DISCLAIMER: These characters do not belong to me. They are the property of Warner Brothers and various other people. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this directly after watching S1 and abstained from any contact with S2 until I'd finished (which was an epic struggle!). So all the things revealed in S2 which I blatantly disregard are actually ignorantly disregarded which I think is significantly better.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lucy87950[at]aol.com
SPOILER: Up to the end of S1.
Keeping secrets had always been a struggle for Olive Snook.
Whether it was from a latent sense of honesty or merely a natural propensity to engage her mouth prior to her brain, it was a sad fact that once a secret was entrusted to Olive it was soon a secret no longer. This, however, was one secret she dearly wished she hadn't learned. Now, to counteract the lies to Lily and Vivian about Chuck's death, she also had to lie to Chuck about her Aunt Lily being her... Well, not to put too fine a point on it... her mother.
Soon after making the revelation, Lily had dropped into some sort of drugged heap. After ascertaining that she was still breathing, Olive had fled, leaving a note for Vivian to explain that she was leaving Lily to a well-deserved nap. Another lie, she thought, as she got into her car and drove back to The Pie Hole. But she consoled herself with the realisation that it was a necessary one. She needed to know precisely what Chuck had been putting in the pies she had sent to her aunts' house, to at least discover whether it was dangerous.
She located Chuck waiting outside her apartment, sat on the floor with her knees tucked under her chin. Olive reached out a hand to pull her up.
'Not ready to go home yet?' she asked.
Chuck winced. 'I was wondering if I could stay here again tonight. If it's not too much trouble.'
It was the kind of trouble Olive had been hoping for. She made them both a hot chocolate to melt the iciness of their bodies then sat down matter-of-factly beside her on the sofa.
'I need to ask you a question,' she began, 'and I need you to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.'
Apprehension mixed with amusement on Chuck's face. 'Do I need a lawyer?'
'I don't know; have you done anything wrong?'
She laughed but it sounded strained. 'No.'
Olive took in the entire demeanour of the woman in front of her and decided otherwise. However, she was too smart to say that outright. She would get to the truth of the matter a different way than just asking outright what Chuck had done which was so terrible. She rather thought faking her own death might have something to do with it.
So she looked at Chuck squarely and questioned, 'What the hell have you been putting in those pies?'
'The ones to my aunts?'
'Unless you've been putting wacky substances in anyone else's.' Reacting to the brief pause, she burst out, 'God, you haven't, have you?'
'No!' Chuck answered. 'Of course not. It was...' She lifted her eyes plaintively. 'It was just to help them, you know? When you told me they wouldn't go back in the water I knew I had to do something. They belong in the water; it's the only time I remember them being truly happy.'
Olive felt her mouth open then she closed it swiftly. She had been about to say that Lily had probably been happy on those winter nights she spent indoors with Chuck but that would most certainly open some wriggling worms which she should keep to herself.
Instead, she returned to business, 'So what is it?'
Chuck grimaced. 'Mood enhancer. Remember Alfredo? He gave me some tester kits. I've been dropping them into the pies for weeks.'
Olive sighed. What she thought had been true progress in Lily and Vivian moving on from Chuck's apparent death had actually been an artificially simulated experiment with mood drops. And what Lily had experienced today was a massive overdose which triggered a revelation that could change Chuck's life completely. If Olive Snook had ever believed in fate now was the time to grasp hold of it and cling on. If fate dictated Chuck should know
That wasn't it though. Ned had sort of dictated this entire situation. After all, hadn't he upset Chuck which inadvertently excluded her from making the pie with the usual dose of mood enhancer? If it wasn't for Ned none of this would have happened.
Chuck interrupted her thoughts with, 'Why, what happened? Are they okay?'
'Lily overdosed,' she replied. 'It didn't have any terrible side-effects, it just made her a little more... chatty than usual, that's all. But what were you thinking?' she pressed on, eager to avoid any questions on that point.
A sad smile crept onto the brunette's face. 'I was thinking that I miss them and I want them to be as happy as they can be without me there to look after them.'
Olive winced. 'Oh. I was hoping it was a little more selfish than that so I could be mad at you.'
Chuck stared deep into her hot chocolate. 'I just wish I could see them again.'
Perhaps this was her chance to nudge them towards reconciliation. 'I don't really understand why you can't.'
'Because they buried me, that's why.'
'If you don't mind me pointing it out, it didn't exactly stick.'
'Mmm, tell me about it.'
'Why don't you tell me about it?' Olive said after a moment. 'Why did you fake your own death?'
Chuck glanced sideways. 'Sorry, we tried that once.'
Puzzled by the comment, Olive nevertheless let the matter drop. She could tell that Chuck had a heavy heart this evening and assumed it had something to do with her on-going argument with the Pie Maker. Funnily enough, the idea of relationship issues between Ned and Chuck didn't fill her with the same sense of glee as it might have just a few months ago. Instead of pursuing the issue, then, Olive turned on the television and lost herself in a scene of romantic chivalry. Chuck, although her eyes were firmly fixed on the television screen, seemed to be quite distant whenever Olive glanced over. However, this was another thing she didn't pursue.
When they eventually retired to the double bed that was to house them both again that night, Olive resolved to say nothing further that night. When the light was off, though, and a warm body merely inches from her own, she realised that she had to speak otherwise she wouldn't sleep. She wouldn't tell the truth as such she'd just probe at it from a distance with a big stick.
Turning onto her back, she asked, 'What do you remember about your mother?'
Chuck seemed to flinch. She also twisted to face the ceiling through the darkness. 'Nothing.'
The pain in the statement was all too evident. Momentarily, Olive felt terribly guilty for bringing this up at all but then she recognised the truth. Chuck did actually know a lot about her mother, just not that she was her mother in the first place. So, despite the obvious hurt, she pushed, 'I know this is a personal question, but what did you dad tell you about her?'
'Are we at that stage of our friendship yet?' Chuck questioned tightly.
Olive chuckled. 'We're coming on leaps and bounds, you and me.'
