“H-hey, Charley?” Ed whispered down the phone.
“Ed? What’s up, are you okay? You sound weir-”
“Yeah, yeah…” Ed said, his eyes darting back to his bedroom door. “Listen, is it okay if I come over?”
“I…” Charley hesitated, not sure if his mother would allow it. But Ed sounded strange, and he was worried. Ask forgiveness, not permission. “Yeah, Ed, come on over. Do you need me to pick you up or anything?”
“No! I mean...it’s alright, I’ll be over in a minute.”
Ed hung up the phone without another word. Charley stood up and paced around. His heart was racing. Geez, what if it’s something really serious? What am I going to do? Charley busied himself by straightening up his room. He glanced at the clock. It was after 10 on a school night. He really didn’t want his mom to be angry with him, but, well… If it was something serious, he knew she’d understand. Finally, after what seemed like a suffocating eternity, he heard a knock at the door. He ran down the stairs, and let Ed in. Ed gave him a weak grin.
“Gosh, Ed…” Charley gasped, sizing him up. He was pale and there was dried blood on his chin. His lip was split.
Ed glanced behind Charley. “Your mom isn’t up, is she?”
Charley shook his head. “I don’t know, she’s in her room. Come on…” Charley said, pulling Ed up the stairs.
He sat Ed down on his bed and crouched in front of him, to get a good look at his cut. Ed tried to look away, but Charley gently turned his face forward. Ed closed his eyes. His lip was trembling a bit.
“Ed…” Charley whispered. “Ed it’s...it’s okay if you cry.”
“Shut up, Charles.” Ed said, with a bitter laugh, wiping a tear off his face.
“Ed, what happened?”
“It’s the same shit…” Ed said, swallowing hard. “I just didn’t want to…I couldn’t be there right now, I can’t do it right now.”
“Do you need to stay here tonight, Ed?”
Ed shook his head. “You don’t have to-”
“Ed, I’m serious, you can stay if you want. Do you want to stay?”
Charley stood. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
Ed sat for a minute, finding his composure. Pushing everything away and just breathing. His lip was throbbing. His head was throbbing too. More fucking crying will only make it worse. He thought, angrily.
Charley came back into the room with a wad of pillows and blankets under his arm, and a washcloth in his hand. He dropped the blankets onto the floor and walked up to Ed.
“Hey, this might sting a little, but...gotta get you cleaned up.” He said, gently wiping under Ed’s lip.
“Brewster, I got it. I’m not a kid.” Ed said, taking the washcloth from Charley and holding it to his lip.
“Right. Sorry. I was just trying to help.” Charley said, sitting on the floor in front of Ed.
“Do your parents know you’re here?”
Ed flinched a bit. “God...I hope not.”
Sadness and realization flashed across Charley’s face. He nodded. “What should I say if they call?”
Ed scoffed. “I seriously doubt that’ll happen, but…” Ed sighed. “Just say you haven’t heard from me tonight, I guess.”
“Alright.” Charley chewed on his lip for a second. “I uh…”
“ Fright Night ’s on soon.” Ed interrupted.
“Uh...yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s a re-run, but…”
“I wanna watch it.” Ed said, finally lowering the washcloth from his face. He examined the red and pink splotches on it for a moment before dropping it onto Charley’s bedside table.
Charley stood and rooted around in the drawer for a moment. “Here.” He said, handing Ed the remote. “Scoot.”
Ed moved over to face the TV and make room for Charley. Ed could feel Charley’s eyes on him as he sat down, but Ed kept his gaze fixed on the TV as it crackled to life.
“Whaddya know, it’s already on the right channel.” Ed said. Charley continued to stare at him through two entire commercials, before the familiar into tune buzzed and crackled from his TV’s old speakers.
“Good evening, and welcome!” Peter said, walking through the fog. “Tonight’s film-”
“Charley, you’re interrupting Peter- motherfucking -Vincent, here.”
“Ed, your lip is still bleeding.”
“Fuck it, let it bleed.” Ed said, still not meeting Charley’s gaze.
“Ed, you know, I...Well, I mean, before we moved here, my mom and I…” Charley sputtered.
Ed was finally curious enough to look at him. Charley had a strange, pained look on his face.
“It’s just uh…” Charley ran his hand through his hair nervously. “I mean, we moved here to get away from my dad, so like...I don’t know if-” Charley sighed. “I mean, I don’t want to, like…” Charley fidgeted his hands. “But like, I just…If that is, you know, what’s going on...I just. I get it, I guess.”
“I uh...Thanks, Charley.” Ed said, wiping at the blood dripping down his chin.
“Like, I’m sorry if I’m making assumptions, but-”
“No, you’re uh, I think you’ve got the right idea.” Ed said, thickly, tears threatening to rise again.
Charley grabbed Ed and pulled him into a quick hug.
“Ow, fuck, Brewster, warn a guy…” Ed said, rubbing at his side.
“Oh shit, shit, I’m sorry…” Charley said. There were a few tears in the corner of his eyes. “Shit, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, I’m just a little bruised up.”
Charley frowned. “Geez, Ed, how long has this been going on?”
Ed shrugged. “A while, I dunno.”
“Have you told anyone?”
Ed laughed. “No...and I don’t think I’m gonna.”
Charley chewed on the inside of his cheek and looked concerned, but nodded.
“You can come over whenever you need to, okay? You don’t have to call, you can just come over. My mom won’t mind.”
