Categories > Original > Mystery > Forbidden Fruit

Chapter III

by Saoirse 0 Reviews

A barbecue brings a peaceful resolution to the town council's brawl, while Mayor Mike and Charlotte get more acquainted... not necessarily in a good way.

Category: Mystery - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Erotica, Humor - Characters:  - Warnings: [X] - Published: 2007/06/20 - Updated: 2007/06/21 - 5835 words

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Charlotte sat in a ladies room stall for two hours reluctant to emerge
Charlotte sat in a ladies room stall for two hours reluctant to emerge. She checked the time on her /Treo/, it was a quarter to one and everyone missed lunch and half the work workday and would ultimately blame her. She sighed dejectedly, she deserved it. Fed up with everyone's atrociousness and that he needed a change of clothes, Mike held chambers with the U.F.O. team in his office. Charlotte refrained from attending since feeling the hostility of certain council members and Monique La Belette.

Charlotte heard the pressurized hiss of the door opening and a pair of short bangs on her stall's door.

"Coast's clear now, Charlie." Thank God it was Leticia.

"What's the word?"

"It's a go. But Mike wants to speak to you." Charlotte twitched again. "And I'd steer clear of the weather woman." Leticia further advised. "Something tells me even if you didn't get him wet the bitch would be ready to go El Niño on you." Perfect. It was not a matter of if /but /when Monique finds out about Mike's 'little' crush on her, the has-been beauty queen was going to make mincemeat out of her. Charlotte left the ladies room and made her slow death march to the elevators. The corridor and lobby in administration was empty which meant everyone was still in Mike's office.

"A fine mess you got me into." Charlotte said to her reflection in the elevator doors. The car dinged signaling her stop, the third floor, and the doors parted. The council and the La Belette family broke up in clusters leaning against either walls or sat on the cushioned benches in the corridor leading to Mike's office holding conical cups from the water cooler. Herbert Stillman made a jerking motion with his bald head and all activity stopped and attention focused on Charlotte.

"It's her/." Veronica's blister red painted lips moved over her gnashed teeth. She had a bleached streak in her long, soft black hair thinking she looked like Elvira when in actuality she resembled a warped Lily Munster with an oily polymer facelift and 50 pounds heavier. Veronica's short black skirt had a slit on one side showing too much thigh and on her heavy upper body was a black satin flared-sleeved top. Her long fuchsia acrylic nails looked like talons. Tacky, chunky matching gold jewelry completed the ensemble. Yvonne La Belette refused to meet eyes with her; while not a hair was out of place she combed her dyed dirty blonde bob with her fingers. She wore a tailored beige skirt suit and carried a snakeskin /Coach clutch bag. Monique's steely gray eyes followed Charlotte like an angry hawk; she had no purse just a metallic pink Motorola Razr/. She had a French manicure like her mother, only hers was pink. Monique wore a /Donna /Karan/ gray business suit with a white bustier; her strawberry blonde hair was teased.

Every man save for Jake Potter wore a three-piece suit. The mechanic had on a clean pair of jeans, work boots and a red shirt rolled up to the elbows. A silver/ Sprint/ cell phone was clipped to his brown leather belt. Gerard La Belette's suit was the most expensive, a $3,000 dollar/ Armani /with a gold watch chain pulled across his thick middle. It was the stuff of Das Petey's dreams. Gerard, like his wife, ignored Charlotte. Tim Sanford, an accountant, shook his head as if she were a petulant grandchild. Jerome Logan, an attorney, nodded awkwardly at Charlotte. Jake Potter just hitched up his pants feeling like the right fool he was.

"Hello dear," Betsy Carlyle muttered encouragingly to her. She wore a dark maroon skirt, taupe pumps and a crepe floral print blouse. Her sable brown hair was permed. Charlotte approached Mike huge, elegant oak door bearing a placard with his title and name and raised a fist to knock when a man walked out. Charlotte leapt backward from surprise.

"Sorry." He apologized. He was as tall as Mike with the same blonde hair, blue eyes and goofy smile. He looked to be around 15 to 20 pounds heftier, she assumed him to be his brother. "You must be Charlotte."

"I am."

"Mikey's changing though."

"I'll wait, then." Charlotte was visibly relieved.

"Oh no, the office has a bathroom. But he is expecting you." /Time to face the music, girlfriend. /Charlotte just realized he was dressed in a lab coat.

"And you are?"