Chuck was still for a moment. 'You're right there.'
Olive wanted to ask her what she meant if their friendship was becoming as important in Chuck's eyes as it was hers but she didn't. Instead, she said, 'I would've thought your aunts talked about her at least.'
'She left,' Chuck replied in a strangely detached voice. 'That's the only thing I've ever known and that's the only thing I need to know. I'm a big girl. I've even died. I can live without seeing the woman who abandoned me and didn't even bother to come back after my dad died.'
It was said with such venom that Olive allowed it to hang in the air for more than a minute. Then she said, 'Would you have preferred that to living with your aunts?'
For a while she believed Chuck hadn't heard her. Then a small voice murmured, 'Looking after them might've been a little weird but it was my life. I wouldn't change that.'
That was the last thing she needed to ask right now. Reaching across, she squeezed Chuck's shoulder in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. A hand came up to meet hers and clamped it there. After a moment of deliberation, Olive twisted onto her side to make herself more comfortable and let the hand stay where it was.
The next afternoon she and Chuck were alone in The Pie Hole. Ned had disappeared with Emerson and Chuck hadn't seemed at all eager to go with them. Ned had cast a forlorn look in her direction but with something suspiciously like acceptance on his face. Olive still didn't know what was going on between the Pie Maker and his girlfriend but she guessed that Chuck might be staying at her place a little while longer. Not that she minded the fact; she'd almost go as far as to say it was fun. That is, it would be if she didn't have this hefty weight of Chuck's parentage hanging over her.
After waving off potentially the last customer of the day, Olive joined a miserable Chuck behind the counter and brought them both pie. With her chin resting on her hands she looked like an abandoned puppy. Olive first broached the subject she thought least likely.
'Are you upset you didn't go with Ned?'
Chuck shot her a glance. 'Not at all. Wanting to get rid of me?'
'Only in the sense that you might be happier if you went somewhere that wasn't here... sense.' Olive cleared her throat. 'You can stay. You're a good distraction if a serial killer drops by.'
'Nice to be appreciated.'
There was silence for a few minutes. Olive guessed Chuck was in a dark place and didn't really want to intrude. She herself was also in a dark place she was reliving the moment the previous day when Lily had revealed her deep secret. So when Chuck clicked her fingers she surprised Olive to such an extent that the plates in front of them smashed to the floor.
They both kneeled as one body then, inevitably, clunked heads together. Olive lifted her chin to apologise but accidentally caught Chuck's eye instead. She felt a sudden warmth and would have questioned it had the main door not opened. Chuck's gaze dropped and Olive felt cool again. Shaking her head, she scooped the remains of the pie and plate up and pulled herself back up. She saw Chuck about to do the same.
Then she realised who the customer was. Fear in her throat, she placed her pie-free hand on Chuck's head and forced her back down. Before she could protest, she said, 'Vivian, how nice to see you! What are you doing here?'
Beneath her, Chuck collapsed back to the floor silently. Olive fought with the overwhelming urge to look down and instead surveyed the appearance of the anxious woman stood in front of her in a cow print jacket with an umbrella in her hand. She knew how unaccustomed the sisters were to leaving the house and she wondered precisely how difficult this had been for Vivian.
'It's a little delicate, I'm afraid,' Vivian said in her hushed way. 'Are you alone?'
'Yep, totally alone. You can talk,' she added then immediately wished she hadn't. Risking a glance downwards, she saw Chuck practically paralysed. Olive let a hand drift to stroke her hair in what she hoped was a comforting gesture before she withdrew it and looked back to Vivian.
The older woman approached the counter. 'It's about Lily.'
'Oh?' She feigned ignorance. 'Is she okay? I mean, I know she had a bit of a reaction to that pie yesterday but she was fine when I left.'
'Was she?' Vivian said quickly. 'It's just... Well, she seems to think she may have said something to you that she shouldn't have. About Charlotte perhaps?'
A hand touched her leg but she daren't look down. She focused on Vivian with as much cheer as she could muster.
'God, no,' she answered slowly. 'I would've remembered. No, when I left she was asleep like I told you and she didn't tell me anything about Charlotte at all.'
It took a moment but Vivian seemed to believe her. The tension in her face disappeared. 'I know you wouldn't lie to me, Olive,' she said sincerely. 'I'd better get back to Lily. She's been acting awfully strange.'
Olive nodded, unable to speak for a second. 'I'll bring a pie around same time next week.'
Vivian smiled and turned to leave. Olive looked down to her feet and saw that Chuck had scuttled to the end of the counter. As she watched, the Pie Maker's girlfriend glanced around the edge like a child spying on Santa. Abruptly, Vivian spun back.
'Have you forgotten something?' Olive asked.
'No. I just wish I could've come here with Charlotte, that's all. She would've loved it.'
With that final statement, Vivian Charles was gone. Chuck gave her a minute to completely leave then she rose slowly, blinking the tears from her eyes. Olive's heart broke at such a sight and she immediately made to comfort her. However, Chuck stepped away from her, an indecipherable expression on her face.
'You're a terrible liar,' she said. 'Aunt Vivian's just too sweet to notice. Lily said something to you, didn't she? Something about me.'
'Yes,' Olive conceded, 'but it wasn't anything life-changing so you don't have to worry about it.'
Chuck evidently didn't believe her. 'Aunt Vivian is obviously worried about it. What can be so big that they'd want no one to know?'
Olive remained silent, squelching pie around in her hand.
'Will you just tell me the truth? I'm sick of people lying to me. I'd expect you out of all people to be honest with me.'
There was a lengthy silence. Then Olive said, 'I need to wash my hands.'
Chuck followed her into the kitchen. As she rinsed the peach pie from her hands and disposed of the broken plate into the garbage, Olive felt Chuck's eyes on her. Indeed, when she turned around it was to face an angry brunette glaring at her from the doorway. Beneath the veneer of irritation, though, lingered an air of desperation.
'Just tell me,' Chuck whispered. 'I've got a right to know.'
