We’ve walked two blocks and she hasn’t let go of my hand yet. I don’t know if it’s because she likes holding it, or if it’s because Bourbon Street is…well...
“Oh, God,” she says, turning toward me. She fists my shirt in her hand and presses her forehead against my arm. “That guy just flashed me,” she says, laughing into the sleeve of my shirt. “Silas, I just saw my first penis!”
I laugh as I continue steering her through the inebriated crowd of Bourbon Street. After walking a ways, she peeks up again. We’re now approaching an even larger group of belligerent men, all without shirts. In the place of shirts are mounds of beads draped around their necks. They’re all laughing and screaming at the people perched on the balconies above us. She squeezes my hand tighter until we’ve successfully navigated through them. She relaxes and puts more space between us.
“What’s with the beads?” she asks. “Why would anyone spend money on such tacky jewelry?”
“It’s part of the Mardi Gras tradition,” I tell her. “I read about it when I was researching Bourbon Street. It started as a celebration for the last Tuesday before Lent, but I guess it’s turned into a year-round thing.” I pull her against my side and point down to the sidewalk in front of her. She sidesteps around what looks like puke.
“I’m hungry,” she says.
I laugh. “Stepping over vomit made you hungry?”
“No, vomit made me think of food and food made my stomach growl. Feed me.” She points to a restaurant up the street. The sign is flashing in red neon. “Let’s go there.”
She steps ahead of me, still gripping my hand. I glance down at my phone and follow her lead. I have three missed calls. One from “Coach,” one from my brother, and one from “Mom.”
It’s the first time I’ve thought about my mother. I wonder what she’s like. I wonder why I haven’t met her yet.
My whole body crashes into the back of Charlie’s after she stops short to let a vehicle pass. Her hand flies up to the back of her head where my chin smashed against it. “Ouch,” she says, rubbing her head.
I rub my chin and watch from behind her as she pushes her hair forward, over her shoulder. My eyes fall to the tip of what appears to be a tattoo peeking out from the back of her shirt.
She begins walking again, but I grab her shoulder. “Wait,” I tell her. My fingers trail to the collar of her shirt and I pull it down a couple of inches. Right below the nape of her neck is a small silhouette of trees in black ink. I run my fingers over their outline. “You have a tattoo.”
Her hand flies to the spot I’m touching. “What?!” she shrieks. She spins around and looks up at me. “I do not.”
“You do.” I turn her back around and pull the shirt down again. “Here,” I say as I trace the trees again. This time I notice as chills break out on her neck. I follow the line of tiny bumps with my eyes, running over her shoulder and hiding beneath her shirt. I look back at the tattoo again, because her fingers are now attempting to feel what I’m feeling. I take two of them and press them against her skin. “A silhouette of trees,” I tell her. “Right here.”
“Trees?” she says, cocking her head to the side. “Why would I have trees?” She turns around. “I want to see it. Take a picture with your phone.”
I pull her shirt down enough so that she can see the entire tattoo, even though it’s no more than three inches wide. I brush her hair over her shoulder again, not for the sake of the picture, but because I’ve really been wanting to do that. I also reposition her hand so that it’s coming across the front of her body, draping over her shoulder.
“Silas,” she grumbles. “Just take the damn picture. This isn’t art class.”
I grin and wonder if I’m always like this—if I refuse to take a simple picture, knowing it only takes a little bit more effort to make it exceptional. I bring the phone up and snap the picture, then look at the screen, admiring how good the tattoo looks on her. She spins around and takes the phone from my hands.
She looks down at the picture and gasps. “Oh my God.”
“It’s a very nice tattoo,” I tell her. She hands me back my phone and rolls her eyes, walking again in the direction of the restaurant.
She can roll her eyes all she wants. It doesn’t change how she reacted to my fingers trailing across the back of her neck.
I watch her walk toward the restaurant, and realize that I have her figured out already. The more she likes me, the more closed off she becomes. The more sarcasm she inflicts on me. Vulnerability makes her feel weak, so she’s pretending to be tougher than she really is. I think the old Silas knew this about her, too. Which is why he loved her, because apparently he liked the game they played.
Apparently I do too, because once again, I’m following her.
We walk through the door of the restaurant and Charlie says, “Two people, booth please,” before the hostess even has a chance to ask. At least she said please.
“Right this way,” the woman says.
The restaurant is quiet and dark, a stark contrast to the noise and neon lights of Bourbon Street. We both breathe a collective sigh of relief once we’re seated. The waitress hands us our menus and takes our drink order. Every now and then, Charlie lifts a hand to the back of her neck as if she can feel the outline of the tattoo.
“What do you think it means?” she says, still staring at the menu in front of her.
I shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe you liked forests?” I glance up at her. “These fairy tales you talked about. Did they all take place in forests? Maybe the man who needs to break your spell with a kiss is a strapping lumberjack, living in the woods.”
Her eyes meet mine and I can tell my jokes are aggravating her. Or maybe she’s aggravated because she thinks I’m funny. “Stop making fun of me,” she says. “We woke up without our memories at the exact same time, Silas. Nothing is more absurd than that. Even fairy tales with lumberjacks.”
I smile innocently and look down at my hand. “I have callouses,” I tell her, lifting my hand and pointing at the rough skin of my palm. “I could be your lumberjack.”
She rolls her eyes again, but laughs this time. “You probably have callouses from jerking off too much.”
I hold up my right hand. “But they’re on both hands, not just my left.”
“Ambidextrous,” she deadpans.
We both grin as our drinks are placed in front of us. “Ready to order?” the waitress asks.
Charlie quickly scans the menu and says, “I hate that we can’t remember what we like.” She looks up at the waitress. “I’ll take a grilled cheese,” she says. “It’s safe.”
“Burger and fries, no mayo,” I tell her. We hand her back our menus and I refocus on Charlie. “You aren’t eighteen yet. How could you get a tattoo?”
“Bourbon Street doesn’t seem to be a stickler for the rules,” she says. “I probably have a fake ID hidden somewhere.”
I open the search engine on my phone. “I’ll try to figure out what it means. I’ve gotten pretty good at this Google thing.” I spend the next few minutes searching every possible meaning of trees and forests and clusters of trees. Just when I think I’m on to something, she pulls my phone away and sets it on the table.