|Breathless: A World War II Novel
Author: rougette PM
Charlotte Martin is devastated upon finding out she must leave her home to stay in England until France is safer for her. On the surface, England appears perfect; she's swept into the world of theatre and learns to love her new home and the people in it. But war is determined to get in the way of everyone's happiness, including Charlotte's.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 23 - Words: 82,779 - Reviews: 50 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 22 - Updated: 05-22-13 - Published: 07-09-12 - id: 3040217
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"But Mama, why must I leave Paris?" Charlotte Martin asked defiantly, her dark eyes blazing under the curtain of fringe lining her forehead. She shoved away her dinner plate and crossed her arms over her chest. She narrowed her eyes at her parents, hoping it would mask her dismay. She didn't want to leave France. It was all she knew. It was the only place she wanted to be. "I thought we were a family. Families are supposed to stick together, no matter what."
"Families also want what is best for each other," her father insisted, looking deep into Charlotte's eyes, which matched his perfectly. She was no doubt her father's child, for her brother Luc had inherited nearly all of her mother's genes. Charlotte often admired how handsome her father was with his quiet eyes and sleek hair, but her mother was the real beauty of the family. In her younger years, Charlotte had tried to emulate her mother in every way possible. But as she grew older, she no longer wished to be anything like her. Throughout her life, all Charlotte had ever heard was how beautiful her mother was, how talented she was, how lucky Charlotte was to have her as a mother-the famous Marie Martin. Charlotte was so tired of it all.
"France isn't safe anymore," her mother insisted, reaching across the table for Charlotte's hand. "You need to be somewhere you won't be in danger."
Charlotte wrenched her hand away from her mother and picked up her fork, absently turning it over and over in her hands. "Where are you sending us?"
Her mother glanced at Papa worriedly before he cleared his throat and said, "England. To stay with the Carey family. You remember your mother's friend Helen Carey, don't you? They used to perform together on stage when they were young."
"No, I don't remember her," Charlotte said briskly, dropping her fork on the table and sitting back in her chair, casting a severe look toward her mother. "In fact, I don't remember meeting hardly any of Marie's friends over the years. I was the child you didn't bring to the theatre, remember?" A shadow drifted over her father's face and Charlotte knew he remembered those days, not so long ago. Charlotte would watch her parents and brother dress up in their finest and leave her at home with Millie, their English nanny. Charlotte would cry herself to sleep, begging for her parents or Luc. But by the time they would come home, she would already be sound asleep, tears still wet upon her cheeks. Charlotte's cheeks flushed at these memories.
"You'll like Helen's home, Charlotte," her mother insisted, using her most pleasant voice. This was new to Charlotte, who was often spoken to in scolding, harsh tones, not these soft pleasantries her mother typically only used on stage. "She has a large house in London, right by the shops and the theaters...you'll feel right at home."
"Except for the fact that nobody will be speaking French and that my friends and parents won't be there and that I will be living in a stranger's home," Charlotte replied curtly.
"Don't overreact, Charlotte," her mother said, rubbing her temples.
"Oh, I'm overreacting?" Charlotte smirked. "How did the perfect Luc react when you told him we had to go to England?" Her parents exchanged an anxious look. Charlotte's heart raced watching their reactions. "You didn't tell Luc yet?"
"Oh, we told him," Papa assured Charlotte with a nod.
"Was that why he was excused from dinner tonight?" Charlotte asked quizzically. The last time she had seen her brother was that afternoon, lying on his bed with a book in his hands. He had told their parents that he wasn't hungry and asked to be excused from the meal. Charlotte would never have been allowed to skip a meal, but of course Luc got what he asked for. Luc always got what he asked for. But still, Charlotte couldn't ever manage to stay angry with him because of it. He was the only person in her life who unconditionally cared for her. "Is he as upset as I am?"
"He's upset yes," Papa said rather evasively. He folded his hands and looked down at them, avoiding Charlotte's eyes. "But he's not going to England."
Charlotte's breath caught in her throat and she felt a sob rack her body. Luc wasn't going with her? "What?" she managed to stammer in shock.
"Luc has decided not to go to England," Papa repeated, this time looking up at Charlotte with serious eyes. "And at seventeen years, we feel he is old enough to make that decision for himself."
Charlotte looked to her mother in shock, but she kept her eyes downcast, concentrated on her wine glass. "I hope you realize that I'm only a year younger than Luc. If he is allowed to make his own decision, I should be able to, as well!" She shook her head aggressively, her dark hair bobbing against her jaw. "I'm not going. Especially not without Luc."
