WRITTEN BY CAMILLA KELLY
Of course it was Jessica who invented the Game of Dares. Jessica was the leader. Isabel was the follower.
The first thing I knew about their latest dare was when Isabel hobbled in from the garden, limping and holding her left wrist. Her lower lip quivered.
“Izzy – what have you done?” I cried.
“You should have seen her, Mum!” Jessica said cheerily, following her in. “She did a complete wheelie.”
“And I fell off my bike,” Isabel said mournfully as I checked for broken bones.
“What have I told you about wearing your pads?” I said, as their dad came in.
“Izzy did a wheelie!” Jessica told him.
“Did she now?” Raff said, looking at his youngest daughter with pride. Izzy seemed to brighten under the admiring looks of her sister and father.
“And fell off,” I added, wanting him to join me in urging her to be more cautious.
“Oh dear. Any blood?”
Izzy shook her head.
“That’s good, then. OK!” He clapped his hands. “Let’s see this wheelie!”
Izzy cast me a briefly weary look, but she went.
“Wear your pads!” I called.
“This time you’ve got to hold it for five seconds,” Jessica was telling Izzy. “I dare you!”
I just worry that Isabel’s not as tough as Jessica. She’s much littler. And I don’t want either of them to get hurt,” I said to Raff a couple of days later.
We’d brought a picnic to the park. The girls were riding their bikes with a gang of friends. Some of the older kids were riding down the grassy slope that had been known as Devil’s Drop when I was their age, and probably still was.
Jessica was watching them as they hurtled judderingly downwards, white-knuckled and whooping. The envious expression on her face made me nervous.
“I don’t want them to get hurt either,” Raff said. “But we’ve got to let them take a few risks, Holly.”
I was so caught up in my thoughts, it wasn’t until Jessica was halfway down Devil’s Drop on her BMX that I noticed. That was my five-feet-nothing brunette headed for the ground!
“Raff!” I grabbed his arm. He caught his breath.
In seconds it was over; Jessica was being cheered by her friends and Raff was smiling and gently peeling my fingers off his arm.
“I can’t believe she did that,” I said.
“Good for her, huh? The hill isn’t really as high or steep as it looked to us when we were little, Holly. Although it probably looks massive to them.”
And to me.
“Though I have to say,” Raff went on, “I think I was probably a year or two older than Jessica when I went down Devil’s Drop. How old were you?”
I wasn’t listening. Jessica was waving to someone at the top of the hill, beckoning them to follow her down.
“Oh no you don’t!” I strode towards them, determined that Isabel would not be copying her sister’s antics. Isabel certainly wasn’t a skilful enough rider, wheelies or no.
Jessica’s arm-waving was becoming more emphatic.
Now I could see Isabel clutching the handlebars, her front wheel at the brink of the drop. She was shaking her head.
In relief I stopped where I was. Slowly Isabel turned her bike away from the edge.
I smiled brightly as she walked her bike towards me, but she kept her head down and went right past me.
“I couldn’t do it,” she said miserably.
“That’s OK. It’s too dangerous for you.”
“Jess did it.”
“Jess is bigger than you.”
She wasn’t consoled. I gave her a hug.
“We’re all different,” I said. “You… you’re more like me.”
I had never dared to ride down Devil’s Drop either.
“I think maybe I’m just not as brave as Jess,” she said in a small voice, as if she were making a terrible confession.
I followed behind her. Eventually, after a tussle with myself, I put my hand gently on the top of her head and said, “Don’t worry, Izzy. You’ll do it one day.”
“Chicken!” Jessica called, dancing up.
“Jessica Henderson!” I exclaimed. “Don’t you dare try to push your sister into something she doesn’t want to do.”
She looked shamefaced.
“And don’t think I’m happy about you doing it either,” I went on.
She looked to Raff. He didn’t contradict me. But whether he gave Jessica a complicit wink or a nod when I turned away I could never say for sure.
Isabel was a little quiet after that. Jessica seemed to find other games which distracted her from the Game of Dares for a while.
Isabel found her own entertainment. She was happy spending time on her own, drawing and making colourful collages. I was happy that she was finding her own personality, and hoped she would understand she didn’t have to be like her big sister to be special. Gradually she returned to her usual self.
When she won a prize for her artwork at school, she came home bright with joy.
I caught Jessica looking at Isabel’s painting, which we hung in the hallway, with a slightly envious expression. It was usually Isabel who wore that expression when she was looking at her big sister.
Maybe that was why Isabel recognised it so easily. She put her hand into Jessica’s.
Jessica looked at her with pride.
“You’re so good at art.”
“I can show you how, if you like.”
Jessica laughed and shook her head, slipping her hand free of Isabel’s.
“Nah. I could never sit still long enough for that!” she said cheerily, before rushing outdoors to pick up her bike, or her tennis racket, or her football.
Isabel turned to me with a shrug. We were both glad that Jessica was so sure of herself. The great thing was, I could see that certainty growing in Isabel too.
A couple of weeks later we took our border collie, Sam, for a walk through the park: Isabel and me, Isabel with her bicycle. She stopped at the brink of Devil’s Drop.
I don’t know what Raff was thinking when he said it wasn’t that steep. I was glad to have the opportunity to address what I knew had been bothering her.
“Listen, Izzy, you mustn’t feel you have to be –”
But Isabel was already off. I was talking to mid-air.
I gave a small shriek, my heart in my throat. I almost couldn’t watch. A quarter of the way down, her back wheel lifted off the ground and my imagination raced ahead to picture her tumbling head over heels… But no, she was back on two wheels.
Thankfully she got to the bottom with only a bump at the end that made her wobble sideways, and she stepped off the bike, stumbled, and landed – almost comically – on her bum.
Then she got up and waved.
By the time she’d walked the roundabout path up again my initial shock had worn off and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. Should I tell her off? Congratulate her?
“You scared the life out of me,” I said.
“Me too!” she said, grinning.
“I was trying to say you shouldn’t let Jessica push you into things.”
“She didn’t. I wanted to do it.”
I looked at her shining face and realised: she wasn’t like me. Neither of them was. They were more like Raff. There was nothing wrong with that, of course – it was a lovely thing. But it could make me feel a bit lonely sometimes… if I let it.
“Izzy,” I said suddenly, “can I borrow your bike a minute?”
As I was just over five feet tall, her bike wasn’t too small for me. I rode a quick circuit around the path to get used to it and then, before I could think about it too much, tipped myself over the brink and down Devil’s Drop.
Strangely, it didn’t feel as scary as watching Isabel do it minutes ago. But it did feel much faster, the whooshing air stinging my face. I could hear Sam barking from the top of the hill.
At the bottom I steadied myself and took a long, slow breath. Then I turned to give Isabel the thumbs-up.
“I’m glad I did it,” she said as we walked home. “But I don’t think I want to do it again.”
“That’s how I feel, too.” I smiled.
When we got home, Raff and Jessica were watching a football match on TV.
“Hello, you two!” Raff said. “Had any adventures?”
I looked at Isabel, waiting for her to impress them with her news.
Isabel just shrugged. “Not really.”
We shared a smile.