I honestly never thought I'd come back to this - the context in reality was a bit too much. But I think for the sake of closing doors and moving on I want to post this last chapter that I never did. Life needs closure, right?
Belle hugged tighter to Kelly's waist, feeling the speed of the wind against her face as they accelerated. She'd never ridden blindfolded before and it compounded the adrenaline of the experience a hundred times. Every turn and change of speed, every brush of friction with traffic and the sounds of other drivers were all amplified to levels she'd never imagined. All her focus was pushed into her senses. The crackle of Kelly's leather jacket beneath her fingers, the rhythmic swell and fall of her breathing, the smell on the skin of her neck where her collar and helmet left a scant inch of flesh exposed; it bordered on intoxicating. Then again, Annabelle had always know that Kelly Jones was her drug of choice, her eternal addiction.
"You're not planning on causing an accident around the Arc again are you? It took Polly ages to erase the police video footage from last time." Annabelle teased.
"Not worth it. She says the Gendarmarie have my tags registered and put me on the watch list. I'll get fresh plates then take them for a run around." Kelly laughed back. She was quite proud of that stunt. What she'd really wanted to do was TP the Eiffel Tower but Polly absolutely refused to help her modify the requisite rocket launchers. So she settled for causing hell by circling the Arc de Triomphe a dozen times, dropping small ground fireworks into traffic. The effect was delayed but the ensuing havoc took down 8 Renaults, 3 Opels, 2 Citroens and a very pissed off Volkswagen.
"So what are we doing?" Belle asked for the twentieth time.
"You'll see, luv." Kelly's laughing answer conveyed her brilliant smile directly to Annabelle's imagination. Most times Fritton could wheedle information out of Jones, or gather hints and clues to have some idea of the coming surprise. This time Kelly wasn't budging, she'd kept Belle in total darkness - literally.
The bike came to a halt and Kelly helped Belle off.
"Now?" she demanded, yanking off her helmet and starting to fuss the blindfold.
"Not yet. Patience is a virtue, remember?" Kelly grabbed her hands, pulling them away from the blindfold and kissing her once for reassurance.
"No St. Trinian's girl has ever been virtuous, Kel." Belle protested but couldn't stop smiling.
"C'mon. Just follow me." Kelly kept hold of both her hands and led her, step by step to their destination. Carefully talking her up the steps, guiding her around corners, warning when they were going on a lift, etc. The only thing Belle could hear was their echoing footsteps on marble floors and announcements over a loud speaker, all in French. She wasn't positive but it sounded like a warning of imminent closing time. It was 17:30 when they left the flat so it must be near on six. What places closed at 6 pm on a Saturday? Belle strained to listen for any English, hoping for some sort of clue as to their location.
"Right, just pause now. Bonsoir, Conservateur. Sommes-nous trop tôt?" Kelly spoke to someone else in the room, her rich, sultry tone perfectly suited to the sensual sounds of French.
"Directement à temps, Mme Jones. Tout est prêt." the answering male voice sounded oddly nervous. Most Frenchmen that Belle had listened to all managed to sound like sexy versions of Jean Reno. This man had more of a hesitant, not-too-familiar-with-women sort of voice. But then, Kelly could bring out that reaction in any man.
"Parfait. Je vous remercie encore une fois, tellement. Je suis tout à fait dans votre dette." Kelly reached back and took Belle's hand then, squeezing it tight as sincerity enriched her tone.
"Non-sens. Nous étions redevables à vous pour votre aide. Je suis seulement trop heureux pour rendre une faveur si magnifique." there was a definite sound of protest, in the classic Gaelic 'non, non, non' sort of way. Belle was pretty sure he even snorted.
"En plus, c'est Paris. Nous sommes une ville dans l'amour avec les amoureux. Je suis simplement un domestique de la romance." he added this with a satisfied chuckle.
