New Lives

 

 

 

 

 

 

The annual Music Evening at Holderness Manor was one of the things I have always enjoyed, but this year had a special resonance – one I had to admit I liked as I sat in the library, watching Andrew and Daniel Brown as they walked unsteadily from chair to chair.  Grandmother and Grandfather were discussing the event next Wednesday with my father and Uncle Alexander.

 

“Hard to think they’re a year old now, isn’t it,” Mum said as she looked at me.  I nodded silently – and it had been, if I wanted to put it less politely, one hell of a year.

 

Last May, I didn’t have a boyfriend – well, not in the full sense of the word.  I also hadn’t been held hostage by a masked robber for the weekend, or any number of other things, but that was last year.  Heck, at that time I’d only just got used to the idea I had a baby brother – especially one who was now dribbling on the knee of my jeans as he looked up at me.

 

“Hey Andy,” I said as I picked him up and sat him on my lap, “Want to see a magic trick?”

 

He giggled and nodded as I frowned, and then smiled again, frowned, smiled, frowned, smiled – and then rubbed her head on his tummy.

 

“Again!”

 

I looked at Mum, and then at Andrew, as he looked at me and said “Again!”

 

“Did he?”

 

“I do believe he just did,” Mum said quietly, “Who’s a clever young man?”

 

Miigggglll” he burbled as the door opened and Dad came in with Sarah and Brian.  She was looking tired, as if she wanted the pregnancy to come to an end.

 

“Simon!!  You just missed his first word.”

 

“Not again,” he said with a groan.  “Every one of my family, I’ve missed their first word.  What pearl of wisdom did he impart, Anne?”

 

“Again.”

 

“What pearl of Oh, I get it now,” Dad said as he tickled Andrew’s tummy.  “Nice choice kiddo.”

 

“Our turn will come,” Brian said as he sat with Sarah.

 

“Not soon enough – I’m just glad Kayla is arriving today,” Sarah said with a groan.  Kayla Smith was apparently their doctor, and was coming over to look after Sarah while she gave birth to the twins.

 

She and Brian had become an integral part of the family now, with them having their wedding last January at the manor house.  I was one of the bridesmaids, alongside Angela, Jenny and our three American friends Heidi, Cindy and Natalie.  Suzie and Cassie were the flower girls, while Anne Duncombe, who had helped all of us at one time or another over the last year, was the maid of honour.

 

We tend not to do quiet weddings at the manor, and this was no exception, with all her UK and US friends attending, and all the usual trappings.  Yes, right down to at least one dance when we were all bound and gagged – but that’s a story for another day.

 

One other thing happened that day – Cassie’s Aunt Cassie proposed to her partner Jo, and their wedding was taking place tomorrow at a hotel outside Holderness.  We were all invited, but it was going to be a much more low key affair.

 

Anyway, Jenny and the rest of her family were preparing for that day, which meant I was here with Mum looking after Danny Brown while his mum looked after Cassie and Jo, in her role of Maid of Honour.

 

“The last weeks are always the worst,” Mum said as she looked at Sarah.  “When does she arrive anyway?”

 

As if on cue, the door opened and a thin, blonde haired woman came in.  She walked up to Brian and Sarah and hugged both of them, before sitting and looking at my American relative.

 

“You’re looking well, all things considered,” she finally said as she looked at us.  “Hi – I’m Kayla Smith.  Anne and the others told me to say hello.”

 

“They’re not coming over?”

 

“Not immediately, no – they can’t get the time off.  But they are thinking of and praying for you.”

 

“Thanks,” Sarah said as she held the young woman’s hand, and then groaned.

 

“Don’t tell me it’s contractions already – I didn’t sleep on the flight over because I was afraid /I would not make it in time!”

 

“No – they just kicked again.  I’m not going to have any backbone left once they come out.”

 

“Come on, up you get,” Kayla said as she stood and took Sarah’s hand, helping her up with no effort at all.

 

“Have you been working out with Anne?”

 

“No comment,” Kayla said as she looked at me, and then they walked out.

 

“Does she think I don’t know,” I said as I looked at Brian.

 

“She’s from the South – they have their own ways,” Brian said with a smile.  “Anyway, I need to get going – your father and I are going to watch the rugby at Twickenham today.”

 

“Oh yeah – the final.  Enjoy yourselves.”

 

“We will,” Brian said as he stood up and left the room.

 

“Talking of which, don’t you need to get going?  I seem to remember you saying you had some shopping to do in town for tomorrow?”

 

“Oh lord yes,” I said as I handed Andrew to Mum and stood up.  “Dad – can you give me a lift…”

 

 

 

 

 

“Hey – I wasn’t expecting to see you before tomorrow,” Martin said as I went into the music shop.

 

“I know – but I need to pick up an order I made.  Has it come in yet?”

 

“Oh yeah – your present to the bride and bride.  Hang on a minute.”  I watched as he disappeared into the back of the shop, and I heard him talking to his mum, before he came back out with a wrapped box.

 

“Here we go,” he said as he handed it to me, “the complete Charlie Parker at Savoy Records collection.  I didn’t know Cassie Craig was into jazz?”

 

“Actually, it’s Jo who is, but never mind – Cassie can enjoy it as well.”  I paid for the present and then said “So when are you getting there tomorrow?”

 

“About an hour beforehand – I don’t have anything to do this time, so this is one of the rare occasions we get to go just as guests.  You?”

 

“About the same time I think, Andrew permitting.  I think Eddie might take Angie separately from us, though.”

 

“The joys of growing up,” Martin said with a smile.  “See you tomorrow then.”

 

“You bet,” I said as I reached over the counter and kissed him, before leaving the store and walking down the high street.  I waved over at Mary as she walked down the other side, and then called into the florists.  I wasn’t surprised to see Cathy behind the counter, smiling as she looked up.

 

“Hey – your order for tomorrow?”

 

“You got it,” I said as she went into the workshop at the back, and brought through a small box which she placed on the counter.

 

“There we go – two button holes and three floral arrangements, pre-paid.”

 

“Oh?  By whom?”

 

“Jenny’s grandmother – she insisted that all the flowers were paid for by her.  She came in yesterday with her brother.”

 

Jethro?  Well, this is really going to be a family affair, isn’t it?”

 

“Looks that way – see you tomorrow?”

 

I nodded and left the shop with my packages in my hand.  It was just starting to rain, so I jumped into a taxi and got home, keeping them as dry as possible as I went inside.

 

“That you mum,” I heard Angela call down from upstairs.

 

“No – it’s me.  I got the flowers for tomorrow.”

 

“Okay – want to put the kettle on?  I want to talk to you about something.”

 

“Sure,” I said as I went into the kitchen and put the boxes on the table, filling the kettle and putting it on as I put coffee in two mugs.

 

“Hey,” Angela said as she came in, wearing an old school sweatshirt and leggings.

 

“Hey yourself,” I said as I added milk and the hot water to the mugs and then handed her one.  “How’s the revision going?”

 

“Painfully slowly, but at least it’s going,” she said as she sat down and rubbed her eyes.  “Did you see Sarah today?”

 

I nodded and said “Kayla arrived as well.”

 

“Good – I like her,” Angela said before she sipped her coffee.  “Listen – I haven’t told Mum and Dad this yet, but Eddie had asked me if I want to go to France with him on holiday this summer.  Do you think they’ll object?”

 

“I don’t think they will –so long as you’re around in August.”

 

“He’s thinking end of June, beginning of July – his exams and mine are over then.”

 

“Sounds good to me – I wish I had that extra freedom.”

 

“Oh your turn will come,” Angela said as she looked at me, “and then you’ll realise just how lucky you are at the moment.  Enjoy it while you can, Kiddo – adulthood is coming.”

 

“You’re a real ray of sunshine today,” I said with a smile. 

 

“Oh, and one other thing,” Angela said as she stood up and took her coffee mug with her, “Jenny called.  Can you go round to her house at four for an hour?  She says there’s something she wants to talk to you about.”

 

I looked at the clock on the kitchen wall, which said three fifteen.  “Now she tells me,” I said as I shook my head and started to drink the coffee.

 

Forty minutes later, I walked up the path to Jenny’s front door and knocked.

 

“Hey,” she said as she opened the door, “thanks for coming round.”

 

“Sure – what’s up?”

 

“We’ll talk in my room,” she said as she took my hand and dragged me upstairs.  Closing the door to her room behind her, she turned and watched as I sat on the bed.

 

“What’s up,” I said as I looked at her.

 

“Monday night.”

 

“Monday night…  Monday night….  What about Monday night?”

 

She turned and looked at me.  “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?”

 

“I’ve…”  I suddenly opened my eyes as I said “Yeah – I had.  The shower.”

 

“Exactly – Mum says we’re expected to be there as well, but what are we going to get her?”

 

“Hey, you’re the one with twin siblings – what do you think?”

 

Jenny looked and me and said “I have no idea – you got any?”

 

“Well, I suspect the mums will get more than enough for the babies,” Jenny said as she sat on her bed, “What about something for Sarah?”

 

“Got an idea?”

 

“Maybe – let’s meet up after school on Monday and get something on the way home.”

 

“Sounds good to me – where’s Cassie anyway?”

 

“Downstairs with Pippa, Claire and Hazel, I think they’re working on a project.”

 

“Really?  I didn’t hear much from them when I came in.”

 

“Actually, now that you come to mention it…”  We both went downstairs and into the front room, to see the four of them lined up in front of the television, sitting with their legs in the lotus position.  Their legs were tied together where they crossed, and a rope ran from their ankles to their chest, where a second rope was tied round their arms. 

 

Walking behind them, I saw their hands were behind their back, tied parallel to each other as they watched the film of The Iron Giant.

 

“They wanted time to appreciate the film in silence,” Jenny’s mum said as she came in, drying her hands on a towel.  Walking back round, I saw now the clear tape over their lips, and the way their cheeks were puffed out.

 

“You four all right,” I said, and they all nodded before going back to watch the film.

 

“Drink?”

 

I nodded and followed Jenny and her mum into the kitchen, where the twins were sat in their high chairs, having their tea.  David was sucking on a slice of carrot, while June was chewing away at a brown bread sandwich finger.

 

“You’re getting big as well, aren’t you,” I said as I tickled them under the chin.

 

June giggled while David grabbed my finger and shook it.

 

“So, ready for the fun tomorrow?”

 

“I think so – at least it will be a quiet wedding this time,” I said with a smile on my face.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a bright and clear Sunday morning as we arrived at the front entrance to the Rochester Hotel.  “Well, here we are,” Dad said as we all got out, me in a pale cream jacket and skirt with a white blouse, Mum in a grey silk dress and dad in a suit, shirt and tie.  Andy had on a little sailor suit, as I carried him into the hotel reception.

