Charlie Ever After

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My brain swims with so many thoughts as we drive. She’s so close and the urge to reach over and wrap my hand around hers is so strong, that I catch myself about to move my hand across the center console a few times, but each time I stop myself.

I look over at her and she’s looking out the window, surveying her surroundings with a small smile gracing her beautiful lips. The cars in front of me come to a stop and I slowly press on the brakes, coming to a stop behind them. Charlie’s attention remains outside and I can’t help but watch her. The way her eyes shift from one thing to the next as she studies everything within her surroundings, to the way that the late afternoon sun makes her hair look like it’s on fire; the red highlights popping through the dark brown.

A car honks it’s horn behind me and when I look up, I realize the light is green and the cars in front are well ahead by now. I take a deep breath and take my foot off the break, taking off towards the next town over.

With not much to do other than party on campus my friends and I have resorted to finding other spots to hang out. Not that we didn’t love a good party, but sometimes it was just nice to do something normal for a change. Last year a big group of us found this small little ice cream shop on the way to see a movie. We still had plenty of time and decided to stop, and by the end of the short detour we all vowed to come back at least once a week- deeming this the best ice cream in Arizona.

Thinking back to that night brought another thought to the surface, Alicia. It’s been over a month since we broke up. She’s texted me hundreds of times, tried to call, tried to stop by, but I ignored her every time. I’m done with her, done with letting her make me feel the way she did. Like I was inferior, or someone just to pass time time or help her through her hardships and addiction problems. Looking back now I realize that Alicia never loved me, she loved the thought of me. She loved the thought of having someone there, holding her hand. Someone she could show off and claim as her own. Alicia, was and will most likely always will be a parasite.

I never regret many things in life, but she is one of the few regrets I have- in a way however, I’m almost grateful, because she showed me what I didn’t want in a relationship, she proved to me that I deserve better, I deserve to truly be happy- and honestly the miniscule time I’ve spent with Charlie has also helped me realize that. With Alicia I never smiled this much, never felt like my insides were going to explode from laughing; fuck, I’ve never even had butterflies before, and as embarrassed as I am to admit it, I love it. it’s such a foreign feeling but god, does it make me feel good.

The ice cream shop is small, with no indoor seating but they have picnic tables set up outside with umbrellas to shield the brutal Arizona sunlight. I pull into the parking lot and throw the truck into park. I look out at the small shack styled shop with it’s faded sign reading “Cups and Cones”. I turn towards Charlie, and she’s facing the same direction as me, a smile plastered to her lips.

“This place is adorable.” She announces, her smile never leaving; and each second more that I’m in her presence I become more astounded by how utterly amazing she is. My thoughts race back to the fact that I’ve just met her and already feel this way, already feel like she’s got a firm grasp on me. I get this gut feeling that life meant to force the two of us together- I can only hope at least, because I don’t know how else to describe the intensity of which I’m drawn to her; which in return gets me believing just slightly in fate.

I climb out of the truck, walking around to the passenger side and opening the door for her. I offer her my hand to help her climb out and when her warm, soft hand wraps around mine it sends chills through my body. I give her hand a soft squeeze as she steps down from the truck, and I almost don’t want to let go of her hand- so I don’t. I hesitantly thread my fingers through hers and she doesn’t try to pull away, if anything she squeezes her hand tighter around mine. I close the car door with my opposite hand, locking it behind me as we walk into the small shop and stand in line. There’s three people ahead of us so we have a few minutes to wait.

“So, what’s your go to, all time favorite flavor?” I question her with a smile, angling my body slightly towards hers.

She looks as if she’s in deep thought for a moment before finally speaking. “Ugh, that’s a hard one... But I’m going to have to go with mint chip.” She smiles up at me- god her smile is beautiful. “What about you?”

“That’s an easy one.” I grin, my thumb absentmindedly stroking small, circular patterns across the top of her hand. “Cookies and Cream, and this place has some of the best I’ve ever had. A group of us found this place one night and ever since we’ve been back almost every weekend.” I smile at her before continuing. “This place in my opinion has the best ice cream in the state.” The whole time Charlie listens to me, her perma-smile brightens with every word I speak, and it completely takes me by surprise because I’ve never had someone pay such close attention to me while I speak, let alone give two fucks about what I’m even talking about- except for maybe my sisters and Trish.

The line moves up pretty quick and before long we’re up next. We step in front of the counter, and Charlie scans the display case of flavors, not that she really even needed to because in the end she ends up ordering mint chip in a waffle cone. I order mine, a waffle cone as well but with cookies and cream.

Once the girl behind the counter hands us our cones, she gives us our total and immediately Charlie reaches into her bag and pulls out her wallet- but before she can even open it, I snatch it from her. “No, no, no.” I chuckle. “What do you think you’re doing, silly.” Her cheeks turn dark red, and immediately I feel guilty, hoping I didn’t embarrass her. I offer her a soft smile, handing her wallet back to her before paying the girl and following her outside.

