Charlie Conway is 27, and his life is not going right. Can he be saved in time? This is neither slash, nor any form of love story, neither will it become one.
Category: The Mighty Ducks (Movies)
Characters: Adam Banks, Casey Conway, Charlie Conway, General Background Ducks, OC – Female, Terri McDowell
Genre: Drama, Holiday – Christmas, Supernatural
Pairing(s): ! Original Character/Canon Character
Warning: Character Death, Domestic Violence, Substance Addiction/Abuse
Started: 24 November 2003 | Finished: 15 September 2015 | That’s right. It took 12 years and 10 months to finish this. Do I get a prize for being the slowest writer in the history of writing?
Dedication: To all the fabulous people that I love so much that have helped me through a nasty time.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Mighty Ducks, I wish I did because then I’d be fairly rich, could cheerfully say, “Ah, I knew Josh Jackson before he was famous”, and wouldn’t have to do boring repetitive work. I could write for a living. Anyone such as Terri, Annie and Celine belong to me. Yay, lucky me.
Disclaimer 2: Charles Dickens owns the plot. Of course he does anyone knows that. Thought I’d better state it for legality.
Notes: Kristine and I were talking about what movies we liked, and we both really liked Muppets Christmas Carol. Then I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I had to watch it. Whilst watching I realised that nobody had yet Ducked the story. You know me, I love to be the first. I’m a cherry hound in that sense.
New Note: Yes, once upon a time, Terri McDowell was known by another name. This has been changed for reasons that made sense at the time.
Timeline: Charlie and Adam are playing pro hockey, they’re in their late twenties. If there aren’t hockey games so close to Christmas, I apologise. I really don’t know much about hockey, that’s why most of my fics are character-centric, not game-centric. If anyone points out, due to pop-culture references that my timeline doesn’t match up, I will thank them calmly, but still not edit the fic to make it fit.
“Damn it!” Charlie swore viciously as he went hurtling over the bent form of a Puma defence man. One of the Pumas gained control of the puck and instantly shot off in the other direction towards the goal. He was instantly intercepted by Adam Banks, who had never forgotten the intensive defence training at Eden Hall, and he sped back towards the goal.
Charlie was barely back on his feet before Adam had scored, the fans went wild—of course they would, everyone loved Adam Banks. He was the star, and had quite the cult following of devoted hockey fans, not to mention all the girls that got hot and bothered just looking at him.
They never looked at Charlie that way.
Adam took the face off, an aggressive scramble for the puck ensued but Adam got control, a steady chant of “Go, Banksie! Go!“ filled the arena as Adam sped towards the goal, going for the hat-trick. The score was an even 4-4, both Adam and Charlie had scored two of those goals each, with only a few minutes left of game time, only one of them would get the hat-trick.
Adam passed to Charlie, his way blocked by defence men, and Charlie sped towards the goal, trying desperately to imagine that the chant was “Go Conway! Go!“ The Puma’s defence now swarmed around Charlie, and over the din of the crow he heard a yell, “Pass it, Conway!”
Charlie ducked around one player, keeping possession of the puck, he wasn’t going to pass it. He would get the hat-trick. He would win the game. He skirted around another player, but as he did so the player’s stick caught his skates and he tumbled down onto the ice. This was exactly the opening the Pumas were waiting for. Adam was knocked over by one player while another grabbed the puck and skated hard towards the goal.
With Banks and Conway down the team didn’t have much chance. The puck slid in the goal, despite the valiant attempts of Robson, their goalie, seconds before the buzzer went off.
“PUMAS WIN! PUMAS WIN 5-4!” yelled the commentator excitedly as the Puma fans went wild.
Charlie got to his feet and skated dejectedly off the ice. As he passed Adam, he reached out and touched his arm.
“What?” Charlie snapped. “He hooked me, ok?”
Adam looked surprised by the vicious tone in Charlie’s voice. “Charlie—”
“Spare me the friggin’ lecture, ok? You’re the star, I’m the spare and you’re all just dying to blame me for that, right?”
“Give me a break,” he spat disgustedly, then continued his trek towards the locker rooms, carefully ignoring the looks and whispers from his team-mates.
“You’re drunk,” Adam observed as he entered the living room of the apartment he shared with Charlie, freshly showered and shrugging on a coat in preparation of leaving.
“So I am!” Charlie agreed in tones of mock cheer. After the game, the Coach had absolutely lambasted him in front of the entire team; accusations of him being a glory seeker and a puck hog were screamed so loudly that even people in Australia had complained about the noise. Charlie had taken it, silently seething. He had been hooked. Why weren’t they seeing that? Why didn’t they care? It hadn’t been his fault. If it had been Adam, he thought resentfully, nobody would be yelling. They’d be patting him on the shoulder sympathetically and saying things like “No hard feelings, man.”
The rest of the team didn’t care for Charlie. They’d never really taken to him. He’d heard several of them ask Adam—when they’d thought Charlie was out of earshot—why he still stuck by him, despite Charlie’s behaviour. He’d hadn’t been able to catch Adam’s reply, but the question had hit him in the gut like one of Fulton’s slapshots. How dare they talk about him that way?
They didn’t understand. He didn’t have a behavioural problem, it was other people. They were always hooking him, starting fights on the ice, trash talking—and the refs were always biased, which is why Charlie wound up in the penalty box, not them. And he didn’t have a drink problem either, but with so many assholes in the world, it was nice to have a drink to unwind.
Adam eyed the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the coffee table. “That’s a lot of booze,” he ventured cautiously, knowing that Charlie would snap, crackle and pop at him if he pushed too hard. “But since it’s Christmas Eve, I guess I should catch up. I’m going out drinking with some of the team, do you want to come?”
“Nope,” Charlie replied, necking straight from the bottle.
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Adam coaxed. “It would give you a chance to bond with them, you’ve never really—”
“Jesus, Adam! I don’t want to bond with those assholes! They never see my side!” Charlie snapped.
“They might, if you just talked to them instead of just assuming that they hate you,” Adam pointed out in a measured tone, as if holding on tightly to his temper.
“Of course they would. If I was you,” Charlie sneered. “You’re perfect, you can do no wrong.”
Adam took a deep breath and counted slowly to ten. This was a constant tirade of Charlie’s once he’d had a few shots. Never when sober though. On occasion, Adam tried to talk to him about it the next morning when Charlie had sobered up. Charlie would deny all knowledge, Adam would push, there would be an argument and Charlie would storm out. He would appear about five hours later, drunk as hell—no matter what time of day that was.
“One last chance, Charlie, why don’t you come out with us?”
“Forget it!” Charlie snapped.
“Fine,” Adam replied tightly. “Don’t forget we’ve got some of the Ducks coming over tomorrow for dinner.”
“The Ducks are dead,” Charlie muttered into his bottle.
“Right.” Adam sighed as he opened the front door. “I’m going then.” He paused. “Happy Christmas, Charlie.”
“Fuck Christmas!” Charlie snorted in response.
One: Christmas Past
“Hello, Charlie,” a voice said softly. It was a familiar voice, but one he hadn’t heard for a very long time.
Charlie pried his eyes open, he wasn’t sure at what point he had passed out, but evidently, he had. And had spilt most of his remaining JD on his trousers.
After a couple of blinks to clear the sleep from his eyes, he was able to focus on the space in front of him. Annie James sat opposite him. She was perched on his coffee table, in her cheerleading uniform, not looking a day over eighteen.
She was wearing the clothes she died in.
“I’ve never hallucinated before,” he mumbled, eying the JD bottle with concern.
“And you’re not now,” Annie replied firmly, in her standard no-nonsense tone. “I’m just here to give you a heads up. You’re an ass, Charles Joseph Conway. A complete ass.”
“An insulting hallucination,” he commented. “Novel.”
She reached over and smacked him firmly around the head. “Was that a hallucination?”
“I’m quite the mastermind, I’m not only arguing with my hallucination, but it beats me up too.”
Annie sighed deeply. “You know what? I wanted to look in on Luis. I really did. I’m only allowed out at Christmas and now I have to wait another three hundred and sixty-five days before I can see him again. I’ve been looking forward to today all year, but no. I’m here, talking to an asshole who doesn’t care.”
“You’re an asshole, got that? And you’re about to get a big kick up the rear. I hope you’re bruised for weeks after.”
“Um, thank you?” Charlie replied, eying her hand, ready to dodge, should she swipe at him again.
“You’re welcome. The first kick up the rear will happen at one. Ok? Now I’m off to see Luis, I might still have time.” She stood up and straightened her skirt.
“Are you going to hit Luis too?” Charlie asked. “Does he put up with your insults?”
She gave him a sad smile. “Luis neither sees nor hears me. He doesn’t need to.” She paused, her smile a little wider. “He’s not an ass like you.”
With that she vanished, leaving Charlie slightly alarmed and dying for a drink.
“Is gra liom thu.”
“I love you too.” Charlie mumbled sleepily, automatically reaching out for a small warm body, waking slightly when he found nothing but a cold and empty bed. His brain registered the emptiness, and reminded him that there was nothing he could do about it, so he pulled the covers tighter around himself, and tried to get back to sleep.
“Ok, that does it. Get out of bed, you lazy gurrier.”
Charlie jumped at the sound of the voice, but refused to open his eyes. If he opened them, Terri’s voice would stop, the apartment would be empty, and since he’d spilt his drink there wasn’t even booze to take the edge off.
“Hey, lazybones. I’m on a time scale here. Get up!” There was definite impatience in Terri’s voice this time. It wasn’t the soft declaration of love that first began to pull him towards wakefulness.
“I mean it, don’t make me go get the ice.”
Charlie cautiously cracked an eye open. Despite his blurry vision, a vibrant shade of purple was visible.
“God, Annie warned me you were an ass, but honestly.” There was a deep sigh. “I’m getting the ice.”
Charlie opened both eyes and rubbed them aggressively. Yes. Right in front of him stood Theresa Jane McDowell. As with Annie, she looked exactly as she had the day she died, down to Charlie’s old Ducks jersey and his jeans—of course she would, Terri and Annie both died in the same car crash. His eyes lit up, a genuine smile crossed his face, muscles and tendons straining to perform an act that had been long abandoned. “Terri,” he breathed reaching out for her.
Reaching right through her.
“Sorry, Scrat. I’m incorporeal unless I need to be. Your needs don’t make a difference,” she said, her tone light, but her eyes sad.
“Gremlin, what are you doing here?” he asked, rubbing his eyes again, trying to see her even more clearly.
“In the words of the illustrious Annie James, I’m here to give you a kick up the rear.” She smiled. “Now get out of bed and let’s get going.”
“Where are we going?” he asked, obeying instantly. He didn’t care if this was a hallucination or a dream. Terri was here, and whatever she said was worth doing.
“You smell bad,” she commented. “I know that you’re alive and I’m not, so you’re winning on that count but…” She paused and eyed him up and down. “You’re barely living. And do you know how disgusting it is to sleep in your clothes? Big turn off to girls.”
“That’s ok.” Charlie hastily straightened his clothes as best he could. “You’re here, and you always loved me messy.”
