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Going Digital

Sam's Holidays follow-up, in which we scoot forward a few years.

Chapter 1

"Woohoo!"

The shout rang out across the school hall as the reality of his exam results sank in to Sam's mind. He whooped, punched the air, and turned round to look for someone to hug.

"You're in, then?" asked Marco.

"Yup, straight As," Sam replied, still feeling rather stunned that he had managed to pull it off.

He had taken Chemistry, Biology, Maths and General Studies at A level and had needed three A grades to get into Cambridge to do Medicine. He'd achieved an A in all his subjects, and was delirious with excitement.

"Hey, how have you got on?" he asked as Ally turned away from the notice board where the exam results were pinned up.

"I'm in," she said. "Got what I needed."

"Great!" Sam replied, too giddy to concentrate on anything for very long. "Ooh, I should phone Mum."

He pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and pressed the speed dial for Elizabeth.

"Hey, guess what," he said as soon as she answered. "I'm going to Cambridge. Yeah, I got As. Yeah, in all the sciences! Yes, she got the grades she needed too. OK, see you later!"

Elizabeth put the phone down, smiling happily but with tears pricking her eyes. She felt like running down the corridor to Reception to tell everyone there how well Sam had done, but at the same time she felt like crying. This was it, this was the moment when his future opened up before him, and he stretched his wings and flew away from the nest. Elizabeth knew that this had to happen, that he must leave, but it didn't mean she was looking forward to it happening. She was immensely proud of him, and yet at the same time felt sad.

She shook her head. "Don't be silly," she said quietly to herself. "He's a big boy now."

Back at school, the celebrations were becoming boisterous as more of the pupils arrived to discover their results. Almost everyone had obtained the grades they needed to get into their chosen university, and those that hadn't were having hurried consultations with teachers about what to do next.

"Let's get some beers and go down to the river!" shouted Marco, who would be heading for Brunel and Engineering in October.

"Come on, Sam," yelled Jamie, destined for Economics at Warwick. "Stop mucking about, we're going to the river."

The noise level dropped noticeably once the gang of boys had departed. By the time Laura arrived to pick up her results, having pleaded for an early lunch break from the shop she was working in, hardly anyone remained at school. She checked her results, then looked at the rest of the list to see how everyone else had got on. She smiled when she saw Sam's straight As, pleased that he had got what he wanted. They had remained friends after going out together for over a year, and in fact they would sometimes still pair up to go to parties if neither had a date. She phoned her Mum to let her know her results, and ran back to work.

Ally and Louise leaned on the bridge overlooking the playing fields and the river, watching the boys as they fooled about.

"It's going to be really weird next year," Louise said. "Everyone will have gone away."

"But you'll come and see me at St Andrews, won't you?" Ally asked. "And I'll come to Bristol to see you. I need to say I knew you before you were famous."

"Don't be daft!" Louise laughed. "Having a Drama degree isn't a guarantee of being famous."

"No, but being talented and beautiful is!" Ally replied. "Oh, look at them now. Boys are so stupid."

They watched as Sam climbed out of the river, dripping wet and covered in weed, and began chasing Marco across the playing fields to get his revenge for being thrown in the river in the first place.

"I swear, Oliver is more grown up than Sam some days. Come on, let's go and have a coffee."

As Laura plodded home from work that night, she glanced up as she turned the corner and saw a familiar figure approaching. Sam looked up as he walked up the hill and saw Laura. His heart gave a little leap, he smiled to himself, and broke into a run.

"Hey!" he shouted, grabbing her and swinging her off her feet. He was clad only in shorts and trainers, and was carrying a rather soggy T-shirt.

"Sam, put me down!" she shrieked. "You stink, what have you been doing?"

"Marco pushed me in the river," Sam replied, planting her back on her feet. "But I got him back. So, Modern Languages it is then."

"And Medicine," Laura replied.

"Yes," Sam said, beaming.

