Chapter Fourteen - Bad Girl and Loving It
It’s 7am. Charlotte’s phone rings. She emerges dishevelled from the pillows, swipes in the general direction of her phone and succeeds in knocking it to the floor. It’s still ringing.
“Argh!” Now she has to get up. Her vision is still a bit blurry with sleep. “Hello, who’s this?”
“It’s me. Gabe.”
“Why are you phoning me this early?”
“To give you plenty of time to get ready for school.”
“What are you, my mother? I’m not going.”
“So you’re going to hide out in the mall again? How long do you think you can keep this up?”
“For as long as my dad’s wallet lasts. Which is quite a while.” She sits up, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “He doesn’t actually have to work, but he likes to keep busy. Royalties from a patent of his tumble into the bank account every month.”
“You’re avoiding the subject.”
“Yes. I know. I’m hoping you’ll just forget it. Why do you care, anyway?”
“Who else cares. Abbi? Tessa?”
“Shut up. That’s unfair.”
“Being the fashion queen obviously had its perks, but true friendship wasn’t one of them.” Without warning, a little thrill runs up her spine and flushes into her cheeks.
“Is that what this is, true friendship? Now that you’ve told me your life story.”
“Ha. Very funny.”
“I promise I won’t tell anyone, though.”
“You better not. Now get up.”
“Fine.” Charlotte pokes her feet into fluffy slippers and pads to her bathroom, taking the phone with her. With trepidation, she turns on the light. And the ugly truth is plain. The spot on her face is coming back. She checks her arm. The spot there is also growing, it’s edges that classic greyish black.
“Damn it!” Tears of helplessness fall.
“Are you all right?” says Gabe’s voice on her phone.
“No... it’s...” Her voice is tiny and strangled. “It’s... the spot on my face,” she whispers. She sets the phone down on the marble vanity and puts him on speaker. Sniffing, she reaches for the makeup remover, though she knows that nothing can remove this blemish.
“You should tell your dad.”
Charlotte swabs her face and wipes the skin harshly. “I don’t want him to worry. He always freaks out whenever I’m sick.”
“Charlotte, this isn’t any ordinary sickness. He’s the only one who can help you.”
Charlotte stops wiping and stares at her once pretty face. Dad’s treatment isn’t working. What else is there? She washes the cream off. Her skin is pink and healthy, except for that one area. Maybe it won’t get any bigger? Maybe I can cope with it, as long as it stays this size .
“Listen, I have to go,” he says. “Mum needs me to do something. I’ll call you later.”
“Ok.” She doesn’t want Gabe to go. Having his voice in the room is a comfort.
“Promise me you’ll talk to your dad?”
“No, I can handle it.” She’s staring at the dark roots of her natural hair colour beginning to show through. Why do I have to be a blonde?
“All right. Have it your way. I’ll see you at school?”
She smiles at the mirror, a plan forming in her mind. “Sure. See you in English.”
“Awesome! Bye, then.”
Harlington High School is an unremarkable, featureless 1970′s brick building west of the town centre, with open fields behind it and suburbia clustered at each side. The hub of Harlington is Kingsgate – the shopping district, an island of opportunity. Charlotte’s happy place. Some parts of Kingsgate date back to the 1700′s, like the mill and some of the high-end shops, but everything is shiny and modern inside. Harlington, like Charlotte, is keen to remain contemporary. Re packaging the old with a shiny new exterior.
Charlotte walks up the steps to the administration building and past Principal MacMahon’s office. Students are staring at her. She strides through the hallways purposefully, unbothered. So what if there’s a strange spot on her face? She’s Charlotte Campbell, former fashion queen, now super hero. No one, but no one, can hurt her ever again. Gone are the girly clothes, fake tan and platinum hair. She’s wearing cherry-red leather pants, a white, cropped leather jacket over a white singlet and kickarse boots.
“Hey, Char ... lotte. Is that you?” Tessa comes tottering towards her, face beaming. Good old Tessa. The closest I ever got to a friend, but more like a fan, really. “You’re outfit is... different. And your hair!” Tessa is taking it all in.
“It’s my natural colour. Like it?” Charlotte grins, running her fingers through her coppery brown silken locks. Tessa falls into step beside her, heading for the lockers. Everyone is staring, whispering behind their hands, but no one is laughing. Not this time.
“So, this is your new look? It’s awesome!”
“Thanks!” Charlotte flashes her a smile. So far her plan is working perfectly, but she knows the biggest test is yet to come. Abbi. There’s a commotion rising in the hall behind her. It’s approaching like a wave. Charlotte feels the tingle of excitement and fear crawl up her back.
Abbi is coming.
