Charity fidgeted with the silverware laid out neatly on the cloth napkin on the expensive white tablecloth. Idly she wondered why any restaurant, regardless of how elite would use white anything. It showed every stain, every spill that clumsy customers made. A darker color would hide the stains better. She took a sip of water from the cool sweating glass. Eyes darting around the slowly filling dining room. Where was she? Charity glanced at her phone. She was late…again.
Charity tried to convince herself that the woman was late the last time they met too. Maybe she was a chronic late arriver. Maybe Ryan was right. Maybe her so called mother was up to something. The thought of Ryan brought a sour look to her pretty face. It had been over a month since Ryan had spoken to her. Not a word since that incident at the coffee shop with her mother. She had unfairly blamed him for that first meeting failing. She had been hurt. Disappointed. Humiliated from being rejected by the very woman who gave her life. She had let him walk away without a word. She had thought he’d come back. He didn’t.
“Excuse me” a calm patient voice said above her “are you ready to order?”
“No um” she looked around the room “I don’t think my date is coming.”
“I see” the waiter wrote out a ticket “I’m sorry but I do have to charge you for the water and taking up a dining table.”
Hastily she dug into her wallet for the five dollars she needed to cover her expenses. What kind of place was this that they charged for water? Walking outside she was relieved she wouldn’t have to find out how expensive the meal would have been. No doubt her mother would have expected her to pay for that too like the latte. She had come prepared with her emergency credit card.
She had felt guilty slipping the card into her wallet knowing her parents had given it to her for emergencies. She doubted having an expensive meal at an elite restaurant would qualify as an emergency. Glancing into the night sky the first stars of the evening were just becoming visible. She felt like a child as she thought about what she’d wish for. If only her problems could be solved so easily.
She arrived back at the dorm in time to see Vincent and Ryan leaving arm in arm with a couple of long-legged blond beauties. She hung back in the shadows hoping they wouldn’t notice her. What did they see in them?
Charity had never considered herself a jealous person. It was just weird to see Ryan with someone else. See him smile down at someone the way he used to look at her. She wondered if the blond had butterflies in her stomach whenever he looked at her like that. Was he happy now that he had forgotten all about her?
She walked into her room surprised to find it dark and empty. She curled into a ball on her bed a teddy bear hugged close to her chest. She smiled sadly remembering where and when she had gotten Mr Puffer.
She and Hannah were waiting for Ryan to join them at the arcade. They had taken up the space beside the photo booth. Giggling at the sounds coming from within. “What do you think they’re doing in there?” Charity asked .
Laughing harder at her friends ignorance. Hannah grabbed Charity’s arm and pulled her through the exit doors “you don’t want to know” she said with a knowing grin.
“But…” she turned to look back wondering what Hannah was talking about “didn’t you want a picture?”
“Not now” Hannah giggled “not after what they did in there.”
Knitting her brows together Charity was on the verge of asking what exactly she was missing when Ryan came running up to them.
“Sorry I’m late” he panted “I had to baby sit my baby sister until my parents got home.”
“Eew” Hannah protested when he tried to put his arms around her “you’re all sweaty and gross.”
“What did you expect?” he asked “I rode my bike all the way here.” He winked at Charity before opening the door for the two of them to go in first.
Charity tripped on her way in. Her mind still distracted. Ryan winked at her. OMG Ryan winked at her. Did that mean he liked her?
“Earth to Ity” Hannah said sounding annoyed.
“Err what?” she asked confused.
“What game do you want to play?” Hannah asked.
Charity could feel their eyes watching her. Waiting. Her cheeks felt like they were on fire as Ryan suggested one game after another. She could see his mouth moving but she couldn’t understand anything he was saying. “Ow” she cried scowling at Hannah “what was that for?” she demanded rubbing her arm where Nana had pinched her.
Ignoring the girls Ryan pointed at the claw machine “what do you want out of this thing?”
Hannah pointed at some object that looked fairly easy to get. After a couple of tries Ryan presented it to her. “Charity what do you want?” he asked smirking.
Biting her lip She studied the machine and the objects within. She wanted this to be difficult if not impossible for him to accomplish. She smiled pointing towards a stuffed bear wedged in tight with other objects surrounding it.
“Are you sure?” he asked dubiously.
“Yeah that’s the one” she nodded.
“Come on Ity choose something else” Hannah entreated her bored already.
Eyes beaming Ryan inserted his tokens “what my lady wants she shall receive.”
Several hours later and several discarded objects they had given to the growing crowd of little kids Ryan finally succeeded in getting the teddy bear from the claw machine. “For you my lady” he said with a deep bow he presented the teddy bear to her.
Charity squeezed Mr Puffins to her chest. It was hard to believe that was over five years ago. They had been such kids then. All good friends. A tear dropped on the bears face. She couldn’t believe the boy who had spent hours trying to get a stupid teddy bear from a machine had given up on her. She missed her friend. Missed hearing his voice. Missed knowing he had her back.
Why had she let her mom, a virtual stranger, push her friends away? Ryan was only looking out for her while her own mother was jerking her around like a dog on a leash. The least that woman could have done was call to say she wasn’t going to be able to make it. Swiping at the hot angry tears Charity couldn’t help but wonder why she ever cared about that woman. That woman hadn’t even wanted her. Somehow she acted like Charity owed her something. She didn’t. She didn’t owe her a damn thing. Charity’s hand flew to her mouth shocked that such a word might have come out of her mouth. She felt like she ought to have her mouth washed out with soap. She shouldn’t have let that awful woman drive a wedge between her and Ryan.
