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My heart skipped a beat when he handed me the note. Without even opening it I knew it would be in the code, the secret code we had been using for eight months now. I smiled. I was excited to get the chance to sit down and decode the message, and, better yet, to write a reply.
“He always gives you those codes, what do they say?” Tyler asked me. “Why can’t he just talk to you in English?”
“Because, it’s more fun this way,” I said, afraid to explain anything more to my boyfriend of six months. I didn’t want him thinking there was anything in between him and me. We were best friends, nothing more. There couldn’t possibly be anything more, what with Tyler in the picture.
“You’re such a nerd,” he said before he bent down to kiss me. Even in my high heeled boots I was a whole head shorter than him. I made myself as tall as possible to receive the kiss, perhaps prolong it a few more seconds. I loved Tyler, that was a given. Charlie was just someone I shared a secret code with…and my best friend.
As always when I was thinking about him, I recalled the first time we had met. I was taller than him back then, by three inches, the same amount he was above me now. We didn’t really talk much, although we had six classes together. I probably never would have if I hadn’t fallen over in the hallway, where he, the only other person who saw me, stopped to help.
“Are you okay?” he asked after helping me into a sitting position.
“Yeah, I think so, I just tripped.” I looked down at my boots. “Maybe I’m not used to these heels yet after all.”
He had laughed. “You always wear those. I don’t know how girls do it, walking around without ever stumbling.” He looked at me on the ground. “Well, maybe not never stumbling.”
“Hey! You try walking around in these all day! It’s not easy!” I said, laughing.
“Then why wear them?”
I shrugged. “I like the way they look. I can’t stand wearing sneakers in anyplace except gym.”
“Just for appearance. And the noise sneakers make are no match for these.” I grinned.
“I know; it’s easy to tell when you’re coming down the hall. Speaking of which, we should get back to class. Can you get up?”
“Um, I think so.” I tried to stand, but as soon as I put weight on my right ankle, I fell back down again. “Actually, no I cannot. I’m going to crawl to the nurse instead.”
I had really expected him to say ok and leave me on the floor. I was perfectly prepared to hop my way down to the clinic in the front of the school. I didn’t expect him to bend down again and take my hand.
“Renata, that’s crazy. Come on, I’ll help you. Ms. Roux won’t mind once she knows why we weren’t back. Here, put your weight on your left foot. I’ll support your right.”
He helped me into a standing position, and held onto my right arm. I stumbled along, but much less than I would have if I were alone. Once in the clinic, I threw myself onto one of the overstuffed chairs, allowing both Charlie and my foot a rest.
“What happened here?” Nurse Lane said when she walked into the room.
“She slipped in the hallway and hurt her ankle.” Charlie told her before I could open my mouth.
“Oh dear. Here, let me take off this boot. She gingerly slipped it off my heal, examining my foot. “Oh, nothing too bad, just a little bruise. Sit here for a minute, and you will be walking back to class in no time.” She turned to Charlie. “You can go if you like, or you can stay. Your choice.”
“I’ll stay with her.” He replied. I smiled. Charlie was really nice, I realized.
“Suit yourself.” She looked back to me. “You sit here, then walk back when you feel like you can, ok?”
“Alright,” I replied, willing her to leave. I suddenly found myself wanting to talk to Charlie some more.
She walked out of the room, leaving us alone.
“Thanks for staying Charlie,” I said, meaning every word.
“You’re welcome Renata. Thanks for getting me out of class. Everyone else is so loud, I can’t focus.”
“Well, then, you’re quite welcome. I can’t stand the noise sometimes either.”
We chatted easily, making small talk about various things. I tested my weight on my right foot, and decided I could manage.
“Let’s go back to class.” I said. “Or, to better define it, the jungle.”
He laughed at my comparison. “Good one.”
He walked on my right side, ready to catch me if at any point I seemed uneasy. I felt comforted knowing he was there, ready to break my fall. I smiled at this boy that I had never looked at twice before. I wondered how I could have missed him before. It seemed impossible now.
We walked back into class, taking our seats, me in the front, him in the middle. I examined my foot. It still felt a little sore, but nothing I couldn’t manage. I was thankful our gym period was over. I didn’t want to deal with a basketball hitting my foot, causing me to scream with pain. Still, I wondered if Charlie would have helped me if that were to happen.
I shook my head, snapping back into reality. Tyler was giving me a kiss goodbye as he walked into his French class. I waved, and walked away; opening the code Charlie had given me. I remembered coming up with it all those months ago.
“Here,” I said, handing him a piece of paper torn from my notebook. “Solve it if you can.”
This was my way of giving a challenge. I knew his competitive nature would force him to accept it. I hadn’t at the time expected it to turn into anything big, just a onetime thing. I figured he would write back, but that would be about it.