"Merci, monsieur. Bonne nuit." Kelly's close of the conversation was followed by retreating footsteps echoing out of the room. There was silence for a moment, Belle was certain she heard a loudspeaker announcing the building was closed. She felt Kelly slip behind her and wrap her arms around Belle's waist, chin resting on her shoulder.
"Right, luv. Now." she whispered and Annabelle, who'd been on the verge of trembling all evening felt a shiver race down her spine. She carefully lifted the blindfold away, keeping her eyes closed for a split second before opening them to take in the full view.
It was an art gallery. An empty art gallery with one painting hung in the place of honor on a spacious wall and perfectly lit. Vermeer.
"Kel -!" Annabelle stared at The Girl With the Pearl Earring, a treasure from their past that she hadn't laid eyes on for more than four years.
"She's on tour again. As soon as I heard, I knew I had to bring you to see her. After all, she's where it all began, right?" Kelly smiled as well, gazing up at the ancient smile that had ignited all their adventures and ensuing romance.
"But she - we - are we in the Louvre?!" Belle dropped her voice to a whisper, afraid of being caught at something forbidden. She hadn't even processed the rest of the scene around them but now she realized there was a table set in the room, complete with champagne and some small foods.
"We are. I helped the Curator expose a ring of forgers that were targeting the museum and we caught them in the act. Polly upgraded their surveillance a bit more, as well. He was only too happy to help me when I called." Kelly guided her to a chair. Belle sat, still in shock. They were having a candlelight, champagne dinner in the middle of the Louvre.
"From art thief to protector? You've come a long way." she finally laughed, surrendering to the situation in all its absurdity and perfection. Kelly poured her a glass of champagne and just smiled, handing it across.
"We both have, Belle." she agreed and they clinked glasses in a toast.
"Alright, so if you're bringing me here, it must be for some major reason. Some big news? Please tell me you're not going to propose." Belle took a sip and joked about her suspicion.
"Actually . . ."
"Kelly, come on. We talked about all that! You know -" Annabelle felt her stomach roll on itself nervously. No way. Kelly wouldn't do this to her, she wouldn't put her on this kind of spot when she knew her girlfriend's view. Kelly just laughed, grabbing Belle's hand to prevent the fist from clenching with anxiety.
"No, Annabelle. Relax. I brought you here to tell you we're going home." Kelly shook her head.
"I know - next month, for Aunty's wedding, right?" Belle breathed a deep sigh of relief.
"No, I mean, we're really going home. The assignment is done, Belle. They're finally bringing us back to London."
"London? For good? Really?" Belle felt her heart race at the thought. Thirty-three months. They'd been traveling for two years and nine months. They were really going to go back?
"Really. Unless you want to continue traveling a few more years." Kelly teased. She knew Belle's wanderlust had been satiated for some time. They'd been having grand adventures but both were starting to feel the constant homesickness of being away from friends, wishing they could just stop and at least revel in the souvenirs and memories they'd accumulated for a while.
"Not half and you know it. I can't hardly remember what West End looks like!" Belle shook her head in amazement.
"Well, that won't be a problem. We've got a flat in St. James and the girls are busy moving our things in from storage now."
Belle stared at her, blinking rapidly because for some reason she felt like she was going to cry. They were going to actually have a home! So much of her had just felt like they'd continue this pattern forever: 3 months, new flat, new country, new language, new feelings of being lost and disoriented all over again. She had loved the excitement and the adrenaline but she got tired of accumulating knowledge only to have it wiped out after 90 days - at most! She was sick of making brief, passing friendships just to say goodbye, of learning and falling in love with a new city just in time to leave.
They were going home. Kelly would work for MI7's office in London and Annabelle could write and they could visit all their friends and see the school as often as they wanted. They could do all the boring, domestic things like buying furniture and painting walls and make a space completely their own. They could leave and travel on vacation and enjoy other cities in the full knowledge they had their own place waiting for their return.
"Kelly, this is amazing. I can't believe it. How soon?" she was holding Jones' hands tight in her own, hanging onto the anchor of solid assurance that this wasn't just some dream.
