Chapter Six - Social Suicide
“Bed, for a couple of days,” says Dad, looking down at Charlotte, lying flat on her back among the pink satin pillows. She nods, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight streaming through her window. Her body feels wobbly and uncontrolled. Achy.
“Thanks, Dad. I’ll be all right now,” she croaks. Dad clears his throat. His eyes are bright.
“That’s my poppet,” he whispers and offers her a smile. “I’ll call the school and let them know you’re ill.” He goes to the window and draws the curtains across a little, checks the sun is not in her eyes and leaves the room.
Days absent from school. I wonder what Abbi and Tessa will be up to?
Her phone rings and she jumps, reaching across to her nightstand with difficulty. It’s Tessa. Charlotte stares at the name, hesitates, gathering her thoughts, then taps the screen.
“Hey Charlotte!” Tessa sounds pleased to hear her voice. “Where are you? I’m in English and I didn’t see your car in the parking lot.”
“I’m sick, at home.”
Charlotte senses there’s more Tessa would like to say. “What’s new?”
“There’s something you need to know.” Tessa’s voice is low. Secretive. There’s background noise - chairs scraping on the floor, people chatting and laughing. It sounds so happy and normal. But Charlotte feels the fear rise in her throat. She must have seen that horrible dead spot on my face. What has she been telling everyone? She calms her voice.
Tessa takes a deep breath. “Abbi is having a party at her place. And she’s not inviting you.” Charlotte feels like laughing. Is that all? But she knows, while she is incapacitated and the subject of rumours she is losing ground. When she goes back to school, face flawless, Charlotte will have to put Abbi in her place again. Life can go on, just like before.
“Well, thanks for telling me, Tessa. Appreciate it. I’ll be back next week.”
“But Charlotte, that’s not all.”
Charlotte can taste vomit in her mouth. “What?”
“She’s telling everyone you have some horrible facial cancer and that you’ll need a prosthetic face! Is it true?” Tessa’s voice betrays her horror. She sniffs, waiting. Charlotte stares at the phone, speechless. A wave of hot terror washes over her. Abbi is trying to make sure that Charlotte can never take back her throne. Charlotte swallows, gathers her wits. We’ll see about that, Abbigail Macdonald. She forces out a laugh.
“Don’t be ridiculous! I’ve got the flu. The real flu. I’m contagious, so I’m staying in bed. You don’t want to get sick, do you?”
“No.” Tessa’s voice is small and uncertain.
“I’ll be fine. Back next week. Don’t worry.”
“Ok. Get well soon. Do you need anything? I can ask Mum to drop me round to your place.”
“No, it’s fine. I don’t want you to catch this bug.” And believe me, you wouldn’t want THIS bug. “But there is something you can do for me.”
“Yeah?” Tessa brightens.
“Leave some magazines at the front door? You know the kind I want. Vogue, Armanio, Femme Fatale. Not those trashy ones and nothing intellectual.”
“Ok. I’ll do that. Take care!”
“Thanks, Tessa. Bye.” Charlotte is touched by Tessa’s concern. The type of friends Charlotte has are usually only interested in one thing - looking good with the right people.
She lies back, exhausted, and falls into a deep, long, dreamless sleep.
It’s the next day. Charlotte is sitting up in bed, watching a video. There’s mess all around her - dishes of leftover food, magazines, dirty clothes. Normally fastidious about her room, she’s just has to let go and try to ignore it. Her hair hasn’t been washed. She’s wearing no makeup and there are dark circles under her eyes. It could just be her imagination, but the grey spot seems smaller today. Dad has taken time off work. He keeps popping in to check on her, then, reassured, leaves.
Below, the front doorbell rings. She can hear Dad’s footsteps on the tiled floor in the hall, then male voices. It seems to go on for quite a while. Footsteps come up the carpeted stairs. Dad pokes his head around the door. He’s grinning.
“You’ve got a visitor.”
“What?” Charlotte panics, grabbing the bedclothes. “They can’t see me like this! No! Tell them I’m too sick.”
“I don’t think he’ll take no for an answer, somehow.”
“HE? NO! Definitely no....”
A tall figure strides through the doorway. His dark wavy hair is wild and his eyes are green and calm behind his ridiculous glasses.
Charlotte pulls the covers up over her face, so that only her eyes are visible.
“What the hell are you doing here?” She says in a muffled shriek. Gabe stands there, hands in pockets, regarding her calmly.