“Scrat,” she said softly. “I’m not here. Not always, just now. And I’m not very keen on the alcoholic version of Charles Conway.”
“Don’t call me Charles!” he replied instantly.
“Don’t give me reason to.” She grinned back.
“I miss you,” he told her.
“Missing is one thing. You’ve been the living dead since I left.” She offered her hand. “I need to be corporeal now, you can touch me.”
He reached out and took her small pale hand in his. Instantly a dizzying sensation swamped him, he felt as if he was free-falling from an aeroplane with no parachute, a wash of colours and light flooded his vision until he could not even make out his own hand in the kaleidoscope of confusion, let alone Terri. He closed his eyes and whimpered in fear.
As instantly as it started, it stopped again.
“You can look now. They warned me that would be a little funky,” Terri told him. She was once more incorporeal, and his hand was now residing inside hers. It felt like he had plunged it into icy water. Alarmed by the sensation and sight, he removed his hand quickly, and looked elsewhere.
He recognised the building they were in instantly. It was the locker room of the arena they had played in as District 5, and then later as the Ducks. He saw himself and the rest of the team, minus Adam and Bombay. Karp was trying to cram Peter into a locker. It was a scene that brought back a strange feeling of nostalgia. He missed being so happy and carefree.
“Charles, hate to say it, but you look like a girl at that age,” Terri commented.
“They can’t see us, can they?” he guessed. When the scene had first played out in his life, a twenty-seven year old man and an eighteen year old girl with purple hair had never materialised in the middle of the locker room.
“Nope, these are just memories brought to life. Kinda like falling into a Pensieve.”
Charlie frowned, not quite understanding.
“Harry Potter,” she expanded. “Jeez, you’re alive, you could have read all of the books by now—and by God, you’re going to, because it’s just killing me that all the people who are alive down here have access to all seven books and I died a six months before the fifth one came out.”
“Ok, I’ll buy them tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s Christmas,” she reminded him.
He was about to reply with his usual disagreeable response to that, but Terri shushed him. “Watch!”
Adam Banks walked into the locker room, an apprehensive look on his face. Seconds later Bombay appeared behind him. Charlie watched as his younger self got to his feet to greet Adam, and from this vantage point he noticed something he hadn’t first time around, Adam’s hands were shaking. Not much, but enough, and they stopped when Charlie stood up to talk. Admittedly the second Jesse put his two cents in they started again, but he was slightly touched that his words had momentarily soothed Adam’s fear.
“That was a really nice thing to do,” Terri told him. “It didn’t work, but not because of you. I bet Adam appreciated it.”
Charlie made no response.
“Come on, more to see.” She reached out and touched his arm again, and once more he was overwhelmed by the dizzying rainbow of colours and light.
They arrived in another locker room, this time it was the one from their final game against Iceland. Adam came barrelling into the locker room. “Coach!” He picked up a hockey stick. “I woke up, and the pain was gone.” He rotated the stick, without even a twinge of the soreness that had been bothering him.
Charlie watched as his younger self gave up his spot for Adam, without even a second’s hesitation. He remembered how he had felt that day. He had wanted the team to win, whether he was a part of it or not. And more than anything, he had wanted his best friend to play, even if he didn’t get to himself.
“You two were close, weren’t you? Best friends?” Terri asked. “I always think that friend is a nice word, but best friend, that’s special. Some people don’t have best friends, you know. They have a collection of close friends, but…” She paused, and glanced over to where Charlie and Adam were tentatively hugging. “Nothing like that.”
Charlie didn’t reply. His throat seemed to be blocked, he felt tears pricking the backs of his eyes. When was the last time he had done something so selfless for Adam? When was the last time he had even acknowledged Adam without sneering?
“Still more to see, lots,” Terri told him. “Seriously, so many memories. I’ve picked the best ones, but for awhile there, you had a lot of best times. I figure the next lot won’t have quite the same trouble as me.” She gave him an odd smirk he had never before seen on her face, which baffled him more than her words.
He didn’t have much time to process what she said though, because she reached out and touched his shoulder, taking him to Eden Hall, he recognised the scene instantly. It was Freshman year, he had broken up with Linda several months previously, and it was about three months before he met Terri. He knew this, because he could see himself sitting on a bench outside, and Lisa was approaching him.
“Should I be jealous?” Terri asked, with a smile as they moved a little closer.
Charlie smiled back. If Terri knew how he was feeling on that day, maybe she would have been. He had adored Lisa. He and Adam had met her at one of their games, and she had gotten along with them both quite well. She was pretty, funny and smart, everything the average fourteen year old would want in a girl.
Adam had always acted a little aloof with her for some reason. Charlie had asked him about it one day, asking if Adam felt that their friendship was being threatened by this girl who seemed to appear wherever they went, and if so, did he want to maybe set a day aside just for he and Charlie to hang out together.
Adam had given a nervous snort of laughter, and turned bright red. After a few minutes of gentle reassurance from Charlie that he wouldn’t laugh, Adam confided that he had a serious crush on Lisa and wasn’t sure how to behave. From what was said, Adam didn’t realise that Charlie was also crushing on the girl. He asked Charlie for advice on how to talk to her and ask her out.
Charlie had bitten back the desire to tell Adam that he wanted Lisa too, and that she should chose between them. Adam’s crushes were so rare, so delicate, that Charlie couldn’t do that to him. Adam’s overpowering shyness often stopped him from getting dates, and now that he had found a girl that he could hang out with, with only a modicum of discomfort, Charlie couldn’t take that away.
So instead he gave him the advice that he should maybe stop thinking so hard on how to be cool around her, and just relax a little, as if he was hanging out with just Charlie. They rehashed previous conversations they had had with Lisa, in an attempt to remember what she liked, and ways to interest her. They worked out which classes she had and where it would be ‘natural’ for Adam to bump into her throughout the day.
By the end of the conversation, Adam was feeling hopeful and, more than anything, reassured that Charlie really was the best friend in the world.
Charlie had felt pleased to see Adam so happy, but a little hollow inside because of it. So he had gone outside just to clear his head a little before he exploded with confusion.
And it was at this point that Lisa had come over. This point where Terri had brought him.
“Hey, Space Cadet!” Lisa said, coming up behind Charlie and putting her hands over his eyes. “Guess who?”
“That really hot babe from Baywatch?” Charlie said hopefully.
“You pig.” Lisa removed her hands from his eyes and playfully swatted him, then took a seat beside him. A lot closer than she usually sat when Adam was around.
Lisa took a deep breath, as if working out whether she should say something or not. Eventually she came to a conclusion. “So, Conway,” she said. “I was thinking we should hang out, you know?”
“We’re not hanging out now?” Charlie asked distractedly, his mind still on his swirling feelings of loyalty towards Adam and attraction to Lisa.
She dug him in the ribs. “You know what I mean. Maybe a movie or something?”
“Yeah, I think Adam mentioned that he wanted to see that new Arnie movie at some point,” Charlie replied.
Lisa coughed delicately. “Um, I just meant you and me… you know?” She said in a soft voice.
“Oh!” Charlie was visibly startled by her forwardness. “Oh, a date?”
“Um, yeah, if you want to,” she said.
Charlie paused to think, half of him desperately wanted to say yes, and was encouraging him to tell her so, and also sneakily pointing out that what Adam didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. He and Lisa could be careful. The other half of him was replying with a flat-out no. Adam liked Lisa, he couldn’t do that to him.
“I’m sorry, Lisa. It’s not that I don’t like you,” he replied thoughtfully. “I do, but not like that. I kinda see you as a sister, you know? I’m really sorry.”
Lisa gulped a couple of times, then quietly got up and left.
“Wow,” Terri said. “You didn’t even say ‘I’d love to but my friend likes you, so no’. You told her you didn’t like her.”
Charlie, his eyes still on his younger self, shrugged. “I thought if she knew I liked her she might ask me out again, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say no.”
“That’s what I always loved best about you, Charlie,” Terri said. “The way you always did the right thing, no matter how much it hurt you. You always had the biggest heart of anyone I knew… Of course, I’ve heard rumours to the contrary recently.” She stared at him levelly. “Would you do that for Adam now?”
Charlie shook his head mutely, not wanting images of recent months to come to mind.
“Let’s go.” She touched him again, and when the colour faded, he recognised the scene.
“Nooo.” He moaned softly. “Don’t show me this, Terri.” He begged. “Don’t. It was hard enough the first time.” He began to shake as the scene unfolded.
They were standing by the side of a road in the dark, it was close to midnight, he knew, he had relived this moment often enough. The road was narrow and twisting, and any minute now…
A car came into view, sometimes disappearing out of view behind hedges then reappearing seconds later. It was a silver BMW, brand new, an early Christmas gift from Phillip Banks to Adam. Adam wasn’t in the car, he had managed to catch a lift with Guy from one Christmas party to the next, and said that Charlie was the only person that he trusted to drive his new toy. The car came slowly, cautious of other drivers and the winding road, not to mention the fear of denting his best friend’s brand new car.
He knew who was inside the car. It was himself, Terri and Annie, Terri beside him in the passenger seat, Annie behind her. Both dressed up in costumes for the party, Annie as a cheerleader, Terri had gone as Charlie, wearing his green Ducks jersey and a pair of his jeans. Both girls had been chattering excitedly as the festive spirit crept over them. Charlie had not been completely uninvolved in their conversation, but kept at least ninety percent of his senses on the task at hand, night driving down a dangerous road.
“No, Terri, this is enough. You can stop now,” he said, his voice trembling.
“Sorry, Scrat, but the powers that be don’t agree,” she said, but she did look genuinely regretful.
He heard the other car before he saw it, just like before—bright red, blasting out Guns n’ Roses’ Don’t Cry at top volume, weaving back and forth across the road. Charlie watched in horror has the silver car containing himself, his love and her best friend, began to slow trying to avoid the red car, but to no avail. Younger Charlie swerved, trying to avoid the collision, and almost succeeded, but the red car caught the tail end of Adam’s BMW and the car spun once before wrapping itself around a tree. The red car landed in a ditch, not far from Adam’s.
There was a moment’s silence before anyone moved. Charlie and Terri moved closer to the wreckage, though there was nothing they could do. This was past, this was memories.
Adam’s brand new silver car was a write-off. The passenger side was wrapped firmly around a tree—there was no way that anyone on that side of the car could have survived.
Charlie watched as his younger self came to, and freed himself from the seat belt, an agonising howl of torment ripped through the night, and Charlie knew exactly what his younger self was seeing. Terri, seemingly blemish free from the crash, except for a small graze on her forehead, her blue eyes staring sightlessly straight through him.
She hadn’t been blemish free, of course, a branch of the tree had gone straight through the car door and punctured her lung. Annie’s cuts and bruises were far more obvious, her mortality just the same.
Charlie felt tears of rage and pain in his eyes. “God damnit!” he yelled furiously. “I see this every damned night where I don’t drink myself to sleep, ok Terri? You’re pissed at me, I get that! Ok! I’m sorry, I killed you. I really am! I damn well loved you. I loved you more than anything!” The sobs overcame his rage and he sank to the ground, gasping for air.
