Chapter Five: A Little Fence-Mending.
Violet stood in the hallway by the door of her apartment, seeing Charlie out.
"Would you like me to come with you, Charlie?"
"Yes, Violet, I would," he said, smiling into her dark eyes. "But I think I'd better do this alone. You don't mind, do you?"
"Of course not," she said, touching his cheek. Her touch gave Charlie renewed confidence. He was torn between the desire to have Violet come with him, and a determination to do what he knew he had to do, a duty he had to face alone.
"Call me when you're through, will you?" Violet kissed him.
"The very minute, my love," Charlie said, his voice lowered.
"My love!" she squealed. "That's so romantic! I never knew you had it in you, Charlie!"
"I didn't, Violet; you put it there," he said touching his heart. He kissed her as he left.
Charlie held the address he'd scribbled from the telephone book clenched in his hand. He'd called the number the night before and a cautious, refreshingly familiar voice invited him to come over for a chat. Deciding at the last minute to exchange his uniform for a flannel shirt and jeans, Charlie set off.
Linus Van Pelt resided in a roomy, modest and comfortable townhouse. Shelves of books lined several walls in his living room. He lived in convenient proximity to the library, a place that had once filled him with such fascination and dread, as well as all his other favorite points of interest: the ball field, the college and the coffee shop. He owned a small car, one he drove sparingly; fuel-efficient, European and consequently colorless. The darkened, dismal clubs of the Village held little appeal for Linus, although he was wont to drop in to listen to a poetry reading or a promising musician once in a long while.
After the dispute that ended his friendship with Charlie Brown, Linus endured his remaining school time with a combination of ironic patience and stoic complaints. He excelled in the Literary Club and made frequent contributions to a local literary magazine while still in school. He also chaired the Yearbook Club and put together his senior class yearbook to rave reviews. Linus' personality provided an oddly irresistible attraction for the girls in his class and for women after he graduated, a quirky, timidly hostile appeal that perplexed and charmed every woman he met.
"Come in, Charlie Brown, come in!" He gestured for his friend to enter. His voice, deeper and more mature-sounding, still retained a childlike quality.
Linus had grown very little vertically since he and Charlie had parted company. Years of reading, studying, and an aversion to physical activity had done their work on his flabby middle, although he was not so much overweight as merely soft. He would however describe himself as "tending to portliness." Linus had been a talented, if eccentric athlete, alternately deft and clumsy. All of that had ended once and for all on that bitter ball field. Since the confrontation that destroyed his friendship with Charlie Brown, Linus had not picked up a baseball glove so much as once.
Well-worn dog-eared books with irregular bookmarks, haphazard stacks of unedited copy, and unwashed glasses and coffee cups littered the room. His dark unruly hair, combed and heavily gelled, lay stiff and plastered to his skull. A pitiful attempt at a moustache persistently taunted his upper lip as he waited in vain for his inner Tom Selleck to emerge. Small, style-less reading glasses clung precariously to his still-cherubic face. Linus wore a hound's-tooth jacket with leather elbow patches, and his study reflected the untidy clutter of a person with far too many books and ring-binders. The whole effect was that of a young man appearing much older.
Their handshake, though cautious, warmed the reunion considerably.
"Can I get you something to drink?" Linus asked, pleasantly. "Tea? I have herbal."
"Whatever you're drinking will be fine," Charlie said, agreeably.
"Brandy it is, then!"
Linus poured out two generous bulbous glasses, handed one to Charlie and invited him to sit in a comfortable overstuffed armchair opposite him. The brandy, aged and full of body, tasted splendidly to Charlie.
They studied one another wordlessly, two former friends now sizing each other up like adversaries. Linus had always been possessed of a clever, somewhat glib sense of humor. Charlie hoped some vestige of that still lingered. He wished that life and its disappointments had not deprived his friend of his wit.
"Have you been in town long?" Linus asked.
"No, just a few days. I've been visiting with Patty and Shermy. My parents still keep in touch with them."
"How are they? Patty and Shermy, I mean."
The question caused Charlie to look mystified.
"You don't know? I mean, you aren't in touch with them yourself?"
Charlie already knew the answer.
