[WIP - Modern/NC17]
School finished for the Christmas break at lunchtime on Thursday. William was waiting outside when Ally appeared with Sam and Laura, all three of them laughing and looking quite cheerful despite carrying bags weighed down with books and homework.
"Home?" he said to Ally, then turned to Sam and Laura. "Do you two want a lift?"
"Actually, we're going into town," Sam said. "We've got Christmas shopping to do."
He glanced at Laura and smiled. She still looked rather ill from the cold that had kept her off school for a couple of days, but Sam had had fun teasing her about her red Rudolph nose.
"And I really need to do some shopping too," Ally said, trying her best to look appealing. "Please can I go?"
William hesitated. He didn't want to embarrass Ally in front of her classmates, who were pouring out of school chattering excitedly, but he wasn't sure whether he was ready to trust her yet.
"I'll walk down with Sam, and I'll be home in two hours," she said, fully aware that he needed convincing that she could be trusted.
"Tell me where you're going, and I'll drop you off," William said. "And I can pick you up later so you don't have to carry lots of shopping home."
Ally thought for a moment, then nodded. This was the best deal she was going to get, and she knew that she was lucky to be allowed out, and luckier still that William was being very diplomatic whilst surrounded by school children.
"So, what am I going to get for Elizabeth?" William asked as he pulled out into the traffic.
"Haven't you got her a present yet?" Ally asked, horrified. "That's terrible, you should have been choosing stuff for her for weeks!"
"I've had a few other things to think about," William laughed.
"I think you should get her a treat she wouldn't buy for herself," Sam said. "That's what she always used to say she wanted whenever I asked her."
"Not some girly mush wrapped up in shiny paper?" William teased, remembering the conversation he and Sam had had the time he'd given Sam a lift before Elizabeth's birthday, the first year he'd known them.
"Yeah, that would be OK," Sam laughed.
"What girly mush are you buying for Laura?" Ally said, twisting round in the front seat. "Oh, and don't think we don't know that you're holding hands back there."
"Get lost," Sam said, blushing, as did Laura. He'd already bought Laura's present, and was planning to hand it over on Christmas Eve.
"OK, here we are," William said, pulling into the dropping off bay in front of the train station. "Is this handy enough for the shops? I'll see you back here in two hours."
The three teens climbed out of the car and waved goodbye as he drove away.
"OK, come on," Ally said, leading the other two off. "We're going to get them something really good."
Two hours later, William was waiting. Having felt chastened by Ally's shock that he had not yet bought Elizabeth her main present, he had taken the opportunity presented by an afternoon off work to browse the shops himself. He felt quite pleased with himself as he saw Ally, Sam and Laura walking up towards the car, laughing and laden with shopping bags.
"You look as though you've had a good time," he said, getting out to open the boot for them to stow their shopping.
"Oh, we have," Ally said. She had been pleasantly surprised at how much she had enjoyed spending time with Sam and Laura. She had been reminded that Sam could be quite funny, and had discovered that Laura was good company too. Testing out all the baby toys as a pretext for choosing something for the twins had been fun. Not for the first time, Ally reflected on how much she had missed whilst under the influence of Camilla and her sneering attitude.
"So, what have you bought?" William asked once everyone was on board and he slid into the commuter-crawl traffic.
"Oh, we got this really cool thing for Hat and Oll," Sam said.
"Harriet and Oliver!" William chided. "You'll drive your Mum round the bend one of these days."
"Well, anyway, it's really neat, they can lie on the mat and play with..."
"Shhhh!" Ally scolded. "You'll just have to wait and see."
"I have to wait for other people's presents, and not just my own?" William asked, smiling.
"Your presents?" Ally laughed. "Who says you're getting a present?"
"Well, I had hoped I might get one or two," William said, pretending to feel hurt, and making the children laugh.
Elizabeth happened to be looking out of the window when they pulled up in front of the house, and felt immeasurably relieved at seeing a little group of laughing people get out of the car and walk towards the house. She smiled, sighed and relaxed at the thought that at last they might all be happy. She opened the front door feeling quite cheerful.
