My fanfiction and other random ramblings

Srebrna, Skald Arkadii (and thoughts on writing)

DPDT – Chapter 17 (part 2 of 4): And sing and dance and laugh

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The large Tupperware container was met with signs of disbelief.

“You baked this?” Sebastien poked a round cookie suspiciously.

“Yes, for the tenth time. Mom, Dad, Mina and me. It’s one of Mom’s favourite recipes. Seriously, people, hadn’t you ever seen a cookie?”

Tatiana bit into one cautiously (biting off the head of one Little My) and licked the crumbs off her fingers.

“Gosh, this is actually pretty good,” she mumbled around a mouthful of pastry. “Really, Rosie, your mother has some wicked skills. I wish my mom could bake like this” she finished the rest of the cookie. “On the other hand, I get fat by simply breathing in the general vicinity of a pastry shop, so I’d be as big as a house if mom ever took up baking.”

“So, this is what, the new regime, introduced by your mother? I, for one, welcome our new cookie overlords,” Damien snatched a star and saluted them with it.

“Yeah. If she needs someone to, like, wash the windows, or mow the lawn…” one of the boys mused, licking the icing off his palm.

“Idiot,” Damien said amiably. “Haven’t you seen their house? Their dad hires a whole team to deal with the greenery, and I suppose washing the windows in that old pile requires one to have a degree in wood conservation or something.”

“Mostly it requires having much longer arms,” Mina remarked idly. “Even opening the stupid things is a challenge if someone is too short.”

“Um,” Maire wiped her hand with a wet wipe and was now looking at Mina curiously. “I mean. Not that I complain, these are some fine cookies, but why are they only Rose’s cookies?”

Mina sighed.

“Because she was born fifteen minutes earlier, which was before midnight” she explained, poking her sister in the shoulder. “Old woman.”

“Feckless youngster!” Rose poked her back.

“So, are you bringing another batch of cookies tomorrow?” Damien was the first to understand the implication.

“I hope so,” Mina smiled. “Mom was already preparing chocolate to be chopped when we were leaving.”

“Chocolate,” Tatiana shuddered. “I’ll have to live on lettuce for a month because of the two of you.”

“Nobody forces you to eat them,” Rose pointed out loftily.

“Reality forces me! The smell forces me! The icing… the cute little cutout shapes!”

“You simply have the hidden dirty need to bite off Little My’s leg, admit it.”

“Absolutely!”

They never noticed someone taking a step back and retreating to hide behind the nearest corner.

 

#

 

The music classroom was empty when Mina sneaked into it. She felt a twinge of guilt – Teddy should have been here, too, waiting for Miss Yang to check on his breathing technique – or whatever it was that he was getting corrected now – but the schedule on the door pronounced him as being moved to a later hour. She was alone then, as no other student had been moved to replace him. She quickly dumped her backpack on one of the desks and, using the opportunity, sat down at the piano. There were some music sheets spread on the stand, but it wasn’t anything she knew. Still, it looked reasonably simple, so she started picking her way through it. As she paused to turn the page, she heard slow, soft clapping from the door and turned, surprised, to see Miss Yang standing there.

“Ah, I’m… I’m sorry, Miss. But I…”

“No, no. Don’t worry. I suppose you are not Rose Darcy then?”

She stood up quickly, straightening her skirt.

“No, Miss. Mina Darcy. Well, it will be Darcy soon, so Dad just asked for us to be enrolled like this…”

“Very well, Mina. Can you explain the situation to me? I mean, in the context of the competition mainly, I don’t really care for any complex family machinations, just tell me – which one of you will be singing for real?”

“That would be me.”

“And it will still be Loch Lomond?

“I suppose so.”

“Fine, fine. Rose wouldn’t be willing to join you?”

“Not sure, but I don’t think she would. This I’m doing on my own.”

“Very well. Single, traditional… a capella, as everyone,” Miss Yang sighed.

“Why aren’t we going to have accompaniment?”

