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Behind The Limelight

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Chapter 1

A Girl Meets A Boy With Two Names


Surrounded by fields filled with unassuming flowers and majestic trees, Rosewood was a quaint, small town in Pennsylvania where nothing significant ever happened. Its residents appeared friendly and amicable, but under the surface, secrets and lies festered in the silence, between the lull that existed within spoken conversations.

Gazing downward from up in the sky, the sun and the moon had witnessed many scandalous love affairs, hearing the whispered dreams of those who had their hearts set on escaping from that isolated part of the country.

Morning had arrived to the Hastings estate, a large property of land, owned by eponymous family that lived there. The married couple, Peter and Veronica Hastings, were successful attorneys, the founders of a firm, one of the most reputable legal offices in all of Pennsylvania.

It wasn't a typical Sunday, and Melissa Hastings could barely contain her excitement. It had been a while since her family had gone apple-picking at the Campbell farm, and the six-year-old girl was eager to get there. Her parents had even promised to let Melissa pick out a few apples on her own. Needless to say, the brunette was bursting with anticipation.

Melissa had already planned out everything that she was going to wear; a simple yellow dress, white full-length stockings, and her shiniest pair of black dress shoes. The little girl had even styled her long, dark-brown hair on her own; hanging loose, but held together with a yellow headband that complimented the rest of her outfit.

Thankfully, her parents had always been proud of her exuberance, even if it came close to a borderline anal disorder. Melissa was pleased with her intellectual efficiency, but since most children at age six weren't anywhere near her maturity level, she frequently refrained from socially interacting with them.

Luckily, apple-picking was an activity that many Rosewood families did on Sunday mornings. Therefore, Melissa thought that she was bound to meet someone her age; someone who she would actually enjoy talking to.

Most kids just couldn't keep up with Melissa's intellect. Since she was the only student in her grade-level that could practice multiplication and quote Shakespeare, she had acquired a certain sense of superiority.

Regrettably, it had been too long since the family went out to the apple farm. This was the first Sunday her father had taken off from work since her baby sister had been brought home.

On the night that Spencer had entered Melissa's life, a tempest had been brewing outside, wind blowing roughly against the walls of the house. Dark clouds gathered in the sky and raindrops slid down a window, as a young dark-haired girl waited by the front door. Her parents had been arguing all week about a subject that she was far too young to understand.

When the couple finally returned home, Veronica was carrying a crying bundle in her arms and Peter avoided looking Melissa in the eyes. Her mother kneeled down to introduce the newborn baby to her older sister, pulling back the blanket to reveal the child's face.

"Melissa, meet Spencer. She's your sister, and you have to protect her from now on."

Veronica's words would always echo in her head, forever haunting Melissa. The older woman gave her a warm smile, and the brunette knew that she was being granted permission to interact with Spencer. From the moment that Melissa gazed into her sister's eyes, she fell in love.

Melissa doted on little Spencer Hastings; she was determined to be an excellent role model. However, she also missed the casual outings that her family used to go on before the small girl had wiggled her way into their lives.

Apparently, her parents were determined to generate enough income to provide a lavish lifestyle for both their daughters. Today would be a special occasion though; Spencer would be going out with the family. She would get to visit the Campbell farm for the first time in her recently acquired life.

"Melissa! We're ready to go. Get in the car, please." Veronica Hastings was as maternal as a lioness. She loved her children dearly, but she could never manage to speak in loving tones.

"Coming!" Melissa responded, even though she was already in the silver Mercedes-Benz sedan and seconds away from fastening her seat-belt. She had been waiting all week for today, and she wasn't about to become the reason they were behind schedule.

"Alright, buckle up Mel." Peter gently ordered. He glanced at Melissa through the rear-view mirror as he shifted the automobile into drive. Veronica turned around from the passenger seat to check that Spencer was properly buckled in the child-safety car seat next to her older sister.

Truth be told, Melissa was too distracted by her own excitement to pay much attention to her family. She absentmindedly stared out the window; she had a feeling something important was going to happen today. 

"That's a real pretty yellow dress."

Melissa looked up from the basket that she had been firmly staring at for the past five minutes. She just hadn't been able to decide on which apple to pick.

