Gladys’s Christmas Joy

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Gladys Christmas

Surprise! Here's a one-off Gladys story as a follow-up to our series earlier this year. It's set at Christmas. Gladys feels she is on the brink of success in her career. But not everyone realises that she has grown out of being a fixer for her sisters.

Story by Bertie
Read by Natasha
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth
Illustrated by Chiara Civati

Gladys’s Christmas Joy -

Hello, this is Natasha, and we have a lovely Christmassy surprise for you. One of our most popular productions of 2014 series in which our singing hero, Gladys, came back. There were music and songs and when it was all over you kept on asking us why it had to come to an end. For all you Gladys fans out there, here is a story called 'Gladys’s Christmas Joy.'

It was hard to believe that it was going to be Christmas all over again. It seemed just like yesterday that those tacky and tinsley number ones were playing, like ghosts of Christmas past. You heard them on the radio, you heard them at the winter fair, you heard them in the supermarkets as shoppers pushed their trolleys around picking up frozen turkeys, vintage puddings, and fake fur trees.

What particularly drove Gladys mad was that they were playing those hit songs of yore all day long in the cafe where she was working as a waitress. Yes, Gladys had not quite made it yet in the world of pop. It was an unfortunate fact in the life of a girl who was half-way to becoming a superstar that she had no money. The agents and music execs in California had promised her a bright future - but that was exactly what it was - a future. And so here in the present she had taken her first job. It was hard work and low wages. Most of the customers were nice, but some were rude, and her manager would say things like: “Is it so hard to remember which drawer the forks go in, Gladys?” and “Do you really think those are suitable shoes for work Gladys?” and “Do you have to look so stressed all the time, it puts the customers off their food?"

But somehow she did not mind any of that because this Christmas, unlike any other previous Christmases, she had every reason to think that things were going to be very different in a year’s time. “Yes,” she was thinking as she arranged the turkey sandwiches on a plate, “they loved me in LA. Now, at last, I’m truly on my way.”

As she was walking home from work on a particularly cold evening, she felt her phone buzzing in her coat. She was surprised to see that the call was from Ava, whom she had known at school, but hadn’t spoken to in ages. She was always the second most sensible person in school after Gladys - and now that Gladys had done the totally unsensible thing of heading off to pursue fame and glory in the music biz, the school had made Ava head-girl. The teachers felt that they had had a narrow escape - because if they had made the obvious choice of Gladys, she would have let them all down with her rash flight of fancy.

“Hi Gladdy,” said Ava. “Long time no speak. Listen, I’m in charge of this year’s 'Help A Child In Need,' appeal at school, and you know me, I don’t like to do things by halves. I’ve set myself a simple target. I aim to raise more money for charity than any school in the country has ever done before. I’m nothing if not ambitious, hey? But it’s a cool idea, no? I'm calling to ask for your assistance.”

Gladys was walking along thinking: “Uh-oh, this is more about Ava’s ego than about kids in need,” and she really wanted to think of a polite way to get away, but she found herself saying: “Why do you think I could help, Ava?”

“Simple,” said Ava. “You arrange for your sisters to reform the chiX and put on a special charity gig here at the school. We could name any price for a ticket and it would sell out in minutes. Maybe they could release a special Christmas single while they are about it, you know, with words like - Clap Your Hands Save the World, and all that stuff.”

“Well, Ava, you know I would just love to help,” said Gladys, a little insincerely, “but my sisters don’t have any plans to regroup, and besides Laura lives in California.”

“I know Gladdy, but you have such great people skills. You’re the only person in the whole world who could win them over. The fans of the chiX would just love you to bits if you did,and remember it’s all in aid of such a good cause!”

“Flattery will get you almost everywhere, Ava, but sorry no can do,” said Gladys, “It just isn't possible.”

