Along Came Rita

Chapter 1

I sat, quietly crying on a paddock beyond my house. It wasn't true, they had to be lying. Mummy was sleeping...just like the princess from sleeping beauty, my favourite fairy tale... Daddy had only to go up and kiss her, and everything would be okay again.

I had yelled myself hoarse, banging on the doors of my mother's room, but they would not let me in. "Let me in," I had cried to the maids, "let me in! Let me see mummy! Let me see!"

My cries were ignored, and so I ran away. That would show them, show them for lying to me. Show them for not letting me into mummy's room. I had everything I needed to survive out here; it would be just their fault if they missed me too much.

"Elli James! Elli James!" a boys voice cried, confused. "Why are you sitting on a cow pat?"

"Oh, Danny!" I cried, sitting up and looking at him with dismay as he ran to me, stopping just before my feet. "Danny, the maids were playing tricks on me, Danny! They were being really mean and horrible to me!"

Danny, unusually, knelt down in front of me and took my hands in his. He was being nice to me. Daniel Richards had never been nice to me, never in his life had he ever. "What did they say, Eleanor?" he asked, gently.

I looked up at him, my eyes swollen. "They told me mummy went up there," I pointed to the sky, "up in heaven, and that..." I gulped, tearfully, "and that she wasn't coming back!"

"Eleanor," Danny looked at me very seriously. "Eleanor, she isn't."

I shook my head, "No, she is. You'll see, Danny."

But even as I was saying it, I knew it couldn't be true. Danny may be annoying, and he may pick on me like nothing else, but he wouldn't lie to me like that. I just knew he wouldn't.

"Danny," I said, my lips trembling, "is everything going to be okay?"

He pulled me into his arms, and I hugged him hard, crying into his shirt. "It will be okay, Elli," he said, and pressed his face into my cheek, "because you'll always have me."

For some time, everything was okay. Until my daddy started to date again, and all I could hope was that the lady was as pretty, and as kind, as my mother was.

I sat up on the fence in front of my house, and looked at Danny, who was also sitting up on the fence, like me. Danny didn't talk to me as much as he did before, and we always seemed to be in other peoples company, and never alone to play robbers or anything like that. I didn't know why. It seemed that ever since that day – back last year, when I found out my mum died – he had been acting a little strangely around me.

He looked up, and I looked away, not wanting to be caught staring at him. Even though, I really wasn't staring at him. Just looking, a little.

Danny blinked at me, and looked away again. I returned my eyes to him, and cleared my throat; he looked up once more, "What?" he demanded rudely.

Stunned, I stared at him. I was only going to tell him something, it seemed as though it was unspoken rule, that we weren't allowed to talk. Why ever was he mad at me? I didn't know about it.

"I was just going to say," I said, blinking at him and swinging my feet, "that today I am meeting my Daddy's date. Do you want to come meet her with me?"

"No." he retorted, staring at me like I was stupid. "Why would I want to do that?"

He was rude like this all the time now! I was ever so getting fed up with it!

I jumped off the fence and planted my hands on my hips in annoyance, "Daniel!"

"What?" he said again, crossing his arms and not looking at me.

"You're acting like a baby!" I said, and really meant it too. "A big, sodding cry-baby!"

I was breathing noisily, hands balled into fists. He made me so mad sometimes!

He jumped off the fence, too, and jabbed a finger in my stomach, "You take that back! I'm no cry-baby, you're just annoying!"

Annoying? He was calling me annoying? I wasn't, I wasn't!

I took off my shoe and threw it at his face, it hit with an almighty smack! He looked at me, a shoe imprint on his cheek, and I said, not meaning it, "Oh, I'm so sorry Daniel. I didn't mean to hit you in the face."

A second or two later we were a tangled mess in the dirt, and I was getting it all over my nice new dress daddy had bought me to meet Patricia in. His hands were in my hair, nearly ripping it out and I was kicking and screaming, trying to shove him off.

"Elli!" I heard my father call, and froze. If he saw what I was doing, I was dog meat! Girls weren't supposed to play rough, it was unladylike. Though, to be fair, Daniel was asking for it!

So I said, before dad could me, "get off, what are you, zero?" shoving him off, and then jumped the fence to run inside.

I heard him call behind me, "I don't care, Elli James, if I ever see you again!"

He couldn't have meant it, I mean, he gets in a real sulk whenever daddy takes me on a business trip with him and I don't come back for a week.

