Welcome Home, Charlie Brown!
Friends, this was supposed to be the opening chapter of the story, but I entered the wrong file. The Linus chapter will appear later, I just goofed. Review, please!
I Love Humanity; It's People I Can't Stand.
The house on Selby Avenue was like all the other houses on the block. They, in turn, were like every other house in Meadow Brook, a small, comfortable suburban town in southern Minnesota. This house, the home of Charles and Emily Brown, was being visited by the last person anyone inside would have either expected, or wanted to see.
Violet Gray, a tall, slim brunette in her early twenties, stood trembling on the porch, her pretty face troubled by conflicted emotions. She had made this visit in her mind often in the years since her last appearance there, an incident whose sad consequences still haunted her. Violet had been a friend, albeit an unreliable one, of the people who resided in the daunting house, especially the Brown's son, Charlie. Her long acquaintance with him, as many childhood relationships must be, had been pleasant, discouraging, friendly, annoying and often filled with childish cruelty. Violet had come to face that past and to grapple with the likely hostility of the house's residents.
"Hello?" the lady of the house said, drawing the door open. "Oh," she muttered, scowling in recognition, "it's you. What do you want, Miss Gray?"
"I'd like to speak to Charlie, if I may?"
"He's not here." Mrs. Brown said, curtly.
Violet's dark eyes blinked with disappointment.
"He doesn't make his home with us anymore."
"No? Well, in that case, may I speak with you, Mrs. Brown?"
"What about, Miss Gray? What do we have to talk about?" Mrs. Brown had not moved from the threshold, and she continued to block the doorway.
"I think you made it very clear the way you feel about Charlie the last time I saw you, and I don't really want any more of it, or of you."
"I understand your feelings, Mrs. Brown," she said, nodding. She reached out her hand, saying, "But I've come to try to explain what happened, to him, or to you, if you'll let me."
There was a long, brooding pause as the present collided with the past. The present won, but barely.
"Come in, Miss Gray," Charlie's mother said. She stepped reluctantly aside to let Violet pass over the threshold to the inside. Once in the house, Violet swept the room with her dark eyes, her trembling, melting heart filled with memory and regret.
The living room was just as Violet remembered it from the thousands of afternoons of her shared childhood with Charlie Brown. Many were the times they had played together on the floor, listened to records, or read comic books and coloring books to each other. Despite the relentless childish squabbling and taunting, Charlie got along with Violet and his other friend, Shermy Brooks better than he did with any of the others. The coffee table, on which untold sailing adventures had been launched, still stood in the center of the room. A large, comfortable overstuffed couch, ideal for afternoon naps, dominated the sun-lit space.
Violet noticed with regret the absence of the small box record player, replaced years ago by a massive entertainment center. The box of toys had long since been consigned to the attic, prodding Violet with the icicle of nostalgia.
She sighed again.
"Would you like some coffee, Miss Gray?"
Violet turned to Mrs. Brown, snapping back to the present.
"Yes, thank you," she said, trying to smile. It seemed inappropriate. She crossed to the kitchen table, where the sugar bowl and cream pitcher stood waiting.
"Now," Charlie's mother said, as they sipped, "why are you here, Miss Gray?"
"I've wanted to come so many times before to apologize, Mrs. Brown," she began, fearful. "But I just couldn't face you! I felt so guilty, so I stayed away. I wondered what happened to Charlie, because I hadn't seen him at school or in the neighborhood ever since…not after…"
"Yes, Miss Gray, ever since that night."
The guilty memory of the incident showed plainly on Violet's face.
"I stayed away from here for a while, for his sake, but I really did want to come and talk to him, to tell him how sorry I was for what I did. Oh, Mrs. Brown! You mustn't think I'm so cruel! Please, you mustn't think that what happened was what I wanted."
"He hasn't been here for some time, which you'd know if you'd taken an interest sooner," Mrs. Brown said, ominously calm. "He hasn't been here since he left school, some five years."
"Where has he been?" Violet asked, so softly that Mrs. Brown answered, though unwillingly.
"He went to The Armory. It's a military academy," she added, noting Violet's confusion.
"Military?" That seemed so unlike him.
"Yes. He wanted to get as far away from here, as far away from you, as he could. Can't say as I blame him, really."
"No, I suppose not," Violet conceded. "I guess I understand that. But, I don't-"
"Why did you do it, Miss Gray?" Charlie's mother asked, suddenly. "Why did you, of all people, do such a horrible thing to him? And not just then, but over the years, and for so long? He really liked you, Violet. He once told me he wanted to marry you, but he was just eight, so I didn't pay any mind. Children often say such things. A parent tries not to take it seriously, but he especially liked you.
