Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
Where is Charlotte? She hasn’t shown up for work since the afternoon I was supposed to meet her.
And I didn’t show.
It’s been a week. I don’t have her number so I can’t explain. Is she so mad at me that she can’t bear to see me? She’d still come to work though, right? Wouldn’t she? It wasn’t like a date. She invited me to look at a room in the house she rents. But my heart goes in figure eights when I look at her. I love to look at her when no one’s watching. And now she’s not here. My eyes miss her. I miss her. And now I only have six days notice to get out of my place.
Jennifer is quieter in my head, thanks to Jon teaching me that she is more a nemesis than a friend, yet she’s still there lurking in my mind. I can sense the sneer in Jennifer’s voice as she says, ‘Messed up again, Ben? Charlotte loathes you now.’ I swallow, yet before I would have wanted to lash out or run away. Things are getting better in my head. I hope.
I’ve had a week of intense psychotherapy - four nights for at least two hours each time. The first session was four and a half hours. It’s why I didn’t turn up for Charlotte. The process is exhausting, yet each time I feel lighter. Each time it is in Edward’s office. And, although Jon is always conducting the meeting via Zoom, it’s like he is in the office right there with us. He feels like a friend. Edward though… Edward feels like family even though he’s my boss, but not like my blood family. No, he feels good. He is good. He holds my hand every session and sometimes gets as upset as I do, feeling my pain like his own. I know this because I can feel his pain too. He is my brother. He said so yesterday, and it feels good.
“What is the smile for?”
I look up and see Edward smiling too.
I realize I am smiling and it is because of him, because of what they have all done for me, what they are continuing to do for me. My nemesis whispers in my head, ‘Until they have enough of you. Until they find out what you have done.’ I shake my head and wish Jennifer would fall out and break into pieces. I try to ignore her because they are making me a part of something instead of being an outsider looking in on life. I’m clinging to them. I can’t help it.
I look at Edward. “The smile is because of you,” I say.
“Well that’s good. I thought you might be getting sick of me as you didn’t show.”
“It’s ten past.”
“Oh, shit. Sorry.”
I look around hoping that Charlotte might step out from behind a rack of shelving.
“Are you looking for someone?”
“I just wondered …”
Despite my connection with Edward, I’m not brave enough to ask. I’m not sure I want to know the answer in case it is bad. In case I have caused something bad to happen again. I am good at making bad things happen.
Edward places a hand on my upper arm.
“About Charlotte?” he says.
I stare wide-eyed, nod.
“I thought so. She’s been looking out for you since you started here.”
“She has?” My stomach flutters and my memory runs through the warehouse searching for confirmation that she has. She has. I see Edward suppressing a smile.
“I see you might need some observation skills, brother. Come on, Jon’s waiting.”
I walk with Edward to the office, yet he doesn’t tell me why Charlotte’s not here. Has she left the company? I want to be brave, but why hasn’t he said? Jennifer speaks up in my head, ‘It’s something horrible and it’s your fault. He doesn’t want to tell you.’ Icicles slither down my bones. I have to know.
“Edward, is … Charlotte okay?”
Edward stops at the doorway to his office and turns to me. I wait, hold my breath.
“So you do like her,” he says. “Good. I do too. She’s got bronchitis, called again today to say she’s on the mend. Thinks she’ll be back next week.”
My knees give way for a second and Edward grabs me.
I nod, yet as he leads me into his office, all I want to do is go and see her, take her soup or cookies or whatever she wants, although would she think I was just doing it because I need to rent a room? I do. Or would she think I fancied her? Which I do. Isn’t she in that house alone? It would be just me and her. What am I doing? Last time I had cared for something, that cat, I killed it. And Charlotte … reminds me of that cat.