Cooper wakes up on Halloween morning to the blaring radio of his alarm clock; it's too early, and he's too tired for Britney Spears. Cooper fumbles with the radio until the music stops. His eyes are scratchy, and all he wants is another six hours of sleep. He rolls over to snuggle up against Charlotte and feels nothing but cool silk sheets.
His heart is immediately beating hard in his chest. He needs to find Charlotte. The rational part of his brain wants to make sure that she's ok. Charlotte had woken up screaming in the middle of the night, and though Cooper had tried to stay awake with her, he must have ended up falling back asleep.
The irrational part of Cooper's brain is in overdrive. He is terrified that something awful has happened to Charlotte. She's not in the bathroom. He peeks into Mason's room to find Mason alone sleeping soundly. Cooper runs downstairs, cursing the fact that he no longer lives in a loft where he could see his whole apartment from his bed. Charlotte isn't in the kitchen; she isn't in the living room. Panic rises in Cooper's chest. He feels nauseous. He's going to be sick.
Cooper steadies himself against the couch. He reminds himself to take a deep breath. Charlotte is probably running, just like she does every morning. He checks the front hall closet: her sneakers are gone. She went for a run. It doesn't mean she's safe, Cooper's brain screams at him. Breathe. He sits down on the couch and turns on a morning news show. Charlotte should be back soon. He just needs to distract himself until then.
Charlotte can make out her house in the distance, so she breaks into an all out sprint. Two hours of running has eased the feeling of her skin crawling, calmed the jumpy, on edge, nervous buzz of her whole body. She'd remained awake after Cooper had fallen back asleep. She couldn't relive the memory a second time in one night. Charlotte had been out the door at 4 o'clock, when it was still dark and the air had a bit of a chill.
The muscles in Charlotte's legs burn as she pushes her body hard, harder towards home. Her breaths are deep, and she can hear her heart thudding in her ears. She feels strong, in control. With a final burst of speed, Charlotte makes her way up the driveway.
Cooper hears a key turn in the front door. He turns off the television and stands to go to the door. Charlotte opens the door, panting slightly, her body coated in sweat. She needs to chug some water, but that is going to have to wait a minute, because her husband is standing in front of her looking like a complete wreck. "Hey Coop. You ok?" she asks between deep breaths.
"I'm fine. I'm fine," he insists. Today is not about him. "Are you ok?"
"I feel better after my run – less jumpy."
"Good," Cooper tells her. He wants to touch her, but he isn't sure if she wants that right now. The memory of her cowering from his touch after her nightmare is still fresh in his mind.
Charlotte sees Cooper wringing his hands. She hates that Cooper feels like he needs to walk of eggshells with her. It makes her want to scream. She's frustrated with herself for still being affected by what happened to her, and she hates that it's between her and Cooper. She can't let this be something that makes her feel distant from her husband. Charlotte takes each of Cooper's hands in her own and then pulls one of his arms around her.
Cooper smiles at Charlotte and pulls her into his side. He will do whatever she needs to help her get through today, but he has to admit that he likes the fact that one of the things she needs is his touch.
Charlotte leads Cooper to the kitchen; she really wants some water. Charlotte goes to the refrigerator and grabs her water bottle. She leans back against the counter next to Cooper, downing the whole liter in a few gulps. "Now," Charlotte tells Cooper, once she's had her fill of water, "tell me how you really are."
"I said I'm fine."
"And I know you're not. You don't let me get away with that crap. Why should I let you get away with it?" Cooper has to admit that his wife has a point; one of the things that makes them work so well is that they call each other out on their bullshit.
"Charlotte, I don't want you to worry about me," Cooper tells her honestly.
"You're my husband. You think I'm not going to worry about you?" she tells him sharply.
Cooper sighs and concedes. "When I woke up and you weren't there, it freaked me out a little."
Charlotte rubs her hand along her husband's cheek. "I'm sorry. I should have left a note."
"You run every morning, Char. You don't need to leave a note for me."
"Today's different, Coop. I know it's hard for you too." Cooper's about to argue, but then thinks better of it. He leans down and gives Charlotte a kiss instead. A much better use of her husband's mouth, Charlotte thinks.
Charlotte glances at her watch – 6:15 a.m. She needs to wake Mason if she's ever going to get him into his Halloween costume and makeup and be at work on time. She and Cooper make their way up the stairs to Mason's bedroom. He's sleeping soundly, and Charlotte hates to wake him so early, but he'd insisted that he go to school in full zombie makeup. She sits down on the edge of Mason's bed. "Mase, time to wake up," Charlotte tells her son, shaking him gently. Mason groans and pulls the blanket over his head. "Come on, kiddo. Time to get zombified."
Mason peeks his head out of the covers, sees his momma is still in her running clothes. "Why can't you shower and get ready first?" he asks.
