“So, what are you guys planning to do on Sunday?”
I looked over the table at Alicia, Mary and Cathy. We were in the library, in theory discussing a project for our English class. We had just started to read An Inspector Calls, a play I had seen once with Granny on a trip into London. I remember it wasn’t that bad, but somehow our teacher was sucking the life out of it.
“Well,” Alicia said as she sat back, her hand resting on her dark hair, “Mum and Dad are taking us off to the Lake District - from what I overheard, they think this may be the last chance we have for a quiet holiday before the baby arrives.”
I nodded when I heard that - Alicia’s mother was now nearly eight months pregnant, and when I saw them last week she had a rather visible bump in front of her. She looked happy however.
“Does that mean some family games,” Mary said as she grabbed her carton of juice and took a sip.
“No idea - Mum’s getting more tired. We’ll see what happens though. What about you Cathy?”
“This weekend? Helping Mummy at the florist’s all day Saturday - it’s a very busy weekend for her. I think we’re going to a country pub for lunch on Sunday.”
“Better than me then,” Mary said with a sigh. “We’re going to my grandmother’s for the day - she’s a real old battleaxe, lives in some place called Carrington.”
I finished off my pudding and picked up the tray. “Well, we’re having a family lunch - Grandpa and Grandma Carter are going to call us on Sunday at noon, and then Granny is cooking.”
“So everyone is meeting up,” Alicia said as she pushed her tray away for a moment. “How’s your aunt?”
“Getting bigger,” I said, “but not as big yet as your mother. I think this summer is going to be very different.”
“For you and me both,” Alicia said with a smile. “How’s Cassie coping?”
“She’s already picking out the toys for her little sister.”
“Oh, so it’s a girl,” Cathy said as she looked at me.
“I have no idea - if Mum and Dad know, they’re not saying. At any rate, I don’t mind what it is - I get to be big sister twice over.”
“I’m not sure Angela feels the same way,” Alicia said with a smile. “Right - time for English class. I want today over and done with.”
“So they’re all busy on Sunday?”
“Yeah, Mum - so they won’t be able to come round.” I was sitting at my table in my room, having finally finished my homework for the weekend. Cassie was in her own room - I could hear the portable DVD player been used by her.
“Homework all done?”
I nodded as I pushed my chair away from the table with my hands. I could not use my feet - my ankles were tightly bound together with white rope and pulled under the seat, then secured to the band of rope that was holding my waist against the chair back.
This was becoming a bit of a tradition - a way to make sure I stuck at my homework. IT may seem strange, but there was a reward at the end of it - one Mum was starting to give as she handed me a pair of white socks to put on my hands.
“I hope Cassie has finished her homework as well,” I said as I pulled the socks over my hands.
“She has, and she is already watching a DVD,” Mum said as she crossed my wrist behind the back of the chair and tied them tightly together with rope. I tried to twists them, before saying “that’s great Mum” as she tied my arms to the wooden chair back, and my wrists against the centre spar.
“When I’m done, I’ll wheel you in to join her until supper time,” Mum said as she looked at me. I was wearing a pair of blue flannelette pyjamas, with bed socks pulled up over my feet and legs, which was protecting me from the ropes.
“Thanks,” I said as she passed some more rope around my upper body, fixing me to the chair back. As I looked down, I could see the band of rope around my legs above my knees.
Mum was wearing a blue smock top, the front of it covering her bump, and a pair of stretch pants with slippers on her feet. Tying off the last knot, she picked up a handkerchief and a strip of knotted towel.
“Fnksmmm” I said as she pushed the cloth into my mouth, and my lips closed over the knot as she tied the towelling around my head, making sure it was nice and tight.
“So,” Mum then said as she looked in the box, “Would you like a colour to match your pyjamas?”
“Yspllss,” I mumbled as she took out a roll of light blue microfoam tape. Tearing the end loose, I sat still as she wrapped it tightly around my head, trapping my hair against my neck as she did so.
“that reminds me,” Mum said as she tore the end off and smoothed it down, “I’m taking you and Cassie to the hairdresser tomorrow - you need a cut and style.”
“Awmmmm” I said, but how was I going to be able to protest against this? She had me exactly where she wanted me, so I just had to go along with it as she tied one of her scarves over my mouth, also a pale blue, and then pushed me into Cassie’s room.
“Hlllsss,” Cassie mumbled from her position on the bed as I was wheeled in. She was very tightly hogtied, her wrists crossed and secured into the small of her back and the rope over her own socks. The rest of her was wrapped in bands of rope over her “Hello Kitty” pink pyjamas, and a band of pink tape was visible under the white scarf that covered her mouth.
“Enjoy the film,” Mum said as she closed the door, and we both started to watch The Railway Children.
“ddmtlu,” Cassie mumbled as she turned her head and looked at me.
“Hrdrssrrmtr,” I nodded in reply, wondering what exactly she had in mind for us...
Toni’s Hairdressing Parlour was the place that Cassie and I found ourselves on Saturday morning. We both had on jeans and sweatshirts, and had a look on our faces that roughly translated as “Why are we here?” when we walked into the room.
“Mrs Craig - so nice to see you again,” Toni said as she met us inside the door. She was an older woman than mum, and was dressed in a black smock that buttoned up the side, with matching trousers and trainers.
“”Hello Toni,” Mum said as she closed the door behind us, “I think the girls could do with a wash and cut today.”
“Of course - any particular style?”
Mum looked at us for a moment, before saying “Let them choose - but remember girls, it has to be suitable for school.”
“Really, Mum?” Cassie said with a big smile, “You’ll let us pick?”
“Within reason,” she said to both of us with a smile. Well, this was an invitation not to be missed, as we sat in the seats and let Toni’s girls get to work, while Mum sat back with a cup of coffee.
One hour later, Toni looked at both of us in the mirror, and said “There - what do you think Mrs Craig?”
Cassie was beaming - her hair had been trimmed and cut back away from her face, but allowed to hang down the side of her head with a slight wave created by the use of curlers.
As for me, I had decided some time ago to try my hair shorter for a while, so I had it cut with a fringe over my eyes, and cut back around my neck so that the edge just covered the back of my neck.
“Very nice,” Mum said eventually, “and at least you did not try to get it dyed pink. Come on - we need to go and collect some flowers before we head home, but I think you two deserve a treat first.”
We left the hairdresser and walked to a nearby cafe, where Mum bought us both ice cream sundaes. As we sat in the window watching the world go by, we saw three police cars go past, their lights flashing and the siren sounding as they did so.
“Something must have happened,” Mum said as she looked at the third car speeding past, “I hope nobody has been hurt.”
“Maybe there has been a kidnapping in the town centre,” Cassie said, and she smiled as she said it. Her capacity for making light of the most terrifying of ideas... I know she is growing up, but there is a piece of me that hopes it is always there.
As it was, however, she was far closer to the truth than we realised - when we had finished our treat, we went towards the florist Mum wanted to visit, but as we got closer we saw the police cars were around the bank next door to it - and as we walked in, we saw Cathy with her two aunts, talking to a man we all recognised.
“Mrs Craig,” DCI Hampton said as he turned and looked at us, “I think these ladies could do with a friendly face.”
“Belinda, Penelope, what happened,” Mum said as she looked at Cathy’s mothers. Belinda was wearing a long sleeved pinafore style dress, over a whir jumper, with black suede boots, while Penelope was wearing a green blouse and jeans, the legs tucked into knee length black leather boots.
“Cassie, Jenny, over here,” we heard a familiar voice say, and looking to the other side of the shop we saw Colin sitting with Cathy. My friend was wearing a cream coloured blouse over a pink top, blue denim shorts, dark leggings and a pair of grey Ugg boots. I could see some rope marks on her wrists, and she had been crying.
“Cathy, what happened?” I came and sat beside her while Cassie went over to join Mum.
“We were held hostage,” Cathy said as she looked at me. “We arrived this morning to open the shop up, only to find four masked and armed men waiting for us. They forced us inside, locked and closed the door, then told us they were going to rob the bank next door.
“Anyway, they pushed us into the store room, and then they gave Mummy,” she said as she looked at Penelope, her arms folded over the front of her blouse, “some lengths of cord and forced her to tie me up. She tied my wrists together behind my back,” Cathy continued as she showed me the red marks around her wrists, “then tied my ankles and legs together after they made me sit down on the floor. They then made Mum tie Mummy up in the same way, before she was bound next to us.”
