"You're kidding right?"
From the look on Brit's face it was pretty clear she wasn't.
"Can't I just wear shorts and a tee shirt?"
"Not an option, you want to stand out?"
Drew mulled that over for a moment, a bit of a no brainer really. After Tuesdays near miss, looking less Gaby really wouldn't be a good idea.
"Haven't you got anything a bit less, er, Barbie?"
"Not really, it's this or pink"
I let out a deep sigh; I suppose Brit had offered the less, if that's the term, girly option to me. I picked up the pile of stuff and stuffed it in my bag. Why me?
"Hey Gab" Brit waved a hand in front of my face, "anyone there? We gotta go"
I hefted my bag and followed Ms Walters downstairs.
"There you are girls, lets get this show on the road!"
Mrs W can get a bit enthusiastic; we're only going to school after all.
The old Forester, Mrs W's car as opposed to Mr Walters huge Caprice, only took a quarter of an hour to transport us the ten miles to the High School that I am a temporary student at along with the rest of my fellow exchangees. It's not that different to school at home but it's a bit weird attending as a girl. We might be getting a lift to school but it's the bus on the way back still, Mrs Walters is going down to Waynesboro for something this morning.
"Hi guys" Sabby called over.
"Hi Sab" Brit replied
"Where's Mad?" I asked
"She said she'd meet us after homeroom"
"Okay" I sighed. Damn, I wanted to talk to her alone, I suppose it'll wait.
"Come on Gab, we'll be late"
"She's been like this all morning" Brit advised, "daydreaming"
I never did get that chat with my cousin, what with one thing and another the opportunity never occurred. Well not before what they call Gym here, and by then it was too late.
Back in Warsop we'd be doing cross-country running or if were lucky old Pilling would let us do Badminton or Basketball or something inside. How I wish for that here! As soon as they found out that the five of us were the 'English cheerleaders' there was no hope.
I thought I might get out of it but there's no escape! Gym class = cheer stuff, more specifically a combination of gymnastics and dance. Sheesh! Hence my rebellion with Brit this morning. While everyone else gets to wear normal gym kit, the cheer squad wears aerobics stuff. As this was hardly on my packing list I was borrowing off Brit.
This just isn't right! Here I am looking like a right fairy!
"Cute!" Bern exclaimed
"Aw, she's blushing" Darla put in.
"I am not!" the flush I felt creeping up my face gave the lie to that. Lets face it; you'd be embarrassed too. Here I am in a lemon yellow leotard, shiny white tights, two what looked like pink jumper sleeves which my tormentors called leg warmers, my cheer shoes and with my hair in two bunches. Now tell me, wouldn't you feel embarrassed in that get up? What's worse is that most of the class was dressed in t-shirts and shorts.
I didn't get much chance to reflect on things though, the cheer coach, Ms McDonald, soon had us hard at it. After getting over my initial reluctance it wasn't really so bad. We started off with some stretching exercises before starting a round of basic, line up and go gym exercises. I actually remember doing this sort of thing in junior school.
After a short cool down the focus changed to a more cheer bias. That is to say more dance type stuff. Nothing specific, but there were elements from ballet and what Mad christened showgirl stuff! I was pretty chuffed when we had to do the splits, I got right down easily but a few of the girls couldn't manage it. Ha, the Drewmeister wins again!
But I've jumped a bit here haven't I? You no doubt want the low down on the rest of yesterday huh? Well okay, I told you we were going to the diner right?
The drive to Jacks Diner in Sandy's old Volvo was a bit cramped, me, Brit, Sab and Mad were crammed in the back while Rhod joined Sandy in the front. One of Debs friends has an SUV that the others were traveling in – apparently there would be quite a gang descending for ‘Wednesday at Jack's'. Sandy seems okay, she's a bit of a wit but I still can't work out how she came to be hosting Rhod who, it hasn't gone unnoticed, seems really happy at the moment. Could something be going on between them? Nah it's only been a few days and Rhod wouldn't do that to Ally, would he?
