Part 2. "GIFTS"

Aunt Alicia's house was the beautiful Victorian on Grove Street, the one with a wrap around porch, and more breakables than you can shake a stick at. Peach. With white trim.

And Darcy hardly spent any time there. She might as well still be living with Jake.

Much to Alicia's chagrin.

And then, one morning, while Darcy hurried through the large kitchen scrounging a small breakfast together before running off to work at the Dungeon, it happened.

Darcy had felt something coming all morning. Alicia had been watching her like a hawk, sitting there in her immaculate breakfast nook, and for once she was ignoring the stack of casework in front of her, something which she never did. She was almost worse than her mother; hyper, busy, neurotic, and not enough time in the world for anyone but herself.

Darcy stuffed a banana in her pocket and made for the door.


Sigh ... "Yes." She peeked back in the room.

"Please come and sit with me."

"Aunt Alicia. Jake's not picking me up this morning, and I'm already late."

"Jake, and that awful business of his can wait, Darcy."

Darcy hated the way Alicia said her name.

"This is important."

Darcy stepped back into the kitchen with it's with all it's cool sunshine, which should've warming, but wasn't. Yet, suddenly she was worried. Could it be about her mother?? Darcy sat down.

Not that her mother would spend a whole lot of her precious time worrying over her. She'd already stayed in Europe far longer than expected.

"I know I've tried to discuss this with you before, Darcy," her aunt said, more than a hint of annoyance in her voice, "but, I have a proposition for you. Or rather ... a gift. Of sorts. And I think it's something that you need to do for yourself, if not for me and your mother."

Oh. Here it comes, Darcy thought. The Your-Life-Is-Going-Nowhere Speech.

"High School may be well behind you, but you shouldn't stop there."

"Aunt - "

"No. Now. Let me finish. Your mother and I have talked about this ... I would pay for your finishing school. If you won't apply to a university of any kind, it's the least you can do for your mother and me."

Darcy stared at her, speechless. She was expecting something like this, but ... She could feel the anger boiling up. She had never dreamt she could stand up to either of the two women who had controlled her life. But now looked like a pretty good time.

"When had you talked to her? Over the phone? She can't be bothered to come home, and you're too busy to keep me around, so you both came up with sending me away to school??? .... How convenient."

Alicia let the silence go on for a bit, waiting for an apology that wouldn't come, her mouth twisted in a grimace as if she had swallowed a whole lemon.

"Roberta and I just want the best for you, Darcy," her aunt finally replied in her mothers most condescending tone.

Alicia pointedly slid a large folder and pamphlet over the table to her.

I'm being treated like one of her clients, Darcy thought, dizzily.

"Please just look over it. It's a gift, Darcy. Most girls your age don't get these opportunities. And I know you're well into the age were you can where you can make your own adult decisions. I just want to see you do what's right."

Alicia suddenly stood and gathered her dishes and Darcy thought the meeting was adjourned.

"Besides, you don't want to end up like Jake, do you? Drifting. Hopeless. Disgraceful..."

And there it was.

Darcy stood as well and shoved the offending folder recklessly into her bag. If she didn't take it with her, this whole seen would be repeated. But she'd heard enough for the time being.

"I'm late," she muttered and was out the door, breathing real fresh air before she could say something she'd really regret.

Darcy unlocked Brandon's blue mountain bike from the front porch and walked it down the drive.

It wasn't worth getting into a conversation about Jake. Although they cared little enough for him to disparage him, they didn't care enough for him to hate him. In fact, they didn't think much of him at all.

He wasn't their blood, after all. Why dirty their hands with him.

Jake wasn't around that morning, which was why he hadn't come to get her this morning as usual.

She and Elliott had a quiet afternoon - hardly any customers, and unfortunately, the only reading material she'd brought with her was the pamphlet and folder.

Windsor Academy. No boys allowed. Far, far upstate somewhere. Away from her friends. Away from Jake.

Elliott watched her through the red beaded curtain that led to the Dungeon of Horrors.

She had come in all angry this morning. And the anger seemed to grow as she sat at the front counter reading some large book or magazine - he couldn't tell which.

But then, slowly the creases in her forehead began to ease, replaced by all out curiosity. She read and read, and didn't hear him come up and tap her on the shoulder.

