Mistletoe and Wine









Are you waiting for the family to arrive?


It may be a week to Christmas, but more importantly, only ten days to my birthday!  After the year Jenny and I have had, with all the frights, surprises and changes, I’m looking forward more than ever to being eleven!


Mind you, Christmas First!!!!  I finish school on Thursday, and then we’re all getting together for a great big Christmas family lunch.  Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave will be there, as will Aunt Cassie - and two others, even if we can’t see them.  When I heard about Mummy and Aunt Cassie, I was jumping for joy!


Right now I’m getting ready for our school party, which is after classes today.  We get to go in our own clothes, so I’ve dug out a pair of jeans and my sweatshirt that I got a few weeks ago in Maine, when we went on holiday and saw Heidi and all her friends.  We hadn’t seen each other since the summer, and what a week we had!  Trips, making new friends, and of course lots of tie-up games - some of them even at our choice.


The best new friend I made out there, however, was Cindy, Heidi’s best friend - she helped me finally get over all my fears after the events at Aunt Cassie’s house, and of all things it happened during what they call a ‘Home Invasion.’


It was the Thursday, and Cindy’s mother had invited me, Jenny and Granny to come round for dinner.  We’d been on a trip with Alicia and the others, so it was about six o’clock when we got to their house and met them at the front door.  We all walked in, and took our coats off, but when we went to open the front door two men stopped us, dressed in suits and with stockings over their heads.  We were pushed into the front room, and the door shut on us as we saw a third man standing there,


We had learnt a bit about Cindy and her mother the previous Sunday, but what we did not know was that they were actually under some sort of protection, because her father had been involved in some big financial mess some years before.  When we were marched into the front room, they told us they were escaped convicts, who had met Cindy’s father, and now wanted some of the money they thought he had stolen.


Well, Cindy’s mum - her name was Dorothy - didn’t know anything about any money.  So they decided they were going to hold us hostage, and stay the night, so that she could get them some money in the morning.  While they kept Granny and Cindy’s mum downstairs, the man who had held Cindy marched the three of us up to her room, tied our hands behind our back and left us there.


Now, ever since that night at Aunt Cassie’s I’ve been very scared of what might happen if we were caught again.  It was different at Jenny’s birthday party, as we were all friends there, but this was the first time, and Jenny and Cindy could both see I was shaking.


That was when Cindy started to tell me some of the things that had happened to her - how she first found out about tie-up games from Heidi, and then about the weekend when she was held hostage by some madman who had a grudge against Heidi’s mother and aunt.


I can’t remember all the details, but as she told me how scared she was, and how much of a support Heidi had been to her, I began to realize something - it was all right to be afraid, if someone else was there with you.  I looked at Jenny, who nodded as she smiled at me, and then the tears came.


I don’t think I’d cried so much since I heard about the mum of one of my school friends dying, but it was something of a relief to let it all out.  I guess it was a bit like what Alicia felt way back in the summer.


After that, there was no holding the three of us back, as we quickly untied each other’s wrists, and then tried to run out of the room - straight into the stomach of the man standing guard outside.  He marched us back in again, re-tied our hands behind our back, this time crossing our wrists instead of having them side by side, crossed and bound our ankles, then found three of Cindy’s scarves and tried to gag us by pulling them between our lips and tying the ends together at the back of our necks.


Like that was going to be a problem for us - as Cindy watched us push the scarves out of our mouths again, and we talked about the other attempt to rob them earlier in the week.  Cindy had fetched help that time, but this time she wanted to wait - she said the gang in this case needed someone more specialized to deal with them, and she knew who that person was going to be.


Next thing we knew, we were been forced downstairs, where Granny and Dorothy were sat side by side on a couch, both with their hands behind their backs and ropes around their ankles and legs.  Apparently they had used our computer to go on-line, and there had been a local newspaper report about the “visiting dignitary, Lady Lucinda Holderness, and her family.”


The stupid men actually thought they could use us to get money from Lady Holderness?  They didn’t know her very well - but a sit turned out, we didn’t know the Ellsworth family very well either - or the level of protection they had.


Anyway, we were made to stand up, and one of the men spotted we had pushed the gags out of our mouths rather too easily, so he decided to “do something about it.”


What that meant is we had our arms tightly bound to our sides with rope, at our waist and tummies, with little lengths under our armpits to keep them tight.  Cindy and I were marched into her room, while Jenny was taken into her mother’s room with Granny.  Dorothy had been left downstairs, presumably to do something.


The two of us were sat back to back, and tied together at our tummies, before our legs were tied at our ankles and knees.  He was just going to use the scarves as cleave gags again, but I told him off right and proper, so he pushed a handkerchief into our mouths, tied the scarf over them, and then put some clear tape over our heads as well to keep the gag in place.


It felt different, and not as quieting as I would have liked, but I didn’t care - they had tied me tightly, and that was what I wanted.  I felt Cindy’s hand pressing mine, and we sat there, wondering what was going to happen.


Now, I said her father had done something big, and they were under protection?  Unknown to me, there were cameras in her room, and somebody they knew called Anne had been told what was happening.  Anne had called Heidi’s mother, she had told Lady Holderness, and…


Well, we were both woken up at about three o’clock by the sound of talking downstairs, and I recognized the accent, clear and soft, of Alicia’s grandmother.  She had apparently walked up to the door, rung the bell and announced herself to the startled intruders, saying she wanted to negotiate our release!


I’d seen her do this once before, and I knew what was happening, so I nudged Cindy and squeezed her hand as the window to her room slowly opened, and a woman dressed in black crept in.  She stopped and looked at us for a moment, then let herself out of the room.


We listened, and then there was silence for a few minutes, before the door opened again and Jenny came in.  “It’s over,” she said as she quietly untied us, “we’re going to go back to Veronica’s house, but we can’t tell anyone what happened here.  You understand, don’t you Cassie?”


I nodded and said “The Craig Compact?”


“The what compact,” Cindy said quietly, before the black clad woman came in and escorted us down the stairs.  We joined Granny and Jenny, and caught a glimpse of three men on the floor, before Lady Holderness came out and simply said “Let’s go.”





When we finally got back to Britain, we were taken straight to Holderness Manor, where we had a big surprise party, so it was Tuesday before Jenny and I could sit down and talk to Granny.


“Girls,” she said as we sat in Jenny’s room, while Mum was talking to Aunt Cassie downstairs, “Last Thursday we had an interesting evening.  I want to tell you something about it, but you need to promise to keep it under the compact, all right?”


We looked at each other and nodded as Granny said “You know that Lord Holderness had a business in the city, but what you may not know is that he and Lady Holderness had a slightly different career in the past.


“When I first met Alexander, it was when he was a Captain in the Intelligence Corps - we were stationed in the same base.  He and Lucinda were both officers, working on relations with our friends at the time in Russia - this would be over thirty years ago now.  Of course, I had known Lucinda for years before that, but I had no idea she had married so well.


“Anyway, they were involved in some - interesting times, and your late grandfather and I knew much of them.  I can’t tell you everything - some things go above compacts and such like - but they have very, very well placed contacts.


“Not even Alicia and Suzie know this, so you must not tell them.  Suffice to say their grandmother is a very brave woman, do you understand?”


Well we both knew that, so we nodded and no more was said about it - and now here we are, a week before Christmas, and it’s party time.


Dad poked his head round the door and said “Time for school, poppet.”  I nodded and pulled on my thick duffle coat, then ran down the stairs, putting on my Ugg boots as I sat on the bottom one.


“When you come home tonight,” Dad said as he picked up my bag, “We’ll have a special family time, all right?  Your aunts and Gran will be here as well”


“Can Mum play as well?”


“If we’re careful, yes - now come on, or you’re going to be late!”


The party - the party was great.  I loved the games, the dancing, and of course the presents, but all I really wanted to do was get home, so when Mum picked me up from school I was almost beside myself with excitement.


Mum was wearing a big heavy coat, with her brown leather boots visible under the hem, the straps tightened to make them fit against her legs.  I jumped into the car and as Mum started it I said “Is everyone else home yet?”


“I think Aunt Cassie has been held up at school,” Mum said as she drove down the road, “it was their party as well, so she had to clear up afterwards, but she will join us soon.  Jenny should be home by the time we get back.”


Jenny was indeed home, and had changed into a pair of grey joggers and a matching sweatshirt.  She was sitting watching television when we came into the house, calling out “Dad says tea will be ready in a few minutes,” as Mum took off her coat to reveal the grey cowl necked sweater she was wearing over a long sleeved blue top and grey leggings.


“Great, I’ll give him a hand,” she said as she walked into the kitchen, her boots clopping on the floor.  “How was school, squirt,” Jenny said as I jumped onto the seat beside her.


“Not bad,” I replied as I watched the panto with her, and then she handed me a card.  “Alicia gave me this for you,” she said as I opened it, to find a white card inside.


Please come to my 11th birthday party

4 pm, Monday 31st December,

My House


Suzie Holderness


“After that,” Jenny said as I read the card, “Alicia says we’ve all been invited to a New Year party at Holderness Manor.  Dad has already said we’ll go.”


“Go where,” Dad said as he came in, wiping his hands on a cloth.


“The party at Holderness Manor - Cassie has bagged an invite to Suzie’s birthday party before that.”


“Of course we will - I’ll talk to Suzie’s parents to see if they can bring you along afterwards.  Anyway - both of you, in the kitchen.  Your tea is ready, and I want you to have eaten before the others get here.”


We both jumped up and ran into the kitchen, sitting at the table as the door opened and Granny came in, talking her coat off as she did so.  “Hello girls,” she said as she smoothed down her knee length blue skirt, “Ready to have some fun later?”


“When the others get here and they have eaten,” Mum said as she put the kettle on.




It was about seven o’clock when Aunt Cassie finally came to the door.  “Sorry I’m late,” she said as she took off her leather jacket, “I had a terrible time getting away from the school.  I take it I’m the last one?”


“You are,” Dad said as they walked into the front room.  I jumped onto the couch next to Mum, while Jenny sat on the other side of her.  In the chair was Granny, who had a mug of coffee in her hands as she looked around the room.  She was wearing a pair of baggy black leather boots and a long sleeved blouse with a floral patterned scarf tied around her neck.


Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave were sitting on two of the dining table chairs.  Uncle Dave had on a shirt and trousers, while Aunt Connie was wearing a purple whirly patterned dress with sleeves down to her elbows.  She had a little bump at her tummy, and a new pair of grey suede boots were on her legs.


Aunt Cassie was wearing a pair of black leather trousers with felt ankle boots, and a white roll necked sweater that had a blue scarf folded into a triangle and tied around her neck so that the point fell on one shoulder.


“Well, now that we’re all here,” Uncle Dave said as he stood up, “We can begin.  We’re going to make you all nice and comfortable, as well as quiet, while John and I take care of a few things.  Anne, why don’t you come and sit next to Cassie - you both get to sit on the chair this time.”


“How thoughtful,” Mum said with a slightly sarcastic tone as she stood up and walked over, sitting herself down as she looked at us.  “Hands behind the back of the chair?”


“If you would be so kind,” Dad said as he walked behind her.  The four of us watched as Uncle Dave and Dad guided the hands of Mum and Aunt Cassie behind the chair back, and then did something to them before they tied them together with some rope.  “Are you going to tie them to the back,” Mum said as she looked over her shoulder, and then she nodded as Dad did just that.


“Well, at least we get a nice comfy seat this time,” Aunt Connie said as Uncle Dave walked in front of her and put her ankles together, using some rope to tie them tightly to each other so that the grey suede squeaked slightly against her rope, then took them to the side and tied them to one of the front legs.  As for Mum, Dad tied her ankles to each of the front legs, and then they both had their waist tied to the back of the chair with a long length of rope.


“Gag us when the others are ready,” Mum said as Uncle Dave and Dad looked at me and Jenny.  “Ready, Poppet,” Dad said as he handed me a pair of white socks, while Uncle Dave handed one to Jenny.


