The Birthday Party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“All right, class, you may begin.  Make sure you take thin slices, and draw as accurate a picture as possible of the structure of the organ.”

 

I stared down at the lamb’s liver in front of me, and picked up the scalpel in my hand.  As I held it, looking down at the thin silver blade, for a moment my mind went back to the night at Aunt Cassie’s house, and that horrible woman pressing the flat of the blade against my throat, the sound of Cassie crying and Mum screaming in my ears.

 

“Jenny?  Jenny, do you want me to do the slicing and you do the sketching?”

 

I turned and saw Alicia sitting next to me, a look of concern on her face.  “No - no it’s all right,” I finally said, “I was just remembering.”  Taking the liver in my gloved hand, I started to slice through the raw muscle and lay the slices out on the glass surface.

 

Three weeks had passed since that night - and I’m not going to pretend they were the most fantastic three weeks I have ever spent in my life.  For the first week we had stayed at Holderness Manor, and with the help of Alicia, Suzie and Cassie we had all talked about exactly how we felt about our ordeal.  Cassie could not have been sorrier, but eventually she accepted everything Aunt Cassie, Mum and Alicia’s gran had told her - that despite the fact she had not done what they had wanted, she was still a hero in their eyes.

 

I told her that as well - although she may not have understood me at the time, given we were employing the first lesson of Heidi Strong - when you fall off the bike, you have to get back on again.  In this case, bless her heart, Cassie had asked if we could all be tied the same way as we had tied that woman.  Well, I had never been so glad I still do some form of gymnastics, as the four of us lay on the floor.  Our hands were taped together and bound behind us, as were our arms, and there were bands of rope around our waist and tummies, as well as our shoulders.  Our ankles and legs were bound, our ankles then pulled right back against the chest rope, and then more rope around our calves and thighs.  Our mouths were truly stuffed, taped and covered in cloth, as we just lay there and tried to talk to each other.

 

After that week, we had all gone home and back to school.  From what Alicia had said to me, her grandparents had hinted to her mother and Suzie’s father what had really happened, so that they were not going to ask them for all the details.  I’m glad she did that - especially for Suzie’s sake.  She is so like Cassie in many ways - one of which is her lovely habit of opening her mouth before engaging her brain.

 

Obviously, we did have a new form tutor and some different teachers - in the case of our English and PE classes, actually the old teachers coming back.  Turned out they had been lured away for a month or two with some very well paid private tutoring work, but it suddenly ended.  Strange, that.

 

Anyway, the first day back Mary had cornered both of us to ask if we were all right.  The food poisoning actually had a hint of truth about it by then - I found it very difficult to eat anything for half the week, but life slowly started to return to normal.

 

As it was, I had something else on my mind that day as well - something I wanted to talk to Alicia and Mary about.  Something far more important than understanding the structure of a liver.  The morning seemed to drag on for ages and ages until the lunch hour came, and we were able to find a quite table in the corner of the dining room.

 

As we sat down, Mary pre-empted my opening statement, as they say on those US shows Mum and Dad like to watch.

 

“So, Jennifer Alison Craig, how are you going to celebrate your coming of teenage?”

 

“Oh, that’s right,” Alicia said with a smile, “somebody has a birthday coming up this weekend, don’t they?  So, what have you got planned Jenny?”

 

“Nothing really,” I said as I took a mouthful of stew and slipped it into my mouth.  “I’m just going to have a quiet, little party with my family, and leave it at that.  I don’t want a big party - somehow it feels like that is a bit kiddish, you know?”

 

Looking down on my tray, I realised I had forgotten to pick up a drink.  “I’ll be back in a minute,” I said as I headed back to the counter, and bought a carton of apple juice.  As I walked back, I saw that Alicia and Mary were deep in conversation.

 

“Gotcha,” I heard Mary say as I sat back down again.  “What were you two talking about,” I said as I stuck the straw into the carton.

 

“The book we’ve been given for English - have you ever read To Kill A Mockingbird?”

 

“Can’t say I have - I know we have it in the bookcase at home, but I’ve never looked at it.  Hope it’s good.”

 

As we sat talking, we were joined by another of what used to be Alicia’s clique.  Cathy Harmer was smaller than me, with jet black hair that she invariable had platted into a pigtail that hug down her back, and large gold framed spectacles that seemed to highlight her blue eyes.

 

“Hi, everyone,” she said as she looked at us, “I just wanted to know if we were still on for...”

 

I saw Alicia give her a look that I had not seen in a long time, and Cathy hesitated before saying “... for that trip to the cinema next week - you know, to see the new film?”

 

“Yeah - yeah we are - I’ll give you a call about it,” Alicia said as we got back to eating.  I got the distinct feeling I was not been told 100% of the truth, but even so I wasn’t about to ask what was going on.

 

As we walked to our class, I was a few steps about Mary and Cathy, and I was sure I heard Mary whisper “Nearly gave it away” to Cathy.  I had been so nervous recently that I just put it out of my mind for the moment, as we returned to the joy of surds.

 

 

 

 

When I woke up on the Saturday morning, it took me a few minutes to realise that it was my birthday - I was now officially thirteen years old, with all the rights and responsibilities - ah, who was I kidding.  IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY!!!

 

I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs, to find Mum, Dad and Cassie sitting around the breakfast table.  “Well, good morning,” Dad said as he looked up from the paper.  “Want some orange juice?”

 

“Yeah, thanks,” I said as I sat down, and he poured me a glass from the jug on the table.  Cassie finished spreading the butter on her toast and looked at me, before taking a bite and saying “swhhtruddnngtde?”

 

“Assuming you said what I am doing,” I said as I drank the juice, “I want to see if there is anything for me today.”

 

“Oh,” Mum said as she looked over from the cooker, “Expecting something?”  As she said this, she picked up the frying pan and slipped something from inside onto a plate. 

 

“I might be,” I said as I looked at her putting something else on the plate.  “Why, has the postman been?”

 

“He has,” Mum said as she picked up the plate and turned round, “but you should eat this first.”  She put the plate down in front of me and watched as I looked at it.  There were two small fried eggs, with rashers of bacon below them arranged in a smile, and a small half tomato as a nose.

 

There was also a message, spelt out in individual letters of Alphabet Spaghetti.

 

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNY”

 

“Do you know how long it took Mum and me to find those letters,” Cassie said as she swallowed her toast.  “I hope you like eating that stuff for tea for the next three days - we have most of three tins in a box in the fridge.”

 

I looked up at the three of them, as they smiled back at me.  “Happy birthday, Angel,” Dad said as he reached under the table and pulled out a number of cards and wrapped boxes.  “Finish your breakfast, and then you can open these up.”

 

Well, I had never eaten bacon and eggs so quickly, and then I got to work on the cards and presents.  As well as the cards from Mum and Dad, Aunts Connie and Cassie and Granny Craig, there was also one postmarked Adelaide and one with a US stamp that seemed to have come from New England.  I picked up the Australian one first and opened it, to reveal a card with a picture of a young kangaroo on it saying “Happy 13th Birthday!”

 

“It’s from Granny and Granddad Carter,” I said as I looked up.  Granny and Granddad Carter were Mum’s parents, who had emigrated just after my fifth birthday to the south - the way south.  We got birthday cards and presents from them, so I wondered if they had sent a present as well.

 

Instead, when I opened the card a small white envelope fell out.  Inside was a voucher for Amazon, to the tune of £100.

 

“Well now,” Dad said as I showed him it, “You make good use of that later on.  For now, here’s our present.”

 

I opened the box to see a brand new iPad, which Dad promised he would help me set up later, while Cassie had bought me (Well, Mum and Dad had) a new set of Nancy Drew books.  There were lots of other silly presents as well, the funniest of which was a t-shirt with a picture of me as a new born baby on the front, and the message “Look what happened!” on the back.

 

“Can I wear this to go shopping this morning,” I said as I looked at Mum and Dad.  Mum had offered to take me into town to buy a new outfit, and we were due to meet Granny there as well.

 

“All right,” Mum said with a smile, “Dad needs to take Cassie to her gym class this morning anyway.  Finish off your breakfast - we need to leave in half an hour.”

 

Twenty five minutes later, I came down the stairs, proudly wearing my t-shirt with a pair of blue cycling shorts, white ankle socks and sneakers.  Cassie and Dad were heading out of the front door, Cassie in her green leotard with the black body stocking underneath and gym shoes.

 

“We’ll see you later for lunch,” Dad said as he waved from the door.  “Have fun driving your mother mad.”

 

“I don’t do that, do I?” I said as Mum pulled her brown leather jacket on and picked up the car keys.  “We’ll see,” she said as she walked to the door, her boots clicking on the gravel outside as I jumped into the back seat of the car and Mum got behind the wheel.

 

The drive to the shopping centre was fairly uneventful, and by the time I looked at my watch to see it was ten thirty Mum had pulled into the car park and was looking for a parking space.  It seemed to be busy, so she headed for the covered part of the centre and pulled into a parking space at the far corner.

 

I reached for the buckle of the belt, only to hear the other doors of the car opening.  Looking up, I was surprised to see Alicia sitting next to me, smiling as she said “Surprise, Jenny - your plans for today are about to get changed rather drastically.”

 

She held something up as she said this, something I recognised - the pair of handcuffs she had been given the summer day.  “I would do as she says, Dear,” I heard Granny say from the front passenger seat; “we are going to take you for a little drive.”

 

“Just sit yourself forward,” Alicia said as she unbuckled the seat belt.  As I did so, she pulled my hands behind my back and fastened the metal bracelets around them, then took the seat belt and buckled me back in.  I saw Granny hand Alicia a black sleep mask and a strip of Elastoplast - a strip which she quickly pressed over my lips, before putting the sleep mask over my eyes.

 

“Just sit back and relax, dear,” Granny said as I heard the car engine start again, “we have something very special planned for you.”

 

Well, what choice did I have in the matter?  I sat back in the chair, making myself as comfortable as I could, and thought about what was happening.  Alicia was sitting next to me, the creak of her obviously new cream leather jacket quite audible as she moved about, and I pictured her in my mind’s eye - black leggings, flat black loafers, and the white t-shirt under her jacket.

 

Then there was Granny, a grey pashmina shawl wrapped around her neck and shoulders as she sat in the front of the car.  I hadn’t seen what else she was wearing, but that was not a real problem.  Whatever was happening, it had been planned with the usual Craig duplicity - it even made me wonder if Cassie was going to a gymnastics class that day or not.

 

I tried to count time, but come on - when you’re blindfolded, and you can’t speak that easily, what chance have you got of working out where or how long you have been travelling?   I just let it wash over me until the car finally came to a stop, and I felt cool air on my face as the door was opened.

 

“Watch your head,” Granny said as she helped me to get out of the car, and guided me to the next destination, my feet crunching on something as we walked.  As I felt the ground change to some sort of stone, and then heard the click of heels on a wooden floor, I realised that I had been brought into a building - but where?  I could hear movement, but no voices except Granny as she said “We’re going up some stairs now,” and I raised my feet, one at a time.

 

Eventually, I was stopped as Granny said “Just stay there for a few minutes.”  I heard a door closing behind me, and tried to twist my head round, in a vain effort to get the sleep mask off my eyes, but it was no use.  Then I heard the door open and close again.

 

Hsssthhr,” I mumbled as I turned my head in the direction I thought I could hear footsteps from.  At first there was no reply, and then I heard a giggle - a very familiar giggle.

 

“I don’t believe it - you actually did manage to kidnap her.  And aw, doesn’t she look cute in that photograph.”

 

“MRREEEE!!!!!”

 

The sleep mask was pulled off, and as I blinked I saw I was right - there, standing in front of me with the biggest grin I had ever seen on her face, was Mary Holmes.  She stood there, her arms folded as she laughed, in her striped vest top and cut off shorts, her legs safely covered in a pair of sheer leggings.

 

“Yeah - and look at what she did grow up into.”

 

I groaned inwardly as I turned round and saw Cathy standing there as well, her eyes wide under her glasses.  She was wearing a sleeveless light green blouse and a knee length denim skirt, with short black felt boots on her feet with those buttons on the side.

