Charlie's room was not like any typical boys' room, or so said Sylvia. Rilah had never been in any boy's room except for Charlie's and Tyron's bedrooms so she could not really compare.
Charlie's room was neat and organized, not a dirty sock found on the floor. Even his clothes were folded and neatly packed. Of course he did not iron them himself but he kept them neat, ever to Sylvia's bafflement.
Rilah threw herself onto the bed, bouncing for a few seconds before stretching out. She sighed and closed her eyes, wishing that she could be there forever. She heard shuffling as Charlie moved in and out of the room. The sounds were so soothing that she was almost snoozing when Charlie shook her awake.
"Hey. Let's get this fixed. Come on" he pulled her up, leading her into his en suite bathroom.
"Here, sit", he pushed a chair towards her. Grabbing the first aid kit, he took out cotton balls and antiseptic. Rilah watched him with lidded eyes as he sat on the edge of the bath tub and surprised her by pulling Rilah towards him. Rilah yelped, fully awake by then.
Charlie worked with precision, dabbing at Rilah's wound swiftly but gently. However he found himself getting distracted when he unintentionally looked down and saw the swell of Rilah's breasts. He began fumbling with the antiseptic and ended up dropping the bottle.
"Are you okay?" Rilah asked him.
"Yeah . . . I'm fine", he said hastily but kept his eyes diverted from Rilah. He couldn't bear for Rilah to know what was distracting him. He continued with his work and placed the plaster across the scratch beneath Rilah's left eye.
"There", he smoothed the plaster, letting his thumbs remain on Rilah's face for a little while longer. His eyes met Rilah's, whose heart was hammering away, beyond excited by the way Charlie was looking at her. His thumbs started stroking her cheeks, caressing Rilah. Although she knew it was wrong, she could not pull away and soon they were leaning closer to each other.
"Is this bad timing?" a silky sarcastic voice asked from the doorway. Sylvia was leaning against the door frame, her eyes bouncing from one person to the other suspiciously. Both Charlie and Rilah jumped away; Charlie busied himself with packing the kit and Rilah picked up the dirty cotton balls and threw them away, dashing for the door.
"We were just fixing up my eye, you weren't disturbing", Rilah murmured.
"You looked like you were doing more than that." She smirked, looking at Charlie mischievously. "You guys should just date already! Mom and dad love you Rilah. They would even kill for you guys to get married."
"Shut up, Sylvia, and get out of my room", he growled at her. Rilah was glad for the sibling riff raff; it took the attention away from her, although the issue was about her.
"Whatever Charlie. Come on Rye, we have clothes to assess", she pulled Rilah by the hand. "And certain people to discuss." Rilah groaned. She had been subjected to Sylvia's Inquisitions too many times. She risked a look back at Charlie and saw him smiling, a smile that clearly said, 'Good luck. You'll need it.'
"So, spill it. You and Charlie are dating, right? There's no need to deny it; I approve."
She jumped on her beanbag while Rilah sat on her bed.
"There's nothing to spill or approve. Your brother and I are not dating and you know it", she gave Sylvia a stern look.
Sylvia rolled her eyes, "That's what you keep saying but what I saw just proves otherwise," she nodded solemnly. "In fact, you two have that connection, that chemistry. What's stopping you guys?" She folded her arms and raised her perfectly shaped eyebrows.
Rilah stood up and went over to Sylvia's huge wardrobe.
"Let's sort out your outfit for the party."
"Oh come on, Rye! I really want an answer to this. Why are you and Charlie not giving this a shot? Heaven knows that you guys could make it work more than anyone", her voice was getting firmer, stronger and Rilah knew that there was no way she could get out of this scot free.
"Charlie and I are just friends. In fact we are much better as friends than anything more."
Rilah continued looking at clothes and throwing some onto the bed.
"How do you know?" Sylvia came to stand beside Rilah, taking out clothes too. "Have you guys tried . . . um . . . something?"
"No. We just both know what we want and that's not a relationship. An intimate one, I mean."
Sylvia sighed and slumped on the wardrobe, defeated. They worked in silence for some minutes, not realising that Charlie had been standing at the doorway and had just left.
Rilah wished she could pursue a relationship with Charlie but it was only a yearning. She could not drag Charlie into all her problems; she loved him too much. She would rather live with the regret of not having discovered what could have been than living with a heartache of having hurt Charlie.
"Okay. What kind of party is it?"
"It's a pool party. So I need something chilled right?"
She lifted up a crop top and denim shorts.
"Yes but not too chilled." Rilah took the outfit away from Sylvia and put it to the side.
"What do you feel like? Dress, shorts, skirt?"