 

“Good morning,” Dad said to the lady behind the desk, “the Craig wedding.”

 

“The Moray suite,” the lady said, “to the right, and on the left.”

 

“Thank you,” Dad said as we walked down, Mum carrying a present wrapped in gold and white paper.  As we entered the room, we were greeted by Jenny, who was wearing a blue dress with elbow length sleeves and a skirt that came to just below her knees, a white belt and gloves, and black heels with dark tights.

 

“Hey,” she said, “presents can be left on the table over there, and the drinks are at the bar.”

 

“Thanks,” I said as Mum placed the present on the table, and we walked over to where Colin was standing with his parents.

 

“She looks great, doesn’t she,” Colin whispered as I stood next to him.

 

“I’m sure she always looks great to you,” I said with a smile as Uncle Alexander came in with Bobby and Suzie.  Both he and Bobby were also wearing suits, while Suzie was wearing a short sleeved blue dress with a white sash round her waist.

 

“Simon,” Uncle Alexander said as he joined us, “nice quiet affair eh?”

 

“I think so,” Dad said as he looked round.  “Who are most of these people?”

 

“From Cassie and Jo’s previous work, I imagine,” Uncle Alexander said as we looked at the groups of people gathered round.  One in particular caught my eye – a tall grey haired man who stood wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and striped tie.

 

“Is it just me,” I said to Dad, “or does he look familiar?”

 

“Who,” Dad said, as Grandmother and Grandfather came in.  The tall grey haired man came forward and stood ramrod straight, as he said “Captain Holderness!”

 

“Colonel Grant,” Grandfather said as he stood as straight, and then they saluted each other before embracing.  “God, how long has it been Donald?”

 

“Too long,” the man said as he hugged Lucinda.  “How have you both been?”

 

“Fine,” Grandmother said, “but we were sorry to hear about Betty.”

 

“Yes – that was painful,” the man said as he looked round.  “Alexander – how are you?”

 

“Not bad, thank you Sir,” Uncle Alexander said as he shook his hand.  “This is Anne’s husband Simon and his daughter Alicia.  Simon, this is Donald Grant.”

 

“THE Donald Grant?  An honour,” Simon said as he shook his hand.   “Alicia, Mister Grant worked with your grandparents when they had – a different job.”

 

“Mister Grant – I don’t think I can get used to that.  So you know Cassandra and Joanne?”

 

“They’re friends of the family,” Dad said quietly, “but how do you…”

 

“Donny Grant, you old rascal!”

 

“Miranda!”  Mister Grant turned and embraced Jenny’s grandmother, who was wearing a green coat dress, hat and shoes, “How are you?”

 

“The better for seeing you – thank you for coming.  I wasn’t sure if you would make it.”

 

“What, and miss two of the finest officers I ever commanded pledging their troth?  Of course I would not miss this – and I see many of their colleagues have come as well.”

 

“Indeed – I’m glad – for them especially.  Excuse me – I’ll see you later.”  Miranda said as she went to join Grandmother and Grandfather.  Grandmother was wearing a cream coloured dress with a matching jacket.

 

Jenny’s parents then came in, as did their Aunt Jessie, along with Mister and Mrs Williamson.  I smiled at them as Mary came over with Cathy.

 

“Well, another wedding,” Mary said with a smile as I saw Eddie with Angela.

 

“Oh yes,” I said as Sarah and Brian came in.  Sarah wore a pink smock over grey trousers, while Brian like the others was in a suit, shirt and tie.  They stopped and talked to the Craigs and the Williamsons, smiling as they did so.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen!!”

 

We all turned to see Jenny standing at a set of double doors.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats.”

 

“Shall we,” Dad said as he took Mum’s arm and we walked in.  As we did so, Cassie and Patty were standing inside, wearing the same dress as Jenny as they showed us to our seats.

 

Once we had sat down, the music started to play – a selection of what I believe Martin would call “Cool Jazz.”

 

“It is cool, isn’t it?”

 

I almost jumped out of my seat before I turned round and saw Martin sitting behind me with his parents.

 

“Sorry – couldn’t resist,” Martin said before he gave me a little kiss.  As a door to the side opened, I saw Cassie and Connie Craig come out and into the room, standing in front of the white cloth draped table.  Cassie was wearing a dark trouser suit and white blouse, with black ankle boots, while Connie wore a white long skirt with a blouse over it.

 

She smiled at all of us as the registrar came in and stood in front of the desk, her assistant to one side.  “Will you please stand,” she said, and as we did so the music stopped, and the Louis Armstrong version of Here Comes The Bride played as the doors opened, and Jo came into the room, accompanied by Cassie and Jenny.  She was wearing a white Edwardian style dress, with a high collar and a long skirt that flowed in layers down to the ground, and she held a posy of flowers in her hands.

 

She stood at the front, Patty coming down to join the other two, as the registrar stood in front of them.  “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to see the joining of these two people in the state of matrimony.  If there are any present who know of…”

 

The ceremony was very similar to a church one, but without the smells and bells, as Bobby is apt to put it.  At any rate, within twenty minutes, I was wiping my tears as the registrar said “Therefore, by the power invested in me, I declare that you are now legally married.  You may kiss your wife.”

 

“Now that is something I never thought I would hear,” Mum whispered as Jo and Cassie kissed each other, to the sound of cheers and clapping.  They then turned and smiled at everyone as we sat back down.

 

“If you will both step this way, along with the witnesses?”

 

They walked over, joined by Brian as the photographer took pictures of them as they signed the register, witnessed by Connie Craig and Brian Holderness-Carter.

 

“I do so love a good wedding,” Mum whispered as we looked on, and waited for the legal part of the ceremony to finish.  Once everything has been signed, we stood and clapped as Jo and Cassie left, accompanied by Brian and Connie, and then the three girls.

 

“Right,” Martin said as he put his hand on my arm, “would you care to go for a walk before the wedding dinner?”

 

“I’d like that,” I said as I went outside with him, while the rest of the guests moved out and stood in small groups.

 

“Nice day for it anyway,” Martin said as we walked round the grounds of the hotel.

 

“Yeah – it’s funny, being at a wedding and not having a part to play in it.”

 

“It’s good though – I get so nervous when I have to perform that it’s nice just to relax.”

 

“You?  Nervous?  When?”

 

“The time Bobby got me in the attic with you?”

 

I smiled at the memory of that, and said “Oh yeah – I’d forgotten about that for the moment.  Still, that was the start of us, wasn’t it?”

 

“Yeah – but I was still nervous.  Normally, I challenge that into my performance, but today no need – so I’m totally relaxed.   Like I say, nice.”

 

I nodded as he put his arm round me and we walked across to where the photographs were been taken.

 

“Hey,” Jenny said, “we want a picture of all of us together.  Come and join us.”

 

I smiled as Martin and I joined her and Colin, as well as Cassie and Bobby, and the photographer took a picture of us, and then started to take family group photos with Cassie and Jo.

 

“We need to go and do something,” Jenny said as she took Cassie and Patty, “see you in a few minutes.”

 

“Where do you think they’re off to now,” I asked Bobby and Colin as we walked over.

 

“Duties – they have to show people to the tables for the reception.”

 

“Oh – they are taking them seriously, aren’t they?”

 

Bobby nodded as a man came out and said “Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your places for the reception.”

 

I joined Mum and Dad as we filed in, and Cassie showed us to the table we were sharing with Colin and his mum and dad.

 

“Well, at least they had a nice day for it,” his mum said as we sat down, and were joined by Martin and his parents. 

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding for the happy couple.”

 

We clapped like mad as Cassie and Jo came in and sat at the high table, joined by Connie and Brian, as well as Cassie’s mother and…

 

“Colonel Grant?”

 

“Well,” Dad said, “Jo’s parents both died when she was young, and she doesn’t exactly get on with the rest of her family.  I guess he is the closest she has to a father.”

 

Cassie junior, Jenny and Patty also sat at the high table, as the meal was served.  I liked it, and we talked about all sorts of different things as we ate – and Martin rubbed my leg with his foot under the table.

 

“Stop it,” I whispered as the man who had called us in stood up and said “Ladies and Gentlemen, pray silence for Miranda Craig.”

 

As Jenny’s grandmother stood up, she said quietly “Well, first of all, you get me instead of Cassandra’s father, but let me say this – if he had still been with us, he would have been as proud to stand here as he was for John, and would have been for Connie. 

 

“David was a proud man, and he served his country with honour, but he also loved his children, and he would have wanted them to be happy and successful.  They are, and so he would be happy as well – and I most certainly am.

 

“Jo, you are already part of our family, but today you made my Cassie a very happy woman, and I thank you for that.  I don’t wish to say any more than that – but I know Donald wishes to say a few words.”

 

As she sat down, Colonel Grant stood up and looked at them. 

 

“Cassie, Jo, I’ve known you both for many years, and I only want to echo what Miranda said.  Your fathers would both have been very proud of you, what you have achieved, and what you have become.  I offer you both my congratulations and my best wishes for the future, and ask all of you to raise your glasses and toast Cassie and Jo.”

 

“CASSIE AND JO!”

 

We all clapped again as Cassie stood up.

 

“I actually don’t have too much to say, except thank you all for coming, thank you for supporting us, and thank you for not being too formal – I had this horrible vision of Jo and I coming out under raised arms.”

 

“Still time,” one of her former colleagues called out, which made everyone laugh.

 

“Still, I want to thank Mum for arranging today, and we have a little something for her.”

 

I looked over to see Cathy carry in a large bunch of flowers and had them to Miranda, who smiled and said “thank you.”

 

“I also need to thanks our stewards for today – I’m not going to call them bridesmaids, because they were much more than that.  Still, Jenny, Patty, and – dammit what’s the name of my other niece?”

 

Cassie looked daggers at her aunt, who smiled and said “Only kidding – Jenny, Cassie and Patty, thank you for all your help today, and once the meal is over, you can do whatever you want.  But whatever you do – do not lose these.”

 

She handed each of them a thin white box, and said “Thank you.  Finally, I want to thank Donald and all our former colleagues for coming, you honour us with your presence.

 

“And lastly, Jo – thank you for becoming my partner in everything.  I love you.”

 

The two of them kissed as Cassie sat down, and Connie stood up.

 

“I get the Best Man role – which means I get to rip right into my darling sister,” she said with an evil grin, and then said “The thing is, I don’t want to.   Even when we were kids, Cassie was the one who looked out for me, and the one who helped me in so many ways.  That’s why it’s an honour for me to stand and support her today, and nothing will change that – although trust me, my back is telling me something different.”

