The July Ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me put it to you this way - if you found yourself the only boy in an extended family of girls, you’re going to find yourself from time to time doing things you don’t want to do.  Right?

 

So last summer, when the chance came up to spend the summer working at a local Scout campsite as a junior leader for Cub Scout holidays, I jumped at it.  Especially as it meant I would not be there when my lovely, gentle, not at all stuck up cousin Alicia was entertaining her American pen pal over the six weeks of the summer holiday.

 

So I was completely out of the crazy stuff that happened when those two polite men broke into the manor house, at the same time as the Craig girls were making their first visit.  Suzie told me all about it the day after - how she had found out the girls liked to play tie-up games, and then this masked man came in with Alicia, took one look at them and then tied them all up as if they were sausages, then silenced them.

 

And then she told me she had enjoyed it?

 

I probably need to explain something here - my dad’s sister is Alicia’s mum, so we’re all Holderness by family if not by name.  Mum and Dad have always tried to treat me and Suzie as if we were not the members of a very old, very rich and very titled family, but normal kids.  Dad says that way we don’t take anything for granted - and I suppose he’s right with that.  Alicia, on the other hand, took all that stuff seriously, and used it to make herself - well, a clique leader is one way of saying it. 

 

Anyway - a couple of weeks later Suzie invited them to a sleepover at the manor house, and...  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever got the full story of what happened, but Alicia was a very different person after that - more open, and she even laughed once or twice.  She even allowed her natural hair colour to grow back out - something I did not think she would ever do.  Whatever happened, it must have been some outletting.

 

Then I heard that Mum and Dad were going to join them for a special day at Granddad’s corporate retreat, out in the Cotswolds.  I had to be at the campsite that day, but when I came home the next day something had definitely changed.

 

Exactly what I found out a week or so later, when through no fault of my own I found myself having to go with Suzie to the Craig house on Saturday.  Now, I love my little sister to bits, and I would never let any harm come to her, but she can be a right royal pest at times.  Had I known then how easy it could be to keep her out of my hair...?

 

Anyway, Dad took me to Uncle Simon’s and then he took me with Suzie to meet the two Craig girls.  I’d heard that the older one, Jenny, had become close friends with Alicia after she had been tormented by her for a couple of years, but I had no idea at that point how that had come about.

 

Before we went, Suzie made me tie her wrists together with a belt.  The Scout master had told us never to think of doing that during rope practice - apparently a few years before it had gone a little too far and one of the leaders had found herself tightly tied and gagged.  But she kept going on and on at me so I did so - only for her to get free instantly.

 

So we arrived at the house, met Mr and Mrs Craig, and Suzie ran off upstairs.  A few minutes later Angela and Alicia, who were stopping there as well, took me upstairs and knocked on the door.  A girl of about my age opened it, introduced herself to me as Jenny, and then let us in - and let me in on some life changing things.

 

The first of which was my pest of a kid sister, lying on the floor with her hands in a pair of socks, tightly tied up with ropes and tape over her mouth.

 

The second was lying on the bed - a girl a little older than Suzie, wearing a blue pinafore dress with white socks and black shoes, bound up like a sausage with tape covering her mouth as well.  This was my first sight of Cassandra Paulette Craig - Cassie - and one thing was instantly clear.

 

She was almost as mad as Suzie - in fact, more so.

 

I was taken into Jenny’s room, and my eyes were opened to everything - the fact that not only the Craig girls, not only my sister, but my cousins played these games as well, and they taught me something of how it worked.

 

Of course, it turned out to be a bit of a trap - as I discovered when they all got loose and ended up tickling me as I was bound and gagged on the bed.  Cassie called me cute when she first got a chance to say hello to me - and somehow it felt right for her to say that.

 

What can I say?  The floodgates were opened, and instead of spending a day feeling out of place I became one of the gang, joining in the games.  I really enjoyed my time there - especially teasing Suzie and Cassie. 

 

Did I know what was going to happen over the next year?  Nope - not even when I got roped in.  Oh god, roped in....  Anyway, Alicia engaged me to help with a surprise birthday party for Jenny, and she picked the weekend I had to do something with Colin for school.

 

I’ve known Colin Hampton for years - we’ve come up through the Cubs and Scouts together, and we’re in the same class at school.  His dad is a high ranking detective at the local police station, and knows Granddad and Grandma very well.  Anyway, as I say I’d agreed to help for a while, and I also got a chance to meet some more of their friends, specifically Mary and Cathy.  Nice enough girls, but not really my type - although I did get to know them a bit better a few weeks later.

 

Anyway - party girl, silly karaoke, lunch, and then Colin and I got down to work.  I’d seen Colin look at Jenny when he was introduced to her, and I thought he smiled, but I wasn’t sure.  As it was other things took my attention - namely two little sprites called Suzie and Cassie.  Sprites I felt I had to deal with with Colin’s help.

 

Now, as Alicia explained it to me, a side part of the day was getting Mary and Cathy to take part in their games, so I played along with it - as well as Colin.  He had a few qualms, but when he saw how much they enjoyed it, Jenny in particular, he soon joined in.  Even when we blindfolded them and used a proper gag on Alicia, Jenny, Suzie and Cassie.  I passed some remark at how amazed I was at Cassie not asking before - but then it hit me.

 

I had expected her to, and was disappointed when she did not.

 

Well, by the end of the day they were all very willing participants - even Mary and Cathy.  Mind you, then the quartet went off to America for a week, and - well, I found myself missing them.

 

Especially Cassie.

 

Anyway, Angela had been left in charge at the manor house.  Angela Bowden - I tell you, catch her in the right light, and you see my grandmother in her stance and eyes.  Then she turns round, laughs and suddenly she’s a seventeen year old girl again.

 

Mary and Cathy came to help as well, and for the second half of the week we had great fun, learning new tricks from Angela and trying them out on each other.  I also found this DVD of the summer thing they had all gone to, and for the first time I saw not just the mysterious Heidi, but all the things they got up to.

 

As I watched Cassie and Suzie hopping over the lawn, I could not take my eyes off the young girl, her eyes smiling at the camera, and I realised that I was getting rather fond of her.

 

Even if she could be a very annoying person.

 

There was just something about the way she treated everything as a game, and she made us all laugh - even when what she was saying made absolutely no sense.  Yeah, she was a few years younger than me, but I found to my surprise I was getting as protective of her as I am of Suzie.

 

That feeling just grew stronger after they came back, so when it was her birthday after Christmas I bought her a little present.  Just to show how much I had enjoyed her company.  You know, as a friend?

 

Only I was beginning to realise it was a bit more than that - she gave me a peck on the cheek, and I blushed.  For some reason, Cassie Craig was really beginning to get under my skin.

 

And what’s more, I liked it.

 

 

Even more, when I heard about the way she had looked after her friends as well as Suzie when they had a sleepover, and another home invasion - I tell you, it’s almost as if Cassie Craig is a magnet for men in masks to come and hold her hostage, tie her up and gag her, make her jump about and lead them the merriest of dances...

 

 

Sorry, where was I?  Oh yeah - when I heard how she had handled that night, kept the girls calm and safe, as well as Suzie, I was so proud of her I just wanted to hug her the next time I saw her.  I was so proud of her when she went up onto that stage with Granddad and Colin’s dad to get her medal...

 

By this time, I had become aware of how Colin felt about her big sister - he would not stop talking about her, so I got out of him just what he was thinking, to the extent he had asked her to our school disco the night of that home invasion.  He’d asked me what I should do, and I told him - ask her.

 

But Colin is the same age as Jenny, and I was wondering if I could ask Cassie to come on a date as well.  That was an altogether different prospect - after all, as I said earlier, she is younger than me.

 

So I did the honourable thing, I asked Mr Craig first.  I also said Jenny and Colin would come along as well - just to make it easier.  Mind you, I also laid a very specific plan with Colin - one that would give both girls a day to remember.

 

So we picked them up, blindfolded them, and took them to a part of the grounds they had never gone to before, on the far side of the estate for a picnic.  We handcuffed them for that, before tying them to the picnic chairs as we ate.

 

That was nothing, however, to what we did next.  I had talked to Heidi, and she told me of a day she and her friends went to the pictures tied up and gagged.  So Colin and I decided to do the same thing.  He paid for the picnics, and I bought two ponchos to cover their tied arms.  As we pulled up to the cinema, I then kissed Cassie, taking her completely by surprise to put a cloth in her mouth and then cover it with clear tape.

 

And you know what?  I loved kissing her.  Despite myself, I was beginning to care a hell of a lot more than I expected to for Cassie Craig, and I liked the idea.

 

The rest of that day passed in something of a haze for me, and I suspect Colin as well, because the only other thing I remember with any clarity was hearing Angela saying they had found the first people to lead off for the Summer Ball.

 

I need to explain that - the Summer Ball is an event, like the New Year’s Party, that my grandparents hold for the local community each year.  I missed it last year, as did the Craigs, but the day after the date I heard the plans starting.

 

There was going to be marquees on the lawn, a big band, and everyone was going to dress up to the nines.  We even had some very special guests coming - my newest cousin Andrew, as well as Cassie’s new twin brother and sister and her new cousin.

 

It was sounding wonderful, but then something happened that meant the whole thing might get called off.  Mum had gone with Aunt Anne, my oldest cousin Alicia and Grandma to London to meet the Craigs for a show, and then dinner back at the manor house, the Saturday after the double date.  Dad was watching Suzie and me, but at about six in the morning on the Sunday I felt his hand on my shoulder.  He said he had to go out for a while, and I needed to get up in case Suzie woke up before he got back.

 

I got up and watched some DVDs, alongside Suzie when she got up, but it was lunchtime before Dad came back with Mum - and one look at her told me something very bad had happened.  She was red eyed, and was crying as Dad took her up to bed.  When he came down, I asked him what had happened, but all he said was she needed to rest.

 

A few days later we all went to the manor house, and we met a girl Alicia and Jenny knew called Chloe.  There were also three other people, who were introduced as Sarah, Brian and Anne.  Chloe and Sarah came to see all of us a few days after that, and told us some stories about her life - stories that made it very clear that for some reason, her family and ours kept running into each other, and Sarah’s family saved ours.

 

I knew the legend of the Holderness Shadow, of course, but that day was the first time I had seen him, when - well, it sounds ridiculous, but this guy tried to rob Patty’s house...

 

Oh yeah - I forgot about young Patricia Pickering, Cassie and Jenny’s cousin.  In the year I’ve known her, Cassie has shown a remarkable maturity for her age sometimes, and a ridiculous lack of sense at others.  So take that lack of sense and remove the maturity, and you get ten year old Patty.  All her drive and enthusiasm, none of the tact and small discretion.  A firebrand in every way.

 

Where was I?  Oh yeah - this guy tried to rob the house, except somehow Sara scared him off, and this ghost appeared, and - well, all of us were bound and gagged, so all I could do was watch.

 

The decision was made that, whatever had happened that Saturday, the July Ball would go ahead on the 28th of July - my fourteenth birthday.

 

But I did find out what happened - three weeks after that visit, Dad drove me and mum to the retreat they had had that summer event in, and we met up with Alicia, Angela and her parents, as well as the Craigs, Granny and Granddad and Mr and Mrs Bridges.

 

There were four other people there - Anne and Chloe we had met before, but there was also Heidi’s mother and aunt, Veronica and Amy.  I had met them at Cassie’s birthday party.  Colin had been invited with his father - and it was Detective Superintendant Hampton who, after lunch, took the four of us - me, Colin, Alicia and Jenny to one side and explained what had happened to our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers.

 

I’m not going to go into what happened then, or after that - but Mum was a lot happier and talking more when we left on the Sunday. 

 

And now here we are, Friday 27th July - the day before the ball, and Colin has just arrived to discuss - matters.

 

I heard him saying “Good morning, Mrs Holderness - is Bobby in” from my bedroom, so I called down “Let him come on up Mum.”

 

“He’s got Brian with him,” I heard in reply, so I came out of my room and down the stairs.  Sure enough, standing next to Colin was his cousin, Brian Hampton.  He was a couple of years younger than us, and was wearing, like Colin, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

 

“Hey Brian,” I said as I came down, “You staying for the summer holidays.”

 

“Just for a couple of weeks,” he said quietly, “Mum and Dad have to go on a trip.  Thanks for letting me come over as well, Mrs Holderness - and for letting me borrow the suit.”

 

Mum smiled and said “It’s a pleasure Brian - why don’t you boys go into the front room?”   I was glad she was smiling again - for a while there I was beginning to think it was never going to happen, but she was getting better now.

 

Colin had noticed as well, because he whispered to me “How’s she doing?”

 

“Good,” was all I said as I closed the front door, “but why is Mum letting you borrow a suit?”

 

“I’m coming tomorrow,” Brian said, “and I don’t have a suit - at least, not one for a grand ball - so your mum’s letting me borrow your old one.”

 

That seemed fair enough to me, so we sat down and I said “right - I’m actually glad you’re here as well Brian.  The two of us need to ask a small favour of you.”

 

“Oh,” Brian said as he looked up excitedly, “What’s that?”

 

“Dance with Suzie.”

 

To see the look of horror pass over Colin’s cousin’s face was a joy to behold.  It was as if I’d asked him to lead the signing in a school choir.  “Oh no,” he said eventually, “Please, don’t ask me to do that.  I’m no dancer...  I mean...  Please...”

 

“It’s not that bad,” Colin said as he sat back.  “Bobby and I will be dancing with Cassie and Jenny Craig for the first dance, and we need a partner for Bobby’s sister.  You just need to hold her, twirl her a little round the floor, and then bow.  Nice, simple, easy - unless you’re chicken.”

 

He looked between the two of us, with a different look, one of a rabbit caught in the headlights and knowing their fate was sealed.  “All right,” he said eventually, “one dance, but I want something in return.”

 

“Sure, name it,” I said as I stood up and went to the door.

 

“Tell me who else is going to be there that is my age.”

 

“Well, Suzie’s friends Pippa, Hazel and Claire are going to be there with their families - and there’s Patty of course.”

 

“How could we forget Patty,” Colin said with a laugh.

 

“Patty?”

 

“Patricia Pickering, Cassie’s cousin - a little fireball.  You’ll like her,” I said as the door opened and, as if on cue, Suzie came in.  She was wearing a white pinafore dress over a blue t-shirt, socks up to her knees so that only her knees showed under the skirt, and a pair of trainers.

 

“Have you seen my sunhat anywhere, Bobby,” she said without looking round, and then caught sight of Colin and Brian.  “Oh hi you two,” she said with a smile, “You coming to big bro’s party tomorrow?”

 

“Am I invited,” Brian said, earning a kick in the shins from Colin as he said “Of course you’re invited - I am, so you are, right Bobby?”

 

The ball was due to start at about eight, but I was having a birthday party at the manor house for a few friends - Colin of course, the family, Cassie and Jenny, and  Mary and Cathy as well.  “You’ve got your dress picked out already, haven’t you trouble,” I said as I poked Suzie in the ribs.

 

“For both events, yes,” Suzie said as she started to giggle, “and you’re seeing neither of them before then.  Not even if you were to kidnap me would I tell you.”

 

Now there was a cue if ever I heard one, so I stood up and grabbed Suzie, hand gagging her as I said to Colin “Look behind the couch - there’s a box there.”

