by Hamen Cheese

Chapter 33: I Say Goodbye

It was a Monday.

Southmore High School had made it a holiday on account of the Valentine's Day dance that happened the Saturday before. However, I highly doubted that anyone was still talking about the dance if the news on the television was any indication of interest.

I have no idea if Sunday's news was all abuzz about Luke's murder but the local news channels couldn't seem to talk about anything else come Monday. It was considerably rare for anything as exciting as a murder to happen in our area so the newscasters had a field day talking about it, doing their own investigations, and even having their own speculations on the suspect.

Fortunately, I was either taken out of the suspect list or the reporters made very poor investigators since I was not mentioned once among the potential suspects. Not even my attempted running over of Luke was mentioned. Mostly, people were speculating it had something to do with Luke's father, a well-known businessman who apparently was a member of the Southmore Board of Directors himself. I wondered if perhaps Luke's father had some influence on things that happened to me at school.

And then it occurred to me that my father probably had something to do with my name (and my obvious connection to him) not appearing on TV.

Anyway, I didn't want the reporters putting any attention on me. Well, at least not for murder. I was quite convinced that I didn't kill Luke especially when the reporters said that Luke was stabbed several times with a sharp object, possibly a knife. I was pretty sure I didn't have a knife and even if I did, I should have been covered in blood. Investigators said it was a crime of passion. Although I hated Luke very much, it wasn't like I was the only one in the whole school or even the whole district who hated him.

For a moment, I contemplated mentioning to police the pub that Luke had picked up the bat from. But I was worried that it might lead to other questions and make them focus their eyes on me again. That might have led to Charlie being interrogated and I didn't want to put him through that. Sure, I would have, in a heartbeat, turned in Luke to the police for what he did to Charlie. But Luke was dead so reporting it to the police was a moot point.

Besides, I had other concerns anyway. I had spoken to my uncle. He didn't really know anything about me other than my name since the last time he had spoken to my mother was a year after I was born. My mom had invited my uncle to my first birthday party but my father had made sure he wouldn't get anywhere near me. I didn't know all the details but they had fought about it and my mom had, it seemed, taken my father's side in the end. It was the last time they spoke in years.

He seemed genuinely delighted to talk to me though. When I explained everything that had happened between my mother, my father, and my best friend, he immediately offered to drive the following day to where I lived to come help out in any way. I didn't discuss what my father did to me when I was younger though but everything else I had said was enough to make him worry. He had been worried for quite awhile about my mother but my mother's marriage to my father had caused the siblings to become estranged.

I didn't have the courage to ask him if he could perhaps give me room and board for a while but it seemed I didn't have to. I gave him the number to Charlie's house where he was able to talk with my mom. When he next called me at Andrew's place, my mother had actually suggested that it might be a good idea if I stay with him for some time. A few weeks ago, I might have vehemently fought against the very idea of staying with a gay guy. But at that moment, it felt like what I might have just needed.

He was coming by that afternoon to pick me up. I had explained to him that I still had my senior year to finish at Southmore but my mom had thought of that. She had spoken to the admissions officer of another private school there where I could finish the other half of my senior year. I didn't even know that was possible but they said my straight A grades and considerable extra-curricular activities was not something they could just turn down.

I also had a sneaking suspicion that Mrs. C was involved somehow.

That was why I found myself standing outside Charlie's house. I wanted… no, I needed to say goodbye. I didn't want to just leave without explaining to him personally where I went. All things considered, he was still my best friend and he deserved that much.

I looked at my house next door for any sign of my dad or mom but the place seemed completely deserted. None of the cars were there (not even my Camaro) and I wondered idly where everyone was.

When I reached the front door of Charlie's house, I didn't just barge in like I normally did before all the problems started. I rang the doorbell like everyone else and waited for Charlie to open the door.

Unfortunately, Mrs. C opened the door.

"Hi," I said somewhat shyly.

Mrs. C raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. "What do you want, Derek?" she said as she crossed her arms together.

