Chapter Five


 

 

“Oh God, look at the state of you,” Jess said as she dabbed the tears away from my face. “It’s no good. We’re going to have to do something about that or Mum’ll go bonkers.”

 

“I’m sorry,” I told her, sniffing back the tears.

 

“What are you apologising to me for?”

 

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I’ve just got so wrapped up in all this, I don’t know which way’s up.”

 

“I can understand that. It must be heaps to take in.”

 

“You can say that again.”

 

Jess deftly removed the smears and smudges of makeup crying had created and while I sat still, she zipped across each of my eyelids with the liner pencil and redid other bits that had been mutilated during my blub session.

 

“Thanks Jess,” I said when she’d finished. “You might want to touch up your own makeup too before we go back. I think you’ve been doing a little crying of your own.”

 

She smiled a bit ruefully. “Can you blame me? It’s not easy suddenly finding out that your brother is really your sister in disguise, is it?”

 

“I wouldn’t put it quite like that,” I replied, shocked that Jess should suddenly get it into her head that I was going to be Jamie permanently. I didn’t want to burst her bubble, but I knew I wasn’t going to stay like this.

 

“Oh come on. How would you put it then? Seems to me you’ve slipped into this ’Jamie’ personality a little too easily to just drop it and go back to being James. Let’s face it, you’re happier than I’ve ever seen you despite - or perhaps because of the fact that you’re in a dress and strappy sandals; your hair’s definitely not a boy’s cut and I’ll bet you’re going back to have Simon colour it too. What’s more, your legs are shaved, your finger and toenails match your dress and your face is covered in makeup. Hellloooo?

 

I couldn’t argue with that. I wanted to, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to challenge her point of view.

 

Despite the fact that I had been dressing in girl’s clothes and assuming the persona of ’Jamie’ for no more than a few days, I did feel comfortable that way. Possibly more disturbing was the fact that I was becoming more comfortable with it with each passing moment.

 

Oh dear.

 

I sat down heavily, my head in my hands.

 

“You alright, sis?”

 

Sis? It seemed as far as Jess was concerned, this was a done deal.

 

“No.”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“This is all so quick. A couple of days ago, I was James; pain in the arse brother that you avoided at all costs and now look at me.”

 

“I know. You’re quite the Cinderella, aren’t you?”

 

“That’s not what I mean. At first I only agreed to keep this up because no-one knew any different and here we are just days later and not only am I more girl now than I am boy, but it seems like everyone is expecting me to stay like this.”

 

“You mean you don’t want to?”

 

“No!” I replied, emphatically, standing back up very quickly and nearly toppling over.

 

“Oh.”

 

There was no denying there was disappointment on Jess’s face.

 

“Of course I don’t. You don’t think I’m stupid enough to think that everything’s going to stay like this do you? I mean, this is one thing, but once the holiday’s over, what d’you thinks’ going to happen?”

 

“I’m sorry, I just thought…”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, turning to the mirror just to check myself over one last time before going back to the Annexe.

 

Looking in the reflective glass at the image staring back, I saw nothing strange. I thought I’d have felt alien, wrong or something; certainly not as accepting of the new image as I did. It seemed to verify and further substantiate what Jess had said and I wondered whether I would see James returning after the holiday.

 

The fact was, I really liked the new image; the haircut that Simon had given me was superb and once the colour was in too…

 

Then there was the makeup - the smoky eyes, soft pink lips and the slight trace of blush on the cheeks, all capped by the blue nail varnish, which seemed to tie everything together. It really did make me wonder whether I should have been female all along, and that nature had played a cruel joke on me.

 

As Jess appeared beside me in the mirror, I noticed the resemblance - and it was much more than just a family likeness. Our faces were the same shape, the shape of our eyebrows - now that Mum had plucked mine - and the colour of our eyes. Despite being made up differently, there was no denying we were twins.

 

“It’s a bit scary isn’t it?” Jess observed. “Apart from the boobs, that is.”

 

I nodded.

 

“Go on,” she whispered. “Go and let me finish up here. I’ll see you back with the others.”

 

I gave Jess a quick hug. “Thanks, sis,” I said and as I pulled away, I couldn’t help noticing that her eyes were tearing up again.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

I covered the short distance between the caravan and the house, resisting the urge to pluck the thin gusset of my thong out from between the cheeks of my bum.

 

“I will get used to these,” I muttered.

 

I couldn’t help feeling confused. Part of me felt like I ought to have been upset by the fact we looked so much alike, and if not that then definitely by Jess referring to me as her sister disguised as her brother.

