Authors: Bethany Bloom
Shy Charlotte’s Brand New Juju
Text Copyright © 2013 Bethany
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the
author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
This novel is a work of fiction. The
names, characters, incidents, places, and events portrayed are either the
products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or localities
is purely coincidental.
How was she not burning her thigh on the coffee pot?
This was the odd thought that lodged itself in
Charlotte’s mind as she walked in on her husband pressing against that naked
woman in his office. There was a heating element, right there, on his desk,
where he had apparently shoved her. This strange, dark woman with the dark,
dark lips. And the little red light glowed from the base of the pot, and the
office smelled of burnt coffee and of sweat. The intimate scent of two people,
one of whom she knew well. And Charlotte’s eyes went right to that coffee pot.
Not to Caleb’s eyes, which she knew would look blue and round and watery. Not
to the woman’s face or her flushed skin, or her full, bare breasts but to her
naked thigh and that hot, hot coffeepot.
And then came the thought that things were going to
change. He had finally forced her hand.
Charlotte braced the steering wheel against the top of her
thighs to free her hands. She squeezed Easy Cheese onto another cracker and gave
it to Gracie before correcting the minivan’s drift.
Ever since her daughters were old enough to chew and
swallow, Charlotte had brought Triscuit crackers and squeeze cheese on road
trips, so she could craft cheerful messages or drawings with the orangy
squirts: hearts or flowers or tiny golden suns. Of course, Caleb was usually
driving, and it was a whole lot easier to make her cracker art from the
passenger seat. Just one of the very many things that would take some
adjusting. But that’s what this trip was for. All kinds of adjusting.
Charlotte turned to hand the next cracker to Hannah in the
“’I’m getting car sick,” Hannah said, pushing it away.
“No, you aren’t,” her sister said. “You’re just sick of the
“No, it’s not...”
Charlotte flipped on her blinker and slowed to get behind a
semi as she merged onto the exit ramp. They circled a roundabout and found
themselves on a narrow two-lane road that appeared to dead end at the most majestic
mountain she had ever seen, uncannily like the opening logo of Paramount
Pictures: towering and imperial, the top still blanketed with snow even in
Charlotte felt, suddenly, as though she were driving into a
film. One in which she was free to adopt a new character. A character whose
shirt stayed clean and pressed and tucked in all day, whose bangs never went
limp and pressed against her head. A character who always spoke with grace and
kindness, who had done something meaningful with her life, who didn’t fall
asleep every night watching reruns of
, who would never feed her
children Crunchberries for dinner, who would never marry a man who could...who
A sense of hope and new beginnings surged through
Charlotte’s chest. Apparently, Hannah was feeling it, too, for she began to
belt out a song from the backseat…something about the eye of the tiger, but the
words weren’t quite right. Hannah, like her sister and both her parents, was a
born introvert, but she fought her quiet nature more than the rest of them, and
that meant, every now and then, she was prone to outbursts of song or random opinions.
These were rarely well timed and often made her mother startle.
Hannah continued her merry song, throwing her shoulders
about as she unsnapped her seat belt and knelt on the floor between the two
front seats. Gracie rolled down her window and thrust both arms into the wind.
The sky here was so blue. Charlotte’s sister, Fiona, had
described it when she first moved to this place years before. “It’s the color
of sapphires…something you have to see to believe.” But she hadn’t said how
everything looked so crystal clear. Not cloudy or foggy or misty, but crisp, as
though the pines and spruce were etched on a background of cerulean blue. Charlotte
could see why the town had become the premiere resort destination in the West,
a favorite of movie stars, dignitaries and celebrity athletes.
Charlotte leaned her head toward her own window. She felt
weightless, light-headed. Was it the high altitude? Or was it the deep fear and
roiling sadness, combined with a terrifying scent of new possibilities—all of
which she couldn’t seem to shake. Not since that woman on Caleb’s desk.
Charlotte glanced at her scribbled directions and made a
right-hand turn. A scrolling sign announced “Amari Estates.” From there, the
black ribbon of asphalt wound its way up a forested hill.
“Are you sure this is it?” Gracie leaned forward in her seat
so she could see the tops of the trees and the rooflines of the sprawling
Charlotte didn’t answer.
“Is Aunt Fiona this rich?” Hannah asked.
Charlotte’s lower back began to cramp and she leaned forward
to stretch it out, hugging the steering wheel as she twisted first one way and
“Apparently so,” Gracie answered, when her mother didn’t.
