Boxing day arrived cold and a bit frosty. Despite the inclement weather I decided a training ride was in order although I was mindful that last year I broke my collarbone on a similar ride! I picked my way out to the Worksop road and started a circuit using the Cuckney ten course, then over towards Barlborough before returning via Creswell, just a bit under twenty miles in all and all on main-ish roads.
I wasn't the only one out, do you remember that girl from the summer, Catrina?* she must be at her Gran's for Christmas as we crossed paths on the Creswell road, I waved when I realised who it was, she waved back.
“Ring you later Drew?” she suggested as we passed.
“Okay, you've got my mobile”
She turned to go through the village while I pressed on towards Cuckney.
It'll be good to touch base with her, I've been a bit remiss and not really kept in touch, I'm pretty sure I sent her a Chrimbo card though – I think. Lost in my thoughts I soon found myself investigating the bleating from the field by the main Worksop road. How comes I've never noticed before – there's a right menagerie in there.
Indeed I spotted at least one huge turkey, several geese, four llamas and a pair of what I think were alpaca's, they were bigger than the llamas anyway – not your average Nottinghamshire field! I watched them for a few minutes, then set off home determined to mention them when I got home. Of course by the time I'd covered the last couple of miles my attention was on other matters and all thoughts of South American herbivores was, at least for now, gone!
The fact that the gang were all sat in our front room when I got home might have had something to do with that!
“Merry Christmas Drew” Ally beamed
“Er hi everyone” I allowed
“You've forgotten!” Bernie accused
“I've not” I countered trying hard to remember what I'd forgotten.
“You have,” she countered as I scanned their faces and dress for a clue. “I can tell that look”
“Okay I forgot.” I agreed, “What is it?”
Mad and Rhod, both silent up till now let out simultaneous guffaws, which in turn sparked Ally and Bernie off.
“There wasn't anything was there?” I asked over the jollity.
“No” Mad managed between sobs of laughter, “the look on your face though”
“Phew! I thought I'd forgotten something important.”
“Sorry, we couldn't resist Drew” Rhod stated
“Hmmph” I grunted, “so what are you lot doing here?”
“Nothing in particular, thought we could just hang out and compare Chrimbo prezzies,” Bernie offered.
“Sure, just let me get showered and changed, 5 minutes”
Well it was nearer to fifteen as it turned out but Dad ran a refreshment service before settling down to watch the first of today's ‘blockbuster' films, ‘Free Willy 2'. I know, but what can you do?
“Alright if we go upstairs Dad?”
“Okay, but behave – I'll be checking”
What is he on about?
“Come on guys, last one up's a prawn!” of course I made sure I had a head start.
There was a lot of clattering up the stairs, Ally just made last by a short leg. I took up residence on my bed; the others found perches in various places. I set Drew's Compilation Number One going and settled back.
“So what did you get Drew?” Bernie enquired
“Ta da!” I whipped my new camera out from behind my pillow.
“Oh cool!” Ally cooed
“Dad thought I should have a decent camera to take to Virginia” I explained passing it to Rhod to examine.
“Wow Drew, it's 3.5 mega pixel!” he sounded impressed, “my Dad's one is only 2.5”
“Take a pic Rhod” Maddy encouraged.
The girls joined me on the bed and Rhod ‘David Bailey' Morgan took several shots.
“You got rechargeables Drew? These things eat batteries.” He mentioned
“Just Duracell's ” I admitted
“You'll have to get some for America or you'll spend all your money on batteries” geek boy instructed.
Then it dawned on me – geek boy, not geek girl!
“Did I miss something Rhod? I would've thought you'd be Em over Christmas”
He continued fiddling with my camera.
“Leave her alone Drew, her Mum's thrown a tizzy” Allie supplied
“Its alright Al. Mum says that as Mfanwy isn't going to America I need to practice being Rhod till we go”
“You have developed into a right girl,” Mad agreed
“So what? You have to be Rhod all the time?” I asked
“Well apart from when Dad comes at the weekend”
“Talking of which, Mum's coming on Saturday” I enthused
“What about the cheer competition?” Mad asked
“She er, doesn't know”
“What?” I exclaimed
“Well I never got round to telling her” he booted up my little used PC.