 

“Give me a hand, will you Brian,” Colin said as he did as I asked and picked up a white box, opening it to reveal some supplies.  Brian was standing there, looking shocked as he said “Hhhhh Help you?”

 

“Sure,” I said with a smile, “Grab some rope and Colin will tell you what to do.”

 

“Here - double this over, and then wrap it round her legs below her knees.  Just copy what I do.”  As he said this, Colin took some rope, and started to tie Suzie’s ankles together, Brian copying what he did to her legs below her knees.

 

Ullnvergtwfthhssufnd,” Suzie mumbled under my hand, but I could tell she was enjoying every single second of it.   “Give me a scarf and handkerchief,” I said as Colin stood up.  With implements in hand, I allowed Suzie to say “I’ll...” before pushing the cloth into her mouth and then tying the scarf between her lips to keep that in place.

 

“Face down on the couch,” I said as I wrapped her in my arms and picked her up, laying her down with Colin’s help and then taking her wrists behind her back, crossing them and tying them tightly together, then with rope around her waist to hold them in place.  As I did this, Brian was watching as Suzie shook her head from side to side, her red curls going all over the place and making it difficult for me to wrap the white tape around her head.

 

“she really likes this, doesn’t she,” was all he said as Colin and I sat her up and tied her arms to her side with rope, then hogtied her with her ankles attached to that band of rope.

 

she likes it even more if you tickle her,” I said as I looked at Brian.  “Want to have a go?”

 

Brian really did look pale for a moment, and then he stepped forward and tickled Suzie’s ribs, making her giggle and squirm as she turned and looked at him.  For just a short moment, I could see him smiling as he tickled her, but then the door opened and Dad came in.

 

“Robert, can I - oh I’m sorry.  I did not know you had some friends here.”

 

“It’s all right Dad - you know Colin and Brian, don’t you?”

 

“I do indeed,” Dad said as he looked at them.  “Suzie needs to go with her mother to collect the dresses in a little while, so please do not get her too excited.  Can I have a quick word with you please?”

 

“Sure dad,” I said, leaving the two of them to their teasing of my loving sister as I went out of the room.  We walked into the kitchen, where Dad sat on the table and looked at me.

 

“Bobby,” he said, “What do you know about a boy called Martin Davies?”

 

It took me a moment to realise that Dad was serious in asking - the way he talks sometimes, it can be a little difficult to tell.  “Martin?  One of her classmates, isn’t he?  Why are you asking about him?”

 

“Your Uncle Simon asked if I knew who he was - apparently he called the house yesterday asking to speak to Alicia, and she refused to talk to him.  Naturally, your uncle is worried that something is going on.”

 

He managed to raise an eyebrow as I started laughing, and then sat down.  “Well,” I eventually said, “I think something is going on, but not in that way.  I think Alicia has a bit of a soft spot for him, and she’s not sure what to do about it.”

 

“Oh,” Dad said as he sat down, “Is that what’s going on?  I mean, your cousin is not the most outgoing of girls if she doesn’t really know someone, but this is a new one for me.  I thought it would be some time before I had to tell him how to deal with this one.”

 

“How did Aunt Anne meet up with Uncle Simon anyway?”

 

“Oh, that was an adventure and a half - but that’s not the relevant thing right now.  I get the feeling that we might have to take a hand in pushing this forward.”  He handed me a white envelope.  “I need you to deliver this for me - you’re heading into town with Colin, right?”

 

“Yeah - we can pass the music store on the way and give this to his parents.  But I thought they were coming tomorrow anyway?”

 

“They are,” Dad said with a smile, “This is an invite to join us in the house later.  Just family and friends - it will give the two of them an opportunity to talk, if they don’t before.”

 

“I’m sure that can be arranged as well - but this is Alicia we’re talking about here.  She doesn’t like been helped in that way.”

 

“Who’s helping her?  We’re inviting him to join us for some drinks and a private dance - nothing more.”  Dad winked at me as Mum came in, putting a coat on over her dress.

 

“Where’s Suzie?”

 

“In the front room - but you’ll need to release her.”

 

She rolled her eyes and shouted “Suzanne - get whoever’s in there to untie you now!”  A few minutes later, Colin and Brian came in, grinning as I heard the front door shut.

 

“Come on you two,” I said as I picked up my coat, “We need to go into town - I’ve a couple of errands to run.”

 

********

 

 

The little bell rang on the door as we walked into the music shop.  As Colin and Brian went to look at the instruments that were lined up against the wall, I walked over to the counter, where a lad of about my age was sitting reading a magazine.  He had short brown hair, and as he looked up at me I could see the freckles on his cheeks.

 

“Hi,” he said as he stood up, “It’s Bobby Holderness isn’t it?  I saw you a couple of months back at a recital I sang in.”

 

“That’s right Martin,” I said quietly, “I saw you there as well.  You know my cousin - Alicia Bowden?”

 

I watched as he looked over his shoulder, and then whispered “Is she always that quiet?”

 

“Only with those she likes,“ I lied.  “Anyway, my dad asked me to drop this in to you - we’d love it if you and your parents would come to the house during the ball tomorrow night for a private part of the event.”

 

“I’d be honoured,” Martin said as I glanced down at what I had taken to be a magazine, but it was actually a graphic novel.  I could see the title - Empowered.

 

“Light reading?”

 

“Err...” Martin stammered as he closed the book tight, only to show the front cover - of a blonde haired girl in a spandex outfit and mask, tightly bound and gagged.  He slipped it under the counter, and said “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow night then?”

 

“I look forward to it,” I said as the curtain behind him opened and a tall, thin woman with long grey hair came out.  “Customer, Martin,” she said as she put her hand on his shoulder.

 

“No mum - this is Bobby Holderness, his grandfather is...”

 

“Lord Holderness.  We’re looking forward very much to the ball tomorrow.”

 

“And we look forward to seeing you there as well,” I said with a smile and a small bow.  “Forgive us - we need to press on.”  I walked to the door, Colin and Brian following, and then down the street a little before I stopped and started laughing.

 

“What’s wrong,” Colin said as he looked at me.

 

“Nothing - I just think Alicia and Martin may be more perfectly matched than they realise.  Come on - I need to get to the dry cleaners.”

 

Before we got much further into the high street, however, I heard a call of “Bobby!” and I looked over to see Mary Holmes coming over, dressed in a black t-shirt and blue shorts over black leggings.  With her was an older boy, who looked to be about Angela’s age, who smiled as he came over.

 

“I’m glad I bumped into you,” Mary said with a smile, “I need to ask a favour.  This is my older brother, Eddie - he’s just finished his first year at Newcastle Uni.”

 

“Pleasure to meet you,” Eddie said as he took my hand and shook it, almost crushing it in his grip.

 

“Anyway, Eddie came back unexpectedly for a week, and I was hoping we could squeeze him into the invite tomorrow night.”

 

“Sure,” I said as I looked at him, “The dress code is formal, is that a problem?”

 

“Not at all - I speak at the Debating society, so I have a jacket and bow tie.  I’ll come with our parents to the main event if that’s all right - I understand you have a private party tomorrow afternoon.

 

“Sounds good, I’ll let Granddad know,” I said as the two of them walked off.

 

“Seems a nice enough guy - so what now.”

 

“Now, Colin,” I said with a smile, “we pick up the dry cleaning, and then the three of us hit McDonalds - we have plans to lay...”

 

One of the nice things about being friends with Colin is the fact most of the local police know him - or rather, know who his dad is, so they smiled at him as we made our way to McDonalds and bought our lunch, me laying the suit bags carefully to one side as we sat at a corner table.

 

“So,” Brian said through a mouthful of New York Special, “What are we going to do this afternoon?”

 

Colin and I looked at each other, and then I smiled and said “you know how we played with Suzie this morning?”

 

“Hmmm bstwhstthgtdwf...”

 

“Try not to talk with your mouth full,” Colin said quietly, “At any rate, if you are coming to my party tomorrow, and if you are going to dance with Suzie, then you need to be aware of one little detail?”

 

“Oh - what’s that?”

 

Colin leaned over and said “You may need to dance with her while she’s tied up and gagged - so you need to learn how to do it yourself without our help.”

 

Brian looked between the two of us, blushing slightly as he said “You’re joking right?”

 

“Nope,” Colin said, and we proceeded to tell him all about our double date.  When we finished, he stared at us, open mouthed for a few moments, and then said “You’re not joking - good gravy, Colin, just what sort of lad do you think I am?”

 

“An accommodating one,” Colin said with a smile.  “Look, trust us - Suzie will love it if you do this for us, and it will mean she feels part of this as well.”

 

I nodded in agreement as I pushed a chicken nugget into the pit of tomato sauce, and put it into my mouth - only to stop for a moment as a familiar voice said “Well Robert - is this how you make sure you keep your suit for tomorrow night clean?”

 

I turned to see a tall, thin, and very familiar grey haired woman standing by the table, smiling as she stood with her arms folded in front of her.  She was dressed the same way I always tend to see her on normal days - a jumper and cardigan, knee length skirt and sensible shoes.  The only incongruous thing was seeing her in McDonalds - it was not exactly the place she usually chose to enter, much less eat.

 

“Err - hi Grandma, I didn’t see you come in,” I said as she looked at me.

 

“No - most people don’t,” she said with a smile.  “I presume those are your suits for tomorrow night?”

 

I nodded as she waited for me to hand them to her.

 

“Perhaps it would be better if I take them, and spare you the burden of taking them around with you for the entire afternoon,” my grandmother said as she relieved me of my burden.  “Given you will be at the manor house for your party tomorrow, it would be sensible to have then there, no?  You can bring the rest of your outfits at the time.”

 

“Thank you, Grandma,” I said politely as she smiled at us, and left the building.  Through the window I could see Mr Bridges holding the car door open for her as she stepped in, and then the car drove off.

 

“Does she do that often,” Brian said as he looked at me.

 

“More often than you may realize,” I said with a smile.  “On the other hand, it frees us up to move on.  Eat up - we’re heading over to the other side of town.”

 

Our path took us to the bus station, then a short bus ride to Grosvenor Park.  As we walked through it, Brian said “So if you are going to teach me how to tie Suzie up, who is going to volunteer?”

 

“Luckily for you,” I said as we left the park and turned down the street, “We have a willing volunteer.”  Opening a familiar garden gate, we walked down the path and waited as I rang the door bell.

 

“Oh hello Bobby,” Cassie’s mum said as she opened the door, “Are they expecting you to come round today?”

 

“I fixed it with them yesterday,” I said as she let us into the hallway, “Are they upstairs?”

 

“They are,” she said as we went up the staircase and I knocked on Jenny’s door.  She opened the door, smiled at Colin and said “There you are - what happened, run into someone you know?”

 

“You said it,” Colin said as he hugged Jenny before she let us into the room.  She was wearing a pair of blue jeans, with white socks over her feet, and a green sweatshirt.

 

Cassie was sitting on Jenny’s bed, dressed in a white t-shirt and short with a pair of ankle socks and slippers over her feet.  She jumped up and hugged me, saying “I’m glad you’re here.”

 

“Oh young love - isn’t it lovely,” a sing song voice responded, and we turned to see Patty sitting in a chair at Jenny’s work table, swinging her legs to and fro.  She was wearing a knee length floral print skirt and a white blouse, her legs in knee length white socks as she swung her legs to and fro.

 

“Oh I am so looking forward to this,” Cassie said as she looked at Patty, and I picked up the double meaning in what she was saying.  “So how are we going to do this?”

 

“Well, we need to give Brian here a chance to see how we tie you lot up for special occasions, so if he wants to take care of Patty while we secure you two, that would be good.”

 

“Suits me,” Patty said as she jumped out of the chair.  “I don’t want to come between the lovers anyway.  Do we need to cover our hands?”

 

“I thought of that,” Jenny said as she went to a drawer.  “Given we will be in ball gowns, that means gloves, so I thought we could use these for today to give Brian an idea of how it can feel.”  She took out three old pairs of short gloves and handed one each to Cassie and Patty.  “I borrowed these from Mum for today,” she said as they put them on, “so it will provide something like the feeling of satin elbow length gloves.”

 

She had a point - when they put them on, they did not quite reach their elbows, but they certainly extended well above their wrists.  “Supplies in the usual place,” Colin said as he reached under the bed, Jenny nodding as he pulled out a suitcase and opened it.  Removing three lengths of rope, he handed one to me and one to Brian as I said “So, hands behind your back, wrists crossed, if you please.”

 

“As you wish, sir,” Cassie said as she stuck her tongue out at me, but she turned and did as I had asked, the others following suit.

 

“Now Brian,” Colin said, “double the rope over, wrap it round Patty’s wrists and pull them together by taking the ends through the loop, then pull the ends the other way and follow my lead.”  Brian nodded and followed what Colin was doing, making Patty smile as she and the others had their arms tied together.  I snuck a hug of Cassie after I tied the ends out of the way of her fingers, making her giggle as I did so.

 

“Stop it,” Colin said in a mock tone of admonishment, but he had a big grin on his face as well as he tickled Jenny’s sides.  “Hey - later,” she said as she looked over her shoulder, as we each took a longer length of rope and made sure their wrists were well secured to their backs.

 

“All right, so far so good,” Brian said as he stood back, and Patty tried to move her arms.  “So what do we do now?”

 

“Arms to their sides?”

 

Colin nodded at my suggestion, so we took yet another length of rope and wound it round their arms and stomachs, Brian following our lead again as we made sure the ropes held their arms tightly against their sides.  “We need to do something else first,” Colin said as he handed Brian another, even longer length of rope.  His cousin watched as he tied it around Jenny’s shoulders and upper arms, holding them in place as well, and then followed suit with Patty as I did with Cassie.

 

“Oh my,” Patty said when he had finished, “This is different - and a lot tighter than usual.  What happens if the dress we have has bare shoulders?”

 

“Don’t worry,” I said, “Granddad has arranged for some sort of special rope to be brought in for the evening.  He says it won’t leave a mark.”

 

“How do you feel like that,” Brian said as he watched the three girls walking round the room.

 

“It actually feels very snug,” Jenny said with a smile as she accidentally managed to miss avoiding Colin, making him grab her with his arms.  “But I think we need to sit down now.”

 

“Gotcha,” Patty said as they sat in a row on Jenny’s bed, and more rope was produced.  We each knelt in front of our chosen damsel, put their ankles together side by side, and started to wind the rope around them.

 

“Make sure you pass the rope between their legs to tighten it,” Colin said as he watched Brian, but it was obvious he was a quick study, as Patty found out as she squealed at the way her legs were secured.  We then moved up, binding the legs of each of them together below their knees.

 

“IF they’re wearing ball gowns tomorrow,” Brian said, “then how do we get to tie their legs together?  Or do we do it over the skirts of their dresses?”

 

“You dare,” Jenny said in a mock tone of anger as she looked at Colin, “and you can pay for a replacement dress!”

 

“Don’t worry - for one thing, there will be supervision at the time,” I said to Brian, “and for another we can fold their skirts back.  There now - comfy?”

 

“I guess so,” Cassie said as she looked at me, “but I can’t wait to seeeeeeeeaahahhahhhhhhaaahhhhhh

 

Her sudden outburst of laughter was easy to explain - I had just started to tickle the back of her knees, where I knew she was especially ticklish.  Jenny took one look at me, then at Colin as he smiled.  She barely had time to say “N...” before he started to tickle her as well.