“This is where we’re going to live all summer?” Hannah
turned to her sister and pushed out her palm for a high five. Gracie turned
away and placed a hand, instead, on her mother’s shoulder.
Gracie’s hand was warm. What would she do without this kid? What
would she do if her oldest daughter were the kind of child who rolled her eyes
when her mother spoke? Who refused to leave her life and her thirteen-year-old
friends for the summer?
If nothing else, at least she had this. Two loving
daughters, who were kind and compassionate and understanding. At least she had
done this right. It may have been the only thing, but it was something. If it
needed to be, she supposed, it could be everything.
Gracie looked down at her mother’s directions. “Third house
on the right. But these lots are so big, how can you tell where the houses
“I’ll count the driveways,” Hannah offered.
“It’s not the one with the semi, is it?” Gracie asked.
“Because that’s the third driveway.”
A silver tractor-trailer had backed in with its nose facing
“I believe it is,” Charlotte said, rolling to a stop along
“Is the whole neighborhood named after her?” Hannah asked.
“Her husband developed this whole subdivision, so I think
so,” Charlotte replied. “Not named after her, though, I imagine. But after him,
“But they are married, so it’s after her, too.” Hannah said.
And then she stretched her arms in the air. “Mom. This is
going to be good for us.” She leaned toward the
windshield to snap a photo with her phone.
“So, is Aunt Fiona moving?” Gracie asked.
“No, it actually looks like someone’s moving in,” Charlotte
said. “I think those people are unloading things out of that truck. Not into
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
“Positive,” Charlotte said, peering again at her notes.
“Maybe she’s just having a furniture delivery.”
“Try plants.” Hannah said. “Loads and loads of plants.”
Charlotte inhaled and closed her eyes, then snapped a smile
onto her face. She unfolded her legs from the minivan and brushed the morning’s
snacks from her cropped denim pants. The seatbelt had been cutting into her
waist, and she pushed out her belly now as a means of balancing things out.
Gracie and Hannah unfolded their long, lean limbs from the car, stretched their
arms high in the air, and kicked their feet to position their flip-flops. Then,
together, they made their way toward the house.
A flurry of men and women were unloading greens and
seedlings and shrubs from the semi and dashing toward sweeping swaths of topsoil,
which curled and looped among spruce, pine and aspen trees. A weathered woman
with a whistle around her neck stood at the tail end of the semi, clutching a
clipboard, pointing an index finger and frowning.
That’s when Fiona dashed from the house and down the
flagstone steps. She waggled her arms and wiggled her shoulders and stumbled
along the uneven rocks. When she reached her sister at last, she clamped her
hands around Charlotte’s upper arms and bleated, “Oh! Here at last! My poor
Then she pressed her bosom into Charlotte. Fiona had the
hardest boobs. Goodness, how were they so hard? Like turtles; tortoises, even. Charlotte
now suspected that these breasts were new and improved. An even greater
enhancement than the new-and-improved set she had before. Presumably, this
Kamal fellow wasn’t a leg man.
Everything about Fiona now, in fact, was hard and
astoundingly, unnaturally tight. Her ponytail. The skin around her eyes. Her
mini-dress, which barely cradled her breasts, clung tight to her thighs. She
wore what looked to be an amulet on a chain around her neck, but it had
burrowed itself tightly inside her cleavage and, so, had been forced to turn
sideways. Charlotte wondered if this felt something like a wedgie. She would
never know. Her own chest allowed plenty of space for pendants. She could wear
a phone book around her neck and it would lay flat.
“Oh, Charlotte.” Fiona pulled back to look at her sister. “Poor,
This was going to be harder than she thought. More than
anything else, Charlotte hated to be pitied or made the victim or singled out
for attention. And Fiona knew this. But it was Fiona’s turn, at long last, to
be the superhero. To be the sister who had it all. And, by the looks of it, she
was going to squeeze every living drop out of the situation. Charlotte took a
deep breath and pulled her lips back into a smile.
Fiona blinked hard, as though to stem the tide of tears, and
then she said, “And who are these beautiful young women?”
Hannah and Gracie looked confused. Did she really not know
who they were?
“They have just gotten so big. So mature. So…gorgeous.” Fiona
looked them up and down. “My! A couple of heartbreakers. Am I right?” She poked
her elbow at Gracie. “How many boyfriends do you have? How many?”
Gracie looked at the ground, poked at a ridge in the
flagstone with her foot. “Um. None.”
