Tag 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 Chronicles XXIV

Charlotte

“I’m going to sleep here tonight,” I whisper to Nathan as he and his brother and two other random people on the internet work together to kill enemies on their internet screen. He pauses the game and whips off his VR glasses.

“Hey,” Nick objects but cuts himself off when he sees Nate’s look. Nick says something in his microphone and pushes out of his chair. “I’m going to piss.” 

Nate waves him off. When the door to the game room closes, he turns to me. “How did you get the okay for that?” 

“I ate an entire sandwich today.”

“Is this code?”

I reach for the hair on the nape of his neck and feel him shiver against me. “I told my dad you were responsible for my increased appetite.”
“You didn’t,” he groans but his head dips down in an unspoken gesture for me to pet more of his head. 

Taking advantage of Nick’s absence, I straddle Nathan’s lap ostensibly so I can get a better angle for the head scratching but really I want his body next to mine. He’s so warm all the time. I love it. It’s like having my own personal heater. His hands drop to my hips and pulls me closer until the centers of bodies are flush against each other and this contact heats me up in a completely different way—from the inside out. I start to rub against him, drawing on the memories of our interaction last night. He made me feel amazing and I want to replicate those emotions over and over and over. As many times as I can. 

He groans and tightens his hold on my hips but doesn’t push me away. I tug on the hair at his nape and his face falls back obediently. When I kiss him, his lips are firm and soft and those remind me of that hard length that is pushing insistently against me. We kiss for a long time. They are lazy kisses. The types of kisses you exchange when you have all the time in the world, sitting on the beach or laying on a blanket at a concert in the park. They’re kisses that shut out the whole word so that it’s just you and him and everything on the periphery is a beautiful blur like an Impressionist painting. 

“I need to tell you something,” he says finally pulling away from me. I don’t want to stop and follow him as he draws back. Talking isn’t half as interesting as licking his tongue or having him give me tiny bites along my lower lip. 

I know what it is that he wants to tell me but I don’t really care about that nonsense but he isn’t deterred and pushes me back. With a serious face on, he holds me an arms width away. “Charlotte.” 

“I already know.” I say and when at his surprise, his grip weakens and I dive in for another kiss. 

Nathan dodges me and I end up with my lips on his ear. Fine. I haven’t spent much time here. I wiggle closer and run my tongue along the outer edge and down to his lobe. As I suck, he moans and his fingers clench on my butt. Ohh he likes it there so much. I smile to myself and store this knowledge away. He’s not able to speak until I pause to switch sides.

“Wait,” he pants out. “I have to—”

“That everyone at school thinks I’m pregnant because they know we’re having sex?” 

He tenses and then let’s out a breath, like he’s relieved. “Yeah. Who told you?”

“Greta texted me. Are you the father?”

“Who else?” 

“Would you like that?”

“Yes.”  There’s not a moment of hesitation and it fills me with so much joy that we’d have a family together someday. I can picture us now, taking our kid down to Navy Pier for the first time and riding the carousel. 

“But not now.” I tease him. 

He smirks and presses his lips against the base of my throat which sends a bolt right between my legs. I tip my neck back to give him greater access.  “How many will we have?”

“Two? Ten? I don’t care,” he murmurs against the soft vulnerable skin of my throat. 

“Two. I’m the one having them.”

“Good for me.” He swings me up in his arms. “Let’s go practice.”

I fasten my mouth to his, licking the inside of his mouth so thoroughly I could recreate it from memory. His response is to pick me up and carry me across the hall. The sound of his kicking the door shut no doubt declaring exactly what we’re doing inside his bedroom. 

Alone, we become frenzied. I’m pulling his t-shirt off and he’s got his hands at the buttons of my blouse. Somehow I find myself on my knees before him, pulling his jeans down. His erection is right at my face and it occurs to me that I’ve never done this before. I’ve never wanted to do this before but now, as his shorts jut out in front of me, it’s irresistible. Saliva pools under my tongue. Slowly I slide my hands up his thighs, the light coarse hair unfamiliar under my hands. I didn’t get to touch him enough last night. Above the waistband of his shorts, I see his abdomen contract. The surrounding air is thin as if Nathan has sucked it all inside him.

My fingers stop at the bottom of his boxer briefs and he rocks back slightly on his heels. 

“Do you want me to?” I ask looking up at him through my lashes. His face is shows strain and his eyes glitter in the afternoon light. 

“Only if you want to,” he answers hoarsely. At his side, his fingers are clenched like he wants to reach for me but is holding himself back.

“You’ll have to tell me what to do.” I slip my fingers over his shorts. There’s a wet spot where it looks like the tip of his head is and it’s got me all kinds of curious. Grabbing his waistband, I pull down until his dick is released. It pops out and points straight up. There’s a drop of liquid on the end which grows larger as I stare. In fact, I think his penis is also grower larger or maybe from this angle, so close up, it looks huge. I dab my finger on the fluid and suck it off. 

“Salty,” I say. “Not bad.”

“Shit, Charlotte,” he groans. “You’re killing me.” 

I shrug. “I’m just surprised. Other girls say it’s gross.”

“You don’t have to do this.” But his actions say that he wants it bad. He’s nearly trembling with the effort to not grab my head between his hands. Despite the fact that I’m on my knees, I realize I have so much power over Nathan right now. Like he’d do anything I’d ask of him. 

