Author's Note: Written for tornyourdress for Yuletide 2012. Title taken from a Marilyn Hocker poem.
The first time it happens, Charlotte is ten, and Stacey is fifteen.
If Charlotte was to tell the truth, she didn't really need a babysitter anymore.
She was ten now, and she could come home after school let out and not have to have constant supervision. Her parents always instilled a sense of responsibility in her, and she wasn't one to violate what her parents expected out of her. She could pull up a spot at the kitchen table and eat a snack while reading over her homework assignments, and she was even beginning to figure out how to work the microwave to fix small meals by herself.
But she liked having Stacey come over, especially when her parents were going to be away late into the night, or even overnight. It was more like having a glamorous older friend coming over and spending time with her. And she suspected that Stacey would even do it for free, but her parents had always insisted - "use this to buy something to treat yourself," they'd say - and she never complained. Neither of them ever did.
It was nice.
"You like that scarf?" Stacey asked, as they looked into an accessory store at the mall. Charlotte could only nod, there was something about how the scarf wrapped around the mannequin's neck that made her want it. "Then, let's both get one. Both of us can have matching scarves. So that everyone will know we're like sisters."
Stacey paid the cashier with the babysitting money that she had carefully saved up; Charlotte locked her eyes onto the beautiful blue scarf as it was folded up and delicately placed inside the bag. Hers and Stacey's were identical in every way, right down to the same shade; Stacey would always look proper and sophisticated in hers, while Charlotte would always look like she was dressing up in her mother's clothing.
Stacey took the scarf out of the bag and wound it around Charlotte's neck in a practiced pattern. Her fingers brushed the edge of Charlotte's neck, and Charlotte felt a little shock. It was probably static electricity. Nothing more. The mall was known for that. "There you go. You look just like me, now." Turning her attention to other matters, she said, "C'mon, let's go get something to snack on, there's a place here that has really good sugar-free ice cream for me."
And so they walked off together, and Charlotte fingered the fringe of her scarf and wondered if it was all her mind playing tricks on her. It was Stacey. Nothing could ever be wrong if Stacey was around.
The second time it happens, Charlotte is thirteen, and Stacey is eighteen.
She doesn't see how Stacey ever managed to keep it all together when she was a babysitter. Even just taking care of Hope Felder two afternoons a week was tiring enough, and yet, Stacey had done this as a part-time job, until Charlotte had gotten too old for a babysitter - which had been around the time of the static electricity incident with the scarf, come to think of it.
It was amazing what she could remember, sometimes.
"Oh my Lord, Charlotte, you've grown up so much!" Stacey exclaimed, running over and giving her a big hug. "You look so much like I did when I was thirteen. Your hair is to die for."
"Thanks," Charlotte said, fighting back a blush as she hugged Stacey close to her. There was that static electricity again. Funny how it only seemed to be around when Stacey was in the vicinity. "You - you look great too."
"I'm leaving tomorrow," Stacey said, finally, "I'm going to college in Chicago."
"You promise you'll call when you can?"
"And write, and I'll come home on holidays - I promise, Char. I'm not going to leave you alone here in Stoneybrook without me to turn to. You'll have to try harder than that to get rid of me.."
And as Charlotte watched Stacey walk away, she wondered why she would ever want a world with her in it that didn't have Stacey in it too.
The third time it happens, Charlotte is fifteen, and Stacey is twenty.
Stacey was back from college for Christmas; despite her earlier promises, she doesn't come to Stoneybrook too often, but Charlotte got a letter every few weeks and a phone call here and there, but long distance was still expensive and there wasn't an easy way to communicate with someone who lived a long way's away. She kind of wished that she could send mail through the phone wires. sometimes.
Okay, like all of the time.
But Stacey was back from college, and she was talking frantically about something that her sociology class had been talking about before the end of the semester - Charlotte tried, but she can't understand what Stacey talked about half the time anymore. It was all about horizons and perspectives and systems and it made her head spin.
"So, Char, do you want to go to the mall?" Stacey placed her hand on Charlotte's. A simple gesture, to be sure, there was nothing to read into a touch of the hands. They had held hands a thousand times before, and brushed against each other a thousand more times than that, but Charlotte pulled her hand back as if she had been electrocuted. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," Charlotte said, lying between her teeth. "I'm fine. Really. I am. I just - I don't feel up to going to the mall today. Was kind of crazy the last time I was there.
