Read The Bad Sheep Online

Authors: Julie Cohen

Tags: #childhood, #christmas, #chick lit, #humour, #free, #twins, #ice cream, #black sheep, #christmas pageant

The Bad Sheep

The Black
Sheep
By Julie
Cohen

 

Copyright © 2010 by Julie Cohen.

 

The right of Julie Cohen to be identified as
the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

Apart from any use permitted under UK
copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or
transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in
writing of the publisher or, in the case of reprographic
production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the
Copyright Licensing Agency.

 

All characters and events in this publication
are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
is purely

coincidental.

 

This Work includes characters, settings
and situations from the novel
Getting Away With It
, published in 2010 by Headline Publishing Group,
338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH.

 

Cover photographs © John Miller/Getty Images
(house) Icetray (gates) and Masterfile (girl)

Lettering © Stephen Raw

 

 

Published by
Julie Cohen at Smashwords 2011

About The Black Sheep

 

Ten-year-old Liza and Lee
Haven are identical twins, but they couldn’t be more different. Lee
is the good twin, and Liza is the bad. And when Liza is selected to
be a sheep in the horrific nightmare that is the annual Christmas
Pageant, she knows she has to do something to shake up the
residents of Stoneguard.

 

A wry, funny standalone
short story from the world of
Getting Away With It
, by Julie Cohen.

 

You can find out more
about
Getting
Away With It
, and read a
note from the author, at the end of this ebook.

 

Praise for Julie Cohen:

 

‘Warm, fun and totally
addictive. I loved it!’ Miranda Dickinson

 

‘Wonderfully
escapist...intriguing, thought-provoking and sexy.’ Katie
Fforde

 

The Black
Sheep

Let me give you an example of my relationship with the good
people of Stoneguard. I lived there for eighteen years, so there
are lots of examples to choose from. But some memories are stickier
than others; they fossilise in your mind and represent, or seem to
represent, everything that you were thinking and feeling in that
moment and in all the moments leading up to and after that one.

It was at Christmas, long before the Horrid Christmas but
horrible enough in its own way, maybe even the Christmas which
determined my feelings about all my Christmases to come.

Ma Gamble was the owner of the Wholefood Emporium, and a
former Major in the British Army. She had no family of her own, but
she marshalled the entire town as if they were her troops. Our
vicar, Mr McGregor, was an ancient wizened man, who could hardly
see through his spectacles, let alone through the back of his head;
Ma Gamble had long assumed the role of moral protector of all of
Stoneguard, and the Emporium was the hub of all information.

The year my twin sister Lee and I turned ten, Ma Gamble had
turned her steely eyes on the children of the town and decided that
enforced carolling, craft-making and toy patrolling were not
sufficient to keep the youth of the village out of trouble. It was
always a danger when school was out of session. Children, left to
themselves, could do anything. Given a spare five minutes without
organised activities, we were liable to terrorise infants, set
thatched roofs alight or vandalise the ancient stone circle.

What we needed, apparently, was a Christmas pageant
involving all the village children, whether the children wanted it
or not. Ma Gamble called a meeting in the church on the first day
of the Christmas holidays, and read out our names and the parts
which had been assigned. She’d done all the choosing herself, of
course, without the benefit of audition—what was the point of an
audition when everyone had to participate, and when Ma Gamble knew
every single child by sight, reputation and genealogy?

At the end of the meeting, some children (and one twin in
particular) skipped happily out of the church to dream of
sugarplums and stardom and holding the Saviour of Mankind in her
arms.

Some of us (one other twin in particular) dragged our feet,
shrouded in doom.

‘This sucks,’ I said before we were even out of the church.
‘Why do I have to be a sheep? Sheep are horrible. They smell.’

‘Stop whining, Elizabeth,’ said my mother, holding the door
open for me, impatience tapping her fingers on the jamb. ‘The
acoustics in the church have given me a headache.’

‘I don’t want to be a sheep. I hate sheep.’ We emerged into
the churchyard. ‘Can we visit Nan and Granddad?’

‘I’ve already used up the whole of my lunch hour here,’ Mum
replied. ‘Come along.’

‘It’s
Saturday
.’

‘And I have the Ice Cream Heaven accounts to look over, and
you have your chores. Come.’ She began to walk briskly down the
pavement, Lee tripping along behind her.

I cast a baleful glance back at the churchyard, at the grey
obelisk just visible from the lych gate, and considered going back
to my grandparents’ grave anyway. I decided it wasn’t worth it; I
could come later on, when she was busy with her accounts and she
wouldn’t notice me sneaking out of the house. I joined my mother
and my sister.

‘I really, really hate sheep,’ I said. ‘Why do there have
to be sheep anyway?’

‘It’s a stable, Elizabeth. There are shepherds.’

‘I think sheep are nice,’ said Lee. ‘They’re lovely and
fluffy.’

I rolled my eyes at my sister. She could talk; she wasn’t a
sheep.

‘Why couldn’t I be the angel?’ I asked. ‘The angel gets to
fly.’

Nobody answered me on this one. Probably because the answer
was too obvious even to say aloud. If you were going to choose an
angel in Stoneguard, it was never going to be me.

‘Why can’t I be a star at least?’

‘Ma Gamble said that Candace got to be the star,’ Lee
said.

‘I could be one too.’

‘There’s only one star.’

‘Who says?’

‘The Bible.’

I frowned under my heavy brown fringe. Leave it to Lee to
invoke the ultimate authority. Or one of them. I appealed to the
other one.

‘Do we really have to do this stupid pageant, Mummy?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’

‘Because Ma Gamble has organised it for the children of the
village, and you are a child of the village.’ We rounded the
corner; our house loomed ahead of us, tall and red with blank
windows. There was a wreath on our door of spiky holly, slightly
softened by a gold ribbon.