She slams her locker shut and swings to face her former friend. Abbi is staring, open mouthed, looking Charlotte up and down. Then a sly smile creeps over her face. Charlotte walks straight towards Abbi, her stride long and confident, ready to shoulder charge her if she doesn’t get out of the way. But Abbi is just as stubborn. She stands with her feet apart, books grasped to her chest, her eyes narrowed. Charlotte stops and stares at her silently. It’s a game. And whoever speaks first, loses.
“Don’t you just love Charlotte’s new look?” says Tessa brightly. Abbi screws up her face in disgust. A crowd has gathered around them and the noise is escalating. Shona and her buddies have arrived.
“Look! It’s Loser Campbell!”
“Freak bitch!” shouts the squinty-eyed girl. But Charlotte’s eyes are locked with Abbi’s. It’s as if Charlotte sees her for the first time. It’s so fake. All of it. The clothes, the hair, the attitude. She’s achieved nothing by taking my place. Queen of nothing.
Charlotte is bored now. She goes to walk past Abbi. But the girl steps in front of her. A roar goes up from the crowd. Shona and friends are shouting abuse. The boys are yelling, “Rip her to shreds, Abbi!” And “Cat fight!” The bell rings, adding to the melee. Realising she’s running out of time, Abbi strikes, kicking her foot out to trip Charlotte. But Charlotte is ready for her. She focuses and a space-time bubble encloses just the two of them. Everyone else is blurred and indistinct, their limbs and mouths moving slowly, like some horror movie. Abbi looks frightened.
“What the hell?”
Charlotte grabs her by the shoulders and brings her up close. Abbi seems frail and thin. Charlotte drops her voice to a growl and bares her teeth.
“Back off, you hear me? Because I can kick your fake little arse to another universe!” She tilts her head. “And if you stand in my way, I’ll make your life a living hell.”
Abbi looks around her, fearful. “What’s happening? What are you doing?”
Charlotte grins like a jackal. “This is the new me. Like?”
“Let me go! You’re scaring me!”
“Good.” Charlotte lets go and the shimmering curtain that surrounded them snaps. Charlotte strides down the hall. She feels glorious, magnificent! Turning, she looks back. Kids are shaking their heads, confused, looking at her, then Abbi, then back to her. Charlotte laughs. Losers! She yanks open the classroom door. Gabe and the geeks are already there, in their positions up the back. Miss Haflinger is writing on the smartboard. She turns and her face registers surprise.
“Charlotte, I didn’t recognise you. Good to see you back at school.”
“Thanks, Miss.” Charlotte walks straight up to the back of the room and sits in the empty seat beside Gabe. He’s staring at her, like she’s an alien or something.
“Hey,” she says, grinning. Gonzo’s glasses are fogging up. Bird is avoiding eye contact. But the lustful look on Gabe’s face is gratifying. Charlotte feels a million dollars. She stretches her legs out in front of her, leans back in her chair. The classroom is full. Abbi has taken her place at the front, but no one seems to care. They have eyes only for Charlotte. And then the first wave of nausea and pain hits. Charlotte reaches into her bag for the aspirin, an anti-nausea pill and her water bottle.
I’m not going to let this ruin everything! She swigs.
“You ok?” Gabe’s green eyes are worried.
“Fine. In a minute.”
He frowns. “You used your power, didn’t you?”
“Just a little bit.” She grins. “And I don’t care.”
Gabe shakes his head.
“When I said you’ll be using your power because you can, I meant to help other people.”
“Well, I needed help. I’m sick of Abbi hassling me and everyone else egging her on. I’ve ended it.”
Gabe looks down and picks at his fingernails. “Nope, you’ve just started it.”
“Whatever.” She crosses her arms. The feeling of elation is fading. Damn you, Gabriel Murray!
“You can’t just use these powers for silly stuff like that. There’s a responsibility attached to them,” he insists quietly.
Charlotte looks at him. Her voice rises. “They’re my powers. I’ll use them how I see fit!” Miss Haflinger is standing on tiptoe and pointing at Charlotte.
“Miss Campbell, is there something you would like to add to our discussion of Homer’s Iliad?”
“Er, no Miss Haflinger. I’m fine. Thanks.” Charlotte waves her hand. “You continue.” There’s a flutter of giggles around the room. Miss Haflinger isn’t impressed but decides to proceed with the lesson. Charlotte grins. I’m back. And now I’m the bad girl! Awesome.
“That’s the trouble. You don’t see. It costs you to use it. Every time.”
“So? A headache and the occasional vomiting. I can handle it. Butt out, will you?”
“But what if you...”
“I said, butt out.”
He sighs, picks up his pen and begins writing class notes. She watches him. His face is a little pale. His hair is a bit greasy today. And there’s none of that delicious cologne he normally wears. His clothes are rumpled. He looks like he’s been out all night. What’s going on? But her pride won’t let her ask him. She’s the new Charlotte. Independent. Feisty. An individual. It feels good. Even if her head is thumping and she feels like throwing up.