Charlie had held a torch for gorgeous, thoughtless Jeremine since they were teenagers but to Jeremine he’d always be her brother’s seriously overweight best friend. Maybe sharing a house would change all that…
The four of them got wildly drunk the night they moved in together. It was a multiple celebration: Jeremine had landed the most lucrative modelling contract she’d had yet with an agency whose connections spanned the world, and would be flying off to Paris for a shoot in a few months’ time; Sophie had been accepted for her first job since graduating from uni; Grant had won $500 on a mystery trifecta he’d taken out just for a laugh; but Charlie didn’t name his reason. He was unwilling to let even his three closest friends know that he’d had sex with a girl for the first time in two years. It hadn’t been good sex, just mediocre, but Charlie had the feeling it was the most he’d get for a while. He just couldn’t seem to make it with women. But he clinked his tumbler of champagne against Jeremine’s and proclaimed, “Here’s to our new house!”
They’d pooled their resources and rented a three-bedroomed house in Balmain. Sophie and Grant had been toying with the idea of living together for ages, and had bagged the master bedroom with its wardrobe-sized ensuite. Jeremine got the next best bedroom; people always let Jeremine have the best. She was so beautiful, when she turned those huge brown eyes on you you’d forgive her anything, Charlie thought as he’d unpacked his boxes into the third bedroom, which wasn’t much bigger than a dog kennel. With Charlie’s bulky frame in it, it became even smaller.
Charlie had supplied one of the bottles of champagne – the one they’d nearly finished. Jeremine opened the next bottle – their third – with a pop.
She giggled. “To my new-found freedom! To men! Soph, I’m going to meet such lovely men with this new contract. You watch, I’ll marry the richest, most handsome guy you’ve ever seen!” Until now Jeremine had been living with and supported by her over-indulgent parents, who’d rather frowned upon her habits of staying out clubbing all night and arriving home ravished and ragged the next day.
Sophie raised her Vegemite-bottle glass and rattled it against Jeremine’s, then leaned back contentedly into Grant’s arms. She had no need to look for rich, handsome men; she was perfectly happy with Grant, who was moderately good looking in a dark blond way and whose job as a mobile phone salesman would never make him seriously rich.
“What about you, Fat Charlie the Archangel?” Jeremine hiccuped. “What are you going to do?”
Charlie ignored the nickname which had so annoyed him as a teenager. Jeremine had coined it from a Paul Simon song. “Find a job that makes more money,” Charlie said glumly. He drove a van for a courier company.
“You’ll have to learn to use a PC,” teased Sophie, and Charlie stuck out his tongue. He hated computers. Until now he’d shared a flat with Grant, who was always mucking around on his PC and gabbling about RAM and megabytes and modems. Every time Charlie touched the keyboard the stupid thing crashed. He couldn’t even play the simplest game on it without stuffing something up.
“I’ve done up the roster,” Grant said obligingly, and produced a beautifully designed table using different fonts for each person. Jeremine, naturally, earned a romantic, wedding-invitation font. Sophie’s font was imitation handwriting. Grant’s was a no-nonsense sans-serif, and Charlie, to his amusement, had earned a font that was fat and round like himself. “I’ve got the shopping this week, so let’s do a list tonight. Charlie, you’ve got cleaning. Jerry, you’ve got cooking and I’ve got washing up, and Soph, you’ve got the laundry.”
The others groaned, not so much at their own tasks but the thought of eating Jeremine’s cooking. Everyone knew she could burn water.
“My first task,” said Charlie wryly, “Should be to find out what the local takeaways are like.”
“On Jerry’s cooking you’d soon lose weight,” pointed out Sophie, reaching over and gently prodding Charlie’s stomach. Charlie tried to suck it in, but it was an effort that was too little and too late. “It’s inedible.”
“I make great coffee,” protested Jeremine.
“I’ll never forget the time you cooked chips and then discovered you’d cooked them in dishwashing liquid, not oil,” said Charlie evilly.
“I was only fourteen!” Jeremine glared at him. Charlie had been her older brother’s best friend during their high school years, and a regular visitor to the Hyslop household.
Grant made a note in pencil on his roster: Buy green dishwashing liquid – can’t confuse with oil.
Jeremine drained her glass and refilled it, splashing champagne carelessly over the lounge, which had been supplied by Sophie. Sophie pretended not to notice and wrote “Scotchgard” on the roster.
