Charlotte Chronicles V
“Oh Nate! What’re you doing here?” Aunt AM comes around Charlotte’s empty hospital bed. I hold out my books and give her a confused look. I’d been coming every night after football practice for the past week. What does she think I’m doing here?
“I’m here to study,” I say. “And hang out. Where is everyone?” I look around but don’t see Nick or Charlotte. Aunt AM places a hand on my elbow and starts moving out of the room, but I pull back. “Where’s everyone?” I repeat.
Aunt AM doesn’t give me a direct answer. Instead, she tightens the grip on my arm. For some reason she wants me to leave. I’m several inches taller than Aunt AM and probably a hundred pounds heavier. My superior height and weight make it impossible for most people to move me when I’m refusing to follow them. Aunt AM is no different. She turns to me and places her hands on her hips.
“You were so much easier to manage when you were a child, Nate.”
“But not as cute, right?” I wink at her because even though she looks a little exasperated with me now, I know she loves me.
“No, you were pretty darn cute as a baby.” Aunt AM sighs and then shoots a glance at the bathroom door that I just now notice is shut. A buzzing sound is coming from inside and then I hear voices. I can’t make out the words, but because I’ve grown up listening to these voices I know its Nick and Charlotte. I start for the door. There’s no way that they need privacy.
Aunt AM places her hand on my arm again and this time the tone in her voice, warning and wary, stops me. “Nate.”
“What’s up?” I don’t understand. I hear giggles which are from Charlotte and then a lower chuckle from Nick. My body is tensing up like it does before I’m about to kick the body bag in the gym. My breath is becoming more rapid and anger builds. Nick should not be in the bathroom with Charlotte. They should not be together, laughing behind closed doors. What is with the buzzing noise? The buzzing noise shuts off and I hear my name being repeated in low tones.
“Nate, Nathan, Nathan Jackson.” Aunt AM finally breaks through and I look down at her, wondering why she’s repeating my name so many times.
“Yeah?” But she doesn’t have my full attention because I have to know what’s going on in there. There’s a silence in the room and then I hear crying. It’s Charlotte. Shaking off Aunt AM’s hand, I take three strides across the room and have my hand on the bathroom door. I’m so close now that I can hear Nick comforting Charlotte.
“It’s fine, Charlotte. You look fine,” Nick says. Charlotte replies but I don’t understand her. Neither does Nick. “What?” he asks.
“It’s not fine.” Charlotte says more clearly. “Look at me. I look like a penis head.”
Nick burst out laughing. “Have you even seen a penis?
Aunt AM was tugging at my arm but stopped at Nick’s question. I guess we both want to hear the answer to this.
“Um duh, pictures. Remember when Francine forwarded the picture of her brother looking at himself in the mirror.” Silence reigned while we all contemplated this for a second.
“Yeah, that was unfortunate.” Nick snickered. “But you look nothing like Francine’s brother’s penis.”
“Only because he had hair around his dick and I don’t.” Charlotte said. Aunt AM let out a tiny moan of dismay beside me. I don’t know exactly how I feel that Charlotte had seen some guy’s penis but it isn’t pleasant.
Nick makes a gagging sound. “Can we never talk about Francine’s brother’s penis again? I’m going to need some brain bleach.”
“I can’t be seen like this,” Charlotte says unhappily. “I look hideous. I’m so glad we did this before Nate came.”
My back bristles. I don’t get why I was shut out of this. Charlotte had talked about shaving off her hair, but I thought it was just that, talk. I’d have done it with her. I wanted to do it. I was her rock, not Nick.
“Yeah, well, you know I’m standing behind you when he comes because he’s going to be pissed off you did this without talking to him first.”
“He’s not the boss of me,” declares Charlotte. “I’ve already got two parents. I don’t need a third one.” Is that what she thought? That I was trying to be her parent? Disheartened, I allowed Aunt AM to lead me away out into the hallway.
“Nate, honey,” she said, reaching up to brush my hair out of my face. Hair I shouldn’t have. Hair I should’ve shaved off with Charlotte so she could see we’d all be penis heads together if that was really what she looked like. “Charlotte is at a delicate stage. She’s fifteen. She’s starting to notice guys and have guys notice her.” This statement makes me ball my hands into fists which Aunt AM notices because she hurries on, “And not that she likes anyone but she’s very conscious of how she looks. Her emotions are all over the place because of the medications and the surgeries and just all the unknowns of the future.”
Unknowns? “What’re you saying?” I ask sharply. “She’s going to be okay, right?” I thought after they’d taken the tumor out of her head, it was all good from there. “The radiation is just precautionary, right?”
Aunt AM’s smile is a little watery. “We hope so, Nathan. We hope so.” Aunt AM pulls me in for a hug. “Be patient with her, will you?”
I nod. I can be patient. I can. Aunt AM releases me. A nurse catches her attention and Aunt Am follows her to the nurses’ station and I take the opportunity to head back to Charlotte’s room. The bathroom door is still closed. I decide to employ some of that patience and drop into the arm chair next to the empty hospital bed. My forbearance is rewarded when a second later, the bathroom door flies open and out walks Nick and Charlotte, looking like to freshly shorn peas. I cast Nick a dark look and he slides behind Charlotte, all six feet two of him.
“See, told ya he’d be pissed.”
“I’m not pissed.” Rising up, I position Charlotte directly in front of me and pretend to examine her carefully. I don’t really care what Charlotte looks like without hair. She could be bald for the rest of her life and she’d still be the prettiest girl around but I figure out pretty quick that she’s not going to believe that. I draw a finger down the middle of her face, from the top of her forehead to the tip of her chin. Then I bisect that imaginary vertical line with a horizontal one. I trace another line from her eyes to the sides of her mouth.
“What’d you learn in biology about symmetry, Charlotte,” I ask her. My voice is a little husky and her eyes widen. She’s trembling a bit under my hand.
“That nature loves symmetry.”
“Right.” She’s caught on quickly. “Your face is pretty damn symmetrical. You’re the type who’s gonna look good with long hair, short hair, and no hair.”
Her lips are shaking a bit and she presses them tight to hold back her tears but a couple slip out of her eyes anyway. I swipe them away with my thumbs but behind the surface sheen of tears, I see comprehension. She believes me. I give her a slow wink and that draws out a beautiful smile. At about the moment I’m going to draw her into my arms, Nick slaps me on the back, “Smooth, big brother. Very nice.”
Nick’s words make mine look like a joke and the look in Charlotte’s eyes turn from appreciation to bleakness like that. I reach over and cuff Nick harder than he expected.
“Ow goddammit, that hurt.” Nick rubs the back of his head but it’s too late. No amount of head slaps is going to bring confidence back into Charlotte’s eyes tonight.
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