“Well.” Fiona turned to Hannah. “And how about you, little
Hannah stared at Aunt Fiona’s face, then down at her
enormous chest. Charlotte was sure now. It
grown sizably since they
had last seen her. How long had it been? Two years? Three?
Hannah smiled and shook her head.
“I see you’re both quiet and shy, just like your poor
mother,” Fiona wailed. “We’ll just see what we can do about that!”
Charlotte motioned toward the truck and the scowling men and
women who kept scampering along its steel ramp. “What do you have going on
here?” she asked.
“Oh.” Fiona lifted her eyebrows as though seeing them for
the first time. “Sorry. All of these workers were supposed to come yesterday,
but the weather stopped them. I guess. Who knows?” She let out a shrill sound,
which Charlotte decided meant that the help frustrated her in untold ways. “Anyway,
there are four thousand perennials on that truck. Can you believe it? I’m going
to have the most beautiful garden in town this summer. That’s more than our
town’s botanical gardens, I believe.”
The pale woman with the clipboard approached. She had thick
weathered skin and lips to match.
Fiona turned. “This is Lydia, and her little army of
helpers. What do you call them, doll? It’s so darling. What is it again? What
do you call them?”
“Hello, yes, my name is
, and I am the head
gardener and these…” she gestured grandly at the men and women behind her, “are
my Sweet Peas. But, really, they are more like my minions.” Linda threw her
head back and out came a booming, grating laugh. It suddenly became obvious to
Charlotte why this woman worked outside, with plants.
“I see,” Charlotte said in a quiet voice. She gave Linda
what she hoped was an encouraging smile.
“So where would you like the lupine? Did you decide?” Linda
thumped at her clipboard.
“Just do it like the drawing, sweetheart.” Fiona replied.
She wrinkled her nose at Charlotte as if to say,
We have to tell them
everything, don’t we?
“The drawing leaves a little to be decided on site.”
At this point, Fiona began to simply stare at her.
Linda stared back for a beat, and then she became very
interested in the sheaf of papers on her clipboard. “I can just use my best
judgment, if that’s what you would like,” she mumbled.
“If you had come when you said you would, I would have all
kinds of time to go over things with you, but now I need to visit with my sister.
She is here for a visit. As you can see.”
Linda turned to Charlotte. “How delightful,” she said. “How
long are you staying?”
“Oh. All summer.”
Fiona frowned and Linda clutched her clipboard to her chest.
She made a noise from deep in her throat and then said, “I believe I can eke
out your preferences based on our previous conversations. If you don’t mind,
simply keep an eye out and let me know if you see anything that doesn’t fit
with your vision.”
“Perfect, I will. Thank you, Lydia.”
“Linda,” she corrected.
“Yes. Thank you.” Fiona said, lifting her shoulders once
again and smiling toward her sister. “So how excited are you for this summer?”
She slid her arm into the crook of Charlotte’s to make a link. “I have big
plans for you. For all of you.” She turned to the girls and made grabbing
motions toward them with her free hand.
A screechy voice called from the front porch. “Who let out
the gerbils? Because they’re out. And they’re trampling the wooly thyme.”
Linda blew her whistle. “We don’t call them gerbils,
please,” she said, flying to Fiona’s side. “May I help you retrieve your dogs,
“Nonsense.” Fiona bent to pick up the larger of two Lhasa
Apsos that were darting at their feet with scrabbling, panicky motions. “This
is Princess Tulip,” she said, thrusting the dog into Hannah’s arms. “And this
is Duchess Poi Poi.” She handed this dog to Gracie, who held it around the
middle in an effort to avoid the matter that was swinging from the hair on the animal’s
“Do hold on to them while all of these people are trampling
about,” Fiona pleaded. Then she poked a dainty toe into the soil on the side of
her porch. “Irises here. Right, Lydia?” she called.
“Right,” Linda replied. “Bordered with clematis.”
“Very good. Very good.”
“It’s going to look better than a magazine, Ms. Amari.”
“Well good, good. See that it does. My husband has very
“Oh, we know, Ms. Amari. Not to worry.”
Fiona led them to the entry of her home, a ranging log
affair with soaring buttresses and glossy beams. As the front door opened, they
were greeted with a whoosh of perfumed air—pine and the faint scent of floor
polish—as well as a small boy, wearing nothing but a red cape. He launched
himself through the air from a piece of nearby furniture. “You’re here!” he
shouted, landing with his arms around Gracie’s neck, where he now dangled like
a pendant. Gracie turned to look at her mother and, with just her eyes,
This boy has no pants on, and he nearly squished his own dog.