by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 4: I Seeng a Soong fo Chaalee

Not knowing has got to be the most annoying thing in the world. You know that feeling you get when something's at the tip of your tongue but you just can't put the right words to it? You know that overwhelming excitement when you're at the precipice of understanding something, yet it eludes you at the very last moment? You get so angry when stuff like that happens because you know you know it but you just can't remember that word, or the title of that song, or the name of the girl that gave you your first hickey at the back of a sleek and sexy 1996 Camaro V6 3800 Series 2. You know that feeling right?

Well, I was feeling that the whole time after Charlie left my room with his mystery problem. The one tiny snag was that I couldn't get angry at myself because it wasn't something I forgot. I remember everything, remember? The problem was Charlie wouldn't tell me. So technically, I could get angry at him. He was the one holding back what I needed to know. He was the word at the tip of my tongue just refusing to be spoken. He was the source of my aggravation!

Being the good best friend that I was, I went over to his place after he stormed out of mine. I had no trouble getting into his house since I practically lived there with the amount of time Charlie and I spent bouncing between our homes. Mrs. C was in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee. Normally, I would just greet her offhandedly. But that day, I found myself stopping in my tracks. The sordid expression she had prompted nothing less than complete and total petrification. The only thing missing in the scene were the snakes writhing in her hair.

Now, a little something about Mrs. C before I continue. That of course was not her real name. However, as was the case with my mom, she earned that new title when Charlie was dubbed Big C. Anyway, Mrs. C was a single parent from the beginning of time, which predates the dinosaurs. She was born single and would likely die single the way she sometimes behaved. Nobody knew who Charlie's dad is or was – though I highly suspected he was entombed in this god awful statue that was left in their last house. Regardless of my perfectly reasonable speculations, the way Mrs. C tells it was she wasn't seeing anyone when she was pregnant with Charlie. So, short of divine intervention, it was clear that Mr. C was unlikely to make an appearance.

Mrs. C raised Charlie on her own. Like all other single parents, she seemed to have developed a split personality that incorporated both father and mother figures. She was, in effect, both Mr. and Mrs. C built into one formidable woman. She could display at a moment's whim the stern, authoritative demeanor I've come to associate with my father or the caring and gentle behavior often shown by my mother.

I was at that moment looking at "Mr. C half" and she had a look that clearly said you screwed my daughter, now I'm gonna screw you! And I just knew she could do it since she had taken the most brutal and dangerous profession known to mankind.

She was a lawyer.

"Hey, Mrs. C," I charmed in as upbeat a tone I could manage. "How ya doin'?"

Mrs. C just looked at me and I could have sworn her eyebrows were twitching as the pupils of her eyes changed into a cold grey stone color. She took the coffee mug in her hand and took a sip before gently putting it back on the table before her. The slight curve of her satisfied lips made me think of a sly animals enjoying the taste of her freshly caught prey. She continued looking in a way that could have unnerved any normal being, much less a teenager. I was of course immune being the perfect being I was.

"So, you know where Big C is?" I asked after the very evident lack of a verbal response.

"You know where Charlie is," she said sweetly. The expression on her face remained unfazed.

"Yeah," I nodded. "Of course. Then I suppose I should go see him then."

"You know, Derek," she said in a way that lowered the temperature in the room down several degrees – or perhaps I was just slowly turning into stone. "I consider you like a second son."

I wanted to say that I was older than Charlie so technically, I would have been her first son but I didn't think that was the time to point it out, nor was it even remotely relevant. "I know you do, Mr. C. I also think of you as a second mother."

She nodded and took another slow sip of her coffee allowing her eyes to bore a deeper hole into my forehead, "so you understand then that I don't like it when my sons fight."

"But, we're not fighting Mrs. C."

"Oh," she said not in a so that's where this piece of the puzzle goesway but rather a you see this piece? I'm gonna ram it up your assway.

"Honest, Mrs. C. Something's bugging Big C and he won't tell me." I don't really know what it was about Mrs. C but sometimes she could be scarier than my dad. She could make a person squirm and confess his or her deepest, darkest secrets. The scary part is she can do this with hardly any effort. I suppose that's what made her fitting to be a lawyer. I'll admit that she was the only person that could make me nervous, not even my own parents could do anything to same level she could. "He's like I need to tell you something. Then I'm like you can tell me anything. And he's like I can't tell you. And I'm like why not? And he's like I'm gonna run away now. And I'm like confused and shit."

