The Alphabet Stories: Questions
Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
Ben practically skipped through his day. He’d had a lunchtime pizza date with Charlotte two days ago, had an evening date planned with her at the weekend, and after work today he was helping her move out of the haunted house she’d been renting.
Edward offered them the loan of a company van, and to help with the move. Charlotte accepted both.
Even though Ben wanted to appear brave for Charlotte, he welcomed having Edward along. He believed in ghosts and didn’t particularly want to go there on his own with Charlotte. After all, wasn’t Jennifer - who’d lived in his head for so long - a ghost of sorts? His dead mother’s beliefs taunting his mind manifested as a physical presence.
All three of them sat in the front of the van on the way to Charlotte’s. She drove with Ben sat next to her and Edward next to Ben. Once - while Edward looked out of the side window - Charlotte removed her hand from the steering wheel and brushed Ben’s fingers with hers. They glanced at each other and grinned.
“So, Edward, I have some questions for you,” Charlotte said.
Edward took his gaze from outside and turned to her.
“What miracles have you been working with Ben? I think I might need some of this super psychology because I thought I’d be waiting a year for him to ask me out, or I’d need to wait a year to ask him.”
Ben and Edward grinned at each other.
“There have been all sorts of miracles happening. What’s Ben told you?”
“That you’re like a brother to him. In fact our first date was pretty much three cheers for Edward.”
Edward laughed and put his arm around Ben.
“What can I say? He’s the little brother I never had. Let me ask you a question, Charlotte. What do you like about Ben?”
“Oh, God,” Ben said. “Ignore that.”
Charlotte shot Ben a glance then focused back on the road.
“You don’t want to know?” she said.
Ben exhaled. His stomach churned. “Okay, I guess I do.”
“Will you tell me what you like about me if I tell you?”
“Yes. That’s way easier.”
“It is? Great. Okay. First I just like you, Ben. From when I first saw you, you reminded me of a daisy.”
“That’s why you have one painted on your boot?”
“Ha. No. That was already there.”
“So I remind you of a flower.”
“Daisies symbolize innocence, purity and new beginnings.”
Ben turned to her.
“And you see that in me?”
“I do. Since I first met you, you always seemed to be working on yourself.”
“You mean talking to myself?”
“I felt what you were doing. You were trying to rid a demon from your mind that wasn’t you. I could see you.”
“Yes. And you’ve been blossoming like spring recently. I love that you value friendship and growth and that you talked about values over pizza, how you want to do good. And, of course … I like how you look.”
“Which parts?” Edward asked.
Ben shot him a look.
“What?” Edward raised his palms in the air. “It’s interesting. I want to know what Charlotte sees in my little brother.” Edward gave Ben a squeeze and Ben laughed.
“Well,” Charlotte said, “as I need to concentrate on driving, I’ll keep it like a clinical run down so I stay focused.”
“Ooh, this is getting good,” Edward said, rubbing his hands together.
Ben covered his face with his hands and felt the heat in his cheeks.
“First, his eyes. I see straight through to the little boy and it melts my heart.”
Ben lowered his hands and looked at her, blinked back the emotion.
“After that, his black hair. Ooh, and how gooooooooood he looks in jeans from behind.”
“You’ve looked at me from behind?” Ben asked.
“Ha,” Charlotte said. “And that you are so unaware of how attractive you are. Yes, I look at you from behind. Have done since your first day.”
“Okay,” Charlotte said. “Enough of me embarrassing myself. Thank you very much, Edward. Your turn, Ben.”
“I love how caring you are. It is automatic for you like breathing. I know you’re a first aider, yet you always do that extra bit to make people feel calm and okay when they get into scrapes or falls in the warehouse. You go and get them a hot sweet tea or coffee, and bring back a cookie too for goodness sake. I was tempted so many times to scrape myself, just so you would bring me a hot drink and a cookie.”
Charlotte laughed. Ben continued.
“I like your long hair and …other things. It’s your energy though. You’re so real and easy.”
“Not like that. Easy to be around. I wouldn’t say things like this to anyone and they just come out with you whether I want them to or not. I’m happy just to be near you and looking at you. I love your laugh, that you avoid judging and that you liked me before I liked myself.”
“Ben, you’re making me like myself more,” Charlotte said.
“Me too,” Edward said.
“You didn’t like me, Edward?” Charlotte asked.
“Of course. I just realize now you are even better for my brother than I first thought. You’re both so perceptive about each other.”
Edward turned and gazed out of the window again.
“Kate was like that with me. Me, not so much. I wish I had been.”
Ben put his hand on Edward’s knee and squeezed. “Kate knows.”
Edward placed his hand on top of Ben’s.
“Here we are, guys,” Charlotte said, and stopped the van.
Ben hadn’t been looking out of the window. Now he did, he thought he was going to be sick. He looked out at the overrun garden, the paint-peeling porch and felt like life had grabbed him by the throat and was trying to strangle him in hell.
Charlotte and Edward got out either side of him. He couldn’t move.
“You coming?” Edward said.
Ben fought to swallow, realized he was panting.
“Ben, are you okay?” She looked over her shoulder. “It’s the house, isn’t it? You can feel the energy?”
Ben found his voice.
“You can feel that from here? Come on. We’ll be in and out. Charlotte said she’s only got a few things to move.”
Ben shook his head.
Charlotte went to reach out to him and stopped. She glanced at Edward.
“We can do it,” she said to Edward. “Ben can stay in the van. Will you be all right waiting here, Ben?”
“I don’t know.” He struggled to breathe.
Edward moved Charlotte aside.
“Ben, look at me.”
Ben turned to him.
“What’s going on, Ben?”
“That hou …” He glanced at it and turned away. “It’s where I grew up.”
“Oh my God.” Edward stepped up onto the running board and grabbed Ben in his arms. He held him until he stopped shaking.
“I’ll wait,” Ben said, although all he wanted to do was drive off.
“No way,” Edward said. “Scoot over. I’m driving. Charlotte get back in. We’re driving Ben home and then you and I will come back and get your things.”
“Believe me, we don’t want Ben anywhere near that house.”