Darling Daughters

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

Of course not much changed when Summer and Cassandra went back to school. Though it was a bit easier to get on with her day. Thing’s between them were tentative, it often depended on Jamie and the attention he showed Summer who remained nothing more than polite. Summer would have to occasionally remind Cassandra of her lack of interest which soothed the tensions.

Summer had her focus on making a list of TV shows she wanted to binge watch for her birthday in the hope that Elizabeth had accepted her request of a quiet day. But that was far from Elizabeth’s intentions. However, she wasn’t the only one with intentions for Summer’s birthday. Stuart and Matthew were plotting something. All Summer wanted was to let her eighteenth pass by.

The grandfathers had approached Elizabeth and told her their plans to fly over for Summer’s birthday so they had to keep the day open, and their plan’s secret from Summer. Elizabeth didn’t want to keep this secret from Summer, who told her that evening.

By the time Summer’s birthday arrived the knot in her stomach from the anxiety she had, now sat in her throat. that was until the seven am drum roll on the front door. More annoying than workmen going wild on a road at six am, this knocking refused to stop.

By the time both girls had pulled themselves out of bed to reach the door they both looked unimpressed. Possibly contemplating if it would be considered premeditated if they assaulted the person on the other side of the door.

Elizabeth yanked the door open to find both grandfathers standing in front of them. Elizabeth caught herself, Summer refused to abandon the “if looks could kill” stare as confetti was showered down over her head. Summer turned and trudged into the kitchen to put the kettle on.

The grandfathers looked at the grumpy girls and congratulated Summer on her birthday for the fifth time this morning. They handed both girls a gift bag. At the bottom of the bag filled with tissue paper was a small box, with a business card within. El found the exact same card, for a dress shop. It took Matthew explaining that they had to go to the dress shop and pick two dresses, one needed to be appropriate for this evening. Summer and Elizabeth felt slightly awkward and thanked them before being ordered to go and get ready.

On Summer’s return to the kitchen they were marched by Elizabeth to the Diner for breakfast. When they walked through the door Simon guided them to a table covered in balloons and streamers. Summer couldn’t help but laugh.

They had a nice relaxed breakfast before Matthew and Stuart insisted it was time to go dress shopping. Where they would end up being told that they had to wear the long glittering gowns for this evening, out of the three dresses they would end up receiving, each very different in hemline and style they felt like a whole other version of themselves.

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Darling Daughters

Chapter Twenty-One

 

When Summer and Cassandra reached the gates, the scale of the grandeur and elegance that confronted them dwarfed Darling Honor. Darling College excelled on the forbidding. As their eyes finally became accustomed to the building ahead of them, they allowed their focus to shift towards the students heading to lectures.

They stood inside the gates for the first time, swallowing their nerves, in that moment the girls let their own quarrels fade to nothing and let the excitement rise. Cassandra put her fingers around Summer’s hand and squeezed. Summer tensed until she saw the excitement of a child in Cassandra’s eyes. She relaxed, amused that her mortal enemy, or so it seemed at times could be that excited.

Taking a deep breath, they headed towards where they assumed the reception would be. The closer they got they noticed a man walking towards them. “Miss Darling, Miss Devonthorne, what a pleasure to meet you both. I am Dean Forrester, I’m fairly casual with titles, I like to be ‘down with the kids’ as they say.” Summer and Cassandra cringed. “You may need to excuse my enthusiasm; it has been a long time since we had a Darling intent on studying here. Not since Edward Darling, Elizabeth’s father who I believe is your cousin? I met him once you know, lovely man. Anyway, I have been asked to give you a tour and fill you in on Darling life.”

He guided them out of the reception area. Cassandra and Summer shared a look. Just out of ear shot Cassandra whispered in Summer’s ear “trust us to end up with the over excited labradoodle.” They stifled their giggles while Forrester had a brief exchange with a passer-by, the girls had carried on walking.

“Excuse me” they chimed walking past a blocked hallway not waiting for Forrester who caught up with them. Summer began to hatch a plan as they walked.

Forrester continued to talk for over an hour and a half over loading them on information on the courses they offered, the library and additional lectures.

