find the magic by phoenix.writing

21 Nov

Fred entered the bar feeling a little lost.  There was nothing like deciding that you needed to reevaluate your entire life to leave you at loose ends.

It was nearly two in the morning, and the Carnival Splendour was full of folk who were Fred’s age or older; the bar was practically deserted.

Fred squinted as he realised that there was someone at the very end of the bar.  He thought about whether or not he should disturb her, and then decided that not only could she tell him off if she didn’t want company, it was more likely that she’d drink in her cabin if that were the case.

He reached the seat next to her.

“This seat taken, Captain?”

She looked up warily, but her expression eased when she saw who it was.

“Fredrick.  Was worried for a moment that you were going to be one of the needy passengers.”  She gestured at the chair.  “Please.”

He slid into it, and when the bartender, Alex, arrived, Fred ordered scotch, neat.  A double.  Captain Stewart’s eyebrow rose.

“Been a long day.”

She shrugged, allowing this, and Fred settled back with his scotch, enjoying the heat that slid down his throat and pooled in his belly.  Liquid courage, that’s what they called it, didn’t they?

It was a few minutes before she asked, “Going to tell me what’s eating at you?”

That was what he liked about Captain Stewart.  She was no-nonsense, and while the cruise was theoretically all about the passengers getting everything that they wanted, she always stuck up for her crew.

“I’m too old for this,” he admitted, taking a longer gulp of scotch and making himself say the words.  “It was one thing twenty, twenty-five years ago.  It was fun, the kids enjoyed it, I was a kid myself.  Now I’m a middle-aged joke doing magic tricks for a group of middle-aged jokes who’d rather chase after anything in a skirt.”

“Or pants,” the captain pointed out.

Fred frowned.  “They’ve not been giving you any trouble, have they?”

She was nearing forty herself, apparently, and could be assumed to be able to take care of herself, but it didn’t mean that Fred didn’t worry.

Stewart waved this aside.  “They’re mostly harmless, and Francis would squash them like a bug if they tried anything.”

The first mate was fiercely protective of people that he cared about.

Fred finished off the scotch.  Stewart held up her hand for Alex.

“Give us another.”

“I shouldn’t,” Fred protested.

“Why not?” she asked.

He sighed.  “There’s nothing sadder than a drunk ineffectual, middle-aged magician.”

She laughed softly, took the drink from Alex, and placed it squarely in front of Fred.

“You’re gearing up to tell me you want out of here.  Of course you need another drink.”

Fred conceded the logic of this and had another gulp of scotch.

“That’s just it,” he admitted.  “If I leave, I don’t have any clue what I do next.  I’m a middle-aged failure who’s spent his whole life sailing the sea trying without much success to make people laugh.”

“Oh, it’s not as bad as all that,” she said, sounding slightly irritated that she was coddling him so much.  “So the last trip didn’t go too well.”

Fred snorted.  “It was a complete disaster.  They threw fruit.”

“They threw one piece of fruit,” she corrected.

Fred groaned.  “You were there?”

She shook her head.  “Francis.  He always goes to your show, or didn’t you know that?”

He frowned.  He remembered seeing the man sometimes, certainly, but all the time?  Really?

Stewart continued, pointing out easily, “No one in their right mind would try that again after Francis hauled the lad off for assault of a crewmember.  So it didn’t go smoothly; some trips are a disaster on all fronts.  It sounds like you need to rekindle the magic in your life.”

Fred tried not to choke on the scotch he was swallowing.  “What magic in my life?” he asked bitterly.

“Exactly,” she said triumphantly.  “You’ve lost that spark.  We’re none of us rich and successful.  Most of us didn’t put down ‘cruise ship’ as our dream job when we were growing up, but we still have a chance to make something of ourselves.  For some of us, it’s a way to save up money and move on to something else.  A way to get on the ocean and it doesn’t matter what for.  A way to be with someone we care about.  There are all sorts of reasons that make this a valid option, Freddie, but you have to be happy.”

His lips tipped up.  No one had called him Freddie in an age.

And maybe she was right.  The shows weren’t always successful.  He tried to gauge the audience, but it wasn’t possible to peg them every time, and the failures didn’t usually make him think that it was time to leave the ship.

But he honestly wasn’t sure the last time that he’d been truly happy, and he could see how that was a bit of a problem.

“Why are you here?” she asked him softly.

He looked over at her and realised in that moment that she already knew.  His big dark secret, and she already knew.  She’d only been here for, what was it, a couple of years now?  How had she seen so much?

He swallowed, gestured, and took up the third scotch, gulping at it greedily, trying to drown out his thoughts.  “It’s foolishness. I’m an old man.”

“You’re younger than three quarters of the people on this ship.  What’s foolish is that you’re sitting here telling me that you’re going to leave without ever going after what you want.”

“Sometimes it’s better not to know.”

“And sometimes, if you don’t take the risk, you never have the chance to be happy.”

All the scotch had pooled in Fred’s stomach.  He hadn’t eaten since this morning, hadn’t drunk this much in a long time, and the heat burning in his belly was telling him that maybe Stewart was right.

If he was really thinking about leaving for good, he might as well burn all his bridges.

He rose to his feet, only slightly unsteady.

“I’ll give you my letter of resignation in the morning.”

She rose to her feet and leaned in to press a kiss to his cheek.

“You’re a magician, Freddie.  Be brave.  Find that magic.”

He nodded at her, not sure that there was anything else he could possibly say.

He made his way through the ship, wondering if they were in slightly choppy water or he was really having this much trouble navigating all on his own.

He reached his destination, alcohol churning in his stomach, and hesitated.  Was it really worth it?

Find the magic, Stewart had said.

Fred raised his hand and knocked.

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