Charlie Ever After

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o6| Tanner

“Yo, man. Are you down to go to a party later?” Collin Kentwood, one of my close friends and teammates says over the other end of the line. “It’s up in my neck of the woods, but it will be fun. I promise. It’s a graduation party. Lots of hot chicks Tanner, LOTS. OF. HOT. CHICKS.” He drew out the last four words slowly, adding emphasis on each word.

I can’t help but to laugh. I’ve known Collin now for almost two years, since freshman year at U of A. Collin is your typical fuck boy. All he cares about is lacrosse and pussy.

“Do you ever listen to yourself when you speak?” I let out another laugh. “You’re such a dog, man!” I add before looking around my bedroom. Most of my stuff was packed. There’s about ten cardboard boxes strewn around my room, the contents of my entire life jammed inside.

“Sure, I’ll go.” I say with a small sigh. Just then the realization hit me that maybe I’m a little too old for high school parties. I was nearing 21 now, and it doesn’t look good for a 21-year-old man to be looming around a bunch of high school girls- graduates or not, but I can never say no to him. I feel obligated to always keep my eye on Collin, so he doesn’t get himself into trouble.

“Awesome.” Collin says, clapping his hands. The smack of skin together echoing over the speaker. “Oh and invite Alicia. She’ll keep you company while I’m running around chasing tail.” I roll my eyes again, one day my eyes are going to get stuck in the back of my head because of this prick.

Collin has the biggest crush on Alicia, and always insists she hang out with us. It doesn’t bother me much, since Alicia is way out of his league. Colin is about 5′6 and a little quirky, but he has a good heart. Something I can for sure appreciate. The facts didn’t stop him from trying though. Collin likes to get drunk and flirt with Alicia right in front of my face. At first it used to infuriate me, and then I saw the way Alicia looked at him- like he was a toddler pulling at her coattail asking for attention.

Alicia and I started dating two years ago. We met at a party on campus. It was my first college party. Colin and I were both dressed as zombies, both of us are HUGE horror fans. One of Colin’s older sister Oliva’s friends is a special FX makeup artist and agreed to do our makeup.

“We look badass!” Collin said as he examined his finished costume in the mirror. “We’ll be the talk of the party.” I just rolled my eyes and let Colin think whatever he wanted. I don’t think zombies scream sexy to women. Especially more mature college women.

Upon arriving at the party, there were people spilling out of every entrance.

“Jesus there are a lot of people.” I yelled over to Collin. We pushed our way through the crowd and to the kitchen where all the booze was laid out along the counter tops. There were so many bottles out, some people carrying a bottle instead of a cup.

I grabbed a bottle of Southern Comfort, pouring some into a plastic shot glass and then tilt my head back and let the shot burn its way down my throat. I nearly gag, it’s way sweeter than I ever remembered it being, but it did the trick.

The liquor was already starting to warm me up. I grab a red party cup and fill it a quarter way with some cheap vodka and the rest with cola tilting it to my lips and taking a sip.

“Come here often?” Her sweet voice echoes behind me. The confidence she exudes rushes around me as I turn around and catch a glimpse of her. I have to do a double take, looking around to make sure I was who she was talking to.

She must catch my apprehension because she lets out the most beautiful giggle and moves a little closer, extending her hand for me to shake. “Alicia.” She says with a beaming smile.

I just stand there and smile like a loser, sliding my hand into hers and giving her a firm handshake- what the fuck, who does that- wait, who am I? “Tanner.” I pull myself together enough to mutter. Nervously I lift the drink to my lips and take a sip. “It’s very nice to meet you.” I say with a clipped nod. Usually I have better game, but she totally catches me off guard.

I feel my insides tighten as I watch her; her smile is big and still present.

“You new around here?” She asks, her eyes traveling around the room as she struggles to hear my response. Before I even get the chance to speak, she grabs my arm gently and tugs me away from the crowd and out the back French doors.

We walk out onto the damp lawn and across to a tree in the corner; a small little set of table and chairs is perched under it. She takes a seat in the chair facing the party, and I in return sit across from her.

She’s looking at me expectedly and crosses her legs. I come to realize I never even answered her. She must think I’m mute or something. I fidget with my hands, looking down then back up at her. “Well, it’s my first year here, if that’s what you’re asking. But I’ve lived in Tucson pretty much my entire life.” I finally croak out, offering her a nervous smile before downing a giant gulp of my drink, the warmth in my body only growing.

Alicia is sweet- when she wants to be. She has a good sense of humor- when she’s not screaming at me or rolling her eyes at everything I say. It also doesn’t help that she is drop dead gorgeous- but Alicia’s dark side overshadows all of the good.

