“Ok ladies and gentlemen,” Mr Pilling intoned as he rejoined us, “I've just spoken to Miss Bell, she'll be here with our transport in about twenty minutes so I suggest you all use the facilities and then we'll go over to the pick up area. I know it's quite warm in here but it is cold outside so you will need coats. Questions?”
“Have we got time to eat” one of the older girls asked.
“Not here Justine, we'll stop on the motorway somewhere.”
“Interstate Sir” Bernie put in, getting a few giggles.
“Thank you Bernadette, Interstate. If that's it? Back here in ten minutes”
Leaving Mr Pilling in charge of our luggage, we all headed off to the conveniences.
It was closer to half an hour before Miss Bell did finally arrive with our transport. I don't know quite what I was expecting but it certainly wasn't the bright yellow thing that pulled up. I hope it's more comfortable than it looks!
“Hi Jess” Miss C called back as we started wheeling our trolleys to what looked like a mini version of one of those American school buses you see in the films.
“Hi kids, sorry we weren't here to meet you but there was an RTA on the innerstate, traffic stacked for miles!”
The guy driving the bus came over to join our huddle.
“You planning on loading up or standing here freezing our asses off?”
“Sorry guys, this impatient lump is George Wentworth”
“Nice to meet you George, John Pilling”
“Well I guessed you weren't the lady Jessica's been going on about all the way up here” George turned and took Miss C's hand and kissed it.
Well of course that hardly went unnoticed by ten teenagers, Miss C blushed, certain elements of our party made comments, none of which seemed to faze Mr Wentworth.
“Now come on George, le's get these folks on the bus.” Miss Bell broke the moment.
“Sure Jess, come on kids, get them cases off those trolleys and inside, they should all go in the pen at the back here” he opened the back door and we started passing cases up.
“Get yourselves on board” Miss Bell instructed, “We'll leave as soon as your bags are on board.”
Sometimes appearances can be deceptive but with this bus my hopes were dashed as soon as I stepped aboard. I mean our school minibuses are pretty basic but this is ridiculous! I think it is quite new, there wasn't much graffiti in evidence anyway, but the seating is horrible. Not just horrible but actually terrible. The plastic seats might be low maintenance but you don't want to be planning on being on them very long, the small ‘pad' on each seat wouldn't qualify as a cushion in anyone's book. I slid in next to Rhod and by the look on his face he was having similar thoughts.
“How far is it?”
“Too far! I think about 150 miles.”
“You're not kidding,” I agreed.
Miss Bell closed the door behind her and addressed us.
“Well, welcome to America everyone, it's good to see you all again. Mr Pilling mentioned that you need to eat, so as George wants to clear DC before rush hour we'll stop at a truck stop on the innerstate. Okay with you guys?”
“How long Miss, I'm famished,” Justine asked.
“Bout an hour, hour ten” he offered.
“Okay lets hit the road!”
Despite the early start and the time zone stuff, I was too busy looking out of the window to think about being tired. There really are yellow cabs; I know I shouldn't be surprised but it's one of those sort of American clichés. Once we were on the go the bus started to warm up relieving the chill that our short time outside at Dulles had instilled in my bones. With the rise in temperature my coat found better use as a cushion and I settled down to ‘enjoy' the ride.
Our noisy but warm chariot soon had us away from the American capital, I'd have liked to have seen the place but I guess you can't have everything! Compared to like the M1 at home, the traffic was light, a few cars but mostly trucks of one sort or another. What was a bit weird was that quite a few were things like Volvo's and Mercedes like you see at home, i was expecting to just see things like the truck in Smokey And The Bandit . There were little trucks too and we passed a huge camper thing just before our first meeting with ‘real' America.
George pulled off the Interstate and parked us by the entrance to the café bit of the truck stop.
“Okay kids, we'll get some food in here. I'll sort the tab but don't go eating too much; there'll be food waitin' in Grottoes later. Let's go eat!” Miss Bell enthused.
For the first time today, reality matched my vision. Back home motorway services are mostly a bit like the food court at Meadowhall, selling overpriced food of variable quality to jaded travellers. This place though was just like in the films, right down to the waitress's. The place wasn't overly busy so we were all seated pretty much together; our chaperones on one table a little bit to one side.
“Kewl” Ally intoned settling in next to me.
“What are ‘sunny side up' or ‘eggs over easy'?” Bernie asked already scanning the menu.
“Dunno,” I admitted.
