Back at the Walters it was all a bit weird.
“What am I supposed to wear tonight?”
“How should I know?” Jules was being less than a help.
“What are you wearing?”
“Thanks for nuthin'” I mumbled to myself. I surveyed the piles of clothing on the bed, much, much more than I started out with five weeks ago. The fact that my ‘Drew' options ran to a few t's and a pair of jeans was a bit depressing but hopefully I can at least be me when we get to Washington tomorrow. Doesn't Josh live near Washington? T & W rather than DC of course. I bet no one thinks he's a girl.
“Are you getting dressed or what?” Jules acerbic tones woke me from my musing.
“I dunno what to wear,” I sounded a bit whiny even to me.
“Geez!” she came over and after a quick rummage pulled some stuff out. “Wear this, it's not formal or anything.”
Well I wouldn't've picked it myself but I guess it was okay. Well not too bad anyhow.
The ‘do' was at ‘Pru's'; you remember the place, where we had the reception when we arrived. We took Mr. W's car as we could all fit in it, at a bit of a squeeze.
It barely seemed like yesterday that we arrived and here we are getting ready to leave already. It was a bitter sweet evening, pretty much everyone was in attendance, even Sandy had got the night off to come. We posed for photo's, ate, drank and danced; I seem to be doing a lot of this stuff lately! As the evening wore on a few long faces started to appear, it was like a contagion, soon just about everyone was getting morose.
Miss C took the floor. “On behalf of everyone from England I'd like to thank all the host families for their hospitality, Augusta High for putting up with us and everyone else from Grottoes who have made us all so welcome and made our trip so enjoyable. I know I, well I'm pretty sure all of us, are sorry to be leaving, the time has flown by.”
There was a round of polite applause.
“Thank you Fran,” Miz Bell started when it quieted, “I'm sure that without exception you will all be missed when you leave tomorrow. You've taught us that we can be a bit stuck in our ways and I hope we've taught you something about our way of life. I think it's fair to say that your visit these last weeks has had a positive impact on transatlantic understanding much as we hope our trip to Warsop last year did. It has certainly been fun and interesting and I hope you will all be taking home a positive impression of our little community. Before we all head for our beds just a reminder that departure time is eight o'clock in the morning from the AHS bus park.”
Of course there were a few groans but at least the return trip was going to be staggered unlike when we came over.
“Right girls, not too late now. There's ice cream in the freezer and soda in the pantry.”
“Thanks Mom.” Debs answered for all of us.
We were congregated in Deb's room, the four of us, two Walters and two Bond's. It was a bit edgy, I don't do goodbyes that well and it wouldn't ‘ve taken much to have us all in tears. The ice cream made a positive change to the mood tho'.
“Wish you didn't have to go” Brit mentioned, “It's really been great.”
“Well the ice cream's okay I guess,” I allowed.
“You, you” Brit made a halfhearted attempt at a swipe.
“Um sorry ‘bout the Gaby stuff Drew” Deb stated.
“Me too” Brit agreed.
“Well I can't say it was all good but I'll live.”
There was little point to hold a grudge and all in all I think things worked out okay and indirectly I have Brit to thank for the trip to Atlanta, she did after all get me set with Erin and a bike. There were so many good things on the trip, the fact that I did most of them as Gaby is by the by. I guess Gran is right when she says you only remember the good times, the bad get pushed to the back of your queue of memories.
February is still winter! I know some people think summer starts straight after Chrimbo but today's weather is definitely winter. It was cold but quite bright when we finally left Grottoes a bit after eight this morning but we are now in a queue of slow moving traffic heading into Washington with a good dose of snow falling around us, it's a good job we aren't flying today cos I think we wouldn't be if you get my drift!
“Okay kid's” Mr. P attracted our attention, “due to the weather we are going to turn our itinerary around a bit. Instead of stopping off at Arlington this afternoon we will go straight into Washington and if the weather is better on Saturday we will come out to Arlington.”
