Disclaimer: 'Teen Wolf' isn't mine. Shocking, right? But it's true. If there are any similarities in content or dialogue, it has probably originated with the show.
Note: This story was inspired by the miraculous work of BrittWitt16 in her story 'The Wild Side'. I'm sure most everybody who ends up here has already read her story because it's genius, but if you have not yet then I tell you this. STOP READING THIS! Go read hers first. For reals because it's so incredibly awesome that I can't handle it and that sort of awesomeness should be shared as far and wide as possible. If I had never read that story, Charlie Oswin wouldn't exist today. But then, you know, come back and read this one please. Pretty please.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE (SERIOUSLY READ THIS BEFORE YOU START): This story is currently in editing. It's going through all sorts of changes. I'm even adding a new OC character in the mix. As such, you will get to a point where the chapter just reads 'awaiting update'. This is because I don't want people still following who have already read the story to get a ton of updates for a story they've already read. Also, while I kept the old chapters up, they had been stolen and reposted to a different website. I'm sorry for the inconvenience.
Okay, here we go. Onto the story.
Chapter 1 - It Has Been Zero Days Since Our Last Shenanigans
This day was going on record as one of the worst days of her life. She was making a judgement call. To the outside viewer this might seem to be a premature assessment given that her feet had yet to touch the carpet, sequestered as they were in the tangle of her bedsheets, but Charlie Oswin had never been one for indecisiveness. Nope, she was calling it. This day was going to suck. Because today was the first day of school.
Charlie had never liked the first day of school, ever since she was a kid. Sure the first ever time back in preschool had been moderately exciting, what with the promise of new experiences, unfamiliar faces, and the alluring scent of fresh crayons. Well, that and the brightly colored backpack and superhero pencil case she had gotten out of the deal. Those had been, quite frankly, kickass. But the process had since lost its appeal. The pencil cases were decidedly less appealing these days. And it meant starting everything over again—building from the ground up.
Life was like pancakes. Charlie made the pancakes. She mixed the batter, threw them on the griddle. They came out a fluffy golden brown, steaming like the most gratuitous of IHOP commercials. And as she sat at the table to eat said pancakes, pouring the syrup on top, some asshole stepped in, stole the pancakes, and handed her a box of Bisquick. All the ingredients were in her possession, but she still didn't have any damned pancakes to eat. Just flour and disappointment. All the work, never any reward. A labored metaphor, yes, but it applied.
Plus with each move there was that inevitable moment where she would confuse the layout of the new school with the old one, turn left instead of right, and end up in the boys' locker room. Or worse, the teachers' lounge. Charlie didn't even want to begin to understand what went on in that room. Probably some satanic cult rituals. Maybe a Scrabble game. Either way, she was decidedly uninterested. But the fact remained that with the beginning of each new school year, it was like taking an eraser to a chalkboard or shaking an Etch-a-Sketch. It was obliterated—it might as well not have happened in the first place. The entire process was exhausting and redundant as hell.
Hazard of having a parent in the Coast Guard. Life was always in flux.
There had always been one constant, though. One thing that stayed the same no matter the city or the school. Her dad. Every morning on that first day she would wake up to the smell of banana pancakes—actual pancakes, not metaphorical ones—wander the few steps from her room to the kitchen, and find her dad dancing to The Rolling Stones in the most embarrassing way he could manage. It usually involved him using a ladle as a microphone and splattering batter on the floor, clad in that novelty apron with the words 'I Fish Therefore I Drink' emblazoned across the front. She would tell him he was an idiot and he would pull her into some weird swing dance step that didn't fit at all with the rhythm of the music. It was a ritual that never failed to make her roll her eyes and she never once admitted out loud that she loved.
That's what made today the second worst day of her life. Because as she fell asleep the previous night, she knew that she wouldn't be smelling banana pancakes in the morning.
A small part of Charlie wished she could pull a Rip van Winkle and sleep through the rest of high school. It was a lovely little fantasy, and the fact that her bed felt like a cloud was giving her a hug did not increase her desire to move in the slightest. She wouldn't have to start her sophomore year, she wouldn't have to deal with any of it—she could just float away on a breeze like a dandelion seed and embrace oblivion. But that little bubble she had built up for herself was quite rudely popped when the jarring strains of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' came blaring from her phone.
Groaning to herself, Charlie managed to extricate one of her arms from the twisted mess of covers and felt around in the dark until the tips of her fingers found the bedside table. They probed around, accidentally knocking the well-worn Jack Aubrey novel to the floor before finding their way around her phone. Not bothering to look at the name flashing across the screen, she hit random buttons until one of them happened to be the 'mute' key. She probably deleted 'Candy Crush' in the process, but the silence was totally worth it.
Smiling slightly as the music was cut short, Charlie grabbed hold of her deep purple comforter and yanked it over her head, fully prepared to shut out the universe. The universe, however, was not on board with that plan. Or at least one specific part of the universe that happened to have strawberry blonde hair, judgmental green eyes that sat under perfectly shaped eyebrows, and absolutely no concept of 'personal time'. In under a minute the phone started blaring again. Somehow that ring seemed to sound angrier than the first time around. And so was Charlie.
"You've got to be freaking kidding me."
Charlie flipped over and screamed into her pillow before finally throwing off the covers and sitting up in bed. She grabbed the phone and looked at the little clock in the upper right-hand corner. 6:34 a.m. Un-freaking-believable. Grumbling to herself, Charlie angrily punched the 'send' button and held the phone up to her ear. Before she could get a single word out, a voice chirped through the receiver that was far too energetic for that early in the morning.
"Charlotte Felicia Oswin!" the overly enthusiastic and slightly accusatory voice shouted. "It's time to get your adorable, lazy ass out of bed!"
"That's not my middle name," Charlie muttered into the phone, wiping the sleep out of her eyes.
"Yeah, I really don't care," the voice chirped. "And it doesn't change the fact that we've got a lot of work to do before we head out this morning."
Charlie let out a deflated sigh and collapsed back on the bed, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Lydia, what's my one rule?"
"Don't mess with your Converse or you'll stage a bonfire and use my Jimmy Choos as kindling," Lydia drawled out, her eye roll practically audible over the airwaves.
"Okay," Charlie continued, nodding slightly. "What's my other one rule?"
