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The Dark Days of Charlie Weiss

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The Dark Days of Charlie Weiss

By Sage McCarthy

 

Copyright 2016/Sage McCarthy

Shakespir Edition

 

 

To every woman who, at one time or another, wanted a new life

 

 

Episode 1

 

November 25

It was strange how much had changed since Charlie Weiss turned thirty, and not for the best, but for the absolute worst. At eight o’clock, Friday morning, the end of the workweek, or perhaps the end of the saga, Charlie sat on the crowded 135 Bus as she headed to work. She reminisced about how her good intentions had brought her to this place, this place of melancholy, embarrassment and shame. So much she would have liked to turn back the hands of time, but how could she? What was done, was simply just that. Done.

Charlie peered through the fogged window and could barely tell how much longer before she reached the office building where she worked. She quickly returned her attention to the paperback she was reading, which seemed to speak to her as she flipped to the chapter, Surrender to the Fact That Life Isn’t Fair.

Truer words were never more poignant in black and white.

Life was not fair.

In just a three-week period, so much had happened, and so many people were involved, and Charlie was the sole cause of it all.

As the bus traveled across the LaSalle Street Bridge, an eerie police siren rang in her ears, which always sent a frost through her. Even as a little girl, loud noises, such as sirens, horns and whistles, startled her. In preparing to exit the bus, she finished reading the last sentence of the chapter, closed the book and returned it to her worn out cotton bag, inscribed with her firm’s initials, W&A, which stood for Whitley & Austin.

Her exit was approaching, but the bus stopped moving in the midst of a monstrous traffic jam, bringing morning drivers to a halt. On the corner of LaSalle and Lake Street, a clump of people surrounded the office building where she worked. She studied the female traffic cop as she rerouted and directed vehicles onto Wacker Drive. Charlie had not seen this many police cars since the last action movie she viewed on cable. The bright blue and white flashing lights seemed almost hypnotic.

In awe, Charlie absorbed the chaos on LaSalle Street, as two police officers carried a body bag from the office building. She could only imagine the identity of the unfortunate soul. She dreaded the possibility that it could be someone from her office, or worse yet, someone she knew personally.

Finally, in motion again, the bus made it to the corner and made an abrupt stop. She squeezed past the two overweight women who stood near the rear door and exited along with four other passengers. Upon reaching the street, a disturbing sensation came over her as the autumn air brushed against her face.

Could this turmoil have anything to do with her?

Paranoia set in.

Although many companies, corporations, and firms occupied her office building of more than sixty floors, she couldn’t help but worry that her firm was the target of this disorder. Charlie raised the collar of her unbuttoned wool coat and stuffed her hands into her pockets as she waited at the corner for the light to turn green. Normally, autumn was her favorite season. It was one of the things she loved about Chicago, its changing seasons. But today was frigid and dismal, more like a reflection of what she felt inside.

With her hair pulled back into a ponytail away from her pale skin, Charlie stood just under six-feet tall, and her long slender legs made her appear much taller and much thinner. She had been a redhead for all of three weeks and enjoyed every minute of its glory until last night.

As she reached the other side of the street, she glimpsed inside the paramedic vehicle, but there was nothing to see. Her imagination was in disarray as she whisked past the curious spectators. All she could think about was the night before, how she had made a fool of herself. She had left things in an uproar, and that same uproar seemed to have come to haunt her this morning. She tried to pause the disturbing thoughts, at least until she gathered more information. This, after all, could have nothing to do with her. She inhaled a deep breath and hurried inside. Just as she came through the revolving doors, a police officer stopped her. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said.

Charlie felt her dimpled cheeks bruising fast.

“Do you work in this building?”

Her heart raced as she wondered why he singled her out. Then it dawned on her that he was probably questioning everyone who entered the building.

“Yes,” she said softly.

“And your name?”

“Charlie.”

“Last name?”

“Weiss.”

Her eyes followed his pen as he jotted down her name on his tiny note pad. “What company are you with?” he asked her.

This abrupt manner of questioning evoked mild sensations of guilt, which shifted through her at an increasing pace. She swallowed hard, shifted her eyes left, then right, to see who was watching, then returned her attention to the police officer and answered his question. “Whitley & Austin.”

As Charlie observed him writing down the information, her coworkers, Bruce Colby and Camina Givens, came to mind. They were the last two people she saw before she left the night before.

Something had happened to one of them. She knew it, just as surely as the breath exhaled from her mouth.

Charlie gazed at the police officer, expecting him to ask her another question, then. “You can go,” he said.

“It’s okay?” Charlie asked with a sense of relief.

“You can go on up.”

Tempted to ask about the commotion, her fear of looking suspicious prevented her from doing so. As she headed towards the bank of elevators that serviced the forty-fourth floor, she glanced back and saw the police officer studying her. It was as if he suspected her of something. Their eyes met and her bag slipped from her shoulder, but quickly, she caught it in time.

Charlie began working with Whitley & Austin, one of Chicago’s most prestigious law firms, two years ago. For the most part, she enjoyed her legal secretary position, being part of a team. But as she stood on the elevator, she sensed that her days with the firm were numbered. This morning’s disturbance seemed to symbolize the end of something, and the beginning of something as well.

 

 

Three Weeks Earlier

 

Daylight savings time brought in the night sky earlier this time of year. At five o’clock, darkness had already fallen when Charlie arrived home. It would have helped to open her mini-blinds once in a while. Instead, they remained closed while she enjoyed the sense of freedom it induced, freedom to do whatever, without being watched.

Her visit to her family’s gravesite seemed to have worsened her mental state. She believed that maybe, just maybe, if she traveled there a second time, she might finally move past her anguish. She wanted to move forward, but at that point, all she wanted to do was go to sleep and never wake up.

Her once semi-contented spirit was now replaced with a somber one, and she considered taking a nap in the early evening. After she thawed out from the cold, she poured herself a glass of Chardonnay in her rose-colored champagne glass. She didn’t even bother to remove her coat as she stood at the kitchen counter. She began drinking after the death of her family, probably because her sister used to drink wine with her dinner all the time. Somehow Charlie adopted that habit as her own. Only in Charlie’s case, more times than not, no dinner accompanied this new practice. Though not a permanent solution, it served its purpose for now.

Charlie hung up her coat and after two long sips of Chardonnay, she found herself standing in the center of the living room. Her eyes panned across several eclectic hand-painted pictures of flowing water, which lay on the floor against the sofa.

With the temperature outside reaching almost freezing, winter made its presence to the city early, but she found great comfort from the intense heat that circled her apartment. Her eyes perused the mantle of the framed family portrait. She couldn’t help but focus on her sister. The picture seemed to stare back at her as she remembered how her sister Sandy always cared for her, looked out for her and encouraged her to value herself for her own unique abilities and talents. Now Sandy was gone, all because of the secret life she chose to live, a secret life which led to her demise.

Encouraging, compassionate, adventurous and free-spirited were the words that best described her sister, Sandy, which explained Charlie’s private wish to be like her. Charlie felt her eyes well up with tears; so much that she could barely see the picture in front of her. She then headed into the bathroom and stood in front of the bathroom mirror. She stared at the bun in her hair, which gave her the appearance of an astute and very plain-Jane librarian. When she removed the large hairpin, her dark brown hair splashed against her shoulders. A few grey strands patterned the sides of her head, and it could only be stress because she was only a few days shy of her thirtieth birthday. With a somber expression on her face, Charlie stared at her reflection in the mirror, the tears trailing down her face.

How could she go on without her family?

How could she go on without her sister Sandy? She just wanted the pain to stop, all the suffering and all the heartache. As she contemplated putting an end to her emotional pain, she removed the belt from her corduroy pants, then gently placed the belt around her neck. With a determined gesture, she buckled the belt around her neck. She pulled it snug, tighter and tighter until she could hardly breathe and a wonderful thought came to mind.

This could end it all. Right here. And right now. All the suffering and all the heartache could be a thing of the past, and she would not have to live another day. Charlie continued to stare at the reflection of hopelessness on her face and surprisingly, out of nowhere, she heard a female voice ring out from the other room, calling her name.

“Charlieeeee? Charlieeeeeee?”

It startled her, and she thought she must be hearing things, but as quickly as she dispelled the voice, it rang out again. This time louder and longer.

“Charlieeeee? Charlieeeeeee?”

The voice sounded so familiar, too familiar. It was the voice of her sister, Sandy. Charlie released the belt from her neck and hurried into the front room. But the voice mysteriously stopped. Charlie stood there motionless, wiping the tears from her eyes, wondering if she was losing her mind when she heard the voice again.

“Charlieeeee? Charlieeeeeee?”

This time it came directly from the full-length hall mirror, framed with dark red trimming. Charlie approached the mirror fast, and to her amazement, in her own reflection was an image of her sister Sandy. She was as beautiful as always, long curly red hair, flawless makeup and a smile that could light up any room. She was draped with expensive shiny earrings and necklaces to match. She was the elegant side of Charlie, if Charlie possessed red hair and were not so plain looking. If this was how you look once you die, then Charlie could not wait until it was her turn.

But this didn’t make any sense. How could her sister be in her reflection when her sister was dead? In shock, Charlie turned her eyes away from the mirror for a moment before returning her focus to it, but, still, an image of her smiling sister remained.

“Is that you, Sandy?” Charlie asked.

“How are you, Charlie?”

“It is you,” Charlie uttered in amazement. She was stumped for words. Here she was having a conversation with her dead sister. “I don’t understand. I thought you were─”

“Dead,” Sandy said, finishing Charlie’s sentence. “I’ve been so worried about you, Charlie. I thought you might need someone to talk to.”

“You did?” Charlie asked, as a tear made its way down her face.

Her sister’s words brought back many memories, memories of times when her sister stepped in to comfort her in times of great need. And now was definitely one of those times. Sandy seemed to have a flair for sensing when Charlie was in need of her assistance.

Charlie touched the mirror, hoping to connect with Sandy, but Sandy was just an image.

“I saw what you were about to do in there,” Sandy said. “I’m disappointed that you allowed yourself to become so hopeless.”

Charlie was speechless. Not just because her sister was right, but because she was curious how her sister always seemed to know these things.

“It’s certainly not the answer,” Sandy continued. “And I think you know that.”

“You’re right. I do know better. Of course I wasn’t really going to do it. I just needed to toy with the idea for a moment and exorcise my demons, if only to realize my foolishness.”

“Are you feeling any better now?”

“Only because you’re here with me. I miss you so much, Sandy. I don’t think I can make it without you.”

“Of course you can. You’re stronger than you think.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Do you remember who loves you no matter what?”

Charlie didn’t even think about it before she blurted out, “Sandy loves me.”

“That’s right and don’t you ever forget it. I have to go now, but we’ll talk again soon.”

“Don’t go, Sandy. Please don’t go.”

Charlie didn’t move her eyes from the mirror, hoping that if she didn’t blink, Sandy might not disappear. But it was no use.

Sandy was gone.

 

 

Charlie met with Dr. Kenneth Kern during her lunch hour on Mondays. For forty-five minutes, she exposed her intimate feelings, concerns and private thoughts to him. She found him easy to talk to because he seldom displayed any kind of emotion despite her words. Though she was not convinced that her visits with him were helping her, her sessions with him were a much-welcomed comfort because he was there to listen.

The small size of his office, the massive books on the shelves, and hypnotic paintings on the walls gave Charlie a jumbled feeling inside. It was almost claustrophobic, but the daylight, which shone in from the lake relaxed her. Charlie lay on the sofa across from Dr. Kern, consuming the silence as she stared at the ceiling. She reflected on the disorientation of her life with a long and drawn out sigh. The only thing that seemed clear was that she wanted to run from her troubles, her answer to life’s discomfort.

Flee.

Escape.

Evade.

That was how she dealt with difficult situations. She just simply ran from them. But this time was different. It was difficult to run from yourself, as she failed to master that trick.

Dr. Kern wore a heavily-starched pink shirt, and looked to be in his late forties, maybe even younger. Despite his receding hairline, Charlie found him attractive in a fatherly-figure sort of way.

“Charlie?” Dr. Kern said.

So caught up in her thoughts, Charlie didn’t hear him right away. “Huh?” she responded, not completely oriented.

“Are you still with me?” he asked her.

“I was just thinking.”

“About your family?”

She nodded her head softly as if in heavy thought.

“Are you sleeping any better?”

“Not really.”

“Maybe I should have something prescribed for you.”

Charlie ignored his offer and out of the blue, she just blurted out what roamed through her mind from the moment she set foot in his office. “My sister came to see me last night.”

Dr. Kern sat forward, shocked. “Your sister?”

“I know, I couldn’t believe it either, but there she was in the mirror looking right at me, just as beautiful as always.”

“What did she say?”

“She said that she missed me and would visit me again soon.”

For a quick moment, she wondered if she had made a mistake in sharing this information about her sister’s visit with her doctor. He was certain not to believe her, but it didn’t matter. She knew what she saw, and that was all that mattered.

Charlie closed her eyes a moment, then sat up as if experiencing an epiphany. “It’s been months since my family died and since then, I’ve been living this dull life, just varying degrees of boredom and gloom. There is absolutely no excitement.”

“What do you want to do about it?” Dr. Kern asked in his famous nonchalant tone.

“I’d like to be someone else, if only for one day,” she said with a smile. “Someone different, someone like my sister and do things only she would do.”

“But your sister was murdered, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Charlie said as if remembering. “But at least she knew how to have fun.”

Charlie glanced at Dr. Kern, waiting for a response to her statement, but nothing. He was as dry as a nail. As Charlie enjoyed the silence, she seemed more concerned with the excitement that her sister experienced than her sister’s tragedy. It was only because Charlie was no stranger to tragedy, and it was now time for the excitement.

 

 

Episode 2

 

Charlie relaxed in her all white, sanitized kitchen, the only room in her apartment not purposely sprinkled with the color red. Red was her favorite color and not only because red was such a daring color, but more importantly, it was her sister’s favorite color. She read through the pages of her inspirational book, This is Your Life, renewing her positive spirits with each sentence. Her blue funnel of despair was trying to tell her something: that she needed to do something, something different, no matter how outrageous. It was her recent session with Dr. Kern that offered her a new perspective. Somehow, it was during the time in his presence that new ideas came to her, and suddenly, her life didn’t appear as dismal as before. She found it strange how an idea, even without all the necessary details, could stir so much excitement in her and award her so much hope.

Charlie poured herself some red wine from the bottle on the table, and just as she drew the glass to her mouth, she heard the voice of her sister, Sandy.

“Charlieeeee? Charlieeeeeee?”

Charlie slammed the glass down, almost breaking it and raced into the front room. “Sandy?” Charlie stood before the hall mirror and right before her eyes, she saw the image of her beautiful sister, Sandy.

“How are you, Charlie?”

“I want you to come back, Sandy. I miss you.”

“I wish I could. But I can’t. Besides, you don’t need me anymore.”

“Yes, I do.”

“You only think that you do.”

Charlie was silent for a moment, soaking up the presence of her sister. “I’ve been thinking a lot about you. And mom. I never got a chance to tell mom how much I loved her.”

“She knew you loved her,” Sandy said.

“She did?”

“She did. She always knew.”

“I will never forgive dad, though, for what he did,” Charlie said. “Never.”

In the midst of enjoying her sister’s company, Charlie was startled by a knock at the front door. And as mysteriously as the image of Sandy appeared, it soon disappeared.

“Sandy? Sandy?” Charlie called out.

But Sandy was gone.

Again, a knock at the door echoed throughout her apartment before Charlie could reach it. Her first thought was that it might be her good friend, Lee, because anyone else would usually ring upstairs first for entrance into her building. Though her lobby door remained locked, Lee managed to always find a way upstairs without calling up first, something that remained a mystery to her.

Upon opening the door, Charlie saw no one. Instead, she spotted a pint of her favorite Vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream at the foot of the door and a warm smile flashed over her face. “Come on out, Lee,” she said, as she picked up the ice cream.

From around the corner, Lee trotted, as only he could do, so sneakily. He was thirty-three, slightly shorter than Charlie and sported a dark Kangol hat.

Lee had been engaged to marry Charlie’s sister before she passed away, and in the aftermath, he and Charlie continued to maintain a sweet and platonic friendship. Though there was much chemistry between the two, Charlie felt at odds with carrying on a relationship with someone who was once engaged to her sister. And there was something else. Though she hated to admit it, she had major reservations about dating someone shorter than she was. She would forever keep that to herself, however, the same, it was the cold hard truth.

It was her sister’s engagement to Lee that connected them, and it was her sister’s death that would forever keep them intimately apart.

“Hey, Sunshine,” Lee said, carrying a beautifully wrapped gift box. It wasn’t uncommon for Lee to bring gifts with him whenever he came to see her. Though she always welcomed his cute gifts, she found herself more concerned with his Houdini ability to bypass the security door in her lobby.

“How is it that you always manage to get up here without calling up first?” she asked him.

“There’s always someone coming in or out. This is a very busy building.”

As he shed his leather jacket, he kissed her lightly on the cheek.

“I didn’t expect you until this weekend,” Charlie said.

“As cold as it is here, I missed this city, and I missed you.”

“And how is your father?”

“Fantastic as always.”

Charlie sat across from Lee at the oval-shaped kitchen table, and dipped her spoon into her ice cream.

“So how have you been?” he asked her. “Have you been doing all right?”

“You act like I’m a basket case or something. I’m fine, just bored as always.”

A faint, sneaky smile appeared on Lee’s face. “You need a husband. That’s what you need.”

She licked the back of the spoon and swallowed the ice cream in her mouth. “Is that what I need?”

“It’s exactly what you need.”

It was no secret that she charmed him, but she never assessed his feelings as anything more than harmless flirting. After everything she endured, Lee was a good friend; a much-welcomed delight, and she didn’t dare tamper with perfection.

“Well, you know what I think?” she asked him.

He slid his hand on top of hers and gently stroked the back of her hand. “No, tell me what you think.”

She gazed down at his hand on hers, then flashed him a warm smile. “I think you want a wife.”

“Maybe.”

The pin in Charlie’s hair slipped out, and she grabbed the back of her bun. “Who would want to marry Ms. Plain Jane, anyway?” she asked, referring to herself.

“You would be surprised. He may be closer than you think. Besides that’s one of the things I like about you─your natural beauty.”

For a moment, she considered telling him about the visit from her sister, but fearing he might not understand, she chose not to, having shared that incident with her doctor was enough.

She smiled and admired him staring across the table at her as it was always flattering.

“You have to give it time,” he said.

She didn’t have a clue to what he was talking about. “Give what time?” she asked.

“Your situation, the sadness.”

“Oh, that.”

“Things are never comfortable at first.”

“Is that what you have learned from your thirty-three years of living?”

“This is what I know because I speak from experience.”

After showing incredible restraint, Charlie glanced at the psychedelic gift box on the table, and her curiosity set in. “What’s in the box?”

Lee slid the box in her direction. “Open it and find out.”

A warm smile lit Charlie’s face as she grasped the box, thinking that it was a shame to ruin the beautifully wrapped package. Upon unwrapping it, she uncovered a red glass alarm clock with polk-a-dot numbers. “This is beautiful, Lee. Thank you.”

This was an unusual gift. Having grown accustomed to the red tulips, chocolates, desserts, and even books, she couldn’t help but wonder what significance a clock held. Then again, maybe it wasn’t supposed to mean anything. What mattered most was that Lee had mastered the ability to make her feel so special.

Charlie lifted the clock from the box and set it on the table. Not only was it a special gift, but it was her favorite color─red. And that made it even more special.

“There’s something else,” he said.

Charlie gazed inside the gift box and underneath the red and white designer papers was an immaculate red-faced watch with a black leather band.

Charlie’s eyes lit up with joy. “This is gorgeous.”

“I know you don’t wear a lot of jewelry, but this is special.”

“And what makes it so special?”

“Because it’s from me to you.”

She didn’t quite know what to say because it was such a unique collection of gifts, a clock and a watch. There was obviously some type of symbolic meaning behind it, no matter how subtle.

“Is this watch supposed to mean anything?” she asked him.

“Not really, just a gift from one friend to another.”

She was no dummy. There was much more to that watch than Lee led on to believe, and though she couldn’t quite figure it out that day, eventually it would all come out.

Charlie studied the watch, not certain whether to accept it or not. “It’s just a friendship gift, right? It doesn’t mean anything other than that?”

“Nothing else,” he said.

“Well in that case, thank you.” She leaned across the table and kissed him on the lips. Though it only lasted a second, it was the first time she ever shared a kiss with him on that intimate scale.

She found herself flirting with the idea of someday possibly being more than just friends with Lee, but she and Lee shared a dynamic friendship. And she didn’t want to change a thing. So many other things had changed in her life, and what she valued and needed most was consistency, which would soon end if they moved in a more intimate direction.

Charlie always lacked the tolerance for intimate relationships, which explained why none of her previous relationships lasted longer than a few months. At the first sign of trouble or imperfection, she would bail out, and she didn’t ever want that to happen with her and Lee.

They would be friends forever.

 

 

The engraved wall read: Whitley & Austin.

Charlie stepped off the elevator on the forty-fourth floor of the office building where she worked and strutted past the reception area and down the corridor. Past several secretarial workstations, she made her way to the walk-in closet and removed her coat. She wore a black and red polk-a-dot dress, which stretched down past her knees over her dark tights. She favored dark colors, especially red and polk-a-dots, any shade of red and any style of polk-a-dots. Her dark brown hair was neatly pulled back into a bun, and not a trace of makeup could be spotted on her narrow face. Wearing flat shoes and black tights, she knew she was plain looking, but it was by choice. Who would be interested in her anyway?

When Charlie reached her desk, the silence and lack of motion indicated that she was one of the first few to arrive that morning. She enjoyed arriving early, and getting a jump-start on any work her boss, Lillian, may have left for her.

Most of the secretaries in her group worked for two attorneys, but since Charlie’s other attorney left the firm, she was one of the few secretaries with only one assignment. Her boss was one of the most well liked attorneys at the office. Not only was Lillian independent and did most of her own work, but she was lenient and extremely appreciative, making her more like an acquaintance than a boss.

Twenty minutes passed and the office was transformed as Charlie’s coworkers filed in one by one. While Charlie capitalized on her idle time by organizing her desk, Laura Moore, a fellow secretary, approached her desk. She was a tad taller than Charlie, with the same slim body frame, except for Laura’s larger bust size. Minus Laura’s long spiraling wine-colored hair, which was covered with an expensive leather headband, she and Charlie could easily pass for sisters. Maybe even twins. She viewed Laura as her hairy friend, the lioness with hair that covered her body like hives, sideburns long enough to curl and eyebrows that connected in the middle.

Laura and Charlie first met when they both used to work at Skadden, Arps. They connected immediately when they learned that they both grew up in Evanston, Illinois. Since then, they remained the best of friends, as Laura was one of the few people that Charlie trusted. It seemed it was fate that brought them together once again at Whitley & Austin.

“Good morning,” Laura said with an enthusiastic ring to it.

“Oh, Laura, I have something for you.” Charlie searched into her red book bag and pulled out a book: Guide to the Dells, then handed it to Laura. “I thought this might come in handy for your trip with Edward.”

Laura smiled and didn’t speak right away as if moved by Charlie’s kind gesture. “That was very nice of you. Thank you,” Laura paused. “Camina and I are going to Giordano’s for lunch today. You’re welcome to come with us.”

“I don’t know,” Charlie said, instead of just outright saying no, which was what she wanted to say.

Laura seemed to ignore Charlie’s ambivalence. “We’re going around twelve-thirty.” Laura exhibited a take charge attitude, which Charlie admired, especially since there wasn’t a take-charge cell to be found in Charlie’s body. Moments later, an attorney by the name of Bruce Colby stepped from his office. He was in his late thirties, wore expensive suspenders and was the epitome of self-confidence. “Hello ladies,” he said as he strolled by.

“Hello,” Charlie said.

Laura flashed Bruce a luke-warm smile just as she was about to step away. “I’ll see you at lunch, Charlie.”

Charlie found it odd that whenever Bruce made his presence anywhere near Laura, Laura would always find a reason to disappear. Something was definitely going on there. Charlie just didn’t know exactly what. For a minute, Charlie vaguely considered having lunch with Laura and Camina as Laura had so eloquently invited her. Though Charlie had no issues with Laura, it was Camina that stirred the reluctance. It was no secret that Camina and Charlie were not fond of each other, and Charlie preferred to limit their time in social settings as much as possible. But it was her value of her friendship with Laura that encouraged her to go anyway.

Later that morning, Charlie was about to head towards the lunchroom for her second cup of coffee when she spotted her cousin, Stuart Clark, pushing a mail cart. Because of his dark suit, tie and clean-cut image, he resembled one of the attorneys more than a staff employee. He was new to the firm, and only because Charlie referred him with a glowing recommendation. Having just completed rehab for his drug addiction, Charlie agreed to help him obtain a job on the condition that he remain clean indefinitely, believing that everyone deserved a second chance or two.

“Hey,” Stuart said.

“Hey.”

“Thank you again for helping me get this job, especially since─”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’d do the same thing for me.”

Stuart handed Charlie her mail and continued down the hall. For the brief moment that he stood before her, she thought she noticed a speck of white powder in his nose, but that couldn’t be true. Not giving it another thought, she quickly pushed her concern aside. He couldn’t possibly be on that stuff again.

 

 

While Charlie listened to the mellow sounds of Alana Davis from her desk radio, she made changes to the heavily marked-up Asset Purchase Agreement. From the corner of her eye, she saw Camina coming towards her desk, carrying a bagel on a paper plate. Irrespective of their animosity, Charlie’s professionalism forced her to always speak, even if Camina didn’t.

Camina stood an inch taller than Charlie. She was nearly anorexic, with curly red hair to her shoulders, which seemed to add a glow to her painted-on, narrow eyebrows. Not only was Camina close to the same height as Charlie but they were both super slim as well. Easily, they could pass as twin sisters.

“Good morning,” Charlie said, keeping her eyes on the computer screen in front of her.

Instead of returning the greeting, Camina chuckled. “Nice dress,” she said to Charlie.

Charlie felt the sting of Camina’s ridicule, having become intimately accustomed to her insensitive remarks. The animosity between the two stemmed from their high school days together. Not only was Camina petty enough to resent Charlie because Charlie received better grades than Camina did, but it didn’t stop there. It was Camina’s grudge against Charlie’s late sister, Sandy, that Camina mostly hung over Charlie’s head. Camina’s almost fatal accident left her almost bald and Charlie’s sister would always tease Camina about the shortness of her hair. Although Charlie never participated in such crass behavior, Camina seemed to resent her the same as if Charlie condoned her sister’s behavior. Her nasty and well-rehearsed words of mockery were Camina’s way of reminding Charlie that she had not forgotten and probably never would.

Many times, Charlie considered apologizing to Camina for her sister’s behavior, but it was too late. Camina was past the point of forgiveness. This was an unsalvageable relationship, and all Charlie could do was accept it for what it was.

 

 

Against her better judgment, Charlie kept her lunch date with Camina and Laura. It was just a short walk from where they worked, but seemed endless as Charlie listened to Camina boast about her boss and lover, Bruce Colby. As far as Camina was concerned, she and Bruce were a match made in heaven and naively believed that Bruce would one day leave his wife of fifteen years to be with her.

It was one o’clock when they reached Giordano’s restaurant on Randolph Street. Even after having pre-ordered their food, they still ended up having to wait 30 minutes before their pizza was served. Seated at a table near the window, Charlie sipped on an iced tea while Camina and Laura enjoyed daiquiris. Though Charlie treated herself to many bottles of wine at home, somehow, it felt strange for her to have cocktails in the company of others. It was as if she accustomed herself to drinking alone. Not having much of an appetite, Charlie barely touched the pizza in front of her except for a few nibbles at the sauce and crust. Meanwhile, Camina and Laura chowed down as if the daiquiris elevated their hunger.

Laura reached for the napkin from her lap, gently wiped her mouth, and sipped her water. “Edward and I are going up to Wisconsin this weekend, and I’ve been working so much overtime, I haven’t had a chance to pack a thing.”

“I don’t think I could steal Bruce away from his family for an entire weekend, but we make up for it,” Camina said.

It was as if Charlie was a piece of furniture as she sat there, observing, not saying a word. She was without anything to contribute to their conversation, having no big plans to speak of and no boyfriend to boast about or complain about. Had she made a mistake in coming out with the two of them? Charlie hesitated to say anything negative about Camina’s relationship with her boss because it was sure to arouse uncomfortable emotions in Camina, but after thinking about it, Charlie refused to sit quietly any longer. “You better be careful with him,” Charlie said. “I heard he has a heart condition.”

Camina didn’t even look at Charlie. Instead she chuckled and glanced over at Laura. “Who do you think gave it to him?” Camina asked with a giggle.

Laura and Camina both shared a laugh as if everyone got the joke, but Charlie.

“Really?” Charlie asked.

Laura glanced at Charlie. “She’s just kidding.”

“I gave him a lot of things, but I didn’t give him that,” Camina said.

“Doesn’t it bother you that he’s married?” Charlie asked.

Camina glanced over at Charlie, then Laura.

“It depends on how you waste the time,” Camina said.

Not only did Charlie not understand what Camina meant in her last statement to her, but Charlie also could not help but notice how Camina seemed to make a concentrated effort not to look at her for longer than a second. It was as if Camina wanted to make like Charlie didn’t exist.

Charlie sat erect in her seat, looking uncomfortable. She then finished off her iced tea and asked, “So it doesn’t bother you that he’s married?”

For the first time that afternoon, Camina awarded Charlie a direct stare. “No.”

“Charlie’s right,” Laura said. “There are a lot of single men out there. Why go through the trouble of dating one who’s married? And very married I might add.”

“Who are you kidding?” Camina said with a sluggish smile. “Those are the best ones.” Camina laughed and directed her attention to Laura. “You know how some people say they never date married men. Well, I’m the exact opposite. That’s all I date.”

Camina’s words reminded Charlie of her late sister. How her sister would rebel against the norm, doing everything the opposite of everyone else and taking great pride in it.

It was a welcomed sight for Charlie when the waitress brought over their check. Soon this lunch outing would be over, and Charlie could bury it in her past.

“So, Charlie,” Laura asked as she picked up the check. “Any thoughts on those absurd statements Camina made about married men?”

Camina’s eyes shot to Charlie as if she dared her to say something, anything at all.

Charlie felt the perspiration in her hands. “No.”

A faint smile raced across Camina’s face as she turned away from Charlie.

Laura casually changed the subject and directed her attention to Charlie. “Anything planned this weekend?”

Charlie was about to speak when she saw Camina studying her with her cold eyes. It seemed Camina was waiting for just the right moment to cut her down with the smallest error.

“I don’t have any plans,” Charlie said.

“You have to have something planned. There must be something that you’re going to do,” Laura said.

“I don’t know, I’ll probably watch my Netflix movies and clean my apartment.”

As Charlie finished uttering her mundane plans, perspiration crinkled down her forehead.

“And that’s your weekend?” Camina asked.

Laura jumped in fast. “There’s nothing wrong with that. We all need to spend quiet time at home sometimes.”

“We all need to, but we don’t, that is if we have any kind of life at all.”

Charlie eyeballed Camina, then quickly turned away. Charlie knew that Camina would have something insensitive to say, which is why she hesitated to answer in the first place. Camina seemed to know just how much sarcasm and condescension was required to make Charlie feel alienated and uncomfortable.

Camina moved her drink to the center of the table, scooted closer to Charlie. “Charlie, let me ask you something.”

Charlie could tell by the tone of Camina’s voice and her directness that she would not be prepared to answer.

 

 

Episode 3

 

Camina peered into Charlie’s eyes, seemingly holding her breath and asked, “Have you ever done anything exciting or bad in your life? Or were you always this boring?”

Charlie’s mouth hung open as her eyes moved to Laura, hoping Laura would answer for her.

“Camina!” Laura said, bewildered.

Camina smiled with a matter-of-fact flavor. “What? I just asked a question.”

“Charlie, you don’t have to answer that,” Laura said just before she picked up the check. “We’re getting ready to go.”

Camina rested her hand underneath her chin, seemingly amused. Almost sickened by the sight of Camina, Charlie’s eyes locked in with Camina for a long time, staring at Camina’s painted on eyebrows. Her malicious question had sent Charlie to a place of discomfort that seemed inescapable. As Charlie opened her mouth to speak, she hoped something sharp would come from her lips, but nothing.

How was she going to answer?

Charlie so badly wanted to say something, anything to silence Camina, but she didn’t know what. Finally, Charlie broke the embarrassing stare, turned away and didn’t say a word. Her palms were sweaty as she stared at the cold pizza in front of her. Camina had won this round, because she had left Charlie without a word of retort.

“That was so uncalled for,” Laura said in an elevated tone. “And very mean.”

A frail smile covered Camina’s face. “Did I hurt your feelings, Charlie? I sure hope not.”

Camina’s words were layered with condescension, and Charlie felt doused with ridicule, shame and fear. But she refused to stoop to Camina’s antagonizing level.

Camina plucked her Coach wallet from her purse and placed a $20 bill in the center of the table. “I guess we should go. There’s nothing exciting going on here.” Camina continued. “By now Bruce has probably paged me twice already. He knows that I take an hour for lunch, but every day he thinks I’m only going to be gone for thirty minutes.”

Charlie picked up the $20 bill and handed it to Camina. “I’ll take care of it,” Charlie said. “I’ll put it on my credit card.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Laura said.

“No, it’s okay,” Charlie said.

“If she wants to pay, let her,” Camina said. “I just wish that I had ordered more of everything.”

Laura’s wide eyes peered over at Camina, then Charlie “Are you sure about this?” Laura asked Charlie.

“Yes,” Charlie said. “I’ll take care of it.”

Well aware of how odd her actions appeared to Camina and Laura, Charlie knew what she was doing. She could not and would not let on just how much Camina really offended her and this was her way of demonstrating just that. While Camina and Laura gathered their things to leave, Charlie placed her credit card on the center of’ the table, on top of the check. “I’ll meet you back at the office,” Charlie said. “I’m going to make a quick stop at Starbucks.”

It was not unusual for Charlie to frequent Starbucks on her lunch hour, but that was not the case that afternoon. It was Charlie’s choice not to walk back with them and definitely not to spend any more time in Camina’s presence than necessary.

Camina exited the table and waited for Laura.

“I’ll see you back at the office,” Laura said to Charlie. “And thanks for lunch.”

Charlie waited for Camina and Laura to move through the revolving doors, grateful that lunch was over. It should have come as no surprise that Camina would continue to spit her poison every chance she got. Baffled, Charlie could not understand why it was that Laura never just invited Charlie out alone. For some reason, it always had to be the three of them.

What was that all about?

All the same, this was their last lunch together as a trio and Charlie meant it. If Laura wanted to have lunch with her, then fine. But not Camina, not ever again.

