Alice and I are best friends. I’ve known her all my life. That is absolutely true. Our mums were in hospital at the same time when they were having us. I got born first, at six o’clock in the morning on 3 August. Alice took ages and didn’t arrive until four in the afternoon. We both had a long cuddle with our mums and at night time we were tucked up next to each other in little weeny cots.
I expect Alice was a bit frightened. She’d have cried. She’s actually still a bit of a crybaby now but I try not to tease her about it. I always do my best to comfort her.
I bet that first day I called to her in baby-coo language. I’d say, ‘Hi, I’m Gemma. Being born is a bit weird, isn’t it? Are you OK?’
And Alice would say, ‘I’m not sure. I’m Alice. I don’t think I like it here. I want my mum.’
‘We’ll see our mums again soon. We’ll get fed. I’m starving.’ I’d have started crying too, in case there was a chance of being fed straight away.
I suppose I’m still a bit greedy, if I’m absolutely honest. Not quite as greedy as Biscuits though. Well, his real name is Billy McVitie, but everyone calls him Biscuits, even the teachers. He’s this boy in our class at school and his appetite is astonishing. He can eat an entire packet of chocolate Hob Nobs, munch crunch, munch crunch, in two minutes flat.
We had this Grand Biscuit Challenge at play time. I only managed three quarters of a packet. I probably could have managed a whole packet too but a crumb went down the wrong way and I choked. I ended up with chocolate biscuit drool all down the front of my white school blouse. But that’s nothing new. I always seem to get a bit messy and scruffy and scuffed. Alice stays neat and sweet.
When we were babies one of us crawled right into the rubbish bin and played mud wrestling in the garden and fell in the pond when we fed the ducks. The other one of us sat up prettily in her buggy cuddling Golden Syrup (her yellow teddy bear) and giggled at her naughty friend.
When we went to nursery school one of us played Fireman in the water tank and Moles in the sand tray, and she didn’t stop at Finger Painting, she did Entire Body Painting. The other one of us sat demurely at the dinky table and made plasticine necklaces (one for each of us) and sang ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ with all the cute hand gestures.
When we went to infants school one of us pretended to be a Wild Thing and roared such terrible roars in class she got sent out of the room. She also got into a fight with a big boy who snatched her best friend’s chocolate and made his nose bleed! The other one of us read Milly-Molly-Mandy and wrote stories about a little thatched cottage in the country in her very neat printing.
Now we’re in the juniors one of us ran right into the boys’ toilets for a dare. She did, really, and they all yelled at her. She also climbed halfway up the drainpipe in the playground to get her ball back – only the drainpipe came away from the wall. They both went crash clonk. Mr Beaton the headteacher was NOT pleased. The other one of us got made a form monitor and wore her silver sparkly top to the school disco (with matching silver glitter on her eyelids) and all the boys wanted to dance with her, but guess what! She danced with her bad best friend all evening instead.
We’re best friends but we’re not one bit alike. I suppose that goes without saying. Though I seem to have said it a lot. My mum says it too. Also a lot.
‘For heaven’s sake, Gemma, why can’t you stop being so rough and silly and boisterous? Boy being the operative bit! To think I was so thrilled when I had my baby girl. But now it’s just like I’ve got three boys – and you’re the biggest tearaway of them all!’
There’s my big brother Callum who’s seventeen. Callum and I used to be mates. He taught me to skateboard and showed me how to dive-bomb in the swimming baths. Every Sunday I’d balance on the back of his bike and we’d wobble over to Grandad’s. But now Callum’s got this girlfriend Ayesha and all they do is look into each other’s eyes and go kissy-kissy-kiss. Yuck.
Alice and I played spies and followed them to the park once because we wanted to see if they did anything even yuckier but Callum caught us and he turned me upside down and shoogled me until I felt sick.
There’s my other brother Jack, but he’s nowhere near as much fun as Callum. Jack is dead brainy, such a swot that he always comes top in every exam. Jack hasn’t got a girlfriend. He doesn’t get out enough to meet any. He just holes up in his room, hunched over his homework. He does take our dog Barking Mad out for a walk very late at night. And he likes to wear black. And doesn’t like garlic bread. Maybe Jack is turning into Jacula? I’ll have to check his teeth aren’t getting alarmingly pointy.
It’s annoying having Jack as my brother. Sometimes the teachers hope I’m going to be dead brainy too and get ten out of ten all the time. As if!
I can do some things. Mr Beaton says I can talk the hind leg off a donkey – and its front leg and its ears and its tail. He says I act like a donkey too. I think donkeys kick if you’re not careful. I often feel like kicking Mr Beaton.
I get lots of ideas and work things out as quick as quick in my head but it’s soooo boring writing it all down so I often don’t bother. Or I try to get Alice to write it all out for me. Alice gets much better marks than me for all lessons. Apart from football. I don’t want to boast but I’m in the school football team even though I’m the youngest and the littlest and the only girl.