She jumped a mile, slamming the catalog shut. He could see it now. Some sort of catalog. With trees and a building in the front.

But she decidedly did not want him to see and shoved it away.

He didn't ask her about it.

"Elliott. How many times have I told you not to do that?" She held a hand to her chest, a half smile on her face; a nervous smile.

Now his curiosity was getting the better of him. Jake might find this little mystery interesting as well.

"Just wanted to know if you wanted lunch."

Elliott hadn't asked her what she was reading. She realized she was relieved.

She couldn't tell them about this right away. Especially not Jake. She wasn't sure why. Heck, after looking at it for a few hours, she didn't know what to think of it herself.

All those classes. Art classes. Creative writing classes. A whole world of things to do.

She looked at the clock. Well after closing time.

She'd stay tonight. Jake wouldn't mind. She had a key. He wouldn't be back for hours.

She let herself into the upstairs apartment and temporarily forgot all about Windsor.

As usual, the place was a mess.

She sighed, smiling to herself, tossing her bags on the small table in the kitchen that served as a dining room.

Here she had a purpose; to clean up after Jake and forget herself in the process. She shook her head, but smiled, reveling in the comfort of the closest thing to a home she had.

All though the apartment was black as pitch when Jake strode in the door at 2:30 that morning, he knew Darcy was there.

The smell of cleaning products mingled with a slight hint of vanilla perfume hit him like a warm wave and he smiled in the darkness, making his way to a tiny dim reading lamp left on in the living room.

There she was, asleep on his couch, her long blonde hair a messy tangle against the old dark tweed of the cushions.

Jake sat and watched her for a moment. She stirred slightly at the shadow blocking the light, but didn't open her eyes.

He often found her this way; crashed on his couch, unwilling to return to her own bed at her aunt's house across town. He didn't blame her.

Gently, he picked her up. He still kept the downstairs bedroom for her - fresh sheets and all. For some reason, he just never managed to change the bedrooms back to the way they were - he still slept in the attic.

She stirred before he could lay her down and she clutched at his flannel shirt.

"Smells like cigarettes," she mumbled sleepily.

"Been workin'," was his only reply. He set her down and watched her scrunch herself up in the pillows, eyes still closed.

He turned to leave.

She had ahold of his sleeve.

"Stay for a bit." Eyes still closed. She was still asleep.

"I thought I smelled," he replied anyway, amused. He moved back to her reluctantly, although it was what he wanted to do.

"I ... I don't care. I'm not going anywhere. You can't get rid of me that easily." She pulled at him and he finally sat.

What was she talking about? Somehow he figured it was more than cigarette smoke.

He stroked her hair until she was still again.

"Mmmmm. Coffee," Darcy mumbled and shuffled sleepily into the small kitchen. It was so much more homier than Alicia's.

Jake was at the dining table going through what looked like paperwork.

He looked up at her from under full, arched eyebrows.

"You cleaned up again."

Ah. Their usual morning banter. She turned her back on him, finding a mug.

"It was messy." One gulp. Two. yes. That was better. A little more awake, anyway.

"I like it that way."

"Then don't give me a key."

"Oh, you'd still find a way to weasel into my life."

She turned to smile at him and a fine retort froze on her lips. "What are you doing??"

She could tell he was trying not to look at her. The reading material in question was her Windsor catalog, and he seemed to be deep into it.


"Where'd it come from?!" Hmmm. Didn't mean that to sound so desperate.

He finally looked at her, annoyed. "My kitchen table. It was poured all over it."

It must've spilled out of her bag last night. Dammit.

She turned away and clutched her coffee mug. Hell, she was still confused about the whole issue. She did not want to get into it with him.

"Your dear ol' aunt called early this morning. Tried to play the doting sister card on me."

Darcy turned to look at him then, wondering what was coming. He had faced her, but she couldn't read his face. He never used 'sister' in the same sentence with Alicia or her mother if he could help it. No blood. Just legalities. "Actually, it was more like a threat. Told me not to interfere in your life or your future." He glanced back down at the 'future' in question.

Darcy covered her face with her hands and groaned. "Oh, Jake. I'm sorry. Don't pay any attention to her. This is just her way of not having me around anymore. Honestly." She gestured absently to the contents on the table. "This is not about you. This is all just ..."