 

Lsshmgnnkllu,” I mumbled as I looked round to see Alicia standing by the door, her arms folded and a big, evil smile on her face.  “Hey, don’t blame me totally,” she said eventually as she walked towards the three of us, “I just went along with the plan.”

 

Ndwhhttprrtell is the plan?” I said as she gently peeled the tape away from my mouth.  “Kidnap Jenny and make fun of her day.”

 

“Half right,” Alicia said as she unlocked the handcuffs.  “Kidnap Jenny and give her the greatest birthday ever is the general idea.  Mary and Cathy and I have had the devil of a job keeping this from you - especially, you young Catherine.”

 

“Hey,” Cathy said as she took off her glasses and wiped them, “Just one little mistake, and I covered my back, didn’t I?”

 

“Barely,” Mary said as she hugged me.  “So, Jenny, how does it feel to be one of the old ones?”

 

“Hey, you’re only a couple of weeks older than me,” I finally said with a laugh.  “So, what’s the plan for today?”

 

“For now, it’s just the four of us,” Alicia said, “and we have the whole of the Manor Day Room to ourselves.”  It had taken me a few minutes to get my bearings, but I had eventually realised where they had brought me - Holderness Manor.  After all, if Alicia had a hand in this, where else would she come?

 

“Where are Mum and Granny?”

 

“Talking to Grandma and Mrs Bridges - we’ll see them again at lunchtime.  The others will join us later.”

 

“Others?”

 

“Oh yes, Jennifer Alison - today is your birthday party, and have I got things planned for you.  In fact, I thought we would start off with a karaoke contest - I just need my able assistants to bring the equipment in.”

 

“We’ll go and find them,” Mary and Cathy said, and I watched as they left the room.  This was good - I had a few questions for Alicia.  Questions such as “what the hell are they going to say when they see the games we play,” as soon as the door was closed.

 

“Hmmm - oh don’t be such a worrywart, Jenny.  I’ve been preparing those two for the last few weeks for this day.”

 

Well, I knew Alicia well enough to believe that, but that did raise another interesting question, which I did not hesitate to ask.

 

“Why?”

 

“Mary was asking me about what happened over the summer, because she had seen the report of a robbery at the Manor House.  I didn’t say much, but she seemed very interested in the idea that Grandma was tied up.  Something tells me she might enjoy playing some very simple games with us - at first anyway.”

 

“And Cathy?”

 

“Ah - now that’s a bit more of a wild guess.  You’ll have to trust me on that one - I’ll explain later.”

 

“Can you trust them not to tell the others?”

 

“Let’s find out,” Alicia said as the door opened, Mary and Cathy walking in with two other people I recognised instantly.  Angela, Alicia’s older sister, was carrying a speaker in her hands, which she set down on the ground before saying “Happy Birthday Jenny” to me. 

 

The other person was Bobby, Suzie’s older brother.  He was carrying a CD player and a microphone, as well as a small duffle bag which he put on the floor.  “Hi Bobby,” I said as he plugged in the player to the speaker.

 

“Hey Jenny,” he said as he looked up, “Where’s that pesky sister of yours?”

 

“Supposedly at a Gymnastics class,” I said as I looked at Alicia.  “She is - she’s coming later with Suzie.  You can have your fun with her when they get here.”

 

“Fun?” Mary said as she looked at us, but I just shook my head.  “I’ll be back in a minute,” Bobby said as he stood up, “I just need to ring Colin and find out when he’s arriving.”

 

“Colin?”

 

“Colin Hampton - a friend from school.  We have a project to work on, and the only time we can get is today, so he’s coming over later.”  Bobby walked out of the room as Angela handed a file to Alicia.

 

“Right then,” Alicia said as she looked at us, “we’ve got an hour or so to kill until lunch, so I thought we could have a Karaoke session - with a difference.”

 

“Oh - What’s the difference,” Cathy said as Angela walked out of the room, passing Bobby as he came back in.  “Make sure they have fun,” she said with a wink as Bobby closed the door behind her.

 

“The twist,” he said as he opened the duffle bag, “is that we’re going to ask you if you want to try singing while something tries to stop you.”

 

“Hang on,” Mary said as she sat down, “You mean we’ll need to put something in our mouths.”

 

“That’s right,” Bobby said with a smile.  “Unless, of course, you’re chicken?”

 

“What is it about boys that make them think they can call us Chicken,” Alicia said, but she gave me a wink as she said this, as I began to see what her plan may be.  “Well, I’ll prove him wrong.  Unless one of you want to go first?”

 

“So what’s the idea - I sing with something in my mouth and you try to guess what it is?”

 

“Got it in one,” Bobby said as he rummaged around inside the sack.  “So, who’s the least chicken amongst you?”

 

Well, I can take a hint, so I said “I’ll do it.”  Bobby smiled as he pulled out a large handkerchief, and handed it to me.  Folding it neatly, I pushed it into my mouth, turned to the others and put a set of headphones over my ears.  As Bobby pressed the play button, I took the microphone and started to sing along.

 

Urinscrrr, dntknwwhtfrr,
Urtrnghdswhnualkthrtdr
Dntndmkp Tcvrp,
Bntwattursnff

frenlsntrmmcnst,
frenlsbtu,
 

The other started singing along as I continued my mumbled attempt

 

Baby you light up my world like nobody else,
The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed,
But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell,
You don't know,
Oh oh,
You don't know you're beautiful,

“All right, I get it now,” Cathy said with a smile as I stopped signing, bowed and pulled the now quite wet cloth out of my mouth.  “But how did you cope keeping that in your mouth?”

 

I was so tempted to say “Usually I have at least three other layers as well,” but decided that would not be a good move at this time.  Instead I watched as Mary stood up, took the mike and said “All right, Robert, what have you got that I can use to muffle me.”

 

He gave Mary a look that could have caused trouble, but instead he just smiled sweetly and pulled out a small cloth bean bag, no bigger than the palm of his hand.  “Try this,” he said as he smiled his sweetest smile - a sign that meant I was worried for Mary if things progressed.

 

She didn’t see this, as she opened her mouth, put the bean bag in and started.

 

Icmhm Lkstn
NdIfhfenturms

Thssdsfdstwshwvknwn
LLblweewftsnsn


Ndllknlldwn, wtfrnw

Ndllknlldwn, wtfrnw

 

“I didn’t know Mary was into Mumford and Sons,” I whispered to Alicia as we sat there.

 

“Yeah - she’s kinda into that sort of thing,” she answered as Mary finished and Cathy stood up.  She rather nervously took a sponge ball from Bobby and popped it into her mouth before she started singing.

 

I recognised the words to the Franz Ferdinand song, and started to sing along as Cathy smiled and sang her mumbled version.  As she finished, Alicia stood up and said “My turn now,” looking at Bobby and saying “What have you got for me?”

 

Now I knew I could see the look in his eye as he brought out one of Suzie’s old small headscarves.  Alicia said nothing, but folded and pushed the cloth into her mouth.  Before she had a chance to take the microphone, however, Bobby quickly pulled her hands behind her back, and I heard the sound of tape been pulled off a roll as he secured her hands together.

 

I wasn’t sure if Alicia knew this was going to happen, as I looked at her staring back at me.  She gave nothing away, as Mary stood up and walked round her.  “Wow - you really can’t move your hands apart, can you,” she said with a low whistle as she stood in front of Alicia.

 

I knew for a fact she could if she wanted to, but instead she just slowly shook her head from side to side.  Cathy stood up and looked as well, so I decided to play along and did the same thing.

 

“Have you done this to her before, Bobby,” Cathy said quietly.  Bobby put on his ‘sweet and innocent’ face, and said “I just wanted to see if I could do it now.”

 

I looked at the other two - I could see where this was going, but didn’t want to say anything.  Finally it was Cathy who broke the ice, and said “Do you think you could do that to me as well?”

 

I saw the smile on Alicia’s face when she heard that - one that said just one word.

 

“Gotcha.”

Bobby tried hard not to smile as he said “Stand with your back for me.”  Cathy turned and put her hands together, pressing her fingers against each other as she listened to Bobby peeling the black tape away from the roll and using it to bind her wrists together.

 

“Oh,” she said as he tore the tape off and smoothed it down, “that’s not at all how I expected it to feel.”

 

“How did you expect it to feel,” I said as I glanced at Alicia.  I could see her smiling, even as she watched the way Mary was looking at Cathy.

 

“I don’t know,” she eventually said.  “When I saw that film the other night - the one where that man holds a mum and daughter hostage and makes the father clear out the safe - I wondered how the daughter must have felt.  She looked scared, as if it was hurting, but this actually feels nice.”

 

As she said this, I realised what Alicia had meant by a ‘wild guess’.  Cathy was actually in the year below us at school, but she was more at home with us than with the rest of her classmates.  She must have told Alicia about this at some point - a fact I wanted to keep in mind for later.

 

Wllmrreee,” Alicia said as she looked at Mary.  “All right,” she finally said, “but only if all four of us go through with this.”

 

Time to do my thing, I thought.  “Well, I could,” I stammered, “but I don’t like the idea of Bobby been in charge.”

 

“Oh don’t worry,” he said as he guided Mary’s wrists behind her back and started to tape them together as well, “I have to go somewhere, so I’ll leave you to it.  Grandma will come up later and free you.”  As he said this, he tore the tape off and smoothed it down on Mary’s wrists, then came behind me and did the same.  He didn’t tape my fingers or anything - Alicia must have said to keep it simple.

 

Ptthrstffbkn,” Alicia said as she looked at us.  “In a minute,” Bobby said quietly, “That film you saw Cathy - were their legs tied as well?”

 

Cathy nodded slowly.  “The girl was sitting in a chair, and the mum lying down on the couch.”

 

“All right then - all four of you sit against the wall.”

 

“What are you going to do,” Mary said as we all walked over and sat down.  Bobby said nothing, instead using the tape to secure our ankles together, out legs stretched out in front of us.  He then went and got the bean bag, cloth and sponge ball, and pushed them back into our mouths.  He didn’t try to tape them in, but instead said “Don’t move” as he left and closed the door behind himself.

 

sddfrrnt,” Cathy said as she looked down her legs, twisting her legs round as she looked at the black band around her ankles.  Mary nodded, but said nothing, almost as if she was unsure what she should do.  Alicia looked at me, I looked at her, and then said “Wnnngtttftsss?”

 

Cathy looked at me for a moment, as did Mary, as I spat the cloth out of my mouth, watching it drop to the floor.  “I said, do you want to get out of this?”  The look on their faces was priceless, as Alicia finally forced the cloth out of her mouth.  “Fun as this is,” she said as she started to twist herself round, “It’s almost lunchtime.  Jenny, move so your back is next to mine, and I’ll get that stuff off your wrists.”

 

As Alicia started to peel the tape away from my wrists, I said to Mary, “See if you can do the same thing to Cathy.”  She nodded and motioned to Cathy, as the two of them got back to back and she probed around Cathy’s wrists with her fingers.

 

As Alicia peeled the tape away, I looked over my shoulder and whispered “You might be right about these two - but what about the others?  What are they going to say when they tell them what they did today?”

 

“I’m not sure they will,” Alicia whispered back as my wrists parted, “This is just the appetiser.  Wait until you see what I’ve lined up for after lunch, when Suzie and Cassie get here.”

 

Fnks,” Cathy said as Mary managed to get her wrists free as well.  “You do know you can just spit that out,” I said as I freed my legs, then returned the favour to Alicia.

 

Ikknnn - sorry, I know,” Cathy said as she turned and started to free Mary, “but it actually felt kinda nice.  I was a little disappointed, though?”

 

“At what,” Mary said as she spat her gag out.

 

“I thought I would be completely like the girl, and Bobby would tape over my mouth.”  We all looked at her, before there was a knock on the door and Mrs Bridges came in.

 

“Ah, there you are,” she said as she smiled at me.  “Happy birthday, Jennifer.  If you will come with me, Lunch will be served in the kitchen.”

 

“Thanks, Mrs Bridges,” Alicia said as we stood up and followed her down the corridor into the large room.  As we came in, we saw Mum and Granny sitting there, beside Robert, Lady Holderness and a boy I had never seen before.

