Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
“Charlotte. Charlotte, Gary’s dead,” Frank said.
Frank had been talking for a while but Charlotte was still stuck at ‘Gary’s dead’. The two words played over and over in her mind and drowned out whatever else her brother was telling her. She pressed the phone to her other ear.
“Frankie,” she said. “What did you say?”
“The police have taken a statement from me.”
“You killed him?”
“Charlotte, what are you talking about? I told you he was dead when I arrived at the house. Have you heard anything I’ve been saying?”
And just like that, Frank’s words tumbled through the fog and into her consciousness. Charlotte slid down the wall and started shaking. She focused on the crack on the opposite wall and felt like she was falling into it. The wall seemed to be smiling at her, calling her to crawl in to the crack. She closed her eyes but saw Gary in her mind and opened them again. She didn’t like this house. Her roommates were never there. It wasn’t them. The house always seemed to be watching her. She was going crazy. She needed to sort herself out for Frankie.
“Charlotte!” Frankie said.
She jumped. “Frankie, sorry.” She hugged the receiver to her ear with both hands and resumed her role of taking care of her big brother.
“Frankie, how are you?”
“Better than you by the sound of it. Charlotte, are you okay?”
Charlotte thought she heard Gary calling her from the other room. She stared wide-eyed into the hallway. She started shaking.
“Frankie,” she said. “I’m sorry. Can I call you back?”
“Charlotte, are you okay? I could get the bus, come over.”
She shook her head. She didn’t want him to see her like this.
I’m … I’m good. I just need to process. I’ll call you.”
“O-kay,” he said and didn’t sound any more convinced than she was.
She ended the call and rubbed her forehead, looked at the wall and swore she saw Gary reaching out from it, calling for her to save him.
She could have. She could have stayed.
It was all her fault. Charlotte had run out on him like she’d run out on her dad. Her dad had then drunk himself to death, and now, Gary had done the same … once she left. It was her fault for falling for him. After all, she knew better.
The coaching sessions with Nora had unveiled a whole bag of marbles Charlotte didn’t want to play with, yet she’d pushed herself to play because the shaking had been affecting her work. And here she was shaking again.
Nora had told Charlotte she longed to be adored by her father and so she had chosen boyfriends just like him. It seemed sick to Charlotte and she’d felt shame and scrubbed herself raw in the shower for weeks. When she and Nora explored further, even celebrities past and present that Charlotte had had a crush on had been messed-up drunks. Nora said it just meant she had unmet needs, and that those needs could be filled on the inside. But Charlotte didn’t dare go too far inside.
So she had run away from Nora. Like she’d run away from her dad. Like she’d run away from Gary.
Nora had helped her though, hadn’t she? Charlotte wondered if she should call Nora again, restart her sessions, but the woman went so deep Charlotte could almost feel her hands on her organs. No.
Charlotte buried her face in her hands. She should have gone to see Gary. She’d stopped seeing her dad when he beat her … and he’d died. If she hadn’t left Gary … if she had kept visiting her dad. And what had she put Frankie through, beautiful sensitive Frankie? Gary had been getting more unstable, and when Frankie visited, her brother’s stutter - that had disappeared after a year away from their father - had returned. He had started refusing coffee when he visited Charlotte and Gary because he couldn’t hold the cup steady enough not to spill the contents.
Charlotte didn’t think Gary would hurt Frankie, yet she had thought that about her dad too. Poor Frankie. Frankie, Gary, her dad: it was all her fault.