A/N: So this is it my friends. the final installment of Susie. I've made sure it's a long one. S ee you at the bottom. Much love xo
With Susie, Two Months Later.
My house has reached full capacity, packed like a piñata with people, food and decorations. I've already got a mouthful of hairspray, been concussed by an elbow, had toothpaste spat on my forearm and tripped over a hair dryer.
The Darlings and Co. have all flocked and began roosting in my poor little chocolate box. Mostly because the Jameson's house is already taken up with people as well. This has, of course, lead to carnage. Lost shoes, earring and tempers. It's a sight to behold because it's very rare we all wind up in the same place at the same time.
I wade through the crowd and get to my back porch where my Father and Veronica's husband, Ian stand, far out of the way of the chaos. Even though we've edged into winter, it's still quite warm and the sun is making the sky particularly imaginative shades of blue and yellow.
"You look very dashing." I say, standing between them. Dad screws up his nose, his hand going towards his neck.
"I hate bow-ties." He grumbles. "I hate very few things but bow-ties are one of them. I was bitten by a snake last year and I think that was more pleasant than this."
"A simple thank you would suffice, dad. For example; Ian, you look very smart this evening."
Ian smiles at this, picking up on my school teacher tone.
"Why thank you, Susie. Might I also say you look. . ." his eyes give me the once over and he clears his throat. "You look like you drive a limo."
"Thank you, Ian. So kind of you to notice. Time?"
Ian looks at his watch.
"Ten to six."
I beam a smile and clap my hands together. I've been planning this event for a while now and there is no way I'm going to let it go to pieces.
"Okay Ladies and Gentleman. It is go time! Chop! Chop!" I make my way through the Darling debris and keep clapping my hands. "Get a move on! The Time is Bill Nigh! Make like Geoffrey and Rush! . . . I need you to be spic and span like Peter Pan!"
"One more and I'll beat you with your own tea-pot!" Veronica says, rushing past me. Oscar wanders in, looking anxious.
"Seriously. Has anyone seen my other shoe?"
"I need you over there in ten minutes, copy? Hurry, Hurry like Tim Curry!"
Something comes flying at me and I duck just in time.
"Veronica!" Mum growls.
"My shoe!" Oscar gasps following it. I laugh at his and close the door behind me heading to James and Lynn's. I may even be skipping as I go.
The Limo waits for me, James standing next to it looking at his phone. This is a black bow-tie event and James is dipped head to toe in the finest. I allow myself a moment to appreciate the sight before clearing my throat. James' eyes are the only thing that moves from his phone and they land on me.
I straighten my driver's hat and flatten my polyester navy pants.
"How do I look?" I ask, feigning nerves. I see a small corner of his lips tilt up. It's always the same section of his lips that give into smiling first.
"Ridiculous," he says quietly and glances back at his phone. "Our guest of honour is trying to bargain information out of me."
"Yeah?" I ask, heading over. "What has he got that you could possibly want?"
"I think that's what he's trying to figure out." he says, sliding his phone back into his pocket and producing keys. He holds them out to me but doesn't let me take them. I'm given a pointed look. "I'm going to say this one more time. . . please drive carefully."
I throw my head back and groan.
"James! If I had a tree for every time you've lectured me about this, I could save that whole ozone layer thing everyone is talking about."
He leans forward and quirks a moderately handsome eyebrow at me.
"At least I know it's for a good cause." He whispers and drops the keys in my hand. "See you when you get back."
When I'm almost at Jaspers place, I put in an earpiece and call him. He hasn't taken to this mystery event very well. All trust has gone out the window and I've been loving every minute of it.
"Yes?" he answers, grumpily.
"My, we're stroppy today, aren't we? I thought I told you to have your nap this afternoon."
"Susie. . . what's going on? You stole my family this morning and I haven't heard from them since. You have me standing outside my house wearing this. . . tuxedo. Why do I get the feeling I'm about to be humiliated and I'm the only person who doesn't know about it?"
I pull into his street, chuckling.
"And how does that make you feel?" I ask. I thought I'd be sick of that question by now but, nope! Still fun.
"I feel stroppy and confused and . . . I hate you all."
"I see, Mr Harrington. Well, any minute now your ride should be arriving."
I spot him up the street looking at the limo coming towards him.
"You're kidding me. . . what is this?"
I pull up outside his house and wind down the tinted window.
"This is your ride."
He bends down, seeing me. I grin. He frowns, phone still to ear.