"Wow, you've all been busy!" she said.
"Can Laura stay for tea?"
"Don't look in this bag!"
"I'm taking this upstairs!"
"Oh, OK," Elizabeth said, as the whirlwind of people flew in and flew past her. "Hello, Laura, yes of course you can stay for tea, would you like to phone your Mum?"
"Yes, please," Laura replied, feeling almost as overwhelmed by the flurry of present-hiding activity as Elizabeth.
William sat back and listened to the chatter of the three teenagers at teatime, while they told Elizabeth what had happened at school, and grumbled about the amount of work they had to do over the holidays. Ally seemed to be making a genuine effort to change her attitude, and seemed all the better for it, less moody and more cheerful. William knew it was early days yet, and this shift might not last, but it appeared that Elizabeth might have been correct - the trip to the police station had given Ally such a shock that it had brought her to her senses. Sam had grown up enormously in the last year, although it had crossed William's mind more than once during the previous traumatic couple of weeks that perhaps he was saving his teenage crisis for later. Laura, who on her first few visits to the house had been so shy that she could barely meet William's eye, never mind speak to him, had grown in confidence, well able to handle Sam's teasing and fooling. He had had moments of doubt during the previous year when he had wondered if he would ever get used to the amount of noise and activity in a house full of children. However, Elizabeth was a centre of calm around which everything seemed to revolve, and he only needed to catch her eye for the little smiles she gave him to feel that he was a very lucky man indeed.
As their first anniversary approached, he wanted to find something really special for Elizabeth, something she hadn't even realised that she wanted, that would somehow show her how much he loved her. He realised now that his life before Elizabeth had been dull, as had he, and that he had lost any sense of joy, although had he been asked at the time, he would have expressed satisfaction and claimed to be happy. Now he felt as if he knew what satisfaction really meant.
William's original plan had been for the two of them to go out for dinner, their first night out since the arrival of the twins. However, although he was trying very hard to trust Ally, he was unwilling to leave the children alone at night, even for a couple of hours. He had a flash of inspiration, and slid away from the table to make a phone call.
A loud knock at the front door early on Saturday morning startled Elizabeth, who was in the kitchen having breakfast solo whilst everyone else was still asleep. Hastily brushing toast crumbs from the front of her dressing gown, she opened the door just enough to peer out and see who was there. However, she couldn't tell who it was because their face was obscured by the biggest bouquet she had ever seen.
"Darcy?" said a muffled voice from somewhere behind the flowers.
"Yes," Elizabeth replied, taking the flowers. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," said the florist, now visible once the flowers had been handed over. "Have a nice day."
"Thanks," Elizabeth said, carrying the flowers into the kitchen and setting them down on the table. Red roses, carnations, and several flowers she couldn't name were arranged with long strands of elegant foliage to form a most beautiful bouquet. She found the card, and smiled as she read it.
"To my fabulous wife, with all my love. Happy Anniversary. William."
"Wow, those are spectacular!" Ally said, stumbling sleepily into the kitchen.
"Aren't they?" Elizabeth asked, admiring them. "You're up early. I thought you'd want to sleep in."
"The knock on the door woke me up. Actually, I was going to bring cups of tea to you and Dad so you could have a lie in."
"Really? That's a nice thought."
"Well, I know you think I don't have nice thoughts, so I was going to surprise you," Ally said with a mixture of sadness and defiance in her voice.
"Don't be silly!" Elizabeth said. "Of course I don't think that. Sit down, I'll make us some tea. Would you like some toast?"
"I'll do it," Ally said, gesturing that Elizabeth should sit down. Ally got on with making toast, putting jars of jam on the table along with plates and knives. Elizabeth watched her, surprised that Ally should be up so early, but pleased that it gave them some time together, just the two of them. She smiled as Ally put the plate of toast on the table and sat down.
"So, you think that I think that you're horrible, is that it?" she asked light heartedly.
