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Srebrna, Skald Arkadii (and thoughts on writing)

Archive for January 2018

Double Pride Double Trouble – CH 03

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Chapter 3:  We think the same thoughts

The cabin wasn’t very big. Two beds, a dresser, a table, two rickety chairs and a wardrobe left very little free floor space – just enough to move one of the chairs to the middle of the rug and put a box of cookies on it. It was just close enough to let them reach towards said box comfortably from both beds. They sat in silence, munching the cookies and looking suspiciously at each other across the tiny room.
Mina gathered her courage first.
“So… Your aunt Jane gave these pliers to you?”
“Aunt Jane.”
“And she was the one who told you about this camp?”
“Yep.”
Mina reached behind her bed and picked up her tablet.
“And does your aunt Jane have a husband?”
Rose frowned.
“She does. Actually, it’s more like that husband is more my so called uncle, because he’s Dad’s best friend, and aunt Jane is just his wife. They aren’t like, related to us, or anything, but Dad always said that uncle Charles is like a brother he could freely pick for himself, instead of being assigned one at birth. Will you please explain what this third degree is about?”
Mina nodded slowly and turned the tablet on, then spent some time swiping through screens.
“Would that be aunt Jane and uncle Charles Bingley?” she handed the tablet to Rose, showing her a photo of a group of people sitting to a Christmas dinner. “These two? Because I know them as my Mom’s oldest sister and her husband. And the people responsible for me being here, on this camp.”
Rose grabbed the tablet, gasping.
“That’s… That’s my aunt! And my uncle! And… I never knew they had that many kids! Dad always says they don’t bring any because aunt Catherine hates toddlers.”
“Grandma would go bonkers if they ever decided to come to any family party without them. I may be the eldest in the whole generation, but she says that the more, the better. She loves aunt Jane more than my Mom because of this” Mina made a face.
Rose hiccoughed.
“Now” Mina hugged the tablet to herself “you see where this is going, don’t you?”
Rose nodded slowly.
“You think that if my aunt Jane and uncle Charles – who are my Dad’s best friend and his wife – and your aunt Jane and uncle Charles – who are your actual aunt and her husband – are the same people, then…”
“Yep. My Mom and your Dad are actually our parents. We’re twins. And Mom and Dad have some explaining to do.”
“Also, aunt Jane will have some explaining to do, when our p-parents” Rose stuttered here “find out that she manipulated both of them into letting us come here.”
Mina clasped her hands over her mouth.
“Mom will kill her. She wanted to take me to the seaside and take aunt Kitty and her kids with us, to see local fairs and markets. She only gave up after aunt Jane told her it’s healthier for me to finally go somewhere without family.”
“Dad will stop talking to uncle Charles” Rose whispered. “It was uncle who managed to get him to agree. Aunt actually just proposed it at some dinner and told me all about it before Dad had time to react. It took two more hours for uncle to convince Dad that I’m old enough to go on my own..”
Again they sat in silence for a moment.
“This is going to be a mess” declared Mina.
They looked at each other with wide eyes.

#

They sat on Mina’s bed, shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped over a scratchy blanket covering their legs.
“Do you think, if you asked, father would let you come to visit us?”
Rose slowly shook her head.
“Don’t think so. Or, even if he did, aunt Catherine would do something to make it impossible.”
Mina frowned.
“OK, first things first. We have to make a list of all family members so that I can understand what you’re talking about. Who is aunt Catherine and why does she sound like a right nightmare?”

