A Universal Truth – Chapters 7&8

Chapter 7
‘But Jade darling you’ve only just come home’ Amanda Benton objected to the announced holiday plan,
‘I know Mum’ Jade apologised sincerely, ‘but I’ll be home all the time once I start work.’
‘And’ Eme added cleverly, ‘the Lucas’s have wealthy friends down there, with sons…’
‘Really?’ their mother’s interest was sparked immediately. Eme capitalised on the opportunity,
‘Yes apparently Scarlett’s friend Ashley has invited his VERY wealthy cousin and another friend who has pots of dosh. I’m sure they’re both MULTI millionaires’ she flannelled shamelessly impervious to Jade’s look of disquiet.
‘Well in that case it sounds as though it may be a good idea’ Amanda Benton ran with the idea, ‘one of them may well fall for Jade because she is the most beautiful girl’ she gushed enthusiastically getting carried away with her theme, ‘and the other may even like you Eme for you’re not so bad at all when you make the effort…’ Eme shrugged self-effacingly and dissuaded Jade with a warning glance from defending her sister’s looks. By the end of their mother’s enthusiastic monologue she had quite made up her mind that for Jade and Eme to go down to Cornwall with the Lucas family had been entirely her own idea. Furthermore it would doubtless lead to a satisfactory romantic outcome for at least one of her daughters.
‘Phew’ Eme flopped onto her sister’s bed and exhaled a sigh of relief; ‘we only have to persuade Dad now.’
‘He won’t mind us being away for a fortnight’ Jade professed confidently, ‘he thinks that we make a material difference to his comforts but I can’t say I’ve actually seen much of him since I got here.’
‘No, I suppose that’s true’ Eme acknowledged, sorry to admit that she had been similarly neglected, ‘he does seem to have given up on all of us’ Eme fell quiet for a minute, ‘Do you ever wonder what will happen when we’ve all left home?’
‘They’ll get divorced I expect’ Jade voiced a hitherto unspoken belief, ‘they have nothing in common except for us.’
‘I suppose you’re right’ Eme agreed sadly. ‘I’m going to see if Dad still has Thursday’s Guardian for Carle and me. I’ll mention Rock so that he has time to get used to the idea.’
‘Good plan’ Jade agreed, ‘I’m going to turn in now. Night night babe.’ The sisters embraced fondly. Eme slipped downstairs quietly to waylay her father.
By the end of the week the whole plan had been agreed and a shopping expedition arranged for the following week to buy much needed holiday things. Meanwhile Scarlett and Eme spent a productive week brushing up their CVs, searching for possible jobs and making applications. Between them they had written a template application letter, which sped things up a little. Scarlett had dispatched three applications and Eme two. The job that had jumped out of the pages of the Guardian at Eme was with a well-established London based publishing house with offices in New York. Eme’s heart beat faster as she read the job description and imagined herself working as an editorial assistant, which would lead to a job as commissioning editor. Eme pictured herself sitting behind a large desk in a plushy office, spectacles perched on her nose (not that she wore glasses), her secretary buzzed her and asking in hushed tones if she could possibly be free to make lunch with… NOT. Eme shook the fantasy from her mind with an impatient eye-roll. Still she crossed her fingers for luck when she posted the application in the postbox on her route home.
As she had promised, Lily had amassed an array of holiday clothes for the sisters to try. Scarlett too had elected to join them. It was her last day in Oxford before she departed for the coast.
‘I don’t really need anything much’ she declared, ‘I have swim suits galore and shorts. I discovered all sorts that I’d quite forgotten while we packed yesterday and Mum reckons I have more down at the cottage.’
‘I haven’t even got a swimming costume’ Jade admitted,
‘I have an old black one-piece from school but nothing nice’ Eme declared eying the colourful bikinis that Lily had sourced in the right sizes. ‘You should try this Jade’ Eme held aloft a glamorous one-piece in red with a low back, ‘oh and this’ a leopard print bikini caught her eye. Her older sister had a great hourglass figure, which would look good in anything. Lily made some helpful suggestions to suit Eme’s slimmer rather boyish shape and the sisters hit the changing rooms with a pile of garments each. Scarlett and Lily kept up a flow of admiring comments as the girls modeled their outfits. Eventually they each made their selections with approval from the audience.
‘I think you should take a dress as well, or a dressier top to go with jeans or shorts. There are always beach parties’ Scarlett advised, ‘though I may have stuff that you can borrow’ she amended as she observed Eme biting her lip. Her rough tally was more than she could afford already.
‘Mum gave me some money for us’ Jade smiled, and glibly exaggerated the amount. Jade had been earning for some time and knew that her sister was worried about her student debt.
‘Oh great’ Eme’s expression cleared, ‘I can get both bikinis then and these shorts, and this and this and this’ she piled a vest top, espadrilles and a canvas bag on her pile. Jade chose the aforementioned swimwear plus jeweled sandals, a gorgeous paisley print maxi dress, a sarong and shorts.
‘I’m sure I have vests and tees from last summer that will do.’ The girls grinned excitedly at each other as Lily rang up the sales and applied her staff discount to the final amount. Eme skipped with excitement,
‘Thanks Lily I forgot about your discount, I can afford a couple more tops now’ she exulted.
Scarlett insisted on buying the sisters a drink on the way home to celebrate their purchases, so the trip ended felicitously for all. It would seem a long time (almost two weeks) before the Benton girls joined their friend in Cornwall.
Chapter 8
The girls were collected from the nearest train station by William and Scarlett. Having admired William’s newly acquired, second hand Golf they had enjoyed the journey back through the winding roads towards the coast. Scarlett looked tanned and recounted happily the family activities to date and looked forward with pleasure to the days ahead.
Sea View cottage was as the name suggests set into the hillside overlooking the beach at Rock. Eme, who remembered the cottage from two previous visits, held her breath as they approached the place on the final leg of their journey.