“Oh I think that's just fried eggs,” Rhod offered.
“Oh” Bernie sounded deflated, “why don't they just say that?”
We were interrupted by the arrival of our waitress.
“Hi kids; my name is Laura and I'm your waitress today, what would you like to drink?”
“Do you do tea?” Jules asked.
“Sure, we have sweet and regular iced tea, or you could have hot tea.”
“Iced? Yeurgh! English please.”
“Would like, cream, milk, or lemon with that?”
“Do you have any pop?” Mad asked.
“Pop?” Laura queried.
“Soft drinks?” I offered.
“You mean soda. Sure hun, we have Cherry Coke ® , Sprite ® , Mellow Yellow ® ,………” she went on and on, there must have been twenty to choose from. “Diet Coke ® and root beer”, she finally drew breath.
“Root beer” Mad announced.
The rest of us gave our orders and Laura went to fetch the drinks.
“Root beer?” I queried.
“Sounds revolting” Ally mentioned.
“Well I always fancied ordering it: it's what Snoopy drinks in Peanuts. ”
“Peanuts, what's that?” Rhod asked.
“Dur dumbo, you know, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Linus” Mad started lecturing.
“ Peanuts is what the cartoon strip is called” I explained, “it's in Dad's Sunday paper.”
“That's Peanuts ! I never knew it was called that, I thought it was called Snoopy. ”
“Well anyway, when Snoopy is being the air ace he drinks root beer.”
Laura chose that moment to arrive with a tray of drinks, I was impressed that she handed them all out correctly.
“Are you ready to order?”
“Just vegetable soup for me” Rhod was first on the draw.
The choice of food was pretty much what I, in my idealised world, would expect. Various burgers, other assorted fried stuff, chilli, steak in various forms, meat loaf - whatever that is; the one attempt at international cuisine was Swedish meatballs. Lets get this straight – no la di da fancy stuff, no pizza, no fancy names for cheese on toast but did I mention lots of meat?
I settled on a cheeseburger special and with everyone having ordered the conversation returned to Charlie Brown and his relationship with Lucy. My mind soon wandered and I looked around the diner. This place really was like in the films, or should I say movies now I'm in America. Our temporary guardians were chatting and laughing, Miss C glanced our way and smiled at me; by reflex I returned the gesture, my musings disrupted by a voice behind me.
“Miss? Your food”
“Oh sorry” I sat back so Laura could deliver my burger. Instead of just the burger on a plate I was expecting she placed three dishes in front of me too.
“Erm I didn't order all this?”
“You ordered the cheeseburger special right?”
“Yep” I agreed.
“Well that's what you have here, one patty with melted cheese in a bun, side salad, fries and rings, makes one cheeseburger special.”
“That's okay miss.”
“I'll never eat this lot,” I moaned as I surveyed enough food to feed an army, the burger was like six inches across, it would cost two quid for all those chips at the Hygenic Fisheries and there was enough salad to keep Rhod going for a month! Then there were the onion rings! I made what I considered to be a valiant attempt to clear my food but even offloading some to Rhod left enough to feed a family of four. No pudding for me that's a dead cert!
We returned to a much quieter road and resumed our journey into Western Virginia. The combination of food, early start and warm bus had a soporific effect on nearly everyone and I finally dropped off soon after I spotted the first sign for Richmond and Shenandoah.
“Drew” I felt someone joggle my arm, “wake up Drew, we're there” my brain just about engaged to recognise the voice as Rhod's.
“Hum?” I started to stretch.
“Gerooff!” Rhod shoved me a bit harder than was strictly necessary.
I opened my eyes and realised why, I was currently laid in his lap!
“Er sorry bud” I told him hurriedly sitting up.
“S'okay but we have arrived.”
“Okay people” Miss C raised her voice just enough to be heard over the excited buzz. “I know its been a long day but we are finally here, Grottoes West Virginia”
“Yay!” someone called.
“Quiet!” Mr Pilling intoned.
“Now they've got a little reception arranged in this place just here, we are a little earlier than planned; Miss Bell is ringing round all your exchangee's right now to let them know we're here. So for now, collect your cases and go on inside.” She looked down the bus and caught my eye, “Okay everyone?”
“Yes Miss,” we chorused.
“Up and at ‘em then!”
Did I mention they were intent to make us explode with food? The ‘place just here' was actually a coffee shop going by the name of ‘Pru's'. The staff welcomed us in, cases and all; George took off in the vehicle of our torture as I collapsed into a sofa.
