AN: Now yes, here it is, the last chapter of this story. We thank you, our readers, for having stuck with us until the end, and we appreciate your lovely reviews. As always, we hope you have enjoyed reading our story just as much as we enjoyed writing it.
Three Years Later…
The day couldn't have been any more perfect – sunny, open blue skies, pleasant (yet not overwhelming) hot weather, gentle breeze in the air...
Ideal weather for the start of a summer camp.
Marva's last summer camp, the senior camp leader thought to herself with a smile. She'd dedicated the last forty-five years of her life to Camp Walden for girls and given her everything to ensure that all of the precious girls that arrived in the camp had a wonderful experience.
And most, if not all of them, had. They'd probably spent the first night or so thinking about how strange and different it was to be away from home - there were always tears on those occasions - but by the morning, most of them would be eager to see what was for breakfast, and to know what was on the camp agenda that day.
She had managed, over time, to learn how to distract the homesickness out of her young wards. And the girls enjoyed themselves all the more for it - they'd relaxed and let go, to enjoy being somewhere else for a while. They'd taken to it so quickly after that - swimming and kayaking, hikes on nature trails and wilderness survival courses, races and fencing and archery...
She truly had seen it all.
The activities all flashed by Marva in her head, filling her heart with a warmth that only a gratifying job could bring. A job which led her to meeting hundreds of bright, curious young minds that could do anything they put their hearts and minds to.
And it happened to be that particular thought which brought her mind around to...well, perhaps the most colourful two little girls she'd ever had the fortune-slash-misfortune to meet! And she could only think of it as being both good and bad luck, because the two of them had not truly been bad kids, beyond their immediate distaste for one another and their urge to tell it to anybody who would listen...
Mia Babcock and Lottie Brightmore. For two girls who'd looked so alarmingly alike, and with so many similarities in personality, they'd managed a rivalry that would've been considered a stroke of genius in a Shakespeare play!
Not that Marva hadn't been relieved when they'd finally started to bond, even if only so they didn't destroy the whole camp between them. But that had quickly warmed up to true happiness when she'd realised that they had become firm friends.
She'd just managed to stop herself from letting out a tear, upon seeing them share a hug before one had had to go on Pick-Up Day...
She wondered what they were doing now, and if they'd kept in touch, out there in the real world...
They hadn't come back to Camp Walden ever since, and she had no way of knowing what they were up to. It was somewhat sad, really – it always made her sad when her wards chose not to come back. It made her question the way she ran things.
Still, she wasn't perfect. Not everyone was bound to love summer camps, and that was a fact of life she'd had to come to terms with. The only thing she could do, was try and make the girls' experience at camp as pleasant as possible, and hope they came to think of Camp Walden as a second home.
But, as much as she liked her job, it was time to step aside. She was no longer the young, energy-ridden camp leader she'd once been. She couldn't keep up with the activities, more often than not, and over the last few years she'd had to delegate more and more tasks to her daughter, Marva Jr. As such, this would be her last rodeo before stepping down.
It wouldn't be fair of her to cling to her position, when she simply wasn't fit to be a camp leader anymore.
As it was she wouldn't be partaking in too many activities. Her doctor had been very clear about Marva not exerting herself, lest she make her arthritis worse and end up needing knee-replacing surgery after all.
This was farewell, and she was determined to make the most of it.
Sighing, Marva looked out of her office window — most of the buses had already arrived, and she could see a steady stream of eager young girls hopping off them, happy little faces shining with excitement of what was to come.
She supposed this was her cue, she thought with a smile, and reached inside her desk's top drawer for her clipboard— the same she'd been using for the past fifteen years. She'd decorated it with stickers galore, and the only thing that seemed to change, was the list of names she got every summer!
She hadn't checked the list yet. She always did it before roll call — that way she got to spot returning campers! She had been putting it off this year, but she couldn't keep postponing it.
It was sad, but she had to accept this was to be her last roll call.
"Let's see what we have here," she said to herself as she began to scan the list.
Abery, Abney, Abraham...
