by L B Pavlov
A shy and sweet Charlotte Ford has her life planned out for her long before she is able to make decisions for herself. Charlotte’s best friend, Daniel Hollingsworth, is the only person that truly understands her. Their friendship first began when they were very young children, and over the years it will continue to grow and to form an unbreakable bond between them.
As Charlotte and Daniel begin their senior year in high school, their friendship will begin to change, and their love for one another will become stronger than either had ever imagined possible.
Lying on my bed, looking out the window, I can remember it like it was yesterday. Dad had just moved us into this house. Mom had been gone for a little more than six months, and Dad wanted us to all have a fresh, new start. I remember how he had Lenora decorate my room the same way that Mom would have decorated it. Lenora is our housekeeper, and she lives with us. But honestly, Lenora is much more like a mother to me than a housekeeper. She has been with us since before Jack was born. Dad always wanted Mom to have help around the house so that she could focus on us kids. Jack is my eldest brother, followed by my brothers Eric and James and, finally, me, Charlotte. It’s not always easy having three older brothers, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Dad had our rooms all set up before we moved in. My room was absolutely beautiful. It was exactly as if my mother had come back from heaven herself to decorate it. Dad was so pleased. I was only five years old at the time, so this was twelve long years ago. I remember sitting on my window seat, high atop a pillow topper Lenora had designed out of Mom’s fabrics that she had left behind. I could still smell my mom’s perfume on the fabric, and I sat there looking out the window and feeling so alone. I turned to look up at my sparkling crystal chandelier, and it reminded me of my mom. She loved beautiful, sparkly things. I missed her so much.
There was just no way around it. We all did. Dad was quiet and hurting, and he let Lenora handle most of the house stuff as well as the kid stuff during that time. My brothers had gone out to play with some neighborhood kids. I could hear laughter and yelling from my bedroom window. That was the first time I ever saw him.
Jack, Eric, and James had met some neighborhood kids. They were all playing baseball out in the street. Everyone was laughing and having fun. A boy went up to bat. Some of the kids started teasing him, saying that the outfielders may want to back up, and everyone was laughing. He enjoyed the teasing; I could tell right away. He was the youngest of the group but somehow didn’t require any special accommodations. He strolled right up and grabbed the bat while my brother Eric got ready to throw him his first pitch. The ball met the bat with a loud crack and went sailing through the air. Everyone, including my three brothers, watched in absolute awe as the ball passed overhead. His name was Daniel, and he lived right across the street. I stared at him through the window as the kids lifted him up to carry him on a victory march in the street. He had a magical smile—even back then.
My brothers brought some of the kids over for cookies and lemonade. Lenora makes the best cookies I have ever had. People always rave about her baking. My brother Jack called me downstairs to meet some of the new neighbors. I was nervous as I approached the kitchen. I preferred to stay up in my room and observe the fun from my safe little window seat. I met Preston and Devon, who lived across the street with their younger brother Daniel. They were the same ages as Jack and Eric, who were ten and eight years old at that time. They all seemed very excited about having new kids in the neighborhood. I also met Sam, who was closer to my brother James’s age, and he lived five houses down on the corner. Sam was seven years old, and James was six years old. Everyone seemed to have found a new friend. That’s when he came out of the bathroom.
“Wow! Your bathroom smells like flowers,” he announced, and everyone laughed. That was Daniel; he could always make a room laugh. He was five years old, just like me. He would be starting kindergarten with me in a couple weeks, and he would become my first real friend.
When he noticed me, his smile grew even larger. He said, “Hi, I’m Daniel,” and he beamed his pearly white teeth at me.
He asked my name, and I responded with a single word: “Charlotte.” Sometimes when I would speak, people had to lean very close to me because my voice was soft and quiet.
He paused for a moment and said, “Like the web?”
He was silly, and I liked it. I hadn’t had a lot of silly in my life for a while, so it was warm and welcoming.
“Charlotte’s Web was my mom’s favorite book. That is why she named me Charlotte,” I said quietly.
Daniel oozed warmth, even when he was just a five-year-old kid. He gave me a smile, and I could tell by the look in his eyes that he already knew about my mom and how she had gone to heaven, and he felt bad about it. Daniel wanted to be my friend.
He beamed, “I like the name Charlotte, and I don’t know any other girls named Charlotte.”
My brother James walked up and said, “We all call her Charlie. Like Charlie Brown.” Everyone laughed with him.
Daniel turned and smiled at me. “If you were named after Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, then I will call you Charlotte.”
