I shouldn't be out of bed.
But I had to.
Not while my parents were arguing, not while they weren't aware that they had stopped being quiet and their angry voices carried through the house. I was mostly surprised that dad was participating in it. He had always been the one who was calmer, and mum had always been the one yelling.
It pained me.
Every single time they fought, it cut me deep.
I should have gone to Beth's. I should have just stayed at hers and never come back here. Maybe if they realized how their fights affected me, they would stop. They would love each other again. Mum would stop blaming dad. Dad would stop being sad all the time. I would get my happy family again.
Tiptoeing out of my room, I tried to stay quiet and not alert them that I was there. But they had to know I would be awake now, or maybe they were too consumed by their argument to realize it.
Their voices started to get louder when I got to the stairs and silently walked down, my hands shaking and dread wrapping itself around me like a blanket.
"I'm only asking you where you went, Ginny," Dad was saying. "I woke up and you were not in the house."
"Why do you have to question me like we are in a court? I don't ask you where you go all the time, so I need you to stop confronting me like I have done something wrong."
"Because you give me doubts. Because I woke up at two in the morning and found my wife gone. And we have a daughter. What if she wakes up and wonders where her mum went? What would I say?"
Hearing my dad's voice crack, the sheer raw pain in it did nothing but intensified mine. The pain was so sharp and it stabbed right through my heart, cutting it mercilessly and letting it bleed.
"She's a big girl," Mum returned after a few seconds of silence. "She doesn't need me. She has you. She will always have you."
I shut my eyes and gripped the edge of my shirt, letting the hot tears rolled down my eyes. How could mum say and think that? Why did it sound like she was giving me up? If she was near, why did it sound like she was so far away?
"You're her mother. We both need you. Whatever you have going on, you need to tell me. Before it's too late, Ginny."
I was too afraid to walk in the room, too afraid to see the look on their faces, because I knew it would be the only thing I would have to see for days. I should walk in and scream at them to stop because dad's words scared me. If things were getting this bad, they would be divorced and I would be forced to choose between them. And the answer would be so easy and it scared me.
Because I knew I would choose my dad. I would always choose my dad.
Mum's words were like taking a blow from a hammer twice. "You're a little late, Vin."
I couldn't wait to hear more before I ran back upstairs, almost knocking myself to the ground before I shut my bedroom door close and ran straight to bed.
Breathing heavily and clutching the sheets with tight eyes, it didn't stop their voices from ringing in my head. The tears were long gone, the remnants were dried and clung to my skin. But it was only my heart that still cried, echoed so loud in the walls of my chest.
I heard the slight creak of the door, then soft footsteps walking closer to the bed. My eyes snapped open, but I didn't attempt to turn around. I already knew who it was. The fragrance of her perfume was evidence enough.
"You were eavesdropping."
That should have surprised me, but it didn't. But it wasn't what was on my mind.
"Do you hate dad?" It was an answer that I didn't want but needed to hear.
"Of course not," she replied, and it came out strong and firm that I believed her. And it was the reason I shifted and turned around to face her. She was the same replica as me, but older. When I didn't answer, she added, "Trust me."
"Then, why do you hurt him?"
She sighed and came to sit on the bed next to me, grabbing my hand to hold it and replied, "It's complicated."
"It's not. You don't love him anymore, so you hurt him," I accused, snatching my hand back to hide it from her. A look of hurt crossed her face before it quickly went away. "If you did love him, you wouldn't be hurting him."
I sat up abruptly, grabbing both her hands and squeezing them. "Tell him you're sorry. Say it and he will forgive you. Dad loves you, mum. Everything will be fine. Just apologize to him."
She pulled her hand back to place them on my cheek, the pad of her thumb rubbing against my cheek softly. "It doesn't work like that, honey."
I glared at her and turned around to lay back on the bed, hugging my arms to my chest. "Then leave, mum," I snapped harshly. "Leave. Get out."
This had to be a cruel joke. My mum was alive, there had been no doubt about that, but she was standing in front of me. Breathing. Looking well.