 

However, as odd as it may seem, I wasn’t upset by either. I couldn’t actually find it within me to get upset about it, though I don’t know why. I suppose should have, shouldn’t I?

 

Having seen the two of us side-by-side in the mirror, I could see why the kids at school treated me the way they did. We were like two peas in a pod, which was exactly what Chris or Megan had said - something that actually upset Jess and at the time, me too.

 

Yet this startling revelation succeeded not in causing anguish, but quite the reverse; it gave me a sense of pride - can you believe that? Add to that the fact that Jess had apologised - even more of an eye-opener, I can tell you - and it was with a profound feeling of confusion that I stepped into the annexe.

 

“Where’s Jess?” Mum asked, looking me over. “And why have you been messing with your makeup?”

 

She was taking another mouthful of coffee when I answered.

 

“Jess apologised to me for being a bitch and both of us got a bit tearful. Afterwards, our faces were a mess, so she redid mine then sent me back here while she redid hers.”

 

Mum spluttered, sending the majority of her coffee over the table. “Shit! She did what?!” She stood up too quickly, trying to avoid the drips and upset the remainder of her coffee in the process.

 

“Redid my makeup.”

 

“Before that?”

 

“She apologised.”

 

Mum sat down heavily on the chair, her coffee heading swiftly towards the edge of the table and her.

 

“I can’t believe this,” she said. “I leave you alone for five minutes and look what happens.”

 

This was beginning to feel a little more familiar. Something happens, I’m close by, so it’s my fault. Oh well.

 

“Um, your coffee?”

 

“Bugger!” she exclaimed and jumped up, grabbing a cloth from the draining board and mopping furiously at the spillage.

 

“I thought you’d be pleased,” I said, disappointed that Jess and I finally getting along wasn’t met with the enthusiasm I thought it ought to have.

 

“So where is she now?” she asked, rinsing and wringing the cloth out before returning to the table to mop up the last remnants.

 

“Finishing her makeup. She’ll be over in a minute. Where’s Dad?”

 

“He’s taking a shower and will be out shortly,” she replied, still mopping up the sticky coffee. “Please don’t do that again.”

 

“Sorry,” I said, beating a hasty retreat, shaking my head and wondering what I had to do not to be blamed for every little thing.

 

I wandered into their lounge where Chris and Megan were waiting.

 

“Where’s Jess,” Chris asked.

 

“Fixing her makeup,” I replied, flopping on the chair.

 

“You alright?” asked Megan.

 

“Not really. I’m a little confused, but I’m sure it’ll pass.”

 

Dad sauntered down from the bathroom upstairs in his usual fashion, doing up his shirt and humming tunelessly as he did so. “Evening girls,” he said in a sing-song voice.

 

“Evening Mr. Powers,” Megan and Chris intoned, almost in unison.

 

“Hi Dad,” I said.

 

The footsteps stopped about half way down the hall between the lounge and kitchen and then began coming back towards us. His head appeared, peering round the doorway, scanning the room before resting on me.

 

“Jamie? Is that really you?” he asked, his eyes going wide.

 

“In the flesh,” I answered with a slight smile, unable to read his expression.

 

Holy shit!!!” he gasped, immediately covering his mouth with his hand after realising what he’d said.

 

Was that a good, ’holy shit’, or bad one? It didn’t sound particularly good to me. Was he just shocked at seeing me that way or was it worse? Was it disgust perhaps? I couldn’t tell.

 

What I did know was that he was the one who wasn’t into this ’cross-dressed’ thing at all. In fact, if his facial expressions and body language were anything to go by, it was entirely likely that he was disgusted or even repulsed seeing me in my outfit.

 

His lips tightened and thinned noticeably in a form of grimace before he shook his head solemnly, leaving us to head back to the kitchen without saying another word.

 

We all looked at one another, afraid to speak, but just from their expressions I could tell that Chris and Megan were of the same opinion as I: Dad didn’t appear to be happy with what he saw.

 

I moved towards the kitchen, hearing his and Mum’s voices as I neared.

 

“What the hell have you done to Jamie?” he demanded.

 

“Nothing,” Mum replied.

 

“Nothing? Nothing?,” he demanded, his voice getting louder. “You call that nothing?”

 

I stayed in the hall slightly back from the doorway and out of their line of sight, but not out of earshot. It’s a bad habit I know, but at the end of the day, they were talking about me and I needed to hear it - well, that’s my excuse anyway.

