Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 9: Breakfast at Casey's

"What can I get you?" Rebecca asked. Her pink and white polo stood out against the dirty beige background of Casey's walls. The room was extravagantly decorated with furniture of bright contrasting colors and retro shapes. I paid little attention to them though as I tried stifling the confusion slowly growing within me. Although there were two of us at the table, the way Rebecca asked her question and the way she welcomed us made it clear that her attention was directed only to Charlie. Why did she have to be like that? To me I mean? If I was somebody else, I would have understood but I was not just somebody. I was Derek Hampton.

"I'll have the Choco Banana Walnut Pancakes with an extra side of bacon and a glass of orange juice please," Charlie said without even looking at the menu. I knew he'd been there often enough to not need the menu anymore. See, I found out during Middle School that Charlie and Rebecca (or Becca as he called her) became very good friends. His mom apparently loved the coffee at Casey's and became quick friends with Rebbeca's mom. They had met when Charlie and his mom had breakfast there during one of the planned parent-child bonding moments. The way he described it, he ended up talking to Rebecca instead while their moms chattered away with each other. It became clear to me that Charlie and Rebecca had become very good friends because the way they talked sometimes, you would think they'd known each other for as long as Charlie and I had.

I wasn't jealous or anything. I knew Charlie had absolutely NO chance of making it with her anyway. Though apparently, she didn't have any chance with Charlie either but that wasn't the point.

"Anything else?" she asked him and only him.

"I'd like to have one of your vanilla milkshakes," I said. "Hold the sugar which I know you add in obscene amounts."

"Did you hear something Charlie?" she asked, perplexed.

"Cut him some slack, Becca," he chuckled. "It's his eighteenth birthday today."

She looked pensive for a moment without taking her eyes of Charlie. He simply shrugged at her. I thought for a moment that she would act differently but as she turned to me, there was a scowl on her face. Her eyes fell on my shirt for a few seconds. I would have been pleased if I wasn't sure she was reading the unflattering text on my shirt instead of admiring my porn star body. "And you," she said in a way that sounded remarkably like you shit, "what do you want?"

"How about a date?" I asked, my eyebrows wiggling their perfection.

"Uhh," she grunted and seemed to restrain herself from making her fists ball up. Charlie buried his face in his hands either in disbelief or embarrassment (of her of course, not me, no one ever got embarrassed of me). "To eat. What do you want to eat?"

"I could think of a few things," I leered as my eyes roamed her body slowly.

"Oh my god," she said as she turned and headed for the kitchen. "I'm getting you a milkshake."

I smiled satisfied that I got my message across.

"Derek," Charlie said disbelievingly.

"What?"

"Do you realize that's the probably the most she's ever spoken to you in the span of twenty seconds?"

"Yeah, I'm making progress," I said only half-kidding.

"No, you're not," Charlie said. I could have sworn he sounded genuinely irritated. "Why can't you just talk to her like a normal person?"

"Charlie. Charlie. Charlie. My friend, I'm sorry but I know a lot more about this dating thing than you. When you have looks like mine, a body like this, and skills on the court that would make MJ shake on his knees, you can get any girl you want when you want. They want to feel desired. They want to feel your eyes scoping their bodies. It makes them feel prettier especially if the guy looking at them is as hot as me." I chuckled as if any guy would be that lucky. "That's how things are in our world, my friend. Trust me on this."

"You do realize that only works if the girl wants you to look at them like that. They'll feel gratified, fine. But girls that don't like being looked at like some piece of meat will drop you like a hot potato. They'll think you're some," he looked around and then hunching forward a little whispered, "sex maniac who's after nothing but physical pleasure."

"Dude, that is so not cool," I said staring at him.

"What?" he asked surprised. "It's true. People will think that of you if you're like that all the time."

"I don't mean that," shaking my hand in front of my face like to get a bad smell out of the way (actually it did smell a little nauseating with all the greasy smells coming from the kitchen), "I'm talking about you having to whisper when you say words like sex."

"Why?" Charlie frowned.

"Dude, you're almost eighteen. You can't be ashamed to say stuff like that, and curse words too. It comes with our age, man. Say it with me. Sex. Sex. Fuck. Fucking sex."

Charlie just giggled at me.

"Hopeless. I give up," I said shaking my head, which was probably a good thing since Rebecca came back just then carrying a large tray in her right hand.

