by Brian Taylor.
A bowl of treacle pudding and custard sat on the table in front of Gemma. Though it was her favourite dessert, it was untouched and slowly going cold. Gemma didn't care. She perched on the edge of the dining-chair with her elbows resting on the rich red tablecloth either side of the bowl. Her face was buried in her hands, and behind the curtain of her long blonde hair she sobbed uncontrollably. Tears trickled between her fingers and ran down to her knuckles where they gathered into drops before plunging free-fall into the custard with a plop …plop ………plop plop.
Gemma's mum reached over to her distraught daughter and stroked her hair. "C'mon love," she pleaded, with a hint of pain in her voice. "Don't cry so. It's not the end of the world."
Of course it wasn't, but it didn't help to say so. In fact it only made matters worse and sparked off another bout of high-pitched wailing.
By this time, Gemma's dad, who wasn't terribly sympathetic to her reaction to the news, was starting to lose patience. "Pull yourself together girl and act your age." he growled. "You're not the only one who'll be leaving friends behind."
"I … I … I don't care! I don't want … I don't want to go!" sobbed Gemma. And with that, she stood up, flung her chair back, and ran from the dining room. Her parents followed the hollow thump of her footsteps as she headed up stairs and ran across the landing. The house shook as the bedroom door was slammed shut. Then there was silence.
Gemma's dad made to rise from his chair to follow her but his wife grabbed his arm, "Leave her George. It'll do no good. I'll go up to her later with a hot drink and talk with her."
Mrs Gibbins-Smythe cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes then made a mug of Horlicks for Gemma. She tapped lightly on Gemma's bedroom door and went in without waiting for a response. She placed the mug on the bedside table, then sat on the edge of the bed, took her daughter in her arms and cuddled her. They stayed like this for a full 5 minutes before Gemma's mum spoke softly to her. "You know, Gemma, if your dad and I had the choice, we wouldn't move from here. We're very happy in Usherfield. It's just that your dad couldn't let this chance of promotion pass him by. It's not every day your firm offers you a seat on the Board of Directors. He had to take it. If he'd turned it down he wouldn't get another opportunity. For years he's dreamed of being Company Finance Director at Head Office in Spurthorpe, but never really thought it would happen ..."
"But my friends …"
"I know! We don't want to leave our friends behind either, but we'll make new ones. You'll be surprised how quickly too – you're an outgoing sort of girl. And anyway, you don't have to lose contact with Claire, Kate and Michelle. I'm sure the distance won't stop you texting them every day. There's always e-mail too … once the computer is up and running. When we're in and settled they can come and visit us … next summer perhaps. What do you say?"
There was no reply, so Gemma's mum continued. "Dad also says that, when we get to Spurthorpe you can have a birthday party and invite all your new classmates. That's a sure way to make friends. I think the best thing to do is to think of the move as a new adventure. Who knows how exciting it might turn out to be?"
Gemma was now much calmer and a little more rational. "Suppose … but I wish you hadn't told me now. It's really spoilt my Christmas holidays?"
"I know, but we didn't spoil Christmas Day or Boxing Day did we? Your dad and I have known about the move for a month. We knew there wouldn't be a good time to tell you but we did want you to get used to the idea before you go back to school."
Gemma's mum paused for a few moments to allow Gemma some time to think about what she'd said. Then she spoke up again, only now there was a sense of excitement in her voice. "Guess what? Dad's already found a house for us. I've been to see it. I feel sure you'll love it. It's number 6 Chestnut Avenue - a beautiful and quiet tree lined street. It's a lot bigger than this house, detached, with lots of garden. It has five bedrooms, 3 of them with their own bathroom and toilet. One of them will be yours of course. And …" She paused again, only this time for effect.
"And what?" said Gemma beginning to respond to her mum's excitement.
"And … it has a tennis court."
Gemma was not particularly overwhelmed by this news. "Oh! Is that all? You know I don't play tennis."
"No, but you can learn. We'll be able to afford for you to have lessons. But that's not all … can you swim?"
"You know I can. I love swimming. Why do you ask?" Gemma fell silent. She began to grasp where the conversation was leading. She pulled back from her mum's arms and saw the knowing smile on her mum's face. Suddenly, Gemma's eyes sparkled. "You don't mean ..."
"I do! I do!" interrupted her mum unable to contain the information, "It has an indoor heated swimming pool too."