Terri also lowered herself, resting on her haunches. “Scrat,” she said softly, reaching out to touch him, her hand stopping a few millimetres from actual contact. “Baby, I didn’t show it to hurt you. I didn’t show you because I blame you. You had to see what was stopping you from moving on in your life.”
“Murdering my girlfriend! Most people would agree that when a guy does that, he doesn’t deserve to move on!” he spat out.
“You didn’t kill me. You want to blame someone? Blame him. Or blame alcohol.” She gestured over to the owner of the other car, who was pulling himself from the wreckage. On seeing the mass of crumpled silver metal that had been a car with three healthy passengers only moments ago, he collapsed to the ground and vomited.
“If it makes you feel any better,” she added softly. “He killed himself not long after he was sentenced. Then again, so did you. Around the same time you picked up your first bottle, right Charlie?” Her tone wasn’t accusatory, it was sympathetic, but still a little disapproving. “Pretty ironic, really. A drink driver ruined your life, so you decided to ruin it a little more with the same thing.”
“I never drive,” he choked out.
“I know you don’t,” she agreed. “But it’s time to go. We have one more thing to see.”
“I don’t want to see any more,” Charlie said, wiping his eyes.
“Sorry, Scrat. It’s not my call.” She reached out once more and touched him, and down they fell to the final scene.
“This one is in three parts. A play of three acts, if you like.” Terri informed him. “Maybe you should pay attention, since you were a little blurry first time around.”
Charlie looked around and saw that he was at home, in the apartment that he shared with Adam. The lack of Christmas decorations confirmed that he wasn’t actually home yet, but in another memory.
Walking into the living room, Charlie realised exactly when this was. And was awash with shame that Terri would see the scene unfold. “I get it,” he said. “I’m a bad, bad person. You don’t have to show me this to prove it.”
“Apparently I do. Shush. Watch.”
So Charlie shushed and watched. He saw himself—exceptionally drunk—and Adam’s ex-girlfriend, Emma, on the sofa, he couldn’t remember why Adam had been held up, but he knew that Adam wasn’t due back for about an hour. For the first time, Charlie noticed how very unattractive he was when drunk. He had never been under the impression that he was the life and soul of the party when he’d had a few, but he had thought that he was at least the quiet type who faded into the background unnoticeably.
It was a shock to find out that he talked loudly and slurred a lot. His clothes looked unappealingly rumpled and used, and his mannerisms—they were all over the place. He looked like an ape, he was sprawling around and losing balance constantly. Poor Emma was being polite, and kept surreptitiously moving away from him on the sofa, only to find that Charlie would move closer to her again.
Then, in a mass of inelegant arms and slurred words, he lunged on her, desperately trying to kiss her, babbling about how “Banksie wasn’t a real man” and other barely coherent insults.
Emma squealed and shoved him away, getting to her feet and yelling at him, berating him for his lack of loyalty towards someone he had known almost his whole life. Charlie moved closer to her again, still mumbling unintelligibly, and tried to kiss her again.
She slapped him hard across the face, the sharp smacking sound bouncing off the wooden floors and bare walls, then she turned and let herself out of the apartment, her eyes filled with shocked tears. Charlie, still mumbling to himself, picked up his bottle and returned to the sofa.
Charlie could barely bring himself to look at Terri, not wanting to see the disgust in her eyes. She didn’t look disgusted, her expression was unreadable. “I really don’t think alcohol is your thing, Charles,” she said. “Here comes part two.”
The scene washed in and out of colour a couple of times, before settling again. If his other self hadn’t been wearing a different shirt, Charlie would have been hard-pushed to tell the difference in the scene. Yet again, he was on the sofa, clutching a bottle of JD, staring blankly at the TV. It was disquieting to realise just how much time he wasted doing just that. If something didn’t happen soon, Charlie wouldn’t have a clue what particular day he was watching.
At that point, Adam walked into the room, shuffling nervously. “Charlie,” he said softly.
“Hey, Ads,” Charlie replied blurrily.
“Can we talk?”
“Sure.” Charlie’s eyes never left the TV.
Adam walked over and took a seat on the coffee table opposite Charlie, pausing to turn off the TV. “I just need to ask you one thing,” Adam said, his voice shaky.
“Emma… she says…” He gulped. “She says you hit on her. I didn’t think that you would, but she—I just have to ask, ok? You’re my friend, I know you wouldn’t but…”
“That bitch!” Charlie spat out angrily. “This was the other day, wasn’t it? Yeah, I know what she’s talking about! She came over, supposedly waiting for you and she was all over me. Wearing a low cut dress, pressing herself into me! That slut! I told her I’d never touch her, you’re my best friend!” Charlie’s rant became a little more slurred and incoherent, as he paused to take a couple of sips from his bottle.
As his drunken self continued to rant, his present self noticed something he hadn’t seen that day. Adam’s face visibly crumpled, his eyes filled, and eventually he had to excuse himself, pausing only to pat Charlie on the arm and mutter, “I knew you’d never do that to me.”
“Charles, c’mon.” Terri nodded towards Adam. “You need to see this part too.”
Silently, Charlie followed Terri into Adam’s room, where Adam shut the door firmly behind himself, then went to his dresser where he took something out of the top drawer.
“Have a look,” Terri urged.
Charlie moved around the room so he was in front of Adam and could see the item clearly. It was an engagement ring. Adam was staring at it sightlessly, his eyes filled with tears. For the longest time he was still, then suddenly with a sob he threw it viciously across the room. “You bitch!” he half-sobbed, half-yelled. “I loved you so much! How could you do that to me?”
Charlie watched in horror as Adam wrecked everything of Emma’s he came into contact with, pictures, clothes, ornaments she had bought, jewellery she had left from the various nights she had stayed. The crashes and smashes were earth-shatteringly loud, but still the drunken Charlie in the other room didn’t come in.
“I never knew about this…” Charlie said softly. “I—” he laughed, but there was no humour in it, only disgust. “I never even heard him.”
“A far cry from the boy who told a girl he didn’t like her, just so his best friend could have an honest shot with her, no?” Terri replied.
“How could I not see…?” Charlie gestured to the sobbing form of Adam, surrounded by wrecked possessions but no friend to comfort him.
“We have now reached the final act. Let’s go,” Terri said, touching him again.
As the scene came into focus, Charlie looked around in confusion. He was in the locker room, but there was no sight of another version of himself, only Adam, sitting on a bench, staring blankly at a wall. It was post-game, he could tell because Adam was in his street clothes, and his hair was wet from the shower. He could hear the shower still going in the attached room.
“You’re here,” Terri said, as if reading his mind. “But you really needed to see it from Adam’s point of view. The whole conversation, not just one sentence that drove you into a completely irrational rage.”
Just then, Robson, their goalie came out of the shower room, straightening his shirt. “Hey man,” he said, noticing Adam. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” Adam replied flatly.
“Don’t worry about the game, bro. Everyone has an off day.”
“Yeah,” Adam said again in the same dull tone.
“You still hung up on Emma?” Robson asked, his tone contained a very well-rehearsed lightness.
It occurred to Charlie that Robson and Emma went back a long time. Charlie dimly remembered that he had been the one to introduce him to Emma, that they had been old school friends.
“It gets me now and then,” Adam replied, his tone also a forced casual.
“Well, she’s still heartbroken.”
“How can she be?” Adam snapped. “She’s the one who strayed, not me!”
Robson sighed. “Look man, I know Emma. She would never lie. She’s not the type to even flirt with someone else.”
“Except Charlie,” Adam said acidly.
Robson took a seat beside Adam and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m going to tell you something for your own good, ok? And you might resent it, but hear me out. Emma has never liked Charlie—not in any way, shape or form. She thinks that he drags you down, she doesn’t understand how you can put up with him, but because she loves you, she’s never said a word. She tries to see him the way you do, but she still can’t bring herself to like him.”
“If that’s true, why did she try it on with him?” Adam asked bitterly. “Did she finally see him the way I did—only better, what with her being female and all—and fall in love with him?”
“Adam, she didn’t hit on him. He lunged at her, twice. She slapped him and left the apartment. She wasn’t going to say anything but she doesn’t like to keep secrets, it’s on par with lying. And it’s not the first time—whenever you’re not around he’s been too…” Robson paused to find the right word. “Familiar with her, sitting too close, touching her too much or too long. But this time she couldn’t not mention it.”
Adam visibly wavered, but then his face closed up again. “You’re wrong,” he said softly. “Charlie would never do that to me.”
Robson sighed again. “I gotta say, I don’t understand why you constantly stand up for him. I know you’re old friends, but don’t you see that he’s dragging you down? He’s bad news. Maybe you should cut loose—and give Emma a call.”
Charlie suddenly realised where he had been during this scene. At this point, he had been in the shower room, but paused when he heard Adam say his name. Hearing Robson’s comments had made him shake with rage, and he had missed Adam’s response.
“You don’t know Charlie,” Adam replied. “He’s the best friend a person could have. He’s loyal and kind, and would rather I was happy than himself. He’d do anything for me—and he wouldn’t think twice about it. He’s never held me back in my life, he’s always pushed me forwards, even when he’s been too tired to move forwards himself. How can I possibly walk away from that? He once told a girl that he didn’t like her—even though he was crazy about her, just for me. Because I liked her. He gave up his spot at the Junior Goodwill Games for me. He’s done countless wonderful things for me, without ever expecting anything back. He was my first friend, and he’s still my best friend.”
Robson shook his head and got to his feet. He paused at the door, a pitying look on his face. “Maybe he was. Once.”
“He’s a good person,” Adam insisted.
Charlie shook his head wonderingly. It had been a long time since any of what Adam had said was true, how could Adam still possibly believe all that? “I didn’t know he knew about Lisa,” he said, for something to fill the silence.
“Oh, you know how it is,” Terri shrugged. “You hinted to Guy, Guy told Connie, Connie told Julie, Jules told Adam. It took awhile to filter through, but he knew. Of course, by that time, he and Lisa were dating and very happy together.”
“How can he still believe what he said?” Charlie asked.
“He’s an idealist, and just as loyal as you once were,” Terri replied. “But given enough time, he could become just as jaded and hateful as you. Misery loves company—hey, you two could be alcoholics together!” she suggested with mock-perkiness. “And you could screw up the team because you both want the glory, and you could hit on each other’s girlfriends, and you could secretly hate each other—hey, maybe you could even get aggressive when drunk and beat the living shit out of each other.”
Charlie winced with every word. He had done all but the last one, and the way he was going, it might not be an impossible scenario, that he would hurt Banksie.
“No,” he said firmly, both to the idea of hurting Adam any more than he already had, and the idea that Adam might one day end up like him.
“I have to go now,” Terri told him. “My time is done.”
“No, you can’t go!” Charlie said, anxiously. “How am I supposed to go about my life, knowing you were here?”
Terri gestured to the fading scene. “If that’s going about your life, is it really worth doing? Why don’t you just sit down and have a drink and forget about me?”
“No!” Charlie snapped. He couldn’t remember the last time he had refused a drink.
