I'm not gonna talk about school, or why I'm back in this crumby place, or any other goddamn stuff like that. I'm just gonna tell you about this real prince I met here the first go-around.

It was August 23rd, last year. I only remember the date so well because it was the day I was gonna leave here the first time. My brother D.B. was picking me up sometime at night, but I had managed to talk the nurse into letting me pack early. I'm a pretty terrific liar, probably the best you'll ever meet.

Anyway, there's about six or seven benches in the front of this place. I'm not really sure why, actually. Despite the fact most of the bastards here get picked up inside, the few that wait outside on any given day aren't going to use even half of the goddamn things. But they're nice benches, placed neatly along the walk and all. Bit phony, if you really want to know, and depressing as hell.

What I was getting to, though, was sitting on the bench closet to the entrance was this guy smoking a cigarette, with his orange suitcase next to him. He was average looking, but young; too young to be smoking, anyway. You should have seen him, he's too hard to describe right.

I carefully sat down next to him, and asked, "Willing to share?"

The guy jumped slightly; he hadn't noticed me practically sitting on top of him, which killed me. He pulled out the box for me, though, and offered his lighter, but I refused, and used my own. We sat in silence, smoking and looking out towards the road. You should have seen us. Watching smoke billow and cars you don't recognize pass can get mighty depressing after awhile, so I abruptly said, "I'm Holden."

"Charlie," he responded, in this high-ish sorta voice that was just a bit phony sounding. He exhaled, and told me, "I'm headed home today. You?"

"Same," I said. Taking a drag on my cigarette, I continued, "Not a moment too soon, either. Damn, I would've killed to have these in there."

Charlie smiled, and in this way like he wanted me to go on. Well, I'm a sucker for an audience, so I started clowning around, flicking my ashes onto the goddamn steps, and towards those lions guarding the entrance. Just for laughs, I pretended the old phonies wanted to attack us. I heard them growl, "You two belong inside. For breaking that rule, you must pay."

I imagined one of them clawing at my leg, quick as a snake. He gouged me, and I let out a hiss of pain. Old Charlie looked up at this, and seemed surprised to see me clutching my leg.

"Quick, Charlie," I gasped, picturing the blood staining my hand red as it dripped out of me. "We have to keep them at bay."

Boy, did he look confused! I actually felt bad for a moment. Not for him, but because I had promised old D.B. I would stop pretending. But I shook off that feeling quick; he's the one pretending, goddamn Hollywood whore. Hardly anything happens like the movies, and when it does, it's still phony as hell. That kills me.

Anyway, I looked urgently from side to side, to make sure the lions weren't trying to sneak up on us or anything, and I whispered to Charlie, "We can't let them get you like they got me. The smoke, Charlie; it's the only thing that works!"

I desperately started puffing away, imagining the lions howling and backing off. I didn't expect old Charlie to do anything. I'm used to people just sitting back, wide-eyed as they try to make sense of my horsing around. To my surprise, though, after a moment he joined in. He blew the smoke real carefully, making sure he was aiming right at the lions. He killed me.

When we had finished off the lions and our cigarettes in the process, Charlie took out the box again, and gave me another one, without me even asking. That killed me; normally I have to beg to bum anything from the same person twice. Lighting up, I commented, "Life must be pretty goddamn bearable in this crumby place if you have cigarettes."

Which, to me, is true; it's in here that you'd need drugs of any kind the most, if just to pass the time. If I had cigarettes or something, I'd be content sitting in a chair and staring at a goddamn table. Anything could happen: a fire, a robbery, a thunderstorm, you name it! But if I had cigarettes, I wouldn't even notice, I'd just be so happy to look at my goddamn table.

Anyway, though, Charlie sat there for a moment, before speaking. "I'm not sure about the alternative to being here without them, since this is my first time. It might have been more bearable, but I don't really know. And actually, I haven't smoked here."

"Not once?" I asked, not really believing him.

He nodded solemnly. "Not once. I forgot I had them, and they didn't find them when they had searched my bag. I only found them about ten minutes before you showed up, when I was looking for a book."

I smoked quietly for a couple seconds, looking at old Charlie for a clue that he was horsing around. Once I realized he wasn't, though, I started laughing hysterically.

If you really want to know, I tend to find honest people funnier than sarcastic people. It just kills me to know they actually believe what they're saying, or that they aren't trying to make a joke but do anyway. Boy, just put me in a room of honest people! I'd have the goddamn time of my life.

Anyway, old Charlie laughed a bit too, a high pitched laugh. Kinda like his voice, and kinda phony. He really did have a phony sounding voice, and I told him so. To my surprise, though, he didn't get angry; no, old Charlie just laughed again, and replied, "If by phony you mean high, I know. But what can I do about it? Puberty sucks, and you kinda have to just deal with it."

"How old are you?" I asked, curious. By my guess, I'd say he was twelve or so, not much older than my brother. Not D.B. Allie.

"15," he replied.

I laughed, and told him that I thought he was younger. He didn't seem to mind, maybe because I was just telling the truth. He then asked me how old I was.

"It doesn't really matter how old I am," I told old Charlie, "Because people always think I'm older. I can drink, I can go to clubs, hell, I could probably even run for president! And all because of how I look."

He coughed, holding his cigarette away from him. "What is it about how you look that's so special?"

"My height and my hair," I replied. I then stood up, so he could see how tall I was, and pointed out my streak of gray hair.

Charlie exhaled slowly, a long strand of smoke getting caught up in the wind. "Holden," he said solemnly, "Do people really think you look older?"

"Well, yeah," I said, surprised. "At least, sometimes. Occasionally."

And then old Charlie laughed at me! Couldn't stop for about five goddamn minutes! Once he had caught his breath and I had sat down again, he explained that although I was tall, my gray hair made me look younger, not older.

"In fact," he said, looking at me closely, "You look like you're my age. Are you?"

"I'm 17," I replied, he laughed again, and we sat quietly for a couple more minutes. Then, this red pickup truck pulled to a stop in front of this crumby place, and a girl with long brown hair leaned out the window.

"Charlie!" she yelled pleasantly. "Get in the car, Patrick and I want to catch up with you, it's been ages!"

Old Charlie looked at me and smiled happily. "That's my friend Sam," he explained, picking up his orange suitcase. "I got to go. Bye, Holden."

"See you, Charlie," I responded. He must have noticed I was still disappointed or something, because as he walked away to go, he tossed me the half-empty cigarette box.

"For fighting the lions," he explained, waving goodbye.

That killed me.