I kicked my shoes off at the door, and was met with a lady, standing just a metre or two away from me. "Hello?" she said, looking down at my dress with a thin, plucked brow raised at me.

It was then daddy came bustling in, seemingly tired, "Oh, you must have met my Eleanor, isn't she - !"

It wasn't going to be good, so I said in my own defence, "it was Daniel's fault!"

He didn't even appear to have heard a word. He was just standing there, hands limp at his sides, staring at my new dress which was now soiled. If that wasn't enough, all the dirt had escaped into my shoes whilst I was rolling around, and my socks were all dirty, and my hair kind of resembled one of the maid's brooms.

His staring was halted by a long, tinkling laugh, "Oh, but you're darling. Where'd you find her, Charles?"

I blinked, startled by the lady's words, darling? It sounded as if she were talking about a lamb, and not a human being.

She knelt down and took me by the chin, and I blinked at her some more. She smiled, "Oh, you're such a pretty girl,"

Her tone meant she wanted me to say something back, something nice. I tried to think of something nice to say, and looked her over. She looked...pointy. She was all bones and skin, not plump and pretty like mum was. She had on this big, poofy dress with poofy sleeves and she wore too much makeup. What was I supposed to say?

"Thankyou very much, Lady Patricia." I said politely, and shifted feet nervously. "I like your necklace."

That was true; it was a sparkling diamond cross. It shone real bright when it caught the lights above, and what was that saying? Diamonds are a girl's best friend? I could see why people would say it.

"Oh?" she laughed, touching it with a hand and smiling at me. "This old thing?"

I nodded.

"Oh, it's nothing, dear." She trilled, giving one of my cheeks a rub with a thumb and smiling to herself. "You're too kind! Now, how about some dinner, Charles?"

She stood up, and with one last smiling look at me said, "I've got a surprise for you."

Her surprise, I found out after dinner, was dessert in the form of bread and butter pudding, and as lovely as it looked...I just, I couldn't eat it. It had apricot jam in it, and I hated anything apricot apart from the fresh ones, or the ones that go in pie.

They were both looking at me, Patricia to see what I thought of it and my father because he knew I hated it already, and his eyes begged me to eat it. They were saying please, please eat it. I sighed, and looked down at the pudding, gulping. I suppose if I ate it, I'd certainly be off the hook for my dirty dress.

I stuck my spoon in, and shoved it in my mouth as quick as I could, and then swallowed as quick as I could. "Mmm, yum yum." I lied, rubbing my tummy.

Dad tried to cover his relief and they both went back to eating. I looked down at the pudding and tried to pretend it was chocolate cake. Eventually, bite by excruciating bite, my plate was clean.

I stood up from my chair, "Dad, could I go outside?"

I felt like I was going to throw up, and I could feel my dinner coming up my throat. I gulped it back and stepped from foot to foot, waiting to be allowed outside.

"Uh, not just yet," my dad said, and gestured for me to sit down. I sat down, confused, I also felt the need to go to the bathroom. "We have something to um, tell you."

Patricia looked up at him, smiling and putting her hand on his and giving it a squeeze. Yuck. But it just got worse, because she leaned in and whispered to him in a funny kind of voice, "Go on, darling, we simply must tell her."

My dad looked at me, looking embarrassed. He cleared his throat, "Eleanor, we're getting married."

I blinked. Dad, married with someone that's not Mum? It was ridiculous, and so soon after, how could he? How could he?

"We're in love," Patricia explained with a simple joyous shrug. "You may not know what that is, Eleanor. But you will some day, and love, well, it makes you feel whole. You don't want your dad not to feel whole, do you?"

I don't care what my dad is feeling. They're not in love; mum and dad were in love. I looked at dad, but he wasn't looking at me, he was the second person to do that that day. I felt like screaming 'baby' all over again, except in this situation it wasn't entirely appropriate.

I knew what love was, of course I did. I loved my dog, and my dad, and my mum...I even loved all our maids! But I didn't love her.

I had only just met her, and now they were getting married?

"She has a daughter," my dad informed me, "won't that be fun, Elli? You'll have someone to play with. Her name's Isabella."

I named my doll Isabella, and my little cousin popped its head off.

"I already have someone to play with." I said stubbornly, crossing my arms. I didn't mention that he and I were currently fighting, and that he said he never wanted to see me again. "Why would I need anyone else?"

He looked at me odd, and then he looked away again, he looked so guilty. Oh no, what else did he have to tell me? It can't be any worse than this, it can't.