 

“Oh no you don’t” Patty said as she jumped off the bed and hopped past Brian, taking him completely by surprise as she tried to get over to the door.  He soon recovered, however, and before she had a chance to get there he had picked her up and was carrying her back to the bed.

 

 

“Maybe I need to do to her what I did to your sister earlier today,” he panted as he put her down and looked at me.

 

“Good idea - but first we need to keep them quiet,” I said in reply.  “Take this piece of cloth, fold it up and put it in Patty’s mouth.”

 

That was the cue for Patty to clamp her lips together and refuse to open them, despite Bran’s best efforts.  “Pinch her nose closed,” Colin said as he held a cloth in front of Jenny’s mouth, “that usually does the trick.”

 

Dntudr,” Patty said, but she was in no position to argue, not lying on her stomach as Brian sat over her waist.  Eventually she relented and opened her mouth, allowing Brian to push the cloth in as both Colin and I used a rolled up red square between our captive’s lips to keep their stuffing in place.

 

We also stole a kiss from each of them, which they enjoyed before we took a roll of white tape each and wrapped it around their heads.  Colin tore the tape free, smoothed it down at the back of Jenny’s head, then tossed the roll to Brian and said “Do the same to Patty - the tape does not hurt or trap hair, so she should be fine.”

 

Fnsks bnsh,” Patty said as Brian reinforced her gag, while we took a large headsquare each, folded it into a wide band and tied it over our captive’s mouths.  “All done,” Colin said as he tied the ends over Jenny’s hair, “How does it feel?”

 

Flssgd,” Jenny said as I helped Cassie to lie on her stomach on the floor.  “All right, Patty - come and join your cousins on the floor please and we’ll finish off the lesson for Brian.”

 

Patty slid off the bed with Jenny and lay next to Cassie, as we pulled their ankles back and hog tied the three of them, Patty’s skirt falling down as Brian secured her.

 

“Well, I guess they’re not going anywhere,” Brian said as he stood up, tickling Patty’s sides as he did so, “but we’re not going to do this to them in their ball gowns tomorrow, are we?”

 

“Not in their ball gowns, no,” I said with a smile, leaving Brian to wonder what I meant. 

 

Any further discussion was tabled when the door opened and Mrs Craig, their grandmother looked in.  “I was wondering if...  Ah, perhaps they are not ready for a drink yet,” she said as she looked at us.

 

“Well, I guess it’s escape challenge time,” I said as I left two pairs of scissors where they could see them.  “We’re going to go downstairs for a drink - Join us when you’re free to.”

 

Uggttt,” Cassie said as she winked at me, and the three of us left them in the bedroom.  “Practising,” Mrs Craig said as she closed the door.

 

“Brian has kindly agreed to be Suzie’s dance partner tomorrow night,” I said as we walked down the stairs, “so we felt he should be taught to tie her up really well.”

 

“Makes sense,” she said with a smile, “You know that I and your other grandmother will be the chaperones for all the girls tomorrow?”

 

“Yeah I know,” I said as we walked into the kitchen, and we each accepted a glass of soft drink.  “Will you be coming for the afternoon as well?”

 

“I’m afraid I can’t Bobby - I have to pick some things up with Mrs. Bridges.  Don’t worry though - we’ll be there in plenty of time.”

 

We sat there for about fifteen minutes, asking some questions of how the others were feeling while Cassie’s mum brought the twins in for their bottles, until we heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

 

“And the winner is...”

 

I looked up and smiled as Cassie bounced into the room.  “The others will be down in a minute,” she said as she accepted a glass of juice from her grandmother, “Jenny is just helping Patty to sort a few things out.

 

“So Brian, ready for your next lesson?”

 

I watched as Brian nearly choked on his juice, and said “Next lesson?  What next lesson?”

 

“Dancing stupid - if you think I’m going to let you stomp on the feet of my best friend, you’ve got another thing coming.  I’m going - well, Granny and I are going to teach you the waltz, whether you like it or not.”

 

“Don’t panic, Brian,” Colin said as Jenny and Patty walked back in, “Mrs Craig’s a good teacher.  Just relax and enjoy it.”

 

“But...  But...”

 

“No buts,” Cassie said as she grabbed his hand and took him out of the room, “Come on.”

 

“Excuse me,” Mrs Craig said as she followed them, Colin and Jenny shaking their heads and laughing.

 

“Anyway, now that they’re out of the room,” I said as Patty went after them, “We need to talk to you about Alicia.”

 

“Oh,” Jenny said, “What about her?”

 

“Well, specifically,” Colin whispered, “Her and Martin.  We think they need to be properly introduced to each other, and we may need your help with that.”

 

“Oh really,” Jenny said as a smile crossed her face, “And how do you propose that can happen?”

 

“I’m so glad you asked,” Colin said with a smile, “here’s what we are going to do...”

 

********

 

“One two three, one two three, one two three...  That’s it Brian, you’re getting the hang of it now.”

 

“Yeah, but it is a bit more difficult when you have to carry the girl with you.”

 

Ntmfflt,” Patty said as I stood in the doorway, watching them.  She had a length of tape over her mouth, with her ankles and wrists bound, while Brian was making a valiant attempt to dance with her across the living room floor, lifting and twirling her as Mrs Craig looked on.

 

“All right, Brian,” Colin said from behind me, “You can put her down now.  Not too many broken toes, Cassie?”

 

“He’ll do,” Cassie said as she smiled at me, “for a first dance anyway.  Are you leaving now?”

 

“Yeah - I promised Dad I’d get home at a reasonable hour, and I don’t want to fall foul of Colin’s dad either.  See you tomorrow?”

 

“Looking forward to it,” Cassie said as Brian almost ran out of the room, before she turned her attention to tickling Patty.  We made our way out of the house, down the path and towards the bus stop.

 

“So remind me - what time tomorrow afternoon?”

 

“Two o’clock, at my house - don’t be late.”

 

“No chance,” Colin said as we got on the bus, “I get the feeling it’s going to be a very special day...”

 

 

********

 

 

 

It was nearly ten in the morning by the time I woke up, and I could hear the sounds of activity from downstairs.  Grabbing a dressing gown, I made my way down to find Mum and Suzie putting away some shopping.

 

“Oh, so this is when you decide you’re getting up,” Mum said as she looked at me.  “It’s a good thing there’s nobody here who’s never seen you in that getup before.”

 

“Like who - it’s not like you have never seen me in pyjamas.”

 

“Oh I know - but it just reminds me how big you’re getting.”

 

The voice behind me had a faint Geordie twang to it, one I recognised instantly.  “Oh,” I said as I turned round, “Hello, Granny.”

 

Grandma Jacobs is a little smaller than Mum, and her hair is grey with a hint of red at the edges, but you can tell when they are together that they are related.  Her blue eyes were sparkling behind her glasses as she said “Happy birthday, Bobby.”

 

She was wearing an open necked blouse and slacks, as was Mum, while Suzie unusually for her was in joggers and a t-shirt - presumably so that she could change later.  I said “Thanks, Granny” before I went to the fridge and poured myself a glass of orange juice.

 

“Where’s Dad?”

 

“Gone up to the manor house - he’ll be back in a little while.  There’s some post there for you.”

 

I picked up the cards from the table, looking through them and opening them.  A few were from school friends who could not be there today, and some from other relatives.

 

“Let me guess - Great Aunt Clare,” Mum said as I showed her one particularly blue card with a picture of a footballer on it.

 

“How did you guess - but I’m glad she sent one.”

 

“Did she send you a cheque as well?”

 

I nodded and held up the slip of paper - which Mum promptly took from me.  Great Aunt Claire is Grandpa’s sister, and lives in Snowdonia, making it difficult for her to come and see us except on very special occasions.

 

There was also Great Aunt Olivia, but I wasn’t expecting a card from her - mainly because I knew she was coming tonight, and she hated sending anything through the post.

 

“So what’s the haul,” Suzie said as I opened the last card.

 

“I’m not complaining,” I said as I made myself some toast, while Mum and Granny Jacobs finished putting away the shopping.  “But I’m sure there’s something missing.”

 

“Really?  I can’t think of anything you might wish to find on this particular day of all days - can you Mum?”

 

“Don’t tease your brother, Suzanne - finish your breakfast and then go into the front room.”

 

So I did - and in the front room were a few wrapped presents, and three cards.  One from Mum and Dad, one from Granny Jacobs and one from Suzie.

 

The one from Suzie had a big picture of a puppy on it - thank you very much little sis - while Granny Jacobs had picked a one with a photo from the forties on it, with a man saying “Age is a state of mind - act it and don’t mind others.”

 

I decided I’d figure that one out later, as I opened the one from Mum and Dad - a simple “Happy Birthday Son” one.   Or at least I thought it was, until I opened it and there, for the entire world to see, was a copy of my first photo.

 

Awww he looks so cute,” Suzie said from behind me, making me jump up and close the card quickly.  “You’d better watch out,” I said to her in a slightly deep voice, “Your turn will come soon enough.”

 

“Probably - but I look so lovely in my pink hat,” she said before sticking her tongue out at me.  “Anyway - you can open my present first.”

 

She picked up a present wrapped in silver paper and handed it to me.  It didn’t take me long to open it and reveal the latest Doctor Who box set, which I have to admit I had dropped a few hints about.

 

“Thanks,” I said as I hugged Suzie and gave her a little kiss on the forehead, “now isn’t there somewhere else you need to be?”

 

“Spoilsport,” she said, but she left me alone to look at the next present, which had a label that said “Happy Birthday, Bobby - from Granny Jacobs.”  I opened it to find the new Chelsea kit, complete with “BOBBY” and “14” on the back.

 

“Thanks Granny,” I shouted through, to which I heard the reply of “You’re welcome” coming from the kitchen.  There were as few other small gifts, but the one that really caught my eye was wrapped up in silver paper, with a big silver bow on it, and a card that read “Happy Birthday, from Mum and Dad.”

 

I tore the paper off, and opened the box to find myself in possession of a new tablet computer.  “Wow - thanks,” I turned to call out, only to find Dad standing there, smiling as he looked at me.

 

“We’ll set some ground rules for that later,” he said as Granny Jacobs brought in a mug of coffee.  “Thanks, Irene - I need this,” he said as he took it and smiled.

 

“I can tell - how are things at the big house?”

 

“You can take the lass out of Newcastle...” Dad mumbled to me under his breath, and then said “They’re fine - Mother is looking forward to seeing you again.  Something about finding out what happened when the girls stayed over?”

 

Granny Jacobs smiled and said “I thought young Soo there would have told her everything already.  Besides,” she said as she touched his arm, “I’m more interested in what happened with the rest of you.”

 

“We talked - a lot,” Dad said as he looked at me.  “Anyway, you had better get yourself together young man - there’s someone coming to see you in a few minutes.”

 

“There is?  Who?”

 

“Young Martin Davies - he rang earlier, and said he had something to ask you.”

 

“He did?  Oh boy,” I said as I got up, “I’d better get a shower then.”

 

“What about...”

 

“It’s all right, Alex - I’ll clear this lot up,” Granny Jacobs said as I headed for the bathroom.

 

********

 

“Oh hi - is Bobby in?”

 

I looked out from the kitchen to see Martin standing in the doorway, looking at Mum.  “Come on through Martin - we’ll talk in the back,” I said as he walked through to the kitchen, avoiding Suzie as she ran past and coming into the garden with me.

 

“So, what’s wrong,” I said as we sat at the garden table.

 

“Nothing... Nothing’s wrong as such,” he said as I saw his cheeks get redder, “It’s just that yesterday, when you came into the shop,  I know you saw me reading a book.”

 

“Did I,” I said innocently.  “Can’t say I noticed - what was it about?”

 

“Well,” Martin said, as I saw him wriggle a little, “It’s not that important, but I know...”

 

“Oh hang on - yes I did see it.  Well, the cover before you hid it.  A little bit saucy, isn’t it?”

 

“Please,” Martin said as he looked round, “I know it looks bad, but I kinda like reading about that sort of thing.  I look for similar things on-line, and...”

 

“And?”

 

All right, all right - I admit it, I was enjoying seeing him wriggle round like a fish on a hook.  “Look,” he said as he leaned forwards, “I’m really looking forward to tonight, and the chance to see Ali again, but if she found out about this...”

 

“You think she’d never want to see you again?”

 

“Well - yes.  You won’t say anything, will you?”

 

Oh this was such sweet torture - but I’m a nice guy, so I said “Listen - you know where the Manor House is, right?  Come round about four - I’m having a small party up there, and it’ll give you a chance to see Alicia before you need to get ready for the ball.  If I were you, I’d take the chance to come clean with her then - you might be surprised.”

 

“Well, if you think so,” Martin said as he stood up and walked back into the house, saying “Thanks” to Mum as he walked past her. 

 

“So that’s the mysterious Martin,” she said as she looked at me, “I wonder what Alicia sees in him?”

 

“Kindred spirit - even if she doesn’t know it yet,” I said as I sat down.  “So how long have I got?”

 

“Ten minutes - get your bags and meet us in the car.”

 

********

 

We arrived at the Manor House at just before twelve, to big hugs from Grandma and Granddad.  “Happy Birthday Robert,” Granddad said as he looked at me, “Looking forward to your party?”

 

“I am,” I said with genuine feeling, “Anybody else here yet?”

 

“The others are coming later,” Grandma said “but Mr Craig dropped something off for you earlier.  He put it in the playroom.”

 

“Excuse me,” I said as I sprinted up the stairs and into the playroom.  There was a cardboard box sitting on the floor, with “OPEN ME” written in big friendly letters on the side.

 

So I did - and inside the box was a little present, all wrapped up with pink ribbon and a note that said “Happy Birthday Bobby.”

 

“Hey Cassie,” I said as she looked at me over the pink tape gag, “I like my present.”

 

“HPPPBRFDDBBEEE,” Cassie said as she held up a small box in her hands.  She was sitting in the box, wearing a pink dress with short sleeves and a white belt around her waist.  The skirt was up with her knees, but I could see her white socks and shoes, the pink ribbon around her ankles, her legs over her skirt, her arms and her hands in front of her.

 

I took the present, and put it to one side, saying “I’d rather open this one first” as I helped her to stand up and then lifted her out of the box, standing her on the floor before I hugged her, her head on my chest.

 

“Thanks for the fantastic surprise,” I said before I gave her a little kiss on her gagged mouth, making her blush - a blush that was even redder as I heard a voice saying “GOTCHA” and the click of a camera.

 

“PTTEEEE” Cassie shouted, and I turned to see a pale blue skirt disappear out of the door of the play room.  “Don’t worry about her,” I said quietly as I looked at you, “You’re the important one in the room.”

 

Fnks,” Cassie said as she looked at me, “pnyeprsnt.”

 

I looked at the box and opened it up, smiling as I saw what she had got.  Last Christmas I had bought her a little brooch in the shape of a skein of rope - today she had given me a pair of cufflinks shaped like reef knots.

 

“They’re lovely,” I said as I looked at her, “Thank you.”

 

Wlluwrthmlttr?”

 

“I will - but there is something else I need to do first.”

 

Whstttht?”

 

“Tickle you,” I said as I grabbed Cassie and put her on the beanbags, my fingers tickling her sides and the back of her legs as she squirmed round.  I kept this up for a few minutes before I heard a knock on the door.

 

“Robert,” Grandma said “I think you and Cassandra should come downstairs now - some more of your guests are here.”

