Chapter 12: In Need Of A Saving Grace

You had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know
You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
The camera don't lie
You're coming back down and you really don't mind
You had a bad day
You had a bad day
-"Bad Day" Daniel Powter

Tears were threatening to fall from Charlie's eyes as she stood in the lobby of her nearly empty office building wondering where her sister was. Stella was supposed to pick her up around seven, but this was being ridiculously late, even for her. It was close to 7:30 now, and there was no sign of her sister anywhere down the street. Charlie had tried calling her several times, but only got her voicemail. Chloe left hours earlier, but she wasn't about to call her, not after what had transpired in the conference room that evening and what they had talked about beforehand.

Margaret had made her feel even lower than she did earlier that afternoon. A few well placed comments about her appearance and work ethic had gotten the entire room laughing, and even worse, almost got her kicked off the account. It took some good persuasive skills on Charlie's part to salvage her job and her dignity, all of which continued to be chipped away at as the meeting continued. By the time it was over, her self esteem had plunged to the lowest it could go. She felt as if she wanted to run out into the street and get hit by a car, thinking it would be less painful than having to deal with all of the negative thoughts going through her mind right now.

But Charlie stayed put, her arm resting on the security guard's counter beside the bouquet of flowers Van had sent her. No matter how many times she looked at them or read his note, nothing seemed to take her mind off all the awful things Margaret had said. She continued to sink deeper and deeper into her pit of self loathing until her phone began to ring.

Without even bothering to look at the caller ID, she answered, "What?"

"Hey, Charlie; is this a bad time?" Van asked, hearing the despair in her voice.

"Um…" Charlie had gotten her wish. She was now alone, talking to him. But the circumstances that surrounded it were all wrong. She really didn't want to talk to anyone right now, just sit in her little dumpy world and wish she was someone else. "Maybe," her voice cracked as she tried to stay calm. It wasn't working.

"Charlie, what happened?" Van was quick to ask, hearing her nearly fall apart from the other end. He'd been driving home from the Candy Store, but pulled over so he could find out what was wrong.

"I don't wanna talk about it," she nearly cried, walking away from the security guard's station to sit down on one of the benches in the lobby, her flowers under her arm. She set the vase down beside her and brought her legs up to her chest as she rested her chin on her knees, the tears dripping down her cheeks.

"Don't shut down on me, please. Talk to me," Van nearly begged, trying to get her to open up. "Maybe you'll feel better."

Out of the blue, Charlie asked, "Why do you like me so much? Why are you trying so hard to be my friend? I'm not thin. I'm not pretty. I'm just a big nerd with a fat ass and a rich stepfather. What do you see in me?"

Van sat there for a moment, contemplating his answer. There was so much he could say, but the right words escaped him. He wanted it to be something from his heart, not some bullshit he usually fed to marks to keep them happy. Charlie was too special for that. She was a different kind of mark, one that needed to be cared for and loved, not treated like some case as Billie had referred to her. "I see someone with sad eyes and a big heart, someone who loves more than is loved, someone who needs to be told they're beautiful and sweet and worth more than their weight in gold. I see someone who isn't judgmental, someone I can act like myself with, even if it means being a big mushy nerd. Everyone sees me as a player with an agenda, which isn't true. I'm just like you, dorky on the inside, cool on the outside. I just wanna make people smile and laugh," he finally said, leaning back in his seat and wondering if he needed to say anything else to make her see that she was special to him. Instead, he heard crying from the other end and shot up, gunning the engine. "Charlie?"

Several seconds passed before she finally answered, "I don't deserve you." Charlie wiped the tears away from her face with the sleeve of her hoodie wondering how the hell she managed to land the man of her dreams.

"Of course you do. Every woman deserves someone who will treat her with respect," Van said, relaxing once more as he laid off the gas pedal.

"I wish my boss saw it that way," Charlie mumbled. "That bitch treats me worse than the dirt on the bottom of her shoes."

"Do you need me to teach her a lesson?" Van honestly asked.

