(ch 16) When You See Double (Charlotte)
December 23rd, evening
If Charlotte had to pick any month out of the entire year to be her favourite, she’d choose December. The sun was shining gloriously, and at six in the evening the sun was still as bright as noon. She supposed her only issue was her flawless pale skin and white blond hair. She got burnt way too often from being outdoors and in the sun on a daily basis. Her best friend Olivia Newton was the polar opposite of her. Her chocolate brown hair and olive skin tanned in the sun as often as she stood in it. It was something of envy for many of the girls at school. Many people liked to compare them to a yin-yang symbol. This happened so often they got referred as the yin-yang duo.
Currently, she, Olivia, and the boys, Vasily Novikov and Liam Harvey, were walking to the small beach near the school. Vasily looked a lot like her, so much so that people had assumed on many occasions that they were siblings. His blond hair was even whiter than hers, almost platinum. He had the same pale skin as her, too. Considering they both had light grey eyes, it pretty much sealed the deal. From the get-go the two of them had become an item, always going everywhere together.
Liam had recently joined their group, but he fit in pretty well, especially aesthetic wise. His golden brown hair falling down his face in soft curls and his twinkling hazel eyes hiding a mystery. It only took about a week for Liam to flow with the three of them and after that, it had been history.
She had met Vasily first, and he had jumped in like a knight in shining armour. It was in her first year at school and she had been thirteen. Charlotte had gone on a walk to explore the grounds, as was normal for new students. Her headphones had been in her ears and she hummed along to her favourite song in her usual cheerful way. It was nearing dark, and likely this was why the older boys had taken advantage. She was, after all, alone. They pushed her to the wall and had almost groped her chest when Vasily came flying out of nowhere. He kicked the boy in his side, then landed on his legs and arms like a feline. He was so small that if the boys hadn’t been caught off guard, she was sure they would have beaten both of them to a pulp. As it was, a professor had chosen that moment to show up, and the elder boys scattered. Vasily had put his arm around her and led her to safety.
It had been because of that incident that Charlotte avoided boys that might have had an interest in her. She had found out later that Vasily was gay, which was good because she didn’t want to remove him from her side. Olivia had joined her group during Christmas break. Neither of them had gone home for the holidays, so it was an excellent opportunity. They had been the only three left in their house from their age group. With nothing else to do, they ended up spending time together and getting to know her.
By this time, Vasily had already known her uneasiness around men. Secretly, he looked around for another boy that might be gay. He told her in confidence that Liam Harvey was likely gay from his polite way and soft attitude. She recruited him to her group and once she had got to know Liam, agreed with Vasily. Even though they were three, they were well known in the school for their intimidating beauty. Liam, of course, had joined them, though Vasily and Charlotte had agreed not to let Liam know they knew his secret. They respected his closeted status and would protect him if necessary. Olivia was oblivious to the entire thing, so they kept her in the dark, too.
Now the four of them spent almost all their time together.
With classes over for the day, Charlotte had wanted to get some extra sun. They would need to prepare for Christmas eve the next day, so now was their moment of freedom.
‘Where are we going exactly, Charlie?’ Vasily asked her, but followed her regardless.
‘Here is fine.’ Charlotte pointed to a small spot in the sand, removing her toe from her flip-flop to test the warmth. She smiled in delight and plopped down, staring out at the small town that surrounded the school.
‘Think they’ll let us go into town for Christmas?’ Olivia asked, setting herself down next to Charlotte.
‘We can only go to Lunaris on specific outings.’ Liam drawled, as if reading from the school handbook.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. ‘Kay, but it’s Christmas. Surely they will make an outing for whoever stays, right?’
‘They didn’t last year.’ Vasily pointed out as he set up his towel on the warm sand. Charlotte leaned on her hands, poking her head out towards the sun’s heat, basking in the hot rays.
‘That’s because last year not enough of the professors stayed behind.’ Liam reminded them.
Olivia sighed petulantly. ‘Fine, then let’s hope enough professors will be around to supervise.’
‘I don’t think that’s the reason.’ Charlotte frowned, staring into the distance. Her eyes glazing over as she noticed a train leaving the station in town. ‘Why is there a train now? The train doesn’t leave until 8 pm for whoever is going home. Even then, it would go from the opposite direction.’ Charlotte stood up and walked to the edge to see better. It was hard enough to see from the beach as it was.
‘What the heck? That was a person!’ Without warning, Charlotte jumped into the lake. Using her leg muscles, she pushed her legs away from the shallow water to get a strong start. Her arms spun faster than she had ever imagined she’d be able to swim in her life. But if that was a person, falling from a speeding train into water would give him whiplash.