“Can we get the full works,” I said, and Dad nodded as we put the socks on our hands and stood up, turning to face Aunt Cassie and Granny as we crossed our wrists behind our back.  I giggled as I felt the rope pulling against my wrists, while Dad tied them tightly together and then tied them to my back with rope around my waist.  As he cinched the rope between my arms and back, he tickled my sides, making me giggle and wriggle as Jenny watched from beside me.


“You two are going to lying on your tummies on the floor,” Dad said as he wrapped some rope around my arms and stomach, “so we’ll make you nice and secure, and then ask you to wait while we take care of Granny and Aunt Cassie, all right?”


I nodded as I felt my arms been pinned to my side, and then sat down on the couch next to Jenny as Granny and Aunt Cassie stood up.  “So where do you want both of us,” Granny said as she looked at Dad.


“Put these on first - everyone gets the same, Mum,” he said as he handed them some socks to put on their hands, and then we watched as they had their wrist crossed behind their back and tied together, and then rope around their waists to hold them in position.  They were then helped to sit on the floor, to one side, and as we all watched Dad and Uncle Dave tied their upper bodies together with a long length of rope, passing it around them, and then between their backs and their arms as they were tied together.


“You know what this reminds me of, Mum?  The time John held us both hostage in the bedroom until Connie returned with a ransom of sweets from the shop,” Aunt Cassie said as Uncle Dave crossed her ankles and tied them tightly together, the rope sinking into the black felt, and then tied her legs together below her knees.


“Oh yeah, I remember that day,” Aunt Connie said as she tried to wriggle round in her chair.  “I especially remember the fact he tied me up in my own room and would not let either of you go until he had checked every single sweet was as demanded.”


“Good thing I did check,” Dad said as he finished tying Granny’s legs together below her knees, and then pulled her skirt down to cover the rope, “Or else I would not have noticed you had pilfered a few.”  Standing up, he came over and started to tie our ankles together, crossing them as the rope went over the socks we had pulled up over the cuffs of our pants, and then our legs below our knees, before we were helped to lie on the floor and placed in our favorite hogties.


“This is great,” I said as I looked up and smiled at Mum, “How much longer do you think you and Aunt Connie will be able to play these games, Mum?”


“We’ll play that by ear, dear,” Mum said with a smile as Dad folded six handkerchiefs into pads.  “Right,” he finally said as he handed three to Uncle Dave,  “Time for you all to enjoy some nice, peaceful quiet girls’ time together.  Open wide now.”


One by one, we had a pad pushed into our mouth, the cotton tickling my tongue as it went into my mouth, and then we had one of Dad’s old ties pulled between our lips to keep it in place.  I wanted more, though, and nodded like mad when Dad produced two rolls of our favorite white tape, and wound it round the head of each of us, sealing in the gag as we mumbled.


“You know what would look nice,” Uncle Dave said as he looked at Granny and Aunt Cassie on the floor.  Dad nodded as they removed the scarves from around their neck, folded them into bands and then tied them over their white bands.


“Stttt,” Mum mumbled as she looked at Dad.  “Give me a minute,” he said as he left the room, returning with four more scarves that he tied over the mouths of all of use.  I looked at Jenny as we wriggled a bit on the floor, while Dad said “Right - Dave and I need to sort something out, so just hang in there, all right?”


“Lrrtsn,” Granny said as she looked at the two men leaving the room.  As he passed the music player, Uncle Dave pressed a button, as we heard the sound of Micky Bubles singing a Christmas song….


We all sat or lay there, laughing as we tried to talk to each other, and occasionally a squeaking sound as we tried to move our legs - especially from Mummy, Granny and Aunt Cassie, as the leather they were wearing rubbed against the rope, or the chair.  We didn’t want to be free either as the music played - it was great just to be together, and to share this.  I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, to have such a great family.


We were like that for two hours, before Dad and Uncle Dave freed us - we both had the last day of school tomorrow, so we needed to go to our beds.






The days that followed that seemed to pass in a blur - after all, Christmas always seems to come far too quickly, but there was one thing about Christmas morning that Mum and Dad never really liked - the fact that Jenny and I tended to get up earlier than usual.


Much earlier than usual - I think my personal record is two in the morning, so when Dad said to us on Christmas Eve “We need to find a way to make sure that you two stay in bed tomorrow morning,” we both looked at each other and then at him.


“Oh no,” Mum said quietly, “You know how we feel about you two sleeping tied up.  We only allow it when you’re really, really tired, and this is not one of those nights.”


“But it’s a special night, Mum,” I pleaded, “and you just have to stop us getting out of the bed.  We promise we’ll be good…”


Mum and Dad looked at each other, before Dad said “all right, we can do this - but I want you two to sleep in the same bed, so we’ll use the double bed in the spare room.  I want you to go and change into your pajamas, brush your teeth, and make sure you each have a pair of bedsocks on, all right?”


It was about ten when he said this, and to be honest, I was a little tired, so we both nodded and went upstairs.  Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting on the spare double bed, waiting for Mum and Dad.  I had on a new pair of light blue cotton pajamas, while Jenny was wearing her old Tigger ones.  We both had  a pair of white bedsocks on our feet, and as they came in we saw Dad was carrying two lengths of rope and two pairs of fingerless mittens.


“I’m only going to do a simple tie,” he said quietly, “and I want your word to me and your mother you will not try and get off the bed until we come in in the morning.”  We both nodded as he gave us the mittens, and we put them on our hands.


Dad then handed one coil of rope to Mum, and we watched as they both made a lasso and then passed it over our heads, Mum for me and Dad for Jenny, pulling it gently so that our arms were pinned to our sides.  “Lie down,” Dad said, and when we had done so they tied our wrists together, palm to palm, in front of us, then took the rope down and around our legs above our knees, then round our ankles.  When they had finished, we looked like a pair of parcels tied up for the postman.


“Now,” Dad said as he held up a roll of the white tape “One strip over your lips, and that is enough.  That means you can breathe when you fall asleep, all right?”


“All right Dad,” I said, and I kissed him and Mum as they leaned over and hugged me before the tape went over my mouth.  Jenny got the same, and as we snuggled together on the bed Dad said “Good night, Girls,” turning the light off.  Jenny and I mumbled a bit for a while, but then my eyes just seemed to close themselves…



“Merry Christmas, Poppet!!”


I opened my eyes at the sound of Mum’s voice, and then looked at Jenny as she began to stir as well.  Turning my head to the door, I say Mum standing there, wearing a blue silk dressing gown and smiling.


“There is a pair of scissors on the bed beside you,” she said as I noticed the kitchen scissors lying there, “and your stockings are at the end of your bed.  It’s eight in the morning, and breakfast will be in an hour.  See you downstairs.”


“Mrrrschrstmscsse,” Jenny said as she rolled over and looked at me, then wriggled down so that she could take the scissors in her hands and start to cut the rope that was holding my wrists to my legs.  Once she had freed them, I could reach up and pull the tape off my mouth, before smiling and screaming “IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY!!!!”


“Ystsss,” Jenny said as she nodded her head, “btcnugtmfrre?”


I nodded as I started to pick at the knot that was holding the rope in place on her.  As it finally gave way, she was able to twist her ankles free, then her legs, before she helped to untie me and I was able to untie her.


“That’s better,” she said as she peeled the tape away from her mouth.  “I need to go to the toilet - feel free to start in on your stocking.”


I nodded and literally jumped to the end of the bed, where a large red stocking had been left filled with small presents.


Now, I need to explain what tended to happen with me at Christmas, given my birthday is so very wonderfully close to it.  I usually get quite a few smaller presents on Christmas day, and it tends to be gifts of money for me from the family, while Jenny gets bigger presents.  I’m fine with that - because it means I get the bigger presents three days later, when it is my birthday.  Great fun all round, as far as I’m concerned - especially as Mum and Dad always arrange a big birthday party for me.


Anyway - I grabbed the stocking and pulled it onto the bed, as Jenny came back in and picked hers up as well.  Tearing into the first parcel, I found a brand new woolen scarf and gloves, which were a lovely pink colour.  Jenny had a matching blue pair of gloves and scarf, as we began to eagerly work our way down, opening paper as if we were a pair of whirly dervies, as Dad once called us.


The stocking had a number of chocolate bars, fruit, and small gifts like CDs in them, but at the bottom of each was a small box wrapped in silver paper.  As we opened it, Jenny gasped and said “Wow,” holding up a silver chain on the end of which was a small heart shaped locket.


“We felt it was time you both had one,” Dad said from the doorway.  We jumped up and hugged him, saying “Thanks Dad”, “Merry Christmas,” and “Is that bacon I smell” - not necessarily in that order.


“Get washed and put on your dressing gowns,” Dad said with a smile - “After breakfast, you need to get ready for church - and remember, you get to take one thing from your stocking with you.”


Christmas Day at our house followed a fairly set pattern - we open our stockings, but any presents under the tree wait until we all come back from Church.  Then we go for a walk, before Christmas Dinner - always cooked by Granny.  “It’s the one thing I insist on,” She always said, “that I cook this one day for the family.  Now get out and get some fresh air.”


But I’m getting ahead of myself - first things first, as we came down to the kitchen and ate our breakfast.


“Can we wear our new gloves and scarves when we go out later,” Jenny said as we watched the rain falling outside.


“Of course you can,” Mum said as she sat down.  “It will give you the perfect excuse to try them out, but I need to stay behind this year.”


“Oh,” I said, “Will Granny let you?”


“She asked me to,” Mum said as she cut into her egg, “Apparently she wants the help.  I’ve never known her to ask, but I’m sure it’s just to set the table - she’d never let me into the kitchen to actually cook.”  She looked at Dad as she said this, who simply laughed and said “Don’t worry - she’s probably concerned about you overexerting yourself.”


“I doubt it, but I’m sure she has a good reason,” Mum said as she drank some of her hot drink.  “Right, eat up, then go and get dressed - we need to be on our way to church by ten.”







The one good thing about our church service on Christmas Day is it is short.


Nah, I’m joking - it’s seeing everyone there and showing them our presents.  Jenny and I both chose to wear our new lockets.  I put on a white long sleeved jumper and a black pinafore dress, with white tights and flat shoes, while Jenny wore a green smock top, with a grey long sleeved top and leggings, and her favourite black corduroy boots with the buttons on the side.  Mum had on her grey jumper and jacket, with her brown boots and leather jacket, while Dad had on a very striking new jumper and his trousers.


Granny, Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave, and Aunt Cassie were all at the church when we arrived.   Granny had on a new light blue long sleeved dress, with a thin belt around her waist, and black boots.  Aunt Cassie was wearing a long skirt and brown soft boots, with a jacket over her top, while Aunt Connie had on a pair of trousers and a long top that covered her little bump.


“How’s my new cousin,” Jenny said as she looked at our aunt.


“Fine - come here,” Aunt Connie said, and as we went over, she said “put your ears to my tummy and listen.”


“Is that you,” Jenny said as she heard a little thumping sound.


“No - that’s your cousin saying Hi,” Uncle Dave said with a smile.  “Right - let’s go in.”


The service was short, and it was noon when we all got back to our house.  Mum went to the kitchen to make some sandwiches, while we went into the living room and Dad came back with a bottle of lemonade, a thick green bottle that glistened, and some long thin glasses.


“A toast,” he said as he popped the cork out of the thick bottle and poured some fizzy liquid into six of the glasses, then lemonade into the other two.  Mum came in with a large plate of sandwiches, then took one of the glasses as Dad said “Merry Christmas”


“MERRY CHRISTMAS” we all shouted as we took a drink - me and Jenny having lemonade of course.  We then sat down and ate the sandwiches, as Aunt Cassie said “Do you like the lockets girls?  We all got one when we were young girls as well - another family tradition.”


