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A Promise of Seafoam

Chapter Text

 

"Ah, he knows not that it was I who saved his life," thought the little mermaid.

"I carried him over the sea to the wood where the temple stands: I sat beneath the foam, and watched till the human beings came to help him. I saw the pretty maiden that he loves better than he loves me;" and the mermaid sighed deeply, but she could not shed tears.
 
"He says the maiden belongs to the holy temple, therefore she will never return to the world. They will meet no more: while I am by his side, and see him every day. I will take care of him, and love him, and give up my life for his sake."


"Caster, are you sure you don't wish to go with me?" a man asks another, looking far into the distant sea.

There was a look of contemplation on Caster's face, but of one that did not suggest he was considering a compromise. "I will stay here. I have earned all this painstakingly bothersome free time you have acquired for me, and what a waste it shall be not to squander it for myself!"

The man did not laugh nor even smile. Instead, his furrowed brow and the defeated way he replied to his servant expressed his disappointment. "You're making a foolish mistake."

The servant beside him, as if amused by his frustration, sneered. "I am. And I still aim to continue making this foolish mistake. If you wish to exploit my abilities elsewhere, I'm sure there are plenty more useful mages out there than a has-been like me. Now go! My answer is always no."

So the man went and Caster was left gazing at the vast blue sea. His heart's true desire, which ached for "that person" drowned in the roaring, ocean waves.

Chapter Text

The Andersen's dinner table was yet again absent of one occupant. Yet his lack of presence didn't seem to bother her company. In fact, if Kiara were to compare their appetite when he was around to when he was not, it would relatively stay the same. The mashed potatoes were a bit dry but always plentiful, and the gravy she helped on making, despite its clumpy state was finished by everyone without complaint. She did take note of Mrs. Andersen's frown as she ate her braised vegetables, and the way she seemed to take smaller portions of her other cooked dishes--after living with her in-laws for almost a year, she suspected that the older woman is preparing a thorough grilling for her in the near, inevitable future.

Oh, would she love a daily dose of verbal abuse. 

She surmised that a sharp tongue ran rampant in her husband's family. They rarely speak of their only son, but in the rare times they do, she would always catch the faintest of smiles in their faces. They were rarely honest with each other, but it seems that communication, especially in their obvious affections for each other do not need to be verbalized. She didn't have a good basis to compare them with, as she had lived most of her life all by herself, but she supposed this is what being "a family" should be. Realizing the fact that she was already a part of it...made her feel happy inside. 

If she could describe what her life was like before meeting Hans, it would be...normal. She would go to the her workplace before sunrise, attend to numerous patients before calling it a day and repeat the same cycle. She had no family nor friends. The orphanage she stayed in booted her out once she had come of age, and she didn't really have any attachment to the establishment other than it being somewhere that gave her enough food and shelter for her to survive. Such trivial things are reserved for those who are privileged enough to get worried over them. All she knew in her life is to find a means to get through another day. 

But, she supposed that it would be a lie to say she didn't covet. Entertaining thoughts of inferiority and futility felt...ironically refreshing. It made her feel closer to the other people she envied. In times where she had enough to daydream, she would imagine being surrounded by warmth. People she had grown up with would smile with her and recount fond memories of the past. She would look to her side and find her special someone looking back at her with passion in his eyes, and he would enclose her in his arms, whispering sweet nothings. That was enough to make her happy. Until...Hans came and made her covet even more. 

Her first impression of him is "that suspicious person by the vending machine". He did not wear the same garments as the in-patients of the wards, so despite the normalcy of abnormalcy in her workplace, he would still strike an ordinary therapist (like her) as someone "odd". He would argue with her boss about difficult topics she couldn't grasp, and tease the receptionist about her many freckles. He was nothing but a nuisance but for some reason, no one really called him out for it. Sometimes, they would lock eyes with each other and he would make such a sour look on his face that Kiara wondered if she had offended him in some way. 

As his visits went on, their eye contact became so frequent that she was beginning to be convinced that they weren't mere coincidences. The ward nurses would tease her about this but she wouldn't even understand why. She had never met this man, and they never talked to each other. Then why is he glaring at her like he wanted to have her killed? 

She asked him about this once they got closer, and was shocked to realize that her co-workers were right. 

