Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 18: Slashed Tires

There are different kinds of people in this world. Some live unassuming, mediocre, mildly interesting lives often involving rigid nine to five hours, the occasional splurging for lunch, and the typical bowl of popcorn in front of the TV at home. These people are often solitary, living their lives alone most of the time, their days punctured by the occasional digital message sent over some social networking program or perhaps through their phones. They measure the success of the day based on the number of times they managed to not be given some responsibility. In other words, they lived their lives day after day after day after day…

On the other hand, there are people who crave interaction with others. Their day to day activities revolved around meeting a friend, or having a cup of coffee with an officemate, or even the occasional trysts in the supermarket, aisle twenty-three, right behind the large sacks of dog food. These people often find the simple joys of life in communicating with others, measuring success against their peers (and occasionally, foes), and ensuring that there were as many possible blotches on their calendars as the number of people they meet in a day. These are the kinds of people often heralded as success stories in magazine or promising role models for the next generation.

And then, there were people like me. Every few centuries or so, the world is blessed by the presence of some divine being that sheds light on the life of others – an artist, a genius, a hero. Their very existence naturally resulted in the uplifting of the quality of life for others. Their lives are documented to provide inspiration not only for the next generation but centuries' worth of descendants, from different races, across different worlds.

Yep, that's me. If I lived during the time of Michelangelo, he would have named his statue Derek. If I had lived during the time of Troy, Helen would never have bothered running off with Paris (and Menelaus would have gladly allowed me to boink his wife many times over, perhaps two or three times a night even). But as I exist in the modern days, it was only a matter of time before the world came to me and people started sculpting statues of Derek or building (or razing) entire cities in my name. It was the inevitable outcome of my existence in the world.

The only problem was I was grounded.

I had never, ever, ever in my life been grounded. Whenever, I got into trouble with Charlie, the punishment involved was generally doing some kind of work. We'd either clean the garage, or mow the lawn, or further make a mess of the attic. Mrs. C always said there was no sense in giving us a vacation by grounding us.

And yet, there I was. Eighteen years old, an adult by all standards, and yet confined within the walls of our home like some common nobody. It was infuriating. I had every right to leave. I would have if it wasn't for how heartrending my mom looked.

It was rare to see her unhappy. Sure there were times when I would catch her staring into nothing or over the different shelves in our kitchen as though she was contemplating what she should cook. I knew that wasn't the case though. If you managed to catch her eyes, you'd see they were glazed over, as though in deep thought. I could tell you know. I wasn't completely blind to what happened around me (well, except perhaps regarding Charlie). I knew my mom wasn't exactly happy with my dad. They had many ups and downs in their relationships. My mom said my dad was different before he became immersed in his work. He was around a lot more. He was thoughtful, kind, and funny. He loved us more.

Sometimes, I'd catch her sitting in the kitchen just looking out the window as though the whole world was fading into the background. I was smaller then and the prospect of sneaking a snack in the middle of the night with Charlie was often enticing. One time, we'd caught her there sitting in the moonlight just watching. Just waiting. At first, I thought she sat there wondering when my dad would next be home because she missed him.

But then as I grew up, I realized that she was wondering where he was and why he couldn't or wouldn't be there with us. Perhaps she was wondering if she did something wrong to chase my father away. I knew because sometimes, I stayed up at night in my bed wondering the same thing about me.

She was like that the night I got home from my… err… meeting with Mrs. C. Sure, she was glad I was home. She hugged me and all, telling me never to do anything like that again. I was so tired that no more than a few minutes passed before she led me to my room to fall asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night, starving and aching, so I made my way to the kitchen. I found her there sitting much like she did when I would catch her when I was younger, looking at the cans like she was willing their contents to start mixing and cooking themselves. Yet, I knew that her thoughts that particular night were not about food or my father at all.

