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Page 103

Will I be judged harshly for it in the afterlife?

Yes. I truly believe I will.

I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.

All I know for certain is that you have always been my proudest accomplishment. I loved you before we set foot inside Baneberry Hall, and I loved you just as much after we left it.

You’re the love of my life, Maggie.

You always have been, and you always will be.

Twenty-Five

Reading my father’s letter feels like plummeting through a thousand trapdoors. One after another. Drop after drop after jarring drop. And I can’t stop the sensation. There’s no fighting this fall.

“You’re lying.” My voice sounds warped, like I’m talking underwater. “You’re lying to me.”

My mother comes toward me. “I’m not, honey. This is what happened.”

She wraps her arms around me. They feel like tentacles. Foreign. Cold. I try to push her away. When she refuses, I squirm out of her grip, falling from my chair. My hand skates across the table, taking the pages my father wrote with it. I hit the floor, paper fluttering around me.

“It’s a lie,” I say. “It’s all lies.”

Even though I keep repeating it, I know in my heart of hearts it’s not. My father wouldn’t make up something like that. Neither would my mother. There’s no reason they would. Which means what I read is true.

I want to scream.

I want to throw up.

I want to reach for the nearest sharp object and rip open my veins.

“You should have told the police,” I say, hiccupping with grief. “You shouldn’t have covered it up.”

“We did what we thought was best for you.”

“A girl was dead, Mom! She was just a child!”

“And so were you!” my mother says. “Our child! If we’d called the police, your life would have been ruined.”

“And I would have deserved it,” I say.

“You didn’t!” My mother joins me on the floor, crawling toward me in the slow, cautious way one approaches a trapped animal. “You’re sweet and beautiful and smart. Your father and I knew that. We always knew that. And we refused to destroy your life because you made one mistake.”

“I killed someone!”

Saying it unleashes the flood of emotion I’ve been trying to hold back. It flows out of me. In tears. In snot. In saliva that drips from my mouth as I moan.

“You didn’t mean to,” my mother says. “I’m sure of it.”

I look at her through tear-clouded eyes. “We have to tell the truth.”

“We don’t, Maggie. What we need to do is pack your things and leave. We’ll sell this place and never come back. This time for good.”

I stare at her, appalled. I can’t believe she still refuses to do the right thing. That after all these years and all these lies, she still wants to pretend none of this happened. They tried that once, and it damn near destroyed us.

Something breaks inside me. Surprising, since I didn’t think there was any part of me left unscathed. But my heart was still intact, just waiting for my mother to shatter it. I can feel it disintegrating—a shudder that makes my chest heave.

“Get out,” I say.

“Maggie, just listen to me.”

My mother reaches for me, and I recoil. When she comes for me again, I strike, my open palm whipping across her cheek.

“Get out!” I scream it this time, the words echoing off the wall of bells. I keep screaming until I’m red-faced and frothing.

“Get out! Get out of my fucking house!”

My mother stays frozen on the floor, her hand to her cheek. The tears glistening in her eyes tell me her heart’s also broken.

Good.

Now we’re even.

“If you want to throw your life away, I can’t stop you,” she says. “But I refuse to watch you do it. Your father’s not the only one who loved you unconditionally. I feel the same way he did. About everything.”

She stands, smooths out her slacks, and leaves the kitchen.

I don’t move until the sound of the front door closing makes it way down to the kitchen. By then I’ve already decided what I’m going to do.

I’ll wait.

By now, Chief Alcott is probably grilling Dane about the night Petra died. Unlike me, she’s going to realize it doesn’t add up. That there’s more to the story. Then she’ll come back here, armed with questions.

I’ll answer every single one.

With my mother gone, I stand and climb the kitchen steps. It’s a struggle. Shock has made my legs heavy and my body sluggish. It doesn’t get better on the first floor. The great room seems to shift with each step. The walls sway, as if buffeted by a stiff wind, rocking back and forth. Beneath my feet, the floor buckles. I trip, even though the floor isn’t really buckling. Nor are the walls truly swaying.

It’s me who’s doing the changing.

An internal shift in which everything I thought I knew about myself is suddenly upended.

I came here wanting to know the truth. Now I do.

I am a killer.

A fact I’ll need to get used to. Because right now the realization is so heavy that I can no longer stand. I end up crawling up the stairs to the second floor. There’s more crawling in the hallway. Even then I’m so dizzy I continually bump into the wall on the way to my bedroom.

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