I slowly turn and face him. He’s standing upright now, and from the looks of his posture, he’s expecting me to hit him. When I don’t, he continues to provoke me.
“With me,” he adds. “More than once. It’s been going on for over two months now.”
I stare at him, trying to remain calm on the outside, but internally, my hands are wrapped around his throat, squeezing the last drop of oxygen from his lungs.
I glance at Charlie. She’s begging me with her eyes not to do anything stupid. I turn back to face him and somehow, I smile. “That’s nice, Brian. You want a trophy?”
I wish I could bottle up the expression on his face and release it any time I need a good laugh.
Once I’m back inside the car, I pull out of the parking lot more dramatically than I probably should. When we’re back on the road, heading toward my house, I finally find it in me to look at Charlie. She’s staring right back at me. We keep our eyes locked for a few seconds, gauging one another’s reaction. Right before I’m forced to look back at the road in front of me, I see her smile.
We both start laughing. She relaxes against her seat and says, “I can’t believe I was cheating on you with that guy. You must have done something that really pissed me off.”
I smile at her. “Nothing short of murder should have made you cheat on me with that guy.”
A throat clears in the backseat, and I immediately glance in the rearview mirror. I forgot all about my brother. He leans forward until he’s positioned between the front and middle seats. He looks at Charlie, and then at me.
“Let me get this straight,” he says. “You two are laughing about this?”
Charlie glances at me out of the corner of her eye. We both stop laughing and Charlie clears her throat. “How long have we been together now, Silas?” she asks.
I pretend to count on my fingers when my brother speaks up. “Four years,” he interjects. “Jesus, what’s gotten into the two of you?”
Charlie leans forward and locks eyes with me. I know exactly what she’s thinking.
“Four years?” I mutter.
“Wow,” Charlie says. “Long time.”
My brother shakes his head and falls back against his seat. “The two of you are worse than an episode of Jerry Springer.”
Jerry Springer is a talk show host. How do I know this? I wonder if Charlie remembers this.
“You remember Jerry Springer?” I ask her.
Her lips are tight, pressed together in contemplation. She nods and turns toward the passenger window.
None of this makes sense. How can we remember celebrities? People we’ve never met? How do I know that Kanye West married a Kardashian? How do I know that Robin Williams died?
I can remember everyone I’ve never met, but I can’t remember the girl I’ve been in love with for over four years? Uneasiness takes over inside of me, pumping through my veins until it settles in my heart. I spend the next few miles silently naming off all the names and faces of people I remember. Presidents. Actors. Politicians. Musicians. Reality TV stars.
But I can’t for the life of me remember the name of my little brother, who is climbing out of the backseat right now. I watch him as he makes his way inside our house. I continue to watch the door, long after it closes behind him. I’m staring at my house just like Charlie was staring at hers.
“Are you okay?” Charlie asks.
It’s as if the sound of her voice is suction, pulling me out of my head at breakneck speed and shoving me back into the moment. The moment where I picture Charlie and Brian and the words he said that I had to pretend didn’t affect me at all. “She’s cheating on you.”
I close my eyes and lean my head against the headrest. “Why do you think it happened?”
“You really do need to learn how to be more specific, Silas.”
“Okay,” I reply, lifting my head and looking directly at her. “Brian. Why do you think you slept with him?”
She sighs. “You can’t be mad at me for that.”
I tilt my head and look at her in disbelief. “We were together for four years, Charlie. You can’t blame me for being a little upset.”
She shakes her head. “They were together for four years. Charlie and Silas. Not the two of us,” she says. “Besides, who’s to say you were an angel? Have you even looked through all your own texts?”
I shake my head. “I’m afraid to now. And don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t refer to us in the third person. You are her. And I’m him. Whether we like who we were or not.”
As soon as I begin to pull out of the driveway, Charlie’s phone rings.
“My sister,” she says right before she answers it with a hello. She listens quietly for several seconds, eyeing me the entire time. “She was drunk when I got home. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” She ends the call. “Back to the school,” she says. “My alcoholic mother was supposed to pick my sister up after her swim practice. Looks like we’re about to meet another sibling.”
I laugh. “I feel like I was a chauffer in my past life.”
Charlie’s expression tightens. “I’ll stop referring to us in the third person if you stop referring to it as a past life. We didn’t die, Silas. We just can’t remember anything.”
“We can remember some things,” I clarify.
I begin to head back in the direction of the school. At least I’ll know my way around with all of this back and forth.
“There was this family in Texas,” she says. “They had a parrot, but he went missing. Four years later, he showed up out of the blue—speaking Spanish.” She laughs. “Why do I remember that pointless story but I can’t remember what I did twelve hours ago?”
I don’t respond, because her question is rhetorical, unlike all the questions in my head.
When we pull up to the school again, a spitting image of Charlie is standing by the entrance with her hands crossed tightly over her chest. She climbs into the backseat and sits in the same spot where my brother was just sitting.
“How was your day?” Charlie asks her.
“Shut up,” her sister says.
“Bad, I take it?”
“Shut up,” she says again.
Charlie looks at me wide-eyed, but with a mischievous grin on her face.
“Were you waiting long?”
“Shut up,” her sister says again.
I realize now that Charlie is just instigating her. I smile when she keeps at it.
“Mom was pretty wasted when I got home today.”
“What’s new?” her sister says.
At least she didn’t say shut up this time.
Charlie fires a couple more questions, but her sister ignores her completely, giving her full attention to the phone in her hands. When we pull into Charlie’s driveway, her sister begins to open her door before the car even comes to a stop.
“Tell mom I’ll be late,” Charlie says as her sister climbs out of the car. “And when do you think Dad will be home?”
Her sister pauses. She stares at Charlie with contempt. “Ten to fifteen, according to the judge.” She slams the door.
I wasn’t expecting that, and apparently neither was Charlie. She slowly turns around in her seat until she’s facing forward again. She inhales a slow breath and carefully releases it. “My sister hates me. I live in a dump. My mom’s an alcoholic. My father is in prison. I cheat on you.” She looks at me. “Why the hell are you even dating me?”