Right and Wrong
© Ayla-Monic McKay, 2004

I met Charles through my father. They worked together, and Dad had invited him down for dinner a few times. He was pretty awesome, and we hit it off right away. Dad thought it was great; he loved it when I got along with his friends. I think it made him think that I gave people the impression that I was very mature for my age, and he was pretty proud about that.
I am, too. Mature, I mean, for my age. At least, that's what most people tell me, and I feel more mature than most people my age. Actually, most people my age piss me off, and I really don't like to spend time with my peer group. Mostly, girls my age - which is sixteen, by the way - are really shallow and narrow-minded. Most of my friends are at least twenty, and because of that, on top of being on the honour roll and being a little above average in looks, most people at my school think I'm stuck-up.
Anyways, I met Charles when he came down for a barbecue one evening a few months ago. Mom and Dad had both invited a bunch of friends over, and I had invited a few friends over, and we made a pretty decent soiree of it. There were about twenty people altogether, and I was the youngest one there. The next closest to my age was my friend Shelly, who was twenty- three.
A few hours into the whole thing, I was starting to feel a little over- crowded, so I retreated into the house and got comfortable on the living room couch with a coke and a book. My friends didn't mind - I did that kind of thing from time to time. They were old enough that they got along with my parents pretty decently whenever I had the urge to be by myself.
I had only gotten a few pages in when Charles wandered into the room. He sat down in the armchair next to me. I looked up and smiled.
"Hi," I said. "Mr. Reid, right?" I was usually pretty good with names, but I always liked to be certain.
"Yes, but just call me Charles," he said with a warm smile. "Everybody else does."
"Okay then, Charles. So, what brings you into the far reaches of the living room?"
"Just looking to clear my head a bit. It's a little loud out there," he explained. I nodded.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," I laughed. "Hence the reason I'm sitting here with my drink and my book." I raised my book a bit so he could see.
"I hope I didn't interrupt," he said, shifting in his seat. I waved him off.
"Forget it, I had only just started, and it's the preface anyways, so nothing interesting has been said yet." I grinned, and he smiled back.
"So what book is it, anyway, that you're you reading?" he asked.
"Islam: Past and Present," I replied, handing him the book. He looked it over, raising his eyebrow.
"Pretty heavy stuff," he commented. I shrugged.
"Not if you're interested in it," I said. "I like learning about different cultures and stuff."
"Yeah?" I nodded. "You should come by the university some time then," he said. "I teach anthropology."
"Really?" I asked, interested. He nodded.
"I could show you some of the material I have my students read, it's pretty interesting."
I grinned. "Awesome. I'd love that."
He told me what times he was at the university and when he was available. We talked for a few more minutes and then rejoined the rest of the party.

So I started hanging out at the university with Charles. He let me borrow some of his books, and he discussed it with me. It was pretty cool, and my parents thought it was great, they looked at it as free tutoring or something, and they had no worries about it, since Dad worked with Charles. After a while, our conversations evolved to include more than just discussions on cultural practices and development.
I really enjoyed his company, he had interesting opinions and ideas. After a while, we started to have coffee together, and go for walks. At first, I thought nothing of it, and I don't think he did either. I always hung out with older people, and I think he liked having someone around with new and different ideas. So, Charles and I were developing a really great friendship, but of course, something had to go wrong.
My parents started to get 'suspicious'. For the most part, they were fine with letting me hang out with friends who were in their twenties, but they were starting to think that it was strange that I was spending so much time with a forty-five year old man.
I tried to assure them that nothing was going on, that would just be weird - he was a friend, that was all. But they were still suspicious about it, and started to tighten the slack on what I was allowed and not allowed to do. This did not make me very happy, and so I started to fight back by blatantly ignoring them. Sure, I was mature for my age, but I was still sixteen.

