The moving van arrived at Sim State University on a Saturday evening. Chris and Charlotte unpacked the boxes and toted them upstairs to their rooms, and a few in the living room of the house Bella leased for them. Charlotte secured their bicycles in the garage, and they both crawled into bed, dog tired from a long journey.
The next morning, Charlotte got up and fixed breakfast for them, a stack of pancakes and coffee. Chris wasn’t interested in the coffee, but he took a few extra pancakes. It was the first warm meal they had since they left Starlight Shores two days prior, and they were both ravenous.
The old house needed serious upgrades. The stove was almost as old as the house, it seemed, and only one burner worked. Toilets and bathtubs were discolored and dirty, and the refrigerator smelled as though something had died in it. It certainly wasn’t the posh, well-appointed home they were accustomed to, but it protected them from the rain and weather, had warm, comfortable beds and a place to cook. For the next semester or two, it was home.
Charlotte and Chris had a meet and greet event at the Student Union that afternoon to go over schedules, pick up maps of the campus, and score some free goodies. Their schedules were full, so it didn’t leave much time for fun in between classes. Chris decided to take some science classes so their schedules ran very close to one another, and they were able to sneak in a quick game of hacky sack or Frisbee in between. They also stocked up on granola bars at the grocery store to have as an alternative to candy for the hungry times during the day. After the event, they rode their bikes back to the house, had dinner, and packed their backpacks for the first day of classes.
Charlotte was the first one up at 4:00am to make breakfast. Their busy day began at 8:00am, and she knew Chris was not a morning person. She anticipated needing to drag him from bed. French toast went into the oven, and she walked up the stairs to wake him. To her great shock, he was already up, showered and shaved.
“Well, you sure shocked me this morning, Chris. I came up to drag you out of bed.”
“Ha!” he teased. “I don’t even need coffee, but I know you do!”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “Okay, wise guy. Breakfast is almost ready. Come down when you’ve made your bed.”
They had breakfast at the shabby dining room table with no matching chairs and talked about their expectations for the day. Since their first and second classes were in the same building, they made plans to meet after class to kick the hacky sack around a bit. Charlotte handed him two granola bars to put into his pack, and a bottle of water. At 6:30, they both left the house, hopped on their bikes and rode to their first class.
After class, Chris was the first one out, waiting for Charlotte to be finished. “What took ya so long, slacker?” he greeted her.
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve got about 40 minutes. Let’s play.” When they were done, they each grabbed a granola bar and ate together. “After this class, I have to run to the Annex, so I won’t have time to play, but I’ll see you at home afterward, okay? Come right home.”
It seemed funny to him to call that old dump ‘home,’ but the reality was, it was home for the next year. “Yes, I’ll be home after class.”
While their weekdays were full of school, lectures and lab classes, their weekends were fun and games, and most importantly, calls home. Chris was extremely homesick, and though he loved the campus life, save for the house, he missed Bella and Rog. But Charlotte made sure they did things together they both liked. One Saturday night, they went to a concert. Their lecture day, Tuesday was always a short day, so they spent much time at the bowling alley. And Chris spent a lot of time at the library on Sundays, getting ready for the busy week ahead.
Charlotte didn’t go to college to find love, but she grew rather fond of a young man who was in her anatomy class. Travis Jones made sure he sat by her, and they were lab partners on Thursdays. Sometimes, they would get together to study and then go for a burger afterward, always with Chris in tow. He was her ‘insurance policy’ to make sure the guys behaved themselves.
First semester grades came in, and both of them were sitting at 4.0, on the Dean’s List. Charlotte made the phone call to Bella.
“Mama! You’ll never guess what?” she squealed.
“Wow, Charlotte, tone it down a bit,” came Bella’s reply. “What, honey?”
“Chris and I are BOTH on the Dean’s List!” Bella could hear Charlotte’s smile over the phone.
“I didn’t expect any less from you two, really,” she answered. “Smart as whips, the both of you. Well done, my babies!” They chatted for a few more minutes and then said goodbye until the next week.