"I remember when he was little," his mother said, indulging in her own reminiscence, "Charlie always made me get dozens of Valentines to send out, and many Christmas cards, in the hope of getting just one back. Just one, Miss Gray," she accused, holding up a finger, "and he never got so much as one from any of you children, his so-called 'friends.'"
"Mrs. Brown, I don't mean to contradict you," Violet said carefully, "but I actually did give him a Christmas card. It was only one, but I did give it to him. He didn't tell you?"
"Oh, yes," Charlie's mother said, smiling. "I'd forgotten about that. He was so happy when he came home with that card, so happy because it was from you. That was when he told me about marrying you.
"He kept that card, Miss Gray. Even after everything you did to him, he kept it. He took that card with him when he left for the Armory, along with a few other things that he treasured. I suppose a part of him thought you really meant it. He thought after that you'd be different, but you weren't."
"I've got no excuse, Mrs. Brown," Violet admitted. "I stayed friends with him, but I never got any closer. I guess I didn't realize how much it mattered to him."
"It mattered, Miss Gray; it mattered a lot."
The coffee cups drained slowly as the battle over the past continued. Another cup, drunk in reflective silence, and then they were ready to resume.
"I came here because I wanted to make things right, Mrs. Brown. I wanted to tell Charlie what happened, and why I acted so badly. More than anything, I wanted to apologize to him."
"You can tell me," his mother said. "And while you're at it, you could explain one more thing; why were all of you children so cruel to him, so cruel for all those years? Could you explain that?"
Violet was silent for a moment. She had come to ask forgiveness for one atrocity; she hadn't been prepared to confront her guilt for another.
"I'm not sure," she admitted, shaking her head. "When we were little, I don't remember being very cruel to Charlie. We quarreled, sure, but I don't remember making fun of him, or mocking or humiliating him the way I did later.
"Mrs. Brown, I'm not offering this as an excuse," Violet began, "but, maybe he was too sensitive, and we just didn't realize it."
"We all forgot each other's birthdays, or didn't invite all our friends to parties, but none of us took it too hard, not the way Charlie did."
She shook her head sadly.
"He took everything so personally! It frustrated me sometimes, that, no matter what I said or did, he took it wrong, or couldn't accept it. I guess, because he took things so personally, something in us, at least in me, saw it as something to mock, to pick on, to make fun of. I'm not excusing myself, but children can be cruel. I'm sorry, Mrs. Brown."
"Don't tell me, Miss Gray; tell him."
"That's why I'm here, to talk to Charlie. I wanted to try to make things up to him. Can you help me? Can you tell me how to reach him?"
"Yes, I can tell you," Mrs. Brown said, her face grim. "But first, you have to tell me something."
"Anything, Mrs. Brown," she said, earnestly.
"Tell me what you did; tell me what happened that night."
Violet's face showed surprise and great reluctance.
"Oh no, Mrs. Brown," she cried, shaking her head again. "Please don't ask me, it's too painful! I'm so ashamed for my part in it, I can't tell you. Please don't ask me!"
"So, you're a coward, aren't you, Miss Gray?" Charlie's mother said, pitilessly. "You can destroy the life of a boy who worshipped you, but you can't face me to tell me about it!"
Another long silence ensued, as Violet, determined to see it through, mustered the nerve she needed.
"All right," she said, "I'll tell you everything I know. But I want you to know how ashamed I am about it all, how I wish I could make it up to him."
Mrs. Brown, conceding nothing, said nothing. Violet, her eyes softening calmly began.
"As I said before, when we were little, I liked Charlie, and I know he liked me. We got along okay, but even then I knew he was sensitive, needy, and insecure. I suppose I should have treated him better, should have known better, but I didn't.
"When we got older, I was different to him; I know I was. He was always desperate to get Valentines, I remember. He saw them as proof of being loved and accepted, and when he didn't get them, he felt it was proof that he wasn't loved. But, it wasn't like that, Mrs. Brown. We all liked him; but hearing him so depressed all the time, so insecure and self-pitying, well, for me it was hard to take. That sounds terrible, but children like to be happy, not to be around sad, moody, depressed people."
Charlie's mother glared and Violet tried to change her tone.
"I did like him, though, Mrs. Brown. I can prove it: When I was only about eight, he gave me a music box as a birthday present. It played 'Sing a Song of Six-pence.' We used to say it was 'our song.'" Violet smiled through sudden tears.
"I still have it."
"I remember that box," his mother said, "I was with him when he picked it out. Charlie wanted a box that played that song, although he didn't tell me why. He asked me if I thought you would like it, and I told him, 'Of course she'll like it. It's a very sweet gift.'"
"And it was," Violet said, smiling sadly. "It stopped working about five years ago, but I got it fixed. I don't know why I kept it; I guess it meant something to me."
"Is that supposed to impress me, Violet?"