#

“Anne is our father’s cousin?”
“Yes.”
“Like, actual cousin, parents were siblings?”
“Yes, Dad’s mother – I’ve never met her, she died when aunt Georgiana was born – and aunt Catherine were sisters.”
“Gross. I think that’s against the law or something…” Mina scrunched up her nose.
“I’m sure if aunt Catherine can do anything about it, she will” Rose shrugged. “She gets what she wants, and from what aunt Georgi told me, she wanted Dad and aunt Anne to get married for, like, ages.”
“I’d like to see her try” Mina said quietly. “She can’t do this if Mom and he are still married.”
Rose shrugged.
“I can definitely imagine her trying to. She’s been at it far longer than we’ve been alive. Aunt Georgi says she started at Dad when he was only in high school.”
“It’s like, disgusting.”
“You’ve said it, girl.”
“I wonder what made her so… why would she even want this for her daughter?”
Rose snorted and whipped out her phone, pulled up a picture and handed it over to Mina without a word.
“Wow” was the only thing her sister managed to say.
“Yeah. Half of my class is like, in love with him.”
“He looks like a movie star.”
“He’s your father, mind you.”
Mina snorted.
“I can only say, at least now I know where my looks come from. Most of our side of the family is blonde, only Mom is a bit darker, but no black hair on anyone there.”
“OK, your turn” Rose looked at her expectantly.
Mina made a quick choice, picking a photo she liked the best.
“This is Mom. Last Christmas, she…”
Rose’s eyes teared up.
“God, she’s lovely” she whispered. “I…”
“Yep” Mina popped the ‘p’ happily. “And she’s fun. And she loves making stuff. You’ll love her, just wait. We’ll think of something.”
“You’ll love Dad, too. He… He would do anything for me. I mean, for us, I suppose. We have to make this happen.”

Between them, a screen showing Elizabeth Bennet hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree slowly darkened.

#

“How many?!” Rose’s voice rose in pitch.
“Four. Not counting the second-degree-whatevers, because grandma has two siblings and they also have kids. Granduncle Eddie has four and grandaunt Phil has three. Plus there is a cousin of our grandpa’s, who’s like a lot younger than him and is kind of always visiting and trying to ask one of Mom’s friends out, and she’s always blowing him off. She doesn’t really like him, but she says she just can’t tell him to get lost because her mother keeps setting her up with some weird guys from her church, so she prefers Bill because she knows what to do to keep him at a distance.”
“So, what, four aunts, plus their cousins?”
“Yes, uncle Eddie has two daughters and two sons and aunt Phil has two daughters and one son. So in total we have eight aunts and three uncles, well, the ones that are kind of our Mom’s generation. Plus husbands, meaning, Mom’s brothers-in-law. Also, Tommy, who is Mom’s oldest cousin, is getting married next year, so we’ll get another aunt. She’s nice and she loves crafts, just like mom.”
Rose wrapped a blanket around herself more tightly.
“I thought a big family is when you have, like, two siblings” she mumbled slowly.
“Well, now you know what it means to have an actual big family. And Grandma has the biggest house, so she invites everyone for every holiday possible, and usually everyone comes. So there’s me, aunt Jane’s five, aunt Kitty’s twins and aunt Lydia’s Adele, who’s kind of our age, and aunt Mary’s Jimmy. Jimmy is not our actual cousin, because aunt Mary adopted him, but he’s been with her since he was like two or three months old, so he’s family anyway.”
Rose nodded mutely.
“And our cousins are mostly girls, because it’s just Jimmy and Jonathan, aunt Jane’s youngest, for boys. Grandma is very worried about us all, because she says nobody will be able to afford all these weddings once we’re all grown up. Grandpa then says that he hopes we all elope and let our parents keep the money, and usually then there is a row and uncle Charlie has to do something to make them stop.”