That moment with Daniel Hollingsworth marked the beginning of a friendship that would steer the rest of my life.
chapter one: best friends
“Charlie! Where are you, little sister? We’re home!” Jack called enthusiastically from downstairs.
I went bounding down the stairs to see the boys. I loved it when they came home from college and the house was full of noise again. Since James left last year, it’s only Dad, Lenora, and me now. Jack left first to go to Notre Dame, and two years later Eric joined him and then, finally, James. I like that all of my brothers are at least together at the same school. I don’t worry about them as much because I know that they will watch out for each other. They do come home often because it’s not too far of a drive. It’s just not often enough for me.
When I hit the bottom step, Jack came charging at me and threw me over his shoulder. I didn’t even get mad at him because I had missed his teasing and playful ways while he was gone.
“Put me down, you big baboon!” I squealed.
Eric gave me a big hug; James messed up my hair, and I gave him a giant hug too. I was always happy when we were all together in the same house. My dad had a big smile on his face. He was happy to see all of his kids in one room. We sat down in the kitchen, and I listened to their stories about school and all of the fun that they had been having together.
“James is afraid to pledge the frat house, Dad,” Jack announced, laughing.
James looked very irritated and responded, “I’m not afraid, I just don’t know if I want to join a fraternity as a freshman.”
Eric burst out laughing. “You know you’re a little worried about what we’ll do to you because you’ll have to do whatever we say during initiation,” he said and continued laughing.
Dad told them all to knock it off, so the boys went upstairs to unpack. They had come home for the three-day Labor Day weekend and would be back in three weeks to see my first race of the season. The boys always made it to as many of my races as they could. They loved to cheer me on, and it was important to Dad that they supported me.
I had been running since I was a little girl. I am not sure if I started because it was just in my blood or if it was just something that was expected of me. Either way, running was definitely my thing. I ran year-round on my high school cross-country and track teams. I was entering my senior year at St. Viator’s High School, and I had won the Indiana state championship my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. A lot of people were wondering if I would be able to pull off a four-year streak, and I was hoping I could do it, but I was always aware that my competition would be tough.
My mom had been a runner, but I don’t do her justice by stating it like that. My mom had a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University for cross-country and track. She was a three-time national champion in cross-country, and she set a national record for the mile in track her senior year in college. She was expected to go on to the Olympic trials right out of Stanford, and many people had expected her to be on the Olympic team.
She met my dad in college, and they fell in love. My dad loved to watch my mom race. He was her biggest fan. They were married during their senior year of college, and they were very much in love. Mom found out that she was pregnant with Jack right before the Olympic trials, and the Olympics never happened for Mom. My mom was thrilled to start a family, and as she explained in her many journals that she left behind for me to read, her desire to go to the Olympics just wasn’t there anymore. My dad always felt guilty for taking her off her path, and my grandfather didn’t help with the situation. He felt that Mom got married much too young and that she lost the chance to go after her dreams. He blamed my dad for that and held that against him.
So there you have it. Mom went on to have a fourth child, a daughter, and everyone saw a mini version of Mom. They had me in sneakers and running down the street when I was only three years old. That was right around the time that Mom became ill. I didn’t understand what cancer was at that time, but I did understand that it made Mom really sick. She battled her disease for almost two years before her life was taken away at a young age. Ever since that happened, it was just known, or understood, that I would go on someday to run for Stanford, and maybe I could even attain Mom’s Olympic dream.
Everyone was supportive of my running, and, in a way, I think they felt it was like supporting my mom at the same time. The only person that I could ever talk to about this was Daniel. Daniel and I both had that in common. Daniel’s life was also planned out for him long before he was able to decide what his dreams were on his own. He understood everything that had happened to my family. Daniel was also the only person who really understood my need to please my father and my desire to do everything in my power to ease the pain that my family had experienced from the loss of my mother. I always hoped that I could give some joy where there had been so much sadness. Daniel was my best friend, and he knew me better than anyone.
“Where’s Daniel? I thought he was coming over for dinner?” Eric griped as he joined me in the kitchen.
We were getting ready to have a big family barbeque, and Daniel never missed a Ford Family Barbecue or any chance to see my brothers.
“He’ll be over after football practice,” I said.
“Oh man, are they doing the deadly ‘two a days’ right now?” James inquired as he joined us.
“Yes, he has to go twice a day right now, but you know Daniel, he’s the only one on the team who actually looks forward to ‘two a days’!” I laughed.