"When it's crazy is the best time to go though. It's alive then!"
"I'd rather just stay home and watch a movie," she said, and they played the worn-out VHS tape of Mary Poppins - not because it was Stacey's favorite movie when she was a teenager, but because it was the only tape in a nearby radius. And Stacey fell asleep halfway through the movie and Charlotte turned it off, allowing Stacey to sleep in peace and quiet there. It was not her business to pry into Stacey's life, but she wondered if Stacey had a boyfriend in Chicago. It would make a lot of sense, with how things had been between them; she might miss the boyfriend and Charlotte wasn't going to be the replacement for some high and mighty accounting major named Frederick or something.
Not that she would allow herself to ever be thought of as a replacement for anyone, male or female.
She let Stacey sleep, and when Stacey awoke, she was gone. There was a lot that she had to think about, without Stacey being there to influence her thinking. Clearly, not everything was as she thought it was
Hopefully Stacey wouldn't be too upset with her. After all, no Stacey was clearly a worst-case scenario.
The fourth time it happens, Charlotte is eighteen, and Stacey is twenty-three.
"Stacey!" Things had changed from when she was younger; the accessory store where Stacey indulged her scarf-loving ways had moved out years before, and had been replaced by a computer accessory outlet. Things change with the times. And she could say that for herself. They stood near where the store had been, watching as a young clerk helped a guy discover his very first computer - Charlotte had gone to the mall to find a new duffel bag before the summer was over and she had to go back to Providence, but she ran into Stacey instead. Of course.
"Why have we been in this weird sort of state of ignoring-each-other's-existence for the past two years?"
"Have those two been here this whole time?" Charlotte asked, gesturing to two young women down the hallway; it was a last-ditch effort to distract Stacey. They appeared to be around her age, if not a little younger. "I've never really noticed them before, but they always seem to be around. Here, at school, even when I was a kid."
Stacey peered at them, and nodded her head in recognition. "Oh! I think they're Cassidy and Julie Ohdner," she said, "we used to babysit them from time to time. But no one ever knew very much about them. Nice enough girls, but -"
"All I really remember about them was that they had a single father and got the measles once. And, they can't all be like you, now, can they? You were always my favorite."
"And you were mine."
"So, what's the problem then? I miss you, Char, more than you'd know," Stacey said, stepping in closer to Charlotte. Her face was dangerously close to Charlotte's, and she reached her hand out to Charlotte's. "You can talk to me. I'm no longer your babysitter. Lord, I don't think I ever really was one for you, except in the early days."
"You were, but you were the most awesome babysitter ever."
"And it's stupid."
"The fact that I can clearly still think of you like you're my babysitter. If I could disengage that portion of my brain, pretend like you're just an awesome older friend of mine who -"
"Charlotte? Is everything okay?"
"I came out to my parents a year and a half ago, okay? I'm a lesbian. And that freaks a lot of people out, even though it shouldn't, because Lord knows there's enough other problems in the world that me liking women should have nothing to do with anything."
"How did they react?" Stacey wasn't backing away, Charlotte noticed; Stacey wasn't leaving, screaming into the afternoon air about lesbian cooties or whatever else it was that people reacted poorly to this kind of news with.
"It was touch and go for a while. Not super-accepting, but I didn't expect a lesbian pride parade in my honor. You don't - you don't hate me, do you? Because I was scared. Scared of how I felt."
"I wish you could have told me." Stacey seemed to be taking in the information, soaking it in and processing, trying to make sense of it. Or something to that effect.
"I didn't want to admit that I was attracted to other women and that my primary attraction was to you all in one day. Although - guess that's what I'm doing here -" Charlotte said, stumbling over her words as they came pouring out of her mouth. "- you probably have no interest in me, I mean, you remember me as a seven year old, and that's not sexy or attractive, or at least I hope it's not -"
"It wasn't. But the Charlotte I see now? Is. And that's what's important." Stacey took one hand and tucked a loose lock of Charlotte's hair behind one ear. The friction from the moment was almost unbearable, and she had to steel her gaze not to melt into Stacey's touch. "You should have told me. I could have helped you. I always told you -"
Charlotte's mouth was on Stacey's before she could even finish the sentence.