I managed to sneak into Mad's place and get changed without Mrs P spotting me much to Brit's dismay but my relief. As Jules and Deb got invited out for the evening, Brit and me get to eat at Chez Peters.
"So you all ready for your big performance girls?" Aunt Carol asked as we tucked into our poachers pie salad.
"I think so mum, Miss Bell helped us tonight and these," she indicated her Cheer outfit, "are really cool" Mad told her
"What about you Drew, you doing anything to entertain us on Thursday?"
The phone picked that moment to ring so distracting Mrs P. by the time she got back she'd forgotten and we were discussing the merits of various salad components! It seems strange not having a race to go to tonight but by the time Brit and I headed for home a bit before seven the reason was already making itself felt. Indeed by eight tonight it won't be far off fully dark, tonight's overcast sky doesn't help either.
It was pretty clear this morning that the Walters were both in a state of flux, a combination of excitement and sadness. Excitement as their return home was fast approaching and sadness that they'd soon be leaving. Well that's what Brit told me. I suppose I've got mixed feelings too, sad that they're going but glad that maybe I can get my life back!
Today marks the start of the second week of school; yeah I know I was away for a couple of days and today is the first proper Wednesday of this school year. I slid through the classes without paying too much attention, just enough not to get in trouble. The good thing today is that I get out of cheer practice as I'm under orders from Dad to do some training for Sunday, the last of the Lincoln circuit races.
Brit was already back when I emerged from the shower after my ride.
"It's a pity you missed practice"
"Ga-ab, I thought you enjoyed cheering?"
"Well let's say it's not my first choice of career"
"But you are gonna be in the squad tomorrow?" she pleaded
"I said I would didn't I?"
"I know but..."
"I'll be there!"
"Well anyway we thought it would be cool if we all did our hair the same"
Why don't I like this?
"And make up of course"
"Okay, don't tell me its braids isn't it?"
"Course not, Bernie's hair isn't long enough and Sabrina's hair takes forever to do"
"Well what then?" I collapsed onto the sofa to dry my hair
"Seeing as you're being awkward I'm not telling"
"Nope, anyway I said I'd show you the new moves, we get a last practice tomorrow lunch and..."
"...And I suppose I need to practice before then?" I interrupted
Well at least I got to wear training bottoms instead of a stupid little skirt. I needed another shower afterwards and my legs were like jelly. I suppose I should have seen it coming but afterwards Brit insisted that we pick what we're wearing for the party itself. I might have got arm twisted into joining their stupid cheer team but I am going to look like a boy at the party whatever Brit thinks. I only went as far as admitting that I like that orange frock before retiring to do my homework. I'm pretty sure Brit was more than a bit miffed!
"Don't forget your kit Drew" Brit instructed
How in hell could I? It's all I've heard this morning, cheer this, practice that, yardy, yardy, yardy! I don't even know why we need this flipping lunch time session; I thought we'd already got it all sussed. I can honestly say that I was not looking forward to today or the festivities as much as I might. And as for this cheerleading lark, I'm still not sure how I ended up involved, what about Rhod? He's managed to escape completely the lucky sod.
Not only do I get to miss my lunch but I don't suppose there will be time for anything before the party either. Well I suppose it won't hurt for one day, I seem to be getting a bit lardy lately anyway. I moped all the way to school, trying to ignore the day's programme of events - and the contents of my holdall. I really am mince if anyone sees what's in there!
So because I just wanted the day out of the way it dragged something chronic! After what seemed like a fortnight the lunch bell went and I sullenly followed Brit and the others to the sports hall where we found Miss Bell and Mr Wood waiting for us.
"Hi girls" Coach Bell greeted us
A chorus of "hello Miss Bell, good afternoon Mr Wood" was returned
"I didn't know you were taking part Mr Bond" Mr Wood mentioned
"It was only decided on Monday Sir"
"Right, well I'll let you girls get changed, I'll see you inside"
"Come on people, let's get you ready, we don't have long" Miss Bell herded us towards the girl's locker room.
