Chapter 1: Day of Deliberation
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It was a mere dream that finally seemed to have come true. Four years of psychical terror, everyday fright and pressure ceased from their minds the very second the stylish black little cabriolet passed the outer southern gate of the park.
- D-Day! - shouted the black haired girl in the driver's seat throwing both arms up in the air with a broad smile on her face.
- Mia! Watch out! - panicked her company, grabbing the wheel just in time to prevent them from getting off the road. Her shock and perplexed expression stayed on her pretty face even a long time after her friend regained control over the vehicle.
- Who said you could not drive? - tried the Mediterranean looking girl to joke away her friend's anger. - You just lean back and relax. There's nothing to worry about. We're out! I can hardly believe we truly made it! Oh come on Jenny, you won't die by giving the world a glimpse of that famous sarcastic smile of yours... After all, it's our D-DAY! - she shouted again, letting go of the starring wheel for a second time, curiously watching her friend's reaction.
Jenny's mouth dropped open and she closed her eyes in disbelief. When a few moments later she turned again to the crazy driver the fury seemed to have left her, leaving a rather amused expression on her face. She used the time to think of an equally shocking way to start one of her cynical speeches with, but then again changed her mind. Mia seemed absolutely happy. What a unique experience to share! No sighs, no signs of sadness in her enlightened features, nothing left from the usual melancholic flair that surrounded her since the day they first met. Her eyes were sparkling in the same way that Jenny noticed ever so rarely, mostly only when the word came to her adored fiancé.
Mia even had a small calendar in their room she only called the count-down-calendar to help her count the months and weeks still left to their long awaited D-day: the Day of their Deliberation. When it finally arrived it seemed to have turned her inside out.
- I know how excited you are about getting home but I'm still not sure if driving was the best idea... - she decided finally to tease her also in return.
- Oh come on Jenny, you already said you were game, don't back out now. I even promise to hold on to the wheel. Besides I'm so tired letting the chauffeurs have all the fun. Once we get home Papa will make sure that I don't have a chance to drive by myself anyway.
- Oh, poor Mia! What a rude family you must have! - She mused and sat up tall after putting on sunglasses and a poker face, while turning to her. - Your security is my highest priority Ms. Cannizzaro. - she said in a very low voice which caused her friend to burst out laughing.
- Oh my! - she giggled even a few minutes later.
- Stop it now. It really wasn't that big a performance. - Jenny doubted after watching her clearing some tears out of the corner of her eye.
- We'll see if you still undervalue it after having met the Greek tomorrow.
- Very well Ms. - Jenny added in her low voice and then turned to the GPS. - Hold on. We should get on the highway at the next entrance.
- Very well Ms. - Mia confirmed still giggling. - Just calm down. You only have to endure me on your own till we reach Rome. We're going to stay their for the night at my aunt's place and Mario will come to pick us up as planed tomorrow in the morning. All we have left to do is to turn back the cabriolet, catch a cab and that's it.
- Wasn't your aunt Francesca supposed to come and meet us at the airport? - Jenny asked still worried about Mia having a little too much fun driving.
- I called her this morning and told that there is another farewell party we shortly got invited to and would catch a plane later in the evening. She said it was all right as long as we just let her now when we would arrive. However, she didn't say we would have to do it on the phone though... - she added with a little mischievous smile.
- Now tell me honestly, where is my friend Mia Cannizzaro and who are you? - kept Jenny looking at her in disbelief.
Mia smiled to herself before answering. Her face put on that well known slightly melancholic expression. Her reply came silently, giving her friend a hard time to catch her words while the wind kept loudly blowing around their ears.
- She's gone.... I hope forever.... gone with Amanda Adams' gang, her hardhearted highness the Princess van Schönbergen and the torturing etiquette classes of Clarissa May Windsworth. I left her behind those imprisoning gates of Inter-High.
