|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|
The days passed and May was soon upon London. The heat was nearly unbearable, and Charlotte could hardly sit still in her sickly sweaty school jumper and stockings. On these days, she nearly ran out of her classrooms when the bell would ring, escaping outdoors where she could at least feel the sun on her cheeks and the breeze against her skin. She could shed her sweater and pull her hair from the tight, sticky braids that she had grown accustomed to wearing during the school day. But feeling her hair loose against her cheeks as she scampered down the pavement was a welcome feeling after being cooped up in the classrooms for so long. She had even begun to ask Topher not to pick her up from school, so that she could have the opportunity to walk home in the wonderful weather. Sometimes Celia walked with her and stayed to do some homework, which was always nice. Charlotte enjoyed Celia's company more than she had ever expected to, and could tell that Celia valued their friendship just as much. But at the same time, she was sometimes glad when Celia decided to stay at the dorms or visit her brother. It saved Charlotte the trouble of getting angry when Jack and Celia flirted, something that Celia never seemed to understand.
Charlotte pushed these thoughts from her mind as she hauled her schoolbag over her shoulder and began to walk down the pavement toward home, but then caught sight of a familiar black car pulling up along the curb.
"What are you doing here?" Charlotte asked in surprise, a happy smile breaking across her face.
"I got out of class a little early today and thought you might like a ride home," Jack said with a grin as he leaned out the window to talk to her. "Topher said that you've been walking home, but this heat is way too stifling to even bear. Come on. Is Celia with you?" He leaned to look around Charlotte for little Celia, who could very well have been hiding behind her.
"No, she's not," Charlotte replied curtly, folding her arms in front of her chest. "Is that why you came for me?" she asked accusingly.
"No," Jack replied, rolling his eyes. "My motives were as stated, and I don't feel I need to repeat them. So can we please get on the road and out of this heat?"
Charlotte smiled and opened the door to the car, throwing herself into the front seat. "Thank you," she told him gratefully, brushing her bangs from her forehead.
"Mhm," Jack replied. He looked relaxed and happy as he drove through the city that he knew and loved so well. Charlotte loved it, too. She hoped that one day she might know it as well as Jack did, every nook and cranny. But at the same time, she didn't want to stay in London forever. She wanted to go back to Paris, even if just for Luc and her parents. But right now, all she wanted was for them to come to London, so she could introduce them to the city she had fallen so in love with.
"How was your day?" Jack asked. It was strange to hear him, a person with such confidence, try to make conversation.
"Good," Charlotte replied, leaning back and closing her eyes. "We're studying Romeo and Juliet in literature class. Again. I don't know how many times I'm going to have to read about them killing themselves."
Jack laughed. "What? You don't agree with the millions of other girls who think it's a terrific love story?"
Charlotte made a face and shook her head. "I think it's terrifically morbid. It might make for good drama, but I certainly don't think that's what love is like. Or at least I hope it's not really like that."
Jack turned onto their street. "I'd like to think it's more like Les Miserables."
"What?" Charlotte asked with a laugh. "You think that love should be like the novel that is about the most miserable people of all?"
"Have you even read it?"
"Of course," Charlotte scoffed. "Every French student has read Victor Hugo. Personally, I thought The Hunchback of Notre Dame is even more morbid, but whatever's to your liking..." She looked at Jack, who seemed to be quite thoughtful about the matter. "You think that love is like Cossette and Marius? Love at first sight? They didn't even know each other and they loved one another. You can't tell me that's not unlike Romeo and Juliet."
"I wasn't talking about Cossette and Marius," Jack told her. "I was talking about Eponine and Marius."
"Eponine?" Charlotte asked. "The girl who wasn't loved back?"
"Isn't that how it normally is?" Jack asked her seriously. He pulled the car to a stop and looked at Charlotte.
This was all just too strange. It was as if he was playing right into her heart. Of course that's how it normally is, Charlotte thought. Isn't that exactly what you're doing to me? Aren't you Marius, and Celia Cossette, and that leaves me as Eponine? Charlotte frowned and looked down at her hands. No, it's not the same, she told herself. I'm not in love with Jack. I can barely tolerate him. I barely know him.
"Come on," Jack said, turning off the car. "Let's go inside before we both steam to death."
As Charlotte and Jack walked through the doors, Mrs. Gates met them to take their school jackets and jumpers, commenting, "It should be illegal to make you children wear such heavy clothes on such hot days."
