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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8. Forgive

Chapter 8

 

            Charlotte woke up to startled faces and the smell of sanitizer. She was in a hospital. It didn’t take long for uneasiness to settle in. She had never had a problem with hospitals or needles as a child. But the day Sophie was admitted there, she saw a team of doctors with decades of college and an army of nurses fail to save her best friend. She didn’t trust hospitals anymore.

            She gently took the IV needle out of her arm and got off the bed. Her father was sitting in the couch half-asleep and he jolted awake as her bare feet touched the cold floor. Jenny emerged through a blue curtain with two cups of coffee.

            “Hey, you’re up!” she exclaimed with a smile.

            Charlie rubbed her eyes. Most of her panic attacks had been worse, where her heart would sting with pain and she would welcome the numbness that unconsciousness offered. This time, it had just been a deep sleep.

            “Yeah, how long was I out?” she asked. They didn’t need to answer her question. The clock on the wall read ten-thirty. She was irritated. That was what she got for not listening to Anna. First stood up, then bullied, then a panic attack. There would be no end to the “I-told-you-so”.

            “What happened?” Jenny asked, making her sit on the bed and stroking her hair.

            “Nothing really,” Charlie replied quietly. Telling the truth was out of the question. She would be seen as ratting them out, and they would want revenge. Besides, her fainting fit probably had scared them enough to stay away from her. “Just got really surprised by a rat in the hallway.”

            Charlie knew she was a terrible liar. It still came as a big disappointment to her that the only thing she could think of was a rat. She saw that both of them weren’t buying her lie. It came as a relief that they didn’t question her further. She pretended to be tired and lied back onto the bed.

***

            Lucas waded through the throngs of people to reach the giant redheaded teenager waiting for him. Brett was his best friend, despite the differences they had. The friendly giant always had his back. He grabbed the plastic glass of beer out of Brett’s hand and dumped it in the trash. It was an hour into the party and he was already wasted.

            So much for getting drunk, Luke thought as he dragged Brett’s half-asleep body through the house to the door. Even in his inebriated state he touched several girls and managed to get slapped across the face by most of them. By the time they were in the car he was snoring loudly. Luke kicked him lightly but got no response.

            Shaking his head he started up the engine of his mother’s car and drove to Brett’s house. Driving through the deserted streets of the Village, playing the classic rock that he loved just like his father had. Stopping in front of the regal apartment complex that Brett and his billionaire parents lived in, he parked the car.

            “We’re home, buddy,” he announced to the sleeping Brett. Other than a slight shrug of his shoulders and a grunt, there was no change. He beckoned to the doorman who was used to helping carry Brett to their penthouse.

            The doorman left him at the elevator, and Luke thought back to that girl. She was probably still in the hospital. He hoped it wasn’t too serious. Otherwise he was certain her Scottish nanny would come after him with a machete.

            He slid Brett’s key into the lock and slowly opened the door. His parents were in the study. In the ten years that he had been friends with Brett, he had seen Mr. and Mrs. Ingham a grand total of a dozen times. After dumping his friend onto his bed, he threw some water onto his face. It only helped a little.

            “Wh-what?” Brett spluttered, looking around the dark confines of his room.

            “You owe me, is what,” Luke answered. He knew what would’ve happened if he hadn’t come to the party. Brett would call him from a strange place to be picked up, claiming to be wearing unfamiliar underwear and in the presence of a very angry girl that he would have no memory of sleeping with.

            “I already got your back with that nerdy loser, bro,” Brett mumbled as he fell back onto his pillow.

            Luke frowned as he realized what happened. He had defended himself in front of her housekeeper, saying it hadn’t been his fault. In the end it was.

***

            Charlotte loved the peace of the house. Margo went about her daily duties with a silence that was shocking. It was impossible to sneak up onto the woman. She could’ve handled a day of school, but Jenny didn’t let her go. She made herself smile with the thought that Mr. Unwin would go crazy all day.

            She lazed around the entire day, dreading the afternoon when she’d have to call Annabelle. She didn’t have to call Annabelle, because her friend called her. After a frantic string of words that Charlotte understood to be French, Annabelle finally started to talk to her.

            “I told you this would happen!” she yelled into the receiver.

            Charlotte closed her eyes. She probably deserved whatever was coming. Annabelle was scolding her like a teacher scolded the most troublesome kindergartener. But oddly she enjoyed it. The care was evident in her voice.

            “Sorry,” she whispered into the phone. “Sorry Anna.”

            She heard the sound of sighing on the other end of the phone.

            “Just tell me what happened,” she said. “And I’m not buying that crap about seeing a rat.”

            “His friends ganged up on me after I told him I wouldn’t tutor him anymore,” Charlie admitted. “I was leaving, I told him I wouldn’t tutor him anymore. I was a little mean, but he was late by half-an-hour. I think they were waiting for me.”

            “Did they hurt you?”

            “No, I fainted before that.”

            Anna laughed at the other end. “Who knew panic attacks could actually save you?”

            “So, how was Mr. Unwin today?”

