The Last Thing He Told Me

1.6 Follow the Money

chapter
Chapter

Jules doesn’t leave until after 2 A.M.
She o􀏦ers to stay over, and maybe I should have let her because I barely get
any sleep.
I lay awake most of the night on the living room couch, unable to face my
bedroom without Owen. I wrap myself up in an old blanket and wait out the
dark, playing it over and over in my head—the last thing Jules said before she
left. We stood at the front door and she leaned in to give me a hug. “One thing,”
she said. “Did you keep your own checking account?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That’s good,” she said. “That’s important.”
She smiled approvingly, so I didn’t add that I’d done so at Owen’s insistence.
Owen was the one who wanted to keep some of our money separate for a reason
he never fully explained. I assumed it had something to do with Bailey. But
maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe it had to do with leaving what was mine
untouched.
“I ask because they’re probably going to freeze all his assets,” Jules said.
“That’s the 􀏯rst thing they’ll do while they’re trying to 􀏯gure out where he went.
What he knew. They always follow the money.”
Follow the money.
I feel a little bit queasy, even now, as I think about the du􀏦el bag shoved
under the kitchen sink, a bag full of money that Owen probably knows they
can’t follow. I didn’t tell Jules about the du􀏦el because I know what it looks like
to any reasonable person. I know what it should look like to me too. It looks like
Owen is guilty. Jules had already decided as much, and a mysterious bag of
money would only convince her further. Why wouldn’t it? She loves Owen like a
brother, but it isn’t about love. It’s about what points toward Owen’s
involvement in this mess: that he’s running, that he acted suspiciously with Jules
on the phone. Every single thing.
Except this. Except what I know.
Owen wouldn’t run because he is guilty. He wouldn’t leave to save himself.
He wouldn’t leave to avoid prison or to avoid looking me in the eye and
admitting what he’s done. He wouldn’t leave Bailey. He would never leave Bailey
unless he absolutely had to. How can I be so sure of this? How can I trust myself
to be sure of anything when I’m obviously biased in what I’m willing to see?
Partially it’s because I’ve spent my life needing to see. I’ve spent my life paying
incredibly close attention. When my mother left for good, I didn’t see it coming.
I missed it. I missed the 􀏯nality of that departure. I shouldn’t have. There were
so many hasty exits before that, so many nights she slipped out and left me with
my grandfather without so much as a goodbye. There were so many times she
didn’t come back for days, or weeks, only o􀏦ering up an occasional phone call,
an occasional check-in.
When she 􀏯nally left for good, she didn’t say she wasn’t coming back. She sat
down on the edge of my bed and brushed my hair o􀏦 my face and said she had to
go to Europe—that my father needed her with him. But she said she’d see me
soon. I assumed that meant she’d be back soon—she was always coming and
going. But I missed it. The language of it. “Seeing me soon” meant she was never
coming back, not in a substantial way. It meant I’d spend an afternoon or an
evening with her twice a year (never overnight).
It meant she was lost to me.
That’s the part that I missed: My mother didn’t care enough not to be lost to
me.
That’s the part I’ve sworn to myself I would never miss again.
I don’t know if Owen is guilty. And I’m furious he left me to deal with this
alone. But I know he cares. I know he loves me. And, more than that, I know he
loves Bailey.
He would only leave for her. It has to be that. He left the way he did to try
and save her. From something or someone.
It all comes down to Bailey.
The rest is just a story.
The sunlight streams through the undraped living room windows, soft and
yellow, against the harbor.
I stare outside. I don’t turn on the television or 􀏲ip open my laptop to check
the newsfeed. I know the most important thing. Owen is still gone.
I head upstairs to shower and 􀏯nd Bailey’s door uncharacteristically open,
Bailey sitting up in her bed.
“Hey there,” I say.
“Hi,” she says.
She pulls her knees to her chest. She looks so scared. She looks like she is
trying hard to hide it.
“Can I come in for a sec?” I say.
“Sure,” she says. “I guess.”
I walk over and sit down on the edge of her bed—as if that is something I
know how to do, as if that is something I’ve done before.
“Did you sleep at all?” I say.
“Not much,” she says.
The outline of her toes is visible through the sheets. She curls them tight
together, like a 􀏯st. I start to reach for her foot, hold it, but then think better of
it. I clasp my hands together and look around her room. Her bedside table is