“You must have been terrified,” I said as I held Cathy in my arms, and she nodded as she started to cry a little on my shoulder. Colin looked away - I think he was a little embarrassed at what was happening, but I could tell he wanted to help as well.
“Anyway,” Cathy eventually said, “They pushed some cloths into our mouths to keep us quiet, then one of them watched us while the others used our back yard to get into the bank. I have no idea what happened in there, but we were in no position to argue. Truth to tell though and she looked at me as she said this, “I found it a little bit exciting. I remembered the stories you told of what happened to you and Cassie, and I tried to do the same as you had done.”
I smile din return, then said “Yeah - but Mum was terrified at what happened, and I guess your mums must have been as well.”
“They were,” Cathy said as she watched Belinda hugging Penelope. “I kept trying to talk to them, to reassure them I was all right - after all, they play the games with each other as well.
“Eventually, the men came back with big bulging bags, and then they slapped lengths of brown packing tape over our mouths - I guess to keep the cloths in. They left us sitting on the floor, until half an hour ago, when the police arrived and freed us. Colin and his father came in as well.”
“We were passing,” Colin said finally, “and when dad saw what had happened, he went into DCI mode and came in to ask the questions. I just came and sat with Cathy - and then you arrived.”
I nodded and said “Thank you,” which made him blush slightly. Cathy could see it as well, as she said “Excuse me for a moment - I need to go to the toilet.” She stood up and walked away, leaving a very red Colin with me.
Eventually he said “Jenny - can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said as I looked at Mum and Cassie, “What is it?”
“Well,” he said as he lowered his head and brushed at the floor with his foot, “I was wondering if you would like to come to a school disco with me? I mean, I’ll understand if you say no, but...”
Well, that took me completely by surprise. “A disco? At your school? Well....”
“Oh it’s all right; it was a stupid thing to ask any...”
“I’d love to.”
Colin’s jaw would have hit the floor as he looked at me. “I’m sorry, did you just say...”
“I’d love to come - and thank you for inviting me Colin. I just need to ask Mum and Dad as well.” Taking out my mobile phone, I handed it to him and said “Put your number in - I’ll call you later once I get a chance to ask them, and you can tell me when you’re coming.”
“Ssshhhh sure,” he stammered as he took the phone and started to create a new contact entry. As he did so, Cathy came back and said “Jenny, are you free for the rest of today?”
“Y... Yeah, why?”
“We need some help to catch up on orders - can you stay here with us and help me out? I’ll show you what to do, and we can drop you off at home later.”
“Have you asked Mum?”
“They have,” Mum said as she came over, “and you can bring our order back with you. I think you’d be a great help here - given your special skills and experience.” She winked at me as she said this, and I could see DCI Hampton standing watching us.
“Yeah, I’d love to,” I said with a smile, my hand behind my back and waving at Colin. I felt him putting the phone back in my hand as his father said “Come on Colin - we need to meet your mum, or she’ll accuse me of being too much on the job again.”
“Coming Dad,” he said as he walked past me, but not before whispering “Thanks” into my ear. I put my phone in my pocket and stuck my tongue out at Cassie, who was making rude faces behind Mum’s back - making a kissing shape with her lips and things. She stopped as Mum turned round, before she said “All right, Penelope - I’ll see you later with Jenny.”
She left the store with Cassie, Colin and his dad, as Belinda said “right - enough excitement for one day, we need to get on with those orders. Cathy, Jenny - you go in the back and Cathy will show you how to make a bouquet. Penny, open up - we have customers to serve.”
For my first taste of a Saturday job, it actually went rather well. I was surprised at how skilled Cathy was - she doesn’t particularly like Art at school, but she knew how to arrange flowers to show them to their best advantage.
We sorted the orders out, then helped at the front of the store while Penelope, or Penny as she insisted I call her, went out with the van. Before I knew it, it was five o’clock, and we were walking to the van with three big bunches of flowers.
“Your father sent very specific instructions,” Belinda said as I climbed in behind the driver’s seat with Cathy. As we set off, she said to me quietly “So, did he ask you?”
I looked at her and nodded, as she said “About time - I’ve seen the way he looks at you when we meet.”
“Yeah - but I thought Mary liked him?”
“She might - that’s for you two to sort out eventually. For now, just enjoy the fact he asked you out,” she said as we drove down the street.
“He never even noticed my new hairstyle.”
“Boys never do,” Cathy said with a smile, and then she nudged me in the ribs.
“Thanks,” Dad said as Belinda handed him the three bunches of flowers, and I waved to the three of them as they drove off.
“So, kiddo - hard day at the coal face?”
“Different - I mean, they had a real scary start to their day, but they just kept going.”
“Bit like us then,” he said as he closed the door behind us. “Mum’s in the kitchen - get yourself a drink while I hide these.”
I walked in to see Cassie at the table, and Mum at the cooker. Going to the fridge, I got a can of soft drink and sat down, watching Cassie as she finished a drawing.
“All done,” she said as Dad came in. “I’ll put it in my bag for Monday.” As she left, I said “Mum, Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Dad said as he sat down, “What is it?”
“Well, Colin Hampton asked me today if I could go to a disco with him next week. Do you mind if I go?”
Mum stopped stirring the pot, and turned to look at Dad. He smiled back in return, before saying “Of course not - just tell him he has to answer to me if anything happens to you.”
“JOHN!” Mum said as she threw a wet cloth at him. I smiled and went into the front room, getting out my phone with every intention of calling him, but I was stopped by the phone ringing and Alicia’s name appearing on the screen.
Answering it, I said “hey, Alicia - what’s up?” There was a silent pause, and then I heard Alicia say “Jenny, you know how I said Mum and Dad weren’t saying anything?”
“Yeah - why?”
“Well, we didn’t get to go on the holiday after all.”
I sat down and said “Ali, are you telling me...”
“Yeah,” Alicia said, and I could hear her breathing. “I’ve got a baby brother.”
I have no idea how I looked, but Mum told me later my shriek could be heard halfway down the street. “But...” I eventually said as I calmed down, “I thought your mother was not due for another month!”
“Yeah, well, little Andy decided it was time for him to come out anyway.”
“Yup - Andrew Simon Bowden, born Saturday 9th March, a healthy seven pounds five. Mother and baby doing fine, and big sisters in a state of shock and awe.”
“I’ll bet,” I said as Mum finally appeared to see what the screech was about. She was about to say something when the telephone rang, and she went to answer it.
“Listen,” Alicia said, “Given we’re not going away, and given Dad is going to be rather busy tomorrow, I think Angela and I are going to the Manor tomorrow. Any chance of you coming over later tomorrow?”
“I’ll ask Mum, but it depends on a few things,” I said, then turned my back to the door and said “Ali, Simon asked me to his school disco today.”
There was a short silence, and then she said “About flaming time - do you know at the New Year’s Party he could hardly take his eyes off you?”
“You knew? Why the heck didn’t you say anything?”
“Not my place, Jen - besides, some things you just have to find out for yourself. Talk to you later - Dad wants to take us to the hospital.” The line went dead, and I looked to the door as Mum came in.
“Was that Alicia?” she said, and as I nodded she continued “That was Lady Holderness, telling me the good news. She’s going to bring Alicia over after lunch tomorrow - they have a family meal before that, and then Suzie has to go to her other grandparents for a visit.”
“All right, Mum,” I said as I looked at her. “So, she has a baby brother.”
“Yeah - I don’t think Anne knows what she’s letting herself in for,” Mum said with a little smile. “Come on then - tea’s going to be ready soon.”
For once, the Sunday morning service was blessedly short, which I enjoyed given what was going to happen once we got home. At the end of the service, we have a tradition that the younger kids hand out small bunches of daffodils to the women in the church. I used to love doing it, but this time I was considered too old, so I got to watch as Cassie and the others handed out the bunches instead.
Cassie was wearing a white dress, with a floral pattern on the front and short sleeves, and a white cardigan over the top of it. White socks and black shoes completed the outfit, as she walked up and down the aisle with the rest of her Sunday School class, handing out the wrapped bunches.
“Think she’ll look good walking down the aisle with your new family member in her hand,” Aunt Cassie said as she nudged me in the ribs. She was wearing a blue cornflower coloured dress with flesh coloured tights and a pair of blue shoes.
“Maybe,” I said quietly, “Depends if it is a boy or a girl. Do you know?”
Aunt Cassie looked at me, and just smiled as Cassie came back to join Mum and Dad. “If your parents are not going to tell you, neither am I. Some things in life should come as a surprise.”
