Copyright © 2010 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.
And there she was.
One minute I’m sitting at the back of the classroom with my head in a book, trying not to attract any attention, the next I’m transfixed as sheets of ice and fire course though my body. How can the mere sight of another human being be so intoxicating, such a wild rush?
My name is Jerry Newington, I’m fifteen and my family have just moved to the Midlands. It’s early June and I just started at my new school this week with just six weeks to go before the summer break.
I’ve never made friends that easily and this place is turning out to be just the same as everywhere else I’ve lived. Most of the guys here don’t seem too interested in making friends with me, and the once or twice that I’ve tried to join in when something interesting’s been going on resulted in me being told to get lost or them laughing at my accent, or maybe a bit of both. In the end as usual I just keep to myself and try to go places where the dickheads who want to beat me up won’t find me.
I mean if they did find me there’s no question I’d have the crap beaten out of me. I’m kind of weedy and have always hated physical violence. Similar things happened to me in other schools and it always goes down the same. First they catch up with me in some secluded part of the school, then all the strength goes out of my legs and I can’t run, then they shout at me till I start crying – I mean what the hell, I’m a guy! How come I can’t stop myself from crying? Next they start laughing at me and kicking the living shit out of me while I curl up into a ball on the ground, and finally they spread it around the school that I’m a poof and a cry-baby.
There aren’t too many uppers about moving here, but right now there are two things I can be thankful for. The first is that the all-muscle-and-no-brain brigade hasn’t caught up with me so far, so I have yet to earn my usual reputation as school wimp. The second is Alexandra Moore.
Alex, she prefers, is the most beautiful girl in the whole world. She has shoulder length blonde hair, deep brown eyes and the most exquisite face you can imagine. I don’t know what sets her apart from the other girls, but every time I see her, I go weak at the knees and all the breath goes out of my body. I mean I’ve never tried drugs or stuff like that, but I can’t imagine getting high to be anywhere near as good as this feeling.
She’s in the same form group as me and is the form monitor this term which means she collects the register and calls the names first thing in the morning and lunchtime. To hear her say my name is like a jolt of electricity, and it’s almost more than I can manage simply to reply.
So here am I sitting at the back of the class, staring at her over my forgotten book and listening to the music of her voice.
“Jerry Newington?” She looks up at where I’m sitting.
It feels like I have a golf ball in my throat and I struggle to swallow before I can answer.
It sounds like little more than a whisper, but the movement of her hand shows that she’s ticked me in as usual. The room recedes a little and I half listen to the other names being called, envious of the attention they’re now getting.
My heart’s still pounding when the bell rings and we all head off for first period. Alex has already gone with the register and it felt like my guts were torn out when she left the room. I might see her at break time, might even get close enough to say a quiet “Hi Alex”, but she’ll be with her friends and I doubt she’ll even notice me.
I pick up my bag and head out. First lesson is English and we’re writing poetry at the moment. At least I’ll be able to pour out some of my feeling into that.
OK, so we’re three weeks into the term now. I’ve still managed to avoid being beaten up by changing my habits at random. Today I’ll spend break walking around the tennis courts, yesterday was the library and tomorrow I’ll probably head down to the sports field. The weather’s too good to waste too much of it inside.
Things with Alex are still as bad. Worse in fact as I think some people are beginning to notice. I need to work up the courage to say something to her, but I can’t. It’s like a punch in the stomach every time I get anywhere near her, and even if I could get my breath enough to say something my mind goes completely blank. I want to tell her how I feel but I can’t. I mean what if she laughs? That would be worse than death.
Besides she’s always with her friends and the last thing I need is them spreading all over the school that I fancy Alex Moore.
I can only be thankful that I don’t have any classes with her. Well except for Religious Education that is, and nobody really cares how much time you put into that, not even the teachers it seems. I mean I don’t feel particularly thankful. I hate that I don’t get to spend any more time with her, but given that I’m so distracted in RE lessons that I barely get any work done, I guess I should be grateful that she isn’t there to get into my mind when I’m studying something that matters to me.
I have to say something to her though. Think, think, think. Where can I talk to her when she’s not in the company of half a dozen other girls? Before the summer break comes I need to at least try. I mean I can’t imagine six weeks without her in my life.
Well that’s it, the first term survived at this new school. The bullies seem to have just about given up trying to corner me and I’ve even found one or two other guys in my year who share some of my interests. We’ve arranged to meet up for a Dungeons and Dragons session or two during the summer and who knows, maybe we’ll start a D&D club next year, at least for the first term or so before we have to start swotting for exams.
The end of term assembly was kind of embarrassing as I actually won a prize. We spent some time looking at Shakespeare’s sonnets in English and as a kind of preparation we were given a homework on love poetry. I put all of the feelings I had for Alex into mine and it must have been quite good because it won me the prize for best literary effort. The worst was they made me read it out loud to the school when I went up to collect my prize. Still I got a shield with my name on it that I get to keep for a year and twenty quid in book tokens, so not a total bust.
With the prize giving over, the rest of the assembly dragged to an uneventful end and we were all dismissed for six weeks of nothing much to do. We were sitting in form groups and were let out two rows at a time. As luck would have it I found myself walking out next to…
“H-hey Alex,” I stammered, hardly able to believe that she was here next to me.
“Hi Jerry,” she was so much more composed and I envied her. “That was a lovely poem.”
“I wrote it for you.” The words were at the tip of my tongue and I so wanted to say them. Instead all I could manage was, “Th-thanks.”
We reached our bags and headed for the school gates. We were officially free for the rest of the summer.
Come on Jerry this is your chance, be a man.
The gates were looming where she would head to the left and me to the right. Come ON Jerry.
“I was…” I stammered out a couple of words before I dried up, but she looked at me expectantly and I found a moment’s courage. “I was wondering if you’d like to meet up sometime during the holidays. You know meet up in town one day and do stuff?”
It was said. My heart was pounding so much that I began to wonder if my ribs were strong enough to contain it.
She smiled at me, but there was something in her eyes I couldn’t quite read. She opened her mouth, but just as she was about to reply a cry went up behind me.
It was Billy Cooper, the arsehole who’d been hunting for me all term. I think seeing me up on the stage accepting my prize had reminded him that he still wanted to beat me up.
“Oh shit!” I said under my breath, then to Alex, “Look sorry, but I really have to go.”
She gave me a sad and slightly apologetic smile and jerked her chin in the direction of the school gates.
I ran and Billy ran after me. Almost everyone in the school was laughing as I exited the grounds as fast as I could. I gave him a good chase as well. I must have stayed ahead of him for about two hundred yards before things went wrong.
Never look over your shoulder when someone’s chasing you; if it doesn’t do anything else it slows you down and Billy was one of the school athletes. Soccer team, rugby team, one and two hundred yard sprint champion, he had pretty much all of it and I had nothing to show for my half-hearted attempts in PE. When I looked over my shoulder he had made up all but five yards on me, surprising me so much that I missed my footing and sprawled onto the pavement.
Billy all but tripped over me, but then recovered enough to start hitting and kicking me. At least we’d turned a corner so the school didn’t get to witness my humiliation. I curled up into a ball and waited for the blows to stop. By the time they did, both my blazer and my shirt were ripped and my ribs ached like I’d been run over by a steam roller.
“You’re a pathetic piece of shit,” Billy told me when he’d finished. “You’re not worth the effort.” And with that he headed back the way he had come.
I wish I could say I didn’t cry out, but he had six weeks of frustration to get out of his system and some of his blows hit some pretty tender spots. I don’t know how long I lay on the ground sobbing after he left, but I missed my bus and had to wait thirty minutes for the next one.
“Oh, Jerry!” Mum wasn’t best pleased with my appearance when I finally got home. “I thought you were done with this fighting.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“You think I did this? You think I started this?”
“It takes two people to fight Jerry.” Disapproval dripped from every syllable.
“Unless one of them happens to be a punching bag,” I yelled back. “I didn’t say or do anything to start this. I didn’t fight back. Hell, I even tried to run away but he was faster.”
Dad walked in just in time to hear the last sentence.
“Don’t speak to your mother like that Jerry. Get up to your room and I’ll talk to you later.”
What’s the use? I dragged my bag upstairs and threw myself onto my bed. Things had been going so well then that shithead Billy had to come along and ruin it all. What did he have against me anyway?
I don’t know how much time passed with me lying on the bed nursing my misery, but eventually I felt more than heard the door open.
I lay still. If they thought I was asleep maybe they’d go away.
A weight settled on the corner of my bed. I waited a few seconds more, but there was no getting away from it. I turned and looked up at my Dad looking back down at me. He looked worried.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Not much to tell. There’s this kid at school who’s had it in for me all term just ‘cos I’m new. He caught up with me as we were all leaving today and chased me. He caught me and kicked the crap out of me. End of story.”
“You must have done something to provoke him.”
“Why?” I sat up on my bed and spat the words at him. “Why must I? They don’t like me here. I talk funny and I keep to myself.
“I’ve been avoiding this kid since the beginning of term because he’s wanted to see if I might be fun to beat up. If that’s provocation then yeah I’m guilty, but I did NOTHING WRONG!”
I buried my head back into my pillow and waited. There was a deep sigh and the weight lifted from my bed.
“Clean yourself up and change out of those torn clothes. Tea’ll be ready in about ten minutes.”
The door closed quietly behind him.
I had my feet up on the sofa and was watching the first Fantastic Four film on TV. Tea had been toad in the hole which is one of my favourites and it felt good to be wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. I was imagining myself as Ben Grimm, yelling, ‘It’s cloberin’ time’ and throwing Billy Cooper across the playground when Mum opened the door.
She’d been in my room, changed the bed I’d so inconsiderately bled over and upended my bag in case there was a letter from the school I had neglected to pass on to her. She was holding the shield, now sporting a dent from one of Billy’s more wayward blows.
“You didn’t tell us about this.” From the expression in her voice I was all but forgiven for earlier.
I ran through a few facetious comebacks and decided that maybe it would be better if I dropped it, so instead I told her what it was for, and that I had some book tokens to spend.
Mum came into the room and put the shield on the mantelpiece.
“Your Dad was wondering if you’d like to go and spend a few weeks with your Aunt Carol. You know get away from this for a while?”
I shrugged. There was the D&D sessions I’d arranged, but they wouldn’t miss me if I didn’t turn up for the first few and I could always join in later.
“Yeah, could do I suppose.” Teenagers are genetically hardwired not to sound enthusiastic about anything their parents suggest, but I was quite keen on the idea. Aunt Carol had a small house near some remote village in Yorkshire or somewhere, and had been a good laugh on previous visits.
“I’ll give her a call shall I then?”
She was fishing for something more, something to say we’d made up. I looked up at her and smiled, “That would be great Mum, thanks.”
She smiled and left me to The Thing doing to the bad guys what I still wanted to do to Billy Cooper.
It took a day or so to organise things so it was on Sunday afternoon that my parents took me down to the station and waved me off. The journey was uneventful and after a change at Sheffield I found myself in one of the old style carriages with a corridor down the side and individual compartments. It seemed I had one to myself and was settling down for a good read when five minutes into the journey the door slid open and a girl about my age stuck her head into the compartment.
“Do you mind if I join you?” she asked with a smile.
I looked up. She had ash blond hair that hung down to her waist and a very slight overbite which just helped to make her that little bit more pretty. She wasn’t Alex, but it would be nice to have company, besides this was a public vehicle and I hardly had the right to say no. I smiled back at her and waved at the seat opposite.
Her smile brightened by a few watts and she stepped in. She was wearing tight black jeans and a knitted top in deference to the few heavy clouds that were threatening some good old English summer weather. She dropped a small suitcase and a larger one onto carriage floor and settled into the seat I had indicated.
After a moment or two I became aware of her looking at me. I closed my book on my finger and returned her gaze.
“Sorry, I’m being rude aren’t I?” Usually I found it difficult to talk to strangers, but there was an openness to her face that made this easy. “My name’s Jerry.”
“Shelley,” she said reaching a hand across the carriage. I changed fingers in my book and shook hands. There was something strangely electric to her touch. “How far are you going?”
“Huh?” Something about the touch had me fazed for a second.
“I said how far are you going? On the train I mean.”
“Oh, Harrogate. My Aunt’s picking me up there. I’m staying with her a few weeks. She has a house near Ferrensby.”
“Oh that’s amazing! I’ll be staying in Ferrensby too.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Perhaps we can meet up, go for a walk or something.”
Suddenly she was blushing, as though she realised she’d been too forward.
“That’d be nice,” I said. “I mean it’s not as if there’s all that much to do around there.”
“Oh I don’t know,” she said turning an even deeper shade of red, “I can think of a few things that might keep us amused.”
I found a bookmark for my book and we spent the rest of the journey exchanging bios. It turned out that she lived in Orpington with parents who both commuted to London to do something important that required their presence most days. With the summer holidays here she was off for an extended visit with her grandparents, also Kentish folk, who had retired to a quiet village in Yorkshire back when the house prices up North had been low.
“It’ll be nice to have someone my own age to meet up with – that is if you don’t mind. I mean I do love my gran and grandpa, but we don’t have that much in common you know.”
I sensed something of the loneliness in her and decided that maybe we could help each other out.
I told her about my own troubles at home, about Billy and about Alex. That last bit was probably a mistake because her eyes fell when I mentioned her, but I figured it was best to be honest from the outset.
“I think I could do with something to take my mind of everything,” I said, then realising how that must have sounded tried to dig my way out of the hole. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I – I meant it would be nice to spend some time with someone new doing something totally different.”
She laughed her disarming laugh at my discomfort then smiled and put her hand on mine. “That’s OK Jerry, I know what you mean and I think we should be able to find one or two ways to keep ourselves amused.”
The sparkling electric feel was back where her hand touched mine. She withdrew before I became curious enough to ask about it and we spent the rest of the journey chatting about likes and dislikes, all the little nothings that give colour to a personality.
At Harrogate I carried the heavier of her suitcases along with mine off the platform and found both Aunt Carol and Shelley’s grandparents waiting for us. Introductions were made all round and Aunt Carol, being quite astute about such things, offered to have Shelley round to visit the next day or as soon as she felt settled.
Shelley’s grandmother smiled at her. “I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing much of you this summer then dear?”
Shelley was quick to protest, but her grandmother raised a hand to quiet her. “No dear it’s quite alright. Your grandfather and I have always felt that you were given rather short shrift in having to spend so many of your holidays away from your home and friends with to old dodderers like us, I’m glad you’ve made a friend and I will be most happy to see you two spending as much time together as you like, even if it means we only see you for breakfast and tea every day.”
Shelley took her suitcase with a promise to come see me the next day. Carol wanted to hear all about it on the drive to her small home and so I spent the next fifteen minutes going over how we’d met and what I thought of her, which was as a friend and nothing more.
Aunt Carol gave me her ‘we’ll see’ look at which I rolled my eyes; which set us both off laughing.
The evening was fairly typical for a first night at Aunt Carol’s. The smell of spag bol simmering away in a crock pot set my growling stomach to roaring, and after I dropped my bags in my room, I came back down ready to do justice to whatever mound of food was placed in front of me. Aunt Carol asked me to set the table and I followed her instructions pulling plates and cutlery from their various hiding places while she finished off cooking the pasta and pulled some garlic bread from the oven.
I just about managed a small third helping before surrendering in the face of the never ending onslaught of good food. I helped clear the table and wash the dishes, something I never volunteer to do at home, before retiring to the lounge. There we sat in companionable silence, both of us buried to the bridges of our noses in our books, as the late summer sun made its weary way towards the horizon.
“I hope you’re going to be a bit more sociable when your friend comes round,” Aunt Carol muttered as she got up to turn on the lights.
I looked up at her. “I thought you enjoyed sitting quietly with a book.”
“Oh I do, but I doubt everyone feels the same way. You may have to work on some conversational skills tomorrow.”
“I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it,” I said giving my Dad’ favourite misquote and dived back into my book.
Aunt Carol is an early riser. Being a teenager I, on the other hand, am not.
I woke to the sound of pots and pans banging and the smell of bacon and eggs frying. A short while later there were footsteps on the stairs and a gentle knock on the door.
“Breakfast awaits, come and enjoy it while it’s hot.”
I’d forgotten this part of the visits to my aunt, and with some ill grace I climbed out of bed and stomped down the stairs.
There was fresh coffee brewing as well but, not yet having the taste, I scrunched up my nose at the offensive odour. Aunt Carol smiled at me and poured me a glass of orange juice before carrying her vile brew away.
I tucked into the bacon and eggs with considerable relish. On my first visit to Aunt Carol’s, she’d served up breakfast with the words, “You’ll never taste an egg so good as when it’s cooked still warm from its mother’s bum.” I’d been just a tiny bit grossed out by the imagery, but found myself wholeheartedly agreeing as I cleaned the plate. I did this lot justice too and was busily mopping up the last of the yoke with a slice of fresh bread when Aunt Carol stuck her head back in to see how I was getting on.
“Shelley called. She said she’d come round about nine.”
“What!” I yelled jumping to my feet and heading for the door. “What time is it now?”
My Aunt’s quiet chuckling halted my panicky exit.
“Relax, it’s only half past seven, you’ve got plenty of time.”
I groaned. Half past seven? What kind of time was that to drag a poor unsuspecting fifteen year old out of his bed?
“Did she give any idea as to what we might do today?” I asked sitting back down and reaching for my OJ.
“Not really, but I did suggest you might want to take a picnic down to Farnham. It’s only a half hour walk and there are some lovely places to sit near the lake.”
“Are you meddling Auntie Carol?” The half-smile on my face took any sting there might have been out of the words.
Aunt Carol responded with a half-smile of her own. “Oh I wouldn’t say so, not as such. Although I do know that certain of the Newington males have needed a nudge in the right direction before now.”
I looked around for something unbreakable to throw but, finding nothing, I settled for sticking my tongue out at her.
“We’re not like that,” I said, “we’re just friends.”
“Well if you want it to stay that way make sure you tell her early on.”
I cleared the breakfast things into the sink and headed upstairs to get washed and dressed. I then made my bed before collapsing on it with a mind to recover some of the hours of sleep that had been stolen from me. My mind wouldn’t settle though and I’d given up and was reading my book again when there was a knock on the door and Aunt Carol called up to me.
Shelley’s smile brightened just a little bit when I opened the door. She was looking pretty stunning in a powder blue, sleeveless, cotton summer dress with a darker blue flower print that brought out the colour in her eyes. Her hair was swept back and held in place with a dark blue head band. How had I not noticed that her eyes were so blue? She held a wicker picnic basket in the crook of her arm
“Hi!” she bubbled as she walked past me into the cottage. “My gran lent me this basket for our picnic today and we baked a cake before I came. Your aunt said we could sort out the rest of the stuff we would need when I got here.
“Oh hi Mrs Newington.” she finished as Aunt Carol stuck her head out of the kitchen.
Aunt Carol is my Dad’s sister; never married and too old to want people to keep calling her miss.
Shelley headed for the kitchen with me bringing up the rear. She and Aunt Carol kept up a constant chatter while they washed and chopped some salad from my aunt’s garden and I made some sandwiches from a loaf of homemade bread and a joint of ham. By the time we had everything together it was getting on for ten o’clock.
“The road’s rather busy in places, but most of the farmers hereabouts leave a small path down the inside of their fields for pedestrians. Be safe and have fun.” Aunt Carol shooed us out and we set off down the road together, carrying the rather full picnic basket between us.
Shelley kept up a constant chatter as we walked, punctuated by the odd grunt from me as we made our way down the road. I was thinking about what Aunt Carol had said the about making my intentions clear and I wasn’t looking forward to that part of our morning together.
Eventually Shelley ran out of words and we walked in silence for a while. She glanced over at me nervously once or twice. I figured she knew what was coming too but had decided to enjoy the day first. I decided that I was going to do the same and shrugged off my mood as best I could.
“So I suppose you know these parts pretty well then?” I asked.
There was that smile again and the day was suddenly just that little bit brighter as she launched into an excited description of all the hidden places we could explore together.
She knew just the right spot near the lake; far enough from the roads that we didn’t hear much traffic, and tucked away in the trees so that we were out of the wind. We talked about books and films we’d enjoyed or hated and tucked into some great home cooked country fare. It really could have been a perfect day if it hadn’t been for those words I needed to say nagging me from the back of my mind.
After lunch we packed up the remains of our meal and I picked up the basket. She caught hold of my other arm and led me down a road that led us further away from Aunt Carol’s cottage.
“I thought we’d take the scenic route back,” she said leaning into my shoulder.
And there was that thing between us again.
We walked in silence for a while. Every now and again Shelley would point out a squirrel or a rabbit, but the words were looming like a storm cloud and would need saying sooner or later. We’d walked through the villages of Occaney and Staveley and were following a bridle path away from the roads on what I thought must be our last leg when I couldn’t put things off any longer.
“Shelley,” I started hesitantly and stopped when she clung hard to my arm.
“Not yet,” she said. “Wait till we’re over there.” She pointed at a lone tree standing on a slight rise just off the path ahead. It seemed to matter to her so I slid back into my brooding silence.
We were there all too soon and it was suddenly harder to say. I took her hands in mine and lifted her chin till she was looking into my eyes. There was a tear running down her cheek and I felt wretched.
“I’ve been honest with you haven’t I Shelley? You know about my feelings for Alex, the girl I was telling you about on the train yesterday. I haven’t led you to believe that there could be anything between us have I?”
Another tear and my gut was twisting, punish me for being so cruel.
“I just thought that since she’s all those miles away and we’re here now, at least we could have the summer together.”
“That wouldn’t be right. I’d be looking at you and thinking of her. I’m sorry. If I hadn’t met her things might be different.”
“You don’t even know how she feels about you. You said yourself she hardly notices you.”
“But I do know how I feel about her though. If I could only believe she could have feelings for me.”
“I’m sorry I’m being selfish. The last thing you want to hear right now is how I feel about someone else.”
“No it’s alright. I understand.” She turned away from me and hugged herself.
We stood like that for a long time and I found tears running down my own cheeks. I hated that I was doing this, but I couldn’t pretend about my feelings.
Eventually she turned back towards me. She seemed momentarily taken aback when she saw my tears and a ghost of a smile returned to her eyes.
“I’d like to give you a gift,” she started and held up her hands when I made to protest. “It’s a bit strange and I’m not sure how or even if it will work, but I’d like to at least try.”
I must have looked confused because she tried to explain.
“You’ve talked about Alex a couple of times now. No don’t apologise; it’s OK I’m fine with it.” Her eyes betrayed the lie but I let her continue. “It’s just that I’ve noticed a couple of things about you when you talk about her.
“The first is that it’s obvious how you feel about her, and that’s fine with me,” again a lie. “I mean even if you don’t feel anything like the same way about me, I do want you to find happiness… with her.
“The main thing is the second thing. Oh damn I’m messing this up!” She took a breath and started over. “As well as seeing how much you like her, I can also see how hard it is for you to believe she could like you back. So… what I really want is for you to be able to see yourself as I see you; to notice all the great things that I’ve already seen in you.”
I was confused. She wasn’t making any sense, but this seemed to matter to her and I couldn’t bear to be any more cruel to her than I had already been. I nodded.
“This may seem a bit odd but just go with it,” she said and reached out a finger to catch a tear that just then started its path down my cheek. She touched the finger to her lips, then guiding one of my fingers, caught a tear from her own eye and carried it to my lips.
She cupped my cheek in her hand and reached up to kiss me. I let the kiss happen wondering if this was what she meant by showing me how she felt. That same odd electricity that had been there every time she touched me was back, only this time it seemed to course though my whole body. It wasn’t unpleasant, just… different.”
She pulled away from me. “We should be getting back,” she said and started off down the path ahead of me. I picked up the picnic basket and followed on behind her.
When we made it back to Aunt Carol’s house she noticed our mood and refrained from saying anything. I unpacked the basket and handed it back to Shelley. She thanked Aunt Carol and left without saying a word to me.
“I see you told her then?”
I nodded unable to meet her eyes.
“Pleased with the results?”
I dumbly shook my head.
“Well at least that’s something. Still I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t think I like you all that much right now.”
“That’s ok, I don’t like myself much right now either,” I replied and walked out into the garden.
The sun was going down when I heard Aunt Carol’s footstep behind me. A steaming mug was offered. I didn’t really feel much like I deserved her kindness but I accepted it with muttered thanks.
“I didn’t feel much like tea so I didn’t make any,” she told me. “I figured that you’d feel the same and it’s a shame to waste good food.”
I nodded and sipped at the steaming hot chocolate in my hands. The heat was welcome as the day’s warmth was rapidly disappearing with the sun.
“It felt like the right thing to do. I mean I have feelings for another girl back at home and it wouldn’t have been fair on any of us if I’d tried to pretend.”
“Uh huh!” It didn’t sound much like she agreed with me.
“So how come this feels so bad? It’s like I just stepped on something beautiful.”
She sipped on her own mug of chocolate and thought for a few seconds.
“Well maybe you did.”
The words were a cold shock and I directed a questioning look at my aunt.
“What do you think of Shelley?” she asked me leaning on the broken stone wall that was my current perch and gazing at the display of reds and golds on the horizon.
I thought for a moment trying to frame an answer. “She’s kind of pretty I suppose, and funny and she has an amazing smile that seems to brighten the day.”
“So what is it this girl back at home has that Shelley doesn’t?”
This time the silence lasted a lot longer.
“I don’t really know, except that when she’s around I feel so different; like ice and fire at the same time. It’s like I can’t breathe and all the rest of the world seems fade into the background.”
My Aunt snorted. “Sounds like the flu to me.”
“Well if it is, I want to stay sick for the rest of my life,” I said.
Aunt Carol lifted herself away from the wall. “Suit yourself,” she said just a bit huffily. “I think you’re an idiot and I’m saddened that someone else has to suffer for it, but in the end it’s your life.”
I didn’t have an answer for her. Everything was so confused and the ache in my heart was weighing me down so much.
“There are some sandwiches and cakes on the table if you feel hungry, otherwise lock up before you go to bed.”
She turned and walked back into the house. I sat and stared at the dregs of my hot chocolate for a few more minutes before following her. I didn’t feel much like eating so I put the food into some old biscuit tins to keep it fresh. I checked the doors were closed and locked then headed upstairs.
I lay awake for a long time that night. I’d like to say I spent the time thinking, but really I just stared at the ceiling with a blank mind and a lead weight in my chest. Eventually exhaustion took over and consciousness fled.
“Shelley dear, are you alright?”
“What?” I pulled the duvet cover off and looked around. There seemed to be a lot of blonde hair everywhere and things didn’t feel right.
“It’s just that you didn’t seem quite your cheerful self when you came home last night, and your grandfather and I were worried.”
I pushed the hair out of my eyes and stared up at Shelley’s gran’s worried face. What was going on here?
I tried to sit up and felt a weight on my chest. I looked down and a cascade of blonde wavy hair followed. Oh shit what was happening. I was wearing a white lacy night dress, oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit, what was happening to me?
A sudden urge took control and I pushed myself up out of bed. My balance didn’t feel quite right and I staggered more than walked out of the room. Fortunately the door to what I wanted was open and I caught a glint of porcelain. I made my way to the bathroom and closed the door behind me.
I pulled up the night dress and pulled down a pair of lacy white knickers. Oh SHIT!
The seat was already down. I scooped the nightdress out of the way and sat down just in time as a nature took its course. I folded some toilet paper and wiped the damp bits before exploring what was, and more to the point wasn’t, between my legs.
I pulled up the underwear and walked over to the sink. A very wide eyed Shelley looked back from the mirror cabinet. This could not be happening!
There was a gentle knock at the door. “Shelley, what’s the matter dear?”
Come on think quick. I doubted that ‘Actually my name is Jerry and I’ve been turned into your grand-daughter’ would go down too well.
“It’s ok Gran,” I called back in Shelley’s light soprano. “I think it must have been something I ate yesterday.”
“Do you want me to call the doctor dear?”
“No I’ll be alright.” The Last thing I wanted was a doctor poking and prodding me. “I think I’m feeling better already.”
My heartbeat wasn’t racing quite so fast now so at least that much was true. I flushed the toilet and washed my hands then looked back into the mirror. I took some deep breaths and forced myself to calm down. There had to be a rational explanation to this.
I waited until the face in the mirror looked less like a scared rabbit and more like Shelley before opening the door. Shelley’s grandparents were both standing in the corridor looking alarmed.
I smiled at both of them and put a reassuring hand on Gran’s arm. “I’m really alright Gran. Give me a few minutes to get dressed and I’ll be down ok?”
“If you’re sure dear. It’s just that we wondered if something had gone badly with that young man yesterday. He seems like such a nice boy and you seemed to like him so much.”
“I’ll explain everything when I come down,” I promised wondering how on Earth I was going to make good on that and turned towards my room. They seemed to accept my assurances and headed downstairs.
I looked round the small cluttered bedroom and tried to think what to do next. I opened the wardrobe to find an array of tops, skirts, summer dresses and trousers. I recognised the jeans and top Shelley had worn when I met her on the train and thought they might be a safe bet. Then just as I was reaching for the clothes it suddenly seemed right to pick something else. After all I didn’t want to wear the same things again so soon did I?
A small dresser revealed a trove of lacy underwear and suitably armed, I headed back for the bathroom. I pulled off the nightdress and the knickers I’d worn under it. There was a laundry hamper which, after a brief check to see what was already in there, seemed a suitable place for the used underclothes.
I ran my hands through my hair. It was a bit greasy but would probably go another day before it needed washing – odd to have such a normal thought in the middle of all this weirdness, especially since it was kind of a girly one. I wanted to look my body over, but there wasn’t a mirror large enough to let me do so. Instead I pulled my hair back and out of the way and stepped into the shower.
Everything seemed so much more sensitive and the shower became as much an erotic experience as an exercise in personal hygiene. Part of me wanted to take this opportunity to do some exploring, but the better part of me won out. This wasn’t my body and I damn well wasn’t going to abuse it.
It took me a few minutes to work out the infernal workings of the bra, but eventually I had it on and everything secure in its embrace. The rest went on reasonably easily although I did have some doubts about whether I’d actually be able to squeeze into the jeans. In the end though, the beltline pulled up over my hips and the button and zip closed easily enough.
The top I’d chosen was a gypsy blouse with blue embroidery over the bust. It just about reached the beltline of the jeans and offered only the vaguest hint of bare midriff in between. I picked up my nightdress and headed back to my room. After pulling my bed straight I sat down in front of the mirror and spent fifteen frustrating minutes tugging knots free from my hair until it was presentable, then finishing off by pushing a blue plastic headband into place to keep the long hair behind my ears and falling down my back.
I wondered if I should have a go at some makeup, but decided against it. Time to face the music I thought. A glance at the bedside clock told me it was just gone half past seven. I wondered if Shelley would be such a morning person in my body, assuming of course that that’s where she was.