"I have to go. A crazy woman is about to talk me into getting into a limo." he then hangs up and stares at me. I continue grinning at him. I've been waiting for this for months. It's at brilliant as I imagined it would be.
"Good evening!" I chirp.
"Is it? Good to know. It's the first bit of information I've got about today." He gets into the back and closes the door. "Where are we off to?" he calls out. I lower the screen that separates the front from the back.
"Sorry, sir. I'm just the driver." I tell him and begin to close up the screen again. "There's some grape soda and dinosaur lollies there if you want them."
"Of course there are." I hear him say just before the screen closes.
I pull up and James opens Jaspers door.
"Welcome, Mr Harrington." he says. I hear no movement in the back seat.
"Is she coming?" he asks.
"Sir, she's just the driver." James says and I hear a very unintelligent, childish groan. He gets out and I lower my window to watch him falter as he sees Kita waiting for him. She looks stunning. She and I went shopping together for something for tonight at she is the very epitome of The Lady In Red. Her hair looking like one living moving organism stopping at her tail bone. Jasper hasn't noticed the lit path down the driveway or the crowd of friends and family or the makeshift stage. I lower the window a fraction to hear what's said but he whispers something in her ear I don't hear. My door opens but I keep my eyes on them.
"Man they're adorable."
"Just precious," Veronica says, shortly. "Hurry up. We have five minutes to get you in that dress and in that backyard. Chop Chop."
The dress I am wearing tonight is kind of a big deal for me because it's the first item of clothing I feel like me in. The structured black dress I wore to the BBQ was fun at the time and fulfilled a purpose but this dress is what has set off the rest of my wardrobe. The dress, which is a very specific shade of yellow only Autumn can manage, it's long, nipped in at the waist and a complicated mix between a wrap-around and a kimono. A wardrobe far enough away from who Robbie turned me into and far enough away from Veronica's taste because I don't want to have to put my clothes in a vault every night just to protect them.
As I fuss with the side tie, Veronica fixes my hat-hair.
"So, can I ask you how you're doing?" she asks.
"I'm okay. I'm excited about tonight. Thanks for coming to it."
Veronica meets my eyes in the mirror.
"I'm glad you invited me. It's. . . interesting to finally meet them all."
"You're friend Lynn told me I looked like a gracefully ageing Barbie."
I laugh loudly at this. I should start writing some of this stuff down, really.
"You do too." I grin. Veronica finishes my pinned back fringe with a layer of spray and I stand up, preparing myself. I've wanted Veronica here for a while now because I've needed her opinion on something or rather. . . someone.
"What do you think of James?" I ask tentatively. She frowns at this.
"You care what I think?"
"Yes. I didn't find out that nobody liked Robbie until after he was buried. Your judgement is very rarely off. I would like to know what you think of James."
Veronica stares at me and wipes her hands down the front of her dress. . . the aforementioned black number she has now acquired.
"I don't know. I haven't got the chance to water-board him yet."
"Nor will you." I warn back before sliding on some small heels. "First impressions, though?"
"He's not Robbie. . . and he's mad for you. . . easy to look at."
"Hm." I mutter nodding my head.
"You don't seem happy with this feedback."
"No, I am. I was just hoping for something I didn't know. Okay, let's do this!"
As I make my way up onto the stage, Lynn plays some music. I thought we agreed on awards music but it's sounding like the MacGyver theme tune. The Jameson's backyard looks amazing! I'm really proud of all our work, the eight tables filled with people and drinks and nibbles. Lights strung around everywhere.
There's enthusiastic applause from mostly everyone (Jasper is slow clapping and still glaring) and a whistle from somewhere. I smile and face them all. All of my family is here. I've even got Hank here. Jasper is the only person who doesn't know what's happening.
"Welcome." I announce, "to the first annual Jasper Awards. Or as we'll call them. . ." Lynn plugs something in and a sign that's supposed to say 'the Jaspers' lights up. It doesn't say this though and I laugh.
"The Aspers. . . apparently. We'll fix that." I glance over at Jasper who is shaking his head in disbelief. "The Jaspers is going to be a yearly event celebrating extraordinary acts of kindness, friendship and self-sacrifice, inspired by the life and times of Jasper Harrington. If you don't think we can do it then you're wrong. There's an award show in LA every year for Oscar. Who do you think started that?" There are a few laughs and I pick up an envelope. "To get the evening under way and to announce our first award, Kita and Rosa Harrington."
