"What's in the bag Drew?" Mad queried
"Well I never got round to giving you these on Saturday" I told her up ending the carrier on her bed. "Caroline thought you could use some proper bike kit, there's all sorts in here" I pulled out a jersey and showed her.
"She doesn't even know me"
"But you come highly recommended" I grinned
She went through the stuff and I could see that she was quite made up.
"Some of this stuff is brand new Drew. Tell her thanks from me"
"You can tell her yourself if you come to Leeds at the weekend"
"Okay, now all I need is a proper bike"
"Given how things are, I reckon Mum's donated hers to the cause"
"I'll talk to Mum. Come on we need to get ready, have you seen the time?"
Mrs P dropped us off at five to one and we joined everyone else in the gym. Miss C was wearing sweats and looking very efficient.
"Quickly girls, we've a lot to do"
Gone was the laid back Miss C, replaced now by a single-minded dynamo!
We worked on our moves all afternoon; by four we were a mass of sweaty quivering wrecks! Coach had taped some bits of our routine and sent us on our way promising to pick holes in our performance! Lucky us.
"So Gaby, you coming to the café?" Gillian asked
"We're all going" Bernie mentioned
"I really should get home"
"You're having tea at mine remember" Mad put in
"Okay then" I sighed, I know when to give in.
I was actually pretty worried, it's one thing to appear as Gaby with my friends or even complete strangers. But to have to be Gaby on a social level with girls I go to school with - I really do want out! I slouched along behind the others, even Mfanwy was gabbing away with Flo and Vicky, I guess after three years Rhod's more comfortable about this girl thing than I am. Heck, if I didn't know better I'd think he was enjoying himself.
"Come on Gaby" Karen, dropped back and threaded her arm through mine, "what's with the long face?"
"She's always like this when she's on the rag" Mad mentioned from a couple of paces in front.
"Well you are" she grinned back
What the hell has got into her?
"My sisters a moody cow when she's on" Karen went on conversationally, "and my Mum, just don't even go there!"
This was not a conversation I wanted or had any subject knowledge of. On the other hand, Karen seemed happy enough holding a one sided conversation.
"The doctor put me on these tablets, some sort of iron supplement I think. Anyway I've been so much better since I started on them."
"Maybe they'll do the same for you Gab" Mad commented
"You on them too?" Karen asked
"I er, just started, last week" well it wasn't a lie was it?
"You'll be much better next month, mark my words"
I was saved from a continuation of this conversation by our arrival at the café. We piled in and joined the couple of old ladies who seem to be here whatever day or time you come. I made sure that I was sat on the edge of the group, hoping for a bit of anonymity.
The core conversation, there were usually two or three going on, ran from fashion to boys to music, back to boys, well you get the idea. I was more than a bit surprised at how erm, down to earth and frank the conversations were, nothing seemed taboo.
"That cousin of yours is a bit studly" Sarah mentioned to Mad who was sat the other side of Sasha, who was next to me.
"Drew?" Mad queried
"You've got to be kidding" Vicky put in
"Well I think he's cute" Sarah mentioned
"Hey Gab, any hunks at your school?" Gillian called down the table
"They're all mingers from what I've seen" Bernie put in
"That right?" Sasha asked
"Yeah, I guess"
"I don't see what you see in that Clive Jones, Gab" Sarah added
"I think he's a bit of alright," Tina stated
"Gab's dumped him anyway, haven't you Gab?" Ally told everyone
"You should have seen her" Ally continued, "She whacked him a good one!"
"At the Halloween dance?" Flo asked
"Yeah" Al replied
"I heard someone got dumped big style," Karen agreed
"So Gab, what's it like at Creswell College?" Gill asked
So much for keeping out of things!
"Well you know, just like yours I guess"
"So how come you're in our cheer team?" Sue put the 64 million dollar question.
"She filled in back when the Americans were here so Mr Wood said she could stay on, as she knows the moves and stuff" Mad supplied
"And they don't have their own team either" Bernie added.
Things went on in this vein for a while but eventually it was time to head for home.
"What was all that about?" I asked Mad
"What?" her feigned innocence wouldn't fool anyone.
"Just upping your girl standing"
"What about Rhod? He didn't get the Spanish Inquisition"
"Em's okay, I mean she's in with us isn't she?"
"Doesn't anyone think it's fishy that she's never in anyone else's class?"
"No ones clicked yet, I guess they all think she's just in a n other class" Mad stated.
I got home just after seven to find the house empty. Bit unusual. I found a note on the table from Dad.
Taking your sister to stay at your Gran's be back late tonight. Don't burn the house down please.
I wouldn't have minded going myself. Ah well.
Brring brring! ... Brring brring!
"Hello, Bond household"
"Is that you Mum?"
"Yep, is your Dad there?"
"No, he's taken Jules to Gran's"
Mum sighed down the phone.
"I really need to talk to him. Look can you tell him I called Drew, I'll ring again when I get back to Germany on Monday. Are you okay son? Stupid question, of course you're not"
"I'm fine, really Mum. It's Erik isn't it?"