“Speaking of food,” Charlie said longingly, “I’m getting hungry. ‘S’no good drinking on an empty stomach.”
“Yours never looks empty,” giggled Jeremine, leaning her head against his shoulder so her wild black curls tickled his cheek. He could smell the floral shampoo she used, and feel her backbone against his chest.
Charlie panicked. Living in the same house as Jeremine was going to be an awful mistake, he realised. He’d fancied her rotten since she’d hit puberty, but there was no way she’d even look at a fat pauper like him. No wonder he couldn’t get turned on by other girls. Jeremine’s shampoo and Jeremine’s backbone were getting him more excited than he’d been in years. Carefully he held her arms – they felt so thin and fragile – and moved her away before his own big arms could sneak around her body of their own accord. He could feel his face turning red.
“I’ll get a couple of pizzas,” said Charlie thickly, lumbering to his feet in search of Grant’s mobile phone, hoping nobody could see he was getting turned on. As if they could, he thought ruefully. That was one good thing about being fat. Having a multitude of chins hid a multitude of sins.
By the time the pizzas arrived Jeremine and Sophie were absolutely plastered. They were giggling incoherently and began to throw parts of the topping at a very ugly picture Jeremine’s mother had donated as a housewarming present.
“Hate cooked pineapple,” grumbled Sophie.
“Love canabossi, I mean cabossi, no, cabanossi, but it makes you fat,” said Jeremine sadly, flicking a piece inaccurately. It landed on the ceiling fan. “Nothing worsh in the world than being fat.” She took one bite of pizza, swallowed it and passed out on the carpet.
Grant roared with laughter and put a piece of cabanossi carefully on each of Jeremine’s closed eyelids. “That’ll pay the ferryman. She’ll certainly feel like death in the morning.”
“Don’t be mean, Grant,” chided Sophie. “Take her to her bedroom.”
“I’d much rather take you to ours,” said Grant, and pulled Sophie to her feet. “Enjoy the pizzas, Chuck. I know you can finish them.”
Charlie, his mouth full of Super Supreme, waved. Nothing worse in the world than being fat, he thought, except being in love with someone so determinedly thin.
Jeremine’s mouth was open, she was snoring softly and she looked decidedly unlovely, but Charlie gently picked her up, marvelling at how little she weighed. She didn’t wake as he laid her on her own bed, removed the cabanossi, put a clean glass of water on her bedside table, and gently kissed her on the forehead. She simply moaned a bit and closed her lips. It was the nearest he’d get, Charlie thought sadly, and took the opportunity to kiss her mouth. Twice.
Regretfully he backed out of her room and closed the door, ignoring the excited giggles he could hear from the master bedroom. He wished he could pass out, too, but knew he had great tolerance of alcohol because of his size, and that he’d spend most of the night staring at the ceiling.
Charlie finished the pizzas, and the rest of the bottle of champagne.
Life soon settled into a routine. After a couple of weeks they all ignored the roster, because they discovered what they did – or didn’t – do best. Sophie took over the shopping after Grant blew two thirds of the kitty on TV snacks. Grant monopolised the cleaning because he said Sophie was lazy when it came to scrubbing the bathrooms (“She’s just not a scrubber!”). Charlie found himself doing the cooking after one night of Jeremine’s frantic attempt in the kitchen, which left them with a hole in the big saucepan and blackened pasta. To his surprise, he found he not only enjoyed but was getting better – and more ambitious – with every meal. Jeremine got stuck with the washing, even after accidentally putting her red t-shirt in with Grant’s white shirts and staining them all streaky pink.
Charlie found he could cope if he didn’t think about Jeremine. He managed this for approximately half an hour a day. Even when Jeremine was out on a shoot or clubbing, or staying the night with some lucky man, there were constant reminders of her strewn around the house. Her g-strings and pantihose hung over the shower rail. Her shoes would lie kicked off in the living room until she, or someone else, picked them up. Every second message on the answerphone was for Jeremine: some fluty-voiced Eastern Suburbs woman telling her about a shoot, or a constant stream of different male voices wanting to know when they could take her to dinner. (Charlie longed to wipe the latter off the machine, but didn’t dare) She constantly forgot her drycleaning, and would ring up Charlie, knowing he could take five minutes out of his courier route to collect it. Of course, he did. He’d even got into the routine of picking up her cleaning tickets from the corkboard on a daily basis and putting them into his wallet. The woman at the drycleaners called him Mr Hyslop and he didn’t bother saying his name was Purcell.