 

 

Camina was right.

As much as Charlie hated to admit it, deep in her heart, Camina was right about her never having any fun. Charlie headed back from the restaurant, thinking about everything that transpired over lunch. She saw herself as a boring individual, and she did not like it. Despite her late sister telling her that she would always be wonderful just as she was, Charlie found her sister’s words hard to swallow, especially after what happened over lunch. All the same, she never did anything fun, exciting or different. Her idea of fun was participating in her watercolor class, and that was about as risque as it got.

Camina’s blunt words were still inexcusable. Though Charlie wasn’t the type to hold a grudge against anyone, she considered making a concentrated effort to hold a grudge against Camina, but in the end decided against it. She was a forgiving person. And she was not about to allow Camina to change her or mold her into someone that she wasn’t. The scary thing was it was already happening. She was already holding a grudge against Camina, if only on a subconscious level. Though she always forgave, she also always remembered.

The thought of becoming someone else, a different somebody returned to her fast. The idea excited her, even elevated her spirits. She didn’t know exactly what to do or where to start, but one thing was for certain, change was needed, and it was needed now. Desperately, she needed to move forward with her life, move past her family’s untimely death, and live. Eventually it would come to her and when it did, if only for one day, she would cut up and cut loose.

 

 

Back at the office, Charlie stood at the bulletin board in the lunchroom, reading about the upcoming Christmas party when she heard the clatter of high heel shoes coming in her direction. When she turned around, she found Laura standing behind her.

“There you are,” Laura said. “I’ve been looking for you. Did you grab something delicious at Starbucks?”

Charlie caught herself about to lie, but then changed her mind. “I didn’t go to Starbucks.” Charlie paused for thought. “Camina hates me, doesn’t she?”

“She doesn’t hate you. She just has a problem with people that are different from her. It’s an obsession among the very beautiful and the very popular.”

“No. She hates me.”

“Forget about her,” Laura insisted. Laura grasped Charlie’s hand and said, “I don’t hate you. In fact, I like you.”

Charlie’s eyes scrolled down to Laura’s hairy arm, and observed her hand joined with Laura’s. And for a few seconds, Charlie believed that Laura liked her for other reasons. Realizing that she was probably reading more into Laura’s affectionate nature than necessary, she dismissed the thought from her mind. Laura seemed to pick up on certain vibes and abruptly released Charlie’s hand from hers. “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Charlie said. “What’s up?”

Enthusiasm glistened from Laura’s immense eyes as her voice escalated to a screech. “I have a friend who wants to meet you.”

“A guy?”

“Of course a guy, who else?”

“Why?”

“I told him about you, and now he wants to meet you and before you say no, let me tell you about him. He’s funny. Very funny. Smart. Very smart. Cute. Very cute. And he’s a gynecologist or something with an ‘ologist.”

Why did Laura suddenly want to set her up? Did Laura feel sorry for her?

“Is this a charity offering because of what happened at lunch today?”

“No, it has nothing to do with that. I know you can find your own dates.”

“I could if I wanted to.

“I know you could. So, are you interested?”

Charlie had not been very popular with men these days, as the only person, in some time, that showed any interest in her at all was Lee. Charlie knew that she would have to at least consider the offer though she didn’t think she would be good company to anyone who didn’t really know her. “I don’t know,” Charlie said.

“Charlie? How long has it been since you’ve been out on a date? I mean a real date. I’m not talking about the time you spend with your friend, Lee.”

“A while.”

“And how long is that?”

“A while.” Charlie paused. “So he wants to meet me?” Charlie questioned. “Take me out?” Charlie just didn’t get it. Why would anyone want to take her out?

“Probably both,” Laura answered.

Charlie didn’t want to answer too quickly and later change her mind. “Can I let you know?”

“Sure. You think about it.”

Moments later, Bruce Colby cordially entered the lunchroom, as if he just stepped from the front page of In Style magazine. Wearing his expensive silver suspenders, he looked like he owned the place, and his confident stride demanded attention.

Charlie studied the handsome creature before her and couldn’t understand how a man with so much going for him―senior partnership, good looks, power and a family, could fool around so openly with his secretary.

“Hello, ladies,” Bruce said as he headed towards the ice machine.

Charlie returned his greeting while Laura looked the other way. Bruce was one of the few attorneys who never valued himself above anyone else, regardless of his position in the firm.

Charlie studied his masculine build and mysteriously Camina’s obsession with Bruce rang a bell that resonated with her. Though Charlie had heard Camina boast about him many times, it never hit her until now. For the first time, Charlie realized the magnitude of Bruce’s princely appearance. It was almost unreal.

Charlie moved her mouth to Laura’s ear and whispered, “Is your friend as cute as Bruce?”

Instead of Laura answering the question, she made a quick dash for the door. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Laura,” Charlie said as she followed behind Laura and quickly caught up to her. “Why do you always do that? Run away every time Bruce enters the room.”

“I don’t always run away.”

“Is that your answer?”’

“I just don’t like him. That’s all.”

“No kidding.”

“He uses people. Okay? And he gets what he wants more than he should.”

“What does that mean?” Charlie asked dumbfounded.

“I just want to kill him sometimes.”

That remark definitely seemed exaggerated. “Why?”

“Never mind.”

Before Charlie could utter another word, Laura was gone. Charlie didn’t know when or how, but she resolved to one day discover the source of this feud between Laura and Bruce. Something definitely lurked between them. Charlie just didn’t know what.

 

 

Charlie caught a glimpse of her cousin, Stuart, as he came from the men’s room. He had an air about him, a buzzed air that disturbed her, and she couldn’t help but notice. That could mean only one thing: He was on that stuff again, stuff meaning cocaine, once again, despite his promise to stay clean while employed with the firm. Apparently it was true what people said about drug users. Once a drug user, always a drug user. But Charlie didn’t want to be jaded. She liked to believe that people could rehabilitate themselves with the proper motivation. Obviously, Stuart was not properly motivated.

“Stuart,” she said, giving him a glance over. “How’s it going?”

“Couldn’t be better,” he said. Just as he was about to step away, Charlie stepped in front of him and very calmly asked, “You’re not on that stuff again, are you?”

Stuart didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink and didn’t wince. “No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. Don’t be silly.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. As he disappeared from her side, all she could think about was how she willingly, and with the best intentions, inadvertently invited trouble into her work place.

And she was already beginning to regret it.

 

 

Charlie met with Dr. Kern for her Monday afternoon session, and waited for him to settle himself into his worn out recliner. She lay perfectly still on the sofa across from him. Though Dr. Kern never suggested that she lie back on his sofa, she was inclined to do so on her own. Since her last visit, she was feeling empowered and much more in control of her life. For the first time, she was making progress, which is what her visits to his office were about. New experiences excited her, if only she could experience some.

Her decision to make changes in her life was just the beginning. As she lay on the sofa, Dr. Kern seemed relaxed, but not a word uttered from his mouth. It was as if he waited for her, giving her complete command of the session. She turned to face him, perused his large Adam’s apple and tiny eyes. She expected him to begin by asking her some feeble question like ‘how things were going,’ but nothing.

With all of his attention on her, she decided to go for it. “I think my friends look down on me, Dr. Kern.”

Silence as she waited for his response, but nothing, just more silence.

“Did you hear what I just said?” she asked.

Dr. Kern uncrossed his legs and asked, “When did you come to this conclusion?”

“A few days ago.”

“Did something happen?”

“Sort of,” she said, then sat up. “I was just thinking about how different I am from my friends. They always have these exciting weekend plans, and all I do is paint, watch movies and cry. Mostly cry.”

“What about the drinking?”

“Oh, I do that, too.”

Though Dr. Kern didn’t say much, he was famous for his blunt and sometimes callous remarks. He seemed to study her, as if collecting his thoughts. “I take it this bothers you that you’re not like your friends?”

Charlie nodded. “It’s been such a long time since I have even had a date, much less a sex life.”

With that last remark about sex, Charlie was certain that she would garner a response from Dr. Kern, but nothing. Nothing she ever said seemed to stir any emotion from him. He was as hard as her kitchen floor. Presumably, he had heard everything and graduated past the stage of shock.

“Is that what this is about?” Dr. Kern asked, “Sex?”

“It’s about a lot of things. I just don’t fit in. I know I sound like a teenager, but ever since my family died, I have turned into this terribly boring person, even more so than before. I live a boring life.”

She hoped for some type of disagreement from Dr. Kern, but instead, he said nothing as if waiting for her to continue.

With a slight smile, Charlie said, “I think about changing, changing everything about myself.”

“You mean doing things only your sister would do?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

This fantasy of hers would probably never materialize, but it warmed her spirits just to even consider it.

“We talked a little about this before,” Dr. Kern said. “You don’t think that would be a drastic move?”

“Drastic is exactly what I want, Dr. Kern. Drastic. My 1ife needs to be shaken up a bit. I need some excitement which is exactly what’s missing.”

“And then what?” he asked very calmly.

His question threw her for a spin and her head dropped. “Excuse me?”

“I’m just wondering after you take on this new persona, then what? What happens after that?”

It never crossed her mind what would happen afterwards, mainly because she failed to explore the idea that far into the future.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I won’t know until it happens.”

As excited as she was about the idea, it frightened her just the same, but not enough to completely erase the thought from her head.

 

 

Charlie enjoyed her periodic trips to the art store where Lee worked. Lee was a successful entrepreneur and co owner of a class-A art store called Pheneek. He had invested his money religiously when he worked as a salesperson, and his hard work and laser-beam focus had paid off big time.

Once Charlie seized a pack of paint brushes and a set of neon watercolors from the shelf for her Tuesday evening art class, she searched down the brightly lit aisle for Lee. But he was nowhere in sight. Although Lee was co-owner of the art store, he chose to work there as if he was a struggling salesman, and Charlie always respected him for that.

Charlie reached the check-out point and placed her items for purchase on the counter, and to her surprise, she felt a presence behind her, leaning against her back. Upon turning around, she saw that it was Lee.

“Hey, Sunshine,” he said, then kissed her cheek.

Flattered by his pet name for her, she just didn’t understand his interest in her. She was nothing like her sister, the woman he was supposed to marry. Her sister was exciting, beautiful and very feminine, whereas, she was dull and plain looking to the nth degree. There was obviously something there that Lee witnessed that she couldn’t see.

“I was looking for you,” Charlie said with a warm smile.

“I know. I saw you when you came in.”

“Really? So you were watching me? Checking me out?” she asked, flattered.

“Is that okay?”

“Well, it is your store.”

Lee smiled and then instructed the salesgirl at the register to take her break before stepping behind the register. “Now, how can I help you?”

“Well, I did kind of like the way you stood behind me. That was nice.” It was just so easy for her to flirt with him.

“Well, I’m sure I can do something about that.”

Charlie pulled her wallet from her purse and said, “How is it that every time I reach this register, you’re always here?”

“Luck, I guess.”

For as long as Charlie could remember, Lee never once allowed her to pay for any of her supplies or anything else in the store for that matter. Though it was a grandiose gesture and much appreciated, Charlie didn’t want to go overboard with his kindness.

“This time I’m paying,” she said. “I insist.”

As if she hadn’t said a word, Lee placed her supplies into a bag without charging her for them.

“I’m serious, Lee.” Charlie placed two $20 bills on the counter.

“So am I.”

Without taking his eyes off Charlie, he placed the $20 bills inside the bag with her supplies. “Now, is there anything else I can get for you?”

“How does your business partner feel about you giving away the merchandise?”

“He’s all for it.”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “Thank you, Lee.”

“You’re welcome.”

As much as she valued Lee’s friendship, she began to wonder if maybe continuing on like this with him was setting herself up for more than she might be ready for. He was obviously into her, but he was also her late sister’s fiancé, and for that reason alone, he would always be off limits.

 

 

Episode 4

 

Lee and Charlie always sat together in their Tuesday evening watercolor class. Not just because they were friends, but also because Lee seemed to have a much better grasp of the concepts than the instructor. The class was composed of eleven students and one instructor, but Lee and Charlie hardly ever socialized with anyone else, including the instructor. They instructed each other. It was like their own private class that they allowed others to attend.

It was nine o’clock when the class came to an end. Charlie and Lee washed their paintbrushes, stripped off their smocks and gathered their things to leave.

“You want to go grab some coffee?” Lee asked.

“I didn’t sleep well last night. I was just going to go right home.”

“Okay, we can talk on the way out.”

Though Charlie loved and admired Lee, she mostly admired his acceptance of her decision not to pursue an intimate relationship. He never tried to make her do anything she didn’t want to, an attribute she valued in any person.

Charlie and Lee traveled down Ontario Street towards the parking lot where Lee left his silver SUV. It was hard to believe that it was a weeknight the way so many people jammed the streets as if it were Super Bowl Sunday. Many of them still wore business attire while others wore jeans and after-five wear.

Lee lived in the Gold Coast area whereas Charlie resided on the north side, and they always rode together in Lee’s car, their Tuesday night ritual. When they passed the famous Rock-in-Roll McDonald’s, Charlie reached for her gloves in her pocket as the temperature had dropped. The wind was blowing straight through her. For moments on end, Lee’s eyes casually vacillated to and from her. He obviously had something that he wanted to say. Although Lee never appeared to be the timid type, somehow this evening was different.

After Lee shifted his attention towards her and away from her for the fifth time, Charlie stopped in her tracks. “Lee, is there something you want to say to me?”

Lee opened his mouth, then turned away. His actions worried her and at the same time the voracious curiosity ached at the center of her stomach. “What is it, honey?” she asked him.

Out of nowhere, with no warning and with a straight face, he asked. “How about we get married tomorrow?”

Charlie smiled, then decided to play his little game. “Why not tonight? We can fly out to Vegas and have it done by morning.”

“Are you serious?” he asked, his eyes wide and alert.

“No, Lee. I’m not ready to get married.”

“Who is ever ready?”

She couldn’t believe it. He was actually serious. “Lee, we can’t get married. We’ve never even kissed.”

“What are you talking about?” he questioned. “You kissed me the other day.”

“I’m talking about a real kiss, Lee.”

Lee seemed to give her words some thought. “Well, that can be easily rectified.” Lee stepped to Charlie, raised the hood of his Kangol cap and slowly inched his face to hers. All the while Charlie listened to the wailing wind in her ears, her eyes wide open. With his eyes locked with hers, he drifted his lips towards hers. Charlie’s eyes fell shut when his tongue firmly, but with a gentle ease, made its way through her lips when he kissed her long and hard.

Suddenly, it dawned on her that she wanted this kiss more than she realized. They stood in the middle of the sidewalk, as if on display for the entire world to see. This was their first real kiss and though she was no teenager, she felt like one all over again.

To her disappointment, Lee was first to pull away. One thing was for certain. There was nothing lacking in that kiss. In fact, the only thing lacking was that it didn’t last longer. On one level, it felt so right. Then on another level, it felt so wrong. It was not supposed to happen, but she was glad that it did, and, more importantly, it could never happen again. How could she carry on a relationship with someone who was once spoken for by her late sister? No matter how she looked at it, she would never be able to make it feel right.

“Now can we get married?” Lee asked her.

His witty words left a lasting smile on her face. “I’m afraid not, but that was very nice,” she said to him.

“I like you, Charlie. You probably already know that, but just in case you don’t, I’m telling you now. I really like you.” His soothing voice could flatter a comatose woman.

“I like you too,” she said.

“But do you know how I like you?”

“I think I have a pretty good idea.” Charlie paused. “You really liked my sister, too, and we are nothing like each other.”

“And? You can’t like two different people?”

“Of course, you can. That’s not what I mean―I don’t know what I mean.”

As they continued towards the parking lot, Lee continued. “For the last few months, I’ve been giving you subtle hints about my feelings, but―”

“But what?” she asked.

“But nothing. You haven’t responded, except for that kiss. You have a warmth about you that touches me right here,” he said as he placed his hand against his chest, his puppy-dog expression almost piercing her skin.

Not knowing what to say, she turned away to collect her thoughts. How was she going to respond to him without hurting his feelings?

She pondered his words for a few seconds, and then, “Maybe I do have time for that coffee after all.”

The buzzing espresso machine and the smell of robust brewed coffee met Charlie at the door as she and Lee stepped through the warm and cozy café. People in jeans and sweats swarmed the coffee shop on this gloomy fall evening. Some read, some wrote, while others talked with one another.

After Charlie ordered an espresso and Lee ordered hot chocolate, they seated themselves in the back with a view of Ontario Street. Charlie’s attempt to pay for the beverages had failed again. “Why don’t you ever let me pay for anything?” she asked him.

“Because,” he stated. “I like doing things for you.”

“I appreciate that, and I like doing things for you, too. You are a very giving person, and I appreciate your kindness. It’s one of the many things that I like about you, but sometimes it keeps me from being kind to you as well.”

“Okay,” Lee stated. “The next time we go out, it’s on you, and I want everything on the menu. Twice.”

“You promise?”

Lee nodded in agreement.

“You and I became friends at a time when I needed a friend the most,” Charlie said. “And for that, I will always be grateful to you.”

As she finished her sentence, she fancied herself on some lame talk show where she discloses all of her secrets. And if this were a conversation she happened to eavesdrop on, it would have been enough to make her gag, but they were her words, her sincere words. Charlie grappled with herself in silence, trying to say just the right thing and still remain true to herself. Finally, she moved her cup of espresso to the side and sat forward.

“I’m not ready for a relationship, Lee. There’s so much going on in my head, and I would just bring that confusion to a relationship. You and I have a mutual respect for one another. There’s love between us, and I can’t take a chance on losing that,” she paused. “I admit though that sometimes, I do think about it.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yes, I have thought about us as a couple, but I don’t think you realize the caliber of our friendship and what it means to me. I’ve opened up more to you than my own doctor, and I cannot risk losing that special bond that we’ve created.”

Lee looked as if he understood, but she could tell that he didn’t. “It’s because I used to be engaged to your sister, isn’t it?”

“That’s part of it, but most importantly, you and I have a great friendship.”

“Friends can be more than friends to each other,” he insisted.

“I know they can, but I am just not willing to risk what we have for anything.”

She listened to herself say all these things to Lee, witnessing the pitiful and needy look on his face, and it sent sprinkles of sorrow through her heart. There was nothing wrong with Lee wanting to take their friendship to another level. He was not the problem. She was. Of all the things Charlie wished for Lee, she wished him love most of all, because that was what he wanted most of all.

Soon after Lee dropped her off at her apartment, she scrambled immediately into bed, but struggled to fall asleep after having consumed all that espresso at the coffee house. In a way, she and Lee made a perfect pair because he knew all about her and liked her just as she was, but she needed to exorcise her demons of despair, otherwise she would not be any good to anyone.

For thirty minutes, she tried to calm her racing thoughts and fall asleep. It was ten o’clock and it seemed useless. She was about to climb out of bed and find something constructive to do with her idle time when the phone rang. It was Lee, who insisted that he see her right away. Not only did she find this unusual because of the odd hour, but also because she had just left his side.

This must be important.

Fifteen minutes passed when Lee arrived. He wore an enthusiastic look on his face when he stepped through the door.

“Did you even go home at all?” she asked him.

“I went home.”

Charlie clicked on the floor lamp in the living room, retied the strap on her chilli red bathrobe, then flopped down on the sofa. “So what is it you needed to see me about?”

For a moment, Lee stood still, a rare seriousness covering his face, something she never saw before. He then pulled a CD from his pocket, but Charlie could not make out the label.

The anxiety bubbled up inside her stomach. “You know you can take off your coat?” she said to him.

Lee shook his head. “I won’t be here long.”

Charlie’s mood now changed from innocent curiosity to serious concern.

“I have something I want to share with you, but before I do, I have to tell you one thing first,” he said.

She swallowed hard, anxiously awaiting his words, almost afraid of what she might hear. After everything that she endured with the demise of her family, now was not the time for more bad news. With a baited sigh, she sat back, crossed her legs and tried to keep an open mind. It wasn’t necessarily bad news; it could even be good news.

“First, I want you to know that I accept everything that you said tonight, and that I am by no means trying to change your mind.”

Charlie’s eyes locked in with his, the palm of her hands sweating in anticipation. “Okay,” she said.

“But. I want you to listen to something for me.”

Her eyes followed him as he inserted the CD into the stereo disc player. The suspense gnawed at her stomach. Because of the hour and his unusual, adamant demand to see her, this would not be a little something. This would be a big something. He moved towards the floor lamp, clicked it off, then stood next to the stereo disc player. He was just about to push the play button, and then said. “I want you to listen to this song and really listen to the words, all of them.”

Charlie’s eyes widened as she nodded and waited to be lured off her feet. Enough was enough, and if he made her wait any longer, she was about to scream in apprehension.

Finally the song played through, and she recognized the sweet upbeat tune. Though she had heard it before, she could not make out the title right away. It was an old, old, Bee Gees song: I Just Want to Be Your Everything, a song she loved for many years, so much that she owned a copy herself. As Lee instructed, she listened to the words with a meticulous ear, because for the first time, these words were directed at her. And that was no small potato.

All the times she had heard the song before, she never imagined in fifty years that one day that the beautiful heartfelt words I would wait forever for those lips of wine, those words, those wonderful words, would be dedicated to her. As the words rang through the two speakers, Charlie peered at Lee’s calm figure standing near the entertainment center. He didn’t move and didn’t make a sound.

The lyrics were exuberant and Charlie wasn’t exactly sure what exuberant meant, but it was definitely something wonderful. That she did know. Her head hung down and she wiped the single teardrop from her face. It would be moments before she would make eye contact with the sweet man before her. Once the song played through, Lee planted himself next to Charlie and gently lifted her head upwards, and said, “I’ll do anything to be your everything.”

Was she hearing this right?

Was she really that special to him?

Though she appreciated his sincerity, his timing was not good. Maybe if she had known this weeks ago, things could have been different, but she was overtaken with a monstrous passion to explore her individuality and find out what lurked inside, and love was not on the agenda. Still teary eyed and almost saddened by the moment, Charlie was speechless and reborn.

Finally, in an almost suspended state, she said, “That was so beautiful, Lee. Thank you. Were those words meant for my ears, or was I dreaming?”

“You weren’t dreaming, and, yes, they were meant for your ears.”

The lyrics were probably an exaggeration, but if just a few of the words rang true in Lee’s heart, it was much more than anyone had ever done for her before. She now knew how he truly felt about her, and it was more than flattering.

They shared a long silence until Lee finally broke it. “I thought it was important that I let you know how I really felt. I’m not asking you to choose me, because I have already chosen you. The feeling that I have for you is more than strong.”

Charlie’s face was stained with tears, and she wanted to grab a Kleenex from the bedroom, but she couldn’t risk interrupting this poetic, magical moment. He scooted closer to her, removed his Kangol hat and grasped her hand into his. “More than anything else, I just want to love you.”

Charlie’s eyes did not move from him as she hung on to his every word, her palms sweating once again.

Lee continued. “I’m not trying to put any pressure on you by telling you all of this, but it’s true. It’s all true.”

Charlie’s eyes watered so much that soon a blurred image of Lee sat before her. This was like a fantasy come true. It was just so unreal to have someone express that kind of love towards her.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing when you have the power to make a person feel special, and I get that from you.”

Charlie’s loss for words elevated her body to a standing position as she released his hand. “You have left me completely and utterly speechless.”

If ever he wanted to make a point, he had made one that night. He conveyed for her how he felt in a way so clear, leaving no room for any misunderstanding. “Thank you for all of that, for the song, for everything.”

“You’re welcome,” he said.

He made it perfectly clear even before he played the song that he accepted her decision not to pursue a romantic relationship. Though he failed to change her mind, he showed her a side of himself that she was happy to have experienced.

And there was nothing else to say.

Absolutely nothing.

 

 

Episode 5

 

Mid-morning at the office, Charlie strolled into the ladies’ room and Camina soon followed behind her, her long skirt hugging her narrow hips.

“Hello,” Charlie said as she turned to see Camina behind her.

Camina didn’t respond right away, instead, she stepped before the full-length mirror and adjusted the shoulder pads on her jacket. “Look, I’m sorry about what I said the other day. It wasn’t very nice. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.”

Though the words sounded good, they oozed through Camina’s mouth in a condescending and superficial tone.

“No, you didn’t hurt my feelings,” Charlie said.

Camina was about to walk away, then doubled backed. “Listen, Laura and I are going over to Excalibur this evening after work. Why don’t you come with us?”

This was a first.

Camina never once invited Charlie anywhere, and Charlie couldn’t help but wonder what her motives were. Though she believed good existed in everyone, no matter how small, Charlie found it difficult to add Camina to that category.

“Thanks, but I can’t.”

Camina examined Charlie as if trying to pick her brain. Then, in a very calm tone, Camina asked her, “Why not?”

“I just have other things to do.”

“Really?” Camina asked. “Do you ever have any fun, Charlie? Do you even know how to have fun?”

After a long silence, Camina said, “I tried,” and then stepped away.

Camina’s words struck a nerve with Charlie and moved her to rethink the invitation. Why she had appraised Camina’s heartless words as credible she would never understand. But it didn’t matter who voiced the words, it was the words themselves that left an impression on Charlie’s mind.

Had Charlie forgotten how to have fun?

Was her life going to always only consist of work and her watercolor class?

Charlie now reconsidered Camina’s invitation to join her and Laura at Excalibur. Just recently, Charlie complained to her doctor about the lack of excitement in her life. And now, here was an opportunity presenting itself, and Charlie chose to remain in her immobile cage and things never changed. The more she reconsidered the idea of going out with them, the more it appealed to her. It would do her some good to do something different for a change.

What harm could it do?

 

 

When Charlie reached her organized desk, she felt a presence behind her, and upon turning around, she saw that it was Laura, looking as pretty as ever, having not seen her all morning.

“Oh, hi,” Charlie said. “I didn’t think you were here today.”

“I’ve been researching files all morning.” Laura paused. “Camina told me that you and she had a little chat. She wasn’t ragging on you again, was she?”

As much as Charlie appreciated how Laura stood up for her, for some reason today, she found it pretentious and unconvincing. “She invited me out with you two tonight, and I’m thinking of going.”

Quick to respond, Laura said. “Don’t be intimidated by Camina, Charlie. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“I know that,” Charlie said, her voice elevated. “She doesn’t intimidate me, and will you stop speaking to me like I’m a little kid. I can take care of myself.”

Charlie witnessed a flushed look on Laura’s face.

“I’m sorry,” Laura said, seemingly saddened by Charlie’s words. As Laura strutted away, Charlie went after her and stepped in front of her.

“Wait,” Charlie said. “I didn’t mean that. I just don’t like―”

“You don’t have to apologize. I’d love for you to come with us tonight. I just know that’s not your kind of thing.”

“Maybe it’s not my kind of thing because I never do it.”

“So does that mean you’re going to come with us?”

“I think so.”

Just as Charlie began to feel somewhat excited about the possibility of actually going out on the town with Laura and Camina, she saw Bruce Colby and one of his colleagues coming down the hall. Only seconds passed before Laura headed in the other direction. “I’ll see you later,” she said to Charlie. But before Laura could get away, Charlie caught up to her fast at her desk.

“Okay, Laura, what is it with you and Bruce Colby?”

“Whatever are you talking about?” Laura asked as she slouched down into her desk chair. Laura was so obvious that it made Charlie laugh.

“Are you going to tell me?” Charlie asked her.

“I can’t.’

“You can’t or you won’t?”

“I’m not going to.” Laura picked up the phone and began dialing a number before Charlie yanked the phone from her hand.

“Why?” Charlie insisted. “Why won’t you tell me?”

As if transported to never-never land, Laura didn’t answer for a long time.

“Laura? Did you hear me?”

“I’ll tell you. But not here.”

“Where then?”

“I don’t know, but not here.”

“I’m going to hold you to it,” Charlie said before she walked away.

 

 

Charlie was not flattered when she, Laura and Camina reached the doors of Excalibur and only Charlie was asked to present her ID while Laura and Camina whizzed right through. Just one more reason to feel alienated and singled out, a telltale sign of events to come.

With the dance floor jammed packed, wall-to-wall men, and not an empty seat in sight, this was the nightlife in every sense of the word and Charlie remembered why she didn’t frequent these places. The music was much too loud, loud enough to overpower the negative chatter that ran rampant in her head. This was obviously not her thing, and she feared it would be a long night.

Both Laura and Camina wore tailored designer dresses that complemented their slim physiques, while alongside, Charlie sported her red and white polk-a-dot dress that seemed to hang off her body.

Into the sea of night clubbers, they headed towards the bar, the smell of alcohol in the air. It wasn’t until Charlie noticed the attention from the men at the bar directed towards Camina and Laura that Charlie’s plain attire hit her.

Very casually, trying hard not to be obvious, Charlie glanced at Laura and Camina, then glanced down at her dress. A whopping difference in her appearance versus theirs was evident. And it was not just because of her plain dress. It was Charlie’s hair, which was neatly pulled back in a bun and her bare face that set her apart, while curly red Ms. Clairol hair draped down the shoulders of Camina and Laura.

A sting of discomfort set in, and Charlie’s first thought was to hit the road, but quickly dispelled the thought. After having come this far, she wasn’t turning back now, at least not yet. It wasn’t like she planned to meet anyone anyway.

As they reached the bar, Charlie felt the vibrations of the blaring bass underneath her feet and knew that she would not be able to endure much more of this, even with her concentrated effort to do so. What was most important was that she send a clear signal to Laura and Camina that she did know how to have fun and was not that much different from them.

Charlie listened to Camina and Laura rate the attractiveness of the men on a scale from one to eleven and wondered how men would rate her. Would she be labeled a three or a four?

Feeling totally out of place and ready to leave, two professional-looking gentlemen, wearing dark suits and ties, approached them all at the bar. Right away, one of the gentleman wearing designer glasses smiled at Camina and held out his hand to her. “Would you like to dance?”

Without a moment’s thought, Camina was quick to follow his lead and off they went. The other blue-eyed gentleman, who was not as tall, glanced over at Charlie, before abruptly diverting his attention to Laura. “How about it?” he asked Laura.

Laura wrapped her purse around her body. “Sure,” Laura said as her eyes shot to Charlie. “I won’t be long.”

A tinge of jealousy swept through Charlie’s heart as she glared at the gentleman escorting Laura to the dance floor. Lucky for Charlie, she found a seat at the bar and tried her best to remain positive about the evening. If all else failed, she would have the bartender to keep her company.

She ordered a white wine, then swiveled her chair around, gawking at Camina and Laura on the dance floor. They seemed to be having a whale of a time, which was good for them because she definitely was not having fun herself. The only thing left for her to do was watch Camina and Laura, sort of live through them, if only for a short time.

The loud music penetrated every barrier of her ears while she studied the spirited gentlemen who danced with Camina and Laura. It didn’t take a genius to understand why no one had asked her to dance. She was simply too plain looking. Not that she necessarily wanted to dance, still the same, it would have been nice to have been chosen.

Her upsetting thoughts continued to escalate at a rapid pace and she considered walking out and never returning. Quickly, she caught hold of her discomfort and put it to rest, but kept it close by just in case she needed it later.

For the next several minutes, Charlie would sit at the bar, sipping her white wine, in no hurry to finish it. She needed to have some reason to sit at the bar alone. Just when she began to feel somewhat at ease, she caught a glimpse of a man across the bar giving her the I’m watching you eye. She avoided eye contact with him by shifting her eyes towards the dance floor instead. His interest in her had come a little too late because at that point, she just wanted to go home and lose herself in a good book and forget that this evening ever happened.

Just when she thought that she had somehow, on a subconscious level, shunned him away, she saw him approaching her from the corner of her eye.

A tinge of nervousness grumbled in her stomach and she swiveled her chair in the opposite direction so that her back faced his approach. Not much time elapsed before he came to the other side and positioned himself directly in front of her. “Hello,” he said.

“Hello.”

Charlie perused his faded jeans and worn out leather jacket, much too rugged for her taste. He had dark shiny hair and shiny brown eyes to match. He extended his hand to her and said, “I’m Rod. Rod Bigg.”

Was he serious?

Rod Bigg? What kind of move was he trying to pull on her?

She hesitated for a moment, then shook his hand. “Charlie.”

If her spirits had been sunnier, she may have found his name comical, but tonight was different. She was in no mood for racy comments.

“You don’t mind if I sit down, do you?” he asked.

Before she could even answer, to her dismay, he seated himself next to her. His name alone had told her all that she needed to know. As he very obviously scrutinized her crossed legs, she so much wanted to say to him, I see you.

“Let me guess, you don’t come here often do you?” he asked her.

“Why do you think that?”

His eyes made a stop at the top of her dress and remained there. He couldn’t be any more obvious. “I think it’s obvious,” he said.

His straightforwardness and easygoing persona demonstrated an air about him, which she found a tad offensive and somewhat repelling. She finished the last bit of her drink and shifted her body away from him.

“Let me get you another drink?”

Before Charlie could even respond, Rod had already signaled to the bartender and ordered another drink for her. “So what do you do?” he asked her.

“Why?”

“Just trying to make conversation.”

“I’m a legal secretary.”

He nodded as if he approved, not that it mattered to Charlie one way or the other.

Over on the dance floor, Charlie observed Camina and Laura still hammering away to the music, and she feared they might be out there forever.

“Looking for your sisters,” Rod asked.

Charlie flashed him a subtle look of curiosity, and before she could attempt to answer him, he said. “I saw all three of you when you came in.”

She was about to inform him that they were not sisters, then realized that it wasn’t worth the bother.

After a short silence with no words exchanged between them, he said, “Yeah, I’m a stock broker, make lots of money.”

Did he want an award for this statement?

“Really?” she said.

Did he really think that his boring banter was scoring him any points or was he just stupid?

 

 

How long would the unwanted guest stand there and crowd her space?

In one last gulp, Charlie finished her second drink and shifted her body away from Rodd.

“Now that you’ve finished your drink, how about we flee this joint and I take you somewhere nice?”

He couldn’t possibly be serious.

“Excuse me?” she questioned.

“Let’s ditch this place. I can tell you have something that I want.”

She stared at him, disbelief oozing from her face, certain he could see it, if not feel it. So much she wanted to let his invitation pass, but she just couldn’t.

“So,” she said. “You see something you like and that means you get to have it? Is that how it works?”

“Basically, yes,” he said confidently as he gulped down a sip of beer. “So, how about it?” he asked again.

She found herself thinking, wondering what her hand would feel like slapped against his face. Though she was not a violent person, somehow she could make an exception for Mr. Rod Bigg.

Instead of telling him what she really thought of him, she said, “I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure, I’m only going to ask once.”

Once was plenty because she had said everything to him that she wanted to say. As far as she was concerned, his questions deserved no more responses.

