Tomorrow was Ms. Porter’s funeral. She would be buried at the First Baptist Church’s cemetery, and Pastor Dan, the new young pastor who took over for Pastor Rhodes when he retired last year, would officiate. Charlie’s been staying at his mom’s house this week, trying to deal with some of her paperwork and the many details of an untimely death, when someone you love dies from an errant blood clot.
The day after I had been blindsided with the discovery of what exactly my “friendship” actually meant to Thom Robinson, I was at Paw’s trying to get a fecal sample from Mr. Moody’s German shepherd named Venus. My cell phone rang and, seeing that it was my daddy’s number, I let it go to voicemail because I was holding a Popsicle stick smeared with dog poop at that particular moment.
Several minutes later, when I listened to Charlie’s very deliberate voice tell me about what was going on with Ms. Porter, I finished Venus’ exam as fast as I could and told Paw that I had a family emergency and needed to get to Harper Hospital down in Fayetteville as soon as possible.
When I got there almost an hour later, my parents were both with Charlie and I had never in my life seen him in such a state. His face was ghostly white, like life itself had disappeared from his body, and when he saw me, he grabbed onto me like he was a little boy again. Sandy-haired little Charlie with the big toy dump truck that we’d push around in the sun yellow kiddie pool.
Eventually, I got him to sit with me on one of the hard plastic chairs in the waiting room and my daddy told me that he and my mom were going to head up to Raleigh to let Boo out and go to Jemma’s game. They would get her some supper and take her home afterward and would even stay the night if I needed them to, so I could tend to Charlie.
In my emotionally frazzled head, from both the bizarre drama the night before with Thom and his daughter and now this horrible tragedy with Charlie’s mom, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that Jem had a game today and that my parents were planning to come up for it.
“Will you call Stephanie?” my mom asked me. “We don’t have her number and Charlie forgot his cell phone in Raleigh.”
“Yes, of course,” I said, my hands tight on Charlie’s shoulders as he sat in the chair, frozen, paralyzed, by the horrible shock of his loss.
Charlie has dealt with a ceaseless amount of crime scenes and victims over the past several years — all kinds of deaths, murders, rapes, shootings, suicides, stabbings, and some of the ugliest things that human beings do to each other or do to themselves. His mother died of natural causes on an average sunny spring day while working at the hardware store and, instead of the thoughtful and stoic SBI agent, he just turned into that sad little boy again, the one with no father, the one who had come up to me at the church Easter egg hunt when we were five years old and asked me if he could have one of my eggs.
I remembered it like it was yesterday. I found ten plastic eggs during the hunt and each one was supposed to have jellybeans in it. A towheaded boy in desperate need of a haircut with a red and white striped shirt, blue shorts, and bare feet, walked up to me as I sat by myself under an azalea bush near the steps of the church’s entrance. My mom had given me a plastic pastel-colored basket she bought for a nickel from a yard sale and I used it for this egg hunt, my very first one.
Eyeballing this scrawny boy who I had never seen before, and who had ketchup smeared on the sides of his mouth, I asked him who he was.
“Charlie Porter,” he answered.
“Where’s your mom and dad?” I asked him, with the authority of an adult.
He turned and pointed at a young blond woman in a peach colored sundress, sitting at one of the picnic tables by herself.
“That’s my mom.” Then he said, turning back at me, “I don’t have a dad.”
I considered that for a second, realizing that I had never heard of someone not having a dad before. So I handed this Charlie Porter boy one of my eggs. It was purple. He opened it and out dropped three jellybeans and a slip of paper.
“That’s the special egg,” I said to him, excited that I was the one who found it.
“What’s a special egg?” he asked me.
“It’s the egg with the paper in it. It means you get an extra prize,” I said, recalling Pastor Rhodes’ instructions before the egg hunt began. “Take it over to Pastor Rhodes and he will give you the prize.”
Charlie held the jellybeans in one hand and the purple egg and piece of paper in the other. Then he handed the piece of paper back to me. “Here, you should have the prize. You found the special egg, not me.”
He was right. I did find it. But there was something interesting about this strange little boy who was shorter than me and who made me feel like we had been friends before, once upon a time and in a land far, far away.
Not long ago, when I was in a drug store, I read something on a greeting card that said, “Souls recognize each other by vibes, not by appearances.” That was the best description I ever came across about what transpired between me and Charlie Porter on that warm spring day so long ago.
Taking the piece of paper from him, I grabbed his hand and put it between our hands and held them together. I picked up my basket and walked with him hand-in-hand, leading him over to Pastor Rhodes who was standing next to the grill with the sizzling hotdogs.
“Pastor?” I said, getting his attention. Pastor Rhodes looked down at me.
“Yes, Miss Scout,” he said smiling, holding a pair of tongs in his hand.
“Charlie and I have found the special egg,” I said, unclasping our hands and giving him the piece of paper.
Three minutes later, we were sitting under a large dogwood tree, sharing the biggest chocolate bunny I’ve ever seen. And now, twenty-nine years later, almost to the day that we shared that chocolate bunny and became the best of friends, I held him in Harper Hospital as he wept the kind of weeping that has no tears or noise, the kind of weeping that a grown man does when he loses his mom forever.
“Charlie, we should go. There’s nothing we can do here. The folks here have everything under control. I’ll take you to your mom’s house and stay with you ‘til Stephanie can get there,” I said, facing him on my knees, holding his hands as he held his head down in sorrow. “If you’re not okay to drive, I’ll drive you. We can just leave your car here and get it another time.”
Charlie looked at me, his eyes glassy and full of despair. Then he looked down again and said, “It’s alright. I can drive.”
“Okay,” I said, standing up. “I’ll follow you to Haddleboro.”
When we got to his mom’s house and went inside,
I was struck by the fact that there was no cigarette smell anymore. Ms. Porter had stopped smoking several years ago and the smell that I grew up associating with Charlie’s home was the stench of Camel cigarettes. She had left a coffee cup in the sink, not realizing that would be the last cup of coffee she’d ever have. Her house was neat and clean and simple, just as it had been for all the years I knew her, no signs of the subtle cruelties that life gave her.
After calling Stephanie to tell her what was going on, I thought about how telling it was that Charlie called me and not her to tell me his mother died. But considering our history and unconventionally shared life, I supposed it all made sense.
I had never been jealous of Stephanie, despite the fact that I loved Charlie more than life itself. She was good for him had helped him move on from me in some ways, gave him something special in life that was just his, and I loved how good she was with Jemma. And Jemma liked her, which spoke volumes. At last, I thought maybe Charlie found a woman who would be worthy of him.
But he was still my Charlie, no matter who he was dating, and I always knew that. He is approaching his thirty- fifth birthday and he’d never even been close to getting married to someone — and Charlie was indeed the marrying kind.
Had he been just waiting for me to come around, treading water, hoping I’d feel the same eventually and come in and rescue him? He never knew the truth: I did feel exactly the same for him. I shut him out of that part of me just to be sure that I could still hold on to him somehow. How unfair I’ve been to him all these years.
Charlie went upstairs and, when I didn’t hear him moving around for a while, I went up to find him lying on his old double bed, his arms wrapped around his mother’s royal blue housecoat. Seeing him like that reminded me of when I was stuck in my own unimaginable grief over Brother Doug and how Charlie came into my bed and held me. So I crawled over to him on the bed and held him.
This is an excerpt from Scout’s Honor, by Dori Ann Dupré . Read the rest of it here: