Charles and Matt’s aunt Sam was a big, sleepy-looking woman that Izzy liked quite a bit. She had seen her at birthday parties, and once a couple years ago she had supervised and chauffeured when Chelsea and Izzy had gone rock-climbing at the mall together. She struck Izzy as being somebody who was exceptionally comfortable in her own skin.
Before she sat down to dinner Izzy hadn’t known that Sam had gone to school at the Culinary Institute of America, or that she spent a year in Uganda as a line cook for a non-profit AIDS relief program, or that five months ago she had performed a citizen’s arrest on a purse-snatcher. By dessert Matt had told her all about his aunt’s adventures breathlessly and twice had to be told to sit down and chew his food before he choked. Each time he told a story, Sam let out a massive belly laugh that Izzy was convinced would give her a bruise if she stood too close to her.
It was the best meal Izzy had eaten, ever. The whole kitchen smelled warm and close. Izzy ate to bursting. They adjourned to the living room and sat around talking about whatever they wanted to talk about – what books they had been reading and whether the movie that was coming out soon would be faithful to it, Sam’s time abroad, school. Matt sat on the floor and played with a Batman action figure. As it got dark, Sam asked if they wanted to watch a movie, and everyone agreed that they would rather just sit and talk.
Izzy was tired from the food anyway.
Matt had gotten up to look out the window at the setting sun. Izzy caught Charles stealing a glance at her. He had said very little all night, short of a “hello” and an “I missed you too”.
“Aunt Sam!” Matt called from the next room. “Aunt Sam, it’s getting dark.”
Charles’s face hardened. Izzy looked at him inquisitively.
“Matt, honey –” Sam said.
“Chelsea has to be home before dark, Aunt Sam! Mom said!”
Nobody said anything. Izzy looked at Charles, who had closed his eyes.
Matt ran into the room, stopping just short of smacking into his aunt’s shins.
“I know, honey,” she said. She picked him up. “We’ve talked about this, you know?” She glanced over at Izzy and Charles and back to Matt. “You know Chelsea’s not coming home, right? We’ve talked about this, honey.”
Matt looked at her, uncomprehendingly.
“I’m really sorry, guys,” Sam said. “I think I’m going to … come on, Matt, let’s go have a talk about this, okay? We’ll let the big kids – you don’t mind do you?”
“No,” Izzy said. She felt dumb at the question.
“Let’s let the big kids have some alone time, okay?”
“Okay,” Matt said. He sulked.
“Come on, honey.”
“Yeah,” he said.
She led him off into a bedroom down the hall.
Izzy waited until the door was closed before she let herself go.
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah,” said Charles.
She waited for more – some explanation or some excuse. Charles didn’t give one. She looked at him closely, more closely than she had at dinner, when she was enraptured by one of Sam’s stories about Africa. He had bags under his eyes. He saw her looking and turned his head. Izzy slumped back.
“Has he been doing that for long?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Charles said. He let out a deep sigh.
“No you’re not. What’s up?”
“Alright. I like your aunt,” Izzy said.
“She’s not my aunt.”
She blinked. “Why are you staying with her, then?”
“She’s a friend of my dad’s,” Charles said.
How are you? What’s wrong? Why won’t you talk to me?
“I read Chelsea’s diary,” Charles said.
Izzy looked at him and mixed shock and disgust together in her mind and got ready to use it. What came out of her mouth instead was curiosity.
“What did it say?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Charles said.
They sat in silence. That was the last thing that she and Charles said to one another for quite a long time. He had signed one of his emails “love”. Izzy looked at the stitching on her socks. She almost told him a whole bunch of different things.
She yawned as they pointedly did not talk to one another.
It might have been the food or the warmth from the kitchen, but Izzy felt herself drift and drift. She closed her eyes, if only for a second.