Category Archives: Charlotte Chronicles

Charlotte Chronicles, Part Two – Episode XXXVI

Part Two

Charlotte

I pull on the t-shirt Reece threw to me and ask, “Okay, how do I look? Slutty bartender?”
“Not really. More I slept too late and I’m too lazy to do anything about it.”
“Thanks. That’s really nice, Reece.”
He shrugs one shoulder. “That’s what girlfriends are for. Who was it on the phone?”
I look. Unknown caller.
“Must’ve been a telemarketer.”
“What time do you have to be at Stack’s?” Reese asks me, pushing up from the sofa where we’d both fallen asleep. We’d been up all night massaging the belly of his pregnant horse. My fingers felt stiff and sore.
“I’m opening it up. Lainey has her ultrasound at three. I’m wondering whether I’ll even be able to grip a glass.” I raise my hands and flex my fingers wincing at the ache.
“You look like you’re auditioning for cat woman,” Reese jokes. “More jazz hands.” His fingers waggle obscenely at me.
“No thanks.”
“You should take that cool drink of water home with you tonight,” he advises lying back on the sofa. Obviously he has no plans on getting up.
“Who’s that?” I ask absently checking to see that I have everything I need. Keys, credit card, ID. Bag full of notebooks. Phone.
“The head bartender. Martin? Maxwell? Mysterious Man?”
“You mean Michael?”
“Yeah him.” Reese growls low in appreciation.
“Michael is…” I pause because I’ve never really noticed Michael. I have a vague memory of someone dark haired and tall.
“Tall, built, hot. Did I mention built? Did you not see him at the flag football game last week? We were sitting right next to each other!” Reese is completely affronted.
“There were a lot of nice chests on display.” I say weakly. I remember the flag football game or at least I remember going to the park with Reese and Lainey but I was making out my schedule for this week.
“It’s all those professional athletes you know,” he accuses. “You’ve become numb to ripped bodies. You think everyone has them.”
“I don’t,” I protest but maybe he is right. There’s no shortage of sculpted abs and amazing physiques in my circle. Maybe I have become desensitized to them.
“Get out of my sight,” he says throwing a pillow at my head. “I can’t be around someone who doesn’t drool over a good man chest.”
“I promise to work on my drooling. I’ll even try to sexually harass Michael during work. In the meantime,” I throw the pillow back. “Will you please double check my schedule and plane tickets? I’ve got a million and ten things to do when I get to San Diego tomorrow.”
“I liked you better when you were a romantic!” Reese calls out after me. “When you cried at soda commercials and tampon ads.”
It’s not until after the door closes that I answer him. “I didn’t,” I say to the empty stairwell.
When I was a girl I used to think writing letters, for example, was super romantic. But after years of writing and receiving almost no response, years of waiting only to be left alone time and again, I woke up finally and realized that romanticism is simply a cover used to conceal decay and sickness.
Men cheat on their girlfriends. Girlfriends cheat on their boyfriends. At least some guys know that they can’t be in a relationship because they’re too busy sampling every type of woman as if God created the female in a buffet form just for their pleasure.
It’s not that I don’t believe in love. I just don’t believe it’s for me. I had my one great chance at love but when it was exposed to a few harsh conditions, it collapsed like a shitty ass umbrella in the Windy City.
I believe in friendships like the one I have with Nick and Reese and Lainey. I believe in the love of my parents. God knows they’d do anything for me. I believe in long walks in the park, the surprise pleasure of a warm summer rain, the rotation of the spiral pass, and the glory of the no hitter. I believe in a lot of things but I don’t believe in love.
When I arrive at Stack’s, the doors are propped open. The summer heat is baking into the concrete, loosening the odor of the Las Colinas streets. For a swanky neighborhood, sometimes the smell of all that progress stinks.
“Why do you have the doors open?” I ask Filmore, the manager of Stack’s.
“Smelled like someone died in here last night,” Filmore explains.
“It’s awful out there.”
“Was worse in here.”
Seeing that I wasn’t going to win this battle, I stick my purse under the bar and tie my apron on. “Should I cut the limes first?”
He nods. “When’s Lainey coming in?”
“Appointment is for three. She’ll come after.”
“I’m going to be in back counting bottles. When Michael comes in tell him to record the opening bank and then he can come back and finish up inventory.”
“Got it.”
“Gonna miss you,” Filmore says reaching over the bar to pat me awkwardly on the shoulder. “Seems like it was only yesterday, you plopped down here asking me about all the good places around the Mustang’s training facility.”
“A good bar owner knows everything,” I say affectionately.
“You should reconsider. You know you’re going to be heartsick without all of us hassling you.”
“Maybe so, Filmore, but there are these things called high speed trains and airplanes. I can be here in a couple of hours.”
He cuffs me on the shoulder on more time and heads to the back whistling. Looking around I take in the wide oak paneled walls, circular wooden tables and cheap stage that has been my home away from home for three years and sigh. Maybe I’m still a teensy bit romantic because this rundown joint looks beautiful to me. When I came here three years ago, I was heartsore and running away from home trying to find myself. Here I found Lainey, a bar waitress with one kid, a bad boyfriend, and a big heart. And Reese, a man child looking for love in every conceivable wrong place but still smiling no matter how many times the guy of his dreams turns out to be a cheating bastard.
I’d started a business and found comfort in new friends and a good career. On most days, this is good enough. I’m only feeling nostalgic because I’m leaving. When Nick got drafted by the Mustangs, I came with him to ensure the transition from college to pros went as smoothly as possible. I bought groceries for him, made sure his clothes were cleaned, paid his bills, and generally made it so all he had to do was concentrate on football. Oh, and women. He had plenty of time for women. I was the buffer between him and everyone who wanted something from him. Every rookie he came into contact envied him.
When he won the Super Bowl his second year out, my little business expanded from one player to ten and then from ten players to twenty nine.  Now Forget Me Not, orF’Me as my players like to call it, aids the transitions of professional athletes in nearly every major city and for every major sport as they are drafted or traded. Each athlete is handled by one person.
I find them places to live close to the training facility along with restaurants, grocery stores, schools, nannies, dry cleaning, and churches. And I take care of all the details back home—getting a house sold, making sure all the bills were taken care of, finding that lucky pair of shoes that was left behind. All the player has to do is pick up his bag and leave. I, or one of my employees, takes care of all the details.
And because I am scattered brained I have to write things down. I have written lists, electronic lists. I keep a master list of my lists. I used to have my own players and I kept track of them by assigning them to a single notebook, color coded according to their new team colors. Because of the expansion, Lainey, Reese and I are the fallback people. If there’s an emergency or something falls through the cracks one of the three of us take care of it.
And tomorrow I’m flying out to San Diego to take patch one of those cracks. A baseball player, Christian Glass, has just been traded from the Royals to the San Diego Arrows. This is his second trade in two years and his family is going crazy. I promised Christian I’d come out personally and help with the transition.
This is a big deal for me, even though Christian doesn’t know it, because I never, ever go to San Diego. That’s where Nate is stationed, part of the West Coast SEAL teams. Despite San Diego being a huge city, I always worry about seeing him in some random place—like a shopping center or a bar or a grocery store. In every scenario he has his arm draped around a woman and I know if I ever see that, whatever is left of my childhood will be crushed. As I told him in my last letter, I will always love him.
I just don’t want to.

Charlotte XXXV – The Letters

Dear Nate:

It’s been weird being back at North Prep. I feel like I don’t even know anyone here anymore—that I’m disconnected with it all. If it weren’t for Nick, I think I would ask my parents if I could go somewhere else. You may have heard that Greta transferred before the fall semester started. She originally enrolled at St. James Academy but I guess word had gotten out about what happened with you and she had to drop out.  The last I knew she was going to public school. No one here talks about it anymore. There’s new scandals, like the substitute chemistry teacher who got caught having sex with Alison Morrisey. Do you remember her? Really quiet girl? Long, curly auburn hair. Her hair was gorgeous and apparently the chem teacher couldn’t keep his hands off her.

He’s getting prosecuted. Poor Allison claims she loves him. It’s a pretty big mess. Speaking of messes, everyone is upset with Nick and I because we ruined prom. Some girl—I don’t know who as she hasn’t fessed up to it—nominated Nick for prom king. He threatened to quit the team if anyone voted for him. There were several write ins but his threat was effective enough to see that he came in a distant third. He wanted me to go with him but I didn’t feel up to it so he decided to stay home. Word got around that he wasn’t going and half the team ended up at your place which made all the folks at the dance furious.

Somehow this is my fault, of course, rather than Nick’s. He tries to solve this problem by glaring at everyone which only makes matters worse. I seriously cannot wait for school to be done. This probably sounds stupid and dumb to you as your traipsing across the jungle or whoever you are currently but that’s the boring stuff that’s going on at home.

Love and miss you,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

Is paper in such scare supply that you had to rip off the bottom of my letter to write your little message? I don’t even know if it even counts as a letter. “Fuck em, keep writing” barely exceeds the length of your greeting. I think in the days of the telegraph people exchanged longer dispatches. I’m sending you this book of letters between John Quincy Adams and his wife Abigail so that you have a better idea of what a real letter looks like. You could send me a message over the web, you know. Even a picture. We couldSkype even. I know. I know. That’s an irrational suggestion because in this day and age of technology where there’s virtual reality eyewear on every street corner, why would we ever try something like that out.