I checked myself one more time in the mirror, realising again that I was actually acting and thinking a lot like a girl, and headed downstairs. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to handle this, but my limited experience with lying told me that the closer I could keep it to the truth, the less the likelihood of being found out.
There was cereal and toast on the table, nothing quite so sumptuous as Aunt Carol usually supplied, but this wasn’t a growing boy I was feeding here. I poured out a meagre helping of something that I was sure would taste of cardboard and poured some milk over it. Gran offered me a bowl of raspberries and I gratefully spooned a few into the bowl.
I tucked in and was instantly surprised at how different the fruit tasted through someone else’s taste buds. I had never cared much for raspberries before as they were too tart for my pallet, but suddenly there was a whole world of flavour chasing around in my mouth. They were still bitter, but somehow that made them all the more enjoyable.
“I do wish you’d wear a dress dear,” Gran offered me a gentle frown. “You’re so beautiful, and I hate to see you parading about in…”
She waved at my jeans instead of finishing her sentence.
I wasn’t sure I was ready for skirts just yet, but I had to respond.
I finished my mouthful. “If you really don’t like it I could go and change.”
“No it’s alright dear. It’s just that I’m getting old and it’s just hard to adjust to some changes.”
“You don’t know the half of it!” I thought, then she put a glass of orange juice in front of me and I almost burst into tears as I realised this was the first familiar thing that had to me happened so far today.
I raised another small mouthful of cereal to my mouth and contemplated what I was going to say to these people. I also started trying to figure out exactly what had happened and from there what I could do to change it back.
There was a knock on the door and Grandpa went to open it.
“Hello Mr Hamilton.” I almost choked as I recognised the voice. “I was wondering if Shelley was in and if I might see her. I think I may have said something to upset her yesterday and I want to put it right.”
I had just about recovered from the shock of hearing my voice, Jerry’s voice, from the other side of the door. Grandpa had turned and was looking at me as if to ask the question. I dabbed my mouth with a napkin and nodded and beckoned for him to let me – I mean Jerry – or did I mean Shelley? – into the house.
Grandpa showed him/me into the kitchen and Gran offered him a glass of OJ which he gratefully accepted. Grandpa wanted to stay, but Gran ushered him out of the room.
Shelley came over to me as soon as the door was closed.
“Are you alright?” She looked into my eyes with genuine concern. My face was only a few inches from me and oddly I felt my breath catch in my throat.
I shook myself out of the momentary spell. “Apart from being turned into you, you mean? Yes I’m just great! How are you getting on?”
“Well it was a bit of a shock I must say, I really didn’t expect this. Do you always eat all that for breakfast?”
“When I’m staying with Aunt Carol, yes. She says it’s the most important meal of the day. What do you mean you didn’t expect THIS. What did you expect and just what did happen?”
“Well… I’m not really supposed to talk about it…” Suddenly she was staring at my/her/his – oh hell this is confusing – fingernails.
“Kinda shoulda thoughta that before all this happened. It’s a bit late now.”
“It’s the spell,” she said sheepishly. “I didn’t really have any idea how I was going to get you to see yourself through my eyes, so I guess it made up its own mind.”
“A spell?” Such things didn’t exist in my world, especially not… “A spell that made up its own mind?”
Shelley sat upright and raised her – my? – chin in a rather girly pose. “OK, you explain what happened!”
I flustered about a bit.
“Magic is real Jerry. There isn’t so much about these days, but a few hundred years ago it was a pretty powerful force.”
“And you know all this because?”
“Because one of my ancestors was one of the most powerful witches in Kent in her day.”
I could not find the words to respond and just stared at her with my mouth hanging open.
She sighed and pushed my jaw back up with a finger. “No I didn’t believe it either when my mum first told me. OK here’s the short version; you deserve that much at least.
“My several times great grandmother was a witch at the head of one of the most powerful covens in Kent a few centuries back. You don’t get to hold a position like that for very long without making enemies and one day another witch put a curse on her and all her issue – that means her kids…”
“I know what it means go on.”
“The details of the curse are kind of vague, but suffice to say that my ancestor was able to come up with a way to counter it in the form of a charm. This charm has been passed from mother to daughter ever since on the daughter’s fifteenth birthday.
“My Mum gave it to me a couple of months ago. When she did she told me that it was mainly for my protection but that it could also perform other magic sometimes. You don’t even need to be a witch or anything, just that sometimes when you really want to do something for the right reason, the charm kind of calls to you to let you know that it can help.”
“So this charm is like a pendant or a broach or something? Do I have it now?”
“No it’s not like that, it kind of stays with me.” She held out her/my right hand and opened it. After a moment’s concentration a pattern glowed briefly on the palm.
“Huh, cool.” I couldn’t help admiring it despite all the weirdness of the morning. “Does that mean that your gran…?” I nodded my head towards the front room.”
“Oh no, that’s my Dad’s mother. She doesn’t know anything about all this, and I’d like to keep things that way if it’s all the same.”
“Don’t worry; I’m not in a hurry to have a room with padded wallpaper.”
Shelley gave me an odd look so I mimed wearing a straitjacket and inadvertently squashed my breasts together in an uncomfortable way. It must have looked quite interesting from her point of view as well because her eyes jumped out on stalks and she went bright red as something uncontrollable started happening under the table.
“Wow, that’s different,” she said smiling despite herself, and my heart skipped a beat as I found myself noticing just how attractive I looked when I did that.
I looked away quickly and an uncomfortable moment passed before I asked, “So how do we undo this?”
“I don’t think it’s that simple.” I looked over at her and she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I think that the spell has to run its course – achieve its end – before we revert.”
“So you mean I’m stuck like this?” Oh no, this would not do!
“We both are I’m afraid, until you can look at me in this body and feel the things that I’ve been feeling these past couple of days.”
“And how long is that going to take?” I could feel the anger rising inside me.
“I don’t know.” She looked up into my eyes and quickly turned away. “It kind of depends on how you feel about me. It could be a couple of days, a couple of weeks… I don’t know.”
“Well right now when I look at that body, all I see is the person who hijacked it, and I don’t feel particularly good about it.”
She looked down obviously upset, and I was shocked at how much like Shelley she looked at that moment.
“I’m sorry I wanted this to be something good for you. I wanted you to know how wonderful a girl can feel when you’re in her life, so that maybe you could believe that Alex might feel the same way. I never meant for something as weird as this to happen, or for you to be upset and angry.”
The thing is I was upset and angry. I had been changed into girl against my will and there was no easy or immediate way out of it.
“What did you tell Aunt Carol?”
“I said I was going to try and mend some fences. I guess they’re a bit more broken than I expected.”
We sat in silence for a while longer, me fuming and her (or was it him) trying not to cry.
“You’d better go,” I said at last. “I need some time to think.”
He nodded and stood up. I did the same and walked him to the door.
“We can’t leave things like this Shelley,” he said aware of two pairs of ears in the lounge nearby.
“Well I’m afraid we’ll have to for now. I’ll call you when I’m ready to talk.”
I closed the door on him and turned to face two anxious grandparents.
An easy out presented itself. I burst into tears and ran upstairs. At least it would give me some time to think.
Shelley’s Gran was a wise old bird. She left me to cry things out for half an hour before she came up with a cup of camomile tea. I sat up on the bed and accepted the cup gratefully.
OK so it turns out there are some tastes even my new taste buds didn’t care for too much. Camomile was definitely one of them but it did have a noticeable calming effect.
She handed me a tissue and I dabbed at my eyes until I could see reasonably well.
“I must look a mess,” I said almost setting off the waterworks again – I mean girly much?
“That’s not important right now dear.” She patted me knee and waited.
I sat for a few minutes tearing the tissue into little shreds. I’d more or less figured out how to tackle this now and wanted to get it just right. The trick was that I didn’t want to be the bad guy after we’d sorted this out, so I had to make it seem like I had a legitimate reason for being upset without portraying myself – Jerry that is – as the villain.
“He said there was another girl at home and that it wouldn’t be fair to lead me on. I mean things were going so well and then he tells me that!” It was amazing how easily the tears came.
“It sounds like he was just trying to be honest with you dear.”
“I know, but couldn’t he have done it before I started liking him so much?”
Gran put her arms around me and rocked me. She was soft and comforting and smelled of lavender. After a while I stopped crying.
“What did he want just now?”
“He asked if we could be just friends.”
“And is that such a bad thing dear?”
“I don’t know Gran, I’m not sure we could.”
“Oh,” she replied. I’m not sure what she thought I had revealed, but she seemed to be quite definite about it.
She stayed with me a while longer not saying anything and just holding me, then she pushed me gently away from her.
“Never mind dear, why don’t you come down and help me put some lunch together, then afterwards you can come out for a walk with Grandpa and me. I’m afraid there’s nothing much more we can do today, but how do you fancy a trip into Harrogate tomorrow? Your mother sent me some money so we could buy you some clothes, and this feels like just the right occasion for… what is it you young people call it now? Retail therapy?”
I managed a weak smile. This may be just the thing for an upset Shelley, but shopping? For clothes?? Women’s clothes at that! What was I stuck with now?
I let Gran lead me down the stairs and we chatted quietly as she chopped some fresh vegetables from the garden and I fetched plates and cutlery and set the table.
After lunch we all pulled on our shoes. Grandpa frowned at my jeans, but he picked up on Gran’s warning glance and didn’t say anything.
The walk was pleasant enough; not particularly fast or far, but then Shelley’s grandparents had reached an age where everything was done at a slower rate. After a while we found ourselves walking down the road past Aunt Carol’s house. I’m not sure if this was planned, but there aren’t a lot of roads to choose in Ferrensby and it’s quite possible that this was the Hamilton’s usual route.
As we approached I could hear the sounds of someone fighting with unfamiliar tools in the front garden then Shelley stood up. She – actually who am I kidding, he – was stripped to the waist and sweating as he pulled a rather large stone out of the ground and set it to one side. He noticed us looking and rapidly turned away from us, trying to cover his chest before realising that he didn’t need to.
“Why don’t you go and have a chat with him dear,” Gran smiled at me – so this was as setup after all.
I did as I was told. “Hi Jerry.”
He smiled his handsome smile and I felt a blush rising as I realised that my lean little frame looked pretty good.
He walked towards me patting the sweat off his body with his tee-shirt.
“Hi,” he said. “I never got a chance to say this morning, that’s a really pretty top. It looks good on you.”
“Thanks I think,” I couldn’t completely hide my smile at his complement. Gran and Grandpa had walked on out of earshot. “I mean it is your body and you bought the blouse.”
“I don’t think I ever tried it with those jeans though. I really like it.” He was smiling again and I felt so confused.
“What’s this about?” I asked nodding at the hole in the ground and the pile of rocks.
“I think it’s Aunt Carol’s way of showing her disapproval with how a young man treats a pretty girl on their first date. I can’t say I wholeheartedly disapprove.” The smile took any sting out of the words. “I was wondering if maybe we could go for a walk together later. I mean being a guy isn’t all that complicated and I’ve managed to work most of it out, but I am aware that there are some things about being a girl that might be causing you some trouble.”
“Oh, I think I’m managing quite well thank-you. Your gran and grandpa have been giving me a bit of space today with me being upset and everything. And Gran’s taking me shopping in Harrogate tomorrow so I probably won’t have time.”
His smile faded a little but he gave a shrug. “OK no big deal, some other time maybe?”
“Maybe.” I felt awful. I remembered what it felt like to be turned down by a pretty girl and he hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
Except maybe turn me into the pretty girl. OK that worked; I was just angry enough not to feel too sorry for him.
“Anyway, I’d better catch up with Gran and Grandpa and I think Aunt Carol’s expecting you do get back to your digging.”
He looked over his shoulder at Aunt Carol standing with her arms crossed at the front door. He groaned and turned back to his hole in the ground.
I waved at Aunt Carol and she returned it as I walked off down the road.
As expected, the evening wasn’t amazingly exiting. After helping Gran to make the tea and wash the dishes after we’d eaten it, I followed them into the front room where Gran and Grandpa settled into their chairs and turned on their very small television to watch the news and some nature documentary afterwards. I wasn’t all that interested so curled up on a window seat with a book Shelley had been reading. I made sure I marked her place before starting over and despite the total lack of action or excitement, I found myself getting quite into it. It was still light at nine o’clock, but the stress of the day had been wearing so I excused myself and headed for my room.
I picked out a new pair of knickers and my nightie and slipped into the bathroom to undress. I was going to have to wash my hair before going into town in the morning which would mean an early morning, but I was too tired to be bothered with it now. Taking the bra off was a blessed relief and the same with the rather tight jeans.
The shower was as much a pleasure as it had been in the morning and I felt myself going all moist inside as my thoughts drifted to the sight of Shelley in my body sweating over Aunt Carol’s front garden. I snapped out of it and pulled my fingers away from the part of my anatomy where they had been straying. I deliberately turned the shower to cold and almost shrieked at the sudden shock.
I dried myself off and pulled the night dress over my head. The cool cotton brushed against my skin and I felt my nipples harden at the touch of the soft fabric. I brushed my teeth and hurried to my room with confused thoughts and feelings flooding my mind and body.
I lifted the duvet and settled into the soft embrace of the bed. The pillow smelled of Shelley’s perfume and I let out a gentle sigh as I drifted into Morpheus’ welcoming arms.
The night was filled with erotic dreams of Shelley and me. Her lips kissing mine, nibbling my ears, caressing my throat. Her hands cupping my breasts, stroking my navel, reaching between my thighs. My own hand reaching out to take hold of his…!
I was suddenly very wide awake. My body was covered in perspiration and waves of pleasure coursed through me in a receding tide, each one just a little less than the last. My own hands were between my legs and my knickers were…in need of a change.
I climbed out of bed and retrieved a fresh pair of knickers. The next drawer down revealed fresh night clothes. I grabbed a peach tee-shirt style nightie and headed as quietly as I could for the bathroom. The underwear went into the sink and I sat on the toilet waiting for the last surges of feeling to subside.
A few moments later there was a gentle tap on the door. “Shelley dear, are you alright?”
Never try to out-stealth the elderly. “Yes Gran I’m fine, it was just a dream.”
“Well if you’re sure…”
“I’m sure Gran”
“You’re not starting your…?”
“Gran I’m fine, please go back to bed.” Though it did give me one question I needed to raise with Shelley the next time I saw her.
It took me a few minutes to clean up and get changed. My old nightdress was wringing with perspiration – ladies don’t sweat remember – so it went in the laundry hamper. The rest I dealt with and you really don’t want to know the details.
I could feel Shelley’s gran straining to hear as I tiptoed back to bed. I lay staring at the wall for a long time before I drifted off again.
Somehow I managed to rouse myself early the next morning. Gran, as with the previous day, was up and moving around in the kitchen so I took the opportunity to dive into the bathroom. I checked to make sure that I hadn’t left anything lying around the previous night before stepping into the shower.
Washing this much hair proved to be quite challenge and it took far longer than I was used to before I was done. With a little bit of trial and error I finally managed to get a towel to hold up around my body and a second one to wrap up my hair and sit on my head.
I headed back to my room and towelled my hair dry as best I could before setting about searching for a hair drier. It turned up a couple of minutes later in the drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe and I sat down in front of the dressing table mirror to start working on it.
“What is it dear?” Granma appeared with impeccable timing carrying a mug of tea.
“I have a zit,” I said presenting the side of my nose with the offending spot to the mirror. Somehow it seemed like the worst disaster in the world.
“I didn’t think you cleansed last night.” Gran set the mug of tea down on the bedside table. “Now let’s have a look.” She took my face in her hands and peered down her nose at my face. “Well not much we can do about it now. I suggest you give you face a good steaming to open up the pores and then give it a good cleansing. We’ll put some antiseptic on it and who knows, it may just clear. I’ll go and run some hot water into the sink, you come along in a minute and bring that towel.”
I did as I was told and stooped over the sink of steaming water with a towel draped over my head for about 10 minutes, then headed back to my room. Gran had put out the bunch of skin care bottles and cleansing pads I remembered seeing in one of the draws the previous day. I spent a few minutes reading the instructions on the bottle then, none the wiser, grabbed the biggest of the bottles, labelled skin cleanser, and used it with a few of the pads to give my face a good going over.
Maybe Shelley had been right, this girl thing was a bit more complicated than I’d first thought.
I remembered to drink my tea while it still had some heat to it, then over the next half hour did battle with my hair; combing knots out of it, drying it and trying to give it some shape. Even after thirty minutes of continuous work it still felt slightly damp, but I couldn’t be bothered to fight it anymore.
I grabbed a fresh pair of undies and a tangle of straps that eventually unravelled into a bra and started dressing. I settled my two smallish breasts into the cups and a memory of Dad’s voice calling it an ‘over the shoulder boulder holder’ jumped out from the back of my mind and made me smile. What would he think if he could see his only son now?
I opened the wardrobe and started going through the hangers. There were other pairs of trousers in here but, conscious of what Gran had said the previous day and Grandpa’s disapproving looks, I decided it wouldn’t do any harm to show willing since they had been so kind to me. Eventually I settled on a pink summer dress with short sleeves, a respectable neckline that nonetheless showed enough cleavage to be interesting and a hemline that was just above the knee. The material was light and swirled delightfully about my legs and I actually found myself enjoying the look and feel of the clothes.
I found a dark blue hair band and managed to settle it into place, then a pair of white sandals with a half inch heel that seemed to go quite well. I checked myself in the mirror; the red around the spot had subsided quite a bit. Feeling pleased with myself I headed downstairs for breakfast.
The smiles I received from Gran and Grandpa were enough to make the effort worthwhile. I ate half a slice of toast with marmalade and no butter – yet another question for Shelley, how much should I be eating if I wanted to maintain this figure? – and downed the obligatory glass of OJ.
By eight o’clock Gran and I were ready for our jaunt into town. Gran looked at me a little oddly.
“Aren’t you bringing a handbag?” She asked.
I made an oops face and ran upstairs. There had been two in the bottom of the wardrobe; one white and one black. I grabbed the white one and, finding it empty, transferred the contents of the black one across to it. Two minutes later Gran and I were waiting at the bus stop.
As we boarded the bus and settled into our seats it dawned on me that I was now on a bus, in public, wearing a dress, and quite a short one at that. We were also heading into town where, if Gran had her way, I would try everything that Harrogate had to offer in the way of skirts, tops, dresses and shoes. I started to get very nervous. Gran noticed and smiled.
“Don’t get your hopes up too much dear.” She said, totally misreading me. “Harrogate does have one or two good shops but I doubt you’ll find the kind of variety you’re used to.”
I managed a smile back but couldn’t think of anything to say in return.
Gran kept a running commentary on village life going through most of the journey into Harrogate. She seemed to think I should know some of the people she mentioned, but all I could contribute was the occasional nod or shake of the head. This didn’t seem to faze her and she carried on regardless, putting my reticence down to the previous day’s upset.
The shops were just beginning to open as we headed into the centre of town from the terminus. Gran led me into the first clothing store we came across and a new aspect of life opened up for me.
As a boy I’d never been that interested in clothes. They were a necessary part of life; a way of covering the bits you didn’t want to display to the world and of keeping warm during the winter. OK sure I did pick out a few tee-shirts and sweatshirts I liked, but they usually had clever slogans or famous movie scenes on them. Apart from that there wasn’t that much in the guys’ line that was particularly interesting and, let’s face it even if there were, no self-respecting bloke would go to too much trouble to buy really attractive clothes; I mean that would be trying too hard.
But here I was in what I had to admit was a fairly spectacularly girl’s body and part of the deal was to make it look as good as I could.
I was a little reluctant to start with, especially when I saw some of the prices, but Gran had the bit between her teeth and started pulling out dresses from the rack and holding them up against me with a critical look. There was an awkward moment when I realised I didn’t know my size, but after we sorted that out with the help of a tape measure form Grans bag I started getting into the swing of things. I found colours that went well with my hair colour and complexion and others that decidedly didn’t. I started picking out designs that I liked and thought would look good, and spent a ridiculous amount of time in changing rooms primping and preening in front of full length mirrors.
I showed Gran everything I put on, sharing the downright awful – for the laugh – as much as the good and the indifferent. I picked out a few things that I thought would look good on Gran and in the end she agreed to a new scarf, but only if she was allowed to buy me a rather stunning black dress that had caught my eye.
Clothes bought, we headed for the shoe shops since I apparently didn’t have anything to match some of the new outfits. Gran seemed to delight in spending money on me and I started to worry over the amounts being paid. I confronted her after the second pair of shoes and she told me not to worry, that the size of the allowance my parents had given her reflected the guilt they felt at not spending more time with me. I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, but let it go.
By lunchtime my feet were killing me, but I felt more energised and animated than I had ever done on after a shopping expedition. We found a coffee shop that was not quite overflowing and managed to squeeze onto an empty table. I left Gran with the truly obscene number of bags that we had been carrying and joined the queue for drinks and sandwiches.
I noticed Aunt Carol before I saw Shelley – probably because I was still not that used to seeing my own body from the outside. Gran saw them too and waved them over to the table she was guarding. I was pointed out and Shelley headed over with a couple of additional orders. He settled into the queue beside me, ignoring the barbed looks from the people behind us in the queue, and gave me a sheepish grin.
“It was Aunt Carol’s idea. She said your mum and dad had given her a bit of money to spend on me and she figured I’d want to spend those book tokens sometime. I hope you don’t mind me spending your money.”
It was my turn to look sheepish. “Not if you don’t mind me spending yours.”
I nodded at the pile of bags and he whistled. “Well you do seem to have had an interesting morning.”
“Not the way I would have chosen to spend it, and I hope we’re still within budget, but I must say it was a lot more fun than I expected.”
I gave him a sunny smile and noted the odd look in his eyes. It reminded me of the way I felt when Alex was about, and it gave me a warm feeling inside to think I was affecting him in that way.
We paid for the food and drink and headed back to the table. Aunt Carol and Gran were chatting away like a couple of old friends and it dawned on me that, living in the same village, they might just be that.
I felt a little awkward as I picked my way through a chicken salad. Shelley was at a loss for words too, and we didn’t exchange more than a couple of sentences the whole time we were sitting together. Towards the end Aunt Carol asked Shelley’s gran how nearly finished we were and if she could offer us a lift home. Looking at the sheer bulk of our spoils and imagining the struggle on a busy bus, Gran was only too pleased to accept on our behalf. Shelley’s eyes brightened at the prospect of sharing the trip home with me, and I have to admit to feeling a gentle buzz at the thought too.
Shelley helped carry the bags, picking up the large majority of them and making a sarcastic comment about how empty the shops must be now. I gave him a har-har-very-funny smile and poked my tongue out at him as we followed Carol to the car park.
Gran sat up front with Carol, leaving me sitting in an awkward silence with Shelley on the back seat while the two older women prattled away the journey home. We arrived back in Ferrensby and Carol pulled up outside the Hamilton’s small terrace, Shelley seemed to reach a decision.
“Can we meet up later for a walk or something?”
Aunt Carol and Gran became conspicuously still and quiet in the front of the car and I had to suppress a smile. I still wasn’t sure I was done being mad with Shelley, but I needed a few lessons in being a girl and I had a growing list of questions that needed answering.
“OK, but just a walk.”
Gran’s and Carol’s attempts to hide a smile were quite comical and again I found myself biting the inside of my cheek as Shelley gave me a far more sincere, grateful smile.
“I’ll come round about seven-thirty if that’s ok?”
I looked at Gran who nodded and shrugged. “We should have eaten by then. Thanks for the lift Carol, I don’t think we would have been too popular on the bus with all this stuff.”
We unloaded the back of the car and waved as Carol and Shelley pulled away.
The bags just about made it up the stairs in one trip with Gran and Grandpa helping. There didn’t seem to be a lot of room in my small bedroom, but by the time everything was out of bags and boxes and squeezed into the wardrobe, it seemed like I would be able to breath in there after all.
“It’s a bit like the Tardis that wardrobe.” It was about the only time Grandpa had opened his mouth since I’d woken up in Shelley’s bed and I grinned at his attempt at a joke. “I’d never have thought you could get all that clobber in there.”
“Why don’t you have a shower and get changed dear?” Gran asked. “I imagine you’re feeling a bit grubby after a day in town. You could try on that blue dress.”
There was a twinkle of mischief about her eyes, but it did seem like a good idea and that blue dress was rather special.
Half an hour later, feeling refreshed and clean, I twirled in front of the small mirror in my room and luxuriated in the look and feel of the new material on my body. The dress was a subtle blue grey that contrasted well with my light skin and hair. It was a one shoulder design that couldn’t be worn with any of the bras I had, but fortunately had sufficient support sewn into it that I didn’t need one. It was made of an inner satin sheath with tiers of floating chiffon reaching down to mid-thigh. It would go well with my white sandals, but right now it needed something new so I pulled out a new pair of white court shoes. They had a two inch heel on them which was probably going to make walking something of a challenge, but the overall effect was perfect and I felt like a million dollars as I made my way downstairs.
Both Gran and Grandpa gave me approving smiles as I walked into the kitchen. I asked what I could do to help and was told that I could sit to one side and make sure I didn’t ruin my new outfit.
Gran gave me a sideways look. “You know, I’m not much for makeup and that sort of thing, but I think we could probably improve on perfection this time, what do you think Geoff?”
“Oh I think it would be gilding the lily, but have too if you think it worthwhile,” Grandpa replied.
Gran wiped her hands on her apron and ushered me back upstairs. In my bedroom she sat me in front of the dressing table and looked in the mirror over my shoulder. She produced a shopping bag I hadn’t seen earlier and pulled out a rather impressively large makeup kit with ‘Summer Girl’ emblazoned on the front and opened it for my inspection.
I stared in panic at the vast and unfamiliar array of goodies in front of me. Gran must have thought I was overwhelmed, because she smiled at me and patted me shoulder.
“Just promise me you’ll clean it off properly before bed.” She withdrew leaving me with no idea on what to do next.
I remembered girls at school doing their makeup, and I tried to dredge up memories of what they had actually been doing with some of this stuff.
Foundation first I guessed and picked up a small compact with a pad and some flesh coloured powder in it. My first attempt was decidedly heavy handed and I wiped it off immediately and started over. On about my third try I managed to put on a light enough dusting that it seemed to give me a smoother complexion while seeming like there was hardly any makeup there at all.
Encouraged I looked at my eyes. I didn’t want to risk eyeliner or mascara on a first try, and instead tried applying a small amount of silvery blue eye shadow. I probably didn’t put on enough, but the final effect was quite subtle and worked well enough for me.
Lastly for a first attempt, I chose a darkish pink lip gloss. It took a while to follow the line of my lips, but the final effect was worth all the time and effort. I’d looked gorgeous before, but this was definitely a step up.
I dropped the compact and lip gloss into my white handbag along with the other odds and end that were in there and headed back downstairs once more. This time Grandpa actually whistled as I walked into the kitchen and Gran gave me a quick once over close up before nodding her head in approval.
“Just right,” she said with smile.
By the smell, tea was nearly ready so I set about laying out plates and cutlery. Glasses of water followed and we sat down as Gran lifted a casserole out of the oven and placed it in the centre of the table.
“I feel quite underdressed,” Grandpa smiled at me as he ladled a healthy portion of stew onto my plate. It seemed that now I was smiling again, he felt a bit more comfortable joining in the conversation.
We chatted over the meal about all sorts of nothing. Gran and I regaled Grandpa with tales of our shopping exploits, something I’m sure he could have quite happily lived without, although he made a show of nodding and smiling in all the right places, then he told us all the pieces of news he’d picked up from his newspaper. It felt great to have that human contact and it really didn’t matter that the topics of conversation weren’t all that stimulating.
We’d about finished when Gran glanced up at the clock.
“Ooh, you’d better go check yourself dear, that young man of yours will be here in a few minutes.”
The clock read twenty-five minutes past and I stood up and started to gather the plates.
“Oh don’t worry about that love, Grandpa and I will sort it out. You just go and make sure you’re ready for when he calls.”
I dashed upstairs and checked my face. The lip gloss needed a little touching up, after which I took out my brush and started going through my hair. I was still brushing and enjoying the feeling when the door knocker rapped loudly starling me back to full awareness.
I heard murmured voices downstairs and recognised my own among them. I kept on brushing and waited to be called.
“Shelley dear, your young man’s here,” Gran called up the stairs.
“I’ll be right down,” I called back, gave myself a last approving once over and on impulse picked up the perfume bottle. Having watched my Mum in the past I did as she always had, upending the bottle onto its glass stopper then dabbing the stopper onto my wrists and either side of my neck.
I grabbed my handbag and forced myself to walk slowly and sedately down the stairs.
The sight of Shelley looking up at me with his mouth hanging open was a delight. It did me good to see how much my appearance had knocked the wind out of his sails.
He had made an effort as well; wearing what I knew full well was his one pair of good jeans and a new polo shirt. His hair was combed and he held in his hand a small bunch of flowers from Aunt Carol’s garden. When he had recovered from his temporary trance, he reached forward and offered them to me.
“These are for you.” He seemed oddly flustered which I thought was kind of cute.
“They’re lovely,” I said accepting them and taking a deep breath of their perfume. It was oddly sweet, and I felt a bit of ice melt from my frosty opinion of him.
“Let me take them from you and put them in some water,” said Gran and I handed them over.
Jerry offered his arm and after moment’s hesitation I slid my own into the crook of his elbow.
“Have fun kids, don’t be too late.”
The door closed behind us and Shelley stopped to look at me.
“You look incredible. Is that one of your purchases from this morning?” I nodded and he smiled. “I think I’m going to have to get you to go shopping for me another time.”
And that broke the spell. Suddenly I was once more aware that I was really a boy in a girl’s body, and no matter how natural, how much fun, it had felt to go shopping this morning, to dress up and even to put on make-up, I was still Jerry Newington. I should actually be inhabiting the body of the person whose arm I was holding and she should be in this one. I pulled my arm away and took a step away.
“Shelley…” He started.
“My name is Jerry, or have you forgotten who you really are already?”
“No it’s not that, it just…” He lifted his arms in a what-can-you-do shrug. “It just seems easier to think of you as Shelley and me as Jerry while we’re like this. But OK, Jerry if you prefer.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just that I’m not coping as well as I thought I might. I mean I’m a guy right. OK not much of a guy, I’m not all that big and strong, but I’m still a boy. I shouldn’t be enjoying shopping trips and putting on hundreds and hundreds of outfits. I shouldn’t be so thrilled at how I look when I put on a dress, I shouldn’t be so focused on putting on make-up that I spend a whole hour in front of the mirror in my room making sure it looks just right. This isn’t me and I’m so scared that I’m losing myself in what I’ve become.”
The tears were flowing and I was glad I’d chosen not to try the mascara.
Shelley put his arm around me and I felt myself stiffening. He withdrew uncertain of what to do. After a moment he decided to try talking.
