|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|
Hot steam filled the washroom, wafting through the air as Charlotte laid back in the tub, closing her eyes. It felt so nice to relax with the morning sunlight streaming through the windows, especially after the chaos at the theatre the previous night. Charlotte had been so thankful for Mrs. Gates who had brought her tea and warm rolls with jam that morning and then had proceeded to run her a warm bath. Charlotte smiled, thinking of how much Luc would have enjoyed this treatment.
Luc. He and the rest of her family had been on Charlotte's mind all night. She had barely been able to sleep, imagining terrible bombs going off outside her window or the ground shaking with explosions. She wondered if her family would know how to be safe if such terrible bombing was happening in France. Would her mother even go into the cellar? Or would she dismiss the idea because she would get too messy?
There was a knock from the bedroom and Charlotte heard a familiar voice call, "Charlotte?"
"I'm in the bathroom!" she called to Jack, leaning back inside the tub, the water falling over her shoulders. It strangely reminded her of Luc, who would always barge into the bathroom to ask her questions while she was in the middle of things. But she had never minded. When they were little, Nanny used to bathe the pair of them together in order to save time. There was nothing to be embarrassed over.
But apparently Jack didn't feel the same way. As he opened the door to the bathroom and caught a glance of Charlotte laying in the tub, he immediately turned a deep red and spun away. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't know you were in there!" he insisted, his eyes expertly trained on the opposite wall.
"It's fine," Charlotte replied calmly, with a bit of amusement. It was the first time she had seen Jack embarrassed, and it was rather humorous. "Was there something you needed?"
"Uh, yeah," Jack nodded, looking down at his shoes, his cheeks still incredibly pink. "My parents wanted me to let you know that we're going to church in about an hour and that if you wanted to come you should be ready..."
"Alright," Charlotte agreed, beginning to pluck the hairpins from her hair. She had braided her short hair into a coil on the back of her head so that it wouldn't get wet and sticky.
"So you'll be coming, then?" Jack asked.
"Mm-hm," Charlotte nodded. "I'll be ready. You can tell your mother."
"Okay, alright then," Jack replied rather unnecessarily. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and then finally left the room, closing the door behind him. Charlotte giggled at him. She was just bathing-it wasn't as if he had caught her completely naked. She stood from the tub and wrapped herself in a fluffy white towel, warmed from the fireplace.
As soon as she heard Jack close the door to her bedroom, she walked from the bathroom and into her rooms, squeezing the water from her hair. Quickly finding a little white dress with a matching hat in her wardrobe, Charlotte laid the clothing on her bed. She quickly turned back to her writing desk, looking in her jewelry box for a pair of earrings. As she did, she noticed a photograph stuck in the bottom drawer of the box. Charlotte had forgotten about this, this photograph of Luc. She smiled remembering. He had taken a trip earlier that year with his then-girlfriend Claudine to the city of Cherbourg. Claudine had snapped the shot of him on a cold day in January. His cheeks were rosy from the cold, his hair windswept. He wasn't smiling, but there was such life in his eyes!
Oh Luc, Charlotte thought miserably. London is wonderful. I just wish you were here with me.
As she walked up the stone stairs of the church with the Careys later that morning, Charlotte couldn't help but admire the cathedral in pure awe. It was beautiful-nothing like what was in France. Although nothing else could ever compare to the gorgeous Notre Dame, the architecture in England was so different than that of France!
"Come along, Charlotte," Helen called from the top of the stairs. Charlotte realized she had been admiring the church for too long, and Lewis and Jack were already walking through the massive doors. Charlotte ran up the stairs to catch up with Helen, who smiled and put her arm around her. "I wanted to thank you for coming with us today," she said graciously. "You don't know how much it means to Lewis and me. We know you're Catholic, but it's wonderful of you to come with us."
"I don't mind!" Charlotte told her earnestly. "I like going to church. We never used to go back home. Sometimes for Christmas or Easter vigil, but not weekly. But I like it. It's nice and quiet here."
"That's why Lewis and I like it, too," Helen confided as they walked through the doors into the large hall, with so many pews that Charlotte could hardly imagine the amount of people who could attend one service. "Sunday is the only day we don't have performances at the theatre, so it's lovely to get the chance to just spend a quiet morning together."
"I can imagine," Charlotte murmured, still breathless at the interior of the church.
"I have to say, this is quite unusual," Helen commented quietly as she led Charlotte to the pew where Lewis and Jack were already waiting. "Jack hardly ever attends church anymore. I was surprised when he said he was coming this morning. I couldn't think of a reason he would have changed his mind...I thought perhaps it was maybe because of what happened at the theatre last night. Or maybe it's because you're here."
