On a Wheel
It might be January but the weather is being pretty kind to us. Take this morning, it looks a bit frosty outside, the cars in the street are white over, but the sun is out and it looks like it'll be a nice day. Apparently there's still snow up in the hills where I was on Saturday but it's much milder down here in the Shenandoah Valley. I really need a ride today, all that cheer stuff yesterday is alright but I'm itching to get out on Erin's bike again. Hey maybe I could ride to school?
“So would it be okay if I ride to school this morning?” I asked Mrs W over breakfast.
“Well I suppose so”
“What about your school bag – and your Home Ec?” Brit joined in.
“Oh yeah” I slumped into my chair.
“Tell you what, I'll drop you all at school, the bike can go in the trunk then you can take a ride after class. How's that sound?”
It sounds pretty good to me! I eagerly nodded.
“Well that's settled then. I'll leave loading up to you Gaby, the car keys are on the counter.”
“Thanks Mrs Walters.” I beamed.
With the bike, two lots of exercise clothing and the dressmaking materials, it seemed like the Forester was half full with just my stuff! I know it might sound a bit sad but the prospect of going for a ride this afternoon boosted my spirits no end. Mrs Pryce, the Home Ec. teacher, was well impressed with the dress pattern, even after I admitted getting some expert help. Apparently being steamrollered by the Walters women got me some Brownie points for ‘using your initiative Gaby'. Whatever. At least I didn't have to wear the damned thing again; there is just no way I'm stripping to my underwear in school – well outside of the gym anyway.
The continuing winter sunshine bolstered my outlook and the fact of my apparent gender couldn't dampen things. Through the rest of the days classes I even started to enjoy myself. I guess that the improving news from home has started to lift the veil of melancholy that had descended over the last couple of weeks. The weekend shopping expedition had, amongst other things, supplied ‘proper' gym kit, well as proper as girls kit goes. It's still embarrassing leaping around in what Mad christened ‘baruma', it's a Manga thing apparently, but much less so than Brit's leotard outfit! That was just too much last week, I must organise retribution!
After gym, instead of my street clothes I changed into my bike gear, entrusting Brit with my other stuff – will I never learn? I collected Erin's steed from the secure compound and with a promise to meet the others at Jack's Diner after my ride. I nearly fell off the bike when I realised that the whistling and catcalls as I excited the car park were aimed at me. That put things back in context. Here I am setting out for a bike ride thousands of miles from home, but its not Drew doing the pedalling its Gaby and Gaby is getting the reactions that ‘fit' girls get. I can't say that I'm very comfortable with that – or at all!
Having a somewhat limited knowledge of the roads round here, I've had to utilise the fairly pants tourist map of the valley that Miss Bell handed out last week, to plan my route. Not exactly Ordnance Survey but better than nothing! I dropped down the Waynesboro road for a short way before turning off towards a place called Piedmont. It really was quite pleasant, certainly not what I expected before I got here, the countryside is, well I suppose it's a bit like a slightly bumpier Cheshire.
I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of historical stuff, its supposed to be stuffed with loads of Civil War and Revolution battlefields, more Dad's scene than mine. Whatever I was missing, the ride was relaxing, little traffic and pleasant scenery. Piedmont was soon behind me and Knightly was the next village on my route. Yep, it was certainly not what you first think of for America, no desert or rolling plains, just human sized fields with cows and a few sheep, a few orchards bare of leaves, the rows of stubby trees standing expectantly – no this isn't what I was expecting at all.
After Knightly the lanes took me north, the sun lowering to my left as I bowled along at a steady thirty kph, not race speed but enough to get me breathing heavily! I eventually joined a more main road and followed the signs for Timber Ridge. I didn't get all the way there; I picked up signs for Port Republic, which according to my map would take me fairly well straight back to the diner. It was as I dropped towards the ‘town' that I spied a couple of bikies in front, sorry can't resist a challenge!
I assumed a semi tuck position and snicked up a sprocket, the drop to the river aided in upping my speed to forty five kph and instead of taking the back lane I'd planned on, I continued on the main road in hot pursuit of the two riders. They looked vaguely familiar, a slightly chunky rider and a more svelte figure – I wonder? Nah! Although it is Wednesday. I was just about on them when I passed a sign warning of a T junction, right for Grottoes and something called Grand Caverns, I think Mr Walters mentioned something about a visit there while we are here.
My rabbits turned my way and I swept onto the 340 behind them. It is, it's Diane and what's his name, Derek – Kewl. I eased a bit to get my breath, they still hadn't noticed me, then with a quick check behind I started the final assault.
“Afternoon” I mentioned as I nonchalantly pedalled past in a low gear.
“Wha?” Derek gasped.
“Gaby?” Diane was more on the ball.