Letter A held no surprise and plenty of new campers. There were a healthy number of returns as well, so Marva was satisfied enough to move on to letter B.
The first few, just from skim-reading, suggested she wasn't going to get the last-minute reunion she had sort-of been hoping for.
No Babcock - not even anywhere among other names? It was strange: it had no sense that such a common surname didn't even appear once, while names like Barnaby, Benjamin and Bennett appeared practically in straight succession!
Even the further she got down the list, the more likely it had become that...
She had to pause, trying to stop her jaw from dropping until it fell to the floor with a clatter.
Right at the bottom of the "B" section was the name "Brightmore", written twice, with the names "Amelia" and "Charlotte" printed alphabetically beside.
Marva collapsed into the nearest chair, her body obeying the doctor's orders, even if her mind was busy screaming with questions. She clasped her hand over her own mouth, eyes wide in shock at the list. How could what she was seeing be possible...?! Was it simply a coincidence? No, it couldn't be; the surname stuck out like a sore thumb – it had to be the same Charlotte, at least! Maybe...maybe she had a little sister that she'd never talked about? One who was coming to camp with her for the first time?
Again, that didn't satisfy Marva's mind. They'd been asked about their families before, and Lottie had mentioned living with her father, no siblings.
A step-sibling, perhaps? No. It didn't really matter – it all sounded like too much of a coincidence, anyway! What were the odds that she could meet four people over the course of just three years, all of which shared first names, and three of which shared surnames, and yet they were all separate and distinct people?
Was that really a thing that was even possible...?
She didn't know, and it was driving her a little bit crazy trying to work it out for sure!
She supposed all she could do was wait and see who turned up. If she was wrong, she could let it go, move on and welcome two new girls with a similar name to the one she'd heard before. If she was right...
Well, she didn't really know what she'd do.
Feeling more anxious than anything else, Marva somehow managed to pull herself together and got to her feet. She still had some time before she needed to go outside to meet her wards, but she let curiosity get the best of her – it always did.
Clipboard and pen in hand, Marva rushed out of her office and made her way to the camp's entrance. She had to wend through a slew of new and old campers, which slowed her down, especially since most of the returning campers would stop her to say hi and share their excitement to be back. She tried to wave them off as kindly as she could – she was delighted to see them again, but her mind was currently occupied with a question that needed answering.
It was an age before she'd made it, but when she did, she wasted no time. Her eyes carefully scanned the crowd, looking for a pair of blonde-haired girls with sky-blue eyes. She remembered they'd been tall for their age, back when they'd first come to Camp Walden, so Marva expected them to be a few feet taller. Both Amelia and Charlotte would be eleven years old, going on twelve – it made sense for them to have grown in height.
But, much to Marva's disappointment, after another twenty minutes of careful vigil, her search proved fruitless. Most buses were empty and its passengers on their way to the common area to get their cabins, and none of them looked even remotely like–
"Mia, Lottie, slow down! Your mother can't keep up!"
But that voice. That not-comfortably-familiar voice, heard perhaps once, or twice, over a phone...? She didn't know where else she might've heard a man's voice, especially not one with such a strong English accent!
An English accent, just like Lottie Brightmore's...
It seemed to give everything away, including the forgotten fact that she hadn't looked everywhere yet.
Turning towards the rise, in the direction of a small area some parents used to park their cars sometimes, Marva finally saw and confirmed what she had been wondering ever since her eyes had read over the list of names.
A little family of four was heading in her direction, but the two girls were dashing ahead in their obvious excitement, dragging their duffle bags and leaving their parents to catch up. That was easier said than done, considering the woman with them was heavily pregnant and being helped along by the man who'd shouted after the girls. Her husband? Their father?
Marva didn't know. That part made sense, considering what he'd said, but...but none of it really made any sense at all!
It was starting to make her head spin, trying to puzzle it all out! Didn't...didn't they come from different places...?! Mia was from New York and Lottie was from London! Marva hadn't made that part up! The girls had never met before camp, either – they would've said so, wouldn't they?!