Charlie stood and hefted her purse upon her shoulder, and just as she was about to step away, Rod stated with a faded smile, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

Without giving his statement any thought, she stepped away and stood at the edge of the dance floor where she enjoyed a better view of the vigorous dancers. When she glanced back over at the bar, she saw Rod hitting on another woman. It was people like Rod that kept Charlie from frequenting places like this. It was her eventful conversation with Rod that helped her see the evening for what it was―a disastrous night out, soon to be buried away in her memory forever.

She’d given the night’s adventure her best effort. She endured the loneliness of sitting alone, sipping drinks to pass the time and the unfortunate experience of being annoyed by Mr. Bigg. She soon headed for the coatroom and collected her coat. Just as she was slipping her arms through the sleeves of her coat, Camina and Laura approached her.

“You’re leaving?” Laura asked.

“I’m going to go on home.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay a little longer?” Laura asked her. “You haven’t even danced yet.”

Camina interjected. “Let her go. If she doesn’t want to stay, we can’t make her.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow, Laura, but I’m going to go anyway.”

“Now I feel bad,” Laura said to Charlie.

“Please don’t,” Charlie said.

This must have been the highlight of the evening for Camina as she now had concrete proof that Charlie was not like she and Laura at all. They were in a completely different class. They were first-class as she was coach all the way.

Upon reaching the outside, Charlie was overcome with a sense of relief. The autumn air was just what she needed as it always had a way of lessening the potent effects of the alcohol in her system, something she was attuned to from lots of experience.

She stood at the corner of Dearborn and Ontario and flagged down a taxi. Though she made up her mind to go straight home as she sat in the back seat of the taxi, she decided to drop by Lee’s place, if only to cleanse herself of her spoiled evening.

At Lee’s classy high-rise in the Gold Coast, the doorman helped Charlie from the taxi and escorted her inside. Through the revolving doors and across the marble floors, Charlie headed towards the front desk and waited for the security guard to announce her arrival to Lee.

Charlie stepped off the elevator and Lee awaited her, wearing a dark suit fit for a prince.

“Hey, Sunshine,” he said. “What do I owe the pleasure of this surprise visit?”

His exquisite attire this time of evening aroused suspicion. She found herself bitten by the bug of jealousy, especially after his marvelous display of affection towards her a few days ago.

As they headed towards his unit, she said, “You look nice. Hot date?”

He stepped to her and kissed her cheek. “I’m taking my father to see this new musical.”

“I didn’t know your father was in town.”

“He just got in this morning.”

Lee was very close with his father. Despite the fact that they lived thousands of miles apart, they spoke on the phone almost daily and saw each other several times a year.

Upon reaching his condominium, Lee stood in the hall mirror and straightened his tie. Charlie watched him in admiration. He was an attractive man. Because it was a rare occasion when she visited him, she had forgotten how nice his placed looked as her eyes spiraled around the room. She took notice of the floor-to-ceiling windows, the off-white European sofa and octagon shaped coffee table. Eccentric paintings of make-believe climates, sunshine and fallen snow hung on the wall, stylishly and expensively framed.

“So, what’s up?” he asked her.

“Do you think I’m pretty, Lee?”

“Of course you’re pretty. Very pretty.”

She didn’t respond.

“You don’t agree?”

“I don’t know sometimes,” she said.

“Did you come over here just to ask me that?”

Charlie raised her shoulders, didn’t really know exactly where to begin. He was on his way out and would not have much time to talk.

“Are you excited about your birthday tomorrow?” he asked her.

“Not really.”

A sigh of sadness oozed from Charlie’s lips. “I just stopped by to talk, just came from Excalibur.”

“You?”

“Don’t look so surprised.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to sound like that. I’m just surprised. I didn’t think that was your forte.”

“Neither did I.”

“You want to join me and my father, and we can talk afterwards?”

“No. That’s okay.”

“Are you sure? You know, I can cancel with my father if you want.”

“I can’t let you do that.” She smiled and headed towards the front door. “We can talk tomorrow.” She moved her purse upon her shoulder, all the while thinking Lee was on the other side of the room. But when she turned, she found him standing directly behind her, causing their bodies to meet in a swift jam.

Charlie’s forehead flourished with perspiration and out of nowhere, she found a web of courage thrive through her and said, “I love you, Lee.”

An unusual smile covered Lee’s face.

“You believe that, don’t you?” she asked him.

Lee nodded.

Charlie opened the door, slipped through and didn’t look back. She wasn’t at all sure what possessed her to make such a bold revelation to Lee. Of course she loved Lee, but how did she love him? That was the question.

 

 

To top off Charlie’s unfortunate evening at Excalibur, tomorrow was her thirtieth birthday. Those were the first thoughts to spring to mind when she returned to her dark apartment. She was going to be thirty and she was not yet married, and it bothered her. Marriage never seemed that important to her until she lost her family. Then it became very important. But how was she going to get married when she wasn’t even dating seriously?

After she showered and slipped into her burgundy bathrobe, she popped in one of her favorite detective movies and snuggled up on the sofa in her living room. She could not continue at this pace, drinking all the time, doing the same things, and living the same humdrum existence. Something needed to change, and the change she sought would have to come from the inside.

Charlie held the remote control in hand, increasing the volume as she absorbed herself in the movie before her. Ten minutes into the movie, she zeroed in on a scene: A gorgeous woman was being questioned about the murder of her boyfriend. Though Charlie had viewed the movie numerous times, she was mesmerized by the nonchalant and callous manner in which the female suspect answered the detective’s questions. Charlie was bewitched by her.

Suddenly, it hit her, like a long-awaited epiphany blooming into fruition. That woman was the who she wanted to be, the female character on screen before her. This woman reminded her of her late sister in a dark and disturbing sort of way. Not that her sister was ever a suspect to a murder, it would not be out of the realm of possibility to find her sister in such a notorious situation.

Charlie kept her eyes focused on the woman in the movie when suddenly she heard her sister Sandy calling out to her from the hall mirror.

“Charlieeeeeee? Charlieeeeeee?”

Charlie quickly hurried to the hall mirror, and a beautiful and breathtaking image of Sandy appeared in Charlie’s reflection. Sandy’s timing could not have been more perfect as Charlie so needed to talk to her.

“Tonight was just horrible, Sandy.”

“Was it that bitch, Camina, or that jerk, Rod?”

“How do you know about them?” Charlie questioned.

“We’re sisters, remember.”

“People would never disrespect you the way that they disrespect me,” Charlie said.

“It will get better. I promise.”

“I guess. It’s been months since you left me, and since then my life has been so dull. It’s so dull without you.”

“What about your birthday? That’ll be exciting.”

“Not without you, it won’t. I’m so bored, Sandy. I think I’m in a lull.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Sandy asked her.

“I do have a few ideas. I’m in the process of putting something together.”

“I can’t wait to hear about it,” Sandy said. “We’ll talk again soon. Okay.”

“But I want to talk to you now.”

“Soon Charlie. We’ll talk soon.”

Moments later, Sandy was gone.

Charlie stood before the hall mirror, hoping Sandy’s image would reappear. But after ten minutes, Sandy failed to appear.

Charlie resumed her comfortable position on the sofa. For long and continuous moments, she spaced out, remembering the nasty comments that reverberated from Camina’s mouth. The more she remembered, the more her anger elevated. Why had she allowed herself to be so different, so separate from everyone else?

Why had she been singled out as the ugly duckling?

Why had she allowed Camina to speak such harsh words against her even if they did deserve merit?

Why had she allowed Laura to speak for her like she was some frail potato?

Charlie’s memories elapsed back to when she was a little girl, recalling how her late, but naughty sister reaped all the attention at home and from men.

But not Charlie.

She was the quiet one who everyone liked but paid little attention to. Her sister lived a carefree life, did what she wanted to do and was well respected and still very much loved for it. Though Charlie found no comfort in these distant memories, somehow the memories inspired her to stand up for herself. Her memories made her desire to change even stronger, and, more importantly, the courage to stop complaining and actually do something.

For several days she considered reinventing herself, but it wasn’t until that very moment that she knew she had to do it.

Never again would she allow herself to be ridiculed by Camina.

Never again would she allow a stranger in a bar or, any man for that matter, to insult her and not suffer the consequences.

Never again would she retire to an empty boring apartment while everyone else was out living and enjoying life.

And now for the first time, she knew exactly how to do it, and it would be totally painless.

 

Episode 6

 

A drastic occurrence transported Charlie into this dark cloud of immobility, and only a drastic move, maybe even outrageous one, could rescue her from it.

And she was ready─so ready.

In every way she would be like her sister. She would dress like her sister, act like her sister and become her sister. There was also a good chance that she might even get a tattoo, something she never thought about before. No longer would she be Charlie, she would be Chaz. It was the name of a movie character who had two personalities. When the character was with her husband, she was Charlie, but when she was with her boyfriend, she was Chaz. The name Chaz also possessed a naughty ring to it, which she liked, as she was more than capable for the task at hand.

As all of these thoughts came to her, she felt a spirit of elation and a whopping dose of euphoria that led her up from the sofa and into the bathroom. It was like a rebirth as she stood at the bathroom mirror. She dropped her robe to the floor, scanned over her slender body and round breasts. She released the ponytail ring from her hair, allowing her brown hair to splash against her shoulders. Through her limp hair, she ran her fingers. Her boring hair was in serious need of body, curls and a touch of color. A breath of rejuvenation exhaled from her mouth.

Tomorrow her life would truly begin.

And now was the perfect time. It was going to be her thirtieth birthday.

 

 

The night passed fast.

Not only did Charlie sleep well but she awakened high-spirited. She needed the entire day to make herself over and going to the office clashed with her schedule. So she called off and didn’t hesitate for a moment.

Luckily on such short notice, Charlie secured an appointment at Vidal Sassoon. She saw it as a sign that she was on her way. Though she and Lee made dinner plans for her birthday, she chose a date with herself instead. After a quick oatmeal breakfast, she threw on some jeans from the fresh laundry in her drawer and dressed. After checking her wallet for both credit cards, she left her apartment on a mission.

At the ritzy Vidal Sassoon on Michigan Avenue, Charlie anxiously waited in the reception area. She flipped through the pages of Glamour magazine, all the while relishing in the tropical shampoo scents and hair sprays that ruminated up her nose. The shiny black chairs and white marble counters warranted it a star status flavor, which seemed more than appropriate for her unique endeavor.

She imagined herself as one of the models who graced the pages of the celebrity magazines and fantasized about how she would feel after her makeover, causing a warm, tingly sensation to pass through her.

She already knew exactly what type of style she wanted. Something curly and something red.

Definitely red.

 

 

Two hours had passed by the time Charlie’s stylist finished her hair and Charlie eagerly waited to see the end result with her eyes closed. Her stylist swiveled her chair around towards the wide mirror. Upon opening her eyes, she was in awe with what she saw.

It was like looking through a mirror with Camina and Laura and her sister revealing themselves in her reflection. Her curly red hair was identical to theirs. Her only regret was that she failed to transform herself a long time ago. A huge glowing smile arose from her perfectly decorated face as she ran her fingers through her silky hair. Not only was she gorgeous, but she possessed a new attitude and saw the world as definitely a place for her. Her new look filled her with confidence―confidence she didn’t know existed. She didn’t think there would ever come a day when she would feel this sure of herself as if she owned the world and just allowed others to live in it with her.

She was Ms. It.

 

 

The morning would not be complete without a French manicure to complement her jazzy new hairstyle. This was only the beginning of much more to come. Today was off to a magnificent start. And Charlie didn’t know how it could get much better. She departed from the salon but not without leaving her stylist a much-deserved $40 tip. She headed towards Macy’s department store, which happened to be in the same building as Vidal Sasoon.

Now it was time for the wardrobe.

On the main floor of Macy’s, Charlie stopped at every mirror in her path. She wanted to constantly remind herself of the marvelous masterpiece created─herself. What she needed now was a theme song, and she had just the perfect tune. It was 33 Flavors and Then Some by Alana Davis. This is the song that she would continually play in her head as a reminder of the dream that she had created.

Up the escalator, Charlie strolled. She made her way to the DKNY department and tried on every outfit that caught her eye: dresses, suits, blouses, long skirts, short skirts and pants. There would be no more polk-a-dot dresses. No more turtleneck sweaters. No more polyester and no bland colors. But, there would continue to be red. Lots and lots of red.

Charlie sought adventure and excitement, and the clothes in her closet would not do her justice. Engrossed in esteem, a particular double-breasted designer pantsuit captured her attention. She would do the world a favor by sporting it out the door for everyone to see, the public having waited long enough.

Her shopping spree would not be complete without the purchase of several pairs of shoes and some leather boots to match her new $400 ivory coat. The coat would not only keep her warm during a typical Chicago winter, but more importantly, it looked good on her, and from where she stood, looking good meant everything.

After she maxed out both of her credit cards to five thousand dollars each, she needed to write a check for her new earrings and makeup. She exited the store looking like two million dollars, much too good to wait for a bus. This invigorating experience elevated her to the top of the hemisphere, and she was completely in control for the first time in a long time.

Twenty minutes later, Charlie reached her apartment after she hailed a taxi from the Loop. She dropped her shopping bags to the living room floor and couldn’t wait to talk to Sandy and show off her new look. She knew that her sister would be so proud of her. For all of fifteen minutes, Charlie stood in front of the hall mirror calling out to Sandy, but Sandy was nowhere to be found.

Where was she?

Charlie decided to try again later to contact her sister, but for now, she would focus on her new look. Most of what Charlie purchased would be delivered because she could only carry so much with her. After having adored herself for several minutes in the hall mirror, she hurried to the bathroom to try on her new earrings. She posed in her new outfits, modeling everything that she brought home with her. She visualized her friends at work falling over themselves when they saw her. As she fiddled with her hair, a stream of arrogance flourished through her. She absolutely could not enjoy enough of what she saw. It was her new hair, her new clothes and, most of all, her new attitude that she just could not get enough of.

After she tore herself away from the mirror, she listened to the messages on her voicemail, most of which were birthday wishes.

She was thirty years old and a new woman.

This was definitely a defining moment, and she needed a drink. As she sipped her wine, one sip at a time, an image of Mr. Rod Bigg came to her. If only he could see her now, speak to her now; she would have a few choice words for him. She was engulfed in resentment for the way that he spoke to her on that unfortunate evening. As she replayed Rod’s offensive words in her head, a wonderful idea came to mind. She would make another visit to Excalibur and hopefully meet him a second time. After all, it was still her birthday, and the day was still fresh and new.

That evening, Charlie failed at her attempt to run into Rod at Excalibur. After downing a few drinks, she made her way back home.

Hope was not lost though.

Eventually, she would run into him and tell him what she should have told him when she met him the first time.

 

 

Thirty minutes late, definitely not the norm for her, but necessary to make a grand entrance, Charlie strolled into her office the next morning. With her Coach bag on her shoulder, she received stares and ogles from everyone in her path.

After she hung up her coat, down the corridor she strutted. She wore a kick-ass attitude and an olive green pantsuit to match, which appeared to have been tailored for her lean frame. For each step closer to her desk, her persona, Chaz, emerged. By the time she reached her cubicle, a plethora of coworkers awaited her as if she were queen of the heavens.

On her desk, an arrangement of flowers awaited her, along with a dozen red tulips. No doubt the tulips were from Lee because tulips were her favorite. After she offered her good mornings to everyone, she read the card of her delivered flowers and learned her assumption was correct. The tulips were from Lee, but what she didn’t know was that there was a second arrangement for her from her boss, Lillian, wishing her a happy birthday as well.

Charlie was feeling on top of the world as her coworkers bombarded her workstation like she was a prominent salesperson. She was the center of this gala and enjoyed every second of it.

Rollie Williams, a paralegal who dressed more like he worked in the mailroom, wearing khakis and loafers managed to squeeze through the crowd and approach her, his eyes scanning her from top to bottom. “Don’t you look lovely,” he stated in his distinctive girlish voice.

“Thank you,” Charlie said as she pushed her hair behind her left ear.

Soon Laura made her way over, her eyes widened and her mouth was half open. “Charlie?”

“I like to think of myself as Chaz.”

 

Episode 7

 

Laura did a double take of Charlie’s appearance, seemingly even more shocked by the name Chaz. “Okay, Chaz. What did you do to yourself?”

Charlie flung her fingers through her silky hair and held her head back. She was so full of herself, and she wanted everyone to know, because it was no secret. “You like?”

“Yes, I do,” Laura said to her.

As Charlie absorbed the non-stop compliments about her hair, makeup and clothes, Camina came to mind as she lounged in the chair and crossed her legs. She couldn’t wait for Camina to see her. It was the moment that she anticipated and thought about all night.

It was as if her thoughts of Camina brought Camina out of hiding and into existence as Camina was now approaching Charlie at her desk, her arms folded, not saying a word.

Laura was quick to speak in Camina’s presence. “Will you look at the new Charlie? I mean Chaz.”

“Chaz? Who’s Chaz?” Camina asked.

Charlie elegantly stood up with a purpose. “I am.”

Camina glanced at Laura in disbelief, then turned to Charlie and rolled her eyes. “So, what’s with the red hair? What, you want to look like me or something?”

Before Charlie could answer, Laura immediately jumped in. “She doesn’t want to look like you.”

“I can speak for myself, Laura.”

While Laura seemed surprised by Charlie’s unusual tone of voice, Charlie placed her hands on her hips and directed her attention towards Camina. “For your information, I have no desire to look like you. I’m better than that. Much better.”

Though Charlie’s new look resembled Camina and Laura’s, it was not her intention to look like them at all, but more so like her late sister who happened to resemble both Laura and Camina.

Camina appeared as if she were about to step away, when she suddenly stepped around to Charlie’s desk. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you the other night at the club. It must have been tough watching me and Laura have such a good time while you sat there. Alone.”

Charlie wore a mental venom protective shield to safeguard herself from Camina’s poisonous words. She was not about to allow Camina to steal her joy and bring her down. “Oh, it wasn’t so bad,” Charlie said to her.

The congestion at Charlie’s workstation brought an unexpected visitor─Bruce Colby.

“Charlie?” Bruce Colby bellowed. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”

Charlie knew that Bruce held a fetish for redheads, and she witnessed his eyes snaking through her looping red hair.

“You look wonderful,” he stated.

“Thank you.”

Charlie noticed Bruce peering at her in a way that he had never done before, a way that she never thought that he would. She had successfully captured the attention of Camina’s prized possession and that was reward in itself.

The excitement soon died down and everyone vanished and returned to work, all except Laura. Laura seemed to still be in shock by Charlie’s new persona.

Charlie plucked her compact mirror from her purse and studied herself. She then twirled the ends of her hair around her finger as if to doll herself up. Next, she added another coat of her glossy lipstick.

All the while, Laura continually studied her as if Charlie were a science project. “Since you weren’t here yesterday, I’d like to take you to lunch for your birthday.”

Charlie was so wrapped up in the reflection of herself in her compact mirror that she didn’t hear Laura.

“Charlie, did you hear me?”

Charlie’s face was locked with the compact mirror as she wiped the smudged eyeliner from her face with her pinky finger. “I’m sorry, something about lunch. Of course.”

“And don’t worry. Camina isn’t coming with us this time.”

It was as if Laura knew of Charlie’s plan to never have lunch with Camina again. But things were different now. Charlie was no longer intimidated by Camina’s crass words.

“She can come with us. I can handle Camina.”

“Are you sure?” Laura asked her.

“Trust me. I can handle Camina.”

“Well. I better get back to work.” Laura was about to walk away when Charlie called to her.

“Does your friend still want to meet me?”

“I’m sure he does. I’ll get back with you.”

“Don’t take too long,” Charlie said while she fiddled with her hair.

After a short silence, Laura crept away silently.

 

 

Barely at her desk long enough to answer the phones, Charlie made three trips to the ladies room to fuss over her hair. It needed to have the perfect shape and the curls would have to hang at just the perfect angle. When she returned to her desk, the documents in her in-box from her boss were piling up. This was a telltale sign that it was time to do some work. After all, that was what they paid her for.

Most of the morning had elapsed so quickly, and the only thing that Charlie successfully completed was booting up her computer and positioning her desk radio to the perfect station.

Finally, Charlie got around to revising one of the five documents from her in-box. Right in the midst of printing the document, she glanced up and saw her boss, Lillian, standing at her desk. Lillian was a chunky woman who always wore black, no doubt, to hide the bulge that lurked underneath her expensive dresses.

“Do you have that letter I left for you this morning?”

Charlie failed to see Lillian all morning. She found it interesting that Lillian had yet to acknowledge her new appearance, but Charlie couldn’t concern herself with such minor occurrences at the moment. She was more concerned about the whereabouts of the letter in question.

“Letter?” Charlie questioned.

“I left a tape for you to transcribe in your chair.”

Charlie frantically fished for the missing tape. She searched underneath the scattered papers on her desk and through the documents in her in-box. Then mysteriously on the floor, she spotted the mini-cassette tape and felt as small as the ballpoint pen on her desk. She immediately reached down and picked it up. “This must be it.”

Lillian exhaled what seemed to be a breath of frustration and a tinge of annoyance. “You think you could get that to me right away?”

“Of course.”

When Lillian disappeared into her office, Charlie quickly transcribed the tape. So preoccupied with her new look, hair and flattery from everyone, she forgot why she was there. In her mind, the morning seemed more like a social festivity than a workplace.

Upon completing the letter for her boss, Charlie delivered it to Lillian’s office. She then grabbed her purse from her desk drawer and made another famous trip to the ladies room to see what her new double-breasted pantsuit would look like without the jacket. Not to mention it was time for another coat of her favorite glossy lipstick, which she adored so much.

In the ladies room, Charlie shot down the Chardonnay from her travel mug. She stood in front of the full-length mirror, unbuttoned her jacket, which revealed a silk blouse underneath. Just as Charlie turned to the side, admiring the shape of the loose-fitting pants on her narrow hips, Camina came through the door. Her arms were folded as she stepped behind Charlie.

Charlie studied Camina’s reflection in the mirror. “Are you lost?”

Camina stepped forward with her arms still folded, and Charlie turned to face her. It was obvious that Camina wanted to say something, and Charlie decided to help her out. “What? Do like what you see? Is that it?”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t,” Camina said.

“You could have fooled me.”

Camina pivoted around Charlie like a piece of art for sale. “You’ve been drinking in here, haven’t you?”

With a fake smile on Charlie’s face, she turned, about to walk away. It was true. She had been drinking, but how did Camina know?

Surely Camina did not smell it on her.

“You really think you’re something, don’t you?” Camina asked.

“Not think, honey, I know,” Charlie said before she made an elegant exit.

 

 

A half hour later, Charlie received a call from her boss, Lillian, wanting to see Charlie right away.

Charlie stood at the entrance of Lillian’s office. Though the door was ajar, Charlie knocked. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes,” Lillian said as she stood up from her desk. “Come in.”

Charlie was clueless as to the purpose of this meeting, and she remained calm, as she would find out soon enough.

It wasn’t until Lillian closed the door that Charlie realized it would probably not be good news.

“I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Charlie pushed her hair behind her left ear and asked, “May I sit down?”

“Of course.”

Charlie sat across from Lillian’s desk and crossed her legs.

“This is not really my place, but since you do work for me, I just wanted to bring to your attention something that was brought to my attention. It’s never been my policy to accuse anyone without first asking questions, so I’ll just come right out and ask. Were you drinking in the women’s room this morning?”

Right away, Charlie recognized this as the work of Camina, but she was not going to fall victim to Camina’s petty tactics.

Calmly she stared directly in Lillian’s direction. “No, I was not.”

“I really don’t care what you do when you’re not here in this office, but since something like that can greatly affect your work, I thought I would bring it to your attention.”

“I’m glad that you did,” Charlie said. “And I’m also aware that it was Camina who told you that.” Charlie stood up. “I don’t know why Camina would tell you that, but it’s not true.”

“I didn’t think it was, but I wanted to ask you about it anyway.”

Lillian could have come out and rightly accused her but she didn’t. Instead she simply questioned her, which was one of the things Charlie liked about her─her sense of fairness. Yes, it was true that Charlie lied about the whole matter, but her boss didn’t know that and didn’t need to know.

Charlie thought it strange that Lillian never mentioned one word about her new look. It didn’t much matter because everyone else’s awareness made up for it. She felt empowered that Lillian believed her over Camina. Though she was glad, she didn’t believe she quite deserved Lillian’s trust.

 

 

On Charlie’s way back to her desk, she made a stop in the lunchroom to buy a stick of gum from the vending machine. With her back to the door of the lunchroom, she turned and saw Bruce Colby coming towards her. He carried a prescription bottle in hand, probably his heart medication, which everyone in the firm knew about.

“Hi, Bruce.”

“How are you, Charlie?” he asked as he proceeded to the water cooler.

It was time for Charlie to make her move. Here was a way to avenge Camina and have some fun at the same time. After already having captured his attention, now it was time to seal the deal.

Bruce stood at the water cooler and spilled the pill from the prescription bottle into his hand. Purposely, Charlie dropped the coins from her hand onto the floor, knowing Bruce would be watching. It was not enough that he was watching; she wanted him to know that she knew that he was watching. Slowly and meticulously, she arched her body forward to pick up the coins so that Bruce could see how her pants sensuously hugged her ass.

She took her sweet time picking up the coins, and then arched her body up to a full stand and turned her head so that their eyes locked with each other. Just as she suspected, Bruce’s mouth hung open, a silent sullen look on his face as she approached him.

“See you,” she said, before breezing past him.

As far as Bruce Colby was concerned, this was just the beginning of much more to come. Ordinarily, Charlie would never be interested in a married man. But Bruce was special.

He was Camina’s beau, which made him the coveted prize. A victory such as that would surely strike Camina where she lived. Charlie’s trifling behavior was not like her at all, but much more like the tactics of her late sister. And that was what her ploy was all about─to be as much like her sister as possible.

 

 

Around twelve-thirty that afternoon, Charlie, Camina and Laura stood on the elevator on their way out for Charlie’s belated birthday lunch.

It was evident that Camina and Charlie were not on each other’s Christmas list. But Charlie knew why Camina chose to attend her birthday lunch this day. It wasn’t because Camina wanted to participate in the birthday celebration; it was Camina’s evil motive to torment Charlie with her harsh comments. But this time Charlie was well prepared for it.

They reached Nick’s Fish Market on Madison Street. As usual, Charlie didn’t have much to say. She allowed Camina and Laura to do most of the talking while she did the listening. She patiently waited for just the right moment to verbalize a few choice thoughts for Camina.

After their food arrived, the conversation grew shorter and more spaced apart, exactly the moment Charlie had been waiting for.

Charlie wiped her mouth with the napkin from her lap and did not blink once. “You know, Lillian called me into her office today, wanted to know if I had been drinking in the ladies’ room. You know anything about that, Camina?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Camina said.

“No?” Charlie asked with a double dose of sarcasm.

“Were you drinking in the ladies’ room?” Laura asked.

“Ask Camina,” Charlie said.

Laura stared across the table at Camina as if she was about to ask her something when Camina said, “I don’t know what she’s talking about, Laura.”

Laura changed the subject. “Anyway, here I am at my desk, I have Dave breathing down my neck, standing over me waiting for me to finalize his letter, and he knows I hate that.”

“I hate that too.” Camina said.

“Then Mitchell comes over to me. He sees that I’m in the middle of a rush and he asks me if a fax came in, as if he can’t go to the fax room or even call to see for himself. So I ask him if he can give me five minutes to finish up with Dave. You know what he said, don’t you? No.”

“Some of them are like that, but not Bruce,” Camina said with a brush of confidence in her eyes.

“Lawyers. You can’t work for them and why should you have to?” Laura said. “I bet Bruce wouldn’t be so sweet if it weren’t for those perks you so willfully offer, then the real Bruce would come out. You’d see he’s just like all the rest.”

“Bruce isn’t like that,” Camina said. “In fact, I don’t think he’d want anyone working for him but me.”

“Honey, Bruce will fire and hire in the blink of an eye, just like the rest of them,” Laura said.

“Not me he wouldn’t.”

“You just keep thinking that if it makes you feel better.”

For a moment, Charlie actually felt sorry for Camina. Camina naively bought into the fantasy that secretaries really meant something to the attorneys they worked for. Charlie learned a long time ago that secretaries were just a service and nothing more. Outside of the service they provided, they were absolutely useless to them.

And poor Camina was clueless.

Charlie sipped her water, peered over at Camina, and then returned her glass to the table. “Bruce has a thing for redheads, doesn’t he?”

“What?” Camina asked, astonished.

“You heard me,” Charlie said. “I mean, look at the pattern. You. His wife. And me. I’m sensing a pattern here.”

Camina’s nostrils flared, and Charlie could tell that she had struck a fragile nerve.

As usual Laura was the voice of reason. “I can tell where this is going, ladies, and let’s not.”

Camina ignored Laura’s words, pushed her plate to the center of the table. “Look, bitch. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing with your cheap clothes, fake nails and colored hair, but I can tell you right now, Bruce has no interest in you, red hair or not. You’re not his type.”

“That’s not what I heard,” Charlie said to Camina.

“Well, someone told you wrong.”

“Besides, I’m everyone’s type,” Charlie said calmly. “And for the record, your opinion of me means absolutely nothing.”

Camina rolled her eyes at Charlie, grabbed her purse, threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table and headed for the door;

Charlie’s mission was accomplished.

She said what she wanted to say and planted the seed of worry in Camina’s brain. But Charlie was not done just yet.

There was more to come. Much, much more.

 

 

En route to her appointment with Dr. Kern, Charlie felt the time had come when she no longer needed to meet with him. But she wasn’t sure just how to convey that message to him without sounding pompous or ungrateful.

She sat on the sofa in his office, absorbing the silence as she so often did. She no longer felt the need to lie back on his sofa as she had successfully graduated past that stage. She was feeling much better, and her life was changing, hopefully for the better.

Dr. Kern was famous for allowing her to start the sessions, something she reluctantly grew accustomed to. Though she didn’t expect him to make reference to her new look, she hoped that he would.

In order for Dr. Kern to take her seriously and actually believe that she no longer needed his help, she would have to clear up this business with her sister. If he thought that she was really having conversations with her dead sister, he would want her to continue with him indefinitely. Not that he could force her to do anything she didn’t want to do, still she wanted to leave on the best of terms and with his approval.

Before Charlie could share with him how well she had been doing, Dr. Kern surprised her by speaking first. “You’re looking well. I take it things are going pretty good for you.”

“Wonderful, couldn’t be better.”

“Any more visits from your sister?”

Charlie smiled, then laughed, glad that he mentioned her sister.

“Did I say something funny?” he asked.

She crossed her legs. “I made up that story about my sister.”

“Did you now?”

“Of course. How could she visit me when she’s in her grave?”

“So there was no image of her in the mirror?”

“Of course not.”

“Are you sure you’re not making this up?”

Charlie didn’t answer his question right away. Instead, she uncrossed her legs. “I have been feeling a lot better, and I’m wondering if I need to continue my visits with you.”

“When did you come up with this idea?”

“Just recently.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

“Yes, I do.”

“You know Charlie, there are still a lot of other topics for us to discuss.”

“Like what?”

“Well. A couple of weeks ago, you mentioned that your life lacked excitement and that you missed dating, even alluded to sex.”

Charlie couldn’t believe her ears. Did he not really want her to end their sessions because he would miss her, or did he just think she was a troubled case in need of extensive therapy?

It really didn’t matter because she knew what she wanted, and she knew what she needed. And she didn’t need to continue her sessions with him any longer. Not sure how to answer his question, she paused for thought, then said, “Yes, I did mention wanting excitement and wanting to date and that is certainly something I’m looking forward to.”

“Are there any prospects?” he asked.

“Not really.”

If she didn’t know better, she might think Dr. Kern harbored special feelings for her.

“Well, Charlie, ultimately, you will make the decision as to whether to continue with me or not. I just want you to think about it before you make a final decision. Will you do that? Will you think about it?”

“Yes, Dr. Kern, I will give it some serious thought.

She agreed to think about it only to appease him even though the final decision was made, and she anticipated her next session would be her last.

 

Episode 8

 

For a belated birthday dinner, Lee treated Charlie to a fabulous meal at Houston’s Restaurant. As they strolled down Rush Street in the crisp wind, towards his Jeep, Lee seemed eager to speak. “So, this is the big change you were talking about? I like it, but you don’t look like yourself.”

“Well, who do I look like?” she asked him.

“You look like those two women you work with.”

“Yeah, we do look alike.”

“But there’s something else. You’re different. It’s like you don’t care as much.”

“Care about what?”

“I don’t know. People.”

“Thank God for that.”

“So, what happened?”

“I don’t know.” Charlie paused. “I guess I just got tired of the person I was, so bored with everything, saying the right things, being so nice to everyone.”

“Being nice is a good thing.”

“For whom? Not for me.”

“Why? Why do you want to be so different?” Lee asked. “What’s wrong with the old Charlie?”

“I think of myself now as Chaz.”

“Chaz?”

“Yeah, Chaz.”

“So, it’s Chaz now?”

“Yeah. I kind of like it. It has a nice naughty feel to it,” she said as she twirled her hair around her finger.

Lee shook his head in disbelief. “Did you talk to your doctor about this? What does he think about this major change of yours?”

Charlie stuffed her hands into her pockets. “Who cares what he thinks? He’s not my keeper, and besides I’m not planning to see him much longer anyway.”

“Just like that you’re quitting?”

“That was Charlie in therapy, sitting on his sofa, boo-hooing, complaining about her life, depressed. I’m Chaz now, and Chaz doesn’t need him.”

“And what is it with this Chaz stuff? What’s that all about?”

“I happen to like the sound of it.”

“So that’s what I have to call you even if I don’t want to?”

“Not if you don’t want to, but that is how I refer to myself.”

“I don’t know, Charlie. I think you’re getting carried away with all of this.”

“Are you kidding me? I just got started.”

Charlie knew that the people around her might have a problem with her new persona, but that was not her problem.

Lee was silent a moment, then. “What’s next? What’s going to be next?”

“Now the real fun begins.”

As they came upon Excalibur nightclub, Charlie rocked her head to the beat of the music which trailed from inside.

Lee stopped abruptly. “Is the old Charlie ever going to come back?”

“Not if I can help it.” Charlie paused. “Let’s stop in here for a drink.”

Lee shook his head. “It’s not my kind of crowd.”

“Well, it’s definitely mine.”

“No, it’s not,” he said to her.

“It is now.” She eagerly approached the men working the door of Excalibur, then turned around and said goodbye to Lee right before she disappeared inside. So much she hoped to run into Mr. Rod Bigg, the guy she met days ago who left an impression on her that she would never forget. Ever since that night when he disgusted her with no shame, she knew that she would have to see him again, if only once more.

Hundreds of people crowded the dark nightclub as the music blasted. Charlie unbuttoned her coat as she strutted towards the bar, wearing the I-can-get-anyone-I-want attitude. Feeling extremely empowered, she made eye contact with every man in her path. Looks were always welcome.

