s off with them and not here with us.”

“But . . .”

“No Bitty,” said Bitty Q. “Now that she’s got Cécile, Marie-Grace doesn’t want us just like the rest of the Big Girls.” She took out a ukulele and began to sing:              

Oh Marie-Grace, why did you leave us?

          Oh Marie-Grace, why don’t you care?

          Oh Marie-Grace, why do you hate us?

          Oh Marie-Grace, why did you leave us?

Bitty F. joined in and together their song echoed mournfully down the long stone tunnels and into the night.

******************************************************************

Cécile and Marie-Grace were breathless by the time they saw the light at the end of the tunnel. They abruptly came to a stop with The Pirate and his crew right behind them. They heard the voices of a million kids rising up to greet them. Among those voices they hear a faint song rise above the rest. And Marie-Grace though she heard her name.

Quietly, they stuck to the shadows and poked their heads out over the ledge. What they saw horrified them.

“This must be the V.F.D. headquarters,” The Pirate whispered to Marie-Grace.

“We have to do something!” She hissed back. “We can’t just leave them here.”

He nodded as they crawled back in the tunnel.The Pirate gathered everyone in the form of a huddle, “Alright crew, here’s what we’re going to do.”

******************************************************************

          The V.F.D./ Agency security cameras were located in one spot, the front gates. They had cameras trained on the ocean and inside the cavern itself.  Day after day they showed the same thing, the endless ocean and the brats inside which is the reason why the bored men on duty were thoroughly surprised one day when they saw a group of dancing mimes.

          “What the . . . ?” the guard pounded the little T.V. on the counter. He was so distracted that he didn’t see the white gloved hands appear on his buddy’s mouth before he disappeared. Suddenly a mime came up behind him and hit him over the head with a baseball bat. The mime tossed the man out of the chair as he flexed his fingers and began hacking into the system.

******************************************************************

          The Pirate glanced up at the security cameras. “Alright there’s the signal, let’s go.”

          “Wait,” said Marie-Grace. “How can you tell?”

          He pointed at a spot on the camera. “The red light is off and I can see Mime #52 waving at us from security headquarters.”

          “Are you guys coming?” Cécile called from the tunnel opening.

          “Oui mademoiselle,” The Pirate said as he and Marie-Grace joined her at the ledge. He threw a rope ladder over the side and the children inside the cavern looked up in amazement to see ropes thrown down out of all arches with pirates sliding down.

          “After you, m’ladies,”  The Pirate bowed to the girls. With a shriek of delight, Cécile ran at the opening and almost dived over the edge. Marie-Grace hesitated, a little unsure. In that slight moment of delay, The Pirate came up behind her and swept her off her feet as he slid down the rope.

          “Merci,” she whispered on the way down. Her face so close to his that their lips were almost touching.

          “Anytime,” he said as they reached the bottom. Then he dashed off to rescue the children.

Marie-Grace spotted the Babies. She waved and called their names but the only reaction she got was a stony silence and two pointed glares. This puzzled Marie-Grace, who was as far as she knew their friend.

“Bitty, what’s wrong?” she asked Bitty Q, “and how did you end up here?”

But Bitty Q. only ignored her as she said, “Fine I’ll leave but it won’t be with you.”

Bitty F. stuck out her tongue at The Pirate as he lifted her up the rope and passed her to another crew member. The Pirate looked helplessly at Marie-Grace as if to say, what was that all about? Marie-Grace just shrugged. Right now, this was the least of their problems as they had to get everyone off the island safe and sound, but Marie-Grace vowed to investigate this matter further.

“Bitty, what’s the matter? Please won’t you tell me?” Marie-Grace begged.

“No!” They were out of the tunnels but not quite out of the jungle yet. A few of the crew members used magic to leave and get a new ship. They were due to return in a few hours and in the meantime everyone else had the joy of waiting for their return.

“You used to do stuff with us, unlike the rest of the Big Girls.”

“You weren’t there when we needed you!” chimed Bitty F. which was hardly fair considering Marie-Grace was part of the team that rescued them.

“Yeah,” said Bitty Q. “It’s either us or Cécile.”

Bitty F. said, “And if you chose her we’re never speaking to you again.”

“Marie-Grace, you turn a blind eye to all the horrible things they’ve done to me yet you’d still take their side?”

“I’m sure they didn’t—-”

“What?! I thought true friends acted better than this. I’m using magic and I’m going home.”

“Cécile, wait!” Marie-Grace cried but it was of no use. Cécile was gone.

Bitty Q. took out her ukulele again.

“How did you even get that on an abandoned island?” said Marie-Grace but Bitty didn’t answer, instead choosing to sing:

          Oh Marie-Grace, why did you leave us?

Oh Marie-Grace, why don’t you care?

          Oh Marie-Grace, why do you hate us?

          Oh Marie-Grace, why did you leave us?

          Seeing the poor girl play her ukulele and hearing Bitty sing those awful things about her,  was just too much for Marie-Grace and she ran away into the forest. She slumped down beside a tree when she thought she was far enough away.  She had been somewhat aware of the growing tension between Cécile and the Babies for a while now but it could almost always be brushed off with a laugh. To Marie-Grace, she felt that there was room for everyone, Cécile, the Babies, and The Pirate in her life. There was plenty of her to go around, why couldn’t anyone understand that? But the thing most troubling to her was Cécile. She wanted Cécile to begin to feel at home like she did and she felt that Cécile (unlike herself) deserved a good friend to help her through the transition.  But how could a true friend make you choose? Marie-Grace was soon awakened from her thoughts when she heard heavy footsteps crunching on the dead leaves of the forest floor.

          The Pirate was satisfied to see that she wasn’t crying so naturally he tried to lighten the mood. A rooky mistake. “You’re not crying again, are you? My shirt is still damp from last time.”

          Marie-Grace did her best to laugh, but burst into tears instead. The Pirate’s forced smile instantly vanished as he rushed to her side. “Calm down Ti-Marie, everything will work out fine, you’ll see.”

          Marie-Grace wiped away her tears on his shirt as she whispered, “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have had to witness that and now you probably think I’m a pathetic cry baby because all I’ve done around you is cry.”

          “Hey,” The Pirate lifted her chin so he could meet her gaze. “First of all, you shouldn’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault. And if I didn’t want to witness your playroom trauma then I wouldn’t have asked you to be my partner in the first place. Now, can you explain just exactly what happened back there?”

          This managed to bring a faint smile to her lips. She was rather pleased to note that he knew she felt best about her problems when she had a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen.

          “I just can’t face them,” she concluded as she buried her face into his chest.

          “Yes you can,” he replied. “Unlike me, who has escaped their problems by running away, you are too good to desert your loved ones. When I need to get away for a day or two the place I go is . . .”

          Surprised but intrigued, Marie-Grace leaned in and listened closely as he whispered it in her ear. Then The Pirate helped Marie-Grace up  and dusted the dirt off her skirt.

          “Remember Ti-Marie, if you ever want an adventure or if you’re ever in trouble I’ll be here for you. You are always welcome aboard my ship no matter what. Whatever crazy problems you have with your family we’ll work through it together.”

          A great plan, but not at all like what happened next.

******************************************************************

                                                                   April 2013

Dear Captain of the French Pirates,

       Isn’t funny that after all this time I still don’t know you’re name? Well, it’s no matter for in my heart you will always be known as my pirate, the one who held me when I cried, accepted and forgave me when I lied, and the one who gave me an adventure of a lifetime. Today I’ve decided to leave your ship, your crew and your life forever. It pains me to say this for I wanted so badly to take you up on your offer but I can’t. I’m saying one final goodbye to everyone. I don’t know where I’m going or when I’ll be back. But just in case I never see you again, I need to tell you that I will love and miss you forever. I didn’t tell you I’m running away in person because I knew you would never let me go and saying good-bye is just so hard and we done it often enough that I couldn’t bear to do it again. So long friend.

                                    With love,

                             Marie-Grace Gardner

          Shell-shocked, The Captain of the French Pirates slammed the letter down hard into the table and cursed softly. Why did she do it? Was one of the enraged thoughts running through his mind. As angry as he was, however, he couldn’t help but feel as if this was somehow partly his fault. Wasn’t it he who planted the idea in her head by spilling secrets of his past? Didn’t he just stand there stupidly as she poured her heart out instead of suggesting a solution to her problems? He growled at the Playroom for placing her in this position to start with. Now who knew what kind of danger she had already gotten herself into. Never mind the emotional turmoil she was facing.

          His gaze softened as he looked back at the sentence which read, I will love and miss you forever. Her words made him feel weird, like there is someone in this world who actually cares about him. It was something he wasn’t used to and even though he’d never admit it, it was a feeling he quite liked.

          Absent mindedly, he turned to look out at the horizon. She’s right, he realized. He would never let her go because once captured by a French pirate there is no release for a prisoner who caught a pirate’s heart. One thing for certain, The Captain of the French Pirates wouldn’t be happy until Marie-Grace worked this out with her friends and was safe in his arms once more.

         Dear family,

              By the time you receive this note, I will be long gone never to return. This may please most of you while the rest of you won’t care. Someday I hope to return but that day isn’t today.

       Everyone wanted me, needed me,  and by doing that everyone forgot me. I’ve never felt so loved or so hated at the same time. There is room for all of you in my life but since none of you could understand that I’m leaving. Babies, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you and I’m sorry I wasn’t a good enough friend. Cécile, I’m sorry I wasn’t the perfect friend you are meant to have. I regret it now. But the one thing I’m not sorry for is becoming friends with all of you. I once thought I had found a true home and a true friend in New Orleans but it looks like I was wrong on both accounts.

  • Marie-Grace Gardner

Cécile dropped the letter mid sentence and said, “She ran away. My best friend ran away and it’s all my fault.”

 “Give me that!” Bitty F. demanded and Cécile reluctantly handed it over. “She’s right!” Bitty F. exclaimed. “Bitty, what do we do?”

“Nothing,” came the gruff reply. “She made her choice.”

“But what if she comes back?”

“We’ll see, Bitty.”

“I should have been a better friend too,” Cécile mumbled.

“Cécile snap out of it!” Samantha said with her hands on Cécile’s shoulders. “This is not your fault! If anything, it’s those two.” She pointed to the Bitties.

“No, no it’s not them,” said Cécile. “They’re only babies.”

“Ha!” said Samantha. “Babies who are seven years old and know better.”

“How do we know The Pirate didn’t kidnap her?” said Gwen.

“Because,” said The Pirate walking in his own letter in his hand, “I’m right here.”

“Is she with you?” asked Cécile.

“No, but I do know where she is.”

Cécile’s jaw dropped in amazement. “What?”

“I’m about to go to her and bring her home. Anyone care to join me?”

Gwen said, “No thanks, I’m good.”

“Me too,” said Logan.

“I think only her friends should go,” said Samantha.

“Babies, do you want to come?” said The Pirate.

“No!”

“Alright then, it looks like it’ll just be Cécile and I,” said the Pirate. “Are you ready to go?”

Cécile nodded then asked, “How do you know where she is?” But The Pirate pretended not to hear her.

“Marie-Grace!” Cécile called as they romped through the forest. “Where are you?”

The Pirate knew where she was hiding and led Cécile down a path that seemed to lead to nowhere. “Come on,” he said beginning to run through the shrubbery.

Cécile followed and what she saw on the other side of the bushes amazed her. A waterfall flowed down from a tall rock canyon forming a shallow pool of water at the bottom. Gold glistened from the pool and tons of treasure chests sat in a clearing directly in front of her with riches beyond her wildest dreams seeping out. Red Xs also marked the spots of where there was more treasure to be found. Off to her left was a large treehouse fort which stood strong and ready to defend this magical place with cannons peaking from the windows.

“This is my treasure trove,” The Pirate explained. “I come here to unload and reload my loot. I also vacation here sometimes. It is protected by a magical charm making unwanted guests see visions from their worst nightmares. Although now I might have to change that,” he added, frowning at Mime #52 who sat scribbling away in a notebook.

“Wow,” Cécile gasped. “And you think Marie-Grace came here?”

           “I know she did,” he said as a matter of fact while he  pointed to a lonely figure sitting in the fort. Cécile didn’t waste a moment and raced over to where her friend was hiding. The Pirate helped Cécile up an old rope ladder and together they set off on the impossible mission of convincing Marie-Grace to come home.

******************************************************************

“I’m so sorry!”

“So am I!”

“I’m a terrible friend!”

“Not as terrible as I!”

“That’s not true you’re the greatest friend anyone could ask for!” the two girls hugged as tears of joy and relief ran down their cheeks.

“I think,” said Cécile, “that we should just forgive each other and go home.”

“Yes,” agreed Marie-Grace. “To deal with the Babies together.”

Both girls started for the exit but then Marie-Grace was stopped by Cécile. “There is someone else you need to talk to,” she said before disappearing down the ladder.

Marie-Grace turned to face The Pirate who stood awkwardly off to the side watching their best friend cry fest in the shadows. He had no idea that being alone with two crying girls could be so much worse than being alone with one.

“I truly am sorry,” she said simply. “I’ve never had friends fight over me before.”

“Running away isn’t the answer,” said The Pirate who has spent his whole life running from something.

“I know that now and I regret my rash decision.”

“Don’t,” he said sharply. “Because now you’ve learned your lesson.”

They stood together in the fort overlooking The Pirate’s wealth, not knowing what else to say until Marie-Grace blurted out, “Are we friends?”

“Bien sur, mon amie.”

But what both of them yearned for and what neither one of them said was that they wished to be more. They almost embraced but instead settled for shaking hands; that is until The Pirate pulled Marie-Grace into his arms.  

Across the Sea and Beyond

Across

The Sea

and

Beyond

Journey to the ends of the earth with the Captain of the French Pirates

By: Mime #52

           When Death comes knocking on your door, a decaying hand reaching out to catch you in its icy grip. . .       

Disease like a serpent had a way of slinking its way into Marie-Grace’s life sucking it dry with its death and decay. The only difference was that this time, she was the victim. I bet my father didn’t see this coming when he sent me away, she thought bitterly as she clutched The Pirate’s hand like it were her only lifeline. His face was a blurry vision of anguish as more worry lines etched themselves across his handsome features. “Across the sea and beyond, Ti-Marie, I will go and find the cure. I promise. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Then she fell into an exhausted, feverish sleep as her pirate captain squeezed her hand one last time before setting off to do the impossible, find a cure for the dreaded PFV disease.

          The biggest problem about the witchcraft disease is that you never know if it is better to wake as an evil witch and stay that way for eternity or if it’s better to never wake up at all

Marie-Grace Gardner’s troubles began the day Bitty Baby Rose Quansa and her best friend Bitty Baby Daisy Fatterson were bored. Two bored Bitty Babies alone in a world full of magic is never usually a good thing, especially not for their new best friend Marie-Grace.

          “I’m bored!” Bitty F. wailed as she dramatically threw herself across the sofa.

          Bitty Q. whined, “So am I!”

          “What do you want to do today, Bitty?” Bitty F. asked.

          “I don’t know Bitty,” said Bitty Q. “What do you want to do today?”

          “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

          “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

          And so it went for the next three hours. Until. . .

          “Ooo, I know!” Bitty F. sat up straight and yelled, “I know what we can do! Bitty, I just got the bestest idea ever!”