While on their tour the girls spotted a coffee cart. Cassandra made the suggestion of sampling the coffee. Forrester didn’t much like the idea and tried to coerce them into to sticking to the tour schedule. That was of course until Summer took an opportunity, “I could really murder a cup of tea right now, it’s so hard to find somewhere that knows how to make tea, just right.” She let her words sink in for a moment before sighing ever so slightly. She caught Cassandra’s eye and smiled. Rather reluctantly Forrester agreed they could get a cup of tea as long as they resumed the tour schedule after.

Ten minutes later Forrester had them back on the route no longer badgering Summer with questions about the Darling family being resident again in Grimeston. He guided them towards the magpie aviary. Summer found herself thoroughly entranced, “I love magpies, so quirky and did you know they are the smartest birds for their brain size. Such characters-” She found herself distracted again watching the magpies hop about in a happy chatter. The aviary was huge, she wanted to climb inside and just immerse herself in that other little world within the college.

On the way to student housing they heard a raucous up ahead. “I’ve been wondering something, I guess it’s something you see in the movies, but, are there any secret societies here?”

“What? No. That would be impossible.”

Cassandra and Summer were bored of their guide and had, had enough of Forrester’s over enthusiastic approach. They had finally finished the tour of student accommodation. Summer was determined to explore without their puppy guide.

The source of the raucous they had heard earlier came into sight, a group of “slightly” drunk students were walking towards them. One took a stumbled and landed on Summer, both entangled on the floor for a moment. Forrester’s face was a picture when he pulled the boy off of her to help Summer up. “Miss Darling, I am so sorry, take my hand.” He turned to the boy who was swaying a little, “Conduct yourself appropriately.”

The boy grinned “of course” and winked awkwardly.

“Miss Darling are you alright?” Forrester had turned back to Summer. The boy behind him snapped straight as if he had heard her name for the first time. Summer nodded, wiping the back of her trousers, “I’m fine, please just call me Summer.” The boy apologised, examining her with his eyes, unsteadily she nodded and walked ahead.

Forrester guided them away, Summer looked back to see the boy who had fallen on her still staring after her as his friends started to pull him into a building.

Summer was certain enough was enough of this tour. “This tour is very informative and we do appreciate it, but I do believe that Cassandra and I would like to explore at our own pace. It could be beneficial if we could see what interests us, I am sure you are very busy, should we have any questions would it be possible to seek you out?”

He stumbled on a response, torn from his duty and from the tour. Summer smiled softly in the hope he would take the bait and let them go. Reluctantly he agreed. Cassandra and Summer thanked him and turned on their heels before he could call them back.

After a while of Cassandra leading the way, Summer had discovered a lot about Cassandra. It was all rather strange, the both of them talking without being vicious. Their conversation was interrupted by the now very much more intoxicated boy from earlier. “Come join us” he offered his hand to her. Summer took Cassandra’s hand instead, “maybe another time” and took a step away until she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“My name is William, by the way.” They nodded but their eyes had fallen on the coffee cart ahead. “Nice to meet you, but we are on our way to get coffee and your friends are calling for you.” She smiled. As they walked away he yelled at them, “I love your accent”. Summer laughed as they walked towards the coffee, their main thought.

Summer took a moment of caution before dismissing it, “Cassandra, wanna come back to Grimeston?”

Cassandra was visibly surprised, but she couldn’t find a reason to decline. Summer suggested going to the Diner. “I want to ask you something.” Cassandra blurted out. Summer nodded for her to go ahead. “Do you like Jamie? As in like, like.”

“Oh hell no. Not in any kind of like.”

“Oh. I think he likes you.”

“I think you like him.”

“I… So? It doesn’t matter.”

“Honestly, he is not what I want. At all. To be honest, I am sure there are plenty of reasons for him to like you, I mean your definitely no air head like Valarie.”

“I’m not pretty.”

“You are, when you’re not being obsessively competitive about the valedictorian thing. There’s no reason to be so hard on yourself.”

“He likes you though.”

“Because I don’t like him. To him everything is a game. To be honest, you are better off finding a new crush, he wouldn’t be able to keep up with you.”

“You underestimate him.”

“Like I said, not interested.”

