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.”

“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 ‘he’ 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 gesturing 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 volunteered. ‘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’ did notice that she got some strange looks from some of the kids, but nothing too unsettling. During Art, ‘he’ managed to let Miss Cowlishaw know what was going on. Maddy also was able to speak to Miss Cowlishaw about the problem with the photo journal.

“Leave it with me, Maddy … and remember … cheer practice after school,” Fran stated.

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 her cousin's 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 corrective surgery before we moved, but I expected a wait … 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 surgery scheduled for the second week in April to be done in Manchester,” Jenny continued.

“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.

“For...?” 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. 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…”

“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 … it never happened.”

“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 the cheer comp!” Gaby explained.

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

“And?”

“Look! We all know the reason for her decision. The only problem with that 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) “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, 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. 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, ‘he’ 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 on her bike.

“Thanks … umm … 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 rather 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?” ‘he’ 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? She lost her dad last year, just before Christmas an’ she just moved back ‘ere from Holland with her mum. I know 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 the ‘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 behavior had become increasingly more like Em.

After the short verbal exchange with Maddy, Gaby thought about what her mum had said about the ‘gang’. At least Ally and Bernie seemed to be ‘returning to normal’, like she had said would happen.

Although Gaby recognized that Maddy had changed, she was at a loss to understand Em’s 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 ‘Drew’. 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 ‘Drew’ and 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 Gaby cards, the rest being addressed to ‘Drew’.

She even 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!”

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 ‘him’ 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 realised 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 today was more appropriate for her plans.

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 his gift. 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.

“Hidden in plain sight … 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’ realised it was indeed 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 her comments at Ally.

“Let me practice a bit and Em and I will take you on!”

Turning back to Em, ‘he’ voiced, “Thanks Em.”

Bernie followed with a ski fleece. ‘Drew’ thought it would look lovelier 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, Gaby.”

Maddy’s present was an enigma to Gaby. It was a pair of concert tickets to the Bryan Adams concert, 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. On the other hand, there was Maddy’s current attitude towards Gaby.

Family presents were up next. Jules gave her sister a book on the history of the Tdf, full of facts and stats, while 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,” came Gaby’s whispered reply.

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.

Eventually ‘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.

Maddy’d noticed ‘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 said she found another present that someone put down and probably forgot to bring out when ‘Drew’ did his presents.

“Hold it guys! Em tells me she 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 “Showtime!”

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 Jessica,” 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 Gaby, he could well understand his mate’s angry reaction to Drew’s exposure.

With verbal chaos 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 realised 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 and started to run for the stairs.

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 feeling 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 off her feet.

(SLAP!)

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.

As she lay on the carpet at the base of her chair, she had propped herself up on one elbow and assumed a more modest pose, while her free hand covered her stinging cheek and 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 down in the 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 Gaby’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. The more he thought about it, the more he realised that it wasn’t really Drew as much as himself. He recalled all the times he saw one or the other and he never made the connection, even when he literally saw Drew right after seeing Gaby, during the school’s last Sports Day.

To be fair, he had to admit to himself that Gaby did try to discourage him when they did meet but he didn’t listen. As he was reflecting on his encounters with Gaby, he found himself going back to their first meeting at the school’s fancy dress Easter Disco, last year. A bit of a smile crossed his face when he recalled how Gaby took a swing at him and connected, after he stole a kiss from the girl Maddy said was Drew’s cousin.

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

“Mrs. Peters? May I go up to see Gaby? She helped me in Washington after I got shot and she also confided in me while we were there. Now, I’d kinda like to be with her when she needs a friend ... please?” Ally asked Carol in a subdued voice while pointing to her sling.

“Go on dear,” Carol softly allowed.

She knocked on the door and when Jules answered, Ally explained that she was told it was okay for her to come up.

As soon as she entered the room, she saw Gaby still in tears, seated on the floor in a corner with her knees up under her chin and her back firmly up against the wall, heaving with each great sob. 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 … may I?” Jenny 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 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 Drew … and Gaby. You also know they’re both great guys. They won’t think any less of you once they know the truth … but you have 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.

“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 just wants to understand … not judge … they all do. 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 and make them see wot they’ve really done.”

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, while she reached out and offered her hand to help Ally to her feet.

“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 into the room was definitely Gaby.

Taking Ally’s advice, Gaby had removed the single hair elastic and now wore her hair straight and parted in the middle, 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 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 some level of disapproval by their peers.

As soon as she entered the room, Gaby went and stood in the middle of the floor with Jules standing behind her. Jenny stayed by the wall in the hall and stood in front of Dave, allowing him to put his hands on her shoulders and pull her into him. Ally grabbed Gaby’s hand as she started to walk 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 her sister’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 telling the kids everything, starting with how ‘Gaby’ came to life with Maddy’s help and how the relationship between the two had evolved, 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 nature of the medical testing Drew underwent and the emergence of ‘Gaby’ as a result of those tests.

