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Charlie Tam was an ordinary girl of the twentieth century, which meant she drank, smoked, had sex and had dabbled in some pot. By the age of twenty seven she had had her fair share of heartbreak, loneliness, depression and swearing, and it wasn’t until she moved out of her parents’ house and into a tiny one-room apartment that she began to feel at home.
The tininess of the room reminded her of how little she truly needed to feel alive and well – a shitty microwave, a loose-cannon shower head with an attitude and a firm bed.
Charlie was the epitome of a modern woman – she had low self-esteem, a knack for bad relationships and a fierce temper that didn’t always match her tender heart, and, of course, Charlie felt alone most of the time.
She would go out every night looking for something or someone, but she would usually end up having a good smoke with a glass of cheap Chilean wine next in a hipster café full of people that tried too hard to sound original and unique.
Some nights she would end up with a random guy and sometimes she would just spend her entire evening chatting with her best friend Ron at the bar she worked at. The place smelled of rat poison, old scotch and disappointment.
Of course, due to the lack of any sort of exciting predispositions in life Charlie spent the majority of her night alone in her bed eating milk chocolate, her hair covered in cigarette smoke while her hands slowly carved doodle shapes in the thick gray air.
She was an artist at heart, and, as such, she worked at a crappy bar, waiting tables and occasionally getting a few songs on stage, entertaining a crowd of three half-drunk old-timers who never seemed to leave the place. In any case, it could be easily called a ‘steady gig’ and, for a depressed artist with no direction, it paid well enough.
‘Charlie. Stage.’ Her boss mumbled, taking the permanently stained glass out of her hands.
And she was up, singing ‘I will always love you’ because she could. She hated the bright lights, and how they made it impossible to see any face in the tiny crowd – she couldn’t tell who was listening. It was as if she was all alone, singing to the light, smiling while the chorus rang in her ears. In the end, though, every tone of music faded into a few slow claps and another half an hour wiping the bar.
Today was a bit different – Ron was at the bar, smiling his strange distant smile, the one that said – you’ll never truly know what I’m thinking. He wore it since the day they met, and it gave Charlie a sense of comfort to know that some things never change.
‘Hey.’ He said, and she watched his blue eyes glisten with unspoken thoughts and emotions. ‘How are you?’
‘Same.’ Charlie nodded, trying to scrape a calcified chunk of gunk off the bar. ‘Although I have to say I am enjoying my work today.’
‘Sarcasm?’ He asked, tapping a five-euro bill on the table, asking for his usual.
‘You know it.’ Charlie poured him a double whiskey and put the remaining forty cents into her pocket.
‘There’s a tip waiting for you in the form of a bottle of Jack.’ He winked, taking a sip, still looking into her eyes. It made Charlie smile – every day they spent together was a good day, she didn’t have to so miserable with him.
‘You know I’m only in this alcoholic friendship for the booze.’ She grinned, getting a smile out of him as well.
After work Charlie ended up on her bed with Ron, drinking, and filling the air with shared sorrow for life and dreams. Their skin touched at some points, but the zing of the contact never rang like passion, because passion required two people, and it was unlike Ron to feel anything consuming.
‘Someday I know you will be happy.’ He said, turning his head towards Charlie and staring back at her.
‘Yeah yeah.’ She smiled a sad smile and rolled on her side to hug him. Sometimes she’d let his scent inspire thoughts of what would it be like to kiss him, just kiss… but there was no dreaming with Ron, no future, because Ron was a true example of a contemporary male – no sappy bullshit, no spoiling life’s fun with love.
She rolled away from him and jumped off the bed to grab her favorite bottle of Merlot wine, chugged half of it and resumed the absence of a conversation.
‘You’re seeing Kaylee tomorrow?’ He asked, while scratching his black hipster beard. Charlie called it the Moses beard, because a beard like that had to be holy.
‘Yup.’ She took another sip.
‘Call me if you need company afterwards.’ He said, getting off the bed and placing the half-finished bottle of Jack on her bedside table.
‘Wait…’ Charlie groaned and skipped to his side, wrapping her short arms around his large body. ‘I love you.’
‘Same.’ He hugged her back quickly and then gently pushed her away, tickling her as he did.
Every single tickle made Charlie’s skin cry – he was the one man out of a hundred that didn’t want her and it stung the place where her pride used to be. She smiled the warm smile he was used to and closed the door behind his tall back. He never slept over, that was one of the unspoken rules.
Charlie put her back against the cold wood of her apartment’s door and started unbuttoning her black shirt, her hands slowly gliding down the round curve of her thigh as she got to the side zipper of her jeans. She stripped down, leaving her clothes on the cold floor and got to the shower. She could almost feel the water heater pounding all the way to the third floor as the shower began erratically spraying luke-warm water. Charlie held the shower head between her hands until the water heated up. When it did she sat down, her head between her knees, the shower head above her.