Sandy works at Jack's so when we arrived she went to get changed while the rest of us joined the other kids in the restaurant. Although we passed the place on Miss Bells tour of the Grottoes district, that hardly prepares you for what its like inside. The place has obviously been here a while and I suppose it's standard American diner just like you see in films and stuff. It's a bit like a Little Chuff but more – hmm what's the word – homely I guess. At one side of the building they have a pool table, where a few kids were already poking the balls around. There must have been about thirty high school students in but the atmosphere was relaxed, we claimed a booth by the window and soon the others joined us.
It was all a bit surreal really; Sandy appeared in her uniform and took our order. The other staff, a gruff looking bloke who I guess is Jack himself, and two older women, joked and talked with the slightly noisy students – I can see this happening at home – not! It wasn't a static scenario either, kids were moving between groups and there seemed to be a loose competition at the pool table. For the most part I sat and observed the comings and goings but this gregarious bunch were quick to include the ‘Englishers' into proceedings. When Sab let slip that some of us were cheerleaders and that we'd be in next month's competition we were firmly installed in the group. Of course we had to explain how it worked in England and how different it was to here in America.
More kids arrived, some left, the time just flew by. There were other patrons of course. A couple of gun toting policemen, their uniforms so alien to what I'm used to, stopped for coffee, a young mother with two little tots took a quiet table, the kids seemed excited but well behaved. The light was starting to fade when I was surprised by the arrival of two bike riders, a well-built bloke and a pale redheaded girl, both I guessed to be in their late teens. They were wearing all the kit, these were no casual riders but serious athletes – I wanted to go and talk to them but I had a shyness attack and instead tried a bit of across the room eavesdropping.
“Hi ya Diane, Derek. What'll it be?”
“Hi Sandy, English for me and the usual for this lummox”
“Hey just coz I took the limits sign!” the guy mentioned. Yep sounds serious to me.
“And a couple of slices of pie” the girl, Diane added.
My attention was diverted by Sab grabbing my wrist and having to give an impromptu Foresters cheer. I didn't realize that we had the attention of nearly all the diner until we finished with me doing my usual splits. I was lost in the exercise while we went through the routine and only the cheering when we finished brought me back to the here and now. I looked around and turned a very obvious red when I realised I was the only one to have done the usual finish, the others, dressed in either jeans or long skirts wisely never attempted the grand finish. I hurriedly got up and slunk back into the booth.
Why did I go and do that? The conversations passed around me and I missed the bikies getting ready to leave.
“See ya later Sandy, bye Jack”
“Take care you two” Sandy called back.
“We will” the guy noted.
I half expected to see them depart on mountain bikes but the lights from the diner glittered off two smart looking road bikes. I'll have to ask Erin who they are on Saturday.
“Hey miss show off, you ready to hit the road?” Brit waved a hand in front of my face.
“Dad'll be here in about five”
I put ‘my' coat on and joined the round of goodbyes; Jules paid our bill – all of eleven dollars! Mr Walters pulled up outside and the four of us quickly scrambled into the car. Once we were on our way I decided to ask Brit about the two bike riders.
“Brit, who were the two at the counter in the cycling kit, Sandy seemed to know them?”
“You mean Dianne Biggs, the guy is Derek Drake, he's a bit of a hunk huh?”
“Diane was in?” Mr W asked from in front.
“With Derek Dad”
“That's one plucky Miss there Gaby. When Johnny Biggs, that's her old man, died last summer we thought she'd shut up shop and leave town. ‘Stead of that, she's gotten more business in, got young Derek working for her and last I heard she's even got some school kids on the payroll learning the business.”
“Yeah, Janice is up there every afternoon” Deb agreed.
“Quite impressive for a teenager, everyone hereabouts is right proud of her” Mr Walters finished.
I determined to get to meet Derek and Diane before I leave Grottoes.