Not exactly the warmest welcome I had received from Mrs. C. Admittedly though, that wasn't the worst either. "I was hoping to speak to Big C."

Mrs. C's eyebrows rose higher and her lips pinched and I just knew I was about to get the door slammed into my face.

"Wait!" I said before she made a move to close the door. "Just listen to me for a moment, okay, Mrs. C? Just one moment."

"Alright," she smirked like she was enjoying my predicament. "Talk."

"Look," I said nervously. "I know I've been a complete and total jerk. I know I've made many mistakes. And I'm sorry. I'm not trying to justify what I did because I know a lot of the shit…" Her eyebrows rose again. "I mean stuff I did were really bad. Heck, I don't even understand how I haven't been thrown into jail or committed into a psychiatric hospital yet but what I do understand is that I really am sorry. Big C is, was, and always will be my best friend. I know I've screwed up several times already but I would never ever do anything again to hurt him. I would give my life for him if I had to. I'm not asking for us to hang out every moment like we used to. All I'm asking for is for a few minutes of his time to let him know how I really feel and how sorry I am about… everything."

I had said all that really fast. I mean it was Mrs. C I was facing and something about her always made me want to just spill everything.

"No," she said finally.

I frowned. "Oh…" My shoulders just sagged right down to the floor.

"You can't talk to Charlie because he's not here," she said. Again there was that smirk like she was enjoying the whole thing. "He's at work."

"At work?" I asked confused. "But it's a Monday."

"And there's no school," she said like it was the obvious explanation.

"Oh…" I said as we just stood there staring at each other. "I guess… I guess I'll go there then."

"You should," she said, sounding thoroughly amused.

"Okay," I said and then nodded awkwardly. "Thank you." I turned around and started making my way to the bus stop.

"Oh, and Derek," she called out as she held the door ready to shut it.

"Yes, Mrs. C?" I asked.

"You're welcome to come by any time," she said giving me what looked impossibly like a genuine smile. "Even if it's for more than a few minutes."

I smiled back and gave her a nod, taking the invitation for the good thing that it was. She smiled one more time and closed the door behind her.

I made my way to the bus stop. I hadn't needed to take the bus ever since I got my car. It felt weird not being behind the powerful engine of my Camaro but I really didn't have a choice in the matter. I fondled the key in my pocket, almost willing my Camaro to come back to me.

It didn't take long before I reached the bus stop closest to Mr. Maloney's second hand shop. Charlie still worked there during Saturdays and apparently Mondays-after-school-dances also. I had to walk a few blocks down but I didn't mind. I think all the extensive walking I had been doing was giving me leg muscles that basketball never could.

I paused when I saw a familiar sedan coated in a light sea green paint parked across the street from where Charlie worked. I could see the back of a head on the driver's side. I had no doubt it was Travis, probably waiting for Charlie to finish work. I checked the time and it was nearing the hour Charlie usually finished. It made me a little sad to realize that it used to be me waiting for Charlie to finish work (although of course, I was usually inside the store bugging him about leaving).

On impulse, I changed directions and headed for the car. I went to the passenger side door and opened it. I took a seat inside and settled myself comfortably.

"Derek?" Travis asked, thoroughly surprised. He was holding an iPad which he quickly turned off as he saw me enter. "What are you doing here?"

"I was hoping to talk to Big C," I said.

"Talk?" he asked suspiciously.

"Yeah," I said. "Just talk." When he still looked dubiously at me I continued. "I'm going away for awhile. Maybe a few months. My uncle is coming to pick me up. I… I wanted to say goodbye."

"Oh," Travis said sounding suddenly less worried and more concerned. "Everything okay?"

I gave him a certain look that silently asked really?

"Yeah," he laughed, "I suppose that was a stupid question, wasn't it?"

"Just a bit," I said nodding and smiling. An uncomfortable silence descended in the car and for the sake of having something to talk about, I asked him regarding his iPad.

