Stories from the Hart: Chasing Charlie, Part 2

Chasing Charlie by Shannon Hart, author of Until the End of Forever
Part 2 (To read Part 1, click here.)

I watched him wave goodbye to Mr. Dalton, the postman, just as he got one foot out of the door. Mr. Dalton must have said something to make him laugh because all of a sudden his wide, gorgeous smile was painted on his face. I felt my cheeks warm up. God, I missed that smile.

Charlie checked his watch before taking a left turn, heading down the street. I almost nodded when Dan asked if we should follow him, but common sense kicked in. I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of the car and talk to him, what use would following him be? It was a terrible idea. What if it made him even angrier than he already was?

Besides, I didn’t really know what to say to him anyway. I guess I didn’t really think this whole thing through after all. I ran on emotions; I raced back to Los Angeles, and I let myself come all the way down here with a fit-for-a-movie romantic scenario in my head. I actually pictured myself running into his arms, and him, not even allowing me to say I was sorry, holding me tight, not needing any explanations because he just loved me unconditionally. I should slap myself silly for having been that naive.

“What am I going to do?” I asked myself, a lot louder than I had planned. In fact, I didn’t plan on asking that question out loud at all.

“Do you want me to actually answer that?” Dan asked, taking off his chauffer’s hat and turning around.

“I don’t know what to do here, Dan. I mean, I came here thinking I could talk to him and try to win him back. But I don’t know where to begin.”

“Just begin with what everyone expects to hear. Just say you’re sorry.”

“I did say I was sorry! A million times! It’s not enough,” I said, still able to clearly see that hurt look on Charlie’s face the day he found out who I was.

“Maybe there was something wrong with the way you said it. Maybe you didn’t sound like you were sorry about what you did, but rather, sorry that he had to find out.”

I wondered when Dan turned from chauffeur to relationship expert, but the more important question at hand was, was he right?

I had just come back from the gym when I found him sitting in front of my building. I was happy to see him, but judging by the look on his face, I either looked hideous after my workout, or something pretty bad had happened. I went with my gut feeling and went with the latter. I was right.

At first, he couldn’t even say it. He just kept tightening his jaw every time I asked what was wrong. The half an hour we sat there together was pure torture, and when I finally said I was going up to my apartment to take a shower, he grabbed my wrist and said that my father’s lawyer contacted him and asked if our relationship was serious, because if it was, there were some confidentiality and some other nonsense type agreements that Dad (or rather, his stupid lawyer who had me followed for months) wanted him to sign before Charlie could create any “problems” for the family. Then, with hurt, anger and disappointment, he looked at me and asked, “Who the hell are you?”

I felt like a knife just went through my chest and the pain never really went away until I boarded that flight out of Paris. As soon as I stepped foot out of the plane, after two months of suffering, I felt warmth crawl back into my heart. Too bad that warmth turned cold as soon as I saw Charlie earlier at the diner.

“Miss, if you don’t mind me saying this…” Dan started saying, as he gave me a serious look, similar to the one my guidance counselor used to give me in high school. “Get the hell out of the car and go talk to him.”

“Excuse me?” Baffled by the sudden disappearance of Dan’s manners, I raised my voice. He was the most soft-spoken and gentle person I knew yet there he was, kicking me out of my father’s car.

“I’m sorry to be so harsh, Miss. But if you don’t get out of the car, you’re going to regret not taking the chance to make things right. You’ve come this far. He’s already mad at you, you’ve already broken up, what more do you have to lose?”

His directness caught me completely off guard, but everything he said made sense. I knew he was right, but my fear kept me glued to the backseat. I didn’t understand it myself, especially when I was so gung-ho about it before.

“Look, he’s walking back,” Dan said, lifting his brows, prompting me to quickly turn around and see for myself. True enough, Charlie was walking back towards the diner, with both hands stuck in his pocket. “So do you want to get out yourself or do I have to drag you out?”

I took a deep breath and unbuckled my seat belt. I opened the door and stepped out, nearly crashing into Charlie, who looked as pale as if he had just seen a ghost. I didn’t know I had that effect on people.

“Kate,” he said, with his eyes wide in horror. “What are you doing here?”

I could hear my heart beating so loud it was like it was outside my ribcage. With everything I had in me, I forced myself to open my mouth and say, “Can we talk?”

He seemed to need time to think about it, which I didn’t really take as a good sign. If he missed me as much as I missed him, he shouldn’t have needed to think twice, right?

“Charlie, please,” I said, feeling the tears build up in my eyes.

“What is there to talk about?”

“Charlie, come on. Give me a chance to explain… “ I begged.

“I’ve heard your explanation before, Kate. Is it a different one now?” He was still as angry as he was that day on the steps of my building. Two months had gone by, and he still didn’t have it in him to forgive me.