"They were more your friends, Charlie Brown" Linus said, spreading his hands and shrugging. "I was three years behind them; we never had much in common."
"Linus…" Charlie said, standing. The desire for his friend's pardon showed clearly on Charlie's face.
He'd been pouring another drink and hadn't yet sat down. They exchanged a look that spoke of a yearning to restore their friendship.
"Listen, Linus, one of the reasons I'm here in Meadow Brook is to bury old grudges, to heal old wounds. I wanted to start with you, but I've been really apprehensive about it. I still am. I've wanted to talk to you for some time.
"It's about the fight."
Linus' placid face grew kind.
"Charlie Brown, you don't need to-"
"Yes Linus, I do," he said, firmly. The decisiveness of his formerly wishy-washy friend seemed to make an impression Linus.
"I'm starting a new life, and I've got to settle some things about my old life before I can go forward."
Linus sipped his brandy.
"A new life?"
"I'll get to that, but first we need to talk."
Linus looked sad.
"We haven't done that in a long time, Charlie Brown."
"I know Linus, and it's time to put an end to it."
Charlie set his glass on a table and paced, anxiously. He stopped some distance from his friend, and turned to speak to him from across the room before he resumed pacing.
"Linus, you remember what happened, don't you?"
He nodded, and Charlie continued.
Charlie's expression, contrite but resolute, intrigued Linus.
"You understand that I was out of my mind with anger, don't you? Lucy just pushed me too far, and I did what I did. It cost me the best friend I ever had, and I'm truly sorry it happened."
"You weren't entirely to blame," Linus said softly. "You don't have anything to be sorry about, Charlie Brown. And nothing to apologize for."
His friend wanted to dismiss the whole thing, and Charlie would have none of it. He held up his hand.
"No, I want to take responsibility for what I did, Linus. I thought I was justified, but I didn't have any right to involve you in it."
Charlie came closer.
"I got involved for my own reasons." Linus said as he sat on the couch back. He sipped his drink, absently.
"I know Lucy was hard to take, and between us, I too think you were justified. It's hard for me to admit now, but I think she had it coming. At the time though," Linus said, wistfully, "I thought otherwise."
"I'm not blaming you for wanting to protect your sister," Charlie said. "I wasn't sorry for slapping her then, Linus, and I'm not now. But I am sorry for fighting with you. I should have at least apologized for that."
"Charlie Brown, you were pushed to your limit, and you pushed back. I know how that feels, and I understand it, too. I'm just as much at fault as you were. I shouldn't have let it go this far." Linus stood up and walked closer to Charlie. He smiled.
"So I think we can share the blame equally, don't you? And, having already served such long sentences, we can pardon each other, and ourselves, can't we?
"What do you say?"
Linus extended his hand again, and Charlie took it, shaking it warmly.
They settled into their easy chairs to talk over old times, and to bring each other up to date.
Charlie told Linus about the fiasco of prom night, the long year he spent recovering on his aunt's farm, and his flight to The Armory, sparing nothing. Linus, anxious to talk, spoke at length about his own life since school.
"While I was still in high school, Charlie Brown," he continued, "I used to write letters to the newspaper, The Meadow Brook Times. They even printed some of them. Then I started writing essays for the local literary magazine, the Academic Review, while I was in college. That led to jobs as a stringer, a free-lance writer. By then, I was already doing what I was studying for in college, so I dropped out.
Linus smiled brightly, proud of himself.
"You dropped out?"
"There's nothing that can harm a person more than too much formal education, Charlie Brown. I've written articles for several magazines since then-journals, literary quarterlies, you name it."
"Is there a living in that?" Charlie asked, impressed.
"Oh yes," Linus said, happily, sweeping his arm around the room. "Quite a fat one, as you can see. I'm as busy as I want to be, with as much free time as I like."
"Well, Violet told me she'd read some poems you'd written in a magazine."
"Violet? Violet Gray?" Linus' expressive, eager eyes perked up.
Charlie realized it was the first time he'd mentioned her in the present.
"Yes, I told you I've been revisiting some old friends, forgiving and being forgiven," Charlie explained. "Violet was one of them. We talked it all out, and we're friends now." He thought it a little too soon to bring up the larger subject.
