by Hamen Cheese

A Message from the Author

What you are about to read is the result of my desire to read something different. Yes, this story was actually born because I wanted something fresh, something with a theme or plot I hadn't read before. When I couldn't find that story I was looking for, I decided to write it. That desire to read gave birth to my writing Charlie.

This is not an out of this world story (though you may encounter some out of this world characters – and no, I don't mean extra-terrestrials). The setting is quite real unlike my last novel, the fantasy story Adamagika: The Spirit Within. Although this is a novel length story, it won't be anywhere close to the same length as Adamagika. It was actually more of a short story that grew into a novel.

Now what kind of story is it? Primarily, it is mostly a comedy. Yes, I prefer to write things that will make people happy. There is enough sadness in the world that writing a sad story would feel like a disservice on my part. That does not mean there will be no sorrow in the story. In fact, there will be. This story cannot exist without it. There will be dark moments and dark issues covered though perhaps not in the way you may think of them. The situations presented are not meant to belittle serious real life issues. It is simply the way things turned out in this world.

Be assured though that I always end my stories in a happy or hopeful note.

The story is divided into four parts with multiple chapters each. They represent different phases in the narrator's life. They are there to provide clear markers of significant changes in the narrator's life. You will see him at his best and at his worst. You will sometimes love him, sometimes hate him, and maybe, just maybe, you will sometimes feel sorry for him.

I hope though that in the end you will enjoy this story. It is fundamentally a story of friendship and brotherhood. It is a story of that special bond that ties brothers beyond blood. It is a story of making mistakes and forgiving them. But most of all, it is a story of learning and of making the right decisions before it is too late.

Yours truly,

Hamen Cheese

Part One of Four

I just hate it when everything is perfect and suddenly someone just has to drop one tiny little snag that just doesn't quite fit into my world. All the sexy girls can't get enough of me. All the envious boys want to be me. All the teachers just absolutely adore me. My world and my life are simply perfect just like my sleek and sexy 1996 Camaro V6 3800 Series 2 – well oiled, well maintained, and just the perfect, perfect, PERFECT vehicle to make love in. That car is sex on wheels.

But just like any other vehicle, I can't let anything out of place get inside. It could completely and totally ruin the car. If someone dropped even so much as a little screw into the running engine, the whole thing could blow up in my face.

And that's exactly what happened to my perfect little world. Someone just had to drop a little screw into my beautiful and sexy engine.

And that screw is my best friend Charlie.

Chapter 1: Me and Big C

It all started during our senior year. Well, come to think of it, it probably started way before that, probably as far as the day we met. But before I get to that, I should probably give a little background first on the two of us.

Charlie and I go to Southmore High, it's sort of a somewhere in the middle but closer to the top kind of school. It's a private school but not the kind that would cost my parents their salary for the next thirty years. Anyway, it's a pretty small school compared to most others especially the public high schools. There were only two senior sections for a total of sixty-one students. There were three junior sections but if they lost any more students due to low grades, they'd be reduced to two sections the following year.

I highly doubted that would happen though because one thing Southmore High is really known for is what most other schools called the "smart jock". The academic standards of Southmore are higher than what you'd expect from most other private schools. However, they not only focus on developing their students to have competitive backgrounds in their education but also having a background in at least one major sport. Our gym class wasn't just a place to sweat and get exercise three times a week. We actually trained each session as though we were in varsity teams.

I know all this because of my mom. She's the head publicist and marketing agent of Southmore High. I don't know how she does it but she always somehow knows if a student has both academic and athletic potential. It's probably helped by the years of experience she has from raising the perfect son.

From there, she approached the parents of the potential students and informed them of the benefits in enrolling their child to Southmore High. She always gets them in the end. It might not be too hard because Southmore is a pretty known school. I suppose though that my mom's charm is irresistible to most people. She always gets what she wants – just like me.

