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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1. Funeral

            In theory, getting ready for the funeral was easy. But the reality was just near impossible. The black dress was laid out on the bed, her hair was combed, and in another fifteen minutes a car would arrive to take her to the cemetery. Charlotte thought of the Hallow five years ago when her parents had held a treasure hunt in that very place. Guess they didn’t foresee their daughter ending up there.

            The pastel walls of her bedroom seemed to be closing in on her, and it was getting harder to breathe every passing second. But she couldn’t let the tears fall yet. Sophie didn’t like tears. And today was her day. Her last day.

            She slipped into the dress and pulled on the shoes, heading downstairs slowly and quietly. Her mother was waiting in the kitchen, reading the newspaper as if there was nothing wrong with the world, when to her daughter it seemed like it had just about ended. But her mother never really liked Sophie. She looked up from the newspaper for only a second before going back to reading.

            Charlotte let out a sigh of relief in her mind. Silence from her mother was a good thing. It was better than whatever she usually sepwed out. As she walked past her mother she saw her fuzzy reflection on the surface of their refrigerator. Even the blurring of the details didn’t hide what looked like. Red eyes with dark circles under them, framed by square black framed glasses, limp blonde hair, and a pallid complexion. The little makeup that she had applied, trying to cover up the dark circles had done absolutely no good. After all, the makeup was done by unsteady, inexperienced hands.

            Sophie had always done her makeup. Charlotte never bother ask her how she did it. She always assumed Sophie would be there for her. In all her dreams and thoughts of the future, Sophie was a fixture. Sometimes right next to her, sometimes smiling from the background. But Charlotte always knew Sophie would never abandon her. She never thought she would actually have to learn these things. But Sophie had left her.

            She closed her eyes and willed the warm tears to recede. Miraculously, they did. She grabbed her purse off the kitchen counter and headed to the front door. The smell of wet earth reached her before she saw the raindrops on the windowpane. She appreciated the rain. It seemed that although her mother was oblivious to her best friend’s death, the rest of the planet seemed to somehow notice the difference. Grabbing an umbrella, she stepped outside. There was still a good ten minutes until Seth’s car would come to pick her up. It was probably strange, that she preferred waiting outside on the sidewalk in the rain rather than in a warm kitchen with her so-called mother. But that’s the way it was.

            Seth’s old pickup stopped right in front of her, and she sat inside, taking in the smell of coffee and engine oil. He didn’t say anything. His brown hair was wet and in disarray, and he didn’t bother fixing it. The hazel eyes that everyone in their family had were dulled. He didn’t even look at her, or smile and ruffle her hair like he always did. She knew that he wouldn’t smile for a long time.

            By the time they got to the cemetery the rain had subsided. Seth stepped out of the car and banged the door closed. The sound of it echoed, and a few people looked out way. She knew then he wasn’t doing as well as he was pretending to. His car, no matter how ancient it was, was his baby. He was cracking underneath, bit by bit. They were the same that way, suffering in silence.

            Sophie’s parents were already there, leaning on each other and oblivious to everything around them except for the brown coffin in front of them. It was open. Charlotte knew a lot of people thought open coffin funerals were creepy, but she was thankful. It was her chance to see Sophie. She held onto Seth’s hand and they walked past the black iron gates into the cemetery.

            Sophie’s friends from school milled around, not quite sure what to do. Charlotte didn’t consider them her friends. They never really spoke to her, but Charlotte only blamed herself. Sophie had been popular, and Charlotte had been her nerdy sidekick. She stood next to Rachel, Sophie’s mother, with Seth on her other side.

            There was no putting it off anymore. Charlotte forced herself to look towards the coffin. Her mind went back to the last memory she had of Sophie, covered in blood, pain contorting her beautiful face, being wheeled into the hospital, as her hand slipped out of mine.

            Charlotte looked towards Rachel, and wondered if the woman hated her. It was her that had found Sophie that night, and she wondered if Rachel hated her for not doing it sooner. The tear streaks were evident on her tan skin, and she looked at Charlotte. She saw misery in the older woman’s eyes, and a hopelessness that was impossible to put into words. But there was no hate. Sophie and her mother were too sweet for hate.

            Charlotte didn’t smile at her. She wasn’t capable of it. The very action seemed blasphemous to her. She turned and looked straight ahead at the coffin. Charlotte saw the pastor arrive, and finally gathered the courage. She couldn’t put it off any longer. It was her last chance to say goodbye to Sophie.

            Walking to the coffin was the hardest thing she had ever done. It was painful, walking those short ten steps. A broken leg in the second grade, her parents’ divorce, the rejection from her first crush, those were paper cuts compared to what she felt now. Her legs felt like lead, it was like someone had dropped a giant ballast into her heart, and she had mutinous thoughts of running back to her room and pretending like none of it was real. But the moment that her feet brought her close enough to see Sophie’s face, it all became very real.

            She was sleeping. That was the only thing that Charlotte could think. She was sleeping and wouldn’t ever wake up again. She would never laugh again, never again would her hazel eyes sparkle, she would never drag Charlotte out of her shell again, and no would be there for her anymore when it was just her against the world. Charlotte was alone. A nearby gravestone caught her eye. Rest in Peace. Sophie was going to rest in peace, leaving Charlotte behind to fend for herself.

            Her dark brown hair was loose and her bangs framed her face. She looked serene. Stillness didn’t look right on Sophie. She was lively, jumping around and laughing. But, lying she looked peaceful, almost relieved. Looking around she saw Sophie’s family, her friends, people that she had somehow bound together. They were confused, probably not knowing where the future would head without her. No more energetic smiles in the morning when everyone else was whining for coffee. No more crazy antics. Sophie was everyone’s support. She was the shoulder to cry on, especially for Charlotte.

