Becky was quiet in the car as Mum drove her into town. She was still wondering what to do about the note she had written to Drew, to warn him off. There was no guarantee it would stop him hurting his sister, and it might well backfire on her if he made a big deal about it. After all, what proof did she have? She could hardly tell anyone that a willow tree had given her the information. As Charity had said, that sort of thing might well get her locked up in a hospital. Maybe she would wait, ask the tree again. And who was to say the tree was showing her the truth?
With all this on her mind, she got out at the school and walked off without even saying goodbye to her Mum. Then as soon as she got into class, she realised that it had made her forget something else. They were supposed to be doing Gym class that morning, and she had forgotten to pack her sports kit last night. Mr Duncan said she would have to explain herself to Miss Addington, the gym teacher. The boys were already in the changing rooms, apparently. They would be playing football on the centre field. Miss Addington was having none of it. “I don’t care if you forgot your gear, young lady. You can use some of the donated stuff in the box in the changing room, and I will get you a towel when you have had your shower. Hurry up, I’m going to start without you”. Becky didn’t like the look of anything in the box. But she found some shorts and a top that fitted her, and went back in. She had declined to put any of the old gym shoes on her feet though, so was barefoot.
The rest of the girls were running around in circles, with the teacher blowing on a whistle when they were supposed to speed up, or slow down. Becky tagged on the end of the line, and decided to just do the minimum. Then there was a game where they had to stand in lines. The girl at the front had a ball, and she had to run to the back, and pass the ball over the girls in the line until it got to the front again. This was to carry on until the teacher declared that one line or another had won. But when Becky got to the front with the ball and turned to run back, all the others stamped on her bare feet as she passed them. So that was how it was going to be, Becky thought. No point complaining, she would deal with it later, if it carried on.
Back in class before lunch, everyone laughed as she walked in. Drew had drawn a stupid-looking pair of panties with a teddy bear on them, and sellotaped it to her desk. Mr Duncan didn’t seem to notice. Becky sat down without any indication that she cared about it. But it had made her up her mind. She took the sheet of paper out of her bag, and passed it to Drew. “This is for you”.
He smirked as he opened it, and then his jaw dropped. The colour drained from his face and even his usually inflamed red neck turned white. Without a word to the teacher, he stood up, scraping his chair back. Crumpling the paper into a ball in his hand, he walked straight out of the classroom, not even bothering to take his school bag and sports kit.
That lunchtime, Becky was already feeling better, as she ate a roll and some crisps, alone as usual. When they went into French for the first period of the afternoon, the seat next to her was empty, and nobody knew where Drew was.
She smiled to herself. The tree had been right.
There was something liberating about having no friends at school. She didn’t have to listen to anyone drone on about who was the best looking one in the latest boy band, or which character made them swoon in Game of Thrones. No need to discuss make up, or arrange to meet at some shopping centre on Saturday to look at clothes that none of them could afford. No pressure to go to a burger bar after school to sit with one milk shake and three straws while they pretended to flirt with the older boys, secretly terrified that one of them might actually come over and speak to them. As she waited for her mum to turn up after school that day, she concluded that being a loner suited her very nicely. She was going to work on developing that.
Mum was forty minutes late, and in a shitty mood. Her hair was all over the place, and she was driving the car wearing flip-flops. As soon as Becky’s behind touched the seat, she started raving. “This is not working for me, not working at all. I simply have to get you on that bus, and as soon as, Becks. I cannot be dealing with this crappy journey four times a day. I tell you, I can’t. I had to literally hang up on a very important client who was discussing a really big job. That’s just not acceptable, not professional. I mean, my job pays for everything. Your Dad’s useless with money, and now he’s pissing away what he has got on his precious new family, and not bothering to send what he promised to contribute for you. Oh, and by the way, he’s not taking you as promised. Seems his stupid baby has got a fever, something contagious, and he’s using that as an excuse to get out of taking you for his weekend”. When she paused for breath, Becky said nothing. Then she started again.
“I’m sorry, Becks, but I mean it. he really is useless. Do you think he cares about you anymore? Well I can tell you he doesn’t. He hasn’t even phoned to ask you how you are getting on at school, just sent a text cancelling the weekend. I mean, what sort of father is that? I can tell you now, he wasn’t much of a husband to start with, let alone a good Dad”. She shut up after that, and they drove the next thirty minutes in silence. Becky sensed an edge to her Mum that day, and she didn’t really believe it was about having to reschedule a business call. When they got home, Mum was straight back on her computer, checking emails, so Becky got out of her school uniform and decided to go for a walk.
Charity wasn’t sitting under the tree that afternoon. But when Becky crawled under the overhanging branches and placed her back against the trunk, she could smell the stale odour that indicated the girl had been there earlier. She extended her arm until her hand felt the rough bark. Closing her eyes, she spoke out loud.
“Tell me about Cathy Webster, and all her secrets”.