"I bet your Mum's pleased, isn't she?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Oxford and Cambridge," Laura said. "Does that mean we're enemies now?"

"Of course!" Sam laughed. "See you at the Boat Race!"

"You're on!"

"Except..." Sam hesitated. He had never quite forgotten that the first person to whom he had said "I love you" was Laura, and despite the fact that they had officially split up over two years previously, he still had feelings for her. "You know, I won't be in England when it's the Boat Race. At least, I don't think so."

"Are you definitely going to Australia?" Laura had heard mention of his plans and dreams often enough.

"Yes, at the beginning of October," Sam said. "For six months."

"Oh."

Sam stuck his hands in the pockets of his shorts, and scuffed the ground with his feet. He knew what he wanted to say, but was suddenly overcome with shyness.

"Can I write to you?" he blurted. "When I'm in Australia?"

"Won't you have e-mail?"

"Yes, but ... letters are so much nicer, aren't they?"

"You're right," Laura replied. She caught his eye and smiled at him, and the old connections suddenly clicked into place. They leaned towards each other, and kissed, tenderly.

"No!" Sam said, suddenly breaking away. "Shouldn't do this. Sorry."

He looked at Laura with so much love in his eyes that it pained her. He rubbed her arm companionably, and stepped away from her.

"Sorry what for, Sam?"

"I'm going away, you're going to Uni," Sam said. "I'll write to you, let's leave it at that, shall we?"

"But..."

"Time to go home," Sam said, forcing himself to be cheerful. "Mum will kill me when she sees the state of me, I can only hope my results will put her off the smell."

Laura frowned as Sam strode off up the hill ahead of her. Half of her heart said she should tell him to get lost. The other half conceded that she still was half in love with him.

That night, William insisted on taking the family out for dinner to celebrate the fabulous exam results obtained by Ally and Sam. As Harriet and Oliver were included in the party, and were not yet three years old, the celebration dinner meant Pizza Express rather than anywhere classier and more expensive.

"I don't mind," laughed Sam. "Pizza's my favourite anyway."

He sat down at the table, grabbed Harriet and swept her onto his knee. She cuddled up against his chest as the waiter brought menus for the adults, and crayons and paper for the little ones. Ally grabbed the crayons and began to draw sketches for Oliver and Harriet.

"Anyone would think we had a house full of infants," William teased.

"I'm doing it for them," Ally replied, trying to interest Oliver in the drawing.

The waiter came to take their order, and a bottle of wine, a jug of water and two glasses of orange juice arrived.

"Cheers," William said, raising his glass. "Congratulations to you both."

He was inordinately proud of both Ally and Sam, with their stunning results and places at the universities of their choice.

"Now, we wondered what we should give you as a reward," he continued, glancing at Elizabeth. "Something you both would like. Something you'd both use. So we settled on this."

William produced a bag from under the table, and from out of the bag brought two identical parcels. Sam and Ally glanced at each other, turned their backs on each other and began to unwrap their presents.

"You there yet?" Sam said, having almost undone the wrapping paper.

"Yes," Ally replied as she ripped off the last bit of paper.

"Wow!" they said in unison, as they gazed upon their digital cameras.

"We thought you might both like one," Elizabeth said. "Sam will need one for his travels, and Ally, you might find it handy for your course."

"This is brilliant, thank you so much!" Ally said, jumping up and running round the table to kiss Elizabeth and William.

"Yeah, its fantastic," Sam agreed. "Thanks."

"And our deal still stands," William said to Sam. "Whatever you raise for your Australia trip, we'll match it."

"Thanks," Sam repeated. He'd been working all summer in a garden centre to earn money for his fare and some spends while he was abroad, knowing that William had offered him the deal and therefore knowing that the harder he worked, the more he would gain.

"You've made us proud, both of you," Elizabeth said, smiling. "You deserve it."

"My pressie?" asked Oliver plaintively, feeling a little ignored since all the focus was on his older brother and sister.

