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We left in January.
Just got up, packed up our things, and left. Across two states to our new home.
I didn’t think of it like that, though. My home would always be in Illinois, too. I thought the same could be said for my heart, until I met Charlie.
It was an invasion of privacy that started our friendship in the first place. But I could have never guessed what would have become of it.
I met him on my first day of school. I was rounding a corner when I slammed right into him, scattering both of our books. Charlie had snapped at me, and rudely walked off without asking if I was okay.
He found me a few days later with a sheepish look on his face. “I think this is yours,” he said, holding out the brown journal I had gone crazy looking for.
“Oh my God!” I exclaimed, snatching it from his hands. “Thank you so much! Please tell me you didn’t read it?”
“Well, um...” Charlie trailed off; I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Don’t you know the meaning of the words ‘keep out’?” I shouted at him, showing him the first page of the journal with only those two words written on them.
“I took that as a mere suggestion,” Charlie stated confidently. I gave him a cold stare. “But I’ve been dying to know, who is Lucas?”
He waggled his eyebrows at me, and I smacked his shoulder. I had had a crush on Lucas forever. Until I moved away, that is.
“Someone’s in love,” Charlie teased.
So maybe we didn’t have the most orthodox beginning, but I didn’t mind much. I got the best friend a girl could ask for out of the deal. I knew Charlie always like me as more, and I felt bad always shooting me down, but he was more like a brother to me.
Over my first three months at my new home, I grew accustomed to Charlie’s non-stop chatter and usual cheery demeanor. So when I got a message from him saying he needed to talk to me, I grew nervous.
I couldn’t think of anything that could explain it. The way his voice was so dead. The way he sounded so defeated. And nothing could ever scare me after I went to see him that wet spring night and saw his eyes. I had never seen so much despair, so much hopelessness, so much death as I saw in his piercing blue eyes that night.
“Charlie?” I said tentatively. “What’s wrong?”
“Samantha,” he choked out, his voice telling the same story as his eyes. He wrapped me in his arms and held me tight. It was uncomfortable, but I knew he needed it so I ignored the pain of his crushing embrace.
“I have until September,” Charlie said, pulling back slightly to see my eyes. I frowned at him, confused.
“September? Charlie, what are you talking about?” I shook my head at him.
“I mean, I have until September,” he repeated. When I still didn’t get it, he roughly shoved me away from him. “God, Sam, don’t be so dense.”
“Charlie, what on earth? Until what? Until you...move away? Go to college? I need more information here, Char.”
“Until I die, Samantha,” Charlie snapped abruptly, his tone sharp and harsh, like it was cutting right through my skin.
“W-what?” I gulped.
His face fell. It seemed like saying it out loud made it more real for him. I still didn’t quite understand, but I pulled him into my arms as violent sobs racked through his body.
“Sam, I’m going to die,” Charlie screamed through his cries. It brought goosebumps to my skin.
“Shh, it’s okay,” I cooed, rubbing his back. “It’s all gonna be okay.”
“No!” He shouted, ripping himself from my embrace. “No, it’s not going to be okay. I’m dying, Sam, how is that okay?!”
“I didn’t mean it like that, okay?” I said, getting defensive now.
Charlie looked straight into my eyes then, and I somehow knew what he was thinking. His eyes suddenly came alive and he took another step towards me. I took one back.
“Charlie, you can’t-” I began.
“Sam,” he said. His tone made me jump. He was determined and desperate, all at once. Charlie stepped forward again, and this time I was frozen in place. He came even closer and cupped his hand on my face. I drew a sharp intake of breath at the electricity that ran through me.
“Charlie,” I said again, not moving an inch. “You know I love you. You know I’d do anything for you. But you know I don’t love you like that. We’re friends, Char.” My voice cracked at the end as I watched him lean closer, his blue eyes sparking dangerously.
“Sam,” he whisper-pleaded. “Please. Just once. I just want to know what it’d be like before...”
He trailed off, but I still knew what he meant. Charlie wanted to kiss me before he died. How could I say no?
It’s not like he’s a complete stranger, I told myself. He was my best friend. I may not like him like that, but in five short months he won’t be here.
I took a deep breath and nodded sharply once. A flash of a smile flitted across Charlie’s face as his other hand rested on my waist.
His eyes moved from my eyes, to my lips, and back again before they closed and I felt his lips on mine.
Charlie kissed me softly, sweetly, and I slowly brought my arms up to wrap around his neck. I tentatively ran my fingers through his soft brown hair as he moved his lips against mine.
Charlie pulled away and rested his forehead against mine. We were both slightly breathless and left entranced by the simple intensity of the kiss.
“Thank you,” Charlie whispered.