‘Nearly there’ Scarlett advised. Eme took hold of her sister’s hand and nudged her to look. They rounded a corner to see laid out in front of them a long sandy beach with the sea sparkling merrily beyond. The stone built cottage appeared almost set on the beach from this angle, a little jetty and some fishing boats bobbed jauntily in the background. Jade let out a sigh of delight, it looked like paradise on earth. Eme squeezed her sister’s hand in silent agreement. It was awesome.
‘Isn’t it lovely’ Scarlett asked, her voice expressing pride and wonder that she could be so lucky, ‘come on let me show you round.’ William had barely pulled up beside the cottage before Scarlett was skipping around unloading bags and pointing out this and that animatedly as she led the way up to the house. William insisted on bringing up the rear with the baggage so that the girls could run on ahead,
‘Thanks Wills’ Eme called over her shoulder as they cut up the steep stone steps to the side door and racing into the cottage calling out their arrival.
‘Out here’ Scarlett’s mother called from the terrace where she was sitting in comfort reading a novel. ‘Hello Jade, Eme, did you have a good journey?’ she asked with a welcoming smile. The Benton girls stood and stared at the view openmouthed, the little town of Padstow looked like a picture postcard across on the other side of the Camel estuary. As far as the eye could see in either direction was golden sands and sparkling blue sea, the sight punctuated by little stone cottages and sailboats bobbing at anchor. ‘You’ve picked a beautiful day to arrive’ Claire smiled indulgently at their rapt enjoyment, ‘the view looks breathtaking today.’
‘Indeed it does’ Eme agreed, hardly able to peel her eyes away. She longed to be able to capture the vista in colour, if only she were a proficient artist.
‘Why don’t you get the girls settled into their room Scarlett? Then we can have drinks out here before dinner. I think Dad plans to take us out as its William’s last day and our guest’s first.’
‘Whoopee’ Scarlett grinned, ‘come on let me show you. Mum’s put you together in the twin room that has its own bathroom…’ Scarlett led the way upstairs chattering merrily as they went. William had already deposited their bags ready to unpack. Scarlett bounced on Eme’s bed while the sister’s took it in turns of freshening up in the very well appointed bathroom and hung items of clothing in the walk-in (just) closet.
Scarlett could wait no longer to divulge her news. Mr and Mrs Brooks had been down for a week and her parents had been out with them for a meal the night before.
‘Ashley is coming on Friday night’ Scarlett breathed ecstatically, ‘and we’re all invited to a family lunch at their place on Saturday. I can’t wait to see him again’ Scarlett acknowledged, her eyes shinning with anticipation. Eme smiled in return, happy for her friend, though slightly worried for her that her expectations might be too high. It had been a year since Scarlett had last seen Ashley Brooks, he may well be otherwise attached by now, after all he was six or seven years her senior.
‘What should we wear for this evening?’ Jade asked practically.
‘Nothing special, I expect we’ll just go to the pub’ Scarlett hazarded nonchalantly, ‘I’m wearing these shorts and a broderie anglaise top.’
‘I’m so not wearing shorts while my legs are milk bottle white’ Eme declared, ‘particularly when they’ll be contrasted to your bronzed pins.’ Scarlett giggled and stuck her legs out to admire the tan,
‘I do look rather gorgeous don’t I?’ she preened. Eme gesticulated rudely and pulled on one of her new vests to go with jeans. The pale blue colour and athletic shape suited her small frame. ‘You look gorgeous as well’ Scarlett allowed with an affectionate laugh, ‘and anyhow no one will notice us two when we’re accompanied by the incomparable Jade.’
‘Don’t be silly’ Jade brushed off the compliment, ‘my beauty is solely a rumour circulated by our mother.’
‘Yeah and her jurisdiction doesn’t reach down here’ Eme joked. The three girls cantered down the stars and spilled out onto the terrace sparring gleefully. William and his father greeted the newcomers with pleasure and Joe Lucas outlined his plan for the evening, as predicted by Scarlett, an informal supper at the local pub.
‘Cool’ Scarlett approved as William circulated with glasses of bubbly. Joe made an amusing toast to his son’s future success and to welcome ‘much more attractive’ replacements for his departure.
‘It’s a pity you two missed James and Nathan, they spent a week with us at the beginning of the month; still I understand from your mother’ Joe indicated Claire as his source, ‘that we are to expect substitute entertainment in the form of Ashley Brooks and his friends’ he cast a mischievous expression across at the girls.
‘Dad!’ Scarlett protested colouring slightly, ‘we can manage perfectly well without chasing men.’
‘Well I don’t expect any of you three to have to do any chasing’ Joe professed gallantly, ‘hey Claire?’ he turned for support feeling a little out of his depth as he received a look from his daughter.
‘Don’t tease Joe’ Claire recommended, ‘your outnumbered.’
‘Anyone for a refill?’ Joe retreated to the safety of dispensing bubbly whilst the women admired each other’s outfits and Scarlett gave them the lowdown on the local. The Rock Inn had been modernised and had gained a bit of a trendy image over the years that the Lucas family had holidayed in Rock.
‘I like it though’ Scarlett professed, ‘the view from the balcony is awesome and you can sit and watch the sun go down while you eat on a nice evening’. As it was indeed a clement evening Claire had taken the precaution of calling to book a table. The party made their way the short distance to the pub on foot, breathing in the sea air and admiring the view as they wandered.
The pub was heaving with holidaymakers inside and out. The party wormed their way through the inside crowd and out onto the relative peace of the balcony with relief. Admiring eyes followed the girls as they made their way in Joe’s wake bearing out his earlier prognoses. Claire smiled as they settled at their table and attracted a waiter without delay. She congratulated herself on having booked and was also amused at the effect that her charges wrought on the place. She observed covertly many an appreciative glance cast in the direction of their table as she pretended to peruse the menu. She already knew what she would eat.