“The piano in the auditorium is broken – the soundboard got warped due to over… Never mind. The thing is, we can’t move any of these pianos from here, because there is no lift available to take them downstairs.”

Mina frowned.

“Wouldn’t it be better to have accompaniment?” she asked finally.

“A lot! But until we fix the main pianoforte, there will be either playback from the CDs or a capella singing, and we don’t have the instrumental for everyone, so to remove unfair advantage…”

Mina frowned.

“I…”

No, she couldn’t promise Miss Yang anything before she asked Mom for it.

“Never mind, we’ll make do. I know you were sick, but maybe just one time?”

“Mom said exactly that. She made me sing scales yesterday for just five minutes and she said I still have some mucus in my throat, so I’m supposed to not overdo it, but I can sing once, to see if I still remember how to do it properly.”

“So, your mother is your singing teacher?” Miss Yang sat next to the pianoforte but didn’t touch the keys. “And here comes the explanation of the sudden influx of talent in Rose, who had until now avoided music with rarely seen dedication.”

“I’ve been having lessons since I was eight. Piano, too,” Mina admitted. “Mom sings, plays the piano and the guitar. I was supposed to start the guitar this year, but because of that whole thing with us switching…”

“But you will be doing it, at some point?” Miss Yang’s eyes narrowed. “Or is your mother too busy with… whatever it is that is happening?”

“I suppose once we settle in, I will” she sighed. “But there is so much to do! We still have to correct our grades and write so many assignments my hands hurt at the thought of it!”

The teacher smiled.

“When you do try, please let me know if there is anything you need. I have some songbooks that you could choose from if you wish to practise. And you can come here in your free periods if there is nobody else on the roster and practise.”

Mina nodded.

“Now, let’s have one run through, to check how bad it is” Miss Yang smiled.

 

#

 

When they were done and Miss Yang had pointed out a place or two where she could have sung a bit more fluidly, she put Mina to practising on one of the pianos – “You shouldn’t sing any more, but your fingers aren’t coughing” – and busied herself with re-ordering the mess of music sheets that had been spilt out of their binding and were now an untidy heap on one of the desks.

“Very nice, Mina. Would you consider taking part in the Christmas concert? We should have the main piano repaired by that time – or have one of the others moved. There would be some singing, a choir maybe, some of the smaller kids with a short Nativity play… having someone just play one of the carols on the piano may be a nice addition.”

Mina frowned.

“I’d rather sing,” she said slowly. “I mean, I can learn – I know how to play a few carols already, Mom started with them, in fact – but if I had to choose, I’d prefer to sing.”

“You could do both,” aunt Georgiana’s voice from the door interrupted them. “You don’t have to limit yourself and hide your talents, Mina. It’s not like we’ll have you choose, you know.”

Miss Yang turned towards the intruder and froze.

“Ah, so, this is your mother, Mina?”

Georgiana giggled.

“No way. I’m her aunt. Going home from the town right now, so I am the designated driver, as otherwise, they’d have to wait for the bus for an additional half hour. And who knows what these two would manage to do in half an hour.”

“Aunt G!” Rose’s voice rang from the corridor.

“You know that I know that you know you’d be up to something in no time at all. Georgiana Darcy” she extended her hand to the teacher.

“Lucy… Lucy Yang,” the shorter woman found her voice. “Music teacher.”

Their hands clasped and they smiled at the same time.

“Thank you for taking care of Mina,” Georgiana managed to say finally. “It is a bit of a challenge to find the new normal with these two.”

“I will have to change the competition entry now – all the paperwork!” Miss Yang joked. “Or force Rose to step up!”

“What?!”

“Calm down, Rosie,” Mina scoffed. “I want to sing. You don’t have to.”

“Good.”

Rose was a first-class grumbler if she wanted.

“I’ve heard the part about the Christmas concert,” aunt Georgiana explained. “Would you need any help with that?”

“There is always some part that the parents – or caregivers – can help with, costumes…” Miss Yang busied herself with the scores she had been trying to put in order.

