TITLE: Right Round Round Round
AUTHOR: freelance spice
RATING: R for language
PAIRING: Charlotte/Stacey
SUMMARY: Charlotte's finally eighteen.
WORD COUNT: 2502. That's how many words. Not the year it takes place. That'd be more like Firefly fic. Like that time I put the BSC on Serenity.
NOTES: This follows The Kristy Thomas Guide to High School Romance, the currently in-progress Kristy's Senior Year and my other Angst!Charlotte fics.

It had all come down to this. Six years of pining and pretending I wasn't pining and pining through the non-pining façade.

I'd gone away. Left my quaint little hometown of Stoneybrook, CT. Immersed myself in a life somewhere else. But I still kept in contact, usually pretending things were much more upbeat than they were. In fact, I'll bet some of my emails made it sound like I was living The Facts Of Life, complete with unspoken (and spoken) lesbian subtext.

In case you stepped into this without any concept of researching the backstory, I'm Charlotte Johannsen. I was valedictorian last year at Westlake All Girls Boarding and Preparatory School. The reason I ended up in no-man's land? Personal choice. See, I was (am) in love with this girl who have me the brush off. Well, a quasi-brush off. She gave me this speech about age difference and the indiscretions of youth or whatever. Anyway, the deal was that if I still felt the way I did by the time I hit the big one eight, she'd reconsider. Which all seems like a bundle of crap, but I was twelve and she was sixteen and gorgeous and the epitome of everything I could (do) ever want, so I decided to hold out. I just couldn't do it in the same town. I needed to grow and find myself or something.

And I did. I learned a hell of a lot about myself and the world and other people and bi-curious girls who are only bi-curious because they've done too many Jello shooters vs. girls who actually like girls and hangovers and drunk dialing the very girl you're specifically trying to not think about and so very much, much more.

After graduation, I spent the better part of a year doing things alone. I didn't apply to college because I'd just spent six years locked away getting educated and didn't feel much like jumping right back into the same exact thing. I didn't hang out with old flings like Shandi, my Westlake roommate/girlfriend, or Vanessa, an old hometown friend/girlfriend. I didn't even call Stacey (see: the girl in question). I avoided any and all contact with Pre-Grad Charlotte. Well, except for my parents. They're good people and I didn't want them to worry. I feel sorry for them that they ended up with such an angry emo kid like me, if I may slap a generalized generational label on myself. They know I'm bordering on brilliant and all I can show for it is an understanding that the majority of the world is bullshit.

I took my hefty chunk of graduation money and found myself a roommate in lower Manhattan. His name was Deke and he was, yes, an artist and, yes, a poet and, yes, an actor. And yes, gay. My bedroom was about a third of the size of my old dorm room, but it was the first room I had to myself in years.

Deke and I got along well because we both minded our own goddamn business. The place was too small to have parties and he usually spent most of his time out at poetry readings or acting class or peddling his work on the streets, so I rarely saw him. He was nice enough to point me in the direction of a coffeehouse/used bookshop that his brother managed. And that's how I began my career as a coffee wench. It was actually a perfect job. The day crowd was steady but laid back, leaving me plenty of time to check out the bookshelves that lined the shop. It was those shelves that started me thinking about Stacey, again.

I'd managed to fall in step with my new New York life. And while Stacey's a New York girl herself, the city's diverse enough that there were plenty of things around that didn't remind me of her. Be that as it may, I'd still stumble over things that would rush thoughts of Stacey directly to the forefront of my brain, but I'd shove them right back.

I'd had my mom send a box of books from home to donate to the shop. Just old stuff I didn't read anymore, or books she didn't want.

Nick, my manager, shuffled through the box to check for torn pages or broken bindings. "You sure this one goes in here?" He slid a hardcover book across the counter.

The Cricket in Times Square. The fucking Cricket in Times Square. I flipped open the cover. "Love to Charlotte, my favorite kid, from Stacey, her favorite baby-sitter."

