Life resumed as normal, except there was a third person in their little family. Clint was a regular visitor at the house and helped the girls with both homework and housework. He spent many nights on the sofa in the living room when it was too late to go home, and he always had something cooked for breakfast for them the next morning. He spent their first Snowflake Day away from home with them at the house, and they all exchanged small gifts. Darcey bought Clint a necklace with a key pendant on it.
“What is the key? I already have the key to the house,” he asked, missing the significance.
“Silly, it’s the key to my heart,” she replied, smiling ear to ear. “Do you like it?”
“I love it! Thank you, my kitten.” He kissed her tenderly. “I really, really love this. What a great gift!” She put the necklace around his neck, and it looked like it truly belonged there. He then handed her a box, small in size, and said, “Your turn.” Clint grinned like a Cheshire cat.
She opened the box and found a neck chain inside, gold and delicate, with a heart pendant on it. “Oh Clint,” she bubbled. “This is so beautiful!” He took the box and removed the necklace, putting it around her slender neck. “Thank you, Boo Bear!”
“You are welcome,” he smiled sweetly. Instinctively, he reached for the key that hung around his neck, and took it in his fingers. “I couldn’t love this more.”
The twins cooked a meal that day, and the three of them shared it together. After dinner, Clint cleaned the kitchen and dining room, with Darcey’s help, and they all sat by the fireplace talking until bedtime.
Spring term was underway after winter break, and Darcey had no problems keeping on top of her schoolwork, but Danae struggled toward the end of their first year, trying to get on the Dean’s List. She needed to ace the final exam to earn the GPA needed, and she pulled several all-nighters trying to learn what she was supposed to know from a whole term of studies. Darcey had her own studying to do, but she took time out to help Danae with flashcards, study notes and even posed for a few sketches that Danae needed to have for her portfolio as an end of the year project. Clint tried to help Darcey study and quizzed her on anatomy, math and psychology terms.
Finals came with a vengeance, and the girls were up early for breakfast. Danae was visibly worried, as she sipped her coffee and studied, only nibbling at her meal.
“You’d better eat more than that, Danae,” Darcey said. “You’ll be starving by your second class if you don’t.”
“Do we have granola bars in the cabinet?”
“I think there’s two. You can have them both. Clint will bring some for me if I ask him.”
“You’re lucky, Darce. You have a man who obviously loves you, and would do anything for you,” Danae pouted.
“You sound a little jealous, Nae. I hope that’s not the case,” Darcey frowned.
“Not really. I just wish…” Danae’s voice trailed off, lost in thought. “I wish I could find someone like him. He’s perfect.”
Darcey noticed the time. Six-thirty. “Nae, it’s time to get going. Do you have everything you need?”
“Except a cheat sheet.” She laughed. She would never cheat, but she really wanted to pass these classes.
The sisters hugged. “Good luck, Darce, not like you’ll need it. You’re going to ace it today.”
“Good luck, Nae. You’ve got this. You know the material. You just need some confidence.”
“See you after class tonight. Let’s go dancing to celebrate, just you and me,” Danae suggested.
“Sounds great,” Darcey agreed.
As expected, Darcey and Danae passed all of their finals with flying colors, and both of them earned a spot on the Dean’s List for the year. Danae was very pleased with herself. On her way home, Darcey’s phone rang.
“Hey kitten,” Clint’s happy voice greeted her. “Congrats on the end of the term!”
“Hey Boo Bear,” Darcey replied. “Thanks! Both of us passed with flying colors.”
“I’m so proud of you! So, what are you doing tonight?” he asked her, hoping to see her.
“Danae and I are going to go dancing tonight. I promised her it would just be us. We haven’t done anything by ourselves in a while, and I think she misses me.”
She heard him sigh on the other end of the phone. “Okay.”
“There’s always tomorrow night, Boo, ” she suggested.
“It’s a date,” he said excitedly, sounding better. “I can’t wait to see you.”
“I can’t wait, either,” she replied. They had been dating for almost eight months, and she was pretty sure she was in love with him. Neither of them had said it, and she didn’t want to be the first one. But she hoped that he would, and soon.
“I’ll call you tomorrow, kitten .”
“I’ll be waiting,” she said.
They hung up the phone, and Darcey pulled into the driveway. Danae was already home, and probably dressed and ready. She rushed out of the car and into the house, leaving her backpack in the car. “I’m home, Nae.”
“What took you so long?” Danae teased, figuring she was probably on the phone.
“Just chatting with Clint. We have a date tomorrow night.”
“Thank you for letting it be just us tonight. I really miss you.” Danae had finished her makeup and hair. “Could you help with the zipper on this dress?”
“Absolutely! I’ll be ready in about 10 minutes. I just need to get into my dress and shoes.”
“No makeup? Not going to fuss with your hair?” Danae was surprised. Darcey never went dancing without getting all made up.
“I don’t need to. I’m not seeing Clint tonight, and I don’t need to catch a guy. I’m good.” She giggled, zipping up Danae’s dress. ‘You look beautiful, Nae.”
“Thanks,” she said, blushing. “Hurry, Darce. Time’s ticking.”
“Okay, okay!” Darcey went to her bedroom and pulled out a modest, long dress and strappy heels.
“You’re going in that?” Danae teased.
“Like I said, I don’t need to catch a guy. I’m taken.” She smiled, thinking of Clint.
Danae drove her car to the club, which was only about a mile from the house, and parked in the lot outside. Darcey saw Clint’s car, and frowned, hoping Danae didn’t notice it. The girls went in and instantly heard the DJ announcing the beginning of a disco dance set. Danae ordered a drink, and sat at a table, scanning the room for eligible guys. And then she spotted him. “Darcey!” she remarked, angry. “I thought you told Clint it was just the two of us tonight!”
“I did, Nae,” she replied. “I can’t keep him away from here. He’s free to do what he wants.”
“Well, please don’t spend your night with him. You promised.” Danae was hurt but hoped Darcey meant what she had said.
“Don’t worry, Danae. You have my word.” Darcey hugged her quickly and sat with her.
They sat for the first few songs, while Danae sipped her drink. With all of the problems that Travis had with alcohol, Darcey was shocked that Danae even ordered one, and she knew it had spirits in it because she smelled it. But Danae was her own person, and Darcey loved her anyway. With her inhibition lowered, Danae finally got onto the dance floor and motioned for Darcey to join her.
Clint watched the sisters from a distance as they danced, careful to keep his distance from them. But he watched his love, watched how she moved and wished he could ask her to dance. He wore his key necklace, like he did every time he left his house. His ring, the way he wore it, usually was enough to repel potential love interests, as it almost had with Darcey. It looked very much like a wedding band. Regardless, a young woman approached him and sat, striking up a conversation with him.
“Hey cutie,” she flirted. “Want to dance?”