"No, I just… I wish I had more of a backbone while dealing with her. And even if I did, she'd probably find another way to shoot me down and make me feel like I'm worthless, like she did today during my meeting with the client. I almost lost my job because of some of the things she said," Charlie explained, the tears still dripping from her puffy red eyes.

"What'd she say?" Van calmly asked even though he felt the urge to jump out of the car and pummel something. He knew this wasn't going to be good, so he braced himself for the worst, which wasn't even close to what he expected.

"Well, first she started to tell the client that my choice of clothing usually reflected my work ethic, bad and ugly, and then when I grabbed a bagel off the tray at the center of the table, she started to talk about my weight and my eating habits. The entire fucking conference room was laughing at me!" Charlie started to cry again as she held her head up with her arm. "I've never felt so embarrassed in my entire life! I just wanted to curl up and die! How could she do that to me! I hadn't eaten all day! That was my first real piece of food since yesterday morning. I've been living off of coffee for the last 36 hours. I put it down and didn't touch it again because I felt all their eyes on me when I even glanced down at it."

"Oh, God, Charlie, I'm so sorry," Van wanted to rush over to wherever she was and hug her. She'd been through so much that day it pained him to even think about it. Never in his life had he seen someone treated worse than she was being treated right now. No wonder she had such a negative outlook on life and barely trusted anyone. Who wouldn't after all of this?

"But that's not all. You should have heard all the awful things she said earlier in the afternoon," Charlie continued as if she hadn't even heard him. "You see, my assistant, Chloe, usually gets flowers on a weekly basis, and when your flowers came in today for me, Margaret refused to believe they were mine, so she laughed at both of us and told Chloe to tell her admirers to stop sending her flowers at work because her dogs were allergic."

Van was seething after hearing that, his hands grasping the steering wheel of the Mustang until the knuckles turned white. He really wanted to burst into Charlie's office the next morning and punch this woman in the face for the way she treated her. But he had to remain calm. It wouldn't do either of them any good if he went through with that plan. Charlie could possibly lose her job and Van would probably end up in jail for something Billie won't spring him for, or, even worse, the case would be blown to pieces. Nobody wanted that, most of all him. Instead, he took several deep breaths and replied, "If there's anything I can do to make you feel better, just ask."

"How about you be my knight in shining armor and pick me up from this hell hole I call my office? Stella forgot to come get me and she's not answering her phone when I try to call her," Charlie replied. "I don't wanna call Evie either. She's just gonna start bothering me about why I'm crying, and I don't feel like telling her what I just told you."

"I understand," Van said, making a U-turn back towards the city. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Great. I'll see you then," Charlie answered, wiping away the rest of her tears. "Oh, and Van…"

"Hmm?"

"Thank you."

"It's no problem. I'd do anything for you."

Charlie smiled before she hung up. It was her first smile since that afternoon. She continued to hug her legs as she sat on the bench, her chin resting on her knees. Van had been right; she did feel a lot better after talking to him about what happened. A sigh of relief escaped Charlie's lungs as she closed her eyes, exhausted from such a long day. When she heard one of the many glass doors swish open and the sound of footsteps heading in her direction, her head shot up, hazel eyes meeting with grey green.

Charlie practically leapt off the bench straight into Van's arms, hugging him tightly as she started to cry again. It was an impulse, she knew, especially when she felt safe around someone. The tears would just start to fall on their own free will as she held on for dear life. Luckily for her, Van wasn't about to let go. He ran his hand up and down her back in a comforting motion, patiently waiting for her to calm down before pulling away.

"Sorry," Charlie mumbled as she finally pulled back, wiping her tears with the sleeve of her hoodie.

"Don't be," Van replied, pulling her hands away from her face and wiping away the rest of her tears with his fingers as they gazed into each other's eyes. There was a warm, reassuring smile on his lips, telling her that everything was going to be okay and that she need not worry anymore. It was a feeling Charlie hadn't felt in nearly four years. She smiled back, a couple more tears sliding down her cheeks.

A few feet away, the elevator chimed, its doors opening to reveal the last of the building's employees making their way home. Among them was Margaret, her two pure white poodles in tow. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Charlie standing with a young man who appeared a little older than she was in the lobby. The old woman proceeded to walk towards them, her dog's jingling collars alerting the pair before she approached.

