I nodded, my hand pressed to my cheek, the skin there hotter than a sunburn. It was the only time I can remember one of my parents hitting me. Probably because it left a mark. For two days, the bruise from my mother’s slap eclipsed my scar. Until today, I have never mentioned the Book to her again.

Thinking about that day always brings a pulse of memory pain. I touch my gin and tonic to my cheek and say, “We need to start talking about it, Mom.”

“You read the book,” my mother says. “You know what happened.”

“I’m not talking about Dad’s fictionalized account. I’m talking about the truth.”

My mother downs the rest of her martini. “If you wanted that, then you should have asked your father when you had the chance.”

Oh, I did. Plenty of times. Since my father had never backhanded me, I continued to try to get him to admit the truth about Baneberry Hall. I liked to spring the question on him when he was distracted, hoping he’d slip up and give me an honest answer. At breakfast, right before he dropped French toast onto my plate. At the movies, just as the lights dimmed. Once, I tried while we were at Game One of the World Series and Big Papi’s three-run homer was whizzing toward our corner of the outfield.

Each time, I got the same answer. “What happened, happened, Mags. I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

But he did. In public. On national TV.

Although I loved my father unconditionally, I also thought he was the most dishonest man I’ve ever known. That was hard for adolescent me to wrap my head around. It’s still hard in adulthood.

Eventually, I stopped asking him about the Book. My late teens and twenties passed with nary a question. More than a decade of things left unspoken. It was easier that way. By then, I knew my family preferred tense silence over addressing the Book-shaped elephant in the room.

It wasn’t until I was a week away from my thirties that I tried again. And even then it was only because I knew it was my last, best chance to get answers.

The end for my father had been in sight for days—long enough for me to get the idea that his passing would be marked by weather befitting our stormy relationship. Dark clouds in the sky and cracks of lightning. Yet his final breath emerged on a bright April day with the sun rising high in a flawless sky, its yellow glow matched by the forsythia blooming outside the hospice window.

I didn’t talk much in the last hours of my father’s life. I didn’t know what to say and doubted my father would understand even if I did. He was barely conscious at the end, and certainly not lucid once the morphine drip had lowered him into a state of dreamlike befuddlement. His sole moment of clarity came less than an hour before he died—a shift so unexpected it made me wonder if I, too, was dreaming.

“Maggie,” he said, looking up at me with eyes suddenly clear of confusion and pain. “Promise me you’ll never go back there. Never ever.”

There was no need to ask what he was talking about. I already knew.

“Why not?”

“It—it’s not safe there. Not for you.”

My father winced against a ripple of pain, making it clear he’d be slipping out of consciousness very soon, likely for good.

“I’ll never go back. I promise.”

I said it quickly, worried it was too late and that my father was already gone. But he was still with me. He even managed a pain-weakened smile and said, “That’s my good girl.”

I placed my hand on his, shocked by how small it was. When I was a girl, his hands had seemed so big, so strong. Now mine fit squarely atop his.

“It’s time, Dad,” I said. “You’ve been silent long enough. You can tell me why we really left. I know that none of it is true. I know you made up everything. About the house. About what happened there. It’s okay to admit it. I won’t blame you. I won’t judge you. I just need to know why you did it.”

I had started to cry, overcome with emotion. My father was slipping away, and I was already missing him even though he was still right there, and I was so close to learning the truth that my whole body buzzed.

“Tell me,” I whispered. “Please.”

My father’s mouth dropped open, two words forming among his labored breaths. He pushed them out one by one, each sounding like a hiss in the otherwise silent room.

“So. Sorry.”

After that, all the light left my father. Even though he would technically remain alive for fifty more minutes, I consider that the moment of his death. He was in the shadowland, a realm from which I knew he’d never return.

In the days that followed, I didn’t dwell on that final conversation. I was too numb with grief and too consumed with making funeral arrangements to think about it. Only after that draining ordeal had ended did it dawn on me that he never gave me a proper answer.

“Asking Dad is no longer an option,” I tell my mother. “You’re all I have left. And it’s time we talk about it.”

“I don’t see why.” My mother looks past my shoulder, desperately seeking out our waiter for another drink. “All that is ancient history.”

A bubble of frustration forms in my chest. One that’s been building since the night we left Baneberry Hall, inflated a little more each day. By their divorce, which I’m sure was caused by the Book’s success. By every question deflected by my father. By the relentless taunting from classmates. By each awkward encounter with someone like Wendy Davenport. For twenty-five years, it’s grown unabated, getting bigger and bigger, nearly bursting.