 

She put her hand on her bump, and said “Now, there have been a few cards and messages sent, and it is my duty to read some of them.  One or two are brown envelopes, and I will leave them for you to read privately.”

 

Connie picked up one card, opened it and read “Our heartiest congratulations – and good luck.  June and George.”

 

Moving to the next card, she opened it and read “To the bravest women I know – thank you and may you both be richly blessed.  Amy and Dorothy.”

 

As she opened the next card, Connie stared at it for a few moments, and then showed it to her mother.  She looked up and nodded as Connie said “To Captains Craig and Frost, many congratulations on your wedding.  William and Kate.”

 

Jo and Cassie looked at each other and then at Connie as she showed them the card, and then nodded.

 

“I…  I think I just want to say well done, and ask you again to toast the happy couple.”

 

As we did so, Martin whispered to me “You don’t suppose…”

 

“Given their previous employment,” I said quietly, “it would not surprise me one bit.”

 

“And now,” the man called out, “the cutting of the cake.”

 

As we turned to look, Colonel Grant whispered something to Jo and Cassie, both of them nodding as they walked over to where the cake stood on a small table.  He then stopped down and picked up a scabbard, holding it as Cassie pulled out a ceremonial sword.  With both of them holding the hilt, they pushed down into the cake to applause and flashes going off.

 

“If you will retire to the bar,” the man said, “we will prepare for the dance.”

 

I went through and joined Jenny with Colin, finding her sitting in a corner with her feet up on a bar stool and a large glass of soft drink next to her.

 

“I am so glad that’s over,” she said with a sigh, “being a bridesmaid is bad enough, but this was worse.”

 

“What did they give you,” Colin said as we sat down.  Jenny handed him the thin box, and he opened it reveal a set of pearls inside.

 

“Are these real,” he said as he held them up.

 

“Want to try dropping one in here, see if it dissolves?”

 

Colin looked at Jenny, before saying “I deserved that” and handing her the box back. 

 

“I’m going to take a leaf out of Natalie’s book,” she said as she slipped her shoes off, and flexed her toes.  “Ah – that’s better – so enjoy today?”

 

“Yeah,” Colin said, “but I’ll enjoy it more when the music starts.”

 

“Amen to that,” I said, “amen to that.”

 

And that prayer was answered an hour or so later, as the disco began and Jo and Cassie took the floor for their first dance – Eternal Flame by the Bangles.  After that, it was a genuine free for all, with everyone up and dancing.

 

So when Mum came up to me and said “Can I borrow you for a minute or two, Alicia,” I did wonder what was going on.  She took me off to a side room, where Angela was waiting.

 

“Any idea what this is about,” I said as Mum closed the door.

 

“None – Mum?”

 

“All will be explained in a few minutes,” she said as the door opened again, and Grandmother and Grandfather came in.  They were followed a few minutes later by Uncle Alexander and Aunt Susan, as well as Dad.

 

Okaayyyy,” I said as the door closed once again, “want to tell me and Angela what this is all about?”

 

“We’re going to tell you something,” Aunt Susan said, “but we need to ask you to keep it a secret until later this week, when I have been to get some test results.”

 

“You must not tell anyone – especially Bobby and Suzie.  We’ll tell them ourselves as soon as we know for certain,” Uncle Alexander added.

 

“Tell them what,” I said, and then I noticed Angela had her hand to her mouth.

 

“Oh my god,” she said quietly, “are you?”

 

Aunt Susan smiled and nodded, and suddenly I understood the news as well.

 

“How far…”

 

“Not far – a month or so, but I’m so regular and – well, you just know.  I see the doctor tomorrow, and if it is confirmed, I’ll tell everyone after the baby shower.”

 

Well, there was only one correct and proper response to this, as we hugged Uncle Alexander and Aunt Susan.

 

 

 

 

 

“Here – I think she will like this.”

 

I looked over at Jenny as she stood a little further down the aisle in The Body Shop, looking at some of the beauty packs.  Walking over to join her, I looked at her and then the Body Spa pack she was holding in her hands.

 

“Perfect,” I said, “let’s get it.”  We were both still in school uniform, on a budget and on a deadline, so we went to the counter, paid for it and some giftwrap, and literally ran to the card shop to find a suitable card.

 

We then retired to a coffee shop, and sat down with a cold drink each while I filled in the card.

 

“There,” I said as I signed and passed it to Jenny, “you add your name, and then we can get home to get changed.”

 

“Want me to bring it with me to Wissenden?”

 

“If you could – I need to get home and…”  I then remembered I was not meant to say anything to Jenny about another possible announcement, so I bit my lip and stayed quiet.

 

“What’s up?”

 

“Oh, nothing,” I said as I saw Dad in the coffee shop window, smiling and pointing to his watch.  “I gotta go – see you there.”

 

“Sure,” Jenny said as I grabbed my bag and headed out.  “Heard anything,” I said as I got into the car.

 

“Yes and yes – if you can get changed quickly, we’re having dinner at the hall, and we’ll be there when they tell Suzie and Bobby.”

 

Well, of course I could change quickly, out of the uniform and into a pale green short sleeved dress, before I joined the rest of the family and we drove out to Wissenden Hall.  When we arrived, we saw Mister Bridges opening the door of the car as Sarah and Brian got out, followed by my grandparents.

 

“Shall we,” Grandfather said as Mrs Boyle opened the front doors, and we entered Wissenden Hall.

 

“Congratulations,” Mum said as she hugged Uncle Alexander and Aunt Susan.  “So, have you told them yet?”

 

“No – and this is as good a time as any.”

 

“Told them what,” Sarah said as we went into the front room.  Uncle Alexander opened the door to the library and said “Bobby, Suzie, join us for a minute will you?”

 

We looked at them as they came through, still in their school uniforms, while Brian helped Sarah to sit down.

 

“What’s up,” Bobby said as he looked at us.  “Strange as this may sound coming from me, I want to finish this essay before dinner.”

 

“Don’t worry, it won’t take a moment,” Aunt Susan said, “we just wanted to ask your advice on something.”

 

“Oh,” Suzie said, “what?”

 

“We’re going to need to convert one of the spare bedrooms into a different use,” Uncle Alexander said, “and the question is, which one?”

 

“Depends,” Bobby said, “What are you going to convert it into?  Another office?  A games room?”

 

“Actually,” Uncle Alexander said as he took Aunt Susan’s hand, “we were thinking of a nursery.”

 

“A…”  Bobby and Suzie looked at each other, before Suzie said “Are you saying…”

 

“Yes,” Aunt Susan said with a smile, “You’re going to have a baby brother or sister.”

 

Now, I still remember vividly when Angela and I were told Andrew was on the way, and that time our silence was due to the fact we were rather tightly gagged at the time.  With Bobby and Suzie, it was more of a stunned silence as they looked at each other.

 

“Well,” Uncle Alexander said, “don’t either of you have anything to say?”

 

“Well I do,” Sarah said as she hugged Susan, “Congratulations!  Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl yet?”

 

“No – and by tradition, we won’t ask.”

 

“I’m…  I’m going to be a big sister?”

 

“Looks that way,” I said to Suzie as she looked at me.

 

“Oh lord,” Bobby said as he rubbed his head, “is this how you felt when you found out?”

 

Looking at his shocked expression, I said “Yeah – but you should have seen Angela’s face.  That was a real picture.”

 

Suzie then ran and hugged Aunt Susan, as she said “I’m going to be a big Sister!  Wait until the others hear!”  She then ran off and picked up the telephone, as she dialled a number.

 

Pippa?  It’s Suzie – wait until you hear this!”

 

As she screamed into the phone, the rest of us sat down in the main room, while Mrs Boyle brought some drinks in.

 

“Dinner will be ready in an hour,” she said as Bobby went back into the library, shaking his head and mumbling something about another mouth to feed.

 

“We learned last night,” Mum said as she sat with Susan, “and we could not be happier.  But please, don’t tell anyone until – SUZIE!”

 

“Yes, Aunt Anne?”

 

“Do not call Cassie – we’ll tell her later tonight.  Understand?”

 

“Gotcha.”

 

 

 

 

We had just finished eating when the Craigs arrived, their grandmother coming in the car with them.  As we saw them get out, Suzie grabbed Bobby and said “You’ve got to help me big brother!”

 

“Help you with what?”

 

“Stop me from telling them what’s happened!”

 

“You’d better come with me,” Bobby said as he took Suzie out to the tree house, just as Jenny and Cassie came in.  Mrs Craig came in with Cassie’s Grandmother and Mrs Williamson, Lisa holding her hand as well.

 

“Thanks for coming,” Aunt Susan said as she greeted each of them.  “I hope the menfolk don’t mind letting you go for tonight?”

 

“Come on,” Mrs Craig said, “we left John and Mark discussing business.  Where shall we put these?”

 

“On the table over there,” Aunt Susan said as she indicated a low table, watching as they put their presents on there.  Jenny winked at me and raised the parcel in her hand as she put it down, and they all went through to meet Sarah.

 

“Where’s Suzie,” Cassie asked Bobby as he came back in.  She was wearing a pair of black chinos and a blue t-shirt, while Jenny had on a blue dress that buttoned up the front as well as elbow length sleeves.

 

“Oh she’s resting before things get hectic,” Bobby said with a smile.  “How are you, Cassie?”

 

“Excited – I wonder how long Sarah has got to go.”

 

“She’ll give birth when she’s ready,” her grandmother said as they all sat down.  As the front doorbell rang, and Mrs Boyle went to open it, we heard the delightful voice of Patty saying “We’re here,” and her and her mother coming in.  Rachel and her mother was with her as well, the two girls wearing knee length pleated skirts and short sleeved blouses with black Mary Jane shoes.

 

“Hi Sarah,” Patty said as she came in, and their mothers put their gifts on the table.  “Where’s Cassie?”

 

Bobby stood up and was about to say something when Colin Hampton came in with his mother and father.

 

“Hello Barry,” Brian said as he shook Mr Hampton’s hand, “thanks for coming tonight.”

 

“Well, we wanted to be here for the happy occasion,” he replied, “Is Kayla coming tonight?”

 

“No – she had some things to take care of at the Manor house, equipment and so on,” Brian said quietly.  “How are things over here?”

 

“Quiet – and I for one am incredibly grateful for that.”

 

I could see Bobby and Colin talking to each other, and then he said to Patty and Rachel “Can you two come with me a minute?  We’ve got something to show you.”

 

“Some drinks,” Mrs Boyle said as she brought a tray with some glasses on, laying it on the table as Colin and Bobby led the two youngsters out.  I had a sneaking suspicion I knew what was going on, but said nothing as Jo, Cassie senior and Connie came in, leaving their gifts on the table and hugging Sarah.

