The Last Thing He Told Me

1.3 Don’t Ask a Question You Don’t Want the Answer To

chapter
Chapter

At 8 P.M., Owen still hasn’t called.
I take a left into the parking lot at Bailey’s school and pull into a spot by the
front exit.
I turn down the radio and try him again. My heartbeat picks up when his
phone goes straight to voice mail. It’s been twelve hours since he left for work,
two hours since the visit from the soccer star, eighteen messages to my husband
that have gone unreturned.
“Hey,” I say after the beep. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you need to
call me as soon as you get this. Owen? I love you. But I’m going to kill you if I
don’t hear from you soon.”
I end the call and look down at my phone, willing it to buzz immediately.
Owen, calling back, with a good explanation. It’s one of the reasons I love him.
He always has a good explanation. He always brings calmness and reason to
whatever is going on. I want to believe that will be true even now. Even if I can’t
see it.
I slide over so Bailey can jump into the driver’s seat. And I close my eyes,
running through di􀏦erent scenarios as to what could possibly be going on.
Innocuous, reasonable scenarios. He is stuck in an epic work meeting. He lost
his phone. He is surprising Bailey with a crazy present. He is surprising me with
some sort of trip. He thinks this is funny. He isn’t thinking, at all.
This is when I hear the name of Owen’s tech 􀏯rm—The Shop—coming
from my car radio.
I turn the radio up, thinking I imagined it. Maybe I was the one who said it in
my message to Owen. Are you stuck at The Shop? It’s possible. But then I hear the
rest of the report, coming from the NPR host’s slick, grippy voice.
“Today’s raid was the culmination of a fourteen-month investigation by the
SEC and the FBI into the software start-up’s business practices. We can con􀏯rm
that The Shop’s CEO, Avett Thompson, is in custody. Expected charges include
embezzlement and fraud. Sources close to the investigation have told NPR that,
quote, there is evidence Thompson planned to flee the country and had set up a
residence in Dubai. Other indictments of senior sta􀏦 are expected to be handed
down shortly.”
The Shop. She is talking about The Shop.
How is this possible? Owen is honored to work there. Owen has used that
word. Honored. He told me that he took a salary cut to join them early on.
Nearly everyone there had taken a salary cut, leaving bigger companies behind—
Google, Facebook, Twitter—leaving big money behind, agreeing to stock
options in lieu of traditional compensation.
Didn’t Owen tell me they did this because they believed in the technology
The Shop was developing? They aren’t Enron. Theranos. They are a software
company. They were building software tools set to privatize online life—helping
people control what was made available about them, providing child-easy ways
to erase an embarrassing image, make a website all but disappear. They wanted
to be a part of revolutionizing online privacy. They wanted to make a positive
di􀏦erence.
How could there be fraud in that?
The host goes to commercial and I reach for my phone, 􀏲ipping to Apple
News.
But just as I’m pulling up CNN’s business page, Bailey comes out of the
school. She has a bag swung over her shoulder and a needy look on her face that I
don’t recognize, especially directed at me.
Instinctively, I turn the radio o􀏦, put my phone down.
Protect her.
Bailey gets in the car quickly. She drops into the driver’s seat and buckles
herself in. She doesn’t say hello to me. She doesn’t even turn her head to look in
my direction.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She shakes her head, her purple hair falling out from behind her ears. I expect
her to make a snide remark—Do I look okay? But she stays quiet.
“Bailey?” I say.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know what’s going on…”
This is when I notice it. The bag she has with her isn’t her messenger bag. It is
a du􀏦el bag. It’s a large black du􀏦el bag, which she cradles in her lap, gently, like
it’s a baby.
“What is that?” I say.
“Take a look,” she says.
The way she says it makes me not want to look. But I don’t have much of a
choice. Bailey hurls the du􀏦el bag onto my lap.
“Go on. Look, Hannah.”