She hoped what she had seen wasn’t real. Charlotte had always said that using a train with no doors made no sense. They only used those trains when moving people from town to the school because of the school being up a hill. When the kids were going to or from school, they had steam engine trains with proper closing doors. Charlotte reckoned if they did not, there would be hell to pay from the parents throwing things in anger.
Charlotte forced her eyes to open underwater to find the person who she had seen falling. Would they have been able to survive this long? She had tried to go as fast as possible! She dived deeper into the lake and a few feet away she saw a boy about her age sinking into the water, his arms down at his side. She wasn’t able to tell if he passed out or was only exhausted from treading water before sinking. Charlotte grabbed him under the arms and kicked her way back up in fierce determination. The boy’s eyes were glassy, and he didn’t respond when she patted his face. She swam towards the beach closest to where she was and immediately checked for a sign of breathing. She pressed her ear against his nose and mouth, but didn’t feel any air released against her face.
Telling herself not to panic, she pushed her hair to the side and began CPR. For the first time in her life, she was grateful for the extra classes that were mandatory for the students to take. Following the process of what she had learnt, Charlotte repeated the CPR process. After doing it twice, the boy started coughing, water flowing out of his mouth in torrents. She held him up, leaning his body forward so the water could leave his lungs. After he stopped throwing up water, Charlotte let go of him, uncertain for the first time. Her hand hovered right behind him, but she didn’t trust herself to catch him if he fell.
‘I think I’d better bring you to Madam Torrie.’ She didn’t wait for him to respond, though she doubted he could. Taking his arm, she bent down to gather him up against her, pulling him up to help him walk. She didn’t dare look at him.
Thankfully, the beach wasn’t too long and before long she had reached her friends. Immediately, they jumped up to greet her and help when they saw she carried a boy a lot bigger than her in her arms.
‘What the hell happened?’ Vasily asked her, gently removing the boy from her arms and back down to the ground. Vasily then pulled the boy’s free arm around his shoulders while Liam went to the other side for support. When they had him standing straight again, they looked towards Charlotte for clarification.
Charlotte was grateful for the level of trust in their friendship. It pleased her that even though the situation was weird; they helped first and asked after.
Olivia gathered up their things and started walking in the school’s direction. Liam and Vasily followed her while holding the boy between them.
‘I think this will take too long.’ Olivia worried her lip as the boys trudged along. ‘We have to go up the hill and it’s hard even when we don’t have to carry another person.’
‘It’s fine. We just need to get him to Madam Torrie as fast as possible. I did CPR on him, but she will know better if something else has to be done.’
‘Alright, Medical Wing it is.’ Vasily said, pouting only a little at having to lug another human being up a hill.
‘Hey buddy, can you hear us? Can you walk?’ Liam tried, but the boy groaned for his answer, shuffling his feet behind him.
‘Hey, Vasily, call your twin.’ The blond-haired boy glanced up at her in surprise. ‘Ask him to please buy us a wagon. This way we can use a transport vehicle instead of yanking him.’
Charlotte knew he would agree, as Vasily didn’t like to work too hard. Besides, she didn’t want to rely on catching a boy that was 186 cm tall if he fell on a hill.
‘Dima isn’t gay,’ Vasily warned her softly, heaving the boy over his shoulder more securely. ‘And he’s not in Camerarius like we are.’ He peeked behind to Charlotte and she winced, but nodded.
‘His house doesn’t matter, besides I don’t think he will do anything anyway since he’s your twin.’
Vasily bit his lip then nodded ‘Not to mention he’s a Mosahary. He’s too much of a sweetheart for his own good.’
‘Yeah, my younger sister Sophia isn’t in the same house as us, either. It’s fine. Please call him.’ Charlotte insisted.
‘Let’s find somewhere to sit down while we wait, there’s no point to hang around standing.’ Liam whined. Though Charlotte wanted to roll her eyes at his antics, she knew it was hard from having carried him earlier.’
They sat down on the bench while Vasily went to call Dima.
‘Can you talk?’ Charlotte asked again, prodding at the boy’s arm gently.
He grunted, coughing thickly. Nothing came out of his mouth, even though it sounded like he was coughing up his lungs.
‘You realise you could have asked your older brother to help, right?’ Olivia whispered, so that Vasily didn’t hear. ‘He’s stronger than both these babies.’
Charlotte smiled and nudged her. ‘Hush, they’re cute babies.’ She ruffled Liam’s soft curls as if to emphasise her point when Liam pouted at the insult. ‘Besides,’ her voice darkened. ‘He doesn’t like people who fall into a category that tolerates gay people. Or people that are gay at all.’
‘Jack can suck a dick.’ Olivia scowled, and Charlotte nodded her agreement.
‘He’s coming.’ Vasily sighed upon returning. ‘He said you all owe him a favour.’
