First off: This story was originally 9k+ words long, and 17 pages. But for easier reading, I split it into three parts. This is the first (obviously).
Secondly, I made this FP account for the express purpose of posting this story. So I doubt you'll be seeing much more from me.
Thirdly: R&R for me, PLEEASEE. I will send you virtual heart and cookies. With my mind.
Hah, I'm used to posting a disclaimer at this point while writing fanfiction. NO NEED FOR A DISCLAIMER. The characters, settings etc are all totally mine, lalala.
Enjoy. And based on the reviews I get (if any), I will post sooner or later since the whole thing is written out already.
Four teens lay sprawled out on the dappled green grass. The summer had arrived with astonishing ferocity and patches of grass had vanished entirely, giving way to brown, hard-packed dirt.
The first was Lancey. He had blonde hair and blue eyes – the very image of what a self-respecting gentleman should be. He had a handkerchief on hand at all times, should he ever have to offer it to a damsel in distress, and was quite proficient in playing the piano. At sixteen years of age, he was not, like other boys his age, looking to grow up and take over his father's estate.
Rather the opposite, in fact.
First, let it be known that young Lancey was not a layabout. He was an extremely hard-working, diligent boy who took to his every task with single-minded determination. He was rather flushed at that moment from success, having just achieved one of his more long-term goals.
The second was Louisa, a beautiful girl of sixteen years. She was the daughter of a Baron and all her life (being the only daughter) had been taught the ways in which to manage a property. In the event of her father's passing, the grounds and money would pass to her mother and then to her. Her mother was famed for being one of the most beautiful women in northern England and it seemed to most onlookers that she had passed on her excellent genes to her daughter as well.
Louisa had raven hair, soft and silky in its billowing tresses. She had inherited her mother's angular features but had her father's endless blue eyes and her paternal grandmother's curves (or so they told her). So it was no wonder that Lancey had spent most of the past four years trying to woo her – and only just succeeded. Had it not been for Louisa's mother threatening to marry her off to a "snotty-nosed, uniform-garbed, prep-school twat", as Louisa had succinctly put it, she may never have agreed to one of Lancey's endless proposals. It wasn't that she wasn't interested in him; she liked him well enough. However, the attraction was a recent development and Louisa's aristocratic pride had prevented her from agreeing sooner after four years of rejection. This was the goal Lancey had just succeeded in completing, and they were both over the moon at this development.
In a way, Louisa was grateful for her mother's matchmaking tendencies. She couldn't not be happy with Louisa's choice. Lancey was as noble as a boy could get.
The third was Elizabeth, Lancey's fifteen-year-old sister. While Louisa opted for fancy accessories, feathers in bonnets and dangling earrings and such, Elizabeth eschewed such frippery, choosing to roam around that day with bare feet and a simple violet dress. Oh, and no hat or parasol. It irked her mother no end, but Elizabeth was content in the knowledge that she at least had three more years before she was married off into some snobby gentleman's family.
She had the same eyes and nose as Lancey, but there the resemblance ended. With chestnut-coloured hair that ran in shiny waves to her tiny waist, and slender wrists and ankles to compliment her petite frame, she was by no means ugly, but unfortunately, even her good looks dulled in comparison to those of Louisa's.
However, she had her share of admirers too, one of whom occupied the patch of grass next to her. Thomas was a spirited boy of seventeen, the oldest among the group, although he did not use his age to dominate his peers. The very idea disgusted him, in fact. Out of the four, he had the most free reign. His parents were laid-back sorts, always careful to attend major events so as not to be kicked off the metaphorical social radar, but never in the centre, always on the side. His parents were much like Elizabeth in that sense. The only families they mingled with were those of Louisa, and Lancey and Elizabeth. They absolutely adored Elizabeth, to the point where they very bluntly suggested to Thomas that he begin to court her after she turned sixteen. Needless to say, Thomas was not at all averse to the suggestion and waited eagerly for Elizabeth's sixteenth birthday – which, as luck would have it, was the very next day.
In looks, he was as different from Lancey as the sun from the moon. With black hair and straight, handsome features, he could have passed for Louisa's brother if not for the hazel eyes peering out from under a shaggy, grown-too-long mess of hair.
While Lancey's appearance demanded attention from all in the vicinity, Tom's was more subtle. Although people often didn't notice his entrance, his powerful presence drew eyes without trying.
"I, personally, do not want to grow up – do you?" Lancey asked from his position on the grass. Louisa was resting against him, her head against his chest. She was uncommonly relaxed that day – perhaps it had something to do with the lazy afternoon sun, or the contentment that came from love.