I must have looked crestfallen, because Dad nudged me in the ribs from the other side and said “It won’t be long kiddo - and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with either him or her.”
I smiled at that, before we stood up and made our way to the doors at the back of the church. Mum was wearing a pink and white dress with an expanding panel at her stomach, and a pink jacket, while Dad was his usual casual self in a shirt and v-necked jumper with slacks.
I just wanted to get out of the church, and for once I actually got my way. Aunt Cassie got into the back of the car with us, as we drove back to the house in record time.
As we walked in, Granny came out of the kitchen. “There you are,” she said as she dried her hands, and then smoothed down the apron that was covering her blue and green dress. “You’d better get the laptop booted up - they will call in a few minutes.”
As Dad went into the living room, Cassie held up a bunch of daffodils. “For you, Granny,” she said with a smile, “and I have some for Aunt Connie too.”
“For me,” we heard Aunt Connie say behind us, “That sounds great.” We turned to see her coming in, wearing a blue and black swirly top over black leggings, Uncle Dave coming in behind her.
“Thank you very much,” she said as she took the bunch of flowers from Cassie. “Now, you two get in there and talk to Australia - We’re going to talk to Granny about something.”
We watched as they went into the kitchen with Aunt Cassie and Granny, before we walked into the front room. Dad had set the laptop up on the coffee table, and we all sat on the long couch as a ringing sound came from the machine.
Mum leaned forward and clicked on a button, before saying “Happy Mother’s Day Mum,” as we saw Grandma and Grandpa Carter on a window. Dad expanded the whole thing to fill the screen, save for a little box in the corner where we could see the four of us.
“And the same to you Jennifer,” Grandma Carter said as they waved to us. They were sitting on some sort of Bamboo swing, and in the background I could see the outside wall of their house. They both had on open necked tops, and it looked as if there was a bright light on.
“Too warm to go inside yet,” Dad said as he looked at them.
“A bit - we’ll go to bed once we have finished the call,” Grandpa said as he looked into the camera. “how are things over there?”
“Grey and cold - typical March Sunday,” Mum said with a smile. “Did Jess talk to you?”
“She called earlier - apparently she has to do some work today, but we saw Patty. She’s getting bigger as well.”
Aunt Jessica was my mum’s sister - she lives near Edinburgh, in a small town called Linlifgo or something like that. Patricia was her daughter - Uncle Harry died a couple of years ago in a car accident, and we haven’t really seen them since then.
“Well, maybe she’ll call here later,” Mum said, and I could see she was a little upset for some reason.
“Don’t worry, Jenn,” Grandpa said, “She swore blind she would come down when the birth happens to see all of you. Patty is apparently getting to be of a handful though - it may be she needs to have a dose of Miranda to calm her down.”
“I heard that,” Granny shouted through from the kitchen.
“I’ll give her a call later,” Mum said with a smile again. “So how did you spend your day?”
“Dad took me to the harbour for lunch, and then we went to see a play,” Grandma Carter said, “You?”
“Church, and the girls are here for lunch,” Dad said. “By the way, Anne Bowden had a baby boy yesterday.”
“Oh that’s wonderful news,” Grandma Carter said, “And you, Jennifer, how is your little...”
“Fine,” Mum said quickly, “the scan showed no problems.” So that was another chance of finding out lost.
“Right,” Grandpa Carter said, “It’s getting late here, so I think we’ll go for now. Did you get the package?”
“We did,” Dad said, “and thank you. We’ll let them know later.”
“Have a great day, girls,” Grandma Carter said as she waved at us, before the screen went black.
“Perfect timing,” Granny said as she came in from the kitchen, “Lunch is ready. Girls, go and wash your hands.”
We went up the stairs, and I looked at myself in the mirror. I had on a cream silk roll neck sweater, a waistcoat and leggings, and a pair of short black suede boots. To me, I looked like the perfect little lady, especially with my locket around my neck.
“How old is Patty anyway?”
I turned to look at Cassie. “She’ll be nine now - a couple of years younger than you. Why?”
“Just wanted to know,” she said as she dried her hands off, “Come on - I’m starving.”
Lunch was a proper roast beef dinner - all the trimmings, with a starter and rice pudding for afters. Once we had all finished, we went into the front room and sat quietly, while Mum and Dad handed out cups of coffee, and Cassie and I had a glass of squash.
We all were dozing slightly, so the knock on the door took us a little bit by surprise. Granny went to answer it, and we heard her say “Lucinda - Congratulations!” She then came in, followed by Lady Holderness, and Alicia and Angela behind her.
“Hey there,” I said as I came over and hugged her, “Welcome to the sorority of big sisters. How does it feel?”
“Not half a scary for her as for me,” Angela said as Dad took her black leather jacket. She had on a green cowl necked top, a pair of smart blue jeans and black ankle boots. Alicia was wearing a red clay coloured sweatshirt and black jeans, with a pair of white sneakers. “I’m old enough, in theory, to be his mother, and instead I’m going to be the older and wiser sister.”
“While I get to be the hellraiser - according to Dad anyway,” Alicia said as she sat down. Dad handed her grandmother a cup of coffee as he said “How is Anne?”
“Resting - I think she and Simon were taken a little bit by surprise on Saturday morning. Angela had to stay with Alicia while he drove her to the hospital. Alexander and Susan are visiting her today with Suzanne and Robert.”
“Which is why they’re not here,” Alicia said quietly, “It gives the two of us a chance to calm down after all the excitement.”
“Dave,” Dad said as he put his cup down, “We’re on dish duty. Let’s get it done now, so that it’s not hanging over our heads.”
“How are you anyway, Lucinda,” Granny said as she sat down as well.
“Tired, excited - all sorts of things really. We honestly did not think we would have another grandchild, and now - well, Desmond is delighted to have a second grandson.”
“Will he be anything like Bobby,” Cassie said in an innocent voice.
“We shall see,” Lady Holderness said as she sipped from her cup. “So what did you get your mother for a present?”
“A big bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates,” Cassie said, “but she won’t let us have one. Maybe I can sneak one...”
“Oh no you don’t” Mum said, “Do I have to stop you from getting them?”
I groaned inwardly when I heard that - it was a red flag to a bull, and when Cassie said “Make me,” I looked at Alicia, and she looked at me.
“Is that a challenge, young lady,” Mum said, “because I can make you.”
“We could stop you as well,” Cassie said, and in that moment, I knew how we were going to spend the afternoon.
Especially when Aunt Cassie said “Oh, a contest - we haven’t had a family contest like that for ages. Jenny, get the box - I have an idea.”
As I left the room, I heard Aunt Cassie saying “now, here’s what we’re going to do,” and then nothing as I went to fetch our box of supplies. When I got back, Dad had moved two chairs into the middle of the room, with Granny and Lady Holderness sitting in one each.
“Here’s the deal,” Aunt Cassie said, “We’re going to have three rounds - three generations, in a contest to see who can escape first. The winner of each round will then take part in a contest of champions. Each group gets a slightly different situation, but you will not be secured to anything - giving you the opportunity to do whatever you need to do to escape.
“First up - Mum and Lucinda. Amanda and Alicia, you get to take care of your grandmother - Jenny and Cassie, Mum. You have free rein, but remember - do not tie them to the chair, and hands must be behind their backs.”
Well, how could any of us refuse a request like that? As I took a length of rope and guided Granny’s hands behind her back, Cassie knelt at her feet and started to tie her ankles tightly together, making sure the knot was behind her ankles.
Looking over, I could see that Alicia had arranged her grandmother’s arms in a box behind her back, and was tying her wrists to her elbows, while Angela was pulling her legs together below her knees. Lady Holderness was dressed, as usual, in a twin set with a tweed knee length skirt, tan coloured tights and brown shoes, but she was smiling as her legs were drawn together.
As Cassie tied Granny’s legs together over her trousers, I went to the box and started to sort out some suitable gagging material. Alicia had started to wrap some rope around Lady Holderness’ arms and upper body, while Cassie was wrapping a length around Granny’s wrists and waist, pinning her wrist against her back.
“At least we get to stay on the seats,” Lady Holderness said quietly, “We’ll bear that in mind when it comes to the next round.” She looked down at the band of rope around her own arms and tried twisting them round.
Granny nudged her and said “You do realise, Lucinda, that - oh, you haven’t.”
She looked over her shoulder as Cassie taped her fingers together on each hand, Alicia doing the same to her grandmother, while Angela and I picked up a small cloth each.
