Backstabber

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Chapter 3

July, 2006

Colleen Sione bent over the sink, rinsing the suds from a mismatched collection of plastic plates and cups. She’d decided to wash them by hand, scrubbing longer and harder than needed to clean them. Hoping it would help work out the frustration that had been mounting since that afternoon.

“Mommy, who was that lady?” Lena tugged on her shirt. The little girl was still dressed in her ice cream-stained jumper, a smear of chocolate on the sleeve of her shirt. “Why was she at my party?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Colleen sighed, shaking her head. It was Lena’s ninth birthday, though the party had fallen apart soon after Kara had arrived. “I don’t know.”

She set the last cup on the drying rack, wiping her hands on the towel tossed over her shoulder. She turned to the table, seeing the three-year-old triplets were elbow-deep in the remains of their sister’s cake, eleven-year-old Michael doing his best to keep them out of it. Judging from the sand- and ocean-colored streaks on his face and glasses, as well as the mess of crumbs in his chin-length hair, the task wasn’t going well. She couldn’t help but laugh, deciding it’d be best to put her worries on hold, at least for the night.

“Come on, you three,” she wiped bright yellow icing from Kyle’s chin. He was the only one who’d gotten her blonde hair, the other four either a mix or Ryan’s pure chocolate brown. “I think a bath is in order.”

“No,” Zach said stubbornly. His dark brown eyes were bright with sugar rush. “I want cake!”

“Me, too!” Kyle shouted, trying to squirm out of his mother’s grasp. She clicked her tongue.

“You’ve all had more than enough sugar today,” she picked up Brianna, who had the remains of a fuchsia flower spread across her cheeks. There also seemed to be a hint of it in her short pigtails. “Time to wash off the leftovers.”

“You want me to clean this up, Mom?” Michael asked. He was already trying to clean off his icing mask, looking dismayed at the stains that still dominated his glasses. She nodded, failing to suppress a smile.

“I’ll come help when they’re asleep,” she said with a chuckle. He waited for them to leave the room before turning to Lena, whispering in case one of the triplets decided to stray behind.

“Dad’s been gone for a while,” he pointed subtlety to the door to the living room. “Go see what he’s up to.”

Lena nodded, sneaking to the entryway. She ducked behind their great-aunt’s china hutch, peeking out to see Kara standing close to her father. She was giggling drunkenly, leaning or brushing against him whenever she could.

“You didn’t tell me you had kids,” the woman spoke unsteadily. Ryan shrugged.

“Didn’t think I needed to,” he replied, sounding relatively sober. “I have all those pictures of them in my office.”

“Really? I never noticed,” she ran a hand through his short, curly hair, then looked briefly confused. “You don’t think she knows, do you?”

“Of course not,” he said confidently. He flashed a hot smile, one Lena had only ever seen him give her mother. “She’s too trusting.”

Kara shook her head, the motion making her wobble slightly in her sky-high spiked heels.

“That’ll get her in trouble, you know.”

“I know, but it’s good news for us,” he offered that dazzling smile again, opening the front door and letting in the humid evening air. “May I walk you out?”

Kara giggled, still unsteady even after weaving her arm through his.

“My, what a gentleman.”

He chuckled.

“You know me,” he said, winking at her. “I aim to please.”


September, 2006

“She’s just a colleague,” Ryan snapped defensively, his heated voice muffled by the kitchen door. “There’s nothing going on between us!”

“Don’t lie to me,” Colleen returned angrily. She couldn’t believe he was still trying to deny it. “How long have you been seeing her?”

“I’m not seeing anyone!”

There was a short silence, no doubt their mother fuming.

“We’ve been married for thirteen years,” she shouted at last. “How could you do this to me? To us?!”

Ryan groaned loudly in frustration.

“I haven’t done anything,” he yelled. “You’re overreacting!”

“Our daughter saw you with her,” she sounded close to tears. “Don’t tell me I’m overreacting!”

Out in the living room, Michael cringed. Their parents had been fighting since the day after Lena’s party, when their father had come home smelling like expensive perfume and wine. The cuffs and collar of his wrinkled white dress shirt had been smeared with shiny pink lipstick. He was starting to wonder which one of them would file first.

“Why would Daddy cheat?” Lena sat at the coffee table, drawing with Zach and Brianna. Michael noticed she was sticking with darker colors, something she only did when she was scared or worried. He sighed, pausing his game.

“I couldn’t tell you,” he said. Unless I wanted you to break down crying, he added silently. Lena capped her marker after making several random dots on the page, doing the same with the toddlers’ before dropping them back in the box with a clatter.