 

He was a little taller than Bobby, with short cut brown hair, and smiled as he saw us come in.  While Bobby was in a pair of khaki shorts and a t-shirt, this boy was wearing a short sleeved shirt and blue jeans.  “Hey,” he said when we walked in, “I’m Colin - and which of you three is the birthday girl?”

 

“She is,” Alicia said as she pushed me forward.  “Colin Hampton, Jenny Craig.  What’s for lunch Mrs Bridges?”

 

“Sandwiches and soup for now,” was the reply as we all sat at the table.  “Happy birthday, Jennifer,” Lady Holderness said to me as she put a spoonful of the scotch broth to her mouth and swallowed, “thanks for coming over today.”

 

“I had a choice,” I said, but as the warm soup went down my throat I started laughing.  “Just when did you plan all this anyway?”

 

“A week or so back,” Granny said as she looked at me.  Her pashmina was covering a grey jumper and matching trousers.    “I know you didn’t want a big party, but we had to celebrate, didn’t we?  Your aunts will be coming over later, and we’ll be having a more formal dinner with some games then.”

 

“Huh - but I don’t...  Oh.”  I looked over to Mum.  “You brought a change of clothes, didn’t you?”

 

“No - Dad is bringing them,” Mum said with a smile.  “He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

 

“So what’s this project you and Bobby have got to work on, Colin,” Alicia said as she grabbed a ham sandwich.  Colin swallowed his soup before saying “It’s for Physics - we need to write up some experiments on light waves.”

 

“Sounds exciting stuff,” I yawned as I also picked up a sandwich.  Colin looked at me, his head cocked to one side, before returning to the bowl.  “This is very good soup, Mrs Bridges,” he said as he swallowed another spoonful.

 

Mrs Bridges was about to say something when we all heard footsteps running down the corridor.  “Is there any lunch left,” we all heard Suzie say, as she ran into the kitchen and hugged her grandmother.

 

“Ah, that smells good,” Alexander Holderness said as he came in.  “Sorry we’re late - I needed to collect something that Robert here had forgotten.”  He handed Bobby a sports holdall, which he took as he said “Thanks Dad.  Come on, Colin, let’s get this homework done and dusted.”

 

“Are you sticking around for the party?” Alicia said as the two boys left the room.  “Yeah - if the birthday girl is happy for me to be there,” he said as he looked at me and smiled - a nice smile as well.

 

“Sure,” I said, “if my hostess will allow it.”

 

“Of course you can stay Colin,” she said as she collected up the soup plates, and Mrs Bridges put two down for Suzie and her father.  “Can you stick around Alexander?”

 

“Sadly no,” he said as he picked up the soup spoon, “but I’ll be back later for the finale.”

 

“The finale?  Just what sort of party are you having, Jenny?”

 

“Don’t ask me - I have no idea.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Cassie knew more than me.”

 

“Knew more than you about what?”

 

We all turned to see Cassie standing there, dressed in her Gymnastics outfit as Dad followed her in.  “Hello, John,” Granny said as he walked over and kissed her, then Mum.

 

“I see you got her here safely then,” Dad said as he smiled at me, “We’ll have to do the shopping trip another day, Jenny.  I have a feeling you’re going to be busy all day today anyway.”

 

I looked at the three of them as he said this, before Alicia said “Right - can we have a drink please, Mrs Bridges?”

 

As she brought over four glasses, Granny said “We’re not going to start the party until four o’clock, so you need to find a way to amuse yourself until it’s time to get changed.  What do you plan to do until then, Alicia?”

 

“Oh, we might go outside for an hour or two.”

 

“Come on Suzie,” Cassie said as she grabbed her friend’s hand, “Let’s go and see what Bobby’s up to.”

 

The two youngsters ran off, as Cathy said “That’s your sister?  She looks like she could be trouble.”

 

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I smiled as I finished my drink.  “So do you want to head down to the lake?”

 

“You have a lake?”  Mary looked at Alicia, then at Lady Holderness.  “I knew you were in a titled family, but...”

 

“SUZIE!  CASSIE!  STOP DOING THAT!!!”

 

We all looked up as we heard Bobby shouting.  “On the other hand,” Alicia said as she pushed her chair back, “If those two are teasing Bobby again, we may have something else to occupy our minds for the next couple of hours.”

 

“I’M WARNING YOU...”

 

“What on earth are they doing,” Cathy said as we heard giggles from down the corridor.

 

“I suggest you go and look,” Lady Holderness said, “before young Robert does something they will regret.”

 

The four of us got up and walked down the corridor, in time to see Bobby forcing Cassie to climb the staircase, his hand clamped over her mouth.  “HLPMMMM” she called out as she was made to walk up, her eyes wide as we watched her.

 

“What is he doing to her,” Mary said as they disappeared at the top of the stairs.  I looked down at the floor and saw a piece of paper lying there.  Opening it, I showed it to the other three.

 

“We have the little princesses - come and find them if you dare!”

 

Mary looked at me, before saying “Did Bobby just kidnap Cassie?”

 

“Looks that way,” I said as I folded up the piece of paper, “and it looks as if it is up to the four of us to find her and Suzie.  Up for it?”

 

“What happens if they catch us first?”

 

Alicia looked at Cathy.  “Well, I think we had better find them first.  Let’s split up - Jenny, you go with Mary, and Cathy can come with me.  She’s your sister, so you go upstairs and we’ll look around down here for Suzie.”

 

“What if we find something?”

 

“If you can do something, do, otherwise we meet back here in an hour, all right?”

 

We nodded and split up, Alicia and Cathy heading for the dining room while Mary and I started to head up stairs.  “Does this sort of thing happen often,” Mary whispered as we climbed up the staircase.

 

“What sort of thing?”

 

“You or your sister been kidnapped - how many times has this been in the last year?”

 

I stopped and looked at Mary for a moment, seeing the smile on her face.  “Well, a few times - why do you ask?”

 

“I just wonder what it would be like to be kidnapped - it always seems as if something exciting happens to you or Alicia.”

 

“It was more terrifying than exciting last time,” I whispered, then stopped and looked directly at Mary.  “Forget I said that - it’s not important.  Let’s look in this room.”

 

I opened the door to the playroom and looked in.  There did not seem to be anybody in there, but to be sure Mary and me went in and looked around the stacked boxes and bean bags.

 

“Is this where that man tied all five of you up?”

 

I stopped again and looked at Mary.  “Did Alicia tell you about that?”

 

“She said you had all been part of a robbery, and you were tied up in here. “ I silently thanked Alicia for showing a little restraint - the full details had never been revealed, thanks to Sir Desmond and Lady Holderness.  “What was it like,” she continued as we left the room.

 

“Frightening, and yet strangely secure as well - it’s a very difficult feeling to describe,” I said as we went down the corridor to another door, which led to one of the spare bedrooms.  As I listened, I could hear some faint noises from inside.

 

“I think she might be in here,” I said as I slowly opened the door and looked in.  Sure enough, there was Cassie, lying on her side on one of the beds.  Her wrists were behind her back, and I could see a length of rope around her ankles, pulling her body stocking into herself as they were held firmly together.

 

She had a red scarf tied in a thick band over her mouth, and from the look of it I was fairly sure that was all there was.  “Yeah, the princess is in here,” I said as I opened the door and both Mary and I crept in, looking at Cassie the whole time.  I knew the chances of this been a trap were high, but that was part of the game.

 

Cassie mmphed at us and rolled her eyes to the side, but I played along, saying “We’ll soon have you out of here, your highness,” I said before Mary let out a soft “Eeep.”

 

“Mary?” I said as I turned round, and saw Bobby standing there, a Scout scarf tied over his lower face as he looked at me.

 

“Looks like I’ve caught a couple of snoops,” he said in what he thought was a menacing tone, “and I don’t like snoops.  I need to keep you both out of the way now.”  He threw me a length of soft white cord, which I caught in my hand.  “Tie your friend’s hands behind her back.”

 

“Why should I do what you say,” I returned in reply, realising this was the next part of Alicia’s plan, and wondering if she was getting the same surprise.  “It’s all right,” Mary said as Bobby pushed her forward, “You need to do what he says.”

 

“Make sure it’s nice and tight,” Bobby said as Mary turned her back to me.  I put her hands together, palm to palm, and wrapped the cord round them, making sure the rope went between her arms as well.  “That - is different,” Mary said as she looked over her shoulder, “but it doesn’t hurt.  Kinda nice.”

 

“Sit down,” Bobby said as he pointed to the far wall of the room, “and then you can tie her ankles together.”  Mary looked at me, and then nodded as she sat next to the wall.  Kneeling in front of her, I put her ankles together and started to tie them, with her watching the whole time.

 

“It feels very different from the tape,” she whispered as I passed the cords around and between her legs, “It’s tight, but soft as well.  Where did you learn to do this?”

 

“I’ll tell you later,” I said quietly as I let her stretch her legs out, and heard Bobby move up behind me.  “Your turn,” he said as he pulled my hands behind my back and tied them together, thankfully palm to palm as well, and then sat me next to Mary as he tied my ankles together. 

 

“Right,” he said as he produced two more bandanas, “I need to go and find out where my friend has got to with the other little beauty.  You two can keep the little one here company - quietly of course.”  He folded each of the scarves into a thick band and tied them over our mouths, then left us in the room as Cassie looked at the two of us, her eyebrow raised.

 

Sswwhtdwdnnn,” Mary mumbled as she tried to speak, and twisted her hands round behind her back. 

 

Nwww?  Nwgtfrrr,” I mumbled before nodding to Cassie.  She picked up on her cue and pushed herself onto her feet, before hopping quickly over to where we were sitting.  Mary’s eyes widened as I turned myself round, watching as Cassie allowed herself to sit down and shuffle over so that we were sitting back to back.

 

Fuuergglurhadfrrmsdtsd,” I said as I shook my head round, and the scarf slipped down my chin, “you can take that gag off your mouth.”

 

Eecnn,” Mary said as she started to shake her head round.  By the time she had managed to get the gag off, Cassie had used her fingers to untie my wrists, and I released her, then Mary.

 

“That...  How did you get free so fast,” Mary said as she untied the cords from around her ankles, looking at both of us.  “Practice,” I said as I shot a warning glance to Cassie, to get her to play along.  “Look, we need to find your sister, Princess - where is she?”

 

“Suzanne?  The other man dragged her into a room downstairs.  Would you like me to show you?”

 

“Please do,” Mary said with a smile as I opened the door and looked out.  “The coast is clear,” I said as we sneaked out, walking down the corridor and down the stairs.  As we reached the bottom, I could see that the door to the study was open, and could hear voices from the other side.

 

“...  So refraction is what happens to a light when it passes through a substance rather than air?”

 

“That’s right - different materials bend the light in different ways.”

 

Colin and Bobby were standing in front of the desk, obviously looking at something.  On the long leather couch we could see Suzie, Alicia and Cathy sitting there.  Suzie was wearing the yellow dress she had come in with, the thin spaghetti straps holding it over her shoulders while the skirt came to just above her knee.  The cords were visible over her white socks, as well as Alicia’s leggings, and Cathy’s legs above her boots.

 

I put my finger to my lips as we walked quietly in, and moved to start to untie their ankles, one to one.  As we managed to free their legs, and we were about to pick them up, Bobby glanced round and saw us.

 

“Hey,” he said as he ran over and grabbed Cassie by the arm, “How did you get free?  Give me a hand here, Colin.”  I squealed as Colin took my arm and helped - well, made me stand up, and we looked at each other for a moment.

 

“We need to make them more secure - take them somewhere they can’t be found.  There are more ropes in the bag - you six, stand up and don’t make a move.”

 

Colin opened the bag Bobby’s dad had brought and took out several longer lengths of rope.  “Are you sure this is all right - the scout master said...”

 

“It’s all right - we’ll tie their wrists properly this time, and make sure they can’t move their arms, and then take them for a little walk.  Now, ladies and princesses, hands behind your backs.”

 

We all complied, and looked over our shoulders as we had our wrists tied together again, palm to palm, the rope going round and between our wrists.   “Make sure they have rope round their waist as well - it keeps them more secure,” Bobby said, and I felt the rope pulling my hands against my back.  “Are you both all right with this,” I said to Mary and Cathy as I watched Bobby doing the same to them.

