“Where are you going?!” I asked, as Jess and Chris were about to leave.
“Downstairs,” Jess replied with a shrug. “You’re alright now. You know what to do.”
I didn’t know what to do. I’d never shaved anything before - not even my face - so I didn’t have a clue and thanks mainly to the shock of Jess’s sudden departure, Megan and I were left standing dumbfounded; looking at one another and then at the empty space left by the other two.
“So much for the help I was promised,” I muttered, sourly.
I shouldn’t have been surprised at Jess. She’d always been that way. She was full of promises, yet rarely managed to come through on any of them. The trouble was, so often I’d tried to be strong and vow never to believe her again, only to find that she did exactly what she said she would, leaving me feeling guilty and in trouble. Then when I did help, she didn’t come through on her promises - which got me in trouble again.
I’m sure that’s why Mum and Dad were the way they were with me. I seemed to attract their attention at the wrong times and I’m, whilst I’m sure Jess wasn’t bright enough to orchestrate things that way; that’s the way fate took them. Nevertheless, more often than not, I was the one on the receiving end.
“Yeah. Looks like it’s just you and me,” said Megan with a sigh.
I wasn’t sure whether the sigh was because she didn’t really want to be stuck with me or whether it was a sigh of resignation - a sort of here we go again. Whatever the reason, she stayed and for that I was profoundly grateful - even though I didn’t want to shave my bloody legs in the first place and would have been happy leaving them exactly the way they were.
“Come on then, whip ‘em off,” she said, rubbing her hands together. “Let’s get those legs smooth.”
Nervously, I dropped the jeans, afraid of showing myself to Megan, but I needn’t have worried because fortunately, the t-shirt I’d been given was fairly long and reached well past my parts, saving any embarrassment. Not that Megan could have seen anything anyway, as it was all tucked away neatly between my legs, with my knickers pulled up as tight as I could without sending my voice into an even higher register or doing permanent damage.
“I’m glad you stayed,” I told her. “I haven’t got a clue.”
“What’s going to happen when you have to shave your face?” she asked as I put the jeans on the toilet lid.
She handed me a can of shaving foam and I gave her a Paddington hard stare, poking my tongue out before lathering my legs and getting ready with the disposable razor.
She giggled and I smiled. Somehow, no matter what Megan said to me, it never seemed spiky.
I drew the razor slowly up one leg.
“Okay, now rinse the razor and get rid of all the hairs,” she instructed. “And not quite so slow next time.”
Dutifully I did as I was told and after a few pulls, followed each time by rinsing the razor and expelling what hairs were there, I figured I’d got the hang of things, but then, it’s never that simple is it?
I managed to nick my ankle, which was surprisingly painful and for such a tiny cut, produced copious quantities of blood.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed.
It reminded me of the scene in Blade: Trinity where Jessica Beil alias Whistler’s daughter, was in the shower. You could actually see blood running down the drain as she sat there, staring into nothingness. Well, that’s almost what it looked like for me too, only I didn’t look anything like Jessica Beil - still don’t.
“Well don’t go down that far,” Megan suggested, with a stern look. “Look, you can see where the hairline is.” She touched my leg just above the ankle and moved her fingers up and down from the hairless area to the slightly less hairless area as she stared into my eyes.
Now that was curious. I wasn’t expecting her to touch me anywhere, least of all on my bare leg and the sensation I got from it was something else. I was actually pleased that I was wearing knickers and my important not-so-soft bits were neatly - albeit painfully - tucked out of sight. I blushed immediately and she snatched her hand back.
“You’ll have to straighten your legs now,” she said after I’d finished the calves and shins. “You’re going to have to do up to just above your knees. It’ll be messy and painful if you don’t straighten your legs.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, if you don’t straighten your legs, you’re likely to catch yourself and do more damage than you’ve already caused and if you don’t shave there, the hairs will poke out from under your Capris and that’ll look absolutely awful.”
I rolled my eyes, wondering how I managed to get in so deep so quickly, but stood up, straightened my legs and continued. Despite the straight leg and care I was taking, I still managed to cut behind my right knee. That stung even more than the ankle.
“How do you girls manage to do this without slicing rashers off yourselves every time?” I asked.
“Practice,” she replied with a grin.
“And no loss of body-parts?” I was amazed.
“Your dad doesn’t cut his lips off every time he shaves, does he?”
“What? With an electric razor? I would hope not.”
“Yes, well,” Megan said. “To be honest, it’s not that unusual for us to nick ourselves every now and then. Now, come on; we need to stop that bleeding.”
Personally, I think she was just being kind about the fact that I’d nicked myself, but once the flow of claret had been staunched, it didn’t look too bad and the only cut that actually showed was the one on my ankle.
I was about to head downstairs when Megan stopped me.
“Let’s have a look at you,” she said, her hands on my shoulders and looking me up and down critically. “Hang on a sec.”
To my absolute surprise, she slipped her hands up under my t-shirt to my bra, jiggling things about on both sides before removing them - her hands, I mean.
“Do you always shove your hands up girl’s t-shirts and grapple with their boobs?” I asked, my face red.
“No!“ she exclaimed, her eyes wide. “But anyway, you’re not a girl and those aren’t boobs.”
Did I detect a note of disappointment in her voice?
And was I slightly disappointed too?
