Twisting round, Becky sat down in the front passenger seat, and wedged the school bag between her legs. Mum pulled the car out into the traffic stream, and said “Seat belt!” in a loud voice. The smell inside the car was overwhelming. In fact every time Charity appeared, it seemed to get worse. Becky was amazed that her Mum couldn’t smell it, or see the girl smirking behind her. It was going to be an awful journey home, suffering that stench, and not being able to let on that she could see something.
“That Drew Tyler is going to give you trouble, Rebecca. You mark my words”. Her local accent was all Becky had heard all day, even from the teachers. Her own lack of any regional accent was something else that marked her out as different from the others. Dad used to say that country accents like that made intelligent people sound stupid, and him and Mum had worked hard to make sure she had never picked up the one where they used to live. Charity had the same accent as all those kids at school, but she spoke with some care, not using any abbreviated words. She would dearly have loved to ask the girl about her family, and why Drew Tyler was going to give her trouble. But Mum would think she was talking to her.
“The tree has told me all about him and his family. If you want, it can tell you too, and you will be ready once the trouble starts”. Her tone was serious, almost caring. She seemed to be genuinely concerned. Mum suddenly indicated left, and drove into the car park of a supermarket. “I can get most of what we need here. Might as well pick up all the shopping while we are driving past. Have you got any homework?” Becky shook her head. “Not today, it was all about getting to know the school and stuff”. Mum slotted the car into a space near the shop marked ‘Disabled’. She was unlikely to abandon her old city habits, just yet. Becky was hoping she could stay in the car and talk to Charity, but that wasn’t going to happen. “Come on, Becks. You can wheel my trolley. Put your bag in the boot”. She flicked a lever that opened the hatch at the back.
By the time Becky had got behind the car to drop off her bag, Charity had gone.
After dinner, Mum had a Skype call, so Becky went up to her room, and got busy on her tablet. She was searching Parish Records, something she had once seen on a TV detective show. But it wasn’t so easy. Some sites required payment, and her tablet had a parental lock, to stop her spending any money from her small savings account. And she didn’t have access to a credit card anyway. A lot of the pages didn’t scan well on the i-pad either, and she was thinking she might have to ask to use Mum’s PC, say it was a school project. Trouble was, she was always on it herself.
She tried the websites of some local newspapers. They were all defunct now, but some old articles were still online. However, she couldn’t get back any further than some flooding in 1953, which was apparently a big deal in that area then. One blog she read suggested trying Church Records, and mentioned using the local library too. But the nearest library was in the town, right on the other side from the school. Feeling frustrated, she got her clean shirt and underwear ready for the next day, and had an early night.
The second day at school wasn’t going to be as easy as the first. It started with a double maths lesson, and the teacher was the fat woman who had shouted from the stage. Her name was Mrs Waring, and like Mr Duncan, she was far from friendly. Although she wasn’t that old, she acted like she was, and her appearance fascinated Becky. Her boobs were so huge, they seemed to stretch from her chin to her thighs. It was incredible that her short tree-trunk legs could keep her upright, with that weight threatening to pull her forward. And it didn’t help that she was wearing a polo-neck dress that was so tight, it clung to every lump and bump. She came around each desk handing out some test papers, and Becky noticed that she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “Right, I want to see what level you are at. You have thirty minutes to complete the questions, starting now”.
Next to her, Drew Tyler blew out his cheeks, and shook his head. Then he stretched out his long legs under the desk, and started to tap his ballpoint pen against the paper. Becky turned over her sheet, and quickly looked at all the problems. She couldn’t believe how easy they were. She could have done all of those a couple of years ago. The rest of the class didn’t seem to agree. There were moans and groans, and a girl at the back called out. “Please Miss, these are too hard. I can’t do any of them”. The school operated a policy of ‘mixed ability’, and it was obvious to Becky that she was definitely going to be held back in such a system. Mrs Waring answered the girl. “You put your hand up to ask permission to speak, not just shout. And I want you to try your best, just do the ones you can”. Under her breath, the girl muttered “Can’t do any then”, but left it at that.
Becky finished her paper in less than ten minutes, then glanced to her left at Drew’s efforts. The first five answers were wrong, and he hadn’t even attempted the next five. He was just sitting grinning, tapping the pen against his front teeth. Becky could see that his neck was still red, and the shirt collar had a grey ring around the top, suggesting he was wearing the same shirt as he had on yesterday. Mrs Waring noticed the girl sitting with her arms folded, looking around. She studied the sheet of paper with the names on, and suddenly called out. “Rebecca Webster, have you finished already?” Becky sat up straight. “Yes miss, I have”. Holding out a hand, the teacher flapped the pudgy fingers into her palm. “Bring it here then”. Standing awkwardly by the desk, she watched as the woman looked at her answers. Sounding almost disappointed, she couldn’t manage a smile. “Ten out of ten young lady. All correct. Sit down”.
As she turned to sit back at the desk, every eye in the room was on her, and Drew was shaking his head as he stared angrily at her.
Perhaps it had been a bad idea to get them all right.