The sight of her face almost sent me to my knees. She was standing there, looking at me, a faint smile lingering on her lips. My eyes shifted over her face, registering the changes in her appearance and it knocked me down.
She was not my mum.
This woman was not the one who gave birth to me. This, standing in front of me was just a replica of her; someone richer. My mother didn't own a diamond necklace that this woman was wearing around her neck, or the earrings and the bracelet. My mother didn't own a dress as expensive as the one the woman was wearing on her body. Nothing about the blonde haired woman was familiar, because my mother had been a brunette.
I instantly felt hate, like I had just been drowned in a pool of it. I hated how she was smiling at me as if she was allowed to as if she hadn't destroyed my dad and left him with a hole. I hated the eyes that I was familiar with because they made me think of those nights she stared down at me while she tucked me into bed with so much love in them. Absolutely loathed those arms that had shielded me from harm.
I hated her.
So much that I felt the tightness in my chest, felt my lungs closing off and rendering me breathless.
I feared her.
Of what she might do to me and to dad. Her presence would do nothing but cause us more pain, the pain that we had buried with hard work. Our once peaceful life, simply gone by the mere presence of our past.
And I also hated that her presence reduced me to this.
This shaky, messed up girl whose mother abandoned her years ago. This girl I had tried to hide for so long was resurfacing, the broken girl. Nightmare after nightmare, screaming and calling out for her to come back, pleading for her to stay, but she never did. She would disappear before I would reach her. And I would wake up with dad's arms around my shoulders, rocking me and whispering gentle words in my ears.
In one of my weakest moments when I would cry into my pillows, thinking about going back to the last moment with my mother in the kitchen, I had imagined a life where she was dead, died from labor or sickness. A life where I wouldn't have to know the loss of a mother, a mother who was willing to throw her family away for her selfish needs. And a life where I wouldn't wake up hating her very existence.
But those were wishful thinking. Even standing in front of me, I wished she was somewhere else but here. I wished she hadn't been brought in front of me, because all I wanted to do was scream and curl into a ball and cry.
But I wouldn't.
"Lauren," Ginny said again with caution, a trace of guilt evident in her voice. She was still standing by the sink, watching the harshness in my features and sighing in helplessness. "It's good to see you, honey."
Good to see me? Honey?
Bitter rage and disgust ate me like acid, but I still hadn't said a word. It would be a miracle if I managed to find my voice.
"How have you been? You look beautiful, but you've always been beautiful."
My mind was racing in wild circles, my thoughts tumbling over themselves. Why are you here? What do you want?
"You're angry with me."
Anger required mental energy and concentration, and at the moment, my dazed mind was still nearly paralyzed with shock. I closed my eyes tightly and swallowed hard before snapping them open. And it was in that moment that someone walked out of one of the stalls before her gaze landed on me. It was the same woman I had talked with earlier, the one who claimed to know Mason, and she was spotting a slight smirk on her face.
"Hi, sis," she greeted sweetly. And it was said with so much cruelty and malice.
I stumbled back in shock, my gaze moving to her and Ginny in confusion.
I unconsciously clutched my chest, feeling like my heart was going to explode from the pain. The dizziness started to kick in as I struggled to breathe, struggled to keep my feet upright.
Ginny had a daughter?
I couldn't stand there anymore, couldn't look at Ginny and her daughter without bursting into tears, so I turned around and bolted out of there like someone running away from death.
Stumbling back into the ballroom, I had a crazed look when I searched for Mason, ignoring the confused and worried glances people threw at me until I found him. I didn't waste any moment of my time before I walked up to him. I didn't register the worried glance he was shooting me when I reached him and grabbed onto his arm, pulling him forward and whispering, "We have to go."
He didn't object because he must have realized I was freaking out and was out of my mind. I rushed him out of the ballroom, clinging onto his arm like I was desperate for some sanity.
Mason opened the door and helped me inside, shutting it and walking around to get inside. I had buried my face in my thighs and breathing heavily, replaying the few minutes in the restroom.