 

“So have you decided on where the honeymoon would be yet,” Dad said as he hugged Jo and Cassie.

 

“Not yet – Donald suggested somewhere quiet, like Bosnia, but we have to be careful round there.”

 

“I don’t think I want to know,” Dad said with a laugh.

 

“Where are they off to,” Suzie said as she sat with me.

 

“No idea – but I guess we’ll find out later,” I said as we all sat and looked at Sarah.

 

“Before we begin,” Mum said as Mrs Boyle brought a tray of snacks in and laid that next to the glasses, “we need to drink a toast.  Mrs Boyle?”

 

“We have them,” Bobby and Colin said as they carried in two bottles of champagne and a bottle of Bucks Fizz.  They handed them to Dad, Uncle Alexander and Brian, who opened them with a loud POP and then poured the drinks.

 

I was given a glass of champagne, while the Bucks Fizz went to Cassie, Connie and Susan.  “A toast – to safe arrivals and new life.”

 

“New life,” everyone said as we raised our glasses and then had a drink.

 

“All right – why are you smirking,” Cassie said as she looked at Bobby.

 

“Me?  Smirking? Am I?”

 

“What’s up, Robert Desmond Holderness?”

 

“I’ll tell you in a little while,” Bobby said as Grandmother said “Well, we’re here to give some gifts to Sarah for the upcoming arrivals.  Who would like to go first?”

 

“May we,” Mum said as she went to the table and picked up two parcels, handing them to Sarah.  As she opened the first one, she said “Thank you” as she took out a set of one piece outfits, two in blue and two in pink.  The second parcel was a book called The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, with a mother holding a L plate on the cover.

 

“Thanks,” Sarah said with a laugh, “another guide to being a new mother?”

 

“Oh,” Mum said, “what other one did you get?”

 

“We got a DVD guide – The Incredibles,” Brian said as she looked round the room, Barry Hampton laughing out loud as he heard that.

 

“Sorry,” he said quietly, “I get the joke.  Carry on.”

 

Mrs Craig was next, but as she handed the first of her parcels over Cassie said “Suzie should be here – where is she?”

 

“Want me to take you to tell her?”

 

As Cassie stood up, Jenny handed Sarah our present, and said “this is from me and Alicia, just to say thank you.”

 

Susan opened it and took out the spa set, saying “thank you” as she looked at both of us, and then read the card.

 

“Keep my place,” I whispered to Mum as I followed Bobby and Cassie out – my curiosity was definitely getting the better of me.  We went through the kitchen and out to the tree house, Bobby looking back at me and nodding as he took Cassie’s hand and led her to the room that had the light on.

 

“Hey – you’re missing all the…  What’s going on?”

 

Hecsseeewnttllusmfng” Suzie mumbled through the knotted scarf that was tied into her mouth.  She was sitting watching a DVD, Patty and Rachel sitting next to her with knotted scarves in their mouths as well.

 

“What does she want to tell me – and why have you stopped her, Bobby,” Cassie said as she looked at him.

 

“You’ll find out – eventually,” Bobby said as he looked at me.  The others were sitting with their hands tied together in front of them, and their legs bound and tied at their ankles and below their knees.  A length of rope went around their arms and stomachs, and then under their legs to hold them in place.

 

“What do you mean, eventually?”   Cassie then saw the rope in Bobby’s hand, and laughed as she said “All right – but only for a little while.”

 

Bwwwenttlttllthm,” Suzie mumbled as with my help Bobby soon had Cassie bound in the same way as the other three, sitting against the wall.  As he rolled up another scarf and tied a knot in it, the door opened and Lisa came in.

 

“I knew you lot were up to something,” she said as she stood with her hands on her hips, “what’s going on?”

 

“Why don’t you join them,” Bobby said as he pulled the knot between Cassie’s lips and tied the scarf round her head.

 

Lisa looked at them and said “all right – but only if somebody tells me what’s going on.”

 

Blffmewntt,” Suzie said as Bobby started to tie Lisa up, and I made my excuses, going back to the party.

 

As I came back into the room, I could see two piles of things on the floor.  To the left of Sarah were baby clothes and items for the new arrivals, and on the right more personal items – toiletries, books, DVDs and other things, including a few scarves and clothes for her.

 

Grandmother was standing up, saying “Well, I believe it is our turn now.  Sarah, Brian, these are for the babies when they finally arrive.”

 

I turned and watched as Mister Boyle and Mister Bridges brought in a car seat each, one blue and one pink, with a little plaque the said “Bart “ and “Sarah” on the metal.

 

“Oh my – do you know, we hadn’t even thought about what they would be in when we fly back,” Brian said, “thank you – thank you very much.”

 

“And this,” Grandfather said, “is for you personally Sarah.”  He handed her a small white box, Sarah looking at her before she opened it and gasped.  “Oh,” she said as she started crying, and took out a replica of the original Smite locket.

 

“Open it,” Grandmother said quietly, and as Sarah pressed on the side it opened up.  Brian looked over her shoulder and said “You should not have…”

 

“Yes, we should,” Grandmother said as Sarah held it so that we could all see.  The original had a drawing of Sara inside – this had two small sketches inside.  On the left was Sarah, while on the right was Brian.

 

“I…  I really do not know what to say,” Sarah said, “it’s beautiful – thank you.”

 

She stood up and hugged Grandmother and Grandfather, as Uncle Alexander said “Well, I guess we should all refill our glasses – and figure out how we’re going to get all this back to the Manor house.”

 

“Let us worry about that,” Grandfather said with a smile, “now, can someone tell me where the younger girls have got to?”

 

I watched the mothers as they looked round, before Bobby blushed and said “I may need a little help…”

 

“Oh,” Aunt Susan said, “and why would that be?”

 

“Well, they’re a little tied up at the moment…”

 

“Bobby…”

 

“Hey don’t blame me,” Bobby said as he raised his hands, “Suzie asked me to make sure she didn’t blurt out the news, and then…”  He then saw my look, and realised he was about to make the same mistake.

 

A blurting out that had not gone unnoticed, as Rachel’s mother put her glasses on and said “News?  What news?”

 

“The news that the girls wanted to play a game of hide and seek with you two,” Bobby suddenly said as he looked at me and Jenny.  “Oh no,” I said quietly, “You’re not suggesting…”

 

“Yes he is,” Colin said as he took hold of Jenny’s arm.  “We’re going to hide both of you, and then they’re going to look for you – while tied up of course.”

 

I glanced over at Rachel’s mum, who just shook her head and said “Well, if it keeps Rachel happy…”

 

We were taken out of the room and led up stairs, Jenny waving to me as Colin took her into one bedroom and Bobby took me into Suzie’s.

 

“You do know we played a game of hide and seek like this that weekend,” I said as I felt Bobby securing my wrists together behind my back.

 

“Yeah – but no Jay Edwards this time,” he said as he tied my wrists to my back, and them roped my arms to my body around my stomach and my shoulders.

 

“There is that,” I said with a nod as he opened Suzie’s large walk in cupboard and I sat on the floor, bending my legs as Bobby secured my ankles and my legs together.  “So you’ll close the door to?”

 

“That’s right – then we’ll bring the girls up and they can all start looking for you and Jenny.  Now, open wide and say than you Your Lordship.”

 

“Thank you frrrnfngggg,” I replied as he pushed a rolled up sock in my mouth – a clean one, thankfully – and then covered my lips with some strips of black tape.  Waving at me, I glared in response as he closed the cupboard door to, and left me with the light shining through the wooden slats in the door.

 

As I sat there, I got to thinking about families, especially ours.  With Aunt Susan now expecting another child, that made seven friends and relations of roughly the same age – Daniel, Andrew, David, June, Bart, Sarah and now whatever the new baby was going to be.

 

When they were going to be even Patty and Rachel’s age, the likes of Jenny and I would be young adults – would we have our own children?  What about the others?

 

Take Bobby and Cassie – please, somebody take Bobby and Cassie!  No, I didn’t mean that – my darling cousin is actually one of the good guys, and if it turns out Cassie is indeed the one for him, then so much the better. 

 

It was funny how we had all paired up over the last year or so – Colin and Jenny, me and Martin, Angela and Eddie.  And they were engaged now – what if Martin was to ask me to marry him?  I closed my eyes and imagined the scene – the chair lined with white flowers, Jenny, Cathy and Mary as my bridesmaids, Dad walking me down the aisle.

 

 

Hffngfnnje?”

 

I opened my eyes to see Mum and Angela standing there, looking at me over the folded scarves that were tied over their mouths.  Their upper arms were tied to their bodies with two bands of rope, and I guessed their arms were folded behind their backs.

 

Ucmmllkng?”

 

They nodded as I pushed myself up onto my feet, and jumped out of the cupboard, out of the room and to the top of the stairs.  As I went to the stairs, I saw Cassie senior and Jo walking in the opposite direction, their arms bound and their mouths covered with scarves as well.

 

Sliding down in as ladylike a manner as I could, I saw some of the other older women walking around, obviously looking for the other girls, so I jumped into the front room.  Mrs Craig, Connie, Sarah and both the grandmothers were sitting watching the babies.

 

“After you went upstairs,” grandmother said as I sat myself down,” we decided to make it more the older women looking for the younger ones, so while Bobby and Colin scattered Suzie and her friends the rest of us had our arms bound and our mouths gagged.  By the looks of things, you were first to be found.”

 

Jsmlkk,” I said as Mum and Angela came in and sat with me.  I then realised something.

 

Rshlssmmm?”

 

“Indeed,” Sarah said, “she’s gone off with Lisa and Patty’s mother.”

 

Well, that was a turn up for the books, as one by one the other girls hopped in and sat down.  Suzie was the last to come in, mainly because Bobby had taken her down to the cellar.

 

“Right, let us untie you all,” Grandmother said, as she and Miranda went to work on all the older women, untying their arms and removing the scarves, and the sponges from their mouths.  As they did so, Bobby and Colin came in and took care of us.

 

“That’s better,” Suzie said, “can I tell them now?  I’ve had to keep quiet all night?”

 

“Do you think I can tell them?”

 

She looked at Aunt Susan, who was rubbing her wrists, and said “Oh yeah – all right then.”

 

“Well,” Aunt Susan said as she looked round the room, “I’m pregnant.  The baby is due February next year.”

 

To say that the younger members of the families in the room took this news in a calm, dignified and responsible manner would be roughly equivalent to saying that Bobby is a fan of Newcastle United.  There was a chorus of ear splitting screams as they rushed to hug Suzie – while a more dignified procession of the rest of the group went to hug Aunt Susan instead.

