Rough Waters 4 - 'Happy Birthday'

Notes of a Journey Trilogy
Book 2
Rough Waters

Chapter 4 - 'Happy Birthday'

A Gaby FanFic by PB

"It's my party and I'll cry if I want to"


 

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Photo Credit: Provided by PB.
 


 
Chapter 4
 

Monday morning and school arrived too early for Gaby. She got up earlier than Drew normally would’ve on a school day after deciding the previous night that she had to bring him back and she wanted give herself plenty of time.

“Mum? Why’s Dad home?” Gaby asked after she heard the unmistakable sounds of Dave’s snoring.

“Shhh … George phoned late last night saying he had a meeting with the UCI at their offices and would be gone until the end of the week. Your dad was asked to come on the weekend instead,” Jenny quietly explained.

“He’ll be going in later, but he’s already called Frank and told him he’d be in the office all week.”

“Oh … okay,” Gaby quietly answered with a shrug of her shoulders. As she turned away, Jenny noticed that evidence of her daughter still remained.

“Darling … don’t forget to take your studs out,” Jenny pointed out as she was putting in her own earrings. It struck Gaby a bit funny, that her mum was just as nervous about going back to school as either Jules or herself. For the first time in two years, Jenny had to worry about a job interview and with her old boss, no less. As she gathered up the kids, she repeatedly made sure they had everything they’d need for the day.

Both girls felt really strange to be back in school uniforms. The irony that Gaby was still cross-dressing was not lost on either of them. Only this time, it was Gaby that was pretending to be a boy named Drew.

“It won’t be for long, sis. It’s only for school an’ only until we move,” Jules softly commented.

Oddly enough it took more time for the three women to get in the car than it did to drive to the school. Still with Jenny driving, they had bought themselves some time as opposed to if they had taken the bus.

“Mum? Can you tell Mr. Woods about Drew for me, please? I’ll tell Mr. Pilling and Miss Cowlishaw,” Gaby asked when they got out of the car after pulling into the school’s car park.

“Sure, dear. Now be off you two … and I’ll see you at home,” Jenny encouraged.

Drew went directly to her home form and informed Mr. Pilling of the deception. He started towards his usual seat when she saw it was already occupied.

“Drew! There’s an empty seat over here,” Paul called out while he pointed to the seat in front of him. As Drew approached and sat down, Paul lifted his pony tail and added with a touch of disbelief, “Nice hair …”

“Thanks … drives the girls wild…” Drew flatly replied and then gestured at his usual desk. “Who’s at my desk?”

“Helen somebody. She started while you’re away. How’s the US of A, anyway?” Paul replied. Drew managed to mention Ally got shot before Mr. Pilling asked for everyone’s attention.

At the end of the usual Monday morning assembly Mr. Woods officially welcomed the exchange students back from Virginia and true to form, made his usual big deal about Drew’s cycling. The Atlanta race was too much to pass on. He also alluded to Ally’s unfortunate incident, but never identified the student. At the conclusion of the assembly, Maddy and Rhod were irritated that Mr. Woods never mentioned a word about the Sherwood Foresters.

The rest of the day was pretty normal for Warsop. Drew managed to keep his ponytail partially hidden under his blazer. She still noticed the odd strange look from some of the kids, but nothing too unsettling. During Art, he managed to let Fran know what was going on and Maddy was able to speak to her about the problem with the photo journal.

“Leave it with me, Maddy … and remember … cheer practice after school,” Fran imparted. Turning to Drew, she quietly asked, “Any chance Gaby will show up?”

“Sorry Miss,” Gaby replied in almost a whisper.

“I know. Still … I had to ask. I can always hope … can’t I?”

Maddy turned away and went back to her activity, clearly disappointed at his answer.

Later back at the Bond’s, the family had just sat down to tea when Jenny informed Gaby that Dr. Sanwari had successfully presented his case to the RGO and the process of issuing a new birth certificate had begun.

“The good doctor appears to be well connected in the medical world,” Jenny allowed.

“Well … the list of names that signed Gaby’s test result letter seems most impressive,” Dave replied.

“Either way … but that man has moved mountains! I know he agreed that Gaby should have any surgery before we moved, but I expected we’d have to wait for a bit … you know how fast the NHS is,” Jenny gushed. “I don’t know what he did or who he spoke to, but he’s got her scheduled for the second week in April, at the North Manchester General.”

“That was fast … who’s he blackmailing?” Dave joked.

“Probably some Lordship in the Ministry,” Jenny replied with a chuckle.

That evening Ally called Gaby.

“Hi, Gabs … I just phoned to warn you,” Ally cautioned.

“About...?” Gaby inquired.

“Watch yourself around Maddy … is she ever P/O’d at you! She’s blaming you for the whole thing!” Ally continued.

“Now what?” Gaby sarcastically asked.

“After practice … Miss C asked Bernie, Maddy, Em and me to stay and…”

“I thought you left the Foresters when I did,” Gaby recalled.

“I did … but Miss C caught me today in the corridor between sets and asked me to come along for a meeting with the others … about Grottoes.”

“I guess that’s what she wanted when she asked me in Art an' I told her ‘no’. I thought she wanted me to talk me into joining the Foresters again…”

“She probably did. After the meeting she asked me to reconsider. I told her ‘no’ … but … I somehow think she knew that before she asked…”

“Hmm … anyway … you were telling me about Maddy…”

“Oh, yeah … Miss C admitted to talking with Mr. Woods before today’s assembly and had insisted that he not mention the cheer competition … at all … because as far as she was concerned … and I quote … ‘it never happened’ … unquote.”