“I love you, Charlie,” I said, and I knew that I had never before meant that like I meant it now.
Four months have passed since Charlie’s diagnosis. I go with him to his chemo sessions, even though he always makes me wait outside.
After he told me, we made a pact to not let anything hold us back for the next few months. If we wanted to do something, we would go out and do it.
Now, it’s nearing the end of August, and we both know what’s looming on the horizon. It’s so close, but no matter how fast we run from it, it will always catch us.
Charlie is getting weaker. He’s losing weight by the minute, it seems. He would never admit it to me, but I can tell me the bags under his eyes he hasn’t been sleeping for weeks. He doesn’t have the appetite he used to. I used to always tease him and ask how he wasn’t fat for how much food he eats, but now it’s a taboo subject between us.
“I love you,” I say to him as he comes back to the waiting room. I tell him that every single chance I get now. Soon, I know I won’t be able to.
“Hey, Sam,” he says. He smiles at me, but I can easily see how tired he looks. I don’t say anything, though.
“How’d it go?” I ask. He shrugs. Charlie didn’t want to go through chemo. He said he knew it wasn’t going to fix him, and he didn’t want to spend his last few months in a hospital, but his mom wouldn’t have it. She was determined he would get better.
I worried about her. Out of everyone, she was the most in denial. I had a feeling that would make the loss even harder on her.
“Ready to go?” I ask, taking his hand as I start to walk to the doors. He follows me until we get outside; then, he stops. “What is it?”
“Just wait,” Charlie says. “Wait for me.”
I nod, but he doesn’t see as his eyes are closed. He leans against the brick wall of the hospital; I watch with my eyebrows knit in concern.
Charlie takes big, deep breath that lift his shoulders with each inhale. A few moments later, he walks over to me and wraps me in a hug. Surprised, it takes me a few seconds to hug him back. But when I do, I feel how weighted down he’s been lately. He’s not hanging off me or anything, but it’s like he’s finally letting me in and showing me how hard it’s been.
“I love you, Charlie,” I whisper in his ear. I feel him nod against my shoulder. He pulls away and turns around as quickly as he can so I won’t see his face. I’m about to ask why when I look down at my shoulder and see his tears stains.
“It’s okay to cry, Charlie,” I whisper, but he’s too far away to hear me.
“Wanna watch a movie?” I ask. It’s finally September. I say finally, but really, these last few months have flown by. When you have something to wait for, time seems to propel itself forwards even faster than normal.
“Sure,” Charlie says, coming up behind me to look at the movie titles. He wraps his arms around my waist and rest his bony chin on my shoulder. He kisses my cheek and points to a DVD case without looking. “That one.”
“You didn’t even look at them,” I say.
“I know.” I feel his lips smirk against my skin. I laugh.
Charlie goes to sit on the couch while I put in the disc. I go over and curl up against his skinny body. He’s thinner than ever now. Every ounce of fat and muscle is gone, leaving behind just a skeleton of a boy.
The movie starts, but I don’t pay much attention. I’m too focused on the rise and fall of Charlie’s chest under my head, the way his fingers run gently through my hair, the way, every so often, he presses his lips against my temple for a few seconds.
As the ending credits come on, my eyelids suddenly weigh a ton. I can tell my Charlie’s heavy breathing that he’s asleep. Somewhere in my hazy mind I know I should wake him up and take him home, but the more dominant part of my brain is just too tired and the rest of me is just too comfortable.
I snuggle deeper into his side and fall into a blissful sleep.
I wake up cold. Charlie is not moving.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
If I had a dime for each time I’d heard that today, I’d be rich. It wouldn’t matter, though. I could have all the money in the world, but it’d never be enough.
The ceremony seems short, but it’s probably just because my mind was in other places the whole time.
I wondered where he was. Charlie didn’t believe in God, but he knew there was some greater power out there. I just hoped he was happy.
It has been one year since Charlie ended. I visit the park we went on our first date quite often. As I sit back against a big tree and watch the sun set, I run my finger along the single scar on my left wrist.
I had done it in a moment of weakness. As soon as the blood began to flow, though, I regretted it. I knew Charlie would have been disappointed. The scar haunts me now.
I’ve been better since Charlie died. I still think about him a lot, but I don’t let his memory stop me as much anymore. I still have hard days, where I have to get over him all over again. But I know he would never want me to stop trying, so I don’t.
I think a lot about change. When someone comes into your life with as much force as Charlie came into into mine with, change is practically inevitable. It’s almost impossible to stop. And when you mix in death, the change is cemented.
I know I will always have Charlie, but I will always have me, too. And thanks to Charlie, ‘me’ is a person I don’t mind being with.
North Bay Village, Florida
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