To any bystander the scene could not be more unassuming.
Two young people in a cafe, trying to find their way into a conversation across the table. One was Eric Cameron, the other Charlotte Seymour.
In reality, this was a lot more than just two acquaintances having coffee together. It was a turning point of sorts, deciding fate and viability of what once was a promising relationship. While it had never been an easy one, this was the crescendo of complicated, and the point of no return, no matter the direction.
There was a familiarity between them, it was apparent they knew each other well, but there was an underlying distance as well. An invisible, yet seemingly unbreakable wall.
The coffee meet was friendly, but strictly platonic.
A lot had happened in the many months since the last time the two of them had been face to face.
It all started off with a bad fight, during which Eric had given Charlotte an ultimatum. Fed up with the sneaking around, being forced to hide, mixed with a healthy dose of jealousy of there being another man in the mix that would never go away, that certainty hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles, he gave her the choice to stand up to her parents’ bullying, abandon the wedding plans and stay with him – or else.
Unkind words were exchanged, as a result of which Charlotte eventually stormed out of the apartment Eric shared with Ewan and Hannah. Unbeknownst to them then, that would be the last contact they would have until meeting at the cafe nearly a year later.
The royal wedding ended up a hair raising disaster.
In the middle of the ceremony Charlotte spontaneously darted away, unable to go through with it after all, before realizing she had absolutely nowhere left to run beyond ‘away’. ‘Away’ from what she despised by now, ‘away’ from the forced wedding that took her one true love from her.
She knew she would be unable to leave the heavily guarded premises, so suddenly she found herself cornered by some guards who had followed her, atop the palace roof.
Frightened and with no perceived way left to go – since she believed to have lost Eric for good now, as well as have fallen from her parents good graces. She climbed over the banister of the topmost balcony – she leaned – and let go.
The world seemed to stop turning during her sudden and fast descent, utter silence enveloped her, as the tulle of the full wedding gown billowed around her over the stiff as a board underskirts, then it all went dark. Mercifully she had passed out before the impact.
The drastic measure landed her first in the hospital, severely injured – but shockingly very much alive – as the impact had been buffered by thick shrubs. After a seemingly endless healing process, spent mostly bedridden, she spent the better part of a year in the psyche ward cut off from everyone, save the occasional, yet rare visits from her parents.
House Mountbatton-Wharton distanced themselves from such an apparently ’emotionally and mentally unstable person’ called off the engagement and wedding. Charlotte’s reputation was ruined, she was locked up with no contact to the outside world, while Crown Prince Phillip was married to another young lady from an upper class family before Charlotte was even released. Not too long after, a royal pregnancy was announced.
Many months later Charlotte was released as sufficiently stable, both mentally and physically, and returned into the fold of her childhood home, left to her own devices to find her way back into her own life after nearly a year of living on someone else’s rigid schedule while otherwise sealed off from society. It was a rocky road for a while.
Now acknowledging the error of their ways, and also in an effort to extinguish some of their own guilt about it all – as well as to give their daughter a feeling of purpose – her parents bought her an Art Gallery to display the many paintings Charlotte had created while shielded from the life she once knew.
Charlotte’s engagement wasn’t the only one that would never make it into the romance novels during that fateful year.
Ewan had grown suspicious of glances exchanged between his fiancé Cassandra and Hannah’s boyfriend Sven.
When one afternoon he came home unannounced and much earlier than expected, the cliche was fulfilled to the finest, by him walking in on them in a very delicate situation with each other. He flipped out, and gave an ultimatum to both. Sven would move out immediately – in other words Ewan kicked him out – and he would never go near Cassandra again, or Ewan would tell the totally oblivious Hannah every little detail.
Sven left, quickly, humiliated and highly apologetic.
Cassandra managed to calm Ewan and even the keel again.
Hannah of course was furious that Sven moved out without giving her a sound reason, and that he even wouldn’t spend the night. She had been sore that he still had not proposed to her yet, and in an effort not to lose her, he did.
During a visit home in Brindleton Bay Hannah’s great-grandparent’s old home, still sitting empty since their deaths, was brought up and the fact that the small seafood restaurant by the docks was going up for sale soon, so Hannah’s parents offered to help buy it. The newly engaged couple moved to Brindleton Bay together, leaving behind Eric, Ewan and Cassandra at the apartment.
Ewan had no designs on getting married before, even less so now. As far as he was concerned, Cassandra was on probation. One false move, and she’d be out. She knew it too, which made Ewan twice as suspicious when she suddenly kept getting nauseated a lot.
You guessed it.