Her voice reflected the pain and frustration Jenny knew only too well herself, having been an outsider as well as the Sicilian girl since the day she entered the elite boarding school. The International High School of Badneuschwan for Young Ladies had truly been a prison for both of them, but still as memories started sweeping through her mind the loss and sorrow she felt over leaving the place she most unwillingly called her only home overtook her relief, while the uncertainty of the near future kept scarring her permanently since the day Mia had put the count-down-calendar on the wall.
As for her friend it was different. She rejoiced over her newly won freedom. She had a loving when although not fully complete family awaiting her return with anticipation and excitement. A peaceful home which cherished so many lovely memories from her childhood, her famous clique of Palermo's golden youth she was so proud of and of course her beloved Alessandro waiting for her. She was used to living in a well protected shell, adored and cared for by her father and brothers having earned a very special place in all their hearts since the loss of her mother.
Over the years Jenny was told endless stories about her friend's perfect life back home, and grew to have a deep sympathy for all the fairy tale characters whom she would finally meet in person soon.
Mia would never let anyone from her family visit her at Inter-High. She was used to being a starlet in their eyes and didn't want them to find out about the "mafia-girl" reputation the other stuck up young ladies have put on her. She hated to be an outsider which was a completely new experience to her anyway. At first she made earnest efforts to gain the attention and friendship of a few popular girls but all her attempts seemed to fail, no matter how hard she tried.
It took her three years to find out by accident that the reason for her unhappiness was due to Xenia van Schönbergen's envy. She and Amanda Adams belonged the the leading squad at Inter-High, their word being basically social law for everyone. Amanda's elder brother Andrew came the first week they entered the boarding school to visit and made some approving remarks about Mia's Mediterranean looks, which inflamed the first spark of hatred in the Princess' mind towards her since she seemed to be equally interested in the Yale freshman. Two days later Andrew left but the trouble his interest in the Italian newcomer caused stayed for four years leading to much distress and many unpleasant little treats for Mia along with her newly won friend Jenny Roberts, who dared to protect her on one occasion, making a fool of Xenia. That was the beginning of the friendship between the "mafia-girl" and "Jenny the wit", born out of their common fate and social needs, a true friendship which would accompany both until the grave.
Jenny's background was much more compatible with the usual standards of the famous Swiss boarding school, mostly daughters of old European aristocratic linages, high politicians and industrial magnets from Western Europe and the Americas. However, her lonely wolf attitude seemed to scare off everyone, making even the more decent and nice girls literally want to flee from her. After a while she got used to being alone and felt constantly disturbed by the presence of others. She spent most of her spare time with long walks in the woods, of course always on her own, or just by regarding her precious scrap book which brought forth heart aching memories from her tragic past.
Jenny's mother was a famous Hungarian ice dancer who was said to be one of greatest talents of the Eastern European block along with her Soviet partner at the end of the 1970s. They placed second at the European Championships in the first year they ever entered adult competitions, leaving their junior years behind and gained thereby the right to perform at the World Championships as well, which were held that year in Ontario, Canada.
Her father was the second son of a well known lawyer from New York, who had won quite a fortune with some risky Wall-Street investments and started with the help of his many good contacts a very successful oil company making his old college friend, the Sheik of Durahn his partner. Soon he became a leading figure of the city's business life.
He traveled to Ontario on a business trip, to meet some Arabian investors who were obviously much more interested in the graceful skating of some beautiful ladies then the official aim of their trip to Canada, so Dean Roberts couldn't help but let himself drag along with them to the Compulsory Dances that afternoon. The Arabs seemed to have a great time, while he only sat there ever so bored and ever so politely smiling and occasionally agreeing by a nod or a decent approval to the comments they made about the lightly dressed human swans swirling around on the ice.
And then it happened. It was as if lightning had stricken him and clarified the aim of his existence in a split second. She was beautiful and obviously in rage. Standing next to her partner dressed in an outfit matching hers she just kept shouting and gesticulating in fury at him. Her whole person looked very feminine and yet an unbreakable strength radiated from her. He was mesmerized by the sight and seemed to wake up only from his daydreaming as a small, bold gentlemen dressed in a larger then life fur coat grabbed her arm roughly and pulled her off the ice pushing her towards the entrance of the catacombs, out of his sight.
