It's been three years and her heart still picks up whenever she sees a yellow car flash by the street. Charlie admonishes herself every time- of course it's not Bumblebee, he's long gone doing important war things with the other robots- but still, her heart reacts before her mind has a chance to.
She dated Memo casually for a little while, because it seemed like what she was supposed to do. He's sweet and goofy and surprisingly well-built under his nerdy exterior, but there was never any... any spark. Kissing him was like kissing her first "boyfriend" back in kindergarten all over again. It was just skin pressing against skin, the smell of his breath too close to her face.
It never made her feel excited, or safe, or even loved. Messing around was fun at first but when the novelty wore off, she realized that's all it ever was. She could see the heartbreak in his eyes when she told him it wasn't going to work out, but he took it well.
Charlie puts a long-range receiver in her apartment and tunes it to different stations every day, though she has her doubts about whether Earth tech can even pick up whatever the robots use. Sometimes she'll hear the fragment of a song and think it's a message meant for her, only to realize that no, it's just the signal wavering in and out.
She moved out of Brighton Falls as soon as she was able to. Packed up and headed further down the coast, south enough that the summer sun bakes her skin to a newly golden glow (when she isn't sunburned, anyway).
She works at a garage now, and if she keeps her eyes open for any signs of cars that are more than what they seem, well, it doesn't affect her work. And if anyone hears her talking to them anyway, praising and cajoling and sternly lecturing the silent machines, well, she's not the only one a little too invested in the work.
Some days she thinks about what she'd do if Bumblebee showed up right then and there. She'd jump up to give him a hug, of course, and demand to know if he's okay, and what he's been doing.
Sometimes she imagines that he's there because he needs her help- not just any human who's good with mechanics, but her in particular- and she'll agree, obviously, and they'll drive down the highway away from the small life she's been, somewhat reluctantly, building for herself.
Sometimes she thinks he'll show up and the war he'd been apparently fighting in will be over, though she knows of course that it won't take a measly three years from the sounds of things, and that he's there to stay. That he had the chance to be with his own kind but instead chose her.
Charlie tries not to dwell on it, really. He was there for one awesome, bizarre summer, and now she has to try and live the rest of her life. She turns twenty-one alone in her apartment, the taste of illicitly-acquired gin bitter on her tongue, and calls out of work the next day with a brutal hangover.
She finds a cute little bee pin at a flea market and buys it immediately, but can never bring herself to wear it.
She dates, or tries to. the men don't hold her interest; in desperation she accepts an invitation from a woman, but it ends up being just the same. She buys a vibrator and wears out the motor. She buys a second but the noise of it sounds for just a second like the buzzing noises Bumblebee would make and she almost can't bring herself to touch it again (After a few days she gets desperate enough to overlook the noise, or perhaps desperate to hear it again- either way, she eventually wears out that vibrator, too).
Another year passes. Charlie begins to wonder if life is always going to be like this, feeling like she's waiting for something.
She has friends, of course, some close and some mere acquaintances. Other than Memo none of them know about Bumblebee- even Otis has refused to talk about it in years, has explained away the events of that summer in his memories. Charlie adopts a cat that she finds on the street, and keeps a windowsill full of mostly-alive houseplants. She's fine.
She dates a man who seems as ambivalent towards the relationship as she feels, and somehow that makes it last. Three months turns into six turns into a year and suddenly it's been two years since they started dating, and her mother is on the phone asking her when the wedding is going to be.
Charlie always deflects, laughs and says she's not ready to settle down, though it feels like settling is all she's been doing. Her boyfriend asks her if she does want to get engaged, and seems content when she says no. They break up amicably a few months later when he has to move for his work, and she takes a break from dating entirely.
Eight years after she was barely eighteen and hip-deep in something she hadn't understood at all, there's a yellow car parked outside her apartment in the morning. It's a Mustang composed of classic, clean lines, and her heart flutters.
"Bee?" Charlie whispers once she's made sure that no one is watching her.
The car doesn't answer, of course. It's just a car.
