Remeber when I said before June was over? I meant January. Sigh. I fail. BUT I am finally delivering! The final instalment of Sandcastles! The summer finally comes to an end, and it's super cute. Feedback is loved, and to all those who stuck through the story, you're incredible. Thank you for helping me finish another chapter story. Also, go read Summer of the Traveling Princess.
Dedicated to: RenaYumi for getting me to the end, DayDreamer9 for being there from the beginning, and everyone else for being awesome. Enjoy~
Aelita woke with a sound of contentment, shifting comfortably under the warm blankets of her borrowed summer bed. Rolling her head to the side, she smiled as the pink light of sunrise that filtered into her room through the wide picture window. For a while she just lay in bed, watching as the sun slowly rose over the water. As she watched the light playing across the sea, she wondered what fun adventures she and Odd would be able to get into today.
For the last week and a half she and Odd had agreed to leave Yumi and Ulrich alone for a while as they turned their collective adventurous streaks on the island itself. With Odd as her guide, Aelita had explored every inch of the land, the blonde leading her all across the island's beaches and through the caves that littered its shores. Borrowing some of Louise's climbing gear, they'd made it all the way to the top of the cliffs at one end of the island, and then found a few snorkels and looked for fish and coral on the other. They'd even spent a night camping in the island's jungle, telling scary stories and roasting marshmallows around a big flashlight and Odd's portable heater.
But it was just as Aelita was recalling these exciting memories that she remembered something—today was Sunday. Odd likely wouldn't be up before noon on a Sunday, if not later. She frowned. That meant no adventures for them, at least not for a while yet.
Sighing, Aelita's brow furrowed.
What was she supposed to do until then?
Luckily her stomach chose that moment to let her know that before she could go adventuring she needed some fuel. And as her belly rumbled wistfully Aelita's mind churned with ideas for a new adventure.
Emily sighed, resting her chin in hand. With the eraser end of her pencil she played with the petals of the white, star shaped flowers that filled the vase on her desk. Almost two weeks they'd spent in that vase, yet they looked just as fresh as the day Jeremy had sheepishly handed them to her.
Leaning forward, Emily breathed in the flower's soft, sweet scent and sighed again, letting her head fall into the crook of her elbow.
"Are you going to do that all night?"
"Hmm?" Emily looked up, peering over her textbooks to spot Sissi sprawled across her bed, frowning back at her across an open notebook and half chewed pen. "Do what?"
"You know what," Sissi huffed. "You keep sighing and making faces at those silly flowers of yours."
"They're not silly," Emily said. When Sissi only continued to scowl a small, mischievous smile lit Emily's face. "You know, if I didn't know better, I would think you were jealous."
"What?" Sissi gasped. She blinked at Emily a few times, struggling to come up with an adequate response. "What could I possibly be jealous of?"
"Oh, I don't know," Emily said airily. Grinning, she leaned back, hugging her notebook to her chest as she swiveled her chair to face her still dower roommate. "Maybe my summer romance?"
After sputtering for a few moments Sissi finally settled on an ineloquent "psh" before turning back to her notes. She scowled as she continued to nibble her pen cap, the nit of plastic bobbing in time with her occasional 'hmphs' of dissatisfaction. Still grinning, Emily was just turning back to her own work when Sissi reached the breaking point of her stewing silence.
"I mean, what is there to be jealous of anyway?" she demanded, throwing down her pen. "It's not like I like Jeremy or anything. I'm certainly not jealous of that particular aspect of your relationship. Not that there's anything, you know, wrong with Jeremy or anything, he's just not my type. He's just so…"
"Smart?" Emily offered.
"Yes. Wait, no!" Sissi scowled. "I like smart guys too, you know. But Jeremy's just so nerdy and bookish, and that's just not my type at all."
"Ah," Emily breathed. "You mean you just like guys who are smart enough to read."
"Stop that," Sissi whined, while Emily giggled.
