Not a single laugh, not a single smile, not a single word. Charlie’s mom was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when Charlie was only eleven. The doctors caught it fairly early and she was rushed into immediate surgery. The surgery was successful. The doctors were able to remove the full tumor… At least they thought so.
Four years later, his mom had a relapse. This time she had few symptoms, so they didn’t realize that the tumor had returned. When they finally found out, it was too late. They put his mother on chemo, but it didn’t help. The tumor was deep in her brain and had already begun to spread. Charlie sat by her side every day, in a wooden chair. The hospital had become his new home. He watched her suffer through it all. He never left his mother’s side until the day she passed.
In the summer of 2011, the tumor had consumed her. Charlie held his mom’s hand as she spoke her last words: “Take care of yourself, my boy. Don’t dwell on this. I love you.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek, as her eyes closed for the last time. Tears rolled down his face as the moment sunk in.
The funeral was scheduled for a week after her death. His mother had begun planning her own funeral before she died, so neither Charlie, nor his father would have to. Charlie sat next to his father in the first pew of an old church. In front of him, there was a picture of his mom smiling from ear to ear next to a shiny black casket, surrounded in colorful gerberas, his mom’s favorite flowers. The murmurs of the people sitting behind Charlie quieted as the pastor began talking. Charlie couldn’t look up; his eyes were red and puffy. It’s not that he cared about what others would think, but he felt that if he looked at the casket, it would all suddenly become real. Seeing the lifeless body of his loving mother would solidify in his mind that she was gone forever. So he kept his head down during the entire ceremony, as he listened to the gentle words of friends and family.
Afterwards, Charlie and his father received the same words over and over again: “I’m sorry for your loss.” Charlie hated those words. It felt like he was stabbed by a knife that twisted a little more each time he heard it. They seemed outdated and insincere to Charlie after he had heard them so many times. He couldn’t wait to escape, both those words and the funeral.
After the funeral, Charlie stopped talking. Soon enough, his dad signed him up for therapy. He thought it would help, since Charlie didn’t interact with him anymore. They didn’t see each other a lot outside of meals or car rides to and from school.
As usual, Charlie was quiet during the drive to therapy. When they drove up to the brick building, Charlie got out of the car. “See you in an hour,” his dad said, as he always did. Charlie walked into the old structure and sat down in one of the three chairs. The only people in the waiting room were Charlie and the lady at the front desk. Soon enough, a patient walked out of Dr. Phillips’s office. The receptionist told Charlie, “Dr. Phillips will see you now,” as she motioned towards the room. Charlie walked through the wooden door and plopped onto the couch that he always sat on.
“Hello Charlie. How are you?” Dr. Phillips greeted him. Charlie just looked at her. “What’s new?” she asked. Charlie still didn’t answer. “How are you feeling?” Charlie shrugged. This was how most of their sessions were, an endless amount of questions followed by silence.
School was just the same. Charlie never raised his hand or participated. At first, his teachers called on him to try to get him to partake in the discussion, but eventually they just stopped trying. Even though he didn’t talk in class, he would still do his work and passed all of his classes. This worked for Charlie for quite some time, until his science teacher, Mr. Stevens, assigned the class a partner project.
The teacher selected partners at random. Charlie was partnered with Amelia, who he had never met. Sure he saw her in class and in the hallways, but he never actually talked to her. Then again, Charlie hadn’t been talking to anyone recently. When the teacher called his name, he walked over to the seat next to Amelia.
“We’re going to have to work on this outside of school. Do you want to work on it at your house or mine?” Amelia asked. Charlie stared at her. “Well?” Charlie pointed at her. “My house?” Charlie nodded slowly. “Ok, we can walk there after school. I live two blocks away. Meet me in front of the school.” Charlie just looked at her, as the bell rang.
Amelia found it weird that Charlie didn’t say anything. She went up to the teacher’s desk and asked Mr. Stevens, “Does Charlie ever talk?”
“Not really, no,” he told her.
“How am I supposed to work with him if he won’t communicate?” she asked, frustrated.
“There are other ways of communicating. Work it out. He’s your partner.” Amelia finally let it go and went to her next class.
At three o’clock, Charlie found Amelia waiting by the steps in front of the school. “You ready?” she asked. Charlie nodded. “Follow me.” They walked down the sidewalk, passing numerous houses, until they reached Amelia’s house. “Come on in,” Amelia said, as she opened the door. “We can work at the dining table.” She pulled out a chair, dropped her backpack on it and sat in the seat next to it. Charlie sat down across from her.
