“Are you bleeding? Did you hurt yourself?” he asks. He helps her stand, leads her back to where I’m waiting. She slurs her words and pats him on the cheek, and I wonder if he knew when he went to help her that she was homeless. I wouldn’t touch her. She smells. I step away from both of them, and watch him watch her. He’s concerned. He keeps his eyes on her until she’s stumbled off down the next street, and then he swings his head around to find me.
In this moment—right now—it’s so clear to me who Charlie is. She’s not as good as Silas. She loves him because he’s so different from her. Maybe that’s why she went to Brian, because she couldn’t live up to Silas.
Like I can’t.
He half smiles at me, and I think he’s embarrassed to be caught caring. “Ready?”
I want to tell him that what he did was nice, but nice is such a silly word for kindness. Anyone could pretend to be nice. What Silas did was innate. Boldfaced kindness. I haven’t had any thoughts like that. I think about the girl in class the first morning who dropped her books at my feet. She’d looked at me with fear. She expected me not to help. And more. What else?
Silas and I walk in silence. He checks his phone every few minutes to make sure we’re headed in the right direction and I check his face. I wonder if this is what a crush feels like. If watching a man help a woman is supposed to illicit these types of feelings. And then we’re here. He points across the street and I nod.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
But it’s almost not. The diner has transformed since I was here with Janette. It’s loud and pumping. There are men lined up on the sidewalk smoking; they part for us as we walk by. I can feel the bass in my ankles as we stand outside the doors. They open for us as a group leaves. A girl walks past me laughing, her pink fur jacket brushing against my face. Inside, people are defending their space with widened elbows and jutted hips. People glare at us as we walk by. This is my space, back off. I’m waiting for the rest of my group—keep moving. We bypass the few empty seats in favor of walking deeper into the building. We press through the crowd, walking sideways, and flinching when raucous laughter erupts next to us. A drink spills on my shoes, someone says sorry. I don’t even know who, because it’s so dark. And then someone calls our names.
“Silas! Charlie! Over here!”
A boy and…who was that girl who picked me up this morning? Annie…Amy?
“Hey,” she says, as we draw close. “I can’t believe you actually came back here after last weekend.”
“Why wouldn’t we?” Silas asks.
I take the seat I am offered and stare up at the three of them.
“You punch a guy, throw over a couple of tables and wonder why you shouldn’t come back?” the boy says, along with a laugh. I think he’s Annie/Amy’s boyfriend by the way he looks at her—like they’re in on something together. Life, maybe.
It’s how Silas and I look at each other. Except we really are in on something together.
“You acted like an ass,” she says.
“Amy,” the spare boy says. “Don’t.”
I want to know more about this person Silas punched.
“He deserved it,” I say. Amy raises her eyebrows and shakes her head. Whatever she’s thinking, she’s too afraid to say it, because she turns away. I try her boyfriend next. “Don’t you think so?” I ask innocent-like. He shrugs. Goes to sit next to Amy. They’re all scared of me, I think, but why?
I order a Coke. Amy’s head snaps around to look at me when she hears.
“Regular Coke? Not Diet?”
“Do I look like I need to drink diet?” I snap. She shrinks back. I don’t know where that came from—honest to god. I don’t even know how much I weigh. I decide to shut up and let Silas do the detective work before I offend someone again. He drops down next to Amy’s boyfriend and they begin to talk. The music makes it impossible to eavesdrop, and Amy is doing her best not to look at me, so I people-watch. People…they all have memories…know who they are. I’m jealous.
“Let’s go, Charlie.” Silas is standing above me, waiting. Amy and her boyfriend are watching us from across the table. It’s a big table, I wonder who else is coming to join them and how many of those people hate me.
Out of the restaurant and back onto the street. Silas clears his throat.
“I got into a fight.”
“I heard,” I say. “Did they tell you who it was?”
I wait and, when he doesn’t offer the information, I say, “Well…?”
“I punched the owner in the face. Brian’s father.”
My head snaps around. “What the hell?”
“Yeah,” he says. He rubs the scruff on his chin thoughtfully. “Because he said something about you…”
“Me?” I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I know what’s coming, but I don’t know what’s coming.
“He told me he was giving you a job as a waitress…”
Okay, that’s not so bad. We need the money.
“Because you were Brian’s girl. So I punched him, I guess.”
“Yeah. That kid—Eller—told me we needed to leave before Brian’s dad called the cops.”
“The cops?” I echo.
“I guess Brian’s dad and my dad have worked together on some stuff. He agreed not to press charges last week because of it, but I’m not supposed to go back there. Also, Landon has been calling around, looking for me. Apparently my dad is wondering why I left practice. Everyone’s pretty pissed about that.”
“Oops,” I say.
“Yeah, oops.” He says it like he doesn’t care.
We go back the way we came, both of us quiet. We pass a few street artists I didn’t notice before. Two of them look like a couple. The man is playing the bagpipes while the woman draws pictures in colored chalk on the sidewalk. We step over the drawings, both of our heads down, examining. Silas takes out his camera and snaps a few pictures while I watch her turn a few lines into a couple kissing.
A couple kissing. That reminds me.
“We need to kiss,” I say to him.
He almost drops his phone. His eyes are big when he looks at me.
“To see if something happens…like in the fairy tales we talked about.”
“Oh,” he says. “Yeah, sure. Okay. Where? Now?”