 

“All right,” I said as I picked up a pair of scissors and cut the tape away from Cassie’s mouth, before removing the large handkerchief from her mouth.  “Thanks again for the gifts - both of them.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Cassie said as I untied the ribbons from her, the skirt of her dress falling to just above her knees with the white lace trim, “So who’s coming?”

 

“Just your family, mine and some friends - and unfortunately for you, that means my great aunt.”

 

“Your granddad’s sister?  Why is that unfortunate?”

 

“You’ll see later,” I said as we left the room and walked down the stairs, joining the others in the library.

 

“Hi Cassie,” Suzie said as we came in.  She was wearing a white short sleeved blouse and a long summer skirt, her black shoes peeping out from under the hem as Cassie joined her on the couch.  Next to her was the grinning form of Cassie’s cousin, Patty, who must have come with her.  She was wearing a pale blue cotton dress with puff sleeves and a skirt that came to above her knees - the same skirt I had seen leaving the playroom in a great hurry.

 

“We’ll talk later, Patty,” I said with a grin as the door opened and my cousins came in with Uncle Simon and Aunt Anne.  Angela was wearing a white blouse under a matching cream jacket and skirt, and low shoes.  As for my darling cousin Alicia, she was wearing a yellow roll necked sweater and light tan coloured pants, with some sort of boot under them.

 

“Happy birthday Bobby,” Aunt Anne said as she came over and kissed me, “How’s the day going so far.

 

“Interesting,” I said as I winked at Cassie, who blushed as Patty gave her a poke.

 

“Well, then,” Grandma said “Perhaps it is time you opened some presents from the rest of us.”

 

“You can start with ours,” Uncle Simon said as he handed me a small pile.  I opened them, finding some new games for my PSP from Angela, the video of Wreck It Ralph from Alicia (which Suzie looked and mouthed “mine” in response to) and then a thin envelope from Uncle Simon and Aunt Anne - which had in it a junior season ticket for Chelsea.

 

“I’ve already got mine,” Dad said, “and it means you give your sister a break from time to time.”

 

“And me,” Mum said quietly, which made us all laugh.

 

“And your mother,” Dad agreed with a laugh.  I then looked at the presents from Grandma and Granddad - which included some software for my new tablet, and a collection of DVDs and CDs from some of my favourite bands.

 

“Oh - and I almost forgot,” Granddad said as the door to the room opened and Mr Bridges came in, wheeling a new racing bike, “There is this as well.”

 

“WOW,” I said as I jumped up and looked at it, “Thanks - I wanted a new bike.”

 

“Well, you look after it, and it will look after you,” Granddad said, “now, I understand we have some sandwiches laid out to keep us going until later in the dining room.”

 

“Great,” Patty said as she jumped up, “I’m starving.”

 

“What my cousin is trying to say,” Cassie said quietly, “is thank you for inviting us over early, and for letting us have lunch with you.”

 

“I am?”  Patty looked at my grandparents, and then blushed as she said “Yes, I meant to say that - I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s all right Patricia,” Grandma said quietly, “Let’s all go through.”  I mouthed a silent “thank you” at Cassie as we all walked through, and started to make our way through the plates of sandwiches Mrs Bridges had laid out.

 

“Before I forget, Master Robert,” Mr Bridges said as he handed me an envelope, “Mrs Bridges and I wish you a happy birthday as well.”

 

I opened the card, looking at the message and the Amazon voucher, before saying “thanks, but...”

 

“Not another word,” Mister Bridges said quietly, “Consider it a thank you for a few weeks ago as well - you and the others showed an incredible maturity then, and we are grateful for that.,

 

I didn’t say anything, but nodded and put the card to one side as I saw Suzie and Cassie talking to Patty.  For a moment, I was about to walk over, but decided against it as Alicia walked over to me.

 

“I talked to Heidi last night,” she said quietly, “and she asked me to wish you a happy birthday from her, Cindy and Natalie.”

 

“Thanks,” I said quietly, “How have things been for you?”

 

“Good,” she said quietly, “Of course, the things we learned have taken a little while to sink in - I had to be careful what I said to Heidi - but apart from that...”

 

I nodded to say I understood as we continued to eat, making small talk or whatever you want to call it as we ate our lunch.  Eventually Dad looked at his watch and said “Well, we’re not expecting any other guests for an hour or so - Bobby, why don’t you lot go for a walk for the moment, and show the others what is happening out on the lawn.”

 

“Why not - come on,” I said as Alicia, Suzie, Cassie and Patty followed me out onto the lawn.   It was normally clear, but today the gentle slope down to the flat area meant we could go into a number of marquees that had been set up, and as we walked into the largest one we could see the dance floor that had been set up in the middle, and a small group who had started to rehearse on the staging at one end.

 

“Hey, we got an audience,” one of the band said as we looked at them, “Come to check up on us?”

 

“Nope - I wanted to show the girls what the place was going to look like.  We can go if you want.”

 

“Nah - stay there, and tell us if we sound all right.”

 

We nodded and sat ourselves down on some chairs as the band started to play a version of Downtown - a song I know my grandparents love.  As they did so, Patty started to dance round on the wooden floor, and I suddenly realised something - in all our plans to make sure Suzie and Alicia were covered, we’d forgotten about Patty.

 

Fortunately, even as I realised that I knew we had a solution - one I would talk to alongside Brian later after the party.

 

As Suzie and Cassie got up and started to dance with Patty, Alicia said “So, is it true you and Cassie are going to lead off the dancing later?”

 

“I thought Grandma and Grandpa had that honour,” I replied out of the corner of my mouth as I watched them, “then Mum and Dad, Aunt Simon and Aunt Anne, and after that...”

 

“I meant in the house,” she replied, and I nodded to show I understood what she meant.  “What about you - Martin’s coming, will he dance with you?”

 

I turned to see the red blush on her cheeks as Alicia stammered “Wellllll - not... not that I would say no, but I don’t know if he will ask me...”

 

“Maybe you should ask him instead?”

 

“No - I can’t do that.”

 

I turned to see Alicia had dropped her head a little.  “You have got to be kidding me, Alicia Bowden is afraid of asking a boy to dance?”

 

“I’m afraid of being refused,” she said quietly as she looked at me, “What do you think he would say?”

 

“I’ll have to see,” I said quietly as the band finished and we all clapped.  “Come on,” I said as we waved to them, “Let’s look at the other tents.”

 

There were three other tents set up - one where the guests would get food and drink, a smaller tent where the younger children who were coming could go and see an entertainer that had been booked for them, and a third smaller one for quiet talking.   There were also workmen setting up lines of lanterns between poles, and laying a carpet between the gravel path and the largest tent, as well as between that and the other three.

 

“Nothing left to chance, “ Cassie said as she took my arm.  “I like it.”

 

“Her Ladyship likes it,” Patty said out loud, making Suzie and Cassie giggle and Alicia roll her eyes.

 

“Come on,” I said with a slight sigh, “Let’s see if the others have arrived yet.”

 

We made our way back up to the house, and as we walked into the hallway I saw Jenny standing there, talking to Colin as Brian was off to one side.

 

“Happy birthday Bobby,” she said as we got closer, “Did you like your present?”

 

“I did - how did you arrange that?”

 

“Very carefully,” was all she said as she hugged me.  “Mum and Dad are looking forward to seeing you later.  So what are we going to do to celebrate your birthday?”

 

“You’ll find out soon enough - Grandma Jacobs has gone to pick up the rest of the family from the station.”

 

“The rest of...  Oh yeah, on your mother’s side.”

 

I took some time to look back over what the others have written before I wrote this down, and I realised with a shock that for whatever reason Aunt Lesley, who is married to Mum’s brother, Uncle Jack and my cousin Tommy had not come up yet.  They lived in the North of England, and came down once or twice a year - and this year they were coming for the ball and my birthday.  As I said, I had a backup plan, which started to come to fruition as the door opened and Mr Bridges let Grandma Jacobs come in, with the rest of the family.

 

Unlike Mum, Uncle Jack is a big strapping man, wearing a Harlequins rugby shirt and jeans as he shook Dad’s hand and lifted Mum up off her feet.  Aunt Lesley is tall, thin with greying black hair, and she hugged me as she said “Happy Birthday Bobby” in her Geordie accent.

 

And then there was Tommy, standing there in a Man of Steel t-shirt and jeans, looking round the hallway with eyes wide open.

 

He wasn’t the only one - Patty was uncharacteristically quiet as she tried to avoid his gaze.  This afternoon was definitely going to be interesting...

 

“Thanks Aunt Lesley,” I said as I went over and she hugged me.  “How was the trip?”

 

“Tiring,” Uncle Jack said, “But we’re here now.  Tommy, say hello to your cousins.”

 

“Hi,” he said before he hid behind Aunt Lesley.  “Come on Tommy,” I said as I walked up to him, “they’re not going to hurt you - they’re just girls.”

 

“Just girls?”

 

I turned and smiled at Cassie, who was standing with her arms folded.  “Well...” I started to stammer, but she glared at me until I mumbled “sorry,” ignoring the laughs of Mum and Aunt Lesley.

 

“Still has a lot to learn hasn’t he?” Aunt Lesley said with a smile.

 

“Oh I’m sure he’ll learn - eventually,” Mum said as the front door opened and I saw Cathy and Mary come in.  “Happy Birthday Bobby,” they both said as they handed me their presents.  Both of them were wearing blouses and trousers, as Grandma said “Well now, let’s go through to the front room and Bobby can open the rest of his presents.”

 

“So what are we going to be doing this afternoon,” Jenny said as she took my arm on one side, and Suzie on the other, as we walked into the main room.

 

“Well, we can’t go out onto the lawn for a walk as I would like to - too many other people about,” I said with a smile, “but knowing Grandma, I’m sure she has something planned.”

 

Well, at that stage I had no idea what it was, as I opened the other cards and presents and thanked everyone for them.  As I opened the last one, the door opened and Mr Bridges said “The Lady Olivia.”

 

I looked to the door to see Great Aunt Olivia come in.  She’s a little younger than Granddad, but has snow white hair, and was wearing a striped high collared blouse and knee length skirt which swished as she came in.

 

“Olivia,” Grandma said as she came in, walking forward and taking her hands, “I’m so glad you could come early.”

 

“I’m more than happy to,” she said in an accent that could cut glass as she looked at me.  “My, Robert, you have grown - and is that Suzanne with you?  You seem to have both sprouted since I last saw you.”

 

“Thank you, Aunt Olivia,” Suzie said as she gave a small curtsey.  “This is my friend Cassandra Craig, and her older sister Jennifer?”  It sounded strange to hear Cassie’s full name, but she gave Aunt Olivia a curtsey as well as she came forward, them shook her hand.

 

“A pleasure to meet you Cassandra,” she said quietly, “I know your grandmother well, of course.  How is Miranda, Lucinda?”

 

“You will see her later tonight,” Grandma said with a smile, “Robert, fetch a drink for your great aunt.”

 

“Of course, Grandma,” I said as I went to get her a drink, Cassie following me.  “She seems nice,” she whispered into my ear as I poured a glass of squash from a jug.

 

“Yeah,” I whispered back, “but she’s watching you, so be careful.”  That made her giggle as I took the drink back, and then went to join Colin and Brian.

 

“You need to go and say hi to Suzie,” I said to Brian, “after all, you’re her escort to the dance later.”

 

“Yeah,” Brian said quietly, “I guess I had better do so.”  He put his glass down and walked over to where Suzie was talking to Alicia.

 

“Err, Suzie?”

 

I watched as my sister turned round and looked at the sweating Brian.  “Oh hi, Brian,” she said quietly, “What’s wrong?”

 

“I was wondering,” he stammered, “Would... Would...”

 

Suzie looked over at me and Colin, trying hard not to laugh as she said “Yes?”

 

“Wouldyouletmehavethefirstdancewithyoutonightoutsideandinhereplease?”

 

We both had to turn round to stop him seeing us laughing, but when I heard Suzie say “All right - you can,” I let out a sigh of relief.  That left two to arrange - and one of them would not be possible until later.

 

 

“Now then,” Mum said out loud, “I need to ask the young ladies to come with me for a few minutes.  Don’t worry - the boys will come and find you shortly.”

 

I watched as they all trooped out behind Mum, Patty holding the hands of Suzie and Cassie as they were the last ones out.  As the door closed, Dad said “Right - we have a little show for you, Bobby.”

 

“Oh god, not the baby photos,” I groaned, but it was too late - Dad had set up, without me noticing, the laptop and we were forced to watch as the shots of me from birth to a year or so ago...

 

To avail myself of a little light relief, I sat next to Tommy, who looked at me like a frightened rabbit as he said “What do you want?”

 

“A little favour,” I whispered into his ear, “Did you see Patty, the little girl who went off with Suzie and Cassie earlier?”

 

“Small kid, black hair, giggler,” Tommy said to me, “Looks like a real pain - what about her?”

 

“I want you to dance with her later.”

 

I watched as he slowly turned his head towards me, and I saw a look as if I had asked him to walk barefoot over hot coals.  “No way,” he said quietly, “bad enough I have to wear a suit, but you expect me to dance with a girl?  No freaking way.”

 

I could see Aunt Lesley and Uncle Jack looking at us, and I figured they had heard me, because she was smiling and Uncle Jack was just shaking his head with his hand over his mouth.

 

“I’ll make it worth your while,” I whispered to Tommy.

 

“How?”

 

I looked round, and then whispered “I will come and sit at the Gallowgate end with you one day, and wear the Newcastle United shirt.  How does that sound?”

 

Tommy nodded slowly, and then said “It’s a start.”

 

“And if I guaranteed to you that you will be able to tickle her mercilessly, and she will not be able to stop you?”

 

That made Tommy look at me, and say “How can you guarantee that?”

 

“Trust me,” I said with a smile, “So will you?”

 

Tommy nodded and said “all right - but I pick the game.  I pick Newcastle playing Chelsea at St James Park.”

 

I let out an inward groan, and made a note to tell Dad sooner rather than later, before saying “Deal.”  Going back over to Colin, he whispered “What was that about?”

 

“Sorting out something for later - at great cost,” I groaned.  To save my blushes, Dad stood up and said “Right - we have a treasure hunt for you to perform before we eat.  There are a number of clues on this sheet,” he said as he held up several pieces of paper, “to things you will find around the house.  Go forth and search - if you find a treasure, then do what you need to do.”

 

Tommy and Brian paired up and set off to have a look, while Colin and I went in a different direction, leaving the older folks to talk amongst themselves.  “Treasures,” Colin said as we went to look in the dining room, “What sort of treasure could he possibly mean?”

 

“Who knows - but have you noticed something?”

 

“What?”

 

“The girls have not come back,” I said with a smile as we entered the dining room.  It looked quiet, as I looked at the list of clues.

 

“Where good things are placed to eat, look around for a special treat.”

 

I looked round the room, at the neatly laid tables for my birthday tea, and the white cloth hanging over the trolley at the corner.

 

“Looks bare, doesn’t it,” Colin said as he looked round.

 

“Oh I don’t know, it might be something tasty is hidden here,” I said as I lifted the cover, to reveal Cathy smiling over a cloth gag, her glasses sparkling in the sunlight.

 

 “Well, this is treasure indeed,” I said as Colin and I helped her to stand up, the ropes tightening around her legs and ankles as she hopped around a little and giggled at us.  Her wrists were crossed behind her back, while some rope went round her arms and stomach to hold them in place.