"Well, not quite," Ally said, slightly taken aback by Elizabeth's directness, but glad in a way that it cut right to the quick. "But you think I was nasty to my Dad, don't you?"
"I think you found yourself in a bad situation," Elizabeth said carefully. "You've done a few silly things but nothing that can't be mended. And all your Dad and I want is for you to be OK."
"That's what he says."
"He means it. So do I," Elizabeth said. "I know I always say you can talk to me about anything, and I won't be cross as long as you tell me the truth, but the truth is I haven't been giving you the time, have I?"
"Yeah, but you've got Hat and Oll."
"Oh, don't you start!" Elizabeth laughed.
"You're busy with Harriet and Oliver," Ally said, smiling.
"I can always find time for you," Elizabeth said, then paused. "Look, I know I'm not your mother, and we haven't had this talk before, but ...." She paused, feeling rather awkward at bringing up the subject. "You do know about safe sex, and contraception, and so on, don't you?"
Ally nodded, feeling mortified with embarrassment and not knowing what to say.
"Because, obviously, in my job, it's something I deal with, so you can talk to me if you've got any worries, or..."
"I didn't do anything," Ally blurted.
"I didn't ... you know ... have sex," Ally said. "I mean, I think there's someone in our year at school who has, and all the boys talk about it, but I haven't. You know."
She stopped talking, feeling as uncomfortable as it was possible to feel.
"Oh, OK," Elizabeth said, taken aback by her candour. "Well, if you haven't, that's fine, and if you want to talk about ... stuff... which I'm sure you'd rather talk to almost anyone but me and your father about, well, you know where we are," Elizabeth said with a little laugh.
They smiled at each other across the breakfast table, an understanding reached.
"So," Elizabeth said after a while. "All the boys talk about sex, do they? Including Sam?"
Ally burst out laughing. "Oh no, I'm not saying a word. He'd kill me. In fact, he's the only one who doesn't boast about what he's been up to, because he and Laura are so lovey dovey and sickening."
"Oh yes, everyone's taking bets on the two of them being the childhood sweethearts who end up staying together for ever and ever!"
"Really?" Elizabeth asked, beginning to wonder whether she should have a new perspective on her son.
"Nah, not really," Ally said. "No-one stays together forever do they? Especially when they met at school when they were 14."
"Who knows?" Elizabeth said, smiling as their laughter subsided. She sipped her tea thoughtfully as the conversation sank into a lull. After a while she spoke quietly.
"Don't let the twins push you out. If you need us, your Dad and I will always find time to talk."
Ally was thoughtful as she spread strawberry jam on her last piece of toast.
"Dad said you know someone....." she said slowly. "Do you think I should see a counsellor?"
"If you feel it would help," Elizabeth said. "It's got to be your decision. It doesn't work if you're made to go. Think about it over the holidays. It's an ex-colleague of mine who I thought you might like. We could always pop up to see her."
"OK, I'll think about it," Ally said, the conversation reminding her that her original feelings for Elizabeth had been based on the fact that she was so open and straightforward. "So, what's Dad doing for your anniversary?"
"Oh, I don't think we're doing anything, I think these flowers are enough, don't you?" Elizabeth replied. "Besides, its Christmas soon, we'll be doing plenty of eating and celebrating then. And on that note, I'd better ring Mary and get organised. What time is it?"
"Half past eight."
"Hmm, perhaps not such a good idea to ring Mary just yet," Elizabeth smiled. "Time for a quick shower before everyone else wakes up, I think."
"Good idea," Ally agreed, standing up and pushing her chair back. "I'll get washed too."
She put her plate and empty mug in the sink, then turned to leave the kitchen.
"I'm sorry for being awful," she said quietly. "And I won't be like that any more."
"It's all in the past," Elizabeth said. "Let's look forward from now on, shall we?"
Ally stepped towards Elizabeth, and they hugged each other affectionately. Ally left the kitchen, and Elizabeth watched her go upstairs, glad that they had been able to sit and talk uninterrupted.
Eventually, Elizabeth managed to get an answer when she phoned Mary. Even so, the voice on the other end sounded very sleepy.
