Girls Night In – part 1
Saturday 19th December
“Cassandra Craig, what are you organising here – a sleepover or a feast?”
“Is there much of a difference,” I said as I stuck my tongue out at Jenny, and then checked I had enough snacks and drinks set up for the girls when they came over. It was the first chance we’d had to get together for a month or so – especially since the night when Bobby and the others had shown us... Well, that’s a story for another day.
Mum had gone off for a night out with my aunts and some of the other mothers, while Jenny and Colin were nominally going to be the “responsible adults” for the evening. What that really meant in practice was they were going to stay upstairs while we stayed downstairs – an arrangement which was to liking of both of us.
I mean, now that Jenny’s in year 11, I knew better than to disturb her and Colin when they want some “personal time” as she calls it.
So tonight, I was having Suzie over, as well as Pippa, Hazel, Clare and Lisa. The long holidays loomed – and unlike last year, nothing had been planned which would mean I was unable to join them apart for a short time – so I had only one thing in mind for the six of us. Namely talk and snacks and drinks.
And maybe one or two other things, depending on what they wanted to do.
“All right, I get the message – Dad left some money for you guys to order pizza when you’re ready. And we’ll be upstairs if there’s any trouble.”
“What trouble could we get up to – Patty’s not coming tonight, after all.”
Jenny just shook her head as we carried the bowls into the front room. David and June were already in their cots, sleeping – after we had both bathed them and tucked them in. They were getting so big now – but then so were Danny and the others.
It’s hard to remember sometimes we were all like that – especially when you compare the Jenny and me of a few years ago to now. Jenny was wearing a v-necked sweater and jeans, while I had on a blue smock top and black leggings, my feet toasty warm in white socks that covered the bottom of the leggings.
The ring on the doorbell caught us both by surprise, as Jenny went to answer it, and Lisa came on, taking off her coat to reveal a black sweater and chinos, her feet in a pair of short black boots. She took them off as well to reveal her black socks, as she said “So I’m first am I?”
“Well, you have less distance to come,” I said as Jenny went off again, and Colin put his head round the door.
“Hey girls,” he said with a smile, “ready for a fun night?”
“They are,” Jenny said as he disappeared, and we both heard footsteps on the stairs.
“They’re going to leave us alone, right?”
“Right,” I said as the doorbell went again. I walked quickly to answer it, smiling as Suzie Holderness came in.
“Hey – thanks for allowing her to come, Mrs Holderness,” I said to her mother.
“Remember to call when you’re coming back,” she said as Suzie took her coat off, and then her trainers. She was wearing a pair of white jeans and a checked blouse, and nodded as she said “I will Mum – see you later.”
“Hey Suz,” Lisa said as she came in, “how’s the preparations going at the Hall?”
“Well, we put the last of the decorations up today,” Suzie said as she sat down, “and we finish the present buying Monday. I left Bobby holding Luci as she tried to touch the hanging decorations.”
“Must be exciting for her – first Christmas and all that. So, Miss Holderness – what plans for your birthday?”
“Well, it involves this,” she said as she handed me and Lisa a white envelope. We opened them up and smiled as we looked at them.
“So we’re all invited to the Manor house again as before?”
“That’s right – but we’ll go there from the show rather than a party,” Suzie said as the doorbell went again. I went to the door and smiled as I saw Pippa there. She had her newly dyed blonde hair short, and was wearing a pair of grey suede boots over some joggers, her black leather jacket open to show her Pineapple Dance sweatshirt.
“See you later Mum,” she shouted as she waved to the car at the roadside, and then came in, taking her jacket off as she hung it up and then came into the front room.
“Hey Pips,” Lisa said with a smile, “how’s the first day of the holiday been?”
“Busy – present shopping and all that,” Pippa said as she sat down, and accepted the invite from Suzie. “Hey – this looks fantastic,” she said with a smile, “I accept.”
“Before I forget,” Suzie said, “The Yanks are coming over to stay at the Manor House for the holidays?”
“All of them?”
“Well, I know Sarah and Brian are coming with the twins,” Suzie said, “I’m not sure about Heidi and the others.”
“Guess we’ll find out eventually,” I said as the doorbell went again. I went and let Hazel and Clare come in, both of them waving to their mum and dad before I closed the door.
Over the last term, the twins had started to try and assert their independence a bit – in the sense of while Hazel had long brown hair, Clare had hers dyed a redder colour and cut in a page boy bob.
They still liked to dress the same, however – both of them were wearing floral print dresses with leggings and mid-length black leather boots.
“Thanks,” they said as Suzie handed them their invites, and then sat down. “So what’s on the agenda for tonight?”
“Absolutely nothing,” I said as I heard the doorbell ring, and Jenny called out “that’s for us.”
“Possibly,” I said as I heard Jenny thank someone, and then head back upstairs,” we’ve got money for pizza later, but who wants a drink now?”
“Sounds good,” Hazel said as she nodded, and put her invite to one side. And so it was I poured the drinks, and we started to discuss the most important matter of the moment.
“No I am not going to tell you what happened on the date,” Pippa said as she looked at us, “let’s just say we had a good time.”
“Oh yeah,” Lisa said, “you know we have ways of making you talk?”
Hazel and Clare looked at each other, before they said “is that a challenge?”
I looked at Suzie and Lisa, before I said “Okay – here’s the challenge. We tie you three up, and if you can get free in the time it takes me to order pizzas and for them to arrive, we will stop pestering the three of you to talk about your boyfriends.
“And if we don’t?”
“You get to eat the pizza – and then we really get you tied up.”
The other three looked at each other, and then nodded as I went to get my supplies. When I came back, I handed Lisa and Suzie a length of rope, and then I stood behind Pippa, Lisa behind Hazel and Suzie behind Clare.
“You’re not going to cover our hands?”
“Nope,” I said as I crossed Pippa’s wrists behind her back and then started to tie them together, “not this time. Let’s see if you want to get free.”
“What does she mean by that,” Hazel said as she looked at Clare.
“OH you’ll see,” Suzie said as she secured Clare’s wrists, and then we used a second length of rope to tie them to their backs, taking it around their waists as well. I then handed Suzie and Lisa a longer length of rope, as we started to pull their arms into their sides, taking the rope above and below their chests.
“Okay – this is different,” Hazel said as the bands pressed on her body, “but you’ve done this before. I like the way it feels.”
“I agree – it’s a pity we can’t persuade the boys to do it to us,” Clare said.
“Boys? What boys?”
“Pete and Doug – they’re cute, but not interested in this,” Hazel said as Lisa tied off the rope behind her back. The three of us then looked at each other, as a silent conversation took place.
“Would you three be interested in trying something – different,” Suzie said as we walked round and looked at them.
“Not that way,” I said with a smile.
“All right – go on then.”
We each took another length of rope, and started to tie it between our volunteer’s left arms and body, tightening the two bands on them. We could see the expression I their eyes as we pulled it up a little, and then took it over and around the back of their necks, and tied it between their arms and body on the other side.
“Ah,” Pippa gasped as I tied the rope off, and she tried to move. “that’s...”
“Yes it is,” I said as I held up a folded cloth, “open wide now.”
As I pushed the cloth in, and then pressed a length of the special white tape over her lips, I could see the twins looking at each other while they were both gagged as well. The three of them then sat very slowly on the couch, watching as we secured their ankles and legs, and then looked at them.
“I’ll order the pizzas now,” I said, “feel free to try and break free.”
I went and fetched the phone, coming back to see them trying to move, and then stopping as the ropes rubbed on them, and they looked at each other.