"End of the month I finish the last of the paperwork and we take our last one-way flight."
"That's, wow, just 12 days," Belle breathed as she calculated then rose suddenly to her feet, tugging Kelly up as well and pulling her close, "You know I would travel to the edge of the universe to stay with you, right?"
"Of course." Jones nodded, a little surprised by the suddenly serious turn in mood. Belle's hazel green eyes sparkled up at her with the intensity of fireworks.
"Then you'll believe me when I tell you I'm ecstatic that I can stay by your side for the rest of my life without ever having to set foot in another MI7 flat." Belle's mouth tugged into a sly smile in one corner.
"Christ, me too, luv!" Kelly laughed and hugged her close. She was pretty sure that the agency hadn't even cleaned up half the flats before their arrival and a number had obviously been vacated under lethal circumstances. If Kelly never had to bleach blood stains out of a counter again, she'd be happy. They stood in a close happy embrace for some minutes, exchanging small kisses and touches. Belle gazed at the painting on the wall, their private art Saint smiling beatifically on this outcome.
"Kelly, I do have just one question. It's a bit important." Annabelle leaned back.
"What? Just ask." Kelly insisted. Anything and everything was possible now.
"Can I get a puppy?"
The beeping in her ear triggered a minimal reaction from Belle. With as little movement as possible she slapped the alarm off the nightstand. It hit the floor loudly and continued to beep until she reached down and smashed it again. Why couldn't alarms ever get the point the first time? And why was the snooze button always so bloody hard to find? She grumbled and rolled back over but it was too late. The wakeful activity had alerted the rest of the bed's occupants that she was conscious. Kelly's arms pulling her into a sleepy hug were welcome. The tiny paws crawling over her head were not. Particularly since they had a habit of walking straight over her cheek with claws out.
"Christ! Geli! He's trying to rip my face off. I know it," Belle growled as the kitten purred and nuzzled Kelly's hair, "And now his bum's in my face. Just what I want to see when I wake up."
"You're just grumpy 'cause I forbid Orlando from sleeping on the bed anymore." Kelly laughed, shifting the Siamese to the other side of her head, restoring her uninterrupted view of Annabelle's morning face. Five years since their first time waking up together and she still found it adorable the way Belle squinted her eyes open one at a time to register daylight and then squeezed both shut in denial.
"You were playing favorites." Belle pointed out stubbornly, eyes still closed. The Welsh Corgi's head had perked up from his basket the instant he heard his name, huge pointed ears excitedly waiting for an invitation. Annabelle snapped her fingers three times, giving the puppy permission to leap onto the bed. He immediately began digging at the covers between them, looking for access under the blankets.
"See? This is why he can't sleep up here. I don't like waking up with a cold nose on my bum at 2 in the morning." Kelly pushed Orlando away, pulling Belle closer so there was no space for the puppy. Unable to engage in his favorite burrowing activity and denied any warm skin to press his perpetually icy nose against, the Corgi was content to engage in playtime with Geli. The two juvenile animals played at the foot of the bed, as they had for the last 6 months. They'd been purchased at the same time and same age. Despite the fact that Orlando was now 4 times the size of his playmate, the Siamese kitten was the undisputed master of the house. Even over the humans.
"What're you doing today?" Kelly kissed Belle's cheeked as she yawned lazily.
"Auntie asked me to come for tea. Something about school business." her words slurred into Kelly's neck as she endeavored to slide back down to sleep.
"No more than 50,000£ this time." Jones reminded her of the decision they'd made as far as credit went with St. Trinian's. After the last 100K had been spent on building a racetrack they both decided the school wasn't hurting as bad as Camilla always liked to pretend.
"Mmm. Are we going to be home for Christmas? I can't remember." Annabelle was finally starting to wake up. It usually took 5-10 minutes of cuddling and conversation before her brain accepted that it had to be alert. She would get in a terrible temper on mornings she woke up alone or had to immediately rush from the sheets; it just threw off her whole rhythm. Kelly was only too happy to coddle her towards consciousness.