"Oh, it isn't because of me!" Charlotte said honestly with a laugh. "Jack doesn't think very highly of me, that's apparent. If he came, it was for you and Lewis. I can bet on it." Her eyes widened. "But I shouldn't be making bets in a church, should I?"
Helen laughed and patted her shoulder. "You're quite alright, dear." She smiled at Lewis as they reached him. He slid onto the pew, with Helen following him. Charlotte sat next to Helen, and Jack sat at the end quietly, waiting for the service to begin.
Charlotte glanced down at her hands, clasped in her lap, and then over to the skirt of her dress, which skimmed the edge of Jack's pants. She could feel the warmth omitting from his body, he sat so close. She could smell the cologne that he had put on that morning. She hadn't noticed it yesterday. Why did it smell so good today, Charlotte wondered. She curiously glanced up at Jack, who was patiently watching the altar, his eyes calm, but dark circles ringing them. Had he too been awake last night, worrying?
Charlotte shifted a bit uncomfortably. How could it be that she had disliked him so much only the day before, but now was wondering about him so curiously? And strangely enough, she didn't mind that he was sitting so close. It was a rather comforting feeling.
Then Jack turned sideways to her and leaned forward, saying in a low voice to his parents, "Would you mind moving down a little bit? We really don't have much room down here..."
Lewis and Helen shifted to their right, and Charlotte moved right next to Helen. She sat directly on her skirt, so that it wouldn't touch Jack at all. She couldn't help it-her feelings had been a bit pricked at his comment. She placed her hands firmly in her lap and stared straight ahead with an obvious expression of annoyance on her face. And this time, Jack was the one looking curiously at Charlotte as she solemnly watched the minister walk to the altar.
Helen had been so thrilled that Jack and Charlotte were both joining she and Lewis for church that she suggested they all go for a nice brunch in the city. It was obvious that Lewis had expected Jack to immediately decline, but he surprised everyone by readily agreeing and suggesting a classy cafe downtown. Charlotte could not suppress a smile when she saw the grin spread across Helen's face. Although the car ride to the cafe was still quiet, it was the first time that Charlotte had seen the Carey family in a pleasant mood together. For once, the aura of the car wasn't tense and the conversation was polite.
"Your mother had the driest sense of humor!" Helen laughed as they sat at a central table in the cafe. "Marie could always make light out of any terrible situation. We once had to perform at a terribly old theatre in Nice. There wasn't even running water! Halfway through the play, she and I were both desperate for a toilet. So she decided to take one of the flower vases and water the plants! I was screaming with laughter!"
"My mother did not do that!" Charlotte insisted. Even though she could never imagine her mother doing such a thing, she bellowed with laughter until her sides hurt. "Oh, that's so embarrassing!" she cried, clutching her blushing cheeks. "Please tell me you didn't do it, too!"
Helen looked mischievously at her husband before saying, "Oh, of course not," in a voice that clearly told that she had.
All three burst out laughing at Helen's sly smile. "That's charming, Mum. Really," Jack chuckled, taking a drink from his coffee mug.
"Did you ever meet my mother?" Charlotte asked Lewis, who was quietly buttering his pastry.
"Did I meet your mother?" Lewis repeated, but didn't look at Charlotte. He glanced across the table at Helen, who exchanged a look with him as she sipped her tea. "No," he finally replied. "Regretfully, I never have. Which is a shame. I hear she's a wonderful woman."
Charlotte smirked. "That's what everyone says," she commented. "Everyone who doesn't really know her."
Lewis frowned in confusion. "Why do you say that, Charlotte?"
"Because she's wonderful to everyone else," Charlotte told him seriously, looking straight into his calm eyes with her deep brown ones. "Except to the people who should matter most. Such as her children. And even her husband."
"Charlotte, I'm sure that's not true," Helen said quietly. "I'm sure your mother cares about her family very much."
"She has a strange way of showing it," Charlotte replied. She felt badly being so negative after such a nice morning, but at the same time it felt good to be able to open up to the Careys about what her life in France had really been like. "When I was little, I hardly saw my mother. Not even on my birthday. She would leave early in the morning without saying goodbye and come home late after I had already fallen asleep. She was better with Luc, but not by much. She only cared about him when she needed someone to go to a party with her. He was the obvious solution when my father was unavailable-her incredibly good-looking, good-natured son. But other times she would act like he didn't even exist. She even told him she wouldn't pay for him to go to a university if he wanted to study art."
The Careys were quiet. Finally Lewis cleared his throat and asked, "And your father?" Charlotte noticed Helen raise her eyes to her husband at this question.