“I’m spoken for,” he said. “Sorry.”
“Well, where is she?” came the reply. “I’m Nancy, by the way.”
“She’s over there, dancing with her sister,” Clint said. “They deserve a night together.” He smiled, staring at Darcey as she moved to the music.
“I see,” Nancy replied, noticing the ring on his finger. “Is she your wife?”
“Not yet, but someday I hope she’ll want the job.” He was so obviously love-struck, that Nancy got up and excused herself.
“Darce, who was that woman that was just talking to Clint?” Danae asked, observing the exchange between the two.
“I didn’t see,” Darcey lied. She noticed. But, she trusted him.
“You really didn’t see that pretty blonde with him? I don’t believe you.” Danae walked back to the table and sat.
Darcey followed her and sat with Danae. “Okay, I saw. But I trust him, and I promised you it would just be us tonight. It’s going to be hard to do that when you’re watching him all night.” Darcey suspected there was something more, but she didn’t press the issue. “Come on, let’s go dance.”
Darcey grabbed the mail on the way home from classes, and there was an official-looking letter for her and one for Danae. “Nae!” she called. “There’s a letter for you from Admissions.” Curious, Darcey opened hers and found some extraordinary news. Between their advanced placement courses and skills, they each had enough credits to graduate at the end of their second year, similar to how Charlotte and Chris did. Danae was flabbergasted.
“I didn’t think I was smart enough to graduate from here early. I expected it from you, though,” she said to Darcey.
“You’re not stupid, Danae,” Darcey replied. “You’re just better at different things than I am. You’re more creative, while I’m more analytical.”
“True. You can’t play a guitar to save your life, and I can’t do your sciencey stuff.” Danae giggled. “Should we enroll for the summer term and just stay here? Or should we go home like we had planned?”
Darcey hated the idea of leaving Clint, and she doubted he had the money to travel home with them. She knew he was saving every penny to leave campus, and he had a long road to reach his goal. “I think we should just stay here, Nae. Mama and Daddy will understand.”
“Don’t you miss the city? Don’t you miss Devin and Mama? Daddy?” Danae saw the conflict on Darcey’s face. “You don’t want to leave Clint!”
Darcey blushed. “Kinda. I know he can’t afford to come home with us, and Daddy wasn’t too thrilled with us dating in the first place. I won’t ask him for money for that.”
Danae nodded. “If I was in your shoes, with a perfect boyfriend, I wouldn’t want to leave either.” She pondered the situation. “I guess we can stay. It will just shorten our time here. I wouldn’t want to be you, though, telling Mama and Daddy we’re not coming home for the summer.”
“Me neither,” Darcey giggled. “I’ll call them after dinner tonight.”
“Hey Boo Bear,” Darcey greeted Clint as she came home from classes. He was at the house cooking dinner for the twins, and it smelled good.
“Hey kitten,” he replied. “I hope you’re hungry.”
“I am.” She brought her backpack to her bedroom, and kicked her shoes off, getting comfortable. “I’m glad you’re here, actually. I wanted to tell you something.”
“Oh?” Clint was intrigued.
“Nae and I both got a letter from Admissions. We’ll be done with our degrees at the end of the fall term. That’s going to drastically cut our time together.”
“What do you mean, drastically cut our time together? Don’t you think we have a future together, kitten?” Clint stopped what he was doing, and walked to her.
“I was hoping we would, yes. But…”
Clint cut her short. He put his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “Darcey, I love you. I don’t want you to leave here without me.”
Darcey’s face brightened. “Did you say, you love me?”
Clint embraced her, burying his face in her neck. “Yes, honey,” he whispered in her ear. “I love you. I’ve been mad about you since our first date.”
“Oh, Clint!” Darcey chirped, “I love you too, and I have for a long time!” They kissed, still locked in a tender embrace. Danae’s entrance through the front door interrupted them.
“Don’t stop for my benefit,” Danae teased. “Wow, when did you have time to cook?” she asked, looking at Darcey.
“I didn’t. Clint made dinner for us.” Darcey smiled, happier than she had ever been.
“It smells good, Clint,” Danae remarked. “I’ll stay out of your way.” Her tone was chilly as she walked to her bedroom and closed the door.
Clint looked at Darcey. “Did I do something wrong? Danae seems upset.”
“I’ll go check on her.” Darcey walked to her bedroom and knocked softly on the door. “Danae?”
She heard a heavy sigh, followed by, “Come in.”
“What’s wrong, Nae? Talk to me.” Darcey sat on the bed, next to where Danae was laying down.
“It’s nothing, Bug. I’m just lonely.” Danae wiped tears from her eyes.
Darcey felt guilty. Since she had been seeing Clint, her time with Danae had been short. “I’m so sorry. I know it’s my fault. I haven’t been spending as much time with you, and we made a promise.”
“It’s worse than that, Darcey. I’m ashamed of myself for feeling this.” Danae sat up and shrugged her shoulders. “I have a huge crush on Clint. I know I shouldn’t, and I feel horrible.”
At first, Darcey was angry. But she looked at her twin sister, feeling broken and guilty, and she couldn’t stay angry with her. “You know I love him, and he loves me. I can’t give him up, Nae. My heart is in this way too deeply.”
“I would never ask you to, Darcey. I…” she took a breath, choking back tears, “I just need to find a way to get past it.”
“Well, it explains why you get salty with me when it comes to Clint sometimes. It makes sense.” Darcey rubbed Danae’s back and hugged her. “If you want, I can take his key away, and I can go to his place to hang around.”
“No, I don’t want you to do that. It wouldn’t help my loneliness. I really need to find someone. I’m guessing I won’t now.” Her shoulders heaved in grief. If only I’d seen him first, Danae thought to herself, and then cried harder.
“Why don’t you and I go to the lake on Saturday? I’ll pack a picnic basket, we can go fishing. We’ll take some time and just be together.” Darcey suggested all the things she knew Danae loved to do. “We could swim, just spend time with each other. I miss you, too.”
“No Clint?” Danae sniffled. “Just you and me?”
“I won’t even tell him where we’re going,” Darcey hugged her sister again.
“Darce, I would love that more than you know.” Her face brightened.
“It’s a plan, then!” The sisters embraced, and they went to have dinner with Clint.
Saturday morning rolled around, and the girls were up early. Darcey packed a lunch for them, with plenty of water and other snacks, some wet wipes and bug spray, just in case. She had borrowed a couple of poles from Clint and his tackle box. She was just finishing up putting everything into Travis’ old car when Danae bounded from the house. “I’m so ready for this!”
“Me too! Do you have extra batteries for your camera, Nae?” Darcey asked as she closed the hatch.
“I don’t need them. It’s all charged and ready. I even have an extra memory card. I expect to take a lot of pictures. I need new painting subjects, and I can paint from a photo just as easily as I can a model.” Darcey hadn’t seen her sister this bubbly in a while, and it made her happy.