"You know, there's still two weeks of summer left," Emily said. "I'm sure you could find yourself a guy to give you flowers before we have to go back to Kadic."
"I'm sure I could to," Sissi agreed. Flipping her notebook shut she shoved her school things aside and, rolling onto her back, continued to watch Emily from upside down. "This is supposed to be a break from school. Why shouldn't be studying for finals."
"How about we take a break," Emily offered, shutting her own book. "And we can study for a different kind of final." As Sissi's raised eyebrow, Emily continued with, "We're going to find you a date!"
"Emily, I don't know if you just haven't noticed, what with how hard you've been studying, but there aren't exactly a lot of guys my type here at summer school."
"This isn't summer school," Emily corrected, "it's a pre-university course. And there are plenty of guys your type here. You like guys who play soccer, do bad in school, and have brown hair, right?" Emily said. Sissi stared her confusion before Emily clarified with, "Ulrich."
"Oh, yes, yes I do," Sissi said, trying to nod while still half hanging off her bed.
"Well, Ulrich's not here, but there are two similar types just down the hall." Sissi started to ask who, when something slammed against their door, followed by two voices, one shouting 'Sorry!' and the other 'Goal!' Sissi's expression darkened.
"Those two dweebs aren't anywhere near the same level as Ulrich, and you know it."
"Just trying to help," Emily said, although her toothy grin said otherwise. "Of course, there are other guys on this trip. What about—hey!" Emily shouted, eyes lighting with an idea. "What about William?"
Sissi simply stared.
"What?" Emily asked, twisting back and forth in her chair. "You two would be perfect together. You're both…well, he's a little smarter than you, but you both like to read! I mean, I know you read magazines and he reads literature, but you could still read together. And you both…you like people who are in relationships!"
"That's a terrible reason for me to date someone," Sissi said, frowning.
"I'm grasping at straws here," Emily admitted. "But you have to admit I'm right. If nothing else, you two would look cute together. He's all dark and brooding, it would go great with that dramatic beauty thing you've got going on." Sissi looked about to argue but then paused, looking thoughtful. Emily grinned, knowing she'd found an argument Sissi couldn't ignore. After all, what was a boyfriend good for if not a fashion accessory?
"Okay, I'll think about it," Sissi said.
"Nu-uh." Emily shook her head. "You have to actually go on a date with him. This is supposed to be an exam, remember."
"Okay then," Sissi said, rolling onto her stomach. "If my exam is to take William on a date, then what's yours?"
"I'll take Jeremy on a date."
"Emily," Sissi sighed, "You and Jeremy are already dating. You've been on a date almost every night for the past two weeks. If I have to hear about one more place that he took you in Paris, I'm going to start pulling my hair—well, someone's hair out. Your test has to be harder than something you've been doing anyway."
"Okay then," Emily said, rolling her eyes. "Then what do you suggest?" Sissi hemmed and hawed thoughtfully, tapping her chin as she thought.
"Oh! I know," she gasped, eyes lighting up. "For your exam, you have to kiss Jeremy! And don't try and tell me you already have," Sissi quickly added, before Emily could do just that. "I know for a fact that if that had happened I would already know about it."
"Oh yeah?" Emily asked. Sissi nodded.
"If you didn't tell me, then Jeremy would have told William and you know if Jeremy told William then Theo and Timothy would have overheard, and then everyone would know, including me. And since I don't know about it, it didn't happen."
Despite wanting to get out of Sissi's ridiculous test, Emily knew that the girl had a very valid point. Realizing she wasn't going to be able to get out of Sissi's demands without also having to relinquish a Sissi and William date, Emily agreed, but with one final demand.
"Fine, I'll kiss Jeremy. But if I do that then you and William have to go on a date. And—" she added quickly. "—the rest of us get to come and watch."
Rolling onto his back, Odd yawned loud and wide, smacking his lips as he plodded his way into consciousness. For a long moment he lay in bed, blankets tangled around one leg and pillow nowhere to be found, and wondered what it was that could possibly have woken him at—he glanced at the clock and flashed it a horrified look—much too early in the morning.