“Maddy must’ve loved that. Winning that competition meant so much to you guys…”

“Yeah, well … she told him that both the incident that caused you to leave and the fact that the only thing they were able to bring back to Warsop were ‘bragging rights’ … in her words … left a ‘bad taste’ and it would be better if we ‘let it die a natural death’.”

“I’m so dead…” Gaby mumbled.

“Like she says … we know we did it and that’s all that really matters,” Ally allowed.

“Fran knows why I left … an’ Maddy only has herself to blame for wot ‘appened at the cheer comp!” Gaby explained.

“That’s what she told Maddy … and Em … in no uncertain terms,” Ally agreed.

“And?”

“Look! Bernie and I agree with Miss C. The only problem is that Maddy’s not letting the facts get in her way. She insists on giving you all the credit for this! Em’s keeping silent cuz she knows better.”

(sigh) “So … all I’m sayin’ Gabs … is that you should watch your back!”

Gaby thanked Ally for the warning and they both said their ‘goodnights’ then hung up.

The following morning, Drew, ever mindful of Ally’s phone call, decided to keep their usual routine and walked to Maddy’s place to pick her up before catching the bus for school, despite the cold blustery winds.

“Crikey, even the weather has it in for me!” Gaby thought as she pulled up her jacket’s hood against the wind and tied the drawstring.

As he was waiting to cross at an intersection, Helen approached, pushing a heavy-looking touring bike.

“Umm … hi, Helen. Say … aren’t you supposed to ride those things?” Drew playfully commented as he pointed to her bike.

“My gears are stuck … again. It happens all the time.”

“Mind if I take a look? Dad’s taught me a thing or three ‘bout fixin’ my bike.”

After Helen gave him the bike, Drew quickly saw the problem when he tried to work the gears. However, he was only partially successful in correcting the problem, but it was enough for her to continue riding to school.

“Thanks, Drew. See you in home form,” she called back as she started to ride off.

Sets were unremarkably normal. It was during their morning break when Drew noticed Helen was keeping to herself or more specifically, the other kids were ignoring her. Since the rest of the ‘gang’ was absorbed in their own little world, he took it upon himself to approach her and try to befriend her. Following some small talk, he finally invited her to his birthday party the following evening.

“I dunno,” Helen shyly answered.

“Whaddya mean … you dunno?” Drew gently prodded.

“I dunno,” Helen meekly reaffirmed.

“All I ask is that you think about it an’ let me know by the end of the day … okay?” Drew softly pleaded.

“Okay … I promise,” Helen agreed.

“What were you doing?” Ally asked when he rejoined the group.

“Nothing. I tried to fix her bike this morning and was just asking how it was,” Drew replied.

“Why were you even talking to her?” Maddy demanded.

“Why not? Her an’ her mum just moved back ‘ere from Holland after losing her dad. I can personally attest to wot it’s like to have no friends an’ considering how you lot are acting toward her … I thought she needed one ‘bout now…” Drew countered with a ferocity that took Maddy aback. “…So I invited her to my party!”

“You coulda asked me first! It’s my house…” Maddy sternly replied.

“I wasn’t aware that you had final approval of MY guest list…” Drew sarcastically spouted.

“It’s my house…” Maddy repeated.

“You’re not gonna pick my friends, Mad … but if you really don’t want Helen in YOUR house … fine! I guess I can always cancel the party. Of course I’ll have to let everyone … including our ‘rents … know why.”

Maddy stared back in defiant silence. When Drew didn’t back down, she bowed her head in defeat.

“No … don’t cancel your party,” Maddy slowly whispered.

“She hasn’t learned anything from Grottoes, has she? Maddy still thinks she can manipulate Gaby any way she wants,” Ally thought as she watched Maddy’s reaction.

“Don’t worry, Mad. She’s not into racing bikes … so there’s no way she can possibly be even be considered as Bond material...”

Neither Drew nor Ally were at all surprised to hear Rhod’s catty remark as he quickly rushed to Maddy’s defence. Since he returned from the States, they’ve both noticed that his whole attitude and behaviour had become increasingly more like Em.

After the short verbal exchange with Maddy, Gaby thought about what her mum had said about the ‘gang’. It was like old times with Ally and Bernie. Although she recognized that Maddy had changed, she was at a loss to understand Em’s steadfast attitude towards Gaby. The more she thought about it, the more troubled she was. As Drew looked at Rhod, his thoughts wandered.

“Okay … so Rhod spent six-weeks living as a girl named Em, amongst kids who had a thing about gays and transgendered kids. As far as Em knew, we were both boys pretending to be girls, yet she’d gone along with the other kids and decided to hate me. Bet she would’ve loved it if some of the boys discovered Gaby. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! At least Mad didn’t try to show ‘me’ to the world!”

The bell signifying the end to the morning break brought Gaby’s thoughts back to reality as the ‘gang’ returned to sets. By lunch, Maddy had appeared to forget the morning’s tiff and the rest of the school day passed unceremoniously.

Later that afternoon, Drew was walking home from the bus stop by his place and looking forward to just being Gaby, when he heard someone calling his name.

“Drew! … Wait up!” As he turned around, he noticed Helen coming up fast on her bike.