“They’re great,” Jenny said, “but I can’t wait to see what’s under the tree for me.”


“After lunch,” Dad said, “and then we can all open them together.”  We ate quickly, and then sat round as one by one the presents were handed out.


As I expected, most of mine were little envelopes with money inside, but I didn’t mind watching as Jenny opened her bigger presents - a new mini stereo system from Mum and Dad, a new jacket from Granny, a set of DVDs from Aunt Cassie and a new set of pajamas from Uncle Dave and Aunt Connie.


We watched as the adults shared their presents, until Dad took the last two from under the tree and handed them to us.  “Two joint presents, for everyone really,” he said, “but you can open them.”


Jenny took the smaller envelope and opened it, screaming “Wow thanks” as she held up a set of tickets for Cinderella at the Richmond theatre.  “But there are two extra - are Alicia and Suzie coming?”


“You’ll see,” Granny said with a smile, “Open the second box.”


I tore the silver paper off, and opened it to reveal - a lot of rolls of various types of sticky tape, including our favourite white one.


“That should be enough for some games,” Mum said with a smile, “But you lot need to get out of here for a walk.”


Jenny and I looked at each other, and said “Can we give some of it a try now?”


“You need to leave the house,” Granny said, “Unless…  You want your hands tied and to be gagged while you’re out, right?”


“Can we, PLEASE…” we both pleaded.  “All right,” Dad said, “Go and get your gloves and scarves, and meet me in the hallway.”


We both ran up the stairs, and came down with our gloves on and our scarves round our necks.  Dad had taken one of the rolls of tape, this one the same colour as our skin, and after we put our coats and gloves on he pulled the coat sleeves back and taped out wrist together, one on top of the other, then pulled our sleeves down so that they covered our hands.


“Put something in our mouths,” I said, so Dad pushed a clean hankie into each of our mouths, then put a strip of the pink tape over our lips.  It stuck just as well as the white tape, and when Dad tied the new scarves over our mouths it hid it brilliantly.


“Right,” Granny said as she came out and looked at our watch, Dad and the others putting on their coats, “Out of here, all of you - and I don’t want you back until four o’clock.”


“We’re going mum,” Dad and our two aunts chorused, then they burst out laughing as we left the house, turning right and heading for the local park.  As we reached the bottom of the road, a taxi turned in, but we didn’t pay that much attention to it as Jenny and I skipped down the road, the others following.


The local park is huge, with a boating lake in the middle.  Perfect for the thing you have to do before a big meal - exercise and work up an appetite.   As we walked in the gates, Jenny and I ran off in advance, taking care not to trip over as we did so, while Dad and the others followed behind.  We ran up and down the hill, then round the lake as we looked at each other - saying nothing, but understanding how it felt in the cold air to be outside like this, and none of the other kids any the wiser as to how we were.




It was starting to get dark as we walked back up the road towards the house, and we could see the lights on in the front room.


“I guess Mum had nearly finished cooking by now,” Dad said as he opened the door, and we all walked in.  As Aunt Cassie closed the door behind us, Granny came out of the kitchen.


“John,” she said quietly, “Get the girls untied and ungagged now, before you do anything else.”


“All right,” Dad said as he took our scarves off and peeled the tape away from our lips, while the others took their coats off, “But why…”


“Is that my granddaughters I hear out there” I heard a woman say in a very strange accent.  Dad heard it as well, as he mouthed “You’re joking” to Granny.  She just smiled and shook her head, as Dad hastily unwrapped the tape around our wrists and helped us off with our coats and things.


“You’d better go into the living room girls,” he said, and as we walked in we found Mum sitting with an older couple.  They were slim, and their skin was as if they had been in the sun.  The man was wearing an open necked short sleeved shirt and light coloured trousers, while the woman had on a floral patterned dress, tights and shoes.


“My god how big you have got,” the woman said as she stood up, her arms outstretched.”  I looked at Jenny, who was standing there open mouthed.


“Granny Carter! Grandpa Carter!” she almost screamed, as she ran into the open arms and cuddled the woman standing there.


“That’s my Jennifer,” she said as she put her arms round here, “and is this little Cassandra?  Last time I saw her, she was just starting school, and now look at her - quite the little lady.  Come and give your granny and grandpa a hug.”


I stepped forward as Grandpa Carter stood up, his arms wide as he welcomed me.  He smelt of clover as he held me, and said “It has been a long time hasn’t it?  How are you enjoying school?  Looking forward to your birthday?”


“Yes, Grandpa,” I said as I snuggled into his chest, “This is a fantastic Christmas present.”


“I didn’t even know they were coming,” Mum said as Dad stood behind her and put his arms around her neck, “but this is why your mother wanted me to stay and ‘help’.”


“Guilty as charged,” Granny said as she looked in the door.  “You remember Cassie and Connie - and this is Connie’s husband, Dave.”


“A pleasure to meet you,” Grandpa Carter said as he let go of me and shook Dave’s hand, “I’m George, and the lovely lady sitting there is my wife June.”


“A pleasure to finally meet you,” Uncle Dave said, “Anne here has told us so much about you.”


“So, Cassandra,” Granny Carter said with a smile, “Has Santa brought you lots of gifts?”


“Yeah,” I said, “I got lots of money, and we also got a box of ta…”  I caught a warning glance from Jenny, and said quickly “… lcum powder as well.  It’s fun been the youngest, but I won’t be next year, will I Mum?”


Granny Carter looked at Mum and Dad, while Granny said “Right - dinner is ready.  You girls go and wash up, and then we’ll eat.”


I realized then that Mum still had not said anything, as Granny Carter said “Is there something you need to tell me…”





“Are you sure you should have that second glass, Anne?  After all, you are…”


“I’ll be fine, Mum,” Mum said with a slight hint of exasperation as Dad poured some more white stuff into her glass.  “After all, the girls turned out fine, right?”


“I know, I know, but I’m still in shock - why didn’t you tell us before now?”


“We wanted to wait for the first scan,” Dad said as he pushed his dinner plate away from him, “Which is next week.  Still, all is well so far, so…”


“Relax, June,” Grandpa Carter said, “It’s the best Christmas present we could possibly have hoped for dear.  Especially with the news of Connie as well.”


“Jenny, Cassie, why don’t you bring the plates through for me, and then you can bring the Christmas pudding in,” Granny said.   Jenny and I looked at each other, then stood up, making sure our paper hats stayed on our heads as we gathered up the plates and carried them carefully through.


“Now that we are alone,” Granny said as the door closed on the dining room, “I need to thank you Jenny, for stopping Cassie blurting something out.  Girls, your grandparents on your mother’s side don’t know about the games you play, or that your mum and dad play, and I don’t want you to tell them.”


“So you want us to lie, Granny,” I said as she put three piles of bowls on the table.  To the side was a large pot full of soapy water, which had the cutlery sticking out from it, and the dirty plates were neatly arranged in piles.


“No, not as such Cassie - I just want you to keep it our secret from them, all right?”  I looked at Jenny, who nodded and said “We can do that Granny - but are they staying here?”


“No dear - they’re staying in a hotel for the next week or so, so they will be here for the New Year’s holiday - and for your birthday Cassie.  So that will be extra fun.  Now, carry those bowls in carefully, and I will follow.”


I love Christmas Dinner in our house - everyone round the same table, and we eat and eat and eat and eat.  Grandpa Carter told us all about their home in Australia - it was summer there apparently, so he said they had come home to get some decent cold weather - and some of their friends.  Aunt Cassie told them of some of the thing she had done “While working at the Catholic mission in India” as she put it, while Granny pottered in and out and brought the food.


Eventually, Dad stood up and said “Right - let’s all go and have coffee in the front room, where we can relax.  Mum, Dave and I will do the washing up.”


“I’ll help,” Grandpa Carter said “Give the girls a chance to get together.  We’ll bring the coffee through in a little while.”  Granny tried to protest, but they fell on deaf ears as the three men of the room made their way to the kitchen.


“Oh well,” she said as she stood up, “Let’s go.  There are a couple of things we need to discuss anyway.  First of all, June, Lucinda has invited you to join us at the party next Monday night.”


“Lucinda?  Lucinda Holderness?  That’s very generous of her, but we haven’t brought any formal wear.”


“It’s not a formal party,” Aunt Cassie said, “but we will dress up a little bit.  I’m sure you have something that will fit.”


“And then there is the small matter of three days from now,” Mum said as she looked at me.  “Jenny, you and Cassie need to leave us for a few minutes - we don’t want to spoil the surprise.”


“Come on Cassie,” Jenny said as she took my arm, “let’s go and watch a DVD.”


“But I want to hear what they…”


“Now,” Jenny said as we left the room, closing the door behind us….




Boxing Day was a blur, as we all went to the panto - the extra tickets were for Granny and Grandpa - and then we had a quiet, peaceful day at home - especially as Dad made sure Jenny and I were snugly tied in our beds for most of the morning.


So when I woke up this morning, there was only one thought on my mind - IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!!!  I looked to the side of my bed, but there was nothing there, so I got out of bed and put on my dressing gown and slippers


“Hello?” I called out, but there was no reply, so I made my way to the bathroom and spent a few minutes in there.  When I came out, I thought I heard something in Jenny’s room, so I opened the door and looked in.


That was when I was grabbed and pulled in, by two people, a man and a woman, dressed in black with balaclavas over their heads.   They picked me up and dropped me on Jenny’s bed, the man saying in a deep muffled voice “Be quiet little one” as the woman tied my ankles tightly together with rope.


I was wearing a short sleeved Pooh bear nightie, so she then folded the skirt back and tied my legs together below my knees, while the man took another length of rope and crossed my wrists in front of me, tying them tightly together and making sure he passed the rope between my arms. 


When they were done, they sat me up, and he tied some rope around my waist.  It was a bit unusual, seeing my wrists held down tight against my tummy, but it was nice - even nicer when he passed some rope around my arms and belly to keep them held in place.


As he did this, the woman took a small sponge ball and held it in front of my mouth.  “Open up” she whispered, and I nodded as I let her push the ball into my mouth, and then tie one of my socks between my teeth to keep it there - followed by white tape around my mouth and head.


“You’re coming with us,” the man said.  Well, duh - I had figured that out, but I had no idea who they were.  They were not Mum and Dad - I knew that much.  Anyway, it was not as if I had a choice, as they pulled a pillow case over my head and lifted me up, carrying me to - well, I had no idea, but I knew I was in a car when I heard and felt the engine starting and we drove off.


As we drove, I could hear music - Taylor Swift, so whoever it was knew what I liked.  As a result, I had no real idea how long we drove for, until I heard him say “We’re here” and I was carried again, then left on a soft something.


“Sssnneeenthr,” I called out, trying to get the hood off my head.  So when it was pulled off suddenly, I blinked a few times before recognizing my ‘rescuer’.




“Well hello Miss Craig,” Bobby Holderness said as he looked at me, “Welcome to your Birthday Party.”




“What he said,” Suzie said as she helped me to sit up.  “We’ll untie you, you get changed, and then the fun can begin.”  She had on a pair of jeans and the t-shirt we got in Maine, while Bobby was wearing a jumper and trousers.


I also recognized where I was now - Granny’s house, in the room Jenny and I use when we sleep over.  I let Bobby cut away the tape, then remove the gag and said “Who else is here?”


“For the moment, just us three, and your Granny - oh, and the people who brought you here.  I hope you don’t mind Mum and Dad surprising you.”


“Mum and…HEY!!”  I felt Bobby kissing me on the cheek, and turning saw he was holding a sprig of Mistletoe above our heads.


“Ignore him,” Suzie said as she stuck her tongue out, “He tried that on Alicia, and get a real tongue lashing.”


“An undeserved one.”


“She was carrying the potatoes to the table, doofus,” Suzie said with a laugh.  I was still taking in what was happening when I said “Hang on - your mum and dad brought me here?  Where were my mum and dad - and Jenny?”


