“Thanks.” I can’t even look at her, so I talk to my feet instead. I let Alec lead me back home where I fake being sick again, lock myself in my bedroom and die of embarrassment.
“Charlie?” Alec’s voice sounds through my door before he knocks. I try to ignore it. Want to, but I know Alec. He’ll come right in. Hell, my parents have let him sleep over before. They don’t care if Alec has free reign in my house or my bedroom, which actually makes me feel like crap. Sadie Ann could never have a boy stay over. But me? I’m just Charlie. It’s not like any of the boys are going to want me anyway.
“Come in.” I sit up in my twin bed and lean against the wall. As soon as I do I remember my reaction to the summer boy and how big of an idiot I must have looked like. No wonder they probably wouldn’t care if Alec moved into my bedroom. It’s not like I’m real smooth with guys.
“Are you feeling better? Your dad asked me to come and check on you.”
Ah, so there must be outside work that needs to be done. Charlie work. Not work for Mom or Sadie Ann. “The only time you come looking for me anymore is when my dad sends you. Are you sure you don’t want to just be his best friend instead of mine? You love The Village as much as he does.” I cross my arms and turn away from him. I’m acting like a brat, but I don’t care.
“Shut up. Stop acting like such a girl.” He playfully pushes my arm before sitting next to me.
“I am a girl, you jerk.”
He laughs, but when I don’t join him, he quiets. Alec’s good at stuff like that. I get annoyed with him, but I know he cares about me. “Hey.” He scoots closer. “Believe me, I know you’re a girl, Charlie.”
I turn my head, feet on the bed, knees pulled up to my chest. My head rests on my arms that lie on my knees. “Yeah?”
“Of course. Your arms are puny.” He squeezes my bicep. “And your voice is high pitched. Oh, and you pout a lot—ouch!” He winces when I make a fist and hit him with all the strength in my “puny” arm.
“You’re a jerk!” I try to push off my bed, but Alec grabs my arm and pulls me back down.
“I’m kidding. You know that. What’s wrong?”
Everything and nothing at the same time. I feel both stuck and at home and comfortable and uncomfortable and I suddenly want to be free even though I don’t know what that means. “I told you, I don’t feel well.” I let him keep his arm around me and then rest my head on his shoulder.
“You’re a shitty liar.”
“I thought you would be too big a gentleman to call me on it.”
Alec sighs. “You know you can talk to me, right? What’s wrong? Is it Sadie Ann? Your mom?”
Alec’s the only person in the whole wide world who knows how I feel about my mom and my sister. Mom will never love me like she does Sadie and I know I’ll never be as good, or as pretty as my sister. Well, I’m sure people know that, but I don’t know if they know that I know all those things. Alec does, and even though he drives me just as crazy as they do sometimes, and he would be happy on this land every day like Dad, and wants me to be right here with him, I couldn’t imagine my life without him.
“I don’t know what it is, Alec. I just feel…lost. Like I want more.”
“More of what?” he asks and I know he doesn’t get it. I don’t even get it, so I answer the only way I know how.
I don’t see the family from 3B for the rest of the day. I spend it out in the sun, working with Dad and Alec on boats. One of them is having some trouble and Dad considers himself a boat mechanic even though half of the time he makes things worse than he does better. We waste hours on something that we’ll have to call a mechanic about later, who will have to fix the original problem, plus whatever Dad messed up.
I get it. I know money is tight, and Dad has to hold onto every penny he can. I’m not dumb, but when it ends up costing more than it originally would have? That doesn’t seem like good money management to me.
We’re up early the next day. There’s a lot to do to get ready for The Village Bash. It’s the big night in the beginning of the summer. It’s basically the kick off to the summer season where the people in town come out and all the out-of-towners staying at The Village come and we pretend to know how to party and have a good time. We pretend we’re this fun place where everyone wants to hang out. I guess people seem to enjoy themselves. I used to. I’m not sure why that changed last year, or why this year I’m really not looking forward to it.
“What time is the band supposed to be here?” Dad asks. There’s a huge open area in front of the lake, not far from our store. The trees crowd in behind the area and behind our house where the bash takes place. The party area goes partway down the little strip of “beach” that leads around the lake. People don’t travel too far from the main area for the bash. This is where everything “happens.”
“Same as every year, Dad. Bash starts at four, they’ll be here at two to start setting up.”
“Shit.” He runs a hand through his slightly graying hair. He’s not old. I’m not sure why he’s going gray suddenly. “We need to set up the stage.”
I wait for it. Know it will come so I stand up, and as soon as I’m on my feet he says, “Charlie Rae? You think you and Alec could set up the stage?” It’s not hard. I mean, we can handle it. It’s not a big deal to just have Alec and I do it. Or…
“What about Mom and Sadie? I thought you wanted me to fix the fire pits?”