At the bar, before she ordered her first drink, a handsome gentleman approached her. Before he said a word to her, Charlie caught a glimpse of Rod on the other side of the club, and immediately made a beeline in his direction.

How could she ever forget Rod Bigg?

Tonight would prove to be his lucky night. She would have the pleasure of teaching him a thing or two about respect. And she was the only person qualified for the daunting task. It was a lesson he would remember for many days to come.

 

 

Rod stood against the wall, wearing a faded blue-jean shirt and a navy blue tie. He held a beer in his hand and his eyes were bloodshot.

Charlie approached him, standing in front of him as if she were his mirror. She smiled, but she didn’t say a word. He seemed to recognize her immediately.

“Charlie, right?”

“Chaz,” she said, correcting him, even though Charlie was the name she had given him before.

“Right.”

“And you are Mr. Bigg.”

“The one and only.” He gulped down his beer. “Can I get you a drink?”

“No, but you can dance with me.”

She gently grasped his hand and led him to the packed dance floor as she was in complete control. She had thought about this moment, having visualized the whole evening ahead, and it would begin with a not-so-innocent dance. After two minutes, Charlie altered his movement by casually grabbing his buttocks. She pulled him close to her so that they danced slower than the music. Rod was definitely playing along as she knew that he would. He placed his hands over her hips, then snaked his hands up her back, then around to the front of her dress.

When their eyes locked in to each other, Charlie smiled and swallowed hard. Gently, Charlie maneuvered his hand across her chest. She stared at him and brushed her face up against his, and their lips almost touched. Just as Rod tried to kiss her, she turned away. She could smell the wet liquor on his breath as she listened to his accelerated breathing against her ear.

Soon they weren’t dancing at all as they stood clinched together like two statues. He moved his hand up her waist and caressed her breast from the outside of her dress, and she didn’t mind. She allowed him to have his way. For now anyway. She pretended not to be affected by his actions, but she was. The more he touched her, the more she wanted to spit in his face. But she was patient as his time would surely come.

Again Rod tried to kiss her, and again she turned away. She enjoyed teasing him as much as he probably liked being teased. Seemingly, as he became more and more turned on, Charlie moved her hand towards the center of his pants and found his manhood rigid and wide awake.

Abruptly, he clutched Charlie’s hand and hauled her off the dance floor, towards a dark corner. He pressed her up against the wall, his hands on her face, their bodies almost molded together. He tried to force his tongue between her lips, but Charlie turned her head and resisted him, over and over.

She placed her finger over his lips and stared at him. “So, Mr. Bigg, is that name pretty accurate?”

“You want to find out?”

Charlie smiled, paused for a second, then yanked on his tie. “Yes. I want to find out.”

As he licked his tongue across her bottom lip, she consumed the lustful fire in his eyes.

“Not yet,” she uttered. She was in control, and he couldn’t have his way unless she said so.

With no warning, she grabbed the back of his head and kissed him to no end. Rough and hard. His tongue made its way between her lips and she savored the taste, again and again. She wanted him to know with no doubt that he wonderfully excited her, and that she wanted him.

Deep breaths escaped from her mouth and abruptly she stopped and pulled away. As she wiped her lipstick from his lips, she very gently nudged his crotch with her knee and said, “Say something dirty.”

He didn’t hesitate as if awaiting the chance to speak his mind. “I want to fuck you.”

He so predictably proved once again how little respect he held for women.

“Let’s get out of here,” Rod said, as he grabbed her ass.

“Where’s out of here?”

Instead of answering her question, he led her through the crowd, and, at that moment, he was exactly where she wanted him─in her complete power, and he didn’t even know it.

 

 

On the corner of Dearborn and Ontario, Rod and Charlie waited for a taxi. Wrapped snugly in each other’s arms, there was no mistaking them as anything other than a serious romantic pair. Milking the moment for everything it was worth, Charlie pretended to possess a true interest in the jerk that stood next to her.

Inside the taxi, Rod rested his hand on Charlie’s knee, and she wondered if she foolishly made a mistake. After all, she didn’t know this man. He could be a psychopath for all she knew. In her attempt to teach him a lesson, she could be the one who learned a lesson.

“I like this look of yours,” he said, as he slid his fingers through her looping red hair. “You look nothing like you did the night I first saw you.”

She said nothing in response to his comment, as she was not flattered the least.

Rod slid his hand up her thigh and at the same time, tried to kiss her, but she stopped him. “Where are we going?”

“Back to my place. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

With a solemn look on her face, and a hint of ambivalence, she said. “Yeah, that’s what I want.”

Not sure she wanted to carry this through, she glanced out the window, twisted, turned, fidgeted.

Was she making a mistake?

Wanting to ease some of her anxiety, she asked, “What are we going to do at your place?”

“We’re going to do whatever you think we’re going to do.”

When he kissed her, she no longer felt the same excitement as before and was very close to telling the taxi driver to stop the car. Then a positive thought sprang to mind. She was in complete control of this situation, and nothing would happen that was not to her liking.

Seventeen minutes later, the taxi driver pulled up to a courtway building in Hyde Park, and Charlie and Rod leaped out. They headed through the courtyard, holding hands. If Charlie didn’t know any better, she might think she really liked this guy. She was risking an awful lot to teach him a lesson. But it needed to be done, and not just because he needed to be taught a lesson, but because of something much more important. It was definitely something that her sister would have done. And for Charlie, that meant everything.

 

 

Rod’s barely furnished large apartment was dark and cold. It was filled with empty boxes spread across the carpeted floor as if he had just moved in. Rod stood behind her, pressing his body against her back and buried his face in her hair. As he helped her off with her coat, the fun and excitement of it all returned to her. Not ever having experienced this much adventure, and possible danger, she enjoyed the ride in its totality though still skeptical of where it might lead. This is what was missing from her life. Excitement and adventure.

Rod clicked off the hall light near the door. “Would you like a drink?” he asked her.

“I already had a drink. I want something else.”

Rod led her into the bedroom and neatly planted her on the edge of the bed.

“Take off my boots,” she said authoritatively.

Just a dim light came from the lamp on his night table. He bent down, unzipped one boot, and slowly slid it off her long leg, then the other one. As he glanced up towards her, she witnessed the eagerness in his eyes.

Delicately, she rose to a standing position and stood up on his bed, and began to undress right in front of him. She unzipped her dress, then pulled it over her head and tossed it to the carpeted floors. Wearing only her lace bra, panties and black tights, she kneeled down on the bed and unbuckled his pants, then placed his belt around her waist. She would have use for it later. Rod was quick to lose the rest of his clothes as Charlie absorbed the view. He moved back on the bed and Charlie soon joined him and straddled her body over his. They stared at each other, as if reading each other’s mind.

Charlie released the belt from her waist and placed the shiny buckle against his cheek. Her eyes perused over the dagger-shaped tattoo on his right arm and she considered purchasing a tattoo herself. It would be something that symbolized the true essence of her personality, something like a lion or a cougar or maybe even a tiger.

She listened to the deep breaths coming from his mouth as she moved her body further upon his chest. She wrapped the belt around his neck and buckled it. But before she could finish, he grabbed her hand and stopped her. But his resistance did not deter her.

To dispel with his reluctance, Charlie persisted while at the same time moving her face nice and snug to his. She kissed him and kissed him, sucking on his tongue. Soon, as she expected, he released her hand, allowing her to finish buckling the belt around his neck. The belt around his neck held a significant purpose─to forewarn him of her control and to send a pinch of fear through him as well. When her lips parted from his, he tried to keep their lips together, but abruptly, she broke lose. She grinded her body against his chest, listening to the short, erratic breaths coming from his mouth, her eyes never leaving his.

He fiddled with the back of her bra, trying desperately to undo it. Finally, he unsnapped her bra and grasped her breast into his hands, fondling them like a prized gift. He sensuously circled her nipples with his tongue. First one, then the other. She lowered her face to his and kissed him, again and again and again, slightly nibbling on his bottom lip, cheek and neck. Just when he seemed ready and willing to do anything and everything, she stopped cold and in a faded whisper asked “Why did you bring me here?”

Her words seemed to have no effect on him, and he didn’t answer. She had wonderfully excited him, thrilled him as she planned and now it was time to reveal the true purpose of this exercise of power.

“Did you bring me here to fuck me?” she asked in a whisper. She did not blink an eye as she waited for an answer to her question.

Rod ignored her question and instead continued to grope at her breasts.

“Answer my question,” she insisted. Although the answer was more than obvious, she needed to hear him say it.

He seemed to pause for thought and said nothing. With a clueless look smeared across his face, Charlie impatiently waited for him to answer. All the while she remembered the disrespectful words that fell from his mouth many nights ago, causing the anger to roar inside of her. It wasn’t as if she were a different person, she actually was a different person. She grabbed his face between her hands and witnessed the confusion and panic in his dark eyes.

“Don’t disrespect me. Don’t ever disrespect me.”

Wide eyed with a frenzied gaze, he yanked her hand from his face and said, “What?”

“You bring me here, you hardly know me, and you expect me to fuck you? Where are your manners? Didn’t your mother teach you better than that?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You know damn well what I’m talking about.” She descended off the bed, grabbed her dress from the floor and pulled it over her head, her mouth twisted in fury.

Rod unbuckled the belt from around his neck and sat up, a paralyzed look plastered on his face. “Are you okay?”

She was just about to slide into her boots when her mood miraculously changed. Only this time she deescalated from rage to serene. “I’m fine. But I’ll tell you this…you should be careful who you let come home with you. You just never know.”

Charlie stood up, exerted a seriousness about her that could stop a train. The crippled look on his face told her all that she needed to know. He would never underestimate this woman, or any woman for that matter.

Never again.

 

 

Charlie’s hands trembled as she came through the outside door of Rod’s apartment building. She risked and ventured much in coming to his place. But her mission was accomplished. She successfully branded him with the face of fear that would live inside his head for many days and nights to come. This one experience was not likely to alter his behavior, but for certain he would never disrespect her again. Even so, she surprised herself in the way she pulled off such a stunt. If she tried that stunt with anyone else, it could have turned really ugly. But she was lucky and smart.

Somehow on a subconscious level, she could only win and come out on top.

And she meant that literally.

 

Episode 9

 

Tuesday evening, Charlie and Lee attended their weekly art class. When Charlie slung her coat over her arm, a low cut red lace blouse was revealed, and Lee’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “I know you’re going to wear a jacket or something,” he said.

Enjoying every minute of the attention,” she said, “Why would I want to do that?”

The disappointment on Lee’s face was almost disturbing.

It wasn’t until Charlie began unpacking her bag that she was aware that she was missing some of her art supplies, which she left at home.

“I forgot my brushes,” she said to Lee. “Do you have one I could borrow?”

Lee searched through his bag, but before he could find a brush for her, Charlie was already in the face of another student, a gentleman in his fifties, wearing a plaid shirt.

“Could you do me a huge favor?” Charlie asked as she clasped her hands together like she was little Ms. Innocent. “Do you have an extra brush I could borrow?”

He didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink an eye. “Here. Take mine,” he said as he handed her his brush.

“What will you use?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about me.”

“Thanks, Honey.”

No sooner than Charlie reached the table where she left Lee, Lee stood up. “What the hell was that?”

“What?”

In a mocking tone, Lee said, “That Can you do me a huge favor bit.”

Charlie chuckled. “That was nothing.”

“You don’t want to give people the wrong idea, do you?” Lee asked.

“Maybe I do.”

It seemed Lee was having a hard time adjusting to Charlie’s new persona, which was too bad because she really liked the person that she had become.

 

 

The next day at work, for a change of atmosphere, Charlie sat in the lunchroom while she glanced over the revisions of a long document she had just completed.

Camina soon strolled in, her hair longer and fuller than it was the day before. Camina’s eyes met briefly with Charlie’s before Camina made her way over to the ice machine. Charlie knew Camina would still be pissed about the comments Charlie made about her precious Bruce Colby, and to add more heat to the burn, Charlie spoke to Camina as if nothing happened. “Hi Camina.”

Camina didn’t even look in Charlie’s direction. Instead, she uttered something underneath her breath, and Charlie could not understand one word. While Camina filled her glass with ice, Charlie ogled her, all the while fishing her brain for some lewd comment to make to Camina, but nothing came to mind. Out of nowhere, Bruce entered the lunchroom, looking just as handsome as ever in his signature suspenders.

He approached Camina fast and breezed right past Charlie, not noticing her at all, probably for the sole purpose of not upsetting Camina.

Bruce stood before Camina, holding several documents in his hand. “You think you could work a couple of hours late this evening, help me with this distribution?” Bruce asked Camina.

“Actually, I’m supposed to meet a friend after work,” Camina said while looking at her watch.

Not only was Charlie not able to resist the urge to help, but she also wanted a chance to move closer to the one and only Bruce Colby. With that thought in mind, she stood up, approached Camina and Bruce at the ice machine.

“Camina, if you have something to do, I can stay and help Bruce. I don’t have any plans this evening.”

Both Bruce and Camina eyed Charlie.

“Thanks, Charlie,” Bruce said. “I would really appreciate that.”

“No problem.”

Charlie witnessed a sharp look of disapproval in Camina’s eyes, and Camina soon sang a different tune fast.

“I’ll do it,” Camina said to Bruce.

“What about your engagement?” Bruce asked Camina.

“It’ll just have to wait.”

Camina’s change of heart came as no surprise to Charlie. There was just no way Camina was going to allow Charlie the opportunity to work for her precious Bruce Colby.

Bruce was about to leave the lunchroom when he double backed over to Charlie. “Thanks anyway, Charlie.”

“If you ever need anyone to work late, just give me a call,” Charlie said to Bruce. “I’m usually here late anyway.”

“I’ll do that,” he stated firmly.

Soon after Bruce disappeared from the lunchroom, Camina set her glass on the counter and stepped to Charlie. “What do you think you’re doing?” Camina asked.

“I was trying to do you a favor.”

“No you weren’t.”

Charlie returned to the table, sat down and continued to work on her document. All the while, Camina stood over her, not saying a word. After several seconds, Charlie looked up at her and said, “You’re too sensitive. That’s your problem.”

“No, you’re full of shit. That’s the problem. I see what you’re trying to do, and I don’t like it.”

“Well, I better mend my ways then, because Lord knows I live to please you.”

“Don’t mock me, I’m not Laura. I’ll hurt you, you little witch.”

“Witch?” Charlie smiled, almost flattered. “Don’t you mean bitch?”

“Bitch,” Camina said sharply.

“Thank you,” Charlie said.

It was harmony to Charlie’s ears knowing she stirred such anger in Camina.

“You really think Bruce is interested in you?” Camina asked.

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“Did you forget he is married?”

“I didn’t forget and neither did you?”

“Well, Bruce doesn’t need your help. That is what he has me for.”

In a huff, Camina shuffled out of the lunchroom, but before she made it through the door, Charlie called to her as she rushed towards her. “Camina.”

Camina didn’t turn around but she stopped in her tracks, giving Charlie just enough time to catch up with her. Charlie stood in front of her and ran her hands over her shoulder padded suit jacket. “You see, we have the same taste in clothes. And men.”

Camina turned up her nose and stepped away. Charlie could not help but laugh to herself. Finally, she delivered to Camina a dose of her own tactics, and it felt great.

 

 

Monday afternoon, Charlie sat across from Dr. Kern, her legs crossed as she absorbed the emotionless expression on his face.

Why was he so quiet?

She stared across at his yellow starched shirt and an idea came to mind. To garner his attention and maybe even shake him up a bit, she would share with him her most recent encounter with Rod Bigg. That was certain to stir some emotion in him.

“So, doctor, last week I went to a bar, picked up a man and went home with him.”

Just as Charlie predicted, Dr. Kern awakened from his comatose like state. He shifted positions in his recliner and brought the chair to an upright position. From the table next to him, he grabbed his note pad. “And then what happened?”

“Not much of anything. I told him he needed to learn to respect women and to be careful who he let come home with him.”

“And how did he respond to that?”

“He didn’t.”

“What else happened?”

Charlie could tell where this line of questioning was headed, and she continued to play along. “I wrapped a belt around his neck, nice and tight.”

Dr. Kern sat forward, seemingly, intrigued and shocked. “Why did you do that?”

“Why does anyone do anything? ‘Cause it’s exciting.”

A brief silence fell over the room as Dr. Kern scribbled notes on his pad in front of him. “Where is he now?”

“Nothing happened, Dr. Kern. I didn’t hurt him, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I didn’t think that you did.”

“Yeah, but that’s what you were thinking.”

Ever since Charlie came into his office, she planned to share with him her reasons for making that afternoon her last visit, but she didn’t quite know how to casually bring it up after having put it off for so long. Then, instantaneously, the words came to her and rolled off her tongue. “Dr. Kern, I don’t want to sound uncaring, but I don’t really need to meet with you anymore. I’m not depressed, and I’ve come to grips with my family’s death and all that other sad shit.”

“By taking on a new persona?”

“Whatever works.”

“And this is working for you?”

Dr. Kern’s resistance to her leaving was a real shocker. For several weeks, she sat with him, never completely sure if he was awake or not. And now for the first time, she got a glimpse of the emotion he kept hidden inside for so long. Somehow that afternoon she managed to rouse him twice, and she found it intriguing and welcoming. He was a real person after all.

“You know what I think?” Charlie sat forward. “I think this is the person who I was all along, and it was just hidden deep inside, and it took something as traumatic as my family’s death to bring it out.”

“You really believe that?” he asked her.

“I know it.”

The doubtful expression on his face alarmed her as she stared at him, trying to figure out what he was thinking.

“What do you think?” she asked curiously.

“I think you’re behaving this way to run away from what’s really going on.”

Charlie stood up and moved her purse strap upon her shoulder. “You’re welcome to your opinion, Dr. Kern.”

Charlie headed towards the door, her back to Dr. Kern.

“This is all about your sister, isn’t it?” he asked her.

“Maybe,” Charlie said without turning around. “My sister may have gone too far, but at least she knew how to have fun and how to live.”

“I’m concerned about you, Charlie. This idea of yours could present repercussions that you haven’t fully realized.”

“No, it won’t. I’m in complete control of my actions.”

“How will you know when to stop?”

His words left a bug in her ear, and she didn’t quite know how to answer, but she trusted her instincts. She trusted that when the time came she would know when to stop. When she stepped from Dr. Kern’s office, she glanced at the name on the door: Kenneth Kern, Ph.D. and nostalgia crept its way inside her head. She remembered all the times he listened to her at a time when she really needed to be heard. And now their relationship had come to an end, and this time she would not be back.

 

 

On Charlie’s way home, she kept thinking about her sister, Sandy. Over the last few days she had tried several times to reach her in the mirror, but it was useless. It was strange not connecting with her because she seemed to always have a sense for when Charlie needed her the most. She couldn’t help but think that maybe it stemmed from Charlie’s new look and persona.

She hoped not, because Charlie liked her new look and new attitude and she refused to dispel it. As Charlie continued to think about it, she was convinced that Sandy had stayed away and would continue to stay away for as long as Charlie portrayed her sister’s persona. She was now Chaz, and she had no intentions of ever returning to the person she used to be.

 

 

Saturday afternoon, Charlie and Lee retired back to Charlie’s apartment after spending most of the morning at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Charlie ordered pizza and rented a copy of Titanic. When the credits rolled on the television screen, Charlie sat perfectly still, her red and white polk a-dot pillow pressed against her chest. She wondered if she made the right decision in discontinuing her visits with Dr. Kern. His words of warning, along with everyone else’s, weighed on her mind, and it troubled her.

Charlie removed Lee’s Kangol cap and then ran her fingers through his hair. “I don’t know why you wear that cap. You have such beautiful hair.”

Lee smiled at her. “Are you sure you don’t want to marry me?”

“Maybe one day,” she answered him.

“You mean that?”

“Of course I mean it. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”

“If I tell you something, will you promise not to take it the wrong way?”

“Lee, you know I can’t promise that, but you can tell me anyway.”

Lee hesitated for a moment, then said. “As pretty as your red hair is, I like your brown hair much better.”

“Really?” she questioned, then turned away.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s just that I’m happy for once and everyone seems to want to take that from me.”

“No one wants to take your happiness away from you, but you have to admit this change of yours was pretty drastic.”

“You don’t like it?”

“I’m not denying how well you look. You’re a beautiful woman, always have been and always will be.”

“But?” Charlie asked, knowing that he surely had more to say.

“It’s the attitude.”

A defensive streak came over Charlie, and she headed into the kitchen, grabbed the Chardonnay from the refrigerator and poured herself a drink. Lee was quick to join her at the kitchen table and just as Charlie raised the glass to her mouth, he asked, “Does that really help?”

She lowered the glass and set it on the counter. “Are you trying to say something?” she asked him.

“There’s a chapter in the book I gave to you titled, Make Peace with Imperfection. Did you read it?”

“What difference does it make? And what does it have to do with anything?”

“Everything. You make this huge, impulsive change, and then you expect your life to be perfect, but life isn’t like that.”

Charlie opened her mouth, and was about to say something when Lee interrupted. “You think my life is perfect?” he questioned. “Do you?”

“I guess not.”

“No. It’s not perfect, and your life won’t be either,” Lee continued. “That’s why your past relationships have been so short lived, because you’re searching for perfection, and you’re not going to find it.”

“That’s not true. I don’t expect people to be perfect.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes. You do. That’s why we aren’t together, because I’m not perfect enough for you. I’m shorter than you are, and I used to be engaged to your sister.”

Charlie opened her mouth, about to retort, but nothing came out. At that moment whatever words came from her lips would be an out and out lie.

“Do you deny it?” he asked.

Lee took her for a loop and she could not escape his shrewd words. And as much as she hated to admit it, he was absolutely right and she was ashamed. He read her like a book, and it shook her to the core.

How was he to know her reservations for becoming intimately involved with him?

Supposedly it was a secret that somehow made its way out, and she was clothed in embarrassment. Speechless, she sat there, watching Lee watch her.

“The truth hurts, doesn’t it?” he said to her.

What was she going to say now?

“I’m sorry, Lee.”

“You don’t have to apologize. I just want you to be aware of it.”

It was hard to believe that someone as young as Lee could speak with so much wisdom. Though so much of what he said was correct, it didn’t change things.

“I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate your concern,” she said. “Because I do. I really do, but I’m nobody’s angel, and I can’t go back to the person I used to be.”

 

 

With Charlie caught up with her work and her boss in meetings most of the day, not much was happening, and she saw no reason to stick around any longer. She studied herself in her compact mirror and applied two even coats of her glossy lipstick. She then headed towards the walk-in coat closet. As she passed Camina’s desk, she could not bypass an opportunity to torment her. Though they rarely spoke to one another, they constantly ran into each other in passing and never shared so much as a glance.

Camina was sitting at her desk, very busy at her computer when Charlie approached and stood over Camina’s desk and stared down at the top of Camina’s head. Camina was so good at vanishing whenever they shared words but this time Camina would have nowhere to run. She would be forced to acknowledge Charlie’s presence and listen to the banter from Charlie’s mouth that Charlie so loved to dish out.

Patiently, Charlie pushed her hair behind her left ear and waited for Camina to look up from her computer screen.

Only a few awkward moments elapsed before Camina finally lifted her head. “What do you want?”

“That’s not a very nice way to greet someone,” Charlie said to her.

“Who said anything about greeting you?”

“I just wanted to tell you that I saw Bruce in the elevator this afternoon, and he was looking pretty hot.”

Camina didn’t respond. Instead, she rolled her eyes and returned her attention to the computer screen in front of her.

Charlie continued to stand there, hoping Camina would snap or do something, but nothing. Obviously, Camina wasn’t going to match wits with her that afternoon.

“I just thought you should know,” Charlie said, before she made an elegant exit down the hall.

 

 

Charlie left work early. She was full of energy and not quite ready to retire to her apartment just yet. She quickly remembered something that she was always in the mood for─shopping. Right away, she headed for Macy’s on State Street. Never before did she make such a big fuss about her attire, but she saw things so differently now. She wanted to look good all the time because when she looked good, she felt good.

At the perfume counter, she sampled her late sister’s favorite perfume: Cool Water Woman. She sprayed it lightly against her wrist and enjoyed the tropical scent. Though she wasn’t much of a perfume person, things were changing for her so rapidly, and she found herself evolving more into her sister every day.

As she made her way to the jewelry counter, a pair of looped silver earrings caught her eye. She held them up to her earlobe while she studied herself in the mirror, admiring how exquisitely they complemented her looping red hair.

The price for these darling gems was $60, and only twenty dollars remained in her wallet. Both of her credit cards were maxed out, and her checkbook was at home, but she needed to have those earrings. They would look perfect with her new silk dress, but unfortunately, she was short of cash. Suddenly it hit her. She would simply walk away with them. They were overpriced anyway. She remembered how her sister used to shoplift all the time, many times just to see if she could pull it off. Charlie was engulfed with a daring spirit, and she decided she was going to do it. It was something that she never did before, and the idea excited her. She shifted her eyes around the store to see if anyone was watching. It seemed safe enough, especially since the two sales girls behind the counter were busy assisting other customers.

Very slowly, she extracted her tiny earrings she was wearing from her earlobes and slid them into her pocket. She then inserted the loop earrings into her ears and stuffed the packaging down her coat sleeve. Casually, she stepped away from the counter and headed for the State Street exit. She was just about to go through the revolving doors when two security guards approached her, one on each side. On her right, the security guard gently tugged her arm and stopped her. “Excuse me, Miss, we’d like for you to come with us.”

She was not the least bit frightened and knew exactly what to do. She would play the dumb-dumb game. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“Will you just come with us, please?” he stated.

The security guards and Charlie escaped through the cluster of people, and all Charlie could do was absorb the attention she drew. Down the escalators, they escorted her to the basement as shoppers ogled and teetered. To her surprise, Macy’s did, indeed, press charges against her, and she was soon picked up, arrested and en route to the police station south on State Street. Though she maintained a callous exterior, a different feeling was brewing inside her as she found her ride in the back seat of the police car to be a novel experience. Even after they handcuffed her, the entire experience still proved well worth it and more exciting than she anticipated. She was just so proud of herself for having the guts to do something so daring and out of character for her. It wasn’t about successfully getting away with it. It was about the joy of the excursion. This was something that had never happened to her before. When she said she wanted excitement and adventure, she was not kidding.

Luckily for Charlie, the sergeant in charge allowed her to sit with him at his desk, while she waited for Lee to post her bail. In no hurry to leave, patiently, Charlie waited as she observed the ins and outs of what goes on in a police station. Instead of being concerned with tainting her flawless record, she was overcome with a bizarre urge to write a story about a woman awaiting bail who takes the entire police department hostage. Though she was no writer, never wanted to be, never planned to be and never would be, she wanted to tell that story. And as bizarre as it appeared even to her, she saw herself as that woman who could pull off such a mischievous act.

When Lee finally arrived and posted her bail, he was quiet, and she sensed his annoyance. She knew he was just waiting for the perfect moment to let loose. As they strolled towards his Jeep, Charlie anticipated any moment that she would hear his cute voice. But with each step they made, it seemed it wasn’t going to happen.

Finally, Charlie broke the silence. “Thanks for coming to get me, Lee. I’ll definitely pay you back.”

He didn’t display any sign of acknowledgment, and Charlie thought maybe he didn’t hear her, or worse yet, maybe he didn’t want to hear her.

“I don’t care about that,” Lee said. “It’s you I’m worried about. This is totally unlike you, and I just don’t understand why you did it. Why would you do something like that?”

A faint smile graced Charlie’s face, and she forced herself to remain serious even though she clearly found the whole experience exceptionally amusing.

“Maybe I didn’t have the money,” she said to him.

“Oh you had money to buy all of those expensive suits, dresses, perfume and makeup, you could have afforded $60 earrings.”

Charlie opened her mouth to speak and tried to sneak a word in, but Lee continued over her.

“You could have bought those earrings,” Lee said. “Hell, I could have bought them for you at the least.”

“What’s the big deal? I didn’t get into any real trouble. It’s not like I killed anyone.”

Abruptly, Lee stopped in his tracks and said, “No, you didn’t kill anyone,” he said.

Lee continued towards the parking lot, while Charlie trailed a few feet behind him. This shoplifting incident obviously upset him to no end, and it was making her very uncomfortable. When they reached Lee’s jeep, Lee opened the door for her and then asked, “Why did you do it?”

Charlie smiled and pushed her hair behind her left ear. “There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, having a little fun, Lee.”

“You mean seeing what you can get away with.”

It was like Lee was reading her mind as he so often did with keen accuracy.

After Charlie settled herself in on the passenger side of his Jeep, Lee stepped around to the other side and climbed inside. He slammed the door behind him, then peered over to Charlie. A stern look oozed from his eyes, and Charlie didn’t want to hear anymore. He was blowing her high, distorting the thrill of the entire experience.

Then he asked it. “What’s going to be next, Charlie?”

 

Episode 10

 

Charlie didn’t have an answer to his question as she didn’t know what would be next, except she hoped it would be lots of fun, even more exciting than the shoplifting. She tried to roll down the window, then realized he had yet to start the engine, forcing her to do nothing but hear him out.

“You changed everything about yourself, Charlie, and I don’t mind saying so, but you are no longer the woman I fell in love with.”

She was well aware of his feelings for her, especially since dedicating that beautiful song to her. The words I love you had a different feel to it, mainly because he never voiced it before. The song, I Just Want to Be Your Everything should have been enough of a clue for her to realize the depths of his feelings, but she was continually learning about his feelings for her. Maybe she didn’t want to know his true feelings because then she might be forced to reciprocate.

“I know that you love me, Lee, and I love you too.”

“But you don’t know how I love you.” Lee started the engine and pulled out of the parking space.

He was correct in his assumption because she did not comprehend the message, though she was trying. Most importantly though, she was not about to return to the mousy little girl she once was to please him or anyone else.

As they traveled down Lake Shore Drive, Charlie drifted into space as she stared out the window. They shared no words until they reached the front of her apartment building.

“Lee, that was very sweet what you said back there, but that is as far as it can go. I’m so different now.”

“Are you really?”

“I am, and I’m not the one for you even though you might think that I am.”

“We’ll see.”

It was as if Lee was threatening her or making her some type of long-term promise.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“This little phase of yours… It won’t last.”

“And you know this how?”

“You’ll just have to find out, won’t you?”

Did Lee know something that she didn’t?

After Lee stole most of her joy, Charlie entered her apartment in less than a bubbly state. His words of wisdom weighed heavily on her mind so much that she didn’t bother returning Laura’s call left on her voicemail. Instead, she drank herself into a stupor and went straight to bed.

 

 

With Charlie’s boss out of the office until noon, Charlie crept into work an hour late the next morning. She spent way too much time in the ladies’ room teasing her hair, but it provided her with something to do.

In the hallway, she ran into Laura. “Did you get my message last night?” Laura asked her.

“I got it.”

Laura’s eyes darted at Charlie as if awaiting an explanation.

“What?” Charlie asked.

“Why didn’t you call me back?”

“A lot of crazy stuff happened to me yesterday. You wouldn’t believe.”

“Crazy stuff like what?”

“I would tell you, but I don’t think you could handle it.”

“Try me.”

“Let’s just say I got into a little trouble last night with the law.”

“You want to tell me about it?” Laura asked her.

“No, I really don’t.”

Charlie continued towards her desk and Laura trotted alongside.

“None of this sounds like you,” Laura said. “And it’s definitely not like you to not return my call.”

“I’m so tired of hearing that. Well, it is me and what’s the big deal? I knew I would see you today and if it were that important, you would have called back.”

Charlie’s voice had elevated by the time she finished the last word of her sentence, and Charlie saw Laura about to step away.

“Wait Laura. I’m sorry. It’s not you. I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s just that no one wants me to be who I am, and I’m constantly reminded over and over of who I used to be and it’s starting to unnerve me. I find myself wanting to say to everybody ‘move on,’ but I never say it.”

Laura was about to say something, then didn’t.

“Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t call you back, but what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Nothing really. I was just going to ask you if you wanted to see a movie after work, but of course, you probably already have plans.”

“Actually, I don’t, but I’ve seen enough movies for a while. Maybe some other time?” Charlie asked with a silent question mark.

“Sure.”

As Laura walked away, Charlie was suspicious of Laura’s invitation, believing that the movie was a cover-up for something else, but she couldn’t be absolutely certain.

Back at Charlie’s desk, just as she was filing her nails, she saw Camina trampling through the hall carrying a handful of file folders. Not many minutes would pass before Charlie’s boss requested her in her office. Supposedly, Lillian was not due in until noon, but obviously her plans had changed. Charlie headed towards Lillian’s office, wanting to keep an open mind and not assume anything.

Across from Lillian, Charlie sat, her legs crossed, waiting patiently for Lillian to voice her reason for calling her into her office.

“I felt I needed to bring you in here again and talk to you about this new attitude of yours,” Lillian said. “I’m glad that you’re feeling good, I really am, but you still have a job to do. This is so unlike you to be so absent and lax on the job.”

“I’m so tired of hearing that, ‘this is not like you, Charlie,’” Charlie said in a mocking voice.

“Well, it’s not. There are people in this office, very busy people who are here to work. You sit at your desk filing your nails while everyone else is busy working, you’re late coming in, you leave early.”

“It’s not like I leave anything undone.” That was Charlie’s only defense.

“That’s not the point,” Lillian said. “If you finish your work early, that’s a good time for you to help someone else.” Lillian paused, then stood up. “And I’m well aware that you didn’t get in this morning until after ten.”

A streak of guilt coursed through Charlie, having no way to explain her dishonorable act.

“I’ve spoken with you about this before. Don’t you like it here anymore?”

“I like it.”

“Well I expect to see something different if you’re really serious about your job here. I haven’t spoken to personnel about this because I was hoping this was something we could handle ourselves, but lately, I have my doubts. You’re a good worker, Charlie, when you work.”

“I understand.”

Not only did Charlie find her boss to be more than fair, she was also absolutely right. Charlie was not the model employee. At that moment, she made a concentrated effort to do something about her behavior. No matter how difficult, if only for the sake of not letting Lillian down.

Everyone around Charlie seemed to stifle her joyous spirit. They were constantly complaining ever since she made the decision to do away with her boring existence. First there was her psychologist, Dr. Kern. Then there was Lee. Then, Laura. And now, her boss.

Why was everyone resisting her change?

Didn’t they want her to have fun and enjoy herself?

One thing was for sure. Charlie knew exactly how her boss found out about her coming in late that morning. It only took two words to tell the whole story.

Camina Givens.

 

 

Though Charlie’s boss had not long ago reprimanded her for coming in late and leaving early, at four thirty that afternoon, Charlie was tempted to leave anyway. Her boss having left for the day, she was without anything to do.

