A/N: Special thanks to LizziePaige for pre-reading and Fran Walsh for being a wonderful beta.
Time for some answers...
This chapter contains mentions of neglect and sensitive situations.
Hell hath no fury like Charlotte's feet as she squirmed out of her seatbelt and ran towards the front door. Luckily, her aunt's, shiny red car, nowhere in sight. This was partially in-thanks to Charlotte's whining that she needed to use the bathroom the entire duration of the car ride home from the hospital.
Her grandma definitely believed her performance that she was in a hurry—but it wasn't for the bathroom. Renee tossed the keys to the front door to the banshee-like child while she got herself out of the car.
Getting inside the house, Charlotte tossed the keys on the ground by her shoes and shot up the stairs towards her bedroom. He would be in there, right? Where else would Peter go? She ripped open the door, not worrying about frightening him. She expected to hear a thump as he hit the floor after falling off the bed in surprise at her sudden entry, but it was silent as she took in her bedroom. The bed was neatly made, definitely not her doing, and it looked as if it has been this way for a while. She looked around on the side of the bed too see a pile of neatly folded clothes. Charlotte noticed the tears in the arms of the t-shirt and recognized them as the clothes Peter had been wearing when she had first found him in the backyard. He was going to get rid of them and wear some of her cousin Jake's clothes instead. Dropping to her hands and knees, she lifted the bed skirt to look under the bed.
She heard the front door open downstairs and quickly decided to shove the discarded clothes underneath the bed.
"Peter, where are you? This isn't funny!" She whisper-yelled to her bedroom. Hurriedly, she got up and ran towards the closet.
Slowly, she opened the door to the closet.
The floor was bare, the blue blanket and lion missing from its spot this morning.
Shivers of fear ran up Charlotte's back as she thought of the last known place Peter was if not in her room.
Charlotte could hear her grandmother coming up the stairs. Quickly, she darted across the hallway to her mother's bedroom. She silently hoped Peter was somehow still in the shower—even though it had been hours.
She ignored her grandmother's calls of confusion as she sped by her. She tore open the bedroom door, noticing her mother's bed, definitely not her doing, was made and neat. Charlotte didn't focus on this long as she moved towards the attached bathroom. Suddenly, she stopped. If he was in there, she didn't want to interrupt his 'me time.' She knows her mother always got mad if she interrupted her, 'me time.'
"Peter, are you in there?" Charlotte whispered.
"Charlotte, who is Peter?" her grandmother asked, coming up to her from behind. Her sudden appearance caused Charlotte to shriek loudly. Renee's eyes widened and darted towards the bathroom door in curiosity after granddaughter's odd choice of words.
"Whoa, what has you so worked up? Your mom is going to be alright. Did you go to the bathroom?" Renee said, shocked by the shriek.
Panic arose in Charlotte's mind.
"Uh, no. I wanted to use this bathroom."
"So, why don't you go in? Who is Peter you were asking about earlier?"
Charlotte looked like a deer caught in headlights, "he's um...a…" she trailed off as her grandmother snapped her fingers.
"Oh, right! Your new imaginary 'friend.' Your mom let that one slip about him earlier, kiddo." Renee said, looking somewhat relieved, "oh you're worried he's in there, and you don't want to be rude?" She laughed as she played along with her granddaughter's game.
"Uh...yes, I don't want to be rude," Charlotte said, deciding this was her out and turning to look at her grandmother.
Renee raised a fist to the door, still laughing, and knocked gently, "Well, Peter if you're in there, put your uh…little peter…away and move along, because Charlotte here needs to go potty."
Her grandmother opened the door, and Charlotte clenched her eyes shut, not wanting to watch the scene in front of her play out in case Peter was in there. Or, if he had left a mess of some kind. She couldn't decide which one would be worse.
The door flung open—the white pristine counters and tile reflecting as if they had just been scrubbed clean. The room was in better condition than her mother had left it. She feared mud from Peter's hair might stain the shower, or he would trail water on the floor behind him, but there was no evidence that the boy had been in the room. Had he decided not to take a shower and get cleaned up after all?
The sound of the front door opening signaled the arrival of her Aunt Rosalie. Her grandmother turned to head down the stairs to greet her elder daughter, leaving Charlotte about to do her business and deal with her 'imaginary friend.'
Charlotte furrowed her brow before continuing inside.
Rosalie McCarty danced around the kitchen, whisking together ingredients in a bowl as her niece watched her from the table. She was doing her best to distract her from reality. She did want to see her sister, but knew she was no good in a hospital waiting room—she'd be just as bad as Charlotte. Rosalie cared strongly for her little sister, despite them being polar opposites. While Bella was petite and brunette, Rosalie was tall and blonde.
Bella was strong in everything she did—this wouldn't be any different. She bit her lip and stared down at the chunky chocolate batter vibrant against the light green bowl. She was deep in thought—her whisks slowed to a steady turn instead of the fast pace she began with.
