“Yes its me”
I squealed in delight, I know it's a bit girly but that's how my pent up feelings manifested themselves.
“Whoa there kiddo, calm down”
“Are you, you know, cured?”
“It's a bit early to know that Drew, but the doc's think they got it all, so fingers crossed eh?”
“I miss you Mum”
“I know you do, but less about me, you're the ones doing all the exciting stuff, so spill”
“Well what do you want to know?”
“Everything, your Dad's given me the basics but I'd like to hear it from you, so how about you start from last Saturday.”
“Okay, it might take a while though”
“Well I'm not going anywhere” she encouraged.
“You asked for it. Well after we left you…” I started to recount the main points of our first week in America.
“… So I was first to the café place.”
“Showing off eh?”
“No! Well a little bit maybe.” I moved around on the floor cushion Debs had supplied me when it became clear I was in for a long call.
“Well I must admit, I would've probably done the same,” Mum allowed.
I filled her in on the rest of the day's events, our escape from the mountains, the trip to Harrisonburg and the mall. I hope Mums ears weren't as sore as my throat! We'd been on the phone for over two hours; the call must be costing a fortune. Mum was sounding more than a bit weary but she kept prompting me to go on. I decided not to mention all the stuff that the girls bought me earlier and maybe I hadn't really mentioned that I was sort of stuck as Gaby either. Jules had been hovering on the foot of the stairs most of the time and reluctantly I said goodbye to Mum and let Jules have the phone.
The Walters had eaten some time ago but Mrs W soon had a plate of cheese flan, chips and peas nuked and I soon polished that off! I joined our hosts watching some dross on the box while Jules spent only a small amount less than me talking to Mum. By the time she put the phone down it was fast approaching nine and the day's excitement was starting to catch up with me. I could tell that the girls were itching to ask about the call but they never plucked up the courage to start that conversation. Just as well really, I didn't want to talk about it and I'm sure it would cause all sorts of embarrassment and stuff.
I finally excused my self and headed up to the attic where I discovered the bags of new Gaby stuff still on my bed. Tomorrow, it can wait until tomorrow. Well except for some pyjamas, I fished through the appropriate bag and settled on the yellow and grey set, not too girly and they promised to be quite warm too. I yawned loudly as I returned from the bathroom, the window, or rather what was beyond it catching my attention. Geez, it's still snowing. I stood enthralled, watching the steady fall of white stuff as it descended past the faintly yellow glow of the streetlights below. There was now quite a carpet of the stuff, a couple of sets of wheel marks broke the smooth surface and some footprints were already fast filling in on the footpath opposite. I could just hear Brit now, ‘ it's a sidewalk !' Whatever. I stared out a while longer before finally drawing the curtain and clambering into bed.
Talk about weird, I snuggled under the sheets, why they can't use quilts beats me, here I am thousands of miles from home and for the first time in what must be months I actually feel quite content. So okay I'm wearing girls PJ's and I've got these damn rubber boobs stuck on my chest but I've actually had quite a good day. I was out like a lamp as soon as my head hit the pillow.
“Come on dozy, breakfast is on the table” Jules voice broke through my dream to wake me. And I was enjoying that one too; I was just making my move against Lance on the Alpe d'Huez to claim the yellow jersey, now I'll never know if I did it!
I dragged myself out of the warm cocoon I'd made of my bedclothes and noted that my sister was already dressed.
“Get a shift on bro, and you'd best put something warm on, it's cold out”
“Huh” I grunted.
After doing my ablutions, which now apparently includes using what is it, that's right a ‘facial scrub', I started dressing. Jules said to dress warm so I surveyed ‘my' wardrobe, my new jeans were out, and something they put on new jeans brings me out in a rash so they need washing before I can wear them. Not that jeans are that warm really anyway. Well we won't be going out today with all the snow out there so I decided to try a combo that the girls suggested and bought for me yesterday, I know it's a skirt but what the heck.
“There you are Gab” Brit greeted my arrival, “we thought you were never coming, like the hair”
“What?” I realised I hadn't brushed my hair yet, “bum!” I must look a right mess.
“We need to leave in five minutes sis, so shake a leg,” Jules mentioned.
“Leave?” I asked before digging into my waffles.
“To meet the gang?”
My baffled look prompted Deb.
“She wasn't there, it was after she went to bed”
“The Call” Brit sounded exasperated.
“What call, will someone tell me what's going on?”
Brit rolled her eyes, “whenever it snows like this, someone makes the Call and we all meet up for some fun.”
“What sort of fun?” I asked between bites.
