Larry's Obsession; Charlotte's Loss
All standard disclaimers apply.
Never before in his life had he felt anything remotely like this.
"The real world has girls." That was what his cousin Kim's best friend/boyfriend had said after the "party" she had supposedly thrown him for his birthday. And for the first time in in life Larry decided that this was an interesting theory. Girls had never really been a part of his world. They did not frequent the conventions, games, and comic book shops where so much of his life was lived.
Well, one did. And that was the source of all his current turmoil.
Up until now Charlotte had been nothing more than an obnoxious rival. But when his little circle of friends had gone to see that movie she had sat by him and he attempted to put his arm around her shoulders—just to see what all the fuss was about. She had rebuffed him, of course. And that's when it started.
Suddenly Charlotte was no longer just another member of his circle, or even his arch rival as claimant to knowledge of all things comic, RPG, and space opera. Now, suddenly, she seemed something utterly superhuman. She had become a Presence, a Force that fascinated and terrified him, who possessed him utterly, leaving no time or interest left over for his usual hobbies. His appetite left him. Sleep deserted him. And it was only with the greatest effort that he could engage in his usual pastimes.
His mother was certain that he was "coming down with something." Certainly she could be forgiven for drawing this conclusion when she was finding his bed sheets drenched in sweat each morning. Maybe he had a fever?
Larry had to see Charlotte. He'd die if he didn't. On the other hand, he'd die if he did. Arg!
Larry was now sure of only one thing. Whether or not he saw Charlotte he was doomed. Doomed, doomed, doomed.
It wasn't fair! She wasn't obsessing about him! She wasn't losing any sleep, or unable to eat, or ruining her bed with perspiration every night! And he was darn sure she wasn't afraid of him!
Afraid? Yes, that's what he was. Afraid. Terrified. Trembling. Completely at the mercy of this supernatural being, this irresistible siren, this bespectacled succubus who was now in total control of him (probably without even knowing it). He was terrified of her gorgeous red hair . . . her luscious baby fat . . . her beckoning freckles . . . her seductive buck teeth.
He was utterly miserable.
The next trip to the comic book store after falling under the sorceress' enchantment proved to be one of the most difficult tasks he had undertaken in all his nineteen years. He had much rather stay at home, but to do so would not only heighten his mother's anxiety but let his "posse" know that something was not well with him. That couldn't be allowed. So even though he was terror-stricken at the thought of once again laying eyes on the Enchantress, he had to go. Everything must be made to appear normal. He couldn't have his friends suspecting there was the tiniest thing wrong with him. Maybe if he pretended long enough, his problem would go away! But he knew better.
He found himself staring at the familiar door handle that led to his home-away-from-home, the one place he had heretofore always felt he belonged, had always been in control, had never been afraid. How strange, how ironic, how wrong that he was now afraid to enter this place of refuge! The fantasy magic of RPG's was nothing when compared to the real thing, the spell cast by (his heart fluttered at the thought her her name) Charlotte!!! (Sigh!) Oh well. He'd always known the "real world" was a dangerous place. But now his world was as well.
It just wasn't fair!
And screwing up all his courage and concentrating on hiding his turmoil behind a mask of his usual self, he entered the little store.
She wasn't there! What a total waste of time this was!
He returned the greetings of his fellows without much heart. He wasn't interested in them! He wanted Charlotte! But she wasn't here . . . but Charlotte was always here! Why wasn't she here now?
She was doing this on purpose! It was all part of her sinister plan to make him miserable!
He would have liked to ask the others about her, but no . . . better not! Can't let them know anything's up. Keep smiling, you poor unfortunate wretch! Oops, Ned just said something to you and you were spacing out. Better say something. Ned, you infuriating creature, I've got no time for you today! No . . . better not say that. It would help if you actually knew what it was he said to you. Better ask . . . no, better not. That will let him know something's wrong with you. Can't let that happen! My life is ruined already; no need making it any worse by stripping away my status here, the one bit of dignity I have in my life!
So that's what you're up to! Charlotte you are so EVIL!!!
He didn't accept the invitations to join the RPG today. He didn't take up the offers to discuss the latest twists and turns in the comic book universes his heroes lived in. No, not today. He managed to say a few words to everyone on the room and then got out as fast as he could.
Way to go, Lar'! Real smooth!
