“Yeah, I think I do,” Charlie said, smiling slightly. “Maybe you should just explain to him that you already have a boyfriend… I’m sure he’d understand then.” Charlie cringed internally when he said this, thinking that this attempt at finding out whether or not Liz had a boyfriend was a little too obvious. Thankfully, though, Liz took it all in stride.
“Oh no, it’s not that I have a boyfriend,” she replied. “It’s just that I… well, he’s not my type.” She paused for a moment and then an odd look crossed her face for only a moment before she continued speaking. “Can we change the subject, please?” she asked. “I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“Yeah, sure,” Charlie said, nodding in agreement. “What would you like to talk about?”
Liz pondered for only a moment, and then said, “You know, we’re always talking about me… let’s talk about you for a change.”
Charlie was a little taken aback by this, but nevertheless he kept his composure. “Well, what do you want to know about me?” he asked.
"All the same things you already asked about me,” she replied. She stopped to ponder for a moment, and then asked, “Well, do you have a girlfriend?” It was clear from her expression that she was asking this question purely out of curiosity, not for some hidden flirtatious reason, which made Charlie’s heart drop.
“Um… no,” he replied, trying to mask his disappointment.
“Okay, next question,” Liz continued, “What makes you come here every night?” When Charlie couldn’t come up with an answer and his faced turned almost as brilliantly red as his hair, she mistook his despair for embarrassment and put two and two together. “Ohhh, I see,” she continued. “Are you trying to get a girlfriend?”
Now Charlie could actually feel the redness on his face, and it was slowly creeping onto his ears as well. His heart was pounding rapidly, and he found that he could no longer look Liz in the eye. Seeing his reaction gave Liz all the answer she needed.
“I knew it!” she whispered excitedly. “And it’s someone here, too… is it Megan?”
Charlie’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion and he finally looked back up at Liz, wondering if she was serious. When he realized that she was, he decided it was time for this conversation to end. “Um, could we change the subject again, please?” he asked, his voice shaking.
Taken aback slightly, Liz stopped smiling immediately. “I’m so sorry, Charlie, I didn’t mean to upset you or make you uncomfortable or anything. I told you, my mouth doesn’t have a filter. Don’t be upset with me.”
“It’s okay, I’m not,” Charlie replied as the redness slowly began to retreat from his face and ears.
“I’ll just say one more little thing about it, and I promise I’ll leave you alone after that, if it’s okay with you,” she replied. Feeling somewhat wary but very curious, Charlie nodded his head, approving for her to say what was on her mind. “I just think that if, hypothetically, there were a certain someone here who you liked, you should talk to her. You never know until you try, and who knows? Megan might really like you! Or, I mean… the hypothetical girl you may or may not have a crush on…”
Charlie couldn’t help but laugh at Liz’s miscalculation, but he also couldn’t help but be affected by what she’d said. Until this exact moment, his feelings for Liz were completely in his subconscious, but he was now completely aware of them and it was too late to turn back. He was hooked. And Liz was absolutely right - he should talk to this girl he liked, even if she did have the wrong girl in mind. He pondered over this for a moment as Liz turned to walk away, and then suddenly, before he could chicken out of it, he made a decision.
“Liz? he said as normally as possible. When she immediately turned on her heel to look at him, he smiled widely.
“Yes?” she asked.
“You’re right,” he said, his heart pounding loudly in his chest. “I should talk to the girl I like. So I was wondering… could I walk you home?”
Whatever Liz had been expecting, it wasn’t that. Her mouth dropped open slightly and her eyebrows rose for a brief moment, but she quickly began fighting to regain her composure. And then, the smallest of smiles started at the corner of her lips and spread across her entire face, and Charlie knew what she was going to say before she did.
“Yeah, I’d like that,” she said shyly. Then, with one last smile at him, she turned slowly and walked off to serve her other customers.
