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?
“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.”