This story originated in a place close to my heart, and as an experiment that went much better than I ever expected. From that experiment, I fell in love with a little girl I created for that test, her name is Charlotte, or Charlie as her friends and I call her. In Someone Beautiful, Charlie is about to graduate high school, facing a bit more than the average teenager. She’s “snarky,” to use an apt adjective from one of my crit. partners, modern, gritty and real, so you’ll have to be forgiving and patient with her. If you are, you might just fall in love with her too.
Today, I share the entire first chapter.
Sand flew into Charlotte Laurent’s face like ocean spray. But she ignored it. Jordan Hampton, the varsity soccer team captain, would have to do better than that to stop her. Another all-star made a steal attempt even though she already had three strides on him. Their goalie, loomed large and snarling, but he didn’t intimidate her. He was a lug, and she was lightning. Moving fluidly like the waves crashing on to Brighton Beach, she faked the remaining opposition and scored the winning goal.
The girls on her team swarmed in, knocking her down with jubilant embraces. The boys kicked sand and swore. After regaining her feet, Charlotte followed everyone to the ice chest, the soccer ball tucked up under her right arm… her only arm. “Don’t cry, guys. We’ll give you a chance to get even.”
“Give it a rest, Charlie.” Jordan scowled as he grabbed a soda and skulked away, toward the breakers.
“Sorry loser,” she scoffed, loud enough for him to hear. She turned a smug gaze back to the group. “What the hell is the matter with him?”
“Don’t you ever quit?” Nick Simperelli asked, then took a long draw on his Pepsi.
“No,” she stated as if it were obvious. “Why should I?”
Soren Brandenburg, taller and more ripped than any college football player, tossed a sweating can at her. “The invincible C.V. Laurent.”
Charlie dropped the soccer ball and caught the can mid-air.
“See?” Soren shook his head.
Her two best friends took up posts on either side, throwing supportive elbows around her neck. “Jordan should be used to this by now,” Madeline Chevelier declared.
“Yea, he doesn’t need to mope about it,” Claire Zane added.
Charlie nodded and smirked.
“There’s only so much a man can take, though,” Rowdy Taylor insisted. “You’re ruthless, Chuck.”
Rolling her eyes, Charlie dug into the cooler for another soda. Holding two now in her one hand, she headed toward Jordan who sat at the water’s edge staring at the horizon. “Damn, I hate pandering.”
She made sure to shuffle her feet enough so chunks of sand pelted his back as she approached. His rounded shoulders protruded from his tanked soccer jersey, shining bronze in the afternoon sun. Gritting her teeth, she plopped down next to him, on his left as usual. She dropped one can in the sand and held the other under his nose. When he didn’t move, she waved it around. “Come on, you big baby. Take it.”
He shoved her arm away.
“Oh, so that’s how it is?” She started shaking the can like it was spray paint. “I’ll open it,” she threatened. “So help me God, I will.
Jordan snatched the soda from her hand and slammed it into the sand beside him. He still didn’t look at her.
She sighed and looked out into the water. The sea breeze licked her temple. “What’s the deal? Are you that sore over losing?”
Glaring at her, he leaned back on his hands and shook his head. “Charlie, you’re so hard. Like… granite.”
“Why? Because I like to win?”
“Freakin’ unbelievable,” he exclaimed through a clenched jaw, his blue eyes blazing. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
“I guess not. Why don’t you enlighten me?”
He stared at her, long enough to make her squirm, but then burst out laughing.
“What the hell…”
He tucked a strand behind her ear and tapped her cheek. “You’re something else, Charlotte Laurent. Sometimes, I just wish you were a little… softer.”
Her stomach rolled, but she slapped his hand away and punched him hard in the shoulder. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
He reacted in kind, first shoving her off balance. Then he pounced and raked his fingers up and down her ribcage.
“Jordan,” she shrieked. “Let me go.”
“Not now. Not when I have you.”
