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Polka Dot Skulls

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Hazel eagerly ripped open her Cambridge envelope as Daisy watched. While Daisy had been admitted to St Lucy’s College almost immediately, months had gone by since Hazel’s interview with no response. Now that she finally had her letter in hand, her hands were trembling so badly that she could barely open it. This was the most important letter Hazel had received all year because if she had been accepted to St Lucy’s as well, she would be going to university with Daisy just as they had always planned.

“What does it say?” Daisy asked, eagerly focusing on her friend’s face. Try as she might, she couldn’t help noticing how Hazel’s face smoothed out as she continued reading the note. Through rigorous observation Daisy knew only ever happened when Hazel was asleep or masking disappointment. Unfortunately, her friend appeared very much awake. “Hazel?”

“I was rejected,” Hazel said. She carefully folded the letter and had almost stuffed it back into its envelope when Daisy ripped it out of her hands. “Daisy, seeing the ink for yourself won’t change that.”

“I can’t believe this!” Daisy roared. Her eyes danced along the cursive script, recognizing the handwriting as her great aunt’s work, though it made little sense to her having a Mathematics don write a rejection letter. Perhaps it was to soften the blow, as she and Hazel had a prior connection. “What utter rubbish does she mean when she says that despite her protests, the committee decided St Lucy’s already has enough of your sort?”

“Perhaps she means that I’m not an English born student,” Hazel said in that careful tone she used when she didn’t want to share her real opinion with Daisy. She rarely used it these days, but it still brought Daisy’s ire. She should never keep secrets from her!

“Even if graduating from Deepdean with stellar marks wasn’t enough, you spent ages working with Miss Barnard every day to ensure you tested better than anyone else applying. You even tested better than me—I made sure of it!” Daisy shouted. “They better have a jolly good reason for rejecting you. I mean, you’re a legacy! I have half a mind to leave for Cambridge right now and explain to this committee exactly how they fouled up.”

“Don’t!” Hazel snapped, grabbing Daisy’s arm firmly enough to hold her in place. “Daisy, don’t you dare embarrass me like that! They don’t want me and that’s that. If you went down there they might rescind your acceptance or, in the highly unlikely situation you actually convinced them to take me after all, everyone would make my life a living hell because they didn’t want me there.”

“But I want you there,” Daisy said. “I need you there.”

“I know,” Hazel said. “But I can’t be there. Look, this isn’t the end of the world; every other college I applied to accepted me. I could go to Somerville or perhaps a university in American. That could be exciting, I know Alexander is attending Yale University, I could attend the Vassar College, since I was accepted there.”

“Absolutely not!” Daisy spat. “You are not going to university an ocean away from me with a boy!”

“I wouldn’t be going to the same school as him. Daisy, I was just trying to find some positives in a disappointing situation. All I really want to do is attend university with you.”

“Oh Hazel,” Daisy sighed, pulling the other girl into a tight hug. “It’s going to be alright. I will fix this.”

“You can’t,” Hazel said, squeezing her back. “It’s bad luck all around, but St Lucy’s College feels they already have enough Chinese girls attending. Things will turn out fine; I can go to Somerville at Oxford. They have an excellent history program, which is what I want to study, and some interesting professors. Plus, I’ll be close enough that letters should arrive almost instantly and we can still visit occasionally. The train ride shouldn’t be too terrible. We can make this work.”

“Of course we will,” Daisy agreed. “I promise, Hazel, we’ll go to university together and I won’t embarrass you in the process of ensuring that happens.”

“I certainly hope so,” Hazel sighed.


They didn’t talk about university for the rest of the semester. Whenever Hazel tried bringing it up Daisy would go deadly cold and refuse to speak to her. So unsurprisingly, Hazel soon stopped talking about it. She hated having her best friend mad at her, especially when there wasn’t anything she could do about the circumstances, and resolved to enjoy the rest of the time they had together as big girls at school.

While they didn’t handle any more murder mysteries for the rest of the semester, there were several other exciting cases that required their deductive skills. Really, it made it almost okay for Hazel to say goodbye to Daisy. She honestly didn’t know if her best friend would ever make time to see her again—after all, Daisy was off to Cambridge where she would meet dozens of fascinating men and women who would not only be able to keep up with her, but in a few cases like George, occasionally outthink her. Daisy was a good egg, but Hazel knew how bad she was at writing and how easily she tired of the mundane. She had to wonder how long it would take in the new environment for Daisy to write off their old relationship and move on.

At least Daisy was unexpectedly emotional at their graduation. In front of everyone she pulled Hazel into a tight hug as if it were to stop them from seeing her cry. Of course, Hazel knew that was just playacting, if Daisy were really about to cry she would have made her excuses and left the celebration for solitude. However, she was more than willing to revel in the hug and squeezed Daisy back tightly. She didn’t know if she’d ever get another chance. Before Daisy released her, she hissed in Hazel’s ear that she had better attend Oxford come fall.

