The Silent Skater

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Chapter Five

“So, you want to start Monday?”

Charlene nodded.

“Okay, I’m not one to deny a work ethic. Be here by nine-thirty, we open at ten o’clock.” Jenny, the head of staff at the little Chester Public Library, shook her hand. Charlene smiled at her, and held out Card #12, “Goodbye!”

She usually just waved goodbye, but this was probably a good time to be formal, seeing as how Jenny was her new employer. The woman read her card and smiled back. “Don’t be late!”

So that was taken care of as well. Charlene gathered her purse and walked out of the library to her newly purchased dark blue Mustang GT and sat in the driver’s seat for a moment without starting the engine, feeling very content with life.

Never one to avoid getting things done, she had decided over breakfast that Friday morning that she didn’t want to be dependent on Elizabeth Oakshue. Maybe first impressions were inaccurate, and maybe they would be the best of friends.

And maybe not.

Either way, Charlene knew she would feel a lot more secure about her new life in Portsmouth if she had her own transportation and steady income. Although she had been given her father’s estate in trust when she turned eighteen, one year before—and it was a fair bit—she touched it as little as possible. Charlene knew that both her parents would expect her to put it to good use. Not just waste it on herself.

She didn’t know what that good use would be, but until she found out, the money stayed.

However, the interest earned on said money was a different story, and after a year of ignoring all the things she could have purchased, there was more than enough for a sizable down payment on a nice, new car.

Walking into the showroom had been an interesting experience, and as challenging as usual. For some reason, salespeople almost always distrusted her when they came up to say “Anything I can help you with?” and then had to read her notepad. Charlene always prepared for that first question ahead of time, whenever she went mall-hopping or antiquing, but whether she asked after something specific or wrote no-thank-you-I’m-just-looking, there was always the same understanding smile…and then a pair of eyes on her at all times until she left the store.

In this case, she was ready with “Yes, I’m new in town and I’ve got to find some transportation. Do you think Mr. Ford would have any ideas?”

Then, of course, there was Card #7 and getting Ed, the helpful salesman, to understand that she could hear just fine. Which led to a short talking/writing conversation about how long since she’d been able to speak, and how difficult it could be, and how Ed had never met anyone with that particular condition…

It could be tedious beyond measure, but Charlene was stubborn when she wanted something, and when she took the time to get to know the people she needed help from, things tended to go more smoothly.

Rather than a cold reception, once Ed and she were buds, the salesman showed her the exact model she was looking for—leather, CD, same color as her eyes, everything—and even gave her a bit of a deal, “Because you’re such a nice young lady,” but really because Ed felt sorry for her.

Which didn’t bother Charlene in the slightest.

Her new toy was just fine for sliding into traffic and finding a nice, quietly small library not far from the Oakshues. The Chester library was at one corner of the Chester public park, and Charlene liked the place immediately, big front windows, and chestnut trees all around.

She had no special reason to want to work in a library, except that you were supposed to be quiet, which ought to cut down a bit on the number of people talking to her. She couldn’t work at a drive-thru window, or answering phones, could she?

Yet Charlene thought she could handle checking out books and showing people where the magazines and movies were. She assured Jenny that she worked hard and was dependable, and Jenny assured Charlene that there were few enough patrons that they would get to know her soon and forget all about her handicap.

So, she had steady income, reliable and very cool wheels, and it was only noon.

Perhaps one more quick awkward conversation and then she could relax for awhile.

The gum-popping high-schooler behind the fast food counter—Charlene couldn’t use the drive-thru any more than she could work it—was not one of the “most people” that were nice once they realized she couldn’t hear. He read her notepad, said “Number four, no onions and a Coke, huh?”, took her money, and turned his back. “Why don’tcha go to a handicap restaurant, dumb chick, make me read your order like an idiot.”

While he moved away to stuff her order in a bag, she flipped the page on her notepad and began writing. He returned with her food, but she didn’t look up until she was finished, and with a stare she knew could melt ice made him read.

“I’m sorry, I must be a dumb chick. If you’ll tell me where to find the nearest restaurant for the handicapped, I’ll be happy never to come in here again.”

To his credit, the young man had the decency to turn red and look ashamed of himself. Charlene shoved her pad back into her purse, grabbed the fast-food bag, and turned to go. Before she walked out, the store manager came up. “Is everything okay, ma’am?”