"Should be. Unless you still wanted to go back to Bangkok." Kelly thought of the map in her office. White pins were all the places they'd been during her training courses. Red pins were the cities they wanted to see again. Blue were the ones you couldn't pay either girl to fly over.
"Nah. Sopranos are staying in for the winter break this year." Belle didn't even have to explain the massive ramifications of the Twins loose on St. Trinian's ground with minimal supervision. At 15 there were no longer any locks strong enough to keep them out of the military grade arsenal.
"We will definitely go stay on campus." Kelly agreed immediately, fitting in one last kiss before sitting up to stretch. Belle sighed and pushed herself up as well, taking a few minutes to give Orlando a belly rub before rising. Kelly headed to the bathroom while Annabelle went downstairs to make tea, the same routine they'd had ever since they left St. Trinian's together.
Belle smiled as she contemplated how easily the time had passed and how naturally they'd evolved with this life. She clicked the kettle on and pulled down mugs, readying a cup of Darjeeling for Kelly (milk, two sugars) and Earl Grey for herself (light cream, one spoon of honey). She listened to the familiar combined sounds of the kettle starting to heat as the shower above her also hissed and spattered.
She'd never expected something as perfect as this. She couldn't have dreamed of someone like Kelly. Jones thought she didn't know but Belle had seen their electricity rates over the summer. The woman spent a fortune on cooling just so the bedroom was chilled enough for them to cuddle all night. A thousand little gestures like that cropped up throughout their daily life and Belle loved when she spotted another hint of Kelly's suppressed romanticism. Tough as nails, sure, but soft as meringue underneath.
The shower upstairs shut off at the same time the kettle clicked. Belle poured the water and took the mugs of steaming tea back upstairs. She paused at the door to the bedroom, silently watching as Kelly tried to make the bed. She was only wearing her robe and still pink from her shower. She was also too distracted to notice Belle watch as she fought with Geli about whether the bed should be made.
Kelly would pull up the sheets and throw the pillow to the head, only to have Geli immediately attack the tossed object, wrestling the massive opponent over the mattress. When he eventually rolled off the side of the bed - pillow in tow - he clambered back up via the sheets, effectively setting them skew again. If Kelly dared put him on the floor he climbed directly up her.
His next target was the edge of the blanket that had mysteriously dared to move when Kelly was tugging the blankets even. He dug under and then rolled over three times, effectively making a kitten/blanket burrito. Kelly gave up and laughed, gathering the feisty kitten against her shoulder.
"See here, Little Soprano, this bed will be made!" she chuckled, stroking his cheek. Belle stifled a laugh. She'd originally been confused when Kelly named her cat 'Gelignite.' It was only later she found out that it was one of the Twins' plastic explosives of choice. The kitten was already a miniature demolitions expert.
Kelly set him back down on the bed. Geli assumed the affection had been a reward for his battle prowess and immediately resumed attacking the pillows.
"Geli!" Kelly protested, trying to pull him away and thereby making her hand the next target of interest. Jones sighed, watching the tiny feline terror attack her fingers while purring like an outboard motor.
"Give it up, Kel. Bed's not getting made. Worried there'll be dorm inspections or something?" Belle finally laughed, holding out Jones' mug of tea. Kelly smiled gratefully, taking a long sip before releasing a contented sigh. They rested, side by side, against the bureau, looking out at the hesitant rain sprinkling the windows.
"What time are you going in?" Belle took a deep breath, catching a hint of Kelly's freshly bathed and shampooed body. Funny how they could use the same soaps and never smell alike.
"Late start today. I can hang out a bit. You want to shower and get some breakfast?"
"Would both be group activities?" Belle inquired playfully. Kelly laughed, lacing her fingers with Annabelle's.
"Last time we showered together we ran out the hot tap. I think the geyser wanted to die."
"We could do with a new one." Annabelle persisted.
"How about you get showered and we take 'Lando for a walk? We could grab breakfast for the park."
