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Page 14

“Mostly,” my mother says. “We had problems before that, of course. We weren’t a perfect couple by any means. But after the book was published, I got tired of constantly lying. And fearing the truth would get out. And feeling guilty about all of it.”

“That’s why you refused to take money from Dad,” I say.

“I just wanted to be free of it all. In exchange, I promised your father I’d never tell you the truth.” My mother sighs again. Sadder this time. A soft exhalation of defeat. “I guess some promises need to be broken.”

The sunglasses go back on, a sign I’ve heard all she’s prepared to say about the matter. Is it everything? Probably not. But it’s enough to finally bring that sense of relief I’d hoped for. The truth at last, which ended up being just what I suspected.

Lunch progresses normally after that. Our new drinks arrive. My mother judges me from behind her sunglasses when I order a burger with extra bacon. She gets a salad. I tell her about the duplex Allie and I are trying to flip. She tells me how she and Carl are spending the entire month of June in Capri. When lunch is over, my mother surprises me with one last mention of Baneberry Hall. It’s dropped casually as she pays the check. Like an afterthought.

“By the way, Carl and I talked it over, and we’d like to buy Baneberry Hall from you. At full value, of course.”

“Seriously?”

“If we weren’t serious, I wouldn’t have brought it up.”

“That’s very nice of you.” I pause, appreciative but also suddenly apprehensive. There’s something else going on here. “But I can’t just let you give me money.”

“We’re not,” my mother insists. “We’re buying a property. That’s what Carl does.”

“But none of us know what condition it’s in,” I say. “Or how much it’s worth.”

“Just get the house assessed while we’re away, and we’ll give you the full value when we return. Quick and simple. We’ll reimburse you for the assessment. You won’t even need to set foot inside Baneberry Hall.”

I freeze, my sense of relief gone in an instant. Because although their words differ, my parents’ message is the same.

Never go back there.

It’s not safe there.

Not for you.

Which means I still don’t know the truth about Baneberry Hall. Maybe some of what my mother just told me is real, but I doubt it. If that were the case, why would she and my father both be so adamant about my not returning? They are still, after all these years, hiding something. The ache in my heart returns, more acute this time, as if my mother has just jammed the fork she’s holding right through my chest.

“You have to admit it’s a very generous offer,” she says.

“It is,” I reply, my voice weak.

“Tell me you’ll at least consider it.”

I stare at the darkened lenses of her sunglasses, wishing I could see her eyes and therefore possibly read her thoughts. Can she tell that I know I’ve been lied to once again? Can she see the pain and disappointment I’m using all my willpower to hide?

“I will,” I say, although what I really want to do is continue to beg for the truth.

I don’t, because I already know she won’t provide it. Not after all the begging and pleading in the world. If my father refused to do it on his deathbed, I see no reason why my mother would do it now.

It makes me feel like a child again. Not the odd, spooked girl in the Book, a characterization I never related to. And not the shy, mute version of me in that 60 Minutes interview on YouTube. I feel like I did when I was nine and, having read the Book for the first time, thirsted for answers. The only difference between us is that I now have something nine-year-old me didn’t—access to Baneberry Hall.

I plunge a hand into my pocket, feeling for the keys I stuffed there after leaving Arthur Rosenfeld’s office.

There’s a line I like to say to potential buyers before they tour a renovated property. Every house has a story to tell. Baneberry Hall is no different. Its story—the real one—might still be there. Why we left. Why my father felt compelled to lie about it. What I actually experienced there. All of it might be hiding within its walls, waiting for me to find it.

“I’m glad,” my mother says. “You’re so busy. The last thing I want is for you to be burdened with some old house you don’t want.”

“I won’t even think about that place until you and Carl get back,” I tell her. “I promise.”

I sip my gin and tonic and flash my mother a fake smile, realizing she gave me at least one snippet of truth during lunch.

Some promises do indeed need to be broken.

JUNE 25

The Closing

“I need you to make a promise,” Jess said as we drove to Baneberry Hall immediately after closing on the place.

“I promise you the moon,” I replied.

“I need more than that. This promise has to do with the house.”

Of course it did. We had ended up using the bulk of Jess’s inheritance to buy Baneberry Hall outright. That seemed more sensible than being saddled with a mortgage that, between Jess’s teaching salary and my meager freelance earnings, we might one day not be able to pay. And even though we got the house for dirt cheap, my hands shook as I wrote out a certified check for the full amount.

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