Authors: Jessie Rosen
Almost two weeks passed before
Charlie had time to pick up the school newspaper interview where he and Laura
left off. Soccer season was in full swing, meaning his nights and weekends were
jammed with practices and games, plus Laura was getting more and more
assignments for the paper, making her own after-school hours packed. She was
actually grateful for the delay. There was a definite change in Charlie since
the beginning of the school year, especially when it came to his relationship
with Amanda. From what Laura could tell, they were spending less and less time
Laura had walked by the cafeteria on her way to eat lunch
with Becca and noticed Charlie sitting with the soccer team at least half of
the days lately, leaving Amanda with Kit and Miller at their table. Rumor also
had it that Charlie and Amanda were both originally on the ballot for the
homecoming-king and -queen race, which would be announced before the big
football game at the end of the month, but Charlie had removed his name. That
told Laura that whatever was going on between them wasn’t a one-week standoff.
And then there was the way Charlie treated her every morning
in English class. Laura prided herself on being more perceptive than the average
girl. She had always been obsessed with detective shows and gobbled up crime
novels like they were magazines, but it didn’t take a Sherlock superfan to tell
that Charlie was flirting with her. He was constantly turning around in his
desk to make quick jokes about whatever Ms. O’Malley was barking. He asked for
her opinion on how he should handle all the homework assignments. All he kept
talking about was their next workout session together. And at the beginning of
every class, he found something about her appearance to compliment. Yesterday
it was her eye makeup. Laura was no expert in the ways of the seventeen-year-old
boys, but she had a feeling they only mentioned eye makeup if they were out of
things to say.
For good or for bad, it was working. The butterflies Laura
felt for Charlie hadn’t gone away since their first conversation, and now that
he was actually paying attention to her and moving away from his old crew,
Laura’s heart gave itself permission to run wild. It was like all the emotions
she’d bottled up over the past weeks got supercharged in whatever space she’d
shoved them into inside her body. She was completely infatuated with Charlie,
and it was affecting way more than her focus during the fifty minutes of first
period. When Charlie finally suggested they finish their interview at a fun
spot in town, Laura had to do everything in her power to keep from ejecting out
of her desk chair.
“What are you doing tonight, Cali?” Charlie asked at the end
of class on Monday.
“I’d have to check,” she said, “but nothing immediately
comes to mind.” The “checking” was a total bluff. If Laura had any plans at
all, she’d cancel them in a hot second.
“Well, I owe you an interview, and we have off from
practice. I was thinking we could do it somewhere fun. Any favorite spots you’d
like to go on Nassau Street?”
Laura hoped to God her face didn’t betray her attempt to
play this cool, because if she looked anything like she felt, then Charlie was
currently staring at a human jack-o-lantern fully on fire.
“I’ve been meaning to check out that gelato place,” she
said. “Would that work?”
“You’ve never been to Al Gelato?” Charlie asked. “That place
is an Englewood institution! Meet me there at eight o’clock. I’m going to
change your life.”
Laura knew he didn’t mean anything by that statement, but
something about it made her entire body tingle. Charlie Sanders was fully
capable of changing her life, and right now she was prepared to let him.
* * *
They met outside the ivy-covered
shop where Al Gelato had existed for twenty-five years according to a
hand-painted sign strung across the green awning. Charlie was wearing his brand-new
varsity jacket, a navy-blue beanie that made his shaggy hair stick out in a
million ways, and a pair of aviators to block the setting fall sun. As usual,
he looked perfect.
“Nice shades,” Laura said as she approached the shop. “You’d
fit right in where I used to live.”
“I wore these for you,” he said. “They’re my gramp’s old
pair. Vintage. You’re always wearing stuff you find at thrift shops, right?”
He had been paying even more attention than Laura realized.
Once again, a little flutter ran through her body, from her stomach to her
“I am,” she said, “I like this one place on Route 1. I’ll
have to take you shopping there some time.”
“I’d like that,” he said, smiling. “Now, are you ready to go
taste the greatest thing you’ve ever eaten in your life?”