Gladys was starting to feel more than a bit annoyed. She had slowed down her walk home to take this call, but what irked her even more was that Ava still saw her as a fixer for her sisters’ band. She wanted to say: “Don’t you realise that I’m me now, I’m Gladys, I’m the one with the talent and the drive and the will to succeed?” But instead she took her gloves off and put them in her pockets so that she could pinch herself on the back of her hand. The sharp but harmless pain took her mind off her irritation. Then Ava really put her foot in it:

“Strictly between me and you, Gladdy,” she said, “It wouldn’t do you any harm to do the school a favour because if you ever wanted to come back and do your A Levels they would be less likely to refuse. Mrs Johnson was pretty cheesed off when you left early, and this is a golden opportunity to get back in her good books.”

“Thanks Ava,” said Gladys, “but I’m not coming back to school. I’m doing alright on my own thanks.”

“Well, nobody is more pleased to hear that than I am, Gladys. I’ll pop over and buy a turkey sandwich off you sometime.”

It took a lot to make Gladys angry, but when she reached home she was shaking so much with rage, that she found it hard to put the key in the latch of the door.

“What’s up Glad?” asked her dad as he opened the door for her. She stormed past him and headed up the stairs. “Bad day at the sandwich shop, love?” he asked innocently. “No,” she called back. “Life’s perfect,” and she slammed her bedroom door.

When she had calmed down, she checked her emails and saw, to her surprise, that there was a rare email from her sister Laura in LA. It was sent to all the sisters and said: “Just rushing to airport. See you in London soon XXX.”

That was about the most advance warning you could expect of a visit from Laura. “Bother,” thought Gladys. “They could do the gig, but I needn’t worry, because they wouldn’t do it without a lot of persuasion and organising by me.” And then she felt a guilty pang, because although Ava was the most annoying person on the planet, the concert was for charity.

As Laura was in town, it was inevitable that the sisters would get together. They met on Sunday afternoon for a walk on Clapham Common. Gladys’s cheeks flushed red in the cold air. Laura and Mandy both wore Santa hats, which actually looked quite fetching. They linked arms and went along doing high kicks and singing Jingle Bells at the tops of their voices. Gladys did not have that kind of extroversion. Seeing her sisters act like that made her wonder if she really had the right personality to be a performer. When they stopped to buy roasted chestnuts, she felt compelled to mention Ava’s request for the chiX to reunite and do a charity gig at school.

“That would be a laugh,” said Laura. “I’d love to see the annoyed look on those teachers’ faces. Yeah, we made it without their stupid lessons, gym classes and detentions.”

“Yeah, let’s do it,” said Sam. “Just a one-off for old time’s sake, and to take a look at the old place and remind ourselves what we escaped from.”

And Mandy said: “Can’t say I’m dying to do that all over again, but it is for charity.”

“Bother,” thought Gladys. “I’ll have to tell Ava. This is going to look great on her C.V. ‘Organised spectacular fundraiser for charity,’ she will say. But in fact she made one stupid phone call. I’ll do all the work, and everyone else will take the credit. Same old story. When is my life going to change?”

Gladys was nothing if not diligent. She spent a whole day off work on the phone and email, hiring sound and lighting equipment and searching for backing musicians. She would have to pay for all this out of her savings. Her sisters promised to refund her, but she knew that she would have to ask each of them six times over for the money, and that meant sending 18 nags in total. Then she had to get them together for rehearsals, and suddenly they all had busy diaries, even though on a normal day they spent their time sleeping and shopping. This was starting to look like the worst Christmas of her life.

As part of the preparations for the concert, Gladys went to a meeting at the school with Mrs Johnson and Ava. It was strange walking back through the gates. A teacher glanced at her, and she could see she was wondering why Gladys was not wearing uniform. “Hello Miss,” said Gladys, struggling to remember the teacher’s name. “Hello,” said the teacher, who could not remember Gladys.

Gladys went to the school office and said: “I have an appointment with Mrs Johnson. The secretary, who was new, looked in the diary and asked Gladys to go through to a meeting room and wait for the head teacher. Ava arrived soon afterwards.

