I’m Gabby. I have red hair. Strawberry blonde mum says. Ginger beer my once so called friend Alice says. But however they describe it, it’s red. And I have braces, for my overbite, which to most people means my sticky out teeth at the front. My braces are new and while I’m pleased that my teeth won’t stick out two years from now, I’m not too happy to have a mouth full of metal. It means I have to clean my teeth all the time in case something mank gets stuck in them; there’s nothing worse than trying to smile at Tom B (who is gorgeous) during group work in Geography with a bit of lettuce from your cheese and salad sandwich stuck in your braces.
I have red hair, braces and a brother called Alfie. He’s in year 7 and I’m in year 9. He’s just started at my school and although I love him, he’s my brother so I’m supposed to, he is just sooooo embarrassing! He is the ‘too-nice-for-his-own-good’ brother; he’s always smiling at people and he says hello to everyone and worst of all he waves goodbye to the teachers as they leave in their cars. Yesterday he almost blew a kiss to old Mrs Wilkinson the Biology teacher, I swear, I stopped him just as he was putting his hand up to his lips. That’s not just too nice – that’s practically weird!
Alfie and I have one mum and one dad, which used to be normal, but is actually a bit rare in my school now. Our mum is a doctor and our dad is a stay-at-home-dad and a writer. He used to work as a manager in an internet company and he’s brilliant at fixing computers, but he gave it all up a few years ago when mum became a consultant in the Accident and Emergency at our local hospital and decided to look after us. That’s when he announced that he wanted to be a writer.
“Blimey,” Mum said, “I’ve never seen you read a novel Rob, let alone write one.”
“I’m a man of mystery,” Dad said. He’s right too because it’s a mystery what he’s been writing down in the shed for the past three years. Mum says that at times she’s not even sure that Dad knows what it is, never mind us. He did send me a couple of chapters once and an outline of the story, but honestly, I was far too busy to read it.
But he’s always here when we get home from school and he makes flap jacks that are all gooey and nutty and delicious, although he can’t make cakes so Alfie and I do that and Dad buys us Betty Crocker Icing to smother it in. He jokes that he’s actually writing a cook book in the shed and he said it’s called “How to cook for four knowing that one of the people will always be late and sometimes might not show up at all for dinner.” But I think he’s joking about Mum’s job as that sounds like a bit of a long title to me.
Mum’s job is a big one, huge in fact. That’s what she always says. “I can’t help it if the job is bigger than I am.” She shakes her head and says, “People will keep having accidents.”
Dad always says they should be more careful and he’s got a point. If they were, we might see more of Mum and Dad wouldn’t spend so long scraping the ruined dinners into the food recycling.
Mum is always up early when she isn’t on nights and this morning – Wednesday – when she bangs on my door its half past six and I want to throw my pillow at it.
“Gabby you need to get up and get your kit ready,” she shouts as she hurries down the stairs – I can hear her heavy footsteps, she’s got the tread of an elephant – “I’ve washed it and now you need to check it and clean your hockey shoes.” The word ‘shoes’ comes out strangled as she’s missed the bottom step, which she does quite a bit when she rushes and she’s fallen head first and almost (missing by a matter of centimetres) hit the front door with her forehead.
“Frollop!” she shrieks and the front door shakes.
I groan and roll over, but I can’t get back to sleep because it’s Wednesday and I am dreading it with a huge great big, almighty lump of heavy, doughy dread in the pit of my stomach. Today is the hockey trial.
Today I am going to try out for the first team at my club right after school and if I get in I am really hoping that Miss Ragus is going to make me Captain. This is great, of course it is, only… only there’s this girl from my school, Orla, she’s on the other side of the year and she’s been playing for a different club and wants to switch. She’s centre back, a defender and she’s twice as big as me and, well, to be quite honest, she scares me. She’s told everyone that she can ‘take me out’ and I don’t think she means for a coffee or a Big Mac. She has lots of long blond hair, like a horse’s mane, which she flicks over her shoulder when she talks and last week as she was talking and flicking in the corridor and I walked past she hit me right in the eye with the tip of her pony tail. Thwack! My eye watered all day and it looked as if I’d been crying about it. As if. Anyway, not only is she trying out for the team, but she also wants to be Captain. Great. No pressure then.
As I get downstairs Mum is ready to leave. She’s left the bread out and my job is to make Alfie and my sandwiches. She’s got a couple of yoghurts out of the freezer and two cartons of orange juice and left them by the bread bin. Mum freezes everything and although it’s fine in Summer and Autumn, mostly, in Winter things don’t defrost and I’ve had to eat lumps of frozen strawberry yoghurt in the snow in the past.
“There’s ham and cheese and don’t forget to add some cucumber for one of your five a day,” Mum says as she heads towards the door. “There’s a banana and an apple each too, in the fruit bowl.” She doubles back and says, “Oh, don’t forget Dad is on a writing course today so get to the hospital on time please after hockey so we can get back and let him have the car. He’s leaving at six.”
She goes out and a few moments later comes back in. “I forgot money for the bus and can you please make sure that Alfie eats his fruit?” . She turns then turns back. We can have take away pizza if you like tonight. Tell Alf will you?”
She’s gone a second time and I wait for a few moments in case she comes back yet again, but she doesn’t so I get on with my chores.