Rosalie's mind continued to travel to her sister and her young daughter. They're going to have to come together again and work through this one. Hopefully, her injuries aren't bad enough that she can't do things for herself—Bella would hate that. Her bright blue eyes flashed to the small girl at the table, looking like a miniature replica of her sister. For that, she (and everyone) in their family were thankful. No need to complicate things anymore with Charlotte's father. How much easier this situation would be. Staring at the little girl brought glints of anger to her heart. Not towards the girl, but for her. For her sister. She hoped wherever he was, he would rot in hell.
As she finished her whisking, she dumped the contents of the bowl into the glass cooking tray on the counter. As if on cue, she lowered the spatula to her side. Charlotte was waiting on que with her eyes wide open and arm outstretched.
Rosalie laughed as her niece grabbed the spatula and begin licking. After putting the brownies in the oven, she grabbed the chocolate-covered whisk and leaned back against the counter.
"Excited for next weekend, Charlotte?" Rosalie smiled as she thought about the events of next week. She hoped this didn't deter the excitement.
"Are we still going to have my birthday party?" Charlotte asked, looking up from her treat. Her brown eyes showed a mixture of curiosity, sadness, and if Rosalie was correct, a hint of excitement.
"Of course! We can't have your mom ruining all the fun, now can we?"
Charlotte frowned at her aunt's attempt at a joke.
"She'll be home in a few days, tops. I know she would want nothing more than for you to have your celebration. A princess only turns seven once, Char."
Charlotte smiled and licked her utensil clean.
"Okay, so as a princess, I can make it a rule that Jake can't bring his gross friends."
After brownies and a movie, Rosalie excused herself to take a shower. She left Charlotte with the remote, bidding her not to cause too much ruckus in the next twenty minutes.
As soon as Charlotte could hear the water turn on from the bathroom upstairs, she was at the back door. Her sandals were barely buckled as she ripped it open to check the only other place her friend might be.
"Peter!" Charlotte called, running towards the small house. Her emotions were scattered—frightened that her friend was missing in the midst of all her other problems. Her breath was heavy and uneasy as she yelled out his name again, reaching the door.
The door swung open, revealing a saucer-eyed Peter, confused at the girl barreling towards him. Charlotte stopped dead in her tracks, the sudden halt and her haphazardly buckled sandals sent her falling forward.
The boy rushed to grab her before she hit the ground. Charlotte noticed his hands, once rough and caked with grime and dirt, were soft and clean. His fingernails were clear of the dark sludge. Her eyes widened as she looked up, noticing this new appearance had transformed his whole body. His face was fresh, clean, and bright. His blonde hair was a shiny mass of waves, falling wildly into his eyes. Beneath the hair, his green eyes shone brightly. If she weren't so angry, she would have laughed at the way he looked in Jake's ugly T-shirt and swim shorts.
Peter didn't get to put her all the way upright before Charlotte tore into him.
"Where did you go? I thought you left! How could you leave!" The small girl yelled, staring at him with a severity so willing, he staggered back.
His eyes widened and he gulped before responding.
"I-I-I got scared, okay? I didn't like being in…there with nobody else." Peter said, stuttering to get his words out. He didn't meet his new friend's eyes.
"Scared of what?" Charlotte asked, her face losing the ferocity.
"Your…house. It's really big." Peter was breathing slowly, attempting to get words out without stumbling.
"You…said you were coming back after a little bit. After a few hours passed, I thought you weren't going to."
"Why wouldn't I come back? I live here, don't I?" Charlotte's annoyance was back.
"Yeah…I just…thought...," he trailed off.
Memories flashed into his head, displaying behind his eyes as if it was a cinema.
Picking the lock and getting out of the closet.
Nobody in sight.
Dirty needles around a cluttered, dark living room.
A small television playing in the background as a younger Peter makes his way to the kitchen in hopes of finding something other than the canned food his mother tossed in the closet with him. Along the way, he picks up articles of clothing and discarded items on the floor to throw into the basement, so he remembers to wash them.
"My mommy got hurt. The doctor said she got into a car crash. That's why I didn't come back." Charlotte's sigh and confession pulled him from his daze. His eyes widen, and before he could help it, a new memory started forming in his head.
"Is she okay? I mean…she's not…"
Peter approached his parents' bedroom, finding it sparse in terms of furniture besides a brown futon in the corner. This wasn't anything new—his parents never spent much time furnishing their home. What was new was the person on the futon. Her red hair spilled over the side and onto the floor. Peter had never seen this woman—but her arms were still at her side. Her chest did not move up and down to signal she was sleeping.
"She's not what?"
Peter held his breath as he remembered the coldness as he reached out to touch her arm. He shook off the memory, attempting to control his breathing.
"Uh…forget it. So, she's at the hospital?"
"Yeah, the doctor has to fix her arm. My grandma made me come back here while they wait."
Peter sighed and wrapped his arms around his friend.
"I'm sure she will be okay. She helps people, right? Now it's their turn to help her."
"I guess so," Charlotte said, leaning into his arms. He smelled like her mother.
"Please don't scare me like that again. Peter..." Charlotte added, looking up into his eyes, squinting as she didn't know the rest of his name. And in an effort to make him heed her warning, she needed to be firm. She learned this from her mother using her full name whenever she was really in trouble.
Peter laughed at her attempt to scold him.
A/N: Thanks! Reviews get a teaser of Ch 8!