“No? Oh go on, you know how much easier life is when you’re drinking. That feeling of being right, and just knowing that you’re not at fault, it’s those other ‘assholes’.”
“Shut up, Terri. I don’t want a goddamned drink!”
She smiled, her face instantly softening. “Good. I’ve been wanting to hear that ever since I got here. Now, I just want one thing to be clear before I go. You did not kill me. Nobody did—unless you want to blame alcohol and its addictive contents. I do not blame you. Annie does not blame you. Luis does not blame you for Annie. You shouldn’t blame yourself. You shouldn’t blame Adam because it was his car you were in. There is no blame. Ok?”
“Ok.” He gulped, noting that she was beginning to fade.
“You don’t believe me,” she said. “But you should, and one day, I hope you will. Talk to Adam, he’s got more time than me. Plus, he can hug.”
“Don’t go!” Charlie called, wishing for just a little more time with her.
“Bye, Scrat. I love you.”
“Is gra liom thu,” He replied, the Irish phrase rolling off his tongue perfectly as if it had not been almost ten years since he last said it.
“Oiche maith.” She gave him a wink.
“One more thing. You can get a girlfriend, you know. I’m too dead to be jealous. Our love was enough for me to feel happy about for eternity—you gave me heaven, Charlie.”
End Notes: Wow, I actually really like Adam today. Seriously. But don’t worry, I’m sure it will pass. Use of Don’t Cry during the crash was not just me being obsessive (well it was, but…), there’s actually a car crash in the music video (original version, not alt lyrics), so it does slightly tie in! On another note, Shoebox isn’t forgotten, I’m just having a hard time writing about happiness at the moment.
Carla: Not only a speedy beta, but left wonderful comments in the fic. Thanks hon.
Kristine: Thanks for the feedback, feel free to take credit for this since you inspired me.
Horisont: Thank you, after a few viewings of D3, it’s quite easy to picture Charlie as the Scrooge type.
ann918/Gina: I hope the first ghost didn’t disappoint. I didn’t want to kill any of the Ducks off just to make this fic work. I have no such qualms killing Terri.
Q: Dude, go watch Muppet Christmas Carol now, I command you. STATION!
BanksiesBabe99: Thank you for saying that the prologue was ‘awesome’. *grins* I hope this chapter (and the following ones) live up to it.
Meme: Charlie is better than Adam. Yes. But see, I did really like Adam when I wrote this fic. It won’t last, but for the time being, he’s all right. See, that’s me being tolerant at this festive time of year.
plainjane: *grins* Everyone is responding well to the alternate “Bah! Humbug!” line! Thank you.
Leslie: Is this update soon enough for you? This chapter would have been up earlier, but I wanted to wait for a beta before I put it up. I promise this will be finished before Christmas.
CakeEater’sGirly99: Charlie should really have an old man’s dressing gown and one of those silly bed hats for this, shouldn’t he? That would make him really Scroogey.
KShyne99: *eyes list* There’s a lot of Adam fans reviewing today—look, three people with ‘99’ in their name! And I don’t think you’re a nerd about watching Muppet Christmas Carol, I love it too. I think Fred is very adorable. There’s something about a man in top hat and tail coat that just does it for me (hence my Slash obsession? Who knows?). I thought Charlie was the most likely to be Scroogey out of all of the Ducks, like you said in D3, he has that temper, and I expect that’s just on the sidelines of his life, when things are bad, I bet it reappears. And I want the Ducks to stay best friends forever. I want to think that their kids all look out for each other at school and play on the same hockey team. I want to see all thirteen Ducks (plus all the D1 Ducks who vanished) as adults, go to a hockey game together—preferably with their spouses and kids. That would be a happy thought. And I love that you gave a long and random review, they make me happy. I’m also in the festive mood. *joins in the singing* Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…
Two: Christmas Present
Notes: I had no idea that I hadn’t uploaded this chapter. Now that I’ve checked, I remember finishing this in the beginning of the year when I didn’t have the internet. Thanks for the reviews you guys have left so far, sorry it’s taken so long to upload the next chapter. Also, there is an automated archive purely for Ducks fics at queertet dot net—just a little bit of site pimping—I’m begging you guys to upload your fics there too.
Charlie blinked a couple of times, realising that he was standing in his bedroom once more. Alone. Terri—whether she had been a dream, a ghost or a hallucination—was gone.
He sank down on his bed, emotionally raw from the wash of memories that she had shown him. He rubbed his eyes tiredly. What he wouldn’t give for a drink to numb the pain…
“No,” he said aloud, his voice breaking the silence and almost making himself jump.
“No, what, Charlie?” a Scandinavian voice asked.
Charlie shuddered in recognition. “Hans?”
Hans stepped out from the shadows, into the light from the window. “Hello, Charlie.” He smiled. It was a kind and understanding smile, it was one that Charlie had always thought was reserved for himself and Bombay alone.
“Hello, Hans.” At this point, Charlie was becoming accustomed to seeing dead people. “Are you here to show me more horrible things? Because I really doubt you can top Terri’s. That girl went all out.”
“I see your attitude has gone somewhat downhill. You remind me of Gordon—before he remembered how to fly.”
“Gee, thanks, Hans,” Charlie replied.
Hans ignored his tone. “Obviously conversation will not help, perhaps a visual aid?” He reached out and touched Charlie’s shoulder and Charlie resigned himself to the falling sensation.
When the vertigo and light spots subsided, Charlie realised the he was in his own living room. “We couldn’t have walked?” he muttered grouchily.
“Watch,” Hans instructed.
“Gosh, hadn’t thought of that.”
“Charlie!” Hans snapped sharply.
Charlie was awash with shame, he had never been so disrespectful to Hans—who had always been their mentor, Charlie’s especially—and now that he was deceased, it seemed worse. “I’m sorry, it’s just been a long night and I just wanted to process what Terri showed me and think about things. This is a bad night, couldn’t you come back tomorrow?”
“How can you learn if you leave halfway through the lesson?” Hans asked.
Charlie sighed and turned his attention to the scene at hand. Yet again, he was on the sofa, barely awake, his bottle still in his hand, though the contents were spilled all over his lap—Charlie realised both versions of himself were wearing the same clothes, though the Charlie on the couch looked even more unappealing, his clothes disgustingly rumpled, his hair mussed, his face blotchy from sleep and alcohol.
“It’s tomorrow, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Hans agreed.
“Charlie!” Adam strode happily into the living room, his voice rousing the hungover Charlie slightly. “Hey, Charlie, Happy Christmas.”
Charlie grunted something in response, but Adam never faltered. As was customary, he took a seat on the coffee table, opposite Charlie and produced a gift from behind his back. “Present,” he said encouragingly.
Charlie grunted again but reached for it.
Sober Charlie turned to Hans, “I haven’t even bought Adam anything,” he whispered in shame.
“I don’t think he expects anything.” Whether Hans was complimenting Adam’s giving nature or insulting Charlie’s selfish one was difficult to determine.
Charlie turned back to the scene in front of him, moving closer to get a good look as his other self unwrapped the gift. It was only small, but carefully wrapped. Adam was precise when it came to gift-wrapping. In happier times, Charlie would go Christmas shopping with Adam, then the two would go back to their dorms, where Adam would wrap all the presents, constantly complimenting Charlie on his ability to dispense tape and “hold this here” on command. Charlie couldn’t remember the last time he had been Adam’s “Second in Command of Operation Giftwrap” as he had called it.
“What the hell is this?” drunken Charlie spat out, gazing at a slim but heavy metal oblong. On closer inspection, Charlie realised it was a framed picture that had been taken at the Christmas party. The last party that Terri and Annie had ever been to. In the picture, Charlie, Adam and Luis stood laughing together, their arms around Terri, Lisa and Annie respectively.
Charlie also realised that it had been the last party Adam had attended with Lisa. He had finished with her in order to spend more time with Charlie to help him through the grieving process.
“Is this a reminder? A warning? A threat?” Charlie yelled venomously. “Another damned reminder that I screwed up and you didn’t? Well bully for you! Thank you, Adam! You’re so damned perfect, I wish I could be you!” He wound up and hurled the picture across the room with all of his might. The metal frame buckled and the glass shattered against the wall.
“Charlie…” Adam had got to his feet and backed away in alarm, holding his hands up in a surrendering gesture. “I didn’t—”
“Sure you didn’t!” Charlie yelled. “I bet you and your buddies from the team thought this up! Let’s get at Charlie because he screwed up the game last night!”
“Charlie, calm down,” Adam began in a placating tone. “I really—I just thought you’d never seen the picture before…”
“And heaven forbid I forget what I did!” Charlie grabbed the empty Jack Daniels bottle and threw it at Adam. Adam’s lightning reflexes were all that saved him from an unpleasant trip to the Emergency Room, he ducked and it shattered on the wall behind him. “What on earth would happen if for just one second I could forget what I did to them? We gotta ram it down my throat all the time!” he raged as he advanced on Adam. “I can’t ever forget, because then I might be as good as you.”
Present-day Charlie shuddered in horror. “Adam never talks about it… why am I saying all this?”
“Ten years of alcohol, mixed with ten years of bitterness, pain and resentment… it’s never a good combination,” Hans pointed out. “Especially for those who live with you.”
The drunken Charlie had now grabbed Adam by his shirt and was screaming incoherent threats and abuse in his face, while Adam had his hands on Charlie’s shoulders, apologising in a calming tone, hoping to soothe his anger, but Charlie was having none of it. He brought his fist back and slammed it into Adam’s face at full force. Adam fell to the ground, Charlie gave him one final look of disgust before storming out of the apartment, without a word of apology.
“No, I didn’t… I wouldn’t…” Charlie gasped.
“Really?” Hans asked neutrally.
“This is just a dream,” Charlie decided, though his voice lacked conviction.
“In that case,” Hans replied, “you won’t mind a trip to another household on this festive day?” And before Charlie could object Hans reached out and touched his shoulder.
Charlie was relieved to see that he was now in the kitchen of the Bombay household, where he had no plans to be for Christmas. Surely there would be nothing horrible to see here? Just his mother and Gordon having a cosy Christmas together. Gordon was setting the table, when Casey came in wearing a pretty dress.
“Did I hear the phone ring while I was in the shower?” she asked hopefully.
“It was just a wrong number.” Bombay replied, but on seeing his wife’s face fall, he quickly added. “But then Charlie called right after. He said to tell you he loves you and he’s thinking of coming home when the season finishes so he can spend some time with you.” Despite his legal background, lying was obviously an ability that Gordon had lost somewhere along the way.
“In case you don’t remember,” Hans said. “Gordon called you yesterday to remind you to call your mother. I won’t repeat your exact wording, but you told him that you didn’t want advice from a drunk driver, then you hung up.”
Charlie hung his head in shame, he had no recollection of the phone call at all. He remembered getting home and needing a drink, and that was it.
“Why didn’t you come and fetch me?” Casey asked accusingly. “I swear…” She stopped herself and took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry, Casey, but he said that the rest of the team were queuing to use the phone—it’s tradition for all the bachelors to have Christmas together,” Bombay replied after a moment’s thought.