Now I know what you're thinking but I've taken precautions. I put that gaff thing on this morning so I look 'girly' down there and they all know I need a 'bit of help' up top. The thought of using the girls changing facilities didn't exactly fill me with the joy it might have, after all I'm a girl as far as the Americans are concerned, and I've seen the gang in various states of undress over the last few months - not naked mind, if anyone strips off I don't know what I'll do!
"Drew!" Mad whispered holding me back from the others.
"Would you mind changing in the lavs?"
"I'd prefer to but won't the others smell a rat?"
"I'll just say it's Mrs Moon time"
"You know, time of the month?"
She just gave me a look.
"Give us five minutes, then you can come in and finish getting togged up"
I'm not sure whether Mad was trying to spare my blushes or her own but I was grateful whichever way it was. I snuck into the ladies after a quick check around and after selecting and occupying the disabled cubicle, changed out of my school uniform into the cheering kit.
"You okay Gab?" Sabrina called from the changing room door.
"Yeah, won't be a mo"
I felt exposed and nervous as I opened the cubicle door, if anyone had come in I would be exposed for sure.
"There you are, you didn't say it was your time" Brit accused
I was lost now. This is territory I've never been in and frankly never wanted to be in.
"You gonna be okay with all this?" Amy enquired
"Er yeah" I offered
"She's lucky, aren't you cuz? Hardly a spot most times"
"Huh! Lucky you" Darla mentioned, "I bleed like a pig"
Further revelations regarding my friends personal hygiene was postponed by Miss Bell coming to find us.
"Come on girls, Mr Wood is waiting"
We trooped out into the hall, the Yanks in their white and black kit and us in our yellow and blue. Coach put us through a set of stretching exercises then retired to where Mr Wood was sat while we got ourselves ready.
Sabrina counted us in
"After five, five!"
Head up, left arm, right arm, turn, step - I did my best to remember what I was supposed to be doing and I think for the most part I got it right! We jumped, skipped, shook and shouted to our audience of two and after a couple of minutes I was concentrating too hard to worry over what I was wearing or how I looked.
Ten minutes later and it was over.
"Well done girls!" Mr Wood was on his feet clapping and Miss Bell was from her expression pretty chuffed too!
I was fairly breathless, I know I race for a lot longer and I'm pretty fit but this is a session of fairly intense activity, a bit like that session I had over on Manchester Velodrome.
"I'm impressed girls, Miss Bell tells me that you put the routine together yourselves too" Woody went on
"Yes sir" Ally replied for us
"Well I look forward to seeing it again tonight, I can see your coach is itching to get in so I'll leave you to it"
"Thank you Mr Wood, girls?" Miss Bell encouraged
"Thank you Sir" we chorused
Once the Head was gone Miss Bell gathered us around
"Well done everyone. Amy, you were a bit slow on that second step sequence and Drew, any chance you could lift your knees a bit more in the marching sequence?"
"It's her period Miss" Amy volunteered; Miss B's face took on a funny look before she went on.
"Are you okay young lady?"
"Er yes Miss, I'll try to do the knee thing tonight"
"Well you'd best get yourselves changed, I'm sure Mr Wood doesn't want to have you running around the school dressed like that, we're not at home eh Sabrina?"
"I got you all some hose for tonight, show off all those lovely legs huh?"
"Thanks Miss" Brit mentioned as we each received a package.
Oh tights, I wasn't sure what she was on about for a minute there! We retired back to the changing room and using my 'period' as excuse again I was quickly back in my school uniform just in time to hear the five minute bell sound. Yep lunch was out for today!
The rest of the school day was thankfully boring enough to make its telling superfluous so I won't go into it. When school broke up it was the start of a tightly timetabled evening and bum, I haven't told Dad about this cheer stuff, he thinks I've been just helping out - I wish!
I managed to grab a cheese sarnie when we got home then with three girls and me the bathrooms were fully occupied for the next hour or so.
Dad opened the door and I pushed past him and ran up to my room, slamming the door behind me. Somehow I found myself sat on the bed hugging my knees and sniffling away like, well like a girl! I heard some mumbling outside the door then Dad's voice.