"I was flirting with you. Anyone with a sound mind would see it plain as day!" 

He would frown an even deeper frown when she pointed out that his "look" was leaning more into "murderous" than affectionate. But he was awkward like that--surprisingly even more than her. He attempted to blind her with promises of the future but seeing him look at her with such desperation and longing made her know enough that he was being sincere. It was a secret she would keep from him until perhaps they are near the end of their lives. 

She found thinking of her husband in his absence made her long for him even more. She knew he was working for both of their sakes--Hans insisted she quit her job and use "his money to frolic about and act like a woman her age", but he may have forgotten any plans of her "acting like a woman her age" would always involve him. 

Kiara didn't know how to "act like a woman her age". In the first place, what does being a woman in her mid-20s mean? How is she supposed to act? Perhaps he wanted her to go back to university? But she had already secured her education for herself with numerous scholarships and part-time jobs. He unquestioningly paid for her student loans without asking for so much as a cent in return. Did he want her to dress like a woman her age? But she found it such a waste of time. Perhaps she could find some enjoyment in picking out clothes for him, but any thought of spending such an exobirtant amount of money for a piece of cloth felt impractical. The only worthwhile activities she could think of that are remotely extravagant are purchasing items for him, or going on a trip with him. Buying souvenirs and taking Mr. and Mrs. Andersen to somewhere relaxing also comes close second but for the most part, the her that longed for his company wanted to spend money if it meant staying together with him. Was she sounding like a lovestruck schoolgirl right now? Oh, bother! If he heard her sighing over him like some of his novel's heroines, he would surely laugh at her. 

But she supposed being laughed at sounded so much better than not knowing when he would come back.

Mrs. Andersen noticed her gloominess and asked her out of politeness. But she knew what her in-law would already say if she did so much as nod.

"He'll be back soon."

But when is soon? Is it still applicable if he hadn't come back for almost a month? On the short times he would come, he would be so tired to ever have a conversation with her. Sometimes, he would feel so small in her arms, irritable too like a child. Kiara understood, or at least tried to, as she wanted to have a friendly atmosphere between them at the rare times he could spend with her;arguing with him was the last thing she ever wanted to do.

He would often scold her of spending so little, and scold her even more for allocating her budget for donations to some charities. When she asks if she could start working again, he would get annoyed and would tell her that her workplace was very demanding, and he would fret over her walking in the streets late at night with her graveyard shifts.

"I have a deadline coming up, and as much as I want to pick you up every night, I couldn't. I'd like for you to stay where I know you're going to be safe."

"Then shouldn't I come with you? I'm worried if you're sleeping properly on your workspace too."

For a second, she caught a surprised look at his face, as if hearing that she cared for him was something so absurd, it could have happened in a dream. "D-don't concern yourself with me, you silly woman...." The way he looked around to see if they were alone before he buried her in his chest, giving her a tight embrace was something she liked to think about often. 

"I'll make it up to you soon. So wait for me like a good girl."

Oh, how she wanted to be bad. But "good girls" like her have dishes and in-laws to worry about. 

Chapter Text

It was more than a month since Hans' absence: the longest he had ever been away. Her restlessness became so apparent that even Mrs. Andersen was affected. She would take her to "nice places" and introduce her to acquaintances to make friends with, but it did nothing. She remained gloomy and pining, and any act of reassurance was so forced, it had been "painful to watch".

"Just what is my stupid son doing, leaving his bride here for so long!" If anything, Mrs. Andersen siding with her made her feel a bit better. Her grilling lessened significantly, and she contented herself with teaching Kiara how to knit. Thankfully, Kiara was better with handicrafts than cooking. In her husband's absence, she had already knitted him a muffler. Currently, she was working on some gloves as she knew he had complained about his hands previously. 

"Is there any way to get in touch with him?" She didn't know why, but Hans had been very adamant on forbidding her to go to his residence:

"You absolutely could not go there, especially when you are alone." She kept reasoning with him; that she could go with him if he hated the idea of her going alone, but even that suggestion was rejected. 

It was unfair. She didn't want to spend so much money. She even wanted to work to lessen his burden, but he had been so overprotective since they got married. 

Sure...there had been one time where it was warranted,but other than that day, any other day was perfectly fine! 