She wasn't there the next day either, or the next. She wasn't at the robot rumble that week. She wasn't even at the Renaissance Faire, which just happened to be that weekend and where he was sure he'd find her (terrified by the prospect of seeing her as he was).
The annoying girl he had never been able to get away from had suddenly dropped off the face of the earth.
- - - - -
He couldn't keep this up much longer. He was going out of his head. This didn't make any sense at all; he'd lived nineteen years without experiencing any such turmoil and now all of a sudden his entire universe revolved around this combative, stubborn, annoying girl he'd known all his life. Oh, he'd been careful to maintain the appearance of absolute normalcy around everyone else, but he simply couldn't do this much longer. Plus his mother was getting really suspicious. And that's why after exactly one week of Charlotte being conspicuously absent he decided to knuckle down and perform the most terrifying task he'd ever faced: he would go to her house and see what was going on.
So here he was, one week to the day after all his trouble started (though it seemed to him now as if he could not imagine life without this newfound awe of his acquaintance), walking down the sidewalk to her home. He had never been here before, but he knew where it was. And as he walked his terror increased with each step. It actually got to the point that he toyed with the idea of calling the whole thing off, even though to do so would mean going back to the torture of non-resolution he was sure just ten minutes ago that he'd had quite enough of. Funny how one's perspective can change. His feet were like lead and he was actually trembling again. He recalled something he'd read once a long time ago in one of the few "real books" he'd ever read. It was a medieval fantasy in which a poor peasant, after a hard day of chopping wood, hurried home through the woods and fields under a full moon, until he came quite suddenly upon a gathering of the Good People, dancing in a circle. The peasant, Larry recalled, quickly hid behind a hedge to watch the sight, "his heart beating at once in joy and fear." It was amazing how accurately that described the very conflict of emotions he was experiencing at that moment. Perhaps those mysterious creatures called girls are the Good People, he pondered.
That would explain a great deal.
At last he found himself on the sidewalk directly in front of her front door. He had braved many spells to enter the fortresses of evil wizards in his fantasy life, but Charlotte must have woven many magicks indeed to have him feeling the way he was now. In fact, one and only one thing was keeping him from turning around and running as fast as he could go. And that was the sure knowledge that when he rang the doorbell it would not be Charlotte who came to the door. No, her mother would answer. Then he'd say "Hello. I haven't seen Charlotte in a while. How is she?" And then she'd tell him something. Then he would turn around and run away as fast as he could. But no need to do that right now.
And this is what steeled him as he pressed the button.
There. That was easy. Nothing to worry about. Just greet the mother, ask about Charlotte, and get the blazes away from here and then dive into bed, cover up with about ten blankets, and stay there for the rest of your life.
Piece of cake!
"What do you want???"
Larry was certain he could hear a phonograph needle being clumsily taken up from a vinyl record.
He could not keep himself from suddenly looking up at the speaker, though it be death to gaze upon the Faerie Queene.
He was still alive.
Charlotte was looking very different from the icon that had formed in his imagination. She didn't look very powerful or enchanting right now. In fact she looked pitiable. Her eyes were red and swollen, her voice was impeded by a stopped up nose, her hair was disheveled, and she looked like she had been . . . crying?
All at once the turbulent emotions Larry had felt for the past week, which had seemed to practically erase all memory of the carefree life he had enjoyed prior to that time, disappeared. The pounding of his heart, the shallow breathing . . . even the "fire in the loins" took a sudden unexpected vacation. And after a week Charlotte the Terrible Goddess was replaced by Charlotte the annoying and ultra-non-tempting pest he had known all his life.
"I said what do you want, Larry! You've come to make my life even more miserable, I suppose? That's your favorite hobby, isn't it?"
"Um . . . uh . . . I mean . . . that is to say . . . "
"Oh great! Just leave me alone, Larry, okay? I don't feel like it. Leave me alone . . . " and her voice broke as she began weeping. She started to shut the door but Larry was not intimidated now, plus he was curious about what this was all about and maybe a little . . . concerned?
"Wait, Charlotte! I didn't come to bother you. I just wanted to see where you've been keeping yourself the past week. I've been . . . worried." He dropped his voice a little with the last word, surprised at the swiftness and sincerity with which it flew from his lips.