Claire observed the girls dispassionately. Her mother had always paraded Jade as the beauty of the family and she was a very pretty girl. But, Claire approved, this prejudice had never affected Jade’s personality. In fact Jade was modest with no airs and graces. Claire’s glance acknowledged the blonde curls, peaches and cream complexion, large expressive cornflower blue eyes set in a perfect oval shaped face; and her figure was impressive, tall and long limbed yet with generous breasts, a small waist and shapely hips. But Eme too was a nice looking young woman. Unconventional with her pixie haircut, yet undoubtedly attractive; her green eyes sparkled with intelligence and humour from the heart shape of her delicate visage. As for her own daughter, Scarlett, Claire sometimes though that she was in the shadow of her friends. But just now she looked more than pretty her mousey hair bleached by the sun looked lovely in the loose uncontrived up do. The suntan had smoothed her skin and her brown eyes looked large and soft outlined by the pre-holiday eyelash tint. Scarlett smiled widely to reveal her perfect (after three years of wearing a brace) teeth. Yes, Claire acknowledged inwardly her daughter looked well; she hoped that the long looked for meeting with Ashley wouldn’t dampen her spirits. Scarlett would feel hurt if he showed a preference for one of her friends.
The extend family dined in perfect harmony. The food was excellent, the ambience perfect and with the rest of the holiday laid out ahead of them they had everything to look forward to. William’s departure was a slight dampener but as he seemed totally sanguine on his own behalf no one dwelt on the occasion.
‘I may even make it down for another weekend before you leave’ he reassured philosophically.
‘That would be a treat’ Claire smiled fondly on her eldest, glad that he seemed inured to Jade’s charms once more. She had wondered at one time. A long distance relationship wouldn’t help him to settle and make the most of his career opportunities.
The girls all promised to be up in time to see William off in the morning and retired to bed. The two travellers exhausted by the long day. The Benton girls thanked their hosts sincerely delighted by their good fortune and said their goodnights.
‘We’ll spend the day on the beach tomorrow, it’s going to be another lovely day’ Scarlett promised, hugging each of the sisters, ‘sleep well, see you at breakfast.’

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A Universal Truth Chapter 5&6

More of the NaNoWriMo story – phew this is hard work!! Forgive typos proof reading comes later!

Chapter 5
Jade Benton arrived home the following day to a very different though no less enthusiastic welcome. Jade, as the eldest and most beloved amongst the sisters, was subject to an array of greetings reflecting the characters of those that bestowed the salutations.
‘Jade, you look lovely, doesn’t she Mum? I’m so pleased your home you’ll be able to hear me practice my routine’ from Lara.
‘Hello Jade you could help me learn my lines too’ from Kylie.
‘Jade won’t be interested in your silly theatricals’ Meg Ann declared loftily, ‘you look very well Jade. I’m writing a theological treatise, I can read it to you if you like.’ Jade responded affirmatively to all of the requests, smiling fondly on each of her sisters for however silly they were she remembered them all as babies and loved them all.
‘Jade looks beautiful, doesn’t she girls’ Amanda Benton admired her eldest fondly. The most attractive of her daughters filled Amanda with hopes for a successful marriage. She dreamed that Jade with her porcelain skin, blue eyes and blonde curls would attract a rich and famous suitor. Amanda prided herself that Jade had inherited her good looks and sometimes wished she had not thrown herself away on a bookish university professor. She could have had anyone.
Lewis entered the mêlée to greet his eldest daughter with affection,
‘It’s nice to see you my dear’ he offered simply, ‘perhaps we may have a quiet chat later when your mother has finished with you?’ he added in a wryer vein.
‘Yes of course Dad, and Eme’ Jade caught her closest sister by the hand and squeezed her fingers, ‘we’ll catch up properly later.’
‘I don’t know how you do it, you have the patience of a saint’ Eme complimented later that evening in the privacy of Jade’s bedroom. The younger two had been ferried to a friend’s birthday party by their father who would collect them later. Their mother was entertaining one of her girlfriends which entailed drinking large quantities of wine and ‘twerking’ enthusiastically around the living room to the accompaniment of pop videos. ‘It’s no wonder Lara and Kylie are out of control our mother gets worse…’ Eme rolled her eyes skyward.
‘She has to have some fun’ Jade reproofed her sister gently, ‘Father is more staid than she.’
‘I suppose so’ Eme responded reluctant to censor her father, ‘he doesn’t really lavish much attention on her I suppose. Anyway tell me all your news.’
‘Aunt and Uncle Jardine are well, they sent particular love to you and hope that you will be visiting with them soon’ Jade had lodged with their relations when she had first gone to London for her nursing training. I saw William a couple of times…’
‘Really?’ Eme’s eyebrow shot up questioningly,
‘Not like that’ Jade responded with a wistful smile, ‘at least not on my part. I think William may have er feelings for me. You don’t mind do you?’ Jade suddenly looked aghast, she had quite forgotten Scarlett’s grand plan for William and her sister.
‘No, course not silly, I love William like a brother. He’s home did you know?’
‘Yes he told me he was visiting this weekend before he goes down to Plymouth. It would be a hopeless long distance relationship anyhow with me here in Oxford’ Jade added practically.
‘We’re invited around for Sunday lunch’ Eme informed.
‘What all of us?’ Jade sounded alarmed by the prospect,
‘No just us two I think. Henry and Lily might be there, but maybe not, you know what he’s like uses the house like a hotel his mum says. Sandy definitely not he’s gone to scout camp for a week. William will be and maybe a couple of his school friends.’
‘That’s nice of them to ask us. How’s Scarlett?’
‘Fine, we’re going to start a job search on Monday. She want’s to get a few possibilities lined up before they go down to Rock for August.’
‘What does she want to do?’
‘She’s not really sure but with History of Art she should be able to get something local. Oxford doesn’t exactly have a shortage of museums.’
‘Is that what she wants then?’
‘Mm she’s like you’ Eme smiled broadly at her older sister, ‘prefers to swim in a small pond.’
‘Is that what I’m doing?’ Jade asked, faintly surprised, ‘I did feel a bit lost in London so I expect that you’re right. I’m glad Carle’s going to be around. I expect that she’ll miss you.’
