Heavy footsteps made their way down towards the lake. They broke the twigs on the ground as they picked their way around the fallen branches. Rilah could tell that it was a male and her heart beat frantically. Could it be Tyron, or was it Mr Daniels? The leaves and branches on the ground distorted the sound and she couldn't make out who it was. To top it off, she was naked. What a compromising situation.
As the man got closer, Rilah sucked in a huge breath and sank slowly into the water. She had practised this for a long time. Using the watch that Sylvia had given her for her 13th birthday, Rilah had timed herself constantly. She could hold her breath underwater for eight minutes.
She heard shuffling as the man moved around, searching for something around the lake. "Lulu, where are you? Are you here?"
"Charlie?" Rilah thought. What was he doing here? Had he followed her?
Rilah surfaced, her head barely out of the water.
"What are you doing here?", she asked him.
"So you sneak out of home at one in the morning to come and swim in an ice cold lake. Are you okay?" He questioned her, his words mocking.
"What do you want, Charlie?" she asked through gritted teeth.
Charlie looked taken aback. "Okay, okay", he held up his hands, palms out. "I was awake, saw you heading into the woods through my window and decided to follow you." He walked closer towards her. Rilah sank further into the water. She was very much aware of her state of undress.
"I wanted to say I'm sorry for how I acted. It was wrong of me. You are the farthest thing from clingy." He stood as close to Rilah as he could without getting into the water and Rilah moved a little more backwards.
"It's okay. Thank you for apologizing. You can go now." She flicked her head towards where Charlie had come from.
Seeing Rilah's discomfort, and enjoying it, Charlie proceeded to remove his shoes.
Her eyes wide, Rilah asked, "What are you doing?!"
"Taking off my shoes."
"I can see that! I mean why are you removing them?"
"I'm joining you for a midnight swim." He cocked his head at Rilah, a habit he had when he was amused. Rilah felt herself get entranced; when would that ever stop? She could not prevent herself from staring at him. Seeing the look Rilah was giving him, Charlie was caught in her spell. She had woven a web so strong that he couldn't escape and she didn't even know it.
With her hair wet and plastered to her face, she looked more natural and enticing. He could not and didn't want to ever leave her.
"What are you doing?" Rilah asked, alarmed, as Charlie stepped into the lake.
"Do I have to say it again?" He smiled. Rilah looked confused but anticipation and curiosity ate at her. But she couldn't let Charlie get any closer.
"Don't come in."
"Why not?" Charlie was still amused and Rilah could see that he was enjoying this immensely.
"Just don't. I want privacy." She moved further away, towards the deep end. Charlie laughed, "No you don't. I know you would like me to join you."
"No I wouldn't. Please don't get in." She was starting to panic. Charlie was persistent and she felt exposed, vulnerable.
Noticing Rilah's panicked state, Charlie stopped. "Why?"
"I told you. Just don't."
"Try again", he began moving again, making his jeans wet.
"Charlie, don't." But Charlie kept moving. "Okay fine! I'm naked." The last she half whispered, half shouted. Charlie stopped abruptly.
"What?" Charlie was confused. Was this a ploy to stop him from getting closer, or was Rilah actually serious?
"I'm not dressed Charlie."
"Of course you're not. You are in a swimsuit", Charlie stated confidently.
"I'm not. I'm just in my panties", Rilah felt like she was coughing up a hairball as she said those words. She looked everywhere except at Charlie. This was not only compromising but also embarrassing.
Charlie felt equally embarrassed, for being too slow to understand and for what he asked next.
"What about your bra? Where is it?" The look Rilah gave him confirmed the stupidity of his question.
"I don't wear one", Rilah admitted slowly.
Charlie scoffed. "I find that hard to believe."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean look at you. There's no way you don't wear a bra." Despite the baggy clothes that Rilah wore, everyone at school knew that she had a sizable bust. Her uniform fit her form perfectly and Charlie, having slept next to Rilah more than a few times, knew that Rilah was well endowed.
"Well I don't! And it's quite disrespectful arguing with me about whether or not I wear a bra."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be disrespectful."
"You seem to be doing a lot of that recently."
"I'm really sorry Lulu. It was just a little hard to believe", he said defensively.
"Fine Charlie. Now go!"
"Okay, get dressed. I'll be waiting there", he pointed to a bush, sitting next to a boulder.
"Excuse me? I'm still having the peaceful swim that you so rudely interrupted."
"Let's not do this again Rilah" he ran his hand through his hair. "I won't feel okay leaving you here alone. Just get dressed." He stared at Rilah, who stood - or rather floated - defiant and stubborn.
"No. I have been doing this for years. Alone. So it shouldn't bother you." Rilah was sometimes annoyed by Charlie's alpha male personality; he always wanted to come to her rescue, making her feel like some damsel in distress.
"Well it does." He looked at Rilah, who was already swimming away slowly. "Fine, I'll wait by the boulder until you are done with your laps."
Rilah looked at him unbelievingly. "Suit yourself then" she said and then swam away.
Charlie shook his head. At times he felt like he and Rilah were like two bulls in a kraal, vying for the top spot; they were both that headstrong. However, he was always mystified by how Rilah was stubborn, talkative and assertive with him but quiet, meek and submissive at school. If she wasn't being bullied, everyone would see the blessing that was Rilah; she would be happy.
Rilah got out of the water in five minutes. She couldn't concentrate with Charlie's phone beeping notifications, and mainly with Charlie's presence. She dressed quickly and met Charlie, who mercifully kept his mouth shut.
"Can I have a piggyback ride?", Rilah tried to break the ice.
"No", he replied shortly.
"Please, please Charlie." Another shake of the head. "But you gave me one yesterday."
"That was yesterday; you were hurt." His deep voice, with his accent - which Rilah had tried guessing frequently and incorrectly - was like a song to her bleeding heart.
"Well, I could trip on the branches and get seriously hurt."
"No you won't. We took a different, branch-less path." He turned around and smirked seductively. "Nice try though."
Rilah pouted but walked on with a smile on her face.
It was during these times that she felt happy. When she bickered with Charlie she felt joyful, without any burdens. She felt free.