          “What is it? What?” Bitty Q. asked eagerly.

          “A play! We should put on a musical!”

          Bitty Q.’s eyes lit up. Nothing excites her more than a good theatrical production. “About what though?”

Bitty F.’s bubble of excitement popped like a balloon. “That’s what I don’t know.”

“Hmmm.” Both Bitties thought for a minute and then Bitty F. exclaimed, “A princess! Locked in a tower!”

“No, that’s too overdone. Been there, done that. We need something really original.”

“Okay. Um . . . Ninjas! In Ancient Rome!”

“Ninjas? In . . . .? What? No, that’s terrible! Come on Bitty, think of something amazing! Something people might actually enjoy watching!”

Bitty F. thought so hard, Bitty Q. was afraid she’d start seeing smoke. “We need something with adventure.”

“Yes!” Bitty Q. encouraged. “Adventure sounds good.”

“And maybe a bit of romance.”

“Sure, what else?”

“And. . .ooo! Maybe some humor, something a little odd to keep people interested.”

“Yes, but how do you make that into a good story?”

“I’m working on it,” Bitty F. said with a frown. She looked around the room, searching for that one special click of inspiration and found it when her eyes landed on Marie-Grace. “Captured By French Pirates!” Bitty F. shouted. “The musical!”

Bitty Q. smiled menacingly. “Now we’re in business.”

******************************************************************

            Nellie O’Malley hummed softly to herself as she walked down play road. She had successfully ditched Samantha in the park leaving her friend alone to hunt down Felicity in the old abandoned mine shaft after Felicity had ripped a sacred locket off an old lady’s neck claiming it was the key to rescuing a family of dwarves from an evil tyrant bent on world domination using dwarves as his army. Nellie never understood why Samantha always felt she had to involve them in Felicity’s crazy schemes. Sometimes she took it upon herself to tell Samantha her honest thought and when Samantha refused to listen to reason in her mad quest to exercise some control over this insane family Nellie would back away slowly and go home.

Today was one of those times. Nellie heard the mailbox say, “You have mail. You have mail. You have mail,” and decided she had better get the mail or else suffer the ongoing headache of listening to that all day. She opened the lid and frowned when she saw only one envelope. Usually if there is mail it is a large stack with something for each kid to open. This time, however, there was only one lonely envelope addressed to Meredith Blake. Nellie was torn between respecting Meredith’s privacy and slitting into the envelope herself. Meredith Blake was still fairly new to the playroom and her adjustment was rather rocky so far. Meredith was not from a historical time period like the big girls or from an enchanted magical kingdom like Glogan. The babies were from the present day too, but they were too young for Meredith to hang out with and form close friendships with. With all the other girls her age from a particular time in history it was difficult for them to understand each other. There was Kelsey, the only other girl from Meredith’s time, yet it didn’t seem to be working out between them. Kelsey and Meredith were forced to be together and otherwise would not have tried to be friends. Meredith was also from a foster care place in Maine. Although they were all orphans at one point, foster care was something no one else in the playroom went through and therefore could not connect with Meredith about. To make matters worse, Meredith didn’t know who she was. She had only been living in foster care the last sixteen months and could not remember any of her life before then. Maybe this letter was the key into her past. So Nellie stared down at the envelope in her hands and debated for a moment. With a shrug, she opened it and read:

Meredith Catherine Keabl

      As you know, Keabls are special. You are a Keabl. We kept this a secret so you unlike the rest of us would have a chance at life. We left you brainwashed with the state so that you have no memory of us and will get your normal life. Powerful magic was unleashed through mistake by greed and horror. Your ancestors didn’t want to see this gift and mistake ruin the world. Don’t blame them. They didn’t plan on taking it themselves. It just happened. Once the people knew, the hunt for Keabls began. By then it was too late. They were gone and years have passed. The new generations of Keabls were already hidden. Take caution. The witch disease that kills normal people strengthens and fuels our powers. This is a warning to you beloved Maradith. There might come a time when you must use this gift. For good or for ill it will be up to you. Remember, try to remember. There might be a way to undo what your ancestors have thrusted upon you. Do not try to look for me. The very moment I die the power I have goes to you. We wanted to spare you but you’re the last Keabl left. There is nothing else left to do with it.

Your loving Grandfather

Master Keabl

“Whatcha doing?”

Nellie jumped and dropped the letter. “Felicity! Don’t scare me like that! Wait, what are you doing here? Where’s Samantha?”

Felicity laughed.

“Felicity, where is Samantha?”

 “Samantha? Um, maybe she might be in jail?”

“Jail?!”

“I defeated the guy and saved the dwarves, but the lady’s locket had to be destroyed. She wants to press charges, something about thieves, vandals, rotten kids, a precious family heirloom and no respect for elders. Man, that old lady has some spunk! I got out of there as soon as the police arrived. By the way, I used Samantha’s one phone call. She probably needs to be bailed out. What’s that?” Felicity snatched the letter off the floor.

“No! Give me that!” She jumped as Felicity held the page way over Nellie’s head. “I can’t believe you made Samantha go to jail for you! Urgh! Now I have to deal with that!”

“Ooooh!” Felicity’s eyes lit up. “Meredith! You’re snooping her mail! That’s a federal offense, you know. Maybe you’ll join Samantha in that cell.”

“Hey, you’re doing it too—-”

“What’s a Kea—-?”

Nellie punched Felicity in the gut and clasped a hand over her mouth. Meredith had just walked into the room. Nellie dragged Felicity outside to the hedge. The hedge is where all playroom people like to sneak off to for private conversations. “Felicity, you cannot tell Meredith about this.”

“WHAT?!”

“Shh! She’ll hear us!”

“Sorry,” Felicity’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t you think she has a right to know about this?”

“Well, if they brainwashed her—-”

“But this is the key to her past! Maybe this will help her remember!”

“What if it’s good she doesn’t remember? I mean, she has a fresh start here. We can’t take that away from her.”

“But if she has a chance—”

“There are a lot of unknowns here. What is a Keabl? What power? What gift? Witch disease? What is that? Maybe we should wait for Sam—–”

“Nooo!” Felicity shouted. “No Samantha! I can handle this!”

“I don’t think—”

“Nellie, Meredith has to know. We’ll help her. Nothing bad will—-”

“Oh, plenty of bad things could happen! But I suppose you’re right—-”

“Yes!”

As much as Nellie loathed to admit it, Felicity knew what she was doing when it came to magic crises. Yes, her methods might be insane but Felicity did have her good points and it tended to be saving the day. Samantha might not always appreciate Felicity’s ability to make things turn out right in the end because she often got caught up in the middle of it, yet Nellie could see where Felicity might be helpful, not harmful, in this particular case. “Hold your horses missy, I’m not done yet. Here’s the plan. Yes, Meredith has to know. But we’re not telling anyone else. I don’t think they should be involved. Samantha will learn of it in due time. For now—-”

“Thank you, Nellie! You won’t be disappoint—”

“You will give this to Meredith. Sealed, of course and act surprised. Pretend you’ve never seen it before. Then, take her to the library and—”

“Library?! No, not the library! Anything but—”

“You will go to the library and research. Research, Felicity, did you hear me? Find out what all this means. And then and only then, once you understand this, then we figure out what to do. Don’t you dare go galloping off . . . . . Felicity! Felicity!” Felicity had indeed already galloped off, waving the envelope with one hand and pulling Meredith along with the other. “Oh, I give up,” said Nellie. “Now, about Samantha. . .”

******************************************************************************

The Bitties worked long and hard into the night, trying desperately to write and rewrite the perfect script with music of course. “Um, Bitty,” said Bitty Q.

“Yes?”

“We have to cut this song.”

“Why? It’s my favorite!”

“Mimes can’t sing!”

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. A quick rewrite.” She took her pen and rewrote the entire scene. “This is great! Who needs to be creative? Our lives are interesting enough as it is.”

“I know, right? And the public will just love that it’s a true story.”

“I can’t wait until show time!”

“Me too!”

******************************************************************

            Felicity slammed the book against the wall with all her might, much to the cringing librarian’s dismay. “I hate this! I look and look and look and nothing! There is absolutely nothing in this stupid old library that can help us! And why should I be wasting my time in this musty, crumbling old building when I could be out riding on a beautiful day like today?”

          “Shh!” hissed the trembling librarian. The woman was shy; more at home with books than people hence the career choice. She didn’t quite know how to handle the loud redheaded girl who came charging into her library that morning with the noble mission to “uncover the ancient secret of Meredith’s past and help her save the world from the gift’s destruction.”

          “I’m sorry,” whispered Meredith. “You don’t have to help me.”

          “Oh, but I want to! We’re going to be great friends Meredith, I can just tell-”

          “Well, I have my doubts about that.”

          “—-and good friends help each other with cryptic letters from grandpa. Now, where was that magazine I had earlier? Maybe something with pictures with help me? All these words make my brain hurt!”

          “No doubt,” said Meredith under her breath. Meredith longed with all her heart to know where she belonged. It obviously wasn’t the playroom. If she had a grandfather alive out there then she wanted to meet him. His note scared her when it told of his death yet is also thrilled her to think of having great power like him. If only she could remember! She wanted the magic so she could do great things; accomplish greater things than Felicity ever did. Such talent, such promise was wasted on a girl like Felicity who squandered it on helping others. Imagine what Meredith could do if she had whatever this gift was her grandfather spoke of!

          “Ooooh, Meredith!” For now though, Meredith was stuck listening to this girl prattle on and on and on. “Meredith, look at this! I just thought of this! Your last name. Blake. Scramble the letters and it spells Keabl.”

          Wow, this girl really is slow and dense! thought Meredith. “Oh, that’s so amazing! They used the letters from my real name to make my fake cover up name. I can’t believe we didn’t see it before!”

          “I know, right?” Felicity smiled happily, suddenly content. “See, Mer, can I call you that? Okay, Mer, we can be friends! Everyone loves me! Don’t worry about the whole fitting in thing around here. I’ve never fit in anywhere, especially not the playroom, but they still love me and so I’ll love you too even if no one else there does. It’s okay to be different, you know that right?”

          Meredith nodded, if only to get Felicity to shut up!

          “Shh!” The librarian’s face was red from anger. Defending her precious library from these wackos from play road was the loudest she had ever talked and the most words she had ever spoken in her life. “Hush! This is a library not some circus! Please, be quiet or I’ll ask you to exit the building.”

          “Yeah and how are you going to make me?” Felicity stood on the table, one hand reaching into the folds of her skirt for a dagger.

          “Felicity!” hissed Meredith pulling on her arm. “I really don’t think you should—”

          Too late. The dagger was out and aimed for the librarian’s throat. The poor woman shrank back against the confines of the desk. Then the librarian smiled as she reached for the phone. “By calling the police.”

          Felicity paled. The dagger hit the floor with a big clatter. “No, please! Anything but that! I already had a run in with them today and I cannot afford another one! Think of what Samantha will say!”

“All the more reason why I should.”

 “No,” Felicity was on her knees now, “I beg you, please, don’t do that!”

          “Then get out of my library.”

          “But I need to—”

          “Get out!” The librarian’s out stretched arm pointed to the door.

          Felicity grabbed the book nearest to her and ran. “Come on, Meredith, run!” Felicity and Meredith ran the whole five miles home not even pausing to see if they were being pursued. As it turns out, the librarian did not call the police. She chickened out after they left but vowed that she would not hesitate to call the next time she saw that nasty redheaded girl.

          “I can’t. . . .believe. . . .you did that!” huffed Meredith.

          Felicity grinned. “Wonder if they banned me this time? They did last time. I’m not allowed to check out books so I have to read them there, not that I want to waste my time reading, but it kinda backfired on them because they have to put up with me while I’m there!” Meredith didn’t fail to notice that Felicity wasn’t breathing hard. She wondered how much running she does to get away from all the people who chase her on a daily basis. “Now,” Felicity sat back on her heels and smoothed her colonial skirt out around her, “Let’s see what I have here.” She opened the book to see that it was hollowed out. In the center was a smaller book with the word Keabl embossed on the cover.

          Meredith’s mouth dropped open.  “How did you . . . ?”

          “What luck!” cried Felicity. “Now, let’s see what it has to say.”

Keabls 101: Everything You Need to Know

        Keabls have been around since the dawn of time. In PFV, they are one of the last, oldest and most powerful magically to have ever lived. They are physically indestructible. No weapon, no disease, can kill them. The key to killing a Keabl is to kill them before their powers come in. For some Keabls they get their magic powers when they turn 13. Others are later in the game and get them at age 33 or at 300, 313, or 333. Either way, it is an age with the number 3 in it. One drop of their magic is more potent than a gallon of any average Pretend Friend Ville Citizen. No one is quite sure all what Keabl magic can do because most of the Keabls have been stamped out. Only two Keabls in the history of the world have harnessed their power, learned to control it and use it for good. In the end, the power corrupted them and they ended up insanely evil. Most Keabls use their energy for evil. Each one tries to find a cure or a way to rid themselves of their power and each one fails miserably. Keabls are 52 million times older than elves, are 52 billion times stronger than a dragon, and have 52 trillion times more watts of magic than fairies.

         The ancient myth of how they acquired such raw power and super human ability goes a bit like this. Once upon a time, when people still lived in caves, a dark evil magic entered the world. A magic so dark no one knew how to handle it. In these days, PFV citizens did have magic of their own. Light magic existed was not as common as it is now. The first Keabl was a man named Elbert Horsnuff. He sucked all the magic, both dark and light, into his body. Within 3333 minutes he exploded and the bits of magic that were in him circled the globe before landing inside his pregnant daughter Zoolu. When she had the baby, she did not die of natural causes but was killed by the child. The child was too powerful for its own good. Every descendant since has been a Keabl. The family grew very large. It at one time numbered 525,252 people. Once Keabls were hunted down they dwindled in numbers. The last full generation claimed to be truly good and not evil. They went into hiding to protect themselves because they were so hated by the public. There is currently only one Keabl left. Keabls can die of old age, their magic suddenly decides it wants to inhabit someone else or they can die of magic overload if they inhale the wrong combination or light, purple, gold, red, black, poison magic.  

         Keabls prided themselves on their power and when it mattered most their magic failed them. They were hunted down by the legendary order of Keabl knights; no one is sure to this day how the knights managed to kill them. Some knights turned dark and hunted Keabls to use as their own power source if they didn’t already willing side with them or turn dark. One Keabl man survived. It is rumored he had a child who had a child making him a grandfather. Sometimes Keabl powers skip a generation. The man is locked up now and waiting to die now, his body has lost its indestructible ability due to his decimation of the knights.

         A way for a Keabl to fuel his magic and become stronger is through magically diseases. When normal humans are sick with magical diseases their magic leaves them which makes them sick in the first place. If a Keabl happens to be in the area, anywhere in 52 miles, they naturally suck up the extra magic claiming it as their blood and ultimately weakening the sick person even more. If a Keabl is nearby and you have a magical disease you will not stand a chance and death is certain. Keabls, being evil, often make people sick by inject them with the disease. They do not use a shot to inject the disease they use scorpions. The most popular disease for Keabls to use is Witchcraft disease. The Witchcraft epidemic of 1333 is the prime example of this. That year humans were nearly made extinct. *****See volume 52, page 52, paragraph 52, section B for more detail on Witchcraft disease*****

         There were 52 great Keabl wars and none have happened in the last 3,000 years. Since it is nearly impossible for Keabls to die, they live a long time. The master Keabl merely means the only or the strongest Keabl alive with magic powers intact. Keabl magic can be weakened over time although not completely destroyed.