And then he heard the sound again—a faint whirring, coming from downstairs. His first thought was the blender, but who would be using the blender this early in the morning?
When the realization dawned on his Odd grinned. Grabbing up a t-shirt from his floor, Odd pulled it over his head as he made his way out of his room, quickly crossing the hall to stick his head into what was usually his sister's room. Adele's bed was rumpled with the signs of a recent sleeper, but otherwise unoccupied.
His suspicions confirmed, Odd made his way down the stairs via a slide down the railing. As he reached the bottom the sounds of someone shuffling about in the kitchen caught his ear. A familiar 'oh!' sounded, followed by what sounded like a bowl clattering onto the counter. Grinning at the thoughtful 'hmm' that followed, Odd circled around to the kitchen. His grin widened at the site that met him.
Across the kitchen counter measuring cups of all sizes peeked out from under bowls filled with eggs and water, while a gallon of milk stood sentry beside a tower of Odd's mother's cookbooks. A bag of flour lay on its side, its contents trickling into a mug, while an open jar of sugar kept the baking pans littering the stovetop company. What looked like every bottle of cooking oil in the kitchen had made it out of the cupboards and, to Odd's confusion, the blender had been rummaged out and now stood half filled with what looked like baking mix and butter.
And in the middle of it all stood Aelita, an egg in one hand and an aged index card in the other, confusion shining bright on her flour smudged face.
"Morning Princess," Odd said, plopping onto one of the bar stools lining the kitchen counter. "What's for breakfast?"
"Pancakes," Aelita responded matter-of-factly, not even looking up from the card on which Odd's mother kept the family recipe. Pointing to the blender, Odd asked,
"What's that for?"
"The instructions said to blend the pancake mix with the butter," Aelita said. Judging by the ratio in the blender, Odd could only assume Aelita had found one package of his mother's premade mix and an entire tub of butter and simply added them together. Struggling not to grin, he pointed to the bowls of eggs and water.
"And those?" he asked. Aelita smiled as she said,
"I'm mixing the eggs and the water in a bowl." As she spoke she motioned to the spoon handles sticking out of each bowl. Biting his lip, Odd pointed to the mug of white powder.
"One cup of flour," Aelita said with a grin. She then frowned, glancing at the card and then her haphazard ingredients. "I've been sifting the sugar for a little while now, but it doesn't seem to be making anything 'thicken'." Seeing Aelita's innocent confusion, Odd asked her to show him just how she'd been sifting the sugar. Smiling, she picked up the jar of sugar and shook it lightly back and forth.
"Okay Princess," Odd said, jumping up and joining the pink haired girl in the kitchen. He paused at the fridge to grab out two cartons of eggs, which he handed to Aelita. "How about this—I'll make the pancakes, and you can make up some omelets."
Shoving the card into Odd's hands, Aelita retrieved the eggs and scurried off to the stove, leaving a grinning blonde and a cloud of flour in her wake.
"So, you know what you're supposed to do, right?" Sissi asked. Emily, for what felt like the hundredth time, nodded.
"Yes, yes, yes," she sighed, frowning at Sissi, who had spent the better half of the afternoon coaching her roommate through all the ways she could turn her study date with Jeremy into a romantic evening for two. "You know, he's going to get suspicious if he gets here and you're still here as well. I told him you were going to be out for the night."
"I know, I know," Sissi waved her off. "I'll be gone, don't worry. But you're sure you're ready?" she asked. Emily rolled her eyes, sighing dramatically. "Okay, I'm going," Sissi said, grabbing up her school things. "I'll have my phone on if you need me."
"Not in the library you won't," Emily chided. Sissi scoffed.
"I think in this situation, I can count it as an emergency call." Emily shook her head at her friend, although she was smiling her thanks as, with a final reminder to 'laugh even when he's not funny!' Sissi finished grabbing up her things and vanished through the door.
