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Page 99

I should know.

Chief Alcott departs with the rest of the emergency vehicles. They form a line down the driveway, their sirens on mute but their lights still flashing.

Another car arrives before they fully vanish down the hill, its headlights unexpectedly popping over the horizon. For a brief, blinding moment, it’s a kaleidoscope of lights as the two cars slow down and pass each other. Blue and red and white. All flashing through the trees in spinning, disco-like fury. The emergency lights disappear. The headlights grow brighter as the car rounds the driveway and comes to a gravel-crunching stop.

I can’t see who’s inside. It’s too dark, and my eyes are still stinging from the lights of the emergency vehicles. All I can make out is a person behind the wheel, sitting in complete stillness, almost as if they’re tempted to start driving again.

But then the driver’s-side door swings open, and my mother steps out of the car.

“Mom?” I say, shocked. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing.”

She remains in the driveway, looking exhausted in her travel clothes—white slacks, print blouse, a pair of strappy sandals. Shed of their sunglasses, her eyes are bloodshot. Dark half-moons droop beneath them. She carries no luggage. Just a purse that’s about to slip from her shoulder.

“For God’s sake, Maggie,” she says. “Why did you come back here? What did you think that was going to accomplish?”

“I needed the truth.”

“I told you the truth,” my mother says. “But you couldn’t leave well enough alone. Because of that, I had to fly halfway around the world, and then I get here and see all those police cars. What the hell have you been up to?”

I bring her inside. There’s a moment’s hesitation at the front door, making it clear she has no desire to enter Baneberry Hall, but she’s too tired to put up a fight. Once inside, the only thing she insists on is going down to the kitchen.

“I don’t want to be up here,” she says. “Not on this floor.”

Down we go, into the kitchen, taking seats across from each other at the butcher-block table. There, I tell her everything. Why I decided to come back. What happened when I got here. Finding Petra’s body and suspecting my father and realizing the true culprit was Dane.

When I finish, my mother simply stares at me. She looks so old in the harsh and unsparing light of the kitchen. It illuminates the ravages of time she usually tries so hard to cover up. The wrinkles and age spots and gray strands sprouting along her hairline.

“Oh, Maggie,” she says. “You really shouldn’t have done that.”

Unease slams onto my shoulders, so forceful that all of Baneberry Hall seems to shake.

“Why?” I say.

My mother’s gaze flits around the room, making her look like a trapped bird. “We need to leave,” she says.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“We need to leave and never come back.”

My unease grows, pouring into me, weighing me down. When my mother stands, it takes all the effort I can muster to also get up and push her back into her chair.

“We’re staying right here. We’re going to sit here and talk, just like normal families do.” On the way back to my seat, I spot the cherry pie on the counter. “Look, there’s even dessert.”

I grab the pie and drop it onto the table. It’s followed by two forks, which clatter across the tabletop. For show, I grab one, cut off a huge chunk of pie, and stuff it into my mouth.

“See?” I say, gulping it down. “Isn’t this nice? Just a mother-and-daughter chat that’s been a long time coming. Now talk.”

I take another massive bite, waiting for my mother to speak. Instead, she picks up a fork and digs out a tiny piece of pie. She tries to take a bite, but her hands are shaking so much that the pie falls from her fork. A gelatinous blob the color of blood splats onto the table.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” she says.

“The truth. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.” I take a third bite of pie. Proving that I’m capable of doing something she can’t. “You need to tell me every fucking thing you’ve been hiding from me for the past twenty-five years.”

“You don’t want to know the truth. You think you do, Maggie. But you don’t.”

My mother’s birdlike gaze comes to a stop at the hole in the kitchen ceiling. That’s when I realize I was wrong about Dane. I might be wrong about everything.

“Is this about Dad?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Did he kill Petra Ditmer?”

“Your father would never—”

“It certainly feels like he did,” I say. “All this secrecy. All these lies. It makes me think he really did kill a sixteen-year-old girl and that you helped him cover it up.”

My mother slumps in her chair. Her hand, placed palm-down on the table, falls away in a long, exhausted slide.

“Oh, baby,” she says in a voice made jagged by a hundred different emotions. “My sweet baby.”

“So it’s true?” I say.

My mother shakes her head. “Your father didn’t kill that girl.”

“Then who did?”

She reaches into her purse and pulls out a large envelope, which she slides across the table toward me. I open it and take a peek. Inside is a stack of pages. The top one bears an unexpected heading.

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