"Greg Novak." He shoved a big hand into hers and shook it firmly. Charlotte saw his nametag appear from the white folds of his coat, he was a dentist. "Mike's brother."

"Middle child?" Charlotte inquired.

"You met Jules?" Greg asked.

"Last night," Charlotte confirmed. "She was chewing his balls off."

"Finished the coffee again, did he?" Charlotte shrugged at Greg. "Must've been the vanilla flavored... but Mikey's always been spoiled."

"Am not!" Was Mike's muffled angry reply from behind the door.

"Are too!"

"I take it you weren't having dinner with your parents?" Asked Charlotte.

"PTA meeting. My wife insists that we both go."

Charlotte walked into Mike's office; she heard him rattling around in the bathroom and took a seat. On the walls were a number of plaques awarded to him by various philanthropic causes, everything from environmental groups to AIDS foundations. But they were outnumbered by the photographs. Dozens were on the walls; his desk and the bookshelf. In them were family, friends, classmates and people from the community. In one of them he looked to be about six standing on the dock of Lake Pleasant with his siblings and father baiting their hooks to go fishing. Another featured a group of kids around thirteen wearing life preservers posing around a river raft and flaunting oars, possibly Mike was the one taking the picture since it was at a precarious angle. In the last one she examined he appeared to be nineteen or twenty, his hair was shoulder-length and feathered, barefoot in jeans wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with a Camp Tamaqua logo on it and a counselor's whistle strumming an acoustic guitar surrounded by kids more than likely singing off key.

As endearing as this all was, Mike would be laughed out of L.A. The country boy would be taken for a freakshow or eaten alive. But here in Eden, Charlotte was out her depth. Everything was stationary; she was unable to sleep because she could hear her brain going at 100 miles an hour due to all the quiet and on top of that everyone here treated her like a sick person. Maybe that was the problem.

The bathroom door opened and Mike walked out, head down drying his hair with a white towel. Charlotte spun around feeling like she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar. His damp blonde hair stuck out in all directions from the humidity, he had on a new pair of jeans and a black shirt unbuttoned including the cuffs. She could see that Mike had no tan lines. Charlotte flushed having gotten more than an eyeful.

"Y'know, if you really wanted to see me with my shirt off you could've just asked." Mike said. Her mouth became rictus, but before she could rebut him Mike ducked his head back down and continued to dry his hair sauntering to his desk. Charlotte knew not to argue with Mike, she'd only lose face further and now that she and the team would be filming in Eden somewhere in the ballpark between three months to a year life was going to predictably get more complicated.

"Mr. Mayor, I want to apologize for what happened in chambers." Charlotte marched straight to the point. "It wasn't my intention to douse you like that."

"I kinda figured that." Mike tossed the wet towel to a brown leather sofa against the adjacent wall. "I really owe you the apology. Town council meetings have been reverting to barroom brawls as of late. I'm thinking about moving them to The Cavern, it would be the appropriate setting."

"'The Cavern,'/ /Mr. Mayor?" Now that sounded interesting, whatever it was.

"The Cavern's our watering hole. Dell's been running it since her father died ten years ago."

"Dell?"

"Adele Reilly." Mike elucidated. "She's great, you're gonna love her." That actually sounded like a feasible idea. Charlotte made up her mind to write a treatment for The Cavern, rumors and stories about the Buxton Hall murders had to be fermenting for years in there. "So..." Mike hooked Charlotte's attention again. "Have you given any more thought about me taking you out?" He snapped his cuff watch on his left wrist and was putting on this heavy silver ID bracelet with the plate divided into a trio of narrow bars on his right and added a few friendship bracelets. Friendship bracelets? Didn't they go out with the eighties? In the hollow of his throat over sliding over the clavicles was a teardrop ying-yang pendant hung from a silver chain.

"Your Honor, I'd like to thank you for allowing my company to film in your town." Cue the 'but.' "/But/, seeing that I am the director it would be highly unethical if we had personal interactions outside the production."

"Is that what they call it now, 'personal interactions'?" Charlotte's hope sank like Jimmy Hoffa in his concrete suit. Mike was undeterred. Rapping at the door saved her, it was Greg.

"Hey Mikey, they're gettin' kinda restless outside."

"Two minutes." Mike promised, but in the narrowing entryway Charlotte caught Monique's glower once again before Greg shut the door with a muted tap.

"And it wouldn't be right for social reasons either." Charlotte prayed that he wasn't completely oblivious to Monique's obvious possessiveness over him.

