I watched from the front door as they both climbed into the Uber and my heart sank to my feet. I couldn't help but think that I somehow did something wrong- something to upset her.
"What the hell was that about?" Collin asks me as I join him in the kitchen. He's standing at the counter, pouring himself another drink. He pulls out a second cup and makes a another drink, passing it to me before taking a long gulp of his own.
I shrug my shoulders and swirl the warm liquid around in my cup before gulping down the last sip, taking the fresh cup from Collin- then I see her and the anger that comes over me, completely consumes me. Fucking Alicia.
I push off the counter and shove my way through a few people until I'm standing in front of her.
"Why do I have the overwhelming feeling that you said something to my girlfriend?" I make sure to draw extra attention to the world girlfriend.
For a moment she looks like she's been slapped in the face, but she recovers quickly with a clipped laugh.
"Oh, that slut?" Another vicious laugh escapes her lips before she tips her cup to her lips.
"Please, she's better off without a mess like you." She rolls her eyes before continuing, "Hasn't she been through enough Tanner? I heard she was almost killed by her ex or some shit, and now you're gonna swoop in and fuck her life up even more?" She's getting nastier by the minute and I'm seeing red by this point.
"Oh, a mess like me? You didn't find me all coked out, fucking some random, did you? I may have my fair of shit I'm not proud of, but I gave you everything and loved you no matter how many times you cheated on me or fucked up my life. Now, why don't you fuck off and go blow someone else for a line of coke- and if I ever catch you talking to her again, I will air out every dirty secret I know about you." I spit and as soon as the words fly out of my mouth, I can't register my voice as my own, the venom spewing from my words. I can't say I regret it, but I feel guiltier than I ever have before. I stooped down to her level and I'm not proud of it.
Her face drains of all color; her mouth opens as if she's going to say something, but she snaps it shut, her jaw tensing. She throws her full cup of liquor into my face and storms away. The liquid burns my eyes and I try rubbing it away, but the action only makes the pain worse- I can't say I didn't deserve that one.
I rush over to the sink and turn on the tap, flushing my eyes with water. I have the most intense urge to cry but Collin comes up behind me with a handful of paper towels, causing me to snap back to reality. "What the fuck was that bro?"
"She's the reason that Charlie left. I deserved the drink to the face, though" I heave a deep sigh and hold the paper towels to my face, patting the water and alcohol from my eyes.
My anger is still raging, and I can feel myself becoming overwhelmed. I either go home or stay and get even more reckless- the alcohol that's already coursing through my veins is telling me to stay and continue drinking, but the logical part of me is telling me to leave, and to leave now.
I battle with myself for a moment or two before I grab the neck of the closest alcohol bottle and hold it to my lips, taking a long swig. The alcohol burns its way down my throat, and I know I shouldn't, but the warmth feels so fucking good. I just want to be numb, again. Just for a few hours.
Collin tries taking the bottle from me, but it's a lost cause on his part. I yank the bottle away from him and make my way through the patio doors; the warm sticky air hitting me in the face as I take another long sip.
I wake up to the sound of someone vomiting. I groan and lean up, squinting my eyes against the early morning sun. My head is spinning, and my stomach is in knots- I'm about to be sick, just like the guy who woke me up in about two minutes if it doesn't calm down. I try to focus on taking deep breaths to calm the nausea before sitting up slowly.
The events of last night resurface as I look down at my feet and see the empty bottle of whiskey. The sight of it almost makes me vomit on the spot, but I'm able to stop myself. The panic starts to rise as it hits me.
"No, no, no. I have to get home." I have to figure out what the fuck Alicia said to Charlie. The ass reaming I'm going to give myself about drinking like that will have to wait. I hurry off the couch, immediately regretting it as my head spins, causing me to almost fall over. I hold onto the wall for a moment, regaining my balance before pushing off again. I have to find Collin.
I check almost every room in the house and he's nowhere. I'm going to assume he got a ride home last night after fighting me for the whiskey bottle. Usually it's me babysitting Collin's drunk ass, I guess this is payback for all of the times he's yakked in my passenger seat.
I reach my truck and when I pull open the driver's side door, I see Collin slumped in the passenger seat. I roll my eyes and climb in, starting the engine.
Halfway home, Collin wakes up and looks over at me. He blinks away his sleep and confusion before tugging his seatbelt on.
"How are you feeling?" He asks cautiously.
I glare at him but he doesn't let me intimidate him.
"I tried to stop you. I knew you'd regret it and beat yourself up. You were doing really good, Tanner." He replies and I can hear the disappointment laced in his words.
