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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Losing Control is in the wild!

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The first few chapters of Losing Control have been sent out. If you haven’t received your newsletter, check the spam folder. If the spam folder isn’t hiding the chapters, send me an email (jen@jenfrederick.com).

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The Launch of Losing Control

Last October, I started writing the Charlotte Chronicles, a weekly webseries featuring the son of one of my couples and the daughter of another. It’s been a fan favorite.

Starting May 27 2014, Losing Control will be released in serial format via a newsletter.

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In January, I started writing Losing Control, a story featuring a bike courier and a wealthy man who ensnares her. I wrote this book by emailing each chapter to a couple of friends. It occurred to me when I was half way through that it would be fun to share the story in the same fashion with the rest of the readers. Each day you’ll get one or two chapters until June 16, 2014, when the book goes on sale.

If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, there is still time. Here is the link!

My hope is that when you’re done with the free read and it goes on sale that you’ll like it enough to share your recommendation with a friend or a family member.

I love Tiny Corielli and Ian Kerr. They came alive to me in a way I hadn’t experienced as a writer. They felt real. Tiny’s struggle with her mother’s illness is one that many of us have suffered in some form. Ian’s desire to help shoulder Tiny’s burden is met with suspicion and a tiny kernel of hope. Overtime, they can’t resist each other but why they fall in love made sense to me. Ian’s never let anyone close to him but he knows what it’s like to lose a mother. Moreover, Tiny’s loyalty and love for her own parent resonate in the deep recesses of Ian’s soul.

Ian is one of those special heroes that I’ll remember for a long time. He’s bigger than life, hotter than the noon day sun at the equator and fiercer than a lion protecting a pride. I can’t wait for you to meet him.

Enjoy the journey!

 

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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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Losing Control, Book 1 of the Kerr Chronicles

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The FREE release of Losing Control will begin on May 27, 2014.  SIGN UP HERE.

I’d do anything to keep my mother alive.

Anything, including ask Ian Kerr for help. I don’t know much about him, except that he has more money than some small countries. And he’s willing to spend it on me. Just one catch: there’s a string attached, and not just the one I feel pulling me into his arms and his bed. There’s also the plan for revenge he wants my help with.

Every time he says my name, it makes my body shiver and my heart stutter. I know he’s going to wreck me, know there won’t be anything left of me but lust and sensation by the time he’s done with me, but even though I can see the heartbreak coming towards me like a train, ready to crash into me, I can’t get out of the way. I want what he makes me feel. Want what he’s offering.

This may have started out as something to save my mother, but now…now it’s about what he makes me feel. I’m in danger of losing everything that’s important. Worse? Ian’s whispered words and hot caresses are making me believe that’s okay.

It’s an entirely DIFFERENT newsletter than this one so please sign up if you want to receive both the first entry in the KERR CHRONICLES as well as the Charlotte Chronicles.

Losing Control’s newsletter sign up is right here. 

If you have any questions or if you are interested in a review copy,  shoot me an email jen@jenfrederick.com.

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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Charlotte XXVII

Charlotte

I hate it here. I hate living in this hotel in this beautiful country surrounded by these beautiful people. When I look out my rented bedroom window I can see the Alps and clear lakes fed by melting glaciers. It’s a postcard worthy scene. And all the unadulterated breath stealing beauty sours my disposition even more. I should like it but I don’t.

I want to be home, gazing into the fog covered skyscrapers of the city and off into the horizon of the stormy waters of Lake Michigan. I want concrete and smog and biting cold wind not the pastoral setting of northern Switzerland.

Everyone here seems happy, even the other sick kids. And there are kids worse off than I am. Terminal cases here for last ditch experimental therapy. Young kids whose intensive radiation and chemotherapy could stunt their growth and their brain development. What a sucky trade off.

I feel the base of my skull, the soft spot high up on the neck where the head and neck meet. There’s the round plastic of my shunt. A foreign object will live inside me for as long as I have a beating heart. It’s a permanent reminder that at one point, a big old grapefruit pressed against the base of my skull and screwed me up inside.

Breathing deep, I try to count my blessings. My test results are good and I’m only going to have to be here for three months. They don’t think the radiation and chemo will need to be as aggressive and since my brain and body has pretty much stopped developing, they don’t think it will be a big problem to catch back up with everyone else and transition back into high school in the fall.

So decent health.

My family is here. Mom’s here this week and the next and then Dad will be here. The Jacksons are going to come in May for my birthday. I’ll spend the hot summer months in a cool climate.

Good weather. My family. My boys are coming.