“Think they’ll try to escape,” Suzie whispered to me as we heard their muffled gasps.
“I’m not sure, but we haven’t done everything the boys did to us.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Lisa said as she headed up to the toilet, and I placed the order. The two of us then sat down and watched, wondering how the girls felt as they looked at each other...
For a few minutes, the three of them tried to free themselves, but we could hear their muffled gasps through the gags, and they stopped moving, looking at each other and then at us.
I wondered if we should tell them about when Bobby and Eric had done that to the two of us, but then remembered how it had been worse for us. We had been on a double date – Me and Lisa with Eric and Bobby. When we got back to the hall, they tied us full job, then added that extra rope, and one from our wrists up our back to our necks.
I still can’t quite process how – intense that was, but from the looks in their eyes they were getting an idea as well.
Eventually, the doorbell rang, and I said “You’d better release them.”
As Lisa and Suzie walked over, I went and collected the pizzas, but as I closed the door I heard some quiet moans from upstairs. I figured Jenny and Colin were having fun, and carried the boxes in to see Pippa rubbing her wrists.
“Holy... Have you any idea how tight that felt?”
“Yes, I do,” I said as I put the boxes on the coffee table, “and just how it made me feel as well.”
“I dared not move,” Hazel said as she took a slice of pepperoni, “the way it felt...”
“So putting that to one side for the moment,” I said, “where are you guys spending Christmas?”
“My grandparents are coming,” Pippa said, “so we’ll be at home.”
“So are we, then we’re going to my dad’s parents for Boxing Day,” Hazel said as she grabbed a slice, “but we’ll be back for your party Suzie.”
“So what about you Cas – any relatives coming over?”
I nodded as I said “My other grandparents are coming over – they should be here Christmas Eve. I think Dad has something very special planned for that night. And we’re going Carol Singing with Alicia and Martin the night before.”
“No sleepovers, no spending days bound and gagged?”
“Not this year, no,” I said with a laugh, “I’ve had enough of that for this year, thank you very much.”
“I can imagine,” Lisa said with a smile.
“So are you going to wear your dresses for that?”
“That’s the idea,” Suzie said as she sipped her drink.
“I may have to come and see that,” Pippa said as she took another bite. “Hey – you girls want to come round my place Boxing Day?”
“I’ll ask Mum and Dad,” I said as we heard giggling and a thump from upstairs.
“They must be having fun up there,” Hazel said, “what do you think they’re doing?”
“Playing Twister,” I said with a smile.
Sunday 20th December
“You’re kidding,” Alicia said to me as we sat in the coffee shop.
“Oh no,” I said with a smile, “he had me tightly bound, full gag, those new ropes they sprung on us, and the special one – I think Mum would have had a fit if she and Dad had found us, but fortunately by the time they got back I was free, and Cassie was safely in bed.”
Alicia shook her head, her dark hair cut short for the holidays. She had a pale blue tartan shawl wrapped round her neck, covering the top of the mustard coloured jumper she had on. Her blue jeans were tucked into short brown boots. I had on a grey sweatshirt, jeans and trainers, both of us with several bags by our feet.
We’d spent most of the day buying the last of our Christmas presents – it had taken me most of the time to find my present for Gran, but then it had been the same story for Alicia. Eventually, we both went for the same thing – a boxed set of Cliff Richard movies.
“The twins must be getting excited about Christmas,” Alicia said as she sipped her coffee, and then let out a little sigh.
“Don’t tell me you...”
“What do you think – you’re the same aren’t you?”
I nodded as I sipped my coffee as well. “I hear Cathy had fun at Wissenden last week?”
“Oh yeah – the last night of Chanukah. Mister and Mrs Boyle invited her to come and accompany Samuel.”
“They’re getting really close as well, aren’t they?”
“Oh yes,” Alicia said with a smile, “you could say that...”
“We were just talking about you,” Alicia said as Cathy Harmer joined us. She was wearing her usual long gypsy skirt and a blue blouse over a black jumper.
“You mean when I attended the Zot Hannukah meal at Wissenden? Your aunt and uncle were there as well, you know?”
“I know,” Alicia said with a smile, “so this is getting serious between you and Sam, isn’t it?”
“I guess it is,” Cathy said as she took her glasses off and wiped them, then put them back on with a smile. “My mums are happy about it though.”
“Right – I gotta get going,” I said as I stood up, “Dad wants us all back early tonight for some reason.”
“Have fun, and I’ll see you Tuesday,” Alicia said as I picked up my bags and headed out of the door.
When I got back to the house and went in, Dad looked out from the kitchen.
“Hey there – can you come and give me a hand in here a minute Jenny? Your mum’s talking to your gran and aunts in the front room, and I’m giving the twins their tea.”
I could hear some noise from the front room, so I went in to find not just David and June in their high chairs, but Janey was in a high chair as well, and Danny was sitting at the table.
“Hello Jenny,” he said, as the twins looked at me and said “Hello Jenny.”
“You’ve got your hands full here,” I said as I looked at dad, who was putting some chips out on plates that had fish fingers on them.
“Tell me about it – can you sort out their drinks?”
I nodded as I put some squash into four cups, putting lids on three of them before I handed them out, and then giving Danny the fourth one. “Where’s Uncle Dave?”
“Finishing putting up the decorations at their house – I said I’d make sure the family stayed out of the way,” he said with a smile. “Want some coffee?”
“Not right now thanks,” I said as I sat down. “I presume Cassie’s across the road?”
“You presume wrong – Bobby came round to take her to the pictures, to see that new Peanuts movie,” Dad said as he sat down.
“So who’s in the front room?”
“Your Mum, your gran, Aunts Connie and Cassie. Aunt Jo wanted to finish her shopping.”
I could hear the sound increasing and wondered what was going on. “Go on – have a look,” Dad said, so I made my way into the front room – and then burst out laughing.
“Hllljnee,” Mum said from her seat. She was on one of the dining table chairs, wearing her black jersey dress and knee length leather boots. I could see the bands of rope around her ankles and knees, holding them to the front legs of the chairs, as well as the bands of rope around her waist and her arms. A wide strip of the white tape covered her lips, but I knew something else was underneath.
Gran was sat in one of the armchairs, wearing a grey cardigan over a floral print dress, just as tightly tied and gagged as the rope rubbed on her brown straight boots. As for Aunt Cassie, she was on the floor, wearing a purple tunic and pants, but as tightly tied as I knew she liked to be, and the tape wrapped round her head, holding her long brown hair against her neck.
It was Aunt Connie who surprised me the most. I knew she liked to be tightly tied as well, but instead she was lying on the couch, looking at me as her lips smiled under the white tape. She had on a black smock and leggings, with over the knee boots, and her ankles and legs were just as tightly tied as the others. But she had her wrists tied together in front of her, a rope running from them to the one round her knees, and her arms tied to her side in the way we tie the girls around their stomachs.
Going back into the kitchen, I looked at Dad and said “I see what you mean – but why is Aunt Connie not tied the same way as the others.”
“Well – why do you think that might be the case?”
I looked at him, and then went “Ah – does...”
Dad shook his head as he offered me a glass of coke. “Wait until later – right now, let’s make sure these four get what they need.”
“Oh my goodness,” Cassie said as we sat round the dinner table, “how long?”
“Well, it’s probably going to be July next year, but who can tell? After that, though that’s it, right Dave?”
“Oh yeah – three is enough,” Uncle Dave said with a smile.
