My wish, quite empty in retrospect, for better luck was a shout into the unknown. I didn’t want to tell my father, at first, that I saw my mother. As I waited for him to arrive, I weighted my options. I fidgeted with my fingers, digging them into the skin of my thumb to release my unnerving mind.
Before leaving, she suggested I stop by the Giller house.
“Your relationship with your cousin needs improvement.”
“She not my cousin. She’s a sociopath with troubling possessive issues.”
“Don’t say that about family.”
“Through marriage—thankfully,” I huffed, “I’m glad I’m not blood relate to someone so sick in the head.”
“Family is important.”
“You’re one to talk,” I hooted. “You know nothing about family.”
“I understand where you’re coming from. I deserve that kind of an outburst. I’m aware I’ve done wrong things in my past.”
“Wrong?” I echoed. “No, mom. Saying what you did as ‘something wrong’ minimizes the gravity of what you allowed to h—” I paused, realizing there were eyes all round us and ears, listening in on our family drama. I lowered my voice. “You’re wasting your time. I’m not going to that house with you. You should go on and drive your psycho of a niece home.”
“Beth is a sweet girl.”
“She’s like a gremlin. Cute at first, but ferocious in reality.”
This back and forth argument went on, tiring my mother at my uninterest in fixing my ties with Beth. I had more desire to jam a dull, dirty knife up my nose rather than give her another chance. Our conversation played out in my thoughts during the drive home like a tape recorder that wouldn’t stop.
“Mom’s insane.” I blurted to my father.
“Where’d that come from?”
“She’s in town still.”
He kept his mouth shut. No words came out from my father.
I darted a gaze at him. “You knew?”
“Not for long,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to hide it from you. When I ran into her in town, she made me swear not to tell you that she was still in town. She said it was for your own good, so I took her word for it.”
“I hate how you thought that would be a good idea.” I muttered, “I hate how you both wait till now to tell me about Jared being out of jail.”
So, she didn’t tell him everything. There was no openness in this family. We hid our problems, covered up our secrets with no intent to share—leaving us disconnected in more ways than one. I longed for honest, but that knew it would only be another shot in the dark—just like my dumb hope for peace and quiet.
“I thought he wasn’t getting out for another seven years.”
“Mom said he got out early for good behavior.” I informed. “She also thinks I should stop over at Giller’s house more often so I can mend my relationship with the girl I got in a fight with.”
“That sounds like a good idea. I don’t see why you shouldn’t.”
“She’s a psycho, dad.” I chuckled. “I don’t want to tell you what she’s done, but trust me, take my word for it. You wouldn’t want me to be friends with a person like her.”
“Enlighten me.” He mused. “I’m a lawyer. I’ve come across all types of people—good and bad. I’m sure she’s not as horrible as the people I’ve prosecuted against.”
“She’s bad enough to be prosecuted against. I’ll leave it at that,” I noted.
Not many people had a reaction to what Beth did to Pierson. He took the depiction with stride, cutting her off, but not pressing charges against her. If I were him, I would’ve gotten a restraining order on her for what she did. Everyone at school knew, but I didn’t think that was enough. The law needed to be involved. During winter break, we talked about that fateful night. In his eyes, I could see how it affected him—wondering how someone could be so sick and desperate. Her love for him wasn’t love at all. It metamorphosed her from a quirky, likable girl and into a wickedly, conniving predator.
I had my fair share of evil. I witnessed it shatter my youth, reassembling my personality and making me into the girl I was today. The bad news about Jared’s release from jail didn’t hit my yet. I was waiting for it to become a solidified fact. It was as though, for my own good, I kept pushing it under the rug like a false rumor and nothing more. In solitude, I was sure I would let myself crumble from inside, feebly fall to my knees in defeat. I wasn’t there, at the moment, with my dad in the car. I was, however, in a far darker place.
“Why did you let me stay with her?” I whispered.
In all the months I’d stayed in Crescent Heights, I hadn’t asked Jonah what made me hate him for so many years. The anger, deep within, didn’t start with the affair. It started with abandonment. “After the court case, and after I stayed with Grandma in New York for a year, you let me stay with mom instead of taking me with you to California. Why?”
“Your mother wanted you back in her life. She fought adamantly about keeping you and Lenard together. She knew how close you two were. And since Lenard made it clear to me that he didn’t want to be anywhere near Evelyn and her children, I agreed. She might not show it all the time, but your mother loves you.”
"Bullshit,” I spat. “If she loved me, she wouldn’t have let that happen to me. If you loved me, you wouldn’t have let me her keep me,” I cried out, saying what I wanted to for years. A weight floated off my shoulders, feeling uplifted by my explosive conclusion.
“Y-you think that?” He stammered. “You think I don’t love you?”