They settled in silently for a while, watching the movie. Charley had seen it at least three times before, and there was no telling how many times Ed had seen it, since he usually taped Fright Night to watch it again.
“Here comes the stake crossbow!” Ed said excitedly. Charley smiled at him, glad to see him perk up.
“Ohh, ow, there he goes!” Ed said with a laugh as the vampire took a stake to the chest and fell over the side of the tower. “Ahh, shit.” Ed said, doubling over.
“Ed! Are you okay?” Charley asked, alarmed, grabbing Ed’s shoulders.
“Yeah, just...hurts to laugh too much.”
Charley pulled Ed back up into a sitting position, and Ed leaned against the wall with a sigh.
“Let me get you some aspirin or something just… to help a little.”
Ed nodded and Charley headed to the bathroom. He came back with two white tablets and a glass of water. Ed swallowed them with a very small sip of water.
Charley shot him a small glare. “Drink the whole thing, Ed.”
Ed rolled his eyes and groaned, but drank all the water. “Do you follow all directions to the letter, or just the ones on medicine bottles?”
“Just medicine. You’ve seen me in math class, Ed, you know I can’t handle more that two or three rules at a time.” Charley said with a laugh.
“Bad time to start being funny, Brewster.” Ed said, chuckling and rubbing at his chest.
“Yeah, sorry. I’ll try to keep to my normal level of intolerable seriousness.” He said, making an exaggerated frown.
Ed smiled. “There’s the Charley I know.”
Charley grinned. “Fuck you, man.” He said lightly, sitting back down.
Charley put his hand on Ed’s chin and turned his face. “Ed, you really need to do something about your lip, it’s still bleeding…”
Ed turned away from Charley’s hand. “Fine, hand me the damn washcloth again.”
Charley picked the cloth up with slight hesitation and put it in Ed’s hand. Ed put the washcloth to his lip and applied, admittedly, too much pressure. It hurt like hell, but he just wanted the bleeding to stop so that maybe Charley would stop staring at him with all that pity in his eyes. Ed looked down at the cloth and then glanced back at Charley, who seemed to have gotten a bit more interested in the movie. Maybe it wasn’t pity, maybe it was sympathy. Afterall, he didn’t know what Charley had been through, but it had been bad enough to leave, so...it must have been something. Charley sure was lucky that his mom cared enough to get them out of the situation. His own mom always seemed to look straight through him with glassy eyes. She had it rough too, he knew that, but...he was just a kid. What was he supposed to do about any of it?
Ed sighed and used the washcloth to wipe some stray tears off his face. Charley turned the volume on the TV down a bit.
“Ed, do you want to talk about it?”
Ed shook his head, but shrugged at the same time. “I don’t know.” He said, more sob coming out in his voice than he’d intended. Charley put his arm around Ed and pulled him close so that Ed’s head was on his shoulder. Ed tried to regulate his breathing, tried not to become a sobbing mess.
“It’s fucked up, Charley. The whole fucking world, it’s fucked.”
Charley rubbed Ed’s shoulder gently. “Kids shouldn’t have to deal with shit like this. No one should.” Charley agreed.
Charley hesitated, afraid of the answer, but felt like he needed to ask. “Does your mom know, Ed?”
Ed scoffed. “Yeah. She’s not exactly blameless herself, here,” he said, gesturing to his lip. “But… She gets her share of shit too. I always hope… That someday she’s gonna do something. But she just seems so...she’s a zombie, Brewster.” Ed choked on a sob. “I don’t want to be like that, man. I don’t want to just-” Ed couldn’t finish his sentence. Or his thought, even. Crying hurt worse than laughing, but trying not to cry hurt worst of all. “It’s okay if you cry.”
“Ed, I think you need some rest. You look...worn out.”
Ed wiped at his nose, and before he knew it, Charley was shoving a box of tissues at him.
“Thanks, Chuckles.” Ed said, wiping at his face, then blowing his nose. “You’re right I...haven’t really slept the last few nights. It’s been… a mess over there.”
Charley pushed Ed gently down onto the bed and walked over to the closet. “You can borrow one of my tee shirts if you want.” he said, tossing it to Ed. Ed picked it up and looked at it. He chuckled a bit. “I didn’t know you were a Stryper fan, Brewster.”
Charley laughed. “My mom got me the shirt and a tape at some church convention.” he said with a dismissive wave.
Ed sat up and fiddled with the shirt for a second. He glanced up at Charley. “Oh, sorry, do you want me to turn around?”
“Yeah…” Ed said, not afraid of Charley seeing him shirtless, really, but more afraid of him seeing the deep collection of bruises and scars across his torso.
Charley turned to the closet and got out his own pajamas, changing just where he was. Ed pulled the shirt over his head and laughed.
“I always took you for a briefs guy, Brewster.”
Charley turned around and rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “What can I say, I’m a man of mystery.”
“Not that much mystery. You are wearing a pajama set.”
“Hey man, they’re silky, it feels nice.”
“What were they, a birthday present from your mom ?”
“...Christmas.” Charley said, straightening his shirt. Ed chuckled.
“Okay, let’s set up my floor pallet.” Ed said, standing.
“Woah, man, you’re sleeping on the bed, I get the floor.” Charley said, pulling the pile of blankets up beside the bed.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah I can fall asleep anywhere. And I think the mattress would be better for your, you know, bruised-up condition…”
“Okay.” Ed sighed, sliding into the bed. “Do you at least want to sit up here for the rest of the movie?”
Charley smiled. “Yeah, okay. I wanna see how it ends. You know, again .”