The Silent Skater

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Chapter Eight

When nine o’clock Monday morning arrived, Charlene had already been skating for an hour and a half. She had thought about it when she woke at seven—and had a strong feeling that skating for Blades and Satin, and more importantly Elizabeth Oakshue, might not be a whole lot of fun.

So, she had a good long skate where she didn’t make a single turn, take a single leap into the air that she didn’t feel like.

Hope that’ll do it, Charlene thought to herself as the clock on the wall turned to nine and the door opened to admit Elizabeth Oakshue, Melanie Oakshue, and Douglas Hawkins.

It was quite a crew. Elizabeth was as impassive as ever, and as regal; Douglas looked really serious, but also a little excited for some reason; and Melanie…

Melanie looked mad. She looked really mad. Oh, dear. What did that mean?

Charlene found out soon enough. The first surprise of the day, though, came from Doug.

The Oakshues stayed by the door for a moment, discussing something or other that Charlene couldn’t hear any of. But Doug wasted no time changing into his skates and sliding out onto the ice.

Charlene managed to completely ignore her traitorous heart’s little flutter when handsome Doug stopped next to her for a moment, called, “Good morning,” and kept going. She didn’t think it was inappropriate to watch him, though, since they’d be working together and everything.

Something was different. Or the same. That makes a ton of sense, Charlene Elizabeth, she told herself. Until she figured it out.

It was like the night so long before where Douglas had stopped to pick up one of the Perkins children. It was the change in his attitude, so different then—and now—from the surly, grumpy young man to whom she had first been introduced.

When he hit the ice, Douglas Hawkins changed.

I wonder why, Charlene thought to herself as she turned, and let her blades start moving again, waiting for Elizabeth to quit arguing with her daughter and start her niece’s training.

The end finally came with Melanie slamming her way out of the barn, and Elizabeth changing into her skates and taking the ice like nothing had happened. “Ready to work, Charlene?”

With practiced ease, Charlene curtsied on her skates—no easy feat. Answer enough for you?

“Good. I know October seems like a long way off, but it’s only five months and we have a lot to do.”

Understood, Auntie. Get on with it. Yet at the same time, the realization that in five months she would be skating out into an arena filled with people…it suddenly seemed like very little time to prepare.

“I think first we’ll skate a few turns together, so I can fully understand the extent of your skills and what you still need to learn. I don’t think you’ll work with Douglas until next week, possibly the one after that.”

Time out? Douglas?

Elizabeth looked curiously at her, and then her face cleared. “Of course—I apologize, Charlene, I’ve gotten ahead of you. I’ve decided that instead of having Melanie skate with Douglas, as was my original intention this next season, she will have her Bear chasing scene and then the dance of her own that she has always pestered me for,” she just kept going without even a breath, and Charlene knew where Sarah got it from, “and you will join Doug for two of his now three dances. In the first you will be the Reluctant Princess, playing coy and running from his love,” all of this she rattled off like it was the current weather, “then he will have his solo dance, the Lonely Suitor, and then you will return to pledge your love together. Sound like fun?”

Umm… Kinda yes and absolutely no, at one and the same time. Charlene settled for a shrug. This should prove interesting.

Douglas, who was obviously not surprised by any of these revelations, skated up and stopped next to Charlene. She got another chance to see how different he was. It’s starting to creep me out, really.

“Elizabeth,” he asked quietly, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier, but with these changes you’ve basically got two new dance numbers in the set. Is something going to have to be cut to compensate?”

“Yes. I’ve decided to shorten my own set, the ending, down to the final dance alone.” There was something in her voice that Charlene didn’t understand. Until Elizabeth explained it, with arched eyebrow. “According to management, I’m promoting myself a little too much for the good of the company.”

“Huh.”

I’m with Doug. What do you say to something like that?

“Do you have any objections?” Elizabeth was looking at her.

If I did, how would I tell you, out here on frozen ground without my notepad? Charlene was going to have to think about that. Fortunately, she didn’t, not really…although she didn’t have a clue how skating with a partner would go. Most especially this particular partner.

At least now she probably understood why Melanie was so upset. Wonder how this will affect cousin relations.

It was a lot to take in at once, and there was little time to think about it before Elizabeth was skating away and calling for Charlene to follow. Then they began a long series of trying this jump and that, this spin, that turn, and how fast she could go across the arena itself, and how high she could get and whether this jump could be performed as a double, or a triple…

Literally three hours later Charlene noticed, to her shock, that it was noon. She was sweating profusely into her red sweatshirt and jeans, and some of her hair had come free of the ponytail to stick to her face. She pushed it back into place, drained a bottle of water, and waited for more.

