The train pulled into the station. Sitting on a wall just beside the tracks, a small dark teenager was trying to look casual, and as if she was just there by chance.
The girl was also trying desperately to pretend that she hadn't arrived an hour before the train was due, just in case. She stuck her hands in the pockets of her shorts and whistled defiantly, earning her dissaproving looks from a group of women in the nearby gardens. The women were themselves using the excuse of hanging out their washing to get together and chatter over their fences.
"That's that gypsy girl" she heard one of them say, in a loud enough voice to be meant to have carried.
"She'll come to no good, you mark my words, they never do" replied another.
Giving up her resolution to remember her age for the third time that week, Jo turned towards the women and deliberately put her tounge out at them as far as it would go.
The sound of them debating her manners in a general cluck of dissaproval was drowned out by the long awaited sound of the train further down thr tracks.
Inside the carriage, a group of school girls were chattering and gathering belongings.
"Our stop next Anne" smiled a boyish looking girl to her companion.
"You always say that George, but I know full well that we still have at least half an hour. Stop hassling me, I want to finish my book."
George was about to respond when she noticed a girl at the end of the long carriage motioning to her to come down into the corridor with her. With a stubborn tuft of hair that would not lie down on her head, this girl had a cheeky glint in her eyes that the boyish looking girl found hard to resist.
"I... Er...I'll be right back Anne, just going to say goodbye to some of the girls."
Anne looked up in some confusion, then caught sight of the girl with the tuft and rolled her eyes as she watched her cousin Georgina, always known as George, head off down the train trying to look innocent.
"Those two are kidding themselves if they think we don't know what is going on" laughed a small red haired girl sitting next to Anne, also rolling her eyes at Dinah and George's antics.
This girl had a gentle but determined face whch was covered in freckles. Anne, a slight girl with long hair held back by an Alice band, replied in a more irritated tone.
"You may find it funny, Lucy Ann, but you don't have to sleep in the room next door at school. How they haven't been found out yet I don't know. Timmy does a great job standing on guard, so they haven't been caught yet, but I swear they think the walls are soundproofed."
Further down the train, the girl with the tuft of hair looked around her, checked there was no-one in a nearby 1st class compartment, and dragged George in with her, shutting the door to the corridor as she went.
"Shouldnt we... Mmmffh...shut the...mmmmhhh...outside...Mmmmm...window mmmmh... blind too ? " George tried to say, as Dinah kept silencing her with longer and longer kisses.
"Who are you worried about seeing us, the sheep?" laughed Dinah, as she pulled George down onto the seat with her. "I have only about twenty minutes before I have to be without you for eight weeks. And with the way our holidays and adventures usually turn out, maybe not even then. I'm not wasting a minute of it on what some sheep might find shocking. There are many more interesting things we can do in twenty minutes. Come here..."
Jo had given up pretending that she wasn't really there to meet George and Anne, and was standing up on the top of the wall now, happy and excited to be seeing George again. It was only this latest term that Jo had realised how much more she missed George being away at school than she did the others. Although George barely noticed her most of the time, Jo had grown over the past few months, and she was hoping maybe this holiday she could try to get George alone long enough to know if she felt the same way.
She watched happily as the train pulled past her into the station.
A dishevelled George returned to Anne just in time, they left the train and went to get George's dog Timmy from the guards van. He was very glad to be out of his travelling space, and bounded along the platform checking out all of the smells of home.
Catching the scent of a familiar friend, he headed out of the station and into a thick bush by the side if the road. To the girls surprise, Jo appeared out from the leaves, clearly realising that she could not get away with hiding now that Timmy had found her. She brushed her hand over her tear stained face and just barely acknowledging their presesence, she ran away into the woods, leaving two very confused school girls standing in the roadway looking after her.
Having no idea that Dinah's impatience had meant that they had been seen by more than just the sheep in the fields, George simply put it down to Jo being moody and headed off along the road to her parents house.
"That doesn't sound like Jo" frowned Dick Kirren, a small dark haired young man, as he listened to their tale.
"She was really looking forward to you two arriving, I can't understand why she would run off like that."
"Oh she's just being moody, she's just a child in many ways" said George dismissively.
"She's no more a child than we are" replied her cousin Dick. "Don't put her down like that."
He left the little group and wandered off into the woods, calling for Jo, hoping he might find the young girl and make sure that she was alright.
Jo was too good at hiding her tracks however, and he had to give up and return to the house as it got too dark to see, never realising Jo was watching him from a tree only 20 yards away.
George dug a hole in the sand and settled down to eat her ice. She gave Timmy his ice, which he swallowed in one big gulp, and pushed him away from her side a little.
"Get away a bit Tim, it's too hot to have you breathing all over me."
Beside her Dick and Anne were lying back on the sand having a lazy argument about whose turn it was to go and wake Julian.
Having just finished a strenuous term with some very nasty exams, he had taken to staying in bed until at least midday now that he was on holiday. Waking him before then was an occupation that was hazardous to the health.
Suddenly Timmy lifted his head up and bounded off towards the road. George lifted her head, saw him greet Jo and laid back down again, assuming that she would either join them or not, and with the casual self absorption of youth, not caring very much either way.