“I want to.” I stroke my finger over the dark red tip. It’s velvety soft. “I can’t stick the whole thing in my mouth though.” There’s a big vein on the top and I trace that from the top to the root. His dick bobs as if it is almost sentient, seeking more of my touch. 

With a choked laugh, he grabs the base and wraps a big fist around it. “Slide your lips down to the top of my hand.” 

“Where do I put my hands?” I ask wishing it was my hand around the base.

“Anywhere you want.” 

“Here?” I place my hands against his rock hard thighs. 

“Yes,” he pauses and then opens his hand to release himself. “Or you can hold on with both hands.”

I make a circle with my palms and slide them down over his penis. “Like this?”

He stumbles. “Shit. I can’t stand up.” With a breathless laugh, he toes off his jeans that I hadn’t gotten around to completely discarding. He pulls me up to my feet.

“But I want—“ 

He cuts me off with a firm kiss. “I know and so do I but I’m going to fall over because I’m so turned on so if you don’t mind, I’d like to sit on the end of the bed.” 

“You’re going to teach me to give you a good blow job, though, right?”

His eyes bright with desire and laughter, he croaks out. “The best.” 

***

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Charlotte Chronicles XVI

Don’t forget all the prices of my Woodlands books will be going up to $4.99 on February 16 except for SnowKissed which will be priced at $2.99. In the future, all books will be priced at an introductory $3.99 with the price going up to $4.99 after the first month of release. This is designed to reward the early purchasers. 

***

When Nick and I were ten and Nate was twelve, we went to the Shedd Aquarium for all school field trip. I had a crush on a boy named Lancelot. Everyone did but I think it was because his name looked like it belonged on a Valentine’s Day card. In the basement of the big aquarium there is a dark room devoted just to showing off jellyfish.  Attached along one carpeted wall was a grouping of fake squishy jellyfish made of some kind of weird translucent polymer. You could stick your finger against the pliable rubber and bisect the jellyfish in half and when you released it, the half moon body would spring right back. Lancelot was standing next to me and I was transfixed as he stuck his finger inside the jellyfish repeatedly.

He whispered to me that this is what sticking his finger up a girl felt like. If Nate hadn’t been there hovering behind me, maybe all I would have done was blush or maybe would have hit him. But before I had a chance to react, Nate had pulled Lancelot around and stuck a fist in Valentine’s Day’s face.  Lancelot tried to punch back and the entire class was sent back to the bus for causing a ruckus.

Later that night Nate relayed the whole story to our families, much to my embarrassment. Dad ruffled Nate’s hair and Noah patted him on the back. But the rumor got out that Nate and Nick would beat up any guy who even looked cross eyed at me. It was Lancelot’s revenge and an effective one because until right now, I hadn’t ever been kissed. Not once. Not even a not-so-accidental bus of my lips against a Y chromosome during a birthday party game mostly because every co-ed party, birthday or not, has also included at least one—if not both—Jackson boys.

But as I lay there in my bed, my lower legs entangled with Nate’s and my hands trapped between our bodies, feeling his soft, gentle lips move across mine, I’m just so glad I’ve never kissed anyone before. The shivery sensation that is tingling me from the inside out is being generated by Nate and only him. This is the safest thrill ride I’ll ever be on but I want so much more.

Parting my lips, I give a silent plea for him to take my offering and lead me deeper into the heart of our connection. Right now I feel like we are standing on the periphery looking down. He hesitates for just a moment and then I feel it. His tongue running lightly across my bottom lip. The shivers are turning into quakes and my body seeks purchase against his. When his tongue sweeps inside my mouth, I stroke it with my own. His barriers melt, like an icicle in winter under the heat of the midday sun.

He’s no longer holding me a safe distance apart. His hands are in my hair and then he’s rolling me over, pressing his long body into mine. A hard ridge in the middle of his body settles between my legs and I clutch him even closer—my legs hitching up around his hips and over his thighs. His tongue feels huge in my mouth and he’s licking every inch inside me as if I’m the tastiest thing he’s ever had the opportunity to savor.

All the locker room gossip suddenly makes so much sense. Kissing is the best thing in the world. It’s more exciting than a roller coaster at the Navy Pier. It tastes better than a root beer float from The Brown Cow in Franklin Park. It feels better than sitting by the fireplace after eight hours on the slopes in Aspen. I wish I had the courage to reach down and palm him. To feel what Greta was so shocked I’d never touched before. But I’m also distracted by the way the weight of him between my legs makes me feel and how that rigid length between his legs is making me pulse and itch. My fingers are digging into his muscular shoulders and my hips are moving, almost as if they are independent of the rest of my body. I’m moving and pushing and pulling against him all at the same time.

My sudden flurry of activity causes Nathan to pull his mouth from mine and burying his face in my neck. He groans out my name. “Charlotte. God.” Then he’s pressing down against me hard and I’m whimpering. I don’t know what I need or want right now but I instinctively know that he can give it to me.

“Please Nathan,” I plead.