“You forgot to come and get me when he called last time,” she said bitterly. “And the time before that.”
“I didn’t want to tie up the line, long distance phone calls don’t come cheap.”
“For God’s sake! He plays professional hockey!” she snapped. “He can afford it. I swear that sometimes you’re jealous of my son!”
“Casey!” Bombay looked stricken. “You know that’s not true! I think of Charlie as my own son!”
“Maybe you did once, but now?” She laughed bitterly. “You never pass on messages, you forget to invite him to stay—and then you lost the Christmas card he sent this year!”
As the argument escalated and tempers rose, Hans turned to Charlie. “In case your drunken mind has blurred your memory, you’ve not called your mother since April—you’ve not called her sober for about three years. And the card Gordon ‘lost’ does not exist.”
Words failed Charlie. Was he really that bad? It was horrible seeing himself this way. He had no idea what he might have said to his family, but dimly remembered that he had spent a night hating Bombay because he had once driven drunk—once—Charlie didn’t realise that this hatred may have come back every single time he got drunk. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time that he had called his mother, but surely it couldn’t have been as long as eight months ago?
Tears were now flowing freely down his mother’s face, as she hurled out bitter accusations that Gordon ruined her relationship with her son. “Sometimes I think marrying you was the worst mistake I ever made!” she choked out, before running out of the kitchen and slamming the door so hard a picture fell off the wall and shattered.
Gordon blinked a couple of times, wiping his eyes to catch the tears before they fell. “Why do I cover for you, Charlie?” he murmured softly.
“Time to go,” Hans said, touching his shoulder.
The next scene was back at Charlie’s apartment, and judging by Adam’s budding black eye, it was still Christmas day, and not long after Charlie had stormed out. The broken bottle and smashed picture frame had been cleared up, now Adam was sitting on the sofa, a dazed look on his face, as he stared at the now torn and crumpled picture.
“He gave up Lisa for me, then I chased Emma away from him,” Charlie mused. “Now I’ve hit him. What more can I do before he leaves?”
“That I do not know,” Hans replied. “But I believe your question will be answered before the night is through.”
Charlie’s question had actually been rhetorical, he couldn’t believe—or didn’t want to—that he could do something so awful to Adam to make him leave, seeing what he had already done was horrific enough.
A knock at the door roused Adam from his daze, he pasted a smile on his face and ran his hands through his hair, obviously distressed that it wasn’t long enough to cover his swelling eye.
Adam opened the door and was instantly barrelled into by a four year old brown-haired piece of fluff, who cheerfully announced, “I need to pee!” before she rushed off in search of a bathroom.
He was then greeted in a more sedate fashion by the owners of the piece of fluff, Connie and Guy. “I see she inherited your shyness,” Adam commented to Guy.
“Cassie has as much dignity as Connie did at that age,” Guy responded proudly, giving Adam a hug.
“Hey, Cake Eater.” Connie elbowed her husband out of the way to give Adam a one-armed hug. “We brought wine.” She brandished a bottle with a free hand. “It’s non-alcoholic.”
Adam gave her an enquiring look, but Guy shook his head. “Where’s Charlie? We’ll wait for him.”
Adam smiled brightly as he ushered his friends into the living room. “You know, I think he got lucky. We were out last night and he met this really pretty girl, and this morning when I got up there was a message on the answer phone saying he was hanging out with her, but he’d try to be back as soon as he could.”
From the looks on their faces, they didn’t believe a word. “Well,” Guy said finally. “I suppose it’s a good thing. He hasn’t done much dating recently, has he?”
Connie said nothing, obviously reining in a biting comment about Charlie’s life.
“What happened to your face, man?” Guy asked.
“Oh this?” Adam touched his face. “To be honest, I have no idea, I went out drinking with the team last night.”
“Looks new,” Guy commented.
Adam floundered momentarily. “Well, I was just getting to that part, I was feeling quite groggy this morning, I’m not quite sure what I did wrong, but I was trying to get the coffee out of the cupboard and boom! Next thing I know I’m on the floor holding my eye.”
Guy raised an eyebrow, but made no further comment. “Well,” he said abruptly, “I suppose that since it’s possible we might not see Charlie today, we may as well tell you our good news.” He turned to his wife.
“Good news?” Connie replied with a big smile. “I treble in size and can’t drink, play hockey or dance all night for nine months, and that’s good news?”
“You’re pregnant?” Adam asked.
Charlie turned to Hans. “That’s great news. They’ve been trying ever since they had Cassie. I remember Adam telling me how upset they were getting because they couldn’t conceive again.” He then remembered that he’d made no attempt to call either of them to offer his support. He turned back to the scene when it became apparent that Hans was not going to reply.
“And we want you to be the godfather,” Guy added, smiling at Adam.
“Wow. You’re trusting me with this again? I’m stunned,” Adam said. “I’m sure Charlie will be thrilled too. This might be just what he needs to help him find a new perspective.”
Instantly the atmosphere changed. Connie and Guy exchanged nervous looks. Finally, as was customary for most minor disputes, Connie took the lead. “Um… actually, we just meant you. Charlie…”
“Charlie really hasn’t been quite the godparent we hoped he would be,” Guy continued. “While it’s true that Cassie adores him, Charlie is very rarely around.”
“Adam, he turned up drunk to Cassie’s christening,” Connie pointed out.
Charlie winced. He didn’t even remember Cassie’s christening, much less whether he was drunk or sober.
“Adam, surely you see that Charlie’s getting worse?” she continued. “I know he lost his girlfriend, but that was years ago. I don’t mean to sound heartless, but he’s had plenty of time to deal with it and move on, Luis has. He loved Annie, but he’s not trying to drink himself to death. Charlie’s been offered counselling, Bombay offered to take him away for a few months to do cold turkey away from here, everyone who knows him has tried to help, and I don’t doubt for one second that you have tried your damnedest to clean him up, all to no avail. We don’t see him often, but we can see it. Surely you can too?”
Adam stayed quiet for the longest time. Finally he spoke. “I do understand what you’re saying. I can’t fault your reasoning, you have a life to protect—and a godparent should do the same, and I can see that Charlie is not very responsible in his own life, let alone someone else’s. I understand and respect your decision… but at the same time, I can’t be a godparent to your child. Not without Charlie. So thank you very much for asking me, but I regretfully decline.”
“I get it,” Connie said in a tight voice. “We have to tip-toe around Charlie, we can’t upset him, we have to treat him like he’s the only one that matters. Fine. Have it your way. Put your life on hold because that stupid drunk is unwilling to live his!”
Guy slipped an arm around Connie and gave her a warning look. “Cons, he has to live with the guy.”
Charlie felt a lump form in his throat. These were his oldest friends. He’d known Connie and Guy all of his life, and they were talking about him as if he was an anvil around Adam’s neck. Something horrible they had to tolerate to have Adam in their lives. What hurt the most was that they had reason to. Charlie was seeing himself clearly for the first time since the Christmas he wrapped Adam’s car around a tree. He was a shell of his former self, his behaviour was disgusting and shocking.
“It’s not that I’m scared of him,” Adam burst out looking both hurt and offended. “Charlie’s not had a good life, he never got over Terri, I’m the first to admit that, but he’s never felt like he belonged since then. He’s had to fight a little harder just to keep himself ticking over normally. He feels like everyone hates him because of what happened. You said Luis got over Annie, maybe it was just a little easier for him, because he wasn’t in the car. He wasn’t driving the car. Charlie feels that he killed not only his own girlfriend, but Luis’ too. Maybe his guilt is irrational, maybe it’s lingered far too long, but that’s how it is for him. He’s clinically depressed, whether he admits it or not. I’m not afraid of him, it’s not about that. I just can’t take anything new from him, because he’s already lost everything else.”
“And whose fault is that?” Connie snapped back. “Maybe if he put down that god-damned bottle for a few months, he’d get back a few things he’s lost along the way.”
“Did you know that depression is an illness?” Adam asked. “It’s not just a state of mind, it’s an illness—and like any illness, it has symptoms and side-effects. One of the symptoms can be obsessive or repetitive behaviour. I know, because I was depressed when I was eleven, my father was pushing me way too hard with hockey and school and everything else. I had this one movie that I had to watch every night, I had to start watching at exactly eight pm otherwise I couldn’t watch it at all. If I didn’t get to watch it, I’d panic and have anxiety attacks. But if I did watch it, I felt better, more in control. That’s how Charlie feels about drinking, I know as well as you do that it’s killing him, but I know how he would feel about not drinking, because I felt the same way about not watching that movie.”
“Watching a movie doesn’t make you aggressive, offensive, and quite frankly dangerous. Neither does it rot your liver and beat the living crap out of your kidneys!” Connie remarked.
“I’m aware of that,” Adam replied, his voice tight and low, and Charlie recognised the tone. Adam was absolutely livid, however, he’d been brought up far too well to unleash the way Charlie would. Instead he would become more polite and his tone would be carefully measured. “I know Charlie’s killing himself. I know, ok? I’m just telling you how he feels.”
“I think,” Connie decided, “that I’ve wasted far too much time already caring how Charlie feels. He’s not even here and he’s ruined Christmas.”
Her words hit Charlie like a slap in the face. He was destroying lives, not just his own but everyone’s around him. His mother’s marriage to Bombay seemed to be hanging by a thread, Charlie’s inability to be even a halfway-decent son was driving a wedge between them. His inability to function as a normal human being was alienating him from his friends, and the only person standing by him was Adam, the one he seemed to hurt the most. Sooner or later Adam would leave him too—deservedly so—would Adam be alone too when that happened? Would people have given up on him by then because he couldn’t walk away from Charlie?
“What can I do?” he said helplessly, turning to Hans. “How can I make this all better? I’ve gone too far for ‘I’m sorry’ to even begin to help.”
“You’d be surprised,” Hans replied. “Those two words, when unheard for so long, can work wonders. They can set you on the path to redemption, though I don’t doubt it will be a long and tiring journey for you.”
Charlie hung his head. “I deserve that.”
At that point, the Christmas Day version of Charlie stumbled through the door, muttering something about his wallet.
“Hey, Charlie,” Adam said, his tone light and friendly with no evidence that only a few hours before Charlie had hurt him.
Charlie made no answer, he didn’t even look at him.
“Connie and Guy are here, Cassie too.”
“Whoopie-doo. Some Duckies and their little kid. Yay,” Charlie responded, pulling a face. He paused, glancing at Connie. “Wow, Cons, you’re really piling on the weight. Married life getting you down?”
Connie’s volatile and well-documented defensive nature reached boiling point. “Actually, Charlie, married life is as wonderful as ever—not that you’d know what wonderful feels like. And unlike you, if things do get bad, I don’t feel the need to throw myself a pity-party with Jack Daniels as the guest of honour.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Oh good, we’re talking about that again. You losers. I don’t have a problem, ok? You’re just jealous because I’m a professional hockey player and your dreams got cut short because you were dumb enough to get knocked up ten seconds after leaving school.”
