Instead of heading back the way we had come we started to follow the ‘211' east, following signs for Thornton's Gap and Skyline Drive. It was a bit weird sat next to me, or rather Mad wearing my clothes, and I know it was sort of my idea but my current ensemble is a bit, let's just say not my personal choice! The damned stockings are actually those elastic top things and in this skirt it's proving to be a little fraught keeping the tops covered. Why couldn't Mad have worn jeans or at least a longer skirt today?
“Mad, Mad !” Mad shook my arm.
“Duh, wake up Mad”
“I am awake,” I complained.
“Well what's it like being me?”
“I could ask the same and keep it down” I whispered back.
“There's still lots of snow up there”
“Yeah” I agreed.
Our bus continued to climb and we soon passed a sign proclaiming ‘Shenandoah National Park'. The little hamlet of Thornton's Gap seems only to exist to service tourists and even on this dreary January Friday there were a few RV's, (that's what the Americans call them, they are actually big campers) and my sharp eyes picked out some ‘out of state' registration plates as we waited to turn onto ‘Skyline Drive'.
The continuing drizzle did little to improve the views between the trees out over the South River valley and instead the slightly steamy interior of our minibus took on the conversations of a load of average teens, our teachers all sat up front content for now to leave us to it. I realised this duplicity will be harder than I thought as the conversation flitted around me. I know Mad and the others well but its clear that as Drew there is stuff I don't get the inside track on, compared to me my cousin is going to have a doddle of a time.
The wet eased off and we pulled up at a viewing area. Damn its cold in this skirt! The wind whipped around us as we went to look at the panorama.
“Lets get a group photo.” Mr Pilling suggested.
Just what I need today!
We were herded together under a sign proclaiming ‘Franklin Cliffs Overlook' and with me fighting my skirt an old couple in one of those camper things were roped into taking a bank of photos. Things never turn out how you expect do they? There was me, barely a fortnight ago thinking that I'd be out here as me, now not only am I having to be Gaby full time but now I'm in even deeper swapping with Mad. It's bad enough when everyone you know is treating you like a girl, they now all think I am a girl! I wonder how Mad will get on at the Walters?
Back in the bus we continued south, the world outside the minibus was more interesting now we could see it, Mad pointed out a couple of huge Eagles soaring over the forest and I'm sure I saw some sort of deer in the woods. We drove on for a while before turning off of the tourist drive onto route 33, quickly descending back into the Shenandoah Valley.
We had a brief stop at a place called Elkton for a brief history lesson from Miss Bell. Apparently one of the Civil War Generals, Stonewall Jackson made his headquarters here about 140 years ago to plan his spring campaign. We looked at the old house, built in 1827, although it wasn't open Miss Bell pointed out Jackson's sparse living quarters on the first floor. Can't say as I was that impressed. We reloaded ourselves into our transport and started to follow the river south back towards Grottoes.
Just when I thought we were safe, we pulled up at a sign proclaiming ‘The Coaling – Civil War Battlefields'. Oh joy.
“I said we'd look at a real battlefield when we were in Richmond” Miss Bell started. “These are the Port Republic and across the river, Cross Keys battlefields, just one of dozens of sites where the fighting in the early 1860's was particularly bitter.”
I recognised that name, it's where I caught Diane and Derek on Wednesday. Thankfully the rain has given way to weak sunshine, I found myself herded along as Miss Bell started to walk us over the battlefield explaining, to a largely uninterested audience the events of that far away conflict over these currently peaceful meadows. It might not be raining now but the grass was still wet and my sandal shod feet were quickly wet and cold!
It was actually dark when the minibus, now with just Miss C, Mr P and Miss Bell with me parked up at Augusta High.
“Well goodnight Jess, Maddy” Mr Pilling mentioned as he headed to the car he and Miss C were borrowing for the duration.
“We'll be over about ten in the morning,” Miss C mentioned.
“See you both then, goodnight Maddy, Jess”
“Er night Miss”
“Come on Maddy, if we're quick getting home we'll just catch ‘Buffy'
I followed Miss Bell across the car park; I refuse to call it a ‘lot', and stopped by her car. I'd not taken any notice when I'd seen it before but it was actually a Veedub Jetta, our neighbours used to have a red one, I think Miss Bell's is silver, the lighting out here is a bit dodgy.
“Come on, get in”
The door took a bit of effort to open, the catch was stuck and it needed a bit of assistance from Miss B to get it open.
“I really should let the auto shop look at that, Doug Jenkins said it's probably just a bit out of alignment when I asked last Fall.”
So started an almost non-stop, one-sided conversation all the way back to my temporary home. Mad's observations were pretty accurate and I recognised the house from her description, even in the dark. Mind you I never realised before that she lived out at Piedmont, I almost rode past the door the other day. I tried to remember what Mad had told me about the layout, if I remember right it's a bit like Bernie's place and Mad's room is upstairs to the right.
Well we did just get in before Buffy started and for thirty minutes I defrosted my feet in front of the telly.
