“Well, Cass, here we are – one more day to go.
I nodded in agreement as Jenny pulled the scarf tightly over my mouth, and knotted the ends together at the base of my neck, before she stood back and looked at her handiwork. She was right about that at least – tomorrow me, along with Lisa, Pippa, Hazel and Clare, were doing quite possibly the scariest thing I had ever contemplated – and I’ve done some fairly scary things in my time.
Start at the same secondary school as my big sister.
That, however was tomorrow – today I was lying on my bed, nice and snug and secure, watching as Dad taped the socks over Jenny’s hands and then started to tie her wrists together behind her back. We’d asked him if we could have one last time to relax before dinner, and that’s why Jenny had taped my hands into fists, covered them with socks and then taped the socks to the sleeves of my white top, and then done the full job on me.
I had a green and blue smock on over my top, green leggings and sneakers, but right now I was enjoying the feeling of the ropes that held my arms to my body, around my waist, my tummy and my upper arms, rubbing on me a little as I moved around. My wrists were crossed and secured behind my back, my ankles crossed and tied, my legs bound together below my knees, and then pulled back and tied to my chest ropes.
As Dad tied Jenny up, I couldn’t help thinking back to earlier in the summer, when we had one of the most frightening nights I’ve ever had. We were sleeping over with Lisa and her brother when some men burst in, and kidnapped all of us with their mother. This wasn’t a pretend kidnap either – this was the real thing, with them using plastic strips and tight gags, never mind what happened when they took us to their hideout.
We - and I mean all five of us – had no idea what was going on, but the men who did that made the Pearl of Great Price look like Suzie’s mum and dad when we have a get-together at Wissenden. It was all I could do to keep calm – but Jenny?
Jenny was the real heroine – because she knew, just knew we were going to be all right. And the reason she knew this was because we know some very special people – Brian and Sarah.
A year or so back, something very serious happened at Holderness Manor – something that made my mum and aunts, as well as many others, very scared indeed. All I was told about it was they had been involved in a robbery – I was at Suzie’s other grandmother’s house that weekend, so only heard when Dad told me. Mum, Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie were very upset and cried a lot, but after they went away for another weekend they seemed a lot happier.
That was when I first met Sarah – and it was Sarah and her husband Brian who came to our rescue that night. They’d snatched us to force Lisa and Charlie’s dad to steal something, but he managed to turn the tables and with the help of my American friends get us free.
Just after that, Mum and Dad sat down with me and Jenny, and told me a bit more of what happened that night, as well as the fact it was Sarah who came to the rescue then as well. I realised after that why Mum had cried so much, and – well, I’m not going to dwell on it here. But that night, it was our turn to be saved by them.
“All right,” I heard Dad say as he helped Jenny to sit on the bed where I was lying, and then kneel down as he crossed and tied her ankles together, “it’s two hours until I need to make sure you’re free for dinner. You two sure you want to be like this all the time.
“Yup,” Jenny said as I nodded in agreement. Big sis was wearing a grey sweatshirt and jogging pants, with socks pulled up her legs. I get the feeling going back into uniform the day after tomorrow was not something she was really looking forward to.
It had actually been a fairly quiet summer – we’d spent a week at the seaside, but spent most of it here, playing with the other girls or in Jenny’s case catching up with some revision. Not that means we’d been bored – far from it. Mind you, Lisa and Charlie went to the States with their parents for a couple of weeks – and they actually met Cindy and our other American friends, again thanks to Brian and Sarah.
Their twins, Bart and Sarah, were born earlier this year in Holderness, and they were christened a couple of weeks ago in Maine. Alicia, Suzie’s cousin, and her dad had been invited to be godparents, so they had gone out to attend the christening – and it turned out Charlie and Lisa’s parents were also asked to join them, Amy Strong, Jack Hawkins, as well as Chloe Bandelaine and her boyfriend James in the role.
Before they went out, however, Lisa and I had an adventure – one involving a new family in the area, who lived over near Fiona and Louise.
Oh, hang on a minute – I haven’t mentioned those two before. Fiona and Louise are friends of my darling cousin Patty and her BFF Rachel, and live on the other side of town. Anyway, there’s a farm near them where the Cottrell family live – three boys, Mark, Eric and Frank. We met Mark at a birthday party for Alicia, and then Lisa and I met Frank and Eric a few days later, when we were trying to be Nancy Drew and figure out where Charlie kept disappearing off to.
To cut a long story short, he’d made friends with Frank, the youngest of the boys, and Lisa and I alongside Louise ended up visiting the farm one day to return a book to Frank. He wasn’t there, but Eric was, and so we had lunch with him and his mum, before we got up to come home.
Only we didn’t get home – not just then.
“Open wide,” Dad said as he pushed a sponge ball into Jenny’s mouth, and then tied a knotted strip of towel between her lips and round her head. He then wrapped the tape round her head to keep that covered, folded a black scarf and tied that over the tape, and finally made her lie next to me and pulled her ankles back, securing them to her chest ropes.
“Wllhhrwwggnnn,” she mumbled to me as Dad turned the radio on and left us to relax – which was something similar to what Patty said to me during that visit to the Cottrell farm.
You see, the door to the room opened as me, Lisa, Louise and Patty were about to go – and in worked Jay Edwards with three other people. Now, I have absolutely no idea why I keep running into one of the more notorious criminals in Britain, but this was the fourth time – for me anyway.
After that business with the kidnappers, I knew we had to keep Lisa calm, and Louise as well, so we pretended it was a game for her – and I even persuaded Mr Edwards to get Eric to tie Louise up. The two of them have a crush on each over, and I figured she would – well, not necessarily enjoy it, but it may make it easier on her.
We ended up staying the night – as always seems to be the case with Jay Edwards, tightly bound and gagged in nightclothes, although in this case Lisa and I had to borrow some of Eric’s pyjamas, and Patty and Louise some of Frank’s. Anyway, apart from clothing, the only real difference now form then was that our ankles were tied to the foot of the bed, not to our chests.
So while that night all we could do was roll in our sleep, today we could wriggle round a little more – but being on the bed meant we couldn’t go too far.
Anyway, as I said, the summer holiday was nearly over – and I was starting big school. For my sins, or whatever you want to call it, those of us starting had to go a day early, which is why I had hanging up in my room my new uniform – the blouse, skirt, blazer and tie, and my bag was packed with all the stuff they said we would need.
“All right you two,” Dad eventually said, “time to let you go free. Once you’ve had dinner, you’re going with your grandmother to see Aunt Connie and Janey.”
We nodded as Dad started to untie us – Janey’s arrival had been the last great surprise of the summer. Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave hadn’t expected the new baby to arrive for another month, but she’d decided to make an appearance two weeks ago, much to the surprise of Aunt Connie – she was attending a race meeting at Newmarket at the time.
Still, Dad got the call, and tonight we were going to see out latest cousin with Granny for the very first time.
As she stretched her legs out, Jenny looked at me and said “Now, remember what we said about school?”
“Yeah yeah – Craig Compact means we can’t discuss what we do or the games we play with those who don’t know. I just hope we all end up in the same form group.”
“Find out tomorrow,” Jenny said as I stood up. “come on, let’s eat.”
We had fish and chips for tea, and then we got into the car with Granny and headed round to Aunt Connie’s house. When we got there, Uncle Dave opened the door, little Danny grinning as he reached out for granny to take him from his dad’s arms.
“How are they,” Granny said as we came in.
“Tired – come on through,” Uncle Dave said as we walked into the front room. Aunt Connie was sitting in her favourite large armchair, wearing a baggy brown jumper and leggings, while in her arms lay this little baby girl, with long black hair.