As Charlie stood outside of the bar a few hours later waiting for Liz to finish closing up, his entire body shook with what was either cold or nerves, or a combination of the two. He blew his warm breath into his cupped hands and stamped his feet in an effort to fight off the January chill, but it didn’t seem to be working… and the fact that he was about to be alone with Liz for the first time did nothing to improve matters. He had been so sure of himself before, so confident in offering to walk Liz home, but that certainty had apparently only been a result of the alcohol and the excitement of the moment. Now that he’d sobered up a bit, Charlie was plagued with doubt and paranoia.
When Liz stepped outside a short while later, however, looking at her smiling face caused a small bit of that certainty Charlie had felt earlier to return, though he remained extremely nervous. He didn’t say much as Liz began leading him in the direction of her home, but after they’d walked only a short distance he began to feel more comfortable and started talking openly. He and the brunette talked, laughed, and exchanged nervous glances as they quickly covered the short distance to Liz’s home, and Charlie was a bit disappointed when Liz stopped walking and indicated that they’d arrived. Liz seemed to share in that disappointment, however, so she took a seat on the front steps and continued talking.
A warmth and excitement that had nothing to do with alcohol flowed through Charlie’s veins as they talked for what seemed like hours, but then something happened that quickly drained all of that. Liz’s mother had apparently been worried when her daughter didn’t get home from work as early as usual, and she stepped out of the front door with a puzzled look on her face. The sound of the door opening caused both Charlie and Liz to crane their necks behind them, and the middle-aged British woman quickly glanced at the two of them sitting on the steps. Her expression changed when Liz said “I’ll be inside in just a moment, Mum”, and she quickly nodded her head and retreated inside, which caused Charlie and Liz to burst into an embarrassed fit of laughter.
“Well, that’s my mum,” Liz said a moment later. Her eyebrows immediately furrowed after this statement, and she looked over at Charlie with curiosity. “Where does your family live, Charlie?” she asked. “Do you have any sisters or brothers?”
Brother. The word hit Charlie like a knife through the heart, and every ounce of excitement and warmth he’d felt just seconds earlier drained from him immediately. His face froze in an unreadable expression, his breathing became labored, and he soon found that he could no longer look Liz in the eye. He looked down at the cold grey steps beneath his feet instead, and he suddenly became very angry with himself and fell into a sort of daze. Why was he doing this? He was supposed to be in the U.S. grieving for his brother, not dating! Did Fred’s memory really mean so little to him that he’d let Liz distract him from it? How dare he flirt with this girl when his brother was…
Seeing the redhead’s reaction sent Liz into an apparent state of panic, which only made Charlie feel worse. She clearly hadn’t meant to bring up anything that was too personal; she had just been genuinely curious about Charlie’s family. But Charlie’s family was a very private and delicate matter to him, something she now saw, and she obviously felt horrible for bringing it up. She cursed softly, quiet enough Charlie thought he might have imagined it, and immediately started trying to make amends. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry,” she said. When he didn’t respond, she reached over and lightly touched his arm.
Her touch made Charlie snap out of the trance he’d been in, and, without meaning to, he said “Dead”; completing out loud the phrase he’d just been thinking to himself.
Looking horrified and sympathetic, Liz said softly, “I’m so sorry, Charlie. We don’t have to talk about it anymore… I’ll never bring it up again.”
The way Liz said this made Charlie realize that she’d assumed that his entire family was dead, but at the moment he felt no need or desire to correct her assumption. He wasn’t ready to talk about it. The fact that she’d just promised to never bring it up again gave Charlie a strange sense of hope, and an odd feeling of relief. He knew now that he’d be free to talk to Liz as much as he wanted without ever having to discuss his family, and though that pained him, it also relieved him. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Then, without warning, he got to his feet and prepared to leave.
When Liz saw the way he stood abruptly, she just knew that she’d lost him. Her mouth had ruined any chance she’d had with Charlie, and she was very disappointed and upset with herself. She just nodded and tried to smile when he told her that he had to be going, and her face fell when he started walking away. After he’d taken only a few steps, however, Charlie stopped and turned to look back, giving her the tiniest sense of hope. When he said “I’d like to see you again” in his lovely British accent, she thought her heart might burst out of her chest, but she fought to maintain her composure as she told him that she’d like that very much.