“No, I mean, with the concert itself. I have musical training, you see. And I do have a harp,” Aunt Georgiana smiled slightly when Miss Yang turned quickly.

“A harp?”

“And I can play it. I could practise with Mina and we could play something instrumental together. I can’t promise more than one or two pieces, as we won’t have time to practise properly for more, but maybe you’d be happy with the novelty?”

Miss Yang looked… flustered.

“A harp, really,” she said in a very surprised voice. “I tried to learn, once, but I gave up after half a year – I couldn’t relax and my fingers were too short. Somehow they are just fine for the piano, but…” she turned her hand palm up.

“Ah, I see,” aunt Georgiana made a sympathetic sound. “They always told me I had pianist’s hands,” she put her long-fingered palm next to the teacher’s shorter ones “so they put me on the harp, too, saying it would be much easier for me than for other children.”

Miss Yang turned their aunt’s hand palm down and nodded, smiling.

“That is what I call unfair advantage” she sighed. “I can barely play a guitar comfortably! And here you are, with hands like that…!”

Mina waited for a moment as the two stood there in silence, but finally she coughed softly.

“Ah, sorry,” Miss Yang shook her head. “Long day, I’m woolgathering. Thank you for the offer – please make some choice with Mina, if you wish to play together – maybe more than two pieces, and we’ll choose together from these so that you don’t repeat whatever the choir would be singing. I will be coordinating with the choir mistress, to make sure we have it all correctly aligned.”

“Of course” aunt Georgiana smiled and nodded to Mina. “Come on. You two have a lot to do today.”

 

#

 

Between homework, catching up with missed assignments, the poster (finished, with Dad’s input the day before and Mom’s oversight now), the stable work (which was more fun with two, but still rather disgusting), some more unpacking and running up to the attic with stuff to be stored until spring, they barely noticed when the evening had set and aunt Georgiana came upstairs to collect them for supper. Having finished the meal (Dad was still absent, apparently dealing now with a drainage problem on a site near Matlock), they gathered their plates and went downstairs, where the whole setup was already waiting for them.

“Your choice, kitten” Mom handed her the boxes of pins and Mina deftly fished out her favourites – the cats, the umbrellas and the paisleys.

“And round cutters” she added immediately. “No shapes, I just want the patterns and round cookies.”

“Very well. Just rounds. I hope they will keep the shape because they are seriously chocolate-y. I replaced part of the butter with baking chocolate.”

Mina swallowed hungrily, despite being quite full.

“No eating the raw dough” Mom raised her finger. “Now, put the plates in the dishwasher, wash your hands, put the aprons on and let’s start cutting!”

Aunt Georgiana was placed at the board next to Mina and Rose on the other side, with Mom.

“I’ve rolled the dough already flat, and chilled it a bit more, because it tends to go sticky” Mom explained, brandishing the pattern roller. “And the pattern wouldn’t stay if I let it go too soft. Georgiana, you’ll be doing umbrellas” she ran the roller carefully over the large expanse of dark paste in front of their aunt. “Rose and Mina, cats, and I’ll do paisleys. Just cut as closely as possible, so we have less reworks later because we’ll have to re-chill the dough each time.”

She switched the oven on and they started cutting their cookies in silence, broken from time to time by a grunt or a quiet expletive when the cookie didn’t want to leave the cutter obediently.

They carefully placed the first batch in the oven and watched as the cookies thankfully stayed in shape and kept the pretty raised pattern put on them by the pins.

“Very nice. Next two batches together and we’ll switch the trays around after five minutes. And let me roll that chilled dough… It’s not much, so I think you two can take care of it” she moved around the table, distributing the dough on two boards and rolling the pattern pins over the flat slabs. Mina came back to her station and looked at her piece in surprise. Instead of the cats, her piece was patterned with little hearts. She frowned, looking up at Mom, who shrugged with an innocent expression.

Mina picked up the cutter and noticed that the round shape was switched for…

“Mom” she whispered furiously. “Really?”