Ewan asked Cassandra point blank one day if she had gone further than looks or half-naked kissing with Sven, and finally she admitted to a full-fledged affair, spanning months, not just the one time slip up both had admitted to. Begged the question as to who the father of her unborn baby really was, the uncertainty of the unwelcome news nagging deep within Ewan.
Heartbroken, Ewan was on the next plane out, picked up Hannah to take her to a park and get her away from Sven’s interference, where he told her everything. Hiding some stolen kisses between their fiances from her was one thing, but Ewan wouldn’t keep this from her. In denial at first, she didn’t want to believe him, sobbing hard, but then admitted to him to having had her own suspicions for a while, which Ewan only confirmed.
But that still was only the tip of the iceberg, the drama intensified further yet.
A last line was crossed, leading to something they could never come back from.
Both too upset to care any longer about rules of society, both too heartbroken by the betrayal they had been exposed to, in too much pain to even try and stop what they now indulged in. It started with a seemingly harmless kiss, which quickly caused their inhibitions to drop like leaves in the Fall – along with their clothing.
‘It‘ happened, fueled by desire and broken hearts, and it felt like the right kind of wrong to two people whose world had been uprooted by the actions of others.
The moments after the adrenaline began to wear off, as the significance of what they had done fully sunk in and guilt began to catch up with them, were more than awkward.
Ewan flew back home that night, Hannah went back to her and Sven’s house, both adamant to keep their slip up a secret for all times, afraid of the repercussions.
Eric could feel the tension at home, but was too wrapped up in his own issues to bother much with it all. His own heart was broken, and while he was still mad at Charlotte, he never stopped worrying about her. Naturally the news broadcast the suicide attempt, brought updates about her recovery process and revelled in the fact that she ended up in the psyche ward. But after that story ran dry, so did Eric’s trace of her. He knew better than to try and contact her parents.
He did know she was from Windenburg, which was not far from Brindleton Bay, so he drove there a few times while home for family visits, secretly hoping to eventually run into her there.
That was how he stumbled across an Art Gallery, a brandnew building, modern, sticking out like a sore thumb against the rustic old buildings around it. Somehow Eric felt this was Charlotte’s, not just by looking at the name. Gallery CS. C= Charlotte, S = Seymour.
The first few times he just stared at it, then walked off quickly.
But one time he entered the Gallery, curious if his suspicions were true and this was really hers. Right now it was only a feeling he had. It took one good look at the displayed pieces for him to feel confirmed.
But then there she was, which lead to the current days, and to where this story started.
Both frozen to the ground, unable to speak for minutes, just staring at one another. Charlotte regained the ability to function first.
“Hi.” she offered carefully.
“Hi.” he replied.
“Coffee?” she pointed at the small cafe section to her right.
“Sure.” he accepted.
So here they were now. A feeling of strange familiarity but also inability to act on it. Both had a lot to say, but no words would come.
“I am so glad to see you.” Charlotte finally whispered.
“I am glad to see you too.” Eric managed out.
“Eric, I want to apologize …”
“Don’t. No need to. We both messed up.” he cut her off gently.
“Where are we now, with each other? Is there hope? I remember your last words to me, which were basically the kiss of death to whatever we had, but I like to think that we both were upset and probably said things we didn’t mean.” she asked.
“You’re right and the answer is that I don’t know. I am willing to try, at snail’s pace, if you are. You’re not the only one who was badly affected by it all. Ever since the accident I don’t deal well with loss of any kind. Your … uh …ummm.” Eric struggled to say the words describing her deed that could have ended her life, instead gestured a stylized jump with his fingers.
“I know. Let’s not talk about that, not yet. We’re both not ready for that. Let’s start over fresh and work our way back up to where we once had been, where we can discuss that type of heartbreak and maybe, just maybe, even back to where we were in other aspects too. I am enough of a realist to know that too much has happened for either of us to just shake it off and pick up where we left off before the big fight. We may never be able to, but I sure would like to try.” Charlotte’s words were soothing.
“Yeah, sounds good. I will be moving back here soon, a spot finally opened up at the precinct in Willow Creek, the transition is already in progress, which will make things easier for a lot of people. Ewan and Cassandra are constantly at odds of late, if you ask me the writing is on the wall. Tired of walking into the line of fire when I come home tired only to listen to them fight all night long.” Eric told her.
“Oh, so sorry to hear all that. They make such a gorgeous couple. Hopefully they can work it out and it was a lot of excitement about nothing.”
“Oh, there has been a lot of excitement for sure. But that is a story for another day.”