After the excitement of Wednesday evening, Thursday was mostly back to normal, well as normal as things get around here. The snow had started to recede overnight; it must've warmed up at some point I guess. The big difference really was that the AHS cheer coach, Ms (call me Bunny) MacDonald, had agreed to help Miss C and Miss Bell to fine-tune our performance. To you and me that means we get an extended practice this afternoon.
“And one and two and three and four” Bunny was really putting us through the wringer. “And stop! Hold it ladies, keep smiling Allison, and relax!”
“Urgh!” I sighed.
“God I'm glad that's over” Bern agreed.
“Well done girls.” Miss C stated, “tomorrow will be a full uniform practice so don't forget to bring them with you Gaby Bond.”
Why pick on me?
“No miss, I mean yes miss.”
Mad giggled at that.
“Well good luck girls, I'll be watching you keenly on Saturday” Bunny told us before taking her leave.
Mrs W was waiting with Brit out front so I didn't get a chance to talk with the gang – we never seem to really get together like we do at home. I really miss just hanging out with my mates, its like, I dunno, it makes me feel sort of empty.
“I said how did your session with Bunny go?”
“What? Sorry Brit, I wasn't listening”
“I guess not, well?”
“Britney, leave her alone.” Mrs W chided.
“Its alright Mrs Walters.”
“No its not Gaby, Brit can be a bit of a bully.” Don't I know it! “I'm sure will tell you when she's good and ready Brit.” What was the question?
“Why're we pulling in here?” Brit enquired as Mrs W steered the Forester to the kerb in front of the ‘Grottoes General Store'.
“If you want dinner tonight I need some supplies, you girls coming in or waiting here?”
“Coming” I told her with more enthusiasm than I felt – it was either that or be trapped in the car with Brit. Well and I was curious.
Let me start by shattering any romantic notions of a quaint little village shop, the Grottoes General Store is housed in what looks like a big tin shed. I don't know what I was expecting but I was disappointed to find it was like a downmarket supermarket. No frills, pile it high, you know the sort of thing.
Brit disappeared to the magazine rack, Mrs W set off with a trolley with the wheels wanting to head in four different directions and I just mooched along behind her. My first impression wasn't far off, the shelves were stocked with the normal stuff just in tins and boxes that weren't the market leaders – generic I think its called, generic corn flakes, baked beans, soft drinks. Sainsbury's its not but I guess you could live okay without branded goods. I don't think Mrs W shops here a lot; she didn't seem to know where anything was.
“You like anchovies Gaby?”
She shook her head and smiled, “you are a daydream Gaby. Do you like anchovy on pizza?”
“I dunno, what is it?”
“Here” she tossed the tin over, I looked at the label.
“Well I'll give anything a try”
“I'm sure you will, “she grinned placing the can in the trolley.
Hey I'm a growing boy, I need to eat!
“Anything you need while we're here?”
“Chocolate?” I offered.
“Okay, you best get some for everyone while you're about it.”
I had of course already located the spice department and a few smart steps placed me in front of the selection. I know it's difficult to believe, nearly four weeks and this is the first time I've got to check out any kind of range of confectionary. Nothing on the shelf was immediately recognisable, I've heard of Hershey bars but never had one and …… I decided to just grab a selection and that's what I did. Then I added a bar of milk chocolate!
“Shush Dad, Gaby remember”
“I, er how are you doing er lass?”
“Fine, where's Mum?” poor Dad, I never even really said hi properly.
“She's doing okay er, Gaby. Your Aunt Carol has taken her out for a meal this evening.”
“Oh.” I must've sounded like a spoilt brat. “I was gonna tell her about the bike I'm borrowing for Atlanta.”
“You could tell me, or I'm sure it'll keep till tomorrow.”
I never really manage to open with Dad like I do with Mum. And I don't think I really try to talk to him much either, not really. Well I was all abuzz ready to tell some one about it.