Lydia let out an overly theatrical harrumph, leaving Charlie with a mental image of her making her 'patronizing' face while dutifully inspecting her fingernails. "Lydia," Charlie prompted, raising her eyebrows.
"Okay, fine," Lydia bit out reluctantly. "The other 'one rule' is not to wake you up before 7:00 a.m. or you'll sneak into my room and shave my head in the middle of the night."
"Exactly," Charlie replied with a perfunctory nod. "You're risking your glorious, silky, strawberry blonde locks by talking to me right now. You're not Natalie Portman and not everybody can pull off bald. For all we know you've got a globular, misshapen skull trying to contain that giant brain of yours. You would probably look like an adult-sized fetus. Or like an accident at one of those children's dolls factories. You know, the dolls they have to throw out to avoid any early-onset childhood trauma?"
"You flatter me," Lydia deadpanned, both with more exasperation and less inherent fear than Charlie would have liked.
"No," Charlie drawled out like she was instructing a small child. "I'm threatening you. You're a smart one, Lydia. You can figure it out."
"You know, they say that violence is never the answer," Lydia sighed loudly.
"Yeah?" Charlie shot back. "The person who said that was probably bullied as a kid. I'm pretty sure the violence worked out just fine for the bullies. They got free lunches. And everybody likes free food, Lydia. Everybody."
"Well today is the exception to your thinly veiled anger management issues," Lydia sniped, steely determination coloring her voice. "It's the first day of school, and you've got to make a good first impression. The first day sets the precedent for the whole year and I, for one, would rather keep my position at the top of the social pyramid, thank you very much."
"That's great, Lydia," Charlie mumbled into the receiver, "but I'm tired and I could give exactly half of two shits about first impressions."
"You haven't even picked out your clothes for today yet, have you?"
"No, I have not."
With the next sigh, Lydia seemed to have leveled up in her degree of exasperation. "That attitude is all fine and good if you want to be one of those weird, arty kids who smoke weed behind the bleachers during lunch," she said through a musical scoff, "but believe it or not, Charlie, this day isn't just about you. Seeing as I have been so magnanimous as to take you under my wing, you are now a reflection upon me. And my reflection had better look good."
"You might want to be careful using the big words like 'magnanimous'," Charlie said dryly. "Otherwise one of these days somebody might figure out how decidedly un-stupid you are. Though, my two cents here, you might want to stop inhaling so much hairspray if you want to stay that way."
That quip was followed up by a short pause during which Charlie imagined herself on the receiving end of a 'melt-your-face-off' death glare. "I'll be over in half an hour with scones and coffee," Lydia sniped. "Make sure you're out of bed by the time I get there."
Charlie opened her mouth to argue, but before she could get a word out she was confronted with an unceremonious clicking noise as Lydia hung up on her. Well that settled that. She should have known better than to even attempt arguing with Lydia. Once that girl set her mind to something, all obstacles to the desired result were systematically and efficiently destroyed. Or just plain ignored.
Swearing under her breath, Charlie threw back the covers and flopped out of bed, nearly face-planting on the floor as one of her feet got caught in the sheets, and flipped on the lights. The harsh fluorescents hit her face, making her groan and blink rapidly as the surrounding landscape was washed out. Slowly her eyes adjusted and she glanced around to for all the tools necessary to prepare herself for the day. If she had been in Lydia's room, she would have been confronted by an aggressive neatness—bed already made and curtains thrown wide open to allow in what little natural light was available, a closet organized by clothing type, style, and color, a jewelry box overflowing with the newest designs, and a freaking assembly line of hair care products and makeup placed in a neat row along her vanity.
Charlie's room, though...that was a different story. She wasn't quite sure what her room said about her yet. She had moved from San Diego into her Aunt Melody's apartment a little over a month before. The room used to serve as design studio—small though it may be—filled with fabric swatches, dress forms, and design sketches, but Melody had cleared out all the tools of her trade. In the space of a weekend it had been filled with the most pleasing designs IKEA had to offer. The woman was nothing if not efficient.
Since then it had been made to look like her room. Charlie found an adequate paint color and put up her posters—The Who, The Black Keys, the original Tron movie, and some random Casablanca one that had made its way into her collection. Mel had bought some beautiful vintage curtains with a twisted, elaborate vine design covering them that now hung in the windows. Charlie had even unpacked her mom's old 1967 Gibson J-45 guitar—the only tangible evidence her mother had ever existed other than that pile of stamp-covered birthday cars under her bed she couldn't quite bring herself to throw out. All the elements were there, but the room still didn't feel like it belonged to her. Maybe it was that one box that remained unopened. The one with her dad's things. She hadn't been able to make herself unpack that yet.
Moving to that IKEA desk that had incited the only curse words Charlie had ever heard slip from Mel's lips, Charlie flipped open her laptop and booted it up. She rummaged around in the drawer until she found those Bose speakers her dad got her last Christmas—one of the few indulgences that came from before her move to Beacon Hills—and connected them to the laptop, cranking up the volume until she could practically feel the vibrations through the floor. Quite the feat for such tiny technology, but she needed the music loud and jarring. Anything to wake her up before Hurricane Lydia made her landing. She shook her head, slapping herself on the cheeks to bring herself to something vaguely resembling awareness.
It did not work. Definitively, it did not in any way work.
Yawning for what felt like the twentieth time in the space of five minutes, Charlie wandered over to her closet and wrenched out the first things she could find—an artfully ripped-up T-shirt for The Clash, a pair of simple black shorts, a black leather jacket, and her green Converse. Lydia was probably going to throw a fit, but that would have happened under pretty much any circumstances. After chucking the clothes on the bed in a crumpled heap, she made a beeline to the bathroom and hopped in the shower.
A few minutes of frantic scrubbing later, Charlie turned off the water, pulled the curtain aside, and wrapped herself in one of those magnificent, fluffy white towels. Moving to the mirror, she wiped away the layer of condensation the steam had left behind and stared at her reflection. The face staring back was long and thin with a straight nose, thin lips, and pale skin covered with a light splattering of freckles, all framed by a tangle of long, dark brown hair left stringy by the water still clinging to it. That wasn't what Charlie focused in on, though. She dwelled on the eyes. They were big and green with flecks of brown, surrounded with thin but dark lashes, and they held a sort of hollow look to them. Empty. They used to have small lines in the corners from smiling, but those had smoothed out over the past few months. She hadn't been inclined to smile all that much lately. But then again she hadn't cried since it happened either. How screwed up was that?
