GROWING UP

The 22nd story in the short story sequence co-authored by Eden Baylee and myself.

Prompt: Charlotte ate green peppers all day long.

Parts 1 &3 Bill
Parts 2 & 4 Eden

Charlotte definitely wasn’t stupid but her tendency to be in a hurry to get things done could sometimes have unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. While she was a toddler, her difference from others her age was pretty obvious although not always easy to interpret or understand. She’d have complicated conversations with uncomplaining teddy bears, who’d be dumped in a chair and lectured to about their lack of manners or appalling diets, she sometimes decided that the picture of one of the characters in her books couldn’t really ‘look like that’ and so the book was discarded – not just set aside, but placed firmly, face down, on the landing outside her nursery door.

Her parents were charmed by it all, even though she often made it clear that something they’d said or done was reprehensible and refused to respond to anything they said for several hours afterwards. That was just … well, how she was.

At first, when she went to primary school, her teachers showed less patience and, naturally enough, suspected she was of the troublemaker variety, which served only to lead her to test them with ever more devious strategies.

But then came puberty.

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At a time when girls were shedding their shyness and becoming more confident, Charlotte did a one-eighty; she withdrew. It was as if she’d exhausted all her energy leading up to that point. After several weeks of her sombre moods, her mother made an appointment with the family doctor. To her, Charlotte was not behaving like her usual herself.

“I’m not going,” Charlotte said. “There’s nothing wrong with me!”

“You are going, young lady. You need a check-up. And besides, you like Dr. Kennedy. She’s treated you since you were an infant.”

“Fine,” said Charlotte. “But you can’t come in the examination room with me. I’m twelve now, and I want to see the doctor alone.”

After much discussion, they struck a compromise. Her mum would take her and not go inside, but she’d talk to the doctor immediately afterward.

“Whatever!” Charlotte waved a dismissive hand in the air.

Her father patted her on the back. “That sounds more like the defiant daughter I know.”

“Sweetheart, it might just be hormones. Have you had your period yet?”

“Mum! I can’t believe you’re asking me that. I don’t want to talk about it!” Charlotte stomped out of the room.

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Dr Kennedy had indeed got to know Charlotte very well over the years. Like most of her colleagues, she treated all her patients with care and understanding.

In her office, she simply sat and listened as Charlotte unloaded her apparent problems.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” said Charlotte. “It’s just that Mum’s such a worrier… I know it’s because she cares and wants the best for me, but honestly…” Charlotte just sat, shaking her head.

“How about your Dad?” prompted the doctor.

Charlotte gave a ‘Where to begin?’ toss of her head. “He’s just embarrassing.”

Dr Kennedy smiled and took a letter from a file on her desk. “I think I know what you mean,” she said. “You remember that time I prescribed the health food diet for you?”

Charlotte gave a slight nod.

“Well, he soon let me know what he thought of it.” She looked at the page she was holding and read, “Since you got her eating rabbit food, there has been a distinctly unhealthy change in her. Last week, Charlotte ate green peppers all day long.”

Charlotte looked up. “See?” she said, “Any wonder I’m…” she signalled air quotes with her fingers and added “…disturbed?”

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Dr. Kennedy raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying your father lied about the peppers?”

Charlotte didn’t answer right away. Instead, she bowed her head as if in deep thought. When she looked up, her eyes narrowed toward the woman in front of her. “I’m saying he exaggerated about them, as he does about many things… And why are you snitching on him?”

“I’m not. I don’t mean to suggest anything about your father.” The doctor leaned forward and folded her hands on the desk. “I was just trying to—”

“Be my friend?” Charlotte’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Don’t bother, it won’t work.”

“Your parents want what’s best for you, and your sudden change in mood worries them, Charlotte. If you won’t talk to me, I’ll have to refer you to someone else.”

“A shrink.”

Dr. Kennedy nodded. “A psychiatrist. Are you open to that?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“It’s up to your parents.”

Charlotte rose from her seat. “Well, when you talk to them, ask them about their upcoming divorce which they’ve been hiding from me. Mum’s leaving Dad for her tennis coach cuz Dad had a fling in Vegas … Remind me again why I need a shrink?”