"Worried? Worried?? Hmph! Since when?"
"Charlotte! Come on!" Larry was beginning to experience the usual annoyance he felt whenever he was around her. "I haven't seen you for a week! No one's seen you! It's like you'd disappeared! I wanted to find out why!"
She said something in response but he couldn't make it out.
"Um . . . what was that, again?"
"I said I just lost my best friend, that's what!"
The vehemence of her words took him completely by surprise, and surprise became a severe case of nerves when she turned away from him and began weeping quite openly.
"Um . . . Charlotte . . . " he began, but he was completely out of his field here. His life had been in the main lived not only in isolation from girls but from Real World emotional turmoil as well. What was he supposed to do? He was less than useless here, but then again, he felt he had to do something. He couldn't just leave her like that . . . could he?
So, noble fellow that he was, he said something. Alas, inexperienced fellow that he was, he said the absolutely wrong thing.
"I didn't know you had any friends, Charlotte."
If Charlotte truly possessed magic powers, the glare of hatred she directed at him would have not only killed him but disintegrated his soul as well.
"I DON'T have any friends now! THERE! NOW are you HAPPY???"
Her words wounded him deeply. He was surprised at how much they hurt him.
"Charlotte . . . I'm sorry. I'm not happy that you've lost a friend. And I didn't mean what I said to come out like it did. You have friends, Charlotte . . . I'm one of them."
For a while she just glared at him, sniffling. Then the hardness left her features and she looked incredibly sad. "You could have fooled me," she said.
Larry developed a sudden interest in his shoes.
"Oh well," Charlotte said after a while, "it's not like any of us has real friends. That's why we hang out with each other. At least we get to pretend we're not so incredibly alone."
Larry had never thought of it like that before. Now he was really depressed.
"That's why people like us should be friends with each other'" he said at last, "no one else understands us, so maybe we should try to understand . . . one another?"
A look of surprise passed over her sad features. "And where did this sudden wisdom come from? You've certainly never acted like that before . . . not toward me, at least."
Larry had to admit to himself that he had never been particularly nice to Charlotte. Of course, he never suspected that she was interested. And certainly he had never thought of her as being this vulnerable.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry, Charlotte," he said. "It's just that . . . you're so confident and independent, and you're always so sure of your opinions. I never thought you really cared that much about what I thought about anything."
"Well . . . your opinions are so obviously wrong." Her tone did not match the anger and confidence of her words.
They were both silent for a moment, Larry still standing before the front door and Charlotte still standing in it, the door ajar. They looked down for a while and then Larry asked a question he hoped he had phrased with sufficient sensitivity.
"So, who did you lose, Charlotte? Anybody I know?"
The sadness returned to her voice. "No, nobody you knew. Nobody anybody knew. I'm the only one who knew him. Well, and my folks."
Silence descended once again, Charlotte feeling uncomfortable about what she felt compelled to say.
"He . . . he was just a cat, Larry. That's all. Just a little kitty . . . cat . . . " The sniffles began again.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! You lost a pet! I know exactly how that feels. You should have called me or . . . "
"No you do not know how it feels!" she suddenly snarled, with fury in her voice. "He wasn't just a pet! He was my . . . my friend . . . my . . . only friend." Then the dam burst and the tears came full force.
Larry was totally out of his element here. What do you do with an emotional female? Especially one who is crying? Especially when . . . you now kind of realize how much she is hurting and how ignorant and unfeeling you have sounded?
He stepped up onto the doorstep. Very slowly, very carefully, he put his arm around her and coaxed her crying eyes onto her shoulder. At first she sounded furious, telling him not to touch her . . . but naïve and inexperienced though he was not only with girls but with human relations in general, he knew that he had to touch her. The thing she needed most was physical human contact . . . human flesh on human flesh, as one of his science fiction heroes (not "sci-fi;" that denigrates the genre!) once expressed it.
She pushed him away. She took off her glasses. Then she grabbed him for all she was worth and "like summer tempests came her tears" on his shoulder.
They stood there. He didn't ask to go in, and she didn't invite him. They simply stood there, the stoic girl who didn't know how to express her grief and the boy who didn't know how to comfort her. Larry didn't know, couldn't know how long they stood there, her crying slowly and gradually subsiding into dry heaves and decreasing in intensity and frequency. They just stood there.
