“The bathroom is across the hall.”
Another nod before she walks out. I step out of my jeans, pull on another pair of shorts, and toss my shirt to the floor. By the time she comes back in, I’m already laying down.
I pull up the blanket. Charlotte hesitates for a second before switching off the light and climbing in. She curls right up to me and I wrap my arm around her. “They’ll be okay.” The words come out for me, more than they do anything else.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too,” she replies and just that quickly, I’m out.
At about noon, I wake up. Charlotte is asleep beside me, this half-smile on her face. I wonder if she’s dreaming and what it’s about. She stirs slightly, but doesn’t wake up. Grabbing my cell phone, I send a text to Dad to check on Mom. He replies back and tells me she’s resting, they’re monitoring the baby, but the bleeding has stopped.
A huge weight lifts from my chest.
“Hey,” Charlotte says from beside me.
“Sorry. Did I wake you up?”
She shakes her head. “Nope.”
“I don’t know how I would be dealing with this if it wasn’t for you,” I tell her. She smiles up at me.
“I have something for you,” Charlotte says. Getting out of bed, she grabs her shorts and pulls something out of the pocket. Once she’s back next to me, she opens her hand, showing me the two leather necklaces inside.
“I wasn’t sure if I should give it to you or not, but…I have to. I don’t know if you’ll want it—”
“I want it,” I tell her, taking mine from her hand. Guilt pulls at my seams, threatening to pull me apart. “I shouldn’t have ripped it off. I was so…yeah, it killed me seeing him with you and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted it back, though. Even right after I did it.”
“I hate what happened to us. We wasted so much time.”
Charlotte has fixed the latch on the broken cord. It’s the second time it’s been broken, but the leather stays strong. Hopefully we can do the same. I sit up and put it on my neck. “Let me do yours,” I say, and she sits up before handing me her necklace.
“I still wore it, but I took it off before we had coffee. Other than these couple days, I’ve always worn it.”
Looking at her, I don’t think I’ll ever love another girl like I love Charlotte. Despite everything with Alec or the time we’ve spent away from each other or the fact that we’re young, I still know I love her. Leaning forward, I press my lips to hers.
Charlotte gives a shocked noise, but then she’s opening her mouth and I’m slipping my tongue inside. She leans back and I go down with her. Her hands trace paths up and down my back and I slip my hand under her shirt. My body is screaming, finally! But I’m trying to slow down because I don’t want to rush her.
It feels different than the other times I’ve kissed her, and I wonder if it’s because we’re older now and if it means we’re more ready. Or, hell, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, something I only do with her.
I roll onto my back, pulling her on top of me and I kiss her deeper, wanting more and then—bang, bang, bang.
“Nate! My phone is dead! Have you talked to Dad?” Brandon’s voice comes through the door. Charlotte jumps up and runs her hands down her clothes like she’s trying to unwrinkle them. It’s a lot easier for her to hide what we were doing.
I grab a pillow and put it in my lap before sitting up.
“Open the door.”
Brandon sticks his head in. “Bad time?”
I pick up another pillow and throw it at him. “Screw you. Charge your phone. I just texted Dad and she’s doing better today. No bleeding, but they’re keeping her for now.”
“Good. Okay. Alec’s downstairs. Neither of us knows how to cook. Wanna go get a pizza?”
“Breakfast of champions. Go for it.”
“Cool.” He closes the door, leaving charlotte and I alone again.
“You okay?” I ask. “I don’t want to seem like I’m pushing you…”
“You’re not. You never could.”
“Good.” I stand up and walk over to her. “The past nine months sucked. The beginning especially, but when you’re here, it’s like none of it happened. Like we can just pick up where we left off.”
“I feel like that, too.”
Wrapping my arms around her, I pull her toward me. “What are your plans for the next week? I wanted to show you around, but I don’t want to go too far from here.”
“We don’t really have much set. I want to take a trip to Poughkeepsie. I haven’t been, but I have all week to do it. I could come back and forth. If you guys need any help while your parents are in the hospital or anything.”
“That’s a lot of back and forth.”
“You did it.”
“Why don’t you guys stay here? I mean, if you want to. I don’t want to ruin your trip, but I’m sure Brandon and Alec will be happy that they can do whatever the hell it is they do again. It’s not quite as exciting as being in the city, but…it’s cheaper. You can stay here for free.”
Of course my dad may have an aneurism but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. He let them stay one night, so what’s a few?
“That depends,” Charlotte says. “What are the stars like out here at night?”
Alec and Charlotte went back to the hotel to check out early and get their stuff. Brandon called Dad and told him told him they needed a place to say. Yeah, he’s stretching the truth a little, but who cares.
