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.
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.