"Okay. This dress", Rilah held up an orange dress that faded into yellow at the hem. "With a small black belt and these," she rummaged through Sylvia's shoes, ". . . wedges."
Sylvia put her chin between her index finger and her thumb, thinking. "No. Too sunset-y. It won't work."
"What do you mean sunset-y?! There's no such thing." Rilah put aside the outfit and started looking for another.
"It will make me look like the kind of girl who sits and watches the sun set." She pouted and flicked her black hair.
"There's no such thing. Why did you buy it in the first place?" She held up another outfit, which Sylvia dismissed with a vigorous shake of her head.
"It was the thing by then", and so it went for twenty minutes.
Rilah was now frustrated and she ignored Sylvia's demands while she put together one last outfit.
"Sylvie, if you say no to this one, I'm out of here." She held up a flairy skirt with different coloured stripes and a dark blue-purple vest. Then she put a light, navy blue coat and black 3-inch wedges beside the outfit.
"Rilah", Sylvia exclaimed slowly. "That looks great! You should be the one wearing that outfit." Rilah shrugged. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are an angel." She hugged Rilah tightly.
"Only a pleasure. Now let me go before you kill me."
They put back all the clothes and Rilah glanced at the wall clock; 4:10.
"I have to go Sylvie."
"Wait, I know what Cynthia did. Zac told me."
Rilah's joy deflated. "I talked to her and she eventually agreed to stop bullying you. She told me you punched her?" Sylvia had a disbelieving tone to her voice.
Rilah nodded, ashamed of her actions.
However, Sylvia smiled. "That's great. That will probably discourage her from bullying you." They went out of Sylvia's room and down the stairs.
Rilah was sure that Cynthia would not stop; in fact she would be motivated to bully Rilah even more but Rilah was not going to tell Sylvia so. Going against the school's queen bee was guaranteeing that the whole school starts hating you. She couldn't do that to her best friend.
"Bye, Charlie!" She shouted in the direction of the kitchen, where Charlie was making his food. Rilah was surprised that he didn't reply and went into the kitchen to see what was keeping him too busy to say goodbye.
"Hey, I said goodbye!" she said and smiled goofily. He didn't smile back though, instead turning from the sink and giving Rilah a blank look.
"You did? Oh, bye Rilah. See you tomorrow." He turned back to rinsing his lettuce, effectively dismissing Rilah.
Rilah scrunched up her brows, frowning. She wasn't used to Charlie speaking to her so shortly or calling her by her given name.
"Are you okay, Charlie?" She stood next to him at the kitchen island, concerned.
He glanced at her briefly. "Yeah I'm fine".
"I'm getting old out here, waiting for you two to finish your romance!" Sylvia shouted.
"Are you sure?" Rilah asked him, ignoring Sylvia. Charlie seemed to have gotten even more upset after hearing his sister call out but Rilah didn't know why.
"I said yes. Stop being clingy." Rilah stepped back, shocked. She wasn't used to Charlie being like this, throughout the seven years they had known each other. She spun on her heel, offended and angry.
"Lulu! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that," Charlie said, rushing after her. He caught up with her in the living room, just as she was about to open the door.
He grabbed her wrist, stopping her from getting out. "Look. I'm sorry I said that. I was just angry at someone but that was uncalled for." He was truly sorry but Rilah, already so insecure about herself, could not help feeling like a parasite.
"It's okay Charlie. I need to go home, it's getting late." She tried pulling her hand out of Charlie's grip.
"Don't do this, Lulu. Please. I really didn't mean it", he pleaded.
"We'll talk next time Charlie." She tugged her hand and Charlie released her. Charlie ran his fingers through his hair, frustrated at himself. Why did he have to say that? Rilah was anything but clingy; in fact he wanted more of her time. He went to his room - his food forgotten - utterly confused about his actions.
Rilah went outside, to find that Sylvia had fallen asleep on the porch chair.
"What were you and Charlie talking about that took so long?" She stretched, jumped over a fallen branch and led the way to Rilah's house.
"Nothing. Sylvia, please don't tell him who did this", she pointed to her eye.
"I won't." She told Rilah solemnly. She knew her brother like a book and it would not do Rilah any good to have Charlie storm into the school, raging fire.
They reached the driveway leading up to Rilah's home and they hugged and separated. Rilah walked up to the house, thinking about the food she had to cook and Tyron's homework, which would be on her bed by seven.
She inserted the key into the lock, only to find it open. Her heart started beating wildly and irregularly; someone was home. She could only pray it was Tyron or else she was dead.
She slowly opened the door, only to be met with a scream, "Where were you?!" and a slap across the face.
Aunt Florence was home early.