“She'll never know” Ally put in.
“How do you figure that?” I queried
“We just don't tell her”
“Well duh! There'll be pictures and its not like it's just us going is it? She'll find out,” I stated.
“You got plug and play on this thing?” the subject of our discussion enquired.
“Blondes!” he/she exclaimed, ducking in anticipation of three swipes.
“Look it's up to Em” Bernie pointed out.
“I guess” Mad noted
“Ta da!” the geek made a flourish, “one camera installed on the bike bimbo's computer!”
This time my pillow did swing into action!
With Mad manipulating the pictures and Rhod doing some technical gubbins, they changed everyone's heads around to some amusement.
“They look a bit stuck on,” Bernie complained.
“Well they are” Mad pointed out
“I know,” Ally started, “why don't we all swap clothes, it'll be fun”
“Hey yeah!” Rhod agreed
“What about my Dad?”
“Oh he'll never know” Bernie mentioned
“Unless he checks your computer?” Ally asked
“Well no” I allowed, “but I'm not keen”
“Oh come on Drew, live a little!” Mad put in.
Looks like I'm outnumbered.
“Well…” I started.
“Great! I knew you would” Ally stated.
“So who swaps with who?” Mad enquired
“We'll draw lots,” Bernie suggested
I checked out my friend's attire. Obviously my first choice would be Rhod, all three girls were dressed up – not like Sunday best or anything but even Bernie was in a dress!
“Here we go” Mad offered a hand with five coloured pencils. “Okay pick a colour, then we'll draw for it, if anyone gets their own it goes back. Okay?”
“Cool” Ally allowed
I got yellow and then pulled out mauve. So I was getting Ally's dress, Bernie was getting my stuff, Ally landed Rhod who in turn would have Mad's while she would be wearing Bernie's dress.
“This isn't gonna work” I pointed out, “we can't go running around to change, Dad will definitely smell a rat.” Ha, get out of that!
“We can all change in here,” Bernie stated.
“It's not like we're taking our undies off,” Mad agreed
“Well the boys will have to wear our tights” Ally interjected
“Do we have to?” I whined
“Yes” Mad told me, “stop complaining”
I must point out that I was not in favour of this from the start!
“Nice knickers Em!” Ally giggled
“Well she never said I had to wear boys undies” Rhod grinned as he revealed a lacy bra under his baggy top.
Why me? If Dad comes in now I'm dead! Ally peeled off her tights and handed them and her dress to me. It's a good job we're all much of a size, Bernie's a bit taller, Rhod's shortest but we were all pretty close in actual measurements even if its distributed differently.
Pulling on Ally's still warm hosiery was a bit weird, I felt my friend twitch a bit.
“You'll need a bra Drew” Mad stated
“Here” Ally squirmed under Rhod's jumper and dangled her bra at me.
Jeez! I am in so much trouble.
With far too much ease, I slipped the lacy lingerie around my chest and balled my discarded socks up to fill the empty cups. Hmm, not to bad! I slipped the dress over my head; it was pink with a capital P, sleeveless and with a back zip that I couldn't reach.
“You want some help?” Bern asked seeing me struggling.
She turned me round and pulled the zip up and fiddled a bit. I hadn't noticed when Ally was wearing it but it fit like a glove! Not uncomfortable but definitely close fitting. And short. I swear that it was shorter than our cheer outfits and they're short.
“You kids okay?”
“Great Mr B” Mad sang out
“There're some nibbles downstairs if you want them”
For once I was grateful that Dad gives us a bit of space. Ally stifled a giggle.
“And don't forget you've washing to do Drew”
We listened as he clumped back downstairs, Ally finally letting her giggle out.
“Can we change back now?” I pleaded
“After the pictures” Em stated, for it was definitely a girl wearing Mad's gypsy top and skirt.
“Guys” I moaned
“Oh come on Drew” Bernie admonished.
Well thirty minutes later I was back in my jeans and admiring, if that's the word, just how clever my camera is and how much like a girl I look in Ally's dress even without makeup or doing anything other than brushing my hair. As I looked at the pictures all I could see was five girls – it struck me again that Mad and me look like clones!