‘But you don’t even like Ma Gamble.’

‘Elizabeth, that is a singularly unsuitable thing for a
child to say.’

‘But it’s true. You bare your teeth at her every time you
see her.’

‘All the more reason for you to perform in this
pageant.’

‘That doesn’t make any sense.’

‘Elizabeth, I am warning you.’

‘But I’m a
sheep
, Mummy.’

We went into the house. It was hardly any warmer than
outside. My theory was that our mother spent so much time making
and marketing ice cream that she never noticed that her living
quarters were always freezing. Lee thought it was because the
central heating was old and didn’t work properly. My mother and my
sister took off their boots and coats, while I stood in the
hallway, fully-dressed and dissatisfied.

‘I’m not doing it,’ I announced. ‘I’m not doing the stupid
pageant. I hate it.’

‘Liza,’ cried Lee in dismay. My mother rounded on me, her
face carved into furious stone.

‘I have said you will do the pageant, Elizabeth, and you
will.’

‘But why?’

‘Because this family’s business is set in Stoneguard, and
it depends on Stoneguard, and you are the representative of this
family. Therefore you will do as you are expected.’

‘Lee can represent the family. She’s Mary, anyway. She
wants to do it and I don’t.’

‘I don’t mind, really,’ said Lee.

‘You will both be in the Stoneguard Christmas pageant and
that is final. I have a reputation to maintain.’ She put her scarf
on the coat rack with a decisive jerk of her wrist, and walked away
from us. We heard her office door slam shut.

*

‘You are going to do it, right?’ Lee asked me later, in our
bedroom. We had made a tent out of our sheets and collected all our
dozens of teddy bears underneath it with us. Lee sat perched in her
flannel pyjamas on a pillow, her knees up near her ears and her
hair pulled back into a plait just like mine.

‘There’s no point talking about it.’ I hugged Baba Bear to
me.

‘Maybe Ma Gamble will let you be a second star if you ask
really nicely.’

‘I don’t care. I don’t want to be a star either.’

Lee walked her bear, Bobo, across the pillow and back. ‘Did
you—you didn’t want to be Mary, did you?’

I laughed out through my nose, without smiling or opening
my mouth. It was something I’d seen my mother do. ‘I don’t want to
be anything.’

‘Because—because if you really, really wanted to be Mary,
you could be. I would let you. I could be the sheep and nobody
would know the difference.’

I looked at my sister. She was holding Bobo tight and
biting her lip.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I really don’t want to be Mary. You
can keep it. It’s better for you anyway, you’re like the princess
of the town or whatever.’

‘Oh.’ She breathed a sigh of relief, and then tried to
cover it up with a little sigh of sympathy. ‘A sheep isn’t really
that bad. I’ll help you make your costume.’

‘Maybe I can stand close to Candace in her star costume and
people will think I’m a cloud.’

‘Maybe.’ She contemplated her bear for a minute, and then
smiled. ‘I think Will Naughton will make a good Joseph, don’t
you?’

‘No.’ I twisted Baba’s ear.

‘Don’t you think he’s really cute?’

‘No.’

‘I almost fainted when I heard he was going to be
Joseph.’

‘Why?’

‘Because he’s—well he’s going to be my husband!’

‘You want to snog him, don’t you?’

‘No.’

‘You do.’

‘No!’ Lee said again, but she giggled. She did want to.

‘He’s good looking,’ I said, ‘but thinks he’s better than
everyone just because he’s rich and goes to boarding school and
lives in that big house.’

‘We live in a big house.’

‘Our house could fit inside Naughton Hall.’

‘I didn’t mean that. I meant do you think people might say
that about us?’

‘No! We don’t—we’re not—’ My ten-year-old brain tried
unsuccessfully to articulate the difference between old money and
new. ‘He’s like all big and important and stuck-up. He doesn’t even
talk to anybody.’

‘I don’t think he’s stuck-up. I think he’s lovely.’

‘And he uses wax to make his hair all messy. Ick.’

‘I like it.’ Her cheeks went pink. ‘Imagine if I really did
get married to him. It would be like a fairy tale.’

‘Eww.’ I plucked at Baba’s fur. ‘Maybe I could dye my sheep
costume green and be a bush. I’d rather be a bush than a
sheep.’

‘Maybe Candace will get sick and you’ll be allowed to be
the star.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I told her. ‘I’ll think of something.’

*

But the day of the pageant arrived and I was still a sheep.
It was December the twenty-third. In the afternoon, Ice Cream
Heaven had its Christmas party and our mother bundled us into
scratchy velvet dresses and walked us down cold country lanes to
the ice cream factory. The inside of the office block was decorated
with tinsel and fairy lights twinkling around the desks and
windows, and it was filled with warm tall grown-ups, their tedious
chatter, and the smell of cigarettes and perfume. Lee and I were
the only children; it was really an employee party, during office
hours. We had our costumes in plastic bags so we could go straight
to the school hall after.

Lee and I were given a paper cup of lemonade each and put
to work in the small kitchen scooping ice cream into tiny plastic
wine glasses. It was Mulled Wine Magic, this year’s Christmas
limited edition flavour. My hands got sticky right away; I wiped
them on my dress and sniffed the ice cream.

‘Do you think it’s alcoholic?’ I asked. It certainly
smelled it.

‘Mum said not to have any, so it must be.’

Lee’s scoops were perfect spheres; mine were shapeless
blobs. I held my nose and tipped one of them into my mouth,
swallowing it as quickly as I could. Then I tipped in another. The
ice cream headache grabbed the front of my brain immediately; I ate
two more scoops straight from the container, shuddering.

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