There were of course exceptions in the students being recruited into Southmore. You could be exceptionally good at one aspect (academics or athletics) but completely inept in the other and the school still takes you in as long as you're that good. You don't even have to be rich to get in. That's sort of the case with my best friend Charlie. He's a brainiac of sorts. He's sort of like a super genius, even smarter than me (and that's saying a lot). But give him a ball and he'd have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Charlie and I have been best friends since we were four up until our senior year. I can still remember that day we met as though it was yesterday. It's probably because I have the perfect memory, just like everything else about me – perfect.

Charlie was playing in the sandbox in the public park. I was watching him as I sat on one of the little tiny swings that were in the park. He wasn't building anything though which was probably what caught my attention. He had sand in one of those red plastic pails with a white plastic handle. With a white plastic shovel, he'd scoop out some of the sand in his pail and raise it into the air. He'd then slowly trickle the sand out of the shovel and watch it pour slowly down back into the pail. It almost looked like he was waiting for something extraordinary to happen.

To be honest, I found it a bit weird but I guess it made me curious at the same time. I asked him about it later on when we were much older. He said he didn't remember what he was doing or thinking back then. The whole sand pouring thing wasn't what he remembered from that day anyway.

What he remembered was what happened next.

A big, fat, and ugly kid came by looming over Charlie and his little sandbox. Charlie looked up at the sudden shadow that came overhead. Big, fat, and ugly kicked Charlie's pail pouring all of its contents over Charlie covering him from head to toe in sand. From what Charlie told me later, a lot of it went into his briefs.

"This is my sandbox," big, fat, and ugly said smugly.

Charlie looked down at the sand or possibly at big, fat, and ugly's feet. His plastic shovel was still in his tiny little hands. The sand that was still in it started falling out as Charlie's body shook. It was clear he started crying.

Now, I had no idea then who Charlie was. He was just some kid I saw in a sandbox. But I knew enough even at that age when someone is doing something he's not supposed to. I knew that big, fat, and ugly was doing just that. So, I swung out of my swing and landed perfectly on my feet. I went over to help. After all, I wasn't some kind of jerk.

I was merely perfect.

"Leave him alone, ugly," I said as I came to stand in front of the bigger kid. Charlie looked up at me with moist eyes. "He was here first."

Big, fat and ugly raised one stubby little finger at me and slowly poked it against my chest. "Stay out of this shrimp or I'll beat the tamales outta you."

"You just try, ugly," I said as I placed my closed fists next to my perfectly toned four year old waist.

Big, fat, and ugly looked uncertainly at me. It was clear to me even then that he wasn't used to anyone standing up to him. He must have decided quickly though because he suddenly raised his closed, meaty fist and swung it at my direction. With perfectly tuned agility, I swung my head to the side just barely avoiding big, fat, and ugly's attack (I swear that's exactly how it happened – even Charlie would attest to it). As he withdrew his fat hand, I moved swiftly to kick him in the shin. He fell into the sandbox with a muffled thud.

"Mooooommmy!" big, fat, and ugly yelled as he started crying and whimpering on the ground.

An older, female version of big, fat, and ugly (no doubt his mom) started running towards our little sandbox. She was flanked by my mother and another woman who was balancing the contents of a large paper cup as she hopped to us.

"Oh munchkin, what happened?" big, fat, and ugly's mom said as she helped him up.

He pointed his stubby little finger at me. "He kicked me."

My mom looked over at me. "Now, why would you go and do something like that, Derek?"

"He was picking on this kid here," I said as I pointed a finger at Charlie. He had stopped crying by then. "He kicked sand all over his face."

Big, fat and ugly's mom looked at Charlie who was at that moment still covered in sand. She placed one of her meaty hands on her son's arm. Big, fat, and ugly seemed to shrink before her. "What did I tell you about bullying other kids!" she said in a scolding voice.

"But I wanted to play in the sandbox," big, fat, and ugly whined.

"You could have shared!" his mom yelled as she started dragging him away. "That's it, we're going home. No more playing today. And you don't get a second serving of ice cream tonight."