Vasily sat down in front of them, gazing up at the boy, who still had a faraway look in his eyes.
‘Did anyone check him for ID? If he had a phone or anything it’s likely ruined from being in the lake.’
Charlotte had already been thinking about this, but hadn’t brought it up. It didn’t seem as if this boy was chatty, but he had a traumatic experience. It made sense he was non-communicative.
‘Please, can you at least tell us your name? I don’t want to explore your person without your permission.’
Liam, ever the polite one, tried to take a pleasant route.
‘Gabriel,’ the boy whispered, leaning back against the bench they sat on.
‘Gabriel.’ Charlotte double checked, and he nodded his head, clutching at it as if it hurt to exist.
‘Okay, well, my brother is coming now to bring a wagon that we can use to help you up the hill. It’s hard to do even on normal occasions, but if you’ve had an ordeal and it’s tough to walk, going up the hill will be impossible.’
‘Thank you.’ he said graciously. His voice was low, as if remaining in the water for the time he did was exhausting. Charlotte grimaced at the thought of being stuck underwater when you couldn’t swim. Was that his problem?
‘Are you unable to swim at all, Gabriel?’ Charlotte asked, already making plans to teach him how to swim.
‘I can’t swim, no.’ At least his voice was clearing up. Olivia was nodding approvingly while Liam watched. Vasily was on the lookout for Dima and, upon spotting him, jumped up like a bunny, bouncing to him.
‘Wow.’ he chortled, seeing the wagon that Dima had bought. ‘How much did this cost?’
The wagon was large enough to hold a few small children, or in this case, one large adult. The wheels were thick and durable, meant for all kinds of terrain, and there was fabric covering the wagon. It was like a miniature pioneer wagon. Charlotte thought it was fascinating.
‘Doesn’t matter.’ Dima replied, nodding politely to Charlotte. Vasily had likely told him about her dislike of men and, out of respect for their rapport, treated her well.
Charlotte felt relieved by one thing, at least. Dima looked exactly like Vasily, but with the stark difference of having black hair. She didn’t think she’d handle it well if they looked exactly the same.
‘Okay pay attention folks.’ Dima spoke up, pointing at the large wagon. ‘There is a place to pull from the front, and also a place to push from the back. This way everyone pitches in to help. No slacking, aye?’
Everyone stood up, Dima and Vasily helping Gabriel into the wagon.
‘I saw you fall off the train.’ Charlotte told Gabriel conversationally. At the same time, she encouraged Liam and Vasily as they walked up the hill. Olivia helped from the front while she helped from the back. Dima went back and forth between both of them, depending on who had it harder.
‘I figured.’ Gabriel groaned, his teeth chattering and his body trembling as his wet clothes clung to him. The process simplified so much that within twenty minutes they had made it to the school’s front doors.
‘Uh, we can’t bring the wagon inside the school. You’ll have to walk from here.’ Dima apologised, waving to Vasily and the others as he helped Gabriel out of the wagon.
‘No, thank you, you guys are very nice. Especially since you don’t know me.’
Dima waved away the thanks and turned away from them, leading the wagon to a different location.
‘Wait, guys, we need to get Gabriel a change of clothes. The poor bloke has been shivering since he came out of the lake. Let’s go to the school store.’
‘No, that’s dumb. He needs to go to the Medical Wing right away. One person can go get him some sweats to change into and bring them to the medical wing. We don’t need to drag him around the entire school before he gets seen by Madam Torrie.’ Liam snapped, quite vexed.
Charlotte hid her smile. Liam was doubtless the politest boy she ever met, but when he got angry, it was like his sweet side ceased to exist.
‘Okay let’s take the prince to the Medical Wing then.’ Vasily agreed. ‘Olivia, you can go with Charlotte to the school store and get him some things so he can change as fast as possible.’
They split up, Charlotte and Olivia going back down the grand staircase and to the store near the Great Hall.
‘I reckon a size medium would be good.’ Charlotte mused. She grabbed a black hoodie from the racks and a pair of sweatpants. Running up to the cashier, she put the outfit on the counter, her heart pounding heavily in her chest. ‘Please ring it to my account, Charlotte Bishop.’
The girl behind the counter nodded and handed her the clothes in a bag.
‘Good, you didn’t get one with school colours by mistake.’ Olivia giggled while the two of them ran towards the Medical Wing.
‘He will either be a Vecvagars or Finocchiaro.’ Charlotte thought calculatingly.
‘No way.’ Olivia countered as they walked up the remaining stairs to reach the Medical Wing. ‘He’s way too polite to be Vecvagars. His personality screams Mosahary like Dima.’