‘She thinks she will but she’ll get used to me being away soon enough. At the moment she has little but Ashley Brooks on her mind…’
‘She’s still in love with him then? And you Eme, anyone special?’
‘No, I think I’ll have to join a convent with Meg Ann’ Eme teased. Jade giggled,
‘That I can really see.’
‘What about you Jadie? I’m sure you have a queue of blokes after you.’
‘You sound like Mum’ Jade reproached, ‘it’s not true at all. I hardly ever get asked, Jade was thoughtful for a moment, ‘there was one doctor who was a bit keen earlier in the year but it was just too embarrassing seeing him on the ward and everyone joshing me about him. In the end I finished with him.’
‘Poor chap’ Eme commiserated,
‘I did feel terrible’ Jade confessed, ‘he took it badly’ she had decided at the time that she must move away soon as may be, the atmosphere had been terrible. ‘I wasn’t comfortable seeing someone I was working with at close quarters like that’ Jade confessed.
‘Oh dear there’ll be lots of disappointed doctors at the Radcliffe then’ Eme jested, ‘well at least our mother won’t be too disappointed, she has much higher expectations for you. You must marry a millionaire at least.’
‘Eme stop it’ Jade admonished, laughing never the less, her sister was partially right their mother did have strange match making notions. ‘I don’t see where I could possibly meet such a chap anyhow. I don’t exactly move in such exalted circles.’
Chapter 6
Sunday lunch with the Lucas family was fun and led to an unlooked to opportunity for Jade to widen her circle. The girls arrived as invited and were greeted on the doorstep by Henry dispatched by his sister who was employed in the kitchen.
‘Hello, hello,’ he greeted with a cheeky grin, ‘how are my two favourite girls?’ He hugged Jade and Eme in turn ‘I like your hair Eme’ he bestowed with his head on one side after a careful appraisal, ‘and of course the beautiful Jade is beyond compare.’ Eme shook her head at Henry. The boy was incorrigible. At seventeen he was completely self-assured largely owing to his attractive appearance and a consequent gaggle of female admirers. He had undoubtedly grown into a handsome young man. Eme surveyed Henry openly; he was already a little taller than his older brother, broad shouldered and lean. His crop of fair hair was artistically jelled looking slightly at odds with his chiseled storybook hero features. Gray eyes, perfect straight nose, a wide mouth and strong jaw line sporting a sprinkle of stubble. He’ll be gorgeous when he fills out a bit Eme surmised.
‘Like what you see?’ Henry preened,
‘I’m stunned into silent worship’ Eme returned sardonically, to which Henry laughed completely un-phased,
‘Carle’s in the kitchen with Mum putting the finishing touches on the buffet, Lily’s here already and we expect James and Nathan anytime soon’ Henry notified as he led the girls through the house to the sun room at the rear.
‘Oh it looks lovely’ Jade breathed admiring the long table laid with glasses and cutlery to one end with platters of various foods down the center, with the patio doors rolled back the eye was drawn from the house to the terrace and onwards down the immaculate garden.
‘Doesn’t it’ Henry remarked, sneaking a cocktail sausage from under its cover.
‘You’ll be in trouble’ Jade chided with a smile, ‘oh hi Lily, how are you?’ First Jade and then Eme greeted the younger girl who had been best friends with Henry since nursery. Lily lived up to her name in languid grace at the same time as trashing it completely. Her hair was currently cut short and dyed black; she also exhibited a ring through her right nostril that rendered her beauty rather fierce and alien.
‘Hi Jadie, hi Eme, it’s so nice to see you’ Lily proclaimed in her gentle voice with a shy smile totally at odds with her appearance.
‘It’s nice to see you too’ Jade rejoined genuinely, she had always liked Lily,
‘When did you get that done?’ Eme asked grimacing at the nose ring, ‘doesn’t it hurt?’ Lily giggled shyly,
‘It’s not a real one, just stuck on with eyelash glue, ‘Mum would go ape if she saw it…’ Lily pulled a ‘y’know how it is’ face and shrugged her shoulders expressively. Lily’s mother, would strike terror into the heart of most young people so they did get it. Eme laughed and felt comforted that her own younger sisters were only travelling the same road of minor rebellion.
‘I can’t say I really like it, or the hair but hey’ in her turn Eme shrugged dismissively, ‘what the hell.’
A ring of the doorbell alerted them to new arrivals. The reception committee was joined by William who thundered down the stairs to greet his best friends from school. Nathan, James and William had been good friends throughout high school. Eme and Jade had known the boys forever too. Both of them fancied Jade but neither had ever made an approach; Eme wondered if the status quo would change now that Jade was back in Oxford. She observed slyly as first James then Nathan greeted her sister once they had exchanged back slaps and fatuous remarks with William.
Her sister, Eme detected, greeted each with equal pleasure. Nathan appeared to be less at ease with her than James but it was impossible to spot anything other than initial shyness. It must be a couple of years since they had met. Eme was surprised to find herself the object of Nathan’s attention after the ice had been broken. He spent several minutes engaging her attention drawing her out about her future intentions. Eme brought him up to date humorously detailing her so far failed ambitions,
‘It is so much easier to dream of a successful career than to get down to making one’ she confessed with a wry smile, ‘Carle and I have made a pact to start job hunting in earnest next week though’ she excused her frivolity. Nathan listened attentively to her lively account of their inactiveness since commencing the holiday and deemed it a just reward for working so hard for their finals.
‘Mm I think you give me too much credit’ Eme grinned, ‘for I didn’t work half so hard as I should have.’
‘William says you could get a first’ Nathan remarked. Eme smiled and hedged,
‘No, he exaggerates! Anyway no one likes a smart-arse’ she dissembled, ‘what about you. Last time we met you were working for your dad.’
‘Still am’ Nathan grimaced, ‘it’s not so bad though…’
‘It’s all right for some’ James interrupted teasingly, ‘I could do with a little nepotism to help me up the career ladder. Some of us have to go through interviews, suck up to our managers and such other delights.’
