Romance Drama Fiction

“On my own, pretending he’s beside me. All alone, I walk with him ‘til morning…”

Dear Charlie,

You’ve got it all. Money, looks, charm, poise, elegance… everything a woman wants in a man. You’re kind, caring, meticulously adoring… there’s not a lot you don’t have. Materialistically, you have it all too.  Big house, nice car, acres of land, a family tree to rival the Amazon rainforest, and a bank balance as long as a phone number. You’re perfect. You never miss a beat.

I’ve known you since we were babies. We went to the same nursery together. Americans call it pre-K. Those years before the big school, before the uniforms and smart shoes and school fees and new friends, a shiny bookbag and a little packed lunch. My family weren’t so rich. They were able to put me into that specific nursery because a distant family member who’d moved to Australia before my mother was born had died and left us millions. My parents, being as astute and sensible as they were, put a fair whack of cash away for my education, and that meant I mixed with the likes of you from a very young, very formative age. I followed you through school, college, and then Oxford university, where I studied aerospace engineering, and you did classical art theory. Chalk and cheese, but we stayed together.

Charlie, you are the son of a Duke. That makes you a lord. You have a title you dosn’t use (because obviously you’re relatable to poor people), and money as you need it. Your path in life is charity work and functions, and a seat inside the Royal Box when your father doesn’t wish to attend. You’re set to inherit the Dukedom when your father dies, including the entire twenty-eight bedroomed mansion sitting on several hundred acres of land, attended by a staff of forty. I’ll inherit whatever is left over from the bank account my parents put together for me, whatever’s left in their account, and a small five-bedroomed house on half an acre of land, attended by no staff besides the weekly summer and monthly winter gardener.

You and I are worlds apart, even if money did bring us together. I move in the same circles as you, but I still feel massively out of my depth. You network to attain business deals under your family’s business… I try not to drown in conversations about politics and philosophy, or worse about the latest fashion trends and who was who at the most recent party. It’s hard, but when you’re there, I’m okay.

“Without him, I feel his arms around me, and when I lose my way I close my eyes, and he has found me.”

I think the world knows I’ve been in love with you for years, Charlie. You’ve always been there by my side. Endless nights drinking wine on the grass outside the Radcliffe Camera because we were so tired from studying… and even when you weren’t there, the thought of you smiling at me, encouraging me, reassuring me… it’s enough to help me conquer the world.

I always thought we’d end up together. Like Cinderella in her pretty dress, she could marry her prince… why not me? I know all there is to know about you. It’s been more than twenty years – how could anyone know you better than me? Yet you don’t see me that way, and it’s like a knife through the heart every single day. Even though you have a look just for me, a smile just for me… even though I can communicate with you through looks and gestures across a room… it’s not enough.

“In the rain, the pavement shines like silver. All the lights are misty in the river. In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight, and all I see is him and me forever and forever…”

Remember when we went to Paris in college? That evening, when we walked along the Seine, and you were asking me what I thought about Sarah Barker? I told you honestly that she was so beautiful… but I didn’t realise you wanted me to vet her for you. I was taken by the beauty of the place. The glittering river, the stars sparkling in the sky, the warm breeze that caressed the skin… the soft hum of gentle French emanating from the riverside cafes and restaurants… and your mind was on Sarah Barker. When you left me to meet her on the grass by the Louvre that same night, I walked back to the hotel and cried. And then I stopped, because I realised I still had the memory of you and me walking along that river together, and Sarah Barker couldn’t take that away from me. I spoke to the stars that night. I told them how much I loved you. I wished harder than Princess Tiana on the evening stars that you’d see me, and see that you have my heart entirely. I’ve written this letter out a thousand times over the years, to my mirror, to the wall, to my teddy bear… to everything that will listen. But never to another soul.

“And I know, it’s only in my mind that I’m talking to myself, and not to him. And although I know that he is blind, still I say there’s a way for us.”

You’ve always brought out the best in me, Charlie. You’ve always pushed me to do what I never think I can. Like that time when I wanted so badly to try out for the Oxford women’s rowing team, and I realised I didn’t have the right build for it. But you took me to the try-outs that afternoon, and you sat on the bank of the river with a flask of tea and some food, and you cheered my boat on. You threw me a small party too, when I told you I’d made the team. You were so proud of me.

You were there too, when I got a starred first in my second year. Top of the class. That had opened up so many doors for me. NASA, the ESA… I could follow my dreams of literally shooting for the stars. All because you’d sat with me, held flashcards, read my essays, proofed them… you’d held me as I cried because I couldn’t understand certain correlations because I hadn’t eaten or slept… you held me as I crossed the finish line in first place in the Boat Race that year. You were always there when I needed you, and always there when I wanted you.

And I was there for you, too. When your grandfather took ill and you became a Lord and had no idea what to do with that title. When your grandmother died, and you needed a shoulder to cry on because she’d been so close to you. When Jasmine Kirby-Reynolds used you for your title and bragging rights, and then made up that rumour that you’d raped her when you’d actually been with me, James, Ida and Luke the entire night… And when you graduated, and your father almost disinherited you for not achieving a starred first in politics… I was there. I took you in. I helped you argue with your father that your degree subject didn’t matter, seeing as you already knew a fair amount about politics. And yet through all of that, people still saw me as the poor little rich girl with no class, puppy-eyed over you. All I saw was a friend who needed a friend.

“I love him, but when the night is over, he is gone. The river’s just a river. Without him, the world around me changes. The trees are bare and everywhere the streets are full of strangers.

