Page 21

Mrs. Ferro looks up at me after placing her napkin on her lap. "Who are you?"

I glance at Peter. His mother is a scary woman. Her question sounds more like an invitation to leave. "I'm Peter's girlfriend." I can say that, right? It sounds stupid, but I suppose it's true.

Peter introduces me and is uncharacteristically quiet. His mother looks down her nose from across the table. "I suppose you're here to plead with me, then."

I glance at Peter and then Sean. Jon is smiling like everything is terribly exciting. I shake my head and correct her. "No, I'm not. Actually we're on our way to see my mother."

"Oh, so you're visiting other people's mothers, just not your own?" Her words are tack-sharp. Peter doesn't look up at her. God, no wonder why both Sean and Peter ran fast and far. The woman is horrible. She's an emotional black hole and anyone sitting next to her will be sucked dry. I glance at Mr. Ferro, wondering if that's why he's tethered to the hot chick.

I can't leave it alone. I know I should—Peter's mom has every right to be upset that her son ran off—but it's not like that. "My mother's dying, Mrs. Ferro. Peter wouldn't let me make the drive alone."

Mrs. Ferro stands. Without an explanation, she leaves the table and doesn't look back. Peter tells me that he'll be right back and follows after her.

Sean smirks. "Bravo. You pissed her off in less than five minutes. I don't think I've made her leave a room that quickly. And to think, I wasted all that time coming up with snarky remarks for number forty-seven down there. Apparently we just needed you."

"She said it like we're taking a joy ride to Atlantic City. There are other things going on." My throat is tight. I'm not explaining myself to him. "Excuse me." I get up and walk away from the table. I turn down a hallway and keep walking and have no idea where I'm going.

Footfalls race up behind me. Jonathan appears, breathing a little too hard as if he ran after me. "You saved my ass back there. She's been wanting to chew me out since I got home. Hey, are you okay?"

I nod, even though I'm not. By tonight, I'll be home arguing with my own mother. "I'm fine."

"Come on. Peter's this way." Jon explains how lunch probably looked really weird since his father brought his mistress. "He does it to piss Mom off, but the woman never reacts. It's like she's dead inside. Dad on the other hand needs a plaything. I'm not making excuses for him. I mean, if a guy gets married he should deal with it. That's why I'm never saying any vows like that." He physically shudders as if marriage were a fate worse than death. "It gets extra interesting around the holidays. I try to steer clear of this place, but I'm sure you heard since my actions precede me—I'm the reckless son." He looks over at me and grins. "Actually, I'm not reckless at all, but none of them can tell because they're all dead inside. I know you met Sean—case in point. The guy's a vampire, sucking out souls from California to New York Island." He grins and sings the last few words.

"I think vampires suck blood."

"Same difference. He's heartless and cold, plus the song makes him sound like a hippie vampire, which is amusing. There's some juxtaposition going on there." He's trying to make me smile, but my guts have already twisted into knots.

I offer a nervous smile as we turn down another corridor. "So your parents—they're not divorced?"

"The D word, no. Mom hasn't wanted one. She just tolerates whatever shit my dad pulls and doesn't say anything. Dad has more money if he stays with Mom. As long as the mistress doesn't care, things are pretty quiet. With Sean and Pete gone, there's not much to do around here."

"Stop spilling family business to a stranger, Jon." Sean is walking swiftly toward us.

"Sean, stop being an asshole. You've seen the way Pete looks at her—"

"I have. Go finish lunch." Sean stares down his brother, until Jon shakes his head and turns away.

I watch Jon walk down the hallway. His gait is so similar to Peter's, but different as well. Sean calls after him. "I heard what you did, by the way. I'll speak with you later."

Jon turns around with a huge smile on his face. "It's not open for discussion, bro. It's a done deal." Jon laughs and hurries off before Sean can say anything else.

His steely gaze cuts over to me. "I have what Peter needed. There's no point in lingering. Let's get going."

I wonder what they needed, but I don't ask. I just nod and walk with him to the front of the building. When we step outside, the turkey is waiting for me, perched on the bottom of the railing. My car has been pulled around and is in the center of the driveway.

"Are you throwing me out?"

Sean laughs lightly. "No, I'm making it easier for you to leave. There's a difference."

"No, there isn't, and you're an asshole."