"Language, young man."

"Yeah." It took me a moment to realize I had forgotten to breathe. "Big C's my best friend, Mrs. C. And if you're like a mom to me, then he's like my brother."

Mr. C finally got sent to the couch as the caring and gentle side finally broke through. Mrs. C's expression softened and I could have sworn she looked sympathetic. Then she finally smiled and I knew everything was okay.

"He's in his room," she said with a nudge of her head and another sip of her coffee, which all of the sudden seemed less threatening.

I nodded and made my way quickly out of the kitchen before the temperature dropped again.

Normally, I wouldn't knock on Charlie's door. It was practically my room too. This time though it felt like the right thing to do.

"Go away," Charlie said. He sounded like he was crying. Charlie rarely ever cried, at least not in just any place. The few times he did cry, it was always at the same place, and only me as company.

"I don't like it here," Charlie whined as he followed me through the underbrush. We were somewhere in the forest. Well, we called it a forest but we later found out it was just an overgrown park that the local government stopped managing. We were eight then and at that age everything just seemed bigger. It was also always empty because the plants had overrun everything, covering the roads in uneven roots. The tall trees loomed over menacingly creating dark shadows, littering every corner with dead leaves, and providing homes for unknown species of animals.

In other words, it was perfect.

We were bored out of our minds at home (well, at least I was) so I persuaded Big C to come with me so we could go "exploring". Technically, we weren't supposed to be there. As far as our parents knew we were in the backyard playing. However, we knew our moms well enough to know that they could talk themselves hoarse for hours. We'd be back well before either of them started looking for us.

We went to this off limits forest (err, park) and were aimlessly looking for buried treasure. I was actually keeping up the pretense of being a pirate and going arrr every now and then (arrr, der be treasure ahead… arrr, shiver me timbers, der be gold in thy trousers… arrr you gonna stop whining Big C?).But, after thirty minutes of finding nothing but mildew and dead leaves, I realized how foolish I sounded despite how many times Charlie chuckled.

"Aww, come on Big C. There's nothing to worry about. All we've seen are trees, and plants, and bugs."

"Bugs?" Charlie asked nervously. Although I couldn't see his eyes because he was walking behind me, I could just imagine them widening with fear.

"Very squishy bugs. Tiny, tiny bugs that you won't even notice was there."

"I don't like bugs," he whined. "What are we doing here anyway?"

"Staying as far away from the house as possible. Do you really want to listen to our moms talk about useless topics?"

"They're not all useless. And I like your mom's tea. All we have at home is coffee and milk."

"Oh my god, Big C. Tea?! Seriously, tea is old people's drink. We don't drink tea. We drink coke."

"Coke sounds good right about now. I wish we brought some," he whined and then suddenly yelped, grabbed onto me, and started stomping his foot on the ground. I only managed to catch my balance on the last second before we both went tumbling in the dirt. "Something's on me! Something's on meeeee!" He patted his legs wildly.

"Geez, Big C. There's nothing on your leg," then as he looked frantically at the surroundings, I decided to play a trick. I knelt down and with a clawed hand grabbed Charlie's leg. He gave a mighty yelp, a sudden jerk, and my face met the underside of his shoe.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he yelled as he knelt over me.

"Ow, you bwoke my nows," I bellowed as I held my bloody handkerchief over my face.

"I'm sorry, Hero! You just freaked me out. I'm sorry!" he apologized profusely but I wasn't paying attention anymore. With my head held at an angle, I was looking up at an upside-down scene that was breaking through the clearing.

"Shhh," I told Charlie who was still desperately apologizing. I pointed overhead at what I was seeing.

Charlie looked up and whispered in his most awestruck voice, "woah".

I knew we found what we were looking for.

"It's me," I whispered through the door, just loud enough to be heard. I had no idea why I was whispering but again it just seemed like the right thing to do. "Can I come in?"

"You shouldn't be here," he said. "And no, you can't come in. And don't even try cause I've locked the door."

