Chapter Nineteen – Caught Between Two
Mandy stormed back to the hotel room, frustrated and upset at the same time. She couldn't understand why Nate couldn't see that she just wasn't ready for a boyfriend. At the same time, she was mad at herself for not being ready for a boyfriend. Nate was the greatest, most caring guy she'd ever met, and yet she refused to just fall into his arms and surrender herself to him.
Slumping on the couch, she started to think things through. "It's a good thing I'm not ready," she kept telling herself. Charlie and she were leaving in a month, and she didn't want to get wrapped up in hoping Nate and she would make it together. Mandy didn't want that burden on herself, and she won't as long as she keeps telling herself that.
She went in the bedroom and checked the messages on her phone. As predicted, there was none. Mandy lay on her bed and scrolled through the names and numbers in her cell phone. She decided to call her parents to see if anything new was up with them. The phone rang three times before her mom picked it up.
"Hey, Mom. How are you and Daddy?" She asked.
"Oh, hi, honey. We're doing fine. How's Florida?"
"It's great." Mandy wasn't lying. She just wasn't telling the whole story. "I wish I was back home with you guys though."
"We do too. But, it is our graduation gift to you guys," her mom said. "Enjoy yourself, honey."
"I am. I can't believe we've been here for a month. It seems so short. And I won't even have two weeks to be at home before I have to move to South Carolina to get settled in. Mom, sometimes I wish I was ten again," she confessed. "At that age, you never have any worries and everything seems to go your way."
"I know what you mean, Mandy. But hang in there. Things will go your way if you don't let anything get in it," her mom told her. "Honey, I have to go. I'm sorry. We'll talk later, okay?"
"Okay, Mom. Love you."
"Love you too. Bye." Her mom hung up.
Mandy took a shower and got ready for bed even though it was still an early night. Charlie wasn't back from the party yet, and Mandy guessed she wouldn't be back till late that night. With her hair still wet, Mandy slipped in bed and turned off the lamp. Feeling exhausted, she fell right to sleep.
TJ and Charlie walked hand in hand through the hallway on her hotel floor. When they reached the door, both were silent. TJ tilted Charlie's face up with his index finger on her chin.
"I had a great time tonight, Charlie," he told her. "You are more than I can ask for."
Charlie blushed. "Thanks." She took the room key and was about to unlock the door when TJ grabbed her wrist and stopped her. She looked at him. TJ slowly leaned down and planted a kiss on her lips.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
Charlie hesitated. "I don't know. I mean, Mandy's in there, and I don't know how she's holding up from tonight. I don't think-" Her cell phone started ringing. Charlie looked at the caller ID. Braden.
"Who's that?" TJ asked, trying to look at her phone.
"Just one of my friends. I'll just call them back later," she said as she pressed the end button on her phone.
"Okay. Well, I guess I'll see you later then." TJ put his arms around Charlie as her phone started ringing again. "You better get that. It sounds important." He kissed Charlie on the cheek and walked away, giving her one last smile.
Charlie opened the door and walked in, answering her phone. "Hey, Braden."
"Hey! How'd you know it was me?" he asked.
"Caller ID," she plainly told him.
"Oh yeah. Duh! Anyways, Happy Fourth of July!"
Charlie laughed. She opened the refrigerator and took out a Pepsi. "Happy Fourth of July to you too. What's that noise?"
"Oh, just some neighbors partying. I'm out in my back porch. So how did you celebrate today?" he asked. "Any fancy parties?"
Charlie smiled. "Nah. Just one out on the beach. I went with a friend. It was pretty cool. There was our own presentation of fireworks." Charlie got chills from remembering that night.
"What did you do?" she asked, taking a sip of her drink.
"Brin and I went to Jason's party. It was nice…"
"Yeah. You know, not trashy. There was a band and dancing and hanging out. I have to say that I actually enjoyed it this year. Besides, I had no choice of going or not. Brin practically dragged me out to her car to go to the party," Braden told her. "You know, she liked Jason before she went to the party, and by the end of the party, she hooked up with James." He chuckled. "That's my sister."