"Shit," Charlie whispered, seeing her boss walking in their direction. Van turned around, his sharp, angry grey green eyes narrowing at the older woman. She stopped dead in her tracks, the look startling her into submission. The old hag quickly turned on her heels, making a beeline for the door.

"That's right, keep walking," Van shouted in anger as she exited the building.

The smile on Charlie's face began to grow as she watched Margaret retreat like a scared pigeon. "What'd you do?" she asked in amazement while Margaret rushed into her car, tires squealing as she jumped away from the curb.

Van shrugged, "I just gave her a look, I guess."

"A look?" Charlie sounded skeptical, but she giggled anyway, picking up the vase with the flowers. "You'd better not give me that look, because I will kick your ass if you do."

"I'd never give you that kind of look," Van defended himself before he took her hand and led her out the door to the Mustang. "Your chariot awaits, my lady," he said, rushing to open her door.

"Why thank you, good sir," Charlie replied, getting in and immediately being struck by the awesome beauty of the car. She set the vase down at her feet and glanced at her surroundings. It was just like she dreamed, completely restored and magnificent, exactly like in the movie. "Oh, god…" she practically moaned, sitting back in the warm leather seat as Van got in and started the engine. "Oh, good god…" The sound of the engine made her heart skip a beat.

He couldn't suppress the laugh that escaped his lips as he watched Charlie with wonder. Her reaction was nothing like he'd expected. It was actually more like his own when he first laid eyes on the car. "Don't get too comfy," Van warned, pulling out into the street. "I gotta give this back to Billie in a couple of days."

"Do you really have to?" Charlie whined, gliding her hands over the black leather.

"Unfortunately, I do," Van apologized. "But don't worry, I'll steal it every once in a while and take you out in it." That made her smile again. He gunned the engine, roaring through a yellow light and giving Charlie one hell of a thrill. She giggled as she glanced over at him with those big hazel eyes from behind her wire rimmed glasses. "You still hungry?" he asked, spotting a couple of fast food joints down the road.

"Uh, yeah!" Charlie dumbly replied. "I'm starving!"

"Well, you've got several choices, or do you have decision making skills when it comes to fast food as well?" Van teased.

"Shut up!" she shot back, whacking him in the arm as he chuckled at her. "I'm perfectly capable of choosing what I want to eat for dinner." But Charlie decided to be funny and mess with his head for what he'd said and started to wonder out loud, "What am I craving tonight?" She glanced around at the different fast food places that were around and added, "Hmm… Wendy's… Not really. McDonald's… Too greasy. KFC… icky. Taco Bell… Maybe. Burger King… No way."

"Decide already!" Van was getting impatient.

"Alright!" Charlie playfully snapped, "Taco Bell."

Van made a sharp right turn into the parking lot of the fast food restaurant and got behind an old beat up white Blazer in the drive thru lane. "Please don't tell me you're gonna take forever to order, too," he groaned.

"I already know what I want," she answered, that jovial grin playing on her lips as she leaned back in her seat. Charlie knew what she wanted, and knew how she was going to order it.

As soon as the Blazer pulled up to the window, Van turned to her and asked, "What do you want?"

"I want three soft shell taco supremes," Charlie started. Van sighed with relief, but then she said, "I'm not done yet." He stared at her for a moment as she added, "The first one I want with a little bit of tomato, lots of lettuce and over flowing with cheese, with a SMALL dollop of sour cream. The second one I want with a slight sprinkling of cheese, lettuce, the crispy stuff, nothing limp, no tomato and lots of onion. And the last one I want with no cheese, a quarter teaspoon of hot sauce, half a tablespoon of sour cream, guacamole, and a sprinkling of green onion. And for a drink I want a large Sprite, easy on the ice. I don't find the fecal matter in it appealing."

Van's mouth hung open as he stared at her in disbelief. Charlie wanted him to repeat that to the cashier? Oh, no… He wasn't about to do that. Instead, when he pulled up to the speaker box, he said, "I'll have three soft shell taco supremes and a large Sprite, easy on the ice."