One night, I had a really big fight with my parents, about the whole thing. It had started as a little incessant nagging when I'd gotten home after going for coffee with Charles, and had escalated into a full-scale fight within a couple hours. Finally I just stormed out of the house and went for a walk to cool myself down.
After I had calmed down a bit, I started wondering what I was going to do. I didn't want to go home right away, I was still pissed off at Mom and Dad for being so juvenile about the whole thing, but I didn't want to be wandering around the city alone when it started to get dark.
Eventually, without really realising it, I reached Charles' house. I hadn't been paying attention to where I was going, and when my feet stopped, I found myself at the bottom of the steps to his house.
I walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. A few moments later, he opened the door.
"Susan!" he said in surprise. He was wearing track pants and an old university sweater.
"Hey, Charles," I said. I looked at my feet. "I'm sorry about showing up like this. Unannounced."
"Nonsense, come on in," he said, smiling. I smiled and stepped inside, looking around.
I had never been inside his house, though I had walked by it a few times with him. It was in between my house and the university, so when we usually walked or drove by it when he was taking me home.
It was pretty nicely furnished, for a bachelor's home. There were lots of interesting anthropological artifacts scattered about, and as I followed him into the living room, I couldn't help but stare hungrily around the room at the sculptures and paintings and other random knick-knacks that were lying around.
I could feel Charles watch me as I meandered through the room, inspecting each item. "This stuff is awesome," I said finally, turning back to face him. He laughed and nodded.
"I like to think it's a decent collection," he said. "There's more throughout the house. I've got masks and religious statues and all sorts of stuff."
"That's great," I said, walking over to the fireplace and picking up a small statue up off the mantle. It was a clay fertility statue. "This is beautiful," I said, placing it back down carefully.
Charles smiled and then offered me something to eat or drink.
"Something to drink'd be nice," I said, smiling.
I followed him into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table. He poured us both some coffee and then sat down next to me.
"So, what brings you down to my neck of the woods?" he asked. I sighed.
"It's stupid," I said. He gave me a look that said 'try me'. I sighed again.
"My parents - they think there's something." I searched for the right word. "Non-platonic," I said finally, "going on between us. And they're being really ridiculous about it." I took a drink of my coffee and didn't look at him; I didn't want to see the expression on his face, which I was certain was disgust, and for some reason, that made me feel really sick. "Anyway, we had a really big fight. So I went for a walk to calm myself down, and I ended up here."
"Why do they think there's something going on between us?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I have no clue. I've always hung out with people older than me. They just think it's weird that I've befriended a guy in his forties. They can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that a person's age shouldn't be an issue in whether or not you can carry on a conversation with them." He chuckled.
"You do have a point there," he said. "Have you told them that?" I nodded, and took another swallow of coffee.
We didn't say anything for a few minutes. I sat there thinking about why my parents would think something like that. I mean, yeah, Charles was pretty attractive, but just because he was hot that didn't mean I was going to jump his bones.
I was startled to see where my thoughts were going. I had never even thought about his looks before. But now that I did think about it, I did find myself wondering what he looked like shirtless.
Oh, Susan, come off it! I scolded myself. This is Charles. You are not attracted to Charles - he's your friend!
I looked up at him and found him staring at me.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi."

We kissed. I don't know who started it, but I can tell you, neither one of us wanted to finish it. But finish it we did. I pulled away quickly, as did Charles. He looked embarrassed, and I felt it.
"I - I - Uh - I'm sorry," I sputtered out.
"No, no, I'm sorry," Charles said, getting up and walking to the other side of the kitchen. "That shouldn't have happened. I'm sorry."
I licked my lips and looked down at my coffee cup. It was almost empty. I swallowed the last few mouthfuls and got up. I took my mug to the sink, which was next to Charles. I stood next to him after placing the mug in the sink and looked up at him. He was a good six inches taller than I was.
He looked back down at me. Neither of us said anything. We didn't know what to say; what do you say after something like that? He did the only thing understandable: he leaned down and kissed me again.

We slept together that night. He wasn't my first, and he relaxed after I told him that. It was really nice, and I enjoyed it. I stayed there all night, and he cooked us breakfast in the morning.
We didn't talk much, though, during breakfast. Both of us knew that after I left that we couldn't see each other again. It just wasn't right.
When I left I gave him a light kiss on the lips and smiled at him. Then I gave him a hug and didn't want to let go. I was pretty sure I loved him. I couldn't stop a tear from slipping down my cheek.
He looked sad when he saw it, and he wiped it away. "I'm sorry," he said, hugging me again. "Maybe next lifetime we'll meet under better circumstances."
I nodded, and felt better, knowing that he probably felt the same way I did. I didn't say anything though. It would be wrong. It was better for us not to say it. If we said it, we wouldn't be able to stay away, and we couldn't be together.
I left his house and walked home slowly. There was light drizzle and everything was kind of damp and gray. It was like God had taken my emotions that morning and painted the entire city with them. When I got home, I ignored my parents half furious, half relieved shouts of where had I been and didn't I realise that I had worried them senseless all night?
I went up to my bedroom and drew the curtains across the window. I closed and locked my door and turned off the light. Then I curled up under my blanket and wept.