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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11. Fish

Fish

 

                Charlotte waited in the kitchen eating apple strudel with vanilla crème. It was fifteen minutes to five o’clock. She would be surprised if Luke actually showed up on time. As the minute hand of the kitchen clock audibly shifted to 4:50, the doorbell rang.

                Before she could get there the twins were opening the door. Charlotte cursed herself for not waiting in the foyer. The girls opened the door to reveal Luke. He was looking up and didn’t see them. Charlotte’s face held an apologetic expression which he didn’t understand.

                “Hey!” Mia cried out. He looked down at the twins. She hadn’t told Margo about him coming yet. Now he had to deal with the twins as well. She hurried out of the room to tell Margo. Margo was dusting her fathers’ library when she rushed into the room.

                “Margo?” she asked. “Do you remember that guy?”

                “I remember lots of guys, girlie,” the old woman replied. Under her breath she mumbled, “Most of them don’t remember me.”

                “What?”

                “Nothing dear, which ‘guy’?” she asked.

                “The guy from the ambulance that day, Luke?”

                “That rascal, did he do something?”       

                “No, he didn’t do anything. I’ve decided to tutor him,” Charlotte explained. “We’re going to meet at our houses.”

                “Great,” the woman said sarcastically. “I guess I can’t stop you. And you are helping the boy…. Fine, when’s he comin’ by?”

                “Now,” she answered. “He’s downstairs.”

                Before Margo could reply Charlotte raced down the stairs where Luke was nowhere in sight. She looked through the entire ground floor but he was nowhere to be seen. She heard giggles coming from the twins’ room and a bad feeling started to form in her gut.

                As Charlotte neared the door she heard Luke’s voice along with those of the twins’. She gently opened the door. Mia, out of character, was sitting neatly at the twins’ table across from her sister, playing tea party. Luke was uncomfortably seated in the middle chair, too tall for both the chair and the table. The toy cup dangled off his finger, and he took a sip of the orange juice the girls pretended was tea.

                Seeing the sight, her eyes went wide. Luke hadn’t noticed her yet, talking to her sisters. She ran to her room as an idea formed in her mind. Grabbing Piper off her desk she hurried back to the door and snapped a picture. The flash went off and Luke shot up out of the chair.

                “You did not just do that.”

                “Sorry, I just did,” she answered, hiding her camera behind her. He was preparing to take the camera from her, she knew it from his movements because Seth stood in the same predatory way.

                “Relax, I’m not going to show it to anyone,” she convinced him.

                “You two can study in the kitchen,” Margo said, standing at the top of the stairs with a stern expression before turning around and descending the stairs in one swift motion.

                Charlotte dragged her bag to the kitchen table, and Luke sat next to her. They were sitting facing the kitchen counter where Margo started on dinner. Charlie took out her Physics notebook and the assignment Mr. Unwin had handed out that day.

                “Okay, so let’s start with the easiest chapter,” she suggested. “What’s easiest for you?”

                “Well, I think Sou-” The sound of metal on metal came from the kitchen. Margo was using a file to sharpen a giant butcher’s knife, all the while eyeing Luke with anger.

                “Sound, then,” Charlie said. “Let’s start with that. I’ll just cover the basics, and we’ll do the Doppler’s Effect.”

                She started to explain the formulas and continued to the sums. As she finished and they were about to start on the day’s homework. Something landed in front of Luke and he fell back onto the ground in shock.

                Charlotte turned to her side and saw what it was. A fish head. Margo was slicing the rest of the fish as if nothing had happened. Luke groaned and slowly got up.

                “Seriously?” he asked, looking at the fish head in her hand.

                “Sorry,” she whispered to him. She slowly walked over to Margo at the kitchen counter.

                “Margo, please be nice,” she said.

                “Fine,” the woman answered roughly, taking the fish head out of Charlie’s hand. Turning to Luke she asked, “Luke, would you like to stay for dinner?”

                “No, I couldn’t,” he said, trying to be nice. Truth was that he liked the twins, and he even liked the Scottish housekeeper in a weird way. He would head home to a microwave dinner anyway. His mother worked late, and usually ate dinner at the hospital where she worked.

                “I insist,” Margo said with a wide smile, fingering the fish head.

                “Okay,” he answered with a shrug. “I’ll ask my mom.”

                He walked off to the other room to call his mom. She wouldn’t really care, considering that most days he usually went to parties without asking her at all. Charlotte walked over to Margo.

                “Thanks for being nice, Margo,” she said quietly. “He’s been kicked off the basketball team, so I’m helping him out.”

                “I don’t trust him, Charlie,” Margo stated. “I’m going to make your job a lot easier by the end of tonight.”

                “Wha-”

                “My mom’s okay with it,” Luke announced with a smile.

                “Great, dinner will be ready in half an hour.”

                “Let’s finish the assignment before then,” Charlotte suggested. She forgot about Margo’s statement.

                As they finished the last problem Jenny walked through the door. She stopped a second seeing Luke and Charlie leaning towards each other until she walked around in front of them and saw that they were studying. She didn’t know whether to be happy that Charlie was such a good girl, or to be sad that the girl was so scared to live a little.

                She cleared her throat to get their attention. Charlotte looked up and smiled.

                “Hey Jenny, you’re back early,” she said.             

                “Yeah, who’s this?” she asked.

                “This is Luke, I’m tutoring him,” Charlotte answered, putting away her books. Luke got up and stretched out his hand.

                “Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” he said.

                “Same here, you’re staying for dinner, right?”