“I know what you mean. Yesterday digging in the front garden was actually quite fun and today as I was walking around town with your Aunt I saw a dress that I knew would look good on me… well you… whatever. It was gorgeous, but I really couldn’t get that excited about it.
“When I was looking for a book or two to buy with those tokens of yours, I looked through all the romance stuff I usually like and nothing grabbed me at all.”
I sniffed. “What did you get in the end?”
“Some new science fiction book that looked kind of exciting. It’s like I’m becoming you somehow.”
“Part of the spell?” I queried.
“I suppose it must be, but it seems like a step too far to me.”
“What and swapping bodies wasn’t?”
“Shelley – Jerry – I’m sorry, you have to believe me I didn’t plan for this to happen. I miss being me as much as you miss being you. Please let’s work this out and we can both get back to our lives.”
“It’s not that easy you know? I mean I can’t get past how angry I am that you would do this to me.”
“Even though I didn’t mean to?”
“I think that makes it worse. I mean to mess with something as powerful as this without know what it would do is reckless.”
“You’re right, but I had no idea it was this powerful. If I’d had even the slightest inkling that it could go this far I would never have tried it.”
“And your greatly great grandmother being one of the most powerful witches in Kent wasn’t an inkling?”
He looked at the ground. “Who believes in magic anymore?”
I stared at him. “That sounds like something I’d say.”
“Yeah. I mean I knew it was magic – you don’t get a glowing pattern thing appear on your hand without some pretty good special effects – that’s why I believed it would work when I offered you the gift, but glowing patterns and swapping bodies; not exactly the same thing.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’m doing all I can. I’m trying to be as charming as I know you can be, but I keep hitting this brick wall. As soon as you remember that you’re meant to be a boy and that I did something to put you into my body, you clam up and get all snarky with me.”
“Do you blame me?”
“No actually I’m pretty annoyed with myself as well right now. I can’t believe I got us into this mess.”
I put my arm on his and leaned my head against his shoulder. “OK so what do I have to do?”
He pulled me around and looked into my eyes. “Just give me a chance. Try and put what actually happened behind you and see me as this guy who really rather likes you. Maybe see if you can like me back.”
He was so earnest it was hard not to smile.
“I mean what can I do to make things easier for you?”
I did smile at that and mentally prepared my list.
“OK, first you can tell me about what I’m supposed to do to my face before I go to bed at night. I had a zit this morning and Gran said I hadn’t cleansed and moisturised my skin.”
The earlier seriousness faded and we walked around the village for over an hour talking about make-up and clothing and a lot of little things I would never have thought to ask. I actually felt a lot better by the time we found ourselves approaching Shelley’s grandparent’s house and I was hanging on to his arm again.
“So will you go out with me to the cinema tomorrow night? We can take the bus in and grab a burger or something before the early show. I’d offer to pay, but that just means you’ll have less money when we change back.”
I laughed and asked what was showing. He listed a bunch of titles and we settled on something which came halfway between chick flick and action movie. In our present state a halfway choice seemed best for both of us.
We arranged to meet at the bus-stop at five the next afternoon and slowed our walking as we approached the end of our walk.
“There is one more thing I need to tell you.” He was very hesitant as he said it. “I’m afraid you’re not going to like it.”
I pulled away from him. What could make this worse?
“Erm… I’m, that is you are about due.” He couldn’t meet my eyes.
For a moment I couldn’t’ figure out what he meant, then Gran’s question from the previous night came back to me. “Shit no!”
I stared at him unbelievingly and he just nodded.
“You may feel a bit bloated tomorrow or the next day. When it happens you’ll need to be ready.”
He reached for my handbag and pulled something that looked a bit like a white cigar with a fuse attached. He spent a few minutes explaining what to do with it, when and how often to change it. To be honest it was just a bit more information than I felt I would ever want to know about that particular part of a woman’s life, but if I was going to have to deal with this it was best to be forewarned.
“You really know how to leave the best for last don’t you?” I said feeling sick to the stomach.
“I’m sorry, it just seemed that it would bring another evening to an early disaster if I’d brought it up too soon, and I did have a great evening.”
He looked at me expectantly; hopefully.
“Yeah, right up until this moment.” I couldn’t get past this latest hiccup in my current existence. Eventually I did find a smile from somewhere and offered it to him. “It was a lovely walk Shelley, thank-you. And for the flowers, they were a lovely thought.”
He offered me a weak smile. “See you tomorrow at five then?”
I nodded then opened the door and stepped in without looking back. The new shoes had been pinching my feet for that last fifteen minutes and I was glad to step out of them.
Gran’s expectant face appeared in the hallway. I smiled, “He’s asked me to go to the cinema tomorrow. If it’s ok with you we’ll catch the five o’clock bus into Harrogate and get something to eat in town.”
“Oh that’s wonderful.” Gran was a whole lot more enthusiastic about it than I was. She pulled back from the hug as soon as she realised I wasn’t really returning it. “What’s the matter dear?”
“Oh nothing much, I think it might just be that time of the month.” I’d heard Mum using a similar term; never in a million years expected it to apply to me though.
“Well that’s life for you dear. Why don’t you go and have a nice hot bath and I’ll bring you up some hot chocolate in a bit.”
The hot bath seemed like an odd idea, but with a few relaxing bath oils added I felt the queasiness subside. Whether it was the genuine article or a just some sympathetic reaction to the news I don’t know, I was just pleased to have it go.
I towelled off and slipped on the previous night’s pink nightie before sitting in front of the mirror. My hair had managed to get a little damp so I dried that first before setting to with the makeup remover. I then went through the skin cleaning regime that Shelley had explained to me earlier, pleased to see that the zit had subsided and was almost invisible.
Gran turned up with the hot chocolate just as I was finishing.
“I thought we might go fruit picking tomorrow. There’s a farm just down the road that looks like it has some magnificent strawberries and raspberries.”
“Sounds like fun,” I smiled sipping on the chocolate – wow that was a better buzz than I usually got from the stuff. “Would you mind if I wore trousers? I’d hate to get one of my dresses snagged.”
“No of course not! You wear what you like dear. We should be back in good time for you to get ready for your date.”
I sensed a pause after that and some girlish instinct must have picked up on it.
“What do you think I should wear?”
Gran’s smile told me I was right and we spent half an hour going through my new purchases discussing the pros and cons of each outfit before settling on what suddenly seemed to be just the right one. Gran gave me a hug and wished me goodnight taking the empty mug from my hands.
I brushed my teeth and settled into bed with the book I had started the previous day. After a while my eyes began to droop and I switched out the light. I only hoped I was too tired for the sort of dreams I’d experienced the previous night.
The next day I woke to a bloated feeling in my midriff. I headed for the bathroom and noticed some spotting in my knickers. I’d brought an applicator just in case and after my shower decided that this was as good a time as any to get started. The whole process was something of an anti-climax and I felt quite normal afterwards – apart from the bloated feeling. I also had a twinge of cramp across my lower back, but thought that might just as easily be caused by my first excursion in heels the previous evening.
I pulled on a pair of loose canvas trousers and a fairly scruffy tee-shirt. I didn’t feel too much like taking time with my appearance and we were going to be getting down and dirty in a local farmer’s field that morning. I grabbed a scrunchy and pulled my hair into a rough pony tail like I’d seen the girls at school doing, then headed down for breakfast feeling less than wonderful.
Gran didn’t comment on my appearance and just put a mug of herbal tea in front of me.
“It helps with my arthritis,” she said. “It should help you a little bit too.”
I thanked her and sipped at the bitter brew with barely concealed distaste.
“You get used to the flavour,” Gran breezed turning back to the loaf of bread and cutting a couple more slices for the toaster. “And you will appreciate the effects in a few minutes.”
“What’s in it?” I took another sip and tried to think of the good it was supposedly doing me.
“Echinacea,” Gran replied. “It’s an anti-inflammatory which makes it good for your current problem as well as mine.”
I swallowed down a larger mouthful and looked up as Grandpa poked his head into the kitchen.
“Oh, where’s my glamour girl this morning?”
“She took the morning off Grandpa. Gran said we were going fruit picking today and it didn’t seem sensible to risk ruining my good clothes.”
I wasn’t feeling that hungry but at Gran’s insistence managed a slice of toast and marmalade. When I had finished Gran’s vile brew she offered me a glass of OJ and I gratefully drank it down in an attempt to take away the flavour of the Echinacea. I had noticed the cramps in my back easing though and I said as much to Gran.
She gave me an I-told-you-so smile and after breakfast we went through the slow, gentle rituals of the morning before getting ready to head out to the farm.
I had pulled on some ankle socks and was tying up the laces on my trainers ready for the off when there was a knock at the door.
“Whoever could that be,” Grandpa muttered as he went to answer it, returning a minutes later with an enormous bouquet of flowers.
“Well I know I didn’t get them for you,” Grandpa said to Gran. “So unless you have a secret lover stashed away somewhere and he’s suddenly acting a lot bolder, I can only imagine these are for you my dear.”
He handed them to me and I just looked at them in shock. Gran eventually came to my rescue with a bucket of water and an assist putting them into it. The envelope was, as predicted, addressed to me. I opened it and read.
“Dear Shelley, thank-you for giving me a second chance. These are the flowers I would have liked to have given you yesterday if I’d had the time to arrange it. Looking forward to tonight, Jerry.”
No-one had ever given me flowers before – well obviously I mean who gives flowers to a fifteen year old boy? – and I felt myself going weak at the knees as I looked at them. I thought of Shelley in my body smiling from my face and the feeling grew.
Gran and I split the flowers up, cut them and arranged them in several vases which I then placed in different rooms about the house. I had no idea what the different flowers were, having had no interest in them up until the previous evening, but the colours and shapes and perfumes were intoxicating. It was almost a shame to leave the house.
“I don’t think he’s thinking about that girl back home right now.” Gran said.
With that my thoughts drifted to Alex. I pictured her in my mind and wondered what it was that I saw in her. I mean sure she was pretty, but now when I thought of her there were none of the waves of emotion that I usually felt washing over me. Was it possible that as Shelley I wasn’t attracted to girls anymore?
The morning passed quickly enough and by the time we were done I had decided I definitely preferred picking strawberries to raspberries. Quite apart from the absence of thorns, the strawberries were that much tastier and I discovered that I still had a very sweet tooth as the occasional fruit found itself diverted to my mouth instead of the punnet I was using to collect them. Eventually, burdened with Gran’s wheelie shopping bag and two additional heavy duty shopping bags full of fruit, we made it back to the house.
Grandpa had picked up some double cream when he went to fetch his newspaper so we put aside a generous bowl of strawberries to eat with lunch, then Gran set about the alchemy of turning the rest of the fruit into preserves. I helped where I could but with the amount of instruction I needed I was more hindrance than anything. By the time we had finished, the combination of the bloated icky feeling in my stomach and the sight of too much fruit had stolen my appetite from me. I nibbled on a sandwich to try and appease Gran and eventually as three o’clock approached, I excused myself to go upstairs and get ready.
Every young woman needs a little black dress and since my, or rather Shelley’s, body was developing a rather exquisite classic hourglass figure, what I needed was apparently a V-neck dress with an A-line skirt to show off those curves. That’s what the lady in the shop had said before she presented us with a disappointingly plain looking dress. Gran had insisted I try it on and the moment it fell into place I knew it was perfect. There was a zip up the back and the skirt was made of a light material which settled at about mid-thigh and swirled about like it was alive.
The price tag had been alarming and I had taken a lot of persuading, but it looked so good on me that I eventually allowed Gran to talk me into buying it, in exchange for her agreeing to buy that scarf for herself. It hardly seemed fair – well let’s face it, it wasn’t – but right now I was so excited about the prospect of wearing it that I managed to forget how much it had cost, both in compromised values and cash terms.
Yeah get that, a fifteen year old boy excited about wearing a dress. Go figure.
I lay the dress out on my bed and smoothed down the soft material, then went in search of the accessories. To go with the LBD, I’d also bought a cream crop cardigan, a new clutch bag, some ten denier charcoal tights and pair of black open-toed heels.
With everything laid out, I sat down in front of my dresser wearing new black lacy knickers and bra – yes quite sexy – and set to work on my makeup. Armed with a few pointers from Shelley the night before, I decided to do the works, so starting with a light coating of foundation I added some light shading to accentuate my cheeks and a light plum eye shadow. Following a surprisingly accident free application of eye liner and mascara, I finished off with an equally surprisingly accurate painting of the lips with the same pink lip gloss I’d used the day before.
I was admiring my handiwork when Gran came into my room and, after giving me a critical once over, smiled and nodded her approval. I stepped into the dress and she helped fasten me into it then sat me down in front of the mirror to do my hair.
She started by brushing it gently till I drifted into a state of sublime contentment. She then teased out a few strands of hair from either temple and braided them with a length of black ribbon, joining them at the back and blending them back into the rest of my hair. The final effect was a kind of coronet made of braided hair and ribbon which seemed an ideal complement to the dress.
This done she fetched her jewellery box and pulled out a thin silver necklace and matching dangly earrings, each with three strands of the same silver linkage. I wanted to protest but she wasn’t in a listening mood, so I held my hair out the way while she fastened the clasp of the necklace and replaced the studs I hadn’t even noticed were in my ears with the earrings.
I shook my head gently from side to side enjoying the weight pulling on my earlobes and Gran stepped out to let me finish getting ready.
I slipped on the tights and felt a new shock of pleasure course though me as the skirts of my dress brushed my nylon clad legs with a cool and gentle caress. I slipped on the cardigan and my heels, picked up my small clutch bag and gave myself a dazzling smile in the small mirror. As far as I could see the overall effect was perfect.
I opened the clutch bag and transferred a bare minimum of emergency supplies and makeup along with enough cash to provide me some spending money and the cost of taxi ride home should I need it. The last thing to squeeze in was my mobile and I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why so few people seemed to be calling or texting it. Then with one last once over I headed out the door and down the stairs for grandparental approval.
Gran and Grandpa both did a quick version of the Shelley Hamilton fan club thing with Gran pinning an orchid from this morning’s delivery to my cardigan, then Gran pointed at the clock and waved me towards the door. I had a curfew of ten o’clock which fit in quite well with the film and bus timings. With nothing else to be said, I kissed each of them and headed through the door.
The bus stop was a five minute walk away and I reached it ten minutes before the bus was due. Shelley was again smartly turned out in best jeans and new polo shirt; black this time. I wondered how long it would take before I started to envy him his five minutes to get ready, but then the look on his face when he caught sight of me made the two hours’ preparation worthwhile.
He seemed completely at a loss for words so I took pity on him and kissed him lightly on the cheek and thanked him for the flowers. He swallowed a few times and words still refused to come. I knew how that felt from his end and put him out of his misery – or maybe made it a little worse, I’m not sure – by linking arms with him and leaning my head on his shoulder until the bus arrived.
One uneventful bus ride later, we found ourselves a high speed grease dispensary and joined the queue. I told Shelley that he wouldn’t have a growing boy’s body to feed for ever and that he should make the most of it, so when it came our turn to speak to the minimum wage slave behind the counter, he ordered the franchise’s version of a four ounce burger with cheese and everything and supersized fries and coke. I settled for a chicken salad wrap with normal sized extras and, having paid and collected, we found ourselves a table.
Our teenage bodies surrendered to their craving for junk food and for the first few moments we revelled in the sinful pleasures of the mass produced, overly processed, nutritionless wares we’d just bought.
“You know this stuff should be listed as a controlled substance,” Shelley said and I found myself laughing even though it was an old joke. Somewhere inside I wanted to encourage him and it felt good to see his confidence grow with my reaction.
Shelley put down his half-eaten burger and took my free hand in his.
“You know you look absolutely fantastic?” I felt myself blushing as a deep sense of warm pleasure began to diffuse through my body. “I mean that dress looks spectacular on you and I love what you’ve done with your hair.”
“That was Gran’s idea.” I said. “I wondered if it was a bit over the top, but I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out.”
“You know, if the spell were backwards we’d be back in our own bodies right now; I never thought my body could look so beautiful.”
I know it was meant as a compliment but somehow it shattered the illusion of what this evening was turning into. The cramps chose that moment to reappear as well and I felt the dreamy feelings that had started to grow drifting away.
I think Shelley sensed something had slipped away as well because he dropped my hand and returned to his food. Nothing much more was said as we finished eating and headed for the cinema.
The film was something of a relief as it gave an excuse for us not to talk and eased the awkwardness between us. At one point Shelley tried to put his arm across my shoulder, but that added to my discomfort and didn’t really feel right so I pulled it back between us. I knew it would feel like a rejection to him though, and softened it by holding onto his hand. I didn’t really want to do that either, but I wanted to crush his feelings even less, so I held on.
The film was quite a good one and had me halfway through a packet of tissues by the end. It gave me an excuse, and as the credits rolled up the screen I dived for the ladies’ room to fix my makeup. Once I was satisfied with the way I looked and had taken care of the necessary down below I made my way back to a fidgeting Shelley who gave me a weak smile of relief when I reappeared.
“I thought you might have snuck out the back or something.”
“I would have thought you of all people would know that it takes time to do these things.”
“Well it was worth the wait,” he said somewhat lamely and we had another awkward moment.
“You know that’s my first time in a public loo as a girl?” He laughed and the awkwardness was defeated.
We talked about the film on the bus ride home; steering for safe topics and acting as friends. He walked me to my door and we stood facing each other for a few moments and I could see him marshalling his courage.
I wasn’t ready to go there just yet so I reached up and kissed him on the cheek. “I had a great time this evening Shelley. Thank-you.”
I could almost see him deflate a little, but he managed a smile. “Maybe we can do something like it again soon?”
“I’d like that.” I smiled back and touched his arm. “Call me?”
He nodded and I turned to go into the house.
I turned back to him. He was looking at his feet and seemed near tears.
“I think I screwed up somewhere this evening. I’m sorry.”
I realised how hard this was for him as well, trying to deal with all sorts of newness. Yet again I felt what he was going through – been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.
“You didn’t do so bad,” I said lifting his chin. I gave him another smile and kissed him lightly on the lips.
It was the right thing to do. Seeing the light come back into his eyes was a delight. His spirits soared and mine followed.
“Maybe we can do something tomorrow?”
I laughed at his sudden exuberance, like a puppy jumping up and down.
“Like I said call me. Oh and no more flowers. They were absolutely gorgeous, but I don’t know if my allowance can afford many more gestures like that.”
I went in through the door and turned to see him dancing and kicking his heels as he made his own way home. I leaned against the edge of the door and allowed myself a few gooey feelings at his antics. He was an idiot, but the way he was beginning to make me feel…
I closed the door and popped my head in on Gran and Grandpa.
“How was it?” Gran asked getting up.
“Oh it had its moments,” I said going just a little bit dreamy. “The cramps came back though.” I winced and rubbed my back.
“Oh I’m sorry love, would you like some Echinacea tea?”
I nodded gratefully and followed her through to the kitchen. We sat and I gave her a blow by blow as the kettle boiled. She made all the right noises at all the right times and it felt so good to relive the experience with someone who understood things from my point of view.
“So are you going to see him again?” Gran asked as she passed me the mug.
“Weeeell, let’s just say I won’t be too surprised if the phone rings tomorrow.”
“Oh I am pleased. He seems like such a nice young man, and it would be so good for you to have someone your own age to spend your time with.”
This demanded a response and fortunately quite an obvious one. “Gran you know I enjoy spending time with you and Grandpa.”
“Nonsense dear, you’re young and would much rather be running off having adventures. We know that you love us, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some excitement you know.”
I gave her a hug. “Thanks Gran, you and Grandpa really are the best.”
The cramp eased and I rinsed the empty mug out in the sink. “I think I’ll turn in, it’s been a long day.”
“Goodnight dear, sleep tight.”
There were fresh night clothes laid out on the bed when I got there; Gran’s way of saying she’d been doing some washing. I somewhat reluctantly slipped out of the dress and hung it back up in the wardrobe, stroking the soft fabric as I did so. I slid of the delicate tights, careful not to snag them, then changed into the fresh nightdress. It was long like the one I’d been wearing when I first woke up in Shelley’s body and I wondered if the shorter tee-shirt nightie had not quite met with my grandparent’s approval. The fresh fabric was soft and smelled of summer flowers.
I sat down in front of the mirror and teased out the braids and ribbons in my hair before going for the goop to clean my face. Makeup remover, skin cleanser, moisturiser. It didn’t take that long but it was still a drag to do it every night.
I picked up a hairbrush and started pulling the knots out. I’d have to do it again when the morning came, but the knots would be that much worse if I didn’t make a head start now. Once the worst of the tangles were out, the brushing became pleasurable and I continued for a while feeling myself become slowly more drowsy. Eventually I slipped into bed and snuggled down hugging the thin duvet. The eager, hopeful look in Shelley’s eyes drifted across my memory and I felt all warm and fuzzy as I drifted off to sleep.
The sun was well up when I drifted back into consciousness the next day. I squinted at my watch, until my sleep addled brain made out the big hand on the six and the little hand between the eight and the nine. I stumbled out of bed and dealt with immediate necessities before heading downstairs.
“Morning dear,” Gran’s cheerful smile greeted me as I made a less than lady-like entrance. “I’ve just put the kettle on, would you like a cup of tea, or would perhaps some Echinacea?”
The ache in my back wasn’t bad enough to want to face the bitter herbal brew. I brushed a stray strand of hair out of my eyes and offered Gran a bleary smile.
“Just normal tea please Gran.”
I found a seat and collapsed into it. The tea, when it came, revived me and I sat up a bit straighter.
Breakfast was unhurried but welcomed by my growling stomach. Gran didn’t say anything and I was grateful just to sit and gather my thoughts. Grandpa popped his head in at one stage to say he was heading down to the shops for his paper, and I was about to head back upstairs to get washed and dressed when the phone rang.
Gran answered it then offered it to me with a smile.
My insides were melting away as I put the receiver to my ear and breathed into it, “Hi!”
There was a pause then Shelley’s voice sounding half strangled. “Hi yourself.”
I kind of stood cradling the phone listening to his breathing for a while. Eventually he found his voice again.
“Listen, Aunt Carol suggested a break today and asked if she could take us out for the day. She suggested either Water World in York or Lightwater Valley which is a theme park up near Ripon. Personally I fancy the water park, but mainly because I want to see you in that new bikini I bought before coming here.”
The last came sotto voce, so I guessed Carol wasn’t too far away.
“I’m not sure that would work, I mean you remember that last thing we talked about a couple of nights back?”
“Oh! Right!” He was quiet for a while. “That explains quite a few things. I’m guessing it started yesterday?”
“Yeah in the morning.”
“Kinda,” I was aware of Gran not too far away and didn’t want my end of this conversation to sound too weird.
“Well that’s not a problem; I’ve been swimming at that time in the past. It really doesn’t make any difference.”
“It does to me; I don’t think I would feel comfortable with it.”
“Oh OK,” he sounded a little disappointed. “How do you feel about theme parks?”
“That I think I could do, maybe keep the other in reserve for another time?”
“OK, sounds like a plan. I’ll see if I can book us some tickets. We may be out of luck trying to go on the same day though.”
“Well, I guess if you can’t manage it the water park will be OK.”
“I’ll sort something out. Pick you up in half an hour?”
“OK.” I said and put the phone down.
I ran up the stairs as fast as the long nightdress would allow me. I mean thirty minutes? Who can get ready in thirty minutes?
Fortunately Gran and Grandpa were early risers so the bathroom was all mine. I showered in record time and headed for my room. What to wear, what to wear? I rummaged through the wardrobe discarding one thing after another, too short, too long, too pink; nothing seemed right.
Then I found it them. A pair of faded lemon yellow shorts and a plain white button down blouse. I mean theme park right? Water splashing everywhere and scary rides above peoples’ heads; I needed to think of my modesty. Plus it looked like today was going to be a scorcher and letting my limbs out in the sun seemed like a plan. Gran and Grandpa might disapprove, especially if they caught me knotting the blouse to show some navel, but I decided I wouldn’t do that till we were away from the house.
I changed as quickly as I could, mumbling curses over the backwards buttons on the blouse, and settled down in front of the mirror. Nope, this was a day to go au naturel makeup-wise. I pulled a brush through my hair until the knots gave in and checked my watch. I might actually be ready on time.
A pair of flat canvas shoes and my white bag with some emergency supplies had me about ready. I spent the last few minutes hunting through the dresser for Shelley’s famous bikini just in case we had to revert to plan B. I think it took me a while to find because there was so little of it; nothing but string and imagination, and not much of the later needed if I did put it on. I was suddenly curious to see how I would look in it, but there was a knock at the front door and I dropped the costume back into the dresser drawer and headed downstairs.
It turned out that Shelley had been able to book Lightwater Valley so I didn’t need worry about swimming gear. Aunt Carol assured Shelley’s grandparents that I would be fed, watered and returned to them by nine that evening. They wished us all a fun day and waved as we drove down the road.
Shelley sat in the back of the car with me and spent most of the journey telling me what we had to look forward to. Apparently the park’s website had videos and pictures of all the rides, and we planned our day based on Shelley’s information. I wasn’t too sure about some of them, but put myself in Shelley’s hands; I mean after all she was the girl here wasn’t she? Anything she could take I should be able to manage. Aunt Carol’s only stipulation was no water rides within an hour of our planned departure time.
The whole experience was great fun. OK it turns out that since I had become a girl my panic reflex became a whole lot more sensitive. I screamed till my throat was sore and jumped at the least provocation. Shelley didn’t mind because it was usual in his direction that I jumped and he had far more opportunities to put his arm around me than I would otherwise have allowed. We fed on overpriced junk food for the second day in a row and had a go on every single ride in the park, more than once on some cases.
Shelley didn’t push the romance side. Either he was sensitive enough to notice that I wasn’t ready to respond to that just now or he sympathised with how I was feeling with the time of the month, having been there himself/herself? In any case he was just friendly and fun to be with. At the end of the afternoon as we were all heading back to the car I kind of impulsively grabbed hold of his arm and leaned my head onto his shoulder.
He peered round at me with a quizzical look on his face.
“Thank-you,” I told him, then as the furrow in his brow deepened, “for being exactly what I needed today.”
He freed his arm and put it round my waist. I let him and after a second or so put my own around his. It felt good.
We stopped at a pub on the way back and Aunt Carol treated us to a meal. I tried to protest that she had already spent too much on me today, but she smiled and shook her head.
“If you want to pay me back, Jerry and I are clearing out an overgrown bit of the garden tomorrow and any help would be gratefully appreciated.”
Gardening has never been a favoured pastime with me, but with the right company… “Where do I sign up?”
“Oh just turn up any time after about nine o’clock and wear something you don’t mind getting dirty.”
I thought of the canvas trousers and tee-shirt I had picked fruit in and wondered if Gran had washed them already.
The meal was good wholesome British pub fair and the portions were immense. I felt guilty at leaving almost half of mine until Shelley came to my rescue.
“Feeding a growing body remember?” He grinned and winked at me and I gave him a disapproving pout then spoilt it by smiling through it.
Back in the car Carol reminded me that I might want to unknot my blouse and tuck it back in before we made it back into the village. It was so creased that I doubted it would fool Shelley’s grandparents, but I did as suggested to at least show willing. As promised I was deposited back at my doorstep just before nine.
I gave Shelley’s hand a friendly pat. “See you in the morning greedy-guts.” I wanted to kiss him, but somehow not here and not now. He smiled and gave my hand a squeeze. He had such a nice smile.
The Spanish Inquisition was waiting for me as I stepped in through the door and I found myself gushing about how much fun I’d had and how thoughtful and restrained Jerry had been. I told Gran about the planned excavations at Carol’s house the next day and she went to fish out my freshly washed and ironed work clothes.
I suddenly felt guilty. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of you,” I told her. “I mean I’m sleeping under your roof, eating your food, letting you do my washing and ironing for me, and I’m hardly ever around.”
“And as I said the other day dear, that’s just the way we want it to be. I’m so thrilled that you and Jeremy seem to be hitting it off so well; it’s good that you young people are enjoying yourselves so much. Besides I’d be cooking and cleaning for your grandpa anyway; you don’t add so much to the workload you know.”
I slipped upstairs long enough to change into a floral print skirt and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves then came back down to sit and chat with them for an hour. Considering I’d only met this elderly couple less than a week ago, I found them easy to like. I mean OK, as far as they’re concerned I’m their grand-daughter and they want to spoil me rotten, but even so they were pretty special and I wanted them to know it.
It seemed my change of clothes was noted and appreciated because Grandpa gave me a hug as we all got up to go to bed. He’s not the most demonstratively affectionate person in the world and I found myself blinking back a tear.
Sleep came easily that night. The cramps had all but eased and apart from the rather unpleasant job of disposing of and replacing certain feminine hygiene products, the whole time of the month thing wasn’t turning out to be as bad as I’d first feared. I found myself thinking warm and cuddly thoughts of Shelley as I drifted off again, but I was too tired to remember any dreams.
I awoke with a warm snuggly feeling and lay for a while imagining myself lying with my head on Shelley’s chest. In my mind I could feel every contour of his chest and stomach and I squeezed the duvet imagining it was him; somehow feeling him beside me made me feel more complete. I wanted to kiss him again and started to daydream about when that would happen and what it would be like.
Gran was rattling pans in the kitchen downstairs and since I was awake I figured it would be good to get up and say good morning. I took my usual detour on the way downstairs and Gran and I sat and chatted about things and nothings for a while.
“When you met Grandpa, how did you know he was the one?”
A dreamy look came over her weary face and the years seemed to fade from it as her eyes became unfocused.
“It was shortly after the war of course and everyone was working to put the country back on its feet. As soon as school broke up for the summer holidays, all us young people were out on the farms helping to bring in the harvest.
“With rationing and everything everybody was that much thinner, leaner I suppose you would say, and there were so many good looking boys. I was quite a dish myself in those days,” she looked at me daring me to challenge her but I just smiled as I was carried into the sheer joy of her memories. “Quite a few of the lads who came to work on the farm asked me out or tried to persuade me to go with them for a roll in the hay, and I’m not too ashamed to admit that I let myself be led on a few occasions.
“I always had an eye for your grandfather though. He was tall and lean and always kept to the shadows so to speak. I thought of him as the strong and silent type and used to dream of the day when he would step up behind me, take me in his arms and kiss me like some scene from a Carry Grant movie.
“Of course he never did and after a while I realised the obvious, that he was painfully shy. I was young and foolish then and whenever one of the more forward young men asked me out I would, more often than not, say yes. This happened once when Geoff was there and I noticed the pained look in his eye when I agreed. It gave me a thrill to know that he had feelings for me and after that I’ll admit I deliberately accepted one or two offers to go to the cinema just to see his reaction.
“Then I found out that a lot of the lads were making fun of him over it and even deliberately asking me out in front of him to taunt him. I felt angry and guilty and such a fool all at the same time and decided I had to do something about it, so when Tommy Greenly found me talking to Geoff and came up to me to ask if I wanted to go to the harvest festival with him I told him that I was already spoken for and I took your grandfather by the arm to imply that he was the one doing the speaking.