So, I ate her punishment. I felt like a douche bag for causing her enough anxiety to have those night episodes on my behalf. Despite the fact that being grounded at my age was awkward, I followed it. And it was, unfortunately, testing my resolve. It was one thing to be alone yet surrounded by people. That was my experience when Charlie decided he needed to spend less time with me. It was certainly a completely different thing to be totally, absolutely, unequivocally alone.

There was probably no worse punishment in the world than sitting in your house, watching TV and having nothing to do but eat and sleep all day. It was excruciatingly unbearable.

I was grounded for a month. With my ten day suspension, that meant I had to spend two whole weeks at home with absolutely nothing to do and absolutely no one to interact with except my mother. She wasn't terrible company or anything except every time we sat down to talk, she would start bringing up topics about "my problems" or some other topic related to it. It wasn't like I had the problem anyway. I wasn't the one who was gay.

Admittedly though, I did worry about the slight episode I had involving running for hours and not remembering it. It was nothing like my brief experience with Rebecca where she insisted I blanked out on her. I still think she was making that up to get to me. However, this last episode was undeniable. It certainly wasn't ordinary to just suddenly lose four hours of my day while being wide awake.

She wanted me to see a shrink. She was worried I had some repressed issues or something and they were causing my otherwise inexplicable behavior. Of course I ignored that piece of advice because I knew there was nothing wrong with me. Really, there wasn't.

Besides, I had other things to think about.

Despite being grounded and allowed to wake up at any time of the day I wanted, I still woke up in time for school. It wasn't to get ready or to do homework. Rather, it was to sit by my window, hidden behind thick dusty curtains, peering through the slits of light outside.

I watched and waited every day for the few moments when Charlie would come out of his house to go to school. I was angry, sure. I felt thoroughly wretched as though Charlie had stabbed me at the back with a pitchfork just after saying how glad he was to be my best friend. Yet, I was undeniably sad. It was like a family member had died – not that I have ever experienced something like that. I lost a pet gold fish once after Charlie accidentally sat on it. I suppose it was like that in many ways except the goldfish had Charlie face and he was sitting on himself… well you know what I mean.

To be honest, I didn't know why I felt the way I did. Charlie was gay and I knew how I felt about gay people. Yet, there was some kind of conflict there, an uncertainty, a lingering doubt. I wondered if my conversation with Mrs. C had any bearing on it. I wasn't sure, really. It didn't feel like my opinions about gay people had change. But somehow, it didn't feel applicable to the situation, you know? We were, after all, talking about Charlie and not just some weirdo off the street. Still though, I couldn't shake the voice at the back of my head saying that Charlie had begun that inevitable path down the road of obscurity and irrelevance. He would just fade into the background just like all those loners and other gay people. That was their fate and they had no place alongside people like me, who would someday change the world.

Despite knowing that, it hurt. And, it hurt even worse watching him leave his house to go to school with Travis instead of me. That little prick had the nerve to appear at Charlie's doorstep a few days after our fight at school. It infuriated me to learn that Travis had only gotten a three day suspension when he clearly deserved being expelled. Talk about injustice!

Sitting there every morning, hidden in the shadows, was both the highlight and the bane of my day. I discovered that the foulness of my mood for the rest of the day depended on whether or not Travis showed up to walk with Charlie to the bus stop. I don't know where the asshole lived but wherever it was, it wasn't far enough.

I didn't even have my car to take my mind off things. My beautiful Camaro that could make Bumblebee squirt grease several times over was gone. The last time I had seen it was in the school parking lot. When I asked my mom if I could go pick it up, she said she already had it taken away. I just sighed and accepted that if she didn't bring it home, then it was probably part of my punishment.

So, I found myself often rummaging through anything and everything I could unearth in the house. Normally, my cravings for food were often kept down. But then I realized that part of the reason that was the case was that I often had things to distract me – Charlie, school, Charlie, my car, Charlie, and other such things. But being restricted at home with nothing to do and no one to talk to, I felt hungry most of the time.

