On the seventh and final mile, she speaks, but all she says is, “That was a really good grilled cheese. Make sure you tell Ezra I said so.”
I slow down. I drive well below the speed limit until we reach her street, and then I stop as soon as I turn onto the road. She’s staring out her window, taking in each and every house. They’re small. One-story houses, each with a one-car garage. Any one of these houses could fit inside my kitchen and we’d still have room to cook a meal.
“Do you want me to go inside with you?”
She shakes her head. “You probably shouldn’t. It doesn’t sound like my mother likes you very much.”
She’s right. I wish I knew what her mother was referring to when she said that family. I wish I knew what Ezra was referring to when she mentioned our fathers.
“I think it’s that one,” she says, pointing to one a few houses down. I let off the gas and roll toward it. It’s by far the nicest one on the street, but only because the yard was recently mowed and the paint on the window frames isn’t peeling off in chunks.
My car slows and eventually comes to a stop in front of the house. We both stare at it, quietly taking in the vast separation between the lives we live. However, it’s nothing like the separation I feel knowing we’re about to have to split up for the rest of the night. She’s been a good buffer between myself and reality.
“Do me a favor,” I tell her as I put the car in park. “Look for my name in your caller ID. I want to see if I have a phone in here.”
She nods and begins scrolling through her contacts. She swipes her finger across the screen and brings her phone to her ear, pulling her bottom lip in with her teeth to hide what looks like a smile.
Right when I open my mouth to ask her what just made her smile, a muffled ring comes from the console. I flip it open and reach in until I find the phone. When I look at the screen, I read the contact.
I guess that answers my question. She must also have a nickname for me. I swipe answer and bring the phone to my ear. “Hey, Charlie baby.”
She laughs, and it comes at me twice. Once through my phone and again from the seat next to me.
“I’m afraid we might have been a pretty cheesy couple, Silas baby,” she says.
“Seems like it.” I run the pad of my thumb around the steering wheel, waiting for her to speak again. She doesn’t. She’s still staring at the unfamiliar house.
“Call me as soon as you get a chance, okay?”
“I will,” she says.
“You might have kept a journal. Look for anything that could help us.”
“I will,” she says again.
We’re both still holding our phones to our ears. I’m not sure if she’s hesitating to get out because she’s scared of what she’ll find inside or because she doesn’t want to leave the only other person who understands her situation.
“Do you think you’ll tell anyone?” I ask.
She pulls the phone from her ear, swiping the end button. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m going crazy.”
“You’re not going crazy,” I say. “Not if it’s happening to both of us.”
Her lips press into a tight, thin line. She gives her head the softest nod, as if it’s made from glass. “Exactly. If I were going through this alone, it would be easy to just say I’m going crazy. But I’m not alone. We’re both experiencing this, which means it’s something else entirely. And that scares me, Silas.”
She opens the door and steps out. I roll the window down as she closes the door behind her. She folds her arms over the windowsill and forces a smile as she gestures over her shoulder toward the house behind her. “I guess it’s safe to say I won’t have a housekeeper to cook me grilled cheese.”
I force a smile in return. “You know my number. Just call if you need me to come rescue you.”
Her fake smile is swallowed up by a genuine frown. “Like a damsel in distress.” She rolls her eyes. She reaches through the window and grabs her backpack. “Wish me luck, Silas baby.” Her endearment is full of sarcasm, and I kind of hate it.
“Mom?” My voice is weak, a squeak. I clear my throat. “Mom?” I call again.
She comes careening around the corner and I immediately think of a car without brakes. I retreat two steps until my back is flush against the front door.
“What were you doing with that boy?” she hisses.
I can smell the liquor on her breath.
“I…he brought me home from school.” I wrinkle my nose and breathe through my mouth. She’s all up in my personal space. I reach behind me and grab the doorknob in case I need to make a quick exit. I was hoping to feel something when I saw her. She was my incubating uterus and birthday party thrower for the last seventeen years. I half expected a rush of warmth or memories, some familiarity. I flinch away from the stranger in front of me.
“You skipped school. You were with that boy! Care to explain?”
She smells like a bar just vomited on her. “I don’t feel like…myself. I asked him to bring me home.” I back up a step. “Why are you drunk in the middle of the day?’
Her eyes splay wide and for a minute I think it’s a real possibility that she might hit me. At the last moment she stumbles back and slides down the wall until she’s sitting on the floor. Tears invade her eyes and I have to look away.
Okay, I wasn’t expecting that.
Yelling I can deal with. Crying makes me nervous. Especially when it’s a complete stranger and I don’t know what to say. I creep past her just as she buries her face in her hands and begins to sob hard. I’m not sure if this is normal for her. I hesitate, hovering right where the foyer ends and the living room starts. In the end, I leave her to her tears and decide to find my bedroom. I can’t help her. I don’t even know her.
I want to hide until I figure something out. Like who the hell I am. The house is smaller than I thought. Just past where my mother is crying on the floor, there is a kitchen and a small living room. They sit squat and orderly, filled to the max with furniture that doesn’t look like it belongs. Expensive things in a non-expensive house. There are three doors. The first is open. I peer in and see a plaid bedspread. My parents’ bedroom? I know from the plaid bedspread that it isn’t mine. I like flowers. I open the second of the doors: a bathroom. The third is another bedroom on the left side of the hallway. I step inside. Two beds. I groan. I have a sibling.
I lock the door behind me, and my eyes dart around the shared space. I have a sister. By the looks of her things she is younger than me by at least a few years. I stare at the band posters that adorn her side of the room with distaste. My side is simpler: a twin bed with a dark purple comforter and a framed black and white print that hangs on the wall over the bed. I immediately know it’s something Silas photographed. A broken gate that hangs on its hinges; vines choking their way through the rusted metal prongs—not as dark as the prints in his bedroom, perhaps more suited toward me. There is a stack of books on my nightstand. I reach for one to read the title when my phone pings.
Silas: You okay?
Me: I think my mom is an alcoholic and I have a sister.
His response comes a few seconds later.