#

Rose sighed, swiping through Mina’s photoalbum on the tablet.
“I wish I could convince Dad to let me visit” she said dejectedly. “But I wouldn’t count on it. And if aunt Anne hears about it, she will run to aunt Catherine and she will do anything she can to stop me.”
“Why would she want to? I know you told me she wants father to marry aunt Anne, but this doesn’t make sense…”
Rose turned to face her sister, who was busy crocheting a bag from a ball of string for her craft project.
“Because they both like to make me not do stuff. I only learnt how to swim because the school requires it, even though we have a pool and a pond on the property. But aunt Anne said that she always felt that it is not ladylike to swim, and aunt Catherine agreed. And they said I can’t go to the public pool with other children from my school, even when aunt Georgiana went herself.”
“That’s stupid. Swimming is useful. Our coach says it can save your life someday.”
“Well, I suppose aunt Catherine would sooner die than be seen as unladylike.”
“Or she would wait for rescue and then complain that they were late.”
Rose snorted and nodded.
“And then there was this camp. I almost didn’t come because aunt Anne imagined that I would be mixing with inappropriate element. They nearly got Dad to switch my school to the very posh one on the other end of town. I’d spend whole morning every day just getting there. And I know some of these girls from my ballet classes, and I tell you, they are a nasty bunch. I wouldn’t want to sit by any of them for the world. Also, it’s segregated.”
Mina frowned.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a girls school. No guys.”
“Geez. What are they afraid of, that you’d get boy-cooties?”
“Inappropriate element, again. Apparently school dances are a sin. Or something.”
They sat in silence for a moment, looking at a photo of Elizabeth sitting by her sewing machine. Rose zoomed it in to get a better look at her face and sighed.
“Maybe you could come to us?” she suggested. “Would your… would mother allow you to come?”
Mina frowned.
“I don’t… I’m not sure. I could maybe convince aunt Jane to ask her to take me when they visit you, but…” she bit her lip.
“What?”
“I don’t think Mom likes father very much.”
Silence fell for a moment.
“Why?” Rose finally asked in a small voice.
“She never mentions him. Even when she once listed all her ex-boyfriends to a friend, she never said anything about him. I know because that friend asked which one of these was my father and Mom said ‘none’. So you see, she doesn’t even mention him, like, in normal way.”
“Dad never mentioned mother either, but…” Rose thought for a moment. “I think I once heard aunt Catherine rant about her, mostly about someone’s ungratefulness and aiming too high for their own good. And Dad said ‘not one more word about her, aunt’ and suddenly she went so silent.”
“And grandma doesn’t like him either” Mina said morosely. “Like, when I do something she doesn’t like, she says stuff like ‘so much like him’. I’m guessing father got on her nerves somehow.”
“I wonder how they managed to stay together long enough to have us” Rose sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Because it seems like nobody from one side has anything good to say about the other one.”
“Except for aunt Jane and uncle Charles, because they still visit both of them.”
“Yeah, but only you get to play with their kids.”
Mina nodded slowly.
“I think I know why they don’t ever take them visiting to you.”
Rose ate another cookie, waiting for Mina to proceed.
“It’s… If they brought them to a dinner and one of the little ones said something about meeting me with my daddy, I’d know there was something wrong. So they had to choose one house they don’t bring kids to.”
“And that was our house…”
“Because grandma would be furious if they tried coming without her grandbabies. So they had to choose our side as the ones to be visited in full cast.”
Rose groaned.
“I want to meet my cousins. I want to have more aunts! I just have Anne, who is stupid and always goes tattling to her mother, and aunt Georgiana who is like the sweetest thing ever, but she’d never do anything like aunt Jane, to argue or talk over Dad. She’s mostly sitting in her room and working on her articles and historical papers.”
“You have aunt Jane, too” Mina pointed out. “You can talk to her about stuff, I guess. I do.”
“But she lives closer to you, so it’s not like I can talk to her very often.”
Mina sighed.
“I’d like to see your house. And meet aunt Georgiana. She sounds nice.”
“If aunt Jane ever brings you, we could spend time together, I’d show you the gardens and everything. And you know, the best part would be, you could meet Dad. He’s…” she shrugged. “I don’t know. Other kids always complain about their Dads, but I’ve never understood why. My – our – Dad is just great, and he loves doing stuff with me, like riding horses. Or playing chess. He takes whole days off work, just to go with me somewhere. Last spring he took me to Bronte Parsonage to show me where they lived, when we were reading Jane Eyre at school.”
“I wish you could come to London and meet everyone” Mina sighed. “We have fabulous fun, playing in grandma’s garden. And we could go see all the good things in the city. There are all these museums I love, and the shops, and everything. Mom actually promised to take me for brafitting when I’m back from the camp, and if you could come, that would be even more fun.”
“Dad promised me a weekend hike in the mountains, once I’m back from the camp. That would be more fun with the two of us, too” Rose added. “And then we could…” she broke off. “You know what?”
“Hm?”
“I just imagined what fun we could have if we managed to get them to send us to the same school – I’d actually agree to a boarding school, if we got them to send both of us. Would you?”
Mina nodded slowly and then smiled.
“Oooh, can you imagine what kind of confusion we could cause? Like, if we cut our hair the same way and tried talking the same?”
“We anyway talk almost the same – Dad makes sure I don’t speak too much like a local girl – he said people used to laugh at him when he did it by accident at the Uni.”
“Wow. I can’t even start on the stuff we could do…”
“We can try now” Rose suggested suddenly. “Like I… I could cut my hair, you know. It’s not like I love this braid, but aunt Catherine insists on me having long hair. So if I cut it during the camp, she can’t do anything about it, right?”
Mina’s eyes widened.
“That would be so cool” she gasped. “And then we could just mess with everyone’s minds for the rest of the camp!”
“Wow.”
Mina felt her mouth suddenly go dry.
“Rose?”
“Hmm?”
“How would you” she swallowed “How would you feel about going to London after the camp is finished?”
Rose propped herself on one elbow and looked at her sister.
“That would be fab, but I don’t think Dad would agree, like I said.”
“Dad wouldn’t have to agree, you see. He wouldn’t even notice you were gone.”
“Wh… oh, wow.”
“Yep. I’d take all your stuff…”
“And I’d go to London and you to Derbyshire…”
“We could switch and nobody would notice!”
“You could say that you had to cut your hair because… because someone stuck chewing gum in it!”
“And you’d just have to play along and stop biting your nails.”
“What!?”
“I don’t bite mine” Mina waggled her fingers towards her sister. “And you do. So you have to stop and let them grow properly.”
“You’d have to start” Rose pointed out.
“Let’s say we claim I grew out of it, OK? Gross.”
Rose frowned.
“But what about houses? And school and people?”
Mina smiled.
“Totally covered. We still have six weeks of camp to make a proper, what Mom calls it, Knowledge Transfer. You teach me about Pemberley, I teach you about our flat, and building and stuff. So. You game?”
Rose grinned and sat up straighter.
“Oh yea. The biggest performance of my life! And you know what? We have all these lovely photos on our tablets and phones, right? It’s like a real life cheat sheet! We can learn faces and places and things, so you’ll show me all the cousins and I can show you everyone on my side and the gardens and my schoolmates. This way once school year starts, we can keep it up for some more time.”
Mina stiffened.
“School, yes. We have to make sure we know everything… Lord, I hate studying during summer!”
“For higher good” Rose said piously and kept her very serious face until they both collapsed with laughter. “OK, let’s start at home. If we don’t cover that, we’ll be found out immediately.”
“And what if we aren’t found out? We can’t keep it up infinitely.”
Rose pondered the question for a moment.
“If we aren’t found out by Halloween, then we tell. Once they switch us back, we’ll have enough time to correct all tests we flunk and get the grades up. Because, come on, how good is your French?”
Mina snorted.
“Probably about as good as your Italian.”
“I suppose so. OK, time to make a plan.”