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Darling Daughters

Chapter Twenty

 

Summer found her negotiation skills tested trying to organise a day when she could go to Darling College that Darling Honor would agree to.  She had to avoid days with mock exams and major class projects, and rather reluctantly Summer had to accept headmaster Maiden’s orders that Cassandra would go with her to look at the college.

Summer had overheard Cassandra bragging about her excursion to Maggy who pouted, this was one excursion she wouldn’t be able to get away with joining. Valarie however seemed more curious if it meant Cassandra would be going to a college party. Summer struggled to suppress her laughter. But even that hadn’t escaped Cassandra’s notice.

Cassandra approached Summer in the girl’s bathroom, it was less an approach and more an ambush. Summer began to feel confined and cornered, something that she had always hated. “Cassandra move.”

“No, I want to talk to you about something.”

“Can I at least wash my hands while you talk.” Cassandra looked her up and down and stepped out of the way.

“I will be valedictorian.”

“Good, I don’t care”

“Sure you don’t”

Summer rolled her eyes and turned to face Cassandra. The threat in the air was clear, Summer really didn’t care, she felt an old helpless anger bubbling from her throat. “Listen to me Cassandra, because this is the last time I will say this to you, I don’t care! I honestly don’t, I have no interest in being valedictorian, I want to get this year done, get it out the way. I don’t care about valedictorian, I don’t care about you and I certainly don’t care about this damn school.”

“Sure you-”

“I haven’t finished talking. Leave me alone. Seriously, I have had enough. You think you are scary, I’ve known worse than you, so go take your conspiracy theories and put them where the sun doesn’t shine.”

Cassandra stood open mouthed when Summer finished turned and walked away. For once Summer had stood up for herself in a way she had never done before. She had stood up for herself, something that felt very strange and left her shaking on the inside.

***

Summer woke early with a nervous stomach. When she pulled herself from her bed and got dressed she came stumbling into the kitchen pulling on her shoes. A blurry eyed Elizabeth trudged into the room, “coffee, coffee, coffee” she mumbled. Elizabeth groaned, she sat on the chair drinking her coffee while Summer darted about preparing for her day trip. Today was the trip to Darling College, after about half an hour they were on the road to Darling College.

Elizabeth was in a hurried mood, she had a one track mind focused entirely on her to do list as long as her arm. Dropping Summer off was just the start.

Elizabeth dropped Summer off nearby, she had felt like a walk. Elizabeth drove off leaving her walking up the path to Darling College.

Summer enjoyed the walk, peace before she had to face Cassandra again, something that she had avoided. The birds sung and it all seemed so picturesque. It was peace in chaos. Summer’s blood ran cold for a moment hearing Cassandra call her name.

“I thought you would have changed your mind when you found out that I will come here.” Summer didn’t bother to suppress her smirk as she waited for Cassandra to catch up.

“You should be so lucky, I belong here, despite your obvious connection.”

“Not bitter are we Cassandra? You do know, it’s really not attractive.”

“You sound like my mother.” Summer’s face fell, the tension subsided for a moment. Their walk continued in silence. While there was unease between them, they both had a nervous energy. The further along the path they walked the silence became a little unbearable.

“I’m sorry.”

“I know, and for what it’s worth, so am I.”

“Thank you, I guess we should probably try to get along, today is going to be a long day and we are going to need to get along. Us fighting, here it’s not something I want getting back to my grandad. Truce?” Summer offered her hand. Tentatively, Cassandra shook it.

 

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Darling Daughters

Chapter Nineteen

 

After a couple of days of ducking and diving Elizabeth finally managed to confront Summer over her avoiding her phone, burying herself in books and moving like the flash, moving like the speed of light in town.

Elizabeth didn’t react how Summer expected, Elizabeth was quiet, but she agreed with Simon, “just tell Zach how you feel, nicely.” Summer nodded taking her phone and walking out the door.

An hour or two later Elizabeth heard the door slam and a Summer sized blur speed into her bedroom and the music begin. “Sum, what happened?” the music went silent, “so I guess you cut the kid loose then?” Summer appeared at the door and glared coldly at Elizabeth. Elizabeth sat next to Summer who had crashed onto her bed.