"Your pressie is not being sent to bed with a smacked bottom, you monster," said Ally, wagging her finger at him while trying not to laugh.

"Ally!" admonished William. "He's not that bad."

"Oh but he is," Ally replied as Oliver slid off his chair and began to crawl about under the table, grabbing serviettes off everyone's lap.

August Bank Holiday weekend had been chosen as the big weekend for celebrating the achievements of the whole Pemberley family, as the Darcys, Fitzwilliams, and selected Bennets now thought of themselves. Sam and Ally had their A level results, Tom had a most impressive set of GCSE results and Michael, ever the sportsman rather than the intellectual, was celebrating a silver medal in the boys' single sculls at the National Schools Regatta earlier that summer. Sophie's Year 6 SATs results were good and she was looking forward to going up to the grammar school in September.

William and Richard had, between them, organised the best barbecue ever, so they thought. Nick had helped with the planning and was one of the main cooks on the day. The wedding ring on his finger, and the presence of his happily pregnant wife Mary, had not stopped Ally's friends flirting with him.

"Hey, there you are," Nick said, as Mary carried plates of food out for the men to cook. "Are you OK?"

He wrapped his arms protectively around her and placed one hand on her bump. "How's he doing?"

"He, if it is a he, is doing fine," Mary said. "I, on the other hand, am feeling completely knackered."

"You OK?" Elizabeth asked, coming up with more food. "Go and sit down. Don't do too much."

She smiled as Mary strolled away to join Jane and Ellen on the sun loungers.

"How's things?" she asked Nick.

"Fine," Nick replied. "Mary's at that 'tired all the time' stage, I just wish I could do more for her."

"I'm sure you're doing all the right things," Elizabeth said, knowing from what Mary had told her that Nick was a most attentive and caring husband.

"How long til the baby's due?" Charles asked.

"Oh, we're not telling anyone the precise date," Nick said, smiling. "We don't want all those 'is it born yet?' phone calls!"

"You must know within a week or so," Richard said. "Come on, tell."

"Oh, leave him alone," Elizabeth said.

"Have you been sent for the snip yet?" William asked, overhearing the conversation. "I shall tell Ellen that you're getting far too interested in babies again, Richard."

"OK, OK," Richard, said, backing off to the kitchen to collect more food. He looked out over the garden where children aged from 18 down to tiny lolled and played, and wondered how anyone could ever harm even one bone of a child. He brushed his hand brusquely across his eyes and told himself not to be so sentimental as he walked into the kitchen to collect the bread that was warming in the oven.

"Food time!" Nick shouted, causing a rush to the barbecue. Soon enough, everyone was seated either at the tables and chairs that William and Charles had set out, or cross legged on the grass, enjoying their food.

"Where's Sam?" Mary asked as they cleared up later, thinking that she hadn't seen her nephew for quite some time.

"Not sure," Elizabeth replied as she loaded up the dishwasher in the kitchen. "Nattering with one of his mates, no doubt."

Sam and Laura sat side by side on the little jetty over the river that he had built a few years previously. They leaned against each other with the easy intimacy of people who had been close for years.

"But it's just not fair on you," Sam sighed.

"Why not?" Laura asked, exasperated.

"Don't you want to go up to Oxford and have fun?" Sam asked. "You don't want to be going to parties saying 'I'm sorry but I've got a boyfriend', do you? And then they'll say, 'where' and you'll say 'Australia' and they'll say 'don't be stupid' and they'll want to kiss you and stuff...."

Sam's voice faded away. On the one hand, he longed to be with Laura again, but on the other hand he knew that it was totally unfair to expect her to deny herself a social life while he was on the other side of the world.

"I don't know, Sam," Laura sighed. "What about you? I bet you'll meet some lovely girls in Australia."

Sam stared down at the water, swinging his feet. Truth be told, he had no idea what he was feeling right at that moment. He felt more mixed up than he could explain. He leaned towards Laura, kissed her on the cheek and held her tightly as she, in turn, embraced him. They clung onto each other, speechless, until a firework rocketed into the air.