“Ready, sissy?” Darcey asked, headed to lock the front door.
“I’m more than ready!” Danae answered, jumping into the passenger seat.
They drove to the same lake where Travis and Charlotte, and Christopher and Cade had spent their afternoon years ago on that late summer day. Danae picked some wildflowers from the field on the way to the lake and placed them around the blanket that Darcey had laid on the ground. The birds were singing their morning songs, and frogs croaked from the creek that fed into the lake. There was a large shade tree that hung over part of the lake, with a tire swing hitched to it. There was no noise, no clatter, no books or studying. It was just the twins and the tranquil sounds of nature. Darcey placed the fishing poles on the ground near the blanket and opened Clint’s tackle box.
Danae just laid back on her elbows, staring at the clouds. “I wonder how many stars are out here at night?” she thought out loud. “It’s so peaceful.”
“I’d love to come here and find out sometime.” Darcey picked through the tackle box, looking for a lure. “I wonder what’s biting in that lake. I see something jumping.”
“Probably bass, maybe some perch, trout, catfish,” Danae supposed. “What kind of goodies are in that box?”
“A few nice lures. I am wishing we had some worms, or live bait. We might do better.” Darcey looked around in the grass, but they were much too late for nightcrawlers to be out.
Danae got up, selected a lure, and grabbed a pole. “I’ll use this one. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
The girls fished on and off for most of the day, but only had a few bites. Danae almost had a good-sized catfish, but the line broke, and she lost the lure. They stopped for lunch as the sun was overhead, and retreated to under the tree when it got unbearably warm. Darcey took her shirt off and had just her swimsuit on under it, and a realization hit Danae: She had forgotten her swimsuit!
“Do you think it would be okay to skinny dip?” Danae asked Darcey. “I mean, there’s no one here, just you and me.”
“I don’t care if you do. Nothing I haven’t seen before,” Darcey giggled. Danae stripped down to nothing, and ran for the lake, leaving her clothes in a pile under the tree. Darcey jumped in after her and thought for a split second of doing the same as Danae, but then decided against it. They splashed around and giggled, playing in the water like they did in the pool back home. “How does it feel, Nae? To swim with nothing on?” Darcey asked her.
“It actually feels amazing, Darce. You should join me.” Nae splashed her, and swam away.
The thought of being naked in public scared Darcey, but she wanted to try it anyway, so she slipped out of her suit, throwing it up on the bank of the lake. “There,” she announced. “I did it!”
“It’s liberating!” Danae yelled, splashing around, laughing.
From a distance, he watched the twins skinny dipping in the lake, and he approached it quietly, not wanting to draw attention to himself. He saw Danae as she walked up into the grass and jumped in, making a splash, and smiled. When he stepped on a dry branch, it snapped, and he noticed Darcey’s head-turning in his direction, and he held his breath. Did he dare move closer? What if they saw him? Reaching into a backpack, he removed a camera tripod, and set it down behind the tree trunk. This picture was going to make him a rich man, if he could find the right buyer back in Starlight Shores. The opportunity was just too good, and he couldn’t pass it up. He was the only Paparazzi to have followed the twins this far from campus, and he was enjoying the view.
Stealthily, he got behind his camera and pointed the lens toward the lake. He couldn’t sell a naked photo, so he would keep those for himself. But he hoped to get just the right camera angle, something that could set him up for life. “Come on,” he said to himself softly. “Get out of the lake.” The lens was trained upon Danae’s slender form, lying in wait for her to make that one mistake. With his finger on the shutter, he waited for the most opportune moment. He really wanted a picture of Danae, but he would take either twin if it would pay. And if no one bought his pictures, he had a few new ones for his collection.
“What are you doing?” the angry voice asked him, as Clint stepped from behind the brush. “Are you spying on them?”
“I could ask you the same question!” the Paparazzi shot back. “You’re going to ruin my shot if you don’t shut your trap.”
“That is my girlfriend and her sister, and I suggest you move along, unless you want a fight.” Clint rolled up his sleeves and stepped toward the photographer.
“No need to get snippy with me, boy. But if you cost me this picture, we’re going to have a problem.”
“Did I stutter? You are not going to take an indecent photo of my girlfriend’s sister! End of story.” Clint stood his ground, but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself, either. He had stumbled upon the girls purely by accident, and now he was glad he did.
“It looks like there are two naked women down in that lake. How much is it worth to you to not have a naked picture of your girlfriend published online?”
Clint’s face turned red, and he was boiling mad. He turned his head toward where the girls were swimming and shouted, “Darcey! Stay in the water!” His loud cry startled the girls, and they huddled together. “You might be bigger than I am, but I guarantee you, I can move faster, and I am stronger than you.”
“Try me,” the cocky photographer taunted him. “I’ll take you down in two hits, loverboy.”
Clint was light on his feet and dodged the man’s aggressive attack. While the older man recovered, Clint ran at him and rammed him, the full weight of his body slammed against the photographer, knocking him over. “Go! NOW!” he yelled to the girls, and they scrambled from the lake, while Clint kept the man pinned on the ground. “Have you had enough fun yet, sicko, or do you want more of me?” Clint taunted him. Enraged, the man threw Clint off him, charged at him again, and missed, tumbling to the ground.
“You do not want me to catch you, loverboy,” he yelled at Clint as he got up from the ground and ran after him. Clint sprinted away from the lake, toward the road, luring the Paparazzi away from them, hopefully giving the girls enough time to get dressed. The older man gave chase for a few hundred feet, and then stopped, obviously winded. Clint jogged back to where the camera sat, still on its tripod, and took the memory stick from it. Whatever pictures of Darcey and Danae he managed to take were not making tabloid news today.
The Paparazzi limped back to where his equipment sat and plopped himself on the ground. Clint casually strolled over to him. “I hope you learned your lesson today, old man. Don’t mess with these girls. They’re barely nineteen years old, and you have no business out here taking pictures like some kind of predator. Have I made myself clear?”
“You’re lucky you are young and fast. If I would have caught you, that pretty little girlfriend of yours would be performing first aid on you.” He spat at Clint. “You just cost me a load of money. Naked pictures of those Jones girls would have made me a small fortune.”
“Go pick on someone else, weirdo,” Clint warned him. “You’re disgusting.” He turned to walk towards the girls when he heard thundering footsteps behind him.
“Clint!” Darcey yelled as she saw the older man running up behind him.
He spun around in time to take a full hit in the ribs from the photographer. He cried out in pain, and fell to the grass, gasping for breath. “I told you, loverboy, you didn’t want me to catch you,” Darcey called campus police and tended to Clint.