She shut down her computer, grabbed her coat from the closet and headed for the elevator. To her surprise, Camina stood there waiting, her coat hanging over her arm. This was the first Charlie saw Camina since Camina trampled past Charlie’s desk earlier that afternoon. Their wait together would certainly prove to be an interesting one, and the timing could not have been more perfectly arranged.

Charlie stared straight ahead and saw Camina glance over at her.

To avoid an even more awkward moment, Charlie said “Hello.”

The elevator arrived and instead of Camina returning Charlie’s greeting, she stepped inside the elevator. Charlie was about to step on behind her, then decided not to. She wasn’t ready just yet. Just as the door was about to close, their eyes locked into each other and Charlie stopped the door before it closed, happy to witness the annoyance on Camina’s face.

In the back of the elevator, Charlie stood, Camina’s back to her. Charlie couldn’t resist the urge to toy with Camina as she found great pleasure in agitating her. Only because it was so easy.

When the door closed on the forty-fourth floor, it was obvious Camina was not talking. In an effort to garner Camina’s attention, Charlie pretended to cough to see if Camina would turn around. But it warranted no attention from Camina. This was Charlie’s strange way of letting on that she was aware of Camina’s report to her boss. Soon Camina would know exactly how Charlie felt about people who fibbed.

Again Charlie coughed, this time longer and louder. Camina soon turned around, peered at Charlie. It was the moment Charlie awaited.

“Do you have a problem?” Camina asked.

As Camina was about to turn around, Charlie reached out, grabbed Camina’s earlobe and pulled her backwards. A shallow scream escaped from Camina’s mouth and she dropped her coat.

Very calmly, Charlie placed her ear to Camina’s. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find out about that shit you told Lillian about me?”

Camina yanked Charlie’s hand away from her ear, then smacked Charlie in the cheek, knocking Charlie to the floor. With the wind knocked out of Charlie, she remained calm. She was not intimidated, and not the least bit threatened. Charlie picked herself up from the floor, her hand against her bruised cheek. So much she wanted to pull the red hair from Camina’s head, but just when Charlie’s heated eyes met with Camina’s, the elevator stopped on the twenty-ninth floor, and two businessmen stepped on. Charlie composed herself and straightened her coat, not giving much attention to the two men in the elevator. Instead, she was more concerned with the price Camina would pay for striking her.

When the elevator reached the lobby, Charlie and Camina headed towards the revolving doors. Charlie paced herself several feet behind Camina, her hand still against her bruised cheek. Once on the outside, Charlie was surprised to see Lee waiting for her in his double-parked Jeep. Charlie hurried towards him and quickly climbed inside. “This is a nice surprise,” Charlie said.

“I got off a little early, thought I would surprise you.”

Stopped by a red light, Lee glanced over at Charlie who still nursed her bruised cheek.

“What’s wrong?” he asked her.

Just as Charlie was about to speak, she saw Camina crossing the street in front of them.

“Lee, do me a favor. Run her over.”

Lee eased his foot off the break, moved towards Camina’s direction.

“I was just kidding, Lee.”

Lee chuckled. “Me, too.”

They shared a smile as Camina disappeared down the street.

“Is she giving you trouble at work?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

Charlie hadn’t expected Camina to retaliate in the way that she did. It came as a major surprise. She had definite plans to get back at Camina for sure and teach her a lesson in respect, the same way that she schooled that jerk at Excalibur. And not because it was something her sister would have done, but because it was something she needed to do. And she knew exactly how. Only two words sprung to mind.

Bruce Colby.

 

 

Charlie stepped through the clutter of shoeboxes, shopping bags and designer hangers as she came through the door of her apartment. After listening to her phone messages, she splashed cold water on her wounded cheek. Camina’s swat to her cheek hit with more force than she thought originally, and she found herself constantly reminded of it. And to top it off, the soreness in her left breast after having purchased a butterfly tattoo the previous night was wearing on her as well. The beautiful red butterfly that symbolized her new persona was the metamorphosis that occurred inside of her.

Charlie stood in her brightly lit kitchen, still wearing her silk blouse and mini skirt, and enjoyed some Chardonnay from the refrigerator. Though not hungry, a potent craving for chocolate cake came over her. That could only mean one thing. It was time for a visit from her little red friend, a time when she craved sweets.

With dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, on the counter and on the kitchen table, housework had become a low priority. Her concerns were focused more on her wardrobe and all the cute things she could do with her looping red hair. After mixing the chocolate cake mix in a large bowl, she heard a knock at the door and her first thought was that it was Lee, but to her surprise, it was not Lee, but Laura wearing a hooded coat.

“Hey,” Charlie said.

Only once before had Laura visited Charlie, the day after the funeral of her sister and Charlie found her visit unusual, yet intriguing.

“I called earlier,” Laura said, after closing the door behind her. As she removed the hood of her coat, she trailed behind Charlie. When Charlie reached the kitchen, she assumed Laura was right behind her but she wasn’t. “Laura?” Charlie called.

Charlie headed back into the living room and found Laura standing before the hall mirror, the same mirror where she usually receives visits from her sister Sandy.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Charlie asked her.

Laura studied herself in the mirror. “This mirror is strange. It has an odd, creepy feel to it.”

“Don’t use that mirror,” Charlie said. “Use the one in the bathroom.”

“Why? What’s wrong with this one?”

“I would just rather you didn’t.”

That mirror was sacred to Charlie. It was the only mirror in her apartment where her sister, Sandy, revealed herself. Charlie didn’t know if she would ever see Sandy again, but she definitely didn’t want to stifle any future visits.

Laura and Charlie convened in the kitchen at one of the two bar stools at the counter. Laura was still wearing her coat as if she were in a hurry.

Laura looked around the room. “Somehow I thought your apartment would have been more organized.”

“It usually is. I’ve just been busy─You know, you can take off your coat.”

“Thanks, but I can’t stay long.”

“Suit yourself.”

Charlie licked the back of the spoon which was covered with cake batter and studied Laura, wondering about the true meaning of this highly irregular visit. “My mother used to make cookies and cakes for my sister and me all the time,” Charlie said. “And the cakes were always my favorite.”

“You miss your mother and sister a lot, don’t you?”

Charlie chose not to answer that question for fear that she might be reminded just how much she did miss them both.

After a short silence, Laura said, “Anyway, Camina called me and told me what happened in the elevator.”

“That was fast. Did she tell you that she struck me?”

“She struck you?”

“And I might sue.”

“I know you don’t mean that.”

“I might.”

Charlie dipped the spoon into the cake batter and moved it in Laura’s direction. “You want some of this?”

“No, thanks.” Laura smiled. “I want to apologize for Camina. She had no right to hit you, and she certainly had no right to say all those mean things to you in the restaurant.”

This was odd, Laura apologizing for someone else’s transgressions. “What, you’re acting as her mother now?”

“No, I just don’t think she has been very nice to you. Actually, she has been very nasty, and it might be better if you didn’t have lunch with us anymore.”

“Oh, really.” Charlie could not have been more nonchalant if she were dead. And she found it odd that Laura would make this decision as if she were some angel or something. Charlie emptied the cake batter into the rectangular-shaped pan and put it into the oven. “Why is coming over here telling me all of this so important to you?”

“Because I like you, Charlie. I’ve always liked you.”

“How sweet?” Charlie said with a straight face, as she was not buying a word of it. Something else was going on here, and it was Charlie’s mission to find out exactly what. “Okay, Laura, what’s this all about?”

“Camina is jealous of you. Did you know that?”

“Jealous? Why?”

“Everyone likes you, Charlie, and Camina is threatened by that, and when you colored your hair and started dressing and behaving differently, it didn’t rest well with her, and it still bothers her to this day.”

“I don’t see the big deal. So what, I colored my hair, changed a few outfits. Big deal. I don’t know why she’s jealous of me. She is the one fucking the finest man in the firm. What more does she want?”

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Said what?”

“You said fuck. I’ve never heard you say fuck before.”

“Well, get used to it, because I might be using it a whole lot more.” Charlie paused. “That reminds me. You were going to tell me about this animosity between you and Bruce.”

“It’s really nothing.”

Charlie pushed her hair behind her left ear, smiling. “Does that mean you’re not going to tell me?”

While Charlie waited for Laura to answer, it seemed Laura was at least thinking about it.

“I’ll tell you if you tell me something,” Laura said.

“What do you want to know?” Charlie asked, intrigued.

“Are you a virgin?”

“Laura, I’m thirty years old.” This conversation was getting odder by the moment.

“So. Are you?”

Charlie didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. “No, I’m not. Would you like for me to share the details of my past sexual encounters with you?”

“Only if you want to.”

A shocked look raced over Charlie’s face. Was Laura serious? “I didn’t know you had so much freak in you.”

Laura smiled and didn’t say a word.

“Your turn,” Charlie said. “Tell me about Bruce.”

Laura hesitated for a moment, then sat forward and crossed her legs. “Okay, this goes no further than this room.”

“Of course,” Charlie stated with baited breath.

“I mean it, Charlie. This is for your ears only.”

“Okay already, now will you tell me already? I know this is going to be good.”

“I slept with Bruce, but only once. Just one time.”

“Nooooo. Really?” This was as good as gossip got.

Laura nodded her head yes. “Bruce and I used to play tennis and we used to work out at the gym together. This was when I thought he was separated from his wife.”

“But he wasn’t?”

“No, he wasn’t, but when I learned of it, I had already gone to bed with him. He’s a smart man, Charlie. He knows exactly what to say to get exactly what he wants.”

Charlie reeked of wonder and enthusiasm and rubbed her hands together. “Don’t keep me in suspense. How was it, or should I say, how was he?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes, please.”

“I’ll put it to you like this. If I could buy what I experienced with Bruce, I would have no money left.”

“That good, huh?”

“The best sex ever, never experienced anything like it before.”

“Why? What was it?”

“The man has talent.” Laura smiled, seemingly titillated by the conversation. “He has this technique, if you will, of using his tongue and fingers, at the same time, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean.” Charlie paused. “They say the freak is usually in the quiet ones.”

Laura smiled and didn’t respond to Charlie’s comment.

Laura’s sexy story left her very curious about this special technique of Bruce’s. She could only wonder and imagine.

“Does Camina know?” Charlie asked. “About your one-time affair with Bruce?”

“No way. I’ll tell you something else that you didn’t know.”

Charlie didn’t know what could possibly top what Laura had just revealed to her.

“Camina likes you,” Laura said.

“Huh?”

“You heard me. Deep down Camina likes you. I mean she really likes you.”

What sort of game was Laura playing, and who exactly was she talking about?

Camina or herself?

Laura’s words sunk deeper and deeper inside Charlie’s head as Charlie peered across the counter at Laura’s spiraling red hair. In one breath Laura expressed her feelings of like, then in the very next sentence, she expressed similar feelings held in Camina’s heart.

Which one was it?

Who liked whom?

A tiny piece of the riddle was amiss, and Charlie knew exactly how to unravel it. The ringing phone on the kitchen counter soon interrupted Charlie’s intense examination into Laura’s motives. Charlie was immobilized. This conversation with Laura was much too intense to stop for a ringing phone. While the phone continued to ring, Laura cleared herself of her coat and sauntered into the next room. When Laura returned, she held in her hand a picture of Charlie and Charlie’s sister.

“I never saw this picture before,” Laura said. “I didn’t know you resembled each other so much.”

“You really think that that picture is supposed to make me forget about what we were just talking about?”

“No, I just never noticed this picture before. You were very close to her, weren’t you?”

Charlie nodded her head. Laura was good. She had managed to change the subject by talking about something very dear to Charlie’s heart. “My sister was smart, taught me a lot, much more than I ever could have learned from a teacher or my parents.”

Laura opened her mouth to speak, but then nothing came out.

“What?” Charlie asked.

“Why did he do it? Why did he kill her?”

“As smart as my sister was, she was no innocent. She had an affair, her husband found out and the rest, as they say, is history.”

“Her husband caught her with another guy?” Laura questioned.

“And you’ll never guess who that guy was.”

“Who?”

“Lee Travis,” Charlie said.

“Lee Travis? Isn’t that your little friend?”

“He’s not little.”

“Whatever.” Laura paused for thought, seemingly confused. “I thought Lee was engaged to marry your sister.”

“He was.”

“But your sister was already married?” Laura stated.

“Exactly. Are the bells starting to ring yet? My sister was married, promising to marry someone else.”

“You’re kidding?”

Charlie nodded her head, knowing that her sister was some kind of woman.

“You were right about your sister,” Laura said. “She definitely knew how to have fun.”

It didn’t take Charlie long to return the conversation back to what was still on her mind. “Back to what you were saying about Camina. You say she likes me?”

“Forget I said anything.”

Charlie was not going to let up that easily. She was determined to make Laura talk. “So, are you saying Camina likes me the way that a man would like me?”

“Something like that,” Laura said, “But I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why don’t you want to talk about it? You brought it up.”

It was quite evident who possessed these feeling for her, and the person was sitting right across from her. Laura was projecting her own feelings onto someone else. Finally, the light bulb clicked inside Charlie’s head, and everything appeared unmistakably clear. Her suspicions of Laura’s feelings for her were true all along, and this time Charlie was absolutely certain of it. Still, Charlie was somewhat dumbfounded. Apparently, Mr. Bruce Colby had put a real loving on Laura, but still the same, Laura was interested in her. What was it? Did Laura like men, or did she like women? Or, did she like both?

Laura dipped her finger in the remnants in the bowl from the cake batter, licked her finger and casually changed the subject. “So, what’s for dinner?”

Charlie pointed to the cake in the oven. “My dinner is in the oven.”

“What? A cake? That’s dinner?”

Charlie elegantly sipped her Chardonnay. “And this, of course.”

Laura stood up, placed the top back onto the wine bottle, then stored it into the refrigerator.

“What do you want to eat?” Laura asked. “You want pizza?”

Not answering, Charlie studied Laura, her hairy arms, connecting eyebrows, and rosy cheeks. After putting all the pieces together, Charlie found herself excruciatingly flattered by Laura’s indirect come on.

“I’ll order something for you,” Laura said.

Laura picked up the phone on the kitchen counter and ordered pizza while Charlie seized the Chardonnay from the refrigerator and poured herself another glass. Charlie then resigned to the bedroom, flopped down on the unmade bed, almost dropping the glass of wine. Charlie moved back upon the bed, her back against the headboard.

Soon Laura made her way into Charlie’s room. “Why are you in here?” Laura questioned.

“I thought we might be more comfortable in here.”

On the edge of the bed, Laura slouched, sitting unusually close to Charlie. As Charlie monitored the equal breaths of air exhaling from Laura’s mouth, for the first time, she understood what Laura Moore was all about. Patiently, Charlie eagerly waited for Laura to make her move, but to her disappointment, there was just silence. Lots and lots of silence.

“Did you hear anything about us possibly merging with Kirkland & Ellis?” Laura asked.

“I heard something about it,” Charlie said. “But I doubt you came over here to talk about a possible merger.”

“Maybe I did,” Laura said.

“Are you warm at all, or is it just me?” Charlie asked Laura, as she fanned herself, pretending, of course.

“What are you talking about?” Laura answered, in an unusual defensive tone.

“Well, it’s warm to me.” Charlie unbuttoned her blouse, witnessing the mystified expression on Laura’s face before Laura looked away.

“Would you like to see my tattoo?” Charlie asked her.

Laura was slow to answer, then, “Sure.”

Charlie opened her blouse and ran her fingers over her still tender and swollen breast.

“When did you get that?”

“A couple of days ago. You can touch it if you like.”

“No. That’s okay.”

Charlie knew otherwise. She grasped Laura’s hand into hers and warmly placed it over the tattoo. Purposely, she then lowered Laura’s hand down onto her erect nipple. “You like it?”

“Yes,” Laura uttered in a whisper.

Charlie’s curt smile seemed to make Laura nervous which was evident when Laura abruptly removed her hand from Charlie’s breast. Charlie soon buttoned her blouse and smiled at Laura.

“Red hair looks pretty on you,” Laura said.

“Thank you, but it’s not as pretty as yours.”

Laura blushed, and leaned towards Charlie. “I should probably go.”

“Why?”

Laura’s eyes moved towards the corner of her head as if searching for the answer.

“What did you come here for, Laura?”

“I told you,” Laura said. “I wanted to apologize for Camina.”

“Sorry, but I don’t believe you.”

“Well, it’s the truth,” Laura stood up, seemingly a tad hostile, then stepped away from the bed.

“Why are you standing over there? Sit down next to me.”

“I have to go,” Laura stated firmly.

“Could you sit down for a minute? Please. I want to tell you something.”

Laura hesitated for a moment, then returned to the bed near Charlie. “What do you want to tell me?”

“I know you’re frustrated, Laura.” Charlie so enjoyed toying with Laura.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m not stupid. We both know what’s really going on here. Camina doesn’t like me, and you know it.”

Laura opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Charlie moved in towards Laura and made like she was going to kiss her, but she didn’t. “Camina doesn’t like me, but you do.”

Before Laura could even respond, Charlie moved her lips to Laura’s and kissed her, long and hard. Charlie kept her eyes open the entire time, witnessing the intense and helpless expression on Laura’s face. When Charlie attempted to pull away, Laura resisted. Finally, Charlie managed to pry Laura’s lips from hers. Though this experience was nothing more than innocent curiosity, Charlie enjoyed kissing Laura, probably as much as Laura enjoyed kissing her.

Though Charlie had never kissed a woman before, it was one of those things that just happened. The opportunity presented itself, and Charlie didn’t turn the other way. As nice as it may have been, Charlie liked men and always would. Still, what harm could there be in a little mild experimentation?

Laura leaned towards Charlie and tried to kiss her again, but Charlie casually turned away. “I think you should probably go now.”

The embarrassment on Laura’s face wreaked more of sadness than anything else. But Charlie was done. She experienced her fun, and that was the end of that.

“What if I don’t want to leave?” Laura asked.

Charlie smiled and touched Laura’s moist hand, not able to resist toying with her some more. “You want to stay here tonight?”

“Only if you want me to,” Laura said to her.

Laura was just so easy, and this was just so much fun. Charlie moved her lips to Laura’s, was about to kiss her, but then instead, she whispered. “I don’t want you to.”

Shock swept across Laura’s face, and she tugged her hand away from Charlie. “Okay.” Laura stood up, wearing disappointment like a suit and made way for the door in a huff. She was almost out of the room when Charlie called to her. “Laura?”

Laura stopped in her tracks, turned to face Charlie, anticipation in her eyes.

“Could you cancel that pizza before you leave?” Charlie asked.

Laura flashed her eyes at Charlie, turned and stormed out of the room. While Charlie sat perfectly still, a victorious energy graced her face as she listened to the door slam shut of a woman in heat.

Her sister would have been so proud.

 

Episode 11

 

Still wearing her clothes and makeup from the day before, Charlie awakened with a dreadful headache. It was like little gremlins stomping inside her head. On the edge of the bed, she sat, her eyes barely open. She contemplated whether to call off work or not. Since she forgot to set her alarm clock, she would be at least thirty minutes late. Already having been reprimanded several times by her boss, calling in might be pushing it.

It was 9:15 when Charlie strutted into the office forty-five minutes late. She wore her recently purchased floor-length red skirt and a ruffled white blouse. Her coworkers were not speaking to her like they used to. It was as if maybe they heard things about her and were afraid to. She really didn’t know why her coworkers had become less friendly to her, but still, it bothered her. She somehow built a wall around herself and felt more like an outsider than one of the family.

Charlie reached her desk, and relief washed over her when she didn’t see anything from her boss left in her chair or in her in-box. She headed towards her boss’ office and found the light in Lillian’s office out. That brought an even greater sigh of relief, as Lillian had not come in yet. Charlie knew she could be a real screw-up at times, but that was her gift to the world. Not just the good things about her but everything that wasn’t so good. It was one of the many things she learned from her sister.

On her way back to her desk, she saw Laura in the hall. Charlie dashed in her direction fast, but before Charlie could reach her, Laura headed in another direction. It was obviously no accident. Laura was definitely avoiding her. Soon, the guilt crept into Charlie’s heart, which was soon replaced with regret. Laura was her only real friend at the firm, the only person she could talk to, and because of her actions the night before, she had unintentionally damaged that relationship, and Charlie didn’t like herself for it. Laura was a good person, always stood up for her, and seemed to always be on her side. Now Charlie may have severed that relationship with her childish and selfish games. If only for the sake of a harmonious work relationship, Charlie simply needed to apologize and there was no way around it.

Charlie left Laura a voicemail message informing her that she wanted to talk. Patiently, Charlie waited for Laura’s call. But the call never came. Two hours later and still no word from Laura. Charlie forced herself to head over to Laura’s desk. She hoped to confront Laura but to her dismay, Laura’s desk was unoccupied.

Because Charlie remembered seeing her earlier that morning, she was sure that Laura was in the office. She was just nowhere in sight. Charlie took an early lunch, grabbed a sandwich from Au Bon Pain, then headed over to the art store where Lee worked. Though she hoped to see Lee, he was in a meeting, unable to see her. This was a first. Charlie found it weird that no one seemed available for her today.

Was it a coincidence, or was she just paranoid?

 

 

Upon Charlie’s return to her office, she saw Laura, two other secretaries and Camina coming from the lunchroom. Laura’s eyes barely shifted in her direction. Coincidentally, Camina was wearing the same full-length red skirt as Charlie.

“Hello,” Charlie said, speaking to everyone.

Everyone returned her greeting except for Laura, who strolled ahead of everyone else.

After everyone left, Charlie headed into the lunchroom and stood at the coffee machine, about to pour herself a cup of coffee. Soon she heard clacking high heels coming in her direction. Her first thought was that it was Laura, but when she turned around, she saw Camina staring at her with her arms folded.

Camina’s eye’s scrolled up and down Charlie’s skirt. “So, you’re dressing like me now?”

Charlie ignored Camina’s accusation, poured herself some coffee and added two creamers.

“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing,” Camina said. “But you are playing with the wrong one, and I know you don’t know much, but you should know that.”

A nonchalant expression covered Charlie’s face. “Lighten up, honey. It’s just clothes.”

“It’s more than that. What do you think you will accomplish pretending to be someone else?”

“This is who I am.” Charlie stepped towards the table and sat down.

“This new attitude and look of yours are going to take you somewhere you don’t want to go.”

“And where would that be?”

“Straight to hell.”

“I guess I’ll enjoy the ride.”

Camina huffed and puffed like she was going to blow the house down.

It seemed everyone was able to see into Charlie’s future except Charlie, herself. They seemed to believe that she was making some terrible mistake, but Charlie was having fun, more fun than she’d ever had before. She had regained her will to live, and she was not about to stop now.

Minutes later, she again tried to reach Laura on the phone, and Laura kindly dismissed her, informing Charlie she would call her back. For sure, that was not likely to happen. Her attempts to connect with Laura was going nowhere, but Charlie was not easily discouraged. She was driven to talk to Laura even if it meant following her home.

 

 

Later that afternoon, almost at the end of the day, Charlie spotted Laura in the file room. Quickly Charlie dashed inside after her and closed the door behind her. Laura sat in the lotus position surrounded by a pool of Redwell folders.

Laura seemed startled when she saw Charlie standing before her. “Hi,” Laura said.

“Did you get my message?” Charlie asked her.

Laura continued placing the papers from her lap into the file folders as if oblivious to Charlie’s presence. “I got your message.”

“I want to talk to you about last─”

Laura was quick to cut Charlie off. “You don’t owe me an explanation.”

“Will you let me finish?” Charlie insisted.

Laura stood up, holding four jammed packed folders in her arms. “I have to get these files to Mitchell. He’s waiting for them.”

“He’ll have to wait a little longer.”

“What is it?” Laura asked, impatiently, with a hint of anger.

“Could you put the folders down for a moment? Please!”

Laura firmly placed the folders on the table and stood against the filing cabinet. “What?”

“Thank you,” Charlie said, then elegantly hoisted herself upon the table. “You’ve been a good friend to me, and I don’t know why I behaved like that last night.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Oh, yeah. Why?”

“Because you enjoy toying with people.”

Laura’s words brought a curt smile to Charlie’s face only because Laura was right on.

“Yeah, maybe, but still, that doesn’t justify what I did.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Laura said, as she began to pick up the Redwells.

“Well, it’s not that simple,” Charlie said. “I like you, maybe not in the same way that you like me, but I do like you as a friend and I value that.”

Charlie stood up from the desk. “I’m sorry for what I did. But I was angry with you for making up that story about Camina. I never thought for one second that Camina held those kinds of feelings for me, but I always suspected that you did. Why did you make up that story?”

Laura did not answer, but instead raised her shoulders. “I should probably go.”

Charlie pushed her hair behind her left ear. “Will you answer my question first?”

“It was easier that way, I guess. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” Charlie said.

“Why? Why are you sorry?” Laura asked.

“Because.”

But before Charlie would explain, their conversation was soon interrupted by the receptionist paging Laura.

“You should probably go,” Charlie said. “I know your boss is waiting for you.”

“He’ll just have to wait a little longer.”

“You’re going to get into trouble,” Charlie said.

Laura picked up the phone on the desk and called the receptionist and learned that it was her boss paging her. She then dialed her boss’s extension and rattled off some excuse about not being able to find all the files, before she hung up from him. Laura was then quick to redirect her attention back to Charlie. “You were saying.”

By this time, Charlie had lost her train of thought. “What was I saying?”

“You were going to tell me why you were so sorry about what you did.”

“Right. I don’t want to lose you as a friend and I know I upset you last night, maybe even disappointed you.”

In a curious tone, Laura asked, “Are you attracted to me at all?”

Charlie smiled and said, “Sort of, in a friendly sort of way, but I’m not like that. I guess I just wanted to see how far you would go.”

Laura nodded like she understood, but Charlie could tell that she didn’t.

“What about Edward. I thought you were so in love with him.”

“I am, but…”

“But what?”

“I like you, too─it’s complicated, that’s why I’ve always insisted on the three of us going to lunch, afraid you might pick up on my vibes if we were alone. I’ve always liked you, always been attracted to your kindness, even after what happened to your family, you still continued to be such a kind person, up until recently.”

They both shared a good laugh.

“Have you always felt this way about women?” Charlie asked.

“No. Just you. You’re very pretty.”

“No prettier than you are.”

Laura blushed and inhaled a deep breath as if it were a much needed compliment. “Thank you for saying that.”

“You’re welcome.” After a short silence, Charlie said, “Laura, there’s one more thing that has me a little puzzled. Why were you so insistent on setting me up with someone else if you felt this way?” This was something that Charlie often pondered with no resolve.

“Curious, I guess,” Laura said. “I wanted to see if you might be interested?”

“So, maybe if I weren’t interested in meeting your friend, then perhaps, maybe, I liked women.”

“Something like that.” Laura paused. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Charlie, but I’m concerned that you’re going to get yourself into some real trouble with this new attitude of yours.”

Charlie had heard that speech from just about everyone except the President. She didn’t know how many more times she could succumb herself to this sappy lecture. “What kind of trouble could I possibly get into?”

“I don’t know, but you’re behaving so differently, and I just have this feeling that you might get involved in some kind of situation that you won’t be able to handle.”

“After everything that has happened to me in the last couple of months, I can handle anything.”

“I hope so,” Laura said. “Anyway, I’m glad that we talked.”

Charlie stepped to Laura and wrapped her arms around her, and they shared a long hug.

“You’re not going to try and kiss me again, are you?” Laura asked playfully.

Charlie pulled away from Laura and smiled, almost laughing. “No,” Charlie said.

“Too bad. It was nice.”

“Yes, it was.”

 

Episode 12

 

Charlie stood perfectly still in the file room as the echoes of her intimate talk with Laura rang in her ears. As Laura headed towards the door, Charlie remembered Laura’s warm words, and she was glad they talked. Almost out the door, Laura turned to face Charlie and flashed her huge smile. “You may look different on the outside, but you’re still the same good person that you always will be. See you around, Charlie.”

And Laura was gone.

Laura’s honey-coated words warmed Charlie’s heart. Her eyes stayed focused on the closed door, and she continued to relive her poignant moment with Laura. The layers beneath Laura’s exterior made her even more of a remarkable woman, and on many levels, Charlie was flattered. Incredibly flattered.

 

 

Thursday afternoon.

Charlie came from the ladies’ room after gulping down a quarter bottle of Chardonnay. With her boss out of the office, Charlie was left with too much idle time on her hands. Except for answering the phones, which rang sparingly, she was left with absolutely nothing to do. She listened to her desk radio while she made a list of her new outfits. She wanted to figure out how she could work six new outfits into a 5-day work week schedule.

It was close to five o’clock when Charlie saw a flustered Camina, heading out. She was bundled in her fur-collared coat with a designer hat to match, and she was in tears. Having never seen Camina cry before, Charlie was startled by the experience. Wherever Camina was headed, she was in a huge hurry.

Denise Sterns, the floor coordinator, in charge of finding coverage for the attorneys working past five, approached Charlie’s desk fast. “Charlie, I hate to impose on such short notice, but Bruce has a huge deal going on this evening and needs some help. Do you think you could help him out?”

That was music to her ears. “Of course, I can help him.”

This was the opportunity Charlie had been waiting for─a chance to acquaint herself with the attractive and sexy Mr. Bruce Colby, and she couldn’t wait to let Bruce know that she would be working for him.

As Denise left, Laura approached Charlie. “Did Denise ask you to work for Bruce?”

“How did you know?”

“Because she was asking everyone.”

“What happened to Camina?” Charlie asked.

“That’s what everyone wants to know,” Laura said. “She was upset about something.”

 

 

Thirty minutes later, Charlie finished making revisions to the document Bruce gave to her. Quick to return it to him, she stood at the entrance of Bruce’s office door, which stood ajar. She observed him dictating into his handheld recorder, and then stepped inside his large corner office. He was not wearing his suspenders that she liked so much, still his crisp white shirt and clean-shaven face turned her on the same.

Upon closing the door behind her, she leaned against it as if she were about to audition for him. Bruce stopped dictating and delivering her his full attention. “Are you finished already?” he asked her.

“I am.”

She stepped towards his desk and politely handed him the document.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Is there anything else I can get for you?” she asked with a warm smile.

Before he could answer, she made her way around to his side of the desk. She stood in front of him, her hands neatly at her sides as if about to make an announcement.

She was ready to make her move.

He set his handheld recorder down on the desk, looked up at her and their eyes locked into to each other. Charlie pointed to the seat of his pants and said, “I saw that in my dream last night. It was tan and rigid, and now I want to see it again. Only this time, I want to touch it.”

“Charlie, are you all right?”

“Call me Chaz. My special friends call me Chaz, and you have just become my special friend.”

Bruce scooted his chair back away from her, but not shifting his eyes away from her. To bypass his little innocent I don’t know what’s going on bit, she kneeled down on the floor and placed her hands on his knees. She then placed her fingers on her eyelid and softly massaged it. “I think I have something in my eye,” she said, all the while pretending.

Not a word uttered from Bruce’s lips as she continued to pretend she had something in her eye. She stared down at the floor, knowing she held his full attention, then lifted her head up. A warm smile penetrated her face. “There. I have it.”

Bruce seemed stuck in wonderland by her behavior but apparently not enough to say anything or do anything about it.

“May I sit down?” she asked.

In a trance like state, Bruce said, “Sure.”

Charlie stood up from the floor. Very carefully, she straddled herself onto his lap. Though he didn’t physically resist her, he questioned her behavior and said, “Charlie?”

She put her face to his, flung her fingers through his dark hair and said, “Call me Chaz.”

He swallowed hard as if to say, if you say so. She continued to roam her fingers through his dark hair while they shared an intense stare. Then, without warning, she kissed him and kissed him some more, all the while absorbing his wet breath. Privy to his fetish for redheads, she would not be overlooked. She wanted him and she hoped that he wanted her too. She separated her lips from his and nibbled at his neck, then his ear. Their heated moment was soon interrupted by a knock at the door, and it startled Charlie, but not enough for her to halt her actions. Right away, Bruce nudged her up and out of his lap. She was now standing next to his chair, looking totally out of place. Bruce combed through his hair with his fingers and then wiped the lipstick from his lips, attempting to look as professional as possible.

“Come in,” Bruce said, as he straightened the papers on his desk.

A senior associate, Mark, half wearing his tie, stepped inside. “Should I come back?” Mark asked.

Bluntly, Charlie blurted out. “Could you?”

A faint smile skirted across Bruce’s face.

“Just kidding,” Charlie said as she moved towards the door. Before she was completely through the door, she turned to Bruce. “You’ll let me know if you need anything, won’t you?”

Bruce nodded.

Upon returning to her desk, Charlie crossed her legs and impatiently waited for Mark to leave Bruce’s office. She studied the clock on her desk as if she could make it go faster by staring at it, all the while keeping an ear open for the sound of Mark leaving Bruce’s office. While she waited, waited and waited some more, she pulled her compact mirror from her purse and applied a layer of lipstick to her lips. Instead of zipping off into the ladies’ room to take a sip of the Chardonnay which she always kept in her bag, she decided to just take a sip right at her desk. Who would know? After all, the office was practically empty anyhow.

After twelve minutes of waiting, like a little kid at Christmas time, she saw the door of Bruce’s office opening. Both Bruce and Mark came from inside and headed in opposite directions.

Charlie rose from her desk, and followed behind Bruce without his knowledge, almost tripping over her own steps. She was several steps behind him when she saw him head towards the men’s room. As she crept through the halls like a secret agent, about to enter the men’s room, she was stopped by a voice.

“Working late,” the girlish voice asked.

The voice startled her, and when she turned around, she saw Rollie carrying a stack of file folders in his hand.

“Oh, hi, Rollie.”

At the entrance of the men’s room, she stood caught, busted.

“That’s the men’s room, you know?” he said to her.

She tried to play it off by glancing over the sign, Men. “Oh my goodness, you’re right. What was I thinking?” she questioned before cruising in the opposite direction.

When she was out of Rollie’s view, she stopped and made a U turn. Again, she headed towards the men’s room, but before she entered, she glanced around her surroundings. When she believed that the coast was clear, she stepped inside and was full of life as her red hair dangled at her shoulders. She smiled when she saw Bruce standing at the urinal, taking a spill, which was exactly where she wanted him.

From what Charlie could see of the half open stall doors, except for the handicapped stall door, which always remained closed, it was just the two of them.

She came up behind Bruce, wanting to shock him, but before she could reach him, he turned and saw her.

A staggered look graced his face as he went to zip his pants. “Charlie,” he blurted out. “What are you doing in here?”

Instead of answering his question, she ran her fingers across the back of his neck. “Say, ‘what are you doing in here, Chaz?’”

She tried to zip up his pants for him, but he stopped her. “Quit playing around Charlie. Someone’s going to see us.”

“Not if we’re really careful,” she said, with a giggle.

When Bruce moved over to the sink to wash his hands, Charlie snuggled behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Knock it off Charlie,” he said as he released her hands from around his waist.