I pull back the zipper just a bit and money starts spilling out. Rolls and rolls
of money, hundreds of hundred-dollar bills tied together with string. Heavy,
limitless.
“Bailey,” I whisper. “Where did you get this?”
“My father left it in my locker,” she says.
I look at her in disbelief, my heart starting to race. “How do you know?” I
say.
Bailey hands me a note, more like tosses it in my general direction. “Call it a
good guess,” she says.
I pick the note up o􀏦 my lap. It’s on a sheet from a yellow legal pad. It is
Owen’s second note that day, on that piece of yellow legal paper.
The other half of my note. BAILEY is written on the front of hers,
underlined for her twice.
Bailey,
I can’t help this make sense. I’m so sorry. You know what matters about
me.
And you know what matters about yourself. Please hold on to it.
Help Hannah. Do what she tells you.
She loves you. We both do.
You are my whole life,
Dad
My eyes focus on the note until the words start to blur. And I can picture
what preceded the meeting between Owen and the twelve-year-old in shin
guards. I can picture Owen running through the school halls, running by the
lockers. He was there to deliver this bag to his daughter. While he still could.
My chest starts heating up, making it harder to breathe.
I consider myself to be pretty un􀏲appable. You could say that how I grew up
demanded it. So, there are only two other times in my life that I’ve felt this exact
way: the day I realized my mother wasn’t coming back and the day my
grandfather died. But looking back and forth between Owen’s note and the
obscene amount of money he’s left, I feel it happening again. How do I explain
the feeling? Like my insides need to get out. One way or another. And I know if
there is ever a moment I could vomit all over the place, it’s now.
Which is what I do.
We pull up to our parking spot in front of the docks.
We’ve kept the car windows wide open for the duration of the ride and I’m
still holding a tissue over my mouth.
“Do you feel like you’re going to hurl again?” Bailey asks.
I shake my head, trying to convince myself as much as I’m trying to convince
her. “I’m 􀏯ne,” I say.
“ ’Cause this could help…” Bailey says.
I look over to see her pull a joint out of her sweater pocket. She holds it out
for me to take.
“Where did you get that?” I say.
“It’s legal in California,” she says.
Is that an answer? Is it even true for a sixteen-year-old?
Maybe she doesn’t want to give me the answer, especially when I’m guessing
she got the joint from Bobby. Bobby is more or less Bailey’s boyfriend. He’s a
senior at her school and on the surface he’s a good guy, if a bit nerdy: University
of Chicago bound, head of student government. No purple streaks in his hair.
But there is something about him Owen doesn’t trust. And while I want to
write o􀏦 Owen’s dislike to overprotection, it doesn’t help that Bobby
encourages Bailey’s disdain toward me. Sometimes after spending time with
him, she’ll come home and lob an insult my way. While I’ve tried not to take it
personally, Owen has been less successful. He had an argument with Bailey
about Bobby just a few weeks ago, telling her he thought she was seeing too
much of him. It was one of the only times I saw Bailey look at Owen with the
dismissive glare she normally reserves for me.
“If you don’t want it, don’t take it,” she says. “I was just trying to help.”
“I’m good. But thanks.”
She starts to put the joint back in her pocket and I 􀏲inch. I try to avoid
making any big parenting moves with Bailey. It’s one of the few things she seems
to like about me.
I start to turn away, making a mental note to discuss this with Owen when he
gets home—let him decide whether she keeps the joint or hands it over. But then
it hits me. I have no idea when Owen will be home. I have no idea where he is
now.
“You know what?” I say. “I’m going to take that.”
She rolls her eyes but hands the joint over. I shove it into the glove
compartment and reach down to pick up the du􀏦el bag.
“I started counting it…” she says.
I look up at her.
“The money,” she says. “Each roll has ten thousand dollars in it. And I got to
sixty. When I stopped counting.”
“Sixty?”