 

“We’re going to have quite a lot of kids running round the place,” Connie said as she looked at Susan, “but my god, I’m looking forward to it.”

 

“I know – and at least we have the room here now,” Aunt Susan said as I saw Sarah hold her back and stand up.

 

“Lucinda,” she said quietly, “I wonder if it would be possible for Brian and I to head back a little earlier than you – I know it’s an imposition, but…”

 

“Of course,” Grandmother said quietly, “Let me see if I can find Brian and Mr Bridges.”

 

“We’d better get going as well,” Mum said as she came in, “you have school tomorrow after all, and then the rehearsal for the music evening tomorrow night.”

 

“OH how could I forget,” I said quietly, before I gave Jenny a hug and said “See you tomorrow night.”

 

“Oh yeah – captive audience,” she said quietly, “I’ll see you then.”

 

I carried Andrew out to the car, and yeah I yawned – I guess I was more tired than I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“And so, if you add the reagent to the solution, like so, you’ll see the white precipitate as the calcium reacts to form Calcium Carbonate…”

 

The four of us were gathered round the test tubes in Chemistry as Mary slowly added the chemicals, Doctor Frost (as we had to call her in class) walking round as she looked at our work.

 

“Be sure to record in your books how much reagent you added – you will need that information to perform the molar weight calculations for your homework this week.”

 

We all scribbled down the amount left in the test tube, as the fine white powder slowly settled to the bottom of the flask.

 

“Right – if you have completed the experiment, sit back in your places for a moment.”

 

As we sat back down, Doctor Frost went to the front and leaned against her workbench.

 

“I wanted to remind you all that your end of year exam is in two weeks time.  Please, if you have not already started, make sure you revise all the relevant units.”

 

The bell for the end of the lesson went off, and as we packed our bags up she said “I’ll see you all on Thursday.  Alicia, Jennifer, Mary and Cathy – a word before you go please.”

 

We looked at each other and waited for the others to leave before Jo picked up a bag from behind the desk and brought it over.  “This was delivered to the school today for Sarah – can you take it with you to the Manor house tonight?”

 

“I can – Dad’s picking us up from here,” I said, “but can it be stored in here until the end of the day?  I can’t carry it and my bag, especially as I have PE last lesson.”

 

“Sure – just come and get it when you’re ready.”

 

So we left the mysterious bag for the rest of the day, and then I went to pick it up while the others waited outside the school gates for Dad to arrive.  When he saw me carry it in both hands, he said “What on earth is that?”

 

“No idea,” I said as he took it off me,” Jo asked me to take it to Sarah – she said it had arrived earlier today.”

 

“Whatever it is, it feels heavy,” he said as he put it alongside our bags in the back, and I got into the front passenger seat.  Jenny, Cathy and Mary had all agreed to act as a test audience for the music evening – but one that would not offer comment at the time.  I was excused that idea, since Dad had planted alongside Uncle Alexander the idea of me doing a piano duet with Martin – him playing, me singing a comic song.

 

I would much rather it was him singing and playing, but the strong – encouragement – of my grandparents had sealed the deal, as it was.  So I had no choice – and neither would my three good, dear friends but to listen.

 

As we drove up to the manor house, we went straight up to the bedrooms to change from our school uniform into more casual clothes.  Jenny put on a white collarless shirt and black waistcoat, jeans and a pair of black suede boots, while Cathy out on a short sleeved dress and mid-length black boots.

 

I put on a blue blouse and knee length skirt, with flat shoes, while Mary had on a white sweatshirt and leggings, with socks pulled up over her ankles and a pair of trainers.

 

Anyway, we made our way downstairs and into the dining room, where we had tea with my grandparents, Sarah and Brian.  She was holding her back quite a bit, and it was obvious something was bothering her, but when I asked all she said was “Don’t worry – it’s just some indigestion.”

 

Once we had finished, we went into the library – the other musicians had started to arrive, and we needed to clear the dining room for them to use.  Martin popped his head round the door to say hi, before he went to help his parents.

 

“All right,” Brian said eventually as he looked at his watch,” We need to get our test audience ready.  Will you come and help, Alicia?”

 

“Of course I will,” I said as I stood up.  I helped Brian to bring three chairs into the library, and watched as Jenny sat in one of them, making herself comfortable before Brian took her arms around the chair back and tied her wrists tightly together, and then secured them to the chair back.  Mary and Cathy had the same thing done to them, before Brian handed Sarah and me a length of rope.

 

“If you would secure them to the chair back,” he said, so I stood behind Jenny and tied the end of the rope to where the back of the chair met the seat at one side, and then wrapped it round her and the chair, crossing it and winding it between the spans of the chair back as well, before tying to off at the opposite corner.

 

Brian and Sarah went for a more traditional approach with Mary and Cathy, binding them with a rope belt around their waists and stomachs, and then tying their arms to the chair back.

 

“Now, you need to be a silent audience,” Sarah said as she took three scarves and folded them into pads, “so open wide for the first layer.”

 

“Can we at least hum along?”

 

“Of course,” Sarah said as she pushed a scarf into each of their mouths, and then used three more scarves folded into bands as cleave gags, before covering their lips with the wide white tape.  Cathy had hers covered first, then Mary, and finally Jenny.

 

It was when Sarah pressed the tape down over Jenny’s mouth that I saw her look down, and then look wide eyed at Sarah, saying “Lllkdnnn.”

 

“What’s wrong,” Sarah said as she looked at her, and then she, Brian and I looked at the pool of water that was on the floor between her legs.

 

Brian turned and looked at me, whispering “Find Kayla – quickly.”

 

I didn’t need to be told twice, as I went out and down the hallway.  My grandparents were talking to the people actually doing the performance, so I walked up quietly and said “Grandmother, I wonder if I could have a quick word please?  It will only take a moment.”

 

“Of course Alicia – will you excuse us for a moment,” she said as we walked into a quiet corner.  “Now,” she said as she looked at me, “what is wrong?”

 

“I think Sarah is going to have her babies – Brian asked me to find Kayla.”

 

She looked at me for a moment, before saying “She’s talking to Mrs Bridges in the kitchen.  Go and fetch her, without raising the alarm.  I’ll go and see Sarah, and then if necessary call a midwife.”

 

Nodding, I walked to the kitchen, smiling at everyone as I went past.  As I entered, I saw Kayla talking to the housekeeper.

 

“Really,” she said, “I never thought of using gunpowder tea in that way – Alicia, what’s wrong?”

 

“Brian asked me to find you,” I said quietly, “We think Sarah is going to have her babies.”

 

Kayla and Mrs Bridges looked at each other, before the housekeeper said “I’ll get some hot water on the boil.”

 

“Take me to them,” Kayla said as we walked out of the kitchen, and into the library.  Grandmother was sitting with Sarah, who was panting a little as she held her stomach.

 

“Oh,” Kayla said as she looked at her, “I guess it really is time.”

 

Whtsgngngg,” Mary said through her gag.

 

“It would appear we’re going to have a couple of additional guests for the music evening,” Grandmother said quietly.  “Alicia, inform your grandfather that I am otherwise engaged, and that the rehearsal is to continue.”

 

“Who will keep the three judges company,” I said quietly as I looked at Jenny, Mary and Cathy, “We can’t leave them on their own, and I have to go out there as well.”

 

“It is in hand,” Grandmother said quietly, “go, tell your grandfather.  Kayla, help me take Sarah upstairs.”

 

“One minute,” Sarah said as she groaned and seemed to be in pain, before the look on her face passed over.  “All right,” she said quietly, “I can move now.”

 

I went out of the room and back into the hall to find grandfather.  Taking him to one side, I explained what was happening, and he nodded in agreement.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he then said out loud, “Lucinda has unfortunately been called away to tend to another matter, but she has asked that we start the rehearsal without her.  Who is first on the program?”

 

As the others walked over, I grabbed Martin by the arm and dragged him into a corner.  “I can’t explain now,“ I whispered, “but if I’m not back by the time the act before us goes, come and find me in the library.”

 

He nodded and I walked quickly back down, as Mrs Bridges followed me with clean towels and a bowl of hot water.  Going into the library, I heard the local string quartet start to play some Vivaldi as Brian stood up.

 

“I need to be with Sarah,” he said as he looked at me.  “Your mother is on her way over.”

 

“Go,” I said, and watched as he headed out of the room, closing the door behind himself. 

 

Ssssrllrt,” Cathy said as she looked at me.

 

“I think she’s going to be just fine,” I said as I sat in the armchair, and we listened to the music playing.

 

Twenty minutes later, the door opened and Mum came in, wearing old jeans and a baggy sweater.  “All right,” she said as I stood up, “you need to go and do your rehearsal.  I’ll stay and keep the girls company.”

 

“How’s Sarah,” I said as I saw through the open door a local midwife following Mrs Bridges up the stairs.

 

“She’s fine – but they need room to work, so go – sing.”

 

“But I can’t sing…”

 

“Bad musical – now go, they’ll be just fine.”

 

I looked at the others, and nodded as I went back into the main hall.

 

“Hey,” Martin whispered as I came in, “Everything all right?”

 

“Apart from me being a nervous wreck?  Yeah, everything’s the usual organised chaos at Holderness Manor” I said with a smile.

 

“Good – well, gird your loins with courage, because we are up next.”

 

“WHAT!!!”

 

“Yup – for some reason, your grandfather wanted you to be free for the rest of the evening.”

 

“Oh really,” I said as I looked over at him, while he smiled at the playing.  “Remind me to thank him later.”

 

“Well done,” he said as the trumpeter finished.  “Martin, Alicia, you are up next.”

 

We walked over to the piano, Martin sitting down and smiling at me while I looked at the words for one last time.

 

He started to play the melody while I took a deep breath and began with the song O Lady of Sensibility…

 

 

 

“Very well done indeed,” grandfather said as the other participants clapped, Dad, Uncle Alexander and Aunt Susan loudest of all.  “Alicia, would you come with us for a moment?”

 

“Martin, when you’re done with your family part, can you come to the library as well,” I said as the five of us walked out of the room for a few minutes.  Grandfather than turned and said “Sarah is in labour upstairs.  Anne is in the library, but…”

 

“We know what to do,” Aunt Susan said as she headed up the stairs.  Dad and Uncle Alexander looked at each other, and said “Where’s Brian?”

 

“Probably pacing the floor out upstairs.”

 

They nodded and followed the others up as grandfather turned to me.  “You go and sit with your mother, Alicia – I’m sure everything will be fine.”

 

Before I could leave, however, Kayla came down and said “Alicia, the bag you collected from Jo today, where is it?”