After two double scoops each of a combo of eight flavors,
Laura suggested they stroll around town and talk. She didn’t want the interview
sessions to end and it didn’t feel like they could really talk inside the
crowded café. The article was supposed to be about what it feels like to be
Charlie Sanders, and Laura had prepared some questions that she was afraid he
wouldn’t answer honestly while surrounded by people. There was also the digging
she wanted to do around what was going on with Amanda. Cheap as it was to use
the article as a way to find out, Laura couldn’t help herself. She justified it
as a way to protect her own heart. Charlie could definitely have his way with
it if she wasn’t careful.
“This section of town is called ‘The Knolls,’” he said
in his best cheesy tour-guide voice as they wound through a gorgeous
neighborhood filled with the old, brick-covered mansions of Englewood’s richest
sect. “This is where my mom and I drove through when the high-school coaches
first called her about finding a way for me to play in Englewood.”
“But didn’t you move here in middle school?” Laura asked.
“Yeah. That’s how serious Englewood is about soccer. Coach Stanley
called my mom when I was in
sixth grade, but it took us another year
to figure it out.”
“Wow,” Laura said. “You’ve known him for a long time. Are
you two really close?”
Charlie thought for a second before answering. Laura
couldn’t read his face to figure out why. “The coach-player relationship is
tricky,” he said. “Stanley is literally the ticket to the rest of my life, but
I don’t agree with everything he does.”
“I don’t have to print this, but just out of my own
curiosity, is he a good coach?”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “He’s probably one of the best soccer
coaches in the nation. That’s not my issue with him.”
“Oh,” Laura said, puzzled.
“Yeah. It’s complicated.”
“We don’t have to talk about it at all, then,” Laura said. “What
were you saying about you and your mom driving around here?”
“Just that we were both so freaking intimidated. I remember
my mom’s jaw literally dropping when she saw these houses. She didn’t say
anything, but I know she was worried I’d never fit in if we moved into the
section of town we could actually afford.”
“But that didn’t happen at all,” Laura said.
“No. Being on the team really helped—even in middle
school—but, to be honest, it was all Amanda. She really took me under her
wing at first. I think she wanted to protect me.”
“I’m sorry,” Laura said, “but that is a little hard for me
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “Amanda’s become more controlling
since we first met. At first she was this really rich girl who didn’t like all
the people her parents surrounded her with. She wanted friends—and then
ultimately a boyfriend—who was real. Our group came together after I came
to town. I met Miller through soccer. Miller and Kit were already inseparable,
and Amanda and Kit hit it off, somehow. It was awesome.”
“So then why did you ever break up?” Laura asked.
“That’s a very long story,” Charlie said. “Maybe some other
“I understand,” Laura said. “There’s stuff I hate to talk
about, too, like my family drama.”
“Does it have to do with the fact that they’re never around?
I think you’re lucky, but it’s probably lonely, right?”
“Yeah. It is. But my parents and I don’t have the best
relationship, so sometimes it’s nice.”
“Really?” Charlie asked, “How could anyone have a
complicated relationship with you? You’re so easy to get along with.” The tone
of his voice was genuine, not flirty, which Laura appreciated.
“Can I say something that’s going to sound awful?” she asked.
“You can say anything to me,” Charlie said. They were the
exact words Laura was hoping to hear.
“I think my parents are just the kind of people that never
should have had children. Their fighting really started when they had me, I
think. I had a lot of issues as a kid. I didn’t talk for a long time, and I was
shy and all these doctors thought there was something wrong with me. It hurt my
parents’ relationship. They just had all these different ideas about how they
should deal with me, so in order to stay together they decided to let the
doctors handle me, and they went back to focusing on themselves.”
“Wow,” Charlie said. “That’s awful.”
“It used to be,” Laura said. “But now I’ve come to
appreciate all the independence. I know how to take care of myself, and after
high school I’ll be really comfortable just moving away.”
“Where will you go?” Charlie asked. “Back to Cali?”
“I don’t know,” Laura said. “It’s hard to imagine anything
keeping me here yet.”
“Yet,” Charlie said. There was a cute tone to his voice,
like he was not-so-subtly suggesting he might be the thing, but before Laura
could come up with an equally cute reply, Charlie’s entire face shifted. He was
stopped now, directly in front of a smaller, white brick home with black
shutters and a bright-red door, and he was…upset. Definitely upset.
“Is everything okay?” Laura asked.
“Yeah,” Charlie said, “Sorry. It’s nothing.”
