Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Part Three of Four

Chapter 16: Mothers

Travis had left hours before me. His father, a rather frail and diminutive man came bustling into the office positively beaming with a smirk on his face. It was clear where Travis had gotten his pitiable personality as the guy just chuckled at whatever Principal Walker was saying as though he found the whole thing amusing. The latter didn't seem at all fazed by the inappropriate reaction shown by Travis' father. If anything, our principal seemed almost relieved.

Travis made it a point to make eye contact with me before leaving. He was neither glaring nor angry from his expression which was far from the set lines that crowded my face as I stared back at him. He looked so calm and serene that it was infuriating my temper even more to the point that even the principal's secretary adamantly refused to pay any attention to me after Travis had left.

My mother couldn't leave the other school.Since my righteous defense of all that was good was not considered an emergency, I had to wait several hours for her to finish. It was almost an hour after school was dismissed before she got there. A few students had come in to submit papers to the secretary or perhaps just to quench their curiosity on what happened to me. I bit down the hope that Charlie would be one of the people to walk in and that he would profess that he wasn't gay. But then, I had personally witnessed what happened so the only way that would be true was if I was delusional or wrong.

Fortunately, I was perfectly sane. I was also never wrong.

My mother was – is – a lot of things. She is amiable, brilliant, caring – I can think of an adjective to describe her for every letter of the alphabet and then some. The one thing she clearly is not is a disciplinarian. She simply did not have the experience for it. That was something other people did for her.

I didn't know what Principal Walker told her over the phone.But, it was clear she knew enough from the expression she had on her face when it was her turn to walk into the office several hours later.

I could tell almost immediately that she didn't know what to do. She gave me that half-concerned, half-disappointed look that all mothers were born with and whose faces automatically molded into moments after breaking that vase or getting yourself covered in dirt. Principal Walker made it a point to close his door so I could not overhear anything they discussed. Not like it mattered really. I was certain that once my mom really knew what I was fighting about, she would agree with me. After all, she did have a faggot for a brother.

I expected her to express her displeasure that I was being suspended for ten days. I expected her to call Mrs. C in outrage and reprimand her for exposing me to her gay son all these years. I expected her to do what every other normal parent would have done in such a situation.

Instead, she cried. And that totally made me feel like shit.

She just sat there beside me, asked Sam (the secretary) if she could give us a minute, waited for her to leave, and then finally started sobbing next to me. I had never before seen my mother cry and I realized that if there was one thing a man was never meant to see, that would be to see his mother cry.

That and perhaps natural childbirth.

Even Principal Walker had the right idea and kept his door shut while my mother cried her eyes out. I didn't know what to do. Was I supposed to put my arm around her? Was I supposed to wait out her tears? Call 911 perhaps?

"Is it true?" she asked, her voice cracking a little from the emotional strain.

"Is what true?" I asked in a remarkably small voice, much like the way I did when I accidentally spilled several dozen cookies on the floor when I wanted to get Charlie his favorite flavor at the bottom of the jar.

"Did you get into a fight with Charlie and his friend?" she asked almost like an accusation despite the fact that it didn't have the strength of one. "Did you accuse him of being gay I front of the whole school?"

I felt like layers of guilt were being pressed upon me despite the fact that she had only asked two questions. Why was it when she asked it in that way, it suddenly seemed like I did a bad thing? I didn't. Didn't I?

"It wasn't the whole school…" I replied.

She clenched her eyes tighter, making a few tears dribble down. She then bit down on her lower lip before looking at me again.

"My god, Derek, why would you do something like that?"

"Why not?" I asked somehow offended by her obvious reaction of not taking my side. "They're... he's… they're gay. You of all people should understand what that means."

"What?" she replied looking taken aback.

"You have a faggot for a brother you haven't spoken to in years."

"Do not use that word with me, young man," she said sternly for the first time for as long as I could remember. It was my turn to be surprised. It was like I had accidentally spilled salt into an open wound. "My relationship with my brother is complicated. It's true I haven't spoken to him in years but that doesn't mean I don't love him or that I would ever do anything to hurt him."

"Love him?" I asked aghast. I stared at my mother as though seeing her for the first time. "Love him? How could you love someone like him? He's a homo. You've stayed away from him all this time because he's gay."

"Derek, it's not like that," she said quickly. "Your father… he just doesn't approve."