“You’ve done so well, Gladys,” she said, “I knew you could.”

Gladys cringed because she felt that the praise was insincere. Still somehow it felt that they were sitting side by side, one wearing school uniform, the other wearing a business suit.

Then Mrs Johnson came in, saw Gladys and said: “Hello Gladys." Gladys stood up and held her hand out for her to shake in a business-like way. The head teacher looked at her hand with an expression of puzzlement, before taking it limply.

“When we first heard your plan,” said Mrs Johnson, “the mood in the staff room was less than enthusiastic. It does not send out the right message that some of the less diligent students - I am talking about your sisters, not you, Gladys - find easy fame and fortune. Some young and impressionable minds might not realise that a considerable amount of good luck helped them along. It was as if they had won the lottery. I gather things have not been quite so easy for you, Gladys."

“I’m doing well thank you,” said Gladys.

“Well, you can thank Ava here for her hard work, persistence and powers of persuasion, because she brought some of the senior staff over to the point of view that this would raise a considerable sum of money for charity and show the school to the world in a positive light.”

Gladys nodded. It was a bit rich that she was supposed to thank Ava, but she did her best to look grown-up and business-like, despite being talked down to. She thought quietly to herself:

“You won’t talk to me in that patronising tone after my career gets launched properly. You’ll be begging me to come back and give a talk to the whole school on prize-giving day.”

After that, the meeting was fairly brief. Ava went back to her lessons, and Gladys went to talk to the head of drama and the school janitors about how they were going to arrange the concert in the assembly hall. The space was big enough to fit 1,400 people, which was a nice size for a special gig. It wasn’t exactly the O2 Arena, but it would feel quite cosy when it was packed with fans. They talked mostly about the arrangements for security and evacuation in case of a fire. Preparing for her sisters’ gig was taking up almost all of Gladys’s time. She had given up her job in the sandwich shop.

But some of her evenings in December were an entirely different matter. Her connections in show biz, including Laura and Darren Wolfe, had invited her to some of the ritziest Christmas parties in London. They were the sort of dos where the celebrity spotters are held back by security guys in black suits, and the flashes of the cameras pulsate, and the party-goers pause on the red carpet to sign autographs with the adoring fans on the other side of the rope. Laura’s boyfriend had arranged a chauffeur driven limousine for one of these evenings, and as they sat in the back, Sam said to Gladys: “Last time you wore that black dress, I didn’t like to say this, but it doesn’t suit you.”

As it happened, Gladys was particularly fond of that dress because it was the one she had bought for her evening out with Darren Wolfe. In her heart she knew that Sam was jealous of how good she looked in it, but there was still part of her still-sensitive soul that hemorrhaged confidence. She felt low all evening.

It was odd, perhaps even blatant, that later that evening Sam said to Gladys: “You know that Ava needs a dress and I hope you don’t mind, I said she could borrow yours.”

This was a development that Gladys was totally not expecting.

“What does she need it for?” she asked.

“Didn’t you know she’s going to sing a number with us?” said Sam. “It's like a reward for arranging everything.”

“What!” exclaimed Gladys. “Over my dead body, and even then not in my dress! How dare you invite her without asking me first?”

“Sorry Gladdy,” said Sam. “I didn’t realise you would mind so much. She was nagging me and nagging me, and I just gave in and said ‘alright’. It’s only for one number.”

Gladys wanted to cry, but at the same time she felt mean, because she really did have a future making music, and Ava was just a wannabe. She was actually lost for words.

The next day, Ava called at the house to try on the dress.

“To tell you the truth,” said Gladys, “I think it will be a tight fit for you.” What she said was perfectly true, and she did not mean to be catty, but Ava immediately replied:

“I knew you would be like that, but I don’t have any choice because I’m still at school and don’t have any money of my own.”

Gladys felt bad and said that she was welcome to try it on. In fact, Ava really had to squeeze into the dress. When Gladys zipped up her back for her, she wondered if the seams were about to burst.

