Charlie stops in her tracks. “Did you know about Cora?”
Janette pulls her neck back and shakes her head. “Cora? Who?”
“The Shrimp!” Charlie says loudly. “Did you know he’s her father?”
Janette’s mouth drops open and I immediately jump off the hood of the car.
“Wait. What?” I say, walking toward Charlie.
She pulls her hands up and rubs them over her face, then makes her fingers into a steeple as she breathes in slowly. “Silas, I think you were right. This isn’t a dream.”
I can see the fear in every part of her. The fear that hasn’t settled in since she lost her memories again several hours ago. It’s all just now hitting her.
I take a slow step forward and reach my hand out. “Charlie. It’s okay. We’ll figure this out.”
She takes a quick step back and begins shaking her head. “What if we don’t? What if it keeps happening?” She begins pacing again, this time with her hands locked behind her head. “What if it happens over and over until our lives waste away!” Her chest begins to heave in and out with the deep breaths she’s taking.
“What’s wrong with you?” Janette asks. She directs her next question at me. “What am I missing?”
Landon is standing next to me now, so I turn to him. “I’m taking Charlie for a walk. Will you explain to Janette what’s happening to us?”
Landon presses his lips together and nods. “Yeah. But she’ll think we’re all lying.”
I grab Charlie’s arm and urge her to walk with me. Tears begin streaming down her cheeks and she swipes at them angrily. “He was living a double life,” she says. “How could he do that to her?”
“To who?” I ask. “Janette?”
She stops and says, “No, not Janette. Not Charlie. Not my mother. To Cora. How could he know he fathered a child and refuse to have anything to do with her? He’s an awful person, Silas! How did Charlie not see that?”
She’s worried about The Shrimp? The girl who assisted in holding her captive for an entire day?
“Try to take a breath,” I tell her, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her to face me. “You probably never saw that side of him. He was good to you. You loved him based on the person he pretended to be. And you can’t feel sorry for that girl, Charlie. She helped her mother hold you against your will.”
She begins shaking her head back and forth feverishly. “They never hurt me, Silas. I made it a point to stress that in the letter. She was rude, sure, but I’m the one who broke into their house! I must have followed her there the night I didn’t get in the cab. She thought we were on drugs, because I had no memory of anything, and I don’t blame her! And then I forgot who I was again and I probably started to panic.” She exhales sharply and pauses for a moment. When she looks up at me, she looks calmer. She folds her lips together and moistens them. “I don’t think she had anything to do with what’s happened to us. She’s just a crazy, bitter woman who hates my father and probably wanted some sick revenge for how I treated her daughter. But they got brought into the fold by us. This whole time we’ve been looking at other people...trying to blame other people. But what if…” She exhales a breath, and then, “What if we did this to each other?”
I let go of her shoulders and take a step back. She sits down on the curb and holds her head in her hands. There’s no way we would have done this to ourselves on purpose. “I don’t think that’s possible, Charlie,” I say, taking a seat next to her. “How could we do this? How do two people just simultaneously stop remembering at the same time? It has to be something bigger than what we’re capable of.”
“If it has to be bigger than us, then it also has to be bigger than my father. And Cora. And Cora’s mother. And my mom. And your parents. If we aren’t capable of causing this, then no one else should be capable of it either.”
I nod. “I know.”
She brings her thumb up to her mouth for a second. Then, “So if this isn’t happening to us because of other people…what could it be?”
I can feel the muscles in my neck tighten. I bring my hands up behind my head and look up at the sky. “Something bigger?”
“What’s bigger? The universe? God? Is this the beginning of the apocalypse?” She stands up and paces back and forth in front of me. “Do you think we even believed in God? Before this happened to us?”
“I have no idea. But I’ve prayed more in the last few days than I probably have in my entire life.” I stand up and grab her hand, pulling her in the direction of the car. “I want to know everything your father said. Let’s head back and you can write down everything he told you while I drive.”
She slides her fingers through mine and walks back to the car with me. When we return, Janette is leaning against the passenger door. She’s glaring at both of us. “So you seriously can’t remember anything? Either of you?” Her attention is focused solely on Charlie now.
I motion for her and Landon to sit in the backseat this time. I open the driver door as Charlie responds to her. “No. We can’t. And I swear I’m not making this up for kicks, Janette. I don’t know what kind of sister I’ve been to you, but I swear I wouldn’t make this up.”
Janette eyes Charlie for a moment and then says, “You’ve been a really shitty sister the last couple of years. But I guess if everything Landon just told me is true and you really can’t remember anything, then that explains why not a single one of you dick faces has told me happy birthday today.” She opens the door to the back seat, climbs inside, and then slams it.
“Ouch,” Charlie says.
“Yeah,” I agree. “You forgot your little sister’s birthday? That’s pretty selfish of you, Charlie.”
She slaps me playfully in the chest. I grab her hand, and I swear there’s a moment that passes between us. A single second where she looks at me like she can feel what she once felt for me.
But then she blinks, pulls her hand from mine, and climbs in the car.
It’s not really my fault that the universe is punishing me. Us.
Silas and me.
I keep forgetting that Silas is screwed too, which probably means I’m a narcissist. Great. I think about the sister in the car with me who is having a really shitty birthday. And the half-sister who lives in my old house with her psychotic mother, who, according to my journals, I’ve been torturing for a decade. I am a bad person, and an even worse sister.