Your mom told me that when she and your dad wrote to each other they pledged only to write letters rather than send electronic messages. At the last Sunday dinner, I asked her what they wrote about and she said the weather and that your dad complained about how hot it was. Your dad smirked and said that it was always very hot around your mom. Nick gagged and your dad playfully cuffed him. It’s adorable that your parents are still so in love with each other. I want that, though. I want what your parents have and what my parents have, don’t you?

Nick and I got in a huge fight the other day. He got a full ride scholarship to Notre Dame for football, which I’m sure you already know. When I told him I hadn’t even applied, he totally lost it. He’d said that I ruined it. It being all of his plans. I’ve decided not to go to college. It’s just not for me. I’m barely eking by right now and it’s taking everything I’ve got. I don’t even want to think about how horrible college would be where I’d have to read a thousand pages a night and then be able to spit it out the next day in some coherent fashion. And then there’d be the students who read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for fun! I had to look up how to spell those names by the way.

I’m going to stick close to home. I tried to explain to Nick that even if I had applied, I wouldn’t have gotten in. And did he think we would just room together? He’d have to live with the football players and I’d live in my tiny apartment surrounded by people smarter than me. I’m tired of being around people who are all smarter than me.

He came around. Did he tell you we’ve been playing video games together. It’s good therapy for my hand/eye coordination according to the docs. One of these days I’m going to beat his ass. If you were here, you would be impressed. I miss you. I wish you were here. Write me longer letters next time.

Love you,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

I’m sorry I asked for longer letters. I didn’t realize it was going to make you stop writing at all. I’ve enclosed a full sheet of paper for you in case you don’t have any of your own. Now that Nick is gone, it’s so quiet around here. Your mom and dad drive over for every home game. I’ve taken to going with them because it’s like a tomb at home. I think we should get a dog or something.

I got a job. Dad said that I could work for him so I started as as an assistant to his assistant. He’s really disorganized. Mom says that my scatterbrained behavior comes less from the radiation and mostly from genetics. My day consists of getting up, going to his office trailer and filing. I had no idea there was so much paperwork when it came to building things. I can safely say that I’ll be looking for another job soon. I’ve never been so bored. Ever.

Nick is loving college but we are both worried about you. He said he hadn’t heard from you in months. And while that is disturbing, it also made me feel good because at least I know that you weren’t just ignoring me. I’m still waiting for you, just like I promised.

Miss you a thousand times more than the last letter,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

I’ve come to the conclusion that letter writing is cathartic. It’s the only rational reason I keep writing despite the fact that you never respond. Did the paper I sent you get destroyed? You better not be writing anyone else on my paper. Ha ha ha! Just kidding. Actually I’m not kidding. What are you doing with my paper? You certainly aren’t sending it to me.

I don’t mean to be nagging or negative, but what is going on? I feel like I’m writing into the void.

Speaking of void, I’ve been filling my time with community college. Mom said if I was bored doing filing that I should learn a trade. I’m enrolled in City College downtown and I confess that I kind of love it. I’m not sure what I want to do so I’m taking a bunch of weird courses, trying a little of everything. I took a welding course which was pretty neat. This one guy, Paul, like an artist. His welds are so perfect  and hardly need any grinding which is like sanding with the metal disc. He helped me with my own poor technique.

We got to go to a job site and Paul stuck with me the entire time, making sure no one tried anything funny and helping me perfect my welds. I told him that I wasn’t interested in welding as a career, but it fit him perfectly. I introduced him to Dad to see if there were any jobs for Paul after he was done with his apprenticeship and classes.

I think you’d like Paul. He’s a straight up, no bullshit kind of guy. I asked him what it meant when a guy told you he loved you, promised to love you forever, and then took off without ever saying goodbye. Paul said that the guy wasn’t interested any longer and didn’t know how to tell me. Or was a coward. But I know you aren’t a coward. You’re fearless. He doesn’t know you like I do.

More likely you are busy, doing something dangerous and you just can’t write back. Right? I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss you.

Write back. Please.

Love your loneliest girl,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

OMG really? You can’t write me one letter in return but you sic poor Nick on me? He came driving down from Notre Dame in one day because he had to check out some asshole named Paul. I cannot believe you. Seriously. Paul is married with two kids and a gorgeous wife. He’s also like ten years older than me.

I’m not even in welding anymore. I told you that I was trying out a bunch of different classes. Just FYI, I’m taking floral design and my instructor Neil is fucking amazing.

Love,

Charlotte

PS Don’t you dare send Nick again. He’s not your errand boy.

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

“I’m sorry?” That’s all you’re going to write? I don’t even know what you are sorry about. Sorry that you don’t write to me? Sorry that you can’t bring yourself to break it off? Sorry that I’m too dumb and too stubborn to give up on us?

I was out with my co workers from the vet shop and my supervisor, Emma, kept asking me why I never dated anyone. I guess I had too many beers because I spilled the whole story about us. About how we grew up together and that after I was diagnosed with the tumor, you told me that you loved me. You made me promise that it would always be “only you.”

Emma said that I was a fool and I was wasting the best years of my life. You will be happy to know the other girls at the table said if a Navy SEAL really could hold his breath for like ten minutes straight, I should at least give you one chance to make me see heaven before I got shot of you for good. There are so many people that keep telling me that I’m too dumb for words to be spending my evenings writing letters to you when I get nothing in return.

I’d like to say that they don’t know you like I know you but honestly? I don’t know if I do know you anymore. It’s been years, Nate, and in all that time, I’ve received a handful of responses from you. I still love you but I need you. I need you to tell me you love me too.

Love,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

I’m sorry I was so pissy in my last few letters. I don’t know what came over me. Please forgive me. I just miss you so so much.

Love you,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

Dear Nate:

I think this is going to be my last letter to you. I can’t take it any more. The years of your absence is literally killing my heart. I feel myself being diminished every day. I kept hoping, thinking that if I just gave you time, you’d come back to me like you promised. “It will always be Nathan and Charlotte,” you told me once. I held on to that for years now but as each week, month, year has passed, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the only one that still believes in that concept anymore.

These things on my letter aren’t tears. They are splotches made by this soda can — oh what the hell. Of course they are my tears. I’ve shed what seems like a million of them. Seeing you at the rare holiday and never being able to touch you. Hardly ever getting a response from you despite the fact that I’ve written my damn hand off. All of those things eat away at me as if tiny insects are nibbling at my skin, sucking my blood until one day I wake up a hollow shell.

And I don’t get it. I see the longing in your eyes. I know that look because I see it every day in my mirror but you keep rejecting me, pushing me away. I can’t take it any longer. When I had to have my shunt replaced, I know that was you in the room. I felt you. You were gone when I woke up but I didn’t need to ask my parents or yours who it was that sat with me through the night. I SMELLED YOU even in my sleep. Yet why you left? Why you never even spoke to me once? Why I haven’t felt the touch of your hand or the press of your lips against me? I don’t have the answers to these questions and they haunt me. You, our love, our past, is haunting me.

My friends say that it’s completely unhealthy for me to be hung up on you. I think even Nick has given up hope that you’ll ever come around. He’s not even apologizing or explaining things away anymore. Like Nate’s on a mission or he talks about you all the time or just give him space.

I’ve waited so long for you. And for what? To be given what reward? To turn twenty two and not have you around? It’s been six years! Six. I’m so dried up I don’t even remember what it is to interact with other guys. I’ve turned away men in the prime of my dating life because I believed in your words “It will always be Nathan and Charlotte.”

I’m just done, Nate. Done.

I love you. I will always love you but for my sake and probably for yours too, I have got to move on.

Yours,

Charlotte

<<< >>>

She signed it “yours” not “love”. For the first time in six years, Charlotte had ended a letter to me without expressing her love. It’s been three years since I received this letter. The paper is crumpled from my reflexive anger when I first received it. It was anger directed at myself. But it’s also worn due to the many times I’ve read it and re-read it. I know it by heart. I know all her letters by heart. I’ve written her back a thousand times in my head but only a few words have ever made it to the page. I couldn’t describe to her what I felt like in those early days. How much I hated myself. Greta. Women. Everything.

I trace the splotches, her tears, like a morbid tic tac toe. I’ve started so many letters to her and wanted to kiss her so many times. It was torture to see her and not touch her. As she grew older and more beautiful, each visit home was more painful than the torture they did in Special Forces to prepare us for capture. So I went home less and less until I just stopped visiting altogether.

I stayed away telling myself it was better for her to find someone else. That she’d be happier. That the whole “Nathan and Charlotte” thing was a child’s dream. I thought that over time, she’d give up but she never did. She held on so long and the longer she held on, the more amazing she showed herself to be, the more I realized I didn’t deserve her no matter how much I wanted her.

It’s been almost two years since I last saw her in person. Mom and Dad and Nick have learned that if they want to see me, they come to me because I can’t go back to Chicago. By mutual agreement, no one brings up Charlotte anymore. It’s too painful for all of us.

I pull up her profile on my phone. It’s still the first entry. Every new phone I’ve ever gotten, I’ve punched in her number first and added her picture. I’ve got recent ones that Nick furtively sends me. They are still good friends, maybe even best friends, but Charlotte would be so angry if she knew that 99% of the pictures of Nick took of the two of them are for my eyes.