While she waited she had time to think about a problem. What it was, she couldn’t quite…and that was bugging the everloving daylights out of her, not knowing, but…

There had been plenty of chances in the three hours to notice. Something happened to her, to her skating, every time her thoughts, her focus left the specific task at hand. When she got into the flow of the program, of what Elizabeth wanted from her, Charlene’s thoughts naturally drifted to the future, and what it would be like to perform these turns, that jump in front of thousands of people…

And then she would lose track of what she was doing, and stumble or pause or miss a jump. Every time. She didn’t really know why, either, but she certainly didn’t like it.

Don’t you start cracking up on me, Charlene Elizabeth, just because of the people surrounding you!

She had hardly been aware of Douglas during the morning, just enough to know vaguely where he was so she didn’t bump into him, but as she made herself stop worrying, Charlene realized that he was sort of watching her again. Still skating, still practicing, but… Charlene found herself wondering if he thought she was any good.

God, I hate this.

She was sure she did.

It was almost fun to notice that Elizabeth was sweating too, her regal demeanor at half-mast. And the same look was in her eyes that Charlene had seen in the study Friday night. Half wonder, or maybe excitement, and half fear. Charlene grabbed her notepad and walked on her blades over to where Elizabeth was sitting, sat next to her. They both watched Doug for awhile.

Elizabeth spoke first. “You’re very good.”

“Thanks. Dad really taught me a lot.”

Her aunt’s next statement was perhaps not surprising. “I see a great deal of him in you.”

Charlene dearly wanted to know the subtext behind that sentence, and tried to catch her aunt’s tone, but it was unrevealing. She was thinking about the past, but if she was sad, or angry, or what…

“I can’t come up with anything important that you need to know and haven’t learned. I guess we’ll be able to start you with Doug much earlier, perhaps by Wednesday.”

“Whatever’s best.” After thinking about it for a moment, Charlene thought of a relevant question…that might crack open a door she was interested in. “Is it difficult, learning to work with a partner?” Like you had to with my dad, for instance?

It didn’t work—at least, not the way Charlene had hoped. “Everything in life that’s worth doing is a challenge, Charlene—but you have the skills.” Her words could have been very encouraging, but her tone was flat, toneless, I’ve-said-all-this-before. “All you need is the training. As long as you’re willing to work for it, partner dancing will be one of your best skills by October.”

And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go. A wonderful answer that Auntie Liz had just rattled off, probably without even thinking about Charlene specifically. Certainly without reflecting on her own past.

Because of that answer, Charlene was very uncertain whether or not she should ask her One Burning Question…but she was as close to her aunt now as she had yet been. She decided to chance it.

“Your letter mentioned compensation?”

“Yes, Charlene.” Elizabeth didn’t seem fazed by the question. Perhaps she had expected it. “We have a standard contract for skaters. We can go over it tonight after dinner, and if you have any questions…” the rest was open-ended. Seemed pretty simple.

“I’m not concerned about the contract—but I do have a request, if you would consider it.” Suddenly her heart was fluttering. This possibly existing stack of letters was so important to her that she couldn’t think about it for long periods of time. It could so easily have been burned or thrown away so long ago.

On top of that, what would the reminder of the past, one that she couldn’t just overlook, what kind of affect would that have on Elizabeth Oakshue? Melanie’s story about her mother after Charlene’s parents had died had been so confusing. And the fear in her eyes…

Elizabeth read her question while Charlene thought all of this. “What request would that be?”

And suddenly Charlene knew. It was a mistake. Again. She couldn’t take it back now, she couldn’t say never mind…

She could only do it, and cringe inside. “Mel mentioned once that my father wrote to you some before he died. Because of how everything happened, I don’t have anything of his. Is there any chance that you know where those letters are? That I might see them?”

The damage, whatever it would be, was too late to take back, so Charlene took the opportunity to study her aunt’s eyes while she read the request. And just like that, with a snap so clear it should have been audible, Elizabeth retreated. As she read the question, as she considered what her niece was asking, the walls came down and the ice formed over, double thick.

Elizabeth handed the paper back, her green eyes blank pools. “That was a very long time ago, Charlene. Like I told you before, those letters are gone.”