“Ellie it was awful; it was like breaking up with a tiny puppy. Is it always like that? Is it always so hard?” Elizabeth looked sympathetically at Summer, before she finally replied. “Summer it’s hard for a reason, you know it is the right choice. It is never easy to walk away from someone you care for, but if it didn’t feel right in the relationship it just wasn’t right for you. That’s ok. Its ok if it doesn’t work out, it’s not failing.”

Summer shrugged when Elizabeth suggested takeaway. It seemed that takeaway was the tip of the iceberg of a few days involving takeaway, ice cream and bad comedy movies.

***

Before long it was Christmas, the girls with no plans decided to take delight in knowing they didn’t have to make a giant formal roast. Their Christmas spirit sat buried in the cupboard with the Christmas decorations. Instead they planned to hang out together and eat copious amounts of junk food.

Simon publicly, loudly congratulated them on their lack of Christmas enthusiasm at every opportunity. The town was covered in far too much tinsel and twinkle lights in his opinion and had repeatedly refused to put any decorations in the Diner at all. Which frustrated Thomas who would try to push decorations in the Diner every time he passed by.

Simon took true delight in Thomas’ frustration. With that in mind Elizabeth and Summer had suggested doing a spooky spoof of Christmas. They entered the Diner late at night past closing time and hung strings of black tinsel and the handmade edible bats and ghosts that Elizabeth and Summer had been making using sugar craft tricks which were hanging from the ceiling. With a box of spares hidden in the store room their work was done.

The next day had customers surprised as they could walk out of the diner sucking on a ghost or a bat. It seemed to have made the Diner popular over Christmas. Even when Thomas tried to hang candy canes in the Diner no one paid attention, until Simon caught him and marched him out the diner throwing the candy canes at him.

The Halloween hanging edibles theme even made its way to the bakery which sported the Christmas counterparts, reindeers, Santa’s and snowmen. The odd candy bombing (a little like yarn bombing) had taken over the town, covered in plastic wrap of course. It kept Summer and Elizabeth working hard in the evenings making more Christmas and Halloween creations.

By the time Christmas was over the girls had made a couple of boxes of champagne bottles and glasses to give to Caroline and Simon, as a thank you for the generous contributions for the costs of the candies and as a special thank you.

New Year’s eve, Summer’s favourite day of the year came and went. The spirit of the season began to fade when the heavy thud of a prospectus and letter were slammed on the table from Darling college. Summer was sorely tempted to not open it. She could feel that rebellious urge from Elizabeth. She had to remind herself that it could be the start of something amazing.

The plan set out for them didn’t sound too bad, Summer only had avoided opening it because she felt the bile of resentment. She had endured so much of being controlled and making the best of a bad situation she could only do so much. She had been avoiding her old home life and thrown herself into getting to know Elizabeth, she found herself joking one night that they felt more like sisters.

Elizabeth had been supportive of Summer when she finally opened up about what she had known until now. She accepted Summer’s gratitude, but just like Summer she struggled to open up about her past until a rather tipsy New Year’s eve. They had bonded, finally being able to trust one another.

 

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Darling Daughters

Chapter Eighteen

 

When December finally began the town started to prepare for the annual winter festival. However, Summer and Elizabeth were only just treading water from the piles of work that they always seemed to be buried in. When term time ended and the celebratory spirit descended on the town Summer finally seemed to have found a slightly lighter mood. The first Christmas away from home.

On the first day of the holidays the town had its own sparkling aura of Christmas that had blanketed the place in frost. Summer had done the homework she had been set. All family obligations had been dissolved. The air was cool and crisp and the town just seemed magical.

Elizabeth and Summer headed to work as a team of volunteers began to decorate the gazebo, the centre of the net of fairy lights spreading through the town. Stands were being erected on the crisp grass snapping below their feet.

Zach stopped by the Diner on the way to the market for his shift. He pulled Summer aside to ask if she was still ok to go to the festival with him. She nodded. After he left the Saturday morning rush started to come to a quiet lull. Now that she wasn’t rushed off of her feet she began to over think, feeling awkward. She could now be considered a trust fund kid; even if she and Elizabeth had those opportunities they didn’t want to give up their work. As far as they had decided, it was for emergencies only.

