Caught on Film – Part 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 19th May

12.30 am BST

London

 

"So what is that making you smile so much darling?" John asked as Shirley sat in the car and checked her messages.

"An experimental drone that might be useful in search and rescue operations that we funded the research into. The scientist who has made it has texted me to expect her and a prototype in London by the weekend."

"Where is she coming in from?"

"Perth, Australia."

"That's a long trip," John smiled. "I'm just glad it's a short drive back to Chelsea."

"So am I," Shirley snuggled up close and kissed her lover.

 

“Tired,” John said as he saw Maisha yawn.

 

“I am,” she said with a smile, “but thank you both for allowing me to come tonight.”

 

“Well, education has to be in all areas,” Shirley said with a smile.

 

Wednesday 18th May

8.30 pm

The Huntingdown Apartment

 

"Thanks for letting me know Shirley." Juliette typed the letters into her device and pressed send. "Well at least that is good news," she whispered to herself.

"What's good news?" Jan asked.

"Oh just something that Shirley has had developed." Juliette looked to make sure that neither Eleanor nor Grace looked suspicious.  “Part of what we all need to talk about tomorrow.”

 

“Well, this is a gathering,” Sigi said as she came in, “Hello again Grace – and this is?”

 

“Eleanor, allow me to introduce Baroness Sigrid van Mannschen, and her husband Dieter, and the Baron and Baroness von Buchenwald.”

 

“Or, in simpler terms, Klaus’ family,” Sigi said with a smile, “and you are?”

 

“Eleanor Ball – an honour to meet you all?”

 

“Are you related to Adam?”

 

“His mother – Jan, I think we need to head back now.  Can I call on you tomorrow Juliette?”

 

“Let’s do lunch – I know a great hot dog stand.”

 

“See you all,” Jan said as she collected her coat and followed Eleanor out.  “I’ll talk to the others,” Grace said as she followed them, Juliette smiling as she said “finally, I can relax for a few minutes.  Drinks?”

 

Thursday 19th May

11 am

The New Calabria

 

“Would you like a drink Tammy?” Annie asked as she looked at her daughter, sitting in her high chair.

 

“Yes mamma,” the young girl said, Annie smiling as she put some juice into a bottle and handed it to her.

 

“There you go,” Annie said with a smile as the door opened, and she looked over.  The woman was a stranger to her – tall, middle aged judging by the slight grey hairs mixed with her blonde hair, wearing a tailored grey suit and white camisole top, black heels.  She was certainly not the usual clientele, as she smiled and walked over.

 

"Good morning.  Is the owner here?" Juliette asked Annie as she served behind the bar.

 

"He's out der back, whose shall I say is callin?"

 

"Oh sorry...I'm Juliette Huntingdown, I write for Complete Style, we are thinking of maybe using this bar as the location for a photo shoot. Here's my card," Juliette reached into her Jameson and handed it over.

 

"Ah'll ask him if he's free."  Annie smiled as she headed to the back of the bar, Juliette looking round and smiling as she saw the pictures of the girls on the wall.

 

As she turned she saw Tommy coming through with Annie, the card in his fingers shaking slightly as he said “Miss Huntingdown – Annie here tells me you wanna do some photos here?”

 

“Indeed – my daughter and her friends have visited here at Christmas a couple of times, and she said it had the sort of atmosphere we need for a shoot on street style.   I wonder if we could discuss how that might work – in private?”

 

“Whaddya tink, Annie?”

 

“Well, anytink that gets customers in is good in my book?”

 

“Okay – step into de office Miss,” Tommy said as he stood to one side.

 

“Everyting all right Tommy,” Annie whispered.

 

“Yeah – yeah, its cool.  Bring a couple of coffees through will you?”

 

“Momma?”

 

“I’ll get Kasey to bring dem through,” Annie said as Tommy came into the office, and closed the door.  Juliette turned and looked at him, scratching at the inside of her arm, before she said “so, which of us is going to crack first?”

 

“I aint sure,” Tommy said as he played with his gnarled finger, feeling the old pain again, "I never expected to see you here as yourself...and what should I call youse?"

 

"Call me Juliette Tommy, and I know this is weird, but I'm here as the real me, not as the bad lady you know from behind the mask." Juliette smiled, "by the way you never did say how you worked it out?"

 

“Who youse was?”  Tommy smiled as he said “let me start wid ma niece.  Her wig slipped dat day she saved Annie – and der aint dat many tall girls like my niece have hair like dat in dis city.”

 

“I can understand that,” Juliette said as he indicated a chair, and they sat either side of the desk.  A red haired girl brought in two cups of coffee, and then left, closing the door behind herself.

 

“Anyways, it was more a case of putting pieces togedder,” Tommy said, “especially after dat slave girl business.  I saw pictures of you, started thinking – and then dat business in Canada.  When I read about it, I read of the show being stopped, and your name.

 

“But honestly?  Da clincher was dat reporter.  When I saw him looking at photos of you, I realized and - pop.”

 

Nodding, Juliette said “you only saw the photos of me.”

 

“Yeah – and dat’s da truth.  Apart from my niece, I know nuttin, and I wanna keep knowing nuttin, if ya catch my drift?”

 

“Well, thank you again,” Juliette said as she sipped her coffee.

 

"I read youse got married not so long ago? Does he know?"

 

"No...as you can probably guess its a fairly closed secret."

 

"I can sorta understand why," Tommy smiled.

 

“Does Annie know?”

 

“Of all my business?  Oh yeah – I only keep one or two secrets from her, and youse ladies is one of dem.”

 

“You truly are one of life’s gentlemen Tommy,” Juliette said with a smile.

 

“Can I asks a question?”  As Juliette nodded, Tommy played with his finger, and then said "I always wanted to know why a lady...an' i mean youse is a real lady...does what youse do?"

 

"It's long and complicated Tommy...”  Juliette sighed before she replied “just say I had a reason or two, and so did the others."

 

"Wanna share?"

 

"Well there was once a young model on the rebound from being jilted who got raped by Vince Maroni in Los Angeles..."

 

"He did fuckin' what?" Tommy felt his temper boil. "No wonder youse guys did that to him."

 

"And then there was what was supposed to be a one off robbery, that turned wrong when my friend got revenge via a sawnoff shotgun," Juliette nervously played with her rings.

 

“Yeah – often happens dat way.  One ting leads to anudder…”

 

“More than that, really not my place to talk about,” Juliette said quietly.  “On any of them.”

 

"So yerse daughter?"

 

"I thought for years she was Maroni's...well the rapists...I found out it was him via his blood, but then it turned out to be wrong anyway, and she is really my husband’s daughter."

 

"One night before he jilted youse?"

 

"Yes, the one and only time we did..." Juliette again heard her voice trail off.

 

“Hey Juliette,” Tommy said as he leaned forward, “if we spend our lifes lookin back, we miss whats coming.  Hey wad is it in de Post today…”  Tommy lifted up the paper and read out “The past is like using der rear view mirror in yerse car.  It’s good at glance back an see how far youse come, but if youse stare too long youe’ll miss whats right in front of youse.”

 

“Tommy Morgan, you are right,” Juliette said with a smile. 

 

“Just sumtimes…”

 

"Did you read in the papers that my daughter’s partner had twins Tommy?"

 

"Yeah I did, congrats to yerse family."

 

"Well at least these two we know are safe..."

 

"Safe?”  Tommy put his cup down, and looked over the table.  “Now youse better explain Juliette."

 

"Carina has a problem shall we say...two personalities exist in her one body."

 

Looking at her, eyes wide open, Tommy said "Are you sayin' she's schizzo?"

 

"A bit more than that Tommy...her alternate personality is an insane, homicidal, psychopath."

 

"Oh God, yerse aint sayin' she's?"

 

"Don't say the name Tommy, but yes she is." Judith paused, "for some reason the condition seems to be hereditary in the female part of my husband’s family. Not every woman gets it, but at puberty they get these urges..."

 

"Yeah I've heard what her urges is like."  Tommy shivered as he remembered what had happened to Maroni.

 

"Well my oldest granddaughter shows no signs as of yet, but her mother and I have great reason to worry."

 

"Yeah at least as youse said with her girlfriend givin' birth youse aint gotta worry...Sheesh and I thought I had problems."

 

“We all do Tommy,” Juliette said sadly, “we all do.”

 

“So… Dis film…  You were dere last week, according to the Sundays.  I take it it’s not der whole truth?”

 

Juliette smiled and shook her head.  “It is a good film though – you will enjoy it when you see it.”

 

“Jus as long as I’m not in dere,” Tommy said as he rubbed his finger.

 

"By the way,” Juliette said, “I should apologize for that hand shouldn't I?"

 

Tommy shook his head as he said "Youse did waddya had to..."

 

"Still it’s not something I'm proud of..." Juliette let her voice trail away, "but then again I've done a lot of things I'm not over proud of in my life."

 

“Not my place da say anytink – I’m not pure as snow, after all,” Tommy said with a little smile.  “I’ve killed too – and den der was Morgenstern…”

 

“Yes – you came through there as well.  You know the trial starts a week Monday?”

 

“I do – look forward to seein him going down.”  Tommy smiled as he said “and den dere is…”

 

“Miss Lioness?”

 

Tommy nodded as he said “Commanding person – and I have my suspicions, but dat is one dame I will say nuffin about.”

 

"It's funny,” Juliette said as she finished her coffee, “sitting here like we are old acquaintances."

 

"Well Juliette I guess in a way we is."

 

"True."

 

“Anyway,” Tommy said as he looked at her, “is dis jus about a shoot, or…”

 

“Well, we are interested in doing a shoot,” Juliette said, and then she laughed.  “Sorry, I really am nervous about this…”

 

“Look at it dis way,” Tommy said quietly, “you aint here as Miss Panther, so dis is not Pussycat business.  But youse is here – so wat is dis about?”

 

“Tommy,” Juliette said, “another group I have – connections with recently took down the supply of a date rape drug in the city.”

 

“Yeah – heard about dat,” Tommy said as Juliette nodded. 

 

“These contacts have identified the main supplier in the city as one Roberto Romanov.”

 

Tommy sat back and thought for a moment.  “I’ve heard of the perv – not someone I do business wid.”

 

“Because of his line of work?”

 

“Dat and his taste in companions,” Tommy said.  “So dese friends of yers – dey have plans?”

 

“They have plans,” Juliette said, “and they will execute them in the next few days.  But they would appreciate – assistance.”

 

“Of de physical type?”

 

“Perhaps – but for now, information. How quickly can you get me the word on the street?”

 

Smiling, Tommy said “Youse can have it later on de special network.  Let me know when it happens – I’ll throw a party.”

 

“My thanks Tommy,” Juliette said as she stood up and nodded as she said, “Tammy is growing up fast as well.”

 

“She is – and she’s loved by bode of us,” Tommy said with a smile.  “Stay safe, M’am.”

 

“You too Tommy,” Juliette said as he opened the door.  “Sure we’ll helps youse out Miss Huntingdown – call us when you have more details.”

 

“Thank you Mister Morgan,” Juliette said as she walked out, waving at Tammy as the little girl waved back.

 

“Business done?”

  

“Yeah – business all done Annie,” Tommy said with a smile.

 

As she took her cell phone out, Juliette dialled a contact and waited.

 

"Alexis it's Juliette...Any messages?"

"None that can't wait till after lunch Juliette," she heard her assistant say.

"Good, well my meeting with the owner of the New Calabria went well, tell Mary he's given us the okay to shoot there, so if she wants to contact him directly."

"I'll tell her."

"And while you are there Alexis, get Mary to send Mrs Morgan - the proprietor’s wife - a Jameson bag from our stock please."

"A thank you gift?"

"Exactly." Juliette smiled at an old memory that came into her head of Annie's brief time as a faux Pussycat.

 

“Done and done.  When can we expect you in?”

 

“About two – I have a lunch meeting…”

 

12.30 pm

The Refectory, St Angela’s

 

"Abs,” Letty Kinman said as she sat down, “can I ask a question?”


"Sure Lets...fire away."

Looking round, she said "How high a heel are you wearing for the prom?"

"Well…  Because Tony is six foot six, I'm risking three inchers." Abigail smiled, "and I know it’s a problem for us both being over six feet tall, but I think you can risk it as well…  After all Jason's even taller than Tony."


"So you suggest three inch heels?"

"Yes, and if you don't have anything you like come over tonight and raid my shoe closet."

"Okay," Letty looked relieved, "I'll come home with you after school."

"So,” Abby said as she took a drink, “any last minute hitches in the arrangements?"