"I think you should say something to the school about it," Charlotte told her with a mischievous smile.
Mrs. Gates winked at her. "That'll be the day." She left with their clothing, and no sooner had she left when Lewis came into the parlor, with a massive smile on his face.
"You're home!" he greeted them, pulling Jack into an embrace before putting an arm around Charlotte's shoulders. "Just the person I wanted to see," he told her as he guided her toward his study, with Jack quizzically following behind.
"You wanted to see me?" Charlotte asked in mock shock. "I'm flattered, Lewis! With how buried in your writing you've been lately, I didn't think the rest of the world existed to you!"
"But that's just the news I need to tell you," Lewis told her. Charlotte and Jack looked at each other in confusion."I've kept myself busy the past few months because I've had such an inspiration for a new play. I finally sent it off to my agent last week and he gave me some wonderful news about it."
"A company's already bought it?" Jack asked in surprise.
"The Company's already bought it," Lewis said proudly. He grinned. "My agent already told me he thinks it's going to be a great success!"
"That's wonderful, Lewis!" Charlotte exclaimed.
"But really, when isn't your work a great success?" Jack asked, smiling. "Congratulations. Does Mum already know about it?"
"What's the play about?" Charlotte asked interestedly. She couldn't wait until she could have a bound copy sitting beside her bedside. Perhaps Lewis would even sign it for her, just as he had signed Helen's book.
"Actually...that's what I wanted to speak to the both of you about," Lewis said, his voice is quieting. "Charlotte, I hope you won't mind...but you gave me the inspiration for the story behind the play."
Charlotte's eyes widened. "I did? What do you mean?"
"The play is about a young, privileged Frenchgirl who is displaced from her home during the Great War. She loses everything and ends up in England, trying to make a new life for herself and her younger sister. I suppose it's a story of riches to rags, to riches again."
"And I inspired you to write it?" Charlotte asked again.
Lewis nodded. "You did. I hope you don't mind too much?"
"I don't mind at all!" Charlotte exclaimed, her face breaking into a grin. "Nothing so flattering has ever happened to me my entire life! Thank you, Lewis!" Charlotte threw herself into his arms.
"But that's not all," Lewis told her quietly, gently breaking away from the embrace. "Charlotte, we've done some preliminary casting, but no girl who auditions for the role is ever right for it. They don't capture the spirit that she needs to have. So I've decided that there's only one person I want to play the role. That person is you."
"Me?" Charlotte was even more shocked. For a moment, she couldn't even find words. "Oh, Lewis, I can't. I've never acted onstage before. What if I'm terrible? I'll ruin your entire show. I don't know the first thing about acting, about learning lines, about anything! I just can't do it, Lewis. You can find someone better, I promise."
"There is no one better," Lewis persisted. "At least not for this role. I need you to play this role, Charlotte. Please just try. And if you have significant trouble, or if it's too much for you, we can always find a replacement. But just at least try, Charlotte. Can we say that you at least owe me that much?"
Charlotte bit her lip. She didn't want to disappoint Lewis. But could she disappoint him even more by not even giving it a try?
"Charlotte, would it help you to know that Helen said she's going to take a part in the show?" Lewis finally asked her. Jack looked at his father in surprise.
"She is?" Charlotte asked, smiling. From the moment she had first seen Helen onstage, she had seen something special about her. It was incredible to see her acting onstage, to see her portray a character so different from her own personality. Charlotte had wanted to experience that from the first moment she saw Helen onstage. To be onstage with Helen could be something she had dreamed of from that moment.
"Okay, Lewis," Charlotte told him. "I'll try and I'll do my best. But you have to promise me that if I'm the least bit terrible, you have to replace me before your play is affected by it."
"I promise," Lewis replied with a grin. "But I know I won't have to keep my promise. I know you're going to be superb. I could tell from how you lit up when you stepped onstage that first night at the theatre. And you have theatre in your blood. You were meant to perform."
"Not like me," Jack said sarcastically and turned on his heel, leaving the library.
Charlotte started after him with a frown, but Lewis stopped her. "Leave him, Charlotte. He usually just needs some time for himself before he comes to his senses. That's what I've come to realize about him, anyway."
"But why is he angry all of the sudden?" Charlotte asked, confused.