Her eyes flicked back to the kid, who now looked scared as well as ashamed.

Charlene shook her head and left. It wasn’t like it had never happened before.

But her good mood was all dampened now. Even the drive home in her new Mustang didn’t help…much.

Then it got worse, as she sat trying to have a peaceful lunch in the Oakshue kitchen, thinking about tuning in the Gigantor screen tv in the den to a soap opera. With a heavy step and a sigh, her best friend in the world came in.

“Oh. Hi.” Doug looked somehow excited, nervous, embarrassed and standoffish at the same time.

Escape hatch! Where’s the escape hatch?!

“Lunch time for you too, huh?”

Awkward, desperate conversation when you have nothing to say! My favorite!

Well, it wasn’t like she had to talk to him. She was a grown woman, capable of moving to another room or another house for that matter.

And yet…

Melanie cared for this jacka—this guy quite a bit. Charlene knew she wanted to be kind to Melanie, and that was probably going to mean being kind to Mr. Hawkins. And the guy was trying, though his motives for doing so remained greatly in question.

Charlene looked up, met his eyes, and allowed herself to give Douglas a second chance, and see him as a person. She found her pad and ripped off the angry fast-food note from before. “Don’t make me regret this.”

He sat down next to her, dropping what looked like three peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on the table, along with a bottle of orange juice. “Regret what?”

You put your arm around my shoulders and I’ll hit you in a way you’ve never imagined. “Talking to you.”

“You want me to apologize for what I said the other day.”

She just looked at him.

He dug into one of the sandwiches, and at least swallowed before speaking. “I didn’t know you could hear me, and it’s not like I was all that insulting, huh?”

“I believe ‘Somebody’s deaf relative’ were your exact words. And why does not knowing I could hear you make it okay?” She ate with one hand while she wrote with the other, hoping that she could finish soon and disappear. Did the entertainment room have a lock? And could he possibly stop staring at her while she wrote? Like I don’t notice, you hormone-crazed dinosaur.

“Haven’t you ever thought unkind things toward someone you just met? What’s the difference—if you truly were deaf and couldn’t hear me?”

She didn’t like his point and was sure there was a hole in it somewhere but finding said hole would take more effort on her part than she wanted to lay out for this kid. “If that’s the best apology you have, I don’t think we’re going to be great friends, Mr. Hawkins.”

“Call me Doug.”

“I’d prefer not to become any more familiar with you than I must.” There. Maybe a blast of deep freeze would send him packing.

It didn’t get him out of the room, but it did get him quiet. Charlene was through with her fries and half of her burger when he spoke again, quietly.

“I’m sorry.”

It was a different person that met her eyes. Still Doug Hawkins on the outside, the look conveyed truth behind the words, and something more…for a split-second Charlene knew that there was someone behind the tough-guy. Damn. She was too nice a person to ignore that.

“Accepted.”

The table was quiet for another moment before she wrote further. “You may call me Charlene, Doug.”

He read the note and looked at her again. His lips twitched once, as if he wanted to say something, but he did not. The clock in the hall chimed the hour. Doug looked around, and got to his feet, collecting sandwich wrappers and the empty bottle.

At the doorway he turned. The look in his eyes was still real, but just barely, as if he was hanging on to it as hard as he could. “Hope you enjoy the performance tonight, Charlene.”

Then the kitchen was hers again. And she wondered.

Douglas has a tad more to him than I realized.

A giant television and “Destiny’s Children” were calling her name, so she left the new discovery for later thought.

Once the girls had gotten home from school, she and Melanie and Sarah spent an hour touring New Hampshire in the finest ride east of the Mississippi.

The day really had picked up—even Auntie Liz was nice at the early dinner, though very distracted. Perhaps she’s being nice because she’s distracted, Charlene considered, but decided to take what she could get. The Oakshues and Douglas left to prepare, but since Charlene now had her own transportation she elected to stay behind and spend some quality time with her best friend.

After Toepick had gotten well and truly worn out playing fetch in the back forty, she left him sleeping contentedly at the foot of her bed, showered and changed into jeans and a burgundy sweater and swept away towards the final showing of Blades and Satin.

She was expected at the front door, and didn’t need to buy a ticket, which was a pleasant surprise. Even more pleasant was the discovery that Mrs. Perkins had saved her a very good seat down front, where she would be able to watch everything. Even before the performance began, Charlene noticed one not-so-pleasant thing: the auditorium was barely half full. For a final performance, at that. She wished she could cheer, but nevertheless determined to clap just as loud as she could.

