This worked out to be quite a bit more open-ended than I originally intended, so I suspect more stories are probably in store for later.
There was a girl at Charlie’s high school no one else could see.
The first time Charlie Du saw the girl, it was at lunch in the cafeteria. Jessica Simmons and Leica Hamilton were doing that thing again, the one where they and all their friends would gather at the table right next to Charlie’s and loudly ask supposedly innocent questions.
“Why do you think someone names a girl Charlie, anyway? Do you think her father must have wanted a boy? Do you think he beats her because she’s not a boy?”
“Do you think his father named her that because he killed lots of people during the Vietnam war?”
“Do you think her dad dresses her in boy’s clothes?”
“She’s so tall. Maybe she really is a boy, you know, but just, you know, like that movie with the girl who was really a boy, The Crying Game?”
And then someone would turn right to Charlie and ask: “Hey, is your favorite movie The Crying Game?”
Which was usually the point where Charlie, eyes wet with tears, would ball her fists and run from the room, leaving her lunch behind. On that day, when she did this, there was a clatter and commotion behind her, and Charlie turned to see that one of the girls, evidently not wanting the fun to end, had started to run after her.
Started to, because someone had put a leg out in front of her, and Jessica had tripped and fallen right on top of the next table over, into someone’s tray of lasagna.
“Oh my god, Jessica, are you okay?” Leica and the others rushed over.
Watching, Charlie remembered thinking that if she had tripped like that, they would not have expressed anything like concern. She also felt a rush of sadistic pleasure. The whole cafeteria was laughing at Jessica.
Not a single girl said a word to the girl who had deliberately tripped Jessica. Not one. No one paid any attention to her at all.
“I wish I could be invisible,” Charlie said.
The girl looked up, and Charlie realized the invisible girl had heard her.
“Oh bless your– you did the dishes, Charlie? Thank you…” Charlie heard her mother’s voice from the kitchen, sounding simultaneously tired and relieved. She’d just come home from her job at the grocery store, and gone straight to the kitchen.
Charlie looked up from her history book. She hadn’t done the dishes. She had been putting it off the way she always put off her least favorite chore, hoping that her mom wouldn’t come home before Charlie was already asleep. Charlie frowned, closed her book and walked over to the kitchen, open to the living room through a low kitchenette where someone might, theoretically, serve drinks or meals but which usually just ended up as a place to set the junk mail.
Someone had done the dishes.
Her mother retrieved a can of diet coke from the dirty white refrigerator, popped the lid, and then kissed Charlie’s forehead as she passed. “Thanks, sweetie-pie. The customers today were so awful you’d have thought I was robbing them instead of checking out for them. I’m going to watch TV for a bit. Did you fix yourself dinner?”
“Yeah,” Charlie lied.
“Good, good,” her mom said as she headed into the living room and turned on CNN to see if they had any more coverage of the war.
When Charlie flipped on the light switch in her room, she nearly screamed.
The invisible girl was sitting on her bed. The girl looked up, smiled at Charlie, and put a finger to her lips to suggest quiet — like she was in a library or something — before she returned to reading Charlie’s old copy of Peter Pan. The bed around the girl was covered with little plates of food: pretty bright colored cookies in flower colors, small little turnovers decorated to look like crescent moons, cucumber sandwiches cut out in the shape of cats, pink and red berries, and tiny tomatoes in rainbow shades.
The room was clean. Charlie’s clothes were put away, her bed was made, her books returned to their shelves, her old ballet shoes hung up in a place of honor with a pink bow on the wall next to a feather-strung dreamcatcher.
Charlie entered the room and closed the door behind her.
“Peter Pan was a bit of a tosser, wasn’t he? The Disney movies always skip that part.” The girl’s accent was foreign, a beautiful lilt of hard and soft sounds.
She looked around Charlie’s age, and she was white, not just ethnically but in reality — her skin paler than almost anybody Charlie had ever known. Her hair was bright, vivid red, curls floating around her head like an out-of-control fire. She was dressed in hand-me-downs, stuff so tattered and beat-up that Charlie would have turned her nose up at them if she’d come across them at the Goodwill. The only thing about her clothing that didn’t scream homeless person was a silver bracelet of flowers around one wrist.
“Aren’t you going to eat anything? I brought food for you.”
The invisible girl stared back.
“How–how did you get in here?” Charlie finally asked.
“I used the door.”
“But–I would have seen–” Charlie bit her lip. Would she have seen her?
“Do they always treat you like that? At school?” The girl closed the book and set it aside.