"Can't decide on which apple is the reddest?" The little boy in front of her giggled as he spoke again. Melissa felt a bit insulted, but mostly intrigued. Children her age weren't that witty.

"Well, yes. It seems like that would be the most appropriate way to decide on which one is the best." Melissa replied.

"And you can't imagine settling for anything less than the best, right princess?" He smirked.

Melissa took a real good look at him. He seemed a bit older than her. With his fair blond hair and piercing cerulean eyes, if Melissa was a princess, this boy was definitely a prince.

"Thanks for the compliment. I think." Melissa was ruffled. She wasn't sure why she had thanked the boy or why her stomach was feeling funny.

The boy just smiled wider and extended his hand in search of a handshake.

"It was most certainly a compliment. My name is Charlie. What's yours?" Charlie said charmingly. He was definitely a young prince.

"Melissa Hastings." Melissa took his hand tentatively, but Charlie didn't let her pull away until he gave her a firm but gentle shake.

"Do you always give your full name?" Charlie teased.

"Do you always act so intriguing?" Melissa replied playfully.

"Oh, you're quicker than most kids." Charlie seemed to be greatly amused by Melissa.

"Or maybe you're not as quick as you thought." Melissa giggled at her own retort. Charlie didn't seem offended, and he began cheerfully laughing alongside her.

"I'm not used to talking someone so clever." Charlie grinned, "My little brother is only interested in playing in the dirt and my little sister is just a baby."

"My little sister is a baby too. She mostly cries a lot." Melissa complained.

"My sister cries all the time. I do my best to cheer her up." Charlie stated proudly.

"You're sweet." Melissa smirked.

"Is that a compliment?" Charlie blushed slightly, "I'm hoping it is."

"It was most certainly a compliment." Melissa cheekily echoed Charlie's previous statement.

"Well, is there a chance that you would be interested in feeding the ducks at the pond with me?" Charlie offered as he winked playfully at Melissa. Her stomach began feeling funny again.

"Where's the pond?" Melissa questioned as she surveyed the area around them.

"It's right over there." Charlie pointed in the direction of the pond with charming smile, "Do you see it?"

"Yes, I do. Let me ask my mom and dad. I'll be right back." Melissa grinned as she rushed off to see her parents.

Melissa had been right, today was an important day. She had met Charlie, her first actual friend. The little blond boy had made feeding ducks seem like an incredibly fun and entertaining experience.

Unfortunately, Melissa never saw him again. The Hastings went back to the Campbell farm on several occasions more after that Sunday, but she never managed to cross paths with Charlie ever again.

However, the young blond boy always lingered on her mind, along with the feelings that he had stirred inside her. If someone asked Melissa nicely, she might even tell them that Charlie was her first crush.

Melissa Hastings was not crazy. She was high-strung, anxious, and obsessive, but she wasn't crazy. Yet she found herself in the main lobby of the Radley Sanitarium, waiting for a psychologist to evaluate her.

Earlier today, Melissa had caught two girls her age picking on Spencer, her mousy six-year-old sister. Naturally, Melissa responded by slamming one girl into the ground, and bashing the other girl's teeth in.

Well, she was also impulsive, and maybe even just a tad bit aggressive. Still, she couldn't fathom why the principal had requested this mental evaluation instead of just suspending her. Furthermore, the older man had ordered a faculty staff member to drive her to the mental institute immediately.

Kendra Santoni and her goons had been harassing Spencer for far too long. Melissa had already warned her once, threatening to forcefully feed her the jump rope that she kept using to lash Spencer. It was appalling, for someone to hurt Melissa's beloved sister in such a manner. If protecting Spencer from harm merited repercussions, she would gladly accept her punishment.

Veronica and Peter had been notified and reassured not to worry. She assumes the school principal just wanted to appease the parents of the injured girls, but since suspending their prodigal student was out of the question, this psychological evaluation seemed like an adequate compromise.

Consequently, that's how she found herself here, browsing through the Radley brochure while she waited for her name to be called.

"Hey there, pretty girl."

Melissa looked up from the severely uninteresting pamphlet and saw that a lanky young blond boy in front of her. He seemed to be around twelve or thirteen.