Bummer, Saturday was supposed to be a free day. Route 66 was crawling towards the Potomac and I could see the sense in postponing today's stop but I really don't want to miss the chance for some shopping in the US Capital. I've hardly bought any presents and I don't really want to be buying prezzies at the airport!
After some deliberation between our chaperones and George as we crept along the freeway it was decided that we would get the two bob tour of DC before George dropped us at our hotel. The weather was defiantly crappy and no one fancied getting off the bus! So that's what we did, I couldn't tell you half of what we saw but we did get to see the White House and The US Capitol building. My first impression of the place was that it was a bit like London but all squeezed into Hyde Park! Not that that is bad but it seemed a bit like something out of that 1984 book that Jules had to read last semester. Geez I'm even talking like the Americans now!
It was getting dark by the time we crossed back over the river to our accommodation in the suburb of Falls Church. By the time we were all checked in it was definitely time to eat and I was the first one back to the lounge ready to answer my stomachs rumbling. Of course nothing is ever straight forward and after five weeks of rooming with my sister I was a bit put about to be sharing with someone else, even if it was Rhod. Not that I have a problem with that, we are both boys so it makes sense, no the problem is that Rhod is still in Em mode. So okay I'm not exactly He Man but for the first time since we arrived I am being me, Rhod – well lets just say that the boobs he acquired are still in place and he wore a skirt to travel up here.
After the almost homelike comfort of the last few weeks staying in the Falls Church Comfort Lodge was a bit of a novelty. I waited impatiently for everyone else to appear so I, I mean we, can eat, finally getting bored enough to start leafing through the tourist brochures. After what seemed like hours the others appeared including to my horror, Em!
“Is everyone here?” Mr. P asked.
“Yes sir” we all chorused.
“Right, it's a buffet restaurant so you help yourselves, we have four tables reserved so that is where you will sit. I do not want to see you misbehaving,” he told us deliberately, “there are other people staying here and I don't want to hear of any incidents.”
Why did he look at me?
“Okay?” he paused briefly for our mumbled agreement; “right then, after you've eaten we will all meet in meeting room 3 which is over by the desk. Happy?”
“In you go then.”
We didn't need a second invite.
Miss Cowlishaw motioned that I should join her.
“I guess so Miss.”
“You know where to find me if you want to talk.”
“Go on in then.”
I joined the rest of the gang in the meeting room.
Well I won't bore you with the details but our teachers outlined the programme for Friday, Mr. Pilling would take the year twelve's and Miss C would be in charge of our gang of five. It was strongly suggested that we retire for the night but plans were already afoot that we would meet in the room Ally and Bernie were sharing. I was halfway to me and Rhod's room before I realised he had the card swipe thingy.
“I think Miss C kept her back” Bern advised.
“Bum! See you in a bit.”
“205” Ally called after me as I set about returning to find my roommate.
It took me a couple of minutes to get back downstairs where I found both of our chaperones having a fairly intense discussion with Em. I hovered by the stairwell; I didn't think my appearance would be welcome, especially when Em burst into tears. It seemed like I waited forever before the discussion ended with Em getting up and hurrying towards me still obviously upset.
“Em? What's the matter?”
“I hate you all” she spat as she headed up the stairs.
“Wait up! What's wrong?” I charged after her.
“It's not fair!”
“What's not?” I managed as I overtook her.
“I hate them!”
“I won't do it!”
We arrived at our room and were soon inside.
“Do what Em?”
“They said I have to be Rhod.”
Right. Things were slipping into place.
“Well it makes sense,” I started.
“Why?” he, er she almost yelled.
“Well um,” I flayed around for a moment, “the plane ticket and your passport have Rhod on them.”
“And…well I'm not Gaby any more.”
“That's what Miss C said,” she agreed, “why not though?”