“hey, I got a present for you Danny,” I said as I sat down, and Granny put him on my lap. I handed him the small bag I was carrying, watching as he took out the teddy bear with a little baby bear in his arms.
“He has a baby sister to look after as well,” I said, Danny nodding as he cuddled the new friend.
“How are you, darling,” Granny said as she sat down.
“Still in shock a little,” Aunt Connie said. “But I’m glad to be home. Janey at least is sleeping most of the night.”
“I’m doing my share of the wakeup calls,” Uncle Dave said as he went into the kitchen, returning with some drinks for us and three mugs of coffee.
“It’s funny – you with two babies now, Susan expecting soon, the twins and Andrew – there’s a whole new generation starting to grow up around us.”
I hadn’t really thought about that, but Gran was right – there were a lot of babies around at the moment.
Jenny looked over and stroked the hair away from the baby’s eyes. “Why did you pick Janey,” she asked Aunt Connie.
“I don’t know – it just seemed to fit her,” Aunt Connie said. “Here – you can hold her.”
Jenny carefully took her in her arms and smiled as she rocked her.
“Some day that might be your own baby you hold like that,” Granny said.
“Not for a while, I promise you,” Jenny replied as she looked down into her face.
“Good luck, Cass,” Jenny said as I stood up and put my new blazer on, Dad standing and waiting as I swallowed the last of my milk.
“Let’s go,” he said as we went out to the car and I sat down, watching the world go by as he drove me to the gates of the school. As I got out, I met Hazel and Clare, both with the hair platted into pigtails, and Pippa at the gates.
“So here we are – our new school,” I said quietly. “Anyone else as scared as me?”
I turned to see Lisa standing there, smiling as she held her bag.
“Come on then,” I said as we turned round, “let’s see what happens today.”
I have to say it was a bit scary – but given everyone else was in the same boat, it wasn’t so bad. We walked across the courtyard and looked at the doors.
“I wish Suzie was here as well,” Lisa said.
“Yeah, but she’s going to the same school as Bobby, so that’s not going to happen.”
The bell ringing made us jump a little, as the door opened and a teacher said “All right, walk quietly to the main hall.”
“So I wonder who we get as a form teacher.” Pippa said as we walked amongst the other boys and girls.
“I have no idea,” I said quietly, “bet it’s a boring nobody.”
We walked in and sat down in a row of blue backed chairs, talking to each other before we saw the headmaster walk in.
“Welcome,” he said as he stood at the front. “This is the start of a great adventure for all of you, and I can see you all look a little nervous. Don’t be – it’s not as bad as anyone may have told you it is. Today is about getting to know the building, the school and the other pupils in your form room, and we get started in earnest tomorrow.
“So before we split you up, we need to go over the school rules – boring but necessary.”
Well he was right about one thing – he was boring. Eventually, however, they started to read out names – all five of us breathing a sigh of relief as we were called out in the same group.
An older pupil walked us down a corridor, and into a room that didn’t have desks, but benches with little taps on them.
“All right – take a seat, and please touch nothing. Not until you have a chance to learn what can happen if you do.”
I nodded in answer to Lisa’s question as Jo Frost turned from the board and looked at all of us.
“Good morning – I’m Dr Frost, and I’m going to be your form tutor. Right now, I want you all to put your bags on the floor, and pay attention to the front – this is where you find out how you are going to be spending your time between now and July. Buckle up, boys and girls – this is going to be very different for all of you.”
“What are the odds of you ending up with your aunt as your tutor,” Hazel said as we sat at a table at dinner time.
“I’ll ask her later,” I said quietly, “once I’ve got over the shock.”
We’d spent the first part of the morning learning our timetable and then names of the rest of our class – the five of us were one third of the girls, and there were a couple of boys from the primary school, but there were a lot of new faces as well – and one or two of them had been staring at me.
“You noticed it as well,” Lisa said.
“Yeah – why are they looking at me?”
“Maybe they remember you from that magazine and the photos of the ball last year?”
“Oh god I hope not – I just want to get on with learning,” I said as I put some pasta on my fork and started eating.
“So which classes do we share,” Clare said. “Looks like Hazel and I am in the same class for most things, based on the room numbers.”
We took a look at each other’s sheets, and compared rooms.
“Well, we have the same maths and science classes, but apart from that we’re in different streams.”
“Apart from PE that is,” Pippa said with a smile. “What so you think we’ll do first?”
“Did you look in the gym on the tour? Lots of ropes there.”
The five of us looked at each other and burst out laughing, getting glances from all the other tables.
“No way – not here,” I said with a smile. “Is your mum back at work as well Lisa?”
“Yeah – she’s been back all week, to quote her ‘struggling with the government changing their mind as to what they want us to teach’.”
“How was the US anyway?”
“Fun – we met your friends Cass. Nice bunch – especially Britney and Margo.”
“Oh – did they teach you some of their games?”
“A few – we met a friend of theirs called Freddie who taught Charlie a thing or two.”
“Sounds like a fun guy to know – pity he’s over there,” Pippa said.
“So what are we going to do this afternoon?”
“Some sort of business game, I think – and we get to finish early as well.”
“Why don’t we go back to my place after,” Lisa said, “Charlie said something about going out this afternoon.”
“Sure, why not – as long as there are no surprises waiting for us?”
“Well, that’s the first day over with,” Lisa said as she opened her front door, standing back to let us come into her house.
“I guess the real fun starts tomorrow,” Hazel said as we put our bags down in the hallway and walked into her front room. “Nice house Lisa. What does your mum and dad do again?”
“Dad’s the director of a financial firm, mum’s Key Stage 1 head at Suzie’s old school.”
“Wow,” Pippa said as she sat down, “is there anyone you know who isn’t rich Cass?”
“Apart from the rest of my friends?”
“Fair point,” Pippa said with a laugh. “So what are you going to say when you see your aunt?”
“Which one – Aunt Jess, Aunt Connie…”
“You know what we mean,” Clare said as she tossed a cushion at me.
“I’ll go and get some drinks for us,” Lisa said as she walked to the kitchen.
“What’s Jenny up to today,” Hazel said as she looked at me.
“Trying not to think about tomorrow,” I said with a smile as I looked at them. “I have the feeling that tomorrow, we are going to discover what…
“Oh dear lord – now?”
The others looked to the door to see Charlie standing there holding Lisa’s arm.
“Sreegrls,” she said through the strip of brown plaster that covered her lips. Her arms were behind her back, and I could see the rope around her waist as well.
“Well now,” Charlie said, “I seem to have found a group of schoolgirls in the house I was robbing. I guess I’m going to have to keep you all quiet.”
“Oh my,” I said in a sing song voice, “what have you done to our friend?”
“What you’re going to do to each other,” Charlie said, “pair up, and then I want one to tie the other girl’s wrists behind her back.”
“I’ll do you,” Hazel said to Clare, while I nodded to Pippa. Hazel and I took a length of rope from Charlie’s hand and started to tie their wrists behind their back, while he helped Lisa to sit down in a chair.
As I passed the rope round Pippa’s waist, she whispered “does this happen with these two a lot?”
“You have no idea,” I said as Charlie tore a strip of plaster off a roll, and pressed it over Pippa’s mouth, doing the same for Clare before he sat them down next to Lisa.
“Now tie their ankles and legs,” he said as he held out some more rope. “Once I have you two secured, I can finish robbing this place.”
“Please don’t hurt us,” Hazel said as we made sure their ankles were tied together over their socks, and then their legs below their knees, before we stood up and Charlie started to tie our wrists.
