It seemed that she had been under the tree for a long time. Feeling freezing cold, the impact of what she had seen left Becky trembling on top of the shivering. Her legs were wobbly as she walked back to the house, and the smell of the cheese pasta bake made her feel ill as she went though the door. Mum turned from the worktop, where she was dishing up the food. “You’ve been gone ages, love. Dinner’s ready, sit down and I’ll bring it over”.
The last thing she felt like doing was eating, but that was preferable to having to come up with a story about why she didn’t want any. After spooning in a few mouthfuls and fumbling with a crusty end-piece of the garlic bread, Becky broached the subject of Sara. “Mum, a lady is coming to see me on Saturday. She is helping with a school project, local history”. Her tone was matter-of-fact. A statement, not asking permission. Mum put down her fork. “That sounds interesting. Will I get to meet her too?” Becky shrugged. “If you’re not too busy working, I suppose”. Mum’s hand hovered over the pile of bread, as if unsure which chunk to select. “I don’t remember you being that interested in History when we lived in Exeter, Becks. English was always your thing. And you were good at Maths too of course”.
Not really in the mood for chatting, and still feeling unwell after what she had seen in Drew’s bedroom, it was all she could do to keep up the conversation. “Well, we have moved all this way to live in a really old house, so I thought I would do some research about the area, and write it up for school”. Hoping that was an end to it, she started to rapidly spoon food into her mouth, looking down at the plate. Sure enough, Mum had already lost interest, and was checking her phone for messages.
Mum had never fully explained why she felt it was necessary for them to move so far away. All she went on about was that house prices were cheaper up there, and it didn’t matter where they lived, as she could work from home. It didn’t concern her that Dad had to stay on in his job at the Science Park, so had to buy a small flat with his share of the money. More than four hours away by car, it was also obvious that it made it very difficult for him to take her at weekends, as arranged. He said he would have to rent a room at a guest house in Lincoln or Louth when he came up to spend time with her. Otherwise, they would waste too much time driving back and forth. Becky had always assumed that Mum had done that on purpose, just to get back at him.
After managing half of the meal, Becky went up to her room leaving Mum to her messages and emails about work. Her mind was troubled, and not just by what had happened under the tree. Sitting on the bed, she started to consider what she could remember about her short life. As well as being an only child, Becky had no cousins. Both Mum and dad were only children too, so they said. And there were no grandparents, on either side. Given her parents’ ages, that was most unusual. Becky had soon latched onto that, and had been told that Mum had been raised by foster parents, and Dad’s parents were both dead. Becky asked if they had any old photos of them she could look at, and was told they had been lost.
When her friends in Devon had asked her about her family, they had all thought it was strange too. She had been young though, and you accepted what you were told when you were young. But Becky didn’t feel so young anymore, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
Then there was that story about houses being cheaper. A few months ago Becky had looked online, and discovered that Mum could easily have bought a house in Devon for what she had paid for this one at the old mill. So her decision to move up here was deliberate, that was undeniable. Was it just to make things hard for Dad? That was possible, but not completely convincing. Becky stretched out, and rested her head on the pillow. There was so much going on inside her head, it was beginning to give her a headache.
When the smell woke her up, she sat up in a panic, fearful it might not be Charity. Seeing the girl standing at the end of the bed was a relief, as mad as that seemed.
“So you found out about Drew? Been under that tree again, eh?” Charity was walking a few steps, and turning to walk back. Becky’s eyes followed her like someone watching a tennis match. The girl was smiling as she continued. “You have so much more to find out about, Miss Rebecca Webster. But you should think on, and decide if you really want to know what you think you do. The best thing you could do is to persuade your mother to sell this house, and move somewhere else. Somewhere a very long way away. There’s nothing here for you but heartbreak and fear, believe me. I am only trying to help you, Rebecca”.
Becky tried to sound casual. “Oh really, do tell me more, Charity.”
The girl stopped walking, and suddenly she was closer, her filthy hands clutching the sides of Becky’s head as she moved her face up against it. Recoiling from the breath that seemed like some foul wind, she suddenly saw Mum’s room in her mind. She hadn’t actually been in Mum’s room since they moved here, although she had stood at the open door to ask things a few times. Like the zoom lens on a camera, her gaze moved, magnifying a small chest of drawers standing in the corner.
Then Charity was gone.
Becky jumped up, knowing what she had to do. Walking quietly down the stairs, she peered into the living room, happy to see Mum beavering away on the big computer. She turned and crept back upstairs, opening the door to Mum’s room, and tiptoeing inside. The three-drawer chest wasn’t one she remembered ever seeing before. It was cheap-looking, made with that white stuff that is not real wood. She slid the top drawer open. It was full of underwear; rolled up tights, panties, and bras. The second drawer contained scarves, gloves, woolly hats, and belts. Sitting on the floor to see into the third drawer, she was upset to find that it only contained an old box file. But it might be worth looking inside.
Lifting the big spring clip, Becky found old papers. Stuff from Mum’s university days, like her degree certificate. Then there was her own birth certificate, Mum’s paper driving licence, and some car documents. Right at the bottom, she found an envelope with ‘Certificate of Marriage’ printed on it. Sliding out the folded document, she glanced at it, the names and details written by the registrar in beautiful italic handwriting. Then her stomach turned, and she had to struggle not to bring up the pasta meal she had eaten earlier.
In the boxes marked ‘Name and Surname’, she couldn’t believe what she saw written there. She read it again, just to make sure.
‘Robert Charles Webster’