No, all in all the the girl looking back at her didn't look happy or sad. She looked resigned. She looked broken.
Clearing her throat awkwardly, Charlie took a step back from the mirror and began vigorously drying her hair with the towel. The mirror was a liar. She was fine. Really, she was. A small, nagging voice in the corner of her mind reminded her that her dad used to say 'fine' was a four-letter word, but that was irrelevant. Because she was fine. And she wasn't broken, she was mending. What was it that they said about broken bones? When they heal they're even stronger than they were in the first place. Knotted and warped, but still stronger. There might be some comfort to be found in that.
Charlie moved towards the bathroom closet and wrapped herself in a robe so plushy, she was ninety percent certain Mel stole from a bed and breakfast before padding down the hallway to the kitchen.
"Good morning!" an impossibly cheerful voice declared as Charlie rounded the corner. "You're up awfully early."
Charlie gave an absent nod, rubbing at her eyes again. She grabbed a stool from the corner of the room and pulled it towards the small kitchen island, keeping her eyes trained on the floor. Facing Mel's radiant, perfect smile in the early hours of the morning required some degree of emotional and psychological preparation. "Yup," she muttered, leaning forwards and resting her cheek against the cool, ceramic countertop. "Not my fault. Lydia called. Apparently I need help getting ready for school."
Mel gave a small noise of understanding. "Coffee?"
"Is that even a question?" Charlie grunted. Of course she wanted coffee. Her body was calling out for caffeine. Her aunt might be a shit cook, but she had a glorious coffee maker. That shining copper espresso machine was probably her best friend in Beacon Hills. Within a few moments a mug appeared in her line of sight, hitting the counter with a satisfying clunk. The rich smell soon filled her nostrils, giving her the energy or at very least the incentive to lift her head.
Letting out a sigh, Charlie curled her hands around the mug, clutching at it desperately like she was Gollum getting his hands on the ring of power.
Note to self: she had to get all of the Lord of the Rings references out of her system before Lydia showed up. There was no way she'd be able to fully eliminate all nerd references, but she needed to at least moderate them in the redhead's presence.
Charlie held the mug up to her face and breathed deeply, savoring the smell, and took a comically large gulp. This was immediately followed by an excess of coughing and spluttering as it scalded the roof of her mouth. The sound of a restrained guffaw reached Charlie's ears and she lifted her gaze to glare at her aunt. The woman was the antithesis of Charlie when it came to mornings. The clock had yet to hit seven and there she stood, soft blonde hair brushed back into a neat bun, attentive brown eyes set off by immaculate makeup, and already clothed in a sleek dress and heels. The only thing compromising her appearance in any way were the pinched lips, fighting back the laughter at Charlie's expense.
"Sorry," Mel said, grinning that simultaneously apologetic and radiant grin of hers. She grabbed a paper towel, diligently mopping up the splash zone. "It's hot. Probably should have warned you about that."
"I'll survive," Charlie grumbled. She blew on the contents to cool it before taking her second sip, burnt tongue be damned.
"I can't believe you drink the stuff black," Mel said, wrinkling her nose slightly. "It's so bitter."
Charlie made a face as she gulped the coffee down. "Dad always said it gave strength of character."
"And here I was thinking it just gave you stained teeth and a dependence on legal stimulants," Mel replied cheerfully.
"Nah," Charlie said, shaking her head. "It's the same principle as going to the gym. Do something uncomfortable and acclimatize yourself to it, and you win. I never knew what the hell it was that I was winning and honestly it sounds kind of idiotic, but I did it anyway. Dad likes sounding wise and humoring him is easier than watching him pout."
Mel let out a light, musical laugh and nodded. "And what your father didn't tell you was that every morning he'd stop at a Starbucks drive through and get a mocha frappuchino before work."
Charlie hid a smirk behind the rim of her mug. "Oh, I knew," she said. "He would always forget the cups in the car. And they always had 'Charlotte' written on the side. Because apparently men can't like sweet coffee. I never understood why he did that—he used to buy me tampons all the time."
"That's because nobody would ever assume the tampons were for him," Mel replied sagely. "The coffee on the other hand—"
"Men and their indecipherable egos," Charlie sighed, rolling her eyes to herself. "I never told him I knew about it, though. I'm not sure if he'd care more about being caught with the coffees or being caught acting all macho about the coffee. Either way he'd have died of embarrassment."
Aunt Melody winced slightly and turned back to making her breakfast smoothie, bringing Charlie to immediately regret the turn of phrase. In some ways this whole thing was harder on her than it was on Charlie herself. Not only had Mel lost her big brother, who had essentially raised her, but she had also gotten stuck with his socially maladjusted, possibly crazy offspring.
Mel would never say a word about it, but it was pretty easy to see that she had had to carve away a part of her own life to make room for Charlie. The room she slept in was evidence enough of that. Every so often Charlie would unearth another scrap of fabric or spindle of thread, reminding her what that room's last purpose was, and what Mel had given up. For someone on the younger side of thirty who had only just opened her own high-end boutique and launched her first clothing line the year before, that the change was a lot to deal with. Still, Mel had managed it with style, sincere kindness, and effortless grace. Half the time Charlie thought the woman was a reincarnation of one of those glamorous 1940s actresses like Greta Garbo or Ingrid Bergman. Charlie had missed out on that little genetic gem. She was more prone to bitter sarcasm and general misanthropy.
"Do you want some of the smoothie?" Mel called out over her shoulder. "All the articles I've read say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you want to be able to focus in your classes, you should eat something healthy."
"The frosted mini-wheats commercial is not a scientific article," Charlie replied drolly, taking another inelegant gulp of her coffee. "Plus I'm pretty sure they skew those results. Like, a lot."
Mel sighed and turned around to look at Charlie with a chastising expression. "Look," she declared, brandishing a stirring spoon in Charlie's direction, "I know that sarcasm is one of your basic personality traits—you share that much with your father—but I'd appreciate it if you waited until at least 10 a.m. to get started."
"I'm at school by 10 a.m.," Charlie shot back. "If I wait till then to get started you won't have to put up with it until seven at night at the earliest. That kind of feels like a cheat." The unamused look she received in return made her throw her hands in the air in submission. "Fine. Sarcasm-free zone. No sarcasm here."