Fighting new and very bitter memories, she started to talk about her trip to America and her subsequent treatment by both the American and British kids that directly lead to the event that they all had witnessed earlier that evening. Before she had finished, she had admitted that it was Gaby, not Drew or Drew pretending to be Gaby, 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 revelation.

Taking her cue from her daughter, Jenny summarized the reasons for the move.

“All of you here know what it’s been like for our family while I’ve been with Apollinaris … being separated by my work hasn’t been easy for any of us. Dave had yet to decide on the position he was offered with the team … until we learned how her friends were treating our youngest daughter. After that, there was no question! As a bonus, 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 at a decent life … something that we fear, is now no longer possible in Warsop.”

Jenny’s remarks had the impact of a bomb! Silence engulfed the room as the kids realised 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 realised 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 aware of what was happening in Virginia, she was too absorbed with her American boyfriend and her own exchange experience to speak up in Gaby’s defense more often than she did. If she did, she felt that she might have been able to act as the gang’s collective ‘voice of reason’. As far as she was concerned, it was a case of guilt by association and for that, she felt awful.

Even though Ally already knew it all, she still shed tears when she heard it again. She felt sickened that Gaby was so callously betrayed by her two closest friends, at her own birthday party, no less. Now, she found herself seriously questioning her own relationship with Rhod/Em.

Helen was moved to tears after hearing and seeing, what Gaby’s had to go through with her own ‘friends’, especially Maddy.

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

“I’m sorry I reacted as I did … Drrrumm …Gaby. I just never thought … 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. As tears continued to make their way down her cheeks, Bernie also apologized for Virginia but as Gaby assured her, she didn’t have anything to apologize for.

“I’ll miss you, man ...err …Gaby. Sorry about the ‘man’ thing,” Paul whispered into Gaby’s ear as they hugged each other. She saw that tears were gathering in Paul’s eyes.

“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 her 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 … you even told ‘Gaby’ you loved her … (sniff) and then in Grottoes you turned your back on me…” Gaby softly recounted.

In a rising emotional voice, she confronted Maddy. “WHAT HAVE I DONE? (sniff) WHY DO YOU NOW HATE ME SO MUCH, MAD?? (sniff) Damn it, girl! Look at me! LOOK ME IN THE EYES AN’ TELL ME!”

Maddy found it impossible to do anything other than cast her eyes downward the whole time Gaby was trying to talk to her. 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 Maddy’s gift. Maddy looked up as Gaby removed the tickets and without a second of hesitation, ripped them in half.

Gaby thought she saw her love’s eyes get moist 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 ‘olds and said, “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 Gaby's had."

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 please walk me home?” Helen timidly 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 … but … she’s not getting 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 Gaby’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.

“For being a friend when I knew no one … inviting me to your party when you hardly knew me … letting me talk about Dad … meeting the real you … and for walking me home.”

Helen quietly went down the list. Even in the soft light of the porch light, she noticed Gaby’s weak smile.

As she turned to leave, Helen called out after her, “I’d really like to get to know Gaby … can I hang with her sometime?”

“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 in sets tomorrow ... I haven’t decided … but don’t let that stop you from coming around … it’ll be the high point of my day.”

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

“G’nite, Helen…” Gaby turned and 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 are people that love ya, ya know.” Jules quietly commented as she stepped into the light of the street lamp.

“No … you know I can’t. Let’s go home, sis…” 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.

She still couldn’t understand why the others reacted the way they did. After all, they felt the same, didn’t they?

Alone up in her room and with time to think, Maddy was torn by her feelings for Gaby. Although she tried to convince herself she’d done nothing wrong, she soon started to feel the pangs of guilt and the hurt of a lost love as she cried into her pillow.

Downstairs, Carol officially stopped the party. Bernie and Ally opted to take their gifts back with them, while Paul and Clive left their presents.

Jenny asked all the kids not to mention anything to anyone about this or to expose Gaby at school, to which they readily agreed. Em remained silent at first but after Ally shot an angry look at her, she quickly agreed to the request.

Jenny also was pressed into service as a taxi for Bernie, Paul and Clive.

“Ally, dear … would you like to come with me or wait for Sylv to take 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 phoned Sylv and requested that she come and pick up her ‘daughter’.

When she arrived, Jenny still hadn’t returned, so it was up Dave and Carol to explain to her about Em’s part in the night’s events. Sylv glared at Em 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! What if she’d done the same to you?”

“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.”

“Would’ve served you right if Drew told everyone about Rhod! He 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 thing?” Sylv angrily continued.

“The guys thought it was funny when we did it in Grottoes…” Em’s voice abruptly faded as she realised she was admitting 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 a decent life! (sniff) Maybe you also found it funny to hear my niece forbid me to take 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 find out that I came within a dog’s whisker of also 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…”

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 realised 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 been told, those two appear to have been orchestrating these incidents soon after they arrived in Virginia … making what was supposed to be something to be fondly remembered … a living hell.”

Sylvia was shocked to hear all this but at the same time felt Carol’s outburst was justified.

Addressing Dave and Carol, she sternly commented, “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 just what went on in Virginia.”

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

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



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