Violet glared, defensively.
"No, it's just the truth, Mrs. Brown. That's why I'm here; I want to prove to you I'm sorry for what happened. I want to try to make it up to him."
As Violet continued, her expression brightened.
"Well, as we got older, into middle school, then senior high, he actually did better. He'd always loved sports, you know, but he was never very good at them. When he started playing sports in school, the coaches helped him. They worked with him, and he started playing better. He lettered in baseball, in soccer and in hockey. He wasn't a star or anything, but he did letter. I started to remember then, how close we'd been when we were younger. He had more confidence, Mrs. Brown, the kind that comes from accomplishing something, not just bragging about it. He felt good about himself, and it made him more appealing to me, and to all of us.
"The last year of high school, we were very friendly. Not a couple; I didn't wear his jacket or anything, we were just friends. Then he asked me to the Prom, six weeks ahead of time!
"If I told you that I was happy, Mrs. Brown, that I was thrilled he had asked me so soon, would you believe me?"
"Yes, I'd believe you, Violet. He ran home when you said 'yes.' He was so excited that the girl he liked so much said 'yes' to him. Charlie was so proud. He rented his tuxedo, washed and polished his car, and bought you a corsage."
Violet looked at Charlie's mother, and her eyes welled with tears.
"I'm so sorry!" she cried, shaking her head.
"How could you? How could you hurt him so deeply?"
"I-" Violet could only manage one word before Charlie's mother exploded.
"I was so angry with you!" she hissed.
"Charlie went to pick you up that night around 7:00pm," his mother continued, and it was hard for her.
"His father and I stayed up until around two in the morning, and he still hadn't come home, hadn't called to say he'd be late, so we started to worry. My husband and I took our car out to look for him, getting more worried by the minute. We knew how fragile his confidence was, how easily it crumbled. We went to the school, but they said he'd never been there. We asked some of the children, but nobody had seen him. Then we really started to worry. We went all over town, until we came to the ball field. His car was parked nearby."
"He was there, by himself on the pitcher's mound."
Violet's hand went to her face, stricken.
Mrs. Brown's own eyes teared up at the memory.
"He just stood there, Miss Gray. He just stood on the mound, his head down. Then he turned to us as we came up, he turned to us and started to cry. I've never seen a face so sad. I never saw eyes so hurt! Do you know what I felt for him, Miss Gray? He was eighteen, and he was crying! We couldn't get him to stop. He just trembled and shook, and cried, so we took him to the Emergency Room at the hospital."
"They gave him sedatives and put him in Intensive Care, on a suicide watch.
"Can you begin to understand why I've had no use for you all this time?" Mrs. Brown said, her voice becoming harsh. "Can you even imagine how it felt to see your own child in a hospital, watched over for his own protection?"
"Damn you!" Mrs. Brown snarled with such sudden violence that Violet cringed.
"Damn you! How I hated you then, Miss Gray, how I despised you. Even now, I'm so angry just thinking about it, I want to strike you!"
Violet bowed her head, crying softly.
"I wouldn't blame you if you did, Mrs. Brown."
Mrs. Brown controlled herself with great difficulty. Clenching her fists, she sat suddenly at the table, moving a cup and saucer with her trembling hands around on the table top. Violet reached across the table to give Mrs. Brown a comforting touch, but she brushed her away.
"After what happened," Mrs. Brown resumed, "Charlie said he couldn't go back to school. He couldn't bear to face his friends, especially you. We understood, so we kept him home. He had enough credits to graduate, but he was too sick, too weak, to go to the ceremony. He said he never wanted to see any of you, ever again. We sent him away for the summer, to his aunt in . He stayed there a year, then we enrolled him at the Armory. He's done well there. He'll be graduating soon, and then he'll be shipped out."
Violet wrung her hands, helplessly, her face desolate.
"I don't know what to say."
"Yes you do, Miss Gray," Charlie's mother said, sitting next to her at the table. "You came here to apologize, to make things right."
"Yes, I did," Violet said, softly.
"Then, tell me, Violet. Tell me why? Why did you dump him that night? Why did you humiliate him like that, in front of all those people, on a night that was so important to him? How could you?"
Violet gulped. This wasn't going to be easy, especially telling the whole truth.
"Mrs. Brown, please try to understand. I came here today because I like Charlie, and I wanted him to forgive me. I want that from you, too. I don't know if I can explain it, but I'll try."
Mrs. Brown's glare prompted her to continue.
"As I said before, when he asked me to the prom, I was delighted! We'd gotten closer since we were in high school. He was more confident, more sure of himself, and I was glad to be his friend again. He asked me to the prom so early, he said, because he wanted to make sure I hadn't made plans with another boy. I was so happy! You won't believe me, but I was looking forward to going to the prom with him. I wanted everyone to see me with him! I told all my friends; Patty, Shermy, Schroeder, Linus and his sister, Lucy. That was my mistake.