"I know you were a straight A student back in San Diego," Mel said, fixing Charlie with a serious stare. "I just want to make sure that nothing slips while you're adjusting to a...new living situation. This is a big transition for you, but your grades are important. I just don't want them to suffer as a result."
Charlie returned her aunt's gaze with equal seriousness. "I have no intention of letting my grades suffer," she replied. "I'm academically paranoid, remember?"
Mel pressed her lips together in a thin line and gave a single, approving nod. "Good. So do you want any smoothie or not?"
Charlie shook her head, sending her still-wet hair flying until it hit the side of her face with a resounding thwack, sticking in place. "No thanks," she replied, pulling the hair away. "Lydia's bringing scones and that satchel of medieval torture devices she calls her makeup kit to make me presentable."
"Oh, that's great!" Mel replied brightly. "You know, I'm so glad that you have such a good friend already. She'll be a great help while you adjust to school here."
"I have done this before, you know," Charlie mumbled into her mug. "I've switched schools like seven times in the past six years. Hell, I've moved twice in the past six months."
"Yes, but this is the last time you're going to be starting a new school before you head off to college," Mel continued in a reasoning tone. "I think it's fantastic you have Lydia here to introduce you to new people. It's good for you."
Charlie bit her lip and nodded, gazing absently into the mug of coffee as the steam danced in front of her face. She knew that Mel was ecstatic about her finding a friend in Lydia. And she was also pretty sure that was because it meant that Mel and Charlie might be able to relate to each other better than either of them initially thought. The two of them had so little in common, Charlie being able to bond with someone interested in fashion, current styles, and that kind of thing might mean something for the parent-child dynamic they had been forced into. Not that her and Lydia's relationship could be described as your typical friendship. They hardly agreed on anything and bickered all the time, but they entertained each other. It had been that way since pretty much moment one of their relationship.
Thinking back to that first meeting with Lydia, Charlie was forced to hide a smirk behind her hand. It had been a little over a week after Charlie arrived in Beacon Hills. She had mostly kept to herself, moving in her stuff, reading that list of classics her English teacher had given her as prep for a new school, plucking out some compositions on her guitar—all the basic hobbies that could be performed on your own. It wasn't that Charlie was anti-social, she just didn't tend to actively seek people out. Moving around as much as she did, she tended to view most relationships as temporary. But admittedly that initial isolation had been more intentional than not. Mostly because the wanted to avoid 'The Conversation'.
'The Conversation' was a staple of all moves. The concept was fairly simple—there was no maliciousness or ill intent behind it. It was a straight-forward explanation of why she had moved. Military brat. New town. Story over. A LinkedIn profile in verbal form. But with her current change in circumstances, 'The Conversation' had adopted a more morbid significance. As per usual it would start off with a 'hello' and 'how are you' and then it would move to the typical 'why Beacon Hills?', and now what was her response to that supposed to be? Would she just smile toothily and say 'well it turns out my dad had a massive aneurysm he didn't bother telling me about, it exploded like an over-filled water balloon, and now I live with my aunt #sadface?' That was a lovely introduction, because all the best conversations are forged on pity.
Anyways, apparently it wasn't up to her to initiate said conversation. There she was one day, minding her own business, manning the counter at Mel's boutique and skimming 'The Onion' headlines on her phone, when all of the sudden someone dropped a pile of clothes on the counter resembling a scale model of Mount Everest. The loud clunk had made her look up from the screen and she found herself staring at a perfectly manicured red-head, green eyes narrowed curiously and face displaying a wide smile. The smile itself came off as slightly cold and calculating—all teeth—leaving Charlie wondering if there weren't rows upon rows of pointed incisors hiding behind that grin, like a shark. It faltered and tightened into something false when the girl looked Charlie up and down. The worn, faded jeans, purple T-shirt that simply read 'People Like Grapes', lack of makeup, ragged fingernails, and messy hair clearly failed to meet some as yet unknown, preordained criteria. Charlie had furrowed her eyebrows at the scrutiny and began ringing up the purchases.
"Is there something else I can help you with?" Charlie remembered asking as her fingers nimbly folded a frilly chiffon top.
The girl leaned an elbow on the counter, propping her head on her hand and regarding Charlie with the same intensity and pitying disapproval she might grant to a pair of out-of-season Marc Jacobs heels. "You're new here," she had declared—not a question, a statement of fact.
"Um, yeah," Charlie had replied, blinking back in bemusement. "Been here about a week. Why?"
Apparently no response was deemed suitable. One thing about Lydia that had appeared both very clearly and very quickly was that she preferred to pose the question—usually ones she already knew the answer to. Which, to be fair, was most questions. "Ah!" she had chirped knowingly, and maybe with a little disappointment. "You're Charlotte Oswin. Melody's niece. Last time I was here she mentioned you would be coming."
"Yeah, that's me," Charlie had replied hesitantly. "I go by Charlie, though."
"Of course you do," the girl then sighed, her voice high-pitched and judgmental. The smile of hers stayed in place, and she cocked her head to the side in a way that made her look like a robot. A very fashionable robot that had almost learned how to mimic human facial expressions. "Well anyway," she had barreled on, "I'm Lydia Martin, and I'm in this shop all the time. Welcome to Beacon Hills." She extended a hand which Charlie took reluctantly, giving it a firm shake. Then Lydia stood there, staring at Charlie appraisingly as she finished ringing up the clothing and giving her the distinct impression that she was an amoeba under a light microscope.
"I'm assuming credit card," Charlie had muttered, waving a hand absently. The look she received in response was a mixture of amusement and disdain—pursed lips and raised eyebrows. After a few moments of narrow-eyed staring, Lydia reached in her bag and pulled out a shiny gold rectangle that somehow felt heavier than any other card Charlie had handled.
"You know," she had drawled out, wagging a finger in Charlie's direction, "having met your aunt I expected you to be a bit different."
Charlie let out a loud scoff and raised her eyebrows. "Different how?"
"Well..." Lydia continued, "to be honest I was expecting something not quite so 'alternative'. A little less Virginia Woolf on the proverbial bookshelf, if you will. Your aunt's pretty glamorous. Great shoes. You...you kind of look like you should be off protesting social injustice somewhere. You know, with a sign that doesn't quite rhyme, but is kind of clever and gets the message across."