And that's how I ended up in Chelsea, outside Stacey's apartment building, holding the Cricket in one hand and a pint of Seagrams vodka in the other. I didn't start out with the Seagrams. I picked it up from the corner mini mart once I realized she wasn't home. Actually, I paid a guy an extra five bucks to get it for me. I was old enough to legally get laid by men three times my age, but I still couldn't buy booze.

I don't even know why I went there. I'd managed ten months of not talking to her. Even when my birthday passed earlier this year, I didn't answer when she called. In my initial fantasy, this actually should have all played out on my birthday. I'd show up, freshly eighteen, and present myself to her. She'd smile and ask me to come inside for coffee, because that's what adults do. Have coffee. I was twelve when I brewed this image up, okay? And then we'd kiss and it would all be terribly romantic. Again, twelve. But that day came and went, and there was coffee, but I was selling it to people who weren't Stacey. And when my cell phone rang, I hit Silent and deleted the message without listening. Which, in retrospect, makes the previous six years seem like a lot of work for nothing, I know.

But now, the silence was broken. Or trying to break. Hell, I was ready to shatter it. But she wasn't there. And really, she could have been any number of places. It was seven-thirty on a Tuesday night in April. Maybe she was in class. Or at dinner. Or on a date. Maybe she'd gone back to visit her mom in Stoneybrook. Fuck, what if she was sick? Stacey was diabetic and had ended up in the hospital more than a few times. Maybe she'd moved. I marched up the steps and double-checked the buzzer button. I knew it must say S. McGill because I'd already pressed it when I first showed up. But you never can be too sure. I punched it again. Nothing.

"Fuck this."

I stormed across the street, took one more swig of vodka, and chucked the bottle at the stone front building. It exploded, raining bits of glass and liquor all over the sidewalk. It's funny how damaging something else can make you feel better.

I pivoted to my right, in the direction of the nearest subway station, and ran into someone and their armload of groceries.

"Fuck, I'm sorry."

"Quite the mouth you've developed."

You know, for a city so damned full of people, it sure conjures up a hell of a lot of coincidences.

"I was just... I came to see... I came to give this to you." I held out the book.

Stacey looked over the cover of the book, but she didn't take it. Probably because her arms were full of groceries.

She peered over the tops of the paper bags. "That's yours."

"Well, I don't want it anymore."

"I don't know what the hell is up with you, but can you at least let me get this stuff inside?"

I was apparently one grade-A asshole. "Yeah. Sure. Sorry."

It felt weird, apologizing. I hadn't really done that to anyone in years. Not genuinely, anyway. I even grabbed one of the bags, without asking if she wanted help.

We walked in silence up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. She lived alone in a tiny one bedroom. But while it was small, it was definitely Stacey, elegantly hip and organized, with a huge framed vintage movie poster of Mary Poppins on one wall.

I set the bag down on the kitchen counter, watching her as she went to work putting everything away.

"So, why're you here? Is this really just about the book?"

Why was I there? Was it really just about the book? Nice, Char. Let's just mentally repeat the things people are asking us.

"I... yeah, I just found it... and I figured..." I leaned against the counter, pushing the book around with my finger.

She folded the empty grocery bags and stuck them under the sink. "You figured?"

"Actually, I figured this would all go much differently."

"Me too."

"Right, like you've given this much thought."

"I've thought about it plenty."

"Well, you sure have a lousy way of showing it."

She shook her head, annoyed. "Charlotte, you're the one who disappeared for a fucking year."

"Quite the mouth you've developed."

"And even before that, you changed. You left Stoneybrook and Charlotte, the Charlotte I knew, disappeared."

"Maybe you just didn't know me that well."

"You know what, leave the book or whatever. Go figure out your life and let me know how it falls into place."

"So that's it? In and out in less than five minutes?"

"I don't know what else to say to you."

