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Authors: Jenny Torres Sanchez

The Downside of Being Charlie

BOOK: The Downside of Being Charlie
5.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Table of Contents
To my sister Nancy, for being there when I needed you most.
don't know how you can see something before it's actually there, but you can. I guess it's the signs, right? Like little pieces of a gigantic invisible puzzle, all coming together, but you don't see what you're supposed to see, don't know what there is to know, until they're all attached and you step back to look at it. And then you think, I should have known. But the thing is, you already did.
Here's when I knew but didn't really know:
When she hadn't come to the phone the last couple of times I had called home.
When Dad picked me up from fat camp all by himself.
When he acted like he always did when she was gone, like nothing was wrong, when in fact, everything was wrong.
When we both avoided bringing her up the whole car ride home.
And then I came home and saw what I already knew.
Mom had left us . . . again.
The day before the first day of school, I'm hanging out at my best friend Ahmed's house, anticipating what the year will be like.
“You're money, baby!” Ahmed tells me as he stands staring into his closet dressed in his blue velvet smoking jacket. Ahmed has been my best friend since the fifth grade, and yeah, he actually owns a smoking jacket. I laughed my ass off the first time I saw him in it. I thought I was looking at a pimp or something, but now it seems totally normal. It's totally Ahmed.
We're in his room when he says he thinks I might actually have a chance with a girl this year. I swivel around in his chair, staring at the Rat Pack posters on his walls for the millionth time. Ahmed is obsessed with the Rat Pack. There are posters and postcards of them all over his Las Vegas–themed bedroom, and there's actually a really funny one where Ahmed went to all the trouble of taking a picture of his face, cropping it to size, and pasting it on the poster so he looks like he's crooning into one of those old-timey microphones with the rest of them. He's the only guy I know that has pictures of old men in suits up on his walls. Anyway, Ahmed tries to be smooth and cool like those cats but he's not. He's gangly and completely ADHD, always bouncing around or fidgeting, which must be why he's so damn skinny, like his metabolism is on turbo speed.
“Trust me, baby, this is going to be your year,” he says.
“Yeah, doubt it,” I tell him, although I hope he's right.
“No, I'm serious. I mean, okay, so I know you were hacked when your parents sent you to Camp Fit but . . .”
“Fat camp. Just call it fat camp, like it really is,” I say.
He was right. I was pissed that my parents shipped me off like that. Actually, it was more so my dad, after he and Mom had a big fight in the beginning of the summer. I should've known at dinner that night, when I reached for my third helping of meat loaf and mashed potatoes, or when I followed that with two helpings of chocolate ice cream, courtesy of Mom who always kept the freezer stocked (when she was around). Dad didn't say anything as I stuffed my face, but I could feel the way he kept looking at me, and then how he kept looking over at Mom. And later as I hid in my room, I couldn't help but press my ear up against the wall to get a better listen to Mom and Dad's muffled voices on the other side of the wall.
It had been awhile since we'd all sat down to eat together, so maybe Dad forgot how much I could put away, or maybe I forgot to hide it from him the way I usually did, but did he have to make me sound like such a mess?
We have to help him, Carmen. Did you see how much he ate? My God
. His words made me cringe, and my face and ears got hot and sweaty as I pressed them harder against the wall. Mom insisted he was being ridiculous and that nothing was wrong. They went back and forth, Mom making light of everything Dad said, which, of course, made Dad even more pissed, and the whole argument ended with an emphatic decision for an immediate intervention.
He actually used the word intervention. Like I was an addict—a screwed-up food equivalent of a meth head.
I pictured myself panhandling on the streets for money to buy a box of Ho Hos, scrounging up a couple of bucks, and heading to the nearest gas station to buy the vanilla crème–filled goodness. The clerk would recognize me and shake his head as I shoved it in my face, making grunting noises like a wild boar.
My dad thought I needed professional help. I'd never felt like such a fuckup in my life.
So when he came in my room the next day and proposed I go to fat camp, giving me some bullshit spiel about starting off my senior year on the right foot, along with a bunch of other motivational crap, there were two things I could have done instead of just shrugging my shoulders and saying, “sure.” I could have told him the last thing I wanted to do was go to Fatties Anonymous where I would talk about my excess corpulence and see my gross self reflected back at me through all the other fat losers there. Or I could have sided with Mom—but I've learned to never side with Mom, which basically means there was only one option.
