Charlotte and Sophie were, at one point, the bestest of friends. But then they decided to run away together.
St. Dominic’s is the only hospital serving Salerno Hill’s some 50,000 residents. During the five days my mother was there recovering from her C-section, nineteen other women went into labor. Three of these postpartum patients shared a room with her at some point. She found each one to be annoying and flaky. And in her opinion, the absolute worst was Sophie’s mom, Nora Stalson. Nora unabashedly goo-gooed and gah-gahed at her squishy bundle of joy. She would plead with the nurses for “just five more minutes” before they took Sophie back to the mass baby storage unit deemed a nursery.
But unlike Nora and the other new mothers who had no grasp of schedules or proactive early development techniques, my mother had a plan. She called six weeks in advance to schedule her caesarian. Once I was born, my mom had a list of multisyllabic words from three different languages that she recited in my ears. There were diagrams the nurses had to follow when they swaddled me. When Sophie was brought in for her first feeding, I was halfway through my afternoon burp/music lesson.
“Rossini?” Nora asked, taking a break from stroking Sophie’s bald, baby head.
“Excuse me?” my mother asked testily. She had avoided talking to the other mothers at all costs. She had no inclination to make other new-mommy friends. Why bother? It wasn’t a village that raised a child, but a well executed, eighteen-year plan of action.
“The music.” Nora waved her free hand in the air, like she was caressing the notes coming out of the CD player.
“I have no idea. It’s a Baby Genius CD proven to promote higher mental functions during early brain development.”
“So, you’re a first time mom.”
“I am.” My mom was more than a little peeved.
“Sophie here is my second. By the second one you realize all that stuff is a bunch of hooey.”
“There won’t be a second,” my mom said. “This one is going to be perfect.”
Nora took a moment to take in the scene in the next bed over: my mom, me, and the beginnings of my multitasking abilities taking form. God knows what she really thought, but she smiled at my mom and very genuinely said, “I’m sure she will be.”
Then she shifted Sophie to her other arm and walked over to my mom and me.
“This is Sophie,” she said extending her hours old daughter’s hand in my direction.
My mom considered this gesture for what I’m sure was an eternity, but eventually brushed my tiny fist against Sophie’s.
“This is Charlotte.”
Step one of the Master Plan was getting fake IDs. Actually, I suppose that was step two. Step one (and the only one I came up with solo) was to get Charlotte on board with the Master Plan. After that, she worked everything out. And while I had no moral objection to it, it was a damn shock that our next move involved breaking the law.
Naturally, I was the one that got us the fakes, but Charlotte was first up to use hers.
“Your face screams delinquent,” she said.
“Well, you, Charlotte Mackenzie, look like a bible salesman,” I countered. “Can’t you let the girls out as a distraction?” She was only three days older than me but, like the rest of Charlotte, her tits were way ahead of the curve.
I reached to undo a few of the buttons strangling her neck, but she slapped my hands away.
“I need to be unremarkable.”
“You need them to not look too closely at that ID.”
Ceding the point, Charlotte undid one button.
The plan was that Charlotte would go in by herself and try her hand first. If there were any issues, we’d go somewhere else and I’d take my turn. I wasn’t too concerned with the quality of the fake, but Chars wasn’t exactly a practiced rule breaker.
However, she was a quick study. While most girls took years to get through their inevitable awkward phase, Charlotte had learned to overcome it in months. For our eighth grade dance, both of us went with a pulsing zit as a date. Mine was bursting out of my forehead, hers on her chin. While I unsuccessfully tried to cover mine with a gelled-down hairdo, Charlotte applied a siren red lipstick so perfect for her pouty lips that no one noticed the pustule an inch below.
Once again, she’d surprised me. As I stood looking at Charlotte’s face, which I arguably know better than my own, I barely recognized her. Her typically shiny, raven hair was half its normal volume and more the color of a muted charcoal. She’d used makeup to dull the angles of her cheekbones and even the perfect posture of her tiny frame was more slouched and unassuming. I had to hand it to her, the girl was a freaking chameleon.
“People have yawns they remember better than you,” I said giving her a shove in the direction of the door. She walked in so calmly it honestly freaked me out.
I headed back to the car to wait, repeating to myself, “It’ll work. She’ll get what we need.”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked the time. Five minutes had passed.
When she’d been inside for almost an hour, I realized I’d been holding my breath for a period of time that should’ve caused minor brain damage. But then she came out brandishing several sheets of paper and an ear-to-ear smile.
“Got the bank account,” she said. “Step one of phase one complete.”