“Ladies and gentlemen, children and families... the Baskerville Ice Arena is most proud to present Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s premiere, world-class attraction, Blades and Satin!”

The lights in the arena came up slowly, revealing the twenty-five members of Blades and Satin forming the troupe logo in the center of the ice. At a signal, the formation broke into pieces, as each team member skated off-stage but for a colorfully dressed man with three red balls in his hands.

Familiar music began: The Flight of the Bumblebee accompanied the act as BallBoy 1, twenty-three-year-old Tim, began to juggle the little spheres. At first, he just simply juggled, and then with slow sculling movements, he began skating backwards.

Faster and faster he went as the juggling became more and more fanciful—under an outstretched leg, one-handed, higher and higher and then—

An abrupt stop, and a bow.

Generous and well-earned applause followed, as Sarah, Brayden, Zachary, Avery, Caleb and little Isaac clambered onto the ice and stroked for a few offerings and several scraps of litter.

Tim swooped off the ice, and Melanie Oakshue took his place, decked out in a little Red cloak and Riding Hood. As the 2nd movement of the William Tell Overture gently began, Melanie skated along easily with it... and then as minor notes forced their way into the carefree tune, a bear stepped out from the end of the rink and began following her. Slowly he approached... slowly... slowly...

“Behind you!” a little girl shrieked, just as the whirlwind of music began. The chase was on!

Around and around the ice they went, as Red Riding Hood kept circling and dodging away from her pursuer until the music came to its end and the chase disappeared into sudden shadow. Eagerly the audience waited for the rest of the chase; but it was time for Richard and Bruce, the two as-yet-unseen BallBoys, to make their appearance.

At first, they juggled individual sets of balls—and then began skating side by side, passing the colored spheres back and forth with incredible speed, and they were still doing so as they skated off the ice.

A cheer went up as Red Riding Hood regained the ice with the Bear right behind. Charlene smiled as Mr. Perkins went rushing past, growling for all he was worth.

Then, a hero: Doug joined in as the last “Lone Ranger” movement of William Tell began, dressed in a prince’s outfit and brandishing a wooden sword.

It was the prince chasing the bear around then, as the audience shouted with laughter. Mr. Perkins waved his fat paws above his head and looked around for escape as Prince Doug smacked the bear’s brown rump with the flat of his sword. With a final hearty Whack! the prince escorted the Bear from the ice.

Now all three BallBoys came forth once again to put on the best show yet. Charlene had seen this act before, but it was no less amazing; tossing juggling pins around and up and down and back. And it was still amazing when Tim swung onto Richard’s shoulders, and started slooooowly moving backwards, Bruce skating after them, tossing pins back and forth, eventually with both BallBoys at once. One by one, as the act closed, the pins were discarded until Tim was juggling the original three all by himself—when suddenly he threw all three into the air...

Tim caught one, Richard caught the second, but the third looked to be lost—until Bruce dove headfirst through Richard’s legs, twisted, and ended up lying comfortably on the ice, head in one hand...the final pin in the other.

The crowd loved it, and the clean-up crew gathered flowers and trinkets as well as the discarded pins.

Doug and Melanie were next, as the Ice Princess and her consort performed a beautiful ice dance together to the Sleeping Beauty Waltz. Charlene watched as the two worked with one another in fluid movement and sighed happily.

The next to last act, as always, was the Rustikov Dancers performing their amazing ice ballet. The twelve skaters flowed around the arena, exhibiting exciting and graceful skating. Charlene watched Katrina and Victor especially... for those two had already been especially nice to her and were her favorites.

The show really was very good—not the most fantastic skating Charlene had ever witnessed, not Olympic level perhaps, but not bad for twenty bucks…the performers had real talent.

And yet there was a sense of desperation to it all. Very remote, and very well hidden under the costumes and smiles, Charlene perhaps only picked up on it because she had family in the troupe, family she was getting to know well enough to see. Blades and Satin wasn’t doing as well as it should, and nobody was happy about that. She remembered that the managers of the rink were supposed to be here watching the show and wondered where they were. What they might be thinking.

The best was saved for last, as Elizabeth Oakshue gently pushed off from the arena’s edge and glided easily to exactly center stage. Elizabeth had an interesting flowing-scarves costume for her first trip onto the ice, as she skated to Ravel’s Bolero. Then Doug reappeared for a quick solo performance, a piece Charlene had seen him practicing. He was a fine skater, though he seemed more comfortable working with a partner.