"Erik? Whatever gave you that idea? He's happily married"
"When you all came the other week. And I thought you were"
"It's complicated Drew"
"So it's not Erik then?"
"No it's not Erik. His name's Dieter"
Half of me wanted to know more, the other half wanted to deny it was happening.
"Drew? You still there?"
"Look, I'll come and see you in a couple of weeks okay"
"I s'pose. Why Mum? Why now?"
"These things happen Drew"
"Don't you love Dad any more?"
"Of course I do, and you kids"
"I love Dieter more. "
"Come home Mum" I pleaded
"I can't Drew"
"You won't you mean!"
She didn't reply to that.
"Look just tell your Dad I called, bye Drew"
The phone went dead; I just stood there holding the now buzzing receiver.
There was so much I wanted to tell her, so much I wanted to talk about and now, now I probably will never tell her about my first cross race, or, or this cheerleading business. I replaced the handset and curled up on the sofa and cuddled a cushion. I want my Mum!
I must have sat there for hours but at some point I must have decided to go up to bed. I've no idea what came over me then, grief maybe, and a need for comfort but when I was next aware of my surroundings, it was to the sounds of Dad coming upstairs.
"Drew? Is that you?" he flicked the light on, "Drew!" he climbed the last couple of steps to where I was rocking on the top step
He sat next to me and hugged me close
"It's alright son"
I don't remember what Dad said or how long we were there but at some point he helped me up and into my room.
"Night Drew, sleep tight"
"Daa-aad!" I screamed when I woke up
"Drew?" he was already in my room, sat in my chair with a blanket over him
"Why, what?" I plucked at what I was wearing.
"You were wearing it when I got home Drew, I didn't want to make an issue of it so I let you be"
"I, I don't remember" he came and sat on my bed and hugged me.
"It's alright. We all do strange things when we're upset or stressed"
"She's not coming back Dad"
"She's gone Dad"
Why in hell did I put this lot on?
"Come on Son, let's get some breakfast. I'll call in sick; I'm not leaving you alone today. You might want to change?"
He got up, ruffled my hair and headed out.
I got out of bed and stood in front of the mirror. My reflection was a sleep-tousled parody of my Mum. I didn't remember going into their room let alone putting all this stuff on! I tried to remember when I last saw Mum wearing this dress, that's right, it was Dad's works Christmas party at some fancy country club place, Dad had even rented a tuxedo for the occasion. They were so happy and I remember thinking that Mum looked really something. I lifted the skirts, yep I'd gone all the way, I was wearing hold-up stockings and some of Mum's fancy knickers.
I stripped it all off and replaced the dress with jeans and a t. Why in heavens name had I put that stuff on? I had a quick wash and went down to the kitchen.
"...His Mum's dress. He seems okay now, look, I'll speak to you later, bye" Dad put the phone down.
"Who was that?"
"Oh hi Drew, feeling better?"
"On the phone?"
"Only your Gran. Fancy a fry up?"
I poured myself a cup of tea and slumped into a chair.
"So, anything you fancy doing today? Or have you got something planned?"
I know he was trying to cheer me up, I don't suppose he was feeling too chipper either, what with the whole Mum thing and sleeping in my chair!
"I've got practice this afternoon"
Oh bum and double bum! With everything that's been going on I've not told him about any of this cheering business. 'Hi Dad, just thought you'd like to know that I made the girls cheerleading team, oh and the rest of the squad don't know I'm a boy.' Just doesn't work does it?
"Doesn't matter, I can cancel" I evaded answering
But Dad was a terrier at times.
"What practice Drew?"
"School team" I mumbled
"You never said you were on a school team, which one?"
Ah well, here goes!
"Well done, did you just say cheerleading, as in waving things and short skirts?"
"I didn't want to, the others conned me into it and now we're in a competition and I can't back out" I gabbled
"Whoa kiddo, slow down. Any other boys on this team?"
Should I mention Rhod? Best not.
"So the girls get to wear the full kit, what do you wear?"
I think he already guessed the truth but there was no escape.
"The same Dad, most of them think I'm a girl"
"Don't tell me, Maddy's mystery cousin?"
"You do get yourself in some fixes lad" he left the frying pan and came and gave me a hug, "I take it you're not that keen"
"Well it's not that bad really" I admitted, "it's good exercise and I can nearly do the splits"
"Don't tell your sister, that's why she gave up ballet, couldn't do the splits. I take it your coach knows you're a boy?
"Yeah, and Mr Wood of course"
"I think I need to have a word with Mr Wood"
Mr Wood. America.
"Did Jules say anything about America?"
"Yes and don't worry I've filled your forms out"
"Dad! The frying pan!"
"Oh shit!" Dad launched himself at the cooker and turned the gas off while the kitchen filled with smoke from our charred breakfast. I opened the window while Dad disposed of the cremated remains.
"Thanks Drew. Cereal?"
I gave him a hug.
"What are we going to do with you son?"
"And you chef!"
We settled on Dad taking me over to Clumber to do some cross training. It helped take my mind off things, thanks Caroline. We were out for most of the morning and there was a message from the doctor's surgery when we got back. Dad rang back while I got myself showered; he was still on when I came back into the living room.