My boys. There it is. The source of my real discontent. I flip my phone over. Seela Carr, a junior who I hardly know, had texted me a picture that appeared on my phone first thing this morning which would have been last night Chicago time. Seela’s a popular girl. Glee Club and yearbook staff, she’s almost never without some recording device. Ostensibly she’s always capturing North Prep’s best moments but her always present camera has also recorded painful moments. Breakups. Fights. Cheaters.

The picture she sent me of Nate collapsed between the legs of Greta in Jason Milhawk’s basement causes me actual pain whenever I see it. Nate’s clearly drunk, probably from doing shots with Milhawk. He has a glassy eyed surprised look on his face in the picture.

Seela is only trying to stir up trouble but I’m not sure what Greta’s doing. Probably just talking to Nathan. I know, deep down, that he would never humiliate me in front of anyone else. Family is number one in his mind and no one has ever been allowed to tease me or Nick without retribution from Nathan. But still, the image of him in someone else’s arms hurts me, literally.

Every time I see it, my heart squeezes tight. Despite the fixed and glazed stare, Nathan is so beautiful. His dark hair frames his perfect face. In the photo, he’s bracing himself and the muscles in his arm are highlighted by the harsh glare of the flash. I remember what it is like to be under him when he’s in that position. There’s no doubt someone pushed him over but he was still next to Greta. I didn’t even realize that they knew each other, that they were friendly.

I toss the phone aside.

“Charlotte? Shall we do these maths again?”

It’s Fraulein “call me Reta” Kielholz. She has beautiful blonde hair, not the colored stuff you see at home but true blonde, like spun gold. She’s fairly tall and her skin is milky white. Reta is very curious about the US and would like to come and visit or so she tells me during each session.

“Sure.” I drag myself away from the window.

“Great.” She pushes a set of problems toward me. “Compare these sets and identify which are the irrational numbers. Why don’t you tell me again what irrational numbers are.”

“A number that cannot be written as a fraction,” I mumble.

“Good. Good.” Clapping her hands, she gestures for me to get started.

As I apply myself, she starts talking about Chicago again. “Maybe you will need a tutor when you go back home. I could come and visit, yes?”

“Sure,” I answer but with little enthusiasm. I’m afraid to place Reta and her nordic beauty anywhere near Nathan. I never felt this way until I came here but two weeks away from Nathan and Nick has made me nervous and homesick.

And everyone back home other than the Jackson boys seem intent on sending me picture proof of how much they don’t miss me. Irrational numbers? I feel pretty irrational right now.

My phone beeps and I want to answer it but Reta taps her watch. She wants me to finish so I apply myself but considering I don’t like math and don’t see the point of trying to figure out what square roots are irrational and which are not, I don’t get many right.

Thirty minutes later, she is pressing her lips together and looking concerned as she peruses my answers. “We will review this again, yes.”

Reta ends nearly every sentence with yes even when she isn’t asking a question.

“Yes,” I say.

She spends the whole morning trying to show me which square roots and cube roots are irrational and I spend the entire time pinching myself to prevent screaming about how I think this is all ridiculous.  My mother interrupts us around ten and sends Reta away.

“Baby, you look tired.” Mom says smoothing my hair away. She sets a tray of tea, hot chocolate, and pastries next to my math papers. I will say that the pastries are freaking awesome and I’ll miss them when I go back home.

“I am. Why am I studying these things?” I whine a bit.

“It’s not so much the numbers themselves, but the processing of analyzing data that will become important.”

“No offense, mom, but I have no desire to work at Freedom Funds and analyze numbers all day.”

Mom smiles serenely over her tea cup. “No offense taken. I’ve always thought you were more like your father in that regard. You enjoy physical things too much.”

I duck my head to hide the blush that rises at the thought of exactly what kinds of physical things I enjoy. But she’s my mom and can read my thoughts.

“Missing the Jackson boys? Or just one particular Jackson?” she asks softly.

“Both,” I answer. It’s true. I miss them both. Impulsively I ask, “Did you and Dad have many separations?”

“No, this is the longest that we’ve ever been separated. We met in Biology, remember? and we saw each other every other day and once we started dating, we were quite inseparable.” She sets down her tea and considers me for a moment. “But Noah and Grace were separated for several years. Almost six. They wrote letters to each other. They both say that they treasure those years apart as much as the time they finally were able to be together regularly.”

“Letters?”

“Yes. Noah was deployed with your Dad. They wrote letters and mailed them to each other.” Mom filches a croissant from the pastry plate. “I’m a bit envious. Grace has this lovely collection of hand written notes from Noah. It’s quite romantic.”

“That’s weird. I can’t imagine Uncle Noah writing letters.”