"Of course he doesn't!" I said angrily. "He told me your brother's found some other good for nothing faggot to live him. They probably just fuck each other like rabbits all day."

The slap was loud and unexpected. Even my mother seemed terrified at the reaction. Her hand just swung out of nowhere and slapped me hard on the cheek. She covered her mouth with both hands and looked at me with wide anxious eyes like she couldn't believe what she did. I suddenly found breathing difficult.

"Derek, honey," she reached out with a hand on my arm but I pulled away. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

I stood up from the chair and backed away from her. I didn't know why but I suddenly felt afraid. All the anger had slipped out from me to be replaced by a sudden misplaced fear.

"Derek…" her voice sounding hollow as though it was passing through a long, narrow tube.That was all I managed to hear as I suddenly found myself running from the room. I left my bag with all my books and just ran for it – ran for it down the empty and silent corridors. My mother's voice echoed dully on the stone walls but they were nothing compared tothe heavy sounds of my footsteps and my breathing.

I ran for it and kept running until I had left her and the school far behind. My shirt was drenched in sweat and my skin was radiating heat like a furnace. I was panting and my feet and muscles were sore. It took awhile but I realized just how far I had run when I finally took the time to look around where I was.

"What the hell?" I asked no one in particular when I recognized the familiar and deserted road bordered by many trees. It was the road built to service the trucks that led to CDS3, the one people called the Iron Graveyard, though I was still very far from that place. On a bike from home, it would have taken anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes to get where I was. From school, which was quite far from my house, it might have taken an hour or more.

But running or walking, it would have taken several hours to get where I was. I looked west to the sun and realized it was far too low for the time of the day. It almost looked like nighttime was only hours away. I looked at my watch. The dial was covered in mist and sweat and I had to wipe it several times before I was able to tell the time. I audibly gasped when I saw the hands.

Over four hours had passed since my mother came to pick me up in school.

"What the hell?" I asked again. How the hell did I just lose four hours of the day? And how did get all the way there? Did I just blank out? "Shit!" I cursed when I realized another predicament. I didn't know how I was going to get back. If I walked back, it would take me several hours. The only vehicles that ever passed by there were the trucks with all the trash. I wasn't sure if they passed by during that time. As far as I knew, they only did late at night or early in the morning.

As though someone had heard me, I suddenly heard an engine far into the distance. I watched for the vehicle trying to make out which direction it came from. It sounded like it was coming from the city side. I stood in the middle of the road intending to flag it down. It didn't sound like it was moving very fast so I was hopeful I wouldn't get run over.

When I saw the vehicle, my hopes of not getting run over were squelched.

Barely a year past its birth, the condition of the vehicle subtly hinted of the owner's meticulous attention to details and care for personal belongings. Every bit of the silver paint job glinted in the fading light, providing evidence of frequent and careful waxing and maintenance. If there was a saying that every dog looked like its master, the same held water when it came to that car. It was indomitable. Wise. Lethal.

It was Mrs. C's car.

For a moment, I contemplated jumping into the trees and waiting for the next vehicle to pass by. However, the prospect of waiting for nightfall before the possibility of another vehicle passing was hugely disturbing. So, I stood my ground in the middle of the road to flag her down. I just hoped I had enough space for her to slow down.

For good measure, I backed up a little.

My efforts were awarded when I saw the vehicle slow down. I didn't know how I felt about seeing Charlie again. A part of me was glad. I mean, all things considered, it was just Charlie. But after everything I saw… well, I wasn't quite sure if it really was Charlie or just some idea of who Charlie was supposed to be, perhaps some faint hope of he should have been.

Apparently, I didn't have to worry about seeing Charlie again for the vehicle was quite free of his presence. The only head visible within the windshield was Mrs. C's. Her expression was difficult to translate. She looked remarkably calm – much like a tiger before she pounced on an unaware fowl.

She stopped the vehicle a few meters from where I stood, the engine rumbled like a disturbed creature of the abyss. Both her hands were visible on the steering wheel as though she was making an effort to keep them still. She stared at me with such a dark demeanor that suddenly, waiting for the night wasn't such a bad idea.

She nudged her head slightly to her side indicating I should take the passenger seat. I wanted to. The aching muscles in my legs were protesting in pain after standing still for several minutes.

The heart skipped when the car growled as fuel surged through it. The sound rent through the trees as the engine drank fuel in neutral gear.