Present Day Charlie turned to Hans. “Please, make it stop. I don’t want to see any more, I know that I’m a bad person.”
Hans gave Charlie and appraising look. “Do you think you’re being punished, Charlie? You’re not. You’re being given a second chance.”
“But it hurts.” Charlie realised that he was crying.
“Yes, it probably does,” Hans agreed. “But this is just one night, how do you think your friends feel?”
Charlie turned back to the scene in front of him. Connie and Charlie were fighting tooth and nail. Charlie was reminding Connie of the time she found out she was pregnant with Cassie, her fear that it would ruin her life and the agonising process of deciding whether or not to keep the baby. Connie was simply listing every time Charlie had done something unacceptable, it was an extensive list. Adam and Guy tried to intervene but were getting nowhere.
What stopped the argument was the appearance of four year-old Cassie. “Why are you shouting? Didn’t Santa leave you the right presents? Are you cross?” She gazed at Charlie, a look of fierce adoration on her face. “Because if you don’t like yours, you can have mine.”
“We’re not cross, sweetheart,” Connie said, moving towards her daughter. “We were just talking loudly.”
“Yep, we were just talking about how much your Mom didn’t want you. She wanted to be famous, then she got saddled with you and you ruined her life,” Charlie said spitefully. “And don’t worry about gifts from Santa, he’s a lie too. He doesn’t exist, your parents lie to you.”
Cassie’s lip quivered, then she burst into loud pitiful tears. Connie rushed to her daughter and scooped her up for a hug that would start the extensive comfort needed to make things right. She began murmuring that Charlie was just teasing, that everyone loved and wanted Cassie, that Santa did exist, that everything was ok.
“Great,” Charlie sneered. “More noise.” He walked past his screaming goddaughter into his room.
Guy took a deep breath. “Adam, it has been momentarily wonderful seeing you, but Connie and I will not be coming back here. You will always be welcome in our home—but not with Charlie. Come on, Cons.” He put his arm around his wife, patted his crying daughter’s back, then escorted them from the apartment.
Adam’s mouth worked soundlessly, obviously still trying to apologise for Charlie’s behaviour despite the fact his guests had left. Finally he gave up and sank to the floor, tears flowing down his face.
Charlie was disgusted with himself. Was he really so far gone on alcohol that in a few short hours he could wreck a child’s life by making her feel unwanted and robbing her of the magic of believing in Santa Claus? He had not only lost his oldest friends, but he had pushed them away from Adam who, seemingly, was still willing to stand by Charlie.
What was wrong with him? Adam was his best friend, Cassie was his goddaughter, and Connie and Guy were two people he had known all of his life, they were his family, and he was ruining their lives. They had done nothing but support him and care for him, even at his worst, and even so, he gave no thought to their feelings. He was too busy wallowing in self-pity over the loss of Terri, and too busy drinking himself to death, as a way to join her.
“I feel sick,” Charlie said faintly.
“That will be the alcohol,” Hans replied.
“No, it’s not that.”
“I hate what I’ve become. Just looking at how I behave makes me sick. I don’t deserve my friends. I don’t deserve to have Adam in my life.”
Hans nodded, which made Charlie feel worse. It was all true, there were no comforting words from Hans. In the past, Hans always had some wisdom to impart, some way of resolving the situation, now there was nothing.
“Hans, did I die of alcohol poisoning? Am I in hell?”
Hans laughed. “That’s one way of looking at it.” His face softened when he saw Charlie’s look of alarm. “But no, Charlie, you are still alive—whether you like it or not.”
Charlie felt a stab of relief. Maybe he didn’t like his life, maybe he would rather be with Terri, maybe he really was nothing, but he couldn’t leave his life without trying to make peace with his friends.
Hans reached out and touched his shoulder, Charlie closed his eyes and when he opened them, he was back in his own room. “It’s not over, is it?” he asked with trepidation. “There’s more?”
Hans nodded serenely. “One final lesson. But not from me. Goodbye, Charlie.”
Three: Christmas Future
Notes: I’ve been meaning to update this for awhile now. After cutecanuck left a review, I finished this chapter, but… well, gosh, it’s been about 5 years since I updated anything on and I was a little intimidated by how much change there has been! Well, just the epilogue left, which is mostly written, but I can’t seem to commit to a format.
Charlie couldn’t stop shaking, a combination of the sheer volume of alcohol in his system and an information overload to his senses. So far he had seen the best and worst moments of his life, followed by horrific events due to unfold in a few hours. Perhaps what was really making him shake was the fact there was more to come.
Charlie realised that he had come to a significant point in his life, taking a drink tomorrow would be the point of no return. Taking a drink tomorrow would set the events in motion that would lead to him losing everything, hitting Adam, offending Connie and Guy, terrorising Cassie, letting his mother’s marriage to Bombay fall to pieces because he couldn’t be bothered to get in touch, forcing Bombay to cover for him, which made Casey think Bombay was deliberately getting between them when all he was doing was protecting his wife from the harsh realisation that her son was an alcoholic.
He sat down and buried his face in his hands and let out a shaky breath. It was all too much to process at once. In Annie’s words, he had received a huge kick up the ass and, as she hoped, he knew he would be bruised for weeks after—but that was nothing when compared to what his friends had put up with over the years.
He realised suddenly that he wasn’t alone. Part of him didn’t want to raise his head and see which of his departed friends or family might be his guide for the final stage of his journey. Seeing Terri and Hans had been disturbing, while he may not have accepted that their deaths had been right, he had accepted that they were dead. Seeing them again had unsettled him, maybe he could have lived with that, but they also saw some of the worst moments of his life. It had been humiliating and painful to let two such respected and loved friends see what he had become.
He didn’t want to see what might become of him—he knew he would be looking into the future this time, that much he had deduced. He didn’t want to see who might show it to him. Hans’ words floated back to him, How can you learn if you leave halfway through the lesson?
He raised his head. Standing before him was a… shape, for lack of a better word. It was draped in a black shroud, which covered its face. The veil was made of a thick heavy material and it was impossible to see through—though Charlie was secretly relieved, if the thing wanted to cover its face, then he wasn’t so sure he really wanted to see.
The shape pointed to him, with a hand draped in material, then turned its hand over, offering it to Charlie.
“Not a big talker, huh?” he said nervously, then he reached out and touched the thing.
There was a swirling vortex of lights and colours, but unlike the previous trips, all the colours were dark, blacks, browns and reds, like blood and tar, and Charlie knew that he wasn’t going to like what he was about to see.
He opened his eyes and found himself in a funeral home, a closed casket was at the head of the room, draped in flowers. Beside the casket stood Connie and Guy, Cassie was not with them. Connie was slender once more, so Charlie could deduce that it was at least six months into the future, but beyond that there were no indications as to when he was. Chairs were not set out, there was no minister, the room was empty save for Connie and Guy, this was either before or after the funeral.
Connie was sobbing and trying to staunch the flow of tears with a tissue. Guy was dry-eyed but dazed, one hand resting lightly on the curved lid of the coffin.
Charlie had a very strong idea of who was inside, but he still had to ask. “Me?” The question came out as a whisper.
“We should have done more,” Connie said. “We should have been with him. He called and we said no. He was in so much pain and we just ignored it and told him we’d see him next week.”
Guy nodded slowly. He looked to be in shock. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“I thought he’d be ok,” Connie continued. “I thought… well, it’s been going on for years. I’m so stupid.”
“Oh, god,” Charlie moaned in horror. “After all this time, they’re blaming themselves for this? It’s my fault and they are blaming themselves?”
The shape did not move. It made no indication it had even heard him.
Guy simply repeated, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Why would Charlie drive?” Connie whispered.
Charlie felt a tightness in his throat and a hotness behind his eyes. He felt sick. It had nothing to do with the alcohol. This couldn’t be the future. It simply couldn’t. Charlie never drove. Never. He’d barely been behind the wheel since the crash that stole Annie and Terri’s lives. It was his only rule—his one absolute—he did not drive.
But—he flushed in shame as he realised plenty of absolutes had already been destroyed—not hitting Adam was something he should regard as an absolute, and it hadn’t taken much to break that one. Don’t tell a child that Santa isn’t real, another broken easily.
The shape clapped a hand down on Charlie’s shoulder, hard enough to hurt, and the swirling darkness took him.
Charlie fell to his knees and opened his eyes to find himself in his mother’s house. He staggered to his feet and took in the scene. Casey Bombay sat in the kitchen, stirring a cup of coffee with vigour. Her eyes were red but dry, but she had dark circles beneath them. In front of her were balls of screwed up paper, some had fallen to the floor, clearly whatever she was writing was taking a lot of revision.
Casey turned her attention to a newspaper on the table. Charlie moved closer, he wasn’t able to make out the text of the article but the headline read “PRO HOCKEY PLAYER DIES IN CAR WRECK”. Underneath the picture of twisted metal that had once been a car.
“Oh, Charlie!” Casey gasped. As she buried her face in her hands and let a fresh deluge of tears fall Charlie noticed something. She wasn’t wearing her wedding ring.
“Where’s Bombay?” Charlie asked. “Where is he?”
Though it made no sound, Charlie thought the shape was laughing at him. It clapped its hand down on his shoulder and dug its fingers in. Terri and Hans had been sorry for the waste that Charlie had become, but for the first time Charlie felt frightened of this guide. He felt that it hated him, that it enjoyed his suffering, and that it could not wait for these visions to become reality so that it could claim him, take him into the darkness, and keep showing him more. It wanted to hurt him.
He didn’t know what was worse—that the shape was waiting for him, or that he deserved it.
Charlie whimpered as his feet went out from under him. He didn’t want to see any more. It was enough. He had driven and killed himself, he’d broken the only rule that he’d set himself. He’d destroyed his friends’ lives and his mother’s marriage.
He found himself in a sparsely furnished apartment. He was in a bedroom which was almost devoid of furnishings, a bed, a chest of drawers and a wardrobe. The only human touches were two pictures on the wall, one of Gordon and Casey on their wedding day, the other of Charlie and Gordon during the Goodwill Games, simply sat beside a campfire. The pictures tugged painfully on Charlie’s heart. Bombay was still very much in love with his mother, otherwise they would not be on the wall. Charlie gasped as he saw an empty alcohol bottle on the chest of drawers.
“No,” Charlie moaned. He turned to the shape. “Please tell me he didn’t start drinking again. Please.”
The shape pointed to an open door behind them. It led to a bathroom, from it Charlie heard the unmistakable sound of someone retching and vomiting. He pressed a hand to his mouth, horrified that his actions had pushed Bombay so far. He’d been sober for—Charlie paused to think—sixteen years in real time, but he didn’t know when they were now. Maybe he’d made it to twenty.
The shape cocked its head towards the bathroom door. Clearly it wanted Charlie to see Bombay drunk. It wanted him to see what he’d caused. They weren’t going to move on until the vision of his step-father drunk was burned into his brain.
Charlie stepped through the bathroom door fearing the worst. He bit back a sob as he realised he had no comprehension of “the worst”. It just kept coming, it kept pushing him harder and further into the darkness.