“What did Mama say, Charli?” asked Chris.
“She said ‘well done,’ of course.” Charlotte smiled. “And she wanted me to tell you she loves you and misses you, but you’re going to have to wait on a kiss because I’m not kissing you.”
“Phew!” Chris teased. “I don’t want your girl cooties anyway.”
“Cooties?” Charlotte giggled. “What are you, fifteen?”
“As a matter of fact…” Chris laughed.
“I hate to harsh the buzz, but we have classes in the morning. Do your thing, and go to bed soon, please.”
The next morning, a whole new set of classes began, and Chris had declared a science and medicine major, just like Charlotte. Now, all their classes were the same, except for the 4:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays. Just like she did every morning when their days were full, she packed a couple of granola bars and bottles of water into their packs.
Three weeks into the new semester, and it was Chris’ sixteenth birthday. Charlotte truly wished it could have been at home, with their Mama and Dad, but she was determined to make it as memorable as she could. Using the printer in the tech lab, she printed out a huge banner for his birthday to hang in the house, bought a birthday cake and went to the comic book store to get a variety of comics she knew he loved. Chris woke that morning feeling melancholy and very homesick, but seeing the banners and the gifts his sister had for him made him feel better.
She hugged him and said, “Happy birthday Chris. We’ll go for a burger after classes tonight, so meet me there.”
“Thanks, Charlotte,” he said, a little emotional. “I was dreading today, but you made it better. You’re a good sister, and I love you.”
“Awww, I love you too, Chris. But, don’t tell anyone I said that,” she teased. “I have a reputation to protect.” He grinned.
A few weeks later, Charlotte got a letter from records and admissions, and Chris got one similar. Their advanced placement classes in High School transferred almost ½ of their needed credits to graduate, which meant two years instead of four. Chris never intended to spend a full four years at college, burning through the coursework at record speed, and with the top possible score in every class to boot. Charlotte was always on track to finish early as well, being the top student in her med classes.
Now that they both had their official “Get out of School Early” card, they decided to stay on campus through the summer and took classes. Bella was disappointed, but she knew in the long run, it would be better for them to stay.
“How do you figure this, Charlotte?” Travis asked her during a study session. “I have this answer, and I’m following the text, but the key tells me I’m wrong.”
She looked at his notes, the work he showed and the answer. “Did you use this for the constant, instead of this? See, this rule applies, not the one you used.”
He rolled his eyes, frustrated with himself. “You are right, and I’m stupid,” he said. “Another reason you can’t leave campus at the end of this school year. I need you.” Charlotte blushed. It was the closest they’d gotten to flirting since they’d been seeing each other.
“You’re not stupid, Travis. You just need to pay attention to the little details.” She winked at him and went back to her homework. Chris, who was sitting next to her, rolled his eyes. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked her brother.
“You’re just like Mama,” he laughed. She smiled and thanked him for the compliment.
“After this, are we going to the diner?” Travis asked. “My treat, even for the third wheel.” Chris dropped his pencil in mock disgust and clicked his tongue.
“Yes, you heard him,” Charlotte teased. “Third. Wheel.” She playfully punched him in the arm and winked, to which he rolled his eyes again.
“Hey,” Chris retorted. “I’m keeping you honest.” Now Charlotte rolled her eyes. Travis looked confused.
“It’s nothing,” Charlotte said, nudging Chris harder than usual. “I’m hungry if you are.”
The next day was Friday. Test day. Chris was nervous about his physics test. It counted for ¼ of his grade, and even though he was prepared, he still felt uneasy.
“This professor likes to throw in trick questions. Every time I think I have him figured out, I don’t.” Chris sat at the table eating breakfast with Charlotte.
“Well, the best I can tell you, is to check your answers twice and three times before you hand in your test. But, you are so prepared for this, I think you’re overthinking it.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” His watch chimed an alarm. “Time to go. I’m ready.”
“Me too,” she replied. “See you after class.”
