“It’s beautiful,” she whispers, her eyes on the sky, but not me. I’m looking at her.
“Yeah…it is.” I’ve never really thought of Charlotte as beautiful before, looking at her with that huge smile, colors reflecting in her eyes and on her face. Cute, sure, but right now I wonder how I wasn’t always conscious of the fact she is so beautiful.
She glances at me. “Watch them,” she says, so I do.
Holding hands, we stand in middle of the clearing and watch the show.
When it’s almost over, I turn to her. My finger brushes the hollow spot at the base of her throat while I watch it. It’s so crazy touching her like this. It doesn’t matter that we’ve kissed once last year. This feels different.
“You got rid of your necklace,” I say.
Her breath hitches. More fireworks go off. “You don’t wear yours anymore, either.”
From my pocket, I remove the black leather necklace with the star on it. “I felt like a jerk wearing it after how I treated you…”
“I wore mine every day until the day you came back… It made me feel like, I don’t know, like maybe I really could have the stars.”
She’s already shaking her head. I don’t get it; I don’t see why she doesn’t think she can have more than this. If I bring it up, I know we’ll fight again and I’m tired of fighting with her. I lift my hands and latch the necklace around my neck. Charlotte nods and I know that means she’ll wear hers again too.
Pop after pop sounds in the distance. The colors of the finale flash the night sky alive. I cup Charlotte’s cheek and she shivers.
“It’s just me,” I say and then feel stupid. “I mean, you know it’s me and who am I really but—”
I set the fish on the ground. That’s all I need to hear, and then I’m leaning forward. My lips touch hers and I wonder if I should go slowly, but I can’t really do it. My tongue slides into her mouth and I push a hand into her hair. I pull her closer, resting my other hand on the curve of her hip.
She moans, and I kiss her deeper. Charlotte’s arms wrap around my neck. We’re kissing like crazy with the fireworks going off, but then she pulls back. Steps away.
Shit. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
Charlotte shakes her head. “No, it’s okay. It’s just…”
She’s the kind of girl who needs to go slow, isn’t she? Guilt rumbles through me. My mind flashes back to that night with Adam and Chrissy. I could never push myself on a girl like that.
“You didn’t push,” she says, reading my mind again. “I swear, it’s just…” But she doesn’t continue. We watch the end of the finale. For a second, I worry we’re right back where we didn’t want to be, but I won’t let us. I reach for her hand and she’s doing the same. When she laughs, I do, too.
It’s a few nights later, Charlotte and I aren’t meeting until one a.m. so I pass out for a little while and set the alarm on my phone to wake me up. When I get out of bed, Brandon is gone. I have no idea how he made it out without me hearing him.
I shake my head and climb out the window, hoping we don’t see him and Sadie going at it in the woods again. I should have known it wouldn’t be long, and I hope my brother knows what he’s doing. The last thing we need is him getting into it with Sadie’s boyfriend.
Charlotte has her telescope with her tonight. She doesn’t bring it often, but when she does, she spends a lot of time looking through it. I wonder what she sees up there. The look on her face makes me wonder what I’m missing. It’s like it’s her miracle or something.
“We might want to hit our spot by the lake tonight, instead of the fort. Brandon was gone when I got out of bed…”
Charlotte doesn’t need me to continue. “Oh my God! Sadie was asking about him. I can’t believe that. I feel so bad for Brice.”
“Sucks for him.”
We head over to our spot. I lay out the blanket Charlotte brought with her and then we set up her telescope. “What are we looking for tonight?” I ask. We’re close and I really want to kiss her again.
“Nothing specific. I just wanted to explore.”
Sitting down on the blanket, I watch her look for whatever it is she sees up there.
“You should explore in real life one day. Away from The Village.”
She groans. “I’m not an idiot. I know that.”
“Sorry.” I touch her back and she jumps a little. “I don’t want to be a dick.”
“You’re not. I mean, I kind of like it when you say stuff like that. You almost make me believe it, ya know? But…there’s my dad. This is my life, Nathaniel. My past is here, and it’s my future, too.” She’s quiet and I know there’s more. I lean away from her and lay down on the blanket again, giving her space.
“They’re fighting a lot again…my parents. Have you ever had that feeling in your gut, that you know something’s going to happen?”
“She’s going to leave. I know it. And then…who will he have? Dad’s always been in my corner. When I was young and Mom tried to force me into dresses, he told her to leave me alone. He taught me how to build forts and didn’t treat me like I couldn’t do the same kind of work him and Alec did, just because I’m a girl.”
