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Charlies

Alexander:

I’ve been angry for a long time. Just generally irritated or pessimistic all through my life. Then I found friends who I would call family, and they made my life just a bit more bearable, they were something I could actually look forward to when leaving my hell of a house.

Thea claims she wants to know me. The good, the bad, and ugly. But if she knew the hell that I’m in, if anyone did, they would never see who I am now. Right now people think I’m just your average grade-A brooding bad boy. But if they were to see inside me, inside my life, they wouldn’t see that.

It would be a complicated mess. It would be too complicated for anyone to want to deal with. It would be dark and messy. A tale no one wants to tell, much less be a part of.

So I guess you could call me secretive, or untrustworthy. But if that's what it takes to protect the people I care about, so be it.

And that includes Thea. I want to smack myself for being such an asshole to her when we met because now, she’s another person I look forward to seeing when I leave my house. She makes smiles come out of nowhere and I know she thinks she’s invisible, that she has no one, but she couldn’t be more wrong. She turns heads wherever she goes, she piques curiosity, she has admirers but she’s so damn oblivious to them. It’s a mystery why she puts up with me.

Back when my family was more ‘put together,’ my mom would take me to this arcade inside a pizza place called “Charlies.” whenever the kids at school would pick on me or make fun of me, I would go home in a bad mood and my mom would pick up on it the moment I came through the door. She would pull me into a hug and would say “we’re going to Charlies″ and I wouldn't fight it, no matter the mood I was in because I loved Charlies, and I loved my mom.

Sometimes I go back to Charlies just to reminisce. I think of all the memories with my mom as she would play me in some random race car game, or help me try and cheat at the claw game. My mom was my best friend when no one wanted to be friends with the ‘scary kid’

Now there’s Benny and Ethan, Levi and Connor, Reece, and then Thea. For some reason I have them all, and while I relish in it, I can’t help my pessimistic thoughts which wonder when they’ll find out the truth and leave.

“Where are we going?” Thea asks as I guide her downtown. At some point in this time, Thea had grabbed my hand and while I'm not sure why, it made my stomach flip and shivers rake over my body.

The familiar streets and stores we pass make memories flit through my mind, happier times when I would curiously look at the window displays and smile when I thought they were cute, or when I would relish in the smells of bakeries, and restaurants.

“It’s a place I used to come to whenever I was having a bad day. I don’t come here as much but I wanted to come with you today, especially after your day” as the glowing sign of ‘charlies’ comes into view I can feel myself smiling. No matter what, this has always been a place that makes me happy. ‘Charlies’ can calm any kind of storm inside me.

While I feel excited, I also feel nervous about bringing Thea here. What if she thinks it’s stupid, what if she hates it. Would she think I'm stupid? Would she hate me?

She timidly points towards ‘Charlies’ “are we going there?”

I don’t like how hesitant she looks “yeah” I pull my hand from hers and wipe my palms on my jeans. “I thought we could get some pizza and maybe go to the arcade?” my voice is nervous and I really can’t figure out why it means so much to me that she likes this place.

I feel nothing like I usually do, where the world is seen in different shades of gray and my default response is defensive and angry. I feel anxious and shaky.

My nerves are all over the place causing me to jump slightly when Thea lightly hits my shoulder “don’t look so scared Alex, that sounds wonderful”

She takes my hand once again and we resume walking. “I wasn’t scared” I defend “you just sounded so hesitant to go there that I wasn’t sure what to do. I was confused

She giggles and rolls her eyes, “I was hesitant because I wanted to go there and wasn’t sure if it was the place we were going to go to”

“Well good, we were going there whether you wanted to or not” that’s so not true. I would go wherever she wanted, but it’s not like I’m going to be telling her that.

Her eyes widen as she takes in the front part of ‘Charlies’ the pizzeria. It’s pretty average, booths and wooden tables line the edges of the walls, the hardwood floors shine making the place look cleaner than most places I’ve been.

The walls are full of paintings and pictures. Thea’s eyes are looking around, taking everything in and she pauses when she looks at the 'worker of the month’ section, holding many of the previous workers who have gained the title.

As she walks over to gain a closer look. I groan “Don’t look at that”

She picks up the picture “you look uncomfortable” she turns it to show it to me and points at my face which is indeed uncomfortable. I’m not good with pictures, and especially ones where Maggie, the owner of ‘Charlies’ forces me to ‘smile’ at a camera just a few moments before she tells me I need my picture taken. My smile looks more like a grimace as I glare at the camera.

I take it from her and carelessly put it back on the shelf “that’s why I said don’t look at it” I grumble “I used to work here and somehow they gave me worker of the month. Probably because I didn’t gossip and chat all the time during work and just did my job”

As I take her hand without thinking and begin leading her away from the damn picture, she straightens it out from my carelessness with the tips of her fingers before I pull her out of reach from it.

“It’s kinda cute” she comments

I don’t stop moving but my insides jump from her comment but I don't acknowledge it. “It’s stupid. I hate pictures”

She smiles as I take her back to the front counter “I think it suits you”

I take us behind the counter and start walking into the kitchen “what’s that supposed to mean?”