"I can't imagine what would be so socially incorrect about two people going out on a date." So much for wishful thinking.

"I can't either, Mr. Mayor." Charlotte begrudgingly acquiesced.

"Because we've got our work lives and our private lives. And I've never felt that I've lived under the microscope the entire time I've served in public office. Especially when it comes to my bedroom." Whoa! Now who said anything about hitting the sheets? Charlotte was about to go on the defensive when Mike got up from behind his desk and crossed the room. "Hold that thought I'll be right back." He went out into the corridor to deal with the council, Charlotte was exasperated. The door opened again and this time Eddie Yanakis stuck his curly black-haired head in.

"Is it safe?" He sounded like a /Clerks /cast reject.

"Where have you been?!" Charlotte exploded.

"Told you she'd be pissed." Callie's voice floated in behind Eddie. Leticia, Greta and Chris shuffled in with their heads down after Eddie and Callie. They all had the common decency to at least look contrite.

"Where in hell were you when I needed you?!" Charlotte leapt up from her chair and confronted her supposed friends.

"At the water cooler around the corner- OW!" Greta smacked Chris on the arm.

"We're really sorry Charlotte." Greta apologized. Charlotte gave them a stony stare in response.

"Now don't be like that, hon." Leticia attempted to placate her friend. "You said it yourself, this is small town-America and we have to cover our asses from time to time."

"Tish, I don't find any of this funny."

"Of course you don't. Wet T-shirt contests normally aren't!"

"Will you cut it out!" Charlotte stormed over to the picture window behind Mike's desk and folded her arms huffily. Leticia opened her mouth and let loose a belly laugh, she ran over to Charlotte and rubbed her shoulders.

"You know I don't mean any of that!" Leticia said.

"Will you ever grow up?" Charlotte snapped.

"Life's not about growing up, girl! It's about having fun!"

"No it isn't!"

"Well if I grew up with your parents, I'd consider /hara kiri/."

"Tish, please!" Charlotte beseeched. "Can't we just get out of here? The mayor's suffocating me!"

"So you were doing it!" Callie said from the couch.

"How would you like to find yourself on the unemployment line?" Charlotte threatened. Callie shrunk back.

"We couldn't leave even if we wanted to." Leticia informed Charlotte.

"Yeah. Violet's invited us to this party she's throwing and Stan's bringing the car so we could take a mini tour on our way to the supermarket." Greta filled in.

"Who is Stan?" Charlotte asked.

"Mike's dad." Eddie said meekly. Charlotte threw up her hands. It was a family event!

"And where is this party?" Charlotte's teeth were set.

"At Stan and Violet's house." Greta said.

"We offered our back yard," Callie jumped in, "but theirs is bigger."

"I take it we're shopping for tonight's vittles?"

"Hon, it's a barbecue, everybody's bringing their share." Leticia said airily.





*



Sunshine every day

Think I'm gonna stay

It's always one foot fallin' down

The good beat it's my scene



But now's the time to check it out

To really live the California dream

It's almost magic

There's somethin' in the air



On the beach

Bop bop dee dee

Somethin's just begun

You dig me

Bop bop dee dee

I will find the one

On the beach

Bop bop dee dee

You can always find your dream



Surfer music blasted from Stan and Violet's/ Sony/ stereo, though only the kids were dancing. Stan Novak, a retired structural engineer designated himself master chef and manned his brick propane gas grill. Violet sprinted back and forth from the kitchen and the yard like a jack rabbit toting chicken, hamburger patties and hot dogs. The back yard and the ground floor of the Novak's house was jam packed with partiers. The town council brought their families, Greg and Julianne brought their families, the La Belettes and the U.F.O. team. Since it was an informal get-together Charlotte hadn't bothered to change from her navy blue flared wrap around skirt and white cap sleeved blouse, Leticia was a whole other story shedding her Dolce and /Gabbana/ power suit for a long cranberry red spaghetti strap dress with a paisley wrap. Charlotte wondered why until Sheriff Deputy Drew Potter showed up. He looked about Mike's age, an inch or so taller than him with a professional hockey player's physique and longish sable brown hair.

"Yoo-hoo! Deputy Drew!" Leticia strutted over to the noticeably shy man.