“Clint! Are you okay?” She saw him gasping for breath, but only coughed up a bit of blood. “Oh no! He has some broken ribs!” she shouted to Danae. “Call emergency! Boo, I’m going to get you some help. Stay with me!” She sat on the ground and helped him to breathe the best she could. In moments, she heard sirens wailing. Danae had gone to the road to flag them down and Darcey sat with Clint.
“This way!” Danae cried, running back toward her sister. Paramedics ran for him, and motioned for a stretcher to follow.
“Miss, what happened?” a paramedic asked Darcey.
“There was a man, Paparazzi, taking pictures, and Clint tried to stop him. He got slammed in the chest with that man’s shoulders. I’ve never seen anyone take a hit like that.” Darcey was crying.
They got Clint on a board and took him from the scene, and campus police began looking for an older man in the area who fit the description.
“Nae, I’m sorry he was here. I swear I never told him.” Darcey was so upset, visibly shaking and worried about Clint. “Would you drive me to the hospital? I need to be with him.”
Danae was shaken too, but she agreed to take her. “I’m glad he was here. What was that man doing?”
“He was Paparazzi, so two guesses.”
The girls quickly gathered their things and ran for the car. Danae drove them to the hospital. Darcey showed her student ID and was able to go back with him while they worked on him. Danae paced outside the ER, worried for Darcey and Clint. When he went in for imaging, Darcey was escorted out and joined Danae in the waiting room.
“How does it look?” she asked Darcey.
“They think he just has some bruised ribs. He got the wind knocked out of him, but he’s breathing a little better now. He’s in a lot of pain, but there doesn’t seem to be anything broken. He just went for an x-ray, so we’ll know more in a little while.” Danae hugged her sister. “He gave me this,” Darcey said, reaching into her pocket. “It came from the Paparazzi’s camera. I guess he didn’t want to take a chance that he had taken any photos of us.” Danae put the card into her camera and looked at the photos, sickened and disgusted at what she saw. Almost all of them were of her, close up and personal, and she was wearing nothing in all of them.
“He saved us, he saved Daddy from an unspeakable scandal. You realize that, right Darce?” Danae cried. “What if Clint hadn’t been there?” The thought horrified her.
“I thought of that, too. We don’t have to worry about it now. We have the stick.” Darcey wrung her hands, worried sick. “Daddy is going to be so angry with me. I should have just stuck with fishing.”
“He’s going to be angry with both of us, Darce. Mostly me. I encouraged you to do it! What will Mama say?”
“We don’t have to tell them if the stick is in my possession.” Darcey pondered it a moment. “How would they ever know?”
“You have a good point,” Danae agreed. “We won’t tell them.”
Clint was released from the hospital the next day, with no broken ribs and severe bruising. Though he needed to stay active, he would need some help with some basic things while everything was healing. He was bruised from his neck to his waist, and extremely sore.
“Nae, do you have a problem with Clint staying here while he recovers?” Darcey asked her. It wouldn’t be permanent, and she would be able to keep an eye on him.
“Where will he sleep?”
“With me.” Darcey blushed. “Nothing will happen. He’s just as committed to his purity pledge as I am.”
“I don’t know Darce. It seems you’re asking for trouble with him right next to you at night.” Danae giggled a bit. “You’re going to be the one who tells Devin about babies!” she teased.
“Nae, he has bruised ribs. He couldn’t even if he wanted to. That’s one of the forbidden activities.”
“What happens after he is healed up? Will he stay here, or move back to his own place?”
“I don’t know, We haven’t gotten that far in discussions yet.” Darcey fidgeted nervously. “Technically, I haven’t asked him to stay yet. I wanted to run it by you first.”
“If you think you can control yourself with him laying next to you all night, and vice versa, knock yourself out. You’re stronger than I would be. That sexy thing next to me all night would not be good.” Danae shook her head, trying to clear her mind.
Darcey felt uneasy with Danae’s talk about Clint. Did she not know how it sounded? Danae would never have a chance with him. And if she tried, it would be harmful to their relationship as sisters. Darcey didn’t want to consider that she was capable of trying to steal him from her.
In the living room, Clint’s cell phone rang, and he struggled to answer it, wincing in pain as he reached for his cell.
“Mr. Scroggins, campus police. We have a man who matches the description of your attacker in custody. Do you have a few moments to come identify him before we turn him over to the city police?
“Yes, I can be there in 10 minutes,” he answered. He grabbed his keys and walked toward the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Darcey questioned him. “You can’t drive like that yet.”
“Campus police think they have that sleazeball predator in custody. I have to ID him before they turn him over to the city.”
“I’ll take you,” Danae offered. Darcey shot her a dirty look, but Danae’s eyes pled with hers.
“Sure,” Clint replied. “I’ll take a ride with you.”
They walked to Danae’s car together, and Clint gingerly fastened his seat belt. “Should you be wearing that?” she asked him.
“Probably not,” he said. “But it’s law up here. I have to wear it.” The car jerked forward, catching the belt around him, tightening it. He recoiled in pain, and it took his breath from him. “On second thought, maybe I’ll risk the fine.” He reached and unfastened it.
The campus police weren’t far from the house, and Danae got him there quickly. While they were waiting, she had a few questions for him, and she had to know. “Clint, where do you see things going with my sister? I mean, do you love her? Are you going to marry her?”
“I’m hoping she wants to get married someday. I adore her. I hope she loves me, too.” He wanted to talk more, but breathing hurt, and he grimaced.
“She really loves you, Clint. Don’t you break her heart. She has been my world for the past nineteen years. I won’t hold back if you ever hurt her.” Danae was trying to get a feel for him, learn more about him.
“Really?” He smiled. “And you don’t have to worry about me, Nae. I will never hurt her.”
“Mr. Scroggins, we’re ready for you.” The officer that took his report at the hospital came to get him. “We’ll make this short. We have a line up of six men. We just need you to tell us if your attacker is in the line-up.” Clint nodded, not really able to speak. The men walked in and faced forward in a room with a one-way mirror. Clint studied the faces and saw him.
“Number two,” Clint whispered. “It was number two.”
“You are positive?” the officer asked.
“Absolutely. I’ll never forget his face as long as I live.” Clint sat down, trying to catch his breath. Less than twenty-four hours ago, his life was normal. Now, he was in so much pain he felt physically ill. Even so, he realized he could have been hurt a lot worse, and he was thankful for no broken bones.
The officer shook his hand. “I’m assuming you’d like to press charges?”
Clint nodded his head. The officer handed him a business card. “We’ll be in touch. It was a pleasure to meet your girlfriend as well.” Danae blushed, and thought about correcting him, but didn’t.
“Come on, I’ll bring you home.” Clint and Danae walked back to her car. “Did Darcey tell you she wants you to stay with us while you’re recovering?”
“No, she didn’t. That’s curious.” He took deep breaths, like he was supposed to do, but it hurt like crazy.