It was difficult trying to think of the right words, especially with Em looking at me, all big eyes and looking well, like Em. I tried to see Rhod there but these last weeks Rhod really has become Mfanwy and my mate was not in evidence. We sat there in silence for a while.
“Is it really so bad to want to be me? To be a girl?”
What should I say? For me masquerading as a girl is not what I want to do, in fact I would rather that I never have to be Gaby ever again, I want to be me, Drew. But Rhod, Mfanwy, well it's different isn't it? She wants to be a girl, wants to wear skirts and dresses, wants a pair of boobs and she's just had best part of six weeks living that life.
“If that's what you want Em, you know we all support you.”
“But I think well I sort of agree with the Plods,” (we have taken to referring to our chaperones as the Plods as in PC Plod.) “You should look a bit more like Rhod when we go home.” There, I said it.
He, I mean she slumped a bit. I was expecting an explosion.
“Well I'm being me until tomorrow morning, I guess I can be Rhod for a couple of days.”
“So we going to the girls room?”
“I'll meet you there.”
“Okay, 205 right?”
When Mfanwy, and it was without any doubt Mfanwy, joined us twenty minutes later, there was certainly no doubting her sex. The girl who joined us was certainly not the slightly prim Em we've got to know, oh no, this was girl with a capital G! Rather too much makeup, big earrings and a skirt that was shorter than anything I've previously see in Em's wardrobe. Lets just say we sat there wordless for a good minute.
“Um nice skirt Em” Ally mentioned.
Well our little gathering became a ‘Good bye Em' party, which I found more than a little weird, not that it lasted that long as a visit from Miss C just turned eleven had us scuttling to our own rooms.
Friday dawned dry if not overly bright and I was, maybe a little selfishly, glad to see Rhod emerge from the shower. After several years of communal showers you tend to not worry so much about your peers seeing you naked, well not so much, and you sort of get to know what your buds look like in the buff. Not of course that anyone would admit to looking, but of course everyone does it. So it wasn't so much Rhod's semi naked form that shook me but how much his bod has changed since I last saw him as Rhod. Now you could never accuse Rhod of being fat but you'd not call him skinny either but now, well I guess those ballet lessons have had some effect on top of the cheering as he was looking quite buff – in a girl sort of way! I dived into the bathroom more confused than ever.
What is there to say about a day sightseeing? After an early-ish breakfast we all piled into the hotel minibus for the short ride into DC where we were dropped off a short distance from The White House. That was our first stop, we were booked for a tour at nine thirty, that's all of us, so we made our way to the visitor centre to register. It was all a little surreal, all the security, having to hand in all our bags and stuff – even the little train thing that took us to the Presidential residence. Our guide was a seemingly bored individual who seemed to spend as much time talking to the White House staff as telling us anything. We did get to see the Oval Office – the President wasn't at home otherwise we wouldn't ‘ve seen that!
After returning to the real world our two groups split up.
“Okay guys,” Miss C started, “I don't know about you but I don't fancy spending the rest of the day in stuffy museums. How about we go have a look at Congress and take it from there?”
“I wouldn't mind having a look at the space museum.” I told everyone.
“Okay by me” Mad agreed.
There was no dissent to the idea, so that's what we did. It's not like we didn't see a lot of the museums and galleries but like if you go to London, you have to be picky what you look at, where you visit. So we walked up the National Mall, spent an hour in the Space Museum, then we grabbed a quick lunch in the Smithsonian cafeteria. When we emerged the sun had broken through the murk so Miss C suggested a walk to see the Lincoln Memorial. From there we stopped at the Washington Memorial before heading to the National Aquarium to finish the day off.
We stayed in there until chucking out time then went to meet Mr. Pilling's group to go eat. Instead of the fairly bland hotel fare, tonight we were eating in a ‘downtown' restaurant. We had voted on this last night and the consensus was which is how we found ourselves in a Chinese restaurant on the corner of H and 8 th in Chinatown. We had a real blast; if we have Chinese at home it's always the takeaway variety, usually from the ‘White Duck' in Warsop. Here though we had the works, hot and sour soup, prawn crackers, Peking duck, ribs, black bean sauce, I had pork in oyster sauce. We even had those fortune cookie things you see them have in American films and stuff.