God, I didn’t even remember. I asked her months ago, didn’t I? And that was that. In fact, just asking the question had turned the day onto a whole different page. After a terse, silent lunch they all went back to work, but Elizabeth had no words of praise for her niece that afternoon. The best that Charlene could manage was good enough to avoid criticism, which was otherwise coming at her every time she moved.

By the time the day’s work was over, she was regretting the entire conversation.

Whether or not she was going to be heartbroken over her aunt’s words was still in question. Charlene thought hard about it while she showered the hours of practice away. Those letters are gone. Either she’s telling the truth or she’s not. I’m not prepared to just believe her, not when she gets all closed off like that.

But even if she is lying, that gets me no closer to what I want. Charlene toweled off and cleared a space in the fogged mirror to look at herself. Trying to understand her own thoughts. Unless I’m willing to start burgling the house…and I’m not…I guess…I’ve got to just accept what she said, do my best for her, and see what happens.

Dark blue eyes regarded her quietly, an expression of doubt and disbelief. Then Charlene leaned forward to rest her forehead against the mirror, her hands tight on the edge of the vanity. That really sucks.

But she had no other choice. It came down to more than the letters—if she so dearly wanted family, real family, either she stuck it out here or tried somewhere else.

And at least she had something to offer here, which had never really seemed true in all her previous somewhere elses…

And Sarah loves me. Charlene gave those dark blue eyes another look. That was something.

So, the easiest thing to do now, in the hour or so before Required Dinner Time, would be to find Sarah wherever she might be in this maze and have a good time with her. Be loved.

But Charlene knew, as she dressed and left her room, that the easiest thing would not be the right thing.

Because the Friday before, and even last night, she had been working on a relationship with her older cousin. That same cousin that had stormed off mad this morning and might likely be mad at her right now.

Maybe Melanie would yell at her. Maybe the reason Mel had been mad had nothing whatsoever to do with her.

There was only one way to find out.

Hoping to introduce one bright note into what might be a difficult conversation, Charlene took her dog with her as she walked through the halls to her cousin’s room, hoping that Melanie would be in there.

She was. Charlene heard music drifting down the hall from the almost-closed door, a singer she didn’t immediately recognize. She let go of Toepick’s collar, and he wasted no time panting down the hall and nosing into Melanie’s room. Charlene heard “Hey, boy!”, the music cut off, and then the sounds of a thorough petting met her as she walked up to the door.

That sounds about right. After giving it another moment, she leaned around the doorjamb to poke her head into the room.

Melanie didn’t look up right away, still bent over her dog. If Charlene was any judge, her cousin had been crying. Finally, as Toepick enjoyed having his ears scratched, she spoke. “You don’t play fair, Charlene Oakshue.”

Then Charlene knew everything was all right. That Melanie at least wasn’t mad at her. She stepped the rest of the way into the room and sat down on the floor by her dog. Looking Melanie in the eyes, she saw that her guess was right. Melanie had been crying.

Do you want to talk about it? Unspoken, the question nevertheless hung heavily in the small room.

“You’d think I’d be happier, Char.” Melanie sighed, running her free hand through her own short hair. “I finally get what I want, what I’ve been pushing for just forever, but…well…”

Spit it out, Mel, I can’t exactly ask for it. And it really wasn’t the time to be writing things down.

“But like you said, all those weeks ago…I think I’m in love with him.”

Was it normal for females to talk like this? Sentences that started in one world and ended in another? Obviously, Charlene hadn’t had enough practice talking to her own kind. Ha ha, talking to my own kind. I’m hilarious.

Not that Charlene didn’t really understand what her cousin meant. That damnably difficult Douglas Hawkins. He was what, twenty-two? And Mel was what, sixteen? Didn’t that make pretty much everything they might want to do illegal anyway?

Yeah, tell her that. Perfect.

As it was, Charlene didn’t write anything, just kept listening, and though it took some time Melanie finally spilled more about how she really thought she felt about Doug Hawkins. Including the fact that he had never led her on or done much more than occasional harmless flirting or joking around.

“But we’ve been dancing together for years. You get so close when you do that, you share so much. He’s the only guy—the only person, really, who comes close to understanding me.” It looked like Melanie wanted to cry again, and Charlene was betting she hated herself for showing such terrible weakness. “I’ve never really skated up to the level that mother wants, and obviously you can, and there that goes. You know, I really wish I could be mad at you, Char.”