The Roberts & Partner oil company didn't gain any new investors that day but Dean Roberts caught a vision of his future to be and he was determined to make sure that the passionate young woman he saw certainly was a part of it. In the following two days he visited all the skating events of the competition but never spotted her, neither on the ice, nor among the audience. As the last day of the championship drew dangerously close he had already scanned the lobbies of the three hotels the teams were accommodated in, but still no signs of her.
He was just about to leave when he stumbled into a familiar looking young man, who in return kept murmuring some certainly unkind words at him in a language he didn't understand. He walked passed him and turned around at the very moment, grabbing the strangers arm in whom he had recognized the partner of his desperately searched fata morgana.
The young man disliked him right from the beginning. He wasn't sure whether it was the expensive looking coat, the arrogant smile or just the English words he recognized that stirred his suspicion against this stranger but after two hours of drinking quality vodka at the hotel bar he didn't even care anymore.
Though communication between them was limited to the few English words Misha had picked up during international competitions from other fellow skaters, he found out that his partner's name was Maria Kiss - a name he definitely fell in love with - and the reason why he couldn't find her anywhere around was that they had to withdraw from the competition, due to an injury of hers. She sprained her ankle in training a few days ago, but still wanted to try to compete, an idea of which their coach wasn't really found of so he arranged to keep her in hospital until they flew back to Budapest, making sure she wouldn't be able to make a scene in front of the press.
- Oh Marrrria... nice girl.... but sometimes .... - Misha made an unsteady gesture of a volcano exploding almost falling thereby off the bar chair.
Dean visited her in the hospital and they fell in love immediately, at least that was what little Jenny remembered from the story of their meeting told by her mother. Her father arranged for her to be able to stay in Canada and get the citizenship within three remarkably busy days through his political connections and made her leave the hospital before her team came to pick her up at the end of the competition. It was a difficult and a most certainly life altering decision, her mother would sometimes sigh when remembering those days, but she shortly always added never having regretted it either. She seldom spoke of her family behind the iron curtain, her memories seemed to have made her very sad whenever she gave in to the temptation to remember.
In 1990, after the fall of the communist regime, having tried to get in touch with her relatives many times in vain, Maria and Dean visited Hungary and the small town where her family used to live. The old house was owned by a retired couple now who didn't know much to tell them, but from a neighbor they learned that after she didn't return from Canada her family was accused of having planned and assisted in her defection. Her father was required to join the communist party in order to prove his loyalty. When he refused the state took away their home and imprisoned him for 6 years. His poor health only survived two of them. The old lady also led them to the small cemetery where her mother's and younger brother's graves lay, marked with two simple wooden crosses in which their names were engraved. Peter started to drink heavily and broke off school when his sister's escape ruined their family, finally a knife set an end to his rather miserable existence after a rumble at the local pub at 16. When their mother learned the sad news she hang herself in the stable.
Jenny was only 8 but remembered her mother not being the same anymore after that trip. She was confronted with the reason for her change of mood only six years later through the pages of a diary when after her parents' death she tried to help her uncle Dexter to sort out their belongings. Her parents were on their way home from Boston where they attended a Christmas party at the estate of their brokers', Ethan York. They were not supposed to return until the next morning, but Jenny fell ill and her mother didn't want to stay the night away. Since their chauffeur had already drunk some wine her father decided to drive himself. The police investigated the accident for a long time but then closed the case. He was driving too fast and must have lost control over the vehicle.
Jenny never fully recovered from the shock and still had a slight car phobia. Her next relative was his father's elder brother who had been banned from the family affairs by her grandfather who passed away the year before. Her uncle Dexter was quite a chap, enjoying life to the fullest and shocking the New York society by publicly declaring on his fathers' 50th birthday that he didn't give a damn about all his wealth and doesn't mind at all to screw up his prefixed traditions by choosing medicine instead of law school.
