It's a horrible sensation when you realise that you hate your best friend.
Perhaps hate is too strong, I think what I meant to say was resent, but whatever you might call it, it's a feeling that I wouldn't wish on anybody.
It's hard being a geek in high school, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that even if you aren't one, but it's even worse when your best friend is younger than you. Not only younger than you, but more popular than you. Just generally better than you in every single way possible. It's, to put it bluntly, agonising, and I hated myself for feeling that way because despite it all, Tommy is probably the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet, even if you moved to Canada. I should know, because that's exactly what I did.
I'd like to say that, when I told him I'd be moving to Ontario to go to University, the look of hurt and sadness in his eyes stirred something like remorse in me but what I felt wasn't even close. I supressed a smirk and internally rejoiced at my small triumph, at last I had control, my life was, from that point forward, not Tommy's to dictate and cajole, mine to live. I was breaking free from a relationship that nobody but me recognised as toxic. I was elated.
He hugged me at the airport as I was leaving, he looked miserable and it annoyed me to hell. I was certain that the only reason he would miss me was that I was his fall back, the one who was always there when everybody better had other things to do, what would he do now that I wouldn't be there to control? I awkwardly patted his shoulder and gave a half-smile as I turned my back on him. This was mine. This life was going to be all mine.
I threw myself into college life, studying hard to justify my scholarship while burying the remnants of the old me in beer, pot and girls. For the first time in my life, I became cocky, and I had never been so proud of myself. College seemed to me to be the first place I had experienced where messy hair, thick-rimmed glasses and somewhat questionable dress-sense wasn't a hindrance, but a boon. Girls thought I was cute, sensitive and smart, and I exploited this as far as I could. I was on top of the world and, as far I was concerned, completely untouchable.
There would be the odd phone-call from the guys back home, from Tommy, but I would usually fob them off, saying I needed to study, or I had a date, and it was usually the truth. I loved being able to brush them off. I didn't need them, I didn't need anyone. Letters arrived from home, but unless I recognised the writing as my parents or my sister, I generally ignored them, leaving them to pile up in the drawer of my dresser. I guess you could say I was a prick, but I wouldn't have cared if you had, I was living.
My first year drew to a close and my stomach ached every time I thought of returning home for the summer, so I didn't. I found a job waiting tables and moved into an apartment near the university with a couple of guys from my dorm. We sat up drinking all night, rolled into work hung-over in the mornings and bought ourselves different coloured ties to indicate when our bedroom doors were to remain closed for obvious reasons. When summer ended, I dropped my hours to part-time and we lived in much the same way, but with classes added in. I thought I'd look back on those years as the best in my life.
I passed with a first in the end, my parents were so proud of me, I was so proud of me. This was further proof that I didn't need anybody, I didn't need Tommy, to live my life for me, I was a success on my own.
I busied myself around the flat, making sure it was spotless before my parents arrived for my graduation. I might have been something of a party animal, but I knew when I needed to tone it down, and a visit from the parents was definitely one of those times. I was busy making coffee when I heard the buzzer go, I picked up the handset and pressed the button to unlock the door without speaking, I knew it was my folks anyway. I hung up and continued to argue with the coffee machine until I heard a knock on the door. I brushed the coffee from my hands and threw the door open with a wide smile, and there on the doorstep stood Tommy Pickles.
My facial expression must have changed greatly in a split second, because Tommy's smile failed him and he nervously asked "Chuckie? Are you alright?" Until that point, I had never been able to view him as younger than me. I blinked and smiled nervously, my stomach churning with mixed emotions at the best friend I had abandoned just a few years previously. "Yeah, sorry, Tommy, I just got a shock, I didn't expect to see you here." I stepped back and gestured for him to come in. He smiled awkwardly and brushed past me, looking around the place, "got the place super tidy for the folks, I see." I chuckled, half-heartedly and wandered past him back into the kitchen. "Would you like some coffee, I'm just making a fresh pot."
"Please, yeah, that'd be great" Tommy followed me. I could feel the heat rising up my neck as I began to blush and I realised that I wasn't angry anymore. I was embarrassed, ashamed even.
The percolator grumbled as it struggled to process the coffee through the filter, it had had a hard life at the hands of me and the guys, I leaned against the counter with my arms across my chest, squinting across at Tommy and despaired as those years of hard work, the confidence building, the partying, the working and even the studying, the total independence, was completely gone with the appearance of Tommy Pickles.
"So, what brings you here?" I asked, knowing full well that the answer was me.
"Your graduation, Dingus," Tommy laughed "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"I missed your High School Graduation" I shrugged.