“Well, congratulations to both of you,” Aunt Jo said as Cassie and I looked at each other. Another member of the Craig family to look forward to.
“By the way,” Connie said, “How’s Kerry?”
“Blooming according to Jess,” Mum said. “She’s due early February.”
For some reason, there had been a rash of pregnancies just after Easter. I knew Rachel’s mother had been expecting, but the real surprise was that she was not the only one.
Freddie and Louise, for example - sometime early next year they were also going to be expecting a new arrival. They only got told a few months ago, after the afternoon party at the Manor House, but they were looking forward to that as well.
“So we’ve got another reason to celebrate,” Gran said as we all ate our meal. The younger generation were in the front room with Lisa’s mum – she’s come over to help out, after Mum had called her.
Once she was released of course.
As I put some pork into my mouth, I wriggled slightly on the chair, and then saw Aunt Cassie looking at me out of the corner of her eye.
“So how did the shopping go today,” she eventually said.
“I got everything I needed,” I said with a smile, “I just need to get the presents wrapped – is it all right if I do that after dinner Dad?”
“Of course it is – it’s Cassie’s turn to do the dishes.”
I watched her as she groaned, before Uncle Dave said “I’ll give you a hand, little one.”
“And fold, and tape – there, another one done,” I said to myself as I finished taping up my present for Cassie, and then put it with the others as there was a light tap on my door.
“Can I come in,” Aunt Cassie said as she opened the door and looked round.
“sure – I got the present for you and Aunt Jo wrapped up anyway,” I said as she came in and sat on my bed.
“You know, it doesn’t seem that long since you and Cassie were in pigtails and I came back from my work,” she said, “and here we are now – you’re turning into a young woman, and your sister isn’t that far behind you.”
“Aunt Cassie,” I said as I looked at her, “this isn’t The Talk, is it?”
“Well, not that one anyway,” she said with a smile. “This is the one where I ask just how far is Colin taking things with you.”
“What do you... OH,” I said as I sat down. “Let me put it this way – I keep my clothes on, and we don’t go beyond that, but...”
“But you have tried ropes elsewhere – like earlier tonight?”
I nodded and said “please don’t tell mum and dad...”
“Oh don’t worry – so long as that’s as far as it goes. You’re still young after all.” As she stood up, she said “just rope, right?”
“Right – we don’t do what Angela does with...”
I then looked at Aunt Cassie, who smiled and said “air conditioning, right?”
“Well,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile, “she is a young woman now after all. Remember that weekend we all spent after those men attacked us at Holderness Manor?”
“How could I forget that – has anyone ever told Cassie?”
Aunt Cassie shook her head. “Not to the best of my knowledge – and it was a special weekend for me as well, as you well know. All that talk of crickets then...”
“Seems funny now, doesn’t it – but no, we’ve never done that. I don’t think I’m ready for that – the rest of the stuff is new enough...”
“Yeah – I can understand that,” she said as I sat next to her. “You’re both growing up so fast; it can be scary at times. But I trust Colin not take things too far until he is ready – do you?”
I nodded as Aunt Cassie smiled. “Good – you don’t have to answer this, but...”
“No – not beyond the ropes.”
“Okay then,” she said as she stood up, “I’ll let you get back to the wrapping up then.”
“Yes,” she said as she stood in the doorway.
“Have you and Aunt Jo ever thought about having children?”
“We’ve talked about it – maybe adopting one day,” she said with a smile, “but not yet. Hurry up – I think your gran is making hot chocolate.”
Monday 21st December
“Hey – have you got a couple of minutes?”
I looked up from the chair to see Angela standing there, wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a white jumper over a checked shirt.
“Sure,” I said as I put my book down, “what’s up?”
“Well,” Angela said as she came in, and then started giggling as her cell phone went off.
“Sorry,” my darling elder brother called back as Angela sighed.
“I should take more care shouldn’t I?”
“Not my place to ask,” I said with a smile, “so what can I do for you?”
“I need some help from you and the other girls,” Angela said, “with my idea for Cassie and Suzie’s birthday presents. Could you do something for me?”
“Sure – what is it?”
I listened as Angela outlined her plan, and then nodded as the smile grew on my face.
“I think that can be arranged,” I said with a smile, “leave it with me. I’ll talk to Cathy and sort it out without clueing in the others.”
“Good,” Angela said as she stood up, “now I need to get going – we’re heading to the Manor house tonight to see Grandma and Grandpa. Sarah and Brian are arriving today.”
“So when are you meeting for the Carol singing tomorrow,” Mum asked as we drove up the path to the Manor house.
“At about seven thirty, at the church hall,” I said as we looked out to the front door. Dad stopped the car and we got out, me and Angela taking Andrew by the hand as we went in.
Going into the library, we smiled as we saw Sarah and Brian sitting there, Sarah watching Bart and little Sarah as they played on the floor.
“Hey you two,” Sarah said as she looked up, wearing a dusky pink dress, “you’re both looking well.”
“Thanks – the twins are getting much bigger,” I said as Andrew toddled over and sat next to them, talking to Bart as Sarah crawled across the floor.
“Yeah,” Brian said as Grandma came in with Grandpa. They also had two very unexpected guests with them – Alice’s parents from the US.
“Hi there,” Mrs Hawkins said, “it’s good to see you both again.”
“And you,” Angela said as they hugged both of us. “Is Alice with you?”
“Yes, she is,” Mr Hawkins said as he looked at Brian.
“Listen,” he said in his Australian accent, “can I borrow both of you for a couple of minutes? Something I want to show you.”
“Is it all right is we go for a few minutes, Mum,” I said, and when they both nodded we followed Brian out of the library, and up the stairs.
“Where are we going,” Angela asked as we approached the playroom.
“Well, first I need the promise from both of you that you won’t shout when we go in here,” Brian said quietly, “I need you to meet someone, and they need to say something to you.”
“Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this,” Angela said as she looked at me.
We both looked at Brian, as he opened the door and we walked in.
“Hey – thanks for coming up.”
“Alice?” I looked at the young blonde as we walked in, wondering why she was waiting there. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a white cowl necked jumper, smiling as she leaned against the wall. “Are you the only one here?”
“This time yes,” she said as Brian closed the door, “although I can tell you Chloe and her partner will visit after Christmas. I wanted you two to meet someone, before she comes downstairs – she has something she wants to say to both of you.”
“Oh? Who is it,” Angela says as she looked at Alice.
“Hi – I wanted to say sorry.”
Now that was a voice I recognised, as both Angela and I looked at each other, and then turned round to see a young brunette girl, about my age, who looked at us with a worried expression on her face. She was wearing a white blouse and jeans, and had a watch on her right wrist that had a green glowing dial.
“You?” Angela looked at the young girl, and said “what are you doing here?”
“Alicia, Angela,” Alice said – and yeah, the alliteration was not lost on me, “this is Tamara, although she prefers Tammy.”
“The last time we saw you, you managed to break into Sarah and Brian’s house, and held us both hostage,” I said as I looked at her. “You were arrested – Brian?”
“It’s a long story,” Brian said as he folded his arms and leaned against the wall, “but the short version is this. Tammy here has a special gift, like Sarah, Chloe and I do – and when we discovered that, she joined the team.”
“She.... Alice, you know this?”
“Yeah – Dad and Brian told me and Mom, and Tammy now lives with us as my cousin. The other girls know as well, but when we knew we were coming over, we knew we’d bump into you two – so you needed to meet first.”
“So why did you break into Brian’s house?”
