Chapter 9; The Clues, the Questions and the Lack of Answers

I walk up to my house and I see Cora standing outside.

“Tyler”, she said with a shaky voice. “I thought he knew… I wouldn’t have mentioned that Paisley was here, but you didn’t seem to be hiding it, so I thought things had changed and that-.._

“Cora, stop. It’s fine.”

She sighs and runs her hand over her hair. I don’t understand her nervousness, or why she thought I would be angry with her but I feel bad for her and don’t want to see her upset.

I leave Cora and step inside to find my father.

“Tyler” it’s a voice coming from behind me. I turn and am suddenly face to face with the man in all the family photos.

He’s missing the brilliant fake smile, though.

He eyes me up and down as if the mere sight of his son disappoints him. Then he turns and walks through a door leading out of the foyer.

His silence demands I follow him without words, and so I do.

He edges around a desk in what must be his private office and takes a seat.

“Care to explain?”

I’m tempted to explain; I really am. I want to tell him that I have no idea who he is, no idea why he’s angry, and no idea who I am. But I don’t.

I have the feeling that I should probably be nervous or intimidated by him. I’m sure yesterday’s Tyler would be, but it’s hard to feel scared by someone I don’t know at all.

“Care to explain what?” I ask.

“Tyler!” his voice is so deep and sharp, it feels like the tip of a knife stabbing me. “Sit!”

Yesterday’s Tyler would probably be saying “Yes, sir” and sit down.

Today’s Tyler shrugs and walks slowly to the desk.

“Why was she inside this house today?”

He is referring to Paisley like she’s poison. He’s referring to her the same way her mother referred to me.

“She wasn’t feeling well at school. She needed a ride home and we took a quick detour” I say while finally sitting down.

This man…. My father… leans back in his chair. He rubs his neck.

Five seconds pass.

Ten seconds pass.

Fifteen seconds pass.

He finally leans forward again. “You seeing her again?”

Is this a trick question? Because it feels like one.

If I say yes, it will obviously piss him off. If I say no, it feels like I will let him win. I don’t know why, but I really don’t want this man to win.

“What if I am?”

His hand moves across the desk and then fists into the collar of my shirt. He yanks me forward and my hands grab the edges of the desk for resistance. Once more I am determined not to let this man win; not to let him intimidate me.

We’re eye to eye now and I can see him itching to hurt me. I wonder if this is common?

Then he pushes his fist against my chest and releases me. I fall back into the chair behind me but only for a second.

Just as quickly, I’m back on my feet.

I probably should have hit the asshole, but I don’t hate him enough to do it. For a moment we just stare silently at each other.

He suddenly picks up a paperweight and hurls it across the room and just missing me by inches. It smashes against a shelf and knocks everything on the floor.

I stand still and watch him pace back and forth like a lion. I don’t understand why he could possibly be this upset over the fact that Paisley was here today. Especially since Cora said we grew up together.

“We had an understanding, Tyler” He stops pacing. “Me and you. I wasn’t going to push you to testify if you swore to me that you wouldn’t see that man’s daughter again”

I say nothing.

“I know you don’t think she took those files from this office, but I know she did! And you swore to me that you wouldn’t see her… and here you are” he flails his hands with frustration.

“That girl’s father almost ruined this family, Tyler. Does that not mean a damn thing to you?”

Not really, I want to say.

I make a mental note to never get this angry. It’s not an attractive look on a Parish.

The door to the office opens and we both move our attention to whoever is entering and my eyes fall on the dark haired guy from earlier. The one who decided to walk off rather than catching a ride with Paisley and I; my brother.

“Seth, this doesn’t concern you”, my father says, his voice soft now. It almost sounds like the voice of a caring father rather than the monster I just witnessed.

Seth – nice to finally know my little brothers name – looks at me. “Coach is on the phone for you, Tyler”

I glance back at my father who now has his back turned to me. I assume that means our conversation is over. I walk to the door and gladly exit the room.

“Where’s the phone?” I ask Seth when I reach the stairs.

Seth moves past me. “There’s no phone call. I was just getting you out of there”

He continues up the stairs and I watch as he turns left. He’s a good brother, I think to myself.

I make my way to what I think is his room and knock on his door.

I say and step into the room. “Thanks”

Seth turns in his chair and tilts his head. A combination of confusion and admiration on his face.

“I don’t know what your deal is. You aren’t showing up for practice and that’s never happened. You act like you don’t give a shit that Paisley has been screwing Brian. And then you have the balls to bring her here after all the shit Dad and Brett went through?”

He shakes his head and then turns to the computer in front of him.

I turn and rush towards my bedroom. Brett Mitchell. Brett Mitchell. Brett Mitchell… I repeat his name in my head so I’ll know exactly what to search for when I get to my computer.

The first thing I do is pick up the pen Paisley handed me earlier and read the text again.

Mitchell-Parish Financial Group.

I don’t see a computer but I find a tablet and power it on. I type in Mitchell-Parish Financial Group and scroll through the first page that appears.

Finance gurus, Robert Parish and Brett Mitchell, co-founders of Mitchell-Parish Financial Group, have been charged with four counts of conspiracy, fraud and illegal trading.

Partners for over twenty years, the two business moguls are now placing the blame on each other, both claiming to have no knowledge of the illegal practices uncovered during a recent investigation.

