by Hamen Cheese
Chapter 12: Cockblocked
"Charlie! Why aren't you ready yet?"
Charlie looked up from the physics book he was reading, a book that wasn't even part of our reading list. He was seated on his crowded study desk and was giving me a perplexed look. We had gone to our separate houses after his first day of work so that each of us could prepare. Mr. Maloney was nice enough to let Charlie off early with full pay given we had to prepare for our dates tonight. The fact that we had actually organized an entire section of his store in a few hours might have helped make that happen.
It took me less than thirty minutes to look godly and had proceeded to Charlie's house as soon as I was done. I expected him to be done if not almost done but he looked like he hadn't even taken a shower yet or even brushed his teeth.
"Isn't our dates for another two hours?" he asked with a glance at his wall clock.
"Yes, and you're sitting here reading. READING of all things."
"It's not going to take me that long to get ready," he chuckled. He marked the page he was reading with a bookmark and closed the book. "In all the years and the dozens of dates I've seen you prepare for, I have never seen you rushing to get ready. What happened to being just a few minutes early, always keeping them in suspense, not looking too eager, making them think they're privileged for being allowed to go out with you?" He marked each point with a raised finger without pause as though he had recited it many times before (which in fact was the case).
"This is different," I said with a wave. "This is a double date."
"Oh, so you're worried I might screw things over," Charlie said with a mischievous grin.
"Oh my god! Charlie said screw. There might be hope for you yet."
"Whatever," he laughed. "And you didn't answer my question. What's with the all the excitement?"
Honestly, I didn't know. In the hundreds (I think dozens was an understatement really) of dates I'd gone out to, I had always lived by the principles that Charlie laid out. I was not just a catch for women, I was The Catch. I knew it and they knew it. They're life would be complete if they managed to marry me so I didn't want to give them the false impression that a few dates (and a couple of make out sessions) was a marriage proposal. It had to be clear to them that although I was willing to take them out, I could drop them any time I wanted. Seeming too eager gives them unnecessary power over you in the same way that their eagerness gave me some additional power over them.
It's not like I was ever really eager to go out with anyone anyway. Usually things came with minimal time and effort if you know what I mean. Except this time, something was different.
Charlie developed this devious glint in his eyes. "Ooh, has someone finally managed to wrap The Great Derek Hampton around her fingers?"
"Shut up," I tossed a pillow straight at his delighted face, knocking a plastic lamp right off his study table. "I just don't want to be late, alright?"
"Sure, sure," he chuckled as he stood up. Noticing the fallen lamp, he picked it up and replaced it in its spot. He nudged it a few times, no more than an inch each time, as though he couldn't decide where exactly it was supposed to go.
"Charlie!" I laughed after he'd spent a good thirty seconds playing with his lamp. "If you don't stop playing with that, I'm gonna shove it where the sun don't shine."
He roared before finally relenting under my playful glare. "Okay, okay. Keep your pants on. Give me a few minutes to take a shower and get ready." He rolled his eyes and gave me that pointed look that told me I was being silly. He started pulling out a fresh towel and his clothes.
"What is that?!" I looked at the bright red polo in his hands. I grabbed it from him. It looked like one of those fusion clothes that mixed different styles together. It was basically a punk rock, military polo. The material was rough like something I'd expect from military uniforms. It was frayed at several ends as though it had already seen combat. It also had two large pockets in the front and the sides with sleeves to shut them. There were big shiny buttons on each of them that glinted their metal finish. The big finisher though was the jagged text that ran across the back that said Hardcore. "Charlie?" I grinned.
He blushed furiously. "What?"
"Charlie?" I grinned again my eyebrows undulating.
"Whaaaat?" he whined, grabbing the shirt from my hands. I had to laugh at his reaction. "It's just a shirt."
I laughed even harder at his obvious discomfort. "I'm sorry Charlie. I just never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever, ever see you wearing something like that."
He shook his head, "you and I both." He finally joined me at laughing.
"It's not bad though," I grinned as I hopped onto my childhood bed to get more comfortable. "I'd even go far as saying it's downright cool."
Charlie smiled seeming even more satisfied with his choice of what to wear. "That's good because I don't want to look like a fool. This kind of clothing isn't exactly my style."
"Don't worry, Charlie. We know," I chuckled as I pictured Charlie's typical clothes, which were basically solid color polo shirts.
"Hey," he swatted my leg. "Be nice. I'm doing you a favor, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll owe you big time. Now, go take a shower already. You stink."