Because of that, I discovered that our kitchen had A LOT of expired stuff in it. Our kitchen wasn't the typical kind you'd find in a suburban home. If anything, the shelves looked more like something you'd see in a convenience store than a kitchen cupboard. Most of the panels in it were glass so you could glimpse the insides by simply looking up. I had always thought my mom used the items there for cooking. She cooked a lot after all and spent a considerable amount time looking at them as though worried the supplies might run out. All our meals at home were made by her and she often preferred that over eating at restaurants. I did too since her recipes were a lot healthier than what I'd find at a commercial establishment.

I never gave much thought about the supplies in our kitchen. I was never really interested in cooking so I let her do her thing. In general, I always let her do what she wanted in the house anyway (as long as it did not invade my room). But, as I searched through can after can, I found that some of them were already far past their expiration dates – years even. Some of the stuff have been there for at least half a decade, still unopened and unused. I rummaged through more and more shelves finding the same trend over and over again. They were for common items too like corned beef, sardines, tomato sauce or canned sausages. Basically, they were stuff that was cheap and readily available in any supermarket.

I figured they were from a time when my mom still cooked using unhealthy pre-packed food. But then I wondered why she hadn't disposed of them considering they were years old and probably turning black inside. I planned to ask her about it some time, preferably when she wasn't upset at me. In the meantime, I used only the stuff I could find in the refrigerator. At least that was stocked with entirely fresh goods and I found myself making some stuff that was arguably not very healthy.

It was on the seventh day when my daily routine (or lack thereof) was broken by an unexpected visitor. I was there just sitting in the living room, eating a bowl of low fat but nonetheless unhealthy popcorn, imagining my glorious welcome as I returned to the halls of our school like the beloved king I was, to be adorned by his people, when suddenly the doorbell rang. My mom still went to work in the daytime so I knew it wasn't her. Besides, even if it was her, she wouldn't have rung the doorbell.

For a brief moment, my heart leapt at the thought that it was Charlie. I hated the fact that he was gay yet I couldn't deny that I wanted to see him. Or perhaps more importantly, I wanted him to see me.

I was thoroughly disappointed to see the sneer as soon as I opened the door.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I asked Luke.

He shrugged and looked around as though trying to see if anyone was home. "Just thought you'd like some company."

"I'm busy," I told him.

He peered over my shoulder where no doubt the TV was on and the couch was thoroughly mussed from me lying on it. "I can see that," he smirked.

"What do you want? Aren't you supposed to be in school?"

"I'm playing hooky," he said, walking past me without even asking if he could come in. He gave the living room an almost disdainful glance before he walked into the kitchen.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I told him as he opened the refrigerator and began rummaging through its contents.

"Are you just going to keep asking me rudely phrased questions all day?" he asked as he opened the chiller and began picking through the fruits in it. "Not a very nice way to entertain your guest. You haven't even offered me anything to eat or drink." He plucked out an apple and sniffed it.

"You're the one who barged in here without my permission."

"Well, if you had been a better host, I wouldn't have needed to barge in." He closed the refrigerator door and rubbed the skin of the apple on his shirt before taking a juicy bite out of it. "I'm offering you company and you're being very boorish right now."

I crossed my arms across my perfectly toned chest. "I don't need your company. Get out."

He gave me the once over with his eyes before smirking again and taking another bite out of the apple. "Yeah, must be exciting here all by yourself, yeah?" He then walked out of the kitchen like he owned the place.

There were a lot of things I could handle but one thing I couldn't handle were people who were full of themselves. Don't you just hate those kinds of people?

"Look," I started angrily as I walked into the living room in time to see him plop down onto the couch and raise his legs onto the hardwood table that sat in between the couch and the TV screen. He gave the bowl of popcorn a cursory glance before shoving it away from him as though it was poison. "You've gotten me into enough trouble already. It's your fault I'm suspended and stuck here. I want nothing more to do with you."

"My fault?" Luke asked in an amused tone. "As I recall, you did everything to get yourself in this mess without my help. I wasn't even there."

"But you brought me to that roof. You showed me what Charlie and Travis were up to."

"Would you rather not know?"