It was a tired group who climbed into the hotel bus to go back to our beds.
Our last full day in America at least had the grace to start out dry and bright even if it was a bit chilly. We were all ready to hit the shops as promised but as he threatened on Wednesday, Mr. P arranged for us to use the hotel bus to visit Arlington National Cemetery first.
After visiting more than one cemetery on this trip I think we were all expecting this morning to be dead, ‘scuse the pun, boring. But it's not just a military burial place although the place started as a place to bury the dead from the American Revolution. So we saw where President Kennedy is buried, the guy who designed Washington , Pierre L'Enfant, some astronauts and explorers and even Glenn Miller! Of course there were buckets more but they were all names that meant nothing to me.
Then it was time to hit the Mall! The bus dropped us off at the Fair Oaks Mall and with an admonishment to behave we were set free into the throng of Saturday shoppers. If you want a complete run down I'm sure Mad could tell you but I found myself just following along as the girls – and I'll include Rhod in that statement, oohed and aahed at various bits of clothing. The Discovery Channel Store was pretty good, I got Dad a couple of books and a hat in there, I found Gran some chocolates from a place a bit like Thornton's called Godiva and then there was a Redskins cap for Josh. I found a cute bracelet for Kristen while I was looking for something for Mum so that was nearly everyone sorted. A place called Cartoon Cuts sorted out a few bits for school and I was done.
“My feet are killing me.”
“Aw come on Drew,” Mad cajoled, “ H&M ? Pretty please.”
“You lot go on I'll meet you in Starbucks .”
“Okay” and off they all went leaving me alone.
I was near Foot Locker so I thought I'd have a squint as Brit was always going on about them and I'd not been to one as yet. Well I wasn't that impressed although the prices were pretty good. Then I spotted them – the new Nike Air Rift sandals! Cool and although they would stretch my finances a bit at $120 I've only got a few hours left in America! And of course no one at home would have them, yep I've got to have them! I mused over the colour options, bright red, acid yellow, pale blue, maybe one of the patterns.
“How're you doing there?”
Did I jump?
“Sorry, didn't mean to startle you, can I help?”
“Um, have you got these in six?” I offered my first choice.
“Sure, take a seat, I'll be right back.”
She returned after just a couple of minutes.
“Here we go.”
I slipped my sock off, the split toe of the Air Rift means you have special socks, and spotted the one bit of Gaby I'd forgotten, my pink toe nails. I cringed expecting some comment but none came. Then disappointment.
“Hmmm, I think six is a bit small.” She pointed out.
Then it dawned on me.
“I forgot you have different sizes to us, I take six at home.”
“That explains it, we've got a conversion chart somewhere, hang on” and off she trotted.
I wiggled my toes while I waited, I know its not exactly manly but I quite like painted toe nails, not mine obviously, but well they were the only ones to look at. I tried to hide them when another customer walked past and the shop girl arrived back just then.
“Here we go miss, Europeen thirty nine, British six.”
“That should fit.” I agreed.
It was only when I left ten minutes later clutching my prized footwear that I discovered I had been in Lady Foot Locker. Geez, but I had my trainers anyhow. I made haste to the coffee bar to find quite a commotion going on.
“Drew!” Mad's voice yelled above the din.
I made my way over.
“Oh Drew,” she grabbed me hard and started to cry.
“What's the matter?”
“It's Ally” she started to blub even harder.
“What about Ally?” I managed to steer my cousin to a bench away from the crowd outside Starbucks .
“She, she's been shot!”
“Is she okay? Where are the others?”
“They went with her.”
Mad was starting to get a bit hysterical.
Maddy Bell 27.06.06 © 2006
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