They wouldn't have come with different surnames, either! They couldn't have, if they had the same parents and their parents were together, which was starting to look pretty darn obvious the closer the four got; they couldn't look more like the man and woman they'd come with, if they'd tried...!
The woman really was heavily pregnant as well – she had to be in her third trimester, with a belly so large and round that her...husband? Partner? No, it had to be a husband – even from a distance, it was obvious that the woman was wearing a diamond ring on her finger. Marva was sure the middle gem could be seen from the International Space Station, it was so huge!
Anyway, her husband was having to practically navigate her over the uneven ground as they went!
The facts were buzzing so loudly in Marva's head it was hard to concentrate, the closer the girls got...
Two parents who were clearly together. The same surname, but different than before for one of them. Coming from two different places and speaking in two different accents. Seemingly never having met each other, back the first time they'd been at the camp, and yet arriving as one (growing) family the next...?!
Each sentence got louder, the more she tried to work out how it could be possible, until it nearly became impossible for her to stand.
God, where was an office chair when you really needed one to fall into?!
Not that she had time to even think about collapsing – the girls (sisters?) had spotted Marva from a distance, and were both waving at and running towards her with matching grins on their faces.
"Heya, Marva!" screamed Lottie (Marva could tell due to the accent).
"Long time no see!" Mia completed.
Marva didn't know what to say – she'd been rendered speechless, and she wasn't sure when (and even if…) the shock would wear off. It really was the girls! Charlotte and Mia, now both Brightmore for some reason that Marva absolutely needed to find out. She'd be damned if she retired not knowing how the Brightmore girls had not only gotten over their feud but had also become real-life sisters.
"Hello, girls," the elderly woman eventually managed to choke out, just as the two sisters (and their parents, who had been hurrying behind them) got to where Marva was stood. "I…well…It's good to see you again!"
"It's good to be back," said Lottie.
"Though this time we promise not to fight or play pranks on each other," Mia said, smiling. "A lot has changed since we last were here – for starters, we found out we are identical twins!"
In reality, it made sense to come to that conclusion, simply by looking at the girls. The two couldn't have been more identical if they'd been wearing the same clothes, for Heaven's sake!
But that didn't mean that Marva was able to take the news without slightly choking on something in the back of her throat.
Twins...they had been twins the whole time, and by the sound of things, they hadn't even known!
But how could they not know?!
She opened her mouth to ask, but was immediately cut off by an excitable Lottie.
"Yeah! We didn't know before! When we found out, we used it to switch places and go home as each other!" the girl declared proudly. "We helped our parents get back together!"
"They'd split up before we were born," Mia explained with a grin. "They took one of us each and didn't think we'd ever meet each other and find out the truth!"
Marva didn't know about choking anymore in that moment. She thought she might have just managed to swallow whatever had been bothering her in one go, anyway.
The...the girls...they'd switched places at camp?! All to get their parents, one from New York and one obviously from London, to get back together?! They'd created the most elaborate scheme Marva had ever heard of - their pranks paled in comparison - all to see to it that they got to be a family?!
And they'd managed this all without her seeing, or even suspecting that there might've been something wrong?! How had she not noticed that there was something wrong?!
She'd been working for over forty years, and yet somehow this had slipped beneath her radar!
What...what did it all mean? Did it mean anything? Had she not been as good at running the camp as she'd thought, because she'd managed to let two charges do as they pleased and get sent home to the wrong countries?!
Granted, it had been their parents, but what if they'd been mistaken?!
Marva could almost feel herself starting to hyperventilate, her eyes back to wide with the shock and her mind fuzzy with confusion.
Luckily, it appeared the girls' - the twins' - mother had seen her expression, and took a step forward.
"I'm sorry, that was probably a lot to take in all at once...!" she said, letting out a soft chuckle, before stretching out a hand to shake Marva's. "C.C. Brightmore, Mia and Lottie's mother. It's kind of a long story..."