Ginny was back. Ginny was back.
During the ride back home, it was quiet. I never lifted my head up, and Mason never said a word to me. But when I finally did do it, I leaned further back into the leather seat with eyes still closed. And when I opened them, I felt his gaze on me, a silent question waiting there before I answered with a shake of my head. That was the best I could do.
"Coop, keep driving. Don't stop," I heard Mason ordered in a tense voice, his entire body rigid and I had to angle my head towards him, confused about his sudden weird behavior.
He gritted his teeth just as Coop pushed on more speed, making me jerk forward and I almost hit my head against the back of the front seat if Mason hadn't been quick with his hand and pulled me away before I could collide with it.
"Someone's tailing us." There was frustration popping along with his syllables like he was annoyed with himself for allowing it to happen but mostly felt murderous against the person who dared to tail his car. I turned in my seat to look behind, but his hand came down on my thigh, insistent. "No. Sit still and act normal."
And I did. Even though my heart was pounding in my chest, threatening to explode from fear didn't allow me to shuffle around when Coop stomped his foot on the gas. I had to remind myself to breathe. Who could be tailing us? Who would be dumb enough to do it?
Ginny. But I didn't share that theory. The ache in my chest started to strangle the breath in my lungs, and I gritted my teeth, trying to shove my emotions aside.
I'm strong. I would not break down.
"Turn left," Mason ordered again. There was no worry in his voice, just using his casual voice.
The next few minutes was him telling Coop where to go, when to slow down and when to speed up, and I began to realize that we were not on our way back home. But I was smart not to question him. Not when he was in the beast mode. And when Mason was in a beast mode, he didn't like being questioned and he didn't like to say things twice.
Which was why I didn't move at all, silently obeying him with no objection. I think it was because I was paralyzed with the knowledge that it could be Ginny chasing after me. Ginny, who wanted to talk to me. Ginny, whom I didn't want to talk to for many reasons.
"Stop," he commanded, and Coop slammed on the breaks.
We were in the middle of a quiet, dark street. There were no moving cars or any sign of a living person. I slightly turned my head right, seeing the empty road and then back at the left, seeing nothing but blackness. I turned to Mason, not sure what he was up to. Not sure why he had us stopped in the middle of the road and on this street.
"They stopped their car," Coop commented in his own calming voice, his eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror.
Mason didn't say anything back, just leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, his lashes brushing against his cheeks. I just stared at him, gobsmacked. I wanted to say something. I wanted to ask what the hell he was doing, that someone was tailing us and this was the perfect location to kidnap us or murder us, and if it had been my mother, she would have stepped out of the car and approached ours. This person that was tailing us didn't come down from their car, nor did they drive past us.
Either way, I had to bit on my tongue on saying a million things that were crossing my mind about what he was doing, why we were here and who was tailing us?
It took five minutes, I was checking the time from the watch that was around his wrist before he said something again, with his eyes still perfectly shut.
"Drive a couple of blocks from here and stop."
I threw him a glance, but he wouldn't know that because he had his eyes closed. I was glued to the window and without his knowledge, watching the tinted black car that was tailing us drive behind us once again.
When Coop stopped for the second time, it was then I saw headlights coming from the right and left until they stopped behind us, completely blocking us from the car that was tailing us. I watched, amazed as the car tailing us tried to turn back when they must have realized they were set in a trap, but two other cars the same as the one behind us blocked them from behind, trapping them from driving them away.
"I gave them a choice to leave, but they didn't," Mason answered my unasked question. He planned this. He lured them into this trap and they got themselves caught up in it. Back there when we had stopped, it was him giving them a chance to leave, and here I thought he was an idiot. I felt like an idiot.
My eyes were shining with new light, with amazement as I watched this man who was something else. Really, I wanted to ask questions. Like how he was able to call for backup or when he called them. Or maybe, they had been here all along. He must have trapped a lot of people on this street.