Mom shrugs. “It’s true.” Leaning over, she smooths a hand around my face. “If it’s meant to be, love survives anything even separations.”

“But you and dad weren’t separated,” I protest. “You just said so.”

“We had our own tests,” she said. “And we passed because that’s what love is. It’s about overcoming the obstacles in your path—both the ones you erect and the ones people throw your way. But in order to do that, you have to decide whether it is worth your time and effort.”

I heave a sigh. Before I left, everything was amazing and now I feel so insecure. “Are you telling me to grow up?” I ask a bit disgruntled.

“Nope,” she says with a slight smile. “I kind of want you to be my baby forever. You’re growing up even if your dad, myself, and you aren’t ready for it to happen.”

“But you are saying that if I want something I need to work hard to keep it.”

Mom grabs my hands and squeezes tight. “Not just work hard, baby, but fight. You’ve got to fight for what you want. You fought to beat this cancer. Everything else is so easy from there.”

“Is it?” There’s a hitch in my voice I can’t hide. “Because it seems like fighting for what you want can be really painful.”

“Anything worth having is.”

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Charlotte XXVI

Nathan

Over the blood rushing to the surface, I hear my father’s voice repeatedly telling me to respect the other gender, to be cognizant of my size and how it can be used to intimate without meaning to, how I should treat women in the manner I would want my mother—or Charlotte—to be treated.  With his admonitions in my head, I manage to bite back the word bitch and say evenly. “What do you want Greta?”

She smiles but there’s no affection there. Not for Charlotte at least. “Just kidding. I know she’s having treatment. She okay?”

I wonder at their closeness if she’s asking. Wouldn’t she have heard from Charlotte if they were friends? I never really paid attention to Charlotte’s female friends. They didn’t interest me. And she had no close male friends and if any of the sausage holders tried to kiss up to her, Nick and I made short shrift of that.

“She’s fine.” I’ve had enough of the conversation. As I turn, the camera shutters again. “What the fuck?”

“Sorry Nathan,” another girl mumbles and looks at the floor. I think her name is Sarah. She has her lens mounted camera running. Laws require all wearable tech with cameras to have the cameras obvious and to emit an audible sound when a picture is being taken…for so-called privacy. They aren’t allowed in school. Reaching over, I pluck the frames off her head. Behind me I sense Nick coming up for support. As Sarah attempts to grab her glasses from me, I toss them to him. He squeezes the camera apparatus between his fingers until it cracks.

“Looks like your camera is broken,” Nick smirks as he hands back the lenses. “You’d think they’d be able to make those a little less fragile after all these years.”

I give him a chin nod and we take off.

“What was that all about?” Nick asks when we are driving to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

“That was about Greta being a complete asswipe. How good of friends are her and Charlotte?”

Nick shrugs. “Not real close. They were on the same competitive gymnastics squad and my guess is that their friendship is more of a frenemy thing.”

“Frenemy?”

“Yeah, like they compete but are teammates.”

I let that thought marinate for a few moments. “Charlotte asked her for condoms so I figured they were like best friends or something.”

“Nah. Charlotte probably went to Greta because her older sister is in college.”

“Got it.”

It made sense now. Charlotte and Greta were friends of convenience. This didn’t excuse Greta but it did explain a little why she was trying to get her digs in.

“We going to the Milhawk party this Friday?” Nick asks done with the conversation about Greta. I am happy to let it drop as well.

“Why not? We got anything better planned?”

“Nope. Can’t drink though so if you want to get shitfaced, I’ll drive your weak ass home.”

“Thanks for the offer,” I say dryly. Maybe I would tie one on this weekend. It’d make the time fly by a little faster.

***

Jason Milhawk lives in South Loop where old money and new are on display between the historic row houses and the newly furbished townhouses. Milhawk comes from old lumber baron money and lives in a row house which has seen a lot of cocktail parties but few ragers.

However, Milhawk had a fully stocked bar and game room in the basement that his parents had built and sound proofed so he could practice with his band. Milhawk’s band is terrible but when you’re drunk it all sounds good.

And I am really drunk. Milhawk dragged me behind the bar the minute that Nick and I got to his house and we proceeded to see how many shots of Patron we could drink in ten minutes. A lot is the answer to that. I stopped counting after the tenth one because…well, I couldn’t count anymore.

Nick’s not allowed to drink because North Prep athletics has a zero tolerance policy. One drop and you’re out. For all his careless attitude, sports means something to him. I suppose that is why he sleeps around so much. It’s the only vice he’s allowed that won’t affect his eligibility.