“Sorting out a big present for you - apparently they’re coming later.”  As he said this, Bobby untied the ropes around me.  “So come on - get dressed.  I’ll go and get some drinks sorted out.”


He left me with Suzie, as I saw a small pile of clothes on a chair.  There was some clean underwear, my blue denim pinafore dress, a grey jumper, some leggings and a pair of white socks with my trainers - all of which I put on quickly.


As we walked downstairs, Granny came out and said “Happy Birthday Cassie - the rest of them will be here in half an hour, so wait until they come before you open your presents.  Alexander and Susan, can I get you more coffee?”


“Thank you,” Mrs. Holderness said as we walked in.  “Happy birthday Cassie,” she said, “I’m sorry if we frightened you.”


“No - it was fun,” I said as I sat down.  “Thank you.”


Bobby came in, carrying a small box.  “Look,” he said, “don’t tell your sister, or Alicia, but I got your a little Christmas/Birthday present.  I hope you like it.”  He handed it to me, and watched as I opened it.


It was a small brooch, made to look like a knotted piece of rope, but made out of gold.  “I… I don’t know what to say,” I whispered, “Thank you Bobby.”


“Don’t mention it,” he said quietly, but he blushed as I grabbed him around the neck and kissed his cheek - just as Jenny came in.


“Hey, Cass, I was a little early, so I….”  Jenny stopped and looked at me and Bobby, the redness on his cheeks probably a little less than mine.


“Right,” she said as she turned and closed the door.  “Mum and Dad are on their way with Granny and Grandpa Carter, and the rest of the family will be here for the party this afternoon. “


“Party,” I said quickly as I jumped up, “Who is coming?”


“You’ll see,” she said with a smile.  “Right now you’re going to open your family presents, so just be patient.”  She shot a look at bobby, smiled and said to his parents “Thanks for bringing Cassie here - I’m sorry if she was a pain.”


“No trouble at all, Jenny,” Mrs. Holderness said with a smile.  “It was quite exciting for us as well anyway.”  Suzie walked back in at that point, and said “Your granny has a drink for you in the kitchen, Cassie.”


An excuse to get out of the embarrassment was just what I needed, as I went out, followed by Jenny who said “Well well, a little Lord Holderness has his eye on you, sis.  If you don’t watch out, you’ll become the next but one Lady Holderness.”


“No chance,” I said as we walked into Granny’s kitchen, and picked up the two glasses of squash that were there.  Granny looked at me, saw the brooch, and said “that looks nice, Cassie, who gave it to you?”


“Bobby - it was a present,” I blurted out, then felt my cheeks go red again as I did so.  Granny smiled and said “Well, it’s very nice dear - now you need to get ready.  The others will be here in a little while.”




I had not realized how late it was, but it was nearly noon when we gathered in the front room of Granny’s house.  Mum and Dad had arrived with Granny and Grandpa Carter, while Bobby and Suzie had gone home for lunch.  They were coming to my party later, but wanted to get changed.  Which was fair enough - Mum had brought a change of clothes for me for later as well.


“Happy birthday Poppet” Dad said as I jumped onto his lap and gave him a great big hug, “Did Bobby’s parents bring you here safely?”


“Yes thanks Granny, “I said with a smile.  “They kept me nice and safe after they picked me up.”  I winked at her, as Mum said “Well, let’s get on with opening your presents from us.”


Granny and Granny Carter then wheeled in a table with lots of wrapped up presents on it, my eyes widening as I saw how many there were.  I started with the one at the top - which had a label on saying “Happy birthday, Poppet, from Mum and Dad.”  Tearing open the paper, I uncovered a new light blue trouser suit.


“You’re growing up so fast now,” Mum said with a smile, “that I think it’s time you started to look like the young woman you are turning into.”  I didn’t mind - I thought it looked wonderful, and gave both of them a big hug.


“Mine next,” Jenny said as she handed me a box wrapped in silver paper.  Pulling the paper off, I saw she had bought - or maybe mum and dad had bought - for me a DVD box set of Scooby Doo: Mystery Inc series one.  We had caught one or two of these on CBBC, but it was the perfect present for me.


They had other presents for me as well - CDs, and games I could play on the PS3.  But then it was Granny’s turn, and she handed me three packages in red shiny paper.


“I think you will get some use from them,” she said as I opened the first one.  It was a dress up outfit, and for a few moments I was going to tell Granny I was getting too old for dress up.  But then I looked at it properly - and it was a Princess Jasmine outfit.  I looked at her, and smiled as she whispered “In case you ever want to play the kidnapped princess.”


The second parcel had a bigger surprise - a new black iPod.  “Mum and Dad will need to keep an eye on what you put on it,” she said, “but I think you’re ready for that now.”


It was the third parcel that intrigued me the most - it was soft and pliable in my hands, but it was also thick.  Laying it down, I opened it carefully to reveal twenty scarves, of different sizes, colours, styles and materials.  On the top was a little note, which I opened.


“This may stop you borrowing mine - but wear them as well.  Granny.”


I smiled and said “thank you Granny” as I gave her a great big hug.  “They’re perfect.”


“Well, you certainly are going to be quite the little lady,” Grandpa Carter, “but I hope you like our present as well.”


He handed me an envelope, and I saw they had given me the same thing they had given Jenny - £100 in Amazon vouchers.  “Spend them wisely,” Granny Carter said, “Perhaps on some new books.”


I looked at the trolley, and saw there was one small gold parcel left on it.  Picking it up, I opened it and saw it was a set of small keys.  Looking round the room, I said “What does this open?”


“Have a look outside in the garage,” Dad said, and I went out, the others following behind.   As I opened the door from the kitchen, I almost dropped the keys in excitement.


There, against the wall, was a brand new racing bike, with a pink ribbon tied around it and a chain fastened round it with a padlock.  I was actually trembling as I used one of the keys to unlock the chain, as Mum said “We thought you might like this - but no riding it on the road until you pass your cycling proficiency test.”


I was totally gob smacked, as Granny took me by the arm and said “Come along, Cassandra - you need to get ready for your party.  The first of the guests will be arriving soon.”





Granny has a fairly large house, but it is not that large, so she had invited only a few of my closest friends from school - without telling me of course.  The first to arrive was Pippa, who I have been in the same class as since starting school.  She’s a little taller than me, with long brown hair that she invariable has in two pigtails, and steel rimmed glasses.   She had on a teal coloured party frock with long socks and flat shoes.


Then there was Hazel, who I go to gymnastics classes with.  She’s a year younger than me, with short blonde hair, and was wearing what looked like a blue leotard over a black top with a long gypsy style skirt.  With her was Claire, her twin sister - well, not matching twins, as she is taller and slimmer with long black hair, but she was dressed the same way.


Half a dozen other school friends had been invited along, and they came in one by one, hugging me and giving me cards and presents as they did so.  Granny had said that one other friend was going to come, but that she was arriving a little later.  In the meantime, Suzie and Bobby had come back - Suzie was now wearing a red velvet party dress, while Bobby was in a shirt and tie with some dark trousers.  But they weren’t the only ones who came.


Alicia was with them, smiling as she handed me a box.  “This is from all of us,” she said with a smile, “and this is from me.”  She put a second, smaller box on the top, and then went over to join Jenny at the far side of the room.


I had been allowed to put on my new trouser suit, with a white t-shirt underneath, and a pair of brown ankle boots that I had bought just before Christmas.   “Welcome to my birthday tea,” I said to everyone as the door opened and Aunts Cassie and Connie and Uncle Dave came in.


“Happy birthday, Cassie,” they both said as they handed me their presents.  Granny had cleared her front room and hung up balloons and all sorts of streamers, as well as a big banner that said “HAPPY 11TH BIRTHDAY CASSIE” in red letters, so we all went in there and started to play some games.


Bobby, Jenny and Alicia all helped as we played a number of party games, such as Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs, but the one I liked the most was Blind Man’s Bluff.   We all took turns, with Granny using two woolen scarves, one to blindfold us and the other to secure our hands behind our back.  It wasn’t anything like out usual tie-up games, but it was a wonderful feeling to play it, and as I watched Pippa and Hazel in particular I thought about the American trip, and Jannifer’s little sisters.


Anyway, after the games we all had a birthday tea, and I blew out the candles before opening my presents.  My friends all gave me cards with money or vouchers, but it was the presents from the others I was interested in.


First was Aunt Cassie, who had bought me a lovely warm and soft quilted jacket.  Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave had bought me a pair of knee length boots, just like Mummy’s brown ones.


I looked at the big box from Alicia, and opened it to look inside.  My eyes must have looked like saucers, as Jenny came over and looked into it.  “Wow,” she said as she drew out a gorgeous formal dress, made of green silk, with short puffed sleeves and a gathered waist.  There was also a pair of green satin slippers inside.


“I… “


“Don’t say it,” Alicia replied with a smile.  “Wear it with pride.  Now open the other present.”


I opened the smaller box, to find a matching shrug.  I must have got something in my eye, because I was crying as I hugged everyone.


“And now,” Granny said as she stood up, “I have a very special treat for you.  If you will come into the drawing room, I have someone to meet you.”


We all filed through, and sat down in a circle round a makeshift stage.  “Please welcome,” Granny said with a flourish, “The Great Magnifico!”


She had hired a magician for the day, and we all clapped and hollered as a tall man with grey hair came in and bowed.  “Good afternoon,” he said with a deep, deep voice, “I am the Great Magnifico, and I am here to entertain you all!!”


All right, I know it sounded corny, but we went with it.  He did card tricks, produced a real bunny from a hat, all the usual things, but towards the end of his act he said “I need a volunteer from the audience - how about you, little lady?”


He pointed at Suzie as he said this, who smiled as she said “Sure - anything for my best friend.”  She went to the front with a chorus of applause ringing in her ears, as Magnifico opened the front of a cabinet.


“If you will step in here, my dear,” he said as he took Suzie’s hand, “I will do the impossible, and make you disappear.”  She giggled as she waved to all of us, while the magician closed the box and turned it round.


“And now I say the magic words- Nutella on toast,” he said, and tapped the cabinet three times with his wand.  Opening the door, we all shrieked as we saw that Suzie had disappeared.


“Make her come back, make her come back,” I was surprised to hear myself call out.  “As you wish,” the magician said as he bowed to me, closed the door, and tapped the side three time again.


“And - PRESTO!” he called out as he opened the door - and there was someone there.  But it wasn’t Suzie.  It was another girl, dressed in a black pinafore dress over a long sleeved white blouse, knee length white socks and black shoes, and she was smiling as she said “Happy Birthday, Cassie,” in an American accent.


Jenny shrieked as I looked to the side of the room, and saw Granny standing there with another woman I recognized.  “Oh… My…. GOD!” I shouted out, “CINDY!!!!”


Cindy stepped out of the cabinet, to sounds of applause, before walking over and giving me a huge bear hug.  “Surprise,” she said as she looked at me, “Mum and I came over for the New Year holiday, and your grandmamma asked if we would like to come and surprise you.”


I looked over at Granny, who was just standing there smiling.  “But if you’re here,” I said quietly, “then who else is?”  It looked as if the same question had occurred to both Jenny and Alicia, who walked out of the room, Alicia’s pleated skirt switching slightly as she walked.


“Show you in a little while,” Cindy said with a smile.  “In the meantime…”


“In the meantime,” Granny said, “You need to say goodbye to the rest of your party guests.  Suzie is helping your mother in the kitchen, so you will see her later.”


“Aren’t you going to introduce us, Cassandra,” Granny Carter said as she came over.  “Oh I’m sorry,” I said quietly, “Cindy, this is my grandmother on my mum’s side.  Granny Carter, this is Cindy Ellsworth, and over there is her mother.  I met Cindy when we went to stay with Heidi earlier this year.”