"But mommy!" big, fat, and ugly whined as they slowly made their way out of the park. My mom was walking beside them probably apologizing for my perfectly acceptable behavior.

The other woman with the paper cup stood over us for a while. "Are you alright, Charlie?" she asked. Charlie nodded. "Okay, I'll be right back sweetie. You just stay here alright?" Charlie nodded again. I figured then that this was Charlie's mom. She looked briefly at me before she walked towards my mom and the big, fat, and ugly family.

I turned to Charlie. He was still seated in the same position and he was looking up at me. The way he described it to me much later, he said that I had angel wings made of light and a bright halo over my head. I told him that that was probably just the sun that was up and behind me.

"Are you my hero?" he asked shyly. He looked up at me with the most innocent and admiring blue eyes I had ever seen.

I smiled a perfect and cheeky smile at him. "I guess I am."

When our moms came back, I could see a change in them. Well, my mom was usually talkative and friendly with people. I figured that it came with the job. However, the way she spoke to Charlie's mom, it wasn't like she was trying to make a sale or trying to develop contacts that she could use in the future.

They were simply… talking.

"She's quite friendly I agree," Charlie's mom said, "but I think she spoils her son too much. I mean, you don't develop that kind of attitude if you don't allow your son to get away with anything he wants."

"Well, it depends I suppose on what your child gets away with," my mom said. "Some behaviors even if they may be a bit dominating are good to encourage in a child. It helps build self-confidence and the attitude of being able to accomplish anything he wants as long as he works hard for it."

Charlie's mom looked somewhat skeptical (of course back then I didn't know that that look mean skepticism – but again, perfect memory along with everything else perfect about me). "Maybe, but she certainly didn't seem to be reinforcing the right kinds of attitudes with her son."

It was then that both adults looked towards us. Charlie was still seated doe eyed and looking at me and I was looking back and forth between him and the adults.

"How are you boys doing?" my mom asked.

"I'm okay, mom," I said.

"And how are you, Charlie?" his mom asked him.

"Mommy, can I be Derek's friend?" he asked her.

Charlie's mom smiled at him and then looked at me. "I dunno, Charlie, I guess that depends on whether Derek wants to be your friend. Why don't you ask him?"

Charlie then looked over at me. "Can I be your friend?" he asked in a much shyer voice as though I didn't hear him ask his mom for permission just moments earlier.

Before I could answer though, my mom did, "sure you can be his friend, Charlie. Derek likes having friends, don't you Derek?"

I certainly didn't mind having more friends. My mom always went out of her way to make sure I'd get as many friends as possible. "Sure, I'd like to be your friend, Charlie but you have to let me call you Big C." That was something else my mom taught me at that early age. She said people liked it when I called adults big names like Super Mommy or Amazin' Auntie (the missing G wasn't on purpose, I simply couldn't say the whole word amazing at that age). It made them feel special she said just like how my dad calling me Champ made me feel special. Of course, what stuck most in my head was using Big to describe everyone. I got the whole scheme of using only the first letter of the people's names from Sesame Street.

Charlie scrunched his forehead as though he was thinking about it. He then asked the question in his mind, "does that mean I have to call you Big…"

"Maybe you can come up with another name for Derek?" his mom interrupted before Charlie could finish asking his question. Of course, it didn't occur to me until much, much later why she did that. "Maybe you can call him something else. It doesn't even have to have anything to do with his name." She looked over at my mom but the other woman simply shrugged.

"Can I call you Hero then?" Charlie asked hopefully.

I liked that. Before either adult could respond, I answered his question. "I think that would be great."

He looked so happy that moment you'd think we were going to Disneyland.

"Mommy, can me and Big C play here for awhile?"

"It's can Charlie and I play here for awhile," my mom said sweetly.

I scrunched up my forehead. "Why would Big C want to play with you?"

The two women just laughed at that.

