Chapter 1: The Last Dessert
- Friedrich Nietzsche
It is the spring of 1994.
New York recently thawed itself out from the blistering cold. Spirited flowers and tall trees blossom from the coarse ground - only to be destroyed by rain and anxious car radios.
They blasted the recent news of Kurt Cobain's death, which sparked outcry and anguish from his myriad of angst fans - including a miserable sixteen-year-old boarding school student named Charlie Newman.
Since the news broke out, Charlie locked himself in his messy dorm room, listening to The Smiths on his old boombox. He wears a wrinkled Nirvana shirt, white Puka shells, and dark blue boxers. Bitter aromas of honey and Old Spice saturated the dense air.
Punk bands, grunge, and Quentin Tarantino movie posters scatter across the dense gray walls. Tossed clothes soiled the light brown carpet while discarding homework, pencils, and textbooks covered the desk.
Since his freshman classes were over, his friends headed to the break room to drink sodas and watch Duckman on TV. Meanwhile, Charlie didn't have the energy to listen to his friends' crude jokes.
But he was in the mood for Sweet Mae's cherry pie a la mode.
Rolling out of bed, Charlie shut off the radio, throws on his acid-washed jeans, his massive backpack, long socks, and battered Converse sneakers, and storms towards the door.
He didn't worry about looking for his keys because they were already hidden inside his left pocket. His backpack is full of textbooks and thesis papers that haven't been turned in yet. Regardless of his procrastination, Charlie believed that if he requested a cherry pie and a tall glass of ice-cold milk, it will help him concentrate for tomorrow's exam.
So, he hopped into his Dodge Caravan, drove to Sweet Mae's diner, where a cute brunette served him his dessert. The red booths were desolate. Ceiling fans spun, but they hardly performed a perfect 360°. Cynical culinarians operated in the kitchen, while depressed patrons converse with their friends on red cushioned chairs.
In the background, Janis Joplin's To Love Somebody played in a luminous red jukebox.
Charlie bobs his head to the beat. His fork pierced the vanilla ice cream and cherry pie from his plate as he finished his bite. But before the waitress takes his dish, Charlie washes his dessert down with a glass of milk.
"Can I have another cherry pie a la mode, please?" he asks the old woman in a polite tone.
Although she was stunned by his request, the old waitress is more than happy to serve her his dessert and milk. But unfortunately for Charlie, it will be the last food he'll ever eat again.
"Hi." a serene voice greeted. "Are you saving a seat for anyone?"
Charlie glanced up to see an attractive girl standing right in front of him. She is of African-American descent; her brown hair is remarkably curly, covering the back of her green babydoll dress. Her scantily plump legs are concealed in dark tights, while her feet are tucked inside a pair of strappy heels.
Around her neck is a gold heart-shaped locket her best friend Mia gave the girl before her untimely death. Gripping onto her black shoulder bag, the girl politely waited for the lascivious boy to give her permission to sit down in front of him.
And he did.
Taking a seat in front of him, the girl politely removed her shoulder bag and placed it beside her.
"So, what's your name?" asked Charlie.
"Eliza," the girl lied. "Eliza Johnson."
Pretty name, Charlie thinks slyly. "Are you a supermodel by any chance?"
The girl did a fake laugh. "No, I am thinking about studying Botany. I want to be a Plant Geneticist."
Charlie nods, pushing his blonde hair away from his disinterested blue eyes. "Oh, that's cool."
Smirking, Eliza squints her gorgeous brown eyes and points her precocious finger at the boy, then asked, "Is your name, Charlie Newman?"
Charlie bobbed his head some more. "Uh, yeah," he answered in a boring way.
"Oh my God." she squeaked. "I thought it was you."
"How do you know?" asked Charlie.
"Because I think I had seen you somewhere in that crazy house party last summer," she said. "My best friend Alice told me that you were an incredible supplier who used to score all the good drugs for the seniors."