"I think...there are many underlying issues with this family that you aren't aware of yet," Lewis told her with a sad smile. "But you'll learn soon enough, Charlotte. Until then, don't trouble yourself with our insignificant problems. I have a few phone calls to make, but we'll have dinner together tonight?"
Charlotte nodded. "Yes, please." She turned to leave the study.
She turned back around when Lewis called her name.
"Jack had told me about the nightmares you were having," he told her. "I wanted you to know that I have a brother who works for the government. He's trying to find out as much information about your family as he can. It's going to take some time, but I'm sure he'll come up with something."
Charlotte smiled. "Thank you, Lewis."
She went upstairs to her room, ready to sit and pass the time with some schoolwork, which would undoubtedly be painfully dull without Celia around. But as she passed Jack's room, she noticed it was strangely quiet. Her interest piqued, Charlotte peeked into Jack's room out of curiosity. It was empty.
A few hours later, as Charlotte was just finishing her Romeo and Juliet homework, Mrs. Gates called for her.
"Charlotte! You have a telephone call!"
"I'll pick it up in the hallway, Mrs. Gates!" Charlotte called back to her, and ran to the hallway. It would no doubt be Celia, who was sure to be just as bored with the homework as Charlotte was. "Hello, this is Charlotte speaking," Charlotte said into the telephone, leaning back into the wall and twisting the cord around her finger.
"Hi, Charlotte. This is Jimmy. Jimmy Hobbs."
Charlotte stood straight in surprise. She had barely spoken to Celia's brother before. "Jimmy? I thought this would be Celia calling."
"I know, I'm sorry for calling so strangely. But I had to tell you..."
Charlotte frowned. Could something be wrong with Celia? Charlotte had only seen her friend a few hours ago! What could have happened?
"What's the matter, Jimmy?" Charlotte asked, her voice full of concern.
"I'm near the pub on State," Jimmy told her. "Jack's here. He's been drinking. A lot. He's pretty bad. And I think it might be time for someone to come get him. I know he's not a kid, so I didn't want to call his parents. You were the only person I could think of."
Charlotte's heart dropped. She had never had to do anything like this about Luc. She wasn't even sure how to go about it. But she knew that Jimmy was right-she was the only person who should know. Jack's parents would only be more disappointed in him. Mrs. Gates couldn't be counted upon not to relay the information to the Careys.
"I'll be there soon," Charlotte told him. "I'll bring Topher and the car and we'll come to pick him up. Please stay there until we get there. Thank you, Jimmy."
"Thanks, Charlotte," he replied, hanging up the telephone.
Charlotte sighed heavily as she hung up the phone. She didn't at all know what she was getting herself into. She had never really been around anyone who was drinking, before. Her parents only drank very seldom, and even then it was only wine. Luc hardly drank, except for on very rare occasions. And Lewis and Helen only enjoyed a glass of alcohol sparsely.
She bravely went to her room and slipped on a jacket for the cool night air. Then she braced herself, not even imagining what Topher was going to say to her, but went to find him.
"Here he is," Jimmy told Charlotte and Topher as he guided them through the pub, over to the bar where Jack lay slumped over the counter, his head resting on his arms, a drink still in his fist.
"Someone come to get him?" asked the gruff bartender. "About time. He's been taking up room for an hour. Runts shouldn't drink if they can't hold their liquor."
"I'm so sorry, sir," Charlotte told him sincerely. The bartender took a look at her in her young school uniform and just grunted in reply, leaving to tend to another customer. "Thank you for phoning over, Jimmy."
"I just didn't want to desert him here," Jimmy told her. He did look just like Celia, with his wild red hair and bright blue eyes. "I couldn't take him with me to the dorms. They're far too strict about drinking there."
"No, I understand," Charlotte told him. "We'll get him home. Thank you for your help." Jimmy gave her a grim smile before leaving the pub. "How are we going to get him out?" she asked Topher, looking at Jack's limp form, which was bound to be deadly weight.
"One step at a time," Topher told her reassuringly. He had been nothing but a saint when Charlotte had come to get him. He pried the drink from Jack's hand and set it on the counter before bending to take Jack under the arm. "Come on, Jack. Wake up. Charlotte and I are here to take you home."