“What do you like so much about Alec?” I ask Brandon as we watch TV.
He whips his head toward me. “What do you mean, what do I like about him?”
“I mean, why do you think he’s so cool? You know, your obsessive football friend?”
Brandon turns of the TV and tosses the remote to the coffee table. “We get along, I guess. He likes ball, but it’s not like that’s the only thing we have in common. I don’t know. Why does anyone like anyone?”
“But anyone is Alec.”
“You never gave him a chance. You always hated him because he’s close to Charlie.”
“Because he’s in love with Charlotte.”
“He’s not in love with her, you douchebag. Open your eyes a little, yeah?” Brandon stands up.
I suddenly get the feeling I’ve been letting my brother down a lot lately, though I’m not sure why. “Hey,” I call to him before he walks away. “We should like…hangout or something. Pretty soon we’re gonna have another brother in the mix.”
“Yeah. That’d be cool. Want to go see Mom before Alec and Charlie get back?”
“Sure.” I push to my feet. “But I get to drive this time.”
Charlotte and Alec have been here a couple days. We haven’t really talked about anything important. I’m still being a douche and not telling her about Columbia, and I can’t even say why. We’re cool, I appreciate her being here, and most of the time I’m over last summer, but I feel like there’s still so much I don’t know.
I hate that I don’t have all the answers. Charlotte and Alec exchange looks I don’t understand. No matter how much I try to forget it, part of it is always there. He’s always there, too. We all played pool downstairs and watched a movie and him and my brother are pretty much best friends.
I feel like shit that Alec knows Brandon better than I do, so basically the guy just pisses me off all the way around. Not a real cool thing to admit.
Mom is still hanging in there and the baby is still doing well, so I try to focus on that stuff instead.
“Hey.” We just finished a game of pool and she’s putting her cue up. “Sneak out with me tonight?” I wink at her. Dad comes back and forth a little, but he’s spending most of his time at the hospital, but pretending we have to sneak out sounds fun.
Her face lights up. Tell her you still love her. That you’re going to Columbia and that you want to be with her.
“Nah. I can’t wait that long. We’ll be rebels and sneak out early tonight.”
“I didn’t know you were such a troublemaker. What time were you thinking?” She crosses her arms.
I look at my cell. “How about…right…now.”
“I’ll grab my telescope!” Charlotte runs to the stairs. I’m right behind her. We grab her telescope and I get a blanket out of the closest. Unlike at her place we have neighbors close, but the backyard is private and it’s quiet.
I lay the blanket out and even though we’re in New York, it feels the same as it has the hundreds of other times we’ve done it. Charlotte sets up the telescope and I sit and watch her as she looks through it. Of course the stars aren’t bright, but she makes them seem that way.
“So?” I ask, when she doesn’t say anything.
“They’re the same as they are in Virginia.”
“Not to me.” Charlotte shakes her head. “The stars here and the ones there are each special for their own reason. You grew up looking at these, while I looked at mine. Now we’ve both looked at each of them together.”
Not for the first time, I’m in awe of her. “No one I know looks at things the way you do. I’ve never known anyone like you.”
Charlotte crawls over to me and straddles my lap. “You said that to me the first summer too.”
“You remember that.” I brush her hair from her face.
“I remember everything.”
“Me, too.” And then I kiss her. She tugs on my hair and kisses me back. I pull back far enough to say, “I still love you, Star Girl.”
“I love you, too.”
“Come up stairs with me?” I ask.
“Yes,” she replies. I take her hand, and hope this time, I never have to let her go.
Alec and Charlotte are gone for the day. She’s going to Poughkeepsie, and Brandon and I decided to hang out. We went to the park and played basketball. He had a friend of his buy us some beer and now we’re back at the house, downstairs, drinking together.
“I owned you today,” I tell him. We played two games of one-on-one and I beat him at both. Brandon can take me any time where football is concerned, but we’re pretty evenly matched in other sports. Today was my day.
“Everyone gets lucky once in a while,” he teases.
“Yeah. I just get luckier more often than you.”
We both laugh. It’s the first time in a long time that I remember us hanging out all day without fighting.
After we settle down, Brandon downs the rest of his beer before saying, “So you really are in love with her, huh?” He opens a beer and downs another big swallow.
“Yeah.” I sit on the couch while Brandon leans against the pool table. “I think I’ve always loved her. She’s…I don’t know, she’s just always in my head, ya know? Everything about her.” Then those times come that make me wonder what I’m doing. There’s still something going on that I don’t know about and it sucks that she doesn’t trust me with it. The way I didn’t trust her that night?