"Here are your orders," she said friendly enough. "My mom saw you come in Charlie and prepared your favorite ahead of time. Choco Banana Walnut Pancakes. An extra side order of bacon. Orange juice. And for you," her voice growing much, much stiffer, "An extra, extra, extra thick milkshake with extra, extra, extra sugar." I cringed with each extra word. Charlie just took his order with enthusiastic gratitude.

"Thanks," I said as I took the straw she gave out of the paper wrapping it had. I dipped it into the milkshake and sipped it lusciously, toying with the straw suggestively. I almost choked though. The sweetness made me think a whole vat of sugar fell into the glass. There was probably more sugar there than all the food I ate the past month.

"Would you like anything else?" she asked, taking obvious enjoyment at my sugar shock.

"What about that date?" I asked.

Charlie shook his head as he sliced through a banana muttering my name under his breath.

"No," she said satisfied as she turned back to the counter. Her hips swinging back and forth, mocking me.

"What is it with her?" I asked as I watched her take her spot behind the counter, glaring at me as if she enjoyed it before attending to another customer.

"Give it up, Derek," Charlie mumbled around the pancakes in his mouth. "You're either doing something wrong or she's not interested in you. And since you can't seem to do anything wrong, then it must be the latter." I didn't miss the sarcasm.

"Okay then. Tell me Charlie. If you were me, what would you do?"

Charlie stopped chewing and cutting his food. He looked pointedly at me. "Are you actually asking me?"

I leaned back on the worn cushions of my chair and set aside the milkshake having no intention to drink it. "Since you seem to know how to ask a girl like Rebecca out then you tell me what I should do. How do I get her to go out with me?"

Charlie looked at me like he couldn't believe what I was saying. Finally, he swallowed the food in his mouth and set aside his plate. Probably a good thing too if his pancakes had even half the sugar my milkshake had. "First, tell me why you want to go out with her."

"What do you mean why? I'm a guy. She's a girl. What other reason is there?"

"So you're doing it to get into her pants?" His eyes narrowed at me.

"Well, that's one reason," I said shrugging it off.

"One reason?"

I tapped the table with my fingers as my eyes looked towards Rebecca. She was talking to another employee, a woman probably in her late twenties or early thirties. When she noticed me looking, her smile turned into a frown and she glared at me. "Maybe I'd like to get to know her."

"Get to know her?"

"Are you just going to repeat everything I say?" I chuckled.

Charlie didn't laugh. In fact, he looked dead serious. "No. But, I'd be really pissed off if all you want to do with her is have… is to get into her pants."

That surprised me. "Charlie. What's up with you man? We're best buds. You're supposed to be supporting me on this."

"That's why I'm helping you," he said, his stare softening a bit. "Look, Derek, I know you. I know how many girls you've dated. I also know how many girls you've hurt. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count them all. Becca is my friend. So if all you're going to do is end up hurting her then I'll have nothing to do with helping you."

"You'd choose her over me?" I asked in disbelief.

He took a deep breath and scratched his head. "I'd still choose you, Derek. We're best friends. More than that, we're brothers. There's no question I'd choose you. But really, I'd rather you don't make me choose. Becca's a good friend also and I'd hate to end up losing her as a friend if you two end up badly."

I looked intently at him. The conviction in his voice made me feel good. And for a second, just a second, I felt something different towards Charlie. But it was gone so fast that I rubbed it off as gratitude, although I knew it wasn't just that. "Okay," I said pausing. "Okay, maybe, just maybe, I like her."

"Like her?" he said and then when he realized what he was doing shook his head. "What do you mean?"

I looked over at Becca, my eyes drawn to her face without wavering. I watched as a short stray hair broke away from the knot on her head. She brushed it back behind her ear. I watched as she smiled, as her eyes crinkled, and how she finally laughed at what I assumed was a joke the other girl said. Again, her gaze turned towards us and it made me wonder if they were talking about us. As she noticed me once again looking, she frowned and her eyes settled to their expected glare. I smiled slightly at her and she seemed confused by that.

"Okay, you do like her," Charlie said nodding. He seemed satisfied as he smiled. Something about it though seemed almost sad. He pulled back the plate in front of him, picked up his knife and fork, and resumed eating.

"I didn't say that."

"No, you didn't but I can tell," he said. I raised an eyebrow at him and he shrugged. "You have this certain look, you see. It's like your eyes kinda dilate to make it seem like they were out of focus yet I know they can still see everything. It makes me think like your eyes were adjusting to see even more than what was obviously in sight. I know you do it when you look at someone special to you. At least you used to anyway. I haven't seen you look at anyone like that since…" He paused then shook his head like he was trying to forget a bad memory. "I can tell you like her at least more than you have other girls."