"Now is not the time for I told you so's, maybe later after I'm had some time to calm down." I sigh and my grip tightens around the steering wheel; all I'm able to think about right now is Charlie.
I'm terrified. We just said I love you for the first time, we just had sex for the first time- I can't lose her yet.
I drop off Collin at home and immediately rush over to Charlie's dorm. The elevator took way too long so I rush up the six flights of stairs and down the hallway, stopping in front of her door. It takes me a moment or two to catch my breath; but when I finally do, I knock. I can hear rustling around behind the door before Charlie pulls it open. Her eyes are barely open, squinting against the bright light in the hallway and her hair is in tangles around the back of her head. I try to suppress my grin, but it pops through slightly.
"Listen, I know my ex said something to you at the party last night, and I'm so sorry for anything she said to you. I promise, she definitely got a taste of her own medicine last night." I chew on the inside of my bottom lip and wait for her response, but it never comes.
Her eyes are fully open now, and all she does is take a step back to let me in. I try to remain as quiet as possible. The room is dark and quiet, and I can hear Scout snoring slightly from her side of the bedroom.
Charlie crawls back into her bed without saying anything and pats the spot next to her. She pushes down the covers around her as I make my way over to the bed. I sit down and look over at her as if to ask permission. She rolls her eyes and grabs my arm, pulling me down. I push my shoes off before pulling my legs up and bury them under the covers. Once I'm situated with my arm stretched out for her, she lays down and cuddles into me, laying her head on my shoulder.
That was easier than I thought. Within minutes Charlie is passed back out, but I can't stop thinking about what Alicia said to her. Alicia has seen me through some of my darkest moments and one day I plan on sharing that part of my life with Charlie, but I'm not necessarily ready just yet and depending on what Alicia said, I just might have to.
My skin prickles with anxiety but Charlie nuzzles closer to me and tightens her hold on me. This sweet, angelic woman kisses my chest in her sleep and for a moment the panic fades away. I run my hand slowly up and down her back, inching my way under the thin material of her t-shirt, the warmth radiating off of her is intoxicating. I lean my cheek against the top of her head, kissing her gently and my heart swells with all the love I feel towards this magnificent girl.
A few hours later I wake up; feeling the weight of Charlie still in my arms makes a smile spread across my face before I even open my eyes. I pull her closer to me and nuzzle my face into the crook of her neck, breathing her in- a scent that has quickly become my favorite.
I attack her with soft kisses and encompass her completely in my arms. "Good morning." I whisper softly.
A soft groan escapes from her and she shakes her head. "Mm no. Sleep more." She grabs onto my hand and cuddles into my arm which is now useless as the pins and needles have subsided long ago and now it's just a dead limb.
"Oh, you don't want breakfast?" I ask and this seems to perk her up. Her eyes instantly shoot open as she twists around in my arms to look at me with a wide smile. The sadness from then night before is gone but I can still see the questions that she's dying to ask, swirling around in her beautiful brown eyes. My heart twists with guilt over the fact that my sweet girl is hurting; over the fact that I drank last night when I told myself I wouldn't let myself get to that point again. All I know is that I need to talk to her.
"Breakfast in bed, and then maybe we can do something today?" I ask, hopeful that she'll say yes.
She contemplates it for a moment before nodding her head. "Something greasy please." She whines. "Orange juice and coffee, too." She bats her long eyelashes at me and I instantly fall even harder for her.
"Anything for you." I smile and kiss the tip of her nose before laying a soft kiss on her lips. I can smell the alcohol coming from the both of us.
"Why don't you take a nice hot shower and get ready while I pick up some breakfast? Then on our way out we can stop at my place so I can shower." I say as I run my fingers through her hair, pushing it out of her face.
"Why, you don't like my morning breath?" She teases and I can't help but to chuckle.
"Actually, I love it. It's my favorite." I pepper kisses all over her face and attack her sides with my fingers, tickling her.
She screams out in giggles as she thrashes around in my arms, trying to break free from my tickle-assault.
"Not...fair." She says in between giggles.
I finally stop, letting her catch her breath but her giggles continue. Our eyes meet and the smile that spreads across her face has my heart hammering in my chest. My cheeks start hurting because of how big I'm smiling that I have to cut them some slack. I push a stray strand of hair behind her ear as I search her warm espresso gaze.
"You're beautiful, Charlie." I smile and shake my head out of the trance that she has me under.
"Okay, food time. I'll be back in no time." I give her a quick kiss before sliding my feet back into my shoes and heading out the door quietly.