He was not prepared to see himself vomiting into a toilet as Bombay rubbed his back and uttered soothing words. “Come on, son, you’re nearly there. Just stay with me.”
“I want to die,” his other self said, swiping at his lips with his sleeve. “Just let me die.”
Bombay offered him a tissue, which the other Charlie accepted with shaking hands. When he made no move to clean himself up, Bombay guided his hand. Charlie’s eyes filled with tears, but his vision was still clear enough to see that Bombay was still wearing his wedding ring.
“Withdrawal is hard, Charlie. But you can get through it.”
“What about the rest?” the other Charlie asked.
Bombay had no answer.
Charlie whirled to face the shape. “But I’m dead!” he yelled. “I can’t be there! I can’t be there with Bombay! I’m dead. I’m in a damned coffin!”
The shape made no reply but Charlie could feel that it was enjoying this. It was revelling in his pain. Every tear was a delight to it.
“If I’m not dead,” Charlie said tightly, very afraid of the answer, “who was in the coffin?”
If material could sneer—and Charlie was now convinced it could—it did. He felt that it wanted desperately for him to know the answer, but on its own terms.
He felt a rush of anger. “I did this!” he yelled. “You tell me right now!” When it made no response, Charlie stepped forward and shoved it hard. He was pushed backwards on contact and fell to the ground, only to be swallowed by the rush of darkness, the colours were getting deeper and darker now.
He opened his eyes and found himself in his own apartment. He wasn’t home yet, he could tell. The front door had changed—Charlie doubted it was anything to do with his or Adam’s desire to change it. With disgust he realised he’d probably kicked a hole in it or something equally stupid in one of his drunken rages.
Adam stood in their open plan kitchen, talking on the phone. “Yes, I understand.” He looked disappointed. “Of course it’s hard to get a babysitter.” He forced a smile onto his face. “Well, Evan is going through the terrible twos.” There was a long pause as Adam listened to whoever he was speaking to. “Yes, dinner next week, that sounds good.”
He pulled the phone away from his face and let out a sigh before forcing the smile back. In a light tone, he said, “Sure, send my love to Connie and the kids.”
He hung up the phone and dropped it on to the kitchen counter. Softly he said, “But it’s my thirtieth birthday.” He rubbed his face tiredly. “This is your last chance, Charlie.”
Charlie wanted to go to Adam, put an arm around him, he wanted to comfort him, but he knew it was his doing. Connie and Guy would not step foot in the apartment if Charlie was there, not even if it was an important birthday. He wondered if they’d gone back on that decision since making it, if they had, Charlie had certainly blown any chance they had given him.
God, why didn’t Adam just leave? Why couldn’t he just walk away? Why was he so goddamned loyal?
The scene changed slightly. They were still in the apartment, but it was now filled with people. Adam was wearing a stupid cardboard crown with a large 30 on the front. A cake was adorned with sparklers. Adam was surrounded by people, a girl stepped up, dropped a kiss on his cheek and handed him a gift. Adam grinned and placed it on a pile of presents on the table and thanked her.
Robson, his teammate, handed Adam a bottle of beer and said something that made Adam laugh. Still talking to Robson, Adam placed the beer on the table next to the gifts and picked up a bottle of water instead. Charlie wondered when Adam stopped drinking. Maybe he never had—Charlie couldn’t ever remember him drinking, come to think of it. Even earlier today—the real today—Adam had made a comment about catching up on the drinking, but he’d not taken a drink.
Over in the corner, Charlie sat alone, nursing a bottle of Jack Daniels. He had a scowl on his face and was glaring resentfully at the crowd of people.
Charlie had never hated himself more than this moment. He knew who was going to die, he knew who he’d managed to kill, he didn’t even care why. He wanted to shake himself, to tell himself to stop. He strode over to his hateful other self, who looked particularly disgusting today in worn jeans with stains on them, a rumpled top that could do with a wash, his hair was greasy and getting too long—and Jesus, when was the last time he’d shaved?
“What the hell are you doing?” Charlie yelled at himself. “Go up to your best friend! Tell him happy birthday and that you love him. Move out, leave him alone, and for god’s sake, put that bottle down!”
The other Charlie flinched, and appeared to lock eyes with Charlie. Charlie paused, wondering whether he had gotten through to himself. Maybe he could make a difference now.
Charlie gaped at himself for a few seconds, then turned, following his line of sight. There was no sign of Terri. There was a tall curvy girl with pink hair in a shade that matched her dress and shoes perfectly. She was not Terri. Terri was small, cute and slightly boyish in figure. She never wore heels, hell, she hated to wear a dress. At a party, she’d be the girl wearing jeans and a t-shirt with comfy trainers. The girl Charlie was staring at was nothing like her.
The other Charlie said Terri’s name again.
Maybe he was seeing Terri. Maybe he was hallucinating. Maybe the vibrant hair was enough and his drink-addled brain was filling in the blanks.
“Or maybe we’re a self-indulgent prick who needs to stop making excuses,” Charlie said.
The other Charlie leapt to his feet and staggered towards the door. The drink slowed down his movement, and he nearly pitched over on to his face but for the quick reflexes of Adam, who caught him. “Charlie, what’s up?”
The other Charlie pushed Adam away and made for the door. He paused for a second. Next to the door was a bowl where they both dropped their keys when they came in. Well, Adam did, and Charlie dropped his anywhere. The other Charlie grabbed Adam’s keys, Charlie knew instantly, because his own set comprised of two keys with a bottle opener as a keyring; Adam’s had his car keys, his home keys, his parents’ keys, and a Mighty Ducks keyring.
“Charlie, no!” Adam yelled, and took off after him.
“Stop!” Charlie cried. “Let him kill himself, don’t go!” He started after them both, but the shape blocked his path and laid a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. He closed his eyes against it all but could still see the sickening twists of black and red, they were so dark now, and the colours had texture. They reached out for him.
Charlie cried out and opened his eyes. He and the shape were in the back seat of Adam’s car. The other Charlie sat in the driver’s seat, trying to get the key to fit in the slot, muttering curses and disjointed threats against the key, the car, and pretty much anyone on the planet.
“Please,” Charlie whispered. “Please don’t let me do this.”
The passenger door swung open and Adam leaned in, still wearing his stupid birthday crown. “Charlie, stop!”
“I have to do this, Banksie,” Charlie replied.
“No, let’s talk this out.” Adam climbed into the car. “You don’t drive, we both know that.”
“Come on, you’re not going to drive. You’ve had a drink, Charlie. You can’t drive now,” Adam persisted.
The other Charlie managed to get the key in the slot. He turned the key and the engine fired up.
“Charlie, please stop,” Adam said as the car lurched forward. “Please!”
“Get out now!” the other Charlie bellowed.
Adam shook his head. “I can’t let you kill yourself, Charlie.”
The other Charlie paused, a tear rolled down his face which he swiped away angrily. The car rolled to a stop.
Adam continued, placing a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Don’t do this, don’t give up.” The other Charlie seemed to consider Adam’s words. “Think of Annie and Terri.”
With those words, Charlie realised that Adam had just pushed his other self over the edge. Charlie was sober enough to read Adam’s tone, to understand the words, to—damnit—just know Adam wasn’t throwing anything in his face. Adam was asking him to stop, to consider the loss of life too early, to live because they couldn’t.
What his drunk self had heard was the angelic Adam Banks, who had never done a bad thing in his life, throw out Charlie’s biggest regret in a shower of self-satisfaction.
The car tore forwards, scraping past a parked car to the side of them. The bumper was torn off as it caught on the car, and the other Charlie pressed down further on the gas.
As the car careened through town, Charlie wondered what was going through his hateful self’s mind as Adam pleaded with him to stop. Why wasn’t he stopping? Was he trying to kill Adam, as punishment for bringing up the past, or did he just want to scare him? He hoped it was the latter, but it didn’t matter. He was about to kill Adam, his best friend—maybe only friend at this point in his life, and there wasn’t even a damned reason for it.
Charlie joined Adam in the pleas for future Charlie to stop. He tried to grab himself around the throat, take the wheel, anything, but he passed through everything like a ghost.
“Charlie, slow down!” Adam cried.
The other Charlie seemed oblivious to Adam’s distress—maybe even to his presence, as he continued on his way.
Charlie didn’t know what exactly happened, he wasn’t sure of the trigger was, but the car began to slide as they rounded a corner, maybe the road was wet, or maybe the other Charlie just lost control. Adam screamed at Charlie to slow down, and he dimly seemed to register this. The car span out of control, sliding across the road into incoming traffic. In a bizarre attempt to wrestle control of the vehicle, the other Charlie grabbed the handbrake and yanked it. The car did a complete 180 turn, placing the passenger side of the car straight into the path of an incoming tanker.
The other driver pumped the brakes but they were too close for it to make any difference. The force of the impact seemed to launch Charlie from the car. He found himself standing on the road, staring at the mangled metal that used to be Adam’s car. The car was squashed on the passenger side, the car had collapsed inwards like an accordion. It was a miracle that even Charlie had survived. The driver of the tanker stirred, but the fact that he had only killed one person instead of two was of little consolation.
He heard an anguished howl, barely human, from inside the car. He hated himself more than was possible. He didn’t want to see Adam, and for once, the shape was not pushing him towards the scene, it was not forcing him to look and see the damage he had caused.
It allowed him to turn away from the wreckage, away from his dead best friend. It allowed him to face it.
“I won’t do this,” Charlie said. “I won’t.” He meant every word.
The shape began unwrapping the shroud from around its face. It shook the material away from its hands—oh god, they were human hands.
Charlie had a sinking feeling he knew what he would see.
It unwound the material, revealing a tuft of blondish hair. Then blood-splattered skin, then its eyes—blue eyes, familiar eyes—the side of its head was pushed inwards, nothing could survive that. It kept unravelling until he was face-to-face with the corpse of Adam Banks. Adam, for the first time in the history of their friendship, was not looking at him with understanding, not kindness, not sympathy.
Charlie waited for the assault, verbal or physical, but nothing happened. Adam just kept staring at him. Charlie was able to fill in the blanks though. Why would he do this? Adam had stood by him through everything and this was the way he was paid back, in death.
“Adam, I’m so sorry,” Charlie said. Weak pathetic words, words that did not even begin to deal with all of the things he had to make up for—how could he give a life back, how would those words even count?
Stirred by his words, Adam stepped forward, his face twisted into a hateful sneer that was eerily reminiscent of Charlie’s own expression in almost every scene he had been shown tonight. Adam raised his fist and let fly.
Charlie didn’t even try to block the blow, knowing it was not even close to what he deserved. The punch landed true, and Charlie fell to the ground, his eyes closing, a bloom of pain shooting across his face.
He closed his eyes and let the darkness take him once more.
“Charlie! Charlie! Wake up!”
Charlie blearily opened his eyes, and a wave of dizziness hit him. If he hadn’t been flat-out on the floor of the apartment, he would have fallen.
“What happened, are you ok?”
The world swam into focus, then out again, then back in, all in quick succession, and Charlie felt his stomach roll. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steady himself. Then he took a couple more before opening his eyes again.