“Is that the time? Damn. Come on Maddy, shower and change, the Roberts are expecting us in an hour”
“The Roberts?” Mad didn't say anything about this.
“I told you this morning, we're having dinner with the Roberts tonight, Samuel's parents remember?”
Samuel, who's Samuel?
“I er must have forgotten, all the stuff at Luray,” I bluffed.
“Well remember to put on something nice, not jeans.”
“Er okay” Maddeeeee! Just you wait!
I made my way up to ‘my' room, resigned to whatever Mad has set me up for. The room was pretty much as Mad has described it, a bit chintzy with a brass bedstead and a recently converted en suite bathroom in what I guess used to be a walk in wardrobe of some sort. Hmm, hang on, there's a phone in here, Maddy Peters you're not getting off that easily.
“Er Hi, this is G-Maddy Peters, can I talk to Ma-Gaby please?”
“Oh hi Mad, its Deb. Sure I'll just call her down.”
I waited for what seemed like eternity before a voice I recognised came on the line.
“Its me Mad”
“D-Mad, what's up?”
“I'll give you what's up! Dinner at the Roberts?”
“And just who is Samuel?” I demanded.
“I forgot about that”
“Honest. I'm sorry” Mad did actually sound like she meant it.
“So who's this Samuel character?”
“He's in my homeroom, he gets a lift home with us sometimes”
“There's nothing going on,” she blurted.
I never thought there was – until then.
“Really, we just do homeroom together, honest.”
I thought it best to play it by ear on that point.
“Okay, but what am I supposed to wear? Miss Bell is expecting some sort of debutant I'm sure.”
“Don't get so melodramatic. I brought a posh frock, by the way I like the stuff you got at the weekend, these red shoes are well cute!”
“Don't take on so. If you go in the wardrobe my good dress is hanging up, you should find my undies in the dresser, left side, just don't go poking around.”
“Yeah well, remember the ride in the morning”
“Okay. Have a nice dinner”
“Bum, we're supposed to leave in thirty minutes!”
“Well see you tomorrow Maddy ” she emphasised.
The dress was where she said and with minimal digging I found fresh underwear, the lacy set looked like they'd do the trick. Clothing sussed, I headed to the shower.
I was late but that ‘s typical Maddy anyway.
“There you are Maddy, my you look real nice in that dress”
“Um thanks, it was a birthday present”
“Well whoever bought it for you has great taste”
I blushed a bit, when I bought it in Chester I imagined how Mad would look in it but I never envisioned wearing it myself. I know I'm actually trying but the fact that I actually looked passable as Mad wearing it was a little disturbing. I'm just glad that Mad doesn't wear too much makeup. Lippy and a smear of eye shadow; I've seen it put on enough so it only took two attempts to get it passable. I don't think I could do it every day though.
The drive to our dinner date was barely five minutes from start to finish; it was only at the other end of Piedmont.
Damn, I wish I could have worn something a bit less, um filmy, the temperature was less than tropical and Mad's frilly's aren't exactly designed for warmth!
“Hi Jessie and you must be Madeline, Sam never stops talking about you. My, that's a pretty dress you look like a model!”
“Hey Maddeeeee” a slight and spotty youth bounded into the hall that we had now moved into, this must be Samuel. “Glad you could come, you enjoy the caves?”
God, how do I do this? Its one thing to dress up in Mad's stuff and look like her but this, I've no idea! Well I'll just have to go for it.
“It was quite nice”
“Come on kids, Sam don't keep Madeline out here, take her through to the family room” Mrs Roberts directed.
“You wanna coke Maddy?”
What does Mad drink? You'd think I'd know wouldn't you?
“Have you got any Diet?
“Er sorry I mean lite”
“Oh sure, that's all Mom drinks”
“And who's this delicate flower” I blushed deeply as the voice of, I presumed, Mr Roberts greeted our arrival in the family room.
“Dad this is the girl I told you about, Maddy Peters. Maddy this is my Dad.”
“Well nice to meet you Miss Peters, come on in and grab a seat”
“Um thanks Mr Roberts”
“Call me Cory”
“I'll get that drink Maddy”
“Okay” casting my eyes around the room I spotted a safe seat and headed that way.
“You don't want to sit way over there Maddy, come sit by the fire”
The seating options were suddenly reduced to an overstuffed armchair or the sofa, in what I'm wearing the chair looked safest.
“So Maddy, my son being a bore yet?”
Is he? Maddy!
“Er not really, well I don't think so” was that the right thing to say?
“Well he seems well taken with you, its Maddy this and Maddy that”
I blushed deeper but was rescued by the arrival of Ms Bell and the rest of the Roberts family.
“What have you been saying Cory Roberts?” his wife asked.
“Nothing Mand, hi Jess”
“Hi Cory, you got one of them for me?”
Sam brought my drink over while his father got up to fetch one for Miss Bell. I sipped carefully and took the opportunity to check out the rest of the room. The layout was different but the features were the same as back at the Walters house, a big telly, comfy chairs, music centre, small bookcase and a fireplace decorated with family portraits. There are obviously more family members than these three as the pictures showed a girl and another lad.