"Yeah, it was a gift from my dad," he said as he flicked the thing on and the screen came to life.

"Playing games?" I asked, just mildly interested.

"Nah," he said. "I was just reading."

"Reading what?"

"You won't like it," he laughed and blushed a little.

"What is it?" I asked, my curiosity aroused. When he looked even more embarrassed (and trust me, it was shocking for me to see Travis embarrassed), I pushed a little more. "Come on. You can tell me."

He looked at me like he had some life altering decision to make at that moment. "Yeah, I guess I can tell you. It's a piece of efiction."

"Efiction?" I asked.

"Yeah, you know, stuff that online authors write and post on websites for people to read for free," he said as he ran his fingers a few time over the screen causing digital pages to flip.

"For free?" I asked with a frown. "Why would anyone want to do that?"

"Well, I don't know really," he replied. "Some of them write to have an outlet I guess. I suppose some use those avenues to practice their writing so that when they do write for print, they'd have some idea how readers would react. Mostly though, I think they just write for themselves and the few people that come across what they write."

"Oh," I said. "And what exactly are you reading?"

He blushed again. "Well, it's a series called Adamagika. I'm actually reading the second book." He flipped the digital pages several times until it came to what looked like a hand drawn book cover. The title Adamagika: Edge of Darkness was printed in elaborate text at the top. Three guys were on the front cover. The front-most guy whom I assumed to be the main character was holding a ruby encrusted sword in one hand and a flaming orb in the other. Behind him to his right was another guy holding a long blue staff that looked like it was made of water or ice. On the other side, to the left, was yet another dude in what looked like black obsidian armor. He didn't have a weapon or anything like the other two but green flames flickered out of his eyes.

"What's it about?"

"Well," Travis began as he thought about it. "It's basically about a war between people with magic and those without it. At least that's what the first book was about. But from what I've read of the second book so far, the direction seems to change. Seems like there's a bigger picture that no one except for a handful of characters know about."

"Oh…" I said. "Sounds boring."

"No, it's not," Travis glared like I had personally offended him somehow.

"I was just kidding," I replied quickly. I really was. REALLY. I WAS.

"Oh," Travis said a little sheepishly. "Sorry."

Again, we lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. I wondered if it would always be like that between us. I mean there were so many unspoken words. It was clear that we were both in love with Charlie or at the very least deeply in like if you know what I mean. I doubted Travis and I could ever truly be friends. I even wondered if we would even pay any attention to each other if Charlie was around.

"Well," Travis said after a few minutes of us just staring at nothing. "Charlie should be done soon."

"Oh," I said.

"If you want, you can go meet with him. Tell him what you need to before you leave," he said in such a way that made me think he was wondering if it was a good idea. "He doesn't know I'm here so he'll be coming out from the alley at the back. I wanted to surprise him but…" His voice trailed off as though he was indeed regretting what he was saying.

"You don't have to," I said. "I mean if you were here first then I don't want to ruin your surprise by meeting Big C first."

"It's fine," he said. "Just don't disappear with him while I wait here for you guys to show up." He laughed but I had a feeling that his statement was only partially a joke.

"Okay," I said as I extended my hand to him. "Well, I guess this is goodbye for us."

"Well, maybe," Travis said as he took my offered hand. "Maybe it's just see you later."

"Maybe," I said. I could have sworn that he actually meant that last one.

"Well, get going," he said as he waved a hand as though to magically push me out of the car.

I left Travis at his vehicle and went around the back of the store. I was a little excited. Admittedly, the idea of surprising Charlie felt exhilarating. I felt slightly guilty that I was taking the opportunity away from Travis but I figured it was my last chance to speak to Charlie for quite awhile so I grabbed onto it gladly.

I saw the backdoor to the shop open and Charlie dragging his bike out. He was trying to balance something on the seat. It looked like our depressingly thick Accounting book by the very vain E.T. Schwelling whose less than pleasant face stained the cover. The book caused his movements to be a little awkward as he tried to keep the bike or the book from falling. I shook my head as I watched him. After all, he was wearing a backpack he could have put the book in.