"Drew? Can I come in?"
"I just want to talk" his tone was even which means I've probably blown things big style!
I stayed silent; maybe he'd go away?
"Leave me alone!"
That seemed to work, there was some more mumbling then a number of bodies went back downstairs. I returned to my sniffling and rocking eventually crying myself out in the darkness of my room.
'So what happened?' I hear you ask. You really want to know huh? Well I guess I owe you all that much.
Things were going along pretty well I suppose, I told Dad about the cheer squad and he ran the 'it's your call' line on me, no rescue there. So I was resigned to fulfilling my promise to the girls. I dressed myself in that damned cheer kit and after deciding to go totally with it by adding the gold hoops to my ears I joined the others for the drive to School and the party. Dad still had the PT on loan so that was pretty cool and we were soon outside the hall where the festivities were to take place.
"Great, everyone's here" Coach Bell beamed, "go finish getting ready, Mr Wood has put you as the last group"
For the second time today I followed the others to the girls changing rooms.
"Come on Drew, it might not happen" Mad joshed
"Whatever" I sighed before submitting to her hair and makeup ministrations. Well Brit might as well have told me earlier, it wasn't anything drastic just a ponytail, well maybe a bit higher up than I've worn before but at least it wasn't braids! Mind you I wasn't too keen on the rosette thing that Mad pinned to the back of my head. As we'd all arrived in 'uniform' it didn't take too long to get everyone ready.
Miss Bell was waiting for us when we got back to the hall.
"Wait here for a minute girls, you run to your places when the lights go down, everyone okay?"
We watched the lights in the hall started to dim through the glass porthole in the door.
"Okay in you go, have fun"
The light from the corridor gave just enough light to see where we were going and we made it into place without incident. I wasn't expecting all these theatrics so I flinched a bit when the spotlights sprang to life.
There was a an expectant hush as we waited for our cue then a dance track started up, Sabrina counted us in and it was cheer time! By the time we'd really got going our audience were clapping along and cheering some of our moves. I was even starting to enjoy myself, the atmosphere in the hall was friendly and the spotlights stopped me really seeing the audience. We did our chants, kicks and pom waving and seemingly too soon we were done.
The hall erupted with cheering and clapping and I must admit that it felt good to be part of it. On the way back out of the hall I spotted Dad, Mad's olds and Sylv talking, apparently with some heat.
"Well done kids, you were a real hit out there!" Miss Bell advised us, "Now go get changed, quickly now"
"You got my stuff Brit?"
"Here you go Gab" she handed me a big carrier bag. Hang on this isn't right, these aren't my trousers.
"Where are my trousers?
"They weren't very party Gab, I thought you'd look cute in the dress"
"Gaby in a dress? No way!" Ally chuckled
"Brii-iit!" I complained
"Well sor-ree! I thought you might want to dress up a bit, you're always wearing trousers or shorts"
I know, I should have seen it coming. Well I had two choices, well three I suppose. Wear the dress, keep the cheer kit on or go home. The dress won out primarily because I wanted to stay and I didn't want to spend any longer than necessary in the damn leotard! I submitted to Mad redoing my makeup and then the eight of us headed back out to the 'party'.
So now to half the assembled crowd, those that don't know Drew, I was 'one of those cute cheerleaders', yeurgh! Jules kept smirking at me, Rhod was giving me some funny looks and virtually every other male in the place seemed to be watching me, well maybe the others too, but it felt like all eyes were on me. Mr Wood, then Mr Fredericks gave short speeches, Mr Peters was applauded and finally Deb thanked everyone on behalf of the visitors in a surprisingly good, apparently off the cuff speech.
There was a small finger buffet, which I descended on gratefully; I mean I was starving by this time. The 'disco' started up and whilst parents and teachers chatted over glasses of cheap plonk most of us 'kids' hit the dance floor. That's when it started going bad for me.
Dad again I s'pose.
No it's Aunt Carol
"Drew, can I come in?"
Well I'd just about got my composure back.
