Chapter Seven - Space-time Weirdo
It’s day two and Charlotte is bored. She’s watched everything and read her magazines over and over. Her skin is pinker, even the spot is tiny now. She’s been up, wandering around the house for a while, had a bath, washed her hair, eaten some mint chocolate. Now she’s dressed in a pale blue Dolcciani tracksuit, sitting on her bed, her hair in a white towel twisted up on top of her head. She spreads her fingers and looks at her wet red fingernails critically. There’s no substitute for professional nail care.
She flicks through the TV channels and something catches her eye. It’s a photograph from deep space: swirling purple and pink and white, speckled with bright flecks. A deep, resonant voice is speaking calmly about the origins of the universe. Charlotte finds it oddly soothing and lets the remote drop into her lap. The narrator is droning on about space-time fluctuations near black holes. Something about The Twins Effect. One twin stays on Earth, the other travels really fast in a spaceship away from Earth and when he returns, the Earthbound twin is older. Time is stretched by speed. What did Mr Heddings say the other day in class? That time travel is possible, only forwards and only by small increments. Something clicks inside Charlotte’s head as she watches the computer graphic simulations on the screen.
Time is stretched by speed. What was it Gabe said? I created a space-time bubble around my car? Ridiculous! She flicks the channel. It’s some cartoon, Ben Ten. She’s never seen it before. She finds herself mesmerised for a few minutes. Then reality sinks in. How can someone switch physical form just by turning a dial on his watch? She turns it off, disgusted and reaches for Femme Fatale magazine. The impossibly long legged models with their strange, wide-spaced eyes are mocking her. You’re a freak, Charlotte Campbell! You’re not even a proper human. A fake. A fashion designer? Ha! Who’d want to wear your designs?
Dispirited, Charlotte picks up her mobile and dials Tessa. It rings for a while and then goes to message bank. Either Tessa isn’t near her phone or she’s ignoring Charlotte. And Tessa always has her phone practically attached to her body. Charlotte tosses the phone on the floor. Something’s wrong. She imagines herself arriving at school, dressed perfectly, her hair gorgeous, only to be laughed at by the entire school, waiting for her in the parking lot, Abbi right at the front, cheering them on. Charlotte holds her head in her hands. I can’t go back! I can’t face them. Her phone rings. She crawls off the bed and picks it up, standing by the window, looking at her mother’s garden. It’s an unknown number.
“Hello?” She sniffs.
“Charlotte, it’s me, Gabe Murray.”
“You! Why are you calling me?”
“I thought you might need some help understanding what’s happening to you.”
“Well, if I need scientific explanations, I’ll ask my dad, ok? He’s an actual scientist.” She hangs up. Settling back on her bed she puts in her headphones and presses ‘play.’ Moments later, the phone beeps. It’s that same number. Gabe’s number.
“Argh!” she growls. She’s about to erase the message, her finger hovering over ‘delete.’ What if he can explain what happened? What if he knows a way she can go back to normal, without anyone finding out the truth? He already knows I’m a clone. And he thinks he knows how I saved Abbi and Tessa. What do I have to lose? She taps the screen.
‘I know you’re mad at me for interfering. I reckon you must be pretty scared, too. Your dad says you need a real friend right now. I’d like to help. Call me when you’re ready.’
Can she trust him? Can she put her trust in someone, anyone, other than her father? She lies back on the pillows with a big sigh. I need time to think about this. The phone beeps. Not again! She picks it up. It’s a text message from Tessa.
‘Srry I missed u. Wen r u cmg bk?’
Charlotte types a message in return.
‘Tmrrw. Save me a spot in Eng. xo’ Charlotte doesn’t know why she added the hug and kiss. She’s never done it before. It’s a sign of weakness, neediness. But she’s already pressed ‘send’, so it’s too late to take it back. She sees Gabe’s number and adds it to her phone book. She sits, staring at his name. He’s in her world now. A part of it. I wonder what he and Dad talked about? She dials.
“Hey, Charlotte. I knew you’d call back.” She can hear the smile in his voice.
“Hello, Gabe.” His name tastes unfamiliar on her tongue. But she’s committed to this conversation now, so she must follow through. If she’s nothing else, Charlotte is thorough. But she feels a little shy. After all, she’s bearing her soul to a stranger. She knows nothing about him.