 

“Yeah,” Mary said as she looked at me.  Cathy nodded her head - she had a red bandana tied into her mouth, as did the other two.  I realised we would get the same as well, as Bobby hand Colin three more scarves and said “Gag them - we’re going to take a walk.”

 

I opened my mouth and allowed Colin to pull the rolled up cotton scarf into my mouth, closing my teeth over it as I watched him doing the same to Mary and Cassie.  I had to admit I was glad Cassie was playing along - under any other circumstance she would have complained that there was nothing under the cloth, and we needed tape around her head as well.  The thing that concerned me a little was what she may have been promised instead - but for now she was playing along.

 

“Let’s go,” Bobby said as he took Cassie by the arm and we all walked out of the room.  As we went into the hallway, Lady Holderness and Granny came out from the kitchen.

 

“Ah - going for a walk are we?”

 

“Yes, Grandma,” Bobby said, “We’ll be back in an hour or so.  We’ve finished our homework anyway.”

 

“Are you both happy to do this,” Granny said as she looked at Mary and Cathy.  Both Alicia and I looked on as they exchanged glances, and then nodded their heads.  “Very well then, you take care out there,” she said as Bobby opened the door and we all walked outside, the autumn sun beating down as we walked round the house, across the lawn and towards the lake.

 

“So you’re really going to inherit this one day,” Colin said as we passed into the woods at the bottom of the lawn, our feet passing through the leaves that were lying thickly on the ground.

 

“Apparently - Dad’s next in line, then me,” he said as we walked between the trees, the sun casting shadows that seemed to dance on the wood.  As we walked down, we passed the memorial, and Mary called out “Whtstttht?”

 

“That - a story I’ll tell you later,” Bobby said with a wink to Alicia as we carried on, eventually coming out on the lawn where we had the picnic during the summer.    Across the lake we could see the mausoleum, but for now there were other things to occupy us - such as the fact that Cassie and Suzie had broken free and started to run to the far side of the grove, Colin chasing after them and making them come back.

 

“Guess we need to teach them a lesson,” Bobby said as he dropped the rucksack on the floor.  “All of you sit down while we secure your legs.”

 

We did as they asked, and watched as not only did Bobby and Colin cross and tie our ankles, they also tied our legs together below our knees.  As Mary and Cathy looked at the arrangement on their legs, Bobby slipped behind us and tied my thumbs together, then did the same to Cassie, Suzie and Alicia.

 

“How are we going to punish these two for almost escaping,” Colin said as he looked at Bobby.  “Like this,” he said as he slipped Cassie's shoes off and started to tickle the soles of her feet...

 

“NDNTDDTTTTT” she screamed out, soon joined by Suzie as Colin started to tickle her feet as well.  The way the two of them squirmed as they tried to get out of the way was making us start to laugh as well, as we lay back and enjoyed the autumn sun,

 

“You know what,” Bobby said as he looked at us, “These captives are missing something?”

 

“Oh,” Colin said as he looked at the four of us, “what’s that?”

 

“Blindfolds - and then we can change the gags; make them look a bit nicer.  You don’t mind, do you girls?  It will only be for a few minutes.”

 

We looked at each other - I thought this one was Mary and Cathy’s call, and as Alicia looked at me I could tell she thought the same thing.  We both looked at our friends, who slowly nodded.

 

Bobby opened his bag, and took out six sleep masks.   “Ready,” they said as they stood behind Mary and Cathy, who both closed their eyes as the masks were fitted into place.  Bobby then looked at us, and put his fingers to his lips as our gags were removed from our mouths, and the scarves folded into pads.

 

“Open wide,”  Bobby whispered to the four of us, as Cassie eyes brightened “Finally, my reward,” she whispered as Bobby pushed the cloth into her mouth, then took a knotted length of towelling and pulled it between her lips, Cassie smiling as he tied it in place. 

 

“They really don’t mind this,” Colin said as he did the same to Suzie, while Bobby started to gag Alicia.

 

“Mind it?  I’m amazed Cassie didn’t come out and demand it for the last hour.”  As he pulled the cloth between Alicia’s lips, Colin stood in front of me and held the scarf in his hand.

 

“Would you open your mouth please, Jenny,” he said with a smile.  No way I could refuse that, as I opened wide and let him push the cloth in, then tie the knotted strip between my lips.

 

“I can’t believe you keep this secret,” Colin said as he watched Bobby take out a roll of our special white tape, Cassie nodding her head excitedly.  “I guess you want to keep this to yourself.”

 

“More like I only want those I trust to know,” Bobby said as I listened to the familiar tearing, peeling sound, and watched Bobby wrap Cassie’s mouth and head.  “That doesn’t harm their hair does it,” he softly whispered as he looked at Mary’s long light brown hair.

 

“Nah - no damage at all.”  He tossed a roll to Colin, and said “You take care of Jenny, then Suzie.  I’ll take care of Alicia.”

 

As he stuck the tape over my mouth, I felt his hand brush against my cheek, and to my surprise I found myself smiling under the tape band.  If this was the first time he had done this, then Bobby had taught him well.  It stuck to my skin as I giggled, and watched the others getting the same treatment.

 

Whshpnnngg,” Cathy said as she twisted her head round.  Bobby put his finger to his lips as he took out six large headscarves, folding one in a triangle before tying it over Alicia’s mouth,   He repeated the process on all four of us, before handing one to Colin and keeping one himself.  Untying the cleave gags for Mary and Cathy, they quickly replaced them with the headscarves, tying them tightly over their mouths and covering their necks as well.

 

Removing their blindfolds, I watched as Mary and Cathy blinked and looked at the four of us.  Tsdfrrrnt,” Mary said as she saw the scarves over our mouths, and we just nodded in reply.

 

“Hey, look what I found,” Colin said as he walked over to the side of the grove, returning with an old wheelbarrow.  “Who left this here?”

 

“Probably Mr Bridges - he must have been doing some work round here.  Why?”

 

Colin picked up Cassie and sat her in the barrow, before taking up the handles in his hands.  “We could do this,” he said as he started to run, pushing the barrow in front of him a Cassie screamed in very well muffled laughter.

 

Thhlkkssfnnn,” Cathy said as she watched the trip round the grove, Colin eventually coming back.  “Let’s put Cathy in now,” he said as they lifted Cassie out and put her next to me, and then gave Cathy a run round the grass.  One by one we were lifted in and run round the area, the group looking over the lake to the marble mausoleum as we waited or recovered.

 

lvvllvww,” Mary said as she looked at me, while I was panting for breath and Alicia was been given the grand tour.  I nodded in reply; well aware that for me to try and say something would be a big mistake.  My thoughts, however, were interrupted by the sound of Bobby’s phone ringing.

 

“Hello,” he said as he answered it.  “Oh hello Grandma.

 

“No we’re down by the grove, why?

 

“Oh, I see - we can be back in about twenty minutes in that case.  We’ll take them straight to the bedroom.”  As he was talking Bobby was looking round, his eye fixing on something.  “Actually, Grandma, we may need to take care of one of them differently.  See you soon.”

 

As he finished the call, Colin looked at him.  “Is everything all right?”

 

“Yeah - that was Grandma to say the rest of Jenny’s family have arrived and we need to head back.”  He nodded to Alicia as he said this.  “Can you free their legs, and then they can walk back - all except you, Jenny.”

 

Mmmmmm,” I said as I watched the others having their legs untied.  As Alicia stood up, she looked at me, and I could see the smile in her eyes.  Bobby untied the rope around my waist, thumbs and wrists, but then crossed my wrists in front of me and re-tied them tightly together.

 

Wwttdddd,” I mumbled as the others gathered round, while Bobby and Colin went to the far side of the grove, returning with a long thick wooden pole.  “Alicia asked me to bring this down here this morning,” Bobby said as he laid me on my back, the other laughing as he said “Lift your arms and legs up.”

 

Now I could see their plan, so as I did what he asked the boys slipped the pole between my limbs, and then lifted me up, holding the pole on their shoulders as they started to walk towards the path, the others following behind.  I could hear both Cassie and Suzie giggling under their layered gags as they ran in front of us, heading for the lawn.

 

Whtssstttt,” Mary mumbled as we passed the simple cross again.

 

“Oh that - that marks the site where the brother of the first Lord Holderness died.  It’s said he haunts the family to this day, ready to help in times of danger.  We call him the Holderness Shadow,”

 

“The Holderness Shadow,” Colin said as he rolled his head.  “You don’t believe in ghosts, do you Bobby?”  I looked at Alicia, who shrugged her shoulders and turned to look straight ahead.

 

As we crossed the lawn to the Manor, I saw Aunt Cassie, Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave waiting for us.  Uncle Dave was wearing a smart grey suit, and was fiddling with a tie around his neck, while Aunt Connie had on a knee length black silk dress, which hung on her shoulders with gold straps, long gloves and high heels.  Aunt Cassie was wearing a grey jacket and knee length skirt, with dark stockings and flat shoes.

 

“Well, well, well,” Aunt Cassie said as she saw Bobby and Colin approaching, “I see the hunters have caught their game.  You girls need to have a shower and get changed - Mrs Bridges will show you where.”

 

As we walked into the front hall, we found Granny waiting for us.   “You untie Jenny,” she said with a smile, “while I take care of the other girls.  You can take the scarves off upstairs - there is hot water ready, and your clothes are laid out.”

 

I watched as Colin untied my hands, looking at me with that smile again, before helping me to my feet once Bobby had untied them.  I waited for the others to have their hands freed, before we all went up to one of the bedrooms.  As we walked in, Cathy pulled the scarf down from her mouth.

 

“That was great,” she said as the point lay across her top, and Mary untied her own scarf.  “So what did you four think - what was it like been carried by the boys, Jenny.”

 

Gtttttt.”

 

“Sorry - didn’t quite catch that.”

 

We looked at each other, and one by one removed the scarves, I watched the eyes of both Mary and Cathy as they widened, staring at the white bands that encircled our mouths.

 

“But... But... Why they heck did they do that?  And does it hurt?”  Mary came over and looked closely at my head, and Alicia reached up and started to unwrap the tape.

 

Ntdssnt,” I mumbled as the knotted strip of towelling was revealed.  I reached up and pulled the knot out of my mouth, letting the towelling strip drop against my chin as I pushed the original scarf out of my mouth with my tongue.  “No, it doesn’t hurt, but it took a while to get used to.”

 

“I didn’t want to scare you two off,” Alicia said as she removed her gag, “by showing you what we get up to when we play.  If you want, I’ll tell you the full story of how we got here another time, but a lot happened over the summer - heck over the last year.  If this freaks either of you out, just say so now.”

 

We all looked at them, before Mary slowly said “Can we try a gag like that?”

 

Cathy then said “and I want to know how much more tightly we can be tied.”

 

Alicia smiled, and then said “Let’s all get washed and dressed - I need to go downstairs and have a quick word with Grandma.”

 

 

 

 

I was the last to come out of the shower, towelling my hair as I stepped into Alicia’s room.  Cathy and Mary had gone to one of the spare bedrooms, while Cassie and Jenny were in the room Jenny used.

 

“You were right about them,” I said as I watched Alicia brushing her hair.  “But why those two?”

 

“I already said - I trust them more than most of the others,” Alicia said as she turned round.  “Anyway, I thought they would enjoy the experience as well.”

 

“So what’s going to happen next?”

 

“Your party doofus - but we’re going down together, and we are to be escorted.”

 

“Like the summer day?”

 

“Something like that - but our parents and grandparents won’t be bound.  Not yet anyway.”  She turned round and stood up, brushing some imaginary crumbs from her cream coloured dress.  It was in a pinafore style, with a knee length skirt, and she was wearing kitten heels with it.  A small pair of fawn lace gloves was on her hands.

 

“What do you think of Grandma’s birthday present for you?”

 

I had been stunned to find it on the bed - it was a black velvet dress, with a round collar and a knee length flared skirt, and on top of it was a small necklace, with a gold cross on the end.  I had no idea how much it had cost, but it fitted me like a glove, as I slipped my feet into the heeled shoes Mum had brought.

 

“I get the feeling we should behave as little ladies now,” Alicia said as I pulled on some black lace gloves.  “Where are we meeting the others?”

