Dad told me to do all that and hide his phone before I watched the video on the one Mom gave me.
He knew it would hurt. He said me it would, and that he was sorry.
Dad’s been right about everything.
He proved it.
I’m texting him regularly, whenever I can. I’m sitting in my bedroom now with the door locked in case Lanny decides to check on me, reading his latest message. I wrote to you, kiddo. I sent you letters, birthday cards, presents. Did you get any of them?
There’s only one answer to that. No.
Because she was determined to poison you against me, son. I’m sorry. I should have tried harder.
Were there really presents? Cards? Letters? I don’t know, but I remember Lanny saying that she’d seen one he sent to Mom. Not to us. But it talked about us. Mom never intended to show us any of it.
Maybe she kept everything from us. Everything Dad said, wrote, sent.
It makes sense to me. Everything he says disturbs me, and everything makes sense.
But I still don’t know whether or not to trust him. Mom lied to us. Maybe he’s lying now. I don’t know how to trust anybody, not anymore. So I don’t text back. I just keep rereading his apology.
After another minute, another text pops up. Well, think about it, Brady. You can ask me anything you want, remember that. This is Dad, signing off.
I text back Bye and shut down the phone. Then I take out the battery. I’m still careful about that. I don’t want anybody hurt. Especially Lanny.
I should stop texting him, I know that. I know it’s wrong. Lanny would be furious. Mom—I don’t want to think about what Mom would do. Mom doesn’t matter anymore, and I can’t pretend I ever even knew her. At least Dad hasn’t lied to me. Dad says she helped him. He has evidence. All Mom has is Please believe me, and I don’t anymore.
The phone from Dad is like a secret promise, an escape hatch, and I keep it on me constantly now; I only put it on charge when I’m asleep, and I shove it under the pillow.
I’m living a double life now. Brady has a cell phone. Connor has one. But I’m almost two different people.
Dad only ever texts back. He doesn’t text me first, and we’ve never spoken, not yet. He told me it was my choice, and if I never wanted to call, that was fine, too. He wasn’t going to push me, and he hasn’t. Not like everybody else does.
He lets me make up my own mind.
I’m holding the phone, thinking about turning it on and calling Dad, when I see Lanny slipping over the fence. She’s not leaving; she’s coming back. I didn’t even know she’d been gone. She’s quick and good at it, but Boot still barks and chases after her, as if he’s arguing with her. She picks up a stick and tosses it for him to chase, which I guess is a pretty good excuse in case Javier looks out the window.
Dad doesn’t sound crazy in these messages. He sounds like a father. He asks how I’m doing, what I’m feeling. What I’m reading. He lets me tell him the stories of the books I really like. He tells me stories, too—nothing weird, which I guess people would expect. He tells me about growing up and looking for arrowheads, catching frogs, fishing. Normal stuff that I don’t do. I’m not the one who runs and jumps. That’s Lanny’s job. I live mostly in quiet, and I watch things happen. Maybe that’s bad, I don’t know. It’s just how I like it.
Dad hasn’t once asked me about Mom, or where we are. I wouldn’t tell him that; I know I can’t really trust him that far. But sometimes I wish he would ask, which is weird, and I wonder why I want that. I guess I have this fantasy that he’s going to come in and take me away, and somehow, we’ll be . . . better. He’ll be a good dad, and we’ll go on adventures. I even imagine what kind of car he’ll be driving, what he’ll be wearing, what kind of music will be on the radio. Dad liked weird oldies from the 1980s. So probably that stuff. I sometimes listen to it, too, not because I like it, but because I wonder why he does. I could teach him to like new music. I could make him a playlist.
That makes me remember that I used to make them for Mom, and she’d sit and listen with me and say, Oh, I like that one, who is that? And she wasn’t just playing along, she’d remember later. That memory hurts now, and it makes me feel sick and wrong for doing this. But it’s not my fault.
Mom left us.
I go out onto the porch and sit down in the chair.
Lanny comes to a stop when she sees me, and I see her hesitate before she throws the stick again for Boot and nods to me. “Hey. What are you doing out here, goofus? It’s cold.”
“Reading,” I tell her. It’s not a lie. “What are you doing?”
She’s got red in her cheeks, and I don’t think it’s from the cold. “Nothing.”
“Meeting your girlfriend?”
“No!” she immediately shoots back, and in a way that I think might even be true. But the red in her cheeks gets darker. “Shut up, you don’t even know what you’re talking about. Besides, we know we’re not supposed to go anywhere people can see us. Right?”
“Right. And we always do what we’re supposed to do. Right?”
“Well, I do,” she says, with an older sister’s superiority. “You know, you’re going to ruin your eyes squinting out here. It’s dark.”
“I was just going in,” I tell her. “And that’s not how you ruin your eyes. If you’d read more, you’d know that.”
“Stop reading a book, is what I’m saying. Come on. Let’s go in.”
“Wait,” I tell her. “Are you okay? Really? About Mom?”
“Sure,” she says, and I see the stubborn shift of her chin, the angry level of her eyebrows. “I’m glad she’s gone. We agreed. We talked about this, Connor.”
“Do you want her to come back?” I ask her. “I don’t mean now. I mean . . . like, someday.”
“No. Never. She lied to us.”
“Everybody lies,” I say.
“Who told you that?”
“I heard Kezia saying it. Everybody lies.”
“She means when they’re talking to the cops. Not to their kids. Not to each other.”
But you just lied to me about where you went. And I lied to you about the video. Everybody does lie. So now you’re lying about that. It’s making my head hurt, thinking about it. I miss Mom. I miss having a normal place to go where I knew it was safe.
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