“Very pleased to meet you both,” Granny Carter said as Cindy’s mother came over to join us.  “We’ve heard of this Heidi and your trip, but it’s nice to meet one of the new friends our little girls made over there.”


As the three of them got talking, Granny and Dad took me to the door and I said thank you to all the girls as they left.   As Hazel and Claire left, Hazel said “See you at gym class next week,” while Claire said “thanks for having us - you’re very good at Blind Man’s Bluff.”  She giggled as they went with their mother, and I stood there, wondering what they meant by that.


As Pippa left, I saw Granny and Grandpa Carter putting on their coats.  “We need to go now, dear,” she said as she hugged and kissed me, “but we’ll see you at this party on New Year’s Eve that we’re all going to.  Perhaps you can wear your new dress to that?”


I nodded, hugging and kissing them both before they left.  As they walked down the path, I closed the door and looked at Cindy and her mother.


“So,” I said as I hugged her again, “You never told me.  Are you the only one here?”


Her mother smiled as Granny said “Why don’t you go up to my room and have a look, dear - your father is going to order some pizza, and I’ll call you down when it comes.  Jenny and Alicia are already up there.”


Taking Cindy’s hand, I ran up the stairs and into Granny’s bedroom.  The first thing I saw was Jenny and Alicia standing against the wall.  Alicia had her arms crossed in front of her, pulling the sleeves of her jumper up as her skirt fell around her legs, while Jenny was quietly laughing.


I looked in the direction she was looking, and there was Suzie, her eyes shining as she looked at me.  The bands of rope were clearly visible on the velvet around her arms and tummy, and her wrists and ankles were tightly secured together behind her back, while a band of rope had been tied around her legs below her knees.  A band of white tape was wrapped around her mouth, and it was obvious there was more below that.


“oh come on,” I said out loud, “No way you two did this, that looks like…”


“She got it in one,” a familiar voice said behind me as I felt my hands been drawn behind my back, and the soft rope as it went round my wrists, and then around my waist.  A slim girl with shoulder length brown hair stood in front of me, and said “Hi Cassie - open your mouth like a good girl.”


“Nats! Heidi! Hey hey the gangsalllnmmgmmgm” I said as Natalie pushed a folded cloth into my mouth, and then tied a thin scarf between my lips.  She was wearing a white jumper under a blue denim dress, knee length socks and brown shoes.


“Happy birthday,” she said as she tore the end of the roll of our special white tape and wound it round my mouth and head, while Heidi passed some rope around my arms and tummy and fixed them together.  As she turned me round, I saw my friend again, her short blonde hair framing her face as she smiled at me.


“Mum and Aunt Veronica are shopping in London,” she said as she helped me to sit down and she knelt in front of me, the leather of her knee length black boots squeaking, “but they dropped the three of us off while you were having your party.  We had to hide away, but it was Mrs. Craig’s idea to have the magician swap Cindy with Suzie.”


I watched happily as she tied my ankles together, and then my legs below my knees, before she helped me to lie on the bed and roll onto my side and placed me in a hogtie.  “We’ve got presents for you as well, but we wanted to surprise you first.”


“After all,” Natalie said as she began to tickle me and Suzie, “if you are anything like us, no birthday is complete without a rope tie and a tickle.”


Well, of course we’re like them, so Suzie and I did the only thing we could - giggled like mad, especially when Alicia and Jenny joined in.


“Hold on - I want a go too.”


Heidi, Natalie and Cindy turned and looked at the young man standing in the doorway, looking at us.  “Guys,” Alicia said, “meet Robert Holderness - Suzie’s brother. My cousin, and a typical teenage boy.”


“I prefer Bobby,” Bobby said as he came in.  “So this is the famous Heidi Strong - I suppose you are the one I should thank for my little sister been so interested in ropes and things.”


“A pleasure to meet you too, Your Lordship,” Heidi said as she gave a little curtsey, her shirt covering the waist of her jeans as she did so.  Robert looked at her, took her hand and kissed the back of it, before saying “You know, of course, that this means war?”


“Then you will lose,” Natalie said as she walked behind Bobby, the two of us watching, “as you always lose when you try to fight the good old U S of A.”  Before he had a chance to react, her fingers had started to attack his sides, and he crumpled to the floor in a heap, laughing his head off.  Alicia said quietly “Good to see the Holderness name is in good hands,” before she and Jenny came over and sat beside Suzie and me.


“Sshlnguhrffrr,” I said as I looked at Cindy.


“Just for a few days,” Cindy said as Bobby tried to crawl out of the way of both Heidi and Natalie.  “We fly back on Friday, and school starts again on the 7th.  But at least we’ll be here for Suzie’s birthday as well.”


“Grrtstfff” Suzie mumbled as she looked at Alicia, “wrrggnthfsmshfn.”


“So,” Jenny said as she looked at Cindy, “any chance of you coming to visit between now and then?”


“We’ll need to check with our mums,” Cindy said, “I think they have a list of things they want to do while we’re here - shows, shopping, stupid things like that.  At the very least, the end of the year is going to be an incredibly fun year - which reminds me.”  She reached under the bed and pulled out a parcel. 


“Happy birthday, Cassie,” she said as she reached over and gave me a hug, “You can open it when you get home.  It’s from all three of us.”


I nodded and smiled as the tickle fight raged, happy and contented for a while, until Cindy’s mother appeared at the door.


“I think you should let the girls go now,” she said with a smile, “The pizzas have been delivered.”


“All right mum,” Cindy said as she reached down and started to untie the ropes around me.  “I wonder if your pizzas are any good,” Natalie said as she helped Bobby to stand up, and gave him a little kiss.


“Wait and see,” I said as the cloth was pulled out of my mouth, “Wait and see…”




“All right,” Natalie said as she took a bite of pepperoni, “It might not be as big, but it’s not bad.”


We were all gathered around in Granny’s back room, the adults talking with Mrs. Elsworth as we girls all sat in a circle on the floor, open pizza boxes in front of us.


“We’re going to have a great time on Monday,” Suzie said with a smile as she bit into a slice of ham and pineapple, “I’m going to have my own party in the afternoon, and then Grandma is having her annual party for the New Year.”


Mrs., Elsworth looked at Mum and Dad and said “So is this party going to be a formal affair? I don’t think I’ve got anything to wear if it is.”


“Not at all,” Granny said with a smile, “Lucinda and Despond try not to stand too much on ceremony that night.  It’ll just be family and friends - and of course, you are all invited.”


“I’m sure we will all be delighted to come,” Mrs. Elsworth replied with a smile, “but I’m not sure how I feel about meeting a real Lord.  I mean, Lady Holderness is a brave and strong woman, but…”


“But I’m still just a country girl at heart?”


We all turned to see Lord and Lady Holderness standing in the doorway.  “Hi, grandma,” Alicia said as she stood up and brushed some crumbs of crust off her skirt, “I thought dad was coming to collect us.”


“Change of plan,” she said with a smile.  “Dorothy, a pleasure to see you again, and the three young ladies as well.  This is my husband, Desmond.”


“Charmed, Mrs. Elsworth, Cindy,” Suzie’s granddad said as he came forward and shook their hands.  “I hope they have not been too much trouble, Miranda?”


“Oh come on, Desmond, you know they never are,” Granny said as she stood up, “but it is time these girls were getting home.  Cassie has had a very long day.”


That reminded me, as I pulled out the parcel Cindy had given me and opened it.  Inside was a t-shirt, and as I opened it there was a picture that had been taken when we had visited her printed on the front.  It showed Cindy and me waving at the camera, and underneath it said “Friends Forever.”


“Thank you,” I said as I hugged Cindy, and my eyes felt wet for some reason.


“Come on, Poppet,” Dad said as he put his hand on my shoulder, “Let’s get you home.  Dave, can you give me a hand with Cassie’s presents?”


“Sure thing,” Uncle Dave said as he stood up.  “Dorothy, I’ll give you and the girls a lift back to the hotel,” Aunt Cassie said, “I’d like to talk to Amy and Veronica anyway.”


“Thanks,” Cindy said as she hugged me.  “I’ll see you on Monday, Cass - try to stay untied until then.”


“I can’t promise that,” I laughed back at her, “but with Grandma and Granddad Carter here, I don’t get much of a chance anyway.”


“They don’t know?”


“Not yet,” Mum said as she came in with our coats, “and I don’t know if and when I’m going to tell them.  The way things go with this family, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tumbled in on some of us with our hands behind our back.”


“Is that an invitation,” Dad said as he came in, only to put his hand to his mouth as Mum shook her head from side to side.  “Don’t you dare,” she said, but she was smiling when she said it.  “I just need to break the notion gently to them.”


I was yawning now, as I hugged everyone and put my coat on.  “Gnggt freen,” I mumbled as Dad picked me up and carried me to the car, my eyes getting heavier all the time…








The weekend was quiet, and then New Year’s Eve arrived.  I woke up before Jenny, and was walking down the stairs when I heard Mum talking to Granddad Carter.


“Dad, why didn’t you tell me what had happened?”


“Jennifer, I didn’t want to frighten you.  When they were threatening your mother, my one concern, my one thought is how you would feel when…  Oh, good morning Cassie.”


“Morning, Mum, Grandpa Carter,” I said as I padded in and went to the fridge.  Mum was still in her dressing gown, while Grandpa Carter was dressed in a shirt and pants.  “What are you talking about?”


“I don’t think you need to know, little one,” Grandpa Carter said, and I could see his smile was a little funny.


“But I want to know,” I say as I sit down.  “Mum and Dad always say it’s better to talk about the bad things that happen - we did after the men visited us that time and made us stay in bed over night.  You know, Mum, when I hopped in and snuggled next to you in the ropes and gag.”


Grandpa Carter looked at me, and then at Mum.  “Jennifer?  Is there something you haven’t told me or your mother?”


“It’s all right Grandpa,” I said as I picked up my glass, “Mum and Dad have played lots of games since then, and it’s really helped us to cope.  Hasn’t it Mum?”


I looked at Mum, whose face had gone slightly paler than usual, and then at Grandpa Carter, who was looking keenly at her.  “Jennifer,” he said quietly, “What do you want to say to me?”


“Do you promise not to tell Mum?”


Grandpa Carter nodded, so Mum began to explain everything that had happened over the last year or so.  The home invasions, the games, the friends we had made - everything.  He just sat there, taking it all in, until Mum sat back and said “Does that make you think we’re bad parents?”


“No - it makes me think you want to protect the girls, so you did what you thought was right,” he finally said, and then he looked at me.  “Cassie, so long as you are playing with friends, I have no problem, but if anything bad happens you must tell someone, all right?”


“All right, Grandpa,” I said with a smile, “but what happened to you and Grandma?”


“Well, little one,” he said as he looked at me, “A few months ago, some very bad men broke into our house, and tied both of us up before they took some things away.  Your grandma was very shaken up by it, and does not like to talk about it, so any talk of games where you get tied up or anything else must not reach her ears.  Do you understand?”


I nodded and said “So you keep our secret as well?  That’s great - but what will you tell Grandma Carter?”


“What Grandma Carter does not know will not hurt her - I guess we’ll find a way sooner or later.”  He ruffled my head before saying to Mum “You’re both great parents Jennifer - and I know Miranda has her eye on both of you as well.”


“Thanks, Dad,” Mum said as she walked over and kissed him on the forehead, her arms around her neck.   “As for you young lady - breakfast, then you need to come with me and get the present for Suzie.  She’s expecting you at her house by three o’clock, and then you’re coming to the party with her family.  All right?”


“All right, Mum - what’s Jenny going to do today?”


“She’s going to meet Alicia later, and she’ll come with her parents.  The rest of us will join you there later.”  She put a bowl of cereal in front of me, and they both watched as I started to eat my food…





Well, I eventually bought a DVD collection of some television version of the Famous Five, which we wrapped in gold paper and a funny card for Suzie.  I then changed into my clothes for the party - Mum had put out my blue trouser suit and a white t-shirt, as well as my black ankle boots.  Next to it on the bed was a dress bag and my new shoes in a special bag as well.


