“We’re all good,” he says, squeezing my arm. I automatically stiffen, but when I see the six sets of eyes on my face, I lean in and play along. It’s frightening not knowing who you are – even more frightening thinking you’ll get it wrong. I’m scared now, really scared. It’s gone too far. If I say something now I’ll look…crazy. His affection seems to make everyone relax. Everyone except…him. They go back to talking, but all the words blend together: football, a party, more football. The guy sitting next to me laughs and joins in with their conversation, his arm never straying from my shoulders. They call him Silas. They call me Charlie. The dark-haired girl with the big eyes is Annika. I forget everyone else’s names in the noise.
Lunch is finally over and we all get up. I walk next to Silas, or rather he walks next to me. I have no idea where I’m going. Annika flanks my free side, winding her arms through mine and chatting about cheerleading practice. She’s making me feel claustrophobic. When we reach an annex in the hallway, I lean over and speak to her so only she can hear. “Can you walk me to my next class?” Her face becomes serious. She breaks away to say something to her boyfriend, and then our arms are looped again.
I turn to Silas. “Annika is going to walk me to my next class.”
“Okay,” he says. He looks relieved. “I’ll see you…later.” He heads off in the opposite direction.
Annika turns to me as soon as he’s out of sight. “Where’s he going?”
I shrug. “To class.”
She shakes her head like she’s confused. “I don’t get you guys. One day you’re all over each other, the next you’re acting like you can’t stand to be in the same room. You really need to make a decision about him, Charlie.”
She stops outside a doorway.
“This is me…” I say, to see if she’ll protest. She doesn’t.
“Call me later,” she says. “I want to know about last night.”
I nod. When she disappears into the sea of faces, I step into the classroom. I don’t know where to sit, so I wander to the back row and slide into a seat by the window. I’m early, so I open my backpack. There’s a wallet wedged between a couple of notebooks and a makeup bag. I pull it out and flip it open to reveal a driver’s license with a picture of a beaming, dark haired girl. Me.
CHARLIZE MARGARET WYNWOOD.
2417 HOLCOURT WAY,
NEW ORLEANS, LA.
I’m seventeen. My birthday is March twenty-first. I live in Louisiana. I study the picture in the top left corner and I don’t recognize the face. It’s my face, but I’ve never seen it. I’m…pretty. I only have twenty-eight dollars.
The seats are filling up. The one beside me stays empty, almost like everyone is too afraid to sit there. I’m in Spanish class. The teacher is pretty and young; her name is Mrs. Cardona. She doesn’t look at me like she hates me, like so many other people are looking at me. We start with tenses.
I have no past.
I have no past.
Five minutes into class the door opens. Silas walks in, his eyes downcast. I think he’s here to tell me something, or to bring me something. I brace myself, ready to pretend, but Mrs. Cardona comments jokingly about his lateness. He takes the only available seat next to me and stares straight ahead. I stare at him. I don’t stop staring at him until finally, he turns his head to look at me. A line of sweat rolls down the side of his face.
His eyes are wide.
Wide...just like mine.
It’s been almost three hours, and my mind is still in a haze.
No, not a haze. Not even a dense fog. It feels as if I’m wandering around in a pitch-black room, searching for the light switch.
“You okay?” Charlie asks. I’ve been staring at her for several seconds, attempting to regain some semblance of familiarity from a face that should apparently be the most familiar to me.
She looks down at her desk and her thick, black hair falls between us like blinders. I want a better look at her. I need something to grab me, something familiar. I want to predict a birthmark or a freckle on her before I see it, because I need something recognizable. I’ll grasp at any piece of her that might convince me I’m not losing my mind.
She reaches her hand up, finally, and tucks her hair behind her ear. She looks up at me through two wide and completely unfamiliar eyes. The crease between her brows deepens and she begins biting at the pad of her thumb.
She’s worried about me. About us, maybe.
I want to ask her if she knows what might have happened to me, but I don’t want to scare her. How do I explain that I don’t know her? How do I explain this to anyone? I’ve spent the last three hours trying to act natural. At first I was convinced I must have used some kind of illegal substance that caused me to black out, but this is different from blacking out. This is different from being high or drunk, and I have no idea how I even know that. I don’t remember anything beyond three hours ago.
“Hey.” Charlie reaches out like she’s going to touch me, then draws back. “Are you okay?”
I grip the sleeve of my shirt and wipe the sheen of moisture off my forehead. When she glances back up at me, I see the concern still filling her eyes. I force my lips to form a smile.
“I’m fine,” I mutter. “Long night.”
As soon as I say it, I cringe. I have no idea what kind of night I had, and if this girl sitting across from me really is my girlfriend, then a sentence like that probably isn’t very reassuring.
I see a small twitch in her eye and she tilts her head. “Why was it a long night?”
“Silas.” The voice comes from the front of the room. I look up. “No talking,” the teacher says. She returns to her instruction, not too concerned with my reaction to being singled out. I glance back at Charlie, briefly, and then immediately stare down at my desk. My fingers trace over names carved into the wood. Charlie is still staring at me, but I don’t look at her. I flip my hand over, and I run two fingers over the callouses across the inside of my palm.
Do I work? Mow lawns for a living?
Maybe it’s from football. During lunch I decided to use my time to observe everyone around me, and I learned I have football practice this afternoon. I have no idea what time or where, but I’ve somehow made it through the last few hours without knowing when or where I’m supposed to be. I may not have any sort of recollection right now, but I’m learning that I’m very good at faking it. Too good, maybe.
I flip my other hand over and find the same rough callouses on that palm.
Maybe I live on a farm.
No. I don’t.
I don’t know how I know, but even without being able to recall anything, I seem to have an immediate sense of what assumptions of mine are accurate and which are not. It could just be process of elimination, rather than intuition or memory. For example, I don’t feel like someone who lives on a farm would be wearing the clothes I have on. Nice clothes. Trendy? Looking down at my shoes, if someone asked me if I have rich parents, I’d tell them, “Yes, I do.” And I don’t know how, because I don’t remember my parents.
I don’t know where I live, who I live with, or if I look more like my mother or my father.