“Looks like they're getting ready for a big party” Mad mentioned collapsing next to me.
“I think you might find that's for us,” Ally suggested from her perch on the arm of the sofa.
It was only a few minutes later when our hosts started to arrive, it was really strange seeing people we knew again but in this alien to us setting and with a whole bunch of other people we didn't know. I spotted the Walters sisters coming in the door and soon we were renewing our acquaintance.
“Mom, Dad, this is Jules and Drew” Brit started the introductions with a wink at me. “These are our parents' guys.”
“The girls never stop talking about you two and all your friends girls, welcome to Grottoes!” Mrs W started.
“I've converted the loft space so there's plenty of room for you girls.” Mr Walters advised us.
“Dad!” Deb hushed her father.
“What I do?” he asked no one in particular.
“Donald, let them be, they just got here.
“Come on you two, Sab's just got here” Brit indicated we should depart.
Hang on! One room? Surely they don't want me and Jules to share? Wait a minute!
“Your olds were expecting the both of us right?”
“So why do I get the feeling that there's something you're not telling us?”
“Hi guys!” Sabrina beamed, “this is so cool, you guys being here!”
“What's up Drew?” Mad enquired.
“I dunno yet” I gave Britney Walters a pointed look.
“Alright” Deb started, “our ‘rents think Drew's a girl.”
“What!” I joined the exclamations.
“Why?” Jules asked, “We've got to tell them the truth.”
“I told you sis!” Deb hissed at Brit.
“Please don't, we'll get in heaps of trouble” Brit practically begged.
“So you expect me to pretend to be a girl for the whole trip?” I can't believe this!
“Not all the time, just around our folks, please” Brit whined.
“It's not like it needs much effort Drew, they didn't freak just now did they?” Deb pointed out.
“What about the erm sleeping arrangements?” Jules was softening.
“We thought you two could use the attic, its gonna be mine afterwards so Dad even fitted a shower up there. Please say yes?” Deb now took up the begging.
“Okay girls? Hello Sabrina.”
“Hi Ms Walters.”
“And who is this, I thought there were only two Bond girls?”
“I'm their cousin Madeline.”
“I showed you the pictures Mom,” Deb stated.
“Well I never realised that Drew and Madeline were quite so… identical. You two look more like sisters than Drew and Juliette!” Mrs Walters told us.
Jeeze, just what I need to know. Hmm, I'm not happy but if I don't have to dress as a girl I can live with it I suppose, that is if Jules goes for it.
“That'd be great Ms Walters.” Sab was saying.
“Well I'll sort it with Jessica later then” Mrs Walters finished before heading off to talk to some other ‘rents.
“What did I miss?”
“Mom suggested Sab and Mad come for a sleepover tomorrow.”
“What about... you know?” I queried.
“As long as you stick to the rules I'll go for it,” Jules sighed.
“Yes!” Brit stated.
“What about you Drew?” Debs asked.
“It won't kill me to be a girl when your ‘rents are about I suppose, but that's it, no dresses or stuff.”
“Thank you Drew” Brit gave me a bear hug.
Ally was right about the food, I'm just glad it was a buffet! After that ‘cheeseburger' earlier I was now beyond food really. I think most of the English party were but our hosts weren't shy of digging in! We were introduced to Principal Roberts who gave the standard welcome speech before passing the floor to our ‘student co-ordinators' Jessica Bell and John Fredericks. Mr F apologised for not meeting us at Dulles, whatever! Then they introduced Miss C and Mr P to the ‘home crowd' before giving some general notices. Looks like we start at Augusta High School on Tuesday, tomorrow, that's Sunday, we get to just hang and settle in then on Monday we get what Miss Bell called a day of familiarization with West Virginny and more specifically Augusta County. I know the Americans had a similar session last summer in Warsop.
# ~~~~~~~~~ #
"So you doing training?" Brit asked as I finished drying the breakfast plates next morning. Jules rules for sharing were the same as last year in Germany – she gets choice of bed, first dibs on the shower and wardrobe space – well basically what she says goes! Deb and my sister were off with the senior Walters somewhere but Brit and I managed to duck out of that hence we got the clean up to do.
"Training as in bike champion training." Brit emphasized.
"Well I don't have a bike do I, so I guess I'll do some running and stuff instead"
Brit looked thoughtful.
"Hmmm, get your coat on girl, I've got an idea."