She has a lot of skeletons in her closet, and her mood can change at the drop of a dime. There have been plenty of times where I’ve received her backlash. The only times I ever saw her in an excellent mood was when she got beer-drunk or smoked a little weed. But she doesn’t like to only chill, she has to either get black out drunk or as high as a kite. There’s no in-between with her.

There’s a lot of things; most things I’ve never dragged out of her- knowing that I probably never would be able to, that Alicia buried deep down, and they come out when she’s completely shit faced. Other than when she’s in school or has to drive, she’s inebriated in some way. I came to find that out pretty quick in our relationship.

There was one night, I had her come over to meet my family, she came over smelling like she just hot boxed five blunts to her face interlaced with smelling like she took a bath in a distillery. She was completely gone. I had to hide her up in my bedroom, telling my family that she got sick and had to go home. They knew what was going on, they weren’t dumb.

I was so hopelessly in love with her though, that I let that all go. I still do love her, don’t get me wrong. But lately I feel like things have been heading for the worst. I keep telling myself: give it one more week, one more week and see if things get better, and if they don’t then leave. I’m young, good looking, I’ll bounce back quick.

I sigh to myself and scrub my hands through my hair messing it even more than it already is. I hear my door creak open and a soft pitter patter as Jillian enters my room.

“You’re really leaving us?” I can hear the sadness in her teeny voice. I was finishing up the last of my packing, the other essentials can wait until the last day.

I sigh and sit down on my bed, patting my lap. When she walks over, I pull her up and sit her on my lap hugging my arms around her small body.

“I’m not leaving, per say. You know I’ll always be back. I can’t keep away from mom’s food.” I give her a smile, lifting her chin with my finger. “I’m only a short drive away. I’ll be back every chance I get. I just need to keep a little more focused this year, okay Jilly?” I give her another smile and pull her in for a tight hug before she can protest.

“I know, but I’m still going to miss you.” She sniffles and pouts her lips up at me. Her dramatics sting, but I have to stay strong. I’m doing what’s best for me, and if I’m being honest with myself, I really will be back every week- maybe almost every day. I wasn’t lying when I said I couldn’t get enough of Trish’s cooking.

I nod to her. “I know, I know. But it will be okay, I promise. Now you’re the oldest sibling in the house.” With this her eyes light up. She nods her head, completely over her meltdown as she jumps off my lap and skips her merry little way out of my room.

My phone vibrates in my pocket, a cacophony of little groans follows it.

“Tanner, you’re supposed to be reading us a story.” Jillian huffs and crosses her arms over her chest. She rolls her eyes like the dramatic little princess she is but then cuddles up next to me and the two others once I nod.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I say in surrender as I wrap all three of them up and then continue reading.

Within fifteen minutes all three of the girls are passed out. I move each to their own beds, making sure to give each of them a good night kiss.

Most of my friends, Collin especially like to give me shit for how close I am with my little sisters, but they’re my life. If I didn’t have them, I’m not sure how I’d be. They’ve made me grow up quite a bit. I’d probably be a dick head like Collin. The thought makes me chuckle as I take the stairs two at a time and grab my keys from the kitchen counter. Trish is sitting on the couch, reading. I lean in and give her forehead a kiss. “Going out with Collin tonight. I’ll be home in the morning.” I say as an explanation as I head out the door.

“Be safe.” She calls after me.

Collin and I pull up to the party around 11:15. Collin already has a pretty heavy buzz going on. He stumbles out of my truck but catches himself on my side mirror.

“Chill man, unless you plan on paying for that. You need to get yourself together or I’m going to have to babysit you, and I really don’t want to have to cover my back seat in garbage bags.... AGAIN!”

I already know this party is a bad idea, but we’re already here. Might as well at least have a beer real quick and see what Collin’s hype is all about.

The first thing I notice is how massive the place is. It’s a fucking mansion. Cars litter the street and the lawn, and I can’t help but wonder how the cops haven’t been called already.

The party is nothing less than a rager. I walk up hesitantly and through the back where I see a bunch of other people streaming in and out. The back yard is almost more impressive than the entire house. White fairy lights are meticulously hung up overhead, streamers intertwining throughout. It has a very fairytale-esque vibe.

I feel some of the tension melt away as I notice a few people from school.

“Kapplan!” I hear my last name and I turn around in a 360 trying to pick up a familiar face. A grin spreads across my face.

“Shit, Ramirez. What’re you doing here?” Isaac is someone who I’ve became close with through Alicia. He’s never been particularly close with her, but he was dating her brother at the time and we usually all partied within the same crowd.