Just like she had all semester, Daisy allowed herself to be swept up by others before Hazel could reply. Of course she was going to Oxford over America. There was no comparison when the former put her closer to her. Excluding Daisy, Somerville was everything Hazel had ever dreamed of and she’d rather be there in England missing her friend than across an ocean forgetting her. Like Hazel could ever forget Daisy.

After a summer back in Hong Kong with her family Hazel returned to England. One train ride later and she was in Oxford having a porter move her bags into her new quarters. Somerville had hired efficient staff and soon Hazel was in her room unpacking her luggage to try and make her new quarters feel more like her own space. Unlike Deepdean, she didn’t have to share her room and that left Hazel feeling like she ought to personalize it.

Anything that might be considered a common area in view of the other students had to look properly English, but now that she had a private bedroom it might be possible to make it feel more like home. To that effect she pulled out a few decorations from home—an embroidered pillow, a few knickknacks, and a drawing her little half sisters made together—and set them up where she could see them, but they wouldn’t be immediately obvious if anyone opened the door to her room unexpectedly.

Now that Hazel had done everything she could easily think to do in her room, it was time to meet her landing mate. She wasn’t looking forward to the task, people often reacted strongly to her foreignness during a first meeting, but better to get it over with now when she was prepared than come across the other woman when she wasn’t expecting it. Things rarely went well for Hazel when she hadn’t prepared. So she crossed the landing and knocked on the other door, vaguely surprised to see there wasn’t a nameplate on the door.

Hazel had barely any time to contemplate that perhaps there wasn’t anyone assigned to the room before the door opened. When she saw who was on the other side, Hazel’s mind promptly froze and her jaw dropped open.

“Aren’t you going to say anything, Watson?” Daisy demanded, impish grin on her face. When Hazel didn’t respond, she pulled her into the room and a tight hug.

“What are you doing here?” Hazel demanded when Daisy let her go.

“Well that’s a fine way to greet your best friend,” Daisy said, putting her hands on her hips. “Frankly I’m ashamed by your behavior.”

“You’re supposed to be at St Lucy’s in Cambridge, not Somerville!” Hazel protested. “I’m thrilled to see you, Daisy, really I am, but I don’t understand.”

“It’s simple really, since you said not to interfere on your behalf—which was really quite selfish of you Hazel, I have a lot more influence in Cambridge than I do here—I decided to switch schools for you,” Daisy explained. “We’ll be attending university together just as I had planned.”

“I can’t believe this!” Hazel laughed. “You love Cambridge. Did you really give up on it for me?”

“Of course,” Daisy said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. When Hazel hugged her she squirmed a little before settling her arms around Hazel’s neck. “Besides, if Cambridge was willing to let Bertie into Maudlin College, but wouldn’t allow you into St Lucy’s College, they couldn’t possibly be half as good as suggested.”

“Oh Daisy,” Hazel chuckled. That was one of the sweetest things Daisy had ever said to her. She hadn’t expected to have any close friends here, but now she had the best friend she could ever imagine right here beside her. Daisy had switched school loyalties, which went back for generations in her family, for her and that meant more than either one of them could properly articulate.

“Now buck up, Hazel, if you cry on my blouse any more I’ll have to change before dinner. Did you even remember a handkerchief?” Daisy asked.

Hazel let go to retrieve a cloth for her eyes as Daisy hastily backed up a step. Neither one of them was particularly demonstrative normally, but this had been an irregular circumstance. Now it was obviously time for them to retreat to proper English manners, if Daisy’s behavior was any indication, and pretend the last few minutes hadn’t happened. Hazel could happily live with that, since Daisy was here in the flesh.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Hazel finally said, putting her handkerchief away. Daisy returned the sentiment, but she seemed rather fidgety to her. Suddenly she shoved a small box into Hazel’s hands. “What’s this?”

“Open it.”

So Hazel did as ordered, aware that Daisy’s eyes were trained on her face for any trace of reaction. She carefully untied the red bow, her favorite color, which was wrapped around an otherwise innocuous brown paper-wrapped package. The paper fell off easily enough revealing a slim box. When she opened that, Hazel found a black ribbon covered in white polka dots. Picking it up she realized it was the right length and thickness to act as a hair tie.

“Why it’s lovely, Daisy, thank you.”

“Look closer,” Daisy ordered, clearly waiting for a more serious reaction.

Figuring there had to be something more to the gift, considering Daisy’s mood, Hazel took a closer look. Upon further inspection, she realized the white polka dots were actually tiny skulls woven into the fabric of the ribbon. She must have gasped or made some other sort of reaction because Daisy relaxed and grinned as Hazel ran a thumb over one of the skulls.