"Because I don't want to get zombie blood all over my work clothes. Now get your butt out of bed." Charlotte's insistence is met with Mason once again burying his head under the covers. "Only one thing to do," Charlotte says, glancing at Cooper. "Tickle monster!" The threat does the trick. Mason throws the blankets off himself and hops out of bed. "Go brush your teeth. I'm going to grab the blood and makeup, and I'll meet you in the bathroom."
Once Mason's out of the room, Cooper asks Charlotte. "Do you want me to do his makeup? You can just relax or soak in the tub."
"When did you learn to apply makeup?" Charlotte asks with a smirk, amused by the image of her husband trying to put makeup on their son.
"I could try," he insists.
"I've got it. Thanks Coop."
"Yeah," she tells Cooper with a smile. "Being with Mason distracts me," she adds as she pulls the bag of zombie accessories out of the closet. Charlotte gives her husband a reassuring kiss, before heading off to get Mason into his costume.
Charlotte had insisted on working today. Cooper wasn't surprised by that, but he still wishes she had agreed to the idea of both of them taking to day off. Cooper wants to be with his wife every moment, so it makes him deeply unhappy when just after noon he is paged to the hospital.
Cooper knocks on Charlotte's office door. Charlotte is finishing up her morning charting before she takes a lunch break. Cooper walks into Charlotte's office. "I just got paged to the hospital."
"Ok. Are you going to take the car and then pick me up when you're done?" They had planned to pick Mason up at school together after work so they could get an early start on trick-or-treating.
"Yeah. Are you going to be ok?" Cooper asks.
It grates on Charlotte a little that Cooper is checking on her every few minutes. She reminds herself that Cooper's trying to be supportive, and that this anniversary reminds him of a time when Charlotte had done everything in her power to hide what she was going through from him. He feels the need to check, just in case she isn't being forthcoming with what she's feeling. She gets that. "I'm fine Coop." Cooper still has a worried look on his face, so Charlotte adds, "I'll call you if I need anything. I promise."
This seems to appease Cooper enough, and he leaves for the hospital. Now that a lunch date with her husband is out of the question, Charlotte heads to the kitchen to get some food. Violet, Addison, and Sam are eating lunch when Charlotte walks in. They go silent and watch Charlotte as she grabs her yogurt and carrots from the refrigerator. Just perfect, Charlotte thinks. The last thing Charlotte wants right now is a group of people reminding her every second what day today is and treating her like she's about to fall apart. Lunch in her office it is then.
Charlotte's on her way out of the kitchen when Violet asks, "Are you ok Charlotte? I know today is hard."
Cooper asking how Charlotte is doing, she can handle. But Violet asking in the middle of the office really pisses Charlotte off. She grits her teeth, takes a deep breath, and replies politely, "I'm fine. Thanks," before leaving the room.
Charlotte passes Sheldon's office, sees him eating lunch. Sheldon has always been good at not pressing her to talk, and Charlotte could really use some company right now, so she knocks on Sheldon's door. "Mind if I join you for lunch?" she asks holding up her yogurt.
"Of course not," Sheldon tells her. Charlotte sits down, and Sheldon eyes her lunch. "That's all you're eating?"
"I've got to save room for the pounds of chocolate I am going to eat tonight," she tells him, as she peels back the lid of her yogurt.
"Are you sure that Mason will share?"
"Mason's allergic to chocolate. It's Cooper that I have to worry about." Charlotte and Sheldon fall into an easy conversation about Mason before moving on to talk about zombies and horror movies.
Charlotte's done with lunch and thinking she really should get back to her paperwork when Amelia knocks on the door. "Hey," Amelia says popping her head in the doorway. "I was planning to hit up a meeting on my lunch hour. You want to join me?"
Charlotte isn't sure if Amelia is asking because she thinks Charlotte might need a meeting today or because Amelia could use a friend. Charlotte excuses herself and follows Amelia into the hall. "Are you asking because you want company or are you checking on me?"
"I just thought you might need a meeting today," Amelia tells her friend.
Charlotte realizes her question came out far more accusingly than she'd intended. Charlotte truly appreciates Amelia checking on her. "Thanks. I'm ok though. You really heading to a meeting?"
"Yeah. I could use one."
"Are you ok going alone, or do you want company?"
"I'm fine. Thanks. I'll see you later," Amelia tells Charlotte, heading for the elevators.
Charlotte goes back to her office. She's trying to get work done so that she can leave early to pick Mason up, but Charlotte's distracted. Alone in her office, her mind is wandering too much. The ring of Charlotte's phone startles her. Her heart is beating too fast. She hates feeling out of control of how her body reacts. Charlotte glances down at her phone: her brother Duke is calling. Charlotte can't think of any reason why Duke would be calling, so she picks up to make sure that everything is ok. "Hey Duke."