“Er okay, its brill.” And so I told Dad all about it, well not quite all, not about my name on the top tube or the pink bar tape or the Dolce saddle, well he didn't really need to know those bits did he. I actually realised that although he doesn't really ride much he does know more than I ever give him credit for. Until tonight I didn't realise how much he really does for me, I'm all fancy this, new that, Dad is keeping it all running, changing tyres and chains, sorting out the techy stuff. After twenty minutes I finally came to appreciate him more, I was still surprised that he knew more than Mum about the latest kit, I have always assumed Mum was the kit person. It dawned on me that in fact Dad did most of that stuff while Mum concentrated on riding. And it dawned on me how important the Dads and Georges of this world are to their charges.
“For not talking to you.”
“I'm sure I'll live” there was a slight catch in his voice.
“Jules is here”
“Okay s…lass, take care”
“Bye Dad, give Mum a hug from me”
“I will Gaby, I will.”
Friday was a drag. Every lesson seemed twice as long and twice as boring. We did our dress rehearsal, which I think went pretty well, our tormentors seemed happy enough afterwards anyway.
“So okay girls, we're travelling up with the Augusta girls in the morning, everyone know how they are getting here?”
“Yes Miss” we chorused.
“Okay then, off you go, I'll see you in the morning at seven sharp.”
No rest for the wicked. I caught a lift with Em and Sandy back to the Walters but instead of going straight in I decided to take a quick stroll around the block which is how I came to be staring through Erin's shop window.
“Gaby isn't it?”
“Huh?” I swung round, scared out of my wits.
“Don, Don Tanner? I work Saturdays for Erin? This here is my brother,”
“Hooch” the other lad put in.
“Sorry if we scared you.”
“Er you didn't, well just a bit, surprised me,” I babbled.
“So you out with Erin tomorrow?”
“Um no, I've got a cheer contest”
“Whoa bro, you never said she was a cheerleader.” The one identified as Hooch stated.
“I didn't know” Don replied.
“You ride?” Hooch actually addressed me this time.
“Way cool, me too. You fancy catching some air at the skate park?”
“She rides road bikes dummy”
“Don't mean she can't ride X”
“I um ought to be going home”
“Pity, rain check on the park?”
“Erm yeah okay, er see you”
“Later” Hooch grinned.
“Sorry for him Gaby, see ya around.”
They both picked up their bikes and with Hooch leading off did a bit of showing off as I stared after them.
My walk back to Walters central was occupied with an array of confused thoughts. Was Hooch coming on to me? I should be revolted by the mere idea but strangely I'm not – well not entirely. In fact Dons brother sort of fascinated me and disturbingly I found myself comparing the two brothers. What am I doing? And now I was intrigued by the skate park, it sounds sort of edgy, I've always thought of BMX not being real bikes, in fact only bad boys ride BMX. But Sam is okay and Hooch, well Hooch sort of fits my picture of a BMX er, maybe I need to check out the skate park.
“Where have you been Gaby Bond?” Jules interrogated me when I got up to the attic.
“After, that finished ages ago, Mad rang for you, she said Sandy gave you a lift”
“She did, I er went for a walk,” I allowed. “What did Mad want?”
“Just reminding you to take your camera tomorrow”
“Oh” I really want to talk with her.
“…And Mrs W is driving Debs and me up a bit later in the car to watch.”
“You really do give blondes a bad name bro.”
I went to bed early but couldn't sleep. My mind jumped about, tomorrow's competition, Mum, Hooch, Mad, Atlanta, well pretty much anything. Mum had listened to my spiel about the bike, I watered it down a little from what I told Dad but she was still a bit down on it. And Hooch – why the hell am I thinking about him? What is Mad up to? I really miss talking with her and the rest of the gang. Atlanta should be good, Sunday should be good. I hope we don't show ourselves up tomorrow, I mean the Americans practically invented cheerleading didn't they?
“That's us Bunny” Miss C told the cheer coach.