By now, the gloom that had descended on Gemma at dinner had evaporated like the mist on an early autumn morning. She couldn't wait to see this new mansion. "When are we moving?"
"If everything goes to plan, we'll move at half-term, Friday 28 February to be precise. So, we have about 8 weeks left here. Dad will start his new job and you will start your new school the following Monday."
Over the next few days, Gemma was hardly off her mobile phone either speaking directly to her friends or sending them text messages. Naturally, they were all a little sad that she was moving, but they were almost as excited as she was about the new house. And it has to be said, some were a tiny bit jealous. Plans began to be made for summer visits.
As usual, the school holidays were over far too soon and, with the return to school, life quickly resumed a familiar routine. But as Gemma explained to one of her friends, "Time seems to have gone all peculiar. School days crawl by while 21 February is approaching at a gallop."
When half-term did arrive, tearful scenes marked the end of school on the Friday as Gemma said goodbye to many of her classmates and teachers. Her special friends still had one last treat in store. The following Wednesday afternoon Mrs Gibbins-Smythe gave her husband permission to take a break from the packing in order to take Gemma and her pals out for a farewell party. The first stop was the Usherfield Sports Centre for an hour's fun in the swimming pool. This was followed by a Chinese meal at the classy 'Green Dragon Restaurant'. At 8 o’clock, Mr Gibbins-Smythe drove each friend to her home. At each stop there were hugs and tears and solemn promises to stay in contact.
When removals day came, the Gibbins-Smythes were up at 6.30am. They'd planned to be dressed, to have eaten breakfast and cleared away before the removal men arrived to start work at 8.00am. The men arrived at 7.30, "Thought it would do no 'arm to get an early start." the foreman said. Gemma's dad had a quick word with him and then returned to the breakfast table leaving the men to get on with packing and loading the removals van.
Gemma helped her mum wash-up, then looked on as the 3 men hurried here and there systematically emptying the house and expertly packing everything into the van. Gemma was staggered that everything they owned in the world could be fitted into something that was so much smaller than the house. By 11.30am the van was loaded, the doors were shut and the van was ready to leave.
"We'll be off now guv." said the foreman. "If the traffic's not too heavy it should be about 2 hours to Spurthorpe. We'’ll stop-off for lunch on the way so we should be at the house about 2 this afternoon."
"That's fine." said Mr Gibbins-Smythe, "I expect everything to be wrapped up here at about noon. We just have to wait to get the okay from the Estate Agent."
The family returned to the house to await the telephone call. Gemma thought the house was a little eerie now that it was empty. The rooms all looked smaller than they had when they were furnished. And as she wandered from room to room making her final farewells every footstep echoed through the empty house.
At 5 past 12 the telephone rang. It was the Estate Agent confirming that the sale and purchase had been completed. This house was no longer theirs, they were now the new owners of 6 Chestnut Avenue, Spurthorpe. As he put the phone down, Mr Gibbins-Smythe turned to his wife and said, "Okay! That's all done and dusted. We can go now. We just have to drop the house keys at the Estate Agents on the way. The new owners will pick them up in about half and hour."
Mrs Gibbins-Smythe suddenly became aware that her daughter wasn't with them. "Where's Gemma?" she asked her husband.
"‘I don't know. She was wandering around the house not long ago."
"Gemma!" shouted her mum, "Gemma! It's time to go." The voice echoed around the house but there was no reply. Mrs Gibbins-Smythe searched the house, shouting as she went. Her husband did the same in the garden. A couple of minutes later they met in the hallway.
"There's no sign of her in the house George. Whatever can have happened to her?"
"Let's just keep calm. She was here 20 minutes ago. Let's take another look around. This time, you search the garden and I'’ll search the house. See you back here in a few minutes." But there was still no sign of Gemma.
"‘Ring the police, George." said Mrs Gibbins-Smythe when they returned to the hall.
"It’s too soon. She can't have been missing more than half an hour. They'll only tell us to wait another 5 or 6 hours. The best thing for now is you stay here and I'’ll drive around the area to see if I can see her. If she comes home in the meantime ring me on my mobile. I'll leave it switched on."
Within seconds Mr Gibbins-Smythe was at the wheel of his midnight blue Range Rover and disappearing into the street. Meanwhile, Gemma's mum sat on the stairs and worried. "Where's that girl got to now?" she said with an audible sigh.
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