Back at Castle Walters we had barely got in the door when the phone rang, Dad making the promised call. Well there was nothing new to report, Mum was recovering well from the surgery, she had a bit more colour but she was still under sedation. Dad was sounding a bit happier and certainly less tired than yesterday which in turn made me more relaxed. Jules looked a lot happier too. Even if it only gives Mum a bit longer it'll be time we can have with her. I tried in vain to remove all thoughts of losing her from my mind but it had the opposite effect, I started to think about how life might be without Mum around, could I be like Diane Biggs and grab life by the horns and carry on? Of course we still have Dad so it's a bit different.
I'd pretty much forgotten how I was dressed by the time I headed for bed, I'll have to get Jules to help me with putting Gaby's bits on in the morning. This afternoon at the diner was good – even if I did make a bit of an exhibition of myself with the cheering business. I dropped off to a more content sleep than I'd had since Mum told us about her cancer.
Which of course brings us back to today. Jules helped me to stick my boobs on and after a bit of er delicate struggling I got my ‘special' pants on too. At least now any potential embarrassment would be lessened; my body bears more than a passing resemblance to what people imagine they see. Well I've already mentioned about gym class but what I didn't tell you was what happened in home ec. The teacher, Mrs Pryce, a trim woman about Mum's age, decided that us visitors should do a project while we are here. I'm not sure what is worse, acting as a manikin for the rest of the class or having to design and make a ‘formal' outfit. Geez! So now I've got to study women's magazines for ideas – the smirk on Brits face did little to warm me to the whole idea.
After that gym session it was time for home. I joined Brit on the school bus back to town, no ride this afternoon, and I decided to give Erin's bike a spin, I could get about an hour in if I get straight off. I hurried up to the attic where I stripped one lot of Lycra ® off to replace it with another, this time the thermal bib tights and jacket that Erin has lent me. Donning a warm hat and thick gloves, I wheeled the GT out onto the street.
I know it might sound a bit absurd, but my first ride in the USA was back out to Augusta High, at least I know the way and it was just far enough to get there and back before dark descends. After a few bike free days, it took a couple of miles to loosen up, a couple of nervous miles, as I've not ridden on the ‘wrong side' of the road before. The road is gently rolling and although the gearing is a bit higher than I'm used to, I soon found a comfortable cadence and the school hove into view less than thirty-five minutes after leaving the Walters'. There were still a few cars in the car park that I used to get turned around without stopping.
The light was starting to go as I started the return journey, Erin had Spinacci's fitted so I assumed a racing tuck and made haste. The higher gearing had me reaching for the down lever once or twice but the couple of longish down slopes let me make good use of what was on offer. I got the speedo up to almost 35mph on the steeper of the two, which helped to get me back into Grottoes a bit less than thirty minutes from leaving the school. I must be fitter than I thought. Some bits of me were less than comfortable though! In my rush to get out I left my girl pants on, with my ‘bits' trapped irretrievably inside. All I can say is that I'm glad Erin had one of those saddles with a cut out fitted, as it is my equipment was feeling decidedly bruised despite the thick padding. Note to self – remember to take those damned pants off before riding a bike!
All in all I was pretty chuffed with the ride, the road was well surfaced, it stayed dry and my borrowed steed is a bit of a mover! It was a tired but happy Gaby that joined the rest of the household for dinner sometime later.
The news from home when Dad rang was a bit of a mixed bag. Gran has moved over to Warsop and is staying at our place to look after Mum when she returns home at the weekend. As far as Mum herself goes there is little change, Dad tried to explain some of the stuff but to be honest I didn't understand a lot of it. The bottom line seems to be that no change is not necessarily bad – at least it's not getting worse.
The other news from home is that it's been snowing. Snowing and I'm missing it! I love snow, well most of the time, I even like riding my bike in snow, well when its finished falling anyway.