"Hey, lazybones, it's time you were up," Elizabeth said brightly.
"Oh, go away," Mary grumbled in response.
"Sure, so the turkey will fly in unassisted, the potatoes will just grow on our doorstep, and the dinner will just cook itself."
"How can you be so perfect and so ... awake?" Mary groaned.
The phone conversation with Mary sorted out the shopping list for Christmas dinner. At an earlier Sunday lunch, Mary had expressed regret that their flat wasn't big enough to host everyone, Elizabeth had expressed regret that her exhaustion meant she wasn't strong enough to host everyone, and Sam had come up with the ideal solution.
"Why doesn't Mary cook dinner here then?"
"Why not?" said Nick and Mary in unison.
"We'll do all the shopping," Nick said.
"I'll organise the cooking," Mary added.
"OK, and let's have everyone here then," William said. "We could ask Charles and Jane, and you two can be Mary's slaves."
He looked at Ally and Sam, who pulled faces at each other before nodding their agreement.
"OK," Ally said, thinking that it would be fun to have Mary and Nick around for Christmas. She had often wished that she had someone in the way that Sam had Mary, and hoped that over the holiday she might get a bit of time with her.
By Saturday afternoon, all the laundry had been done, shopping bought and put away, and everyone was relaxing in the living room whilst the football results were being read out on the radio. A knock at the door startled Elizabeth, and she was surprised on answering it to see Mary and Nick on the doorstep.
"What are you two doing here?"
"Why aren't you ready?" Mary countered.
"Great, you're here," William said, appearing at Elizabeth's shoulder.
"What's going on?" asked Elizabeth, as Mary and Nick came into the hallway with several large carrier bags. "Ready for what?"
"Go and have a shower and put a nice frock on," Mary said. "You're going out. Oh, and by the way, happy anniversary."
"Yeah, you're here!" shouted Sam delightedly, emerging from the living room. "What's in the bags?"
"Get off!" Mary said, batting him away. "Surprises. Wait 'til later."
She cast a meaningful look towards Elizabeth, who was going upstairs followed closely by William. Sam grinned and nodded. Some of his favourite memories of being small were the nights Mary had baby-sat, when she had always managed to produce a bag of delights so they could do "making".
"What's going on?" Elizabeth asked as she got to the top of the stairs.
"Mary and Nick are baby-sitting," William replied. "And I'm taking you out for our anniversary."
"No buts. The twins will be fine, Mary and Nick will keep Ally and Sam busy, no-one can get up to any mischief."
Elizabeth pursed her lips and put her hands on her hips.
"You've got this all planned out, haven't you?"
"Oh yes," he said, laughing and taking her in his arms. "Weeks of careful thought and negotiation."
"Stop arguing and go and put a nice dress on," William said, kissing her. "The taxi's due in half an hour."
Late that night, strolling from the restaurant where they had first had dinner, on their first ever date, William put his arm around Elizabeth's shoulders and kissed her hair.
"That was a gorgeous meal," she said, as they wandered past the Coin Street shops towards the river. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he murmured. "I love all our children very dearly, but I love having some time with you too."
They reached the river and leaned on the wall, looking out over the water at the lights sparkling in the frosty night.
"I love you," William said.
"I love you too."
Their kiss was tender and deep, and they broke away only to lean against each other and sigh their pleasure into the misty night.
Their arrival home was greeted with furtive whispering and scurrying.
"Quick, hide them!" they heard Ally say as they opened the front door.
"Hi!" said Mary, greeting them brightly. "Good night?"
"Lovely, thank you," Elizabeth replied. "Everything OK here?"
"Fine," Mary said. "Twins have slept like little logs, and we're just watching a film."
Over Mary's shoulder, Elizabeth could see Sam and Ally stuffing things into carrier bags and hurriedly tidying up.
"I'll make us a cup of tea, shall I?" Elizabeth said, tactfully heading for the kitchen, followed by William. She couldn't help smiling as she heard the footsteps running up the stairs.
"What's funny?" William asked.
