I have to tell you that I’m prepping the newsletter for tomorrow’s release and I’ve lost a major part of Charlotte’s story. It was…somewhere and now I can’t find it. You’ll still get a scene but it might be truncated. The next couple weeks are from Charlotte’s POV.
I loosely grouped the released story into chapters which you can access via the menu bar above. Hover over the “Woodlands” tab.
I bust into Nick’s room. “Get up, asshole. We’re working out.”
He moans and rolls over. “No and fuck you.”
“Nice language there, little man.” Nick is about two inches shorter than I am. He’ll probably be taller than me by the time we both stop growing. I have to get my jabs in while I can. I climb on top of him and start punching him lightly over the blankets. He kicks out with his legs but any force is stayed by the blankets. I roll off, laughing.
“Asshole,” he mutters, untangling himself and stumbling into the bathroom. Nick is not a morning person but I am. I’ve been getting up and lifting for two years. Not for basketball or football though. School sports hold no real interest for me. I have other plans—ones that I haven’t shared with anyone. Nick, on the other hand, has real skill with the ball. Everyone around us knows it but he doesn’t appreciate his gift yet.
One day when he’s playing pro ball he’ll thank me for getting him up at the ass crack of dawn to lift. And I think he knows it because after the initial resistance, he always gets up and spends an hour with me in the weight room.
It’s leg day today which makes it easy for us to talk and ordinarily I enjoy it but this morning Nick is feeling extra cranky because he starts in on my right away.
“Did you get laid last night?”
My leg slips off the riser and I nearly tumble forward on my face in the middle of a split squat. Did he know I had slept in Charlotte’s room? I hadn’t even touched her! “What’d you mean?”
“You’re in such a friggin’ good mood this morning, even more so than usual.” He grunts as he begins his leg extensions. “Thought you’d be pissed off about Charlotte.”
I right myself and start methodically lowering myself, working my quads. “Nothing we can do, right? Not like we can kidnap her and stash her somewhere.”
He examines me and whatever he sees doesn’t satisfy his curiosity “Huh, you’re sounding rational and calm. What gives?”
I might have one secret from Nick but that’s about it and he deserves to know what is going on with Charlotte and I. Plus, I need to make sure that he’s okay with it. I mean, I think he is but I have to know for sure because Nick’s my brother and means just as much to me as almost anyone. Grabbing a towel from the stack by the water cooler, I throw one toward Nick. He catches it and drapes it around his neck. Neither of us have worked up enough sweat necessitating a towel. I’m just using it as a ploy to gain some time and gather my thoughts. Nick sees this and waits me out.
“You know that Charlotte and I spent—“ I stop talking when he covers his face and a pained moan comes out of his throat. Christ, I’d never thought that Nick had feelings for Charlotte. My heart sinks to my feet and I can’t stand upright anymore. Charlotte and Nick had always been brother and sister and I—I guess everyone could say the same thing about Charlotte and me. Heart heavy, I stumble over to the weight bench. “I’m sorry, man, I never knew.”
“Knew what?” Nick’s hand falls away. He doesn’t look heartbroken but would I even know what that looked like? I think hard to the last time I saw Nick disappointed about something. When our dog Hobo died, Nick was sad but he never loved Hobo like I did. Hobo was my dog just like I thought Charlotte was my girl. There was the one time when Nick was ten and I broke his vintage Marvel Superman. He’d cried like a baby for at least a half hour until Mom found a replacement on eBay but he doesn’t look like he’s on the verge of tears. He just looks like he needs to take a shit or something. Pained—that’s his expression.
“Is it Superman bad?” I ask tentatively.
“Did you drink last night? Because you aren’t making any sense.” He half rises from the weight machine. “Wait, did you break my Superman action figure again?”
“No.” I raised both hands in an innocent gesture. “Haven’t touched the replacement.”
Nick sits back down. “Then what’s with the weird act and the threat about Superman? Because I’ll kick your ass if you touch that again.”
“You could try, but then you’d run to momma because I made you weep like a little girl.” I shoot back. We are straying from the original topic and I need to make sure everything is okay between Nick and me. The best way to do this is just to be straightforward, even if the responses are something that I don’t want to hear. “You okay with Charlotte and me being together?”
He gives me another weird look. “Like I said, did you drink last night?” At my negative head shake he continues, “Everyone knows that you and Charlotte are together. She never gets even one invite at school to parties or shit because you’ve already made it clear that any one even looks wrong at her, they’re going to lose a finger or five.”
I don’t realize that I am that obvious. “But I’ve never said anything,” I protest.
Nick throws his towel at me but it falls harmlessly between us. “You didn’t have to. Your glares are enough. Plus, bringing her into the locker room? You might as well have pissed on her leg.”