“Who’s the hottie, Sergeant?”

Some new lance corporal peers over my shoulder at Charlotte’s smiling face. I turn the phone screen face down and give him a glare that has new seamen crying in their boots.

“Don’t even look at her. He’ll kick your ass,” calls Howe. He’s a teammate of mine. I can’t wait until we get off this fucking ship. Most of the time we fly in and out of these carriers but right now we’re cooling our heels, waiting on orders to see whether we’ll be going in to rescue some rich guy and his wife who were kidnapped in the Mediterranean.

“She looks like she’s worth an ass kicking or five.”

“Move the fuck along,” I bark.

The lance corporal hesitates but when I start to rise from my seat, he scuttles off.

I shouldn’t call her but I can’t help it. Not after the last mission. Not after spending another evening reading through all of her letters. I have a lot of sorries to say, a lot of fences to mend. I have a lot to make up for but after spending nine years running, I’m ready finally ready to face her and tell her that I still believe in Nathan and Charlotte.

With a deep breath, I press send and the phone rings once, then twice.

“Hello?” A man’s voice, a sleepy man’s voice is answering Charlotte’s phone in the middle of the fucking day.

“Is Charlotte there?” I bite out.

There’s a rustling and then the sleepy voice says, “Charlie, someone’s on the phone for you.”

Charlie? This guy, who’s sleeping close to her phone has a fucking nickname for her? It takes superhuman effort not to crush the phone in my hand.

“Who’s it?” I’d recognize her voice in hell. I feel like I’m already headed there.

“Dunno?”

“Oh my god, is it two? I need to go. Where’s my shirt? Reese? Don’t go back to sleep. Help me find my shirt!”

The phone lay forgotten on the …bed? Bile rises in my throat.

“I can’t go without my shirt. Get out of bed, you bum, and help me find it.”

“Here it is. It was under the bed.”

“I must have tossed it there last night.”

“Can you do up my skirt in the back? I can never get that hook. I think my hands are broken from all the rubbing you made me do last night.”

I hang up before I can hear another word. Dropping the phone to the table, I take deep, gulping breaths to corral my burgeoning rage but concentrated breathing isn’t doing a thing for me. With a roar, I shoot to my feet and grab the side of my table and with one heave, flip it over. Plates go flying and the guys on the other side look at me shocked and pissed off, but I don’t give a goddamned. I start throwing around chairs, benches, anything I can get my hands on. People are shouting and running but I’m in full Hulk mode now. Destroy. Destroy. Destroy. Four hands grab at me, two at each arm and they drag me backward out of the room. It’s Howe and another teammate, Cabby.

“Whoever she is, she’s not worth it,” Howe says as we clear the door. They drag me all the way to head and shove me into the shower. I get in a punch on one of them before the cold water hits my head and the shock of it snaps me out of my rage fueled mania.

“Not worth it.” Howe repeats.

“No pussy ever is,” Cabby agrees.

As the water drips down my face into the tiny drain, I lean back against the hard metal wall. Regret swarms me like locust and I stare at the two of them who look back at me with concern and disbelief. Rubbing that left area of my chest where my heart once resided, I told them the shitty truth. “She was and I fucked it up.”

Charlotte XXXIV

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Nathan

“Are you sure?”

I nod, refusing to look up. Dad exhales heavily. He’s frustrated with me and casts a beseeching expression of help toward my mother. He wants me to say it out loud but my mouth is sealed shut. I’m afraid of what will come out if I open it. But she’s not going to convince me to change my mind. The sadness and fucking pity on her face is the exact reason I’m sure of my decision.

“You’re going to miss Switzerland.” He makes a last ditch effort to change my mind. What he doesn’t get is that he’s barking up the wrong tree, chasing the wrong ball, whatever wrong metaphor there is, he’s doing it.

Charlotte.

There. I’ve said her name. Acknowledged her existence. The piercing agony that slices through me as the vowels and consonants reverberate through my head is less this time than the last. I’ll keep saying it until I can’t feel anything any longer. Not pain, humiliation, shame, over even…love. I just want to stop feeling.

Because if I went to Switzerland and the first thing I see on Charlotte’s face is the expression my mom is currently wearing I’d…well, it wouldn’t be good.

We sit there in silence, waiting. I’m waiting to be dismissed. Dad’s waiting me to say something, anything. I’m hollow inside. I retched out every ounce of liquid in me earlier today when I woke up nearly bare assed in my bed with only gauge memories of what happened the night before.

I dry heaved for half an hour after Nick anxiously recited how he found me in a room on the third floor of Juliette’s house starring in my very own personal porno.

After I kicked Nick out, I sat in shock and horror watching the video while texts from Charlotte came in, first cheerful and then worried. After my continued silence came the calls and the unlistened to voicemails.

The sounds echoed in the bathroom and I turned the volume off to shut out the barf inducing fake porno sighs from the two girls in the video. One of the girls I hadn’t ever seen before. She’s kissing me or at least her face is on top of mine. I look dead. My mouth was slack and my eyes were closed. Greta was grinding on top of me. It looks like they were fucking a corpse. Nick swears we weren’t fucking. That it was all for show.  I don’t even care at this point. What I know is that someone took something precious from me. Charlotte’s trust.

What could I say to her? No matter how many times everyone said it wasn’t my fault, I knew that wasn’t true. I could have made different choices. Like staying home and not going to Juliette’s. Or walking away when the fuckhead challenged me. Or paying more attention to Nick’s warnings about Greta.

“You’re not at fault,” Dad says gently as if he can read my mind. Maybe he can. And if that’s true it’s just another reason to get away. I don’t want to be here where everyone knows me and can tell every little thing I’m thinking. Where everyone looks at me with pity. “You’re the victim.”

I fucking hate that word. I’m over six feet tall. Over two hundred pounds. “I’m no victim,” I bite out.

Mom sucks back a sob which tears at me. I should have protected all of us. That’s my job. But I let everyone down and now I’m weak and used up. Worse, the guys at school are acting as if I’m some kind of fucking hero. The texts they’d sent? All congratulatory with a whiff of jealousy. No, no one would believe that I’d been done wrong, no matter that I was drugged. No matter that I didn’t want it.

Man, you got some at JW’s. Major props.

We’re not worthy!

Shit man. 2 at 1 time. Your getting your bucket list done.

Charlotte would have made me text back It’s you’re you dumbass. I didn’t respond to any of them.

No one is going to believe that I had been forced to do something against my will. No one would believe I was…I can’t even say the word in my own head.

Dad sighs again. “Okay, hoss. You’re going to have to come to your own conclusions. But let me repeat my words. You didn’t do anything wrong. Not by going to the party. Not by fighting some asshole. Not by drinking. No one deserves what happened to you. Not a female and not a male. With time, you’ll come to that realization too. I called Gray. He’s expecting you at the beach house where you’ll spend time with Sam and him and the kids.”

I open my mouth to protest, but Dad shakes his head. He’s talking. “Only for a week. No arguments or you don’t get to go there.”

I sit back in my chair. It’s a compromise I can live with. “We done?”

At his nod, I rise and walk toward the door. As I’m leaving, he says, “I’m proud of you. Proud that you’re my eldest. You’re a good boy, Nathan, and you’ll be a good man. Don’t listen to the rest of the shit that’s swirling around your head. We love you.”

He draws my stiff body into a hug and I’m tempted to lean into him like I’m a child again, but right now, I don’t deserve it. Mom is next. “You think you see pity in my eyes, but it’s not. It’s anger. You can be angry too. You have the right to be angry about what happened but don’t hold that inside you. Let it out. We love you so much honey.”

I squeeze her back because shit, I can’t help it. She’s my mom. But the hug is all I can give.

Nick comes in while I’m packing. “Charlotte texted me. Said she was having problems connecting.”

Unspoken is the question of when I’m going to call her. “Yeah, I just…” I run a hand through my hair. “You gotta take care of her now, Nick.”

His return gaze is somber and he allows me to leave without another word.

***

Dear Nate,

I’m sorry you weren’t here for the birthday party. We had ice cream cake and the restaurant served limoncello which Dad encouraged me to drink. It was so awful! I hated it and everyone at the table laughed including our waiter who brought it. Dad says that all liquor is that awful and I should stay away. It’s like he thinks I’ve never snuck sips of his brandy with you. 😉

Your mom gave me a writing set which is why you are getting this handwritten letter. It’s beautiful paper isn’t it? I already ruined about ten pages trying to write in a straight line. How do people write without lines? This time I’m using a ruler and it’s working out better.

Anyway, she said that your dad and her used to write letters when he was in the Marines. Isn’t that cool? I had no idea. I can’t see your dad writing love letters. He gave me a weird look the other day asking if he had some leftover dinner on his nose which he didn’t. But I couldn’t stop staring at him because you know he seems so imposing and well, a little uptight at times. Don’t get me wrong. I totally adore Uncle Noah but Daddy is so much more easy going and I could totally see him writing my mom corny love letters. When I asked Daddy if he wrote to Mom, he said no. That he couldn’t bear to be away from her long enough to write a letter. That and he didn’t know Mom while he was in the military.