"I'm afraid that's not your choice to make, Charlotte," her mother said coldly, finally looking up to meet Charlotte's eyes with her own hardened, green-eyed stare.
Charlotte felt tears welling up in her eyes as she looked at her mother, silently pleading with her. Don't make me go. "Why do I have to leave if Luc doesn't?" But then the answer dawned upon her. Why hadn't seen noticed before? "Oh. Oh, I know why. This is what you wanted all along, isn't it?"
"What are you talking about, Charlotte?" Papa asked.
"I don't know why I didn't see it before," Charlotte continued, standing from her chair. "I was always the child you wanted to be rid of. I was always the one left behind or stuck with a nanny or shipped off to school while you took Luc to traipse around Paris with you two." She swallowed back tears. "And now you finally have a reason to get rid of me for good and keep Luc by your side."
"Charlotte, don't be ridiculous-" her mother began.
"This is anything but ridiculous, Mother!" Charlotte cried. "You know I'm right! And you know what? Perhaps you're right, too. Maybe it is best for me to go to England. Because if nothing else, it will get me away from you." She turned on her heel.
"Charlotte, don't storm away from your mother like that," Papa said in a warning voice.
"Charlotte, we're only doing what we feel is best for you," her mother declared. "We love you."
Charlotte halted at this. Her mother rarely ever used the word love. In fact,Charlotte hadn't even heard her mother utter the word was when she was nearly ten years old, and it was only because she was running lines for a performance. Since that day, Charlotte had only heard her mother say the word a handful of times, and nearly always to either Luc or her husband. Never to Charlotte.
"I'm glad I'm leaving," Charlotte declared, brushing away angry tears. "Because I don't want to have to see you anymore." And with that, she turned and ran upstairs to her room, throwing herself on her bed and sobbing to her heart's desire. I hate you, she repeated over and over again to herself until the words were meaningless and dull.
About an hour later, Luc made his way to her room. He quietly knocked and let himself in, shutting the door after him. He sat on the edge of Charlotte's bed, folding his hands in his lap.
Charlotte laid curled up on her side, absently playing with the edge of her pillowcase. "When did you find out?" she asked her brother.
"Yesterday," he replied quietly.
"Is that why you were avoiding me all day?" Charlotte asked, looking up at him.
He smiled a bit. "Yes. I was hoping you wouldn't notice."
"Of course I noticed. We never go without talking." Charlotte looked at her brother, as though memorizing his face. But she already knew him by heart. He looked so much like their mother with his ink-black hair and glass green eyes, his sharp cheekbones and full lips. But unlike his mother, he always looked relaxed, serene. Unlike his mother, his eyes were soft and sweet and captivating.
"I heard what you said downstairs," Luc told his sister, looking down at her. "And I think you're wrong. I don't think they're just trying to ship you off."
"It sure feels like it," Charlotte retorted, sitting up and tucking her legs under her.
"Listen, I know our parents aren't always the most attentive in the world, but they really do try and do what's best for us most of the time."
"Then why are they sending me away and not you?" Charlotte asked harshly.
Luc shook his head and grinned. "I don't want to argue with you, Char."
Charlotte forgot her anger for a moment and laughed. "That's new!" Although she and her brother were very close and spent much of their time together, they still had frequent bickers, usually over silly little things.
Luc smiled softly at her and brushed her fringe from her eyes. "I just don't want to spend our last days together fighting like children."
Charlotte's face clouded over. "Do you really think we'll never see eachother again?" she asked miserably.
"I didn't say that, Char. But I think it will be a while. At least until the war ends. And who knows when that will be."
Charlotte edged closer to her brother and sighed heavily, leaning her head against his shoulder. "I don't want to go to England," she admitted sadly."What if I forget all my English?"
Luc laughed for the first time. "I don't think you're in danger of that happening. You've been fluent since you were five years old. You're better than most of the people I know. Well, except for me." He smirked.
"But what if my accent is too thick for them to understand me?" Charlotte sighed. "Just nothing is going to be the same."
"I know," Luc said miserably. "But I think what you said downstairs might be right. I think maybe being apart from each other will make our relationships better in the long run."
"Were you eavesdropping on our entire conversation?" Charlotte asked indignantly.
"Basically. I had to know what was going on," Luc smiled at her. Then sadness overtook his face once more. "I'm going to miss you, Charlotte."
Charlotte closed her eyes and burrowed further under his arm. "I'll miss you more," she said honestly, clinging to the person who truly loved the most. But truthfully, Luc was the only person she even loved at all.