She sure could say that again, Marva thought to herself incredulously. She didn't think she'd ever met children who'd told her something so complicated about their family history, and she'd met little rich girls who were being spoiled by their mothers or sent away by stepmothers for the summer, and whose fathers were probably doing time for tax evasion!
And as for the whole...switching places deal...the camp leader was practically ready to break out the smelling salts! That was the kind of mistake – granted, one she wasn't aware she'd made, but still – that lost somebody their job!
She'd have had to kiss the camp goodbye, if anybody like a chancing lawyer or a reporter looking for their first big scoop had found out...
The thought of coming so close to ruining everything she'd ever worked for made her feel slightly nauseous, and that came over strongly when she tried to reply to Mrs Brightmore.
A pity, as she was dying to try and tell both parents that she absolutely wanted to hear the long version of what the twins had said.
"Yes, I'm...I'm sure it's fascinating, though...!" she managed to grasp Mrs Brightmore's hand in a shake, before turning to also address the man who could only be Mr Brightmore, holding out her hand to him, too. "I am Marva; I run this camp. With my daughter's help."
"Niles Brightmore," the twins' father introduced himself, firmly shaking her hand in return. "A pleasure to meet you, at last. The girls have said such good things about you, and about this place."
That was when Marva saw her chance open up, and felt her stomach relax a little.
"Well, I certainly am glad about that!" she beamed, her eyes going back and forth between the twins and their parents as she released Niles' hand. "It seems they've had a greater adventure here than most do, and that's saying something!"
"You don't even know the half of it," C.C. replied with a chuckle, cradling her own belly comfortingly. "I wouldn't have believed it myself, if I hadn't lived through the whole thing!"
Marva almost felt her eyes flash with the fascination she knew they held. She had never come so close to such an incredible story, and she wasn't going to miss the opportunity to hear the full thing, while it was wide open.
"What exactly...did happen? To set everything in motion, and then let it turn out like this? You said it was a long story, but I don't mind..."
The moment the question was out, she wondered if she might've been a bit presumptuous to ask so openly, but to her surprise, the two parents simply turned to one another and agreed on who would go first at explaining.
And explain they did. About the awful misunderstanding that had led them to not talking in the first place, back when C.C. had been pregnant with the girls. About how they had taken a twin each, and half the family – father and daughter – had moved to London, bulk child support to sustain them, while mother and daughter had stayed in New York, with both girls growing up not knowing about their own siblings.
They had only barely known the parent they hadn't lived with; not from meeting them, but from the limited word of mouth their father or mother had provided.
It crushed Marva's heart to even think about it. She thought it was almost a cruel twist of fate that such a simple misunderstanding had escalated into...well, the mess that had then happened!
It had been so obvious, even from hearing it, that the parents had simply been hurt, and their girls had paid the price for it, for eight years...
Her mood began to lift, however, as they told her about their girls coming to the camp and eventually pulling off the stunt itself – Mia and Lottie interjecting with comments about what they'd done to make it happen, of course.
She listened, intrigued like she had never been before, as all the details piled up; Kathleen, the girls' grandparents getting involved, the big reveal at the hotel, the disastrous dinner, the camping trip, saying sayonara to Kathleen (even Marva felt disgusted by the woman at the end of it), and the one last chance they'd had at reconciliation...
The emotional rollercoaster ride the story had taken Marva on made her want to weep at the end of it. Whether that was from sorrow, at the heartbreaking things one little family had had to go through, simply to be together, or from joy at the fact that the persistence and love they all held for each other had meant they'd succeeded, she didn't know. If it hadn't been for the girls' ingenuity, sharp minds and apparent penchant for getting into mischief, none of this would've ever happened! They'd be stuck an ocean away from each other, never even realising that they were missing their family. A sister that they'd never met, through no fault of their own...
They would have been denied a happy ending they'd never once known they could get.
"That was...quite a story," Marva said, discreetly wiping at her eyes to catch a stray tear. "You must be so proud of your girls...! Standing up for what they believed in, against all odds..."
Niles looked at the twins proudly, and they blushed lightly in return.