And just in time, too. Emily had only to wait just about the amount of time it would have taken Sissi to get to the end of the hall before she heard the door to Jeremy's dorm open and close and, a moment later, a familiar tentative knocking at the door.
"Come on in!" Emily called, immediately smoothing her skirt, once again a fashion decision made by Sissi. In an attempt to hide the fact that she was very much dressed up for what should have been a simple study date, Emily quickly pulled on a hooded sweatshirt over the top Sissi had also picked. She was standing in the middle of the room, still adjusting the sweater, when Jeremy entered.
"Oh, umm, hey," she said, trying and failing to not blush. "You're early."
"You did say you wanted to study at six, right?" Jeremy asked, glancing uncertainly towards the girls' shared alarm clock. Emily was in the middle of nodding her agreement when she caught sight of the bright red numbers—6:05.
"Oh, haha, silly me," she said, waving a hand airily. "I must have lost track of the time." Still giggling uncertainly, she let her hands drop. Jeremy, textbooks in hand, continued to stand by the door, looking uncertain of what to do next. "Oh gosh, umm, please, feel free to sit anywhere," Emily said, realizing her lapse of manners. Casting about, she started to clear away some of the things piled on her bed, only to spot Jeremy half lowered into Sissi's abandoned desk chair.
"Uh, is it okay if I sit here?" Jeremy asked slowly, visibly confused by Emily's actions. Feeling her cheeks heat with a blush, Emily nodded, putting her armful of blankets and random clothes back where they'd been sitting.
"Yeah, sorry, that's fine," she said, as she sheepishly retook her own seat. Smiling her way, Jeremy set down his books before picking the one from the top and opening it.
"How do you feel about starting with chemistry?" Jeremy asked. Emily's response was a slightly awkward laugh. Her laugh quickly faded into an uncomfortable throat clearing when she realized that Jeremy's question hadn't been one of those not-funny-jokes Sissi told her she should laugh at anyway.
"Sorry," she mumbled, ducking her head. She was picking awkwardly at her skirt when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she met Jeremy's gaze, blue eyes watching her with curiosity from behind his glasses.
"Is everything okay?" he asked. "You seem anxious about something."
"Oh, you know, exam jitters," Emily said. Jeremy gave her a flat look, which said clearly he wasn't buying it in the least. For a few seconds Emily tried to think of another excuse, but realized that the likelihood of Jeremy actually buying it was nonexistent. Leaning back into her chair, she sighed.
"You're right, it's not just exams. Sissi and I kind of have a…a bet going."
"Oh?" Jeremy's eyebrows raised as he closed the textbook. "Sounds interesting."
"You could say that," Emily agreed. "You see, she has to go out on a date with William, but for her to do that, I, uh…"
"I have to kiss you," Emily mumbled quickly before ducking her head, her cheeks burning. Staring hard at her lap, Emily wasn't sure what to expect, although a lot of her was fairly convinced that Jeremy would take that as his cue to get up and leave. When she heard his chair shifting she assumed he was doing just that and, not wanting to lose her boyfriend after only just gaining him, she looked up—
To find Jeremy sitting only inches away, his face as red as hers felt but his gaze determined. Leaning forward his lips found hers in a quick, gentle peck before he looked down sheepishly. Emily blinked, fingers coming to her lips as they continued to tingle with the feel of Jeremy's kiss. Slowly a smile spread across her face and, picking up Jeremy's forgotten text book, she scooted up beside him.
"So," she said, catching Jeremy's gaze and smiling. Slowly he smiled back.
"So," he agreed.
"You wanted to start with chemistry?"
"I can't believe you actually did it!"
Sissi was barely through the doorway before one look at Emily's face told her exactly how her roommate's sudo-exam had gone.
"Shhh," Emily hissed, tugging the other girl the rest of the way into the room and shutting the door. "Someone could here you!"
