And then I turn and see the expensive camera perched on the desk. It’s in a place of honor, sitting atop a pile of glossy photography books. I look over to where Silas is also studying the photos. An artist. Is this his work? Is he trying to recognize it? No point in asking. I move on, look at his clothes, look in the drawers in the rich mahogany desk.
I’m so tired. I make to sit down in the desk chair, but he’s suddenly animated, beckoning me over.
“Look at this,” he says. I get up slowly and walk to his side. He’s staring down at his unmade bed. His eyes are bright and should I say…shocked? I follow them to his sheets. And then my blood runs cold.
“Oh, my God.”
I toss the comforter out of the way to get a better look at the mess at the foot of the bed. Smears of mud caked into the sheet. Dried. Pieces of it crack and roll away when I pull the sheet taut.
“Is that…” Charlie stops speaking and pulls the corner of the top sheet from my hand, tossing it away to get a better look at the fitted sheet beneath it. “Is that blood?”
I follow her eyes up the sheet, toward the head of the bed. Next to the pillow is a smeared ghost of a handprint. I immediately look down at my hands.
Nothing. No traces of blood or mud whatsoever.
I kneel down beside the bed and place my right hand over the handprint left on the mattress. It’s a perfect match. Or imperfect, depending on how you look at it. I glance at Charlie and her eyes drift away, almost as if she doesn’t want to know whether or not the handprint belongs to me. The fact that it’s mine only adds to the questions. We have so many questions piled up at this point, it feels as though the pile is about to collapse and bury us in everything but answers.
“It’s probably my own blood,” I say to her. Or maybe I say it to myself. I try to dismiss whatever thoughts I know are developing in her head. “I could have fallen outside last night.”
I feel like I’m making excuses for someone who isn’t me. I feel like I’m making excuses for a friend of mine. This Silas guy. Someone who definitely isn’t me.
“Where were you last night?”
It’s not a real question, just something we’re both thinking. I pull at the top sheet and comforter and spread them out over the bed to hide the mess. The evidence. The clues. Whatever it is, I just want to cover it up.
“What does this mean?” she asks, turning to face me. She’s holding a sheet of paper. I walk to her and take it out of her hands. It looks like it’s been folded and unfolded so many times, there’s a small, worn hole forming in the very center of it. The sentence across the page reads, Never stop. Never forget.
I drop the sheet of paper on the desk, wanting it out of my hands. The paper feels like evidence, too. I don’t want to touch it. “I don’t know what it means.”
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.”