I tried that door knob and indeed it was locked, probably for the first time since they moved into the house.

"I told you not to try," Charlie said which meant he was listening intently.

"Well, you know me. I won't stop until I get what I want. And I always get what I want."

I was met with silence. "Big C?" More silence. If he thinks ignoring me was going to make me go away then he had another thing coming. It wouldn't be the first time that Charlie gave me the silent treatment, although it would be the first time there was a door between us. In the past, I've found that the most effective way to break Charlie's silent moments was to be obnoxious. Just keep talking about all sorts of unorthodox things until he couldn't resist commenting. "You remember that song we sang for almost an hour one time?" I asked as I sat in front of his door with my back to it. Of course he would remember. It was impossible to forget, even if his memory wasn't as perfect as mine.

We heard this murdered up version of a song by Sixpence None the Richer on YouTube. Some singer named sang a version of "Kiss Me" which was appropriately renamed as "Keys Me". The words were so garbled that you could hear entirely different words as she sang. Charlie laughed himself hoarse that night. I did most of the singing adding in my own out of tune lyrics (I can sing perfectly well though so don't get any ideas that I'm not good at singing). We were at it through the night and the only reason we stopped was because my dad finally came into our room in the middle of the night and told us to go to sleep. He kept looking for our off buttons particularly around our stomach, armpits, and sides, leaving us breathless from uncontrollable giggles. He threatened to keep coming back to search for those off buttonsif we didn't go to sleep.

Needless to say, the threat of death by tickles was more than our pre-teen minds could take.

I missed my dad being like that…

"If you don't come out, I'm gonna start singing. And you know, you don't want that."

No sound from Charlie's room but I knew he was listening.

"Okay, don't say I didn't warn you. Ehem, sound check, sound check." The door to the other bedroom in the house suddenly closed with a loud bang. "Hmm, looks like your mom doesn't want to listen to my performance. Guess that means more singing time for Big C then. You sure you don't want to open this door?"

More silence but I could just imagine that Charlie was already at the edge of laughing. That or his head was already curled deep under his pillows preparing for the inevitable torture.

"Alright, you asked for it…

Keys me, beat in the verdict valelyNightlee, v-side the green, green grassSwing, swing, swing the spinny stefYou vur the shoez and I will wear the dress

Ohhh… keys me v-neat d milke twalayLeeeeep me al-out the moonlit floorLeaf your open handStrike entebendEnd make d parflays danceSylvimousse is barkleySo keys me…

Keys me down by da flow can 3-howTwin vee of funny hungee tayBring, bring, bring yu flower headWill take dachay make on your father's melt

Ohhh… keys me v-neat d milke twalayTixt me al-out the moonlit floorLeaf your open handStrike entebendEnd make d parflays danceSylvimousse is barkleySo keys me…"

After the first song, I paused no more than two seconds then starting singing again, this time louder and wilder, and to a different tune. And then a third time. And a fourth. And a fifth. By the sixth time to which I was singing to a hip-hop dance tune, Mrs. C decided to come by. Perhaps she felt sorry me. Perhaps she wanted Charlie's problem to get solved as much as I did. Or perhaps she was just fed up with all the singing. But she came by, clad in a pink bathrobe, coffee cup in one hand, and a key with a brown, plastic, diamond shaped keychain dangling from the other.

She stopped in front of me, prompting me to stop my beautiful solo performance. She reached out with the key and held it in front of me. The key was undoubtedly to Charlie's door.

I could have taken it and opened the door. That would have been the easy thing to do. Just go in there and noogie some sense into Charlie. However, I think I knew Charlie better than that by then. I looked up to her and shook my head. She raised an eyebrow at me silently asking are you sure? I nodded my head and she smiled and then disappeared again down the hall in a flurry of pink cotton.

I was about to continue my concert when Charlie suddenly spoke, "are you still there?"

"No, so you better come out and use the bathroom before I come back."

Charlie giggled on the other side and I swear, no sound sounded sweeter that very moment.

"So, are you going to let me in now? My butt's starting to hurt."

After a few seconds, I heard the unmistakable sound of a click and then the door moved by a few inches.