I probably should be sorry but I’m not. Not at all. I pat my subconscious self on the back. Hadn’t even realized I was doing it.
“What’s with the moaning and covering your face then?” I ask.
Rolling his eyes, Nick shoves his leg under the padded lever and starts his extensions again. “I just don’t want to hear any detail about that shit. Charlotte’s like my sister and you’re my brother.”
Offended, I snap back sharply, “Like I would say anything.”
He grunts and this time I’m not sure if it is a grunt of exertion or exasperation. “You’ve never held back before.”
Okay, exasperation. “But this is Charlotte.” I shake my head at him. “It’s different.” So yeah, maybe Nick and I’ve shared some information between the two of us about other girls but I’d never tell him about Charlotte. Whatever I did to Charlotte’s body or she did to mine was a private thing. Not that anything is going on and I tell Nick that. “Besides, there isn’t anything to tell.”
“Then why even bring it up?”
“Because I wanted to make sure you’re okay with it.” Picking up a medicine ball, I throw it up, squat and catch it.
Even over the clanking of the weights, I can hear Nick’s impatience. “I don’t know why I wouldn’t be but I do care that she’s going to be gone for six months. How are we going to stop that?”
“We don’t,” I tell him. “She wants to go.”
“No way. She’s been against that for weeks now.”
“I talked to her last night and she thinks it’s the best thing for all of us.”
“Last night, huh?” He eyes me speculatively and a protective urge drives me to dispel whatever images he might be conjuring.
“Nothing happened,” I say frowning so he can see that I don’t want him to pursue this but Nick doesn’t care.
“Because you think she shouldn’t be touched until she’s some magical age of what? Eighteen?”
“Eighteen?” I rear back. I had thought keeping my hands off of Charlotte until she was sixteen deserved some kind of medal but Nick is thinking eighteen? I wonder if my balls would fall off by then.
My expression of horror and dismay must be plainly evident because Nick starts laughing so hard he almost falls off the machine.
“Man, if you could see your face right now,’ he chokes out. After laughing for at least a solid minute, Nick slides off the machine and picks up his towel so he can wipe the tears out of his eyes. “Shit man. Okay, sixteen then.”
I restart my squats determined to ignore Nick now because he was pissing me off. He cheerfully ignores my mounting bad mood and barrels forward. “Bet Charlotte doesn’t agree with your plans.”
At this rate I’m never going to get a work out in because his words cause me to pause again. “And you know this how?”
‘Because Charlotte’s always going on about how there is such a double standard, still, between girls and guys. How you didn’t wait for her but you probably expect her to wait for you.”
“She talks about this stuff with you?” I’m not sure what is more surprising to me at the moment. That Nick is okay talking sex with Charlotte but didn’t want to hear about us or that both of them have discussed my own sexual history. The latter kind of makes me feel ill. I don’t want Charlotte thinking about me with any other girls because I didn’t wait for her. The night of Charlotte’s surgery springs to mind. I couldn’t even keep it in my pants that night.
“Yeah, we talk about some of that shit. She is my best friend you know. She was feeling down last year that no one asked her to the spring dance and so I told her you probably threatened the locker room with castration.”
I raise my eyebrows and nod approvingly. “I hadn’t but it’s not a bad idea.”
Nick shakes his head at me. “I don’t get why she can’t have a little fun if you are as well.”
“Who’s side are you on?” I ask with disgust.
“The side of the person not getting any, I guess.” He grins at me unashamedly. It’s evident that Nick’s been spending too much time with the upperclass girls.
“I’m not getting any,” I point out.
“But you did with Madeline from downstairs the night Charlotte had her tumor out.” After dropping that criticism, Nick gets up from the leg machine and picks up my abandoned medicine ball. At my silence, he continues, “Don’t worry. I haven’t said anything to Charlotte.”
“What are you trying to say, Nick?” I ask carefully. I’m mad that he’s brought up Madeline again but only because it reminds me of a weak moment—one that I would take back if I could. It’s a moment that I’m afraid will hurt Charlotte and maybe even me.
“I’m saying that you shouldn’t dictate to Charlotte when she’s ready or not ready. She should be the one to make that decision. If you can fool around before you think she’s ready then it should be okay that she’s with other guys before whatever arbitrary date you have set in your head for when you guys can be ‘together.’” He holds up his fingers into air quotes when he says together.
A new fear creeps into my mind. Charlotte and I won’t be together at all for six months. She’ll be in Switzerland at a place filled with teens just her age who are going through the same thing she’s going through. They’ll understand her situation—get her—in ways that I can’t. And if she’s thinking about experimenting and I’ve repeatedly told her no…did I have any right to think she’d not explore those urges with someone else? Did I think that nothing could happen in six months? Suddenly I feel having my own Superman moment.
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