Charlie

Charlie can’t help but notice how pointy she is. Pointy nose, pointy breasts and pointy shoes.

“Sorry, but I’ve got plans tonight… and tomorrow night too.” Caitlin spins around, her hair whipping a sweet scent Charlie’s way. She retreats quickly down the hall as if her cubicle were a sanctuary. Her pointy shoes make a clacking noise on the hardwood floor.

“What about the day after tomorrow?” Charlie whispers, watching her turn the corner. He sighs and looks down at his old, worn brown shoes. Charlie knows that hoping really means crap, but still… he’d hoped that Caitlin would be different, that she would say yes.

He walks to the vending machine, his growling stomach leading his skinny legs. That morning he’d just been too anxious to eat, counting down the moments leading up to the question: “Want to get something to eat tonight?”

In front of the vending machine filled with nutritionally empty food in shiny packages, he saw his reflection. Charlie imagines that Caitlin’s “plans” included a man who could keep down his liquor, bench press 250 pounds and could say “ciao” without sounding like an idiot.

Charlie’s shoes squeaks as he makes his way back to his cubicle, turning to the left into the accounting department opposite of Caitlin’s department. He sits in front of his computer and works and works. He doesn’t even really notice that the sun has ducked behind the neighboring buildings. Sometimes, Charlie would plan to “accidentally” bump into Caitlin on his way out, but tonight he really hopes that doesn’t happen. He wants to get out of the air conditioned building into the warm summer night air.

At the bank of elevators, a group of male co-workers are joking and laughing.

“Let’s go to Randy’s” says one of the guys who Charlie thinks is named Ray.

“You sure the missus will let ya?” They all burst out laughing and enter into the elevator. Charlie had heard that a group of them gather at Randy’s on Fridays, not that they had ever thought of inviting him. There’s room in the elevator for Charlie too, but he knows that they’d share an awkward silence, not hearty laughs. Luckily, the next elevator opens up only a few seconds later and he is joined by friendly Mrs. Quinn.

“T.G.I.F, huh?” She chuckles and smiles at him. He shows her his teeth and hopes that it passes as a smile. “Any plans this weekend, Charles?”

When asked this question, he usually lies and says he’s doing something fun and exciting. People don’t really know how to react when he says “Sit around and do nothing.”

“I’m going to Randy’s tonight.” He realizes he actually means it.

Mrs. Quinn’s eyebrows rise up on her forehead, making it even more wrinkled. “Oh, that’ll be fun. Well, enjoy your weekend. Monday’s always come around too soon.” She pats his arm.

Randy’s is only two blocks away from his work and the night is turning the sky a soft purple. Summer evenings should always be this perfect; heat with the teasing of autumn coolness around the corner. Charlie doesn’t want to take his suitcase with him, so he chucks it into his car before going on his way. He starts walking but backtracks to look into his car’s side view mirror. His hair, he feels, says “I’m a good little boy that combs his hair to the side like his mother taught him to do”. He tousles his hair, ruling out the possibility that his hair would be the reason he could end up alone tonight… again. The buttons of his white shirt were buttoned all the way to his collar; he decides that unbuttoning three would raise his sexiness a little bit more. Well, this is the best he can do, he sighs. He straightens up and walks to Randy’s. As he gets closer, he notices that there is a steady flow of people going in, and a trickle of wobbly people heading out. A giraffe-like blond, wearing stilettos and a too tight dress walks up to Charlie as he was makes his way in.

“Hey, Toots. Wanna have fun?” She laughs like a hyena, showing off a set of perfect, brilliant white teeth. She put her long arm around Charlie’s neck and leaned in close enough for him to smell the beer on her breath. Charlie gulps. A shorter blonde comes up behind the tall blonde.