“I needed some food and a change of clothes – I was on the run,” Tammy said as she sat on a box. “I’m really sorry I did what I did, but I was desperate.”
“And it’s the wrong question,” Brian said, “the more interesting question was, HOW did she manage to break in?”
Angela and I looked at each other, and then at her watch again. “So,” Angela eventually said, “we know what the gifts of the other three are. What is yours?”
“Well, as Brian likes to put it,” Tammy said with a little smile, “I can see the way electrical currents flow, and as a result I can knock out any electronic lock, any alarm, and any recording device – if I’m not wearing this.” She held up her wrist as she said “this regulates something in me that causes that effect, so I can at least use a recorder or any other device like a normal girl.”
“Okay – and you stay with Alice because?”
“She needed a place to stay and become a normal girl,” Alice said. “After all, who knows more about dealing with weird things than us lot?”
We looked at each other, and then walked over to hug Tammy.
“Does this mean I can relax for the rest of the holiday?”
“I think so,” I said, “you need to meet the others later – we all know about Brian, Sarah and Chloe, so you don’t need to feel you have to hide anything.”
“There is one thing though,” Alice said. “We have introduced Tammy to our games, but you two may wish to have a little bit of revenge. Especially as we’ll be here on New Year’s Eve – though not quite as vigorous as usual.”
“It’ll also be a training exercise for Tammy,” Brian said as the dinner gong sounded, “but afterwards, all right?”
“Okay then,” Alice said “come on I’m starving.”
“Ah good – there you are,” Grandma said as we came into the dining room, as the youngsters were put into the high chairs. “Anne, Simon, I would like you to meet Tamara, Alice’s cousin. She recently moved to live with Alice’s family, and naturally came on the trip with them.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Mum and Dad said as they shook her hand, “so why did you come to live with Alice.”
“My parents passed away,” Tammy said, “and I needed a place to stay to finish my High School Diploma.”
“Well, I hope you’ve settled in,” Grandpa said as we sat down.
“Thank you, yes – I really feel at home with Uncle Jack and Aunt Margaret.”
We both smiled as we looked at her and Alice, before Mum said “so tell us something about yourself, Tammy.”
“Let the poor girl eat,” Grandma said as Mrs Bridges started to serve the first course, “we can talk later. I want to hear about how much Andrew is looking forward to Christmas.”
As the conversation turned to other matters, Tammy looked over at Andrew.
“How old is your little brother?”
“Coming up on three next year,” I said.
“He’s cute – and gets on with the twins well enough.”
“Well, as you’re going to be here over the holidays, you’ll meet the rest of the kids then as well,” Angela said with a smile. “I hope you get on well with them as well.”
“Heidi and Cindy have told me about all of you,” Tammy said as she sipped some soup, and then wiped her chin. “Is it true Heidi is distantly related to you?”
“A few generations down the line,” I said with a smile. “So you’re Alice’s cousin now? If I asked for the real story...”
“Later,” Angela whispered, “let’s enjoy the meal for now.”
After dinner, Sarah went with Mum and Dad, Alice’s parents and my grandparents, while Brian indicated that the four of us should go with him.
“Tammy has discovered some of the games the others play,” he said as we went into the playroom.
“So you know that Alice and Nats...”
“Oh yeah – I twigged that the first time I met her,” Tammy said with a smile. “They’ve all had some strange experiences, haven’t they?”
“So have we,” Angela said quietly, “but still – so, you think she needs a taster, Brian?”
“An escape challenge if you like – not the full works, but enough that she and Alice may have to work together to free themselves.”
“Okay then,” Angela said as she opened one of the boxes. “Tammy, you come and stand in front of me, and Alice you stand in front of Alicia. No covering of the hands today, to make it a little fairer.”
“Why would you normally cover your hands,” Tammy said as she walked over.
“To stop us using our fingers,” Alice said, “but as Brian said, he wants this to be an escape training exercise, so we just get the ropes...”
As they spoke, Angela and I crossed their wrists behind their backs and started to bind them tightly together, before we secured them against their backs with the ropes around their waist.
“Okay – snug,” Tammy said as she wriggled her fingers, “now what?”
“Some ropes to keep your arms against your sides,” I said as I copied Angela. She passed one length around Tammy’s arms and stomach, making sure she took it round several times and then cinched it between her arms and body, then did the same with her upper arms.
“I hear you girls got taught something a little special,” Alice whispered as I passed the rope around her upper arms, “no chance of that tonight?”
“None – even if I thought it was a good idea for Tammy, and I don’t know, Brian and Angela would stop it.”
“Well – maybe another time?”
I nodded as I cinched the upper band of rope on Alice, and we walked the two girls to opposite sides of the playroom, helping them both to sit down before we bound their ankles and legs.
“I trust this isn’t too uncomfortable for you Tammy,” Angela said as she pulled the rope between the young girl’s legs.
“Nope – you’re good. Maybe not in the Sue Duncombe league, but...”
“You’ve met Sue?”
“Oh yeah – tell you that story later,” Alice said as Brian looked at them.
“Three layer gag tonight, I think.”
“Three layers? How many do you guys normally have?”
“Don’t ask – yet,” I said as I folded two cloths, and handed one to Angela. Alice and Tammy nodded as they opened their mouths, and we pushed the cloths in, before using the traditional knotted strips of towel to keep them in place. We each then took a roll of white tape, and wrapped it tightly round their heads, the two girls looking at each other as they were silenced.
“Okay,” Brian said as he looked at his watch. “The object of this exercise is to work together and free each other as quickly as possible. If you are both ready?”
Alice and Tammy looked at each other and nodded as Brian said “go.”
As Tammy started to try and wriggle round, Alice took a few moments to consider her position as we watched.
“You can tell Alice is more experienced,” Angela whispered as we stood with Brian, “she’s taking time to consider her options, while Tammy looks for a loose end.”
“Good luck with that,” I whispered in reply, “I know you, big sis.”
Angela smiled as we watched Tammy look over to Alice.
Tammy nodded as she pushed herself over to a wall, and slowly pushed herself onto her feet, Alice doing the same. They looked at each other and then started to jump across the floor, Alice turning herself round so that they were back to back.
She looked over her shoulder as Tammy started to work on the knot holding the rope round her wrists, Brian nodding as she started to unravel the binding.
“One of the things we need to help Tamara with,” Brian whispered, “is being part of a team. For quite a few years she was on her own, surviving with her gifts. Living with Alice, and being with Heidi and the others, has helped her to realise how important is to have the support of others. With exercises like this, she learns that together is often better than – ah, excellent.”
We looked over as Alice brought her hands round, and then waited for Tammy to hop round so that she could start to untie her wrists. It only took a short while after that for them to shake the ropes off their arms, and then sit down, bending their legs and starting to remove the ropes holding them together.
“There we go,” Tammy said as she put the unwound tape on the floor, and eased the towel strip and cloth from her mouth, “how did we do?”
“Twenty two minutes – definitely getting faster, but you still tend to try and free yourself first Tammy.”
“Well, it’s still a new feeling to me, remember?”
“I know – but definitely getting better. Come on – take the stuff off and put then damp cloth in the bag. We’d better go back and join the others.”
“Have fun,” Alice said as she hugged Tammy.
“Yeah – and I hope you got some measure of revenge,” she said as she looked at us.
“Some – but we’ll see,” Angela said with a smile.
Tuesday 22nd December
“Thanks Mum,” I said as I pushed the plate away, “that was delicious.”