Jaspers wide eyes dart from the stage to his wife and daughter. She plants a kiss on him before making her way up to the stage. I take her place next to Jasper and pick up a drink.
"I can't believe you did all of this." he says quietly, his eyes still on the red wrapped woman fussing over the notes. Kita smiles nervously.
"The first award is for Family man of the year. An award to be presented to someone who has gone above and beyond for the sake of family. The nominees are. . ." she opens an envelope. "Jasper Harrington." she waits for the applause to die down. "Jasper Harrington." more applause. "And. . . Jasper Harrington."
Jasper chuckles at this and leans back in his chair.
"Tough category," I whisper.
"Yes." he deadpans. "The suspense is killing me."
"and the award goes to. . . " Rosa interrupts. "Jasper Harrington."
There's applause from everyone and he reluctantly stands up.
He takes his award, regarding it for a while and laughing. He looks at the audience and shakes his head.
"Whose job was it to dye a bunch of ken-dolls hair orange, put them in suspenders and nail them to a block of wood painted gold?" he asks. Lynn, James and I all put up our hands and he nods. "I admire your commitment," he mutters. "Um. . . Thank you. . . I think. I don't deserve an award show. I haven't done anything that special and you all need your heads examined, every single one of you but. . . thank you. Also, can I just say. . ." music starts to swell a little louder and he eyes Lynn. "Am I really getting sent off stage? . . . at my own awards ceremony?" The music hits another decibel and Jasper takes the hint, taking his leave. I can't stop laughing, watching Lynn tell him to wrap it up.
The choice of song I think is a Disney theme song but I wouldn't know which.
Over the next half an hour, different awards were given out, all to Jasper, of course. We had 'Friend of the Year', 'Kind Act of the Year', 'Worst Dressed Nice Person of the Year."
It got to the point where he just sat on the end of the stage with his glass of bubble and accepted them from there. With each award, his speech time was cut shorter and shorter. I believe this is because Lynn is getting bored and hungry and wants this thing to move along. He only got time to say. "thanks again" before the sound of 'Don't Speak' by No Doubt plays loudly. The irony does not escape anyone and the audience is in fits.
The final Award is being presented by my Parents. This is the one I've been looking forward to so I go over and drag Jasper back to his seat.
"Does this mean someone else will finally get an award?" he asks me.
"I don't know. We're all up against Jasper Harrington and he's pretty tough to beat this year. Listen."
"The final award tonight is quite special. The Jaspers are going to be tried out here yearly, hopefully getting bigger and becoming a community event. It is called the Jaspers because Jasper Harrington goes above and beyond in everything he does. Whether it involves doing a job he hates to pay for his family to get here and keeping them safe until they did. Or perhaps dropping everything to fly over to help a struggling friend in need. Continuing to keep an eye on his late best friend's family. He may not think he's that special but for all of us to be here and for us to make it a yearly event and for my husband to put on a bow-tie. . . there must be something special about him."
Jasper hasn't taken his eyes off his hands, embarrassed. There's a bit of a bet going as to whether he'll cry or not. I thought he would but it doesn't look like he's going to crack.
Maybe if I step on his foot hard enough later. I wonder if that will count. Probably not.
"So the final award. . . is one called the Darling of the Year. And I'm going to skip the nominees and just state the obvious. The award for Darling of the year goes to Jasper Harrington."
There's applause and he makes his way up. On his way, he picks up the small CD player Lynn is hovering over and takes it with him. There's another burst of laughter. He accepts the award and a kiss on the cheek from Mummy Darling.
He scans the audience of people who have all been giving him awards and I smile, proudly.
"When Susie Darling stopped thanking me for everything she thought I'd done for her, I knew something was up but I didn't think it was this. I accepted all those others awards but I can't accept this one. It has to go to Susie. . ." I shake my head at him. No, he can't do this. I'm still susceptible to crying. "She seems to think that I've done everything for her and she's done nothing for me but she has no idea what she's done for me. With my wife and my kids stuck in another country, the government putting up barrier after barrier in order to get them here, stuck in a job I hated. I was miserable. Horribly miserable. Susie became my. . . insanity. And I needed a bit of that desperately. She welcomed my family. My wife was a nervous wreck getting here because she didn't know how she would be accepted. Susie . . . needs this award. I'm not taking it and you can't make me." he looks at me and motions me up. I shake my head. "Susie. Don't make me count in vegetables." I laugh but stay where I am. There's no way I'm taking that award. It's Jaspers and I'm not letting him give it away.