"No...all the trophies are already there, the band comes highly recommended, the chaperones are all great...No I think we will be good to go."

"Do you know the results of some of the awards?"

"A few...”  Letty put her wrap down and said “why?"

"As I told you a while back.” Abby said quietly, “I'm not sure I want to be Prom Queen...there are other girls who deserve it more."

"Well that vote I don't know...so stop worrying till it’s announced."

 

Abby shrugged her shoulders as she said “okay then – here we go…”

 

 

 

 

"So who is going to the lower classes disco?" Poppy asked.

"Most of the gang I think." Nikki mumbled as she looked dubiously at the ravioli.

"Other than me," Jeannie looked up from her food, "and this ravioli is actually great."

"Why can't you go Jeans?" Poppy asked.

"Because I'll be on a damn flight to Los Angeles. I have two shoots, two chat shows, and some commercials to do, then back first thing Monday morning."

"Oh no relaxing swim for you on Saturday," Nikki poked the ravioli with her fork. "Are you sure this is okay?'

"Tastes great to me."

"Are you coming Jess?" Pepsi asked.

"Yes,” the young Spanish girl said, “my cousin Diego is in New York and I'm bringing him to meet you all."


"Sounds great...and here goes nothing," Nikki put some of the food in her mouth, and chewed slowly.

 

 

 

"Grace dear," Wilhelmina sat down at the dining table, "I just got your final list of chaperones for the prom...  I wonder if you made a mistake typing it out."

"I did?"

"Yes...somehow you included Allyson Rochermann."

"Oh," Grace smiled, "no that's not a mistake Wilhelmina… I recruited her deliberately."

"But why....chaperones are there to help avoid trouble..."

"And who better, from what I hear, than Allyson to know all the potential trouble spots?"

"She has a point," Kate Hardisty looked up from her ravioli.

"Still," Wilhelmina looked slightly pained..."Allyson?"

 

“Jo is on the list as well Wilhelmina – stop worrying.  I hear she has changed a lot in the last year…”

 

 

 

"So Doc, when does Chet arrive?" Pepsi asked as her friend sat down.

"About four in the afternoon,” Doc said as she unwrapped her sandwich, “I'm going to drive out to Newark to meet him off the plane."

"Then next weekend you do it in reverse."

"Yep I fly to Chicago for his Fifth Form prom."

"You all fly so much," Erica smiled.

"Changing the subject, are you coming with Simon?" Ama asked. "And I agree with Niks, this ravioli is not great."

 

“I am, who are you bringing Poppy?”

 

“Not telling – yet…”

 

1 pm

Central Park

 

 

“Well, this is certainly one of the more pleasant places I have met for lunch,” Eleanor said as she walked towards Juliette.

 

“Well, I like to treat my friends,” Juliette said with a smile, “two of the usuals, with the works.”

 

“Got it,” the vendor said as Eleanor looked round.

 

“So how has your day been,” Eleanor said with a smile.

 

"Eleanor,” Juliette said as she took a hot dog, “I've had one very awkward meeting already this morning on this..."

"With whom might I ask?"

"Shall we say a reasonably prominent member of the underworld who has worked with the sisters before..."

"Thank you," Eleanor took her hot dog, and the two women walked over to the side table.  “So, what did this reasonably important man have to say?”


"Like a lot of people in the milieu he's not over fond of rapists of any kind."

Eleanor took a bite and raised an eyebrow.  "Not bad, not bad at all.  And will he help?"

"Yeah he said he and friends of his will co-operate if needed."

"Juliette," Eleanor stared at the blonde intently, "I think I badly underestimated you when we first met, and that's not a mistake I customarily make."

"Oh? How?"

"I had you as a straight arrow professional woman... a journalist... a businesswoman... proud mother... married to an incredible aristocrat..."

"Well, all those are true," Juliette smiled as she looked across the table.

"Yes...but I think they are in part a facade that hides a very different Juliette underneath."

"How so?" Juliette bit into her food.

"That I'm not fully sure of yet...but I'll work it out one day. I'm still digesting that you are a sister, and that so is Janice, and that you know each other is."

Juliette smiled again.

"Given how compartmentalized membership information is, that means you've worked together."

"I'll admit to that Eleanor."

"I thought you might have to...especially as Jan reached out to you to help get Romanov." Eleanor licked her fingers, "why you?  That's what has me asking questions."

"Well questions can wait till after that scum has got his reward."

 

“Fair enough – I’ll file that alongside the enigma that is Anna Carlton,” Eleanor said with a smile.  “For now, we need to deal with this problem.”

 

Juliette smiled as she said “I never found out what you and your friend Veronica thought of the film last Friday.”

 

“Frightening and fascinating in equal proportions,” Eleanor said quietly.  “I could understand what motivated them – there but for the grace of God?”

 

“I agree,” Juliette said with a smile

 

5 pm

The de Ros Mansion

 

"What do you think of these on me Abby?" Letty showed off the silver sandals with the three and a half inch heel. "Normally I'd never even attempt anything this high."

"They are great...”  Abby sat cross legged on the bed, smiling as she said “and yeah I know just what you mean."

"You've seen my dress, will these work with it?"

"Definitely."

"So what are you wearing?"

"These," Abigail got off the bed, walked to the wardrobe and carefully lifted a pair of Louboutin pumps out of their box.

"Wow, those are amazing shoes...How much did they cost you?"

"Nothing, one of the perks of being a top girl," Abby looked at the trademark red lacquered soles of the shoes, "Christian gave me a dozen pairs last time I was in Paris."

"I'd kill to even own one pair," Letty shook her head.

 

“Here – have these,” Abby said as she handed a box to Letty.  “For those job interviews.”

 

“Abby, I can’t…”

 

“Yes you can – wow them in Philly with them.”

 

“So – I wanted to thank you for organising the party after next Saturday, and letting me and Mom be part of it as well.”

 

“Well you are my best friend in the year,” Abby said, “and we have many friends in common.  It just made sense.”

 

“Well – thanks anyway,” Letty said with a grin.

 

 

5.30 pm

The Brewster Brownstone

 

"You know it will be sad not seeing Abigail graduate Mum," Jeannie said as she wrote on the reply to the note inviting her to her friends grad party.


"It will,” Barbara said as she stood at the stove, “but you wanted Sports Illustrated, and that long weekend is the only time they can shoot you in Rio."

"I know...still..."


"I'm sure she understands darling...she's a model too."

"Yeah," Jeannie nodded her head, "and I know Granddad is looking forward to his brief holiday down there."

"Yes he is," Barbara smiled.  “He’s even bought a new jacket and hat for the trip.”

"And when I get home I get to go back home...well sort of."

"I know what you mean.  It will certainly be strange for all of us going back there."

"I’m just glad the hospital gave you the long break to chaperone the trip with Palomino."

"I think my supervisor sees a little reflected glory having your mum working under her...but yeah it was incredibly generous...I basically get the whole summer with you."

"Well before all that… Bloody LA," Jeannie growled.  “And House is here!”

 

“Only for that weekend, and then the long summer…”

 

 

7 pm

Mount Pleasant

 

“So this is where the party’s really happening,” Ally said as she and Nell appeared in the door of Annie’s room.

 

“Hello you two,” Helen said as she looked over from where she was checking on Mags, “I heard you were back in town.  How was year one in Harvard?”

 

“Tough – but solid B+ for both of us,” Nell said as she looked over.  “So these are the two new stars of the social scene?”

 

“They are indeed,” Annie said, “Rudi, Mags, meet Aunt Ally and Aunt Nell – who will be the most pleasant and non-controversial of aunts, right?”

 

“Who us?  Create a scene?  I am wounded, Miss Kelly, Wounded I tell you!”

 

“No you’re not – welcome back you two,” Cari said as she came in.  “So what brings you here?”

 

“To see these two of course,” Ally said, “and to ask if Grace had talked to you.”

 

“Me?  What would Grace want to talk to me about?”

 

“My darling twin sister,” Nell said, “has been asked to chaperone at the Seniors Prom tomorrow night.”

 

Carina and Annie looked at Ally, and then burst out laughing.

 

“What’s so funny,” Ally said as she crossed her arms and looked at both of them.  “Don’t you think I would be a good chaperone?”

 

“I can see the logic,” Carina said as she shook her head, “I’m just imagining what the Tennant will have said when she saw your name…”

 

“I am informed she took it in good grace,” Ally said as she held her head high, “and I shall uphold the honour of the ladies.”

 

“Yes you will,” Helen said as she signed the forms, “or your mother will not do what she said she would do this summer?”

 

“And that is?”

 

“Cannes,” Nell said, “after the party in Rosville.”

 

“Very nice,” Annie said as Helen left the room.  “So what are you going to do tomorrow night Nell?”

 

“Going to your place all day tomorrow – a group of us are getting things ready for your discharge…”

 

Friday 20th May

12.30 pm

The Refectory, St Angela’s

 

“PAR-tay night,” Doc said as she sat at the table.

 

"At least they let us out of school early today," Nikki leafed through Complete Style, "do you know I'm still not sure what to wear tonight?"

"As long as it is since I've seen him, I have the perfect dress that Chet will want to get me out of." Doc laughed.

"So have you seen Abigail's dress for the prom Poppy?"

"Yeah,” Poppy said as she sat with Erica, “Mom went over and took some pictures for the magazine a couple of nights ago. She's going to look amazing."

"Well only two more years and it will be us discussing Prom," Becca smiled as she shook her head at a dress Nikki pointed to in the magazine, "not for a school disco."

"Three years for us," Jessica said as she sat down.

"Well don't wish it to pass by too quick girls, I'm already missing this place and I haven't even graduated yet." Liddy butted in to the conversation.

 

“So what do you do for the last week,” Erica asked.

 

“Sit around, talk to the faculty, say our goodbyes – and shop for that white dress for commencement.”

 

 

Grace looked up as Miss Tennant came into her office.

 

“Wilhelmina – what can I do for you,” she said as she put her fork down.

 

"So I know you've got the prom to deal with Grace,” the Principal said, “but do you have the list of the girls’ college acceptances for the Graduation Program?"

"Yup - It's here on my desk Wilhelmina," Grace said as she shuffled a couple of papers and handed them over.

"Let me see," Miss Tennant looked at the long list. "Letitia Kinman, the University of Pennsylvania, you know even I'd forgotten that is her actual Christian name."

"I think most people have."

"Annabelle Petrie...Oh I see she opted for Brown over Harvard?"

"Yes,” Grace said with a smile, “she thinks their Lit major is stronger."

"She might be right...Hmmm a couple less for the Ivy League then we usually manage."

"Well Abigail for instance could have gone anywhere she chose..."

"And she chose Cooper Union." Wilhelmina nodded. "Anyway I'll get this to the printers...and I will see you tonight at the Prom?"

"Of course," Grace smiled.  “I am looking forward to it.”

 

 

 

"Does Abby know the secret?" Rachel Merriman whispered in Letty's ear as they stood in the line.

"No... and she's still protesting that someone else should be prom queen," she hissed back at her fellow head girl.

"Which is why she won't be," Rachel laughed.

"No we will crown Serena Appleton as Queen...THEN...we spring the surprise on Abby."

 

5 pm

Vanessa Richmond’s Apartment

 

“Father Richmond is on the telephone for you,” the maid said as Vanessa looked over.

 

“Thank you Mary,” Nessa said as she went and picked up the telephone.  “Alex?”

 

"Nessa,” she heard her brother say, “I thought I'd just ring to say I'm safely in Rome."

"And how is the Cardinal's hospitality Brother Dear."

"Pretty much as usual...he still serves the world’s worst port,” Alex chuckled. “But I did thank him for his role in feeing Francesca from her ties."

"Tell that old Irish reprobate that I said he did well there."

"Thank you Vanessa darlin'," she heard a voice shout in the background.

"So when do you travel to Naples?"

"Well Francesca and Charlotte fly in on the first flight tomorrow. The plan is I'll meet them at the airport and we will drive down together, let them freshen up at the Palazzo Sentova, and then we will go see the good father."

"Well keep me in touch with what happens Alex."

"I will Nessa.  Sleep well."

 

“You too,” Nessa said as she put the telephone down.

 

7 pm

The Huntingdown von Furstheim apartment

 

“Thank you Aunt Juliette,” Sands said as she made her way up to the guest bedroom, Sigi watching as she did so.

 

"So why is Sands staying the weekend with you Ju?"

"Because her Mom and the team are doing the Loudon 6 hour race tomorrow night and evening."

"Why's Jan not up there?"