When Jeremine WAS around the house, Charlie tried to avoid her for his own sanity. He stayed in his hot, western-facing dog kennel creating a board game that had been on his mind for some time, but which he’d never bothered to make real. Laboriously sticking coloured squares on thick cardboard and carefully lettering them, making shapes out of cardboard and wood, the game, which he called Blitzer, slowly began to come together. He wrote out the rules by hand then, tempting fate, asked Grant to show him how the use the word processor. It took him three nights of hunting for keys and groaning over the machine’s propensity to “lock up” to complete his task.
“It’s just Windows,” Grant said soothingly as Charlie growled and threatened to throw the monitor on the floor. “I’m getting a new motherboard soon so it won’t happen any more. Just exit Windows, like this, and go back in again….like this.”
“I’d like to smash Windows,” grumbled Charlie, running his hands through his shiny brown Hugh Grant hair and grudgingly admitting he was slowly becoming computer literate. “Hey, these rules look good! What other fonts have you got, Grant? And how can I redo the board itself so it looks smart? My lettering looks disgusting compared to this.”
Cursing and becoming squinty eyed as he drew shaky boxes in the graphics package with the mouse, Charlie felt he was finally achieving something. He was so wrapped up in getting the game together he hadn’t thought of Jeremine in an hour. He stayed up till midnight for a week, and felt an absurd rush of pride when Grant took his files to work on a disk and came home with snappy colour printouts.
Finally the game board was ready, but Charlie didn’t know what to do with it. It was something he’d worked out for himself for fun, and wasn’t sure what the others would think. Grant thought board games were old hat; he’d spend hours shootin’ ‘em down on his PC or flying a virtual business plane around a virtual airport. Jeremine would crow with delight for approximately three seconds and then probably rush off for a photo shoot. Sophie would put on her reading glasses and get all picky about his grammar in the rule book. Although they’d all seen him working on Blitzer, none of them had shown much interest.
Charlie sighed, left the board game in his room and began to cook a huge pot of jambalaya. It was far too much food for two people – Grant and Sophie had gone away for the weekend – but cooking gave him satisfaction.
“Yum, that smells good,” said Jeremine, gulping her third glass of chardonnay, peering around Charlie and lifting the lid on the pot. “Oh, no, sausages! They’re so fattening! I can’t afford to put on weight!”
“So don’t eat it,” Charlie said tightly, all too aware of her perfume – Amarige – in his nostrils. “Pick the bloody sausage out. Or go buy a lettuce leaf.”
Jeremine was instantly filled with remorse as she looked at Charlie’s hunched, offended shoulders. She put her glass down on the bench. “Oh, Charlie! I’m sorry! You’re so good to me….to all of us! You cook such lovely meals. And we make fun of you and call you Fat Charlie the Archangel! Well, you ARE an Archangel!” His face, glowing scarlet now, was turned away from her, so she kissed him on the back of his neck, leaving a scarlet lip print. “I love you, Charlie!”
Charlie couldn’t believe his ears (which were also beetroot). She loved him! He held his breath and turned to look at her, dropping the dishcloth in the sink.
Jeremine continued, not seeing the hope in Charlie’s eyes, “You’re like a second brother to me and I treat you so shabbily!” She hugged him, burying her nose in his hair; in her heels, they were the same height. Charlie’s body was big and solid and warm – a mountain. Jeremine, who often felt extremely insecure working with so many absolutely beautiful skinny people, clung to him for a moment. How different he felt from the hard, muscly male models she usually dated! And how different he WAS…. not one of the men she’d spent the night with would have picked up her drycleaning day after day and cooked her dinner, Jeremine thought with a sudden surge of wonder. Charlie was the one solid, reliable thing in her life. “I’d be lost without you – I’m so hopeless at everyday life. You know, picking up after myself, cooking. You’re wonderful.”
Second brother, thought Charlie glumly, savouring the moment of hugging her. He ran his hands up and down her bony back, marvelling at her tiny waist, all too aware that she was pressing even closer against him. Was she drunk? he wondered. He kissed her hair; it still smelt of flowers. Getting braver, he kissed her forehead, then her nose, then, ignoring the slightly startled look in her huge eyes, her lips.