“Oh Charlotte,” he repeats as if in pain. Then with a giant sigh he pulls away from me and flops onto his back. His chest is heaving as if he’s run a very long distance and I hear myself panting lightly. I lean forward to kiss him again, to restart all those lovely feelings but he holds me away. “I need a moment,” he says.

“Why?” I’m genuinely puzzled. “We don’t need to stop.”  I start to roll out of bed to find the condom wrapper that Nate had thrown aside but a large hand on my wrist makes me pause.

“I do.” Rolling to his side, he props himself on one elbow and pats the space right next to his body. I climb back into bed and cuddle up next to him staring up with big eyes. “I want this all to be special for both of us Charlotte. There’s no rush.”

His hand has burrowed its way under my t-shirt and just that action makes my breasts feel a little heavier and a little more sensitive. “But I want more now,” I say a little petulantly.

“Me too,” he responds with a rueful laugh. “It’s just that I want to do this so right for you that when we finally do it, it will be one of the best memories of your life.”

“It will,” I promise because how could it not?

He shakes his head as if I’m not really understanding him.  “It’s your first time—no our first time,” he corrects.

I scrunch up my nose remembering that he’s had other girls before me, ones with more experience who aren’t as fragile as I am. Maybe he’s afraid I won’t be very good at this and that he’ll be sorry for all the promises he felt like he had to make because he’s Nathan Jackson and I’m Charlotte Randolph.

“Is it because I don’t have enough experience? If I’d done this before, we’d be having sex right now?” I ask in a small voice.

“No!” He shakes his head and pulls me closer to him. “I’m glad, selfishly, that I’m your first. And I wish I’d waited too because we could be learning together. I just think that we should take our time.” He gives a small shrug. “I didn’t come here tonight or last night just because I want to have sex with you Charlotte. I want to hold you. Make some memories before you leave.”

“So let’s make the best memory,” I beg but Nathan is resolute. I know I’m not going to be able to move him from his path so I allow myself to vent some of my frustration in the form of a punch on the arm—the one he’s leaning on. I hit in just the right place and he collapses next to me with a huff of laughter.

“I’m going to make it so good for you Charlotte.” Tucking my head against his shoulder, he draws up the blankets around us. “So good.”

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Charlotte Chronicles, VI

Happy Thanksgiving to the US folks. On Monday Last Hit will be at your favorite retailers. Keep your eyes here for the buy links

***

Charlotte Chronicles VI

Nathan

I wait until Nick is done with the last rep of his leg extensions. “What was that all about with Charlotte today?”

Nick shoots me a look but says nothing. Ignoring me, he climbs off the machine and wipes it down before heading for the free weights. I follow. “If you’ve got something up your ass, just spit it out instead of stewing about it.”

“What do you care?” He picks up a twenty five pound barbell and starts doing bicep curls. When I pick up the thirty pound weights, Nick just rolls his eyes.

“Seriously? You’re giving me crap over the fact I can lift more than you?”

“Whatever,” he mumbles.

I set the barbells onto the rack and pull Nick on the shoulder so he will stop and talk to me. “Nick, what’s wrong?”

For a moment, I think he might shrug me off. Then he releases a huge sigh and places his weights next to mine. Leaning down, he picks up his discarded towel and walks over to the water cooler. I trail behind waiting impatiently for him to spill it.

Either intentionally or because he isn’t sure what he wants to say, Nick makes me wait until he’s drained two glasses of water. When he starts peeling a banana, I lunge for him. He starts laughing, the little fucker, and dances away. “I wondered how long you’d wait.”

“Fuck you.” I laugh. Nick and I can never stay mad at each other for long.

“Uh oh, you owe me five or I tell Mom.” Mom hates hearing us cuss and makes us put five dollars in a jar that we then donate to the Widows and Orphans Charity. Dad fills it up about once a month.

“Yeah? And how are you going to explain all the porn tumblrs you’ve been looking up on your computer? I screenshotted your history FYI.” I haven’t but Nick doesn’t know that.  His quick temper flares again and I think he might try to force feed me the banana. “Just kidding.” I back away holding up my hands in surrender.

Nick’s face grows serious. “You know they are thinking of shipping Charlotte to Sweden, right?”

That stops me in my tracks.  I am glad I am near a weight bench because the thought of Charlotte being moved out of the country leaves me more winded than my hour long workout. “When did you hear that?”

“Charlotte told me yesterday.”

“And you’re just tell me now?” I yell at Nick.

“Volume, please.” Nick jiggles his ear.

“Sorry.” I reply curtly but I’m not sorry at all. This was vital information. “Why didn’t you tell me yesterday.” What are Aunt AM and Uncle Bo thinking? Charlotte needs to be with me, us.  Here where her family and friends are, not in some strange country with people who don’t know her.

“Where’d you go the night Charlotte had her tumor out?” Nick asks in an abrupt change of subject.

Caught off guard, I stammer, “Uh here. The gym.”

“Really? Cuz when we got the call that Charlotte was out of surgery, I came down here to the gym and then down to the common one on the sixth floor. You weren’t in either one.” Nick doesn’t look at me but I know what I’d see in his eyes. Disappointment. Suddenly I feel angry at Dad for ratting me out. Surging to my feet, I start for the door. Nick stops me. “I saw Madeline yesterday in the lobby. She asked about you. Where you’ve been. How come she hasn’t seen you. I told her you were at the hospital with Charlotte. She asked me if that was where you’d taken off in such a rush the other night.”