Twenty minutes later, I walk back through the door to Charlie's dorm room with a bag of greasy goodness, coffees, and orange juices for everyone. I shut the door quietly behind me, walking over to Scout's bed and waving the bag of food and coffee carrier in front of her face. Instantly one eye pops open as she takes in the site of me with breakfast.
"Oh, Prince Charming, is that you? Charlie baby, you've got yourself a keeper!" She says as I hand her a breakfast sandwich and her drinks. She instantly takes a sip of her coffee as she sits up, and unwraps her sandwich hastily- as if she hasn't eaten in a month. She takes a big bite and lets out a low moan.
"Calm down over there, yikes. It's a sandwich, not Collin!" I tease her and she instantly narrows her eyes at me. I hold my hands up I'm defense. "Just remember who brought you breakfast, that's all I have to say." I shoot a wink her way before walking over to Charlie's side of the room.
She's standing in front of her dresser wearing nothing but a bra and the most fantastic pair of jeans I've ever seen. They contour around her ass perfectly and I can't help but stare.
"Creeper!" Scout shouts from across the room with a giggle and throws her sandwich wrapper at me.
"Never getting you breakfast again! Rude!" I chuckle and wrap my arms around Charlie. "I can creep on her all I want!" I nuzzle my face against her neck, her wet hair pressing against my cheek. She giggles as I litter her neck with kisses, tugging her body as close to mine as humanly possible.
"Gross!" Scout squeals and covers her eyes, opening her fingers to peak through.
"Who's the creeper now?" I say, taking a seat on Charlie's bed, lobbing a pillow at Scout.
"Maybe if you guys weren't so grossly cute, I wouldn't have to creep." She grins and goes back to enjoying her coffee.
I watch Charlie dig around in her drawers before pulling out a white tank top. It has lace on the bottom so when she pulls it over her torso, I can see the tiniest, yet sexiest patch of her tanned skin peeking through. She gathers her heaps of hair and ties the tresses into a messy bun on top of her head before pulling on a pair of worn, white low-top Chucks.
My eyes travel from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. She looks adorable, gorgeous, breathtaking. Every time I look at her, regardless if she's dressed to the nines, in something casual or just waking up with morning breath- I fall even more in love with her.
"You look amazing baby. As always." I gush.
A different side of me- a side than I didn't even know existed, comes out of me when it comes to Charlie. It's hard to explain; the only way I can begin to explain it is- the overwhelming urge to proclaim to the whole world how fucking much I love this girl, how perfect she is, how her smile can light up a whole room, how her laugh is so contagious, and especially how she turned me into even more of a sucker than I already was. I just want to brag about this incredible woman that I get to call my own.
I take Charlie back to the lookout that I brought her to the first night we officially met. I smooth a blanket over the sandy ground and take a seat, licking the dripping ice cream from around my cone. She sits next to me and digs her spoon into her own ice cream.
For a while we sit in comfortable silence as we both enjoy our ice cream and the birds eye view of the city beneath us.
I stare out and watch the ant sized people go about their every day lives.
"So..." I start and my throat goes dry. I try again- "I know my ex came up to you last night. I'm really sorry if what she said upset you."
Charlie is quiet for a moment, just focusing on her spoon. My stomach is in knots as I anxiously await for her to say something, anything. I feel like I'm about to combust when she finally opens her mouth.
"She was pretty fucking rude, and she tried to say that you weren't the perfect person that you made yourself out to be-"
My anger resurfaces but I try to hide it by staring ahead and taking another bite from my ice cream.
"But Tanner, who's perfect? No one. She's just bitter. I know she hurt you, I can see it whenever you mention her name, or whenever she's brought up. I'm sorry she hurt you." She's looking over at me and the fact that she's apologizing just fuels my anger even more, not at her but just the fact that she can so easily switch the attention from her- like I'm somehow the victim in all of this. I don't deserve someone as good as her and it fucking kills me. Maybe Alicia was right.
"She isn't necessarily wrong about me." The words are out of my mouth before I can even think. I sigh and rake my free hand through my hair, causing my wild mane to stand on end. Well, the cats out of the bag.
It's not that I don't want to share this part of my life with Charlie; it's that I'm afraid it will scare her away. The person I was, isn't who I am now. I have my moments where I revert back into that same angry person, but I have myself under a lot better control now- I can thank Collin and Trish for that. Collin went to Trish worried as all hell and they both sat me down in an intervention-esque style meeting and told me that I needed to stop with my heavy drinking and that I needed to see a therapist or they were shipping me off to rehab. Just the word alone made me agree to whatever the stipulations were in order to keep me away from there. I've been seeing a therapist for over a year now.
