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Randall & Vivian’s story – How it all began

 

“What are we going to do with her, Viv?” his voice soft and low.  He glanced over to make certain the infant remained asleep. He couldn’t believe that in their bed lay this helpless little girl. Her thin blonde hair sprawled in tousled ringlets like spun gold on the dingy motel pillowcase. Tiny fingers curled up beside her angelic face. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe he would awaken to see his wife’s brunette tresses on the pillow beside him, and the twinkle in her green eyes as she rolled over to kiss him good morning.

“We are going to love her and protect her like we said we would,” the resolve in Vivian’s voice was undeniable. Randall knew that tone. Once his wife made up her mind, there was no dissuading her.  She moved toward the dimly lit desk in the corner of the room and searched in a black bag. “It’s got to be in here somewhere,” she muttered absentmindedly before she found the tattered pages of the atlas. She pulled her hair back into a pony tail and stared down intently at the map.

Randall could hardly believe how their lives changed since setting out for Buck Island that morning. The day started off like any other Caribbean summer morning: 75 degrees, light winds from the west, forecasted sun and a high of 85… a typical day in paradise. He needed a little break from his research and took his wife, Vivian, to snorkel the reef. They sailed the Hobie Cat to the far side of the tiny, uninhabited island a mile and a half off the northeastern shore for a picnic brunch. Randall found the perfect secluded spot to beach the catamaran. Vivian jumped off and spread towels on the creamy sand. She set out morsels she’d grabbed from the Moonraker’s breakfast assortment. One of the things he loved about her was the joy she brought to the mundane. Only Vivian could make a dry English muffin and a scant amount of blackberry jam seem like a feast. She glanced up and smiled as Randall walked over to the banquet.  Her smile captivated him the moment he set eyes on her four years earlier. He still couldn’t believe he now called her his own.

As they ate their breakfast, Randall told Vivian about the unique reef structure around Buck Island and the exciting dives he and Tom had taken at the drop off. Randall went on and on about the myriad of dive spots St. Croix offers and how he’s already making strides in his study of the various organisms and their patterns down in the depths of the continental shelf drop.

Vivian nodded and listened devotedly. While she did find the ocean fascinating, it was not her passion, it was his. But she loved adventure and thirsted for new experiences. And more than anything, she loved Randall.

As he spoke, she was distracted by his wind-blown hair and perfectly crooked grin as he recalled seeing a particularly interesting fish on his last exploit at the drop off. Vivian first caught a glimpse of that smirk when she was a freshman crossing campus at the University of Alabama. This tall, skinny guy, with just a hint of fuzz on his upper lip, walked briskly toward the Science Building. She caught his lingering glance and gave a quick wave. He blushed and almost ran into an unsuspecting co-ed coming down the steps as he turned away and dashed up to the door. He flashed that crooked grin as he disappeared behind the door and she was smitten.

Much to her surprise, when she entered her Intro to Marine Biology class, he was up front beside the professor. She’d only signed up for the course because of its Spring Break trip to the Florida Keys. Suddenly the class offered a more interesting pursuit: the attractive T.A., Randall.

Vivian and Randall were perfect for each other. His intense academic pursuits, his passion for the sea with its vast unexplored depths, and his desire to see the world thrilled Vivian. Her unbridled enthusiasm for new adventure, her ability to give him perspective to enjoy the smaller moments in life, and her typing skills at 3 am when he had a paper due the next morning, made her the perfect companion. Their relationship blossomed the spring of her sophomore year, 1966. He was no longer her T.A. and gave in to the attraction and her persistent advances.

Married in the summer of 1968, their one year anniversary was quickly approaching in August. This trip was part research, part delayed honeymoon. They couldn’t afford a getaway immediately following the wedding. Randall had been asked to teach as an adjunct professor at the start of fall term right after they wed and Vivian still had a year of school to finish.  After months of planning, a draft deferment, and a few strings pulled to get a research grant from the University, they were finally here. Paradise.

Their trains of thought suddenly collided; both took a deep breath and sighed simultaneously. They laughed at the coincidence, Randall spoke first. “What?”

Vivian shook her head and smiled. “Just thinking about how long we’ve waited to get here. And how much I love you.”

Randall leaned to kiss her. He noticed a water spout about 300 yards off the shore.

“Viv! Look!” he jumped to his feet and ran over to the beached catamaran to drop its sail.

“What are you doing? Didn’t you tell me that these are common and relatively harmless?”

“I just don’t want to take any chances.”

“Far out! I’ve heard about these, but never imagined we’d get to see one so close.” She ran to the edge of the water.

“Get back! It…it’s coming closer! Get back here!” the urgency in his voice unnerved Vivian. He ran and grabbed her arm, pulling her behind a large boulder as the winds increased around them. They ducked and hid as best they could.

As quickly as the winds came ashore, they stopped. It was utter silence. Even the sound of the waves crashing against the coral inlet deadened. Breaking the silence was the low whimper of a child’s cry.

“Shh. Don’t be afraid my darling. It will be okay,” a woman whispered.

Vivian and Randall exchanged a puzzled look. For one thing, what happened to the vortex of wind? For another, how could anyone have approached unobserved? Saint Thomas was the closest land within forty miles that direction. Randall gave a quick nod toward the sound of the voice and stood up to investigate.