Jeremine couldn’t believe what was happening. Charlie – her close friend, who used to tease her mercilessly throughout her childhood – was holding her and kissing her. To her surprise, she found herself kissing him back. She had no idea his lips would feel quite so good on hers, had never thought to find out. For an instant she was shocked. It was as if her favourite teddy bear had come to life and was slipping his tongue between her lips. Then she thought that if her favourite teddy bear had kissed her like this she’d have had a perfect childhood and would have grown up a far nicer person. Jeremine wound her arms around Charlie and gave as good as she got. She was only vaguely aware that he’d switched off the pot of jambalaya, then he was picking her up and carrying her effortlessly to the bedroom, with his mouth still firmly on hers.
Neither of them ever dreamed it would be this perfect. For Charlie, it made up for all the sleepless nights he’d had since he’d moved in with Jeremine. She was so fragile and beautiful he was afraid he’d squash her, but he didn’t, and he was gratified to see she appeared to be as turned on by him as he was by her.
For Jeremine, it was as if someone had opened the blinds and let the light in. Wonderously she explored Charlie’s body, although she’d seen most of it each morning as they galloped in and out of the bathroom clad in towels. She’d never imagined he could be so tender. And he didn’t look nearly as fat without clothes on.
“I love you, Jeremine,” Charlie said sleepily, pulling her close and nuzzling her hair. Within seconds he was asleep.
This time, Jeremine lay awake until dawn.
Charlie was still asleep the next morning when Jeremine crept out of his bed. Dear God, what had she done? She’d taken advantage of Charlie, mercilessly. He was lovely and good and kind, and she’d been feeling down because she’d put on a kilo and felt ugly, and she was nervous because she had to fly out to Paris for a shoot for Vogue….
Paris! Jeremine almost shrieked. She had to fly out today! And she hadn’t even told Charlie.
It wouldn’t work, Jeremine thought sadly. Charlie was too good for her. He’d hate her after a while. He deserved someone who’d take as good care of him as he would of her. I deserve someone nasty and selfish, like me, Jeremine told herself savagely as she threw armfuls of clothing into her huge suitcase and crept around the house quietly trying to find her ticket. She ran it to earth in her Prada backpack, together with her passport and travellers cheques.
She peeked in at Charlie. He was smiling in his sleep. “I’m sorry, Charlie,” she whispered. “I love you, truly love you, but I’d destroy you.” Then she couldn’t see him any more because she was crying.
When Charlie finally woke after the best sleep he’d had in months, he found himself alone and fondly imagined Jeremine was in the bathroom. Whistling, he headed to the kitchen to whip up some Eggs Benedict and found her note on the corkboard.
I’m sorry. Last night was a mistake. I know you love me but you must find someone who’ll appreciate you, not some selfish bitch like me. I’ve had to go to Paris for a shoot and I’ll probably stay there for quite a while. It’s better that way. Get over me. Get on with your life. You’ll make some girl very happy.
PS Can you ask my folks to put my stuff in storage for me?
Charlie, for the first time since he was nine, cried.
Sydney looked the same almost eighteen months later when Jeremine flew home: the sparkling blue harbour, the pristine sails of the Opera House. It brought a lump to her throat. How stupid she’d been! Paris had been a disaster. She’d tried to get over Charlie with the kind of rich, handsome men she’d sworn she’d marry, but it hadn’t worked. What she’d managed to do was eat too much out of misery and put on a ton of weight. Now she’d blown her contract and was out of a job and probably her whole modelling career. Well, what the heck! She didn’t care about anything in particular except finding Charlie and hoping against hope he’d even give her the time of day.
Sophie and Grant had reported Charlie had vanished. No forwarding address, nothing. Even Luke, Jeremine’s brother and Charlie’s oldest friend, hadn’t heard from him in months. Charlie had simply up and left their lives without any reason.
Jeremine bit her nails all the way to the city in her cab. Sydney traffic in peak hour was bliss after Paris. Even the ugly hoardings near the airport looked attractive. One of them was advertising the new board game BLITZED! which was achieving record sales and which looked vaguely familiar. Jeremine puzzled over it for a second then got back to her nails.
She picked up a Sydney Morning Herald that the last passenger had left, and leafed through it. Entertainment…maybe she should see a movie in English without subtitles. What a treat that’d be. She could sit in the cinema and hold her own hand.