Charlie shrugged as she sat down in her desk chair next to the bed, reached over and picked up one of the turnovers. She nibbled the edges. “I’m the new girl and they hate me. I don’t know why.”
“Jessica’s boyfriend Jason said he thought you were hot and Jessica heard him.” The girl paused. “He also said he’d hold you down and make you scream if he ever got you alone, so…I wouldn’t accept any rides from him if I were you. I don’t think he’s a very nice boy, even if everyone seems love how he can run with a football.”
Charlie’s mouth dropped open.
“You should try this.” The girl held up a tiny pale green cookie that looked like a mini-balloon version of an Oreo. “This is a mint macaron from my favorite bakery in Paris. It’s the best cookie in the whole world.”
Charlie opened closed her mouth and opened it again. “How did you get it?”
“I should think I went to Paris. Macarons here in the United States of America are different.” Her eyes were bright and happy. “You make yours with coconut and it’s really not the same thing at all.”
Macaroons not Macarons, Charlie thought, but she didn’t correct her. “When did you go to Paris?”
“Just now, of course.”
Charlie bit her lip. “What…what are you?”
“I’m a brownie,” she said, tilting her head and looking confused, as if she thought that should have been perfectly obvious.
“A brownie?” Charlie blinked. “Like…a house elf? Are you…are you magic? Like Harry Potter?” She paused as a thought occurred to her. “Did you do the dishes? And clean my room?”
The girl stared at her with large, liquid green eyes. “Yes, kind of, no, no, yes, yes.” She held out her hand again. “Have a cookie. Oh, and tea. There’s tea. Do you like tea? I think tea’s wonderful.” She nodded her chin to the side, where there was an ornate, delicate porcelain teapot and little fragile cups.
Charlie was pretty sure those hadn’t been there when she’d entered the room.
She ate the cookie.
“This is very good,” Charlie said. “Do you have a name?”
The girl hesitated.
“You must have a name,” Charlie insisted.
“I’m not really allowed to own anything. It’s part of the curse of being a brownie.”
Charlie frowned. “But your parents must have named you something. Does anyone call you anything? That’s not the same as owning something. You don’t own the names other people call you.” She put a hand to her chest. “I’m called Charlie.”
The girl smiled, wide and bright. “I’m called Megan.”
“So if you can’t own anything, Megan–” She looked around at all the food. “How did you pay for all this?”
The redhead blinked at Charlie. “Pay?”
“I borrow things sometimes,” Megan admitted, then blushed as she looked at the food. “I guess in this case I won’t be returning it, so it’s more properly stealing.”
“Okay, so uh,” Charlie bit her lip, thinking. “I don’t mean to be rude, because thank you for doing the dishes and cleaning my room, but what are you doing here?”
“Well…you can see me.”
The room was very quiet. In the background, Charlie could hear the sound of gunfire from the TV, and she wondered if it was the nightly news covering the war or if her mother was watching a movie.
“I’ve never been to school. Okay, mean obviously I have been there. I have physically visited. I’ve never attended school.” Megan stood up from the bed, pirouetted, and hopped off, and Charlie blinked, because it was the most graceful thing she’d ever seen in all her years of ballet lessons. Megan moved so lightly the food didn’t even move on the plates. “I’ve decided I want to go.”
“You can do that now. No one would be able to stop you…”
“But I can’t ask the teachers questions. I can’t turn in homework. I can’t really participate. They can’t see me. But you can. You can turn in homework for me. You can ask questions for me. Through you, I can go to high school.”
“You want me to claim your work is mine?” Charlie shook her head. “That’s cheating.”
Megan looked so downcast Charlie felt like the most massive jerk ever. Puppies could learn a thing or two about soulful looks from this girl. “I mean, I…really? You’ve never been to school? Ever?”
“You can read,” Charlie pointed towards the book.
“Reading’s easy,” Megan said. She ticked off her fingers. “I can read English, Welsh, French, German, Hebrew, Greek, and Danaan.”
“Humans call it Linear A.”
The room suddenly seemed stuffy and hot and Charlie felt a sense of shuddering vertigo. Her voice squeaked. “Humans? You’re not human?”
“No, I’m…well…we’re called a lot of things. Kobolds, goblins, elves, pixies, Seelie, Tuatha de Danaan…” She picked up the discarded book. “None of us are the size of Tinker Bell.”
The room fell silent again, as Charlie stared. Finally she said, “Yeah.”
Megan tilted her head. “Yes?”
“Yeah,” Charlie repeated, smiling. “Let’s do this. Let’s steal you some high school.”