"Jack, it's time to leave," Charlotte said quietly, reaching under his other arm so that Jack was propped between the two of them. "Can you walk out to the car for us?" There was no response, just a bit of a grunt in reply, and then a moan as the pair began to edge their way out of the pub with Jack supported on them, his head bobbing to and fro.
"He's out cold," Topher said to Charlotte regretfully. "I can't imagine all that he must have drank tonight. Let's settle him in the back of the car." They managed to lay Jack in the backseat before getting into the car themselves.
"This is what I was telling you about before," Topher said quietly as they drove away. "It's always like this. Whenever Jack feels he isn't getting enough attention, he always has to do something to gain some back. Congratulations on your role, by the way," he added to Charlotte.
Charlotte frowned. "You think this is all because of me?"
"I can never say exactly what Jack is thinking," Topher told her honestly. "I don't think if anyone but Jack ever really knows. But this is what always used to happen when we were kids. Wes or I would get praise for anything, and Jack would immediately do something to get the attention back on him, whether it was doing something good or breaking a precious family heirloom."
"Topher, who is Wes?" Charlotte asked curiously. "You've mentioned him twice now. It makes me think that he must be someone important. You told me before that you were sure someone would tell me about him soon, but I still haven't heard of him."
"No one's still told you?" Topher asked in surprise. "Well, then I guess I will. Wes is Helen's nephew, Jack's cousin. His father was Helen's brother who died during the Great War. His mother died soon afterward from influenza. Helen took him into her home and raised him like a son. He was only a year older than me, three older than Jack. We three were brought up together."
"Where is Wes now?"
"Around. He went away to university for a few years, but ultimately decided he wanted to be in the theatre like Helen. He basically turned into the son that she had always wished Jack to be. Not saying that she doesn't love Jack more than Wesley, but I think Helen certainly thought that Jack was going to turn out a whole lot more like Wes."
"So he acts onstage now?" Charlotte asked.
"Yes. He's quite good, too. From what I hear, anyway. He and Helen love to do shows together."
"Then why doesn't Helen ever talk about him?"
"Because she doesn't want to hurt Jack's feelings anymore." Topher looked at Charlotte with a sigh. "When Wes went off to University, Helen and Jack started to get along a whole lot better. But when he came back to do shows with Helen, Jack got jealous from all the attention he lost. He blamed it on Wes. To try and salvage their relationship, Helen decided to distance herself from Wes outside of the theatre, which of course was extremely hard on her since he is her only tie to her brother. But it was the only thing she could do to save her relationship with her son."
Charlotte shook her head. "That's terrible."
"It is. But what else could she do?"
Charlotte bit her lip and frowned. It seemed that every family had problems, just as hers had. She had never thought that maybe Jack thought about his mother the same way that she thought about hers. Had she been incredibly terrible to her mother? Or was Jack somewhat justified when he acted out against his family?
Topher managed to haul Jack upstairs by carrying him over his shoulder while Charlotte guided the way to his room. They silently settled Jack in his bed, trying their hardest not to wake Lewis and Helen.
"I think we'll be okay from here," Charlotte whispered to Topher. "Thank you so much for coming tonight. I don't know what I would have done without you." She gave him a small smile.
"You're welcome," Topher said, giving her a small, tired smile back. But she could tell that he was getting tired of cleaning up after Jack. She didn't blame him. She was already tired of his antics.
"You should get some sleep," she told Topher, guiding him to the door.
Topher stepped outside, but looked back at Charlotte curiously. "Charlotte, that really was very good of you to go to him tonight."
Charlotte shook her head. "I would have been useless without you."
"No, but I mean that you didn't have to go in the first place," Topher told her logically. "You could have just told Lewis and Helen and they would have gone to get him."
"What's the use in straining their relationship even more?" Charlotte asked, sighing.
Topher nodded. He hesitated before saying, "You know, Charlotte. You're a lot better than you think you are. You're a good person. You just don't give yourself enough credit." He gave her another short smile before giving her a wave goodbye and turning. Charlotte smiled after him before closing the door behind her.
She surveyed Jack, laying on the bed. He still looked terrible, with sunken eyes, red rims circling them. He was pale and gaunt. He did not look at all peaceful as he slept, but strained and troubled. Charlotte almost felt badly for him. She walked over to the side of the bed and sat against it, leaning her head on his mattress, giving herself a rest before fetching a basin of water from his bathroom and some pajamas he could change into. But almost immediately after sitting down, she instantly fell asleep.