Rose peeked over her shoulder and snorted softly.

“He is all bone and muscle” she poked Mina in the ribs. “I suppose a few cookies won’t hurt.”

“Rose!”

“At least now he bulked up a bit. In the preschool, he was a bit pudgy, but then in the primary, he suddenly grew up and was something of a scarecrow. Kids used to make fun of him, saying that he was too skinny for a proper Teddy.”

Mina huffed in annoyance and set to cutting the little hearts with precision, using the dough as economically as it was possible. It was Mom’s good cutter, which allowed her to cut a row of alternating up-and-down hearts without much wastage between the shapes.

“I’ll find you another, smaller box, kitten.”

“But, Mom…”

“You don’t have to talk to him” Mom shook her head. “And you can eat all the cookies yourself if you’d rather. But won’t it be nice to have options, hm?”

Rose made a small sound of choking.

“And that will be enough from you, Miss Rose” Mom raised a finger at her. “If I hear one more remark from you about either Mina or Teddy, I will find a way to make you miserable for a week.”

“But, Mom…” Rose whined. “It’s just… so…” she gave a frustrated puff. “I just don’t get it! It’s Teddy! He’s… so… so normal. Nothing interesting about him!”

“Well, thank God!” Mom took the cutting board to the sink to rinse it. “Imagine what kind of problems we’d have if the two of you fancied the same boy.”

There was a momentary silence in the kitchen, as both Mina’s and Rose’s thoughts screeched to a halt.

“Uh” was the only thing Rose managed to say.

“Ick.”

“Yeah. No. Definitely.”

“Yuck.”

Aunt Georgie snorted.

“You have broken them, Lizzy.”

“But…” Rose scrunched her nose, bowing over her work. “It’s not like I want a boyfriend. But…” she waved, as Mina watched her from over her own board, frowning. “I mean, we… I thought we’d be doing stuff together, now that you are living here! And if Teddy…”

Oh.

Mina’s cutter clattered to the floor.

Oh, oh.

She was around the table before she even noticed, and hugging her sister ferociously.

“I’m not leaving you alone, stupid,” she said into Rose’s flour-dusted hair. “Stop being stupid, stupid.”

Mom was asking something in the background, but they ignored her as Rose’s hands went around Mina’s back.

“Good” the older sister answered finally. “I… I never had anyone and then you and then…”

 

####

 

The last batch – including the tray of hearts – was in the oven, under Georgiana’s guard, the girls were shepherded upstairs to take a shower and pack for the next day and Elizabeth finally had a moment to sit down and think.

That could have gone much, much worse.

Of course Rose was jealous. That was what she had suspected, just a bit, ever since her older daughter had made the very first remark about Teddy. It just wasn’t the direction Elizabeth had been suspecting. Considering, however, the whole situation, it was not really that much of a surprise that it wasn’t that Rose wanted Teddy for herself – or was jealous of the general idea of Mina having a boy… whatever (Lizzy shied away from that thought). As a single kid, raised with no cousins, she wanted to have her sister to herself! Her younger sister, as Rose tended to stress. Her younger sister, who had moved finally “back home”, one she could teach stuff – horses, everything about the house, the town, the school. Rose had had only a month of sporadic contacts with her younger cousins (and that month had been spent in the state of considerable stress) so she had never experienced the normal, everyday presence of a younger relative. She wanted it, and she got a promise of it with Mina.

Only for Mina to be suddenly forming some other kind of human connection.

And for Rose to be suddenly left a bit behind.

She sighed.

Balancing that pair would never ever become easy.

Her phone buzzed.

 

WILLIAM

 

“Hi,” she said softly.

“I’m on my way home” his voice was rough and tired, and there were sounds of a crowd around him. “Is there anything I should buy at the last minute? Anything the girls need for tomorrow that they only learnt about today?”

“Not to my knowledge, so just get yourself here as quickly as safely possible.”

He waited for a moment in silence.

“Something wrong?”

