"Here's your change, Charlene, don't forget to tell your mom that her orders are coming tomorrow," Mrs. Cooper handed out the money she took from the register.
"I will, Mrs. Cooper," she replied.
"It's so good to finally see you out and about, your mom finally let you go and do groceries ... huh?"
Charlene smiled, "Yeah, I'll be seventeen in two weeks, I think it's about time she let me do some errands by myself."
Mrs. Cooper laughed, "Well ... your parents are just being protective of you ... you're such a fine young lady, no wonder they've been keeping you locked up in that big ol' house o' yours."
Charlene laughed softly and tucked her hair behind her ear, "Alright, Mrs. Cooper, I'll see you tomorrow, then," she took the groceries off the counter and walked toward the door.
Just when she was about to open the door, it was opened from the outside. A boy walked in, ice-blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair, his big nose slightly crooked and his thick red lips gaping, staring at her, speechless. Charlene smiled at him, "Excuse me," she said and walked pass him.
"You better close that mouth o' yours before the flies come flyin' in," Mrs. Cooper broke his astonishment, "Don't even think about it, Tom, you don't go near that girl," she said.
Thomas Raven walked over to the counter, still dazed with what he just saw, "Who was that?" he asked.
"Not of your concern, that's who she is ... now what do you want?"
"A pack of Marlboro Lights." Mrs. Cooper took a pack and put it on the counter.
"That'll be $3.50," she put the numbers on the register. He paid for it. "Shoot! She left her eggs," Mrs. Cooper muttered and took the eggs from under the counter.
Tom grabbed the eggs and ran, "I'll take it to her."
"Hey! Tom! No! Tom! You stay away from that girl, you hear?"
But he was already out the door chasing the girl with the sweetest smile he had ever seen.
"Miss! ... Miss!" he called out to her. Charlene stopped her steps and turned around. Tom was panting when he got to her, "You forgot your eggs."
"Oh! I did, didn't I? Thank you," she said as she reached to take her eggs.
"Let me carry those for you," he said clutching the eggs.
Charlene hesitated, "That's okay ... I can do it myself," she declined.
"Please ... I insist," he said. He couldn't stop staring at her up to a point where it was uncomfortable for her, "I'm sorry ... I just ... I think you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
She blushed, "Thank you," she shied away from his gazing eyes. "I don't know ... I'm not suppose to talk to strangers," she said. Tom wiped his hands on his shirt and offered her a handshake. "I'm Thomas ... Thomas Raven."
She shook his hand, "I'm Charlene ... Ludlow."
"Well then, we're not strangers anymore ... Charlene Ludlow, you're Bill Ludlow's daughter?" he asked. She nodded. He took a deep breath and realized why Mrs. Cooper had told him to stay away from this girl.
Everyone in Bluebridge knew who Bill Ludlow was, he was the main contributor in town. He was a very successful businessman who used to be a prominent lawyer and a District Attorney. He was very well connected with the town's Mayor and was rumored to run for the Office the following year. "I'd like to walk you home Charlene, may I call you Charlie?"
She smiled, "No one's ever called me that before."
"Perfect, than I get to be the only one," he said as they started walking.
"I've never seen you around before, I'm sure I'd remember you if I had," Tom knew almost everyone in town, especially the girls.
She shook her head with a faint smile, "I don't get out much, ... this is actually the first time I've ever met anyone in town, aside from Mrs. Cooper, she's been our grocer forever, ... do you live around here?"
Tom smiled, "Yeah ... I live around here, just ask anyone, they'll tell you I live around here," he was being vague, he couldn't possibly tell her that he was pretty much homeless.
She furrowed her brows but quickly dismissed it, "Where do you go to school?"
He never felt so nervous being asked that, he never cared if people knew he was out of school, until that day. "I've been working for the past 3 years now," he wasn't lying.
"Really? How old are you?" Charlene was surprised because despite of his boyish look, he might be older than she thought.
"Nineteen, what about you? Are you still at school?"
She nodded, "Yeah, Easton High, I'll be graduating next year."
Of course, Tom thought, where else would Bill Ludlow's daughter go to school. Easton High was the only private school in Bluebridge where all the 'better' kids go to. While the rest of the people go to public schools, which they only had two in that very small town. He knew he was in way over his head with this girl, but something made him kept walking.
"So ... where do you work? What do you do?" she asked.
"Anything ... everywhere ..." he cleared his throat.
She looked at him funny, "That's not fair, I've told you where I go to school, you're walking me to my house, but I practically don't know anything about you other than your name."
Tom scratched the back of his head, "The idea is to keep you talking to me as long as I can ... if you know things about me, you might never want to do that again," he was being honest.
He kept his head down, she stared at him and caught a glimpse of nervousness behind his bold approach. When he looked up, she was caught up with those ice-blue eyes, his boyish frame, his nose, lips, everything combine in a breathtakingly good looks, "I highly doubt that," she said with a twinkle in her eyes. If he didn't know any better, he would mistaken her comment with flirting.
"Anyways, that means I get to tell you more about me some other time ... like tomorrow?" he was hoping.
She didn't reply to that. As they were approaching the gates of her house, she stopped walking, "I think you shouldn't go further than this ... my parents don't allow me to be friends with boys," she told him.
Tom looked at the big white grand building a few hundred meters from the gate, so out of reach, so intimidating. He looked at Charlie, his heart was melting, "Can I see you again tomorrow?" he had to ask.
She tilted her head as she took her groceries from his hands, "I don't know ... maybe ..." a half smile curved on her lips, "If you promise to tell me more about yourself?"
He rubbed his hand on the side of his neck, and put the other hand in his pocket, "Okay," he said reluctantly.
She giggled on her way walking backward toward the gate, "Thank you, Tommy, I have to go now ... it was nice meeting you," she walked in through the gate of her mansion and didn't look back.
'Tommy', he never liked it when people call him Tommy, but on her lips, it sounded appropriate, like it belonged there. He knew his way around girls, if she asked anyone around town, she would hear about that too. But for the first time in his life, Thomas Raven felt lightning had struck him straight in his heart, and her name was Charlene Ludlow, the only girl in town he was not suppose to lay his eyes on.