Fighter – Part 2

“Goddammit, Charlie!” Will shouts at him as he climbs down the ladder. “I fucking told you not to touch the fucking panels!”

Immediately Charlie’s face turns red with shame. “I just wanted to…”

“Just wanted to what?! Fucking break something?”

“No, you asshole! I was trying to help!”

The other boys stand back as an enraged Will jumps the last few rungs to the ground. He marches over and shoves Charlie, who stumbles backwards and nearly falls into the broken glass.

“What the fuck is your problem?” Charlie sidesteps the rest of the glass, backing away from Will who continues to advance on him. “We can get another one!”

“No,” Will says, shoving Charlie again, “we,” another shove, “can’t!”

Not content to be pushed around anymore, Charlie shoves Will back in retaliation. “Fuck you, dude! It was an accident!”

“An accident that’s going to cost us time and more money we don’t fucking have, you fucking idiot!”

“Don’t call me an idiot.”

“Why not? That’s what you are! You’re always fucking shit up around here, running around without a fucking clue what’s going on and running your damn mouth!”

“Oh, come the fuck on!” Charlie crosses his arms across his chest, shoulders hunched up. “I’m not the reason Chris found you two!”

The next thing he knows is the sensation of Will’s fist connecting with the side of his face.

The bandage wrapped around Will’s stitches does nothing to dull the impact. Dazed, Charlie takes a step to the side and hears the crack of glass underfoot. Pablo and Conner rush in to grab Will. He feels Jake’s hands on his shoulder, holding him back from retaliating.

“Let it go,” Jake whispers in his ear, gently pulling him back. “Just let him cool off.”

His hand reflexively covers the bruise he can feel waiting to form. “What the fuck, dude!”

“I know you told him, you son of a bitch!” Will yells as he strains against the two boys holding him back. “You told Chris about us. How dare you say you’re not the reason he found us. Go fuck yourself!”

“Whatever.” Charlie retorts, brushing Jake off of him and beginning to turn away, “Maybe you shouldn’t be fucking other dude’s girls then.”

As he turns his back on the scene, Will breaks free of the two stunned boys holding him back. Before anyone has a chance to react he lunges as Charlie, tackling him to the ground, and begins an assault of punches on his head. Charlie’s bottom lip catches a sharp rock as he lands, blood pooling on the dirt under him.

Charlie screams and writhes under Will’s weight as the other boy sits on top of him, crushing the air out of his lungs. He shuts his eyes, clawing desperately at the ground, his fingernails sinking into the dry dirt and crushed up asphalt. Punches keep landing in new places, each a bit more painful than the last.

Finally, after what feels like the longest minute in history, the other three boys pull their friend from off of him. His ego suddenly missing, Charlie curls into a ball, sobbing uncontrollably.

“I fucking hate you, you piece of shit!” William shouts at him, but Charlie can barely make him out over the ringing in his ears from the punches.

“Will, let it the fuck go.” Pablo commands, tugging him back with the help of Conner. “You did your damage, let it go.”

As the ringing begins to subside, Charlie can hear three sets of footsteps begin to march off through the tall grass. His sobs slow as Jake comes over to investigate. A gentle hand on his shoulder lets him know that he’s not alone.

“I didn’t fucking tell him,” he sobs as he looks up at Jake, eyes watery and pleading. “I didn’t fucking say anything.”

“I told you to watch your mouth.” Jake sighs and shakes his head, still checking him over. “Can you stand?”

The world around him seems unfocused and overwhelming, his head exploding with a diffuse pain. Every muscle in his neck and shoulders feels tense. Though he moves into a seated position, it’s with great difficulty and even then he seems unsteady. As if everything were a thousand miles away from his body.

Jake frowns but says nothing as he grabs the other boy’s arms and wraps them around his neck. Carefully, he leans Charlie back into his arms, draping his legs over one arm and bracing his shoulders in the other.

“For how skinny you are, you sure are heavy.” He grunts as he lifts Charlie.

“I swear I didn’t say anything.” Charlie continues to repeat like a mantra. “I swear.”

Jake says nothing in reply. From around the front of the building come two of the girls, rushing towards the scene. Aura leads the way, her chocolate hair bound up in a cheap green scrunchie caked in various colors of paint and dirt.

“What happened?” She calls out, “We heard yelling.”

As she and Abi reach the scene they both gasp loudly at the sight. Though he has only just begun to feel the pain in the rest of his body, the girls can plainly see Charlie’s busted lip still openly bleeding down the front of his shirt. Seeing their worry, he starts openly sobbing again, blood and tears mingling with the dirt on his face.

“Oh my god,” Abi whispers. “Jake, what happened?”

She wastes no time in helping her partner, helping Jake reposition the other boy so that she can carry his legs while he supports his upper body. Aura swoops in to place her arms under Charlie’s back.

“He and Will got into a fight. Rabbit punched him, I think he might’ve had a concussion.” Jake informs them as they head towards the greenhouse office.

“I didn’t fucking say anything.” Charlie begins anew.

“Shhh, shhhh.” Aura tries to soothe. “It’s alright, we believe you.”

The three carry Charlie into the cool of the greenhouse office, gently laying him out on the uncarpeted floor. Aura quickly heads out of the room in search of spare rags and a bowl of water. Abi and Jake immediately begin looking through the First Aide kit for anything of use.

Charlie lets himself relax into the chill of the concrete floor below him. The tension in his shoulders abates some as the pounding in his head finally concentrates itself above his right eye. New parts of him begin to ache dully, particularly his cheek and the split in his lip.

Most of all, deep in the pit of his stomach, he feels the shame of having hurt someone he thought was a friend.