Hey! I’m really sorry about this morning … but if you still want me at your party … I’d love to come,” Helen hesitantly offered after she coasted to a stop beside him.

“Brill!” Drew replied. He then informed her of the time and place, before they parted company.

Wednesday morning came and not only was it was Gaby’s fourteenth birthday but it was also Jenny’s part-time teaching debut.

“Happy Birthday darling!” chorused Dave and Jenny as Gaby came into the kitchen for breakfast.

“Cards are on the table,” Jenny offered.

Gaby sat down and proceeded to open the small collection of cards. There was the usual from family including those they didn’t normally see, like her dad’s parents and siblings. Only Gran and Caro sent cards addressed to Gaby, the rest being addressed to Drew.

She received a home-made card from Cat, Drew’s friend over in Dunstable. Britney and Debbie even sent one!

Opening Caro’s card, a ten pound record voucher drifted down onto the kitchen table.

“Thank you, Caro!” Gaby thought while musical possibilities went through her head.

As Jules entered the kitchen, she wished her sister a happy birthday and followed that with a kiss to the cheek. After breakfast, Jenny had Gaby go upstairs so Drew could get ready for school.

“Get right home after school. I want you ready by the time I get in,” Jenny instructed Gaby as she and her sister exited the parked car.

At school Drew got a couple more cards from the ‘gang’. By and large, the day was normal with the exception of Jenny taking her first Geography class and her son being one of her students.

“Crikey! That was just plain weird!” Drew enthused as the ‘gang’ walked out of the classroom.

“Why? I rather enjoyed having your mum teach us,” Bernie remarked.

“You don’t have to call your own mother … Mrs. Bond,” Drew jokingly replied with a shudder and a ‘scrunched up’ expression.

“Everyone ready?” Dave later asked when the family was about ready to leave for Carol’s. Gaby felt strange when she realized that for once, the family insisted that Drew make an appearance when they were going out for the evening.

Meanwhile at the Peters, Maddy had finished getting ready before she retrieved Jessica’s present from its place in her underwear drawer. She knew Miss Bell wanted her to pass it on to Gaby before they left Washington, but considering everything going on at the time, she forgot.

Since she didn’t wish Drew to see the present before hand, she took it downstairs and into the lounge, where she looked for the perfect spot to leave it. As she scanned the room, her eyes fell on one of the side tables topped with some ‘clutter’ that had been moved from elsewhere to accommodate the party. After she meticulously re-arranged some of the items around the present, she looked at her handy-work and smiled to herself.

“Perfect!”

Everyone who was supposed to be at the Peters’ was there by 6:15, except Helen. Jules thought her brother was going to have a heart attack when Em arrived instead of Rhod. Drew was sure Paul and Clive were going to twig when she showed up in his place.

In many ways, Gaby wished she were able to be herself and look as pretty as the other girls. None of them looked less than seventeen!

“There’ll be other birthdays, dear…” her mother knowingly whispered as she stood behind her son.

While the invited settled into the lounge, Maddy observed a figure standing across the road, in the shadows and showed Drew.

“I think I know who that is…”

“Let ‘er make up ‘er own mind,” Maddy replied with a sense of distaste.

“Be right back!”

“Drew…” Maddy pleaded to an empty room as he quickly left her side.

As he slipped out of the Peter’s back door to investigate, his gut instinct told him that it was Helen. Crossing the street at a point well away from the house, he walked back down the road towards the mysterious figure. As he approached, looking like any other kid out for a walk, he realized it was Helen, obviously still unsure if Drew’s friends would welcome her.

Following some coaxing, she allowed Drew to escort her to the Peter’s and the party. Once inside, Maddy’s conduct told him that she still hadn’t quite accepted Helen’s presence. Ignoring his cousin’s pettiness as much as possible while acting as the perfect host, he made the introductions and finally it was time for everyone to sit down to eat. After dinner, while the ‘olds cleared the table, the kids were encouraged to go into the lounge where Drew was to open his gifts.

“Happy birthday, mate!” Clive offered as he held out his present. Upon tearing off the wrapping paper, Drew held a DVD copy of “Under Arrest”.

Em was up next with her present, a NASCAR PS2 game she had played back in Grottoes. Holding it up, Drew playfully directed his comments at Ally while holding up the game for her to see.

“Let me practice a bit, Ally ... and Em and I will take you on!”

Turning back to Em, he called out, “Thanks Em.”

Bernie followed with a ski fleece. Drew thought it would look better on Gaby, but she couldn’t tell her at the moment.

Next, Paul offered up his present – a voucher for the ‘Space Academy’, one of Drew’s favourite places. Ally added a sports wallet to the growing pile of presents. When she was sure no one was looking except for Drew, she mouthed “Happy Birthday, Gabs.”

Maddy’s present was an enigma to Gaby. It was a pair of concert tickets to the Bryan Adams concert in Manchester, later in the year. On one hand, it was a very thoughtful gift from her girlfriend. The fact it was a pair of tickets meant Maddy was saying she wanted to attend the concert with her cousin, but who?

Family presents were up next. Jules gave her sister a voucher for one of the bookstores in town and the ‘olds combined to get her a gift certificate from Marks & Spencer’s.

“Your dad and I felt sure that Gaby can use this … Happy Birthday, sweetheart,” Jenny whispered as Gaby accepted the present.

“Thanks Mum,” Gaby whispered.

Following the presents, Mad and Paul transformed the lounge into a disco. After a dance or two the ‘olds retreated to the patio and left it to the kids.

