My mother has returned for the weekend to, in her words, offer emotional support. That means a gin and tonic, heavy on the former. When it arrives, the first sip leaves me dizzy. But it does the trick. The hit of the gin and the fizz of the tonic are a balm against today’s surprises.

“So, how did it go?” my mother asks. “The last time I talked to your father, he said he was leaving you everything.”

“And he did.” I lean forward, accusingly. “Including Baneberry Hall.”

“Oh?” my mother says, doing a terrible job of feigning surprise. She tries to cover it by lifting the martini to her lips and taking a loud sip.

“Why didn’t Dad tell me that he still owned it? For that matter, why didn’t you?”

“I didn’t think it was my place,” my mother says, as if that’s ever stopped her before. “It was your father’s house, not mine.”

“At one time it belonged to both of you. Why didn’t you sell it then?”

My mother avoids the question by asking one of her own.

“Are you sleeping?”

What she’s really asking is if I’m still having the night terrors that have plagued me since childhood. Horrific dreams of dark figures watching me sleep, sitting on the edge of my bed, touching the small of my back. My childhood was filled with nights when I’d wake up either gasping or screaming. It was another game those bitches-in-training liked to play during grade-school sleepovers: watch Maggie sleep and scream.

Although the night terrors weren’t as frequent after I hit my teens, they never fully went away. I still have them about once a week, which has earned me a lifetime prescription to Valium.

“Mostly,” I say, leaving out how I’d had one the night before. A long, dark arm reached up from under my bed to snag my ankle.

Dr. Harris, my former therapist, told me they’re caused by unresolved feelings about the Book. It’s the reason I stopped going to therapy. I didn’t need two sessions a month to be told the obvious.

My mother credits a different cause for the night terrors, which she states every time we see each other, including now.

“It’s stress,” she says. “You’re working yourself ragged.”

“I like it that way.”

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“I’m seeing the duplex we’re renovating,” I say. “Does that count?”

“You’re too young to be working so hard. I worry about you girls.”

I can’t help but notice the way my mother lumps Allie and me together, as if we’re sisters and not co-workers turned business partners. I design. Allie builds. Together, we’ve flipped four houses and renovated three.

“We’re growing a business,” I tell my mother. “That doesn’t happen without—”

I stop myself, realizing I’ve done exactly what she planned and veered wildly offtrack. I take a hearty swig of the gin and tonic, partly out of annoyance—at my mother, at myself—and partly to prepare for what’s next.


Lots of them.

Ones my mother won’t want to hear and will try not to answer. I won’t let her get away with it. Not this time.

“Mom,” I say, “why did we really leave Baneberry Hall?”

“You know we don’t talk about that.”

Her voice contains a tone of warning. The last time I heard it, I was thirteen and going through a series of phases purposefully designed to test my mother’s patience. Inappropriate makeup phase. Sarcastic phase. Habitual liar phase, during which I spent three months telling a series of outrageous fabrications with the hope my parents would crack and finally admit that they, too, had lied.

On that day, my mother had just found out I skipped school to spend the day roaming the Museum of Fine Arts. I got out of class by telling the school secretary I had contracted E. coli from eating tainted romaine lettuce. My mother was, obviously, livid.

“You, young lady, are in serious trouble,” she said on the drive home from the principal’s office. “You’re grounded for a month.”

I turned in the passenger seat, stunned. “A month?”

“And if you ever pull a stunt like this again, it’ll be six months. You can’t keep lying like this.”

“You and Dad lie all the time,” I said, angry at the unfairness of it all. “You made, like, a career out of it. Talking about that stupid book every chance you got.”

The mention of the Book made my mother flinch. “You know I don’t like to discuss that.”


“Because that was different.”

“How? How is the stuff you said different from what I’m doing? At least my lies aren’t hurting anyone.”

An angry flush leaped up my mother’s cheeks. “Because I didn’t say things just to get back at my parents. I didn’t say them with the sole intention of being a lying bitch.”

“It takes one to know one,” I said.

My mother’s right hand flew from the steering wheel and cracked against my left cheek—a blow so sudden and stinging it jolted the breath from my lungs.

“Never call me a liar again,” she said. “And never, under any circumstance, ask me about that book. Do you understand?”