“Dinner will be about ten minutes,” Mrs Roberts mentioned.
“I um, excuse me, but could I use the toilet please?” that coke has gone straight though me!
“Oh sure Madeline, Sam show her the way”
Sam jumped up from his perch on the arm of my chair, when did he sit there?
“Come on Maddy, its only out in the hallway”
Getting out of the chair without exposing myself was not that easy but I think I managed it. Once in the smallest room I pulled my tights and pants down and collapsed onto the seat. How am I going to get through this? It's hard enough just being Mad but this!
Well luckily, with the three adults playing interference any hopes that Sam had of advancing his relationship with Mad were effectively stomped on. The food was okay and most of the conversation centred around Sam's siblings, Jane who is away at university and Joshua who joined the Navy last summer. The worst thing about the evening was Mad's underwear, by the time Mrs R, ‘call me Manda', served dessert, strawberry cheesecake that I'm sure was out of the freezer; the knickers were really starting to itch!
After we'd eaten I was really quite surprised when Ms Bell said we'd have to leave in short order. It seemed a bit rude, like we used them for a freebie feed. Sam's face dropped at the news, I think he was hoping to get some one on one with the object of his desires, me. Actually a quick departure took nearly an hour! By the time we got back to ‘our' house it was after ten.
“Um Miss Bell?”
“Tomorrow morning, could I um go and meet Drew?”
“I don't see why not, you planning anything particular?”
“Well I think Drew's got something organised but I'm not sure what.” too right I have!
“What time are we talking Maddy?”
“‘Bout nine?” I winced hoping that would be okay.
“Starting that early it sounds like you have a full day planned. That's fine, I wasn't sure what to do tomorrow, with you organised that's one thing less to worry on. You need to confirm with Drew?”
“Well I told him I'd ring if it wasn't on”
“A positive negative huh?”
“You not ringing is good”
“Oh right, yep”
“You want cocoa tonight?”
What did Mad say? Oh yeah.
“No thank you, I'm pretty tired, I think I'll go straight to bed.”
“Okay then, sleep well and I'll see you in the morning”
“G'night” I gave her a peck on the cheek. How weird is that, but Mad was most emphatic about that ritual.
Jessica watched her charge head off to her room on the second floor.
‘There's definitely something different about her this evening. And she was much quieter tonight than usual, cool even towards Sam; I could swear she's been flirting with him all week. Maybe it was something that happened today?
Tomorrow is good though, I need to go see how Rhod and the Jones household are doing, I'd best give Fran a call we can get breakfast at the diner instead of her and John coming right out here. And I can catch up with some paperwork too.'
With a sigh of relief Drew shut the door behind him and turned the lock.
‘What a night! Still, it looks like I've pulled it off though. And tomorrow with Erin and Diane is sorted.'
He stripped off his clothes, or rather Mad's clothes and replaced the dress with Mad's pyjamas. A quick visit to the lav and he collapsed into the frilly confines of the bed. After lying there for a few minutes, he realised that there was something about this room and the bed, he hadn't noticed earlier but it smelt. Not unpleasant mind although it was strong, a sort of flowery smell, a bit like, hmm, yeah a bit like that perfume Sylv Morgan wears. The essence seemed to fill the room and Drew fell asleep still trying to put a name to it.
It was still dark when Drew woke to the unfamiliar sounds of rural Virginia. A tractor trundled noisily past setting off a cacophony of noise from the local bird population. He checked Mad's alarm, six thirty! Well might as well get up, I wonder how Mad's getting on with Brit?
A shower later and dressed in jeans and a thick jumper he decided to venture down to the kitchen.
“I was just gonna come call you up” Miss B mentioned as he poked his head into the kitchen.
Miss Bell was sat at the large scrubbed pine table with her breakfast and a pile of what was instantly identifiable as schoolwork. It reminded him of last year before Mum stopped teaching; there were always stacks of stuff to be marked around the house. It's a funny thing to miss but not having that clutter when Mum went to Germany made the house feel even emptier.
“Just catching up on some marking” yeah Mum would do that.
“You okay Madeline?”
“Erm yes thanks. Is there any tea please?”
“I just put the kettle on, I don't know how you drink it this time of day though, I need caffeine!”
Drew caught himself before making a smart Alec reply.
“You want eggs on toast this morning?”
“I'll do it. Do you want some?”
“Not for me, you know where everything is if you want to cook”
Well no I don't, but its not rocket science!
It was ten to nine when Miss Bell dropped ‘Maddy' off at the Walters house; ‘Drew' was waiting on the front step.
“You made it then.” Mad stated.
“Yeah. So you got everything ready?”
“Of course I have, I'll just fetch it out”
A couple of minutes later I was holding my rucky and Mad had Erin's bike.
“I'm off, see ya later” Mad called back through the door.
“Later Gab” Brit's voice replied from somewhere inside.
I pulled the door shut and we set off for Erin's shop.
Maddy Bell 27.06.05 © 2005
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