I opened my mouth to answer angrily and then realized that I didn't know what to say. Did I want to know? Did I even deserve to know? Of course, I deserved to know. I was Charlie's best friend. So why… why didn't he tell me?

"Face it Derek," he said smirking and setting his eyes on the TV which was on some crappy old movie about some kid who got sucked into a fantasy world with very poor pixilated graphics. "Charlie betrayed you. He lied to you. He's been lying to you for years. Looking at you every single day and pretending that he was normal when all this time he's been nothing but a faggot."

"Don't call him that," I said angrily. "You have no right to call him that."

"And you do?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. "I've heard stories Derek. I heard what you did at school. Not that I blame you, of course. If I had someone whom I thought was a friend betraying me like that, well, I'd get mad too."

I looked away. Despite my extreme dislike of Luke, a part of me knew he was right. The one thing I did feel for certain was betrayed. I felt like Charlie should have told me something sooner. It wasn't like he didn't have enough opportunities to tell me. We were together almost all the time. That thought just made it all the more painful.

"You weren't his best friend," I said quietly.

"Apparently, you weren't his either," he said succinctly as he took another bite of the apple, penetrating to its core. "And because of him, things aren't exactly looking up for you, are they? I already heard some folks talking behind your back calling you all sorts of names. Some people are even spreading rumors that you've been fucking Charlie since he was ten and you lost it when you found out he was screwing someone else."

"WHAT?!" I asked shocked. "Why the hell would they think that?"

"Derek," he said condescendingly as if he was going to point out the obvious. "Everyone knows how close you and Charlie were. No one would believe that Charlie never told you. He's too nice to keep a secret like that from his best friend. At least that's the impression he gave off. Fooled a lot of people it seems, even you."

"Who?" I said angrily, my fists tightening. "Who's been saying those things?"

"I'm not going to give names," he said with an unsympathetic shrug, as though he truly wouldn't care either way. "You'd probably beat them up and get yourself expelled. I wouldn't want you to get you into trouble unlike some other people. I'm not that kind of person." He smirked as though he found the movie funny on TV funny.

"Damn it!" I shouted as I began pacing the living room. Luke's eyes turned to me and followed my progress. "It's not true. Charlie and I have never done anything like that. God, that's just disgusting. I can't believe people are thinking that."

"Well, what else did you expect after what they did to your car?"

"What do you mean after what they did to me car?" I asked with a sinking feeling within.

He gave me a curious glance before his eyes flew wide open. "You mean you don't know?"

"Don't know what?" I was feeling aggravated that Luke knew something I didn't. It wasn't a comforting feeling.

"Your car got slashed, man," he said almost with relish rather than remorse.

Slashed? Slashed?! "What the hell do you mean slashed?"

"One of the janitors found your car in the parking lot on his way home. All the tires were flat, slashed open several times. There was also a long jagged cut on the driver's site from front to end, like someone ran a knife over it."

I sank into a chair, my knees too weak to support me. No it couldn't be. My car. My beautiful and sexy car… circumcised.

"WHO DID IT?!" I screamed as I lunged at Luke. He dropped the apple in panic and attempted to wrest my hands from where they were holding his shirt tightly near the collar bone. I lifted him off his feet and into the air where his shoes dangled inches off the ground. "WHO THE FUCK MESSED WITH MY CAR?"

"I don't know, man," Luke said hurriedly. "I just heard about it the next day. Geez, fuck. Let go of me. Could have been Travis or anybody."

"TRAVIS," I said angrily, my breath dripping with poison. I dropped Luke into the floor none-too-gently. "That fucker did it?"

Luke stared up at me from the floor, his elbows raising him off the floor. He shrugged but said nothing.

"I knew that fucking faggot was bad news," I said as I once again started pacing the living room floor. "I can't believe I even thought he was nice. Hell, he was probably planning this whole thing! He was probably the one who told Charlie not to tell me anything! Damn him. Damn that faggot!"

"You can do something about it you know," Luke said as he stood up. His shoulders were hunched purposely as though he had spent hours and hours planning this conversation. He rubbed his hands together as though he was trying to start a fire.

