A flash fiction Friday story. Enjoy!
It was rush hour in Manhattan and Charlotte strolled down Park Avenue like she had nowhere to be. Except she was late for her first support group meeting. She looked at the traffic and longed to jump inside a taxi and be chauffeured in the opposite direction.
Knowing eyes would be focused on her, she rehearsed a calculated and condensed version of her story when she sifted through the clothes in her closet. Nothing matched her mood or her style. Then, as she walked down the sidewalk, she repeated the speech under her breath. She lifted her head and straightened her shoulders; prepared herself to make the greatest performance of her life.
Charlotte was the master of telling people enough information so they thought they knew her, but without really telling them anything. People used to say she had a way about her, an aura of mystique so magnetic they needed someone to break the connection for them. Otherwise, they lived an illusion of affection.
Charlotte looked down at her outfit and felt out of sorts. She’d chosen a sleeveless, black v-neck romper. She wrapped her waist with her dad’s Alexander McQueen white silk tie, printed with a host of black ravens. Her feet were cushioned in Dorothy Red Ferragamo flats, fresh out of the box. Her mom said shopping would calm her nerves. And she needed a summer wardrobe.
Charlotte spent the previous four years living in the mountains near the Canadian border. She thought escaping the city would solve her problems and she could be happy. Instead, she spent her days hiding from strangers and scrounging for food and clothes. She always felt hungry; and cold.
She could count on one hand the days she wore less than a sweater. That day, the exposure of her legs made her vulnerable. She didn’t like the idea of people seeing her skin. Or watching sweat trickle down her neck and slide under her clothes. She wanted to release the clasp of her bra, let the drips stream uninterrupted down her torso. The July heat consumed her body and she liked the way it felt to perspire while standing.
The return home was bittersweet. When her mom embraced her she felt safe, but not content. Her parents were excited to have their daughter in her old room. They felt responsible for Charlotte leaving. They didn’t know the truth; Charlotte’s little secret.
Most people never noticed that Charlotte was rough around the edges. She maintained the look of every well-adjusted, brown-eyed, privileged white girl. Inside was a different story. Under the prim and proper attire, Charlotte was a wild hare, trapped inside a stovepipe hat, waiting to be released at the end of the show. In high school, she rebelled in small ways, like not going home for several days in a row or designing a dozen tattoos she planned on painting under her skin.
After she graduated, at the top of her class, she pierced her ears with rows of metal and pushed a crystal through the left side of her nose. It wasn’t much later she shaved her long curls, dressed in black, and disappeared. No one understood why and did what anyone would do — they carried on like nothing happened. They adapted to their new normal.
Two nights ago, Charlotte called her parents. She wanted to come home. She expected to feel like an audience member in a magic show, for the first time seeing the trick where someone is split in two and stabbed several times. She was relieved but also disappointed there were no questions, no yelling, and no demands for her to tell them why they should help her. Her mom replied, “I’m on my way, honey.”
Charlotte reached a row of offices. She stopped, checked the address, and scanned the neighborhood. The brownstones made a nice welcome. The number on the middle building matched the number from the paper her mom gave her. She stood at the top of the steps wishing someone would push her through the door. She wasn’t sure she was ready to face her uncultivated past.
Breathing deep through her nose, her chest pumped itself up, and she stepped over the threshold. She clicked her heels and blinked. Twelve people stood in the entry with coffee clinched between their fingers. She eased into the crowd, shook the hand of a redhead, smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Charlie.”