"And leave poor Geli all alone?" the brunette faked horror.
"Oh, didn't you know? He's dating your left sandal. I'm sure he'd be thrilled with some quality time." Kelly shot right back. Belle quickly ran through a mental list of her shoes. Sandals . . .sandals . . .
"You'd better not mean my Amalfis."
"Actually it's the Cole Haans," Kelly nudged Belle towards the shower with a glance at the clock, "He sees the right Amalfi on weekends."
"Liven up that tea for you, girlie?" Camilla Fritton held up a bottle of brandy as Annabelle poured milk into her cup.
"Not yet, Aunty, thank you." Belle smiled but shook her head. She found it was best to stay dead sober around her Aunt until any and all business had finished. The Headmistress shrugged and poured a healthy dollop into her own cup and sipped with a grateful sigh.
Annabelle and Kelly visited the school every weekend. They watched games, coached the girls and provided consultation for business negotiations and espionage. Besides that, Belle regularly visited to have tea or lunch with her Aunt, who hadn't changed a bit. The wedding to Thwaites had been postponed after the First Years blew up the gazebo and for some reason the couple just never got around to completing the nuptials. Belle privately suspected it was because her aunt didn't fancy become Mrs. Thwaites the Second. Kelly was far more pragmatic - she was certain Camilla just didn't want to share the school.
"Congratulations on another smash success, lolly. This makes eight now, doesn't it?" Camilla nodded to her hard bound copy of Annabelle's latest short story collection. She always made sure to send her dearest relative a personally inscribed copy. She'd wondered if she wasn't being presumptuous - that was until she visited and saw how all her books had a place of prominent display in the Headmistress' office. Praise was very un-British, but she was glad to see her Aunt was proud of her.
"Yes. Although two were novels." Annabelle nodded.
"You've been beyond prolific. Good old Fritton genes, eh? Or should we call it Shakespeare blood?" Fritton Sr. winked.
"I think it's more having been here at this place. It would be impossible to write stories about St. Trinian's and fail." Annabelle let her gaze wander the room affectionately. She'd been so terrified the first time she sat in this office, it seemed like a different life. She'd traveled through some of her most intense changes of character in this room, at this school. She always secretly believed that was why her stories succeeded; she was just always trying to convey what St. Trinian's meant to her, had done for her.
Camilla noted the warm expression on her niece's face. There was no denying her sentiment for the old place. Fritton Sr. knew for a fact that the loves of Annabelle's life were Kelly Jones first, St. Trinian's second. Family and friends and the rest came in as distant thirds and fourths. That was the exact way she wanted it.
"Quite probably true, which is why I wanted to talk to you," Camilla snapped Belle's attention back to her, "What are you doing with yourself, girl?"
"Uhm," Belle blinked, taken aback by the sudden interrogation, "Writing?"
"No, no, I mean in the larger scope! You've got scads of money, natural talent, years of experience that people three times your age couldn't touch and to top it all off, a nauseating amount of youth still ahead of you. What are you actually planning to do?"
"I - I don't know. I've just been taking life as it comes." Belle shrugged, feeling a bit like a schoolgirl again, offering only half-thought answers.
"No, no. That's no sort of strategy! Annabelle, you have been given tremendous gifts by life - not the least of which being an almost repugnantly perfect relationship with the love of your life. Don't you understand, girlie? You have all the things most people spend their lives chasing: love, money, success, adventure. Isn't it time you thought about thanking the universe by returning some of the favors?"
"I'm pretty sure the last 175,000 quid we've given the school has cleared our debts with Karma." Belle cocked one eyebrow, convinced this was another play for more money.
"Nonsense, that's just money. I'm talking about having a higher purpose in your life. Annabelle, it's time you and Kelly came back to St. Trinian's."
"What?" Belle stared at her Aunt as though she'd suggested a naked swim in the Thames.