         This is the only written record of Keabls. All other histories and/or information are lost.

         “Wow,” breathed Meredith in a hushed sigh. “Amazing. I am so glad to be one of them. So cool!”

          “Amazing?!” Felicity recoiled in horror. “All that bloodshed? All that evil and corruption and thirst for power? The knights killing, the Keabls killing, it’s awful, terribly horrible! When I think of all those poor people with dying of that disease so Keabls can. . . . .” Felicity shuddered. “I’m so sorry, Meredith, that these are your people!”

          This was the exact wrong thing to say for it made Meredith much more determined to embrace her Keablness.

          “You must be the last one,” said Felicity thoughtfully. “The Keabl master is your grandfather, you don’t have your powers yet, he’s going to die, oh my goodness! Oh, Meredith! I won’t let anything happen to you. I won’t let you become a monster like that!” She flung her arms around Meredith and sobbed, crying for all Keabls over the centuries, all those brave knights who went gallantly to their deaths, for the victims of witchcraft disease, and most of all the situation in which they now found themselves.

******************************************************************

          “No.” The pirate threw another dagger and it landed smack in the center of a target set up on the other side of the ship. The captain crossed his arms as he glared down at the pleading eyes staring up at him. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no! And in case you didn’t get it the first eight times, no! Absolutely not!”

“Please!” Bitty Q. was on her knees now, practically begging him to say yes. “Please pirate? Pretty please with sugar on top?”

“The answer is still no.”

“Please, won’t you do it for me?”

“No.” Then grumbled under his breath, “For Marie-Grace, maybe.”

 But Bitty Q. heard him. “This is a chance of a lifetime!”

“No.”

“You could become rich and famous!”

“I’m already rich.”

“You’re the star of the show!”

“All the more reason not to.” The pirate started to walk away.

“But Marie-Grace said yes,” Bitty Q. said innocently.

He stopped walking.

“She seemed rather excited about it and said . . . oh, never mind. You said no, so now I guess I have to go home and crush all her hopes and dreams. Wish me luck. I just hope we’ll be able to get her to stop crying.”

The pirate turned slowly to face her. “What did you just say?”

Bitty Q. gulped, hoping he wouldn’t see through the lie. “Marie-Grace said she’d do it in a heartbeat and that she can’t wait to get up on that stage with you. She said there’s no one else she’d rather share it with.”

“Marie-Grace really said all that?” His eyes narrowed in suspicion, Marie-Grace tended to avoid the spotlight at all cost.

“Yep, she did and she also said it would break her heart if you said no.”

“Really? She really said that?”

Bitty Q. nodded.

“Then why didn’t she come to me herself?”

“Oh, you know how she is, too nervous about silly little things like that for her own good. Plus, she was afraid she would cry buckets in front of you if you refused.”

“Well, we can’t let that happen.”

“You mean you’ll do it?!” Bitty Q. squealed in excitement.

“If it means that much to Marie-Grace, then yes, I’ll do it.”

          “Yes!” Bitty Q. shouted. “Now I hope just Bitty had as much success convincing Marie-Grace!”

“WHAT??!!” The pirate screamed.  “Bitty Baby Quansa!”

“Um . . . did I say that out loud? I mean, nothing, gotta go, big musical production to put on you know.” Bitty Quansa world famous actor and director took off in a run as if her life depended on it, which it did.

******************************************************************

          “No.” Marie-Grace threw another stick and her dog Argos went bounding after it. Her gaze softened as she looked down at the pleading eyes staring up at her. She almost gave in but then hardened her resolve. “Je suis désolé mais aucune. I’m sorry, but no. No! I won’t do it! Absolutely not!”

          “Please Marie-Grace!” Bitty F. threw herself at her feet. “Please, please, please! Won’t you do it for me?”

          “No.” Then added quietly under her breath, “For the pirate maybe, but he’d never agree to it.”

          Bitty F. smiled. “Oh, but honey, he already said yes.”

          Marie-Grace’s mouth fell open. “HE WHAT?!”

          Bitty F. nodded. “He said he’d do it in a heartbeat and that he can’t wait to get up on that stage with you. He said there’s no one else he’d rather share the spotlight with.”

          “I. . I. . .” Marie-Grace stuttered. “I don’t know what to say.” Wait a minute, she thoughtthat didn’t sound like her pirate at all. Something wasn’t right here.

          “You don’t need to say anything except yes,” said Bitty F. “He—-”

          “Are you sure he said all that to you, Bitty?”

          “Well, of course I’m sure! Marie-Grace, how could you doubt me? Trust your Uncle Billy!”

          “My Uncle Billy passed away a century and a half ago. What does he have to do with anything?”

          “It’s just an expression, don’t take it too literally. Don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing; I’ve got it all taken care of. Trust me! Just show up to dress rehearsal and everything will be just fine.”

          Before Marie-Grace could get a word in edgewise, Bitty F. scampered away as fast as she could leaving Marie-Grace alone with a bundle of worries and woes. Perform? With the Captain of the French Pirates? Relive a very special, very important, very secret part of her life in a big musical production for the entire world to see? Oh no, she thought, this can’t be happening!

******************************************************************

          Bitty Q. ran home as fast as her short, stubby little legs could carry her. She nervously glanced over her shoulder every once in a while just to make sure there was no angry pirate chasing her. Finally, as she reached  Play Road, she slowed down enough to catch her breath when suddenly a dark figure came barreling out of the Playroom and knocked into her, sending them both crashing to the ground.

          “Hey!” Bitty Q. shouted. She shook her fist and scrambled to her feet. “Watch where you’re—–”

          “Bitty!” Bitty F. exclaimed. “Was your mission successful?”

          “Um . . . well . . . you see . . . he wasn’t too thrilled with the idea.”

          Bitty F.’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? Is he not going to do it?”

          “Is Marie-Grace?”

          “Yes, but—”

          “Okay, then we’re all set.”

          Bitty F. was still doubtful. “You’re certain?”

          “As long as Marie-Grace said she’d do it, then we have our pirate.”

          “And as long as we have our pirate, we’ve got our leading lady.”

          Bitty Q.’s face lit up into a smile. “This is going to be totally awesome!”

          Bitty F. grinned. “What could possibly go wrong?”

******************************************************************

          Everything. It seems everything could possibly go wrong. The stage ship was much too big for the stage. Logan took it upon herself to cut in half with a chainsaw, a horrifying disaster for everyone and a whole new ship had to be built. When they ordered to be water painted for the background someone, Gwen, misheard and doused it with actual sea water instead. The sets were completely ruined. A cannon fired wrong and put several holes in the ceiling. The original former mime crew could not be recruited for the show so they found new mimes. But they knew absolutely nothing about life aboard a ship and couldn’t act as sailors. It did not work out well for anyone, especially the captain. They also couldn’t find a band willing to learn all that new music on such short notice and so the musical protégée Bitty Quansa had to do it all as a solo, a rather difficult project for one person especially when they wrote a part for every instrument that has ever existed and when every scene had a grand musical number in it. Opening night was tomorrow and not one complete run through of the script had taken place yet. The Playroom was utterly exploding in complete chaos of activity.

          “Marie-Grace!” Bitty Q. called sharply. “You’re a prisoner desperate to escape yet torn because you’re in love—-”

          “We need to feel that passion in the audience!” Bitty F. interrupted.

Marie-Grace blushed.

          “Yeah,” said Bitty Q. “Cause right now the audience isn’t sure if you want to kiss him or if you’re going to be sick on him!”

          “I think I’ll do both,” Marie-Grace muttered. The pirate chuckled softly. Her face flushed red but he just smiled and squeezed her hand.

          “And you, pirate!” Bitty Q. called. The pirate looked over in alarm. “Stop making goo goo eyes at Marie-Grace and focus! She’s a prisoner here! She’s not free yet! You need to do a better job playing the mean old pirate captain who wants nothing to do with falling in love with a prisoner!”

          “Get into character!” Bitty F. scolded.

          “That I think we can manage,” the pirate whispered softly in Marie-Grace’s ear. It was her turn to laugh.

          Bitty F. slapped a hand to her forehead. “Oh for the love of—-”

          “I knew we should have hired professionals!” Bitty Q. shouted. “Geesh guys, work with me here, work with me!”

“And exactly how much are you paying us for this?” The pirate wanted to know.

“Paying you?” said Bitty F. “For playing yourself? Who said anything about paying you?”

“So you’re planning to make millions off the story of our lives but not give us a cut of the cash? This is an outrage!”

“You’re a pirate!” Bitty F. reminded him. “Since when do you earn money by an honest day’s work?”

“You’re right,” the pirate grumbled, “and as soon as this is over, maybe I’ll go rob your bank to teach you a thing or two about piracy.” Marie-Grace smothered a laugh.

 Bitty F. said, “If we were gonna pay people then we would have hired someone who could act!”

The pirate was about to open his mouth and argue no one could play Captain of the French Pirates better than he could when suddenly Bitty Q. screamed bloody murder into her megaphone. Argos the dog howled and the pirate covered Marie-Grace’s ears with his hands.

“Stop talking and get to work!” Bitty Q. shouted. “There will be no money for anyone if you guys can’t pull yourselves together and put together a decent show! This is going to backfire horribly! Wow me! Dazzle me! Do something to amaze the audience and leave them wanting more! It’s all smoke and mirrors here, people! The magic of show biz and the key to success in life is to fake confidence and never be yourself.”

Marie-Grace said, “Don’t you mean have confidence and always be yourself?”

That did it. Bitty Q. threw her megaphone across the room and it hit the wall, scattering a group of mimes like ninepins. “If you know so much then why don’t you direct?” Her whole bald head was flaming red with anger and she was panting hard with hands curled into fists.

“Okay,” said Bitty F. reaching to take Bitty Q.’s arm. “Take five everyone while I talk to our director in private.”

Finally with a moment to themselves, the pirate crossed his arms and glared down at Marie-Grace. “So this is your dream, huh?”

Marie-Grace frowned. “What do you mean? I hate la scene! Why would you wish for this nightmare?”

Now the pirate frowned. “What?”

She reached up on her toes to plant a kiss on his cheek. “Je suis seulement de le faire pour vous.”

“So am I.”

Marie-Grace gasped. “What?”

Then a light bulb came on and it became clear to both of them. The pirate growled low, almost primitive in his throat as he unconsciously touched the hilt of his sword. “They bamboozled the both of us!”

“I’m sure they didn’t mean—-”

“Ti-Marie, they tricked us both. Neither one of us wants this, do we?”

She hung her head. “Oui monsieur.”

“Then I say we walk out now and leave them to clean up this train wreck on their own.”

“But. . .” Marie-Grace sighed.

“But . . . what?”

“I would happily put an end to this madness but we’re committed now. We promised them we would. Would you really break a promise so easily?”

The pirate thought for a moment, and she looked at him with heartbreak in her eyes. “Non, je ne pense pas. I am a man of my word, let’s do it. For them.”

Marie-Grace perked up. “You really mean that?”

He nodded. “Bien sur, we cannot disappoint those blubbering babies. If it’s a show they want, then it’s a show they’re going to get.”

Marie-Grace swallowed hard, nerves eating away her insides. It really would be easier to walk away and not let the show go on but that would not be right. Fear of performing was just a thing she needed to conquer, and with a grin from her pirate captain as he put arm around her shoulder, she felt as if they could do anything. Except one tiny thought, a single thread of doubt, a warning of sorts typical of what Samantha might say wormed its way, what’s a pirate’s word worth?

******************************************************************

            Thunder boomed in the distance and lightening lit up the sky as rain poured down from the swirling, sickly green colored clouds. The streets were slick making driving difficult although that didn’t matter much to the young girl standing in the shadows of a brightly lit theater. She wore a dark colored trench coat. Curly blond hair and bright blue eyes declared her innocence except the blood coursing through her veins was anything but. “I’m a Keabl,” she murmured in wonder hardly daring to believe in such a revelation. “I, Meredith Blake, am actually a Keabl.”

          Meredith seemed like an average, lame name for a girl who was so stupid as to forget who she really was. Meredith was a scared little normal girl. She wasn’t Meredith anymore. Yes, she thought, I’ll call myself something else. Martha. It was perfect. Regal. Villain sounding. Still an M, but something different that established her real identity.

          Somewhere in the world, an old man was dying. An old man who knew naught what it meant to be loved or give love, and that was perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, was exiting the world with nothing but greed and grief for company. As the old chap lay dying, Martha felt the thrust of power up inside her. It felt right, this gift no one wanted. If only the old grandpop had had a chance to talk with her and tell her all of his regrets then maybe Martha’s life, and her adopted family’s lives

          Martha Keabl, beloved playroom sister, had turned to the dark side. She set off to accomplish two things no villain mastermind had ever yet accomplished, rule the world and destroy the playroom.

******************************************************************

“All those days watching from the windows

All those years outside looking in

All that time never even knowing

Just how blind I’ve been

Now I’m here blinking in the starlight

Now I’m here suddenly I see

Standing here it’s oh so clear—”

Marie-Grace suddenly broke off singing and sighed as she pounded her fists down in frustration on the piano. The practice room in the town’s theater was deserted today while Bitty Quansa and company were busy running around trying to organize things on stage making the back room the perfect place for the star of the show to run off and hide. “If only it was that clear,” she whispered, banging out another awful chord.

“Whoa, what did that piano ever do to you?” said the pirate walking into the room.

Marie-Grace jumped. “Oh, nothing. I’m just a bit frustrated with myself.”

“Should I assume it’s about this grand musical production?”

She nodded and in three perfect strides he closed the distance between them. Now he was standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders shivers scurrying down her spine and his voice warningly low in her ear, “May I see what you’re working on?”

Marie-Grace blushed as she pointed to the sheet music before her. It was their big romantic duet, courtesy of the one, the only Bitty Baby Quansa. Marie-Grace’s heart was pounding in her chest when he frowned at it slightly. “C’est un scandale!”

Her eyes widened. “What?”

“This!” He picked up a sheet. “They so did not write this! They completely ripped this off of Disney! Has my life really just been reduced to a series of random Disney songs?”

She struggled to keep a straight face but a laugh escaped her.

He shook his head. “People pay them to come up with this garbage?”

She sobered. “You really think it’s bad?”

He took a seat beside her and turned to look intently at her. “No,” he sighed, “but I wish. . .”

He did not finish his thought and Marie-Grace did not press him. Instead she said, “Plagiarism, can’t they be arrested for that?”

He barked a laugh. “I doubt it. People can get away with a lot worse.”

They fell silent for a moment, the pirate pondering his past criminal acts and Marie-Grace wondering what he exactly he meant by that statement. “Well,” said the pirate, “don’t let me interrupt.”

She startled. “What?”

He nodded to the piano. “Keep going, ca sonne beau.” Her face flushed hot. “And now that I’m here we might as well practice together. We are going to have to do it on stage in front of millions of people.”

Marie-Grace felt a wave of panic surging up in her. “But . . . I . . . you. . .”