“Are you okay? You look like you’re going to pass out.” Danae was driving as quickly as she could to get him home, where it was comfortable.
“I’ll be okay. I think I’m due for pain medication. I really could use some right now.” They pulled into the driveway, and Danae opened the door for him, allowing him to exit the car freely. “Thanks, Nae.”
“You’re welcome. I think you’ll make a wonderful brother-in-law,” she said, smiling at him.
One more term to go, Darcey thought, as she finished the last final exam of the summer term. They had a week off between terms, and the fall would be their last since they stayed over the summer to study. She had taken a part-time job, and worked on Tuesdays, Thursdays and the weekends so that she would be able to help Clint get away from campus when they graduated. She hoped he would join her back in Starlight Shores, even though she knew how he felt about the city and the noise. Either way, she didn’t want to see him stuck where he didn’t wish to live, and she knew he didn’t want to return home to Bridgeport. With his own savings, and what Darcey contributed, he would have his choice of places.
She met Danae after class for a coffee at the coffee shop, and they walked home together. The summer was beginning to wind down, and the trees were just beginning to show the slightest tinge of color. “So, tell me about this Dave guy,” Darcey said, Danae’s eyes sparkling.
“Well, he’s in my sculpture class, totally adorable! I think we’re going to catch a movie tomorrow night.” Her heart fluttered. Dave Petrillo wasn’t everything Danae had been looking for, but he was suitable while she was still in school. He wasn’t the marrying kind, and she knew it. But she figured they could have a little fun in the meantime.
“Where’s your ring, Nae?” Darcey asked her. She noticed Danae hadn’t been wearing it for the past week or so, hoping that her newfound relationship with Dave wasn’t the reason.
“It was making my finger itch. Something got under it. I think paint thinner or something.” She held out her hand to Darcey, and she saw the angry red blister where the ring usually sat.
“I can get you something for that if you want it, Nae. That looks painful,” she shuddered.
“It will heal on its own. Why did you ask about my ring?”
“Does Dave know you have it? Does he know about your purity pledge?”
“He doesn’t have time for that nonsense,” Danae slipped and cringed. “I didn’t mean to say nonsense. I’m sorry, Darce.”
“You don’t want to disappoint Daddy, Nae. Remember that.”
“Curse you!” Danae laughed. “You are the killer of joys, the spoiler of funs. But I won’t forget my pledge to Daddy. I promise.”
“What are you doing tonight? Anything fun with Dave?” Darcey and Clint were going dancing. His ribs were nearly healed completely and bruising was almost gone, and it was only tender when he overexerted now. It would be his first time dancing since he was injured.
“Yeah, we might stay in tonight. Listen to music.” Danae got an impish grin on her face. “Maybe I’ll sketch him nude.”
“Danae Elizabeth!” Darcey scolded her. “Don’t make me tell Daddy.”
“I’ll just tell him you’ve been sleeping with Clint for the past three months.” While it was true, they actually were sleeping.
“I guess we have each other over the same barrel. Daddy already doesn’t like Clint. That would just make things worse for us.” Darcey sighed. She loved her sister, but she was strong-willed and stubborn at times.
“I knew you’d see it my way.”
Clint was just finishing up making dinner when the twins opened the front door. “Did you make lobster thermidor?” Danae asked him. “You know that’s my favorite, right?”
“I did know, yes,” he smiled. Darcey walked to him and hugged him. “One more term to go, kitten,” he said, kissing her.
“Then we’re out of here.” Together, I hope, she thought.
The first snow of the season fell the last day of fall, with three weeks until Snowflake Day. School would be over, and the girls would be packing up and returning to Starlight Shores. And up to this point, Darcey and Clint still hadn’t discussed what would happen after graduation.
Clint was sleeping, with Darcey wrapped around him. Since he moved into the house during the summer, he and Darcey had gotten close, almost inseparable. And yet, neither of them had violated their pledge in any capacity. The most they had done together was kiss, but it was more than enough for both of them. Darcey watched the snow falling outside her window in the bedroom, and wept quietly. Three more weeks together, and no plans had been made. She would miss him when she and Danae went back to Starlight Shores after graduation. Her tears soaked into Clint’s shirt, and her sobs woke him.
“Hey kitten,” he yawned. “Why are you crying?”
Darcey sniffled. “It’s nothing. Holiday blues,” she fibbed. She couldn’t bring herself to ask what was planned next for him. She was afraid to know the answer.
“Are you sure that’s it?” He turned over and faced her, enveloping her in his warm, loving embrace.
“Most of it.” She was going to let it slide, but she had to know. “What are you going to do, once Nae and I graduate?”
“I thought we were going to be together?” His surprised look shocked her.
“I want that more than anything, but I didn’t think you’d want to come back to the Shores with me.” Her tears broke his heart.
“Why do you think I wouldn’t want to be with you?”
“I know you’re not fond of the city, or you’d go back to Bridgeport.” She sighed. “We’ve never talked about what happens after we graduate. I just assumed you would go wherever you get the best job offer.”
“I have a few prospects in Starlight Shores,” he said. “Come on, I’m in tech. Everyone needs computer nerds. This isn’t exactly rocket science.” He had planned on proposing for Snowflake Day, after he had gotten to meet Travis and Charlotte, and asked their permission to marry Darcey. He already had her ring. He knew Travis hadn’t been very happy with their relationship, but he was positive once he met them, and showed them that he really loved their daughter, they would like him better.
“You really want to come back to the city? I thought you hated the noise and clatter.”
“Yes, but I love you. And that is all that matters.” He kissed her nose, and she giggled. “I know you want to do your residency at your mom’s hospital. So if I want to be with you, I need to go where you are, right? Problem solved.”
Darcey sniffled, and kissed him. “I can’t believe it. All this time, I was thinking you’d be saying goodbye, and we’d be a fantastic memory.”
“Now why would I do that?” He snuggled her close, and she could hear his heart beating. It was comforting to her. “You’re my heart. I don’t want to be without you.” Darcey smiled contentedly and closed her eyes.
“I love you, Clint.”
“I love you more, Darcey.”
In the bathroom next to the bedroom, she heard the sounds of retching. “Danae?” Darcey called out. “Are you okay?”
“No,” she called out weakly. “I feel like two unicorns are fighting in my gut.” Danae retched again, vomiting her morning coffee and breakfast.
“Hold on, Boo. I need to check on her.” Darcey got out of bed and went to the bathroom, where she found Danae sitting on the floor, her head resting on the toilet seat. “You don’t look very good, Nae.”
“I don’t feel very good…” she started to say and retched again with dry heaves.