And that was that. Charlie was Big C to me. I was Hero to Charlie. We called each other that for quite awhile. I came up with special names for other people I met as I grew up but none of them seemed to feel as special or meaningful as the name I had given Charlie when we were four. So, after a while, Charlie was the only person I ever called by a special name. In the same way, he was the only one who called me by a special name. Well my dad always called me Champ but adults didn't count.

At first Charlie and I only saw each other a few times a week. My mom and his mom had become very good friends, maybe even best friends, so they often met up and had coffee or tea. However, Charlie lived almost at the other side of the city we lived in. It was only by chance that Charlie and his mom were visiting a sick relative when Charlie and I met in the park. Whenever our parents met though, that left Charlie and me to play while they talked about boring stuff.

Charlie poked me on the arm this one time our moms met in a coffee shop. "Hero, did you see that documentary on TV about the rockets going to space?" he began. I always smiled when he said the word documentary because back then, he had trouble saying that word even if he heard it almost every day. He always said it as do-ku-men-tar-ree. That was one thing I quickly learned about Charlie – where most kids our age would watch shows like Sesame Street or other "kiddie shows" as I later called them, he would watch all those documentaries on National Geographic or Discovery Channel. Naturally, I didn't watch the shows he would ask about but he always asked that way when he wanted to discuss something he saw on TV. Of course, this meant that I didn't understand what he was talking about most of the time but we both agreed though that rockets were cool so it was always a safe topic to discuss.

"No, what about it, Big C?"

"It was so cool," he said as he started moving excitedly and animatedly. "There's like this big rocket like maybe taller than ten men, and then someone would say blastoff, and then the rocket would explode, and then there would be this bright light, and then it would go zoom into the sky, and then swoosh in the air until it was in outer space, and then…" he would continue like that for awhile. No matter what the topic was being discussed whether it was spiders he saw on TV or this huge forest fire, he'd get so excited about it and talk about it nonstop with me. Come to think of it, I think I enjoyed most of his excited explanations because it allowed me to learn a lot about stuff I was otherwise not interested in. I tried watching Discovery Channel once but somehow the shows weren't as exciting as when Charlie would explain them to me. "…and then it would go poof, and then beep, beep, beep in space as it looked for aliens..."

"There aren't really aliens are there, Big C?" I asked just like I always did when some question came to mind while Charlie was speaking.

His eyes would light up each time I asked about something else he found interesting. This would then be followed by another series of "and thens" about the new topic being discussed or this other do-ku-men-tar-ree he saw.

Eventually, this became a daily thing when we were both ten years old.

His mom, who I later discovered was a single mom, moved next door to our house. Apparently, my mom and she became such good friends that when my mom found out that our old neighbors the Parkinsons were moving away, she immediately pounced on them and told them that she had a buyer in mind. I didn't get to know the Parkinsons much other than the occasional time they babysat for me when both my parents were away.

The Parkinsons didn't have a big house. In fact, it was just a two bedroom (the master's bedroom and a guest room) one-story house with a small garden in the front and a rather big garden at the back. It seemed Mrs. Parkinson was barren so they didn't have any chance of having children. That didn't concern me much since all I was thinking about was that my best friend was moving next door.

My mom found out about the move some time in August and every day since she told, I've been wishing for Charlie to move next door. I even made it my Christmas wish from Santa because I always got my Christmas wish from Santa. My mom made sure of it. Charlie and his mom moved in a few days before Christmas.

When Charlie moved in next door, he immediately ran to his new bedroom and looked out his window. We agreed that on his first day there, he would do that and I would wait at my window for him. His bedroom was across mine separated only by a low white fence and some green bushes that old Mrs. Parkinson took care of. I can still remember how happy Charlie looked as he waved at me from across the lawn to my window. I knew he was really happy because I felt that way and was sure I had the same doe eyed look that said that this would be the best Christmas ever.

I remember wishing that day for things to never change ever because everything back then was perfect. Of course, that was one wish that wouldn't come true.

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