He left the East coast to get away from his family's influence and boxed himself through medical school in California. Finally he settled in San Diego and became a very talented plastic surgeon out of his own efforts. He somewhat envied his brother who willingly overtook his position in the family business besides having started his own company along with that damn stinky desert gypsy and was quite pleased to learn that Dean also managed to ruin the family's reputation by marrying some down-worn communist chick.
When he became entrusted, according to his brother's testament, with Jenny's bringing up as well as heritage, he didn't feel right about or capable of either matter. He chose for her the best and most expensive boarding school he could find and left the management of her heritage to Sheik Durahn. Two years later, much to his regret, a member of the Durahn clan got involved into some terroristic activities in Lebanon, including a bomb attack against the US embassy, which caused the State Department to freeze in all the accounts of his family found in American banks and forced the members of the clan to leave the United States.
Jenny learned about the whole affair from the news, uncle Dexter didn't even have the courage to call her. Luckily her educational fund was on her own name and safe, but back then she would neither care much about that nor mourn over her financial loss anyway.
She was used to fight her way alone, since the day she was 4 and her mother took her for the first time to the ice. She was indeed gifted and all the coaches who saw her skate in the years to come agreed on the unique gracefulness of her style and her great potential. They decided for her to become a single skater, maybe her mother's regrets of having ruined Misha's carrier along with hers influenced their decision too. Jenny loved to skate, on the ice the world seemed to be perfect and all hers, no matter what happened outside the rink. When she had to start school she got private teachers, classes were held at her home where her father even let a complete ice rink built in order to ensure she had everything to unfold her talents.
As she glanced back at those days through her tear filled green eyes so many times when she walked on her own, exploring the huge park of Inter-High, she often imagined how her life might have turned out if she had just walked along the path her parents had dreamed for her. Would she be attending the Junior Grand Prix series by now or even the Four Continent Championships? Could she be happy and skate on without their love and support? No, probably not.
The very day she received the sad news of their accident she went on the ice immediately, wanting desperately to forget everything around her. She skated the Moonlight sonata they had been working on as a free program for three months. As soon as she went into the first jump which happened to be a double toe loop she new that something was terribly wrong. She tried to open up in time, but the heel of her left skate got caught in the edge of her pants and she literally crashed down on the ice. Luckily the whole affair only resulted in a 3 times broken ankle and a skull trauma. She spent the next 2 months in hospital, had 4 operations and plenty of physiotherapy. The doctors told her the day before her 15th birthday that her affected joint would never allow her to return to the ice even to do a single jump again.
Now this was a true moment of total loss. She cried for days. Her uncle came to her birthday, his gift was her ticket to Switzerland and the admission letter from Inter-High. He could have sent her to Ghana as well, she wouldn't even have noticed the difference in the state she was in. She scared away everyone right from the beginning and tried to overhear the remarks and gossip behind her back. She didn't care about life, school, aims, friends, whatever until the day she saw Xenia chasing after the "mafia-girl" with a scissor.
Without thinking about it, she held out a foot as they ran passed her causing the Princess to throw away her weapon just before kissing the carpet on the floor. The other girls just starred in disbelief, even Mia had stopped her flight, curious to find out what had happened.
- Now this is probably not quite the ladylike manner Ms Windsworth was preaching about this morning, is it your Highness? ... - she asked in a sarcastic tone while she picked up the scissor.
Xenia's eyes were flashing at her angrily as she tried to recover from her shock, still sitting on the floor:
- You! ... How dare you! Beg my pardon right away! - she hissed at her new enemy.
- How about having you bagging?! - came Jenny's answer as she caught a fistful of the true color tinged golden locks of the former chaser holding up the scissor high in the air.
- Ouch! That hurts... - she whimpered as her captor pulled on her hair for emphasis.
- We are all listening, aren't we? - turned Jenny to the leading squad looking right into Amanda Adams' eyes.
