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Is it weird to say Oops, I wrote too much today? =) I got into a groove at the end there, and just kept going for some extra words.
The uncharacteristic quivering in Adrienne's voice was the first thing he noticed. His sister was always the bright and cheery one, always finding the good in any situation. To hear that hitch in her throat sent more shivers down his spine than any nightmare.
"It is dad," she choked out. Charlie could hear her starting to sob. She fought through them, but she could not keep them at bay entirely. "He passed away yesterday. It took me this long to get up the courage to call you. I knew what you would say, anyways. And I was right. I shouldn't have even bothered."
Adrienne was openly crying into the phone, any coherency lost to her emotions. Hearing his sister like that, so unlike her, and Charlie's face, which he kept in a state of frozen emotion most of the time, broke. Thoughts he had kept at bay for years floated to the surface, and if anyone were to pass by the bridge at that moment and look at him, they may well wonder who this stranger in town was.
Setting the phone aside for a moment, Charlie took a second to compose himself, wiping at his cheeks. The tears rolling down them were stinging against the wind ravaged flesh. With his face dry for the time being, he placed his phone back against his ear, having it pressed there for so long it was truly the last part of him still warm.
He cleared his throat, and found that even now the words he knew that he needed to say, if just for his sister, were almost impossible to get out. His lips moved, his mouth felt dry, and his tongue felt as if it had swollen three sizes, choking off his airways. The promise he made to himself to never return to Kraftsbury had always been a spectre in Charlie's mind. He knew something would drag him back there some day, but he just was not ready yet.
As if being dragged out of the deepest, darkest pit someone could find, Charlie found the strength to force the words out of his mind and out of his throat.
"I'll be there," they were harder to hear than a snail crawling across the ground, but he had said them.
The sobs on the other end of the line stopped at once. Adrienne could not believe what she thought she had heard. She wanted nothing more than her brother to say those three words, but in reality never expected him to say them, not even in her wildest dreams.
In fact, she wasn't even sure she had heard Charlie say them this time. "Wh - what?" she asked.
Charlie looked over the bridge's railing and for a moment considered jumping into the frozen depths to spare himself the journey. Or even to spare himself from having to say those words again. Once spoken though, they became easier to force out of his mouth.
"I said I'll be there," he repeated, louder this time. Adrienne could not mistake what he said for anything else. She was equal parts surprised, proud of, and afraid for her brother.
More than anyone save Charlie himself, Adrienne knew what coming back here meant. She knew the memories they would dredge up, and just how much it was taking for Charlie to even think those words, let alone say them.
She dried her own face, any tears now being shed more out of happiness that her brother was coming home after so many years away. "Thank you," was all she was able to get out.
Charlie's stony face was reforming, and he just grumbled into his phone. His instinct to leave town had been correct, but this was not how he wanted to leave, and most definitely not where he wanted to be going. Putting more distance between him and the place he still considered home was always his goal. He hated having control of his life being wrenched from him without warning.
"I know this is short notice," his sister said, "but if you need some money to get home, for airfare, I can have it wired out to you."
It was almost too perfect, thought Charlie. "No need, sis. Out of all the places I could be, I'm not that far from Kraftsbury." Like his mother and sister with his proper name, the name of that town he left behind was spat out like a curse. In Charlie's mind, Kraftsbury and Hell were not that far apart. They were only seperated by their dominant temperature.
"I'm in the Berkshires, I should be able to get back there in a few hours. Fortunatley, I was planning to leave tonight or tomorrow for greener pastures anyways."
Charlie couldn't say he was surprised by the timing of it all. Most of his life he always felt like someone was playing chess with his life so he was in the right place at the right time, for whatever reasons. Whether it be luck, fate, or coincidence, there it was, poking its head back into his life.
"Besides," he went on. "That money isn't mine to spend. Gram didn't want me to have it. I'll make my own way, I always do."
If eye rolling could be heard over a long distance call, Charlie would have heard his sister doing just that. Their maternal grandparents were old money, going back generations to almost the founding of the United States. They never liked the man their daughter married, and aimed to keep their fortune from their grandchildren out of spite, but relented in later years, giving it all to Adrienne, whom they saw much of their daughter in.
"Brother of mine, if they were still alive enough to give a crap, I'd still send you the money if you needed it. The inheritence is mine now. You know I'd split it with you evenly if you would stop being such a stubborn jackass. It's more money than I know what to do with."
Charlie shrugged to no one that could see, as he watched the street lights come to life with a hum, and amber glow that bathed the area. The sky had darkened almost to a blue to match Charlie;s jacket, and was straining to reach black before the hour was up.
"Yeah, well, they didn't want me to have it, so I'm more than happy to leave it at that. I can manage on my own without their help, at least for this." He pulled back a sleeved and dug through the other layers of clothing to find his watch, checking the time. "Look, Adge, it's getting late. If I've got to come back there, I want to get it over with. Good thing I was planning to leave anyways for greener pastures."