"Sweetheart," dad started, and my heart sank, everything goes bad when he says sweetheart. When my mum died he started with sweetheart, and when he said he couldn't fix Isabella, because her head had shattered to pieces. "Patricia and I, well we bought this nice, big house in Park Lane, London."

I stared at him, not knowing where he was going with this. Was he going to turn it into a hotel, and rent if off to people?

"We're moving!" Patricia exclaimed happily, not being able to contain herself.

Moving? But I loved this house! We couldn't be moving as well, it's just too awful to be true. I looked at dad, "No."

"We've already bought the house, Elli..." he murmured, and then looked at me. "I'm sorry, but this is happening, and it will whether you like it or not! Tomorrow, in fact!"

Now I really felt sick. I jumped up from my chair, ran outside and ran to the paddock, and this time I made sure I didn't sit on a cow pat. I sank down, on my knees, and threw up all over the grass, crying.

It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming. He planned all this without even telling me until it was too late, he planned all this without asking me what I thought about it all. Perhaps he just didn't care?

I could feel foot steps and then I heard an, "Oh, it's you."

I turned my head, tearfully. It was Daniel, and I really couldn't be bothered facing him right then. "Go away," I sobbed, sweeping an arm across my eyes.

He was just another thing I was going to miss while I was gone. It'd serve him right, too, me leaving like this. After all, isn't that what he wanted anyway?

"Was she that awful?" he wanted to know.

"Well, no." I found myself saying, I turned around to face him fully and sat down, wrapping my arms around my legs. "But guess what? Your wish is going to come true."

"What?" he said, confused. "What wish?"

"You said you didn't care if you ever saw me again." I said, looking up at him with a frown. I shrugged, and added, "And you won't. I'm leaving tomorrow."

He looked at me, sat down and stared at his feet. He was frowning, which meant he was thinking. "You're kidding me." he said quietly.

I shook my head. I wish I had been kidding, then I wouldn't be in this awful mess, with a lady who will probably spend the rest of her life, thinking I like her bread and butter pudding – and who will therefore cook it for me all the time. I started to wonder if Isabella liked the bread and butter pudding and if she didn't whether we could somehow stop her mum making it.

It would be nice, I guess, playing with a girl for once. I mean, maybe we could play princesses together? Daniel would never play princesses with me, but we play much nicer games anyway, but it'd be nice to see what it was like, just once. I didn't want everything to change forever, like it was, apparently.

"Where are you moving?" Daniel wanted to know, pickling at the grass, his mother always scolded him for this – it was for their livestock to eat.

"Park Lane, London." I said, my throat was hurting, and I was blinking a lot again. I couldn't cry, not again. I'd done enough for a life time already.

He looked at me, "But, that's so far away!"

"I know." I said sadly and I started picking at the grass myself, I felt awful. Even more awful about leaving Daniel than I did about my house. He was my only friend, all the other girls threw stones at me, because I wasn't like them – I didn't care if I got dirt all over me, I didn't care if a bug hopped onto my shoe, I didn't care for ribbons. Neither did Daniel.

But one thing I did care about was leaving him here, when I was going way over to London. Even if we did fight before, I couldn't go without saying a proper goodbye! "Danny," I said, and grabbed his hand with one of my own dirty ones, not that he seemed to care when he looked down at me, "I'll miss you."

All of a sudden he gave up the fight of not caring and crawled forward, bringing me into his arms like way back then and burying his face in my hair. "Elli, I miss you already!"

He squeezed me tight and got to his feet, holding out his hand for me, "Come on, I have something for you."

I took his hand and he led me into the old barn, and took me into the hay loft. Underneath a bale of hay, he had two lockets, he held one out to me, "They were my grandparent's, one was Nana's one was Pop's."

He turned it over in his hand, and the words spelt je t'aime.

"What does that mean?" I wanted to know. It was imprinted on both of the lockets.

"It's in French, my grandparents were French." Was all he said, turning red. I blinked.

"Yes, do you know it means?" I asked again.

I heard my dad calling for me, from over at our house. I tensed, it was time to go. This was probably the last time I'd ever see him again, I looked at him.

"Listen, you should probably get going." He got up and walked me to the barn door, and then turned to me, handing me a locket. He opened the door for me and whispered softly, "Keep it with you, and one day I'll come find you."

He leaned down, and kissed me on the nose. "Goodbye, Eleanor James. I'll miss you so."

And as if he could be near me no longer, he pushed me gently out the door, and it was shut in my face.

Do you like Elli? I like Elli. Oh, and, in the next chapter? We skip straight to the future.