“Tonya! I’m sorry, she’s a little drunk.” He shrugs, as if he deals with drunken women all the time. She pushes Tonya away and they’re gone. He’s been in a bar only once before, but that was only to use the payphone to call AAA. Randy’s is basically like the bars he’s seen in movies; dim lighting, loud music mixed with loud talking, and the warmth and humidity of human bodies too close together. Charlie feels like he’s entered a different world where he can’t get a full breath, but is intoxicated by the dizziness of it all. He tries walking confidently to the bar, he’s not sure that he’s pulled it off but he makes it without tripping. The bartender is on the other side of the bar so Charlie raps on the counter three times, beckoning the little woman. Unfortunately, it is way too loud and he has to wait for her to finish whatever it is she was doing. As she approaches him, he notices she looks really young, faint acne scars are visible beneath a layer of foundation. Too much makeup, Charlie thinks.

“What can I getcha?” Charlie hasn’t thought this far ahead.

“Uh….” He doesn’t have the slightest clue what to order. The bartender puts her hand on her hip and begins tapping her right foot; her eyes seem like they’re going to pop out of her head with impatience.

“Are you gonna order something or not?” she finally snaps. Charlie feels his cheeks grow hot under her angry stare; a thin layer of sweat covers his upper lip. He feels like ducking beneath the bar and hiding.

“He’ll have what I’m having.” Both of them turn to look at the woman sitting by Charlie. She lifts up her frosted glass; it has clear liquid with green things floating around with the ice. The bartender’s eyes bounce between Charlie and the woman for a few seconds before turning around to make the drink.

“I hope you don’t mind I ordered for you. It looked like you needed some help.”

“Oh, no,” Charlie chuckles and it sounded forces and he ends up clearing his throat. “It’s Friday.” She looks a little confused and he quickly adds, “Finally! It’s been a long week.”

“I’m Lainey.” Lainey scoots her stool closer to Charlie.

“I’m Eric.” Charlie thinks that Charlie is a boring name and that Eric sounded more appealing. He’s done that a few times before, lying about his name, but he’s never had any problems because his relationships never get past the opening stage.

“Eric.” He likes the way his fake name sounds in her voice. She has curly brown hair that is a little messy, freckles spattered on her cheekbones and thick rimmed glasses that frame dark brown eyes. The bartender returns and slams the glass on the counter, causing some of the drink to splash out. Charlie looks at Lainey from the corner of his eye and sees that she was looking at him too, waiting for him to make the next move. He takes a careful sip, the alcohol blazes down his throat and he could feel it pour into his stomach. He has to cover his mouth to prevent coughing.

“What kind of drink is this?”

“It’s a mojito. I discovered it by accident… got it only because it sounded pretty.” She looks at her drink, swirls her fingers around the rim of the glass before turning her gaze on him.

“So… you waiting for someone?” Charlie asks.

She smiles and is silent for a moment. “Nope, I’m not waiting for anyone. I’m on my own. I was going to lie and say that I am waiting for my boyfriend, but I don’t have one and you don’t seem like a creeper so…” she shrugs playfully and smiles wider.

“Well, that’s good.” He fidgets in his seat, scouring his mind for something, anything to say. “Did you hear about a little boy in India that can stick his whole foot in his mouth?” As soon as he says it he feels like a complete idiot.

Lainey laughs so hard, tears roll down her freckled, flushed cheeks. In between spurts of laughter she gasps for breath. “This isn’t really your type of scene, is it Eric?”

Appalled, Charlie stares at his ugly brown shoes that stick out like raisins in vanilla ice cream. His vision becomes blurred because of his angry tears. He refuses to let any of these people see him cry. His wallet is tucked in his back pocket; he reaches for it, plucks out a crinkly ten dollar bill and slaps it on the table. For once, he thought that maybe, just maybe someone actually cared to get to know him but Lainey saw right through him. What an idiot! Suddenly, it’s too hot and too crowded and he has to get out. Charlie pushes his way out and took a huge gulp of fresh air, leaving Lainey frowning.

He clenches his jaw to keep himself from crying, once started he’s afraid he won’t stop. Charlie is a dreamer, his mind playing out fantasies of a life found only in fairytales. Tonight was getting a bit nightmarish.