"Someone who, Jeremy?" Sissi asked, dropping her things without thought for tidiness. "Emily, I think he already knows."
"Not Jeremy," Emily deadpanned. "You know exactly what someone I mean."
"I know, I know," Sissi said, looking like her expression couldn't settle between pleased and annoyed.
"How did you know, anyway?" Emily asked, flopping back onto her bed.
"Are you kidding?" Sissi paused in removing her coat to simply stare at her roommate. "I could hear your happy humming from down the hall. And your ridiculously goofy expression doesn't exactly hide much."
"Very funny," Emily said, even as she blushed and grinned, flashing Sissi the exact 'goofy expression' she was talking about. Sighing, Sissi dropped into her own bed.
"Well, congrats," she said. "Honestly I didn't think you two would be able to pull it off. So," she added, grabbing a pillow and rolling on top of it, "how did you do it? I bet it was the knee-touch, right? That one's always worked for me. Or did you giggle and flip your hair—" Sissi flipped her hair in example, "—and then tap him on the shoulder?"
"Umm, neither," Emily said. "Actually, I just ended up telling him about the bet, and then he kissed me."
"You know I didn't like any of those things you showed me," Emily sighed. Sissi quickly waved her off.
"But you can't just tell him about the bet to get him to kiss you! That's…that's cheating!"
"We never agreed that we couldn't tell," Emily said. "And it's not like I told him to make him kiss me. He could tell I was acting all weird and was asking about it. I had to tell him. But it doesn't matter how I did it—the fact of the matter is, I did. And now you get to go on a date!"
Groaning, Sissi let her face drop into her pillow.
"Yay," she grumbled. "Lucky me."
Ulrich sighed, sinking into his chair and patting his stomach contently. Around the dining table his friend all did the same as looked over the remains of three massive stacks of pancakes and what had to be a dozen omelets.
"You two make a good breakfast team," Yumi said, smiling as she finished her last bite of eggs.
"Thanks!" Aelita chirped over her misshapen pancake (Odd had allowed her to pour most of them).
"Agreed," Ulrich said, lifting his orange juice glass in what looked like some kind of toast, although when he lifted the juice to his lips to drink he simply burped once, frowned at the juice, and then set it back down.
"We do make a good team, don't we?" Odd said, looping an arm around Aelita's shoulders. She giggled, leaning into the hug. "So teammate, what should we do now? An after breakfast swim?"
"We'd sink like rocks," Yumi informed him. "How about something a little less athletic. Like tanning."
"Or sleeping," Ulrich offered. Yumi rolled her eyes, swiping half-heartedly at the brunet. Ulrich flailed dramatically and rolled out of his chair. Aelita giggled at their antics and then suddenly jumped up and dashed from the room. Three pairs of eyes, one peering over the table edge, exchanged looks, before Aelita reappeared, pink laptop in her hands.
"We need to call Jeremy!"
"Oh yeah, good thinking Aelita," Ulrich said as he climbed back into his chair. As Aelita set up her laptop the others scooted in close so that they could all be seen they their friend. However their close proximity started Odd and Ulrich going in some kind of flail war, and by the time Aelita was able to get Jeremy's webcam pulled up it was for the blonde to see the two boys tumble out of sight.
"So, business as usual I see," he said.
"Good morning," Aelita chirped, holding up her plate of breakfast. "Look what I helped Odd cook!"
"Very nice," Jeremy said, laughing at his friend's enthusiasm. Grinning, Aelita lowered her plate. "I assume you're all having a good morning?"
"Yep," Ulrich said, popping up beside Yumi.
"Wonderful," Odd agreed as he emerged at Aelita's side. "How about you Jer, how was your night?"
"It went well," Jeremy said, only to have four faces frown at him.
"You know what he means," Yumi said, grinning. Ulrich responded to the boy's frown with,
"You had a study date with Emily last night, right?"
Jeremy stared. He started to ask a question and then paused, turning to look over his shoulder. It was then that the group noticed William's absence, and the sound of running water in the background.