Whatever. I finished my breakfast and was almost dragged out to Mrs W's Forester. It was a bit breezy round the ole legs but the street looked picture postcard perfect, the blanket of white dampening sound and giving the light a slightly eerie feeling. I was surprised to see that the car now sported a roof box and somehow all six of us squeezed inside. I think I mentioned before, I really like snow but I was a bit concerned that we were setting off in a car with so much snow about. Still none the wiser regarding our destination, I tried to relax and peered out of the constantly steamed up windows as we slowly made our way to the main road which whilst not clear had at least seen a snow plough some time quite recently. It took me a few minutes – it all looked different under snow, but I realised we were heading out towards Jack's Diner.
Indeed that was our destination and Mr W piloted the car into a car park already boasting at least a dozen others.
“So just what are we gonna do here?” I asked
“Ski silly” Brit mentioned.
“Ski! How? What with? Jules!”
The others all got out but I cowered in the doorway.
“Brit?” I whined. I have to admit that I had a few issues here.
I can't ski
I don't have any gear
I can't ski
I'm wearing a skirt!
I can't ski
“Hey Gab, you made it!” Rhod called over.
He made his way over, muffled in a red ski suit and lugging a pair of skis.
“This is really cool eh? Can you imagine doing this at home?”
“We never get this much snow, well hardly ever,” I agreed
“The others should be here soon, hurry up, we can practice before they get here if you're quick.”
“Here you are Gaby, put these on and I'll show you how to work the fittings” Mr W presented me with a pair of what I recognised as a pair of ski boots. Looks like I'm going to learn to ski!
Ten minutes later and I had just had my first lesson on staying upright on two planks. Apparently what we were going to do isn't that stuff you see on the telly, whizzing down hills at breakneck speeds, no we are doing cross - country or what did Mr Walters call it? Lang something. Anyway it's a bit like walking by sliding your feet and pushing on your poles. Apparently the ski's I was using used to be Mrs W's but she got some new ones, the rest of us visitors had similarly borrowed planks. It was actually not that difficult I was more concerned by the fact that I was the only one not wearing trousers – again! At least my skirt was fairly long and warm if not exactly sensible ski wear, just you wait Juliette Bond!
There must have been about fifty people there by the time we moved out, in two lines abreast, about five metres apart from the pair in front. I found myself next to Rhod who seemed to have had motor mouth surgery!
“This is so cool”
“Yeah” I agreed once more.
“Sandy says we ski for about an hour then we stop to eat before looping back to the diner”
“Oh come on Drew, it should be fun. Mind you I think you're brave not wearing trousers, you'll get a right draft up your skirt.”
“Tell me about it! No one mentioned what we were doing so I just dressed warm.”
“So what's it like at Sandy's place?”
We haven't really had much chance to talk this week and I was missing our guy talk.
“Well you know her mum is the school counsellor?”
“That's her mum?”
“Yeah. Well anyway they have a really big house and I'm staying with Sandy in the guest flat, over the garage. It is just so cool. She's got her own kitchen and telly and stuff, just like her own house ‘cept it belongs to her rents. I've got my own room with its own shower and that.”
“Sounds cool,” I agreed sliding down a little slope. “So you cook there and everything?”
“Well I usually eat with her mum and dad and her little brother in the house coz she's at work but we have breakfast in the flat.”
“I never knew she had a brother, I've not seen him at school”
“He's only five, he's just started elementary school”
“Is he retarded or something?”
“Naw…. Aaargghh!” Rhod just saved himself from landing on his bum. “No it's the same as infants school at home.”
“Oh. So how come you got paired with her then, I mean she's much older than us and a girl”
“Well spotted Blondie. Well apparently, after Dan was chucked off the programme they tried to find someone to take his place and they got a kid called David to do it. Unfortunately he was killed just before Christmas along with his brother in a car crash so rather than cancel everything, Mrs Jones volunteered to put me up as they had a spare room in Sandy's apartment. Wheeeee!”
Whee indeed. It was pretty cool this skiing thing. The pair of us scooted along, chatting as we went; our arrival at the ‘lunch' stop seemed to happen in bare minutes. It was harder than it first looked and my bits were certainly a bit, um numb by the time we stopped. Surprisingly my legs were not so cold, my thick stripey tights are actually quite warm and with the long heavy socks inside the ski boots, its just my knees that are really cold, not that I can feel them! I worked out how to divest myself of the skis and then discovered that walking in ski boots is a skill I don't yet have! Not only that but some muscles I didn't know I had were complaining a bit, this skiing lark is harder than it looks. After parking our skis and poles, Rhod and I followed the crowd through into a clearing where, by the miracles of organisation, there was already an impressive barbecue going.
I couldn't see her but that could only be Maddy.
“Over here cuz.”