“Isn’t it grand, Watson? I had a pair of matching ribbons specially commissioned for us, since as long as we’re together, Detective Society will go on,” Daisy explained. “The trick is that you have to be extremely close or observant to realize what the dots are, like any true detective would be. You like it, don’t you?”

“I love it,” Hazel assured her. She could see her best friend preening and decided to ask her the only thing that could make her even happier, since Daisy had already done so much for her. “Will you put it in for me?”

“Of course,” Daisy said, taking the ribbons. “Turn around.”

Hazel turned so that she could look out Daisy’s window instead of the undecorated back of her front door. That meant Daisy had to shuffle around her, but for once she didn’t complain about Hazel’s obstinacy. She felt cool fingers gently gather up the long hair against her neck and gently lift it away.

“When you said St Lucy’s rejected you my mind went blank. I literally could not imagine going forward without you, which is why I switched schools to be with you,” Daisy said. Hazel felt Daisy rest the backs of her hands on her neck. “I need you, Hazel, now more than ever.”

“Daisy,” Hazel said. She started to turn around, but Daisy stopped her.

“No, let me finish. Please. It’s easier to talk about it this way.”

“Okay.” Hazel waited patiently for Daisy to gather her thoughts. She felt the other woman firmly tie the ribbon into a bow along the back of her neck.

“I’ve never been interested in boys like you, Hazel. They’re absolutely silly and not worth either of our time. However… I have come to realize that occasionally romance isn’t all bad, that is, if you’re sensible about it and have it with the right person.”

“Are you talking about George?” Hazel asked, whirling around to see her friend’s face. She couldn’t believe these words were coming out of Daisy’s mouth. Her choice to come to Oxford made even less sense now, since George had followed his brother into St John’s College at Cambridge.

“Of course not!” Daisy cried, hurt clearly written across her face. “I’m talking about you, you utter dolt!”

“Huh?” Hazel asked, feeling her brain fizzle for the second time in less than an hour.

“How could you not see it? I mean, I know your detective skills aren’t as finely tuned as mine, but surely there were enough hints and clues. I chose you over Cambridge. I chose you over my family!”

“Daisy, how could I know?” Hazel said, gently, but firmly grabbing Daisy’s hands before she could get out of reach. “You shut me out, like you always shut me out when things didn’t go according to your plan. You keep your own counsel so tightly that there are days when I don’t even know if you like me, despite the fact we’re best friends. How was I to know you also had feelings about us?”

“Hazel Wong you mean the world to me,” Daisy said firmly. “I would live in Hong Kong with you if you insisted, though I haven’t the faintest idea why you would when London is so much better. Wait—also?”

“I’ve had a pash on you since we first met. Perfect little blonde, blue-eyed English girl.” Hazel shrugged then smiled sheepishly. “While I’ve gotten to know the real you, the brilliant pigheaded detective, I never fully grew out of the initial pash. Rather the opposite, really. That’s why I didn’t go to America.”

“Hazel, old sport!” Daisy exclaimed, flinging her arms around Hazel.

Hazel didn’t know if yet another hug from Daisy or the obviously real tears in her eyes were more alarming. But suddenly Daisy’s lips were on hers and she had to respond somehow, so she leaned into the kiss as her hands found traction on Daisy’s blouse. They kissed messily, tilting their heads at various angles as they tried to find the most comfortable position. Hazel wasn’t particularly skilled a kissing, but she was pleased to realize that for once in her life she was more experienced at something than Daisy.

Perhaps they would have eventually found the right angle, but there was a knock at the door before it opened. “Miss Wells, are you ready for dinner? Oh, Miss Wong! You’re in here too.”

“Yes we are, Miss Fitzgerald,” Daisy said, turning to the senior most resident of their staircase. “I was simply helping Hazel with her ribbon.”

“Come along then,” Miss Fitzgerald said. “We need to be to the dining hall before the dons.”

“Of course,” Daisy agreed airily and left her room.

Hazel followed behind her as she had so often done before. As they trotted down the stairs she noticed a now familiar black ribbon with suspicious polka dots threaded through Daisy’s hair. When they were finally out of the building and could stand abreast again Hazel slipped her hand into Daisy’s, catching her attention.

“I see you’re also wearing your Detective Society ribbon,” Hazel said.

“But of course,” Daisy replied. “I’m not sure what sort of clubs and societies Oxford offers, secret or otherwise, but I’m sure ours is the best of all.”

With matching grins they walked hand in hand to dinner. Hazel couldn’t wait to see what sort of mysteries she and Daisy would solve. She was sure the best had yet to come.