“I heard you were sick. Thought I’d drop by and see how you’re getting on.”
“What did you tell my father? I don’t even know you!”
“I told him we were friends from school.” He thumbs behind his shoulder and grins. “I think he thinks we’re... you know. He thought it was quite amusing.”
“I’ve never even spoken to you and you barge in here like we’re... Are you crazy? Get out!”
He shifts his feet, slouches on one hip. “But I know all about you.”
Charlotte’s heart stops for a nanosecond. She narrows her eyes and lowers the covers. Pointing at the door she shouts, “You don’t know anything about me! Now, leave!”
Unruffled, Gabe seats himself on the French Provincial chair covered in pink brocade, crosses one leg over his knee, his back to the window.
“Tell you what, if I can prove that I know one thing about you that no one else does, I get to stay for a while. Deal?”
Charlotte just stares at him. This is a dream! A stupid, crazy imagining. It just can’t be real.
“Why are you here?” She says, through gritted teeth.
He waggles a finger, like he’s speaking to a six year old. “Uh-ah. You have to agree to the deal first.”
“Oh, fine then!”
Gabe leans back in the chair, puts his fingertips together and grins at her. Charlotte is waiting, waiting, waiting. She feels hot. Then cold. Then hot again. He leans forward, his eyes intent upon her. All she can think is how can he not notice the state of this room? The state of my hair? My zombie face? Oh my God, this is humiliating!
“If you’re gonna say something, then get it over with!” She snaps.
“Patience. I have to select the right thing, so that you’ll believe me.” His green eyes are infuriatingly serene. How many things do you know about me? The panic is overwhelming. This strange guy says he knows her secrets. She’s at his mercy. How does he know anything? Are there cameras in here? She flicks her gaze to the bare corners of her room. Finally, he speaks. “You did something amazing, physically impossible the other day and you’ve been trying to rationalise it to yourself ever since.” Charlotte stares at him, keeping her face passive. She’s determined not to make it easy for him. “You should have died in that accident,” he continues. “All of you. But something happened. Something you can’t explain. So rather than think about it too much, you ignore it. Because you hate, above all, to be thought of as strange or too different.”
Charlotte swallows. “How do you know any of this?”
“So, you’re not denying it, then?”
“That you manipulated space-time to save yourself and your friends from a horrific car smash.”
“What? Manipulated... Are you nuts?”
He leans back again. “Ok, you explain it then. I was there, in a car following you. I saw it. It was against all the laws of physics.”
She sits up, leans forward. He’s right, of course. She has been thinking about it. Endlessly.
“What exactly did you see?”
“I can’t really describe what I saw.” He rubs his angular jaw. “It happened so fast. All I know is, the truck should have hit you. There was a kind of… blurriness around your car and then suddenly it was skidding on the opposite verge. Safe.”
A blurriness around my car? She thinks about the truck, every detail in sharp focus; the driver’s grim face, his strong arms wrestling with the steering wheel, the blue smoke and stink of brakes and fuel. Gabe is right. They should have collided. Fatally.
“So what do you think happened?” She says reluctantly.
He looks at her. “You’re a clone. And as such...”
Charlotte chokes. “Hang on. Back up. Did you say clone? No way! Cloning is illegal. How could I be a clone?”
He shrugs. “Because your father is the world’s leading expert on cloning and he made you a new body. Who knows what extra abilities you have?” His eyes brighten. “I think that, on instinct, you somehow wrapped your car in a sort of... bubble. And skipped a fraction of space-time. This allowed you to get to safety.”
Charlotte shudders. This guy knows too, too much. And what he’s saying is not only impossible, but dangerous. Holy Hell! She doesn’t want to be that person, the one who created a space-time bubble around her car!
“I want you to leave. Now.” She says flatly.
He holds up his hands. “Look, I don’t want to hurt you. We think we can explain what happened. The guys and me, we just want to help you.”
“Get OUT!” She screams, flinging the covers away from her face. “You have no right to be here! There’s nothing you can do for me. GO!” To her relief, he rises and leaves without a backward glance. Charlotte is shaking, sweating with fear, her heart thumping crazily. Just when she thought she was on her way back to normal... How can he know so much? And more importantly, why would he care? He’s been weird from the start. Unafraid. He doesn’t play by the social hierarchy rules at Harlington. WHO IS HE?