"Van!" Charlie jokingly shot back as she started to giggle.

"Even my boss isn't this difficult," he mumbled as he got his total and pulled up to the window. Charlie couldn't stop laughing as Van glared at her. She even had a hard time pulling out a five dollar bill from her pocket because she couldn't stop giggling. "What's so funny?" he growled.

"I told you I didn't have any problems with making decisions about what I wanted to eat," Charlie shot back as she placed the bill in his hand.

"You're awful!" Van replied, turning his head in the direction of the road after the woman behind the window had given them their food and their change.

"I know." Charlie grinned wide. "But you still like me anyway."

"Unfortunately," he said under his breath. She stuck her tongue out at him as she grabbed the first taco out of the bag and began to munch on it slowly. "Be careful with the seats and the food," Van warned.

"Ooh, afraid I'm gonna spill something?" Charlie teased as she mockingly started to shake her drink. She could see the color drain from his face and stopped. "Don't worry, I'm not that mean. If I did spill something, I'd probably shoot myself in the foot. I could never ruin a car like this."

The color slowly returned to Van's face when he realized that she was right. Her only intentions had been to mess with his head, and now that she was done and eating her dinner, they sat in a comfortable silence as he drove down the open road back towards the Hills. Van turned on the radio and started to tune the station until he found one that was actually playing music. "Welcome to my Californian home / You don't have to call me you can leave when you want / There's a picture by my bed / There's a light in your eyes / I don't know / Tell me 'cause I want to find out / Do you still feel alone?"

"Turn it up," Charlie said, starting on her second taco. "I love this song. Darren Hayes is one of my all time favorite artists, as is Savage Garden."

"You are such a nerd," Van teased, doing as he was told and turning up the radio.

"So are you," Charlie teased back after taking a bite out of her taco.

"Love is illusive when you search for it / Don't I know / Happiness sometimes it just creeps in / Don't I know / I'm going crazy / I've been wondering / Do you still feel alone?" the song continued. A slight twinge of sadness clouded over Charlie's eyes as she became lost in the lyrics, the taco in her hand completely forgotten. She set it back down in its wrapped and rolled it up again, saving it for later. Her eyes fell on the road ahead of them as it opened up into lush vegetation and rolling hills.

"Can we take a detour?" Charlie asked out of nowhere. "I don't wanna go home yet."

"Sure," Van didn't hesitate, but he still asked, "why?" She didn't answer, though, just stared out the window as the sky above them turned a beautiful shade of the purple as the sun began to set in the west. "Did you have any place in mind?" Charlie shook her head, her mouth remaining shut.

"Take me somewhere far away from here," she whispered.

"I got a cottage with a sea view / I got a regular summer tan / I know that I deserve more / But I still want you / Welcome to my Californian home / You don't have to call me you can leave when you want / There's a picture by my bed / There's a light in your eyes / I don't know / Tell me 'cause I want to find out / Do you still feel?" the song went on as Charlie completely lost touch with the world around her and started to sing the lyrics to herself. She didn't care if anyone heard her this time. There was so much pent up pain and anger and loss in her heart that she needed to find a way to release it without being self destructive. This song had been her escape many times before as it was now.

Van listened to her emotion filled voice and realized just how much meaning these lyrics had for her. He reached over and placed his hand on hers, prompting her to turn her head and stared at him for a moment, a single tear dripping from her eyes. 'Oh, no, here we go again,' he thought, sensing her need for release. He felt sorry for Charlie and all that she had to live through. His heart ached seeing her in so much pain. He wanted to pull her into a tight hug and never let go.

"Talk to me," Van whispered, pulling onto a dirt road as the song ended. He laced his fingers with Charlie's and waited for her to look at him again.

Her head turned slowly, revealing the tears she continued to shed. Today was just not her day, it seemed. "I wanna go home," she softly wept, barely taking notice of his thumb gently tracing circles over her hand.

"You want me to turn around?" Van asked as he was parking the car.