"It's yours." I tell him.
"Come one. You're always telling me to share my toys. . . . can I get some help here, please? Surely somebody else thinks she deserves this too. . ."
To my horror, Oscar stands up and comes over to me. He searches the crowd and calls James over.
"What are you doing?" I ask. "It's his award."
"You take that side. I'll take this."
Before I know what they're talking about, I'm lifted up in my chair and carried up there, everyone cheering them on. Jasper hands the award to me.
"Yours." he tells me.
"Look. . . whose Award show is this?" he asks, pointing to the sign.
"Aspers?" I tell him
"Whose is it supposed to be?" he redirects. I give in and snatch the award.
"Speech! Speech! Speech!" he calls out and everyone claps. I laugh and stand up before my people. This wasn't part of the plan.
"Firstly. . . I'd just like to thank the Academy. . ." There's an echo of groans and Jasper starts playing the music to get me off stage. "Lets eat!" I call out and gesture inside.
People start happily dispersing leaving Jasper and I on a very dodgy stage I'm half expecting to flatten any minute now. I'm preparing myself for some speech from him but he just gives me a hug.
"Thank you." he says, genuinely.
I scruff his hair and pinch his cheeks.
"Night isn't over yet." I tell him, letting go and winking.
"I was afraid of that." he mutters and makes his way towards the food.
I sit on the edge of the stage and take a moment to recollect my thoughts. As planned, putting this shindig into fruition has acted as a most excellent distraction, dangling temptingly like a treat.
After this, I can dive head first into the new Darling wing I get to start but even I know that eventually, I'll run out of treats to distract me. Distraction from what, though?
Sadness, a big player in this ball game of Life is no longer keen to hang around. I'm not sad Robbie left me. I'm not sad I got out of it. I'm not exactly sad that he won't show up in my life anymore. I am sad about what he put his father through but I think I'm getting that mixed up with anger.
Yes. . . Anger. The top-billed player. The big Kahuna. The reason for the stubborn last few months and the broken saucers on my lawn.
Anger is still there but now I have people to share that anger with which makes it a different kind of anger. I don't know how to explain it. If I had to describe Anger, I'd describe it as a bottle of Champaign: I don't really like Champaign but at times it's appropriate to drink it. Now, if I was to sit alone and drink it, it sounds pathetic and sad but if I had people to drink it with, it changes things. Sure, I still don't like the taste but it's so much better drinking it with other people than on your own.
Anger is Champaign, and I'm enjoying having people to finally share it with rather than suffering it on my own.
The thing I'm still grappling with though is Guilt. I'm starting to wonder if guilt will actually ever go away or if I should just start accepting its presence and build a mental sleep out for it to stay in so it at least has somewhere to live.
Maybe that's what these shiny distractions are doing: building that mental sleep out for the guilt so it's not in the front of my thoughts day in and day out. Or maybe I've just been spending too much time with Jasper and I'm doing a shoddy job of trying to psychoanalyse myself.
"A bacon-wrapped prawn for your thoughts."
I tilt my head to the side, noticing James sitting next to me.
"How long have I been stupidly staring ahead of me?" I ask, taking the offered goodie.
"About the same amount of time I've been telling you my predicament without realising you were here but not present."
"Sorry." I cringe. He waves a prawn at me dismissively before popping it in his mouth. "What's your predicament?" I ask.
"Well. . ." he takes a deep breath and puts his plate down. Biff sidles up to it and steals a sausage roll off it without him noticing. "It has a favour attached to it."
"Two words. Work Function," he tells me. I chuckle at this.
"I see where this is going. . ."
"A blind person could see where this is going. Now, this predicament which has a favour attached also involves shameless begging. . ."
"Package deal, huh?" I ask crossing my legs and watching him carefully. "Shamelessly beg away."
James also folds up his legs and faces me. I need to find more excuses to get him into a suit. . .
"Please don't make me go by myself. I did that last year and those. . . what do you and mum call them? 'Desperate rich hags'? They're a persistent bunch and I can't do it. I may look like a big boy now, but they scare me. This is not by any means a 'date' and this isn't a cheap shot at trying to move this. . . us thing along faster. I just really need you to go and I can't take mum because she's offended my boss about seven times (comb-over jokes are apparently a strong suit) and you're nice and people will like you and you're pretty so the desperate rich hags will leave me alone and did I say please?"