She was awakened by the sound of coughing. She knew it well-her mother often had fits of nausea and would stay in her powder room for hours when she didn't feel well. There was no helping her when she felt that way. Charlotte sat up with a start, and looked at Jack who did look green. Charlotte ran for the bathroom and grabbed the wastebasket before running back to Jack's room, just as he was about to get sick. She shoved the basket into his hands and turned as he wretched into it. She couldn't bear the sight of someone getting sick. Instead, she returned to the powder room and dampened a washcloth with cool water, hoping that it might make him feel better.
Charlotte returned to Jack's room and saw the wastebasket set aside. Jack was sitting back in bed, his head rested back on the wall, his eyes closed. He looked exhausted and he was breathing heavily. Charlotte gently took his face in her hands and cleansed it with the cool cloth, wiping away the sweat that had drenched his brow and soaked into his hair.
Surprised at the touch, Jack opened his bloodshot eyes. "Charlotte?" he croaked in a terrible voice.
"Shhh," she told him softly. She didn't want him to wake Lewis and Helen after they had survived being found out last night. "You just need rest."
Jack leaned back again and closed his eyes, but asked in a pitiful voice, "How did I get home last night?"
"I came to get you," Charlotte told him. "Jimmy called and said he was there with you. Topher and I came in the car. We managed to get you upstairs without anyone seeing or hearing. Helen and Lewis don't know anything."
Jack suddenly got a terrible look on his face and sat straight upward. Charlotte quickly shoved the wastebasket in his face once again as he retched. She turned and plugged her nose as he did.
"I'm fine now," he told her. "You can turn around." She turned back to Jack and sat on his bed, looking at him inquisitively.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked her with a frown on his face. "You didn't have to come for me. And you didn't have to care for me last night or today," he said as she took up the cloth once again.
Charlotte paused for a moment, reflecting on the fact that Topher had told her the same thing only hours ago. "I don't know," she finally told him. "It just seems right." She let her hands fall back into her lap and looked at him. "But I think in return, that I deserve the truth."
Jack didn't say anything for a moment. Charlotte was ready to turn and leave the room when he finally spoke sullenly. "She told me that she wanted to spend some time with me before I left for university," he said with a bite in his voice. "She said that Importance would be her last show while I was living with them. And I was intrigued by this. Because I had never experienced having my mother at home, and I couldn't imagine what it might be like. But then Lewis of course wrote another play with a role just for her. How is she supposed to refuse that? Even if she didn't want to hurt Lewis' feelings, she would have taken it anyway. Because she just loves theatre too much to ever stop. She won't admit it, but she loves it more than me."
"And then Lewis..." Jack added with disgust. "He wrote a play inspired by a filthy rich little teenager who he knew for three months? How does he possibly know what to write about her during the three months that he's known her?" He spoke as if Charlotte weren't in the room. His words pierced her like a spear through the stomach. "Let me tell you, Charlotte," Jack said looking at her with such a terrible scowl that she was almost frightened. "My father has never once wrote something inspired by me or dedicated to me. But you got here and you've put them under a spell. You love theatre like my mother. You read incessantly like my father. You like to cook with Mrs. Gates. You drive with Topher. You're a girl, like they've always wanted. You're the perfect child they've always wanted." Jack gave her a terrible smile. "And now they've got you. There's no use for me anymore. Always the black sheep of the pristine white family."
Charlotte was speechless. She had never dreamed Jack held such a resentment toward his family, or toward her. But what he said made sense. She just couldn't think of anything to change it. "Jack-" she began.
"Just stop, Charlotte," Jack said tiredly. He looked her in the eye and said, "Would you please leave and not bother me anymore?"
Tears pricked Charlotte's eyes. Had she really lost Jack, again? Just after she thought she had regained a brother? But she stood up-shaking-and managed to leave the room, closing the door softly behind her, before her tears began to fall. She could never have imagined that his words could hurt her so much.
A/N: So now we're starting to get into the real thick of things! How do you like how things are developing? What do you think of Jack and Charlotte? Now, I have a favor to ask of my readers! I'm having a terrible time coming up with a name for a new character coming up-a little child actress at the theatre, about nine years old, with a mess of auburn hair and big brown eyes. She is smart, sweet, and diligent. I will dedicate the chapter to the reader who helps me find a name! Thank you! And thank you for reading! :)