Aziza was Indian but told everyone she was from Europe. She'd never been to India or Europe but that's just what she told people, even if they didn't ask. She would meet someone new and say, "Hello, I'm Aziza," holding out her hand, "I'm from Europe." If anyone asked where in Europe, she'd change the answer depending on who the new person knew. One group of people thought she was from England. Another thought Spain. A third, Greece. She was careful the people she met would never talk to someone in a different group, each belonging to specific social cliques. She was a very careful person. "Balancing lies is a careful process," she'd think to herself.
Aziza and Charles were at Hannaford's taking pictures. Charles knew Aziza's origin stories were lies but they were step-siblings so he never said anything. Aziza was laying face-down in a bag of Snickers on a mostly-empty shelf in the candy aisle. Charles took a picture and said "Dandy."
Aziza got up holding the Snickers bag in her teeth and said "Dandy candy," letting it drop to the floor with a spitting sound. Charles laughed and they held hands as they walked to the next aisle.
They stopped in the 'hair care' section and Aziza made a small sound and dropped to her stomach by the hair dye, in front of the blondes and reds, with her head under the shelf. Charles took another picture and said "Look more dead." Aziza spread her arms and legs as far as she could and Charles said "Perfect," taking more pictures.
Aziza lifted to a crouch. "Dead red head." She took a sharpie off her waistband and colored in the model's eyes on a box of 'Comely Copper,' smearing the ink down with her hand like tears of pitch.
"Comely," Charles said with mock-seduction. Aziza smiled at him. He took another picture.
In the parking lot, Charles pressed Aziza against a car and kissed her neck. "Tell me where you're from again," he said, hushed. Her hair was short and bristled against the frames of his glasses as he moved up to her jaw.
"France," she breathed.
"Where?" He was on her neck.
"Where?" He was at her earlobe.
"Germany," the softest whisper.
"Where?" He was at her lips.
"Scotland," she mouthed, inaudibly. They stayed like that, touching but not quite, sharing each others' breath, prolonging that moment of blunt lust, for some time. Aziza put her hand on Charles' chest and he pulled back. Their eyes stayed closed. Her hand dropped to her side. They went to Charles' motorcycle and drove back to their parents' house. Aziza's grip on Charles' waist was looser than usual. She swayed with the turns.
Charles walked inside before Aziza. His father and step-mother were smiling in the kitchen.
"We're going to celebrate at the bar where we met," the step-mother said. "It'll be just like the first time we saw each other."
"Isn't that bar really dirty?" Charles made a face. "Shouldn't you go somewhere... better?" He put his helmet on the table. "Somewhere special, I mean."
"Where is more special than where we first locked eyes? Where we discovered our first commonalities? Where we shared our first terrible kiss?" Charles' father grinned and the step-mother slid her hand across his face slowly in a playful slap, sipping from a wine glass.
"You guys make me feel like an extra in a romantic comedy."
Aziza walked past him and pulled a bag of apples out of the fridge. "To five more," she said, holding one up for a toast.
"To fifty more. A hundred," Aziza's mother said. "A thousand." She and Charles' father kissed in the way only two people who genuinely enjoyed everything about one another could. Charles shot a glance at Aziza and their eyes locked. She choked on her apple a little and blushed before leaving the room.
Charles went to the living room and sat down. He put his head on the coffee table and breathed deeply several times. He opened his camera bag and took everything out. He turned on his laptop and began uploading all the pictures he'd taken. Aziza lying face-down on an escalator. Aziza lying face-down in an open schedule book in an office supply store. Aziza and fifteen Buzz Lightyear dolls lying face-down on a miniature basketball court at the toy store. Aziza. Aziza Aziza. Aziza. A blurry picture of their hands clasped, fingers tightly interlaced, that he secretly took at the Hannaford's. Aziza smiling at him while vandalizing a box of hair dye. He gave the pictures file names like 'Aziza 04.17.09 01' and 'Aziza 04.17.09 02.' He wasn't feeling creative. He put all his camera equipment back in the bag, put his helmet on, and left on the motorcycle.