 

“Shh!” Mum admonished. “The girls can hear you; maybe even Frank and Deirdre.”

 

“Sod them!” he replied angrily. “I’m more concerned about what you’ve done to Jamie.”

 

“I thought we went through all this last night,” she replied pleasantly. “Jamie is staying ’en-femme’ to avoid any unpleasant questions.”

 

“On what?” he asked. “And what sort of questions?” He sounded incredulous.

 

“It’s ’en-femme’, not ’on’ and it means as a woman.”

 

Her reasonable tone sounded dangerous to me, but then it got more business-like.

 

“You didn’t hear a single word I said last night, did you?” she stated.

 

I was disappointed that I couldn’t see Dad’s face to see whether he recognised that tone of voice as I did. It meant danger with a capital ‘D’. I know I would have been off down the hall pretty damn quick if that tone had been levelled at me.

 

There was a slight pause before Dad made any kind of answer. Perhaps he did spot the danger signals.

 

“I did hear what you said, but I never agreed to any of it. I’ve had a chance to think about it now and I don’t like it.”

 

“What you mean is that you didn’t listen. You may have heard, but none of it sank in, did it? Now you’ve seen Jamie and suddenly you remember what I was talking about. Well, it’s a bit bloody late now, don’t you think? You should have told me before all the clothes and the hair-do. You didn’t even say anything when I phoned you from the hairdressers, did you?”

 

“I did say something and you told me you weren’t going to do him up like a dog’s dinner, which is exactly what you did.” he stated, accusingly. “Now look at him. He looks so… so… effeminate.”

 

“Firstly, I did not ‘do her up like a dog’s dinner’. I have merely allowed her to dress in a style similar to the way the rest of the girls are dressed, nothing more,” she stated primly. “And what’s more, the word is not ‘effeminate’, but ’feminine’ and extremely pretty.”

 

“Whatever,” Dad spat, obviously not keen on being corrected. “He doesn’t even look like our son anymore. He looks like a girl. It’s not right and it’s stopping; right now!

 

“Firstly, of course she looks like a girl. She’s supposed to look like a girl and secondly…”

 

They didn’t stop there.

 

Mum argued for and Dad definitely supplied an impassioned argument against.

 

I think from what I was hearing that Mum was right. Dad rarely listens to any of us. The number of times he’s said “yes dear” to something Mum’s told him and then sworn blind later that she didn’t tell him, is beyond counting.

 

It appeared as if what she’d said to him about me was no different.

 

Of course, had he listened to her and not just heard the ’blah… blah… blah…’, it might have made a difference and this situation may not have gone as far as it did.

 

Right then though, my focus on Mum and Dad’s argument waned as I started to feel woozy. My head was spinning and their voices sounded as though they were coming from the other end of a long tunnel. Waves of nausea swept over me and I had to lean against the hall wall in order to stay upright.

 

I don’t know whether it was panic, or whether I was actually ill, but I considered what was going to happen if Dad got his way: Suddenly Jamie would disappear and a rather effeminate-looking boy would take her place. I was sure to be asked questions and the whole sorry episode would come out into the open; out where everyone could see and that would have been news.

 

I could see it in my mind’s eye; newspaper headlines pointing vitriolic fingers:

 

“Cliffside heroine really a boy …”

 

“… Parents blamed for young boy’s feminisation…”

 

My heart sank and with the churning in my stomach, I felt as though I was just about to hit the deck. I just couldn’t seem to do anything. Another wave of nausea swept through me, making me feel as if I was being tossed around indiscriminately on stormy seas, rising and falling, pitching and yawing and stopping me from being able to either think straight or stand straight, with the added delight of impending vomit.

 

I didn’t feel well at all.

 

“…this is not up for debate, Gail,” I heard Dad say. “You seem to be taking a great deal of pleasure in feminising our son and I’m buggered if I’m going to let you carry on with it…”

 

Their voices rose, louder and louder; their shouts more frequent, but at the same time, they sounded to me like they were down that deep, dark tunnel as I became more abstracted, finding my focus slipping as the hallway began spinning, or at least to oscillate; hurtling part way round in one direction then rocking before hurtling back the other.

 

Meanwhile, the argument continued until I could take no more.

 

I stumbled into the kitchen. “Stop it, both of you. Just stop, please!” I shouted.

 

Mum and Dad stopped dead in their tracks and slowly turned to face me.

 

“If I want to be a girl, I will be a girl and there is nothing either of you can do about it. Right now, I want to stay this way because admitting to Frank, Deirdre and everyone else that I’m not what they think I am is too embarrassing.”