Olive shook her head mutely and the next thing she knew Chuck had stormed out into the snow. The door banging shut made her jump but otherwise she felt completely immobile and rotten.
She locked up The Pie Hole mechanically and returned to her apartment. This time Chuck wasn't scrunched up waiting for her. She wondered if she was next door with Ned and the overwhelming urge to find out overtook her immediately. She knocked repeatedly on the door, finally being faced with Ned himself. He looked exhausted.
'You look like hell,' Olive pointed out.
'Gee, thanks for that. Just what I needed to hear. Did you want something?'
'Erm, yeah, I wondered if Chuck was here.'
His face whitened further. 'I thought she was with you.'
'No. We sort of had an argument.'
'What?' he squeaked. 'What about? Where did she go?'
'If I knew that I wouldn't be looking for her, would I?' she shot back, neatly avoiding the 'what' question. This wasn't about causing problems between Ned and Chuck; it was about making sure she hadn't done anything stupid. 'There's a possibility she's gone to see her aunts,' she admitted.
If possible, he turned transparent. 'She did w-what?'
'I don't know that she did. It's just that Vivian came by earlier and said... something that upset her.'
'Did Vivian see her?' he asked quickly.
She shook her head. 'She hid.'
'Good. That's good.' He looked thoughtful and scratched his head. 'Okay, I'll go to see her aunts, make sure she's not there. There's one other place she might go.'
'I'll check there,' Olive said instantly, 'where is it?'
He sighed. 'Her dad's grave. I found her there yesterday.'
Ned had been right. Instead of rushing straight around to her aunts, Chuck had sought refuge at her father's grave. Olive watched her from a distance for a few minutes before she approached tentatively. Though Chuck heard her coming she made no outward sign that she had. Olive kneeled down in the snow beside her and looked hard at the headstone.
'I bet he was a good man. He'd have to be to have you as his daughter.'
Chuck expelled a long breath into the icy air. When she spoke her voice quivered. 'He was great. All I ever needed.'
'Can't you just hold on to that memory?' Olive asked.
'I've been doing that for long enough, don't you think?'
'I don't know,' Olive admitted, 'I barely know you. But,' she went on, 'Ned obviously sees something good and that has to be worth something.'
'It's worth nothing if it's just a childhood infatuation,' Chuck replied.
Olive studied her hard. 'I don't think he's the kinda guy who wouldn't fall for you,' she said gently.
'Maybe I want more,' Chuck answered after a moment. 'Maybe I need more. Maybe I just need a hug once in a while.'
Olive didn't understand and she didn't pretend to. She shuffled her knees through the snow and tentatively placed a hand on Chuck's arm. 'I know it's hardly the same but I'm here.'
The manner in which Chuck looked at her was indecipherable to her. 'I won't ask you about it again. But I'm hoping you'll tell me anyway. I mean, you know how much I miss them. Is it... Is it that I held them back? Or that I... did something wrong?'
Pulling her into a sideways hug, Olive shook her head. 'Not at all. I promise, from all they've told me, you were the one thing that kept them going.'
Chuck cried silently for several minutes before sniffing and making a concerted effort to pull herself together. 'I think I wanna go home.'
The statement was surprisingly depressing. 'You're not staying at my apartment anymore then?'
Drawing back, Chuck gazed at her with a hopeful glint in her eye. 'That was what I meant.'
Olive couldn't say why those simple words buoyed her to the extent they did but she was far too clever a person than to try and analyse things whilst in a sub-zero graveyard. Standing, she reached out a gloved hand to Chuck and helped her up. They walked back to the car hand in hand, Chuck only once glancing over her shoulder at the grave they were leaving behind.
Once Ned had ascertained that Chuck was indeed okay, he drifted back to his apartment. Leaving her guest to the television, Olive followed him there. Digby jumped on her knee the moment she sat down on the sofa, licking her cheek with unbridled affection. Ned, on the other hand, just seemed to gaze through her.
'Why can't Chuck see her aunts?'
He sighed. 'It's complicated.'
'I don't care,' she said simply. 'If you can't see that this is crippling her then you're blind as well as infuriatingly distant.'
'I don't understand why you care all of a sudden,' he said. 'You haven't exactly been her best friend since she arrived.'
Olive considered her response to that. While it was true that from the moment of Chuck's appearance she had been lost in periodic spasms of jealousy, she could honestly say that those had now disintegrated to the stage where the effects were negligible. What was overwhelming now was the urge to reunite Chuck with those she loved most whatever the cost.
'I feel bad about that,' she conceded, 'but I'm trying to make amends for it now. There is a very very good reason why she needs to see her aunts and don't ask me what it is because I can't tell you.'
He shrugged. 'Then how am I supposed to believe you?'
'There's information about her mother,' she said.
His head shot up. 'Really? Well, what is it? Can't you just tell her?'
'No,' she said firmly. 'This needs to come from someone who isn't me and who most certainly isn't you. So why don't you start trusting me for a change? Tell me why Charlotte faked her own death and then maybe we can figure out a way to... reverse the process.'
'Oh, it can be reversed alright,' he answered with a snort. 'But not in the way you'd think.'
'So you won't help me?'
'I really can't.'
She exhaled sharply. 'And here was me thinking you loved her.'
'I do. Of course I do. But she deserves more than I can give her.'
Olive didn't tell him that those were Chuck's own sentiments exactly. Instead, she moved Digby with an affectionate pat and returned to her own apartment. Chuck seemed to have fallen asleep on the sofa. It was safe to watch for a moment.
She saw the indescribable sadness etched on her face, impeding any hope of peaceful dreams. Her chest rose and fell mechanically but it looked laboured, as if even the will to breathe had been engulfed by this terrible secret she was keeping in withholding herself from her aunts. With a sympathetic sigh, Olive moved to join her on the sofa. Waking slightly, Chuck turned slightly to the right, her chin pressing against Olive's shoulder. Gently lifting her arm, Olive slotted it around the brunette and inhaled the familiar smell of fruit which plagued her working day. It didn't seem quite so terrible, clinging to this girl who should be dead but wasn't.