Charlie, your life has surpassed everything mine will ever be. You met Louisa at a rowing party I’d put together, for the Boat Race. I’d won the alumni race by several boat lengths, and both Oxford men and women had triumphed over Cambridge. You asked me to introduce you to the pretty blonde in the corner, and I did, because I honestly thought you’d see the light that night. You did. You saw her light.

Lady Louisa Blickford. An Oxford alumnus, English and Classical literature, first class honours. Her father is a Lord and sat in the House of Lords and had several hotel chains across the country. Her mother is a Lady, also from the aristocracy herself, and is on personal terms with the Queen via horses, breeding and racing them. Her mother also owns several riding schools, and has trained Olympians. Louisa’s brother is a rather successful banker. How on Earth could I compete with my apprenticeship at the European Space Agency, designing fuel-saving, fuel-efficient rockets?

You both hit it off right away. By the end of the night, I was too drunk to realise how close you both were. You are a gentleman, of course, and so you’d simply sat beside her and charmed her, and then asked her to dinner the following night. You’d put me graciously into a taxi home, and stayed with Louisa until the club closed.

It felt like only a few days before you asked me to meet you in Richmond Park, and presented me with a ring. I had cried, because I’d thought you were asking me. You laughed at me, kissed my temple, and asked me if Louisa would like it. It was your great-grandmother’s ring. Your cousin got your grandmother’s ring. I’d wiped my eyes and nodded. She’d love it. But surely things were moving fast? Of course not. You’d been together three years, and you knew there was no way you’d find someone who didn’t love you for your title alone, but rather for you.

I bottled everything up until I got home and screamed into my pillow. Because I’ve loved you like that for so long, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not love you like that.

“I love him, but every day I’m learning. All my life, I’ve only been pretending.”

I used to read Tatler avidly, imagining the small society spread we’d get. The wedding would be small, of course – a small church wedding in Berkshire, in the chapel on your country pile. A small reception dinner, a good party afterwards. And then the honeymoon, we’d go exploring. We always said we’d travel Scandinavia, maybe spend some time in the Arctic Circle… I told you I always wanted to see the Northern Lights, and you said you’d take me there to show me. We’d finish our honeymoon somewhere hot, and then come back and start our life together.

I’d spend days imagining our kids going to good schools, doing good in the world. Charity work, helping people, being beautiful human beings. I imagined the good we’d be able to do, raising awareness of important causes with our social presences; childhood cancer, poverty, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse… I wanted to help Make a Wish so badly. We joked a couple of times about dressing up as Batman and Catwoman, and going to read stories to sick kids. Because the world thought we were a power couple. My world. I thought we were a power couple.

I used to live for your texts, Charlie. Your plans, your successes, your challenges and your wins and losses… I lived to read about what you were doing while I was in continental Europe, doing my space stuff. I didn’t realise that so much time had passed though, when the wedding invitation came through the door. I had the full invitation. Ceremony in Westminster Abbey because her family were part of the Order of the Bath. Reception. Full white tie event, and I was allowed a plus one. Who would I bring, really? I came alone, of course, because none of my friends in Europe know who you are. You never met them. You never came to visit after Louisa became a firm fixture. I don’t really think she liked me, but nothing stopped you living the life you were born to live. A life of social engagement, of happiness, of doing the right and just thing. Louisa was much the same. Is much the same.

“Without me, his world will go on turning. A world that’s full of happiness that I have never known.”

It feels like yesterday that we were playing knights and princesses in your garden, with swords and shields. It feels not so long ago that we’d ride out together on your horses, and come back covered in mud and other crap. It seems like no time at all since we were getting caught in the rain, almost kissing but not daring to… perhaps I ought to have been a bit bolder. Perhaps I should have been braver and told you outright that I love you, Charlie.

I fucking love you. I’ve loved you since I can remember. I waited every single day for you to realise you loved me too, because I’m your princess and you’re my prince. I lived in that dream for so long, I forgot to live. I realise now that a plain country bumpkin like me, and a prince like you, could never join in marriage – Rodgers and Hammerstein were so, so wrong. Princess Tiana had it wrong, too, wishing on her stars.

I realise now that I’m Eponine. I see you, I love you, but you could never love me. I should have said something, Charlie, because now it’s too late. You’re married, and I’m leaving this world for pastures new. I’ll be looking down at you from the stars. You’ll have children soon, no doubt. The perfect family.

I’ve watched as you grew up, from the side lines as you regaled our friend group with your stories. I watched as you succeeded, top of every class, full attendance awards. I watched as you performed, as you rode the waves of success after success. I watched as you graduated and celebrated with your coursemates. I read the article in Tatler that described, from Louisa’s point of view, how you proposed to her on a skiing trip to Switzerland, at the top of a stunning and secluded hill while hiking. I watched as she walked down the aisle in a stunning yet simple gown, on the arm of her father. I watched as you looked into her eyes and said your vows, and I watched as you kissed her and walked back down the aisle. You didn’t see me. You were lost in your day.

I can’t watch any more. I can’t look at you and pray you look at me. I realise now that you’d be happy whether I’m there or not. And I can’t wait any more for something that won’t happen.

My final success is that I’m a fully-qualified astronaut, and I’ve a place on the International Space Station. I go up there next month. This is the only time I have to tell you what I never could. Because I’ll never have those years spent waiting for you back. I was stupid. But I wish you every happiness, Charlie. And I hope one day we meet again, and we can catch up again. It’s been a year since your wedding, and I’ve heard nothing in return to my emails, texts, calls…

Look up every now and again. Give us a wave as we fly past.

“I love him… but only on my own.”

August 03, 2021 00:16

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