 

“You’re a boy,” Dad argued, his eyes wide; probably with the shock of me actually standing up for myself, or perhaps simply because I wanted to stay the way I was. “You shouldn’t have been dressed like that in the first place.”

 

“Maybe, but that’s not what happened, is it? The opposite is actually what happened. Everyone thinks I’m a girl and that’s how I need to stay - at least for the time being.”

 

“No,” Dad said frowning. “I won’t have my son parading round like a little tart.”

 

“Derek!” Mum exploded, shocked by Dad’s tone and choice of adjective.

 

I didn’t have the energy to react to being called a tart or the suggestion that I was ’parading’, although I really wanted to. All I could do was stand my ground; make sure Dad understood that changing back was - to my mind - the wrong thing to do.

 

“You don’t have to like it, Dad. This is my decision to make, not yours. I think if we change things now, it’ll only make matters worse.”

 

“Listen James. I’m your father and you are a fourteen year-old boy. Decisions about how you appear in public are mine to make, whether you like it or not.”

 

“Then why did you wait until now to make this one?” I asked. “You don’t seem to have paid any attention up until now.”

 

“How dare you,” he growled, raising his hand.

 

“Derek! Don’t you dare either.” Mum’s face hardened noticeably. “You might want to remember that we make the decisions around here not just you.” She sat back down at the table, picked up the empty coffee cup and groaned, plonking it back on the table and looking up at Dad. “Don’t you think Jamie has a point? If we make her change back, don’t you think that will attract attention?”

 

“So?”

 

“Well what will people think?”

 

“It’s got bugger-all to do with them. James is our son, not our daughter and that’s all there is to it.”

 

“Right; so the newspapers, television and radio stations that have all met Jamie won’t be in the least bit surprised. They’re not going to start asking questions, pointing fingers and producing articles about what we did with our son are they?”

 

Dad just stood there, his mouth agape.

 

“This isn’t one of those things where you can just change your mind as and when you please, you know. This is the situation and as much as neither of us like what’s happening, we can’t change that. It’s not just the affect it’s having on Jamie, it’s the effect it would have on all of us, Frank and Deirdre included.”

 

“But...”

 

“...but nothing, Derek. How many times have you come home complaining that the powers that be don’t know what they’re talking about? How many times have you been disgusted with their lack of understanding of the ’domino principal’ I think you called it. You said you can’t just do this or do that without affecting other things that are already there?

 

“Now here you are, doing exactly the same thing. You think it would be better for Jamie to disappear and for James to return and everything go back to normal. In an ideal world, that would be the way to go. I and I’m sure James, would be right behind you, but this isn’t an ideal world is it?

 

“This situation’s a real mess. Everything’s tightly intertwined with everything else; knotted together and even if we did unpick this bit, the rest will still be there. It’s not just Jamie or what we think about what he’s doing, but everyone else that have become involved too, like the press or Frank and Deirdre for instance.

 

“They don’t know James, they only know Jamie - as does everyone else outside our family circle. Frank and Deirdre would probably understand what happened, but the press won’t and who d’you think they’re going to blame?”

 

Dad muttered something and stormed off, not looking very happy - at all.

 

Mum let out an explosive breath. “Fuck me that was tiring!” she exclaimed, her head falling forwards into her hands.

 

“Thanks, Mum,” I said, going round behind her and putting my hand on her shoulder.

 

“Yes, well don’t get too comfortable,” she said curtly, shrugging away from my touch.

 

I yanked my hand back like it had just been burnt and tears started to form. She wasn’t being the nice Mum that spoke to me in the paddock, but it almost felt like she was going to accompany that last sentence with “now get out of my sight”.

 

I made a bee-line for the door, leaving Mum at the table.

 

“Jamie?”

 

I didn’t stop to find out what she was going to say, but just pelted down the hallway and into the lounge.

 

“Hey, there you are,” said Megan, jumping up and running over to me.

 

I shrugged her off and dropped on chair, pulling my knees up and pushing my face into them, while the others sat or stood, looking wide-eyed at me.

 

“What’s the matter?” Jess asked.

 

“I don’t know,” I said, the tears beginning to run down my cheeks. “Mum and Dad just had a ginormous argument and it’s all my fault.”

 

That was it; the tears ran like rivers, taking my makeup with them - again.

 

I looked up to see Mum standing at the door. She looked at the three girls and with a simple motion of her head, sent them out and just continued to stand there and look at me.