Christmas Eve was upon them before any of them realised it. Olive awoke on that day feeling strangely distant from her own mind. Beside her, Chuck slept soundly. She considered how long this arrangement of sharing a bed could go on for. It could get extremely impractical should either of them bring a date back. But, she reasoned, there was every chance that Chuck would return to Ned any day now. The fact that she'd barely spoken to him in the last few days could just be her way of working through things.
It was business as usual at The Pie Hole and they were busier than usual. When they finally got a moment free mid-afternoon, Chuck nudged Olive into the kitchen and nodded to the empty base of a pie she'd been working on. Olive looked around for Ned but Chuck assured her he'd gone out with Emerson.
'I don't know whether to add anything to it this time,' she admitted.
Olive let out a sigh. 'Well, I think you better had. I don't know if that homeopathic stuff is addictive but if it is, Lily'll be experiencing an aftershock the size of an earthquake.'
Chuck grimaced. 'I've made things worse, haven't I?'
'No,' Olive said instantly, touching her arm. 'You were trying to help. That's a good reason. Now, hurry up and bake the pie so I can deliver it after work,' she added.
On impulse, so it seemed, Chuck grabbed her in a bone-crunching hug. 'Thank you, thank you.'
An hour later, when Olive was heading to her car, she felt a presence behind her. Before she even turned she knew who it was.
'It's too risky,' she said.
'I'll hide in a snowdrift,' Chuck replied.
'Ned wouldn't like it,' Olive pointed out.
'Well, Ned's done a lot of things I don't like.'
Staring into those pleading eyes she found she couldn't refuse. Shrugging, she was abruptly engulfed in another hug. She couldn't keep the smile from her face as she drew back. Chuck caught it and blushed before starting to the car. Olive watched her with a puzzled feeling. Did Chuck honestly find the idea of a friendship between them that odd? Well, Olive would be the first to admit her instincts had been to rip the brunette's eyelashes out one by one but things had changed. She just wasn't quite sure how.
Olive rang the bell and glanced over her shoulder to where Chuck was peering out of the car window. It was painful, how desperately she was gazing to catch a glimpse of her aunts. When the door was opened by Vivian, Olive was the picture of politeness.
'Hi. Brought the pie I promised.'
Vivian smiled. 'Come in, come in.'
Stepping across the threshold felt as though she was entering Chuck's old life. She'd felt this before, of course, but never with such ferocity. She looked back once more before the door closed and caught sight of the shadow in the car. Then she was in the cosy living room of the sisters, faced with a Lily who looked a cross between worried and hungry.
'You brought pie?' she said hopefully.
Olive held it up. 'Of course.'
Lily stared at her for a long time. Olive stared back, hopeful that her time hiding her disdain about Chuck had resulted in something of a poker face. Apparently it had. Lily sniffed then returned her good eye to the cheese she'd been nibbling on. Vivian rushed to get plates.
Now that she knew what was in it, Olive was rather reluctant to touch the pie but it seemed mighty rude not to. As it was, she took a very thin slice and ate it with extreme care. She wondered what kind of effects mood enhancer would have on her. Lily gobbled hers up with the desire of a goldfish for water. Vivian was rather more reserved but still evidently satisfying some addiction or other. Briefly, Olive wondered how long it would take to wean them off this stuff.
After about half an hour she decided to take her leave. Waving goodbye to them both she returned to the car only to find it empty.
'Oh, crap,' she muttered to herself.
Knowing there was every chance the sisters were watching her, she had to get into the car and drive off at least to the end of the block. Parking up there, she returned on foot to the gate in time to see Chuck climbing down the trellising at the side of the house. She was impressed by the agility but tried not to show it when the runaway jogged up to her.
'What are you trying to do to me?' she demanded.
'Keep you on your toes?' Chuck offered.
She couldn't help laughing as she waved her along the street to the car. 'Home: now.'
The New Year came in without a hitch.
It was with some dismay that Olive realised her thought prior to the holidays that this living arrangement would have to be temporary needed to be broached with Charlotte sometime soon. They were practically falling each other and though she herself didn't find it too much of an irritation she was sure Chuck did. In fact, the pleasant side of the dead girl's nature had probably stopped her from raising the issue herself in case she hurt her feelings. The more she learned about Chuck, the more Olive felt downright ashamed of her initial behaviour towards her. After all, you couldn't help who you loved, right? Ned hadn't really done anything wrong, however bad it hurt at the time.
Just as she'd promised, Chuck hadn't pressed her on the secret she was still keeping. It hadn't stopped it plaguing her every thought however. She believed Chuck deserved to know but she still stood by the fact that she didn't want to be the one to tell her. If it came from anyone it would have to be Lily and she didn't see that happening anytime soon.
'Coffee's in the pot,' Chuck announced cheerfully when Olive stumbled into the kitchen. 'And there's toast and some special honey there.'
Olive smiled at her, forgetting immediately her resolution. 'You're pretty useful to have around.'
'Years of experience,' Chuck said with a grin. 'I'm just gonna jump in the shower.'
Olive watched her go then settled to her breakfast. She was worried. She liked having Charlotte as a friend and she didn't want that to change just because she had to return home to Ned. Then again, she mused as she crunched, maybe it didn't have to be like that.
During a lull later that afternoon she slotted a piece of rhubarb pie in front of Chuck and slid into the booth opposite her. After taking a bite, the brunette looked up carefully.
'I've just realised, this is probably a bad sign.' Placing the fork down, Chuck looked at her seriously. 'What's up?'
Olive shrugged. 'Can't a girl bring another girl pie when said girl works in a pie shop?'
She rolled her eyes. 'Okay, you caught me. Alright, the thing is... are you feeling a little cramped at home?'
An indecipherable expression crossed Chuck's face. She pushed the plate further away from her. 'I take it you are?'
'Well, maybe a little. So I thought '
'It's okay,' interrupted Chuck, 'I'll move back in with Ned tomorrow. Tonight, even.'