“It’s just as well we don’t have any homework,” Hazel said as we looked at each other, “I don’t think we’d get it done.”
“Enough talking,” Charlie said as he tape gagged both of us, and made us sit in the armchairs before he tied our legs.
“Swhtrwggngntlkbt,” Lisa said as she swung her legs up and down.
“Hwerrgtnnggrfnjnmm” Pippa said as she looked at Charlie.
“Oh you might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment,” Charlie said with a smile. “Now to finish robbing this house!”
He walked out of the room, the five of us looking at each other, as Lisa started to wriggle her wrists behind her back.
“Whtrudng,” Pippa said, but I’d got the idea. We still had our blazers on, and Charlie had tied our wrists over the sleeves – which meant we had a little bit of slack to work with. Not much, but a little – and Lisa was putting it to good use.
After a few minutes, she grinned as she brought her hands round, and then started to untie Pippa and Clare. Once she had them free, she untied her own legs and came over to help Hazel while I got my own hands free and untied myself.
“Right,” Pippa whispered as she removed her tape gag, “where is he?”
“I’ve no idea,” Lisa said, “follow me.”
We walked slowly down to the kitchen, and stopped short when we saw Charlie taped to one of the kitchen chairs, his arms and wrists taped to the chair back, his legs to the front legs of the chair, and a strip of the brown sticking plaster over his mouth.
“Afternoon Cassie – I see you found Charlie.”
We turned round to see Mrs Williamson standing there, smiling with her arms folded.
“I saw you through the front window, and Charlie said he didn’t ask your permission first. House rules therefore come in, and he is grounded for a little while.
“Now, why don’t I bring through the drinks Lisa could not get earlier, and you can tell me about your day?”
“Thanks Mum,” Lisa said as she stuck her tongue out at Charlie, and we went back into the front room.
A few minutes later, we were sitting talking as we had our drinks.
“I’d better call Mum and tell her where I am,” Pippa said as she took out her mobile phone, while Hazel sent a text on hers.
As they did that, we heard the telephone ring and Mrs Williamson went to answer it.
“Cassie, it’s for you,” she called out, so I went to answer it.
“Hey Cassie,” I heard Bobby say at the other end, “I called your place, but they said you were at Lisa’s.”
“Yeah – we came here after school.”
“So how was your first day?”
“Not bad – we all ended up in the same form.” I said. “How did Suzie get on?”
“She’s complaining a bit – but she’s all right really. Listen, are you free to come round Saturday?”
“I think so – why?”
“We’re inviting everyone – Mister Boyle has his sister staying with us and her son for a few weeks, and we’re having an open house, let them get to know some of the people she’s going to meet as she settles here.”
“Oh, she’s moving here? Where from?”
“Maine – she’s lived out there for a few years, but is marrying and moving back here.”
“Maine? What’s their name?”
“Gail Cork – her son’s called Freddie, about Charlie’s age.
“Cass? You still there?”
“Sorry Bobby,” I said shaking my head, “you just took me by surprise. When do they arrive?”
“Tomorrow morning, so they get a chance to adjust their body clocks.”
“Get used to our time zone. I’ll see you Saturday.”
“Sure,” I said as I put the phone down and went back in.
“Mum just said we’re all invited up to the hall Saturday,” Lisa said as I came in. “Any idea what’s going on?”
“One or two – but I can’t say anything just now. Especially as I’m not quite sure myself.”
“Well, if nothing else it makes the school run easier,” Dad said as he dropped Jenny and me off at the school gates. “You two all right for getting back tonight?”
“I’m going with Mary and the girls into town after school, but I’ll be back by six,” Jenny said.
“And the girls are coming back with me,” I said.
“Well, so long as you’re all safe – I’ll see you two tonight,” he said as he drove off.
“You know the rules?”
“I know – see you tonight,” I said as Jenny walked one way, and I walked the other. It was stupid, I know, but the years really did not mix that much.
I went over and joined the other girls before the bell rang and we went into our form rooms. As we did so, Aunt Jo was sitting at the front of the room, waiting for us all to sit down.
“Right then,” she said as she closed the door, “when I call your name out, say ‘here’. Cassandra Craig?”
“Here,” I called out, to some sniggering from the boys behind me.
“Michael Johnson, in your first French lesson you are going to discover that your name in French is a sniggering matter as well. Want to get it over with now?”
“No Doctor Frost,” the boy behind me said, as Jo carried on with the register.
Once she had finished, Jo looked round and said “now remember, from today you go to the classrooms assigned on your timetables. If at any time you cannot find the room, don’t be afraid to ask an older pupil – actually, two older pupils. That way, if you get the same answer they’re not trying to play a trick on you. Also remember, back here after lunch for register before you go to your fourth period class.”
As the bell sounded, she looked to the door and said “Walk quickly and quietly to your next room. On you go now.”
“English first,” Lisa said as we walked out, “I wonder what we’re going to be doing?”
“Just so long as it’s not another essay about what we did during the summer,” Pippa said with a groan.
It wasn’t – and the day passed fairly quickly after that. The only strange thing was the whispers behind me from some of the boys – but I ignored them and just kept on at my work.
My reward for my diligence and hard labour? Maths and PSHE homework.
“That’s a weird name, PSHE,” Lisa said as we walked back – Pippa’s mum had picked up the other three after school.
“Yeah – just sounds like talking about ourselves to me,” I said as we walked into the house.
“Hi Mum,” I called out, “Lisa and I are going up to my room.”
“All right – homework?”
“Yeah,” I groaned.
“Get it over and down with then – you’re not going to have a lot of time over the weekend.”
“We might as well do it together,” Lisa said as we went into my room, and took out our books. The maths was easy enough – it was the PSHE that was fun.
“Write a paragraph about somebody that inspires you, and why they do,” I said as I looked at it. “Oh no, who could I pick to write about? More to the point, the people who inspire me – really inspire me – I can’t write about.”
“Oh, like who?”
“Brian and Sarah?”
Lisa looked at me for a moment, and then nodded. “Point taken on that one. What about your aunt Cassie?”
“Possibly, after all she’s brave and fearless. But she’s married to my form tutor – do you think that’s allowed?”
Lisa nodded and then said “Well, I don’t know who I’m going to write about either – unless…”
“I’m going to write about a boy I know who is very brave, and has to overcome a great deal to be able to talk to others.”
“You’re not going to write about Frank Cottrell are you?”
“No – Stephen Hawkins,” Lisa said with a smile, as we started to write.
No, I’m not going to tell you who I wrote about in the end – not just now anyway. An hour later, Lisa went home and I came down to see two of my favourite people sitting in the front room – Patty and Rachel. They were both reading a book, and making notes in a jotter.
“Homework,” I said as I looked at them.
“Yes, O great and learned older cousin,” Patty said as she stuck her tongue out at me, “our mums are out, so we came here to get this done. What have you been doing?”
“Same as you, but with Lisa – want a drink?”
“Please,” Rachel said as she looked up and nodded, so I went into the kitchen where Mum was giving the twins their tea.
“Homework all done,” she said as there was a ring on the front doorbell. “Can you see who that is please Cassie?”
“Got it,” I said as I walked down the corridor, and opened it to see Louise and Fiona standing there.
“Hi Cassie,” Louise said, “Is Patty here?”
“They both are – come on in,” I said, letting them come into the room. Although they both went to a different primary school from Patty and Rachel, it was still light enough for them to use the short cut through the woods to come and visit.
“Hey there,” Patty said as she looked up, “did your dad get back all right Louise?”
