You're Not Alone, Charlie Brown
(The Illustrious Crackpot)
Twelve noon, on the dot. A bell screamed loudly in proclamation of the lunch hour, and children of all sizes shouted with joy and scrambled out of the classroom.
All but one. This boy, head practically sphere-shaped and with impossibly light hair, groaned and staggered out of his chair, dragging his feet as slowly as he could as he walked out the door, clutching a small brown lunch bag. This was how he walked the entire way—head down, arms at his sides—as he went out to the playground and sat with a sigh on his accustomed bench.
"Well, Charlie Brown," the boy exhaled as he extracted a peanut butter sandwich from the depths of the bag, "today's the day. You've got to talk to that little red-haired girl."
Even as he said it, though, Charlie Brown knew with a sinking feeling that he'd never do it. He'd been telling himself the same story for who knew how long—one day he'd just stand up, cross the playground and strike up a conversation with that pretty little girl. And every day lunch had ended without him so much as putting a foot in her direction.
He was too blah to be confident about anything.
Charlie Brown emitted another sigh and bent over to start into the sandwich. As he did so, however, something very large and very red came hurtling in his direction, slamming into his forehead only a second after he saw it. The boy was immediately knocked backwards off the bench, lunch spinning off to the sidelines as he landed in the rough sand surrounding the old wooden bench.
"Sorry!" called a mocking voice, and a young boy with severely dark hair stampeded over to Charlie and picked up the kickball lying beside his skull. The other boy twirled the ball on the end of his finger, sneering contemptuously down at Charlie Brown. "Gee, why don't you look in front of you for once?"
Charlie made a sort of muffled noise, still spread-eagled on the ground. The boy laughed raucously and bounded away, returning to the game.
After a few more moments, Charlie Brown deemed it safe enough to get up and pushed himself to his feet, wincing slightly as he rubbed the spot where the kickball had hit him. Brushing off his bright yellow T-shirt, he looked around to make sure that no more dangerous objects were heading towards him.
Over there, by the swings. The little red-headed girl was looking at him! She was actually—
She was giggling, covering her mouth with one hand and pointing at him with the other.
Trying to ignore the small tinkling sound of his breaking heart, Charlie returned his gaze to the ground and hunted for the remainders of his lunch. He found his sandwich fully submerged in the sand, particles of grit clinging tightly to the sticky peanut butter. About a foot away lay his thermos, the top of which had popped off and now was leaking cold white milk into the ground. Inside the crumpled and abused bag, though, his cookies had survived—
But his mother had accidentally taken them from the batch she'd burned.
Realizing the futility of it all, Charlie Brown merely threw out his lunch and sat on the bench, face on his palms.
Unbeknownst to the boy, however, another figure sat some distance behind him, gritting teeth and furrowing a brow...
Charlie Brown was the first one back in the classroom, having spent the rest of the half hour merely staring at the ground. The clamor of rambunctious children was like an unbearable noise to the boy, the happiness of others again only reminding him of his own private misery. He tapped his pencil slowly against the top of his desk, if only for something to do, and continued the action even after his classmates had settled down and the teacher had begun droning unintelligibly about the American Revolution.
With a start, Charlie Brown realized that the lead had broken on his last tap, and hastily opened his desk to pull out another pencil. Unfortunately, the only things inside his desk were his rock collection, a half-chewed eraser and the past month's supply of corrected homework. Even after rummaging about the debris for several minutes, the most Charlie could come up with was an unidentifiable stub with a rusted metal band on one end and a scrap of empty, rotten wood on the other.
Quietly scooting his chair back a little, Charlie Brown stood up and began to walk down the aisle to the hand-sharpener, holding his pencil in front of him like a beacon. Evidently someone had happened to be stretching their legs at the same time, because no sooner had he gone back three desks than he tripped and sprawled face-down on the deep blue carpet. The pencil began rolling slowly away, and he hastily scrambled after it, snatching it and rising shakily from the floor. Just as he was about to continue the trek to the pencil sharpener, though, he was halted by a sharp word from the teacher and whirled around.
"Di—disrupting the class, ma'am?" he stammered, pulse racing in anxiety. "N-no, ma'am, I was just going to sharpen my pencil and I—"
Another command cut him off, and Charlie Brown returned slowly and shamefully to his seat, face burning in humiliation. Snickers were already erupting around the classroom, reverberating at that magic pitch that adults can never hear but that sounds loudly and clearly to children.
