Word Count: 876
Summary: Based on a prompt over at nanowrimo. I... don't know. It's an odd little piece, a bit misshapen.
Charlotte ate green peppers all day long. It was the only way she could deal with the stress. Some people bite their fingers and others chain-smoke. Charlotte ate peppers. She could often be seen, standing on the subway platform, waiting for the 3 Train in a neatly pressed suit, plastic baggy in hand. It was the one incongruous element to her appearance. Everything else was just so. Dark, plain brown hair pulled into a bun so tight it raised her eyebrows half an inch. Pumps just high enough to be fashionable and just low enough to be practical. She had the look down perfectly. Except, that is, for her green peppers. They followed her everywhere: to meetings, to business luncheons, out a night. This had been going on so long that no one who knew her thought anything of it. It was expected, now. Where Charlotte was, so were the peppers.
On Tuesday she asked me the most peculiar question. I’m sorry, not Charlotte. It was her sister, Lucy. They are like two peas in a pod. It’s often difficult to tell them apart. Well, aside for the green peppers of course. Lucy always hated peppers. But that is neither here nor there. I was sitting at my desk as usual, rechecking the expense report, when Lucy tapped her manicured fingernails on my desk. I glanced up at her.
“Have you seen The Lion King?” she said. Her tone was icy, utterly unfitting to the question she posed. I stared at her.
“Yes,” I said stupidly. Everyone has seen The Lion King. Most people have seen it more than once. It is a classic, after all.
“On Broadway,” I mean, Lucy clarified.
“So you have seen it?”
“Uh-huh.” I tried to read her expression, but got nothing. The Sterling girls are tricky like that. You never know what they are thinking. “Have you?” I asked, because she was not explaining and I felt the need to break the silence.
“It’s a good show. You should go see it. Absolutely classic.”
“I have a spare ticket,” she blurted out. It took a moment for me to fully register the implication of those words. Was it possible that she, Lucy Sterling, was asking me, Robert Gregory, on a date? Impossible. She must have some other motive.
“Oh?” I hoped she would say something.
“Well, you’ve seen it already.”
“Yes, once. Good show, though. I’d see it again any day.”
“So you want to go see it?”
“Oh, well. Sure.”
“Eight o’clock.” With those words she walked away.
So, I found myself standing outside the Minskoff Theater later that night, awaiting Lucy.
It was Charlotte who showed up. I knew it was her right away, by the plastic bag poking out of her velvet evening bag. She smiled at me, and I was a little bit frightened.
“Charlotte!” I greeted her, not really very surprised.
“Yes,” she said, and I detected something a bit like nervousness in her voice. “Lucy couldn’t come. She wasn’t feeling well.” She smiled, a little apologetically.
“Well, that’s all right.” I offered her one of my reassuring grins. People always comment on my grin. Supposedly, it has highly comforting effects. “It’s a pleasure to have your company for the evening.”
“Is it really?”
I nodded. “Oh, yes.”
She softened, somehow, like a taught string let to slacken. I don’t think she ate any more green peppers that night, but she certainly tasted of them. It’s good I like green peppers nearly as much as she does.
The next morning, we went to a diner for breakfast.
She ordered waffles and I had the sausages. I don’t think Charlotte is much of a carnivore. She just stared at me as I cut them into neat pieces, spread on sauerkraut, and indulged. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day, but it probably isn’t Charlotte’s. So few breakfast foods are satisfyingly crunchy.
“What will we do at work?” I asked, in between bites of sausage.
She just smiled. “Let’s not worry about it.”
“Okay,” I said obligingly. I didn’t want to ruin her idyllic diner breakfast with talk of the real world. I held her hand across the table, and I felt like I was a teenager again.
When the check came, we both drew out our wallets.
“This one’s on me,” I said. “You paid for the show last night, after all.”
“No, I didn’t. Lucy did.”
“Well, I’m paying for breakfast, and that’s that.”
“Come on, Charlotte.”
She didn’t say anything. She merely withdrew her little bag of green peppers, which I supposed must be a day old now, and rather unappetizing. This didn’t seem to phase her, as she hurriedly selected a long, thin slice and bit off the end.
“Charlotte? Is everything okay?”
“Sure it is,” she said. She selected another pepper slice and began to devour it.
“Hey, stop eating those peppers for a sec, okay? Talk to me.”
“You wish I was Lucy, don’t you?” she said. Her eyes were wet, suddenly.
“What? No, of course not!”
She stood up suddenly and ran out of the diner. I was left with a half-empty bag of green peppers and the bill she forgot to pay.