“Doesn’t he love Mom anymore?”

“I’m sure he does,” he shut off the GameCube. An afternoon of Luigi’s Mansion had just lost its appeal. “He just made a dumb choice.”

He got up from the floor, grabbing a few sheets of paper and a pencil from the arts-and-crafts rack on the way. Lena scooted closer to him when he sat at the coffee table, watching wide-eyed as he quickly began filling the first page with sketches. He drew himself with oversized glasses, flashing a big smile and double peace signs. She giggled, watching as the image of their father appeared on the page, only bald with bloated cheeks and squinting eyes.

That bit of happiness didn’t last long, however, ending when the kitchen door was thrown open. Ryan stormed out, almost stepping on Kyle; the toddler had a habit of being in just the right spot for that. Colleen followed him, stopping in the doorway.

“And where do you think you’re going?” she demanded. Ryan turned, glaring at her.

“To a motel,” he snapped. “And I’m not coming back until you’ve calmed the fuck down!”

“Ryan!” she couldn’t believe he’d cursed in front of the children. He didn’t answer, grabbing his keys from the rack in the entryway, slamming the front door behind him. Colleen stayed where she was, shaking with repressed anger, then went back in the kitchen. Lena turned to Michael, her eyes wide and frightened. Her fist was closed so tightly her nails had cut into her palm.

“S-Something bad’s gonna happen, isn’t it?” she asked. He could only shake his head in response.


June, 2007

“You can’t do this to me,” Colleen sat on the bed, her beautiful face worn and tear-stained. “Please, don’t go!”

“I haven’t been happy in a long time,” Ryan answered. He’d spent the last two days clearing out his side of their walk-in closet and dresser, carelessly stuffing his things into boxes. “I’m leaving and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Michael sat just out of site on the back porch. He’d cracked open his parents’ sliding glass door, his morbid curiosity getting the best of him. Things between his parents had gotten even worse recently, his father no longer trying to hide his affair.

“Ryan, please, I love you,” his mother was begging again. “And what about the kids?”

“Keep ’em,” he sounded disgusted. “I never wanted them, anyway.”

Hearing that made her break into fresh sobs. Ryan scoffed, throwing the last of his clothes in a hiking pack, bought for a promised camping trip that had never happened. Michael scowled, fighting his own tears as his mother spoke again.

“How long have you been seeing her?” it was the angriest she’d sounded in weeks. His father smiled cruelly.

“Since before the triplets came along. I wasn’t gonna be seen with an overgrown cow.”

That got her going again. He laughed, barely looking up when Michael shoved the door open.

“You can’t talk to Mom like that!” he shouted. He was tall for thirteen, his eyes even darker than his father’s. Ryan glared at him.

“Stay out of this, scrap,” he said. The word has once been a term of endearment, but now it only served to make Michael more furious. “You’re too young to understand.”

“Oh, I understand, alright,” Michael couldn’t remember when he’d been so mad. “I understand you’re a lying dirtbag that’s not worth the pot he-”

He was cut off when his father smacked him, the first time in front of his mother, almost knocking him over.

“You’re lucky you’re even alive, you little brat,” he snapped icily. “Don’t do something to make me regret it.”

He threw the pack over his shoulder, stalking out. Michael wiped his mouth, then turned to his mother. Her soft golden hair was dull and oily, her face ashen, her clear green eyes red-rimmed and puffy. He didn’t ask if she was okay, instead sitting next to her and hugging her. She sniffled.

“Oh, Michael,” she choked on a sob. “I’m sorry you have to see me like this.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Grown-ups need to cry, too.”

She tried to smile, the effort short-lived and shaky.

“We were so happy before he started working for that new law firm,” she wiped her eyes. “I-I don’t know what happened…”

“He met Kara,” Michael practically spat the name. They hadn’t seen the woman since Lena’s birthday party, but the memory hadn’t faded. If anything, the rage he felt toward his father had made it even more vivid. “You won’t let me use the words to say how I feel about her.”

She actually laughed, a little.

“You’re so much like Ryan used to be,” she kissed his temple. “I wish he was still the man I married, but you can’t help how people change.”

He looked at her, wondering how anyone could treat a person like his mother so poorly. Yet he couldn’t help but agree that she was too trusting, that they probably wouldn’t be in this situation if she had walked away from his father earlier. Not that he’d ever tell her that.

“How’d you meet him, anyway?” he asked instead.