With that, the brunette stood and took flight into the outside world. Olive watched her go with a frown on her face: that wasn't how she'd expected the conversation to go. Then again, maybe Chuck really did want to move back in with Ned and she'd misjudged the ease of their relationship now. Trying to figure it all out in her head, she went back to work.
A couple of hours later Chuck still hadn't reappeared and Olive was beginning to get concerned. She had just about resolved to call Ned when he arrived in the doorway with a face like thunder. He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of The Pie Hole, locking the door as they went. She tried indignantly to shake him off but he wouldn't relinquish his grip until they were at the doors of their respective apartments both of which were flung open.
'You started this; you fix it,' he said simply before departing.
Olive wondered what he meant but didn't linger to debate the possibilities. She heard scraping from inside her own apartment and quickly went to investigate. She found Chuck on her knees scrubbing vigorously at a green patch on the carpet.
'What are you doing?' she asked, causing the crouched woman to start and drop her cloth.
'I didn't hear you come in,' Chuck muttered.
'I was quiet,' she replied. 'What's with the epic clean-up?'
Dragging herself to her feet, Chuck said, 'I dropped an apple pie. Don't worry, I'll get the stain out.'
'We may not have to bother about that at all,' Olive answered. She earned herself a confused look from the woman standing opposite hers and gestured to the sofa. 'Sit.'
Chuck dropped down uncertainly. 'I don't understand.'
Olive sat down beside her. 'You got me completely wrong earlier. I wasn't saying that I wanted you to move out, I was saying I wanted us to move out. There's a two-bedroom apartment in this very building that comes up for lease in February.'
'Y-You didn't want me to move out?' Chuck turned a deep shade of red.
'Not at all. These last few weeks have been great. Having you around is great,' she clarified. 'And if you want to move back in with Ned, that's fine. But if you don't... Well, the offer's there.'
There were tears in Chuck's eyes. 'I'd like to stay.'
Olive let out her breath in one gulp. 'That's alright then.'
A little over a month later Olive found herself unable to sleep. Beside her, Chuck was breathing lightly and shuffling through some dream or other. Turning onto her side, Olive watched her for a few minutes.
She'd seen the discomfort creep back into her personality over the last week or so. It was down to missing her aunts, Olive knew it was. After the flurry activity during the holidays they'd all been struck with the January lull. Ned was dealing with it by disappearing almost daily with Emerson and Chuck was falling into herself. Olive knew that she was but she didn't know how to go about solving the problem. If it was up to her she'd drive Chuck right over to see her aunts and be done with it. But she couldn't do that.
Chuck stirred in her sleep. Olive stayed very still for a long moment but the anxiety passed and Charlotte settled back down to peaceful slumber. Sighing, Olive put her head back on her own pillow and tried to force herself back to sleep.
The next morning she was woken up by Chuck patting repeatedly on her cheek. Opening her eyes she found her eyes an inch away from the brunette's and she almost jumped out of her skin.
'Jeez, you scared me!'
Chuck grinned. 'Yelling at you was getting me nowhere.'
Olive winced. 'Was I really that far gone?'
'You must've been exhausted. Anyway, want breakfast?'
She couldn't resist the infectious if slightly false enthusiasm of the woman opposite her. 'Sure. I'll hop in the shower and I'll be right with you.'
Olive had lost track of the days. It came as a complete surprise when Ned wished Chuck a happy Valentine's as they entered The Pie Hole that morning. Olive waited for the rush of jealousy to whoosh through her but it didn't take the same form as usual. She couldn't explain why she was jealous of Ned and not Chuck. Perhaps just because it felt as though he was stealing her friend back? At least that's what she assumed as she left them to a romantic moment.
Later that morning Emerson came in. Olive went to take his order but got distracted by the sight of Chuck and Ned arguing. From the few words she caught, he was suggesting they spent the night having dinner at his apartment and she was trying to wriggle out of it. Whatever he'd done all those weeks ago had obviously made more of a lasting impression that any of them had realised.
She vaguely heard Emerson talking but couldn't drag her gaze away from Chuck's anguished face.
'Olive! Hey, are you listening to me?'
'Hmm?' She dragged herself back to the booth and glanced at him with effort. 'Rhubarb and coffee, got it.'
He looked at her disdainfully. 'Pecan and juice.'
She frowned at him. 'You want the juice mixed in?'
'Just get my pie, woman,' he snapped.
When she returned with his order she found him staring at her thoughtfully. She placed the pie down and smiled. 'Have I got something on my face?'
'Oh, there's something alright,' he said with a smug smile.
Now she frowned. 'Have you got something to say, detective-man?'
'Might have. You know, I don't like giving away my observations for free but this might be worth my while just for the look on your face.'
She was immediately intrigued and leaned closer. 'You know something? Is it about Ned? Is it about Chuck?' Her stomach felt funny all of a sudden. 'Is it about her aunts?'
'Nope,' he replied. 'It's about you.'
She laughed at him. 'About me? Honey, there's nothing you can tell me about me that I don't already know a hundred times over.'
'Uh-huh.' He dipped his fork into his pie then paused for dramatic effect. 'You in love with that girl.'
At first she stared at him then she realised he was getting far away. She realised she was fainting a moment before she hit the floor.
The next thing she was aware of was her name, apparently on a loop and coming out of various mouths. She isolated the soft female voice first and realised the hand on her cheek was probably Chuck's. Suddenly opening her eyes didn't feel like a great priority. She wasn't sure she wanted to look at Chuck right now; she was afraid of what she might feel.
Not that she believed Emerson was right. That was insane, that was ludicrous. He was just after shocking her into forgetting his bill, that was all. With that in mind, she had no reason not to open her eyes really.
So she did. And she was faced with the strongest pair of eyes that she could ever recall burning into her own. Olive gulped and then blinked but Chuck was still there; her hand still resting like an anvil on her cheek.
'Olive?' she was saying. 'Are you okay? What happened?'