It didn't take long before we reached home. Mason asked me to get down and go in first. When I walked in, I was surprised to see Beth in front of me, waving her hand, and I must have missed her so much because I launched myself into her arms. And she didn't hesitate to wrap her arms around me.
After changing into comfortable clothes, I found her on the bed, staring and waiting. What happened at the party came back in full force. I had been too shocked to react, but now that it was all coming back to me, I couldn't help but break into tears. I reached Beth and curled beside her, squeezing my eyes shut and replying the scene.
I didn't say anything.
"Lauren, what's wrong? Talk to me. Mason texted me to get here because he knew you would tell me what's wrong. You dragged him out of his event before it was over. Talk to me." I felt her fingers in my hair, brushing and playing with it.
"Mum's back," I replied hoarsely. "She's back and she came with a daughter who is a few years older than me." I chocked up with tears, feeling my heart tear and the unexplainable pain that was stabbing me.
Beth's fingers in my hair suddenly froze and she grew quiet for a minute. I could almost feel the violence tendencies coming off her, could feel the anger that was pulsing in her veins like it was living breathing thing.
"What?" she breathes out.
I sat up in bed with reddened eyes as I tucked my legs under me, wiping away the tears that kept falling. "I saw her, Beth. She looked different. She looked happy. How could she be happy after tearing us apart?"
Beth, for the first time, had nothing to say. She was speechless, just gawking at me like I had two heads. I would have the same reaction if she had told me her dead hamster came back to life.
"With a daughter," she said, the words sounding heavy in her tongue and heavy in my ears. She gave me a dazed look. "Where has she been? And how can she have a daughter who is older than you?" A realization crossed her mind before she whispered what I had suspected, "It's not your dad's."
It hurt more to hear the words come out.
I nodded and sniffled. "She lied to him. She kept a secret daughter from him for years. Dad trusted her, Beth. How could she do that?" A keening cry left my lips, and I sucked air in, trying not to scream. "Why did I get to be the one to grow up without a mum? What did I do to get treated like this?"
Beth leaned farther into me like she could protect me from the pain. But there was no protecting me from it.
"Lauren, don't do this to yourself."
"No, I had to be the problem, right? Did I cause my parents' marriage?" Panic built in my chest, a pressure so intense I wondered if I might have been having a heart attack. "Do you think I'm the reason mum walked away? I have to be." I had always wondered why she would leave without persuading me to go with her. As far as I knew, she had loved me.
She shook her head wildly. "No. Your mum is a selfish bitch. It was not your fault, and neither was it your dad's," Beth said as quickly as possible, with loathing. "And your mother or not, but if I see her, I would punch her in the face. She does not deserve your tears."
"Why do you think she's back?"
"Why was she at Mason's charity event in the first place? Does he know her?"
It was starting to hit me hard just how odd this all was. Ginny being at Mason's event, her daughter being friends with his sister. They all seemed to lead to one thing: Mason had to know my mother. But I didn't want to jump into conclusion. I didn't want to point a finger without knowing the truth.
Caught between confusion and alarm, Beth leaned across and took me by the shoulders, shaking me lightly. "Listen to me. What if he knows her? What if Mason brought her back into your life, Lauren?"
"Beth, stop it. He didn't. Mason knows I hate her. He wouldn't do that to me." I strive to sound calm as I averted my eyes from her. I thought I had felt every type of fear before, but this one was different.
Beth considered that for a moment. "I hope for your sake that it's true," she replied doubtfully. "You're not going to tell your dad about her return, are you?"
"That's the last thing I want to do. There was no sign that she's back to rectify her mistakes. But I'm going to make sure she never sees dad. The only visitors he would have are the two of us and Mason."
Nodding, she rubbed her fists together, saying, "I hope I meet her somewhere. I'm going to enjoy busting her lip open and rearranging her entire face."
A small laugh left my lips as the tears began to dry up. "You know I would bail you. Even if I don't have anything, I would rob a bank and bail you out, babe."
"You also have a rich husband with powerful connections. I think I feel a little like doing illegal things."
I smacked her face with a pillow.