I continue to read.

Robert Parish cleared of charges. Company co-chair, Brett Mitchell, sentenced to fifteen years for fraud and embezzlement.

Just then the battery flickers and I look around for the charger. In my desk, in the closet, in my dresser drawers. I keep searching because I need to know exactly what happened.

I drop to the floor, thinking that maybe the charger could be stuck behind the bed somehow.

I don’t find it, but I do find what looks like a notebook. I pick it up and sit down on the bed.

Inside I find a stack of papers stuffed into a folder. Across the top, the papers all read “Mitchell-Parish Financial Group,” but I don’t understand any of them.

I also don’t understand why these were hidden behind my bedpost.

Robert Parish’ words from downstairs repeat in my head— I know you don’t think she took those files from this office, Tyler, but I know she did.

Looks like he was wrong. But why would I have taken them? Who was I trying to protect?

I shove the notebook under the mattress. I’m too exhausted to keep searching tonight. It’s not until I lie down that I notice that Cora must have changed my sheets. For a moment I wonder if Paisley is right about waking up tomorrow and things will be normal. Then I shake my head in the dark.

Somehow I know it won’t.

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Chapter 8; Lucky # 7

I feel like an intruder breaking into somebody’s house when I walk inside.

“Hello?” I say. “Anyone here?” I close the door quietly behind me.

Paisley’s mother – my mother – is on the couch watching TV on mute and eating some kind of pink mush in a bowl. I’m suddenly reminded that all I’ve eaten today is the grilled cheese that Cora made this morning.

“Are you hungry?” I ask her. “Do you want me to make us something to eat?”

She doesn’t look at me.

I take a step forward and force out the word, “Mom?”

“She’s not going to answer you”

I turn around to see Jeanette walk out of the kitchen with a bowl of chips in her hand.

“Is that what you’re eating for dinner?”

She shrugs as if she doesn’t care about dinner. Or me.

“What are you, like fourteen?”

“What are you, like brain-dead?” she snaps back. And then, “Yes. I’m fourteen”

I grab the bowl of the chips from her hand and carry it over to where the drunken mommy is staring at the TV. “Fourteen yeah old girls can’t eat chips for dinner”, I say and drop the chips into her lap. “Sober up and be a Mom”

No response

“Get on your jacket, Jeanette” I say. “Let’s get you some dinner”

She stares at me as if I’m speaking a foreign language. I sigh.

I need to throw something mean in there just to keep up the appearances. “Hurry up, you little turd”

She scurries back into our bedroom and I check my wallet again. The eighteen dollars should be enough to buy us something other than chips.

Jeanette comes out of the bedroom wearing a jacket. It is a good color on her; it makes her look less like an angsty teen.

“Ready I ask?”

She rolls her eyes. I guess that means yes.

“Okay then, mommy dearest. Going out to smoke some weed and party with some boys” I call out before I close the door, I want to see if she’ll try to stop me.

Of course she doesn’t.

We walk down the street without saying anything. Jeanette is mostly looking down, studying her shoes.

I watch her out of the corner of my eye; poor kid. Her mom’s an alcoholic and her dad is in prison. She also hates me. That pretty much leaves her alone in the world. I realize that Paisley is in the same situation.

Except she has Tyler – or did have Tyler before she cheated on him with Brian. Ugh. I shake my shoulders to get rid of all my feels.

I stop in front of the Lucky # 7 Diner. I have a plan. The receipt I found is dated last Friday and it’s from this Diner.

Jeanette stands next to me, looking lost.

“Come on”, I say and hold out my hand to her but she draws back.

“Jeanette! Let’s go!” I march over to her in what can only be an aggressive Paisley move and grab her arm.

She tries to pull away. “Let.Me.Go!” but I keep on dragging her behind me and suddenly we are in front of the door. I turn around to face her.

“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 maybe something soft and nice and sisterly but then she stomps ahead and flings open the door. Damn. She’s a tough cookie.

When I go inside I see that it’s not really a diner. More like a bar. Jeanette is looking around in bewilderment.

“You come here often?” she asks me.

Before I can answer, a man steps out from behind the door. He’s young – maybe early twenties.

I like him on sight because he’s wearing a vest over a pink shirt. Paisley must like pink.

“We’re hungry” Jeanette blurts out before I can say anything.

“Kitchen doesn’t open for another hour, but I’ll see what I can get for you”

I nod and bee-line to a table, dragging Jeanette behind me.

A few minutes later, the pink shirt guy comes out of the back and places two plates on the table.

“Here you go, Paisley. This must be your sister, she looks like you”

I nod dumbly. How does he…? How many times have I been here..?

He points at Jeanette. “Sprite? Root beer? Rum and coke?”

“Diet coke,” she answers while fiddling with her sleeve.

“And you, Paisley?”

I don’t like the way he says my name. It’s too…. Familiar.

“Coke”, I say quickly. I look around. What was I doing here? Is it a place I often go to?

The guy comes back and he brings Jeanette an orange juice over vodka even though she asked for a diet coke. Disappointment washes over her face but she doesn’t say anything.

“She wanted a diet coke” I say.

“She’ll like that. When I was a kid-“

“Just get her a diet coke”, I interrupt.

He holds up his hands in surrender. “Sure thing, princess”

Jeanette glances at me. Thanks”, she says.