 

“Let me guess - the others are elsewhere in the house,” I said, and Cathy nodded.  Uvsgttfndhm,” she mumbled, and then squealed as Colin started to tickle her sides.

 

“What are we going to do with her,” I said as I grabbed her legs and picked her up, Colin catching her in his arms.

 

“Let’s put her in the library,” I said as I walked back, Colin following as I pushed the door open and then walked down the corridor to the library.  As I walked in, Colin said “What’s the clue for this room?”

 

“Let’s have a look,” I said as we laid Cathy on the couch, and then looked at the sheet of paper.

 

“Knowledge is a powerful thing, but the mind also needs to sing.”

 

Colin looked round the room, and his eyes fell on a cupboard that sat under a pair of glass doors, behind which sat the violin that legend has it Great Grandfather Alexander used to play.  He walked over and opened the doors, to find Mary with her knees up against her chest.  She had a band of blue tape around her mouth, and her wrists, ankles and legs were tightly taped together.

 

“Two down,” I said as I joined him, and we eased Mary out, helping her to hop over to Cathy and join her on the couch.  As she sat down, the door opened and Dad came in.

 

“Ah good,” he said quietly, “You’ve found two of them.  I’m going to stay in here and keep an eye on them - if you find any others, bring them in here.

 

“Eventually.

 

“Do let Brain and Tommy know,” he said as we nodded and left the room.  We were just in time to hear a shout of “What the...” from upstairs.  We looked at each other and ran up to the play room, almost running into Tommy as he came out.

 

 “There are two girls tied up in there,” he panted as we guided him back in the room.  Suzie and Patty were sitting back to back on the floor, their arms around each other and their wrists tied together in front of each other’s waists.  I could see the rope around their ankles as they were held together in front of them, a band of rope holding their legs together over their skirts and linked to the wrist of the other girl by a shorter length.

 

A band of cloth went round their mouths, and that was covered over their lips with a strip of white tape.

 

Trouble is always found where one can play quietly,” Brian said as Tommy let out a low whistle.  “I see what they mean.”

 

“But... But... But they can’t move,” Tommy said again, “Who did this to them?”

 

“Doesn’t matter,” I said with a smile when I looked at him.  “Remember when I said you would get a chance to tickle her and she would not be able to do anything about it?”

 

Patty’s eyes widened as she heard me say this, and she shook her head from side to side, trying to say “no” but it coming out as “nnnnnnnnnnn.”

 

“Then don't spy on your cousin,” I said with a smile as I left the room with Colin, to the sound of two sets of high pitched muffled squeals.  As we closed the door, I said “What’s the next clue?”

 

“Look in a place of rest to find the one you like the best.”

 

“Hmmm,” I said quietly, “Let’s look in the bedrooms.”  Before we could go too far, however, I heard Grandma call from downstairs “Robert, will you come down please?”

 

“See you later,” I said as Colin went one way, and I went downstairs, to find Grandma talking to Martin in the hallway.

 

“Martin has joined us at your request for a short while,” Grandma said as she looked at me.  “Is this something to do with Alicia?”

 

“Yup,” I said quietly.

 

“Then may I suggest you look at the last clue,” Grandma said as she smiled at me and Martin, and went back to the front room...

 

“The final clue,” Martin said as the door closed, “Are you having a treasure hunt or something?”

 

“Something like that,” I said as I pulled the list out of my pocket, “You’re earlier than I expected.”

 

“I know - but Mum and Dad were bringing some instruments up for your band tonight, and they asked if I’d come and help, so I figured I’d come in and see you now.  I hope it’s not inconvenient?”

 

“Actually, your timing could not be better,” I said as I looked at the list.  “Now, you ready to admit things to Alicia?”

 

“I don’t know - I’m scared stiff she’ll think I’m a weirdo or something, and I don’t want her to think that of me...”

 

“Well, practice on me - start by telling her - sorry, me, how you got interested in this sort of thing.”  As we talked, I started to walk up the staircase, Martin nervously following me.

 

“I.... I’m not sure,” he said quietly, “I guess I just liked reading stories where a girl or a woman was tied up.  It was comics at first, but then when Mum and Dad got me a computer I started finding sites with stories about that sort of thing.”

 

“I see - by the way, what do you think this might mean?”  I showed Martin the list of clues, the last of which read “Right at the top is where the cream rises.”

 

“I’m not sure - but we’re going upstairs, do you have an attic?”

 

“Yeah, I think we do,” I said with a smile as we walked past the playroom, and Martin stopped at the sound of the muffled giggling coming from the other side of the door.

 

“What’s going on in there?”

 

“Hmmm - oh that’s just my little sister and her friend being teased by some other friends.  Anyway, comics and then you looked on line?”

 

Martin blushed and said “Yeah - there were a lot of sites I soon learned to avoid, but there were some that told nice, simple tales, and I read them.  I don’t know, they excited me and I found myself reading more and more about tying someone up.”

 

“Well, it doesn’t sound strange to me - no more so than reading a lot of adult mags,” I said as I stopped and looked in one of the bedrooms.  “The thing is, Martin, have you ever actually tied someone up - your mother, for example?”

 

I had to stop myself from laughing as he turned beetroot red and said “Oh no no no - I mean, I wouldn’t - I mean I couldn’t....  Why, have you?”

 

“Yes,” I said quietly as I looked into a room, and said “Oh there you are - I’ll be back in a few minutes, something I need to do first.”  Closing the door again, I turned and looked at Martin.

 

“Look, seriously - do you like my cousin?”

 

Martin blushed again before saying “Yeah - I’ve always thought she was cute.”

 

“Even when she was the most stuck up person in your class?”

 

“I guess so - but I knew that was just a front, really.  After all, if you’re shy like she and I are, you find different ways of coping with it...”

 

I was beginning to like Martin, but I wasn’t quite ready to let him wriggle free from the hook yet.  “I kinda feel responsible for her, as the only man in our families.”

 

“What about her baby brother?”

 

“As the only man in our families of a similar age,” I said quietly, although he did have a point.  “I want to know you’re not going to deliberately hurt her, if you two decide to get together.”

 

“Hurt her?  I wouldn’t harm a...”  Martin stopped and looked at me.  “Do you think she’d really have me as her boyfriend?”

 

“That’s for you two to figure out,” I said as we reached the door that opened to the stairway to the attic.  “Deep breaths now - I think I know where Alicia is, but I need your word that whatever state she may be in, you will do nothing unless she asks you to.”

 

“You have my word, hand on heart,” Martin said as he actually did that - he put his hand on his heart.

 

“Oh - and one more thing,” I said as I put my hand on the door handle.  “Would you be willing to dance with her tonight?”

 

“Dance?  Where?”

 

“In the main tent at first - you see, the Holderness family always take the first dance, and I know Alicia would love you to partner her.”  Well, I didn’t, but hey - if he could cope with what I thought was waiting, he could cope with that.

 

“Well - won’t people laugh?”

 

“I’ll be on the dance floor, so will Colin Hampton - trust me, you will not be the only embarrassed one.  Who knows - you may even like it.”

 

“Maybe,” Martin said as he smiled a little.  “Will that be the only time?”

 

“Well - there is the private party later, but we can discuss that this evening.  Now what was that clue again?”

 

“Right at the top is where the cream rises.”

 

“Oh yeah,” I said as I opened the door and revealed the stairs.  Putting my finger to my lips, we both walked as quietly as possible up the staircase, to where the door to the attic remained shut.

 

“Now then,” I whispered, “You stay here, and come in when I call, all right?”  I watched as Martin nodded, then quietly slipped into the room, closing the door behind me.

 

Wlltsbttm,” Alicia mumbled at me from her seat in the middle of the room.  I recognised the handiwork of my esteemed oldest cousin Angela in the way she was secured to the chair, starting with her wrists pulled behind the back of the chair and secured together, hands palm to palm, and then tied to the chair back.

 

A single length of rope was wound around her mustard coloured top, holding her fast to the chair back from her waist to her shoulders, while her ankles were tied tightly together and to the front leg of the chair.  The cuffs of her trousers had ridden up slightly to reveal more of her leather boots, while her legs were also secured below her knees with rope.

 

A band of white tape encircled her head, and from the way her cheeks were puffed out I could tell something had been stuffed into her mouth beforehand.  I could also make out the outline of  a thin band under the tape, which suggested she was cleave gagged as well.

 

“Comfy,” I said with a smile as I walked over and checked the ropes, while Alicia struggled in them.  “It looks as if Angie did a great job on you this time.”

 

Fnddtfrsyt?”

 

“Mostly - I imagine Colin has found Jenny by now, and I know where Cassie is, but I wanted to find you before I did anything else.”

 

Vrenblfu - nwgtmls.”

 

“Hmmm - nah, not yet,” I said with a smile.  “You see, we still need to sort out the question of who is going to take you on the dance floor later tonight, both outside and inside.”

 

Alicia turned her head sharply to look at me, before I said “Oh no - I believe my dance card is marked for the first one.  No, I think we need find someone more suited to you to help glide you along to the music.”

 

Bbbeefurpngngnsmfng...”

 

“You’re cute when you’re worried, do you know that - your go all red and your nose wrinkles up.  In fact, I think I like the way that looks so much I’m going to show someone else it.”

 

NKeln!”

 

“No,” I whispered into her eat before I called out “You can come in now.”

 

The door opened as I put my hands on Alicia’s shoulders, feeling her shrink under them as Martin walked in and stared at her, his jaw literally dropping.  I mean it - he stood there, open mouthed as I saw Alicia physically sink into the chair.

 

Hmmgd,” I heard her mumble softly.

 

“It’s getting a bit hot in here,” I said quietly as I looked at Martin, “You’re sweating.”

 

“Am I?  It’s just...  Errr..... Erm.....”

 

“Hello is usually a good start.”

 

Martin nodded slowly and said “Hello, Alicia - sorry to drop in unexpectedly like this.”

 

I walked round to see the redness above the white band around my cousin’s mouth, and the embarrassment in her eyes.  Hllmrtn,” she eventually said, “srprs.”

 

Iiiiiiiiii

 

“Oh for goodness sake,” I said as I sat down.  “Let me try and explain what’s going on here.  Martin, my whole family play these games all the time, and what my darling cousin is far too shy to say is that, after something of a rocky start, she actually quite enjoys this sort of thing.  Having said that, she likes to keep it within family and friends, right Ali?”

 

As I spoke, Martin slowly walked round Alicia, looking at the rope work holding her to the chair and the knots, before standing in front of her again.   She watched as she looked for some way of a voiding my question, before letting her head drop and slowly nodding.

 

“Now, I happen to think she likes you as well, but because you are not in the family - and because the two of you are too damn shy to realise it - she’s been afraid to say anything, right?”

 

I got a look from her of “You are so going to pay for this” before Alicia slowly nodded and blushed even more.

 

“Right,” I said looking at Martin, “and talking of shy people, you are normally so tongue tied around her if anyone is watching that you say nothing, but you told me downstairs you really like her as well, right?”

 

Martin slowly nodded, unable to take his eyes off Alicia.

 

“At the same time, darling cus, Martin has been hiding a secret - he likes it when a girl is tied up as well, but I have the distinct feeling this is the first time he has seen it in real life, right Martin?”

 

Uhhhhyeahhhh,” Martin said, still unable to believe what he was seeing.

 

“I think that was a yes,” I said as I stood up.  “Look, I think you two are perfect for each other, and you need some time alone for Martin to tell you how he feels.  I don’t think Ali is in any position to talk back to you unless you allow her to - there’s a pair of scissors in the top drawer over there if it comes to that.  Before I go, however - one other thing.”

 

Both of them turned to look at me as I went to the door.

 

“The private gathering tonight - Alicia, will you allow Martin to tie you up if he follows our lead.”

 

Martin turned and gawped at me, before saying “Tie Alicia up?”

 

“Yeah - we have a special dance planned tonight, and Alicia needs a partner for it, if you are happy to do that?”

 

“I... I would be honoured, if Alicia would allow me.”

 

Alicia looked at me, then at Martin, before slowly nodding her head.  “Good,” I said quietly, “If someone doesn’t come in the next thirty minutes, free her and come and join us in the main room for some cake.”

 

I left the attic and closed the door on them, before heading back to the bedroom and walking in.  Colin was sitting with Jenny, his arms round her as they cuddled on the bed.  Jenny was securely bound as always, with a band of pink tape round her head to hold her gag in.

 

As did Cassie, who was lying hogtied on the floor, the heels of her party shoes against the skirt of her dress.  Her arms were held tightly to her upper body and her wrist crossed and secured behind her back, as she looked up at me and said “ewhthppnd?”

 

“Oh - Martin came round to see me, and I took him up to see Alicia.”

 

Jenny sat up suddenly, narrowly missing Colin’s chin as she said “Uddwht?”

 

“I took Martin up to see Alicia - he’d agreed to dance with her tonight, and I figured they would like a chance to talk about it.”

 

“Talk about it?  If she’s like these two, then who was more embarrassed?”

 

“It was a close run thing,” I said as I started to tickle Cassie, making her wriggle round on the floor, “but I think Alicia won that one in the end.”

 

Shhllnvrfrgfu,” Cassie mumbled as she squirmed round on the floor.

 

“I’ll add it to the list of things she’ll get me back for one day,” I said as I looked at the other two.  “Now then, let’s talk about the plans for tonight...”

 

********

 

Thirty minutes later, Colin and I opened the bedroom door, and escorted Cassie and Jenny out of the room.  We had freed their legs, but the arm binding and gags were still intact as we walked down the corridor.

 

Stopping outside the playroom, I knocked on the door and said “Brian, Tommy - time’s up guys.  We need to take the girls back downstairs.”

 

There was no reply, which was slightly worrying, so I opened the door and looked in.  It was empty, save for a few lengths of rope that were on the floor.

 

“I guess they already went down,” I said as I closed the door, and we went down the staircase - only to run into Great Aunt Olivia as she was talking to Granddad.  She looked at the four of us, raising an eyebrow as she said “I see some family traditions still carry on.  Are they particular friends of yours then, Robert?”

 

“They are very special friends of both of us, Aunt Olivia,” I said in a serious voice, looking at Granddad as he tried to hide a smile - unsuccessfully, as Olivia said “Hide that smirk Desmond - it makes you look like a naughty schoolboy.”

 

“Sorry,” Granddad said as he nodded to the library door.  As we went in, we saw Patty and Suzie sitting on the couch, drinking as Brian and Tommy were in the opposite corner.

 

“Have fun,” I said as I walked over to them.

 

“It... was.... AMAZING!” Tommy said to me.  “They let me try to tie them up, and then they escaped!  How am I going to do this tonight?”

 

“You copy me,” I said quietly, “which reminds me - Suzie is my sister, Patty is Cassie’s cousin - whatever happens tonight, you do not hurt them, or else...”

 

“Or else what?”

 

“Or else,” I said as the library door opened and a very nervous Martin escorted Alicia into the room, “I sic Alicia on you.”

 

Angela followed the new arrivals in, an amused look on her face as she saw Martin with Alicia.  “Well, this is original,” she said as she looked at Martin, “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”

 

“Martin, this is Angela, Alicia’s big sister.  Angela, this is Alicia’s dance partner for tonight, Martin.”