If Charlotte were here, I wouldn’t be downing shots either because I’d be too concerned about keeping an eye on her but she left me and went half way around the world to hang out with Fraus and Frauleins and people she says have been puked on by the good look faery. I wonder if she means guys too. A chill skitters down my spine. I’ve never been uncertain with Charlotte before. She’s not looked at another guy with any interest but she was a virgin before.

She was nearly animalistic with me before she left. After we’d had sex that first time, it was like a dam had broken and she wanted me all the time. Which was great in the moment but now I’m worried. What if she’s horny and she looks to some other guy close to her to fulfill her needs. Sheee-it.

I fumble with my phone to see if I can call her. What’s the time zone difference again? Would I be waking her up? What time does it say on my phone anyway? I peer at the screen trying to get a fix on the numbers that keep moving. Is that a ten? It is ten? Or is it ten minutes after one?

A slim arm hooks under my arm and little fingers curl around my biceps. For a minute I think it’s Charlotte but then the overwhelming scent of musk hits me. The obvious cologne is something Charlotte would never wear. Peering to my left I see Greta. Her smoky eyeshadow is smudged around her eyes making her appear alarmingly like a raccoon.

“You got shit under your eyes.” I make a circling gesture in the general direction of her face.

She rolls her eyes at me. “It’s eye shadow genius.”

I grunt. Looks like raccoon eyes. “Charlotte doesn’t wear her eye shadow like that.”

Greta rolls her eyes even harder. So hard that I wonder they don’t actually fall out of her eyes. Maybe her eyeshadow is like a forcefield and holds them in. Hmm. I’ll have to ask Charlotte about that. I pick up my phone again but Greta pulls my arm down.

“Nathan,” she breathes against my neck. “I’m sorry about earlier today. I was just kidding. I know Charlotte was sick and that she’s not pregnant.”

The air is warm and her breath smells like she just chewed five breath mints. There’s an almost medicinal feel to it and it reminds me uncomfortably of the hospital. I move away but realize that I’m sitting on one end of the sofa with the arm against my left side and Greta plastered to my right. I shake my right arm a little to let her know that I need room. When she doesn’t move, I scowl at her.

“Even if she was pregnant, so what? Kid would be mine and all of us would be happy.”

That’s not entirely the truth. Her mom and dad would frown. A lot. But in the end, Charlotte and I having kids is the culmination of both our families’ dreams. They’d get over it real quick. I can feel myself harden slightly at the thought of Charlotte being pregnant. That’d be cool. Not now I mean, but later after I’m out of the Marines or even just after boot camp. We should talk about this. I tap the glass of my phone and the numbers settle into 1:15.

With a finger hovering over the call button, I contemplate the time difference. She might be up. Or I might wake her up. Before I can dial, though, the phone is plucked from my fingers. Greta holds it behind her.

“What the fuck?” As I reach over her body to grab it, she leans backward and I collapse on top of her, somehow falling between her open legs. Her thighs grip my hips and she rubs against me as I try to get my phone back. A flash of light followed by a shutter sound goes off. I turn toward the offending noise and it’s that S girl. Fuck. I can’t remember her name.

“Need some help?” Nick’s there and plucks the phone from Greta’s hand. Shoving off her body, I catch the phone that Nick tosses me.
Greta is still lying on the sofa, her legs slightly sprawled looking up at me beneath her eyelashes. She probably thinks she looks sexy but instead it looks a bit grotesque. “You should cover yourself. This desperate look isn’t going to get you anything but a disease.”

Turning on my heel, I pocket my phone. To Nick I say, “Let’s get out of here.”

He nods but before we leave, he turns back to Greta. “You’ve got issues girl. Better work them out or these parties will be closed to you.”

He high fives Milhawk as we exit.

“No worries about that chick,” Milhawk says. “She’s off the list.”

“Whatever,” I say. I’m more interested in talking to Charlotte than talking about one messed up girl from North Prep.

“She’s trouble,” Nick mutters as we walk toward the car. “Don’t underestimate her.”

“What could she possibly do?” I scoff.

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Charlotte XXV

Nathan

My time with Charlotte flies by. I had taken her presence in my life for granted and it isn’t until she is gone that I realize how much she is part of my daily routine. Even before we touched each other in ways that I’d fantasized about, she was always there.And now she’s not. 

Nick feels it too. In the week following her departure, after the whispered private promises and the tear filled public goodbyes—her tears, not mine—we are both uncharacteristically quiet. 

“Miss her man.” Nick powers down the car window as we speed to class. “Didn’t think I would because Skype and shit. And because she’s been out of school for weeks. But I still expect her to be home ready to hear all the crap that went on at school.” 

