|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: 25 - Words: 90,675 - Reviews: 55 - Favs: 18 - Follows: 24 - Updated: 06-13-13 - Published: 07-09-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3040217
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Charlotte arrived at the theatre over an hour before her call time. She was in such a perfect mood-it was as if everything that had happened the night before was no longer a concern. Having lunch and a walk around town with Celia had put a smile on Charlotte's face that had yet to damper. She had even stopped by the florist on her way home to buy Helen a bouquet of sunflowers for the performance that evening, but when she returned home Mrs. Gates said that Helen had already left for the theatre. So Charlotte followed, even though she was early.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Daemon!" she said cheerily as she passed one of the stage managers backstage. "Has Helen arrived yet?"
"I believe Mrs. Carey is in her dressing room," he told her with a smile on his wrinkled face.
"Thank you! I'll see you in a bit!" Charlotte called and scampered off to the dressing rooms. But just as she was about to knock on the door, she heard a strange sound from the other side. She knew it well-her mother often complained that stress caused her to vomit, and as a child, Charlotte had grown used to hearing her mother retch into the toilet on countless occasions. And the memory of Jack getting sick after his long night at the pub was still too fresh in Charlotte's mind. But she had never seen Helen with even the slightest ailment, and hearing her getting sick was a surprise.
"Helen?" Charlotte asked worriedly. "Are you alright?"
There was a moment when Helen continued to retch. But then Charlotte heard the sound of a faucet and the door opened. Helen stood with a tired smile, as beautiful as ever, but her face was pale and sweaty and her hair mussed.
"Hello, darling," Helen said tiredly, opening the door wider. "Do come in."
Charlotte gave her a smile, but walked in cautiously. "Are you sick, Helen? Do you need an understudy to perform tonight?"
"Oh no, no, dear," Helen told her with a confident smile. "I'm alright. I'll be well enough to perform tonight."
"Are you sure?" Charlotte asked. "It sounded as if you were getting sick pretty violently..."
"I promise you, Charlotte," Helen said with an amused smile, as if it were sweet that Charlotte were taking care of her, "that I'm fine. My stomach just didn't appreciate something I ate today." Noticing Charlotte's unconvinced expression, Helen's face dropped. "Charlotte, if I confide something in you, you will promise not to tell anyone, won't you?"
Charlotte frowned and nodded. "Of course, Helen. I would never say anything."
"Good. Because it has to be in the strictest confidence that..." Helen took a deep breath, but finally admitted, "that I'm pregnant."
Charlotte was shocked. She had never imagined that Helen would want another child, especially not so long after she had borne Jack. And Helen was as small and dainty as she ever had been. She gave no signs that she was with child. It was hard to believe.
"Are you...are you sure?" Charlotte stammered.
Helen nodded. "Very sure. Lewis and I went to visit the doctor again only a week ago. He says the baby is almost five months along, but that it's still very small."
Charlotte couldn't help but stare at Helen's stomach, and how small it still was. "Are you happy?" she finally asked.
Helen nodded, a smile breaking over her face. "Very happy. Lewis and I have always wanted another child after Jack. But we gave up years ago."
"Then why don't you want to tell anybody?" Charlotte asked, confused. "If I were you, I'd want to shout it out to everyone!"
"Because this isn't the first time I've gotten pregnant, Charlotte," Helen told her seriously, her smile dropping from her face. "I've been pregnant, a few times. But I've miscarried each time after Jack. So Lewis and I have decided that we don't want to take chances anymore. We'll tell everyone when the time is right."
"Everyone," Charlotte repeated. "Do you mean..."
"Even Jack," Helen said, nodding. "We haven't said anything to him. And I wish you wouldn't, either. For mine and Lewis' sake. We'll tell him when the time is right," she repeated.
Charlotte nodded. "Of course. I won't say anything." She paused for a moment, still letting the news sink in. "Congratulations," she told Helen with a grin. "I'm so happy for you. I hope it's a girl," she admitted. "So that we can spoil her to no end!"
Helen laughed and hugged Charlotte. "I hope that, too! She'd be the prissiest little doll in all of London, I'm sure of it!"
There was a knock at the door and Mr. Daemon poked his head into the room. "Sorry, ladies. But the costume department needs to see Charlotte before the performance. Apparently Mrs. Crosby didn't think the fit of Charlotte's final costume was good enough."
"I'll go see her right away," Charlotte told him. "Thank you." She turned to Helen and squeezed her hand again. "I should be going, Helen. But I am so, so excited for you! You're going to be an absolutely beautiful mother! Again!"
"Hopefully everything will go as planned," Helen said with a nervous smile.