Just as he was about to reach for the paper towels, Charlie grabbed his hand as she was convinced that all he needed was a little persuasion. She inserted his finger into her mouth, savoring it inch by inch.

Bruce seemed to comprehend the moment and what it meant as his eyes locked in with Charlie’s before she removed his finger from her mouth.

“I have to get you to loosen up,” she said, “and show you how to have some fun.”

 

 

Meanwhile, downstairs in the lobby, Camina rushed in towards the security desk. So much in a hurry for her doctor’s appointment, she had left her purse at the office.

Though she came back for her purse, her real concern lied elsewhere. After learning that Charlie was working late for Bruce, she was compelled to return to the office, especially since Charlie was on the prowl for her guy, possibly already having captured his attention.

It was already a challenge for Camina to compete with Bruce’s wife. She didn’t need the added struggle of competing with Charlie as well.

Camina needed access to the elevators in her building as after six o’clock, the elevators remained locked and were only accessible with a keycard, which was in Camina’s purse upstairs.

At the security desk, Camina waited for the security guard to look up from his television screen and acknowledge her. With his eyes glued to the television screen, he seemed unaware of her presence.

Several seconds elapsed before he noticed her. “Can I help you?”

“My name is Camina Givens, and I work for Whitley & Austin. I left my purse in the office on my way out this evening, and I need to get upstairs.”

“Do you have a keycard?” he asked her.

“If I did, I wouldn’t need you,” she said in a sharp tongue.

“Is there someone upstairs to verify who you are?”

“Maybe.”

He handed her the phone while he returned his attention to the television in front of him.

Not having ever seen this particular security guard before, he probably did not know her either. If so, he could have let her upstairs without question.

She dialed Bruce’s extension and listened to the annoying and endless ringing. She assumed she would be transferred into his voicemail, but instead the phone continued to ring. That was strange. She then tried Charlie’s extension and was quickly transferred to voicemail.

Camina slammed the phone down. “No one is answering.”

“Do you have any I.D. on you?” the security guard asked her.

“My I.D. is in my purse!”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you upstairs without some kind of I.D.”

Camina exhaled a breath of frustration. Idiots. That’s what they were. All of them. Complete idiots.

Camina knew Bruce and Charlie were still upstairs, and she wasn’t giving up. Besides, she needed her keys to enter her apartment.

“Is there anyone else working here tonight?” she asked.

“Yes, but he’s on break and─”

Before he could finish his sentence, Camina saw the face of a familiar security guard, Ralph, coming towards her.

“Hi, Ralph. I forgot my purse upstairs and your coworker won’t let me up.”

“I’ll let you upstairs,” Ralph said.

“Thank you.”

“I’ll need you to sign in, though,” he told her.

Camina was about to sign in, glanced at her watch to remind herself of the time. It was six o’clock.

 

 

Back upstairs in the men’s room, Charlie stood sandwiched against Bruce’s body. She kissed him, rugged and wild, her arms wrapped around his back. She could feel his manhood against her thigh. Though up until that point, he seemed determined to resist her, but her charm was wearing him down. She knew that she would eventually convince him to do what she wanted as it were only a matter of time. She pulled away from him, delicately took hold of his hand and led him towards one of the stalls, but Bruce resisted. “Too risky.”

His consistent resistance was giving her a serious hard-on, if such a thing existed for a woman. “What do I have to do, put you on a leash and walk you in?”

Determined to coax Bruce into doing what she wanted, she was willing to do anything, even if it meant getting down on her knees. Literally.

Charlie dropped to her knees and began unbuckling his belt from his pants.

“Get up, Charlie.”

“Don’t be a killjoy.”

“We can’t do this. People are still in this office.”

“So. What are they going to do, arrest us?”

Finally, Charlie managed to grasp his belt from his pants and wrapped it around her waist. She then unzipped his pants and slid her hand through his fly and circled his erectness with her fingertips. She observed the sedated expression on his face, as he seemed to almost lose his balance. She held his sex in her hand while she listened to the uneven breaths escaping from his mouth. Completely under her control, she stood up, and led him into one of the stalls.

And once inside, it was lights, camera, and action.

 

 

Camina reached the forty-fourth floor.

The door to the office was locked. She grabbed the receiver from the phone on the wall. Again, she tried to reach Bruce and Charlie. But nothing. Just irritating rings before being transferred into voicemail. At this moment, her purse was no longer a major concern. It was the whereabouts of Bruce and Charlie that weighed on her mind. Impatiently, she cleared herself of her coat and suit jacket. It was either too warm, or she was stressing herself out. She fanned herself with her hand while she waited, trying to figure out what to do next. She was about to try Bruce’s line again when the locked door swung open, and relief swept over Camina’s face. It was an attorney, Mark.

“Perfect timing,” Camina said. “I forgot my key.” She was about to go through the door, then asked, “Is Bruce still here?”

“I think so.”

She disappeared into the door, through the dark corridors until she made it to her desk. All the while, she kept a careful eye out for Charlie and Bruce.

After she seized her purse from her desk drawer, she scrambled her way over to Charlie’s desk and saw that her computer was on, and her compact mirror sat at the edge of the desk. This set off bells in Camina’s head. Wherever Bruce was, Charlie was surely close by.

Camina slowed her pace as she made her way to Bruce’s office. His office light was on and his half-opened briefcase sat next to his desk. A telltale sign that he was definitely still in the office.

But where?

Camina crept through the dimly lit corridors, the anger stirring inside.

Whatever they were doing, they were doing it together, perhaps having a late dinner in the lunchroom. But to her dismay when she reached the lunchroom, it was dark and isolated. After almost running out of places to look, she passed by two unoccupied conference rooms and considered checking another floor, when a noise from down the hall elicited an even better idea.

 

 

In the bathroom stall, Charlie and Bruce were all into each other, mouth, lips and tongue. Bruce sat on the bowl while Charlie straddled his lap. Wearing her red lace panties, her long skirt was hiked up above her waist as she grinded against his lap. First slowly then faster…faster…faster, like two beasts in heat.

Her hands roamed through his thick dark hair that she loved so much as she inhaled his hot musky breath, feeling herself becoming more and more excited. She continued to ravish his mouth with her tongue all the while not exactly sure how far she wanted to go. Still she wanted to play along as long and as far as she could. She stepped into the rhythm of the moment, wrapped his belt around his neck and pulled it snug while she feverishly continued to grind against his lap. His hands made their way through her opened blouse, over her hard nipples, which protruded through her lace bra. Bruce seemed so enthralled in the moment that he failed to give much attention to the belt around his neck. It wasn’t until Charlie yanked it like a rope that caused a rouse.

“Take it easy,” he said.

She had a thing for belts. It was her tool of dominance. He tried to release the belt from his neck, but Charlie distracted him when she slid her tongue over his bottom lip and devoured his mouth with her lips, savoring every minute.

Upon lifting her bra, her breasts swung from underneath and he gawked at them as if the magical moment had arrived. He circled her nipples with his tongue, and her temperature rose with each breath from his mouth.

He grasped the back of her head, his face to hers, and stared directly into her eyes. “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said in a faint whisper.

It didn’t matter that she was in the men’s room with a married man, half dressed with her legs wrapped around him while he sat on the bowl. Surely, he had no respect for her, but it was okay because it was what she wanted. She was having fun, doing the things she never thought she would do, while she traveled the malicious rode of adventure.

He guided Charlie off his lap, slid his hands up to her waist and moved her panties down her legs. Her intentions were not to go that far and her first thought was to stop him, but she couldn’t. Having built herself up for this moment, if Bruce didn’t make love to her now, she would lose it. Totally lose it.

After she helped him with her panties, she covered his face with them while he undid his pants, dropping them to his ankles. Just as Charlie was about to take the plunge, she glanced up and to her astonishment, saw the face of Camina staring down on them.

It was like seeing the devil materialize for the first time, and her heart thumped in horror. It happened too fast for Charlie’s thoughts to catch up with the moment. Camina’s timing could not have been worse. Charlie wanted Bruce with an undeniable craving, and Camina had unpredictably screwed up her plans.

The fury in Camina’s eyes was almost deadening as she and Charlie shared a long, drawn out stare. Charlie displayed a guised smile, trying desperately to hide the true horror in her heart. Surely, she had avenged Camina back in the worst way as she was as close to Bruce as anyone could be.

“You son of a bitch,” Camina said to Bruce.

Bruce’s eyes glanced upwards and he saw Camina. “Oh, shit,” he said as he removed Charlie’s panties from his face.

Once Camina’s head disappeared from overhead, Charlie heard the door close.

Right away, Bruce prodded Charlie up from his lap and pulled up his pants.

Was Bruce doing what Charlie thought he was doing?

This could not possibly be happening.

There was just no way Bruce was going to leave Charlie for Camina. He couldn’t because she simply would not allow it.

“What are you doing?” Charlie questioned mercifully. “You can’t just stop.”

Bruce tossed Charlie to the side and left the stall. Charlie followed close behind after she picked up her panties from the floor. Bruce stood before the mirror over the Basin and straightened his tie.

Charlie slid into her panties, her mouth twisted in disappointment. “What are you going to do? Go after her?”

“I have to.”

Bruce’s words stung Charlie’s ear, and she felt as if she could kill him. Right now.

“You can’t just stop and go after her. Who do you think you’re fucking with?”

Charlie was better than Camina in every way. She was more beautiful and more fun and she would not play second. He continued to fix his clothes, while Charlie stood behind him, her arms folded.

“You’re going to stop what we’re doing to go after that bitch? You can’t leave me for her. I won’t allow it. “

Bruce turned to face her. “Get a grip, Charlie.”

It was happening all over again. She felt picked over and unwanted, just like when she was a little girl and her sister Sandy was always the chosen one. She had become someone new, someone different, but she was still coming in second, and she didn’t like it. Suddenly, as if her eyes opened for the first time, she experienced a lucid awakening which possessed a calming effect. In her sedated composure, she understood what she needed to do.

 

Episode 13

 

Charlie stepped from the men’s room and was about to head down the corridor when she was startled by a voice.

“Charlie?” the girlish male voice called.

Right away, Charlie recognized Rollie’s high-pitch voice and didn’t dare turn around, not wanting to be identified coming from the men’s room. Plus, she was not in a state of mind to talk to anyone.

Anxious to be clear of Rollie’s view, Charlie sprinted down the corridor, heard Rollie again call to her, but this time was different.

“Camina?” he questioned.

Just before Charlie turned the corner, Rollie called out a different name. “Laura?”

She understood his confusion.

All three of them wore the same hairstyle, and they were the same height and body frame. From the back, she very well could have been Camina or Laura. Plus she and Camina both wore almost identical outfits that evening.

How was Rollie to tell the difference?

 

 

Charlie was half wearing her coat when she signed out at the security desk. It was six-thirty when she made a swift exit through the revolving doors.

The streets were covered with melted snow, and the wind was brisk. Charlie stood on the corner of Lake and LaSalle, in dire need of a taxi. A cringing chill from the brutal gusts of wind hammered against her, but was too impatient to button her coat or slip on her gloves. Finally, in the back of the Yellow taxi, she sat, her eyes glued to the window. She relived the events that transpired that evening, and she didn’t like it. She obtained what she wanted, experienced her life the way her sister did, and almost completed an affair in the men’s room. So, why did she feel so awful?

The fun was ending, and she no longer enjoyed the person she had become. She wasn’t sure if it was because Bruce rejected her, or if it was because she was never truly happy in her sister’s skin in the first place.

How would she ever be able to face Camina after what happened? Surely there would be no end to the animosity in the office now.

Charlie fumbled with the locks to her apartment door, her hands unable to remain still long enough to insert the key. Once inside, she clicked on the hall light. She was unable to pinpoint her disarray of emotions.

Was it regret?

Was it disgrace?

Or was it humiliation?

Perhaps, it was all of the above.

She stood by the door and did not move for several minutes. How could she have done what she did, behaved like a bargain basement hussy, half dressed with a man that cared nothing about her, and of all the appalling places, the men’s room. The shields of reality came colliding in.

Was this what her life had been diminished to?

Getting even and having fun?

No longer was she the nice person she once used to be, the person Lee fell in love with. Her mind raced through bits and pieces of her past, toppled with a large dose of enlightenment.

Lee, her doctor and many others had all warned her, but she was too hypnotized to listen. Her transformation felt so right at the time, but not now. She was so unhappy and disappointed with herself. All she wanted was for things to return to the way they were before.

She stood immobilized with her back against the door, her head back. Still wearing her coat, she was in deep thought. The startling ring of the phone caused her to jump. Somehow the ring sounded much louder than ever before. She never thought she would ever be afraid to answer her own phone, but she was. She stared at the phone for several seconds, trying to decide if she should answer, then let voicemail pick up.

Standing at the kitchen counter, she couldn’t pour herself a drink fast enough. She tried her best to make sense of what happened and calm her nerves. The worst thing that could happen would be that she lost her job and that she and Camina would never speak again.

If that was the worst scenario, why was she such a wreck?

So much she wanted to write it off as just another adventurous experience, but in her heart and in her head, it was much more than that.

A lot more had transpired.

It was shame in all of its glory from where she stood, and all she could think about was how she could make it right.

A long night awaited her.

Trying to fall asleep proved a true challenge and an even greater challenge to silence the taunting thoughts that played over and over in her head. It was embarrassment at its finest.

How could she suffer so much embarrassment even after the fact? Reoccurring disturbing visions of herself plagued her mind. All she remembered was sitting on Bruce’s lap in the men’s room, and the thoughts caused her stomach to churn. All through the night, she tossed and turned until she could toss and turn no more. She was unable to erase Bruce’s face from her mind. Finally after wasting most of the night twitching and switching, she ended up wrapped in her red and white polka-dot comforter.

On the floor.

Sound asleep.

 

 

At six-thirty the next morning, Charlie awakened, exhausted, to her buzzing alarm clock. She managed to only secure a few hours of sleep and her body felt it. With her head throbbing, she mustered up the strength to climb out of bed and make her way into the bathroom.

She stood in front of the mirror, looking at her looping curls sagging over her head. Before she stepped into the shower, she wolfed down four aspirin, hoping her head would stop pounding long enough for her not to accidentally slip and fall.

Her immediate thought was to call off work, the norm for her these days, but she couldn’t. Not this time. She needed to show up for work if only to make sure her job still existed. Most of all, she needed to face the aftermath of her actions. After weeks of coming in late and leaving early, most of her luxuries were used up. As lenient as her boss, Lillian may have been, if word spread about her performance in the men’s room, that would be it for her, red hair and all.

It was time to face the drama even if she didn’t want to.

 

 

Charlie stepped from the shower and didn’t have the desire to apply a stitch of makeup to her face. She lacked that kick-ass attitude that transported her to this place of humiliation and disgrace.

How she referred to herself as Chaz caused her to spit in the sink. That was not who she was, something so many people tried to tell her, but rebelliously and foolishly, she refused to heed.

Her eyes scanned down to the butterfly tattoo on her breast, bringing back memories of all that she had done. She no longer admired the way that her looping red hair hung at her shoulders, and she pulled it all back into a ponytail, the way she used to wear it. This simple look provided her with a sense of sanity, which was almost how she felt─slightly sane but very simple.

 

 

The forty-fourth floor.

Charlie stepped off the elevator, and to her dismay, saw the mass of officials. It was like a weekend convention as police officers swarmed the office. Detectives questioned everybody while employees gossiped with one another.

Down the corridor, through a mob of people, Charlie saw Camina Givens, speaking with a detective as if she were the spokesperson for the firm.

As Charlie approached the corridor, she saw Camina remove the jacket of her black and gold, shoulder-padded designer suit jacket, as if to show off her ruffled blouse to the detective who stood before her. Unexpectedly, Camina turned and her eyes met with Charlie, and for that brief moment, Charlie witnessed a fallen smile on Camina’s perfectly structured face and immediately, Charlie turned away.

The biggest crowd seemed to have settled in the reception area, and Charlie wanted to stay clear of it.

Down the congested corridor, Charlie headed towards the spiral stairs, which led to the lunchroom. She needed to find out where the excitement stemmed from and most importantly, the who of the body bag removed by the police.

Up the spiral stairs, Charlie accosted Rollie fast. After twelve years with the firm, he knew everyone and everything. Rollie was sure to give her the skinny of it all.

“What happened?” Charlie asked him.

“Don’t you know? Bruce Colby was murdered last night in the men’s room.”

Charlie’s heart could have stopped. “Murdered?”

Rollie displayed a disturbing stare. “Don’t look so surprised, Charlie. I saw you coming from the men’s room last night, or at least I thought it was you,” Rollie paused. “It looked like you.”

Charlie stared past Rollie into space. Already he suspected her, which meant she was in big trouble.

“Charlie, did you hear me?”

She slipped out of her momentary trance, and collected her worries. “Did you say anything to the police?”

“I answered their questions.”

Charlie stared down at the floor, and tried to give the impression of indifference. “What did you tell them?”

“I told them I saw a red-haired woman coming from the men’s room last night.”

“Did you tell them it was me?”

“No.”

Relief swept over Charlie’s face as Rollie continued. “I told them it could have been you. Or Laura. Or Camina. They’re going to want to talk to you. All three of you.”

Charlie turned her attention away from him, trying to figure out what to do. After a long silence, she abruptly made a U-turn away from Rollie and headed down the stairs like a woman with a purpose.

“Where are you going?” Rollie called out to her.

Charlie didn’t look back as she continued towards the elevators and through the crowd. Though Rollie continued to call her name, she purposely ignored him. Finally, she reached the bank of elevators in a fluster. More concerned with her surroundings, she accidentally buttoned her coat incorrectly. What she wanted to do was sweep off to the ladies’ room and guzzle a taste of Chardonnay from her travel mug, but there was no time. Only seconds passed before the elevator arrived, but it felt like forever.

 

 

Camina had nothing to hide or so she believed. With Charlie and Laura unavailable, she was the first to be questioned by the detectives and glad about it. As soon as possible, she wanted to clear her name with the hope of narrowing the number of suspects to one.

In the chilly conference room, she patiently awaited Detectives Uhler and Lane. She anticipated them bursting through the door with a slew of unnecessary questions, most of which she had already answered. And all because she just happened to be one of three redheads in the firm.

Although she had good reason to harm the late Bruce Colby, she was not the one with the identity problem. She hadn’t behaved like a slut, half-naked in the men’s room like someone else she knew.

Namely, Charlie Weiss.

She shared no responsibility for his death, nor did she feel any remorse. Still, she was on the list to be questioned and there was no way out of it. Determined not to let this whole interrogation business smolder her, she scooted her chair up against the long table, straightened her jacket and slipped out of her three-inch heels. She forced herself to relax. The sooner she answered their questions, the sooner the detectives could move in on the true culprit.

The door opened and Detectives Uhler and Lane moved towards her. Detective Uhler appeared to be the one in charge. He wore wire-framed glasses, and his grey sideburns matched his grey wrinkled suit. He possessed a soft look with a little extra weight here and there on his thick frame. Right behind Detective Uhler, Detective Lane closed the conference room door, then planted himself in the seat across from Camina. He wore black bifocals, which did not complement his stylish leather jacket.

Detective Uhler pulled out his tiny note pad and scribbled something down, probably something along the lines of: Suspect No. 1. From the corner of Camina’s eye, she studied Detective Lane as he studied her.

“Do you know why anyone would have wanted to kill Bruce Colby?” Detective Uhler asked Camina.

Camina hesitated for a moment, then raised her shoulders.

“Is that a yes or a no?” Detective Lane asked.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you talk to Charlie? She’s the one with the identity problem.”

The detectives exchanged quick glimpses at each other as if secretly communicating.

Detective Uhler seated himself across from Camina and after a moment asked, “What do you mean identity problem?”

“Just what I said. She doesn’t know who she is.”

“How do you mean?”

“In the last three weeks, she did a complete makeover of herself, colored her hair, and did a complete revamp of her wardrobe in the hopes of becoming more like me. And right about now, she’s capable of almost anything.”

“Like murder?” Detective Lane asked.

“Anything. That’s who you should be questioning right now. Not me.”

Detective Uhler gave Camina a firm stare, pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and cleaned his glasses. “Ms. Givens, all of that information about Ms. Weiss is very interesting, and we appreciate you sharing it with us, but let me put it to you this way.”

Camina’s eyes vacillated between Detectives Uhler and Lane while Detective Uhler continued. “A witness reported seeing a woman about your height and build, with red hair, coming from the men’s room right around the time Bruce Colby was strangled.”

“And?”

“You’re tall, have red hair, don’t you?”

“Yes, but I’m not the only one.”

Detective Uhler pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Ms. Givens, we are well aware of the other two redheads on staff here.”

“Well, why don’t you talk to them?”

“We plan to,” Detective Lane stated.

“Does that mean I can leave?”

Detective Uhler ignored her question and continued. “Did you see Bruce Colby yesterday?”

“Are you going to ask Charlie these same questions?”

“Don’t worry, she’ll have her turn,” Detective Lane said as he stood up.

“And what about Laura?” Camina asked.

“She called in sick this morning, but we’ll talk to her too.” Detective Uhler paused. “Now,” Detective Uhler said. “Once again, did you see Bruce Colby yesterday?”

“Of course I saw him. I work for him.”

Detective Lane interrupted. “You mean you used to work for him.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she said.

Detective Lane continued. “Did you see him last night after hours?”

“I saw him yesterday before I left.”

“Before you left for where?”

“Before I left for my doctor’s appointment.”

“What time was that?” Detective Uhler asked.

“About four forty-five, five o’clock.”

“And that’s all? You never saw him anymore after that?” Detective Uhler asked.

“That’s what I just said, isn’t it?”

Detective Lane stepped towards Camina. “Ms. Givens, were you having an affair with Bruce Colby?”

“No.”

“No?” Detective Lane asked, doubtfully.

“No. Do you want me to break it down for you? No. Bruce was married. I may have had a drink with him, but I have no interest in married men.”

 

 

Charlie’s coat was nearly off by the time she reached the inside of her apartment. She trampled through the litter of Macy’s shopping bags, which she never seemed to throw away. She swung her shoes from her feet, unbuttoned her blouse and made her way towards the bathroom. Off with her skirt, blouse and then her pantyhose.

She was wearing only her lace panties and bra when she bent down to her bathroom cabinet and yanked out everything that she could secure with her hands.

Laundry detergent.

Bleach.

Bathroom cleanser.

Glass cleaner.

Bubble bath.

Tampons.

Soap.

Finally, all the way in the back of the cabinet, she found what she was after─A box of dark brown hair color.

She refused to be caught up in a nasty investigation, lumped together with two other redhead suspects. After all, red wasn’t even her natural color. Though dying her hair at this time was probably not a sensible move, it needed to be done.

Her blushing red hair symbolized transformation, discord and regret. And she wanted out. She could no longer be the person she so much wanted to be just a few weeks earlier, the person who fell under the spell of excitement and adventure.

It was worth a concentrated effort to try and make things right again. And ridding herself of the red hair was just the beginning. More changes were to follow.

Charlie massaged the dark brown hair color into her hair fast. Her heart pounded as the brown hair color penetrated her curls, knowing that soon her hair would be back to its natural brown color. She liked to think that solving her problem was as simple as coloring her hair, but she knew differently. She was still a suspect, red hair or not.

 

Episode 14

 

Detectives Uhler and Lane were in the midst of drilling Camina about the nature of her relationship with the late Bruce Colby when a uniformed police officer entered. “Detective Uhler, I need to speak with you outside.”

“Excuse me,” Detective Uhler said to Camina.

When Detective Uhler stepped outside the door, Camina’s eyes met with Detective Lane. He was watching her and she was watching him. With the door ajar, Camina could hear bits and pieces of Detective Uhler’s conversation with the uniformed police officer. Soon Detective Lane stepped over to the door, closed it as if he noticed Camina’s inclination to listen in.

Minutes later, Detective Uhler returned to the conference room, sat down next to Camina and before he could say anything, Camina asked, “What was that all about?”

“We pulled a copy of the sign-in sheet from security.”

“And?”

Detective Uhler referred to his notes in hand. “You said you left the office at about 4:45. Is that right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well. According to the sign-in sheet, you came back and signed in at six o’clock.” Detective Uhler moved his glasses upon his nose. “But there’s no record of you signing out. How do you explain that?”

His question stumped her and frazzled her nerves, causing her to swallow hard. She would have to explain after collecting her thoughts.

“We’re waiting,” Detective Lane stated.

“I did come back,” Camina said. “But only to get my purse.”

“And then what?” Detective Lane asked.

“Then nothing. I grabbed my purse and left and I didn’t sign out because when I was leaving, the security guard had stepped away, and I was in a hurry.”

“When you came back, did anyone see you?” Detective Lane asked.

Before Camina could answer, Detective Uhler interrupted and rephrased the question. “Did you see anyone?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?” Detective Lane asked. “I mean you can think about it if you want to. Maybe you forgot.”

“I ought to be able to remember if I saw anyone or not.”

“Well, you forgot that you came back to get your purse,” Detective Lane said.

“That was different.”

“Whatever you say, Ms. Givens,” Detective Lane said.

“I’m sure I wasn’t the only person here, besides Bruce Colby, I mean.”

Detective Uhler examined his small note pad, then the sign-in sheet.

“There is a record here of Ms. Weiss signing out at about six thirty.”

“And what does that tell you?” she asked him.

“It tells us that you, Charlie, Bruce and God knows who else were here in this office last night.”

“Well, for the record. I did not kill Bruce Colby. I’m sure it’s the question on everyone’s mind.”

“We’ll make firm note of your firm denial,” Detective Lane said. “For the record.”

“Is there anything else you want to tell us?” Detective Uhler asked.

“No,” Camina said.

Detective Uhler glanced over his notes and then glanced over at Detective Lane. “It seems Ms. Weiss came in this morning and immediately left back out.”

That was all Camina needed to hear. It was so obvious who the culprit was.

Camina pushed her chair away from the table and stood up. “I guess you won’t be needing me anymore.”

“I didn’t hear you ask if you could leave,” Detective Lane said.

“May I leave?”

“You may leave,” Detective Uhler said. “But we’ll talk again.”

As Camina moved towards the door, Detective Lane stepped to the door and opened it for her. His one gentlemanly act failed to change Camina’s image of him. She still saw him as a smart ass with a badge.

Camina was about to step through the door when the same uniformed police officer rushed in.

“Detective Uhler, remember the other woman, Laura Moore, the one who called in sick?”

“Yeah.”

Camina stood still, listening, her eyes on the police officer.

“She just showed up,” the police officer said.

“What is this?” Detective Uhler said. “Everyone wants credit for this murder?”

 

 

Through the conference room door and down the clustered corridors, Camina hustled through. She was glad to be out of the hot seat and relieved that they were through with her. She wanted to talk to Laura before the detectives made their mark and warn her of what to expect. But most importantly, she wanted to know what Laura knew.

Camina approached a pack of people in the reception area and saw Rollie talking to one of the police officers. Patiently, Camina stood across from them and waited for them to finish, trying not to look too obvious. When Rollie separated from the police officer, Camina trailed behind him. She was practically on his heels when he turned around, and they almost smashed into each another.

“Sorry,” Camina said. “Do you know where Laura is?”

“She’s in the small conference room on the east side,” Rollie said. “They’re going to question her.”

“Thanks.”

On that note, Camina hurried to the east side of the office. She made her way into the conference room and saw Laura at the table. Laura appeared dreary eyed and half asleep. In front of her were notes of paper and receipts of some sort.

“Hey,” Camina said as she closed the door behind her. “I guess you heard what happened.” Camina crumbled in the seat next to Laura.

“I don’t understand why they want to talk to me,” Laura said. “I wasn’t even here last night.”

“With the description Rollie gave to them, they’re covering all tracks.”

Camina leaned closer to Laura. “Listen,” she said in a whisper. “They’re on their way down here so I have to say this fast. We both know who killed Bruce.”

A surprised look flashed over Laura’s face. “We do?” Laura asked.

“Of course we do. It was Charlie or Chaz, whatever she calls herself these days.”

“We don’t really know that.”

“Who else could it be? It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t you.”

Laura seemed to ponder the thought.

“Plus they found his ring and belt in her desk drawer,” Camina said.

“How do you know this?”

“I overhead the police officer telling one of the detectives. They’re going to ask you some questions and try and shake you up. Just tell the truth, and you’ll be all right.”

“Why are you so concerned, not to sound ungrateful, but it’s so unlike you.”

Before Camina could reply, she turned, saw Detectives Uhler and Lane coming through the door. Camina witnessed the suspicious look on their faces. Not the least bit intimidated, she stood up. “I was just leaving.”

 

 

“Laura Moore?” Detective Uhler questioned.

“Yes.”

“I’m Detective Uhler and this is Detective Lane,” he said, as he seated himself across from her, holding his tiny note pad in hand.

Detective Lane stood by the door, his hands in his pockets.

“Was that a friend of yours?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Yes, we’re friends.”

Detective Uhler peaked at his notes.

Laura stared down at the table in front of her. This whole experience unnerved her, and she could only continue if she shared no eye contact with them.

“We’d like to ask you some questions about last night.”

“I thought so.”

“How late were you here last night?”

“I was here until almost five, left promptly because my boyfriend and I had dinner plans. I have everything written down for you.”

She handed him a handwritten list, then returned her hands to a neatly folded position in front of her. Before Detective Uhler could even read the list, Laura continued. “We had reservations so you can call and verify that. After dinner, we saw a movie at 600 Michigan Theatre, and I have the ticket stubs right here. The ticket agent will remember us because─”

Detective Lane interjected, as she sat down.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but why are you staring down at the table. Your answers might be a bit more convincing if you looked up when you spoke.”

Still very nervous, she continued to stare down at the table though she tried to accommodate his wishes. She lifted her head and looked in Detective Lane’ direction.

“Thank you,” Detective Lane said. “Go on.”

Laura held a straight face devoid of any emotion as she continued. “After we left the movie theater, we went back to my place, showered and made love until about three-thirty this morning, which explains why I was a little too out of it to come in. We awakened early, made love again and here I am.”

The detectives peered at each other, exhausted just listening to her.

She returned her eyes to the table in front of her. “Now. Is there anything else you want to ask me?”

“Did you kill Bruce Colby?” Detective Lane blurted out.

“I wasn’t even here.”

“Just answer the question.”

“No. I admit when he used to make vulgar remarks about my hair and figure, I was a little angry with him, especially since I knew that he was married, but that was that.”

“So what happened?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Nothing happened. I told him where he could get off.”

“And what did he say to that?” Detective Lane asked.

Laura glanced over at Detective Uhler, then Detective Lane. For a moment it appeared as if they were enjoying this line of questioning and would not be satisfied until she answered all of their questions, no matter how trivial.

“When I told Bruce I wasn’t interested,” Laura said. “He informed me that he was going to change my mind.”

“Did he?” Detective Uhler asked.

“No, he didn’t.”

“You never slept with him?” Detective Uhler asked.

“No.”

“Never?” Detective Lane asked again.

For a moment, Laura remembered Camina’s warning. Obviously, the word no seemed to be an unacceptable answer, as if they thought asking her the same question over and over would somehow produce a different answer.

Out of annoyance, Laura exhaled a deep breath. “Never. I never slept with him.”

From the long silence in the room, they seemed unsatisfied with her answer.

“No,” she said. “The answer is still no. N-O. I did not sleep with him, and I did not kill him.”

A faint smile arose on Detective Uhler’s face before Laura returned her point of focus to the table in front of her.

“Why did you call in sick this morning?”

“I told you already. I had an exhausting night.”

Detective Lane interjected, scooting closer to her. “Then why did you later come in?”

Laura lifted her head and turned away from him. “I found out what happened and thought it might be in my best interest to come in so that I wouldn’t look─”

“Guilty?” Detective Lane asked, finishing her sentence.

“Yes.” Laura turned to face him.

Detective Uhler glanced over his notes, seemingly confused.

“What I want to know is how a strong man like Bruce Colby could be strangled by a woman?”

“Rage has a way of giving people an exorbitant amount of strength,” Laura said. “Then again, maybe it wasn’t a woman. Maybe it was a man dressed as a woman, wearing a wig. Did you think about that?”

Laura witnessed the stunned look on Detective Uhler’s face as he glanced over at Detective Lane, as if considering the possibility of her words.

Laura was relieved because she believed she successfully threw them off her trail. To give them even more to think about, she added. “And he did have a heart condition.”

“What do you mean, heart condition?” Detective Lane asked.

“He was on some kind of medication.”

“Who else knew about this?” Detective Uhler asked.

“A lot of people.”

“Did Ms. Givens know about this?”

“Maybe.”

Detective Lane grabbed the ticket stubs from the table, examining them with a meticulous eye. He seemed to study them for a long time. He then directed his attention to Detective Uhler.

“Now this is interesting,” Detective Lane said.

“What?” Detective Uhler questioned.

Detective Lane handed the ticket stubs to Detective Uhler. Detective Uhler scratched his forehead as if he stumbled onto something. “I can’t believe I missed that,” Detective Uhler said.

A blank look graced Laura’s face as she suffered in silence, wondering what they saw that she didn’t.

“This ticket stub is for the 15th of November.”

Clueless, Laura waited for his words to sink in, but she wasn’t grasping it.

“So?”

“Last night was the 22nd.”

“Let me see that,” she said. In disbelief, Laura reached for the ticket stubs, scrutinized them with a careful eye and focused in on the date. To her dismay, they were absolutely right. How could she have made such a big mistake?

If they believed her before, they sure as hell didn’t anymore. Even though she was definitely where she said she was, she failed to prove it. Instead, she unintentionally destroyed her wonderful alibi. With a don’t-tell-anyone-I’m-stupid look flashing over her face, she stared down at the table in front of her and picked up her face. “I don’t know what to say. I must have grabbed the wrong ticket stubs by mistake.”

“Do you always keep old ticket stubs?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Sometimes.”

“Why?” Detective Lane asked.

“I don’t know, a habit I guess.”

“Are you sure you were at the movies last night?” Detective Lane asked.

“Yes,” Laura said sharply after having maintained a certain amount of composure thus far. “I have the ticket stubs from last night. I just have to get them.”

Both Detectives Uhler and Lane displayed a doubtful look on their faces as they simultaneously removed their glasses at the same time.

“They’re at home,” she said. “I can go home and get them.”

Detective Uhler ignored her suggestion, scribbled some notes on his note pad and stood up. “You can go, Ms. Moore.”

Laura didn’t hesitate at all. She rose up fast and moved towards the door.

“Ms. Moore,” Detective Uhler said. “Don’t go too far. Okay?”

Moments later, Laura was gone.

 

 

With each passing minute, Charlie felt her world growing dark as she stood in the shower, her back against the wall. She turned off the water, but didn’t move for a long time. In a coma like state, she pondered, hoped and prayed for this day to be over. She considered returning to her office, but she couldn’t, not yet. It would look too suspicious, but then again if she didn’t return, they would come for her. After all, she was a suspect.