Now it was time to get out the pad. “Frankly, I’m surprised you aren’t.”

Melanie sighed. “I tried to be, all last night and this morning, but it’s not your fault you’re better, and if Douggie has any interest in me it won’t matter if we still dance together, will it?”

Now Charlene was the one who was hiding, not wanting Melanie to see the pity in her eyes. You’re kidding yourself, girlfriend. I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s not you he’s interested in. Without flattering herself—because she really didn’t like it, at least not much—Charlene knew the truth.

But she couldn’t tell Melanie that. They were barely holding onto a friendship as it was.

Time for a change of subject. Charlene looked around, examining her surroundings for really the first time.

Her cousin’s room was an interesting place. There was little to do with ice-skating in the posters on her wall or the surprisingly tidy desk. She liked animals, that was certain. Pictures from wildlife habitats nestled next to movie posters covered with flyers for animal shelters. On the desk was a neat pile of pop CD’s—next to a stack of record albums. Charlene got off the floor and picked up the first one she saw—Frank Sinatra.

That was the singing floating down the hallway before.

Melanie picked up on the question without Charlene having to write it down. “Yes, I have a working record player, and no jokes! I’ve been known to drop by thrift stores, and I like that kind of music.” Her look dared Charlene to laugh at her. The older girl sat down on the bed and dug for her pad.

“Nobody’s laughing—I’m just surprised.”

Melanie said, “Hey, speaking of surprises…”

Yes? Charlene didn’t have to write it down.

Her cousin had a strange look on her face, somehow combining the excitement of a secret with apprehension. Like maybe her idea wouldn’t be well received. “I’ve noticed—I mean, tell me if I’m wrong, but it really seems like you get frustrated when I’m talking and you’re always writing.”

Uh, yeah, duh, Charlene didn’t say. She just nodded.

“I thought about what you said once. How if I came up with any better way to communicate, you wanted to know?”

Charlene nodded again. Where is this going?

“Put your pad away.”

Obediently, she did as told and looked up again to see a brand-new notebook sitting on the bed. So it’s a notebook. So I have to write because I can’t speak. So…what?

She must have looked confused. “Open it,” Melanie urged.

On the first page was a handwritten sentence. “So talk to me, already!”

Charlene looked up to see Melanie grinning, holding a pen of her own. Before she could think of what to do, her cousin took the notebook and added to her first sentence. “This is the only thing I could think of, Char—I hope you like it?”

Charlene looked at the notebook, then up at Melanie, then down at the notebook again…and found herself weeping.

“Oh god, are you okay?” Melanie looked very concerned and forgot to write it down.

Charlene wiped her eyes, and nodded, but it was at least a minute until she was okay enough to stop. When she was, she leaned over to give her cousin a fierce hug. This was returned—a little stiffly and a lot reluctantly, but Melanie didn’t pull away. When Charlene let go she wrote.

“Like it? Mel…I don’t know what to say. I feel stupid for crying, but…in nine years of having this handicap, nobody, n-o-b-o-d-y has ever thought of doing this before. I’ve never thought of doing this before.”

Mel reclaimed the notebook for a moment. “I was afraid it would be goofy or weird or something. Or maybe you’d think I was making fun of you.’

“No—this means so much to me, Mel. It’s like—” how could she say it? How to describe such a gift? “Like you’re dealing with my handicap on my level, instead of trying to make me get up to yours. It’s so frustrating trying to talk to people when they can just speak, just zip and they’re done, and then I have to write back forever.” That took some time indeed to complete, but Melanie didn’t stare off into space or tap her fingers. She just waited until Charlene was finished.

“And see, I wanted you to know that I really did want to talk. I wanted you to know that I care.”

Charlene didn’t know what to say to that. “You really do, don’t you?” She was sorry she wrote it, hoping it didn’t sound sarcastic or anything. Too late to take it back now, dimwit!

Yet Melanie seemed to understand. “I really do. It surprises me too, I guess.” She handed over the pad, then snatched it back to write a bit more. “I’m out of practice.”

Well, Charlene couldn’t let that go unchallenged. “Even Sarah? Doug?”

“Yeah, maybe…but sometimes I almost have to be a mom to Sarah, and I don’t know what’s going on with Doug. I’ve just never had anything like this—like maybe sisters.”

“I like that. Sisters.”

“Me too.” They studied one another for a silent moment. Charlene heard the front door slam. Her auntie Liz was probably around—hopefully she wouldn’t feel the need to come up and bother them.