“Yeah – he arrived this morning, but Fiona’s mum said I would go back later tonight. Apparently he’s got a big surprise for me.”
“Sounds intriguing – any idea what?”
“No – all he said was that it was really big. What are you two doing?”
“Reading The Twits,” Rachel said as she put the book down, “but I’m done for now. Did you pass the farm?”
“Yeah, we did,” Louise said quietly. “Frank and Eric were doing their chores – Mark apparently was out.”
“I can guess where,” I thought to myself as I went to get more drinks.
“Before I forget, Jenny’s going to be looking after you and the twins tonight while your dad and I go to the cinema,” Mum said, “so do what she tells you, all right?”
“Yes mum,” I said as I rolled my eyes and carried the drinks through.
“So are you coming to the Hall tomorrow as well,” I heard Patty say as I came in.
“Yeah – Fiona’s mum is taking all four of us up. I wonder how Suzie’s got on at her new school?”
“According to Bobby she’s fine, if up to her eyes in homework already. We’ll find out tomorrow anyway. How are you getting there?”
“Mum and Dad are going to drive us up,” I said, “you two as well I think. Aunt Jess has to work tomorrow morning.”
“Sounds fun – can we…”
“No we can’t,” Mum said from the doorway. “There will be people to meet when we get there, who do not know us, so that is not going to happen, all right?”
“Have you seen Janey yet,” I said as Mum left the room.
“yeah – Mum took me to see her and Aunt Connie last night. She’s really cute, isn’t she?”
I nodded in agreement – she was really cute.
I smiled as we turned into the gateway of Wissenden Hall – the place was almost a second home to me now, and as we pulled up alongside the other cars I could see Bobby’s mum and dad waiting outside.
I’d put on a knee length denim skirt and a white short sleeved blouse today, with black shoes, while Jenny was wearing a blue dress with buttons down the front. Dad was wearing a jacket – a rare thing for him on a Saturday – while Mum had on a blue cardigan over her white dress.
Patty and Rachel both had on smock tops and leggings, which was fine for them as we got out, and I helped Jenny with the twins.
“Hey there,” Bobby’s mum said as she hugged my mum, “how’s the proud new mother?”
“Wondering what she has let herself in for – is she coming up later?”
“Yeah – so come on in, some of the others have already arrived.”
“There you are,” Suzie said as we came in. She had on a pair of pink jeans and a white jumper, and dragged the three of us into a corner as Jenny went over to talk to Alicia and Bobby.
“Did you tell her?”
“Louise – about who is staying with us?”
“No – I haven’t told anyone, but I do know.”
“You know – how?”
“Lisa met them when she was in the states.”
“Oh yeah – of course she would,” Suzie said as, with a masterful piece of timing, Lisa and Charlie came in with their parents.
“Hey there,” she said as she came over, “how’s the new school for you?”
“Strange, especially given Bobby and Colin are prefects now,” Suzie said. “Listen, you need to keep a big secret from…”
“Lisa? Lisa and Charlie Williamson, is that you?”
The voice had an American twang, and as Lisa slowly turned round her eyes nearly popped out of her head.
“FREDDIE!!!! What are you doing here,” she said as she hugged the sandy haired boy.
“Oh, didn’t Suzanne tell you? Mom and I are staying here for a few weeks until the wedding.”
“Wedding? What wedding? Cass, you know anything about this?”
“Oh it’s Cass now is it,” Bobby said as he came over and gave me a hug. “Freddie, this is Cassie Craig – unless you’d prefer Cass, that is?”
“I like Cassie, thank you very much,” I said as I nudged him in the ribs. “Pleasure to meet you Freddie – how come you know Lisa?”
“We met them when they stayed with some mutual friends of ours – the Dale family?”
“Oh my goodness – you know Jannifer?”
“Sure do – hey Mom.”
I looked over to see a dark haired woman walk in with Mr Boyle.
“His mom – sorry, mother, is Mr Boyle’s sister,” Bobby said. “And wait until you see who she is going to marry.”
“Quiet, they’re here,” Bobby’s dad said as he looked out of the window. We all stopped talking and waited as Mister Boyle went to open the door, and then watched as Louise and Fiona came in, both of them with scarves tied over their eyes.
Louise’s dad came in and kissed the dark haired woman, before he said “all right girls, you can take the blindfolds off now.”
Louise and Fiona reached up and untied the scarves from behind their heads, blinking as they looked round the room. “Hey Cassie,” she said as she looked at me, “why are you all…”
She then saw Freddie waving at her, and very quietly said “Freddie? Freddie Cork? What are you doing…? Why is your mum…? Dad?”
“Louise,” her dad said as we all watched, “I need to ask you a very important question, and I want you to think very carefully about it.”
She kept looking at her dad as he stood with Freddie’s mum, and said “Do you think you would be all right if Freddie and his mum came to live with us – as your brother and mother?”
Lisa and I stood and watched Louise as she tried to process this information. “As my… Dad, have you asked Freddie’s mum to marry you?”
“Well,” he said as he rubbed the back of his head, “yeah – sorry, I wanted to surprise you.”
“Louise,” she said, “I want us to be a family together. But you need to want it as well. Do you?”
“Lou, are you all right,” Fiona said as we looked at her.
“Of course I do,” she finally said as she ran up and hugged both of them. “Mum would be happy as well, Dad.”
“Yeah, I think she would,” Mr Hobson said as all four of them hugged, and we all clapped and cheered.
“So does that mean you’re going to start at school as well,” Louise finally said.
“Eventually – Mom wants me to go to the school near you, so I guess that means your school, but I can’t for a few weeks. Not until after the wedding anyway.”
“Do I get to be a bridesmaid?”
“I think so, yeah – we still need to sort out the details, but until then Freddie and Gail will stay here with Mister and Mrs Boyle,” Bobby’s dad said.
“I wish Dad was still here to see this,” Mister Boyle said as he hugged and kissed Freddie’s mum.
“So do I Abe,” she said with a tear in her eye, “but I’m so glad I met Jack and he asked me to become his wife.”
“Freddie, let me introduce you to my friends,” Louise said as she took him towards Patty, Rachel and Fiona.
“Sorry we’re late – has the big reveal taken place?”
“Yeah it has,” I said as Alicia looked in, her mum carrying Andrew in her arms. “Did you meet him as well?”
“At Jannifer’s place – he was in Britney and Margo’s class, and now he may end up in the same class as the Four Furies.”
“And does he?”
Alicia nodded as Bobby’s mum came over, holding her tummy as she did so.
“So there’s going to be another member of your little gang,” she said as she looked at Freddie, “”Do you think he’ll fit in?”
“Oh he’ll fit in all right,” Alicia said, “it’s a question of when, not how.”
“So I see,” she said as Freddie beckoned Charlie over, “perhaps you slightly older ladies would accompany me to the kitchen to get some refreshments?”
“You mean before those two get an idea?”
“Exactly,” she said as we all headed to the kitchen. Mrs Boyle was in there, preparing some sandwiches.
“So how did Louise take the news,” she said as she saw us come in.
“Excited is a fair understatement,” Bobby’s mum said as we all sat down.
“Hey Colin, Brian,” we heard Bobby say as the front door opened, “come on through.”
“I didn’t meet his mum – but she seems nice enough,” Alicia said as her aunt poured us all a drink.
“Louise certainly seems to like him,” I said. “I get the feeling he’s going to fit in just fine.”
Suzie turned to see Patty standing in the door.
“Is it all right if we go up to the playhouse? We’re going to fill Freddie in on various people.”
“How long until the food is ready, Mrs Boyle?”
“Another hour or so I reckon,” the housekeeper said as she looked at the clock.