Charles pulled in at the 7-11 and filled up a slushie. The man working the register gave a chin nod. "Hey Charles. I saw your pictures in the paper. You're really good."
Charles smiled. "Thanks. Really?"
"Yeah, really. Graduation is coming up soon, isn't it? Is that what you're going to do after?"
"I think so. I don't know what else I could do. It pays well enough, when it does." Charles stared down into his drink. "I like doing it."
"How's your sister doing? Aziza, right?"
"Where's she from again? Portugal?"
"I don't know." Charles kept a neutral facial expression. "I have a hard time keeping track."
"What do you mean?"
Charles took a breath. "I mean like birthdays and grand parents' names." Charles looked up at the clock. 6:52pm. "The stuff that's not super important."
"I'd think your sister's birthday would be an important thing to remember."
"Step-sister," Charles corrected. He knew Aziza's birthday better than his own, if such a thing was possible. He considered getting it tattooed on his wrist one day. "She's just my step-sister."
"My bad," the cashier said out of the corner of his mouth, not unsarcastically. "You two going to keep living with the 'rents?"
"Yeah. No rent with the 'rents," Charles grinned. He looked at the clock again. 6:55pm. "I need to go. See you later."
"Bye dude. Say 'hi' to your sis-, er, step-sister for me." He waved and Charles saluted back.
Charles saw his father and step-mother coming down the street from their house. He pulled up beside their car and his step-mother rolled down her window. "We'll be back around twelve," she said. "You two play nice, now."
As Charles walked in the house he heard the shower turn on. He stood in the hallway for a long time before moving to the bathroom door. He opened it and sat down on the toilet. Aziza was singing something in Italian quietly. He could just barely make out her silhouette through the curtain. He stood up and unbuckled his belt.
"Wait," Aziza said abruptly. Something fell in the shower while she moved things around. "Okay." Charles took his clothes off and opened the curtain. Aziza had made a beard and chest hair out of shampoo suds. Charles laughed. He washed her off with cupped hands.
He pressed against her, her small breasts flattened against his chest. His fingers moved down her arms and their hands locked. He held them over her head, against the wall. He hardened and she lifted one leg until he rose to meet her. And there they stayed, electrons apart, their tiny repulse all that kept his muscles from sliding into hers, above and below, for a steaming eternity, breathing electric.
Slowly, she lowered her leg and loosened her hands from his. He kept his face on hers, mouths open, his palms gliding to the sides of her face. He ran his tongue lightly across her upper lip. She shivered despite the heat. He let his hands slide down her cheeks, jaw, neck, collar bones, breasts, stomach, hips, then hung limply at his sides. She turned to the water spray and washed the rest of the soap out of her hair. Charles leaned with his forehead against the back wall.
They sat out on the front deck on the steps. "I'm moving to Pennsylvania," she said, with her chin on her knees, "to get my doctorate in nursing."
Charles lifted his head from his hand and stared at her ear, her eyes, her chin. "When?"
"June 7th." She turned her head to look at him. Her expression was the softest Charles had ever seen. He wished he had his camera out. "It's not far so you can come visit whenever you want."
"Yeah." He put his head back in his hands. "I will. I want to." He paused. "I will." They watched the fading light over the neighborhood blend from orange to pink to the royalist purple. "Where are you from?" he asked without looking.
"Iceland," she smiled.
"I mean it. Where are you from?"
"Would it change anything if you knew? Does it matter?"
"No, I guess not." Charles took out his camera, turned it on, and started snapping pictures without aiming or focusing. Aziza smiled again.
"They always turn out best when you don't mean them to," she said and Charles nodded. "Anyway, I don't know."
"Don't know what?" Charles put his camera down.
"Where I'm from," she kept smiling, though smaller now. "I'm adopted."