That stupidity over we headed downstairs for the aforementioned eats and I took the opportunity to stick the washer on too. Nothing was said but the gang ended up staying until mid afternoon, various family commitments dragging first Bernie then the others off. The Peters were coming to us for tea today so a newly returned Jules joined me in buffet preparation, Dad isn't exactly Ainsley** so he ‘volunteered' to sort out the table and stuff.
I was busily liberating some sausage rolls from the oven when my mobile went off.
“Yes, who is it?”
“Catrina, you remember this morning?”
Of course Cat, how could I forget someone that cute!
“Sorry ‘bout that, I almost dropped a tray of sausage rolls”
“S'all right, thought I'd give you a call tonight, I'm going to my friend Karla's in Lincoln for a couple of days so I might not catch up with you otherwise. We're going home on Sunday”
“Pity. We could have all gone for a ride. You have a good ride this morning?”
“Apart from getting lost? And getting chased by some BMX bandits just after I saw you? Yeah it was okay. You?”
I was still juggling sausage rolls, which did little for my telephone manner.
“Er yeah, I went up to Worksop, then Half Moon, I was on my way back when I saw you. Hey have you seen the zoo in Cuckney?”
“Yeah by the bottom crossroads”
“There's a whole collection of Llamas and stuff in that first field, I saw them this morning.”
“Sounds cool. I'll try and go for a look when I get back from Lincoln. Aren't you guys off to America soon?”
“Yeah, a week on Saturday”
“Cool, I've never been anywhere like that, well we went to Disney Paris a couple of years ago but that doesn't count”
“You thought any more about going to Dunstable with us?”
“Not really, although it sounds fun”
“I'll get Mad to email the details”
“Oh I forgot to say, my Mum's coming on Saturday.”
“God they work her hard, not even home for Christmas. Damn, I'll miss her again. One of these days” she lamented
We chatted a bit longer but the determined clang of the oven timer finally signalled the end of our conversation. I like Cat; she's a bit of a fruit sometimes but a loveable fruit!
When Mad returned, she'd changed into her ‘birthday' frock, the one I bought her in Chester. Which reminds me, I don't think I told you what I gave her for Chrimbo did I? Well there was the handbag but I got her something else too. Oh sorry, you want to know don't you? Well when we were in Chester, at the jewellers there was this silver locket, well I got it for Mad, I put a picture of me inside and a lock of hair. That's what you are supposed to do right? Anyway, I've not seen her without it since, and I got a right smacker off her too!
I know it wasn't up to Aunt Carol's standards but Jules and I were quite proud of our presentation and there wasn't much left by the time Aunt C put the coffee on for us. You probably think we're a right lot but we all ended up playing Trivial Pursuits until well after ten, I never realised Dad could be so competitive!
With Christmas midweek, Dad got the whole week off so on Friday we drove out to the Peak District and had a leisurely walk around the Derwent reservoirs. I got to practice with my camera, I nearly wiped all the pictures three times, and in hindsight I wish I had! It wasn't quite warm, but the sun stayed out all day and we finished off with a stop in Hathersage for hot chocolate and hot apple pie with custard.
Thoughts of Mum's impending arrival occupied my mind as, determined to put on a good front, Dad insisted we give the house an energetic if not quite thorough going over. I was actually pretty well bushed by the time we finished so I made my excuses and headed off to bed. Of course sleep was not easily come by as my thoughts jumped around my head. Was Mum coming home for good? Was all this some sort of mistake, a misunderstanding, a bad dream? I finally fell into a fitful sleep. How do I know? I woke up around three with my duvet and bottom sheet wound around me, not covering much but confining me. It was the cold that woke me but after a hasty remake I was soon back in la la land!
Saturday the 28 th of December. A date that will always be engraved on my mind. Dad was picking Mum up from East Midlands at just after eleven, on his own, Mum had insisted. Of course both Jules and I were like, well on edge! Mum was coming; I'd forgive her anything in a trice. I retreated to the Kingdom of Drew as much to keep out of Jules way as anything.
