By the time I pull into space number G45 in the underground lot, the snow has transformed to freezing rain. The lot is heated, but it’s not enough to stave off the chill that penetrates through the slats of the gated entrance and the fabric of the white dress shirt I wore with my tux last night. It will probably be even colder tonight without Senia in my bed.
I should call her and apologize, but I don’t know if she’s with those security guards, or the cops. I don’t want to risk bringing her into this. I just need to find out who drafted Grandma’s will so I can get my hands on a copy of it. If Grandma Flo left everything to Molly, then I can present that as a motive for Elaine’s sudden interest in getting custody of her. And, if necessary, I’ll tell them everything about her twisted ways.
Once we enter the condo, Molly heads straight for the kitchen. “I’m hungry.”
“Get whatever you want.”
She opens up the refrigerator as I look around. The condo is impeccably clean and modern, like it’s hardly been lived in. Of course, Chris and Claire have lived here less than a month. It’s nice. Senia would like it here.
“They don’t have anything except Capri-Sun, bacon, and water,” Molly calls from the kitchen.
“I’ll order you some pizza,” I call back to her over my shoulder, unable to tear my gaze away from the view through the glass doors leading out to the balcony. The way the raindrops glisten in the moonlight is mesmerizing.
I was accustomed to snow when I lived with Elaine in Maine. She used to tell me to get my coat on and go outside and play in the snow. I remember the neighbor delivering me onto our doorstop and ringing the bell after he found me in his backyard with blue fingers and lips. I had strayed onto his property, which was a good thing because Elaine didn’t even remember how long I’d been out there. She thanked the guy, and all my eight-year-old mind could think was that maybe I could win a world record for rolling in the snow for six hours. It doesn’t snow that much in Raleigh. And despite all the animosity I feel toward Elaine now, I can’t help but long for the snow when it’s gone.
“Why do you hate her?”
I turn around and find Molly sitting on the sofa with her shoes off and her feet propped up on the coffee table.
“Don’t put your feet on the table. This isn’t our house.”
She rolls her eyes as she removes her feet. “You didn’t answer my question. Why do you hate Elaine so much?”
“I’ve already told you. She’s a worthless junkie who treated us and Grandma like trash.”
I sit next to her and the first thing I notice is that there’s no TV in the living room. Chris and Claire must be getting it on a lot in their new place.
“She did something to you, didn’t she?”
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
I kick my shoes off and put my feet up on the coffee table. “Let’s eat first. Then I’ll tell you everything.”
From perfect to jerk in less than two seconds. The only guy ever to tell me to shut up was Tar Heel point guard Kevin Brown during a particularly wild frat party my freshman year, and I slapped him then pissed in his lap. I was rip-roaring drunk at the time and I needed to pee really badly, but, still, no one tells me to shut up.
“Ma’am, do you know where they might have run off to?”
The security guard’s smooth brown skin comes into focus. “What?”
“Your friend? Do you know where he may have taken the girl?”
I shake my head. “He didn’t take the girl. That’s his fucking sister.”
“Ma’am, we’re just trying to keep the girl safe. There’s no need to use that kind of language.”
The other security guard next to him tilts his head as he stares at me with a skeptical expression on his boxy face. He’s probably judging me – judging all of us in his head. He thinks we’re in this situation because we’re trash or because we’re one of those families that’s addicted to drama. One of those families … Did I just refer to myself as part of Tristan’s family?
Holy shit. I need to find Tristan and Molly.
“I’ll be right back,” I say, pushing box-head out of my way as I stalk off toward the main hospital entrance.
I need to call Tristan and I need to call a cab so I can go get my car. I dial Tristan’s number, but he doesn’t answer. Tristan hardly ever has his ringer on. Most of the time, he doesn’t even have the phone set to vibrate. It’s just completely silent. He doesn’t like to be interrupted when he’s practicing or socializing. But I made him set the phone to vibrate when we got off the plane earlier, in case Molly or Grandma Flo called him. If he’s not answering, he’s probably just ignoring me. Asshole.
I get his voicemail greeting and I try to think of what I’m going to say during the brief seconds while I listen to his voice: I’m not available. Leave a message. Beeeeep.
“I … I think there’s something you’re not telling me and I just want to know how I can help.”
I hang up the phone and try not to cry as I think of the little human swimming inside me right now. He or she is doomed to have a fiery temper with Tristan and me as parents. I wonder if she’ll have Tristan’s golden-brown hair or gray eyes or if he’ll be a clone of me, the way Abigail is a clone of Claire.
I wish Claire weren’t on her honeymoon. I need her. I need to know that this isn’t the end. I need to know that being this scared is normal.
I wipe the tears from my eyes as I walk past the Heart Center and Children’s Hospital where I brought Claire to see Abigail almost three months ago. I think I’m finally beginning to understand Claire more than I did just a few weeks ago. I just wish I could understand why Tristan is the way he is with his mother. There has to be more to his hatred than a tragic story of abandonment.