That was the second time Megan had touched me and it was in a way that I fervently wished could have been more. I was having all sorts of trouble getting my head round just how different I would have liked it.
Let’s just say that the touch on the leg was nice, but getting my ‘boobs’ adjusted was something else and I wished that they were real, just to see what it would feel like.
I had to stop and think about what I had just thought: it wasn’t me thinking - like Andy would have - what it would be like to cop a feel of a girl’s tits, but what it would feel like to have someone feel my tits.
I was confused to say the least.
I shouldn’t have been thinking any of this as none of it was supposed to happen. I was supposed to be looking forward to a holiday with a grand day out at Aston Park, riding on the coolest rides in England - amongst other things and continuing to wind my sister up.
Instead, there I was, dressed from head to toe in girl’s clothes, wondering what it would be like for someone to feel me up, getting hot and bothered about one of my sister’s friends, who I wasn’t sure, but felt, was getting just as hot and bothered about me.
Dear, oh dear.
“You alright?” Megan asked.
“I suppose so,” I replied, but I wasn’t sure.
Downstairs, we met Deirdre as she was coming out of the office.
She wasn’t much taller than either Megan or me and was very slight. Kind of weird I thought, because Frank was quite big and burly and must have been over six feet tall. Dad’s about six feet and although I didn’t really pay much attention in the office when we arrived, I think Frank was taller.
The thought of such a small woman with such a big man was quite amusing, but then I thought about Mum, who is only an inch or two taller than Jess and me too, so I suppose that’s how it goes.
She looked me up and down and smiled. “They look good on you.”
“Thanks for letting me wear them.”
“Keep ’em - and the other stuff,” she said. “None of it fits me anymore.”
“No probs,” she said. “I was hoping that I’d get thin and they’d fit again, but…”
“Oh come on. You’re hardly any bigger than me,” I said, astonished.
“You’re sweet, but look at you. Your bum wouldn’t look big in anything. I envy you your figure.”
The conversation had got to the surreal stage and I found myself feeling proud of my figure, even though I knew I wasn’t a girl. The compliment though struck a chord and when I turned to look at Megan - who was smiling - it just reinforced it.
“Still, you’re young. You’re supposed to have a killer figure.”
Killer figure? If I wasn’t confused before this conversation - which I was - I was bound to be after it - and I was.
“Any word from Mum and Dad?” I asked, clicking my head back into some form of normality.
“The ’phones lines are down, so, no, but you’re welcome to try my mobile.”
“Thanks,” I replied and we waited in the hall while she went to retrieve her ’phone.
For the few moments she was gone, I stood wondering what on earth I was doing. Looking at Megan didn’t help. She was grinning like a Cheshire cat and I didn’t know whether it was because she felt the situation was amusing, or whether there was something else there; something I needed to find out about, but before I had the chance to ask, Deirdre was back.
“I don’t know how you can remember those long numbers,” she said, handing the mobile to me. “I have to add my friends to the contacts list, or I don’t stand a chance.” She laughed and left Megan and I to make our call.
I dialled the number and waited.
“The number you are calling is either switched off or is not receiving a signal,” said a helpful recording at the other end. “To leave a message, please speak after the tone…”
“Hi, Mum, Dad? It’s Jamie. Hope you’re both alright. We’ve had a bit of a mudslide on top of the flooding here; I expect that’s why you’re not back. We’re all okay, but we’re staying with Frank and Deirdre now. I’ll explain it when you get here. Love you.”
I closed the phone.
“Guess we’ll just have to wait.”
“Everything alright?” Deirdre asked, bustling out of the kitchen.
“Either there’s no signal or they’ve turned the phone off,” I said. “I left a message.”
“Do they know the number to call you back?”
“It’ll be on their ’phone,” I replied, handing hers back.
“Yes. It automatically stores the number and you can just select it to call back.”
“Well I never,” the astonished Deirdre replied. “I suspect you do all that ‘texting’ at lightning speed too, don’t you? I have enough trouble just ’phoning people on the damned thing.” She shook her head. “Still it’s a necessary evil when you’re running a business.” She looked at the mobile and then slipped it into the pocket of her pinafore.
“We’ve had a few more people turn up since you went to shower and change. They’ve been caught out by the flash flooding, not to mention the mudslide, so Frank and I decided to let them stay in the office and at least give them somewhere warm and dry to stay. They won’t be going anywhere until it’s cleared. Mum and Dad have been chatting to them all in the office and it was the Devil’s own job to get them out of there. Meanwhile, we ought to eat.”
“D’you need a hand?” I asked, figuring that in my current guise, being in the kitchen with Deirdre would be vastly better than being in amongst all those people.
“Well, you really are the heroine, aren’t you?” she replied, grinning broadly. “Come on in. I can use all the help I can get.”
Once again, I quickly forgot about how I was dressed. I know it sounds a little weird, but when there’s no-one around drawing your attention to it, it’s surprising how speedily you can forget that you’re wearing a stuffed bra and knickers.
However, I couldn’t forget my shaved legs; every time they brushed against each other, I could feel it, and boy, was it distracting. Then again, so was Megan. I was shocked at how she made me feel; the way she made my heart pump faster without doing anything - just being there. What with her and my legs, I was surprised I managed to stay as focussed as I did - which isn’t saying much.