Tommy shrugged in response and we lapsed into an uncomfortable silence waiting for the coffee to be finished so at least we'd have drinking as an excuse to not talk.
"Your parents are on their way," Tommy cleared his throat, having, no doubt expected a warmer welcome than this. "We were on the same flight, they went to get something to eat before, but I said I'd just head on up, we have some catching up to do after all."
I nodded dumbly, shuffling my feet and changing the position of my hands around the coffee cup. Tommy stared at me in disbelief "Aren't you going to say anything, Chuckie?"
I glanced at him "It's Charlie." I mumbled.
He frowned at me "Charlie?"
"Nobody calls me Chuckie anymore" I raised my voice a little "Everybody called me Charlie. I like it that way."
"Charlie" Tommy tried it out and raised his eyebrows "I can't help it, you'll always be Chuckie to me."
I clenched my teeth together in annoyance "Well, it's not your decision anymore, is it?" I stood up and brought my cup back to the kitchen, calling over my shoulder "My name is Charlie."
"My decision? What the hell are you talking about?" I braced myself with both hands on the kitchen sink and stared into the brushed metal, refusing to look at him.
"I'm not Chuckie anymore, we're not kids anymore. I am an adult and you can't tell me what to do!"
"Tell you what to do? Chuckie, you're not making sense, I never told you what to do in my life!" I span around to face him, our noses nearly touching, I could see it in Tommy's eyes that he thought I was going to hit him, for a second I thought I might as well, but I didn't. "My name is Charlie." I hissed, and turned to pour myself out another coffee.
"How long have you thought that about me?" Tommy's voice was cracking as he followed me, and I couldn't bear to listen, but the old me began to surface and I had to hear him out, jumping up to sit on the counter I tapped my heels on the cupboard door and looked intently at the damage I had caused. I was an adult and I had to face up to the actions that I took, that was what adults did. I heaved a sigh that had been building up in me for years "How long have we known each other?" Tommy looked taken aback, his eyes oddly misty from tears he was determined not to shed. "You've…hated me that long? I thought we were friends. You were my best friend, Chu…Charlie."
The fact that he corrected himself was not lost on me, and I felt all the hardness I had built up slowly beginning to crumble into something not unlike remorse. "I never hated you, Tommy, it's just…it's hard being your friend." Tommy shook his head, not understanding a word, so I continued "I was pathetic as a kid; you were always a born leader. People just wanted to be around you, I repelled anybody that I wanted to spend time with. You had everything and all I had was you." I glanced up at him and shrugged "I needed you, but you never needed me, and it ate me up until I just couldn't take it anymore. I just had to get out."
Tommy stared at me; mouth open in shock, a tear betrayed him, sliding down his cheek in plain sight. He brushed it away impatiently; angrily almost "I didn't need you?" He stepped forward, pointing at his chest "I didn't need you? Chuckie!" I opened my mouth, but was sharply cut off "Don't give me that Charlie bullshit, you're Chuckie Finster when you're talking to me, and that's not me telling you what to do, that's just how it is! Chuckie, I needed you more than anything! All that bravado? That wasn't confidence, I wasn't a born leader, that was me bullshitting my way through life, pretending that nothing got to me! When we were kids, I had to be brave for you! You were too scared to even walk down the street, how could I tell you that I was scared to, when you needed somebody there pushing you ahead and telling you everything was going to be ok?"
"I didn't need to be protected, I needed to be made to face things, how else could I get on if you were always there fixing everything? I didn't want you controlling me!"
"Oh, shut up! I did what I thought was best for you because I care about you, it was never a case of control! I needed you, Chuckie, I needed you to look at me and be happy that I was around, that was all I wanted, and everything else could go to hell. People wanted to hang around with me; I couldn't care less unless you were there with me."
His voice-tailed off at the end and left a stunned silence between us and I realised how much of a prick I was. I slid off the counter and stepped forward "Tommy, I'm sorry, but I had to do what was best for me on my own. I had to face my fears and learn how to deal with them instead of relying on you all the time."
Tommy sniffed "I just wanted to help you, that's all. Did you even read my letters?" I shuffled my feet guiltily, he chuckled humourlessly "no, of course not. Do you still have any of them?" I cleared my throat and glanced at the ceiling "One or two of the more recent ones." I opened a drawer and pulled out a handful of letters, flicking through them until I found the only one that wasn't a bill. I held it out to Tommy but he crossed his arms and nodded at it "Read it back to me."
"Just read it."