I hit rock bottom the summer after my freshman year at UA and had a pretty bumpy sophomore year, but I can say now that life has been a lot smoother and my anger has been almost non-existent. Last night was the first time that I've felt that blinding rage in over a year and I know that it will haunt me for plenty of nights to come.
"She's seen me through a lot of my darkest times." I sigh.
"I repressed so much anger and pain after Tessa's death, that once I came to UA I kind of lost control. I never did any drugs or anything but I got really heavy into drinking. It was bad for a while. When the drinking got out of control, so did my anger. I'm not a violent person, so please..." I clench my free fist and then relax it. "Don't think I'm some kind of monster. I would never, ever be that way around you or towards you... it's just the pain I felt- and the alcohol didn't mix."
"It was my first year at college, I thought it was completely normal to let loose and party, but I took it to a whole new extreme. At a certain point, I was getting drunk every night, waking up and drinking before class. My drinking ruined my freshman year, until Collin stepped in. He ratted me out to Trish, that little bastard-" A small smile tugs at the corner of my lips. I owe Collin my life for what he did for me. He was the only one of my friends who saw how bad I was getting, that actually gave a fuck enough to do something about it.
"I used the alcohol to numb the pain and anger that I felt in result of the guilt and grief that I bottled up over my sister's death. I won't lie and say that Alicia didn't instigate it. At first she was the one that started dragging me to parties almost every night, and then when I was over the edge, it's not like she ever tried to stop me- she was right there with me." I bite my lip to stop the tears from welling in my eyes. The memories of the past two years are flooding back and I have to keep that at bay before I completely lose it.
"I wasn't okay then... And, Charlie I'm still not okay, but I'm working on myself. My drinking habits have completely changed. I still drink, yes, but now I understand what responsible drinking is. I've been seeing a therapist, and all I can say is that I'm a lot better than I was."
This is the most I've opened up to anyone in longer than I can remember and the verbal vomit that's spewing from me is dizzying. "I just hope that I can be everything you deserve-" I can't bring myself to look over at her. "Because Charlie, you deserve the world."
I can't stop Alicia's words from playing over and over in my head, planting doubt in every deep recess of my mind.
She's silent for a moment and when I finally look over at her, I catch her gaze and try searching her eyes. I can see them glistening in the sunlight and can tell she's ready to cry. Her face is red and blotchy and if it didn't completely break my heart, I would think it was the cutest thing in the world.
I scootch in even closer to her and wrap my arms tight around her small frame, pulling her in close. I hold her head to my chest as she sniffles.
"Baby, don't cry. Please, I'm sorry." I hope I didn't just royally fuck up by spilling my guts to her.
She pulls back from me and looks me dead in the face. "I fucking love you. You're not an awful person just because you have a past, Tanner. We have all done things we regret. How dare you doubt yourself." She swats at my arm. I'm stunned for a moment but once what she says registers, I can't help but to laugh.
"Look at me, I dated Gavin for three fucking years. I let a man control me, abuse me, and make me feel like the scum of the earth... But look where I am now, I have you. You may not be perfect, Tanner. I never want you to be, but to me you are- for me you are. You're my own little piece of perfection."
I'm speechless for a moment. I feel like I could cry, vomit, maybe both at the same time? I don't know what this feeling is, but it isn't a bad one. All I know in this moment is that she's mine and I will go to hell and back just to keep her as mine forever, or as long as she wants me.
I pull her into me and bury my face into her messy bun. "I'm fucking crazy for you, you have no idea." I chuckle slightly, the emotions I'm feeling completely overwhelming me as tears well in my eyes.
She pulls back and looks at me with the cutest, lopsided grin. She leans forward and lays the softest kisses over each of my eyes before grabbing my face in her hands and slamming her lips against mine.
I wrap my arms tighter around her and pull her as close as space would allow and kiss her back with a passion that even surprises me.
I pull away, leaning my forehead against hers. "Thank you for accepting my crazy."
She grins at me. "I accept every single crazy part of you."
A/N: This was a chapter that I wrote and the rewrote over and over again, trying to make it just right. I packed so much emotion in this chapter and I really hope it flows for you guys as well as it did for me. I may have shed quite a few years while writing it. It definitely is a bit longer of a chapter, I hope you guys don't mind. I was going to split it into two chapters but it didn't feel right for me, so I figured I'd leave it as one. Thank you again for all of your patience, kind comments, votes, etc on this story. Charlie Ever After is a huge passion project of mine and I'm so proud of how it's coming out and I'm so happy to have so many of you along for the ride with me. Thank you for all the love and support! <3