                She settled herself down at the kitchen table and called out for the twins. Luke sat there as the two women looked at him. It seemed that Charlie was oblivious to their curiosity and suspicion. He got up as the twins came in and each grabbed onto his legs.

                “Luke!” Mia cried out.

                Charlie was shocked at their sudden familiarity. They warmed up to him almost as quickly as they had warmed up to her. He lifted Mia up and gave her a piggy back ride. So she was his favorite too. Margo starting setting the plates around the table, and Charlie’s father was the last to come in.

                The introductions were done and they sat around the table. Margo came out carrying a tray of sushi. At the very top of the tray was the fish head. The glossy eye made Charlotte squirm. She sensed something bad was about to happen.

                Margo served the sushi to everyone and kept the fish head for last. She sat down, placing the tray in the middle of the table. Everyone’s gaze was on the fish head. Margo sat down last opposite Luke with a triumphant look on her face.

                “In Japan,” she started. “The head of the fish is served to the guest. It is a symbol of respect.”

                “Really, Margo,” Jenny said, looking at the fish head with distaste. “That’s not necessary here. We’re in New York.”

                “Fine, fine, it’s a sign of respect though,” she answered. Luke picked up the fish head and turned it around in his hand, gingerly putting it in his mouth.

                “No, Luke,” Charlotte pleaded. “Don’t do it.”

                The twins squealed as he took his first bite and swallowed.

                “It tastes just like the rest of the fish,” he announced. “It’s good actually. I’m not eating the eye though.”

                “That was so cool!” Mia shouted. Margo pouted, disappointed at how easily her plan had failed. Charlotte picked up her sushi. Her appetite was a little lost. Besides her Luke was scarfing down his food. She didn’t blame him, Margo was an amazing cook. He tried to talk to Charlotte’s father, but instead ended up talking to Jenny instead. She was the sports fan in the house. The closest Charlotte’s father got to sports was go-karts and chess.

                After dinner he left quickly and Charlotte faced Margo. Margo didn’t have the slightest hint of remorse in her face. Charlotte folded her arms and grimaced.

                “That was totally uncalled for, Margo,” she told her.

                “I’m not an idiot, Charlie. I know that boy’s the reason you ended up in the hospital. He’s at least part of the reason. I’m not buying that stupid ‘rat’ lie that you told us.”

                “Oh, Margo, he had nothing to do with it. It was some of his stupid friends, and he didn’t even know that they ambushed me like that.”

                “They what?”

                Charlotte knew her lie was bound to come out sometime. She had just hoped it wouldn’t be revealed due to her own stupidity. Unfortunately, there would be no stopping Margo now.

                “Relax, they just scared me that’s all. I get panic attacks quite easily,” she convinced her. “Luke had nothing to do with it. He even apologized for them.”

                “I still don’t like him,” Margo griped.

                “Well, it’s just an hour every other day,” Charlotte answered. “You don’t have to like him. Just don’t make him eat any more fish heads, or anything else, okay?”

                The next day she waited at the basketball court behind the school for him to arrive. He hadn’t said that he would come by, she just hoped. He showed up around the corner and sped up to a jog after he saw her.

                “Hi Cherry,” he called out.

                “Don’t call me Cherry,” she warned.

                “And don’t make me eat fish heads,” he replied.  

                “Sorry about last night,” she said. “Margo was really suspicious about you.”

                “Yeah, I got that,” he answered. “But the fish head was good though. I wasn’t joking.”

                “Please, can we never talk about that again? I’m going to lose my appetite just thinking about that thing. All’s well that ends well.”

                He laughed at her. When she just raised her eyebrow he laughed even harder, clutching his stomach. “You… talk… so… weird… sometimes!”

                “Yes, you haven’t exactly beaten around the bush about that,” she said dryly.

                “There you go again.”

                Ignoring his laughter she said, “It’s not that funny.”

                She picked up her bag and started to walk back. It was still half an hour until Anna would be at the school, but she could wait. He stood in front of her. She cursed his athlete’s reflexes and the fact that he was twice as fast as her.

                “Sorry, to be honest, I like it,” he said. “It’s better than the ‘O-m-g’ and all that talk about makeup that my girlfriends are usually going on about.”

                “Okay, so do you want me to revise the formulas with you now, or we can do some sample problems…”

                “Let’s just talk,” he suggested.

                “About what?” she snorted.

                “I don’t know, life?”

                “Oh cool, the philosophical basketball star,” she commented. “This is gonna be good.”

                She sat down at one of the swings and looked at him expectantly with a smile.

                “My mom’s a doctor in the pediatric ward at St. Joseph’s Hospital nearby,” he told her. “She isn’t home a lot. My dad passed away a couple of years ago, cancer. And then there’s me.”

                “I’m sorry,” she said.

                “Yeah, it was back in the fifth grade,” he answered. “He was a great guy. So what about you?”

                “Well, I lived with my mother in Ohio up to last year after my parents got divorced six years back. This year I decided to live with my dad and Jenny.”

                She had the urge to tell him about Sophie, but she decided it was something for another day. She started swinging as they talked. He told her how his dad was a basketball coach, his inspiration. She told him about Piper and her love for books. The bell rang out, and she skidded to a stop at the swings.

                “You go around that side,” she ordered. All hell would break loose if Anna saw her with Luke. They ran off in opposite directions. Anna was waiting for her at the door looking a little worried. Charlie felt guilty lying to her.

                “What were you doing?”

                “I was reading Wuthering Heights at the swings,” she lied. “Totally lost track of time.”

                Charlotte was a horrible liar. Anna saw the battered copy of Emma in her hands but decided she would ask her about it later.

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