Your dad told me that you were joining up, though, because you wanted to be a Navy SEAL which seems both awesome and dangerous at the same time. I wish you would have told me but I guess I understand why you didn’t. I probably would have begged you not to go and because I was sick or whatever, you might have changed your plans. I didn’t realize what a selfish girl I’ve been! It’s so easy to get caught up in my own problems like the stupid things about losing your hair or your eyebrows! Who needs eyebrows???!! No one, right. They are like…the appendix. Unnecessary things. My new resolution in life is to stop worrying about stupid things. I’m going to save my energy and worry about big things like…when am I going to see you again. I miss you so much.

Is that selfish of me to say that? I hope not. Because I tried not to say it but it spilled out here at the end and now that I’m almost done, I don’t have the will to try to write another version tonight. I know that I’ll just end up saying the same thing. I can’t keep it inside. 

I love you and miss you but I’m trying to understand that our lives are both changing and that you just need a little space. I get that. Okay, I don’t really get that but I’m trying to. I’m including a picture that Colin took of the family. I should be going home in three months. 

I hope you’ll be home then. Your Dad wasn’t sure of your schedule. Let me know, though, so I can keep sending you this letters. Wow, this pen is really awesome. Your mom picks out great stuff.  

Love and miss you a thousand times.

Charlotte

Charlotte XXXIII

Charlotte

His smooth palm, pink and white, almost babyish, sits between us like the apple in the Garden of Eden. And part of me is tempted. Colin is clever and sneaky and vengeful. He probably has a whole book on how to mete out retribution. But what would be the point?

“No.” I shake my head. “Hurting him doesn’t make me feel better. And I don’t want to contemplate exactly how I’m supposed to exact revenge. Sleep with you?”

“If that’s how you want to play it.” He gives me a fake leer.

“What happens? We videotape it and send it to him?” I shudder. “No thanks and no offense, that’s not my thing.”

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” he responds lightly. But despite his smug words, his eyes show a hint of relief. I don’t think that was his thing either.

I push my hands through my short hair in utter frustration. “I don’t get it. I can’t believe he’d do this to me. You know, he never dated North Prep girls before.”

“How come?” He’s genuinely curious.

“His brother says you don’t shit where you eat.”

He purses his lips together and nods slowly. “Makes sense. His brother live by that rule too?”

This makes me laugh. “No, Nick sleeps with everyone. That way no one’s feelings are hurt.”

“Damn that’s smooth.”

We share a grin as I briefly forget what is sitting on my computer but my memory loss isn’t long lasting. The scene nags at me. The whole setup doesn’t feel right. Nate having sex at a party. Nate sleeping with a girl from North Prep. Nate videotaping this. Nate cheating on me. None of it makes sense.

“And with Greta. He doesn’t even like her.”

“Hate to tell you this but if he cheated on you by having sex with a girl he a) doesn’t have to like her and b) that’s not dating.”

“But his girlfriends have all been either older, like college, or other schools. Like Jefferson West or something.” I try to understand.

“CC, he’s not dating. It’s not his girlfriend. It’s a hookup. A shag. A fuck.” He emphasizes the last graphic word as if I don’t know what the meaning is.

“I know.” I whimper and I can’t stop crying which embarrasses me to no end. I shove my palms hard against my eyes as if the pressure can stop the river of tears but they keep coming.

“Oh fuck. I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.” He dabs his sleeve on my face. “Shit, please just stop crying.”

“I’m sorry,” I blubber. “I’m trying.”

He stands up abruptly. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” I ask. His swift change of subject jerks me out of my self pitying episode.

“I’m watching this stupid video.” He marches out of the room and I trail behind.

“What number?” he demands as we exit the common room.

I tell him our suite number.

“Nice, I’m a floor above you.”

We take the elevator up in silence and are down the hall in no time.

“I heard the elevator,” Dad explains as he opens the door.

“Hey Mr. Charlotte’s Dad.” Colin offers his hand and Dad shakes it, his eyebrows raised.

“Don’t worry. I’m a eunuch. The radiation kills my equipment. We’re going to watch a movie,” Colin lies.

Dad frowns, his gaze drifting south briefly and then jerks his eyes back up to Colin’s. Clearing his throat, Dad gruffly directs us to my room and wanders off.

“Is that really true?” I whisper as we scurry into my room.

“Nah, I made that up so he wouldn’t stand there with the door open. I’m guessing you don’t want him to see this.”

No I did not want my dad to see the video. Colin sits down at my desk, acting as if he owns the place. Flipping open the cover, he watches the video as I lay on the bed with a pillow over my head. He watches it a couple of times without sound and twice more with sound. The pillow does nothing to mute the voices or the moans.

“Shit, this guy is totally passed out. You kill Greta’s cat or something?” He says.

I bolt upright, the pillow still clutched in my hands. “What do you mean?”

“This, what’s his name, Nate? He’s not even moving.” Colin gestures with disgust toward the screen.

“He moved his hand all over her breast,” I protest.

“No, she held his had against her tits.” He says these words slowly as if I’m too dumb to comprehend and maybe he’s right. I lean forward as he explains, “He isn’t moving even once. And if a guy’s got two hot chicks grinding their pussy all over him and he ain’t moving, guy is dead or passed out.”

“Why would they do this?” I argue. I want to believe him but I’m afraid.

“Revenge. What’d you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” I cry. “I’ve been here. And before I was sick. I didn’t go to parties or anything.”

“So it’s him. Did he do something to one of them?”

“I don’t even know the guy or the girl. Just Greta and…” I stop. “He mentioned to me that he’d had a run-in with her but I wasn’t there at the time so I don’t really know what went down.”

“Meh. This isn’t even good porn.” Colin kicks out his legs and folds his hands behind his head. He’s officially over the video.

“Thank god.” I guess I can be done too. Although I’m still feeling hollow inside. I don’t know if it’s relief or the remnants of fear. I son’t I’ll be whole again until I talk to Nate.

“What? We can’t be friends without having watched porn together.”

“You watch porn with all your friends?” I give him a skeptical look.

“Not the guys cuz that would be weird.”

“I’m not watching porn with you.”

“You are such a killjoy Miss C.”

I do not want to talk about porn with Colin but I recognize his act. He’s trying to make light of something to feel better which is actually kind of nice, porn references notwithstanding. “What do you think I should do?”

“About this?” He jerks his head toward the computer. I nod. “Call your boy. Tell him you love him and get back at Greta.”

“Why are you being nice to me?”

“Eh, why not? Being an asshole to you takes effort. You’re too nice. It’d be like kicking a kitten.”

“There was a compliment in there somewhere.”

Colin rises and stretches and then ambles over to give me a kiss on the top of my forehead. “It is. Wish I had a girl like you Miss C. I’ll see you tomorrow. Let me know how it goes.”

I ring Nathan almost before Colin has left. He doesn’t answer.

I hang up and dial again. It would be early evening there. It rings several times.

I get on the computer but he’s not available on Skype.

I text him.

Love you babe. Miss you.

Nothing back.

I text Nick next.

Hey miss you. Hope to be home soon. What’s happening.

He responds immediately. Miss you too. You shouldn’t have left. We’re a mess without you.

I haven’t heard from Nate. He okay?

There’s a long pause.

Yeah. Why?

I decide to confess. Got the video.

Shit. He did not cheat on you. He was totally out of his head. They drugged him.

Colin was right. Greta?

Yeah and this guy from Northwestern that Juliette Waite brought. She set us up so we’d fight them then bc the asswipe got his pants kicked, he decided to get back at Nate. N would never do this to you.

No, I know. I figured it out. I don’t mention that I needed help. But I texted him and called him.

He’s sick. He’ll call you promise.

Okay. Tell him I love him. Give him a kiss for me.

Yeah, not doing that. But love you too. Take care of yourself. Hurry back. 

And with that, a few of my hollow parts fill out.

Charlotte XXXII

Charlotte

The video makes me sick. Literally. I watch it once and then again before running to the bathroom to puke up my fruit and yogurt breakfast. I shouldn’t watch it again but I can’t help it. I return to the computer with a sore throat and the taste of acid in my mouth. The freeze framed image on the still video is of Nate sprawled out on a bed with Greta and another girl I don’t know on top of him.

His jeans are down around his thighs and his shirt is off. There’s a white substance painted on his chest and I think it must be whipped cream by the bottle in the unknown blonde girl’s hand. Nate’s head is positioned away from me. I can’t see his eyes. I want to see them. I want to know what he’s thinking at that point. Does he even remember I exist?

The tears come now. Or maybe they’ve been flowing the whole time and I’m just now feeling them. The salt and the acid mix in bitter harmony inside my mouth. I guess that’s what heartbreak tastes like.

I press play one more time and watch the whole three minute video. It’s dark and the video is shaky. I don’t know who’s holding the camera. By the sounds of the harsh breathing and the barking laugh, I know it’s a male. Not Nick though. He comes in later.

For now it’s just Greta. She climbs onto Nate’s prone body, straddling him. She’s holding his hand as he reaches up to cup her breast over her shirt and then she seems to help him remove her shirt.

“Fuck yeah.” It’s the camera man urging her on. Greta’s actions spur the other girl and she takes off her shirt and then her bra. She sprays her tits with whipped cream and leans over to offer one decorated tip to Nate. His face is turned away but she when rises, the whipped cream is smeared. Bile threatens again. I press my thumb against my inner wrist, a technique I learned in treatment, to make it subside. It works about a quarter of the time and I still feel sickness sitting at the base of my throat.
I force myself to watch the rest.