The brunette's first observation was that he was institutionalized at Radley, since he was wearing the same type of scrubs that the patients depicted on the brochure wore. Her second observation was that he was extremely handsome. One could say he was actually pretty. Unfortunately, Melissa blurted her second observation out loud.

"Hey there, pretty boy." Melissa immediately regretted her words, and felt herself starting to blush bright red.

"You know, as a boy, I don't get that a lot." The boy replied with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm so sor-"

"I kind of like it." The boy gave Melissa a sincere smile.

"I'm Melissa Hastings." Melissa introduced herself. She could have sworn she saw something flash in the boy's eyes. Was it surprise or recognition? Had she met the boy before? She couldn't quite figure it out, but something about the blond boy was vaguely familiar.

"I'm F-Freddy." The boy had slightly hesitated before answering.

"No last name?" Melissa teased with a playful grin.

"Nope. I have to maintain my air of mystery." Freddy grinned playfully.

"Oh, I see. Well, what are you in for Freddy? Did you hit a bunch of bullies too?" Melissa reveled in the familiar feeling that Freddy gave her. It felt like catching up with an old friend.

"No. Actually, I'm not sure why I'm here." Freddy sat next to Melissa unceremoniously, "But for now, I'm here to make sure a pretty girl has company."

"Well, that's something I'm grateful for." Melissa smiled, "I could use the company."

"Are you here permanently?" Freddy asked politely, "I mean, I know you're apparently very dangerous."

"Hey! I'm not a violent thug. The school principal just demanded that I get a psychological evaluation." Melissa giggled softly before she began explaining why she was there, "Some bullies were tormenting my sister, because she's very thin and that bothered them for some reason. I hate people like that. It upsets me when someone torments another person for being different."

"Oh, it does?" Freddy smirked, "You're basically a hero, Melissa. I'm so impressed."

"Are you?" Melissa smiled teasingly, "I'm glad that I have an admirer."

“I’m sure you have a lot of admirers, you’re impossibly pretty.” Freddy complimented, “I had to come over here and see if you were real.”

“You’re so smooth.” Melissa slightly blushed, “You’re too charming to be real.”

“Maybe I’m not real.” Freddy grinned, “Maybe I’m a figment of your imagination. I’d like that. Being stuck in your mind is better than being locked up in here.”

“Well, you’d be the best imaginary friend that I’ve ever had.” Melissa stated sincerely, “I’m sorry that you are institutionalized here. I can imagine that this place isn’t as great as the brochure says.”

"It isn’t. I'm glad you aren't here to stay. Radley is awful." Freddy sighed, "This place, it drives you crazy."

"That's a bit ironic." Melissa commented gently, "How long have you been here?"

"Five or six years. Sometimes, I can't remember. It gets fuzzy." Freddy admitted apprehensively, "Talking to you makes me feel better."

Melissa was speechless; the blond boy's confession had made her feel warm. She was happy to provide him comfort. In just a few minutes, she had developed an incredibly strong connection to Freddy; it was bewildering.

"Melissa, can I ask you something?" Freddy suddenly seemed nervous.

"Of course, Freddy." Melissa nodded eagerly, "You can ask me anything."

"Is it normal, for a boy to play with d-dolls?" Freddy's voice slightly faltered.

"Why not?" Melissa grinned, "You should do whatever makes you happy."

"I don't play with dolls. I was just asking." Freddy looked away as he spoke softly, "I don't think you'd like a b-boy who plays with dolls."

"I would love to meet a boy who played with dolls." Melissa stated firmly, "Especially if he's brave enough to be true to himself."

"You would?" Freddy sounded perplexed.

"Yes, I would." Melissa declared honestly.

Freddy remained quiet for a few minutes, he was still processing Melissa's words. It was almost as if he couldn't comprehend how accepting Melissa had been.

The brunette smiled to herself; the boy was obviously a bit feminine. However, Melissa found him unbearably attractive.

"Hey, Mel."

"Yes, Fred?"

"Thank you." Freddy smiled brightly at Melissa and the brunette's heartbeat sped up; the blond boy remained staring at her firmly.

