Charlotte Chronicles II
The metal of Charlotte’s bed rattles as she is wheeled out of her room toward the operating theater. Her blue eyes look afraid, like the time she was eight and Nick and I were trying to get her to jump off the diving board into the pool. I finally walked out onto the board with her, held her hand and we jumped off the side together. No amount of hand holding is going to take that fear from her or from any of us.
For a moment after Charlotte is taken away, the room is silent. No soft words exchanged between mom and Aunt AM. No gruff low tones from Uncle Bo or dad. No sounds from Nick’s Gameboy. It is eerie. Then Aunt AM begins sobbing and her cries are so awful that I have to leave the room. Then I have to leave the hallway but I can’t escape the sounds. They are embedded in my brain. I sink down into a chair in the waiting room on the trauma floor and clutch my head in my hands. If I could rewind time, I think I’d never get up this morning.
I hear my Dad and then Bo enter the waiting room.
“The surgery may take a couple of hours, it may take longer. Why don’t you take Grace and the boys home and get some rest. We’ll call you as soon as she’s out.” Uncle Bo says.
Dad looks at Uncle Bo and then grabs him. The two stand there clutching each other and that’s all it takes for Nick to break. Dad reaches out and the three of them huddle together. The only one I hear is Nick but Uncle Bo’s shoulders are heaving.
I walk in the opposite direction toward the windows. The air conditioning is leaving condensation on the window and the glass feels both cold and wet against my forehead. Outside the city is running like nothing out of the ordinary was happening, like two families aren’t breaking down inside this hospital. Like our whole future isn’t dependent on Charlotte making it out of surgery.
I’m not sure how long I stand there but I feel dazed when Dad places his hand on my shoulder.
“We’re going to go home for a bit.” Dad says, drawing me away from the window.
“Don’t want to,” I reply. I want to be here when Charlotte wakes up. She might need me.
“We need to take care of your mom.” Dad squeezes my shoulder. I nodded because Dad isn’t asking. His tone is mild but when it came to taking care of mom, he wasn’t ever moved.
Home isn’t much better. The other side of the penthouse floor was silent and dark. Mom starts crying in the car and hasn’t stopped. Dad carries her into the elevator and then down into their bedroom. Nick trails behind.
I stand in the entryway, unsure of what I should do.
Five minutes later, Dad came out looking like he’d aged about ten years in this one day. He dragged a hand through his hair. “Why don’t you go work out some of that energy,” he suggested.
That seemed like as good of an idea as any. After changing into a pair of gym shorts and a sleeveless t shirt, I walked down the stairs into the private work out facility but stopped short when I saw the long padded mat that Charlotte used to practice her gymnastic moves.
Not gonna happen.
Working out in common gym. I texted my dad.
As I was boarding the elevator, the phone pinged again. Love you son.
x2 I responded.
The elevator stopped on the eleventh floor and Madeline Short got on. Madeline is a freshman at one of the city colleges. I don’t know her well but she was definitely in my mental spank bank. She’s got a tight body and tends to flirt with me just so she can make me blush or something. Like I’ve never had a girl before.
Madeline stands so close to me you’d think that there were dozens of others in the elevator car instead of just the two of us but I don’t move away because her body is warm and for the first time in hours, I feel like I’m thawing out. And when her arm brushes mine, I start getting hot. The look in her eyes is an obvious invitation so when the elevator stops at the sixth floor, I don’t get off. And I don’t protest when she presses the close door button and I don’t say anything when she presses the button for her floor.
I follow her silently into her family apartment that is clearly empty. She leads us confidently down the hall toward a bedroom. I don’t say anything when she pulls down my gym shorts or pushes the t shirt off my head. I’m afraid if I do talk the sounds of Aunt AM’s cries or my mother’s sobs will come back and I don’t want that. I don’t want to think at all.
When Madeline leads me to her bed, when she takes off her clothes, when we lie down together I shut down my brain and just concentrate on the physical feeling of release.
A chime from my phone wakes me out of a dose. I jerk upright and grab my phone.
She made it. She’s asking for you.
I can’t get dressed fast enough. My motions must have awakened Madeline or maybe she was awake all along. I don’t really care. I’ve got to get to the hospital.
“Hey, where are you going? I told you my parents are gone.”
“Gotta run.” My mouth feels dry and my throat is sore like all the tears I’ve suppressed were like shards of glass that scraped my insides raw as they traveled from my eye sockets into my stomach.
Madeline leans toward me and hooks a finger through the waistband of my shorts. “What’s your rush? I’m ready for round three if you are.”
I can’t even stand to have her touch my clothes but my dad would kill me if he knew I was rude to a woman, particularly one I’d just been intimate with.
“I’m sorry,” I give her a tight smile, “family thing.”
She shrugs and ten minutes ago, the lift of her naked breast would’ve gotten me hard and I’d have fallen on her. Now I’ve only got Charlotte on my mind and the two of them together in my head is making me sick.
“I’ll call,” I say and then pulled on my t shirt and grab up my socks and shoes. I don’t look back even when she calls my name out in a bewildered fashion. I can’t tell her Charlotte’s situation. It’s a family thing.
By the time I get to the hospital, my clothes are back together and I’m winded. I run to the door and dad is standing there looking grim. I falter. “Did she,” I’m afraid to finish the sentence.
“She’s fine. A fighter.” Dad says with approval. I move toward the entrance and he stops me. I hear him inhale and then he pushes me back. I strain against him but my seventeen year old body isn’t strong enough to overtake him. Dad was a professional fighter back in the day and he’s still as strong as hell now. I’m proud to be his son but right now I’m confused as to why he’s keeping me from Charlotte.
“Sorry, hoss, I can’t let you go in there stinking like sex and perfume. You’d embarrass your mother, piss off your Uncle Bo and break Charlotte’s heart. AnnMarie’ll have your nuts on a platter.”
I flush and turn away, embarrassed of my behavior. Dad grabs my head and brings me close to him.
“This is going to be a tough. Loving people is hard.” He looks hard at me. “Are you strong enough to see it through?”
“I am.” I say and straighten. “Sorry, Dad. Won’t happen again.” And it won’t. I’d apologize to Madeline at my first opportunity but Charlotte was meant to be mine. I knew it when she was born. Nick was her brother but I was her protector. I’d let her down this time, but never again.
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