This new life of Charli’s seemed to continuously linger behind every corner she walked by, each time taking a part of her. She tried her best to keep it in that corner— away from the world.
Away from her.
Yet, it would overcome her, more often than she would like to admit. The closer it got to the day a piece of her would die, the more her walls would deteriorate, waiting for her downfall.
Perhaps she could learn to love this life as much as she could if it weren’t trapping her, hands clasped around her throat, squeezing the air out of her lungs, searching for the escape. Afraid of completely losing herself, she was growing weary of the constant fighting and losing. Maybe it was best to just let go.
“Pay attention. It's your turn Charli!” Brandon waved his hands in front of Charli’s eyes, interrupting her thoughts. “Earth to Charli.” He said.
Coming back to reality, she scooped up the die lying by Boardwalk on the Monopoly game board sitting in front of her. “Okay, okay.” She giggled as the die gave her a two and a six, sending her to Indiana Avenue. “I’ll take it!” Smirking, she lifted her hand to her little brother, as she paid the fees with the other. “Thank you very much, Brandon.”
Scrunching his eyebrows in an attempt to look serious, Brandon remarked, “Next time, I'll charge you double for taking so long.”
Charli laughed, inching closer to Brandon and raising her arms as if she were about to pounce on prey. “How about next time, I just tickle you so Jason can take all the money while you’re distracted?”
“Ha. Nice try but you just revealed your plans. I’ll be prepared now!”
“That's enough now,” Their father said, chuckling. “Let’s get back to the game that I’m winning.”
“Yeah, you wish-” Brandon started.
Just then, the door opened, sending a chill racing down Charli’s spine and the hairs on the back of her neck to shoot up. Every footstep closer was a punch in the gut. Charli could tell when he entered any room she was in. She didn’t exactly know how, but the atmosphere around her would suddenly drop.
Before the words even left his mouth, she knew who it was.
She expected him to visit again, but not this soon. He had just come to the house two days ago to hang out with Jason. And now he’s back again.
Charli fought with the question of how much longer this could go on, but her mind was a blank space, merely filled with the buzzing sound of an abyss. She didn’t even know who she was anymore.
“Oh yeah, I told Aiden we could hang today,” Jason recalled, glancing at their dad for permission to leave the game.
Her father frowned.
“How about Aiden joins the game?” Carys, her father’s temporary girlfriend and soon to be added to the list of his short-lived relationship, suggested, pointing towards the empty space between Charli and Jason. “There's room there. Come on. Come join, you can partner with Jason, we’re almost done.” Charli’s face flushed. Who does this woman think she is?
“Carys. Come on-”
“It's fine really, Jason.” Grinning, she began her turn.
It's a tradition Charli’s mother started forever ago to have a family game night every week, and her dad has been insistent on keeping it. He’s convinced himself it still makes us a family even after the accident. And since Aiden has been friends with Jason since they were three, he was practically apart of the family, whether Charli liked it or not.
With a sigh, Charli scooted over to make way for Aiden. As he walked past her, she could feel the side of his pants leg brush up against her back, and before she knew it, he was resting comfortably beside her, near enough so their knees were grazing — just the right amount to turn her heart on high.
She wondered if he could feel the furious thumping of her heart. Or the slight tremble of her entire body. Maybe everyone could see the sweat beginning to accumulate on her forehead. And the movement of her eyes as they darted back and forth. Could they read what she was thinking? She didn't even know what she was thinking.
She needed out.
“You okay?" Aiden asked, resting his hand on her bare thigh as she glanced at him. His hands were ice cold. “You look pale.” Her mind flashed red.
Without even replying to him, Charli shot up, nearly tripping on her own foot, and made a beeline towards the stairs. “I’ll be right back, I need to go to the bathroom for a minute.” She called back feeling Aidens eyes burning a hole in her back. She doubted anyone was paying attention anyway. They never do.
As she slammed the bathroom door, she collapsed on the floor next to their shiny white bathtub. Her mind couldn’t slow down. It was as if someone kept lowering their foot on the ignition, refusing to give up the speed.
“Breathe Char. Just breathe.” She whispered to herself, taking deep inhales and long exhales. “Just let it come and go as always.” She's always had trouble with anxiety; it wasn’t serious but whenever she got really worked up, her lungs would feel as though they were shrinking with every breath she took. Her parents considered scheduling a doctor’s appointment for her when it first started getting worse about four months ago, though Charli protested, “It's just stress” she’d tell them, and they would believe it without ever second-guessing it. She could never reveal the real cause of it was because of Aiden.
Looking down, she saw her hands shaking, and in an attempt to stop it, she sat on them as a knock sounded at the door.