 

“Why, is it important?”

 

“In a way yes – where is it?”

 

I took Kayla along to the front entrance hall, and watched as she opened the bag.

 

“What’s in there,” I said as she took the package out and gently placed it on a table in the hallway.”

 

“A present from Anne and Sue,” she said as she opened the top, and drew out two small quilted blankets.  From upstairs, I could hear Sarah shouting out and screaming.

 

“I thought birth was meant to be painless,” I said as I looked up upstairs.

 

“Let me ask a question, Alicia, and forgive me if I am direct,” Kayla said as she looked at me, “but when it is that time, is it totally painless for you?”

 

That made me stop and think, as I slowly shook my head.

 

“Right – I need to go upstairs,” she said as she went up and Aunt Susan came down.

 

“Library,” she said as she guided me in, Mum standing up as we came in.

 

“Well?”

 

“She’s nearly there,” Aunt Susan said as she sat down, “enjoying the music girls?”

 

Mary nodded as the other two looked at her and then at us.

 

“Sarah is giving birth,” Aunt Susan said, “and believe me, you do not want to be up there right this moment.  Oh – is that someone playing a Beatles medley?”

 

I had to admit, it was – and it sounded awfully like Martin and his parents, given it was a guitar and violin, with piano accompaniment.  We all sat and closed our eyes as we listened to the beautiful music, and then the applause, before Martin came in a few minutes later.

 

“Is there something else going on,” he said as he looked at us, before there was an unmistakeable sound from upstairs – a baby crying.

 

“Oh my,” Martin said as he looked at me, “Does that mean?”

 

“Not yet,” Aunt Susan said as we all listened to Sarah shouting out, and then a second baby crying.

 

Aunt Susan and Mum stood up and hugged each other as I saw grandmother walking down the stairs, the biggest smile possible on her face.

 

“They’re both beautiful and healthy,” she said as she looked at us.  “I need to go and give my apologies to the guests, but you three can…”

 

She looked over at Jenny, Mary and Cathy, who were squirming and trying to shout out at us.

 

“Well – you two head up first,” she said as she looked at Mum and Aunt Susan.  “Martin, perhaps you can help Alicia to free the others, and then you can go up as well?”

 

I saw them all nodding as Martin and I got to work.  We removed the gags first, Jenny saying “Thanks” as I took care of hers.

 

“Enjoy the show?”

 

“Well, there was that soprano and piano solo that I thought…”

 

“Careful…”

 

“Was truly excellent,” Jenny said with a smile.  “Come on – get us untied.  I want to go and see the babies.”

 

I’m telling you, Martin and I were all fingers and thumbs, but eventually we had them free, and all five of us walked out of the library.  As we did so, we saw Kayla and Grandmother walk down the stairs with the midwife.

 

“Everything looks all right, but I’ll have the doctor drop by tomorrow to make sure – call if there are any problems,” she said as she shook Grandmother’s hand.

 

“Thank you,” Kayla said as she showed her out, and we were beckoned to come up.  We followed slowly, quietly, before we stopped outside Susan and Brian’s room and she knocked on the door.

 

“Is it all right if some people come and say hello,” she said as she looked in.  After a moment, Grandmother opened the door and we all filed in.

 

Sarah was sitting up in bed, and at each side of her were two babies, one wrapped in a blue blanket and the other in a pink one.  I recognised them as the ones Kayla had taken up, as Sarah said “It’s all right – come along in, you can touch them.”

 

We gathered round the bed and looked at the boy and girl, their eyes closed as they lay there.

 

“They’re beautiful,” Mary said as she looked at them.  “A boy and a girl?”

 

“That’s right,” Grandmother said, “and unlike your little brother and sister, Jennifer, born on the same day.”

 

Martin was entranced by their faces, as they moved a little.

 

“They look so perfect,” Cathy said with a smile, “what’s their names?”

 

“Bart and Sarah – do you like them?”

 

“They seem to suit them,” Cathy said as Brian appeared in the doorway.

 

“I spoke to Anne – she says very well done, and she’ll tell the others.”

 

“Thanks,” Sarah said with a smile.

 

“Right time you younger ones were not here, and let the new mother get some sleep,” Grandmother said as she gently shepherded us out of the room.  I turned and saw Sarah and Brian kissing, before the door was closed…

 

 

 

 

“Well, I’m glad they arrived safely,” Dad said as we sat round the breakfast table the next day.  “Who came first?”

 

“Bart, Lucinda said, by about two minutes.  It was almost as if they could not wait to meet their mummy and daddy,” Mum said as she sat down and buttered a slice of toast.

 

“He was also slightly heavier – seven pounds as opposed to six twelve for Sarah.”  I finished my toast and said “and they both had full heads of hair – you can tell Bart is going to be like Brian already, while Sarah has her mother’s eyes.”

 

“You’re not jealous, are you Andrew,” Angela said as Andrew held a slice of toast in his hand, and then bit into it, smiling as he chewed away.

 

“Why would he be – he’s the oldest of this group.  Him, Danny, David and June, now Bart and Sarah for his cousins, and then there are Connie and Susan’s new arrivals…”

 

“Well, you’ll be able to see them when you come up to the Manor House tonight for the music evening,” Dad said with a smile.

 

“Oh yeah – I’d forgotten attendance was mandatory,” Angela said, “but at least Eddie will be with me.”

 

That was when the knot in my stomach started again. “I need to get going to school,” I said as I stood up and put my blazer on, “I’ll see you all later.”

 

“Have a good day at school,” Mum called out as I grabbed my bag and ran out – I couldn’t tell her I felt like throwing up when I thought about that night.  That was how nervous I was about everything.

 

“Alicia,” Jo Frost shouted out as I walked in the school gates, “May I have a word please?”

 

I walked over to where she was standing in the doorway, and waited as she said “I hear everything arrived safely last night?”

 

“They did, yes,” I said with a smile, “but what else was in that box?  I saw the quilts, but it was much heavier than both of them.”

 

She smiled and said “I asked Kayla that.  Turned out it was a care package from Maine – some of Sarah’s clothes, and a mess of food they can’t get over here.  I guess we just became smugglers as well.”

 

Shaking my head, I headed for our form room.  I didn’t mind being a smuggler – not for such beautiful babies.

 

Mind you, when I told the others at lunchtime, they had a slightly different reaction…

 

“But I love American Chocolate!  Had I known…

 

“You have got to be kidding me,” Jenny said as she looked at Cathy.  “It’s horrible!  Where did you learn to like such stuff?”

 

Cathy blushed as she said “Well, when we went to Florida when I was a kid, I tasted it, and – well, I just liked it.”

 

All three of us looked at her, and then Jenny said “Oh well – horses for courses, I guess.  So looking forward to tonight?”

 

“Please – I’m scared stiff.  I really wish you girls could be there with me as well.”

 

“Sorry,” Jenny said, “family night tonight.  Granny and Grandpa Carter are calling from Australia.”

 

“You’ll be fine,” Mary said as she picked up one of her sandwiches, “you sounded great last night, honestly.”

 

“And besides – you’ll have Martin right there with you,” Jenny said as she put a forkful of salad into her mouth.

 

“Yeah – there is that,” I said with a little smile.  “Still, I wish you lot were there with me.”

 

“Oh come on – you’ll have Bobby and Suzie, and I think Colin is going with his parents as well,” Jenny said as she took a drink.

 

“Like that’s a comfort,” I said with a wry grin…

 

 

 

 

 

When we arrived at the Manor House, the first person we saw was Brian, who was coming down the staircase in a grey suit, white shirt and black tie.

 

“Will Sarah be joining us,” Mum said as we came in.  Dad was also wearing a suit, while Mum had on a green evening dress that came to the floor.  Angela was wearing a black cocktail dress, while I had on a white short sleeved dress that came to my knees, and a wide belt around my waist.  We all had matching high heeled shoes on as well – with the exception of Dad, of course.

 

“She’ll come down before the music starts,” Brian said with a smile.  “Kayla is just making sure everything is all right, and then there are two new lives to consider.”  He shook Dad’s hand as he said “Congratulations – how does it feel to be a father?”

 

“Is it wrong to say terrifying?”

 

“Not at all,” Dad said, “just remember – the fear never really goes away.”

 

“I’ll bear that in mind,” Brian said as he smiled and walked into the large hall with the rest of us.  People were standing round in small groups, and I waved at Colin and Bobby as he stood with their families.  They were all in suits and dresses, even Suzie in her dark blue short sleeved dress with the sash round her waist.

 

“So looking forward to this,” Uncle Alexander said as he walked over to us.

 

“I’m nervous as heck, but also it’ll be good to get it over with,” I said with a little smile as Grandfather and Grandmother came in.   Grandmother was wearing a black evening dress, with a set of pearls round her neck, while Grandfather was wearing a black velvet jacket and dress trousers, with a white shirt and a black bow tie.

 

They smiled at us as they walked round, and Martin came up to me.  “Hey,” he said as he gave me a little kiss on my cheek, “you look lovely tonight.”

 

“Flatterer,” I said with a smile, “so where do we go?”

 

“You have to come with me now – the artists are gathering in the library before we come in together.”

 

“I’ll see you later,” I said as I went off with Martin to the library, meeting his parents there.  “You like nice yourself,” I said as I looked at his suit, and the blue tie he was wearing.

 

“Well, I try my best,” he said as we talked with his mum and dad for a while, and then Uncle Alexander came in.

 

“If you will come with me,” he said as he held the door open, and we formed a line, walking through the main room and out into the marquee that had been set up on the lawn.  As I came in, I saw Sarah and Kayla sitting at the back.  Sarah was wearing a light pink dress and shoes, while Kayla had on a white trouser suit.  They each had one of the babies sitting in their arms.

 

We went and sat at the front, as Grandfather stood up.  I noticed he looked a little pale, but he smiled as he said “Welcome everyone to our music evening.  I hope you all enjoy yourselves as much as I know Lucinda and I are going to.”

 

He sat back down again to a round of applause as the first act got underway…

 

The first part of the evening passed pleasantly enough, but as the time came for Martin and me to sing I was getting more and more nervous.  I felt him squeeze my hand, and smiled at him, as we stood up and took our place on the stage.

 

I really wish I could remember more of how we did, but if I am being a hundred percent honest, it was all a bit of a blur, but I do remember seeing Mum and Dad, Uncle Alexander and Aunt Susan, and Grandmother and Grandfather smiling at me, before Martin stopped and we both took a bow.

 

As we did so, the audience started to move back into the main hall for refreshments.  “Are you coming as well, Grandfather,” I said as I looked at him.

