She nods again, finally turning her head to make direct eye contact with me. “Goodnight, Silas.”
“Goodnight, Charlie. Call me if you…”
“I’ll be fine,” she says quickly, cutting me off. “See you in the morning.” She exits the car and begins walking toward her house. I want to yell after her, tell her to wait. I want to know if she’s wondering the same thing I’m wondering: What does Never Never mean?
I think if you cheat, it should be with someone worthy of your sin. I’m not sure if this is old Charlie’s thoughts or new Charlie’s thoughts. Or maybe, because I’m observing Charlie Wynwood’s life as an outsider, I’m able to think of her cheating with detachment rather than judgment. All I know is if you’re going to cheat on Silas Nash it had better be with Ryan Gosling.
I turn back to look at him before he drives away and catch a glimpse of his profile, the dim streetlamp behind the car illuminating his face. The bridge of his nose isn’t smooth. At school, the other boys had pretty noses, or noses that were still too big for their faces. Or worse, noses pocked with acne. Silas has a grown-up nose. It makes you take him more seriously.
I turn back to the house. My stomach feels oily. No one is around when I open the door and peer inside. I feel like I’m an intruder breaking into somebody’s house.
“Hello?” I say. “Anyone here?” I close the door quietly behind me and tiptoe into the living room.
Charlie’s mother is on the couch watching Seinfeld on mute, and eating pinto beans straight from the can. I’m suddenly reminded that all I’ve eaten today is the grilled cheese I split with Silas.
“Are you hungry?” I ask her tentatively. I don’t know if she’s still mad at me or if she’s going to cry again. “Do you want me to make us something to eat?”
She leans forward without looking at me and slides her beans onto the coffee table. I take a step toward her and force out the word, “Mom?”
“She’s not going to answer you.”
I spin around to see Janette stroll into the kitchen, a bag of Doritos in her hand.
“Is that what you ate for dinner?”
“What are you, like fourteen?”
“What are you, like brain-dead?” she shoots back. And then, “Yes, I’m fourteen.”
I grab the Doritos from her hand and carry them over to where drunken mommy is staring at the TV screen. “Fourteen-year-old girls can’t eat chips for dinner,” I say, dropping the bag on her lap. “Sober up and be a mom.”
I stalk over to the fridge, but all that’s inside it is a dozen cans of Diet Coke and a jar of pickles. “Get your jacket, Janette,” I say, glaring at the mother. “Let’s get you some dinner.”
Janette looks at me like I’m speaking Mandarin. I figure I need to throw something mean in there just to keep up appearances. “Hurry up, you little turd!”
She scampers back to our room while I search the house for car keys. What type of life was I living? And who was that creature on the couch? Surely she hadn’t always been that way. I glance at the back of her head and feel a spurt of sympathy. Her husband—my father—is in prison. Prison! That’s a big deal. Where are we even getting money to live?
Speaking of money, I check my wallet. The twenty-eight dollars is still there. That should be enough to buy us something other than Doritos.
Janette comes out of the bedroom wearing a green jacket just as I find the keys. Green is a good color on her—makes her look less angsty teen.
“Ready?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes.
“Okay then, mommy dearest. Going to get some grub!” I call out before I close the door—mostly to see if she’ll try to stop me. I let Janette lead the way into the garage, anticipating what kind of car we drive. It isn’t going to be a Land Rover, that’s for sure.
“Oh, boy,” I say. “Does this thing work?” She ignores me, popping her earbuds in as I eye the car. It’s a really old Oldsmobile. Older than me. It smells of cigarette smoke and old people. Janette climbs into the passenger side wordlessly and stares out the window. “Okay then, Chatty Cathy,” I say. “Let’s see how many blocks we can go before this thing breaks down.”
I have a plan. The receipt I found is dated last Friday and is from The Electric Crush Diner in the French Quarter. Except this piece of crap car doesn’t have GPS. I’ll have to find it on my own.
Janette is quiet as we pull out of the driveway. She traces patterns on the window with her fingertip, fogging and re-fogging the glass with her breath. I watch her out of the corner of my eye; poor kid. Her mom’s an alcoholic and her dad is in prison—kind of sad. She also hates me. That pretty much leaves her alone in the world. I realize with surprise that Charlie is in the same situation. Except maybe she has Silas—or did have Silas before she cheated on him with Brian. Ugh. I shake my shoulders to get rid of all my feels. I hate these people. They’re so annoying. Except I kind of like Silas.
The Electric Crush Diner is on North Rampart Street. I find a parking spot on a crowded corner and have to parallel park between a truck and a MINI Cooper. Charlie is an excellent parallel parker, I think proudly. Janette climbs out after me and stands on the sidewalk, looking lost. The diner is across the street. I try to peer in through the windows, but they’re mostly blacked out. The Electric Crush flashes in pink neon over the front door.
“Come on,” I say. I hold out my hand to her and she draws back. “Janette! Let’s go!” I march up to her in what can only be an aggressive Charlie move, and grab her hand. She tries to pull away from me, but I hold on tight, dragging her across the street. “Let. Me. Go!”
As soon as we reach the other side, I spin around to face her. “What’s your problem? Stop acting like a…,” fourteen-year-old, I finish in my head.
“What?” she says. “And why do you even care what I act like?” Her bottom lip is puffing out like she’s about to cry. I suddenly feel very sorry for being so rough with her. She’s just a little kid with tiny boobs and a hormone-addled brain.
“You’re my sister,” I say gently. “It’s time we stick together, don’t you think?” For a minute, I think she’s going to say something—maybe something soft and nice and sisterly—but then she stomps toward the diner ahead of me and flings open the door. Damn. She’s a tough cookie. I follow her in—a little sheepishly—and stop dead in my tracks.
It’s not what I thought it was going to be. It’s not really a diner—more like a club with booths lining the walls. In the middle of the room is what looks like a dance floor. Janette is standing near the bar, looking around in bewilderment.
“You come here often?” she asks me.
I look from the black leather booths to the black marble floors. Everything is black aside from the bright pink signs on the walls. It’s morbid and bubblegum.
“Help you?” A man steps out from a door at the far end of the bar, carrying an armful of boxes. He’s young—maybe early twenties. I like him on sight because he’s wearing a black vest over a pink t-shirt. Charlie must like pink.