"Yeah Trish, work it!" Chris egged Leticia on. Greta and Charlotte burst out laughing on either side of him. Charlotte avoided Mike like the plague so she glued herself to the cameraman and makeup artist. Charlotte sipped from a long-stem wine goblet filled with mixed berry Arbor Mist as Greta and Chris took pulls from/ Heineken/ longnecks. The three of them wandered through the Novak home, an even bigger townhouse with a front porch and a clear view of the beach. Charlotte could see where Mike got his photo motif from; there were pictures on the mantle, the walls and every table on the ground floor. Greta, Chris and Charlotte stopped before the empty fireplace and looked at an 8"-by-10" of a lakeside family vacation, Mike looked about seventeen.

"That's Lake Tahoe." Chris told them.

"How can you tell?" Greta asked.

"I take my bike up there for a week every summer. They have a lot of resorts there."

"Is it nice?" Charlotte asked. Mike was doing a crazy stance with his left leg kicked up as Greg was trying to pull him down. Julianne was in a pink and white gingham bikini with a silk flower in her hair sexily posing. Violet wore a long peach halter sundress and Stan held a fishing pole with zinc oxide smeared on his nose like clown makeup.

"Very nice." Chris assured her.

"Look at them," Greta said. "That is a phenomenon that is National Geographic worthy."

"How so?" Chris asked.

Greta pointed out to the yard where the Novaks gathered around the grill bantering over the cooking food. "A family that actually likes being together."

Laurel Heller, the 13-year-old daughter of Julianne and pediatrician Tom Heller collapsed on her knees to switch the CD now that the song was over. Her bright blonde hair was held back by a lime green bandanna matching her lime and black bootstrap tank top. Her bellbottom jeans were frayed at the cuffs and she wore sparkly green chucks on her feet.

"Any more /Arbor Mist/?" Charlotte asked.

"Check the mini bar outside." Greta advised. Charlotte slapped Chris on the back and muddled her way through the multitudes hoping not to bump into anyone hateful. Charlotte drained the rest of her glass. Was it getting hot in here?



Looking for you, impatiently

Past hasn't been easy for me

I've been so far away



The new song was nice and sounded familiar to Charlotte but all she cared about at the moment was getting more wine cooler. She walked over to the mini bar set up on a card table with a red and white checkered plastic table cloth and saw plenty of iced brewskeys, assorted whiskey and wine, but when she finally came upon the Arbor Mist they were but empty bottles sticking out of the Rubbermaid garbage can conveniently blocking the gate to her rented house.

"Dammit!" She swore a little too loudly though no one seemed to pay any mind.

"Here, try some of this." Charlotte saw her glass being filled with white Zinfandel by Mike.

"Thank you." She replied bashfully. She took a short but deep draught, her hazel eyes darting from the obstructed gate to Mike's cattily grinning face. Charlotte struggled to formulate an escape plan.

"Couldn't help but notice that you were running on empty." Mike made small talk to break her concentration.

"Yeah, well, my choice of poison's all but dried up." Charlotte gestured to the trash.

"Maybe you should try out a different kind of poison." Mike suggested.

"Change is good," Charlotte lamented, "but it's not easy." Mike's smile somewhat shrunk getting her message loud and clear.

"No it's not." He leaned against the fence, his blue eyes finding a point in the middle distance. "But a little nudge now and then could put you on the right track."



Please answer me

Ooh ooh



"Anything particular in mind?" The alcohol made Charlotte bolder; Mike straightened up from his lean. It put things on the fast track, but it was a start. His old room was out since the window faced the yard, but the beach was only a few steps away. Just before he could propose a little stroll on the sand, a voice like a pot on his head being struck by a spoon shot out.

"Michael Novak, have you no shame!" Monique La Belette bounced over. She took his arm as if they were prom king and queen and hugged it, she ignored Charlotte completely. "You haven't spoken to me once all night!" She mockingly reproached.

"Sorry Monique." Mike rolled his eyes. "But you're the one who's been glued to a cell phone all night." He pointed out.

"I know, I know." Monique walked her fingers up his arm flirtatiously, she garnered no reaction. "But I don't have to tell you about the nature of business. It's a 24/7 thing after all!" Her riff of laughter was like fingernails on slate.

"Uh, Monique, have you met Charlotte Stratemeyer?" Monique prissily puckered her lips and held a fist to her chest. She looked at Charlotte like she was a fly in her chocolate mousse.

"Ah, yes." She took Charlotte's hand and squeezed it politely before disengaging from Mike's arm. "Miss Stratemeyer- can I call you Charlotte?"