He rolled his eyes but otherwise complied.
I would have liked to pick up Rebecca from her house but I had a feeling she was adamantly trying to keep me from figuring out where she lived. It wasn't like I was going to stalk her or drop by her house unannounced. I had more common courtesy than that.
I'd call a few minutes before I got there.
Anyway, she insisted we meet her and her friend at the Sundial Mall. It was fine by me. They had movie houses. Very dark movie houses. And everyone knew what guys and girls did in very dark places.
I looked at my cell phone, a gift from my father when I turned sixteen. It was one of those high end ones with a touch screen display. I hardly ever used it though. Despite the advanced curriculum offered in Southmore, cell phones were not allowed on campus. It was one of their stricter rules that any phone caught at a student's hand during school hours was to be confiscated and not returned until a parent picked it up. It was grossly inconvenient but got the point across especially to the disgruntled mothers who had to drive to school just to get a cell phone. If they wanted their children to own phones, then keep it at home during school hours.
It's funny though because cell phones were such an in thing that despite the rules, I was almost sure that every single student in class had one although no one ever saw them.
I once tried convincing my mother to write a letter of explanation making it necessary for me to bring my phone to school every day in case there was an emergency. It's not like I was going to show it off or anything. Perhaps I'd use it discretely every now and then. Or perhaps play a few games while everyone looked on with envy. But, mostly, it was for my own well-being and protection. You never know when emergencies would happen! However, my mom adamantly pointed out how her office was always just down the hall or one floor up. When I kept insisting, she threatened to frisk me every morning during homeroom if I she even suspected that I brought my phone.
Needless to say, my phone stayed at home within plain sight.
It wasn't so important anyway. It's not like I would have given my number to anyone. I made the mistake of doing that once. I gave it to a girl, ONE girl I was dating and by the end of the night (and early into the morning), I had fifteen different girls call me, half of them I'd never even met. From then on, I swore never to give it out again after I had my number changed.
So pretty much, it was only Charlie, my mother, and my father who knew my number. Charlie didn't have his own phone so he never called me there plus we saw each other all the time anyway. My mom lingered near enough at school and at home that she probably knew I'd hang myself if she called me too. My dad, well, despite the fact that he gave me a phone, he never actually bothered calling me on it even on my birthday, a thought that made me even less enthusiastic about using it.
However, despite my aversion to my own phone, I was at that moment staring intently at the bright LCD display waiting for the call that refused to arrive.
Charlie made a slurping sound as he drained his large cup of coke down to the ice cubes. "Why didn't you just ask for her number?" We were seated in the Food Court of the Sundial Mall, amidst the rough smells of baked lard and fried cholesterol.
"I did," I said sounding a little annoyed. "But it's her mom's number and she couldn't remember the exact number when I asked for it. Even her mom didn't know and she was standing right there, remember? I had to give mine instead."
"I'm surprised you still even have that thing," he said slurping even more from his cup. It was probably just the ice melting.
"What do you mean?" I took my eyes off the display for just a moment, sure that it would ring as soon as I looked away. It remained silent.
"I thought you hated that thing," he shook the big cup rattling the ice within as though it would magically refill with coke.
"I don't hate it," I said finally putting down the phone. I let it linger there for a few seconds before picking it up and looking at the blank screen again. "I just never really had any reason to use it before."
"Mmhmm," he said as he sipped through the straw again in futility. "Maybe it's off."
"Of course not," I said but checked anyway to make sure I wasn't mistaken. Then I realized Charlie was grinning at me from end to end. "What?"
"You're funny when you're nervous," he slurped. "You fidget."
"I do not fidget," I said defensively as I put the phone down. "I'm Derek Hampton. I'm confident and in control. I do not fidget." I picked up the phone again to check if she had called or texted in the last few seconds.
"Riiiight," Charlie said as he again slurped his drink. "Tell you what. Just so you'll have something to do while we wait, why don't you get me another drink."
"I already bought you a drink," I said glaring at him. "You're holding it."
He shook it in his hands as though to say it was a drink. "Doesn't sound like a drink to me."
"I bought you an extra, extra large coke," I pointed out. "And I even gave in to letting it be a coke instead of a diet. You should be grateful I even let you drink that stuff."
"Well, if you didn't bring us here a FULL hour ahead of the meeting time, it would have lasted me through the movie, now wouldn't it?"