By this time, Drew noticed Helen wasn’t in the room and went to investigate. He found her coat still in the closet and saw the kitchen door was ajar. After quietly slipping outside to look for her, he noticed her standing and looking up at the night sky. Meanwhile, Maddy had noticed that Drew left the room and took the opportunity to tinker with the table clutter and make Jessica’s present all that more noticeable. She had hoped someone would’ve noticed it while Drew was opening his gifts.

“Ever wonder if there’s a heaven, Drew?”

“I dunno. I prayed to God a lot when Mum was sick … but I don’t know if it got far… “

“Well … I know there is. When I look up … I just know Dad’s up there looking out for Mum and I.”

The two stood in silence for a time before she thanked Drew for inviting her.

“For the first time since Dad died … I’ve felt happy … and I was still able to think about him.”

As they went back inside to rejoin the party, Em took Maddy aside and showed her the forgotten present.

“Hold it guys! Em’s found another prezzie for Drew,” Maddy announced as she halted the music.

“Drew? There’s one more…” As she sweetly looked at him she thought “…’ere it comes!”

Em picked it up and looked at the tag, then turned back to Drew with a questioning look.

“Who’s it from, Em?” Maddy called over when the room was quiet.

“It’s … for Gaby … from Miss Bell,” Em replied. A mischievous look slowly formed on her face as she looked at Drew.

“Gaby? Where is she? I thought Drew said she wasn’t going to be here,” Clive blurted out.

Ignoring Clive’s outburst, Maddy called back, “Well, give it to her!”

Without another thought, Em handed it to Drew, saying for all to hear, “Happy Birthday, Gabs!”

After six weeks in Grottoes and the decision to embrace Gaby, she was caught off balance by the unexpected exchange and readily accepted the gift.

“Thanks, Em.”

Clive followed Em’s every move in hopes he’d see Gaby. Instead, when he saw Em give the present to Drew, the proverbial light bulb finally began to show life. Just the way a few loose strands of Gaby’s hair hung around her face, her expression and the angle of her face in relation to Clive’s point of view, made the pieces fall in place. Clive was looking at the face of the girl of his dreams!

“Gaby? You're … Gaby? All this time, I’ve … bloody ‘ell! What’s wrong with you? To think I’ve been mates all this time with a … that’s just … shit! Why Drew? Why?”

Paul was as initially stunned as were the others, with the sudden realization that his long-time mate was also the very pretty girl he knew as Gaby. Knowing how Clive felt about the girl, he could well understand his mate’s angry reaction to Drew’s exposure.

With verbal chaos growing all around her, Gaby remained standing alone in the middle of the room clutching the wrapped box that held Jessica’s present, while tears welled up in her eyes. Through her distorted vision, she slowly scanned the room. Several simultaneous arguments assaulted her ears as she saw her friends taking sides and shouting at each other, all at once. Bernie and Ally were busy giving Maddy and Em a piece of their minds for the obviously pre-planned and humiliating exposure of their friend. Paul had to raise his voice in his efforts to calm Clive. Only Helen stayed quiet in a corner on her own and watched everything unfold.

Not knowing exactly what to do with her fears now realized and her world in ruins, Gaby felt she had to get out of the room to collect her thoughts and have a good cry. Now completely in tears, she instinctively dropped Jessica’s present where she stood.

As she started to run out of the lounge and head for the stairs, she came face-to-face with Maddy, who was still receiving a severe tongue-lashing from Ally. She only halted her verbal assault when Gaby suddenly stopped and peered into Maddy’s cold eyes. The longer she looked, the more she was convinced that Maddy was very proud of herself and what she did.

“Happy Birthday … Ga-bee,” Maddy sarcastically taunted, as both Bernie and Ally apologized to Gaby with their eyes.

Upon hearing her cousin’s biting salutation, an uncontrollable wave of anger suddenly swept over Gaby and without thinking, swung her opened palm across her cousin’s face as hard as she could, knocking her to the floor.

WWWAP!

Everyone in the room froze as the sound echoed throughout the house like a gun shot. All eyes quickly focused on Maddy as she lay crumpled up on the floor in a most unlady-like pose.

Soon after finding herself on the carpet at the base of her chair, Maddy propped herself up on one elbow and assumed a more modest pose, while her free hand covered her stinging cheek. A trickle of blood mingled with her lipstick at the corner of her mouth before starting to run down the side of her chin. Even though tears freely ran down her face, no sound came out of her. Gaby’s reaction came as a complete shock to Maddy and when she instinctively looked up into her victim’s eyes, she felt a chill run down her back by what she didn’t see in the cold eyes staring back at her. As Em moved to her friend’s assistance, Ally made a grab with her good arm.

“You’ve done enough … so don’t even think about it! Paul and Clive are right over there. You get my meaning … RHOD?” Ally hissed. “You’ve no bloody idea what you’ve just done!” Although Em was stunned by Ally’s anger, she did understand her implied warning and a very pale Mfawny slowly sat back in her chair.

Without a word, Gaby suddenly resumed her run for the stairs, passing Jules as she came down.

Wait … sis!

Seeing her run by in tears, Jules quickly turned and followed her sister back up the stairs and into the Peters’ spare bedroom. Hearing the commotion from out on the patio, the ‘olds quickly ran into the lounge.

“Gaby hit me, Auntie Jen!” Maddy whined. Jenny was taken aback by her use of her daughter’s name, considering Paul and Helen were standing near-by.