“Time to go, Poppet,” I heard Dad call up as I pulled on the jacket, and I ran down the stairs, almost running into Aunt Cassie as she was trying to come up.


“Hey, hey, slow down,” she said as she caught me, “If you want to stay awake until later, you need to pace yourself.”


“Sorry, Aunt Cassie,” I said as I slipped past her, “See you later.”


Dad was standing at the bottom of the stairs.  “Get yourself in the car,” he said as he looked at me, “I’ll go and get the bags for later.”


Jenny was already sitting in the car, looking out of the window.  “Ready for fun,” she said as she looked at me, and I nodded in reply.  “I’ll see Heidi and Natalie at Alicia’s” she said with a smile, “so I’ll make sure to give them your best wishes.”


“Sounds as if you’re going to have fun,” I said as Dad put the bags in the back of the car, and then climbed in the front.  “Do you think there’s going to be some games later?”


“Not if Grandma Carter is able to see them,” Dad said as he looked over his shoulder at both of us.  “Mum told me about your breakfast conversation today.”


“Oh,” I said and I blushed as Jenny looked at me.  “Cassie, you idiot, you didn’t blurb out…”


“Don’t worry,” Dad said as he started the car, “I trust your Granddad.”  With that, he moved off into the street, and into a very special day.


He stopped at Alicia’s house first, and as Jenny go tout I saw both Heidi and Natalie waving from the door.  Heidi was wearing a pair of jeans and a white jumper, while Natalie had a long skirt on with a blouse.  I could see a rope bracelet around her bare ankle as Jenny walked to the door, and then Cindy walking to the car.


“Thanks for giving me a ride Mister Craig,” she said as she climbed in, putting a bag by the back seat as she sat next to me.  “I’m looking forward to this party.”


“So am I,” I said as I looked at Cindy.  She had her dark hair pulled back in a pigtail, and was wearing a blue denim bib dress over a long sleeved white top, white tights and black Mary Jane shoes.  “I hope she has some games planned.”


“She’s a Holderness,” Cindy said quietly, “I guess it comes with the territory - but I know what you mean.”


It didn’t take us long to get to Suzie’s house, but it was Bobby who opened the door to us.  “Hi Cassie, Cindy,” he said with a smile, “Let me take your bags.”  Dad handed Bobby the clothes bags, waved and walked off to the car.


“Where’s the birthday girl,” I said with a smile.  The house was quiet, very quiet, as we stood in the hallway.


“I’ll take her to you if you want,” Bobby said with a smile, as I saw the clock showed three fifteen.  “First, I need to do something.”  He held two woolen scarves in his hand as he said this.


“Great - blindfolds,” Cindy said as she winked at me, so we allowed him to tie the scarves over our eyes, and then lead us up the stair case.  He stopped us, and then said “Hands behind your back please.”


I did so, and then there was the familiar feeling of soft rope on my wrists as he tied them tightly together, and then wrapped the rope around my waist to hold them against my back.  Cindy said “Oh - you’re good,” before there was a muffled gasp.  That was a sound I knew well, as was the ripping/squelching sound that followed, and sure enough I felt a cloth pushed into my mouth and the special tape pressed over my mouth.


There was the sound of a door opening, and we were walked in, before I felt Bobby pressing down on my shoulder and helping me to sit down.  There was then another hand in mine as I felt Cindy sit behind me, and rope going round our arms.  It reminded me so much of the night in Maine that I almost smiled, as I felt my ankles and legs been tied together.


“Your first guests are here, sis,” I heard Bobby say, and then the blindfold was pulled off my head.  I blinked, and then saw Suzie sitting in a chair in front of me, laughing over the knotted scarf that was sitting between her lips.


She had her arms tied tightly down on the armrests of the chair, and she was swinging her ankles to and fro, the grey rope visible over her white socks.  Her black leather shoes squeaked as she rubbed them together.  Suzie had on a black jumper and skirt, with a sliver necklace over the rolled neck of the jumper.


The big surprise was that her mother was sitting in a chair next to her, smiling at us over the red scarf that was pulled between her lips.  She was wearing a blue smock top over some black leggings, and a pair of blue slippers.  She was also tied securely to the chair, but in her case there was a single length of rope under her tummy, as opposed to the bands of rope holding Suzie in place.


“I told you I’d get them to join you,” Bobby said with a smile as he hugged Mrs. Holderness.  “I’ll come and free you in half an hour if they can’t get out, so that you can greet your guests.  I need to help Dad to finish setting the room up.”


“Glsucldccmmgrls,” Suzie’s mum said through her gag as I looked at the bands of rope around my legs and body.  Bobby had done a good job on my legs, cinching them between my ankles and knees, but he had only loosely tied me to Cindy, which meant I had a chance to wriggle free.


Cindy has realized this as well as she mumbled “nfre” to me.  I nodded, squeezed her hand and counted to three in my head, before I pushed down with my feet on the floor.  She did the same as we stood up, the ropes wriggling down our bodies as we shook ourselves.


“Utkszzemm, lltkhr,” I mumbled as Cindy hopped round to face the others.  We both hopped round to the chairs, and knelt down so that Suzie and her mother could pick at the tape that was covering our mouths.


It only took Suzie five minutes to manage to peel the tape away, as I spat out the handkerchief and looked at the rope around her wrist.  “No problem - and happy birthday,”


“Fnks,” Suzie said as I worked on the knot with my teeth, and Cindy did the same to Suzie’s mother.  It only took another five minutes to free their arms, and they were able to untie our arms so that we could free each other.


The clock was just striking four when we all walked downstairs, to meet Mr. Holderness at the foot of the stairs.  “Excellent timing,” he said with a smile as he hugged Suzie’s mother, and the front doorbell rang, “Time to greet your guests, Suzie.”


Now, I had no idea what Suzie’s party was going to be like - I mean, she was one of my bestest friends, but she was also a member of one of the richest families in the town, so what exactly was going to happen?  What I had forgotten, of course, was that her mum and dad had been determined to give her as normal a life as possible, so when some of her school friends arrived and gave her presents, I quickly realized that any special games were going to be kept for later that night.


That’s not to say we didn’t have similar games to those at my party - Suzie in particular had ‘borrowed’ my version of Blind Man’s Bluff, and when it came to playing musical chairs Mr. Holderness had an interesting twist, where he tied our wrists behind our backs with ribbons to make it harder to put our hands on the chairs.  I thought back to when we played a similar game at Jenny’s party - but of course that time we were hopping round rather than walking.


One of the really strange things, however, was when I was introduced as Miss Craig’s niece.  Not because it was funny to hear Aunt Cassie talked of in this way, but because they all said what a great teacher she was.  It made me see a new side of her - not just as my brave, if slightly funky, aunt but as someone the other kids liked.


Bobby helped out with the games as well, as did a second lad who arrived during the games - Colin.  He had been dropped off by his mum and dad, who were also coming to the party later on, and he seemed to take a lot of interest in Cindy, bringing her drinks and so on.  I was beginning to think he had a little bit of a crush on my dark haired friend - but my thoughts were interrupted by Suzie’s mum calling us to the birthday tea.


And that was when you remembered how well off Suzie was - when you saw the cakes on little silver stands, and the plates were china.  I carried mine very carefully to a corner and sat next to Cindy, talking about things, when Robert came over.  He had a tray of glasses in his hands, with a clear liquid in them that was fizzing.


“Here,” he said as he held the tray forward, “Take one each.  We’re going to sing Happy Birthday in a minute and toast Suzie as she blows out the candles.”


“What’s in this,” I asked as I took the glass.


“Champagne - with a little lemonade added,” Bobby said, and he actually winked at us when he said this.  “I hope you like it.”


Well, Cindy took a glass, and so did I, and a few minutes later we all stood round and sang Happy Birthday as Mrs. Holderness brought in a huge cake with 11 candles on it.  Suzie took a deep breath, and then blew out all the candles before Bobby raised his glass and said “To Suzie.”


“To Suzie,” we all said and I took a little sip.  I’d never had champagne before, even with lemonade, and the bubbles went up my nose a little bit.  It made me sneeze - and I wasn’t the only one.


Then we gave Suzie our presents, and I was glad to see I had thought along the right lines.  She got lots of CDs and DVDs, as well as some money and cards.  I did wonder what her mum and dad had got her, but I was sure I was going to find out later.


As we sat round looking at Suzie, Colin slipped up behind me and said “Hey Cassie - where’s your big sister?”


“At Alicia’s place - and I’m surprised she’s not here.”


“Nah - she wanted to spend some time with the girls,” Bobby said, “We’ll see her later.  Why, Colin - something you’d like to say to her”?


“No, no - just curious as to where she was,” he said as he walked away, but I could see he was blushing slightly.  “Has he got a crush on your sister,” Cindy leaned over and whispered in my ear, “or is he just very easy to embarrass?”


I laughed, but I did wonder why he had asked that question.  Cindy just nudged me in the ribs as we both heard music starting - Suzie’s dad had hired a DJ to play some songs for the last hour of her party, as we danced in her front room.


Still, it had to end at some time, and by 6.15 she was thanking and seeing off the last of her guests.  As the door closed, Mr. Holderness looked at the five of us standing there, and then looked at his watch.


“Right,” he said quietly, “you all have thirty minutes to get changed into your outfits for tonight.  I need you down here at 6.45, or we are going to be late.”


We rushed up the stairs, Cindy and I going with Suzie while Colin went with Bobby. Opening the clothes bag, I took out the green dress and put it on, before pinning the little gold brooch to the top.


“Nice brooch,” Cindy said as she looked at it, “a gift from a friend?”


I felt myself blush at that, as I watched Cindy putting on something similar to what I had been wearing - only her jacket and trousers were light brown, and she wore a black top underneath.   As for Suzie, she said “Can you help me Cassie?” as she put on a black slip dress, and added a pair of elbow length matching gloves.


As I pulled the zip up, I saw there was a gold chain around her neck, and as she turned round I saw it was a locket, with a large red stone in the middle.  “Mum and Dad’s present to me,” she said with a smile, “do you like it?”


“It’s gorgeous,” I said as I lifted it up to look at the deep crimson jewel in the light.   “Is it real?”


“They say it is - and I’m only allowed to wear it today.”  As she said this, the door opened, allowing Bobby and Mr. Holderness to come in.  Both of them were wearing white shirts with bow ties, black jackets and trousers, and shiny leather shoes.


“Right girls,” Mr. Holderness said as he put a bag in Suzie’s bed, “We have specific instructions as to how you are to be brought to the Manor tonight, so turn round, and hands behind your back.”


“Great,” Suzie said as she clapped her hands, “but how are we going to be able to walk down the driveway to the car?”


“You’ll see,” Bobby said as he started to tie my wrists together, hands palm to palm behind my back.  He passed the rope around them four times, then cinched the coils between my wrists and tied it off.  Taking a small length of cord, he then tied my thumbs together, before securing them to my waist in the usual way.  Looking over I could see Mr. Holderness doing the same to Cindy, before he crossed the glove covered wrists of Suzie and started to bind her.


“”Right,” he then said as we all turned round, “open your mouths wide as you can.”  We all did so, allowing them to push a small sponge ball into each of our mouths, and then cover them with tape that was the same colour as our skin.  It stuck like the special tape I love, but looking at each other it just looked as if we had lost our lips.


“Soon fix that,” Mr. Holderness said as he took some lipstick, and traced over the lips eh could see through the tape.  Once done, he walked the three of us down the stairs, where Colin and Mrs. Holderness were waiting.  They helped to fasten our coats over us, which hid the rope around our waists, and then we walked down to their car.


“Back seat girls,” Bobby said as we sat down and he buckled us in.  Colin and Bobby then sat in front of us - Colin had on a smart blue suit with a light blue shirt and a dark tie - and then Mr. and Mrs. Holderness in the front seat.