Food… the name jumped out at her. She read: “Fat Charlie The Archangel’s has a menu which is totally heavenly. Owner Charlie Purcell is a newcomer to the restaurant business but if Fat Charlie’s is any recommendation this young man is in for the long haul.” Disbelieving, Jeremine read to the end. Charlie? Restaurant? She could hardly see the address for her own tears.
“Take me to Glebe,” she told the cabbie, wiping her eyes and sniffing. “Fat Charlie the Archangel’s.”
“Great choice,” said the cabbie. “I take a lot of people there. You want a tissue?”
Jeremine was shaking so desperately she could hardly pay the cabbie. He must have thought she had withdrawal symptoms. An overweight heroin addict, correction, hero addict, Jeremine thought. Charlie was her hero, but was she still his heroine?
Fat Charlie the Archangel’s looked prosperous, with tables on the pavement, lush green awnings and fat, naked, laughing golden cherubs holding up its name sign. Taking a deep breath, Jeremine dragged her suitcase inside the door.
It was mid morning. All the tables were empty except one. A thin man with a haunted, beautiful face sat at one of the tables, lank, dull brown hair to his shoulders, tapping out something swiftly on a laptop PC. He was wearing food-spattered chef’s clothing. Jeremine thought: the chef’s bound to know where Charlie is. She cleared her throat.
The man jumped up, disbelief on his chiselled face. “Jeremine?”
Jeremine was shocked. It couldn’t be? “Charlie?” Unsure of herself, she walked over to him and touched his cheek. A muscle in his neck twitched. She could only tell it was Charlie from his eyes, and even they looked sunken and hopeless. “Charlie, are you alright? You’ve…got thin. You’re not sick, are you? Not dying?” Her eyes filled with tears again. She could almost see his collarbone through his shirt.
“No, I’m not alright,” said Charlie hoarsely. “I’ve barely slept since you left. I’ve hardly eaten, my appetite’s completely gone. No matter how delicious my food is, I’ve got no desire to touch it. I sold the rights to that board game I invented for a packet and got enough money to open this place, so I work here sixteen hours a day in the hope that it’ll take my mind off you.” Charlie’s hot eyes burned into hers. “It doesn’t, not a bit. Fat Charlie’s is a great success, but I don’t care. I’ve spent the last year wishing I COULD die, but I’m too much of a coward to do anything about it.”
“I tried to contact you,” Jeremine hiccuped, scared by his anger. “Nobody knew where you’d gone.”
“Yes, well, they obviously didn’t look very hard, or they didn’t expect good old Fat Charlie the courier driver to open a restaurant,” Charlie said sarcastically.
“I’ve missed you.” Jeremine tried again. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you either.”
“So you stayed in Paris for seventeen months and sixteen days,” snorted Charlie. “Great way of showing it. That’s true love for you.”
“I thought you deserved someone better,” Jeremine whispered. She was shaking from head to foot. Oh God, this new, hard, lean Charlie was going to throw her out. As if she deserved any better!
Charlie looked at her closely, taking in the weight gain, the worry line between her eyebrows and finally the real anguish in her eyes. “You really do love me!” he said wonderingly. His heart gave a lurch of sudden happiness.
Jeremine nodded helplessly, then she was in his arms, holding him so tightly she almost broke his ribs. She felt warm inside for the first time since she’d walked out on him. “Charlie, Charlie! Oh, you’re too thin! I’ll have to fatten you up again! And you need a haircut! And -”
Charlie silenced her by placing his lips very firmly over hers. He kissed her until they were both almost breathless and Jeremine had stopped shaking.
“Mmm,” said Charlie after a couple of minutes. “Darling Jeremine, I like your new curves. They’re very sexy.”
He kissed her again, more savagely, his bony fingers holding her head, her body, her heart. Jeremine sighed with satisfaction and delight and kissed him back until her lips were swollen like bee stings and they were both dizzy from lack of oxygen.
Finally Charlie lifted his mouth from hers, grinning. His face was so thin his smile stretched from ear to ear. “Guess what? For the first time in months, I’m hungry!”
Jeremine reached out and flipped the door sign from OPEN to CLOSED. “I know I want to feed you up,” she said, “But do you mind if you cook?”
© Copyright 1995 Caroline Sully
Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly prohibited