"Okay, just grab your jacket and get with the action."
What is she up to now? I rescued my fleece and joined Brit in the hallway.
"This isn't another one of your hare brained schemes is it?"
"Nope. We are gonna get you a bike."
"Don't be daft, we haven't got that sort of money, what are you up to?"
"You want a bike right?"
"Well it'd be nice to have one to us.e"
"So, I think I know how we can get you one."
"This better not involve nicking anything."
"Nicking? Oh you mean stealing, course not."
"So where are we going?"
I had to trot to keep up with my tormentor.
"What the heck's that?"
"A bike shop?"
"Whatever" I sighed pulling the collar of my jacket up, there was a bitter wind sweeping along the street.
"You'll like Erin; she went to high school with mom."
"Uh huh" I mumbled
We crossed the road and Brit navigated us along the street for a bit before turning up an alley.
"Where're we going?"
"I told you, Erin's. Its just round on George Street."
The gennel ended on another street and across the way I spotted the sign 'Erin's Cyclery'. From what I could see Erin sold mostly mountain bikes, according to the window Trek, Cannondale and Marin. I followed Brit to the door where she pushed me inside, into a blast of hot air.
"Be right with you" a woman's voice called from some hidden spot in the Aladdin's cave that is Erin's Cyclery.
"Neat huh?" Brit suggested.
"Yeah" I replied distractedly as my attention was grabbed by a very sparkly Klein hanging on the wall.
"It's only me Aunt Erin, I brought a friend" Brit called into the hidden recesses of the shop.
"Britney!" exclaimed a small woman with light brown hair who appeared wiping her hands on a rag. "To what do I owe this visit? And who's this?"
"This is Drew Bond from England, but everyone calls her Gaby."
"Nice to meet you Gaby."
"Hi" I allowed.
"Bond? You must be Jenny Bonds youngster, when Brit and Debbie told me who they lodged with last summer I couldn't believe it. Your Mom okay?"
"Er well she's not that good at the moment."
"Cold huh? I get 'em every year and they take forever to clear."
"Something like that" I agreed, not wanting to talk about Mum's illness and trying hard not to think about it either.
"So, what I can I do for you gals?"
"How did you know we wanted something?"
"Britney, you always want something when you drop by."
"I don't! Well maybe sometimes."
"So what is it?"
"Well you know that Gab here is like a junior cycle champion?"
"You did mention it - once or several times" Erin grinned.
"Well we, that is I was wondering if you have a bike Gab could borrow while he's here?"
Ah! Brits plan.
"We-ll, I'm not sure guys."
"He'd look after it real well," she turned to address me, "wouldn't you? And it's only for like a month."
Erin's face softened a bit.
"Hmmm, how bout I have a look to see what I've got out back and you guys call round after school tomorrow?"
"Great!" Brit enthused, “'cept we don't go back till Tuesday for this semester, Gab has something going off but she should be done by three.”
"Gaby? That okay with you?" Erin asked.
"That would be great."
"You prefer a mountain bike?"
"A road bike would be better, that's if it's not too much trouble."
"I'll see what I can do" Erin grinned, “So, you guys fancy some hot chocolate?”
# ~~~~~~~~~ #
So here I am writing this journal thing that Mr Wood asked we all keep. I've not been in Grottoes 24 hours and so far Brit has convinced me to be ‘Gaby' around her parents, but of course that has spread to anyone they know like Erin at the bike shop. I have to take my hat off to her though, it looks like I might have a bike to borrow while I'm here and Erin is pretty cool and knowledgeable!
I've not really had time to think about Mum much; I hope she's okay – Dad is supposed to ring later this afternoon so I guess I'll find out then.
And just wait till I get my hands on you Maddy Peters! Remember she packed for me? Well she didn't put any of my undies in, only Gaby stuff so I have six bras but no pants! Oh I have some knickers, but they are hardly the same are they? And she didn't pack any jim-jams; I had to borrow some from Jules last night. It could have been worse I suppose, she did put my fave t-shirts in but I only have two pairs of jeans, one of which is from my Gaby stuff. Goodness knows why she put that stuff I borrowed from camper woman in, mind you I will need something to wear for the cheer stuff besides the uniform.
I glanced over to where Jules stuff was bulging out of the wardrobe doors, yep could have been worse, much worse.
Bum, that'll be the others back, I suppose I'll have to go down.
Maddy Bell 18.03.05 © 2005
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