She did. That’s so much worse, and I’m never, ever going to stop hating her for it.
“Sit down,” Javier says to her again. He sounds like he’s had enough. Mom glances at Sam, who isn’t even facing toward her anymore, and she sinks down in the armchair. Javier walks over with his tablet device, taps, and hands it to her. “Explain this.”
Mom’s face goes so pale that I think she’ll collapse, but she doesn’t. She stares, but I don’t think she’s watching, not really, and when the video’s over, she hands it back to Javier and bends forward to put her face in her hands. I think for a second she’s crying, but when she comes upright again, her eyes are dry and almost dull. “That’s not me,” she says. Her voice sounds like torn metal, rough and sharp. “It’s fake. Absalom created it.”
“Sorry, no,” Javier says. “This is too good for some casual hater to do. I see you. Helping him.”
“It’s fake! If it’s real, why wasn’t it shown at my trial? Think, Javi, please! I know it looks bad, believe me. It makes me sick, and it makes me angry. But that is not me. This never happened!”
“Just shut up,” I tell her. “It’s right there. It’s staring you in the face. You did it.”
“Don’t,” I say sharply. I want her to leave now. I can’t stand to look at her. She makes me want to vomit. “Shut up. I’m sick of your bullshit.”
She’s crying again now. Good. I’m glad it hurts. She has no idea how much it hurts me.
“How did you get this?” she whispers.
Connor lifts his head for the first time and says, “I found it.” He doesn’t sound angry. Just empty. I’m scared of that, because my brother isn’t as angry as I want him to be, at least not that I can tell. It’s like he expected the world to fail us.
“Where did you—”
“Doesn’t matter, does it?” I break in. “Because he did. It proves you’re a liar.”
“It proves people want you to believe I am,” she says. “Please, Lanny—”
“Don’t talk to me!”
Silence. We’re all looking at her, except Sam; he’s busy pouring himself a cup of coffee, trying to pretend everything’s normal, but I can see the stiffness in his back. His expression is so blank it looks like a Halloween mask. Is it him, too? Is he a liar? He lied to us in the beginning. Maybe we shouldn’t trust him, either. Or Javier. Or Kezia.
Maybe there’s nobody in this world left for us to trust but each other.
Mom turns to Javier and Kezia. “Where did he get this? How?”
“I found it,” Connor says again. He’s not looking at anyone.
Kezia’s watching him like she wants to come and scoop him up and hug him. I think she would, if this wasn’t so tense. “I checked his phone,” she says. “He hacked the parental locks. Smart kid. Unfortunately, this is where it led him. And us.” She transfers her stare to Mom. “And you’re not helping yourself by focusing on where he found it. Question is, what are you not telling us?”
“The FBI knows about the video,” Mom says. “They’re analyzing it. They’ll prove it’s fake, because it is.”
Sam says, in a voice so cold that I feel it even through all my anger, “There’s more than one video. There’s a second one that shows Gwen helping him in the garage.”
“That’s not me!” Mom nearly shouts it at him.
He just shrugs. “Okay. Gina, then.”
“No, Sam, it was never me, I didn’t do—”
Sam turns on her and slams the coffee cup down on the counter. “Goddamn it, you walked away from murder and accessory charges, so just stop lying! Why the hell would Absalom fake those videos? The one on Suffolk’s USB has been there for a whole year!”
Mom draws in a pained breath and says, “And Absalom has been attacking me and my kids for four years. Photoshopped pictures. Harassment. Death threats. Vigilante justice. They’ve made my life a living hell, you know that! Why do you think this is any different? Why can’t you believe me, Sam?”
“Because I can see what’s in front of me,” he says. “Unlike your jury.” Sam turns to me, then. To Connor. His tone goes gentle. “Kids, I’m sorry. I really am. This isn’t your fault, not at all. I wish I could help you. But this—” He shakes his head. “This is just . . . enough.”
“Sam!” Mom comes to her feet as he walks for the front door. “Sam, please don’t!”
“Leave him alone,” I tell her. “You’ve hurt him enough.”
I don’t know if she even hears me, but she stops trying to talk to him. She watches as Sam leaves. The door shuts behind him.
She looks helpless now, and lost, and afraid. “You can’t believe this. I understand why Sam would. But not you, Lanny, you know better. You know who I am.”
She reaches out to me, and I don’t come toward her. I pull back.
“I never want to see you again. You’re not my mother. I don’t have a mother.” I mean it. I mean every word, and I can hear the rage shaking my voice. I want to slap her so hard that just thinking about it makes my hand feel hot. I want to punish her. I want her to feel like I do. Beaten and wrecked.
And I think she does now, because the shock and horror I see in her face is almost enough. Almost.
“I never helped your father!”
It comes out as a strangled sort of cry, and I don’t believe her. I don’t even think she believes herself.
Connor says, “You did. We saw. Stop saying you didn’t. We’re never going to believe you again.” That’s it. That’s all. It’s the most he’s said since he saw the video.
It hits Mom hard, and she gasps like she’s been punched in the stomach. She looks at Javier. At Kezia. Nobody has anything more to say to her. I see something break inside her, and she sits down again. My mother looks like she wants to die.
It hurts me to see that, but it’s the weak part of me, the one that still, stupidly, always wants to believe things will be all right, and they never will. They never were right from the start. Maybe, finally, this is the last time I’ll believe stupid, childish bullshit.
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