“There,” said Ava, posing in front of the mirror. “Sam said it was just made for me.”

Gladys shook her head, but Ava did not notice.

On the night of the concert, Gladys and her sisters arrived at the school in a swanky black car. “This sure beats the bus,” said Sam.

A group of students had been allowed to meet the chiX in their dressing room. Gladys could see how her sisters were loving it. “Of course, I should have known they would have been up for this gig," she thought. They were lapping up the attention because people they had sat next to in class could see how glamorous and successful they had become, and that was somehow even better for their egos than being adored by complete strangers. There were former school mates who wanted to talk to Gladys too, but there seemed to be a note of sympathy in their voices, because Gladys wasn’t totally famous yet. It was annoying, but none of her real friends had been given passes to go back stage. She suspected Ava had seen to that.

As ever, Gladys was the one who kept her eye on the time, and coaxed her sisters to get out onto the stage. She stood on the wings and watched the band as the loudest cheers the school had ever heard shook the rafters. The hall throbbed to the bass and drums and there was a delightfully pained look on the face of Mrs Johnson sitting in the front row.

Everyone wanted to hear the chiX’s greatest hits like 'Life is a Circus' and 'Ghost Girl' (the sister’s version not Gladys’s) and they were even more up for Laura’s more recent solo numbers. Gladys thought they weren’t dancing quite as well as they did in their prime, but it was more than good enough for a private gig. When Ava was about to join them for the last but one song, Laura gave her a great build-up, lavishing praise on her dedication and hard work for charity, and saying how she set a fantastic example for all the selfish people in show business. Ava was standing in front of Gladys, ready to run on stage, and taking deep calming gulps of air in anticipation of her big moment in the limelight. The borrowed dress seemed to be stretching and Gladys feared that her little favourite black number might be losing its slinky shape. As Ava stepped on stage, the cheers went up and Gladys’s heart sank. It just did not seem right. The chiX had given their guest singer an uptempo number, and some verses for her to sing solo. Gladys had to admit that Ava had a good voice, she was in tune, and she could belt out the notes. Somehow the stitches of her dress clung together. The tight fit sort of flattered her. The final seconds of the song featured some energetic dance steps. Ava swung her hips and - Kapow! The dress actually did go bust - Gladys's first reaction was horror at seeing her favourite item in her wardrobe fall to pieces, but then she burst out laughing because the school’s head girl was standing on the stage in her underwear. She was so stunned she did not move for a moment, before the full horror of what had just happened sunk in and she ran off stage. The audience found her predicament hilarious, and suddenly it wasn’t a Christmas concert so much as a comedy ball.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life,” hissed Ava through hot tears. “And it’s all your fault for lending me a cheap knock-off of a dress.”

“Didn’t I try to warn you?” asked Gladys, amazed at the A grade student’s reasoning, or lack of it. She was already feeling torn between sympathy and feeling this was the funniest thing she had ever seen.

The music had stopped and Laura was speaking to the audience: “I hope you enjoyed your head girl’s deliberate wardrobe malfunction, which was of course all part of the act, and now please put your hands together and welcome the unsung hero of our singing sisterhood. We’ve always called her the brainy one of the family, but actually she’s also got an amazingly sweet voice and my prediction for the New Year is that she’s going to be a huge star - give it up for the one and only Gladys!”

Gladys was so amazed that her feet felt like they were glued to the floor. Laura had to come and drag her onto the stage and place her in front of Ava’s microphone. The drummer started to beat out a groove and Gladys recognised the number, because she had suggested it as the finale to the show. She glanced at Laura and saw her affectionate smile that said: "Go ahead and sing, you know the words,” and Gladys’s heart filled with joy.

[This is where we play in Joy to the World]

And that was Gladys’s Christmas Joy. If you are listening in December, we hope it set you up for a really happy and joyous Christmas, but of course you can download our stories for free on any day of the year, so drop by soon at Storynory.com.