I love you best, Babe

Submitted into Contest #42 in response to: Write a story that ends in the past.... view prompt

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General

While Manhattan was drowing in the storm, so was Charlie. His toughts inundated his mind to a point where he couldn't even finish one properly. That morning, when he woke up, he was so sure that that day was going to be that day that changed his life for good, and yet now here he was, back at the old same ways.

Louie, his boss, sent him to New York City for a quick trip in business and he, loyal as always, went, even though he was fully aware of the impacts that such a casual thing would have in his sanity.

He waited for her that night in Johnny's Jazz Corner. Charlie thought that she, the love of his life and certainly its greatest sorrow, would come. He reached out to her, invited her, waited for her, but she never came. Louie called, business awaited, and Charlie had to go. But if such thing hadn't happened, if Louie hadn't called, he would have stayed at that gin joint for the rest of the evening, through every one of its long, lonely hours, just waiting for her glorious self to walk his way. Charlie knew, however, that she wouldn't; Babe was never late, and if she was, that meant she wouldn't come at all.

Charlie finished whatever it was that Louie demanded him to do a little later than expected. It was half past midnight and he was more awake than he had been through the entire day. The man took off his raincoat, stained dark red in many a places, and threw it in the trunk. The rain rushed down his face, soaked his once perfectly combed hair and his expansive suit, but Charlie didn't mind. Everything in Manhattan reminded him of her, even the rain; he considered it a blessing to be drenched in it.

That was an peculiar, outlandish thought, but who could blame him? Charlie was not only a man in love, he was also a man in pain, and in his feverish mind, it all made perfect sense.

He got in the car and drove as if there was no tomorrow to a place he once heard she now lived. One couldn't fanthom what went through his mind during that trajectory, not even Charlie himself. All he could remember was Babe walking up to the front door that chilly night six years ago, turning to him and saying with her warm smile: "I love you, Charlie!". That was the last time she ever told him that.

Charlie was late and he knew. It took him six years to decide to try again. But try what? He had another life somewhere else, a wife, a child. She probably had moved on as well. Deep down, he also knew nothing would come out of that visit. What did he expect, then? Well. Maybe just seeing her. To see Babe one last time, and then be gone forever.

The car abruptly stopped in the front of a three-store building somewhere in Brooklyn. Charlie got down and stormed into the place; it didn't take long until he found himself standing in front of appartment 3-B. Behind that wooden door, there was her. All the stood between them was that feeble thing, and yet, there was so, so much more that kept them apart.

He knocked once, twice, three times. A moment passed before he heard drowsy footsteps inside, and the peephole turned dark. She was looking at him. Charlie's heart beated so strong and so fast that he was worried Babe would hear it. Maybe she should hear it, actually. It would remind her that he had one.

Babe opened the door; her young self was slightly older, it was noticiable in her eyes, that even though tired, still had the old sweet gleam. She was wrapped in rosy silk robe, her hair now shorter, and the look on her face was blend of hesitation and leftover pain. Charlie tried to find any hint of love on it, but he couldn't.

"What are you doing here, Charlie?"

-

Six years before.

As usual, Johnny's Jazz Corner was full. Saturday night was often the best night for the place; even though it wasn't Johnny's main business, he did care well for it, and every saturday night he invited a relatively well known jazz band and made sure everyone had the most fun they could.

Charlie was sitting in the usual spot, slighthy distanced from the stage, but not enough that he couldn't watch the show. Babe was by his side, wearing her favorite red dress and her best smile. Charlie rejoiced at the sight of her majestic smile, and more so because he knew he had caused it.

"So, what do you think?" Charlie asked proudly.

"Charlie, I absolutely love it. How did you know I liked this band?" She chuckled happily, glancing at the stage once more.

"Your brother Nino told me. Besides, getting the guys to hire them was a piece of cake. Not only that... Now they have to play here at least twice a month."

"Are you for real? How did Johnny managed to get that?"

"Well, everybody needs a little favor every now and then, kid." Charlie shrugged and, in return, got a stern glance.

