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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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?”