As Stef wasn’t able to finish The Castle of Adventure this week we were looking for something to fill the Sunday slot. I suddenly remembered about the short fic we had written, set a few weeks after the end of Stef’s full length novel The Missing Papers: A St Andrews Adventure. If you haven’t read or finished that yet I recommend that you do, otherwise this one will give away some quite important details.
Anyway, this one’s not a mystery or adventure – just a group of friends celebrating the new year in St Andrews and having a good time.
On the thirtieth of December Darrell Rivers and Sally Hope were waiting under the big clock in King’s Cross station, waiting for the boys to turn up.
“Are you sure Toly’s not coming?” Sally asked her friend as she stamped her feet against the cold. They were wrapped up well against the chill. The two girls were heading back to St Andrews in Scotland to spend New Year in the company of their friends. They were also supposed to be taking part in the New Year’s Day dip, or Neer’s Day swim in the North sea on St Andrews East Sands too.
“I never know what Toly’s doing,” said Darrell blowing on her hands. “Last telegram I got from him said that he wasn’t sure if he could make it because he had to go out of the country on a job. I suppose we shall have to see if he makes the train.”
“Or turns up tomorrow,” Sally countered as she spotted Julian Kirrin and David Morton heading towards them. She smiled broadly as they boys pitched up beside them and Julian swept her into a tight hug and gave her a welcome kiss.
“Good Christmas?” he asked her. She nodded, blushing, but hoping that her red cheeks could be attributed to the chilly wind whistling through the station.
“When did you end up in London David?” she asked as Julian hugged Darrell and David hugged her.
“Yesterday, I was in Shropshire until the last possible moment and then stayed with Julian last night,” David said as they checked the clock. “Anyone know about Anatoly?”
“Last I heard was that he probably wasn’t going to make it today,” Darrell said sadly.
“We’ve got a few moments, so we can wait and see if he turns up,” Julian said with a reassuring smile. They waited for a few moments for Anatoly Petrov, the last member of their group but he didn’t appear. In the end they hurried for their train and scrambled into a carriage just as the guard blew his whistle. They settled themselves into the seats, Darrell a little quieter than usual; clearly wishing Anatoly was with them.
At the last moment, before the train started to move, an old man climbed up into their compartment and the boys hauled him in.
“Thank you most kindly,” said the old man in a surprisingly deep voice and settled down in a seat at the other side of the compartment, his case at his feet. “If you do not mind, I shall recover my wits and find somewhere else to sit so I do not disturb you.”
“Of course, please take your time,” Julian said, sharing a smirk with David before they down and began talking to the girls.
“May I ask where you young ladies and gentlemen are headed?” the old man quavered, after a few moments.
“We’re off to Scotland,” Julian supplied, not seeing a problem with answering the old man’s question.
“Which part of Scotland?” the man then asked.
“Fife,” David said as Sally and Darrell exchanged looks.
“Ah, yes, I know it well!” the old man smiled and reached into his thick jacket for a tin. “Fruit pastille?” he asked prising open the tin and sharing it around.
“Thank you kindly,” Sally said, picking out a pastille delicately. The others took a pastille each and watched in fascination as the man took one and put it in his mouth and began sucking loudly, moving the sweet around his mouth with his tongue. He smiled at them, in a manner which Julian felt was reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes when he was hiding something from Doctor Watson.
Julian thought he had seen the old man before, there was something in the eyes that reminded him of someone he knew but he couldn’t place it.
For a while they went back to chatting, Darrell quiet and withdrawn a little because she was missing Anatoly and worrying about him too.
“Are you students?” the man suddenly quavered.
“Yes, at St Andrews University,” Sally said with a smile.
“Is it not a bit early to be heading back there?”
“We’re going for the New Year’s Dip,” Darrell said with a smile.
The old man looked disapproving for a moment and gave a ‘hurrrumph’ noise as he cleared his throat. “I hope you young ladies are not swimming, given what ladies swimming costumes are like nowadays!”
“Well we hadn’t decided,” Darrell admitted pacifyingly.
“But we would wear tops and shorts over our suits,” Sally piped up.” It’s far too cold to go in the water with just swim suits on!”
“Glad to hear it girl,” the man coughed as Julian and David looked at each other, both frowning a little, and wondering when the man would leave.
A little while later, after they had passed Peterborough, the old man wiped his face with a handkerchief, got up and took off his big black coat and hat. As he did he straightened up considerably. They all watched transfixed as a grey wig was removed to show a mass of black slicked-back hair that curled a little. He turned around with a spin on his heel and there before their eyes was Anatoly, with a triumphant smile on his face, his arms open wide like a circus ring master.
