The city of Chicago, my home town, is just as prominent a character in this story as Tru, Athena, Indigo and Gwyn. The city is vibrant and alive, meaning so much to our hero and heroine, in different ways. Some might say it’s a love letter to the city where I grew up and learned to love what it means to live in or near a city like Chicago.
If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, I hope that when you do, you fall in love with all the characters.
My parents sent me away without a goodbye
They were good enough to release my big ass trust fund early to ease their guilt
I fled to the streets of Chicago, specifically Green Street
It was a place that changed my life forever
I met my family, Charlie & Indigo & Gwyn
The only place where I ever really belonged
Together we found our way, made lives for ourselves, forgot about the past
Together, we thrived
When we lost Charlie she made me promise that I would learn to trust again
I couldn’t lie to my dying best friend so I agreed, thinking I’d never have to do it
But Gwyn & Indigo didn’t forget
They made me live up to my word and that’s where Tru came in
He was tall, dark and gorgeous
And totally unexpected in every way
He made me do something I never thought I would do again,
Now I have to try not to f*ck it up before I lose him forever
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“I’m dying, Athena. There’s no getting around it now.” Charlie looked so frail lying in the private room, a stark contrast to how she was in life. Vibrant and tough, brash and ballsy. Even her voice had lost the steel that always ran through it.
“All this money we have and it’s not enough, what are the fuckin’ odds?” She huffed out an ironic laugh in typical Charlie fashion.
All of us, me and Charlie and Gwyn and Indigo made a fuck-ton of money to insulate ourselves from the type of shit that brought us together in the first place. And like Charlie said, even that money couldn’t save her now.
And it couldn’t save us from losing her. I couldn’t take this bit of info. Any news but this.
“It’s too soon, Charlie. I can’t say goodbye. Don’t ask me to.”
She coughed, her voice low and raspy. “I don’t have to ask you to do anything, death is inevitable, and it’s coming soon. Face it, Athena.”
“No, I won’t.” Charlie and the girls were the only family I had, and I was terrified that losing her might mean losing a piece of myself.
“You will, dammit.” The hard expression on her face was the only evidence she was as scared as we were. She patted the empty spot beside her. Her expression and voice softened. “Now come sit. Hold my hand.”
The show of vulnerability unraveled the last thread of my composure. Tough as balls Charlie needed her hand held. Holy shit, my best friend was dying. “Charlie, I won’t make it without you.”
Her smile was weak, her blond hair mostly gone, her big brown eyes still shining, at least a little. “You will. You have to because it’s my dying wish.”
I sucked in a breath and narrowed my gaze. When it was the sister of your heart talking about her death and your eyes were filled with tears that refused to fall, you had to listen. “That’s low, even for you Charlie.”
She laughed, the loud crowing laugh that always drew stares and rude comments, but none of it ever bothered her. “I’m completely fine with that. I want you to get out there and start living your life again. Learn to trust someone who isn’t me, Gwyn and Indigo.”
I didn’t need anyone but my girls. My sisters. They were the only family that counted.
“I trust people.” Kind of.
“Name two,” she insisted. Even on her death bed she was a stubborn bitch.
“I trust my staff to do what I expect and that’s hundreds of people, probably thousands.” Very few had let me down, which was why I expanded my business regularly opening more nightclubs all over the world. “I trust my doctors too,” I told her, arms crossed petulantly over my chest.
“I’m going to—”
Another coughing fit cut off Charlie’s words. They seemed to come more often lately, proof the cancer had spread from her lungs to the rest of her petite frame. A few sips of water cleared up the poison inside her enough to let her talk, so I filled a glass and handed it to her.
“Thanks. Now, as I was saying. I’m going to do something totally unfair right now but it’s only because I love you, Athena. You can hate me when I’m gone and commiserate with Indigo and Gwyn about what an evil bitch I am, but I’m still doing it.” She reached for my hand and held it as tight as she could, fingers ice cold like Lake Michigan in late December, skin thin and papery. I gave her a gentle squeeze, terrified I might break her frail bones. “You’re my sister, the closest thing to family I will ever have. And-” she leaned back, sucking in a few deep, labored breaths, smiling through the pain, “-you have to do this, because I’m dying.”