Once more she nudged her head to the side indicating I should enter –and probably very soon.

I shook my head no. I had firmly decided that being run over in the middle of the night was a far more merciful end.

The engine roared again but this time the car lurched forward indicating it was no longer in neutral gear. I raised my hands defensively as though my feeble – I mean firm – hands were able to stop the vehicle if it moved any further.

Again, she stared at me and, with an almost casual nudge, indicated I should enter the vehicle.

"Are you insane?" I managed to ask before the car lurched again and I had to step back. "Mrs. C! What the hell are you… Shit!" I took several steps back as the car lurched and lurched again shortening the distance, the fender looking like the sadistic smile of a wild and feral beast. "Stop! Wait!"

The car continued to advance with audible vrooms until even my back stepping wasn't enough and the vehicle grazed my shins. The sudden stab of pain reminded me of my protesting leg muscles screaming they could take no more. My hands landed with a hollow oomph onto the car's hood as my full body weight applied onto it from losing my balance. Its heat reflected the fury of its engine. I looked up at Mrs. C. Her face was a mask of calm serenity, but I could already tell it was no more than the eye of the storm, the silent preparation of a beast. She looked at me with cool indifference as my hands were splayed across her hood and my body hunched over in a prone position.

She blinked and nudged her head to the side indicating that I had a choice – die in this car or die on my hood.

"Okay," I said in a shaky breath despite my efforts to control myself. I watched her. I was afraid to take my eyes off her or my hands off her hood, as if doing either would make the beast between my legs suddenly pounce. Carefully, I moved every bit of skin off the car's surface until my palms met cool, fresh air. Warily, I straightened myself and stood in front of her car, which was no more than inch away from my shins. "Okay," I sighed and slowly made my way around her car to her door. Mrs. C's eyes did not follow me but rather remained fixed forward.

I opened the passenger side door and was met by the frigid air within the car which was chillier than the slowly cooling air outside. I had a feeling it had more to do than with the car's air-conditioner though.

No more than a second passed after I closed that door that the audible click of the four doors locking resonated around the compartment.

There was no escape.

Mrs. C put the car into gear and made the u-turn back to the city.

The ride back was uncomfortably silent. She didn't say a word at all, not even a glance was sent my way. Instead, she seemed determined to focus on the road as though ready to dodge (or perhaps run over) any pedestrians who decided to risk the road before her.

I squirmed in my seat, looking around anywhere but her. I wanted to ask her why she went out there. Obviously, it was to find me though I was still having some doubts on whether it wasn't actually to kill me. I was also idly wondering how Charlie was. I had a sneaking suspicion though that any mention of my best friend, my ex-best friend, would find me in front of her car once more and then under it.

So I sat it out in silence. I figured if she wanted to talk, she'd speak to me. Instead of trying to drive myself crazy with all the questions I was unable to ask, I decided instead to pay attention to other thing. Offhandedly, I noted the coffee cup sitting beneath the radio. It was unheard off to ever find Mrs. C without a cup of coffee within her reach. The image of suddenly being submerged into a giant cup of coffee and a maniacal Mrs. C laughing overhead made me cringe so I decided to look outside instead.

We were approaching the Mile Five Intersection. It was a notable intersection in that it was the only road with five streets merging into one. It had a custom made stop light right in the middle that had five faces. Some people said the blasted thing had a mind of its owning switching between stop and go in no discernable pattern. I really didn't know what they were on about because every time I passed that intersection, it was always green.

Stoplights were always green for me.

It was of special note to me because most people had to pass it to get anywhere. It was surrounded by plenty of trees that would never make you think you were in a city (not that our city is the typical urban jungle anyway). It was sort of the heart of our little community or at least a major artery, connecting nature with the modern day world. It was also the easiest and most convenient access between our residential area and the commercial zones (including Southmore). It was also exactly five miles from the Mayor's Official Residence – not that any locals really cared about that bit of trivia but it was something for the tourists.

We passed it quickly enough as the light was green (probably because I was in the car) and was surprised when we didn't turn down the road that led to my house. Instead, we used one that lead to a smaller more nature-themed commercial area that I rarelyvisited. She continued the pace of her driving as she led me further and further away from familiar things.