- I promise you to inform the school counsel. You'll be thrown out of here in no time if you make another move. - the squad leader warned her in a serious voice.
- Oh, how much I'm gonna miss you all! - smiled Jenny in a very mean way as she cut into Xenia's hair. The next moment everyone held their breath. A sunbeam's refection from the window followed the golden locks as they slowly fell into her lap.
- Your Highness should probably first take care of her own rats' nest of hairstyle before worrying about that of others - she added as tears of frustration started to flow from the Princess' eyes. Turning to Amanda she leaned close and whispered into her ear when passing by - As for you, do whatever you have to and do not doubt for a second that I will do the same.
She left with a cruel and somewhat satisfied smile on her face.
- This will have consequences! - Xenia shouted getting slowly to her feet.
- Maybe, but it's up to you to decide if you really wanna face them! - came the dangerous sounding reply over Jenny's shoulder.
They shouted some more rude words and curses after her, but she wouldn't turn around anyway.
- This bitch! How could she dare!
- You better be quite if you want to keep the rest of your locks! - Amanda told her friend coldly. - She is truly a troublemaker, but obviously also a dangerous and smart one. She scared the hell out of us all - she noted as she took a look around watching the other girls' faces carefully.
- Let's get rid of her then! - Xenia stamped her foot in anger.
- We will. But will do it my way. She obviously wants us to leave her alone. Fine, she can have it. Complete isolation! No one is to talk to her, or even get near her. We already got rid of that little "wit" this very moment. She doesn't exist anymore. Make sure all Inter-High learns that.
Xenia looked at her in disbelief:
- Is that it? Is that your plan? Where is my vengeance, where is her h
- Are you questioning my decision? - Amanda asked in her usual cold manner confusing the Princess right away. - Hands off the mafia-girl too - she added - Same rules! I don't want to give that troublemaker another chance to insult us.
Her word was law. Everyone obliged even van Schönbergen who still doubted Amanda's genie but couldn't afford to risk her status within the squad, after all it was her fun idea that brought up the whole situation.
- Did I every tell you she has dander? - Jenny turned to Mia with a hint of laughter in her voice.
Mia smiled in silence. All that was already past for her. Ahead lay the future she was looking forward to since the day her father sent her away to the famous Swiss boarding school. He thought he did her a favor, and in fact he was never to learn the truth, nothing of all the suffering and humiliation his daughter took upon herself just to fulfill his expectations and please him. Everything Mia hated lay behind and everything she loved and longed for lay ahead. That was the only thing that mattered.
- I'm so glad you finally agreed on spending the vacations with us. You should have come with me years ago... But anyway, I'm excited to introduce you to my family. Oh Jenny, we're going to have so much fun! We'll go sailing and party all night with Alessandro and Mario. There will be a tennis tournament next week and I'm sure my brother takes you on a motorcycle trip to. He has all these huge bikes, it's sort of his passion you know. He is the hottest, coolest and funniest man you'll ever meet and definitely a drop-dead gorgeous lady killer! He just lives life to it's fullest in every way imaginable...
- Even more handsome than the famous Alessandro Martenza? - Jenny cut her off with a wink.
Mia flushed lightly and shook her head before admitting it silently:
- To me no other man is more handsome than my Alessandro. But then again he is not of that kind ... - turning sheer red at the thought which came right after her confession but she didn't dare to speak out loud.
- I see... Just promise not to arrange any flirts for me. - said Jenny in a very serious voice which caused Mia's lighthearted mood to cease. She shrugged her shoulders but then smiled again.
- As you wish. - she said, but as soon as she heard a small sigh of relief she added - But only as long as I see that you do have fun without my conspiracy.
Jenny leaned back in her seat, unsure of what to expect of the weeks that lay ahead. She knew that it would be a summer of some serious decisions that would affect her future but she could have hardly imagined while she was watching the trees next to the highway passing by what an unexpected turn their both fates would take during this vacation.