Onward Christian Soldiers
“Up you get!”
“Breakfast on the table in five”
I cracked an eye, which didn't help as the blurry vision was of an unfamiliar room. And that voice, its sort of familiar, not like Mum or the gang, no more like recognising a teacher. Teacher, teacher.
I sat upright with a start and now with both optical devices in operation rechecked my surroundings. The room was in that sort of pre dawn greyness you get during the winter, the semi opaque curtains helping to keep the light level low. Nothing seemed familiar, except, is that Mad's coat on the back of the door? Instinctively I checked the bed for other occupants but I appeared to be alone. My brain slowly started working, Mad's coat, Miss Bell – Virginia! So I'm here because?………aaargh! I'm Maddy! No hang on that's wrong.
“Gaby? You getting up hun? We're going to church this morning.”
Gaby. My mind faltered for a moment before finally engaging fully. That's it, I'm Gaby and, and, and me and Mad swapped accommodations, hang on, no one else is supposed to know. The last clue finally slid into place, Miss Bell just called me Gaby which must mean she knows about our deception, that's it, I remember now,
“Your sister gave me these for you”
“Um thanks” I accepted my tub of iron tablets. Hang on, sister?
“Yes I know.”
“How? Well I must admit I would never have realised but for your earring.”
“Earring? We swapped everything, well apart from redoing our nails.”
“Well I thought you were acting a bit odd with Sam last night, especially after Tuesday but it was only when I saw you tonight that I got it. That extra piercing at the top, Maddy doesn't have it but Gaby does. Ergo, the girl answering to Madeline is actually Gabrielle. Am I right?”
I decided to come clean.
“Guilty as charged” I admitted.
“So what's it all about?”
“I bet Mad that I could convince you I was her all weekend, I guess I lost huh?”
“I guess so, what was the prize?”
“If I lost I have to stay as Mad all week, so I guess that's me.”
“That so bad?”
“I suppose not but I'll never hear the end of it.”
“And if you had won?”
“Well we just go back to normal.”
We drove in silence for a while.
“Well maybe I didn't figure it out Maddy.”
“Well I think a couple of days is fine but a week? You'd not be able to get a break from the Walters again; I know they can be a bit full on. If you need to have a break again we can manage a few days don't you think?”
I felt for my betrayer in the top of my ear, gee thanks Sylv! A rumbling tum acted as a prompt to actually exit the bedding and start the process of making my dishevelled appearance halfway presentable. Hey, didn't Miss B say food was in five minutes? She did, sod getting dressed up, food first!
“There you are”
“Not dressed.” It was a statement rather than question.
“Well never mind, we have time, the service isn't until ten, best get these pancakes before they go cold.”
The smell was truly unbelievable, a sort of vaguely warm dough with a hint of almond and lemon. My mouth was watering before Miss Bell, Jessica, placed the plate of food on the table.
“Dig in missy, there's more batter if you want more.” She smiled knowingly at me.
I didn't need a second bidding, I could get used to this although I can't say I'm a great fan of maple syrup. Still it's rude not to sample everything and I try to be polite and when another plate appeared, well it would be a waste wouldn't it? By the time I finished I was well stuffed and it was tempting to leave the dishes for Miss B but I cleared the table intending to do my share of the clean up.
“Its all right Gaby, I'll do that. Go get yourself ready for church, a dress or skirt please.”
Thus saved from domestic servitude I headed to Mad's room. Church. I can't remember the last time, or if I have ever been to church for a service. Oh I've been inside quite a few, Dad likes exploring the old ones at home, but a service? I guess like most people I know, the Bond family is nominally C of E, I know Jules and I were christened, I've seen the pics – was that my first time in a dress? Both of us used the lacy relic that is the family Christening gown. We used to have prayers and hymns and stuff at school but last year that stopped, some politically correct thing Mum said so we are hardly practising Christians. Now today Miss Bell is dragging me to church, not even as me, or even Gaby, no, I'll be going as Maddy!
Okay so that's not the end of the world and I've done it before. But before Mad has always been around to help, today it's just me and I have to dress up- in her clothes! Geez. I finished my ablutions and headed to the wardrobe. Where did she pack this lot? Compared to my paltry selection at the Walters this was ridiculous. And I've got to go through Mad's stuff to find something to wear, not good.
I found something I'd never seen Mad wear, it was a skirt with a matching jacket that even I thought looked pretty smart, sort of high class. It was sort of familiar but I couldn't work out quite why. Should I wear it? I made the decision and half an hour later I joined Jessica in the kitchen.
“Well don't we look fine?”
“Is it, you know alright?”
“Well Miss Bond, I'm sure Miss Peters will have no cause to worry over her reputation. Remember you have to be Maddy while we are out.”
I fidgeted with ‘my' skirt, it seemed pretty short but the patterned tights and jacket, even if it was only short, leant me more confidence than I was feeling.