During dinner, I kept as low a profile as possible. Joe and Martha kept giving me grateful looks across the table and I just tried to smile sweetly. Fortunately, Megan sat beside me, which made me feel better and less exposed.
Jess and Chris had found two boys to go all cow-eyed over and were more animated than I had seen in a while, which as luck would have it, distracted the others sufficiently that, aside from the stares, I was pretty much left alone.
While Jess and Chris weren’t talking, Frank, Deirdre, Joe and Martha discussed the new arrivals.
“We can’t just leave them in there,” said Deirdre.
“What do you suggest?” Frank asked.
“We have to at least give them something to drink,” she replied.
“I think they’d appreciate something warm inside them too,” Martha added, accompanied by nods from Joe.
“Alright, alright,” said Frank. “We’ll get something together after we’ve finished here.”
“Good. Do I still have my assistants?”
Megan and I smiled and nodded.
“And I expect our lovesick pair here would be only too pleased to take their two beaus something to eat, wouldn’t they?”
“I’m not lovesick,” Jess argued.
“Cow-eyed?” I offered.
“You can talk - ” she retorted, but cut herself short. “I’m not cow-eyed or love-sick.”
“We’re neither cow-eyed nor love-sick,” Christine affirmed.
It all seemed to have been taken in good part and after we’d finished eating, it was straight into high gear since Deirdre and Frank weren’t set up for catering for large numbers and it was a case of everything being done in shifts.
First we had to wash all the stuff we’d used before we could set about dealing with those in the office. So from the time we started - and don’t ask what time that was - till the early hours of the morning, we didn’t stop. By the time it came to turning in for the night, Megan and I were pretty much dead on our feet.
The four of us were shown to a spare bedroom - after a lengthy good night between Chris, Jess and the two boys, whilst the others were all left to try and stay as comfortable as possible in the office.
Our bedroom had a double bed, but there was no way I was getting in with the others - I mean, it’s just not right, is it? I wouldn’t have minded cuddling up with Megan, but well, right there and then, I was just pleased to be getting my head down. I didn’t even bother to strip. I just took off my Capris and slid under the covers of the makeshift bed on the floor. I was asleep in no time.
* * *
The next morning, I woke up with someone’s arm draped over my chest and for a while, couldn’t seem to get my bearings. As you can imagine, the events of the previous night were so unexpected that I thought I’d been dreaming. As soon as I opened my eyes however, I realised that it was far from a dream.
I looked to my right and surprise, surprise; guess who had slipped in beside me?
With her eyes closed and the slow rhythm of her breathing, I got a severe case of the collywobbles as I gazed at Megan’s sleeping form and that pretty elfin face. The house was still quiet and I snuggled back down. As I turned over, Megan spooned in behind me, pulling me tight against her with a soft, sweet little moan.
I opened my eyes sometime later only to find myself staring right down the lens of Jess’s camera. Standing behind it with huge grins were Chris and Jess.
“Oy!“ I yelled.
Megan immediately woke and sat bolt upright with a “wassamatter?”.
“Sweet,” said Jess, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “So sweet, don’t you think, Chris?” She raised the camera and took another picture.
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Chris with an equally broad grin. “D’you think we should leave them for a while? I mean, they look so comfortable and - ”
“Sweet!“ they chorused, nodding and grinning some more.
“Nah, leave ’em. They’re awake now anyway,” Jess said with a shake of the head.
I checked my watch and discovered it was only just seven; too damned early to consider murder, but a little light maiming would probably have been acceptable.
“You and I are going to have to have a little chat about this,” I said in as much of a warning tone as I could muster.
“Oooooh. Look who like totally woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning,” Jess said with a giggle and skipped out of the bedroom in true ‘Dee Dee’ fashion, followed closely by Chris saying something about breakfast, which took my mind off throttling either of them.
The idea of murder was shelved - not forgotten. However the idea of maiming…
* * *
Downstairs was a hive of activity with Deirdre and Frank in the kitchen in the process of getting breakfast ready for us and those unfortunate enough to have been forced to stay the night in the Cliffside office.
I wanted to help in the kitchen, but before I could offer a preference, I was asked to take a tray of hot drinks and some rounds of toast into the office.
“Thanks,” said a dishevelled-looking woman. “I expect you’re one of the owner’s daughters, aren’t you?”
“Actually, no,” I said. “I’m here on holiday with my family. We were staying in one of the log cabins - sorry ‘cottages’, but it got swept away in a mudslide yesterday during the storm.”
“Oh my God!” she said, her eyes going wide. “I heard about that last night. So you’re the one.”
“I suppose so,” I said with a shrug before I turned and went back into the house.
With the kind of freakish event that occurred yesterday, the mudslide was bound to come up in the conversation quite a lot and I couldn’t entirely avoid it. I didn’t like it though.
Back in the kitchen after about the third run, I was just in time to see Jess and Chris in front of Deirdre, and Jess was not happy.
“We’re supposed to be on holiday,” she said sullenly.
“I know that, Jess, but we could really use your help here.”
Frank looked a little embarrassed and I can’t say as I blame him.
“I think I’ll go tend to the horses,” he said. “Want to help?” he asked Megan, who jumped at the chance. He turned to Jess and Chris. “Perhaps you’d like to come and help when you’ve finished here.”
