My heart did a little flip.
In this room—my room—a corkboard hung above a simple white desk. Pinned to the board were sketches drawn on pages torn from a notebook. I walked around the room slowly, running my hand over the slightly textured walls, the shiny fabric of the throw pillows of the little window seat, and finally, over the sketches themselves, which were mostly landscapes mixed with a few portraits. I recognized a few as Sammy and another as Tanner. In the center of the board was one of the both of them together, sitting under a tree, smiling straight ahead, presumably at me.
“You love to draw. Your father about had a coronary when you said you wanted to go to art school,” Nadine offered from the doorway. “All of this has got to be hard on you.”
Yes, and for more reasons than you think.
I felt Nadine’s eyes on me as I walked around the room, willing for something to jump out at me as familiar. “I know that look,” she said.
“What look would that be?” I asked. Plucking a sketch from the board, I walked over to the bay window and held it up. The drawing of the view matched perfectly; right down to the window frame and the buttons on the cushions, as well as the expansive lawn and scattered oak trees, including the one partially obstructing the window. Nadine came into the room and sat down on the corner of the bed. I kept my back turned and continued comparing the drawing to the real version.
“Sadness. You are a beautiful girl, but sadness is not a good look on you.” I turned around and caught the tale end of Nadine’s sad smile.
I set down the sketch on the desk. “Honestly? I don’t know what to think.”
“This may sound odd, especially since you don’t remember me, but I love you like you’re one of my own babies. And no matter what your friends were doing, you were always your own person and had a good head on your shoulders. So I knew that when you disappeared out of thin air that you didn’t run away like they said. And I certainly didn’t buy the Paris crap. You just weren’t…that kind of girl.”
A blast of laughter escaped me. “Not that kind of girl? Apparently I’m the daughter of a senator, a teen mom, and was doing shady enough shit for my entire family to write me off as a runaway, so excuse my laughter, but I have no fucking clue what kind of girl I am.” It all came out in one long breath leaving me feeling a pang of guilt the instant the harsh words left my mouth.
Nadine rose from the bed. “I’ll let you get some rest,” she said, smoothing down her pants with the palm of her hands and straightening her shirt.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly as she reached the door.
“Me too,” Nadine said, our apologies hanging in the air between us. Her once casual demeanor turning professional. Her smile, easy and genuine when I’d first arrived, was now tight and forced. “Your mama isn’t feeling well these days. She will see you tomorrow when your father gets back.”
“Where is she?” I asked.
“In bed with a migraine,” she said flatly.
“I’ve been gone for months and on the day I return my father is working and my mother is in bed with a headache?” I asked.
“Yes,” Nadine confirmed, leaving the room and pulling the door closed. Before it clicked shut, she added, “All is back to normal.”
I spent most of the night examining the sketches on the cork board. Looking through the closet at clothes that were my size but not my taste. Lots of matching skirt suits and long-sleeved shirts. Too conservative. Too expensive. Too…everything. I finally found a pair of sweatpants and a yellow tank top at the bottom of one of the drawers and after I had a shower in the attached bathroom I got dressed and searched through the desk for anything that might trigger a memory. I found a pink iPhone and tried turning it on, but the battery was dead. I plugged it into the wall charger on the nightstand.
I stopped when I glimpsed at my reflection in the full-length mirror. I lifted up my shirt and examined my flat belly. How on earth was there ever a baby in here? I ran my hands across my smooth skin and stuck out my stomach as far as I could to mimic a pregnant belly. It was weird to see myself all puffed out, especially since I was skin and bones before Preppy’s cooking added some meat to my bones.
My knees buckled and I caught myself on the edge of the desk right before I hit the carpet. I still didn’t want to believe he was gone. I keep thinking that I was going to see him come around a corner or hear him yell something that was going to make me laugh. But it wasn’t just Preppy. In a way I felt like King had died too, because no matter what lay ahead for me, nothing would ever be the same. If the senator went back on his deal with me, like he had with King, the chances of King ever being a real part of my life again were almost nonexistent.