Dick however followed the girl with his eyes and saw that she wasn't heading towards them any more, having caught sight of the group on the sand. He jumped up and hurried after her.
"Hie ! Jo! Wait for me, we haven't seen you all week, what is going on?"
Jo contemplated running off into the trees again, but something in Dick's voice stopped her. Dick had always been kind to her,even when all they knew about her showed her be a little thief, and most of the others had assumed she would never be any good.
"Phew! Let me catch my breath." he puffed. "You can get a good speed up for a girl!"
"Ha! I can beat any of you in a race, you know that, girl or no girl" flashed back Jo, before she saw the smile on his face that told her he had been teasing her.
"So what's going on with you? We've barely seen you this holiday. Why are you avoiding us? Is something wrong?" asked Dick.
Jo briefly considered trying to explain. But how could she? After all she was a girl, and George was a girl. And really what had George done that Jo had a right to complain about? George didn't know that Jo had such strong feelings for her, so it wasn't as if she had a right to be angry. Talking to Dick just reminded her how much she missed her friends. She didn't want to lose the friendship of all of them, just because it was so hard to be around George.
"Can't explain really. Being silly I guess." she replied shortly, not quite able to meet his eye.
Dick considered the small figure in front of him. He looked over at the girls on the beach and thought about trying to encourage Jo to come back with him to join them. But as he looked back towards Jo again, he saw how she was looking at George, almost with tears in her eyes, and decided perhaps it would be best to take Jo off for a walk first.
Much as he loved his cousin, she was really struggling with a world that would no longer call her "Master George", and with having to decide what she wanted to do with her life. Anne had told him about Dinah, and he suspected that George was missing her "friend", for she had been quite short with all of them that holiday, and more moody than she had been for years.
Seeing Jo's look, he wondered if George had been more than usually impatient with the girl and that was what had upset her. Dick thought for a moment, stuck for the best thing to do. He could hardly explain to Jo why George might have been less than friendly to her.
After all, he wasnt really supposed to know about Dinah himself, and it had taken him some time to get over his shock at the news. It wasnt his secret to tell, and for all his defence of her before, he did agree that Jo was in some ways still much younger than the rest of them. It might shock and disgust her, and wouldn't help George.
"Let's go for a wander shall we? Just the two of us." he said, suiting his actions to his word and setting off along the footpath into the woods. With one last glance back at George, now dozing on the beach, Jo followed him, glad for some friendly company, even if it wasn't exactly who she had wanted to be spending her time with.
Dick leant his head against the train window and let his thoughts wander. More and more he had found himself thinking of the days spent with Jo during the holiday.
They had spent a lot more time together than they ever had before, and Dick had begun to realise that Jo was actually very good company, and had grown up a lot since he had last been back at Kirren Cottage.
Now, as he headed back to school for the first time without Julian there, he was feeling a little lost and apprehensive. The fact that he and his cousins had been involved in so many newsworthy events over the past few years had led initially to some hero worship, but later to a certain amount of bad feeling.
Within several of his classmates there was a general consensus that this many famous and fantastic events seemed unlikely and attention seeking. He had been baffled when people had kept asking him who in his family worked for the newspapers, before he realised that they were all assuming that at least some of their adventures were fabricated by the papers, and that Julian and he were simply making up a lot of the stories. Ju had always managed to make him feel that it didn't matter, and they had always had each other who knew they were telling the truth.
Now he was returning to school for the first time without his brother, Julian having moved on to university, with a view to studying History of Art before hoping to work in a gallery or museum. He had already won some minor prizes for his paintings, but their parents were adamant that he had to have a suitable career, being an artist was too alternative for them to cope with.
This was the other thing that was worrying Dick. He had never been hugely academic, and he had long ago decided that he wanted to be an actor. The only lessons he could really see any point in were those like English which might help him in his career.
But if his parents would not help Julian achieve his potential, if they saw being an artist as not respectable enough for their child, there was no way that they would agree to letting him go on the stage at his age, if at all.
He had tried and tried to explain that school and he just didn't really mix, but they were adament that no son of theirs would leave school until he were at least 18, and he knew they had hopes for him possibly moving on to university after that.
All that he did have to hold onto was that after much discussion, and an honest look at the boy's school reports, they were willing to consider it eventually, if he concentrated on being a Shakespearian actor, as that was something that they saw could reflect well upon the family. He knew that he would get on far better if he had their financial support, and if staying in school was the price he had to pay, then he was willing to do so. But he was certainly not looking forward to the coming year.
The thoughts of his gentle walks and chats with Jo were soothing and somehow helped him cope with the dread that came over him when he allowed himself to think about school without Julian there beside him.
Edited to add : I realise re-reading that that I have said about Julian not going back about 3 or 4 times!! Apolgies for the repitition, in case anyone wasn't sure, Julian isn't going back to school now, ok?
It was holiday time again, and they were all heading back to Kirren Cottage.
When there, it wasn't long before Jo showed up in the garden, and an even shorter time before Dick and she had made an excuse to leave and go for a walk over the moors.