“I hope we end up having some things in common—and I hope you don’t get sick of my mom and me and just drive away.”

“No promises. About your mom, I mean.”

“Well, nobody’d blame you if you bailed. If I had a way out of here, I’d be gone so fast…honestly, I think that’s one of the reasons I fell for Doug. He could get me out of here.”

Rather than get drawn into yet another discussion about Mr. Hawkins, Charlene pulled at the other end of Melanie’s words. “You remember that first practice I attended?”

“Sure.”

“Remember what you said?”

Mel gave her a look and wrote. “That was a long time ago…”

Charlene hadn’t forgotten. “You said you didn’t care if you ever skated again.”

“Sounds like me.”

“Did you really mean that?” Never skate again—even if Elizabeth could take the fun out of anything, for Charlene not being able to skate was like not being able to breathe. Even the few months she had lived in Florida when she was sixteen, she had still managed to find ice. It took two hours of driving, but still…

“You mean, with our whole family so great at ice-skating, how could I think of not doing it anymore?” Charlene read this and shrugged at her cousin, who kept writing. “It used to be fun, a long time ago, but I just don’t care now.

“I spent so many years trying to be good enough for her, good enough that she would notice me, or be proud of me, or”

Or love me. Melanie hadn’t been able to write the words, but they still rang out clearly. “So why keep skating if you hate it? Couldn’t you do something else with your life?”

“I keep skating because mom needs me, and even if I’ll never be good enough for her, I’m good enough to be in the program…and as miserable as life can be around here, it would be worse if I bailed on her precious Blades and Satin team. But when I get the chance, when I can get out of here—”

While Charlene read this, Melanie left the bed and grabbed a book off her bedside table, handing it to her cousin when she looked up. Macintosh Veterinary Studies.

“This is what you really want.”

“It is now.”

Charlene could see it—Melanie had loved Toepick right from the start and had once or twice taken better care of the dog than his owner, to Charlene’s embarrassment. Not that her dog didn’t love everybody, but Charlene had still seen the way Melanie had with animals. It made perfect sense, too. The girl needed love from something, somewhere, didn’t she?

Melanie’s own words confirmed this feeling. “Animals just make more sense than people,” she spoke softly, her hand buried in Toepick’s golden fur. “I didn’t have to do anything for him…he thought I was okay, right from the start.”

It was one of those times that Charlene wished she had the words, vocally or on paper, to tell Melanie how special she was, how much she deserved to be loved despite anybody’s cold mother. Every little thing she came up with, while Melanie continued petting Toepick, not looking at her, was so cliched, so stilted, that Charlene knew it would sound silly.

And in truth, her cousin might not have listened anyway, no matter what she said.

It was Melanie who kept things moving. “So, Char,” her cousin finally wrote, switching tracks with a vengeance, “What happened when you were nine? I really want to know—if you’re ready to talk.”

Now it was her turn to look away, maybe run and hide. She had told Melanie that she wasn’t ready…but would she ever be? Mel had a right to know, and every little story would, hopefully, bring them more into being family, maybe bring about a day when Charlene could get her cousin to believe in herself…

“There isn’t a whole lot I can tell. It would be a better story, maybe, if we had been driving home from ice-skating together at Watson’s Pond or something, but the reason for the trip was so stupid. Mom wanted to see a movie, and because I had gotten my homework done early and been very good they let me come along even though it was a school night.”

It was a lot to write, and she took a moment to think about the rest as Mel read the notebook page. “We never made it. Along the way, this pizza delivery car suddenly veered across the road and head-on into Dad’s.” She hadn’t understood what was happening and remembered very little except how quickly life could change. “I was the only one who survived the accident. Nobody knows why the girl driving the other car left her side of the road. The cops thought maybe she fell asleep.

“I remember the lights coming towards us, and an awful impact—” which she still woke up feeling, sometimes, “And the next thing I knew I was in a hospital. I didn’t know where I was, for a little while I didn’t know who I was, and when I tried to ask the nurse to help me…”

That had been one awful day. She had to stop writing to think about it again, and that wasn’t a lot of fun.

“If you don’t want to talk about it, Char, I understand.”

But she might as well. Things about that day still hurt, and perhaps the more she let go of it all the less it would bother her. Nine years later—it should be obvious that Mom and Dad weren’t coming back. “I don’t want to, but I need to.” Charlene looked in her cousin’s eyes and saw that she understood.