“Charlotte, where did the time go?” Travis was checking their joint project for errors. “I mean, you graduate next week, and I’m stuck here for another two years.” He erased an answer and recalculated a problem. “Could you check me on this? My answer doesn’t look right.”
She reviewed his math and saw no error. “It looks right to me, Trav.”
“Really? I could have sworn it was wrong.” He looked puzzled.
“Yep,” she confirmed. “See? You’re not dumb.” She really liked Travis, maybe even had a crush on him, but she was afraid to say anything to him. She didn’t want to lose her best friend if he didn’t feel the same way.
“Gee, thanks for that left-handed compliment,” he laughed. Travis admired the way she could handle a problem and make it look easy. He wanted to ask her out, but she seemed to be more in the friend zone, so he never bothered. Besides, they were best friends. Why chance ruining a good thing?
Chris was studying at the library, so Charlotte and Travis had the house to themselves. It was one of the only times he could remember that Chris wasn’t tagging along, and he was itching to take advantage of the situation. But still, she didn’t really seem interested in romance, so he decided not to.
“Hey, wanna order a pizza and stay in tonight? I could really use your help on these problems,” he suggested, in spite of himself.
“Sure,” she agreed. “If it’s too late, we have a bunk in a spare bedroom upstairs. You’re welcome to stay the night.” His eyes widened. Surely she didn’t just ask him to sleepover, but she did. Except, she really didn’t.
“Charlotte, can I ask you a question?” He feared he was overplaying his hand, but he had to know.
“Sure, Trav.” She continued to work on their project, cleaning up the messy parts and making sure all the calculations were correct.
“Why do you wear that diamond ring? Are you engaged?” Travis’ heart flip-flopped as the words left his lips.
“No, I’m not engaged,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”
He thought for a moment. “No reason,” he said. “Just curious.”
“Well, if you must know, it was my Mama’s ring. She had my Dad give it to me a few years back.”
“That sounds like a purity ring.” Travis stood up and stretched his legs.
“That’s exactly what it is, Travis.” She stopped her work and watched him, trying to read his reaction.
“Is that a problem?” she asked, getting defensive.
“No, but it explains a lot.” Travis bit his lip and scowled. He did not want to say that. It slipped right out.
“Exactly what do you think it explains?”
“I didn’t mean to say that, I’m sorry Charlotte.” He paused, trying to dig himself out of the hole he just buried himself in.
“I don’t appreciate what you’re inferring.” She sighed.
“I didn’t mean to infer anything, it’s just that… I like you, and I wanted to know if you had someone waiting for you back home.”
“Wait, did you say you like me?” Charlotte was surprised, even a little happy, but still annoyed.
Travis cringed. “I did say that, didn’t I?”
“You have a habit of saying things you don’t mean?”
“No, I meant that.” He smiled a little, hoping that would lighten the tension in the room because it was thick. Suddenly, Travis began appreciating Chris’ presence and missed him.
“Well, to be honest, I like you too,” Charlotte confessed. “But I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, in case you didn’t feel the same way.”
“Why wouldn’t I feel the same way? Charlotte, you’re amazing. Smart, funny, beautiful.” She blushed.
She heard Chris’ heavy footsteps coming up the front walk and his key turn in the door. “Ma, I’m home!” he laughed.
“We’re in the living room, Chris.” He shivered as he removed his coat. “Is it cold outside?”
“Yes, it is.” His nose was red, and his cheeks blushed from the chill.
“How did you get home? Someone drop you off?”
“Yeah, Cade gave me a lift.” Cade was a young lady that had taken a liking to Chris, but he wasn’t really interested in someone that much older than him. Charlotte couldn’t blame her for being smitten with him. He got all their mama’s looks, and then some.
“It’s late, and we have class in the morning. Goodnight, Chris, don’t stay up too much longer, okay?”
“Yes, Charli. And goodnight Travis.” Chris dropped his backpack by the door and walked upstairs, yawning loudly.
