Jacquelyn in the Box
Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
~ English Child’s Rhyme, Author unknown
“What would you give up for love?” Jacquelyn glanced up as she buckled the straps on her heels.
“Whose knees do I need to break now?” Wesley narrowed his eyes and studied the stunning blonde who sat in the corner on an old crate. Pretty beyond belief, his assistant often fell into the company of the wrong men, and had run to him crying on more than one occasion. And on more than one occasion, he had to scrape together his savings to bail himself out of jail.
Still, he’d give anything for her love, his entire fortune, though pitiful, his left arm and right, his life—anything for her to look at him with the same adoration she’d poured onto the losers she attracted like bees to her honey. And he had—Wesley had lost his heart to her five years before.
“Pooh! I swear, Wesley. Anytime I ask you a question, you assume I’m referring to some jerk. I’m talking about true love. The person you want to share the rest of your life with—grow old with—make babies with. True—blue—love.”
“Which jerk would that be?” he muttered under his breath.
“Don’t you believe in true love, Wesley?”
The way she said his name turned his insides out. He wanted to seize her in his arms and kiss some sense into her. He loved her, wanted her, wouldn’t abuse her the way the other men had. Yes, he believed in true love—yet he couldn’t tell her. So he lied. “True love is for fools.”
Not deterred by his sour attitude, impish dimples appeared at the corners of her mouth. Jacquelyn turned her sparkling eyes on him. Wesley’s heart vaulted into his throat, as though he’d done a series of cartwheels.
“I had a discussion with the old woman that sits on the corner,” she said. Jacquelyn twirled her finger around a lock of her shoulder length hair, cut short to look like a Gibson Girl, styled with finger waves that framed her extraordinary face. Even though she’d done it to mimic the famed beauties, none were as pretty.
Or as gullible. Her sweet personality and trusting nature left her open to predators who took advantage of her every chance they could, including the old woman on the corner. “She told me my true love would make himself known to me soon.”
“The gypsy fortune teller? I can’t believe you went to her. She’ll tell you anything to get you to open your purse. There’s no such thing as real magic.” He folded his kerchief carefully, knowing if done wrong, his trick wouldn’t work. It took concentration and his hands shook in anger. He couldn’t defend her against an old woman and her lies.
Her true love sat before her. He loved her—yet he couldn’t tell her, not tonight, not ever. He made pennies a night and could never be the man a woman like Jacquelyn deserved—someone who could pamper her, put her on a pedestal and give her everything. “You know this, doll. It’s all an act.”
Jacquelyn sighed. “It was only a dollar, Wesley. How do you know what she said isn’t real?”
“You have to ask that question?” Magic was simply smoke, mirrors and sleight of hand. Jacquelyn should’ve known better. She wasn’t stupid, even though her actions sometimes made people come to that conclusion. “It’s a scam designed to separate you from your money. That’s damn near a week’s wages. We’re lucky to draw anyone to our show. Until the economy picks up, you should save every penny. We don’t know how long our show will stay open.”
She hopped up from her perch and approached him in her sequin-covered dress, glowing like a star in the dingy theater. Jacquelyn leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “I believe real magic exists. My true love will make himself known to me—maybe even tonight.” With a smile, she turned on her heels and marched onto the stage, throwing her arms in the air.
There were a couple of whistles and one person clapped. A big audience tonight. Wesley rubbed his forehead. At least he didn’t have to spend money on the equipment, as he had to feed them both for the week. The previous magician couldn’t pay the rent he owed to the owner of the theater and had left everything behind when he took off.
Lucky for Wesley, some of them were expensive props he couldn’t afford even before the stock market crashed, including a new one he wanted to try tonight. Shaped like an iron-maiden, the box had a second door built inside. When the outside door was shut, the assistant who’d stepped inside, could grab a panel and pull it back, creating a false wall.
The coffin sized box could then be rotated around on a wheeled table before it was opened again. The assistant would have appeared to vanish. Shut the door—proclaim a few magical words and viola! The assistant reappeared. Magic.
“Please put your hands together for the Amazing Wesley Westerson,” Jacquelyn called out with her usual peppy enthusiasm—his queue to start the show. Yet he wasn’t feeling it. His guts twisted. Perhaps she’d find the man of her dreams tonight and he’d lose her. He closed his eyes and a made a wish. If I can’t have her—please let nobody else take her from me.
“Please put your hands together for Wesley Westerson,” Jacqueline repeated a little louder. Wesley collected himself, flipped his top hat on his head and strode onto the stage. Three people sat in the audience. Two booed, the third slept.
“Lovely,” he muttered. “For my first trick, I’m going to pull a rabbit out of my hat.”
“Bring on the dancing gals,” a heckler bellowed. The act that followed tonight had burlesque dancers. Better to perform before, than after. Still, it discouraged him to know that the audience had only come for the naked women.