"No, not that home," Charlie replied, wiping away her tears with the sleeve of her hoodie. "I wanna go home to Chicago, and my life before my father was killed. Being in LA has been nothing but a nightmare. Sterling hates me, my boss hates me, hell, even my so called friends hate me. I miss my real family and friends, the ones who I've had since I was a little girl. I miss my old job. I miss the places we used to hang out. I miss my father!" Charlie pulled open her door and rushed outside, even more tears streaming down her face as she ran away from the car towards the end of the open area, only to stop a few feet from the edge of a cliff. She stared out across the wide expanse of the ocean and the rolling waves beneath her.

"Charlie!" Van yelled as he ran after her, hoping she wouldn't throw herself off the cliff.

"I'm not gonna jump," she shouted back, stepping away from the ledge and finding a soft patch of grass to sit on a few feet away from it with a great view of the ocean and surrounding scenery. Curling up into a little ball, Charlie let her head fall to her knees, her tears continuing to rain down. She wished for a moment that she had jumped, hoping it would release her from this awful prison she knew as her life, but her thoughts soon focused on the man standing behind her, out of breath and probably scared to death.

"Good," Van heaved, plopping down beside her, "because I probably would have drown trying to save you. Those waves are a bitch."

"Sorry," Charlie mumbled, curling her body a little tighter around herself as she watched the waves crashing into the shore. "I've just had a really, really bad day. I'm not usually this emotional."

"It's okay," Van softly replied, wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders and pulling her into a warm embrace. "I shouldn't have pried."

"I just feel…" she searched for the right words to describe how she felt around him. It took her a moment before she finally added, "safe… around you. It's like I can tell you anything and I don't have to worry about what you'll think of me. The only other person who has ever made me feel that way was my father. There was this one time when he was trying to teach me how to ride a bike and I fell and scraped my knee. He put a bandage on it and kissed my tears away then gave me a bowl of ice cream before taking me back outside to try again. His motto was: 'When life kicks you down, get up and kick it back.' He always said that to me when I felt like giving up. I've been saying that to myself when times have gotten hard."

Van merely smiled down at her, his hand gently rubbing her back as she nestled her head against his shoulder. Charlie looked up for a couple of moments and smiled back. "You remind me of him," she continued, her hand reaching up to lightly stroke his cheek. "A little in the face, but mostly in the eyes; his were hazel like mine, but you have the same look, the same expressive features."

"Well, apparently women tend to date men that are much like their fathers," Van replied.

"Oh, God! Don't ever say that again," Charlie groaned, giving him a light poke in the side with her finger, which she soon realized was one of his sensitive areas. She continued to poke him until he swatted her hand away.

"Stop that," Van growled.

"Or what?" Charlie challenged, her devious eyes giving away her intent. She didn't wait for an answer; instead she immediately began to tickle him. His laughter was more than enough to put a smile on her face as she continued to look for all the right places he hated to be touched.

As her fingers roamed over his body, Van's own hands reached out, trying to find some leverage. Charlie's ribcage was his first target, and when he heard that high pitched shriek fill the night air followed by the sound of her laughter, he knew he was on the right track. He wrestled her to the ground as she kept trying to get him back for what he was doing to her, but she couldn't, and almost completely gave up. She was heaving by the time she cried, "Uncle!" More tears had streamed from her eyes, but they were tears of joy instead of pain.

Van stopped; proud that he had won the tickle fight. But he didn't move when he realized she was pinned beneath his body. His hands moved to the sides of her face, gently brushed back strands of her multi colored hair that had fallen out of place. Their lips were inches apart, a tempting predicament for Van. He wanted to steal a kiss at that very moment, but refrained, fearing that it might scare her away. Instead, he continued to gaze down into her deep hazel eyes, the smile ever present on his face. His body shifted so none of his weight was on her, and almost too soon, the moment was gone.