‘Yeah there speaks golden boy’ Nathan retorted in jest, ‘he’s only just gotten a second promotion this year while I’m still just about trusted to make the tea.’
Scarlett joined the others as they drifted out onto the terrace and continued to josh each other good-humoredly.
The buffet was a great success, the informal style of eating lending itself well to multiple conversations between different parties. Once the food had been decimated the boys elected to play a game of French cricket while the girls cleared up, loaded the dishwasher and made coffee. Reassembled on the terrace Claire Lucas introduced the subject of their intended August in Cornwall.
‘We wondered if you both would like to spend a fortnight with us this year?’ Claire aimed at Jade and Eme. ‘We weren’t sure about your work commitments Jade but you would be more than welcome. Henry and William will only be with us for the first week or so. William has to start work in Plymouth and Henry’s joining Lily’s family for the second part of the month.’ Eme looked across at Jade expectantly, it would be cool if her sister could spend some time with her and Scarlett, and it had been years since they had taken a holiday together.
‘Thank you soo much. I’d love to if you really have room for me as well?’ Jade smiled in delight. Sun, sea and sand before she started in earnest at the Radcliffe would be awesome.
‘Brilliant’ Scarlett enthused, ‘we’ll have loads of fun. We usually sail, surf and swim and there are picnics and beach parties, depending on whose about…’ Scarlett’s enthusiasm was deflated for a moment while she considered the possible absence of Ashley Brooks from the scene. Claire smiled inwardly,
‘I spoke to Amy Brooks yesterday’ she declared artlessly, ‘The Brooks will be down for most of August and they are expecting Ashley to join them for a week or two. Apparently he is bringing his cousin down and one of their school friends.’ Scarlett tried and failed to suppress a grin of delight. ‘We have an invitation from them for a buffet lunch already.’ Claire’s announcement was greeted with a buzz of pleasure as the girls discussed timing, arrangements and a necessary shopping spree.
‘Come to Top Shop’ Lily put in enthusiastically, ‘I can help you choose. We have lovely swimwear, shorts, tees and stuff and you can have my staff discount and Henry’s’ she added generously. The girls all agreed to the idea and in their excitement quite forgot to admire the boy’s sporting prowess.

A Universal Truth – Chapters 3&4 for NaNoWriMo

Up to about 4400 words lagging behind schedule due to socialising on Sunday whoops! ;-D

Chapter 3
‘You look well Dad,’ it was true, he did. Her father’s usual pallor had benefited from a couple of hours hard labour in the garden, a favoured pastime when he needed a bit of peace and quiet.
‘Let me look at you sweetheart’ Lewis held his daughter at arms length and surveyed her thoughtfully. He missed Eme’s ready wit and the shared experiences they oft times had enjoyed in the past laughing at other’s follies. Her hair suited her cut short. The spiky cut framed her small pale features and enhanced her delicacy of bone structure. Her most striking feature, a pair of sparkling green eyes held her father’s gaze. Dimples peeped each side of her mouth as she smiled back at Lewis, tilted her head to one side and raised an eyebrow quizzically,
‘Well?’
‘I like your hair style’ he commented with an affectionate smile.
‘Thank you kind sir’ Eme responded with a mocking curtsy.
‘When did you get it done?’ Lewis asked as he lifted her suitcase and made a dent in the array of carrier bags arrayed on the gravel forecourt.
‘A month or so ago now, when we had a week of hot weather, back in early June I think. I was soo hot on the back of my neck…’ Father and daughter chatted inconsequentially as they entered a surprisingly quiet hall.
‘Where’s Mum?’ Eme asked, surprised not to be greeted rapturously, if fleetingly so.
‘She’s gone with Lara and Kylie to do a little shopping for an extremely important forthcoming engagement’ Lewis pronounced wryly with a roll of his eyes.
‘Ah, that would account for the decibel deficit’ Eme agreed with a smile, ‘shall I make a cup of tea? We could sit in your study and have a bit of a catch up.’ Her father nodded and smiled agreement,
‘That would be nice.’
Father and daughter number two spent an entertaining couple of hours discussing family matters, a source of mild amusement to them both. Apart from Jade who’s company was missed by each of the interlocutors.
‘So Jade’s planning to be home for at least a year then?’ Eme sought verification.
‘She said so yes. I think it will save her money to be at home, and its not so bad…’ Lewis glanced about him at the charming book-lined room that served as his study and his sanctuary. From his desk he had a view of the long back garden laid to lawn with its little wilderness at the end. The rays of the afternoon sun flooded the room with light that pooled around the sofa on which they were seated together. Eme leaned over and kissed her father fondly on the cheek,
‘Of course it’s not bad. In fact its lovely…’ her remark was interrupted by the slam of the front door and female voices raised in excitement, ‘just a little noisy sometimes.’ Eme grinned at her father conspiratorially; Lewis raised his eyes skyward in response.
‘Better go and say hello’ Eme skipped over to the door with a wave behind her as she entered the fray. ‘Hi Mum, Kylie, Lara’ Eme was almost deafened by the collective screech of welcome.
‘Darling’ her mother crushed Eme to her, not inconsiderable, bosom. Oh your hair! What have you done to all your lovely hair?’ Amanda Benton wailed in dismay. Amanda had been training to be a hairdresser (whilst aspiring to be a lingerie model) when she had met Lewis. Hair was of great importance to Amanda.
‘Sorry Mum’ Eme pulled a conciliatory face, ‘it was just too hot for exams. I just couldn’t bear it. It’ll grow’ she added philosophically attempting to placate her mother. No such luck; Amanda’s laments were long, heart felt and loud. Lewis Benton sighed heavily, selected a book of medieval poetry and settled down to read. He felt empathy for Eme having to endure such a tirade, but not quite enough to join the fracas in her defense.
Eme was inured to dealing with her mother’s hysterics and managed to turn the flow with dexterity.