"I think they've been making," Elizabeth said. "No doubt we'll see the results in due course."
After cups of tea and biscuits, Ally and Sam went up to bed and Mary and Nick headed for home.
"See you on Christmas Day!" Elizabeth said as they left.
"Nice and early," Mary replied. "Lots of cooking to do!"
As she curled up in bed with William that night, Elizabeth couldn't help but let out a sigh.
"OK?" he asked.
"Oh yes," she replied contentedly. "Happy anniversary."
"Happy anniversary," he whispered softly, kissing her gently. Their tender love-making lasted into the night, until they fell asleep entwined around each other as if they could never let the other go.
Afterwards, they went to the coffee bar they often frequented. Sam brought the coffees over to the table that Laura had saved for them. They sipped in silence for a while, then Sam dug deep into his pocket. He slid a little package across the table.
"Happy Christmas," he said.
"Thank you," Laura said, smiling.
"Open it now."
"No, I always save presents til Christmas Day."
"Please?" Sam asked. "I won't see you tomorrow."
She took in the appealing expression on his face, and conceded. Carefully, she unwrapped the paper until she revealed a box. She glanced up at him, then took the lid off the box.
"Oh, Sam, it's beautiful," she gasped.
A silver heart on a silver chain nestled on a velvet cushion. Laura had tears in her eyes as she took it out of the box. Sam took it from her, and leaned over to fasten it around her neck.
"I love you," he said quietly.
"I'll wear this forever," she whispered.
Ally was gazing out of her bedroom window when she saw Sam and Laura walking hand in hand along the road towards the house, their pace getting slower and slower as they approached the moment when they would have to part. She saw Sam lean in to Laura and say something that made Laura smile, then turn to him and kiss him. Then Laura carried on along the road towards her home, while Sam stood at the gate until she was almost out of sight, and then waved goodbye. In the past, Ally had been scornful about the relationship between Sam and Laura, but right at that moment, she was torn between feeling happy for Sam, and envy that she didn't have something like that for herself. She went downstairs and was soon immersed in the chaos of preparing for the big day.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear, a touch of frost on the ground but no white Christmas. This year, everyone slept in, even the twins, so that when Mary and Nick arrived bearing gifts, it wasn't long since Elizabeth had put the turkey in the oven.
"Right, out of the kitchen!" Mary told Elizabeth firmly. "Kitchen serfs, where are you?"
Sam and Ally emerged from the living room, still in pyjamas.
"Look at the state of you!" Mary chided. "Washed, dressed, now!"
"Presents?" Sam asked hopefully.
"Vegetables first," Mary said firmly. "Go."
Eventually, everyone was dressed, the vegetables were prepared, and the table in the dining room was set. William poured glasses of Buck's Fizz for everyone as they settled around the lavishly decorated tree to open presents.
"Oh, perfect!" Elizabeth said, unwrapping a CD of relaxing classics from Sam.
"Good on you!" laughed Nick as he opened a box of goodies that Elizabeth had bought him from the Australian shop in Covent Garden. "Thank you!"
"I'm going to need you to help with this one," William said to Mary as he opened an envelope from Elizabeth containing tickets to a concert at the Festival Hall.
"Already in hand," Mary replied, handing Sam a hefty package.
"Wow!" Sam exclaimed, opening his present from Mary and Nick to find guidebooks to Australia and New Zealand, along with a handmade certificate from Nick entitling him to a stay on his brother's farm.
"What's this?" Elizabeth asked.
"I'm going to Australia in my gap year," Sam said excitedly. "And Nick said I could go to work on his brother's farm, and I thought I'd do a bit of travelling too. And the careers teacher at school said they look on it favourably when you apply to medical school if you've done something interesting in your gap year."
"Applying to medical school?" Elizabeth said, feeling somewhat taken aback.
"Yeah," Sam replied. "I thought I might have a go at being a doctor. Like you. What do you reckon?"
Elizabeth found it hard to reply because she was too overcome with emotion. William squeezed her hand and smiled at Sam.