"Because Antoinette asked if she could get a drive, and Jan stepped aside...it worked for the best anyway. She has certain commitments shall we say?"

"So she's not in New Hampshire...knowing Jan she'll be upset a bit at missing the race."

"Well I think this is also something she wants to get out of the way."

 

 

7 pm

The de Ros Mansion

 

“Good evening, Master Anthony,” Edith said as she opened the door, “if you will come in, Miss Abigail should be down shortly.”

 

“Thank you Edith,” Tony said as he came in, adjusting the cuffs of his shirt as he placed a white box on the phone table.

 

“You look magnifique, Tony – you will do her proud?”

 

“Why thank you, Willy,” he said with a smile as he saw Willy and Natasha standing in the doorway to the drawing room, Alain waving as he was held by his father.  He was wearing a classic black tuxedo with a stiff white shirt and black bow tie, his shoes highly polished and his trousers pressed.  “I felt it needed the right approach.”

 

“So when do you head home?”

 

“Next weekend – I will accompany Diana to her commencement, and then head home that night.  But it will only be a few weeks until her birthday.”

 

“Of course – we’re looking forward to it, aren’t we little one,” Natasha said as she tickled Alain’s chin.

 

“Hello Tony?”

 

“Oh wow,” Tony whispered as Abby slowly walked down the stairs, Diana following with pride.  Abby’s dress was electric blue, with elbow length sleeves and a skirt that was gathered at the waist, and then flowed down and to the sides as it reached the floor, her shoes just visible underneath.  The main bodice had a square neckline, and hugged her body as she walked.  She had on a pair of white elbow gloves, and a string of pearls were placed round her neck,

 

“Hello Tony,” she said with a smile as she came down, her blonde hair flowing over her shoulders, “How do I look?”

 

“Amazing,” Tony said as he kissed her, and then opened the box.  “I’m glad I knew the colour of the dress in advance – it meant April could do this for me.”

 

“It’s beautiful,” Abby said as Diana fixed it to her arm, and then placed a matching wrap over her shoulders.  “Enjoy yourself, Abigail.”

 

“I will – thank you mama,” Abby said as Tony opened the door, and escorted her to the waiting Daimler as her family watched from the doorway.  As the door was opened by the door, she smiled as she stepped in and said “hello Jason, Letty.”

 

Letty was wearing a silver strapless dress, the material hugging her body, with a spilt at the front of the skirt allowing her to walk, and a matching bolero jacket, her hair held up on her head. Jason was also wearing the black tuxedo, as Tony sat down and the door was closed.

 

“So – to the prom?”

 

“To the prom!”

 

 

 

7 pm

St Angela’s Gymnasium

 

“Wow – it does look very different,” Erica said as she and Simon walked into the hall, Erica in a black cocktail dress and Simon in a jacket, shirt and trousers.

 

“Doesn’t it just,” Simon said as he saw Jess coming in.  “Hey Erica,” she said as she walked over with a dark haired teenage boy.  “Let me introduce you to Diego. Diego, this is Erica Burton and Simon Lodge.”

 

“A pleasure,” he said as he kissed Erica’s hand, and shook Simon’s.  “So this is your school Jessica?  You say so much about it, and now I can see why.”

 

“Well, this is certainly looking good,” Dawn said as she came in with a young Chinese boy.  “This is Xan – he’s the son of one of our cooks.”

 

“And this is Henri,” Lynn said as she walked in with a dark haired French boy.

 

“Good evening,” he said as he kissed the hands of each of the girls.

 

“So who did Poppy ask?”

 

“That must be him,” Erica said as Poppy came in, wearing a green silk dress, and with a blonde haired boy on her arm.

 

"This is Jimmy," Poppy introduced her date to Jessica, Erica, Dawn and Lynn.

"Where have you been hiding him?" Lynn faux whispered.

"He goes to Episcopal High School, near Washington," Poppy continued.  “We met at the dancing classes I went to with Erica.”

 

“Hey Erica,” Jimmy said, “How is life in the south side?”

 

“Life’s good,” Erica said with a smile.

 

“Right – let’s get some drinks, a table and then get dancing!”

 

 

“Katy?  What brings you here?”

 

“Ask my friend,” Katy Carter said as Pepsi came over.  Both young women were wearing white sleeveless dresses, and stilettos.

 

"As an old engaged woman,” Pepsi said with a smile, “I couldn't bring a date..."

"So when in doubt she brought her sister." Katy smiled at Pepsi.

"Well don't say that too loud," Ama looked round, “Nick for one doesn't know the secret.”


 

"Is that Katy Carter?" Poppy overheard a boy saying..."the model."

"Yeah she doesn't go here yet, I don't know why she is here...but Hubba Hubba."

 

“Katy is here,” Erica said as she looked over, “why?”

 

“Must have been invited by one of the older girls – still, nice to see her here…”

 

 

 

"Great choice in the end Niks," Doc smiled as her friend walked over wearing a body hugging little black cocktail dress, her hair just in a simple pony tail.

"Well in the end thank Abigail, I rang her for advice and she said an LBD and doing my hair simply would look classy and sexy all at once."

"Well she was right," Doc smiled again. "And who is the hunk checking in your coats?"

"I wish I could say a real date," Nikki laughed, "but he's my cousin Richard...I couldn't think of anyone to ask, and in the end Mom got upset and said I couldn't come alone, so she rang St George's and she got him to fly down from Providence."


"Well I already saw a few girls inspecting him closely." Anna smiled as Chet brought over a tray of soft drinks.

 

“So far so good,” Sarah Nightingale said as she stood with Kate and Harriet.

 

“Oh there’s rarely any trouble here,” Kate said.  “Enjoy the evening…”

 

7.45 pm

The Astoria-Waldorf Hotel

 

“Oh wow,” Letty said as Jason walked her in, “they did an amazing job on this place?”

 

Once again the Prom committee had worked alongside the staff of the hotel to make sure the ballroom was perfect for the evening.  Brightly coloured garlands hung along the wall, and if you looked up amongst the glitter balls and lights nets holding multi coloured balloons.  On the stage at one end the band were playing, while the girls were milling round with their partners.

 

“Abby!”

 

“Hey Celia,” Abby said as he friend came over, “so this is your cousin?”

 

“It is – Donald, meet Abby de Ros and Letty Kinman.”

 

“Pleasure,” the dark haired boy said as he shook their hands, before Celia dragged him off.

 

“All right then,” Letty said as she looked at Jason, “want to dance?”

 

“Oh yes,” he said as he took Letty, and Tony took Abby, on to the dance floor.

 

 

 

Jo walked round the edge of the dance floor, wearing a red evening dress, and then smiled as she approached Ally in her blue evening dress.

 

"So Ally what does it feel like being on this side of the divide to you?" Jo asked her friend.

"Weird!  I know virtually all the girls personally...  I know a lot of their dates...  I've even...”  Ally looked at Jo, who had raised an eyebrow, and said “well we can drop that... but it's like we are now on the opposite side of a fence."


"I know. Strange isn't it?" Jo grinned.  "So did you read Grace's instructions?"

"Yeah," Ally nodded, “watch out for too much drink being brought in... watch out for drugs... make sure that any making out is discreet... and break up any fights that might happen..."

"BEFORE they start." Jo finished.

"By the way,” Ally said, “who is the stud Celia Zyborg is wearing on her arm? And who did her dress and makeup? She really looks good."

"The guy I don't know, but I believe the dress, etc, is a thank you from Abby, for getting those date rape boys nailed."

 

“Well, it works for her,” Ally said with a smile as the band started to play.

 

 

8 pm

St Angela’s

 

“FINALLY!”

 

"Hey Brother-in-Law to be," Pepsi smiled as she saw Billy Fitzstuart come in with Becca. "You could fly over...and Jack couldn't?"

"He has examinations...mine are finished, so the school let me have an exeat for this weekend.'

"So I get..."

"Don't rub it in Becca," Pepsi growled.

"And I was always taught it was boys who had the aggressive sex drives," Billy laughed out loud.

"It's a myth Bill," Chet shook the English boy’s hand.  “So how are things over the water?”

 

“Interesting – did you know this lot are coming over in a month for a couple of weeks?”

 

“It’s a working holiday,” Pepsi groaned as she looked at Nikki.  “Even for those of us who are not models.”

 

“Still, look on the bright side,” Chet said, “then France…”

 

“Mais oui,” Pepsi said, “mais oui…”

 

“Well, I just got a text from Jeannie – they’re in the air, and she’s trying to unwind,” Ama said.

 

“I’m not sure if I should be jealous of her or what…”

 

“Not yet – three words Nicola.”

 

“And they are,” Nikki said.

 

“Rio Next Weekend.”

 

“Okay – I am officially jealous,” Nikki said as the girls laughed.

 

"Now it's a girls only dance,” the deejay called out as the opening bars of Sister Sledge's 'We are Family' came over the speakers.

"Brilliant," Poppy grabbed her friends and dragged them onto the floor, her voice joining with nearly 250 more as they started to sing along as Angel danced with Angel.

 

“So how did your family take the news,” Chet asked Billy as they stood and watched.

 

“With remarkable calmness,” Billy said, “but what do I know?  I’m the baby of the family.  Still, no wedding for at least two years, so there is that…”

 

 

 

8.30 pm

The Waldorf-Astoria

 

"Boys I think the punch is alcoholic enough," Jo quietly whispered in a couple of young men’s ears just as they were preparing to put in the contents of a hip flask.   "Keep that for another time please?"

"Yes...hmmm Miss Smith," one of the boys looked shamefaced as they moved away from the tables.

“Thank you,” Jo said as she smiled and shook her head.

 

"You never saw her as a head girl Grace," Wilhelmina Tennant smiled, "but that is just why she was one of the best we've ever had."

"Quiet authority," Grace nodded..."Jo would make a fabulous teacher one day."

"You know I never thought of that...but I do know she will be a wonderful psychologist and counsellor one day."

 

“Oh I can see that as well – so pleased with how things are going so far?”

 

“I am – and even Allyson has surprised me,” she said as she looked at Ally talking to Abby.  “She has – shall we say, matured a lot this year?”

 

“Indeed – I suspect she will surprise you yet Wilhelmina.  Ah – looks like the head girls are preparing to do the formal meet and greet, before the photographer takes the snaps…”

 

The hotel had arranged for the photographer to use one of the anterooms to the ball room, the girls and their partners going into one door and out of the other.  It was by the first of those doors that three couples were making last minute preparations.

 

“Alright one last check girls?" Rachel looked everyone up and down as the three head girls and their dates took position by the doors to welcome the prom goers.

"I think we look pretty darn good," Annabelle said as she checked her makeup in a tiny mirror.

"Alright smiles on," Letty spoke.

"Guys we can't let these beautiful ladies down," Jason checked his tuxedo out in a mirror.

 

“Of course not, “Annabelle’s partner Donald said as he looked at Derek.  The six lined up as the band singer said “Ladies and partners, if you will make you way to the door over there, the head girls are ready to greet you and he photographer is waiting…”

 

 

9.15 pm

St Angela’s

 

Doc and Chet smiled as they looked at Ama dancing with Nick, and then kissing each other.

 

“For the boy who wasn’t a boyfriend, they do seem to be working things out,” Chet said as he sipped his drink. 

 

“They do indeed,” Doc said, “even though they haven’t.”

 

“They haven’t?”

 

“They haven’t, and I don’t think they will – and good for them.”

 

“You two talking about Ama and Nick,” Becca said as she came over. “They do make a nice couple, don’t they?”

 

“Very much so,” Pepsi said as the music stopped.

 

"Well that worked up a thirst," Ama laughed as she and the other girls came off the floor.

"Who wants drinks?" Nick asked.

"I should think all of us, come on Nick I'll help you get them." Ama headed towards the refreshment area, and Pepsi walked over to Katy.

 

"Well, other than having a handful of girls prepared to kill you because they caught their boyfriends looking at you, are you having a good time Sis?"

"I am," Katy sipped a Sprite through a straw, "and I'm not encouraging them Peps...cross my heart."

"And if I believe that I also believe there's a money tree growing in Washington Square."

"Honest,” Katy said as she looked at her sister, “I'm really behaving myself."

"Well stick to dancing with MY friends’ dates,” Pepsi said, “that should be safe."

"Hey…  Who am I to say no if a nice looking boy asks me to dance?"


"You say NO Katy," Sarah intervened as she did her chaperones round in the gym. "We do not need fights inadvertently being caused by you."

 

“Yes, Miss Nightingale,” Katy said as Pepsi started laughing.