“Open wide,” Angela said with a smile, as we pushed the cloths into the mouths of our grandmothers, and then tied a length of towelling between their lips, the knot we had tied in the middle sitting between their teeth,
Cassie and Alicia then tied a headscarf over the head of each of them, before we wound the silver duct tape around their mouths and heads to keep them even quieter.
“Now then,” Aunt Cassie said as we sat back down, “You may begin. Let’s see which granny is the better escape artist. Cassie, you are the judge.”
“GREAT!!” Cassie stood up and watched both of them intently, as Alicia and I slipped out of the room.
“So,” Alicia said as I took a can of soft drink from the fridge, “Colin asked you out?
“Yeah,” I said as I blushed a little, “and was I really that blind to the way he was looking at me? You think I would have noticed it before that.”
“Actually,” Alicia said as she sat down at the table, “It was Bobby that clued me in, but once I saw the way he could not take his eyes off you, it was obvious. How do you feel about him?”
“He’s nice enough,” I said as I took a drink, “it’s just that I’ve never had anyone ask me out before.”
“Fair enough - there’s a first time for everything,” Alicia said, “but he’s cute - so I hope you have a great time.” She stayed quiet for a moment as Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie went outside with Mum, then she said “so how long until you have another brother or sister to look after?”
“I think it’s three months,” I said as I put the can down. “The really frustrating thing is, I have no idea if it is a brother or a sister - and they are saying nothing?”
“Your mum and dad? Well, maybe it’s both.”
“I think they would have told us if it was twins.”
“Did they tell you when Cassie was coming?”
I sat there in thought for a moment. After all, I was just over two years old when Cassie was born, and all I knew was that someone knew was joining the family. When I saw her in the little crib, I fell in love with her at first sight, but I probably did not know if it was a boy or girl at that time.
“No,” I eventually said, “I guess they didn’t. I’ll find out the same time they do.”
“Yes, you will.”
I looked up to see Granny standing in the doorway, a length of rope hanging down from her wrist and a wet cloth in her hand.
“I won,” she said quietly, “but I need to help Lucinda to get free. Would you go and ask your mum and aunts to come in - they need to take part in the next heat.”
“I’ll do that,” I said as I stood up, while Alicia followed Granny out of the room. I made my way to the patio outside, where Mum, Aunt Connie and Aunt Cassie were sitting round the table in the garden chairs.
I was surprised to see that Aunt Cassie had a cigarette in her hand, and there was an ashtray on the table, as she was talking to the others.
“I saw Jo last Thursday,” she was saying as I came closer, “She asked after both of you, and said to tell you Jennifer that she was very jealous of you.”
I watched as Aunt Cassie sucked on the end of the white stick, the other end glowing red, and then said “I think when I told her what was going to happen, she was impressed that you would - oh there you are Jenny!”
I had seen Aunt Connie look at me, then at Aunt Cassie, while she stubbed out the glowing stick and blew out a ring of smoke. “I didn’t know you smoked Aunt Cassie,” I said as I came up to the table.
“Only on certain occasions,” she said with a smile, before popping a mint into her mouth. “So, who won?”
“That’s ten you owe me,” Aunt Connie said, “Mum always won whenever we had escape challenges.”
“True - but Lucinda Holderness is no slouch either. You know that as well as any of us. Still,” Aunt Cassie said as she took a note out and handed it over. “So, I guess it’s our turn now?”
“That’s what Granny said - but I didn’t think Mum and Aunt Connie would take part.”
“I think there’s actually going to be two contests,” Mum said as she stood up, “One for us, and one for Aunt Cassie and Angela. I think she’s been given honorary adult status for this competition.”
“that could be interesting,” I said to myself as I followed them in, finding Angela already standing in the middle of the living room as her grandmother was binding her wrists together behind her back. As I peeped, I could see she had a pair of socks on her hands, as Granny handed a pair to the other three.
“Would you move please Alicia,” her grandmother said as she looked over Angela’s shoulder, “Mrs Craig and Mrs Brown will be sitting on the couch.”
“And where will the others be sitting,” Angela said as she moved to a chair, allowing Mum and Aunt Connie to sit down as they pulled the socks over their hands.
“The floor - if you are ready, Cassie?”
“Of course, Your Ladyship,” Cassie said as Dad and Uncle Dave came in, looking on with great interest.”
“I hear Mum beat you,” Dad said to Lady Holderness, who nodded and smiled in reply. “It was a close thing though - I still have some life left in me,” she said as she crossed Aunt Cassie’s wrists behind her back and started to tie them together.
Granny waited for Mum and Aunt Connie to settle, before she knelt in front of Mum and tied her ankles tightly together, side by side, over her tights, and then secured Aunt Connie’s ankles together over the cuffs of her leggings.
She then took two more lengths of rope and tied their legs together, just above their knees. “That’s not where you normally do it,” I said as I watched.
“No it’s not,” Granny said with a smile, “Mum and your aunt have special dispensation not to have their hands behind them, but I’ll still make sure they can’t get free that easily.”
As she was doing this, Lady Holderness had tied rope around the upper bodies of Angela and Aunt Cassie, with two bands of rope above and below their chests, their arms held tightly to their sides. “If you two ladies will sit down,” Lady Holderness said as she gathered more rope, “then I can secure your legs.”
They sat themselves on the floor, and watched as their ankles were crossed and lashed together, while Granny tied the wrists of Mum and Aunt Connie together, palm to palm, the rope sitting comfortably over their sock covered hands. She then tied them down to the rope around their knees, before securing their upper arms to their sides.
“So what do we get to be gagged with,” Mum said as she watched Aunt Cassie and Angela been tightly secured at their legs.
“For you,” Granny said, “you get the scarf and tape treatment.” She took four headscarves, two grey and two white, and rolled them into bands before tying a knot in the centre of each of them. She handed the two grey ones to Lady Holderness, and then held one of them in front of Mum.
“Can we talk whhllwrggd,” she mumbled as Granny pulled the knot into her mouth, and then took the ends around her head and tied them tightly together.
“You can try,” was all Granny said as one by one the four contestants were tightly gagged, and then the scarf gags covered with a band of white micropore tape that went around their head.
It was right then that I noticed that Cassie was nowhere to be seen. “Hey, where’s Cass,” I said as I looked round.
“She went into her bedroom - she had a phone call,” Dad said as Granny and Lady Holderness stood up. “All right ladies,” I heard her say as I left the room, “You may start to try and escape - NOW!”
Walking up the stairs, I could hear talking from Cassie’s bedroom, and I knocked on the door. Hearing her say “Come in,” I opened the door to see her on her bed, her legs kicking up and down in the air as she was speaking.
“Yeah, I’d love to come to a pool party with you and Claire, Hazel,” she said as she looked at me, “When is it going to be?”
I sat down on the bed and watched as Cassie turned over onto her back.
“Nah - we’ve got the family over for the afternoon. Listen, three weeks should be fine - I’ve always wondered what was inside that building, so it should be fun.
“Great - I’ll tell Mum and Dad the invitation is on the way. See you tomorrow.” She ended the call and looked at me. “The twins are having a swim party at the private health club out by the shopping mall,” she finally said, “and I’ve been invited.”
“Very nice,” I said as I stood back up, “but you need to come back downstairs - the next part of the contest is underway.
Cassie jumped off the bed and walked down the stairs with me, in time to see Mum and Aunt Connie sitting back in the chair, laughing through their scarf and tape gags at Angela and Aunt Cassie. Aunt Cassie was looking over her shoulder, and it was obvious she was trying to find some give in her wrists, but it was Angela who was the real centre of attention.
She was trying to manoeuvre her legs back through her body, by pushing up with her feet and then back. I could see what she was trying to do - slide her bottom through her legs and then bring her arms up - and I also could see that Lady Holderness had not secured her wrists to her waist as we had done to her.
Two things were stopping her, however. The first was the fact that she too was laughing, because Alicia was tickling her ribs. The second, and more obvious reason, was that her leans were too tight, and she was having extreme difficulty in actually banding her legs enough to get her arms under them.
“Sttptht,” Angela screamed out as she looked at Alicia, who just smiled sweetly as her fingers continued their devilish torture. It was enough for Aunt Cassie to somehow free her wrists, and then shuffle them round to her front as the rope rubbed against the top of her dress.
I watched as she untied her legs, and then reached up to release the ropes under her arms. Once they were loose, she slipped the bands up and over her head, before peeling the tape away from her mouth and pulling the grey scarf from her mouth.
“The winner, and still champion of the Craigs!” she called out before helping to untie Angela.