"Hey Charlie," his voice booms through the phone. Charlotte smiles. She loves her brothers, pains in the ass though they can be at times.
"Everything ok?" Charlotte asks. Her brother sounds upbeat enough.
"Oh, yeah. You just never responded to my email this morning." Duke had sent Charlotte a picture of his two-month-old daughter in her Halloween costume: an angel. The only words in the email had been Tell me she isn't the cutest baby you've ever seen. Charlotte had planned to email Duke back eventually with a picture of Mason in his costume, but she hadn't thought the email needed immediate attention.
"What's really going on Duke?"
"Can't a guy just want to talk to his big sister?"
"Sure, but it's the middle of the work day."
Duke is out of excuses. "I just wanted to call and see how you were. That's all."
It hits Charlotte then. He knows. It's not surprising that he worked out that something had been wrong after the rape. But last year he must have worked out the date. Charlotte feels a pang of embarrassment that her brother knows something so intimate about her. But she fights the feeling. This is not something that she should be embarrassed about. There's nothing shameful about being raped, Charlotte reminds herself, hating that she feels ashamed at all.
Duke has known for two years, and Charlotte never knew. It hadn't changed the way her brother had treated her, and for that Charlotte is extremely grateful. "Thanks for calling," Charlotte tells Duke sincerely.
Duke can hear in his sister's voice that she knows that he had called to check on her. "Is your man taking care of you today?" Charlotte wonders if this is why Duke and Landry had warmed so quickly to Cooper. They knew he'd helped her through some of the hardest months of her life. Duke and Landry may be Charlotte's baby brothers, but they're still protective of her.
"He is," Charlotte confirms. "I'm ok, Duke. Today's hard, but I'm getting through it."
"I'm glad Charlie." The Kings are not talkers, but it means a lot to Charlotte that her brother is thinking of her today.
"Now tell me," Charlotte says, needing a change of conversation before she starts tearing up in her office, "how is that beautiful baby of yours?"
Three hours of trick-or-treating had been enough to fill two giant bags with more candy than Mason, Cooper, and Charlotte can eat before it goes bad. The candy is currently spread out on the living room floor, and Mason is sorting it into piles by type. For a kid who keeps his room such a mess, he's being surprisingly organized about his Halloween loot. The piles are organized into categories. There's a non-chocolate category, which Cooper and Charlotte are forbidden from touching. Charlotte has gone ahead and sub-divided the chocolate pile herself. Everything dark chocolate is hers. Candy bars are for Cooper. The large pile of mini bags of m&m candies, she and Cooper can share.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Mason tells his parents, after finishing off another package of sugar babies.
"Maybe it's time to take a break," Charlotte suggests. "You have a party tonight, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of junk food there too."
"I can't wait to show off my costume! I think this was the best zombie costume of anyone we saw trick-or-treating." Charlotte has to admit, she'd done a good job with the makeup. She supposes creating realistic looking fake wounds is one of the underappreciated skills that comes with being a doctor.
Mason is out the door and on his way to his sleepover an hour later. The floor is still littered with neat stacks of candy, and Charlotte happily does her part to remedy this problem by picking up a dark chocolate Hershey's mini and popping it in her mouth.
Cooper is still wearing his vampire costume. Charlotte hadn't quite appreciated how silly he looked until they no longer had a kid around to justify their costumes. "You look delicious," Cooper tells Charlotte, before bending over and biting her neck gently.
Normally Charlotte would be completely into this. But two years ago at this time she was lying under Lee McHenry, and right now the last thing Charlotte wants is to role-play being powerless. "Coop, not tonight." She hates that Lee retains this bit of control over her sex life. She hates feeling like he still has some power over her.
Cooper backs off immediately and apologizes. "I need to be on top," Charlotte tells Cooper. He studies her face, tries to figure out if Charlotte is offering to have sex because she feels like she owes it to Cooper. "And I need you to be you." Charlotte still enjoys role-playing with her husband, but tonight she needs to focus on Cooper. She needs him to ground her, and she needs to feel close to the man she loves.
"Char, we don't have to have sex tonight," Cooper tells his wife gently.
"Oh, yes we do. I'm horny, and we have the whole house to ourselves." If that wasn't enough to convince Cooper that his wife is very interested in sleeping with him right now, the way she starts quickly removing his costume is.
Two years ago Charlotte had felt like her whole world had been shattered. She's heard survivors talk about what they do on anniversaries to mourn what happened to them and to celebrate their progress. For Charlotte, this is the perfect celebration of her strength and of the love in her life. She'll never forget what happened to her. But having fantastic sex with her husband – who she loves so much and who makes her so happy – feels like the perfect way to celebrate how far she has come.