Charlotte smiled back. "I'll be praying for you." She had never used to pray. But lately, she was finding herself more and more often sending up quick pleas for God to protect Luc or her mother whenever they came across her mind. And almost as much as she wanted her family to be safe, she wanted for Helen and Lewis to be happy. And Jack, she reminded herself. I want Jack to be happy. Whether I'm with him or Wesley, I want Jack to be happy.
He had never left her thoughts all day, as she had lunch with Celia and as she walked into the theatre. And he continued to plague her thoughts as the day continued. She was distracted as Mrs. Crosby fit the silk white dress closer to Charlotte's body. She wondered if she would see him tonight, sitting beside Lewis in the family's row of seats. She wondered if she would see him afterward. There were always so many things to wonder about Jack. Charlotte could never quite shake him from her mind.
She rubbed her forehead as Mrs. Crosby pinned her costume in place, wondering if she had always been so pensive. She couldn't recall ever having such thoughts when she was back in France. But now, it seemed that all she did was contemplate things. And she wasn't sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.
For some reason, Charlotte felt troubled as she walked to her side of the stage later that evening, standing in the wings, waiting for the show to start. She caught Wesley's eye as he stood in the wings across the stage. He frowned questioningly at her, as if silently asking what was wrong. But Charlotte couldn't explain to him what was wrong, and especially not now as she was about to step onstage and become a whole different person. She couldn't be Charlotte any longer.
But from the moment she stepped onstage and sneaked a glance at the audience, she couldn't help but feel a bit of sadness overcome her. Lewis was sitting in the third row, just as she knew he would, but the seat next to his was empty. Jack was nowhere to be seen. Charlotte's heart sunk deep into her stomach.
She wouldn't have to act tonight. She was already full of feelings.
"Good show," Wesley told her brightly as he walked up later that night while Charlotte was handing Mrs. Crosby her costume's hat and gloves. Wesley removed his own costume's hat and handed it to the seamstress. "I thought you did a really nice job with the parting scene today."
"Thanks," Charlotte said, trying to smile back, but she was sure he wasn't fooled by her pursed lips.
"Everything okay?" he asked, his eyes concerned just as they had been before the show.
"Fine," Charlotte insisted, giving him another fake smile, and turning to go to her dressing room. It wasn't that she didn't like Wesley-in fact, she liked him very much-but it was just all the more difficult to figure everything out when he was around.
"So what were you planning on doing tonight?" Wes asked her, following her down the hallway.
"Probably relaxing and going to sleep," Charlotte replied. "It's been a long weekend."
"Then it's a good thing we have tomorrow off," Wesley said optimistically. "You can sleep in as long as you like."
"Helen and Lewis like to go to church on Sunday mornings," Charlotte told him. "And they like for me to go with them."
"Ah," Wesley nodded. "Well, I don't suppose you're going to go to sleep tonight without having anything to eat." He pulled Charlotte to face him and gave her one of his sweet smiles. "I know I'm always famished at the end of a show. You can't tell me you wouldn't like a little snack before bed."
Charlotte wanted to resist. But Wesley, with his soft brown eyes and open face, was just so magnetic. She could already feel a smile begin to creep across her face, and her bad mood begin to lift.
"Come on, I won't keep you out until all hours of the night," Wesley pled. "Just a quick trip to a cafe. You'll be home before you know it."
She wanted to say no. She wanted to go home, and see if Jack was there. But even more, she wanted to be with Wesley right now. "Okay," Charlotte finally agreed, a grin breaking over her face. "We'll get something to eat. Just let me get changed out of my costume and fix my hair."
"Perfect!" Wes exclaimed. "I'll tell Helen and Lewis you're coming with me!"
Charlotte laughed. "Okay, I'll see you a little bit." She closed her dressing room door and quickly began to change her clothes, eager to be with Wes.
He met her in front of the theatre doors, out on the brightly lit streets of London. It was a cool night, and Wesley looked even more handsome with the bit of red blushing on his cheeks from the chill, his hair mussed from that night's hats and hairpieces. Charlotte loved to see him like this, a bit undone, a bit more casual. It made her feel closer to him. It made her feel as if he trusted her enough to be himself while he was around her.
"Hello, love," he told her with a twinkle in his eye, offering her his arm. Charlotte took it, smiling brightly. He was always so charming, always so proper. The more she was with Wes, the more she realized that he would never hurt her. He would never want to. And the more she was with him, the more she realized that he was the perfect gentleman, the one from the novels and plays she read and dreamt about. He was the kind of person she would have imagined herself marrying years and years from now, maybe in the great church that she attended with Lewis and Helen.