Ryan put his arm around the cute blond as he walked from the dorm. Secretly he wished the girl would be quiet for at least ten seconds at a time. It was constant nonstop dribble about absolutely nothing. What did he care about why this pair of shoes was better than another pair? This dress hugged her curves better than another that just hung in all the wrong places. She had gone on and on until Ryan had to consciously resist the desire to roll his eyes at her shallowness and inane prattle.
He caught the amused look in Vincent’s eyes. He wondered where his friend had met these two air heads and why he wasn’t mooning over Trinity anymore. He didn’t have time to think much about it as the girls started hinting they were hungry. He helped his date into her jacket, if you could call the flimsy piece of material he wrapped around her shoulders a jacket.
They walked outside to the excited prattle of the girls. Ryan hesitated for a moment thinking he saw something in the shadows. Was it Charity? She looked so sad. Should he go and check on her? While his mind was preoccupied with what he may or may not have seen he allowed himself to be dragged along with the group.
Before he knew it he was sitting at a table with a fancy white tablecloth staring at a menu. Scanning it his eyes bulged at the astronomical prices. What kind of place is this? He kicked Vincent’s leg under the table to get his attention. “I can’t afford this” he grumbled despite the gasps of despair from their dates.
Glaring at him Vincent calmly closed the menu “why didn’t you say anything when I mentioned going out to eat?”
“You never said we were going to the palace” Ryan snapped “I had no idea how expensive this place is.”
“Can’t you make an exception this one time,” Vincent huffed “I know you prefer McDonald’s but I promised the girls fine cuisine.”
Silently seething Ryan picked up the menu knowing that Vincent was hoping he’d foot the bill. He shot his friend a look over the menu half a mind to walk out and stick him with the bill. Lucky for Vincent he had his head buried in his menu.
Once they had placed their orders and Ryan had a mild infarction at the cost he tallied in his head he smiled at the girl to his right. She really was pretty. Despite her incessant prattle he knew there was more between her ears than air. She was one of the top students in the school. He couldn’t help but wonder if this blond bimbo act made her feel better or if it was a camouflage for the unsuspecting male.
Ryan much preferred intelligent conversation to incessant talking without a point. He shot Vincent another look wondering what Vincent saw in these girls. Failing to get his friend’s attention Ryan nodded absently at whatever the girl was saying. It didn’t seem to faze her to know he was barely even listening to her. His mind kept going back to Charity. Had she met with her mom? He should have been there with her. He shouldn’t have let his frustration get the better of him.
“I’m tired” Ryan yawned demonstrating just how tired he was.
“You can sleep all day tomorrow” Vincent tried to persuade him.
“Not tonight” Ryan shook his head. The last thing he wanted to do was hang out for another few hours with his date. He was crazy to have let Vincent talk him into going out with … her in the first place. He couldn’t even remember her name. “I have an assignment do and I’m tired,” he begged off.
“Have it your way” Vincent laughed putting an arm around each of the girls as they continued into one of the popular clubs on campus.
Shaking his head Ryan turned to make his way back to the dorm. Vincent knew him well enough to know he couldn’t wait to escape his date. He much preferred a girl who knew how to enjoy a comfortable silence. Charity had always been able to know the difference. Sighing he looked up in the night sky. He missed her so much. Even if she never wanted anything more than to be friends he was willing to make do with whatever she was willing to give him. It was painful not being able to talk to her.
Hannah kept telling him to apologize. Honestly what did he do to apologize for? He just wanted to protect her from her mother. Charity wouldn’t listen to him. She blamed him for the failed meeting at the coffee shop. That hurt the most. Charity should have known he was only trying to help her.
He shoved his hands into his pockets as he continued towards the dorm. He had seen Charity as he left with his date. She must have taken a step back so they wouldn’t notice her. He had seen the anguish in her pretty face and knew that something was terribly wrong. He should have gone to her. Should have wrapped his arms around her telling her everything was going to be alright. He failed her when he left her like that.
He heard someone clear their throat nearby. Glancing up he saw the woman who had come into the dorm with papers proving she was Charity’s mom. His eyes narrowed as she approached him.
“I need to talk to you” she said without preamble.
“Unless you’ve come too say your going to leave Charity alone we don’t have anything to talk about,” he tried to step around her but she grabbed his arm forcing him to look at her.
“I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say” she squeezed his arm.
He could feel the bite of her fingernails in his skin “what do you want?” he asked as she dragged him towards an unlit path. Dismayed he jerked his arm free. Every instinct telling him to run.
“I’m not going to hurt you” she said laughing at him “you should see your face.”
Rubbing his arm he scowled at her “what do you want?”
“You want me to leave Charity alone” the woman said ignoring his question. She looked up at him a sinister gleam in her eyes “how much is it worth to you?”
“What?” he stammered unsure he was hearing her correctly.
She gave him a pitying glance “you heard me.” She took a step closer to him running a casual hand up his jacket “how much are you willing to pay me to leave Charity alone?”
His eyes darted around the darkening campus. He had known this woman was up to something. He just didn’t expect it to be about money. Why him? “No” he shoved her hands away from him.
“Pity” she pouted “I thought you cared about her.” She took a step back “I’ll have to get it from Hannah instead.”
“Leave her alone” Ryan growled.
She raised an eyebrow at him “I thought that might get your attention.”
“How much?” he asked.
“I’ll be in touch” she said turning and walking away.
Ryan watched her until she seemed to melt into the darkness. Heart pounding in his chest he wondered if he had enough cash to cover her demand. He doubted it. If he went to his parents they’d want to know why he needed so much money. Not that they were stingy or anything it’s just they were his parents. Questions came with the territory. What was he going to do?