“Oh hi Diane” I grinned looking back and easing down, “didn't realise it was you.”
“Do you always ride like you're passing Sleepy Hollow?” Derek asked.
“Nah, sometimes I use the big chainring”
“You off home?” Diane enquired.
“No, I'm meeting the others at the diner.”
“We're heading there too, we always get some pie and coffee after our Wednesday run.” Derek advised me.
“I think I saw you there last week, I was the one doing the splits”
Diane chuckled and shook her head.
“So you guys been far?”
“Forty k's, how ‘bout you?”
I checked the comp, “nearly fifty by the looks of it”
“How long has that taken you?” Derek enquired.
“Lets see, four fifty, I didn't leave school till twenty past three, so that's an hour and a half, I was just pootling about until I saw you up ahead.”
Diane shook her head again.
“You've done ten k's more than us in five minutes less!”
“But you were taking it easy right?”
“That's the sickening bit, we were actually giving it some most of the time” Diane admitted.
It was sort of embarrassing having her make that admission and me showing off when I passed them too.
“Well I'm not offering to sprint for the name board” Derek joked.
I'd spotted it out of the corner of my eye about a hundred metres further on, bum!
“But I will” Diane stated dropping around her mate to get a clear run.
Oh goody! I dropped a sprocket and took her wheel, letting her do all the work. I sneaked a look past her and went for the kill, the back wheel skipping a little as I headed for the imaginary line.
The northbound car sounded its horn as I used a fair bit of road width in my sprint. I freewheeled and navigated into the diner's car park, not needing to pedal all the way to the door.
“You really are something missy” Diane stated as she joined me.
“Did you realise your back tire was jumping all over back there?” Derek asked easing up a moment later.
“Er was it?” I asked all innocent.
“You know it was.” He answered his own question.
“You wanna join us for coffee?” Diane asked.
“Sure, but I'd best touch base with the others first”
“What'll it be?” Derek requested.
“Could you make mine white tea”
Once inside I used my radar to locate the gang arguing in a window booth.
“There you are Gab. Good ride?” Mad enquired.
“Great, you'd enjoy it Mad”
“Where'd you get to?” Amy asked.
“Piedmont, Knightly and then up and round to Port Republic”
“In under two hours?” Sabrina exclaimed.
“So you want a drink?” Brit suggested.
“Diane's getting me one thanks”
“Um yeah, she's over there with Derek, did you remember my shoes by any chance?”
“Here ya go” she handed me my trainers and gym bag.
“Er Gab” Mad whispered in my ear, “you might want to um freshen up a bit, you smell like a pit pony”
Did I turn red. So that's how I ended up in the ladies lav of Jacks Diner having a strip wash! Five minutes later an admittedly fresher feeling Gaby joined Diane and Derek at the counter.
“Thought we'd lost you” Derek stated.
“Just doing a quick change” I allowed pulling my trainers on properly.
“Sandy? Can we get that tea now please?”
“Sure Diane, oh hi Gaby, good ride?”
“Er yes thanks”
Well the next hour or so the three of us covered everything from Saturday's ride with Erin to what it was like at the Tour finish.
“So that was you in those pictures?”
“Er yes” I admitted
“It'll be you up there for real soon, I just know it” she went on.
“Anyway Gab, we've got to ride back to the factory so we'd best get off. I'll talk to Erin before the weekend and we'll show you the fabrication shop and Derek's computers”
“That'd be great Diane. Thanks for the tea and buns”
“No problemo wunderkind, see ya Saturday”
“Saturday” Derek confirmed cocking an imaginary gun at me.
“Bye” I waved to my new friends.
I headed back to where a depleted student body were sorting out their tabs with Sandy. Most of the gang had already been collected or departed, of ‘our' gang there was only the Walters and Jules left. I saw Rhod leaving with Mad and Miss Bell a while back, when the others left I've no idea!
“Hi Gab, Diane gone?”
“Mom'll be here in a few” Deb mentioned from behind me.
“Looks like you made an impression there Gab” Brit mentioned from inside her purse.
“She's pretty cool”
“Pity ‘bout Derek”
“What do you mean?”
“He's got a girlfriend already”
“Get real girl!”
“Give over sis. His SO lives Up Valley someplace according to his cousin Monica” Deb advised. Why I needed to know that I don't know.
A horn sounding outside drew our attention; Mrs W's Forester was waiting.
After a shower, dinner and a call from Nottinghamshire in which Dad told us that Gran was going to stay at ours to look after Mum, I ended up in the family room watching the box. It was mostly drivel and somewhere around ice hockey highlights I switched off and found myself going over today events.
