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Green Peppers (Part 1)
Charlotte ate green peppers all day long while listening to the best jazz artist in the world, Tim Barry.
The thing about green peppers was that they weren’t spicy. They didn’t make your mouth burn or your tongue feel like it was going to fall off. They were just…there. Crunchy and crisp, and deliciously good. And always—always—there.
Unlike the rest of Charlotte’s life. Charlotte’s mother, Terri, was a famous chef. When she was pregnant with Charlotte, Terri had been working on her new cooking book. According to the publishers, Terri’s new work needed to be “exciting” and “original” and it needed to “stand out”. So, when Charlotte finally was born and for the first week of her existence no one had thought to buy more baby food and all she ate was green pepper mush out of those little jars—well, Terri had her idea.
“Greeny Meeny Mini Mo” had been an instant bestseller. Moms all over the country raved about it, saying “My little Bill now gets all the nutrients he needs!” and “I recommend this book to all my girlfriends who have kids!” On the first week alone it had made over twice of what the publishers had paid for the book, and it had been on the bestsellers list for half a year. Only when Terri had published her next book, “The GreenFather: Part II” had it been knocked off for the new released sequel.
“She may be young, but she’s not stupid!” a shrill voice screamed.
“Mom?” Charlotte perked up. Terri had indeed arrived home, with her publicist, agent, first assistant, second assistant, first assistant’s assistant, and sous chef in tow. But was she talking to any of them? Of course not—she was on the phone. As usual.
“Now, if Anne says that Tokyo wants my restaurant, they want my restaurant! Excuse me? Anne had been part of my team from the start, and you, Jerry, are just an add-on who my publicist added because you were her little baby and you couldn’t make it into college. No, you shut your mouth! Goodbye!”
And with that Terri slammed the phone down on the table. Her assistants rushed toward it, making sure the diamonds hadn’t fallen off the exterior and the customized green color hadn’t chipped.
“Hey, Mom!” Charlotte chirped, rushing toward Terri. “I got my math test back today!’
“Barbara, I am tired of your little brat trying to tell me what to do! Now, if you want to keep his job or yours, then you had better make sure my restaurant ends up in Tokyo. Got it?”
Barbara, Terri’s publicist, was trembling. Trembling.
“Y-yes, Miss Carter—”
“Mrs. Carter. You’re my publicist, you were the one who said I needed to seem more “relatable” to all those moms out there reading my books and watching my show.”
Charlotte stood there, patiently. She was used to this.
Finally, after ten minutes of instructions to her crew, the team left. And it was just Charlotte and Terri. Alone. In the big, twenty-six-room, three-story house.
“So…math test?” Terri tried. Charlotte knew that it was a weak attempt to gain forgiveness for being late again, and she knew she should be mad…but she wasn’t.
“Yeah!” she enthused. “I got 9/10, but I talked to Mrs. Lambert and she gave me back half a point because I did the extra credit problem!”
“How nice,” Terri said as she texted on her phone.
“So…” Charlotte said. “It’s dinnertime.”
“Yeah,” Terri agreed. “Let’s get some takeout.”
“Couldn’t you just…”
Charlotte sighed. Ever since the incident, Terri had refused to cook one solid dish. Oh, she didn’t take cooking away from her lifestyle at all. She still hosted her show—although she never touched the food—and she had restaurants all over the world…that she never cooked at. And she still made books, using this virtual cooking program that had been created for her. But she had never touched any kind of cooking instrument since—since it. Even though it had happened eight years ago. Eight! When Charlotte was six. Young. Innocent. And with a father…until—
However, now, in the present, Charlotte emptied out her backpack. Out fell three gum wrappers, her binder, and a crumpled up flyer for the school play. Eighth grade had started a mere month ago, and already homework was packing.
“I called the Chinese place on the corner of Eighth,” Charlotte said in a defeated tone of voice.
“Did you tell them it was for me?” Terri asked from her laptop, where the draft for her new book was opened up. It had only two lines in it so far.
“Yeah, of course. They said we could pick it up now.”
“Okay.” She got up and stretched. “Should I call Robert…”
“No, that’s okay” Charlotte said. Robert was their chauffeur. “I’ll just go.”
The real reason she wanted to go, was that Ming’s was the ultimate Friday night hang-out for the cool crowd at Berlin Middle School. That included Genifer, her girls (they shifted periodically), and—sigh—Jimmy. James P. Chandler. With gorgeous brown hair and shockingly bright blue eyes, he was the ultimate catch at the middle school. And Charlotte was sure that he could grow to like her.
“Bye, Mom!” she shouted out as she grabbed her coat.
The air was crisp and cool as she walked outside on the sidewalks of the small suburb. New York City was where they lived most of the year, in the penthouse apartment of the fanciest hotel in the city. It had two mini snack/drink bars, a butler, three down feather beds for each of them, and four bathrooms, each with five different bath perfumes and phones, among other things.
Charlotte hated it.