Paolo and Jake share a look as they pass the joint between one another. It’s obvious that Charlie isn’t getting the full weight of the situation and the two older boys find themselves at a temporary loss on how to explain it. He’s more concerned with his own hurt ego than he is with how his friend might be feeling.

Exhaling, Paolo shakes his head but attempts to explain it again. “You know Will hasn’t dated anyone since his mom died three years ago. Caroline meant a lot to him.”

“Then he should’ve talked with Chris first.” Charlie complains, removing the bag of ice from his swollen lip.

“Dude,” Jake says as he exhales, “it’s pretty fucking obvious Caroline lied to him and he was dumb enough to believe her.” He hands the joint over to Charlie who looks at him with some surprise. “It’ll help with the pain, just be gentle around your lip.”

He takes a drag and let’s the smoke sit in his lungs for a moment before letting it slowly escape past his stinging lip. “It’s still not my fault he got caught.”

Paolo shakes his head as he accepts the joint back. “That isn’t really the point though. Like, sure, we all know if you wanna fuck someone else’s partner then you make sure everyone’s cool with it. Will’s never done this before though.”

“Right,” Jake chimes in. “He and Rachel were exclusive until she left. And it’s not like you have room to talk, dude.”

Charlie’s cheeks flush bright pink in embarrassment. “I just haven’t found the right person yet.”

“No shade, dude. It’s just kind of hypocritical of you to judge him.”

Jake hands the joint back to Charlie. He takes another, longer, drag this time before passing it off. Despite the pain subsiding slowly elsewhere in his body, he can still feel his shame sitting heavy in his stomach.

“I guess.” Charlie reluctantly agrees.

“So,” Paolo forcefully exhales, blowing smoke into the wind, “can you try to understand how he might feel? You were the last person Chris spoke to before finding the two of them.”

“I didn’t fucking say anything though!”

“That doesn’t really matter right now, dude. We get it. But Chris still implicated you and then you acted like an asshole to Will over the panels.”

Charlie tries not to pull a scowl, knowing his lip might re-split if he isn’t careful. Instead, he just squints his eyes in Paolo’s direction. He takes a final drag from the dwindling joint.

“Try to look at it this way. Caroline told Will everything was all clear with Chris. Chris catches wind of it from someone else, we still don’t know who. He goes to find you, and even if you didn’t say anything, he still manages to find Will and Caroline hooking up. He and Will get into it, Chris implicates you.” Paolo takes his last drag before handing the joint over to Jake to finish off. “Now that you ran your mouth though, Will is going to believe it was you no matter how much you try to explain it.”

“Bullshit.” Charlie mutters into the towel of ice against his lip.

Jake lets the smoke out of his lungs with a sigh. “Dude, I get your ego is hurt, but so is Will’s. Try to have a second of empathy for him.”

Charlie doesn’t protest, feeling scolded. For a second, caught in the haze of the cannabis, he let’s the tightness in his body go. His thoughts follow with it.

“What happened to his mom?” Charlie asks absentmindedly, staring up at the sky.

“Cancer.” An uncomfortable shiver runs down Charlie’s spine as Paolo answers. “His dad ditched them years before, so he was the only one around to care for her.”

Jake sighs, stretching his legs out and leans back onto his elbows. “It was really rough. Will and his mom were really close. And this was right after Rachel left.”

“I had no idea.”

“It’s alright, dude. You just met him like a year ago.”

“He never talks about himself.” Charlie lays back onto the wooden patio deck, letting the ice bag rest on top of his face.

Paolo scoots away from the other boys and leans his back against the patio railing. “I mean, the job site isn’t exactly the place for that kind of conversation. Still, sorry we didn’t invite you to hang out more often.”

A familiar prang of jealously washes over Charlie momentarily. With the ice bag resting on his face, he says nothing, not wanting to move to remove it.

“We watched hours of his mom’s favorite rom coms after she passed.”

Charlie snorts a little in laughter. Jake shoots him a look that keeps it from progressing any further.

“Laugh all you want, but they bring Will happiness and that’s all that matters. Maybe it makes him a bit naive in his relationships, but they give him closeness to his mom.”

He doesn’t protest, nor does he laugh again. The idea of anyone being close to their parents hits a raw nerve deep inside him. Jealousy gives way to envy.

A memory of his parents fighting comes to mind. Drunk again. Dad got fired, again, for drinking on the job. Not that mom ever had much room to talk.

Charlie shuts his eyes tight as the tension returns to his body. His mom screams at his dad about their impending divorce, his dad screams back that he doesn’t care so long as she’s gone. No one ever looks at him.

Except for his grandma. She didn’t say anything when he showed up at her doorstep looking for somewhere to stay. She just took him in and helped him learn how to channel his frustration into something useful.

For a moment, staring up at the stars, he wonders what it might feel like to lose her. His nose starts to feel stuffy as a tear rolls its way down towards his ear.

Finally, he takes the bag from his lip, swiping at the errant tear as he does so. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?” Paolo asks, looking over at him.

“For being an ass. I didn’t know he had it so rough.”

“Don’t apologize to us.” Jake sits back up and takes the warming bag of ice from Charlie. “It’d go a long way for Will to hear it from you.”

As Jake wanders back into the house, Charlie looks over at Paolo. “What should I do?”

Paolo sighs and shrugs. “Do as Jake says, apologize to Will.”

“But how? He’s not going to want to talk to me after today.”

“Sure, he needs some time. Which means you’ve got time to figure out how to do it.”

Charlie sighs and lays his hands on his stomach, feeling the rise and fall of each breath. “Ok, ok. I’ll think of something.”