"Violet Gray!" Linus exclaimed, shaking his head. "I had such a crush on her! But, she was three years older than I. To her, I was just a kid."
Charlie filled Linus in on the gossip he'd heard up to then, omitting Schroeder's name until later. Charlie had to tell his friend about his dog, Snoopy, that had died some years past. Charlie had taken it hard when it happened, but he'd gotten over it long ago.
"Speaking of old attachments," Linus said sheepishly, "Do you know I still have my old blanket?"
"No!" Charlie felt surprised and reassured at the same time.
"I've got it in a box in the attic," he said, jerking his thumb upstairs, "along with all of my childhood illusions. I was going to throw it away, but I keep it for sentimental reasons."
"We all thought you'd never give that thing up!" Charlie laughed, enjoying the feeling of that freedom.
"'When I was a child, I thought like a child,'" Linus said, quoting St. Paul, "'but when I became a man, I put away the things of childhood.'"
Charlie nodded, reflectively.
"I think that's good advice for anybody."
"You were always gentle in your advice, Charlie Brown."
Both men sighed.
"How was the rest of your school?" Charlie asked, glad to change the subject. "After the fight, I mean. I never heard anything about that."
Linus sighed, a sound so familiar to Charlie he almost laughed.
"All right, I suppose. With you out of the picture, I had to make friends with the kids my own age. What tedium that was! You know, having been around older kids matured me a little, I think. Children my own age were, well, childish."
"After a while, I pretty much kept to myself. It made it easier to work on my schoolwork, my writing, and the like. Fewer distractions.
"I did stay friendly with some of those kids, like 'Pig-Pen'. And Frieda Rich; remember her? I almost asked her out in high school, but I never did. Another opportunity squandered!"
"Are you seeing anyone now, Linus? Are you happy?"
"I'm happier now, thanks to you," he said, smiling gratefully.
"As for my social life, Charlie Brown," he said, sipping his drink, "being a writer has given me an appeal I can't explain. It must be my bookish charm." Linus smiled almost innocently.
"I don't pretend to understand the attraction, but I've benefited from it considerably. I like being a writer. There's something about literature that attracts nice-looking women to ordinary-looking men."
"You always tended to the epigrammatic, Linus."
"I know it," he laughed. "Such shortcomings can be valuable to a writer. Sometimes the worst character flaws make for the best fiction!"
"You're doing it again, Linus; the epigrams I mean."
"I've been collecting essays to put into an anthology," Linus said, becoming more expansive. "A series of short stories based on insecurities, phobias, mis-education and childhood dramas, drawn from my own experiences."
"Your own experiences?" Charlie asked, interested. "Do you have a title yet?"
"Yes," Linus said, almost shyly. "I think I'm going to call it, 'My Belief was Rudely Clobbered.'"
Charlie, remembering Linus' ultimately painful realization regarding The Great Pumpkin, allowed himself a cautious smirk.
"It should be ready for printing soon. I think I have enough material to slay a whole forest of trees!"
Charlie smiled indulgently.
"Let me know when it comes out, Linus. I'd like to get a copy."
"I'll send you one, hot off the press!" Linus promised, visibly pleased.
"So, are we okay now, Linus?"
Linus looked almost penitent.
"We were never not okay, Charlie Brown."
"Linus," Charlie said, with a look that changed the subject, "I came to see you for two reasons; first, to patch up our friendship."
"That was easily done," his friend said lightly. "And the second?"
Charlie's mood, buoyed by the pleasure of their reconciliation, began to increase in enthusiasm.
"I've got something to talk over with you, Linus." Charlie couldn't keep from grinning. "Some big news, and I'm so full of it, I'm about to burst!"
"Well then, you'd better tell me!" Linus said, merrily. "Or should I stand back?"
Charlie gave Linus' crack a lenient smile before answering.
"I told you already that I'd made up with Violet for what happened at the prom. Well, it's gone further than that, Linus. We've become a couple, and I'm going to propose to her soon."
Charlie watched his friend closely for any trace of disappointment or disapproval.
"Why, that's great, Charlie Brown," he answered, and then looked puzzled. "But why was it so important to make up with me that you couldn't tell me this first?"