Luckily, when school started, in the fall, Terri transferred the two of them to their mansion outside of the city. It was on the outskirts of a small town that had one pizza parlor, one ice cream shop, and Ming’s in terms of food. The “Main Street” was lit by only three lamplights, and the most exciting thing that happened in the town was—well, was Terri.
Charlotte entered the town. It was Friday night, and so the town square was lit up, with middle/high school kids milling about and families going out for dinner. The lights were soft and a jazz band was softly crooning in the center of the square, while the appetizing smell of pizza lingered in the air.
Her stomach grumbled, and her mind jumped to her favorite pizza at Ricardo’s Pizzeria—green pepper and bacon, the crust puffed just right, and cheese dripping off the sides…
Suddenly someone ran into her.
“Sorry,” the someone grunted.
“Oh, no problem,” she was about to reply, when she realized it was him. Blue eyes and everything.
“No—that’s—I was just—” she stuttered. He looked at her strangely and walked on, into the Chinese place. Charlotte could have kicked herself. First off, now it would look like she was following him for going into the restaurant. And, of course, now that he was gone she just knew what she should have said…
“Sorry,” the someone grunted.
“Oh no, the apology is all mine,” Charlotte would giggle, tossing her perfect hair over her shoulder. Jimmy would look into her eyes and wonder how the gold flecks could be so luminescent.
“Where’re you headed?” he finally would manage to say.
“Oh, “ she would reply dismissively. “Just going to grab some Chinese tonight. Spur of the moment, you know. Care to join me?”
Mouth gaping, Jimmy would nod and walk by her side are they strolled to the restaurant, where Genifer and her girls would stare at Charlotte with envious eyes and wonder how her face was so perfect and her clothes were so chic…
But, as it were, none of that happened. Instead, Charlotte was wearing beat-up jeans and a touristy T-shirt, and she was staring after Jimmy with a lonely look on her face. Debating whether to follow him into the restaurant or not, suddenly the jazz band changed from the quiet number to a loud, raucous song.
A trumpet player stood up and began blasting out a perfect solo, the notes pouring out of him. He looked to be about Charlotte’s age, but she had never seen him at school. He wasn’t really—good looking. He was a caramel-y blond, but had tanned skin and dark eyes. You would think it wouldn’t match, but it did. His ears stuck out a little, but his nose was a perfect, freckled, little ski-slope thing, and he had some form of muscles on his arms.
Was he cute? Yeah, Charlotte admitted.
But was he beautiful, chiseled, wonderful, perfect, Jimmy?
Charlotte had by now decided that it would just look too weird if she went into Ming’s after bumping into Jimmy. So, and she had to admit she liked this plan, she was going to grab a slice at Ricardo’s.
“Okay, cherub, if you need anything else just call, okay?” Ricardo himself greeted her, then waved as he walked to the back room.
Charlotte had five minutes of peace before another distraction arrived in the shape of Cute Trumpet Boy. He seemed to be looking for someone, craning his neck around the parlor. He walked around a little, and stopped with a sigh by Charlotte’s booth.
“Uh, looking for anyone?” The words just popped out of Charlotte’s mouth. He looked towards her.
“Well, yes,” he admitted. “I was supposed to meet a friend here.”
Charlotte couldn’t help wondering if she was a girl.
“Hmm…I guess she’ll be here soon.”
Her suspicions were confirmed.
“Say, you don’t mind if I sit here for a couple minutes? Just while I’m waiting?”
“Uh…sure,” Charlotte replied nervously.
“Oh, I’m Rhett, by the way,” he said, extending his hand over the table. Charlotte wrung it, saying,
“I’m Charlotte. Charlotte...” She couldn’t remember
her last name all of a sudden.
He laughed, pulling his hand away. “That’s quite a grip you’ve got there, Charlotte.”
Charlotte froze, wondering if it was an insult. Then
she decided to just go with it. “It is, isn’t it,” she replied with a little laugh. Then she noticed the trumpet case on the floor. “So—trumpet guy, are you? I heard your solo.” She hadn’t meant for it to sound like it did.
“Oh, really?” His dark face turned red.
“Don’t worry—it was good.”
“Thanks. See, that Barry piece originally was really
hard for me—especially since I had so little time to learn it.”
“Barry? As in Tim Barry?”
“You know of him?”
“Know of him?” Charlotte felt like flying. “I live for him!” She started chattering about her favorite song, with Rhett inputting commentary in between. Before she knew it, they were talking about music in general, and then about concerts, and then about Los Angeles.
“Never been,” Rhett said, sipping the complementary water. “Wish I could, though. I hear the House of Blues is killer.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Charlotte lied, thinking of the ten or twenty times Terri had jetted her over to attend her book signings of live tapings.
Rhett rolled his eyes. “I’m supposed to be buying a present for my mom’s birthday—it’s in a couple days. I was going to meet my friend so she could help me find it.”
“What does your mom want?” Charlotte asked curiously.
“I don’t know. It’s some cooking book by this famous lady—Tara Cartman or something like that—”
“You mean Terri Carter?” The words popped out of her mouth.
“Oh, you know her? Do you know which book would be the best to get for my mom…?”