She sighed wistfully, her eyes taking on some of their usual light.

“I was working at a café in San Francisco,” she started. “He came in one day, saying he was on business from Makakilo. He asked me out that night and I ended up going back to Hawaii with him.”

“Did you ever think about leaving?” he had to know. She thought a moment.

“A couple times, actually, but he always convinced me to stay,” she tucked some hair behind his ear. “A couple years after we got married, I found out I was pregnant with you, so we decided to move here.”

They were quiet for a while, watching the triplets play in the yard, blissfully unaware of the growing storm. Lena had locked herself in the tree house, like she always did when she wanted to escape reality.

“Did Dad mean that,” he asked. “That he never wanted us?”

“I’m sure he didn’t,” she hugged him. “He’s just upset..”

He scoffed. She was seriously giving his dad a free pass?

“Why would he be? He’s not the one getting,” he stopped, covering his mouth. That would’ve just made her feel worse. “Uh…sorry, Mom.”

“It’s alright,” she wiped her eyes again. “Like I said, you can’t help how people change.”

“I know,” he kissed her cheek. Guess there were times being too trusting could be a good thing, at least partially. “Don’t worry, things’ll get better.”

I hope.


August, 2007

“Yes,” Ryan nodded, despite the fact the lawyer couldn’t see him. “Yes, I know. Thank you for telling me. Good-bye.”

He slammed the phone down. He’d filed months ago, but Colleen refused to sign. She was also still fighting him for custody of the children. Not surprisingly, they were on her side, the older two, at least. His scowl fell when he remembered what he’d had with her, before Kara had come into his life.

“Is everything okay?”

Kara slinked into the room, clad in a tiny pink silk nightgown. A sheer, flowing robe and tousled ash-blonde waves completed the look, her demure expression reminding him why he’d left Colleen for her. She was everything his wife had been: voluptuous, compliant, ready and willing to experiment.

“She’s being stubborn,” he took her in his lap. “She’ll come around eventually.”

She played with a button of his open shirt, running her hand over the thin layer of dark hair on his chest. It just wasn’t fair, the most attractive men were always the married ones. Or gay.

“I don’t think your kids like me too much,” she said innocently. He always fell for it when she used that tone.

“It’s been a while since they’ve seen you,” he reminded her. “They’ve grown up a bit since then.”

“Do you really want them?” she shrugged one shoulder, letting the strap of her nightgown fall. “We won’t have as much time for us if they’re around.”

He scowled again.

“She’d win if I let her have them,” the expression turned into an arrogant smirk. “Besides, they’re a tax break.”

She glared at hi,. She’d known from the start his family wasn’t his top priority—he was cheating, wasn’t he?—yet she’d never thought he felt so coldly about them. It was almost enough to make her rethink getting involved with him, almost.

“Are things still to go like we planned?” she let the other strap slip out of place.

“Of course, his smirk faded. “Things will just be a little…delayed.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” she touched his cheek, feeling stubble under her fingers. He’d had it the day they’d met as well, looking as rugged as he had professional. Not to mention devilishly handsome. He’d asked her out that same evening, never bothering to hide the gold band adorning his left hand. He still wore it, twirling it whenever he was deep in thought.

“How long has it been since you were happy with her?” she asked after a while. He chuckled.

“I can barely remember it,” he shrugged. “Not even sure why I married her anymore.”

“You loved her at one point, I’m sure,” she said absently. She took his hand and slid the ring off, smiling when it clinked to the floor. “Though I don’t see it any more than you do.”

He laughed again, wrapping his arms more tightly around her. Her sultry grin widened when she felt his arousal rub against her hip. She licked her lips, kissing him soundly.

“You’ll have the life you always wanted with me,” she whispered breathlessly. “You’ll see.”


May, 2008

The wing blew lightly, sending the scent of neighboring gardens over the black-clad mourners. A young woman walked to a fresh grave, sprinkling small blue and pink flowers over a glossy maple wood casket.

“Colleen was a wonderful person,” Ashley wiped tears from her eyes. “She was an amazing friend, sister, wife and mother. We’ll miss her dearly, but she’ll always be alive in our hearts.”

She tilted the small silver bowl over the grave, letting the last of the petals flutter to her big sister’s coffin, stepping back as they finished lowering it into the grave. Lena stood next to her, her face buried in her hands as she sobbed. Her mother had gone missing three days before hers and Ryan’s divorce would have been finalized. Only to be found the morning of, lying facedown and naked on the bank of Piper’s Creek.