“Come over and give me a taste,” the cameraman orders. Greta flicks him off but the other girl obeys. The camera dips to the floor and I hear the moans and pants of what sounds like a hundred people. I dash the tears away because they’re blurring my vision.

“You’re fucking up,” Greta hisses. There’s no action on the screen. Instead there’s a blurry blot like the guy has pressed his camera phone to the back of the girl he’s snacking on.

“Fuck you,” he drawls but then rights the camera.

When Greta and Nate come into view, she’s got her skirt rucked to her waist and she’s hovering over Nate’s face, a leg on either side of him. “Don’t get my face in it,” she orders.

“Whatever bitch,” the camera guy mutters but positions the camera so it’s just Greta from the neck down.

“Marie, come over and get some,” Greta says.

Marie, the other girl, goes over and takes up Greta’s old position, straddling Nate around his crotch. His boxers were still on but that means nothing. Greta rearranges herself so that she’s facing Marie and she pulls Marie’s shoulders until the two girls are almost touching each other. Nate is motionless this entire time except his hands creep up to stroke Marie’s legs and knees lightly once or twice before falling away.

Nothing that is going on in this video fits the Nathan I know. Nothing.

“I want to see fucking tongue ladies,” the camera guy says gleefully. “Pinch those titties.”

“Shut up and film, asshole,” Greta snaps. And he does. The camera is readjusted to cut off the heads of the girls and then there’s a full minute of gyrations and moaning and wet sounds of sucking.

My head pounds and the skin around my face is stretched so tight it hurts to keep my eyes open. I press my lips together tightly to keep the whimpers in but oh my god the pain in my chest is like a knife wound. It hurts worse than all the times I’ve had to stab myself with a needle to administer my daily cocktail of drugs. It hurts worse than the post surgery after they split my brain open to remove the tumor.

It hurts so bad that I wish the tumor had taken me because at least then I wouldn’t have to see this. Oh Nate, why?

At the end, Nick bursts through the door. He shouts something and the camera is knocked to the floor and the video cuts off. But it’s too late at that point for Nick to save me because it’s already been captured.

“Charlotte baby?”

It’s Daddy. He’s here with me this week. I slam the laptop lid down and wipe away the tears as best I can. I’m tempted to tell him, to climb into his lap and bawl my eyes out but I’m afraid if I do, he’ll take the first plane back to Chicago and beat Nate bloody. And while I want to see Nate suffer, I know that telling Daddy about this will ruin everything. It won’t be the Jacksons and Randolphs together as a unit. There’ll be a rift and I don’t know if anything would be able to heal it.

I’m not going to be the one that destroys everything good in life. I’ll leave that to Nate.

“Yeah, Daddy?” I answer.

“You okay? I thought I heard you getting sick in the bathroom.” The bedroom door is shut and he won’t come in because mom had a long talk with him about the importance of me having privacy now that I am older.

“Yup,” I say as cheerfully as possible. I get up and grab a few tissues. My face is blotchy and my eyes are red. Mom would know I was crying for sure. Daddy? I’ll tell him that I watched a video about kittens being rescued.

“You been crying baby?” he asks with concern when I open the door.

“Just watching a kitten video.” I wipe my eyes. “I can’t stand to see those animals hurt.”

“Oh honey, I know.” He pulls me into his arms and I rest my head against his broad chest. There’s no place safer in the world than your Daddy’s embrace, I think. I allow him to hold me for a long time until the warmth of his love seeps into my bones and chases away a little of the chill. But the images from the video play out in my mind on an endless loop. I need to occupy my mind with something else.

“I’m going down to the commons to watch television,” I say pulling away.

He tucks a finger under my chin and lifts my head to search my face for clues. “All right then. You go down and when you’re ready to talk about what had you crying your eyes out in your room I’ll be right here.”

He doesn’t believe it’s kittens. My lip quivers and the whole story is on the verge of spilling out but I manage to give him a weak smile. “Okay.”

He kisses me on the top of my head. “You and your momma. You’re the most important things in my life. You remember that baby.”

I nod because if I open my mouth I’ll start bawling and I’m just not ready to cry again.

Down in the commons room I find two young kids watching cartoons in French. It’s mindless entertainment and just what I need. I’m so engrossed in trying to translate the idioms that I don’t even notice that Colin is sitting next to me until he lets out a laugh at the mouse grabbing the cheese from a trap before the cat can catch him.

“How long have you been here?” I ask.

“Long enough to wonder what your asshole boyfriend did.” He pops a nut into his mouth and then shakes the bowl toward me in offering.

I turn him down. I may never eat again. “Why do you ask that?”

“You have the look.”

I remember then his earlier story of how his girlfriend cheated on him when he was sick the first time around. Hotness prickles at the backs of my eyes but I clench my jaw hard to keep the tears in. Last thing I want to do is cry in front of him.

“I guess you’d know,” I retort.

Instead of being offended Colin just shakes his head in amusement. “I don’t understand how you’re so soft Charlotte. You gotta build up your defenses or you’ll just be a rug by the time he’s done with you. Flattened out and matted down.”

“He’s not like that.” The protest comes automatically.

“Right. Because good guys always cause their girls to look like they’ve been to a funeral. You’re at a crossroads here. You can either forgive him which will teach him he can treat you like shit time and again or you can get revenge.”

“Those are my only two options?”

“The only good ones. So what’s it going to be?”

And then he places his hand palm up between us.

Charlotte XXXI

Warning. This may be triggering.

Nathan

“I love you two. I want you both to come to Northwestern.” Juliette throws out her arms and nearly smacks Nick in the face. He ducks, still holding her tight against his chest.

“I can make plays for you right here, sweetheart.” He winks at her.

She rolls her eyes slightly but doesn’t make any move to get Nick to release her. “It’s because you won can you say those things.”

“We can both be winning in about five minutes.”

“You’re too young to be this smooth.” She runs a hand down his chest clearly enjoying being held up in the air and being pelted with bad lines.

“I have a lot to learn. If only there were someone willing to teach me.” He adopts a pitiful air and dips his head slightly so she can run her fingers through the bottom strands of his hair.

Juliette giggles. “I’ve been known to give some private lessons.”

He whispers something to her that makes her flush and her eyelids slide to half mast. He doesn’t need lessons, at least not the kind that she’s able to teach but whatever he’s said has Juliette ready to abandon her party. She points upstairs and he strides off to find some privacy for them both.

After the two leave, someone brings me another drink and there’s a steady stream of North Prep kids along with some others who come out to give me a high five. Nick and Juliette are gone for a long time. Long enough for the clothes to start coming off and the pool lights to dim. There are couples in different stages of undress and coupling all along the pool’s edge and in the water itself.

Jason Milhouse has Stephanie Stanton pinned to his chest and from the way she’s rhythmically bobbing up and down it doesn’t take much to guess exactly what’s going on. Another guy on the basketball team is leaning against the pool’s edge and his girlfriend is eating his face off. In the hot tub that’s below me and to the left, there are two big chested girls who I don’t recognize double teaming this year’s homecoming king.  One is kissing him and the other has her hand down under the water. His face isn’t visible but it’s hard to imagine he’s unhappy.

On a night like tonight riding high from excess adrenaline, with a little too much alcohol, and enough pheromones in the air to make a virgin spread her legs, I’m feeling Charlotte’s absence keenly.

My dick is getting hard at watching the soft core porn taking place around me. In a couple of hours it will probably be triple x rated if Juliette has anything to say about it. The couples won’t be going at it under the water. No, they’ll have moved inside and be making out and out right fucking in her media room. It’s happened before and tonight has all the hallmarks of another debauchery.

Abruptly, I sit up. I should go. It’s not that I’d cheat on Charlotte but being here, feeling aroused and alone doesn’t make for a good situation.

Nick can stay here and I’ll pick him up in the morning. If he’s not entertained by Juliette all night, there’ll be someone else that will occupy his time. I text him that I’m heading out.

“Hey man, good fight.”

It’s the college guy that I knocked out—the one who was vying for Juliette’s favor and lost. I look at him warily but he’s got a guileless look on his face. Maybe he isn’t a bad sort. I shake the hand that he’s holding out.

“You too.”

He knocks the side of his forehead. “Got me good here with a roundhouse. Nice.”

“Thanks.” I throw him a bone. “My ribs are pretty sore.”

“No hard feelings,” he says and offers me a drink.

“Thanks but I’m heading out.”

“You can’t leave now or I will be offended. Come and have a drink.”

He gestures toward the living room. I see his crew sitting with…oh fuck, is that Greta? It is. She’s sitting on the lap of the guy that Nick dropped and looking pretty friendly. His hand is up her shirt and she’s looking pretty happy. I don’t like her much but I can’t leave without making sure that she’s there because she wants to be not because she’s too drunk to be able to say no. With a sigh, I take the drink. “Lead on.”

“Buck Morrison. Sophomore at Northwestern.”

“Nate Jackson. Senior, North Prep.”

“You planning on fighting professionally?” Buck asks as we drop down into chairs next to Greta and her new friend.

“Doubtful,” interjects Greta pulling her lips away. Her man starts mouthing her neck but Greta appears uninterested and, more importantly, not very drunk. “His dad owns a huge hedge fund. Don’t you plan on taking over?”