"Kiara." she recalled the coldness of his voice as he uttered her name.

It was unfair. 

"Why not? You kept on scolding me for working too much, but what about you? What if you collapse someday?" she recalled that fight; that only fight they had. She regretted the words that came out of her lips: inconsiderate, childish words that lacked any delicacy. They were words of anger, and didn't come out of her heart. 

"Do you really love me?" 

It was unfair. She could have endured a little longer. She wondered about how he was so taken aback, and the reason why he couldn't seem to answer her. She wondered why he seemed to not want to share his pains with her, and wondered, perhaps relented on believing that he may have married her, but...

"Kiara, it's time for dinner."

...even finishing the thought had been painful. 

Eating in silence even became more suffocating than usual. The food tasted like clay in her mouth, the juice like washed out alcohol he also forbade her from drinking. She had been so lost in her "eating", or her best attempts to do so that she didn't notice how her mother-in-law had been asking her if she wanted seconds. 

"I can't take this anymore." 

"Is the food not to your liking?" Mrs. Andersen asked in concern. Kiara snapped out from her thoughts,realizing she may have said some unnecessary things. 

She could easily go with the flow of the conversation, and maybe even pretend everything is fine again. Compliment the food! Reassure her mother-in-law! But she felt something in her snap at last. It had been fraying for so long and struggling on staying in place; if they wanted her to play house with them, the least they could give her is an ACTUAL HUSBAND. 

"Pardon me, but where did you say Hans and his editor often meet?" She had waited so long to ask this question. Any question that could lead her to wherever he is at the moment. She had planned all of it perfectly, even employing Hans' suggestions in those rare nights he shared with her: 

 

'If you want an effective dialogue, make sure you know the roles of the characters involved.'

'It's cliché but the element of surprise is always a good literary device.'

'Don't think about it too much, but don't also put in the minimal effort needed. Your readers are always smarter than you think. Don't insult them with your half-hearted rubbish.' 

If she asked too directly, they would respond weirdly again, as if their replies had a script that eerily resembled the cynical yet poetic words of her own husband. She wanted to believe it had all been a coincidence. 

"Oh, did we tell you about it before? Why, it's that quaint cafe near the haberdashery. You know, the one with the albino waitress?" the elderly Andersen couple may be firm with their intent to keep everything about him hidden, but acknowledging their very resolve would make them let their guard down easier.

 

'Critics? What are those unpalatable things? I'd say just let them blow hot air amongst themselves. They would make a mockery of themselves eventually.'

"Ah, that cafe." she pretended to know what she was talking about. "What was that cafe again? Oh, I often forget. I had the loveliest lemonade there."

 

'The most obvious answers aren't always the right ones. It's amusing to have readership who thinks they got you all figured out. Change your style a bit, add more flair! Maybe even do something you're not entirely confident on doing. There will always be a sliver of an attempt noticeable even in your failures.'

"Lemonade? Do they serve it there? I only remember their Vienna coffee..."

She smiled at her in-law, feigning confidence.  "Hans says coffee is bad for me at this point, remember? Wasn't there a juice store close to that cafe?" 

"I don't remember. Maybe there was? He's right, he's right. He's rather strict with you, isn't he?" 

She continued smiling. "He might just be as nervous as I am. But he likes indulging me in other ways."

"Now you are saying that, I remembered he liked stopping by that French confectionery across from that cafe. You know, the macarons you really love? He sometimes asks his editor to buy it for you when he's too busy."

 

'Guide your readers, but do not lead them to the answers. They're capable enough to read between the lines. Have faith in them.'

Finally.

"Oh, now I remember. I craved those for so long. Maybe he wouldn't mind so much if I order a few boxes?" 

 

'The best victories are those ones unnoticed by your readership. Forget about royalties, loose deadlines and full eight hours of sleep! The sweetest reward is overcoming your weaknesses!' 

"Oh, love. I won't tell a soul. He would be so happy to know you're getting a bit more selfish."


"You've been awfully talkative tonight, Kiara...asking me for writing advice all of a sudden. Are you perhaps interested in penning your own stories?" 

There was kindness in his eyes as he stroked her hair, his soft breathing soothing her as she lied next to him. 

"Perhaps."