Mostly I lie in my bed, smelling smoke.
Mostly I try to go back in time.
“I shot my mother.” I say the words that have been haunting me for days. But longer than that, really. Years. They have been haunting me for years. The weeks in the hospital come back to me slowly. I remember in bits and pieces why Dad put in for a transfer when he’d sworn just months before that we would never have to move again. I know why my grandfather can’t look at me, his granddaughter — the selfish, reckless teenager who shot and killed his only child.
And I know the Scarred Man was right — the truth was like a tightrope and eventually I had to fall. Part of me just wishes the fall had killed me. Part of me rejoices that I am achingly alive.
“I’m the reason she’s dead.”
I’ve never heard Dr. Rainier sound so firm before, so resolute. Almost like I’ve made her angry.
“It was an accident.” I can’t believe the words until they are out of my mouth, spilling forth in painful, sloppy sobs. The very words I have spent the last three years despising. But they were right, weren’t they? My family didn’t lie to me. They just never actually told me the truth.
“Does Jamie know?” I finally ask the question that I fear the most. “Does he … does he hate me, too?”
“Your brother does not hate you, Grace.” The doctor smiles sadly, nods slowly. “And yes, he has always known you fired the gun.”
“I killed his mother,” I say.
“It was an accident,” the doctor tells me, and then I really start to cry.
Dr. Rainer hands me a tissue and continues. “The human mind is a miraculous thing. Somehow, it knows what it can take. It self-limits in that way. And three years ago you knew that you weren’t ready to process this information. You let yourself forget. And the people in your life couldn’t bring themselves to remind you. They thought it was best.”
Was it? I’m still not sure. I want to go back to before I knew. Anger is a far easier emotion than guilt.
“The grief and guilt were simply too much for you, and so your mind chose simply to forget. But it couldn’t forget everything.”
“The Scarred Man,” I say.
Dr. Rainer nods slowly. “You have a condition known as acute stress disorder. You have a condition, Grace. And we are going to help you get better.”
She smiles when she says it. I try to smile back, knowing you can’t possibly put a name on who I am and what I’ve done.
“Come on,” the doctor says, rising. “There’s something we think it’s time for you to see.”
“We?” I ask.
When the door opens, Ms. Chancellor is standing there, smiling at me. “Come now, Grace. It’s time.”
I’m quiet as I follow Ms. Chancellor down the street. I don’t ask where we’re going. Somehow, I already know she won’t tell me.
“Your friends have been asking to see you, Grace. Noah and Megan and Rosie come over nearly every day.”
“I know,” I say, then realize someone is missing. “Alexei?”
“Well, I’m afraid Alexei has returned to Moscow. There are some … changes going on next door.”
Alexei’s leaving? I wonder. Then I realize, no, Alexei left. And I have a brief moment of relief. I’m glad he’s gone. He’s safe. And far, far away from me.
Ms. Chancellor turns onto a narrow street that runs behind the Costa Rican embassy. I realize that I have never been this way before, but I just follow, listening to the sound of Ms. Chancellor’s high heels on the cobblestones as a heavy mist begins to fall. But still, she doesn’t hurry.
“You killed the prime minister,” I say.
“Actually, he is in a coma at the moment. But I did shoot him, yes.” She stops and studies me. There is a strength in her brown eyes. “And I would gladly do it again, if that’s what I had to do to save you. I would do anything to save you.”
I’m just starting to say something when Ms. Chancellor turns and examines the alley around us. “Here we go!” she says as she finds the odd symbol in the stone and presses.
I don’t say a thing as the stones begin to move, revealing an entrance into one of the ancient tunnels. It’s funny watching her navigate the old ladder in her skirt and heels, but she does it with a great deal of class, of course. It’s almost like she does it every day.
“Why do I get the feeling there is a lot that you aren’t telling me?” I ask after a moment. “Will you tell me now?”
“Yes, Grace. Now I tell you everything.”
Outside, the rain grows harder, and I hear water dripping in the tunnels. The air is hot and humid. It’s like walking through a very warm fog.
“For starters,” Ms. Chancellor begins, “I suppose you have figured out by now that three years ago the prime minister ordered Dominic to kill your mother. But Dominic was loyal to her.”
I read the truth in her eyes, the fact she can’t quite say. “He was in love with her, wasn’t he?”
Ms. Chancellor nods gently. “They were childhood sweethearts. Your mother grew up and married your father, but I believe Dominic loved Caroline all of his life. Then he was ordered to kill her. Of course, he didn’t dare refuse the prime minister’s order, because he couldn’t risk someone else being hired to do the job. That was when Dominic formed another plan.”
“He staged her death. I saw her through the window and it looked like she was dead,” I say, half explaining myself. As if there is any explanation. My body is numb. “I saw my mother dead.”
“Yes, sweetheart. You did. Or, you thought you did. He was going to take a picture to prove it was over, and then he was going to burn her shop to the ground and take her into hiding. He’d already secured another body. They’d faked her dental records. Really, he had thought of everything except …”
“Yes,” Ms. Chancellor says softly. “When your mother did pass away, Dominic returned here and resumed his old job. The prime minister assumed that he had killed your mother, and Dominic was able to get closer to his boss. And closer. But when you returned to Embassy Row and began talking about how you had seen the ‘Scarred Man’ kill your mother, the prime minister panicked. And he ordered Dominic to kill again.”