If she didn’t … I would have!” Ally angrily shot back. She quickly told Gaby’s mum the story of what had happened.

“Where is she?” Jenny impatiently asked.

“Upstairs! I think I saw Jules go with her,” Bernie replied and Jenny darted for the stairs.

In the meantime Carol, John and Dave were trying to restore some semblance of order with the kids.

“We’d like to sort things out here … so if you’ll all just quiet down … that would be appreciated,” Carol asked the kids.

Once they calmed down, she quietly asked, “Now … what exactly happened here?”

Helen had earlier retrieved the abandoned present off the floor in the midst of all the chaos and now walked over and gave it to Carol.

“Mrs. Peters? Here … Maddy told her to give this to Drew,” Helen timidly offered while pointing at Em.

Carol took one look at the tag then turned to Maddy.

Madeline Elizabeth Peters! … You … You have done some mean things in your life … but … this time … you’ve outdone yourself!” she briefly paused to compose herself. “You’re lucky she only hit you once!” Carol’s anger left her speechless.

Clive was sitting alone, subdued and unsure who he was more angry with, Drew or himself. Thinking back, he had to admit that Drew as Gaby, always did try to discourage him. He just never listened. A bit of a smile crossed his face when he recalled how at the school’s last Easter Disco, Gaby took a swing at him and connected after he stole a kiss.

“I couldn’t just take a hint and forget her, could I?” Clive was heartbroken.

“Mrs. Peters? May I go upstairs an’ see her ... I might be able to help … please?” Ally asked after approaching Maddy’s mother. Sensing Carol’s uncertainty, she quietly offered, “I know all ‘bout … Gaby … an’ she’s still my friend.”

“Go on dear,” Carol softly allowed. Ally quickly went up the stairs and softly knocked on the door. When Jules answered, she explained that Carol told her it was okay to come up.

Upon entering the room, she saw Gaby on the floor and backed into a corner with her knees up under her chin. Her body was heaving with each great sob and Jenny was kneeling in front of her, speaking softly trying to calm her down.

“She gonna be okay, Jules?” Her simple question was answered by a silent shrug of the shoulders.

Walking slowly over to the corner occupied by Gaby and her mother, Ally knelt down while keeping her eyes on her friend.

“Mrs. Bond … mind if I talked to Gabs?” Jenny silently got up and let Ally slide in beside Gaby. Taking hold of Gaby’s hand, Ally placed her finger under her friend’s chin, gently turning her face until their eyes met and in a very calm, quiet voice, talked to her.

“I know you feel like Maddy just ran a sword through you ... and if you just sit here and cry … she’s won! It’s gonna be hard, but you know you’re gonna have to face those kids downstairs sooner or later. The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be.” Gaby’s gaze slipped to the floor as Ally’s words sunk in. “Gabs? Look at me! … Please? You know I’m right, don’t you?”

When Gaby raised her eyes, there was a brief silence before Ally continued.

“Those kids down there, deserve an explanation … especially Clive. He was your mate … and finding out Drew and Gaby are really the same person, just crushed his heart. He’s hurting, Gabs … he really fancied you.” As Gaby’s heavy sobs slowed in their frequency and she began to calm down, Ally continued with her efforts to appeal to the terrified girl. “You’ve nothing to be ashamed about. Just go back in there … head held high … and tell them the truth about you and Maddy … an’ … Gaby. You may not believe it now … but you do have friends downstairs. Both Paul and Clive know what kind of person Drew was … and they know Gaby. You also know they’re both great guys who won’t judge you without a reason … all you have to do is tell ‘em the truth ... but you’ve to give them a chance.”

Ally tried to see if anything had registered with her friend and then she gripped Gaby’s face between her palms and gently pulled her forward until they touched foreheads. In a soft voice, like a girlfriend sharing a secret, she carried on.

“And all Helen sees is a kind and gentle kid who let her call him a friend … and now that friend’s in a lot of pain. She’s also in pain, Gabs. Seeing two of your friends turn on you like that … she also just wants to understand … not judge. These kids aren’t dumb. They’ll see Maddy and Em for who they are … and for what they’ve done.”

Ally looked deep into Gaby’s eyes for a brief moment before adding a final comment.

“Besides … hearing the truth about Gaby might give those two a well deserved shock.”

Both Jenny and Jules were now kneeling on the floor and looking on as Ally wiped away some of Gaby’s tears with her finger. On impulse, she then leaned over and tenderly kissed her on the lips.

“We love you, Gaby … an’ despite wot you think, you’ve got some real friends here. C’mon ... let’s go downstairs. They’re waiting.”

Gaby closed her eyes and sat in silence, breathing deeply, for a few moments before slowly standing up. When she did, Jules and her mum also got up from the floor. After Gaby rose to her feet, she reached out and offered her hand to help Ally up.

“You’re right … (sniff). Give me a moment (sniff) … to wash my face. I’ll be right (sniff) … back.” Gaby then looked over at her sister. “I said I’d be right back (sniff) … sis…an’ I will. I promise.” Ally thought that last statement of Gaby’s a bit odd, but when she saw Jules take her mum’s hand and the pair exchange worried glances, she knew something was behind it.