Charlotte hesitated. So far no one in the town of Berlin knew who her mom was. So, she had a couple options. She could trust him, and be honest and possibly gain a friend. But then, wouldn’t he look at her weird? She remembered how in the city once the kids had found out about her mom, she had been treated so “special”.
“I don’t really know Terri Carter that well.” Her mind spun with wild lies. “My parents are divorced and I live with my…stepdad. Because he and my mom broke up. So now I have two dads. And, uh, a sister. In college.” For a pretty honest person in general, Charlotte’s lies were coming out fast and thick.
“Oh?” He looked interested. “What college does she go to?”
She looked around frantically, and her gaze zeroed-in on the pizza menu, where the special of the day was “SoCal Pizza—with a side of fries!”.
“University of Southern California,” she said. “Got a scholarship. That’s my Lucy!”
He laughed. “You have quite a family!”
They were silent for a moment while Ricardo brought some complimentary fries and onion rings.
Then, Charlotte asked,
“So, what about you? What’re your parents like?”
He took a fry. “Well, my mom is Mexican. I mean, she was born here, of course, but her parents’ parents are from Mexico. My dad is a blue-eyed, blond dude. They met in California.”
That explained his looks—half Caucasian, half Mexican.
“Oh?” Charlotte prodded him on with her eyes eager.
He sounded bored with the whole thing. “He had a surf shop and she was a lifeguard in college. They met, fell in love, blah blah blah. My mom went on to be a music major in university. Teaches voice lessons at a music school now.”
“And your dad?”
“Oh…” His face hardened. “He doesn’t really…approve of my playing he trumpet. He never went to college, see, his dad kind of expected him to take over the shop. My parents moved to the East Coast when I was three and things were hard, for my father, him with no education, and the surf shop barely selling enough for half a plane ticket—well, he takes whatever jobs he can get. Which isn’t much, unfortunately. So, of course, he expects me to become some kind of businessman, or lawyer.”
“Erm…” Charlotte replied sympathetically. “I…I haven’t seen you at school before…?”
“Well, we lived in New Jersey for a long time.,” He smiled. “I loved it there. There was a jazz house, and every Friday I would go and listen…the school was great, and my music teacher was amazing. But…”
“My mom, the vocal teacher, got—uh, transferred, to a new location. If she took this job it would mean a little extra money…not to mention my dad…some friend’s of ours, the mom owns a company, offered him a job. A real job, with pension and insurance and everything. It will be nice, being a little more economically secure, you know?”
Truthfully, Charlotte didn’t. But, she nodded as if she did.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. My stepdad, he’s, uh…” her mind raced with possibilities. “He’s a music producer. Indie stuff, not topping the charts. So…”
“Oh, really?” Rhett sat up, looking interested.
“That’s pretty cool—I know it doesn’t make a lot of
money, but I would love to have all that access to music,” He laughed.
Suddenly, Charlotte saw Genifer and her girls walking towards the parlor. Genifer was a brunette, with blond highlights. Her eyes were naturally a boring brown, like Charlotte’s, but in fifth grade her rich father paid for them to be surgically “enhanced”. They were now a bright, beautiful, fake green. Charlotte could remember vaguely the old Genifer…she went by Gen back in kindergarten, and had buck teeth and a lazy eye. Once puberty hit in fourth grade, it all changed. Six operations, a makeup consultant, and a hairstyle later, Genifer had turned into the way she was now…a Bee and a witch.
Her girls of the month were all blond, and looked washed out in comparison. They all wore baby blue outfits, cashmere, of course, but Genifer stood out with her pink hat, gloves, sweater, and scarf. Charlotte noted, with a sinking feeling, that they seemed to be walking towards them. Genifer and Charlotte had been friends when they were young, when Terri had been just a young mother and Charlotte’s father…
Anyhow, they had been friends until Charlotte left for the city in fourth grade to go on a tour with Terri. When she came back a couple years later, everything had changed.
“Rhett!” Genifer squealed, striding towards their table.
“Oh—hey Genny. I…waited so long—I thought you wouldn’t show up!” Rhett was standing up now, trumpet case on the table.
“Sorry,” Genifer pouted. Charlotte remembered seeing her in Ming’s only an hour ago. “My mom grounded me for my phone bill,” Genifer said. “I had to sneak out of the house and get a ride here!”
Huh? But Charlotte could have sworn she had seen Genifer and her girls in the window of Ming’s…
“No prob,” Rhett said. “I was just hanging out with—”
“Omigosh, Chelsea! I didn’t see you there!” Genifer
looked straight at Charlotte with a big, fake, smile on her lips.
“My name is—”
“Anyhoo, Rhetty, we better get going if we want to get your mom that book. I hear, it comes with the DVD and an autographed—” Grabbing his hand, Genifer walked out of the diner talking a mile a minute, her girls stumbling in her dust. And Charlotte?
Charlotte was left sitting there. Alone.
When she arrived home she had a small argument with Terri over the missing Chinese food. But, everything was quiet at the Carter home, with the disputes settled. However, on the other side of town, things were a bit different.