Jess nodded, but didn’t look happy. “Atta girl,” said Deirdre enthusiastically, placing a plate of hot buttered toast on the tray with several more hot drinks and a freshly filled bowl of sugar. “That’ll have to be the last one, Jamie,” she said. “There isn’t any more until I’ve been to the shops. We were lucky some of those that were here last night decided to take the chance and leave.”
“Right you are,” I replied. “I wondered why I hadn’t seen Jess and Chris’s boyfriends out there.”
“They’ve gone?” asked Jess, incredulous.
“Looks that way,” I said and headed back into the office, only to find a whole lot of new people coming in through the door. Some of them were carrying equipment. I put the tray down on the counter.
“This is it, I’m afraid,” I told them all and was about to leave - sharpish, to avoid any more conversations about last night, but a man in an expensive-looking suit stopped me.
“Do you work here, Miss?”
“No. I’m just helping out. The storm caused a lot of damage, so things aren’t exactly at their best. I’m just lending a hand.”
“Is the owner about?” he asked. “I’d like to talk to him - or her, of course - about the storm.”
“I can get them,” I replied.
As the man with the suit was talking, I could see another man put a camera with a TV news logo on the side up on his shoulder and point it in our direction. I didn’t think it prudent to stay any longer. I beetled off pretty sharpish.
I returned to the kitchen and told Deirdre that the news men were in the office.
“Oh God!” she exclaimed. “You’re not serious are you?”
“‘Fraid so. I got out before they set the cameras rolling.”
“Would you go and get Frank? He’s in the stables with the horses.”
I walked across the yard towards the stables and glanced at my watch. It had gone half past eight and yet there had been no word from Mum and Dad. It was the first time today I’d even thought about them. I wondered what had happened, but more than that, I wondered what would happen when they returned. I wasn’t sure they’d be overjoyed about what had happened to me; that they now had two daughters instead of one - as far as everyone else was concerned anyway.
My heart sank at the thought. I had no choice but to appear to the others the night before as I was. I would have hoped that by today, things would have been put right, but then it occurred to me that even if the cabin hadn’t gone the way it had, how would that have played out?
Firstly, if the cabin hadn’t been squished under all those tons of mud, I wouldn’t have had to parade myself in front of everyone; wouldn’t have been called a heroine and no-one need have been any the wiser.
Secondly, not having been seen by the others wouldn’t have left me facing the dilemma I had currently and now it seemed highly unlikely that even when Mum and Dad got back, I’d be able to just slip back into being Jamie - or rather James, if we stayed here. Too many people thought I was a girl.
I suppose the only good thing was the fact that due to the mudslide, the cabins were unlikely to be rebuilt in time if at all for us to continue our holiday here. That would mean moving on and that gave me hope that I wouldn’t be stuck as ‘Miss’ Jamie Towers for much longer.
I gave Frank the message.
“Oh sh - ” he said, covering his mouth and stopping ‘it’ from escaping to join its two friends, ‘S’ and ‘H’. “Sorry. Can you help Megan? You’ll need to walk the horses into the paddock after you’ve finished. I’d best go see what this is all about.”
He disappeared pretty quickly across the yard.
I looked round the stable and saw the horses I was supposed to help groom. My jaw fell open and my eyes were so wide - they looked more like saucers than eyesbut then I saw Megan doubled-over laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“You. You wally.”
“What? I don’t know the first thing about horses. About the only thing I know is which end’s the front, which is the back and which way’s up - oh and I also know that one end bites and the other kicks.”
“They’re not that bad,” she said still laughing. “It’ll be easy. Come on, I’ll show you.”
I knew that girls always seemed to go all gooey over horses - least, my sister did, making it all sound so romantic, but I quickly realised that although the word “HORSE” had been included in the sentence, that’s where any semblance of romanticism ended.
They were HUGE and very scary.
“Holy crap!” I breathed.
“They’re not going to be a problem. Just brush them down, comb out the mane and tail, then when we come to walk them to the paddock, attach a lead rope to the halter and walk away with them. I’d say they’ll no doubt follow, but we’ll take them one at a time each, just in case.”
“You sure?” I asked. I wasn’t.
Valentina was the horse I was drawn to and I approached carefully as she was at least, well, twice my height. She was a dapple grey - like the rocking horses - only much, much bigger. Once close to, she looked so big and powerful compared to any animal I’d ever seen before - well that close to anyway.
I reached up and patted her face.
“Nice horsey,” I said, soothingly, in dire peril of poohing my knickers.
Valentina snickered and nuzzled me as I set about brushing her. She was surprisingly appreciative - according to Megan that is. Valentina made a funny face and wiggled her lips when I so much as touched her. Megan said she enjoyed what I was doing.
“Really?” I asked.
“Oh definitely,” said Jess.
“I didn’t know you were there,” I said with some surprise.
“We’ve done all our chores - or should that be your chores, since you were the one who opted to be the domesticated one.”
“That wasn’t my choice and you know it. Not only that, but you know damned well I’m not domesticated. I was just trying to keep out of the way. Besides, if you hadn’t done this to me in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“Huh!” Jess muttered and began looking round the stables at the other three horses. Rupert and Megan were getting on famously and I was perfectly happy with Valentina, but Jess had other ideas.
“That’s a nice mare,” she said.
I stopped brushing and looked warily at my sister. “Yes, she is.”