 

“Of course I…” he said, and then he sat down suddenly, his hand on his chest.

 

“Desmond?”  Grandmother said as she sat with him, and I could see she was really worried.

 

“Martin,” I said quietly, “go and find Kayla – she was sitting next to Sarah – and my father.  Tell them both to come here quickly.”

 

Martin nodded and walked quickly to the back of the room, as I held my grandfather’s hand.  He looked at me and smiled, whispering “Sorry” as Grandmother held him.

 

“What’s happened,” Kayla said as she came over and sat down.

 

“It’s his heart,” Grandmother said as Dad joined us.  “I think he’s having an attack.”

 

Kayla felt the side of his neck, and then looked at him, before turning to Dad.  “Call an ambulance,” she said quietly, “and tell them to come to the marquee as fast as possible.  Can we delay the re-start – discretely?”

 

“There’s a madrigal choir and a couple of soloists – I’ll see if they mind doing their pieces in the main hall,” Dad said as she walked off, Martin putting his hand on my shoulder.

 

“Sorry to scare you like this, Ali,” he said quietly as I held his hand, before Uncle Alexander came in.

 

“Ambulance is on the way,” he said as he looked at Grandmother.  She nodded quietly as we sat there, waiting for the ambulance crew to come.

 

They arrived within five minutes, putting Grandfather into a seat as Grandmother looked at Uncle Alexander.  We could hear the madrigal choir starting to sing in the main hall.

 

“Go,” he said quietly, “call us when you have any news.”  She nodded and walked out with Grandfather, with something I had never seen in all my life.

 

A look of fear on her face.

 

“Alicia?”

 

I turned to look at Martin and Uncle Alexander, and I realised I had started crying.

 

“Come here,” they said as they both held me, “we need to finish the evening – it’s what they both will want.  Your grandfather is a fighter, Alicia, so I need you to be one as well, all right?”

 

I nodded as I looked at him.

 

“Good – go and help your mother now.  I need to act as host, but once everyone has gone – Martin, would you be able to stay a while longer?”

 

“Of course sir.”

 

“Good man – now, chin up, and let’s do what we do best.”

 

We walked back into the room, Mum hugging me as Uncle Alexander said “That was wonderful – thank you.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Lord and Lady Holderness have been called away, so I will act as your host for the rest of this evening.  Please, return to your seats, and the show will continue in the marquee.”

 

“I’m sorry, I have to…”

 

“It’s all right Martin – thank you, and find us later,” Mum said as she looked at me.  “Come on – let’s join Aunt Susan and your sister.”

 

We walked into the marquee and sat with Aunt Susan, listening to the rest of the music, but my mind was with my grandparents, and wondering what was happening with them.

 

 

 

It was nearly eleven by the time the last guests left, and Uncle Alexander joined the rest of us in the library, Martin holding my hand as he sat next to me.

 

“Some night, huh,” he said as he looked at us.

 

“Dad,” Suzie said, “where are Grandmother and Grandfather?”

 

“There’s something I need to tell the rest of you,” Uncle Alexander said as he rubbed his eyes.  “Your grandfather has not been completely well for some time – he has had some heart problems, and tonight – well, that problem became serious.

 

“I’ve spoken to your grandmother, and he is resting in hospital – but he will stay there for a few days.”

 

I heard him say that, and wondered what he was not telling us…

 

“Is Grandfather going to die,” Bobby said quietly.  “I remember when Grandfather Jacobs died.”

 

“No,” Uncle Alexander said quietly, “I don’t think he is.  But he is sick, and we should all say a prayer for both of them tonight.”

 

“Alicia, are you all right,” Mum said as she looked at me.  I hadn’t realised it, but I had started shaking and crying.

 

“Two nights – two nights running,” I sobbed, “I’ve been here with Martin and something happens…”  I got up and ran out of the room, unaware of the others watching me as I ran out onto the garden, and sat down on the bench.

 

A few minutes later, I heard Sarah say “Mind if I sit with you?”

 

Looking up, I shook my head and moved over so that she could sit on the seat next to me, sighing a little as she did so.

 

“Still hurts a bit,” she said as she looked along the dark lawn.  After a few minutes, she turned to me and said “I never said thank you for the way you helped me last night.”

 

“I just went to find Kayla and tell Grandmother what was happening.”

 

“I know – but you did it quietly, and discretely, and that was appreciated.  I think Bart and Sarah would thank you as well if they could talk.”

 

I smiled, and then said “Do you think they will take after you?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Sarah said with a smile.  “I’m taking this one day at a time, Alicia.  After all, one day I have to tell Bart why his full name is Bartholomew Horatio, and why he and his twin sister have a British passport but live in the US.”

 

“I guess they’ll never be President then,” I said with a smile, making Sarah laugh.

 

“No, that particular boat has sailed, I’m afraid – besides, Brian is Australian.  Now Prime Minister…”

 

“Not a chance,” I said quietly.

 

“It’s all right to be afraid and upset you know,” Sarah said quietly.  “I wish I had been when I heard my mother had died.”

 

“Well, he’s not dead – and it turned out all right in the end, didn’t it?”

 

“Yeah, I suppose it did,” Sarah said as she nodded.  “But I have only just discovered my extended family out here, and I’m not quite ready to let any part of it go yet.  Are you?”

 

I shook my head as Sarah put her arm round me – and I suddenly felt better, as if a weight had been lifted from me.

 

“What happened here yesterday and today are not your fault, Alicia – we have been blessed with my babies, and your grandfather is ill, but none of that is your fault.  You were just very unlucky, all right?”

 

“I know,” I said with a smile, “I just felt funny about it happening twice.”

 

“I can imagine,” Sarah said as we stood up.  “Martin’s looking for you – I think he needs to head home.  You’d better come and say good night to him.”

 

I smiled as we went back in and Martin hugged me.  “Listen,” he said, “Jenny and Colin were wondering if we wanted to go to his place tomorrow night – his parents are out, and we could watch a video together.”

 

“Yeah – sounds good. Can we pick the film?”

 

“Only if we bring the popcorn.”

 

“It’s a date then,” I said as I gave him a kiss, and he left with Mister Bridges.

 

“How are you,” Dad said as he and Mum came out.

 

“Better – I just had a really bad fright,” I said as I hugged them.

 

“Come on,” Mum said, “let’s go home – there’s not a lot we can do here, and April will be getting worried.”

 

 

 

 

When I came down to breakfast the next morning, Mum looked at me and said “I spoke to your grandmother – your grandfather is as well as can be expected.”

 

“Do they know what happened yet,” I said as I sat down.

 

“I’m afraid so,” Mum said as she sat down.  “He had a bad heart attack during the show.  They managed to get him to hospital in time, and he will need a lot of rest, but I think he will pull through.”

 

“What about Grandmother,” I said as I poured some milk onto my cereal.

 

“She’s scared and tired,” Mum said quietly.  “Susan and I will go over and see her today, but I think your Uncle Alexander is going to be a very busy man over the next few days.”

 

“I guess so – Grandfather is really going to have to retire now, isn’t he?”

 

Mum nodded.  “He should have by now anyway, but…”

 

“But men never like to give up what they enjoy,” Dad said as he came in.  “I’ll give you a lift into school, Alicia – I need to go and see Alexander this morning.”

 

“Are you both all right with me going to Jenny’s tonight,” I said as I finished my breakfast and stood up.

 

“Of course – I don’t you moping round the house all day,” Mum said.

 

“If there is a chance, I’ll take you to see your grandfather later,” Dad said as he looked at Mum.  “Right now, get your stuff.”

 

 

 

 

 

“I heard – how is he,” Jenny said as I sat with her at lunch.

 

“Not well – but they say he’ll get better,” I said quietly.  “I guess we just have to pray.”

 

“That’s all we can ever do at times like this,” Jenny said.  “So what film do you want to watch tonight?”

 

“I need to laugh – any thoughts?”

 

“Something we can all laugh at,” Jenny said as she thought.  “I know – what about We’re The Millers?”

 

“The Jennifer Aniston film? Yeah, why not – sounds good to me.  Have you got a copy?”

 

“I will have by tonight,” Jenny said, “leave it with me.”

 

Looking at her, I still kick myself sometimes that I was such a bully to her until two years ago – and now we’re the best of friends…

 

 

“So are you going to see him before you come round tonight?”

 

“Not sure – it depends on what Mum and Aunt Susan find out when they see Grandmother today.”

 

“Well, when you do see her, tell her my family are thinking of them.”

 

“I will – thanks,” I said quietly as I looked at Jenny.

 

 

 

As Dad picked me up from school, he said “If you don’t mind, we’re going up to the manor first – your grandmother wants to speak to all of you.”

 

I nodded as we drove to Holderness Manor, Mrs Bridges opening the door as we walked in.

 

Sarah and Brian smiled at us as we went into the library.  Angela was already there with Eddie, and Mum was sitting with Aunt Susan.

 

“We’re just waiting on the others,” Aunt Susan said as I sat down.

 

A few minutes later, Uncle Alexander came in with Bobby and Suzie, both of them still in school uniform, and then Grandmother came in.   I hadn’t seen her look so tired in months, as she sat down and composed herself.

 

“Long night,” she said with a weary smile.  “Possibly the longest I have faced in some time.”  She looked at Angela, Mum and Aunt Susan before saying “We almost lost your grandfather last night.  He came back, and he is recovering, but I have to say now, and be honest in saying it, that he will not be able to do all the things he used to do.”

 

Suzie cuddled into Aunt Susan as Grandmother sat back.

 

“He will be in hospital for some time, and then come home to rest.  I know this will sound terrible, but he’s not to have any visitors except for me until the weekend.  On Saturday, your parents will take you to see him, but he asked me to say he loves you all, and he looks forward to seeing you then.

 

“In the meantime, Alexander, Susan, you may have to start taking on some of the charity work we do while I look after him.”

 

They both nodded as Grandmother stood up and said “Forgive me, children – I need to rest.”

 

“Of course,” Mum said as she went out with Grandmother.

 

“This is really serious, isn’t it,” Bobby said as the door closed.

 

“I’m afraid so – but the last thing your grandfather would want us to do is sit around moping.  Come on you two – let’s get you home and get your homework done.”

 

“You as well,” Dad said as he looked at me and Angela.  “I’ll bring Andy back later.  Want a lift Eddie?”

 

“Please,” Eddie said as we all left and returned to town, Dad picking up some fish and chips before we went back to the house.

 

“I’ve never really thought about it – what happens when Grandfather dies,” I said as I sat the table with both of them.

 

“Don’t think about it just now,” Dad said.  “When are you expected round at Colin’s?”

 

“About eight.”