Charlie started to push away, feeling uncomfortable by the turn of events. Her first instinct was to make a joke about the situation, but she didn't want to hurt Van's feelings, especially after all he'd done for her that day. She sat up instead, and waited for him to sit beside her again. He somehow ended up behind her, though, his long, lean legs falling to either side of her body as he pressed his chest against her back and wrapped his arms around her waist. "That was fun," Van whispered in her ear, his chin resting on her shoulder.

Charlie nodded. "Where are we?" she asked suddenly, realizing that the sun had set a while ago and that the pale moon was casting shadows into the night.

"Some place I discovered a while ago when I needed a little time to think," Van answered, his grey green eyes gazing at the moonlit scenery before him. "I come up here every once in a while when I need to get away from the city. Besides, it's not far from my place, so sometimes I just walk. It's very tranquil."

"It's beautiful," Charlie commented, relaxing in his arms while she looked out over the ocean again.

"So are you," Van whispered, his gaze directed at her instead of the scenery.

Charlie could feel the warmth of his breath on the bare skin of her neck. It sent a delicious chill down her spine until his lips made contact with her flesh. She gasped, her body becoming rigid. This was new to her, therefore somewhat frightening. She didn't know if he wanted anything in return or if this was just his way of showing affection, but decided not to take any chances and quickly pulled away, shrugging him off like a fly. "Don't… do that," she said in an irritated manner, trying not to show her fear.

"Do what?" Van asked, truly wondering what he'd done wrong this time. He thought he had enough experience with women to know how far he could push them before they felt uncomfortable, but this was new territory for him. Charlie was one unpredictable and confusing woman. She liked being held and having her hand kissed, but it seemed that anywhere else his lips touched, she turned into the ice queen.

"Tell me I'm beautiful then try to kiss me," Charlie answered, pulling away from his arms so she could stand up. This situation had gone from bad to worse, and she only hoped that it wasn't going to turn into a mistake she'd regret later on.

"Whoa, hey, wait," Van said as she pushed her way out his arms. "Charlie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get carried away." She was already on her feet by now, but she did turn back to look at him, the discontent present in her eyes. He stood up so they were standing eye to eye, well, sort of, considering he was at least half a foot taller than she. Taking her hands in his, Van gazed into her hazel orbs, the caring and concern ever present. "Why don't you like it when I kiss you or tell you that you're beautiful?" he asked.

"Because…" Charlie looked down, kicking the dirt at her feet as she tried to hide her real reasons. But when Van's hand came up beneath her chin and lifted her head so they were gazing at each other again, she knew she couldn't hold back, not with those big grey green sad puppy dog eyes reaching into the very depths of her soul and grabbing onto her heart. "That just doesn't happen to me. Nobody's ever told me I was beautiful, and nobody has ever really kissed me either," she finally revealed. "I'm not what people consider beautiful. That's what my mother tells me. She calls me a fat cow and tells me that no boy would ever look at a girl like me unless I lost weight and wore makeup and pretty clothes."

Van was surprised when he found that Charlie wasn't crying as she made this admission to him. It sounded as if it was something she had come to accept, like it had been beaten into her head. "She… she says that to you?" he asked, even more surprised by what he was being told. Charlie nodded. "Well, she's wrong! Not all guys are shallow like that." It seemed ironic that at the same time he was saying those words, Van could hear Billie's voice in the back of his mind telling him that he was. But he was determined to prove them both wrong. "Tomorrow night, you'll see what I mean," he said. "I'll make sure that you feel just as beautiful as I think you look."

"Easier said than done," Charlie retorted, rolling her eyes.

"I'll prove it," Van confidently answered.

"You do that," she skeptically told him as she let go of his hands and started walking towards the car. "Take me home now, please."

"Sure." Van followed, getting ahead of her to open her door. It was a small gesture to show her that he meant what he said about proving that all guys weren't jackasses.

"Thank you," Charlie quietly replied. She got in, making sure her feet didn't knock over the vase. Her eyes gazed down at the flowers as Van took his seat beside her and started the car, the engine rumbling to life. He shifted into reverse and pulled away from the beautiful spot he'd revealed to her that night. Charlie's eyes remained focused on the flowers as he drove her back to her house in the Hills. "How'd you know I liked lilies? Did Stella tell you?" It was her meek attempt at conversation after the near fatal downfall they just had.

