It’s an hour later and I’m on my way to visit the Parr family. It’s not just Bryan’s name I have to clear anymore; now it’s my own too.
I can’t sit around and do nothing. I have to do something, and if that means starting with Bryan’s own family, then so be it.
The second I step out of my car, I’m being embraced tightly by Bryan’s mother, Cindy. I informed her beforehand that I’d be coming around. I manage a small smile and hug her back just as tightly.
She’s always been more of a mother figure to me than my own mother.
When I pull back from her, I see the tears running down her cheeks. It makes my own heart ache.
“Mary, I’m so glad you’re here,” she tells me.
I nod. “Me too.”
“We’ve missed you so much,” she admits. “You’re like the daughter I never had.”
Cindy leads me inside. I catch sight of Bryan’s brother in the kitchen. Leo finds my gaze and a grim line makes its way across his face. He doesn’t return my smile or bother to greet me. He turns on his heel and walks away, avoiding me.
“Leo’s taking it hard, huh?” I ask Cindy, curious.
He’s never treated me this way before. We’ve always got along well.
“Don’t mind him,” Cindy apologizes on his behalf. “He’s been distrusting of just about everyone that’s come over in the last couple of days. He’s been super…paranoid, to say the least. I feel there’s a lot going on inside that head.”
My heart drops. He’s like a brother to me.
“I can imagine how heartbroken and torn up he must be over all of this,” I say, putting myself in his shoes.
Bryan and Leo have always been close. They are the true definition of blood being thicker than water.
“Yes,” she admits. “He believes his brother is innocent.”
I nod. “As do I.”
Cindy smiles, thankful to have me on her side. “As do I.”
I sit down in the chair that I’ve always sat in when visiting. The house feels strangely empty without Bryan in it. He moved out of his parent’s home a few years ago but he still spent a lot of time here. Without him, the home feels void of happiness.
“I imagine you came here to talk?” Cindy finally gets into it.
I nod, aware of how inquisitive she is. She’s looking for a beacon of hope for her son and she’s dying to find it in me.
“I’m on a quest to prove Bryan’s innocence,” I inform her, deciding to be blunt about it.
I hear a humorless laugh escape from somewhere behind me. I swivel my head and spot Bryan’s father, Jacob. He’s carrying bags to the front door, his arms loaded with all sorts of objects.
“Good luck with that,” Jacob chimes in.
I raise my eyebrows at him. “You guys planning on leaving for a bit? Until the heat from the press simmers down? I know it hasn’t been easy.”
I’ve constantly seen their names in the papers, seen their faces on TV, and heard them speak on the radio. They’ve been hassled by media and press non-stop. I feel for them. It’s not as if they did anything to cause this, to cause someone’s death.
“Actually, Mary…we…uh…” Cindy drawls, uncomfortable, “we’re separated.”
Cindy looks in two minds about what she’s just said.
“Bryan didn’t tell you?” Jacob asks me.
I shake my head and draw my brows together, caught off guard. “No…he didn’t.”
Cindy frowns, just as confused as me. She shares a look with her husband, or whatever he is to her now, before clearing her throat, “It’s been hard on the boys.”
So, this happened before Ryan was arrested? And again, I didn’t know anything about it.
I stand up and excuse myself, needing a moment. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
I walk around the corner toward the bathroom, out of their sight. My eyes flicker over to Bryan’s childhood bedroom across the bathroom. The door is closed, and it’s been that way for the last couple of years. Still, something is stirring inside of me, like a sixth sense. All I know is that I need to get inside.
As I’m about to pull open the bedroom door, I’m yanked aside. Before I can shriek, a hand is placed over my mouth. My heart races as I look up into eerily familiar green eyes – Leo’s. He and his brother have identical shades of green.
I don’t remember him being this strong.
I try to get out of his hold but his strength overpowers me. He places a finger to his lips in warning before removing his hand from my mouth. When I don’t make a sound, he takes my hand and tugs me into his brother’s bedroom.
“You can talk now,” he speaks up.
Astounded by his nerve, I whisper-shout at him. “What the hell is the matter with you?! You scared me! I’m already on edge as is.”
Leo takes a seat on Bryan’s bed and begins talking, “My brother just confessed to killing someone. I know he’s not capable of doing anything like that but he still took the blame. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. He’d only take the blame to keep someone close to him out of trouble.”
Leo looks at me from head-to-toe with an accusing and hair-raising stare. It’s nerve-racking. For the first time in my life, I’m intimidated by him.
“Was it you?” he asks plainly.
I scoff. “Are you kidding me, Leo? Bryan is my best friend in the whole world. Why would I pin anything on him, ever? I came over here to gather more information. I’m not going to rest until he’s set free,” I explain my side of the story to him.
Leo studies me intently and I realize that I’m close to convincing him that I had nothing to do with it.
I stare back with sincerity. “Look me in the eyes and tell me that you don’t believe me, Leo. Tell me that I’m lying. Tell me that it’s my fault Bryan’s currently in custody.”
He breaks eye-contact and thinks over my words before shaking his head as if coming to some kind of conclusion that only he knows about. “You’re right, Mary. I’m sorry. I just had to be sure.”
Leo hands me his phone and I read the disturbing heading in the news:
‘Mary Sanders or Mary Slaughters?’