Charlotte nearly laughed at her girlish thoughts, and leaned her head against Wes' shoulder as they walked down the pavement. But for a sudden moment, she stopped in her tracks.
"What is it?" Wesley asked.
Charlotte hesitated for a moment, but shook her head. "It's nothing," she managed, still staring down the street. "I thought I saw someone. But it's nothing." But she couldn't quite take her eyes away from the figure briskly walking away from the pair, his head down and his shoulders hunched against the wind. "It's nothing," she repeated, finally tearing her eyes away from the figure and smiling up at Wesley, perfect Wesley.
He smiled back. "Let's get you something to eat."
Charlotte nodded and let him lead her down the sidewalk. Yes, she told herself. Wesley really was perfect. But she looked over her shoulder one last time and wondered why she kept seeing Jack everywhere she went.
"Good night," Wesley whispered as they stood in front of the Carey's house later that night. Charlotte smiled back and put a finger to her lips, cautioning him to be quiet in case the Careys were already asleep. Wes smiled and took her finger away from her lips. Then, very sweetly, he leaned down and kissed her gently on the tip of her nose. Shivers ran through Charlotte's body as she uncontrollably grinned. Then, without quite thinking, she reached up to his face, and brought Wesley to her close. She kissed him on his lips, so warm and so soft.
"Good night," Charlotte whispered in his ear. She gave him one last smile before going into the house. As soon as she was inside, she leaned back against the door and bit her lip, grinning to herself, feeling like she was on a cloud.
"Did you have a good night, little Miss Charlotte?" Mrs. Gates awakened Charlotte from her daydream.
"Yes," Charlotte replied honestly. She couldn't stop smiling, although she tried to dampen her grin so that Mrs. Gates wouldn't notice anything different. "Um," Charlotte said, tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear, "Did the Careys already return?"
"They came straight home after the show," Mrs. Gates told her. "Helen was feeling tired. And Jack got home only a little while ago."
"Jack's here?" Charlotte asked, surprised.
"Yes," Mrs. Gates replied, looking rather confused. "Wasn't he at the performance tonight?"
"I don't think so." Charlotte shook her head. "I didn't see him. He must have been out with friends."
"Oh," Mrs. Gates said, shrugging. "Well he's home now."
Charlotte nodded. "Well, I think I'll go up to sleep now. It's been a long weekend. Good night, Mrs. Gates," she said, embracing the kind housekeeper, who she had grown to have a bond with. Charlotte made her way up the stairs, still feeling the excitement from her kiss and the glow of a wonderful evening.
But still...the light streaming from under Jack's door piqued her interest. Charlotte hesitated. Usually a trip into Jack's room gave her nothing but heartache for one reason or another. But she could never seem to stay away. She quietly turned the doorknob and finally stepped into his room.
Jack was already laying in his bed, sound asleep. He must have left the light on by accident while finishing some writing, which was still strewn across his desk, his jacket draped across the back of the chair.
Charlotte smiled at the sight of him looking so peaceful and calm on the bed. She walked over to his bedside and covered him with the light quilt that lay at the foot of the bed. But as she did, her foot kicked something that was laying on the ground. Frowning, Charlotte bent to pick it up. It was an empty liquor bottle.
Charlotte's face fell as she looked back to Jack, laying so sound asleep on the bed. She thought that this had just been a stage and that it had passed. But catching the faint smell of alcohol on his clothes, Charlotte knew Jack was still who he always was and always had been. A scrap of paper lay on the table next to his bed. Picking it up, Charlotte realized it was a telephone number, with a girl's name written on it.
She sighed, her heart feeling heavy once again. But she was realizing there was nothing she could do to change who Jack was. Nobody could do that. So instead of waking him and criticizing as she might have only a few months earlier, Charlotte instead reached into her bag for the chocolate croissants she and Wesley had purchased to take home from the cafe, and placed the box on the side-table. She took the scrap of paper and turned it over, writing in neat script, These are for you. Good night. Charlotte.
Charlotte looked at Jack again. Wesley would never do something like this, she told herself. Wesley's mature. And Jack's still young and reckless. It's just who he is. She leaned over and softly pressed a kiss to Jack's forehead as he slept. "Good night," she whispered, just as she would have for Luc.
She knew by now that Jack would never leave her thoughts. But at least she could try to think of him as a brother.
She could try. That was the best she could do.
A/N: I already know I'm going to be super busy for the next few days, so I wanted to post the new chapter while I could! It might be a few weeks until the new one, so please review and check out my other stories! :) thanks so much for all the support the last couple of chapters! I'll get back to all of your reviews ASAP! We're getting close to the end!