Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 13

Things Change

I didn’t hear from Helen all week. I felt like my heart was breaking, but thankfully Chucky was there for comic relief. We sat on the couch every night and watched TV. He even drank Champagne with me.

“This is actually really fucking delicious. Let’s cook tonight and we’ll drink the rest of this bottle. Want to?”

“Don’t you have a girlfriend, Chucky? Why do you want to sit here and hang out with me?”

“I could say the same to you, Charlotte.” He used my full name and I instantly felt bad for calling him Chucky.

He was standing at the bar, cutting tomatoes. I moved past him to look in the refrigerator. “Salad and salmon?”

“Yep,” he said. He was trying to eat healthy for the triathlon. In the few days that he had been there, I was starting to feel healthier myself. It’s not fair to say that Helen and I were bad for each other, but it was true that we had fallen into a lot of bad habits. And we hadn’t been moving forward. She was right, it was time to put some space between us, otherwise we’d be perpetual twenty-one-year-olds, in dead-end relationships, goofing off in our pigsty apartment while the whole world was growing up around us.

“I’m dating someone, you know. He’s out of town,” I said after several moments of companionable silence.

“Helen told me.” He went to wash his hands at the sink. “But she said you weren’t serious about him. Not surprising. Have you ever been serious about anyone?”

When the hell did Helen talk to Chucky? “Not really. My track record sucks. I’m not good at picking them.”

“Helen thinks this dude is a good guy.”

“When did you have such a deep, meaningful conversation with Helen?”

“She came by when you were at work today.” There was a small box on the counter. “I forgot to give this to you.”

I opened the box and inside it was one of those best-friends trinkets. One half of a broken heart. Helen and I didn’t have them when we were kids because we thought we were too cool. There was a small note inside.

Charlie. I don’t expect you to wear this kid shit but it conveys a sentiment I want to get across to you. We’re forever, you and me. Okay? Let’s fucking go shopping soon and not act like strangers just because we don’t live together. I get you and you get me more than anyone, BFF. Love you. Helen.

I started getting misty-eyed but Chucky slapped me on the back. “She’s sweet. And hot. I wished I would’ve tapped that when I had the chance.”

“Chuck, you never had a chance with her.”

“Are you kidding? Helen was infatuated with me. She snuck into my room one night and tried to kiss me when I was thirteen.”

I was shocked. “What a slut! I can’t believe that. She never told me.”

Chucky and I laughed. Helen was always boy-crazy in general. I don’t think she had actually been into him, but I’m glad he didn’t let her kiss him. Imagine living with that your whole life. Gross.

After dinner on the couch, I paused Game of Thrones right as Jon Snow was filling the screen. “Perfect view.” I turned to Chucky. “Can I tell you something?” I couldn’t believe I was confiding in Golden Boy.

“Go for it.”

“A few months ago, I met this guy on the street a couple of blocks from here. I went to his loft and slept with him.”


“Shut up, Chuck. I liked him. He was spontaneous, kind of wild. He changed his whole life around in a year and spent every day doing exactly what he wanted to do: painting.”

“Oh, another shocker,” Chucky said. “Like Curtis and his video games? You sure know how to pick ’em.”

“I know, I know. Just listen. Here’s the thing. I fell for him . . . hard. We were acting like this couple who had been together for years. We acted like we were in love and it felt like we were. Then, the next day, he practically kicked me out.”

“Was he a drug addict?”

“No. I told you, I went to his loft. It was nice. He was a corporate lawyer but quit his job to become a painter.”

“Like a house painter?”

“No, like an artist.”

“This is the weirdest one yet, Charlotte. Who pretends to be in love after one night?”

I shook my head. “That part is hard to explain, but it made sense in the moment. The point is, I really fell for him but I didn’t think he was into me—especially after the next morning. But then I saw this new mural a few blocks away, painted on the side of a building. And it’s of me. I can’t get him out of my head now.”

“And that’s what’s making it so hard for you to date the baseball player? Seriously?”

“I think so,” I said.

“I don’t. I think any normal, suitable guy is off limits to you because you think you’re not worth it, so you have to obsess over crazies like this painter.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”

He grabbed my hand, which was weird.

“What are you doing, Chucky?” I scowled.