This has to be about the best day so far. Good news from home, a good bike ride and even school was okay. Diane is so cool, fancy having your own bike factory? It'll be pretty cool to see it on Saturday, I'll have to make sure its okay with the Walters, I'm sure it will be though.
I hope I can get out to explore the lanes a bit more, I wonder if Mad would fancy a ride? Have to ask her tomorrow at school. I hope I don't attract any more male attention though, that was so, I dunno, weird I s'pose. But not good! It's bad enough with Clive lusting after me; I don't need half of Augusta High doing the same!
There are some pretty hot girls though; Deb's friend with the short red hair is well cute. Not that I'm in a position to make a move on her – or anyone else, it'd be well weird asking another girl out. Another girl? What am I thinking? This Gaby business is turning me queer or something, I'm not even thinking like Drew anymore!
Thursday arrived a bit more wintry than the last couple of days although the grey cloud's promise of wet didn't materialise. School was quickly becoming routine, I've just about cracked my timetable and unlike at home, they all keep the same classroom. Now that I'm not so entirely wrapped up in Mums state of health I've started taking a bit more notice of other stuff. Today for example I realised that I'm under constant scrutiny everytime I walk between classes or have a mixed class. I suppose I should expect some male attention, it's the couple of girls who watch my every move who unsettle me most. Either they've seen through Gaby or they fancy her, I mean me, which means they are lesbo's, I must ask the others what they think.
Anyway after school we had cheer practice and Miss Bell started to help fine tune our routine. I thought we were pretty good but as Miss Bell pointed out, here in America they've been perfecting the whole shebang for as much as fifty years! With all the ‘faults' she found it looks like we are on a hiding to nothing in three weeks time.
The news from home was pretty neutral, Gran is arriving tomorrow, Mum's getting restless and the latest lot of tests were inconclusive, I think that means okay, Dad was at least pretty upbeat. Mom, I mean Mum was eager to hear about yesterdays ride but told me off for showing off with Diane, it was hardly sporting to set her up for that sprint, well that's what she said, the smile in her voice betrayed some amusement.
I looked out of the attic window onto a Grottoes being thoroughly washed by insistent rain. It would do it today wouldn't it; we've got a trip today, just us Brit's this time although Miss Bell is tagging along as guide. I actually managed to dress fairly gender neutral, just one of my T's and the black jeans I got at Harrisonburg with my trainers. Mind you any illusions that I might have had were destroyed by having my hair in ‘practical' bunches – if they are so practical how come it was only me wearing my hair that way! I've been duped again haven't I?
Our trip wasn't that far, about an hour's drive so once again we met at school after homeroom. I was surprised to not find George's big yellow bus waiting; instead there was a minibus, a not very American Mercedes! We all clambered on board, no one wanted to hang about in the rain, and we started the drive to Luray Caverns.
“Cute bunches Drew” Mad mentioned with a smirk sinking down beside me right at the back.
I gave her a dirty look.
“Don't tell me, Brit's idea, what did she tell you this time?”
“She reckoned it was practical”
“Well it sort of is, come here lets take them out.”
I turned so she could free my locks.
“You really ought to stand up to her you know”
“Easier said than done, I bet you wouldn't do any better”
“That's a no brainer, I'm not staying there”
The seeds of an idea were placed with her statement.
“I bet you couldn't last two days at the Walters without Brit getting you doing something stupid.”
“Bet I could”
“Okay clever clogs, prove it”
“And just how am I going to do that brainbox?”
“Well everyone reckons we look like twins, we could just swap places, you go to the Walters and I'll stay with Miss Bell.”
“That'd never work”
“Well what about Jules for one”
“We could let her in on it” I allowed.
“And Miss Bell?”
“I reckon I can pretend to be you well enough, you don't walk round naked or anything over there do you?”
“So its do-able”
“Lets do it then”
“What's the bet then”
Great! I've got her.
“How about if you last two days, forty eight hours we swap straight back. If Brit catches you in one of her schemes you have to stay for a whole week.” win win!
“There's nothing for me in that”
“Well the bet is about you staying out of Brit's clutches, you get to crow about it if you win”
“If we do this, when?”
“How about today”
“Why not? I'm up for it”
“Let me think about it”
“Chicken” I jibed.
“I am so not! Okay we do it today until Sunday.”
“Deal!” I was maybe a little too eager.
“We'll swap clothes and stuff later, in fact I'll put your hair back up so Miss B doesn't clock something's up, we can swap hairstyles later too.”
Me and my big trap! Ah well its in a good cause.
The rest of the drive to Luray was spent briefing each other so we didn't get tripped up, I even worked out a plan for ‘Mad' to go into town so I could go for my ride with Erin. Mad was sure Miss Bell would go for it, I hope so! The rain had eased but not stopped by the time we pulled into the car park for the Caverns so it was a mad dash to the entrance building where we gathered whilst our guardians did the paying business.