Darcey felt her forehead and neck. “Danae, you are burning up,” she said with a modicum of relief. She was petrified Danae was pregnant, though she wasn’t sure that was even a possibility. “Let me tuck you back into bed. You’re not going anywhere today, sweetie.” Darcey took Nae by the arm and led her back to her room. She went back to her bedroom and got her medical bag, which was mostly assembled and supplied. Her fever was 102° and her heart rate was a little elevated, probably from the nausea. “I don’t have any ginger tea here, Nae, but I can give you a shot of this stuff. It’s for nausea.”
“No, whatever it is, I want it out.” Danae tried to be funny but found herself running for her own bathroom, barely making it before she threw up a third time. Darcey dampened a washcloth and handed it to Danae.
“Keep your skin cool. I’d give you something for your fever, but it has no chance of staying down right now. Maybe when you’re not nauseated anymore, I’ll give you something.” She got Danae’s heavy, warm robe from her closet and covered her. “If it will make you feel better, stay there for a while. You won’t have to run back and forth.” She kissed Danae’s forehead. “I’ll be home all day studying, so if you need me, call for me or Clint.” Danae nodded as another wave of nausea ripped through her.
“How’s our little patient?” Clint asked, cringing as she threw up loudly.
“Oh, she’s not good. She wants to just get it out of her system. I can’t blame her.” Darcey smiled. “At least she isn’t pregnant.”
“Is that a possibility?” Clint was shocked to hear Darcey suggest it. “Doesn’t she have a ring-like yours?”
“Danae is way less impressed with the promise than I am. I always had a feeling if she met the right guy, or even a convenient guy, that she would push the envelope when it came to her ring and the promise attached to it. Mama says she’s like my Nana Bella.” Darcey shook her head. “I don’t see her settling down with just one guy, truthfully. She might surprise me yet, though.” Darcey suspected the reason why, though she would never address it with Danae. It involved a particularly noisy session in their parents’ bedroom one night, and it piqued her curiosity about sex ever since. Darcey shuddered at her own memory of it, and Clint chuckled at her.
“What was that for?”
“Just a memory I’d rather forget.” She made a silly face and pulled him away from Danae’s bedroom door. “I don’t want to hear her barf one more time if I can help it. Let’s have coffee and sit by the fire.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” he said.
Darcey dialed Charlotte’s phone like she did every weekend, and it rang three times before she picked it up.
“Hello?” came the out of breath answer.
“Mama? I hope I didn’t … never mind. Is this a bad time?”
Charlotte laughed. “No, it’s fine. I left my phone up in the loft when I was painting, and I had to run for it.”
“Painting? What are you painting, Mama?”
“Your dad and I decided to paint the house. It’s time for some new colors.”
“Oh, okay.” Darcey wanted to tell Charlotte that Clint was coming home with her for Snowflake Day, and staying in town, but she didn’t want to open with it. “How’s everything back home?”
“We miss you and Nae terribly, and we can’t wait for you to come home. I’ve cleared with the hospital director to mentor you during your residency, so you’re all set.” Charlotte had been holding onto that news for a month, while she finalized everything. “I hope you’re excited about that, Darce, because I am!”
“Mama! That is awesome! I can’t wait to get into my career, In fact, my equipment bag is almost complete for my class requirement. I just have a few more things to complete, and it’s done.” Darcey felt accomplished. She had worked so hard and was on target to graduate with the top grade in her classes.
“I’m so proud of you and Danae,” Charlotte beamed. “Speaking of Danae, is she around? She was sick the last time you called, and couldn’t talk. Darcey… she isn’t pregnant, is she?”
Darcey giggled. “No, Mama. She was legitimately sick, fever and all. She’s much better now. I’ll get her.” She called for Danae. “We’ll see you in a few weeks. I might not be able to call next week. Finals and everything.”
“I understand, sweetheart,” Charlotte remembered the grueling last finals of her college career. She wasn’t going to, but she couldn’t help it. “How’s Clint?”
“I’m still seeing him, Mama. I love him, and he wants to come back with us when we come home.”
“Well, that complicates things, Darce. I’ll talk to your dad about it, and text you.”
“Mama, this isn’t up for debate. He is coming home with me. We’ve been together for over a year.” Darcey wasn’t going to back down. With her guaranteed position at the hospital, and Clint’s impressive IT resume, they would have no problem affording a small home near the park, where real estate was a bit more reasonable.
“We’ll see, Darcey.” Danae bounded into the room, and she handed the phone to her sister.
Darcey walked into the living room, close to tears. “What’s the matter, kitten?” Clint asked her.
“This isn’t going to be easy, bringing you home. It sounds like my parents are going to fight me all the way.” She hugged him as he tried to comfort her.
“Thanks to your help, we have enough for a small home together. Even if we have to sleep on the floor, I don’t care, as long as you’re by my side.”
“Danae’s and my return tickets are first class, but I doubt we could afford such a luxury for you at this point. I think I’ll sell my ticket and buy two coach class with it. I don’t need to fly first class.” Darcey had a solution to almost every problem. Clint loved her analytical mind and loved to watch it in action.
“Are you sure? I don’t mind flying alone,” he countered.
“I have a better idea,” she said, nodding her head. “I’ll sell the car and we can get you in first class with us.” It would be much cheaper than shipping it back to the Shores. It was an old car, and it surely wouldn’t make a long trip if they drove it. “I’ll pay for the upgrade that way.”
“I’ll sell mine, too, then. It solves the problem of what happens to it. I’d never even considered the car.” Clint breathed a sigh of relief. Things were falling into place.
Danae ran into the living room, excited. “Darce! Mama and Daddy, Devin, Greg and Uncle Chris are coming to graduation!”
“I wonder why Mama didn’t tell me that, too?” Her troubled look returned. “I must have really disappointed them.”
“I don’t think so, Darce. You’ve always been Mama’s favorite. Maybe she just forgot? That’s gotta be it. You haven’t done anything that would cause them disappointment.” Danae hugged her twin.
“I dared to love someone.” She shook her head. “No matter. Clint and I have it all figured out anyway, even if Mama and Dad don’t approve.”
Danae grabbed her keys. “I’m going to go see Dave. I’ll be back later.”
“School tomorrow, Nae. Don’t forget, it’s the last week of classes before finals.”
“How can I forget when you keep reminding me?” Danae giggled. “See you later.”
Danae stared at the exam and drew a blank. She and Dave had studied together, but yet she couldn’t remember the term the question asked for. Panicked, she scanned the rest of the exam, but found it was just the first question that escaped her. Maybe if I just work on it, the first question will come to me, she thought. She had two hours for the exam, and she continued working, hoping.
In a building less than one hundred yards away, Darcey confidently completed her exam with time to spare, checking her math for each problem. One down, two to go, she thought, walking to the exam proctor to turn it in. She walked to the Student Union, which was right next door and bought a cola from the vending machine, something she never did, and it tasted good. She retrieved her phone from her bag and sent a quick text to Danae.