‘Ooh shopping bags, show me’ she enthused, eliciting a volume of excitable information equally from her mother and two sisters. Carrier bags were ransacked and ‘bargains’ displayed for Eme’s approval. Eme reviewed the various purchases with a certain degree of disquiet. Her sister Lara’s selection in particular would not, in Eme’s view, look amiss on a hooker. Kylie as usual copied her younger sister’s every fad. The two girls had amassed a haul of items suited to the stage or to the aforementioned profession. Eme quelled a desire to remonstrate with her mother try to keep the peace at least for a couple of days she ordered herself.
Diplomatically Eme admired the least unsuitable items and attempted to reassure her inner uneasiness that the girls were young, it was the fashion and that they would grow out of it. Both her younger siblings were sporting heavy make-up despite that they were attired in school uniform. Their mother must have collected them from school for the shopping spree.
‘So what’s the big occasion then?’
‘An AUDITION that’s what for’ Lara proclaimed with a shimmy of excitement, ‘I’m going to be a TV star’ Lara beamed as though the whole thing was a forgone conclusion.
‘Mum?’ Eme sought confirmation,
‘It’s for one of that Simon Cowell’s talent shows. Lots of the young people go on to be famous, and rich. It launches a career in show biz’ Amanda proclaimed, no less confidently than her younger daughter.
‘And me. I’m going on it too’ Kylie butted in.
‘Er’ Eme paused trying to frame her question so as not to elicit outrage, ‘what talent would you be demonstrating?’ at the last count Lara’s only real talent was for amazing conceit, she certainly could not sing, dance classes had failed to instill much discipline, ditto acting classes.
‘I’m going to be an all rounder’ Lara responded without hesitation, ‘like Cara, Pixie and Alexa, y’know singing, acting, TV presenter, model…’
‘Oh right’ Eme responded faintly with a pointed stare at their mother who showed absolutely no sign of disabusing her youngest. In fact Eme saw with a grimace of despair that her parent was actually encouraging her daughter’s fantasies. ‘I think that those girls have to work really hard as well as having a lot of luck to get where they are’ Eme ventured, again attempting not to be provocative.
‘I don’t know WHAT you think YOU know about it’ Lara retorted, ‘it’s me that has been trained in singing and dancing and acting’ she tossed her hair dismissively.
It was into this heated discussion that their middle sister entered. Meg Ann could not be different from her two younger siblings, or indeed her elders. Her hair was tied back into a severe plait, round glasses adorned her studious face and her convent school uniform was plain and neat. Meg Ann turned her nose up at the disgorged contents of several Primark bags and declared self-righteously that she would not debase herself to shop in such a place.
‘Those clothes are made by children starved of food, freedom and dignity just so that you can wear trends’ she sneered piously, ‘and animals are routinely slaughtered for you to be able to wear their skins.’
‘Oh do shut up Meg Ann’ Lara and Kylie chorused, ‘Go and eat your mung beans and say your prayers’ Lara muttered to her departing sister’s back.
‘I will pray for your soul’ Meg Ann responded loftily, ‘words cannot hurt me.’
‘Go away!’ Lara rejoined crossly.
Chapter 4
Jade’s arrival was much anticipated, particularly by her father and Eme. It was not, sadly, to be until the following weekend. Meanwhile Eme’s three younger siblings had broken up for the summer holidays, Meg Ann for the last time. She intended to spend the summer working for a charity whilst she contemplated her options. Meg Ann could not quite decide between becoming a nun or to be ordained into the church.
The house was continuously in turmoil and Eme found herself to be frequently in sympathy with her father. The noise situation escalated as Lara and Kylie insisted on rehearsing for the so far non-existent audition for the vaunted talent show. Frequent confrontations between Meg Ann and Lara raised the decibels to unbearable levels. Admonitions for peace and quiet were met with violent tirades and appeals to their mother for support. Hysterically inept peace keeping from their mother inevitably led to episodes of tears and tantrums. The house rocked to the punctuation marks of slammed doors.
Eme spent as much time as she respectably could around the corner at her best friend’s house. Here the girls were little inconvenienced by young Alexander, the only one of Scarlett’s siblings much at home. William was not expected until the weekend and Henry just came home to change his clothes.
The Facebook search for Ashley Brook drew a blank so Scarlett was none the wiser regarding his whereabouts. She supposed that she would just have to wait until their trip to Cornwall unless her mother spoke to his mother beforehand. Eme and Scarlett idled their time away in pleasant pursuits all the while procrastinating the moment when they must start job seeking in earnest.
‘We must set ourselves a deadline’ Eme suggested sensibly, at the end of one such afternoon of indolence.
‘I agree, we should. How about after William’s been? He returns to London on Monday.’
‘OK deal’ Eme nodded, glad to have got to grips with the issue that had been nagging at her mind, ‘I’ll bring Dad’s copy of the Guardian round and we’ll have a search on the Internet too.’ Scarlett’s aspirations were unclear unlike her friend Eme who had set her heart on the publishing industry.
‘You could try for a job at Oxford University Press’ Scarlett had suggested hopefully, she was loath to lose her best friend’s constant company.
‘Well if I have to’ Eme allowed, ‘but I’d really like to be with Hodder and Stoughton or HarperCollins, or Pan Books, or maybe Virago’ her face looked dreamy as she listed her idols of the publishing world; and, as you well know Carle, I HAVE to leave Oxford.’ Scarlett nodded in empathy. She understood her friend’s predicament and respected her reluctance to voice her reasons.
Scarlett had realised long ago that her friend’s mother was an impossible woman and that Eme and Jade’s younger sisters were all products of that parent’s vanity and stupidity. Not that she entirely excused Eme’s father either, he was an intelligent man who could have much more of an influence to the good if he chose to exert himself.
The friend’s conversation was curtailed by William’s arrival. Scarlett’s oldest brother had completed his Internship at Kings College Hospital and he too would be seeking a new posting. Eme hung back a little to allow Scarlett to be first to greet her older, by three years, brother. Eme added her welcome, she had known William since she was a toddler so his greeting for her was hardly less affectionate than for his sister.