"We'd both be enormously proud of you," he said. Then, conscious that the mood was becoming serious, he pounced on a large present.
"This one looks good," he said. "Is it for me?"
"No, silly," Ally said. "Look at the tag."
"They're too small to open this, so I'll do it for them," William laughed, recognising Ally's handwriting on the twins' parcel. He undid the paper to reveal a large playmat accompanied by a frame from which dangled all sorts of toys and delights. He spread it out on the floor and carefully laid the twins down beneath it.
"This is what you got them the day I took you shopping," he said, as Ally nodded.
"It's a baby gym," she said. "What do you expect when they have Mr Sports King for their brother?"
By the time the enticing smells of a roast dinner began to seep out of the kitchen, the living room floor was covered with torn paper and discarded ribbon and tags. Ally was inspecting her collection of beauty products and CDs, Sam was reading his travel books, while William was admiring the new earrings he had bought Elizabeth.
"They match your necklace," William said, congratulating himself on being lucky enough to find that Asprey's made a matching set.
"They're beautiful," Elizabeth sighed. "What about you? Are you happy?"
"How could I not be?" William laughed. He had received more parcels that year than ever before, but what had mattered most to him, the element he had enjoyed more than any other, was being surrounded by noise, laughter and ripped paper. The twins gurgled happily on their playmat as Ally called everyone through for dinner.
As Elizabeth entered the dining room, she clapped her hands together with pleasure.
"Oh, how lovely!"
The table was decorated with serviettes folded into swans, whilst at the side of each plate was a hand made cracker. Little paper decorations were arranged on strings around the room, and candles nestled in holly, ivy and pine cone twists lit the room.
"So this is what you did while we were out!"
Sam and Ally smiled happily, glad that they had been persuaded by Mary to spend an evening cutting and sticking.
"Come on you two, all hands on deck!" shouted Nick from the kitchen.
"Sit down!" commanded Ally. "You two aren't allowed to do anything."
William and Elizabeth did as they were told, sitting at either end of the table as the two children carried in plates of carved turkey, potatoes and vegetables. William had to content himself with pouring the wine for everyone.
"Here we are, then," Mary said, sitting down at last. "Bon appetit."
"Bon appetit," said William, raising his glass. "Health and happiness, to all."
He looked round the table as his toast was returned, a feeling of satisfaction settling upon him. Life was good and he was happy. He exchanged a private glance and smile with Elizabeth at the other end of the table.
"Love you," he mouthed silently.
She blew him a kiss and smiled. Everything was going to be just fine.
Sam's Holidays follow-up, in which we scoot forward a few years
The shout rang out across the school hall as the reality of his exam results sank in to Sam's mind. He whooped, punched the air, and turned round to look for someone to hug.
"You're in, then?" asked Marco.
"Yup, straight As," Sam replied, still feeling rather stunned that he had managed to pull it off.
He had taken Chemistry, Biology, Maths and General Studies at A level and had needed three A grades to get into Cambridge to do Medicine. He'd achieved an A in all his subjects, and was delirious with excitement.
"Hey, how have you got on?" he asked as Ally turned away from the notice board where the exam results were pinned up.
"I'm in," she said. "Got what I needed."
"Great!" Sam replied, too giddy to concentrate on anything for very long. "Ooh, I should phone Mum."
He pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and pressed the speed dial for Elizabeth.
"Hey, guess what," he said as soon as she answered. "I'm going to Cambridge. Yeah, I got As. Yeah, in all the sciences! Yes, she got the grades she needed too. OK, see you later!"
Elizabeth put the phone down, smiling happily but with tears in her eyes. She felt like running down the corridor to Reception to tell everyone there how well Sam had done, but at the same time she felt like crying. This was it, this was the moment when his future opened up before him, and he stretched his wings and flew away from the nest. Elizabeth knew that this had to happen, that he must leave, but it didn't mean she was looking forward to it happening. She was immensely proud of him, and yet at the same time felt sad.
She shook her head. "Don't be silly," she said quietly to herself. "He's a big boy now."
To be continued...
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