“Yhhbtuwrhlpd,” Aunt Connie said as she moved her hands around, pulling her legs up with her as she did so.
“Actually,” Aunt Cassie said with a smile, “You deserve that as well. Boys?”
“WhddumnnnNNNNNN” Mum called out as Dad stood behind her and started to tickle her ribs, while Uncle Dave did the same to Aunt Connie. “Be careful, boys,” Granny said as she came in, “I don’t think we’re quite ready for the new arrivals yet.”
“You are so dead, Alicia Bowden,” Angela finally said as she stood up, “and I mean that in a very real and loving way.”
“Oh come on Angie,” Alicia said with a smile, “What could you possibly do to me?”
“I’ll tell you what she can do to you,” Mum said as Dad eventually removed her gag, “She can be the one to bind you up for round 3 - once we have got free, so you girls go and do anything you need to do.”
We knew what Mum meant by that, so a few minutes later we came back to find that the area in front of the couch had been completely cleared, and Mum, Aunt Cassie and Angela were waiting.
“Auntie,” Cassie said, “How did you get free when your hands were in the pair of socks?”
“Fair question,” Aunt Cassie said, “and I’ll tell you when you’re older. Jenny, you’re with your mother - hands behind you, palm to palm please.”
“And big sis gets me,” Alicia said with a shrug as we walked forward and stood with our backs to our binders. Looking over my shoulder, I watched as Mum slowly got to her knees and put my hands together, binding my wrists tightly with the rope, and then passing the rope around my waist as she usually did.
“This is going to be easy,” Cassie said as our aunt did the same to her, and Angela to Alicia.
“Care to make a wager on that,” Aunt Cassie said as she pulled Cassie’s wrist against her back.
“Yeah - three of mum’s chocolates if I get free.”
“Deal,” Aunt Cassie said, and then I saw the roll of thin black tape in her hand. She peeled the end loose, and used it to tape Cassie’s fingers together, fore finger to middle one and pinkie to third finger, and then her thumbs together.
“Not fair,” Cassie said as Angela did the same to Alicia. “Fair,” Mum said, “After all, we had socks on our hands.”
“Can’t argue with that,” I said as I felt Mum passing some rope around my arms and stomach, fixing them in place by winding it round my elbows and then around my body, so that I could hardly move them. She then helped me to kneel down, as she started to tie my ankles together.
“For you three,” Aunt Cassie said as she wrapped rope around Cassie’s ankles, “The aim is not to get free - the aim is to be the first to get a flag and bring it back.”
“Sounds easy enough,” Alicia said as her legs were tied together above her knees, “Where are the flags?”
“At the bottom of the garden - Granny will be waiting with them.”
“Great - a rassssthrrtkshn,” Cassie said as Aunt Cassie pushed a folded up handkerchief into her mouth, then tied one of Dad’s ties between her lips, before wrapping the white tape around her head.
Alicia and I both received the same treatment, before we were helped to lie down on our stomachs. I reached round with my fingers, but as always the knots were out of reach - even if my fingers were not so well taped up.
“Ready, Get set - GO!” Aunt Cassie shouted, and we were off, Alicia and I rolling over onto our backs and sitting ourselves up, while Cassie started to squirm across the floor towards the seat that Angela was now sitting in.
“Wrktgfr,” Alicia said as she looked at me, and I nodded, shuffling round so that we were back to back as we braced our feet onto the ground and pushed up. Slowly, carefully, we helped each other to stand on our feet, taking a moment to catch our breath when we were done.
Which was enough time for Cassie to push herself up, resting her head on Angela’s lap as she got onto her feet, and then lifting her upper body so that she was able to start jumping for the open doorway. We looked at each other - and the race was on!
Dad had cleared the way for us through the kitchen to the back door, and as we hopped into the back garden I glanced over to the patio doors, seeing everyone watching through the glass doors as we made our way across the lawn.
Granny was standing at the bottom of the garden, three napkins in her hands. We managed to catch up with Cassie, all three of us arriving at the same time. We hopped round and held our hands out, only for Granny to say “Oh no - you were told to get the flag from me, not that I would hand you the flag. Come and get them...”
“Hgrrt,” Alicia said as she turned round, hopping back as she looked over her shoulder. I then had to stop myself laughing as she over balanced and fell onto the grass on her bottom, looking ruefully up as Cassie grabbed the first napkin and started to hop back.
“DNTLTHRWN!” Alicia shouted as I took a napkin and gave chase, while she got herself onto her knees and looked at Granny. I did not need to be told twice as I tried to catch up to her - which is not that easy. I may be older, bigger, faster - but Cassie is like greased lightning when she gets going, and she had a head start on me.
I still managed to catch her up at the back door, but she was in the house before me - and that was when her height advantage came into its own. She was able to get round the furniture much faster than I was, and reached the front room a few seconds before I did - Alicia bringing up the rear with Granny.
“YSSSSS” Cassie said as she jumped up and down, looking round as everyone clapped. I threw myself down onto the couch, Alicia following, as Mum left the room, returning after a few minutes with a large cream coloured box.
“I was going to share these out anyway,” Mum said as Dad, Uncle Dave and Lady Holderness started to untie the three of us, “and now is as good a time as any. Miranda is going to bring some cold drinks in, and you can have two each girls.”
“Btiwasprmsd three,” Cassie said as the gag was finally removed from her mouth.
“I don’t remember agreeing to that - you should discuss it with your aunt later when we have the Contest of Champions,” Mum said as she held the box, allowing me to pick a chocolate coffee and orange cream.
“You actually like them,” Alicia said as she took two chocolates and popped one into her mouth. “I never understood what people saw in orange creams.”
“Nor I in dark chocolate,” I said as Granny came in and put a tray of glasses on to the coffee table.
“So we have three generations in the final standoff,” Granny said as we took a drink, “perfect for a special scenario.” She looked over at Aunt Connie, and for a moment I thought I saw her frown.
“Is everything all right, Connie?”
“Yeah, Mum - I just felt a kick.”
“A kick,” Cassie said as she jumped up, “Can I feel it?”
“Sure,” Aunt Connie said as she motioned her over. Cassie out her hand on the belly, and smiled as she said “oh yeah - I can feel it now. What about you, Mum - can I feel your tummy?”
“Not right now, Poppet,” Dad said with a smile, “Mum’s getting a little tired now. Maybe later.”
I looked at Mum, who was sitting with her eyes closed, and then remembered something from earlier. “Mum, what did Grandma Carter mean about a package when we talked to her.”
“Oh that,” Dad said as he stood up. “Your grandparents sent through something for when the new baby arrived - but they sent outfits for both a boy and a girl, given they don’t know either. There was also something in there for both of you - would you like to see it?”
“YES PLEASE!” Cassie shouted out, so Dad left the room for a few minutes, returning with two large brown hats that for some reason had corks hanging from the brims.
“For the summer,” Granny said with a laugh, as we put them on, Cassie’s hat falling over her head as mine perched on my head.
“Wrong ones,” Dad said as she swapped them over, and it felt a lot more comfortable.
“So what is the final challenge,” Cassie said as she finished her glass.
“One you’ll like, my little bundle of energy,” Dad said, “Escape!”
“That sounds like fun,” Cassie said as she clapped her hands, “Are we all going to be in the same place?”
“Oh no, mon petite,” Dad said with a smile. “Can I have a word with Jenny, Connie and Lucinda in the kitchen please?”
I trooped out with Dad, and then he told us exactly what he had planned.....
“Now then,” Dad said as we came back in, “Mum, you are to go with Lucinda and Amanda. Cassie, you are to go with Connie and Jennifer, and Poppet, you go with Jenny and Alicia. They have been told what to do, and they will explain what is going to happen. Good luck to all three of you.”
“What’s going on,” Aunt Cassie asked as we escorted all three of them to the top of the stairs, “or does this mean we’re not all in the same place?”
“Precisely my dear,” Lady Holderness said as she and Amanda opened the door to Mum and Dad’s room and escorted Granny in, while Mum and Aunt Connie took Aunt Cassie into my room, and we took Cassie into her room.
“Right,” Alicia said with a smile as I closed the door, “What’s the plan?”
“We need to give Cassie here a very special tie - the works - and then I’ll explain everything.”
Alicia smiled as she heard that, and started to look round the room for other supplies, starting with Cassie’s sock drawer as she passed her a set of sports socks. “Put these on,” she said with a smile, “and then we can get to work.”
“Is everyone going to be tied the same way,” Cassie said as she slipped the socks up over her hands, then watched as I taped the tops to her arms with black electrical tape.
