“It’s our lives,” I say. “My life. I’ve been associated with that book since I was five. People read it and think they know me, but what they’ve read is a lie. Their perception of me is a lie. And I never knew how to handle that because you and Dad never wanted to talk about the Book. But I’m begging you, please, talk about it.”

I down the rest of the gin and tonic, holding the glass with both hands because they’ve started to shake. When our waiter passes, I also order another.

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” my mother says.

“You can start with Dad’s last words. ‘So sorry.’ That’s what he said, Mom. And I need to know why.”

“How do you even know he was talking about the book?”

Because he was. I’m certain of it. That final conversation had the feel of a confession. Now the only person who knows what my father was confessing to sits directly across from me, anxiously awaiting another hit of vodka.

“Tell me what he meant,” I say.

My mother takes off her sunglasses, revealing a softness in her eyes that I’ve rarely seen in adulthood. I think it’s because she feels sorry for me. I also think it means I’m on the verge of learning the truth.

“Your father was a very good writer,” she says. “But he had his struggles. With writer’s block. With self-doubt. He had many disappointments before we moved to Baneberry Hall. That was one of the reasons we bought it. To get a fresh start in a new place. He thought it would inspire him. And, for a time, it did. That house and all its problems and quirks—it was a treasure trove of new ideas for your father. He got the idea for a book about a haunted house. A novel.”

“But Dad wrote nonfiction,” I say, thinking about the magazine covers that had hung in his apartment, proudly framed. Esquire. Rolling Stone. The New Yorker. During his heyday, he had contributed to them all.

“That’s what he was known for, yes. And that’s the only thing his connections in the publishing world wanted from him. Facts, not fiction. Truth, not lies.”

I implicitly understand where this story is heading. Since my father couldn’t snag a book deal with a typical novel, he decided to go a different route. Make-believe masked as something true.

“Your father realized that in order for this to work, we’d need to make it look authentic. Which meant leaving Baneberry Hall and telling the police why we left.” My mother takes a shy pause. “I know it all sounds so ridiculous now. But it felt like something that could be pulled off if done carefully. I agreed to it because, well, I loved your father. I believed in him. And, since I’m being honest, I hated that house.”

“So, none of it was real?”

“There is some truth behind it. Baneberry’s history. The stuff about the Carver family. And the kitchen ceiling, unfortunately. Although that was caused by a burst pipe and not, well, you know. As for the ghosts your father said you saw, they were nothing but your bad dreams.”

“I had night terrors even back then?”

“It’s when they started,” my mother says. “Your father took inspiration from everything, even though the end result was mostly fiction.”

I was right—the Book is a lie. Not all of it. But the important parts. The ones that involve us.

And Mister Shadow.

I always thought that if I was ever told the truth, it would feel like a weight lifting off my shoulders. It doesn’t. Any relief I might have is tempered by frustration over all that useless secrecy. When I was a child, the Book made me an object of curiosity to some and an outcast to others. Being told the truth might not have changed that, but I sure as hell would have been able to handle it better. Realizing some of those growing pains could have been avoided fills my heart with an angry, gnawing ache.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“We wanted to,” my mother says with a sigh. “When the time was right. That’s what we always said. ‘When the time is right, we’ll tell Maggie the truth.’ But the right time never seemed to arrive. Especially when the book became more successful than we ever imagined.”

“You were worried I’d tell someone?”

“We were worried you’d be disappointed in us,” she says. “Your father especially.”

She’s assuming I wasn’t already disappointed by years of lies and all the things left unspoken. But I was. Few things in life are more disappointing than knowing your parents aren’t being honest with you.

“None of that matters.” My voice cracks, and I realize I’m holding back tears. “You should have told me.”

“Everything you have is because of that book,” my mother says. “It put food on the table and clothes on your back. House of Horrors paid for your entire education. Not to mention that inheritance you just received. We didn’t know how you’d react if you found out it was all because of a lie.”

“Is that why you and Dad got divorced?”

Something else we don’t talk about. When they separated, the only thing my parents told eight-year-old me was that I’d be living in two apartments instead of one. They failed to mention that my mother would be in one of the apartments and my father in the other, never again living under the same roof. It took me weeks to figure it out on my own. And it took me years to stop thinking that the divorce was somehow my fault. Yet another youthful trauma that could have easily been avoided.