Ah. Love him.

“No. Just had a little blow-up in the kitchen. It cleared the atmosphere and I’m rather thankful for it, and for the fact that it happened sooner rather than later. It’s just…” she was tangling her hand in her hair now. “There are aspects of having twins that I’ve never suspected.”

“You have to tell me the whole story when I’m there. Twenty minutes.”

“Do you need anything to eat? I’m sure…”

“I am ravenous” he admitted. “They kept me so angry for the whole day I couldn’t eat, and now that the adrenaline is down…”

“Just come home before you fall asleep. Let me worry about everything else.”

Come home.

She licked her lips, trying the taste of it.

Mmm.

“Will do” his voice went just a bit deeper – or was it her imagination?

“Waiting then.”

 

#

 

After putting the leftover pasta, covered liberally with grated cheese and some butter, in the oven, she ran upstairs to check on the girls. Rose was brushing her teeth and Mina had already changed into her nightdress and was stuffing some books in her backpack.

“Five minutes exercise?” she asked and Mina’s face brightened. “Position. Relax your jaw. Yawn. Relax your shoulders. And… Legato – Nya-nya-nyaaa…”

Rose stood in the door, watching them with her eyes wide, as she walked Mina through a small equivalent of vocal stretching.

“I still hear you have something stuck in your throat, mind you” she pointed out as Mina finished with the staccato round. “Good thing that song you picked doesn’t have a lot of big intervals. You should do OK. Just, please, remember your limits…”

“No singing, no shouting, just one song tomorrow for Miss Yang.”

“Quite so.”

Rose was already sitting down on her bed and Elizabeth was by the door when Mina’s “Ah, Mom?” stopped her.

“Mom, would it be possible to lend your piano to the school?”

She turned, not understanding.

“We’re having the whole contest a capella, because the pianoforte in the auditorium is broken, and they can’t get any of the school pianos downstairs. But your electric piano, it just requires to be carried in a bag, and you have that foldable stand, right…?”

She nodded.

“Ah, so for the competition? Sure, of course? Did someone ask for it?”

“They don’t know you have it, and I didn’t tell – you know, in case you didn’t want to volunteer it. Maybe you could come tomorrow with aunt Georgiana and talk to Miss Yang? She seemed interested in meeting you anyway, and aunt Georgie kind of promised we’d be in the Christmas concert, so I’d need you to help me prepare…”

She shook her head.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow and talk to Miss Yang, sure. Anything else?”

“Can you make our birthday cake with blackberry preserve?”

“We’ll discuss your birthday cake tomorrow, young lady. Now, come here” she gathered Rose in her arms. “Happy birthday, again, kitten. And I’m glad you told us before it became worse.”

“Me too” admitted her quieter daughter. “Also, I feel like an idiot.”

“Don’t. Feel like you’re fourteen.”

“Not yet, really.”

“In three hours, give or take five minutes. Now, bed. Both of you! And don’t even try to wait until midnight.”

 

####

 

She was sitting in the kitchen, head on her folded arms on the table, hair falling out of the messy bun.

“Lizzy?” he shook her shoulder. “Liz? This is not a good place to sleep.”

She looked absolutely adorable, freshly awoken and slightly dazed for her short nap.

“I didn’t mean to–” she blinked a few times. “There is some pasta in the oven, should be nice and hot by now.”

“Do you want some, too?”

She just shook her head and sniffed a bit.

“I’ll just make tea. You want some?”

He pushed her back down, making her sit.

“Yes, and despite my other domestic failings, I do know how to prepare a pot. Sit. You’ve been on your feet for the whole day, judging by the stack of empty boxes in the hallway and the huge container of cookies waiting by the door for Mina.”

“Cookies are mostly the girls’ doing, but, yes, I’d love to just sit and let things happen to me. Like a cup of tea.”

He brushed his fingers across her neck and listened to the adorable little sigh she gave.

Note to self: stop using ‘adorable’ in my thoughts or I’ll slip, say it aloud and then she’ll hit me.