She stepped from the shower and stood at the mirror. She studied her bloodshot eyes, looping brown hair and the somber look on her face. Now would have been a good time to crawl back to Dr. Kern’s office, but she managed to even screw that up by halting her sessions with him.

After slipping into her fire engine red bathrobe, she headed for the kitchen and grabbed the phone from the counter.

She left word with the receptionist that she would not be in due to personal reasons. She stood barefoot in front of the refrigerator, embracing the silence.

If ever a morning existed when she needed a drink, this was the one. But she forced herself not to. It was part of her problem. Instead, she made herself some coffee. She needed to be totally sober and prepared for what was ahead.

As the coffee brewed, a streak of hope invaded Charlie’s mind. Maybe she wouldn’t be questioned at all, despite what Rollie said. Her momentary flash of hope didn’t last long as she doubted herself. For some strange reason, she wondered if she was responsible for Bruce’s death and blocked it from her memory.

After all, everything transpired so fast.

Last night was vivid and a blur at the same time. She tortured herself with the thought that maybe her contact with Bruce did not end with her leaving him in the men’s room. Bruce being strangled possessed all the signs of her kinky tactics. As quickly as she tried to move the disturbing thoughts from her mind, others crept inside her head.

She needed to control her worries. She was not the killer of Bruce Colby. And that was that.

But if she didn’t kill him, then who did?

 

 

In the front room, Charlie stood at the window looking out, wondering what to do next. Again she considered returning to her office. Hiding out at home was not doing her any good. If anything, hiding out at home made her look even guiltier.

But she was afraid.

Her being with Bruce last night was suspicious, no doubt, and the detectives were going to want answers.

How would she explain making out in the men’s room with Bruce and then later Bruce turning up dead?

She finally got around to picking up the lamp from the floor, then returned to the window for deep thought. She gazed at the bare trees, studying them as she contemplated what her next move would be.

The loud ring of the phone snapped her out of her focused zone and into the panic zone. Afraid to answer the phone, she stood motionless, nibbling at her fingernails, a habit she had overcome many years ago. It was time to back up off the imaginary cliff she was standing on and think.

She listened to the phone ring for the third time. After letting voicemail pickup, she checked the message and learned that it was Laura and nervously awaited the message.

“Charlie, this is Laura. If you’re there, please call me back. This is important.”

Right after the message played, her phone rang again. The display told her that it was Laura again.

“Hello,” Charlie said.

“I knew you were there,” Laura said.

Charlie did not want to sound as frazzled as she really was so very calmly, she asked. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to make sure you were all right. You know about what happened, everything that happened last night, don’t you?”

“I heard about it.”

“Well, the detectives questioned both Camina and myself, and I’m sure they’re going to want to talk to you next.”

“What kind of questions did they ask you?”

“About last night mostly.”

Charlie didn’t have an alibi for last night. At least not one that would save her hide. She was a dead woman, and she might just as well go to the grave, jump in the hole and wait for them to cover her with dirt. With the strong silence penetrating the room, Charlie drifted off to comatose land. She couldn’t stop thinking about how she would explain her whereabouts to the police.

“Charlie, are you there? Charlie?” Laura called out.

Though Charlie could hear Laura calling her name, she seemed too far away to answer.

“Charlie?”

Finally, Charlie returned to her somewhat sane state. “I’m here.”

“I have to tell you. Camina seems to think that you are responsible for the death of Bruce Colby, but I don’t believe her.”

“Thank you for saying that,” Charlie said.

“I know you’re not responsible for what happened to Bruce, so try not to worry too much. Okay?”

After everything that happened, Laura still had faith in her. It was faith that she didn’t believe she deserved, and she was so touched. Even Charlie, herself, wasn’t 100 percent certain that she was innocent.

“I planted a bug in their ear,” Laura said. “Got them to think that it could have been a man wearing a wig or something.”

“Did they think it was possible?”

“They think everything is possible, but it’s definitely something they won’t pass aside, especially after they question you.”

Was that it? Just answer their questions and it would be over? That was her window of hope.

Laura made it sound so simple and so much Charlie wanted to believe it was, but she couldn’t. She knew better.

Charlie hung up from Laura and decided to do the one thing she thought could help her─pray. Maybe if she prayed, really prayed, like she never prayed before, she could somehow dig herself out of this hole she had dug for herself. Charlie dropped to her knees as she had seen so many others do and recited a prayer from her heart.

With her hands clasped together, she lifted her head and prayed.

Dear God. I am in dire need of your help. I’m terrified of what I have done, and I need your forgiveness. Please forgive me for all the wrong I have done and the wrong that I have inflicted onto others and accept me into your family.

Charlie finished her prayer and eased up from the floor, and miraculously, she intuitively knew what to do. It was time to talk to the police.

She couldn’t postpone it any longer. Otherwise, they would come for her. No longer could she wait at home like this, hoping it would all go away. A man had been murdered, and things like that didn’t conveniently go away.

A minute later, Charlie stood in the bathroom mirror. She was about to blow dry her hair when she heard several sharp knocks at her door. It was an authoritative knock, the kind that demanded attention. It was the police, no doubt. In a halted position, her heart pounded a million beats a minute. She froze, literally froze. Since Lee was so magnificent at reaching her apartment without calling up first, her first thought was that it could have been him. But she knew better. Lee would never knock like that.

She hoped and wished that whoever it was at the door would go away, but her wishing would do her no good. She had finally made the decision to stop hiding and talk to the police, something she should have done sooner, but it was too late. They were now at her front door, certain to be even more suspicious of her than they may have been otherwise. Needless to say, her decision to talk to the police came an hour too late.

 

Episode 15

 

The disturbing knocks at her front door emanated throughout her apartment.

She entertained the idea of not answering in the hopes that maybe they would go away, but soon realized it was a fantasy that would never make its way into reality. It was a temporary solution that probably wouldn’t work anyway.

Charlie stood immobilized in front of the bathroom mirror. Not wanting the police to know that she had recently colored her hair, she grabbed a towel from the shower rod and wrapped it around her damp hair. Towards the front door, she headed, her towel neatly wrapped around her head like a turban. Suddenly, she remembered the hair color box on her basin and made a quick U-turn back to the bathroom, and pulled the door shut.

The authoritative knocks at her door continued before she could answer. “Who is it?” she asked.

“Detective Uhler, Chicago Police.”

This was it, the moment she dreaded in all of its woe.

Upon opening the door, she saw before her two detectives who she recognized from her office.

Detective Uhler flashed his badge. “I’m Detective Uhler, and this is my partner, Detective Lane. We’re with the Chicago Police Department. Are you Charlie Weiss?”

“I am.”

“We’d like to ask you some questions.”

Almost neutralized, Charlie stood at the door, her eyes fastened on Detective Uhler. She felt the perspiration about to ooze down her forehead and wasn’t sure whether to invite them in or just run.

“May we come in?” Detective Lane asked.

“Sure,” Charlie said, as she stepped aside so that they could enter.

After she closed the door, she waited for the detectives to check out her cluttered apartment. New clothes with the price tag still attached lay everywhere along with empty shopping bags, shoeboxes and numerous wine glasses.

Detective Lane turned to her, removing his hands from his coat pockets. “Are you alone, Ms. Weiss?”

His question caught her off guard. “Yes.”

Detective Uhler stepped over to the mantel where she kept her family portrait and framed obituaries, now placed face down. With his hand on one of the framed obituaries, Detective Uhler turned to Charlie.

“May I?”

“Sure.”

Detective Uhler turned over one framed obituary, then the other one, and finally the last one. He returned them to their face down position, all the while standing perfectly still. The detectives stood there, as if waiting to be asked to sit down.

Charlie finally caught on. “You can sit down.”

“Thank you,” Detective Uhler said.

In a swift move, Charlie moved the clothes from the sofa and adjacent chair. She stacked them neatly in the corner of the sofa, and then eased down in the chair.

While Detective Uhler sat on the chair across from the sofa, Detective Lane stood at a distance, as if observing, like a night watchman. Detective Uhler collected his tiny note pad from his pocket while Charlie casually wiped the sweat from her forehead. She hoped not to draw attention to herself or worse yet, reveal just how frightened she really was.

“Are you aware that Bruce Colby was murdered last night?” Detective Uhler asked.

Regret gnawed at her as she wished she never met Bruce Colby, and most of all, that she never did the things that she did to him. “I heard about it,” she said.

“How did you hear about it?” Detective Lane asked.

“A coworker told me.”

Detective Lane stepped closer to the sofa. “What coworker is that?”

She was slow to speak, wanting to be as vague as possible for as long as possible. It was important that she not incriminate Laura in anyway, and there was only one other name that came to mind.

“A secretary at the office,” Charlie said.

“Does this secretary have a name?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Camina.Camina Givens.”

“Is she a friend?” Detective Uhler asked.

“You can say that.”

Detective Lane coughed as if he didn’t believe her, then continued. “Why did you come back home this morning after you arrived at work?”

“Who told you that?” she asked very calmly.

Detective Lane inched closer to Charlie. “Maybe your friend Camina told us.”

A faint smile tried to make its way on Charlie’s face, but she stopped it in time.

“Do you have an answer to our question?” Detective Uhler asked.

She wondered how she could answer that question without incriminating herself. Then her true instincts kicked in. She would lie. “I forgot something so I came back home to get it.”

“And what was that?” Detective Lane asked.

“What did I come back for?” she asked, trying to come up with a quick lie to his question.

Detective Uhler didn’t repeat his question; instead he just waited for her to answer.

“Female things,” she said.

Detective Uhler smiled whilst Detective Lane unzipped his leather jacket. “So you came home, showered, washed your hair and put on your bathrobe?”

Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. What he described was exactly what happened.

“You can’t answer that can you?” Detective Lane questioned.

The perspiration crawled down her forehead, and she could not have been more afraid if she were in a room alone with Charles Manson, himself.

Detective Uhler drew his handkerchief from his pocket and cleaned his glasses. After a long drawn out silence, he asked, “Ms. Weiss, would you mind removing the towel from your head?”

Charlie’s eyes lit up in fear. “Why?” She tried to come up with an excuse for why she couldn’t remove the towel, but nothing came to mind.

After several moments, Detective Uhler, impatiently said. “Just remove the towel.”

His insistence frightened her even more. “I just washed my hair, and I’m susceptible to colds.” After she heard what she said, she wanted to kick herself for such a lame excuse, but she needed to say something. “What if I refuse?”

“Ms. Weiss,” Detective Lane said, before Detective Uhler cut him off. “Is there something you don’t want us to see?”

Charlie touched her towel to make sure it was firmly in place and tight on her head. “No, it’s not that. I would just rather not.”

“Is your hair red?” Detective Lane asked.

“It’s not naturally red. I colored it red recently.”

“May we see it?” Detective Uhler asked.

Charlie didn’t answer.

Detective Uhler closed his note pad. “Listen, Ms. Weiss. Bruce Colby was murdered last night and we have good reason to believe it was a redheaded woman. We have already questioned the two other redheads at your office who both fit the description of the woman seen coming from the men’s room. Now, it wouldn’t be smart to question a third person without ever seeing the color of his or her hair. That’s one of the main reasons we’re here.”

No longer could she avoid the inevitable. She reached for the towel, about to undo it, when the phone on the kitchen counter rang. It startled her so much she almost jumped from her seat.

It could not have come at a more opportune moment, a moment to separate herself from them and their antagonizing questions and requests. Charlie glanced over at the phone and stood up. “Excuse me,” she said, before she made her way into the kitchen and picked up the phone. She kept an eye out for the detectives as it would only be a matter of seconds before one or both of them would rear their nosy bodies in after her.

“Hey, Sunshine,” Lee said. “I called your job. They said you didn’t come in today. What’s going on?”

Her first response was to say the word everything, but instead she wore a false front and avoided his question. “Hi, Lee.” Just as Charlie feared, as soon as Charlie greeted Lee, Detective Uhler came into the kitchen and stared at her. She moved the phone away from her mouth and covered it with her hand.

“I’ll be off in a minute,” she said to Detective Uhler.

“Take your time,” Detective Uhler said.

“Who was that?” Lee asked.

“Lee, I can’t talk right now, but I’ll call you back.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

As soon as Charlie abruptly ended the call, she noticed Detective Uhler, observing the overflowing empty wine bottles in the garbage. With all the idle time she spent at home that morning, she never once bothered to take out the garbage, and it was too late now.

“Do you drink, Ms. Weiss?”

“Sometimes.”

Sometimes was definitely an understatement, and she could tell by the expression on his face that he knew it.

Out of nowhere, Detective Lane hurled into the kitchen. “I think there’s something in here you should see,” he said to Detective Uhler.

Charlie’s heart pounded so fast she worried it would just stop, which would have suited her just fine. But she was not that lucky. She tried her best to stay positive. She inhaled a deep breath, hoping they would return to the kitchen and thank her for her time, but she would have to be a moron if she believed that was ever going to happen, not in this lifetime or any lifetime to come.

Less than thirty seconds passed before Detectives Uhler and Lane returned to the kitchen. They wore stern looks on their faces as if they had just seen a ghost, a telltale sign that it was not good. No one said a word, especially not her as the part of her brain for speech failed to function due to fear. Detective Lane eased his hands into his pockets, while Detective Uhler stepped towards her. “Did you color your hair this morning?”

Instead of answering his question, Charlie swallowed hard, hoping that Detective Lane might answer for her. How could she have been stupid enough to color her hair back and draw this insurmountable attention to herself?

“Ms. Weiss?” Detective Uhler said.

“Huh?”

“Did you color your hair this morning?”

“Yes.”

“Could you remove the towel from your head?” Detective Lane asked.

Unable to avoid the inevitable any longer, Charlie removed the towel from her head and her damp brown hair fell to her shoulders. Only two seconds elapsed before Detective Uhler responded. “We’d like for you to get dressed and come with us.”

Could this really be happening to her, or was she dreaming? Right about now those graves at St. Lucas Cemetery were looking pretty appealing.

“Why? I answered your questions.”

“Please, get dressed and come with us.”

Panic and fear oozed from every inch of her being as she stepped back, wanting to avoid going with them at any cost. “Why do we have leave? Why can’t you just ask me questions here, like you did before?”

Detective Uhler exhaled a long whispering breath as if to say this debate is over. Finally, she resigned to the fact that she had to go, and there was nothing she could do about it, at least not at that very moment anyway.

Though she had recently been arrested before for shoplifting, it was different now. She was being arrested for murder, and that was no small pill.

“Okay. I’ll get dressed,” she said, then proceeded to head out of the kitchen. She then double-backed and faced Detective Uhler. “I don’t suppose I have time to blow dry my hair, do I?”

The smirk on Detective Uhler’s face said it all, ‘absolutely not.’ She figured there was no harm in asking.

Less than two minutes passed when Charlie came from her bedroom. She wore jeans and her hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. When she grabbed her keys from the kitchen counter, she wondered if they might handcuff her. After picking up her coat form the sofa, she asked, “Are you going to put handcuffs on me.”

She knew it must have seemed to them like she wanted to be handcuffed, but that wasn’t the case at all. She was just curious.

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Detective Uhler said.

 

 

Charlie stood between Detectives Uhler and Lane at the elevator. She didn’t understand why they couldn’t continue their investigation at her apartment. What difference did it really make whether they were at her apartment or somewhere else?

With sweaty palms and knots in her stomach, Charlie felt a neurosis coming on. She fished for an idea of how to avoid going with them, then it hit her. “I forgot my purse.”

Detective Uhler didn’t say a word.

“Is it okay if I get my purse?” she asked them.

Detective Uhler nodded.

As she strolled towards her apartment, Detective Lane followed behind her.

Charlie stood at her door, grabbed her keys from her pocket and fumbled with the lock, pretending to have trouble with the key. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this key.”

Detective Lane stood firmly behind her. He was no doubt eyeballing her with a careful eye while Charlie continued her fake fuss with the key.

“What are you doing, Ms. Weiss?” Detective Lane questioned.

“I’m having trouble with this key.”

As soon as she finished her last sentence, the ding of the elevator was just the moment she needed to make a run for it. She lunged down the hallway, headed for the staircase, listening to the thumps of Detective Lane trailing behind her. She flung through the stairway door, leaped down two flights of stairs, all the while Detective Lane was fast on her trail. She reached the sixth floor, swung the door open and zipped through. Almost out of breath, she rammed into a young woman who carried two garbage bags, knocking her off her feet.

Without a moment to catch her breath, Charlie picked herself up fast. “Sorry,” Charlie said to the woman, before she continued down the hall. She managed to gain a tiny distance from Detective Lane, just enough time to make it to the staircase at the opposite end of the hallway.

As Charlie jetted through the door, the perspiration drizzled from her forehead, but she didn’t look back. She mounted a flight of stairs, opened the door to the seventh floor and rushed through, not knowing how much longer she could continue to run. She sprinted into the garbage chute and pulled the door shut behind her.

She stood completely still. As she wiped the sweat from her forehead, she tried desperately not to let a breath escape from her mouth. She failed to think through her impulsive plan to run and she didn’t have a clue as to what she might do next.

A minute passed since she stored herself in the garbage chute, and a tinge of hope leapt into her heart as she moved her ear to the door.

Maybe she lost them.

For the first time, her heart slowed down to a more normal beat. With her ear to the door, she only heard silence, but she was afraid to move.

Maybe it was a trick.

Maybe they were just waiting for her to make a move. Then it dawned on her that if they knew where she was, surely they would have come for her by now. It wasn’t like they were afraid of her.

Who would have thought her journey of adventure would have taken her to a place like this?

Hiding out in the garbage chute. Immobilized, she listened to the sound of her breath. With nothing to look at but the wall in front of her, she would wait a little longer before she opened the door. After several minutes, she put her ear against the door and heard nothing. She then placed her hand on the doorknob and slowly turned it. As soon as the door opened, the sight of Detective Lane was staggering as he stood with his gun drawn on her. She inhaled a deep breath, and her instincts caused her to pull the door shut. Without a moment in between, Detective Uhler swung the door open and yanked her out by the collar.

Charlie’s eyes bulged and her face was flushed as Detective Uhler’s eyes met with hers. “Now, about those handcuffs,” he said to her.

Detective Lane slapped the handcuffs on her fast, which pinched her wrists. Luckily, she was handcuffed from the front, in lieu of behind her back. It wasn’t until the handcuffs were completely fastened on her wrists that she understood just how guilty her actions made her look as she behaved like a fugitive. If ever there was a time to dial down the craziness, now was the time.

When would she learn to handle things in stride without always acting out? This was a lesson that came a little too late. When God was handing out brains, she failed to get in line.

When they reached the police station on Addison and Halsted, Charlie wondered if they would escort her to lockup, but, lucky for her, they didn’t. Instead, they escorted her into a room for further questioning.

In the small antiseptic room with dim lights, she sat across the table from Detectives Uhler and Lane. She was still handcuffed and her hair was still wet. Charlie sat quietly, praying that she would not be charged with the murder of Bruce Colby. Even still, with each silent moment that passed, her spirit turned a darker shade of blue, waiting and anticipating the worst.

Finally, Detective Uhler pulled out his note pad. “Ms. Weiss, why did you run?”

She didn’t answer his question. Instead, she peered down at the handcuffs on her wrists.

“‘Could you remove the handcuffs, please?”

Detective Uhler glanced over at Detective Lane, as if he was considering her request. “You’re not going to try and run away again, are you?” Detective Uhler asked.

“No.” She was still trying to catch her breath from all the running she did earlier.

Detective Lane rose up from the table, seized the key from his pocket, stepped over to her and removed the handcuffs. He then stood at a short distance from her, his hands in his pockets. Charlie rubbed her bruised wrist with a humble look on her face. “When do I get to make my phone call?”

“Don’t worry. You’ll get your phone call,” Detective Uhler said to her.

“May I have some water please?”

“No, you may not,” Detective Lane said.

“I thought detectives were supposed to be nice people.”

“Who told you that?” Detective Lane asked her.

She hoped to stall the questioning for as long as possible, especially since the issue of her hair color was bound to come up again.

Charlie lost her humility and changed her tune. No longer was she the timid little mouse that they escorted in for questioning. She was now just plain angry. “What is it you want to know? I told you everything. Anyway, you’re wasting your time with this. I’m not even strong enough to strangle anyone and what would be my reason if I were?”

“There’s always a reason,” Detective Lane said as he peered at her. “Why did you run?”

A faint smile covered Charlie’s face as she wrenched and turned, not sure how best to answer. Then the truth escaped from her lips. “I was scared, didn’t know what else to do.”

“Where were you going to go?” Detective Lane asked her.

“I don’t know.”

Detective Uhler glanced over his notes. “Ms. Weiss, in your apartment I noticed the framed obituaries of your family. That was your family, wasn’t it?

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you tell us what happened to them?”

“They died.”

“They died or they were murdered?” Detective Lane asked.

After briefly composing herself, she said, “So you’re now saying that I took out my whole family?”

“We’re not saying anything,” Detective Uhler said. “We want you to tell us.”

Charlie hated the way Detective Lane studied her every time she spoke, judging her every word and move, as if predetermining her fate.

“My family has nothing to do with why I’m here.”

“How did they die, Ms. Weiss?” Detective Lane asked her.

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, you know,” Detective Uhler said.

“What if I refuse to answer?

“We have all day and night,” Detective Uhler said. “And don’t even think about lying, because I’ll check it out.”

In enough trouble and frightened to the core, the last thing she wanted to do was talk about the death of her family. Why were they putting so much emphasis on her deceased family? She wrestled with the decision of whether to disclose such personal details that could reopen too many old wounds.

“We’re waiting,” Detective Lane stated firmly.

She realized that they were not likely to let up. Without giving it any further thought, she inhaled a deep breath and shifted her body back into the chair.

“My sister was strangled, my father shot my mother, then shot himself. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

The detectives shared a look between each other, then Detective Uhler asked as he removed his glasses. “Why was your sister murdered?”

“Why?” Charlie asked, as if she didn’t understand the question.

Detective Uhler didn’t repeat the question and didn’t seem the type to back down. While he waited for an answer, she realized that her anger served no purpose and thought maybe if she just answered their questions without hesitation, everything would be all right, and they would let her go.

With her hands flat down on the table, she exhaled a short breath. “My sister was having an affair and her jealous, insecure husband found out about it and strangled her. Is there anything else you would like to know?”

“We want to know everything,” Detective Uhler remarked.

Detective Lane scooted his chair closer to Charlie. “Ms. Weiss, you’re a suspect to a murder. We can ask you whatever questions we like for as long as we want.”

Detective Uhler interjected. “Don’t you think it’s a little odd that both your sister and Bruce Colby were strangled?”

“No, not at all.”

Detective Uhler slid his glasses up on his nose, continuing to scribble notes on his pad. “And what about your mother and father?”

Charlie exhaled a breath of frustration and asked softly, “May I go to the ladies room? I really need to go.”

Detective Lane chuckled. “No, you may not. We want to know about your parents.”

“I told you.”

“Forget about all of that for now,” Detective Uhler said. “I’ll ask you something you can easily answer. How do you explain Bruce Colby’s wedding band in your desk drawer?”

Charlie’s eyes bulged. “I don’t know anything about that, and by the way, aren’t I entitled to an attorney?”

“Sure,” Detective Uhler said. “We can lock you up right now until your lawyer arrives or you can talk to us right now. It’s your choice.”

Not only did Charlie not have an attorney, but being locked up didn’t rest well with her. She would just as well answer their questions in the hopes of satisfying their curiosity to the point of letting her go.

Detective Uhler studied his notes. “Now, we want to know why security has a record of you leaving the building at six-thirty, the approximate time that Bruce Colby was murdered.”

Charlie’s eyes shot to Detective Uhler, the most serious stare she could find in herself. “I didn’t kill him.”

“No?” Detective Uhler questioned.

“No.”

Detective Uhler stood up, pivoted over to Charlie. “Why did you color your hair this morning?”

Charlie raised her shoulders, and then said, “I didn’t like the color anymore. I know you probably think it was because I didn’t want to resemble Camina or Laura, but that’s not it at all. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. Everyone at the office knows that I have red hair. I dyed my hair back to its natural brown color because I didn’t like the person I had become since dying it red.”

“And what person is that?” Detective Lane asked. “A murderess perhaps?”

Charlie refused to comment on his suggestion.

“Were you dating Bruce Colby?” Detective Lane asked.

“No. I was not. That was Camina’s boyfriend.”

“Ms. Givens said you had some type of identity problem,” Detective Uhler said. “She said you wanted to be like her. What’s that all about?”

“She is welcome to her opinion.”

“Is there bad blood between you and Ms. Givens?” Detective Uhler asked.

“I don’t have anything against her. It’s her. She doesn’t like me.”

Detective Lane’s eyes scrolled across Charlie’s face. “Didn’t you just say back in your apartment that Camina was the one who told you that Bruce Colby was murdered, that she was your friend?”

A shallow smile skirted across Charlie’s face as she realized she’d been busted. “Did I say that?” she asked innocently.

“Yes, you did. I was there,” Detective Lane said to her.

“Well, I thought it was her who told me that, but it wasn’t. It was another friend, Laura. She and Camina look an awful lot alike and sometimes I get them mixed up.”

“Hilarious,” Detective Lane said. “Even on the phone, they’re confusing to you?”

“Sometimes.” Charlie knew that they were not buying any of her story, but what else could she do.

Charlie could see the suspicious look in Detective Lane’s eyes.

Detective Uhler rested his pen on top of his pad. “Ms. Weiss, what were you doing at the office at six-thirty last night?”

“Working. I work late a lot.” Frustrated, she paused. “How long are you going to keep me here?”

“I wouldn’t think about going home too soon if I were you,” Detective Uhler said as he picked up his pen.

“I’m telling you, I didn’t kill him,” she said. “Why would I kill Bruce, then place his ring and belt in my desk drawer?”

A shocked look raced across Detective Uhler’s face. “I didn’t say anything about a belt. How did you know about that? I don’t remember mentioning it to you.”

“You didn’t mention it. Someone else told me.”

“Who would that be?” Detective Lane questioned.

“I would rather not say,” she said to him. For fear of incriminating Laura, she decided to keep her inside information to herself.

“I think it’s time we let Ms. Weiss make her call,” Detective Uhler said to Detective Lane.

“I think you’re making a big mistake,” she said.

“Oh really,” Detective Uhler said, as he flipped through his notes. “An eyewitness saw a redheaded woman leaving the men’s room. There’s a record with security that you left the building right around the time of the murder, you colored your hair back to its original color the next morning, lied several times, resisted arrest, ran, and Bruce’s wedding ring and belt were in your desk drawer.”

“Look. I can see where this is going, and I know how it looks, but I didn’t do it.”

Her confession seemed to have little effect on Detective Uhler as he approached the door. Her time was running out. Unless she started to tell the truth, they were going to keep her there.

“Okay,” Charlie blurted out. “I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

Detective Uhler’s hand froze at the doorknob. Without hesitating, he turned and gazed at Charlie. Charlie studied the look in his eyes, and she knew one thing. He was serious. Though she was ready to tell it all, she needed a breather or some air, anything that would create some space between her and them. What she needed was a cigarette, and she didn’t even smoke, but now might be a good time to start.

“Would it be okay if I made my phone call first?”

Detective Uhler seemed to think about it and then said, “Okay.”

Charlie scooted her chair away from the table and stood up, and Detective Lane soon met her at the door and opened it for her. “Allow me,” he said.

Down the busy hallway, Detective Lane escorted her to the phone. It was a welcomed relief to be free of their calculating questions. While Charlie anxiously dialed Lee’s number, Detective Lane stood close by, watching.

Once again, she needed to call upon Lee to save her hide. He would be furious with her, this being the second time she was arrested. Only this time, it wasn’t for shoplifting, it was for murder.

Still, he was the one she trusted, the one who she could count on regardless of the circumstance or situation. Upon calling Lee at his office, she learned that he was in a meeting and was forced to interrupt him and summon him to the phone.

“Charlie?” Lee said. “What’s wrong?”

As soon as she heard his voice, the tears crawled from her eyes, as she had felt sane up until that moment. It was definitely the compassion in his voice that moved her.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your meeting,” she said with a slight sniffle.

“Are you crying?”

Though obvious, she said, “No.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I did a terrible thing, Lee, really messed up this time. I just want to get out of here, go back to my old life and start over.”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, what are you talking about?”

“There was a murder at my office last night and the police think I did it,” Charlie said as she wiped the tears from her face.

For a moment, Lee was silent. “Where are you now?” he asked her.

“I’m at the police station on Addison and Halsted.”

“They arrested you?”

“Yes, but they haven’t charged me with anything. They’re waiting to finish questioning me now.”

“I’m on my way.”

Detective Lane stepped in front of Charlie and pointed to his watch as that was her signal to end her call now.

“I have to go now. Thanks, Lee.”

It was as if Lee possessed some magical power of just showing up and making everything better. Somehow, in some strange way, she believed Lee could save her from this calamity, and just talking to him, knowing he was on his way, elevated her mood.

 

Episode 16

 

Detective Uhler handed Charlie a Kleenex when she returned to the interrogation room. As the fear and doubt settled in her heart, she slouched down at the table.

Detective Lane closed the door, taking a seat across from Charlie, while Detective Uhler stood, his tiny note pad in hand.

“Are you ready to finish?” Detective Uhler asked her.

Charlie nodded, shifted her body back and tried to find her center of peace. “May I have some water?”

Detective Lane stood up from the table and poured her some water then handed it to her.

Charlie drank the water, and felt the perspiration of fear forming on her forehead. She fished for the half-truths in the back of her head and hoped not to say anything that she might regret later. Most importantly, she needed to convince them that they were questioning the wrong woman.

Immediately after Charlie gulped down the water, Detective Lane asked her, “Is that better?” Instead of answering his question, she had a question for him. “If I tell you what really happened, will you let me go?”

She monitored the dubious look on Detective Lane’s face and swallowed hard. His facial expression revealed indifference, but she was dead serious in her request.

For a brief moment, nothing but empty silence hovered over the room, and she wanted to scream. “Well. Will you?” she asked again.

“Now, Ms. Weiss, you know we can’t promise you that,” Detective Uhler said.

“Even if I tell you exactly what happened that night, and why I think it was someone else?”

Detective Lane interjected, “Just tell us what happened.”

Charlie hesitated, halted her movement and locked her eyes with the wall in front of her. She was afraid that if she told her story that it might make her look even more guilty, but they had her in a bind. All of the cards were in their favor, and all she could do was play by their rules and hope and pray for the best.

“Look at it this way, Ms. Weiss,” Detective Uhler said. “If you don’t tell us the whole story, we’re definitely not going to let you go.”

Though she always believed honesty could be her best friend, somehow in this situation she wasn’t so sure, but she lacked options. After she coasted down another drink of water, she inhaled a deep breath. “Okay. I did see Bruce last night. We were fooling around in one of the office restrooms.”

“Fooling around?” Detective Uhler questioned.

“Yeah. We were going to do it, but…”

Detective Uhler stepped forward, then planted his body in the seat across from her as if awaiting a fictitious story. “But what?”

“But, we didn’t. Though I wanted to, when Camina came in and saw us, it was all over.”

Detective Uhler scribbled some notes down on his pad while Detective Lane listened with an amused look on his face.

“Anyway, when Camina came in and saw us, Bruce went after her, and that killed any chance of us finishing what we started.”

“Why did he go after her?” Detective Lane asked.

“I told you, they were dating, and it was no secret.”

The detectives glanced at each other.

“What exactly did Camina see?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“Nothing is obvious with you, Ms. Weiss,” Detective Lane added.

A tad bit embarrassed, Charlie was reluctant to finish, but she forced herself to. “I was sitting in Bruce’s lap on the bowl kissing him and at that moment, I wanted to make love to him, I really did, but when Camina showed up, he seemed more interested in going after her than making love to me.”

“That upset you, didn’t it?” Detective Lane asked.

“You bet it did.”

“Then what happened?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Camina left, I left and that was the last time I saw him.”

“And you never saw him any more after that?” Detective Uhler asked as he shifted through his notes.

Charlie shook her head. “And it wasn’t until this morning that I learned what had happened and that’s the truth.”

“Your truth,” Detective Lane said.

Charlie rolled her eyes at Detective Lane, then returned her focus to Detective Uhler.

“That doesn’t prove that it was anyone else any more than it proves it was you,” Detective Lane said.

“You think that I’m making this up? I’m not. That is what really happened.”

“So you say,” Detective Lane said.

Detective Uhler stood up as if trying to make sense of it all. “Did both Ms. Givens and Ms. Moore know Bruce was married?”

“Of course they knew.”

Detective Uhler stepped to Charlie. “Your hair. You said you didn’t like the color anymore. Was that the truth or was that a cover up?”

“No, that was the truth. I don’t like the color anymore, but I admit I did have other reasons for coloring my hair this morning.”

“Which was?”

“I didn’t want to be confused with Camina or─”

“Or Laura Moore?” Detective Lane asked, finishing her sentence.

“That’s right.”

“But everyone at the office had seen you as a red head,” Detective Uhler said.

“I know it was a crazy thing to do, but I was desperate and when I’m desperate, I don’t think clearly.”

“While you were in the stall with Bruce Colby, did you wrap the belt around his neck?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Yes, but I didn’t kill him.”

Detective Lane lowered his head as if to collect his thoughts. Then he lifted his head and peered into Charlie’s eyes. “Why did you wrap the belt around his neck?”

“Why does anyone do anything? For the fun of it.”

Detective Uhler stepped back as if to fully take in her words. “Did you know he had a bad heart?”

“No. Does he?”

“You didn’t know he had a bad heart?” Detective Lane asked.

“I may have heard something about it.”

“How do we know you didn’t accidentally kill him?” Detective Lane asked. “Think about it, Ms. Weiss. Think about it really hard. Maybe you accidentally killed him. Let’s suppose you and Bruce were wrapped up in the moment, you had the belt around his neck, it started to get exciting, like you say, and accidentally, with no fault of your own, he died in the act. Then you put his ring and his belt in your drawer so it would look like you were set up.”

She stared down at the table, annoyed. “That is not how it happened,” she said in an elevated tone.

“Why don’t you tell us how it happened then?” Detective Lane suggested.

“I told you already. I didn’t kill Bruce and even if I did─” she stopped herself, not wanting to say too much.

“Even if you did, what?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Not only was Camina having an affair with him, but there was someone else as well.”

Detective Uhler exhaled a breath of confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Laura had an affair with him as well, and she also has red hair.”

Detective Uhler was about to write something, then slapped his pen down on the table. “Let me get this straight. All three of you were sleeping with Bruce? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Charlie said. “I had sex with him once, or almost. It was an ongoing thing for Camina, and Laura used to sleep with him until she found out he was married.”

“How long ago was that?” Detective Uhler asked.