The door swung open, we don't have locks inside the house, and Aunt C slipped inside, now wearing a sweater and slacks instead of a fancy frock.
"Can I sit?"
She sat on the end of the bed.
"Your Dad was worried," she stated
There was a pregnant pause (I always wanted to say that!) before she went on.
"He feels really guilty you know"
"Hmmph" I grunted
We sat in silence again; the room was still unlit except for the glow from the security light outside of the kitchen.
I was telling you about the party wasn't I? Where was I, oh yeah dancing. Well you know what happens, sooner or later the girls start on some stupid routine thing and that's when I took a rain check.
"It's the first time I've seen you in a dress"
"I said it's the first time..." it was Dan
"...In a dress. Yeah well I didn't intend to"
"You were really good earlier"
"Hardly!" I snorted
"You don't like compliments do you?"
"Compliments are okay but bulshit?" I let it hang
"So where's Drew? I thought he was gonna be here"
"I think I saw him earlier" I mumbled
"So you into cheering then" I'll give him that he's persistent!
"Nah, my cousin dragged me in to make up the numbers" I ad libbed
"Oh right, Rhod said you were Drew's cousin"
"Yep, that too." I confirmed. I do not want any trouble, please!
"Drew? You want to talk about it?"
"It's nothing to be ashamed of"
"He only kissed you Drew. He's okay by the way, just his pride that took a bashing"
"Serves him right"
"He thought, well he still thinks, that you're a girl. Boys are like that, they take a chance. Sometimes it works, sometimes not"
"We were just talking then I get attacked with a sink plunger!"
Aunt C giggled at that, "was he really that bad?"
"Worse! Do you think I over reacted?"
"Maybe a little"
"I suppose it was a bit over the top"
Of course I created quite a scene by laying Dan out with that right hook! I don't even know where it came from, but after I let fly I just ran for cover. Dad eventually found me sobbing in the gents, which wasn't the best place to be wearing a long frock and makeup. I don't even think most people knew what happened, Dad took five minutes to get it out of me. I know he wasn't intending to make matters worse but his 'only a kiss' statement set me ranting again. Our early departure was then inevitable.
"So are you feeling better now?"
"I guess so"
"Well in that case take your dress off, get cleaned up and into bed, you've got school tomorrow still"
I was so wrapped up in myself I'd completely forgotten what I was wearing. I know Brit meant well but I would rather she hadn't swapped my shirt and trousers for a dress and sandals!
"I'll see you tomorrow okay Drew?"
"Yeah. And er thanks for, well thanks"
"That's okay Drew"
Aunt Carol slipped out and a few minutes later I heard the Peters Mobil depart. Calmer and in a better frame of mind I got myself ready for bed and settled down for a surprisingly good nights sleep.
Friday. The last day of the exchange visit, a visit, which is bound to have repercussions for some time to come. I took extra care this morning to make sure that there was absolutely no sign of Gaby about me; today I'm most definitely Drew!
Breakfast was a sombre affair, Brit in particular was very quiet, Deb and Jules were pointedly avoiding any reference to last night.
"Okay, time out everyone!" I declared, "you can stop pussyfooting around, you can talk about last night, I won't thump anyone!"
"Else!" Jules dropped in which earned her a look
"I'm sorry if I mucked up the party for everyone"
"It was getting a bit boring anyway" Deb stated
"you certainly livened things up girl" Brit agreed
"Old Wooden top was a bit upset," Jules mentioned
"I suppose I'm gonna be in mega trouble"
"Nah, in fact he asked if we'd do our routine in the assembly thing this morning" Brit told me.
"Count me out!"
"That's what your Dad said you'd say" Deb told me
When we did leave for school I did have 'my' cheer uniform in my bag, not to wear but to hand in. Brit was fairly okay about me missing the Sherwood Foresters gig, last nights outburst seems to have produced a more sober attitude. In the end things turned out to be a bit of an anti climax. The reduced, seven girl cheer squad were the hit of Mr Woods Friday assembly, I had a chat with Dan who asked me to apologise to Gaby and I somehow avoided censure by the authorities.