“Come on then, times a wastin'.”
I hadn't realised before I stepped outside that it would be so cold; in fact the wintry sun was doing very little in the way of heat supply. I nearly went flying on some black ice on the steps, only a grab for the rail saving my dignity.
Miss B was already at the car, which had a layer of frost on just about every surface. The lock wasn't frozen however so we were soon inside the icy tomb of the Jetta and after a couple of goes the engine spluttered into life.
“The heat will be through in a minute”
My chattering teeth were my only reply.
Within a minute warm air was indeed blowing around my legs and the screen was clearing in double quick time.
“Put your window down.”
“To clear it off, you can put it straight back up.”
I complied and we started away.
When the car did a little squiggle on about the fourth patch of black ice I silently noted that I was glad I wasn't on a bike, after last years icy episode I've got a bit more concerned over that sort of thing. We drove in pretty much silence; I didn't want to break Miss B's concentration!
It wasn't far to the church and I was surprised when we turned into a rapidly filling car park. Surprised because at home the only time I'd ever seen this many people at a church was for weddings and funerals! Once parked we excited the Veedub and joined the steady stream of people heading across the freshly gritted car park. Whilst trying to remain inconspicuous I looked around at the other churchgoers. I recognised a couple of kids from the school with their families, everyone was dressed up, I guess Sunday Best is a reality around Piedmont. It wasn't weather for dawdling and we soon joined the throng in the vaguely warmer interior of the church.
I said before I wasn't really religious, Mum and Dad have always said we should make our own minds up on that score, so the ensuing hour long service was a bit of an eye opener. I was in fact in a mild state of shock by the time we filed outside. Between singing a few hymns and a couple of readings, the pastor gave us the full fire and brimstone stuff and these people seemed to be enjoying it! There was a fervour about the whole thing and I realised what Mum meant when she said that Hitler was a good preacher. Some of what Pastor Brown said was so far from what I've been taught and read that it may as well have been Nuremberg.
I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable with a lot of what he was saying and I think I realised then what religious fervour, not just Christian but Moslem and Judaism really means.
The voice broke my train of thought.
“And Madeline. Good to see you here.”
The voice belonged to Mr Roberts and his irksome son was at his elbow.
“Hi Cory, where's Manda?”
“Buttonholing the pastor, it's the bakeoff next week.”
“You wanna walk?”
“You fancy a walk Maddy?” Sam pressed.
“Don't be long.” Miss B mentioned. Gee thanks.
After the beating my brain had just had a walk didn't seem such a bad idea, even with Samuel Roberts.
“You look real nice this morning.”
I shivered a bit, my short skirt was not exactly offering much warmth to my nether regions and an hour on a wooden bench hadn't helped much either.
“You cold? You're shivering.”
“A bit, its not exactly summer”
My humour obviously looped straight over his head.
Im found myself engulfed in his jacket, he was a fair bit bigger than me and it swamped me and reached down to my hemline. I saw him shiver a bit himself after his act of chivalry but I must admit to being grateful for the extra layer.
“You wanna hang this afternoon?”
“I, um don't know what we are doing yet.” I didn't mean to sound so down on him, I was supposed to be keeping him sort of sweet for Mad. On the other hand what the heck am I thinking, I don't want Mad doing stuff with this ape, well mannered or no.
“I'll have to ask Miss Bell.”
“A few of us go to the diner, I can get you a lift back if you can get.”
“Okay, I'll ask but no promises.”
Was I really arranging a date – with a boy! Maddy Peters you will owe me big time for this. Not that I had any intention of going to the diner but Sam didn't know that.
“There you two are.” Miss B stated as we returned to the porch.
“I was just asking Maddy if she fancied hanging at the diner later.”
“I'm sure I could drop her off after lunch.” Nooooo!
“That okay Maddy?”
“Er thanks, you'd best have this back.“ I slipped Sam's jacket off and shivered anew.
“‘Bout three then, have to go, Dad's waiting.”
“Bye Maddy, Miss Bell.”
I belatedly added a ‘bye'.
“Lets get back home in the warm.”
I just followed her back to the car, grateful to be out of the freezing air.
“I told you before, its Jessie.”
“Jessie, do I have to go with Sam this afternoon?”
“Don't you want to? I thought you might want to, quite a lot of kids go, it won't just be Sam.”
“And I've got a meeting with your teachers this afternoon, you don't really want to be stuck at my place all afternoon.”
“I guess not.”
“Well that's settled then. Go and change when we get home, I'll start on lunch.”
Well at least I could wear trousers now. I didn't realise just how cold my legs were until I started to slip my tights off – very was the reality so I pulled them back up and pulled Mad's jeans on over the top. I decided on a bit of layering on top too, a second short sleeve t before I slipped on a cardi. I was actually feeling a bit cosier by the time I returned to the ground floor.