“Nervous?” He took her hand in his and gazed deep into her eyes. “Don’t be. Forget the audience. They’re not important. It’s only me you have to worry about and I’ll be singing with you.”

She took a deep breath and he nodded encouragingly at her.  The air was awash with music as she began to play.

All those days watching from the windows

All those years outside looking in

All that time never even knowing

Just how blind I’ve been

Now I’m here blinking in the starlight

Now I’m here suddenly I see

What did she see? She saw the ivory keys glistening beneath her touch, notes leaping off the page as music filled the room, and finally, sitting beside her she saw. . . .

Standing here it’s oh so clear

I’m where I’m meant to be

         By his side, her heart drummed in perfect time with the music. This is where you are meant to be.

And at last I see the light

And it’s like the fog has lifted

And at last I see the light

And it’s like the sky is new

And it’s warm and real and bright

And the world has somehow shifted

Her voice suddenly grew in strength with a new found confidence in the realization that this part was probably the easiest role she’d ever have to perform.

All at once everything is different

Now that I see you

Marie-Grace exhaled in relief. “Your turn,” she mouthed to him as she continued with instrumental interlude but he hardly heard for his mind was lost to a distant past as it tried to call and reclaim him.

All those days chasing down a daydream

All those years living in a blur

All that time never truly seeing

Things, the way they were

Things, the way they were, maybe life as a pirate was not all it was cracked up to be. But now. . . .

Now she’s here shining in the starlight

Now she’s here suddenly I know

If she’s here it’s crystal clear

I’m where I’m meant to go

When she’s here, his purpose seemed oh so clear. He was no longer a man adrift on the high seas of adventure. He turned to gaze lovingly down at Marie-Grace just as she turned to smile up at him. Together they sang:

And at last I see the light

And it’s like the fog has lifted

And at last I see the light

And it’s like the sky is new

And it’s warm and real and bright

And the world has somehow shifted

The piano slowly trickled out as Marie-Grace stopped playing. Magnetically, she turned towards him and their hands touched. They leaned close and gazed deep the other’s eyes as they sang the last lines:

All at once everything is different

Now that I see you

Now that I see you

The pirate held Marie-Grace so close they could hear the other’s rapidly beating heart and he kissed her soundly. Marie-Grace came up breathless and panting for air, her lungs intoxicated by him. “See?” The pirate whispered, “Nothing to be nervous about.” And he kissed her again.

In the hallway, Cecile happened to be walking by. “Marie-Grace? Where are you? Bitty wants to get everyone costumed.” She stopped in the doorway of the practice room and blushed fiercely. “Oh, it looks like you’re busy.” She quietly closed the door, very thankful the Babies hadn’t been the ones to wander in. “I’ll come back another time then.”

******************************************************************

          It was opening night with the show happening in less than 3 hours and the whole theater seemed to tremble with anxiety. For Quansa and company, this was a pinnacle part of their career. Success tonight meant a lifetime of fame and fortune, but failure meant disgraced public shame for the rest of their lives. You only have one shot to make it big and for most of the playroom people this was it. However, there were two playroom girls not reveling in the glories of potential stardom and were rather resenting their assigned lot in life to observe rather than partake in what would become PFV’s greatest musical of the century. “Well, this should be good!” said Nellie O’Malley sarcastically. She flicked a piece of garbage off her seat in the very last row. “Not!”

          “I’ll say,” said Samantha holding up a pair of binoculars. “After witnessing the train wreck they call dress rehearsal all these poor people are in for a real treat tonight! How come we’re never starring in these things?”

          “You want your name on this thing when it crashes and burns?”

          “No, of course no—-”

          “At least this way we don’t have to be bossed around by the diva queens.”

          Samantha sighed. “I suppose you’re right. But would it kill them to put us in one play one time?”

          “The only part they would consider us for is—-”

          “Extras. Yeah, I know. Is it bad to think they’d rather use magically enchanted cardboard cutouts than us?” Samantha banged her binoculars against the arm rest. “Oh, What’s the use? I can’t even see the stage with these things!”

          “Give me those,” Nellie grabbed the binoculars out of her friend’s hands. “Wow, these are really terrible. Here, let me. . . . .” She tinkered with them for a moment. “There we go, all fixed. And ooo-la-la. . . .”

          “What? What do you see?”

          “Mr. Hunk is practicing his sword play. Ouch, he’d better be careful to fake it or else he’ll end up killing that poor actor guy next to him. Come one, flex those muscles! There we go, that’s what I like to see!”

          “Nellie!” Samantha gasped.

          “What?” Nellie shrugged. “I’m a teenage girl. I’m allowed to admire and Marie-Grace has excellent taste in pirates.”

          “True that, true that . . . . . no! Snap out of it! I’ll take those.” She snatched the binoculars back and sighed deeply. “Nellie?”

          “Hmmm?”

          “Are we doing the right thing?”

          “As far as what goes? Giving Glogan real daggers and unleashing them in a room full of pirates or letting the babies put on a full Broadway production? Or giving Felicity the letter from Meredith’s grandfather and telling her to go to the library and research ancient evil magic—”

          “What’s this about Felicity?”

          “Nothing, go on.”

          Normally Samantha would demand to know what mischief Felicity was getting herself into this time, but today her worry for Marie-Grace seemed a more pressing issue than policing Felicity. “This whole pirate business. Should he really keep seeing her? I mean, he still is a pirate after all and I’ve heard some nasty rumors about—-”

          “Samantha, pirates are always surrounded by myth and legends because they are trying to build their reputations as horrible people. The pirate may not be as cold as you fear he is. Besides, the pirate seems to really like Marie-Grace.”

          “Well, that’s the problem! How fine a line is it between I like you enough to hang out and have a good time and I love you enough to sacrifice my own life for yours? He could get her into some serious danger, Nellie. Like you said one careless swipe with that sword of his and the person next to you is dead. What if–”

          “You worry too much. We’ve all faced many scary life threatening hazards and we’ve all turned out fine, mostly. Remember the homeless vs Billy Bob Jones war of 07? Remember that trip to Italy?”

          “Oh, don’t remind me. That was the worst vacation ever, Felicity had me chasing her all over Rome and we all could have been killed because of her!”

          “See? You lived. Marie-Grace can take care of herself,” Nellie said with a straight face. They both busted up laughing. “Okay, I know she’s not dynamite Felicity. Aside from being weak as a kitten she’s got her good points.”

          Samantha went on as if she hadn’t heard this kitten comment for it did nothing to ease her worry for the girl. “And there is his whole crew. Dating the girl means dating her family but courting the captain means courting his crew.”

          “I think—-”

          “Who knows what kind of ruffians are in that band of criminals of his? Not to mention being the only girl aboard with all those—-”

          “Samantha! Marie-Grace will turn out just fine. The pirate would never let anything bad happen to her.”

          “I hope you’re right.”

          “Well, I’m mostly sure. You never really can tell until it’s too late. We need to let Marie-Grace go and experience things and blossom and have adventures for herself.”

          In theory, Samantha knew this. Living in a world of fantastical magic also meant facing all the danger that comes with it. The playroom people had to learn to face both the benefits of magic and awesome adventure along with the consequences. But it was so hard for Samantha to willing let her sisters embrace the dark side of PFV. She knew she had to let Marie-Grace make her own decision and have her own daring quest to embark on, yet she feared all the real damage that could be done if something went wrong. “What if he’s just fooling around with her now but plans to sail off and break her heart? None of us have ever had that serious of a relationship before. We’re sailing in uncharted waters here! I just don’t want to see her get hurt!”

          “I don’t either. But she’ll get through—–”

          “If only there was some way to test him—-”

          “No!”

          “But Nellie!”

          “No meddling! What’s going to happen is going to happen without you sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong.” Although they didn’t know it yet, circumstances would provide the perfect test for the pirate’s heart.

          “Oh, alright. I’ll stay of it. . . . for now.”

          “That’s my girl.”

          “But if he hurts our little girl—–”

          “Yeah, yeah. Off with his head and he’ll wish he was never born. We’ll go all mama bear on him. Give me those binoculars. I want to admire some more.”

******************************************************************

          “What’s wrong with him?” whispers echoed among the crew as their captain paced the length of the prop ship Logan had built earlier that day.

          “He’s been like this all day!”

          “Is he. . . . nervous?”

          “No!”

“It simply can’t be!”

          “Not the man who lead us through the pirate war of ’09!”

          “Then what . . . .?”

          “Shh!” A crew member slipped his hand over the other dude’s mouth. “Don’t let him hear—-”

          A sword came flying out of nowhere, the point aimed directly for the heart of the crewman who dared call his captain a coward. The blade sliced through the man’s shirt above the shoulder pinning him to the wood mast behind him. Trembling, his buddies around him scattered. In a deep growly voice the captain said, “You were saying?”

          “N-nothing c-captain sir!”

          The captain was about to reply when there was a tremor in the deck and the whole ship slanted sideways. This ship was just a prop meant for the stage and not actual sailing. The impact of a sword slamming into it caused the whole mast, sails, rigging, and spotlights to come crashing down to earth putting a crater in the stage. Sparks flew as the wires hit the floor. The curtain toppled over it suddenly bursting into flames. “Yes!” shouted Gwen in victory. “It’s not my fault! I didn’t do it this time!”

          “Yeah, but you’re still going to have to clean it up,” said Logan.

          “No way—-”

          “Gwendolyn Lindashire!” Bitty Quansa screamed at the top of her lungs. “Get your butt over here immediately and fix this mess!”

          “Told you so!” cried Logan.

          “But Bitty!” Gwen whined. “It wasn’t—–”

          “Show time in one hour fifty eight minutes and thirty seconds!” called Bitty F. “And Gwen thinks we have all the time in the world! Well, guess what? This equipment doesn’t grow in trees!”

          “Yeah, it kinda does,” said Gwen.

          “What?”

          “It’s paper isn’t it? That ship is made of cardboard! Doesn’t paper come from trees?”

          “Shut up, Gwen,” chimed in Bitty Quansa. “And this is coming out of your pay check.”

          “But I don’t get paid!” wailed Gwen. “How can you—–”

          “Oh, good,” broke in Bitty Q., “because clumsy oafs like you don’t deserve to get paid!”

          “But I didn’t—-”

          “Now!” Gwen obeyed while Logan sat over to the side laughing her head off. “You too Logan!”

          The laughter stopped abruptly. “What?”

          “You heard me, get to it! If I leave this in Gwen’s oh so capable hands she might burn down the whole theater!”

          “Fine,” Logan grumbled. “I’ll help you this one time.”

          “The pirate should be doing this,” muttered Gwen. “It’s not fair!”

          “Well, no one ever said show biz is fair!” retorted Bitty Q.

          “The pirate is needed back stage,” explained Bitty F. “Big stars don’t do the dirty work.”

          With as many grunts, sighs and complaints as possible, Glogan quickly got to work putting out the fire and rebuilding the sets. The pirate smiled grimly at them as he went backstage. He sat hunched over his knees, his head hung in misery. He didn’t notice the shadow of a girl appear beside him. “May I join you?”

          “Oh, hey Cecile. He gestured to the empty chair next to him. “Sure, have a seat.”

          She hesitated for a moment then said, “Nervous?”

          “No!” the pirate exploded. “No! Nervous? Who me? I am a fearless pirate captain who has seen many bloody battles innocent eyes like yours shall never witness. Why would a silly little performance like this rattle me?” In truth, the pirate was nervous and this fact did rattle him far more than he cared to admit. He had faced unspeakable life or death trauma in his years on the high seas yet this, this stupid musical babies wrote had him shaking in his boots. Give him a sword, give him a duel to the death and he wouldn’t bat an eye, but this? Impossible! Unlike Marie-Grace, who often let her nerves get the best of her, the pirate could play it cool under pressure. He wasn’t exactly pleased every detail of his personal life was torn apart in the factory of fiction and would be placed under the microscope of the spotlight, but he could probably squelch down the rising emotion or at least better than Marie-Grace could. Her face, her beautiful face, clouded his mind like a hazy mist of salt spray at dawn crashing over the bow. How could he manage to keep up a casual friendship after this display to the watching world? True, that had shared a kiss a couple of times and always vowed to never mention it or say. . .  .

          No! The pirate shook his head. He did not, could not care for her in that way. He sighed. He couldn’t even fool himself anymore. But what about Marie-Grace? What was she thinking? A macho pirate could not admit. . . . and he knew she was much too timid to approach him even if she did.

          “You know pirate,” said Cecile cautiously. “It’s okay to feel—-”

          “No!” The pirate burst. “I am perfectly fine, no, happy with tonight’s script and—-”

          Cecile put a hand on his arm. “You don’t need to put up walls in front of me. I won’t spill like most people would around here. The worst part about living in the playroom is how once you’ve shared something meaningful you become the butt of many jokes for years to come.”

          “Well, I know how that feels,” said the pirate bitterly thinking of his past again.

          “So tonight,” continued Cecile, “is going to be a challenge for everyone involved Marie-Grace most of all. She has great talent. You and I both know she can do this, but she doesn’t have that confidence herself that she needs. She needs you. Be her strong anchor tonight. Don’t let what others think and say distract you from her.”

          Since when was Cecile the wise sage around here? “Merci Cecile,” he said collapsing her hand in gratitude.

          “Pirate!” the shrill voice of the director called over the din. “Pirate! Where did that boy go when I need him?!”

             “Ne le mentionne pas,” said Cecile slowly backing into the shadows. She was not in any hurry to face the wrath of the Bitti.

             The pirate heard the voice calling him and promptly ran in the opposite direction. No one, not even a flaming bald Bitty, could distract him from his mission to find Marie-Grace.

******************************************************************

             Marie-Grace Gardner was trembling uncontrollably as she peered around the edge of the closed curtain. She didn’t know why she bothered because the sight of millions of people taking their seats to watch her perform did nothing to calm her fears. Glogan had finished their repairs and the set appeared to be no worse off than it had before if a bit singed. Their actions today, destroying the stage, just added to her growing worries of what if worst case scenario. She inhaled deeply to try and keep from hyperventilating when she felt strong arms encircle her. “Ma Cherie Ti-Marie,” said her pirate captain. “Stop shaking so. You can do this and you will dazzle them all. Just you wait and see.”

             Marie-Grace’s lip began to quiver. “Mais c’e’st impossible.”

             The pirate shook his head. He pulled her close and Marie-Grace melted in his embrace. “As long as we’re together,” he whispered. “N’est-ce pas?”

             Wordlessly, Marie-Grace nodded feeling somewhat better yet still nervous. Never in a million years should she have agreed to this. By this she meant having her life stripped bare before a crowd in the form of a musical. Thanks to a certain mime who wrote the story down and made a hefty profit for himself the audience already knew her tale and were expecting certain things. It was Marie-Grace and the pirate’s job to make the magic of their story come alive. And what was their epic exactly? A fairy tale or a saga of friendship? Or maybe something more than that? She had no idea where the pirate desired the ending to go. Marie-Grace felt she was going to be sick. She could almost hear the booing now. If only she knew what was on the pirate’s heart at that moment. They both starting speaking at the same time, “Il y a quelque chose que je dois te dire.”

             “Oh?” the pirate raised an eyebrow.

             Marie-Grace blushed. “No, you first.”

             “No, you.”