“She’s maybe a bit big for you, don’t you think?”
“She’ll be no smaller for you,” I said, knowing exactly where this was going.
“No, but I am more experienced. Perhaps you should take the chestnut over there.”
“I don’t think so. Valentina wants me to groom her.” That was a bit of a stretch, but she was gentle; making me feel at ease, despite the fact that she probably weighed in at over half a ton.
“Just give me the brush, numbnuts.”
She snatched the brush from my hand and reached up to begin brushing Valentina’s flank, but the horse simply side-stepped out of the way.
Jess moved closer and since Valentina couldn’t go any further, she moved towards Jess, pushing into her, knocking her to the floor and leaving her sitting on her backside in the wood shavings.
“Bastard!” exclaimed Jess and followed that with a few more choice vituperations that turned the air blue and probably did more to alienate her from Valentina than anything else. I’ll give Jess her due though, she wouldn’t give up and tried several more times, but Valentina wasn’t having any of it.
“Have it your way!” she spat and threw the brush on the ground, storming off towards the chestnut mare in one of the other stalls. I poked my head out of Valentina’s stall and hearing the mouthful from Jess, Chris and Megan both looked out of their stalls too, chuckling as Jess stormed past.
I patted Valentina on the shoulder and told her that the nasty woman had gone away and she responded by snickering in what I considered to be an entirely derisive tone - not that Jess didn’t fully deserve it.
Chris was actually the one who confronted Jess about it. “You’re being a bitch, you know that don’t you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
From that point on, Jess was as quiet as a mouse and even pleasant when she did speak. I don’t know what Chris meant when she said what she did, but it sure as hell did the trick.
The brushing and combing were something I found therapeutic, for me and undoubtedly for Valentina and when it was all over, Megan and the others called me, about to lead their horses to the paddock.
“Good girl,” I whispered as I clipped the lead rope on the halter and turned to leave the stable.
I started out across the yard, with a little nervousness, but Valentina just strolled along behind me with the obligatory clip-clop of her hooves.
“Hey, Jamie,” Jess shouted from behind me.
I stopped and turned round. Valentina stopped too, turning her head to see what the noise was. Her head rested on my shoulder as she looked across the yard at Jess standing there with her camera.
“Say cheese,” she called and I reached up to put my hand on Valentina’s nose, just as the flash went off.
“Thanks,” said Jess, looking at me in a way I hadn’t seen before and I turned back towards the paddock with the biggest thing I’d ever seen, strolling along sedately behind me.
Once in the paddock, Megan gave me a really curious look.
“Looks like I’ve got competition,” she observed. “She really does like you.”
I stopped and instantly, Valentina nuzzled me again.
“What?” I asked, reaching almost absently to her face, unclipping the lead rope.
“You’ve made a new friend. I hope you haven’t decided to sleep in the stables with her tonight. I’ll feel awfully left out.”
That was pretty direct. I still wasn’t sure what to think about finding Megan cuddled up with me this morning. I assumed it was because the bed was cramped. Maybe not.
“You’re not serious?”
“Well, from where I’m standing, you two seem pretty tight. Is there going to be room for me?”
I was beginning to get the hang of Megan’s sense of humour. She often said things, but managed to keep a completely straight face, even though she didn’t mean what she said. I was about to answer when Deirdre came out of the kitchen.
“Jamie?” she called.
I left the paddock and went over, leaving Megan giggling.
Valentina followed me back across the stable yard.
Deirdre watched as the huge grey mare sauntered along behind me, stopping when I did. “Your mum has just rung. They’re stuck in Marketford since the car broke down. They’ve had it towed to a garage, but apparently, it doesn’t look good.”
“Oh wow. At least it was nothing to do with me this time. Don’t suppose Dad’s pleased.”
“No. Your mum said he was pretty angry.
Apparently, he kicked the car after it ground to a halt in the middle of
a large puddle. She said he looked like Basil Fawlty.”
“John Cleese?” she said, puzzled that I didn’t recognise the name immediately. “Monty Python? Fawlty Towers, you know - comedy series on television about that hotel in Torquay?”
“No, sorry,” I said, shaking my head.
“Well anyway, the car’s been towed away, but because of the weather and the time of year, getting a hire car is proving difficult. They should have one later this afternoon, but they’re not sure. Then the signal started to break up - not unusual for round here - but I managed to explain about yesterday and the fact you’re staying with us and they’re alright with that. I hope you are too.”
“I think we’ll be alright, in fact I’m sure we will.”
She raised her finger, her expression questioning. “Er, you are planning on leaving my horse here when you leave, aren’t you?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Might do,” I said and, for the first time, giggled, turning back towards the barn with Valentina right beside me. In the background, I could hear Deirdre laughing as she walked back to the kitchen.
I never expected to like horses as much as I did and once we got over the initial thing with Jess and Valentina, I groomed Valentina until she shone - well, maybe not shone exactly, but as near as. Her tail and mane were combed and she looked like something you’d see on the telly somewhere like Hickstead or Badminton with some bloke or woman in a jacket and hat sitting on her back.
One of the things I liked most of all about being with the horses - apart from the Valentina and Jess thing of course, was the fact that all four of us were in the same place at the same time without so much as a bad word. That had to be a first.
* * *
We hadn’t long been in the paddock watching the horses and chatting when we got a call from Frank.