Dear diary – that just sounds so corny I had to put it in! Well here I am again, Mrs W did her best to make what she called ‘a traditional British stew' for dinner tonight, to be honest it was okay except for the rather terrible dumpling things but after my ride I was hungry enough to eat anything. I've had to borrow some more clothes, the sleeves on this cardi' of Deb's are getting on my nerves! And at least I can get away with not wearing a bra all the time – small consolation I suppose. Jules is still reading that ‘Walk In The Woods' book; she keeps laughing which is driving me potty as she won't explain why. Guess I'll have to borrow the book and read it myself.
It was good to get out on a bike again, Erin's bike is really something, the full 27 speed Chorus setup, I've only got Veloce, Mum says its not worth spending more for me to smash it up – well I suppose my bike has accumulated a few ‘battle' scars! Anyway the bike is really smooth and even with the steel frame it only weighs 19lbs! (I know because I checked earlier.) That's lighter than my aluminium! I spent an hour after dinner cleaning it; no one is going to accuse me of not looking after it. These tights itch.
Tomorrow we have our first bus trip; we're going to Richmond. Apparently there's loads of history stuff in the area, battlefields and stuff like that, a chance to really put my new camera through its paces, Dad'll kill me if I don't take lots of pictures. I should probably carry it around with me. Bum! Is that the time?
“Come on Gaby, we'll miss the bus” Brit shouted up to the attic.
So okay, I'm running a bit late. I'm not used to all this girl stuff every morning. Yeah I know I've done it before but it's different when you are ‘being' a girl not just pretending. Jules and the Walters can only do so much without causing suspicion so I'm having to hone stuff like putting on makeup myself. Mad usually does that but she's not here and Jules, well I'm just as likely to end up all Goth!
I checked my bag – camera, batteries, wallet, makeup [!], notebook, pen – looks like everything.
“There you are, we'll be late” Brit greeted my appearance downstairs.
“We've got five minutes yet”
“Well Deb and Jules have already gone so get your coat on”
“Have a nice day girls” Mrs Walters called from the kitchen.
“We will mom, byeeee”
I shrugged into my borrowed coat and slung my bag onto my shoulder. Outside, a cold wind swirled around my nylon clad legs and up my skirt, I was glad for once that my bits have so much covering them! We made the bus only due to hold up tactics by our siblings and thankfully joined the other students in the austere but warm interior.
We still had to make an appearance in homeroom but after getting our ticks in the register we joined everyone else in the car park where once again George was waiting with his bus. After a quick head count we were off. Instead of the road south to Waynesboro that I expecting to take, George turned off to the right and we headed along the local equivalent of country lanes for about twenty minutes before meeting and joining what the signs declared to be I81.
“Where's Sandy?” I asked Rhod.
“Well she's not really part of the exchange thing and teaches a class herself on Fridays”
“Teaches?” Mad enquired.
“Sand tutors Math and Calculus.” Darla advised us, “I usually have her on Fridays for Calculus.”
Seems a bit odd to me, but there again, I'm sat here in a skirt so who am I to say anything! We passed a sign to Waynesboro and joined the I64 and we continued south to arrive in the environs of Richmond mid morning.
We split into two groups, Jules, Deb and the other older kids went with Mr Fredericks and Mr Pilling, the rest of us get to hang out with Miss Bell and Miss Cowlishaw. We stayed on the bus as our first stop was a little out of town.
“How are you doing Drew?” Miss C slid into the seat that Brit had just vacated next to me.
“How are things at home?”
“Mum should be home tomorrow, my Gran is gonna look after her”
“That's good news eh?”
“I hope so”
“And what about you? I thought you were going to be Drew except for the cheer competition?”
“So did I”
“So what happened?”
Over the next fifteen minutes as we made our way out to a civil war battlefield, I gave Miss C the story of my week so far.
“You should have come to me or Mr Pilling Drew”
“I never thought about doing that,” I admitted.
“Drew Bond, what are we going to do with you?” she shook her head with a smile. “Now promise me Drew, if things start to get more complicated you'll come talk to me eh?”
“Hmm, looks like we've arrived”
I looked out to be greeted by what looked like a cemetery with a white fence round it.
“Depressing” I stated
“Well Miss Bell assures me it's interesting so shake a leg”
With that she departed down the bus.