“Well, you had better go and get ready,” Dad said as he and Charlie looked at me, “we need to get you to the church for seven o’clock.”
I looked at the clock, and nodded as I said “if Cassie calls, tell her I’m getting ready?”
“Sure,” Mum said as I stood up, leaving the dining table and making my way to the bathroom. I needed to strip off and have a shower before I started to get ready.
A few minutes later, I came out with a dressing gown on, putting my clothes in the laundry basket before I went into my bedroom. I had a second towel wrapped round my head, and as I closed the door I smiled, looking forward to what I was going to do next.
The first thing I had to do was dry my hair. So I sat at my dressing table, unwound the towel and used my hair dryer to take all the moisture off, using my brush as I did so.
I then went to the wardrobe and laid out my costume, placing things where I would find it easiest to put them on, before I removed my dressing gown, and put on the long sleeved chemise. I then pulled on the drawers, tucking the chemise in as I looked at the full length mirror.
“Well, here we go,” I said to myself as I sat down and pulled on the thick white stockings, before I put on the black leather ankle boots and fastened the laces. So far, so good, as I picked up the corset and wrapped it round myself, working the laces as I tightened it and felt my stomach been pulled in.
I soon had it comfortably on, thinking of how difficult it was when I first wore it with the help of Angela and Gerri. Over the last few months, it had become easier to wear, so that now I could put it on properly with only a little effort.
“Can I come in?”
“Sure Mum,” I said as the door opened and Mum came in, walking over and looking at me.
“Very good – you’ve done well so far,” she said with a smile. “Now, ready to try the first of the new things?”
I nodded as Mum handed me a small petticoat, a lot smaller than the other ones and made of wool. I slipped it over my head and pulled it down, fastening it round my waist as it came down to my knees.
“What is this Mum?”
“It’s called a Modesty Petticoat – Gerri sent it when she heard about the carol singing. The idea is twofold – it preserves your modesty, and it keeps you a bit warmer as well. Now, time for the cage.”
I nodded as I walked into the centre of the circle of wire hoops, bending my knees and reaching down to grab the inner circle. As I stood up, the hoops came with me, the leather straps between them holding them together as they covered the modesty petticoat while I strapped the inner ring round my waist.
I then pulled the first petticoat down and over the cage, covering the rings and straps, followed by the second heavier one, as Mum watched me, and then she helped me to put my dress on, fastening the buttons as I stood there.
“Well, it certainly does feel warm,” I said with a smile as I put on the gloves.
“Well, now for the second part of the parcel,” Mum said as she took from the wardrobe a coat, designed in the same style as my dress but made from heavy material. She helped to slip it onto me, and then fastened the front, the fur collar tickling on my chin as I then put on my bonnet and tied the ribbons under my chin.
“There now,” she said as she looked at me, “what do you think?”
I looked at myself in the mirror, and nodded as I saw the way I looked.
“I understand Alicia and some others will be wearing muffs,” Mum said, “but you need to hold some music sheets, so your gloves will have to do. They’ll be serving hot chocolate in the church hall after you have finished.”
The front doorbell rang, as I picked up my skirts and started to walk down the stairs.
“Ah good, you’re ready,” Mister Craig said as I came down, “I have the girls in the back of the car already, so if you can come with me?”
“We’ll see you later,” Dad said as I followed Mister Craig down to the SUV, smiling as I got into the back and gathered my skirts round me. Cassie and Jenny were already there, Jenny wearing a short jacket over her dress while Cassie, like me, had a coat covering her dress.
I strapped myself in, and smiled as we set off...
As Mr Craig pulled up outside the church, we saw Martin and Bobby standing there, wearing long coats with thick scarves round their necks and big top hats on their heads.
“Hey there,” Martin said with a smile, “the others are gathering inside. Come away in.”
As we walked in, we saw Alicia and Angela standing there, alongside Suzie and the other girls. Patty, Rachel, Louise and Fiona were all standing in a group, talking amongst themselves, while Eddie, Mary’s brother, and a couple of others were talking to Martin’s mum and dad.
All the men were wearing Victorian suits, with top hats or caps of the period, while the rest of us were wearing matching coats over our dresses.
“So how far are we going,” I asked Martin as he and Bobby came back in.
“Not that far – they want us to go to the shopping mall and sing for the late night shoppers.”
I saw Cassie walk over to the younger girls, and then shake her head as she led them off for a moment.
“Five minutes everyone,” Martin’s dad said as he looked at us, “collect your music sheets please.”
As we picked up a pile, Cassie brought the quartet back, their scarves pulled up and covering their faces.
“They’re not going to be signing, are they,” I said as Cassie picked up the music sheets and handed some to them.
“Nope – background accompaniment,” Cassie said as Martin said “Let’s go folks...”
At least it was dry – and a bit cold – but we walked down to the town centre, the boys carrying lanterns on hooked sticks, and then we formed a group by the War Memorial.
“Ready,” Martin whispered, and I nodded as we started to sing – or in the case of the four youngest, hum along...
Hark the Herald Angels sing,
Glory to the New Born King!
Peace on Earth and mercy mild,
God and Sinners reconciled...
We stood there for about two hours, collecting money in tins that were held by Eddie and Colin, I have to admit, it was great fun, and we got a lot of admiring comments from some of the people who passed by – especially when Cassie and Jenny saw their aunts Jo and Cassie watching them.
“They look so much older, don’t they,” Jo said as she looked at us.
“I know – and yet tomorrow, they will both be like little kids again.”
I saw Jenny and Cassie grin at each other, before they moved off. A few minutes later, we sang the last carol, the people watching applauding as we started to make our way back to the church hall.
“Well done everyone,” the minister said as we came back in, “now have a hot drink.”
“Give me a hand with these four, will you,” Cassie whispered in my ear, so I followed her with Patty, Rachel, Louise and Fiona to the toilet. As I closed the door, Cassie unwrapped their scarves, revealing the white tape covering their mouths and their bulging cheeks.
“How did they manage to smuggle this in,” I said as I peeled the tape from their mouths, and then took out the cloths, putting them into a clear bag as Cassie held it.
“I stopped asking how a long time ago,” Cassie said as we went back in, and each grabbed a hot mug of cocoa.
“So how are you spending the time between now and Christmas?”
“Very quietly,” I said as I looked at Cassie, “you?”
“Nothing special planned – who knows what may happen?”
I woke up and smiled, knowing it was just one more day, one more day...
“Patty? Up and about, lassie – we’ve got a lot to do today.”
“Okay Mum,” I said with a smile as I put my glasses on. I’d had a wonderful holiday so far, with a really special event the other day when we all went carol singing, dressed up in our special Victorian dresses.
Rachel, Louise, Fiona and I had been wearing extra stuff – a tape gag and a scarf wrapped over our heads to keep us toasty warm and nice and silent. Well, if the truth be told we didn’t sign that well anyway, but – we wanted to take part, and this was the best way.
I put on my dressing gown and went into the kitchen, Mum smiling at me as I sat down and handing me a glass of orange juice.
The telephone rang, and I helped myself to some cereal and milk as she went to answer it. I could hear her saying something about “already...” and “is she all right?” but I didn’t pay too much attention to it until she came back in.
“Rachel’s going to come round for the day,” Mum said as she came back in, “but we need to go shopping for a few things this morning, so you’ll both have to come with me for that. After that, you can play in the front room, all right?”
“Okay Mum,” I said, and then I had an idea. It was cold outside, so I said “if we have to go shopping, Mum, can we do it in the special way?”