“No problem” I say and I feel victorious.

I can’t believe I thought I liked that guy just because I liked his shirt. I can’t believe I liked Brian.

What the hell is wrong with me?

The guy comes back with more food; this time it’s a big serving of chicken and mashed potatoes.

“What’s your name again?” I ask.

“You’re such a bitch, Paisley” he says while staring at me. Am I supposed to know him?

“What is your name?” Jeanette now asks, looking curiously at the two of us.

“Jax” he says.

I nod. “So last weekend…” I say, trying to find out more information.

“Yeah that was crazy. I didn’t expect to see you back here this soon”

“Why not?” I ask. I’m trying to be casual but my insides are shaking.

“Well, your man was pretty pissed. I thought he was going to blow his shit before he got kicked out”

“Blow his shit..?” I change my tone so it’s not so much a question. “Blow his shit. Yeah. That was…”

“You looked pretty pissed. I can’t blame you. You might have liked it here if Tyler hadn’t ruined it for you.

I sit back, the chicken suddenly doesn’t look good. “Yeah”, I say, glancing at Jeanette who is almost done stuffing her face with chicken.

“You finished?” I ask her. She nods, wiping her greasy fingers on a napkin. I pull the money out of my pocket and drop it on the table.

“No need” Jax says, waving it away.

I look at him. “Only my boyfriend gets to buy me dinner” I say, leaving the money on the table.

I walk to the door, Jeanette following me.

“Yeah well”, Jax calls, “If you live by that rule, you can eat for free here seven days a week!”

I suck in a deep breath but force myself to walk. Something happened in there. Something that made Tyler lose his temper.

I look at Jeanette and she looks back at me.

“No more chips for dinner. We can learn to cook”

“Sure”, she shrugs.

I’m sure everyone breaks their promises to Jeanette. She got that bitter air about her; like someone who’s trying to bite before they get bitten.

We don’t speak more and when we get home, she walks into the bedroom and shuts the door.

“Nice spending time with you too” I call after her.

I look around. Mother has gone to sleep in her bedroom. Mother doesn’t care. It’s perfect for the situation that I’m in.

I want to snoop around, but I can’t help thinking about Jeanette.

She is listening to music when I open the door. No surprise there.

“Hey” I say; I have an idea. “Have you seen my iPod?” Music tells a lot about a person and if Jeanette has one, surely I must have one too.

“I don’t know”, she shrugs. “Maybe it’s with all your other crap in the attic”

My other crap? The attic?

I suddenly feel excited. Maybe there’s more to me than a boring bed and empty drawers.

Now, exactly where is the attic?

 

Chapter 7; Sometimes a film says more than a thousand words

I don’t know why, but suddenly we start walking down the street, perhaps it is to walk off the disorienting thoughts that circles through both of our minds. What Tyler says keep swimming in my head.

“We just can’t remember anything. We can’t even remember our families.” I suddenly say.

He gives me a sideways glance. “We can remember something.

I nod. “There was this family in another city who owned a parrot. He went missing. Four years later, he showed up out of the blue and he was speaking Spanish”. I shake my head by the sudden memory. “Why do I remember that pointless story but I can’t remember what I did twenty-four hours ago?”

Tyler doesn’t respond but my question is rhetorical, just like all the questions that must be going through his mind.

We round a corner of the school and on the entrance I spot what is almost a spitting image of me, but instead of having brown hair, she is blonde..

I walk closer and she looks up at me, then Tyler.

“Oh great. So Mom’s drunk again and forgot to pick me up after practice. Guess I’m stuck with you now.”

Oh yes, this is definitely my sister. The one who resents me so much. I have no idea what she’s doing here.

I can feel Tyler looking between the two of us.

“How was your day?” I ask as we turn around and walk back to Tyler’s car. So much for fresh air.

“Shut up” my sister days.

I look at Tyler. Obviously he is just as taken aback by her responds as I am.

“Bad, I take it?” I press on and for some reason I have the feeling that this is how Jeanette always speaks to me.

“Shut up”, she says again.

“Were you waiting long?”

“Shut the hell up, Paisley”

At this point I am purposely prodding her, wanting some kind of reaction out of her. Something that can spark a memory. Something. Anything.

“Mom was pretty wasted when I got home”

“What’s new?” Jeanette says. At least she didn’t say shut up this time.

I ask her another question, then another, but she is ignoring me completely now and gives her full attention to the phone in her hands.

We drive home in silence and Jeanette opens the door before the car even comes to a stop.

“Tell mom I’ll be late”, I say as she climbs out of the car. “And when do you think Dad will be home?”

Jeanette pauses. She stares at me with despise. “Ten to fifteen, according to the judge”

She slams the door. Neither Tyler or I was expecting that. Suddenly I don’t feel like going anywhere.

I inhale a slow breath and carefully releases it. “My sister hates me. I live in a dump. My mom’s an alcoholic. My father is in prison. I cheat on you.”

I look at Tyler. “Why the hell are you even dating me?”

I jump out of the car before he can answer but Tyler is out just as fast and stands before me..

“Well, according to Cora, I’ve loved you since before I could walk. I guess that’s hard to let go of” he smiles at me and I can see that it’s sincere.

I laugh under my breath. “You must have some fierce loyalty, because even I am beginning to hate me”

He reaches out to me, tries to turn my cheek around to make me look at him. I keep looking away.