 

Behind Every Great Man

Eden Baylee and I are having lots of fun co-writing our 800-word stories. We hope you like them, too. It’s interesting what the prompts – both ‘ordinary’ and ‘bizarre’ – trigger in us as individuals and when each of us is just picking up the threads of the other’s story.

This month’s prompt was: ‘We were drinking champagne and losing our shirts.’

It seems that, in the UK, those final three words refer to betting losses while elsewhere, they can be more… er … raunchy.

Parts 1 and 3 were from Eden and 2 and 4 were mine.

 

Behind Every Great Man

Bubbly does it to me. With just one glass, I’m inebriated. My husband’s off with the bigwigs who’ve flown in from Hong Kong. I make myself useful at the food station. No one in the room looks familiar, and it’s just as well. I’m relieved to not have to make small talk.

A young man in a chef’s hat stands behind the table of appetizers. “Can I offer you something?”

“Please.” I hold out my plate. “I’ll have one of everything!”

“Let me see how much I can fit on here,” he says without missing a beat. “They should give you bigger plates.” He positions a skewer of shrimp and pineapple in the middle, then adds a stuffed mushroom cap and a couple of meatballs beside it. A quick scan of the table later, he picks up a Chinese soup spoon filled with a brown substance. It’s delicately topped with pomegranate seeds.

“What’s that?”

“Foie gras. It’s my favourite hors d’oeuvre here.”

“Then I must try it.”

“Yes, it’s sublime.” He adds one more item to my plate—a giant scallop wrapped in bacon.

“Now that I recognize! Who doesn’t like bacon, right?”

He smiles shyly. “I hope you enjoy.”

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In the early days, when my husband was beginning to climb the ladder, I was restrained, even genteel (or at least my version of it). I wore neat jackets over necklines just low enough to suggest I might be available but not without some skilful preparatory schmoozing. I always kept my voice low and, apparently, interested, despite being better-versed in the business chat than the posturing suits that pigeon-holed me at all too frequent marketing events.

As I smile back at the young man and raise my glass to him, his shifting gaze confirms that enough is now on show to allow any schmoozing to be relatively perfunctory. However, what he doesn’t know is that, tonight, my aim is considerably higher than someone holding a bacon-wrapped scallop.

Oh no, my target is Dennis, the bald, middle-aged financial director who’s just arrived and who’s about to relocate back to London from Hong Kong. I’d met him over there only once, at the Happy Valley Racetrack where he’d basically chatted away to my breasts. He’s in London to oversee some small tech company takeovers and will need a local go-between, someone, in fact, like my dear, sweet and, fortunately, unsuspecting husband.

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“Eleanor, I was hoping to see you again!” Dennis wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me into him. My breasts flatten against his tailored suit. We air kiss in that pretentious way that only the English can.

“Dennis, fancy seeing you again.” I sound a squeaky octave higher than normal.

“You haven’t forgotten, have you Ellie?” He leans in to whisper in my ear. “You were so … naughty,” he says, looking around the room. “I suppose your husband is meeting with Mr. Chang and his team.”

I smile but remain quiet long enough to create an uncomfortable air of silence. Last time we met, we were drinking champagne and losing our shirts. Now, I make a point of sipping my drink cautiously. Before Dennis speaks again, I pick up both meatballs off my plate and pop them in my mouth at the same time, positioning one in each cheek before chewing and swallowing them. “What’s that you say … about me being naughty?”

Dennis wipes the sweat trickling down his brow. He turns his head from left to right as if looking for someone. “Ellie, you are too—”

“Perhaps we should step outside. It’s suddenly very warm in here.”

+++

As I knew he would, he jumped at the chance. The liberties I’d allowed him at that racetrack and which he now characterised as ‘naughty’ had, in fact, progressed through indiscreet and daring to unwise, evil, and eventually for him, life-threatening. But the hungers of rich, powerful, terminally unattractive men of his sort were easily satisfied and by the time, with his greedy fingers kneading my bum as we walked, we’d made our way to the summer house and total separation from all the other guests, the mere words I’d been using to recall those long ago frolics already had him slobberingly incoherent. He was literally salivating as he tugged at the zip of my dress. Over his shoulder, through the glass of the summerhouse, I saw the gorgeous young man in the chef’s hat carrying a tray of food to guests at a table on the lawn and briefly wished he, instead of the pawing Dennis, had the status to help me improve my husband’s career path. It would have been so much more fun. But the sight of him reminded me that what I was doing was, after all, a charitable act, so I succumbed.