“Tommy laughed and walked off and I turned to look at your grandpa. I was worried that I might have been a little too presumptuous, but that look of surprise and gratitude and maybe just a hint of something more in his eyes melted away all my doubts.
“From that moment on we were together as often we could be. We lived quite some distance away from each other and during the weekends he would cycle thirty miles to see me and thirty miles home again both on Saturday and Sunday. I never so much as looked at another man after that, and his eyes have never lost that look, you know surprise, gratitude, maybe just a hint of something more?.”
I felt a tear trickle down the side of my nose and finally broke out of my trance long enough to discover that my mug of tea had gone cold during the telling.
Gran offered me a tissue and took the mug. “There, there, it’s not that bad is it? I’ll make you another one.”
“No, oh no! It’s not that, it’s just that that was such a beautiful story.” I was babbling.
Gran treated herself to a very self-satisfied smile. “Yes I have been very fortunate in that regard.”
The seemingly ever-hot kettle was poured and I soon had a fresh mug in my hands. “You never know, Jerry might just be your one,” she waved off my protests. “I’m just saying that you will know when you find him, and most likely before he does.”
We reverted to less emotive topics and shortly afterwards Grandpa came in with his paper and gave Gran a kiss. The affection was so evident in the way they looked at each other and I found myself wishing the same for myself when I was older.
An odd thought crept into my head. Was that the Jerry in me that was making the wish or the Shelley, and where exactly was the divide? I felt like I was losing myself more and more with each day I spent in this body and slipped into a pensive mood, wondering where this was all going to lead in the end.
I chewed absent-mindedly through my one slice of toast and more or less ignored Gran’s comments on my appetite, then I headed upstairs to get ready. The canvas trousers seemed to be the best bet since I expected to be crawling in the dirt today, but instead of the scruffy tee-shirt I chose a halter top that I hoped would keep me cooler. This summer was turning out to be real scorcher.
No I was not thinking about how it would look more attractive than the tee-shirt. Well OK maybe a little.
The digging and clearing was actually as fun as gardening has ever been. Shelley managed to keep me laughing with a mixture of silly comments and acting the fool, the hard work kept my mind off the bloated discomfort in my middle, and it was good to chat to Aunt Carol again even if she had no idea it was me she was talking to.
We had so many long cool drinks during the day that only Shelley managed to eat much at lunchtime. I found myself looking for some signs of all this eating around his middle, but he was as lean and skinny as I remember being. He still looked pretty good with it though, and we kept catching each other stealing the odd sideways glance at one another until that in itself became a silly game.
I was trying to decide whether or not I should accept the more or less inevitable invitation to stay for tea when Gran and Grandpa poked their heads around the side of the house and invited Carol and Jerry to come for tea that evening; their way of saying thank-you for looking after me the previous day. Everyone agreed it was a good idea so we carried on working till about five, then I headed home to get myself cleaned up.
I showered and washed my hair then spent ages drying it and shaping it the way I wanted. I then spent another age choosing the right outfit – conservative enough not to upset Gran and Grandpa, yet exciting enough to keep Shelley interested. In the end I settled on a plain dark green sundress with a V-neck, a tight waist and very short sleeves; yet another of the many acquisition from my midweek trip into town with Gran. I wondered about makeup then decided against it. I was going for a simple, less sophisticated look and this pretty much did it.
I made it downstairs in time to help Gran set the table. Most of the flowers from Shelley’s bouquet were still looking pretty fresh so I arranged a couple of vases in the kitchen to brighten the place up. The knock on the door came just as Gran was getting ready to pull dinner out of the oven, so Grandpa invited Carol and Shelley straight into the kitchen. Shelley noticed the flowers and smiled at me till I ducked my head and hid behind my hair.
Grandpa sat at the head of the table with Gran and Carol sitting opposite me and Shelley. Gran had roasted a chicken which Grandpa carved with a practiced flourish, then when everyone was served, Gran and Carol led the way in a never ending stream of conversation with Grandpa looking fondly on. Shelley and I rubbed legs under the table and held hands when we thought no-one was looking and the adults quietly ignored us.
When the meal was over Shelley and I were left with the washing up while the olds went into the front room with cups of tea and coffee. When we’d done Gran suggested that the two of us might like to go for a walk since it was such a fine evening. We didn’t need telling twice and were out the door in the time it takes to pull on a pair of shoes.
Shelley put his arm around my shoulder and I melted into his side. We walked quietly for a while then he broke the silence with something that had obviously been bothering him.
“What about Alex?” He asked quietly.
“I haven’t really thought about her much this week,” I replied offhandedly. “I guess I’m not a lesbian.”
Shelley stopped in the middle of the street and I turned round to find a shocked expression on his face. I didn’t help matters much when I burst out laughing.
“You say the most moment shattering things at times you know,” I said putting my arm back around his waist and pulling him along. “I know you’re trying to do the right thing, but honestly I’m going to have to break you of the habit sooner or later.
“I have thought about Alex and it’s like I have a woman’s perspective of her which is far less intense than the way I felt about her when I was in that body.” I poked him in the chest. “Wasn’t it you that said we needed to go with the flow of this spell or whatever it is if we want to change back soon? That’s what I’m doing; going with the flow and this is where the flow’s taking me right now.”
I tightened my grip on him and he stopped and looked into my face. I dropped my gaze and leaned my forehead against his chest.
“Not yet,” I whispered. “I’m not ready for that just yet.”
So we drifted through the village with our arms entwined around each other and lost in our own thoughts. Sunset was quietly spectacular and in the fading light we turned back to the house.
“How do you feel about another picnic tomorrow?” I asked as the front door came into view. “It’s Sunday tomorrow and even Aunt Carol can’t be evil enough to get you to work on a Sunday.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said and he opened the door and held it for me.
The weather broke during the night and I woke to the sound of my bedroom window rattling in its casement. There was still a lot of blue in the sky, but there were also quite a few more threatening clouds interspersed among the more cheery ones and the blustery wind looked like it was settling in for the day.
I rummaged through my wardrobe considering options. I still wanted to avoid trousers out of deference to Shelley’s grandparents, but most of the skirts were short enough to make preserving my modesty in the wind something of a challenge. In the end I found a sort of sienna coloured calf length tiered skirt with matching patterned top and a long dark brown cardigan with slightly over long sleeves that I could pull down over my hands.
Shelley phoned about nine to ask if I was still up for our planned excursion and since neither of us could come up with an alternative we decided to give it a try. I didn’t fancy my chances of baking a cake like the one she and her gran had made at the beginning of the week so I offered to bring the sandwiches and let him sort out the rest.
I don’t know if it was the confusion of gender whenever I thought about the two of us, or having to go through one of the less pleasant aspects of being a woman, or even just the sudden change in weather, but I spent most of the morning moping around the kitchen nursing a cup of tea. Gran, who usually more or less lives in her kitchen, sensed I didn’t particularly want company and managed to find something to do elsewhere.
Grandpa made some comment about the wind being “invigorating” when he came back with his newspaper, then ducked into the lounge leaving me to my own thoughts.
About ten-thirty I cut up half a loaf of bread and put together a selection of sandwiches. With the picnic basket ready with my contribution, I popped my head into the lounge to say I was heading up to see Jerry.
Gran looked up from her knitting and glanced out the window. “Are you sure that’s wise dear?”
I shrugged. “I need to get out Gran. I have my mobile on me just in case.”
“Alright dear, be safe.”
I headed out the door to discover that “invigorating” was one of Grandpa’s rather more impressive understatements. The wind kept tangling my skirt around my legs making something as simple as walking an interesting challenge, and by the time I had reached Carol’s house I had nearly been blown off the road half a dozen time.
Carol tried to persuade us not to go out, but I had an objective in mind and no ‘invigorating’ breeze was going to deter me. Shelley added a packet of biscuits, some crisps and a couple of cans of drink to our lunch and we headed out carrying the basket between us.
I turned off the road soon after we left Carol’s house, following the reverse of the route we had taken on our last picnic. Shelley gave me a couple of sidelong glances but left me to my brooding and we walked, or rather staggered, up the path for fifteen minutes before Shelley pointed out a clearing in some trees next to the path where we could shelter from the wind.
I didn’t have much of an appetite and this seemed to affect Shelley as well. By the time I’d nibbled my way through one sandwich and given up he also seemed to have had his fill. He opened one of the cans of drink and we shared it in silence while the wind raged in the treetops all around us.
I lay down and put my head on his lap. He stroked my hair which seemed to calm the inner turmoil for a while, but the sound of the wind in the trees kept my nerves on edge and after only a short while I sat up and started packing the remains of our lunch back in the basket.
“We should get going.”
“Where?” He asked, not moving.
“I want to go back to that tree on the rise where this all started. I can’t go on with this; I need us to change back.”
He sighed and looked up at me. “I’ve already told you Jerry, it doesn’t work like that. We have to work the spell through to its conclusion.”
“How do you know?” I yelled at him hugging myself across my chest. “I mean you didn’t even know what the spell was going to do, how do you know that we can’t just go up there and undo it somehow?”
He didn’t answer but looked at the ground in front of him.
“You know I don’t think you want to switch back. I think you’re enjoying not having to cope with a period for a change. You like being able to stuff your face without worrying that you’re going to get fat.” That was probably unfair as he’d only eaten one sandwich more than me today, but then fairness didn’t have a lot to do with this outburst. “You love being able to get up in the morning and just throw on any clothes that happen to be lying around. Five minutes to get ready instead of hours, and not having to wear skirts all the time because your grandparents don’t approve of trousers.”
There was a hurt look in his eye and he wouldn’t meet my furious gaze. I turned and stomped across to the other side of the clearing. A minute or so later I felt his hands on my arms.
“I’m sorry Jerry, I really am. I never meant…”
“No! You don’t get it, you don’t get it!” I twisted round to face him and started pounding on his chest. “I’ve been a boy for fifteen years. I mean OK, not much of one, maybe a bit of a wimp, but it was still me. Now somehow I’ve been a girl for about a week and it feels like I’m getting lost in it. I don’t know who I am anymore and I want it to stop.”
I stopped hitting him and buried my face in his chest, sobbing.
He put his arms around me and held me until I had cried myself out. He stood there stroking my hair and kissing me on the top of the head and I felt myself melting deeper into his embrace, feeling the hurt and frustration fade away, feeling safe.
“We can go if you want to,” he murmured in my ear. “It’s probably no more than another five or ten minutes up the path.”
I leaned on him and played with one of the buttons on his shirt. After a few seconds I asked, “Do you think it’ll do any good?”
“No I really don’t,” his voice was low and quite. “I know I didn’t expect the magic to work this way when I called it, but I do have a sense for how it’s working now and I’m pretty sure it can’t be forced or changed; certainly not without making things a whole lot worse than they are right now.”
We stood there a while longer. Somehow it felt like I was able to draw on his strength and calm, and the raging sea inside me settled. I wiped my eyes on his sleeve and stepped past him.
“I must look a fright.” I imagined big puffy red eyes and pulled a napkin out of the basket, which I then used to dab at my tears.
Shelley laughed, a little uncertainly but it felt good to hear.
“This may be totally the wrong thing to say at the moment, but you can be such a girl sometimes.”
I laughed and glanced over at him smiling but acutely conscious of the redness around my eyes. He put an arm around me and we dissolved into fits of giggles, banishing the last of the internal storm.
The weather above us wasn’t taking any hints though. The wind was stronger than ever and being indoors suddenly seemed like a much better idea. Shelley grabbed the basket and led the way back down the path, rummaging in its depths for the packet of biscuits. He offered me one before taking three himself.
“Pig,” I told him.
“Tell me that you would do anything different if you were me right now.”
He was right of course so I stuck my tongue out at him. He laughed and took hold of my hand and we walked along in silence for a while nibbling away like squirrels.
After a few minutes Shelley glanced across at me and asked, “Is that really what you see when you look at me?”
“A bit of a wimp. You know the way you described yourself back there?”
I looked at him and tried to think what I did see. He wasn’t a wimp. A bit skinny perhaps, but not flabby. I squeezed his arm with my free hand; it was pretty firm. And he did have kind eyes and a lovely smile. I felt a dreamy smile growing on my lips.
“Well?” he asked having given me enough time to think.
“No,” I replied with an unusual softness in my voice. “Definitely not a wimp.”
I leaned my head on his shoulder and he squeezed my hand. The rest of the trip back to Aunt Carol’s was made in silence, but the good kind.
The unfriendly clouds were grouping together and by the time we reached Carol’s front door the wind was rising and there was a decidedly ominous darkness bearing down on us.
“Thank goodness,” Aunt Carol sounded relieved as we came in ahead of the weather. She picked up the phone and dialled. “Hello Edith? They’ve just walked in… No they’re fine… I’ll keep them here for now… OK just one moment.”
She handed the phone to me.
“Shelley dear! Oh I’m so relieved. I saw the clouds gathering and I didn’t like to think of you out in that sort of weather.”
There was a crackle on the phone and a few seconds later a rumble of thunder. A dark shadow passed over the house and cold fingers run up and down my spine as I looked out at the black clouds. If we’d carried on up the path we would have been caught in the middle of this.
Something my science teacher had said once nagged me from the back of my mind.
“Gran we should hang up now, it’s not safe to use the telephone in a thunderstorm.”
Another crackle on the line and another rumble, closer this time, accentuated the point.
“Alright dear, we’ll see you after the storm has passed.”
I hung up the phone and pulled my cardigan tight around me. Outside the rain began to fall in big fat drops.
Carol brewed some tea and suggested we play a game. Shelley looked unsure for a minute and I realised that he wouldn’t know where my aunt kept such things.
“I like that Idea,” I said taking his arm and pulling him towards the lounge. “Are they in here?”
When we were out of Carol’s sight I pointed to the relevant cupboard and Shelley gave me a grateful smile as she opened it. The selection wasn’t immense, but with my love of literature Scrabble had become something of a favourite. Carol was always a challenge as she usually managed at least one or two seven letter words in a game. I pointed at the box and Shelley gave a shrug as we pulled it down.
We had set the board up by the time Carol carried in a tray full of tea and scones, jam and whipped cream! My taste buds were dancing in anticipation and I resolutely ignored the calorie alarm bells that seemed to be hardwired into my currently female brain.
“Oh what a surprise,” Carol said when she spotted the Scrabble board. “Did you give Shelley a -choice?”
“Actually it was her idea Aunt Carol,” Shelley told her as he shook the bag of letters and offered it to me.
I allowed myself two of the scones and relished every last morsel. Shelley glared at me once or twice, I imagine counting the calories I was adding to her body, but jam and cream scones have always been my greatest weakness, more so even than chocolate, and I figured I’d actually been pretty good with her body this far and deserved a treat.
The game was a good one. Shelley held her own against Aunt Carol and me despite my constantly distracting him by grabbing him every time the lightning struck close by. The distraction must have worked though because he opened up a seven letter word for me on a triple word score, and that put me far enough ahead that neither of them could close the gap. Carol made some comment about unfair tactics and threatened to tie me down next time we played, and I offered to knock twenty-five points off my score to make things fair; it still left me two points ahead.
The storm lasted for more than an hour and pulled the temperature down enough that Aunt Carol lit a fire in the grate while we packed away the game. We then sat around enjoying the dancing yellow flames and chatting about everything and nothing over a fresh cup of tea. I had my legs tucked up under me on the sofa and was leaning back against Shelley. I had always wondered how sitting like that could possibly be comfortable, but now that I was capable of it myself it seemed natural.
At one point in the conversation Carol asked if there was anything else we wanted to do while we were staying up here. Shelley suggested Water World again, no doubt thinking of that ridiculous swimsuit and Carol, who seemed to have figured out that I was at that particular point in my cycle, suggested the end of the week. Enthusiastic agreement all round and it was settled.
“Actually,” Carol said as something of an afterthought, “there’s something else I’d like to do with you on the Friday, so how about we make it Thursday instead?”
She wouldn’t divulge anything more other than to say we would need posh clothes for the evening. We agreed to swimming on the Thursday and I drifted into excited speculation as to what Carol had planned for the Friday. It must have shown from the cat-got-the-cream look of satisfaction she had about her.
The rain eased and the thunder reduced to an occasional quiet grumble in the east. Carol glanced at the clock and suggested I get home because, if she knew my grandparents, they wouldn’t completely stop worrying until I was back under their roof. Shelley offered to walk me back so we picked up the picnic basket and ducked out into the rain with one of Aunt Carol’s umbrellas.
Water was running freely down either side of the road, the drains unable to cope with such a sudden onslaught, and there were deep puddles everywhere. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic on the road and we managed to be away from any standing water whenever a car came through.
“Oh dear, thank goodness you’re all right,” Gran greeted me at the door; apparently Carol’s instincts were on the money. “You must be freezing, let me run you a bath and then you can sit with us by the fire.”
Shelley had been standing outside hoping for an invitation to come in. When none seemed forthcoming he said, “OK, I’ll be off then. Call you tomorrow Shell?”
I gave him a grateful and apologetic grin. “Yeah OK. Thanks for today.”
He smiled back and I felt myself going all soft inside. Yet again I found myself leaning against the door watching him as he walked away.
Gran was already upstairs running the bath and I followed her up.
“I’m really fine Gran,” I said. “I’ve spent the last couple of hours with Jerry round at Carol’s; we spent most of the time sitting in front of a fire.”
“Well it won’t do you any harm will it dear?” She had already added a generous amount of bath salts and oils and the steam smelt like a taste of heaven. I suspect she was feeling guilty for not having tried to stop me going out earlier.
“Take your time dear, and when you come down I’ll make you a nice cup of cocoa.”
I smiled and gave her a hug.
“I love you Gran.” It seemed like the right thing to say and it left her flustered.
“Yes well, I’m glad you’re back safe is all.” She seemed to be blinking away a tear or two and I suddenly felt guilty that I had caused her to worry. She hurried down the stairs before I could say anything more.
I undressed and wrapped my hair in a towel to stop it from getting wet, then settled into the steaming water. It was scalding hot, but somehow that simply made the experience more enjoyable more relaxing. As Jerry I would have been making ow-ow noises and running cold water over my foot into the bath, and I wondered if this was a girl thing or just that Shelley’s body had a higher pain threshold.
I relaxed and drifted in the hot water and perfume for I don’t know how long. The warm water eased away some of the dull ache in my middle, and eventually I pulled myself reluctantly from the water. I towelled myself dry and inserted a new wotsit. Blood flow seemed to be easing off and I figured I’d need to chat with Shelley sometime soon about when I could stop sticking these things in there.
It was only about five o’clock but it didn’t seem worth getting dressed again, so I slipped my nightie on and reached for my dressing gown. It was enormous and soft and fluffy and this was the first time the weather had been cool enough for me to want to use it. I picked up my book and padded downstairs to find that Gran had anticipated my reappearance and placed the promised cup of cocoa on the table beside me as I sat down and curled my legs under me.
“Carol has offered to take Jerry and me swimming on Thursday.” It seemed right to steer the conversation away from the events of the day. “She also mentioned something about taking us out for a treat on Friday, is that OK?”
“Oh yes she mentioned Friday when we were chatting the other day. It sounds rather fun don’t you think?”
“I don’t know she didn’t tell us anything about it. What does she have planned?”
“Ah, well if Carol wants to keep it a secret I don’t think I should be the one to let the cat out of the bag.”
With hindsight I could have played that one better. I picked up my mug with both hands and blew gently across the top. The smell was my second taste of heaven since coming home and I closed my eyes to enjoy it fully.
“Do you have a bathing suit dear? Only I don’t recall seeing anything I could call one in your things.” The question was too casually asked. Gran deliberately didn’t look up from her magazine.
“Er, yeah. I know I have one somewhere.” Well if she was going to keep secrets from me…
Gran mumbled something under her breath which may or may not have been “Lucky Jeremy”. I didn’t really want to follow her down that route so pretended I hadn’t heard anything. I put my mug down and hid my face behind my book.
Around six o’clock Gran stood up and headed for the kitchen. I made to follow her but she put up a hand.
“I think I can manage dear. Why don’t you keep your grandfather company?”
I looked over to the newspaper barrier that hid Grandpa from the rest of the world and raised my eyebrows back at her. I picked my book back up – it was in the middle of really good bit anyway – and ducked my head back behind it.
“OK,” I said lightly and just caught a glimpse of her smile out of the corner of my eye.
Tea was basic but wholesome and tasty fair; lamb chops with mash potatoes and runner beans from the garden in a nice thick gravy with apple crumble to follow. I really like apple crumble, but to make up for that second scone earlier in the afternoon I limited myself to little more than a taste.
I did help dry the dishes after tea and Gran didn’t grumble about it too much, so it seemed that things were getting back to normal between us and I was glad of it. When we were done and the dish water poured away down the sink – after that afternoon’s storm the garden wouldn’t need any more – she gave me a weary peck on the cheek and headed for the stairs.
“I think I’ll turn in,” she said out loud to anyone who might be listening. It was an hour earlier than her usual bedtime, but then I suppose she had spent most of the day worrying.
I felt a twinge of guilt and resolved not to be so selfish. “Night Gran, hope you sleep well.”
There was a rustle of newspaper from Grandpa’s chair and his rheumy eyes looked at me over the tops of his spectacles as I walked back into the lounge.
“Grans gone to bed,” I told him.
He put the paper down and heaved himself to his feet. “Well best not waste an opportunity,” he said with a twinkle in his eye and I found myself smiling at the images that conjured up. “Will you be staying down here a while?”
“Yeah, I thought I might enjoy the fire for a bit longer.” Their TV only picked up the basic five channels and there wasn’t anything on any of them to interest me; still I had my book.
“OK then,” Grandpa headed for the hall. “I’ll lock the front door if you can make sure all the lights are off when you come up.”
I smiled again, “Will do Grandpa.”
We exchanged kisses and he headed on upstairs. I heard muffled sounds of conversation for a minute or two then things quietened down.
The book was forgotten and I lost myself in the flickering flames and glowing embers of the fire. I found myself thinking of Gran and Grandpa. What must it be like to have been together for over fifty years and still be so in love? I pulled my arms and legs in tight and imagined Shelley and me in our seventies living each day like a well-choreographed dance, still sharing and enjoying feelings and memories of lives well lived.
Eventually the fire died down and a chill crept into the room. I must have dozed off only to be woken by the cold and a stiffness in my neck. I switched off all the lights as per instructions and headed for my own bed.
I woke the next morning in a lazy drowse. I headed for the bathroom and stayed there only long enough to do what was absolutely necessary before climbing back into bed and snuggling up to my duvet. I heard the front door shut as Grandpa followed his morning ritual to the newsagents and was just slipping into a light sleep when I was startled back awake by a crash from downstairs.
I leapt up and ran down the stairs so fast I still wonder how I didn’t trip and fall. Gran was lying next to the kitchen table surrounded by broken crockery. I ran over to her, careless of the shards of china, and tried shaking her awake. She didn’t respond. I bent over her putting an ear as close to her mouth and nose as I could. She was breathing at least, and when I felt for her pulse it seemed faint and fast but there at least.
I took a breath and gathered my wits. What was it they had taught that day at school? DR ABC, Danger – oops messed that one up, response – no, none, airways! I carefully opened her mouth and felt inside for anything that might cause a blockage. It felt gross, but that was a long way from bothering me. She was almost in the recovery position; all I needed to do was rearrange her limbs slightly to keep her stable.
OK what comes after airways? Breathing and circulation, check and check. OK next we need some help. I headed for the phone and dialled nine-nine-nine.
“Emergency, which service?” The voice was calm and business-like.
“Er, ambulance please.”
“Please hold the line…” In the background I heard the operator give my phone number to the next person down the line and a second later I heard another voice talking to me, this one much more calm and friendly.
“Hello you’re through to ambulance dispatch, my name’s Julie how can I help?”
“Hello, My name’s Shelley Hamilton. I’m staying with my grandparents in Ferrensby. My grandmother has just collapsed. She’s unconscious but she’s still breathing and her pulse is faint and very fast.”
“OK Shelley I’m sending an ambulance on its way to you right now, can you give me your exact address?”
I did so.
“OK, you’re doing really well, can you see you grandmother from the phone Shelley?”
The questions kept coming. What had happened? How had I found her? Was she lying on her side? Could I check her breathing and pulse? How old was I? Was there anyone else in the house to look after me? Julie did a great job keeping me busy and talking to me in a calm relaxed voice for what seemed like forever but was probably less than ten minutes.
“Right Shelley, I’ve heard from the ambulance team and they’re just pulling into your road now. I want you to put the phone down, but don’t hang up, and go to the front door.”
I could see the flashing blue lights through the glass panel in the front door and I opened it as two paramedics ran towards the house. They came in and I hurriedly guided them through the hallway to the kitchen. They knelt beside Gran and started checking her over. I went back to the phone and picked it up.
“Hello Shelley, are they with you yet?”
“Yes they’re with my grandmother now.”
“OK love, I need you to listen to me now. Once the ambulance men are happy that they can move your grandmother, they’re going to take her out to the ambulance on a stretcher and then they’ll take her to hospital.
“I’m going to stay on the phone with you until your grandfather gets back, then I’ll explain the situation to him. Is that alright love?”
“Yeah, yes I suppose so. What’s going to happen to my gran?”
“She’s in good hands sweetheart; the very best. We’ll have her in the hospital and in the care of our doctors before you can blink. You and your grandfather can come down to Harrogate District later this morning when you’re ready and they’ll be able to tell you more then. OK?”
“OK.” The shock was beginning to set in and I sat down on a chair and started to cry.
“You’re doing really great love. I know this can’t be easy but it’ll be alright.”
The ambulance team gave me a reassuring nod and stretchered Gran out to the waiting ambulance, before departing with a wail of sirens. The house seemed suddenly, terrifyingly empty. Julie kept me busy by asking me different details about Gran and it upset me that I had to answer “I don’t know” to most of them. Grandpa must have heard the sirens or seen the ambulance because he was quite out of breath when he came in through the still open front door a minute later.
“Gran collapsed,” I told him, “I called for an ambulance and they took her away. There’s someone who wants to talk to you.” I handed him the phone then backed out of the room as Grandpa sat down to answer Julie’s questions.
It seemed an age later I heard his footstep outside my room. I had been crying into my pillow and wasn’t ready to face him.
“Well Shelley,” his voice was shocked and subdued, “it seems that it was a good thing you were here and acted as you did.”
I turned a little bit, still not showing my face but to let him know I was listening.
“I’ve been talking to the hospital and it seems your Gran had a heart attack. If you hadn’t called for the ambulance, if she’d just laid there till I came back from the shops, then she’d probably be…”
He couldn’t finish the sentence and I could hear the fear in his voice. I turned and threw my arms around him and we cried on each other’s shoulders for a while.
“They say she’s stable and sleeping now. They’re going to keep her in for observation for a couple of days, but we can visit her later this morning.
“They think she’s going to be alright Shell.”
The relief brought on another wave of tears and I clung to Shelley’s grandfather as if he were my own, as if Gran were really my gran.
After a while he pulled me away from himself and stroked my cheek.
“You’d best get up and dressed. I’ve a few more phone calls to make then we’ll head off for the hospital in an about an hour OK? I’ll put the kettle on in a bit and we’ll have a nice cup of tea before we go.”
He was doing his best I knew, but he seemed so lost.
“OK Grandpa,” I said. “I’ll be down in a bit.”
He nodded and left. I took a deep breath, there was someone else who needed to know and I’d been so caught up in my own misery that I hadn’t even thought. Shellie’s mobile phone was on the bedside table. From the lack of incoming texts and phone calls since I’d taken on her life I suspected it was intended for emergency use only, but then I think this counted as such. I punched in my own mobile number and waited.
“I’m sorry, this mobile phone is currently unavailable. Please try later.”
I could kick myself. I’d turned it off the day I arrived a Carol’s. No-one was going to call me and I didn’t have enough money to be phoning or texting people myself.
I thought for a minute trying to remember Aunt Carol’s number. I figured that Gran and Grandpa’s number should have the same area code and after a little digging in Shelley’s address book and a little thinking I punched in a number and crossed my fingers.
“Hello?” A one word musical question; it was Aunt Carol.
“Hello Mrs Newington, this is Shelley. Could I speak to Jerry please?”
“Yes of course dear, just a minute.”
The phone clonked down and Aunt Carol called up the stairs. There was an approaching stampede of elephants and Shelley picked up the phone.
“Hi,” Breathless and not just because he had run down the stairs I think.
“Hi Shelley, can Aunt Carol see you where you are?”
Aunt Carol had a cordless phone and I heard Jerry close the kitchen door and sit down on the stairs.
“OK, something’s happened. I need you to not freak out on me, but your Gran collapsed this morning.”
There was a squeak on the other end of the line and before he started thinking the worst I blurted out the rest.
“She’s OK. They say she had a heart attack or something, but they’ve taken her to the hospital and they’re looking after her. Grandpa and I are going to visit her later this morning.”
He was silent on the other end of the phone.
“Look I’ve got to go and get dressed. If you look in the bottom of my suitcase you’ll find my mobile. Switch it on and I’ll text you news as soon as I get it OK?”
“I have to go, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Thanks for letting me know.”
I looked out the window. Yesterday’s wind had died down but the sky was still filled with clouds. So much for summer. I hunted through the wardrobe and picked out a knee length denim skirt, a light blue tee-shirt and an off-white cardigan. I also dug out a pair of nude tights along with my underwear.
Having dressed I looked at my swollen puffy eyes in the mirror. Not a lot I could do about that I thought and just hoped it would subside before Grandpa and I left for the hospital. I threw a few things I expected to need into my black handbag and headed downstairs carrying a pair of sling backs with what looked like a manageable heel.
Grandpa had made the tea and we sat there in silence, blowing across the hot liquid and taking occasional sips.
“I’ve called your parents. I’m not sure what they’ll want to do.”
A cold dread filled me from head to toe. I hadn’t thought about how long Shelley and I had to sort out our little dilemma. As I understood things, Shelley was supposed to stay up here all summer and I had at least another week with the possibility of extending if Carol was agreeable. Now that Gran was going to have to take it easy for a while there was every possibility that Shelley, that is me in current form, would have to go home to Kent and we’d be stuck as each other for who knew how long.
We lapsed back into silence which was just as well now that I had a whole new potential disaster to think through.
Eventually Grandpa looked up at the clock and took our mugs to the sink. “We’re going to have to get going if we want to catch the eleven o’clock bus.”
I pulled my shoes on and we were just about to head out the front door when the knocker sounded. Grandpa opened the door to find Carol standing there.
“Hello Geoff. I heard what happened to Edith, I’m so sorry. Look I’m not doing anything important today; let me drive you two to the hospital.”