 

For some reason, I felt angry. “What?!” I demanded. “Haven’t you ever seen a girl cry before?”

 

That was Mum’s turn to go wide-eyed and she came to the chair and knelt down in front of it.

 

“Girl?”

 

I felt a little silly - well, more than a little actually. Was that a Freudian slip? Was I admitting something; something that Jess and the others had seen all along?

 

“Oops.”

 

“No, it’s alright. I’m sorry about back there. I was angry with your father and, to a certain extent, you too. Mind you, I can see what you mean. I’m just a little surprised it’s happened so quickly. I mean it has only been a couple of days, hasn’t it?”

 

“God, Mum. What’s happening to me?”

 

Mum looked at me a little strangely and then gave me a cuddle, talking to me as she held me tight.

 

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think this is something we should rush into,” she said quietly.

 

“Rush into? Rush into what?”

 

“Jamie staying around.”

 

“I don’t want that. I told you. I was talking about all the bloody crying. I can’t seem to stop.”

 

“Don’t worry about it. Let’s just say I’ll keep Dad off his high horse for the time being. We’ll have to look at what happens after the holiday, after the holiday. Deal?”

 

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I figured that anything that prevented arguments and feuds like we’d just been through couldn’t be a bad thing. “Deal.”

 

She lifted my chin with a curled finger. “What are we going to do with you?” she asked and drew me to her, wrapping her arms around me and making “there, there,” noises as I cried - again.

 

I’ll tell you what; this bloody emotional stuff doesn’t half take it out of you. By the time I’d finished blubbing, I was knackered.

 

“Right now, you look a complete state and it looks as though we’re going to be late. Trust your father to start an argument right at the wrong time.”

 

I stood up and we hugged again.

 

“It’ll be alright,” she said and with that, went to leave the room.

 

“Er, exactly where are we going?” I asked, as she was half way through the door.

 

“It’s a surprise,” Mum replied quickly. “So, just be patient. I have to go get ready.”

 

Her exit was almost immediately followed by Chris, Megan and Jess filing in.

 

“What the hell’s going on?” Jess demanded.

 

“Oh nothing.”

 

“Don’t ’oh nothing’ me, sis; spill.”

 

“Dad wanted me to go back to being James and I didn’t want to.”

 

“Wow,” said Chris. “Does that mean you’re staying as Jamie - like forever?”

 

“What?! No. No, er, definitely not. It’s just for the holiday. There are too many people involved to stop just like that.”

 

I was pushed on a chair as Jess got started on fixing my face. “So what about the bit with Mum?” she asked.

 

“Oh, that,” I said, trying to be evasive. The bit about being Jamie after the holiday was over was a bit of a shock. Mum could see something either I didn’t want to admit or didn’t see. Whatever it was, she didn’t seem particularly shocked by it. “She was just telling me it was just like Dad to start an argument at precisely the wrong time. I’m fine now. I was a little scared for you lot to come back in here and see me though.”

 

“Scared?” asked Chris. “Why?”

 

I shrugged. “I thought you’d laugh at me for being such a mess.”

 

“Are you kidding? You mustn’t be scared of us. We’re your friends.”

 

“Too right,” added Jess. “You’re one of us now.”

 

With that, all three of them wrapped their arms round me and I was enveloped in a wave of love. I know it sounds all ’warm and fuzzy’or better still, ’sweet and sickly’, which even I found made me feel nauseous again it was so damned sweet, but right then and there, it was exactly what I needed.

 

“Come on then, Sis. Time for your makeover.”

 

Jess set to work and between the three girls my makeup was reapplied amidst some good-natured ribbing and a lot of ego-massaging. Ten minutes later, I was ready to present to Mum and Dad.

 

“Your Mum- and Dad-ships. May I present…” Jess said grandiosely and held her hand out and just as I walked in through the door, she announced, “Jamie.” She came and stood next to me, one arm draped about my shoulders.

 

Mum shook her head with a wry smile, while Dad just gawped at me.

 

“Come on, Derek,” said Mum.

 

“But… but… but…” he mumbled, doing a very good impersonation of a motorboat.

 

“Yes, dear; I know. They could easily be sisters.”

 

Dad’s face was a picture. We all laughed and he looked suitably sheepish.

 

I understood why he fought so hard for me to be me and not a strange facsimile of a girl but, bless him, as Mum often said, ‘he’s a brilliant engineer, but not much cop on the people front.’

 

“Er, before we go,” he said. “I have some bad news.”