Alice doesn’t like sports at all. We have different hobbies. She likes to draw lines of little girls in party frocks and she writes in her diary with her gel pens and she paints her nails all different colours and plays with her jewellery. Alice is into jewellery in a big way. She keeps it in a special box that used to be her grandma’s. It’s blue velvet and if you wind it up and open the lid a little ballet dancer twirls round and round. Alice has got a little gold heart on a chain and a tiny gold bangle she wore when she was a baby and a jade bangle from an uncle in Hong Kong and a silver locket and a Scottie dog sparkly brooch and a charm bracelet with ten jingly charms. My favourite charm is the little silver Noah’s Ark. You can open it up and see absolutely minute giraffes and elephants and tigers inside.
Alice also has heaps of rings – a real Russian gold ring, a Victorian garnet and lots of pretendy ones out of crackers. She gave me a big bright silver and blue one as a friendship ring. I loved it and called it my sapphire – only I forgot to take it off when I went swimming and the silver went black and the sapphire fell out.
‘Typical,’ said Mum, sighing.
I think Mum sometimes wishes she’d swapped the cots round when we were born. I’m sure she’d much rather have Alice as a daughter. She doesn’t say so, but I’m not daft. I’d sooner have Alice as my daughter.
‘I wouldn’t,’ said my dad, and he ruffled my hair so it stood up on end. Well, it was probably standing up anyway. I’ve got the sort of hair that looks like I’m permanently plugged into the electrics. Mum made me grow it long but I kept losing my silly bows and bobbles. Then it got a bit sticky when I went in for this giant bubble-blowing contest with Biscuits and the other boys and hurray hurray my hair had to be chopped off. Mum cried but I didn’t mind one bit.
I know you’re not really meant to have favourites in your family but I think I love my dad more than my mum. I don’t get to see him much because he drives a taxi and so he’s up before I wake up, taking people to the airport, and often he’s out till very late picking people up from the pub. When he is home he likes to lie on the sofa in front of the telly and have a little snooze. It’s often a long long long snooze, but if you’re feeling lonely you can cuddle up beside him. He pats you and mumbles, ‘Hello, little Cuddle Bun,’ and then goes back to sleep again.
My grandad used to drive our cab but he’s retired now, though he helps out when the car hire firm need an extra driver. They’ve got a white Rolls for weddings and Grandad once took me for a sneaky drive in it. He’s lovely, my grandad. Maybe he’s my all-time absolute favourite relative. He’s always looked after me, right from when I was a baby. Our mum went back to work full time just as Grandad retired so he’s acted like my child minder.
He still meets me from school. We go back to Grandad’s flat, which is right at the top of the tower block. You look out of Grandad’s window and you see the birds flying past, it’s just magical. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles across the town to the woods and hills of the countryside. Sometimes Grandad narrows his eyes and pretends he’s looking through a telescope. He swears he’s squinting all the way to the sea, but I think he’s joking.
He jokes a lot, my grandad. He calls me funny names too. I’m his little Iced Gem. He always gives me packets of iced gems, small doll-size biscuits with white and pink and yellow yummy icing.
This annoys Mum when she collects me. ‘I wish you wouldn’t feed her,’ she says to Grandad, ‘she’s going to have her tea the minute she gets home. Gemma, you mind you clean your teeth properly. I don’t like you eating all that sugary stuff.’
Grandad always says he’s sorry but he crosses his eyes behind Mum’s back and pulls a funny face. I get the giggles and annoy Mum even more.
Sometimes I think everyone annoys my mum. Everyone except Alice. Mum works in the make-up department of Joseph Pilbeam, the big store, and she gives Alice all these dinky samples of skincare products, and little lipsticks and bottles of scent. Once when she was in a really good mood she sat Alice down at her dressing table and gave her a full grown-up lady’s make-up. My mum made me up too, though she told me off for fidgeting (well, it was tickly) and then my eyes itched and I rubbed them and got that black mascara stuff all over the place so I looked like a panda.
Alice’s make-up stayed prettily in place all day long. She didn’t even smudge her pink lipstick when she had her tea. It was pizza, but she cut hers up into tiny bite-size pieces instead of shoving a lovely big wedge in her mouth.
If Alice wasn’t my very best friend she might just get on my nerves sometimes. Especially when Mum makes a big fuss of her and then looks at me and sighs.
Still, it’s great that Mum does like Alice because she never minds if she comes for a sleepover at our house. My mum has banned big birthday sleepovers for ever. Callum doesn’t care as the only person he’d like to sleep over is Ayesha. Jack doesn’t care either. He’s got a few nerdy swotty friends in Year Nine but they don’t communicate face to face, they just e-mail and text each other.
I’ve got heaps of ordinary friends as well as my best friend Alice. Last birthday I invited three boys and three girls for a sleepover party. Alice was top of the list, of course. We were supposed to play out in the garden but it rained, so we all had a crazy game of football with a cushion in the living room (well, not quite all – Alice wouldn’t play and Biscuits is rubbish at games). Someone broke my mum’s wedding present Lladro lady and burst the cushion. My mum was so mad she wouldn’t let any of them sleep over and sent them all home. Except for Alice.
I’m still allowed one-special-friend sleepovers so long as that special friend is Alice. So that’s great great great because as I’ve probably said before, Alice is my very best friend.
I don’t know what I’d do without her.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Best Friends by Jacqueline Wilson Excerpted by permission.
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