“Great timing Mad, lay the table please”
“Er sure, where's the stuff?”
“Oh sorry Gaby, I thought you were your cousin, you two really are like twins! The canteen is under the counter.” She waved vaguely across the kitchen and with a minimum of draw shuffling I found the cutlery.
“Just soup for now okay? We'll eat properly later”
“Sure” maybe I can grab a burger at the diner!
“Its cauliflower and pea” Miss B pronounced as she ladled the pottage into a couple of soup plates. Sounds terrible but it doesn't smell too bad.
“Don't wrinkle your face like that”
“Bread? There are some baton rolls in the hamper.”
I guessed she meant the bread bin and soon I was ready to tackle the bizarre soup. Well I was pleasantly surprised. The soup was fairly smooth with small bits of cauliflower and garden peas floating in the creamy stuff. So okay it wasn't Heinz 57 but I can recommend it. The warming properties of even meat free soup are quite good and it topped off my warmth level just right! I could have managed a second helping but the idea of getting a burger in a short while was quite appealing. I tackled the washing up; well I stuck the stuff in the washer, while Miss B got her stuff together.
I took a deep breath, “I guess”
“Well get your coat and bag then.”
Twenty minutes later I found myself stood outside of the Diner debating whether I could make a run for it before anyone saw me but a tap on the window scuppered that idea, Samuel Roberts had me. Well it was cold outside even in jeans so I walked up to the entrance and pushed the door open.
“I said she'd come” Sam virtually shouted.
Sam was with several other teens in a window booth and with an inward sigh I headed over. Of the others in the group, three lads and two girls, I only recognised Sam and one other, Dan Martin. Oh brother, just what I need a homophobic maniac and I'm dressed as a girl.
“Hey Mad, you warmed up now?” Sam greeted when I arrived.
“Er yes thanks”
“Sam you dog!” one of the unknown lads whooped.
“We were at church Chuck!”
“You gonna introduce us then Sam?” one of the girls asked.
This was not good, what was Mad up to with this gorilla?
“Guys, this is Maddy Peters from England,” Sam started the introductions, “Maddy we've got Chuck,”
“We've met, hi again Mad”
“Er hi everyone.”
“Sam!” one of the girls humphed.
“Oh yeah, the blonde is Sherrie and the one pulling a face is Jem”
“Er hi” I smiled.
I don't really get all this girl stuff, the girls seemed to be checking me out, the lads too but there was something, I dunno, evil maybe, in the looks Sherrie and Jem were giving me.
“You'd best sit over here hun, away from the BOYS” Jem advised.
I'd prefer to sit somewhere else altogether.
“I thought it was you,” a vaguely familiar voice stated.
“In the flesh. You want to order?”
“That would be great thanks.”
“You guys all set?” she asked my companions.
“Can I get another soda” Jimbo waved his cup.
The lack of reply was answer enough and Sandy departed.
The tone of the afternoon was set when the lads started talking sports and the girls seemed to pick up a previous conversation which seemed to centre around putting just about every other girl in school down! I sat and listened, trying to feign interest but I didn't understand either conversation. Sandy delivered my chocolate and I used that to hide behind. I caught Sam grinning at me once or twice but it was actually the inspection I seemed to be getting from Dan; which was giving me more concern. After his reaction to Em last summer I was not exactly his number one fan.
So this is what hanging out with the guys is like, I'd almost prefer being with Sam on his own. My previous experience on this trip has been that people are curious about us Brits, to the point of embarrassment. My people skills are not great but it seemed that this lot were going for indifference, as though I was nothing out of the ordinary. I'm not saying I am, but you know what I mean eh? When the girls included me in their discussion it was to garner my impression of one of the female faculty at Augusta high.
The next time Sandy came over I asked for a menu, maybe food would help pass the afternoon a bit quicker. The others deemed it a good idea – at least we had food in common! I could have murdered the ‘double half pound cheeseburger with bacon' but Mad would never order that. Instead I settled on a ‘double Swiss' with a portion of onion rings, it would have to do until dinner.
The diner was fairly quiet this arvo, a few older kids were playing billiards and I saw the local bill stop off for coffee at one point. I have to say that I've had more stimulating conversations with myself than this lot were having.
“You want a lift Sis?” one of the seniors called over.
“I guess” Sherrie allowed.
“You girls off?” Chuck enquired.
“Uh huh, you wanna come to Sherries Maddy?” Jem asked.
I was tempted, and I think it was almost expected by the group, including my ‘date'.
“I'd best not, Miss Bell is picking me up from here in about thirty minutes but thanks for asking, maybe another time.” Best leave Mad's options open for her.
They gathered their stuff and I found myself in the company of just the four lads. Sam grinned at me and Dan still seemed to be measuring me up, Jimbo and Chuck however seemed more intent on discussing the virtues of the recently departed girls.