Her wrists and inner thighs had been slashed, her body abused in every way imaginable. Her beautiful face had been mutilated, her hair ripped out in chunks, the rest having been sloppily cut in ragged layers. Whoever had killed her, they’d wanted her completely erased.

Ryan stood off to the side with the triplets, his face emotionless. Even so, it was clear he had been crying, fresh tear trails shining on his cheeks. Michael glared at him from beneath dark bangs, hatred for the man warping the grief in his eyes. He’d turned fourteen the same day his mother had been found.

The crowd split when he walked through, stopping next to his sister and taking her hand.

“Goodbye, Mom,” his voice was shaking. “We love you. Say hi to grandma for us, okay?”

It was warm and sunny, the wrong weather for a funeral. Too young to truly understand, the triplets had started playing among the tombstones after the burial, soon begging for their older siblings to join them. Lena had given in, hoping their infectious laughter would help distract her. Michael had refused, instead sitting in the shadow of a small tree. Their father had pulled out his phone as soon as the rest of their family and friends had left; he had no doubt the man was talking to Kara.

“It’s hard to believe she’s gone,” he sighed heavily. “There’s so much I still wanted to tell her…”

He looked over his shoulder, swallowing when he saw his son’s furious glower. He moved further away, lowering his voice so the boy could no longer hear him. He ended the call a few minutes later, saying it was time for them to go.

“We’ll visit Mom every weekend,” he told the children. “I promise.”

He knelt to hug Lena, who’d started crying again. Her sobs soon got the triplets started, Michael doing his best to try to comfort them.

“I don’t want to visit her,” Lena said brokenly. She choked. “I want her to come home with us!”

“I do, too,” his voice cracked slightly. He couldn’t believe things had turned out so horribly, it was never supposed to happen this way! “But you know she can’t anymore.”

“Why not?” she stomped her foot. “She didn’t deserve this. It’s not fair!”

“I know it’s not,” he hugged her again, guilt mauling his heart. “But there’s nothing we can do.”

Lena’s sobs grew stronger. She buried her face in his suit jacket, crying into his chest. It felt like an eternity before she finally stopped, looking up at him. All he could see in her dark green eyes was longing for her mother, for the way things used to be. Before his own selfish choices had ripped it all apart. What the hell had he been thinking? She sniffed again, swiping at her eyes with her sleeve.

“D-Daddy,” she hiccuped. “Please, p-promise you won’t leave, too.”

“I-” his voice caught in his throat. How could she still feel that way, after how much he had screwed up? He swallowed again, fighting back his own tears. “I promise.”


February, 2009

Ryan waited nine months before getting married again. The children had barely gotten used to their mother’s absence when he made the announcement, confirming what Michael and Lena had feared from the start.

“I thought it’d be nice to have a woman’s touch around here again,” he put an arm around Kara’s shoulders. Her wide, perfect smile was one of joy and sympathy, her eyes telling a completely different story.

“I’ll try not to change too much around here,” she said. The smile turned partially down. “However, there will be a couple new rules.”

Those new rules turned their lives into a prison. The television had been taken out of the living room, the GameCube sold, their arts-and-crafts rack thrown away. The playroom had been cleared out, turned into more office space. The tree in the backyard had been cut down, the stump removed to make room for a daffodil garden. Curfew was set at four-thirty, meaning there was barely enough time for them to get home once school let out.

Chores and homework had to be finished and perfect by dinner, or they went to bed hungry. None of them were allowed to go with friends, or to have friends over. Any excessive noise or mess resulted in swift, brutal punishment.

“Ugh, I can’t stand this!” Michael glared at the ceiling. It was their mandatory nap hour, the house quiet as an empty church. Every inch of his rock star room had been gutted, his posters and drum set thrown away, the red walls painted stark white. Lena’s and the triplets’ had gotten the same treatment, their handmade furniture donated and replaced with the same bland, uniform white sets. “Can’t Dad see what she’s doing?”

Lena tugged at her lacy collar, scratching the growing rash on her neck for the hundredth time. She hated skirts and dresses, Kara’s rules saying they were the only things she and Brianna could wear.

“I don’t think he notices,” she said quietly.

Shortly after the woman had moved in, but before she’d made the worst of her changes, their father had transferred to a job that required virtually year-round traveling. If he had any concerns about what his new wife was doing, when he was home to see it, at least, he didn’t voice them. Michael growled, wishing he could punch something.

“This is total bullshit,” he sat up, yanking off his shirt and throwing it to the floor. His tan skin was pocked with scars, half of his stomach covered by a bruise. The remnants of the latest beating he’d stepped in to take for one of his siblings. “As if uniforms at school weren’t bad enough.”