And for a great while neither one could bring him/herself to say a word or suggest any further movement or action.
Finally a small muffled voice arose to his ear from his shoulder. "Would . . . would you . . . like to . . . ::sniff!:: . . . to see him?"
Now suddenly this was more uncomfortable (not to mention morbid) than ever. Had she stuffed this pet of hers? Was she keeping his body as some sort of shrine?
She suddenly put her glasses back on, disengaged from him, took his hand, and began to lead him, not into the house, but around it. And there under a young maple tree he could see freshly turned earth. She didn't stop leading him until they stood directly over the little grave.
"I . . . I buried him myself," she said slowly and obviously with great difficulty. "I didn't want my dad or anyone else to do it for me. He was my friend . . . my only friend . . . and I was his."
Suddenly the only constricting throat and burning eyes didn't belong only to Charlotte. Larry found himself having to fight back tears in grief at the loss of an animal that until a short time ago he had never known had existed.
"Do you know how long I had him?" she asked. "You think I had him maybe six years? Ten years? I'll tell you. I had him for fourteen years. I was five years old. I was in kindergarten. I can barely remember life without him. He was always there. When I was happy . . . when I was sad . . . when I was lonely . . . always. He would always run to me, jump into my lap, and . . . and smile at me!"
Larry's own tears were threatening to come. He had to say something to try to comfort the both of them.
"You . . . you said you had him for fourteen years," he said. "That's a good, long time. He had a nice, full life. So many pets die so much younger than he did. Try to think about it that way."
"That . . . that doesn't make it any easier!" she declared, no anger in her voice this time, but only grief—grief that the friend she had known practically all her life was no longer there. There was no way to ease this. Even Larry, inexperienced as he was about life in the real world, knew that this grief would simply have to be borne and lived through, however long it might take.
"You have no idea what I'm going through right now," she said finally. There was no anger or bitterness in her words. She was merely stating a fact. "Larry," (and he noted this was the first time she had used his name), "why do animals have to die? They never do anything to hurt us. They treat us so kindly and other people are so mean . . . Why?"
"My dad died," Larry said at last.
"Huh . . . what?" Charlotte asked, stunned by this sudden announcement.
"My dad is dead," he repeated, a bit clumsily, unsure as to whether bringing this up was a good idea.
"Oh, I'm so sorry! When did this happen?"
"About the time I started school. I was around six or so. I don't remember him very much. I . . . sort of remember attending the funeral. I don't remember being very shook up about it."
"That's understandable," she said, "you were too young."
"I don't remember life with him, any more than you can remember life without your kitty. Charlotte, I don't know why these things happen. I don't know why animals die, or why some people lose their parents so much sooner than others. I don't know why people like you and I are different from everybody else, and why everyone's so mean to us because of it. I don't understand anything," he admitted, a defeated look on his face.
"Neither do I," she said, looking back at the grave of her beloved friend.
"I don't know how to keep stuff like this from happening, and I certainly don't know how to make other people stop treating us like they do. But maybe . . . maybe if we were a little nicer to each other . . . things would be a little easier???"
The feeling of surprise temporarily pushed all other emotions to the side.
"Larry, what are you saying? That you want to be my friend? A real friend, like I don't have anymore now that I've lost my only one?"
"Yes, Charlotte. Yes I am. No one should be friendless. No one. Will you forgive the way I've treated you all this time and . . . and let me be your friend?"
"Larry . . . will you be my friend? Please???" She sounded so sincere, and so utterly alone.
"I'll try. I don't really think I'm very good at this kind of thing yet, but I'll try. I promise."
For the first time since meeting her at the front door he saw her smile.
"Of course you realize we'll probably still have plenty of arguments about comics and stuff?" she said, wiping her sleeve across her eyes.
"That doesn't matter. We're friends. That's much more important than agreeing which comics universe is a rip of of which other one."
"Yes. Yes it is," she said.
- - - - -
Larry and Charlotte were friends after that. Though Larry found to his great surprise that the all-powerful enchantress of his imagination had vanished, to be replaced by a human being, with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies. At least he wasn't afraid of her now.
Well . . . at least not as much as he had been!
And the next time they went to a science fiction movie (don't call it "sci-fi;" that's demeaning!) he put his arm around her.
She let him.