“Hey!” Charlie hears someone yell, but doesn’t bother to look. The footsteps are fast approaching; Charlie sticks his hands into his pockets and walks quickly, but not too quickly for fear of tripping. All around him, people walk by, talking, fighting, holding hands, laughing, kissing. He faintly hears another “hey!”, and takes wider strides and hunches his shoulders. Charlie bumps into several of these people. Usually he’d mumble “sorry” and keep on walking, but he is too lost in thoughts about the spoiled possibilities with Lainey and his embarrassment.

“Eric!” Charlie turns around. Lainey runs towards him. “Eric, I’m so sorry if I offended you. Honestly, I didn’t mean to. I just…” she sighs, “I just got out of a bad relationship. And I’ve been angry and I … I know Caitlin and she had this dare for me…. to talk to you. We saw you come in. You know, just as a way to get a few laughs and get my mind off things. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said yes.” She pushes her glasses up on her nose and makes a noise somewhere between a sigh and a chuckle.

“My name isn’t really Eric.”

“Oh?”

“It’s Charlie.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you Charlie.” Lainey extends her hand out in front of her to shake his hand. “Let’s go back and enjoy a drink. My treat.”

Charlie glances at the wristwatch his grandfather gave him. It was only 9:30.

“I have an idea.” Charlie says. He takes her hand. It’s soft and warm. A small bakery on the corner across from where they are standing, Nana’s Panaderia, was still open. The sweet smell of warm cinnamon-raisin studded sweet bread wafts in the air. In the pastry cases, there would be huge selections of treats to choose from. His face is serious as he leans in slightly towards Lainey; he brings his face right beside hers, his lips nearly brushing her ear. Her smile widens in anticipation and for a moment Charlie’s resolve almost dissipates.

“Go back in there and make a fool of someone else.” He tightens his grip on her hand before flinging it away. Charlie backs away from Lainey, her face a mixture of awe, surprise and pain, the smile gone. Her eyes search his face for something, maybe a trace of the shy man she’d just seen in the bar, but he isn’t here anymore. In this moment, Charlie feels … together. It’s tough for him to say what it is that making him feel composed, since he is under the influence his own shock.

His anger drives him to movement and he practically runs to the nearby waterfront park.

“Watch where you’re going buddy! Geez!” He nearly plows into some fat guy and bounces off him.

He opens his mouth to say something to himself but what comes out is a long and charged yell as he slumps to the wet grass. Time passes without Charlie knowledge. When the time feels right, he gets up, coinciding with the pink haze of the morning. As he walks back to his car, he passes by Randy’s again.  Leaning against the brick wall sits Lainey, passed out with her lipstick smeared and her mascara running. Charlie freezes and stares, not sure whether to touch her or call someone to come help. His head hurts as he recalls the events of the night, the embarrassment and disappointment.

Charlie looks at her coldly a moment longer before continuing on his way to his car. When he gets to his car, he nearly goes back to help Lainey and then suddenly he thinks of his dog, Pippa. She would be waiting for him, looking out the front window for his familiar car, wondering where the heck he was. When he’d open the door of his house, she’d pounce on him, tag wailing. Pippa would be there for him, no matter what. Charlie didn’t have to do anything special, gather up his courage or pretend to be Eric to get her attention.

He gets in the car, turns on the ignition and pulls out into the empty road. When he gets home, he is greeted and licked by Pippa. She follows him to the refrigerator, where Charlie opens it, looks inside and then closes the door. He doesn’t really feel like making anything to eat. He feeds Pippa and sits by her as she eats. When she is done, Pippa looks into his eyes and Charlie feels loved, needed. Even though it’s hot in his room, he pulls the covers over himself as he lays down still dressed in his work clothes. Pippa jumps up on his bed and goes around in circles several times before settling in.

Charlie can see out his window, he can see the happy sun rising, chasing away the dark night.  He closes his eyes and he can see Caitlin and Lainey, he can feel the anger and the slight twinge of guilt for leaving Lainey on the sidewalk. He can feels that he can no longer be the same, that he is no longer the same; he shouldn’t feel sorry for the enemy. The tears are on the verge of falling out of Charlie’s eyes but he wills them away. The sun will rise, thinks Charlie. The sun is rising.

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