The kettle was burbling, his plate was full of penne, vegetables and cheese and there was a tiny, sleepy and tired woman sitting at his table. For a split second, he dithered whether it would be better to sit in front of her and watch her drink her tea or to sit next to her and…

Definitely next to her.

He pulled out the chair to her right and brought the tea tray to the table. Her quiet murmur of thanks as he poured a “more milk than tea” cup for her and her immediate closeness when he sat next to her with his plate made him a tiny bit warmer inside.

“So, what happened?” he asked, after spearing a few pieces of pasta with his fork.

“We found out what was bugging Rose,” she said with a sigh. “I hope she will be able to just let Mina be after this. These two…”

He chewed for a moment.

“So, what was it?”

“Abandonment. She wants to play the big sister and she felt Mina was leaving her behind, what with her having that sudden interest in Teddy.”

“Ah. I see.”

“It was so surprising, over the cookies down here, it just went… kaboom. Small kaboom, but still.”

“Are they OK now?”

She nodded and sipped her tea.

“But we should pay attention to make sure they are both taken care of in a proportionate way. We’ve been maybe a bit too focused on Mina – her illness, her finally officially moving here, school transfer, singing competition and Teddy. Which is a new thing for me, by the way.”

“Well, Rose hadn’t noticed boys until now, not above discussing the shortcomings of her fellow riders or being snarky about some rugby players.”

“This may be one of the reasons… and kind of also what Mina said at some point – she sees the local boys as much better than her old classmates, and Teddy is even more… interesting. And they have some things in common – singing, at least. But Rose grew up with these boys, and, well, familiarity breeds contempt.”

“So she is spoilt, because she had always known boys that are actual thinking human beings?”

“And so she didn’t understand why Mina would be suddenly interested in one of them. And she felt abandoned by her little sister, just when she could have been playing The Big Sister and Take Care and everything. Suddenly Mina in having an experience Rose can’t relate to.”

“Complicated. Have you eaten any supper? You look ready to fall asleep where you sit.”

“A toast. I was in the kitchen for the whole afternoon, trying to force the dough into submission.”

“And how did it work?”

She snorted.

“I used up all the baking chocolate I had and we have two more rolls of dough in the freezer, for later. I wanted Mina to have cookies that would keep the shape and the first two batches went a bit wrong. I’ll find some use for them, no worries. But I’m just so, so tired…”

“But it means you didn’t eat?”

She grimaced.

“Too warm down here. It’s only now becoming cool enough.”

He caught a bit of a carrot and a piece of pasta with his fork.

“Open wide” he ordered and she looked up in confusion. “Do I have to make this an aeroplane, or will you just eat?”

She blinked slowly and opened her mouth obediently.

I wish I had a bowl of fruit here, I could feed her…

Stop it, William.

Another bite.

She was warm, sleepy and close.

Another bite.

Good enough for now.

Another bite.

“If two weeks ago someone told you we’d be sitting here, like this, what would you say?”

Another bite.

“That unless he’s a bloody djinn who can grant me three wishes, he should get out of my way and stop being an annoying git.”

Another bite.

“Mhm,” she murmured, her head on his shoulder.

“And you?”

“I’d call emergency services and tell them to collect a dangerous raving madman.”

“And yet…”

“And yet, here we are.”

“Complete nonsense.”

“Absolutely crazy.”

“I love you, just as you are. Nonsense and crazy included.”

He felt her stiffen, just a bit.

“Elizabeth?”

She raised her head from his shoulder and looked up at him.

“I love you, too,” she said quietly.

“Ah, Liz…”

“Mmm. It feels good to finally say it.”

“It feels nice to hear it, but I’m sure we’ve said it already, several times…” he frowned.

“No. We’ve used ‘love’ as an endearment, but never, well, said ‘the three words’. Well, not in the last week, at least.”

“Really?” he raised his brows at her.

“I’m reasonably sure, yes.”

“We have some catching up to do, then…”

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