"If you like." Charlotte shrugged happy to feel the lethargy roll through her bloodstream or she would have decked the bitch.

"Charlotte, I'd like to apologize about my..." Monique searched her mind for the appropriate term, "standoffishness earlier." Of course it was shamefully insincere; then again what were spokespeople for? "It's just that I'm so unused to seeing behavior like that- from everyone in that chamber." She turned to Mike including him. "But I totally understand that you have to get the ball rolling for your film and not for nothing Mike, the last thing you need is to give Eden a bad impression to the world." Monique took Charlotte's hand warmly in both of hers and gave her a syrupy smile. "Which is why I have spoken to Daddy and Mamma, and as a show of good faith to the film crew we're going to give you full access to our vineyard!" Charlotte was ready to stop Monique in her tracks. This wasn't some goddamn commercial shoot! "And next Sunday, you're cordially invited to a luncheon at the Eden Oaks Country Club as guests of the La Belette family. Isn't that wonderful?"

"Yeah..." Her mouth and brain were no longer synching. What else could Charlotte say?

"Well I've got to go," Monique waved her pink /Razr/. "Duty calls. Charlotte, I'll call you this week to set up an appointment for the film crew. And remember Michael, luncheons and dinners at Eden Oaks are /formal/. I'd better see you in your Sunday best, or I'll never speak to you again. Ta!" Monique departed sashaying through the crowd, the tension in the air dissipated and Charlotte exhaled a shaky breath.

"It would take an act of God for her to never speak again period." Mike said.

"How long have you known her?" Charlotte asked.

"Since we were in Edison Elementary. My sister is principal of that school now, my brother has his kids in there too."

"How old are they?"

"The triplets- Holly, Denis and Ross- are eight."

"Triplets?" Charlotte's eyes were as big as platters.

"My sister-in-law Becca was on fertility drugs. One go," Mike clapped his hands, "and they were done!" Charlotte laughed. Mike made childbirth sound like the /Indy 500/.

"And the kid playing DJ?"

"That's Laurel, my sister's daughter." The teen in question was making faces at the CDs in her grandparents' collection. "Eighth grade, Clara Barton Middle School."

"She looks like your sister." Charlotte complemented. Laurel made a reluctant decision on a CD and slid it into the tray. She pressed PLAY.



Life

Life has a way of making you feel alone

Time won't let me forget that I'm so far from home

In a world where nobody seems to care

I turned around and saw you standing there

And I knew what I wanted the most



It takes two to tango

It takes two to fall

'Cause one can only reach out

To can have it all



It takes two to tango

I gotta make you see

That two could be the answer

Baby, you and me



"Going for the heavy tonight, is she?" Charlotte referred to Laurel's musical choices.

"She's intense for thirteen." Mike remarked.

"Wonder where she gets it from." Charlotte raised her eyebrows and went to find Leticia.

By the time she rooted out her best friend and her newest sexual obsession, Deputy Drew looked ready to bolt. Charlotte could hardly blame him.

"I'll... leave you two ladies alone. Need to refresh my drink anyway." Drew's O'Doul's longneck looked full.

"Oh Drew honey, you don't have to run away. This is just work stuff." Charlotte patted his beefy arm.

"You could take off." He nodded politely at Leticia who stared daggers at Charlotte and did his best to thank her with his eyes.

"Thanks a lot, bitch." Leticia smacked Charlotte's upper arm.

"You were sorta scaring the shit outta him, Tish. I was just doing the humane thing."

"Look, just because you want to retire to an Ursuline convent doesn't mean the rest of us do!"

"You're funny." Charlotte took Leticia by the crook of the arm and led her into the house. "So where are we going to start tomorrow?"

"Well since Greta's also our storyboard artist the best place to start is The Cavern."

"I thought you might say that, I already began writing a treatment for Eden's local. And you could work out some negotiations with Miss Reilly."

"Already on it, but you've gotta let me have Chris. He's got to start shooting something."

"Done. But I'm sending Eddie and Callie back to the real estate place to find someone to get us up to Buxton Hall."

"What about Grant High? How about the victims' families?" Charlotte rubbed her temples; there was so much to do and not enough staff to do it. "We'll need a smooth-talker to iron out those little details. Why don't you make nookie with Mayor Mike, it would make our lives easier."