"You heard me. We need you here. Far more than London needs you out there or your publishers and agents need you nearby. You're a legend, Annabelle. You and Kelly have become icons of everything our girls can be. I need you to come back and show them how to do it!" Camilla reached out and clasped her niece's hands. She was serious. Completely and totally deadpan serious.
"I can't teach, Aunty." she protested, even though her brain was already doing excited calculations of the travel time to the school from London. It would use a lot of Petrol. It would be much easier to just live on site . . .
"Yes you can, lolly. Because you can lead by example. Teach them what you know: how to observe and describe, how to find what they love and are excited about. If you teach them to find the same passion that you found then they may not all become writers but they'll find their drive!"
Annabelle was stunned silent as her brain screamed through thoughts at warp speed. She'd said once - years ago - that there were worse fates than coming back and spending the rest of her life at St. Trinian's. She'd always entertained the idea as an option, a distant notion. A huge piece of her soul lived and breathed inside the old stone of this school. She could, maybe, possibly, teach a writing class. Just for the girls that might want it. She knew a handful had already asked her questions about writing and publishing so obviously there were at least a few that were interested. Teachers were low on the totem pole at St. Trinian's but then, they'd never had a former Head Girl come back to teach.
"But Kelly." Belle stopped her rationalizations before they got any further. She couldn't possibly entertain these ideas without Kelly. Her job was in London and Belle couldn't just decide to uproot their life to fulfill an old dream. Even though they both always talked about returning, about what they wanted to do for the school, this probably wasn't the time. Not yet.
"I talked to Kelly Jones already, Annabelle. Your girlfriend is quite enthused about the idea. In fact, it was partially hers."
"What?!" Belle felt like she'd been asking that question a lot lately. Was everyone always planning her life without her knowledge?
"Actually, it was Director Hall I believe. Apparently my old schoolmate at MI7 would like a bit of a more active relationship with our dear institution. Something about starting a grooming program for potential future agents. Kelly knows more about that. In fact," Camilla rose and touched her desk intercom, "Beverly, has Jones arrived yet?"
"Yes, Miss Fritton."
"Then tell her to stop being fashionably late and bloody come in!"
The order was followed by the immediate sound of Kelly sweeping in the door, a rhythm of footsteps Belle knew anywhere.
"She told you, then?" Jones settled onto the couch beside Belle, expression expectant.
"Yeah, she told me. Kelly, how long have you been talking about this?!" Annabelle didn't like the idea of her girlfriend and aunt conspiring against her. Even though it wasn't, technically, against her. Actually it was more like they were conspiring for her.
"Just the last three days, Belle. Hall brought it up to me on Monday and I had to talk to your aunt first about whether MI7 could form a partnership with the school. Once that was settled, well, it was just how we could get you on board." Kelly did look apologetic that she couldn't share more information sooner.
It had been complex, negotiating the optional curriculum and all the necessary procedures and screenings. She'd pushed hard for it, mediating between Hall and Fritton Sr. because she knew she had to make it work. She knew this was where they belonged.
"Of course, I've wanted you both back here for ages. I just wasn't going to interfere with your escapades and realizing your dreams etc. But Kelly Jones has kept you away from your rightful place long enough. You've finished with that chapter now and you have to realize: if you're truly ready to settle down then you stopped short. It's time for you to come the rest of the way home." Camilla declared with a finality that brooked no argument.
"What do you say, Belle? Is this where we finish our story?" Kelly gently prodded, holding her hand and turning Belle's cheek so she could see the thoughts racing through those perfect, sparkling eyes.
"Finish? No," Belle shook her head, smile teasing, "But we could start the sequel."
Kelly laughed and pulled Annabelle into a happy kiss of celebration, a thousand thank you's passing between their lips. Camilla let off a triumphant cheer which was instantly echoed by voices from all around. The floors above, the rooms outside, the yard beyond the windows - everywhere at once was filled with the instantaneous celebration of the entire school as they heard the news over all the wires. There were explosions in the distance as the Twins set off a victory bombs throughout the grounds. St. Trinian's favorite daughters had returned at last.