The Alphabet Stories: Invitation
Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
Ben gripped the piece of paper Edward had given him, studying the two names of the psychotherapists and their numbers.
Jennifer woke up in his head.
“I’m sick of you looking at that,” Jennifer said. “I told you to throw it away days ago. We’ve got other problems.”
“They’re going traveling at the end of the month and the rental agency hasn’t found anyone yet. I’ve only been there a few months myself.”e house suited Ben. He had his own bathroom and kitchen and so he could avoid Mr. and Mrs. Perkins. He didn’t want to kill them. It happened when he got close or spent too much time around people. He’d been careful … and lucky.
He looked back at the piece of paper. He needed to call one of the psychotherapists, but he was scared.
“We don’t need them, Ben,” Jennifer said.
“But Edward told me to call them.”
“He’s my boss.”
Ben sensed Jennifer’s scream in his head before he heard it. His hand shot to his head and he doubled over. Though she’d never admit it, she always liked to be the boss of him.
He’d spent days deciding which one to call: John, Edward’s friend? Or Phil, Edward’s brother-in-law? Fear rose in his throat at the thought of calling either of them, yet Edward had given him hope … because Edward had had someone in his head, too.
“Are you okay?”
Ben straightened. The girl who had sent him to Edward’s office last week stood in front of him. He glanced around the otherwise empty lunchroom.
“How long have you been here?” he asked.
“I just walked in,” she said. “I thought I heard a woman scream.”
Ben felt his eyes widen. Jennifer had gone silent in his head and he found himself the same way. How could she have heard Jennifer? No one heard her except him.
The girl smiled and Ben stared back until he found his voice.
“I better get back to work,” he said.
“Ben, you work harder than everyone. It’s break time.”
He frowned. “Where is everyone then?”
“Outside catching a rare bit of sun.”
He nodded, at least he thought he did.
She extended her hand. “I’m Charlotte.”
He stared at her hand, then up to her long black hair draping her shoulders, and into her brown eyes. He knew who she was. He watched her sometimes. She moved like a cat and would smile at him when she noticed him looking. She smiled now and the corners of her eyes rose with the edges of her lips. He looked back down at her hand. She kept it extended in the air between them. Patient like a cat. He’d smothered a cat once. He shouldn’t touch her or he might kill her, but he couldn’t help it. His hand raised from his side, his palm tingling at the thought of pressing his skin against hers.
He slipped his hand into hers, closed his eyes and let her name fill him up. Charlotte. A charge shot through him and he heard her gasp. His eyes sprung open, he released his grip and jumped back.
“Did I hurt you?” Ben said.
Charlotte stared at him, wide-eyed, shook her head.
“It was like … like you put a charge of light through me.”
“I felt the same.” Ben stared at his hand and stopped himself from adding, Thank God I didn’t hurt you.
“You did?” Charlotte said.
Ben raised his head and nodded.
Charlotte studied her hand then looked at both of Ben’s.
“Oh, did you come in here to make a call?”
He looked down at his other hand, the numbers mostly visible under his thumb.
“Uh, yeah.” He stuffed the note into his pocket. “I need to find a new place to live.”
“You do? How close to work?”
“Um. Not that close. I like to walk. I’m in North Peryn at the moment.”
Charlotte widened her brown eyes. Ben felt himself lean forward and stopped himself.
“North Peryn is about 10k,” she said. “You walk two hours to work?”
He nodded. “It helps me.”
“Well, I don’t live quite that far, yet you’d still get a long walk and there’s a room available to rent. The two guys I share the house with work here. Neil and Paul. Do you know them?”
Ben shook his head.
“They’re going travelling at the end of the month and the rental agency hasn’t found anyone yet. I’ve only been there a few months myself.”
She frowned and drifted off for a moment. He thought he saw her shudder.
“It’s just a room?” Ben asked.
“Yeah, I know what you mean, but if it’s just you and me - at least until they find a third - there are two bathrooms. And we can have set times in the kitchen. We don’t need to see each other. Do you want to come and have a look at the end of the shift?”
Ben needed somewhere to live. He wouldn’t have to see Charlotte … but he wanted to. He wanted to watch her, to touch her skin again. He knew he should say no to keep Charlotte alive.
“Okay,” he said.