It's strange to think that on Monday Brit and the girls will be home in Virginia and our American experience will be over, well at least until the New Year. The rest of the day went by too quickly, the cheerleaders, in best American movie fashion, wore their uniforms for the rest of the day, which caused a bit of a stir in our pretty staid school environment.
After school finished, everyone involved in the exchange programme gathered in the library for a private farewell session, the visitors are leaving early in the morning so this meant we could say our farewells properly. Last nights soap opera seemed forgotten, consigned to boy hits on girl, girl objects, boy gets slapped, more like boy hits on boy, boy objects, boy gets thumped! Dan hasn't had the greatest trip has he?
Miss Bell caught up with me as things were winding up.
"Well Drew, it's been interesting knowing you"
The way she grinned at me had me smiling back.
"You're something of an enigma you know."
"Yeah, you mind if we chat?"
"Erm, I 's'pose not"
"Lets sit then"
I followed her to a quiet nook where we could talk undisturbed "When we met six weeks ago I thought you were just a cute looking kid" I felt the colour rising to my face. "At the festival you really surprised me, tackling that purse thief like that and after, I realised there was more to Drew Bond than meets the eye!"
"Um, I guess"
"Then you confused the hell out of me. I caught your race in New Ark, a real gutsy ride but then you turned up in a skirt"
"I couldn't wear trousers after the crash" I explained
"Well whatever the reason, there are a whole bunch of people out there who think a girl won that event"
"That's their lookout, I never said I was a girl," I added
"You didn't have to Drew, you just, look don't take this wrong, you look more girl than some girls I know"
"So they tell me," I sighed
"And then the cheering?"
I was feeling pretty relaxed talking with Miss Bell, so I started to open up some
"You know I'm a boy right?"
"Well that's what Mr Wood says"
I digested that for a moment before going on.
"Well I am, I know that it's unusual to find a boy agreeing to all this cheering stuff and dressing as a girl"
"Slightly" she allowed
"Can I tell you how it all started?"
"As you English say, I'm all ears!"
"Well it was earlier in the year...."
I felt at ease with this diminutive woman and I quickly ran through a quick history of Gaby, from the Easter dance affair to the school brochure (Mr Wood had already told her about that1), finally arriving at Brit and Debs cast iron position on my sex!
"Most boys would have dropped their pants to prove their manhood, why didn't you?"
I flushed a bit, "it's sort of embarrassing. My you know what isn't exactly, erm..."
"So your not so big down there, so what. My last boyfriend was hardly Texan in that department!"
I flushed a bit deeper; I did not need to know that!
"Well I couldn't just drop me kecks in front of everyone could I?"
Miss B chuckled at that.
"You know Drew, the other night in the cheer outfit, I was sure you were a girl, no boy could look that good"
"I did have some help up top and er down there too"
"Oh my god!" she exclaimed stifling a giggle
"It was all for the brochure thing" I finished
"Drew! We're going" Jules voice broke the quiet
"Okay, just a minute"
"Must be time to go for me too, I've got a dinner with your principal"
"Thanks for everything Miss"
"Thank you Drew for being you, it's certainly added to my enjoyment of the trip. Just one thing before you go."
"Who will I see in Grottoes New Year, Drew or Gaby?"
"Drew of course, I'll sort things out with the Walters before then"
"Well have a good evening, Britney says you're having a big family dinner later?"
"Yeah, Mad's mum is doing it"
"Well have fun"
"Thanks Miss Bell"
"I think we know each other well enough to use first names eh? So its Jessica okay?"
"See you in the morning Drew"
"Have a nice dinner Miss erm Jessica"
Aunt Carol pulled all the stops out for our farewell dinner, a full roast beef dinner with all the trimmings followed by Summer Pudding and cream. Everyone's plate was cleared and it helped to offset the feeling of loss that was starting to creep up on me. We relived the highlights of the last six weeks, the highs, the lows, good and bad but eventually it was time to go home.
Back home I headed off to bed but I had barely got my socks off before there was a tap on the door.
"Come in Brit"