"I told him not to use my webcam without asking first."
"You're not even mad and you know it," Ulrich said. "So spill, how'd the date go?"
"How do you think it went?" Jeremy asked. "It was a study date. We studied."
"Uh-huh, sure you did," Odd said, while the girls grinned.
"A study date is still a date, Jer," Yumi said. "So…?"
"Nothing happened," Jeremy said, although even overt he grainy webcam image all four friends could see his bright blush.
"Come on Jeremy," Aelita said, leaning forward and resting her chin in her hands. "Tells us!" Jeremy paused, staring at his friends. Then, chewing his lips, he glanced over his shoulder at the bathroom. Seeming content at the sound of still running water, he nodded once. Leaning in close to the computer he whispered,
"My and Emily might have kissed."
Jeremy was then shushing his friends, scrambling to turn down his speakers.
"Ooooh," Odd said, grinning, "Someone's keeping secrets."
"What do you mean?"
"He means why haven't you told William yet," Ulrich said.
"About kissing Emily?" Jeremy clarified. "Oh, I have. That's not why I'm being quiet."
It wasn't often that their bookish friend kept secrets and, excited by the prospect of one, they scooted in close. They could tell Jeremy was trying to hide a grin as he glanced back at the shower. Turning back, he leaned in close again and whispered,
"So, apparently Sissi and Emily have this little bet going, where if one of them does something the other one has to do something in return. Emily's thing was to kiss me."
"And Sissi's?" Yumi asked, whispering as well.
"She has to go on a date with William, while the rest of us get to watch."
Once again Jeremy was forced to mute his friends, but this time to hide their laughter. As they got themselves back under control he turned his sound back on.
"Yeah, their date's tonight. William didn't want to go, he even suspected something was up when Sissi asked him, but I convinced him it was Emily's idea because she thought Sissi was getting lonely without a guy of her own."
"Wow Jer," Ulrich said, while Odd gave an appreciative whistle. "I never would have thought you had it in you."
"You'd be surprised," Jeremy said. Just as he finished the bathroom door opened, a toweled and tousled William waving over Jeremy's shoulder. "And that's my cue," Jeremy said. "I'll talk to you guys tomorrow."
"You'd better," Odd said. Grinning, Jeremy waved and logged off.
"Wow," Ulrich said again as Aelita set aside her computer. "Look at Jer being all sneaky."
"He learned from the best," Odd assured him. Yumi rolled her eyes.
"Or the worst." Aelita giggled while Odd pouted. Ulrich, still rubbing at his full stomach watched the duo's antics for a few moments before, in a moment of silence, asking,
"So, how about that nap?"
Sissi picked at the tablecloth, hand in her chin as she tried to come up with something to say.
"So, finals," she mumbled, glancing up.
"Yeah," William agreed. He was poking halfheartedly at his meal, well aware of just how awkward his date was currently feeling.
"Have you studied?" Sissi asked.
"We all study as a group," William said. "You know I have."
"Oh, right," Sissi said. "Or course." She sighed, trying to think of something else to say. This time William saved her the trouble.
"Okay, enough with the act," he said. "I know that you don't want to actually be here on a date with me, and you know it to. So why don't you tell me what's really going on here."
"What do you mean?" Sissi said, barely trying to sound honest. William gave her a flat look. Sighing, Sissi let her hand drop to the table. "Okay," she whispered, leaning in close. "Without being blaringly obvious, look over your right shoulder at the booth three rows down." Blinking, William started to turn, but Sissi grabbed his hand.
"I said don't be obvious," she hissed. Sighing, William carefully extracted his hand from Sissi's. Then, as he went to continue eating his food, he used his elbow to knock his spoon to the ground.
"Oops," he deadpanned, before getting up to retrieve it. As he rose and turned he aimed his gaze in the direction Sissi had specified, just in time to see four familiar heads vanish from sight.