 

“In the playroom,” Alicia said as we left the room and walked down the corridor.  As we walked into the playroom, Mary looked over and gave out a whistle.  “My, you look good tonight,” she said as Cathy also looked round.

 

Mary was wearing a blue satin dress, with a matching shrug over her arms, while Cathy was wearing a yellow dress with puffed sleeves and a long, flowing skirt.  “Been to the Disney store recently,” Cassie said as she walked in, earning her a quick look of “shut up” from me.

 

Cassie had on a light green party dress, with short sleeves and a lace underskirt and a sash around her waist, while Suzie had on a white sun dress with matching shoes.  As they came over, Granny and Lady Holderness entered the room, carrying several lengths of rope and other materials.

 

“Hello girls,” Granny said as she looked at us, “Are you ready to come to Jenny’s party?”

 

“Wow,” Cathy said as she looked at the equipment in our grandmother’s arms, “Is that all for us?”

 

“It is,” Lady Holderness said, “Alicia tells me you wish to see what it is like to be tied like them, and I and Miranda will oblige.  Firstly, we need to be sure your wrists and arms are properly protected.  Mary, you are fine with that jacket, but Cathy I would like you to put these on.”

 

She handed Cathy a pair of elbow length cream silk opera gloves, which she took and slipped over her arms.  Suzie and Cassie were each then handed a pair of shorter white gloves, which they pulled on as Granny moved behind me.

 

“The birthday girl goes first,” she said as she crossed my wrists and tied them tightly together, making sure the rope was neatly arranged over my arms as she tightened and cinched it, then passed more rope around my waist.  As she wound it between my arms and waist, Mary said “Why didn’t Bobby do that earlier?”

 

“Allow me to show you,” Lady Holderness said as she moved Mary’s hands behind her back, crossing and tying her wrists as well.  As Mary felt the way the rope tightened when it was cinched behind her back, she let out a small yelp and said “Oh - now I see why.  That is firm.”

 

Cassie smiled as Granny took care of her next.  “We like it when we can’t move or speak much,” she said as Granny then used the sash of her dress to keep her wrists firmly against her back.

 

As Alicia had her wrists tied, Cathy watched, biting her lower lip as the ropes went round.  “Nervous,” Alicia said as she looked at her.

 

“A little.”

 

“You’re with friends here - relax.  First time this happened to me, a man was pointing a gun at my mum.”  Alicia watched as Granny bound Cathy’s wrists, and Lady Holderness prepared Jenny.

 

Once we had all been prepared, Granny said “Girls, I want you to face one another - Cassie and Suzie, Jenny and Cathy, Alicia and Mary.”  As we moved round, she handed Lady Holderness three long lengths of rope, then stood behind me as Her Ladyship stood behind Cathy.  We watched each other as the rope was used to bind our arms to our bodies, winding round our elbows and our tummies so that they were locked in place.

 

“How does it feel now,” I said as I watched Jenny try to move her arms round.  “Snug,” she finally said, “Is this how it usually feels...

 

“Yeah - sometimes we have more rope, but for now we’re safe - I hope,” I said as the others were similarly bound.  “All right, girls,” Lady Holderness eventually said, “I need you to sit on the chairs while we fix your feet and your mouths,”

 

“Gagging,” Mary said as we all sat down, and I nodded.  “After your feet,” Granny said as she knelt in front of me, taking care not to trap the skirt of her black dress under her knees, and started to tie my ankles tightly together with more of the soft white rope.

 

The rope contrasted with the dark tan tights that I was wearing, but as I watched Alicia it actually seemed to complement her cream ones.  “How are we going to be able to walk with our feet tied like that,” Mary said as she watched Granny tie the rope off, and then secure my legs together below my knees.

 

“You’ll see,” I said as Granny took a length of rope and started to tie Mary’s ankles together.  Unlike me, she started by tying it round her left ankle, over the white sock she was wearing, and then played it out a little before securing her right one, leaving a length of about a foot.

 

“Trust me,” Granny said as she then pulled her legs together below her knees, “You will appreciate this.  It is the only thing Lucinda and I will do differently for you and Cathy.”  Mary nodded, but I could she was unsure of the reason for this.

 

Eventually, Cathy was tied like Mary, the rope over her flesh coloured tights, while Cassie and Suzie were securely bound over their white tights.  We all watched as Granny neatly folded six large handkerchiefs into pads.

 

“Goodie goodie,” both Cassie and Suzie called out, as Cathy said “You have some strange relations.”

 

“No stranger than usmmgmg,” Alicia said as a pad was pushed into her mouth, as was the case for all of us.  This was followed by a tie been pulled between our lips, the ends been secured at the base of our necks, and then we heard the sound of the special white tape.

 

Mary blinked as it was wrapped round her head, but relaxed as she realised it was not pulling at her skin.  Cathy actually seemed to like the feeling, saying “Mmmgddd,” as the tape was wound round her head.  Rrllsseemmmm,” she mumbled as the task of gagging all six of us was completed.

 

“One final touch,” Granny said as she produced six silk squares, each one in the same colours as one of our dresses.  Folding them into wide bands, they were tied tightly over our tape bands, covering them completely as we tried talking to each other.

 

“Now,” Granny said as she walked to the door, “Your escorts await at the foot of the stairs.”

 

Hwwmmddmmgtt,” Cathy said as she looked at me and Alicia, only for her eye sot widen as Cassie and Suzie jumped to their feet and started hopping to the door.  “WCCNNTDDTTT” Mary shouted out as she watched the two terrors hop out of the door.

 

“You will not have to,” Granny said as she helped Mary to stand, while Lady Holderness took Cathy.  “Shuffle with small steps, and you will be just fine.”  Alicia and I waited until they had reached the door before standing up and hopping after them.

 

As we left the room, we could see Cassie and Jenny starting to bump their way down the stairs, while Mary and Cathy were been helped to walk to the top of the stairs.  As we approached, we saw Dad and Alicia’s father waiting for us.

 

“Allow us to help you,” Dad said as he lifted me up, taking me down after Lady Holderness and Cathy, while Alicia followed in her father’s arms.  As we reached the bottom, we saw Cassie hopping into the dining room, as Mr Bridges called out “MISS CASSANDRA PAULETTE CRAIG!”

 

Suzie followed her in, as we heard applause and Mr Bridges saying, “MISS SUZANNE PATRICIA HOLDERNESS!”

 

“This is a slightly more formal party,” Dad said as he put me down on the ground, and Mr Bridges continued “MRS MIRANDA CRAIG WITH MISS MARY JANE HOLMES!  LADY LUCINDA HOLDERNESS AND MISS CATHERINE BERNADETTE HARMER!”

 

The applause continued as Dad whispered into my ear “Ready?”

 

“MISTER SIMON BOWDEN AND MISS ALICIA LUCINDA BOWDEN!”

 

Alicia hopped into the room as Dad walked behind me, Mister Brown smiling as he said           “MISTER JOHN CRAIG AND THE GUEST OF HONOUR, MISS JENNIFER ALISON CRAIG!”

 

As we walked in, the room was filled with applause as everyone who could stand up did so.  All the adults were in suits or dresses, and I was both surprised and delighted to see April sitting in one of the six chairs that were arranged in a circle on the floor.  She was wearing a paisley print short sleeved dress, with a skirt that came half way down her thighs, and a pair of dark leggings as well as five inch heeled sandals.

 

That was not the surprising thing, though - what was surprising was the fact she was tightly tied to a dining room chair, her arms behind the back, her ankles lashed to the front legs, and a length of rope around her waist.  A large pad of brown sticking plaster was stuck over her mouth as I joined the other five by the doorway.

 

The chairs were in a circle, and next to April was Angela, in a black topless cocktail dress and heels.  Next to her was Alicia’s mother, wearing a short sleeved red dress.  I could see the slight bump at her tummy as she sat there.  Then it was Mum, in her black evening dress, then Suzie’s mother.  Last of all was Aunt Cassie, smiling with her eyes as she looked at us.  All six were bound and gagged identically.

 

Around the room I could see Alicia’s and Suzie’s father, Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave, Mrs Bridges and Lord Holderness, as our grandmothers walked over to join them.  In a corner stood Bobby and Colin, both dressed in smart suits, shirts and ties - the first time I think I’d seen Bobby like that.    I could see Cassie looking at him, and for a moment I thought I saw Colin looking at me.

 

“What would a party be,” Dad said, “without party games, and this is a classic - musical chairs.  We all know how to play, so Mister Bridges - if you please?”

 

I saw him smile as the six of us were helped to move over, one of us standing in front of each of our bound friends and relatives. 

 

The music started, and everybody clapped as we started to hop or shuffle round the group, Mary and Cathy doing their best not to fall over as they did so.  When the music stopped, there were six of us, and six chairs, so we had no problem sitting on the laps of one of the extra padded seats - Suzie taking extra care as she sat with Alicia’s mother.

 

“Now the game proper can begin,” Dad said as Mister Holderness and Mister Bowden lifted Alicia’s mother, chair and all, and brought her over to join them.  Now there were five chairs, six of us, and the music starting...

 

We hopped around again, watching each other until the music stopped and we sprang for the nearest adult.  I managed to sit on Aunt Cassie’s lap, Suzie on her mother’s, Cassie on Mum, Mary on April, and...

 

Alicia looked at Cathy as she jumped on Angela, a smile almost visible on her lips as Alicia hopped over to stand with Bobby and Colin.  She watched, nodding as her cousin and his friend talked to her, and Aunt Cassie was taken out of the circle...

 

The next to fall was Cassie - she just failed to jump onto April’s lap as I beat her.  She hopped over to Dad, standing there watching as he put his arms round her, but she didn’t seem too unhappy - I think she was just glad to be finally almost completely bound and gagged.  I knew why Granny had held off on the shoulder ropes, but I couldn’t help thinking that something else would come later.

 

Angela was removed, and the next round began.  We had barely started hopping when they stopped the music, making Mary fall down and miss her seat.  Ssvvmmmrttt,” she mumbled as Uncle Dave helped her up and walked her over to Alicia, while Suzie’s mother was lifted away.

 

Three of us left - me, Suzie and Cathy.  Mum and April had been move so that they were sitting back to back, as we moved carefully round them, not wanting to be the first to....

 

The end of the music caught me by surprise, as Suzie hopped onto Mum’s lap and April had Cathy sitting on her.  I hopped over to Dad, as Suzie gave me a look that said it all.  Mum was lifted away, and the final began.

 

Someone must have given Dad a CD of old songs, because the song they picked for the final round was the Looney Tunes song - Granny told me once it was called The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down, and ‘I had no idea what one of those was.  Anyway, Cathy was shuffling, Suzie was hopping, April was watching, and as the music stopped.....

 

 

“Cathy is the winner!”

 

Suzie looked on as Cathy jumped off and shouted out “SSSSSSSS,” completely forgetting she was silenced.  I could see her face reddening, but forgave her as to our surprise April brought her hands round and started to untie her legs.

 

“I untied her wrists while you were hopping round,” Mum said as she peeled the tape away from her mouth.  “You look lovely in that dress, Jenny.”

 

“Sometimes I forget how fast you’re growing up,” Dad said as he mussed my hair, “but don’t grow up too quickly.  You still have a lot of experiences to go through.”  As he said this, the adults were sitting on chairs, and Bobby walked up to us, saying “May I escort you to your seat, Miss Cassandra,” to Cassie.

 

She blushed - Cassie actually blushed as he said this, and he took her arm, helping her to hop over to one of the six seats which were now set in a row.  I hopped over after her, only to find Colin standing behind a chair, indicating I should sit there.  It was my turn to blush as I sat myself down - nobody had done that to me.

 

Cathy shuffled over, the hem of her skirt floating just above the group before she sat herself on the next seat.  As the skirt rose up, she shuffled her feet a little and looked down at mine.

 

Cnnmmblktt,” she mumbled.  I shrugged my shoulders as Mary came over, her skirt moving from side to side just above her knees before she sat herself down.  I looked to my other side, at Cassie’s dress skirt as it hung just over her knees, and she swung her feet to and fro, her green satin shoes with the small heel matching her outfit.

 

As Alicia and Suzie were brought over by their fathers, I saw Aunt Connie shuffling a set of cards in her hands.  Suzie’s skirt came half way down her lower legs, so that as she sat it was trapped underneath and she swung her white ballet slipper clad feet to and fro.  Alicia was last, as Aunt Connie looked at each of us in turn.