They had to create a poster about genetics. “We’ll split up the paragraphs, then we can type them up and paste them onto construction paper. Does that work for you?” Charlie nodded. He pulled out his notebook and started writing. Amelia did the same. When they finished, they read over each other’s and agreed on them.
Charlie began typing as Amelia got the art supplies. He finished fairly quickly and Amelia began to put the poster together. Amelia looked up from the poster and asked Charlie, “So, how come you don’t talk?”
Charlie looked into Amelia’s hazel eyes before he began to write something in his notebook. When he finished writing, he turned his notebook and pushed it in front of her. She looked at it and saw that he wrote her a note. It read, “My mother was the only one who ever listened to me, but she’s dead now.” Amelia was stunned. She looked at Charlie and found him still looking at her.
Amelia didn’t know what else to say other than, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Usually Charlie would have hated those words, but this time they comforted him. Maybe it was because Amelia seemed truly genuine when she said it. Or maybe it was simply because Amelia was the one who said the words. After a minute of silence, they slowly began working again. Soon enough, they finished the poster and Charlie texted his dad to pick him up.
The next day, they turned in their project to Mr. Stevens, before class ended and lunch began. Amelia saw Charlie all alone at the lunch tables. She sat down next to him and asked, “Is it okay if I sit here?” Charlie nodded and smiled. Amelia began telling him stories and jokes, while Charlie happily listened as he ate. Charlie found Amelia fascinating. She had so much to say and seemed to hear him even though he didn’t speak. “Do you want to go to the football game with me tonight?” Amelia asked. Charlie nodded with a smile on his face. He liked spending time with Amelia. The bell rang and Amelia said, “I’ll meet you by the steps at seven,” as she got up and went to her next class.
Later that night, they met by the steps like they had planned. They walked over and sat down on the bleachers together, right as the game was about to start. Amelia cheered the team on, as Charlie watched the game intently. For the first time since his mother’s death, Charlie felt content.
A few days later, Charlie went back to therapy for his weekly session. He had started to answer Dr. Phillips by writing notes in his notebook, like he did with Amelia. “How are you Charlie?” Dr. Phillips asked.
Charlie wrote, “I’m okay. I met a girl named Amelia. We’ve been hanging out a lot recently. She’s really nice.”
“And she’s okay with you not speaking?”
“Yeah. I write things down like I am now. She’s understanding.”
“Good for you.”
One day at lunch, Charlie wrote a note on a scrap piece of paper that he had in his pocket. He gave it to Amelia, who was eating lunch next to him like she had been for the past two weeks. It read, “Do you want to come over to my house after school?”
“Sure. I’ll meet you by the steps?” Charlie nodded and the bell rang. “I’ll see you then,” Amelia said, before she left to her next class.
At the end of the day, Charlie met Amelia in the front of the school and they walked to his dad’s car. Amelia introduced herself to his dad. “Hi, I’m Charlie’s friend, Amelia. Is it okay if I come over?”
“Yeah, of course,” his dad replied, surprised that Charlie had invited a friend over. He hadn’t done so since his mother passed.
They sat in Charlie’s room and Amelia continued to tell Charlie stories, as he listened. Amelia told him about the time she dyed her friend’s swimming pool pink on April Fools day. “There’s no way you actually did that,” Charlie said. Amelia stopped dead in her tracks and looked at Charlie. “What are you looking at?” Charlie said jokingly, as he saw her stunned face. She jumped up and kissed him from excitement. Now it was Charlie’s turn to be stunned. They pulled apart and laughed whilst in each other’s arms.
Charlie’s dad took him to his last therapy session. “How are things going, Charlie? Your dad says you’re talking again?” Dr. Phillips asked.
“Yeah, I’m much better. I went to my mother’s grave for the first time.”
“That’s great. How did you feel?”
“It helped that Amelia came with me. It was still hard, but I think I needed to say one last goodbye.”
“I’m glad you got some closure. You mentioned Amelia. How are the two of you?”
“It’s great. She’s wonderful. I’m so glad we’re together.”
After therapy, Charlie found Amelia waiting by his dad’s car. “Hey, how was therapy?” she asked.
“Great. Thanks for asking,” he replied, smiling. Charlie opened the car door and got in after Amelia. They sat in the back seat with their hands interlocked, as they drove away.