"See what I mean?" Sissi groaned as William retook his seat.
"Why are they watching us from across the restaurant?"
"Emily and I might have had a bet going," Sissi said, swirling her knife across the table.
"…Does this have something to do with Emily and Jeremy kissing?"
"It might," Sissi said, scowling darkly. William returned the look in kind, and she sighed. "Okay, fine. I might have said I would go on a date with you if Emily would kiss Jeremy. I didn't think they'd actually do it!" William raised a thoughtful eyebrow.
"Oh. So, does that mean you didn't want to go on a date with me either?"
"I—what? No, it just….ugh," Sissi said, throwing her hands up. "Honestly, I was just trying to get Jeremy and Emily to kiss. They needed to get around to it eventually."
To Sissi's surprise, William's response to her outburst was not the annoyance or anger she was expecting, but rather a grin.
"What?" she snapped.
"I couldn't agree more," he said. While Sissi stared in shock William looked around and, spotting their waiter, waved him over. While Sissi watched, William motioned for the waiter to lean in close.
"Sir, have you seen that both behind me, about three rows down?" he asked. The waiter nodded. "Well, those are some of our school friends. The one with the glasses, his name is Jeremy, and it's his birthday today. They keep looking over here because they think we forgot. Would you mind getting together as many people as you could to sing happy birthday to him? And while they do that, if they could block us so we could sneak up and surprise them, that would be great."
Grinning, the waiter nodded.
"Consider it done."
"Thanks." William smiled politely as the waiter left and then, as soon as the man was gone, dumped a fistful of money onto the table.
"Get ready to run," he told Sissi. "As soon as they start singing, we're gone."
"You sir, are a genius." William grinned, turning to look just as a group of over a dozen waiters and waitresses descended on the table-turned-observation deck.
It was more than either teen could have hoped for.
It wasn't just the wait staff that burst into song—within seconds the entire restaurant was serenading Jeremy with their robust, joyful take on the Happy Birthday song.
"Come on," William hissed, grabbing Sissi's hand and tugging her towards the door. Together they run, crouched low and ducking from table to table, skipping past a baffled hostess and to the freedom awaiting them through the restaurant's wide double doors. But right before they left they paused, and together they glanced back to see their friend's reactions.
Sharing twin grins, they slipped outside and out of sight.
"Freedom," Sissi gasped, swirling in the fresh air. She then laughed, turning to William. "Did you see their faces? They were so confused!"
"I'm sure your bet didn't say anything about surprise birthdays," William said with a wink. Smiling, Sissi nodded.
"So, what should we do now?" she asked. Sucking down a thoughtful breath, William 'hmm'd.
"Well, we did have to skip out before desert. How about cake and coffee?" He offered an arm to Sissi. Grinning, she looped hers in his.
"Lead the way."
A week later and with summer finals behind him, Jeremy found himself once again loading onto a bus with his fellow students, although this time to return to Kadic. Leaving his luggage for Jim to load, Jeremy climbed onto the bus and quickly found his seat. He grinned when, a moment later, Emily dropped don beside him.
"Ready to go back?" she asked, settling her things beneath the seat.
"You know, I'm not sure," Jeremy said. Emily grinned.
"I know what you mean," she said. "It's been a surprisingly fun summer, even if some of our company was rather—" Emily was cut off by a soccer ball flying overhead, followed by a "sorry!", "Goal!", and "Put that ball away now!"
"Rather annoying?" Sissi asked, frowning at the soccer players as she took the seat next to William. Sighing at Theo when he pulled a face at her, Sissi sniffed, shook her head once, and then buried herself in a fashion magazine. William glanced up from his novel to flash Jeremy a smile before to pair fell into reading quietly. Emily caught Jeremy's eye, struggling to hide a laugh.
"Maybe we should all try and do something again next summer," she suggested. "What do you think?" Jeremy paused, looking mock thoughtful.
"I think yes," Timothy said, appearing over the back of the seat in front of them.