Dad is up and dressed by the time Alfie and I leave to get the school bus. He has his case packed and ready by the front door and two copies of his half a manuscript tied with string on the table in the hall. This writing course is a big deal for him; he gets to meet agents and publishers and all sorts of people who can help him; he’s dead excited.
“Don’t forget to… “
“….Get to St Peter’s on time so that Mum can leave and you can get on your way. I know.”
“Of course you do – you know everything, I forgot!”
Dad hates rudeness. He doesn’t mind it if we stub our toes and swear and he doesn’t moan about my room or my music, but he hates back chat. He kisses me and gives Alfie a quick hug.
That makes me cringe. Dad thinks he’s so happening, which he might be in another lifetime. Alf and I leave and Alfie waves all the way down the garden path, walking backwards and looking like a right dork.
“Stop it Alf!” I snap at him. He sticks his tongue out at me, which is even worse and I wonder how on earth he’s going to survive a whole year at Westwood High.
School is uneventful; lots of teachers setting new high standards which we all know will be gone by the time half term comes because they’ll be too exhausted and run down to keep trying to get us to meet them.
Hockey however is not uneventful; not uneventful in the slightest. We have a new coach – Miss Chew – Miss ‘chew us up and spit us out’ as far as I can see – and after seven laps round the pitch, press-ups, sit-ups, lunges and some sprint training she decides to make us play five- a-side and leaves me on the bench. She makes Orla Captain for the first half and my once so called friend Alice Captain for the second. Alice? Does she need glasses? Alice only plays hockey so that she doesn’t have to do homework club at school. She hates the game. She lumbers round the pitch like a lump of pizza dough, bored to death, and always passes as fast as she can to whoever is the nearest, our team or our opponents.
Anyway, I was sat on the bench and I thought, well, if I can’t captain from the pitch, I’ll captain from the side lines. So I did.
“Move left Charlie,” I shout, “Go, go, go. Left field and pass to Lucy! Come on, yes! That’s brilliant! Now pass to Megan!” I look up and see Miss Chew me up and spit me out bearing down on me with a sour expression.
“Are you a qualified coach Gabby Jones? Have I made you Captain on the pitch?”
“Erm…. No….” I try to look at her but I’m sort of gazing over her shoulder at the match.
“Exactly! So be quiet or leave the bench! We are trying to play hockey here!”
Its on the tip of my tongue, I want to say it, I almost manage to hold it in, but when she smiles at me, all sort of cheesy and fake showing her whitened teeth, I say,
”Call that hockey?”
..and I wish I hadn’t as her face drops and a dark red angry flush spreads over her neck and face.
“LEAVE. THIS.BENCH .NOW!” She yells. I get up and walk off and the match has stopped mid play and I am sure that I can see Orla smiling. I turn and look at my ‘once so called friend Alice’ to shrug and I see that she’s just given Orla a high five.
Great. Humiliated and dumped. Head down I go to get changed while Alfie skips along beside me chirruping “What happened Gabs, whadda you say to her?” over and over until I put my foot out left and trip him up. I walk off alone to get out of my kit.
As soon as we get off the bus at St Peter’s I know that getting there early for Mum has been a complete waste of time. We are walking up towards the entrance of A& E when two ambulances speed past us, lights flashing. We could hear their sirens on the bus. At the reception station we wave at Lally who shouts that there’s been an accident on the M25 and that we need to go on through to the rest room. My heart sinks. It’s really horrid that people have had an accident on the motorway, that makes me shiver, but it’s also really depressing that it’s happened right now, just when Mum needs to get home. I take Alfie down to the rest room, stopping at the drinks machine for a coke each and there we sit and wait.
We’ve been waiting an hour when Jamie, Mum’s registrar, puts his head round the door and says;
“Your mum’s asked me to give you some money for a taxi Gabby. She can’t leave now; we’ve got too many patients, what with the accident on the motorway. Sorry guys.”
“OK,” I say and I look at my watch. I don’t dare think about Dad and what time he’s going to get to his writing course.
Jamie comes in and hands over some cash. He can see our faces; we’re not upset, but just resigned to the fact that Mum is never where she should be ever.
He says, “I know its annoying guys, but you know how useful your mum is?”
“Yup,” Alfie says, “She’s the Really Useful Mum.” He shrugs, but I know that he’s disappointed and not just about the pizza. He picks up his homework and stuffs the book into his bag. Jamie holds the door for us and we go out into reception to use the patient taxi line. To be fair to Mum reception is heaving and I can’t bear to think about all those poor people but when we go outside to wait for the taxi Alfie says; “Do you think I’d see more of Mum if I had a really bad accident?”
I kick an empty cigarette packet into the road. I’m cross now, because Alfie’s upset and Dad is going to miss the opening dinner for all the people on the writing course and that means he might never get his book published and on top of all that Orla probably got the captaincy of the team and I’ve been banned from practise for a week for rudeness. I wish Mum was driving us home and I could tell her all this. She’s good at listening and making sense of things. Jamie was right – she is really useful.
I give Alfie an affectionate shove to cheer him up. “Shut up moaning,” I say, “Or I’ll make sure you have a really bad accident.”
He shoves me back. I think; there’s no point in being useful if you’re useful to the wrong people.