“You’re a good substitute mother for him, Charlotte,” Travis complimented her. “You’ll make a great mom someday.” The compliment made her turn beet red.
“I’m only doing what my Mama and Daddy asked of me. I’m watching over him. He was only 15 when we got here two years ago. He needs me.” Throughout their college career, they had gotten very close, and Charlotte loved him dearly.
“Well,” Travis stretched and yawned, “if the offer still stands, I’ll take you up on that bunk upstairs.”
“Of course,” Charlotte answered. “I’m on my way to bed myself. Long day tomorrow.”
He kissed her cheek, and she flushed. “Goodnight, sweet Charlotte.”
“Goodnight Trav.” She picked up her books and walked upstairs, locking her door behind her.
Chris was at the library with a group of his friends, though he never felt like he truly fit in. That night, he needed the quiet to study instead of the constant banter between Travis and Charlotte. The group, about 8 of them altogether, split up into pairs to tackle some of the tougher problems. Every one of his classmates was easily 6 years older than him, and it made him very uncomfortable, but a young woman named Cade took an interest in him. She was his study buddy this particular evening.
“What did you get for this, Chris? I think my answer is wrong.” Cade leaned over him, her face right in his. She looked up, and right into his eyes. Chris shifted uncomfortably.
“I can see your mistake right there, Cade. Check your math on that.” Chris sat back in his seat, trying to pull himself away from her.
“Oh, right,” she laughed. “How silly of me.”
“I know you know that answer, Cade. Why are you playing dumb?” Chris decided to be straightforward with her. In his experience, it has always been the best option.
“Look, Chris, I like you.” She was being equally straightforward. “I know you don’t want anything to do with me in that capacity, so, I just like getting to gaze into those baby blues up close once in a while.”
“I appreciate your affection, I really do.” Chris scratched his chin. “But you do realize I’m not even the age of majority yet, right? Legally, we can’t date.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” she teased. “We can date, we just can’t have relations.” He cleared his throat.
“Can we not, please? Cade, you’re making me uncomfortable.”
“You’re seventeen, not eleven, Chris. It’s not that illegal.” She insisted on talking about the topic, even though he had asked her not to. Now he was getting angry.
“It’s not an issue, because it’s never going to happen,” Chris said assertively. “I hate to be so forward, but it’s not.”
“Alright, alright,” she recoiled. “Touchy.”
“Look, Cade, I’m sorry. But I asked you nicely.” Chris shook his head and looked around for another partner, anyone who was free. But no one was. He sighed. “I still need to finish this, and I need a buddy for it. Can I count on you to just be Cade and not some—”
“Tramp?” she asked.
“Not what I was going to say,” he replied. “Can’t we just forget this happened and study? Please?” He knew she was his ride home, and he hoped he didn’t just condemn himself to a lonely walk across the quad.
“You’re cute when you’re angry, Chris,” she continued.
“Okay, I’m done here,” he said, picking up his backpack.
“But I’m going to take you home,” she called after him.
“I’d rather take my chances walking across campus than be confined with you,” he said bluntly. “Goodnight.”
The night air was chilly, and he hoped he could warm himself before he had to walk into the house. Charlotte was very observant, and would likely know he had walked home instead of getting a ride from Cade. But, he didn’t want her to worry, either, so he decided to fib. Just this one time, for her, he thought. Or I won’t be let out of this house again until we graduate.
Chris sat next to Charlotte for the exam, but not because he wanted to cheat. Cade, the girl who was inappropriately infatuated with him, was still pestering him, and having his sister close by made him feel safer. He never told her about that night, nor did he plan to. Before the exam began, she was testing him on some of the formulas they needed for calculations, and he knew every single one of them.
The professor began distributing the exams, and they looked at each other. Charlotte held out a pinky, and he grabbed her with his. One simple handshake-type movement, pinkies joined, was their secret ‘good luck’ signal. Each knew what the other meant, without saying a word. They had done it for years, even at home.
