By: Aria Cage

“Charlie?” I hate that my throat croaks in desperation. But it is what it is; I’m a desperate man for a girl… woman I can’t shake. “Will you be back?”

She chews on her lips and grips the side of her shirt as she glances at my nurse whose doing her best to ignore our conversation. I’m a fucking asshole and a coward for making her do this. It’s one thing to put an old woman’s mind to rest, but a complete other to ask her to come back to a nightmare like me.

“Yeah.” Then, just like that, she backs away and rushes from the room, leaving me to hate myself a little bit more.

“She a friend?” my nurse asks. I don’t look for her name; I just close my eyes and think about Charlie’s hands and scent, since anything else breaks my fucking damned heart.

“Yeah. Childhood friend.”

“I see. I don’t know her, but I see she works here. That was lucky.”

I don’t know about that at all. Luck had never played a role in our lives before. I loved her from the moment she stepped out from the removalists truck with her father. I always will, even though I shouldn’t, even though she deserves her freedom.

WE’RE IN MY TENT I got yesterday for my birthday. Davey is still out with Nona, like every third Thursday. They normally come home with dinner. It’s our fat-Thursday, Nona says. It’s where we get take away, which usually means, fried chicken and fries from The Bell. Unfortunately, it also means it’s the day Sheriff Barns calls out for us from his garage. I don’t know whether he chose this particular day in the calendar because Nona was never home to suspect what her neighbour did for kicks, but it worked.

This Thursday, like every month for the past year, I hold Charlie’s hand and let her lead me to the nightmare that is our life. I know it’s wrong, and I think she’s starting to see the truth too. I’ve tried to tell her, but she gets so upset that I just can’t. I can’t be the one she hates for shattering her resolve. She loves her dad, and he has her mind washed so raw she can’t see straight where he is concerned. There’s no changing what is done until she’s old enough to see the truth. I want to tell Nona, or someone, but I’m scared for her and Davey, so I stay quiet. I’m scared for Charlie, too. She isn’t the same girl anymore, and it’s entirely his fault. If he isn’t put away for some reason, she will be stuck with him, and he will probably take her away where no one can be there for her. So this is my nightmare―not what we do, but that we have no way out.

I want to say I don’t like holding her and stuff. I want to say that so bad, but the devil in me knows better as I pull her into my lap on her dad’s sofa chair. He now has another chair in which he sits in as he coaxes us. I hate this garage so damn bad.

“Kiss her, Nathan.”

THE PHONE RINGS ONCE before I hear Nona’s broken voice through the receiver. I sit on a stool in the tea room and rub my chest. I loved this woman like she was my own gran. She watched over me and protected me when no one else could. She dressed me, fed me, and loved me as a little girl should be loved, and I had to leave her when I forced her to take it all away.


“Oh, dear lord, Charlie?”

How on earth do they recognize my voice after eleven years? “Yes.”

“Child, where have you been?”

“Trying to live one day at a time, but Nona, this isn’t why I’m calling. I’ve just been with Nate, and I wanted you to know his surgery went well. He is now resting in recovery. We should know when he can go home soon.”

“How? I mean to say, did they call you?”

“No. I work at BDCH. He was brought into my ER.” And into my life again.

“Are you okay?”

I think about that a second and shake my head. I’m far from okay. “No. But I will be. The other reason for my call is to see if you would like me to come round and be with Davey so you can see Nate.”


I can hear her crying, and my heart aches for her tears. She doesn’t deserve this. “Nona, he’ll be fine. I promise. Nate is strong, you know this.”

“I’m not crying over that, baby girl. I know Nate will pull through; he’s the biggest fighter I know. It’s you. Your heart allows such pain for me and my boys—our boys.”

The “our boys” reference rakes a sob from me that almost pulverises the ache. I rub my chest harder even though I know it won’t help. “They aren’t my boys anymore, Nona. They haven’t been since…”

“Hush! They will always be our boys. Always. Now if you don’t mind at all, I would love if you would come by so I can see Nathan. I will get you some dinner out; I cooked Davey’s favorite.”

“Still roast?”

She chuckles, “Always. I will see you soon. And, Charlie―”


“We miss you.”

“I miss you, too.” I miss you all. I press end and drop the receiver to the table just as the tears begin to fall. I hurt that family so badly. I took everything away from them, and then moved on with my life, trying to forget them and forgive myself. I was successful in neither.

Nate gave up everything for me in the name of love and protection, so I did the same. I gave them up because they needed to heal. I gave them up because they were better off without me. I gave up the only love I had in my life because I loved them more than anything in the entire world. Nate made it easier when he stayed silent to my pleas, and I thank God every day that he was stronger than me.

The door to the lunchroom bursts open, and I almost tip my stool backward in shock. It’s Paul. He’s not happy, and rightfully so. I hate displeasing him; I would do just about anything to alleviate him from it. He has been so good to me. It is easy to look past his faults when mine are so sizable. Paul is soft and caring; he’s successful and calm and… safe in a way that I understand. He is my safe world from the past; I know what to expect, good and the bad.

I met Paul during my internship at Northwestern. He knows I went through some tough times, but doesn’t probe. Safety is his friend, too. He just needs it for a different reason to me. Paul Parker comes from a social standard that I will never understand and in which I will never feel welcome. Don’t get me wrong, they try to welcome me, but I always feel as though they are searching for my secrets. I wonder if they can see the fraud that I am. Paul, however, sees what he wants to see. As long as I don’t embarrass him, he stays in the safe zone. I have paid the price for not keeping my side of the bargain more times than I care to admit.