She struggled to sit up, assisted partially by Digby who came to lick her cheek. Absently, she patted him whilst trying to get her bearings. Chuck had settled back to sit on her heels and Ned towered above them like a worried parent. Olive found her gaze slip over to where Emerson was casually chewing on his pie and as he met her eye she realised all he'd done was speak the truth.
Feeling sick again, she swayed. Chuck grabbed onto her shoulder.
'Whoa, there. I think we need to get you home.'
She stood up and offered a hand. After a moment of confusion, Olive took it, perturbed by the warmth that spread through her body at the simplest touch. She'd been sleeping in the same bed as this woman for weeks and she hadn't felt a thing. And now...
Now she felt as though her skin was on fire. Was this what realisation was?
'I'm gonna get our coats, okay?' Chuck murmured, rubbing her arm. 'Stay still.'
Ned followed her across the room like a puppy. 'Chuck, it's Valentine's Day.'
She tossed him a glare. 'Don't even start.'
'You'd rather spend it with Olive than me?' he persisted.
'Yes!' Chuck retorted as she stormed into the kitchen.
Plaintively, Olive looked to Emerson. He chuckled as he swallowed a lump of pie. 'Oh, did I forget to mention? Dead girl loves you too.'
She felt dizzy again. She was rescued from a second undignified fall by Chuck's arms around her waist and she allowed herself to be guided out of the restaurant, all the while thinking that she'd be much better off staying there.
It was a thought that returned when the door closed on her apartment and the only sound was her own laboured breathing. Chuck steered her to the sofa and set her down.
'You look terrible,' she observed. 'Maybe you're getting sick.'
Olive shook her head slowly. 'No... just a dizzy spell.'
'Did something bring it on?'
'Yeah,' she murmured then she realised she'd have to follow up on that somehow. 'Um, I'm allergic to Emerson.'
Chuck smiled though she still looked worried. 'Maybe when I get back with tea you'll tell me the truth.'
Watching her go, Olive tried to crack through her muddled thoughts. She truly thought she was about to wake up from some crazy dream but the awakening didn't seem forthcoming. Sitting there examining the wall, she tried to work out what universe she'd dropped into. Maybe she'd eaten a little too much of that poisoned pie Chuck had been dishing out to Lily and Vivian.
Returning with two mugs, Chuck sat down beside her. 'Okay,' she said seriously, 'what happened back there?'
'I don't know,' she lied. 'Could be that I'm tired. Or... something.'
'Something?' Chuck probed.
'Yeah, that's what it is when you don't know what it is,' Olive replied lightly.
'You don't wanna tell me, huh?' murmured the brunette with a sad smile. All of a sudden Olive felt terrible.
'No, not that '
'Is it about Ned?' interrupted Chuck. 'Because if it is... I don't mind. You can tell me.'
'I know,' Olive answered sincerely. 'I know I can tell you anything. But a girl needs her secrets, right?'
After a long moment, Chuck sipped her steaming tea. 'What do you fancy for dinner tonight?'
'Oh, you don't have to spend tonight with '
'Well, I don't want to spend it with Ned,' argued Chuck. 'It's you or Emerson so what do you say?'
Olive put her fork down on her plate and leaned back in awe. 'That was excellent.'
Chuck grinned as she finished her last bite and set her cutlery together on the plate. 'There's no need to sound quite so surprised. I have been living here a month.'
'Did I sound surprised? I was going for pleasantly astounded,' she teased. 'Seriously, what was the secret? It had something in it I couldn't place.'
'Cheese blend; what else?'
A shadow passed over the brunette's face and Olive felt her own stomach constrict. The easy atmosphere that had somehow descended on them was suddenly gone. Olive stood and grabbed at their plates.
'I'll wash up. Only right since you cooked.'
Chuck followed her into the kitchen. 'Let me help. Please.'
Olive half-turned to face her, worried that the secret of Charlotte's parentage showed on her face. But the expression on Chuck's face was mournful yet determined. She wanted something to do and Olive could hardly disagree. After all, when she was avoiding thinking about something she would do everything to get it out of her head. That said, why was she in this kitchen with the girl she apparently had a crush on?
More amazing was Emerson's theory that Chuck felt the same way. Everyone knew that she was in love with Ned in a nauseating we've-got-a-secret kind of way.
'Olive?' Chuck prompted. 'Can I dry or something?'
'Sure,' she said breezily. 'But put some music on, would you? Can't stand silence right now.'
Chuck obeyed without comment and flicked the radio on while Olive ran hot water into the bowl. She glanced briefly at the dishwasher laying idle to her left and conceded that this act of doing something was her own way of avoidance. Unfortunately, she realised as soon as the music started that it wasn't going to help much. It being Valentine's Day the local radio was awash with mushy love songs. Frank Sinatra filtered through the kitchen as Olive dipped her hands into the scalding water. Chuck was beside her, ready to grab the items as she passed them over.
They worked quietly for a few minutes. Sinatra slipped into one of Rod Stewart's ballads and, unconsciously, Olive began singing along to it.
'Love me or leave me, let me be lonely; you won't believe me but I love you only; I'd rather be lonely than happy with somebody else...'
She trailed off and flushed at the words she'd uttered without thinking. Chuck's hand brushed hers as she reached for a pan. Olive dropped the spoon she'd just washed back into the bowl and let herself be splashed with frothy water.
Jumping back, she reached for a towel to dry her hands on. 'Can you finish up here? I need air.'
Without waiting for a response, she fled the apartment, barely remembering to grab her jacket as she went. She heard Chuck calling her name but she couldn't turn around for fear of what might show on her face.
Luckily, she had her car keys in her pocket. She took refuge from the cold, turned her cell phone off, and drove around for a few hours.
She was being stupid, she told herself repeatedly. If she did have feelings for Chuck then that was all well and good but why would Emerson even think they were reciprocated? Chuck was crazy for Ned! Had been since the moment she arrived in town. It had been nauseating for a while. Then... suddenly it hadn't. In the months since Chuck had moved into her apartment there had been something of an understanding between them. Ned could be mentioned because he was no longer a threat to their friendship. And why was that?