That's when the upbeat music stopped. An inexperienced waiter scrambles over to the jukebox in an attempt to fix it. Meanwhile, the elderly waitress attempts to satisfy Charlie by setting his dessert and cold milk in front of him.
"Enjoy your dessert." smiled the old waitress.
She waved Charlie goodbye while ignoring Eliza sits on the other end.
Looking at the dessert, Charlie did not try to finish it. His blue eyes magnified in total shock. His hands slid away from the soft red table and onto his lap.
On the other hand, Eliza is unfazed by his shocked reaction. Instead, she politely asked the boy if he is going to eat his dessert.
"What?" Charlie frowns. "What the hell does that mean?"
"If you want to eat your dessert, it's fine," she observes the vanilla ice cream melting in the pie. "We'll talk after you are finished."
Sighing, Charlie shakes his head and pushes the dish towards her. "Have at it."
"Are you sure-"
"Eat it, I don't want it anymore." Charlie was about to get up when Eliza calmly reassures him to sit back down.
"You don't want to go outside, Charlie," she warned.
The pretty girl points her finger at the dirty window, where four boys stood outside their black car, wearing intimidating dark clothes.
They gawk at Charlie with a menacing glint in their eyes. The boys carry weapons ranging from guns to lethal knuckle rings.
A terrified Charlie reclines back down on his chair and mutters, "what the hell?" in a quavering voice.
"Look, I don't know what you did." Eliza sighed, digging into Charlie's dessert. "But Vinny claims that you overdosed his little brother with drugs."
Sweat leaked from Charlie's forehead as he presses his lips against his finger. Vincent Maroni is the son of a ruthless Italian King Pin.
"Shut up!" Charlie hissed. "That was a long time ago. I am a changed person now."
Charlie sat down and drank his last milk before rolling up his sleeves. Much to the girl's surprise, there were needle marks on his skin.
"Listen, Eliza, I used to be a joke, okay?" a nervous Charlie squawked. "But I promised my dad that I was never going to go down that road again-"
The girl interrupts him by wagging her pinkie finger. "Everyone saw you drug that kid at that party," she responds, swallowing her bite of cherry pie. "You killed his little brother, which makes you dead in his book."
Charlie searched around the diner to see if anyone can lend him a helping hand. Yet, no one glanced in his direction. Including the waitress, who excused herself to attend the little girl's room.
"Relax," Eliza sighed. "They are not going to call the police. Vinny's father promised to pay them one-million each if they looked the other way."
A gust of cold wind entered the diner as the older boy and his friends entered the diner.
The tiny bell tinkled in Charlie's ears, leaving a bad feeling in his gut.
"I think of them as actors." a cool, arrogant voice announced. "Disposable but very good at their jobs."
Charlie casts his gaze to the window to see an older boy standing next to him. He has unruly dark hair, a bold red flannel, a white Sex Pistols T-shirt, ripped black jeans, and a pair of polished Doc Martens.
What's strange about this guy is his different eye colors. One is blue, and the other is as black as midnight.
Grinning widely, the older boy claps his hands to attract the attention of patrons, chefs, waiters, and waitresses.
"Good job everyone," he exclaimed. "You all did your part. Now, get the fuck out."
Silent, the patrons, depressed chefs, waiters, and waitresses dropped what they were doing, then head out of the door in a single file line.
He kissed Eliza on her smooth cheek, then said to her: "Brooke, be a sweetheart and wait in the diner. I have some unfinished business with this asshole."
The girl nodded, scraping the remains of her pie off the plate. She didn't pay attention to the aggressive scuffling outside the diner, Charlie's uneasy sobbing, or the broken jukebox that sprung back to life.
She was better off sticking her nose in her sketchbook, Brooke told herself. Truth be told, he would rather listen to Frank Sinatra on the old jukebox than get involved in whatever shit Charlie got himself into.
As soon as the screaming stopped, Vinny ran his soggy boots against the glossy white tiles.
Bloodstained wounds looked like smiles on his knuckles; his hair is soaked in mud and water. Something tells Brooke that Charlie was as strong as he looks.