There’s a snideness to her voice, almost an accusation that I have too much. I don’t know where it comes from given that her family is well off. Maybe not as well off as my parents, but they aren’t hurting.

“Not right now,” I say but I’m not interested in talking about my future with this girl. I haven’t even had that talk yet with Charlotte.

“Nice.” Buck nods his head. “Daddy Warbucks paving your way.”

I bristle at this statement. I’m not interested in people measuring the size of my dick based on who my dad is.  It’s exactly why I’m going to join the military but I’m not going to share that with these fools. “Sure,” I respond impatiently.  “You okay Greta? I didn’t know you knew any guys at Northwestern.”

She rolls her eyes. “Not everyone’s interested in fighting.” Her friend squeezes her boob and Greta releases a fake moan. At least it sounds fake to me but Buck grins like it’s a hot sound.

“Drink up man. You can’t knock me out and then not share a drink together after. That’d be bad sport.” He knocks his cup against mine.

The dark liquid appears to be some cola mixed with rum. He’s right. Dad would think poorly of me if I just walked out but that’d mean I’d have to wait another hour to make sure I’m okay to drive. I guess after this I’d head upstairs and find Nick and Juliette. There’s got to be a small room in this place where I can chill out by myself.

I swallow half the glass. It’s a really shitty drink mix. Greta’s watching me avidly as if I’m the most interesting creature she’s ever seen. Her man is mauling her now, hand between her legs, another up the back of her shirt, but he could be caressing a stone for all the response he’s generating. No, it’s me she’s fixated on in some weird way.

I down the rest of my cup to show Buck that I’m a good sport, barely able to conceal the wince as the last of the bitter contents drains down my throat. Greta leans forward, satisfaction thick in her voice and evident on her face. “Remember this. You’re only getting what you deserve.”

Her face is chilling. I swing my gaze to Buck and he too looks smug but I’m no lightweight. I stand up and head immediately for the bathroom. I’m going to stick my finger down my throat until it all comes out. But before I can make it, Buck grabs me from behind and places an arm around my neck. I struggle but the effects the alcohol and the drug are hitting me. The arm at my windpipe is making my vision fog.

I stumble and careen into a hallway wall. Buck grunts behind me as he takes the brunt of the hit. Thrusting my head backward, I try to knock him out. There’s a curse and then a prick at my waste. Greta is there and she’s holding something long and metallic. And then…it’s all a blur. My head is heavier than an anvil. My ears are blocked and I can’t open my eyes but I sense movement. I try to lift my head up to see where I’m going but it’s too heavy and my eyes are glued shut.

At one point I’m on the cusp of awareness. I can hear noises around me like the rustling of clothes. There’s a tug at my waist and then the denim of my jeans gives way. Am I home? I try to roll my head to the side but there’s a hand preventing me from moving. It must be a really powerful hand because my entire body feels immobile. Struggling against the bonds does me no good. A coolness hits my groin and chest, as if both are bare. The voices in the room sound tinny and far away.

“God, he’s huge.”

“Shit and he’s not even erect.”

“He’s wasted on that girlfriend of his. She probably only knows how to do it missionary style.”

“I’d let him take me anyway he wants.”

“Get on with it.” That voice sounds like Buck, the guy I beat up.

“You’re a dead man,” I say but it comes out slurred. In the small recesses of my brain, I figure it out. He’s drugged me. They’ve drugged me. Him and Greta. I don’t know who else is involved. I hold on to one thought. No matter what happens to me, I’ll make them pay. It won’t end well for any of them.

Charlotte XXXI

First off, I need to thank a few more bloggers for participating in my new release. Thanks readers!

 

Nathan

I feel good after our phone call. We Skype a few times later that week and while Colin’s name is mentioned quite a bit it’s generally referencing how he’s managed to piss her off again. We have a good laugh about how he struck out with her tutor, Reta, and how I’ve managed to avoid Greta. She stopped texting me after I didn’t respond.

By Friday, everything is back to normal between us which is why when Nick asks me if we should hit Juliette Waite’s party at her parent’s house in the North Shore, I don’t hesitate to say yes. Juliette Waite is a North Prep graduate. She attends Northwestern and is well known for initiating the young men in our crowd into the pleasures of the female body. A lot of us have learned how to make a girl scream based on lessons taught by Juliette.

She’s an icon in North Prep history. I had my own time with Juliette when I was fourteen and she was sixteen. Good times. Of course what goes on in Juliette Waite’s bedroom stays there. That’s the code and weirdly we’ve all kept it. But her parties are legendary.

Not going never occurs to me. Charlotte is grumpy when she hears it’s that time of year.

“I can’t believe I’m missing Juliette’s party.” She wrinkles her nose in disgust. “Instead I’ll end up eating popcorn watching episodes of Space Patrol 2050.”

“I thought you hated science fiction.” I’m not paying a ton of attention. My phone is blowing up with people asking where Nick and I are.

“My T-Rex arms aren’t long enough to grab the remote from Colin’s hands and that’s allhe likes. But maybe Mom and I will do something. At least I won’t spend the whole night with you glaring at me.”

“I didn’t glare at you,” I protest. “I was making sure none of the assholes made a play for you. What was Bo thinking letting you out of the house with that bikini on? I spent the whole night reminding everyone you had just turned fifteen.”

She smirks. “Got your attention, did it?”

“So you did wear it to piss me off,” I exclaim. I knew it. Last year Charlotte had stripped off her demure bell shaped knit dress to reveal a white bikini with gold rings holding the various tiny triangular pieces of cloth together. When she spun around on her wedge heel and announced she was thirsty nearly every male there surged toward her. “You could have started a riot.”

“I bought it for you,” she says with a naughty smile. “I’d overheard you telling Nick during one of our boating trips that you loved white bikinis.”

This made me raise my eyebrows. “Really? I don’t remember having a preference.” But I do now. In fact, I think I still have a picture of Charlotte in said bikini. I scroll through my phone and find it. Mmmhmm. I know what I’ll be looking at later tonight.

“Stay away from the white bikinis tonight,” she says but I’m not paying much attention because a photo of one of the lacrosse players losing control of a beer bong and getting a facial from the excess beer is shared on the school forum. I show it to Charlotte.

“You’re obviously very occupied,” she sighs.

“No, sorry.” Hurriedly I put the phone face down but she’s waving her hand at me.

“Go on. I’m super tired anyway. Mom would kill me if she knew I stayed up this late to Skype with you.”

We exchange I love yous and then I grab an impatient Nick and we head out of the city. It takes us about forty five minutes. We have to park about a half mile away because there are a crapton of cars that have arrived before us. Thankfully Nick doesn’t say a word about our late start only asks how Charlotte is.

“Good. Spending a lot of time with the douchebag Colin.”

“I looked him up.”

“And?”

“You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Why would I worry about him?”

Nick throws his hands up. “No reason.”

Since we’re nearly at the door of Waite’s house, I don’t pursue this any further. Charlotte doesn’t like Colin. She’s forced to spend time with him. There’s no reason at all that I have to worry about the two of them.

Inside the house there are wall to wall people. Thankfully between Nick and I we can muscle our way past the crowd. It only takes a couple of people to drop away before a path is cleared for us.

Juliette is sitting on the patio in a lounger with several sycophants around her. She languidly raises her hand in greeting. “The Jackson boys are here. I suppose we can now start the party.”

A few of the guys look older—college aged—and they glare at us but Nick and I are solidly built. We could take  them. In fact, it might be kind of fun. I haven’t had a brawl for a long time. I step back and allow my arms to hang loosely at my side. Nick steps to the side to provide spacing and adopts a similar stance.

Three of Juliette’s subjects get to their feet, their greek letters straining across their drug assisted chests.

“Boys is right,” says the one in the middle. He must be the leader. The music continues to play but the energy out here on the patio has changed. There’s a charge in the air and everyone out here senses it.

“I’ve got the guy in the middle,” I say softly to Nick. “You take the guy on the right. The one on the left looks like he’ll flail around searching for a partner.”

“Got it,” he nods.

The leader charges me and I spare a glance to Juliette. Her eyes are sparkling with excitement. Yeah, she knew exactly what she was doing inviting these meatheads here. She probably talked up the fact that we were high schoolers and these frat guys showed up to teach us a thing or two. Good luck.

I meet their leader in the middle, about five feet from Juliette’s lounger and he swings at me, an obvious first that is meant to lay me out with one punch but I can tell by the wide sweep of his right arm as it moves toward me that he’s never fought before. Or if he has, it’s been with people as inept. His primary move seems to be the right jaw punch only it doesn’t land. I step sideways and he stumbles between Nick and I.

Nick grins at me but has to turn back to his smaller, but more experienced opponent. I watch as Nick swerves to avoid a combination and then counters with an open faced slap to the face. It’s a complete insult and his opponent draws back to blink in surprise while everyone around them giggles. I shake my head. One of these days Nick’s arrogance will be the end of him, but not today. The slap spurs his opponent to charge and Nick allows himself to be pushed back into a table.

I’m prevented from watching more when my guy comes roaring back. He’s watched too many mixed martial arts fights on television because this time he tries an elbow to the forehead. A good move as an elbow can have a greater force impact on a target. But it has to land to do any damage. I pull on his elbow until we’re flush together and then I press my other hand on the low of his back and pretend for a moment we’re dancing.  This draws a roar from the crowd and a fevered look of rage from my opponent.