 

“So far so good,” Harriet said as she came over.

 

“Yeah – no real problems…”

 

“Excuse me,” the DJ said, “I wonder if we have a Kate Hardisty in the room, Kate Hardisty…”

 

“Oh lord, what have they done this time,” Kate said as she walked towards the stage.

 

“Kate Hardisty, the Seniors of St Angela’s wanted to give you a thank you for the role you have played these last four years.”

 

As he spoke, Billy carried in a large bunch of flowers, which he handed over to Kate as the room clapped and cheered.

 

“Thank you,” Kate said with a smile, “but this is not the only award we have to give out tonight.  This year, the girls were asked to nominate their Teacher of the Year – and I have the great pleasure of presenting this award to a teacher who, in her first year here, has had a significant impact on the school and the girls.  Your Teacher of the Year, ladies of St Angela’s, is Sarah Nightingale.”

 

“WHHATTTTTTT?”  Sarah did an almost perfect double take as the girls started clapping, and Kate beckoned her forward.  As she came to the stage, the girls gathered round as Kate handed her a large gold trophy.  

 

“Oh my goodness,” Sarah finally said as she looked round, “this is…  This is truly a surprise.  I want to thank you for the privilege of teaching you, and for the way you have accepted me as a stranger into this community.  Thank you…  Thank you all…”

 

“Three cheers for Miss Nightingale,” Doc shouted out, Sarah blushing as she descended from the stage and walked to where Harriet was standing.  "Did you know that they had planned this Harriet?" Sarah shook her head as she came over.


"Well Grace was told...and she told me."

"The kids voted me Teacher of the Year," Sarah shook her head, "I can't have been tough enough on them...”

"No, your classes were plenty tough Sarah," Kate Hardisty smiled, "but you made English Lit come alive for these girls."

"To quote what one outgoing Sophomore told me...You made English Lit, the COOL subject." Harriet nodded.

"And of course the amazing season that the girls soccer team had didn't harm you..." Ingrid added.

"Well in a bit I'll ring my mum in England, and i can tell you she won't bloody believe it." Sarah shook her head again.

 

9.30 pm

The Waldorf Astoria

 

"So any problems Ally?" Grace asked as she walked over.

"Not really,” Ally said with a smile, “the odd joint being passed round outside, and of course the punch got spiked..."

"Jo is watching that it doesn't get stronger.'

"But on the whole,” Ally said, “everyone seems to just be intent on having a great time."

"I can see."

"Thanks for letting me do this Grace...I think maybe I need to be a little less the wild child."

"Well Wilhelmina was saying how Harvard had matured you."

"She did," Ally shook her head, "well if she's noticed it then it must be true."

"So when might trouble start?"

"Give it till after the presentations, that's when the booze and the atmosphere heat things up...or at least they did last year."

"Yeah it was usually late on that our school dances back in England might start to get out of hand."

"You know what I'm referring to then." Ally smiled.  “On which note…”

 

 

 

"Who is the rather exotic looking girl in the cheongsam Abby?" Jo asked.

 

"Sandra Kim, she transferred here from a school down in Washington this year, her father's in the Korean diplomatic service."

 

"Well I love that dress...she stands out in it.”

 

"Red dresses will do that."

 

"Her boyfriend and Penny Weng's don't seem to like each other very much."

 

"Are you sure?"

 

"Yeah I passed close to listen and I heard Penny's escort mumbling something about Shithead Koreans."

 

"If I remember don't Chinese and Koreans have old grudges?"

 

"They do," Jo nodded, "and that is what is beginning to worry me."

 

 

“All right ladies,” Annabelle said as she, Rachel and Letty took to the stage, “it’s that time – the Class of 2016 Awards!”

 

The ladies and their partners clapped and cheered as they gathered round the stage.

 

"Ladies...Gentlemen...Before we start tonight’s awards ceremonies, can I ask a favor of you. As the last class that had the privilege of knowing Jamie Kirkham personally, and just as the last two graduating classes have done so, will you please bow your heads and join me in a minute’s silent prayer in her memory." Annabelle spoke solemnly.


Instantly you could have heard a pin drop, for quiet other than the sound of a few subdued tears being shed filled the ballroom.

 

“Thank you,” Annabelle said, “and I am pleased to say a third Kirkham scholar will join Anna Carlton and Erica Crosby next year.”  The room applauded as the head girls clapped.

 

“And so – our first award this year is for Brain of the Year – and this year, it goes to an incredibly bright young woman who really does look amazing tonight.  Get up here, Celia Zyborg!”

 

The room cheered, Abby loudest of all as Celia came up to accept her reward.

 

“Next up,” Rachel said, “is Mouth of the Year – and we debated this long and very hard.  VERY hard.  But in the end, you, the class of 2016 spoke, and your choice is – ANNABELLE!”

 

Their fellow head girl looked shocked as she was handed the award, before she said “thank you everyone – but I share this with each and every one of you.  This next award I've personally had to keep hidden so that the recipient didn't see it..."

The girls out front laughed.

"When we canvassed advice only one name really came forward as the schools sportswoman of the year, and I think you all know who it is?"

"YES!" the girls shouted back.

"For her performances as captain of the track team, particularly in our retention of the Vanderbilt Cup, St Angela's Sportswoman of the Year, is Letty Kinman."

"BRILLIANT!" Jo stood to her feet and applauded, as Letty shyly took the trophy.

 

“Now then – we move on to the person most likely to be president, based on their activities during the year…”

 

As more awards were handed out, Ally whispered to Jo “have you seen how nervous Abby is getting?”

 

“Yeah,” Jo said quietly as she saw her old friend playing with her gloves, “I get the feeling she doesn’t want an award tonight.”

 

“So she doesn’t want to be Prom Queen?”

 

“Come on,” Jo said with a smile, “this is Abby we’re talking about here.”  She clapped as the award for Joker of the Year was handed out.  “She’s still amazed she got into Cooper Union, after all.”

 

“I suppose so,” Ally said, “but the closer we’re getting to that moment, the more nervous she is getting…”

 

 

 

“Come on, come on, get it over with,” Abby whispered to herself as the award for Best Dressed Girl went to Casey, “I don’t want to be called up…”

 

“Are you sure you’re all right,” Tony whispered into her ear.

 

“I haven’t felt this nervous since Vienna,” Abby whispered back, “I do not want to be the Prom Queen, but knowing this lot…”

 

 

 

“Now, before we name your prom queen,” Rachel said, “we wanted you to know that at the lower school disco, not only did we make sure Mrs Hardisty got a thank you from all of us, but we announced that Miss Nightingale had been named Teacher of the Year.

 

“And we want to say thank you to Miss Tennant and Mrs Brand as well – can we have the thank you bouquets please?”

 

Tony and Jason came forward with two large bouquets, which they presented to Grace and Wilhelmina before joining Letty and Abby.

 

“Here it comes,” Abby whispered, “please don’t let it be me…”

 

"What shall I say of our prom queen," Annabelle smiled, "that she has been a mainstay of the yearbook committee..."

"Oh crap, I told them I didn't want to be..." Abigail whispered to Tony, then paused as the head girl continued.

 

"She's been a hard worker supporting our sports teams as a trainer..."

 

"This is not right," Abby shook her head, "I've spent too much time outside school on my career to be queen."

"…and in particularly I don't think any of us will ever forget her performances as one of the leading lights of  the drama club, particularly her amazing Lady Macbeth this year..."

"Oh wonderful," Abby started to relax, smile, and cheer, "they've given it to Serena, now she does truly deserve it."

 

"So can I ask Serena Appleton and her escort Ian to come up so she can be crowned as our class of 2016 Prom Queen?"

 

The room cheered as the dark haired girl came up to the stage, Miss Tennant placing the tiara on her head as she smiled.   “Thank you, thank you all,” she said before she started crying.

 

As Serena walked down from the stage with her date, Letty said “before we start the party again, we have one more award we wish to make, a very special and unique one.

 

“We, the class of 2016, can still remember the day we walked through those gates, and the message that was passed on to all of us by the Head Girls that day – that we were Angels, and as such we would be there for each other, no matter what.  One of us, sadly, was the butt of some rather unfortunate jokes at first, and much to the shame of some of us, she became known as The Stick.”

 

“What’s going on,” Abby whispered as Tony stood with her.

 

“For my part, I was glad to see her, if for no other reason than I wasn’t the tallest girl in the class – but when Jamie Kirkham was so cruelly taken from us, and we all felt as if the heart had been ripped out of us, it was that girl and her friend who was there for us, who pulled us all together, and helped us all to cope with what happened.  That friend was Jo Smith, who I am so pleased to see here tonight, and all of us can still remember what The Stick said at Jamie’s funeral when she was asked to speak for all of us.”

 

Abby was still staring at the stage as Ally joined Wilhelmina and the other chaperones.

 

“Even then, she hated been at the centre of stage, in the limelight – which is ironic, given she is one of the most recognisable faces on the planet,” Letty continues, “but quietly, and without drawing attention to herself, she has been at the centre of the life of this school ever since.  She has been an amazing part of the support team for the Athletics squad, and of course along with Jeannie Brewster has been the bedrock of the Jamie Kirkham fund.

 

“She is, as I say, one of the most recognisable women in the world, but to me, and to all of you, she will always be the one who was there when help was needed.  In fact, she hates the limelight so much, that she had been saying to me, and Rachel, and Annabelle, and anyone who she could say this to, that she did not want to be Prom Queen tonight.  Well, she got her wish – but we, the Head Girls, felt that we should still award something to the girl who has been, in every single way, the heart of the Class of 2016, and of St Angela’s.  Abby, come up please.”

 

The girls turned and started clapping as Abby slowly made her way up to the stage with Tony, Annabelle and Rachel taking her by the arms as she walked to Letty.  “What’s going on,” she said as she came over.

 

“Tonight, we the Class of 2016 award to you, Abigail de Ros, the award of The Heart of the Class, and we ask you to accept this from all of us.”  She turned as Grace handed her a large golden heart on a stand, Abby smiling as she saw engraved on the plaque “Abby de Ros – the Heart of the Class, and always in our hearts.”

 

“I…”  Abby looked out at the cheering and clapping girls, Ally and Jo whistling as well, and then at Tony as he stood clapping beside her.  She waited for a moment for the noise to die down, before she said “I genuinely am lost for words – thank you, thank you all for this, and I swear, you will all be in my heart as we leave this place and go on to the next stage of our lives.  I will always treasure this, and all of you.”

 

As she started crying, Tony and Letty escorted her off, as Annabelle said “and now, class of 2016, we offer the immortal words of one Judy McNally – let’s ROCK!”

 

“Well done that girl,” Jo and Ally said as Abby walked slowly over to them.

 

“Oh my,” Abby said quietly as she looked again at the trophy, this…  This means so much more than being Prom Queen.  Sorry if you had money on the trifecta, you two?”

 

“Not a chance.”

 

Abby looked at Jo and said “you knew?”

 

“Oh yes – the head girls of last year met with this lot on Tuesday night, and they told us what they were planning.  I can’t think of a more deserved award than this.  Actually, they were thinking of getting you a gold stick, but…”

 

Abby looked at her friends, then burst out laughing as she said “Thanks – I needed that.  Anyway, let me put this somewhere safe, and then you and I, Mister McNally, are going to dance…”

 

 

10 pm

St Angela’s

 

"So are you doing a shoot tomorrow Poppy?" Dawn asked as they sat at a table.

"I am...another set of 'young miss' ads for Saks." Poppy smiled, "lots of jeans and tops Missy told me."

"That always sounds so glamorous," Jimmy put his arm round the young model.

"Well it isn't," Lynn laughed, "I thought it would be too, but then I went to one of her shoots...  It's damn hard work."

"And I'm sure Katy will back me up...modelling is a damn real occupation isn't it Katy?" Poppy shouted as Nick and Katy started dancing in front of them.

"Tell me about it," Katy rolled her eyes, "this weekend is a bastard.  A shoot tomorrow and another Sunday…"

 

 

 

"I overheard one boy saying he has posters of Pru Stratton AND Katy Carter on his wall at school," Harriet spoke to Sarah as they watched the dancers.

 

"Seems appropriate,” Harriet nodded, “I was reading in PAPER that a lot of insiders think Katy's career will be following in Pru's footsteps."

 

"I read that..."

 

"You looked at PAPER?" Sarah looked mildly astonished.

 

"Hey you and Grace aren't the only two interested in fashion," Harriet laughed, "now what was it they said?"

 

"That Katy's the Heir Apparent, and she's making it VERY apparent!"