I rolled my eyes at her, determined to be bossy to the very end. I hated all of this, but I hated that she was leaving more than anything, which meant I would do what she asked. Because she asked. How could I not? It was Charlie. “What is it,” I asked, my sigh heavy and my tone full on annoyed.
Charlie flashed a triumphant grin. “Simple. Live. Forget about your parents and that stuck-up town you came from. Live your life. You’re smart, rich as hell, and beautiful. Do something other than grow your fortune. Go out there and do all the things I can’t. Fall in love, get your heart broken, do something stupid, eat something outrageous. Live all the life that I will never get to.”
Her smile was small, like it took too much for her to perform that one simple act, but the defiant, unapologetic tone reminded me this was still my best friend.
Damn, what a low blow. She was right, it wasn’t fair to ask. “I live plenty. I’ve visited eight different cities this year, gone SCUBA diving and BASE jumping.” Just because I preferred my fun more controlled these days, didn’t mean I wasn’t living my life. I just did it on my terms.
“You do a lot of shit, Athena, that’s for sure. But you do it to avoid living and I’m not even sure you enjoy it.” She gripped my shoulder, forcing my gaze to hers.
I didn’t want to see the truth in her eyes. I was losing her and we both knew it.
“Just because some jackass tried to emotionally blackmail you and failed, doesn’t mean you have to be alone forever. Doesn’t mean that you can’t take risks anymore. You deserve to be happy. To love. To be loved. You deserve it, Athena Montgomery. You do.”
I let out a bitter laugh and shook my head. “You’re losing your edge if that’s the story you remember. I seem to recall my high school boyfriend threatened to kill himself if I didn’t get back together with him. I decided, screw that, I’m not going to let him emotionally blackmail me. Try another sucker. Only the joke was on me.” Trevor did kill himself and the whole town, my parents included, blamed me. Hell, I blamed me. I was an arrogant seventeen-year-old who thought I knew better and paid a cost nearly as steep as Trevor had.
Charlie, true to form, shrugged. “My way sounds better and anyway, his problems were his, just like your parents’ embarrassment and their actions afterwards, are on them. Fuck. Them. All. They have to live with their actions, not you Athena.”
She wheezed and I pushed the oxygen mask over her mouth and nose. All the signs of how sick she really was had been there and I just chose to willfully ignore them, assuming, or maybe I fooled myself into thinking she would get better. That some miracle cure would come out of nowhere when I didn’t even believe in miracles. She shoved the mask away. “Go. Live your life Athena. Live my life. If you don’t, my skinny, bald ass will haunt you forever.”
I laughed even though I didn’t want to. I laughed even though tears burned my cheeks. I laughed even as the cold hard reality settled deep in my heart. “That’s fine. I think I’m gonna have to insist that you haunt me because I’m not sure how I’m going to survive without you.”
Charlie, along with Gwyn and Indigo have been my family since I found myself seventeen and kicked out of my home, my town, and my family. All on the same day. I stopped at the first apartment building I found when the bus stopped in Chicago, Green St. Apartments, and put down six months’ rent. The next day I met Charlie and Gwyn.
“You will because you have to. Because you are the toughest, baddest bitch I have ever met. We are Green Street girls, tough and resilient with just the right amount of crazy to make life interesting. When you’re off, living your life, just think of me once in a while.”
“Like I could forget you, Char. Once you’ve puked up Apple Puckers together, you’re bonded for life and beyond.” I buried my head in her lap, feeling the frail legs she hadn’t used in far too long. I did something I haven’t since they ran me out of my hometown.
I cried until my chest heaved, until I couldn’t breathe, until I was all out of tears. “I’ll do it, Charlie. I’ll live for both of us.” It was a promise I would do my damnedest to keep.
“I know you will. Love you, Athena.”
“Love you too, Charlie.”
Machines beeped and clicked, the gray skies outside were as ominous and foreboding as what was to come. The lights inside were yellow and gave us all Charlie’s sick pallor. Each of us tried to ignore what was coming, eating Lou Malnati’s cross-legged on her bed because Charlie said the greasy deep dish was the last smell she wanted to remember. None of us left the hospital for too long and it was like the old days, all of us crammed into one shoebox apartment talking late into the night.
Indigo, Gwyn, and I spent the last nineteen days of Charlie’s life in that hospital room, reliving the best and worst of the Green Street Girls.