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Double Pride Double Trouble – CH 02

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Chapter 2: While still being so different

Their things were packed in a matter of minutes and their cabin mates regarded them sorrowfully (some, however, with hidden relief) as they trudged down the lane to the last cabin of the camp. It was separated from the other, lived-in cabins by a few empty ones and had the form of an old farmhouse – it had been there since the camp had been built, just after the war, most probably.
Mina crawled up the stairs, dragging her backpack, her shoulder bag and the guitar and immediately deposited them on the bed closer to the door.
Rose had to pull up a rolling suitcase, which took her more time and much more sweat. She made an annoyed sound, seeing the closer bed taken, but silently marched to the other bed and flopped bonelessly on it.
“You are expected in the kitchen in twenty minutes” they heard from the outside and groaned – for once in total agreement.

#

Mina was heroically chopping the cabbage for the big soup pot, trying not to smirk in amusement as Rose was getting dressed down by the main cook for being unable to peel potatoes. The poor girl apparently had never ever done anything in the kitchen but was more than unwilling to admit it.
Well, the cabbage was all chopped, and the carrots were waiting, but Rose was pouting in the corner, being set to wash the apples for the afternoon. Mina couldn’t really imagine a house in which a kid would not be able to peel a stupid potato by the age of fourteen.

#

Rose took delight in watering the plants. There was something immensely satisfying in tending to a garden. She was never allowed to do this at home – not since Aunt Catherine found out that one could actually get dirty in the gardens. Ever since, trying to get something to grow was a battle Rose waged on her own windowsill, covering the attempts at making a beanstalk climb with “school project”.
Mina wasn’t doing quite as well. She had managed to drop her seed packet, step in a molehill three times and almost sat on a rake. She was muddy, dirty and rather annoyed. And what was worse, Rose was absolutely perfect at that stuff, while Mina couldn’t wait to get away from the dirt, the poking tools and the weeds she was supposed to magically distinguish from carrot.