“Goddammit.” I lean my head against the glass door of the gym. “What’d you say to her?”

“I told her it wasn’t any of her goddamned business where you went and what you did.” Nick bites out.

“Did you really?” This time I do turn to look at him. Dad had always taught us to be respectful to women and I just couldn’t see Nick saying that. Even to Madeline.

Nick looks down at his feet and shakes his head. “No, but I wanted to. I just said that Charlotte was our number one priority now.”

“Did you say anything to Charlotte?” That was the most important question. I hold my breath as Nate answered.

“No.”

The sheer relief at his response made me weak. “Thanks.” It’s inadequate but heartfelt. I push away from the door and gesture for Nick to follow me to the condo. He doesn’t get up and worry is all over his face. “I think Aunt AM knows, though, because after Charlotte told me I hung around outside the room when Mom came. She and Aunt AM were talking about this new clinic in Sweden and Aunt AM said it’d be good to get Charlotte away from us for a while.”

“What’d Mom say.”

“I couldn’t hear. They moved away from the door.”

“Fuck.” I curse and this time Nick doesn’t threaten to tell Mom. “So you think Aunt AM knows about Madeline and wants to move Charlotte away because of that?”

Nick spreads his hands. “Why else?”

I can think of a thousand reasons but instead of enumerating them, I run upstairs to Dad’s library and burst in. He’s on the phone and unhappy at the unannounced interruption. He gestures for me to sit down but then notices I’m in my workout clothes. Muting the phone, he barks at me. “Don’t sit on my leather chairs until you’ve showered.”

I stand because I’m not leaving to shower or eat or shit or anything until I find out what’s going on.

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Charlotte Chronicles, V

Charlotte Chronicles V

Nathan

“Oh Nate! What’re you doing here?” Aunt AM comes around Charlotte’s empty hospital bed. I hold out my books and give her a confused look. I’d been coming every night after football practice for the past week. What does she think I’m doing here?

“I’m here to study,” I say. “And hang out. Where is everyone?” I look around but don’t see Nick or Charlotte. Aunt AM places a hand on my elbow and starts moving out of the room, but I pull back. “Where’s everyone?” I repeat.

Aunt AM doesn’t give me a direct answer. Instead, she tightens the grip on my arm. For some reason she wants me to leave. I’m several inches taller than Aunt AM and probably a hundred pounds heavier. My superior height and weight make it impossible for most people to move me when I’m refusing to follow them. Aunt AM is no different. She turns to me and places her hands on her hips.

“You were so much easier to manage when you were a child, Nate.”

“But not as cute, right?” I wink at her because even though she looks a little exasperated with me now, I know she loves me.

“No, you were pretty darn cute as a baby.” Aunt AM sighs and then shoots a glance at the bathroom door that I just now notice is shut. A buzzing sound is coming from inside and then I hear voices. I can’t make out the words, but because I’ve grown up listening to these voices I know its Nick and Charlotte. I start for the door. There’s no way that they need privacy.

Aunt AM places her hand on my arm again and this time the tone in her voice, warning and wary, stops me. “Nate.”

“What’s up?” I don’t understand. I hear giggles which are from Charlotte and then a lower chuckle from Nick. My body is tensing up like it does before I’m about to kick the body bag in the gym. My breath is becoming more rapid and anger builds. Nick should not be in the bathroom with Charlotte. They should not be together, laughing behind closed doors. What is with the buzzing noise?  The buzzing noise shuts off and I hear my name being repeated in low tones.

“Nate, Nathan, Nathan Jackson.” Aunt AM finally breaks through and I look down at her, wondering why she’s repeating my name so many times.

“Yeah?” But she doesn’t have my full attention because I have to know what’s going on in there. There’s a silence in the room and then I hear crying. It’s Charlotte. Shaking off Aunt AM’s hand, I take three strides across the room and have my hand on the bathroom door. I’m so close now that I can hear Nick comforting Charlotte.

“It’s fine, Charlotte. You look fine,” Nick says. Charlotte replies but I don’t understand her. Neither does Nick. “What?” he asks.

“It’s not fine.” Charlotte says more clearly. “Look at me. I look like a penis head.”

Nick burst out laughing. “Have you even seen a penis?

Aunt AM was tugging at my arm but stopped at Nick’s question. I guess we both want to hear the answer to this.

“Um duh, pictures. Remember when Francine forwarded the picture of her brother looking at himself in the mirror.” Silence reigned while we all contemplated this for a second.

“Yeah, that was unfortunate.” Nick snickered. “But you look nothing like Francine’s brother’s penis.”

“Only because he had hair around his dick and I don’t.” Charlotte said. Aunt AM let out a tiny moan of dismay beside me. I don’t know exactly how I feel that Charlotte had seen some guy’s penis but it isn’t pleasant.

Nick makes a gagging sound. “Can we never talk about Francine’s brother’s penis again? I’m going to need some brain bleach.”

“I can’t be seen like this,” Charlotte says unhappily. “I look hideous. I’m so glad we did this before Nate came.”

My back bristles. I don’t get why I was shut out of this. Charlotte had talked about shaving off her hair, but I thought it was just that, talk. I’d have done it with her. I wanted to do it. I was her rock, not Nick.

