Charlie

by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 31: Father and Son

Officer Bradford Caulwell was even beefier than the last time I saw him. I suppose I really could not blame him for coming to my house to pick me up under suspicion of murder. After all, the last time we saw each other I was with Luke in a store full of very deadly weapons. It didn't help at all that there were several witnesses, who all just happened to be car enthusiasts who could distinguish the make and model of a Camaro V6 3800 Series 2 dump some kid on the road just before attempting to run him over. I mean it could have been anyone's Camaro after all.

I don't think Officer Caulwell was quite convinced of my argument regarding that. Frankly, I wasn't too convinced either but at least it finally put to rest one of the questions plaguing my mind.

The witnesses saw me attempt to run over Luke. I had apparently swerved at the last moment and simply drove away with Luke screaming profanities behind me. That little revelation took a lot of guilt off my shoulders.

Anyway, back to Officer Caulwell. We were seated in one of those interrogation rooms in the police station. When I say we, I don't mean just the two of us. To my great surprise, Charlie, Travis, Rebecca, and even Mikee followed me out of the house and started insisting that they come with us to give their testimony. Charlie seemed particularly adamant about coming and I didn't really know how I felt about that.

A part of me thought that he was only doing it to find out the truth. But another part of me hoped for something more.

At first Officer Caulwell seemed reluctant to let any of the others come, possibly aggravated by the fact that Rebecca had decided to bring her axe out with her, but eventually he relented and we all made our way to the police station.

"So let me get this straight," Officer Caulwell said as he sat across the five of us in what supposedly was the interrogation room that looked like an old office that was simply converted. Something told me it was against procedures to have several people being interrogated at the same time but for whatever reason Officer Caulwell didn't seem to take any notice of the strange set-up. I had the distinct impression that he really didn't know what to do with all of us. "You're telling me that none of the blood on your shirt or your face belongs to the victim."

"Yes," I replied.

"And you're telling me that the bruises all over your face were caused by Pinto over here?" he said with a nudge towards Charlie.

"I'm not that small!" he said defensively.

"Yes," I said again. "Well, except for this," I said pointing to my slightly darkened eye and my broken nose. "Travis was the one who did it."

"And you're Travis?" he asked.

"Yes," Travis said in a somewhat pouty voice. He of all of us seemed the least happy to be sitting there. "And to be honest, he deserves more than that."

"Uhu…" Officer Caulwell said. "Rather edgy today are we?"

"Well, this jerk-off almost got my friend killed," Travis said.

"And who would that be?" Officer Caulwell asked.

"Me," Charlie said nervously. He looked around at us as though trying to find someone who would bail him out of what he needed to say. Eventually, he just sighed and spoke again. "I… tried to kill myself."

"By hanging yourself?" Officer Caulwell guessed as his eyes noted the bruises around Charlie's neck.

"Yes," he said ashamedly. "But I regret it now. I'm glad… someone came in time to save me."

"And the axe?" Officer Caulwell asked. The axe had been confiscated as soon as we rode in the police car, much to Rebecca's chagrin. I mean we all squeezed into the back (except Mikee who seemed the most harmless among us and was allowed to sit in the front). I didn't want to sit in there with an axe also.

"We used it to cut Charlie down," I said. "The knots on the rope were too tight."

"Boy scout knots," Charlie said.

"You were a boy scout?" Travis asked sounding surprised.

"No," Charlie said with a shake of his head. "Someone just taught me." That someone, of course, was me. I didn't feel the need to point that out just then.

"Back to the axe," Officer Caulwell interrupted. "Which of you boys own it?"

"I do," Rebecca said. "Though I guarantee you I'm not a boy."

"Missy, are you telling me that you happened to have had an axe with you when you went over to your friend's house?"

"Yeah," she said simply. "In my car."

"You," Officer Caulwell said in a voice just full of skepticism, "had an axe in your car?"

"Why is that so hard to believe?" she said glaring at us as if it was our fault.

"And how do you fit into all this?" he asked Mikee, who looked positively delighted to be in a police interrogation room.

"Oh, I love murder mysteries," he said excitedly. "I mean I'm sad Luke's dead and all but he was a jerk really so we're all really better off without him."