“They are, but I can’t say any more until you are ready,” I said as I tore the tape off, smoothed it down and then picked up some rope. “Hands behind your back, Cass - we need to make you nice and secure.”
“Thanks,” Cassie said as she crossed her wrists, looking at Alicia as I tied them tightly together in the usual way, with four passes around and two between her arms before tying it off. As I passed another length of rope around her waist, Alicia found a clean handkerchief, folding it before standing in front of Cassie and saying “Open wide, my friend - it’s time to be quiet now.”
“Hey,” Cassie said, “I just realised something - if I’m getting a special, then how will I know if I have beaten the others?”
“I’ll get to that,” I said as I pulled her wrists against her back and cinched the waist band, “now open wide and let Ali gag you.”
“Fine, fine - just asking,” Cassie said before Alicia pushed the handkerchief into her mouth, and then took one of Dad’s ties from the box and tied it between Cassie’s lips.
“What do I need next,” Alicia said as she looked at me while I tied Cassie’s arms tightly into her sides, her fingers flexing in the white socks either side of her arms.
“We’re going to need a headscarf and a woollen scarf,” I said, so Alicia left the room for a minute while I helped Cassie to sit down on the floor. “Cross your ankles,” I said quietly, and as she did so I started to tie them snugly together with the rope.
As I started to tie her legs together, below her knees, Cassie said “Whtdufnkbtmm?”
“About whether it’s a boy or a girl,” I said as I cinched the knee binding, and Cassie nodded in reply. “I don’t honestly know - but I can’t wait to find out,” I said quietly as I helped her to lie down and roll over, while Alicia returned with one of Mum’s old scarves and Cassie’s white winter one.
“Wait a minute,” Alicia said as she tied the scarf over Cassie’s hair, and then took a roll of duct tape, wrapping it round her head to trap the rest of the gag while the point of the headscarf came down to protect her hair. She then tied the woollen scarf over her mouth as well, while I pulled her ankles back and secured them to her chest rope.
The last touch was to secure the knot on her woollen scarf to the chest ropes with a thin length of cord, and then to tickle her. Well, the tickling wasn’t part of Dad’s plan, but come on - how often do I get the chance to do that to my sis with no fear of immediate retribution?
“Nnnsstppllsss” Cassie screamed out as she tried to wriggle out of the way, only for us to stop - not because of her, but because Dad knocked on the door and looked in.
“Right,” he said, “I can see Cassie is ready. We’re going to leave you know, poppet, and when you hear the bell ringing it’s very simple - you have to try and get free. The first of the three of you to make it down the stairs free of your bonds will be the winner. Until then, you can think of how you are going to do this. Come along girls.”
We walked out with Dad, who put his fingers to his lips as he opened the door to my room. Aunt Cassie was lying on the floor, tied in the same way save for the band of white tape I could see peeking out from under the scarf around her head. She also did not have a headscarf on - given they used the special tape on her, that was fine,
Granny was also tightly hogtied, but instead of a woollen scarf around her mouth she had a large shawl tied over her head, the knot sitting under her chin and trapping her mouth closed.
“This is the way we used to do it when we were girls,” Lady Holderness said as we slipped out, both Mum and Aunt Connie stretching their arms up as they did so.
“Alicia, Jenny,” Dad said to both of us, “I need you to stay at the top of the stairs - knowing Cassie at least, I think she may try to wriggle down the staircase. If she does, you need to stop her - or any of the others. They must not come down unless they can do it on their bottoms, understood?”
“Got it Dad,” we said quietly as the others went down the staircase. After a few moments, we all heard the kitchen cooking alarm go off, and the three contestants knew it was time to start.
“All right,” Alicia said as she sat on the blanket box, “Let me get this clear - they have to go downstairs, the first one to get down wins - but we’re not allowed to let them go down unless they can do it on their feet or on their bottom?”
“That’s what Dad said - which means they’re going to have to get out of their hogties somehow, with their hands covered and the knots out of reach.”
“And Cassie is going to accept that because?”
“Because,” I said as I saw the door to Cassie’s room starting to slowly edge inwards, “we are going to tell her - but not until we see what she does.”
“Fair enough,” Alicia said as she looked into Mum and Dad’s room. Granny was still lying on her stomach, and seemed to be looking round the room for something. At the same time, I looked into my room, where Aunt Cassie was rolling onto her side, her eyes fixed on the side of my bed.
“And she’s off,” Alicia said, as we saw Cassie wriggling out of her door on her stomach, her eyes fixed on the top of the stairs. We allowed her to wriggle towards the bathroom door, before I said “Sorry Cassie - we can’t allow you to try and go down the stairs like that.”
“wwwpls,” she mumbled, but she didn’t protest as we lifted her up and took her back into her room, laying her back on the floor. “We’ll leave the door open,” Alicia said as we left her mumbling and trying to flex her legs, “Just in case you want to try again.”
Looking back in Mum and Dad’s room, I could see that Granny had rolled onto her back, and was using her legs to push herself towards the dressing table. I could see a nail file on the side of her bed, and had an idea of what her plan was, but my role was clear - I could do nothing to help her.
Alicia motioned to me to come and look at my room, and as I did so I saw that Aunt Cassie had moved over to my bed, and was using the corner of the base to try and dislodge the scarf from around her head. She glanced over at us, and nodded to show she was all right before going back to rubbing the scarf against the metal.
As we stood there watching, we failed to notice the small body that was trying to wriggle quietly past us - until she managed to bump into the blanket box and mumble something under her breath. We both turned to see Cassie moving quickly across the floor, but before we could stop her from trying to go down the stairs she turned right instead of left, and made her way into Mum and Dad’s room.
“Did your father specifically say they could not help each other,” Alicia said as she looked at me.
“Err - no, no he didn’t,” I replied with a smile. “This could be about to get interesting. I’m going to get a couple of drinks - holler if something happens.”
I went down the stairs, passing the front room where Lady Holderness was talking with the others, and fetched two cans of soft drink from the fridge. As I passed the door again, Dad looked up and said “How’s it going up there?”
“Interesting,” I said as I went back up the stairs and handed a can to Alicia. I then looked into Mum and Dad’s room, to see that somehow Cassie had slipped the knot under Granny’s chin up so that the shawl was lying on the floor. Granny in turn had slipped Cassie’s scarf up and over her head, so that the loop of wool was now hitting against her back as she tried to move.
“What about Aunt Cassie,” I said to Alicia. We walked to my room to look in, to see that she too had dislodged the scarf, the band of white against her hair as she seemed to be doing something by my bed. She rolled over and looked at us, winking as she seemed to be doing something with her hands.
“So who do you think is going to win,” Alicia said as she sat back on the blanket box.
“I’m not sure - it depends if Granny and Cassie are working together to get one of them free or not. Aunt Cassie somehow got free earlier - and I’m still not sure how she did it - so the real question is what is she doing behind her back.”
“I have no idea,” I said as I drank from my own can, “but as I say, she has some skills. What does Suzie say about her?”
“She likes her as her teacher - apparently she has set them a reading task, allowing them to pick any book they want and to write an essay about why they like it. A lot of her friends picked Harry Potter, one or two The Hobbit, and Suzie...”
“Let me guess - Five Go Mad in Dorset?”
Alicia had to swallow before she looked at me. “No way - although she actually picked Five Get Into Trouble. When did you see that film?”
I blushed as I said “I found it hidden away on an old DVD that Dad had put away. He doesn’t know I’ve watched it, but I loved it. You?”
“Angela let me watch it one night - I guess she realised the chances of us watching it were...”
I stopped as I saw the door to my room open, and Aunt Cassie start to edge her way out, her back to us. I could see that my perfectly good sports socks had been ripped open at the toes, as her fingers wiggled at us before she turned round and started to hop to the top of the stairs.
As she reached the top, the door to Mum and Dad’s room opened and Cassie started to hop out as well. “Watch them,” I said as I went to my room, and saw the pair of sharp scissors from my craft box which had been under the bed lying on the floor.
Moving quickly back out, I looked in at Granny, who was lying on her side, her eyes laughing over her tape gag as she mumbled “fllwthm.”
I got the message, and went back out into the corridor. Alicia had moved, and as I glanced over the banister I could see her at the bottom of the stairs, watching as the two Cassies were making their way down the stairs on their bottoms.
In a way, I was grateful they had called a halt to their race for at least the time it was taking them to go down. Cassie was just ahead of Aunt Cassie, reaching the bottom of the stairs first and forcing herself to stand on her feet. She then started to hop along the hallway, and into the front room as Aunt Cassie stood herself up and headed to the kitchen.
