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.
Silas: I don’t know what to say. This is so awkward.
I laugh and set my phone down. I want to dig around, see if I can find anything suspicious. My drawers are neat. I must have OCD. I toss around the socks and underwear to see if I can piss myself off.
There is nothing in my drawers, nothing in my nightstand. I find a box of condoms stuffed in a purse under my bed. I look for a journal, notes written by friends—there is nothing. I am a sterile human, boring if not for that print above my bed. A print which Silas gave to me, not one I picked out myself.
My mother is in the kitchen. I can hear her sniffling and making herself something to eat. She’s drunk, I think. Maybe I should ask her some questions and she won’t remember I asked them.
“Hey, er…mom,” I say, coming to stand near her. She pauses in her toast-making to look at me with bleary eyes.
“So, was I being weird last night?”
“Last night?” she repeats.
“Yeah,” I say. “You know…when I came home.”
She scrapes the knife over the bread until it is smeared with butter.
“You were dirty,” she slurs. “I told you to take a shower.”