“On you go then – I’ll come and find you later.”
“Thanks,” she said as the four girls, Charlie and Freddie went through the kitchen and out the back door.
“He seems like a nice boy,” I said as the door closed, “friendly, open.”
“And he knows how to use ropes,” Alicia continued. “When we arrive in Maine, Heidi Cindy and I went round to Jannifer’s place, and he was playing with the twins.
“Mind you, they got their own back a few days later, when Charlie and Lisa called round on them.”
Alicia took out her phone and found a message, showing us the photo of the three girls behind the two boys tied to the chairs.
“So there are two of them, and four girls – what do you reckon?”
“You’re forgetting one of the boys is Charlie, and one of the girls is Rachel,” Lisa said, “so I think it’s more of a fifty fifty match.”
“Very likely – hey Gran.”
“So this is where you’re hiding,” Granny said as she came in. “Connie’s here with the family.”
“Oh right – let’s see her then,” Suzie’s mum said as she got up and went to the front room.
“Want to see her,” Jenny said to Alicia as they went in, leaving me with Lisa and Suzie.
“So how are you two getting on with Dr Frost?”
“She’s not that bad – although we only have her as a form tutor, not for science,” Lisa said. “What about your school? Must be strange going to the same place as your big brother.”
“Ah it’s not too bad,” Suzie said, “we keep out of each other’s way. I guess you and Jenny do the same, Cassie?”
“Yeah – the four of them tend to be together all the time.” I took a drink, and then said “How long do you want to give them?”
“Girls, come in here please!”
“No time at all,” I said as the three of us went back into the room. Andy, David, June and Danny were in the playpen, moving round some bricks as Aunt Connie sat with Uncle Dave, Janey lying in his arms.
“Hey girls,” he said as he looked up, “Janey’s asleep right now.”
“How does Danny feel about being a big brother,” Lisa asked.
“He hasn’t really figured it out yet,” Aunt Connie said as she looked over at the others. “He hasn’t even woken up when she wakes up – for which I am eternally grateful.”
“Won’t be too long until you’re holding a baby as well,” mum said as she looked at Mrs Holderness.
“Won’t come a day too soon – this is a lively one,” she said and then groaned, holding her back.
“Oh yes,” she said with a smile as Suzie nudged me, and I followed her out of the room.
“Want to go and see what they’re up to?”
“You mean the fact they haven’t resurfaced yet?”
Suzie nodded as we walked through the kitchen, and quietly walked up the stairs. We could hear Charlie and Freddie talking behind one of the two doors, and as we got closer I distinctly heard Freddie saying “Come on Louise – I can’t believe you cannot get out of that?”
“Out of what,” Suzie whispered, so I opened the door slowly.
And then fell in as the door was yanked open, and I heard Charlie say “oh look – fresh blood.”
“Errr,” I said as I saw Patty, Rachel, Fiona and Louise lying on the floor, their legs bound and bent back so that their ankles were tied to their wrists, and knotted scarves tied into their mouths.
“Ftrnnngrls” Rachel said as she wriggled round, her glasses perched on the end of her nose.
“Looks like we caught two more snoops,” Freddie said, “what are we going to do – tie them as well?”
“Yeah – but not like the others,” Charlie said, “these two are escape artists. Problem is, we don’t have time to do a really good job on them, so we need to improvise. Sit down, back to back, and put your arms around each other.”
“Oh great – still, at least we’ll be comfortable,” Suzie said as we sat down, and wrapped our arms round each other so that my hands rested on Suzie’s stomach. I watched Charlie as he knelt down and tied Suzie’s wrists together, while at the same time I felt my arms pressing against Suzie’s body as my own wrists were secured.
“You’ll never get away with kidnapping is, you fiend,” I said in a sing-song fashion, “my sister will come and rescue us.”
“I’m counting on it,” Charlie said, “now, cross your legs and get comfy.”
“You too,” I heard Freddie say, so we both did so, as put ankles were tied together and then rope tied between Suzie’s ankle and my wrists, as well as my wrists to Suzie’s ankles. I watched Charlie as he rolled two more scarves into bands and tie knots in them, while Freddie tied the two of us together over our upper arms and chests.
“Open wide,” Charlie said with a smile, so I allowed him to gag me, putting my head forward as he tied the scarf round my head, and then when I raised my head I felt Suzie’s against mine.
“Think they’ll manage to behave while we go and find the others,” Freddie said as he looked at us.
“Wllbgdd,” I heard Suzie say, and I nodded in agreement.
“I don’t think they’ll cause any trouble,” Freddie said as he took Charlie by the arm and guided him out.
“Hddntknwstewllldshh,” Suzie mumbled behind me, as I shook my head and then looked at Patty.
“Nwww,” I replied as she started to wriggle across the floor to me, the other girls watching as she got within reach of Suzie’s fingers.
I watched as Suzie managed to hook her fingers under the cotton band sitting in Patty’s mouth and ease the knot out.
“Thanks – Charlie tied that really tight,” she said before she started to pick at the knots at Suzie’s wrists. At the same time, Rachel motioned to Louise to move over as the two of them lay back to back, and she started to pick at the knots on the young girl’s wrists.
“Thssgdd,” I mumbled as Patty managed to loosen the rope enough for Suzie to get her wrists free. Freddie hadn’t tied any rope between me and Suzie to tighten the chest band, so she managed to wriggle her arms round and untie my wrists, and then push the band of rope up and over our heads before we got to work on our own ankles. Once we were both free, I untied my cousin, and then got to work on Rachel as she helped the others.
“Right,” Louise said as she stood up, “I see my soon to be stepbrother is going to be as big a problem as Charlie.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Fiona said as she rubbed her wrists, “I thought he was kinda cute.”
“All right, I’m sorry,” she said in response to Louise’s comment, but when I looked at her I could see a little blush in her cheeks – and I know Suzie had seen it too, because she rolled her eyes and whispered “Another one bites the dust” to me.
“Want to get our own back on those two,” Rachel said as she looked out of the window.
“Nah,” I said, “and besides, the food will be ready any minute. Let’s be gracious and just go back down, without saying a word to them.”
“Won’t that make them more nervous?”
“Exactly,” I said as I opened the door, “shall we?”
“There you are,” Mrs Boyle said as we came in, “the food is laid out in the dining room, so go and help yourselves.”
“Thanks, Mrs Boyle,” Suzie said as we walked through and joined the others, Freddie in particular staring at us as we picked up a plate and helped ourselves to some food.
“Where the heck did you get to,” Lisa said as we walked over to join her.
“We got tied up in something,” Suzie said, me giggling as Lisa looked at both of us.
“Great – I knew my brother and Freddie getting together would lead to trouble,” Lisa said as she glanced over at where they were talking to Bobby.
“Good afternoon girls.”
We turned to see Aunt Cassie and Aunt Jo standing behind us, smiling as they watched us.
“Hey there,” I said, “how was the first week back for you as teachers?”
“Interesting,” Aunt Cassie said. “It seems a little quieter now that your year has moved on Suzie, but I’m sure it will liven up soon.”
“As for you lot,” Aunt Jo said as she looked at me and Lisa, “I think I may have already identified the main trouble makers, and I have my eye on them.”
“Why does such a statement worry me when it’s you making it,” Lisa said quietly.
“Don’t worry – it’s not your little gang of five,” she them said with a smile, “but I’m hoping you’ll all feel free to come and tell me if you do hear of any problems, all right?”
“You mean you want us to be your spies in the classroom?”
“Nope – I don’t want that, and if you call yourselves that you’re likely to get into more trouble. I want you to feel you can come and tell me if something happens that makes you feel unhappy, that’s all – all right?”