“How am I supposed to think you love me when you left me with someone who put me in the presence of a monster?”
“Your mother was sober for over a year when she took you back in. I thought of that, along with her desire to keep you two in her life, in mind when she begged for you back. She pleaded, Silvia. I knew you were in good hands as long as Lenard was in the picture and as long as she stayed away from substance abuse.”
“She didn’t stay sober for long,” I assured him. “She’s clean now, but after she finished her sentence, she didn’t go back to drugs right away. She did eventually.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Because you never stopped by to visit.”
“Silvia,” he sighed. “I did the best that I could with sending money, sending letters—”
“Yes, because material things is equivalent to having a father in my life. That makes complete sense, dad.”
We had reached the street our house was on, cruising up to the gravel driveway. I didn’t let him turn off the car. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to get out of the car. The air felt thick, sticking to the insides of my lungs and holding me captive in a conversation that didn’t satisfy me. I thought, after the years of dodging this talk, he would have better answers than that. I was wrong. Maybe I was giving my dad too much credit where credit wasn’t due. I knew there were worse parents out there, but that wasn’t what was up for debate. It was the nature of their actions being put under a microscope. To me, they failed as parents long ago and threw in the towel without notifying the poor, hopeful girl who only wanted her parents back together.
That dream was dead. I couldn’t waste my time on childish aspirations like that. I had to funnel my hopes into myself—the only person I could rely on.
Ronnie came over again after school. I hopped into her car, smiling at Heath who was sitting in the passenger seat. On his lap, he had Beth’s gray laptop opened.
“Why’d you invite him?” I asked.
She groaned. “You still haven’t read the plan.”
“I had homework to catch up on!” I defended. “Give me a SparkNotes version of it.”
“No, not until you tell me what happened in the principal’s office.” She backed out of the driveway, peaking in her rearview mirror while doing so. “Did Beth say anything about her laptop?”
“No. At least, I don’t think so. I threatened her before she walked in there, telling her she knew better than to report on the laptop. I’m hoping whatever you find in there is worth my two-day suspension.”
“You skipped most the week and you’re stressing over two missed days?” Heath inquired. “You’re a strange girl, Ellington.”
“In-school suspension sucks.” I grimaced, wondering how much of a pain it’ll be to endure. “I would’ve rather they gave me two-days of out of school suspension. But no, I never get what I want.”
“What else happened?”
I told the both of them about how my mother made an unexpected visit. When I brought up the invitation to the Giller’s house, Ronnie bounced in her seat. “This is great!”
“Yes, it is. It’s a perfect opportunity to get a chance to go in her room.”
“Do you want me to be killed? If she’s crazy enough to pretend to be me to sleep with her crush, then what else do you think she’s capable up?”
“She’ll probably take your hair follicles for her voodoo doll.” Heath joked. “That would be cool.”
“For who exactly?” I hissed. “I’m not risking my life for your revenge.”
“It’s not my revenge. It’s yours,” Ronnie rectified.
“Doesn’t feel like it,” I scoffed. “I’d be pretty content with replacing her shampoo with hair removal cream.”
“Juvenile.” Heath snickered. “We’re out here trying to make a lasting impression, not a temporary hiccup in her physical appearance.”
I inched in closer to him, relaxing into the back of his chair. “What is it you want to do exactly? I’m not entirely sure still. You guys have been quiet on the details.”
“Originally, I wanted this to all go down on graduation during Dakota’s valedictorian speech, but he said that’s too long from now and that it should be sooner.”
“Wait, Dakota is involved in this, too?” I shouted.
“See, if you would’ve read the PowerPoint, this wouldn’t have been a shock.” She reminded me. “Instead, we came up with setting up the presentation during the up coming pep rally. They’re revealing new banners. With the help of Gabe, we’re going to switch over the microphone to a video that’ll play.”
“A video that we’ve been compiling of targeted victims from the past, detailing their experience with Segg.”
“How...how did you get a hold of that?”
“We had to do a lot of digging. Through the back-channel Dakota used to have into Segg, he took the risk and got information about previous projects done. We contacted them and we’ve interviewing the boys and girls heavily affected. We think once we show that, to the entire school, then Segg has no way of staying in the shadows.”
“I like that idea,” I nodded. “You’re using Beth’s laptop to get more information?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “and also to get incriminating knowledge on what she in particular did while in the group. We can’t just have former students. We need to get at the kids within Segg currently, too. I’ve got full access into the laptop, so it won’t be too hard from this point.”
“How...I don’t even want to know,” I muttered.
I relaxed back, taking note of my surroundings. The larger houses, closed off in pearly white gates, threw me off. It took me a second to register where we were, but then it slammed in to me.
“Turn back around,” I ordered. “I said I didn’t want to go to Beth’s house.”
[a/n: please like if you're enjoying the story so far . :) ]