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.
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.