 

“Pleased to meet you Martin,” Angela said with a smile, “Welcome to the wider group.  Surprised by them?”

 

Martin stammered something unintelligible, as Alicia looked at her sister and then down at her gag.

 

“I get the feeling you want to say something, Alicia,” I said as I looked at her.  “I thought Martin would have removed it - I told him where the scissors were.”

 

“Yes butttttt,” he stammered, “My hands were shaking and...”

 

“GTTTHSFM,” Alicia called out, as her sister took pity on her and cut the tape away from her mouth, then removed the rest of her gag.

 

“Thanks,” she said as I saw the blush in her cheeks, “Thomas, will you untie my arms now please?”

 

“Of course,” Thomas said as she started to unravel the knots, but I could tell by watching him he was taking note of the way her wrists were tied. 

 

“Bobby?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I suppose I should thank you, but rest assured - I will get my own back on you.”

 

“I look forward to your attempt,” I said before going over to Mary and Cathy.  “I haven’t had much of a chance to welcome you here yet,” I said as they turned to look at me, “thanks for coming.”

 

“Hey - wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Mary said with a smile.  “Did you get some good presents?”

 

“I can’t complain,” I said with a smile as the door opened and Dad came in with the rest of the family, Mrs Bridges wheeling in a birthday cake on a trolley behind them.  “Did you bring your outfits with you?”

 

“Upstairs,” Cathy said as Mary and Alicia came over, “I see the youngsters are growing in number.”

 

“Well, Jenny and Cassie have become very special to us,” I said, then blushed as I realised what I had just admitted.

 

“Very special?  I know Jenny and Colin are stepping out, but...”  Mary opened her eyes wide and said a small, quiet “oh” as she put two and two together, and hit the jackpot.

 

“Look,” I said quietly, “don’t tell anyone else.  I like her - a lot - and she likes me, but...”

 

“It’s all right,” Cathy said as she put her hand on my shoulder, “we won’t tell anyone.  I suspect you have enough trouble keeping Patty under control anyway.”

 

“Robert, will you come over here please?”

 

I walked over to join Mum and Dad, as the fourteen candles were lit by Granddad.  “Well, Robert,” Mum eventually said as she looked at me, “Blow out the candles and make a wish.”

 

I looked round the room, Suzie standing on the other side of the trolley, before I took a deep breath and blew the candles out.  “What did you wish for,” Cassie said as everyone clapped.

 

“Maybe you’ll find out later,” I said with a wink as Mrs Bridges cut slices of the cake and handed them out, as well as glasses of either lemonade or champagne.

 

“I think you’re old enough now,” Dad said as he handed me a glass of champagne, and I took a sip.  It tickled my nose, but I liked the taste.

 

“What are you drinking,” Cassie said as she walked over to me.  I looked round the room, and then let her have a little sip from my glass.

 

“Oh - Bobby gave Cassie a drink from his glass,” Patty called out, “They must like each other.”

 

The whole room looked at us, Great Aunt Olivia raising an eyebrow, before Grandma said “Right - girls, you need to go and start to get ready.  Boys, we will meet here at seven pm to start to receive the guests - and I expect you to be turned out in the correct manner.”

 

“See you later,” Cassie said as she gave me a quick peck on the cheek, and then left the room with Jenny, taking Patty between them. 

 

“Well,” Dad said as he came over and put his hand on my shoulder, “Do you think you have all the arrangements made for tonight?”

 

“I think so - why?”

 

“Because you need to take Martin back to his parents, and watch your back,” he said with a smile as I noticed Martin watching Alicia as she left the room, deep in conversation with Angela.

 

“Martin,” I said as I took his arm, “Your parents will be wondering where you got to.  Come with me.”

 

Whhhwwhhhhh oh yeah,” Martin said as he looked at his watch.  “My goodness is that the time - I’d better get going.”  I escorted him to where his parents were waiting outside, and then waved them off, before going to my room to change.

 

********

 

I looked at myself in the bedroom mirror, adjusting the bow tie until it sat in the centre under the wingtips of my collar.  Yeah, it was a pre-tied one, but with this collar down nobody was going to notice.

 

I sat down in the chair and put on my highly polished shoes, before picking up the jacket of my suit and putting it on, fastening the buttons over my waistcoat.  I looked once more at myself in the mirror, before leaving the bedroom and making my way down to the library.  As I reached the top of the stairs, Colin came out of a room and joined me, running his finger under his collar.

 

“Why do we have to wear all this again,” he said as we walked down the stairs.

 

“It’s a formal ball, so some traditions have to be followed,” I said quietly as I opened the door, joining the rest of the family inside.

 

Well, the rest of the men anyway - inside were Granddad, Dad, Uncle Simon and Colin’s dad, standing and talking.  The rest of my family were in the same sort of suit as Colin and I, while his father was dressed in the dress uniform of a Chief Superintendant.

 

His mother was also in the room, talking with Grandma.   My grandmother was wearing a black high necked silk gown, with long opera gloves that left a small amount of exposed skin at the top of her arms.  The skirt seemed to flow out from her waist, and she wore a tiara on her head.  As for Colin’s mum, she was wearing a dark blue strapless dress with a matching scarf over her shoulders, the sleeves of which were attached to her middle finger by a small loop.

 

Look, I’m the only boy in a family of women - it means I had to learn about these things.

 

The next to come in was Mum, who had brought Suzie with her.  Mum had her hair up in a high hairdo, and was wearing a crimson strapless dress with a skirt that came to just above her ankles.

 

As for Suzie, she was wearing a blue sleeveless dress, with a silver tiara on her red hair.  The top had a pattern of sequins in a V shape on the front, and was backless, while the skirt flowed out and touched the floor.  It had three layers, two of which opened at the front while the third went all the way down.

 

“You look nice,” she said as she came up to me, adjusting the pale blue opera gloves she was wearing.

 

“So do you - how about Cassie?”

 

“You’ll see soon enough,” Suzie said with a smile as the door opened and Aunt Anne came in, accompanied by the girls and Andrew, resplendent in his car seat.

 

Angela was wearing an amazing pale cream dress with a peacock feather design on it.  It was also strapless, with a gathered top and a flowing skirt, and she had vintage pale cream gloves on.

 

Alicia was wearing a long sleeved green silk gown, with a yoke neckline, and a skirt that was gathered at the waist and then went out as it almost touched the floor.

 

“Don’t think I’ve forgiven you yet,” she said as she walked up to me, “but - do you think Martin will like this?”

 

“I’m sure he will, if he doesn’t trip over his own words,” I whispered back.

 

“Look - not all of us can be as bold as you,” Alicia said as Aunt Anne gave Andrew to Mrs Bridges, and walked over to Uncle Simon, the tail of her skirt swishing as the layers of taffeta and silk moved with her.

 

“So where are the Craigs,” Alicia said as she accepted a glass of fizzy something from Mr Bridges, “I presume they are on their way...”

 

At that point, the door opened, and I swear both Colin and I stood there, open mouthed at the sight before us...

 

“My god,” Colin whispered as Jenny walked into the room, “That is...”

 

Jenny was wearing a light pink strapless dress, which had little gems sewed into the bodice and the top part of the skirt.  It had a wraparound effect on the skirt itself, with a lower layer that went to the floor, and she was wearing a necklace that hung as if it was holding up the dress - only it wasn’t.  Her hair had been done in a style that was different for her, as she walked forward and stopped in front of Colin, smiling shyly at him as she held her glove covered arms behind her back.

 

“You look - stunning,” Colin said, but my attention was taken by Cassie as she walked in.  She smiled at me, her hair falling in soft waves down the side of her face, and gave me a little twirl that made the skirt of her dress billow out.

 

It was soft peach, and studded with diamantes all around, from the bodice that was held up by the shoulder straps to the skirt that billowed out from her waist.  The sequins on her bodice were designed like a sloping pattern, and she wore long opera gloves of a matching colour.  She also had a little brooch pinned to her breast.

 

“Do you think Great Aunt Olivia will like this,” she said with a smile as she came up to me.

 

“Oh - big questions,” Patty said as she came in.  She had on an aquamarine prom style dress, with a ruffled skirt that made a rustling sound as she moved, and a blue flower pinned into her hair.  She also was wearing elbow length opera gloves, and giggled as she looked at the two of us.

 

“Now Patricia - this is a formal event, so behave yourself!”

 

Patty turned and said “Yes Mum,” as Mrs Pickering came in, dressed in a yellow strapless dress that came to just above the floor, and accompanied by Cassie’s mother and father.  Mr Craig was, like us, wearing a dinner suit, while their mother had on a crimson red dress with a sash round the middle.

 

“Well,” Granddad eventually said, “I think it is time that I took the family to the formal reception line to meet the guests.  Please, when you are ready come through - sometimes the formalities have to be observed.  Olivia?”

 

Great Aunt Olivia nodded as she was helped to her feet by Granddad, and walked out of the room.  I could have sworn she looked with particular attention at Cassie, but shook my head and forgot about it.  “See you in a few minutes,” I whispered as I followed the family out and into the garden, taking up my position next to Suzie on the line.

 

“I hate this bit,” Suzie whispered to me, “All the meeting and greeting.”

 

“Well,” I said quietly, “when the twins get here, you can slip off and I won’t say anything - just be back here for the first dance.”

 

“Got it,” she whispered back as the guests started to arrive.  It wasn’t long before Mr Bridges, resplendent in tails and the full regalia, said out loud “MR GRANT AND MRS BARBARA IRVINE, ACCOMPANIED BY HAZEL AND CLAIRE IRVINE.”

 

“Thank goodness,” Suzie said as she stood in line, “Now I can get some fun.”  She waited as they came down the line, and I could see the twins were wearing identical white gowns that had a v-shaped neckline.  As they came up to us, I nudged Suzie and said “Get going.”

 

“Come on,” Suzie said as she took their hands, “Let’s see what we can find.”

 

I wondered where the other main little hellion was, and my question was answered by Mister Bridges.

 

“MRS JACKIE AND MISS PIPPA BROOKS.”

 

I saw Pippa walking down the line as well, in a green silk gown with long sleeves and puffed shoulders.  She smiled at me as she came past, and I whispered “In there - Suzie and the other girls.”  She nodded and went into the tent with her mother.

 

The next names I recognised were “CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT BRIAN HAMPTON AND MRS ROBERTA HAMPTON, WITH COLIN HAMPTON.  ALSO MISTER STEPHEN AND MRS DIANE HAMPTON, ACCOMPANIED BY BRIAN HAMPTON.”

 

“You two ready for later,” I whispered as Colin and Brian came up, Brian in particular feeling very awkward in his posh gear.

 

“As ready as we’ll ever be - what’s the signal?”

 

“I’ll let you know,” I said as I heard Mr Bridges saying “JAMES AND BONITA DAVIES, AND MARTIN DAVIES.”

 

Now this I had to see, as I watched Martin and his parents walking down the line.  As they stopped in front of Alicia, I could see her blush as Martin looked at her, and whispered something in her ear.  I could see her father watching as well, but he then moved on, as the arrivals continued.

 

“ANDREW AND MARY HOLMES, WITH MISS MARY HOLMES AND MISTER EDWARD HOLMES.”

 

I saw Mary as she came down the line, dressed in a purple round necked gown with a full skirt, but my attention was then taken by her brother as he stood and talked for a few seconds with Angela.  I’m no expert, but for a moment I thought I could see a flash of red in her cheeks as she looked at him, and she turned her head to watch him as he walked down the line - snapping it quickly back round when she saw me looking at her.

 

“Where’s Jenny and Cassie,” Mary said as we met in the line.

 

“Waiting for the rest of her family - they wanted to come in together,” I said quietly as Eddie came up and shook my hand.  “Nice interesting family you have,” he said with a smile.  “Tell me, is your older cousin seeing anyone?”

 

“Angela?  No, I don’t think she is, why?”

 

“Hmmm - would she be upset if I asked her to dance?”

 

Mary turned and looked at him with a face frozen in mock horror.  “You, dance?  I don’t think I’ve seen that since our cousin’s wedding - and that was a sight to behold.”

 

“Little sisters - don’t you love them,” Eddie said with a smile, and I nodded in mute agreement as they went into the tent.

 

“MISS BELINDA AND MISS PENELOPE HARMER, ACCOPMPANIED BY MISS CATHERINE HARMER.”

 

I stared at Cathy as she walked down, her hair pulled back and her dress held up by a clasp over one shoulder.  It was purple with a white lace around her waist, and a layered skirt that was a slightly lighter shade underneath.  Her mothers were both wearing long black evening dresses, while Cathy beamed at Alicia and the rest of us as she came down.

 

“Mary was just ahead of us - where did she go,” Cathy said as she came up to me.

 

“Main tent, the others should be along in a minute,” I said as Mr Bridges called out “MRS KAREN JACOBS, MISTER THOMAS AND MRS LESLEY JACOBS, AND THOMAS JACOBS JUNIOR”

 

As they made their way down the line, I was getting more and more nervous, those nerves only getting worse as I heard “MRS MIRANDA CRAIG, MRS JESSICA PICKERING AND MISS PATRICIA PICKERING.”

 

Patty stuck her tongue out at me as she walked past, but I wasn’t bothered by that.

 

“MISS CASSANDRA CRAIG AND CAPTAIN JO FROST.”

 

I was surprised to see the two of them walking down, Miss Craig - sorry, Cassie Senior’s partner in full military dress, but they smiled at us as they walked past.

 

“MISTER DAVID AND MRS CONNIE BROWN.”

 

Cassie’s aunt and uncle walked past, and I took a deep breath as Mr Bridges said “MR JOHN AND MRS JESSICA CRAIG, WITH JESSICA AND CASSANDRA CRAIG.”

 

Cassie was a vision as she walked down, curtseying as she did so and especially to Great Aunt Olivia, who seemed pleased at this.  She smiled at me as she went past, and I felt weak at the knees.

 

“Buck up,” Dad said as he came alongside me, “The dance is coming.”

 

I really had not been paying attention to the others as they came in, so I was shocked to see how many people were gathered around the dance floor as Granddad walked onto the floor, his hand holding Grandma, and he nodded to the band leader. 

 

As the band started to play a waltz, I watched them as they started to dance round the floor, to applause from the gathered crowd.  I made my way round the edge, grabbing Brian and Tommy as I did so, and walked to where the girls were standing watching.

 

As Mum and Dad stepped onto the dance floor, joining my grandparents, I said “Miss Craig, my I have this dance?”

 

“Why I would be delighted,” Cassie said with a little curtsey as I took her hand.  I watched as Aunt Anne and Uncle Colin started to dance as well, and then stepped onto the floor.  I looked at Tommy, whose cheeks were glowing a bright red as he waited with Patty’s hand in his, and also Brian as he held Suzie’s hand.  She leaned over and whispered something into his ear, making him smile as I watched Angela and Alicia walk on.

 

Martin looked really nervous as he took Alicia’s hand, but she smiled at him and that seemed to relax him a bit.  The bug shock was seeing Angela with Eddie, the two of them smiling as they started to waltz round the room.

 

“And off we go,” I whispered as we all stepped out onto the dance floor, the people around clapping as we did so.  Taking Cassie by the hand, my other hand on her shoulder, we started to waltz round, and suddenly it was as if we were the only two people on the dance floor, and nobody else mattered.