“Come on,” she said. “We just shared our deepest secrets for
an hour, and now you’re going to lie to me?” She tried to be playful so that
Charlie wasn’t more uncomfortable—there was clearly something he wasn’t
“This house is where that girl Sarah lived,” he said. “The
one who killed herself.”
“Oh God,” Laura said. “We shouldn’t just stand here staring.
Does her family still live here?
“No,” Charlie said, “They moved out of town, about an hour
away. No one ever moved in.”
“That makes sense. It’s still really hard for everyone in
your class, I imagine. Scary,” Laura said, “because there’s never a real answer
with a death like that.”
“I had a few classes with Sarah,” he said, “so I knew
her.” He was still staring at the house. “She was really, really…troubled.
Sometimes I wish I’d seen that before it was too late.”
Laura stepped toward Charlie and put her hand on his
shoulder. Of all the things they’d discussed on their walk, this was the thing
he was struggling the most with.
“It’s so hard with suicide,” Laura said. “There’s just no
way to see all the signs, especially if you’re not that close to someone. You
definitely can’t blame yourself.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said, “I know that. I just…feel like it
could have been prevented.”
Laura looked closely at Charlie in that moment. He seemed so
sincere, so honest, and so far from the flawless golden boy that everyone at
Englewood made him out to be. She understood what it was like when everyone
assumed you were a certain way. That was the way everyone treated her in her
former life—like because she wasn’t cool enough to be in the “in” crowd,
she wasn’t worth anyone’s time of day. It made her feel trapped, and she had an
inkling that Charlie felt the same.
“Is it hard to be Charlie Sanders sometimes?” she asked. The
question caught her as much off guard as it did Charlie. It felt weird to ask,
but Laura suspected Charlie knew exactly what she meant.
He waited for a second before responding. Laura couldn’t tell
if that was because he didn’t appreciate the question, or because he didn’t
know the answer.
“Yes,” he said finally. “It’s really hard. I feel like
there’s the Charlie I’m supposed to be and then there’s the Charlie I really
In that moment all Laura wanted to do was put Charlie at
ease. She didn’t mean for it to be romantic, it was just that all her feelings
for him came together in that moment. Without thinking, she did what her brain
was subconsciously telling her body to do. The next thing she knew, her arms
were wrapped tightly around his muscular waist, so tightly that she could claps
her fingers together on the other side of his body.
Charlie didn’t act weirded out or upset, he just sank his
body into hers and brought his own arms up and around her middle, wrapping them
even more tightly together.
Laura didn’t know where this was going, what Charlie felt,
or what she should do next. The only thing she was certain of was that right
now she would give anything for him to kiss her. They finally separated after
what felt like forever.
“Thanks,” Charlie finally said. “That was really nice.”
Laura smiled, relieved. “Let’s make a deal with each other,
okay?” she said. “Let’s only be the versions of ourselves we want to be when
we’re alone together.”
“I like it,” Charlie said, “but that means we’re going to
have to be alone together more often.”
“I'd like that,” Laura said.
Charlie sat up in bed for what felt
like the thousandth time that night. He knew what he would do if he finally let
himself get out of bed, and he knew it was the world’s worst idea.
Walking by Sarah’s house had been creepy. It brought back
all the awful memories of what happened before she died and made all the
cryptic things that had gone on over the past few weeks feel real. The
VidBits had stopped for the moment, and that weird marketing person hadn’t
responded to Amanda, but the fear was still lingering, like it might all pick
back up at any moment. It was affecting everything. Amanda didn’t feel
comfortable being too close to him at school in case someone was watching. Kit
and Miller were totally confused about what was going on because Amanda
insisted on keeping it a secret, and it just made Charlie want to retreat into
his soccer life as much as physically possible.
But right now that wasn’t the thing that had Charlie’s mind
spinning; it was Laura. She got him in a way that only one person in his entire
life had before. This was not the same as the first time, of course. Laura was
open and honest. They’d spent hours together. She was real. But if Charlie had
fallen so hard once, could he make that same mistake again?
Charlie stared at the clock on his bedside table: 2:45 a.m. It
had only been thirty minutes since he last checked. In five hours he would be on
his way to school after the second sleepless night in a row. It was happening
again. The sight of those glowing, red numbers made him think back to his
sessions with Dr. Walters.