“Yeah, well, you know I’m standing behind you when he comes because he’s going to be pissed off you did this without talking to him first.”

“He’s not the boss of me,” declares Charlotte. “I’ve already got two parents. I don’t need a third one.” Is that what she thought? That I was trying to be her parent? Disheartened, I allowed Aunt AM to lead me away out into the hallway.

“Nate, honey,” she said, reaching up to brush my hair out of my face. Hair I shouldn’t have. Hair I should’ve shaved off with Charlotte so she could see we’d all be penis heads together if that was really what she looked like. “Charlotte is at a delicate stage. She’s fifteen. She’s starting to notice guys and have guys notice her.” This statement makes me ball my hands into fists which Aunt AM notices because she hurries on, “And not that she likes anyone but she’s very conscious of how she looks. Her emotions are all over the place because of the medications and the surgeries and just all the unknowns of the future.”

Unknowns? “What’re you saying?” I ask sharply. “She’s going to be okay, right?” I thought after they’d taken the tumor out of her head, it was all good from there. “The radiation is just precautionary, right?”

Aunt AM’s smile is a little watery. “We hope so, Nathan. We hope so.” Aunt AM pulls me in for a hug. “Be patient with her, will you?”

I nod. I can be patient. I can. Aunt AM releases me. A nurse catches her attention and Aunt Am follows her to the nurses’ station and I take the opportunity to head back to Charlotte’s room.  The bathroom door is still closed. I decide to employ some of that patience and drop into the arm chair next to the empty hospital bed. My forbearance is rewarded when a second later, the bathroom door flies open and out walks Nick and Charlotte, looking like to freshly shorn peas. I cast Nick a dark look and he slides behind Charlotte, all six feet two of him.

“See, told ya he’d be pissed.”

“I’m not pissed.” Rising up, I position Charlotte directly in front of me and pretend to examine her carefully. I don’t really care what Charlotte looks like without hair. She could be bald for the rest of her life and she’d still be the prettiest girl around but I figure out pretty quick that she’s not going to believe that. I draw a finger down the middle of her face, from the top of her forehead to the tip of her chin. Then I bisect that imaginary vertical line with a horizontal one. I trace another line from her eyes to the sides of her mouth.

“What’d you learn in biology about symmetry, Charlotte,” I ask her. My voice is a little husky and her eyes widen. She’s trembling a bit under my hand.

“That nature loves symmetry.”

“Right.” She’s caught on quickly. “Your face is pretty damn symmetrical. You’re the type who’s gonna look good with long hair, short hair, and no hair.”

Her lips are shaking a bit and she presses them tight to hold back her tears but a couple slip out of her eyes anyway. I swipe them away with my thumbs but behind the surface sheen of tears, I see comprehension. She believes me. I give her a slow wink and that draws out a beautiful smile. At about the moment I’m going to draw her into my arms, Nick slaps me on the back, “Smooth, big brother. Very nice.”

Nick’s words make mine look like a joke and the look in Charlotte’s eyes turn from appreciation to bleakness like that. I reach over and cuff Nick harder than he expected.

“Ow goddammit, that hurt.” Nick rubs the back of his head but it’s too late. No amount of head slaps is going to bring confidence back into Charlotte’s eyes tonight.

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Charlotte Chronicles, IV

Charlotte Chronicles IIV

Charlotte
My mom is saying things but I’m not really understanding them. Like I know what all the words mean individually but I am having a hard time putting it all together. And it’s making me angry. “Stop. Just stop.” I say. Or maybe I shout it because Mom presses her lips together in a disapproving way, a sure sign she was suppressing something.

The doctor had come in earlier to tell me that they didn’t think that the tumor had resulted in any brain damage and that I was still as smart as always only that now I might see some changes in how I used the information in my head.  And that I might be more emotional now because I had a reduced ability to control my feelings.

I guess that explained why I am crying all the mother loving time.  I am sick of crying. I am sick of the hospital. I don’t want to go to surgery this afternoon to have my port put in. I don’t want to undergo several courses of radiation therapy to make sure all my tumor cells are killed off.

Today is Tuesday. I’ve been in the hospital for five days now. I guess the good thing is that after I get the port put in, I can wear actual pajamas and not the hospital gown and they’ll move me out of the main hospital into an adjacent facility with a big room that overlooks the city. Just like at home.  Only it will still be in a hospital.

I’m missing school and gymnastics practice. Nick tried to cheer me up earlier by saying that I’d gotten too tall for gymanstics anyway. I had grown a little in the last year and some of the maneuvers weren’t as tight. Maybe I would’ve given it up soon but I wished that I could’ve made that decision, not have it taken away from me like my stupid hair. Or where I was going to go to school when after I was discharged.

“I can’t believe you’d make leave school and move to Switzerland.” I glare at my mother and then look pleadingly at my dad. He’s a softie, always trying to make mom and me happy. Living with the two of us has taken a lot out of him, he liked to say.  I love my mom but we grate on each other’s nerves. Dad says it’s because we’re too much alike. I don’t think we’re anything alike. For instance, I would not make my daughter leave her only friends and take her to another country to get better.