littered with theater books and plays. Her blue piggy bank rests on top of them
—the piggy bank that Owen won for her at a school fair shortly after they moved
to Sausalito. It’s a female piggy bank, complete with bright red cheeks and a bow
on top.
“I just keep going over it in my head,” she says. “I mean… my father doesn’t
make things complicated. At least not with me. So explain what he wrote in his
note to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what matters about me… what’s that even mean?”
“I think he means that you know how much he loves you,” I say. “And that
he’s a good man despite what people may be saying about him.”
“No, that’s not it,” she says. “He meant something else. I know him. I know
he meant something.”
“Okay…” I take a deep breath. “Like what?”
But she is shaking her head. She is already onto something else.
“And what am I supposed to do with that money? All that money he left
me?” she says. “That’s the kind of money that someone leaves you when they’re
not coming back.”
That stops me. Cold. “Your father’s coming back,” I say.
Her face 􀏯lls with doubt. “How do you know?”
I try to think of a comforting answer. Luckily it also feels like the truth.
“Because you’re here.”
“So why isn’t he?” she says. “Why did he take o􀏦 like he did?”
It feels like she isn’t actually looking for an answer. She is looking to 􀏯ght
when I give her an answer that she doesn’t want. It makes me furious with Owen
for putting me in this position, regardless of the reason. I can tell myself that I’m
sure of Owen’s intentions—that, wherever he is, he’s there because he is trying
to protect Bailey. But I’m left sitting here, without him, anyway. Doesn’t that
make me as ridiculous as my mother is? Doesn’t it make me the same as her?
Both of us putting our faith in someone else above everything else—calling it
love. What good is love, if this is where it leads you?
“Look,” I say. “We can talk about this more later, but you should probably
get ready for school.”
“I should get ready for school?” she says. “Are you serious?”
She isn’t wrong. It’s a lousy thing to say. But how can I say what I want to
say? That I’ve called her father dozens and dozens of times, that I don’t know
where he is. And I certainly have no idea when he’s coming back to us.
Bailey gets out of bed and heads toward the bathroom and the terrible day
ahead of her, ahead of both of us. I almost stop her and tell her to come back to
the bed. But that seems more about what I need. Isn’t what’s best for her to get
out of this house? Go to school? Forget about her father for 􀏯ve minutes?
Protect her.
“I’m going to drop you o􀏦,” I say. “I don’t want you walking to school alone
this morning.”
“Whatever,” she says.
She’s apparently too tired to argue. One break.
“I’m sure we’re going to hear from your father soon,” I say. “And things will
start to make a lot more sense.”
“Oh, you’re sure of that?” she says. “Wow, that’s a relief.”
Her sarcasm can’t mask it—how tired she is, how alone she feels. It makes me
miss my grandfather, who would know exactly how to make Bailey feel better.
He’d know how to give her the thing she needs, whatever that thing might be, to
know she’s loved in a moment like this. To know she can trust. The same way he
did for me. How many months after my mother left did he 􀏯nd me upstairs in
my room, trying to write a letter to her? Asking her how she could desert me?
I was crying and angry and scared. And I’ll never forget what he did next. He
was wearing his overalls and these thick work gloves—purple, and ridged. The
gloves were a recent purchase. He got them made special in purple because that
was my favorite color. He took the gloves o􀏦 and he sat down on the 􀏲oor next
to me and helped me 􀏯nish the letter, exactly as I wanted to write it. No
judgment. He helped me spell out any words I was having trouble with. He
waited while I 􀏯gured out exactly how I wanted the letter to end. Then he read
the entire letter out loud so I could hear it for myself, pausing when he got to the
sentence in which I asked my mother how she could have left me behind. Maybe
that’s not the only question we should be asking, my grandfather said. Maybe we
should also think about whether we’d really want it to be different. We could think
about whether she actually did us a favor in her own way… I looked at him,
starting to understand where he was gently leading me. After all, what your
mother did… it gave me you.
The most generous thing to say. The most comforting and generous thing.
What would he say to Bailey now? When am I going to 􀏯gure out how to say it
too?
“Look, I’m trying here, Bailey,” I say. “I’m sorry. I know I keep saying the
wrong things to you.”
“Well,” she says as she closes the bathroom door behind herself, “at least you
know.”


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