Becky woke up the next morning when the brightness of the light from the window made her wince. Tilly was in the room, pulling the curtains open, and calling out in a very cheery voice. “Come on Becks! Time to get out of bed, and down to the river. It’s a beautiful day, and we can shower after swimming”. Becky forced her eyes open reluctantly, then looked away quickly, as she was greeted by the sight of Tilly’s completely naked, spray-tanned body. Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes, then watched from behind as the older girl bent down and rummaged through her overnight bag. She watched her slip on a pink swimming costume, then as Tilly turned, she had to wonder why she had bothered to wear it at all. It was so revealing, she might just as well have left it in the bag.
Nothing was said by either of them about last night. Tilly acted as if everything was totally normal. “I’ll let you get sorted, and see you downstairs. Bring some towels, Becky love”. Walking over to a chest of drawers, Becky found her one-piece modest black swimsuit, bought to wear for swimming class at school. She took off her pyjamas, and dropped them on the floor, before pulling the swimsuit on. Out on the landing, the door to Mum’s room was still closed. Becky opened the linen cupboard, and took out two large bath towels, draping them over her arm. Then she stood there for a full two minutes, until she was fully awake, and had composed her thoughts. Except for Charity, she was on her own. She had to stay focused, think straight.
Tilly was already on the grassy bank next to the river. She looked stunning, even with yesterday’s make-up, and her hair all over the place. Becky handed her a towel, and she spread it out before arranging herself carefully on it, posing like a glamour model. The sun was climbing still, and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. The silence was awkward. Becky tried not to look sideways at the older girl, unwilling to experience the seduction provided by her easy posturing. Instead, she suggested they get on with it. “Shall we go in then? Might as well get wet, and start swimming”. Tilly turned over on her front, her gaze reminding Becky of Kaa, the snake in the Disney film The Jungle Book. “No rush, honey. Let’s get some sun first, let the water warm up”. Becky knew enough about English rivers to know that the water was unlikely to warm up that much, no matter how sunny the day.
She was wasting time, probably waiting for something. Or someone.
Wrapping her arms around her bent knees, Becky tried to sound completely normal as she replied. “Yeah, okay. I’m fine here”. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Tilly stretched both arms up, extending her legs, and wiggling her almost completely-exposed bum cheeks. Becky smiled to herself. Tilly could try as hard as she liked. She was immune to that now. Last night had taught her something about both her, and Mum. Most of all, Becky was now completely unimpressed with the older girl. The assumption that she could treat her as she had, and believe that she was too dull and needy to be affected by that. And not least the fact that she had no idea that Becky knew exactly what she was up to.
As the time dragged on, it seemed that Tilly was in no rush to go swimming at all. Instead, she continued to squirm around on the towel, with one arm in front of her face. Becky gave up, and stretched out herself, feeling the warmth from the sun making her relax. It was impossible not to keep glancing to her right though. Being so close to Tilly’s curves and soft, fake-tanned skin was becoming irresistible, the longer she tried to resist it. She was only an inch or two away. Becky knew that she simply had to flex her fingers, and she would be touching her. It was as if someone had opened the door to the world’s best sweet shop, and invited her to walk in and have her fill, free of charge. She watched in complete fascination, as the fingers of her right hand seemed to move of their own accord, until they hovered over the top of Tilly’s thigh, close enough to feel the heat rising from it.
“Time to get in the water!”
The loud voice made Becky jump, and she pulled her hand back as if it had been stung. Charity was standing on her left, her arms folded, and her expression severe. Obviously, Tilly hadn’t heard her, as she hadn’t moved or looked up. “If you stay lying here like this, you know what will happen. She will own you, just as she owns your mother, and you will be lost. Just get up, and into the river. She will have no option but to follow”. Charity wasn’t in the mood for suggestions. It sounded like an order. She waited until Becky stood up, then disappeared. Walking down to the river’s edge, Becky called back. “I’m going in for a swim now. You can stay there if you want, but I’m bored”. Once she was in up to her waist, Tilly stood up and ran to join her. She didn’t mess around, and jumped straight in with a childish squeal. Becky eyed her with suspicion, wondering when the trouble would start.
Floating serenely on her back, swimming gently against the current, Tilly looked for all the world like a beautiful young mermaid. Becky slid down into the deeper water, and started a slow breast stroke, swimming in circles around the older girl. She looked back at the bank, but there was no sign of Charity. Suddenly, Tilly turned, and began to swim away from the house, changing to a fast front crawl. A little further on, she stopped, treading water. With her wet hair plastered across her face, she shouted to Becky. “Come up here, next to me. Then we can race back to the mill. I bet I beat you!” Becky reached her in no time, and Tilly wrapped her arms around her in the water, her face pressing close. “I know you’re a strong swimmer, but I’m older, and taller. I’m bound to win. Start on the count of three, okay?”
Before any count was started, the water began to churn around them, as the current doubled in seconds. The sound of rushing water could clearly be heard from the mill, something like a small waterfall Becky remembered from a foreign holiday years ago. She fought against the water, trying to stay in the same spot. But it was hopeless, and she was swept away, just managing to stay on the surface as she was propelled along at speed in the bubbling river. Glancing behind, she could see that Tilly was close, keeping in her wake. Her face was grim and determined now, the seductive smile just a memory.
Approaching the mill, Becky had time to notice just two things. Her Mum was standing on top of the sluice gates, the huge metal lever held open by both her hands. And the mill wheel was turning, for the first time in hundreds of years. There were no longer any gears inside to spin millstones to make flour, but still the wheel moved slowly around, turning on the huge coupling that went through into the wall of the house. Both the gate lever and mill machinery must have been restored and repaired when she had been at school. How had she failed to notice that?
As she felt herself being sucked under the wheel by the rushing water, she finally spotted Charity, standing just behind Mum on the flimsy platform. She smiled as the water covered her completely, and the large wooden slats of the mill wheel passed over her head. Charity had come to save her. Everything would be alright.
It was moving day again. The large hire van was parked outside the house, and Becky looked down at it from the window on the landing. From her Mum’s room, she could hear the sound of Mum and Tilly chatting as they packed away the last items of clothing. Everything else was already in the back of the van. Moments later, they emerged from the bedroom, each struggling with a large suitcase. Becky watched as they bumped them down the stairs, then walked out to heave them into the last space at the back of the van. Mum pulled the shutter closed, and jingled the keys in her right hand. Tilly smiled fondly at her, and reached out to squeeze her free hand. Without a backward glance, they got into the front of the van, and it drove off slowly across the gravel.
Charity was standing behind her, but Becky refused to turn and look at her. She watched as the van went out of sight along the country lane before she spoke. “I’ll never forgive you, Charity, you do know that, don’t you? You were supposed to save me, it was the plan”. She turned to face the girl, who was looking awkward, a half-smile turning up the corners of her mouth as she replied. “Never is a long time, Rebecca. I should know”.
Becky felt like crying, but refused to let any tears come. “And the tree. What about the tree? It showed me my future”. Charity looked down at her feet, which never seemed to get any dirtier than they were that first day. “That was me, sorry. It was always me. The tree is just a tree”. Becky wanted to punch her, but couldn’t see the point. “But why, Charity? Why did you let them drown me? Tilly was the one who was supposed to die”.
The girl shrugged.
“I was lonely”.