Mackie checked his watch. Three minutes to 7:00 p.m.
He hoped she would arrive soon. Mackie was a punctual person, and he appreciated that trait in others. Sipping a chilly amber beverage from his glass, Mackie glanced up at the wall-mounted bar clock. 6:57 p.m. at the 9N Bar and Grille in Iverhill.
Another sip. He hoped the message was clear. Meet me at the bar. I’ll have a drink. Look for the one with a drink. That was the best description he could give, as Mackie always felt the best description of him came from others who knew him. Some saw him as a tall, thin man, others as short and stocky. Hair color could be sandy gold or dark brown, maybe lighter in the sunshine, darker at dusk.
And for that matter, she really didn’t describe herself to him. Just her first name. Charm. No last name, not yet. Last names come when both parties are comfortable.
Another sip. And just as minute hand on Mackie’s watch touched the 12 …
The door opened. Mackie smiled. This has to be her. Right on time.
She sat down at the bar.
“What are you drinking?” the bartender asked.
“I’ll have what that gentleman over there is drinking,” she said, with a comforting, smoky voice that soothed and calmed at the same time.
Mackie raised his glass up in a small toast. He then looked down at the adjacent empty barstool.
The woman motioned to the bartender to bring her drink to the end of the bar, and then she walked over to sit next to Mackie.
“Hi,” Mackie said.
“Hi yourself,” was the reply. “Nice to meet you. I’m Charm.”
“What an intriguing name. Nice to meet you. My name’s Mackie.”
“Oh yes,” she said, gently shaking Mackie’s outstretched hand. “I apologize. I’m not used to blind dates. It’s actually been a while for me.”
Mackie smiled. “Same here. It almost seems like I’ve gone from one involvement to another. Once you think you’re done, it all starts again.”
A glance turned into a gaze. The bartender brought Charm a drink. She picked up the glass, sipping the cool beverage slowly, her dark red lips pressed softly against the rim. “Sounds like you and I have the same interests.”
“We might,” he replied.
“So were you …”
“I was,” Mackie replied. “I was for many years.”
“When did it first happen for you?” Charm asked.
“I think he was about five years old. Yeah, five. He just got off the bus from school, and he hadn’t made any friends. And at that moment, he decided that I would be his friend.”
Charm sipped her beverage. “Did he name you then?”
“Not really,” Mackie said. “You know how it is. We don’t appear as fully-realized, like other friends. We’re created by the minds and dreams of those who imagine us. Sometimes he imagined me as a child that shared his age, sometimes I was older – like a big brother.”
“So you were whatever he needed at that time.”
“You know,” Mackie mused, “I guess I was. I know I was there whenever Terry needed me. And there were many days.”
“Hopefully there were good days,” Charm smiled.
“There were. But not many of them. I remember his parents weren’t ready to be parents. And someone could argue that they tried … but they didn’t try hard enough. And he took a lot of abuse for it.”
“How terrible,” Charm mused. “I hate that.”
“It wasn’t easy. You know the rules.”
Charm nodded. She knew the rules.
“I did my best. I listened to him cry himself to sleep at night. I listened to him pray in the morning that his father would stay away. Or that his mother would protect him. Something. Anything. That was all I could do. Until one day.”
“You broke the rule.”
“Not quite,” Mackie said, staring at his drink. “It was one day. He came home from the bar, drunk as anything. His parents fought and screamed. Terry hid under the covers, praying the fighting would stop. And then, the bedroom door opened. His father came in the bedroom, yanked Terry out of bed, and just – ugh, I saw it all and I couldn’t do a thing. And at the end, his father pulled an alarm clock off the dresser and threw it at Terry. An alarm clock.”
Charm frowned. “Where did it hit him?”
“In the side of his head. Bleeding.”
“I couldn’t call the police. I couldn’t stop his father by myself.”
“Did you see Terry afterward?”
Mackie stared at the bar rail. “After that, Terry went into foster care. He didn’t need me. He had new, caring foster parents that wouldn’t treat him like a punching bag. He was able to get out of Iverhill and become a successful adult. Away from all of this.”
“So he was saved after all,” Charm replied.
“In a way. I feel bad that I couldn’t do more.”
“I understand. I went through that as well.”
Mackie looked up at Charm. “How did you manage it?”
Charm sipped her drink. “I think it was instantaneous. Honestly, she pulled my name right off the title of her diary. The Charms of Life, that was the book. She would write all her day’s events in the book. Anything that happened to her that day, no matter how big or how small.”
“So you were her confidante as well?”
“I was,” said Charm. “Every day. She wrote her feelings down. Whatever she went through. Happy days at school – oh, so many doodles. So many different scribblings. And then tough times. Times when her handwriting went from perfect and flowery to jagged and angular. And dark. Very dark.”
Mackie glanced toward the window. “Please forgive me. I’m a bit nervous. It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t pry.”
“It’s okay,” Charm said, gently brushing her fingers against his hand. “We don’t get to share these moments, and it’s hard to find someone else who understands.”
Charm then continued. “I still remember what she said. About what happened. About her confusion and what to do and why this happened to her.”
“How long did this last?” Mackie asked.
“Months. Too many months. And then she would write about what took place, and she’s rip the words out and toss the paper away. And then she’d write some more, and it was worse than before.”
“Did it ever stop?”
“It did,” Charm mused, “but not until her mother found one of the pages on the floor. It missed the trash can by only an inch. She found the page … and long story short, they left the house for good. Left the abuser behind.”
“It’s a good thing that page didn’t land in the garbage,” said Mackie.
“Yeah … a good thing. Maybe there was a breeze that blew across the trash can just as the paper almost fell in. Who knows.”
Mackie sipped his beer. “Did you stay in contact with her afterward?”
“I wanted to. But once she and her mother left the house, they never came back. I don’t know where they went. I only hope they’re happy.”
Charm gave Mackie’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“Is this all we become?” Mackie wondered. “A few souls who only exist when children dream of us, or are we here to help guide their dreams to somewhere safe?”
“I don’t know,” said Charm. “When they’re done, they move on. And we have to as well. We did all that we could. Nothing more than that.”
Charm and Mackie continued their conversation, with only the bartender’s shouts for last call ending their date. And although both said they had a good time that evening, neither one would commit to a second date.
Mackie had to return to watch over a new young boy who needed an imaginary confidante.
And Charm knew that the new girl with a powder-blue diary would write a new private poem that night.