 

"That was it," Harriet laughed again. "Katy can't help being amply endowed shall we say…"

 

"Yes... but she can help looking at boys like that...  Hold on Harriet,” Sarah said, “I better go give her a stern rebuke before she causes real trouble with other girls."

 

“Don’t bother – someone else is stepping in.”

 

 

“Hey little sis – a word,” Pepsi whispered as Katy came off the dance floor.

 

“Don’t tell me – others are getting jealous?”

 

“Got it in one,” Pepsi said quietly, “I remember when Mick Harran was dancing all the time with Nell Rochermann at the Deb’s ball, and the looks some of the other debs were giving her.”

 

“And?”

 

“You’re getting the same sort of looks, kiddo – time to turn down the charm, or make a graceful exit.”

 

“Would you like to dance Katy,” Chet said as he walked over.

 

“Has Doc given her permission?”

 

“Yup – and she said to listen to Pepsi.  Shall we?”

 

 

 

“I see what you mean,” Sarah whispered to Harriet as Chet took the young teenager onto the dance floor.

 

“And that is why Miss Broadhurst is already been talked about as a head girl for the class of 2018,” Kate said.

 

“When Katy Carter will be a Freshman?  Oy vey…”

 

 

 

10.30 pm

The Waldorf Astoria

 

As Grace walked round the room, she smiled at how well things were going, both with the event and the partygoers themselves.  Everyone was having a good time, everyone seemed to be behaving themselves…

 

“Ally,” Jo said quietly, “your four o’clock.  What do you see?”

 

“I see Penny and Sandra talking to some of the other girls – and…”  Ally looked closer and said “now I see what you’re seeing.”  The escorts of both girls were standing a short distance apart, but the look in Penny’s escort’s eyes was clear to see.

 

“How do you want to handle this?”

 

“Let’s try the girls first – come on.”

 

The two of them walked over to join Penny and Sandra, Jo keeping an eye on the two boys as they did so.  “Enjoying the party,” Ally said as they turned and smiled.”

 

“I am thank you,” Sandra smiled, “I was saying to Penny it is amazing how welcome you have all made me.”

 

“Well, as they said when they gave Abby the award, when we came through the door four years ago, we are Angels first and foremost.”

 

“I love your dress,” Jo said to Sandra, “did you have it specially made?”

 

“I did – do you know much about…  Oh, forgive me, I did not recognise you for a moment.  I was about to ask if you know the fashion world, but of course you do.”

 

“Well, I know a little about it,” Jo said, “look, not wanting to put a damper on the evening, but your escorts seem to be a little at odds with each other.”

 

Penny looked over, and nodded as she said “I had noticed.  Somehow, the old enmities are not been allowed to pass into history…”

 

“Jo, time to intervene,” Ally said as she noticed the Chinese youth walk over and talk quietly to Sandra’s escort, and Jo saw the anger rise in the young Korean’s eyes.  Nodding, she walked quickly over and said “gentlemen, I am going to say this once and once only – whatever your beef is with each other, it is not aired here.”

 

“Do not interfere in something that is no concern of yours,” the Chinese boy said quietly.

 

“Ah, but it is my concern,” Jo said as she looked directly at him, “and unless you truly desire to ruin this evening for Penny, or you for Sandra, you will agree to disagree tonight, and let the dragon lie quiet.”

 

He looked at her, and then said “what authority have you to say…”

 

“I am known to the Honoured Fathers,” Jo whispered quietly so that only he could hear her, “and that should be enough to satisfy your curiosity.”  He looked at her, and then nodded as Penny walked over.

 

“Come on, let’s dance,” she said as she took him onto the dance floor, Sandra whispering “thank you” as she took her escort to the other side of the room.

 

“What did you say to him?  He turned white,” Ally asked her friend.

 

“A little lie,” Jo said quietly, “I have no desire to repeat the skills I showed that night in the Hamptons tonight, but if I had to…”

 

Jo then caught the Chinese boy walking quickly across the dance floor.  She moved quickly, grabbing him and steering him to the side, his arm up his back as she said “a word, young man.”

 

Ally went to talk to Penny as Jo took her escort outside, and then said “I thought I told you to let the sleeping dragon lie.  Do I have to reinforce my message?”

 

“No,” he grimaced as she forced his arm further up his back.

 

“Good – now you go back in, you apologise to Penny, and you enjoy the rest of this evening in peace and happiness – or I will get angry.  Do I make myself absolutely, positively crystal clear?”

 

“Yes,” he grimaced as Jo pressed his arm further up.

 

“Good – enjoy the dance,” Jo said quietly as she let go, the boy walking as Grace looked out.

 

“Do we need to eject him?”

 

“No, I think he got the message,” Jo said quietly, “let’s go back in…”

 

 

11 pm

St Angela’s

 

“All right girls,” the DJ said, “it’s time for the last dance, so take you rpartners onto the dance floor please.”

 

“Oh no,” Pepsi said as she took Katy by the arm, and guided her to the side, “this is one we both sit out, capiche?”

 

“All right, all right,” Katy said with a smile, “I agree – I don’t want to break any couples up…”

 

“Wise words,” Pepsi said as they watched the dancers, kissing and talking quietly to each other.

 

 

“It’s been a wonderful night,” Becca whispered into Billy’s ear, “but it doesn’t need to end here.”

 

“It only ends here if you want it to,” Billy said before they kissed, Doc nodding before Chet kissed her.

 

“Will you walk me home,” Ama asked as Nick held her.

 

“Of course – you have special guests arriving tomorrow, after all,” Nick replied, Ama nodding and smiling as they made their way round the room.

 

"I wonder how many of the girls will be going straight home to bed?" Harriet asked Sarah as they watched the last dance.

"Not our responsibility,” Sarah said, “once they leave this gym we cease to be in loco parentis."

"I know, but still when I think how young they still are..."

"Harriet we teach them, we aren't their parents you know?"

"Yes, and I do know that Sarah."

"If it reassures you though there are a lot of parents cars outside...I checked a few minutes ago."

"Well that helps a bit."

"And Doc was telling me that at least among the younger girls, a lot of the dates are actually brothers, or cousins, or family friends, pressed into service so the girl could come tonight."

"Oh that i didn't know." Harriet smiled. "This dance is so important they resort to relatives?"

"It's what Doc says."  Sarah listened to the music, and smiled.  “Oh lord – I don’t know about you Harriet, but at my school discos it was always Wonderful Tonight they played.”

 

“Nah – Je T’Aime.  Guaranteed disco closer,” Harriet said with a smile as the music ended, and the DJ said “Good night everyone – safe journeys home.”

 

11 pm

The Waldorf Astoria

 

"Well the last hour or so Wilhelmina," Grace looked at her watch, "I just hope that not too many girls hang around late, I'm supposed to be in hair and makeup by eight in the morning."

"As if you need beauty sleep Grace dear," Wilhelmina smiled. "Anyway with Jo proving so efficient at chaperoning, and with Allyson and a couple of the Mothers aid, I'm pretty sure we can let you slip off whenever you like."

"No,” Grace said, “I might just stay and watch the last dance."

 

 

 

"Thank you Jo," Letty kissed her friend on the cheek, "you've helped make this a memorable prom for all the right reasons."

"Hey I helped as well," Ally laughed.

"I know," Letty kissed her on the cheek as well.

"So do you and Jason have an 'after party' to go on to?"

"Yes, Annabelle's parents have booked a suite upstairs so a few of her friends..."

"Can dance the night away," Ally sighed..."Ah brings back such memories."

"Hey it was only last year doofus." Jo laughed aloud.

 

“Jo, Ally…”

 

“Would you care to dance ladies?" Tony and Jason bowed slightly in front of Grace and Wilhelmina.

"Isn't it a rule chaperones don't dance Miss Tennant?"  Grace asked.

"Oh I think we can bend the rules...especially as..." Wilhelmina pointed to two young men taking Ally and Jo onto the floor.

"Alright girls, clear the floor," the girl fronting the band spoke into her microphone, "It's time to let tonights wonderful chaperones show you just how it’s really done."

 

“Promises, promises,” Ally said with a grin as the band started to play, and the couples danced.

 

Saturday 21st May

1 am

The de Ros Mansion

 

 Abby quietly unlocked the door and opened it, looking inside before she beckoned for Tony to follow her.

 

“Are you sure it’s all right for us to do this,” Tony said as Abby closed the door.  “I mean, what will your mother say?”

 

“I’ll tell her we sat up all night talking, which will be partially true,” Abby said with a smile as they made their way across the marble floor, towards the drawing room.

 

“Good morning, Miss Abigail – I trust you had an enjoyable evening?”

 

“Edith,” Abby said, “what are you doing awake?”

 

“I anticipated your late return – you will find some snacks in the drawing room for all of you.  If you will forgive me, I will see you all in the morning.”

 

“What a woman,” Tony said as Edith headed up the staircase, “what a woman…”

 

9 am CET

Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, Rome

Terminal C

 

Alex smiled as he saw the doors open, and Charlotte walk through with Piet and Francesca.

 

“Welcome to Rome my child,” he said as he kissed her on both cheeks.  “How was the flight?”

 

“Not too bad – but getting to Heathrow for five?  Not much fun.”

 

“I can imagine – come, I have the car waiting outside, and a flask of coffee with pastries in the back.”

 

“So how long is the drive?”

 

“A couple of hours – I’ll take you to the Palazzo, let you get washed and changed, and we can head to the basilica from there.”  The new arrivals followed Alex to a large black car, Piet placing the bags in the trunk as Alex got behind the wheel.

 

“Here we go,” he said as they moved away, soon joining the A91 and then the E80 as they headed west.

 

“Is this your first time in Italy?”

 

“For both of us,” Piet said as Charlotte handed him a coffee.  “I did not expect to see farmland this close to Rome.”

 

“Well, this is still very much an agricultural country – perhaps next time you will get to spend time in Rome,” Alec said as they started to move south east.  “We’re going through Torrino now – a suburb.”

 

“It is good to be back,” Francesca said as she looked out of the window.  The car moved along, heading north for a while, before turning right at the University deli Study di Roma “Tor Vegetal” and heading down the E821.

 

“How long is it since you have been home,” Charlotte asked as she saw her mother smiling.

 

“A few months,” Francesca said.  Moving along the E45, she smiled broadened even more as they made their way through the Italian countryside.

 

 

11.45 am

Naples

 

As they drove along the hillside road, Piet’s eyes widened as they saw the building rise in front of them.

 

“Welcome to the Palazzo Sentova,” Francesca said with a smile as Alex stopped in front of a set of stone steps, a man coming out in a black coat and trousers as they left the car.

 

"So this is the families little place in Naples?" Charlotte looked at the huge sand coloured Baroque pile.

 

"What a view you have," Alex turned in both directions looking first out over the Bay of Naples and then towards Vesuvius. "In a city of grand palaces this does really stun me."

 

"Well I don't get here nearly as often as I should," Francesca said, supervising the servant as he unloaded their bags.

 

Charlotte looked at Piet, before she said "So where do we go in Mother?"

 

"The main entrance is through the arch darling."  She followed the servant as the quartet walked through the large sandstone arch, stopping in the marble floored interior.

 

"Alright now we just changed centuries," Alexander looked at the graceful Renaissance style arches of the interior square.

 

"Yes this is the older, original palazzo, and dates from the late 15th century," Francesca smiled at her daughter’s and the priest’s reaction.  They then all turned and looked as a grey haired woman in a light blue dress coat came out from a set of large wooden doors.

 

"Signora Marchesa è così bello vederti di nuovo qui, e questa è la vostra figlia?"

 

"It is good to be home Luisa," Francesca replied in English.  “Allow me to introduce my daughter Charlotte, her fiancé Piet and our guest, Father Alexander Richmond.”

 

"Well it is particularly good for us to have you here Marchesa," the housekeeper switched to English. "And welcome Signorina," she bobbed slightly to Charlotte.

 

"Thank you...thank you," were the only words Charlotte could think to say.

 

"Luisa can you make sure our bags are put in the right rooms, and we can freshen up before we need to visit Santa Chiara."

 

“Of course – I have some refreshments prepared for when you are ready.  This way please…”

 

A few minutes later.

 

"Separate rooms Francesca," Piet shook his head as he came out.

 

"I know, I know, but Luisa is a stickler for the conservative viewpoint...and you aren't married yet."

 

"And at least there is a connecting door Piet darling," Charlotte smiled.

 

"She's pregnant with my baby, and I'm expected to sleep in another room?"

 

"Piet it's only for tonight, we'll fly home tomorrow afternoon."

 

"Well I suppose I can...but Francesca I am definitely registering a protest."

 

"Just go with the flow Piet," Alex came out of his room.  “Now, let us eat and then head off.  We are expected at three.”

 

3 pm CET

Santa Chiara

 

As the car drew up at the main entrance, a sandy haired young man, wearing a black cassock and a white dog collar, smiled as he walked forward.

 

“Father Alex Richmond?  I am Father Albert – we spoke yesterday.”

 

“We did indeed,” Alex said as they shook hands, “May I present Francesca, Marchesa di Cambrello, her daughter Charlotte Gordon, and her fiancé Pieter van der Byl.”

 

“It is a great honour to meet all of you,” he said with a small bow.  Francesca and Charlotte were wearing short-sleeved white dresses and blue headscarves, while Piet wore a dark jacket and trousers, a white shirt and a dark tie.  “If you will follow me, I will take you to Monsignor Bettega.”

 

“I trust we find him in good health,” Alex said as they walked through the large doors.

 

“As well as can be expected – but age I am afraid is working on him.”  They walked down a long corridor, other priests nodding as they passed, and then Father Albert stopped in front of a glass case.

 

"These are his medals," the young priest smiled, "he really tends to diminish his own achievements, but Father Abbot insisted that they be put in a display case."

 

"Do you recognize them Alex," Charlotte asked.

 

"A few...that’s the Polish Order of the White Eagle," he pointed to each medal he knew in turn. “The British George Medal, His French Croix de Guerre, His Italian Medal of Valour, the next I think is an Indian decoration, His US Medal of Merit, and Medal of Freedom...well just so many," Alex wiped away a tear or two.

 

“Indeed – he was a true hero.  This way please.”  They made their way into a central square garden, cloisters running around each side, before Father Albert said, “there he sits.”

 

Francesca smiled at her first sight of the very elderly priest sitting on a bench quietly reading in the garden. She judged that in his day he must have been a fine, tall, and handsome man, but in old age he hunched over slightly and his hand shook very slightly as he held his book.

 

“He spends this hour every day in private thought,” Father Albert said as they walked over.  "Father," the young priest spoke quietly as they came closer, "the Marchesa di Cambrello is here."

 

"Yes she's buried in her crypt Father..."

 

“No, this is her daughter, and her granddaughter," Father Albert smiled.

 

"Her daughter...” Father Bettega looked up and said “the naval officer?"

 

"Yes Father, but I've recently become a civilian again," Francesca stepped forward.

 

"Let me see," the priest cleaned his spectacles and put them back on again. "You favour your father you know Marchesa," he finally said as he tried to get to his feet and bow.

 

"No you stay sitting father," Francesca assisted him to sit down again.

 

"I'm sorry,” he said with a smile, “I am not as good on my feet as I once was."

 

"I understand Father," Francesca smiled, "and now can I present my daughter Carlotta, her fiancé Pieter, and a family friend, who desperately wanted to meet you, Father Alexander Richmond from New York City."

 

"Can I welcome you all to Santa Chiara," the old priest extended a welcoming hand.

 

"Thank you," Piet and Charlotte said as they both shook hands, while Alex knelt and kissed the aged priests ring.

 

"No need for that young man," the old gentleman smiled, "I am no longer the actual dean here."

 

"It is still an honor though Monsignor, and how wonderful to be called a young man for once."

 

"Well compared to me Father you are," the aged churchman smiled again. "Thank you...and I think I've read a book by you haven't I?"

 

"Well I have written a couple."

 

"This one was on you finding your faith in battle as a soldier."

 

"Yes... Yes, I wrote that."  Father Alex smiled as he said “I am honoured you have read it.”

 

"You know they always wanted me to write a book, but who would be interested in a book about someone who was first a village curate, then a normal priest, and then part of the chapter here?"

 

"I can think of a few people father," Alex smiled broadly.

 

"Well I know that I'd find it deadly dull." the Father looked up again..."and who are you again my child?" he asked Francesca.

 

"I'm Francesca di Cambrello, and this is my daughter father," Francesca repeated herself. "She is about to get married, and you and my mother made plans so she could be married here even though she's a protestant."

 

"Yes we did, yes we did."  Father Sergio smiled as he said, “When she was of age, your mother said…”

 

"Father, I am afraid it’s time for your medication," Father Albert spoke as the church clock struck the hour.

 

"Pardon me please," the father drank from a glass another priest brought out, and took some pills.

 

"My wedding father...” Charlotte said quietly, “What did my Grandmother arrange with you?"

 

"And who was your grandmother my child?"  He smiled as he looked up at her.

 

"The late Marchesa di Cambrello."

 

"Ah yes, formidable woman."

 

"Father Albert do you know?" Piet asked slightly exasperated.

 

"I do,” the young priest said, “but please be patient with him, he's basically kept himself alive for this day.  It will mean the world to him to be the one to tell you. He told me the details five years ago in case he died, but I'd rather let him tell you what he and Dona Carlotta planned and executed."

 

"I understand Father Albert," Charlotte nodded.

 

"I know he's rather rambling, and forgetful,” Father Albert said, “but honestly he does know, we discussed it only yesterday when I heard you were coming."

 

Kneeling down, he took the old priest’s hand and said "Father, this is her...this is Dona Carlotta's granddaughter, the one we made the arrangements for."

 

"I know Father."  He looked again at Charlotte, and said “Dona Carlotta spent a lot of her own money so you could keep up your family tradition young lady."

 

"Did she?"

 

He looked at Charlotte again, and said, "Did she what?"

 

"What did Dona Carlotta pay out a lot of money for father?"

 

"Oh so many things,” he said with a smile, “but there is one thing in particular and its hers and mine secret you know."

 

"Father concentrate please, what did you and my Mama plan for Carlotta's wedding?" Francesca sat down by his side.

 

"Carlotta's wedding," he smiled, "Dona Carlotta supported an idea of mine so she could be married here at Santa Chiara."

 

"That is what you were telling us," Francesca held his hand.

 

"You know you do look like your father Marchesa," he looked at her intently through his glasses. "He was a very good man you know."

 

"I know he was Father...now what is this plan so that my protestant daughter can be married in a Roman Catholic basilica?"

 

"She's South African you know?”  Father Sergio said as he shook his head “Dona Carlotta never even saw her, but she went to such lengths for her wedding.”

 

"I'm that South African girl Father," Charlotte crouched in front of him.

 

"Of course you are you are her granddaughter Carlotta. You did tell me you know."

 

"So what did you and she fix for how my wedding is to go?"

 

"Your wedding?...sorry who are you again?"

 

Charlotte held his hand and said "I'm Carlotta, Dona Carlotta's granddaughter."

 

"Oh yes the protestant."

 

"She left me a message to come and see you.  She said you could answer my question?”

 

“And what is that question, my child?”

 

“How can I be married here in Santa Chiara?"

 

"You can't...you are a Calvinist."

 

"She knows Father...” Alex said, “but what then is the plan?"

 

"Something that's here, but it’s not part of the basilica," the old man’s eyes twinkled. “We found a way round the rules."

 

"What did you and Mama do Father?" Francesca asked.

 

Father Sergio looked at Francesca, smiled and said, "Now who again was your Mother?"

 

"This is getting frustrating," Piet ground his teeth.

 

"Show Christian mercy Piet, the poor man has severe dementia obviously, but slowly we are getting there." Alexander whispered back to him.

 

"I wasn’t a soldier Father, but I did see some great and terrible fighting," he suddenly looked up at Alexander.  "Those poor, poor boys, fighting to take that accursed hilltop and destroying such a beautiful monastery in the process,"

 

"I know how terrible Monte Cassino was Father."

 

"Yes Monte Cassino, you know I was there young man?"

 

"So you were telling us."

 

"I was?  Funny, I usually hate talking about it...they gave me medals you know, I even got to meet Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt?"

 

"It must have been quite something..."

 

"Not really Father, just all those poor boys, all those poor boys."

 

"He's upset, and in his mind he's still there, give him a few seconds for his mind to come back to 2016." Father Albert held the priest’s free hand as a tear rolled down his cheek.  Eventually, he said “why are these people here, Father?”

 

“This is the daughter and granddaughter of the Marchesa di Cambrello,” Father Albert said, “and they are here to discover the surprise that you and Dona Carlotta arranged all those years ago, when the Blessed Holy Father John Paul II visited.”

 

“Ah,” Father Sergio said as he looked at Francesca and Charlotte, “of course, of course.  Father, will you help me to take them there?”

 

“Of course,” Father Albert said as he helped him to stand, holding his arm as they made their way out of the enclosed garden.  “Dona Carlotta, she wanted to be sure when her granddaughter was to be married, she would be able to marry here despite what had happened?”

 

“That’s right, Father,” Francesca said, “and this is Carlotta, her granddaughter, and the man she is to marry.”

 

He smiled at both of them as he said “come, come – we must go outside of the basilica for a few minutes.”

 

They made their way through the main chapel, Alex and Francesca dropping and making the sign of the cross as they walked down the main aisle, and then out of a side door into the side of the building.

 

“Here it is,” Father Sergio said as they walked to a small building, and Father Albert opened the door, the six of them walking into a small chapel.  “The Chapel di Cambrello.”

 

“This is a family church?”

 

“No, Charlotte,” Francesca said, “I did not even know this existed.”

 

“I have heard of it though,” Alex said as he looked round.  “Monsignor, please tell my friends why this is a special place.”

 

“It is a special place,” Father Sergio said, “because it is not a church of the Roman Catholic Faith.”

 

“What did you say,” Piet said quietly.

 

“This chapel was paid for by Dona Carlotta di Cambrello with one stipulation – that it be a truly ecumenical chapel, and open to all to worship in.  She had such a discussion with the Holy Father, but in the end he agreed…”

 

“Are you saying,” Charlotte said quietly, “that a Protestant wedding could be held here.”

 

“That was the plan – are you her granddaughter?”

 

“I am,” Charlotte said quietly.

 

“Then her idea was, when the time comes, your wedding could be conducted here, by a minister of your choice – and then the union blessed in the main chapel.  Oh such a discussion she had to get His Eminence to agree…”

 

“I don’t believe it,” Piet said quietly.

 

“It is true,” Father Albert said quietly.  “Should that be your wish…?”

 

“Father Sergio, she said to me, I want my granddaughter to marry and continue our tradition, and this is the way it can be done…”

 

“I am flabbergasted,” Piet said quietly.

 

"You know in recognition for all that she did for the church, the late Pope made your mother a Papal Countess in her own right don't you Marchesa?"

 

"No I never knew that Father Albert."

 

"Well her largesse wasn't just confined to ensuring Miss Carlotta's wedding could take place here. Like the rest of your family she contributed heavily to the funds to restore Santa Chiarra, but she also quietly gave millions to other church causes."

 

"Mama wouldn't have wanted it to have been widely publicised." Francesca smiled, "it would have seemed too flashy to have done so...giving merely for the good publicity."

 

"My sister is very similar in her thinking Francesca," Alexander nodded.

 

"The rewards of our good deeds come in heaven," the aged priest suddenly snapped his mind back. "Or as I'll never forget in a better next life if you believe in reincarnation. I held a young Gurkha soldier in my arms as he died, and as he died he told me 'thank you, and I hope we meet in my next life father'. He believed he would come back again a better person for what he had done."

 

“And did he?" Piet asked.

 

"Well I once met a young man who said..." the priest blinked.  "I'm so sorry, what was I saying?"

 

"About a young..."

 

"No Piet," Charlotte spoke quietly, "I think we all know what he was going to say, don't tax him."  Sitting next to him, Charlotte smiled and said, “thank you, Father – I need to talk to my fiancé, but this is a way all our wishes can be fulfilled.”

 

“Then allow me to dance at your wedding, my child,” he said quietly, “if it is his will…”

 

"Father Albert,” Charlotte said quietly, “you say although this is within the grounds, it is not a Catholic chapel?”

 

“No, it is not – the Holy Father approved this as a place of worship for all who profess the Christian faith, in whatever form.”

 

“So it would be alright for my father's cousin, who is a Church of Scotland minister, to perform my marriage in the chapel?"

 

"Not only possible, but Dona Carlotta it seems made a special effort to have the Minister of St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Rome come down and consecrate the chapel for weddings."

 

"She did?"

 

"Yes," the young father smiled.

 

"He gave us a blessing at my wedding in the main church,” Francesca said, “I think it’s appropriate for George to actually marry both of you." 

 

"I think that was what your mother thought might happen indeed Marchesa."

 

"Piet you haven't said a lot?" Francesca looked at the big South African.

 

“I…  I’m still trying to process this,” Piet said as he sat down.  “Your grandmother had the foresight to put all of this in place years ago…  Roo, what other surprises have we got waiting for us?”

 

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Charlotte said, “but what do you say?  This would solve the problems, true?”

 

“True…  How many people will the chapel accommodate Father?" Piet asked.

 

"Only about 25, I think that they planned for just your immediate families and friends to be there."

 

"And then?"

 

"To progress into the main church for a blessing."

 

"And the main church can hold how many people Father?" Charlotte asked.

 

"About twelve hundred guests."

 

"It will be a tight fit getting everyone in Charlotte darling," Francesca smiled.

 

"Twelve hundred and it will be a tight fit Mother?"

 

"Oh yes...James and I had such arguments who to invite and who not to keep under that number."

 

"But we don't know that many people...combined..." Piet scratched his head.

 

"Oh you'll be surprised Pieter.  If we sit down and write out who you might invite, you’ll be surprised…"

 

“Father Albert,” Francesca said “there is one place both Carlotta and I should visit while we are here.  May I trust you to remain with Pieter and the others for a moment?”

 

“Of course,” Father Albert said, “we will join you in the main chapel shortly.”

 

“Where are we going,” Charlotte said as Francesca led her out of the small chapel.

 

“It is time we paid our respects – something I have never ever been able to do properly before,” Francesca said as they made their way back into the main church, and then to the far side where two candles burned in stands, either side of an ornate arch.

 

“What is this place,” Charlotte said as they walked into a large vaulted room, and then she saw the plaques on the wall.  “Goddess,” she said quietly, “is this…”

 

“It is,” Francesca said quietly as she stood in front of two new looking plaques.  “Mother…  Father…  I pray you are at peace and happy.  I have finally emerged from the mists, and not only have begun to find my life again, but have found my daughter – your beautiful granddaughter.  I hope you can see us now, and I wanted to say thank you for what you have done – especially you mother.”

 

Charlotte walked over and placed her hand on the black plaque, whispering “thank you” as she did so.

 

“Marchesa?”

 

“Father Albert – will you join us at the palazzo tonight for dinner?”

 

“I would be honoured to – but Father Sergio wishes to see you before you leave…”

 

“Of course,” Francesca said as the trip walked back to the chapel, where Alex and Father Sergio were talking quietly as Piet looked round.

 

"So I suppose we need talk about dates Father Albert?" Francesca spoke again.

 

"I understand that time is rather of the essence," the priest smiled at Charlotte and Piet.

 

"A little," Charlotte said quietly as she held Piet’s hand.

 

"Well I suspect that the ceremony would have to be mid-week, I think the Saturdays are long since booked."

 

"My own wedding was on a Thursday,” Francesca said, “so that I do understand Father."

 

Father Albert nodded, before Charlotte said "And exactly how quick are we talking?"

 

"Well,” Francesca said, “given the security arrangements, that the President and Prime Minister and the other VIP's will need to clear their schedules..."

 

"The Cardinal as well...and maybe His Holiness?" Father Albert speculated.

 

"Who knows Father," Alexander spoke, "but certainly there will be dignitaries from Rome wishing to attend."

 

"I can convene a meeting Monday morning and give you an answer afterwards on possible dates Marchesa."

 

"Thank you Father."

 

"What VIP's?" Piet looked stunned and bemused.

 

"The wedding of the di Cambrello heiress is a matter of national...no international significance Piet," Alexander explained.

 

"But this is mine and Roos wedding...ours."

 

"Piet darling I think I knew when I found out the size of my inheritance that this might happen," Charlotte held his hand. "I know it’s a huge fuss, but please just understand these things MUST be done."

 

"So you are saying in effect there will be two marriages?" Piet asked.

 

"No three Piet," Francesca spoke quietly, "the law requires you first to be married in a civil ceremony."

 

"Which I'm sure the Mayor himself will wish to perform," Father Albert nodded.

 

"THREE weddings," Piet shook his head.

 

“But all on the same day – which is something.”

 

"If I might be curious,” Father Albert said, “who will give you away Carlotta?"

 

"Colonel John Vosloo of the South African army."

 

"He and his wife were my mine and my husbands best friends, Father," Francesca smiled.

 

"Very appropriate then," the priest smiled.  “I would be proud to join you for dinner tonight, if that is still your wish?”

 

“We look forward to seeing you at eight,” Francesca said with a smile, “both of you.”

 

“Sadly, I must decline for Father Sergio,” Father Albert said, “but I am charged to advise you.  Come – he waits.”

 

“It has been an honour,” Alex said as he stood, moving on as Francesca sat down.

 

“You wished to see me Father?”

 

“I did,” he said quietly, “I know I am an old man, and I forget things, but I am glad I have lived to see this duty discharged.  I wish…  I wish to bless you, my child, and to tell you your mother never, never stopped praying for you.”

 

Francesca gripped his hands and said “thank you – please, pray for us as well in the weeks ahead.”

 

“For as long as I have breath child,” he said with a smile.  “Father Albert – will you show these kind people out?”

 

“Of course Father – this way please…”

 

Noon

The Village

 

“Well, here we are,” Carina said as she pulled up outside the apartment, “how are you feeling?”

 

“Even more nervous than on Monday,” Annie said as she opened the car door, and slowly got out.  “But this is the point of no return, as they say.”

 

“Yeah – I was scared when we first brought Judith home as well.  So, let’s take them into their home.”  Opening the door, she unclipped the car seat and lifted Rudi out, Annie lifting Mags out in her car seat, as the door to the apartment opened and Ama came out.

 

“Welcome home,” she said with a smile as she looked at them, “you need to bring them straight in – we have some lunch ready for all of you.”

 

“Sounds good to me – I need some real coffee,” Annie said as she walked up, Carina following – and then stopped as she saw the walls of the main room lined with flowers, as well as April and Grace standing there with huge smiles on their faces.

 

“You know, the idea is to dispel the smell after the dirty nappies,” Annie said with a smile as she put Mags on the floor, Carina putting Rudi down as well.

 

“I know – but we wanted to be here to welcome you home,” April said as she hugged Annie.

 

“Mom’s going to bring the stuff from the hospital round later,” Carina said, “but we all felt you’d appreciate the chance of some quiet time before that.  So sit down, and we’ll bring you something to eat and drink.”

 

“Thanks,” Annie said as Ama took Mags out of her chair, and handed her to Grace.  The baby girl opened her eyes and smiled as Grace stroked her chin.

 

“Hey – you’re home now little one,” she said quietly as Jo came in with Judith.

 

“Welcome home momma Annie,” she said as she ran over and hugged her, while carina picked up Rudi.

 

“Did you get what we need Jo?”

 

“I did – and I was told to tell you this is a welcome gift for the babies,” she said as she put the two paper bags on the table.

 

“Will Rudi and Mags stay here for a few days, Momma?”

 

“They will Judith,” Carina said, “but we’ll see them every day, and then we’ll all go to Munich together.”

 

“YAY!”

 

“We just need to get the passports sorted out first,” Annie said with a smile. “So you’re going to be going to and fro for the next few days.  Oh thank you – I need this,” she said as Grace handed her a mug of coffee.”

 

“You can see all the presents later,” Ama said as she sat with Judith.  “At least the ones that are here.”

 

“How many are there?”

 

“Find out tomorrow at my place,” Carina said with a smile as she tickled Rudi.

 

“Have you seen what is in here Jo?”

 

“Yes I have – can you and Ama give me a hand April?”

 

“Can do,” April said as the three of them headed to the kitchen, and Grace sat down.

 

“Wilhelmina and Kate were wondering if you would bring them in one day this week – the staff would love to see you, and the Seniors would appreciate the chance to say goodbye.”

 

“Of course I can,” Annie said, “I hear the prom went well?”

 

“It did – apart from one or two incidents, but Jo and Ally dealt with them?”

 

“Ally?  Ally Rochermann?  A chaperone?  I haven’t moved to a different world have I?”

 

“It was my idea, and it worked,” Grace said as Judith sat at her feet. 

 

“I thought you had a shoot this morning,” Carina said.

 

“It got cancelled – the photographer fell ill,” Grace said “so I was free to come here and help welcome you home.”

 

 

7 pm CET

Palazzo Sentova

 

Piet looked out of his window over the Bay of Naples, deep in thought as he took in the view of the blue Mediterranean Sea.  “A magnificent view,” he whispered to himself, as there was a soft tap on the door.

 

“Come in,” he called out, turning and watching as Alex came in. 

 

“How are you feeling,” Alex said as he closed the door.

 

“You’re asking how I’m feeling?”

 

“Yeah,” Alex said with a chuckle as he looked round the room.  It was as large as the front room of their flat, and the ceiling so high even Piet had difficulty reaching to touch the ceiling.  “After all, you’re the one who is really caught up in all this.”

 

“You noticed – thanks,” Piet said with a smile.  “It’s just taking a while to process what’s going on.  I mean, a few weeks ago she’s little Rooie, and I go to Addis Ababa.  I come back to New York, and discover she’s the daughter of not only one of the richest women in Europe, but that her grandparents had laid down a plan to make her not only just below her in terms of wealth, but also…”

 

“It’s the Italian way, Piet,” Alex said as he stood beside him, and looked out of the window, “generation after generation, they lay plans and look after those who came before, as well as those who came after.  Family and tradition are vital to that Piet – and you are having something of a crash course in that.”

 

“Alex, when did you get to be such a good person reader?”

 

“Life experience,” Alex said with a smile as the connecting door opened, and Charlotte came through, now wearing a sleeveless light blue dress.

 

“And what are you two fine gentlemen talking about?”

 

“Understanding the Italian way,” Alex said.

 

“Let me know when you do – I need a few lessons as well,” Charlotte said before she kissed Piet.  “Come on – Mother is expecting us for pre-dinner drinks.”

 

As they walked down the marble staircase, they saw Luisa, wearing a black dress and a white apron, as she greeted Father Albert.

 

“Thank you for joining us Father,” Charlotte said as she came to the foot of the stairs.

 

“It is my pleasure – and you have made Father Sergio a very happy and contented man today,” he said as Francesco appeared, wearing a white blouse and a knee length skirt.  “Marchesa – my thanks for the invitation.”

 

“It is my pleasure to welcome you – we’ll take the drinks on the veranda Luisa.”

 

“Of course Marchesa,” the housekeeper said as the group walked through the large drawing room, Charlotte and Piet recognizing where some of her video messages were recorded, before they stepped out onto an outdoor corridor that looked out onto a scene of Mount Vesuvius rising from the coast into the sky.

 

Luisa returned with five glasses of champagne, smiling as they took one each.  “May I propose a toast,” Alex said, “to marriage!”

 

“To marriage,” they all said as the OHMSS theme music started to play in the background.  Charlotte looked at her mother, an eyebrow raised as Piet said “I recognise that – it used to be one of my favourite films.”

 

“Oh boy,” Charlotte whispered to herself as she sipped her drink.  “So does this view ever turn bad Mother?”

 

“Well, it was dark the day I buried my parents,” Francesca said, “but normally, it stays just the same.  What will we be eating tonight Luisa?”

 

“I have some gnocchi to start with, Marchesa.”

 

“Excellent – a bottle of the ‘03 Chardonnay, I think, and air a bottle of the ’97 for the main course.”

 

“Of course,” Luisa said as she stepped out.

 

“So when do you return to New York, Father Alex,” Father Albert said as they stood admiring the view.”

 

“Next week – Francesca, would you object if Father Albert and I went to look at…”

 

“Of course not – we have half an hour,” Francesca said as he took Father Albert by the arm, and walked him through the drawing room, across the vast entrance hall and through two doors.

 

“Francesca showed me this earlier, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to see it as well,” he said as they stood in front of the crucified Christ, hanging above the altar of the family chapel.  “It dates back to the eighteenth century, the frescos are based on designs from the Holy See’s own private chapel.”

 

“I heard the Pope at the time consecrated this chapel himself,” Father Albert said in a low whisper.  “When was it last used?”

 

“Today – I held Mass for Francesca when we returned.  She has refound her faith amongst so many other things.”

 

“I am pleased – some of the stories I have heard…”

 

“Forgive me Father, Father,” Luisa said from the doorway, “but…”

 

“Of course – shall we go and eat?”

 

 

 

“There you are,” Francesca said as they came into the dining room, “please, be seated.  Luisa, you may serve.”

 

“Of course Marchesa,” the housekeeper said as she nodded to the door, two servants carrying through plates of Gnocchi.  “We have used fresh peas and herbs from the kitchen garden, and the ricotta is scented with some fresh lemons from our own grove.”

 

“It looks fantastic,” Father Albert said as he placed the napkin on his lap.

 

“Before I forget, Marchesa,” Luisa said, “Mrs. Harris called from London to confirm the work has begun on your London home.”

 

“Excellent,” Francesca said as Luisa poured the wine.  “This smells wonderful, Luisa.”

 

“I am pleased you are pleased, Marchesa,” the housekeeper said as she left the room.

 

"While we are sat round this table,” Francesca said as she swallowed a forkful of food, “there is something that I think we should discuss darlings."

 

Charlotte took a sip of her wine, and then said "And what is that Mother?"

 

"A small matter…  What will happen when it’s going to have to be made public that I had a daughter, and who you are Charlotte?"

 

"And why should things change?"  Piet looked round the table and said, “Seriously, what would happen?”

 

"Piet you are a journalist,” Alex said as he put his glass down, “just think how your colleagues react to such news?  Or perhaps, to put it more bluntly, the members of the red banner press?"

 

"Well...Oh my God," the penny dropped, "and never mind our ambulance chasers…  You are talking about the Italian press in particular."

 

"Alright will someone explain?"  Charlotte sipped her water as she looked round.

 

"Charlotte,” Alex said as he looked across at her, his face solemn, “you remember the interest when it was revealed whom Prince William was going to marry?"

 

“Well yes, but he is the heir to the throne…”

 

"Then imagine it a little worse," Francesca matched his tone. "That is what it will be like when it’s not only made public that I have a daughter, but what your identity is, and that you are getting married."

 

"That is true Carlotta," Father Albert nodded.

 

"But people already know who I am?"

 

"Only relatives, friends and servants,” Alex said, “all of whom can be relied upon to have kept the secret."

 

Francesca nodded her head, "but once the Italian press in particular knows, then you'll be literally be followed everywhere by TV crews, journalists and photographers."

 

"Even in London Mother?"

 

"I'm afraid even in London darling."

 

Charlotte looked at Piet as one of the maids collected the bowls, while the other one carried through bowls containing a mixed greens and herb salad, tossed with walnuts and figs, and steaming broccoli heads and leaves with the smell of garlic, oregano and red chili.

 

“And what delight do you have for the main course,” Francesca said as the first maid returned with plates, and Luisa carried in a large wooden board.

 

“Tonight, I have prepared a Beef Braciole stuffed with Basil and Mozzarella.  The meat is cooked in a sauce with onion, red wine, tomato and red chilli, and mushrooms.”  As she started to carve, the second maid brought through a jug with the sauce, waiting and pouring it on the plates as the slices were handed round.

 

 

“It smells wonderful,” Charlotte said, “but I think I will stick to the water, rather than that wonderful looking Rioja.”

 

“Of course you will,” Francesca said with a smile as the vegetables and salad were passed round.

 

"Returning to what we were discussing…  How long can we keep it still secret Francesca?" Piet asked.

 

"I don't know...”  She looked across the table and said “Father Albert, what’s your view?"

 

The young priest finished eating his beef, took a sip of the deep red wine, and said, "Once you start inviting guests, someone will tell."

 

"So maybe two weeks?" Francesca speculated.

 

"I think,” Alexander mused as he savoured the wine, “you will need to consult with Caroline on personal security for all three of you.”

 

"Who is Caroline?"

 

"A friend who is a security consultant Father Albert." Charlotte looked heavenwards. "Alright, but how long will it be till I get my life back?"

 

"Probably not till after the honeymoon darling." Francesca tried a smile. "But with Caroline's help I know we can get you some privacy."

 

"Does Shirley know that my workplace will need become a fortress Mother?”

 

"Yes, she and I have already discussed this.  She assures me her own site security, and the security in both New York and Los Angeles, will be able to deal with the issues."

 

“Shirley?”

 

“Sorry again Father,” Francesca said, “Carlotta works for Xavier International, and I have a temporary office in their London base until my own office can be set up.”

 

"How bad were the press for you and Dad Mother?"

 

"Pretty bad,” Francesca said, “but we were at least able to escape to Bavaria Lodge, and hide out from prying camera lenses with Fergus, my superiors as you can imagine were not happy at all."

 

"The other popular thing to do is go out in disguise," Alexander spoke up. "If you remember Juliette had to do that a few times.”

 

"And if you think interest in her wedding was high,” Francesca said, “Then you just wait my darling?"

 

Nodding, Charlotte put her knife and fork down.  "Will they follow my friends to get to me?"

 

"I guess once they know who your friends are darling..."

 

"And my friends? And when I'm on assignment?" Piet asked.

 

"Probably not quite as much Piet.  But you will need to let your editor know as well.”

 

Charlotte looked over and smiled, turning over another idea in her mind.

 

“This is a truly delicious meal,” Alexander said as Luisa came in with the maids to clear the plates and serving dishes.  “Thank you.”

 

“You are most welcome Father,” Luisa smiled.  “I will bring through some Italian Apple Cake in due course.”

 

“All sourced from your own gardens?”

 

“Of course, sir,” Luisa said as she left the room.

 

"Talking of the press Marchesa, can I say how very different you are in real life to how you are portrayed in the media." Rather Albert looked directly at her.

 

"A priest who reads the gossip magazines?  I believe I have now seen it all…" 

 

"Well not really, but the cleaning ladies bring them in..." the good father blushed.

 

"No,” Francesca said with a smile, “I'm not La bionda idiota."

 

"She's far from it Father." Alex smiled. 

 

"Your mother seems to have been convinced you were, from what Father Bettega says."

 

"Well unfortunately,” Francesca said as she swirled the Rioja round in her glass, “my Mother only knew what my military superiors wanted the world to think."

 

"Your military superiors?" the priest looked bemused.

 

Alex turned to the younger priest and said, "Do you know what La Cittadella is in the Italian armed forces Father?"

 

"Of course I do Father Richmond, I read a lot of spy stories while I was growing up."

 

"Now try putting two and two together until you get five?" Francesca looked amused.

 

"But two and two is never five, not unless you are using some very odd logic...Oh my, now I think I get this...”  He looked across the table and said, “all that time you were working for La Cittadella?"

 

"You just got five to be the answer Father," Francesca laughed.

 

"But what you put your parents through? The gossip? The scandals? The rest? Did they never know?”

 

"My father found out the day he died and forgave me...Mama unfortunately never knew."

 

"And Father Albert that goes no further...I'm invoking the confessional." Alex spoke again.  “I suspect His Holiness will know, but like the third prophecy of Famita, he will tell no-one the full truth.”

 

"I wouldn't have said anything anyway Father, and who would ever believe me anyway?"

 

"My Mother is a woman of many facets Father." Charlotte smiled.

 

"You are a family of many facets Miss Carlotta."

 

“Well said,” Alex said with a smile as the cake was brought in.

 

"Darling,” Francesca said as Luisa sliced and served, “there is something else we need to discuss...”

 

“And that is,” Charlotte asked quietly.

 

“At least at times and in certain places La Bionda Idiota will need to make reappearances."

 

"But why Mother, that isn't the real you?"

 

"No it isn't, but I really do not want certain people thinking on me and taking the idea I'm not an airhead, then thinking laterally what was I up to while I was acting the idiot."

 

Piet looked across and said "Meaning?" 

 

"Meaning,” Alex said, “that if certain people, Piet, know she isn't as dumb as she's been pretending, then they might ask what was she actually doing when she was in a certain place at a certain time."

 

"Being thought of as an airhead put me totally above suspicion Piet darling."

 

"So how do we actually bury La Bionda Idiota, the joke admiral Mother?"

 

"Father this is still under the rules of the confessional." Alex nodded gravely.

 

"Well Natty has a few ideas, of how it might happen.'

 

"Won't your practice in London suffer while people think of you that way?"

 

"No Piet,” Francesca said, “thank the Lord in that I'm franked as being good by Sigi, and no one doubts her opinion.  No, this is to maintain the cover, if you will."

 

"What are Natalya's ideas Francesca?" Alexander asked.

 

"That it come out I've been in therapy, and that my reuniting with my daughter has helped alleviate a long standing mental condition."

 

“That would make sense,” Alex said as he nodded, and they heard the telephone ring.  “I’m sure Natalya is best placed to advise you, and if you need people to talk to about it, you know where I am.”

 

“Thank you Alex,” Francesca said as Luisa came in.  “Forgive the interruption, Marchesa.”

 

“Of course Luisa, what is it?”

 

"Marchesa that is the gatehouse," Luisa spoke calmly, "somehow the local newspapers have unfortunately discovered you are here and are asking for admittance."

 

"Tell the gatehouse no, thank you Luisa," Francesca sighed, "Are they asking about my daughter?"

 

"No Marchesa."

 

"Well,” Francesca said with a smile, “at least we can be thankful for small mercies...  Alright Luisa, tell Pietro to take the dogs and his shotgun out while he does his patrols tonight please."

 

"Certainly Marchesa."  She nodded and then left the room.

 

"Father Albert,” Francesca said as she looked across the table, “do you want to stay the night and hope they get bored, or do you wish us to somehow smuggle you back to Santa Chiarra?"

 

Father Albert looked shocked for a moment, before he said, "Do I really need that drastic an action Marchesa?"

 

"I'm afraid you do Father, unless you want them identifying you and speculating why I have a priest as a dinner guest?"

 

"Oh dear."

 

"She's right you know Father," Alex nodded.

 

"And I was so careful just to slip in here," Francesca sighed again.

 

"From what you've said,” Charlotte said, “it's the price we pay for being di Cambrello's Mama..."

 

Alex nodded and said, "True."

 

"Very true," Father Albert agreed – and then they all saw Francesca looking at Charlotte.

 

"Be quiet please Fathers,” she whispered, “Something of great importance just happened."

 

"What?" Piet asked.

 

"My daughter…” Francesca said quietly.  “My daughter has just identified herself as a di Cambrello, and more important she called me Mama for the first time ever."

 

"Yes you did Roo," Piet turned.

 

"Did I?" Charlotte smiled...  "Well, I guess that the visit to the family crypt this afternoon made me realise that I am truly part of this wonderful family."

 

"Oh darling!" Francesca stood up and as both women started to cry, started to hug her daughter.

 

"But what about me?" Father Albert asked with a laugh in his voice.  "I really do need to get back for early mass in the morning..."

 

"Well then,” Francesca said, “we will smuggle you out Father."

 

"But how?"

 

"Well the easiest way out is through the tunnel, and I'll have Giorgio come from his home and collect you in his car."

 

"There is a secret passage?" asked Piet shaking his head.

 

"Of course,” Francesca said with a smile, “what good palazzo doesn't have at least one?"

 

"Secret tunnels yet...what more about this family is going to astonish me Francesca?"

 

"Oh I suspect she has many, many, more secrets yet Piet." Alex chuckled.

 

"Father?"

 

"Well, as the offer has been made…  I'll take the tunnel Marchesa."

 

"Good, and when do you want to go?"

 

"Soon?"

 

"That is fine.”

 

“In that case,” Father Albert said as he stood up, “I wish to thank you, Marchesa, for allowing me to share in this most special day, and this fine meal this evening.  I look forward to helping on your most memorable of days, Charlotte.”

 

“Remember to ring us in London on Monday when you have dates please," Francesca said as she hugged him.

 

"I will.  Father Alexander, it has been a true honour and pleasure to meet you."

 

“The pleasure is mine, Father Albert – and please, take care of Father Sergio.  He is a true hero.”

 

“I shall do Father,” Father Albert said as Alex shook his hand, and then Piet.

 

"Good,” Francesca said as her housekeeper came in, “now Luisa, please ring Giorgio and explain the situation, and tell him we have a guest leaving through the tunnel"

 

"As you wish Marchesa."

 

"Oh - and have Pietro escort the good father through the passageway please."

 

"Alright Marchesa," Luisa bobbed down.

 

"Now father do you have everything?"

 

"It’s in the cloak room."

 

"Excellent." Francesca kissed him on the cheek, then Charlotte, then Alex and Piet shook his hand again.

 

"Thank you so much, you'll never know probably how important a day this has been in my life." Charlotte smiled as Pietro came to fetch Father Albert.

 

“I think I do, but thank you.”

 

“This way Father,” Pietro said as he led the priest to a side door.

 

 

“Well now – who would like some coffee…?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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