I open the browser app on my phone and begin searching for taxi companies. The smell of fresh snow in the courtyard is such a fresh, calming scent. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home with me. I close my eyes and breathe it in, let it wash away the doubts I have about my future with Tristan. I don’t see the patch of ice on the concrete stairs. One second I’m falling, falling through the smell of snow. The next second, everything is gone.
“I got tired of being the man of the house,” I begin as I set my empty plate on top of the pizza box. “I was twelve years old and you were four. Grandma did the best she could, but she was struggling with money because she was living off the savings and insurance money from when Grandpa died. Grandma didn’t know, but I had started stealing stuff from stores to sell to people at school for money. I told her I didn’t need her to make me school lunches – I thought I was too cool for that – and I told her not to give me any lunch money. But it all became too much. I started to resent Grandma for being so damn cheap and poor.”
I clutch my stomach as the guilt twists my insides. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count, but not being happy with the life Grandma provided for us was the biggest.
I take a deep breath and continue. “Then I got into trouble when one of my friends’ parents found a bunch of watches we’d stolen. I thought that was it. I was going down. My grades had been slipping for a while. I hated coming home every day and knowing that I was going to have to keep you entertained while Grandma spent two or three hours cooking and cleaning. I just wanted to hang out and do bad shit with my friends, but Grandma wanted me to be a responsible young man.”
Molly’s golden-brown eyes are locked on me as she listens, rapt with attention as I prepare to tell her everything I probably should have told her years ago. I think I never wanted Molly to know because I was afraid of Grandma finding out. I don’t think Grandma would judge me, but I think it would destroy her to know that the daughter she still loves very much would do something like that.
“I showed up at Elaine’s house and, at first, she didn’t know what to do with me. She put me to work cutting the lawn and delivering packages, which I assumed were filled with drugs.”
I close my eyes and grit my teeth as I think of the fear that twisted my stomach into knots as I made those deliveries. But even with all the fear that consumed me, there was still an element of excitement to it. And the money was pretty good: $25 per delivery, which usually took less than an hour to complete.
“I thought to myself: I can do this. I can deliver stuff on my bike. It was summer. If I weren’t at Elaine’s, I’d probably be riding my bike around town every day anyway. But this way, I was making money.” I look at Molly and she’s biting the corner of her lip nervously, like she knows what’s coming. “But the deliveries didn’t last. She came to me and told me she found a place for us to live – just her and me. She said she needed to make enough money for the first month’s rent and deposit. We needed two thousand dollars and we could leave. All I had to do is have sex with a girl who actually wanted to have sex with me.”
Molly’s face contorts as she begins to cry quietly.
“She told me that we wouldn’t be able to get the apartment in time just doing deliveries. It would only be a few times and we’d make enough money to leave … I told her I’d never had sex with anyone and I didn’t want to do it, but she wouldn’t let it go. She had a couple of her friends talk to me about it. And one of the younger girls who lived there – I think her name was Cecily, or something like that – she was a heroin addict who was actually kind of pretty. Anyway, she got me drunk and we started making out. Then she just got up and left and I thought maybe I did want to have sex. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.”
I draw in a deep breath and I close my eyes so I don’t have to see Molly’s face when I continue.
“I had sex with the first girl that night. I never found out her name, but I didn’t need to know it. We were both there for the same thing, to get paid. Only thing was she was getting paid in drugs and Elaine was getting paid by … by the guys who came in and watched us.”
Molly has the heels of her hands pressed into her eyelids and I can’t bring myself to touch her to comfort her. I feel filthy, as if the guilt is seeping through my skin. The shame is something I’ve lived quietly with, but talking about it now … it’s so fucking loud and vile. I don’t want to go on, but I know I can’t stop now. She needs to know.
“The first two times were horrible, but the last girl …” I let go a deep sigh as the first sign of tears form in my eyes. “You remember Ashley, don’t you?”
She uncovers her eyes and looks at me with pure shock in her eyes. “Ashley?”
I cover my face to hide the tears. “I hate myself for what I did.”
“Oh my God, Tristan. You … you’ve been living with this and I never knew? All this time, I thought you were mad at Elaine because she’s a piece-of-shit junkie.”
She grabs my hands and pries my fingers away from my face. “Don’t do that,” I say, pushing her away.
She sniffs loudly, her lip trembling as she looks me in the eye. “I hate her.”
“Don’t say that. She didn’t do anything to you. That anger is mine to carry, not yours.”
“Yes, it is! She hurt you and now I’ll never be able to look at her again. I hate her! Oh my God, I hate her so much.”
The mixture of rage and agony in Molly’s face kills me. I don’t want her to be consumed by this the way I have been. Maybe I shouldn’t have told her anything.
“Hey,” I say, grabbing her arm to turn her toward me. “Don’t let her do this to you. She did it to me for way too many years … It’s time to let it go.”