"Okay, tomorrow at four, thanks"
"The doctor wants to see you again"
"It's something serious isn't it?"
"Serious but it can be sorted, Dr Sanwari wants to talk through the options with us"
"I will be okay won't I Dad?"
"Course you will son, course you will" his grip on my shoulder was firm and not as reassuring as I'd like.
"So, you want a lift to cheering practice"
"I usually walk in with Mad"
"I can take you both"
"But I, erm have to, you know"
"Change? You can do that here"
"You don't mind?"
"I wouldn't go that far but let's face it, it won't be the first time I've seen my youngest daughter will it?"
"Hi Dave, how're you doing?"
"You know, getting by, can I stop for a chat after I've dropped this pair off?"
"Sure, I'll put the kettle on"
"About ten minutes. Okay you two, lets get you to practice."
Practice was good today, we started to practice a few new moves and Miss C went through the video and had us practice specifics. Everyone was really up for it and if I was a little out of sorts, Mad's comment yesterday that I was having my 'monthly visitor' was excuse enough. There wasn't a repeat of yesterdays café trip for which I was thankful, I can do without a repeat of that thank you!
"You okay Drew?"
"I spoke to your headmaster earlier"
"But it's half term"
"Your mother used to teach for him remember? I've got his home number"
"Well I told him what's going on with me and your Mum, he was quite upset I think"
"I think he's got a soft spot for her" I offered
"Had." Dad stated, "anyway, we spoke about the Foresters and he's agreed that you can, er disappear if you want to. He apologised for railroading you into it."
Blimey, there's a first! An apology from Woody.
"So do you want to?"
"Leave the cheerleading business?"
Do I? Of course I do. But what about the others, the rest of the team? Can I just walk out like that and I meant what I told Dad earlier, apart from the girl business I do enjoy it.
"I can't just leave now Dad"
"That's what I told James you'd say. But remember, you do have a choice. If you want out it's okay."
"Did he mention America?"
"The subject did come up, same thing applies"
"I couldn't do it to the girls"
Dad shook his head and sighed.
"Drew, you and your Mum really are so alike"
"Except I don't let people down" I spat
"Neither does your mother, well not when she's made a commitment."
"Aren't we a commitment? Doesn't she owe us?"
"This is different Drew. Your mother hasn't been happy, she thinks this will make her happy and be better for us too."
"If it helps, your Gran's not exactly pleased either"
"If she's prepared to upset Gran it must be serious"
"That's about the size of it kiddo. She's not done this lightly"
"He's called Dieter"
"I suppose that's what he is," I allowed
"She told you last night?"
"Yeah, I thought it was Erik, what with coming to the house and everything"
"Hmmm I can see your logic. Did she say any more about this Dieter character?"
"No, she said she'll ring from Germany when she gets back on Monday"
"I'll just have to make sure I'm here then hadn't I?"
"Dad? What's gonna happen? Are we going to have to move? Will you two get a divorce?"
"If it comes to it I suppose we will divorce. As for moving, I hope not and I'm sure your mother wouldn't want that either. We'll be fine, really we will. The three of us have coped since she went to Germany haven't we? No we'll be fine"
By the look on his face, Dad was as far away from fine as I was and I guess Jules was too.
Dad went to work today but he finished early to take me to the docs. Simple job eh, remember to leave cheer practice early, think again!
"Can I help you?" Miss C asked the hidden man
"I've come to fetch my er, daughter"
Rightly cautious Coach went on "and that would be?"
"Gaby, Gaby Bond, about five four, blonde? She's got a doctors appointment in ten minutes"
"This is your father?"
"Bum! The doctors! I'll get my stuff"
"I'll take that as a yes. Sorry Mr Bond, can't be too careful these days"
"That's alright Miss?"
"Cowlishaw, I coach this lot for my sins"
"My daughter speaks highly of you"
"Daughter? Oh yes Gaby, of course"
At least Dad was playing along even if Miss C was losing the plot a bit!
"Bye Gab" Karen called out
"Byeeee!" I called back as I followed Dad out.
"Anyone would think you don't want to find out what's up"
"Well I can't say it's the highlight of the week"
"You staying like that?" Dad mentioned as we drove towards the medical centre.
"I take it that's a yes then?"
"Looks like it" I sighed
We parked up and unusually we were called straight to Dr Sanwari's office.
"Ah Mr Bond, this is?" he pointed to me
"This is Drew"
"I'm er in a play, it was a costume rehearsal and I didn't have time to change," I told the doctor. He didn't look convinced, after all I was wearing earrings, make up, the lot!
"Sit, sit" he motioned to the chairs.
"So doctor, what's the prognosis?" Dad asked
"Well Mr Bond, Drew, I've spoken to my colleagues and a specialist at Nottingham General."
This sounds ominous.
"Well the second batch of tests have not provided any answers. We'll keep you on the iron tablets for now so at least you should benefit from that."
"What about the other, er deficiency doctor" Dad asked