 

Dad nodded and said “I’ll drop you off before I go and get your mother.”

 

 

 

 

As I walked up the path to Colin’s house, I saw his mother and father coming out.

 

“How is he,” Mister Hampton said as he looked at me.  He was in dress uniform, but he looked concerned.

 

“Stable – it was a real scare,” I said quietly as Colin stood in the doorway.

 

“Well, we’re all thinking of you,” Mrs Hampton said as they got into the car, and drove off.  “The others are inside,” Colin said as he showed me in, and closed the door behind me.

 

Jenny and Martin stood up when I came in, and – well, I just grabbed Martin and hugged him, sobbing into the shoulder of his sweatshirt as he held me.  I felt his hand on my back and just let everything out.

 

“Sorry,” I eventually said as I let go, and wiped my eyes. 

 

“No problem,” Martin said quietly as he handed me a hankie, “feel better now?”

 

I nodded as I sat down, the cuffs of my leggings rising up under my short brown boots.  I was wearing a black v-necked sweater over a white t-shirt with the leggings, while Jenny had on jeans with the legs tucked into black leather boots and a cowl necked blue jumper.

 

“One hell of a day, I take it,” Colin said as he sat next to Jenny.

 

“You said it,” I replied with a small smile.  “Listen, Jenny, if I make a request, promise me you won’t think it strange?”

 

“As if I would,” Jenny said quietly, “what is it?”

 

“I really need to feel secure tonight – is it all right if the boys tie us up before the movie starts?”

 

“Yeah – I’d like that as well,” Jenny said as Martin and Colin looked at each other, “but completely, I want to rely on them totally.”

 

“Have you got what we need,” Martin said as he looked at Colin.

 

“I’ve got most of it, but none of the special tape – only duct tape.  I’ll need to borrow two of mum’s scarves, and explain later what happened to them.”

 

“Let us go to the toilet,” I said as Jenny and I got up, “and then you can get started.”

 

Colin went to his garage while we went and took care of things, returning to find him sorting out the equipment on the coffee table.

 

“We’ll start with the hands, if you want the full works,” he said as he handed us two sponges each.  Handing Martin a roll of silver tape, he waited for us to make fists, our fingernails sinking into the sponges, before they taped them into two silver balls each, the tape covering the cuffs of our jumpers.

 

They then took rope, and we both crossed out wrists behind our backs, feeling the cords pull them together as they went around and between our arms, before they fixed them to the smalls of our backs with rope around our waists.

 

“You’re getting better at this,” I said as I looked over my shoulder at Martin.

 

“Why thank you,” he said with a smile, before he and Colin looked at each other.

 

“What,” Jenny said as she looked at them.

 

“Well, you say you want the full works,” Colin said, “but we also promised your mothers we would not do the double ropes unless one of them did it.  You kinda see our problem?”

 

Jenny and I looked at each other, before I said “We won’t say anything if you don’t – just be careful.”

 

The boys nodded as they took a long length of rope each, and passed it around our arms and bodies, pulling it tight under our chest before they passed it several times round, above and below our chests.

 

Suzie and Cassie, when this was first done to them, couldn’t describe how it felt to them.  I knew how it felt to me, especially when it was Martin doing it – t felt nice, and he was very careful not to touch me anywhere – not even when he used two shorter lengths of rope to tighten those bands under my arms.

 

“Well,” Jenny said as she wriggled round, “I like what you’ve done so far.  What about you Ali?”

 

I nodded – I was actually starting to feel better already, as Martin helped me to sit down and knelt in front of me.  I crossed my ankles and watched as he lashed them tightly together, the rope between my ankles making it feel even more secure.  Colin was doing the same for Jenny, before they bound our legs below our knees, and added an extra band just above them.

 

“That’s good,” I said as I wriggled round, “my one regret is we don’t get the popcorn.”

 

“Well,” Martin said, “Colin and I will forego that pleasure as well.  Ready?”

 

Jenny and I looked at each other and nodded, as we opened our mouths to allow the boys to put a squashed up sponge ball inside.  As it expanded to fill my mouth and pressed my tongue down, I really felt relaxed – the most relaxed I had felt in days, as Martin eased a length of white towelling between my lips and tied it round my head.

 

“Red or green,” he then said as he held up two bandanas.  I looked at Jenny, and then said “Grn.”

 

“Green it is,” he said with a smile a she handed the red one to Colin, and folded it in half, tying it over my head so that it covered my hair and the point sat at the back of my neck.  Jenny smiled as the red bandana covered her blonde hair, and then we felt the silver tape sticking to our cheeks as the boys wound it tightly several times around our heads.

 

“Better,” Martin said as he sat beside me and put his arm round me, giving me a hug.  I nodded and put my head on his shoulder, bending my legs and tucking them under myself as Colin started the film, then sat with Jenny on the other two seat couch.  Jenny lay across his lap, her head on the arm of the chair as the opening credits rolled.

 

I felt absolutely safe, with Martin looking after me, unable to do anything except rely on him to look after me, and after a while I was cuddled in, my head resting on his chest as he held me tight.  All I could do was watch the film, laugh along with it, and as I saw Jenny with Colin’s arm over her waist I realised she was thinking the same thing.

 

I hummed to myself quietly as I relaxed even more, not realising my eyes were closing…

 

 

 

“Ahem.”

 

I opened my eyes slowly to see Mister Hampton standing there, in his shirt and trousers, his arms folded and smiling.

 

Hhhllll,” I mumbled, and then I realised I had fallen asleep.  And I was not the only one.  Looking over, I saw both Jenny and Colin were fast asleep, Colin with his head back on the chair and Jenny resting her head on a pillow on his lap. 

 

Looking up, I saw Martin was also sleeping – and what was worse, Jenny and I were still bound and gagged.

 

Hmmmmssrrre,” I mumbled as I sat myself up, and nudged Martin.  “No, we can get back over,” he mumbled as he slowly opened his eyes – and then suddenly opened them wider when he saw Colin’s dad standing there.

 

“Oh,” he said as he stood up, “hello Mister Hampton – we must have dozed off.”

 

“I can see that,” Colin’s father said with a smile.  “Colin, you have five minutes or you will be late for school.”

 

“Coming Dad,” Colin said as he woke up, and then looked round.  “Ah – I can explain…”

 

“You don’t have to,” Mister Hampton said as Jenny opened her eyes and then sat up.  “It’s half past eleven.  Your mother has gone up to bed, and I’ve called your fathers,” he said as he looked at us, “to say I’ll have you both home as soon as possible.  May I suggest you prepare yourselves – and Colin?”

 

“Yes, Dad?”

 

“You owe your mother for two new bandanas.”  As he left the room, Martin removed my gag, saying “Sorry,” as he did so.

 

“Don’t be,” I answered when I could finally talk, “it was just what I needed.  Come here.”

 

As he came closer, I kissed his lips, and then said “thank you – now you’d better get me untied.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hospital car park wasn’t that busy as Dad drove in, and we all got out, Mum carrying Andy in her arms.  Angela and I were wearing cotton blouses and skirts, and I had a bunch of flowers in my hand while Angela was carrying some books.

 

“Now remember,” Dad said as we walked towards the main entrance, “your grandfather is still very tired, so we can only stay for a few minutes.”

 

I nodded as we walked up to a lift, and Dad pressed the button for the third floor.  As the doors opened again, we stepped out to meet Uncle Alexander, Aunt Susan, Bobby and Suzie.

 

“How is he,” Mum asked as she hugged Uncle Alexander.

 

“Better than yesterday,” he said quietly.  “Simon, I spoke to Mark yesterday, and he’s coming over to the Manor House on Monday to discuss transfer of certain powers.  Can I depend on your approval as the co-signatory?”

 

“I presume this is over financial control of the company?”

 

Uncle Alexander nodded.  “I need to fill out the paperwork for reporting to the city on Tuesday.”

 

“No problem, let me know when on Monday and I’ll drop by.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Hey,” Aunt Susan said as she looked at me, “feeling better now?”

 

“A lot thanks,” I said with a smile.  “How are you doing Bobby?”

 

Bobby just nodded – when Aunt Susan’s father died a few years ago, it had hit him hard, and I wondered if this was bringing some old memories back.

 

“Come up to the hall when you’re done,” Uncle Alexander said as he got into the lift, “I’ll fill you in on what’s going to happen.”

 

“Once I’ve taken them home,” Dad said as the lift doors closed, and we walked along the pine scented corridor.  As some doors swung open, he stopped and put some gel on his hands, rubbing it in and indicating we should do the same.

 

We then walked down to a room, where we saw Grandfather lying in a bed.  A bank of monitors was along one side of the bed, and I could see various wires attached to him.

 

“Hey,” he said as he saw us there, “come on in, and let me see you.”

 

He looked older than I had ever seen him, and very tired, but compared to how grey he had looked on Wednesday there was a vast improvement.

 

“How are you,” Mum said as she came in and held her hand.

 

“Tired,” he said with a smile.  He then looked at me and said “Come here, Alicia.”

 

I stepped forward, holding the flowers and said “I thought you might like these in your room.”

 

“Thank you,” he said quietly.  “Anne, Simon, would you mind if I had a quiet word with these two?”

 

“I’ll see if we can find a vase for these,” Mum said as she took the flowers off me, and Angela put the books down on the small table by the bed.  She and Dad left us as we took his hands.

 

“Don’t worry,” he said as he smiled, “I’m not quite ready to go yet, but I know I gave you both a huge scare – you especially, Alicia.”

 

“I…”

 

“Hey – don’t you start crying again, young lady.  I heard what happened the other day.  Listen – things are going to change, and you’re going to see those changes, but I want you to remember that I’m still your grandfather, and even though I may not be as active, I’m still there if you ever need to talk to me.  In fact, I may be there a bit more often now, especially if you need to discuss certain young men.”

 

Angela and I looked at each other and smiled.

 

“Right now, your mother really needs your support, so be there if she needs you, and the rest will follow.”

 

“I know, Grandpops,” Angela said, using the name we hadn’t used for a long time, “and we’ll be there for her.  And for Grandma as well.”

 

“Then I don’t need to worry do I?  Now, sit with me for a few minutes, until your parents get back – and tell me about Andrew.”

 

So we sat and we talked for a little while, and then we saw he was getting tired.  “We’d better go,” Angela said as she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.

 

“Get better, Grandpops,” I whispered as I did the same.

 

“I intend to,” he said with a smile as we left and Mum went in.

 

“It’s not going to be the same, is it,” I said to Dad as we waited outside.

 

“Not quite, no – but let’s just take it one step at a time,” he said quietly.

 

I guess that’s all you can ever do at times like this – take it one step at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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