Charlie called me out of the blue. “Lils.” He said, with a snakey voice.
“Charlie! How nice to hear from you.” I cried.
“How’ve you been?” he asked.
“Fine” I said, then, “Mmmm… I mean, not so good. I just got out of a mental hospital.”
“Oh, wow. How’d they treat you in there?”
We let the conversation fall into a slow silence before he started again.
“Look, Lils, the reason I’m calling is because I need money.” He said, his voice was sure and firm. “I need money real bad.”
I laughed, “What about your Dad?”
“I’ve been cut off.” He said, and sounded sad. “I’ve been cut off, goddamn it.”
I laughed again, this time it was a howling laughter.
Earlier in the year, for his birthday I took the day off work. I made cake batter all day and baked it in turkey roasters. I baked for 10 hours. Strawberry favored sponge, his favorite. Then I made ginormous batches of strawberry flavored icing and used it to glue the layers together. Then I cut and crafted the cake into shape and decorated it. It was a pink fender guitar cake. I had hoped that it would be to scale but, when finished, it was much bigger than originally planned. The “body” of the guitar cake was covered in pink fondant icing, the “neck” was painted with chocolate. I used strawberry laces to as the guitar strings and dolly mixture as volume controls. I signed his name across the bottom in black icing, like as if he was a rock star and this was his guitar. I lit candles as I heard his arrive at the door. He had just arrived home from a trip in Tokyo. I sang happy birthday and guided him to the cake.
He said “Oh wow” and “that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me”. And I took a photo of him blowing out the candles and we both had a slice and he said: “strawberry, my favorite!” and I smile and we both made a wish.
After we had to cut up the cake. It took up every shelf in our fridge and the rest just had to be covered and kept on the counter. We ate it for days and days and eventually had to throw the rest away.
And a few months later I had to go to Paris for work and he came along. We ate at a fancy restaurant and giggled. He drew a picture of us on the napkin. In his drawing I was a big bird with a long neck and crooked beak and he was a gnarly little thing, a cross between a badger and a crocodile, maybe. He signed it and I kept it.
And he bought me a book full of drawings I liked and when we got back to London I ripped the pages out and stuck them on my wall. And he frowned and said: “Why did you do that?”
And I said: “Now they’re not trapped in a book.”
It had been a couple of months since we had spoken. Our flat had turned sour, I can’t really remember why, but we no longer shared movies, no more bedtime stories, in fact, we rarely spoke towards the end. He left before me, his belongings meticulously packed and labeled. He said he liked to say goodbye to his rooms, when he left. He told me it was his tradition. “Good bye room” he said, “You’ve been good to me.” He patted the wall, and then turned to me. “Good bye, Lils.”
Soon after that I realized that I hated the flat. I also realized that I hated my job and worse, my boyfriend. Finally I realized that I hated exercise, and popcorn, and my life entirely.
But, after a long existential crisis and a short stint in a mental hospital I was good to go again.
Charlie, meanwhile, had spent the last two months traveling America. He had stayed in swanky hotels and traveled in style, all on his dad’s credit card, and on his return he had been cut off from his trust fund.
It was nice to hear from Charlie, even if he was asking me for money.
“I don’t have any money.” I told him, still laughing.
“I know you have secret money.” He said. “And I need you to dip into it to help me out.”
“Secret money!?” I shrieked.
“Yes. I know you have secret money. That’s the only way to explain how you always paid rent on time.”
“I worked every day!” I said.
“I need some cash money!” He retorted.
I laughed again.
“It’s nice to hear from you, Charlie.” I said