As soon as the laughter died down and the lesson resumed, Charlie lifted a hand and rubbed the back of it across his eye, hastily returning it to his lap as if the action was an unspeakable crime. He didn't leave his seat again even once until the final bell heralded the end of school.
Waiting politely at the door for Charlie Brown as he shuffled sadly out of the building was a small boy, a year or two younger than Charlie and with wiry black hair, clutching a pastel-blue blanket and serenely sucking his thumb at the same time. Beside him was a girl who obviously didn't want to be there, arms crossed over the front of her cobalt dress and poofy dark hair practically flaring with indignation. Her face, though not her expression, was so similar to the boy's that anyone could tell that they were brother and sister.
"Took you long enough, you blockhead!" the girl snapped at Charlie Brown as he and the other boy fell into step beside her, trotting homeward. "What do you do when the bell rings?"
Charlie's eyes were focused on the curb and his polished brown shoes traveling down it. "It took me a little longer today, Lucy."
The younger boy popped his thumb out of his mouth and gave Lucy a reproving glare before turning back to Charlie Brown. "I heard about what happened at lunch, Charlie Brown," he stated quietly, voice wavering a little. "If I'd been there, I'd've let 'em have it with my blanket!" To prove his point, he cracked the sheet in the air like a whip before returning it to his cheek.
"Thanks, Linus," Charlie Brown mumbled, and the group lapsed into an awkward silence as one facet of the ordeal was pointedly ignored.
Linus had been there. He'd been jumping rope with Violet and Frieda and hadn't noticed a thing.
The quiet was broken by an irritated snort from Lucy, who was looking fixedly into the distance. "You need to toughen up, Charlie Brown. You're too wishy-washy."
Lucy's head whipped about to face Charlie's, and her eyes were blazing with anger. "What kind of stupid answer is THAT?!" she barked, drawing up her fists. Both boys instinctively drew back from her, but she merely punched one hand into the palm of the other as her voice raised in volume. "You're a wimp, Charlie Brown! You've gotta shape up or you're gonna get nowhere!!"
Charlie Brown's head lowered again, and he became incredibly interested in his shoelaces. "Nowhere," he whispered, so softly that neither of his companions could be entirely sure that he'd said anything. Charlie turned his face up towards them and exhaled massively, a defeated look in his eyes as his gaze returned to his feet. "Maybe you should've told me that a long time ago, Lucy. It seems a lot like where I am now."
All three of them halted on instinct, as they'd reached the intersection where Linus and Lucy's street separated from Charlie Brown's. Charlie took a few wavering steps towards his house, paused, then resumed with his shoulders slumped almost to his waist.
"Nobody likes good ol' Charlie Brown..."
He was out of sight before the siblings thought to move, and Lucy noticed with a start that Linus was fixing her with the angriest look she'd ever seen on his face. "WHAT?!" she demanded loudly, glaring back at him. Linus just shook his head and stuck his thumb back in his mouth, shuffling vehemently down the road to his house.
Lucy remained at the intersection a moment longer, head whipping about between the street signs. For a moment she slowly began down one road, but with a loud and frustrated "AAAAAAAAAUUGH!" she turned sharply on her heel and stomped in the opposite direction.
Softly kicking the dirt before him, Charlie Brown slouched dejectedly up the driveway leading to his house. His head was still down, so it was a surprise to him when he noticed the black-and-white beagle sitting on his doorstep, grinning widely. Upon spotting him, Charlie's face immediately melted into a relieved grin of his own, and he spread his arms. "Snoopy...it's so good to—"
Reaching behind his back, Snoopy pulled out a red food dish and placed it on the ground in front of him, looking pointedly from it to Charlie Brown. The boy's face fell like a house of cards.
Charlie Brown bent over slowly and picked up the bowl, entering the house with the expectant dog at his heels. Putting the dish down on the kitchen table, Charlie pulled out a chair and balanced cautiously on it, hands groping towards the sack of dog food perched on the top of the cabinet. Once that was hauled down without too much trouble, he fumbled with the top until he managed to find the spot to tear at, ripping the bag open with a massive effort. Soft, mushy dog food tumbled over the sagging edge of the bag, and Charlie Brown had to quickly tip the sack towards the bowl before it spilled onto the floor. Then, once the sack was returned to its accustomed spot and Charlie was back at his accustomed altitude, the boy slumped into the chair and leaned tiredly against it.