"She laughed at me, Mrs. Brown," Violet said, hanging her head. "She told me I was a fool to go anywhere with Charlie Brown, that nobody popular would have anything to do with him. I'm ashamed to admit that she got to me. I believed her. I thought she was right then, but as I think about it, I believe she just wanted to hurt him one last time. She'd always been so mean to him."
"She told me that I should turn him down and refuse to go with him. Then, oh Mrs. Brown, then she came up with a terrible idea! She told me to dump him at the last minute, to let him take me, and then refuse to go in with him, to humiliate him in front of everyone. That would really be funny, she said."
"Oh, no!" Charlie's mother cried, horrified.
"Yes," Violet said, and then stopped. She needed a few minutes before she could go on.
"At first I laughed her off," she said, shuddering and wringing her hands, nervously, "but she threatened me. Lucy told me that she would see to it that I was blacklisted with the popular kids if I didn't go through with her plan."
"Why would she do that, Miss Gray?"
"Because she's cruel, Mrs. Brown," Violet answered. "She knew just how to get to me, just how to make me do what she wanted. I'm not trying to excuse myself from this; after all, I was the one that hurt him, no one else. But, going to high school, you want to fit in; you want to belong to the 'in crowd.' I can't explain why that was important now, but then it meant a lot to me."
"So much that you were willing to hurt my Charlie, just to fit in?"
"I'm sorry. I know it's nothing to say, Mrs. Brown, but I'm sorry."
For a moment, the urge to strike Violet Gray became too much for Charlie's mother. Fighting it off, she looked into the sad, penitent face of the girl Charlie had once loved.
She sighed, weary.
"Why did you come here, Miss Gray?"
"To tell you the truth," she confessed, "and to ask for your forgiveness. I'm so sorry! I really wanted to tell Charlie, but I missed him."
"Yes, you did miss him," Mrs. Brown said, rising to indicate the visit was over.
"Mrs. Brown," Violet asked, earnestly, "did you believe me that I want to make it right with Charlie?"
Charlie's mother stopped. She met Violet's pleading eyes with her own searching expression, a look that wanted no more hurt for her son.
"Maybe. What did you have in mind?"
"You write to him, don't you?"
"Every week; what of it?" she asked, warily. "Why do you want to know?"
"Could you ask him if he'd accept a letter from me?"
"I'm not going to work on him for you, Miss Gray."
"That's not what I mean. Just tell him that I came to see you, and that I want to write to him. I'll even slip a letter into your next envelope, if you'll let me, to see if he'll speak to me again. Don't give me his address, just let me write him a note, you can read it, just so I can ask him to talk to me."
"It won't be necessary for me to read it, Violet," Charlie's mother said with a cautious smile. "I'll write to him and tell him what you've said. I'll advise him to at least listen to you. Then, you can include your letter. I can't do any more."
"Thank you!" Violet said, sighing and taking her hand.
"Maybe it's time for all this hurt to be done with," Mrs. Brown said.
"I promise you, I'll do my best to make that happen," Violet said.
Violet worked for days on the letter she would send with Mrs. Brown's next correspondence, contingent, of course, on Charlie's agreement. Violet would not let herself believe that he would refuse her.
"Dear Charlie," she wrote hopefully, "how strange and fortunate it is that Life gives us a chance to repent of our past! I spoke to your mother, who I have avoided for many years out of shame, and we hashed out the hurtful and difficult times past. I won't go into details, but she has forgiven me, and she let me put this note in with her letter. I can't hope that you will forgive me until I've apologized for the way I treated you.
"I hurt you, Charlie, and there are no words to tell you how sorry I am. When I rejected you, I went home and cried, not for myself, but for my friend, my dear friend hurt by my own cruelty. As I heard the details of your torment from your mother, it was as if I suffered them, too. I know that your pain is more than mine, because I knew what was coming, and you didn't. How terrible I was to you! How you must have hurt, wondering why someone who claimed to be your friend, someone who claimed to care for you, would treat you so savagely. I am sorry, Charlie, my friend! I know I hurt you, but I didn't have any way apologize to you until now.
"Can I write to you? This note comes to you in your mother's envelope, without my knowing your address. So you can ignore it, and you are rid of me if you want to be. I couldn't blame you if you do turn me down, but I hope you won't. I like you, Charlie. I always have, even when I, myself didn't know it. When I treated you badly as a child, it was as a child; please let me show you friendship and affection as a woman, so I can convince you I mean what I say. Please, Charlie, write back to me and include a return address. I promise I won't trouble you any more if you want me to let you alone. I hope you won't, but I'll respect your wishes.