For the first time, Dick really looked at Jo as a girl, rather than as a friend. She was unconventional in looks, but had a strength and energy that was attractive and also a challenge.
They spent every hour that they could together, and Jo felt happier than she had for a long time, and found comfort in getting attention from someone she had always admired so much.
One day, they were exploring around the old deserted cottage on the moors when a storm broke. Waiting for it to break, they watched the lightning and listened to the rain.
Suddenly, they realised that they had moved so close together that they could hear each others breathing. Dick looked into Jo's face, a question in his eyes.
Jo, although a small part of her couldn't help wishing it were George there instead of Dick, found herself drawn to the strength of feeling he was showing. She gave the tiniest of nods, and he leant forward and kissed her, gently, tentatively. As they moved closer still, the storm was forgotten, ignored as the rain stopped and rays of sunshine broke through the clouds.
"Ju, wake up a minute will you? Come on, wake up, it won't take a minute."
Julian half opened his eyes and showed his brother that he was listening by a slight raise of his eyebrows.
"Sorry Ju, I know it's the middle of the night, but I ... Er... I've run out of toothpaste... Have you got some somewhere?"
Julian simply waved his brother towards his bedside table, turned over and fell back to sleep. When he woke up, he decided he must have dreamt the whole thing. He had never known Dick to be concerned enough about oral hygiene to have an emergency need for toothpaste. He checked his own teeth carefully, in case that was why his brain had sent him such a strange dream, then dismissed the whole event.
They began to sneak out and meet in the old cottage more and more as time went on, even taking some food and camping equipment there, and cleaning up some of the rooms.
Wary of the reaction, knowing that his parents would never approve of a gypsy girl with convict parents as a suitable match for him, Dick invented a school friend living across the moors that he was visiting, and told no-one.
Jo was so busy enjoying making the old cottage into a form of home, she accepted him suggesting that they meet there rather than at the house without a second thought.
When Dick went back to school again, she moved almost permanently into the abandoned cottage, working at whatever odd jobs she could get, and happily decorating the rooms one by one, gradually making the place her own.
George had finally managed to convince her own parents into letting her leave school and begin to learn how to manage the familys farm. The old farmer and his wife had decided that it was too much for them as they got older and it was unlikely that they would find new tenants willing to come to such an out of the way place.
Never hugely academic, but bright and always willing to work hard, George was doing well, learning from the old couple before they retired. She was happier than she had been for some time, working with her hands and able to spend all day with Timmy. A small part of her was sad to see Anne going off back to school without her, and a bigger part of her missed Dinah.
But as time went on, with George away from school and Dinah concentrating on her studies, they both came to realise that they were on different paths. While they had enjoyed being together, without the constant exposure to each others company that they had had at school, they were drifting apart and happy to go back to just being friends. After being a little sad at this to begin with, George's life had become so busy that she rarely had time to brood on the situation.
At home at Kirren Cottage, things were becoming more and more stressful for George and her mother. Her father had always been forgetful and prone to rages, but now he seemed to be moving further and further from reality. He had taken to deciding that all of the rooms were his, and moving all of his notes and work from one to the other, shouting at anyone who dared disturb him.
Finally Mrs Kirren had called his brother to ask for help and admitted that Quentin was obviously ill, he just wasn't making sense any more. Thankfully she had always been the one to keep track of the family paperwork and finances, so they were able to transfer such things as were necessary for the family's security into her and George's name.
The Farm and the island were officially signed over to George, just in case he progressed further into confusion and tried to sell either of them. George had little understanding of what was going on with her father, after all he had always been eccentric, but she signed the papers and was secretly relieved to move out to the farmhouse, having had to share her bedroom with experiments and piles of journals more than once. It was hard to avoid a row, with her father trying to banish her from her room every time she went to get something.
Looking through the paperwork one day, she noticed that as part of the farm assets, she now owned that old derelict cottage on the moors. Having some rare free time one day, she decided to go for a walk with Timmy to see what kind of state it was in now.
"Jo! What are you doing here?" exclaimed George. Jo froze, a paintbrush in her hand.
Unable to think how to reply, she went for the obvious.
"Painting." she stated, waving the brush up and unintentionally covering Timmy in splatters of paint.
George laughed. "I can see that! But how long have you been living here? You've made the old place look like a real house, you can't have only just started!"
She looked around the room appreciatively, knowing how many hours of work it must have taken to bring the room to such a cheery state.
Jo looked wary.
"Couple of months." she said. "I shouldnt really have bothered, I just wanted to make it a bit nicer. Guess I'll regret it when whoever owns it comes along and throws me out, but till then it's mine."
George looked at the mobile little face in front of her and glimpsed a view of how vunerable Jo was, and how much this little collection of rooms meant to her.
"Well I wouldn't worry too much about that," she said gently. "According to the papers I read last night, I own it, so I'm not planning on throwing you out any time soon."
She glanced over at the camping stove.
"I might have to ask for some rent though"
Jo's face fell and she stepped down from the chair she had been perched on. She could barely afford to provide herself with fuel and food, she would never manage a rent, no matter how small.