"Actually, no," Van answered, giving her a sincere look. "The lady at the flower shop thought they'd be perfect for you because they symbolize sweetness, so I went with it. They really are your favorites?"

"Yeah," Charlie said. "I'm not big on roses because I feel that they've just become so over used as symbols of love and passion and marriage. There's such a delicate beauty in lilies, like they can be easily broken if not handled properly."

"Huh…" Van replied, nodding. "That's interesting. They are quite beautiful, though."

Charlie smiled, picking a lily from the vase and holding it in her hand. She continued to hold it until they were almost a block away from the front gates. "Stop here," she said. Van glanced over at her as she added, "The last thing I need is for my mother and Sterling to find out we're together. They'd totally flip out."

"Okay," Van replied, understanding well enough that they had already put themselves in a strange position, and that if Sterling did find out he was seeing his step-daughter, the case could quite possibly be over as well.

"Thanks for the flowers. They did manage to brighten my shitty day," Charlie said as she stepped out of the car, grabbing the vase and the last of her dinner.

"You're welcome," Van answered with a smile.

Charlie smiled as well. She was beginning to feel better. Maybe he would prove that guys we're as shallow as they seemed. "Goodnight," she said, handing him the lily she had been holding and closing the door behind her. She stared to walk towards the front gate when she heard Van call her name.

"Hey, Charlie," he yelled from his open window. She turned around wondering what he wanted now. "Wear a dress tomorrow night; something nice." Charlie's mouth dropped open, but before she even got a chance to protest, he was off, the engine of the car overpowering anything she might have said. She merely shook her head and turned around again as she made her way to the gate. The security guard gave her a funny look when he noticed the flowers, but quickly let her in.

As she walked up the long driveway, Charlie made sure to pluck the note off the vase and put it in her pocket before she entered the house. There were already enough excuses she needed to make for why she'd been out so late and why she was bringing home flowers. Fortunately for her, Sterling and her mother weren't anywhere to be seen. The house was actually empty that night. Charlie sighed with relief and started to make her way to her room.

Just as she was about to open the door to her room, Stella came out of the one across the hall, surprised by what she saw. Charlie glared at her, the look on her face almost frightening. "Where the fuck were you?" she growled. "I wanted for an hour! A FUCKING HOUR! I called you every five minutes! What the hell happened to you? Are you really that scatter brained?"

Stella stood there, open mouthed and dumbfounded. "Shit…" she breathed. "I got caught up in a meeting with the student government until almost an hour ago. It was really stressing, and all I wanted to do was go home. I completely forgot that I needed to pick you up from work. I swear, Charlie, my phone was on silent and I still haven't checked it yet. I'm soooooo sorry!"

"You're such a jackass," Charlie retorted as she opened the door to her room. She was getting ready to slam it shut when Stella grabbed it.

"How'd you get home? Did you walk? What's with the flowers?" she asked, following her sister into her room.

"Shut up and go away," Charlie grumbled, setting the vase down on her desk.

"Come on, Charlie, I'm really sorry that I forgot," Stella continued to apologize as she sat down on the bed. "I'll make it up to you, I promise. Now, tell me, what happened tonight? How did you get home and where did you get the flowers?"

Charlie sighed. She pulled the note out of her pocket and handed it to Stella. As he sister read it, she made her way to the bathroom, desperately wanting a shower. "Oh, my God!" she heard Stella shriek from the other room. "He's so SWEET!"

"No shit," Charlie replied, going back into her room to grab her track pants and t-shirt. "We're going out tomorrow night…" A light bulb suddenly went off in her head. "And I've got the perfect way for you to pay me back for tonight," she added. The devious smile and twinkle in her eyes quickly made Stella cringe.

"Oh, no…" she moaned. "You're not gonna make me do what I think you're gonna make me do!"

"Oh, yes! I am!" Charlie answered before shutting the bathroom door and turning on the shower.

Stella fell back against the bed, burying her face in a pillow. "Damn it, she's gonna make me go shopping with her," she mumbled.