"Do hurry up and try those clothes on Irene", Mrs Wilson said as she brought an armful of freshly ironed clothes into her daughter's room, "I'll need to return them if they're too small, for a bigger size".
Irene reluctantly tore herself away from the problem she was trying to solve from the day's newspaper and picked up her new uniform. Brown and orange. Not a combination she would have picked and she wasn't even all that good at Art.
"What do you suppose the girls at Malory Towers will be like?", Irene asked as she changed.
"Oh, I suspect there'll be a mix, like at Woodlea Lane", her mother said as she put Irene's other clothes away.
"Oh", and all at once Irene's stomach sunk and twisted. Her mother turned to her and her face softened.
"Maybe not quite like Woodlea Lane", she said.
"Do I really have to go?", Irene asked as she pulled the tunic on over her head.
Perhaps this were one of those instances where it were better the devil she knew. After all, almost all her class were moving up to Park House Secondary. They would keep doing all that they had done before; calling her names, snickering behind their hands, saying things to her that she would then take literally and end up making a fool of herself… But at least she would know what to expect.
"We really do think you'll get on better somewhere else", her mother stood and sized up the uniform and then nodded, "it's a good size, it'll certainly last the year".
"What if it isn't better? ", Irene insisted. Her mother gestured for her to take her uniform back off.
"Let's pack this away before you get ink on it or something", she said, quickly folding each garment as Irene handed them over. Irene got back into her everyday clothes, the ones that didn't matter if they got a bit messy.
"Finish up your puzzle and come on down for lunch, okay?", Mrs Wilson said, carrying the refolded uniform out of the room.
Irene couldn't concentrate on her puzzle; her mother hadn't answered her question.
Sally felt like she couldn't breathe. As soon as she had pulled the last bit of the uniform on, the tunic, it was like it had tightened around her chest. It was as though she was no longer looking at herself in the mirror. All she could make out were vague colours in a backdrop of grey.
She struggled to swallow the lump in her throat as her mother called for her to come downstairs, and her shoes dragged as though filled with stone.
Sally walked on her tiptoes down the stairs, not wanting to invoke her father's irritation by making any noise and waking Baby. She crept into the front room where her mother and father were sat with Baby and stood in the doorway.
"Don't you look so grown up", her mother beamed.
Not sure what she was supposed to say, Sally just nodded.
"Well come in a bit would you, hiding in the doorway like that", her father commanded and Sally took a few more steps.
"Not bad", her father said, "go get changed before you make a mess of it".
Sally nodded again and hurried as quietly as she could back upstairs. She changed back into her other clothes and folded up the uniform. Then she unfolded it and folded it again. It still didn't look as tidy as when it had first arrived. She tucked that uniform between the other two uniforms and put them into her case. Then she sat on her bed and started to read her book.
Her father's footsteps on the stairs disturbed her a short while later and she looked up as he opened her door.
"Are you packed?", he asked.
"Yes", Sally said.
"Your mother won't have time to send down anything you forget so finish tidying your room and double check your case", her father said, "I'll be back up to check once we're back from our walk, your mother thinks the fresh air will do Daphne the world of good". There was no suggestion of Sally joining them.
Mr Hope pulled the door shut firmly behind him and went back downstairs.
Sally hunched over her book to finish the chapter she was reading. Perhaps being sent away really was the best thing for her; it seemed no-one really wanted her here anymore.
"It's a little bit big", Mary Lou said, turning to look at the uniform in the mirror. Even though she didn't mean to, she couldn't help sounding apologetic. As though the uniform not fitting were entirely her fault. Perhaps it was. After all, it was the smallest size they did.
"I'm sure you'll grow into it soon enough", her mother said, smiling as Mary Lou did a small spin on the spot, "Do you like it?"
"I think so", Mary Lou didn't want to say that it was a little bit strange looking because that might be rude.
"I can't believe you're twelve already", her mother sighed, "you'll be all grown up soon".
That didn't sound altogether true. After all, Mary Lou didn't know any grown ups who were scared of the dark. Or storms. Or spiders.
"I hope you'll make lots of friends, you'll have to write and tell us both about the girls in your form", her mother said, "let's get this packed away shall we?"
Mary Lou shimmied back out of her uniform and helped her mother pack it away. She felt her bottom lip tremble but she quickly thought of something else so she wouldn't get all teary. After all, hadn't she agreed with her parents and said that going to boarding school would be good for her?
Of course, she had only agreed because she simply couldn't bare the thought of disappointing her parents and disagreeing with them. Now she was wondering if this was one of those times she should have been a little braver and said what she really wanted.
"Good Lord , what were they thinking when they chose this colour scheme?", Alicia protested as she stared in horror at the school uniform in the mirror.
No matter which angle she looked at it, it looked worse than from the one before. Brown almost everywhere and where there was no brown, orange.
"That's bloody hideous", her brother, Sam, snickered, poking his head around the door at the sound of Alicia's complaints, "makes our uniform look cracking by comparison".
"You, shoo", their mother returned from sorting out Roger and waved Sam away, "I'm sure you've got packing to do".
"We don't go for another three days", Sam groaned.
"And yet somehow you'll still be writing and begging for me to post something to you", Mrs Johns said, "off you go".
Sam made a point of sighing dramatically before slouching off and Alicia chuckled at her brother's antics.
"Now, let me see you", Mrs Johns gestured for Alicia to turn around and she did so with minimal grumbling.
"That'll do you, just try not to grow too much", her mother smiled.
"It's ugly as-", Alicia started but was interrupted by her mother.
"Uh-uh", Mrs Johns said, "now it's an interesting pallet choice I'll agree but the colour isn't going to affect your schooling".
"I don't know, a whole room of this?", Alicia looked back in the mirror and pulled a face, "Can I change back now?"
When her mother nodded, Alicia hurried to get back into her normal clothes.
"Was it that horrid when you were at school?", Alicia asked.
"Hasn't changed since your grandmother was at school there", her mother explained as she folded up her clothes and put them to one side, "now Alicia, remember what we talked about?"
"I'll be fine mother", Alicia said, "honestly".
"You were lucky to finish the year at St Michael's, if Mrs Corchard hadn't put in a good word for you then you'd have been in a much stickier situation", her mother's tone grew firm and Alicia squirmed on the spot.
"I know", Alicia said.
"So I don't want to hear about you getting into that sort of trouble at Malory Towers", Mrs Johns said and at Alicia's doleful expression she laughed, "I'm not saying you have to be perfect, or well behaved all the time, I'm not expecting miracles".
"You shan't be getting miracles", Alicia said as she sat on the bed beside her mother.
"School is about having fun as well as learning, but Alicia you know the difference between good natured fun and just being nasty. I don't want to hear that you've been involved in the latter again. Are we clear?"
"Alright, now go on and find something to do while I finish up sorting your clothes", Mrs Johns said.
Alicia scurried out of the room and down into the garden. She would have to occupy herself for now since her brothers were packing. Her mother must have planned that to minimise mischief in the last few days of the hols.
Maybe her mother was right and Malory Towers would be the fresh start she needed.