Although she didn’t have her breastforms and was still wearing Drew’s clothes when she returned, the person that walked back into the room was definitely Gaby. Taking Ally’s advice, Gaby had removed the single hair elastic and her hair, now parted in the middle, hung loose over her shoulders as she preferred it. She also was wearing the sleepers that she continued to carry in Drew’s wallet out of habit, as well as some of Maddy’s make-up that was left in the bathroom.

“Ready?” Gaby whispered as she embraced both Jules and her mum in a hug.

Hushed conversations in the lounge ceased as the kids caught sight of the four girls slowly coming down the staircase. As she stepped off the bottom step, Gaby quickly scanned the lounge and it was apparent from the guilty way they all looked back, the speculation had started. A slight smile mentally materialized when she also noticed that a physical gap had appeared between where Maddy and Em were sitting and the other kids, suggesting isolation of the two had begun.

As soon as she entered the room, Gaby went and stood in the middle of the floor with Jules standing behind her. Jenny stayed over by the wall in the hall in front of Dave, allowing him to put his hands on her shoulders and pull her into him. Ally reached for Gaby’s hand as she walked past her.

“We’re here for ya!” Ally whispered before heading over to take a seat on the floor, between Bernie and Helen.

“I’m right here, sis … just take a deep breath … ‘member … you’ve done nothing wrong!” Jules whispered into her sister’s ear, while her hands gently rested on Gaby’s shoulders.

Through damp eyes, Gaby looked around the room as she took a deep breath and began to clearly speak in a soft voice.

“Ummm … my name’s Gabrielle Bond … although you all know me as Gaby … an’ … I was kinda born a girl … 14 years ago today … ‘cept no one bothered to tell me or my family until last New Year…” Following her opening comment, you could have heard a pin drop on the carpeted floor. “I think you guys deserve to know what’s going on …so I’ll start at the beginning…”

She began relating an unedited version of Gaby’s early life and Maddy’s role in bringing her to life, as well as their developing relationship, both as Drew and as Gaby. The kids were surprised to learn that Drew was routinely seen as a girl outside of Warsop College, even when he wasn’t trying to appear as Gaby.

“Mad … you knew long ago … didn’t you? You’d have to have seen the physical changes … I know I did. I tried to kid myself that they weren’t anything to worry about …but … why didn’t you say anything to me … or to anybody? Gaby quietly wondered while looking directly at her.

Gaby continued her story with the American’s visit to Warsop, her involvement with the Sherwood Foresters, the medical testing Drew underwent because of the black-outs and the emergence of Gaby as a result of those tests.

While trying not to get emotional, she briefly talked about her trip to America. She pointed to her treatment by both the American and British kids, the Cheer Comp and Miss Cowlishaw's decision as possible reasons that directly lead to the incident earlier in the evening. As a final comment, she admitted that it was defenitely Gaby and not Drew, who went to Virginia.

“I tried to tell you in the States, Mad … but … you were too busy pushing me out of your life to listen…” an emotional Gaby quietly revealed. Maddy hung her head and averted her gaze as Gaby looked at her.

“The good news is … you won’t have to put up with me much longer,” Gaby sarcastically revealed in a calm quiet voice. Upon hearing their friend’s announcement, puzzled expressions began to appear on the faces of her guests. “I was hoping that I could start being Gaby 24/7, when I returned from the States … an’ that I could count on all of you for friendship and support … but … ‘cuz of you, Mad … and how you guys acted towards me in Grottoes … Jules and I knew that wasn’t likely to happen … so after talking with Mum an’ Dad … we’re moving...”

“…To Germany!” Gaby added after a short, but calculated pause.

Maddy’s gaze abruptly turned back to her cousin as she sat wide-eyed, paralyzed with disbelief at hearing Gaby’s newest revelation.

Following-up on her daughter’s comment, Jenny summarized the reasons for the move.

“All of you here know what it’s been like for our family while I’ve been signed with Team Apollinaris … having to live in Germany while being separated from my family hasn’t been easy for any of us.” Following a brief pause, she continued with a more detailed account of events. “While you kids were in Virginia, both Dave and I had the pleasure of travelling to Atlanta with my team. While I didn't ride with them, I did get to see Gaby ride the Atlanta Winter Classic. Following the race, Dave was offered a position within the Team Apollinaris organization and had yet to decide one way or another … until the other day when we learned how her friends treated my youngest daughter while she was in the States. After that, there was no question!”

Another pause while she quickly scanned the room with the practised eye of a teacher lecturing her class.

“Also… it goes without saying that Dave’s new job and our move to Germany will let this family be together … again. More importantly … it’ll give Gaby a proper chance for a decent life … something that we fear, is now no longer possible in Warsop.”

Jenny’s final comment had the impact of a bomb! Silence engulfed the room as the kids realized that they all played a part in literally forcing Gaby from their midst.
As she looked around at the faces of the kids trying to see their thoughts, Gaby saw only shocked expressions and blank stares. She was painfully aware that both Maddy and Em could no longer even look at her when she looked in their direction. Maddy, in particular, seemed to have finally sensed that she may have gone too far. Gaby thought she detected a split-second of remorse when she quickly glanced over at her, but even that faded before she could be sure.

While listening to Gaby’s tale, Bernie hung her head in shame as tears emerged from under her closed eyelids. Even though she was in Virginia with the rest of the 'gang’, she was too absorbed with her American boyfriend and her own exchange experience to even notice what was happening with her friends. As far as she was concerned, not doing anything to prevent it was the same as actively taking part in Gaby’s isolation. Even though Ally was familiar with Gaby’s story, she was still reduced to tears after witnessing Gaby’s betrayal by her two closest friends and at her own birthday party, no less. Now, she found herself seriously questioning her own relationship with Rhod/Em. Even Helen was moved to tears after hearing and seeing, what Gaby had to go through with her own ‘friends’, especially Maddy.