While Doug had the ice, Elizabeth had used the time to good effect: for her final performance, and the final skate of the evening, she retook the ice wearing the most beautiful white gown—looking like a queen. Charlene gasped despite herself and wondered where her aunt had found a dress like that.

As Beethoven’s 6th, or Pathetique Symphony played over the speakers, Elizabeth spun into a dance that was obviously utilizing the best of the talents God had given her, the most that she could bring forth from a lifetime’s work and effort. Charlene was entranced, having never seen anyone skate so beautifully. Her aunt slid across the frozen field almost as if she could just take off and fly. The movements of her arms and her legs were artistically perfect to the slightest touch, and breathtaking.

And yet—before it was over Charlene felt the magic fade. The spell over her slipped away as if someone had pulled the blanket off on a winter night. Because she saw, as she had once before, the look in her aunt’s eyes. She saw it when Elizabeth swept close to the edge she was sitting by.

Elizabeth Oakshue was not happy. Even out on the ice, even out where all her talents had been focused, out where Charlene would expect her heart to find its home…the woman’s eyes were distant, and ever so sad.

Elizabeth wasn’t having any fun at all. And as far as Charlene could tell, not that she had been around for long, that meant her aunt didn’t have fun anywhere.

Stop it, Charlene Elizabeth. The last thing she needed to do was start analyzing her aunt. Perhaps the woman was dreadfully unhappy. That wasn’t Charlene’s fault, and it really wasn’t her problem.

Not that she didn’t care for Elizabeth—or at least she could if she really took a notion, not that her aunt had been at all encouraging—but Charlene couldn’t live anybody else’s life or make anybody else better. If her aunt ever wanted to talk, that would be something else entirely.

But Charlene was not going to get depressed because she thought her aunt lived a dreadfully unhappy life.

However, if she someday wants to talk about it… Charlene shook her head and watched the skating. A snowball’s chance. That woman’s colder than the ice she’s skating on.

Those who had managed to make it to the performance did a fair job of applauding, and the echoing arena made their cheers of appreciation that much more enthusiastic. All of the performers came back for one final bow, and then Coondog the bear chased them all, in a big frightened group, off the ice and back into the dressing rooms and the show was over.

Charlene remembered how little she was welcome in those dressing rooms, and so she stayed put, listening to Mrs. Perkins talk about her children. By the time her husband came to collect her, Melanie and Sarah were there as well.

All her younger cousin said was, “Whew, I’m worn out,” sank into a vacant seat and closed her eyes. It was so unlike her that Charlene blinked; The girl must really be tired.

Melanie plopped herself down next to Charlene. “Well, and that’s that. Another season come to an end. Whadja think?”

Charlene mouthed “Wow!” Then she had to write to further her opinion. “That was an amazing show. I mean—I saw some of that in practice yesterday, but still!”

“Yeah, we’ve worked a long time to get all that together.” Melanie looked around. “I hope management felt as good about it as you did.”

They both looked to see if they could find the people in question—but the only folks left in the arena were Blades and Satin performers and various family members. “Maybe they’re off talking with Mom. Anyway, good or bad, their opinion won’t change now. Hey, chatterbox,” Melanie called, tossing somebody’s forgotten red mitten at her sister, “you want to go home and have some ice cream? We can watch a movie—it’s no school night or anything. Plus, no practice for a month.”

“Yeah!” Suddenly the worn-out girl was back in the game. “Instead of just a movie, you guys want to start a puzzle, too? Charlene, we haven’t done a puzzle in ages but there’s twenty-seven in the downstairs buffet, I counted ’em one time.”

“I haven’t done a puzzle in ages either. It sounds like a plan to me!”

Melanie read the note and repeated it to Sarah, and then said, “So let’s go already! Why waste a perfectly good Friday night?”

Doug walked down to meet them walking up. “Great show tonight, Oakshues. I think we rocked ’em.”

I hope it’s my imagination. But Charlene was pretty sure he was staring at her again, and wasn’t Melanie right there? Or was there nothing going on between them? Oh, it was so difficult to understand. All she really knew was that she had no desire for Douglas, that was certain.

“You all going out on the town? Celebrate the show?”

