In the heat of the release of Last Hit, I almost completely forgot about The Charlotte Chronicles which would have been bad, right? I can just imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth and that’s just from me!
Before we jump in to the section, though, I wanted to thank each blogger who has featured Last Hit this week. It rose to #1 on the Romantic Suspense list at Amazon and lingers around 2 and 3 right now. I know we wouldn’t be getting the word out without the help of those bloggers and tomorrow I’ll share of more of those individual inks.
Second, I’ve finally decided on a name for book 3 of The Woodlands. It and the gorgeous cover will be revealed in a couple of weeks. We are still on track for a January 20th release date BUT because Last Hit took up quite a bit of my writing time, I’m a little behind. I’m not likely to have ARCS until January 10th. I hope you’ll stick with me.
Finally, December 20th, I’ll be part of an anthology called Snow Kissed with Jessica Clare who is sharing a “games” novella and D. S. Linney, a new author who wrote a contemporary romance featuring a venture capitalist and his forbidden new nanny. My contribution will be Noah and Grace as they gear up for a New Year’s Eve fight. Noah is finally stepping over the threshold of Grace’s home and he’s quite intimidated by the wealth. A professor has made Noah a shady offer to make some money and Noah’s a bit tempted. You’ll have to read it to see if you think Grace and Noah make the right decisions.
On to Charlotte and Nathan!
Dad doesn’t hurry through the phone call. Instead, he listens as the other person seems to talk without breaks, all the while eying me speculatively. I take the time, as he intends me to, to gather myself until I’m no longer ready burst out with some inappropriate profanity laced diatribe. I firm my lips and give him a nod that I’m ready. He nods back and quickly wraps up the call.
“Summarize the details and email them to me by tomorrow morning. I’ll give you an answer in forty eight hours.” He doesn’t wait for a response and hangs up. Leaning back in his chair, he folds his arms behind his head. “I didn’t say a word to your momma about your indiscretion with that girl downstairs if that’s what you’re wondering.”
My mouth falls open in surprise at his ability to precisely peg my issue. “I, ah,” I stammer and wish I had showered so I could sit down. “Why’re they talking about taking Charlotte away then?” I hadn’t realized how much that bothered me until I gave voice to it.
Dad squints at the ceiling, tipping farther back in his chair and then lets it come forward with a bang. “I’m not entirely sure, son, but it isn’t that. Frankly, I think AnnMarie would be grateful your attentions are fixed on someone other than Charlotte. It’s been a contentious year for the two of you.”
I flush. Every since Charlotte turned fifteen, everyone seemed to start noticing her. And by everyone, I mean other guys. She doesn’t seem to care that she gets stared at constantly. When I suggested that maybe she should stop wearing yoga pants outside of the actual yoga studio, she didn’t talk to me for a week. “She’s hormonal,” I mutter finally.
At this Dad shouts with laughter. “She’s hormonal.” He pushes away from his desk and stands. Walking toward the door, he gestures for me to follow. “Son, you’ve got so many suppressed hormones, they are screwing with your head.”
I follow him into the kitchen where he pulls out the makings for sandwiches. Silently we make ourselves one and Dad pours me a tall glass of milk. I don’t remember the last time we’ve had time, just the two of us. Some of the stress of the past couple of weeks just drains away as we sit down and talk about the Bears chances to win the SuperBowl this year — not good — and the Cubs chances of winning the pennant next year — even worse.
“How’s practice going?” He asks, eating half his sandwich in one bite.
I shrug. “I don’t love it. I know I should but I’m bored half the time. It was more fun when I could play both offense and defense.” North Prep’s football team is mediocre at best and during my sophomore year, I got to play the tight end position and defensive back. My junior year, however, I’m playing solely the tight end position and because the quarterback sucks, I rarely get the ball thrown to me and when it does come my way, it’s either too long or too short.
“Team sports is a good experience for you, Nate,” Dad says. “Getting along with others is a chore but a necessary one. You can at least use the opportunity to understand the different dynamics of your teammates and how each one is motivated. Later on that skill will come in handy.”
After we polish off the sandwiches and milk, I help Dad clean up the kitchen. I’m not ready for our time to come to an end so I linger, spending more time than necessary cleaning off the center island.
“You think Charlotte is going to be okay?” That’s really the only question I need answered.
“Yeah, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy.”
“Because of hormones,” I joke.
Dad doesn’t laugh, though. The side of his mouth quirks up in a sad half smile. “It’s going to be everything and I’m worried about you, hoss.”
“How so?” I don’t like this somber tone from him. Maybe chat time should be over. I throw the cloth I was using to clean the counter into the sink showing that I’m ready to be done.
“Charlotte is going to go through several months of radiation. Maybe a year. She’s going to be sick for a long time — ”
“And I’m going to take care of her,” I interrupt. Holding up my hand to forestall any other lectures, I tell Dad, “I got this.”