“How long ago was what?”

“That Laura was sleeping with Bruce?”

“I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

“There’s some truth in there somewhere,” Detective Uhler said as he glanced over at Detective Lane. “They say there’s truth in every lie.”

Detective Lane chuckled. “They never met Charlie Weiss. Isn’t that right, Ms. Weiss?”

Charlie stared at him and didn’t say anything right way, then asked, “Are you going to let me leave now?”

“Should we?” Detective Uhler asked her.

Charlie nodded.

“You can leave for now, but like I said to your coworkers,” Detective Uhler said. “We’ll definitely talk again.”

Charlie glanced at Detective Lane then Detective Uhler. “Thank you,” she said before making a swift exit out the door.

She couldn’t believe that they let her go. After having sweat tears under an intense interrogation, it felt good to be free.

 

Episode 17

 

Lee awaited Charlie at the front desk. She hurried down the hall and immediately spouted into his arms, holding him tight. When he pulled away from her, he noticed her hair. “You colored your hair again.”

“Yeah, this morning.”

“Why?”

“It’s a long story.”

“But you’re okay?” he asked.

Charlie nodded and said, “Let’s get out of here. Please.”

As they proceeded out of the police station, Charlie turned around and saw Detectives Uhler and Lane. They were watching her, almost studying her, and it sent a frost through her spine. After suffering enough already, she refused to allow their judgmental stares to ruin her moment.

She would have to explain everything to Lee even though she knew it would be embarrassing. It was a necessary evil. One thing was for certain. She could not, and would not, tell any more lies. It was all the lies that made her situation much worse.

In Lee’s Jeep, he and Charlie did not share more than a couple of words as they traveled down Broadway Street. But the silence was just what she needed.

As soon as she and Lee stepped through the front door of her apartment, she breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t think she would ever see her apartment again. As Lee helped her off with her coat, she absorbed the clutter in her front room. Right away she grabbed the empty glasses from the coffee table and took them into the kitchen.

When she returned to the living room and grabbed the sweater from the chair, Lee stood in front of her. “Why don’t you do that later. Come sit down with me.”

Charlie released the sweater from her hand and sat on the sofa, and Lee joined her. “You want to tell me what happened?

She shook her head, not sure she was ready to talk about it just yet. Everything that had happened to her brought her to this point, this point of enlightenment where she realized the error of her ways.

“It feels great to be home,” she said. “I can tell you that.”

“It’s good to be here with you,” Lee said to her.

“Would you pour me a drink, Lee?”

Lee shook his head and smiled at her. “No, I won’t. You don’t need that. That’s why you have me.”

Though a stiff drink was in order at that moment, she had endured too much to argue with him. “This has been the craziest day of my life, Lee.” Embarrassed to even talk about what happened, she forced herself to recount most of the events that transpired that day. Not only did she purposely leave out the part of her trying to elude the police, but also that the detectives had more than ample reason to suspect her.

“I’m sorry I put you through all of this,” she said to Lee. “Everyone tried to warn me. You, Laura, my doctor, but I didn’t listen.”

“Sometimes we have to learn these things for ourselves.”

She stared into his eyes and scooted closer to him. “I think I’ve always loved you, Lee, I mean, really loved you, just never realized it because I was too busy acting out.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

“All the same. Thank you. Sometimes I wonder if I deserve to have someone like you in my life.”

She and Lee shared a warm smile, and when she moved to face him, she kissed him. That kiss brought back memories of the first time they locked lips, but this time was different. It possessed a romantic flavor, not like before when she perceived him only as a dear friend. And for the first time, she found herself attracted to him in a more intimate way, and it felt so good.

All she could think about was why she failed to experience this feeling before. Could it be that her promiscuous endeavors prepared her for this moment?

He peered at her through his dark brown eyes. “I’ll always be here for you, Charlie. Always. Even if one hundred years go by, I’ll always be here for you.”

“That’s so sweet, and it means so much to hear you say that, but I have no intention of going anywhere, even if they do think I did something that I didn’t.”

Charlie snuggled up against Lee and brushed her head against the center of his chest, breathing multiple sighs of relief until she fell asleep.

 

 

Back at Whitley & Austin later that afternoon, Stuart having come in late that morning had just learned of the murder and how Camina, Laura and Charlie were all suspects. When he saw that Charlie was not at her desk, he immediately sprung into action and tracked down Laura. He approached her fast. “Where’s Charlie?” he asked her.

“She was in this morning, then left back out,” Laura said.

“Did the detectives question her yet?”

“When I talked to her this morning, they hadn’t.”

“Do you know the names of those detectives?”

“Why?”

“I have information for them,” he said to her.

Not only was Charlie his cousin, but he considered her a dear friend. He planned to help her in any way that he could, which would include sharing with the police everything that he knew.

 

 

Stuart made his way to the police station on Addison and Halsted, wanting to speak with the detectives before they questioned Charlie. After Stuart asked to see Detective Uhler, the sergeant at the desk escorted him down the hallway, towards Detective Uhler’s office.

Stuart could have kicked himself for not having spoken up sooner. But he had his own reasons for not coming forward. A part of him wanted to just forget about what he witnessed and remain anonymous, but when he learned that Charlie was a suspect, he obligated himself to step in and do everything he could. It was his chance to do something for someone other than himself.

Detective Uhler was on the phone when the sergeant and Stuart reached his tiny office. When Detective Uhler finished his call, Stuart and the officer stepped inside.

Stuart stood at the desk with a serious, concerned look on his face. “I need to speak with you about Charlie Weiss.”

Detective Uhler signaled the sergeant to leave and the sergeant closed the door on his way out.

“Have a seat,” Detective Uhler said to Stuart.

Stuart eased down in the chair, not bothering to remove his coat. “My name is Stuart Clark and I have information about the night Bruce Colby was murdered.”

Detective Uhler reclined himself back into his chair. “You do?” he asked as he pushed his glasses up on his nose.

Stuart nodded yes.

“How do you know Ms. Weiss?” Detective Uhler asked.

“We’re friends. Actually, we’re cousins, and we work for the same firm.”

Suspicion covered Detective Uhler’s face. “I see.”

Stuart sat forward. “I realize I should have come to you sooner, but…Anyway, I was there the night Bruce Colby was murdered.”

“In the men’s room?” Detective Uhler questioned.

“I was in the handicap stall.”

“Did anyone see you?”

“No, but I saw the whole thing. Well, mostly the whole thing.”

Detective Uhler was silent a moment. “Go on.”

The vivid images were still clear in Stuart’s mind. He remembered that dreadful, revealing night of November 22 and transported himself back.

Thursday night, November 22.

 

 

Stuart stood in the handicap stall, facing the closed door in front of him. He inhaled the cocaine from the cellophane bag, then wiped his nose and was startled when he heard─

“Charlie, what are you doing in here?” The male voice said.

Right way, Stuart recognized the distinctive voice as Bruce Colby.

“Say, what are you doing in here, Chaz?” Charlie said.

Just as surprised to find Charlie in the men’s room as Bruce, Stuart was stuck and couldn’t even think about leaving until after Charlie left. Stuart then returned the cellophane bag to his pocket and listened with a meticulous ear, hoping that neither Charlie nor Bruce would realize that he was in the very next stall.

Stuart heard every word that Charlie and Bruce uttered. “Quit playing around Charlie. Someone’s going to see us.”

“Not if we’re really careful,” Charlie said.

“Knock it off, Charlie.”

“I have to get you to loosen up, show you how to have some real fun.”

Stuart could only imagine what was happening between Charlie and Bruce who were only a few feet away from him.

“What do I have to do? Put you on a leash and walk you in?”

“Get up, Charlie.”

“Don’t be a killjoy, Bruce.”

Though Stuart witnessed Charlie’s impressive transformation over the last few weeks, he discovered firsthand how she had graduated to such a high level of raunchiness. She was nothing like the Charlie he knew.

Stuart felt like an eavesdropping Tom as he continued to listen in as the words between Charlie and Bruce became more and more intriguing.

“We can’t, Charlie. People are still in this office.”

“So, what are they going to do, arrest us?”

Stuart stood there, his ear locked with the stall wall. He heard them move into a stall and he was certain of what would come next. Being so close, he began to feel aroused himself, and though he could not see a thing, his imagination ran full force.

“Take it easy, Charlie.”

Several seconds passed before Stuart heard, “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Charlie said.

Stuart envisioned what they were doing when out of nowhere he heard the voice of a second woman.

“You son of a bitch.”

Damn, Stuart thought. “How many people are in this men’s room?”

Though Stuart hardly ever worked late, he thought perhaps he should if this was what he could expect every night.

The drama continued and Stuart was uncertain of the newly entered female voice.

“Oh, shit,” Bruce said.

Stuart heard someone leave the men’s room, but he didn’t know who.

“What are you doing?” Charlie asked. “You can’t just stop. “What are you going to do? Go after her?”

“I have to.”

“You can’t just stop in the middle and go after her. Who do you think you’re fucking with? You’re going to stop what we’re doing to go after that bitch? You can’t leave me for her. I won’t allow it.”

“Get a grip, Charlie.”

It seemed Charlie and Bruce remained while the other person left, and Stuart felt a chill just being there, so close to the drama.

The heated porn saga had now turned ugly. So much Stuart wanted to peer his head above the stall wall to see what he had listened in on for several minutes, but it was too risky.

One minute of silence and the last word Stuart heard from Charlie’s mouth was. “Okay,” before she left.

Stuart stood motionless, eager to leave at just the right moment. He heard the click of high heel shoes come through the door. His first thought was that it might be Charlie returning. He couldn’t know for sure unless he heard the person’s voice.

After debating back and forth, he finally lifted his head above the stall. He could no longer just listen. He needed to see for himself.

Very cautiously and with keen precision, he stood up on the toilet seat and peeped his head over the stall wall. He saw Bruce taking a spill at the urinals. Stuart’s eyes panned left, and he saw a woman with a full head of curly red hair move towards Bruce.

He couldn’t be sure if it was Charlie or not.

Charlie, Camina and Laura all looked so much alike; it could have been either of them. Then he saw the side of her face.

It was not Charlie.

 

 

Stuart had Detective Uhler’s full attention as he continued with his story, conveying all that he remembered the night Bruce Colby was murdered.

From what Stuart saw, a red haired woman tapped Bruce on the shoulder and Bruce turned around to see her face.

From the bathroom stall, Stuart watched them stare at each other. The woman threw Bruce a punch to the face and it caught him off guard because before Bruce could retaliate, she threw him another one before she kicked him in the groin. Again. And again.

Losing his balance, Bruce fell to the floor, unable to move. Now, Bruce was on the floor, Stuart observing with widen eyes.

The woman straddled herself on Bruce’s bruised body and Bruce struggled to overpower her, but it was no use. Moments later, she removed his belt from his pants and wrapped it around his neck. Stuart stared in disbelief, wanting to do something, but was too paralyzed by it all.

Stuart witnessed the woman strangling Bruce until Bruce moved less and less. Bruce tussled to stop her as she pulled the belt tighter and tighter around his neck until he could struggle no more. In a quick move, Stuart jolted his head down behind the stall wall, his heart racing and his hands shaking after just witnessing a murder. Stuart heard the clacking high heels disappear through the door and inhaled a deep breath as he wasn’t sure if it was safe to leave. Finally, Stuart forced himself from the stall, glanced over at Bruce’s lifeless body on the floor before making a quit exit.

 

 

Stuart finished his recount of the murder and wondered if Detective Uhler believed him or not.

“And that’s what happened?” Detective Uhler asked.

Stuart nodded his head. It was because of Stuart’s tainted record with the law and rehab that he chose not to come forward. However, when he learned that Charlie was a suspect, that changed everything. He wasn’t about to let anything happen to her, and not just because she helped him obtain his job, but because she was family.

“You refer to her as the woman,” Detective Uhler said. “Who was this woman?”

Stuart did not hesitate. “It wasn’t Charlie Weiss.”

“And you’re sure, absolutely sure because they do look an awful lot alike.”

“Positively sure,” he said.

“Why didn’t you say something before?” Detective Uhler asked.

“Scared I guess.”

“So who was it?”

 

 

Charlie awakened in Lee’s arms on the sofa, her head against his chest as Lee was still asleep. It was only a three-hour nap, but very much needed. Careful not to wake Lee, she eased herself from underneath his arms and glanced at her watch. It was 8:30 p.m. She grabbed a red blanket from the bedroom, and spread it over his body.

While Lee was asleep, she tried her best to reach her sister, Sandy. So much had happened, and she wanted to share it all with her. Charlie stood in front of the hall mirror, in the same position as always, and in a whisper, she called out to Sandy. “Sandy? Sandy?”

When she received no response, she moved her face closer to the mirror, her lips almost touching it. “Sandy? Are you there?”

Charlie delicately placed the palm of her hand onto the mirror, hoping to somehow energetically summon Sandy’s image. “Sandy, it’s Charlie. Are you there?”

After several minutes, it was obvious that Charlie’s attempts proved futile as Sandy was nowhere to be found.

When Charlie thought she heard Lee waking up, she stepped away from the mirror fast and headed back towards him. When she saw that he was still asleep, she realized that she wasn’t quite ready to give up on reaching her sister. For several days, Charlie had attempted to reach Sandy with no success and today was no different.

Desperate to connect with her sister, Charlie removed the mirror from the wall, thinking maybe she just needed to readjust it. Upon replacing the mirror back onto the wall, she heard Lee yawning and as she directed her attention towards Lee instead of what she was doing, the mirror slipped from her hands and shattered into pieces onto the floor. She was certain that all of the ruckus would have awakened Lee, but he was still sound asleep.

A gush of fear swept through Charlie’s hands as she quickly bent down and studied the broken pieces on the floor.

This was it.

She had done it now.

She would never see her much-loved sister ever again.

 

 

Heartbroken over the broken mirror, Charlie stood at the window and peeked through the mini-blinds. She couldn’t believe it. As quickly as Sandy had reappeared in her life, she disappeared just the same.

What was she going to do now?

For moments on end, she pondered the dialogue her sister used. Sandy’s favorite question posed to Charlie was always: What are you going to do about it?

Though Sandy was gone, never to return, Charlie was comforted by her sister’s words. For all that transpired with Bruce and the investigation, the question to ask herself was the same as if Sandy were there to ask it herself.

What was she going to do about it?

About everything?

About the investigation?

About Lee?

About her past behavior?

About her job?

What could she do to make things right?

Charlie pondered for several moments, almost in a hypnotic trance. Several more moments would pass before she snapped back to reality. When she opened the mini blinds, the night sky stirred up old emotions of the day as she studied the new Buick across the street. Though it looked like a detective’s car, she couldn’t be sure.

Even after the detectives dismissed her, they were still watching, as if waiting.

What was that all about?

Then it dawned on her. Still, she was a suspect, and until they could prove otherwise, she would be under scrutiny. No longer could she wait like this on display, hoping that everything would resolve itself. She needed to do something, anything. Though it was that same attitude that brought her to this place, it deserved credit if used modestly.

Though Camina was the last person Charlie wanted to share space with, Charlie would confront her and learn what mischievous motives scurried around in that hard head of hers. With all the evidence pointing towards Charlie, she reached a point when she actually believed that she had killed Bruce Colby, but that point passed, and she now knew better.

She was innocent, and all she had to do now was prove it.

 

 

In deep thought, Charlie was finishing up the dishes when the phone rang. She picked up fast, not wanting to wake Lee.

“Hey, it’s me,” Laura said

“Hey Laura.”

“Are you okay?”

“Considering everything that has happened, I’m all right,” Charlie said. “‘What about you?”

“I just hope it’s over. Wasn’t that scary having them ask us questions like that? I never want to go through that again.”

“How are you holding up,” Charlie asked.

“Just barely, but anyway, I found out why Camina left the office the other day in tears.”

“Why?” Charlie was always in the mood for a bit of juicy gossip.

“Bruce didn’t want her to work for him anymore. He broke off their relationship and then had her reassigned.”

“Are you serious?”

“Hard to believe, isn’t?”

“How did you find out?” Charlie asked her.

“Who else? Rollie? You know he knows everything. Rumor has it Denise wanted you to work for Bruce and Camina knew about it and you can imagine how that played out. Listen, I have to run. Will I see you at the office next week?”

“I’ll be there.”

Charlie was spellbound by what Laura said about Camina. Even if it were true that Bruce broke off their relationship and no longer wanted her to work for him, that didn’t seem reason enough to kill him.

So why was Laura sharing this information with her?

Could it be that Laura was hiding something?

For every minute that passed, the whole situation became more and more bizarre. At this point, Charlie didn’t know who killed Bruce Colby.

It could have been Laura.

It could have been Camina.

Or like Laura said, it could have been a man dressed as a woman, wearing a wig. Moments later, Charlie threw out all of her suspicions. The killer could be only one person. It wasn’t Charlie. It wasn’t Laura, and it was no man dressed in a wig.

 

Episode 18

 

Charlie stored the dishes away in the cabinet and wiped down the kitchen table. She reminisced about how she behaved over the last few days, and she was not impressed.

How could she have been so childish as to go after Bruce just to spite Camina? And even worse, how could she have run from the police like that, making herself look twice as guilty?

Instead of pursuing someone like Lee who lay fast asleep on her sofa, someone so easy to love, she went after a married man, a man who she held no respect for, who now lay cold in some morgue. Regrettably, she erred to the fullest capacity.

On a much deeper level, maybe she wanted to be a suspect as if it was all part of the ride of adventure. But the ride had come to an end, and she was ready to exit. Her habit of running away came to haunt her in the worst possible way.

Everything she did in the last three weeks was done out of fear.

Fear of who she was.

Fear of accepting her misfortune.

And most of all ─ fear of the future. But she didn’t need to return to therapy as her present dilemma proved therapeutic enough.

Charlie glanced at Lee’s jacket and Kangol hat on the coat rack and an idea came to mind. She grabbed his coat and hat and tiptoed into the bedroom. After stepping into her black jeans she slid on her black boots. She stepped in front of the bathroom mirror and stripped off her earrings. She then placed Lee’s Kangol hat on her head as she was meticulous about hiding every strand of her brown hair. A masculine look was her goal. It was an attempt to elude the police just in case her suspicions of them outside watching her proved true.

She slipped into Lee’s jacket and the sleeves were almost too short for her long arms. It proved to be a tight, snug fit, and that was good enough for her. She then grabbed Lee’s keys from the coffee table and left the apartment.

Upon reaching the outside of her building, she raised the collar of her jacket and didn’t look in the direction of the Buick. She hurled into Lee’s silver Jeep and drove off, hoping not to be followed. She traveled down Clark Street, continually checking her rear view mirror to see if she was being followed.

She wasn’t.

In just a matter of minutes, she reached Camina’s two flat apartment complex. Only having gone to Camina’s apartment once when she and Laura attended a baby shower, Charlie didn’t know the exact address, but remembered the building. It was unlikely Camina would invite her up, so Charlie waited in the lobby, hoping a tenant would come in or out of the building and give her the opportunity to hustle upstairs.

Minutes later, a gentleman exited the building with his Labrador. Casually, Charlie entered and made her way up two flights of stairs. With her hands in her pockets, she stood outside Camina’s apartment. She placed her ear against the door and heard the chatter of Camina’s whiny voice.

Charlie knocked on the door.

Seconds later, Camina swung the door open. She was wearing a skimpy skirt and top and held a cell phone against her ear. Camina’s eyes shot to Charlie. “What do you want?”

Charlie removed her Kangol hat, then barged past Camina inside the apartment.

“I’ll call you back,” Camina said, right before she disconnected the caller.

With the front door still open, Camina pivoted over to Charlie. “I don’t remember inviting you in here. You know I could have you arrested? Again?”

Charlie was ready to tell Camina what she really thought of her dirty tactics. “Do you really think I’m going to take the wrap for something you did?” Charlie asked her.

Before Camina could answer, Charlie continued. “I know you put that ring and that belt in my desk drawer.”

“Did you come here for a confession of some sort, Charlie? I sure as hell hope not.”

“I came for much more than that.”

“You don’t frighten me, Charlie. I can’t believe they let you loose. You might have everyone else fooled by your little innocent act, but I’m not. I know you’re crazy, I’ve known it ever since we were in high school. Look at you. What happened to the red hair?”

Camina stepped towards Charlie, and sized her up from top to bottom. “You colored your hair because you wanted to look like me, dress like me. Someone like that is not innocent, and I hope you get exactly what you deserve.”

The anger stirred in Charlie’s temples, but she said nothing.

Camina backed away slowly and didn’t say another word for a long time. “Now get out of here before I throw you out.”

Charlie’s first response was to leave as she stepped towards the door, but her reflexes came alive and she lunged at Camina, grabbing the top of her hair. It was no surprise when the curly, red wig slid off into Charlie’s hands. This was something Charlie wanted to do for a long time. Finally, the day had come.

A whispering shriek escaped from Camina’s mouth, and Camina grabbed the wig from Charlie’s hand and tossed it to the floor.

Charlie had done it now.

The sight of the small patches of hair dispersed across Camina’s narrow head sent Charlie into a state of shock. Though she always knew Camina wore a wig, it was the first time she ever saw her without it. And it was a scary sight.

Camina threw herself at Charlie and pulled at Charlie’s ponytail, but Charlie caught Camina’s hand in time and was able to push her away. Again, Camina hurled at Charlie, this time knocking her to the floor. While Charlie recovered from her fall to the floor, Camina maneuvered her thin body onto Charlie’s. She pulled at Charlie’s hair when Charlie thrust her fist against Camina’s cheek. It was just enough time to slide from underneath Camina’s long torso. Immediately, Charlie jetted towards the front door. Camina rose from the floor, grabbed the table lamp and threw it towards Charlie, but Charlie ducked in time and the lamp shattered to the floor.

Camina was an animal.

Charlie never before witnessed this brutal side of Camina, and she was terrified.

For her life.

 

Episode 19

 

Charlie’s only thought was to reach the front door and escape the madness of this woman, this woman who seemed capable of anything. The door was a long way off, and she would have to bypass Camina in order to reach it.

A tall candlestick on the coffee table caught Charlie’s eye, and she grabbed it fast and threw it at Camina. The blow to Camina’s head only stopped her a moment, for an unstoppable woman. But it was the look in Camina’s eye that caught Charlie off guard. It was the most frightening glare she ever saw. Her heart raced, thumped, pounded and she wondered if she would ever make it to the front door.

Without thinking about it any further, Charlie zipped towards the door, hoping the thrust of her speed would bypass Camina’s fury.

Unexpectedly, everything went black, and when Charlie opened her eyes, she was down on the floor, feeling a knot on the back of her head. Camina’s body was toppled atop of Charlie, her hands around Charlie’s neck.

Charlie gasped for air, and tried to free herself from Camina’s clutches, but she couldn’t. Continually Charlie struggled to release Camina’s hand from her neck as she pried, scratched, pushed, pulled, but nothing seemed to work.

“Bruce tried to fuck me over and look what happened to him,” Camina said. “It wasn’t enough that I had to share him with his wife, but now you, too.”

Charlie’s eyes lit up. It was Camina’s statement that sent terror throughout Charlie’s entire body while Camina’s hands pierced Charlie’s neck,

Charlie tried desperately to breathe and keep from going under, and then, out of nowhere, Charlie heard a male voice.

“Let her go.”

To Charlie’s surprise, she saw Detective Uhler and Stuart standing over her.

Finally, Camina released her grasp from Charlie’s neck, and Charlie gasped and coughed, her head spinning.

Stuart was quick to help Charlie up from the floor. “Are you okay?”

Charlie nodded, still coughing as Camina so casually picked up her wig from the floor and positioned it on her head.

All eyes on Camina.

“I saw the whole thing, Camina,” Stuart said to Camina.

“What?” Camina questioned.

Stuart stepped to Camina and said, “I said, I saw the whole thing.”

Camina’s eyes locked in with Stuart’s as if she was staring at Satan, and Charlie stood there, just as surprised.

“What are you talking about?” Camina asked. “Saw what whole thing?”

“The murder. I was in the bathroom stall the night Bruce Colby was murdered,” Stuart said. “I saw him. I saw you. I saw everything.”

 

 

The detectives escorted Camina to the station, and Charlie and Stuart headed towards Lee’s Jeep. As soon as they climbed into the Jeep, Stuart said, “I’m sorry I didn’t go to the police sooner.”

“I’m just glad you did when you did,” she said to him.

Charlie started the engine, but she didn’t move. There was something about Stuart’s confession that baffled her. She was about to pull off, but the curiosity of Stuart witnessing the murder gnawed at her. “How could that be?” She shifted the gear back into park. “How is it that you saw everything? How can that be possible?”

“I was in the bathroom from the time you came in,” Stuart said.

Immediately, Charlie thought about that night, remembering. In her mind, she retraced her steps, and, still, it did not compute. “But I checked all the stalls, and there was no one in there.”

“Did you check the handicap stall?”

Charlie’s eyes lit up as she remembered. He was right. She had checked every stall but that one. “So you actually saw Camina, and she didn’t see you?”

“I didn’t actually see her face. I never saw her face. I just assumed it was Camina. I knew it couldn’t have been you.”

Charlie smiled and smiled and smiled some more. “So you don’t actually know for sure?”

Stuart smiled. “In my heart, I knew it couldn’t have been you.”

Charlie shifted the gear into drive. “So you weren’t completely truthful with the police.”

“Not completely.”

“So it could have been Laura,” Charlie said.

“Laura is a sweetheart. It couldn’t have been her either.”

“So you really don’t know who killed Bruce Colby?”

“I know it wasn’t you.”

Stuart smiled at her, and she smiled right back.

Maybe Camina killed Bruce, and maybe she didn’t.

Maybe Laura killed Bruce, and maybe she didn’t. Maybe it was a man dressed in a wig, or maybe it wasn’t. It really didn’t matter at this point. What was most important was that Stuart exonerated her. Though Charlie knew she was innocent, it was nice to know that even if she wasn’t, her cousin was on her side.

 

 

After Charlie dropped Stuart off at his place, she made her way back to her apartment. Not much time passed since she left Lee asleep on her sofa. He would be awake when she returned, wondering about her disappearance.

Resuming her snuggled position with him on the sofa brought a smile to her face, and she wanted to continue where they left off.

She came through the front door, and her eyes scanned the room for Lee, but he was nowhere in sight. She called to him and closed the door behind her. Because she was wearing his jacket and hat and held his keys in her hand, he could not have gone far.

Again, she called to him, but before she could call his name a third time, she saw Lee step across the exit of the bedroom. He didn’t seem suspicious of her disappearance, and he didn’t look worried. Instead, a warm smile glowed across his face.

“Hi,” she said. “I was looking for you. I suppose you’re wondering where I’ve been.”

“Now, what makes you think that?” he said to her.

She admired his cool subtleness, seemingly not concerned at all. If only he knew what she had just endured.

Charlie released the ponytail ring from her hair and shuffled her fingers through her hair. “I want to tell you where I’ve been and everything that happened to me tonight, but first, I just want to lie down next to you. Can we do that?”

At first Lee wore a stern look on his face, then it turned to a gentle smile. At that moment, she wanted to make love to him, share her bed with him and her body, but somehow it didn’t seem right. The timing was off.

After all of her risqué acts with Bruce and the infamous Rod Bigg, it wouldn’t feel genuine. It would feel more like a continuation of where she left off in her endeavor to be someone else. And she wanted her experience with Lee to be a real, lasting one, one that would continue for many years to come.

And right now, she just wanted to lie next to him, feel his presence, and feel at home with Lee Travis.

 

 

Charlie arrived at work early on Monday, wanting to put the pieces back together, and most of all to express her gratitude to Lillian that she still had a job. Not being the ideal employee for the last three weeks, she was appreciative of Lillian’s patience. She gave Charlie a second chance, and she wanted Lillian to know just how much she appreciated it.

Though she continued to wear her new clothes, she resumed wearing her hair back in a bun. That was how she liked it, simple and out of her face.

That afternoon, Charlie and Laura ordered takeout for lunch and sat in the lunchroom. The subject of Camina would come up, that being the sole topic of discussion at the office. But Charlie had talked about it enough, and it was time to put it behind her.

Laura bit into her sandwich and glanced across the table at Charlie. “I must say, I do miss the red hair. It was so pretty on you.”

“Well, maybe one day I will color it again,” Charlie said. “But for entirely different reasons.”

“Have you noticed how creepy it is around here? I can’t imagine what it’s like for the men to use the facilities after what happened to their colleague.”

Charlie dreaded visions of the men’s room and the events that transpired there, not many days ago.

She sipped on her iced tea and did not say much.

“I went to see Camina,” Laura said.

“Oh. How is she?”

“She looks okay. Even though I know what she did was totally wrong, a part of me feels really bad for her.”

Charlie nodded. “Me too,” Charlie said. “And I keep asking myself why she did it, and I don’t get it.”

“We talked about it,” Laura said.

“What did she say?”

Laura shook her head. “She just snapped. It was as simple as that. You know she really thought Bruce would leave his wife and marry her. I guess we all have our breaking points.”

“Yeah, but murder?”

“Think about what you just said, Charlie.”

Clueless, Charlie peered at Laura.

“Didn’t your father snap one day, kill your mother and then himself?”

Charlie thought back. “Yeah, he did, but my father had an illness, he was manic depressive and was on medication for a long time. What’s Camina’s excuse?”

“That’s what I’m talking about. She just snapped.”

 

 

Sunday afternoon Charlie removed the obituaries from the mantel and stored them away in her drawer. She had held on to them long enough and believed that they were holding her back.

In the kitchen, she prepared a spaghetti dinner for Lee. Though she was no Martha Stewart, she wanted to do great things for Lee and not only because he treated her so well, but because he deserved it. For long enough, she postponed wearing the watch that Lee gifted her, wanting to wait for a special day. That day finally arrived. It was this day, the day she planned to spend with Lee Travis.

While Lee was in the front room looking over the books on the shelf, Charlie slipped into the bedroom and snagged the watch from her dresser drawer. She buckled it onto her wrist and returned to the kitchen.

Lee soon followed her into the kitchen and buckled down on the bar stool at the counter.

While the water boiled for the spaghetti, she poured Lee and herself some juice after having done away with her days of Chardonnay, at least for a few days anyway. She seated herself across from him, studying him carefully. His nose was buried into the book in front of him. This was a sweet man with so much to offer, and despite being previously engaged to her sister, despite him being shorter than she was, despite everything, he was all hers, and not because she chose him, but because he had already chosen her.

She didn’t think there would ever be days like this, days when she would be this happy, this contented. Things truly did get better in time, she thought as she continued to stare at Lee, admiration in her eyes.

Lee seemed to sense her eyes perusing him and he glanced up. “What did I do?”

“Nothing. I was just wondering?”

“About?”

“About that clock that you gave me. No one ever gave me a clock before, and I was just wondering why. Why a clock of all things?”

“Did you look at the inscription?”

“There’s an inscription?” she asked him.

“There’s an inscription.”

Charlie raced into the other room, grabbed the clock and returned to the kitchen. She then turned the clock over and written in really tiny scripted words, which Charlie read aloud, were the words: “Just a matter of time before you’ll be mine.”

Lee smiled. “I know it’s corny, but it’s from the heart.”

“This is so sweet. I can’t believe this inscription has been there all along, and this is the first time I’ve seen it.”

Charlie set the clock on the kitchen table and began cutting the green peppers and onions for her spaghetti dinner.

“You know, you don’t have to do this,” Lee said.

“I don’t have to do what?”

“Cook for me. I know it’s not your forte. We can always order out.”

“You’re not afraid of my cooking, are you?”

“Well, now that you brought it up.”

After they shared a good laugh, she was intrigued and wanted to know everything about him. “Lee, you have a really wonderful relationship with your father, but I have never heard you say anything about your mother.”

Lee closed the book in front of him and Charlie witnessed the discomfort on his face.

“You don’t have to tell me,” she said.

“No, I don’t mind. My mother wasn’t ready to be a mother. I was what you call an unplanned pregnancy, and she didn’t want to be tied down. So she left.”

“Really?”

“I hardly ever think about it, so you see there’s not much to say about her.”

“Where is she now?”

Lee shifted his eyes away from her and didn’t answer.

“Is she alive?” Charlie asked.

“I’m sure she is.”

“Did your father tell you that?” she asked.

“Not exactly, but I can read between the lines, and I already forgave her for it, a long time ago.”

She and Lee were so much alike. After wasting so much time with the crying, suffering and the acting out, finally, she met someone who understood her pain, who loved her despite everything, and she refused to waste any more time. Things could change in an instant, which they had for her. But for this moment, she was glad to be who she was. And after all she endured, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I want you to listen to something for me,” she said as she led Lee into the front room. Lee remained silent as he eased down on the sofa, with a curious look about him.

Charlie stood at the entertainment center and slid the Bee Gees CD into the disc player. Soon the sounds and words of the magnificent song, I Just Want to Be Your Everything echoed throughout the room. Lee’s eyes gazed up at Charlie, mesmerized.

He had once played that same song for her, but the true essence of the words belonged to him, possibly written with someone like him in mind.

Charlie seated herself next to him on the sofa and grasped his hand into hers, all the while sharing a warm smile. With her eyes locked in with his, she discovered that this was where she wanted to be, in the presence of Lee Travis, and nowhere else.

With the mellow sounds emanating throughout the room, she scooted closer to him and was practically in his lap. He was that someone, not necessarily the someone she searched for all of her life, but that someone she was grateful to have found, that someone who brought her to this place of happiness, contentment and peace.

It was strange how much had changed since Charlie turned thirty, and not necessarily for the worst, but for the absolute best.

 

 

Later that evening, Charlie was fast asleep in Lee’s arms when she was awakened by a voice from the other room.

It was Sandy.

Filled with delight and anticipation, Charlie slid from underneath Lee’s arms and escaped into the next room.

“Charlieeeee?” the voice called out.

The voice was coming from the bathroom. As soon as Charlie stepped before the bathroom mirror, a ravishing image of Sandy appeared. Gold earrings dangled from Sandy’s ears and her curly red hair was even curlier and more beautiful than ever.

“Sandy, you’re back,” Charlie said with delight. “I thought you were gone forever.”

“That’ll never happen.”

“Well, where were you? I called to you day after day. Did you not hear me?”

“I heard you,” Sandy said. “But I knew you had things to take care of, and I wanted you to do it all by yourself.”

“Thanks, Sandy. I guess you know everything that happened, huh?”

“Yes, and I must say, I am very proud of you.”

“You are?”

“Yes, very much. So how does it feel to be thirty?” Sandy asked her.

“It’s the best. The absolute best.”

 

  • * *

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The Dark Days of Charlie Weiss

  • ISBN: 9781310045622
  • Author: Sage McCarthy
  • Published: 2015-12-03 19:50:12
  • Words: 59644
The Dark Days of Charlie Weiss The Dark Days of Charlie Weiss