See, siding with someone usually means I have your back and you have mine. It usually means you might be wrong but we'll pretend you're right because there are two of us and majority rules. But siding with Mom doesn't mean that. Siding with Mom means siding with the current mood or state of mind that she's in, and Mom's moods and state of mind change at lightning speed (which means that whoever thinks for one delusional moment that she might have their back is dead wrong). The one who thinks they are on the same team
with Mom is left totally fucked when she prances on over to the other side or leaves the field altogether.
“Okay, fat camp,” Ahmed says, “but
look at you
. You look good, my man! Might even get a little hey-hey with that chickie that moved in down the street.” Ahmed says this in his usual Rat Pack lingo. Sometimes it makes him sound like a dumbass, but he doesn't seem to care, even when people look at him funny. I think Ahmed has convinced himself that in all his Rat Pack glory, he transcends even the coolest teenager. I don't give any indication that what he's said means much to me, though he has just voiced what has become my secret mission this year: getting Charlotte VanderKleaton to notice me (in a good way).
The first time I saw Charlotte VanderKleaton was a week before I left for fat camp. I was walking to Ahmed's to tell him about Dad's messed-up plan when I saw her and her family moving into the McGoverns' old house. She was sitting on the front porch swing, holding a flowerpot with reddish-orange flowers the same color as her hair. She was just sitting there swinging, and I swear it looked like she was talking to these flowers, petting their little petals. She was the most amazing girl I'd ever seen. I don't usually believe in all that crap about auras, but I swear, she kind of glowed.
Okay, it
been an unusually hot day for early summer in North Carolina, and with all that extra weight on me, some could argue that I was simply overheated and hallucinating, but I know I saw somewhat of a glow surrounding Charlotte. I came to a dead stop, my mouth hanging wide open. When she looked over at me
on the other side of the street and waved, I could've died because I could only imagine what I looked like in all my sweaty, fleshy wonder. I stared at the cement, pretending not to see her, and continued to Ahmed's. But secretly, in the darkest recesses of my mind, in those places we have embarrassing thoughts that we're glad no one else has access to, I made a decision. I thought, if Dad is going to make me go, I'll lose this weight
for just a chance with this girl
. I'll come back a brand new person, someone who could actually talk to someone like her. So I didn't wave back because I didn't want her to remember this guy ever again.
I never thought girls like her actually existed. She's not like other pretty girls that guys jack off to in the secrecy of their beds at night. She's different. She doesn't walk; it's more like she floats. And every time I've seen her, something always sparkles, her skin or her hair or her lips (God . . . her lips). I thought it was bullshit that people met someone and instantly fell in love with them. But that's how I felt about her.
“Although . . . ,” Ahmed breaks into my thoughts, “she and Mark have been cozying up this summer quite a bit. I don't get how that fink got to her so fast. He doesn't even live around here.”
Ahmed wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know. I'd seen Mark Delancey's car over there enough since fat camp to know something was going on. And I wondered how Kennedy High's notorious prankster and all-around glorified jerk had managed to weasel himself into her good graces.
“Whatever. It's not like it matters. Like Charlotte
would ever give me the time of day anyway,” I tell Ahmed, leaving out my plan to him, so when it doesn't work out, I don't have to feel like such an ass. I try to play it cool. But now Ahmed's got me thinking about Mark, and I start to wonder just how close those two have gotten. The thought of Charlotte with another guy, especially someone like Mark, makes me feel like someone is squeezing my lungs.
“Listen, Charlie, if you're gonna get with the ladies this year, you gotta act like you're the shit—know what I mean? Be smooth, toss a little smile her way, say hello, and when she smiles back, act like you don't care. What happens then, you ask? Well, then you got the little chickie just aching for you, wondering if you're gonna look her way again. Know why? Girls like drama. They want to yak and cluck with the rest of the hens about whether you looked at her or talked to her or brushed up against her in the hall. They don't want guys who are there no matter what. The last thing you wanna do is let them know you're into them. If they know that, it's all over. Then, they thrust their heels right into your stupid little heart and stomp all over you. Trust me. I know.” He taps his foot on the floor and smacks his hand against his thigh incessantly.
BOOK: The Downside of Being Charlie
5.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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