"I don't think I could be any more proud of them," he said, his chest puffing out a little. He looked like he might've been holding back tears of his own. "If the new arrivals are anything like their sisters, I shall consider myself a lucky man, indeed."
Marva blinked, feeling as though she might've heard it wrong, "Did you say arrivals...?"
Looking like she wanted to heave the heaviest sigh in the world, C.C. rubbed her belly a little more, the bump suddenly looking a lot larger and rounder to Marva than it had previously – and that was saying something!
"We, uh...we're having another set of identical twins," she said, rolling her eyes when her husband began smirking like he had the winning numbers for the lottery, and the jackpot was enormous.
"But it's going to be a pair of boys this time around," he added smugly.
Suddenly, Marva was back to nearly choking again.
Twins...another set of identical twins! And this time, they were going to be little boys! It was...so much to take in, she could barely speak!
Of course, their father was right in that they'd be wonderful children if they were like their older sisters; bright, fun-loving and full of love for their family and friends – that was a recipe for almost a perfect angel of a child!
What made her hesitate and her throat nearly close up was knowing how good Mia and Lottie were at pranks and playing jokes. If the two older girls had managed to slip enough out of sight for responsible adults to not realise they'd switched identities, then what could two younger Brightmores do to one-up the already-established record?!
Because by the time they were old enough to know how, you could bet anything you liked that they'd find something to top it! Especially if it meant beating their older sisters, like so many boys wanted to do at some point in their lives!
All she could do in that moment was thank the Lord that she'd chosen that year to retire, not kept going for longer than she needed to and eventually changing the camp to include both male and female campers.
She'd spent one season with feuding and pranking Brightmore twins already – that was more than enough for anybody!
"Oh, well...congratulations!" Marva managed to say (choke out). "Will they be born soon?"
"Still two months to go!" C.C. sighed, patting her belly. "More than enough time for their sisters to return to camp this summer."
"They've been asking to come back for years, but for one reason or another, we always had to push it back," Niles explained. "We wanted to holiday together the first summer after we'd reunited, and we got married the following summer, so it wasn't possible then, either."
"Well, that's understandable. But it looks like you've finally made it, girls!" Marva said, smiling at the twins. "You're back for another fun-filled summer."
Suddenly, Marva's smile disappeared and was replaced by a stern, pointed look. One that reminded the twins of the kind of looks they'd get from their teachers whenever they pulled a prank.
"Though, before you join your fellow campers, I'm gonna need you to promise me something..."
Mia and Lottie exchanged a look.
"What is it?" they asked in unison.
"No more prank wars – you got away with it the first time around, but my old bones simply won't handle another one."
Marva knew she had to keep a straight face here. If she laughed – like she kind of wanted to – it would be over. They'd know that she was being soft on them, and that would give them an advantage.
The camp would be theirs within the week, if she let that happen. Usually, she was excellent at laying down the law, but this time around, it felt different. Like they had all played a game before, and now the twins were fantastic when it came to knowing the rules.
Even if it wasn't like that to them, Marva was certain now that they were older, they'd had some time to perfect their "craft", and would be learning how to get around things constantly.
And she'd already just about managed to avoid one disaster involving them (though that hadn't really been her doing), so she was reluctant to let herself potentially get involved in another. Especially now that she and they were all aware of the circumstances.
So, she held her breath, and prayed that even if they could sense a weakness – the more astute kids sometimes could – they'd choose not to do anything about it.
Eventually, the girls looked at each other, smiled and nodded, and then turned back to Marva.
"Sure! We can hold off for a little while..."
The camp leader tried to make her sigh of relief as silent as possible. She didn't want to make a big deal out of it, or for it to really catch the girls' attention. Just in case it gave them ideas.
"Thank you," she said. "That's all I needed to hear."
"Indeed," C.C. interjected, putting an arm around each twin. "But, if they get into trouble, don't hesitate to call us. We'll be here in no time."