Darrell shrieked as she got up and pulled him into a tight hug. “You had me believing that you weren’t coming!” she said against his chest.
He rubbed her back as he said; “I almost was not, but I got back earlier than I had expected to.”
“What’s with the outfit?” Julian asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I had a couple of people who were a little too close for comfort, so the costume was necessary I am afraid,” Anatoly said with a light shrug. “I do not believe I was followed, so everyone should be nice and safe, not to mention that I think they would find it hard to know where I was getting off the train.”
“Just as long as you’re safe,” Darrell said as they sat down.
“I am fine,” Anatoly said with a smile, stroking her back. “And I would not miss this New Year’s celebration for the world. You know they do something similar in Russia? It is to do with cleansing oneself of last year. “
“Well this will be easy for you then, won’t it Toly?” David said lazily.
“Well I have never done it Morton, so I might be as bad as the rest of you!” The suggestion was met with a barrage of complaints. “All right, all right,” Anatoly said holding up his hands. “I did not mean to imply that you would not manage to do the swim!”
“Too right,” David snorted, “Ju and I aren’t going to let you take all the glory.”
“I should hope not!” Julian said indignantly. “I wonder how long the swim will be?”
“On the East Sands, maybe the length of the pier,” David said. “Lots of places for people to get out of they need to, not to mention it will be deep enough for swimmers because of the boats.”
“He’s got an answer to everything at the moment!” Julian said with a laugh. “Should have heard him at mine last night, I thought he would never shut up! And he talks in his sleep worse than my brother does!”
“I do not! You’re worse; it’s a disgusting noise you make!” David challenged Julian playfully.
Sally and Darrell exchanged a look, knowing when the boys started a slanging match it could go on endlessly.
“Well, we shall bring flasks and towels with us, so you can warm up after,” she said, trying to redirect the conversation.
“Are you not swimming with us?” Julian asked surprised. “You were all keen to go before Christmas!”
Darrell looked at Sally and smiled. “Well we thought we wouldn’t show you three up,” she said with a smirk. “But we might have a go, mightn’t we Sally?”
Sally inwardly cursed her friend’s stubborn streak. “We might,” she said.
“Well if you do, I’ll be more than happy to warm you up at the other end,” David teased, wondering why Anatoly had gone so quiet. “What’s the matter Tol?”
“Nothing,” Anatoly replied quickly, snapping his focus back to the conversation instead of thinking about how nice it was to have his arm around Darrell again. “I think the girls should definitely take part, after all they keep insisting they are as brave as us.”
“Brave and foolhardy are two different things,” Sally said with a smirk. David laughed.
“I think this counts as brave,” Julian said to her, his eyes twinkling. “Something tells me you’re not convinced Miss Hope?”
“I remain to be convinced that swimming in the sea in January is a good idea,” Sally agreed.
“But you’re coming to see us do it!” Julian teased her. “Is it to say I told you so?” he asked, shyly taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. They had spoken on the phone and written over Christmas, but now he was back with her, it felt a little awkward that he hadn’t been able to have a proper talk to her about their brand new relationship.
“Well, if you’re silly enough to want to do it I know there’s no chance of me stopping you,” she said, squeezing his hand back, her heart beating a little faster from that simple contact. “And if you’re doing it, then I feel like I should be there to make sure you survive!”
“Not to mention you’ve had enough shocks from being left up that tower,” David said. Julian glared at him for bringing it up.
“What?” David asked looking shocked. “I’m sure Sally has! Am I right?” he asked her.
Sally found herself holding Julian’s hand more tightly as she thought about her ordeal. “It’s not quite the same thing,” she said quietly.
Darrell reached out and gave David and slap on the shoulder. “You’re an idiot,” she told him. “Of course it’s not the same.”
“Sorry Sally,” David said, looking embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to sound so mean, but out of interest, what did your parents say when you told them about the adventure?”
“Daddy almost said I wasn’t allowed to come back to university,” she admitted, “and Mother was horrified too.”
Julian gave her hand a tight squeeze as David looked shocked. “But they did,” he encouraged her. “So no more adventures for you then, clearly. We don’t want you taken away do we?”
“Certainly not! And I wouldn’t have let them stop you from coming back,” Darrell said with a smile. “I need someone on my side. I can’t deal with these three on my own.”
