the first time.

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my legs felt like jello as i ever-so-slowly walked across the bedroom.  the cream carpet there was even more plush than the one in the living room, if that was possible.  charlie looked somewhat hurt as i slid into the bathroom and slowly pulled the door shut.

i leaned against the vanity and took a deep breath.  for the past few months, i would have given anything to be with charlie, and now that the chance was in front of me, i was a nervous wreck.  i paced up and down the tile floor for about thirty seconds, and then, i realized i needed to prepare myself.  i didn't have the glam squad here this time to get me ready.

i stripped down to my underwear.  the bruises on my ribs had gotten darker since i got ready for the hearing, those on my face were slowly growing larger, it seemed.  i stared at my beaten-up body.  i looked horrible.  my bra was just a cotton, nude-colored bra, and the pair of underwear i wore was printed with orchids and had faded, nearly-washed-out blood stains.

without thinking, i leaned down and snagged my phone from my skirt on the floor.  within seconds i heard, "shouldn't you be doing something else right now?"

"ari," i hissed in a whisper, "i'm not ready for this."

arabella snickered on the other end of the line.  "do i need to give you the talk?"

"no," i said, on the verge of tears, "i don't... look... good."

"he's going to understand if you need more time.  especially after the day you've had, but, if you still want to go along with it, charlie had me pack a bag for you earlier today.  there's all kinds of things in there.  anything you need, it's there."

i cleared my throat and whispered.  "thank you."

ari laughed.  "go get 'em tiger."  then she added.  "oh, and, don't tell me about it in the morning."

i hung up and put my clothes back on.  when i finally came out of the bathroom, charlie was sitting on the bed, watching highlights from the trumpeteers-dodgers baseball game.  there were two suitcases sitting on the floor beside the bed; one navy blue duffle bag, the other arabella's blue-and-green-butterfly print hardshell.  

"hey," i said quietly.

he looked over and smiled.  "how ya doin'?"

i shrugged.  "i'm gonna get ready for-"

charlie sighed and patted the bed next to him.  "wait, come up here first."  i moved awkwardly over to the bed and climbed up.  he pulled me into his arms, and apologized after i winced in pain from my ribs.  "look," he said, his voice more serious than i'd ever heard it, "i don't want you to think there are any expectations for tonight.  today has been something that no one should ever have to experience.  i completely understand if you, if you just want to go to bed."

i nodded slowly against his chest.  we were silent for a moment.  the only sound was his heavy breathing.  the room was pitch black except for the glow of the television, showing highlights from our meeting today.  at that time, the television was showing photos of my injuries.

"i'm so glad you're okay," he whispered in the dark as he planted a kiss on the top of my head.  there was a stiffness in his voice, and i could tell, he was holding back tears.

i didn't respond.  i was just lying there, thinking of my past with charlie.  i'd spent the past few years thinking he was the devil and i hated every ounce of his being, but in that moment, i couldn't imagine being without him.

"charlie?" i whispered nearly inaudibly.

"mmm?" he murmured.

i flipped over instantly.  i landed hard against his chest.  it sent shooting pain throughout my body, but i didn't care.  my hair fell over my shoulder, enclosing our faces like a strawberry-colored curtain.

his eyes widened.  "you sure?"

i nodded.

this was the moment i had unknowingly been waiting for since my twenty-first birthday, and it was finally here.



to be continued...



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