William was tall and well built, his face unconventionally handsome under a shock of blonde curly hair. The round spectacles he sported added a studious demeanor to his otherwise rather cherubic looks. Eme appraised him carefully under her lashes. She knew that Scarlett cherished a dream of having Eme as her sister-in-law. Could she ever feel that way for William? Eme examined her feelings momentarily and discovered nothing but sisterly affection.
‘Would you like to stay and eat with us Eme?’ Mrs Lucas asked, possibly inspired by the same wishes as her daughter.
‘That would be nice thanks. Are you sure though?’
‘Yes of course, you’re as family to us’ Claire apprehended the slight awkwardness, ‘give your mother a call and ask her if its OK that you won’t be home for dinner.’
‘Thanks, I’ll call her in case she might worry’ Eme responded neutrally. Any expectation that her mother would notice her absence not being likely, or that there would be a family dinner. The Benton family all fended for themselves in a haphazard way and usually ate in front of the TV. A family meal was one of the things that Eme loved about being with Scarlett’s family.
‘I have news’ William announced part way through a delicious dinner (specially prepared for the homecoming), ‘I have a new position at Plymouth General’ William smiled around the table, ‘Cardiology’ he added to his father, who nodded and smiled in profound satisfaction.
‘Plymouth’s a long way away’ Claire expressed dubiously, ‘nearer to Cornwall though I suppose’ she had hoped for a Registrar position at the Radcliffe although Joe had scotched that idea saying that it might be considered to be nepotism.
‘You’ll be able to call in to see me every trip you make to Rock’ William reassured his mother, ‘and of course I’ll be visiting home when I’m able.’
‘When do you start?’ Joe asked.
‘Middle of August’
‘You could come down to Cornwall for a bit’ Scarlett suggested happily,
‘Yeah I thought I may do that’ William responded, ‘I have to go back to town and sort out a few things then I thought I’d bring everything home if you don’t mind Mum?’ Claire declared not, delighted with the prospect of another visit.
‘You could travel down to Rock with us’ she enthused, ‘except that we may not have room in the car…’ she glanced across at Scarlett, not sure if her daughter had outlined her plan to Eme.
‘I won’t need to’ William calmed, ‘I have to buy a car anyway. Here will be easier than Plymouth, more choice.’
‘Oh what are you going to get?’ Scarlett asked excitedly. She had plans to learn to drive and fostered a desire for a Mini Cooper. The conversation switched to favoured modes of transport with Eme declaring allegiance to public transport (her student debt would not allow anything other), with which William agreed depending on where you were living, with Scarlett pitching very much in favour of a car of her own.
Eme left the cosy camaraderie of Lucas Lodge to walk the few steps home hoping vainly for peace on the western front. Jade would be home tomorrow hooray!

A Universal Truth

First 2 Chapters for NaNoWriMo only another 48,000 words to go….

A Universal Truth
by
Sarah Bevan Fischer

Chapter 1
Lewis Benton ground his teeth in anticipation. He winced and a pained expression crossed his features as a door slammed loudly across the hallway.
‘It’s not fair’ screeched his fourth daughter, ‘Lara always gets EVERYTHING that she wants.’ Footsteps thundered through the hall past his study door and receded into the distance of the first floor. Lewis waited, his face set, for the inevitable slam of a bedroom door followed by a blast of ‘music’ more suited to splitting eardrums than soothing the soul (a function that he had used to associate incontrovertibly with music).
Lewis glanced at his watch and seeing that the hour was gone six contemplated departing his breached sanctum in favour of a pint at the Bird and Baby. His mind was made up by the sound of more door crashing and strident voices as his youngest embarked on a slanging match with his middle daughter. The pub it was. Lewis stowed a leather bound volume of Voltaire in the pocket of his threadbare tweed jacket and slid into the garment as though donning a second skin. Despite the middle June date the weather was typically inclement for the time of year.
Tension fell from his shoulders as he walked briskly down the Woodstock Road towards his destination. Since the students had gone down for the summer his excuses for being out of the house all of the day and much of the evening had worn thin. She who must be obeyed, otherwise known as his wife, Amanda, had ideas on how his time should be spent other than in his normal consolation, total immersion in literature. Lewis bent his mind to more pleasant family matters as he strode purposefully into Blackfriars and crossed the road to the sanctuary of the, more correctly named, Eagle and Child.
Lewis ordered his pint and chatted politely with the bartender for a moment. He made his way from the bar to the small lounge where he preferred to sit. He sipped his pint and allowed his mind to look forward to the return of his second daughter. Eme would be returning home for University for the summer holiday sometime tomorrow. At least he would be able to enjoy the company of one rational creature in his otherwise dysfunctional home.
Chapter 2
Eme took one last look around her student accommodation for signs of orphan belongings and dispassionately closed her suitcase. The array of carrier bags, a rucksack and the aforementioned suitcase contained the extent of her possessions. She breathed a sigh of relief both for finishing the job of packing and that she would not be returning to this dark, sad room ever again. Next year Eme planned to be housed in much more glamorous surroundings, her ambitions were all for a job in publishing.
Eme smiled at the happy thought and tapped a message on her mobile to let Scarlett know that she was ready.
‘Gr8 we r outside’ binged back into her inbox. Eme began to ferry her stuff downstairs to be greeted by Scarlett’s father and Scarlett both offering their assistance. Mr Lucas insisted on carrying her suitcase and the girls shared the carrier bags between them.
‘What have you got in this case Eme? Bricks?’ Joe Lucas hazarded jokingly. Eme, full name Emerald, (her father had not been able to dissuade her mother) had known Scarlett and the rest of the Lucas family all of her twenty-one year old life. Eme and Scarlett had been born a day apart. The girls’ mothers, although not great friends, had attended pre-natal and anti-natal classes together. The families lived close by on adjacent tree lined avenues in the northern part of the city of Oxford, famed for its University. The babies had attended the same nursery, and then moved through primary school and high school in the same classes. They had been and remained bosom pals.