“The last time I tried to explain, you didn’t really want to listen. I know you’re angry. I know you feel betrayed and hurt and I’m sorry. I made a stupid judgment call. I thought the truth would scare you away and I didn’t want to scare you away. All I wanted was to be someone you thought you could be with and you know what,” I said, with tears streaming down my cheeks. “It was so easy for me to lie because I loved being that girl. I loved being the girl you thought I was. All the money, the VIP treatment… I didn’t need any of those things! I just needed you. I still need you.”

By then, I realized we had an audience. Next to us, I caught a glimpse of the dozens of diner customers with their noses against the glass window, trying to catch the drama that was happening. Not that I could blame them; it was pretty intense. I’d be sticking my nose to the window myself if I were them.

Charlie didn’t move. He didn’t look straight at me, but at least he was still standing there. He didn’t walk away like he did that day in front of my building. He stood there, pained and angry.

“I’m sorry I lied about who I am. But I don’t even like who I am. None of it matters if I don’t have you.”

“Kate, you don’t understand. Yes, I am mad that you lied to me. I’m furious because I thought I knew everything about you. But more than that, I don’t see why you felt you needed to lie in the first place. Why? I’m not rich, I don’t have a trust fund in my name, but did you think that meant I would be afraid to be with you because you have all those things?”

Then I was the one who wasn’t moving. I had a feeling he’d ask another question – one that I was most afraid of.

“Or did you think I’d just be with you for the money?”

And there it was – the dreaded question. God, I hated that question.

“I lied because I didn’t want to scare you off. A lot of guys are intimidated by women who seem to have more and I liked you so much the thought of scaring you off was scaring me! Charlie, I never meant to hurt you. I swear I was going to tell you but I just never thought there was an appropriate time.”

“For goodness’ sake, Kate, we dated for a year! You couldn’t find a time to tell me in 52 weeks?”

It was getting harder and harder for me to breathe. My chest was aching and my shoulders kept shaking from all the crying. My eyes were burning and I didn’t want to even imagine how bad my mascara and eyeliner had run.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry, Charlie. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean for it to get to this.” 

I waited for him to respond, but he didn’t. He was still just standing there, not moving, not reacting. He wasn’t doing anything at all.

“I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I love you and more than anything, I want to be with you. But I get that it’s too hard… I mean, I understand that I disappointed you and… At this point, I’ll settle for forgiveness.”

I kept waiting for him to do something. The way he just froze there, I wasn’t even sure I saw him blink at all. But he didn’t. And after holding out for a few more seconds, I knew exactly what that meant. I nodded, understanding exactly what he was trying to tell me. It was over. We were completely and utterly over. There was no chance on earth that he’d forgive me and take me back. And I just had to deal with it. I blew it, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“Well, can’t say I didn’t try, right?” I said, before I took a few steps back. “Goodbye, Charlie.”

I turned around and headed straight for the car door. Dan had already started the engine. I guess he knew I had no hope and figured he’d help me make a fast getaway to save what tiny bit of dignity I had left. I couldn’t deny that I still hoped he’d call out my name and tell me to wait but even after I was fully seated and shut the door, he didn’t move.

“I’m sorry,” Dan said, as he fixed the rear view mirror then stepped slowly on the accelerator.

“It’s okay. I guess I deserve it.” I put my seat belt on and sighed. I didn’t know if I really deserved it, but I guess Charlie thought I did. I guess I hurt him more than I realized.

My cell phone started buzzing from inside my handbag. I was in no mood to talk to anyone, but I decided to check my phone anyway. My eyes all but popped out when I saw Charlie’s name and picture blinking on the screen.

“Charlie?” I said, as soon as I picked up.

“Tell Dan to stop the car,” he said, sounding as if he was running and out of breath.

“Stop the car!” I cried, frantically looking behind me. In reflex, Dan immediately hit the breaks, with screeching tires no less. In about two seconds flat, I had unbuckled myself and charged out of the car, ready for my second chance with Charlie. A dozen different scenarios had already started racing through my head.

Panting, Charlie finally reached the car. He took a few moments to catch his breath and kept wiping the bullet-sized drops of sweat from his forehead. I waited for him to calm down, hopeful and anxious.

“Look, Kate…” he started. He took a few more deep breaths. “I’m not ready to forgive you just yet. But… I want to try. I’ll need more time to trust you again… but we can be friends first if you want.”

It wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for. All those pictures I had in my head about him embracing me and never looking back disappeared into thin air. Instead of an embrace, and in the place of what I imagined would be a kiss, he was basically offering me a handshake instead. But then again, a handshake was better than nothing.

“That would be great,” I answered, not knowing what to expect next. Being his friend wasn’t what I had in mind, but it was definitely a better alternative to being his enemy.

“So… Umm… You want to grab a coffee? I know this really cool diner down the street,” he said, offering me his signature crooked smile – the first smile I had seen in months.

We didn’t exactly know how to just be friends. I imagined a lot of awkward silence and uncomfortable situations, but there was something in his crooked smile that told me even though we had to start from zero again, we were on the way to being just fine. 
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