She stood there, twenty-two and wavy blonde, in her DKNY jeans and NYU sweatshirt, looking tired and overwhelmed, her eyes searching my face, probably for some kind of recognition of that kid who wept her way through summer camp and skipped a grade and got ecstatic at the idea of new books in the Kid-Kit. And I wanted to scream that she was still in here, still shy as all hell, still afraid of so many things, still the same old Charlotte but she'd just perfected this existential exoskeleton to survive in a world without Stacey McGill, Super-Sitter.

I wanted to scream. But, instead, I did something I hadn't done in half a decade. I cried.

I hate crying, specifically in front of other people. I used to do it all the time when I was scared or lonely or unsure. When I left for Westlake, I made the conscious choice to turn it off. A new Charlotte for a new day. And New Charlotte didn't cry and didn't take shit and didn't care. She did what she needed to do and what she wanted to do and things got done.

But now, here I was, in this place I'd been wanting and needing to be... and I didn't know what to do with it.

"Stace..."

She didn't move, didn't say anything.

I took in a deep breath, trying to steady myself. The worst part about tears is talking through them.

"Stacey, I just miss you. And I know I was only twelve and it was stupid of me to even think... and now, I'm not twelve and it's still so stupid and..." I slid to the floor, pulling my knees up to my chest. "I just really, really miss you."

She was suddenly next to me, one arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders. "I really miss you, too, Char."

We stayed like that for a long time, digging up memories that had been buried for a good ten years and talking about stuff we'd done since then. Just talk. No coffee. No kissing. Not even when we were both exhausted and she pulled me into the bedroom where we both slept, her arm securely draped over me and her face resting against my shoulder.

The morning, however, did boast some of that coffee, along with more talking. Discussion of how I did, in fact, love her and how I wasn't really sure what to do with that and further discussion of how she did, in fact, love me and she wasn't really sure what to do with that.

And things were awkward for a while, yet strangely comfortable at the same time. Hanging out, watching movies, trips to Central Park and the Met were accomplished with ease. It was the underlying tension of a mutual attraction that may or may not result in complete disaster that terrified us. Well, I know it scared the hell out of me.

That fear would last about two and a half weeks.

We were walking from the subway station to her apartment, caught up in a discussion about the latest movie adapted to Broadway musical when she just stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.

"What's the matter?" I looked back at her. "Stacey?"

"Hey, Char?"

"Yeah?"

"I know I'm only twenty-two and I'm still not done with all this stupid growing up stuff..." She absently chewed her lip as she laid out her next thought. "And I... I've only ever dated loser guys who ended up dragging me down every single time and... Well, I just mean, it's been me and guys and I've never really thought about being gay or even bisexual or whatever..."

"Stacey, what are—"

"But I love you, Charlotte. I've thought about you every day. Every day since that afternoon in the rec center parking lot. I thought about who you might grow up to be and if you'd even remember me when you got older."

"I couldn't forget you if I tried. Hell, I did try."

She gave me an amused look. "I'm trying to tell you that I... Screw it."

Her hand grabbed mine and pulled me into her, face to face. In the past, I have always initiated the first kiss. Not so this time around.

For someone who hadn't given serious thought to kissing other girls, Stacey sure wasn't holding back. I'd heard of people getting weak-kneed from a good kiss, but this was the first time I'd ever experienced it. When we broke apart, I couldn't decide if I should first catch my breath or my balance.

I quickly managed to recover them both, then rested my head against her shoulder. "You're sure about this?"

"If you are."

"Hey, I was sure about six years ago."

"Some things just take time."

"Yeah. And it gave me a chance to learn all kinds of lesbian sex tips from the internet."

"Wow."

"You don't know the half of it."

"I guess someone better fill me in."

"I might know someone."

She kissed the top of my head. "Figured you might."

And that was that. The beginning of the rest of everything. Which seems so boring and cliché, I know. Maybe, if you're lucky, I'll come back with some sordid details about some totally hot post-fight aggressive sex. Or, maybe I'll just say that I've spent a lot of time being angry and pissed off and I'm finally working out the happier side of my brain.

It's about damn time.