 

“Now,” she said as she looked round the room, “I’m going to get the girls to read out the name of a popular television program, and we have to guess what it is.  They will work in pairs, and Alicia and Suzie will go first.  We have to try and guess what it is, and can ask questions, but they can only nod or shake their head.  Ready?”

 

She walked over to Alicia and Suzie and showed them a card.  They read it, looked at each other, and Alicia said loudly “Scdeddd.”

 

Lady Holderness looked at them, and said “Is it a book?”  They both shook their heads, as Mum said “Is it a television program?”  That made them both nod, as Mum looked at Granny.

 

“Is it a children’s program,” she asked quietly, which also made them nod.  “A cartoon,” Bobby asked, and another nod.  Lord Holderness looked carefully at Alicia and Suzie, before saying “Is it My Little Pony?”

 

I almost burst out laughing at that, the thought that Alicia would watch that - until I remembered my own Bratz watching days.  I stopped myself in time to see them shaking their heads.

 

“Is this something Cassie and Jenny have watched,” Aunt Cassie said, which made them nod.  “Something that influenced them?”  Another nod, and I suddenly realised what the answer was.

 

“Is it - Scooby Doo?”

 

“Correct,” Aunt Connie said as Alicia and Suzie stood up and took a little bow.  “Girls, we will be having dinner soon, so go and join your fathers.  You’ll need to be free for that.”

 

They nodded and jumped over to Mister Bowden and Mister Holderness as Aunt Connie held another card in front of Mary and Cathy.

 

Strrrrrcmdnsss.”

 

This time it was Bobby who spoke up, as he said “Can you do a mime for this one?”

 

To my surprise, Cathy and Mary both nodded, as they stood up and shuffled round to face each other.  As I watched, they started to sway from side to side, trying to copy each other’s moves as the others watched.

 

“Is it a dancing show,” Dad said, smiling as they both nodded their heads.

 

“Does it reflect the way you are now,” Lady Holderness said with a smile, as they looked at each other and nodded again.

 

“Then,” Mum called out, “it must be Connie’s favourite show - Strictly Come Dancing!”

 

“YSSSSSS,” they both called out as they jumped up and down.  “Very good,” Aunt Connie said as Bobby and Colin helped the two girls to walk to where Alicia and Suzie were been slowly unbound.  “Finally, for the birthday girl and her sister, we have this.”

 

She showed us the card, which we stared at before looking at each other.  Cassie stood up and said “hppprfd.”

 

“Is it a film,” Uncle Dave said, and we shook our heads.  Alicia and Suzie walked back over, their mouths still covered and watched as April said “Is it a book?”

 

Again we shook our heads, as Mary and Cathy joined them, rubbing their wrists as Dad said “Is it a television program?”

 

Again we shook our heads, as Cassie motioned with her head towards me.  “Is it an animal,” Aunt Cassie said, which made us both groan and shake our heads, Cassie madly motioning to me with her head.

 

“Is it, by any chance, a song?” Colin finally said, and I did wonder if he had been prompted by Aunt Connie.  At any rate, Cassie and I did nod gratefully as Mr Bridges said “Is it a special song for today,” before walking to the doors.

 

We both nodded our heads as Dad said “Is it, by any chance, Happy Birthday?”

 

Finally!  As we jumped up and down, Mr Bridges opened the door and we saw Mrs Bridges rolling in a trolley, on which stood the biggest cake I had ever seen.  It was round, and on top was a small Barbie doll, which had been tied and gagged.  There was also, written in pink icing on the white top, the words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNY” and thirteen candles which burned brightly.

 

Dad stood behind me and untied the scarf, then removed the tape and the rest of the gag as everybody else stood round.  “Does everyone know the words,” he said as I stared round the room, looking at everybody’s smiling faces, as they began to sing - or in the case of the five I had spent most of the day with, mumble.

 

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday Dear Jenny,

Happy Birthday to YOU!

 

I took a deep breath and blew out all the candles in one go, everybody clapping as my hands were untied and Mr Bridges handed me a knife.

 

“Gather round Jenny girls,” Granny said, and as Cassie, Suzie, Alicia, Mary and Cathy stood by me cameras were produced again.

 

“Now say cheese as you cut,” she said, and as I started to take the first slice we all shouted “SHSSSSS” as the cameras flashed.

 

“Dinner,” Mr Bridges said, “is served,” and as the ropes were taken off my legs and Cassie’s body the others were helped to remove their gags.

 

“My god,” Cathy said as we walked to the table, “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that.”

 

“I know,” Mary said as she sat between Bobby and Suzie, “but I’ll tell you this.”

 

“What,” Alicia said as plates of ham and melon were placed before us.

 

“It was - AMAZING.  You have to tell me how you started doing this - and how your grandmothers learned to tie someone like that.”

 

“It’s kind of a family tradition,” I said as I started to eat - I’d never felt so famished in my life.  “Granny did it, Dad and my aunts did it, and now we do it.”

 

“What about you, Alicia?”

 

“Not so much - although it turned out Mum knew a thing or two,” she said as she looked up at her parents, talking over the table to Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave.  “Grandma apparently used to play with Mrs Craig, but it was only over the summer that Heidi taught me.”

 

“Heidi - your American pen friend?”

 

Suzie nodded.  “She taught me and Alicia, and we had a lot of fun over the summer - the nice men who tied us all up snugly, the party, everything.”

 

“What about you Bobby?”

 

Bobby looked round from his conversation with Colin.  “Hey, first I knew of all this was a few weeks ago - but I’m a fast learner.  So is Colin - I only taught him when we captured Suzie, and I showed him how to tie her.”

 

“Bobby may be best at knots in the troop,” Colin said as he looked at me, winking, “but I’m the second best - for the moment.”

 

As the main course arrived, we told Mary and Cathy all about what really happened over the summer - the games we played, the visitors we had, expected and unexpected, and then that glorious last day we all spent together.  As we finished, they looked at us and just said “Wow - wish we could have been there,” before they started eating.

 

“I’ll show the video another time,” Alicia said.  As she finished, Lady Holderness looked down the table and said “I am so glad you could feel able to join in, Mary and Catherine.  I think it's important for Alicia to have a good strong circle of friends.  And you as well, Colin - I think Bobby could do with the moral support from time to time.”

 

Colin looked at Bobby, who blushed slightly.  “Aw look, Big Brother’s embarrassed - hardly future Lord Holderness material is he,” she said as she nudged Cassie in the ribs.

 

“Oh I don’t know - I think red suits him,” she said as she bit into a slice of the pork.  She looked at me after she said this, and I could see a small red spot on her cheek as well.  Suzie just laughed and went back to her meal, but I was beginning to wonder if there was something else happening here.

 

“So what does your father do for a living, Colin,” Dad said as his plate was taken away. 

 

“He’s - well, he’s a policeman,” Colin said as he blushed.  “Not DCI Hampton,” Aunt Cassie said, and Colin slowly nodded.  “Do you know him?”

 

“I’ve heard of him,” she said as she looked at the rest of the family.  We’d heard of him all right - he was the one who took our statements recently.

 

As the Pavlova came and went, we were stuffed.  Dad stood up and said “Folks, we need to go into the library - I understand that there are some things to be done in there.”  We all stood up and made our way into the large book lined room, where there was a wooden seat set up in front of a variety of seats, couches and recliners.

 

“Jenny, will you sit here please,” Dad said as he stood by the seat.  As I sat down, everyone else sat and faced me.

 

“Jenny, we hope you have enjoyed your day,” Dad said, “but before everyone goes, we wanted those who haven’t yet given you your presents to do so - and also give you a chance to give a small thank you to Bobby, Cathy, Mary and Colin.”  As he said this, Mum brought over four silver boxes, which she handed to me.

 

“Please, come and get your gifts from Jenny,” Mum said, and one by one they walked up and hugged me as I gave them their presents.  As they opened them, I recognised the sound of metal as they looked in.

 

“You may wish to leave them with us for safe storage,” Lady Holderness said quietly, “in case your parents are surprised.”  Mary and Cathy looked at each other and nodded, before saying “thank you - and thanks for inviting us.”

 

“Don’t we get a present,” Cassie said out loud, which made Granny laugh,  “Funny you should say that,” she said with a smile, “as we have presents for you, Suzie and Alicia - as well as one special one for you Jenny.”

 

She handed each of us a small parcel wrapped in gold paper. “Before you open them, however,” Lady Holderness said as she looked at her watch, “there is someone who would like to say hello,”

 

As if on cue, the telephone in the room began to ring.  We watched as Mr Bridges picked up the receiver and said “Holderness Manor?

 

“Yes, she is here currently, would you like to speak to her?

 

“One moment, I will put you on the speaker,” he said as he touched a button, and a familiar voice said “Hey there - I hear it’s someone’s birthday today.”

 

“HEIDI!” I shouted out as soon as I heard the soft New England accent.  “How are you?”

 

“I’m good, Jenny - I’m sitting here at the moment with Nats, Mum and Aunt Veronica.  Say Hi, everyone.”

 

“Hi Everyone,” we heard three voices call in the background, which made everyone laugh, me most of all.

 

“Anyway, Jenny, I wanted to wish you a happy birthday, and welcome you to the Teen Club.  I just have one problem - I’ve got a present for you here, and no way of getting it to you.”

 

“That’s all right, Heidi, thanks.  You could always post it.”

 

“Nah, it’s too big.  You’re just going to have to come and get it yourself.”

 

It took me a few minutes before I heard what she was saying.  “I’m sorry, Heidi, I could have sworn you said I’d have to come and get it.”

 

“Well, that’s probably because that’s what I said.  You’d better bring Alicia with you as well - and you can’t leave Cassie and Suzie behind, so they’re coming too.”

 

The yelp from Cassie and Suzie made us all jump, even me from my seat, “Heidi, this is a joke right?”

 

“”No joke, kiddos - your grandmothers will tell you more in a minute, and then you can get back to your party.  I’ll see you all in a few weeks.  Have a good time, everyone.”   Mr Bridges ended the call as we looked at Granny and Lady Holderness.

 

“Open your presents, girls,” Granny said, and as I opened the gold package I saw what looked like a small purple book inside, with a gold crest embossed on the front.

 

“Passports - for each of us,” Alicia said as she looked at her grandmother.

 

“Indeed, Miranda and I will accompany you for the week.  We have discussed with your parents, and they are in full agreement.”

 

“Consider this my present to you, Jenny,” Granny said as she smiled at me.  “Lucinda and I have made all the arrangements, and I think it will prove an - interesting time.”

 

“We’re going to America, we’re going to America!!” Cassie and Suzie chanted as they hugged each other, then ran over and hugged their respective grannies.  I look at mum and dad who nodded as I sat back in the chair, dumbfounded.  What else could happen today?”

 

“Jenny,” Dad eventually said, “We want to all say happy birthday to you in our own ways, and in our own styles.  Please stay seated as we come and take our turns, and put your hands on your lap first.”

 

I did as Dad asked me, as Mary came forward and handed me a parcel wrapped in purple shiny paper.  “Thank you for a fantastic day,” she said as she gently taped my fingers together on each hand with a roll of white adhesive tape.

 

“Thanks for making it so special,” I said as she finished and Cathy came over, handing me a present as she did so.  “When Alicia suggested this, I had no idea it would be so much fun.”

 

“I hope it will be fun for a long time for you, and thank you,” I said as she pulled a pair of dark socks over my taped hands, covering them as she pulled them up my sleeves.

 

April came over next, and gave me a present before she taped the socks onto the sleeves of my dress with the white tape.  “Thanks - for everything,” she said as she hugged me tightly, and then walked to the other side of the room.

 

As Bobby came over, he said very quietly “”You’re a very cute girl, and a great teacher,” before he placed a present on the floor, helped me to sit forward, crossed my hands behind my back and tied them tightly together, then helped me to sit on the edge.  Alicia came over next, and tied my arms together below my elbows, saying “I wonder what Heidi’s other friends are like,” as she did so.