A young woman knelt on a small spot of sand between the edge of the water and the island’s rocky terrain.  Her long auburn hair brushed the ground. She looked up at Randall and Vivian. Wind blew her hair just enough to reveal the infant she cradled in her arms. The woman was obviously ill; she had the look of death in the purple hollowed skin around her eyes.

“Cassura, these are the people I told you about.” Her voice was soft and gentle. She stroked the little girl’s blond curls with a trembling hand.

Vivian gasped as the little girl turned her face away from the woman’s chest. Piercing turquoise eyes met hers, surrounded by the longest eyelashes she’d ever seen. The child had a perfect little nose with the slightest upward turn, and incredibly pinchable chubby cheeks. It was as if the cherubs had hand-selected this little girl’s features. Vivian knew she could be no more than a year old.

The woman gracefully stood, holding the babe close. “My name is Meriseau. This is my daughter, Cassura. You must help us,” she implored.

Vivian and Randall were at a loss for words. They listened intently as Meriseau told her unbelievable tale. It seemed more fantasy and myth than most rational people would suffer to hear, yet Randall and Vivian were mesmerized. At the end of her saga, Meriseau took a weakened, raspy breath. She managed another shallow breath and said, “Now it is up to you. I have provided all you will need to care for her and keep her safe.”

Meriseau lifted the child and handed her to Vivian. To Vivian it was as if her whole life she’d been waiting for this moment. This tiny, beautiful, perfect life that was entrusted to her was all that mattered. The scent of the wild and free ocean filled her nostrils as she inhaled the fragrance of the girl’s hair. She closed her eyes and gently kissed Cassura’s forehead.

Randall embraced his wife and the child she held. He wondered how he’d ever convince Vivian to part with the girl. “Meriseau, we aren’t able to…” but before he could finish, Meriseau fell lifeless onto the sand.

“Randall!” The sound of Vivian’s voice stirred him from his memory and back to reality. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He looked around at the pale yellow walls of their motel room; the hibiscus print curtains gapped just enough to let in the neon glow of the Moonraker’s sign. Vivian was still staring at the Rand McNally on the desk. She held a shoestring tied to a pencil. “I think I found the perfect place.”

Randall walked over to the desk.

“See,” she explained, “if we’re to keep her as far from salt water as possible, that means somewhere equidistant from the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico…if we’re still going to live in the U.S. So from what I can estimate using my scientific tools at hand…” She smiled and held up the pencil and shoe string. Then she placed the tip of the shoe lace on the map and drew an arc, she marked an emphatic X. “There! Minneapolis. Or Saint Paul…either one will work. Not really sure how the locals feel about that. I’ve never been. But I figure…”

Randall put a finger up to his wife’s lips. “Um, hon, I’m a marine biologist. How can we live in the middle of nowhere, as far away from the ocean as possible?!” He paced and ran his fingers through his hair over the top of his head. “This is insane. We can’t raise her. Who knows who that woman really was? Maybe she’s some crazed lunatic who stole this little girl from a family out there who’s sick to death over their missing child!”

“I know it sounds crazy. You were there. You heard her. I don’t know how, but I believe her. She said we were chosen.”

“Yea, well crazy people will say anything. And what happens when someone finds her body? We’re going to have to notify the authorities. Not to mention how we’re going to explain her!” He pointed at Cassura still asleep in their bed.

Vivian walked over and took his hand. “Sometimes logic doesn’t make all the answers clear. Listen to your heart. What do you feel is the right thing to do?”

He looked down into her jade eyes. Tears were forming. He knew how much she’d always wanted to be a mother. After an unfortunate appendix rupture when she was seventeen, and the resulting complications, he knew she’d never be able to conceive their own child. He had just assumed that one day they would adopt, but never in a million years did he think it’d turn out this way.

He said, “This doesn’t make any sense. I’m supposed to be the one with all the answers, and right now I don’t even have a clue as to all the questions.”

She put her arms around his neck and traced his left ear with the tip of her finger. “Something in me just knows she is meant to be ours. Look at her. Look at her and tell me you can just leave her.”

In his heart he knew she was right. But his head was waging a war: his heart’s impulse against practicality and reason.  To foster a daughter under these circumstances did not merit a victory for practicality and reason. “Okay. Let’s say, for argument’s sake… we move to Minnesota. How are we going to support ourselves?”

“I can look for a job doing secretarial work to get us by at first. Then try to find a museum that might like to have someone with an anthropology degree. You can check local colleges for openings in their science department.”

“I suppose I could check with Dean Slater to see if he has any contacts in Minneapolis.”

She spoke with increased speed and enthusiasm, “Yeah! And we are at the end of our apartment lease… so no loss there. Oooh! We can call your old roommate, what was his name? You know, the law student. He can help us set up legal stuff with Cassura. I’ve been thinking…”

“I couldn’t tell.” He tilted his head and grinned.

She playfully hit his chest. “Dangerous, I know.” She added, “I think we should change her name.”

Randall looked at her; he knew it was pointless to interrupt. After she didn’t continue, he asked, “To what?”

“To Charlotte. I tried to think of a name related to where we found her, but Buck isn’t a proper lady-like name. Neither is Christiansted or Fredericksted… and those are the only two towns on this tiny island. Then it hit me… from what direction did that water spout come? From Saint Thomas… and what’s its capital?”

“Charlotte Amalie”

“Exactly! Now I don’t think her middle name should be Amalie, that’s too much.”

“Most definitely.” He leaned down and kissed her before she could go on any further.

 

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