He hadn't noticed me yet so I wanted to sneak up and surprise him. But then a movement from the side caught my eye and I saw someone move from the hidden alcove between a dumpster and large stacks of boxes. He was a small and slim guy. He had his back to me so I couldn't see his face which was also hidden beneath a black hoodie. He reached into his pocket and pulled something shiny out before quickening his pace to Charlie.

"Big C!" I yelled. "Watch out!"

The two of them turned to me in surprise but the other guy recovered faster. He turned back to Charlie and flipped the object in his hand. With a nearly silent click, it flipped over and revealed a knife.

Charlie gasped as the guy lunged at him. He quickly dropped his bike and raised the only object in his hand which was indeed our very thick Accounting book. He raised it like a shield just in time for the blade of the knife to piece through E.T. Schwelling's forehead instead of Charlie's chest.

"Big C!" I yelled again as I ran as quickly as I could towards him. His attacker lunged forward causing him to lose balance against his bike that was sprawled on the floor. He hit his head on the floor and groaned as though he was only half-conscious.

The hoodie dude raised the blade again as though he was going to plunge it into Charlie's heart. Before he could do that, I rammed into him causing the two of us to fall on the ground and the blade to go rolling somewhere. The impact caused the guy's hoodie to fall off revealing his face.

"Jared?" I asked as I looked at the familiar but very angry face of emo boy Jared Anderson, the guy who frequently hung around with Charlie, Travis, and Rebecca during lunch.

Before I could say anything else he lashed out with his foot and caught me right in the gemstones.

"Balls!" I cursed as I clasped my hands tightly over my precious jewels and writhed on the ground as stars came popping into my eyes. I blinked them away and saw Jared crawling towards his knife. I stood unsteadily on my feet and had to use the dumpster for support because my knees kept insisting on bending inward. "Jared," I said in a voice one octave higher than normal, "what the hell do you think you're doing?"

Jared had finally reached his knife and got to his feet. He glared at me like I had done some terrible crime against him. "I knew I should have killed you first. You ruin everything!"

"What the hell are you talking about?" I said as I kept a wary watch on the blade in his hand. It was shining menacingly in the little light that pierced the darkness of the alley.

"You had to go expose Travis as being gay," he spat out. "He was fine before you came along and ruined everything."

"Is that what this is about?" I asked. "You're angry because Travis and Charlie are gay?"

"No!" He yelled angrily. It felt to me like he'd been waiting for that moment for the longest time. "Travis was mine! When he wasn't out of the closet, he would always come to me. We would always talk. I was the only one who knew he was gay! And then you had to go and shout to the world that he was gay. And then all of the sudden he's hanging out with Charlie. It's Charlie this, Charlie that. Ooh I love Charlie." He spat on the ground like the words disgusted him. "Because of you, he stopped loving me and went over to that slut!" He pointed towards Charlie who was still on the ground apparently fighting to stay conscious. "Because of you Charlie is his boyfriend instead of me!"

What the hell? This kid had a loose screw or two. "But Jared," I said trying to reason with him. "They were together before I outted them to the school. It wasn't just you that knew. Charlie and Rebecca knew. Even Mikee. Certainly you must have known that? You ate together at lunch so much. I saw Charlie and Travis kiss each other. It was the reason I outted them in the first place.

"Liar!" Jared said angrily, as his eyes bogged out at my words. He was clearly refusing to accept the truth. Without another word, he lunged at me with the knife.

I was able to sidestep him but he was surprisingly quick for someone I thought had no physical sport whatsoever. It almost seemed like he has been training in fighting with a knife. He slashed and slashed in the air until he got a lucky swipe on my arm causing the wound to bleed through my shirt.