At the SU. Meet me there.
Sometime later, Darcey was sitting in the computer lab when Danae walked in, looking distressed. “What happened, Nae?”
“Dave,” was all she said. Tears filled her eyes, and Darcey knew.
“Oh, sweetie,” Darcey said, hugging her sister. “I’m sorry. What happened?”
“He wasn’t expecting me to be done with my exam so soon, and I guess I surprised him, while he was getting busy with someone else.” Danae broke her sister’s embrace. “I’m so glad we never got intimate. I guess I wasn’t his type after all.”
“You don’t need him, Danae.” Darcey offered her a sip of cola. “You knew things would never be serious between you two anyway.”
“I know, but the betrayal. It hurts like crazy.” Tears dripped onto Danae’s backpack. She finally understood the lesson that Travis drove into her head. “No more of that for me. From now on, I wear my ring, and I keep my promise, every bit of it.” Darcey was happy to hear Danae’s revelation, but she was extremely upset at the circumstances. She hated seeing Danae hurt.
The girls wished each other good luck and went to their other exams for the day, and afterward, they met each other at home. Clint had spent the day packing up the house, leaving only the items they would need for the next few days. Darcey was home first and greeted Clint with a hug and a kiss. “Thank you for everything you’ve done today, Boo Bear. I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome, kitten,” he replied. “When does your family get in?”
“They should be here tonight. Graduation is tomorrow.” Darcey was nervous. Danae’s car pulled into the driveway, and she walked toward the house, just around the same time that Travis’ rental arrived with the Jones and St John families. Charlotte got out, feeling nostalgic, and took Travis’ hand. The last time she had been on campus was for Travis’ graduation.
“Mama! Daddy!” Danae ran toward them, wrapping herself around them. “Oh, I missed you.” The ache of her broken heart hurt just a little less around her beloved, very missed family.
“Oh, Punkin!” Travis hugged her. “It’s so good to hold you in my arms.” He resisted the urge to tickle her, remembering she was a full-grown woman.
Darcey heard the commotion outside, and swallowed hard. “I’ll go out first, Clint. Wait just a minute or two before you appear.” She kissed him and walked out the door, smiling at her family. “Mama! Daddy! Uncle Chris!” she squealed, feeling more excited to see them now that they were actually there. She kissed Travis’ cheek and hugged her mother. “I can’t believe you’re here!” Travis noticed a tall, slender young man standing shyly in the doorway of the house.
“Is that Clint, baby girl?” he asked Darcey, and she nodded. “Tell him to come down here and meet the family.” She motioned to him, and he walked cautiously to the family, not really feeling comfortable interrupting the reunion.
“Daddy, Mama, this is Clint.” She beamed at him and wrapped herself around him.
Travis stepped forward and offered his hand to shake. “Clint, I’m Travis, this is my lovely wife, Charlotte.”
“Clint Scroggins, sir. Nice to meet you.” Clint shook his hand and bowed to Charlotte. She took him by surprise when she pulled him into a hug.
“You’re just as good as family, I understand. Welcome, Clint,” Charlotte greeted him warmly. She glanced at her older daughter and noticed her happy smile. His love looked very good on Darcey, she had to admit. And he seemed to be a respectable young man.
The family all went into the house where they enjoyed Clint’s lobster thermidor and a bottle of aged nectar. Clint went to their car after dinner and helped Travis bring in their bags in. “Clint,” Travis began, “First, I want to apologize to you. You seem like a nice, upstanding young man, and I’m sorry I gave Darcey trouble about dating you.”
Clint was terribly star struck, and suddenly very introverted. But, he had to speak his mind. “Mr. Jones, with all due respect, the one you should be apologizing to is your daughter.”
Travis opened his mouth to speak, but he stopped. The young man was right. He had treated Darcey poorly over their relationship. “You are right, Clint. She deserves my apology.” He clapped the young man on the shoulder. “Thanks for setting me straight. Welcome to the family.” Clint smiled.
Travis walked back into the house and pulled Darcey aside. Her fearful look made him feel terrible, and he hugged her. “Sweetie, I want to apologize to you about how I treated you concerning Clint. He is an honorable young man, and he obviously loves you. He’s fearless when it comes to you, and that is admirable. Darce, you have my blessing.” He hugged her close. “I am so proud of you, Punkin. Look at you. Graduating tomorrow with your degree in medicine, grown and responsible, in an adult relationship. I couldn’t be any prouder of you.”
“Thank you, Daddy,” she cried, sniffling. “I knew you’d like Clint once you met him. He is everything you told me to look for. He’s sweet, kind, loving, affectionate. He respects me, and my promise. He’s the real deal, Daddy.”
“I can’t wait to get to know him better. Is he coming home with you on Sunday?” Travis asked.
Darcey nodded. “I worked a part-time job on my slow days and weekends so we could save enough money to get him to the Shores. He was having a hard time saving by himself, so I helped him.”
Travis looked at her, confused. “Why didn’t you just ask for the money to buy him a plane ticket?”
“Because, Daddy, I thought you were disappointed in me for not breaking up with him, when you told me you didn’t send me here to find a man. I didn’t want to ask you to pay for something you didn’t approve of, so we worked together to solve a problem. And,” she said, ashamed, “I sold the old car, and he sold his car to pay for his first-class upgrade. I offered to sell my ticket and get two coaches with it, but Daddy, your old car was going to need some big repairs soon. It wasn’t worth bringing home. I’ll buy you a new one, once we’re on our feet.”
Travis smiled at his daughter. “You don’t have to replace the car, honey. It was yours, and if you didn’t feel it was worth repairing and bringing home, you made the right choice.” Travis remembered the starry look in Clint’s eyes when they were alone speaking together. “Did he know what family you were from ahead of time? He looked struck when I spoke with him.”
“He figured it out on our first date, but he never mentioned it to anyone around campus. He kept my secret, and this was well before we were this close. Daddy, I know how you and Mama feel about each other. I feel the same way about my Clint. I’m so glad he wanted to come back with me.”
“He is welcome to stay in the loft until he finds a place and gets settled in. And I’ll reimburse you for his airline ticket home. He will need his money.” Charlotte approached them, looking for Travis. “There she is,” Travis beamed at her.
“I was hoping Darcey was in here with you, honeybear,” she said. “Why don’t you go and spend some time with the family, baby? I want to talk to Darcey for a minute.” Travis kissed her and left the room. “Darcey, honey. I want to say how sorry I am for giving you so much trouble about Clint. He reminds me of your Daddy when he was young. Confident, proper, decent. You don’t have to be around him long to know how he feels about you. And I know you love him, too.”
“It’s okay, Mama,” Darcey said when Charlotte cut her off.
