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Charlotte opens the back garden door of her parents’ home, entering their kitchen space. The early morning hours make the streets still dark and the grass more dewy than she thought it would be. Pulling her cardigan tighter around herself, Char exhales, glancing between the older women in the room.

 

“Well, quite the surprise.” Serena lowers the mug that was up against her lips onto the kitchen island in front of her. The mornings were her time to just appreciate the silence of the house. Always like a sort of meditation for Serena, and almost always interrupted. “Good morning, darling.”

 

“Morning, Maman.” Charlotte gives the woman her best reassuring smile despite what runs through her head, “Is Mum still sleeping?”

 

“She does appreciate a good lie in after her walk when she’s able to.” Serena offers, “I’m assuming she didn’t go with you since you asked.”

 

“She went with Kaitie.” She nods a little, folding her arms over her chest, “Lavinia was miserable this morning, so I just kept her with me.” Char lifts a hand, running it through her own hair to tuck behind her ear, “she was woken up and never went back to sleep...and neither did I. She’s at home with Laney, trying her damndest not to nod off despite exhaustion.”

 

“Well, some may say she’s stubborn...much like her mother.” Serena smirks, bringing her mug to her lips for another sip of coffee. “Is something wrong?” She pauses, “possibly something I might be able to help you with?”

 

Charlotte considers the question before nodding a little, “well, it’s more like a situation and...I think you might actually be the best one to...” She shrugs, pausing a moment to close her eyes and take a deep breath, “Okay.” Charlotte moves on the other side of the kitchen island, leaning an elbow on the surface, “Gwen didn’t...come home last night.”

 

Serena nods slowly, attempting to formulate her thoughts, “have you attempted to get in touch with her?”

 

“Um...yes. Myself, yes.” Char draws her bottom lip into her mouth, biting at the skin, “she and I had...exchanged words earlier in the week. I told her that I wanted her to...speak to someone, professionally. I wanted her to get help for her issues...a neutral third party that would...take me, you and Mum, and her parents out of the equation. Let her speak her truth.”

 

“Do you...think something amiss happened to her?” Serena asks cautiously, not exactly wanting the answer.

 

Charlotte sighs softly, “I don’t think so. I believe it’s why Lavinia woke when she did.” She bites her lip, “she’s not responding to my texts or...phone calls.” Char watches Serena, “this is...this is all my fault. If I had just...kept my mouth shut and-”

 

“No.” Serena responds, familiar with the instance, “no matter who said anything to her, she wouldn’t have listened.” This is hitting far too close to home, far too close to Elinor’s behavior that she displayed around the same age. “I-I’ve an idea, but I don’t...I don’t know if it will work.” Serena reaches for her mobile, resting on the counter top not far from her, “but it doesn’t hurt to try.”

 

“What is it?” Char shifts from foot to foot, “if you don’t mind my asking.”

 

“Play dumb.” Serena nods, typing on the screen of her mobile. “Tell her to meet with me around lunch time, so that we could make our decisions regarding our trip to France.”

 

Raising an eyebrow, Charlotte watches her stepmother, “you’re...you’re going to take her on a trip even though she’s been-”

 

“If she comes home, sure.” Serena responds quietly, “it would allow us to have time together and...I might be able to get her to open up about...about what she’s been up to, ensure she understands that her behavior as of late, including sneaking out of the house, is unacceptable.”

 

“No offense, Maman, but I think you may just be...biting off more than you can chew with this.” Char shakes her head, “she’s angry, frustrated, and...lashing out. It started with her parents, but...it’s slowly developing to anyone who tries to stop her from being with her friends. I offered her help. I offered to set her up with a therapist to help her control her-”

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Serena shakes her head slowly, “the only thing...the only thing she wants is to feel heard and loved.” When her stepdaughter appears as if she’s about to argue, “I’m not saying you aren’t doing that, I’m saying she’s going to fight against anyone at any time if she feels it isn’t sufficient. Guinevere feels that her new friends understand her...even though she might be changing her own appearance and behavior to fit in with this group.”

 

“I just don’t understand one thing, Jason just did this last year. She was here and understood the toll that took not only on her father, but on us...on her.” Charlotte swallows, fidgeting slightly under the pressure of everything going on around her, “I um...I’m going to tell Kait to keep an eye out.”