Officer Caulwell looked at each of us like he really couldn't see us at all. "So you mean to tell me then that although the three of you look like you're fresh out of a fight, none of you are involved in the murder of Luke Crawford? Are you telling me that you all just happened to have received bruises and cuts around the same time the victim was killed?"

"Mine are two days old," Travis said.

"Actually, it will be three days ago that I beat you up," I corrected.

"Have any of you considered perhaps getting some serious psychiatric help?" Officer Caulwell asked.

"I'm actually seeing a shrink," I said before I could stop myself.

"You are?" Charlie asked sounding very surprised.

"Yeah, just one session so far though," I said as though that made it less serious.

"Go figure," Officer Caulwell scratched his head as he looked down on the notebook he laid in front of him on the table. So far, he hadn't written anything in it yet. It was almost like he couldn't decide if anything we said was worth writing. "Well…"

The door to the interrogation room went flying open and one of the last persons I wanted to see came walking into the room. It seemed like Officer Caulwell shared my feelings as he promptly stood up and began flattening his shirt as though he was about to meet the president.

"Ma'am," he said nervously. No, he wasn't nervous… he looked positively terrified.

"Brad," Mrs. C said jovially as she came waltzing into the room. She sounded like she just sank her teeth into some juicy raw meat. "So good to see you again."

"What can I do for you, ma'am?" he said. He sat down again after Mrs. C had taken a seat without being asked. She looked totally at home there.

For a brief moment, her eyes flicked towards me and they were hard as steel. But she quickly looked away and smiled amiably at Brad. "I'm Mr. Hampton lawyer, the younger one. I couldn't care less for the senior Hampton."

"You are?" Officer Caulwell asked. He wiped at his brow, which had begun to sweat.

"Yes," Mrs. C said. She sounded thoroughly delighted at the very thought of being my lawyer. "You do realize that there have been no warrants issued for the arrest of Mr. Hampton." It wasn't a question.

"I just brought him in for an interview," Officer Caulwell said.

"Interview?" Mrs. C laughed. "Is that what they call it nowadays? I thought they called it questioning?"

"He came of his own free will."

"But did you read him his rights? Did you ask if he wanted to have an attorney present? Did you do the courtesy of informing his parents whom you know would be interested in this matter? No? Seems to me like you're acting a little suspiciously Brad. Or maybe you did inform his parents, or maybe just one of them, hmm?" I was wondering what she was talking about but then suddenly remembered that Officer Caulwell once told me that he and my dad were good friends from before.

"Look, I'm not trying to be the bad guy here," Officer Caulwell said. He was sounding quite irritated by Mrs. C which frankly I wasn't surprised at. "A boy has been murdered. I am just trying to find out who is responsible."

"I know you aren't the bad guy," Mrs. C said and I could have sworn that her voice was tinged with sympathy. "Forgive me. I'm being just a bit harsh, aren't I?"

"Yes, you are, ma'am" Officer Caulwell said as he stared at her. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of history those two had.

"Tell you what," Mrs. C said briskly. "I'm certain my client will be willing to submit a DNA sample to cross reference with the evidence found at the scene of the crime. I'm also certain he will be willing to give his clothes to you. I am certain those are still the same clothes he was wearing yesterday. We'll cooperate in all possible ways to clear my client's name." She looked at me as if she was asking if I agreed.

"Yes," I said to Officer Caulwell. "Of course. I'll do what it takes."

"Will that be sufficient for your investigation in the meantime, Brad?" Mrs. C asked Officer Caulwell.

"Yes, ma'am," he said with a nod of his head. He seemed glad to have agreed on something.

"Very well then," Mrs. C said. "I believe the rest of them are free to leave while you collect the evidence you need?"

Charlie, Travis, Rebecca, and Mikee left to go to the waiting area while Officer Caulwell brought me to another room that looked like a clinic. A guy who looked like a nurse came in and took swabs of my saliva. He then gave me an extra set of clothes that looked like they were for jogging to change into. Once I was done with everything, Officer Caulwell brought me back to the entrance, leaving me and Mrs. C with a relieved thank you. The two adults shared a tense farewell before Officer Caulwell went back into the station.

"Thank you, Mrs. C," I said once we were alone outside. The sun was bright and high in the sky. The others were apparently waiting in the car to get out of the sun. "I really appreciate you helping me out."