I spotted her then along with Bernie, Darla and a girl I didn't know.
“Catch ya later” Rhod advised heading to where I could see Ally and a few others getting a warm from a brazier.
“Sure.” I was a bit peeved but I made my way over to where Mad seemed to be holding court.
“…And so like this bear just sat on the deck and watched the cubs playing, it was like so ü ber cool!” the mystery girl finished.
“Biggest thing we get at home is a fox,” Bernie allowed.
“Aren't they dangerous?” Mad asked.
“Foxes?” Bern queried.
“No, bears.” Mad clarified.
“Not if you let them be,” mystery girl stated.
“A kid over in Madison got hurt pretty bad last summer” Darla told us, “but I heard he was annoying the bear.”
“That happens.” the other girl agreed.
“Oh sorry Drew, this is Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen, this is my cousin Gaby but we sometimes call her Drew.” Mad did a belated introduction.
Mary Ellen looked to be a bit older than us, maybe fifteen and my attention was drawn to the little dimple in her cheek that crinkled every time she spoke! Cute! Mad was giving me ‘The Look' as the girl addressed me directly.
“Hiya Gaby, Maddy has told me all about you.”
“Er hi.” I managed colouring up a bit.
“Mary Ellen's staying with Ms Bell for the weekend.” Mad explained.
“Yeah, Aunt Jess thought Maddy could do with some company.”
“So Gab, what've you been up to?” Bernie enquired.
“Not much really.”
“Sab thought she'd seen you at the mall yesterday.” Darla mentioned.
“Er yeah, I had to buy some stuff.” I admitted.
“Urgh! I hate it when I'm on.” Mary Ellen shared with us.
On? What is she on oh my god she thinks I'm having a period! Mad and Bernie didn't help my embarrassment by their barely contained snorts of laughter.
“What's so funny guys?” Mary Ellen asked looking a bit peeved.
“I don't think Gab was shopping for her monthly visitor, were you?” Mad suggested.
“Um no, I needed some new clothes as someone didn't pack enough.” I turned bright red.
“I said I was sorry.”
“Cool what did you get?” Darla asked.
So I spent the next twenty minutes giving my audience a blow by blow of my visit to Harrisonburg Mall.
“There you guys are, oh hi Mary Ellen,” Brit greeted us.
“Oh hi Brit, Gaby was just telling us about the mall yesterday.” Mary Ellen replied.
“Mom sent me to find you, they're just about to start serving the food.”
Now she came to mention it, I could smell something pretty good on the air!
“Great! I'm starving” Bernie mentioned.
“Me too” Mad enthused.
Brit led the way to where a good-natured crowd waited relatively patiently for their chance at the food. And for a spur of the moment gathering it was quite a spread! (I found out later that everyone pitched food into the communal pot, Mrs Walters had donated a couple of trays of her famous caramel brownies.) There was quite a choice, baked potatoes, hot roast beef or pork, some sort of fish beside what Darla called ‘weeners', but looked like chipolata sausages, and burgers. There was more than enough to go round that meant that I got to sample nearly everything! The sausages were a bit crappy, not even as good as Sainsbury's Economy, but everything else was okay or better!
By the time I'd helped with the clean up operation, the more sporty elements were already itching to set off on the return trip.
“It's a bit further going back,” Deb advised.
“You could go back the short way if you want to” Brit mentioned, “but its more fun going the full route”
Well that's a challenge if I ever heard one! Five minutes later I slid to a halt at the back of some very intent skiers, my shoulders and forearms already starting to complain.
“You sure this is a good idea?” Mad asked slipping in next to me.
“If Brit and the others can do it, we can”
“Well okay then, but lets not get carried away huh? My arms still ache from the trip out here.” Mad voiced her concerns.
“Okay Mad, no racing”
Someone blew a whistle and all hell let loose around us. There were ski's and poles seemingly going in every direction but soon the ‘bunch' were away in front of us and Mad and I tagged onto the back of slower, less technically able group. Even they were going at a fair pace and by Mad's already laboured breathing it was clear we'd have to slow up quite soon.
“You go on Drew” Mad panted as I checked on her progress.
“No way, I'm not leaving you alone and anyway I think I prefer doing this a bit slower.” I admitted.
I fell back so that we were scooting along next to each other. We skied along in silence for a while, our ragged breathing providing a staccato counterpoint to the whoosh whoosh of the skis.
“So” Mad started.
“So” I agreed.
“Are you really okay? You know with having to be Gaby.”
I thought about that for a minute, “sort of”
“Well it's a bit of a hassle, you know trying to act like a girl all the time”
“Even us real girls want to kick back some times” she put in.
“The longest I've been Gaby before is a few days, I don't know whether I can keep it up for another five weeks.”