Of course, his reply left me with the need to respond, and mine did the same to him. We were sending as many messages as we could, finding each other in the halls before classes so we could hand deliver our messages. Once the school day had ended, we resorted to e-mail, speaking to each other only in our code. It had only taken days to memorize it, as we were using it more often than proper English. I found myself writing notes in class in the code, and then erasing it before anyone could notice and figure out the message themselves. It wouldn’t have been as fun if someone else understood it too.
I looked at the most recent message I had received. I deciphered it one line at a time, making sure to build the words together in my head. He hadn’t written anything important, just a greeting. We did that sometimes just to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything. I made sure to make a meaningless reply of my own before I put both the messages away in my bag. I would see Charlie in my next class. I would give it to him then.
I tried to focus in My English class, but I found myself bored. I was great in the class, but I felt like we were moving to slow, even at the honors level. I sighed. The period would be over soon.
When the bell rang I dashed to my last class. Gym. I used to hate it as a kid, but in high school it was a joke. They only had one rule, you couldn’t be sitting down. As long as you were on your feet, you were dressed, and didn’t do anything stupid, you would get an A. This meant I could talk to Charlie for a whole hour. I would give him the code before I went in the locker room. Knowing him, he would have made a reply by the time I came out again.
“Hey,” I called when I saw him walking in the door. “I have your reply.”
“Thanks,” he said when he took it from my hand. “Talk to you in a minute.”
I turned on my heel, and walked into the girl’s locker room. It always smelled like someone’s perfume, sprayed all over. I wondered what the guy’s one smelled of, and then decided I didn’t want to know.
Charlie and I were always the first ones out. The others liked to stay around and linger before being forced out. I didn’t see the point.
Like I had guessed, Charlie was holding a new piece of paper when he walked up to me. He put it in my hand.
“There. Fast enough for you?”
“Yes, quite,” I said, impressed. I opened the folded paper and quickly scanned what it said. ‘Talk to you in gym’ I translated. I laughed.
“That we are,” I said, smiling. He chuckled quietly.
We walked around the track, opting to go outside instead of becoming a target for an incoming basketball. I knew how much one to the head could hurt.
“So how was Biology?” I asked, remembering he had it while I was in English.
“Do you really want to know, or do you just care because Tyler has that class with me?” He asked, his eyebrows raised, and a cocky grin on his face.
“Well, you can tell me about both,” I said, compromising.
“Okay,” he said, “well, we didn’t do much today, just split up for study sessions. I was working with Tyler, and we really didn’t feel like studying, so we started talking. He asked what I wrote to you in the code, and I told him it was classified information.” I had to laugh at that, thinking of how ‘awful’ it would have been if a message saying ‘hey, what’s up’ had gotten into the ‘wrong’ hands.
Charlie continued. “Well, he got kind of annoyed at that, saying we were keeping something from him, and I told him it wasn’t anything really important, but I don’t really think he believed me.”
“I wonder what he thinks our messages say,” I wondered aloud, trying to think of something that might upset him. I didn’t want to explore the possibility that he sniffed out a relationship between Charlie and I that we were hiding from him. That wasn’t possible.
“Look, talk to him later, tell him it wasn’t anything important, and he’ll forget about it,” Charlie said. “You’re not worried, are you Renata?”
“No, not at all.” I said, but a hint of doubt crept in my voice. I hoped he hadn’t noticed it. No such luck.
“Renata, we don’t have anything to hide. The code is just for fun, remember?”
“Yes, I remember. I have an eidetic memory, how could I not remember?”
He laughed. “I know you do. But don’t worry about it for now.”
I instantly stopped worrying when Charlie told me to. He had a sort of power over me, helping me to relax. I assumed long ago it was only because we were so close. I figured Tyler would have a stronger hold over me, but he didn’t, at least not yet.
We heard the bell ring from the school, and we raced to the door. I bid him goodbye, and changed quickly in the locker room. I caught him walking by the door, so I matched his pace as we walked to our lockers.
I found Tyler already waiting at my locker. I said goodbye to Charlie once more, and walked quickly over to meet him.
“Hey Tyler,” I said, letting him kiss me.
“Hi. Look, I’ve been thinking, and I’ve decided, I want you to teach me the code.”
At this point, I had been doing the combination to open my locker so I could get my things. But I stopped and turned to face him at the end of his statement.
“Um…you want to learn our code?” I said, not sure if I had heard right.
“Yes. I figure instead of make you translate, which you never do anyway, I can just read them on my own this way. And you can write me your poems in the code too.”
I had started writing poems for him when we started dating. It was the way I had said yes to him when he asked me out the first time. I could still remember the haiku. ‘The question you asked, just yesterday after class, I want to say yes.’