 

“Good idea.” Serena nods, placing her mobile back onto the kitchen island, “most important thing to do at the moment...is to be patient.” It’s obvious Serena speaks from experience, “if I don’t hear back from her within the hour, Bernie and I will head out...see if we can...find anything-”

 

“Such as?” Charlotte replies with a chuckle, “footprints? Clues?” She shakes her head, “the pair of you are not...” Char pauses, almost as if something has dawned on her, “is Cole-”

 

“Upstairs.” Serena offers, bringing her coffee to her lips again as her stepdaughter rushes past her.

 

Cole sits in front of his computer set-up, having moved most of it over to his Grands, needing the solitude of the house he’s grown up in for the sake of his mental health. He tilts his head to the side, meticulously editing a video before uploading it to his channel. Cole hears the door to his room open, recognizing the gait, “you know, you walk similarly to Gran, but it’s ever so slightly different that it’s easy to know that it’s you, Mum.”

 

“Impressive.” Charlotte watches her son, “could I um...could I speak with you for a moment?” She moves in a bit more, taking a seat at the foot of his bed, as close as she can get to her son. “I have a favor to ask.”

 

“This family and their favors.” Cole mumbles, finally pausing in what he’s doing and turning in his computer chair to face his mother. He puts on his best New York accent, “ you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money. ” Cole starts to smirk, “sorry, I watched The Godfather last night.”

 

“That was...interesting.” Char smiles at her son, then lets it fade slowly, “Guinevere didn’t come home last night, Cole...and I was curious if you might know...who she’s been spending time with?” She shakes her head a little, “or where. I just...I just need to know if she’s okay.”

 

Cole’s expression changes from its previously playful appearance to that of concern, if not anger. “Are you bloody kidding me?” He starts to laugh, “you know...I had promised her that I’d keep quiet for her, but...when she started being a proper knobhead, that all went out the window.” Cole sighs softly, “I can only tell you what I know, but...I really don’t think it’s the best idea to search her out. She’ll just run.”

 

“You seem certain of that.”

 

“Because, regardless of how much she changes, she’s still family and I still love her.” Cole nods, “no matter how many hurtful words she’s spat at me and...her many gaslighting attempts, she’s still my best friend...and I’ll always protect her, even if that’s from herself.”

 

“That’s very noble of you, Cole.” Charlotte watches her son closely, “especially on the day of your daughter’s wedding.” The words cause her son to laugh softly. “Regardless of what you find or stumble across, come to me first, please? I’m afraid your Grands may go charging in, guns ablaze.”

 

“I’m sure they would too.” Cole nods, then sighs softly, “I’m not going to make any promises, but...I’m going to try, Mum. Promise.”

 

“That’s all I can ask.” Charlotte reaches over to him, gently caressing his cheek and pushing a lock of hair from his eyes, “my sweet boy.”

 

Cole allows his mother to fawn over him a bit, an excited expression covering his face, “Gran’s promised to take me out driving when I turn sixteen.”

 

“She started me when I was fourteen.” Charlotte sticks her tongue out, finally getting up from the bed as the pair dissolve in even heavier laughter. She’s very aware that having a son old enough to drive will probably never be something she’ll ever be used to, “I see all of the fags and coffee I forced on you to stunt your growth didn’t work properly. All of my efforts were for naught.”

 

“No, it’s just made me really crave cigarettes and a proper dark roast.” Cole replies without a beat, causing his mother to lean a hand against the wall as she nears his doorway, attempting to compose herself before letting herself through. “Please, don’t wee on my floor.”

 

“Cole!” Charlotte calls over her shoulder, crossing her legs while still trying to stop herself from laughing, “you aren’t helping the situation...and you’ve been hanging about your Grands too much.”

 

“Well, they’re hilarious. I try whenever I can.” Cole folds his arms, leaning back in his office chair, “do you need-”

 

“No!” Taking a few extra moments, Charlotte slowly stands up, taking a deep breath before finally stepping through the doorway and closing the wooden door behind herself. Her little boy is certainly growing up very quickly and she couldn’t be more proud of him if she tried.