“That’s very kind of you Carol,” Grandpa said looking at me with some confusion. I signed telephoning and pointed at Shelley who was sitting in the back of the car outside. He looked about ready to refuse the offer so Carol charged on ahead.
“Look we’ve been friends for I don’t know how many years; you aren’t going to not let me help now are you?”
Grandpa never really stood a chance. I’m not sure he’s ever had much of an idea on what goes on in a woman’s head and he’d made it through over half a century of happily married life by the simple expedient of going with the flow.
“Of course not Carol; this is very much appreciated. Are you ready Shelley?”
I nodded, squeezed through between them and ran to the back door of the car.
“I see you found a way to keep in the loop,” I said closing the door behind me. I only had a couple of seconds so I barrelled on. “Your grandfather has phoned your parents, I get the impression I may be heading back to Kent sooner than planned.”
Shelley’s eyes widened, but she’s a fast thinker. “When the olds phone, ask to talk to my mother. Once she knows what’s happened she’ll be on our side. I’ll work on Carol and see if I can’t wangle having you come to stay with us for a few nights.”
The front doors opened and Carol and Grandpa climbed in. Shelley gave me an it’ll-be-alright squeeze of the hand and I held on until he got the idea that I wanted – no, needed – the contact. The journey passed in silence and I was grateful for Shelley’s touch.
Carol dropped Grandpa and me at the main entrance and Shelley asked if he could tag along for moral support. I gave Carol my best puppy-dog eyes and she rolled hers back.
“OK get out,” she told Shelley. “I’ll park the car and come and find you.”
We walked into the hospital with me hanging onto Shelley’s arm. It didn’t seem quite right that I should be leaning so heavily on him when it was his grandmother who was ill, but right or wrong it seemed to work; he seemed to gain as much strength from me hanging onto him as I did having him to hang onto.
Grandpa went up to the front desk and asked where we could find Gran. The receptionist checked her computer and gave us a floor and room number. Grandpa then asked Shelley to wait for Carol and bring her up when she got there, so I reluctantly let go of his hand and followed Grandpa to the lift.
The duty nurse on Gran’s floor directed us to her room and Grandpa warned her that there would be two more coming up soon. The nurse wasn’t too keen on having so many visitors at once but said she’d see what she could do.
Gran was awake when we reached her room and I let Grandpa go into her first. After a while they looked up at me and beckoned me in.
“I’m told I have you to thank for being here at all,” she smiled weakly up at me.
“Oh Gran, if I hadn’t worried you so much yesterday you’d never have collapsed in the first place!”
There it was; the thought that had been troubling me all morning. I hadn’t been able to articulate it, even to myself, until that moment. I looked up into two pairs of very shocked eyes.
Gran recovered first. “Oh Shelley, this had nothing to do with yesterday. I’ve had a heart condition for some time now and even with the pills the doctor warned us that something like this might happen one day; we’re just grateful you were around when it happened.
“You may have noticed that your grandfather seems to sit around the house an awful lot.” She patted his hand and favoured him with an affectionate look. “Ever since the doctor gave me the news he’s tried to be close by as much as possible, but you know I don’t think either of us would be able to stand that. So we agreed on a compromise. He takes his walk down to the newsagent every morning so that we both start the day with a short break from each other, then we see what the rest of the day has to give. Sometimes we do things together, sometimes he stays in the lounge and I stay in the kitchen. Sometimes I go out with a friend or a granddaughter and he gets to go off into the big wide world and have an adventure all his own.”
“You know I’ve never had a greater adventure in my life than sharing it with you.”
“Oh stop that nonsense you old fool!” And Gran actually blushed. I looked at Grandpa with new respect as I realised that had been his intention.
Just then Carol and Shelley appeared in the doorway.
“Edith!” Carol ran to the bed. “It’s good to see you awake; I didn’t know what to think when Jerry told me what had happened.”
“Jerry?” Gran sounded confused.
“I called him this morning after the ambulance took you away. We were going to meet up later today and I needed to let him know I wasn’t going to be able to make it.”
“Oh I see. Well it was good of you to come Carol, but you really didn’t need to put yourself out.”
“But that is what friends do for each other Edith.”
Shelley had wandered into the room and came up beside me.
“Mrs Hamilton.” He said a little uneasily. I could tell he was close to tears, but he held it together pretty well.
“Jerry came up with a rather bright idea just now,” Carol continued. “I assume that the hospital’s going to want to keep you in for a few days, and I imagine Geoff’s going to want to be taking care of you as much as he can, so why doesn’t Shelley come and stay with us for a few days? I have a perfectly comfortable couch downstairs which Jerry has offered to use, and Shelly can have his room.”
“Oh I couldn’t ask you to do that Carol, it’d be too much trouble.”
“What? Looking after two people who are quite happy to spend every waking moment together instead of looking after one who mopes about all the time when your granddaughter’s not around? You have to be kidding, it will be a pleasure.”
Glances were exchanged, then shrugs and tentative nods. I smiled up at Shelley and put my arm around his waist.
“Alright dear, if you’re absolutely sure I suppose it does make a lot of sense.”
“Well the duty nurse only let us in on the understanding that we only stay a very short while. Come on Jerry we need to get some shopping in.”
I must have looked a bit wistful as Jerry separated himself from me and headed for the door, because Gran smiled over at me. “Why don’t you go too Shelley dear, I think your grandfather and I would like to spend a bit of time alone together if you don’t mind.”
I didn’t need to be told twice.
“Will you want a lift back home Geoff?” Aunt Carol wasn’t quite done.
“No. I don’t plan to leave here till they throw me out, not even then if I can help it.
“Oh but you might need this.” Grandpa handed me a key. “I’m assuming you’ll want some clothes and things if you’re going to be staying with friends for a while.”
To Carol he said, “If they do manage to throw me out of here I may drop by to pick it up on my way home.”
Then as a parting shot, “Oh and I’ll call Shelley’s parents again in a while; let them know what’s happened. If you don’t mind I’ll let them have your number so they can talk to Shelley.”
“That’ll be fine Geoff. Perhaps you’ll give us a call at the same time to let us know how things are.”
He nodded his agreement and Aunt Carol scribbled her number down on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.
We collected the car and headed for a nearby supermarket where we appropriated two trolleys and Carol gave us half the list with the instructions to meet back in the central aisle in half an hour. We filled our quota with five minutes to spare and still Carol was waiting for us when we’d done.
“What took you so long?” she asked us and headed for the checkout.
We stopped off at Gran and Grandpa’s long enough for me to chuck my nightie, some underwear and half a dozen dresses, skirts and tops into my smallest suitcase. Since Gran and Grandpa were out of the picture for a few days I also added a couple of pairs of trousers and shorts. A few pairs of shoes for different occasions, some makeup, a couple of handbags, my hair-drier, wash-bag, skin cleansers and makeup removal; by the time I was done I wondered if I shouldn’t have chosen the larger suitcase.
I’d nearly finished Shelley’s book and chucked it in as an afterthought since I wasn’t sure how much time I would have for reading over the next few days. If I was lucky not a lot, but just in case.
With the suitcase on the seat between us, we did the last short hop home. The case went into the hall awaiting the Great Rearrangement and we all pitched in unloading the shopping and transferring it to cupboards, fridges and freezers. Shelley headed up to my room to clear out his stuff and bring the bedding down. Carol told him where to find fresh bedding and we remade m bed between us. By the time I moved in I had a drawer in the dresser and half the wardrobe at my disposal.
My body reminded me that I hadn’t visited the littlest room in quite a few hours and I grabbed my bag and headed for the loo. Ding went off in the back of my head and I asked Shelley when I should stop loading the torpedoes.
He laughed at the euphemism, and quite possibly at my stupidity. “When you stop bleeding silly.”
I headed off to do the business; well it looked like this particular experience was nearly at an end. After such a terrifyingly awful start this day looked like it was going to end pretty well.
The phone rang.
“Shelley,” Aunt Carol’s voice rang up the stairs, “it’s for you.”
I was suddenly nervous, “Coming,” I yelled and finished what I was doing.
My hands were damp with perspiration as I walked down the stairs to pick up the phone. I’d never met Shelley’s parents; never even seen a photograph of them, now I had to talk to them as though I’d known them all my life.
“Michelle?” It was a warm, deep voice and it took a second before I registered that Shelley must be an abbreviation.
“Hi Dad… Daddy,” I stammered a bit as I tried to cudgel my brain into gear.
“I just spoke to your grandfather, I’m sorry you had to be there when Gran collapsed sweetie. We’ll be driving up to collect you tomorrow.”
“No Daddy, it’s OK. You don’t need to do that. I saw Gran at the hospital this morning and she’s already looking loads better, besides I’m staying with a friend for a few days. Things are all under control here and I’m fine.” Maybe I sounded just a little desperate.
“Michelle it’s all arranged alright? We’ll be with you by tomorrow lunchtime. Your Mum and I have been talking and we realise we really haven’t been all that fair to you. We’re taking a couple of weeks’ holiday as a family. How does Barbados sound?”
It actually sounded pretty great, except that it was Shelley who should be spending it with her parents, not me. And what would happen to us if we couldn’t change back?
“It sounds great Dad,” I came over as unenthusiastic, but then that’s how I felt, “it’s just that this friend I’m staying with? It’s a boy and I kind of like him.” I said the last in a kind of stage whisper.
“Oh!” Dad sounded a bit put out. “Well if he’s better than two weeks with your parents in the Caribbean, I think I might have to meet him.”
“I’m sorry Daddy, it’s just that the timing couldn’t be worse. We’re just really getting to know one another and if I leave now we may never pick things up again.”
“Well I’ll tell you what, we’ll come up anyway and stay somewhere nearby. I want to see how your gran is for myself and we’ll maybe stay around until the weekend to make sure they’re alright then head off, that’ll give you the rest of this week then we’ll see. How does that sound?”
“Sounds great Dad.” I wished I could sound put more eagerness into my voice. “I love you.”
“I know sweetie and I love you too. Hang on your mother wants a word.”
The phone was bumped around for a bit and I heard a muffled conversation/argument in the background before…
“Hi sweetie-pie, are you ok?”
By this time I had taken the phone up to my bedroom and shut the door. I was going to need a bit of privacy for this bit.
“Hi Mum, actually no things are not that good. Can you go somewhere where Dad can’t hear your half of the conversation?”
I heard a door close. “What is it sweetie, what’s wrong.”
“Well it’s kind of hard to explain Mum, er Mrs Hamilton. You see I’m not actually your daughter.”
“What! What is this? What are you talking about?” Her voice had dropped to a very urgent whisper.
“My name’s Jerry Newington, I came up here to spend a couple of weeks with my Aunt Carol and met Shelley on the train coming up. We kind of went out for a picnic together and things got kind of complicated.”
“I’m listening,” there was a no nonsense mother-protecting-child tone to her voice. “Start uncomplicating things for me.”
“Well you see I kind of liked her and she liked me, but there’s this girl at home I have feelings for and I told your daughter it wasn’t fair of me to get closer to her while I couldn’t help thinking of this other girl…”
“Go on.” The tone of voice sounded impatient.
“Well she took it really well. She said she understood and that she wanted to give me something. She told me I lacked confidence, that every time I thought about this other girl I had this thing about me that said why should she look at me, so she wanted me to be able to see myself through her eyes, ‘cos she really likes me.
“Anyway she did this weird thing and then kissed me and it was like electricity going all through my body, and when I woke up the next morning I was her and she was me.”
The other end of the phone was silent for a long time. I was about ready to ask if she was still there when she spoke again.
“Did my daughter tell you anything else.”
“She told me about the charm that you passed onto her, the sort of glowy thing on her hand? She also said she didn’t know what the spell would do, or if it would work at all, and the body-swop thing was totally unexpected. She says we need to work the spell to its conclusion so I need to get to a point where I in her body am thinking about her in mine in the same way that she thought about me the first day we met.”
“I thought I asked you to uncomplicated things? No it’s alright I think I know what you’re saying. OK so why don’t you follow the spell to its conclusion? I mean if Shelley fell for you I’m guessing that you’re quite a good looking guy.”
“It’s not that easy Mrs Hamilton. First I was angry with her for getting me into this mess, then that time of the month started. Beyond that isn’t it a bit narcissistic for me to try and fall in love with my own body?”
She was chuckling quietly to herself. “Well I have to hand it to you Shelley, your timing really sucks.”
“I’m assuming that’s rhetorical because like I said I’m not Shelley.”
“Ooh you do like your big words don’t you young man? No it was rhetorical, and I suppose I can understand why you wouldn’t want to come to Barbados with us as our daughter. Tell me how do you feel about Shelley in your body now?”
“Well he’s kind of cute and he has nice eyes and lovely smile.” I could feel my voice softening as I thought through all the things I was beginning to like about Shelley. “He’s kind and thoughtful and gentle, not pushy or rude.”
“OK I get the picture, sounds like you’re heading in the right direction. Alright Mr Newington I’ll see what I can do, but you tell my daughter that if he takes advantage of you I am going to ground her for the rest of her life.”
That was just too weird a sentence for me to get my head round properly. ”Thanks Mrs Hamilton.” I tried to shift myself back into character. “I’ll see you tomorrow then Mum, love you.”
I hung up and took the phone back downstairs. Carol and Shelley were playing a game of chess and Shelley was doing better than I usually managed against my aunt. I coughed to get their attention for a minute.
“My erm, my Mum and Dad are coming up tomorrow. Dad said he would try and find somewhere nearby to stay for a few days so they can help sort Gran and Grandpa out. They’re talking about taking me back home at the weekend.”
“Well if you two are only going to be around for the rest of this week I suppose I’ll have to start getting my money’s worth out of you.”
Shelley and I looked at each other. Shelley recovered first.
“Say what?” OK not much of a recovery.
“Shelley’s just told us she’s going back home with her parents this weekend and your parents only sent you up to me for a couple of weeks; also due to end this weekend.”
Shelley and I mirrored our shock at each other. His I expect was because I hadn’t told him I – that is he if we ended up stuck like this – was due to go home this weekend; mine was because it had slipped my mind. I suppose two weeks ago it seemed like we had forever to sort out the mess we were in then somewhere along the way I had forgotten that I hadn’t mentioned it.
“Anyway,” Aunt Carol continued, “if you want to go to Water World on Thursday and I want to do this thing I was planning with you on Friday evening, with the expectation that we’ll have to spend a reasonable amount of Friday getting ready for it, then we have only what’s left of today, tomorrow and some of Wednesday for you to help out around the place and make yourselves useful.”
“I could always stay on another week or two.” Shelley said a bit lamely.
“Good heavens no! I have plans for next week, besides with Shelley gone you’ll be pretty miserable company. It’s a nice thought Jerry, but I think it’ll have to wait for another time.
“Come on you two, don’t look so down you still have most of a week together and that’s almost as long as you’ve known each other already. Anything can happen in that time, and right now we’re going to start with a little bit of clearing and mending so get your scruffs on.”
Ten minutes later I was back in my canvas trousers and the halter neck top I’d worn the other day. Shelley was wearing a slightly tattier pair of jeans and a truly revolting tee-shirt. Were some of my clothes really that disgusting? I resolved to have a good throw out as soon as I got my life back.
Carol and I set to with garden forks and hoes, clearing out a patch of brambles that seemed to stretch on forever while Shelley was given the job of repairing a dry stone wall, something that required a lot more brute force than Carol or I could provide and only needed an occasional comment from Carol regarding which stone to place where.
We put a couple of hours’ hard slog in and Carol and Jerry kindly offered me first dibs on the shower. I tried not to hog it for too long, but I needed to wash my hair before Shelley’s Mum and Dad arrived the next day and I found myself apologising for taking so long when I finally emerged wrapped in towels.
By the time Shelley had finished Carol had a couple of pizzas heating in the oven and I’d pretended to hunt for and find the plates and things needed to lay the table.
“You know it’s so good to have you here,” Carol told me. “Jerry’s a sweet boy, but he’d never have just got on and laid the table without being asked or told.”
She was right as well. Before this week I’d never have just got on and done a job that needed doing. Maybe sometimes I might have volunteered to do a job or asked if there was anything I could do, but I didn’t actually do things until I was asked or told. This week it had just felt right somehow to get on and do the jobs I could see needed doing. If Carol or Gran had needed to ask then it would have been like they kind of assumed command, but by doing things without asking or being told it was more equal; more of a friendship thing.
Shelley was showered in about five minutes flat. He’d washed his hair as well and I suspected it would be dry before the pizza was ready. Mine was still wrapped in a towel.
“I bet you don’t miss this,” I told him after Carol had headed upstairs. I had unwound the towel and was rubbing vigorously at the back of my head.
“Sit down,” he said, “let me have a go.”
So I did and drifted into a state of near bliss as Shelley’s strong fingers gently massaged my scalp.
I came back to the land of the living as a buzzing sounded from the rather antiquated electric oven. Shelley was looking at me with a kind of dopey look on his face which just intensified my own good feelings, and it took Carol hurrying down the stairs and yelling for someone to rescue our tea from cremation to snap us out of our separate reveries.
After we’d eaten Carol chased me upstairs to do something with my hair before it decided to turn into a rats’ nest and she and Shelley washed up the plates and stuff. There was still some light left in the summer sky when we all finished, but with the prospect of a long day’s work ahead of us we all decided to put our heads down. Carol thought it was safe enough to assume that Grandpa wouldn’t be stopping by but I left the Hamilton’s front door key on the hall table just in case he did turn up later.
I might have been tempted to sneak down and spend some time with Shelley, but the stairs in Aunt Carol’s house had a tendency to creek at random intervals and she was a light sleeper. There was pretty much no way either of us would be able to reach the other without Carol knowing about it and getting in the way. It was more than a little bit frustrating, but it had been a physically and emotionally tiring day and I found sleep came remarkably easily.
The next day threatened to be a scorcher so I put my hair into a ponytail and slipped into a pair of shorts and a spaghetti strap top. We worked steadily through the morning, stopping for the occasional drink and nibble. Shelley kept looking at me when he thought my back was turned which kept a smile on my face despite the scratches I was getting from all the brambles we were clearing. Most of the time Carol and I were far enough away from Shelley to be able to hold a private conversation if we kept our voices low.
“So how often do you come up and visit your grandparents?”
I didn’t know so I took a guess. “Oh Easter and summer mainly, although I have visited in autumn once or twice.”
Carol glanced at Shelley. “I suspect I shall have a few more visits from now on. You know he’s quite smitten with you.”
My face flushed hot. “Do you think so?”
“Oh I know so, just like I know you have feelings for him too.”
I risked a glance at the girl in my body. He looked quickly away as though he’d been caught doing something improper, and I realised as a slight thrill coursed through me that Carol was right. But if that was the case shouldn’t we have swapped back by now? I mean weren’t these the feelings Shelley had wanted me to experience?
“It would be a shame for the two of you to go back home without having taken things a little further you know?” She said it lightly as though it were little more than idle speculation.
“You’re probably right,” I could be nonchalant too, “but I’m not sure he’ll get that far.”
“He nearly made a mess of things at the beginning of last week; I shall be extremely annoyed if he ends this one by doing the same.”
“Yes but he has more than made up for what he said earlier…”
“And he won’t have the chance to do so again if he fouls things up at the end of the week. You know sometimes men need a little nudge, sometimes you need to take things into your own hands.”
“What do you mean?”
And for the next half hour Carol told me stories of different friends and acquaintances who had done just that. She had me in fits of laughter and Shelley staring daggers when he thought we were laughing at him.
We had sandwiches and homemade lemonade for lunch then did another two hour stint before Carol declared a halt for the day. By the time we were done, the repairs to the dry wall were about two thirds complete and Carol and I had cleared out almost all of the brambles and weeds from the garden.
“I never expected to get this far, you two have worked like Trojans today.”
I felt myself go red and didn’t dare look at Shelley. For a moment all I could think of was a certain type of vending machine found in public toilets, and the image of one of those wielding a hoe was almost too much.
Carol continued, unaware of the turmoil she had caused. “I think you two should get showered and changed into something a bit smarter. Unless I miss my guess we’ll be having a visit from your parents before very long Shelley, and maybe your grandfather too.”
I made myself scarce and showered off the stink of hard labour. It didn’t take as long as the previous day but Shelley was still standing outside the bathroom door tapping his foot as I stepped out.
I stuck my tongue out at him. “You’re just hoping for chance to ogle a bit more skin.”
“I think I saw more than my fair share of skin today,” he said with a dreamy smile then disappeared through the door before I could hit him.
I opened the wardrobe and took out a pale pink sleeveless top and a cherry blossom skirt. They were more spoils from the marathon shop with Gran and I had planned to wear them on Thursday when we went swimming. Somehow it now seemed more appropriate that I put on something new for Shelley’s Mum and Dad; a sort of way of showing I appreciated the allowance. Besides there was always that pink beach dress for Thursday…
I dressed quickly and did a few poses in front of the wardrobe’s full length mirror. Ten minutes with a hair brush and a plum coloured hairband had me pretty much ready. I did a twirl in front of the mirror and felt the skirt swirl deliciously about my thighs. I ended it with a delighted laugh and caught a glimpse in the mirror of what must have been messing with Shelley’s mind all this week. I looked amazing!
It wasn’t the clothes, though they looked good on me too. It was something about the eyes and the face, like there was a fire inside or a spark which brought everything so much more to life. I was enjoying this too much.
There was a solid thunk from outside, the sort you only get when you shut the door of a really expensive car. It was quickly followed by two more. I looked out the window to see Grandpa following two people up the drive. Just then Carol called up the stairs.
I could hardly move I was so nervous. Come on girl, get your act together. Hang on, did I just call myself girl?
I shook myself. No time now, I needed to get downstairs. I ran out of the room and down to the front door, reached it and pulled it open just as the rather tall and good looking man outside was reaching for the door knocker. A smile lit up his face giving away his identity as if I had any doubts.
“Daddy,” I cried and threw my arms around his neck.
He swung me round as though I were made fluff and feathers and landed me back on my feet. I was actually giggling.
I turned to Shelley’s Mum and gave her a hug and a kiss. “Hi Mum.”
Then turning to Grandpa – I hadn’t noticed any sadness in anybody’s eyes, so I dared to ask, “How’s Gran?”
Grandpa flustered for a little then Shelley’s Dad took over. “She’s doing really well peanut. The doctors think she’ll be ready to come home tomorrow.”
I gave Grandpa a big hug. “That’s great.” I almost murmured it as though I were saying it to myself or just Grandpa.
I turned back to the house where Carol and Shelley were standing in the doorway. Shelley’s expression was unreadable and I sensed the strain that she must be feeling. To see me greeting her parents the way she wanted to; not at all easy.
“Mum, Dad, I want you to meet a couple of very special people.” And with that I grabbed hold of their arms and dragged them towards the house.
I don’t remember many details of the afternoon, just snippets, like snapshots and sound-bites. I remember Shelley shaking hands with her Dad and looking very uncomfortable. I Remember Shelley’s parents thanking Carol for putting up with me in the emergency. I remember Aunt Carol asking if they’d managed to find anywhere to stay yet, then offering to phone a couple of friends in the village who sometimes advertised bed and breakfast. I remember Shelley’s mum taking him out into the back garden. They were gone for a while and when they came back it looked like Shelley had been crying.
The news about Gran was shared in greater detail with everyone. The doctors were allowing her home tomorrow but had stipulated no hard work and no excitement. We all wanted to visit so Grandpa more or less agreed to have us round for tea, as long as we provided the food, and were on our best behaviour. Done deal of course.
Carol asked Shelley’s Mum and Dad if it was still alright for her to take us swimming on Thursday then to give us a treat on the Friday evening. Shelley’s Mum was intrigued and asked for details so for the second time that afternoon she stepped into the back garden, this time with Carol. When they came back in, Mum’s eyes were sparkling and she came right up to me.
“Right it’s settled. You and I are going shopping tomorrow afternoon.”
Shelley and I exchanged bewildered looks, and then Carol doubled the confusion.
“We’ll give you two a lift. Jerry and I have one or two things to sort out in town tomorrow as well.”
They all stayed for tea. Carol invited them then proceeded to bulldoze through their polite excuses until they gave in. It was quite fun to watch. Shelley managed to stay close to his Mum through most of tea which made it difficult to ask what the two of them had talked about in the garden, and it was approaching quite late when they finally took their leave, saying they wanted to get Grandpa settled before heading off to their B&B. Mum made arrangements to come round just after lunch the next day and they left.
I started clearing the table and Shelley joined in, but it must have been obvious that we wanted to be alone together because Carol told us to buzz off outside for a bit so she could get the place how she wanted it. We were only too happy to comply. I grabbed Shelley’s arm and pulled him into the back garden where we walked over to his newly built wall and leaned on it, looking out across the fields.
“Why peanut?” The question had been nagging at me since I’d gone out to greet Shelley’s dad earlier.
“Wha-?” Shelley seemed to come back from the planet Mars and I repeated the question.
“Oh, I tend to go really brown in the sun. On our first holiday Mum was fussing over me and trying to keep me in the shade and I kept running out into the sun to play. Dad’s told her to let me catch the Sun a bit then let me learn from the sunburn, but then I just roasted a nutty brown colour and Dad’s called me peanut ever since.”
The silence dragged out for a bit.
“So what did you and your Mum talk about?”
Shelley was quiet for a while and I was beginning to wonder if I’d overstepped a boundary when she let out a sigh.
“She let me tell her about it. I told her what happened on the walk and how I tried to help you because I felt the charm telling me it could help. I told her all about the change and how I felt and how you’ve been coping. It felt so good to share it with someone; you don’t know how much I’ve missed that. I have no idea how you men get by without talking your problems through.”
“But what did she say?” I persisted.
Shelley shrugged. “Not a lot. She said I’d figured out pretty much everything that needed figuring out and now we just had to wait for the spell to run to its end.”
“But you were crying!”
“Relief at having been able to share stuff with someone.”
“You could have shared stuff with me.”
“Not easily, I mean you are part of the stuff.”
“I thought you were very brave this afternoon. The way you managed to stand by and let things happen, I mean you must have wanted to do all those things with your dad that I did.”
“Yeah, can we drop that particular subject please?”
That hurt. I was just trying to be supportive. Silence settled on us again then after a few minutes Shelley piped up.
“Do you have any idea what Mum and your aunt have in mind for us tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
There didn’t seem to be much else to say. Shelley was caught up in his thoughts. With his parents here it seemed like he’d put up some kind of barrier and I wasn’t going to get past it this evening.
“Shall we see if Aunt Carol’s ready to receive visitors?” I asked and we headed back into the house.
The next day started pretty much the same as the previous one. We woke early and dressed in working clothes. Downstairs the kitchen table was groaning under the weight of one of Aunt Carol’s famous feed-the-five-thousand breakfasts. Shelley allowed her appetite free rein and demolished not only his but most of my ration of bacon and sausage. I’m not sure if Carol noticed me passing half my food to Shelley’s plate, but if she did she didn’t let on.
The last of the brambles were cleared and burning and Aunt Carol and I set to with various odd looking garden tools breaking up the surface of the ground ready for whatever Carol planned to plant there. Shelley carried on heaving rocks and building the wall. We only had a couple of short breaks during the morning otherwise we worked through solidly until lunchtime. With the digging done, I spent the last half hour or so trying to help Shelley only to discover just how heavy the rocks were that he was moving. I’m not sure I helped a great deal other than to boost his flagging confidence and cheer him on.
Eventually Aunt Carol called things to a halt and the wall was nearly finished. We sat about in lawn chairs wolfing down ham sandwiches and drinking lemonade like there was no tomorrow. I overdid it slightly and felt bloated by the time Carol chivvied us to go and get ready.
I let Shelley take the shower first since I knew he wouldn’t be long. Mum had insisted I wash my hair before we went to town, and despite the palaver, I did as told then spent the requisite half hour drying it off and trying to give it some body.
I was still doing battle with it when Mum knocked on the door. Carol said we had time for a cup of tea before we headed off so she ducked into the kitchen leaving Mum to climb up to my room and take control of the hair drier and brush.
It felt so much nicer to have someone else do it and in a surprisingly short time Mum put down the hair drier and I felt my hair and looked at in the mirror. Somehow it was so much softer and fuller than I’d ever managed.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“Family secret,” she replied. “I may pass it on to Shelley one day, so if you’re really interested you could stick around.”
“That’s not even funny,” I told her pouting a little. “Thanks for fixing my hair though, it feels great.”
“Yes it’s a shame you’re going swimming tomorrow. Hmm, that’s a point we don’t want to wash it too much or it’ll go dry and frizzy. OK after your swim tomorrow make sure you rinse all the chlorine out of it, and I mean all of it, then shampoo it just the once. You’ll be having it done properly on Friday so don’t overdo it.”
Woah, all of a sudden all these instructions, where did this all come from. It seems she wasn’t finished either. She looked at the bed and the pale green dress I’d laid out.
“Is that what you’re planning to wear?” She asked.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing, I just wondered if we might give my daughter a bit of a treat.”
She reached into her bag and brought out a couple of things I’d seen in my wardrobe at the grandparents’ house but not dared to try on. They certainly didn’t take up a lot of room in the bag.
“Hang on, you’re supposed to be my mother and you want me to wear that?”
She smiled brightly. “I don’t see why this can’t be a learning experience for both of you. I very much doubt Shelley will take advantage of you in her own body and it’ll be good for her to experience first-hand how a man reacts when he sees a woman dressed like this.”
“And what about me?”
“Well at least you won’t be too warm in town today. “ I really was not keen on the idea. “Come on, you have an opportunity here to see life from the other side that pretty much no man alive has had. You should embrace as wide a range of experiences as you can.”
“Including the slutty look.”
“I promise it will be an eye opener.”
So that’s how I let myself be persuaded and five minutes later I very nervously made my way down the stairs in a pair of spike heeled sandals, an indecently short denim miniskirt and a ruffled white crop top.
Shelley was taking a drink from her mug of tea when I tottered into the kitchen and he almost sprayed it across the room at the sight of me. I might have found it funny had I not been concentrating so hard to stay upright on those heels.
I staggered over to the kitchen table and sat down. No-one needed to tell me to keep my legs crossed and I found myself constantly playing with the hem of the skirt and the bottom of the top, trying to get them to cover just another square inch of skin. My face was burning and I don’t think I have ever felt so uncomfortable under Carol’s gaze.
“Well,” she found her voice after a second or two, “dressed for the warm weather I see.”
“I found them in her wardrobe at her grandparents’ and thought it might be educational,” Shelley’s Mum said. She really does have an evil streak in her this woman.
Carol handed me a mug of tea and I grabbed it with both hands to stop myself from playing with the cloths anymore. I thought about ‘accidentally’ spilling it over myself, but there was a lot of bare skin and the tea was hot.
Shelley’s eyes remained on stalks and he couldn’t keep his eyes off me while I sat and sipped nervously at my drink. Carol and Mum chatted away as though there were nothing out of the ordinary in the world until Carol announced that we ought to be going.