 

“Could be fun,” I said as I looked at her, and then saw Cassie come over.  “I gave you my present earlier,” she said as she held rope in her hand, “so I just get to tie your wrists to your waist.”  Smiling, I stood up and let her tie the rope around my waist, and cinching it between my arms and back.

 

“Thank you,” I said quietly as I sat back down and Angela came over.  “I’ll leave this here,” she said as she started to tie my arms to my side, wrapping the rope round my tummy as she did so.  I felt the comforting constriction as I looked at her and smiled.

 

Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave came over next.  “I hope you like the top,” Uncle Dave said as Aunt Connie tied more rope around my shoulders.  As I looked over, I smiled at Mary and  Cathy as they watched my upper body been finally secured the way I like it, Uncle Dave tightening the coils with little lengths under my arms.

 

As they helped me to sit down, Mrs Bridges came over and knelt in front of me, leaving a present on the growing pile before she started to bind my ankles together with rope.  “Have you had a good day,” she said to me, and I nodded as I felt my ankles been drawn together.

 

Suzie was next, as she knelt in front of me and tied my legs together below my knees.  “I think Bobby has a crush on your sister,” she whispered as she cinched the ropes, making me look over at Cassie as she stared back at me.  I could see Mary and Cathy watching intently as well.

 

Aunt Cassie came next. Lifting the skirt of my dress up, she tied my legs together below my knees and then lifted my skirt back.  “Have you had a good day,” she said as she looked at me.  I nodded, before she said “Are you all right in yourself?”

 

I nodded as I sat back, watching as Colin came over, a wad of cloth in his hand.  “You look cute with your mouth sealed,” he whispered as he pushed the cloth in, and I closed my mouth over it.

 

Lord Holderness came next, a thin blue silk scarf rolled in his hands.  “It has been a pleasure to host your birthday party,” he said as I allowed him to pull the scarf between my lips, forcing the cloth against my tongue as I said “Thnku.”

 

“It was our pleasure,” Lady Holderness said as she brought over a roll of our special white tape, and wound it round my head as I looked at the others.  “I’m glad you like our gifts,” she said as she kissed my forehead, and nodded to Granny.

 

“Have you enjoyed yourself today, Jenny,” Granny said as she tore the end of a roll of a roll of the black bandage free.  I nodded and sat still as she wound the cloth around my head, covering the tape as the others smiled.

 

Finally, Mum and Dad came over.  “Enjoyed your birthday,” Dad said as Mum tied a black silk square over my head.  I nodded, unable to say anything as Dad used a long length of rope to tie me to the chair back, fixing me in place as the others gathered round me.

 

“We wanted to sing something for you,” Alicia said as she looked at me, “but first we just need to get ready.  Don’t go anywhere.”

 

Don’t go anywhere?  When I so tightly tied and so securely gagged I can’t do a thing about it?  I marvelled at Alicia’s mastery of understatement as I watched her, Cassie, Suzie, Mary and Cathy push sponge balls into their mouths and seal their lips with tape, before they looked at each other and started to sing.

 

Tssmbdeesbrfd, ewndrhooo

Tsssmbdertntsrmmnru

Slkklllrnduntluchoo

Tssmmllngndlffngnd - gddnsnstsu!

Hprbrfdjnee Frmlfstu

Hprbrfdjnee  wsngtsngfru

Ecngrchultu, ndsndgddwshst.

Hprbrfdjnee mllurdrmscmtr

 

I swear to God, as they sang that I could feel the tears running down my very well gagged cheeks.  I was safe, with my family and friends round me, as they wished e a happy birthday - and suddenly all the fear of the last few weeks was sitting in the past.

 

Fnkkkkuulll,” I finally said as they ran over and hugged me, while Mum and Dad started to take photos.  I wondered for a moment why Suzie and Alicia’s parents had not taken part in the binding of me - and then I realised they were not in the room at all while it was taking place.

 

Wresuurmmm,” I said as I looked at Alicia.  She looked back at me, and then removed her gag.  “Where are my mum and dad?” she said as she looked at me, and I nodded in reply.  “I think they went to make sure something was ready,” she said as Dad and Uncle Dave lifted my chair up and carried me out of the room, the others following as we made our way out of the study and back into the dining room.

 

The table and floor had been cleared, and I saw Mister and Mrs Holderness, as well as Mister and Mrs Bowden, standing at one end of the room.

 

“The four of us,” Alicia’s father said, “decided to club together and buy the Craig family one big present.  I’m not sure if you’re ever going to be able to hang it anywhere particularly public, but anyway we hope you like it.”  He pulled on a length of rope as the curtain fell away.

 

We all stared at a portrait - but no ordinary portrait.  It was based on the photo that was taken that special day - the one of me, Cassie, Aunt Cassie and Aunt Connie, Mum and Granny, dressed in all our finery and very securely bound and gagged. 

 

“We never really said thank you to you for everything you have done,” Suzie and Bobby’s father said, “So we hope this goes some way.”

 

“I...  I don’t know what to say,” Dad spluttered out as he held Mum, and Cassie stared wide eyed.  “Alexander,” Granny said quietly, “This is, this is....”   She started crying as Dad held her as well.  “I wish David could have seen this - all of this,” she eventually said.

 

“I’m sure Dad’s watching and smiling,” I heard Dad say as the others gathered round.

 

“You have got to tell me what led to this,” Mary said to Alicia, who just said quietly “Later.”

 

“And now,” Mr Bridges said as he and Mrs Bridges walked round, handing out glasses of champagne or fizzy lemonade to everyone except me, “A final toast.  To Jenny.”

 

“To Jenny” they all said as they raised their glasses and looked at me, red as a beetroot in the chair.

 

As they drained their glasses, Mr Bridges came back in.  “I have placed the cars in the bag, Mr Smith, and you may depart whenever you are ready.”

 

“Thank you, George,” I heard Dad say, “Can you give me a hand with the additional packages?”

 

“Of course sir,” Mr Bridges said as he and Dad walked out of the room.  “I’m sorry you didn’t get a toast,” Alicia said as she came over and started to tickle my ribs, “but we’ll make it up to you later.”

 

Trrr?”

 

“That’s right,” Mary said as she stood behind me, “We always planned for this to be a birthday weekend.  Your mum and dad invited us for a surprise sleepover, but then this came up, and - well, we’re going to combine the two.  Mind you, I didn’t think it would end up this way.”

 

She started to tickle me as well and fairly soon Cathy joined in, their fingers torturing my ribs and feet as I sat there helpless.  Eventually, of all people it was Bobby who came to my rescue, as he walked over and said “come on you three - Mr and Mrs Craig are waiting outside for you.  They said something about making you comfortable for the trip to their house?”

 

“See you in a few minutes,” Alicia said as they walked out of the room, leaving me alone with the others.  Bobby came over and started to tickle me as well.

 

“Bobby - leave the poor girl alone,” Angela said as she chased him into the corner, where he and Colin talked in low whispers, glancing over at me from time to time.  “You all right in there,” she said as she looked at me, smiling as I nodded.

 

“America - big trip.  I hope you enjoy it,” she whispered as Dad came back in and started to untie me from the chair.  “Time to go home,” he whispered in my ear as he picked me up out of the chair, “I hope you don’t mind going like this?”

 

Mind?  Why should I mind?  I just put my head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat as the others waved, saying goodbyes and wishing me all the best, while Dad carried me out of the house and towards the car.

 

“Did you enjoy your party?” he asked me as the cool night air blew into my face.  I nodded, my eyes suddenly very very heavy - so heavy that it took me a few minutes to realise, as Dad strapped me in, that the other five had large pads of brown plaster over their mouths, and their arms were pinned behind their backs as they sat under their seat belts.

 

“Let’s go,” Dad said as he sat beside Mum in the front of the car, driving off into the dark night as the others talked amongst themselves.  As for me, for some reason I was getting incredibly sleepy - if I just closed my eyes for a few minutes, then...

 

“Good morning, sleepy head.”

 

I opened my eyes to see Mum looking at me.  It took me a few moments to realise I was in my bedroom, lying on my side.  It then took me a few more minutes to realise I was still tied up in my new dress, but that the gag had been completely removed.

 

“What time is it,” I asked, yawning as I looked at the alarm clock.

 

“Time you were up and getting ready,” Mum said as she started to untie the ropes around me.  “I’ve started to run you a bath, and breakfast will be ready in 30 minutes.”

 

“Where are the others?”

 

“Still asleep in the living room I imagine - they were still sitting up and talking when your father and I went to bed.  You were so deeply asleep we just put you down on your bed - the rest of your presents are still downstairs, waiting for you to unwrap them.”

 

As I sat myself up, rubbing my arms to get some circulation back, I smiled at the memory of the previous day.  “Oh yeah - they are, aren’t they?  I’ll go and have that bath then - once I get out of this dress.”

 

As I slipped it off, mum hung it carefully on a hanger.  “Those lines will come out in time,” she said as she looked at the lighter bands around the body.  “Well, go on - breakfast won’t be long.”

 

Twenty five minutes later, I came into the kitchen, a blue towelling gown around me, to see Cassie and Suzie chatting over who was going to have the last of the jam, while Alicia, Mary and Cathy were all pouring themselves a glass of fruit juice.  “Hey, hey - you’re awake,” Alicia said as they came over and hugged me.

 

“Yeah - and thanks.  Really - thanks.  I have no idea how you planned that Alicia, but it was masterful.”

 

“Why thank you,” Alicia said as she made a small curtsey.  “I have to admit, some of it was my idea, some Grandma’s, and some your parents - we all wanted to do something for your birthday, but I got in first.”

 

“So which came first?”

 

We sat at the breakfast table as Alicia started.  “Well, I initially wanted to surprise you, with Mary and Cathy, to go to the pictures or something, but then I figured - why not make an event of it - a fake kidnapping.  So I discussed it with Mum and Dad, and initially the intention was to get you to my house.

 

“Then Grandma said that she had been talking to your grandmother, and that your parents were also planning a surprise party for you.  Well, we couldn’t have both, could we?  So I told Mary and Cathy we were changing the plan slightly.”

 

Mary smiled as she said “Alicia told us that she was going to bring you to the Manor House, and have the party there.  She also said she would get you there by kidnapping you - well, fake kidnapping you.”

 

“By this time,” Alicia continued, “Grandma and your grandmother had started talking, and the party had grown a bit bigger.  I knew Colin was coming over to Bobby’s house, so they were all invited by Granny, as was the rest of my family.  In the meantime, your mother and grandmother had agreed to trick you into going into the shopping mall - so I tagged along.

 

“Meanwhile, unknown to me, Bobby had been talking to Suzie, and Suzie to Cassie.  They knew Mary and Cathy would be new to our games, so they agreed that Bobby could go easy on them for a while, in return for a serious gagging and tying at a date to be specified.  They played their part extremely well - didn’t you girls?”

 

Suzie and Cassie both nodded, their mouths full of Cheerios so that they couldn’t speak.  “Do they always get so much enjoyment out of it,” Cathy said as she looks at them.

 

“I’ll tell you later,” I said with a smile.  “All right - I get the part Alicia played, Bobby played, and our grandmothers.  How on earth did you get my aunts involved?”

 

“She didn’t have to,” Mum said as he brought over some plates of toast, “I told them we were having a party, and they insisted on the games you played.  I talked to Alison, and she was happy even given her current state to at least be in at the start of the musical chairs.

 

“As for the rest - it followed from there.”

 

“And Heidi,” I said looking at Mum as Dad walked in, “Did you know about that?”

 

“Well,” Dad said quietly as he stood there, his sleeves rolled back and his arms folded, “about two hours before you did.  Mum and Lady Holderness told us while you were getting dressed for dinner.  Turns out they’d already bought the tickets - business class to JFK, then a jet to Maine from there.  After that - who knows?”

 

“I still can’t believe it,” I said as I sat at the table, “a trip overseas?”

 

“Yes well,” Dad said as he looked at his watch, “we have an hour before Church - all of you, hurry up and get ready!”

 

 

An hour later, we were all sat in the car, washed and dressed as Dad drove us to our church.  I had on a black waistcoat over a long sleeved white top, white Capri pants and kitten heels, while Cassie was wearing a short sleeved blue blouse and trousers with flat shoes.

 

Alicia and Suzie were slightly more formally dressed - Alicia in a pale blue top and mid-length skirt with white shoes, and Suzie in a red top and a peasant skirt that came to just above her knees.