"Shut up," she said immediately. "I didn't do this for you."

"Oh," I said. The day seemed just a little bit darker then.

Mrs. C sighed and she seemed to be struggling with herself. "Okay fine. I did do it for you but not only for you. I did this for Charlie too and your mom. Besides, I don't believe you did it."

"You don't?" I asked in surprise as we began walking to the police parking lot. "Do they have another suspect?"

"I don't know," she said. "I don't know anything about the case other than a boy was killed."

I stopped in my tracks. Mrs. C took a few more steps before turning back to me with a questioning look. "If you don't know anything about the case," I said to her, "how do you know I didn't do it?"

She looked at me like the answer should have been obvious. "Faith, Derek," she said. "Faith." She continued walking again and left me there to follow.


Mrs. C brought the five of us back to her house. It was decided that Rebecca would take Mikee home while Travis would stay over for a while. I had to admit that it was brave of him to stay there with Mrs. C lingering protectively over Charlie. Either that or he was stupid.

Then again, I suppose someone had to be there with Charlie. Mrs. C still kept looking worriedly at the bruises around her son's neck and I'm sure Travis was worried about the same thing. Among all of us, even I had to admit that Travis was the best choice to stay over even if I wished it wasn't the case.

Mrs. C stopped the car right in front of their lawn and stared not at their house but at the house next to hers. I followed her eyes and saw immediately what was catching her attention.

"Mom?" Charlie asked curiously as he too looked where she was staring. I heard him take a sharp intake of breath. "Is that…?"

"My dad's car," I said. I hadn't seen it in awhile. Almost seven years actually. Yet, I was certain it was his car, the exact same one. It was parked in the garage, the same way it always was every time he came home. It appeared to have been maintained and well cared for all this time as it glinted in the daylight. Frankly, it looked like it was hardly used.

"Derek," Mrs. C said. I could have sworn she sounded concerned.

"He's home then," I said. I didn't know how I felt about that really. It was years since I saw my father. I didn't know how I should behave around him anymore. And after remembering what he did to me when I was younger, I wasn't sure how I was supposed to take his arrival now in a good way.

"Who's home?" Mikee asked evidently not finding anything strange.

"Rebecca," Mrs. C said as she looked into her rearview mirror, "I think you should take Michael home now."

"Yes, ma'am," she replied, quickly taking the dismissal for what it was. "Come on Mikee. Let's go."

"But, I want to know what's happening," Mikee said, sounding disappointed as he was dragged out of the car by Rebecca. "Who's home?"

The door shut again before I heard Rebecca respond but something from outside sounded remarkably like uhhh, boys!

"Your mom should be home too," Mrs. C said worriedly. She turned back to me. "If there's any trouble, you bring her straight over to my house, you hear me?" When I didn't reply, she continued, "Derek, you understand me?"

"Yes," I said in a voice that sounded years younger than I really was.

"Derek," Charlie said as I made to open the door. "Be careful, okay?"

"Yeah," I said. Charlie talking to me gave me some strength to move forward. "I will."

"Hampton," Travis said as I put one foot out the door. I turned around to look at him, waiting for him to say something else. All he did though was nod encouragingly, which seemed slightly forced like he was having a difficult time nodding.

"Uhh, thanks," I said, smirking at him. Surprisingly, he smiled.

I finally made it out of the car. I was half-tempted to run back into it but I knew that wasn't an option. I was certain that meeting my father was inevitable. The best I could do was delay it which would likely just make things worse. So I walked to our driveway and up our steps feeling like the whole world was standing still, just waiting for me to fall. I turned at the last moment to see Mrs. C, Charlie, and Travis peering at me, still within the safety of their car as though they were waiting for the moment the giant monster would snatch up its first victim.

I took a deep breath and steeled my resolve. I placed one hand on our doorknob and turned it.

The door clicked easily indicating it was unlocked. I pushed it open and well-warmed, somewhat musty air came out of the house as though it was desperately trying to breath in life. I entered into the house feeling oddly out of place. I had lived there all my life yet for some inexplicable reason, it did not feel like home. It was as though the house itself was trying to chuck me out.

"Anyone home?" I asked into the silence. Everything was where it should have been. Nothing was out of place as though I was looking at a picture that was all too familiar by then.