He shakes his head. “You know your mom or Sadie Ann can’t do the stage. I’ll finish the fire pits. Come on, Charlie. You’re the only one I can count on.”
He means Mom and Sadie won’t, not can’t. I’m pretty sure they’re not helpless. They probably wouldn’t even break a nail. But when he says that, reminding me how much he needs me and gives me that kind smile, it’s hard to stay mad at him. “Let me go grab Alec.”
Dad pulls me to him and kisses my forehead. “Thanks, kid. I love you.”
“Love you too, Dad.” Then I’m off to find Alec to put up a stage and then end up finishing the pits and to do whatever else to have a huge bash that I want no part of. One I wish I could disappear from all together.
The Bash is in full swing. I manage to hide out through the first couple hours, making excuses for reasons to go in the house or to the store. There’s live music, dancing, games, and food. People are laughing and talking and singing. Even Mom and Sadie Ann like The Bash. It’s their day to dress up and give people a reason to envy them. It’s the only time they seem to like having The Village.
I see Sadie dancing on the small dance floor in the sand and watch people circle it, clapping for her. Her dress twirls around her h*ps and long legs, and I look down at my cut-off shorts and take a minute to thank God that I realize comfort is more important than showing off the assets I don’t have.
Alec peeks his head through the door. “What are you doing in here, Charlie? Get’cha ass outside and dance with me!”
“I don’t wanna.” I know protesting won’t work. Alec comes in and grabs my hand and he’s dragging me outside. God, he loves this. Not the showing off and stuff like Sadie, but he loves The Village. A part of me wishes I could love it again, like I used to. It would be so much easier that way.
He smiles and it’s almost impossible for me not to do the same thing. I see his parents standing with Dad who has actually taken a small break to enjoy himself. Out here in the middle of it, I see how much busier it is than usual. I should be enjoying this. Why aren’t I enjoying this?
There’s a family of redheads who are staying in one of the cabins a little farther from the lake. They have a two-year-old who’s running around, making everyone around them dance. An older couple that Dad says is on a celebration of life. I guess the husband has cancer and they want to spend a month together on the lake. It’s both sad and romantic and I find it hard to look at them as they hold hands.
I know the other people filling our cabins are around too, so I try to focus on them.
They’re all having a good time.
“You’re going to dance,” Alec says.
“I’m not,” I tell him. “Plus Sadie is drawing everyone’s attention. I’m not going up there to dance by her.” Her black hair is shinier than mine. Longer than mine, just like her legs are.
“Then we’ll dance in the sand.” He’s still pulling and I’m still digging in my heels, but I soon give up because I know Alec won’t. He finds us a spot and we start to dance. I’m a tangle of arms and legs, but I don’t care and Alec doesn’t either. That’s part of the best friend code. Thou shall dance stupidly with friends.
I see some of the girls watching us, and they must be wondering what Alec sees in me. He’s gorgeous and way more social than I am. I know he doesn’t really see anything in me. He’s a flirt, but he never dates any of the girls. He plays sports and has his sporty guy friends, but when he’s not with them, he’s always with me at The Village.
The fast song changes to a slow one and Alec pulls me to him. I’m just as sweaty as he is, but I know he won’t say anything. I know he won’t care.
“See? Having fun isn’t so bad.”
“You really think this is fun?” I ask in his ear. I think maybe there’s something wrong with me. Something I don’t get or somehow lost in the past year. I always say Sadie thinks she’s too good, but can that be me, too? Do I think I’m too good for The Village, only in a different way than Mom or Sadie Ann?
“Sure.” Alec shrugs. “It’s always been fun. What’s not to like?”
I don’t know. I wish I did.
We dance a couple more songs and then hang out with some friends from school. Dad calls me away to help once in a while or to grab something or fix something or whatever other “Charlie” job brings itself to his attention.
After my errand to go get more ice, I come back outside. They’ve lit the tiki torches and the little twinkling lights that hang all around are lit as the sun starts to go down. It’s getting dark, my favorite time of the day. I love it at night. Love the darkness with those little specks of light decorating the sky. I like to pretend I can visit the stars. That I’ll ride one far away from here one day. It’s a kid’s dream. I know that, but I like it so I plan to keep on dreaming it.
Alec is surrounded by a group of people from school. Girls are all around him and a couple of the guys from his football team. I know I’ll hear it later if I leave, but I have to get away. Dad might need me or Alec will come looking for me, but I want to chance the stars by myself. Heading back into the house, I go out the back door, which leads to the woods. I don’t go deep, but stay hidden enough that I can walk around the Bash and toward the far area of the lake without anyone seeing me.