"She and Papa never really were affectionate," Charlotte told him. "At least not in front of us. I'm sure they were at some point, like in your story, Helen. But he mainly stayed in his office or at the hospital where he worked. And Mother was always at the theatre."
The table was quiet again until Lewis said softly, "I'm sorry, Charlotte. I didn't realize."
Attempting to brighten the mood once again, Helen asked Jack cheerfully, "So, Jack! Your eighteenth birthday is coming up soon. It's quite a landmark. Is there something special you'd like to do?"
Jack shook his head. "No, nothing special really. I reckon birthdays just get duller as you get older." He shrugged.
"Oh come on, Jack," Lewis nudged him with a smile. "Our only child is turning eighteen! We want to celebrate! There must be something you would like?"
Jack smiled a little at his father. Charlotte enjoyed when they were like this, happy together. She wished Luc and her own father could have a bond like theirs, even if it was strained.
Jack sat forward in his seat, an expression of excitement crossing his face as he began to grin like a little child. "Well, there is this-"
"Oh dear, look at the time!" Helen exclaimed, glancing at the clock on the wall. "It's nearly noon. I can't keep the others waiting. We were supposed to have a bit of a rehearsal this afternoon to make sure we're ready for opening night!" She stood hurriedly and slipped into her coat. "And Lewis, Jonathan wanted to meet with you at the theatre. He wanted to speak with you about the new idea you're so excited about?"
"Right!" Lewis agreed, his eyes lighting up. He stood and began to put on his own coat.
"I thought we were having a nice brunch together, Mum. We've barely made it through tea," Jack said dryly, looking up at his mother.
"I'm sorry, Jack. I completely forgot. We'll have a nice family dinner soon, alright?" she asked, pecking him on the cheek, which seemed to annoy him more than anything. "Now I really must be going. Could you take Charlotte home, Jack?" Helen kissed Charlotte on her cheek and bid her goodbye before hurrying out of the cafe.
"But Dad-" Jack began, his eyes losing the sparkle from his excitement only moments earlier.
"I promise we'll discuss your birthday soon," Lewis told him seriously. "It's not something I'll easily forget, Jack. But I must be off." Lewis stopped hurrying for a moment to notice Jack's obvious disappointment. "I can't help this, Jack. It's my job."
"I know," Jack replied with a shrug. "Then go."
Lewis sighed exasperatedly and gave a quick smile to Charlotte before he followed his wife out the door.
Charlotte sat quietly looking down at her teacup, waiting for Jack to say something. He turned to her with a sullen look on his face. "I told you, didn't I?" he asked with a smirk. "This is how it is. Don't expect things to be any different." And with that, he stood up abruptly and stalked out of the cafe.
Left alone in the middle of London, with no idea where to go, Charlotte could only think to do one thing. She called Topher at the house. He immediately left to pick her up from the cafe and arrived only ten minutes later.
"He really left you here all by yourself?" Topher asked angrily as he opened the car door for Charlotte.
"Jack? Yes," she told him as he sat in the driver's seat and pulled away from the curb. His anger made her even more peeved with Jack. "I really shouldn't have expected any better from him, though," she commented.
Topher shrugged, but he obviously agreed with Charlotte. He just couldn't say anything against his employer's son.
"Why does he do that, anyway?" Charlotte asked, frustrated. "He talks so badly about his parents all the time and then he acts no better."
"Because he doesn't want to be better than his parents," Topher said. "He wants to be different than them, in any way possible. Even if that means acting like a spoiled brat, like a tyrant, sullen, rude..."
Charlotte looked at Topher in surprise. "You certainly have a few things to say about him," she noted.
Topher bit his lip in hesitation but then replied, "Jack and I grew up together. We were playmates. We were friends. But then he grew up to be...very different. And it's sad to see him like this. He's going out and drinking night after night while I work day in and day out for his family!" Topher exclaimed incredulously. "Now don't get me wrong," he told Charlotte quickly, "I love working for the Careys. But Jack...sometimes he just makes me so mad."
Charlotte nodded quietly. "Yeah. That makes two of us."
Topher sighed and smiled at Charlotte. His smile was so sweet, she noted. She suddenly remembered why she had thought he was so handsome the day they met at the train station, which seemed like months ago, and blushed.
"I don't really feel like going home just yet," he told Charlotte. "What do you say we have a walk around town?"
Charlotte grinned. "That sounds wonderful."
Topher drove to a part of town that Charlotte had never seen before. Topher bought some bread from a vendor nearby and they ate it with their hands as they walked down the cobblestone streets, talking all the way, about just about anything.