Clearly shaken by news of the pending move, Clive was the first to speak.

“I’m sorry I reacted as I did … ummm …Gaby. It never occured … still friends?” his voice trailed off.

Gaby weakly nodded and he walked over to where she stood. Without thinking about it, he threw his arms around her and gave her a long hug.

“Ya know I really fancied Gaby … don’t ya?” he whispered as he held her close.

“I know, mate (sigh) … I know,” Gaby softly whispered as she tearfully returned his hug.

Paul and Bernie followed Clive’s lead. With tear-stained cheeks, Bernie also apologized for Virginia, but Gaby repeatedly assured her that she didn’t have anything to apologize for.

“I’ll miss you, man ...err …Gaby,” Paul whispered into Gaby’s ear as they hugged each other. She saw that Paul’s eyes were getting moist.

“That’s okay … I know whatcha mean … an’ I’ll miss you too, mate!” an emotional Gaby whispered back. As she and Paul released each other, Jules handed her a tissue to dry her eyes.

“I thought they’d all hate me…” Gaby quietly admitted to Jules.

“Oh, ye of little faith …” Jules whispered as she embraced her sister.

(sniff)

Finally, Gaby walked over to the upholstered chair where Maddy was sitting. When she stood in front of her girlfriend, she could see that Maddy’s cheek was still coloured from the slap and her eyes still red from crying. As she went to speak to her, Gaby knelt down by the side of the chair and reached out to take Maddy’s hand only to have it yanked it away.

“Why Mad? Before Virginia we told each other how we felt … I’ve lost track how many times you’ve told Gaby you loved her … (sniff) and then after we arrived in Grottoes, you turned your back on me…” Gaby softly recounted.

In a rising emotional voice, she confronted Maddy. “Why? What have I done (sniff) to make you hate me so much? …Mad?? (sniff) Damn it, girl! Look at me! Look me in the eye an’ tell me!” Maddy found it impossible to do anything other than cast her eyes downward the whole time. After a period of silence in which no one moved, a now strangely calm Gaby straightened up and started to turn away only to turn back and face Maddy once more.

“Always remember, Mad … no matter how much you’ve hurt me tonight … in my heart … I’ll always love you … always.”

That at least, got a response from Maddy in the form of an audible sniffle and a single tear that ran down her cheek.

Upon seeing Maddy’s reaction, Gaby briefly closed her eyes in an effort to hold back any new tears. She then turned and gathered up her coat and started for the door. As she passed her parents, Gaby told them she was going to walk home.

“I need to think,” she softly stated.

When Dave mentioned they would bring the presents with them, Gaby walked over to the pile and found the envelope that held Maddy’s gift. Maddy timidly looked up as she removed the tickets and without a second of hesitation, ripped them in half. Gaby thought she saw her love’s eyes glaze over when she did that, but Maddy quickly looked away and prevented her from getting a good look. Locating Jessica’s present where Carol had left it, she gathered it up and headed for the door. On the way out, she turned to the adults.

“You can either return or throw out the other stuff because no matter how nice they are, I’ll always be reminded of tonight every time I see ‘em.”

Then as she looked at the one in her hand she added, “At least this reminds me of one of the few really happy times in Gaby’s life.”

Glancing over at Em, she paused for a moment.

"…An' to think you were once my friend," she added sadly.

Em's face went pale as she tightened her quivering lips and stared at her former mate, through tear-filled eyes. Gaby’s words had a devastating effect on what remained of Rhod, as Em's actions started to register.

Turning to Carol, Gaby clearly stated, “If you ever come to visit us in Germany … leave Maddy behind! (sniff) I don’t want (sniff) to ever see her again … (sniff) ever!

“Gaby? Can you walk me home?” Helen quietly asked as the disheartened teen reached for the door. Gaby stopped and patiently waited as she got her things before continuing out the door.

Moments after they left, a fearful Jenny discreetly asked Jules to follow them and stay with her sister after she dropped Helen off at her house.

“If anything’s going to set her off…”

“I don’t think she will ... she promised me … but … I’m not gonna let ‘er outta my sight, either!” Jules quietly uttered.

“Your father and I will meet you at the house after we get things sorted here,” Jenny quietly instructed.

Their walk to Helen’s was slow and very quiet but she insisted on holding her friend’s hand the whole time. When they reached her front door, she turned to Gaby.

“Thank you,” Helen whispered as she gave Gaby a peck on the cheek.

“For what? It was a bloody disaster!” Gaby mournfully replied.

“Not to me. You were a friend when I knew no one and invited me to your party when you hardly knew me … you listened while I talked about Dad … and I got to meet the real you … not to mention … walking me home. Do you want me to go on?” Even in the soft glow of the porch light, Helen noticed Gaby’s weak smile as she quietly went down the list.

“I’d really like to get to know Gaby … would it be okay if I hang with her sometime?” Helen quietly called out as Gaby walked back towards the street after saying her ‘good nights’.

“Sure … I guess … after school tomorrow? Bring your bike an’ I’ll have Dad take a look at it,” Gaby replied. As she once again started to turn to leave, she paused and then turned back to face Helen.

