Tilly was fashionably late. By the time it got to 1 pm, Becky had made up her mind that she wasn’t going to turn up at all. She had checked her phone twice, but there were no messages. Mum had been acting very strange since breakfast. As soon as they had both finished their toast, Mum was running around like a whirlwind. She was cleaning everything in the house, in every room. That was something she had hardly bothered with, since the day after they had moved in. After that, she changed the beds, loaded the washing machine, and started cooking.
It was hard to remember when Mum had ever done so much cooking. Becky had certainly never seen her bake a cake, but she had two on the go by nine that morning. Once they were ready to go into the oven, she began to make all sorts of things that had never been seen in the house before, even her own small loaf of garlic bread. Becky had been tasked with taking out the rubbish, and tidying up her room before it was thoroughly cleaned. But mostly, she had been told to keep out of the way, and to let Mum get on with things. Retreating to her now immaculate room, Becky put everything back into the canvas bag, and crept into her Mum’s room. She tipped up the small armchair in the corner, and hid the bag behind it. Mum would never think to look for it in her own room. At least she hoped she wouldn’t.
By ten-thirty, there was a delicious-looking chicken and mozzarella pasta bake made and ready to cook later, various expensive nibbles arranged in bowls, and two bottles of Prosecco cooling in the fridge. Mum ordered her not to touch anything, then disappeared upstairs to have a bath, and get ready. Before jumping into the tub, she shouted downstairs. “I hope you’re going to change into something nice, Becks. And put some make-up on too. Give your hair a brush while you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to make an effort!”
Bemused by her Mum’s attitude to the arrival of Tilly, Becky nevertheless tidied her hair, applied some very basic make-up, and changed into what counted as a ‘little black dress’, for an 11 year-old. Viewing the result in her wardrobe mirror, she decided she looked not unlike a schoolgirl version of Audrey Hepburn. But if they really were going swimming, then what was the point?
It was past two when the Range Rover appeared in the driveway. Tilly stepped out wearing ripped jeans, and a figure-hugging cashmere top. Mum was acting as if the Queen of England had turned up. “Do I look alright, Becks? Is the house clean and tidy? Do you think I have done enough food?” Becky replied with an undisguised sneer. “Just the red carpet, Mum. You forgot that”. Tilly walked in, carrying her Louis Vitton overnight bag. She smelled as wonderful as a night in Xanadu, and looked like a very casual one million dollars, or much more. Mum fawned over her, kissing both cheeks as if greeting the president of an emerging oil state. Becky looked on with interest. It was quite obvious to her that they knew each other. Very well.
But Tilly slid past Mum, and made a bee-line for her. “Why, Becks, you look wonderful! I hope that you didn’t go to any trouble for me?” Behind her, the Range Rover was executing a noisy turn, before speeding off back in the direction of the country lane. Mum was so weird. Almost simpering at the presence of Tilly. And what was she wearing? Nothing appropriate for a Mum, that was for sure. A midnight blue cocktail dress, in the daytime. Too low at the front, and far too short for a woman of her age. Then there was the hair and make-up. Rollers had obviously been applied, giving a Hollywood curl. Her eyes were crazily black, and the blusher on her cheeks made her look like someone in drag act. Even with that shock of unnaturally white hair, Mum looked like a high-class tramp. Tilly more or less ignored Mum, despite her blatant effort. “Becks babe, let’s go up to your room”.
Dumping her expensive bag on the bed, Tilly turned with a smile that could launch those proverbial one thousand ships. “So sorry I’m late, darling. Let’s give the swimming a miss until tomorrow morning. We can have a great time catching up, and spend some quality time together later. What do you say?” Becky was calmer now, and wise to all her flattery. “Yeah, that’s great, Tilly. We can chill out, have a nice meal later. Mum has cooked enough for ten”. The older girl oozed confidence. Leaning forward, she planted a soft warm kiss directly on Becky’s mouth. Smiling, she breathed the words. “Oh, we are going to have such a wonderful time, my beauty”. Inside, Becky was calm. A difficult night’s sleep had made her sharp, and hardened her young heart. She beamed at her supposed friend, in a pretence of adoration. “I’m sure we are, Tilly”.
Not much happened at all, leaving Becky wondering if something had changed. They spent the late afternoon in the living room. Tilly was talking nonsense, and Mum was flirting with her as if she was Brad Pitt. Becky found it plainly embarrassing, and felt out of it, as if she was in the way of the other two. Dinner was no better, Mum roaring with laughter at Tilly’s often crude comments. When it came to bedtime, Becky was beginning to lose her nerve. What if Tilly held her to all that stuff she had spoken about? Mum tried to drag it out, as if she didn’t want the girls to leave her, and go upstairs. She poured Tilly a large glass of the white wine, schmoozing up next to her on the sofa. Despite Cathy’s attentions, Tilly kept her gaze on Becky. Winking at her and grinning, rolling her eyes in mockery at Cathy making a show of herself. When she had finished her wine, her voice adopted a commanding tone.
“Time we were going up to bed. We don’t want to end up sleeping in late tomorrow”.
Up in the bedroom. Tilly turned up her nose at the relatively small bed, though she hadn’t mentioned it earlier. “I suppose it will be cosy enough for two, but it’s going to be a tight squeeze later, for sleeping”. Becky perched on the edge at the end of the bed, looking down at her feet. Tilly had already peeled off her top and jeans, and was wandering around in her scanty underwear. Becky stayed resolute; still fully dressed for now, and refusing to look at the amazing figure of the older girl. Tilly was rather tipsy. She planted her hands on her hips, and raised her voice. “Something’s wrong, I can tell. This is not working out like we talked about, Becks. That bed is pathetic, you don’t seem at all interested, and I am left wondering why I bothered to come. I might just as well go and climb in with your Mum. At least she’s got a king-sized bed”. Becky shrugged, a sense of relief washing over her. “Please yourself, if you feel like that”.
It hadn’t escaped her notice that Tilly knew how big Mum’s bed was.
Tilly straightened up. “Well you might not be interested, but I can tell you that Cathy is. At least she was the last time, and the time before that”.
With an unpleasant leer on her face, she turned on her heel and left the room. Seconds later, she could clearly be heard next door, though the voices were muted at first. Then there was laughter, then quiet. Later, there were other noises. Even Becky knew what they were.
But she didn’t care.