She picks a table near the back and sits down. I sit across from her and after a moment of silence I finally speak up. “Listen, I hope you know I was just teasing in there. I don’t want you to think I was being an asshole or something. I just can’t let a lady as beautiful as yourself pay.” She looks up at me, mid lick of her cone, an expression of confusion on her face.

It seems to take a second or two to register what I mean, but when she does she giggles. “I knew you were teasing, don’t worry. I’m just...-” She pauses and takes another lick of her ice cream. “Not used to it, I guess.” And for a second I see a flash of sadness behind her eyes and I can’t help the stab in the gut that it causes, knowing that someone has beat her down so bad that she questions everything; just knowing that she’s not used to having someone else do something as simple as pay for her, that alone breaks my heart.

I don’t push the subject any further, figuring that if she felt comfortable enough to confide in me, that she would. I lick the perimeter of my cone to stop it from dripping on my hands before she breaks the comfortable silence.

“So, you said you have three younger sisters... Tell me about them.” She smiles over at me, attention half on me, half on the ice cream that is melting faster than she can eat it. I chuckle softly and pull some napkins from the dispenser next to me, handing them over to her. She thanks me before cleaning herself up and turning her attention back to me.

“Well there’s Jillian, she’s six... and gosh if you get her talking she never stops. She’s a riot.” I smile, thinking about my sister and how bright her personality is, how she can instantly turn a room. “Then there’s April. She’s 5 and Mia is 3- but she’ll totally argue with you about her age.” I chuckle a little. “The younger two follow Jillian around wherever she goes and Jillian is usually following me.” Talking about them makes me miss them more than I can comprehend and my heart caves in on itself. “They’re definitely my pride and joy. I’d do anything for them.” I chance a glance over at her and she’s smiling so wide, the sparkle in her eye completely sucking me in.

“They sound absolutely adorable. They’re lucky to have a big brother like you.” She says and I can’t help but to grin at her as her tongue wraps around the ice cream; my mind wandering to places it definitely shouldn’t be.

I gulp nervously and take another bite of my cone before continuing. “Then there’s my dad. He’s pretty cool. He’s your typical dad except we get along surprisingly well. He’s married to this amazing woman named Trish. The best bonus mom I could ever hope for, and her cooking... To die for.” I laugh a little. “I have an older brother Tristan and had a twin sister. Her name was Tessa... but she passed a few years ago.” I keep it short when it comes to Tessa and don’t mention my mother, not really willing to dive any deeper just yet.

I offer her a small smile before turning the question to her before she can prod further. “How about you? Tell me about your family.” And as soon as I catch her reaction, I instantly regret asking.

I’m just about to take the question back when she starts. “Well, my mom isn’t necessarily around much... But Isaac and Lydia’s family have always been more of a family to me than my own. Their parents are wonderful, and Isaac and Lydia obviously. I’ve probably spent more time there in the past thirteen years than I have at my own house.” She shrugs her shoulders and doesn’t say much more and I leave it at that, grateful for the little that she did open up to me about.

After a moment or two of comfortable silence we finish our ice cream and sit there making small talk. “I’m actually surprised we’ve never come across each other before. Me and Isaac aren’t necessarily best friends, but we used to hang out a lot.”

Charlie giggles a little bit. “Lydia and I usually partied and hung out with our own group of friends. Isaac has always been super protective so Lydia and I don’t really like to hang out with Isaac and his friends too often- especially since once night he nearly beat the crap out of some guy for kissing her.” She rolls her eyes and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. “Only when they throw parties at their house does Isaac lower the protection front a little.” She giggles again and smiles at me. “I kind of wish I did hang around him and his friends more, though.” She looks up at me under her lashes and my heart starts hammering behind my ribs.

I nod my head. “Me too.” I smile back at her and the urge to kiss her is unreal, but again I chicken out.

“How’d you and Isaac end up meeting?” She asks me, watching me from across the table.

“Well, Isaac was dating my ex’s brother Derek at the time. Back in high school I used to party a lot more than I do now, which I’m actually pretty embarrassed to admit” I chuckle softly and chance a glance up at her but she’s just looking at me with a smile on her face waiting for me to continue. “We’d always party together, and then whenever I was at Alicia’s house, he was normally there too. About a year or so ago she had a bit of a problem and Isaac really helped me through it all. Helped me see all the wrong in her ways and I guess in the long run helped me see my potential.” I shrug my shoulders, suddenly feeling super exposed.

She reaches across the table and lays her hand over mine, causing chills to race through my body. “Isaac is good like that. He’s seriously the best.”

I nod my head in agreement and glance behind her at the sun then down to my wrist at the time. It’s almost 6 and the sun will be setting around 8 pm tonight. “Hey, let’s start heading out. It’s about a 15 minute drive and a ten minute walk to where I want to take you.” I say offering her a smile, turning my hand in hers and giving it a soft squeeze.

She nods her head in response and stands up, following me to the parking lot after throwing away our trash. I help her climb into my truck, glancing back at her one more time, beaming a smile before closing the car door, walking over to the driver’s side.