The water trickled down her pale skin in tiny rivers, mixing with the fresh hot tears of Charlie’s clinical sadness. She shook in the bubbling heat of steaming water, hugging herself until she couldn’t feel the burning anymore. She turned the red handle and wrapped her pale red-stained body in a white fluffy robe before she sunk into her warm sheets.
Her bed was the one place where she felt safe, but the one that made her feel the loneliest. She still remembered who she used to share it with. She could still smell his red curls on the white soft wrinkles of the cover, and the way his green-ish blue eyes stared at her from beneath his brown eyelashes in the morning…
She reached for Jack and finished the bottle all by herself, alone…all alone.
Next morning she made her way to a fancy restaurant downtown where her punctual friend was already waiting. Charlie put on her best dress and a smile to match.
‘Hi!’ They both squealed in unison and as they both sat down Charlie realized how much had changed in a year since the last time they had seen each other.
‘Wow…you’re…pregnant.’ She looked at the significant bulge on Kaylee’s body.
‘Yeah! I can’t wait to-‘ She rambled on for about an hour how everything had been planned and how happy she and her husband were. Another hour was dedicated to the list of names she was picking from for the baby and Charlie hated every single one of them. All of the names sounded weak and shallow, but, of course, Charlie just nodded and chewed her expensive lunch, because that’s what friends do.
There was a time when they were better than this fake charade of friendship. There was a time when everything seemed to make them stronger as a couple of girls that loved each other like fake sisters that never had to share the same toys. Now, everything was summed up in polite smiles and Charlie hiding every little addiction and pieces of depression away from Kaylee…not because Kaylee couldn’t handle it, but because the way she dealt with problems made Charlie feel even worse.
She liked Ron’s strategy of drink, sleep and repress more than the whole twelve-thousand-steps-to-being-perfect bullshit Kaylee had in mind.
Charlie turned to the window on her right side and found a familiar face staring right at her. She turned to her plate and blinked quickly before looking back. As she did, she felt her half-dead heart pounding faster. Her mouth parted, rigid breaths crashing shallowly on the shiny glass. The pair of green-blue eyes was staring back and even though they were cold and unfeeling, they seemed to make Charlie’s tired soul remember happiness. Only a second passed after the moment their eyes met and a skinny short brunette skipped to his side to take his hand. Charlie remembered the way he’d kiss her passionately after not seeing her for a couple of hours.
How would he had kissed her now, after four years…?
She traced the line of her burning bottom lip with her always-frozen fingertips.
‘Do you ever regret it?’ Kayle asked with childish curiosity, taking a bite of her expensive cake. ‘Leaving him?’
‘No.’ Charlie lied and smiled, her heart suddenly crashing against her ribs. A thunder wave shook her, but she managed to pass it for a shiver from the air conditioning.
The two parting friends hugged one more time, weaker than the last time.
As the night came rolling into town Ron was in Charlie’s room with a convoy of alcoholic beverages, ice cubes and all sorts of colorful cocktail umbrella’s. Three hours in they reached an impasse – no more alcohol – no more cheering up.
‘I’ll be going then.’ He got off her bed, gently brushing her shoulder as a sign of comfort.
‘Wait…’ She hugged him tightly. ‘Please stay.’
‘Can’t’ He tried to sound cheerful while saying it, but it only hurt her more. She grabbed his hands before he could tickle her and pull away.
‘Please.’ She pleaded, her lower lip trembling as she pulled him into an embrace, her hands behind his neck, his tall figure bending over even though she was standing on the tips of her toes. They were stuck uncomfortably for a little while before Charlie slid her cheek downs the side of his face, the rough hairs of his beard chafing against her soft skin, and pressed her lips against his.
It wasn’t a kiss, it was a plea for help. She pleaded and pleaded until he too couldn’t hold the pain. Their breaths met in gasps and sad moans, frozen tears cradled at the edges of their closed lids trembled with every hot gasp as they undressed each other. He held her too tight, but she asked that he hold her tighter, and when he did she bit his lip and pulled the scruffy hair at the back of his head, the hair he was most self-conscious about because he could never style it right.
He squeezed and pulled at her soft porcelain, leaving bruises where he was too rough and she was too fragile. He loved her until there was no more love in either of them, and then he left as well, just like everyone else.
By the age of twenty seven Charlie Tam had cried in the shower over a thousand times, she had pushed away the love of her life and made enough wrong decisions to fill an entire lifetime…
Charlie Tam never lived to be twenty eight.