“Maybe there’s a lot more to you than just your financial status and who your family is”

“Yeah”. I glance at him and try to hide the disappointment in myself with a brief smile. “Maybe”

At this point my mind is exhausted I don’t even feel like attempting to figure things out. I just want to go to bed, forget about what I just learned about my life.

“I hate that I cheated on you”. I say and then turn around to walk to my house. I don’t want a response from him. I just want him to know.

Tyler suddenly appears in front of me again and I sigh.

“We need to go through our phones”, he says. “Check old text messages, e-mails, voicemail. We might find something that explain this.”

“I tried that earlier. I barely have anything on my phone”

Tyler is busy looking through his phone and I watch him. I’m surprised that he hasn’t done it already.

“Based on my call log we talked on the phone for at least an hour every night”

“Really? What in the world could we have talked about for an hour every night?”

Tyler grins. “Maybe we don’t actually do a whole lot of talking

I shake my head with a quiet laugh. “Why do sex jokes not surprise me, even though I remember absolutely nothing about you?”

Tyler laughs and opens the camera on his own phone and find a video file labeled Do not delete. He clicks on it.

Tyler’s voice comes through the phone, he is the one who holds the phone in the video. It’s dark and it looks like he is outside.

“It’s officially our four year anniversary”

His voice is hushed, like he doesn’t want to be caught doing whatever it is that he’s doing. It looks like he’s sneaking up to a window.

“I’m about to wake you up to tell you happy anniversary, but it’s after Midnight on a school night. I’m filming this in case your father kills me”.

It goes dark but then we can hear a window being raised and it looks like he’s climbing inside. Tyler shines the camera towards my bed but I don’t move.

He then moves the camera briefly around the rest of the room.

“That’s not my bedroom” I say and look closer at the video. “My room now isn’t even half that size and there’s no second bed for my sister”

Then the camera turns to the bed and Tyler climbs into it.

“Paisley honey”, he whispers. I am pulling the cover down and blink into the camera.

“Tyler?” The camera is now pointed at me from an awkward angle, as if Tyler forgot he was even holding it. There are kissing sounds, he must be kissing up my arm or neck.

I swallow and I want Tyler to turn it off. I am embarrassed and yet I am focused on the phone with as much intensity as Tyler is. I can’t believe I don’t remember it. It’s me… and it’s him… it’s us together. But I don’t remember a single thing about this.

Next image Tyler’s lips rest softly against my own. Then I knock the phone off the bed.

“The light is blinding me”, I mutter.

There is a gasp and I whisper his name in the dark.

“Never never”, Tyler says.

“Never never”, I respond.

There’s sounds of bodies shifting on the bed. Heavy breaths. Lots of them.

“Turn it off” I say and my voice is too loud, too obviously flustered. It is dark now and I suddenly want to be by myself.

We stand there in silence and just watch each other.

“You should probably delete that video” I say in a raspy whisper.

Tyler shakes his head. “There could be a clue in it. I think I should listen to how it ends”

I look at him skeptically. I can only imagine one way it ends.

Then Tyler’s phone buzzes with a new incoming text.

Tyler grimaces and shows me the message. It’s from “father” and says: Come home. Alone, please.

“You should go before you get into trouble”

I stare up at my house. There’s a faint light in the window, but no signs of movement anywhere inside the house. “I’ll try to talk to my sister tonight. Maybe get more of an idea about what happened last night when I came home”

“That’s probably a good idea”, he says. “I’ll do the same with my brother. Maybe figure out what his name is while I’m at it”

I give a small smile.. “Maybe we could wake up tomorrow and be perfectly fine”

“I’d bet against it”, he says.

“Goodnight, Paisley” It looks as if he is about to put his arms around me and I twist my body to the side.

He stops. “Call me if you…”

“I’ll be fine”, I cut him off and begin to walk to the house. I want to look back, but I force my head to keep still while staring at the house.

What does never never mean?

Chapter 6; Lost in thought

I’m on my way to get Paisley when my phone rings. There’s no number. Just the word “Bro”

“Hello?”

“Where the hell are you? Come get me, practice is over”

It’s a guy’s voice. A voice that sounds a lot like mine. I am looking left and right but nothing is familiar about where I am at.

“I’m in my car”

He groans. “No shit. You keep missing practice and you’ll be benched..”

Yesterday’s Tyler probably would have been pissed off about this. Today’s Tyler is relieved.

“What day is it today?”

“Wednesday. Day before tomorrow, day after yesterday. What’s wrong with you?”

I don’t even know this kid and he already feels like an inconvenience. He definitely must be my brother.

“I have to pick up Paisley first” I tell him

There’s a pause. “At her house?”

“Yeah”

Another pause. “Do you have a death wish?”

I really hate not knowing what everyone else seems to know. Why would I not be allowed at Paisley’s house?

“Whatever. Just hurry up”

I reach Paisley’s house and see that she’s already waiting for me. She’s not wearing the same clothes she had on earlier. She’s wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt that is long-sleeved, but she still looks cold. A gust of wind blows and her hair that is now lose from the braid moves with it, but she remains unaffected. She doesn’t even blink; she’s lost in thought.

It hits me just then how truly lost Tyler is in her, how lost I am in her.

She gets in the car and we continue in silence.