"It's a matter of perspective. Get going. Peter and I will be along shortly."

He wants me to leave without Peter? Sean opens the driver's side door. The turkey jumps into the backseat and settles into his regular position. "Yeah, I'm not leaving without him."

Sean looks agitated. "Perhaps I could persuade you?"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means I can give you anything you could possibly want to drive away right now and never come back. Name your price." Sean's voice is utterly detached. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a checkbook. I say nothing. Sean scribbles something and rips out the check, handing it to me.

I unfold the check and blink twice at the number. Holy fuck, that's a lot of money. I could buy an island with this check and every little thing I could possibly want. All I have to do is get in the car and drive away. It's what Sean wants. I take the check and smile at him. I slip into the front seat of my car, and I'm sure Sean thinks I'm going to leave when I start the car.

"Good girl," Sean says, like he's pleased with me. God, he's such an arrogant prick. He steps up to the car to shut the door, but my foot is still hanging out. The lighter finally pops. I take it and step out of the car.

"Here's what I think of your offer." I touch the lighter to the corner of the check. I hoped it would catch fire and burn, but the thing barely makes the paper smoke. I press the lighter to the paper over and over again, but it doesn't burst into flames. It just makes little circles all over the check.

"Very cute. Go ahead and decorate the other side too so they match. The bank won't care."

The damn thing won't catch. I make an annoyed sound in the back of my throat and throw the lighter on the ground. Ripping the check into a million pieces I hiss horrible things at Sean and then throw the bits of paper in his face. "You don't own me. I can do whatever I want and I want Peter, so deal with it."

Sean flicks a piece of paper off his sweater but doesn't react. "I already wired the money into your account. The check was a showpiece. Get in your car and drive away."

I stare at him in shock. He can't do that! Can he? "What's wrong with you? Don't you want Peter to be happy?"

"Yes, I do, very much so. Based on everything he's told me, you have your own shit to deal with, and I don't want him to be any part of it. The best thing you can do for my brother is to get in your car, leave, and never look back.

"No matter what his last name is, Pete will always be a Ferro. He'll always have more shit than he can handle, and he really can't carry more. I'm telling you things that you already know. If money doesn't appeal to you, then maybe you shouldn't think about yourself at all.

"What's best for Peter? Dragging him with you is making him regress. He shouldn't be here. This place is toxic; our whole fucked-up family is poison. Peter knows that, but he came back for you—he's done everything for you, and you've led him straight into hell."

Sean's words are clipped. He delivers them with more passion than I would have thought possible. There's no doubt in my head that Sean is protecting his brother, that he knows better than anyone what kind of personal demons lurk at this house, in this place.

I want to say that I didn't know, that I'm not selfish, but I am. I slip into the car and let Sean close the door. The window is down. Sean leans in, saying, "You're doing the right thing."

I can't look at him. Gripping the wheel tightly, I hiss, "Take the money out of my account. If you leave a single penny, I'll come back and shove it up your ass."

Sean's lips twitch like he wants to smile. "Very well. By the time you're home, the funds will be gone."

Gone. The word rings in my ears. Peter will be gone as well. No doubt Sean will tell him something that will keep him from looking for me. I pull away slowly with my heart in my mouth. I had no idea what Peter went through, and bringing him back up here was the worst thing I could have done.


I pull up to my childhood home after dark. It looks just the way I remember it—a big grassy lawn and gardens overflowing with flowers. I thought I'd have a house like this one day. Now I don't know what I'll have.

My phone has been silent since I left the Ferro mansion. I thought Peter would call me. I thought he'd come after me. I can't stand the thought of not seeing him again. I wonder what Sean told him and can't help but wonder where he is now and what he's doing.

I turn off the engine and open the door. Me and the turkey walk up the center sidewalk to the house. I ring the bell. I don't live here anymore. This isn't my home, and these people are strangers to me. My father opens the door wearing his normal nighttime garb—jeans and an old T-shirt. He has a bag of chips in one hand. He doesn't really look up until I speak.

"Hey, Dad."

Recognition shoots across his face at the same time he glances up. He stares at me like I'm a ghost. "Sidney." Dad doesn't say anything else. I can tell that there's a battle going on inside his mind. He's happy to see me but betrayed that I left. Awkwardness consumes me. I know leaving was the right thing to do, but still—I feel sorry that I caused them pain.