“Okay,” I said, “so what do you think of Janey?”
“Oh she’s a beautiful little girl,” Aunt Cassie said, “just like you and Jenny and June are. I think she’s going to charm the pants off a lot of boys when she grows up.”
“She might charm the pants off a lot of girls, you know?”
“Either way, she’s a little beauty,” she said as Brian came over with Colin.
“Nice party,” he said as Lisa went back over to join her parents, “so how are you Suzie?”
“Oh I can’t complain.” I saw the blush in her cheeks as well, but then Bobby came over and hugged me, so I guess we were both blushing by then.
“Charlie and Freddie are wondering how you managed to get free so easily,” he whispered into my ear. “Any clues?”
“Silly lads tied our wrists so that we could help each other,” I whispered back.
“Yeah – figured it was something like that. Well, perhaps I should give him a few lessons?”
“Perhaps, but not today,” I said as I looked over to the boys. “So do you think Freddie will settle here?”
“I’m sure he will – and the wedding is going to happen sooner than you think. Early November I hear.”
“Oh yeah – bans read and all that stuff,” I said as Freddie’s mum kissed Louise’s dad.
“It means it’s a bit crowded, but that’s fine,” Bobby said with a smile.
“I hope we’re not too late for lunch.”
“Of course not,” his father said as Lord and Lady Holderness came in. He was leaning on a cane, but looked healthier than I had seen him for some time, as he shook the hand of Louise and Freddie’s parents.
“I hear you are marrying soon,” Lady Holderness said.
“That’s right – how did you know, your ladyship” Mrs Cork asked, her accent a strange mix of American and local.
“We have mutual friends in the form of Sarah and Brian – Sarah is my niece,” Lord Holderness said.
“Really? Well then you will be pleased to hear they are planning to come over for the wedding.”
“She called and told us last night,” Lord Holderness said. “She is quite looking forward to it. For now, however, welcome – and if we can be of any help, please let us know.”
“Thank you, Your Lordship,” Mister Hobson said.
“Please we’re friends here – it’s Desmond,” as the reply as they shook hands.
“Hey,” Suzie said as she took Freddie and Louise by the hand, “come with me, I haven’t shown you the grounds yet.”
“Can I come too,” Fiona called out, smiling as she went off with them.
“Is it just me, or is Fiona keen on young Frederick,” Bobby said as he came back over to join us.
“Could be,” I said as I watched the babies having a crawling race across the floor of the front room, Jenny and Alicia keeping an eye on them.
“Look at Janey – she seems to want to join in already,” I said as we sat down.
“Do you reckon they’ll be as bad as Charlie and Freddie, never mind the Cottrell boys?”
“Who can say – but they’re the best of friends. That’s a good starting point.”
“Hey,” Colin said as he looked in, “can you two keep an eye on the babies? I need to borrow the Babysitter Club for a few minutes.”
“Did he just call us the Babysitter Club,” Alicia said as she looked at my sister.
“I think he just did.”
“Oh he is so dead,” she said as the two of them walked out, and Lisa came in to sit down with us.
“Ever think you’ll have a little brother or sister?”
“Nah – I think mum and dad are happy with just the two of us. They certainly don’t…”
Our conversation was interrupted by a very unusual sight.
Dad walked past with Mum, but she had her hands tied behind her back with rope, which also went round her waist, and she had a strip of tape covering her mouth. She wasn’t the only one either – Suzie’s dad had her mum tied and gagged, and Lisa’s parents in the same arrangement. All three of them walked past and down into the cellar, as the two of us looked at each other.
“What the heck is going on here,” Lisa said as she looked at us.
“I have no idea,” I said quietly, “but I sure would like to find out.”
“Find out what?”
I looked up to see Suzie’s Uncle Simon standing there.
“Oh – nothing,” I said with a smile. “We were wondering where the others went?”
“Actually, I think they split up,” he said, “Charlie and Freddie took the younger girls off into the woods, and the rest of the parents are talking in the front room. Can you three help me to take the youngsters in?”
He stopped down and picked up Andy, as we picked up Danny, Dave and June, and carried them through to the front room.
“thanks,” Aunt Connie said, “why don’t you go and see if you can find the others?”
“I have the feeling we’re…”
I never got to say much more than that as we walked out – because Bobby and Brian Hammond were standing outside, smiling as they held some lengths of rope and a roll of tape.
“See,” Bobby said, “I told you the kids would come out soon enough. We’re going to take you to join your mothers – so be good little girls, and put your hands out in front of you while we tie them together.”
“You fiends – where have you taken our mothers,” Lisa said as we started to play along. We knew we were safe – it was Bobby and Colin’s cousin, we were in his house, and this was the right environment.
“You’ll see,” he said as he tied Lisa’s wrists tightly together, taking the rope between her arms as well, and then did the same to Suzie while Bobby took care of me, winking as he cinched the binding. He then tore three long strips of tape from the roll and pressed them down over our mouths.
“Come on,” he then said as he gently held my arms, and we guided to the cellar door, Brian holding it open as we were walked down the stairs.
Our three mothers were sitting on the side of three camp beds, their ankles and legs now secured with rope as they watched us walk down and across the cellar.
“Good – you got the girls as well,” Dad said, “sit them behind their mothers and make sure they’re well secured.”
“Go on,” Bobby said as I sat behind Mum, and watched as he tied my ankles together as well as my legs below my knees, then moved on to the other two girls. As he did that, I felt myself being pulled against Mum’s back as Brian tied some rope around our stomachs and then my shoulders, Mum grunting as I felt her hands against my back.
Looking to the side, I saw Lisa and Suzie being secured in the same way, before Dad said “right then – keep an eye on them and the others while we send the ransom demands.”
“What about the youngest kids?”
“They’re being taken care of,” Dad said as Bobby tied my wrists down to my knees, doing the same to the others, and then sitting back as Brian went out with Dad.
“Let’s have some music,” he said as he turned the radio on, and I let out a groan as Kasabian came on.
“Hggddehttths,” I moaned out loud.
“Urntthnlyn,” Mum mumbled as she pressed her hands against my back, and I looked down at the ropes around and between my wrists.
“Rullrrtmmm,” Suzie said as she wriggled round. She didn’t have two bands of rope around her, just one around her upper arms and sitting on top of the bump at the front of her mother.
“Yssmffn,” Mrs Holderness said as she wriggled round, while Lisa was trying to free her wrists. Any other time, I would have tried to bend my legs, get the tape off my mouth and untie them with my teeth – but the way I was tied to mum I couldn’t do that without hurting her, so I settled for trying to force the tape off with my jaw.
Which was proving more difficult than I thought it was going to be – not that the tape hurt, but it seemed to be sticking better than usual to my skin.
“It’s a new tape Dad picked up in the US,” Bobby said as he looked at me, “even more adhesive.”
“Hgrt,” I said as I started to think about abandoning that idea, and then I got another one. Before I could do anything about it, however, the cellar door opened and I heard footsteps – well, I was facing the other way.
“Hey,” I heard Bobby say, “where are the babysitters?”
“Waiting for their charges to turn up,” I heard Colin say, “how are the middle group?”
“Nice and quiet,” Bobby said as he kissed my head, “I guess they wanted to make the most of their time together. Can you take over for a while – I need to do something.”
“Sure,” Colin said as he sat down and watched us, and I felt mum’s hands moving against my back.
“Nnn,” I mumbled back as I kept trying to work my mouth.
“Wnnddtogtfrrr – nfrrr?”