“Lets get this show on the road then, George if you please.”
“Okay ladies, take your seats.”
Our big yellow bus moved off but I doubt that many on board actually noticed. I'm sure there was a competition to see who could talk loudest and no one was taking prisoners. Augusta High actually has two cheer squads, the seniors and Brits squad, the juniors and according to Brit there is quite a bit of competition between the two. For competitions though they combine into a twenty-girl squad, well not strictly girl, there are three boys in each team too. I bet they don't have to wear the girls uniform!
We joined the Interstate and started the long drive north to GMU for the East Coast Cheer & Dance Championships. I was actually suffering with nerves, which reduced me to near silence. I didn't feel like this at home, when we went to Peterborough or even the basketball thing at Retford. Mad left me to it so once again I missed my chance for a good chat.
It's a couple of hundred miles up to Fairfax where we were headed; there is just no way a busload of girls could last almost four hours without a comfort stop. We were nearly at Front Royal when we did stop; I was one of the first off and promptly lost my breakfast! Talk about embarrassing, I am just never sick normally. I did at least feel better and the last leg east to the Fieldhouse sports facility on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University went much better for me.
The actual competition was due to start at one so we had plenty of time so while Bunny and Miss C went to register our arrival, Miss Bell took us for a quick peek at the venue. I was pretty impressed, I guess The Patriots are the university team because there were big name boards up all over the place. The hall itself was huge, and I mean huge, around the edge was a running track and the sort of track centre had three basketball courts! As we watched there were people setting up for this afternoons competitions, which I gathered, would be run on a similar basis to Peterborough except bigger.
“Okay girls, we are on at two fifteen so we'll go and eat now then come back to get ready. You need to wear the id tags Miss Bell will pass out at all times except when you are performing. Questions?”
We were just still a bit overawed by the place.
“No? Okay then, lets find the canteen.”
From what I've seen at home, this place is nothing like Oxford or Cambridge. We trooped after Miss C who seemed to know where she was headed, across a large open area surrounded by modern-ish buildings as we finally approached one of the buildings our destination was clearer as I spotted some obvious high schoolers giggling at some poster. Of course there were real University students about too, not that many as it's a Saturday but I felt very um young and unsophisticated in my denim skirt and winter coat. Why do I care what the students think? Geez. I could see the others doing the same though, comparing themselves and maybe holding themselves a bit different – weird or what.
The canteen matched everything else about this place, it was huge! Well pretty big anyway. For the first time during the trip I truly felt like we were in a foreign country. Pretty much everyone around us was talking English but some so accented I couldn't really understand it – not that I was eavesdropping but they were talking pretty loud! We only had something light to eat, Miss C promised something a bit more filling after our performance – I guess she's right and the chicken soup did at least warm us all up a bit.
We made our way back to the sports complex, there were now a lot more yellow school buses in the car park and a lot more girls – well mostly girls, there were a few boys but it was nearly all girls. The AHS squad was on before us and anyway they were competing in a different category. I thought it was pretty serious when we went to Peterborough but this was way more intense, you could almost touch the tension in the air.
Once we were dressed and primped we headed out to the hall to watch a bit of the competition. Compared to back home, a lot of the stuff was purely designed for competitions, complicated set pieces and maybe a little too perfect. I'm sure I wasn't the only one of the Foresters feeling a bit out of their depth; at least I wasn't on the verge of spewing again!
All too soon it was two o'clock and we had to go into the holding area. On the way in we hit the lav's, well nerves you know and a chance to finish dressing. We started getting some strange looks immediately we appeared outside, hmm perhaps Miss C was right, this whole thing is a performance, theatre and maybe a gimmick would even out some of our inadequacies.
“All the way from Notting ham, England the Sure wood Foresters” the tannoy's announcement seemed to bounce around accompanied by some polite applause and a few cheers, I guess from the AHS squad.
