But there was no home by then.
It had been Brady, not me, who’d asked endless, anxious questions once we were at the police station. Where’s my mom? When can we see her? Can we go home? Where’s my dad? It had been clear to me, in all my older-child wisdom, that the police officers weren’t going to answer any of those things, and I kept telling myself it didn’t matter because it was all a big, stupid mistake.
The police gave us drinks and snacks and put us in a room with some toys and games that were all too broken or too young for us. I had a book I’d been reading that day, I remember, but I never finished it. Brady—no, stop thinking of him as Brady, his name is Connor, it’s Connor now—took the book out of the trash when I threw it away; I don’t even remember the name of it. I think that was the first book he read, really. He started reading the day our lives went down in flames.
That’s the one book I know I can never bear to finish. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember what it’s called, or anything about it.
Grandma came for us, after flying all night to get there, and took us back to her house. She’d been the one who’d had to explain to us about Dad being a murderer, and Mom being arrested for helping him. Your mom didn’t do anything wrong, she’d told us over and over, and it had seemed true then. They’d let her out of jail. She’d been found innocent, and when she came back, I was so glad, so glad I finally cried.
Everything’s broken inside me now, and I can’t cry. I can’t feel anything except pure, drowning anger.
She lied to us. All this time. She’s a damn liar.
I look up when Javier, standing at the window with a cup of coffee in his hand, says, “She’s here.” He turns to look at Kezia, who’s in the kitchen. She’s dressed for her job, which means a jacket and nice pants and a gun and badge, and it makes me remember that she’s a detective, like her boss, Prester. Good. Maybe she can arrest Mom and take her away again, for good this time. “Sam’s with her.”
“Keep it low,” Kezia tells him. “Let’s hear Gwen’s side of it.”
I look at Connor. I’m holding his hand, but it’s lying still and limp in mine. I wonder if he’s even heard, but then he takes my hand from mine, slides a bookmark into place in the book he’s reading, and puts the story aside. When he stands, I do, too.
Boot barks, low and threatening chesty sounds, and it makes me feel safe. My hands are cold. I put them in my pockets. Everything seems very clear to me right now, and at the same time, everything’s destroyed. I know I can’t trust her. I can’t trust anybody, ever again, because I believed her, and my mother lied to us.
I just want this to be over with, and at the same time, I can feel part of me wanting to cry, punch something, run away, collapse, and curl up into a ball. It’s like all the pieces of me are shattered, and I don’t know how to put anything back together again.
Connor seems calm. Way, way too calm.
Javier steps out, and Boot goes quiet. There’s some low conversation, and then the door opens. It’s Mom.
My first thought is, She looks tired. My second thought is, Why is she wearing a scarf like that? She doesn’t like scarves. I’d bought her one, once. She’d been nice about it, but had only worn it once. This one is a dull, gunmetal gray, and she’s wrapped it close around her throat.
Maybe she’s sick. I don’t care. I hope she dies. I hope she falls over right now and dies, and I can step over her and leave.
She rushes to hug us, and her relief collapses into confused hurt when Connor and I, without communicating, both step back from her. She slows down, stops, and says, “Sweetie? What is it?” She’s talking to Connor first, and her voice sounds wrong. Scratchy, deep, weak. Maybe she really is sick. I want to punch her in the throat, and the thought seems so real to me that I see red, and I shake all over. Don’t you dare touch him.
Connor doesn’t say anything. He hasn’t said much since we found him. Mom looks at me. There are tears in her eyes, fake tears from a fake Mom, and I hate her so much it makes me want to puke.
“Lanny? What is it?”
And just like that, I scream. It comes out of me in an uncontrolled, high-pitched burst. “Screw you!”
Javier steps between us, which is good because I’m throwing myself at her, and he’s holding me back. He’s trying to say something, but I can’t hear him. Weirdly, I do hear Kezia say, clear as anything, So much for keeping it low. She hasn’t moved from where she’s standing, but she’s ready to. She’s watching Connor.
I need to take care of my brother, so I stop screaming, and I turn away, and I get myself together. I put my arms around Connor, but he doesn’t seem to even notice.
He’s staring at Mom like he’s never seen her before.
Mom’s trying to talk. Her voice sounds whispery and raw. “Oh, honey, God, what’s wrong, what did I do wrong—”
“I don’t know, Gina, what do you think you did wrong? Lie to us forever?” My voice is back to normal, but loud, and I want to shove her, push her right out of our lives. I want to defend my brother because I know this hurts him in ways I can never make right again. It’s my job to protect him, and I didn’t. I couldn’t.
Because she did this to him. To us.
Mom’s crying. Tears are streaming down her face, and she keeps reaching out, and we keep backing away. Javier’s still blocking her. He says, “Sit down, Gwen.”
“Her name’s not Gwen,” I tell him. “It’s Gina. Gina Royal. That’s who she always was.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Mom says. But there’s something in her eyes—a kind of blind, trapped panic—that makes me think she already knows. I’m used to seeing my mother as almighty, strong, nearly superhuman; I’ve seen her throw herself into a fight even if she knew she couldn’t win it. For us, some part of me whispers, but I shut it up fast.
I know she’s not a superhero. She’s human, like me. Like Connor. Like everybody else. It feels like I’m learning something important, and something sad, too. She’s just another person, in the end.
And she’s evil. She’s just like Dad. No, she’s worse than Dad, because he didn’t screw with our heads and make us believe down was up and wrong was right. Dad never made us think he was innocent.
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