"How about a cup of tea when I come to visit, and maybe some company every now and again?" smiled Ge, glad to be able to do something for her friend, surprised by the feeling of protectiveness that Jo brought out in her.
Jo's huge smile was answer enough, as she headed to the camp stove and put the water on to boil. George suddenly felt a need to hide her expression as she realised she had actually missed Jo more than she realised.
"Here," she said gruffly. "Give me that paintbrush, you'll never be able to reach the top, even with that chair."
She busied herself with the paint, while Jo made the tea, then quietly got another brush and began on another wall. A companiable silence fell upon the little cottage.
Dick sat on his bed and looked down at the crumpled letter in front of him. He read it again, hardly able to believe his world could come crashing down so suddenly.
I don't know how to tell you this, I'm not good with letters anyway, but I want you to know now, I can't wait until you get back here to tell you.
I can't be with you any more. I'm sorry, there is someone else, and I was just so flattered that you cared for me, I tried to believe I could love you properly. But I'm sorry, I can't.
I don't know if we can still be friends, but I really want that if we can. Please don't think too badly of me, I had such a nice time with you.
I hope you are not too angry,
I'm so sorry,
Ge, as George had begun to call herself, had found a few free minutes and was heading to the cottage to see if Jo was there for a chat.
The past few weeks together had renewed their friendship and they were thoroughly enjoying fixing up the little cottage. As Ge caught sight of the little figure up ahead, waiting for her outside the house, her heart did a sudden flip. Brought to a standstill she realised that it wasn't the project or the company that she was looking forward to, it was seeing Jo.
She hurried on and managed to get her features under control before she reached Jo. However as she arrived, Jo looked up to see her with such a beautific smile of joy in her arrival, that Ge realised that she wasn't the only one feeling the way their friendship had changed. Without saying anything, she moved towards Jo, held her hand and looked straight into her dark eyes. She obviously saw enough of an answer there, as she then gently moved Jo towards the cottage. Jo's eyes widened in surprise, and then her face lit up in sudden understanding as she followed Ge in the door, feeling happier than she had done for years.
As the weeks went on, they spent every available minute together, Jo gradually doing fewer jobs elsewhere and helping Ge on the farm instead.
One bright day, they decided to take a break, and went over to the island, taking food and a bone for Timmy. The weather and time had taken their toll, and the castle was now more ruins than rooms. While Ge relaxed on the beach, looking out to sea, Jo was more restless, and spent her time prowling about amongst the stones in the ruins.
"You know, it would be a lot easier if we could make a store cupboard, or box, we could leave all the heavy things here, and just bring the food." She said to Ge after a while. Ge got up and went to look around the ruins with her.
" It wouldn't be too hard to do, there are plenty of materials here" Ge said, lifting some of the pieces of stone to check their weight.
"In fact if we are going to do that, we may as well make it big enough to use for shelter, or if we want to stay here overnight sometimes. That's a good idea Jo, we should do it. I'll work out what tools we need and get started next week."
The hut on the island became a full time project for the girls, and they went over to work on it in any spare moments they had, although the farm was too busy for them to go over as often as they would have liked.
Jo stared at the doctor. How could this be happening? She had asked him to check again, but both times the tests had shown the same result. She was pregnant.
Her mind felt as though she were watching the doctor through a fog. Words like adoption, unmarried mother and termination were floating around her, none of them making sense. The doctor gave her some papers to look through and she left the surgery, still feeling as though the world was a long way away, disconnected to her brain and body.
She avoided the farm the next few days, hiding in the woods when Ge came to the cottage, driving Ge nearly frantic with worry.
Finally Ge caught sight of her before she had time to escape into the trees, and grabbed hold of her arm, not roughly, but firmly enough to not allow Jo to escape.
"What's going on Jo, why are you hiding from me ?" she asked anxiously.
" You won't, I can't, I'll lose you, but I don't know what to do, but I cant say, it isn't how it looks, it really isn't. "Jo stammered, making no sense at all to Ge.
" I don't understand... please Jo, just tell me." Ge replied, her imagination running wild with all these worrying statements.
Jo stood for a long time trying to decide what to say. She sat down next to Ge and began to try to explain. Before she got to being able to explain about Dick, and make Ge realise that it had all happened before they had been together, Ge understood that she was pregnant, shook Jo's hand away, and ran off onto the moors, unable to hear any more. Jo just put her head in her hands and cried. Timmy, unsure which girl to go to, finally licked Jo's hand, then chased off after George over the heather.
The next few weeks Ge was nowhere to be found. The jobs at the farm seemed to get done, but no one saw her. Finally her mother tracked her down and made her come home with her for something to eat. Once there, Ge broke down and told her mother everything. Mrs Kirrin wasn't surprised about Ge and Jo, she knew her daughter and had long ago realised she was not likely to follow a conventional path.
Quentin had moved on from Ge's bedroom by now, and was doing his experiments in the pantry, so she sent her daughter up to bed with strict instructions not to come back down until the following day.