“What go out?” I was panicking all of a sudden. “Dressed like this?”
“You look very nice dear,” Shelley’s mum told me. “Just be careful in those heels.” And she and Carol walked out of the house without a second glance.
I climbed unsteadily to my feet and slipped my bag over a shoulder, acutely conscious of the way the bottom of the blouse was riding up. I gave the gawping Shelley a nervous grin.
“Well you did want to see a bit more skin didn’t you?”
He stood up in a daze. There was something of a bulge in his jeans and I looked away quickly going red all over again. It had been over a week since I’d experienced a bulge like that, but that wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t sympathise with Shelley’s discomfort.
I staggered and grabbed for his arm to stop from falling.
“How do you walk in these stupid things?”
OK so no help there. I led zombie Shelley out to the car and managed to find a little more poise on the tiny heels by the time we reached it. I made sure to scoop the skirt underneath me as I lowered myself into the back seat and to keep my knees together as I swung them round and in. Shelley stood and watched open mouthed then, when I closed the door, emerged far enough from his stupor to make his way round to the other side. I tried to take his hand as we drove off but he recoiled as though my touch had burned him. He didn’t say a word all the way into town.
Carol gave Mum directions to a couple of places and dropped us off in the centre of Harrogate before heading off on their own. They had arranged to meet back here in a couple of hours and so here I was, rabbit in the headlights once more, about to face two hours in public dressed like…
“Everyone’s staring at me Mrs Hamilton,” I hissed out through clenched teeth.
“Of course they are dear, you’re giving them a free show and the way you look right now is enough to turn gay men straight. Why? Aren’t you enjoying it?”
“Not particularly. I feel like a piece of meat.”
“With that much flesh exposed, you look like one as well.”
“Why are you doing this to me Mrs Hamilton? I mean I was never going to wear this until you persuaded me.”
She rounded on me and hissed her reply. From the perspective of everyone else on the street it was just a mother-daughter argument about the way I was dressed.
“OK,” she said, “firstly, you may not be my daughter, but for as long as you’re wearing her skin I would appreciate you acting as though you are her. That means you call me Mum and I call you Shelley. Secondly as I said earlier this is as much a learning experience for Shelley as it is for you and given her reaction to you earlier I think it’s a lesson she’s going to learn very well. Thirdly and lastly, you are going swimming tomorrow aren’t you? And you are planning on wearing that bikini Shelley bought? In that case count this as a sort of easing in. You’ll be showing a lot more skin tomorrow.”
She raised an eyebrow to see if her point had struck home then turned and walked away leaving me to follow in her wake as best I could.
Our first stop was a hair and beauty salon where Mum gave Carol’s name and asked to book me in for the works on Friday afternoon. I had no idea what the works might be, but I could feel another learning experience being lined up. We then hit the clothes shops and if my outing with Gran hadn’t given me some idea on what to expect I would have been overwhelmed. I felt horribly self-conscious walking around all the poshest eveningwear we could find dressed in mainly my skin, so it was largely up to Mum to go through the racks.
She held up one dress after another in front of me and shook her head each time. She was a woman on a mission, single mindedly searching for just the right look, and in what must have been the fifth or sixth shop she decided she’d found it. I hadn’t tried much on in all that time, but once she had picked this one out all the rush of the day seemed to stop.
It was a backless dress in black velvet with a scoop neck at the front and three quarter length sleeves. The soft fabric of the close fitting bodice gently caressed my skin where it touched and the full skirt fell in elegant folds to below the knee.
Being backless I couldn’t wear my bra with it, and even though it covered a lot more skin than I had managed so far this afternoon I felt a little vulnerable in it.
“Oh yes!” Mum said walking round me. “Just the thing. What do you think dear?”
As if my opinion were going to count for much today.
“I already have a black dress Mum.”
She gave me an indulgent look. “Well you most certainly aren’t all girl are you?
“I presume you’re talking about that little black thing you have hanging up at Gran and Grandpa’s. That is a lovely dress and if you picked it out I am very impressed with your taste in clothing, but for Friday we’re looking for something special. Tell me, how do you feel wearing this dress right now?”
“It feels a little insecure up here,” I indicated my bust, “but otherwise…”
I peeked out from where I had been hiding inside myself and allowed myself a good look in the mirror. Wow, actually this looked pretty amazing.
Mum stepped up behind me where I was admiring myself in the mirror. Encouraged by the smile that was growing on my face she gathered my hair together and twisted and lifted up off my neck. I let out a gasp at the sudden transformation that simple manoeuvre had accomplished.
“There you see? Perfect.”
I had to agree and Mum went to pay for it as I changed back into my slutware.
There was a backless bra on the counter with the dress when I re-joined Mum. She had just reclaimed her credit card and was asking if it would be possible to pick the dress up the following day.
She turned to me as I approached. “You are still a b cup aren’t you?”
I nodded. I’d learnt that much from the earlier shopping trip with Gran.
“OK then, lingerie, shoes and accessories.” She was off again. I was getting used to the heels by this time, but I still couldn’t keep up with her.
Half an hour later I was the proud owner of some fairly indulgent underwear, a pair of black patent leather court shoes with a three inch spike heel, a golden necklace with teardrop opal pendant and matching earrings and a quilted black bag with gold shoulder chain. These went into a carrier bag and we headed back to our rendezvous point, arriving just as Carol pulled up.
Shelley looked shell-shocked still, but whether it was my appearance or his new haircut and whatever other tortures he had been subject to I never found out as he neither said a word nor so much as looked at me all the way home. I kept my own head turned away as well, but I could see his refection in the window.
Back at Carol’s, Mum suggested I might want to change before going to see my grandparents and I gratefully headed upstairs to put on the green dress I had left on the bed. Shelley looked up as I reappeared and gave me a weak smile. There was still a haunted look about him as he wandered into the lounge.
“I thought we might bake a cake to take around later,” Carol pulled my attention back from worrying over Shelley.
“Wha-? Oh OK.” I was still looking distractedly at the lounge door.
“Oh don’t worry about him. I think you gave him a bit of a shock earlier, but he’ll recover. Now what do you think? Chocolate or Victoria Sponge?”
I favoured the chocolate but suspected Gran would prefer the other. I had to confess to not knowing how to bake and when Carol asked about the cake I’d brought on the first picnic I told her that Gran had given me instructions and that I’d forgotten most of them.
I put on an apron, aware that I didn’t want to mess these clothes up given the limited options left to me upstairs, and started following Carol’s directions. It was surprisingly fun and easy, and before long I had forgotten the day’s earlier trauma.
The cake was in the oven and I went in search of Shelley with a mixing bowl to lick clean. I found him in the back garden back in his scruffy jeans and working on the last part of the wall. Sweat was pouring off him and from the look of the wall he’d been working at double speed.
“Hey!” I called and he looked across at me. “Fancy a lick?” I held the bowl up and sucked my own finger clean.
He rinsed his hands under the garden tap and came over.
“You looked like you had a pretty rough ride this morning.” I told him.
He scooped out a generous amount of cake mix and transferred it to his mouth, giving him time to think I suppose.
“I never…” He stopped then tried again. “I had no idea… When you came downstairs wearing that skirt and top I… I didn’t know how to react. I was shocked to see you dressed like that. I was angry that you would go out in public; that you would display my body… like that!”
I tried to interrupt, but he raised a hand. I suppose I did want to hear him out so I settled back and let him continue.
“The worst of it was the way I looked at you. For the first time I found myself looking at you like a… a thing, not a person. Can you imagine what that feels like? To look at your own body and see it as a sex object? I felt disgusted, violated even! And when we dropped you off in town it was worse because it wasn’t just me that you were displaying yourself to, it was everyone! All through the morning I was imagining other guys in town checking you out, sniffing around you like you were a bitch in heat…”
I slapped him. Hard.
“So somehow this is my fault is it? Perhaps when you decide to stop playing Mr High-and-mighty and climb down off you prudish high horse, you might consider for a minute exactly who bought that skirt and top in the first place. And once you’ve figured that out maybe you’d like to give some thought to exactly who’s idea it was for me to put them on this afternoon, because it certainly wasn’t mine!”
A stomped off back towards the house, all sympathy gone. I almost made it back in through the door before I realised I’d forgotten the message I’d been asked to pass on. I turned back to the garden to see Shelley heaving yet another stone onto the wall.
“Your aunt says we’ll be going in about an hour,” I yelled. “Leave yourself time to get washed and ready.”
He dismissed me with a wave and stooped to lift yet another rock into place.
I helped Carol make a few sandwiches and then cleaned up the kitchen after our cake mixing. It must have been obvious that things had gone badly in the garden, but she kept her peace and let me stomp around the kitchen taking out my rage on inanimate objects. By the time we were done I had just enough time to brush my hair and check my appearance before it was time to leave.
Despite my earlier message, Carol had had to call Shelley in from the garden to get showered and dressed and he was the last one to come down the stairs. He still wouldn’t look at me so, feeling a little hurt and a lot angry still, I grabbed Carol’s arm and we walked ahead and let him trail along behind us.
Grandpa greeted us at the door and welcomed us in. Gran was sitting in the lounge and we took turns to greet her till Mum came in and shooed us away.
“The doctor said not too much excitement, besides now that you’re here tea must be about ready.”
We made our way to the kitchen and added the cake and sandwiches to an already impressive spread of seafood and salad and biscuits. Grandpa as the host indicated seats for each of us. It was a little cramped with seven off us around the kitchen table, but we managed. The older generations kept the conversation going so the silence between Shelley and me went largely unnoticed. We did get a few odd looks from Gran and Mum, but they didn’t pursue the matter while we were eating.
After the meal Mum suggested that Shelley and I clear the table and wash up. Everyone but Gran and the two of us thought it was a good idea, which is how I found myself tucked behind the sink passing wet cutlery and crockery to Shelley. I was still furious with him and heaven knew what thoughts were going through his head, so the silence persisted apart from the clatter of plates. Shelley knew where everything went from previous visits so there really was no reason for either of us to talk.
I dried off my hands and went hunting for my shoes leaving Shelley to finish drying and putting away. I announced that I was going for a walk and managed to not quite slam the door on the way out. I didn’t get further than the end of the road before I stopped. My arms were wrapped tightly under my breasts and angry tears were streaming down my face blurring my vision so badly that I could hardly see to move. I desperately wanted Shelley to come out and make things right; I was just too angry to make the first move.
It seemed like an age before I heard a door close behind me. I closed my eyes and waited, alternately longing for things to be right between us and raging against the hurt he had caused me.
There was a footstep behind me. “Mum said I should apologise but I really don’t see why…”
I kept my back turned to him. “Is that so? Well perhaps I could give you a clue. Your exact words before I sloshed you were, ‘sniffing around you like you were a bitch in heat.’ Or is that still too subtle for your thick male brain?”
“Look, I didn’t mean it like that…”
“So exactly how did you mean it? How did you think I was going to take a comment like that?”
“Maybe if you’d let me finish a sentence…”
“Maybe you’d like to start one worth finishing.”
He walked past me into my field of vision, mainly I think so I could see when he raised his arms in a despairing shrug.
“OK I get what you said about the skirt and top. I did buy them and I am going to burn them as soon as I get my body back, but what did you mean about whose idea it was to wear them?”
“You think I would wear something like that?”
“Well why not?”
“Because I’ve been a girl for less than two weeks and it’s hard enough putting on a skirt at all. How the hell do you think I felt wearing something like that?”
“So why did you?”
“Because your mum asked me to. She said something about making this a learning experience for you too.”
Shelley’s stunned expression said more than words could have managed.
“O shit Jerry, I’m sorry. And here I am taking it out on you.” He stepped towards me hesitantly.
“Get away from me.” I batted his arms out of the way and he looked at me confused.
“You think it’s all alright now that you know it was your mum’s idea. You really don’t get it do you?” He shook his head. “In the time we’ve been like this have I ever done anything like this? Have I ever done anything to deliberately upset you? And when I I’ve upset you by mistake didn’t I try to make things right as soon as I noticed?”
“Well yeah, I guess…”
“So what the hell was going through your thick skull to have you accept so easily that I would deliberately mess with your head today? I mean you were so caught up in your own self-righteous anger that you didn’t even notice how terrified and confused I was. Then when we get back did you even notice that the first thing I did was go upstairs to get changed? No you wait till I come out to make peace with you and you… you as much as accuse me of being a slut and a bitch!”
Curtains were twitching in nearby houses. In retrospect the end of Gran and Grandpa’s road was probably not the best place in the world for us to have our first row.
Horrified realisation was dawning slowly in Shelley’s eyes and it took him several seconds to find his voice.
“Jerry I… I’m so sorry, I have been such a prat.”
I flung myself at him, arms around his neck so tight he probably couldn’t breathe, pouring great heaving sobs into his chest. His arms went around me and suddenly all the pent up rage and anguish had somewhere to go and flooded out of me.
I don’t know how long we stood there, me crying, him stroking my hair and whispering reassurances into my ear, but eventually all the hurt was gone and I pulled away from him a little.
“Can you forgive me?” He asked.
I laughed through the last of my tears. “I rather thought I just did.”
He went along and smiled, but there was still concern in his eyes.
“I forgive you, you great lummox.”
It would have been an ideal moment for that first proper kiss, but the silence hung between us for just a little too long. I’m not sure which of us ducked first, but the magic of the moment burst like a bubble. The silence needed filling.
“So how are you going to react when I put on that bikini tomorrow?”
He laughed. “I think I’ll be alright, I mean everyone else there will be showing a lot of skin. Maybe not quite as much as you, but whatever happens I won’t react like today.”
“You’d better not.”
The silence descended again.
“I was going to wear that pink beach dress; you know that one with the halter neck?”
“I have a sort of wrap around sarong thing that goes with that if you want to drop the hemline a little.”
“I take it you’d prefer me to?”
“Right now I don’t feel like I have the right to make suggestions about your wardrobe.”
That earned him a hug.
“I’ll see if I can find it.”
“You’ll have to go without a bra as well. The halter neck leaves too much back exposed and having a bra strap across the gap looks all wrong. It’s alright with a swimsuit under it but you may feel a little insecure afterwards when the bikini’s too wet to wear.”
“We should be getting back.”
“Yeah, I suppose they’ll be wondering which of us has killed the other.”
“Promise me one thing Shelley?”
“Don’t let’s row about something like this again; I hated being that angry with you.”
“I promise I’ll try.”
We headed back indoors and there was a collective sigh of relief when they saw us holding hands. We didn’t contribute much to the rest of the evening, but at least we didn’t add any more awkwardness to the atmosphere.
As it was, Gran’s bedtime was rapidly approaching and, conscious of her need for rest, we all took our leave and headed for home. This time Carol walked on her own but I don’t think she minded.
I looked in the mirror for the umpteenth time. It didn’t seem to matter how I pulled the costume. It didn’t cover any more skin. I remember hearing someone – on the telly I think – say about women’s swimwear, the less material used the more the cost. If that were true, this must have been quite an expensive piece of clothing.
All it consisted of was several scraps of black material tied together by rather flimsy looking straps. It had taken me a while to position the knots so that the material gave best coverage of the most important places, but I still felt almost totally naked and extremely vulnerable; as though the slightest breeze might loosen something and leave me utterly exposed.
“Shelley, are you ready love?” Carol called up the stairs.
We’d eaten a reasonably early breakfast in our nightclothes then I’d headed upstairs to change. I’d been up here half an hour trying to make this work.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was seriously drop dead gorgeous in this thing, but after yesterday’s performance I was terrified of Shelley’s reaction.
“A few more minutes,” I called back. The muttering downstairs was getting loud enough to hear; I would just have to go for it.
I grabbed a white halter neck top and, swinging my hair over my shoulder and out of the way, tied it in place. I then picked up a mid-length wrap around skirt I had found the other day and fastened it in place. It had two layers of lightweight silky material, one a sort of light brown and the other a light blue. I threw a black tube top into a large bag along with some knickers and a strapless bra, added my towel and a bottle of shampoo, then headed downstairs.
Shelley did a double take. “I thought you were going to wear…”
“I changed my mind. I think I heard somewhere that women are allowed to do that.”
He shrugged. “You look great.”
“Tell me that when we’re at the pool, it’ll make me feel much better.”
Carol’s head popped out of the kitchen. “All set?”
I slipped my feet into a pair of flip-flops. “Yup, all set.”
Shelley sat in the back with me and seemed content for me to hold his hand. I didn’t want to push things after our argument the other day, especially wearing this bikini.
The forty five minute drive to York was uneventful and by the time the green flume tubes came into view, giving the complex a somewhat organic appearance, I was confident enough with my swimsuit’s ability to stay together and keep things in place that I was beginning to look forward to the day.
Aunt Carol paid for us to go in, took valuables like phones, watches and money off us before heading for the café. Shelley gave me a here-goes-nothing shrug and ran off towards the boy’s changing rooms. Feeling rather self-conscious I headed for the girls.
I found a locker and dropped my bag into it. It was strange to be surrounded by so many half naked women and stranger still to feel absolutely no reaction to all the flesh on show around me. Everyone was getting on with their business as though there was no big deal to it all so I slipped off my top and skirt and dropped them into my bag. Flip-flops followed then I dropped a coin into the lock and removed the key.
One or two of the older women gave me disapproving looks and I looked down at my body, afraid that something might have slipped.
“Oh don’t mind them, they’re just jealous.” It was a pretty if somewhat more heavily built girl who had spoken. She was just arranging the straps on a one piece swimsuit as well as the position of certain prominent parts of her anatomy. “If I had a bod like yours I’d want to show it off too. You go for it girl.”
She gave me a smile and headed off to the pool. Suddenly I felt a lot better about my appearance. I gave myself another once over and followed her out.
Shelley was waiting as I walked out into the pool area. I walked up to him and gave him a twirl. “So what do you think?”
He gawped at me for a few seconds then without warning he ran off and dived into the nearest pool. There were quite a few more pairs of male eyes checking me out and, dreading a repeat of the previous day, I walked over to a set of steps and lowered myself gently into the pool. At least with the surface of the water to obscure the view, things wouldn’t be quite so bad.
I was getting used to the peculiar sensation of my breasts floating a little in the water when Shelley came up behind me and lifted me bodily out of the water. I let out a scream and started kicked my legs as he threw me laughing in to an empty patch of water. I came up spluttering – and intact, yes I checked – laughing with him and moved over towards him.
There was a shrill whistle blast and we looked over to see one of the lifeguards glaring at us and pointing at a noticeboard with the pool rules on it. Shelley offered an apologetic wave and we moved apart.
“Sorry about that,” Shelley said to me, “but you look absolutely fantastic.”
We trod water and touched fingers.
“So what was that running off about then?”
He coloured up considerably. “Oh yeah, kind of sudden growth in the speedos; I had to get in the water quick before someone arrested me for indecency. I think you’ll find that a lot of the lads felt an urgent need to go for a swim just after you made you appearance.”
It was my turn to go red. “So nothing like yesterday then?”
“Nope, although I am having to cope with a whole bunch of other different urges today. D’you fancy giving the slides a go.”
The change of subject was welcome and I nodded my head setting out across the pool to the queues heading up the stairs.
As with the theme park, I found my terror threshold a lot closer to the surface and screamed my way down each slide, throwing up protective arms every time I came tumbling out into the water. Shelley on the other hand kept looking for ways to make it more exciting; going down headfirst, pulling himself into the tubes so that he could go down faster.
It took me a while, but I eventually realised that he was actually showing off, trying to impress me.
Once or twice a larger and much older lad came over and tried to talk to me. He did have an impressive physique – definite six pack going on there – but I didn’t care for his aggressive approach so I told him I wasn’t interested. When he persisted I could see the jealousy and anger growing in Shelley’s body language and decided I had to be firm.
“Look,” I told the newcomer, “like I said I’m flattered and everything, but I already have a boyfriend and I’m not interested.”
“You have to be kidding right? I mean what could you possible see in a pathetic little squit like that?” He dismissed Shelley with a wave and grabbed hold of my arm.
I squealed and pulled away. The next I knew I was down on my bum and Shelley was standing between me and the guy who was both considerably bigger and heavier than him.
“Touch her again and I’ll deck you.” Shelley’s challenge was met with a derisive laugh and it looked like he was ready to make good on his threat so I reached out and grabbed his arm.
“Come on he’s not worth getting chucked out of this place over.” I kept on tugging at Shelley’s arm until he gave in and let me lead him away.
“Jerk!” he muttered under his breath. “Who does he think he is pushing himself on you like that?”
I hugged his arm with both of mine. “My hero.” He gave me a kind of sideways look to check if I was making fun of him. “No I mean it; in your shoes I would probably have run away from a creep like that. How come you know how to use my testosterone better than I ever did?”
“Probably because I don’t know enough to realise when I’m outclassed. I suppose I should thank you for saving me from a class one beating.”
“Actually with the sparks you were giving off I’m not sure who would have won. I doubt I’d have appreciated the bruises when I got my body back in any case, that is assuming…”
I couldn’t finish the thought but I didn’t need to. It was weighing pretty heavily on both of us how this weekend might end.
“You know if we get stuck in that sort of thinking we’ll never resolve this.” The thunderclouds seemed to pass and he gave me cheerful smile. “Fancy riding the rapids?”
So we did. For the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon we enjoyed all the pleasures that Water World had to offer, only tiring of it as our stomachs began to grumble. By mutual agreement we decided to get changed and go find Aunt Carol.
I spent an age under the shower rinsing my hair until I was convinced I couldn’t smell any chlorine in it. The shampoo I had brought was a body wash as well so I gave my body a good lathering as well as allowing myself one thorough soaping of my hair. I then dried myself off as best I could and headed for my clothes.
I still felt uneasy getting changed in front of everyone else so found a cubical to wriggle about in. The strapless bra was stiffer and more constricting than the usual ones, but it did help to hold everything in place so I was glad to have it under the tube top. The skirt I had worn in the morning finished off the ensemble and I dropped my damp things into my bag and made for the exit.
I spotted some coin operated hair driers on my way out and decided to spend a bit more time on my damp locks. While I was brushing out the tangles and dealing with the wetness a familiar figure came up beside me.
“Hi, I thought it was you.” It was the girl who had chatted to me earlier. She stopped in front of the mirror long enough to use an eye dropper. “Helps clear the eyes after a good swim. You look like you could do with using them as well.”
“Thanks,” I replied as the hair drier decided I’d had my fifty pence worth and shut down. I read the back of the bottle and decided that they couldn’t do any harm so tipped my head back and let a drop into each eye before handing it back.
“I’m Debbie,” she stuck out a hand.
“Shelley,” I replied taking it and shaking it once. “I’m visiting my grandparents in Ferrensby for a few weeks. My friend’s aunt offered to bring us here for a day out today.”
“So you’re not from around here then? Shame it would have been nice to meet up later.”
“Yeah it would. Listen I really appreciated what you said earlier, I was feeling a bit nervous showing off so much of myself.”
“Don’t sweat it, you caused something of a sensation in there and it was fun to watch all the jaws hanging open. I really like your skirt as well, I really want to get one, but I can’t decide if it would look that good on me.” She was working out knots in her tangled hair but keeping an eye on me in the mirror. Come on say something nice.
“I think you’d look great, but maybe stronger colours than this one, they’d really show up your complexion.”
I wasn’t sure if my instincts were on, but she seemed to appreciate the comment.
“Do you mind if I try something?”
I shrugged and before I knew it she had rearranged the skirt around my waist, lifted and folded the outer skirt over the tube top and tied it at the back. I checked myself out in the mirror, turning to see the effect from every angle.
“Wow!” was all I could manage.
“There are hundreds of ways of wearing those things you know, you should check the interweb; there are loads of ideas.”
“I will, thanks.”
“That guy you were with…”
“He comes up to Ferrensby to visit his aunt. We kind of got together this summer.”
“I’m hoping so, but he’s taking a while to catch on.”
She gave me an odd look that ended with a kind of sigh. “Well it was nice meeting with you Shelley. I hope things work out with your guy.”
“Thanks, it was good meeting you too Debbie.”
She headed off towards the exit and I made a bee-line for Shelley who was waiting by the stairs that led up to the café where Aunt Carol had spent the morning.
“About time you showed up,” Shelley said as I approached. “I like what you’ve done with that skirt.”
“Yeah there was this girl I met in the changing rooms showed me how to do it. She said there are tons of ideas on the Internet.”
“Was it that dark haired girl who came out of the changing rooms just ahead of you?”
“Yeah that was her.”
“I think she rather fancied you.”
“What you mean…” My jaw fell open as all the little things fell into place. The compliment when we first met, the way she looked at me, the ‘accidental’ meeting at the mirrors, the slightly more that friendly familiarity when she was adjusting my clothing…
“So what did you think of her? I mean since you’re really a guy in there I wouldn’t be too upset to find out that you still like girls.”
“The weird thing is I don’t feel that way though. I’ve actually found myself looking at the other guys in the pool rather than the girls. It’s been worrying me actually, I mean shouldn’t I be attracted to girls?”
“I’ve been thinking about it myself because I’d have thought being in the boy’s changing room would have been a real turn on for me, but in the end it felt like I was just another guy with all the others. I didn’t feel in any way aroused until you walked out wearing that bikini.
“I think it was your comment about the testosterone that helped me figure it out. I mean ever since the switch I’ve not been interested in girl things. I haven’t felt the need or the desire to spend hours every morning choosing the right clothes and doing my makeup, I haven’t felt all that talkative and romance stories that I know would have made me all gooey a couple of weeks ago don’t interest me so much now. It’s like this body is reacting as a bloke and my mind is wired into what makes it feel good or not so good. Does that make sense?”
I felt an immense weight slide off my shoulders. “You know it does. I mean somewhere in the back of my mind it’s concerned me that I’ve slipped so easily into being a girl. The way I feel about you in my body, even the way I felt about some of the other guys around here, has seemed so wrong; like I was turning gay or something.
“It makes so much sense! I mean even though I’m a guy with a guy’s memories, right now I’m in a girl’s body with a girl’s brain and a truckload of female hormones and so I’m experiencing everything differently. Oh Shelley you have no idea how much of a relief it is to have an explanation for that.”
“Actually, I think I do… You know, have some idea. It’s been bothering me too.
“Look there’s Aunt Carol.”
We’d made it to the café and Aunt Carol waved us over.
“Have fun kids? Shelley I love what you’ve done with your clothes! I mean is it a skirt or is it a dress?”
I felt a flush of pleasure rush through me; the girl in me reacting to a complement. “I met a girl in the changing rooms who showed me how to do this. She says there are tons more ideas online so I think I’m going to have to go surfing later.”
And that’s how the afternoon unfolded. We grabbed a bite to eat to restore our flagging bodies then headed off into York itself. We walked the length of the Shambles then headed on to more interesting matters. Carol and I spent more time than was fair on Shelley looking at clothes in different shop windows before taking pity on him and heading into the steam museum for an hour or so. It was a great afternoon and over all too soon, however as soon as we were back home I begged Carol to let me have use of her rather aging computer and spent several frustratingly long winded but ultimately fruitful minutes browsing the Internet through a dialup connection. Armed with a bunch of ideas, I dashed upstairs and started working through dozens of different ways I had found for wearing the sari skirt. In the end I settled on one that used the inner skirt as I kind of halter top and came back downstairs to find Carol and Shelley busy putting tea together.
“Oh I’m sorry, I got carried away. You know I think I could wear this thing every day for a month and never look the same twice?”
I was treated to a couple of indulgent smiles; I was evidently showing a bit more enthusiasm than was seemly.
“I called your parents while you were upstairs,” Carol told me as I lay the table. “They suggested you might like to visit your grandparents tomorrow morning. Your Mum will take you into Harrogate after lunch to get ready for the evening and I’ll sort Jerry here out myself.”
“What is happening tomorrow evening?” I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer.
“Never you mind for now. It’s just a special treat I want to give to both of you for being such good company and such good workers while you’ve been here. I would rather it be a surprise because I think that you will enjoy it all the more if it remains so.”
“But you’ve already treated us loads! You took us to the theme park and to the splash today…”
“No, that was just what I had planned to do with Jerry in any case. Having you along was an added bonus because I seriously don’t think he would have enjoyed it half as much on his own. No this is different and a heartfelt thanks from me to you both for helping sort out my garden.”
I let out a sigh. “Just as long as you know you didn’t have to…”
“Oh I know that. I’m doing it because I want to.”
The spuds were cooked and Shelley put his back into mashing them down. A dollop of butter, a splash of milk, a generous helping of salt and pepper then a lot of elbow grease. Shelley was pleased with the result as plates were piled high with sausage, mash, veg and gravy. We were all so hungry that not another word was said until there were three empty plates on the table.
“I think I shall be able to put these away without washing them,” Carol said as she stacked the plates and dumped them in the sink despite her words. “Go on, you two clear off for a while and leave me a bit of peace. There’ll be tea and cake later when you’ve walked off all those calories.”
We’d given up arguing with Aunt Carol over things like this and headed out the door grateful for a chance to be alone with each other. We walked and talked and held hands, discussing Shelley’s idea form earlier. I was interested how she’d felt about the window shopping and the trains, and was not surprised with her response.
The clothes shopping hadn’t been as dull as we’d thought since he had positive memories of similar expeditions; it was just that they fired off different neurons and didn’t bring the same emotive response as he was used to when he was a she, leaving it as more a familiar exercise of the mind rather than anything else. I had felt the same way about the trains, remembering past experiences where I’d gone bananas over machinery, this time I could see how impressive the engines were, but didn’t feel in any way passionate about them.
I felt so close to Shelley at that moment; if I could have I’d have crawled into his skin with him. I wanted to know what was going on in his mind.
“What are you thinking?”
He was silent for a while considering. I mean I didn’t need a five-hundred word essay on it, just an indication of whether he was anywhere near the same train of thought as me.
“Thinking how cool those trains were this afternoon,” he finally came up with, so apparently not.
I felt my hopes crumble and the closeness kind of faded. We didn’t stay out that long that evening.
The next morning I was up with the sunrise. I took an early shower and put on a geometric print jersey dress with V-neck and angel cap sleeves. The hem was a respectable below knee length and the design conservative enough to please Gran and Grandpa, which was of course the whole idea.
I spent the best part of forever brushing my hair as usual, but by the time I was done, a very pretty young girl with a clear and unadorned complexion and shining hair looked back at me from the mirror with a very satisfied expression on her face.
I headed downstairs to find Carol getting ready to break her fast in her usual style. The kettle had just sung and she was pouring boiling water into a teapot.
“Hello Shelley, you’re up early this morning. Is everything alright?”
“Yes, just not very sleepy this morning.”
“Maybe you can rub some of your early morning habits onto his nibs in there. Hang on I’ll get you a mug of tea and you can go see if it’ll rouse him.”
“Is there a reason why I need to wake him?”