“So…” I ask, staring straight ahead. “Who is this Brian guy?”

“I’m not sure. I tried to scroll back and see if I could figure out anything from texts, but our messages are confusing. I honestly can’t tell whether I date him or you”

My mouth is dry.

“Maybe you were messing around with both of us” The edge is back in my voice again. I try to soften it. “What do his texts from today say?”

She locks the phone and turns it face down in her lap, almost as if she’s ashamed to look at it. She doesn’t answer me and I feel jealousy creeping through me like a virus. I don’t like it.

“Text him back”, I say. “Tell him you don’t want him to text you anymore and that you just want to stay with me”

She glances at me. “We don’t know our situation. What if I didn’t like you? What if we were both ready to break up?”

I look back at the road and grind my teeth together. “I just think it’s better if we stick together until we figure this out. You don’t even know who this Brian guy is”

“I don’t know you either”, she bites back.

I pull into the parking lot and we get out of the car. Paisley is watching me closely, waiting for my response and I feel like I am being baited.. Before I can say anything, someone exits a gate and begins walking towards us.

He looks like me, but younger. Maybe a sophomore.

“This should be fun”, she says, watching my little brother approach the car. He walks straight to the back passenger side and swings open the door. He throws in his stuff and pulls out his phone. His hair is sweaty and sticking to his forehead. We have the same hair. When he looks up, I see that we have the same eyes too.

“What’s your problem?”

I don’t respond to him. I glance to Paisley and see that she is smirking to herself. She is texting someone and I almost grab the phone to see if it’s Brian but my phone vibrates as soon as she hits send.

Paisley: Do you even know your brother’s name?

I have absolutely no idea what my little brother’s name is. “Shit” I mutter

She laughs but it quickly fades when she spots something in the parking lot. My gaze follows hers and lands on a guy. He’s stalking towards us, glaring at Paisley.

I recognize him. He’s the guy from the bathroom this morning. The jellyfish.

“Let me guess”, I say. “Brian?”

He crocks his finger at Paisley when he reach us. He ignores me completely, but he’s about to get to know me really well if he thinks he can summon my girlfriend this way.

“We need to talk”, he says.

Paisley is about to turn to go to the car.. “Sorry”, she says. “We were about to leave. I’ll talk to you tomorrow”

Disbelief washes over his face, then anger. As soon as I see him grab her by her arm and yank her toward him, I’m moving so fast and I am prepared to grab the bastard by his throat, but he’s bent over, groaning.

His hand is covering his eye. He straightens up and glares at Paisley with his good eye.

“I told you not to touch me” Paisley says through clenched teeth.

“You don’t want me to touch you?” he says with the stupid smirk I saw earlier this morning. “That’s a first”

Just as I begin to lunge toward him, Paisley shoves a hand against my chest. She shakes her head and gives me a warning look. I force a deep, calming breath and step back.

“That was yesterday, Brian. Today’s a brand new day and I’m leaving with Tyler. Got it?” she turns around and moves to the car..

“She’s cheating on you”, Brian yells after me. He’s standing upright now and from the look of his posture, he’s expecting me to hit him. He wants me to hit him, I think. When I don’t, he continues.

“With me”, he adds. “More than once. It’s been going on for over two months now”

I stare at him, trying to remain clam outside, but on the inside I picture my hands wrapped around his throat, squeezing the last drop of oxygen from his lungs.

I glance at Paisley. She’s shaking her head again. I turn back to face him and somehow, I manage to smile. “That’s nice, Brian. You want a trophy?”

I wish I could bottle up the expression on his face because it’s priceless. Then he walks off.

I breathe in slowly and then glance at Paisley. She’s staring right at me and we keep our eyes locked for a few seconds. Right before I’m about to get into the car, I see her smile.

We both start laughing.. “I can’t believe I was cheating on you with that guy. You must have done something that really pissed me off”

A throat clears behind me. I forgot all about my brother who is now shifting to my side. He looks at Paisley, then me.

“Let me get this straight”, he says. “You two are laughing about this?”

Paisley glances at me out of the corner of her eye. We both stop laughing and Paisley clears her throat. “How long have we been together now, Tyler?” she asks.

I pretend to count on my fingers when my brother speaks up.

“Four years”, he says. “What the hell has gotten into the two of you?”

Paisley locks eyes with me. “Wow” Paisley says. “Long time”

My brother shakes his head and turns to leave.. “The two of you are worse than a soap opera episode. I’m just going to walk home”

I don’t know how long I have been staring at his back as he walks away.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

It’s as if the sound of her voice is a suction, pulling me out of my head and shoving me back into the moment. The moment where I picture Paisley and Brian and the words he said that I had to pretend didn’t affect me at all.

Why would I even care if she cheated on me with him? I don’t even remember her but still it does.

“Why do you think it happened?”

Paisley looks confused

“I mean… Brian. Why do you think you cheated on me?”

She sighs. “You can’t be mad at me for that”

I look at her with disbelief. “We were together for four years, Paisley. You can’t blame me for being a little upset”

She shakes her head. “They were together for four years. Paisley and Tyler. Not the two of us”, she says. “Besides, who’s to say you were an angel? Have you even looked through all of your texts?”

I shake my head. “I’m afraid to do that now. And don’t do that”

“Don’t do what?”