“Charlotte, listen to me. I was a shitty brother. I think I ruined your self-esteem or something. But you’re gorgeous, okay? And you deserve better than some bipolar hipster artist guy.”

I yanked my hand away. “Ew, Chucky.”

“Oh, grow up, Charlotte. I just wanted you to know I don’t think you’re fat or dumb. Not really, anyway. My standards for women are high because I had an awesome mom and an awesome sister who showed me how smart and beautiful a woman could be. Inside and out.”

“I’m actually going to start crying if you don’t stop.”

He laughed once and looked away. “I just wanted you to know, okay?”

I grabbed his hand back and squeezed it. “I think you’re pretty awesome, too. I’m really proud of you for making it through dental school.” At that point I really did start to cry, and Chuck’s eyes welled up, too.

“Thanks, sis. Now can we go back to being assholes to each other? Just for fun?”


ON MONDAY, I did everything I could to find out more information about Adam. I learned that there was a man in the Los Angeles planning department fighting to protect the murals in the Arts District, and to restore some of the old murals that had been covered up in and around LA. I couldn’t imagine someone coming along and covering up our frolicking wolves or the winged man . . . or the new mural of my alternate-universe romance with Adam.

I wrote a letter to the city and asked to sign the petition to protect our local murals. I wanted to keep the fantasy alive through Adam’s art for as long as possible.

At work on Tuesday, I spilled an entire glass of water on a baby’s head. The mother yelled at me for five minutes. I just kept saying, “At least it wasn’t coffee.” Jon-Jon wasn’t amused.

I made it safely to Wednesday without Helen, and without walking past Adam’s loft or texting Seth or bugging Helen about being lonely, but I was lonely. I watched TV that night and scrolled through Match.com posts on my laptop. Chucky walked by, dressed up in slacks and a button-down shirt.

“Where are you off to?” I asked.

“I have a date.”

“Go, Chucky! Who is she?”

“This girl I’ve been seeing from dental school. Jenn.”

“Okay. Well, if you want to bring her back here, text me and I’ll get lost for a while.”

“Really? You’d do that for me?”

“Please. I’d do that for me. I don’t want to hear any of your weird sexcapades.”

He chuckled. “Probably best. See ya.”

He was out the door and I was alone again.

At nine, Chucky texted me to get lost, so I went out and got a donut. I told him to text me the all-clear once he was ready.

I sat on a bus bench eating a giant maple bar, wondering how to approach this thing with Seth. There were sparks, for sure, but something was holding me back from feeling fireworks. I wished I felt worthy of him. I wished that I thought I was as attractive as he was or had as much to offer. I was just a waitress, living with my brother in some crackpot apartment in a less-than-glamorous part of LA.

Halfway through my donut, I got a text from Chucky.

Chucky: It’s all clear but Jenn’s gonna stay the night, okay?

Me: Sure, fine, whatever. Be home in ten. Please be fully clothed.

Instead of going home, I walked past Adam’s loft. His neighbor, whom I had met for two seconds, was coming out of the building. What am I doing? I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.

“Excuse me? Hi.”

“Oh, hey,” she said. “Charlotte, right?”

“Wow, good memory. What was your name again?”

“Stacy.” We shook hands. “I only remember because Adam remembered, and that was totally unlike him. He was looking for you for a while but said he couldn’t find you.”

What in the hell is happening?

“Why didn’t he just come to my house? He’s been to my apartment before, and I live just a few minutes away.”

She gave me a long look. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

She stared at me for a few seconds, but I could see her mind at work, as if she were having a debate with herself. “I don’t really think it’s my place. Would you mind if I took your number so I can get in touch with him and see if it’s okay to pass along his info?”

“Well, jeez. It doesn’t sound like I was a person he wanted in his life.”

“No, you don’t understand. It’s not my place to talk to you about this. He liked you a lot. He remembered you. That was amazing for Adam, at that time.”

“Why was it amazing for Adam at that time? Is he mentally ill or something?” That would certainly explain a lot.

She pulled out her phone. “No, no, not at all. I’m sorry, I have to go meet my husband. Just let me get your number and I’ll get in touch with you, okay? I promise.”

“Um, okay. I just . . . he kind of rejected me.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head adamantly. “He was confused. I’ll explain everything later.”

I gave her my number and then stumbled home dumbfounded, but not before sneaking another glance at my mural.


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