"Oh, Nick said he'd get rockets," Sam said, grabbing Laura's hand and pulling her up. "Come on."

They walked up the garden together, hand in hand, laughing as the fireworks made them jump.

"Good party," Richard said later, as everyone collapsed exhausted in the living room. "Pass more exams, kids, and we can have more parties."

~ * ~

Ally walked into her room to begin packing for St Andrews, where she had a place to read Art History. A box on her desk contained notebooks, pens, a stapler and other vital bits of stationery she had managed to accumulate on visits to William's office. A large case lay open on the floor at the end of her bed. Ally bent over it to check out what she had already put in there. As she bent over, a small noise caught her attention. She looked up from her suitcase and glanced around the room. She saw nothing unusual. She turned round towards her chest of drawers, and as she pulled one drawer open and began to gather underwear to go in her case, a small creature shot out from under her bed and shouted.

"Boo!"

"Oliver, I will kill you!" Ally yelled, turning round to see Oliver rocketing across the room, through the door and down the hall. She sank onto the floor, half laughing as her heart rate subsided from the jump it had taken as he had popped out from under her bed.

"I really ought to get used to him," she thought to herself as her giggles subsided. She couldn't bring herself to be cross with him as he was so funny most of the time. He had taken to hiding in corners and popping out when least expected, then while his victim was still recovering, he shot off shrieking with delight at having surprised them. Most of the time, his victims were too helpless with laughter themselves to tell him off, although when he had jumped out at William from behind the kitchen door, causing William to drop a bottle of wine on the floor, he had come very close. Only the fact that flukily, the bottle didn't shatter but merely chipped, saved him from the most serious telling off of his little life.

Meanwhile Harriet was turning out to be a contemplative little character. It was almost as if she saw the trouble caused by her twin, and chose to be the opposite to him. She had William's deep brown eyes and serious face, and seemed to be watching and thinking about everything around her. Her dark curly hair flopped onto her forehead and she peered quizzically out from underneath her fringe at everyone and everything. In particular, she doted on Sam. He, in turn, seemed to click with her. She would toddle down to the jetty when he was messing about with his boat, and he, at first feeling nervous of her being around the water, then took to scooping her under his arm and plopping her down in the front of the boat as he rowed gently down the river. His friends had even begun to tease him.

"Hey, here's Sam and his girlfriend!"

"Shut up," Sam would say as he walked up from the river with Harriet's little hand in his.

Truth was, as his friends from school took it in turns to swing Harriet up on their shoulders, or vie to be the one she chose to row her home, they all thought she was the most delightful little sister it was possible to have.

~ * ~

Sam pushed his trolley into the Departures Hall at Heathrow airport and scanned the large screen to find out where he should check in. He joined the Quantas queue, and waited for everyone else to catch him up. William and Elizabeth had said they would take him to the airport, the twins had jumped up and down shouting "we want to go" until they had been included, and Ally had taken some time off packing for her departure the following weekend to come to wave him off. Sam had been dropped off with his bags while William had then gone on to find a parking space and marshall the family into a going-away party. Sam was in the Quantas queue when he saw everyone coming through the doors from the short term car park, and waved to them.

"I'll get coffees, shall I?" William asked, guessing that Elizabeth would like a few moments alone with her son. Ally picked up on the mood too.

"I'll take these two for a walk," Ally said, taking Harriet's hand and grabbing Oliver before he ran away.

Elizabeth was left alone with Sam, but was lost for words. There was so much to say, she didn't know how to begin.

"It'll be funny, being so far away," Sam said thoughtfully.

"You can always phone us," Elizabeth said. "Just work out the time difference first."

"OK."

"Do take care, won't you, Sam?" Elizabeth blurted. "Be careful who you hang out with, and don't go off with strangers. And you've got enough money, haven't you? And everything you need? What have you forgotten?"