The drive to Holderness Manor took about half an hour, and as we drove up the by now familiar tree lined avenue I glanced at Cindy, suddenly remembering this was the first time she had visited the place.  Her eyes were as wide as saucers as she saw the Manor appearing, and as Mr. Holderness drove to the kitchen door she turned and looked at me.


“Tssgrnd,” I mumbled through the tape gag as Mrs. Bridges came out and opened the door.  “Good Evening, Master Alexander,” she said as Suzie’s dad joined her, “May I suggest the rear staircase?  The guests are arriving at the front, and Her Ladyship would prefer they not see the girls as they are just now.”


“Fair enough,” he said as Bobby helped us out of the car and through the kitchen.  Normally, we would have walked down the corridor and up the main staircase, but as our coats were removed from us we were surprised by scarves been tied over our eyes.


“Just let us lead you,” Bobby whispered into my ear as we were taken by the arm and helped to walk up a flight of stairs, and then along what I presumed was the hallway upstairs.  I then heard Angela saying “Ah - I see the others have arrived.  You need to take care of something first.”


The next thing I knew I could feel more rope been tied over my arms and tummy, winding around them to lock my arms into place, and I just had to assume the others were getting the same thing.    Then I heard a door open, and a hand on my arm as we walked forward.


“Sit them down on the beanbags,” Angela said, and I guessed we were in the playroom as I was helped to sit on a comfy cushion.  I then felt my ankles been pulled together, before whoever had tied my feet folded the hem of my skirt back and tied my legs together below the knees, and then folded it back again.


“We’ll come and collect you in a little while,” Angela said, “when Grandpa and Grandma have welcomed all the guests.  First, though…”  I turned my head as I heard both Bobby and Colin give muffled grunts, and had to stop myself from laughing - I had a fair idea of what was going on.


Eventually, the scarves ere pulled off our eyes and I blinked - but the first thing I saw was Bobby and Colin, looking a tad cross as they sat on the floor, their arms tied tightly to their sides, their legs secured, and tape over their mouths.


“Nsnsfutjns,” I heard Alicia mumble next, and looking over I saw her, Jenny, Heidi and Natalie sitting in a row.  Jenny was wearing the dress she had been given for her birthday, while Alicia had on a black velvet party dress with capped sleeves.  The skirt came to just below her knees, with her legs in a pair of dark tights and her feet in black velvet shoes.


Heidi was wearing a floral print dress, with sleeves that came to just above her elbows, white tights and white shoes, while Natalie was wearing a light blue pinafore dress over a white blouse.  Her feet were bare, but like the others she had her ankles crossed and tied tightly together, with rope around her lower legs.


They had obviously had their upper bodies tied the same way we had - and from the way Jenny was looking to the side, we were not the only ones in the room, so I looked in that direction.


Mary and Cathy were sitting in two chairs, their eyes wide as they tried not to laugh into their taped mouths.   They had been tied to the chairs, their ankles together and secured to one of the front legs.  Mary had on a pink dress with a square collar, while Cathy was wearing a long Victorian style dress with a high collar.  I could see out of the corner of my eye the way Cindy was looking at her - I knew she had in the past dressed in the same way.


“Wlwhttrwgngtdnw,” Jenny said as she looked at us.  It was obvious we were the most mobile of the group, but if truth be told I was very comfortable with the way we were, so I said “nfnk” and leaned back in the beanbag I was sitting on, enjoying the time we were having.


A time which came to an end all too quickly, as Granny came into the room and looked at us.  “Well, now,” she said as she looked around the room, “I suppose I could leave you all here all night to enjoy the silence, but…”


“NNNNNNNNNN” we called out in unison, so she came over and untied Mary and Cathy, before saying “If you can help me to untie the others, then I can take you down to the grand hall.  There is a game to be played that you are all part of.”


Ten minutes later, we were all rubbing our wrists and giving each other hugs as Granny stood by the door.  “Now then,” she said quietly, “Line up and follow me.”  We all made an Indian line behind her and walked down the staircase,


The Grand Hall was decorated with balloons and banners, and a group of people were around the side, some of whom I knew, some I did not.  I could see Cathy’s Mother standing with Lord Holderness and Mary’s dad, and Grandpa Carter with Dad.  I then heard Jenny gasp, and I looked to the centre of the room.


I could see Mum, Mrs. Holderness, Mrs. Bowden - in fact, all the mothers and aunts standing in a line, with scarves tied over their eyes as blindfolds.  The big surprise, however, was Grandma Carter standing next to Mum, obviously a little worried as she tried to turn her head.  I had no idea how she had been persuaded to do that, until Lady Holderness spoke.


“Ladies,” she said loudly, “The children are now here.  Your task is simple - find your son, daughter, niece, nephew, granddaughter - whatever, but do so without you or them speaking.  If you can find one and identify them, you may remove the blindfold.”


She then winked at us as we stood in a line in front of the women.


“Ready?  Go!”


Cathy’s mum was the first to move off, the hem of her peasant skirt swishing as she stepped forward and held her arms out and tried to grab someone - anyone. 


“Watch your step, Belinda - you may trip over your skirt,” her other mother said as she looked on from the side.  Mrs. Harmer nodded and said “I’ll be fine,” right before she stumbled and fell into the arms of a tall, black haired man who had caught her.


“Nice catch, Dad,” Colin called from the side, and I realized he must be DCI Hampton, Colin’s father.   I knew Mum and Dad, as well as Granny, had met him, but this was the first time I’d ever seen him up close.


The next person who caught my eye was Alicia’s mother.  She had on a long blue dress, which allowed the bump that was visible at her tummy now to be covered, as she managed to grab Alicia at the first attempt.  “How on earth did you manage that,” Alicia said with a slight pout.


“You need to change the perfume you wear,” her mother said with a smile, as I watched Heidi and Natalie lead their mothers, along with Cindy and hers, to one side of the room, where they sat and talked.  I wondered what was going on, and why they felt they had to go to one side.


“Perhaps,” a familiar voice said behind me, “They need to decide whether or not to tell us something.”


“APRIL!” I squealed as I span round and hugged our babysitter.  I hadn’t seen her for a while, as I buried my face into the black silk blouse she was wearing and hugged her tightly.


“Good to see you too squirt,” she said as she held me by the shoulders and looked at me, just as Mum caught Jenny and Grandma Carter at the same time, hugging both of them.  “You’ve grown so much - you look like an eleven year old now.”


I looked at her, standing there in a black skirt that matched her blouse, and flat shoes.   “Mummy said you had gone to study,” I eventually said, “Are you enjoying it?”


“I am actually,” April said with a smile, “and I’ve made a few new friends.  How about you - I hear you have failed to stay out of trouble?”


I blushed and said “Not true - it just tends to find us.  Are you here on your own?”


“For now, yes - by the way,” Aprils aid as she bent over and whispered into my ear, “Watch out for Angela - I think she and her grandmother are planning something.”


“When are they not,” I giggled in reply as Grandma Carter came over.  “You must be April,” she said as she came closer, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”


“And you Mrs. Carter,” April said as she shook Grandma’s hand.  “How are you enjoying your stay so far?”


“It’s been very interesting,” she said with a smile, “and so was that game.  I haven’t played something like that since I was a young girl.”


“Were you scared, Grandma,” I said as a small band started to play music at one end of the room.    Grandma Carter looked at me and then said “At first, but I was a brave girl.”


“Just like you were,” April said as she put her hand on my shoulder, “when those men stayed the night.”


“Men?  What men?”  Grandma Carter looked at April, then at me - as I realized that just for once, I was not the person who had not blurted out a secret.  Taking her by the hand, I walked with her to where Mum and Granny were talking.


“Jennifer,” Grandma Carter said as she walked over, “What does that young lady April mean about men staying the night?”  Mum looked at me as I shook my head, while Granny put her hand round Grandma Carter’s shoulders.


“June,” Granny said quietly, “why don’t you come with the three of us and I’ll tell you what happened.”  We went off to the far side of the room, passing Lady Holderness as she said to Heidi and Cindy’s mothers “Well, I am surprised, but I am glad you are both happy.”


Dad looked at us as we went past, as did Grandpa Carter, but Mum shook her head as we found a quiet corner and sat down.  “Well, June,” Granny started, “I guess we need to start with the first robbery…”





An hour later, Grandma Carter was sitting, her skin a little pale as she looked at the three of us.  “Oh my god,” she finally whispered, “I thought what George and I had been through was terrifying, but you…”  She looked at me and said “Cassandra, you must have been terrified.”


“I was at times,” I said quietly, “but I think of it as a game, and we never really got hurt - upset, yes, but hurt no.”


“Jennifer,” she then said as she looked at Mum, “You let them play these games?”


“Yes, mum,” my mum replied, “because it helps them to cope - it helps us all to cope.  If they know what happens, then it is easier for them if something does go wrong.”


“June,” Dad said as I looked up to see him and Grandpa Carter standing there.  “George told me what happened, and I know the thought still frightens you.  I don’t expect you to understand right off, but believe me when I say it has helped.  Especially with the Pearl of Great Wisdom business.”


Granny had been very silent up till now, but she took Grandma Carter by the hand.  “Let me get you a drink,” she said as the two of them walked off, “I think Lucinda may have an idea that will help you…”


“Is she going to be all right,” Grandpa Carter said as he looked at them walking off.  “Give her time,” Mum said as she put her hand on his shoulder, “She’ll come round - and if I know Lady Holderness, she will have something planned.”


Dad looked at his watch.  “Ten o’clock already - Cassie, find the others and get something to eat.  Your mum and I are going to dance.”  I smiled as they walked off, and then ran over to where the others had gathered.


“Don’t worry about them,” Cathy was saying as I came up, “I’ve lived with that all my life, and it helps you know who your real friends are.”  I could see she was talking to Cindy and Heidi when she said this.


“What’s happening,” I asked Jenny, who was standing next to Natalie.


“I’ll tell you later,” Jenny said as she looked at me, “What’s up with Grandma Carter?”


“She knows,” I said as I took a glass of apple juice from Mrs. Bridges, and then had a sip.  “We told her everything.”


“Ouch,” Bobby said as he stood behind me, “That must have come as a shock to her.”


“At least,” Jenny said as she looked at Grandma Carter and Granny talking to Lady Holderness.  “Seems to be a night for surprises all round - I saw you talking to April earlier.”


“Yeah - nice to see her,” I said as Heidi came over.  “I finally get to give you a hug,” she said as she wrapped her arms round me, the smile on her face as big as the blonde hair that was falling round her shoulders.


“I see you grew your hair out again,” Alicia said, “It suits you that way.”


“Thanks,” she said as Cindy came over.  The band had started to play some sort of Scottish dance music, and I laughed as I saw Dad trying to dance with Aunt Cassie. 


“Would you like to try?”


I was surprised to see Bobby hold his hand out to me, but I smiled as I took it and he led me out.  I was even more surprised when Colin took Jenny by the hand and led her out as well.


“What am I meant to do,” I said as Bobby stood by me.  “Just follow my lead,” he said as the music started, and we set off.  Turned out he was actually quite a good dancer, as we turned and clapped at the right moments.  I must have smiled, because he smiled right back at me, and I felt a funny warm feeling in my cheeks.


Alicia’s mum and dad were sitting at the side, watching with interest as we moved around the floor, and Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave were sitting there as well.  Her white blouse was slightly open at the bottom as she smiled at us.


Aunt Cassie was standing a little way off, dressed in a green and gold Indian dress, and talking quietly to Colin’s father.  She looked at me and smiled, as I found myself been twirled round and running out of breath.


“Please,” I eventually said, “I need a drink.”


“Of course,” Bobby said as he bowed to me, and then walked me back to the table.  Cindy nudged me as I sat down and said “He likes you - you know that don’t you?”