You can imagine how I felt when Frank led us to the office and the TV people were still there? I just wanted to turn around and run away. I could feel myself get cold chills and my palms got all sweaty as the four of us entered.
Inside we found the man with the expensive suit, his crew, Joe and Martha and of course, Deirdre.
“Hi,” said the man in the suit. “My name’s Rich Howarth, I expect you’ve seen me on the TV newscasts. I’ve been hearing a lot about your exploits over the last twenty-four hours. I’d like to have a quick chat with you about it.
“Frank has been kind enough to take me round the property so we could take shots of the damage done and I’ve heard a lot about this place from the others who Frank and Deirdre kindly put up for the night, but your story was the one that really got my attention.”
That was it for me. I did not need this. The television programme he was on was broadcast nationally, so that meant that millions of people all round the country would see me.
Admittedly, the vast majority of those people wouldn’t have known me from Adam - or should that be Eve? - but then I wasn’t worried about them anyway. The people I was worried about were the select few who did know me and would make my life a living hell after they’d seen the programme.
“Would you excuse us a minute?” I asked and signalling to Jess, Megan and Chris, I led them outside.
“I can’t do this,” I said.
“What do you mean? It’s not like he knows about you or he’s going to do anything bad,” said Jess.
“Perhaps not, but what about all the people who are going to watch it?” I asked. “All the kids from school… Mum and Dad?”
“I hadn’t thought about that.”
“I didn’t think you had,” I said and sat down. “What do I do?”
“Go ahead with it,” Megan suggested. “I mean, it’s not like you don’t look like a girl, is it? Who’d think you were anything other than what you look like and you look like a pretty girl?”
“She’s right, Jamie,” said Chris. “I wouldn’t believe it unless I knew.”
“That’s not helping, either of you,” I replied, secretly thrilled to hear me and pretty in the same sentence, then confused for the same reason. “I don’t really want to look like this and once that news report goes out, then what happens?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Jess, thoughtfully rubbing her chin. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I never meant for this to happen, but It’s like, got a bit out of control hasn’t it?”
“You can say that again.”
We went back into the office.
“Sorry about that. Nerves,” said Chris, pointing at me.
“Don’t worry”, said Rich. “Lots of people get nervous with a camera and microphone pointed at them; many people - more famous than you - have nervous seizures when parked in front of the cameras.”
They sat us down and the cameraman got himself ready.
Rich turned to the camera. “I’m here at Cliffside; a holiday site for many tourists on top of the cliffs here in the little village of Banthorpe, but last night, the weather brought a surprise none of them were expecting in the shape of a mudslide.” He paused as the camera went from him to us.
“Well, girls,” he said with an oily smile, which made all of us feel somewhat uneasy, “Between you, you managed to save Joe and Martha here.”
“It wasn’t us. It was Jamie,” said Megan. “None of us wanted to leave our cabin and go out in the rain, let alone come back here without her, but Jamie’s quick thinking got us out just before the cabin collapsed. We were just in time for Joe and Martha too.”
They stopped there as the cameraman moved to focus on Joe and Martha, who as always was rubbing Joey’s head as he cautiously eyed the people around him. I wondered whether he was sizing them up for lunch.
“I understand that Deirdre Blake, the co-owner of Cliffside is your daughter,” Rich said.
“Oh yes. We’ve been coming here since the place opened. We get a holiday and get to see Dee - sorry, Deirdre and Frank at the same time. Having the cabin, we can do our own thing while they’re running the business.”
“You were in your cabin when it happened?”
“Yes. We had planned to come up to the house for dinner, but it was raining so heavily, we decided to wait until it cleared up,” said Joe. “But then these four girls knocked on the door and Jamie told us to get out. Martha didn’t have the cat and Jamie went inside to get it, while the other three girls brought us up here.
“Jamie didn’t come back for ages and then we saw the cabin disappear - we think over the cliff’s edge and thought she’d gone with it, but then a few moments later, she appeared with the cat, scratched, muddy and wet, but other than that, she was okay.”
“So, you’re all alive today thanks to Jamie’s efforts?”
“Oh definitely,” Martha confirmed and the others all nodded agreement - even Jess.
“Well,” said Rich, turning to me. “You certainly keep a cool head in a crisis.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know about ‘cool head’, I mean, if I’d known the cabin was so close to going over, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did.”
“But the main thing was, you did and thanks to your heroic efforts, everyone got out of it alive. You are a real heroine.”
I didn’t like the sound of that and tried to play it down. It hadn’t been such a big deal anyway.
“It was all such a spur-of-the-moment thing,” I said, trying to clarify matters. “I didn’t think about it; I just did what needed to be done. I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe.”
“Exactly,” he said, beaming that oily smile at me. “So thanks to young Jamie here, these six people - and the cat are safe and sound. This has been Rich Howarth for South News.” He paused for a second or two; “That’s a rap. Well done everyone. You should see it on this afternoon’s news.”
As soon as it was possible, I left the office and went down to the paddock. Valentina wouldn’t ask questions and I could give her a cuddle while getting everything off my chest - metaphorically speaking that is, stuffing notwithstanding. She wouldn’t say anything, just be there and that’s what I felt I needed.
As soon as I went through the gate, the big grey wandered over to me and put her face in my hands, giving a little snicker as she did.