             She shook her head. Now how to turn this into a passionately romantic moment? thought the pirate. Alright, I’ll just say it. Like ripping off a band aid. “Marie-Grace,” he took her hands in his and gazed deeply into her eyes, her lashes sparkling with the traces of tears. “I lo—-”

          “Oh, Marie-Grace!” Meredith trilled. “Just the person I wanted to see.”

          The pirate suddenly dropped her hands as if they were hot potatoes. “You were saying?” Marie-Grace begged in a whisper.

          “Nothing,” he muttered and her heart fell. She looked away, crestfallen.

          “There you are my dear,” said Meredith forcefully grabbing Marie-Grace’s hand and pulling her away.

          “No, wait!” Marie-Grace insisted to no avail for Meredith just kept tugging at her. “Pirate?” she said softly. “Please?”

          “No, it’s not important.” She felt her heart snap in half at those words. “I’ll see you on stage. Remember. . . .” I love you. I love you. I love you! Come on, you idiot! The pirate scolded himself. Just say it already, she needs to know. But Meredith’s presence would not allow his mouth to work. “Don’t worry. If something happens, even if you’re just on edge and need someone to understand, look at me and I’ll help you through. We’re in this mess together.”

          She nodded. He watched as she walked off with her adopted sister Meredith wishing fiercely that it was his arm hers was linked through.

******************************************************************

          “What do you want Meredith?” Marie-Grace said in an out of character growl of irritation. Usually she didn’t use such a harsh tone, but she sensed the pirate was about to say something important he would not so easily let say again, something Marie-Grace desperately longed to hear and she was rather frustrated at Meredith’s timing.

          Meredith’s face fell. “I’m sorry. I’ll just go—-”

          “No! You have my attention, tell me now.”

          “Oh, no. I don’t want to be a bother.” Meredith burst into tears that were anything but genuine. “As the new girl, you know, I thought you would understand. And I just wanted to wish you luck tonight and say how I’m so jealous of you becoming a big star. I wanted to make sure you know I have full confidence in you to pull off a stunning performance tonight.”

          “I’m sorry Meredith.” Marie-Grace drew her in for a hug. “I do understand what it’s like to be new to PFV, how there’s a struggle at first but you’ll find it. This is home. We are your family. I’m just a little stressed right now, that’s all. I promise you’ll get your chance someday too.”

          Oh honey, I will, thought Meredith manically. Things are already in motion and you have a starring part. She smiled brightly, innocently, her big blue eyes sparkling in the dim backstage light. “Do you really mean it?” Throw in a sniffle for good measure, yes! Martha you’re a wonderful actress.

          “Oh, of course I do ,” Marie-Grace continued distractedly. She went up on her tiptoes trying to peer around Meredith to get a glimpse of the pirate.

          Meredith’s eyes narrowed. “Well, I know you’re busy—-”

          “Hmmm? Did you say something?”

          “YES! My great grandfather had this lucky charm. It’s a family heirloom and a family tradition to press the charm into the victim’s, I mean person who needs luck, skin in order to give them magic to—-”

          “No thanks.” The pirate smiled at Marie-Grace. “I don’t need magic to help me.”

          “No, no, you misunderstand. It’s just a silly superstitious ritual; the magic will do nothing to aide you.”

          “Forty five seconds until show time!” Bitty Q wailed.

          “Places people!” ordered Bitty F.

          Marie-Grace tried to move past Meredith. “Sorry, but I must—-”

          “It will only take a minute!”

          “I don’t have a minute!” At last Marie-Grace broke free from Meredith. Meredith threw the ancient charm shaped like a scorpion and it latched onto Marie-Grace’s wrist, sucking like a leech. “Ouch! What was—?”

          “Nothing!” cried Meredith knowing full well the enchanted scorpion had bitten her. The devilish fiend flew back to Martha and tried to perch in her hair, but she shooed the sucker away.

          “Twenty five seconds!”

          Marie-Grace skidded into place beside the pirate. He squeezed her hand and smiled softly at her. Marie-Grace closed her eyes and grimaced as if she were in pain. She wanted to examine her wrist, but there wasn’t time and the pirate was holding that hand. The show must go on. She never should have agreed to star in the Bitties musical. Everyone in PFV seemed curious as to what the musical protégée and her friend would come up with. And Bitty F had plans of blowing them out of the water. Of course her plan centered on Marie-Grace and the French pirate playing a part. Whatever Meredith did to her, why she would do that to her struck Marie-Grace as weird made her uneasy and did not bode well for her performance. Now Marie-Grace was feeling quite dizzy and wasn’t sure if would make it through. “Bitty!” Marie-Grace grabbed Bitty F’s arm as she walked by. “Are you sure about this?”

          “Of course I’m sure! We wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t!”

          “But. . …..but. . .” The pirate swung his head to behold her with a question in his eyes. “I’m scared,” she whispered. The pirate clasped her hand tighter.

          Bitty just dismissed her worries with a wave of her hand. “They’ll love ya. PFV audiences tend to go nuts for pirate adventure stories and fairy tale romances so you’ll be just fine.” With that said, Bitty F. marched to center stage to announce, “Ladies and gentlemen or I should say Mesdames et messieurs Bitty Quansa productions proudly presents Captured by French Pirates! The musical!”

          In the front row, Mime #52 stood up pointed to himself and took a bow. Standing in the wings the pirate rolled his eyes and whispered in Marie-Grace’s ear, “I should have thrown him overboard when I had the chance.” To his relief, she giggled.

          “Oh, yeah,” Bitty F. added. “Based on the true story written by Mime #52!”  His only applause was the crickets chirping in the background. The crowd went nuts when Bitty Q walked across the stage and took a bow. As she said her piece the anticipation for Marie-Grace and the pirate went through the roof. He began to sweat and wondered when he had arrived in the tropical Caribbean, the pirate haven of the world. Her heart was pounding so loud she was curious as to who was playing timpani at that moment. Just as the curtain started to rise the pirate whispered, “Are you ready?”

          She let out a deep breath. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” and stepped into the spotlight.

******************************************************************

          Samantha’s jaw hung open as she watched the show through her binoculars, taking turns sharing them with Nellie. Gone were the amateurish games and squabbling children she had overseen earlier. In their place stood young professionals.  Professionals who projected well on stage and presented so fully the heart of their characters, brave, loving, fierce, hilarious, courageous, quirky, with all the gentle tenderness a blossoming romance should have. They story sucked the audience in making them feel as if they were really there that fateful night Marie-Grace was kidnapped by pirates.

          The dancing was precise and on point despite how the clumsy crew used to be. In rehearsal, one crew member who was not light on his feet tripped and sent everyone toppling like dominoes. Topple they did not this evening. Samantha frowned when she saw the sets looking far more gorgeous than ever before and far more fabulous than what she knew they could afford. She wondered how much of the stage decorations and special effects were made of magic.

          The pirate’s performance was most impressive. True, he was playing himself and that concept tends to make one over compensate and act not like himself. The pirate nailed it flawlessly. He seemed so comfortable, so natural up there it was hard to believe he had never even been in a play before. And when he was with Marie-Grace. . . .

          Gone was the fierce pirate captain. During the scenes when they were alone together he acted just as if he really was alone with her and there were not 7 billion people watching intently. It was a side of him Samantha had never seen before because, of course, it was the side of him he had only ever let Marie-Grace see. There was a softness, a gentleness to him that made Samantha suddenly understand why he was so irresistible and why Marie-Grace was so drawn to him. Samantha wanted with all her heart to believe it was there, the warm gushiness of love displayed towards her adopted sister. But she knew it was just a musical that could very well be fictionalized in a few places. Samantha was still wary of this pirate’s ability to hurt her sister and vowed to keep an even closer eye on him.

          Marie-Grace was absolutely stunning. Every ounce of shyness and nerves evaporated beneath the spotlight. Yes, as odd as it sounds, she was confident and comfortable acting on stage. The Bitties were so blown away by her, even they didn’t think she could actually do it, they began plotting what musical they would have her star in next. Marie-Grace truly shone that night, her eyes never wavering from her pirate, her focus, her purpose for this performance. She even danced beautifully. Marie-Grace is known for being a terrible dancer, but what she lacks in talent there she made up for in hard work. True, her steps were simple and uncomplicated a person with two left feet could do it but her voice more than made up for it. Boy, mused Samantha, could that girl sing! Her voice was a rich, high, crystal clear tone that sounded like a whole choir of angels conveying every depth and breadth of emotion and passion humanity faces here on earth. And even more shocking, the pirate could sing well too. Not as well as Marie-Grace of course, but his voice was also pleasant and he did dance better than her. Samantha wondered where he learned to dance like that. Yes, the two of them together held lots of promise for the world of show biz and Samantha knew she would never be in one of Bitty’s musicals now.

**************************************************************

“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me

We pillage, we plunder, and we rifle, and loot

Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me

We extort, we pilfer, we filch, and sack

Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

Maraud and embezzle, and even high-jack

Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me

We kindle and char, inflame and ignite

Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

We burn up the city, we’re really a fright

Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

We’re rascals, scoundrels, villains, and knaves

Drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

We’re devils and black sheep, really bad eggs—”

“I refuse to believe that,” Marie-Grace said stoutly, hands on her hips.

A tankard slammed into the table so hard the crew jumped as ale splashed out in droplets. Eyes foreshadowing a warning glinted off the sword held to her throat. His eyes met hers with a spark so intense, a spark so radiant not even the most oblivious of mankind would fail to miss the flare of love between them.

“What did you say?” The pirate said in a low growl.

Marie-Grace swallowed hard, her courage fading fast. “I said—-” she broke off as her gaze drifted out the corner of her eye, away from the sword, the pirate, and the task at hand. Her heart started racing wildly. She clenched and unclenched her fingers in her skirt trying to wipe the sweat from her palms.

Before she could completely give way to panic the pirate oh so gently nudged her chin with the very tip of his sword. “Focus. Live in the moment. Look at me,” he mouthed struggling to restrain himself from taking her in his arms and kissing her.

She took a deep breath. Almost seemingly calm, cool, and collected she stated frankly, “I said, Captain,” she curtsied, “that I refuse to believe you’re as ruthless or carefree as you say.”

Instead of killing her like one might expect from a fearsome pirate he let out a laugh. To Marie-Grace’s ears it sounded fake and forced, which it was, but to everyone else watching it sounded merciless like a good pirate captain should.

“Tell me princess,” said the pirate, “what makes you so sure? Pirates are the vicious coldest blooded breed out there—–”

“If I may be so bold monsieur,” Marie-Grace interrupted, “I believe, no I know, there is good in everyone despite their evil deeds. Even you despicable pirates. And a pirate’s life——”

“Is a short one but a merry one,” said the pirate putting his sword away. “And I’ll thank you not to—–”

“I was going to say lonely. A pirate’s life is lonely.”

Lonely? The pirate frowned. That wasn’t the line Bitty wrote.

“Lonely because when you’re sailing away after pillaging the village you have no one to count the riches with but yourself. You have no one to share the spoils, the glories and the heart wrenching trials of life with. No soft hand to cling to in the middle of the night as haunting bloody face after face appears in your nightmares reminding you of what you’ve done. Guilt eating away at you until there’s nothing but a withered man crying out for redemption when it’s far too late for such salvation. Lonely because no matter how hard you seek, no matter how hard you chase after it, treasure will never get you what really matters in life. Because no one in their right mind could ever love a pirate.”

The Captain of the French Pirates gaped. He sputtered. He choked. He could not get his mind to work. Could not get his tongue to move. His jaw fell open so far it almost came unhinged. Never before had Marie-Grace expressed such thoughts about the life he lived, the dangers he faced, the life he loved and now was a fine time to start chatting about it!

Marie-Grace blinked and realizing what she had done put a hand over her mouth. She stumbled back; her face flushed a sickly green color. Her reaction caused the pirate to snap out of it. He knew something wasn’t right. He debated for a moment. As much as he wanted to sweep her up in his arms and check her over to make sure she really wasn’t alright or if it was just hopefully his imagination playing a trick on him, he knew he could not step out of his role or change the script. But he did. He caught Marie-Grace as she fell dead away in a faint.

Pages were flying in the front row as Bitty Quansa furiously tore apart the script. “What the heck are they doing up there?” Bitty F. hissed in her ear. “This is not supposed to happen!”

“I don’t know!” Bitty Q. whispered back. “But they’re messing up my show!”

The other actors on stage, playroom people and crew member alike, also knew this wasn’t supposed to happen but they shrugged and let the punches roll. As long as they played along with what was happening and followed the pirate’s cues, they knew the performance would turn out all right in the end. They knew what improvisation was and they excelled at it. They quickly rearranged the set to change scenes. Now they were in the captain’s private quarters. The captain nodded gratefully to his buddies standing in the wings as he laid Marie-Grace on the bed. He felt her forehead and shrugged. It was unusually warm but they were all unusually warm under those lights. “Ti-Marie,” he whispered. His mic was on and the audience strained to hear every word. “Speak to me, please.” He gently shook her. “Please, be alright. Oh, please…”  He bowed his head over her dramatically and turned to his back to the audience so they wouldn’t see what he was about to do. He took her pulse. To his great relief, still strong. He frowned. Her skin seemed to be getting a rash but thankfully with her long sleeved dress no one in the audience could see. Maybe she could still keep going? Or had he better pull the plug on this operation? The show must always go on! He decided to ham it up a bit for drama’s sake. “Oh, mon cheri Ti-Marie. You can’t leave me, not yet. Prisoners don’t decide when they leave. I need you by my side forever and always, my love.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “Je t’aime.”

The audience gasped. Those words, those glorious words that Marie-Grace had so longed to hear were now lost on her as she lay unconscious on stage. “Pirate?” She said groggily lifting her head.

“Ma Cherie, hush. Not a hair on your head will be harmed while I’m captain of this ship.” The crowd roared with cheers. He mouthed to her, “The show must go on.”

“I’ll do my very best for you, captain,” was her answer to both the pirate and the audience.

“I know you will.”

The applause died down and the play moved on scene by scene, the correct scenes the Bitties wrote with no more adding. Bitty F and Bitty Q. uttered sighs of relief when things got back on track. There would be words with their budding stars when this was over. Despite not feeling well, Marie-Grace still gave an awe inspiring performance. The pirate helped her out by eliminating a rather taxing musical number, much to the Bitty’s distress, but the pirate knew if she had tried to dance that one all would be lost. He was so proud of her for sticking through it and making the show go on, yet he was also very, very, very worried about her well-being. The pirate was the only one to notice that Marie-Grace was feeling a little under the weather and he was amazed how she still managed the performance as if nothing was wrong. Marie-Grace, for her part, was so hopped up with the adrenaline she was able to push the thought aside for the moment. And so the grand musical continued, just as astounding and phenomenal as everyone hoped it would be.

At long last, it was time to take their bows. First the background characters danced their way onto the stage. Then the main sidekicks had their moment of glory before standing aside for the stars. Just before they went out for finale, the pirate frowned at Marie-Grace. “How are you holding up?”

          “I’m fine,” Marie-Grace croaked through gritted teeth and he knew she was anything but. On stage, the other actors glanced nervously at each other. The audience kept clapping but it won’t last for long if Marie-Grace and the pirate didn’t show their faces soon. 

“Can you handle finale?” He put an arm around her waist.

“I-I don’t know. Support me?”