I sighed again and tore open the envelope, as I unfolded the letter, a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. I picked it up and my eyes began to water uncomfortably, I took a deep breath and read aloud;
I've been writing to you so often since you left that I don't expect a reply anymore. I don't know why you've decided to go off the map and leave me behind, I don't know what I've done to make you want to leave, or worse, why you've forgotten about me. I just wanted to let you know, once again, that I miss you, and I suppose since you're never going to read this letter anyway, I can tell you everything I've always been too proud to say.
I hesitated, glancing up at Tommy, he nodded at me to continue;
I've never imagined a life without you in it, and until recently I never thought I would have to. I had a crazy notion that you might come home after graduation, but your parents tell me you've gotten yourself onto a graduate programme over there and are going to be setting up home proper. I feel like I'm missing a bunch of vital organs, Chuckie, why are you doing this to me? Were we best friends? Maybe I was just a dumb kid hanging on that you wanted rid of, that thought had never occurred to me before, we had always been so close, but maybe I was just deluding myself.
This might be the last letter I write to you. If I don't hear back from you, I'll just forget it and move on with my life, walking around like everything's normal when in reality I've lost the most important person in my life and nothing will replace him. Or maybe I'll come to Canada and force you to remember me. I've always been kinda stupid that way, haven't I?
Do you remember, years ago now, we must have been just 6 or 7 at the time? We saw Angelica making a valentines card for some boy in her class and thought it looked fun. She said it was the day you made a card for the most wonderful person in the world and gave it to them to let them know you thought they were great so they would like you to and give you a card back. So we made cards for each other. Dad wasn't best pleased, to say the least, said you were supposed to give valentines cards to girls, not boys. He took the card you made for me and put it in a drawer in his workbench, but I snuck back later and stole it back. I carried it around in my pocket for years, and when I got a wallet, I carried it in that. Every time I looked at it, I felt sort of full up, pleasantly, because I knew that I was your most wonderful person, and you were mine. You're still the only person I want to send valentines cards to. I don't see how you can 'not know' that I've been in love with you as long as I knew what love was, but for clarity's sake I'll say it loud and clear for you. I love you Chuckie Finster and I'm returning the card to you in the hope that it will stir something in you to make you come back to me, but if it doesn't, and all you see is a piece of paper with a kids drawing on it then consider it a goodbye gift.
With all my love
I turned the dog-eared scrap of paper over in my hands, and as soon as I saw the messy drawing of a green reptilian-like creature, I couldn't take it "I like you much, much better than I like Reptar…" I read aloud and then slid to the floor, crying silently into my knees. Tommy stood for a few seconds, sniffing, before he slid to his knees in front of me, tugging my hair to make me look up. I could hardly see through the mist on my glasses, but I could tell he was crying to. "I'm sorry" I sobbed "I'm sorry, I'm sorry"
"It's ok, it's ok" Tommy slid over beside me and pulled me into an awkward hug. We sat there for, I don't know how long, letting 20 years of growing anguish out into the open and eventually I felt lighter than I had my whole life. The tears subsided and we sat, propped up in the corner of the kitchen with our arms wrapped around each other, our faces buried in each other's shoulders. "I didn't know…" I finally managed to control my voice enough to say. Tommy squeezed me a little tighter "I know, I should have told you years ago." I pulled away to look him in the eye "No…I mean, yes, I didn't know that, but I meant I didn't know that I loved you." Tommy pressed his forehead to mine as I continued "All those years, I thought I resented you, that I wanted to get away from you, but it wasn't that. It was that I felt like I couldn't get close enough to you."
Tommy hushed me and kissed me on the cheek "It's over now; it's all out in the open." I raised my head once again to stare at him "I am such a dick." Tommy chuckled and wiped a stray tear from under my eye "Well, I can't argue with that." I couldn't help but chuckle along with him.
Just then, the buzzer rang again, and this time I knew it was my parents for sure. I shot up and rubbed my eyes furiously, trying to dispel any evidence that I had been crying. I picked up the handset and pressed the buzzer, rushing to the door as I hung up. Tommy grabbed my wrist and pulled me back into the kitchen "Come here, you." He smiled and pressed his lips to mine. I felt my whole body shiver with nerves, I had been kissed before, but never had I experienced such a feeling of love radiating through me and returning back to him. I'll probably always look back on that moment as the most perfect kiss anybody's ever had.
The knock on the door interrupted my reverie, and we reluctantly pulled apart, glancing towards the door.
Tommy smiled as I walked to the door "I love you, Charlie" he called after me. I placed my hand on the door handle and grinned back at him "It's Chuckie, to you."