What amuses me most about this is that James actually has his two hands together, begging me.
"You're not selling this very well, Jameson. . ."
"I'm not going to sugar-coat this. You will hate it with every fibre of your being but not all the rich hags are awful. Some are quite nice. It's an open bar and. . . for every lewd comment my boss makes at you, I'll donate 50 bucks to a charity of your choice." I can't help but laugh loudly at this. "Also, I think it's fair considering the threats I've been getting from your sister. . ."
"Oh, so it's a predicament attached to a favour attached to shameless begging attached to a 'you owe me' now? What next?"
"I'm not allowed to flirt with you yet so that's all I've got for now."
I smile and finally look away from him.
I'm waiting for the 'if there are any doubts who do not agree with this offer, please speak now or forever hold your peace' moment to be over. No doubts speak.
"You have a deal." I finally say before standing up. I dust off my dress and tuck my hair behind my ears. "But we will be doing it the fun way."
A slow smile is directed at me, then his shoes then me again.
"I'd have it no other way." he says quietly.
"Good! Right. Where's our DJ? She and I have to set up the game."
"Game?" I'm asked. I think I even detect a hint of fear in his tone.
"Yes, James. . . Game." I wink, backing away.
It's hardly surprising that Oscar is the first one to start showing doubts. I'm surprised it's taken this long. Everyone is in place, ready to go and only now does he voice his concern.
"Am I the only person who can see this ending badly?" I hear him say from somewhere behind me.
"We can all see it ending badly!" calls back Jasper. "The trick is to ignore that little voice."
I can't help but smile at this.
"My little boy blue is all grown up. Everyone ready?!" I call out.
"Define ready." comes my father's voice. "I still have no idea what's happening."
Ditto." Hank, our acting referee pipes up.
"Do I need to go over the rules again?" I sigh, tucking the glow-in-the-dark ball under my arm.
"Again?!" Oscar huffs. "We didn't get any in the first place. You all handed us glow in the dark head sweatbands, sent half to your property and left half here and then shouted 'Welcome to glow-in-the-dark-volley-ball'."
"I thought the title was self-explanatory. Darling's against Non-Darlings. The fence between my property and the Jameson's is the net. Other than that, normal volleyball rules apply."
"You mean other than the fact none of us can see each other because it's nine-thirty at night?"
"Ignore the little voice, Oscar." comes Jaspers voice again from the other side of the fence.
"What about the big voice that tells me this is going to end badly?" comes Mia's quiet worry. Her and Oxy: a match in some very insecure part of heaven, I swear.
"Did anyone else just hear Veronica whisper a death threat to me through the fence?" James calls out, sounding worried.
"You're toast, pretty-boy." we hear.
"Moderately pretty boy actually." he mutters back.
"I'm going to serve now." I call out, getting bored.
It started pretty averagely. Mia kept screaming whenever the ball came towards her, Oscar apologised every time he hit it towards a person, Lynn kept yelling 'I've got it' even when she was nowhere near the ball and Veronica served violently in James' general direction.
The rest of us were having fun.
A loud smash brings the game to a halt and silence follows. I try to peer over the fence but all I see are a pool of glow-in-the-dark headbands congregating around my lounge room window.
"Was that my window?" I call out. More silence. "Lynn Jameson? This has you all over it."
"I'll board that up for you." James calls back meekly. "I'll do it now. . . before I'm concussed by a different crazy blonde."
"If James is out, so am I." Jasper says. "He's the only mildly fit person on this team and I don't want to go against Veronica." There are murmurings of agreement and my people start dispersing.
"Pack of wimps." Ronnie whispers.
"Same time next year?" Jasper calls out and people's murmuring becomes a little louder in agreement. I deflate, disappointed in their lack of commitment to this game. Oscar throws an arm around me and sighs.
"You bring together the weirdest people, Susie."
I grin widely at this.
"You are who you spend time with." Veronica says, throwing her arm around me as well.
"I'm okay with that." I tell her.
Jasper, Kita and the Jameson's aside, even the times I'm spending with my family are completely differently. I think that's since I killed off that Old Susie- or maybe it's sharing the same grave as Robbie. Either way, New New Me who is still under construction at least has a decent group of people to egg me on.
A/N: And, thus we farewell the darlings. i hope you liked the last chapter. This book had to end somewhere and I felt this was the right place. Thanks you so so so much to the readers and reviewers (those ones who give me feedback nearly every chapter, you know who you are and I love you!)
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