“You don’t think I’m some kind of hero, do you?”
Fortunately, I don’t speak horse, so whatever she was saying to me, didn’t matter other than it felt nice. I wrapped my arms round her big neck and started to cry.
This is the first time anything has upset me to the degree that I have cried over it. The odd thing is, that all the picking at school about my height, the fact I look like a smaller version of my sister - everything, just seemed to go in one ear and come out the other. Oh sure, I hated it, but it’s never brought me to tears. Here, I was the heroine, the famous life-saver and I was blubbing my heart out.
“It’s alright,” said a whispered voice.
“What!?” I exclaimed wondering if Valentina had learnt to talk and then saw a familiar pair of legs.
“I said, it’s alright,” Megan repeated and put her arms around me, drawing me close and pulling my head towards her neck, the tears running freely down my face as I gave in and put my arms around her and just let it all go.
I can’t describe how it made me feel. Everything was mixed in together: Megan, the girl thing, the boys and girls at school, the thought of Mum and Dad when they see me - just about everything and I just couldn’t stop myself from crying. All I knew was the fact that between Megan and Valentina - who was nuzzling me at the same time as Megan was hugging me - I didn’t want the feeling to end.
However, end it did, mainly because Valentina was making Megan laugh. Actually, it was the fact that I had a long face and Valentina had a long face and neither Megan nor I could keep our faces straight. The mental image of the three of us was just hilarious. I suppose you had to be there, but take it from me, it was a real tonic and I felt drained, but much better after it.
“You alright, Jamie?” asked Jess. For the first time she actually looked concerned; I mean genuinely concerned.
“Yes, thanks. Between Megan and Valentina here, I think I’m okay.”
“Yeah, what is it between you and that horse? It won’t come near anyone else but you.”
“I know. She follows her around like a puppy,” agreed Megan.
“That’s just weird,” said Chris.
“Not my fault if she has such good taste,” I said haughtily, but followed by a chuckle. “Deirdre even asked if I was going to leave her here when we left.”
“You never know, she might follow us home,” said Jess.
“Huh! You wish,” I said. “Where would we put her? I think people might notice, not to mention the apoplectic fit Dad would have.”
“It was just a thought,” she replied, with a shrug.
After a group hug, I felt a lot better and had to excuse myself to give Valentina one of her own. As I walked back to the gate, a voice caught my attention.
“Don’t I get one?”
“Uh?” I swung round and it was Megan.
“I mean, so far, we’ve had three hugs and all of them have been shared. I want one of my own.”
I had to oblige, didn’t I?
Somewhere in the hug, our faces got closer together. I stared into those mischievous eyes and before I knew it, our lips met. I thought my knees were going to give way and almost swooned.
“That’s better,” she said, taking my hand firmly in her own and we turned to go back to the house only to see Frank, who looked most perplexed. He must have seen us canoodling and God only knows what he thought. Well, I suppose it’s pretty obvious what he thought, actually.
Later at the house, we were up in our room - okay, the spare room and all four of us were sitting on the bed.
“He didn’t!” exclaimed Chris. “Really?”
“He did,” said Megan, stifling a giggle.
“What?” I asked. “We were only kissing.”
“Yes but you’re both girls.”
“I most certainly - - ” My voice trailed off.
What was I?
Now even I was starting to wonder.
Okay, so it’s only a day, but this change of role has had something of a profound effect on me and perhaps I was getting used to the slightly different style of dress, the fact that for once, Jess and I were getting along…
Did I like being one of them? I certainly liked the fact that I didn’t have to try too hard around them. That part was nice, but being one of them?
Did I like wearing the clothes and taking on the persona of a girl? - no - wait, I wasn’t taking on the persona. That was something that was already there, something I didn’t change, something I just didn’t even think about.
“I’m not a girl,” I said, my lower lip quivering. “Am I?”
No answers sprang from any of their lips as I looked round.
“It’s not like that, Jamie,” Jess said soothingly, putting her arm round me. “It’s just - ” She paused. “Well, you’re not very good at being a boy are you?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“It’s, like, you know, horses for courses. Some people are good at being artists or policemen or musicians and others aren’t. You’re much better at being a girl.”
“So I’m a girl now?” I demanded. “Are you off your trolley?”
“Okay, calm down,” she said. Her expression was serious and I knew she was really giving some thought to this. “How long have you been a girl?”
“Never,” I spat.
“That would be yesterday,” she said, ignore my reply. “Good.” She took a deep breath. “And just how much training have you had in how to act like a girl?”
“None.” I said. “Look, just what are you like, getting at?”
“Simple. You made the transition from male to female with no training; no practice; nothing and yet no-one has even questioned you. No-one has once suggested that you’re even a tomboy, they have just accepted you as a girl. Have you ever had that as a boy?”
I hated to admit it, but she was right.
“I rest my case.”
I couldn’t agree. I wasn’t a girl; not physically anyway. At least I wasn’t the last time I looked. So what was she driving at?
“I don’t understand.”
“I said about horses for courses; things that you’re good at, but more than that, things that some people just can’t do, no matter how hard they try.
“You have had to try to be a boy; to fit in. Yet to be a girl, you just have to put on some girl’s clothes and away you go. You walk like a girl, talk like a girl and you even have the mannerisms of a girl. No-one has had to teach you, it’s just that you’re doing what seems to like, come naturally.”