The Jacksons have been kicked out of the room and its just us Randolphs. Probably because my mom knew that the Jacksons would not be for us moving away for the year. Nick is my best friend and Nate, well, I couldn’t leave him either. He is going away to college soon and I want to enjoy him being around while I can, even if he was a jerk to me most of the time. I’ll miss Aunt Grace and Uncle Noah too.

“I just think that the transition would be easier for you. We’ll hire a tutor to go with us so you won’t get behind and when we can, we’ll travel around Europe. It will be a big adventure for us.”  Mom is using her ‘Let me explain to you why Freedom Funds is the best hedge fund in the world’ voice. Irritating much?

“You can stop talking to me like I’m some prospective client. I’m not leaving North Prep. Last year sucked because I was a freshman but I’m a sophomore now. I have status!”

“Don’t say suck,” Mom said but it was an automatic response, not one that had any real force behind it. She was too busying staring at Dad.  They’ve developed this technique where they can communicate with each other just by looking. No words.  I’ve seen Aunt Grace and Uncle Noah do it too. Sometimes the look those folks exchange makes me feel uncomfortable, like I’m seeing something private I shouldn’t be looking at. But it’s like the sun and I can’t look away. I want to have that kind of connection. I’ve decided that’s the sign you’ve found your one true love.

It’s never worked with Nate. I tried it once when he started seeing Yolanda from school. Yolanda was a senior last year. Older girls have always had a thing for Nate. I don’t get it. Why don’t they stick with the guys in their own grade and leave Nate alone?  Yolanda was always touching him in school. I’d see her run her hands down the side of his arm or over his back or sometimes even around the waistband of his jeans. I thought it was disgusting how she pawed at him and I glared at him one day trying to tell him silently how gross it was but he just stared at Yolanda with a stupid grin on his face. So even if I thought Nate was my one true love, he didn’t return my feelings. He’s too busy sleeping with all the seniors.  Like Yolanda.

When Yolanda left for college, I was thrilled but her place was taken by another senior girl. Plus there’s this girl who lives downstairs from us who’s in college and she’s always looking at him like he’s a side of beef and she hasn’t eaten in a year. I haven’t seen Nate give her the stupid grin so it seems safe to assume that they aren’t doing it.  I asked Nick once if he thought his brother was hooking up with the girl downstairs and Nick gave me this weird look and told me that he wasn’t going to talk about stuff like that with me.

Dad clears his throat and I do a mental fist pump. That Dad is talking and not Mom meant I’ve won this round. “We’ll take it a day at a time. If North Prep gets too much for you, the Switzerland idea is still available.”

Mom leans over and gives me a kiss on my forehead. Her lips are trembling like she is trying not to cry and I just don’t understand what she is so upset about. How could North Prep be too much for me? All my friends went to North Prep. Nothing bad could happen to me there.

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Charlotte Chronicles, III

Charlotte Chronicles III

Charlotte

“Do you think I should just shave my head or wait until the hair falls off during radiation?” I close one eye and lift my long hair off my neck.

“Are you going to get a pirate patch?” Nick asks. He is lying on the hospital bed next to me playing on his DS. Mom and Dad had moved an extra wide hospital bed in here after the surgery because someone was always lying on the bed with me. Not that I minded it but I didn’t even know that they made beds bigger.  The nurses grumbled because apparently it was harder to take my vitals when one side was squished by the body of some teenager.

But friends from school came over and invariably they ended up beside me. Or Nate who’s been here every night like a giant muscle bound teddy bear. He’d disappeared before and after my surgery and then came back late that night and sat with mom all night until my mom left to get something and Nate nudged me over. I like it more than I should because I’m sure that Nate is just being brotherly. But it’s a nice change from him always giving me a hard time. His default mood for the last year has been pissed off. Even Nick gives him wide berth. When I got sick, I was sure he was thinking I’d ruined something for him and that’s why he took a runner during my surgery.  But now he’s back to being big brother Nate. Unfortunately I have some not so fraternal feelings toward him.

But a girl whose got a tube in her neck, a slightly enlarged noggin, and a bald head isn’t going to get someone like Nate to notice her in that way.  I should probably just enter the nunnery now.

“No, why? You think that goes with a bald head?” I ask Nick trying to shove Nate out of my head. I have weird feelings toward Nate and I’m not really up for dissecting them right now.

“I’m wondering why you are closing one eye.”

I punch Nick in the shoulder. “I’m just trying to see it from a different perspective.”

Nick sets down the DS and pushes me upright. He pulls up the hair tight and away from my face. And then he closes one eye and then the other. “I think we should shave our heads today.”

“We?”

“Hell yeah,” Nick looks at me like I’m bonkers. “You know I’m shaving my head in solidarity. A bunch of us are. Even Meghan.”

Maybe its the drugs but I start to cry. Even Meghan? My best friend from gymnastics?

“Ah shit, don’t cry.” Nick awkwardly pats me on the shoulder but I don’t stop leaking water everywhere. I’m afraid and I’m grateful to my friends and I love my family and everything that is going on is overwhelming me.