"Since when did you become an expert at this, Dr. Phil?"

"I watch Oprah," he said with a straight face. I groaned until he laughed. "I'm kidding. So do you want to know?"

"If you watched Oprah?"

"No, doofus," he laughed. "Know how to ask her out."

I tilted my head at him. He looked so confident and in control, I almost laughed. "Okay, tell me."

"How about trying some humility?" Charlie said around a banana and some stray walnuts. "Say you really don't know how to approach a girl like her."

"But I do," I interrupted.

"You don't," Charlie said quickly. "And that's exactly why you're asking me for advice. Just try it before you knock it. Be honest with her. Show her the good, vulnerable guy that I know is inside you."

"Hey!" I protested. "I'm not vulnerable."

"Sure you're not," he agreed far too quickly for my taste. "I'm just saying try not dominating the conversation. Just put yourself out there and let her set the pace of the conversation. Talking must be give and take. It works, trust me. How do you think she and I are such good friends?"

I stared at him. He continued cutting up his food, not looking up at me. When he finally did look up, he stopped mid-cut. "Why are you still seated there? Go!"

I shook my head laughing. I was taking relationship advice from Charlie. It would end badly, I thought. I was sure of it. "Okay," I said taking a deep breath. "If this doesn't work, you owe me big. A week's worth of chores will do." We always did that since we were young making bets and trading chores around our own houses. Sometimes, we kept to the deal strictly and had the other guy do the chores for both houses. Most of the time though, we shared no matter who lost.

"Deal," he said, not needing to say that I owed him the same if he was right. We tapped fists as I stood up. At least I managed to get him to do knuckle tapping. I was a proud brother and best friend that day.

I walked towards the counter, wiping my hands on my jeans, ruffling my hair to its ordered disorder, and checking my breath against my hand. I wasn't nervous or anything. I didn't get nervous. Okay, maybe I was just a little. I straightened my shirt and puffed out my perfect chest.

The other employee, the one talking to Rebecca, noticed me first. She nudged her head towards my direction. Rebecca turned to me frowning.

"Hey," I said.

"What do you want?" she asked stiffly. Her co-employee smiled and took a pot of coffee to an elderly gentleman at the other end of the counter. She was obviously giving us some space.

I looked at her. Let her do the talkingCharlie said. So, was I supposed to say something? Sure, I wanted to say how about a romantic movie night out at the Square or how about your hand in mine for the rest of the day but somehow I figured that wasn't exactly letting her set the pace of the conversation.

"Well?" she said sounding annoyed.

I opened and closed my mouth a few times but nothing came out. What the hell was I supposed to say? How the hell was I supposed to let her do the talking when I couldn't talk. I was about to march back to Charlie telling him how his experiment failed when a plump woman bounced out of the kitchen.

"Who's this?" she asked as her adult eyes landed on me. She was also a brunette and had a cheerful face that looked like it often found a reason to smile. She was wearing a pink short-sleeve, striped polo that matched what Rebecca was wearing. However, instead of the white apron the younger woman wore, she had a psychedelic flowery apron that looked like she had been wearing it since the seventies. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if she had. That's not to say it was unclean. On the contrary it gave her a pseudo-ancient aura that gave away her skills in a kitchen in boastful yet kind way. Something like this is my realm, don't mess with me… please. "Is this one of your little friends?"

I bit back with a retort about exactly how not little I was but being in the presence of an adult, my other senses kicked in. Oh yes, I've had plenty of practice charming the older crowd and she was certainly someone I could easily handle. Certainly, Charlie's let her set the pace of the conversation rule didn't apply to adults.

"Yes, ma'am," I said at the same time that Rebecca had said a vehement "no."

The older woman smiled knowingly and bobbed her head a few times like those little toys some people put in the dashboard of their cars. She approached the counter and stood before me. She gave me an appraising look that I knew every girl's parents had when I was seen with their daughter. And like every other parent that had seen me with their child, she nodded approvingly. "I see. So you're here to ask my daughter out?"

"Mom!" Rebecca screamed garnering the looks of several other early morning diners. Her mom paid no attention to her and just kept staring me down. If she had bothered to look at her daughter, she would have seen the very real and horrified look that had developed on the younger girl's face.

I knew that game of course. With the number of girls I'd dated by then, it had an all too familiar feel to it. Every parent wants the best for their child (i.e. me). They would stare down every interested suitor, looking for any signs of weakness like a quivering voice, a bowed head, or a beaded forehead. Oh yes, I knew that game very well.