And Dennis survived.

 

Hamlet was right

Another solo effort this month to complete April’s complement. This is my effort. You’ll find Eden Baylee’s take on the same prompt here.

Prompt: Dad gave me a wink, like we were pals or something.

Story by BK.

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Hamlet was right

Whether we’re religious or not, we all seem to stick to the ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ commandment. It’s natural, isn’t it? Although I have to admit, my dad sometimes made it hard. Not in any nasty way but more by sort of redefining relationships – not just him and me, but him and Mum. Most of all, I remember the day he did the sex talk. I was 12. He started by making it pretty clear that birds and bees had nothing to do with it, then went into disgusting detail about dogs and people and ended up with what he did to Mum in Liverpool. (Something I didn’t understand or want to hear.)

It all came back to me many years later at my wedding. There was a moment when… well, Marjorie and I had just made our vows, and were parading slowly back down the aisle, past all the grinning friends and eye-dabbing aunties and, of course, Mum and Dad. And Dad gave me a wink, like we were pals or something. A huge wink, not just an ‘I’m proud of you, son’ wink, but one which seemed to welcome me into some sleazy club. It made me think of the Liverpool revelation. And now that I’ve got to know Marjorie so much better, I’m pretty sure I know what else that wink might have been about.

I was baffled at how she changed in just a couple of weeks. At first, I thought maybe it was just because her friend, Deirdre, the photocopying girl from marketing, showed her that magazine article about how exotic stuff made marriage more bearable. That was fair enough, but I didn’t understand why, on our first night, I had to wear all that ridiculous gear – the doormat taped to my chest, that fur hat of hers with real cherries on it, the shoelaces tied around my arms – I had no idea what they all meant. And why she made me go out to the shed to fetch that antique sword which she’d found in Mrs Robinson’s junk shop on Acacia Avenue. It was difficult enough carrying the bloody thing without my laceless shoes slopping loosely as I walked. And then all she did was make me stick it into the overhead beam in our bedroom and superglue my hands to the hilt. What was that all about? It was as if she’d been possessed by some sort of inner beast. And it hurt like hell when she took that drawing pin from the corkboard in the kitchen and stuck it through my earlobe. I put up with it because… well, I just wanted to humour her, I suppose. I’d always done that, right from the start of our relationship, but this was new.

And then nothing. Until this afternoon, and I’m just sitting there, watching her chop carrots on the kitchen table, singing that Country song she likes so much. The one about the blind orphan who’s been savaged by the stepfamily’s wolfhound. Nothing makes sense. Where’s the love? Where’s the sweet little virgin I married? She knows I’m supposed to be playing golf with Gerald today so why’s she just calmly chopping carrots?

‘Listen Sweetie,’ I say. ‘I really need to get my clubs organised. I’m supposed to be teeing off at 3.30.’

She looks up, her eyes cold, strange.

‘There’s not going to be any golf,’ she says. ‘I have other plans.’

‘But, Gerald… I mean, he’ll be expecting me…’

‘Shut it,’ she says. ‘If this knife slips and I cut my finger, its next target will be your genitalia.’

That’s scary. Whenever she starts using posh words I know I’m in trouble. I bet it’s that bloody 50 shades book again. When she started reading it, I thought it was about cats or knitting patterns for cardigans, or something. That’s the sort of thing she read before we were married, but that was before all the bedroom weirdness. And it’s that, that’s made me remember Dad laughing as he told me how I was conceived in that butcher’s shop in Liverpool.

I’m pretty sure that that wink wasn’t about him being proud of me.

But this is even weirder than that. She’s coming over to me, knife in her left hand, two carrots in her right.

I try to laugh. ‘Aw, come on, Sweetie,’ I say.

She shakes her head.

‘Shut it,’ she says. ‘All this time, all that boring missionary sex… Things are about to change. It’s time for some immaculate fornication.’

She pushes the points of the two carrots up my nostrils. I try to pull my head back, but too late. Ah well… I remember Dad’s final words as he finished the sex talk. ‘There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

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I’d love to hear what you thought of it.