Once she was sure that Ge was sleeping soundly, she put on her coat and set off across the moors to the old cottage. Jo opened the door, her face so pale that Mrs Kirrin almost swept her off straight to the doctor before she remembered that Jo wasn't her child, and had never taken kindly to interference in her life.
Piece by piece, she dragged the story out of the girl. When Jo had finished, she looked doubtfully at her, and paused for some time before speaking.
"Are you really sure that Dick is the father Jo? That is a very serious accusation. We know Dick has always been kind to you, but it really isn't fair to try to use that if it isn't true Jo, and it just seems very unlikely to me. I can see that if what you say is true, you haven't been seeing some man at the same time as my daughter. But are you really sure it was Dick? I won't tell anyone you tried to burden Dick with this if you want to change your story? I understand this is difficult for you."
Jo's eyes flared in anger. Even Mrs Kirren, caring as she was, still judged her by the youngster she had been, not the adult she had become.
"I don't want anything from him. Its his child though, there has been no one else." her voice broke as she continued.
"Only George...and it WAS before her, Mrs K, it was. He was so gentle and kind. I thought he knew what he was doing. But I can't get rid of it. It feels too real to me now."
Mrs K looked at the girl and both wanted to believe her and for the story not to be true.
"Well, if you are sure, we will help you Jo. Come with me now and when she wakes up I will help you explain to George. She needs to understand the whole story."
Ge's head was in a whirl of conflicting thoughts and emotions. She finally understood that Jo hadn't been seeing a man at the same time as her, but to find out that the father was Dick, her own cousin was overwhelming. He was almost her brother in her own mind, and she found it incredibly hard to cope with the fact that he and Jo had been together.
A family meeting with Dick and his father had been arranged, and Jo was dreading the fact that she would have to face explaining her situation again to potentially unfriendly ears.
Mrs Kirren wanted Jo to wait to tell Dick in person, but Jo hated the idea of him finding out in such a confrontational way. She had no doubt that Dick would back her story up, after all he had always been kind and honest, and he had loved her, even if the love she could offer him back hadn't been as strong. But Dick's father would be another of these prejudiced adults, and Jo was now almost expecting to be called a liar by any of the older generation, simply because of her history.
On the way down in the car with his father, Dick was well away in a self contained world of panic. While his father only knew that they were needed at Kirren Cottage, Jo had managed to use the phone in secret and give him some warning of what was to come. He knew that if this baby really was shown to be his, he had to marry Jo, or at least find a way to support her and the baby. All of his dreams for the future were fading away, as he sat there driving on towards the place that up until now had been the happiest home he had known.
A tiny worm of doubt began to wind it's way through his thoughts. After all, how could Jo actually know that this baby was his? She had hurt him hugely with her rejection of him for someone else. Where was this other man in the whole picture? He must have lived nearby, and so must surely have been with Jo more than Dick had. After all, Dick had used protection, even woken Julian to get more.
Who was to say that he was anything to do with this situation. He knew full well that he could never make it as an actor with a young family in tow to support. He could well throw his whole life away for some other man's child, and never really know if it was his.
Mrs Kirren took Jo and Ge aside before her brother in law arrived.
"George, I want you to know that I love you, and will love you no matter who you love and live with. But I am going to ask you to do something that may be hard."
At this Jo looked scared, sure that she was going to say Ge should stay out of the conversation, go away from the house. She wasn't sure that Ge was supporting her, but she could at least now be in the same room as Jo. It wasn't much, but Jo felt if that were taken away she would just fall apart.
Ge's mother continued
"Your father and his family... They have certain views, and they are all very strong personalities. And much as I admire your uncle, he is ... very invested in his and his family's social standing and reputation. I don't want you to have to hide forever, but I really think we need to keep things to one revelation at a time. If you can girls, please try to keep your relationship out of this discussion. It won't help, and it couid make things more difficult."
Both of them agreed. They didn't want to be revealing any more of their lives than they had to. And whether there actually was a relationship any more, was something that neither were at all sure about.
Dick's father stood there impassively while Jo told her faltering story, then turned to his son.
"Well? Have you really been such a fool as this? "
Dick's courage, such as it was by that time, deserted him. If he admitted that there was the slightest chance that it might be true, his future was gone. He was convinced by now that this child wasnt his, and Jo was trying to use him to raise her child.
"No." he said. "The baby isn't mine. I'm sorry Jo, but you are going to have to make the real father confess. It's not mine."
The room fell silent. Dick had always been trustworthy, honest and kind. Jo had been caught stealing, drugged Timmy, and her family history was of liars and criminals.
For one long moment, Jo saw Ge stuck between believing her cousin and believing Jo. Then she seemed to grow taller, get stronger.
"I don't believe you. I'm sorry Dick, but I cant think why Jo would lie about this. It doesn't make sense"
As Ge looked around the room, she saw doubt on every face. Dick, now he had taken this course of action, determined to see it through. The child wasn't his, and no one was going to make him admit it.
"You are all just judging her, deciding she is lying. You are despicable Dick, how can you do this? "
They all began to shout at once, the family tempers all roused far beyond reason. Finally George's fury reached a crescendo, and she threw insults right and left at Dick, his father and her own father.