"We're in here," my mom responded from somewhere in the kitchen. Her voice was strained. It was like she wanted to scream something else but couldn't. It was like she wanted to yell RUN!

But I didn't. I knew what was waiting for me in the kitchen. I knew who was waiting for me in the kitchen. And it was time to face my past, the ghosts that haunted my childhood and forever changed the person I would become. Enough was enough. I wanted to live.

I walked into the kitchen. The place held no warmth for me. There was no smell of freshly baked pastries or boiling stews coming from the oven. All that could be sensed there was tension.

My father sat at the same chair he always did when he was home. It amused me to realize that his chair had remained unoccupied for so many years as though it was just waiting for him to return. I wondered idly if a thick layer of dust coated my father's behind as he sat there.

He was… different. Although only years had passed, it seemed like decades had. He had a lot more white hair than he once had. He didn't look totally stressed but the lines on his face were more defined as though he had spent so much of his life worrying about anything and everything. It looked to me like he had aged significantly in the time he was away. Yet he still had attractive, easily handsome features about him as though aging had only made him look more refined. His eyes though held none of the changes I saw in his body. At that moment, I felt them boring into me, weighing my worth, and passing judgment.

"Dad's home," my mom said unnecessarily. Her voice was uncertain as if she didn't really know what to make of the situation.

"Hello, father," I said as I looked directly at him. My voice was neither loving nor concerned. It was about as formal as a bowtie. "What brings you here after so many years of not being home?"

"My Personal Assistant has had some very interesting things to tell me," my father said as he ignored my question. "I don't doubt the truth in her words but I very much hoped they weren't the case." For a moment, his voice sounded almost… concerned.

"What words were those?" I asked. "The part where I said you don't know me or the part about staying the hell away from us?"

My mom snorted ungraciously but covered her mouth as my father gave her a sharp look.

When it was clear my mother wasn't going to say anything, he spoke again. "The last time I spoke to you, I said that I will not have a faggot in this family." His voice sounded flat but there was no denying the rage beneath his words. I could almost feel his strength wash over me, threatening to take me away with the tides.

"Actually, father, you said that you were not going to have a faggot for a son."

"Then you remember," my father said as though wondering what I was still doing there.

"Clear as day, father," I said. I never called my dad father. It was always dad or daddy. I could tell my reference to him as such irked him.

"Then you have no more business being here," my father replied, his hands down on the table as though he was prepared to stand at any moment. "You are not my son. You are not welcome in this house. You own nothing here, not even the clothes on your back."

"There is no need to be harsh in this house," my mom interrupted but it seemed like her words fell on deaf ears.

"The keys to my car?" he asked with an outstretched hand.

"Your car?" I asked.

"Yes, my car," he replied. "That Camaro you have haphazardly decided to park on the pavement outside is in my name. If you attempt to leave here with it, I will report it stolen and have you thrown into jail." And then he smiled before putting down his hand. "You know what? Go ahead. Take the car. I think prison is exactly what befits you right now."

I stared at him, at the amused smile on his face and wondered where the man I once knew was, the father that hugged me every time he came home, the father who would bring home presents that had value to him and me and not just the price tag, the father who once tickled me and Charlie senseless when we were younger in order to get us to go to sleep.

I wondered who the man sitting in front of me was and what he had done to the parent I loved.

"Who are you?" I asked, my voice full of disdain.

"Who am I?" my father asked. "Right now, I am the owner of this house and I am telling you to get off my property."

"I loved you, you know," I said. I felt like my voice wanting to crack but I didn't let it. Emotion was not something I could allow to get the better of me right then. "I changed the person I was because of you. I lied to myself. I almost destroyed myself trying to become the person you wanted me to be. I did it all for you even if it tore me apart in the end. Do you see this?" I asked indicating the wounds on my face, the bruises that stained my once handsome features. "This is all because of my love for you."

My father raised an eyebrow at me. "Me?" he asked. "Do not presume to lay down all your ill dealings as your efforts to win over my approval. I want nothing to do with you or your kind. You have made it clear what you are, Derek." The hard-edged use of my name in his voice made me flinch. "I want nothing to do with you or your kind. You are ill, diseased. You are a bane to society. You are of about as much value as the dirt beneath my feet."

"That's enough," my mother said. Her voice gaining strength beyond pleading. "Honey, go to your room. Your father and I have things to discuss."