 

“Keep it up,” I heard from a distance as Colin passed us with Jenny, and suddenly I realised there were more people on the dance floor - even Mary and Cathy had a partner each, a couple of boys from their school I think, but my eyes were solely on Cassie, as she smiled back up into my face.  I could see her mother and father as they danced past us, as well as Colin’s mum and dad, and then - suddenly, all too soon, the music stopped and we stood there clapping.

 

“Right,” I heard Patty say to Tommy, “Want to get some food?”

 

“It’s too...” I tried to call out, but they had already run off, with Hazel, Claire and Pippa following them.

 

“Should we go as well,” Brian said as he and Suzie came over. 

 

“Nope - we can deal with her later,” I said with a smile as Granddad went to the stage.

 

“Thank you all for coming,” he said into the microphone.  “Please, dance, eat drink and mingle - you are our guests, and you are most welcome.”

 

“Here’s one for the younger ones amongst you,” the band leader said as they started to play a Kaiser Chiefs song, which got Cassie’s Aunt Cassie and Jo onto the dance floor, along with some of the others. 

 

“Want to grab a bite to eat,” I whispered into Cassie’s ear.

 

“I thought you’d never ask,” Cassie said as she put her arm in mine and I walked with her to the food tent, nodding to some of the local people as we passed them.

 

“SMILE!”

 

I turned with Cassie as a photographer took a quick picture of us, and then went on to look at some of the others, while we continued on our way to the food tent.

 

“You do know that’s going to end up in the local paper,” I said to Cassie as we entered the long food tent.

 

“It is?  Oh well, what are they going to say?”

 

“That the heir to the Holderness family had this cute little lady on his arm,” I whispered back, making her giggle as we picked up a plate and started to put some food on them.

 

“Hey you two - over here,” I heard Mary call out, and saw her sitting with Jenny and Colin at a table.  We walked over and joined them, as Mary said “Great party.”

 

“Thanks - who was that you were dancing with?”

 

“That’s Davy - you don’t know him, but his parents are here, and he asked me to dance.  So, what have you been up to today, birthday boy?”

 

“Oh this and that,” I said as I saw Angela walk in.  “Your brother seems to be quite taken with Angela.”

 

“That’s one way of putting it.”

 

I turned to see Alicia standing behind me with Martin.  “Oh hi you two,” Jenny said with a smile, “I see you managed to find each other.”

 

“We had a little chat in the line,” Alicia said as she sat with us.  “I must say Patty was remarkably well behaved during the dance.  What did you promise little Tommy?”

 

“An afternoon of hurt and pain on my side,” I said as I looked at her.

 

“Good - that will be part of the payback for this afternoon,” Alicia said before she looked up.  Martin, did you...”

 

“Not me - there’s someone under the table.”

 

I looked under the tablecloth and said quietly “Out.”

 

“All right,” Tommy said as he crawled out, “but I love hearing you older ones talking of lovely dovey things - not.”

 

“Got them!”

 

I turned quickly to see Patty run off with two sandwiches, Tommy racing after her as Jenny followed them with her eyes.

 

“We’ll get them later,” she said quietly, “Right now - hey they were my sandwiches!”

 

“Allow me,” Colin said as he stood up, and motioned for me to follow him.

 

“So,” Colin said as we walked to the buffet table, “when do we head back to the house?”

 

“In an hour or so - Granddad said it would be impolite to disappear too early, and he’s right.  He and Grandma are usually right about these things.”

 

“I can believe it - your English manners can be so disarming at times.”

 

I recognised the voice as one I had heard at Christmas, and slowly turned to see a blonde haired girl the same age as me standing there, in a mustard yellow ball gown with a round collar and long sleeves.

 

“Heidi?” I said as I stared at her.  “I didn’t know you were coming?  Actually, I didn’t even know you were in the country!”

 

“That’s kind of the point,” she said with a smile, “Where’s Alicia?”

 

“Sitting over there, talking to the nervous looking guy in the dinner jacket,” Colin said as he looked at the table.  “Are you the only one here?”

 

“Nope,” a dark haired girl in a white gown, the skirt flowing down from her waist to cover her feet said beside Colin, “and our mums are here as well.  So are Veronica and Natalie.”

 

“And the others don’t know?”

 

“You didn’t know, did you?”

 

“She has a point,” Colin said with a smile, “Give us a minute and then come over.”

 

I nodded as we walked over and stood by the table, me behind Cassie and Colin behind Jenny.

 

“Martin, can you help us with something?”

 

“Sure,” Martin said as he stood up, “What is it?”

 

“We need to cover the eyes of the girls for a moment - will you take care of Alicia for us?”

 

“Why,” Cassie said as she looked at me.

 

“You’ll see,” I said as I placed my hands over Cassie’s eyes, and Colin did the same for Jenny.  As Martin stopped Alicia from seeing, I nodded to the side of the room.

 

“Hey, what’s happening,” Cassie said as she realised the hands covering her eyes were now gloved.  “Bobby?”

 

“Nope,” Cindy said from behind her, “guess who?”

 

“You have got to be...”  Alicia jumped out of her seat and turned round almost knocking Heidi over as she hugged her, while Natalie stood in her brown taffeta gown behind Jenny.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“Long story,” Heidi said, “Want to come and hear it?”

 

Alicia looked at Martin, before saying “Don’t go anywhere” and going off with the Blonde American, Jenny and Cassie following with Cindy and Natalie.

 

“Is that her American pen friend?” Martin said as we sat with him.

 

“That is - so,” I said quietly, “How’s it going so far?”

 

“Honestly?  I think we’re just finding our feet.  You know, I didn’t realise just how good a dancer she was.”

 

“A girl of many and varied talents, my cousin,” I said with a smile as Mary looked at me.  “So, Bobby,” she eventually said, “Alicia invited me up to the house later.  Any idea why?”

 

“Yeah - we’re going to have some games for the - well, forgive me, the younger ones, which includes you and Cathy if you wish.”

 

“Sounds intriguing,” Mary said with a smile, “What’s going to happen?”

 

“You’ll see - some of us are going to go up in a while, but Grandma will come and find you when it is time.  In the meantime - may I have this dance?”

 

“I would be honoured,” Mary said as she took my hand and we walked back into the main tent, coming onto the dance floor as the band started playing another tune.  I saw Mum and Dad come on as well, laughing as they danced along while others joined in.

 

After another hour or so, Granddad came alongside me and said “I think the gentlemen should take their partners up to the house for the start of the private party.  Your grandmother will bring the other guests along shortly.”

 

I nodded and looked around the room, finding Cassie and Cindy talking quietly in a corner while Cindy and Heidi’s mothers were talking with Miss Craig and Captain Frost.  “Forgive me,” I said with a bow, “but I need to take Cassie from you for a short while.  I believe you will be following afterwards?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Cindy said as Cassie took my hand and we walked towards the carpet leading to the house.  I saw Colin and Brian collaring Tommy, and smiled to myself as I led my lady into the house, and into the library.

 

Mr and Mrs Bridges were waiting there, with several boxes of ropes, coloured to match the gowns of our special guests.  As the door opened and Martin accompanied Alicia in, I said “Shall we begin?”

 

Picking up a length of peach coloured rope, I said “this is remarkable soft rope - where did it come from, Mrs Bridges?”

 

“I believe His Lordship had it brought specially from a Japanese stockist - it is made of silk,” she said with a smile.  “He made sure there are colours to match each of the dresses.”

 

“But how did he know what colours to buy?”

 

“Your grandfather is a very good man at finding things out,” Mr Bridges said as the door opened and Angela came in, accompanied by Eddie.  “Are you going to be joining us,” I said with a raised eyebrow.

 

“If you will have us,” Eddie said with a smile, “Angela said this would be an unusual dance.”

 

“She wasn’t lying,” I said as I stood behind Cassie and crossed her wrists behind her back.  “Ready Martin?”

 

“Ready,” he said as he picked up a length of green rope, and whispered something into my cousin’s ear.  I saw her smile and nod as she put her hands behind her back, and Martin started to tie them together.

 

“Well, Mary wasn’t joking,” Eddie said with a laugh as we tied our dance partner’s wrists together, and then took a length of rope around their waists, the colours blending as we secured their arms against their backs.  “May I have the honour?”

 

“You may,” Angela said as she crossed her glove covered wrists, and Eddie selected a length of cream coloured rope to use.  “Have you ever done this before,” Angela said as she looked over her bare shoulder.

 

“Let’s find out,” Eddie said as the door opened and I saw Colin and Jenny come in, followed by Brian and Suzie, and a very worried looking Tommy holding Patty’s hand.

 

“Don’t worry - just copy the others,” Patty said as they stood facing the other three girls.

 

“We’ll check your work for you,” I said as I winked at Colin, before Martin and I started to tie some rope around Cassie and Alicia’s stomach and arms to further lock them in place.  As we did so, the bodices of their dresses stretched slightly, and I saw Alicia blush a little.

 

“You’re good at this,” she said as the ropes tightened around her body, “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?”

 

“Not in real life, but - well, I read a lot,” Martin said as I heard Patty say “No - you need to make it tighter.”

 

“I’m doing the best I can,” Tommy said as Colin and Brian swapped places.  “Both of you,” he said, “look at how I tied Jenny’s wrists.  Cross them, then wrap the rope around them and pull them together.”  The two younger boys watched and nodded before they worked on Suzie and Patty, earning a comment of “That’s better” from Patty.

 

“Can we gag her now,” Tommy said as he looked at me.

 

“Tempting,” Cassie said, “but not - oh that does feel soft.”

 

I had started to tie her upper arms to her side, and the soft silk rope was rubbing gently against her skin, making her giggle as I secured her upper arms into place.  “Do you mind if I go and look at the others,” I whispered into her ear, and she closed her eyes, shaking her head as I looked at the others.

 

“Does your family do this a lot,” Eddie said as he finished binding Angela’s upper body.

 

“Does yours,” she said as she turned and looked at him.

 

“I’m beginning to wonder,” Eddie said, as he kissed her cheek.  Angela blushed slightly as the others caught up with us, so that all six were well secured.

 

“Do we have to do this dance,” Tommy whined at me, but one look from me told him to keep quiet while Bobby was whispering into Suzie’s ear.

 

“That’s funny,” Suzie said as we each picked up a clean silk handkerchief and a white silk scarf.  “Now, you two,” I said as I looked at Tommy and Bobby, “Handkerchief in mouth, fold the scarf into a band, then pull it gently - gently - between their lips and tie the ends together at their neck with a reef knot, all right?”

 

“We’ll talk more later,” Angela said before she opened her mouth, and soon all six were quietly mumbling to each other as we picked up rolls of tape, also colour coordinated.  I silently thanked God that they all had their hair up as I started to wrap the tape around Cassie’s head, the others following suit.   Colin made sure the two younger boys kept it taut, while Eddie and Martin seemed to instinctively know what to do.

 

“Finally,” Mrs Bridges said as she opened a box, “Her Ladyship would like you to have these.”  She produced six larger coloured headscarves, one for each of our dance partners, and watched as we folded them into wide bands and covered the lower halves of their faces with them.

 

It was at this moment that the door opened and Great Aunt Olivia came in.  She nodded to Mr and Mrs Bridges, then looked down the two lines of girls.

 

“This takes me back,” she eventually said, “to a July Ball when my father was still here.   I was only ten, but I felt like the queen of the debutante ball.”

 

“What happened,” I asked as I looked at her.

 

“I was wearing a lovely tiered dress, but Alexander had ideas of how both Claire and I should be - attired.”

 

I thought for a moment, and then said “What did he use?”

 

“Big sheets and brown tape,” Great Aunt Olivia said.  “Anyway, I came to tell you they are waiting for you in the dining hall.  I will say you are coming.”  With that, she turned and started to walk down the hallway.

 

“Robert, if you will take the lead?”

 

I put my hand on Cassie’s arm, pecked her on her scarf covered cheek, and walked her out of the library, before we processed down the hallway.   As Mr Bridges opened the doors to the room, I walked in and saw who was there.

 

Standing along one wall were Heidi, Cindy, Natalie, Mary, Cathy, Pippa, Hazel and Claire.  All of them had their upper bodies secured with ropes, and were watching us over taped round mouths.

 

Sitting around the dining room were our mothers, smiling as we moved into the centre of the room.  Colin gulped a little as he saw his mother there, but it was Martin who looked the reddest as his mother and father watched him taking Alicia and holding her bound arms.

 

hhhsfnn,” Alicia said, but I could see a hint of redness above her scarf as well, as Granddad stepped forward.

 

“We wanted to thank all of you for joining us in here,” he said as Colin’s father handed his mother a drink.  I could also see Cassie’s mum smiling broadly as I held her arms.  “I also trust all of you will keep our little family games to yourselves - but I do not need to ask that really, do I?

 

“Now, I think the younger generation is waiting, so Mrs Bridges?”

 

We heard the sound of a waltz starting so we bowed to our dance partners and then started to move them around the floor, holding their upper bodies as we turned them round.  I lifted Cassie and twirled her, to a round of applause from the others as we kept dancing around the floor.

 

I could see Martin grinning as he danced with Alicia, and even Patty seemed to be happy as Tommy stumbled round the floor with her.  As the music continued, I closed my eyes and enjoyed every moment of the dance, wondering what we could do next...

 

Mind you, I quickly opened my eyes again when Martin said “Careful” and I found myself looking into the eyes of Alicia.  I mumbled a sort of apology as the music stopped, and we bowed to our partners, before Granddad said “Right - boys one step to the left, and take your new partners!”

 

We all looked at each other, but it was Granddad saying it, so I took one step to the left and found myself looking at Patty.  She looked up at me, with her eyes sparkling, and then the music started again, and off we went again.  As we continued to dance, Granddad told us to change partners every so often, so I found myself going from looking down at Patty to looking up at Angela, then looking at Jenny...

 

By the time this second dance had finished, we had all danced with the partners of each other, and I was back with Suzie.  The music stopped, we bowed and then I heard everyone clapping, before Granddad said “Please, enjoy yourselves; feel free to move between the two balls.  Children, if you wish you may go upstairs once you have spoken to your parents.”

 

Taking Cassie by the arm, I nodded to Colin who was heading with Jenny to her family, and walked towards my own parents.  Before I got there, however, I heard Great Aunt Olivia saying “Robert, will you and Cassandra come here for a moment please?”

 

“Whatever you do, say nothing,” I whispered into Cassie’s ear, which earned me a stern look and a kick in my shins before we went over.  My aunt looked at both of us, taking particular attention of Cassie, before she said “I understand from Desmond and Lucinda that you have been spending a lot of time together, Robert?”

 

I blushed a little and said “Well, I consider Cassie - sorry, Cassandra to be a very special friend, Aunt Olivia.”

 

She nodded a little, and then said “I had the great privilege of knowing your late grandfather, Cassandra.  I think he would have been very pleased with you and the way you carry yourself.”

 

I could see Cassie getting redder under her gag, as Great Aunt Olivia continued “I just wanted to say, Robert, that you need to take very great care of your friends, and make sure you never deliberately set out to hurt them.  That is all - you may go now.”

 

Whtjsthpnd,” Cassie mumbled as we turned and walked away.

 

“I think you just passed the test,” I whispered back into her ear.  I wasn’t sure how, or why, or indeed fully what had happened, but I had the distinct feeling Great Aunt Olivia liked Cassandra Paulette Craig - and that pleased me as well.