Reality had set in for Elizabeth and Summer, in terms of their education, their future had been laid out for them in no uncertain terms. Along with startling clarity that Matthew and Stuart had deemed Zach and Simon unsuitable. Summer had remained silent through that particular lecture, she found herself in quiet surprise when she realised that they were right, Zach wasn’t “the one”. When she accepted that everything has a shelf life, an expiry date, it didn’t have to be forever. It was both a liberating and a sad realisation.

Summer seemed to keep glossing over her pensive thoughts, when Elizabeth walked in for a quick lunch they smiled and joked. But that conversation seemed to rest just behind those smiles. Elizabeth was resentful, Simon was great, he’s a great friend, but somehow it didn’t feel like enough.

Summer’s shift seemed to drag until she was able to go home and change. When Elizabeth joined Summer on the porch they watched Zach come down the road. Elizabeth watched Summer’s face, it didn’t seem as happy as she had expected. She seemed pensive before she finally smiled.

Walking into the town square was beautiful. In the evening everything seemed that much more magical with all the twinkling lights. The cold air danced in their breath and the smell of hot food; the hot cinnamon churros, donuts, mulled wine, hot dogs just seemed so alive in the dead of winter. Even when the snow began to fall in soft gentle flurries they still felt warm, more so with thick hot chocolates.

Elizabeth decided to separate from Summer and Zach and found herself staring at the Diner. Inside she saw Simon fiddling with streams of paper. For a moment she paused before finally deciding to go and speak to him. Determined to walk through the door marked closed she was on a mission. Even if it was just for five minutes she would get him to come to the winter festival.

In the dark corner of an alley stood a man watching Elizabeth cross the road to the Diner before turning his back and walking through the crowds pushing past Summer and Zach in a determined rush, unapologetically.

Summer and Zach were unimpressed by the rude stranger and strolled over to the bonfire to warm up a little more. The soft crackling of the flames gave off a romantic glow. Gently Zach spoke as he held her in his arms, she was already feeling a bit awkward but his words made things worse. “There is something I wanted to say, Summer, I love you.” The world seemed to slow down uncomfortably around her, like all eyes were on her. She was unable to speak, thankfully the phone ringing in her pocket drew her attention. She made her excuses and ran home, not accepting his offer to take her home. She ran until it was safe to turn the alarm off of her phone to remind her about her morning shift the next day.

When Summer got in she collapsed on her bed exhausted and ready to bury her head in the sand and avoid her phone.

Elizabeth got home an hour later after having a cheerful evening hanging around with Simon. She returned smiling, deciding to check on Summer fast asleep. Summers phone rang again with Zach’s number, noticing the string of missed calls she putt the phone by Summer’s bedside. She covered Summer in a blanket before going to bed.

***

In the morning Summer buried herself in invented work, redoing her homework so that it was “better”. When Summer’s phone charged back up she saw the missed calls and texts from Zach. A guilty knot in her stomach made her turn from her phone to go and make a nice cup of tea.

Elizabeth trudged into the kitchen and retrieved the cup of tea Summer was offering her. “Hey how late did you get home?”

“Not too loud! Not too late.”

“Ellie are you hungover?”

“No… yes… don’t you have work to go to?”

“Fine I get the hint; I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, yeah, Sum your phone?”

“Nah its ok you know where to find me.”

“Avoiding someone?”

“Oh look at the time. See you tonight.”

Summer walked out the door with earphones tucked into her ears, a grumpy expression and nothing connected to her earphones. Dashing through the door of the Diner Summer pulled her coat and scarf off. Summer worked in a blur all morning. She darted around, the epitome of efficiency. So efficient Simon could see her avoiding something.

“Summer, it’s quiet, relax, have a break” Summer shook her head at him and carried on cleaning tables. After the determined steering of Simon, she sat down with Simon sat with her, he convinced her to just say what was bothering her. The words seemed to spill and tumble from her lips as she explained all about the winter festival and about what Matthew and Stuart had said about the men in their lives.

Simon sat quietly and listened for a few minutes. “Well, if Zach isn’t the right guy, if it doesn’t feel right, you need to tell him. Just sit down and tell him how you are feeling. You need to be prepared to hear what he wants; but you need to be sure of what you want, believe me, it’s not always easy to stand your ground.”

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