"I don't mind, I suppose," Tom said thoughtfully. "Provided I have someone to spend my time with." He shot a sideways look at Elizabeth when she wasn't looking and felt a smile cross his lips as he watched her. Her arms were planted in the grass behind her and her head was thrown back, soaking up the sunshine. Her hair trailed on the ground and her legs stretched out in front of her, slim ankles crossed over one another.
"I think it should be a grand life if we were young forever," Louisa proclaimed in a typically refined tone. A gentlewoman she was, born and brought up.
"Growing up means getting married," Elizabeth added. "Being married is all right if it's someone nice, but just take a look at the boys we have here!"
"Snotty prep school types," Louisa said with a sniff. Lancey chuckled into her hair.
"I resent that!" Tom cried indignantly. "I have not ever gone to a prep school."
"No, Tom, you're lovely," Elizabeth assured him. "If I should have to choose a boy from our social circle, I would certainly choose you." His heart warmed at her compliment and he sidled closer toward her.
"Summer holidays!" Lancey suddenly exclaimed. "Are any of you going anywhere?"
"Mama wanted to, but Papa has work to do. Some nonsense about Brazilian gold. I don't see why it couldn't wait six weeks," Louisa sniffed with a scowl.
Tom ran his fingers through his hair, a move so elegant it must have required hours of practice in front of a mirror. "My mother has some debutante events to attend – you'll be part of that, I suppose," he added with a nod to Louisa and Elizabeth, "and father has decided he'd like to spend his vacation playing golf and participating in other such tedious activities." His long, slender finger skimmed the grass, pressing it forward into the dirt. "And I wouldn't want to miss Elizabeth's sixteenth, either," he added, peering at her from under his lashes.
"It will most definitely be unforgettable," Elizabeth assured him, her small fingers picking at the blades of grass around her. Tom seized her hand, stilling her restless fingers and ignoring the tingles shooting through his palm.
"Stop that!" he ordered playfully. "The grass is sparse enough as it is."
"I do miss the verdant green of this meadow. Summer came early this year," Louisa mused, absently petting Lancey's cheek. "And it seems like we might have a drought this year. I have an inkling that father will soon regret staying here, even if God gifted him a hundred barrels of Brazilian gold."
"Oh, dear," Elizabeth moaned. "Mother will be distraught if her agapanthuses die – which they are sure to do in this temperature."
"It's as if we need an ice-house – the opposite of a greenhouse," Tom explained. Elizabeth opened her mouth with a frown.
"It doesn't exist, Lizzie," Louisa said before Elizabeth could ask, drawing chuckles from the boys.
"I know that," Elizabeth returned defensively. Louisa rolled her eyes and Thomas hastened to pacify her.
"Of course you did, love," he assured her soothingly. Louisa's finely shaped eyebrows and lips quirked into an amused smile while Thomas resolutely ignored her. Lancey, however, was too caught up in his romantic thoughts of Louisa to recognise the quick calming of his sister. Besides that, he most likely wouldn't mind Tom's flirting, Tom being who he was.
The parents of Louisa Halding and Lancey and Elizabeth Ashwin had for a long time fraternised with each other. Five years prior, however, a third family had joined the mix – that of Thomas Sherrard and his older sister Helen. The two boys had started out by fighting over everything, but as time passed, hatred turned to friendship and the boys were as close as could be.
"How is Helen, Tom?" Lancey asked him, pressing a kiss to Louisa's cheek. To everyone's surprise – including Louisa's – her cheeks flushed a pretty red colour, staining the fair skin with tendrils of crimson.
"Helen is in New Zealand presently. Some facet of father's business that she wanted to look over."
"But it's so far away!" Elizabeth exclaimed. Thomas looked sideways at her. He found her childlike naiveté amusing, endearing and exasperating all at the same time – which, as Helen would say, was exactly what love was intended to feel like.
"She's at twenty-three years of age," Tom reminded her.
"Oh, I wish that I might travel when I'm of age," Elizabeth sighed wistfully.
"You shall," Lancey assured her. "Papa means to send the two of us abroad someday."
"Does he really?" asked Tom interestedly. "Did he say where?"
"Other areas of Europe, I suppose," Lancey answered with a shrug. "Greece or Italy or France."
"Why do you ask, Tom?" Elizabeth asked. His hazel eyes raked over her frame, taking in the wild hair and sparkling eyes, the rumpled dress and the little pink toes peeping out from under the hem.
"I – father has mentioned a few times that when I come of age he means to ship me to Greece to manage an outpost of his company."
