She’s not wearing the same clothes she had on earlier. She’s wearing a long, black skirt that covers her feet. A black scarf is wrapped around her neck, falling over her shoulder. Her shirt is tan and long-sleeved, but she still looks cold. A gust of wind blows and the skirt and scarf move with it, but she remains unaffected. She doesn’t even blink. She’s lost in thought.
I’m lost in her.
When I put the car in park, she turns her head, looks at me and then immediately casts her eyes at the ground. She walks toward the passenger door and climbs inside. Her silence seems to be begging for my silence, so I don’t say anything as we head toward the school. After a couple of miles, she relaxes against the seat and props one of her booted feet against the dash. “Where are we going?”
“My brother called. He needs a ride.”
“Apparently I’m in trouble for not showing up to football practice today.” I’m sure she can tell by the lackadaisical tone of my voice that I’m not too concerned about missing practice. Football isn’t really on my list of priorities right now, so being benched is probably the best outcome for everyone.
“You play football,” she says, matter of fact. “I don’t do anything. I’m boring, Silas. My room is boring. I don’t keep a journal. I don’t collect anything. The only thing I have is a picture of a gate, and I didn’t even take the picture. You did. All I have with any personality in my whole room is something you gave me.”
“How do you know the picture is from me?”
She shrugs and tugs her skirt taut across her knees. “You have a unique style. Kind of like a thumbprint. I could tell it was yours because you only take pictures of things that people are too scared to stare at in real life.”
She doesn’t like my photographs, I guess.
“So…” I ask, staring straight ahead. “Who’s this Brian guy?”
She picks up her phone and opens her texts. I’m trying to look over at them, knowing I’m too far away to read them, but I make the effort, anyway. I notice she tilts her phone slightly to the right, shielding it from my view. “I’m not sure,” she says. “I tried to scroll back and see if I could figure out anything from texts, but our messages are confusing. I can’t tell if I was dating him or you.”
My mouth is dry again. I take one of the drinks she brought with her and pop the top of it. I take a long sip and set it back in the cup holder. “Maybe you were messing around with both of us.” There’s an edge to my voice. I try to soften it. “What do his texts from today say?”
She locks the phone and turns it face down in her lap, almost as if she’s ashamed to look at it. She doesn’t answer me. I can feel my neck flush, and I recognize the warmth of the jealousy creeping through me like a virus. I don’t like it.
“Text him back,” I say to her. “Tell him you don’t want him to text you anymore and that you want to work it out with me.”
She cuts her eyes in my direction. “We don’t know our situation,” she says. “What if I didn’t like you? What if we were both ready to break up?”
I look back at the road and grind my teeth together. “I just think it’s better if we stick together until we figure out what happened. You don’t even know who this Brian guy is.”
“I don’t know you, either,” she bites back.
I pull into the parking lot of the school. She’s watching me closely, waiting on my response. I feel like I’m being baited.
I park the car and turn it off. I grip the steering wheel with my right hand and my jaw with my left hand. I squeeze both. “How do we do this?”
“Can you be a little more specific?” she says.
I give my head the slightest shake. I don’t know if she’s even looking at me to notice. “I can’t be specific, because I’m referring to everything. To us, our families, our lives. How do we figure this out, Charlie? And how do we do it without finding things out about each other that are going to piss us off?”
Before she can answer me, someone exits a gate and begins walking toward us. He looks like me, but younger. Maybe a sophomore. He’s not as big as me yet, but from the looks of him, he’s probably going to pass me in size.
“This should be fun,” she says, watching my little brother approach the car. He walks straight to the back passenger side and swings open the door. He tosses in a backpack, an extra pair of shoes, a gym bag, and finally, himself.
The door slams.
He pulls out his phone and begins scrolling through his texts. He’s breathing heavily. His hair is sweaty and matted to his forehead. We have the same hair. When he looks up at me, I see that we also have the same eyes.
“What’s your problem?” he asks.
I don’t respond to him. I turn back around in my seat and glance at Charlie. She has a smirk on her face and she’s texting someone. I almost want to grab her phone and see if she’s texting Brian, but my phone vibrates from her text as soon as she hits send.
Charlie: Do you even know your little brother’s name?
I have absolutely no idea what my own little brother’s name is.
“Shit,” I say.
She laughs, but her laugh is cut short when she spots something in the parking lot. My gaze follows hers and lands on a guy. He’s stalking toward the car, glaring hard at Charlie.
I recognize him. He’s the guy from the bathroom this morning. The one who tried to provoke me.
“Let me guess,” I say. “Brian?”
He walks straight to the passenger door and opens it. He steps back and crooks his finger at Charlie. He ignores me completely, but he’s about to get to know me really well if he thinks he can summon Charlie this way.
“We need to talk,” he says, his words clipped.
Charlie puts her hand on the door to pull it shut. “Sorry,” she says. “We were just about to leave. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Disbelief registers on his face, but so does a hefty dose of anger. As soon as I see him grab her by the arm and yank her toward him, I’m out of the vehicle and rounding the front of my car. I’m moving so fast, I slip on the gravel and have to grab the hood of the car to prevent myself from falling. Smooth. I rush around the passenger door, prepared to grab the bastard by his throat, but he’s bent over, groaning. His hand is covering his eye. He straightens up and glares at Charlie through his good eye.
“I told you not to touch me,” Charlie says through clenched teeth. She’s standing next to her door, her hand still clenched in a fist.
“You don’t want me to touch you?” he says with a smirk. “That’s a first.”
Just as I begin to lunge toward him, Charlie shoves a hand against my chest. She shoots me a warning look, giving her head the slightest shake. I force a deep, calming breath and step back.
Charlie focuses her attention back on Brian. “That was yesterday, Brian. Today’s a brand new day and I’m leaving with Silas. Got it?” She turns around and climbs back into the passenger seat. I wait until her door is shut and locked before I begin to walk back to the driver’s side.
“She’s cheating on you,” Brian yells after me.
I stop in my tracks.