He did one better.  As if she were light as a feather he swept her up into his arms and glided across the stage as the audience roared with pleasure. He wished they would stop clapping already so he could get this girl home. “Can you take your bow?” he whispered in her ear.

She nodded and he carefully set her down. He bowed elegantly and she curtsied masterfully. She reached for his arm and he lent her all his support. To his distress, the Bitty came out on stage and took her turn in the spotlight which lasted all of five minutes. Of course Bitty Q, the even more famous one, had to have a turn too. Marie-Grace was fading fast and this was agony for both of them. Finally, the applause started to die out.  Until the standing ovation.

“That’s all folks!” Bitty F shouted with one last bow. She gave the signal to Parker to close the curtain on this another astonishing performance by the playroom people.  

******************************************************************

          No one in the audience noticed Marie-Grace’s green complexion and her fall just before the curtain except Samantha Parkington. The performance had her enthralled despite her misgivings beforehand. That one scene in the middle puzzled her for she knew it wasn’t supposed to be there and was at a complete loss as to why they would have changed it the way they did. Until she saw Marie-Grace’s face flush green as she fell into the pirate’s arms. Then she knew something was up. “Come on, Nellie!” Samantha grabbed her friend’s arm as she pushed their way through the crowd.

          “Where are we going?”

          “To the stage!”

          “Oh no,” Nellie moaned. “Why do I not like the feeling of this?”

          “Back up, give her some room!” yelled a male voice from the backstage area.

          “Marie-Grace, Marie-Grace! What’s wrong with her?” asked Bitty Q.

          “Oh, I’m sure she’s fine,” said Bitty F.

“Eww!” squealed Gwen. “So not fine!”

          “Not on my stage!”

          “Would you shut up?!” the pirate glowered at them.

          “What is going on here?!” Samantha surveyed the scene before her. Marie-Grace, her face pale tinged with green sat hunched over her knees vomiting. The pirate sat beside her, holding her hair and rubbing her back.

          “What does it look like?” said Logan using her beret to wipe the mime face paint off her cheek. “Marie-Grace is dying!”

          A dagger sailed over Logan’s head, missing her by a centimeter.

          “I thought mimes can’t talk!” said Nellie. “How ever did you manage that performance?”

          “Oh, it was—-”

          Marie-Grace moaned. She collapsed against the pirate and he said, “Mon cheri puis-je vous porter à la maison?” 

          “Speak English, por favor!” demanded Bitty F. “No one likes it when you ramble in French!”

          “He tends to spout French when he’s upset,” explained Logan calmly.

          “Poor pirate,” sighed Gwen. “If she really is dying—-”

          “No one is dying!” exclaimed Samantha. “Now, let me see her—-”

          “Excusez-moi,” the pirate gently lifted Marie-Grace in his arms with all the adopted sisters fluttering about.

Marie-Grace pulled his head down to meet hers, “Ne me quitte pas.” She closed her eyes and leaned into his strength.

          “Never,” he answered and carried her all the way home to play road.

*****************************************************************

It seemed Felicity was the only one who did not make a fuss over Marie-Grace. She did a head count and realized one other person was missing; Meredith Blake or she should say Keabl. Felicity crept into Marie-Grace’s dressing room. Everything appeared to be normal. Costumes flung willy nilly on the floor, shoes and ribbons scattered everywhere, a tattered copy of the script with handwritten notes resting on the coffee table next to a plate of cheap muffins. She went to the dressing room table, sniffed the open bottle of perfume, poked a finger at the blush and mascara, nothing smelled poisonous to her and Felicity could usually instantly identify 3,000 different types of PFV poison. She flicked on the mirror light and frowned when in the mirror she saw something oddly shaped lying on the floor behind her. Slowly she turned. It buzzed like a bug and was glowing purple. Felicity reached into her skirt for some tongs, colonial clothing is great for storing stuff you might need at a moment’s notice, and knelt to pick it up. She rotated her wrist to get a better look at the object without touching it or bringing it closer to herself. “Gotcha,” she said as she carefully dumped it into a magic tight baggie. It was a scorpion. Suddenly she knew why it was here, what it did, and more importantly who put it there.

Now, there were many actions Felicity could have taken right that moment. She could have run to the magical disease office and reported it so officials would quarantine Marie-Grace before it spread through the whole city. She could have run home and told everyone what was going on before they accidently inflicted more damage on themselves. She could have gone back to the library and read that book about Witchcraft disease so she could set about finding the cure or gotten a book on the Keabl knights so she would know how to defeat a Keabl. Felicity did none of these things. She knew who was behind it, and that was enough for her. She wanted to take her down. When a target is sighted in Felicity’s eyes there is no stopping her from chasing after it. The hunt for the last Keabl began.

******************************************************************

          Back at the ranch. . . .

The captain of the French pirates knew that most of the playroom people were adopted from different times in history. Not being an expert in antiques, the mash up of furniture in the room made it hard to pinpoint where what was and what belonged to whom. He knew Marie-Grace was from 1853, but he did not know what a bed from that time period looked like or where in the room was her area. Samantha gestured to a low wooden bed with a teal headboard, pink bedding, and an overarching canopy at the head with mosquito netting attached. The pirate nodded gratefully to her and gently lowered Marie-Grace.

As soon as he placed Marie-Grace on her bed, Bitty Q. fainted. Her whole face turned green and she howled at the moon like a wolf. A giant purple boil formed on her head. It erupted with magic. Bitty cried as she ran around in a circle screaming. With her magic messed up, Bitty flew unwillingly and a whole bunch of objects shot up into the sky with her. The worst part of magic diseases is that you still get all the normal symptoms like, sneezing, vomiting, coughing, etc. along with all the magic symptoms which include but are not limited to flying, enchanting inanimate objects, eating wands, etc. Bitty F. soon followed.

“Bitty!” Samantha rushed to them, Marie-Grace completely forgotten. Next it was Molly, Emily, and Elizabeth, whoever had the most contact with Marie-Grace backstage and in the musical. Nellie helped Samantha round up the sick kids, wrestle them into their pajamas, and strap them into bed. Standard playroom sick procedure was followed exactly. By now, Samantha and Nellie had this down to a science. However, the magic element added a layer of chaos that they were not prepared for. Never before had so many playroom kids had a magic disease all at once and Samantha was not equipped to handle it. “Gwen!” Samantha barked.

“Uh, no one is available—-”

“Are you bouncing off the walls yet?”

“If I say yes, does that mean—-”

“Get over here and help us!”

“Yes, sir! I mean ma’am!”

So Gwen became Samantha’s goofy assistant. Surprisingly, she actually proved to be invaluable help. All the while, the pirate sat at Marie-Grace’s bedside stroking her hand and looking grim. He cared for her better than any nurse. Being on a pirate ship made him a capable medic because he regularly had to patch up his crewmen and himself.

Marie-Grace lay with her energy quickly fading. She was the only one who did not seem to have any magic symptoms. She was conscious but she couldn’t seem to move for the great terrible weight of sickness resting upon her. She felt a warm, welcoming hand hanging onto hers for dear life. As she struggled to open her eyes, she heard Samantha say, “What in the world is happening to us now?” Finally remembering Marie-Grace she glanced at the pirate and asked, “Is she okay?”

“No.” Steely, solemn pirate eyes bore into Samantha creating a dreadful sense of fear. “No, she is not okay. No one in this house is okay nor will anyone in this family ever be okay again.”

“Except me!” cried Logan. Logan is often immune to such playroom going ons. No one dared question it, it just is.

“What kind of disease is this anyway?” inquired Nellie.

 The pirate turned back to Marie-Grace and quietly said, “Witchcraft. The first stage is the green faces and purple magic boils. The second phase is the insanity, the craziness with the magic. The third stage is forgetfulness. They will forget who they are, where they’re from, everything. The fourth and final stage is pale faced, laying still, you cannot move no matter how hard you try. It seems some people can skip stages because Marie-Grace here is on the fourth. Each stage lasts a different length for each person. The final stage is death or transformation into an evil witch with your magic all screwy. Once you’re a witch, green face, warts, and broom stick you have no memory of your former life and are stuck that way for the rest of eternity.  There is no cure. Or at least, not one most people know about.”

Samantha and Nellie looked at each other in horror. “How do you know?”

“My parents had it,” the pirate growled in irritation. Marie-Grace strained to hear, wishing she had known and longing to comfort him. “I am an orphan, remember? When I was nine years old I watched both of my parents die of this wretched disease. That’s how I first became a pirate. I stole a merchant ship and sailed all over the world with my best friend the second mate searching for the cure. We actually did find it, but by the time I returned home it was too late. Both of my parents were gone. To this day, I don’t know if they died or if they became witches.”

Oh, my poor, poor, pirate, thought Marie-Grace, No wonder there is still all that bitterness. If only I could. . .  . She struggled to sit up, and the pirate pushed her back, “Hush, mon cheri, rest now. If you tax yourself the end comes quicker.” He didn’t mean to frighten her, but he filled her with horrified despair.

“Wait a minute,” said Samantha. “You’re telling me that you’re the only person on the planet who knows what the cure is for this disease and you didn’t tell anybody?!”

“Yup. I only had one bottle and I tossed it overboard when I saw. . . . anyhow, no one would have believed me because I was just a thieving kid. I was lucky that they tossed me into the orphanage instead of jail.”

“You, you!” Samantha burst. “You scoundrel! How could you not bring the cure to anyone?! Just because you’re parents didn’t survive doesn’t mean you could not have prevented other—-”

“What’s done is done,” the pirate growled. He couldn’t bear to see her so greenly pale and so near death. It was worse than being surrounded by a thousand pirates all with swords aimed at his throat. Worse still than the lifeless image of his mother, sickly and pale, all the love in the world fading fast before his very eyes. “Now, being in the situation that you’re in, your whole family dying of a very contagious disease—”

Green started to creep up Nellie’s neck.

“—and there is no cure known to anyone but me, I highly recommend you stop antagonizing me and don’t waste the little time you have left condemning me and start begging for help instead. Marie-Grace is very ill. So are the rest of you people and I intend to get the cure again. Only this time, I will back it back to save her. I make no guarantees about the rest of you, but I will save her.”

“Ooo,” cried Logan. “Take me! Take me! I wanna come!”

“No,” refused the pirate. “I don’t want to deal with a sick kid on board.”

“Aw, come on! Please? I won’t get sick! I can’t get sick! It’s physically impossible because I’ve been working in my lab to make myself immune to all magic disease.”

“You did it to me too, right?” said Gwen.

“Um. . . .sure?”

“Besides,” said Logan to the pirate. “You need my help.”

“No, I don’t. I did it when I was nine and didn’t know anything, I can most certainly do it again now.” Underneath his confidence was the real fear that he would fail again. That he wouldn’t get back to Marie-Grace in time to save her. That he would relive the childhood trauma of losing the people he loves most in the world all over again. How could his life go on without her?

“I’m coming,” said Logan.

“No,” said the pirate. “You are not.”

“Can I come?” asked Gwen.

“No!” shouted Samantha, Logan and the pirate.

“Logan?”

“Gwen,” Logan said firmly. “Stay. Sit.” Gwen sat. “Stay. Good girl! Stay.” Gwen stayed behind.

“How are you not sick, pirate?” asked Nellie. “You’ve had the most contact of any of us and you’re still—”

“I’m immune,” he said simply.

“What?!” shouted Samantha.

“How?” asked Nellie.

“None of your business,” he snapped. “All you need to know is that like Logan, it is impossible for me to get witchcraft disease.”

The pirate knelt beside Marie-Grace. A slow tear leaked out. He didn’t want to leave her side. If he didn’t make it back and she. . . . and he wasn’t here. . . She needed him to take care of her. With Samantha, Nellie, and Gwen caring for 16 people yet also becoming sick themselves there was no one left to tend to Marie-Grace. But he could do the most good if he left. Who was he kidding? As long as there was breath left in him he would fight to save her. Even if it meant sailing across the sea and beyond to get the cure.

          A hand reached up to wipe his tear. “Go,” croaked Marie-Grace.

          He held her hand against his cheek. “Je ne veux pas te quitter.”

          She smiled softly. “But you must.”

          He nodded.

“You’ll come back in time.” She said it with certainty, like she knew he would, with much more confidence than he felt. He would be back. He had to be. Her life depended on it.

In 1853, it was yellow fever that raged in an epidemic in Marie-Grace’s little world. Did she really just come away from that unscathed only to die now of a magic disease? At least they had that in common. Both the pirate and Marie-Grace were traumatized by disease when they were both nine years old.  Disease like a serpent had a way of slinking its way into their lives sucking it dry with its death and decay. The only difference was that this time, she was the victim. I bet my father didn’t see this coming when he sent me away, she thought as she clutched The Pirate’s hand like it were her only lifeline. His face was a blurry vision of anguish as more worry lines etched themselves across his features. “Across the sea and beyond, Ti-Marie, I will go and find the cure. I promise. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Then she fell into an exhausted, feverish sleep as her pirate captain squeezed her hand one last time before setting off to do the impossible, find a cure for the dreaded PFV disease, yet again. But this time, the pirate knew where he was going and he was determined to not let it happen like last time. He would come back to his beloved in time to save her. Or would he? The biggest problem about the witchcraft disease is that you never know if it is better to wake as an evil witch and stay that way for eternity or if it’s better to never wake up at all.

With a watery smile, the pirate kissed her hand and disappeared.

******************************************************************

Felicity slumped against a brick wall. She was curled up around her knees, her body hidden in the shadows of the dark alley. She had been like a hound dog on a scent, until the trail went cold. Meredith had led her on a merry chase through the streets of PFV, like a cat toying with her mousey prey. Every time she got close, the Keabl slipped away. Where could that girl be? What was she playing at here?

Then she had it. The Playroom! Where the sickness was, where the magic was! She would want to be there to collect the magic, right? But Felicity, who hates to read, is too careless to pay attention and read carefully, and didn’t really read the Keabl book too closely, had forgotten one important detail. Meredith didn’t need to be anywhere near the playroom to collect the magic. She could do it at a distance. Then Felicity made perhaps the biggest error she had made all day. She ran home. Inside of the brick wall Felicity had been leaning against, Meredith laughed manically for getting Felicity to go home was her plan all along.

******************************************************************

The map was pinned to the table with red push pins marking their destination. “Um, pirate?” said Logan.

The pirate swore. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m stowing away!”

He shook his head, realizing it was impossible to get rid of her.

“Your map is a little out of date.”

“No, this map is perfectly fine. My father gave me this map.”

“Well, the earth isn’t flat.”

“Well, according to this map it is! Besides, we’re sailing to the edge of the sea. There is only one place to get this cure, boys, and it’s—-”

“I don’t know how that’s possible because there can only be an edge to the sea if the earth is flat in this time period and it is most definitely not flat now, even though it used to be in PFV.”

“Who said we are staying in this time period?”

Logan gaped. “You cannot mean . . . .?”

“Oh, but I do. We’re going to the Bermuda triangle, the end of all ends, back when the earth was flat.” He rolled up his map and tucked it under his arm.

“WHAT?! But the Bermuda Triangle is just the ocean near Florida where ships disappear!”

The pirate nodded. “Ships disappear alright, and I know where they go.”