"His room?" my father asked as he turned to her. "He has no room in this house. He owns nothing in this house other than his own body, which truly is of no value."

"How can you say that?" I asked as the first tear broke through my defenses. "How can you say all those things to me? How can you say it to your own son? You didn't even take the time to get to know me. You couldn't look past your bigotry to see the person I've become. I'm a good person, dad. I'm a good kid. I've made many mistakes sure but most of them were because of me trying to live a life you wanted. If you just took the time to see me, you'll see the person I really am."

For the briefest moment, my father stared at me and seemed to contemplate my words. It felt like the world had tipped over and my father saw me for the first time. But the moment quickly ended.

"Do you think that just because I haven't been here that I do not know what has been happening in my own home? Do you think that I am unaware of everything you and that other boy have been up to? Do you honestly believe that I am incapable of watching over my own assets?"

"Assets?" I asked. "Is that what I am to you? A piece of property?"

"No," my father replied. "You are nothing to me and I am telling you to get out."

"I said that's enough," my mother said slamming her hands into the table as she stood up. "You haven't been here. You haven't been his father. You have no right to send him out of this house."

"I have every right," my father yelled as he also stood. "I own this house and I determine who is or isn't welcome here. This faggot is not welcome here."

"No, father," I replied angrily. "You're the one who's not welcome here. This has never been your home. The house itself is angry that you're here. It's like your very presence is poisoning it. I can feel it in the air."

"Oh, so you're some kind of psychic now?" my dad asked with mad bark of laughter. "You can feel what walls feel? Oh that is just rich." He laughed, a mad sadistic guffaw that nobody else shared. "Get out."

"No," I said. "You get out."

"You're telling me to get out of my own house?" my father asked incredulously as he walked around the kitchen table and moved towards me. "My own house? You have some nerve you faggot."

"I'm not afraid of you anymore," I said defiantly as I tried to match his stature. I might have grown much through the years but my body looked nowhere close to my father's build. Even with his greying hair, he still looked more intimidating than I did.

"Afraid?" he asked as he stared right at me.

I thought he was going to say something else but the next thing I knew, his strong fist pummeled into my stomach knocking all the wind out of me and causing me to sprawl all over the floor gasping for air.

"Afraid?" my father asked again. "You think you know the world? You think you know what's really out there? Do you know how many out there would not hesitate to kill you if they ever managed to get their hands on you? I tried protecting you, boy, but you evidently do not want or need my protection."

"Protection?" I asked as my breath hitched in my throat. "You call what you did to me when I was young protection?"

"You're alive, aren't you?" he asked.

"Is that it?" I asked aghast. "I'm supposed to be grateful that you left me alive?"

"That's more than others would have given you," his voice was dark and sober. It was almost like he had for a moment gone somewhere else in his mind. But then his face grew serious and angry. "Yet, you're ungrateful. You deserve what life has in store for you." My father pulled back his leg as though he was about to kick me while I was down.

"Stop!" My mother yelled, which was followed immediately by the sound of her hand slapping into my father's face. But unlike the time when she slapped me and was immediately guilty for what she had done, her face looked determined and purposeful. "You will not hurt my son anymore!"

"You dare defy me, woman?" My father yelled as he pulled back his hand but he paused mid-action and just stood there frozen.

"What?" My mother asked, her voice straining to breaking point. "What?" she yelled angrily. Her skin was stretched to the limit with her anger as her fists balled up beside her. "Are you going to hit me? Are YOU going to hit ME?" She asked angrily. "Are you going to hurt me like you did him?"

My father and I both looked sharply at my mother.

"What?" she asked angrily. "You think I wouldn't find out? I'm his mother. Do you think you could keep something like that from me?"

My father's face shook like he was trying to hold back a scream.

"Yes," my mom continued in the silence. "I've always known what you did. I hoped it wasn't true. I hoped that if it had to happen, it would have been someone else who did it. I couldn't believe then that it was you. But it's painfully obvious now that it's been you. It breaks my heart to know that for sure but your actions make it clear that there is no changing you, that the man I loved is gone."

"If you knew," my dad said quietly, "then why didn't you tell the police?"