"Georgina ! " thundered her father "How dare you speak to myself and your uncle like that. Go to your room. And you can stay there until you apologise. Timmy will be sent away too, you can't be trusted with a dog if you behave this way."
Never really stopping to think that this didn't make sense, that it was a sign of her fathers own illness, George flung herself out in fury, dragging Jo along with her. Jo wasn't quite sure what had just happened, but all she could see was that George had just stood against her family for Jo. That meant worlds to the girl, and despite the shock of Dick's behaviour, she was almost happy, since it seemed to have brought George fully believe in her.
The midwife came out of the bedroom and motioned Ge in through the door. She had known her all her life, literally, having helped deliver the young woman sitting before her 19 years earlier.
It wasn't the most conventional of her cases, but as she looked at the strain on Ge's face, and how her fists clenched every time she had heard Jo cry out, it was clear that arguing about whether Ge was male or female would make her no less an expectant parent than any others the midwife had seen.
Now the ordeal was over, she sent Ge in to see Jo, with a smile and a gentle push.
"It's all ok, love, you can go in now. You might have a little surprise though when you get in there."
In the bed Jo lay back on the pillows, exhausted but able to smile at the sight of Ge. She pointed to the basket by the side of the bed.
"No wonder it took a long time" she said, with a tired smile.
As Ge looked down at the two tiny beings cuddled together in the bassinet, all she could do was reach out and grab Jo's hand, her eyes riveted to the sight of two such perfect little people. She couldn't say a thing, but the way her hand held so tightly to Jo's told the girl everything more than any words ever could. Jo laid back on the pillows and felt able to drift off to sleep, with Ge's strong fingers linked through her own.
"Come on Josie, come on, you are nearly there!" said Ge, holding out her arms towards the tiny toddler.
With waddling steps, the dark haired little girl let go of the chair and half walked, half fell the few steps into Ge's arms. Ge held her tight and lifted her up high in the air, then mock fell back, holding the little girl tight in a cuddle. She was rewarded with streams of giggles from the little girl, and delighted chuckles from her brother, who crawled towards the pair, anxious not to miss out on this game.
"See John, Josie can do it, why don't you try?" said Ge, as she extended an arm to join him in to the cuddle. John just looked solemly at her and shook his head, then pulled her shirt and pointed up, showing he wanted to be thrown up in the air too.
Across the room, Jo watched with a smile on her face. 'Now if only I didn't feel so tired all the time at the moment,' she thought 'this scene would be perfect' .
Ge looked up, and saw her change to a slightly sad expression. She picked up Josie and lifted her into her mother's lap, before grabbing John and throwing him up in the air, and back down for a cuddle. Josie cuddled in to Jo for a moment, then struggled to be put down on the floor again, to join the fun.
Dinah settled into a well worn armchair with a sigh.
"I'd forgotten just how long that walk is, every muscle I have seems to be crying out in distress." She said, massaging the ends of her feet as she spoke.
The young woman settled in the other armchair laughed at the highly undignified pose. Her fair hair and pink and white face made a cheery attractive combination.
"I have had worse treks," she said with a smile, " but only because it was in a blizzard and we nearly got lost, so barring that one, I think todays trek comes close to the worst I have done. What did I do to you to make you decide to torture me like that?"
Dinah laughed. "Perhaps I was hoping you might give me a break when we get back to the hospital if I promised not to chose hikes like that everyday !"
"Nice try, but that's my job as your mentor, young Trent !, You'll have to produce something much better than that if you want me to let you away with anything in your training!" replied her companion with a smile.
The door opened behind them and a friendly looking man with a bald head entered the room.
"Hello Dinah, didn't get a chance to see you last night, did you have a good journey down here?" he said, as he ruffled her hair affectionately.
"Hello Bill, it wasn't too bad thanks." replied Dinah, " This is my friend Daisy from med school. She now terrorises me as my supervisor." she continued. Daisy laughed and shook Bill's hand.
"Nice to meet you Daisy, how do you do? I hope Dinah doesn't make you want to tear your hair out too much!" he said, with a cheeky grin at his adopted daughter. "She has always been a terror, even when she was a youngster, instead of such an elderly graduate."
Daisy smiled and reassured him that her hair was quite safe, and Dinah was actually doing very well in her training.
"Well I must just go and see where my wife is, will look forward to getting to know you better later, Daisy" Bill said, heading through the room and out into the hallway.
In the kitchen, Mrs Cunningham, Bill's wife and Dinah's mother, was standing at the sink washing dishes. As Bill entered the room, she turned to him with a happy smile.
"I thought I heard your voice." she said, giving him a kiss, " have you eaten, or do you want some supper?"
"I had something before I left London, thanks Allie" he said. "But if the kettle needed putting on any time soon I wouldn't say no."
She set about getting some tea made, and he sat down at the kitchen table.
"That girl Daisy seems nice," he said. "So is she just a friend of Dinah's, or is she a 'friend' of Dinah?"
Mrs Cunnigham frowned as she said
"You know I really don't know. Dinah hasn't said, and I don't quite like to ask. She does seem a very nice girl, either way."
