When Rachel picks Charlie up from kindergarten, she finds she’s got a very energetic five-year-old on her hands.
"Manda’s sister's getting married," Charlie informs her. "And Manda’s gonna be the flower girl!" She's got no idea what a flower girl is, really, and, honestly, neither did Manda when she asked, but it sounds important, and she knows that it comes with a pretty dress, like a princess.
"That'll be fun for her," Rachel comments, more focused on getting through the slew of parked cars filled with other busy parents.
"Can I be a flower girl?"
"Well, someone’s got to get married, first, and then ask you to be their flower girl."
Charlie falls silent for a few moments as Rachel navigates her way out of the parking lot, but when they’re on the main street, headed home, she pipes up again, with a thoughtful frown on her face. "Danny’s too little to get married, so who’s gonna ask me?"
There's a shadow that flickers over Rachel's face for a moment, there and gone, before she answers. "Well, if your Uncle Miles ever gets married, he'd probably ask you." After a moment's thought, she adds, "And Bass might, I suppose, if his bride doesn't have someone young enough to ask."
"Bastian's getting married?" It's a detour of a question, but thoughtful tone has turned to concern.
"Well, not any time soon." Or ever, the way he focuses on Miles. "But he might." She can hope, right?
Charlie falls quiet and doesn't say anything for the rest of the ride home, and Rachel puts it out of her mind.
* * *
Bass and Miles are at a bar right off base, chatting up a couple of co-eds from Savannah when Bass's phone rings. He normally wouldn't bother looking, but, really, few people actually call him, so he feels compelled to glance down. When he does, he immediately frowns, and bumps Miles on the shoulder. "It's Ben..."
Miles shoots him a frown. "Why's he calling you?"
"I dunno...maybe you didn't hear yours?" Bass shrugs, holding up a finger for the girls, then putting his hand over his other ear before answering. "Hey, Ben, what's up? You need Miles?"
He can't hear well, but he does hear nearly hysterical crying of the female kid persuasion. His heart drops, and he immediately heads for the door. "Charlotte? What's wrong? Are you okay?"
All he can think is of his family, of the car crash, and he's envisioning her stuck in the car with an unconscious or worse Ben almost immediately. Why she'd call him, he doesn't know, except that his name comes first in the alphabet before Miles' so maybe she got to it first.
He can't understand what she's saying, or can't hear over the music, and Miles is hot on his heels demanding to know what's wrong. Bass shakes his head and steps outside where it's blissfully quiet, at least.
"Okay, sweetheart, I can hear you now, but I need you to slow down. I can't understand you. Are you okay?"
There’s more sobbing, but he can hear her trying to master the tears, to speak more clearly. God, she's really such a good kid, but he's terrified for her. When he can finally understand the question though, he blinks and shakes his head.
"...What? One more time, sweetie..."
Miles is making frantic faces, and Bass refuses to give up the phone.
"Are you getting married?" The words come out again, slower, between hiccups.
"What? No." Christ, he doesn't even know what the co-ed inside's name is, and whether or not he's gonna bother to learn it before fucking her is utterly up for debate. "...Is that why you're calling? You're not hurt?"
"No, you're not hurt, or no, that's not why you're calling?"
He breathes a sigh of relief and sags against the wall. "Is anyone hurt?"
"Your dad’s okay?" It's Ben's phone, after all.
"Yes." Now she's the one sounding confused.
"They're fine," he mouths at Miles, who lets out a shuddering breath.
"Okay, so...you just got his phone to call me and ask me...that?"
"Y-yes." He hears the tremble in her voice.
"No, Charlotte. I'm not getting married."
Miles blinks, then stares, and Bass shrugs, giving him an "I have no idea" face.
"Promise. What made you think I was?"
"Mom said I could be your flower girl."
Bass coughs at that, then shakes his head, murmuring to Miles. "Rachel's being crazy again." Honestly, what the fuck he sees in that woman is still beyond Bass. She's hot, sure, but god, the level of crazy is unbelievable, and coming from Bass, that's saying something.
"Don't you want to be my flower girl? I mean, if I was getting married. Which I’m not."
"No." The word comes out with such vehemence, it might as well have been shouted.
"...Okay, then. I will keep that in mind if I'm ever looking for someone to fill the position." He's still not sure why that would have made her hysterical.
"No," she says again. "You can’t look for one."
Bass rubs a hand over his face and wishes he had his beer out here. "Why not, Charlotte?"
"Because you gotta wait."
"I gotta wait for what?" A bride would probably be nice. Or a groom. Whatever. Neither one seems likely any time soon.
"To get married."
"Well, yeah. I need to find someone to marry first, you’re right."
"No." She's not crying anymore. If he didn't know better, he'd say she was exasperated and using her Matheson-voice at him. He knows it a little too well. "You don’t. You just gotta wait."
He's starting to think he's had way too much tequila to deal with five-year-olds. "I gotta wait for what, Charlotte?" he asks again.
"For me to grow up." It's a simple statement of fact, brooking no argument. Totally her Matheson voice.
Bass can't do much more than blink. But her question from the summer comes back. "If I'm a princess, does that mean you’re my prince?"
"Bastian?" He's apparently been silent too long.
"Yeah, kid. I’m here."
"You're gonna wait, right? You promise?"
What else can he say? "I promise."
"Say it again." That level of demanding is pure Rachel, and he seriously hopes she grows out of it. "Promise you'll wait."
He can't help the little smile that tugs at his lips, especially given Miles is looking as baffled as he was feeling at the first question. "I promise, Charlotte. I'll wait to get married until you grow up."
Miles is the one blinking, now.
He hears her take a deep breath, and her voice is downright sunny after the earlier sobs. "'Kay. Daddy wants the phone, an' says I gotta go to bed. G'night, Bastian!"
He barely hears Ben's apologies—she'd taken the phone when he was on the computer, didn't mean to let her bother them. Bass tells him it's all good before hanging up and staring at Miles.
"...I think Charlotte just asked me to marry her."
"Sounded to me like you said, 'yes,'" Miles returns with a smirk.
"It's a kid thing, right? I mean...Cindy was determined to marry you when she was Charlotte's age...she grew out of it."
Miles snorts. "Yeah, or not. I never showed you the emails she sent me from college, 'cause I was pretty sure you'd kill me, thinking I'd encouraged her." He pauses, then adds hastily, "Which I hadn't."
Bass shoots him a look. "Not. Helping."
"She's five, Bass. She'll grow out of it. Or, y'know. Rachel will kill you long before you have to worry about it."
Bass thinks about that for a moment, then grins. "Christ, she's gotta hate this. Can I call her 'Mom,' next time I talk to her?"
Miles gives him a Look.
"Can I call you Uncle Miles?" Bass's smile is irrepressible.
"I'll make you cry uncle if you keep it up..."
Bass laughs and tugs him back inside to the co-eds, but makes a note to himself to send her a card or something addressed to "Charlotte Monroe," 'cause he likes the idea of making her smile.