“Yup,” I answer. My feelings are too intense to give them much verbal play. I don’t want to sound like a preteen who is so insecure that he keeps checking his phone to see if the girl he likes has responded to his last text. But Christ, I do miss her in so many ways. 

I miss her small body next to mine at night. I miss her fingers running through my hair as I sit on the floor to study. She’d lie on the bed and prop her chin on my shoulder, pretending to read but more often distracting me because she claimed I smelled too good not to lick. Taking a deep breath, I drive those thoughts away so I don’t walk into the school with a hard on so massive my backpack won’t cover it.

Yes. Fuck. I miss her. 

“Guess you’ll have to get used to missing each other if you’re going to spend four years after graduation in the military,” Nick muses.

Guilt spears me because I still haven’t told Charlotte. I meant to but then I was distracted by sex. I’m a seventeen year old male whose girlfriend wanted to be taught how to give a blow job. Nothing would have steered me away from that course of action. Not a tornado, a five alarm fire, or confessions about future plans.

And there I go again. The jeans are feeling too tight again. I have to stop thinking about Charlotte and sex. At least for the next eight hours or so. After? Once I’m back in my bedroom, I’ll be jerking it like a madman. My hand will probably be calloused by the time she gets back. I can just picture it. “Why Nathan, your hand is so rough. Been working out much?”
“Yeah, I fapped every night for three hours looking at your pictures, smelling your pillow, and remembering your tongue all over my body.”
I’m not sure whether she’ll be disgusted or turned on. 

As if he’s reading my mind, Nick asks, “Think it will be hard to go without? I mean, like I can’t not have sex every weekend or I think my brain processes shut down.” 

“Nice Nick. Real classy.”

“What?” He raises his hands trying for the innocent look. “There are guys out there who are only pleasuring one woman and there are guys—like you—who aren’t having sex at all. I’m doing both genders a favor by picking up the slack.”

Shaking my head, I snort. “If that helps you sleep at night. Hope you are wrapping it up. No need for little Jacksons running around before you graduate. Not to mention disease.” 

“Thanks a lot for jinxing me. Next girl I see, I’ll impregnate. I’m going to blame it on you.”

“You can blame anything you want on me. You’re the one whose life will end when Dad finds out.” 

This shuts Nick down. “I’m just sleeping with Josie and have been for like three months now.”

Josie is a senior at an all girl’s Catholic school. She lives on the eighth floor. I’m sure Nick picked her because of the easy access.  “I know. I’m just messing with you.”

When we get to school, I check the time. Charlotte is seven hours ahead so right now she’s probably getting out of treatment or tutoring. We don’t have a good lock on her schedule yet. I send her a quick text.

Heading to class. If you’re learning German, get all the good curse words. And then how to say I want to lick your breasts.

As soon as I send it, I realize that this is a bad idea. I don’t want Charlotte asking anyone about sex over there. What if her tutor is a guy and thinks she’s coming on to him.

Scratch that. Just the curse words. English is fine for me. I know a lot of ways to say I want you in English. 

Charlotte: (1/2) ROFL. My tutor is a Swiss Miss. She looks like she belongs on the package of those horrible hot chocolate drink packages that had the dried marshmallows. Remember those? I loved those. 

Charlotte: (2/2) She’s actually not teaching me anything because I’m still in the testing stage so basically she just has me reading. I’m supposed to call her Frau Kielholz but since she looks like she might only be a few years older than me she agreed I could call her Reta.

The bell rings. I try texting and running into the building. 

“Ask her if Reta is hot,” Nick says waving his phone at me. Charlotte is texting us both at the same time. He speeds off toward his class and I run up the stairs for Advanced Comp.  

Is sh hot? N wants to kno.

Charlotte: Please. It’s like hot genes barfed all over here. Everyone is hot. Even the 90 year old grandmothers are hot. It’s depressing. Never come here Nate. Promise me.

Nate: Promise to find no one hotter than you.

Charlotte: Lame. Luv Ux1000.

Nate: Luv U

When the noon bell rang, I lope down to the entrance, taking the stairs two, three at a time. Near the bottom, I use the railing and catapult myself past three sets of slowpokes. As I’m adjusting my backpack that slipped off my shoulder as I was vaulting five feet downward, I feel a shove against my shoulder. More like in my pectoral area than my shoulder. Looking down I see the angry face of Charlotte’s friend Greta.

“Whoa there. You drunk this morning?” I straighten her by her shoulders and set her out of my way. I hear the click of a camera phone. It’s another girl whose name I can’t ever remember. Sarah, Susan, Shelly. One of those. I don’t really care though so I just continue to walk past them until Greta’s next words stop me in my tracks.

“Your girl off to get her abortion?” 

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