The kitchen door opened, and a young man came in. He had brown hair and an unruly tuft on the top of his head, just like his mother and sister.
"Hello there Bill, " he said," nice to see you home for a bit, can you stay long ?
"Not too long this time, Phillip," said Bill, offering a chair at the table to Phillip as they talked. " We were just talking about this friend of Dinah's, do you know anything about her ?" Bill continued.
"Not a sausage I'm afraid." replied Phillip. "Is she a 'friend' then? Has Dinah said anything to you about her?"
"We were rather hoping that she had said something to you, but it sounds like she hasn't" said Bill. "So it looks like we are all equally in the dark about her. Well Dinah will tell us when she is ready. How are things going with you then Phillip? Are you here for a long stay yourself or just a flying visit ?"
Dinah settled back into the armchair with a sigh. Daisy smiled and the two sat in companionable silence for a while. The rest of the family had gone off to bed, after riotous family evening where Kiki had kept them entertained by trying to get the fruit out of the toasted tea cakes they had eaten and telling Daisy repeatedly to shut the door.
"You do realise your family are all trying to work out whether I am your girlfriend." said Daisy with a grin.
" Oh are they?" said Dinah, trying to look innocent.
Daisy squinted at her suspiciously. Then her eyes widened and she sat upright.
"Dinah Trent! You know perfectly well that they would do that, THAT'S why you made me take off my engagement ring, it had nothing to do with Kiki maybe stealing it ! What are you trying to get away with? Why do you want them to think that ? Don't they know about you and Nora? "
Dinah pretended to hide begind the chair to escape Daisy's wrath.
"I'm sorry! It just seemed such a good opportunity when I realised what they might think."
Daisy began to laugh. "But WHY, Dinah? Do they not like Nora?"
"Oh it isn't that, it's... Well it's complicated. They worry about us you see. We had so many adventures when we were younger, and ever since they found out about Lucy Ann and Mike they have been doing their best to convince her to drop him. Mike is Nora's brother you see, twins actually. And their family is just as bad about failing into adventure as ours. I think Bill and mother are worried that the combination will mean they or any children they have will be twice as likely to have adventures and end up at risk. And they are very protective of Lucy Ann, they don't want her to get hurt. "
Daisy frowned. "Genetic tendancy to adventures. You know know that really ought to make me laugh, it sounds so silly. But when I think about my family and everything that keeps happening, I do wonder. But we arent all related ... Perhaps it is part genes, part environment ..."
She looked up to see Dinah trying hard not to laugh. Daisy smiled.
"Sorry! Force of habit, tend to think of everything in terms if research papers these days ! But back to Nora - that can't be all of it, surely ? After all, they wouldnt be worried about the two of you having children together!"
Dinah looked slightly sad. "Well it isn't the whole reason. Nora, well, she is very young in some ways. And, well she ... She keeps going back to her boyfriend."
Daisy understood at last. They sat in silence for a while, the Dinah said.
"Silly really. I should look for someone else. But then she comes back and....well I can understand. She wants kids, and she wants a life she doesn't have to hide. I just feel, until she decides fully, I don't want to have to go through trying to convince Bill and mother that we won't end up stranded inside a mountain or on an island somewhere forever. "
Daisy considered for a moment.
"It is difficult" she said at last "Nora's instincts might be one way, but if I, I mean she... wants kids and a life her family can approve of, well I can see the appeal of that."
Dinah looked at Daisy thoughtfully. Daisy seemed lost in thought, then shook herself awake and said
" I'm off to bed, need to make sure I have enough energy for this picnic with your friends tomorrow."
Dinah agreed, and they set off up the stairs, said goodnight and went off to bed.
Welcome to organised chaos!" said Dinah with a laugh. They were sitting on the beach on Ge's island, surrounded by Dinah's friends and extended family.
Daisy laughed. "I'm sure it won't be that bad," she said, " I have been on plenty of picnics this size, although usually with mostly children rather than only two!"
She looked over at the baby twins, John and Josie, who were being held still by their mother Jo, while Phillip was coaxing some rabbits out from the long grass to let them stroke them. John sat motionless on his mother's lap, fascinated by the little creatures. Josie managed a few minutes stillness and then gave a delighted chuckle and reached out a tiny hand to grab hold of the rabbits ears. In a trice it disappeared off into the undergrowth.
Daisy looked around the island. She had met Dinah's brothers Phillip and Jack the night before. Dinah's adopted sister Lucy Ann was sitting quietly holding the hand of her boyfriend Mike.
Ge was trying to stop the twins from crying. John put up his lip for a wail after the rabbit ran away, and Josie was ever ready to copy her brother. So Ge was standing on her head in the sand pulling faces to distract them.
Dinah started introductions.
"I think most people you know, or know of," she said. "Mike here is the one surgically attached to Lucy Ann" she said with a grin to her adopted sister, who put her tounge out in reply, while Mike just grinned.
"This disreputable effort here is my friend Ge Kirren, also known as George, take your pick! John and Josie belong to her and Jo, who is the little cheeky one over there"
Jo also put her tounge out at Dinah at this introduction, surprising her twins, who both turned their heads to look at their mother at the same time with a comical effect.
