In Love and War

Truths were bitter. Truth. Sophie was dead. Truth. I was not going to be happy for a long time.
Truth. I was going to be sent far far away.

After losing her best friend, Charlotte moves away to forget her, to forget that the drama and the tension. Of course, she could never expect that the things waiting for her at the place she ran away to, would be far more painful.

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2. Father

            The sunlight coming through her curtains hit her face, the sudden warmth bringing her back to consciousness. She heard the sounds of pacing downstairs, and knew her mother was already planning her exile.

            Charlie already knew her options, or lack thereof. There were plenty of boarding schools that were far away from California. She would be sent to the strictest one, whichever one had the least holidays. She didn’t know much about those kind of schools, but she also didn’t want to find out.

            So really, for her there was only option. She would save her mother the tuition money and save her own neck in the process. Besides, she didn’t have a good reason to stay in her town anymore. Sophie was no longer there, there was nothing keeping her from leaving. All the town held were painful memories that were all the more incentive to never look back.

            Walking over to her desk, she picked up her phone and scrolled through the contacts. It automatically caught her eye, the contact that she only called on holidays or when he insisted that she do. Charlotte didn’t know why she hesitated to call him. But her hand hovered over the contact for minutes, thinking and rethinking her decision. Finally she touched the screen.

            She walked downstairs and out into the backyard as the phone rang. He was probably at work, and she hoped that it would go to message. If anything, it would make the whole thing a lot easier. She could explain her situation, and he could say no. She didn’t know whether to hope for a yes or a no.

            A ‘no’ would make things simple, depressing but simple. And a ‘yes’ would make things confusing. She couldn’t imagine the outcome if he said ‘yes’. It could be an adventure, or a disaster. Charlotte rubbed her head as the phone rang continuously. She could imagine him, searching for his phone among his mountains of books and files.

            Finally he picked up, and let out an exhausted hello into the receiver.

            “Hi, this is Charlotte,” she began. She wasn’t sure what else to say. The last things she had said to him were ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’, six months before.

            “Charlie!” he yelled out. She could imagine the childish look of glee on his face.

            “Yeah, I was wondering if I could talk to you,” she said. “I could call you again tonight or something, whenever you’re free.”

            “I’m free now,” he said cheerfully. The spark of hope in her heart fizzled. She wasn’t ready. It had taken her half-an-hour to call him, explaining everything required some mental preparation.

            “Actually, free for the next two hours actually,” he continued. “You know how I hate early morning classes.”

            “Well, I actually wanted to ask you something,” she said. Her tone itself spoke volumes. “I wanted to ask if I could stay with you and Jenna this year.”

            There was silence at the other end, and she wondered if he had dropped the phone and fainted. He didn’t take to shocks very well. He fainted when her mother had cried divorce. Not the manliest thing, and her mother had only stepped over his unconscious body and went up to the bedroom.

            “Of course.”

            The reply was so faint she almost missed it.

            “Thanks,” she said, sincerely grateful.

            “I’ll talk to your mother and we’ll pick you up soon, okay?” he said. “Of course, she’ll want to get the lawyer involved and make a whole- I’ll take care of it, okay, Charlie?”

            “Thanks, Dad,” she said. The word sounded weird on her tongue, like chewing sandpaper or swallowing a fly. “Are you sure about this, though? I mean, Jenna might not-”

            “Just start packing honey,” her dad said happily. “Jenna’s going to love having you.”

            She put the phone into the pocket of her sweater and sighed. Now she would have to face her mother. She wondered what calling her mother ‘mom’ would feel like. Probably like choking or drowning in tar, she decided.

            Charlotte stepped into the kitchen nervously. Her mother was, as usual, huddled over the newspaper. It was funny how she was so interested in what was going on with the world and so uninterested in what was going on with her own daughter.

            “So, I talked to Dad today,” she said. “I’ve decided to live with him this year.”

            More like indefinitely, she thought to herself. Her mother furrowed her eyebrows for a second before nodding.

            “I guess that it’s for the best,” she said. “Of course, I’ll have to talk to the lawyer.”

            It was about the child support. Her father paid the money without complaint and without fail, knowing full well that half of it was spent on her mother’s beauty treatments. But as far as Charlotte knew, she would hand over full custody to her dad immediately.

            She tried to remember the last time that her mother had shown her affection. Nothing came to mind. Nothing real anyway. For the sake of appearances she would hug her and kiss her when others were present, but when they were alone she was always cold and distant.

            Her mother had never wanted kids. She was unexpected, and initially an advantage. Back when she was a kid and cute, she was an asset to her mother’s image. She wasn’t really a kid anymore, and just having her around made her mother feel old, and diminished her value when dates came over.

            Charlotte went upstairs, grabbing her iPod and a sweater before hurrying out the front door. She walked aimlessly along the street. It was the town she’d grown up in. She knew the roads like the back of her hand. Her mother might not have accepted her, but the small town always did. She knew the local shopkeepers, all of her neighbors, even the postal workers and the garbage men by name.

            She always kept money in her sweater, and got a dozen red tulips from the florist. Unconsciously she knew where she was going. The black iron gates were open and she stepped through gingerly. It was ironic that the graveyard was so beautiful. Immaculately cut grass, surrounded on all sides by a low stone wall that had a rustic charm. It was unfair that a place where so many people mourned should have to be so lovely.