Charlie tried to process what Braden just told her into her brain, but there was one problem. "Wait a minute… who's James?" Charlie asked as she propped her legs up on the coffee table.
"You won't believe it. Are you ready?" He paused. "James is Jason's older brother."
"How come I've never heard of him before? I even dated him!" Charlie said.
"Okay, first of all, you guys only dated for like a week. And second, we all didn't know about him till tonight cause he goes to a different school. I think he goes to a private school, but I'm not sure. You can ask Brin next time you talk to her. That is, if she's still with him."
Charlie could tell that Braden was trying not to laugh. She could hear a chuckle once in a while. "You shouldn't be mean to her, you know. She is your sister and you're supposed to look out for her."
"Yes, I know. But I can't help it that she goes through guys like she goes through clean underwear. As much as I don't like it, I can't do anything to change that," Braden stated. "Speaking of guys, have you met anyone there? You know, the tan, muscular kind that you won't find here cause we're all whiter than the snow that falls on the ground."
Charlie didn't want to tell Braden about TJ. At least not yet. She knew Braden had feelings for her, and she just didn't want to hurt him in any way.
"We are not white! We're just not tan." She smiled. "And you know, tan isn't all that great," Charlie said.
"Well, that's good to know. At least I know now that I don't have to get a tan to get you back. But I've been working out in the gym. I know how you like muscles on your guys," Braden said. "When you get home, I'm going to impress you so much that you won't have any choice but to go out on a date with me."
Charlie sighed. She thought about what she used to have with Braden, and what she had with TJ. Braden and she were having a great relationship just being friends. Charlie didn't want to lose his friendship, and she didn't want to lose TJ.
"Braden, please don't do this. We can't get back together. I love you as a friend, and a friend only. We might end up together in the long run, but not right now. I don't want a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with you right now." Charlie said. "I'm sorry, Braden."
"It's okay." He sounded normal, and not a bit disturbed. "I'll wait, Charlie. I'll wait till next month, and next year, and I'll wait till I'm eighty if I have to. I've said this once, and I'll say it again. We belong together. You might not realize it now, but you will later."
Charlie gulped down the rest of her Pepsi so she'd have an excuse for not talking. She had to think things through, and she wouldn't be able to do it with Braden or TJ around. She couldn't ask Mandy about it either cause Mandy had Nate to deal with. Speaking of Mandy, Charlie wondered where her twin sister was. She got up from the couch and walked towards the closed bedroom door. Charlie opened it slowly and saw that Mandy was sleeping.
"Charlie, are you still there?" Braden asked.
"Yeah," she whispered back. She closed the bedroom door and went back to the couch.
"Uh, why are you whispering?"
"Oh, I was just in the room and Mandy's asleep." Charlie tried not to think about her relationship with Braden. She hoped Braden wouldn't bring it up again, but she didn't have any guarantee of it. "Braden, I should go. It's getting late."
"Alright." I heard him yawn on the other line. He chuckled. "Obviously I'm getting tired. I'll talk to you later, Charlie."
Charlie hung up. Her stomach started grumbling, so she satisfied it by cooking herself some Ramen noodles. When her cooking was done, Charlie poured the contents into a bowl, took out a pair of chopsticks and a spoon, and went out to the balcony. She pulled the plastic chair closer to the table and sat down. Placing the bowl on the table, she looked out at the beach. The breeze was just perfect that night – not too windy, not too still.
As Charlie ate the noodles, she thought about all the guys she's been with. She's never really had a serious relationship in her life. The longest relationship she had was with Braden – five months – and that wasn't even long. But one thing's for sure… she'd never felt the same about any other guys as she did for Braden. Even with TJ it was different. Sure, she loved TJ, but there's something special about the high school sweetheart that every girl has.
With Braden, she could see them having a family and being comfortable with each other. With TJ, Charlie could never see them fitting together even if she wanted to. But Braden's old news and TJ's what's important in her life right now. Still, Charlie could never forget the feeling she got when she was around Braden.