With a calm countenance, Jake watched her muttering, searching for the right words, so he broke the silence. "What? " he coaxed quietly, all subdued.

"It's ... it's nothing! Why are you not more annoyed about this?!"

"Should I be?"

"Yes! She's just trying to manipu-"

"I think you should do it."

A strange silence fell over the kitchen, leaving Darcy to stare into intense green eyes. There was something hidden there in them. What was it? Resignation?

Whatever it was, it only confused her more.

"Jake ..."

"Oh. What. You have this thing so dog-eared; don't tell me your interest in this is only half-assed."

She forced herself to walk slowly to him; not meeting his gaze, and sat herself in the chair in front of him despondently.

After another pause, Jake sighed good naturally. "You didn't really expect to hang around with me the rest of your young life, did you?"

When she finally looked at him, she realized with a shock that she could see behind his smile to something deeper - loneliness.

Over the next week, Jake watched Alicia push Darcy into a corner over school. But he wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't somewhere Darcy didn't want to be pushed.

She was hanging around the Club every night; too anxious over the whole thing to spend too much time at Alicia's. It was as if her aunt had set an hourglass on it's end and now the sand was running out.

And, in fact, it was. Alicia could only pull so many proverbial strings to get her in this fall term at a place that normally had a waiting list a mile long.

From his cramped office that overlooked the Club on the third floor, Jake had a pretty good view of the dance floor and the stage. He stood at the staircase railing and found her in the crowd in a heartbeat.

A swish of long blonde hair in a twist of bodies. Dancing as if she could keep the pressure at bay. Dancing with anyone. Dancing alone.

Watching her, he felt a sudden surge of fresh loathing for Alicia and Roberta. They were lucky enough to have someone like Darcy in their life, and all they did was ignore her or push her away. They barely thought a little more of Darcy than they did with him. And that was only because they shared blood.

What if Darcy accepting Alicia's offer wasn't such a good idea?

If she did, he wondered selfishly what he could do for her to protect her, like maybe a trail of bread crumbs that led her back to Westonport if all less failed. And to him. To her friends.

Well. If that was what she wanted, anyway.

And then it came to him. Not much of idea, really. But it eased an unfamiliar ache in his chest.

It was blue and white, and despite it's age - a 1967 Chevy - it gleamed and reflected the sunset that had also dosed Elliott's old gas station on Route 93.

The three of them stood in the gravel drive; Jake and Elliott watching a speechless Darcy.

Brandon had been right, she thought to herself - this is a surprise. She was leaving for Windsor the next morning and Brandon and Liz had treated her to lunch. Darcy had been disappointed that Jake and Elliott couldn't join them and kept asking where they were. Liz had kept her cool, giving away nothing. Brandon, on the other hand, couldn't seem to keep him mouth shut and not just about a surprise. He'd kept dropping odd remarks about how Jake's feelings were more than they seemed.

Darcy turned her attention to Jake only to have to squint through the sun, leaving his expression a mystery. She could only make out that he was staring at the old fixed up car that was now obviously hers, his hands shoved deep into jean pockets, his back to the sun.

"When did you...?"

He shifted his weight from foot to foot and tried to shrug nonchalantly.

Elliott spoke up. "We've been working on it off and on for a while. But now we had a reason to finish it."

Darcy quirked an eyebrow at them both. "And what reason would that be exactly?"

Jake moved to stand near her, blocking out the red sun so she could finally see his face. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He took her hand - why did her heart speed up then? - and they jingled as he laid them in her open palm.

He stared at them fondly. "It used to belong to Gus. Never had the heart to sell it. This just seemed like the right time - I mean, you'll need some kind of transportation while you're away...and..."

He trailed off and with another wordless shrug he finally smiled at her carefully.

As her hand closed gently over the keys, she realized she'd been surprised yet again. He had cared more about Gus than anything, and she knew that this really meant something that he was entrusting the prized possession into her care. Had Brandon been right with all those hints about attachment and stronger feelings? It wasn't the easiest concept for her grasp. But she knew one thing without him having to fumble for the right words to say it out loud - now, whenever she wanted, she could come back to Westonport. No invitation required.

It was a gift that neither her mother, or aunt, had ever offered. Would he ever know how much this meant to her?

"Thank you." And she reached out her free hand to touch his face.

to be continued...