            She walked over to corner of the graveyard. The grass was starting to grow over Sophie’s grave. It upset her. She sat down on her knees and placed the tulips in front of the gravestone. The graves next to Sophie’s were of Sophie’s grandparents. She recalled the first time she’d come to the graveyard, her hands intertwined with Sophie’s as her best friend wept into her shoulder about her grandmother.

            There was no shoulder for Charlotte to turn to, that place had been reserved for Sophie.

            “Hi Soph,” she said, using the irritating nickname that Sophie hated and even she didn’t like. She’d only called her that to piss her off, and Charlotte wondered if she was grinding her teeth in irritation in heaven or wherever she was.

            “So, I’m moving,” she said. “I finally told off my mom and am facing the music. New York is far away, but I’ll try to visit.”

            The words coming out of her mouth were small talk. She didn’t have the courage to say what she wanted to.

            “I miss you,” she said, as her voice closed up on her and tears brimmed in her eyes. Her heart clenched, and she knew she wouldn’t last much longer if she stayed there. “I miss you so much.”

            She got up and turned around before she started sobbing, walking away quickly until she got to the black iron gates that were quickly becoming familiar.

            “Goodbye,” she whispered into the wind, and walked away. She didn’t know where exactly to go, but the supermarket was the closest thing. She had money, and she felt like buying something. It wasn’t the form of retail therapy that Sophie advocated, but it was new for her.

            Seth was at one of the cash registers, scanning things half-heartedly and quickly. He usually smiled and flirted jokingly with anything female that walked in. But everyone knew the reason for his temperament.

            Charlie walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He looked over at her, confused. She silently put the things he scanned into the brown paper bags until the last of the customers left.

            “What are you doing here?” she asked. “I know your boss is strict and all, but you should be home.”

            “Actually, I can’t be home,” he said, running his hand through his brown hair. He needed a haircut, but that was probably the least of his worries. “Being home was driving me crazy. Mom’s still crying.”

            “So, when does your shift end?” she asked, trying to change the topic.

            “Another half an hour. Why?”

            “I have to talk to you,” she said. “I have some shopping to do anyway. Let’s meet at the entrance, okay?”

            He scrunched up his nose. “Since when do you shop? For anything?”

            She usually let her mom have the groceries delivered to their house. Sophie dragged her to the mall to buy clothes. Never did she shop willingly.

            Charlie shrugged and walked off into the aisles. She picked up a bag of chips and a soda. It was all she could think of buying, until she passed by the cosmetics aisle. She wandered in slowly. After all, it was unknown territory for her.

            She passed by the makeup and the skin creams and paused at the hair section. There were dyes for every colour she could imagine hair being, and some that she couldn’t. It didn’t make sense for people to have lavender hair. But somehow, the woman on the box pulled it off.

            Charlie looked over a box for dark brown hair colour and dropped it into her basket. She walked over to the register where Seth was playing games on his cell phone. He was an addict, and she dropped on the basket on the counter to get his attention.

            He raised his eyebrow questioningly at the hair dye. She didn’t respond. Why she bought it was confusing to even her. But it seemed right. She was tired of the blonde jokes and the way people compared her and her mother.

            They walked out together, settling down in Seth’s truck. She handed him the chips and opened the soda for herself.

            “So, blondie, what did you want to talk about?”

            She smiled a little at the annoying nickname he had for her. Well, she wouldn’t blonde for long.

            “I’m moving,” she said.

            Seth blanked. His face paled and his eyes widened. His jaw even dropped a little, and she pushed it back up with her finger.

            “Wha-?”

            “It wasn’t planned, bro,” she said. “I sort of exploded on my mom yesterday night. I had to make a choice before she sent me off to some uptight boarding school.”

            “You? You yelled at your mom?” Seth asked disbelievingly. When she nodded he continued, “The world has come to an end. I mean, okay, she probably deserved it and everything, but… I’m so proud of you blondie!”

            He wrapped her in a warm hug. Charlotte smiled and hugged him back. It was good that he was for a moment, not thinking about Sophie. She wasn’t going to tell him what the argument was about. Besides, Seth already knew. Her mother didn’t keep her distaste for their family hidden.

            She took a swig of the soda and placed it on the dashboard.

            “I’m going to New York,” she stated. Realization dawned on Seth.

            “Your dad?” he asked. She didn’t say anything. Seth didn’t like her dad. One of the reasons was that he had left her behind, let her mother have full custody. The second reason was that he had gotten married again. The third was that in six years he had only seen her once. “Are you that desperate to not go to boarding school, blondie?”

            “Yes, that desperate,” she answered. “You know how I get when I’m surrounded by strangers.”

            He knew very well. She freaked out and hyperventilated. Sophie said that when she was around strangers without a friend by her side, she looked like a deer in headlights. Once getting lost in an airport, she had fainted when the airport staff surrounded and asked her one too many questions.

            “And your dad isn’t a stranger at this point?”

            “He’s slightly better than the other strangers.”

            Seth looked out through the windshield. “Well, good luck to you then.”

            “I’m not running away, Seth.”

            “I know you’re not that kind of person, blondie,” he said. “You’re stronger than that. But being away from all this, it could do you good. Hell, I wish I could escape from all this for a while.”

            She knew that being away from the town would help her. She wouldn’t be reminded of Sophie so much. Forgetting her would be easier in New York. But, she didn’t want to forget her. Sophie, formed the biggest part of her life. More than her uninterested or absent parents.

            She leaned back onto the leather seats of the truck and closed her eyes. Her little town with all his quaintness and familiar neighbors was a speck next to New York, a city filled with millions of strangers, and just the one vaguely familiar face of her father. But it would be her new home.

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