 

You could have heard a pin drop as all five of us turned to face him.

 

“While I was upstairs, I got a phone call,” he said, his face serious.

 

“What is it?” asked Mum. “What’s happened?”

 

“You’re not going to like this, Gail,” he replied, looking at her. “I have to go back to work.”

 

“No!” Mum exclaimed.

 

“I’m afraid so. There’s nothing I can do about it. I had a right old go at Jeff, the boss, I can tell you, but the upshot is, I either go back in tomorrow or I lose my job.”

 

“They can’t do that,” Jess almost shrieked. “Can they?”

 

“Not really, but there are ways around the law,” Dad said.

 

Mum’s face had gone from being one of eager anticipation - well she knew where we were going, unlike the rest of us girls - to a bleak and stony expression.

 

“Derek, this has got to stop. This is the first holiday we’ve had together since you joined that bloody company. Every time you even make a noise about a holiday, something happens and we either have to cancel or the kids and I wind up at Nan’s - without you. This is just absolutely appalling.

 

“I know, I know,” he said softly. “I’m no happier about it than you are.” He turned to me. “Jamie, I’m sorry. I’ve been insensitive and I wish I’d have installed that filter between brain and mouth. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I’m proud of you; more than you can possibly know.”

 

“Please, Dad,” I said embarrassed. “You’ll make my makeup run - again.”

 

“Yeah, Dad,” said Jess. “I’ve already had to fix it twice.”

 

“And I did it the first time,” Mum said.

 

He laughed and then we all did.

 

“Look, I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to go back to work and try and sort out this problem. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to come back.”

 

“But you don’t think you will, do you?”

 

He didn’t say anything, but reading between the lines, I’m sure Mum knew what he was thinking.

 

Silence descended and no-one knew quite where to look or what to say. Finally Dad was the one to break it.

 

“Hey, come on. We’ve still got tonight. Something tells me this is going to be a bit special, so come on; ten-to-two faces and let’s go have ourselves a really good time, shall we?”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

We gathered at Deirdre and Frank’s front door and when they came out, it was with very relieved looks.

 

“We thought you weren’t coming.”

 

“We nearly didn’t. Our ’heroine’ has just proved she’s human and not a superhero,” said Mum, giving me a sly wink.

 

“Oh?” Deirdre queried. “She’s alright now, I hope.”

 

“Oh yes. Perfectly.”

 

“That’s okay then.”

 

We walked towards our respective cars without even thinking, but thankfully, Mum’s head was switched on. I think the rest of us were still reeling after Dad’s announcement.

 

“Someone’s going to have to go with Frank and Deirdre,” she said, turning to face our hosts. “That’s if you wouldn’t mind. The Corsa’s too small for all of us.”

 

“Of course not, there’s plenty of room in our old jalopy.”

 

I elected to be the one who travelled with Frank and Deirdre, rather than have the embarrassment of having to have Mum or Dad ’volunteer’ one of us.

 

“I’m going with Jamie,” said Megan.

 

“Well, you’re not leaving us behind,” said Jess, grabbing Chris and almost hauling her towards Frank’s Mitsubishi Shogun.

 

“What’s going on?” asked Dad. Where are they all going?”

 

“They’ve elected to go with Jamie,” Mum informed him.

 

“They’ve what? What even Jess?”

 

“Even Jess. Never mind. I’ll explain it on the way.”

 

We left Mum and Dad bickering about his work, the weather and just about everything else as we climbed into the Shogun.

 

“So where are we going?” Jess asked.

 

“You’ll see,” Deirdre replied as Frank started to pull out of the drive.

 

The fact that we were all dolled up and didn’t know where we were going just added to the excitement and I for one was pretty tense with wondering what the adults had in store for us.

 

“So are you all ready for some work tomorrow?” asked Deirdre.

 

“Don’t know; what you got planned?” I asked.

 

“Well, the horses need grooming and the stables cleaning. Are you up for it?”

 

“Definitely,” we said in unison.

 

I was even more excited by that than the up-coming event. The thought of seeing Valentina was too much of a pull.

 

“Good,” Deirdre said. “If you’re lucky, we might even get to go for a ride in the afternoon.”

 

“Oh wow!”

 

“If you finish in time, that is.”

 

“We will,” we assured in unison.

 

Shortly afterwards, we pulled into a car park and got out into the balmy evening air and waited for Mum and Dad to finish parking the Corsa.

 

“It’s this way,” Frank said, leading off as Deirdre linked her arm through his.