Adrienne let out her familiar laugh, high and trilling. It always set Charlie's teeth on edge, while at the same time, brightening any place where she did it. He could have seen clear down the street after hearing such laughter, without the lights popping on as it got darker.
"Looking for greener pastures," she sounded bemused. "And instead you're coming to the frozen northern lands of Vermont. Sucks to be you. Getting that old feeling of wanderlust back in your bones, huh?"
"Yep. Just before you called, to tell the truth. Just started getting antsy."
"And how many girls will you be breaking the hearts of this time, hmm?"
Charlie sounded hurt that his sister would make such an accusation, but he knew it to be true. "Just the one!"
"You know, you should stay for awhile, fill your life with some stability, rtaher than an endless string of empty relationships."
This plea was nothing new to Charlie, but it was the first time he would be home for his sister to try and make it happen. He rubbed at his temple. "I'll cross that particular bridge later, ok? And then burn it to the ground."
"Funny that you'd say that, considering where I know you're standing right now. Why don't you pick a side and get your ass back here, Chuckles?"
He turned and started back towards his apartment. His heavy boots crunched in freshly fallen snow from early in the afternoon, back tracking along the prints he had made before.
"Fine fine, fine! I'm coming! You are relentless."
"It's a family trait, what can I say?"
Charlie sighed, "I'll call you when I get into...into town." He felt as if saying that name too many times was like looking into a mirror and saying Bloody Mary. Better to not tempt fate.
"Kraftsbury awaits its prodigal son's return with open arms."
With another shiver from the thought of that town having any form of sentience or ability to actually grab onto him physicaly, Charlie hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket.
He walked the entire way back to his apartment in silence, save for his thoughts. His thoughts made enough noise inside his head that his mind would have thought it was in the middle of a crowded airport. O'Hare sprang to mind. Maybe Chicago would be a good place to go back to after all this, thought Charlie. It was one of the first places he went to after his departure from his old life, and while he preferred the smaller towns to get lost in, there was something to be said for getting lost in a crowd.
To describe Charlie's apartment as spartan would have been an insult to the Greeks. His refrigerator contained more items than the entire rest of the rooms he had been living in for the past eight months. The floors were bare, save for a black matt just inside the door for people to clean their shoes off on. Which usually meant Charlie, since visitors were a rare thing.
He kicked off his shoes before moving down the small hallway into the rest of his bare domicile. He had a small tv resting atop a milk crate stacked upon another against the right wall, and opposite that sat a couch in need of a good cleaning. It had borne its dingy colour for so long that Charlie was no longer certain if it was naturally that shade, or if it had once been something closer to white. The back of it was broken in the middle, forming a V where the spine had snapped between two uprights underneath the upholstery. Charlie saw no reason to fix it.
Passing between the broken couch he found outside someone's house heading for the dump, and the low wall that blocked off the kitchen and served as a counter, he looked over at his just as emoty kitchen.
A small table that could barely sit one person, and two chairs were the only things that could be called his, the rest of the items were the appliances that came with the apartment, and a few plates still in the sink.
He tossed his jacket and gloves over one of the chairs, and watched it wobble from the weight shifting it from side to side. Opening the fridge, Charlie grabbed a beer, and turned into the door to his bedroom, occupied only with an unmade bed, and a dresser.
The closet was pulled open with one hand, while the other upended the beer bottle into his mouth, as he took a large gulp of the bitter spirits. He grabbed the suitcase that he'd had since leaving home, and tossed it blithely behind him into the bed, assuming it would even land there.
The soft thump told Charlie his minimal effort at aiming was not for naught, and he grabbed a few of the shirts hanging loosely from their hangers, and draped them over his arm. He threw them into the suitcase, then proceeded to grab the first few items of clothing in each drawer, leaving the rest behind.
With his clothes packed, Charlie got down on his knees, and reached under the dresser, and pulled up one of the floorboards via a knothole in it. He left it under the dresser, just set aside, and reached into the hole it left behind, then pulled out a small coffee can.
Inside that, he removed a large wad of cash, everything from his job that he didn't spend on rent, bills, and food. Every place he lived, he always stored most of it away, living only off the barest essentials. Charlie stockpiled the rest for the next time he moved on, or in case of a rainy day and he really needed it. Today just happened to be both.
He didn't bother putting the can back, instead choosing to just toss it aside, but he did return the board to cover up his hole.
Pocketing some of the money, the majority of it was tossed in with his clothes. With the suitcase closed and in hand, he carried it out to the kitchen and dropped it on the table.
Before leaving, Charlie removed the keys to the apartment from his keyring, left them next to his suitcase.
With the suitcase back in hand, he stopped only to grab a book off the couch; a collection of stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The stories were the only ones he could find that sounded anything like what he had dreamed about, and helped make him feel like he wasn't alone in the world. They were only stories, but at least in a way, someone else had seen something like what he had seen. Even if those things were only in Lovecraft's imagination.
He looked at the back of the book, at the picture of the author. "New England sure is full of some creepy shit, eh Howard?"