"Tish!" Charlotte hissed warningly. Charlotte slapped her hands over her face and rubbed it, she felt a hundred eyes on her, paranoid that someone was already underway working against U.F.O. She could always lie and blame it on the alcohol. "I will/ talk/ to the mayor. I'm sure that he's maintained good relationships with his teachers for his success on the campaign trail."

Charlotte reluctantly departed from Leticia in search of Mike, but he was nowhere to be found. She swallowed her pride and went to the kitchen where she knew Violet to be. Charlotte cautiously knocked on the swinging kitchen door.

"Um, Violet?"

"Just a sec, honey." She was bent over two huge pizza trays preparing more deviled eggs. She put her spoon to the side. "What can I do you for?"

"You wouldn't happen to know where Mike is?"

"Oh, he and Greg just went to Andy's. We ran out of buns." She explained apologetically. "Is there anything I could help you with?"

"Maybe." There might be a glimmer of hope of escaping any extracurricular activities with the mayor. "Do you know if he could contact Grant High School? The five victims were seniors at Mike's alma mater, and it would be wonderful if we could talk to the faculty and perhaps some of the students for our film."

"That shouldn't be a problem." Violet reassured her. "Everyone at Grant's real accessible. Principal Harris- Nathaniel was Mike's history teacher when he was at Grant. Greg's and Julianne's as well. I'll have Mike call him as soon as he could."

"Thank you so much, Violet. That's such a big help."

"No problem." The crowd thinned as the purple twilight sky faded to black. Laurel drowsily reclined on the chaise lounge while her triplet cousins were down for the count grandmother's tulip print white sofa watching The Prince & Me /on one of the cable stations. Charlotte fixed herself a /Stolichnaya vodka and cranberry, Drew, Julianne, Tom and Becca crowded off to one side chattering holding plastic plates of chips, and partially-eaten hot dogs and burgers. Seated around the simmering grill in lawn chairs were Stan, Jake, Betsy's husband Howard, Herbert and Tim. Making civil small talk over instant cappuccinos were Veronica and Betsy. The La Belettes were long gone having left with their daughter. Scattered around were the council's grown children and grandkids along with friends and neighbors of the Novaks. Charlotte used the downstairs bathroom before she joined the rest of the production team out on the front porch. Greg's elegant white/ Volvo/ station wagon pulled up and he and Mike unloaded the groceries. They exchanged hurried hellos with the U.F.O. team since one of the paper bags was ready to burst due to the melting ice. A few minutes later Charlotte strolled out with her vodka and cranberry, the tall glass filled with ice was half empty.

"Talked to Violet," she reported to her co-workers. "Grant High's a go."

Greg delivered his father more hot dog and burger buns as Mike helped his mother put away the ice and assorted provisions.

"Thank you sweetie. Oh, Michael?"

"Yeah, mom?" Mike squatted under the sink storing the Pine Sol and Brillo pads.

"Charlotte needs your help organizing some interviews at Grant. Now I promised her that you'd call Principal Harris, I looked through our address book and I don't have his number. Do you have it at your place?" Mike sucked his teeth and combed his fingers through his hair thoughtfully.

"I don't think so. You sure you don't have his number on your cell phone?"

"I don't." Violet shook her head.

"How 'bout Dad?"

"Now you know your father Michael. You're lucky he knows how to answer the damn thing." Violet chagrined.

"I'll check my room."

Outside Chris whooped and pumped both fists. "Co-ol! Class is back in session!"

"What're you so ecstatic about?" Charlotte asked. "It's only a high school."

"Yeah, and high school was the best!" Greta high fived with Chris.

"I'd go back in a heartbeat and stay." Callie acquiesced.

"What I'd do to go back and crash those pep rallies..." Eddie reminisced.

"ECR had the best dances! Remember Charlotte?" Leticia prodded her.

"Speak for yourself!" Charlotte challenged. "You forget that this is a whole new generation and to those kids we're the corny old people."

Meanwhile Mike was upstairs in his old room delving through his desk looking for Principal Harris' home number to no luck. "I know you're here." He growled to himself. Slamming shut the belly drawer and sitting back in his maple chair his eyes trailed aimlessly around the pinstripe wallpaper until they came upon his Kelly green and white Grant High pennant above his bed. "Now I remember!"

Charlotte was in full swing delivering a new speech not caring if she was prematurely inducing the hangover headaches.

"I'm going to say this once, and only once. When we get to Grant, I don't want anyone humiliating this film company. And that means no attempts at following: cheerleading, sports, or teaching a class. I will not have the brats make fun of us more than they already will."