 

Mary looked round, nervously clutching her bible in her hands as she did so.  I did not know she attended a more formal church than ours, as was evident by her smart, crisply ironed white long sleeved blouse and straight linen skirt, with sensible heels.  As for Cathy, she was the total opposite, in a Justin Beiber t-shirt over a long sleeved top, denim shorts over dark leggings, and trainers.

 

As we walked into the church, we saw Aunt Cassie, who waved and came over.  “Sleep well,” she asked as she hugged me.  I nodded as she looked at the others.  “Mary, Cathy, I’m glad you could come.  Let’s go in - this is a nice church to come to, I think you’ll agree.”

 

“It looks it,” Mary said as we walked in and sat down on the chairs.  “Do we stand up when the priest comes in?”

 

“It’s a pastor,” I whispered to her, “and don’t worry, just follow my lead.”

 

 

 

The service was a thankfully short one, as it was a family day, and we stood around chatting as the congregation dispersed.  As we climbed back into the car, Cassie said in her perfectly innocent way “Can we play a game when we get home?”

 

“Well,” Mum said quietly, “It will take a while to cook lunch, and your parents are not coming to collect you until later, so I guess so,  You can all play upstairs - but be careful.”

 

“What sort of game do they have in mind,” Cathy whispered to me as we drove down the road.”

 

“Well,” I whispered back, “I suspect you are going to end up looking something like me last night - but I want a chance to open my presents first!”  I said the last part out loud.

 

“Sure - I’ll bring some sandwiches into the front room and some drinks, and you can do that there.”

 

When we got home, I literally ran into the living room, the others following, and started to open my presents.  There were CDs and DVDs from Mary and Cathy, a new jacket from Aunt Connie and Uncle Dave, jewellery from Aunt Cassie - all sorts of wonderful presents.  One of the most wonderful was a bag from Alicia and Angela, with a real gold clasp.

 

“Anyway,” Alicia said as she finished off the last ham sandwich, “I think we can play for a while now.  Is the stash upstairs, Cassie?”

 

“Most of it,” she said with a smile, “I brought this down earlier.”  She held up two pairs of socks, a roll of white electrical tape and two lengths of cord.

 

“Well then,” I said as I stood up, “Mary, Cathy - ready?”

 

“Does this mean we get to experience the way you normally tie each other up,” Mary said, and I could see the gleam in her eye as she said it.

 

“Of course - given your state of dress, you can be the rich landowner’s daughter, and Cathy can be the village girl you have as your best friend, but who doesn’t fit in.”

 

“What’s wrong with Justin Beiber, anyway,” Cathy said, but they took the socks and pulled them over their hands, then stood up and turned their backs to me as I taped them to their arms.

 

“Want to give me a hand, Alicia,” I said innocently, and handed her a length of cord.  Within five minutes, both Mary and Cathy were trying to twist their arms free.  They had no chance, given we had tied their crossed wrist as tightly as we usually do, and then secured them to their waists, this time cinching it between their arms and backs.

 

“Let’s take a walk upstairs,” Alicia said as we trooped out of the room, Dad watching from the kitchen as we headed up the stairs to my bedroom.

 

“Now then, “I said as Suzie closed the door, “I think we need to make sure you are well and truly immobilised.  Just stand still for a moment.”  Alison and I each began to make a harness around their arms and tummy, winding it around their arms below their elbows and their bodies so that they were held firmly in place.

 

“You guys really know what you’re doing,” Cathy said as we then bound their upper arms to their bodies, using smaller lengths to cinch the ropes under their arms, “I can hardly move at all.”

 

“Good,” I said, “Because you guys are not the only ones getting tied up here.”

 

“Huh,” Alicia said, and then she suddenly realised what I had known for some time - Cassie and Suzie had been very, unnaturally quiet.  She slowly turned and saw Suzie smiling sheepishly, as Cassie wound rope around her tummy.

 

“Oh great,” Alicia said as she accepted the pair of socks I handed her.  Ten minutes later, all three of my tormentors were standing in front of my bed, nice and snugly tied, while Suzie was been helped to the floor by Cassie.

 

“So how long is it until half term week anyway,” Mary said as I helped her to turn and kneel down in front of the bed.

 

“About six weeks - it’s the last few days of October,” Cathy said as she watched me cross and lash Mary’s ankles together.  “Gives you plenty of time to get things sorted out.  What do you think you’ll do when you get out there?”

 

“Eat lots and lots of popcorn and sweets,” Cassie said as she tied Suzie’s ankles together, “Yeah - and visit lots of new shops,” Suzie said as she looked over her shoulder.

 

“I’m not sure Grandma will allow that,” Alicia said as I helped her to kneel down and started to tie her ankles together.  “I do know one thing - it’s Halloween while we are over there, so you may get to go Trick or Treating, American style.”

 

“Oh goodie goodie,” the two whirling dervishes said as they looked at each other, “We’d better make sure we have costumes for it!”

 

“I think the girls over there will still be at school,” Alicia continued as I helped Cathy to kneel and then tied her ankles, “so I suspect we will be making a few trips with our grandmothers during the day as well.  I heard mine talking to your Aunt Cassie yesterday, saying something about making sure Suzie has work to do.”

 

“PFFFTTTT,” Suzie said as she blew a raspberry, while Cassie pulled her ankles back and placed her in a tight hogtie.

 

“Is that going to be us in a few minutes,” Cathy said as she stared at Suzie, then at Alicia and Mary.

 

“Once I’ve secured you, yes,” I said as I helped Mary to lie on her stomach, and then tied her legs together, above and below her knees, making sure her skirt covered her before I drew her legs back.

 

Oooohhhhh,” Mary called out as I bent her legs, the rope pulling on her skin before I tied her ankles to her chest ropes.  “I really am not going anywhere, am I?”  I merely smiled as first Alicia, and then Cathy was treated the same way, until all three were staring at Suzie with their heads raised.

 

“Come here often,” Suzie said as Cassie and I gathered a number of supplies together and placed them in front of our captives.  “All of that is for us,” Cathy said as I picked up a handkerchief and folded it into a pad.

 

“It sure is,” I replied with a smile before holding it in front of Cathy’s mouth, pushing it in as she opened as wide as she could.  I pushed the cloth in, made sure the other two were stuff gagged, and then watched as Suzie rolled up her old head cloth and pulled it between Suzie’s lips.

 

Tssbtrrr,” Suzie mumbled as I used three long strips of old cotton sheeting to keep the stuffing into my captives’ mouths.  Fllsfneee,” Mary mumbled as she looked over at the other two, but I could tell she was happy as the others nodded in agreement.

 

“Tape next,” I said as I picked up the white tape roll, and Cassie tied a scarf over Suzie’s red hair.  She was using duct tape, so I said “this tape will not harm your hair, but the silver stuff will, so we always use protection.

 

Srrt,” Suzie said as we heard the tape ripping away from the roll before Cassie applied it, while I wrapped the medical tape around the heads of the other three.

 

“Nice and secure, girls - no problems, no fears,” I said as I patted all three of my captives on the head, and they all blinked in response.  “Good - then you don’t mind if I take your shoes off,” I said as I slipped Alicia’s kitten heels, Mary’s black leather shoes and Cathy’s trainers off.  They all looked at Suzie, wondering what was happening, but as Cassie began to tickle Suzie they got the picture.

 

“So does your brother do this to you at home,” Cassie laughed as her fingers tickled Suzie’s ribs, making her squeal out “HlllgttuuuuuAHHHHHHHH” as the torture began for her.  As for my captives, I simply said “This is for tickling me yesterday” and started to tickle the soles of their feet, moving along the line and making sure they all got a fair turn.

 

“SSNTFFFFFFRRRRRRRRRRRR” Mary screamed as she tried to move out of the way, only to hit against Alicia.  She too was squirming under my gentle touch, as Cathy looked on nervously.  She was right to e nervous too, as she opened her eyes wide and screamed.”NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN” when my fingers stroked her bare soles.

 

“Revenge can be so, so sweet,” I said quietly as I moved from their feet to their legs. Tickling the backs of their knees, then their ribs, watching them squeal and squirm around with no way of escaping.  Cassie came over and joined in, tickling Alicia’s ribs as Suzie laughed, watching and panting under her gag.

 

I was enjoying myself immensely - no idea of how much time was passing, until there was a knock on the door and Dad looked in.

 

“Twenty minutes to dinner,” he said as he looked at us,” so I think you need to get cleaned up.”  He closed the door as Cassie and I started to untie the others, flushed as they were with the exercise.

 

 

 

 

“That was amazing,” Mary whispered in my ear as we all sat round the dinner table, enjoying one of Mum’s Roast Beef dinners.

 

“So what do your parents do, Mary,” Mum asked as she passed the gravy boat round.

 

“Oh - well, Mummy works in a local fashion boutique, while Daddy is a reporter for the local newspaper.  He also writes an online blog.”

 

“And what about you Cathy?”

 

Cathy swallowed a piece of roast potato.  “Mummy runs the florist, and Mum is a receptionist at the local taxi firm.”

 

She looked at us, expecting a reaction, but Alicia simply said “Good,” as she continued eating.  “Will they be coming to collect you later,” Dad said as he fed some broccoli into his mouth.

 

Cathy smiled and said “Yeah, they will.”

 

“Did you think we would react badly,” I said, and then Cassie chipped in with “I think it’s cool having two mummies - but I like Mum and Dad.”

 

“Well, I for one am glad of that,” Mum said as she started to clear the plates away.  “Who wants some trifle for dessert?”  We all raised our hands at that, as Cathy and Mary both smiled.

 

 

 

I stood at the door, waving as Mary walked down the path between her parents.  They were dressed in Sunday best, her father with glasses and her mother with a hat pinned firmly on her long brown hair.

 

“We have received an invitation from Lord Holderness,” I heard him say as they walked to the car, “for you, Mary.”  As they walked off, an old Skoda drew up and two women got out.  One was wearing a waistcoat over a long floral print dress, and the other a black t-shirt and jeans.

 

“Mummy! Mum!” Cathy shouted as she hugged them both.  “I had a fantastic time - thanks for letting me stay Jenny.”

 

“Glad you could,” I said as I watched them walk down the path, the woman in the dress saying “I had a funny phone call earlier today about you...”  I walked back into the house and hugged Mum and Dad.

 

“Thanks,” I said as the doorbell rang, and Mum opened it to Suzie’s mum.  “Are the girls ready,” she said as she came in.

 

“They are - did you park the car by the garage as I suggested?”

 

She smiled as we strolled into the front room.  “Ah - I see why you said to do that now.  Come on girls - let’s get you home.”

 

Alicia and Suzie nodded as they stood themselves up, wriggling their taped fingers behind themselves as they started to hop to the door.  They were taped at their ankles, legs, thighs, waist and arms, with their hands taped palm to palm behind their backs, and tape around their well stuffed mouths.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said to Alicia as they hopped out of the room, their eyes laughing as they made their way along the hallway, through the kitchen and out of the back door, Suzie’s mother laughing as she watched them.

 

“Well, that’s that done,” Mum said as the car drove off.  “Right, you two - finish your homework.  School tomorrow.”  We both groaned and turned, walking towards the staircase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue - Saturday 27th October, 10 am BST

 

“This is a boarding call for all passengers flying to New York on flight number...”

 

Granny looked up at us as we heard the announcement in the lounge at Terminal 5.  “That’s our flight,” she said as she stood up.  “Lucinda, you’d better get Suzanne and Cassandra from the play area.”

 

Lady Holderness nodded as Alicia and I looked out of the large glass windows.

 

“I never knew it could be so busy,” Alicia said as he picked up the backpack we had been given on entering the lounge.

 

“Yes, well - you have your passports and boarding passes?”

 

We held them up as the two terrors came running back.

 

“We’re going on a big plane, and we’re going to watch cartoons for the whole trip!” Suzie called out.

 

“Great - up at 5 and they’re still full of beans,” I said as I watched Cassie jump up and down.

 

“Don’t worry - they’ll sleep eventually,” Granny said as we walked to the entrance.  “After all, it is a long day...”  We walked to the escalator, wondering what the next week would hold for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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