He smiled like he'd already won, one of his eyes hidden behind the long emo bangs that cascaded down his face. "You should have been dead already. I waited for you. I waited for you that day you got kicked off the team. I was waiting for you to come out by yourself. I've been watching you," he laughed unnervingly. "I knew you always went home alone ever since you and Charlie started fighting. But then that other guy had to be there. That big oaf had to be there to mess things up."

"Andrew?" I asked as I remembered the day he was referring to. That was the day Andrew asked if I could bring him home.

"Yes!" Jared said, sounding very much like he was about to lose his sanity. "You should have died then! And I could have taken care of Charlie easily later. And then Travis would come back to me. I'd console him, make him feel better. And then we'd be together at last!"

"You're crazy!" I said.

"Am I?" he asked with a mad glint in his one exposed eye and a nervous, almost hysterical laughter. "AM I?"

I didn't know what to answer to that.

"Maybe I should take care of him first," he said as he made a mad dash for Charlie.

"No!" I yelled as I ran forward to intercept him but I didn't see his plan. I didn't see the way he turned in the last minute as if he wasn't going for Charlie after all and I couldn't stop my momentum as he raised the blade in his hand.

A sharp pain pierced my chest as the blade went straight through. My breath caught as if my lungs were closing in on itself, retracting from the pain. He pushed me against the wall and my legs couldn't seem to do anything but follow.

"It's all your fault," he said angrily as he attempted to wrench the blade from my chest, causing the pain to multiply tenfold. "Travis was mine. He loved me. Only me. And when the two of you are gone. He'll be mine again!" He pulled at the blade again but it must have gotten lodged or something because it wouldn't come out. I tried to wrench his fingers off the handle but my vision was already starting to blur from the pain.

And suddenly a trash can came flying out of nowhere. It slammed hard into Jared's face with a hollow twang as it got deformed like what I'd expect from a cartoon. Jared's grip slackened and he stood there looking dazed before his eyes rolled back and he fell to the floor with a muffled thud.

I dropped to my knees as a dark red stain slowly spread across my shirt. I felt two gentle hands raise my face to look up.

"Derek," Charlie whispered, his eyes were stained with tears as he looked at the knife still imbedded in my chest and then back to my face. His voice cracked. "No…"

"Big C?" I asked as I fell sideward. He caught me and cradled my head in his lap in that same way he had so many years ago.

"Stay with me," he begged and then he looked up and released the most frightening cry of anguish I had ever heard, "somebody help me! Please!"

"Big C," I said. "It's okay."

"No…" Charlie said as tears flowed freely from his eyes as though they would never end. "Please, stay with me, Hero."

"You called me Hero," I smiled weakly at him as my body started to feel numb. I raised my cold fingers up to his face. As I touched him, a little of my blood stained his cheeks. "I love you, Big C."

He shook his head no. "Stay with me. Don't go."

"I love you, Big C," I might have said again. I wasn't sure anymore what was or wasn't real. My arm had lost what strength was left in it as my fingers finally fell to the ground. In that moment, I knew that Charlie had forgiven me. Some names were not just names. Hero was not just Hero. Big C was not just Big C. They were words of friendship and of love, of learning and forgiveness. As I closed my eyes, I felt peace and it didn't really matter that I died in his arms.

End of Part Four

Another Message from the Author

I love my characters. I don't write about them unless I enjoy thinking about them. I have grown particularly fond of the ones in this story and of course would like the best for them. At the beginning of this story, I said that there was enough sadness in this world and that writing a sad story would be a disservice to you. I suppose I have failed gravely in that matter because there was a lot more sadness in this story than even I imagined as I first started writing it.

But, it doesn't mean it has to end sad.

I had made you another promise when I started this story and I intend to keep that one. That promise was that my stories always end in a happy or hopeful note.

And that ending has come now. I will take the helm from Derek's hands and tell you myself what happened next. I hope you enjoy it. I worked hard to make it fit with the overall theme I started this story with. Thank you for sticking with it to the end.

This one's for you!

Yours truly,

Hamen Cheese

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