“How on earth did she manage to get out of that hogtie,” Alicia said as I joined her at the bottom of the stairs, and I could hear a real hint of awe as she asked that.
“I have no idea,” I said as I heard laughter from the front room, and Aunt Connie say “Oh no you don’t - the deal was the first person to free themselves. We can’t help you this time, little one.”
“lrrtthn,” I heard Cassie say, and I made my way quickly to the kitchen to make sure she did not try anything stupid. Dad and Uncle Dave had already cleared everything out of the way in terms of dishes and other things but I knew where some things were that Cassie might think of using - and I didn’t want her to try that without supervision.
As I entered the kitchen, I could see Aunt Cassie at the work surface by the cooker, trying to reach behind her for a knife from the block of six that were there. She glanced at me and said “Wrsscssseee?” I turned and looked at the doorway to the front room, and then said quietly “Coming this way - safety first?”
Aunt Cassie nodded and instead pulled out a drawer, looking over her shoulder as she rummaged inside for something, and then back to the doorway as Cassie started to hop back towards the kitchen. Alicia allowed her to come past, and then went into the front room herself, nodding at me as she did so.
“Tffmymww,” Cassie mumbled as she hopped in to the kitchen, while Aunt Cassie pushed the drawer closed with her bottom and looked at my sister. “Duwntmhlp,” she mumbled through the tape around her head, but Cassie shook her head and sat in a kitchen chair, trying to rub the rope away from her chest and arms.
Aunt Cassie was now looking straight ahead, but I could hear something rubbing against the rope behind her. The way she was standing, I could not see what it was, but there was a definite rasping sound.
“Are they both all tight in here?”
I turned to see Dad standing behind me, looking at both of the others.
“I think so - I’ll make sure Cassie doesn’t do anything dangerous or stupid,” I said as I noticed that the ropes around her legs were starting to work loose as a result of her wriggling about.
“All right - I’m going to go and free your grandmother. I feel that she may have already conceded defeat.” He put his hands on my shoulders and then kissed me before he headed for the staircase.
I glanced up at aunt Cassie to watch her wriggling her hands round in front of her, her hands now free. Looking behind her, I could see the rope on the work surface, and I could also see the small vegetable knife placed next to them which she had used to cut her wrists free.
She allowed herself to slip down into a sitting position n the floor as she bent her legs up, and started to untie the rope around her thighs and below her knees. As she did so, she grunted at Cassie “Yrdngrrtkpgng” as the rope started to fall down her legs.
“Cntuhlpm,” Cassie said as she looked over her shoulder at me. “Sorry Cassie,” I said with a shrug, “Dad told me not to help you in any way. You’re just going to have to figure it out for yourself.”
“fnkslt” she mumbled as she started to kick eh rankles loose, watching as Aunt Cassie released her own legs and then started to pick at the ropes that were holding the band of rope tightly around her own chest. As she picked at those knots, Casey herself managed to kick her ankles free, and then started to try and find the knots on her own wrists.
This was when she hit her big problem - the socks on her own hands were still acting like mittens, whereas Aunt Cassie was able to use her fingers. I could see the band of black holding the remnants of the socks to her arms, but what I still could not figure out was how she had torn them - with her fingers or with the craft scissors.
As she looked over at me, I could see Aunt Cassie pulling the rope out from under her arm, and then getting to work on the other side. As she loosened that off, she was able to pull the bands of rope over her head and down onto the floor.
“NNNNNNNNNNN,” Cassie screamed out as Aunt Cassie began to wrap the tape off her head, revealing my old school tie pulled between her lips. That soon went onto her chest as she pulled out a handkerchief and shouted out “WINNER!”
“Well done, my dear,” I heard Granny say behind me, and as I turned round I could see her clapping, the sock stretched so much over her hand that it was like a loose bag covering them. “I’m sorry, Cassie,” Aunt Cassie said as she came over and started to ungag my little sister, “but you did very well indeed. I take it you untied her hogtie Mum?”
“I did - once I had worked enough at the socks to be able to get a grip. I think I’m getting too old to play these games for too long now - time to let the younger generation take over from me as Craig Family Champion, I think.”
“NddIgts close,” Cassie said as she removed her gag. “If only you had let me do what Aunt Cassie did.”
“She was right to stop you - both of them were,” Granny said as I unwrapped the tape around her arms and pulled the socks off. “I think we both owe you a pair,” Granny then said as she looked at Aunt Cassie.
“I’ll replace them - they were a bit worn anyway, but I had to use the scissors to make a small hole before I could really tear them,” Aunt Cassie said as she started to untie Cassie. “She was good though - if she had been able to use the knife or scissors, it would have been a lot closer.”
“Well now,” Aunt Connie said as she came in, “I see you finally won the contest. One day, I’ll have to show you how to really stop Aunt Cassie.”
“Not today though,” Granny said with a smile. “Time for some tea and sandwiches - Lucinda and I will take care of that. The rest of you - into the living room.”
“All right, Granny,” I said as I took Cassie in, to a chorus of cheers from the others.
The clock on the mantelpiece was showing seven as I put the plate down on the coffee table, and picked up my glass of juice. Everyone was sat round, talking quietly about various things. Cassie and Alicia were kneeling on the floor next to me, while Granny and Lady Holderness were sitting next to each other with Aunt Cassie in a little circle on one side of the room.
“You’re kidding me,” Aunt Cassie said, “in a hay stack?”
“No, I am not joking,” Lady Holderness said with a smile. “Your mother and I were spending the day on the farm, and she challenged me to an escape contest of our own. This would have been - what, 1968?”
“About then - we were studying for our O-levels at the time. Anyway, it was a day in April, and we were just mucking around the farmyard. I was wearing an old pair of corduroy trousers and a checked blouse over a t-shirt, and she had a pair of back wellington boots on her feet, while you had on a pair of old overalls, black workman boots and a scarf over my hair.”
“somehow, I find it difficult to think of you dressed that way, Lucinda,” Uncle Dave said as he came and joined them, while Dad sat with Mum and Aunt Connie.
“Well, I wasn’t going to ruin the Mary Quant minidress and knee length boots I had brought for the disco later, so Miranda loaned me the clothes. Anyway, her dad took some baling twine, and tied our wrists tightly together behind our backs, our arms to our sides, and then our ankles and legs together.”
“How did he manage that over a pair of wellington boots?”
“Your great-grand father, god rest his soul, was a framer dear,” Granny said as she looked at us, “he knew a thing or two about roping. Anyway, he tied us like that, at us on some the hay in the store, tied knots in two old head scarves and used them as gags, and left us to try and free each other while he got one with something out in the fields.”
“What on earth did the rest of the farm workers think?”
“They were all out n the fields,” Granny said with a smile on her face. “Dad thought we would get free fairly easily, but he didn’t figure on one thing - us having fits of laughter all the time.”
“She is not joking,” Lady Holderness said with a smile, “Rope on leather makes a funny noise, but not as funny as twine on rubber or corduroy. Trust me on this one. As it was, it was getting late by the time anyone came and found us.”
“So who found you in the end - Granddad?”
“Err,” Lady Holderness said, and she was actually blushing as she said it, “It was Desmond actually. He and his father had come to the farm to discuss a bit of business for an upcoming event with Miranda’s mother, and he was walking round the farmyard when he heard our muffled laughter. He came in, saw the two of us, and...”
“...And stared at the two of us for a good five minutes, until he finally picked up a pair of scissors and cut us loose. He then had the cheek to ask me if I was going to the dance that night, and would I go with him?”
I looked at Alicia, who was shaking her head in embarrassment at the story. “Anyway,” Granny continued, “we went into the house, both of us blushing like mad, and went up to my room to get changed for the dance. By the time we came back down, he had gone.”
“But we did meet him again at the party that night,” Lady Holderness said with a smile, “and he did dance with me in my black and white dress and white boots.”
“He danced with me as well,” Granny said, “and we became firm friends that night.”
“Grandma,” Alicia said as she looked at both of them, “Was it Grandpa that you and Mrs Craig had the huge fight over - the one you told me and Jenny about?”
“No,” Lady Holderness said, “But it was Desmond who introduced that boy to both of us - still that is a tale for another day.”
I stood up and collected some plates, then made my way into the kitchen to take them to the sink. As I placed them on the surface, Aunt Cassie came in behind me and sat at the table.
“Jenny,” she said quietly, “I need to have a word with you if I may.”