"Seconded," Theo agreed, his hand waving into view.
"I'm in," William added, Sissi shrugging beside him.
"Sure, why not."
"So, what do you think?" Emily asked. "Next summer?" Glancing around at his friends, Jeremy could only nod.
"Sure, next summer," he said. "It's a date."
The night stars were brilliantly white against the night sky, and vastly more innumerable than Aelita had ever seen them in France. Standing with her toes in the surf she stared up at them, afraid that if she looked away they might all just vanish forever.
"Come on Aelita," Yumi called, laughter in her voice. "You're missing out on all the fun!"
"Coming!" Aelita called. With one last, lingering look, she turned away, grinning as she spun to face her friends.
Yumi was sitting on one of Odd's beach chairs, a thin sweater pulled over her bathing suit as she munched on a hotdog. She offered one to Aelita as she approached, handing it over with a grinning, "this one's not too burnt." Aelita giggled as she bit into the treat, ketchup dripping onto her chin. This close to the fire, Aelita could feet it's warmth, the heat wafting towards her on the sea breeze. The scent of the salt and the smoke mingled and was like nothing she'd smelt before.
It was wonderful.
Plopping down on the sand, Aelita and Yumi watched the boys as they stood around the fire, using cooking skewers they'd devised themselves to cook hotdogs and marshmallows. Ulrich's was supposed to allow "optimal cooking for each individual marshmallow." It looked to Aelita a lot like a dozen wire hangers all strung together. In contrast Odd's was simply a very long stick, covered in hotdogs that he dipped right into the flames.
As the girls watched, one of the hotdogs caught fire, turning quickly black before falling into the embers.
"Odd, at this rate the fire's going to get more food than we are," Ulrich teased, at the same time waving his own contraption about as a handful of the marshmallows burst into flames. One of the gooey treats slipped free, flying over the girls like a tiny, mushy comet before landing with a sizzle in among the waves.
"Oh, sorry," Ulrich said sheepishly, while Yumi rolled her eyes. Picking off the most blackened treats, Ulrich motioned to a plate of crackers and chocolate with his foot, offering an apologetic, "S'mores, anyone?"
"What are s'mores?" Aelita asked, eyes alight with her curiosity. Climbing lithely to her feet, Yumi waved for her to follow.
"They're delicious. Come on 'lita, I'll show you how to make one."
As the group settled down around the fire, s'mores and hotdogs in hand, Aelita looked around at her friends. Glancing down at her half eaten S'more, she sighed.
"What's up Princess?" Ulrich asked, glancing over Yumi's head as she leaned against him. Odd scooted closer, tilting his head to one side.
"Sand in your s'more?" he asked. Aelita shook her head.
"No, I just," she paused, frowning. "This summer has been really fun. More fun than I ever imagined it could be." Poking at the sand, she finished softly, "I don't want it to end."
"Oh Aelita," Yumi said, smiling, "we'll still be able to have fun like this at Kadic."
"I know," Aelita said quickly. "But this has just been…it's a different kind of fun. I'll miss it." Everyone fell quiet at Aelita's words. She wasn't going to be the only one that would miss this—miss having time to spend together uninterrupted by anything at all.
"I have an idea," Odd said, lighting up. "How about we just agree to do this again next year?"
"Really?" Aelita asked, sitting straighter. Odd nodded.
"I'm sure my parents would agree. And we could make Jer and Emily come too." Grinning, Aelita turned to Yumi and Ulrich.
"And you would both come too?" she asked.
"Of course we would," Yumi assured her. Ulrich nodded.
"Wouldn't miss it for anything."
Fairly vibrating with her excitement, Aelita smiled at each of her closest friends.
"It's a promise then," she said. "Next summer we'll all come back here and do it all over again."
Three grins matched hers.
"Promise," Yumi agreed, Ulrich nodding along.
"Better start making plans, Princess," Odd said. "Looks like we've got another whole summer a head of us."