"I would like to with your permission," I said confidently, sounding very much like I meant it, which wasn't hard since I actually did.

"Mom! No!" Rebecca said in a more controlled voice. "He's not my friend."

"Of course not," she said in a playful tone that dripped an entirely different meaning. She looked at her daughter. "That's why you weren't talking about him for the last fifteen minutes. These walls are not so thick you know."

Rebecca turned pale as death. She scowled at the smirk I was giving her. "I was so not talking about you."

Her mom turned to me. "Are you Derek Hampton?" I nodded. "Charlie's best friend? Basketball player? Southmore senior? Your birthday's today, isn't it?" I nodded with each question, my smile growing wilder while Rebecca buried herself more in embarrassment. So she had been talking about me. And obviously, it wasn't in a bad way if her mom didn't think negatively of me. Then again, I wasn't sure if it was possible for any parent to think negatively of me.

"I feel like you know me so well already, ma'am," I said. Rebecca's mom looked pleased – a compliment masked in a simple observation. It was almost too easy.

"So when do you want to take my daughter out?" she asked.

"I do not need you setting me up, mom," Rebecca whined loud enough that several other patrons started chuckled. Rebecca turned beet red.

"Of course you do," her mom said waving her hand dismissively. "You need to, what's the word you young people use nowadays? Hand out?"

"Hang out, ma'am," I said kindly.

"Yes, funny expression if you ask me. You need to hang out more with boys. The only boy I've ever seen you bring around here is Charlie. I absolutely adore the boy but we both know nothing can happen between you since Charlie is..."

"Mom!" Rebecca said so dangerously that even her mom took pause and looked over at her daughter's almost harsh tone. At the same time, silverware clattered with porcelain as Charlie let his knife and fork fall on the half-empty plate of pancakes. I looked over at Charlie curiously and it was clear that he had been listening to if not overhearing our conversation. He had an odd expression of his face. He looked like he was afraid.

"Oh!" Rebecca's mom suddenly said which made me look again at her, forgetting Charlie for the moment. "Oh! You mean he doesn't…?"

"Yes, mom," Rebecca said putting great emphasis on each word. I wondered what they were talking about.

"Oh," she said again, as she looked over me like some poor wounded animal. "I see."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about."

The two women looked at each other and I could tell that they were communicating in that weird silent language that all women seemed capable of doing. They were probably trading volumes of chatter at that moment unheard by the world around them (which in a way, all men were grateful for).

"Well," Rebecca's mom said suddenly sounding very cheerful. "I still think that any friend of Charlie is still a good friend. And you seem like a nice enough boy to me." It almost sounded like she was trying to console me. "Just don't ask her out tonight. I need her at home. We have to clean out the garage."

Don't tell anyone but for a moment there my mind was going at little slow. I mean one moment we were talking about one thing and then a completely different topic moments later when my mind was still fixated on the last one. There was something there that I should have known but didn't. It almost felt like they were keeping secrets from me. I didn't like it when people did that. When my mind finally did catch up I responded albeit tentatively. "That's okay. I have dinner with my folks tonight. What about next Saturday?"

Rebecca's mom looked at her daughter and asked the unspoken question. Well?

Rebecca just rolled her eyes. "Fine," she said sounding very much defeated. "Next Saturday." I would have jumped with glee if that wouldn't have been so gay. My heart dropped suddenly though at her next word. "BUT… I'm allowed to bring a friend."

A friend? Did she mean like me going out with two girls at the same time? That would be awesome!

As if reading my mind, Rebecca said, "you have to bring a friend also."

Oh, a double date? Well that wasn't so bad. At least I was going out with her. I could always bring Charlie to get rid of the other girl. I mean I don't really mind if they did anything. Heck, Charlie needed more exposure to that kind of thing anyway. It would be okay with me as long as they did it far away from us, or at least let us have some private time later in the night. "Sure. I can bring Charlie. You know what, I'll ask him now." I turned at my seat. "Yo, Charlie."

"Yeah?" he said his voice shaking slightly. He seemed unusually nervous.

"You wanna go on a double date with me next Saturday? With Rebecca and her friend?" I heard Rebecca mom's chuckle behind me.

Charlie frowned and looked confused. He looked behind me and I knew his eyes were on Rebecca. I wondered if he had that silent communication crap with her as well. After awhile, he shrugged. "Sure."

I turned around on my seat satisfied only to be greeted by a devious smile on Rebecca's lips. Her eyes were flaring mischievously sending cold shivers down my spine.

What did I get myself into?

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