"Mum, Australia's a civilised country, I can buy anything I've forgotten. And I won't take drugs, or hang out with nutcases, or drive too fast. Don't worry," he said patiently.

"Oh, I know, silly me, fussy mother," Elizabeth said. "It's my job to fuss over you."

"I'll miss you all," Sam said. "But I'll be back in six months, it's not like it's for ever."

To Elizabeth, six months felt like it might as well be for ever. Even though she and William were thinking of taking a trip to see him while he was in Australia, she couldn't imagine being without Sam for that long.

William returned with three coffees as the queue moved on. Sam soon got to the front, and pushed his trolley over to the check in desk. He handed over his passport and ticket.

"Ah, right, you've been upgraded, so you could've queued up with the Business Class passengers," the check in clerk said. "But never mind, I can check you in."

Sam frowned, puzzled, and turned to where Elizabeth and William were waiting for him. William had a broad grin on his face.

"Our treat," he said, when Sam made his way over to them. "It's a long time to be on an aircraft, you might as well be comfortable."

"You upgraded me?" Sam asked, amazed. "That's fantastic, thanks!"

They found Ally and the twins in the shopping area, and made their way to passport control together.

"This is it, then," Ally said as they reached the security clearance area. "We can't come any further."

Sam hugged her, then let her go.

"You're going to come and see me, though, aren't you?"

"We're doing the New Zealand trip together, aren't we?"

"Take care, Sam," William said. "Ring us when you get there, won't you?"

"OK," Sam said. "Come here, Oliver!"

Oliver had taken the opportunity of the others being distracted while they were in a large open space to run around in big circles, and was at that moment speeding away towards the exit. Sam chased him, and brought him back, squirming and giggling.

"No going in my room and messing with my stuff while I'm gone," he said firmly, and kissed his little brother on the cheek. Oliver responded by wiping his cheek with the back of his hand.

"Yuk, kisses are soppy," he said as Sam put him down.

Harriet held her arms open for a hug, so Sam picked her up. She wrapped her legs round his waist and her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and tried to put her down, but she was holding on too tight. She buried her face in his neck and began to sob.

"Sam going 'way," she mumbled tearfully.

"It's OK, sweetie, I'll see you soon," Sam said, kissing her hair. He tried to put her down again but Harriet just hung on tighter and sobbed a little more.

"Saaam goin'," she cried.

"Mum, she's making my shirt wet, can you get her off me?"

"Come on, Harriet, Sam's got to go now," Elizabethsaid, trying to unfasten Harriet's fingers from Sam's shirt.

"Noooo!" Harriet wailed, clinging on. "Don't go to 'sralia."

"I'll send you lots of postcards," Sam said, beginning to feel a little tearful himself.

Between them, Elizabeth and William managed to peel Harriet away, leaving Sam with a crumpled and tear stained shirt, while Harriet howled inconsolably in William's arms.

"Look at you," Elizabeth said, patting at Sam with her hanky. She had tears in her eyes too, and was afraid that she was going to make almost as big a fuss as Harriet.

"You'd better go through, Sam," William said. "Take care."

"Bye, Mum," Sam said, suddenly feeling as though he might not be able to carry this off. Harriet getting upset had thrown him completely, and he had a flash of panic about what he was doing.

"Bye, Sam," Elizabeth said, pulling him tightly to her. "Ring us, won't you?"

"Love you, Mum," Sam said quietly. "I'll be OK."

"I'm sure you will."

"Bye."

He walked to the door leading to the departure lounge, and turned to wave.

"Bye!" chorused everyone except Harriet, who was still being comforted by William.

Sam showed his passport, walked through the barrier and was gone.

Chapter 2

When Sam finally got through passport control and emerged into the hubbub of the arrivals lounge at Sydney, he felt dazed and confused. He had been travelling for so long, he no longer knew what day it was. At Hong Kong, he had been decanted off the jumbo jet into the airport, and with only an hour to linger, he had not strayed beyond the air conditioned confines of the airport complex. No sooner had he got his bearings than he was back on the plane for the last leg of his journey to Australia. Now having finally arrived in Sydney, for a moment he stood still and gazed around, slightly bemused at the busyness around him and somewhat dazed by jetlag. A voice brought him out of his reverie.