Adam knelt beside him, looking down—not with hatred, but concern. “Charlie, what happened? Did you fall?”
Charlie pushed himself into a sitting position. Then it hit him—Adam was alive. Adam was not even bruised. He had a chance to stop everything. He could change the horrible future where he killed his best friend, the looming fight where he punched Adam, where he destroyed Cassie’s happiness on Christmas day and burnt his bridges with Connie and Guy. He could stop the fight between his mother and Bombay. Everything could be stopped.
Except the things he had already done. Emma, Adam’s ex-girlfriend. That was something that needed to be addressed.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” Adam decided. “I think you might have a concussion.”
Charlie tried to talk, but all that came out was a dry crackle—he needed a drink, not a real drink, just water. Just water. He tried again. “I’m fine.”
Adam didn’t look convinced. He ran a hand over Charlie’s head, feeling for bumps and Charlie was simultaneously amazed by Adam’s unfaltering concern, and awash with shame that Adam kept trying, even when Charlie didn’t deserve it.
Charlie flung his arms around Adam, and Adam flinched. Charlie tried to think back to the last time he had hugged Adam—was it graduation? He couldn’t remember. Maybe it was Terri’s funeral. Charlie did not let go. “I’m so sorry, Adam,” he said, feeling hot tears spill down his face. “I’m so sorry.”
Adam tensed, then wrapped his arms around Charlie. “What’s wrong?”
“I need help.” Charlie said. “I need to stop drinking. I’m going to stop drinking.”
There was a long silence.
“Thank god,” Adam said.
Christmas got postponed.
Adam filled Charlie with as much water as he could to stop him dehydrating while he detoxed. Charlie told Adam where to find every single bottle of alcohol in their home. It took three attempts to own up to the secret bottle, his last reserve, that was hidden at the back of the linen cupboard, but he did.
They both called Casey and Bombay, Charlie simply said he was sick and that he would call back at another time. It sickened him that his mother was so delighted by such a simple gesture. He didn’t deserve it. With Charlie’s permission, Adam later called Bombay on his cellphone to explain the situation fully. Charlie wanted to tell his mother in person, but wasn’t up to it that day—and he didn’t want to ruin her Christmas. Adam then called Connie and Guy to cancel their plans and explain why.
The chills and the sickness arrived quite quickly and Adam didn’t leave his side until Guy showed up, telling them that Connie was looking after Cassie. For awhile they both took care of him, offering him sips of water, rubbing his back when he got sick, or just reassuring him that he could get through it.
Finally, Guy made Adam leave to get some sleep. He’d found Charlie passed out on the floor at four a.m. and hadn’t slept since. Before he slept, he called a doctor and spent a good portion of time desperately begging the doctor to make a house call.
Charlie passed out on the bathroom floor and awoke to find Connie wiping his face with a cool washcloth. She gave him a loving smile when he looked up at her. “There you are, Charlie,” she said softly, pitching her voice low as if she knew that every sound went through him, every slam of a door in the building felt like it would shatter his skull, make his eyeballs explode, and more than anything, want a drink to take the edge off.
“Where’s Cassie?” Charlie asked, horrified that his goddaughter might see him like this.
“She’s with my mother and Guy. I sent him home for some rest.”
“You shouldn’t be here,” Charlie said as he reached for the glass of water.
Connie passed it to him, and stroked his hair away from his sweaty forehead.
“Why not? I’m a mother. I’ve seen just about all shades, textures and varieties of vomit known to humankind,” she replied with a shrug. “Don’t go thinking you’re special. Cassie’s thrown up on me more times than I can count.”
Charlie sipped his water. “But you’re pregnant,” he said. “I’m not exactly a small guy. I’m not ok at the moment. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Connie’s jaw dropped. “You have been oblivious to the entire world for years, but today when you’re sick to your stomach you notice I’m pregnant?” She smiled. “Our Charlie is on his way back to us.”
“I’m serious, Cons. What if I decide I want a drink and you’re in the way?”
“Then I jump out of the way and scream for the boys, damning my feminist virtues to hell.” She stroked his hair again.
“I’m not kidding,” Charlie said firmly.
“Here’s the deal,” Connie replied, “you seem quite docile now. If you seem even slightly restless, then I get Adam and stay out of here, ok?”
Charlie didn’t get a chance to argue, because his stomach started to roll again. Connie stroked his back and whispered soothing words.
The hours passed in a haze of sickness, chills, dizziness and worry. He thought a doctor was present at some point, but wasn’t entirely sure that was real because he remembered so little of it. At some point Adam gave him some pills, saying they would lessen his anxiety, so maybe the doctor was real. Or maybe the pills weren’t.
Charlie had no sense of time, just a constant dizziness, a mind-breaking headache, an inability to function and the strongest desire to drink. He staggered to his feet, determined to get a drink to take the edge off. He stumbled towards the door, only to be met by Adam.
“Where are you going, Charlie?” he asked.
For half a second, Charlie wanted to punch him to the floor and race out of the apartment, to get away, to get a drink, to just feel ok again. Then he saw the Adam that could be, the dead accusatory eyes, the blood-splattered skin, the horrifying crushed skull. He put his arms out and pulled Adam into a hug. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Another time, he woke up in his own bed, and Bombay was sat in a chair, apparently reading a book, but Charlie felt his attention was fully focused on Charlie. He smiled. “It’s going to be ok, son.”
Charlie wanted to scream that it wasn’t ok, that he felt horrible and that he just couldn’t do it. He made himself focus on the wedding band on Bombay’s left hand. “Ok, dad.”
He passed out again before he could register Bombay’s smile.
Eventually—Charlie didn’t know exactly when—there came a time when the confusion slowed, when the hell subsided, and he only felt merely ill. He felt like he had a cold. And, of course, he wanted a drink, but that was only to be expected.
When he got up to get a cold drink from the fridge, he noticed it was adorned with a large and colourful picture. “Cassie drew it for you,” Adam explained. “Connie and Guy told her you were sick, so she drew a picture of her as a nurse taking care of you.”
Charlie took the picture from the fridge and stared at it for a long time. He resolved to have it framed and put it on his bedroom wall, as a constant reminder of why he should fight.
Adam and Bombay took him to a doctor, Charlie tried to pay attention but there was a lot to take in. He was thankful that there was an overachiever on either side of him diligently taking notes.
They both enrolled him in an AA programme and sat beside him in the meetings.
Bombay had to head home, having told Casey he was on a business trip. He told Charlie to call him at any time. Charlie did.
Charlie called his mother once a week, every Saturday morning at eleven a.m., when she was back from the grocery store and had a cup of hot coffee in her hand. After two months of sobriety, he invited her to stay. His temper was manageable now, the headaches were rarer—he couldn’t sleep though, and the medication he was prescribed barely helped.
God, he wanted a drink. But he didn’t take one.
Explaining to his mother that he was an alcoholic was as mortifying and terrifying as he thought it would be, but Adam and Bombay sat with him, silently supporting him. She was angry, shaking with rage, she pursed her lips and dug her fingernails into her palms when she turned on her husband and asked why the hell he had hidden this from her. Charlie got up and sat beside her. “He was protecting me, Mom,” he said. “Not you, me. And I had to tell you myself, but I couldn’t do it until now.”
She let him cry on her shoulder, like a small child, while Bombay and Adam tactfully excused themselves for some fresh air.
He quit the hockey team. When he discussed it with Bombay, he understood. Bombay was competitive, he liked to win, and the pressure to win made him want to drink. That was why, instead of practicing litigation, he had moved to probate law. There was no winning in that, only completing a task from beginning to end. Charlie thought about asking how long it would take to get a law degree, but decided he should see if he could stay sober for at least six months before putting himself through more stress.
“I have to tell you something,” Charlie said, wiping his mouth. It was a new habit he had picked up since he stopped drinking, and consequently his lips were chapped most of the time.
Adam nodded. “Go ahead.”
Poor Adam, Charlie thought. His heart probably dropped every single time Charlie uttered the words “I have to tell you something”. But Adam took each revelation in his stride, never once bolting for the door, as any sensible human being should. Every time Charlie opened his mouth he wondered if this would be the last time he saw Adam. Which conversation would be the last one? Most of their conversations were just confirmations of Adam’s fears, the stealing of his money, the breaking of his things, but this one could get ugly.
“It’s about Emma,” Charlie said, convinced it would be their last conversation.
When he was done explaining himself, Adam nodded a few times, but couldn’t seem to get any words out.
“I’m so sorry,” Charlie said.
Finally Adam found some words, “I think I knew. I just didn’t want to be right.”
“I’m so, so sorry.” Those words were Charlie’s trademark at the moment.
Adam forced a smile. “What’s done is done, I’m glad you were honest with me.”
Adam went for a very long walk after that conversation.
Charlie used the time alone to call Emma. It didn’t go well. Emma hung up on him three times, but before the dial tone buzzed in his ear, she made some very unpleasant (and painfully accurate) assertions about his character. Charlie then went to his room, stared at the picture that Cassie had drawn for him for a few minutes, then started writing a letter to Emma.
One day Charlie found a text on his phone from Emma, it simply read, “Thank you for the letter.”
It was a start, but it wasn’t enough. He texted back and asked to meet up with her.
It took three weeks of perseverance before she agreed.
Christmas finally happened sometime in mid-April. It was a warm and friendly affair, with Casey and Bombay joining them, along with Guy, Connie and Cassie. Every time Cassie looked at him, Charlie couldn’t help but remember the spiteful words he’d spat out at her on the Christmas Day that had never happened. He doubled his efforts to be especially kind to her. After only an hour, she declared that Charlie was her best friend.
Connie was roughly the size of a house and needed to pee often. When the baby kicked, Charlie rushed over to feel her stomach. Connie covered his hand with her own, and said, “Yeah, you kick your godfather, kiddo.”
Just before dinner was served, Charlie announced that someone else would be joining them.
When Emma stepped through the front door, Adam beamed first at her, then Charlie.
Charlie found a way to manage his addiction. Routine. It was the only thing that made sense. He would get up early and go for a jog to wake himself up (and to lose the unsightly pudge he had gained from drinking himself silly), he would get home, shower, drink a cup of coffee, check if Adam was awake and if so, fix breakfast. Sometimes Emma was there too; her morning routine was to ruffle Charlie’s hair and ask him how he was doing.
Charlie would then attend his first AA meeting of the day while Adam went to train, and Emma went to work. He would have a coffee with his sponsor after the meeting, and they would discuss his life. Charlie never once spoke of the strange events that led to him sobering up, other than vaguely mentioning the horrific realisation that he wasn’t just killing himself, he going to destroy everyone around him. His sponsor often pushed for more details, but Charlie didn’t spill. If he ever told that story, he would tell Adam. It could well be written off as a hallucination of an alcohol-riddled brain, but Charlie knew it was more.
For one thing, on Christmas day he had a black eye from when dead Adam punched him. Again, he knew he would be told that he’d probably injured himself in a drunken stupor.
However, he wasn’t sure how anyone could explain how he knew in advance that Connie and Guy would have a son, and that they would call him Evan.