"Really?" Charlie demanded, shoving the clothes along with their receipt into one of those custom-made paper bags her aunt had had made for the store. "And what exactly would I be protesting?"
"Based on that outfit?" Lydia replied, her eyes flicking up and down Charlie's ensemble. "Probably something women's rights related. Or maybe the environment. I mean honestly it doesn't matter all that much as long as there's a pithy chant and an overabundance of flannel."
"Okay," Charlie then shot back in a sarcastic tone, nodding to herself passive aggressively. "So I look like a protester and you look like the female cast of 'Mean Girls' had a freaky four-way and produced some form of bizarre, hybrid offspring. What the hell does that matter?"
Normally Charlie would have expected the person on the receiving end of her angry, sarcastic barbs to get all offended and storm off in a huff. That's how things usually went. Not this time around, though. This time around, Lydia had stared at her evenly a few moments—less robotic and more curious—before her face split into a giant smile.
"You know what?" she had said, pointing a finger at Charlie. "I kind of like you. We're going to be friends." And then, without another word, she snatched up the bag, spun on her heel, and marched towards the front doors of the shop.
"I'm pretty sure I get a say when determining that status of our relationship!" Charlie had shouted after her.
She was met a gleeful and mischievous laugh. "It's adorable that you think that."
And that had been that. Afterwards Lydia had shown up at the shop again, dragging her out for froyo and things pretty much snowballed from there. It had become the girl's mission to turn Charlie into the most socially acceptable version of herself possible, or at least as close as Charlie was willing to get to socially acceptable. Apparently it was okay to look like you didn't care about your appearance as long as it was carefully orchestrated and you were willing to pay a crapload of money to do so.
Then there were the introductions. Charlie had felt like a puppet, being steered around and presented to half the lacrosse team like she was on auction. Lydia did kind of give off the auctioneer vibe, talking so fast Charlie's brain had to buffer and play mental catch-up whenever she paused for half a second. And the lacrosse players? It was a pretty safe bet that they had names, but for the life of her she couldn't remember most of them. Other than Jackson—Lydia's boyfriend—and his best friend Danny. Honestly most of them just stood there with dopey smiles. Which was fine. If they had nothing worth saying, she sure as hell didn't want to hear it. Except for Greenberg. The fact that he didn't have anything worth saying didn't stop his lips from flapping like a life-size Pacman. He talked more than the comic relief sidekick in horror movies who always bit it fifteen minutes before the end credits.
If Charlie was being honest, she was glad she had met Lydia—not that that was something she'd ever admit to out loud. At first she had thought Lydia was that typical shallow, entitled, pretty, rich girl stock character that seemed to exist in every city she'd lived in. And in many ways that assessment was accurate. That Lydia was both pretty and rich was a fact, completely indisputable. That she was entitled was a byproduct of those first two characteristics. The sticking point was in the assessment of her shallowness. Because in many ways she was shallow—her preoccupation with clothing and social status was evidence enough of that. But if you were paying the slightest bit of attention, it would become quickly apparent that Lydia was also quite possibly the most insanely intelligent person Charlie, or anybody else, had ever come across or would ever come across in their lifetime. Not that Lydia wanted people to notice that, and most didn't because they didn't bother looking for it. Which, in Charlie's opinion, was a shame.
All of the sudden, a sound knocked Charlie out of her reverie. The muffled strains of music leaking from her room were suddenly intermingled with the characteristic beeping of FaceTime.
Shit. She should have expected that.
Downing the rest of her coffee and slamming her mug on the counter, Charlie darted out of the kitchen, leaving her aunt calling after her. Her bare feet slapped loudly against the hardwood floors and she shuffled back into her room, finally collapsing in front of the computer. Sure enough, she saw that face in the corner of her screen—wide, mischievous smile, dark brown skin, close-cropped hair, and eyes that tried to look suave but failed miserably in repressing that spark of almost gleeful enthusiasm. Well, that and the blatant use of finger guns, because apparently he was already the awkward, chummy dad at the neighborhood barbecue.
Muting the music, Charlie scooted to the edge of the seat and clicked the 'answer call' function. "Hey, Donald."
The face that filled the screen was pixelated and shaky and the lighting was shoddy at best, but familiar all the same. And for some reason it was in front of a backdrop of old, dingy grey tile. That face leaned in, occupying even more of the screen, and squinted at her. "Awww, Oswin," he drawled out, that almost insufferably confident in tone. "You didn't have to go and make yourself all pretty just for me. Nice robe. They'll love it. Great first impression."
"Why are you calling now?" she demanded, sending him the obligatory eye roll and altogether attempting to appear like she was not relieved to be hearing from him.
The boy let out an almost offended scoff. "Come on, Oz!" he exclaimed. "Did you really expect me to bail on tradition just because we were cast across the country by the cruel winds of fate? It's the first day of school, right? We Bratz gotta stick together."
Immediately, Charlie let her head fall, hitting the surface of the desk with a heavy clunk. "I wish you would stop calling us that."
"Why?" he demanded. "That's what we are. You Coast Guard. Me Air Force. We are the Bratz. Hell, I think they should make us some of those dolls."
"Nope," Charlie snapped, shaking her head with her forehead still resting against the compressed particle board. "No. Do not reference those dolls. Those dolls terrify me—you know this. Their eyes stare into my soul like they want to consume it."
"Wait—you have a soul?"
"Say it, Oz," he continued, his voice adopting a sing-song cadence.
"You know you want to say it."
"I really don't."
"You know I'm just going to keep bothering you until you do," Donald replied, that sly smirk eating waiting its way into his voice. "Seriously, I might even start chanting."
Charlie yanked her head from the desk and narrowed her eyes at him. He just tilted his head to the side and raised his eyebrows expectantly. Almost coy. Like he knew she was going to cave and he knew that she knew she was going to cave. It was freaking infuriating. It made her wonder how, of all the cities she'd lived in and all the people she'd met, Donald Price was the one who had managed to stick with her for any length of time. The two of them hadn't even been in the same state since they were twelve years old and her dad was stationed back in Galveston. Well, she did know the reason. Solidarity. Military brat to military brat, they got stuck in the same shitty situations year after year. Eventually the shitty situation became a shitty joke. And the two of them? Well, they had become the Bratz.
How would Charlie describe their friendship? It was more along the lines of intermittent mutual harassment. And reminding each other that they weren't actually alone in everything. Not that either of them would ever put something that sounded that deep into words.