Wesley cleared his throat. “As I said.” He took the hat off his head and showed the audience the inside. Jacquelyn stood to the side arms extended toward him, posing as if to say, ta-dah. She gave him another of her million dollar smiles, as though she believed he really was amazing. Never did he want to hold her and kiss her as much as he did in that moment. Someday. But not today.
“Have the doll take off some clothes,” the man yelled louder and elbowed his buddy in the ribs, encouraging him to join along.
Wesley pointed his finger at the man in the audience. “Watch your mouth. She’s a lady.”
“Take it off, sweetheart.”
“Take it off, sweetheart.”
Wesley dropped his hat and balled his fists.
Jacquelyn rushed over to him. “Let it go, Wesley. They’re just a couple of uncultured louts. Let’s do the box trick. They’ll love that.”
He nodded and walked over to the covered prop with Jacquelyn on his heels. With flourish, he ripped the sheet off, uncovering the device. “Pandora’s Box! All the way from Ancient Greece—a portal to the underworld. You step in and you might never step out.” Stories always added to the mysticism. After studying the designs painted on the outside of the box, Wesley had concocted a story based on the Greek Myth, in hopes it would excite the crowd.
The effect wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.
The boos continued. Wesley ground his teeth together. Why bother with the show? They wanted the dancers. As long as the audience stayed, he’d get paid his cut for entertaining them. So why take any more of their abuse? He started to walk away and Jacquelyn snagged his arm.
“Don’t. It’s what they want. Finish the trick.”
He opened the door and took Jacquelyn’s arm as she climbed up onto the table and inside the box. She dramatically crossed her arms over her chest like a mummy and gave him a nod. He shut the box and slid the bolt shut, releasing the secret door in the process. Wesley yanked the steps away, sliding them across the stage, spinning the box around on the wheeled table to show there was no possible way his assistant could sneak away.
With an exaggerated wave, he unlocked the door and opened the box.
A small child of perhaps six stared down at him, wearing pigtails and a blue dress. She jumped out, hitting the floor with a soft thud and began to skip around the table. “Around and around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel. The weasel stopped to pull up his socks.” She turned toward Wesley, grabbing his hand and pulling him down so she could whisper in his ear. “What would you do for true love?”
“Pop! Goes the weasel.” The child let go of his arm and giggled, running from the stage.
Wesley’s mouth dropped open. He whipped around and stuck his head in the box, tripped the false door and found the compartment behind it empty. The small audience burst into applause. His heart stopped. Where was Jacquelyn? This was no trick. “Jacquelyn?” The curtain began to drop. He patted around the box, looking for another hiding place. Nothing. Oh,God.
The curtain hit the stage, closing him off from the previously anti-social audience.
“She’s not here.” The little girl said from Jacquelyn’s crate where she’d perched. “Do you love her, Wesley?”
“Who are you?”
“The question you should ask yourself—is—who—are—you? Are you man enough to go after what you want?” The little girl swung her legs side-to-side, watching him with the blackest eyes he’d ever seen, eyes that seemed to see right through him. “You claim you’d give anything. So prove it.”
Wesley swallowed. “I don’t know what you want.”
“You will, Wesley. You have one day to answer my question. If you can’t answer it correctly, Jacquelyn will be gone forever.”
“Listen, you little brat.”
“Temper, temper, Wesley.” She waggled her finger at him. “One day. That’s all you get.” She hopped off the crate and walked away, a sly smile on her face.
Wesley didn’t sleep that night—but he drank—boot-leg booze, and a lot. In his mind he coasted from one nightmare to another. People didn’t vanish into thin air, but no other explanation came to mind. He’d searched under the stage, found the trapdoor locked from the inside and rusted shut. She couldn’t have escaped that way. Was his last conversation with Jacquelyn, her way of telling him she found someone?
He’d performed with her for six years, unable to tell her how he really felt, dying a little every time she fell in love with another man. Now that she’d vanished, he had nothing—nobody to chat with over their modest dinner, nobody to hear his jokes, or help him plan his tricks.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his grandmother’s ring, letting the light dance across the rose cut diamond, his only valuable possession. He’d carried it around for the last five years, hoping one day he’d have the courage to ask her to marry him.
A knock on the door snapped him out of his trance. Who would come at this hour? Wesley jumped to his feet. Perhaps Jacquelyn had come back. He rushed to the door and threw it open to find a smiling landlord on the other side.
“I don’t know what you did, but keep doing it. We have a sold out crowd tomorrow night. Everyone wants to see what became of the vanishing beauty.”
Wesley shoved his hand in his hair. “There is no show tomorrow night.”
“Whatever for?” The landlord frowned.
“I don’t have an assistant.”
“But you have a contract. You owe me rent. You think I let you have your show in my theater for charity? I’ll have you arrested for failure to pay your debts. You show tomorrow night with your pretty assistant, or you’ll be in cuffs and everything you own will be mine.” He reached out and straightened Wesley’s bowtie. “Understood?”
The landlord nodded and walked away.