Despite my efforts, I couldn't help but feel panicked. I had no idea where she was taking me and my legs having felt like they've run a marathon ten times over were starting to contract painfully from the short period of rest. I didn't know if I had the strength to walk anywhere. I just wanted to go home and sleep. Besides, something else was bothering me.

I took a deep breath and despite my previous plans spoke. "Mrs. C…."

The car came to an abrupt halt as she stepped hard on the break. I didn't have the time to balance myself and found my head slamming painfully against the dashboard on the passenger side. The world blurred out as the new pain distracted me from the sensations on my legs. Several car horns blared as vehicles swerved to the side to avoid collision.

"What the ffff…" I stopped myself from cursing having known Mrs. C long enough to know she'd react negatively.

"You should put on your seatbelt," she said in a hollow monotone voice before continuing the car forward, adamantly ignoring the angry vehicles passing us.

I looked at her disbelieving. "Did you just…" I started but had to stop as the car came to another quick stop. I managed to use my hands to balance myself before my head became a permanent fixture on her dashboard. I hurriedly grappled at my seatbelt and clicked it on, securing me on the seat.

She put the car in gear again as we continued on our way. My head was still throbbing and I wouldn't be surprised if a small bump would appear there in a moment. We drove for several more miles before I had the nerve to talk again. "Mrs. C…" I began tentatively bracing myself in case she halted the car again. When she continued driving passively, I ventured further. "Where are we going?"

She remained silent as though she hadn't heard me. She continued driving and I noticed there were even more trees in this area as though we were headingout of the city into the mountains. After five minutes of silence passed, I couldn't hold back the question that kept bumping into my head.

"Mrs. C…" I said slowly, my voice sounding very little. "You're… you're not going to like kill me and dump my body somewhere… are you?" I asked only half-kidding.

Her nostrils flared for a moment as though she smelled something exciting. The question may sound silly to you but you didn't know Mrs. C. She was the ultimate survivor – fierce and cutthroat. And she looked like she was salivating.

"Don't tempt me," she said without even the slightest hint of a smile.

"Oh," I said sinking into my seat. I mean what did I expect really? That she'd take my side? Despite the fact that my actions were perfectly reasonable, I knew her loyalty towards her son was unquestionable. Charlie was at the forefront of everything in her life and I knew I was up there with him only while I was best friends with her son. Somehow I knew that time came to an end that day. "Mrs. C…"

"Be quiet," she said stiffly and I cringed. I decided the safest bet was really to keep quiet. I watched the world pass by outside my window. There was always something about the way Mrs. C looked at me or spoke to me that always made me feel like I did something wrong. I knew I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't…

I let out the breath I was holding fifteen minutes later when we stopped in front of a large building surrounded by massive pine trees. It had this huge sign with a giant wood carving of a coffee bean high overhead. The Coffee Beanery was written in elaborate script beneath it.

She parked the car in front of the restaurant. There were a few other scattered cars around us but it seemed like the place wouldn't be crowded. She turned off the engine and left the car wordlessly. The slamming of her door left a hollow emptiness inside the car. She proceeded inside without even the slightest glance back at me.

Was I supposed to follow her? Was I supposed to stay in the car? Perhaps she had changed her mind and was giving me time to make my escape so that she could run me over later with her car.

With heavy (and painful) feet, I dragged myself out of the car. The door had barely shut when the car clicked and its lights blinked indicating the doors were locked. Well, there was no going back in there.

I rubbed my forehead and could feel the slight bump already forming. I wondered if I could possibly ask for a bag of ice from the shop. Then again, there might not be any ice there because if this was a place Mrs. C frequented, I was probably entering the maws of hell.

I entered the store to find a very… homey restaurant. Everything was made from wood starting with the walls and ending with the very plates. It fit quite well with its more natural surroundings. Slow jazz music resonated from somewhere above and several patrons lounged around sipping coffee through steaming mugs or eating delectable pastries. The tables were covered by table clothes in various earthly designs. I never thought something so classy could exist in an area dense with trees and insects. It would have been a welcoming place if it wasn't for the circumstances that had brought me there.

Mrs. C was sitting right at home in a corner as though she owned the place. She already had a fresh steaming mug of coffee before her and was reading a magazine almost idly as though she was just any other customer, drinking coffee on any other day. After a flick of a page, she looked casually at me. She nudged her head towards the chair across her and this time I didn't hesitate to take the offered seat.

I figured there were still plenty of opportunities on the way home for her to run me over.

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