In that moment, as realisation dawned, Olive made a momentous decision. If she wanted anything to come from her attraction to the woman Emerson fondly referred to as 'dead girl' then she had to bring Chuck back from the dead. She had to learn the truth about her parentage and then, maybe, they could start again without any secrets. Secrets were bad for relationships; she didn't know a one that had survived a major trust problem.
With that in mind, she turned homewards. However, when she arrived she proceeded, not to her own door, but to Ned's. The Pie Maker answered with a scowl on his face.
'What do you want, Olive?'
She pushed past him. 'I'm feeling fine now, thank you. Can I come in?'
He closed the door with a bang. 'You're in.'
Turning, she faced him with her arms crossed. 'Lily is Chuck's mother. You need to let me take her over there and you're gonna.'
It took him a moment to recover. 'L-Lily is... How do you know?'
'It doesn't matter. Now, I'm here to tell you that's all. You're not going to stop me taking her over there, do you hear? I don't care what secret you're hiding, I'll cover it up the best that I can. But Charlotte's going home now.'
With that, she left him stood motionless by the sofa. Digby, after glancing at his master, followed her out.
Opening the door to her own apartment she found Chuck asleep on the sofa. Olive put on a pot of coffee then gently shook her awake, ignoring the tell-tale tear stains on her cheeks as best she could. She was in operation mode right now and it felt good.
'We're going to see your aunts,' she said when the brunette had finally opened her eyes. 'Coffee's on.'
Chuck just stared at her. 'Huh?'
Olive looked away. 'It needs to be done, that's all.'
When they pulled up outside the house they'd concocted something of a cover story. It was flimsy to say the least but Olive was hoping the delight would outweigh the intrigue of the situation. She parted with Chuck at the gate, mindful that she couldn't meet her aunts on the steps without the neighbourhood hearing something. Chuck would scale the house like she'd done the last time and meet her inside.
Vivian met her with some surprise. 'Olive? Is everything okay?'
'Erm... I need to talk to you. Please. If you don't mind.'
Allowing her past, Vivian let the door shut with a violent bang. It wasn't malice, she was obviously concerned and Olive couldn't blame her. She stepped into the living room and saw Lily rising to meet her. Lily took one look at her face and growled through her teeth.
'You lied,' she said simply.
Olive grimaced and glanced to Vivian. 'Could you please give us a minute?'
The expression of disappointment on Vivian's face was a lot to stomach. Olive's attachment to these two might've started with the rumblings of a revenge plot but she'd become especially fond of Vivian during the last six months. She watched the dark-haired sister out of the room before she turned back to Lily with more self-confidence than she felt.
'That's right, I lied. I was in shock so I lied when Vivian asked me whether I'd heard what you thought I had. I heard it,' she added defiantly.
Lily glared right back at her then her composure slipped. Olive actually saw a tear escape her eye before she growled again.
'So you know. So what? Doesn't matter now Charlotte's dead, does it? If I can't be her mother then why should I talk about it?'
'Because it '
'Because nothing. You come here, you make trouble. You and that Pie Maker. All you've done is remind me of what I've...'
As Lily trailed off, catching sight of something in the distance, Olive turned around slowly. The image of Chuck with tears streaming down her face struck her hard. Rushing over, she wrapped her arms around her tightly.
'It was the only way I could think to tell you,' she whispered.
Chuck nodded her appreciation then turned her attention back to the woman staring ashen-faced at her. Lily didn't seem able to comprehend what was happening, not that Olive could blame her. She was quite literally seeing a ghost.
'Charlotte?' she whispered.
A change had come over Chuck very rapidly. She'd passed upset, skimmed stunned and landed straight at bitter.
'Looks like I'm not the only one who's been keeping a secret,' she said. 'Why didn't you tell me?'
'W-We buried you.'
Chuck blinked. 'Someone made it look like you did. I was hiding from the thugs who tried to kill me. It hasn't been safe for me to come back until now.'
Lily looked imploringly to Olive. 'And you knew this?'
'She stayed quiet because I told her to,' replied Chuck quickly. 'And she kept your confidence as well. She wanted me to hear it from you.'
Turning away, Lily murmured, 'I can't do this.'
'You don't have a choice.' Chuck stepped forward and grasped her arm tightly. 'I'm here, I'm not dead. So you can just talk to me.'
There was a prolonged pause then a scream and crash from the doorway. Olive and Chuck turned simultaneously to find Vivian had dropped a tray of cheese and was staring aghast at her niece. After a moment she turned and fled up the stairs.
'I'll get more cheese,' she called over her shoulder.
'Go after her,' Chuck said softly.
Olive glanced between Lily and her daughter. 'I don't think that's such a good idea.'
'Go after her,' she repeated in a tone that left no room for argument.
Climbing the stairs slowly, Olive looked back to find Lily dropping numbly onto the sofa while Chuck crossed her arms and stepped forward evidently ready for a battle. She winced at her part in bringing this on as she heard shuffling coming from the direction of Charlotte's bedroom. Was this simply to clear the barrier between her and Chuck, give them a clean slate, or was this more like her old attempts to engineer a meeting between them for her own gain? True, she had something to gain out of all this but she wasn't sure what. After all, she didn't think she and Chuck could ever be a real couple. Surely they were too different for that.
Vivian was rummaging through drawers when Olive entered Charlotte's old bedroom. She'd thrown a bag open on the bed.
'I thought she might need some things,' she said when she heard her in the doorway.
'Of course, it's been so long that she'll have new things but some reminders of h-home might be nice.'
Olive stepped forward. 'Definitely. Listen, I '
Vivian held up a hand as she turned around. 'You were obviously protecting Charlotte. That's why you couldn't tell us she was alive.'
'That wasn't actually what I was going to apologise for,' she admitted. 'I feel terrible for lying when you came to see me. But I had the knowledge that Charlotte was still alive and I didn't want to Lily to banish me. She looks like she might've done that.'