Our music started and I had the job of being first out onto the floor. Were the crowd stunned into silence or just being polite? I gave myself a little chuckle, we've surprised them, and I even saw the judges sit up more as we started the routine. The first part was almost in slow motion, not that you could move that quick wearing this lot. Oh I never told you did I? We've got our regular uniform on underneath but we've started in a simplified Victorian dress, no glitz or anything.
When she first explained the idea to us I wasn't exactly keen but despite the short time we've worked on it I think its pretty cool. We started with a few sort of ballet moves then a bit more movement with some ribbons before forming up again as the music softened. ‘One, two, three, four, five, now!' I counted to myself and we did a Bucks Fizz move, shedding the heavy dresses to reveal our real uniforms. I barely noticed Miss Bell help Miss Cowlishaw drag them out of the way as we went straight into our high-octane display. At the back of my mind I heard a roar of noise but there was no time to think, just count off the moves and smile, that's what Bunny said, smile.
It seemed to last forever but be over so quick and I landed my splits spot on cue to finish. The music stopped and there was a pretty good reaction, well I thought so anyway. With so many squads taking part we were ushered off the floor and joined our ‘coaches'.
“Well done you guys” Miss Bell beamed.
“I think you stunned them a bit” Miss C added passing out our coats.
“Can we watch for a bit?” Ally asked.
“I don't see why not but don't wander off, I don't want to spend hours searching the campus.” Miss C agreed.
On one hand I wasn't that bothered but there again I wanted to see what the ‘locals' do. From the perch we found at the back of the stand we could see both arenas and I found myself caught up in some of the action packed routines the bigger groups were performing. By contrast the smaller teams like ourselves seemed a bit leaden, I hope we had a bit more action than some of this lot.
“Hey guys, well done,” a familiar voice stated.
“Thanks Bunny” Mad replied for us.
“That was an interesting entrance.”
“Miss C thought of it after Gab got to wear a similar dress a few days back.” Em explained.
“Well from the mutterings I heard already, people liked it.”
“Thanks,” Bern stated, “how did Augusta do? We didn't get to see them.”
“Well I don't think we'll get a trophy today but we should qualify for the Eastern Board.”
“Kewl.” Ally allowed like she knew what that meant.
“I best get back, see ya later girls”
“Bye Bunny” Mad told her departing back.
I passed my bar of choccy round while we watched, hmm that's good not exactly Galaxy but fair enough. I was sucking away happily when another voice broke through my daydreams.
“There you are”
“Oh hi Deb, Jules not with you?”
“Here” my sister announced plonking herself next to me.
“Didn't know you were coming” Em mentioned.
“Mom always goes to competitions and with you guys here too it was double reason.”
“So what happens now?” I asked her, “you know like after everyone's performed.”
“Well the judges make their decisions and the awards are given out. I don't think Augusta will win anything though.”
“Nor us” Bern added.
“Hey don't put yourselves down.” Deb stated.
“We think you were really good,” Jules confirmed.
Well at least we had a go, it was quite good fun.
Eventually it was over and it was down to a last few minutes wait. Its good sportsmanship to honour the victors but taking part was clearly not enough for some as they left before the results were out.
“Put your dresses on girls” Miss C urged, “quickly now”
What the hell for? Ah well at least its warm!
“Under sixteen's, small group,” the tannoy boomed. “Special mention, Saint Charles Speed.”
There was a bit of a cheer and they collected their award.
“In third place, Culpeper Heat!”
A repeat but with a slightly louder cheer. We weren't going to get anything so we cheered everyone regardless. Looking about though some of the others were a bit more serious.
“Second place goes to…Chesterfield Saints ”
We gave a bigger cheer, even if it was a different Chesterfield! There were quite a few glum faces in the crowd.
“And in first place with a most innovative set, all the way from England, The Sure-wood Foresters!”
Em and Ally were doing a jig already.
“Come on girls, shake a leg.” Miss C beamed, “show ‘em how it's done”
Maddy Bell 21.02.06 © 2006
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