“What time is it,” I said as I took a bite out of a small egg tart.


“Believe it or not,” Bobby said as he looked at his watch, “It’s 11.15.  Only forty five minutes to the new year.”


“Ladies and Gentlemen…”


We looked up to see Lord Holderness standing in front of the band.


“First of all, thank you all for coming to celebrate the New Year with us.  When Big Ben strikes midnight, there is going to be a firework display outside, which will begin right after we drink a toast.  I’m going to invite the children to come upstairs and sit on the balcony, and ask them to bring one of their female relatives with them to sit with them.  I only ask that you do not pick a mother or aunt who is expecting.”


“Girls - we will be coming with you.”


I turned to see Granny and Grandma Carter standing behind me, with Jenny holding Granny’s hand. 


“All right,” I said as I stood up, “but what about Mum?”


“She’s going to stay down here with Grandpa,” Grandma Carter said.  “This is something I have to do for myself - and I want you to be with me, Cassie.”


“You called me Cassie,” I said with a giggle.  She smiled and said “Yes, I did - come on.”  She took my hand and we left the room, along with Cindy, Heidi and Natalie, who had their mother’s hand in theirs.


Granny was wearing a dark blue coat dress with black shoes, while Grandma Carter was wearing a white jumper and cardigan with a pair of tan trousers.  Heidi and Cindy’s mothers were both wearing black trousers and white blouses with waistcoats, while Veronica had on a black wool dress and knee length boots.


As we were taken upstairs, we joined the others in the hallway.  Cathy had brought her other mother, who was wearing a gent’s three piece suit with a blue blouse and a dark tie, while Mary had her mother with her as well.  She looked a little nervous, taking off and cleaning her glasses every few seconds.


“Relax mum,” Mary said as she put her arms round her green dress and hugged her, “It will be fun.”


Alicia was with Lady Holderness, while Suzie had her mother by the hand.  Mrs. Holderness was wearing a silver grey sleeveless dress that came to just above her ankles, with grey leather shoes.


“What about Bobby and Colin,” I said as they came in with Dad, Uncle Dave and Mr. Holderness.


“They are going to help us,” Lord Holderness said as he opened a door, shall we go in?”


I had never been in this room before, which was a long thin one with windows along one side.   A row of chairs was set out in front of the windows.  “Right then,” he said as the door closed, “Will the older ladies please take a seat?”


As our mothers and grandmothers went to sit down, Bobby and Colin knelt in front of each of them, and using a roll of white tape they secured their ankles together, and then to the left hand front leg of each chair.  I watched Grandma Carter as Bobby did this to her, who was looking down nervously.


“Don’t worry, June,” Granny said as Colin did the same to her, “It will be fun.”


“Now then,” Lord Holderness said, “Come and sit on the lap of your partner.”  I walked over and jumped onto Grandma Carter’s lap, saying “Don’t worry - this is easy” as I did so.  Granny nodded as well as Jenny sat on her lap, then we both watched as Bobby and Colin put our hands together in front of us, palm to palm, and taped our wrists together.


“Now,” Lord Holderness said as he and Suzie’s father took a roll of white tape each, “Partners, give your girls a hug and hold their hands in yours.”


I looked down as Grandma Carter held my small hands in her large ones, while Lord Holderness took the tape and secured her wrists to my arms, and then covered her hands in tape.  “I like this” I said as I looked up and snuggled into her chest, wondering what else was going to happen.


That answer came quickly, as Bobby knelt in front of me and Grandma Carter to tape my ankles together.  “Are you all right, Grandma,” I said as I looked back up at her - I had heard her catch her breath as the tape went round my legs.


“It’s just new for me - to volunteer to do this,” she replied as she looked at Granny.


“The secret,” Granny said with a smile, “is to just relax and go with the flow - you’re perfectly safe here June, as long as young Cassandra agrees to sit still.”


“Awww,” I said as I wriggled a little more to get comfy, and rest against Grandma. 


“Your choice, Cassie - cloth or tape?”


I looked at Lord Holderness as he stood there, with a roll of white tape in one hand and several scarves in the other.


“You’re going to stop us talking,” Grandma Carter said, and this time I could hear a little fear in her voice.


“Desmond,” Granny said beside me, “tie a folded scarf over my mouth first.  June needs to see that it is not something to be afraid of.”


I had hoped we’d have one of my special gags, but looking down the line I could see Mary’s mother looking rather nervously at her hands taped over Mary’s.  It reminded me that despite everything we had done this year, the fun, the games and the more serious stuff, we were once nervous as well.


I looked as Lord Holderness folded a large grey headscarf into a wide band, and tied it over Granny’s mouth tightly.  As he fastened the knot, she turned and said to Grandma “ceeejn, thrsnfngtbfrdf.”


“All right,” Grandma said as she smiled at me, “Do it.”


“Just breathe normally,” Lord Holderness said as he folded a blue scarf and tied it over Grandma’s mouth.  Her eyes widened slightly, but then she looked at me and nodded as I said “Could I have some tape please?”


“Of course,” Lord Holderness said as he passed the tape to Bobby.  I watched as he tore off a strip, and then did something totally unexpected - he gave me a little kiss, said “Thank you for wearing the brooch” and then pressed the tape over my mouth.


I looked over at Jenny, who was smiling as Colin pressed some tape over her mouth, then turned back to look out of the window as we heard the music from downstairs.


“COUNTDOWN!” I heard the band leader say, “in Ten… Nine… Eight…”


“Svn,” Cathy called out, then Mary said “cix.”  “Fv,” Heidi, Cindy and Natalie called in unison.


“Frr,” Suzie shouted out from her mother’s lap.


“Freee,” Alicia called from her grandmother’s lap.


“Tooo,” Jenny said as she looked at me with her eyes wide open.


“Nnnnn,” I called out and then we heard a huge shout of “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!”


“Hpynwyr, Jn,” Granny said as she turned and looked at us.


“Ndtumrnd,” Grandma replied as the fireworks started to go off - and such fireworks!  Huge bursts of gold, green and red filled the dark sky as we watched, amazed at the display and the sound.


We could see Catherine wheels spinning on the grounds, and bursts of sound as rockets exploded into the night sky, filling it with showers of brightly colored sparks and streamers.  We could hear the band playing Old Long Sign downstairs, and everyone cooing and clapping at the display.


I put my head into Grandma’s chest, and felt her rubbing her chin on my hair, as I enjoyed the show.  Only once the last ember of red had gone out did the two boys come along and remove all our gags, and then release us from the chairs so that we could go back downstairs.


“Did you enjoy that, Grandma,” I said as I got off Grandma Carter’s lap and let her stand up.


“Do you know, Cassie,” she said as she hugged me, “I think I did.  I guess you girls - all of you - have a few things you can teach this old girl.”


“One step at a time, June,” Granny said as she put her arm round Grandma’s shoulder.  We went back downstairs and entered the party, where April saw us and came over.


“I’m really really sorry,” she said as she looked at Jenny and me, “Have I caused any trouble with your grandmother?”


“It’s all right,” Jenny said, “She knows now, so we can stop trying to keep it a secret from her.  She’s a lot like you, April.”


“She is,” April said as she looked at our grandmothers, “How?”


“She had a bad experience,” I said, “and we helped her to start to get over it.  Can we have a drink please?”


“Of course you can,” Dad said as he brought two glasses over of fizzy stuff.  “Happy new year, girls.”


“Happy new year, Dad,” we both said before we took a sip.  The bubbles went right up my nose, and I almost coughed, but Dad held me and said “Just sip it - a special treat.”


We nodded and walked to the side, where Alicia was with Heidi, Cindy and Natalie.


“Do you have to go back the day after tomorrow,” she said as we came closer.


“Yeah,” Natalie said, “We have to get back to school as well.  Pity - you guys know how to throw a party!”


“Yeah,” Cindy said, “Beats going to the Church Social at least.”


“I wish we’d had more time to be a group together,” I said, and I really meant it.  Cindy smiled and said “Well, Alicia has said you can come round to her house for tea tomorrow, so maybe we can have a bit of fun then.”


I liked that idea, as  I suddenly started to yawn.


“You’re not the only one,” Alicia said as I looked over and saw Suzie yawning and stretching as well.  “I guess you just don’t have the stamina for a long night.”


“Could beat you any day of the….” I started to say before I found myself yawning again.  Mum put her hand on my shoulder and said “I think we need to get you home, young lady.”


“Llrgith mum,” I said as my eyes started to get heavy again.  “See you Suzie and thanks again…”


“See you tomorrow Cassie,” Suzie said as I waved at her, then went with Mum, Jenny following behind….








I don’t remember that much between then and waking up at nearly midday the next afternoon.   Mum had lunch laid out, and then Dad drove Jenny and me round to Alicia’s house, where - well, that’s a story for another day.


It was the Thursday afternoon when I heard Grandma Carter downstairs with Granny.


“HI Mum, June,” Dad said, “What brings you over this afternoon?”


“Well,” I heard Grandma Carter say, and then - nothing.  I looked over at Jenny, who shrugged her shoulders, then at Mum.  She shook her head from side to side, then we all watched the bedroom door.


After a little while, we heard footsteps, and then the door opened.  “In here,” Dad said, “You can join the others.”


As we looked up, Granny and Grandma Carter walked in, their hands behind their backs and bands of rope tied around their waists and their tummies.  Grandma Carter was wearing a pink long sleeved blouse under a grey sleeveless top, and grey trousers, with a pair of bright pink pointy shoes on her feet.  Granny had on a cream colored jumper and cardigan, and a knee length tweed skirt, with a pair of brown suede boots on her legs.


“Hllmm, mrnda,” Mum said from her position on the wooden seat that sat in front of her dressing table.  A band of rope was around her waist to hold her to the chair back, and her wrists were crossed and tied together in front of her, the rope visible over her mustard colored blouse.  They were also tied down to her legs over the dark leggings she had on, and her ankles were tied together over the tan colored leather knee length boots she was wearing.


As for me and Jenny, we were lying on our tummies on the big bed.  Jenny was wearing a green t-shirt over her long sleeved black top, a denim skirt, black leggings and her brown Ugg boots, while I had on a white jumper and a pair of jeans, the legs of which were tucked into a pair of black felt boots.  We both had a pair of socks taped over our hands, while our wrist were crossed and lashed tightly together behind our backs, before they were tied down to our waists.  We had our arms tied tightly our sides with rope around them and our tummies, while our ankles - well, my ankles, and Jenny’s legs above her boots - were tied tightly together, as were our legs below our knees.  We had our legs bent, and there was a rope from my ankles, and Jenny’s legs, to the one around our tummies.


All three of us had a piece of sponge in our mouths, with a knotted length of toweling tied between our lips, and we could see the same thing had been done to Granny and Grandma Carter.  As they were sat on the floor by the window, Granny winked at us as Dad started to tie her ankles and legs together with more rope.


“Sthsswhttgmslk,” Grandma Carter said as Dad knelt beside her and started to tie her ankles together over the cuffs of her trousers, “cnssstsrlxng.”


“Ystssss,” Granny said as Mum nodded, watching as Dad finished tying her legs together, and then picked up the roll of tape.  He tore two lengths off, and smoothed one over their mouths, their lips visible underneath.


Ours weren’t - Dad had tied a folded scarf around our heads, to hide the fact he had wrapped the tape all the way round.  I guessed that he wasn’t ready to do the same to Grandma Carter, and Granny was playing along.


“Right,” Dad said as he stood up, and kissed Granny on the forehead, “I need to go and deliver the ransom demands.  Don’t go anywhere.”


“Sfwcld,” Jenny said as she looked up at him, but I could tell she was smiling.  Mum looked at Grandma Carter, and mumbled “stsurde?”


“Ysss,” Grandma replied as she nodded her head.  “Tstmtmistpdbnfrd.”  We all nodded in response to that - after all, it’s not fun when you’re afraid, is it?







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