            Charlotte stepped up to the coffin, looking her friend in the face. To know, that she would never see her face again… The tears flowed out, despite how many times she willed them to stop. Sophie hated tears. No sounds came out of Charlotte, no words. Seth stood by her, as wept in silence for what seemed like hours.

            They stepped back as the pastor began his sermon. Charlotte recited her speech mechanically, knowing full well she would never have enough words to describe her best friend. People talked about her, and to outsiders it would seem they just didn’t want to speak ill of the dead. But Sophie was everything that people said about her that day. She was a compassionate soul in a world that desperately needed more of them.

            Charlotte got her last look at Sophie, wanting to remember her face as it was, before the lid of the coffin was closed and they lowered her down into her grave. Rachel broke down as the handfuls of dirt slowly covered the coffin.

            At last, the job was done. Everyone left, even the family. Charlotte stayed behind until the sun started to set, just looking towards the empty patch of dirt. The sun disappeared, and she was left alone in the dark in the graveyard. Sophie’s day was over.

            She walked home, sobbing all the way, ignoring the shocked looks of passers-by.

            Reaching home, she rang the bell, hugging her arms around herself against the night chill. A stranger opened the door. On second thought, he wasn’t exactly a stranger. Charlotte had seen him before, at one of the many parties that her mother hosted. But it didn’t matter. He was staring at her and she knew why. She had been crying continuously for about an hour, and probably looked no better than a drowned cat.

            Her mother, in a slinky red cocktail dress walked up behind him. The small smile on her face disappeared as soon as she saw Charlotte. Her eyes appraised her daughter’s appearance for a second, and a mixture of confusion and irritation came over her features.

            “I’m her daughter,” Charlotte explained to the man in front of her. He was in his early thirties, blonde and athletic. Her mother flinched at the word ‘daughter’. Although she was well into her forties, she looked over ten years younger, and acted as such. The man looked from Charlotte to her mother, and nodded when he saw that she was telling the truth.

            The stress of the day coupled with the dark circles made Charlotte look older, and makeup and surgeries made her mother look younger. But their resemblance was unmistakable. The same shade of golden blonde hair, the same high cheek bones, and the same skinny structure. They looked more like sisters than mother than daughter.

            “Go to you room,” her mother commanded. She’d had no intention of doing anything else. She passed by them and walked up to her room, her safe heaved, and locked the door behind her. The man would be gone by the time she woke up. And then it would just be her and her mother. Joy.

            But unexpectedly, she heard the shutting of the front door again ten minutes later. Her mother marched up the stairs, and banged on the door. Charlotte opened it, knowing that she would break down the door if she didn’t.

            Rage, also known as her mother, stood at the doorstep. Charlotte understood immediately. The man had been scared off by the teenage daughter. Her mother had probably mentioned her, but made it seem like she was some adorable five-year old, not all of fourteen and a half.

            “You look horrible,” she stated. Charlotte knew most mothers didn’t greet their daughters that way. But her mother, if nothing else, was different. She was used to the insults. They were partly true anyway.

            “I know, mother,” she answered. Her mother never liked it when she called her that. But Charlotte couldn’t call her ‘mom’. It felt too informal for a woman that she only occasionally and even less frequently interacted with.

            She nodded her head silently. Resistance was pointless.

            “Anyway, you usually stay at that short girl’s house,” she said. “Why didn’t you go there?”

            Charlotte stared at her shocked. She had forgotten about Sophie’s death. While Charlotte had been crying into her pillow for the last week, helping with funeral preparations and keeping herself together, her mother had not even cared.

            “Sophie died,” she said. “Today was her funeral.”

            Charlotte didn’t know what to expect from her mother. She didn’t expect a hug and an apology, just some regret. But her mother didn’t have that.

            “Well, she was a bad influence on you anyway,” she said frankly. She started to walk out again. Normally Charlotte would’ve cared less. Her mother had a loose tongue. “She’s probably the reason you look so horrible all the time.”

            “I look horrible, because I feel horrible,” Charlotte muttered. Her mother heard her.

            “Don’t be ridiculous Charlotte,” her mother said. “She’s been filling your head with that ‘Be yourself’ shit ever since you met her. Now, get over it. You’re a big girl.”

            “And you’re a terrible person.”

            Charlotte covered her mouth as soon as the words were out of her. She didn’t say things like that. She was quiet Charlotte, didn’t talk back. But she didn’t regret what she said. It was the truth.

            “What did you say?” her mother asked her. Her eyes were narrowed dangerously, and Charlotte knew she was on thin ice. But for once, she didn’t care. “I guess this is what I get for letting you hang out with that short girl. She’s middle-class, not smart, and wasn’t bound to get anywhere in life, Charlotte. And she was dragging you down with her.”

            “You have no right to talk about Sophie. You are a sad, middle-aged, absolutely pathetic woman who sleeps around for self-esteem. You are a terrible mother, and a selfish person. And, Sophie, whatever she was, was a hundred times what you could ever be!”

            Her mother didn’t reply, and Charlotte knew everything had changed with her one outburst. Her mother would never forget what she said. She would never forgive her. But Charlotte didn’t need her forgiveness, nor did she want it.

            As her mother stumbled out of the room, Charlotte banged her door closed and fell back onto her bed. She had finally done something. She had stepped up and fought back. She knew her mother would probably send her away, but she had stopped being a punching bag for once. She was happy, but miserable. Miserable because she’d shown something resembling courage for the first time, and Sophie would never even know it.

            The knowledge alone snatched away all the happiness about her first rebellion. The truth had hit her in the face.

            Truth. Sophie was dead, which meant that Charlotte was completely and painfully alone.

            Truth. She wasn’t going to be happy for a very long time.

            Truth. She was, sooner or later, going to be sent far, far away.

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