I need water. It’s the only thing I remember the taste of. Maybe because water has no taste.
“Did you write it?” she demands.
“How would I know?” I don’t like the tone in my voice. I sound aggravated. I don’t want her to think I’m aggravated with her.
She turns and walks swiftly to her backpack. She digs around inside and pulls out a pen, then walks back to me, shoving it in my hand. “Copy it.”
She’s bossy. I look down at the pen, rolling it between my fingers. I run my thumb across the embossed words printed down the side of it.
WYNWOOD-NASH FINANCIAL GROUP.
“See if your handwriting matches,” she says. She flips the page over to the blank side and pushes it toward me. I catch her eyes, fall into them a little. But then I’m angry.
I hate that she thinks of this stuff first. I hold the pen in my right hand. It doesn’t feel comfortable. I switch the pen to my left hand and it fits better. I’m a leftie.
I write the words from memory, and after she gets a good look at my handwriting, I flip the page back over.
The handwriting is different. Mine is sharp, concise. The other is loose and uncaring. She takes the pen and rewrites the words.
It’s a perfect match. We both stare quietly at the paper, unsure if it even means anything. It could mean nothing. It could mean everything. The dirt on my sheets could mean everything. The blood-smeared handprint could mean everything. The fact that we can remember basic things but not people could mean everything. The clothes I’m wearing, the color of her nail polish, the camera on my desk, the photos on the wall, the clock above the door, the half-empty glass of water on the desk. I’m turning, taking it all in. It could all mean everything.
Or it could all mean absolutely nothing.
I don’t know what to catalog in my mind and what to ignore. Maybe if I just fall asleep, I’ll wake up tomorrow and be completely normal again.
“I’m hungry,” she says.
She’s watching me; strands of hair stand between me and a full view of her face. She’s beautiful, but in a shameful way. One I’m not sure I’m supposed to appreciate. Everything about her is captivating, like the aftermath of a storm. People aren’t supposed to get pleasure out of the destruction Mother Nature is capable of, but we want to stare anyway. Charlie is the devastation left in the wake of a tornado.
How do I know that?
Right now she looks calculating, staring at me like this. I want to grab my camera and take a picture of her. Something twirls in my stomach like ribbons, and I’m not sure if it’s nerves or hunger or my reaction to the girl standing next to me.
“Let’s go downstairs,” I tell her. I reach for her backpack and hand it to her. I grab the camera from the dresser. “We’ll eat while we search our things.”
She walks in front of me, pausing at every picture between my room and the bottom of the stairwell. With each picture we pass, she trails her finger over my face, and my face alone. I watch as she quietly tries to figure me out through the series of photographs. I want to tell her she’s wasting her time. Whoever is in those pictures, it isn’t me.
As soon as we reach the bottom of the stairs, our ears are assaulted by a short burst of a scream. Charlie comes to a sudden halt and I bump into the back of her. The scream belongs to a woman standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
Her eyes are wide, darting from me to Charlie, back and forth.
She’s clutching her heart, exhaling with relief.
She’s not from any of the photographs. She’s plump and older, maybe in her sixties. She’s wearing an apron that reads, “I put the ‘hor’ in Hors d’oeuvres.”
Her hair is pulled back, but she brushes away loose, grey strands as she blows out a calming breath. “Jesus, Silas! You scared me half to death!” She spins and heads into the kitchen. “You two better get back to school before your father finds out. I’m not lying for you.”
Charlie is still frozen in front of me, so I place a hand against her lower back and nudge her forward. She glances at me over her shoulder. “Do you know…”
I shake my head, cutting off her question. She’s about to ask me if I know the woman in the kitchen. The answer is no. I don’t know her, I don’t know Charlie, I don’t know the family in the photos.
What I do know is the camera in my hands. I look down at it, wondering how I can remember everything there is to know about operating this camera, but I can’t remember how I learned any of those things. I know how to adjust the ISO. I know how to adjust shutter speed to give a waterfall the appearance of a soft stream, or make each individual drop of water stand on its own. This camera has the ability to put the smallest detail in focus, like the curve of Charlie’s hand, or the eyelashes lining her eyes, while everything else about her becomes a blur. I know that I somehow know the ins and outs of this camera better than I know what my own little brother’s voice should sound like.
I wrap the strap around my neck and allow the camera to dangle against my chest as I follow Charlie toward the kitchen. She’s walking with purpose. So far, I’ve concluded that everything she does has a purpose. She wastes nothing. Every step she takes appears to be planned out before she takes it. Every word she says is necessary. Whenever her eyes land on something, she focuses on it with all of her senses, as though her eyes alone could determine how something tastes, smells, sounds and feels. And she only looks at things when there’s a reason for it. Forget the floors, the curtains, the photographs in the hall that don’t have my face in them. She doesn’t waste time on things that aren’t of use to her.
Which is why I follow her when she walks into the kitchen. I’m not sure what her purpose is right now. It’s either to find out more information from the housekeeper or she’s on the hunt for food.
Charlie claims a seat at the massive bar and pulls out the chair next to her and pats it without looking up at me. I take the seat and set my camera down in front of me. She drops her backpack onto the counter and begins to unzip it. “Ezra, I’m starving. Is there anything to eat?”
My entire body swivels toward Charlie’s on the stool, but it feels like my stomach is somewhere on the floor beneath me. How does she know her name?
Charlie glances at me with a quick shake of her head. “Calm down,” she hisses. “It’s written right there.” She points at a note—a shopping list—lying in front of us. It’s a pink stationary pad, personalized, with kittens lining the bottom of the page. At the top of the personalized stationary it reads, “Things Ezra needs right meow.”
The woman closes a cabinet and faces Charlie. “Did you work up an appetite while you were upstairs? Because in case you weren’t aware, they serve lunch at the school you should both be attending right now.”
“You mean right meow,” I say without thinking. Charlie spatters laughter, and then I’m laughing too. And it feels like someone finally let air into the room. Ezra, less amused, rolls her eyes. It makes me wonder if I used to be funny. I also smile, because the fact that she didn’t appear confused by Charlie referring to her as Ezra means Charlie was right.
I reach over and run my hand along the back of Charlie’s neck. She flinches when I touch her, but relaxes almost immediately when she realizes it’s part of our act. We’re in love, Charlie. Remember?