“Don’t refer to us in the third person. You are her. And I’m him. Whether we like who we were or not”

I wonder when it was that I stopped feeling like Tyler was a stranger. Like someone I didn’t want anything to do with. I have the urge to become Tyler, to live his life and get all his memories back. I remain silent while staring into thin air.

This time it is my turn to be lost in thoughts.

Chapter 5; A Not-So-Friendly Welcome

“Mom?” My voice is weak, almost a squeak. I clear my throat. “Mom?”

She comes hurling around the corner and she reminds me of a car with no brakes. I take a step back.

“What were you doing with that boy?” she hisses and I can smell alcohol 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 space and I reach for the doorknob in case I need to make a quick escape.

I was hoping to feel something when I saw her. That I would recognize her but instead she is just another stranger to me.

“You skipped school and went with that boy. Explain yourself!”

All I can think of is how she smells like a bar vomited all over itself.

l stand there, stumped. This is surreal.

Why can’t I remember my home? The room I stand in? The intoxicated woman in front of me?

“I didn’t feel good…” I finally say. “Why are you drunk in the middle of the day?”

Her eyes go wide and for a second I think that she might hit me. Tears form in her eyes and then she stumbles back and throws herself on the couch.

I have to look away – Okay, I wasn’t expecting that. Yelling I can deal with. Crying makes me nervous.

I don’t know why.

I move past her just as she starts to sob. I’m not sure if this is normal for her.

I sigh. I can’t help her. I don’t even know her.

I want to hide until I figure out something. Like who the hell I am.

The house is even smaller than I thought. There are three doors and I see a plaid bedspread on a queen size bed. One door leads to the bathroom. The third is another bedroom.

I step inside and groan. Two beds. I have a sibling.

I close the door behind me and my eyes roam the shared space. I have a sister it seems. I think she’s younger than me. I stare at her band posters on her side of the bed, somehow I know those aren’t mine.

Suddenly my phone buzzes.

Tyler: are you okay?”

Me: I think my mom is an alcoholic and I have a sister.

Some time passes before he answers.

Tyler: this is so awkward. I don’t know what to say.

For some reason I laugh and put away my phone. I want to explore and see if I can find any clues. My drawers are neat. I must be some kind of organizing freak. There is nothing in my dresser, nothing in my nightstand. There is nothing.

I am a plain human, absolutely boring.

I can hear my mother sniffling in the kitchen and making herself something to eat. She’s drunk in the middle of the day. Why? Maybe I should ask her some question and she won’t remember that I did?

“Uh… mom?” I say when I walk into the kitchen.

I sit down next to her.

She pauses in between bites and looks at me with red, puffy eyes.

“So… was I weird last night?”

“Last night?” she repeats

“Yeah…” I say. “You know… when I came home”

“You were dirty”, she slurs. “I told you to take a shower”

I think of the dirt in Tyler’s bed and feel my heart pound in my chest.

“What time did I get home? My phone was dead” I lie.

She seems irritated. “Around ten. Why?”

I ignore her question. “Did I say something weird?”

She doesn’t answer me, instead she shuts her eyes and zones out. “Mom! Pay attention”

Why does this feel familiar? Me begging and her ignoring me? She doesn’t answer. Then I have a thought; my clothes must still be around somewhere.

I find the washer and see a lump of wet clothes in it.

They are definitely my size. I must have washed them last night to get rid of the evidence. But evidence of what?

I dig through the pockets and find a clump of wet paper. I walk into my room and put it in the windowsill to dry.

I send Tyler a message but he doesn’t answer. I send him more messages. No answer.

For some reason I suddenly feel myself wanting to cry and throw myself on the bed. I burrow my face into Paisley Mitchell’s pillow but can’t cry. Paisley Mitchell probably never cried. She has no personality judging her room. Her mother is an alcoholic and her sister listens to crappy music. How do I even remember the music but not myself?

I decide to get up and snoop through her things.

I find a diary – score!

Property of Jeanette Mitchell.

DO NOT READ!!!

I ignore it and start reading. The first page says:

Paisley sucks. My sister is the worst person on the planet. I hope she dies.

I close the book and put it back. That went well…

My family hates me. What type of person is Paisley when her own family hates her? Suddenly my phone beeps and I jump up. I think its Tyler and suddenly feel relieved.

There are two texts. One is from “Amy”

Where r u????

And the other from a guy named Brian.

Hey I missed you today. Did you tell him?

Him who? And tell who what? I feel confused.

I put down my phone without answering and decide to go back to Jeanette’s journal. I flip through it and find another page

I might need braces but we’re too broke. Of course Paisley got braces back when she needed them.

I run my tongue over my teeth. They feel pretty straight.

I skip around and finally find a page from last night. My heart starts pounding again.

So I was crying last night? I pick up the paper I found in the washer earlier and smooth it out.

It looks like a receipt and I text Tyler again and ask for a ride. There is no answer and I find myself being an impatient person.

Then suddenly I decide to text him again.

Me: There’s a guy named Brian who’s texting me. He’s really flirty. I can ask him for a ride if you’re busy.

A second later Tyler answers and I grin.

Tyler: Oh hell no. On my way!

It’s not like I’ll have a problem sneaking out. Mom’s too drunk and passed out to notice. I stop and watch her, trying desperately to remember her. I cover her with a blanket before I go outside to wait for Tyler.