“No, baby girl, it wasn’t okay. I was treating you like I would have handled Danae if she would have told me the same thing. I was really worried about her, coming up here. It took me by surprise when you were the one who found someone. I didn’t handle it well at all, and I hope you can forgive me, Darce. There was no excuse.” Charlotte hugged Darcey, and heard her sniffle.
“Of course I forgive you, Mama.” She wrestled with Danae’s issue, and whether or not to say something. But she stopped herself. It was Danae’s news to break, not hers, and Darcey didn’t even know if Charlotte knew about Dave. No, she thought. Better to stay quiet.
“I’d love to sit and chat, but I know your brother is tired. He had a full day of school, albeit the last day of classes for winter break. But he’s worn out. He doesn’t travel well.” Charlotte grinned.
“It’s okay, Mama.” They walked into the living room together. Danae had offered her bedroom to Charlotte and Travis, and everyone else was taking spots on the floor in the living room with blankets and pillows.
“Where are you going to sleep tonight, Clint?” Chris said, not seeing a spot laid out for him.
“I stay with Darcey in her room.” Travis looked at Darcey, eyeing her suspiciously.
“It’s okay Daddy,” Darcey said. “He got hurt earlier this year and needs the bed. His ribs are still tender.” Still, she knew she had a lecture coming her way.
Greg and Danae were trading mock insults and seeing who could out-funny the other. Chris apologized to Darcey for bringing it up. And Travis couldn’t let the revelation go without questioning her.
“So, you are sleeping with Clint,” Travis accused her. “You made it sound like you had kept your purity pledge, Darcey.”
“Not that way, Daddy, and I haven’t broken my promise, not one little bit!” She stood her ground. This had been their arrangement since his attack, and it was working for them. “We just share a bed, and we only sleep. I took my commitment seriously. He made a promise to his mother as well.”
“I don’t like it, Darcey Isabella. Too much temptation for him. Do you know how torturous it is for a man to sleep beside a woman, and not be able to touch her?” Travis paced back and forth on the porch, the snow falling at blizzard pace.
“It works for us, Daddy. He’s never seen me out of my clothes. All of the mystery is still there for both of us. Yes, it would have been more ideal with a third bedroom, but Kevin has been fair to us. I didn’t want to move, especially with his injury.”
“I heard you mention this injury inside. What happened to him?” Travis asked.
“He got into a fight with a Paparazzi, who was trying to take pictures of Danae and me at the lake. He took a powerful hit to his ribs. He was very lucky. He could have broken several ribs and punctured his lungs. I thought he had when he coughed up blood right after. Turns out, he bit his tongue when he got sacked. I’ve never seen anyone take a hit like that before.” Darcey conveniently left out the part where she and Nae were skinny dipping together. That was on a need-to-know basis, and he definitely did not need to know.
“That must have been painful. Smitty got hit like that a few years back. He sat out half a season, so I know it takes a while to heal up. But no more of this sharing a bed. You can sleep on the floor tonight out in the living room with the family, and he can stay in the loft when you come back home.” Travis was not going to have his unmarried daughter sleeping with her boyfriend under his roof.
“Yes, Daddy.” She went into her bedroom and grabbed the pillow off the bed.
“Where are you going?” Clint asked, already in bed, and half asleep.
“My dad put his foot down. I’ll be in the living room with Nae and my uncle, cousin and brother.” She walked to him and kissed him goodnight.
Graduation. The commencement. The end of one part of life, and the beginning of a new one. Charlotte helped the girls with their caps and gowns, placing a golden honor sash on Darcey and Danae, signifying their summa cum laude status. It was a little less than two years ago she did this with their high school gowns, and Charlotte was emotional.
“You two are so grown up,” she cried. “I love you both to the moon and back, and I’m so proud of everything you have accomplished.”
Travis was in the bedroom, trying to get dressed in his PR uniform. He was chosen to deliver the commencement address that year as an esteemed alumnus, and as the father of two graduating students. The girls had no idea, and he couldn’t wait to surprise them. “Charlotte!” he called, summoning her. “I can’t tie this thing. I swear I have it, and then I don’t.”
She giggled. “Someday, my love,” she sang, effortlessly tying it, completing the look. “The girls are going to be so surprised.” Charlotte was bursting, trying to hide it.
“I can’t wait,” he said calmly. “It’s a day they’ll never forget.”
Darcey and Danae left in her car an hour before the ceremony was scheduled to begin to get in their proper position. Clint rode with the family to the Annex. The girls were shocked and excited when the university president introduced Travis as the commencement speaker. Charlotte and Chris cried together when they saw Danae and Darcey both receive their degrees. And when the last diploma had been awarded, a storm of caps littered the air above the crowd of graduates, flashbulbs on cameras all throughout the Annex flickered, families of graduates hoping to catch that one important photo of their loved one. After the ceremony, they all met outside.
“We have to get to the airport,” Travis announced, “Our flight leaves in about 90 minutes. We’re cutting it close.” They had spent time that morning packing up and loading the car, and they were ready to go. He also knew the girls and Clint needed to meet the movers and catch their own flight, a red-eye, back to the Shores. “We’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Travis said, summoning everyone to the car. The family hugged and the twins watched as they drove away.
“We need to get home,” Darcey said. “I don’t want to wear this on the airplane, and we need to meet the movers.”
“Let’s roll,” Danae said, walking to her car. On her way, Dave spotted her, running for her.
“Nae!” he yelled, and when she noticed, she walked faster to the car. “Wait up!” He broke into a full run, hoping to catch her before she drove away. He wouldn’t have bothered, but he had to know if Travis Jones was really her father.
“What?” Danae spat. “What could you possibly have to say to me after yesterday, Dave?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for us to end like this. I liked you.”
“Yeah, well. I liked you too, but I’m glad I found out, before we went any further, what you truly are. Goodbye Dave.” Danae said, closing her car door, and locking it.
He jogged to Darcey, hoping to appeal to her generous side. “Darcey! Your sister won’t talk to me.”
“You don’t deserve her, Dave.” She kept walking, as Clint put himself between her and Dave.
“You heard the lady,” Clint growled. “I suggest you leave.”
Danae was crying when Darcey got into the car. “It’s okay, Nae. At least you have some closure now.”
“I know. The funny thing is, I’m not even sure I’ll miss him.” She started the car and began her last drive to the house.
The next morning, the flight from Sim State University was landing in Starlight Shores with three very important people on board. Danae grabbed her backpack from above the seat, and stood in the aisle, waiting for the doors to open. Darcey and Clint remained in their seats, happy and snuggled together. They had spent most of the night talking about plans, dreams and their future together in Starlight Shores. Danae looked at them and laughed. “Are you two lovebirds coming, or what?”
“Yes, Danae, we are.” Clint smiled as he stood, taking Darcey’s hand. “Come, kitten,” he cooed at her, helping her up. “We’re home.”
Up Next: Generation Five, Chapter Three