Dad just shakes head. “I love Charlotte like she’s my own and I’m gut sick about her illness, just like you. But she’s got her family to take care of her. You and Nick need to be focused on finishing school, enjoying yourself and then planning for college.”
“Sounds like you are all for Charlotte being moved away.” I scowl at him.
“No, but I can tell you that Charlotte is going to want to be with someone who sees more than someone to be taken care of. Around here, there’s going to be a lot of sympathy and a lot of people trying to do stuff for her.” Dad runs a hand over the top of his head and frowns. “Maybe Bo and AnnMarie are right in thinking Charlotte’d be better off where everyone doesn’t know her.”
I gape at him. “I think you’re all high then because Charlotte needs us.”
I’m grateful that the school keeps the bathrooms so clean because I’ve spent far too much time in them during the last month I’ve been back. After a month in the hospital and then a month at home, they allowed me to come back to school so long as I could hold up. Not wanting to be at home for another day, I’ve been lying to my parents for the first time. If they knew I was in the bathroom sick every day, I’d be pulled out of school in a heartbeat.
I pull out the water bottle from my backpack and swish out my mouth. Reaching up, I close the lid of the toilet seat and climb on top of it. The cool metal of the bathroom stall is relieving. Just one more minute, I tell myself, and then I’ll go back to class.
Everyone has been so helpful since I’ve been back, too helpful. I’ve gone from Charlotte Randolph to the sickgirl. Someone is always around to carry my books and walk me from room to room. Nate is always holding my elbow as if he thinks I’ll fall if he lets go. My tongue is sore from biting back my frustration. I’m trying not to be ungrateful, but I’d like to just be Charlotte Randolph again. Freshman, gymnast, student.
But every time I try to be normal, something happens to remind me that it’s all different. I have a hard time concentrating in class. Reading at night was once my favorite pastimes and now it is a chore. I’m behind everyone else and I’ve completely forgotten some basic principles of algebra and geometry. But none of the teachers complain about my lack of progress. Instead, I get smiles of encouragement for just signing my name on the top of a pop quiz or a homework assignment.
It’s early yet, I know this, but I’m afraid if I don’t show regular progress that I’ll be shipped out away from my friends, away from Nate and Nick. I can’t have that happen so I’m not telling anyone that I’m sick on a constant basis, that I can’t understand even the most basic principles during class, and that I feel like I’m only capable of doing fourth grade work at the moment.
I squeeze my eyes tight and concentrate on breathing. I’m not going to cry, I chant silently. I’m not going to cry.
The bathroom door slams open and the chatter of several girls tells me I am not alone. I start to stand but the vomiting and the lack of nutrition makes me feel lightheaded so I sit back down.
“You hosting the Halloween party this year, Claud?”
“Of course, what’s your costume?”
“Pepper Potts and Ryan is going as Iron Man.”
The names give me the clues to the group outside. It is Claudia Amsden, student body vice president and co chair of the homecoming committee. Her dad is a plastic surgeon. The girl going as Pepper Potts would be Nina Franchetti. The Franchettis own a number of restaurants in the city. Claudia has a thing for Nate but I don’t think that he’s given her a second thought. Not because Claudia isn’t gorgeous, but because she’s the same age as Nate and for some reason he’s never dated anyone at school, preferring older girls who go to other schools. He’s probably sleeping with some college student right now. The idea makes my sore stomach clench.
“Have you invited Charlotte Randolph yet?” asked Nina.
Nothing good comes from eavesdropping so I slowly rise to make it known I’m inside but before I can get the door open, I hear Claudia respond. “But of course. How else are we getting the Jacksons to come? The problem is getting them to stay because Charlotte’s probably too sick to stay long.”
I sit back down. She’s not wrong. I doubt I could last for more than an hour at Claudia’s party or at anyone’s party. And if I have radiation that day, I’ll count it as a success that I can walk from the treatment room to the car let alone go to any event.
“I don’t really understand why Nate and Nick won’t go to parties just because Charlotte can’t. Do you think she threw a tantrum and they feel sorry for her?” Nina asked.
Ugh. I hate that anyone feels sorry for me.
“Who knows,” Claudia responds. “It’s annoying but what can you do? They’re not going to do anything without her.”
I don’t want to hear anything more. Opening the door, I smile at their shocked expressions. “I don’t tell Nick or Nate what to do. They have minds of their own.”
Claudia purses her lips, unfazed by appearance. Maybe she knew I was there. “Maybe so, but they are obviously not doing anything without you. At least when it comes to extracurricular activities.”
“Like you said, that’s annoying.” I steady myself against the door jam and walk slowly toward the exit. I was going to have to talk to those boys. The idea that they were not having fun because of me angered me. I didn’t need anyone’s pity.
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