Most of their clothing had either been donated or thrown away, replaced with khakis, polos, puffy sleeves and gingham. Sneakers and sandals had been swapped out for loafers and mary janes. No shorts were allowed.

“You think we should tell someone?” Lena asked. He sighed.

“I already tried that,” he scratched his head. He, Zach and Kyle had been given military fades, Lena and Brianna pixie cuts. “No one listened to me.”

Lena brought her knees to her chest, picking at a loose piece of the spotless white carpet. If caught, that act alone was enough to get them severely punished. Her dull eyes trailed across her short, perpetually-painted nails; both she and Brianna were forced into it. On a good day, the smallest flaw resulted in a sore bottom and an empty stomach. On a bad one, the result was a hungry night spent in the crawl space, followed by a morning beating for tracking dirt into the house.

“Y-You think they’ll ever find who killed Mom?”

Michael scoffed.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out,” he threw himself back against his pillow, which was right on the verge of being uncomfortable. He was amazed Kara even let them have pillows at all. Lena sniffed, blinking away tears.

“It’s not fair,” she murmured. She rested her forehead on her knees. “She can do whatever she wants to us and no one will stop her!”

Michael sat back up, his fists tightening on his thin sheets.

“She won’t get away with it forever, sis,” he tried to sound reassuring, not sure if he even believed it himself. “I can promise you that.”

Lena opened her mouth to say something, her jaw snapping shut when Kara’s footsteps sounded on the stairs. She stood quickly, going to the door, pausing part way through opening it. She glanced back at her brother, flashing what had become her usual cold, bitter smile.

“As long as you don’t keep your promises the way Dad does.”

She slipped out, closing his door silently behind her. All he could hope was she made it back to her room before Kara saw her.

“Lena Amber Sione!”

Oh, no…


May, 2010

“Wait, you’re moving?” Lena couldn’t believe what she had just heard. Ty nodded. He was a month older than her, with wavy dark hair, dark brown eyes and a natural tan. They’d been best friends since daycare. He scratched at his collar, loosening his tie. It was the last month of eighth grade, meaning just three more weeks of overly-strict rules and uniforms. At least in his case.

“Look, it’s not like I want to,” he said. “But my parents can’t live here anymore.”

Lena didn’t have to ask why, remembering his older brother’s death even more vividly than they did. His family had emigrated from Guatemala when he was two, taking over management of the local roller rink. She hadn’t wanted to believe him when he’d said they’d sold it, begging herself to wake up when he’d first brought up the fact he might be leaving.

“It won’t be until summer,” he told her. “So we still have a month to hang out.”

She shook her head.

“It won’t be the same,” she was angry. He couldn’t blame her. “First Miranda leaves, now you. Is Kara scaring everyone away?”

Ty’s insides twisted slightly. From what she had told him, her life had been a near-constant hell since her mother had died, the few friends she’d had pulling away one by one. Miranda, born blind in her left eye, had been transferred to a special-needs school across town the year before, meaning he was the only one left.

“I could email you,” he suggested quickly. “Or send you postcards or something.”

“We’re not allowed near the computer,” she explained. “And Kara reads and shreds anything that’s not for her or my dad.”

“Couldn’t you get to it before she does?”

“I already tried,” she turned her head, showing the bandages on her cheek and neck. They hid large bruises and several scratches, the results of what she’d said was a stray cat that had fallen from a tree. “This isn’t even the worst she’s done.”

He thought a moment, then took off his backpack. He unzipped the largest pocket, taking out a slightly wrinkled and folded pamphlet. The Beauty of Blackwood Cove arched across the top in fancy white lettering, the picture beneath a peaceful lakeside scene.

“This is where we’re moving,” he handed it to her. “Put it where you folks can see it. It might give them ideas.”

She stared at it, then at him. Her fingers tightened on it, her eyes brimming with the tears he knew were never far from the surface. She threw the pamphlet at him, then turned and ran. A second before, he could’ve sworn she was almost smiling. He sighed, slipping the pamphlet back in his backpack before zipping it shut. He watched her shrinking form until it disappeared around the corner, wearing the smallest hint of his own sad smile.

“Bye, Lena.”


June, 2012

Lena put a hand to her forehead. Where was she? How long had she been asleep? The steady beat of a heart monitor caught her attention; she turned, seeing a tall metal stand. A small bag of clear fluid hung from it, a thin cord running from it to her arm. A hospital room?