 

“Excuse me,” I heard Mr Craig say behind me, “but I wonder if I might borrow Cassie for a dance.”

 

“Of course, Sir,” I said as he took Cassie and led her back onto the dance floor, alongside Jenny and Mr Brown, as the fathers danced with their daughters.

 

“Quite a sight, yes?”

 

“Yes, Grandma,” I said as she stood next to me, “But I do have one question.”

 

“Only one?”

 

“Well, several, but one burning one - when did Alicia’s American friends get here?”

 

“The girls,” Grandma said with a smile.  “Well, Heidi and Cindy’s mother recently made a great commitment to each other.”

 

“What, similar to Cathy’s mothers?”

 

Grandma smiled and said “Not exactly, but they agreed to live together and support each other.  Now, you remember Anne Duncombe?”

 

“How could I forget her - which reminds me, you and Granddad and Dad all said you’d explain some time what was going on that second day?”

 

Grandma smiled, before saying “And we will - one day.  Anyway, Anne and her sister have paid for Heidi, Cindy and Natalie, as well as their mothers, to spend a couple of weeks over here as a present.  They are staying in London, and then going to various cities, but I asked them to come tonight.  We kept it a secret from the girls - but I think they understand that.”

 

“Some of them do,” I said as I saw Brian and Tommy chasing Suzie, Patty, Hazel, Claire and Pippa around the room, the girls squealing under their gags as they did so.

 

“Perhaps,” Grandma said quietly, “It would be better if you were to take the younger ones up to the playroom, and make sure they cannot move quite so quickly?”

 

“I was just thinking the same thing,” I said as I moved off to find Colin and Martin.  “Gentlemen,” I said quietly, “Let’s take the others up to the Playroom and give them a chance to rest.”

 

“All of them,” Martin said as he looked round the room.

 

“Everyone except Angela,” I said as I look over to the side of the room, where Angela was sitting with Eddie.  “If you two get Jenny and Alicia, then the Americans, Cathy and Mary will follow.  I’ll get Suzie and Cassie to encourage the others up.”

 

“What are we going to do when we get up there?”

 

“You’ll see, Martin,” I said with a smile as I walked off to find Cassie with her aunts.

 

“Ah there you are young Bobby,” Cassie Craig said as I walked over.  “I can’t seem to get a word out of my young niece here.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that,” I said, not meaning a word of it.  “Look, we’re going to take the younger ones upstairs, give them a chance to have their own hop, if you like.”

 

Cassie nodded and nudged me, as she walked off towards Suzie and Pippa.  “Hold fast, you two,” I then said as Tommy and Brian tried to get past me.

 

“What’s up,” Tommy said as he looked at me.

 

“I need both of you up in the playroom - where you found the girls this afternoon.  We’re going to show you something special.”

 

They looked at each other, then ran to the door as I followed Suzie and the others up the staircase, and into the bedroom.  The other seven were already waiting, with Martin and Colin, as I said "I need you all to take a seat - we’re going to secure your ankles, and then, well, you know what you can do.”

 

They all nodded as they sat down, the skirts of their dresses rising to reveal the selection of satin shoes and slippers they were wearing - all except Natalie, whose feet were bare.

 

Smfngnvrchnj,” Alicia said as she looked at Natalie, who nodded while I passed the boys several lengths of rope, before kneeling in front of Cassie. 

 

The skirt of her dress had risen enough for me to see the peach coloured shoes she was wearing, with the heel that finally explained why she had seemed that little bit taller tonight.  She watched as I bound her ankles tightly together, side by side, and then her legs below her knees, before helping her to stand up, the skirt falling and covering her feet again.

 

As Jenny, Alicia and Suzie stood up, I went and helped Tommy to secure Patty’s ankles together, while the others worked their way down the line.  Once all the girl shad their ankles and legs secured, I opened the door to the playroom and said “Well, you’ve been wanting to do it all night - on you go.”

 

Jenny and Alicia took the lead, hopping across the floor as Heidi, Cindy and Natalie followed suit, their skirts rising and falling as they did so and the sound of rustling silks and taffeta coming over clear and strong.

 

Mary and Cathy followed them out, as Suzie and Cassie started to hop around the room with Patty, Brian and Tommy trying to catch up with them.  Colin and I had to laugh as we watched them clambering over beanbags and cushions, but the girls always just managing to keep out of the way.

 

“I think your cousin likes Suzie,” I said to Colin as they made their way to the door, Pippa, Hazel and Claire following with their muffled laughter.

 

“He does seem to, doesn’t he - not the same way as you and Cassie, but...”

 

“Never say never,” I said with a smile as I nudged Colin.  “So what do you think of your birthday so far,” he said as we listened to the sounds outside the room.

 

“Very special day - what do you think of the ball?”

 

“I don’t like wearing the monkey suit,” Colin said as he ran his finger under the collar, “but I’ll say this - your family know how to throw a party.”

 

“Yeah,” I said as I stood up, “Come on - let’s go and see if we can find the others.”

 

As we walked out into the corridor, we could see all the girls lined up at the windows that looked out onto the lawn.  We both went out and stood with them, my arms around Cassie’s waist and Colin’s around Jenny’s as we watched the dancers from our vantage point.

 

Looking to one side, I saw Martin put his hand an Alicia’s shoulder, and she leaned over, rubbing her head on it as he turned and smiled at me.  I did regret a little bit the way I had led him on, but as I watched the two of them looking out of the window I realised that maybe, just maybe, the two of them may get on a lot better now.

 

Cmmn - frstndnstrswns.”

 

I heard and saw Patty heading for the staircase, Hazel and Claire hopping after her, and shouted “Hang on!”  It was too late, however, as Patty sat herself on the top stair and started to make her way down, the other two following as well.

 

“How the h...” I heard Tommy and Brian say as Colin and I looked at each other.  It was a close thing as we both sprinted for the staircase the other girls following, but I managed to make it to the bottom before Patty landed and stood up, jumping tot eh far side of the corridor as the others made their way down.

 

“Ah - I thought I heard a thump,” Dad said as he walked through from the dining room.  “Robert, can you take them through to the Library - your grandfather and grandmother wish to speak to all of you.”

 

I nodded as I looked at Patty, and then took her arm, leading her to the library as the others came down the stairs and then hopped along behind her.  We saw Eddie and Angela already sitting there, as Alicia went over and sat next to her sister.

 

“Where did you learn to tie like that,” I said as I came over.

 

“Hmmm - oh, that?  Well, I was a scout as well, you know - but honestly, Mary warned me of what was likely to happen, so she gave me a few lessons as well.  Who taught her, anyway?  Mary seems to have learned a few tricks.”

 

I put my hand on Angela’s shoulder, and Eddie made a small “o” with his mouth as my grandparents came in.

 

“Good, you’re all here,” Grandma said as she closed the door.  “Now, I need to apologise to half of you, because I feel you are going to be left out, but this is really for my family and Lucinda’s - along with Patricia of course.

 

Tsptteeee,” Patty mumbled, but Grandma ignored her as she said “Gentlemen, will you please remove the outer gags and unfold them.”

 

Cassie let her head fall forward as I untied the peach coloured silk scarf and removed it, revealing the white tape band as I carefully unfolded the band.  It was only once I had done so that I saw the name embroidered in silver thread in the corner that had been hidden in the folds.

 

“You may now show them,” Grandma said, so I held the scarf in front of Cassie, her eyes widening as she saw “Cassie Craig” in front of her.

 

“Each of you has this as a gift from us,” Granddad said with a smile, “To remind you of tonight, and in the hope you will keep them and treasure them.”  Jenny looked up at Colin and nodded as he leaned down and kissed her, while Martin was blushing like mad as Alicia managed to give him a taped peck on his cheek.

 

And Cassie?  Cassie was looking at the scarf, and I could see a little tear running down from the corner of her eye, so I took my handkerchief and gently dried it off.

 

“Well,” Granddad said as he looked at his watch, “It is getting late.  We will need you all to be able to say goodbye in thirty minutes, but until then...”  He and Grandma left us alone to sit and decide how to spend the last part of the evening together.

 

One by one, we folded the scarves and tied them back over their mouths, sitting and standing together as we hugged and cuddled.

 

Cshmfucn,” Patty said as she jumped up and started to hop towards the door, Tommy almost running after her as Cassie looked up at me.  “Go on,” I said with a smile, “go with them.”  She nodded and got to her feet, hopping after them as her skirts rose and fell with each jump, and Pippa and the twins following after her.

 

“Enjoyed yourself tonight, Robert,” I heard Grandma say as I looked to the door.  “Very much so, “I said with a smile, “and Great Aunt Olivia seems to approve of Cassie as well.”

 

“She certainly is a most impressive young woman,” Grandma said, and as I turned to look at her there was a lovely smile on her face.  “I know she is still young, but I can see a real liking in her eyes when she looks at you.”

 

I nodded, then realised that I was agreeing with her, and blushed a little.  “Better,” Grandma said with a smile, “but I will say this.  It has been a long time since we have been able to hold the private party in this house - and I am glad we have been able to at least once.”

 

“So the family has done this before, Grandma?”

 

She nodded and said “Although it has been some years, it has been a reasonably regular occurrence.  I suspect we have allowed a false sense of political correctness to stop us doing this for some years, but this last year has re-ignited the joy and the passion.”

 

“Despite everything that has happened?”

 

She looked at me and said “In many ways, because of what has happened, my dear.  I think we may have some very interesting times ahead.”

 

I nodded, and then looked round the room.  “Hey - where did Angela and Alicia go?”

 

“Oh I am sure they will turn up sooner or later,” Grandma said with another smile.  “Now, there is one more thing I need you to do in a little while...”

 

********

 

A few minutes later, I found myself back in the dining room, watching as Jenny and Colin were talking with Cathy and Mary.

 

“I just wanted to say thank you,” I heard a voice beside me say, and I turned to see Martin stand there.

 

“Hey,” I said quietly, “I had to help my cousin.  Where is she anyway?”

 

“Her parents had to leave early - she said to tell you she would see you next week.  She also invited me to come round to her house next Friday - she wanted to talk over a few things with me.”

 

“Good,” I said as I saw Bobby dancing again with Suzie, and then Tommy jumping around with Patty.  Turning back to him, I said quietly “I really think you two are great together - but I know how shy you both are.  Some private time together may be the best thing you can do at the moment.”

 

“I hope so,” Martin said with a smile as I turned back round to find that Patty and Tommy had disappeared.  Come to think of it, so had Mary and Cathy, as Colin and Jenny stood looking over at me.

 

“Any idea where the girls are going,” I said as I walked over to them, while Martin went back to join his parents.

 

“Not really, no,” Colin said as Cassie came hopping over, “but it is nearly midnight.  The birthday’s nearly over.”

 

“Guess so,” I said quietly.  “Hey, if we took the gags off, would you two like a drink?”

 

Jenny and Cassie both nodded, so Colin and I made our way other to the drinks table and picked up two glasses of lemonade.  As we turned round, however, the two girls were nowhere to be seen.

 

Errr - did they perfect a disappearing act as well,” Colin said to me as we stared at the spot they were standing in. 

 

“Not that I’m aware of,” I replied, as Dad walked over to me.   “You boys are wanted in the library,” he said as he walked past, “and if I was you, I’d take those drinks with me.”

 

Well, we didn’t need to be told twice, so we left the room and walked to the library, walking in to see Mr and Mrs Craig standing there with their grandmother, and Granddad.

 

“The Craigs have to leave soon,” Granddad said, “so I think it’s only right that you two are the ones to release them for their journey home.”

 

Colin and I nodded as we started to slowly untie the ropes from around their arms, coiling them neatly and laying them on the seats as we released them from their confinement.  Cassie then sat down and watched as I untied her legs and ankles, while Colin untied Jenny’s hands.

 

The girls then swapped places, as we removed the rest of the ropes.  Once we had removed the scarves, Mr Bridges stepped forward and placed the ropes and scarves into a canvas bag, while we removed the tape and the rest of their gags.

 

“Thanks,” Jenny said as she took the drink and quenched her thirst, but before I got the chance to pick up the glass Cassie turned round, threw her arms round my neck and pulled me down a little so that she could kiss me on my mouth.

 

Now that - that took me completely by surprise, so I just stood there as she smiled sweetly and said “thanks for a great evening, Bobby.”

 

“Now, that’s my daughter,” Mrs Craig said with a laugh, which started us all laughing.  Cassie then turned and ran into her dad’s arms, hugging him as he said “Desmond, thank you for inviting all of us tonight.”

 

“Our pleasure,” Granddad said, “and we have a souvenir for the girls.  Take the ropes and scarves with you - I think  you will find a use for them.”

 

Jenny looked to Colin, and then said “Thank you, Lord Holderness.”

 

“Jennifer,” he said with a smile, “You can call me Desmond, you know.”

 

“Thank you - Desmond,” she said as Cassie had to stop herself from jumping up and down with delight.  “Dad, I’m tired - can we go home now?”

 

“OF course we can - just say goodbye to Colin and Bobby, and we’ll be on our way.”

 

Cassie came over and hugged me again, saying “thanks for a fantastic day,” before she took her mum’s hand and walked out with her dad and Jenny.

 

“So, where do you think Brian and Suzie are, “I said to Colin as the door closed.

 

“They’ll be along in a few minutes,” Dad said as he came in with mum, as well as Colin and Brian’s parents.    “Interesting night, Barry,” Colin’s uncle said to him as the door closed.

 

“Well, nobody gets hurt, and believe me, the kids love it,” Barry Hampton said as the door opened and Brian helped Suzie to hop in.  “Good,” Granddad said, “Brian, would you please untie Suzie, it is getting very late.”

 

Fnkkss,” Suzie said as Brian slowly untied her and the ropes and scarf were put into the bag.  As the last part of the gag was removed, her mother came over and held her as Suzie put her head on her shoulder.

 

thanks, Brian,” she eventually said as she took Dad’s hand.  “Are we going home now?”

 

“I’m afraid so Suzie,” Mum said with a smile.  “Thanks for a wonderful evening, Desmond.”

 

“It’s our pleasure, and happy birthday again Robert,” Granddad said again as we left the room, and walked out of the manor house to the waiting taxi.  As we climbed in, I waved to Colin and his family as they stood in the doorway, and then we drove down the way to the main road.

 

Mtrdd,” Suzie mumbled as she rested her head on Dad’s shoulder, and started to drift off to sleep.  Mum smiled as she watched this, while I looked out of the window, suddenly feeling very tired...

 

 

*********

 

 

 

When I woke the next morning, I had no idea what time it was, but as I looked at the bedside alarm clock I could see it was nearly noon.  “I must have really been tired,” I said as I saw my dinner suit scattered on the floor, but I managed to get myself out of bed and head downstairs.

 

“Well, there you are,” Granny Jacobs said as I walked into the kitchen, “I would ask if you want some breakfast, but I wonder if some bacon and eggs might not be a better idea.”

 

“I’ll settle for some orange juice right now,” I said with a smile as she poured me some.  “Suzie has gone to the park with your mother, while your dad has gone to the Manor house again.  They decided to just let you sleep.”

 

“I needed it,” I said before taking a drink.  “Has anyone else called?”

 

“Cassie rang - she said to tell you they’re going to be heading out of town for a week in a few days, but she hoped you’d call round before they went.”

 

I nodded - I was intending to.

 

After all, I owed her for that kiss...

 

 

 

 

 

 

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