"Doll," he grunts. "Let's get out of here. The asshole didn't put up much of a fight."
Brooke is glad; earlier, she provided the old waitress crushed cherry pits and seeds so she can put them in Charlie's milk. Although he deserved to die, Brooke spared the boy from getting killed by Vincent's hands. The last time Vincent murdered someone, he made Brooke watch him beat the guy's face so hard she barely slept at night.
Grabbing her shoulder bag, Brooke takes Vinny's hand, hopped onto his car, then left the diner with his friends.
"For God's sake," one of Vinny's friends Daryl whined. His bright green hair, withered in the breeze like smoke from a gun.
"Vinny, you got this punk's blood all over my damn coat. You know how much I paid for this-"
"No one gives a damn about your fucking coat, Daryl." Vinny snorts, steering the car.
"And besides, we are going to hit the town and celebrate. For months, my father has been searching high and low for that piece of shit. But now, thanks to Brooke, he can sleep in peace."
Brooke, who is sitting in the front passenger seat of the car, nods dismissively. She knew she was as good as dead, but the reason Vinny tagged her along is that she has the uncanny ability to foresee certain events.
Once she senses something, Brooke often draws it in her notebook.
"Holy shit!" Vinny howled. "I need a fucking drink!"
His friends hollered with joy, whereas a gloomy Brooke stared at the window.
"I can't go tonight," she said with a yawn.
Brooke lowers her voice so no one, but Vinny could hear: "I am starting my period. It's kind of embarrassing."
The boy cringed. He didn't want the image of her menstrual cycle anywhere near his head, so Vinny decided to drop Brooke off at her grandmother's apartment building and drive away.
* * * *
"Honey, where have you been?" she asked her exhausted granddaughter. "I have been calling your phone for hours!"
A tiny, old woman in a white nightie opens the wooden door allowing Brooke to trudge inside. Her apartment looked like it had seen better days, but it was comfortable. It has a couch, a TV, furniture, a small kitchen, and a couple of rooms.
However, on the small, wooden coffee table, the bills were staggering high.
"I am sorry, grandma," Brooke sighs, peeling off her heels. "I was out with friends."
Brooke's grandmother pursed her lips. "Were you hanging out with that buffoon again?"
"His name is Vinny."
"I don't trust him, Brooke."
Brooke collapsed on the ratty couch, then stared at the TV. "I know," she sighed some more. "Me too."
Her grandmother sits down next to a quiet Brooke, brushing her curly hair away from her emotionless dark eyes. She cherished her granddaughter the moment she was born.
Brooke was a helpless baby who curled up in her mother's warm embrace. Her brown eyes were once full of life and optimism. She had a lot of friends, went to parties, and attended boarding school to become someone.
Now all her grandmother sees is a forlorn child who kept her emotions to herself.
"If you hate Vincent so much, then why are you with him?"
Brooke turns off the TV with the small, gray remote. "It's complicated, but don't worry. Everything is going to be fine."
"How?" Brooke's grandmother asked. "The landlord has been hassling me all week. If I don't get that money-"
She interrupts her by kissing an older woman on the cheek.
"I'll take care of it," Brooke reassured. "and besides, my job will score us thousands of dollars."
Her grandmother looks at her funny. "Really?"
"Yeah." Brooke nodded. "It's dull and all, but I think we can make it work."
Her grandmother gives the girl a blissful grin then hugged her so tight that she can barely breathe.
"I am so glad you found a job in this awful town." her grandmother beamed. "I know Hollyoaks isn't as fancy as California, but I am sure it will grow on you."
Brooke's grandmother is right; Hollyoaks is nothing but a quiet town full of plants and dense vegetation, friendly neighborhoods, and people living their daily lives.
Previously, Brooke made a promise to her family that she won't get involved in criminal activity. Yet, as she watches her friend's killer drive around in his black Cadillac, Brooke wondered how far she has to go to complete her mission.