“You’re off your rocker, Jess. Feeble-starkers-bonkers.”
Frank’s voice came from downstairs. “You might want to come and see this, girls.”
Suddenly, my problems were forgotten - albeit temporarily as quick as a flash, we headed downstairs where Joe, Martha and Deirdre were standing or sitting around the TV.
On the screen was the office of Cliffside and Rich was at that moment talking to me.
“Oh - ”
“Wow!” the others finished. “You’re on the telly.”
I stared at the boy on the screen - me and wasn’t convinced at that moment that Jess wasn’t right. I didn’t see a boy in girl’s clothes at all, but a female; a girl and dare I say, quite a reasonably good-looking one at that.
I had to get out of there; to go somewhere where I could be alone to think.
No prizes for guessing where I headed.
When I got to the paddock, which was really just a small field bounded by a fence, I walked straight across to the far side. I figured if I was as far as possible from the gate, it’d take them longer to find me.
I went right to the bottom corner of the field to a large sycamore tree, where I sat. Valentina came over and gave me a nuzzle and then stood nearby while I sat with my back against the tree, staring into space, trying to process everything that had happened.
Seeing myself in the mirror wasn’t nearly as shocking as seeing myself on the television and that was something I wasn’t prepared for. It almost cemented Jess’s statement in my head: that I had to try to be a boy and that being a girl was what I really should be - or words to that effect.
I don’t know whether she was just saying that or whether she meant it, but whatever, it gave me considerable cause for concern.
Did I want to be a girl?
Well, right then, it seemed - according to Jess and apparently the others too, that that was the way I fitted in best, but it was a hard thing to take. For all the pratfalls, pitfalls and other negatives associated with my life as a boy, I was used to it. It was all I’d known. The fact that I could pass easily as a girl was not reason enough in my books to actually become a girl.
Then there was the fact that since I became my own alter ego, my relationship with all three girls had changed - fairly dramatically. Jess and I still fought - sort of, but then that’s usual between siblings. Most recently though, we’d found some common ground; some way of being in close proximity without wanting to throttle one another.
The attraction between Megan and I was a shock, as prior to this, she hadn’t given me a second look. We’d not even spoken two words to each other before the business in the cabin and the fact that she just seemed to latch on to me was somewhat unnerving, but not at all unpleasant.
Finally, there was Chris. She was the quiet one of the three; the one who on two occasions now had spoken up in my defence. The last time in the stables was a big shock - almost as big as the shock of Megan being possessive over me and wanting a hug and kiss - oh, that kiss - well, you can see my dilemma.
I suppose on the one hand, right then I had a kind of peace; the knowledge that as I was, things between me and the outside world were cool. I was surrounded by people who appeared to respect me - as me and who hadn’t blamed me for anything. The people around me at that moment knew me as Jamie, a sensible, reliable, helpful girl with a killer figure, which was something I didn’t mind at all - well the sensible and reliable bit anyway.
On the other hand, and here’s the bit that was most difficult for me to contend with, the ‘me’ they knew and respected, wasn’t me. To them I was their heroine, which was a label I didn’t feel at all comfortable with, not least because I wasn’t what they thought I was.
Don’t get me wrong, gaining recognition for something good one does is not a bad thing, but I felt they were blowing it out of all proportion because the real ‘me’ was an awkward boy, constantly at loggerheads with his sister, almost constantly in trouble with his parents and at school - usually through some intervention of Jess’s - and who was pretty unsure of everything he did or said.
I was fairly sure, simply putting on girl’s clothes and pretending to be Jess’s twin sister was not going to change my personality from awkward to confident, but it seemed that was exactly what happened.
I sighed and pulled my knees up under my chin, looking at the sandals that I was wearing. The wedge heels and the narrow straps, the fact that they looked right and were surprisingly comfortable - even having trudged across a very uneven field. They looked and felt like they fitted - well they did fit, but you know what I mean. I really liked the way they looked on my feet and made my feet look.
I ran my hands up my calves - my smooth calves - up to the hems of the Capris I wore, fidgeting with the ‘V’ cut-outs. They didn’t feel wrong either. In fact, it all tied together nicely - co-ordinated.
I sighed again.
I would have thought that being plonked into this situation would have had more of a negative effect on me; have me running round like an idiot screaming and shouting at Jess and her friends for having put me in this position and demanding that I get put back as a boy immediately, but no.
I didn’t have the presence of mind then to consider that it had been less than twenty-four hours - hardly long enough to make an informed decision, but then that’s youth for you isn’t it? Everything at that age is ‘now’. There is no tomorrow, no later even; it’s right there, right then and nothing else matters.
However, something that did matter; something I had neglected in my considerations, was parents.
They had two children Jess and me. One was a girl - that would be Jess and the other, her brother James - that would be me. Right now, or rather, when they finally returned, they would find they actually had two daughters. It might even be right now, if they saw that newscast.
Along with so many others.
I would be dead meat when I got back to school.
Never mind school; I’ll probably be dead meat when Mum and Dad get back.
God alone knew what they were going to think.
I suspected Aston Park would be off.
I hugged my knees, wrapping my arms even tighter around them, rested my head there and just sobbed.
“Jamie?” said a familiar voice.
I looked up and standing before me was Mum.
“I think we need to talk…”