Chris was finished first, and checked every answer three times, catching no mistakes. He was positive he had passed it with a perfect score, and he was confident Charlotte would, too. It was understood the first one finished waited outside for the other. But it was storming, thunder with lightning and pouring rain. Chris decided to wait at the Student Union, and left Charlotte a text, saying where he would be.
Checking her answers, she flipped through every page of the exam. Happy with her efforts, she turned her exam in and headed for the courtyard. Not seeing Chris anywhere, Charlotte checked her phone, and then ran for the Student Union building, which was only about 40 yards away. He was waiting on the steps, sitting and looking over his notes for the next exam, which they both had at 10am. She plopped next to him, shaking her head and sprinkling him with water droplets.
“Gee, thanks a lot. Getting my notes all wet,” he said.
“Oh, I’m sorry Chris,” she said. “I forgot that would splatter.”
“It’s okay,” he told her. “I don’t really need to study anymore anyway. I was just needing something for my hands to do.” He grinned.
They sat and chatted about the last exam, and anticipated the next one. Charlotte took out a granola bar and took a bite, offering the next bite to Chris.
“I’m good, thanks,” he said. His watch chimed. “We have 30 minutes to get to the exam. Let’s walk.”
Together, they stood and gathered their backpacks. Running between the raindrops, they arrived back at the science building in plenty of time for a last-minute pep talk and their pinky shake. “I’ll meet you at home after the last exam. Come right home.” Chris nodded, and took his exam from the professor, as did she.
After the last exam of their college career, they rode their bicycles home, getting drenched in the process. Charlotte was chilled right through to her bones and shivered while trying to make dinner. “I’ve got this Charli,” Chris offered, as he continued where she left off cooking. She went upstairs to take a hot shower, as hot as she could tolerate, to attempt to warm up. When she was through, the smell of her favorite dish, lobster thermidor, wafted up the stairs in the tiny house. Chris was finishing up when she finally made it back downstairs.
“That smells delish!” she said, her mouth-watering.
“Yeah, it’s Mama’s recipe,” he replied. “I feel like she’s here when I cook something she used to make all the time.”
They went to bed early that night, exhausted but happy. They both knew they had passed their exams with flying colors, but the report cards would be emailed to each student by 10am the next morning. Then they would know their final GPA.
Chris was up early and decided to start packing up some of his things to go home. The moving van would arrive shortly after 5 that night, with them leaving campus shortly afterward. Between wake up and graduation was the only time they had to pack. Charlotte already had most of her stuff ready to go, but still had to clean a few things. She didn’t want to leave the house dirty.
At 9:30am, they both made their way to the Annex, where the graduation ceremony would be held. Though Charlotte had invited Travis, he did not show up. She really didn’t expect him, but she hoped she would get to see him at least to say goodbye. Both Charlotte and Chris were graduating summa cum laude with perfect 4.0 GPAs. Charlotte’s degree was in Medicine, and Chris’ degree was in the Sciences, with a minor in Physics. The only ones truly missing for the graduation were Bella and Rog, who could not make the journey from Starlight Shores in time.
By 2:30pm, the ceremony was over, and they were headed back to the house to finish cleaning and packing. Charlotte’s phone rang at 4 o’clock.
“Charlotte, this is Bart at SSU Movers. Can we move you up to a 4:30 pick up?”
She looked at her watch and nodded her head. “Yes, Bart, we can be ready in 30 minutes.”
“Fantastic! We’ll see you then.” She ended the phone call and turned to Chris.
“We only have 30 minutes.” Charlotte took the last box of granola bars, some fresh fruit, and some cash and put it in her bag. “For the road,” she explained. “It’s going to be a long trip home.”
When the driver arrived, everything was on the porch, ready to be loaded onto the van. Everyone pitched in and got the truck loaded in record time. Charlotte left the key to the house in a lockbox that hung around the doorknob, with her contact information. She and Chris took one last look around Sim State campus and got in. The driver rolled up the partition between the cab and their resting chamber, and let them sleep. They were on their way home.
Up Next: Chapter Two, Generation Four