"Hey Sam! Over here!"

He looked around for the source of the shout and spotted Nick's brother Martin waving to him. He had met Martin and his wife Suzie at Nick and Mary's wedding, and got on with them immediately. He made his way round the barrier towards where Martin was waiting for him.

"G'day!" Martin said cheerfully. "How are you? Flight OK?"

"I'm fine, thanks," Sam replied. "Flight wasn't too bad at all, really."

"Great! Now, give me that bag there, and let's get going."

Martin took Sam's big rucksack, swung it onto his back, and strode off towards the car park. He stowed the backpack in the back of his four by four, and he and Sam climbed aboard. The first thing Sam noticed was the heat, even though night had already settled on the city. "So, tonight, we're staying at my cousin Gerry's place out near Manly. That's a great surfing beach, do you surf?" Martin asked as he pulled out into the traffic. "Never mind, we'll teach you. Then we'll go out to my place in the morning. I was all for driving out tonight but Suzie reckoned you'd just want a bath, a bite to eat and your bed tonight."

Sam nodded as the polite part of his brain tried manfully to fight against the tiredness that was overwhelming him, but conversation seemed to evade him. Martin glanced across at Sam as he drove, and saw his head begin to droop.

"What do you like to eat?" he asked cheerfully, trying to keep Sam awake. "You get much chance for barbecues at home?"

"Yeah, we do sometimes," Sam answered sleepily. "We had a good one before I came away. Everyone came. Nick's good at cooking."

"You reckon?" Martin asked incredulously. "My baby brother cooks? Hey, that aunt of yours must be one heck of a woman to get that man to cook."

Sam laughed, remembering how William and Charles had deferred to Nick on the basis of him being Australian and therefore automatically better than them at barbecuing.

"My Mum reckons Aunty Mary's training him to be useful for when the baby comes," Sam said.

"That's right," Martin said. "I get to be an uncle again soon. Any day now, isn't that right?"

"I think so."

Sam gazed out of the car as they sped into the city, recognising the Harbour Bridge instantly as they approached it. He looked round and saw the Opera House, lit by spotlights which reflected on the water of the harbour.

"You'll have to travel on the ferries some time," Martin said, noticing Sam's gaze. "That's the best way to get into the city."

"That would be good," Sam replied, his voice slow and thick with tiredness.

"Stay awake for just a bit longer," Martin said gently. "Not far to Gerry's place now."

Sam managed to force himself to stay awake until at last they pulled into a parking space in front of a neat modern looking house, set in a row of other similar houses. He got out of the car and followed Martin, who marched straight in and announced their arrival by shouting loudly.

"Hey, everyone, we're here."

They were greeted by what seemed to Sam to be a swarm of people, led by Suzie, Martin's wife, who hugged him warmly then turned to introduce him to everyone else. Sam could hardly keep track of the names and faces as he was introduced to Martin's cousin Gerry, Gerry's girlfriend Shauna, Shauna's sister who just happened to have called round, and a couple of neighbours who had been chatting on the terrace.

"Hey, this boy has just been stuck on a plane for 22 hours, don't overwhelm him," Gerry said, seeing Sam's face glaze over. "It's great to meet you, Sam, come on through. Shauna, grab a couple of beers, would you, love?"

He put his arm around Sam's shoulders and led him through the open plan downstairs room onto a terrace at the back of the house.

"Wow!" Sam gasped, as he took in the view over the beach and out to sea. "This is fantastic."

"Isn't it just?" Shauna said, handing him a cold beer. "We were very lucky to get this place.

Sam sipped at his beer and sighed. He had arrived at the other side of the world and he was amongst friends .Life looked good.

To be continued


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