“Well just that your Mum asked if Jerry could come along with you this morning. I’m not sure why, maybe she thinks I could do with having the house to myself for a while, maybe she thinks you need the company.
“There you go love.” She put two mugs of tea on the table near to me. I picked them up and made my way through to the lounge.
Shelley’s breathing was deep and measured; almost a snore. I set the mugs down on the coffee table and lowered myself onto the floor beside him, scooping my skirts under me as I did so. You can discover a lot about your feelings for a person by watching them sleep, and as I gazed on the somnolent form of my own body I felt my heart go out to the young lady inside. I reached out a hand and gently brushed a lock of hair out of his face.
He murmured gently in his sleep and I watched, captivated, as he slowly made his way back to the land of the living. I took one of the mugs of tea and wafted it near to his face. His nose twitched and he surfaced. He didn’t open his eyes but I could tell the moment he woke because his breathing pattern changed.
“Morning sleepy head,” I greeted him with a gentle sing-song and stroked his cheek.
“Mmmm, I could get used to this.”
“I don’t think you’re going to have the opportunity, at least not for a while. Are you awake enough for a mug of tea?”
The mighty leviathan emerged from the depths and rose into a sitting position. I handed him his mug and leant my hands on his knees.
He took a sip, then another. A glimmer of life appeared in his half-lidded eyes. “What time is it?”
I checked my watch. “About half-past eight.”
He groaned. “Why so early?”
“Well I’m going round to visit Gran and Grandpa in about an hour and I thought you might like to tag along.”
“OK, give me thirty minutes.” He scratched the back of his neck in a blurry haze.
“I’m not sure if there will be any bacon and eggs left by then, but OK.” I rose to my feet and reclaimed my own mug of tea.
I drifted back into the kitchen and Carol and I found something to chat about while Shelley lurched upstairs. We heard the shower turn on and an almost immediate gasp of shock; it seems he was trying to wake up. Carol started frying and ten minutes later an almost human face reappeared back in the kitchen just as three plates piled high with fried goodness made it to the table.
“Impeccable timing as usual,” Carol commented.
I envied Shelley both his appetite and his freedom to indulge it as he dug into a helping that was almost twice the size of my own. He had mopped up the last crumb before I was halfway through mine and, conscious of what all the grease might do to my figure and my complexion, I offered him one of my sausages and the slice of fried bread while Carol’s back was turned.
Breakfast done, we headed for the door.
“I’ll pick you up around twelve-ish,” Carol said to Shelley as he slipped on his trainers.
“Why so early?” Shelley was curious.
Carol looked at me and winked. “Well quite apart from not wanting to tire Edith out with too long a visit, I imagine your young lady friend will want quite a bit of time to get ready this afternoon. I’m sure we’ll find something to keep you interested till the evening.”
Shelley and I walked the short distance to her grandparent’s house holding hands and saying nothing. It was one of those meaningful quiets where gestures and glances said so much more than words ever could. I was falling for this young man in a big way and it didn’t matter that he was a girl in my body. I think that Shelley felt very much the same way for me, although with a reticence in his eyes; a war between his feelings and… something else.
Grandpa opened the door to us with a slightly overly heartfelt greeting. He was still struggling to deal with Gran’s recent brush with death and the evidence of her mortality. It would take the two of them some time to come to terms with what had happened and even more to agree on what they had to do about it. For now though there was a thin veneer of denial which allowed us to pretend that things were normal.
Grandpa wouldn’t let Gran out of her chair and she complained vehemently about his coddling while he was in the kitchen. She launched a few raised words about being sure not to chip her china through the door at him, then settled into her old quietly cheerful self.
“Let him run around for a bit and feel guilty for leaving me alone on the floor; it’ll help him come to the realisation all the sooner that he has nothing to feel bad about.”
Shelley looked aghast. “I thought you really were mad with him when we arrived. You mean this is nothing more than…”
“Oh I’m angry enough. I don’t need all this molly-coddling; the doctor said I should take it a little easier than usual, but if I spend too many more days confined to this chair I shall really be fit to scream. But no, most of this is for Geoff’s benefit. He won’t be ready to move on until he’s been on a good long guilt trip. I only hope he doesn’t take too long about it.”
She offered us a smile and a wink as Grandpa came back in with a tray.
“About time too you old fool, and where are the biscuits?”
Grandpa scurried out again and returned shortly with a plate piled high with some Christmas chocolate collection that had obviously been waiting in the pantry for just such an occasion.
The morning passed quickly enough, and I even managed to persuade Grandpa to let Shelley and me take Gran out for a short walk around the neighbourhood. We were only gone fifteen minutes, but it served both to help Gran get some much needed exercise and fresh air and to show Grandpa that his wife wasn’t going to collapse to the ground the instant she stirred from her chair.
Midday came all too soon and with it both Carol and Shelley’s mum. We managed to fend off the grandparent’s offers of lunch and climbed into Carol’s car; Shelley and me taking our usual seats in the back.
The drive to Harrogate was swift and uneventful, and before we knew it Shelley and I were being whisked in different directions with promises from our chaperones that we would be reunited before we pined away into miserable nothingness.
Mum wasn’t going to be denied her moment in the spotlight and, before I could even think to protest, we found ourselves outside the salon we had so briefly visited a couple of days previously.
“So you’re here for the works?” The girl at the counter looked up at me with a smile that would have turned me into a gibbering wreck a few weeks previously. “I wish I was so lucky.”
She led me to a chair in a private room, told me to slip off my shoes and wait. Just as she was heading out the door she asked if I would like a tea or a coffee and I asked for my usual tea.
The next few hours passed in a blissful haze under the gentle ministrations of the shop staff. My hair was washed then gently rubbed and blown dry; my face was rubbed and massaged with a cream and soft pads placed over my eyes. My hands and feet were attended to with cream washes and the nails cleaned, filed and painted. All the while a gentle banter from one girl then the next, each assuring me of how beautiful I was going to look by the time they were done.
For the last three quarters of an hour, they deliberately turned me away from the mirror. First one of the beauticians worked on my hair, twisting it into elaborate shapes which lifted all the weight of it off my slender neck, then another had me keep my face perfectly still as she expertly applied the war paint. By the time they were all done I was feeding off their excitement and couldn’t wait to see the results.
I was already delighted with my nails which were now elegantly shaped and glistening with the perfect shade of pink to match my skin, but when they turned me to face the mirror I quite literally had no breath even to gasp. I mean I had always thought Shelley was beautiful and that opinion hadn’t changed over the two weeks I had spent in her body, but the reflection that stared out of the mirror was that of a princess.
My hair had been woven into a delicate lace crown and sparkled with just the gentlest hint of glitter. My face was astonishing with high and low lights blended into the mix making my cheekbones just a little more prominent, my eyes just a little larger, my lips just a little fuller.
A line of women stood to one side, their own breath stilled as they waited for my reaction.
“I can’t believe that’s me,” I said in a soft and wondering voice. “She looks just like someone from a fairy tale.”
Smiles broke out all round as I had apparently given them all permission to breathe again. Shelley’s mum was allowed through the curtain and the hint of tear glistened in her eye as she took in the sight of me.
The makeup that had been used to create my transformation were transferred to a bag and handed over – apparently part of ‘the works’ – and while I was still asking the woman who had painted my face how she had achieved the affect with the cheekbones, Mum took hold of my wrist and interrupted. Apparently there was a lot more to do and not much time.
Our next stop was the dress shop where my velvet dress was waiting for me. Mum had brought the bag of extra goodies with her and followed me into a cubicle where she emptied the contents of the bag while I undressed.
She handed me first a skimpy pair of black lace knickers, then a packet of sheer black stockings and finally a contraption which looked like it would have made an efficient mechanism for a siege engine.
“Stockings and suspenders?” I asked. “No-one will see them under this dress.”
“They won’t see those lovely undies either, but this isn’t so much about what others see as it is about how you feel. The way you feel affects the way you behave, and believe me young lady you are going to feel gorgeous tonight.”
I asked the obvious logistical question.
“Over or under doesn’t really matter and is actually a matter of personal preference. Having said that if you pass the straps under your knickers, it’ll be a lot easier when you need to go to the loo.”
That seemed sensible advice and I decided to follow it.
I felt a little self-conscious taking my white bra off with Shelley’s mum still in the cubicle with me, but she told me there was nothing she hadn’t seen many times before and I shouldn’t be so squeamish. I took off the lacy white bra I’d been wearing and took the black strapless one in hand and regarded it with some suspicion. Even without straps the concept wasn’t rocket science and after I’d settled my small breasts into the stiff cups, I smoothed the adhesive strips into place. It was a little uncomfortable and decidedly weird, but I figured that I would get used to it.
Next Mum helped me into the dress, settling the bodice into place and making sure that nothing was showing that shouldn’t be. She turned me away from the mirror as she did so and, having fussed with the folds of the skirt for a while, pulled out a black velvet box. Inside were the teardrop opal earrings and necklace with matching opal pendant. She put them on me and helped me to step into my shoes. The final touch was the handbag.
“Ready to see who your lucky young man is going to spend his evening with?”
I took a breath and gave her a nod. She swivelled me around gently and I almost collapsed.
“No tears,” she whispered in my ear. “You wouldn’t want to ruin all that hard work before he even has a chance to see this would you?”
I shook my head and very carefully dabbed the moisture from my eyes. If I had thought the mirror held a fairy tale princess before, then the vision staring back at me now was proof positive. I never would be any more beautiful than this, and in a short time I would be able to offer this beauty to the most special guy in the world.
Shelley’s mum squeezed my shoulders. “I couldn’t be prouder of you if you were my own daughter.”
“Do you think he’ll like it? You’re daughter I mean?”
“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that, it gives me a headache. But yes I think Shelley will love what we’ve achieved here. I hope this will make up for what I did to both of you the other day.”
We stood there gazing at the mirror for a few seconds longer, then Mrs Hamilton glanced at her watch and suddenly the quiet moment was gone.
“Come on, we’d better get you to your date.”
She gathered up the clothes I’d left lying around the cubicle and stuffed them into a bag. A few things were transferred from my old handbag to my new along with some of the cosmetics from my makeover, then we made our way to the main entrance of the shop.
The warmth of the day was receding and I gave an involuntary shudder as a cool breeze raised goose bumps down my back. Shelley’s mum caught the motion and stopped to reach into the magical carrier bag one more time.
“Your gran wanted you to wear this tonight. I thought it was maybe a little over the top, but since it is getting a little chilly it might not be such a bad idea.”
She draped a white fur stole over my shoulders. It was warm and oh so soft.
“No it’s just a high quality fake. Your gran isn’t that well off, and besides she far too kind hearted to choose fashion at the cost of such cruelty. You know I think I owe her an apology; it really does finish off that outfit.”
Shelley’s Mum checked her watch again and, as if on cue, the longest white limousine I had ever seen rounded the corner and pulled to a stop in front of us. My surprise jumped another level as Shelley stepped out of the back door and held it open for us.
I had been so looking forward to the effect I was going to have on him that I hadn’t given a moment’s thought to how the sight of him would blow me away, and blow me away it did.
I mean put an underdeveloped fifteen year old boy in a tuxedo and what do you get? I certainly wasn’t expecting to be impressed, but somehow the sight of him took my breath away. Beneath the single button jacket he was wearing a pleated shirt with laydown collar and a black bow tie.
It wasn’t the clothes that made the man though, but rather the way he wore them. There was a casual self-assuredness about his bearing. The clothes were trendy and smart, but the confidence with which he carried them made him drop dead gorgeous.
I honestly don’t know which of us was more taken with the other, but for the longest time all we could do was stare at each other.
It was too long for mother. “Alright you two love birds, though it pains me to interrupt such a special moment, we are on something of a tight schedule here so please climb aboard.”
The spell broken, I managed to gather my wits and my skirts enough to climb into the back seat of the car. Shelley’s mum came next and sat with her back to the driver, leaving room for Shelley to sit next to me.
As we pulled away, Mrs Hamilton spoke again, obviously enjoying herself. “I’m only catching a ride with you as far as the car park, after that the driver will take you to a French bistro near the theatre. You have a reservation there for six o’clock in the name of Newington. Don’t worry about paying for the meal as we have already made arrangements for that to be taken care of.
“You will need to keep something of an eye on the time though. You need to leave the restaurant by seven thirty and walk down the Oxford Street to the theatre. Two tickets have been reserved, yet again in young Mr Newington’s name, and you should be able to pick them up without queuing. Curtain goes up at eight o’clock and in the longstanding tradition of theatres everywhere, you will not be allowed to enter the auditorium after that, so please make sure you get there in good time.”
“What happens after the play?” Shelley asked as limo pulled up near to the multi-story where his mum’s car was parked.
“All taken care of. Don’t worry go with the flow and enjoy.” With that she stepped out of the car and was gone.
The limo driver gave us a short tour on the way to the restaurant, showing off the smoothness of his ride as well is some of the more picturesque parts his town. Eventually he pulled up to the side of the road and stepped out to hold the door for us. He indicated the theatre a short walk down the road as well as the entrance to the restaurant where we had our reservations. We thanked him and Shelley held the door open for me as we entered.
The Maître d flashed us a smile of genuine pleasure as Shelley offered his borrowed name and led us to a small table in a quiet corner of the restaurant.
“Mam’selle, monsieur. Je vous souhaite bon appétit.”
French isn’t my favourite subject at school, but I just about managed the gist of that. Shelley offered him a ‘merci’ as he withdrew and we settled into our evening together.
It passed like a dream. Somehow we managed to unlock eyes long enough to read the menu and place an order. Being unchaperoned and underage, wine was not an option, but a sparkling grape juice was served in wine glasses adding to the magic of the meal. I can’t remember what I ordered, but the flavour was exquisite and the portions small enough that even I had room for desert after a starter and main course. I don’t remember that either of us spoke much, except with our eyes and our hands; the setting was too perfect, too ideal for words.
We finished eating and sat listening to the bustle around us while we finished the last of our drinks. A waiter approached and bent to murmur something in Shelley’s ear. He stood and walked round the table to help me up.
“It seems that we should be on our way if we want to be in our seats in good time for the opening curtain.”
I accepted my stole from the waiter and wrapped it around my shoulders before sliding my arm into the crook of Shelley’s elbow. We thanked the waiter and headed for the door. The head waiter held it open for us and wished us a pleasant evening.
It was still light as we headed towards the theatre entrance, and we found our eyes drawn to the lettering above the doors.
“The King and I. Have you ever heard of it?” I asked Shelley.
“I think I remember Gran talking about it once. They made a film out of it and Grandpa took her to it on one of their rare real dates. He didn’t enjoy it much, but she was enthralled. Actually I wasn’t so interested in that as who’s in it.”
He nodded his head at the sign and I strained to read the smaller writing underneath. It listed the actors who were taking the major parts and one name jumped off the board at me.
“Aunt Carol is acting in this?”
“And singing too I should imagine; it is a musical.”
It was twenty to when we reached the entrance. We walked past the queue for the box office and headed straight for the enquiries and pickup desk.
Shelley put his hand on the counter. “You should have two tickets in the name of Newington.”
“Oh yes, your aunt asked me to put aside something special for you. Stalls, J11 and 12; best seats in the house. And a program. I hope you enjoy the show.”
And we did. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, especially when the program proudly declared that the production was being put on by the local amateur dramatic group, but as the curtain went up and the show began, it became obvious that there was nothing amateur about this production.
Aunt Carol’s voice was surprisingly good. I mean I had heard her singing in the shower before, but tonight she was pitch perfect and projecting powerfully. From her performance she absolutely deserved to be topping the bill as Anna. Extra kudos for moving around so well in such an enormous skirt too.
The story took some unravelling and I was just about hanging on as the end of the first act approached. There was something about the King putting on a ball to show Queen Victoria that he was civilised and then a scene where he admits to Anna that he cannot dance so she offers to show him how. The king with all his arrogance and pride declares that he cannot learn when he is the only student in the room and Anna offers to find him two others.
I didn’t twig that this last bit was a departure from the original script right up until the moment when two spotlights pinned Shelley and me in our seats and Carol announced to the audience that her nephew and his consort were visiting and would be glad to come up onto the stage to help out with the dancing.
With the audience applauding and both the king and Anna beckoning for us to join them on stage, we had no choice. We sidled our way out of our seats and up onto the stage where Anna presented us to the king as though this was a planned part of the play. Shelley bowed on his introduction and I just about managed a serviceable curtsey in my heels.
Anna then gave instruction on how we were to hold ourselves. I had never danced formally before that moment, I mean how many fifteen year old or younger boys get to do something like that in real life? Even so it felt oddly unnatural putting my left hand on Shelley’s shoulder and holding out my right hand for him to hold. Shelley seemed to feel similarly uncomfortable, but before long he was leading me quite confidently in a lively dance around the stage as Aunt Carol and her opposite number managed the same while singing ‘Shall we dance?’
At the end of the scene we accepted our applause with a quick bow and even more wobbly curtsey and settled back into our seats for the last scene before the interval.
I had wanted to spend the interval scouring the program for information that might help me follow the plot a bit better, but our short time in the spotlight had us inundated with strangers coming up to us and offering congratulations for our part in the show. We even had a couple of drinks bought for us, by which time it was difficult to refuse them.
I did manage to start up a discussion about the story with some of our newly acquired fan-base, and one elderly husband and wife were particularly helpful in explaining the story so that by the time the first bell went to call us all back to our seats, we had a much better grasp of what was going on.
The musical carried itself to its tearful conclusion and was met with rapturous applause and a standing ovation for the cast as they came on to take their bows. The king and Anna came on in pride of place and the volume of the applause went up a few decibels. When the two of them pointed in our direction and the spotlights were turned towards us again, the sound became even more deafening and we were once again invited up onto the stage to receive our own accolade.
The whole experience gave me a new understanding on why people are drawn to the ‘roar of the greasepaint’ as I’ve heard Aunt Carol refer to it. When the curtain came down for the last time, Carol held onto our arms and invited us backstage to her dressing room. She was on a high with all the adrenaline and I have never seen her look more beautiful, even being overly made up for the strong stage lights.
“Carol, you were wonderful!” Other members of the cast crowded into the confined space with us to bask in the afterglow of a successful performance, and we were introduced to so many of her friends. They all complemented Shelley and me on our impromptu performance and thanked us for being such good sports. Eventually they all filed out and left Carol to change.
Carol pulled out her mobile and selected a number from the list. “Hi Peter. Things are winding down now, I think my nephew and his date are about ready to be picked up… ten minutes, that’s great. OK bye.
“I’m going to be a while longer here you two; you have no idea how much effort is involved in scraping this gunk off your face. Your ride should be out front in a little less than ten minutes. Jerry you have your key?” Shelley tapped his pocket and nodded. “OK then, I’ll see you back at home in about an hour. Thanks for being such good sports tonight and I hope you enjoyed it.”
I don’t know if she managed to get anything more than a general impression as we both enthused over how perfect the night had been at the same time. Eventually she laughed and pushed us out the door.
One of the backstage crew led us back to the theatre and gave us directions out. By the time we had found our way to the street in front of the theatre, our limo from earlier was just approaching. We stood to one side hardly daring to hope that it had come back for us, but then the driver stepped out and beckoned us over, opening the back door as he did so.
As we pulled away from the kerb, he slid open a partition and leaned back to speak to us.
“There are drinks in the mini-bar in front of you; complementary this time, so don’t worry about running your aunt’s bill up any higher. I’m going to assume from the look on your faces that it was a good evening?”
We nodded our agreement and with a parting, ‘enjoy the ride’ he slid the partition closed again.
Shelley opened the mini-bar to find it stocked with fruit juices and fizzy drinks. He offered to pour and we both settled back with some concoction of apple and mango.
The evening had been too much. We were both lost in our own thoughts and too overwhelmed to find words to share. The limo ride was smooth but, like the earlier one, all to short and in next to no time we were stopped outside Aunt Carol’s house. Our driver opened the door for us and offered me a hand as a climbed to my feet once more.
“You guys take care,” he said as he climbed back into his immense vehicle and drove off.
“There’s one car I wouldn’t want to turn around in the road.”
I laughed at the image of the limo broadside on in one of these smallish back roads and turned to face my date.
“I don’t want to go in just yet,” I told him. “Do you fancy a walk?”
He offered me his elbow and, settling my stole more comfortably over my shoulders, I took hold of his arm with both my hands and let him lead me where he would.
The stars were out and a near full moon was high in the sky, so we headed out of town relying on the moonlight to guide our feet. For half an hour we wandered aimlessly in silence enjoying one another’s company then, just as my toes were really beginning to pinch in the new shoes, we found our way back to Carol’s front door.
Shelley let us in and I kicked off the shoes with a grateful sigh.
“That’s one thing I don’t miss,” Shelley told me nodding at the shoes. “I’ve never been more comfortable in my clothes than I have been this week.”
“Well you look really good in them tonight,” I told him.
“I wasn’t fishing for complements. It’s just that, well I don’t want you to be uncomfortable for any longer than you need to be. You are so drop dead gorgeous right now I hate to suggest this, but if you want to slip into something more comfortable I really don’t mind.”
I stepped up to him and took his hands in mine. They were all I dared to look at. He was close and I could feel his breath on my forehead. All I wanted at that moment was for him to kiss me and slowly, oh so slowly I lifted my lips towards his.
I caught his eyes and they fixed on mine. I stopped moving, waited. This had to be him, his idea, him wanting to kiss me. My breath caught in my throat as he edged ever closer, my heart started to gallop about in my chest and I could feel my small breasts rising and falling as my breathing deepened. One last small movement of my head, just to show him I’m ready…
He stepped away and turned his back to me. His fists were clenched, his whole body rigid.
“Please don’t.” His voice was strangled, unreadable.
I was confused. What had I done wrong? I reached out a hand and touched his shoulder, but he stiffened even more under the touch. Confused I turned to the stairs and climbed a few. I looked back at him, but his back was still turned to me. I climbed the rest of the way up to my room without looking back.
By the time Carol came in I had changed out of the various torture devices that had lent so much to my appearance and was sitting in my nightdress ready to clean off the perfect makeup. My heart felt like it had burst inside me and tears had carved channels down either side of my nose carrying with them a mess of eye shadow and mascara.
Carol’s footsteps appeared outside my door. How had she climbed those stairs without a single creak?
“I thought you two would still be up. Did Jerry go to bed?”
I ducked my head to hide the state of my face, but my hair was still held in its elaborate pattern and I had nowhere to go.
“Shelley what’s the matter love?” Carol stepped into the room and sat down on the bed behind me, settling a hand onto my shoulder.
I couldn’t help the sobs from coming deeper and harder. “It was all going so perfectly. I have never known a more wonderful night. The restaurant, the musical, the limo ride, they were all so wonderful, and with Jerry looking so amazing and me feeling so amazing it didn’t feel like anything could go wrong.”
Carol held onto me and waited.
“We went for a walk when we got back here; it was too perfect a night to waste. The stars and the moonlight. I didn’t even feel the way my feet were pinching until we came back to the house and I took my shoes off. We didn’t say anything, I mean there really was nothing to say. We just walked and held onto each other. It didn’t seem like anything could go wrong.”
Still she waited.
“I made a move like you said I should. I walked up to him and took his hands in mine. Then I looked up at him, really slow until his eyes were looking into mine and mine into his. He was moving to kiss me and I raised my head so slightly to show I was ready, that I wanted it. We were so close, then he turned away.”
She rubbed my shoulder and waited.
“It was like he was angry with me. His fists were all clenched and his body all tensed up. He wouldn’t talk to me. What did I do wrong?”
I spun around and buried my face in her neck. I was conscious of the mess I was making of her blouse, but I couldn’t help myself. Carol rubbed my back and held me gently to her, rocking back and forth and making comforting noises while I heaved up great gobs of pain and cried myself out.
Eventually the crying stopped and I sat still, drained to immobility. Carol took the makeup remover and cleaned the mess my face had become. She then used my skin care products to finish the job before gently turning me back towards the mirror. She unpinned my hair and let it fall in its usual cascade around my shoulders. She brushed my hair until the tangles had gone then guided me oh so gently to my bed. She turned the lights out and closed the door.
I don’t know how long I lay there. I was numb and drained but couldn’t sleep for the longest time until suddenly I was waking up to a new day. My last day before Shelley’s parents whisked this body off to Barbados regardless of who was in it.
I swung my feet out of the bed and sat up. I felt dead inside, as though all the emotion I had poured out the previous night had been all there was in me and there was nothing to replenish it. My mouth felt disgusting and it dawned on me that I hadn’t brushed my teeth before Carol tucked me in the previous night. I headed for the bathroom, took care of business and spent five minutes scrubbing away at my pearly whites until it felt like whatever had been growing on them was gone.
I found my slippers and dressing gown and padded downstairs to the kitchen. Carol was sitting there nursing a cup of tea. She was wearing her nightclothes so I knew she had at least tried to go to sleep.
She looked up as I entered and turned to reheat the kettle, grabbing mug, teabag, milk in readiness.
“Whatever for sweetheart?”
“You tried so hard to give us a special night out last night, and it was so wonderful, then I go and mess it up by crying all over you and ruining your blouse.”
She walked over to me and wrapped her arms around me. I felt myself tearing up again and buried my face in her shoulder.
“You have nothing to feel sorry for Shelley dear. It wasn’t your fault that the evening ended the way it did.”
“How do you know? How do you know I didn’t do something to ruin it?”
“Because I have got to know you rather well this last week and you’re not the sort of person who sabotages her own happiness, or does something to upset someone without being able to figure out what that was.”
“Then what happened? Why does he hate me?”
Carol was quiet for a while. The kettle clicked off and she turned to mix me some elixir of life. She dumped the teabag in the sink and handed me the mug.
“I don’t think he does. I think he’s as confused about all this as you are, probably more so since he seems to be the one making all the wrong decisions.”
“So what can we do about it?”
She offered me a sympathetic half smile. “I’m still working on that love. Breakfast?”
Thankfully the skillet stayed in its cupboard. Fry ups are nice for an occasional treat, but as every day food they get old very quickly.
I bit into the dry toast and marmalade and found myself relishing the familiarity of it. Perhaps my body remembered and longed for this usual fair even though my mind had only tasted it for the first time two weeks ago.
The tea lifted my spirits. There was still an emptiness inside me that left me without a care as to how this weekend would end. Barbados sounded pretty good and if Shelley was going to behave like such an ass then maybe she deserved to sample my life for a while. I mean I could wear that bikini for a couple of weeks, especially if it meant I could lie in the sand and bronze myself.
“Why don’t you head up and get washed and dressed. I shall attempt to rouse the Kraken in a short while.”
I couldn’t resist a smile as Shelley chose that moment to utter some vaguely inhuman groan. Leaving the squirming mound of duvet to his long climb towards consciousness I headed up stairs and into the shower.
This was my last full day here and I’d given some thought to what I would wear. I was looking for a finish-as-it-started sort of theme and had considered the jeans and knitted top Shelley had been wearing when I first met her. The thing was this was also about the last time I’d see Gran and Grandpa for a while and I didn’t want to say goodbye to them wearing trousers, so I’d had chosen the light blue summer dress that Shelley had worn on our first picnic, and as I held it up against me I knew I had made the right decision.
I slipped into it and worked on my hair until the mirror showed the same glowing vision that had so captivated me on that first morning. Just the slightest hint of eye shadow and a neutral lip gloss to give my lips a little more fullness and shine and I was ready. I couldn’t match Shelley’s eagerness and anticipation, especially after the way the previous night had ended, but I looked good. The addition of a dark blue headband to keep my hair back out of my eyes and a pair of white slip on shoes with kitten heels had me ready for the outside world. I grabbed my white bag and headed downstairs to see if the world was ready for me.
“I remember that look,” Aunt Carol told me as I re-entered the kitchen. “With the possible exception of last night, I cannot remember you looking lovelier than on that first morning when you came round.”
I offered her a smile but my heart wasn’t really in it.
“It hasn’t turned out quite the way you hoped has it sweetheart?”
I blinked back the moistness in my eyes shook my head. Shelley still hadn’t roused and I wasn’t going to sit around waiting.
“I’m going out for a walk.”
There wasn’t much Carol could say and she kept her peace as I stepped out the door and pulled the door closed behind me.
I knew where I was going, but without Shelley to accompany me the whole walk seemed empty and aimless. I walked slowly, hoping at any moment that he would catch me up and chase away the feeling of loss inside of me, but it wasn’t to be. In just a short time I turned off the main road and headed up a dirt track between two fields. Before long the path widened with trees growing up either side. There was still a lot of debris on the ground from the storm earlier in the week, large branches that need climbing over, or more often in this dress walking around, so it took my quite a lot longer than I’d first anticipated to reach my destination.
When I arrived I had no idea what to do. There was the stump of an old tree that had been cut down not too far from where we had been standing. I walked over to investigate and, having decided that it wasn’t too dirty, I perched on it and stared towards the spot where we had been standing.
I don’t know how long I stayed there. My mind went over everything that had happened the previous evening, everything I had said, everything I had done, everything I remembered of Shelley’s behaviour. I couldn’t think of anything that might have brought about that sudden change. It had seemed so right, so perfect and now all I had was a heart rending ache every time I thought about Shelley.
My packet of tissues was almost all used up; just two left, when I heard a quiet footfall and Shelley’s shadow drifted into my field of view. He sat down next to me on the stump; not quite close enough to touch.
“Carol kicked me out of bed to come looking for you. I didn’t even get any breakfast.” There was an air of petulance about him, as though he was being hard done by.
“If you’re looking for sympathy you’ve come to the wrong place… How come it took you so long to find me?”
“I’ve been operating without caffeine. It took me a while to figure out where you would have gone.”
We sat side by side without talking for a while. I tore the tissue in my hands into tiny shreds and released them to the elements.
“Littering isn’t approved of around here,” Shelley told me.
“It’s biodegradable. There won’t be anything left by the end of next w – what exactly happened yesterday?” I was suddenly angry; the hopeless, aching self-pity replaced by a burning outrage.
He was silent for so long I was tempted to hit him and ask the question again. Eventually he marshalled his thoughts enough to respond. He climbed to his feet and took a few steps forward. Keeping his back to me he spoke in a quiet but clear voice.
“The whole thing was as much a surprise to me as it was to you. I had no idea what your aunt had planned, except that it involved the rental of a tuxedo. We headed into town at about the same time as you, but Carol had things to do, I imagine preparations for the evening’s performance, so she gave me a tenner and sent me off to amuse myself for a few hours before meeting her at the costume shop at five.
“I thought about going to the cinema, but that’s no real fun on your own so I just walked around the mall. I saw you and Mum head into the salon and I have to admit I was just a little jealous. Still it set me thinking about this past few weeks and what’s happened between us. I knew that whatever was planned for the evening was special and intended to bring us together.