 

We followed to a large building and were greeted at the door by a man with a clipboard and one of those headphone/microphone things on his head.

 

“We’ve been expecting you,” he said. “Right this way please. You’re only just in time.”

 

Then without even looking away from us he added, “They’re just on their way.”

 

All of us looked at one another as we were led down a long corridor, as the clipboard wielding man kept talking and we never knew whether he was talking to us or to someone in the ether. However, it wasn’t long before we arrived at a couple of rooms, where us girls were whisked into protective gowns and accosted with little brushes. We presumed that Mum, Dad, Frank and Deirdre were getting similar treatment in the next room.

 

“Just a teeny weeny bit of makeup,” said a very effeminate man, whose name was Noël. Although he had us all giggling, he flatly refused tell us what this was all in aid of. Moments later, when our makeup had been applied, we were whisked back out and down another corridor where we rejoined Mum, Dad, Deirdre and Frank in an area where there was a large round, smoke-glass table surrounded by comfortable chairs and sofas.

 

We were asked to wait. “I won’t be a mo’,” the man with the clip-board said before hurrying off.

 

Frank didn’t look too pleased having had the makeup treatment. He kept muttering things like, “I’m not a bloody poof,” and the like, while Deirdre kept nudging him in the ribs and telling him to “shush”.

 

“Everyone has to have it to stop shiny bits affecting the cameras,” she told him.

 

He didn’t think it was particularly appropriate, huffing, folding his arms and continuing to mutter.

 

“What’s going on?” I asked. “What is this?”

 

“It’ll all be explained shortly, I expect,” Mum replied. “Just be patient.”

 

That was the second time she’d said that. There was something afoot and I was sure I wasn’t going to like it.

 

Mum and Dad whispered to Deirdre and Frank and the rest of us mostly just looked at the floor as there seemed to be a hush over the place that none of the adults with us wanted to break. All in all, although it was only what turned out to be a few minutes, it was a pretty scary few minutes.

 

Would you like to come this way, please,” said the clip-board man, leading us towards a large pair of doors, where a group of people clipped little mics to our clothes, tucking the radio boxes into some rather embarrassing places I can tell you. Once that was done, clipboard man held the door for us and ushered us in.

 

If I thought the hall was scary, this part was worse. There was a woman talking from behind some screens and she seemed to be addressing a number of people. It sounded a lot like someone taking assembly at school.

 

Oh my God,’ I thought, feeling the colour drain from my face. The others looked around equally apprehensive.

 

“Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce four girls who have gone above and beyond, risking their very lives to save people from that freak mudslide. So without further ado…” said the woman on the stage.

 

I looked at Jess and the others and all of them had that ’oh, no…’ look on their faces. I knew I was no different and before any of us had the chance to run, the clip-board man was there, practically shoving us towards a stage, where several men with headphones were manoeuvring large studio cameras around, one of which swung round and pointed at us, following us across what appeared to be an acre of space between where we were and a woman, who smiled and clapped as we approached.

 

Looking to my left, there was what appeared to be terrace after terrace of seats, all of which were filled with people, who appeared to be applauding us with some enthusiasm.

 

I recognised the woman as Sheila Bright, a well-known talk-show host, but the simple act of walking across that stage, made my knees turn to jelly.

 

“Firstly, welcome to the show,” she said amiably. “I understand this was a bit of a surprise for some of you.”

 

“Huh! You can say that again,” Dad muttered, which actually lightened the load on me. I know I shouldn’t take comfort in the discomfort of others, but just knowing that I was as surprised as Dad - even though it was for a different reason - made me feel a lot better.

 

The rest of the interview was pretty good. After a while, I didn’t even notice the audience. The lights on the stage and the subdued lighting over the audience, made it feel a lot more convivial and most of the time, I didn’t even notice they were there.

 

“So I understand from the reports that it was you, Jess that got Joe and Martha to safety,” Sheila probed.

 

“Well, yes,” Jess replied. “But only because Jamie told us what to do. I think we’d have been trapped in our cabin if it hadn’t been for her.”

 

“So what was Jamie doing while you were getting Martha and Joe back to the house?”

 

“Getting the cat,” said Megan.

 

The audience chuckled at that.

 

“A cat?”

 

“Well, yes,” I replied. “Martha wouldn’t go unless she had the cat.”

 

Sheila obviously saw my discomfort at the mention of the cat. “That’s not all is it?”

 

I looked a little sheepish. “No. Joe warned me about Joey - the cat, calling him a ’flea-bitten rat-bag’.”