“Shit shit shit.” I hear Nick say and then I feel him moving off the bed. I want to call out to him that I’m fine but I can’t because I’m really not fine.  What Nick doesn’t say and that we both know is that I have to shave my hair off because they’ve already taken a huge hunk of it off to operate on my head. And who the heck cares about my hair when they are sticking a plastic tube down the back of my neck to drain off excess fluid that is now collecting in my brain. And the fact that I have a hard time comprehending reading or writing words down. It’d be a struggle competing at a 2nd grade spelling bee right now.

I know I should be so happy that I made it out of surgery but all I can think of is how my seven years of gymnastics training is being flushed down the toilet; how everyone will stare at me when I go back to school; how my mom won’t stop looking at me like she’s afraid the next breath is my last.  My mom is never worried. She’s this business powerhouse who can climb giant mountains.  But she’s afraid which tells me I should be shitting my pants.

So I can’t stop crying even though I’m making Nick feel so bad he has to leave the room.  The bed dips and a pair of strong arms gather me up. It’s Nate. I recognize his smell and it makes me cry even harder because I have such a stupid idiotic crush on him and I’m afraid no one will want to marry me because I don’t have any hair.

“You’ve done what legions of other girls at school wish they had the power to do.”

“What’s that?” I mumble into Nate’s t-shirt clad chest.

“Make Nick leave them alone.”

Nate’s bad joke prompts a watery giggle and I’m able to quell my hysterics. Pushing away, I wipe ineffectually at my wet face. Nate nudges my hands aside and sops up the tears with a couple of kleenexes. I notice that the clock says its just after one in the afternoon.

“Isn’t your dad making you guys go to school?” It’s Tuesday, at least I think it is. I’ve been here since Saturday.

“Nope. You’re little brain tumor is getting us out of school for the week. Mom’s orders.” Nate leans back against the pillows of the hospital bed. Even though the bed is slightly larger, his big frame takes up most of the space so that when I lean back I have to rest partially against his chest. I remind myself that Nate is like my brother. Just a brother.  Like Nick.

If only I could just convince myself of that.

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Will the Charlotte Chronicles be a book?

I’ve gotten so much interest in the Charlotte Chronicles. I love it.  Here’s the deal. I’ve got four more Woodlands books to write and those come first. And, depending on how much you love Last Hit, maybe more collaborations.

I want to write Charlotte and Nathan’s love story into a book but that will be some time down the road. Instead, I’m going to work on it a little each week and release it one small section at a time.  This means that you’ll get to read it free all the way to the end, but that the end might not be for a while.

Also, if you use the contact form, double check your email. I had a couple of readers who used it and the email response that I sent bounced back to me.  Thanks everyone!

Charlotte Chronicles II

Charlotte Chronicles II

Nathan

The metal of Charlotte’s bed rattles as she is wheeled out of her room toward the operating theater. Her blue eyes look afraid, like the time she was eight and Nick and I were trying to get her to jump off the diving board into the pool. I finally walked out onto the board with her, held her hand and we jumped off the side together. No amount of hand holding is going to take that fear from her or from any of us.

For a moment after Charlotte is taken away, the room is silent. No soft words exchanged between mom and Aunt AM. No gruff low tones from Uncle Bo or dad.  No sounds from Nick’s Gameboy. It is eerie. Then Aunt AM begins sobbing and her cries are so awful that I have to leave the room. Then I have to leave the hallway but I can’t escape the sounds. They are embedded in my brain.  I sink down into a chair in the waiting room on the trauma floor and clutch my head in my hands. If I could rewind time, I think I’d never get up this morning.

I hear my Dad and then Bo enter the waiting room.

“The surgery may take a couple of hours, it may take longer. Why don’t you take Grace and the boys home and get some rest. We’ll call you as soon as she’s out.” Uncle Bo says.

Dad looks at Uncle Bo and then grabs him. The two stand there clutching each other and that’s all it takes for Nick to break.  Dad reaches out and the three of them huddle together. The only one I hear is Nick but Uncle Bo’s shoulders are heaving.

I walk in the opposite direction toward the windows. The air conditioning is leaving condensation on the window and the glass feels both cold and wet against my forehead. Outside the city is running like nothing out of the ordinary was happening, like two families aren’t breaking down inside this hospital. Like our whole future isn’t dependent on Charlotte making it out of surgery.

I’m not sure how long I stand there but I feel dazed when Dad places his hand on my shoulder.

“We’re going to go home for a bit.” Dad says, drawing me away from the window.

“Don’t want to,” I reply. I want to be here when Charlotte wakes up. She might need me.

“We need to take care of your mom.” Dad squeezes my shoulder.  I nodded because Dad isn’t asking. His tone is mild but when it came to taking care of mom, he wasn’t ever moved.

Home isn’t much better. The other side of the penthouse floor was silent and dark.  Mom starts crying in the car and hasn’t stopped. Dad carries her into the elevator and then down into their bedroom. Nick trails behind.

I stand in the entryway, unsure of what I should do.

Five minutes later, Dad came out looking like he’d aged about ten years in this one day. He dragged a hand through his hair. “Why don’t you go work out some of that energy,” he suggested.

That seemed like as good of an idea as any.  After changing into a pair of gym shorts and a sleeveless t shirt, I walked down the stairs into the private work out facility but stopped short when I saw the long padded mat that Charlotte used to practice her gymnastic moves.

Not gonna happen.

Working out in common gym. I texted my dad.

OK.