She looked at me, and then said “All right – when she gets here, I’ll make sure you can enjoy the shopping trip. Shops on Christmas Eve – what must I be thinking of...”
“Hey Patty,” Rachel said as she came in, and took off her coat. She was wearing a pair of new jeans and a red jumper, with brown Ugg boots.
I saw Mum talk briefly to her father, and her mother in the car, before she turned and looked at us. “We’re going to go and pick a few things up,” she said as I smiled, “and I can’t leave you here, so you’re coming – and Patty wants you to be prepared.”
“Oh I know what she means,” Rachel grinned, “okay – do I need to take my coat off?”
“For a moment – Patty, go and put your boots on.”
I went into the front room, and pulled my black suede boots on over my joggers, before I came back out. I could see Mum had started, Rachel giggling as she put her hands behind her back and Mum started to bind her wrists together.
“You all right like that Rachel,” Mum said, my friend nodding as she then tied more rope round her arms and stomach, making sure they were locked into place.
“Your turn,” she said as she looked at me, so I walked over and turned round, smiling as she started to tie my wrists together as well.
Once I had my wrists and arms secured, she put Rachel’s coat back on her, fastening it up and tucking the sleeves into the pockets, and then put my coat on me so that I was wrapped up warm.
“Okay then – open your mouths please girls.”
We looked at each other and nodded, before Mum put a folded clean handkerchief in, keeping my tongue down as I closed my lips over it. She then tore a wide strip of clear tape from a roll, and smoothed it down carefully over my lips, making sure there were no creases or air bubbles.
Once she had done the same to Rachel, she put on her own coat, and grabbed her bag as well as the car keys.
“All right girls, we do this quickly and quietly,” she said with a wink of her eye. “Out to the car, both of you.”
We nodded as we went out to the car, sitting in the back as Mum strapped us in, and then we made our way to the supermarket. Now, we were having Christmas dinner with the rest of the family tomorrow, but Mum wanted to get a few things in for the next few days, as well as a couple of things she had said we needed to take with us tomorrow, so we drove to the supermarket.
Finding somewhere to park took a little while, but eventually the three of us went inside, Mum grabbing a trolley as we walked alongside her. The place was busy – incredibly busy, as we made our way along the aisles. Mum had come with a list, but as we walked round Rachel and I looked at all the other kids, laughing as they looked round and grabbed treats.
And we both knew we were having as much fun as them, albeit in a quieter way.
“Well hello there.”
“Hello Linda,” Mum said as we both saw Mrs Cottrell standing beside us. “What brings you out today?”
“Well, there’s one thing we can’t do for ourselves at the farm,” she said as she held up a turkey.
“Well, that is true,” Mum said with a smile.
“Hello girls, having fun?”
We both nodded as Mrs Cottrell said “quiet morning out?”
“Their choice,” Mum said with a smile, “Rachel is staying with us for a few hours.”
Mrs Cottrell raised an eyebrow, and I saw Mum nod – they managed to understand each other even if I didn’t.
“Right – need to get back and start preparing for tomorrow,” she eventually said, “let me know will you?”
“Got it – come on girls, let’s get this over with,” Mum said as we went off, paid for our stuff, and then took it back to the car.
As Mum strapped us in, I turned to Rachel and said “whttsgnnn?”
“Tllultr,” was all she said as Mum got in, and we drove off.
“Okay,” I said as Mum untied our wrists, and we went into the front room, “what’s happened Rachel?”
“I’m not sure,” Rachel said as we sat down, “I was having breakfast when Mum went up to the toilet. She called down to Dad, and he told me to get dressed, because I was going to come round here. After that, you know the rest.”
I nodded as Mum said “I’ll bring some sandwiches and drinks through once I’ve put these things away girls.”
“So what do you want for Christmas Rachel?”
“No idea – I know Mum and Dad have something, but no idea what.”
“Right then,” Mum said as she brought the food through, “What do you girls want to do once you’ve eaten.”
“Well,” Rachel said, “I saw something on the web, and I wondered if you would help me and Patty do something similar Mrs Pickering?”
“And that is?”
Patty took out a cell phone, and showed us a family Christmas picture – one in which the girls and mum were tied with green rope and gagged with green tape. “Can we do this,” Rachel said with a smile, “as a photo for Mum and Dad?”
“I’ve seen some of these around,” Mum said with a smile, “so all right – but you finish eating and you go to the toilet first, all right?”
“Yes Mum,” I said, Rachel grinning as we finished our lunch.
When we returned, Mum had found a roll of green string, like the stuff she sometimes uses to tie parcels with, and a roll of the special tape which was a lovely deep green as well.
“Okay then,” she said as she made a loop in the string, “why don’t you sit either side of the Christmas Tree?”
Rachel and I sat down while Mum knelt in front of me, and passed the string over my head, taking it half way down my arms before she pulled the loop, and it tightened to keep my arms in place.
“Remember, this is for a photo others can see, so we can’t go too far,” Mum said as she wound the string round me twice more, and then put my hands together in prayer in front of me before she wound the string around and between them, “but you know that already, don’t you?”
I nodded as she pulled the string, and then told me to bend my legs, after which she wrapped the string round my legs and wrists, and then took it down to tie my ankles together. Even if it was just for show, it was tight, and if I hadn’t had so much practice I may have had trouble getting out of it. As it was, when Mum used a pair of scissors to cut the string and she tied it off with a knot, I found it very comfortable.
I watched as she bound Rachel in the same way, and then took our glasses off, putting them on the coffee table before she tore strips of the green tape off, and put them over our mouths.
“Smile,” she said as she pointed the camera at us, and took several pictures of us before she left the room – first turning the television on to allow us to watch a movie.
It was quite strange actually, sitting either side of the tree with the parcels there, and I began to wonder what it might be like to spend the night there, waiting for Santa Claus to come in.
I looked over at Rachel and nodded – I remembered when my Aunt Connie had to leave in a hurry, just after I had arrived here, so I had a fair idea what might be happening...
Mum left us there for about an hour, before we both heard the telephone ring.
“Oh hi Clive – how are things?
“Yeah I can do that – we’ll see you in a little while, and tell her well done.”
“Whtshppnd,” Rachel said as Mum came back in, and took a pair of scissors in her hands.
“I want you both to go and wash, and then put your boots and coats on,” she said, “I need to take you somewhere.”
“You’ll see, Rachel, you’ll see...”
Rachel looked round at the walls of the corridor as we walked down, her hand in one of Mum’s and me holding the other hand.
“This place smells funny,” Rachel said as she wrinkled her nose, and then ran off as her dad appeared through a doorway.
“Hey there,” he said as he knelt down and wrapped his arms round her, “have you had a good day.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Rachel said, “but is Mummy all right?”
“Oh she’s fine,” he said as he stood up and opened the door, “come in and see for yourself.”
Rachel walked in, me and Mum following, to see her mother sitting up in a bed, with a nightdress on.
“Hello Rachel,” she said with a smile, “come and give me a hug.”
“What happened Mummy,” Rachel said as she walked over.
“Well, somebody decided they wanted to join us for Christmas. Go and have a look.”
Rachel turned and looked at the other side of the bed, where there was a clear plastic cot. She walked round, Mum holding me with her arms round me as she looked inside at the new baby.
“Oh my,” she said quietly, “I have a brother?”
“You do indeed,” Mister Rigg said, “his name is Christian, but we’ll call him Chris for short.”
“Come and look Patty.”
I walked over and looked at the baby boy, wrapped in a blanket with a blue hat on, while Mum went over and hugged Mrs Rigg.
