Life resumed as usual, 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. He missed the significance.
“Silly, it’s the key to my heart,” she replied and smiled ear to ear. “Do you like it?”
“I love it! Thank you, my kitten.” He kissed her tenderly. “I truly love this. What a great gift!” She put the necklace around his neck, and it looked like it 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 and put 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, which the three of them shared. 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 as she tried to get on the Dean’s List. She needed to ace the final exam to earn the required GPA, and she pulled several all-nighters trying to learn what she was supposed to know from a whole semester of studies. Darcey had 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. She only nibbled 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 both. Clint will bring some for me if I ask him.”
“You’re lucky, Darce. You have a man who 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 faded away, 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 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 cheerful 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. He had hoped 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. “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, dressed, and ready. She rushed out of the car and into the house, her backpack still in the car. “I’m home, Nae.”
“What took you so long?” Danae teased.
“Just chatting with Clint. We have a date tomorrow night.”
“Thank you for letting it be just us tonight. I 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 chuckled and zipped up Danae’s dress. ‘You look beautiful, Nae.”
“Thanks,” she said and blushed. “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.
“As I said, I don’t need to catch a guy. I have a boyfriend.” She smiled and thought about Clint.
Danae drove her car to the club. Darcey saw Clint’s car and frowned, and she hoped 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. Her eyes scanned 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. She knew it had spirits in it because she smelled it. But Danae was who she was, 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. Around his neck was the key Darcey had given him. 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 because it was. Regardless, a young woman approached him and sat and struck up a conversation with him.
“Hey, cutie,” she flirted. “Want to dance?”
“I have a girlfriend,” 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 and watched Darcey as she moved to the music.
“I see,” Nancy replied and noticed 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. But their exchange did not go unnoticed.
“Darce, who was that woman that was just talking to Clint?” Danae asked.
“I didn’t see,” Darcey lied. She noticed. But Darcey trusted him.
“You 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 it. 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 excellent 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,” Danae 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 guitar to save your life, and I can’t do your sciencey stuff.” Danae laughed. “Should we enroll for the summer term and just stay here? Or should we go home as 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 were 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 chuckled. “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, kicked her shoes off, and got comfortable. “I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to tell you something.”
“Oh?” Clint was intrigued.
“Nae and I both got a letter from Admissions. We’ll finish our degrees at the end of the fall term. That’s going to cut our time together drastically.”
“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. His face nuzzled into 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 and looked 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 lying 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 mad at 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.” 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 house 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 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 and jumped 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 to place around the blanket. The birds sang 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 and stared 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 wish 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 beneath 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. “There’s no one here, just you and me.”
“I don’t care if you do. Nothing I haven’t seen before,” Darcey snorted. Danae stripped down to nothing and ran for the lake, 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 laughed, playing in the water as they did in the pool back home. “How does it feel, Nae? To swim with nothing on?” Darcey asked her.
“It 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 and threw it 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. The last thing he wanted was to draw attention to himself. He saw Danae as she walked up into the grass and jumped in, and he smiled. When he stepped on a dry branch, it snapped, and he noticed Darcey’s head turn in his direction, and he held his breath. Did he dare move closer? What if they saw him?
He reached into a backpack, removed a camera tripod, and set it down behind the tree trunk. These pictures would make him a rich man if he could find the right buyer back in Starlight Shores. The opportunity was just too precious, and he couldn’t pass it up. He was the only Paparazzi to have followed the twins this far from campus, and he enjoyed the view.
Stealthily, he got behind his camera and pointed the lens toward the lake. Legally, 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 water.” 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 wanted a picture of Danae, but he would take either twin if it would pay. And if no one bought his photographs, he had a few new ones for his collection.
“What are you doing?” an 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 or her 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 and knocked 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 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, and lured the Paparazzi away from the twins, to give them enough time to get dressed. The older man gave chase for a few hundred feet and then stopped, 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 had 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, fell to the grass, and gasped for breath. “I told you, loverboy, you didn’t want me to catch you.” The older man gathered his equipment and fled the scene.
Darcey called campus police and tended to Clint. “Boo! Are you okay?” She saw him gulp for breath, but he only coughed up a bit of blood. “Oh, no! He has some broken ribs! Call emergency!” she shouted to Danae. “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 and pointed the way 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 cried.
They got Clint on a backboard and took him from the scene, and campus police began to look 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 and worried about Clint. “Would you drive me to the hospital? I need to be with him.”
Danae was upset and shaking, but she agreed. “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 toward 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, reached into her pocket, and retrieved the memory stick. “It came from the Paparazzi’s camera. I guess Clint didn’t want to take the chance that slimeball had taken photos of us.” Danae put the card into her camera and looked at the pictures, sickened and disgusted at what she saw. Most of them were of her, close up and personal, and she was naked in every single one 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 our 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 healed. 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 snickered 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 feels better? Will he stay here or move back to his 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 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 to clear her mind.
Darcey was 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, 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 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 slimeball 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, the belt tightened around him. Clint 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? Do you love her? Are you going to marry her?”
“I hope 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 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 tried 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 lineup.” 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 that man’s face as long as I live.” Clint sat down 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 drove 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 to exit the car freely. “Thanks, Nae.”
“You’re welcome. I think you’ll make a wonderful brother-in-law,” she said and smiled at him.
One more term to go, Darcey thought, as she finished the last final exam of the summer. They had a week off between semesters, 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 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 savings and what Darcey contributed, he would have his choice of places.