"Do you like me, Snoopy?" he asked suddenly, voice slightly cracked. He didn't expect an answer, but continued nonetheless. "I mean...actually like me. I know that you like being taken care of, but do you...I mean, possibly..."
He twisted around in his seat to look at the dog, but the spot by the table was empty. Both Snoopy and his dinner bowl were gone.
Charlie Brown was still staring dejectedly at that same spot when his younger sister trotted into the room, bright blonde hair bouncing on top of her head. Her face darkened when she spotted Charlie, and she halted, both fists clenched at her sides.
"BIG BROTHER!" Sally shouted at the top of her lungs, snapping her selfsame sibling to attention. Charlie Brown jumped in his seat, whirling around to face his little sister just as she pulled a red, heart-shaped card out from behind her back. "YOU NEVER GAVE THIS TO MY SWEET BABBOO ON VALENTINE'S DAY! YOU SAID YOU WOULD!!"
"Linus isn't your 'sweet babboo'," replied Charlie tiredly, as though he'd repeated this same argument many times before. "I tried to give it to him, but he kept telling me he didn't want it. And besides, Valentine's Day was a long time ago."
One could practically see the steam rising from Sally's collar as she stomped petulantly. "BUT YOU SAID YOU'D GIVE IT TO HIM! THIS CARD HELD ALL MY FEELINGS FOR MY SWEET BABBOO, AND YOU JUST HID IT UNDER YOUR BED! NOW HE'LL NEVER KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE HIM!!"
Charlie rubbed his forehead, cringing slightly at his baby sister's wrath. "Linus knows how much you love him! You tell him every day!"
Sally's breathing became ragged, and her round face grew flushed with childlike anger. Then, taking in a huge breath of air, she screamed at the top of her lungs.
"I HATE YOU, BIG BROTHER!!"
Having declared this, Sally turned on her heel and stormed loudly into her room, slamming the door shut several times just to make sure Charlie heard it.
He certainly heard it, and more than just the sonic boom was bringing a small pain to the center of his chest. Charlie Brown buried his head in his arms, slumping over the table and shaking silently.
Nobody likes good ol' Charlie Brown...
He wasn't sure how long he'd sat there, but the next thing he knew the doorbell rang. Charlie sprang up out of his seat, hurriedly scrubbing his face with a towel before rushing over to the door. As he pulled it open, though, there was nobody outside. After it hit him, this realization was met with a slow, sad sigh, and he started to shut the door before he noticed it.
There was something on the doorstep.
Stooping over in the dimming light, Charlie Brown picked up a small package and, straightening, looked at it more closely. It was a small box of chocolates, and seemed quite new. Surprised beyond comprehension, he cautiously turned it over to see if there was a tag stating who it was from. A small piece of looseleaf had been taped to the bottom, with a message hastily scrawled in ballpoint pen. It had become too dark for him to read it, so the boy mechanically reached up behind him and turned on the porch light, bringing the writing into stark visibility.
To that good ol' Charlie Brown
From an admirer :)
Charlie Brown blinked, then his hands began to tremble as he lifted the lid and removed a small round chocolate, placing it in his mouth with as much hesitancy as if he thought that the confectioneries were just an illusion. But as his teeth broke through the top to the creamy center, he was sure of not only that but an even greater truth.
These were the best chocolates he had ever tasted.
Hurriedly closing the door, Charlie Brown sprinted through the house and into his room, falling backwards onto his bed with the box clutched tightly to his chest. He squeezed it even more firmly, making sure that, even now, the box didn't slip away into some dreamland.
It didn't matter who had given them to him. It only mattered that, somewhere out there, there was somebody who liked Charlie Brown.
Lucy strode triumphantly down the hallway of her own house, dusting her palms off as she made her way towards her room. Just as her hand was on the knob, Linus appeared in the hallway.
"Lucy, have you seen that box of chocolates Grandma gave me last week?" he asked worriedly, rubbing his head in confusion. "I thought I put it on my bedside table, but it's not there..."
At this Lucy turned a bright pink, but her face quickly returned to its usual scowl. "If you ask me again I'll knock your block off," she retorted sharply, tearing open her bedroom door and tromping inside.
Linus blinked, cocked his head to the side and finally shrugged, sticking his thumb back in his mouth and walking away.