"Why?" my mom asked like the question was absurd. "Because I loved you. And I thought I could change you. What kind of wife do you think I would be to never question why my husband has been gone for years? Do you think me so dull to just sit back and wait for you to come home when you wanted to? I wanted you to stay away. I waited not for you but for the man I loved to come home. I waited for him to make amends. But that man is gone. He's gone and all that's left is you."

My father stood there rooted to the spot, indecision masking his face. His eyes betrayed the anger he felt and they looked towards her not with spite but regret. He relaxed his arms and body and stood straight as though preparing to meet an important dignitary. "I must prepare to visit and give my condolences to Jonathan Crawford." He said it like my mother's whole revelation had meant nothing to him. He looked at me before speaking again. "Rather unfortunate that his son Luke was murdered for he was quite a worthy son from what I've heard." Looking at my mother again he continued, "I want him out of my house before I leave. Do it before I must do it myself even if I had to break his arm dragging him out of here." He turned on his heels and disappearing into their bedroom. The sound of their door closing echoed loudly around the house.

My mom covered her face with her hands and started sobbing. Her shoulders shook violently as sadness washed over her, over the whole household.

"Mom," I said as I stood next to her. I placed a comforting arm around her willing what little strength I had left into her. She accepted it willingly as she leaned against me, sobbing into my chest. "Mom, we need to go."

She pulled back and started wiping furiously at the tears on her face. "No."

I frowned at her, "mom, what do you mean no?"

"This has to end," she said. "I need to get that monster out of our lives."

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

Instead of answering me, she asked her own question. "Not so long ago, you asked me why I kept old expired cans in our kitchen. Do you remember what I told you?"

"Yes," I said. "You said they were a reminder."

"And they are," she said with a tear-stained smile. "Once upon a time, long before you were born, we had nothing. We barely made enough money to afford the cheapest canned goods. Back then your father was different, certainly not like this. He was not caught up with work. He was not away for years. He cared for his family and did everything he could to turn things around. He didn't want a future for his children to be where they barely had enough to eat. So he did everything he could to provide for me and you when you were born. He loved us, Derek. He loved us very much. I hoped and I prayed that he would come back.

"Some day, Derek," she continued. "I hope you'll understand that people in love do the craziest things. They look past the most unbearable flaws and find the goodness in the people they love. They are brought to do desperate things just so they can hang on for the person they love to come back. I hope you'll forgive me for what I've done. I hope you'll forgive me also for what I've failed to do for you."

"Mom, I don't understand what you're talking about."

She looked at me with the kindest smiles. "One day you should ask Charlie about it."

There was a snap coming from somewhere in their room like a door or cabinet being shut. The sound made both my mother and I jump.

"You should go," my mom said taking my arm in a strong grip and pulling me towards the door. "Stay over at Charlie's. Tell his mom what's happening. When I'm done, I will come over, do you understand? I won't be an hour. I will see you soon, sweetheart."

"Mom, I'm not going to leave you here with him only. He could hurt you."

"No sweetheart," she said. "I can hurt him now far worse than he can hurt me. Please trust me in this. I will not fail you again." She kissed me in the forehead, hugged me, and then kissed me again. "Be safe," she said before closing the door between us.

I stood there unable to understand what twisted logic made my mother stay in the house with that monster. A loving father does not call his child trash and punch them in the stomach. My father was obviously a violent if not unstable man. I could not comprehend her decision to stay one minute longer in that house with him.

I moved back to the front yard. I had lived there in that house all my life yet it didn't feel the slightest bit welcome. It was like I was just a stranger passing through, a bed spacer whose lease had come to an end. I stared at the building, realizing I was likely never to call that place home ever again.

I started walking towards Charlie's but paused as I felt his eyes on me. I looked to his window to find him standing there between the curtains looking out to me like he had so many times before. His face was full of concern as he watched me and I could tell he was wondering what had happened for me to end up in the middle of the yard, looking like I was thrown out.

I had almost continued my walk but then Charlie turned his head as Travis came by his side. The stronger boy wrapped his arms around my best friend and looked down on him with one of the most caring smiles I had ever seen on a face. There was really no mistaking that Travis loved my best friend.

Charlie looked up at him and smiled, matching the arms around his waist with his own. It was at that moment that I realized that Charlie was happy. He was happy even without me and I knew that even in his home, I no longer belonged.

And so I walked away.

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