The perfect Christmas present for all girls everywhere!
The first thing that grabbed me when we touched down at Heathrow was the greyness. It made me shiver just looking at it. Grey skies, the kind that my dad says mean there’s snow coming soon. Grey airport buildings, people scurrying about in grey clothes (well, of course, they weren’t all grey, but after the bright jazzy stuff I’d seen people wearing lately they all seemed grey). And cold, once we got into the open air. The kind of horrid damp chill that creeps into your bones. I shivered and pulled my denim jacket closer round me as we climbed into the taxi that was taking us home.
“I did advise you to wear something warm, didn’t I?” said Mum, in her told-you-so kind of voice. “It’s winter here, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said grumpily. She had told me, over and over, when we were packing to come home. But I just couldn’t picture it. It was hot and getting hotter, back there in Oz, and for six weeks I’d lived in shorts, suntops and flip-flops, or a bikini. I’d seemed to have forgotten what a British winter is really like. Now I felt definitely under-dressed, in my jeans, top and thin jacket.
It was a bit warmer in the car with the heater on. I leaned my head against the headrest and yawned. It had been a long, long flight, and I knew I’d be jet-lagged. I watched the dreary, grey streets and later the damp, leafless countryside and thought of the wide golden beaches, the blue sea, the brilliant coloured birds and butterflies I’d seen, the exotic scenery, the sun always shining. And the people.
I felt a tear squeeze from between my eyelids when I thought of my cousin Sarah, who lived in Australia all the time now and who I wouldn’t see again for ages. Sarah and I have twin sisters for our mothers and we’ve always been as close as sisters ourselves. And the friends we’d both made and the fun we’d had – beach barbies, swimming and snorkelling with the youth group from Sarah’s church, shopping and sightseeing and hanging out. I remembered the times we’d had singing round a bonfire on the beach after dark, with one of the guys playing a guitar and sparks flying up to meet the stars. I was going to miss them all so badly. Talking on Chatspace or even Skype just wouldn’t be the same.
I must have dozed a bit, because the scenery was beginning to look familiar and I realised we weren’t that far from home.
“Soon be there now,” said Mum.
“I hope the heating’s on,” I said.
“It will be,” said Mum. “I took care to arrange all that. It’ll be good to be home – what a journey! And to sleep in our own beds.”
She was trying to cheer me up and jolly me along, but I was already having a hard job of it getting used to the idea of being back in the grey old UK, and I didn’t care who knew it.
We were coming into town now, and it was getting dark, and lights were coming on in the houses.
“You’ll love seeing all your friends again,” said Mum. “They’ll want to hear everything you’ve been doing. And everybody at the Beech Bank club. Talking of which – isn’t that Chloe and Rachel on their way there now?”
We were passing the long low building that used to be the old community centre and is now the headquarters of the Beech Bank Club, a cool after-school place run by our vicar and his wife. Me and my mates go there most days after school. I brightened up a bit. Yes, it was Chloe and Rachel, in school uniform and all wrapped up in boots and scarves, one slim and blonde, the other small and dark, heading down the bank between the rows of beeches with brown leaves still clinging on the branches. I sat up and waved like mad, but they didn’t see me. Their heads were close together and they were having a good gab about something. I looked back and saw them turn into Beech Bank.
“You could be there yourself tomorrow,” said Mum. “If you’re not too jet-lagged.”
The thought gave me a little leap of happiness inside, and made the dark grey day seem a little brighter somehow. I had missed the girls a lot, and I realised with a slightly guilty feeling that I hadn’t emailed or texted as much as I could have. We’d always seemed to be on the go, out of doors most of the time and rushing from one thing to another. It would be good to catch up, and I had a lot to tell them. I’m sure they’d be fascinated by the experiences I’d had.
I don’t suppose much has changed at Beech Bank though, I thought as we turned the corner and I saw our own house up ahead. Or in school, or in the town itself. It’s a quiet little place, even a bit dull sometimes, and nothing much happens round here.