I had no time for an answer as Mum tipped me onto my side, and we both fell onto the mattress. Not that it hurt – it just took me by surprise, but it meant I could start to rub my cheek on the mattress, and slowly – painfully slowly, work the edge of the tape free from my skin.
I could feel from the way Mum was moving she was trying to do the same thing, so I kept gently rubbing at my cheek until I finally felt the tape give way, and gently pulled it away.
“There,” I eventually whispered as Colin looked away, “how are you doing mum?”
“Got it,” she whispered back. “Look, bend your legs, and try to untie your wrists. It’s up to you kiddo.”
“Funny,” I said quietly as I bent my legs and leaned down as much as I could, manage to pick away at the knot before my legs fell away, and then I started to untie my wrists. Once I had them free, I was able to wriggle myself down, and then roll over to untie mum.
I’m not sure Colin knew what we were up to, but he didn’t show us any signs if he did, until Mum tapped him on the shoulder and said “Guess what?”
“You’re unconscious,” Mum said as Colin slumped onto the table, and we untied the other four.
“Well, that was relaxing,” Mrs Holderness said, “but I really need to go to the toilet.”
“There’s one behind that screen there,” I said as I looked to the area at the back of the cellar.
“And why am I discovering this for the first time?”
“Have you been down here before?”
“Fair point, Jennifer,” she said to my mum as she walked over. When she came back a few minutes later, she said “that’s better. Now, I desire words of serious import with my husband and son.”
“So say all of us,” Lisa’s mum said as we walked slowly up the stairs, and into the hallway – just in time to see Mister Holderness walk past.
“Hey,” he said as he looked at us, “nice rest?”
“Very much so,” Suzie said, “but I think Mum’s a little upset with you.”
“With me? Why?”
“Well, more with Robert Desmond – where is he?”
“He’s in the main room with the others – want me to call him out.”
“No – this can wait until later. Girls, you need to see if you can find out what they’ve done with the others – Patty and friends went with Charlie for a walk, but Alicia and Jenny are around somewhere.”
“We’ll see if we can find them,” I said as we looked at each other.
“Bobby said they were going to be waiting for the youngest – the playhouse?”
I nodded as we made our way through the kitchen, and up the stairs to the playhouse. It was quiet – too quiet as they say,
Lisa put her head to the door on the left, and shook her head, so I listened to the door on the right.
“They’re in here,” I whispered as I slowly opened the door and looked in, then beckoned to the others to follow. Both Alicia and Jenny were lying on the floor, with folded scarves covering their eyes and a knotted one sitting between their teeth.
Their arms were folded behind their backs and tied elbow to wrists, while their ankles were crossed and pulled back, rope running from them to their arms.
“Hsttrhrrr,” Alicia said as Lisa closed the door, and Suzie knelt next to her.
“It’s me, Ali,” she whispered, “do you want the scarves removed?”
She nodded and then blinked as I untied the blindfold, and Suzie removed the gag, the knot stained dark with saliva as she eased it out.
“Can you help Jenny as well,” she said as she looked at the clock on a shelf. “Two hours – what took you so long?”
“Our mothers were having some close quality time with us,” Suzie said as Lisa and I removed the scarves from my sister, and then we started to untie both of them. “We were told you were being taken to where the others were going?”
“Nobody’s been up yet – does Charlie know his way round the woods here?”
“He’s been enough times with Bobby,” Suzie said, “but Freddie hasn’t had much of the chance to explore yet.”
“I think I know why they haven’t arrived yet,” Lisa said as she looked out of the window, “come and look.”
We left Alicia and Jenny to finish freeing themselves as we looked carefully down, to see Charlie at the head of a crocodile line of Louise, Fiona, Patty and Rachel. They each had their hands behind their back, and rope around their waist, while their ankles were hobbled with another length of rope. I could just make out rope between each girl, while they had sleep masks over their eyes and tape over their mouths.
“He took them on a senses walk?”
“Looks like it – and they’re heading this way,” Lisa said as they walked towards the steps. “What do we do?”
“If I read them right, they’ll take them to the bigger room and secure them there first,” Lisa said, “before coming to get the babysitters – you two.”
“Then I have a plan,” Alicia said as she stood up, “but it’s only going to work if we all stay absolutely quiet for the moment.”
So that’s what we did – we stayed as quiet as the dormouse as we heard Charlie say “One step at a time” and the footsteps as they walked past, and into the other room. Before the door closed, we heard Freddie say “that’s an amazing wood – let’s get them settled and then fetch the others,” before the door closed again.
“Right,” Alicia said with a smile, “help me sort these ropes out – those two are in for the shock of their lives.”
It didn’t take us long to make our preparations – we’re getting very good at it as time goes by – but they still seemed to be taking their time next door. Eventually, however, Lisa indicated she could hear them coming and stood back, allowing Jenny and Alicia to stand either side of the door.
“Right, we have your charges all ready for you,” Charlie said as he and Freddie walked in – only to stop when they saw the clear floor.
“Ah,” Freddie said, and then he said “Whmmm” as Jenny pushed a sponge ball into his open mouth, and wound white tape around his head.
“Sorry Charlie,” Alicia said as she did the same to Lisa’s brother, “but I’m not going to allow you to smooth talk me into that again.”
“Tsfrrcp,” he mumbled as the tape went round, holding the sponge in his mouth as Suzie and I started to tape their hands and cover them with socks. Alicia and Jenny then started to tie their wrists together behind their back, as Lisa stood smiling in front of them.
“You’ve been so kind to us today,” she said, “that we just had to return the favour. Now then, just stay nice and still.”
“Lkwhffchs?” Freddie said as I watched my sister wind the rope around his arms and upper body, forcing them into his side as Charlie shrugged, Alicia already tying the ropes off.
“Have a seat, boys – right where you left us,” she said as she helped Charlie to sit down, Freddie joining him as we removed their shoes, and bound their ankles and legs nice and snugly.
“Let’s just add to the gag now,” Alicia said as she folded a blue scarf and tied it over Charlie’s mouth, Jenny using a black one on Freddie, before she performed the worst possible action you could on a ten year old boy – the headscarf tied under the chin.
“Hururddd,” Charlie said as she tied the floral print triangle tightly under his chin, Freddie getting one of Suzie’s mother’s old brown shawls, and then they were made to lie on their stomachs, before their ankles were pulled back and tied to their chest ropes.
“Now then,” Jenny said as we stood and watched, ”to tickle or not to tickle, that is the question. “
“Whether tis better to forgo the fingers and strokes of outrageous fortune, or to lie?”
“To lie – to struggle, perhaps to wriggle…”
“If they’re going to mangle Shakespeare, I’m out of here,” I said as I turned – and then saw Charlie and Freddie’s mother standing in the doorway, looking in. They put their fingers to their lips and motioned to all of us to go out.
“I hope you’re not upset, Mrs Cork,” I said to Freddie’s mum, “but we all play these games and…”
“It’s all right - Cassie, right? Abe told me about you and your friends, and I don’t mind so long as you’re safe. Seeing him with a scarf over his hair though…”
“They both look so cute,” Mrs Williamson said as she took a photograph on her mobile phone and sent it to someone. “Shall we?”
“Can you look after the younger girls for a few minutes, Alicia and Jenny? We need everyone in the main room in half an hour.”
“Sure thing, Mrs Cork,” Alicia said as we went into the other room. Patty, Rachel, Louise and Fiona were all lying on the floor, kicking their legs as much as the hobble ropes would allow, especially as they were linked to their wrists.
Rachel has managed to work her sleep mask up over one eye, and looked at us as she said “Hgttcflresshr.”
