Charlie rolled onto his back and continued to lie there, staring at the ceiling, for half an hour. When that half hour came to an end, and he had failed to wrap his head around what had just happened, he sat up, walked into the kitchen and began to make himself some beans on toast.
“I’m going to have a word with Twig,” he muttered to the beans as he stirred them in their pan. “God only knows what was in that stuff he gave me.”
The clock on the kitchen wall informed him it was approaching seven in the evening. Charlie had left his new acquaintance Janelle’s home at around quarter past ten. Which meant that he had spent the entire day hallucinating. And had, at some point, made it back here safely.
Charlie ate his beans straight from the pan (there was no bread to make toast), then made a cup of excessively sweet tea and retired to the sofa that he must have somehow fallen from earlier. It was the only explanation for the collision with the floor that had ended up waking him. As for the dream itself, Charlie wasn’t too sure he felt like dwelling on it.
But dwell on it he did, as he lay in bed that night, sleep evading him at every toss and turn. It was perfectly logical, he decided, as midnight melted into one, then two, then three. He had been thinking about Alicia that morning, and then he’d suffered some ill effects courtesy of Twig, or Dr Clarke, or both. It was only natural that his subconscious would throw up that night at Yoko’s to tease him; the last time he had ever seen Alicia, and they had fought.
That had been three years ago. Three years in which Charlie did very little except go to the pub with his mates from home, the ones who hadn’t gone to uni. Until one by one they started getting girlfriends, and jobs, even kids in some cases. Three years passed, and everybody was busy living, except Charlie.
He’d thought about Alicia often, of course. Constantly, in fact. First bitterly, licking his wounds, then more tenderly as time went by. He wrote letters that he could never quite bring himself to send, picked up the phone a million times but always succumbed to his own cowardice. He’d called her a cold bitch that last night in Yoko’s, before walking out and leaving her there. That was what he relived every time he considered making contact, and the shame always stayed his hand.
And then eventually, of course, it didn’t matter if he wrote or not, because Alicia Solomon died. Killed in a car accident along with her new rugby player boyfriend. In fucking Australia, no less. Charlie couldn’t help but think that Alicia would be pleased with that last part. When friends and family spoke of her years from now, she would be remembered as the tragic, beautiful girl who died before her time… in Australia.
That was why he had been taken back to Yoko’s, Charlie decided as the night sky began to pale outside. To him, Alicia had never left the nightclub. She’d stayed where he’d left her. Simple psychology, really. As Charlie finally succumbed to sleep, he resolved to steer clear of Twig, and refrain from taking Dr Clarke’s pills again. He could do without the guilt.
It didn’t dawn on him until his doorbell rang that evening, stirring him from his bed, that today was Friday. Charlie didn’t have much in the way of a routine, or any real notion of structure in his life at all, but Fridays meant one thing and one thing only: Kat. A former colleague from one of the brief periods where Charlie had held down a job, she was almost but not quite old enough to be his mother, but that had never got in the way of them being mates. And, ever since the day that Kat had made it painfully clear to Charlie that he would never get into her knickers, very good friends was just what they had been.
When Charlie had first heard the news about Alicia, his mother and father had been sympathetic, as had most of the friends from whom he had drifted apart. Everybody knew what she had meant to him. But as the months slipped away and Charlie refused to make even the slightest move in the healthy and expected direction, people began to lose patience. Mates returned to the vacuum from which they had appeared, and his parents rang every so often to make sure he hadn’t hanged himself. But, for the most part, Charlie was left to his own devices.
Except for Kat. It had mystified Charlie at first, why she insisted on darkening his door every Friday with a takeaway and a bottle. Her intentions were far from romantic, and Charlie had never done her such a kindness that it needed returning. In the midst of his greedy, all-consuming grief, selflessness was something Charlie couldn’t conceive of. A few Fridays had passed before he started to suspect that Kat might know a little something about what he was going through.
“Tell me about Alicia,” she’d said to him that first Friday, after helping herself to his best weed. And so Charlie had told her, not realising until hours after, when he went to sleep, how much he had needed to talk about her, how saying her name aloud had almost been enough to conjure her back to him, so that she was part of his world again and not forever dying over and over in a car with a rugby player on the other side of the world.
They had never been what one might call an obvious match, by anyone's standards. While Charlie would fret over whether the Gallagher brothers were going to see past their differences long enough for Oasis to produce another album, Alicia would be busy extolling the virtues of her favourite Sugababes line-up. Nothing that Charlie owned looked like it cost any more than the spare change which solely occupied his wallet. Alicia, on the other hand, was partial to expensive, close-fitting dresses.
It wasn’t anything as clichéd as “opposites attract”, thank god. More an example of how being utterly, spectacularly drunk can bring two people together in an unexpected and serendipitous way. For a short and blissful time, they were perfect for each other.
Kat would say nothing as Charlie rambled on for hours about Alicia and Carrow (because the two were forever intertwined), every film they had gone to see together, every shit student party, every argument and every reconciliation, everything but that last evening. She would just listen, drinking wine and ever rolling another joint. So yes, she must have known. Must have lived her own version of Yoko’s at some point. One day, when Charlie was less of a catastrophe, he intended to return the favour.
Tonight she had treated them both to a fish supper. Charlie began to roll a joint in preparation for after the meal, while Kat hunted through his cupboards for ketchup.
“Have you actually ventured inside a supermarket this year?” She called out from the depths of his fridge.
“They’re overrated,” he shouted back. “Now get in here and eat your chips before they get cold. I have a story to tell you.”
They sat cross-legged on the rug in the living room, eating straight from the masses of crumpled newspaper in their laps. Between steaming mouthfuls, Charlie told her all about his experience the day before.
“You’ve taken all sorts in your time,” he said, when he had recounted the entire tale. “Has anything like that happened to you?” It was the first time he’d mentioned anything to Kat about that final night in Yoko’s, and he could see her storing that away for further exploration later.
“Who’s to say it didn’t happen for real?” She asked, seemingly serious.
“Well? Is it really so preposterous?”
“I’d say so. Maybe we should give the bud a miss tonight.”
“Think about it. You loved Alicia more than you’ve ever loved anyone. You still do. The human mind is capable of some pretty amazing things. Even more so the human heart. Sure, there’s the rules of physics and everything that keeps the sky up top instead of down below, but what if you’ve found a way around all that? What if, somehow, through sheer force of want, you’ve found a way back to her?”
Charlie stared at Kat, aghast, for a full minute before she cracked up. A few seconds later, he was laughing along with her.
“On the other hand,” she snorted, “what a load of bollocks that would be.”
“You are awful,” he admonished.
“It made you laugh, didn’t it? I was seriously thinking I’d have to shag you in order to put a smile on that sullen face of yours.”
“That may still be necessary,” Charlie grabbed a handful of thigh and gave it a playful squeeze. Kat responded with a swift, painful jab to his left kidney.
“Fuck off,” she grinned, as he doubled over in pain. Then, rather more sweetly: “Would you happen to have a lighter?”
To Be Continued
Read Part Three
Read Part Three