Melanie was looking at her. Charlene shrugged very slightly. If Mel wanted to bring him into things, she could deal with it.

“Yeah, Douggie,” her cousin returned, “we’re on our way to a party at the Hamptons. I’m afraid it’s Oakshues only, though.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment. “Right. Sure. See you guys.” Then he turned and disappeared.

What did one do, when one had to write everything down one wanted to say—but a moment came along where things should be said quickly? Write fast, apparently…

“You didn’t have to. I wouldn’t have minded.”

“I know.” And she said nothing more.

Sarah started talking about something or other as they walked to the parking lot. Charlene walked next to Melanie, wondering what her cousin was thinking. By the time they got to the new Mustang, Charlene knew what her cousin was thinking—recognizing the wistful expression in her eyes. Well, if all I had to drive was an old station wagon…

When they got to her baby, Charlene tapped Melanie’s shoulder to get her attention and handed her the car keys.

“Really?”

Do I know what I’m doing here? Before she could think too hard about it Charlene nodded, and Mel happily got into the driver’s seat. Sarah was already in the back, and the owner of the car tried not to get too uptight as her cousin fired up the engine.

Of course, it turned out that Melanie was a more considerate and careful driver than Charlene herself—and they had no problems but rather a good, bonding-with-sisters sort of trip home. For some reason not being able to respond except in yes and no didn’t create a problem.

Charlene found herself thinking about it as they turned off the highway. How nice it was to be around people, around friends—sisters, almost—who accepted her without making things difficult. Without making a problem of her handicap.

Not that basic sign language was that difficult…but like any language, the receiver had to speak it too.

Very few had bothered.

So even despite certain aunts who seemed bound and determined to make life difficult…I wonder if I haven’t got something to hold on to here.

The rest of the evening was divided between puzzle and chick-flick, and in the end even Melanie admitted that it had been fairly pleasant. Charlene tried not to let the surprise show on her face as her elder cousin wished her goodnight. She sat in her room just thinking things over for a long time, and the last thought she had about everything as she slipped downstairs at 2 a.m. was—Maybe she’s not as much like her mother as I thought.

Speak of the devil…her aunt was sitting at the kitchen table brooding over a cup of coffee. Charlene thought about sliding over to the other kitchen to get her glass of water, but—she had to live with the woman, and they were family. Maybe there’s a real person in there I’ve been too afraid to seek out. Maybe this is my chance. She wasn’t going to put money down on that, but…

Her aunt had a magazine in front of her, but she wasn’t looking at it. She was moodily staring off into space, though she did look up when her niece sat down. “Hello, Charlene. You’re up late. Did you like the performance?”

Charlene nodded, and since her pad was upstairs, wrote on the back of a junk-mail envelope that had been lying on the table. “R U ok?”

Her aunt read the note and smiled a very strange and very sad kind of smile, shrugged, and said nothing more.

Don’t make me drag it out of you, lady, I’m too tired. She tried again, using up most of the rest of the space. “Show go well? Managers?”

The voice her aunt spoke with sounded like it was a hundred miles away. “They didn’t say, really. We’re all going to sit down and talk next week.”

It wasn’t the best time. Yet it was the first time Charlene could remember that she might have some of her aunt’s constantly divided attention. It was the best chance that had come up so far.

So, she found another scrap of paper, the back of a discarded grocery receipt, and plunged in.

“Did you save anything of my father’s? The letters he wrote you?”

As soon as she pushed the note under her aunt’s nose, Charlene knew it was a mistake. She didn’t know why, but she would have given anything to take the words back. Too soon. The wrong time. I don’t know what—but I just blew it.

Elizabeth read the words, and a muscle in her cheek twitched. In a voice that was very calm—much different than a minute before—she said, “I don’t think I know what you’re talking about, Charlene. Sorry.”

That seemed to be it. Charlene waited for a full minute, then shook her head and stood up. There was no way to take it back. I think I’ve had enough.

She was almost out of the room when her aunt spoke again, and her voice had returned to its distant land. “It’s nice of you to ask about the troupe. Maybe things will turn out well.

“I’m not very hopeful, though.”

Charlene stopped to look at her, but Aunt Elizabeth hadn’t turned, as if she didn’t even care if Charlene heard her or not. She just kept staring out into space.

The voice had been so lonely, the figure at the table so forlorn, that Charlene found herself almost running to get away from it. She was still hearing the desperate voice when she fell asleep.