Wesley peeked out of the curtain at the packed theatre. Every seat had a patron sitting in it and the aisles had people standing, waiting to see if the beauty would come back.
His entire career he’d wanted nothing more than to perform for a crowd like this, and yet without Jacquelyn, it felt diminished. The magic left his life the moment she’d gone.
“Would you give up your fortune, Wesley?” He turned his head to see to see the little girl, sitting on the crate again.
“I have no fortune.”
“Yes. I’d give it all up to have her back.”
The little girl nodded. “Would you give up all your worldly possessions?”
He fingered the ring in his pocket. “Without Jacquelyn, I have nothing.”
The little girl nodded.
“Please put your hands together for the Amazing Wesley Westerson,” the Master of Ceremonies called out. The crowd roared and whistled, vibrating the stage under his feet. Wesley turned to walk into the open.
He looked back.
“Would you give your soul for her?”
His stomach knotted. Was this child the devil? Did she intend to make a deal? Regardless it did not matter. He was already in hell without the woman he loved. He stared straight into the child’s eyes but didn’t speak. “Is that what this is about? You want my soul?”
The little girl’s mouth curled into a smile.
He strode onto the stage and up to the covered box. His hands closed on the edge of the hand-embroidered silk cover and ripped it from the cursed device. He stared at it, his mouth went dry and his throat tightened. All he loved had vanished in the box, and tonight he’d bring back the magic, real magic. When Jacquelyn returned, he’d never let her go. Tonight—love would conquer all. Even the devil.
“You didn’t answer my question, Wesley.” The little girl stood next to him, eyeing the box as he did. “Would you give your soul for her?”
“Go away, demon.”
“Every night when I get home, the monkey’s on the table,” she began to sing.
“Get thee behind me.”
“Will you give me your soul?”
Wesley reached for the latch. “No.”
“Take a stick and knock it off…”
He threw the door open and grabbed the child. Lifting her off her feet, he shoved her into the box. “I cannot give you my soul. It’s not mine to give—Jacquelyn already holds it and always will. Go back to hell and return her to me.”
“Pop! Goes the weasel,” the child whispered as he slammed the box shut in her face.
Wesley spun the prop around and around, until it blurred, afraid to see what would be behind the door when he opened it.
“Open it, open it, open it,” the crowd chanted. He brought it to a stop and the theatre went silent. Wesley’s hands shook as he reached for the lock.
“When Pandora opened the box,” he said. Would she be there? “All the evil of the world escaped, leaving one thing behind.” Wesley’s hands shook as he pulled the door open.
“Jacquelyn,” he sighed.
“What was left behind, Wesley?” Jacquelyn asked.
“Hope,” he whispered and dropped to his knees, pulling the ring from his pocket. “I love you. I have always loved you and I don’t want to live without you. I don’t have much, but I’ll give you everything—my fortune, no matter how small, all my worldly belongings—that I hold in my hand—they’re yours. You own my heart and my soul. All I have is hope that you will say yes.”
She stepped out of the box. “Wesley?”
He rose to his feet and took her hand. “Marry me—Jacquelyn.”
“I told you my true love would make himself known to me.” She smiled and her dimples made their appearance. His heart pounded against his ribs and he could barely breathe. “Yes, Wesley. I will marry you.”
Wesley slipped the ring onto her finger and lifted her off the table. She wrapped her legs around him and cupped his face in her hands. “I’ve always loved you, Wesley.” Lowering her lips to his, she kissed him.
The crowd broke into applause, shaking the rafters over them.
Sixty years later…
Wesley threaded his fingers into Jacquelyn’s as the illusionist’s assistants rolled a covered prop onto the stage. The crowd in the old Las Vegas theatre packed the building.
Wesley and Jacquelyn’s children had gifted them with the trip for their sixtieth anniversary. Though time had flown by, it still felt as though the world had frozen around them, holding them in the moment she’d said yes. She leaned over and gave him a kiss. “Thank God I never had to wear that thong thing up my butt. I don’t think I’d have stayed on as your assistant.”
“You would’ve looked like dynamite,” he said and squeezed her hand. He eyed the stage as the Illusionist strutted out in black. Wesley lifted a brow. “Leather and chains. Things have changed.”
“Not so much. Looks like they’re going to do the disappearing act.” Wesley turned his attention back to the stage as the assistant yanked the cover off.
Wesley’s heart jumped into his throat.
“I thought we burned that thing,” she said.
The night she’d come back, they’d decided the prop was too dangerous to leave lying around. They’d rolled it outside and set fire to it, watching it burn to ash.
Yet there it sat.
“Someone needs courage,” Jacquelyn said.
“No, someone needs hope.”
DL Jackson is one of our Paranormal Romantics bloggers and is usually here on Saturdays. She has donated to the grand prize of Winner's Choice Kindle Touch, Nook wifi, OR 100$ gift certificate to Amazon or B&N. Leave a comment for an additional entry into the grand prize bad.