Charlotte shrugged and didn’t reply. She didn’t understand why she was even thinking about this boy. He didn’t seem all that frightening, but who knew what he was like when he hadn’t nearly drowned?
‘I would have said he will not be a student, but he was on the train. Only students and professors are allowed to use the train.’
‘You mean he was almost fish food. He didn’t really travel on the train for long.’
Charlotte let out a startled giggle, swatting at Olivia playfully. Then she pushed the door opened to the Medical Wing, her eyes scanning the beds for Gabriel.
Madam Torrie had helped Gabriel change into a hospital gown, but the boy was still shivering. So she handed him the sweats, and Liam helped Gabriel put it on.
‘Thank you again,’ Gabriel directed this towards her, and she inclined her head. She didn’t want the attention he was drawing from Madam Torrie’s sharp eyes, but it was too late.
‘What happened exactly?’ Madam Torrie wanted to know. Before Charlotte could answer, Gabriel spoke up, his voice was barely above a whisper. ‘She saved me. I fell from the train and she saved me.’
‘You fell from the train?’ Madam Torrie sounded angry now, though Charlotte didn’t think it was at them.
‘Are they waiting for a death to happen before they change that? I will have a word with the Headmistress!’
Madam Torrie stormed from the Hospital Wing and into her office and private rooms.
The four of them sat around Gabriel’s bed, curiously. He remained silent though, keeping his eyes averted to the ceiling.
‘Does my family know I’m okay?’ Gabriel finally spoke up again, his eyes wide and uncertain. ‘My mum probably thinks I’m dead. She’s going to cry, I don’t want her to cry.’
Olivia and Charlotte glanced at each other Olivia with a triumphant smile on her face. ‘Mosahary,’ she whispered, grinning broadly. ‘There is unquestionably no other choice.’
Charlotte chuckled and brought her hand to Gabriel’s hair, stroking it the way she frequently did with Vasily and Liam. It seemed to calm his panic, so she kept doing it until Madam Torrie came out again.
‘Miss Bishop, the Headmistress would like a word with you.’
Charlotte nodded and pointed her chin toward Gabriel. ‘Please let the Headmistress know that I am on the way. Also, if she knows where his family is, let them know he is alive, please?’
Madam Torrie nodded, a genuine smile on her face as Charlotte left.
She took her time walking to the Headmistress. It was not a good thing to be called to the Headmistress, as the Deputy Headmaster took care of general affairs. She knew she definitely did nothing wrong.
Shivering from the draughty corridors, Charlotte put on her hoodie to cover herself. Though classes were over, she didn’t think the Headmistress would appreciate if she went wearing her skimpy dress and bikini.
Unlike Gabriel, she had dried swiftly because she only had on a bikini when she jumped into the lake. Now she had her thin dress over it, but it still wouldn’t be enough. She hadn’t expected to be called to the Headmistress. Charlotte definitely would have dressed better if she knew.
She reached the fancy oak door for the Headmistress’ office and knocked softly.
‘Come in,’ the voice of the Headmistress beckoned her and she opened the door, peeking her head in anxiously.
‘Sit, Miss Bishop.’
‘Madam Torrie has informed me of the role you had in saving Mr Rossi.’
‘Yes, Headmistress Thompson,’ Charlotte replied humbly. ‘I’ve taken the lifeguard course that’s available as an extracurricular activity, so it came in handy.’
‘I’ve alerted the family, so thank you for the heads-up for that as well. They’re on the way to the Medical Wing as we speak.’
‘Good, I think Gabriel was uneasy about that.’
‘Miss Bishop, I want you to know that you will receive an award from the school. I will display it in the Hall of Good deeds for anyone that would like to see it.’
Charlotte stared at the older woman in shock. She hadn’t expected for the school to go this far for what she had done. To Charlotte’s surprise, the Headmistress hadn’t finished speaking. She gazed at Charlotte from over her spectacles, grinning broadly. ‘It will also go into your transcripts.’
‘I- well- wow! Thank you, Headmistress.’ Charlotte stuttered.
‘No matter what house Mr Rossi ends up in, I would like for you to look out for him in the future as well. You and your friends have an excellent reputation in the school. It will be good for him.’
Charlotte paled. The Headmistress didn’t know of her impressions towards men and why it scared her, but she couldn’t turn down a direct order. ‘Yes, Headmistress, I will.’
‘Alright, Miss Bishop, you may go.’
Charlotte nodded and stood up from her chair, keeping her head down. As she reached the door, the Headmistress added one last thing. ‘Thank you for being a kind human being, Charlotte. Have a good evening.’
Charlotte bowed to the Headmistress, then left the office, her head spinning.
Things were going to change this year. She could feel it. All she had to do was keep her friends close and be ready for the storm when it came.