#

Rose was dying of boredom. Sewing. SEWING. There were machines in the world for a purpose. She couldn’t keep an even stitch and she never planned to need one. The idea of sewing a plush toy “for a sister or a cousin” was making her actually angry. She didn’t have anyone to give a plushie to.
Mina was in heaven. This was like all the times when Mom allowed her to dig up the bags of yarn and patchwork pieces and pick her own design. Mom never used faux fur, so this was even better because once she came home, she would be able to show Mom something only Mina knew how to do!

#

And so it went, hour by hour, sports, crafts, singing, field trips and kitchen duty. Each trying to talk to the other as little as possible, despite the fact that mostly they had only each other for company – including meals, as Mrs Hill managed to set up an isolation table only for them, too.

#

Mina was on a verge of strangling the pouty, huffing and mumbling Rose, especially during meals. She had never felt as much under scrutiny, even during the family dinners when Grandma discussed everyone’s manners with relish – usually focusing on Mina’s lack thereof – as when Rose looked at her elbow propped on the table with such revulsion.
On the other hand, Rose seemed quite unable to do anything by herself that was more complicated than brushing her hair. Every stuck window was a reason for complaining.

#

Rose wanted nothing more than for Mina to get lost in the woods. The superiority of the girl was getting on her nerves each and every second. She could do everything. Pull a splinter out with her tweezers – she had special tweezers in her backpack! Hang a rope to dry her clothes. Open stupid stuck windows.
Still, she ate like a little kid, forgetting to use her knife and sometimes trying to cut with her fork, being obviously too lazy to behave properly.

#

The cabin was rather draughty and they both sat on their cots, carefully wrapped in layers of blankets.
The day promised to be ugly and all sport and activities were cancelled due to the risk of heavy rain. Even the computers in the rec room were shut down, just in case a storm came later. Everyone took their food from the cafeteria and skipped trying to eat it in the windy barn of a dining room, taking the plates and cups to their cabins, with adults carefully not noticing that breach in camp rules.
Rose was nibbling on a sandwich, typing something on her tablet at the same time, when a gust of wind across their floor actually moved her slippers.
“All right, enough is enough” Mina said and stood up. “Come on, we need to fix it.”
As Rose stared at her in wonder, she pulled on her boots and marched out. Rose caught up to her at the back of the cabin.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking at Mina in surprise.
“I’m quite sure that draught is not supposed to be that strong. Ah, you see? There is a plank that doesn’t sit between the others properly. Good thing the nail is still in it. Wait a moment. I’ll try to find another, so it sits better.”
She was back in a minute, holding a rather rusty nail and a complicated tool.
“That’s a multi-hammer” she explained. “Got it for my birthday, from my aunt. Best gift ever.”
She carefully placed the plank back where it was supposed to be and hammered the nail home, adding a few taps at the end to drive it as deep as it could go.
Rose nodded.
“I got pliers like this. But aunt Anne took them away. She’s not really that big on me doing stuff by myself. She fought against me coming here, too. I think she still feels I’m just a kid.”
“Crazy. We’re fourteen. It’s not like we’re toddlers or babies. I feel quite up to the challenge of spending two months away from home. And of using a hammer.”
Mina lined up the second nail and bashed on its head in satisfaction until it was flush with the wood.
“This should do it” she wiped her hands on her knees. “Dear auntie Jane, I have to tell her I used it for something serious, finally.”
Rose licked her lips.
“Aunt Jane?”
“M-hm.”
“Funny thing” Rose said “I got my pliers from an aunt also named Jane, just before she told me about this camp. And…” she pulled the hammer from Mina’s hand slowly. “My pliers look like they came from the same set…”
Mina frowned.
“Like what?”
“Well, they have the same kind of decoration and the handles are pink with these holes in them” Rose pointed. “That’s weird.”
She handed the hammer back to Mina, who looked at it, frowning.
“Let’s go inside. I have some cookies from my mom if you want…?”
Rose’s eyes widened.
“Sure!”