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4. Encore

Charlotte didn’t start her life as a car owner with something as cool as a Firebird.

When she spotted the pristine 1986 Renault Encore in her driveway her reaction wasn’t the kind of excitement Joe had. The car surprised her, but not greatest-birthday-ever levels of surprise.

“Those are still on the road?”

That was her first thought and she spoke it aloud. Her next was who left that piece of shit in my driveway? She kept that to herself. She was in a mood this morning, but talked herself back from the vitriol. She was a lady and a professional and had the poise to prove it.

“Nice to see one of those old girls still around.”

The Encore hadn’t been a great car. About the only thing she remembered fondly was the gas mileage.

She’d been broke and in graduate school and although ugly as hell the Encore had come cheap. She sold some of her nice clothes at a consignment shop and was able to buy it and a decent dinner out. She remembered it smelled a little of fish when the AC was running and that it’s ragged clutch often refused to reverse. The one in her driveway was the same algae green, but looked nicer.

“Hello?”

She walked around her property and looked for anyone who could explain the presence of the car.

“Is there somebody out here?”

Her game package sits on the Encore itself, perfectly centered on the hood. A package, like Joe’s with no postage and no address, just her name. She reads the invitational letter and goes back inside her house to think.

Charlotte is a therapist who specializes in treating people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. She is attractive, smart, sometimes charming, and unmarried. She doesn’t have pets, exciting hobbies, or date anymore.

She reads a lot, but if it’s not a professional text she forgets the contents of any book as soon as she reads another. She feels there is only room in her head for one recreational book and her delight in reading is the sensation of erasing the previous book with the present one. It is a peculiar and self-imposed form of amnesia. Her knowledge of her field is encyclopedic.

She allows herself one friend much in the same way that she allows herself the memory of one book. His name is James. He picks up the phone on the first ring.

“Why are you calling me this early?”

“Are you sleeping?”

“Yes. I won’t remember talking to you. Is it important?”

“Yes. And time-sensitive. Can you wake up?”

“Give me a minute.”

“Be as quick as you can.”

A great deal of background noise and foreground screaming is heard. Charlotte also hears what she assumes is the sound of her one friend slapping himself several times.

“Okay. What is it?”

“I need you to take a couple days off from work”

“I’ll just quit.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I was joking Charlotte. I’m on vacation this week.”

“No plans?”

“None yet. Where are we going?”

Charlotte reads James the letter. He asks how many hours are left on the timer and the two determine they have time enough for a nice breakfast before leaving town.

“Do you think this is legit?”

“I think it’s a legitimate car.”

“You hated that car.”

“Yes, but I’m a curious person.”

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