"Peggy, who you saw briefly before she dissapeared off into the hut with her boyfriend Freddie to 'check the supplies' is Mike's sister. The little black terrier over there is Fatty, sorry Freddie's dog, Buster, and the rather elderly collie cross over there is Timmy, who belongs to Ge and Jo."
She turned to the young man with very dark eyes and hair, who was sitting close to Jo and the twins and laughing at Ge's antics.
"This dark object here is called Sooty, believe it or not. Real name Pierre, but no one ever calls him that so you may as well call him Sooty too" Dinah continued, then looked around, obviously searching for someone.
"And Mike's other sister is Nora, who is ... where is Nora Mike? "
Mike looked awkward.
"I'm sorry Di, she ... She's not coming. I told her she should tell you herself but ...well you know Nora." Mike said, looking embarrassed. Dinah just nodded and busied herself with the ropes on the boat for a moment. When she turned back to the group, her eyes were suspiciously bright.
Ge frowned, and looked questioningly at Jo, who nodded. She got up and said heartily to Dinah,
"Come on Di, if we are to have any fish to cook for this picnic, we can't all laze around like this lot seem to be doing. Come and give me a hand in the boat."
They set off for an area just off the edge of the island, and Daisy could see that Dinah gradually started to smile, then laugh at her friend's antics.
"Nora is such an ass" said Mike. "She might be my twin, but she needs to decide what she wants and stick to it. Poor Di, she needs to give up and look for someone else."
They all agreed and began to chatter about other things. Daisy, with her practised doctor's eye was watching Jo's breathing as she struggled to keep up with the twins, who were determinedly trying to get to the water.
Sooty came to her rescue and corralled the twins into a dip in the beach with some small walls of sand. He kept them giggling by popping up from one side or the other and winking at them.
Daisy watched this little scene and wondered what the situation there was. The babies were very dark in colouring, and already had Jo's rather puckish little features. They must have had a father, and Sooty was great with them. Daisy was intrigued by how this little family worked, bit didn't think it was the kind of question you could ask on a first meeting.
Daisy went to sit by Jo. "They are a handful aren't they," she said. Jo agreed, and smiled at her.
Daisy considered, then continued.
"I don't want to pry Jo, but are you seeing a doctor? You don't seem at all well to me. Are you always this tired?"
Jo nodded, looking down and away from Daisy. The young doctor looked at her, then asked a few more questions, looking more and more serious with each answer. Finally she passed Jo a piece of paper with a phone number.
"Give me a call when you can. I will see if I can get you seen by someone."
Jo just nodded, and said to Daisy
"I will,but don't mention anything to Ge or Dinah, or anyone will you. I don't want her worrying."
Daisy agreed, although unwillingly.
Jo looked out over the waves to Ge and Dinah laughing and talking in the boat. Her expression was unreadable.
George stared at the letter in her hand. Her eyes couldn't leave the paper, although she had sat there for an hour already.
By the time you find this I will be gone. I have met someone and I am leaving to be with them.
I want you to keep the twins, and I have arranged everything so that no-one can take them from you.
I don't think someone like me is meant to live in a house and be a mother. Please don't try to find me, I won't come back.
I think you should try to get back in touch with your family. They are too important to you to be away from them like this.
I have been in contact with Dick already, and he finally understands that there was no other man, just you. He hasn't dared ask to see the children but if he does I think you should let him. If you don't want to, I understand. They are yours now, he has no rights to them, I have made sure of that.
But they are starting to look like him, and you shouldn't have to cope with everything alone, now that he is willing to admit his mistake. I know you can't forgive him yet, but he was scared and hurt, he didn't understand what was going on.
I know by leaving you I don't have any right to ask anything of you. All I do ask is please just always continue to be you. I know you will find someone amazing, who won't cause you all these problems and let you down.
I'm sorry George.
Goodbye, and thank you for everything,
A few months later
I don't quite know how to start this letter.
I only hope that when you come to the end of it you will still speak to me.
Jo swore me to secrecy, and I just couldn't say no. I just really hope you can understand.
She had seeing some doctors for a while George, and they told her they couldn't do any more and she didn't have long. She just couldn't face having you look after her as she got worse, and she knew that if you knew about her being so ill you would never give up trying to find her.
That's why she pretended to have left for someone else. I didn't think she should have done that to you, but you know better than anyone that no one could argue with Jo!
She was going to just leave on her own and keep going till her health gave in. But I managed to convince her to come to us instead. I hate the fact that we had those final moments with Jo and you didn't but I am glad that she was at least with friends.
She finally passed away last night, and so I can at last tell you she didnt leave you by choice, and ask you to forgive me for not saying before. I was just so afraid she really would go off on her own and be alone for those last few weeks.
I'm so sorry,
Your friend, and Jo's
AS A FINAL REMINDER OF WHERE THIS ALL LINKS INTO ALL CHANGE
Ge strode up the hill towards the girl sitting on the bench looking over the sea. As she reached the girl, she heard her say the intriguing words
" I didnt miss Reg anything like as much as I missed her ! "