I slide in and start the ignition, the butterflies in my stomach starting to transform. I’m nervous. This place I’m taking her to is so special to me and even though she’s practically a stranger I just feel like I need to bring her. I have this strong gut feeling that she just needs to witness the magic that this certain spot offers. I smile at the thought and pull the gear shifter into reverse and back out of the spot I’m parked in, heading off down the road.

Within ten minutes we pull off of the main road, down a dirt road and I throw the truck into 4WD as the terrain gets a bit rougher. A few moments later, I park at the base of an incline and get out, walking over to her side and opening the door for her. I offer her my hand, helping her climb down.

“It’s just a few minute walk up, but I promise it will be worth it.”

She nods to me before speaking. “As long as you promise you’re not bringing me out here to kill me.”

Her words shock me for a minute but when I glance at her, she’s smirking.

“Promise, no murder involved.” I chuckle and riffle around behind the passenger seat, grabbing a blanket and two bottles of water and head towards the path that I know by the back of my hand.

Charlie follows beside me, wrapping her hand around my free one, looking up at me with such a bright smile on her face that my heart jumps. I grin and squeeze her hand gently.

The hike up isn’t too long, or grueling. As we start getting close, I drape the blanket around my neck and shove the water bottles into my back pockets before step behind her and gently lay my hands over her eyes. “It’s a surprise.” I whisper as I lean into her- inhaling the strong sent of lavender that’s coming from the nape of her neck. The smell intoxicates me for a moment before I figure out how to move my feet again. We do an awkward shuffle up towards the destination and when we get there the sun has just started it’s decent. I stop at the top and lean in again, “ready?” I whisper softly, waiting for her nod before slowly peeling my hands away from her eyes.

She lets out a gasp and instantly steps forward, taking in her surroundings. We’re at the top of a small mountain, and the house that once resided here has been reduced to nothing but a skeleton of stones and a broken foundation; graffiti littering all of the exposed walls.

“This is fucking amazing.” She spins around slowly, in place; just taking everything in.

I chuckle and watch her, the biggest smile I’ve smiled in longer than I can remember, plastered to my face.

She stops spinning, glancing at me for a moment and her smile is just as big as mine. She wanders over to the ruins and traces her hands along the stone walls, admiring the artwork littering every inch of the crumbled structure.

I watch her pull her phone from her back pocket, and before long there’s music coming from the speakers. It takes a second to register what’s playing and when I do I chuckle and shake my head.

“Oh, c’mon. I told you, it’s my sisters.” I groan, playfully.

She giggles and turns around, stuffing her phone in her back pocket, the speaker pointing upwards so the sound isn’t muffled by the fabric of her jeans. She starts belting out the lyrics and I’m completely dumbfounded by the beautiful sound that comes out of her as she starts singing along to the song “Story of My Life” by One Direction.

She stops for a moment, slowly walking towards me. Her smile is beaming. “Since you love One Direction so much.” She winks at me and the action leaves me breathless. Once I regain my composure I join her, singing out the chorus as she dances around me.

This is the most innocent fun that I’ve had in.... ever, if I’m being completely honest. The energy radiating off of her is so welcoming and wholesome. I’ve never enjoyed someone’s presence so much before, and selfishly I never want this moment to end. The butterflies in my stomach make me almost nauseous but in the best of ways as I dance along with her, grabbing her hand in mine and spinning her around. She’s laughing and singing along as I pull her back, into me. She’s so close to me when I pull her in that I forget how to breath. The scent of lavender, which I will now forever associate with her, drifts around me and I can’t help the smile that spreads across my lips. Her eyes trace my face, landing on my lips and inside my head there’s an internal battle going on about whether or not I should kiss her.

I busy myself, studying her; how the sun makes her hair look like it’s aflame as it sets behind her, casting a heavenly glow around her. My eyes travel downward and I can see faint bruises around her neck, and before I can stop myself I’m tracing my fingers gingerly over the soft skin of her neck, over the bruises. I can feel myself getting choked up, wondering who on earth could do such a thing to such a beautiful human. After everything she’s been through just a few days ago, she’s full of so much life, so much happiness. I couldn’t understand it, especially since in my own experience, traumatic events have turned me into an angry, miserable person.

I feel her suck in a deep breath as I softly stroke her skin, before trailing my hand up the side of her neck, resting it on her cheek. I can’t help but look into her eyes, searching for the answers to all of the questions I’m too afraid to ask aloud.

Before I know what I’m doing, I’m leaning in and pressing my lips to hers; and she kisses me back. The feeling of her soft lips on mine, and the taste of her drives me crazy and I can’t help but to crave so much more. The kiss starts off soft, but both of our wants and needs combined turn the kiss much deeper and I tighten my grasp around her waist, pulling her as close as space will allow.

When the kiss ends and we pull away, just slightly; I rest my forehead against hers. I can feel her rapid breathing, matching mine and I can’t help but to smile. I haven’t felt this alive in longer than I can remember and all I know is that I never want this feeling to end.

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