"If we ever get married," Babe stated, knowing very well that in no time they in fact would "I really would like if you took a vacation from Johnny. We could leave Manhattan and go to Italy for some months. Lately you've been having way too much blood in your hands, Charlie."

"If we ever get married... I'll ask him for it. For you, anything." Charlie declared, giving her a peck on the lips.

"I love you, y'know?" She whispered.

"I know. I love you best, Babe".

While taken by the sweetness of that moment, Charlie didn't even realize that a man had approached the table.

"Little Charlie and his Baby! It makes me happy to see you two here." Johnny, lifting his whisky glass, exclaimed.

Johnny was a tall, handsome man, gifted with the ability of being absolutely charming even when he didn't particularly try. Maybe that's why Babe thought he was good, or perhaps because of all the favors he had already granted her family; not only the friendship between him and her father dated way back, he was also Johnny's godfather, bringing the two together.

"Johnny, it's so nice to see you. I gotta say, I'm having the time of my life." Babe greeted, getting up and kissing his cheeks.

"I bet you are. Charlie told me that you liked this band." Johnny winked at her. "Speaking of your man, sweetheart, may I steal him for a moment?"

Babe nodded and Charlie got up. Johnny stretched an arm over Charlie's shoulder, leading him into his office in the back of the bar.

"I got a job for you, Charlie."

-


"Your house's charming." Charlie noted while entering Babe's appartment.

"Here." Babe said and he turned around; she was handing him a white towel. "You're dripping on my floor."

Charlie grabbed the towel, muttering a small thank you.

"So, have you been living by yourself?" He curiously inquired.

"What are you here for, Charlie?" She said almost in a sigh, sitting heavily in the couch. "In fact, what are you in town for at all?"

"Louie sent me here to solve some stuff with Johnny." Charlie replied. "I'm only here for two days."

"I see. Your wife and kid are back in KC, I suppose." Babe looked directly at Charlie when she said that, expecting to see how he would react.

"Yeah." He finally answered, sighing. "Beth and Paulie don't come with me in business."

"I imagined. But you didn't answer my first question, Charlie. Why are you in my house for?"

"You didn't show up today."

"We had nothing to talk about." She pointed out. "All we needed to discuss was already said six years ago. You have a whole new life back in Kansas City and I'm trying my best to build mine around here."

"The thing is, Babe..." Charlie took a seat by her side. "I can't stop thinking about what I've done."

To that Babe didn't respond; she kept looking down at her feet, avoiding to meet Charlie's eyes. He saw that as an opportunity to speak.

"I've thought a good deal about that. I know you understand what I did, I can tell by your tone when speaking to me. Before, you couldn't bare the sight of my face, you were so filled with wrath... But now, I see you understand it had to be done. I just need you to tell me that, Babe. Tell me you understand."

"Why did you decide to dig that up right now?" She asked in a whisper.

"It was never burried in the first place."

"Accept what I'm giving you, Charlie, don't ask for more." She glanced at him and he could notice a glimpse of pain in her expression. "I know that what my brother did was a sketchy thing. I also know you were Johnny's go-to when it came to the dirty work. I'm not some naive girl who knows nothing about what she had gotten herself into... Just say you're sorry for what you did to my family and go live your life."

Charlie stared at her for a couple of instants, pondering on what to do. He could only see her profile, the curved nose, the plump cheeks, the sleeked back brown hair. By that angle, it looked as if she didn't age a day. At last, he decided there wasn't, indeed, nothing to be said. But he had seen her, and now he knew she understood that he did what he had to do; that brought him some peace of mind.

"I'll go." He declared, getting up. "And I really am sorry, Babe. I wish things hadn't been like they were"

Charlie headed to the door, but hesitated before he left the apartment. Then, he looked back for an instant and asked:

"Do you ever think about what the two of us could've been if we had lived in different circunstances?"

"All the time, Charlie." She answered, staring at him in the eyes. "All the time."

-

Six years before.

"I can't do that." Charlie muttered. "Johnny, that's impossible."

"Oh, c'mon now, that's very possible." Johnny replied.

"He's her brother! Johnny, for a moment, please think about what you're asking me to do."

"Believe me, kid, I thought about it through and through. You're the only one who can actually get close enough to him to do it without lifting any suspicion."