“When I tried to ask the nurse, nothing came out of my mouth. There had been a trauma of some kind to my head, but it wasn’t even bandaged by the time I woke up—the next morning. Just a concussion.

“But somehow, because of the accident, maybe because my mind couldn’t take the loss…I can’t speak anymore. The weird thing is, it happened before I knew about my parents. Knew for sure. As soon as I woke up, before I knew what had happened, my first request for water or my Mom or whatever wouldn’t come—just like that my voice was gone.”

Charlene had been so surprised and frustrated at not being able to speak that it was almost a half-hour after she woke up before she wrote a question about her parents. And waited while the doctor and nurse looked at one another…and even at nine years old, had known immediately.

“They didn’t know how to tell me. Here I am, nine years old, already throwing a temper tantrum because I’ve lost my voice and the doctors don’t know why or when it’ll come back—and now they have to tell my both my parents are dead?”

“I’m sorry, Char. Sorry you lost them. Sorry you lost your voice. Did you ever find out what happened? With your voice?”

“The best any medical professional could do was call it ‘Unspecific Systemic Aphasia’, which was doctorspeak for ‘Your brain’s not connected to your mouth anymore and we don’t know why and can’t fix it.’ By the time they unanimously came up with that, I was living with my grandparents. After two days in the hospital they arrived from Indiana. My legs had been broken in the crash, and everybody thought with some kind of treatment my voice would return, so I didn’t get out of hospital until after the funeral.” And that, pretty much, was the story. Nobody knew what had caused the strange accident, nobody knew why her voice had strangely disappeared, and no-one had known why her aunt and cousin and grandparents—the entire Oakshue side of the family—had failed to show up for the funeral.

At least that last bit had been explained.

“I wish I could’ve been there.”

“Me too. I needed a friend.”

“So did I.”

Charlene’s eyes met Melanie’s, and there was really nothing else to do at that moment than hold one another and cry for awhile. So they did, as Melanie’s tough heart seemed very vulnerable for that strange time. For Charlene it was only her feminine instincts that clued her in that it was such a time—she had never had anybody to cry with before. Not in the previous ten years.

Charlene could only imagine what Melanie was thinking or feeling. She hoped this friendship...this sisterhood would last long enough to start understanding how Melanie felt about things.

Perhaps if she understood Cousin Mel, her Aunt Elizabeth would make a bit more sense.

A yawn shared by both cousins broke up their bonding. Melanie laughed, and said, “Well, I—oh!” She grabbed up the pad once more.

“Sorry. Forgot for a moment.”

Charlene wanted to hug her again. “You don’t have to write everything to me…Mel, I really appreciate this. I appreciate you.” It was awkward—she didn’t know what else to say. How to tell someone that she had already been a better friend than almost anybody that came before?

Not with a notepad, that’s for sure. But she would find a way. That night, however, it was enough to be friends.

Sisters.

It was dinnertime, and nobody wanted to offend Her Highness by being late. But Melanie kept her notebook, promising to carry it and a pen with her from then on. Charlene followed her downstairs, wiping away a fresh set of tears. She would never have believed her cousin capable of such a nice gift. Maybe I need to learn to start trusting people.

There’s a thought.

There was still black ice on the road, though. Once again Charlene felt Doug’s eyes on her during dinner, and she minded a lot less than last time.

What if it comes down to Melanie or Doug? Not that I really feel that much of anything for him, but…

But even Melanie didn’t know that Charlene had never been in love. She had never been kissed—no guy, drawn by even her wonderful looks, had cared enough to work around her handicap.

Not once.

And Doug was cute and loved skating and was somehow becoming less repulsive every time she saw him.

This could get really bad.

It was the sort of thing to make one scream in frustration…if one had the luxury of screaming.

I don’t even have the strength to go skate tonight. Bummer. The best she could do, after dinner, was spend some time with Sarah, go for a quiet May evening drive to sort out her thoughts—which didn’t help—and back to the mansion for a good night’s sleep.

It promised to be a tiring week.

Yet for a very long time, Charlene could not sleep for staring at the angel lighting up the corner of her room. The angel that reminded her, every time she saw it, of her beautiful and gracious mother.

I just don’t know.

Do Dad’s letters still exist? Is there anything for me here without them? Is there anything for me anywhere?

I just don’t know.

For once, despite glowing as cheerfully and peacefully as ever, the angel gave her no comfort.

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