As I was boarding the elevator, the phone pinged again. Love you son.

x2 I responded.

The elevator stopped on the eleventh floor and Madeline Short got on. Madeline is a freshman at one of the city colleges. I don’t know her well but she was definitely in my mental spank bank. She’s got a tight body and tends to flirt with me just so she can make me blush or something. Like I’ve never had a girl before.

Madeline stands so close to me you’d think that there were dozens of others in the elevator car instead of just the two of us but I don’t move away because her body is warm and for the first time in hours, I feel like I’m thawing out. And when her arm brushes mine, I start getting hot.  The look in her eyes is an obvious invitation so when the elevator stops at the sixth floor, I don’t get off. And I don’t protest when she presses the close door button and I don’t say anything when she presses the button for her floor.

I follow her silently into her family apartment that is clearly empty.  She leads us confidently down the hall toward a bedroom. I don’t say anything when she pulls down my gym shorts or pushes the t shirt off my head. I’m afraid if I do talk the sounds of Aunt AM’s cries or my mother’s sobs will come back and I don’t want that. I don’t want to think at all.

When Madeline leads me to her bed, when she takes off her clothes, when we lie down together I shut down my brain and just concentrate on the physical feeling of release.

A chime from my phone wakes me out of a dose. I jerk upright and grab my phone.

She made it. She’s asking for you.

I can’t get dressed fast enough.  My motions must have awakened Madeline or maybe she was awake all along. I don’t really care.  I’ve got to get to the hospital.

“Hey, where are you going? I told you my parents are gone.”

“Gotta run.” My mouth feels dry and my throat is sore like all the tears I’ve suppressed were like shards of glass that scraped my insides raw as they traveled from my eye sockets into my stomach.

Madeline leans toward  me and hooks a finger through the waistband of my shorts. “What’s your rush? I’m ready for round three if you are.”

I can’t even stand to have her touch my clothes but my dad would kill me if he knew I was rude to a woman, particularly one I’d just been intimate with.

“I’m sorry,” I give her a tight smile, “family thing.”

She shrugs and ten minutes ago, the lift of her naked breast would’ve gotten me hard and I’d have fallen on her. Now I’ve only got Charlotte on my mind and the two of them together in my head is making me sick.

“I’ll call,” I say and then pulled on my t shirt and grab up my socks and shoes. I don’t look back even when she calls my name out in a bewildered fashion.  I can’t tell her Charlotte’s situation. It’s a family thing.

By the time I get to the hospital, my clothes are back together and I’m winded.  I run to the door and dad is standing there looking grim.  I falter. “Did she,” I’m afraid to finish the sentence.

“She’s fine. A fighter.” Dad says with approval. I move toward the entrance and he stops me. I hear him inhale and then he pushes me back. I strain against him but my seventeen year old body isn’t strong enough to overtake him. Dad was a professional fighter back in the day and he’s still as strong as hell now.  I’m proud to be his son but right now I’m confused as to why he’s keeping me from Charlotte.

“Sorry, hoss, I can’t let you go in there stinking like sex and perfume. You’d embarrass your mother, piss off your Uncle Bo and break Charlotte’s heart. AnnMarie’ll have your nuts on a platter.”

I flush and turn away, embarrassed of my behavior. Dad grabs my head and brings me close to him.

“This is going to be a tough. Loving people is hard.” He looks hard at me. “Are you strong enough to see it through?”

“I am.” I say and straighten. “Sorry, Dad. Won’t happen again.” And it won’t. I’d apologize to Madeline at my first opportunity but Charlotte was meant to be mine.  I knew it when she was born. Nick was her brother but I was her protector. I’d let her down this time, but never again.

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Charlotte Chronicles, Part I

Charlotte Chronicles

You asked for more and I couldn’t stop thinking about Nathan and Charlotte.  I’m going to TRY to offer up a short snippet of their story once a week.  If you don’t know who Charlotte and Nathan are, you need to read the free epilogue to Unspoken.  Or not.
Charlotte

Today is a no good, very bad, wholly rotten day. In the annals (had to look that up) of bad days, this has to be on the top. Nick’s sitting by the window and won’t look at me. Nathan’s in the corner, glowering as if somehow this is all my fault. Mom is trying not to cry and Dad is pacing like a lunatic.

And my head hurts so bad. The doctor says that tonight’s surgery will help alleviate the pressure from the tumor that’s taken up residence in the back of my skull. No one knows what will happen next. Although my mom has said that I probably won’t be able to do gymnastics anymore but that maybe I could join the dance team. FML. Like I would ever.

Later, after everyone is gone but Nick we’ll look up medulloblastoma and find out what the real details are. None of the adults are going to give it to me straight. Even the doctors talk in quiet tones to my parents in the corner. I’m the patient, I wanted to yell at them, but I can’t yell because even speaking is too painful right now. But I’m glaring. My eyes are shouting at them. Unfortunately no one but Nathan is even looking at me right now.

Nathan who thinks I must’ve done something to create this tumor in my head and ruin his day because he can’t stop glowering at me. His face looks thunderous like he’d like to squeeze my head until the tumor pops out like a zit. I’d like that too. But at least he’s looking at me unlike everyone else.

Nathan.

Worst. Fucking. Day. Ever.

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