"Oh – but that is less than a year away!" Elizabeth protested. She was loath to admit it to anyone – least of all Louisa, for despite their sisterly bond, Louisa really did have a loosely hinged mouth – but she did indeed have feeling for young Thomas. And, she admitted to herself reluctantly, she would indeed miss his company when he left.
"I shall be back for visits often," he said gently, almost as if he knew her thoughts.
"How is it possible? Managing an outpost of a business is not something one can frequently take vacations from."
"But I shall return often," he insisted.
"It is – "Elizabeth's rebuttal was cut off abruptly as Lancey rose and held out his hand to help Louisa to her feet.
"As fascinating as it is to listen to the two of you argue, Louisa and I shall be off. If you look closely, you might just find us in a hidden niche somewhere, but I do not recommend it unless you have an excellent reason. Good day." The speech complete, Lancey doffed his hat and held out an arm for Louisa, who took it with a loving smile. The couple set off for the distant house, arm in arm. Thomas and Elizabeth watched them go with a mixture of awe and envy.
With an almost imperceptible sigh, Elizabeth lay back in the prickly, dry grass, her hair fanning out behind her.
"Tomorrow is my sixteenth birthday. There will be potential suitors in attendance and many a proposal will likely come my way." She sighed again, a bit louder.
"Do I detect weariness in your tone?" Tom asked tentatively.
"For each proposal I receive – and thereby decline – there are three insulted parties. The mother, the father and the suitor himself. In addition to this, for each proposal I decline, I risk Mother developing a thrombosis."
"From your viewpoint, I suppose women do have the tougher end of the stick," Tom mused. "After all, the boys simply have to submit a proposal through their parents."
"Exactly," she snapped venomously, breaking a nearby twig in two. "It's the only thing marring my joy at finally being sixteen."
"Lizzie, do you mind if I ask you something?" Tom suddenly requested. Alerted by his tone, and slightly curious, she propped herself up on her elbows and fixed him with an inquisitive eye.
"Of course. Ask to you heart's content."
"If… none of the suitors at tomorrow's party meet with your approval," he began haltingly, "then who does?" Tom asked with a fast-beating heart. After five seconds of silence, he dared to look up at her face. She was watching him, but her expression was not unkind or amused. Rather, her countenance was thoughtful.
"Lizzie?" he prompted when she didn't answer.
"I – I cannot answer that question at present," Elizabeth said shakily. She had tried – she really had. If there ever was a time to confess her attraction to him, now was the time, without Louisa and Lancey present. But she couldn't.
What could she mean? Tom thought to himself. Why won't she answer? He hid his disappointment between a blank mask, stowing the crushed hopes away for future brooding. All he had wanted was one word – "you". He had to know – he really had to. His eighteenth birthday was approaching all too rapidly and he just had to know if his feelings were reciprocated.
He shuffled closer, his hand covering hers. Her head whipped away from him, staring in a different direction in an attempt to hide her blush.
"Lizzie," he asked in a soft, low voice, "will you miss me when I go to Greece?" His breath ruffled her curls, making her shiver under the soft fabric of her dress. Her fingers worried at a loose thread in her dress and his hand closed over hers, stilling her fingers for the second time that afternoon.
Her thoughts were frenzied and chaotic, her breath was coming short, a million and one different answers ran through her head, flitting here and there teasingly. It's now or never, Lizzie.
She picked the simplest answer. Taking a deep breath, as if about to dive into the ocean, she opened her mouth.
Soft fingers clasped her chin, pulling her head around to face him again. Hazel eyes had softened to buttery warmth and her breath, if possible, came even shorter than before. Trying to catch it without panting like a lunatic, she stared back, hoping her blue eyes conveyed everything adequately enough that she wouldn't have to say anything.
"Lizzie, I – "he began.
But his sentence wasn't finished.
"Elizabeth! Thomas!" called a voice from the house. Elizabeth resisted the temptation to groan, flicking her eyes one last time to those soft, pinkish lips. Oh, how she had hoped…
Wrenching her eyes away, she turned to face the house – and there was Margaret, the Ashwins' maid, calling them for dinner.
Thomas rose to his feet gracefully, like a panther arising to stalk its prey. It was a movement born from hours of sport and exercise, from noble bloodlines and stunning genetics. He extended his hand to Elizabeth, who ignored it, rising to her feet by herself. She caught his grin and felt flutters of emotion erupt in her stomach. Studiously avoiding each other's eyes, they started out for the house, every brush of their arms sending tingles from one to the other.