"I can't wait to see it someday," Topher mused, after Charlotte had spoken about France. "I mean, I hope I can see it someday. I've looked at the photographs of it in Lewis' library since I could walk in there."
"It's beautiful, really," Charlotte told him truthfully. "But London is beautiful, too...I never imagined it being so wonderful..."
"It's definitely got character," Topher smiled at her.
Charlotte smiled back. She looked down the street where boys were lining up in a queue. She squinted in confusion. "Is that Jack?" she asked.
Topher looked over to where Charlotte pointed and his smile immediately disappeared. The boys were lining up to a booth with a banner hanging over it, spelling out Military Enlistment. Topher briskly walked over to the line, and before Jack even realized it, grabbed his arm and wrenched him from the line.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Topher asked Jack as he pulled him away.
"What the hell!" Jack exclaimed as he struggled against Topher. But even though Topher had a bad leg, he was still bigger than Jack and easily pulled him to the car, shoving him in the backseat. Charlotte followed along, confusedly, but got into the passenger seat and stared straight ahead at the street.
"What do you think you were doing, Jack?" Topher yelled as he got into the driver's seat and pulled away in a hurry.
"It really isn't any of your business, Topher!" Jack spat.
"It is my business, Jack! It's anyone's business who cares about your family!" Topher yelled at him. "Helen already lost her brother to a war! What good do you think it would do her for her own son to go off and get himself killed in another one!"
Charlotte tried to take a quick glance at Jack in the backseat. He had stopped arguing, but was staring angrily out the window of the car, looking ready to kill Topher. As they pulled up to the house, Jack threw open the door and slammed it behind him, storming into the house.
Charlotte sighed uncomfortably and looked at Topher. "Thank you for the lovely afternoon," she said softly. "It was really nice...until that happened."
Topher shook his head. "He's just so stupid sometimes. He doesn't think about anyone but himself. I think that's why I always preferred Wes over him."
Charlotte frowned. "Who's Wes?"
"You haven't met him? Well you will soon enough," Topher told her. "I should go park the car. I'll see you later, Charlotte. Thanks for spending the afternoon with me."
Charlotte smiled at him and got out of the car, walking through the doors of the Careys' house.
"Did you have a nice time this morning?" Mrs. Gates asked her with a smile as she passed in the hallway.
"Yes, thank you," Charlotte said rather tiredly, rubbing her forehead. "I'm kind of tired now, though. I think I'll go upstairs and read for a while before dinner, if that's all right."
"Yes, dear. Of course."
Charlotte smiled gratefully and climbed the stairs to the second floor. As she neared her bedroom, she could hear Jack slamming things around in his own room across the hall, and calling profanities while he did it. Charlotte shook her head in disappointment, wondering how she could have ever for one moment have thought that he could have been a nice person. He was just so selfish! All people did was care about him, and he took it for granted. Finally, she couldn't restrain herself any longer.
She threw open the door to Jack's room angrily. "What is wrong with you?" she cried, throwing out her arms. "You should be thankful that you have parents who actually care about what you do, who don't want you going off to get yourself killed in a stupid war! You should be grateful for that! Not acting like a spoiled brat!"
Jack, who had been sitting on his bed with his head in his hands, looked up at Charlotte. And for the first time, he looked angry. His eyes were blazing and his cheeks red, but not with embarrassment. This time he was furious.
"Do you really think you know me?" Jack asked incredulously. "You're a little girl from France," he spat. "You don't know anything about me. And stop pretending you know my family, too. You've been here for three days. And they sure seem to have you fooled."
"Are you sure you're not the one who's fooled?" Charlotte retorted harshly. "Everyone else knows what you're really like. But are you sure you haven't fooled yourself into thinking you're not that bad of a person?" Jack laughed at this, but it was a cruel laugh. "You make everyone miserable all the time with your stupid attitude! Can't you think of other people for just one moment? No, because only Jack is important in your world."
Jack suddenly stood and walked over to Charlotte. He looked deep into her eyes with his stone cold blue ones and glared at her. "Get out," he said through his clenched teeth. Hpushed Charlotte out of his room, slamming the door after her. She ran across the hall to her own room, throwing herself onto her bed angrily and cracking open Lewis' copy of Hamlet. But there were some things that even Shakespeare couldn't shake from her mind.
A/N: Okay, a bit longer than previous chapters, but I wanted to fit everything in :) how are you liking all the characters now? Who's growing on you? Who do you dislike? Please review and tell me what you think! In other news, I've begun updating a Twitter account with my author info. My username is writingrougette, so check it out if you'd like to see character images and stuff, which I'll be releasing soon :) until next time!
PS: Still searching for a Beta! Please message me if you're interested! :)