He wanted to learn the code. Our code. Not our as in him and me, but our as in Charlie and me. He wasn’t part of this. He wasn’t Charlie.
“Tyler, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said as I continued to get my bag together. “We can make another code for just us, but the one Charlie and I have is just between us two.”
“But I’m your boyfriend.” He said, like that would change everything, while in reality, it did nothing at all.
“And he’s my best friend,” I said, trying to make sense of his words. “Look, Tyler, Charlie and I don’t say anything in code that’s about you or anyone. It’s just information in between the two of us. Don’t worry about it.” I tried to make my tone soothing, so he would relax. It didn’t work.
“You two are hiding something, I know it. Why can’t you tell me what it is?” his voice was loud now, and commanding.
“We’re not hiding anything! Why would I hide something from you?” I asked, alarmed at the change in his behavior. This was not my boyfriend. This was someone entirely different.
“Yes, why would you? What would be something a girl doesn’t want her boyfriend to know is between her and her guy best friend? What on Earth could it be?”
I knew what he was getting at now. “Tyler! It’s not like that! I’m with you, why would I do anything to mess that up?”
“I don’t know why, I’m not the one doing it! But I’m not going to stand in you guys’ way anymore. I should have known he wasn’t over you from the start.” With that, he walked away, fists clenched, back hunched over.
I felt my legs giving out under me, and I slowly slid to the floor. Tyler just broke up with me. Tyler just broke up with me. The words played over and over in my head, until something he had said clicked in my head. ‘I should have known he wasn’t over you from the start.’ Why did he say that? Was he referring to Charlie? He was into me? He was still into me?
I jumped up, slamming my locked closed. I had to find Charlie. I had to talk to him, figure out the story. As I turned around, I saw I did not have to search far for him. He was at his locker, not far from mine, but far enough away that with the normal hustle and bustle of the halls he wouldn’t be able to hear the shouting match between Tyler and me. I tried to calm myself down, so that at least a bystander would not be able to see how worked up I was. I knew that Charlie would be able to see through me though. I didn’t mind this time. In fact, I was glad. It would save time while explaining.
“Charlie.” I said loud enough so that he could hear me. He turned around, smiling when he saw it was me, and then grew alarmed at my appearance.
“Renata, what happened? Did Tyler not believe you when you told him the code was nothing?”
“It was worse than that,” I said. “He wanted to learn the code.”
Charlie gasped. “I hope you didn’t tell him the secret to cracking it. I’ve grown used to only you and me knowing it.”
“No, no, I didn’t tell him. I said we could make one up together for just us, but he didn’t like the idea.”
“Why not? Seems like a pretty good solution to me,” Charlie said, frowning. “He can be a bit stubborn at times, though.”
“I know. He was sure we were hiding something from him, that we were having an affair.” Charlie’s eyes widened at that prospect. Why is that? I wondered. Shock? Repulsiveness? Can he sense what’s coming next? I took a break and continued. “I told him we weren’t, but he got really mad, and he said…” I trailed off, not sure how to format the next part of the story.
“He said what?” Charlie asked, clueless. I decided I might as well be exact.
“He said, ‘I should have known he wasn’t over you from the start.’ Just like that. And then he broke up with me.”
Charlie didn’t notice right away what I was saying. He was more focused on the fact that Tyler had left me.
“He broke up with you? But why? That’s crazy!”
“Charlie, I don’t even care about that part. To be honest, if he’s going to blow up like this about something you and I have had from before he and I were together, then I don’t want to be dating him anyway. But what I want to know is this. What did he mean by saying you weren’t over me?”
Charlie was silent then. He looked to the left, then to the right, then down, anywhere but my face. I stared at him, waiting for an answer, refusing to move until I received one.
“I didn’t want to say anything because I knew you loved Tyler and I didn’t want to mess up what we had. I…I care for you, Renata. A lot.”
While he spoke, I realized something of my own. I never felt as safe, as comforted with Tyler as I had with Charlie. I would have rather been laughing with him than making out with my own boyfriend. Or should I say ex-boyfriend. I didn’t want Tyler to know our code because I didn’t want him getting in the way of Charlie and me.
Charlie could make me extremely irritated in one minute, then laughing on the ground in the next. Tyler could make me irritated, and the only thing that had made me feel better was some time by myself. No, I realized. That wasn’t what made me feel better. That was Charlie.
Charlie. It had always been Charlie. The love I thought I had had for Tyler was really masked feelings for Charlie. And, like Tyler had just screamed in my face, he was no longer standing in my way of the one I really cared for.
I wasn’t sure if I could choke out the words in plain English, so I spoke in the only other language I knew how. I knew Charlie would be able to understand.
‘I love you’ it translated.