“Don’t like dancing?” I mock. Spittle is starting to form at the sides of his mouth. “You really picked a mouth breather this time, Juliette.”

I push him away before he slobbers all over me.  Yeah, okay. I’m as arrogant as Nick. The leader motions to the third guy who is watching us and they both rush me. One of them gets a lucky fist to the side of my jaw and I feel another fist in my gut. The adrenaline is flooding me and since I’ve not had sex in weeks, this feels almost as good.

The third player is about six inches shorter than I am. He must have gotten the body shot in. He needs to go down first. I duck to avoid a punch from the big guy and then turn my body toward the third player. Two knees into the rib cage has him folding in half. I finish him with an elbow strike to the temple since he’s lower than me and he crumples to the ground.

The leader steps back, bounces around on his heels and rolls his shoulder like we’re in some cage match.

“You toying with your prey?” I hear Nick say. He must have sent his opponent to a sweet sleep. “Dad wouldn’t approve.”

“Na but he’d think this was sweet,” I answer. Opening up my stance, I raise to the balls of my feet and then in one swift move bring my right leg and strike the asshole in the temple. Shock widens his eyes before the lights go out in his brain and he falls backward onto the ground. No one catches him. In fact, everyone moved out of the way.

A silence falls and then cheers erupt, probably from North Prep kids. Juliette hasn’t moved an inch from her lounger although I see a few blood spatters on the cushion.

“Very nice,” she says.

“I’m guessing you didn’t tell them that your high school friends were sons of a professional fighter?” I swipe the back of my hand across my mouth but there’s no blood there. It must not be mine. A quick check of Nick reveals he’s fine too.

She presses a finger to the center of her lips. “Hmm. I may have forgotten to mention that. Now which one of you victors is going to celebrate with me tonight?”

“That’d be me,” Nick says bending over and scooping Juliette into his arms. I drop into the now vacated lounge chair and someone drops a beer bottle into my empty hand. This has the makings of an epic party. I place an arm behind my head and prepare to be entertained.

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Charlotte XXX

Nathan

I stay up until two in the morning so I can catch Charlotte right after she wakes up. Nick has fallen asleep behind me, the game controller still clutched in his hand. He’s dead to the world. I switched over to a movie but I’m not really seeing the super soldiers fighting the aliens. I’m thinking about everything. My future. Charlotte’s health. Where we are all going in a year or two years. I’m having uncharacteristic second thoughts. I never have doubts. Doubts are for people still trying to figure it all out.

I’m not saying that I know it all, but I know myself. I want to join the military, do something worthwhile. I want to be with Charlotte. I want to have a family. I want us all to be healthy and safe forever. Kind of in that order. Otherwise, I’m just a dudebro getting drunk, hanging out, and leeching off my old man. Thanks but no. Of course part of not being that guy is making sure you aren’t crushing your girl’s self esteem by ignoring that there are somewhat questionable pics being sent to everyone the two of you know. 

Said old man would be all over my ass about talking to Charlotte about this issue right away, just like Nick was.  I get up and head to my room, abandoning Nick to the company of infomercials flickering silently on the television screen. 

“Hey baby,” I say when she picks up on my first ring. 

“Nathan.” My name surfs out on a tide of relief and gratitude which makes me feel doubly the asshole. I’m responsible for making her feel insecure by not addressing the weird things that Greta has been doing. 

“I completely screwed up,” I start. “I want—“

“You’ll never guess who’s here,” she interrupts. Without waiting for a response, she hurries on. “Colin Matthews.”

“Huh?” I don’t know any Colin Matthews. 

“You know. The son of the actress and the baseball player? He had cancer but then was in remission but I guess not anymore because he’s here. It’s his third time. They’re doing some kind of experimental drug therapy on him that’s not allowed in the US yet.”

I rub my forehead as I digest this information. “Okay, that’s interesting.” Not really other than the fact some Hollywood asshole is far closer to my Charlotte than I am. That’s actually not okay at all. I bite back a few choice words that would likely place me in the dickhole category. Words like “Don’t fucking talk to him again” and “Does he know you belong to me?” 

She blithely ignores my lack of enthusiasm. “When I saw him in the common room last night, I was so surprised but he wasn’t very nice to me.”

My emotions swing wildly the other direction. This douche was being mean to my Charlotte? “Sounds like I’m going to have to come over and teach him a lesson in manners.”

She snorts. “He’s got cancer. You can’t beat up anyone who has cancer.”

“Oh yeah?” I challenge. “Is there some book that says that? Is that in your medical handbook?”

That draws out a full fledged laugh, one that comes from her belly not her throat. She likes when I joke about her illness because it’s more normal for both of us according to her. “Yes, it’s number five, right after all your hair falls out. But his hair looks great. I was really impressed. I guess because you guys’ hair grows back so fast and it doesn’t need to be long. Nick’s hair grew out right away.”

My eyelid is twitching. She likes his hair? Thinks it’s great? I can’t even remember what I was supposed to say when I first called because the whole time we’ve been talking it’s been about this asshole from California. And she’s bringing up the fact that Nick shaved his head when she was diagnosed but not me?

“I thought you didn’t want me to shave my head,” I say hardly concealing my disgruntlement. 

“What? Of course I didn’t,” she says. “I was just complaining. My hair makes me look five. Do I look five to you?”

She cares what she looks like? “I wouldn’t have slept with you looked five.” I knew that was a mistake before the last words left my mouth. 

She sucks in her breath and then to my utter relief, laughs again. 

“Sorry,” I mutter. 

“No, it just sounded funny. Like I hope you wouldn’t sleep with five year olds.” She giggles again and then sighs. “I miss you.”

God, how weak am I that I need her to say those words to me? I miss you. And with that equilibrium is reestablished. I settle into bed. “How much?”

“So so so much. Like I wish I was there right now and we were holding hands.”

“That’s all?” I ask softly thinking that there was a lot more than just hand holding I’d do if Charlotte were here. 

“Um and other stuff.” 

I can almost hear her blushing. Hating to ruin the moment, the reason why I called resurfaces. “About Greta…” I begin.

“She’s being weird, isn’t she,” Charlotte interrupts. “I think she has a crush on you or Nick or both.” 

“Weird isn’t the right word. Stalkerish maybe? I don’t really know but I can’t say I like it.”

“It’s okay. Or rather while I don’t like it, I know it’s not your fault. It just made me feel…embarrassed and even a little insecure.” 

Her voice has gotten soft and small. I cringe. Is it distance that feeds those feelings? Because if that is the case, I’m worried about how she’s going to take the news that I’m leaving after school to go right into Basic. That particular piece of information isn’t ready for consumption outside the family I decide. “You don’t ever have to be insecure about us baby. I love you.”

Her initial response is a huff of laughter. “I love you too.”

“We okay then?”

“Yes. Totally okay.”

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Charlotte Chronicles XXIX

Missed an episode? New to the webseries? You can read the story so far right here.

 

Charlotte

“So it’s bitter party for one now?” I ask. I shift on my feet wondering if I should leave or face him down. We’re going to be thrown together because of language and age and illness. If I turn tail and run, he’ll needle me forever but I’m not well equipped for this kind of fighting.

“I’m a realist. Who’s your tutor?”

“Reta Kielholz,” I say stiffly feeling uptight and hating it as if I am horribly uncool. This famous boy has a way of making me feel awkward. 

“Ah, she’s got a tight —

I turn away abruptly. I don’t know what he’s going to say but I’m positive it will be crude and demeaning. At that moment I don’t care if he torments me until I leave. I’m not staying another minute.

“Wait, just wait, dammit.” He shoots up from his chair, his tin of contraband spilling onto the floor as he reaches for me.He doesn’t want me to leave and I reluctantly turn back.

“Sit down. I won’t say another word about her. Let’s start over. Colin Matthews.” His outstretched hand hangs between us. 

“Or any other girl?” I press.

“Shit, why not.” 

“Charlotte Randolph.” I take his hand, but just the tips so he knows I don’t trust him very much. He gestures for me to sit and I settle gingerly into the club chair opposite his. Colin’s hair is long, unruly. I wonder if he’s ever had it cut since it grew back. There’s a long swoop that he pushes back to reveal his mother’s famous blue eyes. “Does everyone call you Colin or do you have a nickname you go by?”

“No, it’s Colin. Why do you have a nickname?” 

“Everyone calls me Charlotte but my mom’s friends all call her AM.”

“Like the time?”

“No, radio. Like AM/FM radio.”

“That’s weird.” He pulls out a pack of spearmint gum from his pocket and offers me one. It’s a peace offering I guess.

“Mom says its a life marker. High school people know her as AnnMarie but her best friend starting calling her AM for short and it stuck in college so you know how long people have known her by what they call her.” I’ve always thought was neat. Daddy calls her Sunshine sometimes but don’t share that with Colin.

“I’m going to make up a nickname for you.” 

“No.” I shake my head. “I don’t like nicknames. My parents said that I’ve always been adamantly against them. A person would try to use it and I would either cry or not respond.”

“You’ll like the nickname I give you.” He smirks. I can’t even imagine what horrible thing he’d come up with. Colin is a weird mix of arrogance and uncertainty. I’m intrigued against my better judgment. Nate would probably despise him though.

“Is this your second time here?” 