“You know I’ve got the guy’s brain here? It’s odd and a more than a little unsettling to think clearly and logically in the middle of all the feelings that I have, but I had a pretty good idea that you were being swept along by your feelings the way I usually am. I found myself thinking about that first picnic we had and the things you said to me when we reached this spot. I guess I have a better understanding of the way you think and feel. For the first time I understood your reasons for wanting to hold back until things were resolved with Alex and I respect you for being so honest, even though it hurt like hell.”
“A bit like this does?”
“Yeah I guess so.”
He stared at the ground for a long time and I wondered if he was done, but he was only regrouping his thoughts.
“I decided that the right thing to do would be to honour your wishes from before we switched, that it was up to me to stop things from going too far because you’re stuck with my hormones and when I was in your position there was no way I could do anything but let them carry me along.
“The evening was so perfect. The way you looked in that dress with your hair up and those opals, the quiet corner of a posh French restaurant, the musical and being included in it, dancing on stage, the limo ride home, the moonlit walk. I mean everything went into making the evening so perfect and there you were waiting for me to kiss you and I wanted to so much…”
His fists were clenched again and his voice sounded strangled like he was at the furthest limits of his self-control. I stood up, stepped over and placed an arm on his shoulder.
“It just isn’t fair!” He spun on me and tears were streaming down his face. “I have wanted to kiss you since the day we first met. I wanted to kiss you when I was the girl and for two weeks now all I have wanted to do is take you in my arms and kiss you. You have no idea how hard it was for me to pull away from you last night. I knew you would be upset, that you wouldn’t understand, that you would react like this and it was the last thing I wanted for you, but before all this started you said you needed to resolve tings with Alex before there could be anything between us so I had to be strong for both of us even though I so desperately didn’t want to.”
Shock rooted me to the spot and for a moment robbed me of words. I tried to get my mind straight.
“Oh Shelley, I had no idea! But I thought we talked this through already. Whatever happens with Alex will happen in the future. What matters right now is following the spell to its end, and that means I have to give into the feelings I have right now, and so do you.
“You make me feel so safe and cared for and all I want right now, all I have wanted since last night is to know that you really do care for me the way I feel you do.” All the feelings that had been swirling about inside of me over the past two weeks welled up inside me and I so wanted to reach out and pull him to me. Something inside held me back though and I stood there looking at him and longing oh so desperately longing for him to take me in his arms.
He took a tentative step forward and I began to tremble with anticipation. He reached out a hand, began to pull it back. I grabbed it and pulled it to my cheek. ‘Sometimes they need a little help.’ Carol’s words echoed around in my head. He gave into the feelings that were warring against his better nature and drew me to him. I closed my eyes as his lips met mine.
My arms were up around his neck and my leg lifted as though it had a will of its own. From the depths of my soul, from every tiny nook and cranny, from every fibre of my being I reached out to him poured into him all the feelings I had for him. It was passion, it was ecstasy, it was electric.
I don’t know when I realised that the electricity wasn’t just coming from me. It felt so much like that first experience under the tree, but somehow this was more powerful, more overwhelming.
The world began to spin and it felt like I was rising up and out of my – or rather Shelley’s – body. She came with me and we swirled around each other and through the branches of the tree, stretching and reaching out until we could feel for miles in every direction. There was Aunt Carol her memories of a happy and a fulfilled life tainted only by the slightest hint of loneliness and regret. There were Shelley’s grandparents, their love a still and tranquil pool despite the ripples of disquiet over Gran’s recent experiences, and Shelley’s parent’s a love of equal measure but vibrant and alive, like two tigers circling each other; proud and independent but diving together to embrace a fiercely shared desire. There were a hundred others we didn’t know, all living their different lives, all muddling their way through the joys and disappointments that came with every day.
The swirling spiralled back in, spinning faster and faster till everything was a blur, then with a shock we fell away from each other. Shelley looked back at me. The real Shelley this time and I felt the residual echoes of her own feelings resonate with mine. I could see from her stunned expression that she was experiencing something very similar.
Wow what a rush, but this wasn’t a moment to be cheapened by trite comments. I climbed to my feet and helped her to hers. Thoughts of Alex couldn’t survive in the maelstrom inside me. I took her in my arms and put a warning finger on her lips when she made to protest. I drew her gently to me and kissed her again for the first time.
This time there was no magic swirling us around, just the magic of two people who shared such a deep connection.
“What about Alex?” She asked.
“Let me worry about that. Let’s just enjoy the moment.” And with that I kissed her again.
Shelley’s Mum and Dad were round at Carol’s when we got back from the walk. Shelley went straight up to her Mum and hugged her.
“Welcome back dear,” she replied. “I was beginning to wonder if you’d be coming with us after all.”
The double meaning slipped past Aunt Carol and Mr Hamilton and mother and daughter exchanged knowing smiles before Shelley moved on to her Dad.
“Hi Daddy,” she whispered putting her head against his chest and settling in for a long hug.
“What have I done to deserve this?” He laughed putting his own strong arms around her. “Not that I’m complaining of course.”
I went over to Aunt Carol and put my arms around her.
“Oh my heavens!” She exclaimed with her own embarrassed laugh. “Now I know something’s up. What has got into you Jerry?”
It felt so good to be called by my name and I smiled at her. “It occurred to me that that I haven’t done anything to say how much I’ve appreciated all you’ve done for me, Aunt Carol.”
“What do you mean? You built me a wall, isn’t that thanks enough?”
“That’s not what I mean. I just want to say that,” suddenly I was embarrassed, “well, that you’re special.”
Shelley looked over at me with a mischievous look in her eyes. “Should I be jealous already?”
Everyone laughed at that and the awkward moment passed.
“Well I suppose we’d better be getting back to Mum and Dad’s if we have to figure out how to squeeze all your new stuff into those suitcases.” Mr Hamilton gave his daughter a playful pat and lifted her off him as he stood up. “I’m assuming you’ll want to see Jerry off on the train tomorrow?”
Shelley looked at me and nodded.
“What time is it again Carol?”
“Eleven o’clock,” Carol replied, “and I think it might be an idea for you to pack as well young man, so you have a bit more time later.”
“Actually I was wondering if I could call round after tea so Shelley and I could go for a walk this evening.” This self-confidence was new; normally I would have mumbled my way through a sentence like that.
Shelley smiled up at her Dad with pleading eyes and he didn’t have a chance.
“I’ll see you about seven-thirty then.” It was a statement rather than a request, but Shelley nodded in whole hearted agreement.
Whole hearted, there’s an expression I’d never fully grasped before this moment.
Shelley and her parents headed off and I went upstairs to get the packing out of the way. Shell had left the things I’d brought across from her grandparents’ in the wardrobe and dresser, so I squeezed them into her small suitcase for later. I smiled; I would have had an excuse to go round even if I hadn’t thought to ask permission.
Carol made us an early tea and it passed in a daze. She commented once that it looked like I’d worked things out with Shelley, but when I gave her the zombie response, she snorted in mock disgust and didn’t try to talk to me again.
There was time to clear the dishes and wash them before heading out so I did, without being asked. Carol gave me one of her thoughtful looks, but put it down to hormones or some such other teenage malady. When I was done I pulled on my trainers and headed for the door.
“See you later Aunt Carol,” I called.
“Take a key,” she yelled back. “I don’t want you waking me when you come drifting back at some ungodly hour.”
I unhooked the spare front door key and disappeared into the still light evening.
Shelley’s grandpa opened the door to me and beckoned me in. “She’s just getting ready, come in and say hello.”
I did as I was bidden and put the suitcase I’d brought back from Aunt Carol’s at the foot of the stairs. It seemed odd to be a stranger in this house after nearly two weeks of being part of the family. Gran was sitting under a shawl by the fireplace.
“Hello Mrs Hamilton,” I greeted her, “it’s good to see you looking so much better.”
“Oh hello dear, have you come to See Shelley?”
“Yes, we were going to take a walk around the village.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
Shelley’s gran went back to her knitting and an awkward silence descended. Why was it suddenly so difficult to come up with something to say? I guess conversation is a two way thing and Gran didn’t have the same motivation to talk to Jerry Newington as she did to her granddaughter.
I scuffed my feet on the floor and earned myself a reproving look. I smiled a sheepish apology and let out a sigh of relief as footsteps on the stairs announced Shelley’s appearance.
She had gone for the little black dress and looked stunning. My breath caught in my throat, not so much at how beautiful the dress looked and moved on her, as at the smile that shone from her face.
“I know it’s a bit dressy for a walk but I couldn’t help myself. Do you mind?”
“How could I mind?” I stammered out. “I don’t think I’ve seen you look so radiant.”
She ducked her head and I could just make out a hint of red to her complexion through the strands of hair.
“Gran, is it OK if we borrow the picnic blanket? We may want to sit a while.”
With approval granted, she ducked into the kitchen to fetch it and passed it to me as we headed for the door.
“See you guys later.”
“Have fun dear, don’t be too late.”
And we were alone. Shelley grabbed my hand and pulled me into a skipping dance which set us laughing before we reached the end of the road. We settled into a slow walk and she held onto my arm with her free hand.
We walked in silence till we reached the site of our first picnic, both of us seemingly drawn there by the same instinct. It was a quiet evening with a golden sun sliding behind a handful of clouds and a perfect mirror image in the lake. I threw down the rug and settled onto my back to enjoy the peace and quiet and Shelley sat shyly besides me.
“Glad to be back?”
“Hmm, I guess so.” I didn’t sound convincing even to myself and Shelley looked up at me intrigued.
What to tell her? This last fortnight had changed me in ways even I didn’t understand.
“I don’t miss the hours spent fighting with my hair and choosing what to wear, and I certainly don’t miss that rather gross experience from last week,” I started, “but I am going to miss the kick I got out of looking so good.”
“What are you talking about, you look really great.”
“Yeah I remember how it felt to look at you when you were me, but that’s not what I mean. It’s kind of like after all the effort you go through to look good, it’s a real boost when someone does the goldfish impression thing when you walk into the room. If a guy spent as much time on his looks people would start thinking he was gay or something, and without the effort you don’t get to take so much credit for looking good. Does that make any sense?”
“Yeah it does.” She drifted off into her own thoughts.
“I’m also going to miss all those heart to hearts with Gran and Aunt Carol and even your mum. You know I never realised how lonely it is being a bloke till I had a chance to see things through your eyes?”
“Yeah, but we need each other’s support you know. When it comes down to it, with making ourselves look good and trying to get the attention of the man we’re interested in, it’s still you guys who get to decide whether anything comes of it. If the feller’s not interested then we need to have a shoulder to go to and have a good cry on.”
“You think it’s so easy for blokes? I ask a girl out and she turns me down, I have to deal with the fallout as well.”
“But you can just shrug it off can’t you? I mean I’ve had guys do that to me in the past.”
“That’s just for show, can’t let the other guys see you’re hurting. I thought you’d picked up on some of that this last week.”
There was an unasked question between us and I didn’t really want to answer it. I’d spent some time thinking about Alex since the switch back and my feelings were a mess of confusion. I tried to evade it for a while.
“So what do you think that was all about? You know when we switched back and for a minute it seemed like we were stretched out all over this place?”
“Yeah that was weird. I think it was kind of echoes of the spell working, like side effects.
“My Mum told me that the magic always has a way of working out in the time frame it has, which is why she didn’t seem that worried about things getting back to normal before this weekend. She said that sometimes it’s like a piece of elastic stretching out as far as it can and when it springs back it kind of bounces around a bit, so you get some odd effects.”
“When did she tell you this?”
“You know that time in the Carol’s garden when they’d just come from seeing Gran?”
“You didn’t tell me she said things’d be alright.”
“I’m not sure I believed her at the time.”
She put her hand on my chest and started to draw swirly patterns with her fingers. Here it comes.
“So where does this leave us?”
I reached up and took her hand in mine, then looked at her till she raised her head and I could see her eyes. They sparkled with anticipated tears. I noticed that she wasn’t wearing any makeup, probably because she was expecting bad news.
My guts bunched inside me. I knew intimately how she felt about me and had been searching for a way through this particular issue without hurting her.
“You know how I feel about you, pretty much the same as I know how you feel about me; I mean that was the object of the spell wasn’t it?”
She nodded her head and looked away long enough to wipe the heel of her hand across her eyes.
“The thing is all the time you were being me you kept asking about Alex. It was important to you then, just like all the time I was you I was caught up in the way I felt about you and nothing else seemed to matter.
“Now we’ve changed back I guess our feelings are working the way they were before and even though I know I care about you, and I know how much you care about me, I can’t promise anything until I’ve sorted out where I stand with Alex.”
She nodded her head and buried it in my chest. I felt her tears soak my shirt and it was like my heart was tearing itself apart in my chest.
“Besides you’ll probably meet some bronzed, muscle-bound American millionaire in Barbados and forget all about me.”
Her reply was muffled but I just about made it out, “I’ll never forget about you. Oh Jerry, I don’t want this to end.”
Neither did I.
“Then it won’t.” She sat up and looked at me searching my eyes for something on which to build some hope. “Look we can’t stop what’s going to happen tomorrow. You have to go to Barbados with your parents and I have to go back to the arse-end of England with mine, but what we started this last two weeks isn’t going to end when I get on that train tomorrow.
“I’m not going to promise that it’ll lead where you want it to, I’m way too confused to figure out what the way ahead is right here, right now. But you and I aren’t done. Not yet.”
The tears were falling again. That was something else I found I envied; the ease with which she could let her feelings show. There was a smile behind them now and I reflected that back to her.
“And now if you’re agreeable, right at this moment I would really like to kiss you.”
And she laughed and leaned closer, inviting me to do just that.
The rest of the evening past in silence, each of us drinking in the closeness of the other. Tomorrow seemed an impossible distance off and it felt like if we could just be still and quiet enough we could slow time down or even stop it for a while. Eventually the sun reached the horizon and the light began to fade. I squeezed Shelley’s shoulder.
“We should be getting back.”
She clung onto me. “No, just a little longer.”
But the light was fading fast so I pulled her upright. I hadn’t realised before just how light she was. Maybe a week’s worth of shifting rocks had done something for my bod after all.
I folded up the blanket while she arranged her dress, then we headed for home, arms entwined about each other and pulled so tight it was almost impossible to move. Every step we took was slower than the last and it was full dark before we stood in front of the Hamilton’s cottage.
There were lights on still, despite it being after Gran and Grandpa’s usual bedtime and Shelley looked up at me guiltily. “I should go in.”
I nodded and took her in my arms. “See you tomorrow? We’ll probably be leaving around tenish.”
“Can I come for breakfast?”
I smiled. “I can’t imagine Aunt Carol would turn you away.” I pulled her gently towards me and we savoured one last kiss before she extracted herself from my embrace and headed inside.
The walk home was more from memory than anything else. There weren’t any streetlights in Ferrensby and it was already full dark when I dropped Shelley back home. Aunt Carol had left a porch light on so I didn’t have too much of a fumbling war with the key. I let myself in quietly and crept upstairs in my socks. I thought I knew where all the creeks were on the stairs by then but a light came on in Aunt Carol’s bedroom as I reached the top.
“I’m sorry Aunt Carol, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s alright Jerry I wasn’t asleep. How was your evening?”
“Just about perfect.” I drifted into my recent memories.
“Do anything interesting?”
“Not really. We walked down to the lake in Farnham and found a quite spot to sit and snuggle and watch the sunset. We talked a bit, but mainly we snuggled.”
“I remember times like that,” Aunt Carol said wistfully, a dreamy look coming into her eyes. “Some of my best memories were of evenings just like that.”
I perched on the side of her bed and we sat in silence for a while lost in the past – mine quite a bit more recent than Aunt Carol’s.
“So, do you think you’ll see her again?”
I jerked back to the here and now. “What? Oh I suppose there’s a distinct possibility.”
“You’re not still thinking about this girl back home are you?”
My voice took on a whiney tone. “It’s complicated Aunt Carol. I mean the last time I spoke to her I asked if she’d like to go out, then before she had a chance to answer me this dickhead…”
“Jerry.” Aunt Carol has never been a fan of bad language.
“Sorry Aunt Carol, I mean this individual with a penile enhancement to his physiognomy,” Aunt Carol snorted at that, “picked that moment to chase after me and she never had a chance to respond. Now tell me that I can leave things hanging like that.”
“What will you do if she says yes?”
“I’ll take her out then tell her that I had a really nice time and end it.”
Aunt Carol looked at me over her glasses; her equivalent of “Hyeah right!”
“Look I know Shelley lives a long way away and I won’t get to see her that often, but she’s really special. We kind of got under each other’s skin these past two weeks.” If only you knew.
“Well you have been a lot nicer to have around since she came along, so I can only hope that you’re serious. I suppose that you’re going to want to come visit a little more often now then?”
“I’d like that, especially if it happens to coincide with Shelley visiting her grandparents.”
We shared a smile.
“Shelley asked if it would be alright if she came to breakfast tomorrow.”
“Wow, she has it bad. Well if that’s the way things are going to play out I suggest we both get our heads down. You especially, you’re not so brilliant in the mornings.”
I smiled and gave Aunt Carol a peck on the cheek, something I’d never have done before but she seemed to appreciate it.
“G’nite Aunt Carol.”
It was hard getting to sleep that night and I awoke to the sound of Aunt Carol banging pots and pans in the kitchen. It reminded me of Shelley’s gran which reminded me that Shelley was coming to breakfast. Suddenly I was wide awake and charging into the bathroom. Ten minutes later I was dressed and downstairs.
“You do realise it’s only seven-thirty don’t you?” She asked me.
“Well you never know when she’s going to turn up do you?” I tried to be convincing and totally failed.
Carol gave me one of her snorting laughs again. “And I thought she had it bad! If she’s half as civilised as I suspect, she won’t ‘drop in’ for breakfast until at least eight-thirty so you can have another hour in bed if you want.”
“Nah, I’m up now. Is there anything I can do?”
“Are you packed?”
“Yup, toothbrush and jimmies went in the case before I came down.”
“OK well how do you fancy pancakes for breakfast as a last day treat?”
“Sounds good. What can I do?”
“To start off why don’t you go and see if we have enough eggs? If I’m going to make enough for the three of us I’ll need at least four. You can give the chickens their morning feed as well.”
I pulled on my trainers and headed out to the hen house. A couple of scoops of feed went into a bucket and I opened the door and started spreading the food about the run making cooing noises to tempt them out. Once they were out and scratching in the dirt, I snuck into the henhouse and gathered the half dozen freshly laid eggs.
“Still warm from the hen’s bum,” I declared putting the basket down.
Carol passed me a recipe book turned to the correct page, and over the next half hour she led me into the unfamiliar territory of cooking something more complex than beans on toast.
Shelley turned up at eight-thirty and I began to suspect either a conspiracy between them or a genuine psychic capacity in my aunt. I’d already practiced with a few pancakes and had just about mastered the knack of tossing them by then.
“Wow I am impressed,” Shelley grinned at me. “I never suspected you had it in you.”
“Just don’t look at the ceiling; there may still be evidence of my early attempts up there.”
Before long the three of us were chomping our way through a sizable stack each. Aunt Carol didn’t have any maple syrup, but we made do with the golden variety.
“Mmm,” Carol really did seem to be enjoying my efforts. “The American’s do have some questionable culinary ideas but this one really takes some beating.” Shelley and I were too busy wolfing the food down to offer comment.
When we were done Aunt Carol shooed us out of the house, refusing to let us touch the washing up. “Don’t go too far. We need to be packed and on our way to the station by ten o’clock.” We waved our agreement and headed off in search of a quiet spot to spend our last moments on our own.
Ten o’clock came all too quickly, but we made it back in time to load up the car and climb in before the deadline.
“You’re Mum and Dad asked me to drop you off at your grandparents’ after we put Jerry on the train,” Carol told Shelley. “I should be able to get you there by eleven-thirty which means you should be able to say your goodbyes and hit the road by midday; which is what your dad wanted.”
The drive into Harrogate was too short, but it left us with forty-five minutes before my train was due to leave and Carol left us alone in the waiting room until ten minutes before the train went. We did the tearful words-cannot-express routine and made promises of emails and phone calls and texts. I dragged my suitcase and bag onto the train and we stared at each other through the window until the train headed off down the track and she faded from view. Yeah I guess it was a bit over the top, but then it did feel like the end of the world.
A leaden weight settled onto my chest and I just stared at the scenery for a long time. We reached Sheffield and I dragged my case and bags across the station to await my connection. Once it arrived and I was settled in the new car I dug through my bag for something to do. The science fiction book Shelley had bought was in there and I figured I’d give it a go. It passed the time but it wasn’t the best piece of writing in the world. The fight scenes were good, but overall the plot was thin and the character development a bit non-existent. I turned the last page with fifteen minutes to spare and ended the journey as I’d started it. Familiar landmarks flew past and the prospect of home lightened my mood.
I’d been too busy being someone else to feel homesick, and it was only now that I realised I had missed Mum and Dad and even our relatively new home.
They were waiting as I walked off the platform. I couldn’t run to greet them because of my suitcase, but I made a kind of weary last effort and reached them. Hugs exchanged and the familiar family banter cut in. It felt so good to be home.
Aunt Carol must have told them about Shelley over the phone because it wasn’t long before I was getting the third degree from both of them. I mean no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition? I think my parents could have headed it up. I managed a kind of laid back, teenage nonchalance for a while, but eventually my feelings for her came bubbling to the surface and they ended up with more of an answer than they were expecting.
We made it home and Mum sent me up to my room to unpack. I did and filled the laundry hamper with the week’s dirties. Since it was full it seemed right to take it downstairs to the washing machine. I then rather overloaded the poor beast before calling for some help. Mum came in and rescued her cubic friend from my incompetence. I mean how was I supposed to know that you don’t pack in as much as you can? She gave me basic instruction – only this much washing, the powder goes in here, usually use this setting sort of thing – then we headed back to the kitchen. Mmm spag bol, not had that for a couple of weeks.
There was a ton of stuff recorded from the TV and after tea I sat and tried to catch up – Mum wouldn’t let me at the washing up, probably afraid for her dishwasher having seen what I did to the washing machine. I found myself bored with the TV and before very long turned it off and headed for my bedroom. As I turned out the light my thoughts turned to Shelley. I checked the clock and did some sums. She should be landing about now. I drifted off to sleep with images of her pushing a trolley heaped high with suitcases through my dreams.
I hadn’t drawn the curtains properly and a shaft of sunlight found enough of a gap to wake me the next day. It felt weird being back in my own bed; familiar old bedroom, Mum and Dad type noises going on downstairs. Usual plan of action for mid-summer holidays would be to stay in bed until Mum gave me her fifth or sixth last warning, then slouch around the house watching TV, playing video games, but there was a restlessness about me today that was new.
I jumped out of bed and pulled on a tee-shirt and a pair of jeans. It struck me that I had just got ready in less than five minutes and I smiled. “Yes,” I kind of whisper/shouted at my reflection. “I’m back!” Except something didn’t feel right; there was a nagging at the back of mind like I had not done things properly.
I checked myself out in the mirror and notice a couple of stains; fallout from last night’s tea. I pulled the tee-shirt off and balled it up ready to put in the laundry hamper then took down one of the polo shirts that Shelley had bought with Aunt Carol; it actually looked pretty good. Half a minute’s hunting in the bottom of one of my dresser drawers unearthed a comb and I dragged it through my mop until it surrendered. The nagging in the back of my mind eased, and I’d still only added a couple of minutes to my get ready time.
I bounced down the stairs and Mum stared at me like I had a duck growing out of my head or something.
“OK, who are you and what have you done with my son?”
I smiled and shrugged. “I guess I got used to getting up early at Aunt Carol’s.”
I grabbed a slice of toast from the rack and ate it dry.
“I was thinking of going into town for a bit, is there anything you need from the mall?”
“Mum, you’ll let the flies in.”
She shook her head and closed her mouth. “Did I just hear right…?”
“Depends what you heard.” I gave her a mischievous grin; this was actually quite fun.
I watch my mother try to start a sentence several times before giving her a gentle prompt.
“So nothing you want from the Mall?” I repeated.
“No I don’t think so, unless… No you wouldn’t want to do that.”
“I have some dry cleaning to pick up, but it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask you to carry my clothes around when some of your friends’ll most likely be there.”
“No it’s OK, give me the tickets I’ll get them.”
In something of a daze Mum pulled the dry cleaning tickets out of her purse. “There’s about five quid to pay I think, but that should cover it.”
She offered me a tenner with the tickets. I took them from her hand and gave her a peck on the cheek. “See you later.” She was still gawping as I closed the door.
I recognised a few people from school on the bus as I paid my fair; Alex was one of them sitting on the sideways seats towards the back. I walked down the aisle to her and asked if she’d mind if I sat with her. She shrugged and shuffled up a bit and I sat down with no real idea of what I wanted to say. Did she always wear that much makeup?
“I never had the chance to answer your question the other week.” She looked at me a little nervously. “The thing is I already have a boy-friend and it wouldn’t be right…” She kind of trailed off unable to look me in the eye.
I waited for a few moments and the world didn’t crumble into ruin about my ears. “OK, fair enough. Just thought I’d ask.”
We carried on in silence for a while then some of Alex’s friends climbed on at the next stop.
“I’ll give you some room,” I said and moved forward to sit with one of the guys I’d played D&D with in the past. Alex and her friends started whispering and giggling, I suspected I was the focus of their attention but my ears refused to burn and my face refused to go red.
“Crash and burn, dude.” Luke liked to style himself as a beach-bum even though we lived fifty miles from the sea. He had the long hair, the tie-dye tee-shirt, the knee length shorts and the sandals to go with the image, but right now he seemed just a little too pleased at my misfortune.
I shrugged. “Her loss.”
I thought of Shelley curled up in her hotel bed with the sound of the sea drifting gently through an open window and imagined myself there with her. For a few moments the real world receded and I could almost smell her hair.
The driver missed a gear and I jerked back to reality. The next stop was the mall so we all climbed to our feet and hung onto the bars until the ancient bus juddered to a halt.
Billy Cooper was sitting on the wall outside the main entrance to the mall with four of his mates. Luke suddenly wasn’t beside me anymore and I let out a long sigh as I felt all the crap of my life poised to fall on me again. I headed for the main entrance and tried to act casual.
“Hey! Newington!” Who else could it be but Billy Cooper?
He did a passable impression of a sewer pipe, spewing out a long stream of filth, the essence of which was – What the f*** did I think I was doing hanging around his f***ing mall and making the f***ing place look so f***ing f***ed up, and if I had an ounce of f***ing sense in my f***ing empty f***ing head I’d f***ing turn around and f*** the f*** off.
I stopped in front of the entrance and the jeering started. It lasted until I turned towards Billy and walked over to him.
“Did we learn a new word today?” I asked him with just hint of condescension.
“What?” Billy jumped down from the wall. “What do you… What did he just say?” Not very bright our Billy.
I went on the offensive. “Listen Billy, I’m getting really tired of you chasing after me trying to make my life a misery, so I’m going to ask politely only once. Please stay away from me.”
“Oh!” What counts for witty banter in Cooper World I think. “Oh!” Aha, repeat it for effect. “Well! I guess if you’re going to ask nicely then I suppose I should do what you ask.” He turned slowly away from me. Any second now.
He spun round aiming a haymaker at the side of my head. He was fast, but I was amped up on so much adrenaline my eyes were fizzing. I ducked under the punch and he twisted past me, overreaching badly. I stood up as his fist passed overhead and planted my own squarely on his kidney.
He fell to the floor gasping for a breath that wouldn’t come. His cronies stood their ground. If they had wanted to, they could have put a very swift end to me between the four of them, but then I guess most bullies get a bit nervous when one of their victims retaliates.
I crouched down next to Billy and spoke very quietly in his ear. “Now I’m telling you. Stay away from me.” After a second there was the barest of nods. I helped him stand as one of the mall security guys came over.
“What happened here?” He was all ready for trouble.
“Nothing sir,” I told him. “This guy just lost his balance and fell; winded himself I think. He should be ok in a minute.”
What? It’s the truth… mostly.
“I don’t like you kids playing on this wall. I want you all to move on, do you hear?”
“Yes sir, we’re just going.” I tried to be polite but he probably thought I was being cheeky. I turned to Billy. “You alright Cooper?”
His eyes were a little wider and his mouth was hanging open still, but his breath was coming back to him. He nodded again and I turned away and walked into the mall. Every step I expected him to lose his rag and come raging after me, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me look over my shoulder. Keep it cool, nice and slow. There’s the door and… we’re inside.
The hint of a smile played across my lips. The crap hadn’t fallen. I’d stood up to Billy and Co and lived.
Oh yeah, bookshop.
It was over an hour later when I walked out the mall. I’d spent a while browsing the new books in the local bookshop and had found a sequel to the one I’d been reading as Shelley and bought it on impulse. Hey if I don’t get into it I can always send it to her as a present. The dry cleaners had been a quick and easy stop except that now I was carry a bright lilac skirt and jacket and a very pink flowery dress. I was fully expecting a few choice comments from the lurkers outside the main entrance, but in the end it didn’t go down that way.
Alex was waiting just inside the entrance to the mall and she came over and took hold of my arm as I approached.
“I heard what happened between you and Billy,” she murmured in my ear. “So do you still want to go see a movie or something?”
Wow! The crap really wasn’t falling today. I had dreamed of this moment for so many weeks and now it was finally here. My heart was in my throat, thumping away like a jackhammer, but somehow I managed to keep a clear head. I stopped and pulled her round to face me. She was very pretty, all be a little heavy on the makeup.
“Alex,” I paused and looked deep into her eyes, how could I put this? “No.”
I let go of her arms and walked past her stunned expression towards the bus stop. As luck would have it a bus pulled up just at that moment and by the time I reached it, the door was clear and I was able to step straight on. I arranged Mum’s dry-cleaning on the seat next to me just as Luke ran onto the bus and sat opposite.
“Dude, what were you thinking?” His eyes were wide with disbelief.
“She had her chance.” I mean if the only thing she likes about me is that I hit a guy then we’re both in for a disappointment. I pulled out my book and started reading.
“Dude, I don’t even know you anymore.”
I ignored him. I was going off the idea of D&D.
My phone beeped.
“What the hey?”
“It’s a phone dude. You know? Some dude or dudette sends you a text so you pull out the phone and read what it says.”
“No-one knows my number except my parents and they don’t know how to text.”
I flipped it open and looked in the inbox. Nope didn’t recognise the number.
“Could be a scam man. I wouldn’t open it if I was you.”
And probably more because he said that than for any other reason I opened it.
“Dad has a worldwide phone. He lent it to me so I could send you a picture of me missing you.” It read then a photo.
It was clearly early morning; the palm trees cast long shadows on the impossibly white sand. The phone had been held at arm’s length and there was the cascade of ash blonde hair and the shy smile with the little overbite… and the bikini.
I wonder how much it costs to send a text to Barbados on my tariff. She’ll be back in a couple of weeks; I wonder if I can persuade my parents to let me have a friend come to stay.