With the practiced agility of predator (or rather an all star basketball athlete), I leapt to my feet and pounced on the prize. Charlie looked startled as the door suddenly swung wide open. I charged and tackled him, easily lifting him, carrying him towards his doom. He laughed and thrashed fruitlessly but it was no use. Soon, I had him pinned on the floor, hands over his head.

"Make me sit on the floor, will you?" I asked.

"I didn't!" Charlie squirmed and laughed.

"Ignore me when I'm talking to you, will you?"

"No! I didn't mean it!"

"I should find your off button until I can get you fixed."

"No!" Charlie begged as he tried to get away from under me. "No, Hero, not that!"

"You should have thought of that earlier. Raaaaaaarh!" I yelled as I assaulted every exposed bit on Charlie's ticklish sides. He squirmed, laughed, thrashed, begged, until he finally couldn't take anymore.

"Hero, save me!" he begged out of breath, which meant he had reached his limit. It was our secret code when the other guy should stop (usually me). One time before we invented that code, I didn't stop and he laughed his pee into his pants. And I had no interest in getting peed on, on top of the other thing Charlie got on me that day.

I got off him and lied down next to him on the floor, a position we often found ourselves in after roughhousing. We were both out of breath but Charlie looked like he was hyperventilating. "So, you gonna tell me now what's been bothering you?" I asked.

Charlie kept taking short rapid breaths. He was staring up the ceiling and I was worried he was going to give me the silent treatment again. As funny as I found breaking Charlie's silent moments, it could only go up to a certain point before it got annoying. "There's just something I need to figure out."

"If you tell me, then maybe I could help you figure it out."

He shook his head. "I have to figure this out on my own. And before you say anything, it's not because of you. Like you said to my mom, we're best friends. We're brothers."

"So you're eavesdropping on my conversations now, are you?"

Charlie chuckled. "In case you haven't noticed, sound travels easily around this house, which is why I'm sure my mom is listening in on us."

"No, I'm not," came her distant reply.

We just had to laugh at that and I was pretty sure that somewhere in the house Mrs. C was smiling. "Anyway," he continued, "this is something I have to do on my own. This thing is about me and I have to figure it out first before I get anyone else involved."

Charlie looked so serious. It was rare that he was that serious. And that kind of seriousness on Charlie tended to make me worry. However, he also spoke with such certainty that I knew that he knew that it was something he could do. This was a Charlie moment. I knew that no matter how many times I asked him, bugged him, tickled him, all I would eventually accomplish was annoy him, probably making him more withdrawn.

"You promise to come to me if you need help?" I asked.

"I will," he responded seriously. "But you have to promise something to me too."

"That depends what I get out of it."

"Douch," he said as he punched my shoulders. "Just, promise me you'll never change."

"What kind of promise is that? Do you mean you want me to stay sexy and young forever? Of course that's gonna happen."

"No," he laughed. "What I meant was, hey!" he yelped as I punched him playfully in the arm too.

"I know what you meant, Big C. Why do you even have to ask? Of course I'll never change. I'll always be your best friend, brothers to the end."

Charlie smiled at that and by the look on his face, you would have thought I already solved his problem.

There was a knock on the door. It was Mrs. C. "Derek, your mom called. Your coach is looking for you. Says you got practice and you're late." She left as soon as she said it, as though being a messenger was a task beneath her.

I looked at the clock and my heart skipped a beat. "Aww geez, I am seriously late." I got to my feet and brushed myself off.

"You should get going," Charlie said as he also stood up.

"What do you mean you? You're coming with me."

"What?" Charlie asked. "I get bored during your practices. All I do is sit around and watch you play."

"So? How's that different from any other time?" I gave him several pokes in the ribs. "Besides, you're the reason I'm late. I'm going to blame you when coach starts yapping."

"Oh, so I'm some sacrificial lamb now. Some piece of meat thrown to whichever animal requires sacrifice." He started putting on his shoes so I knew it was okay.

I chuckled. "Coach isn't gonna like that. You calling him an animal. Besides, you're not just some piece of meat. You're a damnsmart piece of meat. You'll figure out something to do."

"Thanks, that makes me feel so much better," he said as he stood up ready to go.

I smiled at him and he smiled back.

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