"Fine," Charlie finally grumbled, scratching at her forehead with her middle finger and subtly flipping him the bird. "We're the brats."
"No, no, no," he chided, wagging an overly judgmental finger at her. "You gotta say the 'z'—I can hear the 'z'."
Charlie let out a bitter harrumph and collapsed back in her chair with enough force to make it roll away from the desk. "We're the Bratzzzzz," she mumbled under her breath, drawing out the last sound until it sounded like a giant swarm of wasps had invaded her room.
"Now that's better," Donald grinned. "And members of the Bratz, if you remember correctly, are supposed to call each other on the first day of school. Though I seem to remember you ditching me last week."
Sighing loudly, Charlie reached up and twisted her hair like it was a rope, ringing out the excess liquid and letting it drip onto the blue-gray carpet. "Dude, we had that tradition when we were in the same time zone," she shot back. "You're in Providence freaking Rhode Island and I'm in Cali. Seven in the morning for you is four in the morning for me. I tried to stay awake long enough, but I fell asleep watching Mythbusters."
"You clearly lack commitment," Donald deadpanned.
"I called you during lunch!" she protested. "You didn't answer."
"Yeah, that's because I was busy eating," Donald replied. "The lunch selection they have here is pretty awesome. And they have a cereal bar. I have complete access to an unlimited supply of Cinnamon Toast Crunch now. I mean suburbia is no New York—that's for damn sure—but they know how to feed a man."
"Look, I tried," Charlie said, shrugging to herself. "I did. Really."
"I made it work."
"Yeah—how exactly did you manage that?" Charlie demanded, shifting in her seat and angling the laptop towards her to get a better image. "It's what, 10:00 a.m. for you? Shouldn't you be in math class or something? Where are you?"
"Algebra II if you wanna get all technical about it," he replied, waving his fingers at the camera like he was taunting a cat. "But I, unlike you, prioritize my time. Right now I'm—"
His words were abruptly cut off by a dramatic flushing sound, which was immediately succeeded by his widest grin yet. Yup. Donald and immature toilet humor were very close friends. The best of friends. In fact, if he ever got one of those Japanese talking toilets, Charlie highly doubted that he would leave the bathroom at all. He would have pizza delivered through the window and watch TV on his phone there until he died.
"Well that answers your question, I guess," he said cheerfully. "Let me show you around my office." His face quickly disappeared from the screen, replaced by a swirl of gray tiling that almost made her seasick. "This is the handicapped stall on the second floor of my prestigious high school. As you can see it's very roomy. And here—" he focused on what looked like a series of numbers, but was too blurry to make out "—here is the phone number of a lovely lady named Amy. I'm just gonna—"
"Donald," Charlie growled in warning.
"Relax, Oswin," he drawled out. "I was gonna say I'm going to scratch it out. I am what they call a gentleman."
"Okay, I wouldn't take it that far."
"Oh ye of little faith!" he protested loudly. His hand—holding a black sharpie—began to color over the number, squeaking faintly against the dull metal of the stall. "Anyways, the tour continues," he barreled on. "It's pretty damn clean in here. I mean it's impressive. Like girl's bathroom level of clean. Oooh, and if you look over here you will find a depiction of male genitalia. Oh, look! There's a smiley face at the en—"
"You know shit like this is why we don't talk more often," Charlie grunted in exasperation.
"And you have no appreciation for art," he quipped back. "That was an early 21st century masterpiece. A million years from now archaeologists are gonna put that shit in a textbook."
"You think humanity is still going to be around in a million years," Charlie muttered. "Your optimism is adorable."
The camera swung back around to face Donald. As soon as she was in sight, Donald leaned in, peering curiously at the screen. "You look disturbingly conscious right now. I've never seen you do anything but zombie-walk before nine in the morning. There's not even any drool."
"A friend woke me up earlier," she replied through a conspicuous yawn. "She wanted us to get ready for school together. Which is apparently a thing people do."
Donald's nose wrinkled into an expression of complete confusion. "A friend?" he demanded. The level of disbelief written across his face would have been offensive if it hadn't been so accurate. He let out a cough and scratched at his nose before continuing. "You know...pardon me if I'm wrong or whatever, but you don't really 'do' friends. You do...how did you put it...temporary acquaintances of convenience? Hell, you keep calling me your 'drunk uncle'."
"That's because you started calling me your 'vodka aunt'," Charlie replied.
"Yeah, because it applies," he shot back. "You're loud, sarcastic, you scare small children—"
"I do not scare small children."
"And I mean now that I live in the suburbs..." He let out a low hiss, shaking his head at her. "Can't take you anywhere. You were not made for dinner parties. Or, you know, people."
"Are you liking it there?" she queried. "It's a pretty big change from New York."
Donald made a face and shrugged. "It's okay, I guess. My mom likes it here, and so does Jade. Dad misses the city, but he's getting used to it. We've got a house instead of an apartment, so that's pretty sweet. There's enough room to do sock slides. You don't hear people swearing at three in the morning and there's no asshole cabs leaning on their car horns. You know, suburb stuff. We could get a dog."
"You could get a dog?" Charlie replied drily. "Donald, you're allergic to dogs. Your throat would literally swell up."
"Ugh, don't remind me," Donald grumbled, his shoulders slumping in a pout. "I know my throat would literally swell up—that's why I phrased the statement as a hypothetical. We could hypothetically get a dog. A hypothetical golden retriever. Which I would hypothetically name Chewbarka."
"Dude, you have to accept the things you can't change."
"Not happening," he said with a shrug. "I'm not accepting that. I deserve a dog, and it will happen one day. The dream is real. Nothing can stop me."
"Your immune system is gonna stop you," Charlie drawled.
Donald narrowed his eyes at her. "Are you actively trying to wound me emotionally? Stop it. I'm getting a dog—end of discussion." Then he cleared his throat theatrically, making his voice sound all stately and official, lapsing into that oddly formal tone adult relatives always use when you haven't seen them in a while. "Anyways, as your drunk uncle with a vested interest in talking about topics you don't want brought up—for example, a handsome and charismatic protagonist's inability to find canine companionship because of his goddamn allergies...how's your love life going?"
Charlie stuck out her tongue, but before she had the opportunity to offer up a scathing retort, a third voice intruded upon the room. "That's a question with the shortest answer ever. A two word answer, actually. It's not."