“Look, the only reason I’m calling is because you already seem to know everything anyway.”
“Understood.” There’s a long pause.
“Well, how much do you know about what happened on the night of the party? Were you really following behind me? I didn’t see you there.”
“I was there. You’re trained not to notice me.”
“Trained? What the hell are you talking about?” Charlotte feels her ire rise.
“Come on, Charlotte, don’t pretend it’s not true. You look down your cute little turned-up pixie nose at everyone else. Even Abbi and Tessa.”
“When did you become the social expert?” Charlotte snaps, feeling stupid that he’s getting her so riled.
He sighs. “Look, I’m not trying to upset you. I’m trying to help you.”
“And why would you do that?”
“Because you need a friend right now. And you know full well that Abbi and Tessa wouldn’t understand.”
Charlotte sighs. “True.”
“There’s a few things I could explain which might help, but it would be better if you came over and met the guys. Then we could show you. It would make more sense.” Meet the guys? Bird and Beefy Geek? No. Absolutely not. There’s a lengthy pause.
“Charlotte, it’s ok if you don’t want to. I won’t be offended.”
“Are you saying that just to make me feel bad?”
He laughs. “No. Seriously, it’s fine. When you’re ready.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready,” she admits. “No, I didn’t mean, to meet you and the guys, it’s just...”
“You never dreamed this could happen to you.”
“To anyone! It’s like something on TV, not reality.”
“Yeah. I understand. And it makes you completely different to everyone around you. You can’t blend in anymore.”
Charlotte feels her stomach drop. Tears of shame well up in her eyes. “Are you saying this is permanent, that I’ll never be normal again?”
“Charlotte, you’re hardly normal from the start. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.”
“What do you mean?” The anger returns. This guy is so rude!
“I mean, you’re trying so hard to fit in, by occupying the top spot, but no one can keep that up indefinitely. Sooner or later someone will come along and topple you off your throne.”
“I don’t see why I can’t stay on top. I have plans.” Charlotte says boldly. “I’m going to be a highly successful fashion designer. I have all the contacts, the capital.”
“Perhaps. But you’re not one of them,” he says quietly.
“Yes I AM! What would you know? You’re new to this school! What do you know about fitting in or staying on top? You’re a weirdo loser!” She shrieks, dropping the phone on the bed. He’s calling her name, faintly. She flings herself into her pillows and sobs.
“But Dad, I’m fine! I feel great and the spot is practically gone. I have to get back to school.” Charlotte stirs the sugar into her cup of tea, plops in some milk and takes a sip. Robert Campbell scratches his head.
“Ok. If you think you’re ready.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Charlotte sits beside him and spoons cereal into her mouth. He slurps his coffee and flips open the paper.
“Festival of Lights in two weeks,” he says.
Charlotte makes a derogatory snort in her throat.
“What? You used to love the festival. You begged Mum and I to get you lots of lights for your room. Butterflies, as I recall.”
Charlotte grins. “I still love butterflies. But the festival is a bit boring these days, Dad.”
He sighs. “You’re growing up.”
She touches his arm. “I’ll always be your little girl, you big softie.”
“Well, it’s good to see you happy again. Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“Yes!” She gives him ‘the look’ and hands him his briefcase. “Now go to work!” He kisses her hair.
“See you tonight. And remember, if you feel a bit woozy, go to sick bay, all right?”
“Sure,” she replies, finishing her cereal. She gets up to put her bowl in the dishwasher. No way am I going to sick bay. And let everyone know there’s something wrong with me. Facing Abbi won’t be easy. She can smell the girl’s ambition. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Her phone beeps. It’s Gabe.
‘How are you feeling today? Sorry for upsetting you.’ She stares at the message. Actually, she’s glad they spoke on the phone yesterday. It’s made her more determined than ever to get back to normal. Nothing is going to interfere with her life. She’s going to march back into that classroom and whatever people say she will deny. Her superb driving skills got them past that truck. She had a smudge of eyeliner on her face. Then she had the flu. But she’s fine now. All perfectly plausible. Places, everyone, please.
She types a message in reply. ‘That’s ok. Back to normal today. Thanks for your concern, but I’m fine now.’ She types whole words, not her usual text-speak. With Gabe it’s grown-up language, not teenage minimalist.
‘Good. See you round.’