Charlie stared at Johnny for a moment while the man smoked his cigar languidly.

"That makes no sense. I know what you're doing." Charlie whispered. "You're trying my loyalty."

"Kid, I just found out Nino's a traitor. All I'm doing is getting rid of him. It's because of that little shit that the business with NYPD flunked." Johnny incisively replied.

"It'll ruin my life, Johnny."

"Well kid, here's the thing. We all know how close you and Nino are. You're almost family, after all. So it's kind of hard to convince my boys that you're not a turncoat yourself." Johnny declared, pungently glancing at Charlie. "Not me, really, kid. I trust you. But you can't blame for being suspicious, can ya? The NYPD deal was a big one. We could really use some help from the cops. Put yourself in my shoes, kid, I gotta be careful."

Charlie, in loss of words to speak, couldn't find an answer to give his boss. He always did everything for Johnny without questioning, since he was just a boy. But now, it was different.

"I won't do it." Charlie blurted. "I'm sorry, Johnny, I just can't. He's Babe's brother, she would never forgive me".

"She wouldn't have to know..."

"Trust me, she would know. That girl knows it all."

"Ok then. It's your call. But you're not giving me any choice, Charlie, you're just confirming what the boys have been saying about you. By choosing Nino... Well, by choosing him you're turning your back on me. Consider your protection lifted." Johnny sighed heavily. "You're out of the business."

"Johnny, what? I've been here my entire life, I was practically raised in the business, you can't just send me away...!"

"It's your call, kid. It's either the business or Nino. And you know what happens to the people who leave us."

Charlie pondered for a minute. He knew in his heart that his choice had been made; it had been made since the first moment he had killed a man for Johnny, since the first time he was considered part of the family, since his first paycheck. He was what he was. There was no way back.

His heart had never been as heavy as it was the moment he said:

"You'll have to transfer me somewhere else afterwards."

Johnny's lips curled into a victorious smile.

"I have just the thing for you with my uncle Louie back in Kansas City."

-

"Thanks for the ride, luv." Babe thanked once the car stopped in front of her house. She glanced at her boyfriend hesitantly. "Charlie, what's the matter? You've been awfully quiet since you left Johnny's office."

Charlie glanced at her, and for some reason it felt like it was the last time he would see her that way: sweetly, without regrets. He thought about the love he had for her, and how now he held her love on his hands. Moreover, he thought about how, regardless of that, he was about to throw it all away.

Charlie kissed her on the lips one last time and, aware of his sin and all that would come from it, he said:

"Nothing's the matter, Babe. Now go inside."

"Alright." She simply replied, slightly let down. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, buttercup." He reassuringly smiled. Babe got down the car and started to make her way to the front door.

"Babe!" Charlie suddenly called. "One more thing. Won't you call Nino for me, please? I gotta have a quick chat with him."

"Yeah, will do." She nodded. "And don't forget it!"

"Forget what?"

"I love you!" She shouted from the front door, smiling at him. Her smile in that moment was like the sunshine; he couldn't directly stare at it without feeling pain.

With a faint voice, only loud enough for her to hear it, Charlie responded:

"I love you too." And as she walked inside, he repeated: "I love you best, Babe."







May 20, 2020 15:10

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2 comments

Sara Kay
17:03 May 28, 2020

Hi Theodora, I wanted to congratulate you on your story (parabéns!) especially since by your profile, it seems that English might not be your first language. There are a few small spelling or grammatical errors, but those are easy to fix. :) This was an interesting story- I wonder if you could amp up the tension even more by not revealing what happens to the brother until the very end, or perhaps including more backstory? Either way, well done!

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Theodora Simões
17:53 Jun 04, 2020

Hello, Sara! Thank you very much. Indeed Portuguese is my first language! I will make sure to fix the errors you pointed, and also thank you for doing so. Maybe I will rewrite this story in another way in a near future following your tips; the way I did it like so was because I also used the same characters for another short story I published in another prompt, called "There ain't no rest for the wicked", were we already had the info that Nino died. But indeed, as this story stands on its own I really could've used more tension! Your tips...

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