“Its not your fault Mad.”
“Well I feel sort of responsible, after all I packed your case.”
“What's done is done. If anyone is to blame it's the Walters sisters but I'm just as much at fault, after all I agreed to go on with it.”
“Whatever. Anyway how are you getting on with Miss Bell?” I asked changing the subject.
“Okay I guess. You'll have to come over, she's got this cool cabin place, her dad built it as a holiday place but she lives there full time. Mary Ellen is her brother's daughter, they live in Monterey. Jessie, Miss Bell, says we'll go over in a couple of weeks to visit.”
“I miss our chats,” I admitted.
We shooshed along in silence for a bit. The trail was easy to follow and a weak sun sprinkled its light onto the shimmery snow. My skirt was still funnelling cold air up to freeze my nether regions and I had to make an unscheduled stop for a wee, not easy in a long skirt out here in the wilds covered in snow. What I'd give to be me so I could just stand and aim! I felt much better having emptied my bladder and we set off with renewed vigour.
This was certainly a longer way back and the watery sun was dipping towards the horizon long before the lights of the diner hove into view. A couple of dark figures came toward us, as we closed the gap they were revealed to be Deb and Jules.
“Thank god Drew, they're just about to raise a search party. Where did you two get to?” Jules gushed.
“Nowhere, we just couldn't keep up.” I stated as they fell in beside us.
“Just wait till I get hold of that sister of mine, she's gonna be so grounded” Deb fumed.
“What for?” Mad asked.
“She knew you'd go for the long route, what she didn't tell you was that its an unofficial race, there's no way you'd keep up for long. Everyone here ski's and its your first time, no contest.”
“We didn't have to go” I tempered.
“Come on Drew, when was the last time you didn't take a challenge? And Mad, you always go with him.” Jules pointed out.
“They're here!” Deb called to a bunch of adults, which the lights from Jacks Diner revealed to be the Walters senior, Miss Bell and a couple of what looked like policemen.
“You two okay?” Mr W asked as we slid to a halt.
“Bit cold,” I admitted.
“Lets get you inside, just wait till I get hold of that daughter of mine.” Mrs W fumed.
We traipsed inside and after assuring everyone we were okay, some hot chocolate appeared and I started to thaw out.
We'd been warming for about twenty minutes when a voice I vaguely recognised broke through my fug.
“Hey Gaby, good day skiing?”
I looked round to find Diane, the girl from yesterdays ride, with another girl and Derek, her mate from the ride.
“Oh hi Diane, Derek”
“So good day?” she pursued.
“Pretty good, I've never done skis before”
“Hard work eh?” Derek mentioned.
“Yeah. Oh this is my cousin, Maddy”
“Hi Maddy, you're not a bike rider too?” Diane asked.
“Well nowhere near as good as Gab here.”
“Did she tell you she beat us all to the cabin yesterday, poor Erin was spitting feathers!” Derek grinned.
“I didn't mean to upset anyone”
“Don't be daft, she was mad at herself for not seeing what you were doing. Its clear you are a chip off your mothers block.” Diane put in.
Mum! Here I am sort of enjoying myself and she's ill at home.
“… Well see you around Gaby, nice meeting with you Maddy.” I just caught the end of what Diane was saying.
“Er yeah, bye”
There was an exchange of farewells and I found myself alone with Mad again.
“How is Aunt Jen?” Mad asked.
“They operated earlier in the week”
“We had a good chat last night, she's feeling a bit better.”
“That's good right?”
“Well Dad said that she might not seem ill all the time even when she's pretty sick, but the doctors are optimistic.”
“So when will they know, you know?”
“Might be weeks or even months, Dad said.”
“Oh. Well give her my love when you talk to her again.”
“I'm afraid Mad. I might never see her again. I'm scared.”
I cuddled into her embrace, it felt good and comforting.
“What are you two up to?” Jules voice broke the moment.
“Talking about Aunt Jen” Mad supplied as I wiped a teary face on my sleeve.
“Oh” Jules mood changed.
“Maddy, time to go!” Miss Bell's voice called out.
“Looks like everyone is heading home” Jules stated, “I was just coming to fetch you sis .”
The three of us made our way to where the last stragglers of the Call were saying their goodbyes. Rhod, Ally and Bernie were already gone; Sab was catching a lift with Miss Bell, Mary Ellen and Mad. Out in the car park it was clear that the cold, white interlude would be over soon, the tarmac was mostly clear and there were distinct signs of it thawing. The Forester ride back into town was less exciting than the outward edition earlier today; my arms and shoulders were more than ready for a hot shower!
Maddy Bell 24.04.05 © 2005
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