“Charlie hasn’t been feeling well. I brought her here so she could nap, but she hasn’t eaten today.” I return my attention to Ezra and smile. “Do you have anything to make my girl feel better? Some soup or crackers, maybe?”
Ezra’s expression softens when she sees the affection I’m showing Charlie. She grabs a hand towel and tosses it over her shoulder. “I’ll tell you what, Char. How about I make you my grilled cheese specialty? It was your favorite back when you used to visit.”
My hand stiffens against Charlie’s neck. Back when you used to visit? We both look at each other, more questions clouding our eyes. Charlie nods. “Thank you, Ezra,” she says.
Ezra shuts the refrigerator door with her hip and begins dropping items onto the counter. Butter. Mayonnaise. Bread. Cheese. More cheese. Parmesan cheese. She lays a pan on the stove and ignites the flame. “I’ll make you one, too, Silas,” Ezra says. “You must have caught whatever bug Charlie has, because you haven’t spoken to me this much since you hit puberty.” She chuckles after her comment.
“Why don’t I speak to you?”
Charlie nudges my leg and narrows her eyes. I shouldn’t have asked that.
Ezra slides the knife into the butter and retrieves a slab of it. She smears it across the bread. “Oh, you know,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. “Little boys grow up. They become men. Housekeepers stop being Aunt Ezra and return to just being housekeepers.” Her voice is sad now.
I grimace, because I don’t like learning about this side of myself. I don’t want Charlie learning about this side of me.
My eyes fall to the camera in front of me. I power it on. Charlie begins rifling through her backpack, inspecting item after item.
“Uh oh,” she says.
She’s holding a phone. I lean over her shoulder and look at the screen with her, just as she switches the ringer to the on position. There are seven missed calls and even more texts, all from “Mom.”
She opens the latest text message, sent just three minutes ago.
You have three minutes to call me back.
I guess I didn’t think about the ramifications of us ditching school. The ramifications of parents we don’t even remember. “We should go,” I say to her.
We both stand at the same time. She throws her backpack over her shoulder and I grab my camera.
“Wait,” Ezra says. “The first sandwich is almost done.” She walks to the refrigerator and grabs two cans of Sprite. “This will help with her stomach.” She hands me both sodas and then wraps the grilled cheese in a paper towel. Charlie is already waiting at the front door. Just as I’m about to walk away from Ezra, she squeezes my wrist. I face her again, and her eyes move from Charlie to me. “It’s good to see her back here,” Ezra says softly. “I’ve been worried how everything between both your fathers might have affected the two of you. You’ve loved that girl since before you could walk.”
I stare at her, not sure how to process all the information I just received. “Before I could walk, huh?”
She smiles like she has one of my secrets. I want it back.
“Silas,” Charlie says.
I shoot a quick smile at Ezra and head for Charlie. As soon as I reach the front door, the shrill ring on her phone startles her and it falls from her hands, straight to the floor. She kneels to pick it up. “It’s her,” she says, standing. “What should I do?”
I open the door and urge her outside by her elbow. Once the door is shut, I face her again. The phone is on its third ring. “You should answer it.”
She stares at the phone, her fingers gripping tightly around it. She doesn’t answer it, so I reach down and swipe right to answer. She crinkles up her nose and glares at me as she brings it to her ear. “Hello?”
We begin walking to the car, but I listen quietly at the broken phrases coming through her phone: “You know better,” and “Skip school,” and “How could you?” The words continue to come out of her phone, until we’re both seated in my car with the doors shut. I start the car and the woman’s voice grows quiet for several seconds. Suddenly, the voice is blaring through the speakers of my car. Bluetooth. I remember what Bluetooth is.
I place the drinks and sandwich on the center console and begin to back out of the driveway. Charlie still hasn’t had a chance to respond to her mother, but she rolls her eyes when I look at her.
“Mom,” Charlie says flatly, attempting to interrupt her. “Mom, I’m on my way home. Silas is taking me to my car.”
There’s a long silence that follows Charlie’s words, and somehow her mother is much more intimidating when words aren’t being yelled through the phone. When she does begin speaking again, her words come out slow and overenunciated. “Please tell me you did not allow that family to buy you a car.”
Our eyes meet and Charlie mouths the word shit. “I…no. No, I meant Silas is bringing me home. Be there in a few minutes.” Charlie fumbles with the phone in her hands, attempting to return to a screen that will allow her to end the call. I press the disconnect button on the steering wheel and end it for her.
She inhales slowly, turning to face her window. When she exhales, a small circle of fog appears against the window near her mouth. “Silas?” She faces me and arches a brow. “I think my mother may be a bitch.”
I laugh, but offer no reassurance. I agree with her.
We’re both quiet for several miles. I repeat my brief conversation with Ezra over and over in my head. I’m unable to push the scene out of my head, and she’s not even my parent. I can’t imagine what Charlie must be feeling right now after speaking to her actual mother. I think both of us have had the reassurance in the backs of our minds that once we came in contact with someone as close to us as our own parents, it would trigger our memory. I can tell by Charlie’s reaction that she didn’t recognize a single thing about the woman she spoke to on the phone.
“I don’t have a car,” she says quietly. I look over at her and she’s drawing a cross with her fingertip on the fogged up window. “I’m seventeen. I wonder why I don’t have a car.”
As soon as she mentions the car, I remember that I’m still driving in the direction of the school, rather than wherever I need to be taking her. “Do you happen to know where you live, Charlie?”
Her eyes swing to mine, and in a split second the confusion on her face is overcome by clarity. It’s fascinating how easily I can read her expressions now in comparison to earlier this morning. Her eyes are like two open books and I suddenly want to devour every page.
She pulls her wallet from her backpack and reads the address from her driver’s license. “If you pull over we can put it in the GPS,” she says.
I push the navigation button. “These cars are made in London. You don’t have to idle to program an address into the GPS.” I begin to enter her street number and I feel her watching me. I don’t even have to see her eyes to know they’re overflowing with suspicion.
I shake my head before she even asks the question. “No, I don’t know how I knew that.”
Once the address is entered, I turn the car around and begin to head in the direction of her house. We’re seven miles away. She opens both sodas and tears the sandwich in half, handing me part of it. We drive six miles without speaking. I want to reach over and grab her hand to comfort her. I want to say something reassuring to her. If this were yesterday, I’m sure I would have done that without a second thought. But it’s not yesterday. It’s today, and Charlie and I are complete strangers today.