“He’s so cute – David looked like that as well,” I whispered as he slept. “How does it feel to be a big sister?”
“I don’t really know – maybe Cassie can tell me?”
“You can try asking her.”
“Does this mean Mummy won’t be home for Christmas Daddy,” Rachel said as she suddenly looked up.
“Oh I’ll be home tomorrow – but I do you want you to hold off on opening any presents until you and Daddy bring me and Chris home,” Mrs Rigg said, “do you think you can do that?”
“Yeah,” Rachel said as she smiled, “yeah, I can do that.”
When I opened my eyes, for a few seconds I forgot what day it was, and lay there, wondering if anyone else was awake yet.
And then it dawned on me – or rather, the sound of Bobby saying “Merry Christmas, Mum” helped me remember what day it was, as I got out of bed, put on a dressing gown and some slippers, and walked quickly down to the dining room.
“Well good morning sleepy head,” Dad said as he looked at me, “Merry Christmas.”
“And the same to you,” I said as I sat down, Bobby grinning at me.
“Would you like some orange juice,” Mrs Boyle said as she came through from the kitchen, and put a bowl of porridge in front of Bobby and Dad.
“Yes please – and some porridge as well,” I said as I watched Mum giving Luci some milk. “Merry Christmas to you as well, little sis.”
“All right, breakfast first, and then we can open the presents, before we get ready for church. Our presents to the others are in the car already.”
Dad was wearing an old jumper and jeans, so I figured he had put them in on behalf of all of us, before we had got up. All the rest of us were still in our nightwear – except for Mrs Boyle, who was in a grey jersey dress with an apron over it.
“I hope it’s still all right for you and your husband to help Mister and Mrs Bridges today,” Mum said as my porridge came in.
“Of course – and thank you for inviting us to join you for the meal as well.”
“This is a family day,” Dad said as he looked round, “of course we want all of you to join us.”
Mrs Boyle nodded as she held her bump, and then went back into the kitchen.
“So who else is going to be there,” Bobby said.
“Apart from the rest of the family? Well, Brian and Sarah are there with the twins, and Alice and her family are over as well, so they will all be at the meal.”
I nodded as I started to eat – Christmas Lunch at the Manor House was an annual treat for all of us. It meant we could all share presents, have a really good meal, and be a big family.
When the telephone rang, I said “I’ll get it” and went to the hallway.
“Merry Christmas Suzie!”
“And the same to you Cassie,” I said with a smile, “how are things at your place?”
“Hectic – the twins are discovering the joys of wrapping paper and empty boxes.”
“I can imagine,” I giggled, “and you?”
“I got a few nice presents – one of which I’ll thank Bobby for when I see him. You?”
“Just going to open ours in a few minutes. See you at church?”
“Got it,” Cassie said as the others went by, and Mum indicated I should follow.
“Talk to you later,” I said as we went in, and sat round the huge Christmas tree. Mister and Mrs Boyle came in as well, as we gave them our presents and they gave us theirs.
We then started to open ours – and the first one I got was a new iPad from Mum and Dad. “Thanks,” I said as I looked at it, “this is great.”
I got some new clothes from them as well, while Bobby bought me a lovely locket. I even had a present from Luci – a large bag of sweets to munch on over the next few weeks.
There were going to be more presents at the Manor House later, but I watched as the others opened their gifts, as well as the gifts from Granny Jacobs – she was spending Christmas with my aunt and uncle in Newcastle, so she wasn’t going to be with us this year.
“Right,” Dad eventually said, “we need to start to get ready. I want everyone in their finery, in the hallway, by ten fifteen.”
And so began the mad scramble, as we went upstairs and took our turns in the bathroom, and then I went into my bedroom. I dried my hair off, and then looked in the wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear.
In the end, I put on a black jumper and a knee length skirt – which sat over the black tights I put on, before I sat down and put on some black boots.
I then thought for a moment, and giggled as I got a length of black rope from my supplies box, and folded my skirt back after I sat down, using the rope to tie my legs together above my knees, but leaving a length between them so that I could walk easily.
“Suzie? Hurry up!”
“Coming Mum,” I said as I came down the stairs, and took the long padded coat she was holding out. Mum was wearing her grey great coat, her red boots underneath, while Dad was strapping Luci into the car seat, wrapped up warm in a green body suit.
Bobby came running down, adjusting his tie before he took his black coat and put it on, before we went out to the car.
“I’ll lock the doors before we set off,” Mister Boyle said as we got into the car, and strapped ourselves in, before we drove off.
When we arrived at the church, we saw Jenny and Cassie getting out of their car, holding the hands of June and David as they walked to the church door.
“Hey – have you heard the news?”
“No – what?”
Cassie looked over at Patty as she and her mother got out of the car.
“Rachel’s mum had her baby – it’s a boy, and he’s going to be called Chris.”
I grinned as we walked in – we had a lot to talk about...
The service was short, but we always gathered afterwards for drinks and mince pies – and it was no different this year. Cassie and I had already exchanged Christmas presents a few days ago, but as we sat in the corner, we only had one thing to talk about.
“So what are you going to wear to my party?”
“No idea yet,” I said as I looked at my best friend, “how’s your day been so far?”
“Great fun – the twins crawling into the boxes for their new play centre was a sight to behold.”
I laughed as I looked round. “So everyone is gathering at your place this year?”
“Nope - we’re all going to Aunt Cassie’s place. Apparently she insisted on cooking this year.”
“Well, their place is certainly big enough for all of you,” I said with a smile. “We’re going to head up to the Manor House from here.”
“I heard a rumour they had house guests.”
I nodded. “You’ll probably see them in the next few days, but yeah – the Carter-Holderness and Jenkins families are spending Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa.”
“Well, say hi to Alice for me and Jenny,” Cassie said as she looked round the room. “And tell them they’re invited on Monday as well.”
“Got it,” I said as her mother walked over. “Hello Suzie – you’ll have to forgive us, but we need to get going. Enjoy your day, and Merry Christmas.”
“Same to you,” I said as Cassie went off, and Dad came over.
“Let’s go,” he said as I followed him out to the car. Mum was strapping Andrew in, while Bobby was looking at the other people going out.
“Did you see Cassie?”
“Yeah,” Bobby said with a smile, “I need to get her birthday present sorted out tomorrow.”
“Get in,” Dad said, “places to go, people to see...”
As we pulled up to the front of the Manor House, Grandma came down the stairs to meet us.
“There you are,” she said as she walked over, “Merry Christmas, all of you.”
“And you Mum,” Dad said as he hugged and kissed her. “Bobby, can you and Suzie bring the bags in from the back of the car?”
“Allow me, Master Alexander,” Mister Bridges said as he came out, Dad nodding as Grandma said “why don’t you take Andrew into the front room?”
“Sure Grandma,” Bobby said as we took Andrew’s hands and walked with him into the house, and then into the large front room. He smiled as we went in, and said “Merry Cwismas Bart and Sarah.”
The twins looked up and waved at him as he toddled over to join them, while Alice Jenkins smiled at us and said “hey. Merry Christmas.”
“And to you,” Bobby said as we all hugged. Alice was wearing a blue blouse and dark trousers, with high heels. “How’s your day been?”
“Not bad – we exchanged presents this morning, and then went with your grandparents to church – there you are Tammy. This is Bobby and Suzie Holderness, the other half of the Holderness family. That’s their brother Andrew playing with their twins. Guys, this is my cousin Tammy.”