That's how I ended up going through my photo's, Gran gave me another bundle on Tuesday from Germany that I haven't looked at yet. It's funny with photos, the way they capture a moment that would otherwise be forgotten or your memory distorted. Take for example that whole fashion show thing. My memory of that centres around Mum's reluctant agreement to do it, I thought at the time to protect me. Well Gran's pictures tell a different tale. It was clear Mum wanted to do it, she was really hamming it up – something I didn't see at the time. And at first I thought she'd not taken any of me on stage, but then I spotted Kitty, a further examination revealed that one of the dancers, yes the cute blonde, was me. I had to admit, if I hadn't known I would never have picked me out.
Then there were the pics of Mum. I know she was busy most of the weekend but she still looked, well like Mum. I flipped my cuttings book open, the charity weekend, was her smile less, I don't know, bright?
“Drew! They're here!” Jules shouted up the stairs.
I didn't need a second call, I was down at the door before my ‘rents got there, hard on the heels of my sister. Jules started to give Mum a big hug, then abruptly broke off, apparently embarrassed by her reaction. I guess she misses Mum more than she'll admit. I took her place and Mum held me closely.
“Come on son, let your mother inside” Dad didn't seem quite, I dunno, Dad.
Ten minutes later and the family Bond were gathered in the lounge, there was obviously more to this than just a visit from our estranged mother. Dad had his arm around Mum, sat on the sofa and I'm sure that look wasn't something I'd seen on his face before.
“So what's this all about?” Jules asked, “come to rub Dieter in our faces?”
Mum flinched at Jules barb and I realised that she most certainly wasn't the bubbly Mum of old, not by a long way.
“I guess I deserve that,” she allowed
“You coming home then?” I asked
“Not if Dad's got any sense” Jules spat
“Jules!” Dad almost shouted, “don't speak to your mother like that”
“Well she deserves it”
“It's alright Dave, she's right. After the way I've treated you all I do deserve it.”
“But…” Dad started
“Dave.” Mum patted Dad's arm and he lost some of the tension that he was holding in.
“To answer Drew's question, yes I am here because I want to come home…”
“Brill!” I nearly shouted
“Drew!” Dad admonished, “let you mother finish”
“Whether I can is another matter.” Mum went on. “I've already explained things to your Dad and we're agreed that the final decision should be yours. I've mucked up your lives for my own selfish reasons.”
“So its over with lover boy is what you're saying,” Jules, blunt as ever stated.
“You could say that Juliette, you could say that.” Mum looked pretty down.
“You want me to tell them?” Dad asked
“Thanks Dave but I really need to do this myself.”
“So?” Jules insisted
Mum seemed to gather herself up before starting.
“I've been a very silly woman. Selfish and silly. You must understand that I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.”
“Running off with Dieter?” Jules was in there again.
“I won't tell you again young lady” Dad told her
“Sorry” she allowed
“Go on Mum” I encouraged
“Well it started back in the summer. The team doctor gives us a physical once a month, no problem but in July he called me back, not usual – one of the tests had turned something up”
“I knew it, you were pregnant!” Jules exclaimed
“What did I tell you?” Dad intoned
“No more interruptions, promise”
“No Jules, I wasn't pregnant but you're not a million miles off the truth. It was the smear test, it showed up some abnormalities.”
“What's a smear?” I asked
“Women's stuff” a suddenly less flippant Jules replied. That one sentence from Mum seemed to have flicked a switch in my sister.
“Well I had some more tests and convinced the doc not to tell anyone.”
“He shouldn't any way,” Jules mentioned
“Well yes and no. As team doctor he's supposed to tell George if there's anything wrong, I agreed to that in the contract. But anyway he agreed to keep quiet for the time being.”
“Quiet about what?” suddenly everyone else seemed to know more than me.
“I've got cancer Drew”
I sat there in stunned silence. Jules got up and joined the rents on the sofa, giving Mum a determined hug. Cancer. The word hung there like a wasp's nest, taunting me with questions but knowing that one poke will start Armageddon.
“But you can't have, the World Championships?”
“I only recently started getting sick” Mum allowed
“But why?” Jules managed between sobs
“Why didn't I say anything? The doc gave a good prognosis, I didn't want to worry anyone.”
“Well that didn't work,” I mentioned joining the family hug.
Mum stroked my hair as she went on.
“The treatment was going well or so we thought then right before the Worlds Dieter, yes there is a Dieter, he's my doctor, well he told me that the cancer was spreading. I couldn't believe it; here I was at the top of my form but with this, this thing inside of me. In some perverse way it probably pushed me to the medals, I was determined to beat it.”
“Like Lance did?” thoughts of the miracle man of cycle sport buoyed my thoughts.
“Well yes,” Mum allowed, “although I've got a different sort”
Like most people, mention of the C word gave me the willies so although Lance's story had been in the Comic, I hadn't actually read it.
“So what was the Australia thing all about?” Jules enquired
“Well Dieter couldn't keep it from George any longer. George is really a big softy, he wanted me to come home straight away, I should've listened to him. Instead I made him agree to secrecy and I know it was misguided now but I thought I could protect you all if I left, invented a boyfriend and went through the treatment on my own.”
“You never told anyone did you?” Jules mentioned
“Not until today. Only George, Dieter and the people at the clinic. I've been so selfish.”
“So what changed your mind?” I got out between sobs
“Well you did actually Drew”
“Last week at the BBC. I realised just how much I missed you all”
“You could have come home then” I accused
“No I couldn't Drew, I had my first chemo session on Monday, that's when I decided that the charade had to end. I couldn't bear it if I didn't see you all again. It took me until Christmas Day to muster the courage, I had to go to the clinic on Boxing Day otherwise I would have come sooner.”
“So…?” Jules hugged Mum closer
“How long?” Mum said those words.
It was the question you never want to ask or know the answer to.
“Well hopefully years” Mum tried on a smile but it didn't fit, “the chemo will hopefully get it, if not there's surgery”
She was covering up again, I could tell, but even Jules didn't pursue it.
“We'll cancel America,” I stated
“I'll ring Mr Wood” Jules agreed
“No you won't.” Mum was emphatic. “No cancellation and no one else knows right? I'll be here when you get back, cured and ready to give you both hell!”
There was just something in her voice that told another story, that she was even now trying to protect us.
“You must ring your mother and Maria, she was frantic with worry you know?” Dad told Mum.
“I've probably lost a few friends over this haven't I?” she looked like a lost little girl.
“I'm sure when you explain they'll understand” Dad suggested. “Now kids, your mother needs to rest”
“Daa-aad!” Jules complained
“Your Dad's right, I'm really tired, I left home at six this morning. But before I go up, I need to know kids, I'll understand if the answers no but can I come home?”
By way of answer we both just hugged her closer.
“Course” Jules told her, the tears starting again.
We held each other a while longer before Dad shooed us off and carried a now sleeping Mum upstairs.
“She's not telling us everything is she Dad?” Jules asked when Dad returned
“I'm sworn to secrecy Jules but yes you're right.”
“Its really bad isn't it?” I managed
“Not good” he agreed
“Its weeks isn't it?” Jules stated
Dad hesitated before answering.
“You don't say a word to your mother right?”
“Promise me now, she might be ill but she's still got a vicious tongue!” he tried to joke
“We promise” Jules agreed
“The chemo is a last ditch attempt to halt it's spread. Like your Mum said, there is surgery but it might be too late for that already. They've given her six weeks”
“Six weeks!” I nearly screamed
“We can't go to America Dad, we should be here with you for her” Jules stated with calm I'm sure she didn't feel.
“It's what she wants Jules. I promise you both, if it comes to it, I'll get you back home in time to say goodbye.”
“Daad!” I sobbed flinging my arms round him.
The three of us hugged for I don't know how long.
“She will stay now won't she?” I asked
“Of course she will son.”
“I couldn't bear it if she went away again” I allowed
“Now then you two,” Dad started, extricating himself from the hug, “your mother doesn't want either of you broadcasting this all over the place.”
“No buts Drew. She'll tell people in her own time. So please, for your Mum?”
“Yes Dad” I agreed
There were more questions to ask but now wasn't the time.
“I'm just popping out for a few minutes, we're out of milk. You two okay? I won't be long.”
“Sure Dad” I replied
Jules headed off upstairs leaving me alone. I need to talk to someone even if I can't tell them everything otherwise, well I don't know. I retrieved my mobile and hit the speed dial for the Peters.
“No it's Carol Drew, I'll just get her for you”
The line went quiet then I heard a shuffling before Mad's voice sounded in my ear.
“Drew? I thought your Mum was coming today?”
“She was, she has. She's asleep upstairs.”
“Right” Mad sounded a bit confused, “So why are you ringing me? Not that I mind”
“Can we talk?”
“We are aren't we?”
“Well Mum's here, we could go for a walk?”
“I'll be about twenty minutes then”
I ended the call and rustled up a jacket and trainers. I stopped by the fridge for some OJ, that's odd, Dad said he was going for milk, there's four litres of the stuff in here!
“So she's back for good then?” Mad asked
“I guess,” I allowed
“That's good isn't it?”
It must be some girl thing; Mad hugged me to her as we continued to walk along past the Carrs. Just that hug seemed to make all the difference; I leant my head on her shoulder and sniffled a bit.
“You want to tell me?”
“I can't” I snuffled
We sat on one of the benches almost opposite the school. The gang often met on this seat, I tried to recall some of those happy days but my thoughts inexorably returned to Mum. Mad just held me close. We sat like that for a while in the gathering gloom of late December before I reached a decision.
“She's gonna die Mad”
“Well we're all going to die”
“Soon Mad. Unless there's some sort of miracle”
“You're serious aren't you?”
“Oh Drew!” she flung her arms back around me and we were soon both blubbing.
“You can't tell” I mumbled, “I'm not supposed to know”
“I won't tell anyone Drew, I promise”
“I just…just needed to tell someone” I admitted, “I would have burst otherwise”
“So you and Jules won't be going to America then?”
“Mum wants us to and Dad has promised that he'll bring us back before, before” I couldn't finish the sentence but I didn't really need to.
“Oh poor Drew, and poor Aunt Jen” Mad gripped me tighter. “If there's anything….”
“Thanks Mad, just talking is good”
We sat a while longer then continued walking into town, I fancied some chocolate.
“Isn't that your Dad's car?”
“Over there” Mad pointed into the supermarket car park
“Yeah, we can get a lift back” I grinned heading over the road.
“Er Drew, hang on”
“I think maybe we should walk back”
“Why? It's getting cold”
“I think your Dad wants to be alone” she mentioned.
I looked inside the car then. Dad was sat hunched over the steering wheel, shaking and tightly gripping the wheel. It didn't need a rocket scientist to work out that he was crying.
“Come on Drew, leave him be” Mad tugged at my sleeve
Of course – the milk was just an excuse to get out of the house!
Reluctantly I followed Mad.
“You want me to come back with you?” Mad offered
“No I'll be alright, but thanks.
“Promise you won't tell anyone?”
“I promise. If you need to talk you know where I am.”
“Thanks Mad” I hugged her close before starting the short walk home.
That old adage of ‘a trouble shared' seems to work, I didn't feel quite so… alone now.
By the time I got back, the car was in the drive and Mum was up again looking more like her old self.
“Good walk Drew?”
“Went to see Mad”
“How is she?”
“It will be okay won't it?”
“Of course it will, this is just a temporary hiccup. I've got a World Championship to defend!”
I couldn't stand it any longer, I almost ran to her chair and hugged her, bursting into tears on the way.
After tea we gave Mum her presents, well to be factual present. Jules looked pretty upset but she brightened when Dad passed the packet over.
“This is from all three of us”
“We got it Monday” I enthused as she carefully unwrapped the package.
“It's, it's beautiful” Mum burst into tears as she slipped it on and we ended up in another four way hug. She must have liked it, she never seemed to take it off after that.
I'm sure some of you will think I'm copping out here but the next few days were a roller coaster of emotions. I don't think I could ever put into words my feelings of those few days. So with that in mind here's a short synopsis of the week.
On Sunday, Dad drove us over to Gran's. As you might imagine there were a lot of tears and hugs, the high point I suppose was Gran slipping Jules and me $100 each for the American trip. To be frank, I was more than glad when we got home. Dad had to go to work Monday and Tuesday so Mum decided to take me for a ride on Monday and to take Jules shopping on Tuesday. I couldn't help but think that this would be our last chance to do this.
We did Mum's favourite ride out to Beckingham Café, the place was full of bikies and we were soon recognised as Jenny Bond and daughter Gaby! I realised that this ride was for Mum as much as me, so I didn't make an issue of it. I cast my mind back to other similar rides – with the bloke from CW, last winter we came out on the tandem a couple of times. Mum's famous now, World Champion and Tour Feminin winner, I was glad I'd brought my camera as Mum was having a whale of a time!
As Mum posed with some more new arrivals I pondered what it'll be like when next time I'm here Mum'll be just another of the faded pictures on the wall. Not a happy thought, but then I watched Mum with her ‘fans', they respected her for her riding, few if any of them would rise above the local cycling scene. Anyone who did that would be forever revered, not forgotten like some overpaid ball kicker. People still talk about the last local hero, Tommy Simpson – his picture is on the wall a few feet from Mum's. Will they still talk about Mum's exploits in thirty odd years time? I hope so.
We finally left for home after a lengthy stop, a certain dampness in the air.
“Did you see you're picture?” Mum asked
“What picture's that?”
“On the wall in the café”
“Nope, there was a picture of you winning the Nationals”
“Just as long as you don't displace your old Mum,” she joked
“I don't think that's likely,” I allowed.
The ride home passed all too quickly and I was saddened once again that this would likely be our last ride together.
Tuesday was of course New Years Eve. Mum and Jules took Dad's car and set off dead early to drive down to London. Apparently it was cheaper doing that than catching an early train. The Peters were holding a big New Year party, everyone was invited, well all the gang and their olds plus a few neighbours and other friends. Mum had been to see Aunt C after tea last night so when I arrived to help set stuff up, they were all ‘officially' aware of the big C, if not the finer detail. I'm sure Aunt C did know the details but like Dad she'd be under oath not to divulge to us kids.
There wasn't that much to do so I ended up helping Mad pack for Saturday. Saturday, until a few days ago I was really looking forward to going, now, well I don't want to leave Mum.
“Worrying won't help”
“I know, I just can't help it though”
Mad gave me a hug.
“Come on, let's finish this. Tell you what, I'll come over tomorrow to help with yours”
To be truthful I hadn't even thought about packing!
The party was great, between Aunt C's wonderful food, some good tunes and a spot on midnight firework display it was a whole evening of not worrying about Mum. That had to be good!
Next day the planned case packing had to be postponed as a Bond family New Year tradition took precedence. It might seem a bit wet but we always go for a family walk, Dad was determined to continue so we drove out to Chatsworth where we found quite a few other likeminded individuals.
We strolled along arm in arm, Dad and Jules, me and Mum.
“I'm sorry I haven't been there for you Drew”
“It's alright,” I allowed
“No it's not, I should have been there for you”
“Dad was here, you were working,” I mentioned
“Not all the time”
“Well so long as you know that I wanted to be there”
“I know, there'll be others Mum”
“I'm sure there will Drew, I'm sure there will”
Thankfully a bit of deer spotting lifted the maudlin mood and we were kept distracted for the rest of the day.
So then, Thursday. Mum went off on her own, she was meeting Dad later at the doctors. Mad came over and we started sorting my stuff for America. What do you take for six weeks away? Luckily Miss Cowlishaw had put together a list of essentials, you know, wash kit, underwear and so on. What was going to be complicated for me was that Gaby was going too! I can hardly take twice the stuff so another answer was required.
Mad came up with the solution, my boys wardrobe is hardly high fashion, most of my stuff is fairly unisex, jeans, t's etc so by adding a few Gaby bits for the hopefully few Gaby appearances I'd be covered. I pulled out what I thought I should take then Mad raided the Gaby stuff. We started to argue over just what Gaby should take, in the end I left Mad to it and went to put a bit of lunch together. In hindsight that was a hugiferous mistake but when she showed me her work, my clothes all neatly packed I was just thankful it was done.
After we'd eaten we headed over to Sylv's to see Rhod and his mom had promised us each a haircut. I have to be honest, I was all for getting a crew cut, chopping all this hair off. When I mentioned this I got laid into verbally by all four of my pals, didn't I remember it would be winter, it would mean wearing a wig to be Gaby (not a bad thing in my book). So okay I ended up just getting a tidy and trim. What was more disconcerting was that it made me look more like Mad than ever! Bernie had decided to grow her short cut out, it was already quite long again, not as long as mine though.
Friday arrived all too quickly. Would today really be our last proper day with Mum? I hoped not but in my heart I realised that it most likely would be. Despite Dad's reassurance of getting us back if she deteriorates, that in itself underlined the point. I think Mum knew that we knew but she was doing her best to remain upbeat. The Old's seemed in quite good humour when they got back from the doctors last night but even I know one lot of chemotherapy won't cure someone.
So Jules and I spent the day just being with Mum. We did some baking, on the pretext of making gifts for our American hosts but we all knew that it was really just a distraction. Dad got home early and announced that we were going up to Worksop for a farewell dinner, at Salvatore's in fact. You will not believe this, apart from the scruffy pair I'm wearing Mad managed to pack all my other jeans yesterday, sugar!
Going scruffy was not an option, last time I tried that I ended up in a frock! What else? Well it had done okay so far, why not? I retrieved Mums trouser suit from where it was still hanging on the back of my door, yep it'll do. I was sure I'd made the right choice as soon as I got downstairs, Dad was in a suit, Jules had a new dress on and Mum had on a classy looking black dress.
For a Friday night, the restaurant was surprisingly empty; maybe it was too soon after Christmas and New Year. Of course Guido and Stefani were in close attendance leaving Guido's sister Antonia to look after the other patrons. To be fair she just smirked at their antics and spotting me looking gave me a conspirational wink. I had to try really hard not to think of this as a last meal together but rather a happy occasion. But it was really difficult to not look on it as a farewell, by the forced smiles and nervous laughter around the table, the rest of my family were wrestling with the same thoughts.
We gathered shortly after five am in the school car park on Saturday morning. Finally the day had come, America here we come! My stomach was doing barrel rolls in a mixture of fear, excitement and worry – never a good combination. I introduced Mum to Miss C and left them chatting while I huddled with the rest of the gang as we waited for the bus to turn up. Due to Mad's over zealous packing I ended up dragging the first jeans and top I came to out of the case this morning. Yep you've guessed, Gaby has one pair of jeans and I was now wearing them with fortunately a neutral long sleeve t-shirt. One day.
The bus turned up and our chaperones organised the labelling and stowing of our cases whilst us kids concentrated on our family farewells. How do you say goodbye to someone you love but might never see again? It collapsed into a bout of ‘love you's', ‘see you soon's' and so on and a few tears. I sensed that everyone else had boarded the bus.
“We have to go Mum”
“I know Drew, take care you two” she pulled us both into a hug that she reluctantly released when Dad clasped her shoulders.
“I love you guys, make me proud”
“We will” Jules replied.
Dad gave us a quick hug and propelled us towards the waiting bus.
“I'll keep you informed okay,” he whispered once we were out of Mum's earshot.
We clambered on board and I found Mad had reserved me a seat next to her.
“Now we're all here” Mr Pilling started, “Mr Wood has a few words to say”
“Thanks Mr Pilling, I'll keep this short, I want to get back to bed.” He paused for the expected laughter, which to be fair he got.
“I've said this before but I'll repeat it again. You are going to Virginia as representatives of this school, yes it's a sort of holiday but I expect you all to come back having learnt something. What that is will be different for each of you,” I could swear he was looking at me when he said that.
“If you have any problems, Miss Cowlishaw and Mr Pilling will be there to help sort them out. So have a fun time, make Warsop College proud and Godspeed!”
He was obviously finished so he got a small round of applause. After a quick word with our travelling chaperones he stepped off the coach and we all turned our attentions to waving to parents, siblings and anyone else in the car park! The door hissed closed and we were finally on our way to catch flight 613 to Washington. I watched with a tear in my eye as Mum, with Dad holding her close, waved until we turned on to the main road and out of sight. Mad hugged me tightly and Jules caught my eye from in front and we offered a silent prayer for Mum.
Maddy Bell 01.01.05 © 2005
* See the Fanfic ‘Catalyst' by Cat Lockley ** Ainsley Harriet, TV chef in the UK
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