"Well, it's not my fault you can't control yourself," I said watching the LCD display hibernate again. "You should have practiced discipline, managed your thirst until the right time to quench it came. You can't let circumstances control you. You have to always be in control of the situation. That is how you become a confident and calm guy like me." I watched the screen for a few more seconds before almost breaking it against the table. "Seriously, where is that woman?! She better not have stood me up."
"She'll be here," Charlie chuckled as he put down the cup.
"How can you be so sure?" I asked dubiously. I mean I was never stood up before but I'd never had to wait for a girl like that either. They were always ready ahead of time for me. It was driving me crazy.
"Because I'm here," he grinned and as much as I would have taken offense at that statement I had a feeling inside me that it was true.
But before I could ponder that further, a sudden sadness swept over me. His words, vaguely familiar, seemed to incite a deep feeling within. A profound sense of loss turned any semblance of a smile into a frown. It was strange because I never really felt anything like it before. It was as if I had lost someone, without even having that person. The world felt colder and I retracted me arms as though to pull in the warmth. The loud and excited sounds of the Food Court suddenly seemed depressing and hateful, almost like it was livid with me.
"Hey," Charlie said suddenly sounding very concerned. He reached out with his hand and in the last second changed his mind. He pulled back. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I said in a voice and tone that sounded foreign to me. It was like I had lost my voice or had put down its volume. "Yeah."
"Derek?" He frowned as the phone lying on the table started beeping angrily, vibrating the table as though it wanted to break it. I stared at it, knowing what it was doing yet not comprehending what I should do. Charlie kept looking at me with a concerned frown. "I think that's for you."
What the hell was wrong with me? I was on a date, just a date like the hundreds I've gone to before. It felt like I was falling apart when I had absolutely no reason to. Taking a deep breath, I pulled myself together. I shoved the thoughts down to the back of my mind and just like that they were gone, like the whole thing never happened. It was almost like I had forgotten it already.
Shaking my head, I reached for the phone and read the display. It was displaying an unknown number but I knew it could only have been one person. Despite the somber mood I had suddenly plunged into, I couldn't help but smile.
"Hello," I said to the receiver. For a moment, I was tempted to say hey babe but something held me back. Perhaps it was the mood or perhaps it was Charlie's advice the week before. Whatever it was, it was something I needed to figure out for later. But then something told me it wasn't important so maybe not. Whoever was on the other line didn't speak but I could tell it was connected. It was noisy, but only with chatter and the general noise of a mall. "Hello," I said again.
"Derek," came an uncertain voice on the other side. It was female and could only belong to one person.
"Hey, Rebecca," I said feeling better already. "You called." I hit myself on the forehead for such a lame thing to say.
"Yeah," Rebecca replied. It wasn't mocking though like I expected. Instead, it sounded remarkably like she was concerned. "You okay? You sound different."
"Me?" I asked looking at Charlie. He still looked a little worried but I smiled at him. After awhile, he smiled.
"Hello?" came Rebecca's voice on the other line. I don't know how long it was but apparently the silence must have been long enough for her to wonder if I was still there.
"Hey, yes, I'm here," I replied to her looking away from Charlie and towards the people around us. "Charlie's here too. We're waiting for you at the Food Court."
She didn't reply and I wondered if she hung up on me. But then I thought I could hear her talking to someone else on the background. Sure enough, she came on after awhile, "well, we're also here."
"You are?" I said happily. I stood up and started looking around hoping I would see her or she would see me. I was feeling slightly elated. I was excited and apprehensive at the same time as though I couldn't wait to see her yet I wanted to prolong the search more. "Can you see me?"
"Yep," she said and at the same moment my eyes landed on her. She was standing way across the Food Court on the other side but I would have thought the whole place was empty. It was almost like she stood out above everyone else and radiated a light that just chased everyone away into the shadows. She was wearing a dark green blouse emblazoned by the most perfect crystal studs that they looked almost real. Her wavy hair cascaded down her back untied, rising slightly over each wave like she had used a blow-dryer to give it volume. They swayed to her side as she raised a hand almost uncertainly in a wave.
The girl beside her wasn't bad either. She was texting someone on her phone but I could still see her face clearly. She had plain but pretty features and long dark hair that looked like it could be used for shampoo commercials. I was glad Charlie would have a pretty girl like her for company that night. As much as I knew the date was really about me, I didn't want Charlie to end up with someone that looked like she was sculpted from a relic. Charlie was my best friend after all. He deserved great things also.
I waved at her, perhaps a little too excitedly. I controlled arms a little and toned down my smile. There was nothing to gain by making her think I was too excited.