"Charlotte, why do you have to be so sensitive about what a bunch of harebrained teenagers have to say about what they don't understand." Leticia tried to reason with her.

"Tish, these so-called," Charlotte made the quotes gesture, "'harebrained teenagers' are smarter than you think. Furthermore, not everyone holds high school as the halcyon days of youth. And you should know that." Mike was coming downstairs when he heard Charlotte's voice from out on the porch. "Let me tell you about high school, also known as the food chain: survival of the dumbest. First, you've got the activities people. Now before you say anything Leticia, the only reason as to why I joined student government was because that was an automatic gym credit. Back in the day P.E. and home ec were electives, not requirements. Every day, your lunch period would get disrupted by one of those pathetic idiots when they'd shove a sign-up sheet under your nose for the stupidest club. Junior Audubon Society? Marxist Youth? The activities people's high school careers revolved around the clubs because they had /no /social lives whatsoever.

Then you had the cheerleaders. We-e-ell, the uniform not only gave you an excuse to walk around half-naked, but it was also the pretext for all the orgies under the bleachers and locker rooms. The more you whored, the more popular you got. And no one ever crossed or dared pick up a cheerleader which segues us to number three: the varsity lettermen! Yes! Depending on the sport the guy was in, the stupider he was. I can't remember wasting more time in study hall than tutoring these guys. But God, if they didn't have athletic scholarships, it would be Skid Row for those poor bastards. At the top of the heap you had the track team; they were smartest in my opinion. Maybe the coordination they needed to run and jump over hurdles or chase steeples required a higher number of brain cells, I don't know. Then you had the soccer team. Soccer isn't even considered a sport in this country, so it just may be some kind of recreational thing for the guys who actually gave a damn about life outside the weight room. And then there was the baseball team. When it came down to it, I think the coaches were paranoid over the Cubans being an actual threat should there ever be a real 'World Series.' So it helps if the team knew exactly where Havana was."

Unbeknownst to Charlotte everyone stiffened when she saw Mike appear in the open door behind Charlotte. He seemed genuinely interested in her pity sermon.

"Then there was the hockey team-"

"Charlotte?" Callie interjected.

"Not now Callie. Where was I? Oh! The hockey team. Now we were at an age where retainers came out, braces needed to be changed, teeth got capped or bleached for sweet sixteens and graduations... but this guy had partial dentures. Partials!" Charlotte barked for emphasis.

"Charlotte?"

"A minute, Callie! He took them out in front of me- I know not on purpose- but it was so disgusting, /Fixodent /and everything. And then he tries to make it better by saying, 'Oh don't worry. It's only four teeth, my parents are looking into dental implants, and I'm an excellent candidate.' My Swiss grandmother, who survived the Nazi occupation, the food rationing and the war itself died at 92 with every tooth in tact. It's insulting."

"Charlotte?" Charlotte didn't answer Callie just silenced her with a glare.

"The basketball team. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Unfortunately they somehow manage to fall on their heads. The football team, all I've got to say about them is that they were born that way. Last, and certainly least... the wrestling team." Mike's eyebrows shot up on his forehead. Callie slapped her hands on either side of her head then pulled her light brown pigtails at the nape of her neck. "Without a doubt, bottom rung of the ladder. I spent the better part of a Saturday with this one wrestler for one of our midterms on /Mice and Men/, while he tried to balance a pencil on his nose. And then when I asked if he had any questions, he asked: 'Is Ticonderoga in the United States?' And that is what high school is." Charlotte turned her attention to Callie who had her head buried in her knees. "Now Callie, what is on your mind?" She was only able to point to Mike.

Charlotte shifted on the balls of her feet and saw Mike holding his Kelly green and white varsity jacket. The right sleeve's white on green felt staggered 'GHS' monogram had a narrow white scroll going across it reading 'Daredevils.' Charlotte felt the floor vanish beneath her.

"Well I managed to find Principal Harris' home number, in my old varsity jacket, and I'll probably call him tomorrow so we could arrange a campus visit. If you any questions, feel free to ask."

"I have a question." Leticia raised her hand. "Who are the Daredevils?"

"Grant High's wrestling team." Mike kindly informed Leticia.

"Ya hear that Charlotte!" Leticia slapped Charlotte's arm. "The mayor here was on the wrestling team! You know, the bottom rung?"


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