Charlie's head snapped around to find a redhead standing in her doorway clad in a royal blue top tucked into a plaid miniskirt, thigh-high socks, and a pair of high-heeled ankle boots, purse situated in the crook of her elbow and bulging paper bag clutched in her hand. She let her head sag forwards on her shoulders, preparing herself for the drama that would ensue. Because with Lydia there was always drama, whether it came in the form of a strong breeze of a freaking tornado.
Extending out a hand, Lydia dropped the paper bag on Charlie's dresser as she sashayed into the room. She cocked her head to the side, adopting that same robotic look she had used when she first met Charlie—analyzing all of the variables and adding them up into an opinion. Her lips quirked upwards into a coy smile as she approached the desk. "Well, hello," she said, her voice coming out as oddly seductive. "Who are you?"
The expression on Donald's face changed almost immediately, shifting from goofy, immature idiot to 'most interesting man in the world from the Dos Equis commercial' face. "Me?" he declared, pointing to himself. "I'm a handsome, wealthy bachelor who's ready to take you on a tour of the world in the yacht that I definitely own."
"Oh," Lydia chirped back in a disturbingly flirtatious tone. "Is that so?"
Charlie's eyes immediately fell shut, mentally face-palming. Lydia and Donald on their own were a handful. Put them in a room together and they would probably cause a swath of destruction rivaling that of Bonnie and Clyde. And Charlie absolutely refused to be responsible for that degree of carnage. "Lydia, this is Donald," she announced, waving at the screen. "Donald, this is Lydia. And this is the last time the two of you will be seeing each other for a while because the idea of the two of you comparing notes on me is terrifying as hell. Bye, Donald!"
"Hey!" Donald interjected. "We're just getting to know each other!"
"You're supposed to be in math class. I will not have your education being compromised."
With no further warning, Charlie grabbed the top of her laptop and slammed it shut, abruptly cutting off the offended protest of 'heeeeyyyyyyyy'. Blowing out a breath of relief, she looked up at Lydia whose eyebrows still possessed an arch worthy of early Roman architecture. "He was cute," the redhead declared, both in accusation and with an alarming degree of suggestiveness. "Who was that?"
"That was just Donald," Charlie replied with an absent shrug. "He's my drunk uncle."
Lydia planted a single hand on her hip, leveling Charlie with a blank look for a few moments before waving her hand dismissively. "Okay, I'm not even going to ask you to clarify that for time management purposes." She casually brushed her hair over her shoulder and looked Charlie up and down, eyes lingering on the damp hair and unmade face. "Yeah," she breathed out, patting Charlie on the cheek. "We've got some work to do."
Doing an about-face, Lydia strode towards the bed and stared down at the rumpled pile of clothes Charlie had tossed out for display. She pursed her lips, glancing between Charlie and the clothes a few times with her eyebrows creased in a look of intense concentration. It was an expression one could typically find in war and/or football movies, when the commander/coach is sizing up the soldiers/players. Only, in Charlie's opinion, this assessment would be far more ruthless. "Okay," she said with a special sort of determination. "Okay, I can work with this."
"We're not brokering a Palestinian-Israeli peace treaty, Lydia," Charlie said, rubbing absently at her forehead. "We're choosing clothes. Let's calm down."
"The clothes make the man, Charlie," Lydia chided. "Naked people have little or no influence on society."
"Oh, come on," Charlie whined. "Don't go quoting Mark Twain at me. It's way too early for that."
Lydia threw one of her hands into the air, cutting Charlie off. "Silence! Let the master do her work." With two swift steps she was at the closet, yanking the door open and flipping through the hangers. "I always forget how tiny your closet is," she muttered. "And your organizational system is questionable at best."
"I don't have an organizational system," Charlie mumbled back, scooting her chair towards her dresser until she could reach the bag of scones.
Lydia's hand stilled and her head turned on her neck, leveling Charlie with a look that was mostly alarm, but at least 30% contempt. Slowly, and miraculously without comment, she turned back to the closet, though her movements did seem rather more violent. She yanked out a few different articles of clothing, holding them up and judging their appropriateness. Charlie sat in her chair and nibbled on one of the scones, watching the entire process. Or at least as much of it as she could catch as she continued to spin the swivel chair in circles. What she did see vaguely resembled a wildlife documentary where the mother lion forages for food as her infant watches helplessly.
More than a few articles were thrown to the floor—casualties of the battle—but eventually Lydia moved to the bed, arranging those last pieces with care. "Alright," she declared. "Come and take a look at this."
Sighing heavily, Charlie stopped spinning in her chair and hauled herself to her feet, stumbling slightly as the dizziness left her off-kilter. She shook her head to reorient herself and meandered over to observe the outcome. Lydia had kept the Clash T-shirt and leather jacket, but paired it with a waist-high black leather skirt, gray tights, and a pair of ankle boots. "There," she said, waving her hand over the ensemble like she was blessing it with a magic wand or sprinkling it with holy water. "You get to keep your pseudo rocker chick, 'I don't really give a crap' vibe, and I don't have to be embarrassed by you."
Charlie shoved the rest of her scone in her mouth, chewing it in a way that did not fit the technical definition of 'polite'. "That might be the nicest thing you've ever said to me," she mumbled, through pastry.
"You're welcome!" Pleased with her work, Lydia spun on her heel to face Charlie. "Now what were you planning on doing for makeup?"
Charlie groaned and rocked back on her heels. "Shit, Lydia, I don't know. Mascara?"
Lydia gaped at her, mouth opening and closing like a dying fish. "Mascara?" she demanded, eyebrows raised in disbelief. "Did you actually just say 'mascara'? As in 'just mascara'? Have you learned nothing from the time we've spent together?"
"I gained a new appreciation for imaginary numbers," Charlie replied. "They're just so misunderstood. They need more love."
"You know that's not what I mean!"
Charlie blew out a long breath and shrugged her shoulders. "What do you want from me? I was raised by a single dad."
"By a single dad! Not by wolves!"
Charlie rolled her eyes and bit down hard on the inside of her cheek. "Look, I can play pool, fix up my car, and I kick ass at Ultimate Frisbee. I didn't exactly get a ton of makeup tutorials, and honestly the last time you came at me with an eyelash curler, I thought you were trying to extract my eyeballs to sell them on the black market."
Pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration, Lydia let out the sigh of a parent trying to deal with a child on a sugar rush. "You are unbelievable." She cleared her throat and turned to Charlie, seamlessly slipping into her 'teacher mode'. "Okay, Charlie, I'm only going to explain this to you once. I'm going to teach you how to be a girl."
"Great!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together in feigned eagerness. "Be my Yoda."
"Okay, one," Lydia said, holding out a finger. "No more Star Wars references. Take Yoda, Harrison Ford, and the big furry thing that yells all the time and lock them in a closet at the back of your mind."
"I'm going to ignore that one, but keep going."
"Alright, two," Lydia continued, ignoring her interjection, "School is like a battlefield. Makeup is our warpaint. When we put it on, it hides our flaws and displays our assets. It makes us strong. it makes us fearless. It makes us a force to be reckoned with."
"I really think you might be over-stating that," Charlie deadpanned.
Scowling slightly, Lydia folded her arms across her chest and looked at Charlie like she was a rebellious puppy that had yet to be housebroken. "Which one of us knows what she's talking about? Oh, right, it's me. So you're going to put those clothes on and I'm going to show you how to do this one last time. Do we understand each other?"
Muttering darkly, Charlie grabbed the clothes and moved towards the bathroom to change. "Fine," she called over her shoulder, "but if you come at me with that eyelash curler again, I'll have you know I have six years training in Krav Maga and I will not hesitate to end you."
"You're cute when you know I'm right and are in denial about it!" Lydia called after her.
What happened next was approximately twenty minutes of being poked and prodded, having an assortment of brushes and combs yanked through her hair, and a variety of powders sprayed on her face. The experience left Charlie with one definitive conclusion: This would not be happening every day. From that day forward, Lydia would not be permitted access to her apartment between the hours of 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. But when Lydia pulled Charlie in front of the mirror, the girl couldn't help relinquishing a reluctant smile.
Lydia was right—a sentiment she didn't intend to fell very often, but this time it couldn't be helped. The makeup had transformed her face slightly—it made her look softer and a little harsher at the same time. If she had any doubts or insecurities, they would be hidden behind those light layers of powder. She let out a low whistle and turned slightly in the mirror, shoving her hands deep in her pockets. "I look—"
"Hot," Lydia supplied, draping a proud arm over her shoulder. "You look hot."
"Yeah, well don't go getting any ideas," Charlie said, nudging Lydia in the ribs and sliding out from under her arm. "My Converse and T-shirts aren't going anywhere. Tomorrow the phone is going on silent and I'll be embarrassing the shit out of you. On purpose. Actively. I will wear overalls and chew on a piece of straw."
"Oh, Charlie," Lydia breathed, cinching her arms around Charlie's shoulder until it almost hurt. "My dear, sweet Charlie. If you do that, I will be forced to kill you."
"And how exactly will you do that?"
A smile as sweet as cyanide pulled at Lydia's lips. She stepped forwards, between Charlie and the mirror, and yanked the leather jacket straight with more force than was probably necessary. Her eyes stared up at Charlie all innocence, but that smile still screamed murder with enough authenticity to give Charlie pause. "Don't you know, Charlie?" she chirped far too happily. "You're never supposed to reveal your secrets."
Clapping one hand on Charlie's shoulder, Lydia stepped to the side and made a beeline for the scones, leaving Charlie alone in front of the mirror. This one was telling her a bit of a different story than the bathroom mirror had earlier that morning. She didn't look resigned or broken—she looked hard. She looked steady. She looked prepared.
This was good. Today Charlie wasn't the girl whose dad had just died. She wasn't obsessively thinking about the smell of banana pancakes and the sound of 'The Rolling Stones'. Today was her first day at a new school and she was going to kick its ass. Hard.
NOTE: This is the first chapter of the edited version of 'Black Water'. I just lost all of my view and comments in the turnover, so any input would be appreciated. I guess my biggest question for this chapter is how do you like Donald? He's new and I really, really like him. He'll be cropping up every once and a while!
CHAPTER 1 SOUNDTRACK
Waking up, not wanting to get out of bed, and talking with Lydia on the phone.
-~-~-~-~-~7:30 am - Slothrust
Charlie gets ready on her own, goes down to the kitchen to talk with Aunt Melody.
-~-~-~-~-~Paradise - Wild Yaks
The first encounter with Lydia.
-~-~-~-~-~Repetition - The Willowz
Lydia goes through Charlie's things to find her an outfit, does her makeup, etc.
-~-~-~-~-~Over & Over - Hot Chip
Charlie looks in the mirror and prepares for the first day of school.
-~-~-~-~-~Whats on My Grave - Mt. Royal
References: I decided to do a full reference count for the chapter for funzies and because I was curious how many I make. Apparently I make a lot of them...It will include 'director commentary' and entertaining anecdotes. I've decided to do this for each chapter.
1) Rip Van Winkle, my homie, my spirit animal. Aka a dude who really knows how to get his nap on.
2) Jack Aubrey is a character from a series of Patrick O'Brian novels about life at sea in the English navy. I decided to add it in, because in my head Charlie's dad read the series and now she's reading it to be close to him.
3) Golumn and the one ring! That's 'Lord of the Rings', obviously...
4) The frosted miniwheats commercial with those talking CGI bits of cereal. That ad creeps me out, man. Like, you give the thing a face and a voice and then they expect kids to eat it? What's up with that? Plus they sit in that bowl of milk like it's a hot tub, when they're essentially basting themselves before someone eats them. Weird marketing choices, guys. You can make a mascot for your product without the implication that you're going to eat it. I mean, we don't eat the Pillsbury Dough-boy.
5) The 'People Like Grapes' T-shirt is a reference to one Gavin Free of Rooster Teeth. That boy is a daft genius and I love him to death.
6) Mean Girls, because I'm still heartbroken that 'Fetch' never happened.
7) 'The clothes make the man, naked people have little or no influence on society' is a Mark Twain quote! Because of course Lydia has an index of Mark Twain in her mind.
8) 'Be my Yoda' is a reference to Stiles Stilinski. Wait, no. Star Wars. Definitely Star Wars.
9) Bonnie and Clyde.
10) 'Dos Equis commercial face'! Not quite the 'Blue Steel', but close competition.
11) Bratz dolls. These things freak me the hell out. They look like Voldemort had a three-way with Barbie and her inflatable cousin.