They continued talking for hours and hours, Melissa found herself staring into his inquisitive blue eyes throughout their entire conversation. Either Melissa's name hadn't been called or she had missed it, but before she knew it was four in the afternoon.

It was just so easy to talk to Freddy. The young man was so lively and fresh. He had a perfect response for everything, and he also had this magical way of making Melissa feel warm. Not a lot of people were able to make Melissa Hastings feel anything at all.

"I'm sure people at school aren't so bad, you're probably just out of their league." Freddy responded after Melissa had finished ranting about how her classmates lacked sophistication. He reached out for one of Melissa's hands, as they rested on her lap. As Freddy gave her hand a gentle squeeze, Melissa's stomach twisted into knots.


Melissa and Freddy were startled by a commanding yell. They turned around and saw Veronica Hastings barging into the lobby, with a small Spencer Hastings trailing behind her.

"This is absurd, you aren't unwell. There's no reason for an evaluation, we are leaving immediately." Veronica's animated hand gestures signified that she meant business. Melissa quickly stood up to protest.

"Mom, but the principal said-"

"I don't care what he said. We'll take it up with him first thing tomorrow. I'd rather die than watch a daughter of mine get treated like a nutcase." Veronica interrupted.

Melissa smiled apologetically at Freddy. However, the young blond boy was preoccupied with waving at a frightened Spencer. The little girl was bashfully hiding behind her mother.

"Can I just say goodbye to my friend?" Melissa asked.

"Fine. I'll be waiting at the car. Don't be long." Veronica conceded as she grabbed hold of Spencer's hand and strolled out of the building.

Freddy stood up and walked right up to Melissa's side. He was a couple of inches taller.

"Well, that's my mother. Thank you. Honestly. I was bored out of my mind before you came along." Melissa was being uncharacteristically sweet, but there was just something about Freddy. She extended her hand.

"It was my genuine pleasure, Melissa Hastings." Freddy's smile had this hint of melancholy. He stepped forward and took Melissa's hand. However, instead of shaking it, he pulled her in for a tight hug.

Melissa wasn't used to such affection and coming from a boy no less. She relaxed into the embrace as Freddy's steady breath tickled her ear. She wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him back.

"And just in case our paths don't cross a third time." Freddy whispered, "I wouldn't want you to forget me."

Before Melissa had time to process what Freddy had said, he had placed a chaste kiss on her lips. Melissa froze in place as Freddy pulled back, and then nonchalantly walked away. He disappeared from her line of vision when he passed behind the Radley receptionist desk, but Melissa could clearly hear some staff nurses reprimanding him.

Raising one hand to her lips, Melissa whispered to herself the only thing that came to mind.


The young man's gesture had succeeded in achieving its intended effect. Melissa Hastings could never truly forget Charlie; she could never forget her first kiss.

Horseback-riding camp had usually been the best part of Melissa's summer, that is, until she turned fifteen. Spending her entire vacation from school in a place where no boys were allowed seemed like a waste of time. It didn't help that the girls who attended each year were unable to improve their ability to ride, forcing the counselors to repeat the tired lessons again and again.

Most of the time, Melissa would ignore the marked trail, wandering off to explore the forest on her own. It was exciting, the thrill of being alone, and the adrenaline rush that came with actively seeking out an adventure. 

As her horse was galloping through the woods aimlessly, an arrow flew by Melissa's head. Understandably startled by the alarming incident, she pulled on her stallion's reins, forcing the animal to halt in its tracks.


A voice hollered out. From amongst the trees, a blond boy stepped out. With familiar blue eyes, Melissa instantly recognized the intrepid archer.

"Charlie!" Melissa hopped off from her saddle, abandoning her horse in order to greet Charlie.

"M-Melissa?" Charlie smiled widely, dropping his bow on the grass, rushing toward the girl.  

Lunging forward, Melissa tackled the young man with a hug. Charlie returned the embrace, wrapping his arms around the brunette's waist and lifting her off from the floor. Both teenagers giggled as the golden-haired boy twirled Melissa around a few times before placing her back on the ground. Her hands cupped his cheeks; her fingers traced his jawline, as if she was trying to determine whether he was real or not.