Logan jumped up and down alongside the pirate as he made his way above deck to bark orders at his crew. “Cool! I remember when. . . .” The pirate zoned out as Logan chatted on. He thought back to his first childhood memory, the last time he had felt safe. Back when happiness reigned and he was home, before his best friend turned traitor, before the witchcraft disease stole his parent, before the sorrows of life invaded taking his innocence with it.

          “Argh! You’ll walk the plank matey!” A young street rat declared pulling out a wooden sword to defend himself. The sun sank lower in the sky, symbolic of the ending of happy childhood days forever.

          “Never! Not as long as I have anything to do with it!” laughter and glee danced in eyes that would one day morph into dark world weary eyes of a pirate.

          “Alight my handsome pirate, it’s time for bed!” called a voice from inside a beautiful mansion.

          “But mom!”

          “You heard me captain, upstairs. Now. If you’re the captain,” she said flashing her son a proud smile, “Then who are you?”

          “The second mate ma’am, and proud to be it.” He gave a little bow and kissed her hand.

          Lost in memories of her past she giggled then resumed a stern face. “I’ll thank you second mate, to hurry home.”

          Sadness clouded over the young boy’s face. “Of course miss.” Turning to his captain he said, “I have lost today, but tomorrow you will meet defeat!”

          Giving his mate a friendly slap on the back the pretend captain only shook his head and replied, “We’ll see.”

          With a grin, the second mate was off. The captain’s mother put a comforting arm around him. “Can’t we take him in?” the boy pleaded.

          The woman shook her head sadly. “No, you’re father will have my head if we do.” Father was a merchant to the king. He liked to gather his wealth for his own family and not share even a penny with those in need.

          “But he isn’t even here—-”

          “He’ll be home tomorrow. His ship comes in tonight.”

          “Really?!” squealed the little boy.

          “Yes, but you need to go to sleep now.”

          Yawning, the little boy marched upstairs, pausing on the landing to look at a map on the wall. “Someday, I’m going there.” He pointed way off to the edge. “To that island, where the world is flat, across the sea and beyond.”

          She kissed the top of his head. “No, my son. I pray you’ll never go there to that wretched place. Or ever take to the sea.”

          “But why not, mama?”

          “Because I want you to stay safe, right here with me.” She lifted him up onto his bed.

          “Tell me a story, the one about you and father.”

          “Not that one again! You’ve heard it so many times.”

          “Please?”

          “Oh, alright. A long time ago your father used to be king of the pirates and I was the princess of that faraway island called Bermuda until he kidnapped me and held me for ransom. . . . But he never counted on falling in love and I mostly certainly never thought of reforming him. . . .”

          “Pirate! Oh, pirate!”

          “Uh?” The captain shook his head to clear his thoughts.

          “Looks like a storm is brewing!” Logan stood at the bow like she was on the Titanic except she was pointing to the horizon where dark storm clouds were gathering. It seemed the eye of the storm was right where they needed to be. “Alight, boys! Batten the hatches! We’re sailing through.”

          “But captain!” came the shocked reaction from the crew.

          “Do as you’re told, lads! Marie-Grace needs us; if we sail around it we may be too late. The only option is to go through.”

          Logan gulped. “Not if we sink!”

          “Trust me,” said the pirate. “I’ve done this before. We’re not going to sink.”

          Sink they did.

******************************************************************

Felicity barged into the playroom with all of the grace and tact of a dying walrus playing the bagpipes. “Samantha! Samantha! I’m sorry for all the times I’ve cried wolf but there really is an emergency this time! I need help! Meredith is a Keabl and the letter from grandpa and the disease! Marie-Grace has this really bad disease called witchcraft and Meredith is using it to suck out all her magic and use it for—-whoa, what happened in here?” What Felicity was referring to here was the green slim covering every inch of the room. She also could have seen Elizabeth hanging upside down from the ceiling fan babbling on about how she loves to eat acorns in the woods with her animal friends Barney and Samson, or Bitty F. yelling at the blender to “giddy up cowboy” or Molly pretending to be a zombie while her red table floated behind her, or Gwen now exhausted and feverish face down in a puddle of green grossness a purple boil the double the size of her face on her head.

“Samantha?”

“What do you want Felicity?” Samantha cried in exasperation. “Can’t you see I’m busy here?!” Samantha held Bitty Q. by one foot as the girl tried to skyrocket through the ceiling again. There was a Bitty shaped hole in the roof where a Bitty, either Fatterson or Quansa, had blasted through the first time.

“Meredith is trying to take over the world! Using witch—-”

          “That’s great, Felicity.” She turned her attention back to Bitty.

          “No, wait! This is important!”

          Nellie busted up into a hysterical laugh, a laugh that didn’t sound like Nellie’s but rather a crackling witch. Her face flushed green and she landed in a pile next to Gwen. “No!” wailed Samantha as she rushed to her best friend’s side. “Not Nellie!”

          Felicity felt a little woozy herself.  She looked down at her pocket where she felt a pinching sensation. The scorpion had no regard for baggies and had latched onto Felicity’s hip. “Oh, no! I was supposed to—” She too toppled to the ground.

          “Well,” said Samantha. “At least she shut up.”

******************************************************************

“Left. Right. Left. Right. No, no, no! You fools! Step together! Like this! Geesh, building an evil army is a lot harder than it looks. Can none of you even march properly?”

“Maw-ha-ha!” laughed Kelsey. The chilling sound of her evil laugh echoed through the valley as encouragement to their minions. “If you’re evil name is Martha then I’m going to be Kelly.”

Martha rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Kelly.”

“Silly Martha, we need to destroy the playroom first before we take over the world or else they’ll just stop us. They must be annihilated first for us to be able to stamp out any flicker or resistance or hope our slaves might have.”

“Urgh, why are sidekicks so annoying! Yes, dense little Kelly, we are in the process of destroying them right now! Patience, good things come to those who wait. No matter how hard they try now, they’ll never defeat us. This is the playroom we’re talking about here.” Martha said it as if she were repulsed even though it was the place she once called home.

******************************************************************

          The mere thought of Marie-Grace dying by any means, never mind the fact it was the same disease his parents died from, ripped at the pirate’s soul. He fought that storm as if he were fighting death itself and victory meant saving Marie-Grace’s life. The rain poured onto the lurching ship. She weathered the storm well, but it was not enough to bring them through. Wood splintered as the ocean roared angry swells around the pirate ship. As the ship went under, the people on board were tossed into the pounding surf. Sinking to the bottom of the sea, the pirate thought only of Marie-Grace and how he failed her. His eyes closed and suddenly he was a child again.

          The sound of a slap, skin on skin, an ugly smack. “I thought you loved me!”

          “And I do,” said an angry male voice.

          A child woke. “Papa? Is papa home from sea?” He crept out of bed and rather than fling himself into his father’s arms like he usually did, something held the boy back and cautioned him not to take another step. He hid in the hallway, straining to hear the rest of the whispered argument.

          “Then why are you doing this? To us? To me? Do you really love that life more than our family?”

          “It’s not like that—-”

          “You promised me; you swore you’d never go back to—-”

          “You listen to me! I have to; I’ve got no other choice. In order to pay off our debts—”

          “Then why this fancy house? I told you we could live—”

          “Well, excuse me my pride won’t let my family go to the poor house!”

          “Your pride? What about mine? In you? How could I ever be proud of a scoundrel who—-”

          “I’m just going to do it for now to get us out of this rough spot. The boy never need know!”

          “Oh, really? He’s already got an uncommon interest in pirates as it is. I never want to see him end up like you!”

          “And he won’t. I can promise you that.”

          “I’m done with your promises. They are worth nothing. A beard? Really? You just had to grow the beard back too?!”

          “Hey, it’s not red yet.” She glared at him. “Too soon?”

          “Shave it.”

          “But—”

          “Shave it. If you want me to stay here with you then you shave that beard and never let me see another one. And it better not have even one spec of red on it!”

          He sighed. “As you wish. Now, can I tell you about my voyage or not?”

          It was her turn to sigh. “Yes. I want to hear all about it. Who is that new man you brought back?”

          “Oh, him?” said the man dismissively. “He’s just a the new swabbie. I found him deserted on Blackbeard’s island. See, hon? The best in the business have beards! Anyway, he’s no one of importance, just a new guy not worth my time. Says his name is Keabl.”

          What the pirate didn’t realize as he unconsciously sank beneath the waves was that he had navigated them right into where they needed to be. The Bermuda Triangle beckoned the wrecked ship forward pulling her with all the speed and force of a hurricane. A bright golden light appeared over the water as the sea swirled in a circular whirlpool. Around and around went the broken ship, the frightened crew, the anguished captain and the happy go lucky Logan, swirling as if they were in a giant toilet. Soon the ocean swallowed them all up, and they disappeared without a trace. There was blue sky and sunshine as the sun seeped out through the clouds and the storm cleared away. There was a massive bubble and a loud pop, as if the ocean burped.

******************************************************************

“Breaking news!” announced the breaking news guy. In PFV, your T.V. did not need to be on to get updates from this dude. Anything interesting or critically important happening, something usually pertaining to the playroom, was announced magically in every home and building to every person in the world. Annoying, but it was used sparingly. It was most often about the playroom people because they were always so involved in crazy PFV happenings. “Breaking news! There is an outbreak of the dreaded witchcraft disease. My sources say it started at 742 play road, thank you again whackos. Millions in America are ill and on the verge of death or eternity as witches. If you had your vaccine this year then you will be fine, very sick yes, but in the end you most likely will not die or be a witch. However, if you did not have your vaccine then you have the misfortune of succumbing to those lovely fates. There is no cure other than the vaccination.”

“Nellie!” Samantha coughed into a bucket. Samantha was giving up nursing her sisters as she herself fell to the illness.

Fortunately, Nellie wasn’t quite at the forgetful stage yet and had one moment of lucidity left. “Yes?”

“Were we vaccinated?”

“Did we ever get our physicals this year?”

“Um. . . .no? I’m trying to remember!” Samantha frowned, desperately wishing she had been more on top of things. “Meredith and Kelsey did because they were new but—-”

“Did you make the appointments?”

“I thought you were going to!”

“Well, I never did! I thought you were!” said Nellie accusingly.

Samantha pounded her head against her bucket. Her dragon magic was flaring up and she was worried about accidently setting the house on fire. By now, some of the girls were almost full witches with warts, green faces, and pointy hats.

Suddenly, there was a clatter on the roof. “Who goes there?” demanded Felicity with a china teacup in hand. She was in the middle of sipping tea and eating crumpets. The crazy things everyone else was doing was her usual normal self so her magic affected her in the opposite way, by making her a polite lady. It was a sight under other circumstances Samantha would have enjoyed immensely, yet now it made her heart grieve.

“It is I, Martha Keabl, here to enslave you as my personal magic source for all eternity!”

Samantha frowned for she did not know anyone by that name. “Well, if you’re going to enslave us can I at least ask a question?”

This was not the terrified response Martha was hoping for. “Fine. What is it?”

“What are you going to do with all that magic?”

“What?” said Martha taken aback.

Nellie nodded in agreement. “Once you take over the world, then what you going to do?”

“I don’t understand.”

“What they mean,” added Felicity, “is once you have all the magic in the world at your disposal, once you control all the people, then what? You’ll still be lonely. You’ll have even less friends because everyone will hate you. The magic will never satisfy you. You’ll still be

Martha growled. “Well, I never thought—”

“That’s the point we’re trying to make!” said Felicity. “You didn’t think! If you’re going to take over the world then you must think! You must have a better plan! What, is the playroom the only target you have? How are you going to take out the rest of the world? Put us on a map, we’re very small! Once we’re gone, you’ll still have to deal with the governments, and believe me they are a headache waiting to happen! We cannot be your magic source forever. Once we’re dead or witches it’s over for you because our magic is gone. But we’re all half from the real world, the real world where magic does not exist. We’ve all lived the first half of our lives without magic, I think we can again! We’re fighting with love! How do you think I save the world from villains like you every day? With love! How is the pirate going to make it back to Marie-Grace in time to save her? Love! You’re a rookie. I’ve faced worse villains than you many times, trust me, you’re still a toddler when it comes to this being evil thing! But love and light magic will always defeat evil and dark magic every time. I don’t know exactly how yet Martha, but we’ll defeat you despite this nastiness you’ve thrust upon us. Face it Martha, or I should say Meredith, you’ve lost! Give up! Not even death by witchcraft can stop us!”

A surge of hope sprung up in Samantha. She didn’t understand what was happening, but Felicity did and that was good enough for her. Felicity may not always get it right, yet when she did she was a force to be reckoned with.

“I don’t have to answer to you!” sneered Martha. “I’ll take over the world in a better way! I don’t need you or your magic. But I’ll be back. Yes, I’ll run off and hide biding my time until I can defeat you all! Love? Who needs your cheap family? I’m better off going my own way.” With that, Martha jumped off the roof and disappeared in a puff of smoke. She won’t be bothering our playroom friends for a while. Wounded inside, Martha will not so flippantly underestimate them again. When she does finally try again, brace yourself, dear reader, brace yourself.

Felicity should have been triumphant that she was able to reason with the psychopath, but her face went completely green as she advanced to the next stage. The Martha problem may have been solved for now, yet there was still the little problem of the witchcraft disease.

“In other news,” continued the breaking news guy, “The hottest new celebrity thanks to Quansa’s new musical, the captain of the French Pirate is no longer with us. His ship was sighted off the coast of Florida, near the Bermuda Triangle. Crazy fans and Coast Guard patrols are looking for any sign of the pirate ship yet nothing has been found so far.”

“Nellie?” Nellie didn’t answer. She had gone off the deep end and wasn’t coming back. “All hope is lost,” Samantha muttered. “We’re doomed.”

Marie-Grace had not gone insane yet. She still lay in her bed, sick, miserable, and green but not anywhere near becoming a witch. Marie-Grace was thankful that she would die instead of be a nasty witch forever. She heard the breaking news guy and her heart shattered. “I thought, I knew, I was so sure he would come back.” Tears welled in her eyes. She had been holding on for him, but now she had nothing left to live for.  

******************************************************************

          The pirate slowly opened his eyes as he felt the bump on his head. He was laying on a tropical beach under a shady palm tree. Logan lounged beside him in a resort chair wearing a bikini, a giant floppy sun hat, and overly huge sun glasses sipping juice from a coconut with a bendy straw. “Logan!” the pirate scolded. “This is not your vacation! We’re on a quest to—–”

          “She’s alright,” said an authoritative voice behind him. “Let her be.”

The pirate swung his head around to craned his neck up to look at a very big man. He looked Jamaican. He wore royal purple robes and a crown of seaweed embedded with jewels. He was holding a bottle, a bottle of liquid the pirate wanted very much. “Who are you?”

“I am the pirate king!”

“Uh-huh, okay, and I’m the great Poseidon!”

“You dare mock your king?” The king had two swords in his hands and both were aimed at the pirate’s heart.

“No,” said the pirate in a very small voice. Normally he wouldn’t have backed down, but he really needed that bottle!

“Good,” the pirate king smiled. “Now onto business. Why are you here?”

“May I ask where is here?”

“Didn’t you sail here?”

“Yes, but—”

“So you tell me! Where do you think you’ve landed?”

The pirate looked around, a little unsure. But then he recognized a marking in a tree, a mark the had put there the last time he had visited this island. “Across the sea and beyond the new world. An ageless time when the earth is flat. The edge of all edges, the edge of the sea. We’re here, on the Bermuda Triangle. A beautiful tropical island literally shaped like a triangle. The place where all men who have been lost at sea find refuge.”