Staff look my way and either greet me or ignore me. I may have worked with them, but that doesn't mean I was the most pleasant to be around. They were business, not friends. I had five friends and they were not them. And I’m still not a people person, especially when after they all look at me, they look at Thea.

Seemingly oblivious to the stares and curious looks, she continues “well I thought it related your personality pretty well”

It’s then that she sees the other people around us and acknowledges her surroundings “wait, are we supposed to be back here?”

I shrug with one shoulder “don’t really care”

Her eyes go wide as I lead her to one of the doors in the back. I knock and wait “are you serious? Are we going to get in trouble?”

I don’t answer as the door opens and Maggie looks at me and a smile breaks out onto her face, not a reaction I get many times when someone sees me. “Lexagon!” she exclaims

I roll my eyes at the incredibly stupid name she gave me “what have we said about the name?”

She lowers her voice in a poor attempt to mimic my voice “it’s effing stupid” she sticks her tongue out at me “well I don't effing care”

I sigh “you never do”

“Well, I can’t worry about everything now, I’ve got too many wrinkles as it is” she puts her nose in the air like some sort of snooty queen.

Maggie’s fortieth birthday just passed, I had brought her a cupcake that I tried to play off as my own but Maggie knows I can’t bake for my life and I eventually fessed up to it being Benny who made it. She had admonished me before demanding that I brought Benny over so she could properly thank him.

After the thank you, she proceeded to go off about all the gossip in her life which Benny had soaked up like a sponge.

I swear those two are in a constant state of being fourteen years old

When Maggie finally decides to quit fussing, her eyes finally land on Thea. A hand goes to her heart and her eyes go wide. “Oh my word Lexagon” I glare at her “you’ve finally got yourself a girlfriend”

Thea’s eyes bug out and I sputter for words

“And she’s gorgeous too!” Maggie walks over to her and bends down a little to take Thea’s face in her hands, looking over her uncomfortable face

I run a hand down my face “we’re not dating Maggie, and have you ever heard of personal space?”

She walks over to me and pokes me on the nose, much to my annoyance “shush you. Girlfriend or not, you’re gonna scare her away with that attitude of yours”

To my surprise, Thea steps up and takes my hand, intertwining our fingers. “I’m not going anywhere” she smiles at Maggie “it’s nice to meet you, I'm Thea”

Maggie winks at me “pretty girl and pretty name”

“Maggie” I say warningly but she waves me off

“Thea Rivera” Maggie whispers. She claps her hands “I ship it”

“Do you even know what ‘shipping’ is?” I ask exasperated

She ignores me as Thea speaks up timidly, most likely a bit freaked out by Maggie. Why did I think this was a good idea? “My last name is Gray, not Rivera”

Maggie smiles slyly at us “Oh I know miss Thea, Rivera is Lexagons last name”

Both Theas and I’s faces go red. “We’re going to leave now” I start pulling Thea away from Maggie as she calls out “I’m loving the love guys! You better me visit me soon lexagon!”

I close the door quickly and take long strides down the hall to the back arcade.

Both of us are quiet, still processing the hurricane that is Maggie until Thea breaks out into a fit of giggles. “I like her”

I look at her incredulously. Maggie just invaded her personal space and insinuated we get married and Thea likes her? How did someone like her turn up in my life?

When we enter the back part of the pizzeria and into the arcade, the lights from all the games reflect in Thea's eyes as she looks over everything with childish curiosity. She turns to me looking a little glum and I immediately panic. Did she not like it? Did Maggie scare her more than she let on? Does she not want to be here? With me?

“I didn’t bring any money” she murmurs and I feel a little silly for freaking out.

I squeeze her hand and give her a chastising look. “You don’t need money. I’ve got it all figured out”

She narrows her eyes at me “don’t make me fight you on who’s going to pay”

I shake my head and place a hand on my heart “I would never. Perks of being close to the owner-” I walk over and behind the counter which holds the food and extra prizes and take a screwdriver from a pencil holder on the desk “-you get access to this

She tilts her head curiously “a screwdriver?”

I smirk at her “yeah” I walk over to the nearest ‘plinko’ game and start unscrewing the panel to the coin slot.

“Are we breaking into this machine?” Thea hisses at me

I don’t even look back at her as I take off the last screw and the panel comes off revealing the inside of the machine and all the coins that were inserted before “and stealing” I comment Offhandedly. Thea looks around worriedly as if we’re going to get yelled at and arrested “Alex! You can’t do that”

I chuckle at her distress and place a hand on her head “don’t worry, I’m allowed to do this”

I take out the bucket of coins and place it next to Thea and close the machine again

I stand and breathe out sharply. I gesture to the bucket full of coins “well, let's go”

She goes to pick it up but doesn’t make it very far. Her arm shakes a little and she places it down again. She pauses before reaching in and taking out a handful, putting it in her pocket. “Alright. I’m ready”

I laugh lowly and pick up the bucket to bring to the counter. Thea follows me as I put the bucket behind the counter and she leads me into the maze of games. “What do you want to play first?” she asks

I raise an eyebrow at her, questioning if she really wants to play what I want, but she nods and I mentally shrug. Alright.