Wriggling and squirming, she tried to fight him off. Flat on her back, her most vulnerable position, she panicked. She had no defense… except one. Gaining leverage, she kneed him with all the force of a star soccer player, leaving him groaning and doubled over in the sand. She stood, brushed off her shorts, and stalked away. “You’ve never had me, Jordan Hampton. And don’t you forget it.”
By the time the sun went down, a bon fire shot sparks high up into the star-studded sky. Nick strummed a guitar while Rowdy prepared hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting. Tess Woodbridge attempted to help with dinner while Leslie Waters did her best to make it difficult, each having similar motives aimed at the brawny chef. Jordan and Lamp kicked the soccer ball back and forth. Soren and his girlfriend, Ollie, had long ago disappeared into the darkness.
In a secluded corner of the fire’s light, Charlie sat knee to knee with her comrades, her two favorite people in the world. Claire, cute and pert, refined and confident, was the only cheerleader Charlie could stand. She used all of her “Bring It On” attitude to make the world a better place, not create a shrine to personal greatness. That’s why Charlie liked her.
Madeline on the other hand, was as unconventional as they come. Aside from being devastatingly gorgeous, she was expressive, fearless and direct. Agreeing with her always proved fruitless because she required no affirmation. That’s why Charlie liked her.
Their arms draped around each other’s shoulders and their foreheads touched in the middle as they breathed in unison. Charlie shut out all other noises save the distant fluttering of waves kissing the shore and the impression that she could feel the heartbeat of the other two.
“I can’t believe it will all be over tomorrow,” Claire lamented.
“Shut it,” Charlie snapped, but then repented with a pout. “Don’t think about that.”
“Are you ready for your speech, Claire?” Madeline asked.
Charlie huffed at her.
“Of course, I’m ready.”
“Anything we shouldn’t be expecting?” Charlie nudged Claire.
“Are you kidding?” Madeline answered instead. “She has to keep up the angelic façade at least through graduation.”
Claire laughed. “As if mom would notice if I did slip in a shocker. She’ll be too busy counting the other parents of future Harvard alums and making sure she’s dressed better than they are.”
The other two laughed in commiseration. They both knew Claire had emotionally and mentally emancipated from her parents before turning twelve years old. The one reason she hadn’t completely written them off was the money. “I’m not an idiot,” she had said in response to one of Charlie’s tyrannical outbursts. As it turned out, she didn’t even need that. She’d secured a full ride scholarship long before her senior year.
“Is your mom coming?” Claire asked, leaning a little more into Madeline.
She shrugged. “I suspect so. She’s proud as a prom queen.”
“That’s because she thought you’d run off and join the circus first,” Charlie exclaimed. “Besides, I don’t think she gets the librarian thing.”
Madeline frowned. “Nobody does.”
“We do,” Claire encouraged.
We do. That summarized the past decade so perfectly, bringing them to the brink of the future. The next day was graduation. In less than forty-eight hours, Charlie would be on a plane to Paris where she spent her summers. When Fall arrived, they would, for the first time since fifth grade, be in three separate places.
Claire started pre-law at Harvard in August. Madeline, going squarely against the student body’s vote that she was “most likely to be famous,” planned to attend Columbia University’s School of Library Sciences. Charlie didn’t have a plan, but Harvard and Columbia lay so far outside the field of possibilities for her, they might as well have been Neptune and Pluto.
Swiping her arm over her eyes, Charlie cleared her throat. “What a bunch of pansies we are. At least, you’ll come visit me this summer. Thank God for Bastille Day.”
Giggling, sniffling and drying eyes, the three embraced.
Sand exploded around them as a soccer ball missiled into their midst.
The girls screamed as Rowdy called, “Dinner time.”
Charlie glared over her shoulder to see Lamp and Jordan high-fiving. She vaulted to her feet and bolted straight for them.
Jordan backhanded Lamp’s shoulder as he started to run. “Take off, brother. Here she comes.” They ran off down the beach into the darkness.
(photos by photobucket.com)