He holds up three fingers.

“Three times? You look good. Really healthy.” That is no lie. His face is full and his hair is shiny. He looks ruddy and built not the slender, gauntness that marks so many of us. 

“Have to bulk up between bouts. Plus steroids and human growth hormones are considered appropriate treatment.” He flexes and I see the outline of a biceps. He’s not a muscular as Nathan or Nick but I give him a smile of approval. I don’t want him to feel bad. Looking good is probably very important where he lives. 

“I want to get better. I guess I’d take anything at this point.”  I’m way underweight which is part of the reason I’m here. His glowing health makes me envious. 

“I figure I’ll die before I’m 18. I want to live as much as possible until then.”

I don’t know his situation so I don’t give out the reassuring platitudes that adults reflexively offer. Maybe he will die before the age of eighteen. Sometimes I think you know this. That there’s a place inside you that holds the truth of your future but only the brave or stupid or hopeless look. I’m none of those things…yet. “You’d think with all these advancements they could make some elixir that would make us completely healthy in an instant.”

Colin leans back and stares at the ceiling. “There’s always a catch. Like if you took the elixir, you wouldn’t be able to ever have sex again or it you’d take 25 years off your life at the end of it. No one lives without paying a price for it.”

Nathan

Greta has taken to texting me repeatedly the next day, telling me she’s so sorry about last night and how she was drunk and it was all an accident. At first, I agreed it was an accident but the more that she kept assuring me that it was, the more that she fucking would not leave me alone makes me wonder about her motivations. Nick told me to watch out and maybe I need to pay closer attention. 

I haven’t said a word to Charlotte about the picture and I regret. I should have brought it up first thing and that I hadn’t makes me look like I’m lying to her—at least by omission. But what was I going to say? 

Hey your weird friend fell on top of me and someone else took a picture. It’s nothing?

That sounded like I was trying to concoct a cover up as well. 

The photo’s already being passed around. It gets sent to me by about four different people. 

“What’d Charlotte say about the picture?” Nick asks. I told him I wasn’t interested in another party so we’re playing a video game.

“I didn’t tell her,” I admit. 

He glares at me and then closes his eyes. “You’re determined to fuck this up aren’t you?” 

“Shut up,” I snap back. The whole thing is giving me a headache the size of Lake Michigan. “It’s no big deal. I’ll talk to her in the morning.” If I stay up late enough, I can catch her when she wakes up and I’ll explain everything. Greta’s weirdness. The photo setup. Everything. 

“Just remember that it’s not just your relationship that will get screwed. It’s my friendship. It’s our families’ connections.” 

“Yeah, I got it.” The steel in my voice sinks in and Nick stops hassling me. But he’s not wrong. If I hurt Charlotte, I hurt all of us. 

Charlotte XXVIII

Nate doesn’t text me until the early evening hours. The seven hour time difference usually means I get a text in the middle of the night which I read in the morning and then one when Nate gets up in the morning which is about tea time here.

I wonder all day whether Nate will bring up the party or whether I should. Mom gives me covert stares of worry as I pick at my food at lunch. The pale light of twilight settles in before I finally get a text only its not Nate, but his brother.

We partied late. Didn’t get to sleep until three this morning. Go easy on him. 

Miss you, boy. Heard you were coming over for my birthday.

After, I think. Have baseball. When will you be back?

Aug or Sept. Things are going well.

Great. We’ll have a rager when you get back. c ya soon.

Nate’s texts followed on the heels of Nick as if Nick told him it was safe.

Sorry I didn’t text you this morning. Slept in. Epic headache.

From an epic hangover?

How’d you guess? Nick? 

No. North Prep telephone ring.

Milhawk’s basement. Had to do the shots that Nick couldn’t. Keeping him on the straight and narrow.

Sounds fun. Three texts. No mention of the picture.

Missed you.

Me too.

Let’s Skype later. What time?

I don’t want to. He didn’t bring up the picture. Maybe he’d been too drunk and he didn’t even know it was taken. Maybe. Whatever the excuse may be, my feelings are still hurt and I want time to get over it. I didn’t want to be that girl who was jealous and clingy and needy. Not only would Nate not like that but I wouldn’t have much respect for myself. So until I can get into the right frame of mind, I don’t want to talk to him in a setting where I’m apt to blurt out some baseless accusation.

Can’t. Treatment. Studies. In fact, I’ve got to run.

Sorry C. Should’ve gotten up early. Know that’s the best time for you. 

It’s okay. Love you.

I power down my phone so I’m not tempted to read any responses.

“I’m going down to the game room,” I tell my mom. She waves a pen at me. All this technology and she still marks up reports with a pen.

The hotel is adjacent to the hospital and many of the patients and their families stay here. There are mostly two or three room suites or mini apartments along with an indoor pool, gym and a game room for the kids.

“New girl,” a voice barks when I walk into the room. The game room contains arcades, a pool table, and multiple televisions with different game consoles and, the favorite, a virtual reality room. It’s everyone’s preferred location not only to communicate with friends and family but to game play.

“You there,” the voice calls again. I turn and see a boy about my age sitting in a lounge chair just outside the VR room. I haven’t seen him before so he must be the new person.

Despite his rudeness, I stroll over because I’m one of the oldest of the under eighteen set. Most of the kids here are younger which makes it both bittersweet and a bit boring. Insolent or not, he’s more intriguing to me than the rest of the crowd.

As I draw closer, the fine features under his beanie cap look very familiar. “Oh, wait aren’t you—“

Before I can say his name, though, he cuts me off. “Yes,” he says with an imperious wave for me to come forward. Like royalty, I guess he expects me to genuflect or something.  “Who are you?”

I’ve never been this close to someone famous. There were a few times we sat in the front row of a concert at the United Center, but this guy’s parents are on the cover of some magazine nearly every week. “Um no one. I mean Charlotte Randolph but my parents aren’t famous…” like yours I finish silently. I can tell he doesn’t want me to say their names out loud. Maybe no one else recognizes him here. I glance around and see that no one is paying us any attention. But if he stepped out in any US mall, he’d be mobbed and not just because of his parents’ fame but his own. His dark eyes and cut torso were part of a major label campaign last summer. It surprises me to see him here.

“But they must have a lot of money if you are here.” He narrows his eyes at me as if squinting will bring clarity.

“I guess. My mom runs an investment fund and my dad’s in construction.” I sit myself in a chair opposite of him.

“So what’re you here for?”

“Tumor. It’s excised. I have a shunt and am undergoing chemo/radiation.”

“With drugs not allowed in the US?”

I nod.

“Ha me too. Stem cell washing. Lots of drugs. And weed of course.” He pats his lap where I see a small metal container.

“Weed?”

“Yeah, don’t you get any?”

I shake my head.

“Shit, your parents must be withholding from you. Poor girl. Let me know if you want some.” He wiggles the box at me.

“No thanks. Did you just get here?”

“Yeah my cancer was in remission all of a year. Isn’t that grand? But now it’s back and I’m here. I thought I’d be bored but maybe not.” The examination he gives me is rather insulting but I can see how we’re going to end up spending time together. There isn’t anyone else around. We’re on our own desert island.

“You looked great in the ad campaign,” I say lamely. “Very healthy.”

He snorts. “Photoshop. What’s your story? You got anyone back home?”

“Yes,” I nod emphatically. “His name is Nathan. You?”

“Nah, I’ll probably hook up with one of the nurses. Did my tutor the last time I was here. But maybe I’ll have other options this time.”   This time his perusal makes me frown because I know what he’s suggesting and I’m not interested. “What’s your Nathan like?”

“Strong, smart. Very kind.” Wonderful but maybe not being entirely truthful with me. I don’t say the last part out loud. That’s between me and Nathan and not to be shared with this rude stranger.

“No I mean, does he have the hero syndrome or is he a narcissist?”

“Neither,” I scowl at him.

He waves off my answer. “Don’t be naive. He’s either the hero because he gets off on this idea that he’s saving you. Like a firefighter can start fires so he can save people. Or he’s a narcissist he gets off looking like a good guy by being with you.”

“You have a really dismal outlook about people. Nathan isn’t like that. We were friends a long time before we became a couple.” I don’t even know why I’m explaining myself.

“So you guys dated before you got sick?”

“No. We were friends. His father and my mother are in business together. His dad and my dad have been best friends since junior high school.”

He chews on his thumb. “Did you sleep together before you were sick?”

“No.” I pinken. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Then narcissist. He’s boning you because it makes him appear like he’s making a huge sacrifice. See Nathan willing to have sex with the gimp. What a hero!”

“I’m not gimpy,” I protest.

“Hey it’s your funeral. I had a girl I dated before I got sick. She even shaved her hair in solidarity when I got the diagnosis. Everyone told her how brave she was. I was the one fucking losing my hair but she’s the brave one. I punted her. Screwed her two best friends.” He stretches out his arm and cracks his knuckles. “Then I took her back and licked her tears of sadness. Best boner ever. Screwed her and kicked her out like the pathetic narcissist she was.”

“You’re really kind of horrible, aren’t you?” I say feeling a bit shocked by his commentary but I remembered seeing internet articles about that and reading all the comments saying that the girlfriend was so awesome for sticking by this guy. It chills me a bit.

“I’m a realist, sugar. And you will be too by the time you’re done with treatment.”

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