“Fancy a chat?” Sandy enquired.
“Please,” I made eye movements to indicate the current leching.
“Excuse us boys, Mad and I have stuff to discuss”
She half dragged me up to the counter where we took a couple of the fixed stools.
“How's R-Em today?” I asked
“Oh she's gone with my folks to some play down in Richmond”
“Oh” when I saw Sandy I sorta hoped Em would be by at some point.
“So how are you? Em is always on about you guys being so close an all, it must be difficult being so far from each other.”
There is something about Sandy, you feel you just have to like her. But there's something else too, something that I can't pin down, something that separates her from just about every other girl I've ever met.
“It is a bit odd,” I allowed, “we usually meet after school most days and I've hardly seen Ally or Bern.”
“That must be hard Mad.”
“It's a bit lonely.” I agreed.
“But you're making new friends eh?” she nodded toward Sam raising an eyebrow.
“Sort of, but its not the same.”
“I meant to ask before, but I never get Jessie or Mom at the right time, how come there are only two guys with you. I'm sure Mom said there were two your age – in fact, now I remember – wasn't there some thing with the Martin kid?”
What does she know? Her Mums the school counsellor so she probably got to know all about Dan and… bum! Rhod is staying with her! Does she already know about Em?
“Hey you okay girl, you've gone really pale.”
“I, er yeah”
“You want another drink? You look like you need one.”
She left me to go and fetch another drink and my imagination started running overtime. Did she know there was something fishy about me being here as Gaby rather than Drew? Would I be exposed?
“Here you go, better?”
I tried to keep my voice even. “I er didn't realise you knew about Dan.”
She rolled her eyes, “how could I not? Mom was all for excluding him when she found out, he owes Jessie big time and he knows it! Oh, is that why the kid he stayed with didn't come? I should have realised before.”
Well she might be seventeen but she's not the brightest bulb in the box.
“It er might have been, I don't really know.” Keep it neutral Drew boy.
“Sandy! Table six!”
“I'll be right back Mad.”
She left, almost skipping to do her work.
I sipped at the fresh drink, Sam and his mates were getting a bit noisy and I caught Dan looking my way. What could I do? I gave a little finger wave – well it seemed right. I watched as Sandy happily took orders and joked with her customers, she seemed so happy and carefree. I envied her that, Mum is at home very sick and I'm here, thousands of miles away supposed to be enjoying myself. I suffered a pang of guilt when I realised that I have been having a good time for the most part. Why did you have to get sick Mum?
“You're looking thoughtful”
“Oh, er not really.”
“I had like an idea? What do you think if I threw a pyjama party for you guys at my place? You could all come over and hang out, sleep over. What do you think?”
I could see a couple of problems but it sounded quite appealing.
“I'll talk to the others, sounds good.” I tried to sound enthusiastic.
“oh hi Jessie”
“Hi Sandy, you ready Maddy?“
“Er yeah” I had missed her coming in.
I realised that my coat and bag were still in the booth with Sam and co – damn!
“Just need to get my stuff.”
“I'll wait here.”
I think she was being diplomatic but I flushed anyway as I walked over.
“Heya Maddy, having a good time?”
“Er okay, my lift's here.” I motioned towards the counter.
“Aw, I thought you were gonna hang some more.” Sam sounded genuinely sorry.
I shrugged, “sorry.” Its not like we had actually been doing much of the ‘hanging out' stuff.
“See ya in class tomorrow?”
“I guess,” well it was inevitable wasn't it but it would hopefully be the real Mad and not me. “Well bye boys.”
“Byeee Maddeeeee” Chuck drawled.
There was that something in Dan's look when he added “later Maderlin.”
I started to make my escape but Sam managed to cut me off and I was the very unwilling recipient of a sloppy lip kiss. Yeuk! Maddy Peters, we need a talk. I broke free and crossed the diner to a raucous chorus from Sam's ‘friends'.
“Er yes” I replied between mouth wiping attempts. Maddy you owe me big time for this.
“Come on then, lets go eat.”
Ms Bell led the way out into what was now a dark and cold exterior. The moon was big and bright in the clear sky and easily lit the way to the Jetta.
“So you have a good afternoon?”
“I've had worse.”
She obviously missed my irony as the Veedub growled into life.
“You seemed to be getting on well with Sam?”
We turned the wrong way out of the parking area to be heading straight back to Piedmont.
“Where are we going?”
“I thought I said earlier, we're eating with my parents tonight, down in Lexington.”
Maybe she misread that,
“It's okay, you're dressed fine, my folks are really easy going. I hope your hungry, Moms doing a pot roast.”
My burger chose that moment to repeat itself.
“It's a bit of a drive, reach in the glove box, there're some CD's in there, lets have some music while we drive.
Maddy Bell 20.12.05 © 2005
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