“This is my place.” He chuckles and lifts his cup to his lips taking a long sip.

“You’re full of shit.” I counter with a laugh.

“No, for real, I mean not necessarily mine- but my parents place. We usually have a party like this every year for the 4th, but because my little sisters just graduated and all- figured we could throw a double whammy.” He shrugs his shoulders.

“Shit, well this place is amazing, man!”

He gives me a smile and pats my shoulder. “It’s been nice to see you but my arm candy is waiting for me.” He winks before he sprints across the lawn to a guy sporting some seriously short, teal swim trunks.

“Good for him.” I say to myself as I head inside through the back-patio doors and find the alcohol stash. I grab a beer and crack open the lid. I take a long gulp just before making my rounds. I step into almost every room and then step right back out. It’s almost as if the whole house is taking part of some big orgy fest, it’s not much different than college but I still cringe and decide it’s time to find a bathroom.

All of the doors downstairs are locked, so I make my way upstairs and open the first door to my left. There’s two people in bed together and the familiarity of the girl lying in bed stops me in my tracks.

“Seriously?” Was all that comes out of my mouth. Once she realizes what’s going on she’s up out of bed so fast she nearly falls.

“Tanner. I can explain.” Alicia is frantic. Her eyes are wide, her pupils are so blown I could practically see my reflection in them. She desperately tries wrapping her arms around me, but I keep pushing her off.

I catch a glimpse of her face long enough to see a patch of white powder crusted under her nose.

“Coke? Really, Alicia?” I feel my anger boil up inside of me. The guy she was just rolling around with is silently pulling his clothes on and trying to sneak out behind me, and I let him leave. It’s not him I’m mad it. It’s her. This isn’t the first time she’s cheated on me. I know of a few other times, but if I really think further into it, she’s been cheating on me since we got together- whether it’s other people or substances. I’m never enough.

I’m trembling. My hands clench against my sides as I try to calm myself down.

“Tanner, please-”

“Just shut the fuck up, Alicia. I’m done. We’re done. This is done. This is disgusting.... You’re disgusting. I can’t even believe you.” I berate her, the whole time looking at the floor because I can’t bring myself to look her in the eyes. My own eyes are ready to burst with tears at any moment and I can’t bear to see hers.

Without even waiting for a reaction other than the squeak I hear come from her lips, I turn and push my way out of the room. Before closing the door, I finally speak. “Get some fucking help.” My voice is so raw at this point that it breaks several times. I slam the door behind me and storm down the stairs, throwing my beer into the trash before heading out to the back to find Collin.

Once outside the warm summer breeze hits my face and helps me calm down a little bit. The backyard is crowded but I spot Collin almost immediately and jog over to him. “Hey man, listen. I gotta go.” He’s only half paying attention, so I follow his gaze and then the sounds evaporate all around me and all I can hear is this guy’s yelling.

He’s yelling at some girl, his stature towering over her. My protective instincts kick in as I elbow Collin in his side. “We gotta do something, man!”

I’m just about halfway to them when he pushes her into the pool. All I see is red, and all I can remember as I push past the crowd and towards this douche bag, is pushing Collin towards the pool as if to tell him to help the girl.

The guy is trying to walk away, but I come barreling towards him and he launches into a full-blown sprint. I catch him by the ankles causing him to fall flat to his face as I climb on top of him. I take a swing, my knuckle connecting to his jaw with a loud pop, before two guys haul me off of him and another three grab the guy by his arms and drag him out the side gate.

“What the, who the fuck was that?” I look over my shoulder towards the pool and notice Isaac wrapping a towel around the girl and whisk her away towards the house. I run a shaky hand through my hair and try to settle myself. I normally wasn’t one to fight, but the anger was already boiling deep in my core over the situation with Alicia.

Collin comes racing towards me.

“Woah Clark Kent. What was that?” He chuckles and tosses back the rest of his drink.

“Let’s get out of here.” I say, jaw clenched tight as I catch a glimpse of Alicia standing by the patio doors.

Collin doesn’t ask any questions, he just follows me to my truck and climbs in.

The whole way back to his place we don’t say a word, for a little bit he even doses off. The only thoughts that keeps racing through my brain are questions: who was the girl that was thrown into the pool. The look on her face as Isaac hauled her out of the pool and wrapped her up- the look of complete defeat. The feeling that moments before I had felt myself.

I couldn’t help the urge to want to talk to her, to ask for the story and to see if she was okay- also an even stronger urge to let my animalistic side come out and beat the shit out of the guy who pushed her- tell her that even though right now things may royally suck, that in the end everything would be okay.

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