She moves twice more, once closer to Brighton Falls and a second time even further away. The garage she's working at now has an aging owner who she's pretty sure would be willing to sell the place to her when he decides to retire, and she tries to be content with that.
The phone in her apartment rings as she's lingering over breakfast. Charlie picks it up and is surprised to hear Memo's voice, familiar despite how long it's been since they talked last. "Charlie!" he says, "You are not gonna believe me."
"Hey, what's up?" she replies, tucking the phone between her ear and her shoulder, fingers automatically tangling in the curling cord.
"Girl, you need to get back to Brighton immediately," he says.
"Why?" Charlie says. Memo doesn't sound upset, or else she'd be worried that he has bad news about her family.
There's the sound of scuffling in the background, a muffled voice and what sounds like metal tapping and sliding against metal. "Talk into this part," Memo's voice says, tinny and far away.
"Memo?" she says, confused. Is he playing a prank on her?
"And if you have five seconds to spare, I'll tell you the story of my life," a voice sings from over the phone line, the Smith's familiar sounds. She stopped being able to listen to them years ago, but she recognizes her once-favorite band immediately.
Charlie's heart lurches, and she closes her eyes, breathing out forcefully. "That's not funny, Memo," she says.
"Charlie," a voice that isn't Memo's says, one that's a little garble and strange, every letter warbling in a different pitch.
"Bumblebee?" she rasps out, unwilling to open her eyes and wake up from this dream.
"I've got so much honey the bees envy me," the person on the other end of the phone croons in yet another voice, and Charlie opens her eyes, gives her arm a solid pinch. She's not dreaming.
"You've got to get over here as soon as you can!" Memo cuts in with, "I don't know how long he's staying, and I didn't know your new address to give him, sorry."
"Yeah, no, of course," Charlie says, already looking for her car keys. "I can be there in a few hours. Everything's okay? He's not hurt or anything?"
"Seems fine to me," Memo says.
"I'll be there as soon as I can," she says. She has work today, but her boss will just have to understand her taking a personal day.
There's faint buzzing from over the phone line, and then a string of triumphant-sounding music. She smiles and promises again to be there ASAP, reluctant to hang up the phone.
"The sooner you start driving the sooner you get here," Memo says with a slyness in his voice that is just asking for him to get elbowed in the side, and Charlie rolls her eyes.
"I'm going now. See you guys soon!"
She doesn't remember the drive back up to Brighton Falls. She must obey traffic laws because she doesn't get pulled over, but everyone else could have been driving backwards for all she was paying attention.
Memo lives on the other side of town now, but she heads for the house her Mom and Ron still live in, the route seared deep into her memory despite how long it's been since she's driven it.
She parks haphazardly in the driveway and practically runs to the garage door, throwing it open without bothering to knock or check if she's at the right place.
There in the center of the space, looking like he's never left, is Bumblebee.
Charlie lurches forward and nearly stumbles as she reaches for him, wrapping her arms around as much of his waist as she can while he bends down to meet her.
He's bigger than she remembered him; it's been hard to keep the real scale of him in her mind all these years. But he smells exactly like she recalls, hot metal and clean grease and a touch of something unique that she's never smelled except around him.
"Charlie," he says, his arms wrapping carefully around her in return, and maybe she should feel awkward hugging and being hugged by a massive robot, but instead she just feels more at peace than she has in a good long while.
"I missed you," Charlie says, and is horrified to hear a quaver in her voice, her throat thickening with the onset of tears.
"Oh how the years go by, oh how the love brings tears to my eyes, all through the changes, the soul never dies..." Bumblebee sings to her, patting her back a little bit gingerly with his hands that could easily crush her.
"You big sap," she says, pulling out of his embrace and pretending to punch him on the arm, her eyes watering but a grin stretching her mouth wide.
Bumblebee buzzes and chirps back, antennae bobbing up and down.
She has no idea what he's doing here after all these years, what he's been up to, if he needs her help- but she's looking forward to finding out.