When I take her toward the back of the room, her eyes zone in on my favorite first-person zombie shooting game. She looks nervous but also excited. I am so grateful that she takes everything in stride.

I pick up the blue plastic gun and put two coins into the slot. When I look over at her, I notice she’s inspecting the black plastic gun before holding it completely incorrectly. I smile lightly and put my gun down.

I walk next to her and gently take the gun from her hands and adjust her hold. “Here” I point to the part she holds with her left hand and adjust her hands. As I lightly brush my hands over hers, the tips of my fingers feel like lightning against hers. I move them so they’re in the correct position and I show her the best stance to be in.

“You know, you must feel so sure of yourself seeing how much help you’re giving me” she raises an eyebrow at me and all I do is smirk at her.

I do feel pretty confident, but she doesn’t need to know that.

In the first round she shrieks and giggles as she shoots aimlessly and while I win the first round by a mile, she holds her stomach laughing “oh god, I’m so bad at this game. How do you even play?”

On our third round, I once again am helping Thea on how to hold the gun.

When she gets it she looks at me and gives me a challenging look. “You’re going down this round”

I give her an amused look “yeah? Just like the other two?”

She scowls at me and I can’t help the sputter of laughter that leaves my lips.

When the game starts she is automatically shooting anything that moves. Even a single glitch on the screen and she shoots.

“You’re going to run out of ammo” I say to her as I blast the head off an oncoming zombie

she shushes me “I'm fine”

I glance at her screen as a zombie pops up and runs towards her. She shoots but pauses when nothing happens, she presses the trigger again and again, and when she finally realizes her mistake she grunts and puts the gun back on the handle as the zombie starts ‘eating’ her.

When my screen lights up deeming me the winner, I turn back to her who is pouting “you ran out of ammo”

“Shut up. It’s my turn to pick a game now”

I nod. Fair is fair. So I follow her through the mass of video games towards a game I know is a dancing game.

I shake my head. “No. no way”

Despite my protests, Thea takes my hand, which to my pleasure seems to be a common thing today, and pulls me onto the platform of some dancing game. “If I’ll play your dumb zombie game, you will dance with me”

I glare at the colorful tiles and bright screen as the annoying pop music starts playing. Thea is all for it, hitting the squares like a pro. I, however, am not a fucking dancer. The arrows move by too fast and the lights distract me so each time I try to hit the stupid spots on the ground, they say it's wrong, or bad, or incorrect or some other variation of stupid.

The song ends and Thea looks at me looking happy and energized and as much as I hate the game, I love that she’s happy. So if I have to look like an absolute idiot for the duration of some cheesy pop song for her to be happy, I guess I would do it again.

“Again!” she cheers and I groan. Be careful with your goddamn words Alex.


“It’s funny just how good arcade pizza can be” Thea groans as she eats her third piece. I had ordered pizza while she was running around playing all the games, much to my amusement. When one of the servers, Jonah, came out saying our pizza was ready, Thea had lit up and basically ran to the front where she slid into a booth as the pizza was placed down.

I nod in agreement as I continue my fourth piece.

We were playing video games for so long we had to go back to the counter and get more coins, much to George’s, the guy stationed there, dismay.

Jonah comes back to give us another round of water. Every time he comes back he looks at me intensely and I honestly can’t remember if I ended up pissing him off at some point during the time I worked here.

Thea puts yet another crust of hers onto her plate and I reach over to take it, just like the other two. She leans back and sighs “so, who’s Charlie?”

I pause chewing to look at her in question.

“The place is called Charlies” she clarifies and I nod in understanding

When I finish swallowing I wave a hand gesturing to the place generally “he was Maggie’s uncle and when he passed away she created this place in honor of him”

Thea has a melancholy look “that’s very sweet of her”

I nod but don’t say anything.

After a moment Thea leans forward, looking into my eyes “why did you bring me here?”

I bite my lip. I don’t know how to put this without raising too many questions. Questions are bad, they lead to answers and that would scare everyone away. I can’t lose the people I have. They’re the ones keeping me above water. I don’t want to drown but if they were to know, they would leave, and then I would be gone to the waves.

“My mom used to bring me here when I was younger” I say hoping it sounds solid enough for an answer

Thea just smiles sweetly “that's really sweet”

Jonah comes back and once again, looks at me intensely before looking away “is that all for you guys today?”

We both nod and Jonah begins collecting the plates. I pay for the meal, ignoring Thea’s protest and decision to pay next time and take her hand to lead her back outside.

“Thank you for today Alex, you didn’t need to do this and you did anyway. I had a great time” she squeezes my hand and smiles at me.

I place my other hand on her head and sigh softly “I enjoyed today too. I’m glad I got to spend it with you”

Suddenly a loud guitar tune starts playing making Thea and I make confused faces. She recovers first and her confused face turns sheepish as she pulls her phone out to reveal a timer going off.

She turns it off “sorry about that, I have to get going though, I’m going to see Reece’s baseball game later”

I sigh, wishing this day could go on forever. But she’s an angel, and I have to return to hell at some point.

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