          The king smiled approvingly. “Good answer. Why have you come?”

          The pirate gulped for this was not something he wanted to admit this out loud to anyone ever especially not in front of Logan. But he knew he must. If he wanted that bottle, and he did, he would play this man’s games. For Marie-Grace, reminded himself, do it for her. “I have come to uncover what I have lost, the bottle that holds the cure to the dreaded witchcraft disease. I made a terrible mistake by throwing it away. I was so filled with bitterness, hate, and sorrow that I didn’t use what I had been given for good. I tried hard to destroy it like my life had been destroyed. But never again. Marie-Grace needs me to give her that cure you hold in your hands. Not just her, everyone in the playroom needs it. I may be nothing except a horrible pirate who does more harm than good but that family is a bright beckon of light and the world would be a much darker place without them in it. I was that sailor man lost at sea. I thought that cure was supposed to be for my parents but now I realize it is for someone else I love very much. I am here because I am not going to make the same mistake again. I will make it back in time to save my beloved and if I don’t then no matter how much pain I’m in from losing her, I will share that cure with the rest of the world so no one else can suffer the same wretched fate that all the people that I love most have. Monsieur, I must insist that you give me that bottle! I will fight you for it and I will win because, because, because, I love Marie-Grace Gardner and I will give her that bottle even if I have to die in the process!”

          “Okay.” The Jamaican tossed it to him. “Here you go.”

          “Seriously?! You’re just going to give it to me?”

          The pirate king shrugged. “Why not? You passed my test and I don’t want to fight you because I’m rather out of shape these days and losing to you would be embarrassing. Now, go! Rush home to your lady love and save her life!”

          “Um, how do I get there?”

          “Isn’t that your ship?” The king pointed out to a ship in the harbor.

          “It is! But how? The last time I was here—-”

          “Well, things have changed a bit since then. Don’t question it! Just go! The portal is clogged, we had a little mishap with the seaweed king, so you’ll have to take the long way. Good luck!” The Jamaican pirate king disappeared into thin air.

          “Come on, Logan!” The pirate called as he half ran half swam out to his ship. “I’m leaving without you!”

          Logan stood up, stretched and ripped out her earbuds. “Took you long enough! I’m so glad I came! This is so much better in wallowing in despair with everyone at home.” She boarded a dingy with the rest of the crew and they rowed quickly past the water logged captain.

          “Hurry up, pirate!” Logan called down from the ship. “Marie-Grace needs you!”

******************************************************************         

          The wind howled over the dark raging sea, a mournfully low echo of the turmoil raging in the pirate’s heart. They weren’t home yet and he willed the wind to push the sails faster. Play Road may not have been his home, per say, and yet Marie-Grace was there. Wherever she was, that’s where his heart cried home. A clear silver moon shone above and stars glistened overheard like millions of silver coins gleaming in a buried treasure chest. Normally on a night like this the pirate would scour the sea for fat wealthy merchant ships or enemy pirate ships to plunder.

Yet on this night, the pirate cared not about the adventurous lure of treasure hunting for all the money in the world could not buy him what mattered most to him in that moment, Marie-Grace’s life. What was the point of accumulating mass riches if all the wealth in the world was not enough to save her? Faster, faster, his heart cried in anguish fearing he would be too late. And he was.

******************************************************************

          It was a very sad and sorry sight Logan, the pirate, and his crew came home to that day. Play Road was littered with debris and magic floated everywhere, the particles toxic to inhale. When they reach 742, the door was locked. “That’s odd,” muttered Logan. “We never lock it.”

The pirate pounded on the door but it was much too quiet, much too still for anyone in their party to feel at ease. The pirate was this close to smashing through the door when Logan found a spare key in the hedge and fumbled with the doorknob. Slowly, cautiously, they went inside. Logan gasped to see Gwen’s body rumpled like a rag doll. She wasn’t breathing. Neither was anyone else for that matter. It was the silence that hurt them most. The playroom was always a loud, hustling, bustling place. Now it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It wasn’t right. The playroom equals joy but tonight there was nothing joyous, no laughter to be found in the crumpled, lifeless forms laying so unnaturally still.

With trembling, heartbreaking steps the pirate strode to Marie-Grace. He lifted her head and felt for a pulse. Finding none, he cried her name and held her in his arms as he rocked back and forth. This was the only time in his life that he was not ashamed to be seen sobbing. Marie-Grace was worth it, every tear.

Solemnly, the rest of the crew entered. They took off their caps and bowed their heads. Finally, and it nearly killed them to do this for they had grown quite fond of the quirky little family too, they went to the graveyard and started digging.

Logan and the pirate gently and carefully lifted each girl. They carried her to the cemetery, laid her in a hole, cried over her as they remembered. Then they walked deliberately back to 742 Play Road to pick up another girl and start all over again. The captain of the French pirates and Logan had never really gotten along or liked each other all that well until that dark and dreadful day they spent in the cemetery together. Now they were bonded for life in their grief.

Gwen and Marie-Grace were last. It was unbearable but somehow they did it. The pirate kissed her once last time, somehow hoping true love’s kiss would work for that was the most powerful magic there is, but her icy lips remained unmoved. Not even true love’s kiss could bring Marie-Grace back to him and this grieved his heart most of all. “Je suis désolé. I failed you. And I never even got to tell you.  . .’’ The pirate could not go on. He knelt by her grave and cried his heart out for the beautiful life before him cut short because he had failed her. He couldn’t save his parents, and he couldn’t save Marie-Grace. He was helpless

Before they started throwing dirt over the girls, Logan did something even more shocking. She hugged the pirate and sobbed. He held onto her close and let the tears flow. They both came apart at the seams when they thought of the bottle in the pirate’s hands and how they were too late.

Just as he was about to pour its contents out on the ground behind him, a rainbow colored comet whirled past in the sky above. There was a trembling in the earth, not quite an earthquake but almost. There was a maniacal crackle of laughter coming from the far side of the cemetery where Cecile lay. Suddenly she shot upwards into the sky, her skin completely green, her face covered in warts, her body robed in black, and outfit complete with a black pointy hat. She sat astride a broomstick and flew circles around the gravestones. Next it was Molly, Elizabeth, Bitty Q., Bitty F., Big D., Parker, Emily, Felicity, Gwen and Samantha and Nellie.

“Grab them!” The pirate shouted.

“You want me to do what?!” exclaimed Logan.

He held up the bottle with the cure and Logan needed no further explanation. The first playroom gal they managed to wrestle to the ground was Bitty Quansa. They force fed her one drop of the cure and any trace of green or witchyness on her disappeared completely. “Hey, what’s the big idea!” Bitty Q. shook her fist at them. “And why am I in a cemetery?”

The Logan and pirate team didn’t answer, instead reaching for the next victim. Slowly but surely they lassoed each person and gave them a generous dose of the cure.

Samantha slapped a hand on the pirate’s back. “Well, pirate,” she said. “You did it. I really didn’t think you could or would and I’m sorry for doubting you. You really proved yourself worth today of Marie-Grace’s hand. Thank you. I can never repay you for what you did for us today. You saved all of us. And. . . . I give you my blessing to be with Marie-Grace. It turns out you’re not a such a bad pirate after all.”

All except one that is, for Marie-Grace hadn’t risen with the rest of her family.  The pirate didn’t see her in the chaos of everyone else and he ran to where he had placed her when he had thought all hope was lost. Hope wasn’t lost, it was just hidden from view for a while. The pirate’s heart surged with longing and he was filled with crushing disappointment when he saw her still laying pale faced. The image of his mother came back to haunt him, and now there was a new haunting picture of perfect misery and sorrow that would be pierced into his brain for all time.

And yet. . . .

He uncorked the bottle and poured the last of it into her mouth. He covered his eyes with his hands and sobbed, gut wrenching sobs, once more. He didn’t see her eyelids flutter open, didn’t hear her gasp for breath he was so far gone into the depths of despair. “Pirate?” she said softly.

He stopped, absolutely frozen.

“Why are you crying?”

He laughed, joy rising in his heart. He picked her up and spun her around.

She smiled. Oh, that beautiful, glorious, smile of hers. “I told you so.”

He set her down and held her face between his palms. “Yes, yes you did.” They stood gazing deep into the other’s eyes for a long, long time. Until he said, “Ti-Marie?”

“Hmmm?”

“Je’ t’aime. I love you.”

For an answer, she kissed him.

Are you ready for this?

Cape Cod, Massachusetts July 2018

“Are you ready for this?” His eyes feasted upon her beauty, drinking in the sight of her and savoring the moment.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Marie-Grace smiled at her pirate captain, accepting his hand as he helped her into the skiff. The skiff was a little bigger than a row boat. It has sails and oars yet this little boat can still be easily managed by one person and not a whole crew. Marie-Grace was wearing the same dress she wore to Samantha’s wedding, a stunning seafoam green that matched her eyes perfectly with a pattern of soft pink roses sprayed over the elegantly puffy skirt. The wind off the water playfully tugged at the hem around her ankles. The sight of her skirt dancing as she glided into the little boat caught the pirate’s eye and made his heart hammer all the more.

The captain rowed out to sea for a ways. Then he adjusted the sail so it caught the wind just right, making them soar over the bouncing waves. Could he really do this? How could he, a scoundrel of a sea dog no less, really make her, his true love, his wife? Despite every doubt smacking him upside the head he knew without a shadow of worry that she was the one he was meant to spend the rest of his life with. There was no one else he’d rather share it with, there would never be anyone else for him and he could not take even the slightest chance of losing her. A fleeting picture in his mind of her laying in that graveyard with witchcraft disease so still and lifeless almost gone from this world was enough to snap him back to life. He was suddenly very determined that he was not going to waste another precious moment of their time together by waiting for a distant someday that may never come. His heart cried now was the right time for them and that now was the moment to finally make her his.

“Marie-Grace?”

“Hmm?” She switched her focus from the rolling waves on the horizon to his handsome face before hers, his eyes gazing deep into hers as if she was the only person on earth who mattered at all to him. Her breath caught in her throat and she wished this perfect, shining moment could last forever.

“I want to show you something,” he said pointing over the stern. She craned her neck to see and before she even knew what was happening he swept her up off her feet and cradled her against his chest as if she weighed no more than a feather. “Ti-Marie,” he whispered his voice husky and his gaze intense. She reached to comb one hand through his hair while the other delicately traced his scar. He did not flinch or swat her hand away like he has so many times before; he simply welcomed her gentle touch across his deepest wound. She lifted her head to meet his bold stare with hesitant, wavering eyes. The scarred pirate gave one affirming nod. With a cute blush rising to her cheeks, her lips touched his scar in a series of gentle kisses, soft, slow, sweet. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she murmured resting her head on his shoulder.

“Do what?”

“Kiss the hurt away,” she said softly. “But I never had the courage until today.”

“I’ve never had the courage until today either,” he mumbled under his breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, ma cherie, you’ll know soon enough.” He turned so she was facing west. Her lips parted in a breathless gasp. Brilliant pink sky melded with glistening waves as the golden ball of sun sank beneath the water in a magnificent display of sunset beauty. Painted clouds streaked across the sky adding a magical touch.

“Oh, how gorgeous!” She exclaimed in a tone of awestruck wonder.

“Red sky at night sailor’s delight,” he quoted setting her feet firmly on deck. “Tonight, I hope, will be a true delight for both of us. And I hope to share many more sunsets and sunrises over the ocean with you without having to kidnap you for a date.”

Puzzled by this she said, “What do you mean by that?”

He silenced her with a kiss and she responded enthusiastically. When they broke apart they were content to quietly watch the sunset together. Sunrise and sunset happen every day and no bothers to stop and appreciate the sight. Yet these two would forever treat each and every sunrise and sunset on the water as a very important event.

“Ti-Marie,” he said, his eyes locked on hers in such a way that her heart, already so full of love for him, leapt in her chest. “For the longest time the sea was my mistress. Nothing and no one to tie to me to, beholden to nobody except the changing wind. But I quickly learned that the sea is a hard, unforgiving mistress and she cannot love you in return. Like any good sailor I sought not the riches of any other for I was stubborn in my belief the sea could satisfy my deepest longings for a woman to love and cherish for the rest of my days. Until that all changed one day when I took a very special girl prisoner, not knowing then that it would lead me to this moment when I ask you. . . . .  .” he shook his head to clear his thoughts trying hard not to get too ahead of himself. “Anyway, that day way back when she was captured by French pirates——”

They both laughed, giddy at the memories. Marie-Grace was not sure where he was going with this little speech of his, but she hung on and clung to every word just the same, this moment becoming a treasure she would ponder in her heart forever.

The pirate’s heart pounded like a big bass drum, so loud in his head he could almost swear she smelled his fear. He didn’t even bat an eyelash at the thought of fighting a crew of angry, fierce, bloodthirsty pirates but now the mere sight of her, his breathtaking potential bride, turned his legs into trembling jelly and made him stagger like he was a drunken sailor early in the morning. “I never thought I would lose my heart to her or that she would become dearer to me than any piece of pirate’s gold I have ever known.” This, perhaps, was truly the single most terrifying moment of his entire life.

He got down on one knee.

Marie-Grace’s hand flew to her mouth to cover a soft gasp. “Oh, pirate!” Tears of utter joy welled in her eyes for this was the moment she had been longing for and dreaming of. The day had finally arrived and unlike Samantha she already knew without the slightest hesitation what her answer would be.

“Marie-Grace Gardner.” He grinned up at her making him appear to her far more confident and self-assured than he really felt. “Je t’aime. I love you. Veux-tu m’épouser? Will you marry me?”

“Oui, yes, oh, yes! I will marry you!” Despite being so stunned, she didn’t even have to think. His heart nearly burst in relief as she fairly flew into his arms, right where she belonged and where she would forever stay. His, she was all his, to care and provide for, to love and to cherish, to protect and share life with for the rest of their days until death do them part. His soon to be wife. Oh, man! What had he done? Traded a life this world calls freedom for a home of love. Would he prove to be a good husband, worthy of her no matter what trails may come their way? Gentle eyes sparklingly up at him, an innocent, unshakable trust in him that he vowed to never disappoint. Despite every nagging doubt, he knew in his deepest heart of hearts he made the right decision. They belonged together.

Two hands were firmly placed on either side of her slim waist as he carefully lifted her feet off the ground and spun her around, her hair whipping in the wind and her skirt fanning out in a beautiful ark of pink swirls. Setting her down, he cupped her face in his hands admiring the pretty softness of her creamy white cheeks under his rough weather beaten palms. And then he was kissing her for all he was worth. Starry eyed and weak kneed, Marie-Grace melted in his arms.

“Ti-Marie, are you ready for this?” There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  She was the one. This girl whom he had caught all those years ago captured his heart and tamed it. This beautiful woman who would stand by his side as they roamed across the seven seas.

Marie-Grace was a little jittery as she tried to imagine waking up to this man every morning yet she knew their loving happiness was a bright spotlight that could expel every dark storm hurled their way. This man who had kidnapped her as well as stolen her heart in the process was the perfect partner for this the greatest voyage any young couple could embark on. “As ready as I’ll ever be, captain.”

Together they would conquer oceans.