She met Danae after class for a drink 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 sparkled.
“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 and hoped 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 showed her 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 had healed, and the bruising was almost gone. 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 a mischievous 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 had just finished 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 and kissed her.
“Then we’re out of here.” Together, I hope, she thought.
The first snow of the season fell on the last day of fall, with three weeks until Snowflake Day. Classes would be over, and the girls would pack up and return to Starlight Shores. And up to this point, Darcey and Clint still hadn’t discussed what would happen after graduation.
Clint slept 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 the window in her bedroom and wept quietly. Three more weeks together, and they had made no plans for their future. 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 he had planned. She was afraid to know the answer.
“Are you sure that’s it?” He turned over and faced her and surrounded 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 I 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. It isn’t exactly rocket science.” He knew Travis hadn’t been pleased with their relationship, but he was positive once he met them and showed them that he loved their daughter, they would like him better.
“You 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 and expelled 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 well, Nae.”
“I don’t feel well—” 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 bit of relief. She was petrified Danae had gotten 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 Danae by the arm and led her back to her room. Darcey went back to her bedroom and got her medical bag, which she stocked during the semester. Her temperature was 102, and her heart rate was a little elevated, she surmised, from 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 ran for her bathroom, and she barely made 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 Clint or me.” Danae nodded as another wave of nausea ripped through her.
“How’s our little patient?” Clint asked, cringing as Danae 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 just 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 Danae’s curiosity about sex ever since. Darcey shuddered at her 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 five 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.”
“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. My equipment bag is almost complete for my class requirement. I just have a few more things to purchase.” Darcey felt accomplished. She had worked so hard and was on target to graduate with the top grades 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 laughed. “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 Darcey 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. If we have to sleep on the floor, I don’t care. I just want you 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 my 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 survive 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 distressed look returned. “I must have truly disappointed them.”
“I don’t think so, Darce. You’ve always been Mama’s favorite. Maybe she just forgot? That must 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 disapprove.”
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 snickered. “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. 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, Danae thought. She had two hours for the exam, and she continued and hoped.
In a building less than one hundred yards away, Darcey confidently completed her exam with time to spare and checked her math for each problem. One down, two to go, she thought as she walked to the exam proctor to turn it in. Darcey walked to the Student Union, which was right next door, and bought a cola from the vending machine. It was 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.
Thirty minutes later, Darcey sat in the computer lab when Danae walked in, distressed. “What happened, Nae?”
“Dave,” was all she said. Tears filled her eyes, and Darcey knew.
“Oh, sweetie,” Darcey said and hugged her sister. “I’m so 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 distraught 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 and left only the items they would need for the next day. 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, waxing nostalgic, and took Travis’ hand. The last time she had been on campus was for Travis’ graduation.
“Mama! Daddy!” Danae ran toward them and wrapped 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. After all, 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 of the door and smiled at her family. “Mama! Daddy! Uncle Chris!” she squealed, feeling more excited to see them now that they were 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. He didn’t feel 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 it. And at their first impression, 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. “Clint,” Travis began, “First, I want to apologize to you. You seem like a nice, respectable 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 loves you. He’s fearless when it comes to you, and that is admirable. Darce, you have my blessing.” He hugged her close. “Look at you. Graduating tomorrow with your degree in medicine, grown and responsible, and in an adult relationship. I couldn’t be any prouder of you.”
“Thank you, Daddy,” she cried. “I knew you’d like Clint once you met him. He is everything you told me to seek. 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 had 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. I didn’t want to ask you to pay for something you disapproved of, so we worked together to solve a problem. And,” she said, ashamed, “I sold the old car, and he sold his car, too, to pay for his first-class upgrade. I offered to sell my ticket and get two coach tickets 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. “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 with Clint. He reminded 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 anxious 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 before 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 took spots on the floor in the living room with blankets and pillows.
“Where are you going to sleep tonight, Clint?” Chris asked.
“I stay with Darcey in her room.” Travis looked at Darcey and eyed her suspiciously.
“It’s okay, Daddy,” Darcey said. “I’ll sleep out here tonight with Nae and everyone. 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. It had been their arrangement since his attack, and it worked 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 better 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 Clint?” Travis asked.
“He got into a fight with a Paparazzi trying to take pictures of Danae and me at the lake. He took a powerful hit to his ribs. He was fortunate. He could have broken several ribs and punctured his lungs. I thought he had when he coughed up blood right after. As it 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 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 and placed a golden honor sash on Darcey and Danae, which designated their summa cum laude status. It was a little less than two years ago that 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 laughed. “Someday, my love,” she sang as she tied it and completed his ensemble. “The girls are going to be so surprised.” Charlotte was bursting with excitement.
“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 began 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 student graduated, a storm of caps littered the air above the crowd of scholars, flashbulbs on cameras flickered throughout the Annex, families hoped to catch a memorable 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 flight, the red-eye, back to the Shores. “We’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Travis said and summoned 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 as they walked to her car. On the way, Dave spotted her and ran toward her.
“Danae!” he yelled, and when she noticed him, she walked faster. “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 indeed 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 loved you, but I’m glad I found out before we went any further, what you truly are. Goodbye, Dave.” Danae said. She slammed the car door and locked it.
He jogged to Darcey. Dave hoped 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 them.
“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 landed in Starlight Shores with three special people on board. Danae grabbed her backpack and stood in the aisle. 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 and took Darcey’s hand. “Come, kitten,” he said and helped her up. “We’re home.”
Up Next: Chapter Three, Generation Five