Charlie Ever After

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11| Charlie

Move in day is finally here and it couldn’t have come fast enough.

The bruise around my neck is still raised and is more tender to the touch then it was that night. I’ve resorted to wearing hoodies in August to try and hide the marks- no amount of makeup can mask the purples and yellows that color my skin, even with all my efforts I put in to use color correction- hours spent on YouTube to try and master the skill.

I busy myself, packing my toiletries away after getting ready for the day- which doesn’t equate to much these days other than a pair of jeans and my now signature hoodie look with a messy bun perched at the very top of my head. People must think I’m sick or something.

A few nights after the incident, I was forced to tell my mom. She called me frantically, demanding she know where I was, not that she cared any other time. She’s the only person outside of the Ramirez family that knows what happened to me that night, and I intend on keeping it that way.

I plan on starting school with the same purpose that I originally had for myself- to start fresh, turn over a new leaf and reinvent myself and the life ahead of me. There’s no more Charlie Ramsay from Phoenix, Arizona.

I hear a pair of heavy footsteps rush up the stairs before Lydia bursts through my bedroom door. “You can’t leave me!” She cries out dramatically before flopping down on my bed, looking up at me with puppy dog eyes.

I pout my lips back at her and sit down on the edge of my bed beside her. “I know. I don’t want to leave either, but you know what this means for me. We’ll only be two hours away from each other for now, and I’ll visit whenever I can, and you can visit me. We’ll go to college parties and do all the things we’ve ever dreamed and talked about.” We both let out a squeal simultaneously before combusting into a fit of giggles- and in this moment, I almost feel a sense of normalcy.

“Has he tried contacting you at all?” Lydia asks cautiously, earning herself a swat and death glare from Isaac, who’s in the front seat driving.

I gulp down the sip of iced coffee that sat in my mouth before answering, the drink instantly souring as soon as it hits my stomach. I shake my head. “I didn’t give him the chance. I took the advice of the officer and have him blocked on everything, and plus hopefully my new number and the restraining order will deter him for a little while.” I shrug my shoulders and look down at my lap, straw still in my mouth, shredding it nervously with my teeth.

Lydia reaches up and rubs my arm before leaning her head against my seat.

“Ugh, Isaac! What are we listening to?” Leave it to Lydia to take a dreary moment and flip it faster than you can blink.

The music pumping out of the speakers is some folk band I don’t recognize. Lydia reaches up and grabs the charger that’s connected to Isaac’s phone, pulling it towards her. She scrolls through his playlist before putting on a song she knows will instantly cheer me up.

The music starts blaring through the speakers as I lean forward, turning it up even louder. We sing along at our most ear piercing level and at a certain point even Isaac joins in.

We throw a mini concert amongst ourselves for the first hour until we start nearing campus, and then the anxiety sets in. They’ll no longer be a ten minute drive down the road. I’m in a completely foreign place where I don’t know anyone. What if Gavin finds me? How am I even going to focus on starting over, or focus on school when I’m still trying to process what happened to me just a few days ago? Am I crazy for thinking that I could do this? Should I have Isaac turn around now? I start to panic. My breathing becomes labored as I try to calm myself down, breathing in and out through my nose- deep breaths like you always see shrinks tell their patients on TV.

“I can’t do this-” I yell, my hands shooting out to my sides, one connecting to the passenger door, the other with Isaac’s bicep- trying anything to ground myself. My head starts to spin and my heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my rib cage.

“She’s having a panic attack.” Isaac says as calmly as he can before veering off the highway and onto the shoulder of the road. He pulls my hands into his lap, holding them tight as he forces my eyes to meet his. “Charlie-” He tries, and when I’m still completely losing it, he squeezes my hands- not hard but hard enough to get my attention trained on him. “Charlie, it’s going to be okay. Breath.” He says in a soft voice, which instantly soothes me. “Shh” He repeats and starts taking deep breaths- in and out, ten seconds each. I mimic him and start taking my own deep breaths. At first they’re a bit shaky, but as I continue, they get steadier. “That’s my girl.” He says and gives my hands another squeeze, and when my head stops spinning I realize that Lydia has her hand on my back, rubbing in soft circles.

I just nod my head, almost to say- “Hey, I’m okay. I’m no longer actively having a mental breakdown.”
“I’m so sorry. I can’t believe you guys had to witness that.” I say as I brush my fingers gingerly across my numb lips. I run my tongue across them to bring them back to life after being sucked dry of all moisture in the few minutes of panic that I just endured.

I watch Isaac and Lydia share a worried glance before Isaac pulls the car safely back onto the highway.

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