 

More laughs.

 

“Well, he didn’t seem to appreciate being rescued and sank his claws and teeth into me quite a few times before I got back to the house.”

 

Again, the audience laughed.

 

“But I assume you got him to a very grateful Martha?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Sheila wrapped things up with a few words to Frank, Deirdre, Mum and Dad, who all expressed how proud they were of us and the audience gave us a hearty round of applause.

 

At the end of it all, I felt about a hundred feet tall. Jess and the girls made me feel every inch one of their best friends and as for Frank and Deirdre, they made me - well, all of us really - feel like we were family. I didn’t think I was ever going to come down from the cloud I was busy floating on.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Dinner was just as good as the television studios. It was a real restaurant, not some burger or pizza joint, but a real, sit-down-and-be-waited-on job. It was also the first time we had ever been in one quite like that - as a family anyway.

 

The buzz I think all of us experienced being on a show like that, seemed to spill over to the meal and quite honestly, it was the best thing I had ever eaten and must have cost a fortune.

 

Frank looked a lot more comfortable since they’d removed the ’silly bloody makeup’ as he put it and kept looking as us girls strangely. It was as if we’d saved his life or something.

 

“Cliffside’s more than just a holiday park,” he said. “It’s been our home and represents everything we have. We’ve put all our savings and then some into it and had it not been for you people, we would not only have lost the cabins, but Dee’s mum and dad too.

 

“On top of that, you’ve provided us with much-needed exposure that has put us well and truly on the map. We’ve had more phone calls over the last two days from people wanting to stay with us - thanks to the Cliffside Heroine - than we’ve ever had before. Now if we can just put into operation the ideas that Derek and I have had, I think we can not only recoup our losses, but set ourselves up for the future too.”

 

He stood up.

 

“I’d like to propose a toast in thanks to you all,” he said, picking up and raising his glass. “To new beginnings,” he added and we all stood up, raised our glasses and intoned, “New beginnings.”

 

We sat back down again, well, all except Frank.

 

Seeing him just standing there, his glass in his hand was something that confused us all as the burble of excited chatter died away and all eyes rested upon the white-haired man stood before us.

 

“Go on,” said Deirdre, nudging him with her elbow.

 

“Alright,” he said, looking down at his wife. He cleared his throat.

 

“Derek,” he said, clearing his throat again, more to cover the fact that he was feeling uncomfortable than because it actually needed clearing. “We heard about work and we also know that you’re not happy about it. I’d just like to express that without you and your skills, I don’t think we’d have managed to get as far as we have. With any luck, we should be up and running again before the end of the season.” He stared at his napkin on the table for a few moments. “Well, what I’m trying to say is, if you want a job, we’d be happy to have you here. It’s not a big place, but it’s big enough for all of us and I know how your girls love the horses and - ” His words just seemed to taper off into oblivion as he stood looking expectantly at Dad.

 

“I don’t know what to say,” Dad replied - a bit misty-eyed too if I wasn’t much mistaken.

 

I could see Mum’s face too and knew what she was going to suggest he did, but she was sensible enough to let him make up his own mind.

 

“I’d like nothing more than to just drop everything, but I know, as I’m sure you do, it’s not that simple. Funnily enough, my family gave me a big object lesson earlier about how simple things aren’t. This may seem like I’m trying to avoid an answer, but can I think about it? I don’t want to jump into anything just yet.”

 

“Of course,” Frank beamed, sitting down, raising his glass and saying, “Cheers!

 

We all raised our glasses, smiling and chorusing with our own response of cheers.

 

The rest of the dinner was just a complete buzz of excited chatter and expectation, but there in the midst of it was sadness too.

 

“That means that if your Dad says yes to Frank, that’ll mean we won’t ever see either of you again,” said Chris.

 

“Don’t be silly. You’d be welcome anytime, I’m sure. Isn’t that right Jamie?”

 

“Oh yes - both of you.”

 

It seemed to allay their fears, but I knew we’d have to wait and see about that.

 

I couldn’t help thinking how appropriate it all was.

 

Whether I stayed as Jamie or not, I hoped that this was going to be the beginning of something good.

 

If Dad accepted Frank’s offer, that would mean I’d never have to miss Valentina or anything else about this place. Dad would never have to worry about holidays and his work calling him back half way through his one and only break in over six years, but more importantly, no longer was I going to be the one that everyone picked on, that everyone blamed. It would be a new beginning and who knew it would take a mudslide to do it?

 


 

 

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