“See ya, Mom” I whisper on my way out.

Chapter 4; Never stop, Never forget

I toss the blanket out of the way to get a better look at the mess at the foot of the bed. There’s dry smears of mud that cracks and roll away when I pull on the sheet.

“Is that…” Paisley says while lifting her head. “Is that blood?”

I follow her eyes up the sheet, toward the head of the bed. Next to the pillow is a smeared handprint. I immediately look down at my hands. Nothing. No traces of blood or mud whatsoever.

I kneel down beside the bed and hold my hand over the handprint. It’s a perfect match.

I glance at Paisley and her gaze drifts away, almost as if she doesn’t want to know whether or not the handprint belongs to me. We have so many questions piled up, it feels as though the pile is about to collapse and bury us in everything but answers.

“It’s probably my own blood. I could have fallen outside last night. Just cut myself or something”, I say to her.

Or maybe I say it mostly to myself. It feels like I’m making excuses for someone who isn’t me. Like a friend of mine. This Tyler guy.

Who definitely isn’t me.

I spread out the blanket over the bed to hide the mess. The evidence and clues. Whatever it is, I just want to cover it up.

“What does this mean?” Paisley asks, turning to face me. In her hand is a sheet of paper. It looks like it’s been folded and unfolded so many times. She hands it to me. Across it a sentence reads; Never stop. Never forget.

I drop the paper wanting it out of my hand. The paper feels like evidence too. “I don’t know”, I say

“Did you write it?” she demands.

“How would I know?” I don’t like the tone on my voice. I suddenly sound aggravated.

She picks up a pen before shoving it into my hand. “Copy it”

She’s bossy. I look at the pen and the words on the side of it.

MITCHELL-PARISH FINANCIAL GROUP.

I write down the words on the back after memorizing them and flip it back over. It’s different.

Paisley takes the pen and rewrites the words. It’s a perfect match.

We stare at the words; it could mean something. It could mean nothing. The hand print could mean everything. The clothes I’m wearing, the half empty glass of water on the desk, the color of her nail polish. It could all mean everything – it could all mean nothing. My mind feels heavy.

Maybe if I just fall asleep, ill wake up tomorrow and be completely normal again?

“I’m hungry”, Paisley suddenly says.

“Let’s go downstairs”, I tell her. I don’t know what else to do in the moment, so I decide to follow her whim. As soon as we come to the bottom of the stairs, our ears are assaulted by a scream. Paisley comes to a sudden stop and I bump into the back of her.

The scream belongs to a woman standing in the foyer. Her eyes are startled, darting from me to Paisley, back and forth. Then she exhales with relief.

She’s not from the photographs, I decide. She’s older, maybe in her sixties.

“Goodness, Tyler! You scared me half to death!” she spins and heads back into the kitchen. “You two better get back to school before your father finds out. I’m not lying for you”

Paisley is still frozen so I place a hand on her lower back and nudge her forward.

Paisley claims a chair and pulls out the chair next to her and pats it. “Cora, I’m starving. Is there anything to eat?”

My entire body turns toward Paisley on the seat, but it feels like my stomach is somewhere on the floor beneath me. How does she know her name?

Paisley glances at me with a quick shake of her head. “Calm down”, she hisses. “It’s written right there”, she points at a shopping list on the counter. The stationary has kittens lining the bottom of every page and on top of the stationary it reads, “Things Cora needs right meow”

“If you weren’t aware, they serve lunch at school right now”, Cora says while turning to face Paisley. Her words are sharp, but her voice is not.

“You mean right meow?” I say without thinking. Paisley starts laughing, and then I laugh too. It feels so good. Cora is less amused and rolls her eyes. It makes me wonder if I used to be funny.

I reach over and run my hand along the back of Paisley’s back. She flinches when I touch her, but relaxes when she realizes it’s part of our act. We’re supposed to be in love.

Cora’s expression softens when she sees my affection. “How about some grilled cheese, Paisley? It was your favorite back when you used to visit”

I stiffen. Back when she used to visit? We both look at each other and Paisley finally speaks. “Thank you”

She inspects the phone she earlier found in her backpack.

“Uh oh”, she says.

I lean over her shoulder and look at the screen with her.

There are seven missed calls and even more texts. They are all from “Mom”

The last message is sent three minutes ago. It reads; You have three minutes to call me back.

“We should go”, I say to her when I realize the consequences our parents could give us since we did ditch school. Paisley nods and stands up. Before we go, Cora tucks the grilled cheese in a paper towel and gives it to Paisley.

Cora squeezes my arm just as I am about to leave. “It’s good to see you two back here”, she says softly.

“I’ve been worried how everything between both your fathers might have affected the two of you. You’ve loved that girl since before you could walk”

I stare at her, not sure how to process it all.

“Before I could walk, huh?” I repeat like a parrot.

She smiles like she has a secret of mine. I want it back.

I force a smile and follow Paisley.

Just as we step outside, her phone rings and startles her.

“It’s her”, she says. “What should I do?”

We just stand there for a moment and the phone is now on its third ring. “You need to answer it”

Paisley wrinkles her nose and doesn’t answer it so I reach down and swipe my finger to the right on the screen. Paisley gives me a glare and holds the phone to her ear.