“Hey, it's Aiden,” She froze. “you okay in there? It looked like you were trying to run a 5k, the way you ran up those steps,” he mused.
She froze, scrambling her brain for a response. Aiden always rang the considerate type to others. He strived to show people he was the good child out of his family. And they bought every last piece of it. His father was sent to jail a few years back for beating on his wife. No one ever suspected a thing.
It must run in the genes.
“Charli?” His voice turned to a low growl. “Don't make me ask twice.”
“Oh, no, no I’m fine.” She managed to spit out. “Just, please.” She shut her eyes. “Please go away.” She felt droplets of something wet on her leg. Peering down, she realized her eyes had begun flooding with tears. She didn't even notice she was starting to cry.
The door handle began to rattle. “Wrong answer Char.” He said disappointedly. What did I tell you about lying to me, huh?” She stood, gripping the counter for support. “That was a question. Answer!” The door began shaking violently.
“I”m not lying!” She cried.
“Another lie. You sure are on a roll today.” He said. “I can hear you choking on your own tears from out here. Grow up already. Or do I have to teach you that too?” Sighing, he warned, “Look, just open the door and it won’t be too bad. And be quiet, don't want your poor excuse of a father to come up, now do you? ”
She clenched her hands as she felt her anger beginning to boil up and she didn't know if she would be capable of stopping it.
Grabbing a towel, she wiped her face. Staring at herself in the mirror, Charli regarded her puffy bloodshot eyes and splashed water on her face, hoping to at least make the blotchiness on her face disappear. How did it lead up to this?
Taking a shaky breath, Charli unlocked the bathroom door, meeting Aiden’s eyes. He had a smirk plastered on his face, yet, she saw something flicker behind his eyes.
In one swift movement, he took hold of a chunk of her hair, pulled her to the ground. Out of reflex, her hand flew to her head in agony. “You ever pull a stunt like that again, you won’t ever see the light of day again, got it?” His eyes were stone cold.
Charli shook her head.
Just before he let go of her, he scoffed, “Your mother would be disappointed.”
That was all it took. White-hot rage had boiled to the surface, flowing out of her faster than she could grasp. She let four months of anger erupt out. And she admits, she let it happen, but one thing is for sure. She wouldn’t let Aiden speak her mother’s name.
Shoving Aiden into the door, Charli could feel the steam rolling off her. He began to speak, but she ignored it. The look on his face was priceless. “I’m tired of this,” She screamed. “I’m tired of you believing you own me. You think just by hitting me, you can make me your puppet?” She pushed up her sleeve, revealing the ugly bruises caked up and down her arm. “That may have worked before but I refuse to continue being that little girl you control,” She let out a sardonic laugh, venturing closer to Aiden. “You are only an insecure boy who can’t get a grip on his own life so you try to degrade mine to make you feel better about your crappy deal in life. Yeah, you drew the short straw, now get over it!” Drawing her fist back, Charli shot a punch square in the middle of Aidens face and with a crunch, he was crashing down in the middle of the hallway.
Everyone had piled up at the bottom of the stairs by the time Charli got there and when Jason looked from Charli to her bruised arm, and to Aiden cradling his nose behind her, his eyes filled with sorrow.
She was already worked up, she might as well get everything off her chest. Spinning to her father, she threw out an accusing finger. “And you,” She fumed, traveling down the steps. “you act like she never even existed. You pretend like everything’s okay and we can live this fake life and be this perfect family on the outside, but it's not. She’s gone and you carry on as if it was the same as burning the turkey at Thanksgiving. Well, guess what?” She cried, pointing to Carys “You can go around and bring all these women home, but you can't replace mom. It doesn't work that way.”
The waterworks were now booming. “You don't even notice when I’m hurting anymore” She shrugged as her voice cracked, “You used to always be able to tell when I’m not myself — I thought that was our thing, but I guess that was four months ago. Sometimes I forget that you must have been the only one that lost someone you loved.” She smirked. “You’re not even a father anymore, you’re just a drunk who wallows in his own self-pity and doesn't care for his three kids. I’m done.”
She headed for the door but not before adding, “Oh and playing these stupid board games,” she said kicking the Monopoly game over, “doesn't change the fact you killed her that night.”
“Charli!” Jason hissed, but she didn't care anymore. She was only saying what everyone was thinking.
Looking at her father’s bewildered face only fed the fire in her, but it wasn’t worth it. Her mom wasn’t the only one that died four months ago. She did too.
She didn’t know where she was going but anywhere was better than here. She didn’t have a home anymore. She hasn’t for a long time.