She was fond of sleeping through the night, to be sure, but some opportunities were too good to sleep through, and when Charlene awoke the next morning just before dawn, her angel night-light just revealing the edge of her skate case, she figured the chances of finding an empty house were pretty good.

There’s an ice-rink-in-a-barn calling my name.

A large dog with very loud toenails clicking against the hardwood floors accompanied her as she slipped downstairs and towards the rear of the house. Passing that strange, locked door again, the one nobody ever went inside—Charlene still remembered that lonely voice and wondered what it was that made Elizabeth Oakshue so sad.

A very large house, nice stuff, seemed to indicate that her aunt had it all—but there was a husband and father that nobody, even Melanie, had mentioned, who seemed to just be gone. And Sarah had been created with another man who also didn’t seem to mean anything to Elizabeth anymore…

The way her cousin talked about the woman it seemed obvious that little love was lost between Melanie and her mother…Charlene remembered the after-airport conversation and shook her head. Even little Sarah, a treasure if Charlene had ever seen one, just seemed to be a bother.

Reaching the back door, she refilled Toepick’s water bowl. Quietly unlocking the back door and easing her way out, she ran across the yard under cloudy, dark-gray skies to the barn door.

She tried to stop thinking about it as she put her skates on in the warm barn.

What did Elizabeth Oakshue care about? Herself, probably—leaving two kids with a nanny to go off to a clinic for months, without a word of explanation, Charlene recalled—but the way her aunt went about life…

Granted, Charlene hadn’t known her long. So maybe I’m wrong about all of this, really. And yet—being unable to speak had forced Charlene to be a bystander much more than most people, and she had used her time to study others when they weren’t looking. She might be wrong, but Elizabeth Oakshue didn’t seem like she was just selfish, that she didn’t care about anyone else.

If Charlene had to guess, she would have said that Elizabeth Oakshue couldn’t care about anyone else. That it seemed like she almost wanted to, at times, but for whatever reason it wasn’t an option. Caring about people wasn’t something she had the courage to do.

Or maybe she’s just weird. Maybe I don’t have a clue. With an effort, Charlene made herself stop thinking about it. There was ice waiting!

Mmmmmm… The first push was like heaven. She spun tightly on one skate and then drifted suddenly into a sweeping turn, and then swung around at one end of the rink to skate to the other as fast as she could just for fun. She swept along the retaining wall, and with grace and an ease that would have made her father smile, she knew, Charlene kicked up into a double axel, leaving the ice and landing once again.

It was hard to think of her father when she skated, and before the tears started she turned her mind to other things. The Blades and Satin show came to mind, and idly Charlene tried a few of the spins and special moves that her aunt had given to the crowd the evening before. She felt a pang of sadness again to remember the look in Elizabeth’s eyes even when she was on skates.

Even then, she couldn’t be happy.

When Charlene looked up after another spin to see Elizabeth Oakshue herself, standing right at the edge of the ice, framed by the open barn door, she wondered for a moment if she was seeing things. Daydreaming because she had thought about the woman so much that night.

She slid to a stop, and blinked, and Elizabeth was still there.

For a very long moment they just looked at one another.

When her aunt spoke, at first, she seemed very small and vulnerable. “You…you can’t be here.”

Before Charlene could think of anything to say—or how to say it—the little girl disappeared, replaced with fierce and growing anger. “You have to leave, Charlene. You don’t belong in here. Do you hear me? You don’t belong!”

Charlene didn’t know what was going on—she had expected Aunt Elizabeth to be grouchy about her early morning skating, maybe, but this? She pushed herself to the edge of the ice, wondering how to explain…and why? Was it her late-night question? Her father?

It didn’t look like her aunt would listen even if there had been words to say. “Out! Right now—are you listening to me?” Elizabeth grabbed her arm as Charlene stepped off the ice, grabbed her hard, hurting her, nearly screaming, “You get out of here right now!

They were nose to nose, and before she wrenched her arm away, before she fumbled to get her skates off and run from this crazy woman, Charlene stood there, as still as ice, looking Aunt Elizabeth in the eye. Looking straight at her fierce and terrible anger.

And worse, seeing for just a moment something else behind the rage, something deeper…

The moment passed and she ran, first to the bench to fumble with her laces and yank the custom blades off her feet, and then away from the barn. The angry yell rang in her ears as her bare feet left prints in the icy grass.

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