“Pain demands to be felt,” she’d told him during their first
session together. It was six months after Sarah died, and over a year since he
and Amanda survived everything that happened to them during freshman year. Charlie
had certainly felt his fair share of pain, and he’d become an expert at pushing
those feelings away. Of course, his mom thought that the cloud hanging over
Charlie’s every move was because of what happened with Amanda, but that was
surprisingly gone from his mind after everything with Sarah unfolded. It was
like there wasn’t space for him to worry about two things at once. When she
suggested he, “go talk to someone”—suburban mom language for “see a
shrink”—Charlie didn’t refuse. He wanted help. He just didn’t know how to
get it without telling Dr. Walters the truth.
“I can tell you’re very adept at pushing down your feelings,
Charlie,” she’d said. “But where do you think they go?”
“I don’t know? Away?” he said.
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “They stay inside you and do
damage elsewhere. Pain demands to be felt, and it will force you to pay
attention in whatever way it has to.”
For Charlie, the “way out” for his pain had become insomnia.
In the months after Sarah died, Charlie slept for two hours a night at most. He
could barely keep his head up in class, he cancelled all his nighttime and
weekend plans with everyone—Amanda, Kit and Miller included—and he
trudged along the soccer field so much that Coach Stanley sent him to a doctor for
a physical. It was brutal.
“Some of my patients find relief in just writing their
feelings down,” Dr. Walters said once he finally admitted that he hadn’t had a
good night’s sleep in weeks. “You don’t have to show anyone what you write,
ever. But at least you’re taking the feelings from inside your body and putting
them on the page. Why not try it the next time you can’t sleep?”
Charlie ran through that memory over and over again
until he couldn’t hold himself back anymore. He got out of bed, shuffled over
to the closet, and opened the door. On the top-left shelf behind boxes of old
soccer cleats was the one Encyclopedia Britannica he’d saved from the full
stack his grandparents gave him when people still opened giant books instead of
looking up whatever they needed on the internet. It was the volume for the
. Charlie turned to the page where he knew the printout was
hidden and slid it out from between the glossy sheets of paper. It wasn’t one
of the dozen things Charlie had written after Dr. Walter’s suggestion. He got
rid of every one of those in the shredder his mom kept in her bedroom closet
the morning after he wrote them. This was the reason Charlie needed to do all
that writing—the one love note he let himself keep of all the messages
she sent him. It was the one that made him believe that no one would ever
understand him the way that she did, and the reason it hurt so much when she
told him the truth.
It was the final email she’d sent him, and it never got
easier to read.
After that Saturday date, everything changed, and if Charlie
was being honest, it hadn’t truly gotten better since. He needed to trust
someone again, and he had a feeling Laura could be that person. But
was still controlling him—making him doubt his judgment, making him
afraid to get close to another girl. It made Charlie furious. He couldn’t let
Laura slip through his fingers because of the memory of some insane girl. What
happened was a mistake, and the chances of it happening again were impossible.
He had learned his lesson. Now he owed it to himself to put this all behind him
once and for all. That’s how he’d truly, finally win.
Charlie ripped the printout into as many pieces as he could.
It was over. She was gone. He didn’t need this memory any more. He would throw
the torn paper in a dumpster somewhere tomorrow, but for now he slipped it back
in between the pages where he’d never forget—the page featuring the
disgusting gray fish with the flat mouth and the pointy whiskers. It was time
to get some sleep.
When he woke up again, the red flashing lights said 7:00 a.m.
It was the latest he’d slept in for as long as he could remember. He reached
over and grabbed his cellphone off the bed stand where it sat plugged in every
Charlie blinked twice when his eyes hit the phone screen:
. Kit had been trying to reach him since six o’clock that
morning. Charlie was afraid to find out what had her in such a panic, but he
forced himself to call. Kit picked up after the first ring.
“Omigod, Charlie. Where are you? Can you come over to my
house right now?” Kit gasped on the other end of the phone.
“Yeah, of course, what’s wrong? Is it Miller?”
“It’s both of us,” Kit said. “And it has to do with Sarah.”
The phone dropped straight out of Charlie’s hand.
“Hello? Charlie? Are you there?” he could hear Kit screaming
on the other line.
He was too frozen to reach down and grab it.
It was as if someone had seen him tear up that letter and
wanted to be sure Charlie knew it was not over. She would never really be gone.