Much to Marva's amusement, Mrs Brightmore accompanied her statement with a hard, pointed look in the twins' direction, both of whom looked like the Fear of Almighty God had been put in their eyes. From what Marva had been able to see, it was evident that Mrs Brightmore laid down the law in the Brightmore household, and the twins knew that all too well.
"That won't be necessary, Mom," Mia said, hugging her mother.
"We'll be two little angels," Lottie followed, speaking in a sweet voice. Perhaps a little too sweet…
"Oh, I'm sure you will," Niles said. "You'll be angels – just like Satan once was. Now come here and give your old man a hug and a kiss, before you head off."
The girls giggled at his joke, but as they finished hugging their mother to come and say goodbye to him, he saw his wife give a disapproving look over the tops of their heads.
Marva saw it, too. It seemed, from the look on Mr Brightmore's face, that Mrs Brightmore knew how to put the Fear of Almighty God into more than just their children. Had Niles been aware of what she was thinking, he would've agreed. Possibly to earn himself another Look from his wife. But he wasn't, so he didn't.
Besides, there were two more important matters to contend with, and they were busy wrapping their arms around his middle, as he took each of them in an arm and hugged back as only a father who loved his daughters could.
He kissed them both on the tops of their golden heads, "Be good, the both of you, and have fun."
He could've sworn he'd heard one or both of the twins muttering something about how were they supposed to do both at the same time, but he chose to let it slide. He knew that if there were any real problems, Marva would call them, and neither twin wanted to cut their time at the camp short.
That probably didn't mean they wouldn't try something anyway – they had their parents' genes, after all – but it might convince them to draw a line somewhere, and not take the pranks beyond that point. Either that, or they'd simply get better at not getting caught.
He supposed they'd have to wait and see. But the time had come to let them go off on their next adventure.
So, he released his girls, feeling a tug at his heart at knowing they'd be gone for so long – just like he had the first time around – but also relieved, knowing they wouldn't be alone.
Not this time, and not ever again. They had each other, and they had both their parents, and grandparents, and friends and relatives, and soon they'd have their little brothers, too. C.C. was probably having the same or a similar thought, because she was trying not to get choked up as their daughters started to head off, waving and smiling at them over their shoulders as they went to join their camp mates.
Niles took hold of her hand and gripped it, reminding her that he was there, for whatever she needed.
She squeezed back appreciatively, as Marva turned from watching the girls go get lined up for the roll call to look at them again.
"They're not really gonna listen to what I just said, are they?"
Niles gave her an apologetic smile, "Probably not. But we can live in some hope that they'll tone it down, compared to last time."
Trying to move on from her emotional episode, C.C. sniffed, before starting to laugh.
"Well, it's not exactly possible for them to outdo themselves, is it? They've already hit their peak in the tricks department!"
"I wouldn't count chickens if I were you, my love," Niles said, pulling a face in the direction of the crowd where their girls had disappeared. He put his arm securely around his wife, hugging her close. "We haven't hit their teenage years, yet."
It was on that note that Marva remembered she had a whole camp full of preteens waiting for her to help them start setting up for camp, and she politely excused herself from their company, after exchanging parting words of how nice it was to meet them and how she'd see them on the last day, when they came to pick up the girls.
Niles and C.C. couldn't wait to hear what she'd have to say. Their girls had come a long way since not fully knowing who they or their families were – they all had. Just as their girls had blossomed and grown over the course of their time spent pulling off the prank-slash-relationship-rescue-mission of the century, their family had spent the years since blossoming and growing as well.
And it was only going to continue to grow, in size and love and prosperity. They as parents knew it, and as parents, they'd make sure of it.
Just like they'd made sure their girls got to come on this symbolic new beginning; a new adventure, where it had all started, or at least where it had picked up, after being so foolishly left.
This time, it was an adventure the twins would get to go home and tell the both of them about.
And, taking one last look over their shoulders at where they could just make out the colour of Mia's sweatshirt and Lottie's hair close by in the chattering crowd, they smiled, shared a short kiss and turned to start making their way slowly back to the car, hand in hand.