“What was that all about?” Brit asked returning to collect her stuff.
“Just making sure things are okay, especially as I'm being Gaby”
“Oh” she looked a bit worried. “She's not gonna do anything is she?”
“I don't think so”
“Girls!” Miss Bells voice echoed down the bus, “if you can all assemble at the gate we can get started.”
It wasn't so bad. A bit like that ‘Walking The Battlefields' programme Dad likes watching ‘cept we were doing the walking. Miss Bell explained what happened in these fields over a hundred years ago, the savage fighting, heroism and tragedy of over 5,000 deaths. The quiet fields we walked around on the official footpath bore no resemblance to the carnage of the battle between the northern and southern states. By the time we returned to George and our transport I was, despite myself, moved by the scale and horror of the battle, such was Miss Bell's storytelling skills.
Back in Richmond we met up with the others for lunch in the museum cafeteria before splitting up once more. Lets get one thing straight, I'm not a great museum person – I've been dragged around so many by my ‘rents and on school trips its unreal. Some are really good and informative but most are at best pretty displays of artefacts without any real context. I'm starting to sound like Dad! You know what I mean though? And even the informative ones treat everyone as imbeciles or four year olds. The museum in Richmond Va. Was no different.
I think everyone had had enough of looking at cabinets of uniforms and guns, gore filled pictures and so on by the time we rejoined the others fresh from their trip around the battlefield site. I was expecting us to return to the Interstate to go home but instead we headed off on a different road, it was only after a few turns that I picked up on the signs for ‘Richmond Raceway'. It didn't seem to be a likely destination but a few minutes later we were parked in the huge parking area outside of the raceway.
I have to admit, I was impressed. We did the official, well only, tour, Kenny, the guide, told us all about the origins and development of the circuit into one of the best known motor racing circuits of the eastern US of A. it being well out of season there was little activity although we could hear someone playing with an engine in the pit area. We even got to drive around the oval – in a minibus – it was hard to imagine what it must be like when the racing is on. To be honest, although I've seen some NASCAR and Champ car racing on Eurosport, I'm not a great fan. Looking at the huge stands and the obvious excitement that even the girls had on going round the oval maybe I'll check it out again.
We got a chance to visit the gift shop before we left; it was more like a mini mart dedicated to oval racing! Posters, models, books, clothing, well you know the sort of things. I bought a souvenir guidebook, a postcard for my collection and a model racecar – it's a boy thing alright! I needn't worry, Brit bought a poster of ‘Dale', one of the NASCAR drivers, so maybe it's a girl thing too, and Jules watches all the GP's after all.
The drive back to Rockingham County along the interstate seemed to take forever as the light left us before we left Richmond and the unlit highway reminded me returning home on the A1 after some distant race. Mad dozed on my shoulder as I flicked through the pictures on my camera, nearly a hundred today! If I keep on at this rate I'll run out of disc space in a fortnight!
Back at Augusta High, both of our temporary guardians were waiting in the Caprice and rather than going back ‘home', we ended up at a restaurant in the town. It reminded me of that place Dad took us to in Oxford last year with its garish interior except the menu here was more varied. In fact the Grace House's menu was very much ‘steak house' in a family restaurant sort of way. Upmarket from Jack's Diner to be sure but not quite Salvatore's, at least, I didn't feel under dressed and although the other diners were smartly dressed no one was ‘done up'.
I was ready for a feed; we only had soup and a sarnie in Richmond. I ended up with gammon steak; don't these Americans know how to do anything with potato except make chips? Well at least tonight's were big and chunky, not fast food sticks. For dessert I went for cherry pie with cream – hmmm! Finally American food I'd like to see at home.
It was only when we returned to Walters Towers something after ten, that the message on the answer machine from Dad alerted me to his missed call. If there was anything important he would have said, wouldn't he? Of course he would.
I set my alarm for six, plenty of time to get ready to meet Erin at eight.
Maddy Bell 20.04.05 © 2005
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