Charlie was still gorgeous, but he was no longer a lot taller than Melissa, only a few inches remained before the brunette closed their height difference. His irises were as iridescent as ever and Melissa wondered if Charlie was just an angel who visited her from time to time.

"It's really you!" Melissa grinned as she removed her hands from Charlie's face, "What are you doing here? Were you released from the Radley Sanitarium?"

Charlie grabbed one of her wrists, pulling her hand close to his mouth. His lips pressed against her palm, and Melissa blushed brightly. He pulled back, as graceful as a prince.

"I wandered away from my all-boys camp. It's the last day of summer, so they are allowing us to spend our final hours engaging whichever activity we choose to." Charlie explained as he refused to let go of the brunette's hand, "I wouldn't have imagined finding anyone out here."

Melissa knew that Charlie had avoided her question about the mental institution, the awful place where she had last seen him at. Something in the air told her to respect his choice to deflect. After all, Charlie was wearing a white shirt with the name of a camp, so most of his story seemed true. Besides, the brunette didn't want damper their joyful reunion with painful memories from the young man's life.

"My horseback-riding camp is nearby." Melissa said.

"That explains the fancy outfit." Charlie's eyes roamed up and down the brunette's figure, "You are beautiful as ever. I don't think anyone else would be able to make that helmet look good."

Melissa's face began to redden. Her navy-blue equestrian uniform was very form-fitting. 

"How much time do you have before you have to go back?" Melissa wondered.

"Until midnight." Charlie squeezed Melissa's hand, "I don't care if they punish me for disobeying the curfew, it's our final day of camp anyways."

"Let's make the most of it then." Melissa intertwined their fingers, tugging him toward her stallion, "I'd like you to meet Zorro, my beloved horse."

Long after the sun had set in the horizon, Melissa and Charlie frolicked in the woods. The young man tried showing his childhood friend how to shoot an arrow, and she tried to teach him how to ride a horse. 

As the darkness of the night crept upon them, Melissa tied her horse's reins on a willow tree, opting to sit on a log besides Charlie. It was long after midnight, and the forest was eerily quiet.

Charlie sighed, knowing that it was time for him to depart, but unwilling to leave the brunette girl for a third time. Melissa could sense his hesitation, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Pulling back from each other, with tears in their eyes, Charlie and Melissa began to whisper their farewells.

"Here." Melissa muttered, presenting Charlie with her horseback-riding helmet, "It has my initials engraved on it, so you won't ever forget me."

Charlie laughed wryly, "I could never forget you, Melissa Hastings." 

The blond boy accepted the gift, leaning forward to kiss Melissa's forehead.

"I have something for you." Charlie reached down his pocket and pulled out a golden chain, "My father told my mother that this was too girly for me, but I kept it either way."

Snaking his arms around Melissa's neck, the young man clasped the jewelry on. Brushing her raven curls out of the way, Charlie held the attached pendant on his palm for Melissa to inspect.

"It's a wren bird." Charlie identified the animal sculpted on the trinket.

"It's beautiful." Melissa's auburn eyes looked up at Charlie, boring a hole in the boy's soul.

"I wish that I could give you more than these fleeting moments." Charlie whispered, "You deserve so much more."

Overwhelmed with emotion, Melissa tiptoed upwards, pressing her mouth on top of Charlie's lips. Inexperience kept the kiss brief, but the purity of their feelings was tangible. Crickets chirped softly, providing a melancholic background song as Charlie and Melissa parted ways.

In the following morning, Melissa almost assumed that she had imagined her encounter with the blue-eyed young man. She would wonder if her meeting with Charlie had been an elaborate dream, a magical illusion, that is, until she looked in the mirror. Melissa noticed a golden bird pendant hanging around her neck, smiling to herself at the sight. Just like the first two times that she had seen Charlie, even after he was gone, his memory always lingered on.

Throughout the years, Melissa never saw Charlie, the boy who had masqueraded as Freddy, or the archer who she had met in a forest, ever again. She thought about him quite often. She thought about him every time that she obtained a new boyfriend, she thought about him every time that she received a kiss.

No one ever made Melissa feel as warm as Charlie had in their short time together. It was a little bit strange, but it was mostly incredibly sad. She would always compare tangible suitors to the memory of someone who might as well have been a ghost.