“Sure Aunt Cassie,” I said as I sat down, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Kiddo,” Aunt Cassie said as she looked at me. “You know, Jenny, you’re starting to turn into a young woman now, and you’re about to be the oldest kid in this family. You’ve been a great big sister to the little imp, and now you’re going to have someone else to look after. You ready for that?”
“I guess so,” I said as I sat down, “although I’d love to know if it was a boy or a girl. But what did you want to say?”
Aunt Cassie smiled as she said “I’ve always looked out for Connie, and even John at times. I know you look out for Cassie - the last year and a half shows that all too clearly, and I already know you are a brave young girl. I just want you to remember that when the new arrivals come - because you lead this new generation of the Craigs. Your mum and dad are going to need your help for a while - will you give that to them?”
“Of course I will, auntie,” I said as I nodded. “Is there something wrong with mum?”
“Oh good grief no,” Aunt Cassie said with a laugh, “They’re just fine. Just remember that and look after everyone, all right?” She stood up as Dad and Granny came in. “Can I talk to you guys outside for a minute,” she said as she walked to the door, taking a small packet out of her pocket as she did so.
I went back into the living room to see Alicia looking at Angela talking on her mobile phone.
“Yeah I understand Dad,” she said as she looked at her sister. “I’ll go and pick those things up on my way home from college tomorrow. Ali is going to go to Uncle Alexander’s after school anyway, so I’ll bring them straight to the hospital and meet you there.
“We’ll see you later at home,” she said as she nodded once more, “Give out love to Mum. Bye.”
She turned off the phone and looked over at Lady Holderness. “Mum’s having a rest now - I need to take some more toiletries to her tomorrow, but she wants to see you tomorrow night as well. He also say you have to talk to the father.”
“Why would Lady Holderness have to talk to her son in law,” Cassie said as she looked up.
“Not that father,” Lady Holderness said with a smile, “the parish priest. We need to arrange the baptism in the near future. Now, we need to be on our way soon.”
“Not yet,” Uncle Dave said, “There is something John and I want to do first.”
“Oh,” Granny said, “and what exactly are the two of you planning?”
“I think,” Dad said as he came in, “that given this is Mother’s Day, the mothers - well, the mothers to be - should have a chance to sit with my little girls for a photo.”
“Yes please,” Cassie said as she jumped up and down. I looked at Alicia and shook my head before saying “Can we be sitting down then - like Angela and Aunt Cassie were earlier? Then we can watch the television for a while.”
“Fair enough,” Mum said as she sat on the couch, Cassie sitting between her and Aunt Connie as I sat at the far end. Uncle Dave knelt in front of us, and said “Why don’t you all cross your ankles and we can start with them?”
“As you wish, dear,” Aunt Connie said as she stuck her tongue out, then relaxed as Uncle Dave started to wrap a length of curtain cord around her ankles and pulled them together.
“Cassie,” I said as Dad start to tie Mum’s ankles together, “How were you going to get down the stairs earlier when I stopped you?”
“Oh I was going to go backwards on my stomach,” Cassie said as Granny came back in, “I figured I would be able to stop myself with my knees.”
“Well I’m glad Jenny stopped you,” Granny said as she looked at my younger sister. “On that carpet, and the way we were tied, you would not have been able to stop yourself. You would either have slid right down and hit the floor with your knees, to hit your chin on a stair, or both.”
“Oh,” Cassie said as she looked down, “I just wanted to try.”
“I know,” Dad said as he tied Cassie’s ankles together, while Uncle Dave took care of mine, “but you still have a few things to learn, little poppet.” Cassie nodded and smiled as she watched Dad pull her legs together below her knees and tie them together with more cord.
We all got the same treatment, as Aunt Cassie came back in and sat down. “Now then,” Dad said, “Connie can put her arm round Cassie’s, and Jenny around Mum’s.” We did as Dad said, so that Aunt Connie and Cassie had their arms linked, and I had mine nestling in Mum’s.
Dad then put my hands together in front of me, palm to palm, and tied my wrists together, and then did the same to Mum, making me lean over to one side so that my head was resting on Mum’s arm. I looked to the side and watched as Uncle Dave did the same to the others, Cassie smiling as she leant against Aunt Connie.
“Now then,” Dad said as he placed two plates in front of each of the pairs, with a few of Mum’s chocolates on each of them. “We thought you might like some,” Uncle Dave said, “but I guess you’ll have to feed each other. In the meantime, let’s put on a suitable film for you four to watch.”
“Oh - The Sound of Music,” Aunt Connie said, “Nothing says Mother’s Day more than Nuns and Nazis.”
“Oh please,” Dad said as he put the DVD in, “Nothing so prosaic.” We watched as the film started - the original, and in my humble opinion, far better version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
We all settled down to watch, taking turns every so often to give each other a chocolate. It was a lot easier for Mum and Aunt Connie than both of us, as they could move their arms a lot more, but it was great fun - and chewing on a strawberry cream when Violet Blott gets blown up gives it a whole new meaning.
Angela, Alicia and Lady Holderness watched with us, while Dad, Aunt Cassie, Uncle Dave and Granny went into the kitchen, I presume to sort some tea out. After a while, Cassie laid her head down on Aunt Connie’s tummy, laughing as she said “I can hear the heartbeat - it feels funny.”
“It feels even funnier when it kicks,” Aunt Connie said, which made us all laugh. “Tell me about it,” Mum said, and I put my ear to her tummy to see if I could hear our new family member as well.
Mum looked down at me as I lay there, and after a while I could indeed hear the rapid beating sound. I listened carefully, not quite sure of what it was I was hearing, but slowly I realised what it must be.
I glanced up at Mum, who very very slightly nodded her head as she kept her eye on Cassie, lying beside us. I raised an eyebrow, and she shook her head, just a little. I was confused for a moment, wondering if I had got it right, and then a few other things I had seen and heard came to mind.
I wanted to say something, but before I could Angela said “You’ve only got one chocolate each left - want to eat them?”
“I guess so,” Aunt Connie said as we both sat up, “Are you offering to put them in our mouths?”
“Oh, I think little sis can do that,” Angela said, and I watched as Alicia stood up and popped one last chocolate into each of our mouths. “Don’t chew it,” she said as we all closed out mouths, “Suck on it and savour it.”
“WhhwldI mmm” Cassie said, as Angela pressed a strip of our special white tape over her lips, and then did the same to the rest of us. We looked over as Lady Holderness stood up.
“We really do have to go, I’m afraid,” she said as Charlie and Grandpa Joe started to float up into the air. “We’ll see you soon - come girls.”
“Enjoy the rest of the film,” Alicia said as she followed her sister and grandmother out, the four of us sitting back and allowing the chocolates to melt in our mouths while we watched the rest of the film.
“That was a fun day,” Cassie said when we were brushing our teeth in the bathroom later that night, getting ready for bed.
“It was,” I said as I put my toothbrush back, “but we have school in the morning, and we need to be up early.”
“When do you think we will get to see Andrew?”
“Soon, hopefully,” I said as I dried my hands and face, as Mum looked past the door. “Come one you two,” she said, “into your beds.”
We walked down the corridor, Mum stopping by my door and saying “I’ll be along in a minute” to Cassie. She followed me in and waited as I climbed into the bed.
“Good night, Jenny,” she said as she tucked me in, and then went to the door. As she put her hand on the light switch, I said “Mum?”
“Did I really hear what I heard?”
Mum smiled and said “Wait and see, Jenny - but don’t tell anyone else. Good night.” She turned the light off and closed the door, as I turned onto my side and wondered if I had imagined it, or if I really had heard what I thought I had...
“I don’t believe it - I go away for the weekend, and I miss all the excitement. Cathy gets robbed, and you lot get to play for the Sunday. I just get to sit with Grandmamma in a stuffy church, and then have to eat her traditional Sunday Lunch. I’m not even that fond of roast pork.”
I had some sympathy for Mary as we sat at the table, working on yet another project. “Trust me,” Cathy said, “It may have been exciting, but it was also terrifying. You two know what I mean.”
Alicia and I looked at each other and nodded. We both knew exactly what she meant.
“And your mum gives birth - that must have been a shock.”
“A nice one,” Alicia said as she put her fingers through her dark hair. “And it meant Bobby and Suzie were out of my hair yesterday.”
“What about you Jenny - any exciting discoveries?”
I looked round the table. “Nah - typical quiet Sunday, even with Ali there,” I eventually said. I didn’t want to tell anyone - not until I knew for certain.