“Okay kids” Mr Pilling got our attention. “We've got a few minutes before our tour starts so use the facilities if you need to. Do not go shopping there will be ample time for that later! Pay attention inside, there will be a test later to see what you've learnt!”
A chorus of groans greeted that news.
“Five minutes then” he finished.
Despite my jeans and tights, my bladder needed emptying as much as the next girl so I joined the others to queue for the ladies. How I wish I could use the gents! We were soon reassembled and our guide came to meet us.
“Good morning everyone, my name is Agnes and I'm your guide to the Caverns. I understand y'all from England, I hope you're enjoying your stay in ole Virginny and that you enjoy the Luray Caverns”
Geez, she never pauses for breath!
“The Caverns were discovered in eighteen….”
Agnes certainly knew her stuff, keeping up a continuous commentary as we moved from cavern to cavern with names like Titania's Veil, Saracens Tent and Totem Poles. The stalactites (tites hang down) and stalagmites are amazing, the colours incredible. It was a bit scary when she cut the lights in one cave – total darkness, your eyes think they can see stuff but you really can't see a hand in front of you!
The most bizarre thing was the Stalacpipe Organ, some mad scientist type built it about fifty years ago, it uses the stalactites as natural organ pipes somehow. Talk about eerie, you can just imagine the mad scientist playing deep under ground – da da da dar, diddly dur dum! Just like in those old films.
We moved on through the Giants Hall, Frozen Fountain and the Empress Column to finally re emerge in the entrance building. I hope my pictures come out.
“Well this is where I leave y'all. I hope you enjoyed your visit to Luray Caverns, I hope you have time to visit the Car & Carriage Caravan and the Singing Tower before you leave.”
“We will thank you Agnes, appreciation please” Mr P instructed.
Its always a bit weird doing it but we all joined in a round of applause for our guide, even if she did never shut up for over an hour!
“Okay people, we're going to break for lunch now, I know it's a bit early but we've got a lot on today. So back here at twelve sharp, we'll go to the Tower and motor museum before we leave.” Miss C instructed.
A whole hour! I'm starving.
“Come on Gab, we can swap now, we might not get a chance later.”
“If you shake a leg we'll have time after” Mad pointed out.
We slunk off and commandeered the disabled toilet. You know when you think you can't be embarrassed any further? Well my cousin had me glowing! When I suggested the swap I never thought beyond a superficial swap but Mad pointed out that if we were gonna pull this off we would need to be thorough. Why Mad was wearing stockings I never did find out, or strappy sandals for that matter but we were soon wearing each others clothes and Mad then used me as a template to adjust her appearance and hair before attacking me. The final touch was to change our earrings, I got her drops, and she got my gold hoops.
“What now Mad?”
“Well we don't have the stuff to sort them, we'll just have to chance it.”
When I looked in the mirror it was well spooky, Mad was me and I was Mad.
“Come on Mad, we've still got time to eat and shop – just!”
“I'm Gaby and you're Maddy remember?”
“Oh right, I'll remember.”
“I hope so or the cat'll be out”
It was difficult to remember to answer to Mad not Gab but I think I did it okay. No one seemed to notice anything, maybe this will work. We assembled at the appointed hour and we dodged the wet to reach the motor museum bit. It wasn't great but there were a few neat cars, I think I like the Nurburgring museum better though. The rain had actually stopped by the time we emerged to go look at the Luray Singing Tower, which is officially known as the Belle Brown Northcott Memorial.
Jessica Bell smiled as the English kids joked amongst themselves as they walked towards the Singing Tower. They're a great bunch of kids, more mature than a lot of our students their age, it's a shame we couldn't have had them here in the summer but they don't seem too bothered by the weather.
The Bond girls seem a lot happier today, I keep forgetting that Gaby is really Drew, he'll make a great actor! She chuckled to herself. And Maddy, those two are nearly inseparable on these excursions, maybe I should get Drew to stay over for a couple of nights, keep Maddy company, I've got the attic room he could use. There's something different about Maddy today, I can't place what though.
“…Was built in 1937 and stands almost 120 feet high. There are forty seven bells and its one of America's finest Carillons.” Mr Pilling finished.
“What's a carillion Sir?” Bern asked.
“Carillon, it's a set of bells Bernie”
“Like St Johns?” I suggested.
“Yes Maddy, the church bells are technically called a carillon when they are automated otherwise you need bell ringers or campanologists.”
That's it, Maddy has changed her finger polish, Jessica mused as she listened to the conversation .
A resumption of rain had them all scuttling to the mini bus, time to move on.
Maddy Bell 11.06.05 © 2005
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