“I’m not sure if I’ll be at school tomorrow ... I haven’t decided … but come around, anyway.”

“I’ll be there … night, Gaby…” Helen quietly confirmed.

“G’nite, Helen…” Gaby turned and slowly started to walk back across the street. As she reached the other side and passed a bush, she nonchalantly acknowledged a shadowy figure. “Hi, Jules … your idea or Mum’s?”

“Bit of both I guess. Can you really blame her … us? There’s still people that love ya, ya know…” Jules quietly commented as she stepped into the light of the street lamp.

“So you’ve told me … now let’s go home,” Gaby softly replied with a grin as she held out her hand for Jules.

Back at the Peters’, Carol and John were both incensed with Maddy’s behaviour. They ‘tore a strip off of her’ in front of her friends before they finally allowed her to retreat to her room in tears.

Alone up in her room and with time to think, she soon faced the full weight of what she had done. Gaby was gone. Maddy started to feel the pangs of guilt and the hurt of a lost love as she cried into her pillow.

Downstairs, Bernie and Ally both opted to take their gifts back with them, while Paul and Clive left their presents.

“Before you go, I do have one request for all of you … and that is to not to mention anything to anyone about this … especially at school … at least give Gaby that much.”

Everyone except Em, readily agreed to Jenny’s request without hesitation. This didn’t escape Ally and she immediately shot an angry look at the girl while clearly mouthing the word ‘Rhod’, causing Em to quickly reconsider her position.

When the kids were ready to go, Jenny offered her services as a taxi to Bernie, Paul and Clive.

“Ally, dear … would you like to come with us or wait and go with Sylv when she comes to get Em? I can easily swing by your house,” Jenny softly offered when she noticed the girl sitting on a dining room chair with a blank look on her face.

“I’ll just get my things … thanks, Mrs. Bond.”

With Em left standing alone in the lounge, Carol picked up the phone and made a call to Sylv.

When she arrived Jenny still hadn’t returned, so it was up to Dave and Carol to explain to her about her daughter's part in the night’s events. Sylv glared at her the whole time.

You bloody … stupid … cow! You of all people, are in no position to be passing judgment on Gaby or humiliating her in front of her friends! It would serve you right if she turned right around and revealed my son to everyone!”

“Mum . . . I . . . I didn’t think…” Em quietly replied, her voice trailing off to nothing.

“That’s bloody obvious!” an angry Sylv shot back.

“I’m sorry, Mum.”

“Drew was your best friend! Do you really think ‘sorry’ is going to make up for all the damage you’ve done? How could you have done such a stupid thing?” Sylv angrily continued.

“The guys thought it was funny when we did it in Grottoes…” Em’s voice abruptly faded once she realized she admitted that this wasn’t an isolated incident.

What! You’ve done this before? You and I definitely have a lot to talk about when we get home!” Sylv was going ballistic at these revelations.

SLAM!

Funny? Is that what you call it … funny?” Carol shrieked as she banged a kitchen cupboard door shut when she heard Em’s words. With tears forming in her eyes, Carol was beside herself with rage as she leveled her sights squarely on Mfawny.

“Was it funny to literally rip two families apart … maybe forever? (sniff) How about forcing my cousin to take her family out of Warsop … no … out of the country … so that her youngest daughter can have a chance at life! (sniff) Maybe you also found it funny to hear my niece forbid me to have my daughter with me if I ever visited them?” By this time, she had moved from the kitchen to stand at the lounge entrance to face a shell-shocked Em. After pausing to choke back her tears, Carol continued a more normal tone.

“You actually thought it was funny to torment my youngest niece when you were in Grottoes … even when her mother was dreadfully ill? I almost lost … (sniff) my cousin when you kids were in the States. (sniff) Then, if that’s not enough … I recently learn that I also came within a dog’s whisker of losing my niece (sniff) … all because of what you and Maddy thought was FUNNY … and now seeing that you didn’t get the job done right … you just decided to give it another go…”

As Sylv listened to Carol’s words, she realized that there was much more to this than what happened earlier and it just made her angrier.

Carol broke down with heavy sobs. As John put his arms on his wife’s shoulders, she eventually managed to get out,” I just may have lost my youngest niece … forever … because of what you think is funny! “

Em now realized the impact of the damage she caused and was in tears as she started to speak, “I …I’m sor … s…”

Carol angrily cut her off.

“There is no way (sniff) that you can even begin to apologize for what you’ve done … so don’t insult me by trying!” Em hung her head and burst into loud sobs.

Taking a few moments to regain her composure, Carol eventually looked at Sylv and stated in a calmer voice, “I’m sorry for speaking to … Em … as I did. It’s not just her … Maddy’s to blame as well. From what we’ve learned, these two have apparently been conducting these ‘mind games’ and staging various ‘incidents’ that were intended to humiliate and torment my niece, shortly after they arrived in Virginia … making what was supposed to be something to be fondly remembered … a living hell for Gaby.”

“I’ll be talking to both of you later. I think it’s important that we all get together and compare notes. We need to find out exactly what went on in Virginia,” Sylv vowed while addressing Carol and Dave.

Carol nodded but Dave looked pensive, “Jen and I are only too aware all of what Gaby went through … but I’m not really able to talk about it without her permission. I need to speak to her first.

“Of course. Please … tell her how sorry I am about Em’s behaviour.” Sylv ushered the girl out of the Peter’s house to begin a silent ride home.

 
 
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To Be Continued...
 



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