He made her who she is. I’ll always respect him for that. “But those things aren’t all you want anymore, are they?” I start to sweat a little. Maybe I misread her. Maybe she’s changed and I didn’t know.
“But this is how I can repay him. I can’t leave him alone.”
“What if you helped in the summers? Couldn’t he find someone to work for him during the rest of the year?” I ask her.
“Hiring extra help isn’t always cost efficient and, that’s not all it is. He wants this is our legacy, ya know? He wants it in the family.”
I’m not sure what to say to that. I get it, but it’s still shitty and not fair to her.
She wipes at her eyes. It turns me inside out to see her cry. I sit up and pull her to me, into my lap, and she sits there, wrapping her arms around my neck. “You really think they’ll leave?” I ask.
Charlotte nods. “I think so. It wouldn’t be bad here, Nathaniel. I just…”
“You want more.”
She nods and we sit there like that, her on my lap as I touch the tender skin of her side.
“Want me to tell you?” she asks after a few minutes. “If I could do anything, do you want me to tell you what I’d do?”
And then she talks. I hold her while she tells me she would study astrology. “I want to learn everything there is to know about the stars. I want to see big cities and little ones. To travel and see what the night looks like from other places in the world.”
“You should. You could do it.”
“I’ve never been farther than a few hours from Lakeland Village.”
She asks about New York so I tell her about places I would take her, if we ever had the chance to go.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the West Coast,” she admits. “Los Angeles or maybe San Francisco.”
“I want to go far away for school too.” Then I whisper against her cheek, “I think you’ll go one day.”
“Yeah?” she asks.
“I do.” And it’s the truth.
“I’m bored. You wanna go outside with me and throw the football around or something?” Brandon asks.
It’s evening and we spent the day hiking with our parents. Charlotte had to work with her dad, and I have no idea what time they’ll be done. “Sure.” I shrug. “I guess.”
We go outside and around to the side of the cabin. Brandon throws the ball at me and I catch it before tossing it back to him. A laugh comes from the direction of Charlotte’s house so I look over to see who it was. Sadie’s sanding on the back deck with Brice. Alec’s parents are there, too, his mom sitting on his dad’s lap. It’s his mom who laughed at something someone said. Her head is tossed back and a huge smile is on her face.
Mr. Gates is standing at the grill, cooking as he looks on. Even Mrs. Gates is out there, a glass of wine in her hand. She looks happy, too. Off to the farthest side of the deck, Charlotte sits on the ledge with Alec standing in front of her. They’re in some kind of conversation and she doesn’t seem to notice anything else around her.
Which means she doesn’t notice me. I shake that thought out of my head. Looking at her over there, her family and his, I see it for the first time. She does fit in here. It might not be all she wants, but she could be happy. I never wanted to see that before. Her dad is here and they’re good friends with Alec’s parents. Alec is here and as much as I hate the guy, I know she cares about him.
This could be her life.
I think I wanted to believe she hated it here. And maybe she does, but I see that maybe she might not too.
It sends a cold blast through me. Then I feel like shit for thinking that way. I shouldn’t want her to be unhappy.
“What the hell, man?” Brandon says, jogging up to me where he’s able to see the deck.
He stares over there for a second too before he sighs. “One big happy family, huh?”
I look at my brother. “I’m not. I don’t. It’s not my business what Charlotte does.” That doesn’t feel right, though. The words turn the cold inside me to an angry fire.
Brandon shakes his head. “Whatever you say. And who said I was talking about you?”
Shit. He really does care about Sadie. I shouldn’t be shocked that he lied before. It’s not like we’ve ever been really close or that either of us really go around talking about how we feel. “I’m sorry,” I tell him. “You can…you know, talk to me or something. Tell me what happened.”
Brandon opens his mouth and I think he might say something real, but he shakes his head. “You wouldn’t get it. No one would.” He nods toward the other side of the house. “We’ll head over that way. Go long.”
I don’t tell Charlotte that I saw her with Alec’s family. There’s really no point. It doesn’t change anything and it shouldn’t make me feel as shitty as it does. We sneak out that night like we always do. She could be with him, if she wanted. Maybe it makes me a dick, but it feels good to know I’m the one she spends her nights with. It’s like she’s choosing me over him, when I shouldn’t want her in the position to choose anything.
She tells me that she has to work with her dad for a little bit in the morning and then her and all their friends taking one of the boats out, so Brandon and I should go.
When I get back to the cabin, my brother tells me he already planned to go with them and I wonder how in the hell him and Sadie are keeping this up. How he can sneak out with her at night and then watch her with Brice during the day. I’ve only kissed Charlotte twice in my whole life and I hate to even see her stand next to Alec.