"We'll be there in a bit," she said as she hung up. I watched as she turned to her friend. I was about to tell Charlie what was up but then had to look back at Rebecca more attentively to make sure I wasn't just imagining things. She turned not to Ms. Plain But Pretty but instead to her other side where she nudged at the elbow of a person turned the other way as though still looking for us in the Food Court. As her friend turned, the smile that had been steadily growing on my lips turned into a frown and the excitement I was feeling escalated into rage.
"What the hell is HE doing here?" I asked, particularly glad I wasn't still connected to Rebecca on the phone. Charlie stood from his seat and looked over to where I was watching, my eyes shooting daggers at the pretty boy whose elbow was crisscrossed with Rebecca's as they walked steadily to us.
"That's…" Charlie said, his eyes widening as though he couldn't believe what was happening. His unspoken words pretty much summed up what I was feeling.
"I thought this was a double date. Why'd she bring a guy? And that guy of all people?!"
"Derek, be nice," Charlie said as he begun straightening his shirt as though he was nervous. I could have sworn he was breaking into a smile but was trying to hold it back. He seemed almost excited.
"You can't seriously be okay with this?" I asked in disbelief.
"I'll get rid of him," he said nonchalantly.
"You brought me here to get rid of Rebecca's friend right?" at this he finally smiled. "So I'll get rid of him."
I stared at him unable to believe my ears. I mean I knew Charlie was a really good guy and would do almost anything for me but I figured even he would get pissed for having his night ruined. I mean he came here expecting to have a great (and possibly even hot) night with Rebecca's friend but instead got a guy.
"I'll really owe you big time for this," I told him.
"Oh, I don't think you'll have to worry about it," he said in a way that made me think he had a second meaning to it. Before I could ask him about it though, Rebecca and her friend arrived right in front of us.
"Hampton," the cheeky anorexic brat in Rebecca's arms said. His voice was not hostile but the way he said my last name rather than my first was a clear enough message.
I'M HERE TO FUCK WITH YOU.
"Travis," I replied with a fake smile. I was almost tempted to shake his hand but after the last time we did that, I decided otherwise. "What a surprise to see you here."
"Yeah," Travis said his stupid eyes twinkling evilly. "I was so happy when Rebecca called me last week asking if we could go out. I had absolutely nothing else planned this weekend."
"How… fortunate," I said, trying to control the number of daggers my eyes were stabbing him at that moment. The sight of his bruised and bloody body was bringing a smile to my lips.
"Travis," Rebecca laughed and patting him on the arm. I noticed that her arm was still crossed with his. "Be nice."
The dickwad looked like he wanted to say something but then changed his mind. His voice took on a sultry note. "Of course. Anything," he turned making sure his eyes met mine. "For you."
He melted into a puddle of shit before my eyes.
"Hey Travis," Charlie said cheerfully.
"Hey Charlie," he blobbed, "I love the shirt, by the way. Looks good on you."
"Thanks," Charlie mumbled. I could have sworn he was blushing.
"You're such a tease," Rebecca said patting him again and finally disentangling herself from the giant turd. "So are you guys ready? What are we watching?"
"Yep, we're ready. Right, Charlie?" I waited for him to reveal his master plan in getting me alone with Rebecca.
"Let's have dinner first," Charlie said, his voice expressing excitement.
What?! What happened to I'll get rid of him?
"I think that's an excellent idea, Charlie," Travis said, his eyes twinkling. "I'm actually quite hungry."
"Me too," Rebecca agreed quickly. And then her face got pinched. "Besides, I checked the films. They're not very nice. They're all sappy romance movies."
"You paying for dinner, Hampton?" Travis taunted.
WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER, ASSHOLE.
"Of course he is," Rebecca said as she stood by me. She then took my arm and leaned against me. Her skin was so soft and her perfume so fragrant I felt like spring had suddenly come into full bloom in the middle of the mall. Except of course spring was not tainted with the smell of grease and burgers.
Somewhere thousands of miles below the Earth, Lucy started sipping tea to keep warm.
"Of course," I said agreeing to burn my money. Somehow, the idea didn't seem so bad with her next to me like that. "Dinner's on me."
"Well that's very nice of you Derek," Charlie said, his eyes expressing how happy he probably was to see Rebecca alongside me. "We can go to NFJ on the third floor."
"But Charlie," Travis chuckled. "I wouldn't know how to use chopsticks if my life depended on it."
"It sounds perfect," I agreed quickly.
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