“You’re finally awake,” someone spoke, sounding relieved. “Thank God.”

She turned again, seeing Miranda. The violet-haired girl was smiling excitedly. There was something else there, as well, though Lena was too dizzy to really take note.

“What do you mean?” she tried to push herself up, thinking she’d never felt so weak. She laid back down. “What am I doing here?”

Miranda’s shrinking grin fell away entirely, the other emotion in her eyes coming forth. Sadness.

“You mean you don’t remember?”

Lena shook her head slowly.

“The last thing I remember is coming back from shopping,” she said. “H-How did I get here?”

Miranda hesitated a long while, then sighed.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” she said bluntly. “So I’ll just tell you. Lena, your family’s gone.”

Lena froze.

“W-What? N-No, no that can’t be…”

She stared tearfully at Miranda, who gazed sullenly back. No hint of emotion to show it was just another of her bad jokes, no sign her siblings or father had ever stepped foot in the room. She didn’t bother trying to fight the tears when they started, letting them run freely down her face. Gone. The last people she had who cared about her, gone. Miranda touched her shoulder, her own cheeks wet.

“I’m sorry, Lena,” she said brokenly. “I’m so sorry!”

Over the following weeks, the memory of that day returned piece by piece, along with the anger when she learned the police had done nothing to arrest the person responsible. She also learned she had spent six months in a deep coma, her body waging a war against an army of toxins. Every doctor who had examined her since she woke up was amazed she had survived.

It had all started on Zach’s, Brianna’s and Kyle’s tenth birthday. For some reason, Kara had one of her rules aside, allowing for the first party since she’d married their father. She’d instructed Michael to keep the triplets occupied while she and Lena went for supplies.

Her father had managed to cut his latest business trip short, saying he’d be home as soon as he could. The day had been fine until lunchtime, when Kara had insisted they try the new diner on Main. Lena figured that was where she had been poisoned.

It had started with a headache, one that had only gotten worse as the afternoon wore on, but by the time they’d reached home, she was barely conscious, her breathing rapid, her pulse slowing. As far as she remembered, Kara had made no effort to move quickly, though had promised to send Michael out to help her as soon as she could.

The next thing she remembered was smelling smoke, the vague feeling of being dragged before hearing a faint explosion. The officer who’d come to speak to her had explained the house had burst into flames, that they still couldn’t figure out how it had burnt so quickly. Also that there had been a trail of oil leading from the front door to the car. Whoever had planned the attack, he’d said, they had planned for her to die as well.

The one thing she had wanted to know, however, was the only thing he hadn’t told her. It had taken almost a month of searching before she’d found an article relating to the fire, before she’d learned her family hadn’t burned to death as she had believed. Each one of them had been shot in the head, her siblings crowded on the couch in the living room, her father lying just inside the doorway to the garage. The only gun on the scene had been empty, free of any trace of a fingerprint.


September, 2013

“I didn’t see Kara again until I was done with rehabilitation,” Lena finished. “She came in the day before I was supposed to be released and said we were moving.”

She sat back, gazing down at her hands, clasped tightly in her lap. It was the first time she’d told the whole story; she was surprised to feel part of the weight fall from her shoulders. Across the table, Jason was silent, his mouth hanging open as he tried to digest what she’d told him.

“I’ve never heard anything like that,” he searched for words. “Did they ever find out who did it?”

“They couldn’t pin it on anyone,” she shook her head. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s a cold case.”

“Did they at least have some idea why it happened?”

“Probably money,” she gave a light shrug. “I never really knew what my dad did, but he made a lot doing it.”

A few minutes passed by in silence. Lena picked up a pen someone had left behind, twirling it in her fingers then tapping a short rhythm on the edge of the table.

“Michael was in a band, too,” she said absently. “He tried teaching all of us to play the drums at one point or another.”

Jason grinned slightly. It didn’t surprise him she didn’t want to dwell on that part of the past.

“Sounds like he was a great guy.”

“He was,” she looked at him through her bangs. “It’s funny, you’re a lot like him.”

“Yeah,” he rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, hey, listen-”

Her phone went off, startling them both. She brought it out, turning down the volume.

“Hey, I gotta go,” she stood, giving him a warm smile. “Thanks for listening to all that.”

“Yeah,” he started softly. “Yeah, sure.”

He watched her leave, part of him hating that his heart was beating so quickly. It had only happened one other time, ending terribly for almost everyone involved.

It won’t happen again, he promised himself. I’ll make sure it doesn’t.

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