"I had to clear things up between us first Linus, because I want you to be my best man."
An odd look came into Linus' face, an expression first of surprise, then curiosity, and then pleasure.
"You want me to be your best man? In spite of all we've been through?"
"No, Linus, it's because of all we've been through. I prefer to remember the good. What do you say? Will you do it?"
Linus, his youthful sensitivity always lurking below the surface, beamed with naïve pleasure and he approached his friend.
"I'd be honored, Charlie Brown!" They embraced like rescued castaways.
Linus abruptly relaxed his hold, stepped back and regarded his friend anew.
"When I first knew you, everyone called you 'Charlie Brown.' I'd never heard anyone called by their full name before, but I fell into the habit along with them. Now it seems everyone's calling you just 'Charlie.'" Linus took a breath. "So I think, 'Charlie,' I'll start calling you that, too!"
"You were always my best friend, Linus. Call me what you like."
"So, when's the big event?" Linus asked, rubbing his soft hands together.
"Soon. I haven't actually proposed yet, but I'm pretty confident of the answer."
"Can I bring a date?"
Charlie smiled at Linus' innocent nonsense.
"What a relief!" he said, sighing. "I was more uncertain of your answer than of Violet's! When I told Schroeder that I was going to ask you to-"
"Schroeder? You talked to Schroeder?" Linus frowned, and he drew back.
"Yes, I saw him a few days ago. He told me how to get in touch with you."
Linus' expression darkened, and the sudden hostility in his face startled Charlie.
"What's the matter, Linus?" he asked, as he noticed the change.
"He went with Lucy when they were in school; did you know that?" Linus asked, grimly.
"Yes, Linus, I know. Schroeder told me."
"He seduced her, Charlie!" he growled, in an oddly comical way. "Did he tell you that, too?"
"Take it easy, Linus," Charlie said. He put a sympathetic hand on his friend's shoulder, but it fell away as Linus went rigid. "I'm sure it wasn't one-sided. Besides, that was a long time ago. I think it's time-"
"He got her pregnant, too," Linus snarled. "He made her get an abortion!"
"Did he tell you that? Huh? Did he?"
"No he didn't," Charlie cried, horrified. "Is this true?"
Suddenly Schroeder seemed like a different person to Charlie.
"Yes, it's true. Lucy told me so, herself!"
Charlie exhaled, and he immediately felt surer of his friend Schroeder.
"She told you that?"
"Yes, she did!" Linus noticed Charlie's dubious expression, and so he added, "I know what you're going to say, Charlie, that she made it all up! But she told me that it was true. She told me, and I believe her!"
"Calm down, Linus. Don't get upset."
Linus, who had started breathing rapidly, held up a hand to restrain his own outburst.
"Good grief, I'm hyperventilating!"
He sought a chair and lapsed into it, panting.
"Fraternal chivalry is not for the short of breath!" he lamented, shaking his head.
Sympathetic, Charlie stood next to his friend, while Linus put his head down and waited for his pounding heart and aggravated lungs to calm. Presently, he looked up, and they returned to their conversation.
"I'm okay now, Charlie. It's just hard remembering all of that. There I was just a kid, and look what gets dumped on me. I'm lucky that I'm so relatively well-adjusted."
"Yes, relatively," Charlie said, grinning.
Linus looked at his friend, calmly serious.
"Charlie, I don't want to keep bringing her up, but you shouldn't be so hard on Lucy. She's really not so bad, you know. She's actually very sensitive."
"This is Lucy, your sister?" Charlie said, doubtfully. "The one who used to live with you?"
Linus smiled, catching Charlie's meaning.
"I'm lucky I survived to this ripe old age!"
"Linus, I'm not going to speak against your sister," Charlie said grimly, "but I don't want her shadow to interfere with my life. I'd prefer not to talk about her at all, if you don't mind. I want to have a future with Violet and I don't want anything, or anyone messing it up. I want you to be there to stand up for me, Linus. Will you?
"Of course I will, Charlie," Linus said, calming. "I'm okay. I just lost my head for a minute. I won't cause a scene with Schroeder. I just don't want to get near him. And as far as Lucy's concerned, that's between you two. If you want me I'm your man, your Best Man!"