'You were just being nice to us for Charlotte's sake?'
'No,' Olive said vehemently, 'not at all. At first I was trying to get close to you, see how you were holding up, but since then I've come because I like you. Lily's scarier than a witch on Halloween but even so...'
Vivian looked undecided. 'You'll understand if I don't believe you right away.'
'Of course,' she murmured, heart sinking.
Downstairs, shouting erupted and Vivian winced.
'Charlotte was always such a quiet child. Happy and quiet.'
'She's just found out something that changes everything,' Olive said quietly. 'When that happens to a person they tend to overreact.'
Vivian sat down on the bed. 'Is she okay?'
'Oh, she's healthy as a mule,' Olive replied, trying to smile. 'I've seen her run from wild horses, quite literally. She's um... headstrong and intensely passionate when she wants to be but she's one of the best friends a girl could hope for. I mean, she's had this terrible secret that she's had to conceal but she's never stopped thinking about other people. She was making those pies and sending me here with them because she wanted a part of her to stay here. She missed you and she was scared you wouldn't be okay without her around to look after you.'
There was a long pause during which Vivian fiddled with the waistband of a pair of jeans. Below them the shouting continued.
After a while, Olive added, 'I wanted to tell you but you wouldn't have believed me. There are good reasons why it needs to be kept a secret, even I don't know why. But she's been living with me and she's been we've been happy.'
Vivian looked curiously at her but said nothing. They sat in silence for several minutes until Chuck's voice at the foot of the staircase announced they were leaving. Charlotte spared a smile for her aunt then stormed out of the house leaving Olive to look at Lily slumped on the sofa with a glass of something before she followed Chuck outside. The door closed gently behind them.
'What happened?' she asked Chuck when they were in the car.
'Please just take me home,' Chuck answered, her voice thick with tears. Olive obeyed without comment.
It was only when they reached the apartment door that Olive slowed. She'd spent the entire drive back pondering what should happen next and she hadn't any answers. Chuck hadn't told her anything that had been said during her confrontation with Lily and Olive hadn't wanted to ask again. Would Chuck forgive them and move back there to get to know her mother in this new capacity? Would she just want to move away permanently and forget the whole thing; go on another adventure that could end up like the first? Olive's chest tightened at the thought.
She could feel Chuck watching her, waiting for her to open the door. After letting them both in, she stayed close to the threshold, eager to bolt for the second time that night. Chuck collapsed onto the sofa beside Digby then looked at her questioningly.
'Aren't you staying or something?'
'I... I don't think I should. You know,' she went on with more confidence, 'you've just been through a terrible shock, you probably need time to process. I'll go see... someone.'
Chuck's brow crinkled. 'Okay.'
It was the hurt tone of voice that did it. Olive's resolve cracked and she stepped towards Charlotte as the brunette rose to meet her. She squeezed her into a hug so tight that she was amazed either of them could breathe. She heard Chuck's sniffs, felt hot tears trickling down her neck and under her jacket, but she didn't pull away. She didn't want to. If she pulled away now she knew she'd have to explain why she wanted to leave and she'd be forced to lie and that would be that. A trust issue: nicely parcelled up and ready for mailing.
But Chuck began to withdraw. Olive could feel her warm breath on her cheek and tried desperately to ignore the chain reaction that warmth then created in her body. Involuntarily, she pressed closer to the brunette but cringed at her own actions. No, she needed to get away from this and she needed to get away now.
With that in mind, she tried to step away but found she couldn't. Chuck had an iron grip around her waist and didn't seem in any mood to let go. Olive swallowed and rested her forehead against Chuck's shoulder. A set of tender fingers found their way onto her neck and she stayed there for a good thirty seconds enjoying the impromptu massage.
Then she gathered enough courage to draw her head back. Chuck was gazing at her nervously but with no fear. Before Olive could speak she found herself manipulated into the sweetest and softest kiss she'd ever been a part of. She could barely breathe.
When it ended she stepped quickly out of Chuck's reach, scared all of a sudden that this was her fault, that she was about to be admonished for what she'd done. But Charlotte just looked hurt once more and Olive couldn't stand that. Returning to her former position, she kissed her again and again until she could hardly remember why she hadn't been doing this for weeks.
Digby had vacated the sofa and was now resting miserably beside the door. The apartment was dim, the only sound being the occasional click as the boiler surged into life. It was no longer Valentine's Day. Olive sat with her legs splayed across Chuck's lap and her head cushioned beside hers. Their hands were entwined but save the odd kiss they hadn't communicated in well over an hour. Olive wasn't worried; she was floating far too high for that to be a possibility.
Suddenly, Chuck's voice rang out, 'I have to forgive her.'
Olive said nothing, just waited.
'She's the only mother I've got. I may be stubborn but I'm not stupid. I've already done too many things in my life that I regret. I don't want her to be another one.' She tilted her head sideways. 'Do you think I'm right?'
Tracing a pattern over her lips, Olive nodded. 'If you hold back you might never have the chance. And this whole thing is a second chance for you. Maybe you won't get a third.'
A smile flickered over Chuck's face, almost of the calibre Olive was used to. 'You know, you were the only person who told me the truth. Everyone else in my entire life seems to have been lying to me but not you.'
'Well, I'm a hopeless liar, you said so yourself.'
Chuck kissed her warmly. 'Hope that wasn't the only reason.'
'It wasn't,' she admitted. 'But don't spread it around. You'll ruin my reputation.'
'And wouldn't that be terrible?' Pausing, Chuck squeezed her hand. 'I don't think we should go for that other apartment after all.'
Olive almost flushed. 'You don't?'
Charlotte gazed at her. 'Not one bit.'
Settling her head back on the sofa, Olive closed her eyes and let out a contented breath. Maybe the whole idea with keeping secrets was that you let them out at the right time. Then good things happened. Chuck shifted closer and over by the door Digby sighed the sigh of an ousted friend. Olive felt her body drifted slowly into sleep and imagined the thrill she was going to get waking up like this. She fell asleep with the smile still on her face.
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