“He’s a beast,” James laughed. “I can’t wait to have him at Notre Dame with us!” Daniel would play football for Notre Dame, just as his two older brothers were currently doing. Preston and Devon were also impressive players, but Daniel was the star of the family. He was good at everything, but football was his passion. He was a quarterback, and he loved the game. I loved to watch him play. He came alive during games, and he handled the pressure like a champ. Daniel and I never missed each other’s games and races. We always made that effort because that’s what friends do.
I heard the front door open, and then I heard loud banter, teasing, laughter…Daniel was definitely here. He was close to my brothers, and he was like a part of our family. He came bounding into the kitchen and grabbed me, planting a big kiss on the top of my head. Then he kissed Lenora on the cheek and asked her if she had made any of his favorite chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies.
She smiled and messed his hair up, handing him a cookie. “Just one before dinner, Daniel,” she said.
Daniel was beautiful. He had such a presence. He stood six-feet-two-inches tall, was very muscular and lean, and had big, green eyes and brown, wavy hair atop his handsome, fair-skinned face. His cheeks were always flushed and pink, and he could charm just about anyone, and he usually did. No one made me laugh like Daniel. He loved to tease and could always brighten a room.
“How is Charlotte today?” he asked with a big smile.
“I’m good. How was practice?” I responded as I chopped the cucumbers for the salad.
“Same ol’, same ol,’” he chuckled. “Everyone is complaining about the running we’re doing because they don’t run with the famous Charlotte Ford all summer, so they don’t handle it as well as I do,” he said, smiling at me.
“Oh, I’m famous now, am I?” I said, biting my lip. Daniel could always embarrass me with his flattery.
“The only person who doesn’t think you’re a big deal is you, Charlotte,” he chuckled, “and stop biting your lip, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
I shoved a cucumber in his mouth and continued chopping.
“So, Daniel, is St. Viator’s going to take state again this year?” Jack asked.
“Oh, hell yeah! We have such a strong team this year. We’ve all been working hard, and we want it real bad!” He winked at me.
“I saw your bros yesterday, but they said they couldn’t come home this weekend because they had to help Preston’s girlfriend move into her apartment,” Jack said.
“Yeah, Preston is totally whipped over this girl, isn’t he, Charlotte?” Daniel said, looking at me.
“Yes, they are super cute together. I never thought I would see Preston in love, but it’s nice to see him so happy,” I said.
Preston was handsome like Daniel. He had been the quarterback for Notre Dame the last four years, and he had no problem getting female attention. Girls were always trying to get his attention, just as they did with Daniel. Devon looked like his brothers as well, but he wasn’t as tall and lean, and he was a running back for Notre Dame.
The Hollingsworth boys were famous at Notre Dame. Daniel’s dad had been the quarterback at Notre Dame when he was in college, as was Daniel’s grandfather. Their family lived and breathed for the fighting Irish. It was so fun to go to games with them and to watch the Irish play on TV when you were at their home. Daniel’s dad, Tom, lived for football, and his mom, Grace, became a fan over time watching her boys play.
Grace and I were very close. She filled in as a mother to me when needed, and Daniel said that I filled in as the daughter she never had. Grace was the perfect mom; she was everything I imagined my mother would have been if she was alive today. She was quite the homemaker, always cooking and bustling around her house. She loved her boys and was very proud of them. Tom and Grace were very good friends of my dad as well. We all grew up together and had been close since we were young. Daniel and I were the closest for sure. We always had been, since the first day that we met.
“Hello!” Grace called as she and Tom came through the front door. Grace had made two salads to share, and they would be joining us for dinner.
My dad sat around gabbing with Tom while Grace, Lenora, and I visited about the new school year and the boys played basketball. They laughed and tormented one another until dinner was ready. We all ate together at our large table out back. It was a perfect Indiana evening.
Lenora began cleaning up after dinner. My dad sat out back, drinking wine with Tom and Grace, and my brothers went out to see some old friends.
Join BookDaily now and receive featured titles to sample for free by email.
Reading a book excerpt is the best way to evaluate it before you spend your time or money.
Just enter your email address and password below to get started:
Instant Bonus: Get immediate access to a daily updated listing of free ebooks from Amazon when you confirm your account!
Laura Pavlov writes both young adult and contemporary romance. She is a kindergarten teacher by day, helping young people learn how to read their first books, and writing romance for big humans whenever she able. Laura enjoys writing stories that make you both laugh and cry, but ALWAYS believes in HAPPILY EVER AFTER!