It was pouring the morning Charlotte left for England. She could hear the rain pounding on her bedroom windows as she stood admiring it one last time-the rose-colored walls with the heavy cream curtains hanging from the windows, the wicker rocking chair and the soft bed. Charlotte remembered the day she picked out her cream furniture on an outing with Mellie, the same day Luc chose his heavy oak set. It had been a happy day, followed by an ice cream supper at the confectioner's. Everything had been so simple.
Charlotte glanced over at the far wall of her room, where her grandmother's vintage mirror hung over the vanity. Most of her belongings had already been packed away in the large trunk she was taking to England or in the little satchel she would carry with her on the train. Her parents had decided to send the family cat with Charlotte, to give her a little piece of home, and he was already trapped in his crate downstairs, meowing very loudly. But this mirror of her grandmother's was the one possession Charlotte's mother had forbid her from taking, for fear that it would shatter during the voyage.
Charlotte crossed over to the mirror, fingering the intricate woodwork. She gazed at herself in the mirror, wondering what the English would think of her. She knew she wasn't ugly-in fact, she had been called pretty all her life. And although she knew she would never match her mother's undeniable beauty, Charlotte still knew she was cute in her own right. Her dark eyes were heavy-lidded and framed with long lashes. Her hair, cut short into a bob, was slightly longer in the front than in the back and her fringe was cut in a straight line across her forehead. Her hair had been cut short for years, ever since Charlotte began trying to distance herself from her mother who wore her dark hair in long, heavy curls. Also unlike her mother, Charlotte had freckles, a faint dusting just over the bridge of her small, upturned nose. In fact, she was entirely small all over. When she had been younger, her father would comment, "Lottie, you have so much fire in you for such a tiny girl." Charlotte studied herself in the mirror and wished he thought she was just as fiery as she was back then.
"Charlotte! It's time to leave!" came the call from downstairs.
"Coming!" she called back. She grabbed her hat from her bed and carefully put it on top of her neat hair. It matched her blue wool coat. Charlotte glanced once more around her room, the one she'd had for as long as she could remember, and finally with a sigh, closed the door on her memories.
The car ride to the train station was strangely quiet. Mother's usual chatter had ceased and Papa didn't even hold his typical quiet discussions. Luc had initially said he didn't wish to say goodbye at the train station, fearing it would be far too difficult. He had relented only after Charlotte begged him to come. But even he was eerily quiet.
After Papa had seen that the trunk and the cat's crate had been stowed properly in the train's cargo, the family stood quietly on the platform. "Well," he mused gently, "I suppose this is goodbye."
There was a moment of silence before Mother finally embraced Charlotte. "Stay safe, dear. We love you." Charlotte could feel herself begin to tremble in her mother's arms, but she didn't reply or hug her back.
"Take care of the kitty," Papa told her, hugging her next. "You'll enjoy England, Charlotte. They will think you're just as beautiful and wonderful as I do." Charlotte nodded through her tears, even though she didn't believe him. Not one word.
She turned to Luc, who had tears glistening in his lovely green eyes. Luc seldom cried anymore, but the sight of it tore Charlotte to pieces. She hugged him tightly and realized he was shaking just as badly as she was. She clutched him tighter.
"I love you, Charlotte," he whispered.
"I love you," Charlotte cried.
Luc pulled away and looked her in the eyes. "We'll be together again, Charlotte. I promise. I always keep my promises, don't I?"
Charlotte nodded. "Yes."
"Trust me. We'll be together again."
Charlotte nodded again. "Will you write to me?"
Of course," Luc replied immediately. "I'll post a letter to you the moment I get home. That way you'll get it in just a few days. Then maybe we won't feel so far apart." He clutched Charlotte once again. "I love you."
"I love you more," Charlotte told him.
"Not possible," her brother replied.
The train whistle sounded. Charlotte's time was up. She made her way to her cabin and sat by the window, hoping to catch a glance of her family before the train left. But all she could see was the picture of Luc's tear-stained face as Charlotte walked away from him, the memory playing over and over in her mind.
Charlotte shut her eyes tightly, imagining Luc when he was happy-playing ball as a child, seeing a film, teasing his sister profusely-that was how she wanted to remember him, not like this.
As the train began to pull away from the station, Charlotte pressed her hands to the window, desperately searching for one last glance of her brother. Then suddenly she found him in the crowd, his green eyes bright. He waved goodbye to her, a tiny smile playing across his lips. Charlotte tried to smile back as she waved, but her heart felt as if it were being wrenched from her. For as the train pulled off, Charlotte had the gut-wrenching, sickening feeling that it would be the last time she would ever see her brother.