This story is by Danielle Grosse and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Relief ran through Sam Sparrow’s hardened veins as he inserted the skeleton key into the front door of his Scottish cottage, appropriately named “The Moon.” As the lock turned, the handle rattled with a familiar jingle signaling his entrance into his private sanctuary. He pushed open the heavy timber door and stress rolled off his shoulders as he stepped across the threshold of his home.
Exhaustion replaced anticipation as he realized his responsibilities with the JM Barrie Trust would continue well into the night. Why couldn’t it be enough to make sure the Great Ormond Street Hospital received all its funds from the Peter Pan copyright? Legal battles and the never-ending accounting might be one thing, but the public appearances might very well steal his soul. And then there was the real task of secretly writing the world’s happy endings. A man could only do so much.
As he rounded the corner from his entryway into the living room, the Moon filled with an ear-shattering scream. Sam’s heart jumped into his throat and he froze, even as his eyes searched the room for the source of the blood-curdling noise. Suddenly, his gaze landed on a pair of the bluest, most spirit-filled eyes he’d ever seen. The adrenaline began a slow fade, and he took a deep breath, studying his uninvited guest—who currently held a gold can of Freeze It hairspray aimed like a pistol toward his face.
The intruder shifted her weight from hip to hip. “What are you doing in my rental cottage?”
He ignored her question, responding with his own. “What are you doing in my home?
She looked at Sam, then at her can of styling spray. She mumbled back, “I live here?”
He took a step closer in attempt to catch her words. “Sorry, I can’t hear you over my hair volume.” Surprised as he was to see her, he had to tease a little at her weapon of choice.
The gold cylinder started to quiver in response. The trespasser lowered her hand to her side. A little louder and this time with authority, she repeated, “I live here.”
Sam shook his head in exasperation. He stepped closer. “Do you believe in logical explanations?”
The corners of her mouth started to form a grin. “Do you believe in happy endings?”
“Only if they begin with a cup of tea.” He grabbed two mud-colored mugs and flicked on the tea kettle. “Let’s start with your name, and how you broke into my home.”
“My name is Kathan Kelly.” She slightly narrowed her stance, placing her hand on her hip. “I rented a cottage from the JM Barrie Trust.”
Understanding dawned. “You’re the renter for the guest cottage? I have no idea why you received a key to the Moon.” Sam poured the tea, hoping to soothe her frazzled nerves. He ran his hand through his frayed, sandy-colored hair and experienced a pinch of regret over his earlier snark. It was just a mix-up…not her fault.
Kathan sipped her tea as her pixie-like face disappeared behind the cup. “If you show me the other flat, I’ll take my suitcase over and get settled. Should I leave my typewriter?”
Sam didn’t like the unfamiliar gentleness and emotion beginning to creep into the edges of his heart. “You’re a writer?”
“Unpublished. The ad said you’ll coach my writing career. When do we start?” Kathan fiddled with the handle of her vintage bag.
“Sorry, I don’t remember that detail. My schedule is jam-packed.”
In response, she pointed her toe and dug it into the floor. “Do you need an assistant? I’m very organized and detailed. It’d be a great learning experience for me, working with you.” She spoke quickly, as if afraid he was about to say no. Her shy smile threatened to thaw his icy exterior.
Kathan retrieved her suitcase and her typewriter. “Now that I’m here to assist you, I can help you keep up with your calendar and notes. As a reminder, I’ll be here for six weeks.”
Sam walked her to the door, momentarily losing himself in a set of eyes the color of the rhododendrons lining the path between their homes. Well played, London. My final trial involves avoiding the enchantment of a beautiful pixie pretending to be an aspiring writer.
Mysteriously, Sam’s door opened, signaling he might have heard her approach.
“You’re bright and early.” His half-smile greeted her with unexpected warmth.
She stared back at him, trying to unravel the motivation for his change in attitude. “We don’t have a lot of time.”
“So let’s get started. What’s your best opening line?”
She smiled shyly. “Once upon a time.” Even with Sam’s change of demeanor, she wasn’t ready to reveal to him she found comfort in the pages of Peter Pan during her time in the Great Ormond Street Hospital. With her recent diagnosis, her life faced an expiration date within six weeks. She wanted a way to give back to the charity that changed her life.
Sam studied her eyes for a moment. “Maybe you are the right person for this job after all.”
The days slipped away like the color draining from Kathan’s eyes. She seemingly didn’t notice the stack of letters piled high on Sam’s desk.
As a treat following a full day’s work, they stopped for rum-raisin ice cream cones.
Sam licked the drips emerging from his cone. “What is the one necessary ingredient for a happy ending?”
Katha felt a twinge of surprise that he didn’t know. “During my childhood, I faced horrible loneliness and isolation. I read to find friends, even if they were make-believe. At the end of every book, I always wrote the initials LET GO.
Sam’s understanding silence encouraged her to say more.
“It’s an acronym. In every good story, Love Eventually Triumphs, and that is the happy ending. It’s a Guaranteed Outcome.” She hoped this would influence Sam into relaxing the guard on his heart.
The following day, with little time left on her lease, Kathan and Sam entered JM Barrie’s childhood home. As they began to work, the cottage filled with the eerie sound of a ticking clock. Tick-tock. The fairytale they experienced during the last month began to unravel as Kathan became aware of the rapidly passing time.
She looked at Sam, her eyes no longer the color of blooming rhododendrons. Tick-tock. I failed to help the children in the hospital. Tick-tock. I’m going to break Sam’s heart.
Too late, he reached for her. As she sunk to the floor, dust from the pollen from her beloved garden floated up, creating sunbeams like that of fairy dust.
The ambulance whisked Kathan away as Sam ran back to the Moon, searching for his car keys. As he started out his front door, a messenger from the home office greeted him. Sam sighed with little restraint. What now? It wasn’t the time.
There was no more time.
The young man looked at him with an apologetic smile. “London noticed that you failed to write any happily-ever-afters for the last month. Now you have a choice. You may read this final letter and give one last happy ending, or you may retire from the JM Barrie Trust, ensuring your replacement. You can walk away knowing the world will enjoy an eternity of happily-ever-afters.”
As Sam reached for the letter, he recognized Kathan’s handwriting on the outside of the envelope.
Sam’s eyes narrowed with a laser-like focus on the messenger. “Tell London I chose love. Pick the happy ending that is best for Kathan.”
The young boy grinned as Sam ran to his car.
As for Sam and Kathan—they lived happily ever after.