“Are we really so bad dorogoy?” Anatoly asked her, tightening his arm around her for a moment.
“No, but it’s nice to know that when you three are talking physics or having an argument, I have someone to talk to! Not to mention the fact that without Sally I would be lost! We’ve been best friends for seven years Toly, we’re practically joined at the hip aren’t we Sally?”
“We’re very close,” Sally agreed, giving her a fond smile.
Anatoly pretended to examine the space between the girls, “you are not very joined dorogoy,” he said teasingly, “there is plenty of space between you now.”
Darrell tapped him playfully on the stomach in reproach. “You idiot,” she told him. “And it’s no good pretending that you didn’t know what I meant. You understood perfectly!”
Anatoly gave her a deliberately blank look. “This hip joining,” he said, laying his accent on thickly, “it is… how you say? A joke?”
Darrell looked up into his grey eyes and forced herself to stay as she was. “Don’t play dumb with me Anatoly Petrov!” she said as Julian and David rolled their eyes and Sally giggled.
“That’s enough please,” Julian said, giving Sally’s hand another squeeze. “You both look like you’re about to launch onto each other and that’s just awkward.”
“Play dumb? I do not know what you mean,” Anatoly said innocently, tearing his eyes away from hers before he ended up kissing her in front of their friends.
“Will you stop pretending that your English is so bad now?” Darrell said, shaking her head at him, laughing.
“All right, all right,” he said, laughing with her, “but it is fun to wind you up like that.”
“See, this is why I need Sally!” Darrell pointed out as her friend shared her despairing look. “You three just think you’re funny!”
“We are funny!” David said with a grin.
“You’re not,” Darrell said shaking her head. “So please don’t find us any more adventures. I’d like to keep my best friend with me at university please!”
“Yes we are,” Anatoly argued stubbornly, “you were laughing. And I think Julian at least is the sort adventures creep up on… so we might have to stay away from him if we do not want to fall headlong into one.”
“I’d better brace myself for more trouble then, hadn’t I?” Sally said.
“Laughing at you, not with you!” Darrell replied merrily.
Anatoly sighed and gave Darrell another squeeze, “must you always have the last word dorogoy?” he asked her.
“I’ll try my best not to get you into any more adventures darling,” Julian said softly. “I don’t like the idea if you staying away from me because of it!”
“Neither do I,” Sally said sincerely.
David rolled his eyes and felt in his pockets for the paper her had brought before getting on the train. He settled down in the corner of the carriage and rustled it open. As the paper was opened a letter that had clearly gotten trapped between the pages fluttered down to the floor. David moved to pick it up Darrell got there first.
“What’s this?” she asked him as he made to snatch it from her fingers.
“Nothing,” he said, cheeks red.
Julian snorted. “I know,” he said in a cheeky voice.
“You wouldn’t dare!” David said horrified when the others asked; “What is it?” in tandem.
Anatoly plucked the letter from Darrell’s fingers and looked at the open envelope, David’s name written neatly on it. “Written by a woman, if I am any judge,” he said, grinning.
“Don’t you know it’s despicable to read other people’s letters!” David snapped at him, holding out his hand for the letter.
“Unfortunately for you, that’s what Anatoly’s good at,” Julian said.
“I only read the name on the envelope,” Anatoly said calmly, handing the letter back. “But I must be right, judging by your reaction.”
“Yes but you were going to open it, I know you were,” David said, slipping the letter into the inside pocket of his blazer.
“So who is she?” Darrell asked after a moment.
“I would not have,” Anatoly argued crossly, “I do recognise a private letter when I see one.”
“She’s just a… friend of mine,” David said awkwardly. “A very good friend,” he added when Darrell raised an eyebrow.
“It’s his girlfriend,” Julian said with a sigh as Darrell opened her mouth to ask.
“Oh David, that’s lovely,” Sally said, “we’re thrilled for you, aren’t we?” she added, seeing Anatoly’s mutinous look.
David took a deep breath and glared at Julian. “You had no right…” he started.
“You weren’t going to get away with it,” Julian said sensibly. “And I think we both need to apologise to Toly for thinking he would read a private letter.”
“He’s not good at taking jokes it would seem,” Darrell teased her boyfriend, patting his leg comfortingly. “So what’s she like?” she added turning to David.
“Well,” David said, his eyes flashing with their usual good humour after he had apologised to Anatoly.
Anatoly accepted their apologies with a nod, knowing fine well he would have read the letter had his job demanded it, though he tried to respect their privacy the rest of the time.