            “He looked like he swallowed a toad when I told him you went to the hospital,” she answered. “It was really funny.”

            “Did you tell him I’m not interested in tutoring anymore?”

            “I think he got the hint.”

            Charlotte smiled to herself. Hospital visit aside, it had turned out pretty well. She wasn’t saddled with a basketball player to tutor and she got her photography club. She could live with the collateral damage.

            Mr. Unwin would never bother her again. She wondered if he would just give up trying to find that guy a tutor. It was likely. From her experience, it seemed whatever Mr. Unwin did would ultimately fail. She almost felt sorry for the teacher.

***

            The girl wasn’t in school. Luke wondered if she was still in the hospital. She hadn’t looked good when he found her. The thought of her dying occurred to him and he brushed it off. People would’ve started talking if she’d died.

            Mr. Unwin glared at him throughout the entire class. Luke hunched over his bench and texted Macy, his girlfriend, in response. It turned out she was involved in bullying the tutor girl as well. It was weird how they were all proud of it.

            His mom drove him home and he settled in his room. Basketball was tiring, to say the least. Brett had made jokes about the girl fainting. Luke didn’t laugh. He wondered when she would be back in school.

***

            Charlotte slung her bag over her shoulder and boarded the car. Margo was silent the entire way, except for her occasional questions about her health, and her offers to drive back home if Charlotte wasn’t up to it.       

            “I’m fine,” she answered for the final time as she stepped out of the car. Anna was waiting for her at the main entrance. She waved and smiled as Charlotte walked over.

            “So, photography club?” she asked.

            “The notice is up on the bulletin board, and I already wrote down your name, first on the list, mine, and Paige’s,” Anna answered. “Chloe didn’t have the time, considering she’s already in cheerleading and the math club.”

            Charlotte nodded and raised her eyebrow. The most important question was still unanswered. As they walked together towards English she found that although some people knew, most of the school was clueless about her ending up in the hospital. She was thankful for that.

            Through the entire class she thought of the photography club while Mr. Stroebel droned on about Leander. She already knew everything he was teaching, and she had already finished reading the play. She admitted to herself that there were advantages to having no social life and few friends.

            Mr. Unwin asked her to stay back after class. He took a seat at his desk and fiddled with his fingers as the other students left of the room, never meeting her eyes. Charlotte finally cleared her throat, tired of waiting.

            “I’m sorry, Miss Grey,” he said. “I’m very sorry… I can’t help but think that this is all my fault.”

            She finally felt pity for the man. She had been saddled with Lucas and his careless attitude for an afternoon, Mr. Unwin was stuck with him for four years. It was amazing that he hadn’t quit his job yet.

            He continued, “All the boys that I found to tutor him quit within a day, most with a black eye from his best friend. And all the girls… it’s their fault, you know?”

            She had to agree with him there. Anna had told her about it all beforehand.

            “It’s over, Mr. Unwin,” she comforted him. “I’m fine now. No harm, no foul.”

            “Thank god for that,” he said. “What happened by the way?”

            “Some people gave me a panic attack,” she replied. “But I’m not going to rat them out. That’d just lead to something worse. I want it to end at this.”

            The shock on his face was crystal clear. Charlotte knew how scary the words ‘panic attack’ sounded to the average person. It scared Sophie the first time she’d told her. But she wasn’t frightened of the attacks. She just fainted, and whatever was bothering her wouldn’t be there when she woke up again.

            She left the room taking Mr. Unwin’s silence as a sign of his acquiescence. Anna had already left, and she was once again alone in a hallway after school. Pulling out her iPod she plugged it into her ears, walking quickly towards the nearest exit that she knew.

            Something collided with her as she turned around a corner.

            Not again, she thought. Her things went flying out of her arms, her textbooks everywhere, and her copy of David Copperfield face-down on the floor.

            “Sorry,” she mumbled, picking up her things and hurrying away.

            “Hey!”

            The word made her freeze. It wasn’t his evil henchmen this time. It was Lucas Shepherd himself. She willed herself to continue walking. Everything would be okay if she got outside to where Margo could see her. Breathing deeply, she ignored his calls until he was right in front of her.

            “When someone’s talking to you, you don’t walk away,” Lucas said.

            “When you’re not interested in what they have to say,” she replied. “You do.”

            He sighed, “Just hear me out.”

            “Fine.”

            She had already made up her mind to tune him out. He organized for her to be ambushed by his team. Anything he had to say meant nothing. Charlotte frowned at the thought that he probably wanted her to still be his tutor. Maybe he would try to achieve that through threats.

            “I’m sorry. I had no clue that the guys were there, or that they freaked you out like that. I just found out last night.”

            She raised her eyebrow, “You can’t expect me to believe that.”

            “Believe what you want,” he said with a shrug. “But I thought I’d let you know that I’m sorry.”

            “Fine, you’re forgiven. But I’m not going to tutor you.”

            “Understood.”

            She continued walking, feeling slightly better. As her hand reached the door, she turned back once to see his retreating form.

            “Hey!”

            He turned around. She smiled at him kindly.

            “Really, I hope you find a good tutor.”

             

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