“Oh I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Jenny said, the other three turning their head to look at where the sound had come from. “We have a little while before we need to join the others, and I’m curious as to how we should pass the time.”
“Especially,” Alicia said, “with these shoes removed from them – what do you three think.”
The screams started as soon as we started to tickle the four of them, and continued for a nice long time before we stopped…
“Good, you’re all here,” Lord Holderness said as we returned to the main room, “I have a small announcement to make.”
Charlie and Freddie stopped talking as they heard that, both of them paying attention as Freddie’s mum and Louise’s dad stood with him.
“I wanted to formally welcome Gail and Freddie to our community and our family – although I suspect that Freddie at least has already made a big impression on the younger community.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Suzie whispered to me as we looked at Fiona.
“At any rate, we hope that you settle quickly, and when the happy day comes you find true happiness for all of you. At the very least, you can relax knowing everything is in very capable hands.”
“Thanks,” Mrs Cork said, “you have no idea how good it is to be here.”
I noticed Lisa’s parents glance at each other and smile, but put that to one side as Mister Boyle said “We have some supper lain out before you all head home.”
We were all invited round to Aunt Jessie’s for Sunday lunch, so after church we drove to her house, Jenny and me taking the twins in as Mum and Dad brought the bags.
“Hey,” Aunt Jessie called through from the kitchen as we came in, “Miranda’s already in the front room, and the others are on their way.”
“Hi,” Patty said as we came in. We were all in our Sunday best – dresses for me, Jenny and Patty, while Granny had on a pair of smart trousers and a jumper, Mum a grey coat dress and knee length boots, and Dad a jacket, shirt and trousers.
The twins were in bib shorts and tops, as we sat with them on our knees.
“That was a fun day yesterday,” Patty said, “but Charlie and Freddie seemed a little upset with you Jenny. What happened?”
“Oh I can show you that,” Mum said as she took her mobile phone out and showed Patty the picture of the two boys on the floor.
“Oh…. OH MY GOD THAT’S FUNNY!!!”
“That’s what we thought,” Jenny said as she tickled Dawn’s chin. “It’s a statement of intent by both of us – don’t mess us around.”
“You do realise, of course, this means war for Charlie?”
“Charlie could charm any girl he wants,” I said, “which is why we gagged him and Freddie first.”
“Did you both clock the fact Fiona kept staring at him?”
“I did,” Mum said as Aunt Cassie and Aunt Jo came in, and sat down while Aunt Jessie brought through mugs of coffee and cold drinks.
“Well I think the fact you’re all pairing off is nice,” Granny said, “especially as you get older.”
“Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match,” Aunt Jo started singing as we all laughed about it – but she was right. When I thought about it, Suzie was stepping out with Brian Hampton every so often, and all Jenny’s friends had boyfriends – even Cathy now.
“Right,” Aunt Jessie said as she sat down, “so what do you think of Gail?”
“I like her – I think she’s going to fit right in,” Mum said before she sipped her coffee.
“Did you hear about what happened to her before she came over here? Apparently someone kidnapped her and forced her to rob the bank she was working in on the day she was due to leave.”
“Wow,” Mum said as she looked at Aunt Cassie. “Did the bank do anything about it?”
“Not a lot they could do - whoever did it held her hostage for a couple of days. Freddie doesn’t know what happened, so don’t say anything to him if you see him, all right?”
All three of us nodded – we knew how to keep secrets after all. And we knew what it was like to be held hostage by bank robbers like that.
“Hey – we’re not late are we,” Aunt Connie said as she same in with Danny, Uncle Dave carrying in Janey in her chair.
“Of course not – I’ll get you’re a coffee each,” Aunt Jessie said as she stood up and walked out.
“Alicia was telling me about young Freddie,” Jenny said, “he used to play tie-up games with Jannifer’s twin sisters and was a real handful when she went over to visit with Lisa.”
“I never would have known,” Patty said with a smile. “When they took us for that walk yesterday, they really made sure we didn’t stumble – even though we couldn’t see.”
“I wonder what’s going to happen when he gets together with some of the other boys – especially the Cottrell lads.”
“Better warn Louise – if he and Frank get together…”
“Here you go,” Aunt Jessie said as she set the mugs down. “Listen, Jenny, are any of your friends free on Monday night? I need to go out, and I know you’re watching the others while your mum and dad go to the school parent’s evening.”
“I’ll ask Mary, see if she can come round and help out,” Jenny said. This babysitting thing was becoming more and more common now – and it meant she earned some extra money as well.
“Good – now, what’s…”
The telephone ringing meant Aunt Jessie leaving the room, and we heard her say “Hello, Pickering house?
“You are KIDDING me! No, no, I’ll pass the word on, thanks for ringing Anne.”
She came back in and said “That was Anne Bowden – Susan’s gone into labour.”
“Oh god, not again,” Gran said as she stood up. “She’s not due until February.”
“That’s almost exactly what Anne said – they’re going to stop the labour and keep her in overnight.”
“Not again? This has happened before?”
“I’m afraid so,” Gran said, Jenny motioning to me and Patty to keep quiet a minute. “When she was carrying Suzie, she went into labour at five months. They managed to stop it then, and Suzie still came a month early, but that’s part of the reason they waited so long – a fear it might happen again.”
“But it would mean another friend for Janey,” Patty said.
“I know sweetheart – but if the baby arrived now, it would be very small and very ill. It’s better if it spends more time inside the belly of its mother - give it time to be a strong healthy baby.”
“I think there’s enough babies around the place that we can wait for a little while longer for the next one, don’t you?”
I looked at Danny and the twins, crawling round on the floor, and Janey in Aunt Connie’s arms, and nodded in agreement.
“So how’s school without us as trouble makers Patty?”
“Not as quiet as you think – did Lisa not tell you?”
“Tell us what?”
“Her mother got a new job – she’s now the headmistress of your old school,” Aunt Cassie said. “Seems Mrs Rochester had a better offer over the summer.”
“No she didn’t tell us – I wonder if she even knows,” I said as I looked at Jenny.
“No idea – it’s been a hectic few days,” she said as she looked at me. Maybe you can ask her tomorrow.
“If she has time having done her homework,” Aunt Jo said as she looked at me.
“Aw come on – can’t we have neutral territory from school here?”
“Of course we can – I’m kidding,” Aunt Jo said with a smile, “and to prove it, after dinner I’ll accept any challenge you care to set for me.”
“You might want to retract that Jo,” Aunt Connie said, “my nieces can be formidable when they chose to be.”
“OH come on – what could they do that would be so bad?”
“All right, I take it back they can be very sneaky.”
Aunt Jo looked over her shoulder at her white fists, the socks taped to her arms before they were tightly bound together and to her body. Her crossed ankles were secured and pulled back to sit on her bottom, the rope holding them to her chest harness as Patty folded the first cloth.
“Open wide now,” she said as she pushed the cloth in, then tied the knotted strip of towel into her mouth and around her head, before covering it with the white tape wrapped round her head.
“Dntssneefuhlpnmm” she mumbled as I tied the headscarf on and knotted it under her chin.
“Well, we all have kids to watch,” Aunt Connie said, “and Cassie is helping with the washing up. Anyway, you’re the one who made the bet.”
“Hllrrtt,” she said as Jenny tied a folded scarf over her eyes, and we left her in Aunt Jessie’s bedroom, the three of us sitting in the front room with Granny.
“You’re all growing up so fast,” she said as she held Janey in her arms, “I forget sometimes you’re little ladies now, as opposed to girls.”
“We’re still your little girls, though,” I said as I walked over and hugged her, “and always will be.”