“She’s from Shropshire,” David said then, unsure what they wanted to hear. “Brilliant at pretty much everything, and I’ve known her since I was about fourteen. Does that answer your question?”
“Not really,” Sally giggled. “What’s her name? What does she look like? When did you start going out? Did you ask her out on a date?”
“Her name’s Petronella, though we all call her Peter,” he said, his cheeks red. “She’s slight, though a sturdy lass, blonde hair, lighter than yours Sally. The sun bleaches her hair in the summer, so it’s almost ash blonde, she can ride a horse awfully well, brilliant with animals,” he said warming to his subject. He outlined the vague details of things. “She’s always really been my girl, but in a more proper way for about two years,” he said, flushing.
“You secretive thing!” Darrell shrieked. “How could you have not told us?”
“I didn’t want all the teasing!” David protested as Julian chuckled.
“You are a sly one, Morton,” Anatoly added, “we were on the verge of trying to set you up with someone before Christmas, I suppose it is just as well we did not.”
“How long have you known, Ju?” Sally asked.
“You were going to set me up? With who?” David asked surprised.
“Only since yesterday when he came to stay with me, and had to explain why he was so desperate to phone Shropshire to say that he had got here. Plus he just kept talking about this Peter so much that I did have to ask!” Julian said with a smile at her. “So not long.”
Sally nodded, somehow glad he hadn’t been keeping secrets from her.
“Well, we had not picked any one in particular,” Anatoly said with a shrug, “but Darrell suggested a few girls from her class that did not yet have any attachments.”
Julian gave her hand another squeeze and tentatively pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I wouldn’t have kept it from you,” he told her softly.
David looked visibly relieved. “Thank you for the concern, but honestly, I would have turned your kind offers down. I would also appreciate it if you didn’t mention that you were thinking of that when you meet Peter. She gets a little worried that she’s not worldly enough for me.”
Sally came out in goose bumps as Julian pressed his lips against her forehead, and she gave him a smile when he pulled back.
“So, when do we get to meet Peter?” she asked David.
David made a complicated noise in the back of his throat and shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I did wonder about bringing her up for New Year’s but she wouldn’t want to leave her father. Maybe at Easter? Or at the end of the summer term when we have that ball?”
“There’s no rush,” Sally said kindly, “whenever she can manage. Of course she may not want to meet us!” she added, “depending on what David’s told her about us.”
“All nice things I promise,” David said with a laugh. “She likes the sound of you all very much.”
Anatoly laughed. “Even Julian?” he asked, his grey eyes sparkling mischievously.
“Hey! What’s wrong with me?” Julian asked, pretending to be hurt as the others laughed.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Anatoly asked lazily, stretching his legs.
“I dare you to!” David said with a laugh as Sally hugged Julian.
“All right… he is stubborn, argumentative, not nearly as funny as he thinks, smart-mouthed and too damn good at getting himself into trouble,” Anatoly rattled off.
“I think,” David said as Julian opened his mouth to retort. “That that is more a description of your dear self Anatoly,” he teased.
“That is nothing like me!” Anatoly argued, looking at Darrell for help.
“Don’t look at me Toly,” Darrell teased him, falling in line with David. “You are also all of those things,” she giggled.
“I cannot believe you are taking his side,” Anatoly complained, pulling his arm away and affecting a very hurt expression.
Julian shared a smile with Sally, pressing another kiss to her head as Darrell, David and Anatoly bantered on. He looked down at her and took the chance to say; “I missed you over Christmas, and thank you for my letter on Christmas morning. It really made my day.”
Sally smiled, only half-listening to the others. “I missed you too, and I enjoyed your letter as well, though it didn’t arrive until a few days after Christmas.”
“How annoying, I posted it with enough time to get to you,” Julian said with a frown. “As long as you got it I suppose.”
Darrell relented after a while and sat up and pecked Anatoly on the lips to shut him up, and giggled, “You are stubborn, but I’m quite fond of you in spite of that. Sorry David,” she added. “We weren’t going to win.”
Anatoly grinned in satisfied way, having gotten exactly what he wanted, a kiss from his lovely girlfriend. “I am quite fond of too you,” he said.
The rest of the train journey passed without incident and they were in good time for their connection from Leuchars to St Andrews. They all laughed when Anatoly had to dress up a little again and head out onto the platform in character. They ran around him, as if they were helping him. When they got to the St Andrews train they all fell about laughing again as the train trundled towards St Andrews.