Even though the two girls had spent the previous day together the car journey home to Oxford was scene of a lively discourse between the two interspersed with comments and enquiries back and forth about their respective families. Claire Lucas, Scarlett’s mother, up-dated Carle and Eme, first with an account of the Lucas family happenings.
‘William will be home on Friday. I expect we’ll hear all his news at the weekend.’ William had followed in his father’s footsteps by choosing a career in medicine. ‘Henry has a holiday job at Top Man, and as Lily works at Top Shop, he seems to spend most of his day chatting to her and sees customers as a shocking inconvenience’ Claire glanced over her shoulder to share a wry smile with her audience.
‘Is Henry still in love with Lily then?’ Scarlett sounded amazed,
‘Lord no! There must have been a dozen since that phase, BUT they are as inseparable as ever…’
‘They’re like us’ Scarlett declared with a grin at Eme, ‘been friends since nursery…’
‘What about Sandy?’ Eme chipped in. She was fond of Alexander, the youngest of Scarlett’s brothers.
‘He did really well in his final year in junior school. He won a prize for Art and Creative Writing’ Claire spoke proudly of her son’s achievement. Alexander struggled at school as a consequence of mild dyslexia he was certainly entirely unlike his academic siblings. ‘He can’t wait to see you both. We had a tough time persuading him to go to school this morning he had determined on coming with us to collect you’ she smiled a little wistfully, her youngest child was a constant source of worry for her despite his engaging personality and happy disposition.
‘Joe bumped into your father, didn’t you darling’ Claire requested veracity from her taciturn husband, who surprised her by taking up the refrain,
‘Yes’ he corroborated, ‘he was on his way home from the Bird’ Joe chuckled at the recollection of his conversation, ‘he was keeping out of your mother’s way. Been looking forward to seeing you of course and happy that Jade will be home again at least for a wee while…’
‘I know’ Eme colluded, ‘poor Dad; he told me that Lara and Kylie are driving him up the wall with their antics. Lara is desperate to be a celebrity…’ Eme rolled her eyes up as she explained her fifteen year old sister’s motivations for fame and fortune, ‘she thinks if she goes to London she will immediately be ‘Spotted’. Quite what for I’m not sure’ Eme added wryly. Her youngest sister was a constant source of mild annoyance, in Eme’s opinion recklessly encouraged by her doting mother, but she wasn’t about to share that openly however close her friendship with the Lucas family.
‘It will be nice for your father to have you and Jade home for a while’ Claire smiled and refrained from adding anything censorial about the rest of Eme’s family. Joe and Claire Lucas had often wondered what ever the brilliant Lewis Benton had seen in his silly wife, Amanda.
‘Yes it will be nice’ Eme echoed, ‘I can’t wait to see Jade and hear all her news from London. I’m going to get a job there myself, I’m a little surprised that she wants to come home to finish her training at the Radcliffe.’ Eme was only surprised to the extent of her own ambitions being quite different, she knew that her older sister preferred the relative backwater that was Oxford compared to the big city life.
‘I like Oxford’ Scarlett defended stoutly; she was not keen on losing her best friend to a career in London. Her preference was as Jade’s for a smaller city. ‘Oxford has everything anyone could possibly want, and all within walking distance.’ Claire and Joe exchanged a small smile of relief. For now at least they were not about to lose their only daughter. Having her away for three years at University had seemed enough of a wrench.
‘When are we going down to Rock?’ Scarlett asked. She had spent every summer that she could remember at the family holiday cottage down in Cornwall. The place was as dear to her as their home in Oxford.
‘Not until the beginning of August, your father has to attend a medical conference in Amsterdam’ Claire informed her daughter with a proud smile, ‘your father is a special guest speaker. I’m going with him for the weekend, I’ve never been to Holland.’
‘That sounds like fun’ Scarlett answered, ‘congratulations Dad.’ Her father was a renowned heart surgeon consequently the news hardly fazed her. More important by far for Scarlett was if her parents had heard from their friends the Brooks family with whom they often socialised at their place in Cornwall. Scarlett was very keen on their son Ashley. ‘Did you hear from the Brooks? I wondered if we would see them all this year?’ Scarlett questioned nonchalantly.
‘I haven’t heard. I must give Amy a call. I expect we will overlap time with them anyway, they’re usually down for a month or so, although I’m not sure if Ashley will be with them he’s working away from home now I think…’ Claire had long guessed at her daughter’s crush on the older boy. He was a pleasant lad to be sure but Scarlett was too young yet to form an attachment. Though the Brooks were a very respectable family. Claire smiled wryly to herself Good Lord I sound just like my mother…Eme’s eyes met Scarlett’s in a look of commiseration and she mouthed ‘Facebook’, they were bound to be able to find out something about Ashley’s current situation. Eme hoped that he was single as she knew that her friend would be gutted if she discovered that he had a girlfriend. The same thoughts ran through Scarlett’s mind as she mouthed ‘thanks babe’ in return. Why didn’t I think of that? Scarlett upbraided herself, but Eme had always been more techie than she. Scarlett’s choice to read History of Art spoke for itself in some ways.
Conversation changed to home as they approached Oxford. Both girls looked out for familiar landmarks and commented on changes since their last visit. Not many as they approached the suburb of Summertown made up of Victorian redbrick houses, the larger ones set well back from the tree lined avenues on which they stood. Joe Lucas stretched gratefully in his seat and eased the tension from his shoulders as he pulled up outside Eme’s home.
‘Here we are. Home safe and sound’ he smiled at Eme fondly, ‘I expect we’ll be seeing you tomorrow if not before.’
‘Yep I expect so’ Eme agreed with a grin. She hopped out of the car and ran around to help extract her bags from the car boot.
‘Got everything?’ Joe enquired as he regained the driver seat for the short drive to Lucas Lodge. He waved a hand to Eme and to Lewis as he emerged through the front door to greet his daughter. Scarlett hung out of the window waving her farewell as the care disappeared around the corner.
‘Hi Dad’
‘Hello darling’ Lewis Benton held his arms wide to greet his daughter. His eyes looked suspiciously moist as he hugged and kissed his second child.