We both looked at the brunette, who was standing nervously in the doorway. She appeared to be a year or so older than Alice, and was wearing a blue denim dress.
“Nice to meet you,” she finally said, “sorry, it’s been a bit of a strange day for me.”
“Christmas chez Holderness usually is,” Bobby said as he walked over, taking her by surprise as he hugged her.
“So,” Tammy eventually said, “you must be the son of the son of Lord Holderness, right?”
“So they keep telling me,” Bobby said as the door opened again, and Alicia came in.
“Hey – I see you got here before us?”
“For once,” I said as Andrew started laughing. “We were just meeting Tammy.”
“Oh yeah – we met her the other day,” Alicia said with a smile. “Well, we’re going to have some lunch in a few minutes, so can you guys bring the babies in and get them into their high chairs?”
“Sure,” I said as Bobby picked up Andrew, while Tammy and Alice picked up the twins. We walked into the dining room, coming in as Granddad said “ah there you are. Once you have the youngest safely in place, take your seats – we’ll eat as soon as we are all in place, Mrs Bridges, Mrs Boyle.”
“Yes sir,” they both said as we took our places.
“Hi Eddie, you’re joining us today?”
“I am indeed,” Eddie Holmes said as he sat next to Angela, “but I will have Christmas dinner again with my family later tonight – and then hit the gym tomorrow.”
“If it’s any consolation, I’m in the same boat,” Angela said with a smile. “So forgive me if I leave anything, Mum.”
“You’re excused,” Aunt Anne said with a smile as she took her seat.
We all bowed our heads as Granddad said “Lord, we thank you for this day, for family and friends, and for this food we now share. In your name, Amen.”
“AMEN,” we all said, and I thought I heard Tammy say it loudest.
“Before I forget, Alex, Susan, this is Tammy, Alice’s cousin. She is living with her now so that she can finish high school.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mum said, Tammy blushing and saying “thanks” as Mrs Boyle and Mrs Bridges brought out the first course – salmon and cream cheese with crisp breads.
“So how are you both,” Dad said as he looked at Sarah and Brian.
“We’re fine – keeping busy, and the twins keep us occupied when we’re not working,” Sarah said as she watched them sucking on some breadsticks.
“So what happens after lunch,” Alice said as she looked at Alicia.
“Well, we’ll all gather in the library and exchange presents with each other – and that includes both of you, so no arguments. Then the oldsters...”
Alicia looked at her parents, and then shook her head as she said “anyway, we’ll go and do our thing while they do theirs, and we get together later – sans big sister and fiancé – for some snacks. Before we do the exchange however – the Queen.”
“Her broadcast,” Grandma said, “another family tradition.”
“So what are the others doing,” I asked Alice.
“Family time, all of them – although Nats is going to the farm today with her family.”
“If the road is clear,” Brian said with a smile.
“I called her this morning – the road’s clear,” Alice’s mum said with a smile.
“The important thing,” Granddad said as the plates were cleared, and the soup brought in, “is that you are with your family, and you are together. Now, what did you get for Christmas so far Robert?”
“There,” Dad said as he turned the television off, “now we can give each other the rest of our presents.”
“Hey,” I said as I sat next to Tammy, “are you all right? You look a bit lost.”
“Sorry,” Tammy said quietly, “it’s the first time in quite a few years I’ve been with so many people for Christmas. I’d forgotten how – how nice it felt. Oh – is that for me?”
Bart and Sarah nodded as they held up a gold wrapped parcel, Tammy smiling as she opened it and took out a new jumper. “It’s wonderful – thank you both,” she said as she kissed them both on the head. As she did so, I noticed her wrist watch for the first time.
“Was that a present from Sarah and Brian? It looks very similar to the one Sarah wears.”
“This?” Tammy looked at her wrist, and then said “no – I was given it a while back by someone else.”
I smiled as Aunt Anne handed me a present – a copy of a new CD by a band I liked – and then saw Alice looking at me and smiling. Alicia was smiling as well, and I got the distinct feeling I was missing something.
I got a lot of nice presents there – clothes, a few pieces of jewellery, and music and things, including a surprise gift from the girls of a picture of all my US friends.
“Now then,” Grandma said eventually as the wrappings were cleared away, “if the younger ones amongst us wish to go somewhere else?”
“Thank you, but we’ll stay,” Angela said as the rest of us made our way to the front room.
“So what are we going to do now,” Bobby said as we put the three toddlers into the play pen.
“You guys got a Monopoly set?”
“Somewhere – why?”
“Well, if you’re up for it, why don’t we play that – but there are a few twists that I have to suggest.”
“Oh – such as?”
“You’ll see – so we have me, Tammy, Bobby, Alicia and you. Think we can play and keep an eye on the kids at the same time?”
“I think so,” Bobby said, “let me go and get the set.
“Oh – and Bobby?”
“Bring a bag.”
Bobby looked at Alice for a few minutes, and then grinned as he went off.
“A few twists – okay, I should have seen this coming?”
I had been the first one to be bankrupt, and so I had to pay the price. Tammy was watching as Bobby wrapped the rope around my arms and chest, my wrists already crossed and secured together behind my back, and then rope round my waist. Alicia had crossed my ankles and was securing them tightly together, while Alice was taking care of my legs below my knees.
“Well, that’s a bit more than you did to me the other day,” Tammy said as Bobby pulled the ropes tight.
“Yeah – but this isn’t everything.”
“It isn’t? Just how far do you guys go.”
Alicia looked at Bobby, and then said “you really want to know?”
“All right – you guys are coming to have Sunday lunch with us, we’ll show you then.”
“Are you sure you want that,” Alice said as she looked at her cousin.
“Hey – in for a penny and all that.”
“Open wide sis.”
I nodded as he pushed the cloth into my mouth, and then wrapped white tape round my mouth, before he picked me up and laid me so that I could watch Andrew and the twins.
They went back to their game, and I lay still – as Andrew started to climb out of the playpen...
“Before I forget,” Alicia said, “we’re also going to have Patty and Rachel – give Rachel’s parents a chance to have some time with Chris.”
“Patty and Rachel?”
As I watched Andrew get out of the playpen and stand on the floor, Bobby said “Patty’s the younger cousin of Cassie Craig, Rachel is her best friend.”
“Are they as skilled as you are,” Tammy said.
“Oh yes – we may just let them do everything, so that you get the full effect.”
They hadn’t noticed that Bart had also managed to climb out of the playpen, but I had as Sarah watched them toddle over to me.
“Okay – how bad can it be when a couple of tweens do this?”
The others turned round to see me wriggling on the couch as both Andrew and Bart tried to tickle me – and succeeded when they got to the back of my knees.
“How did they manage to get out of there,” Bobby said as he came over.
“I have no idea – but they did it,” Alicia said as they left the game and walked over to watch, Sarah laughing and clapping her hands.
“What’s happening in here,” Sarah said as she came in, and saw the boys tickling me with their little fingers.
“How did Bart manage to climb out of the playpen,” she said as she came over and picked her son up, kissing him on the cheek as Sarah said “Mamma.”
“Sorry, little one, I’ll hug you as well,” she said as she lifted her out, and Alicia picked Andrew up.
“Listen – we’re going to play some parlour games downstairs, and your grandmother wants you to come and play as well.”
“Sure,” Alice said as she started to untie me, shaking her head as the others went down.
As she removed the gag, I rubbed my wrists and said “Andrew I can understand getting out – but Bart?”
“Resourceful, isn’t he? Come on – let’s go and have some fun downstairs.”