"What do you mean?" I stood my ground and faced him.

"You can show him," he said with a grim smile. "You can show all of them what happens to faggots in our school. You can show them that no one messes with Derek Hampton. You can prove to them that you are really a man by teaching Travis, Charlie, and all the other faggots a lesson they deserved."

"I'm not doing anything to Charlie," I said aghast at the very idea.

"Don't worry," Luke grinned evilly. "I'll take care of him."

"You're not touching him," I commanded as I took a step towards him with a pointed finger. "No one touches Charlie."

"Of course not," he replied quickly raising his hands in surrender. "But… what are you going to do… about the rest of them? About these people spreading lies? About Travis and the rest of his kind?"

I looked out the window and let my mind work. What was there to do? "I have to fix all these rumors people are thinking about me."

Luke nodded. "How are you going to do that?"

"I have to make it clear to everyone that I'm not a faggot, that I have never done anything gay with Charlie."

"Words are empty though if you don't take action," Luke said with a shrug.

"Action?"

"You know, rough them up a bit. Show them what will happen to them if they don't stop spreading lies about you."

"I'm not going to beat someone up," I said defensively. "I wouldn't do something like that."

"You almost did it to Travis," Luke pointed out with an evil smile.

"I… that was different," I said weakly.

"Maybe," Luke said with a shrug. "I'm just saying that if they know they can get away saying anything they want about you, well what's going to stop them from doing just that?"

I stared at him, his eyes daring me for an answer. "I'll think about it," I said looking away.

"Of course, you will," he mused. "What else are you going to do?"

"What do you mean?" I asked bewildered. "What else is there to do?"

"They're fags, Derek," Luke stated as factually as he would say the sky is blue or sex is good. "They embarrassed you in front of the whole school. They got you suspended. Hell, they ruined your car. And you're just going to let them get away with it?"

I hesitated. The silence that descended was as thick as Margaret C. O'Connor's make-up. "What should I do?"

"You are an influential student, Derek Hampton. You can sway people to your side with your charisma, your charm. Turn the others against them. Turn the student body against fags. Make them realize what being a fag means. Ostracize them from the others." His eyes glowed eerily as he spoke. "And when they're alone, we strike. We make them pay. We put them in their place, right beneath our feet. It's only a matter of how far you are willing to go."

"Wh-what…?" I stuttered and would have flinched for stuttering then flinched again for flinching. But I didn't as I was far too disturbed by the confidence in Luke's voice, the absolute certainty and cruelty in his tone. There was no doubt in my mind that he really, truly believed his words, as though he had lived his whole life dedicated to hating faggots. I could almost see the cogs fitting into place in his brain projecting varied and vivid images of exactly how he intended to execute his plans. And somehow, it felt like I was at the center of it all. "You need to go," I whispered.

He smiled like he was satisfied with what he had accomplished. "Of course," he said as he moved out of the living room towards the door. I watched at him walk purposefully like he knew I was studying his every move. "Think about what I said Derek Hampton. I will see you at school," he said as he left without even glancing back at me.

I stood there for a couple of minutes, staring at the door through which Luke had left as though the answers were written on its surface. After what seemed like forever, I noticed the apple core that Luke dropped after I had grabbed him. After a moment's hesitation, I moved to it and picked it. I gazed at its moist and chewed up state, remembering a time not so long ago when I had done something similar to a piece of tissue Travis had tossed.

I threw it into the half-filled bowl of popcorn, having lost any and all desire to eat. I felt anxious and confused. I didn't understand what the whole thing, the whole conversation with Luke, meant. It was clear that Luke was planning something, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a part of it. I hated gay people as much as the next guy and I was all for teaching them to know their place in society. Yet, something felt devious, almost unnatural, in the way Luke spoke. A tiny part of me was uneasy over the way he said things, the way his very words conveyed an intense, irrefutable belief. His conviction was dripping with danger at every word.

Then again, it wasn't like we were planning to murder anyone.

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