“Hello?” we begin walking to the car but I listen careful to the parts I can hear coming through the phone.

“You know better” and “Skip school” and “How could you?” the words continue to come out of her phone until we’re standing by my car. Paisley still hasn’t had a chance to say a word.

“Mom”, Paisley says, trying to interrupt her. “Mom, I’m on my way home. Tyler is taking me.” There is a long silence and somehow her mother is more intimidating when words aren’t being yelled through the phone.

When she starts speaking her words come out slow.

“Please tell me that you are not talking to him or his family

Our eyes meet and she mouths the word ‘shit’. “I… no, I meant Tyler offered to bring me home but I’ll be there in a few minute, okay?” There is no answer because Paisley’s mom hangs up on her.

I finally get to Paisley’s street and we look out the windows while taking in every house. They are small and any one of these houses could fit inside my kitchen and we would still have room to cook. Once we reach her house number, we both get out.

“Do you want me to inside with you?”

She shakes her head. “It doesn’t sound like my mother likes you very much”

We continue to stand there for a couple of minutes in front of her home. We both stare at it, quietly taking in the difference in the lives that we live.

Paisley turns towards me. “I’m going to look for a journal or anything that could help us”.

She looks at her house again and then turns to me once more. “You know, I think my mom might be a bitch”

“Just call if you need me to come rescue me”, I give her what I hope is a reassuring smile. “I’m sure my number is in your contacts”

Paisley nods and walks to her house before I can say anything else. She walks with independence, like someone who wants to take care of herself.

And I kinda hate it.

Chapter 3; Home, Sweet Home

This guy, Tyler, grabs my hand and pulls me out of the restroom like he knows me; and drags me behind him like I’m a little kid. And that’s what I feel like – a little kid in a big world.

I don’t even question where he’s taking me.

I shield my eyes with my hand when we burst into the sunlight as the Tyler dude pulls keys from his pocket. He holds them above his head and makes a circle, clicking the alarm button.

From some far corner of the parking lot we hear the shriek of an alarm.

We run for it, our shoes slapping the concrete.

The car turns out to be a Mercedes-Benz and I know it is expensive.

Tyler is either driving his dad’s car or floating in his dad’s money. How do I even know what a car like this costs when I don’t even know who his parents are.. or my own?

We pause by the car while looking over his shoulder toward the school and I get the feeling I’m being pranked.

“Is this for real?” I ask. “You don’t know who you are?”

“No”, he says. “I don’t”

I believe him. Kind of.

I feel like I’ve had a rough night. Like the morning after a night of drinking. Do I drink? My license said I was only seventeen. I feel too tired, too confused, to even think at this point.

We get into the car and Tyler starts the engine. He finds the home button on the GPS and hits it. I’m impressed that he thought to do that.

“Redirection”, a woman’s voice says.

I want to lose it – jump out of the moving car and run like a frightened deer. Instead I am the deer that is frozen in the headlights while staring out the front window.

Ten minutes later we pull into a driveway. His home is large – rich –  and there are no cars to be seen.

“Are you sure this is your address?” I ask.

He shrugs.

“Doesn’t look like anyone is home,” he says while climbing the stairs. “Should we?”

I nod. I shouldn’t be hungry, but I am. I want to go inside and have something to eat, maybe research symptoms and see if we have come in contact with some brain-eating bacteria that has stolen our memories.

As I stand behind him and waits for him to unlock the door, I study him.

In his clothes and hair Tyler wears the cool look of a guy who doesn’t care, but he carries his shoulders like he cares too much. For a moment I wonder what he was like before he lost his memory.

“Wait!”

He turns around slowly, despite the urgency in my voice.

“What if someone is in there?”

He grins, or maybe it’s a grimace. “Maybe they can tell us what the hell is happening”

Then we are inside. We stand immobile for a minute, looking around. I cower behind Tyler like a wimp.

He moves forward and I grab the back of his shirt as we walk through the foyer and into the family room.

We move from room to room, examining the photos on the walls.

Two smiling, sun-kissed parents with their arms around two smiling, darked haired boys.

“You have a little brother”, I say. “Did you know?”

He shakes his head.

I continue to look at the photos as we walk through the house.The smiling in the photos becomes more scarce as Tyler and his mini-me brother get older.

As we continue, I keep a close watch on him from the corner of my eye. If this is a prank, he is a very good actor.

Maybe this is an experiment.

I’m part of some physiological government experiment and I’m going to wake up in a lab.

I see that Tyler is watching me too.

We don’t speak much. Just, look at this, or do you think this is something?

Tyler’s room is last. He clutches my hand as we enter and I let him because I’m starting to feel light-headed again. The first thing I see is a photo of us on his desk. I am wearing a too short black dress and he is dressed in all white.

Good vs. evil, I think.

Is that the sort of game we played?

His walls are covered with photos and I notice a camera on his desk.

Tyler must be an artist. I look up at the photos on his walls; they are macabre. I shudder. Who would take those photos willingly and even worse, who would put them up in their bedroom?

I move on, look at his clothes, and look in his drawers.

I’m so tired and I am about to sit down on the desk chair, but he is suddenly animated, beckoning me over.

“Look at this”

I walk to his side. He’s staring down at his unmade bed. His eyes are bright and should I say… shocked?

I follow them to his sheets. And then my blood runs cold.

“Oh my God….”