I start grabbing the loose rolls of money that have fallen on the seats, on the
􀏲oor, and put them back inside the bag. Then I zip it closed, so she won’t have
to contemplate the enormous stash inside anymore. So neither of us will.
Six hundred thousand dollars. Six hundred thousand dollars and counting.
“Lynn Williams reposted all these Daily Beast tweets to her Insta Stories,” she
says. “All about The Shop and Avett Thompson. How he’s like Mado􀏦. That’s
what one of them said.”
I go back through what I know—sharp, fast. Owen’s note to me. The du􀏦el
bag for Bailey. The radio report suggesting embezzlement and massive fraud.
Avett Thompson the mastermind of something I’m still trying to understand.
I feel like I’m in one of those twisted dreams that only happen when you go
to sleep at the wrong time, the afternoon sun or midnight chill greeting you
upon waking, disorienting you—and leaving you to turn to the person next to
you, the person you trust most, looking for clarity. It was only a dream: There is
no tiger under the bed. You weren’t just chased through the streets of Paris. You
didn’t jump o􀏦 the Willis Tower. Your husband didn’t disappear, leaving you no
explanation, leaving his daughter six hundred thousand dollars. And counting.
“We don’t have that information yet,” I say. “But even if it’s true that The
Shop is involved in something, or if Avett did something illegal, that doesn’t
mean that your father had anything to do with it.”
“Then where is he? And where did he get this money!”
She is yelling at me because she wants to be yelling at him. It’s a feeling I can
relate to. I’m just as angry as you are, I want to say. And the person I want to say
it to is Owen.
I look at her. Then I turn away, stare out the window, out at the docks, the
bay, at all the night-lit houses in this strange little neighborhood. I can see
directly into the Hahns’ 􀏲oating home. Mr. and Mrs. Hahn are sitting on the
couch, side by side, eating their nightly bowls of ice cream, watching television.
“What do I do now, Hannah?” she says. My name hangs there like an
accusation.
Bailey pushes her hair behind her ears, and I can see her lip start to quiver. It
is so strange and unexpected—Bailey has never cried in front of me—that I
almost reach out to hold her to me, like it’s something we do.
Protect her.
I unbuckle my seat belt. Then I reach over and unbuckle hers. Simple
movements.
“Let’s go into the house and I’ll make some phone calls,” I say. “Someone’s
going to know where your father is. We’ll start there. We’ll start by 􀏯nding him,
so he can explain this all.”
“Okay,” she says.
She opens her car door and steps outside. But she turns back to look at me,
her eyes blazing.
“But Bobby’s coming over,” she says. “I won’t say anything about my father’s
special delivery, but I really want him here.”
She isn’t asking. What choice do I have anyway, even if she were? “Just stay
downstairs, okay?”
She shrugs, which is as close to an agreement as we are going to reach on the
matter. And before I can worry too much about it, I see a car pulling up,
headlights blinking at us, bright and demanding.
My 􀏯rst thought is: Owen. Please be Owen. But my second thought feels more
precise and I prepare myself. It’s the police. It has to be the police. They’re
probably here to 􀏯nd Owen—to gather information about his involvement in
his 􀏯rm’s criminal activities, to assess what I know about his employment at The
Shop, and about his current whereabouts. As if I have any information to pass
along to them.
But I’m wrong on that count too.
The lights go o􀏦 and I see that it’s a bright blue Mini Cooper and I know it’s
Jules. It’s my oldest friend, Jules, hustling out of her Mini Cooper and racing
toward me at top speed, her arms wide and outstretched. She is hugging us,
hugging both Bailey and me, as hard as she can.
“Hello, my loves,” she says.
Bailey hugs her back. Even Bailey loves Jules, despite the fact that I’m the one
who brought her into Bailey’s life. This is who Jules is to everyone who is lucky
enough to know her. Comforting, steady.
It may be why of everything I’m guessing she’ll say to me in that moment, the
one thing I don’t expect is what actually comes out of her mouth.
“It’s all my fault,” she says.


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