Out of the mass of people milling about, a familiar figure headed toward me, and I looked up, surprised that he was still here. Other than the bandaged shoulder, he looked fine.
“Just a scratch,” he said, dropping down beside me. He wrapped his good arm around me. In a daze, I noted that Dad hadn’t injured Carson’s throwing arm and ruined his future. “I have to go to the hospital, but I needed to see you first. Took a little convincing…”
I leaned over and kissed him deeply. “Thank you.”
He kissed my temple softly, whispering something in my ear that I couldn’t hear. Voices rose suddenly, and Scott appeared in the chaos, his face pale with shock as he strode toward us before being cut off by the police and led over to where they were questioning our mother.
A tremble ran through my body, and I twisted toward Carson, burrowing my face against his chest. What was I supposed to tell Scott? How were any of us going to get over this? What Dad had done, what he’d planned to do to Carson and me, was a bitter ash forming on my tongue.
If Dad made it out of surgery alive or not, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know.
Carson’s hand ran the length of my spine, soothing in spite of the tremble that coursed through his arm. The tears wouldn’t stop, but beneath the sorrow, there was some relief driving them. The truth was finally out there, and maybe this would bring Cassie’s family some peace.
Maybe it would bring me the same peace one day.
He brushed the hair away from the side of my face. “It’s okay. Everything is okay.”
And it would be. Eventually.
There was one thing that I knew was the same before Cassie died and now. I had no patience whatsoever.
Shifting my weight from one foot to the next, I watched the time count down on the microwave like a bird of prey. Even when the contents started popping in rapid succession it still wasn’t fast enough.
I hated missing previews, even the ones shown on DVDs.
When the kernels slowed in their explosions, I whipped the bag out of the microwave and emptied the popcorn into a large bowl waiting on the counter. Cradling the buttery goodness against my chest, I spun around. Strands escaped my messy ponytail, falling along my cheeks.
Mom leaned against the kitchen bar with a bottle of water. She hadn’t picked up a glass of alcohol since that night. I couldn’t blame her, though, if she had indulged, but she had become a stronger person. The media had gone crazy with the story once it went live, and there was no way Mom could worry about what her friends said anymore. And I didn’t think she really did.
A tentative smile pulled at her lips. The gray shadows under her eyes weren’t as dark as they’d been the weeks following Dad’s arrest. He’d survived the shooting, and we were told he’d plead guilty to manslaughter plus a slew of other charges once he went to court. I really didn’t know how to feel about Dad. I don’t think I’d ever know how to feel about him.
“Watching a movie?” Mom asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s about to start.”
She stepped aside. “I don’t want to keep you, then.”
It had been a month since I’d remembered everything, since the day Mom had shot Dad, stopping him from silencing the truth forever. Things hadn’t been perfect. Over the course of the following days, I had moments when I couldn’t remember something clearly and frustration would lap at my sides and quickly turn into anger.
Or when I couldn’t stop thinking about Cassie and the horrific details of the night she died. All she’d wanted was what I had—a real father. I wished I could have gone back in time knowing what I knew now and been a better friend.
Tomorrow would’ve been her eighteenth birthday. I planned on visiting her grave site…with Cassie’s mom. Strange to do so after she’d smacked me, but a few days after everything had happened, I remembered the music box.
With Scott in tow, I’d gone to Cassie’s house, and reluctantly, her mom had let me inside. As I suspected, Cassie had hidden something important in the music box. It was why she never wanted me touching it.
The music box housed her birth certificate.
Her mom had no idea how she’d gotten her hands on it, but seeing my father’s name listed as hers had been what started it all. I didn’t think Dad even knew he was on that birth certificate.
Holding the proof of who Cassie really was to me—to Scott and our whole family—had been harder than I ever thought it would be. There were so many what-ifs—what if Cassie had confided in me earlier on, what if Dad had just told the truth and accepted her. So many things would’ve been different.
I’d stopped taking my meds, but I still saw Dr. O’Connell once a week. I hadn’t written myself any more notes, but I woke up many nights covered in sweat and screaming like a banshee. It would be a long time before I was normal, but Scott was there those nights, and so was Mom.
Setting the popcorn bowl aside, I went to my mother and wrapped my arms around her. “I love you.”
Her posture was rigid as she hugged me back. Not the best hug, but we were working on it. Our relationship hadn’t been great before everything happened, but I figured it could only get better.
“I love you, too.” She brushed the loose strands off my forehead. “Get. Go have fun.”
Smiling, I untangled my arms and grabbed the bowl. Her gaze drifted over me, but she didn’t comment on my oversize sweatpants and shirt that had seen better days. Better—she was getting better.
I hurried through the rooms, hanging a right. I went down the stairs two at the time. Laughter and the low murmur of conversation rose up. Someone had paused the movie for me.
And I had a feeling I knew who.
Unable to stop the grin spreading across my lips, I moved around the sectional couch, stepped over a pair of long denim-clad legs, and plopped down.
Scott stretched over and snatched the bowl of popcorn away from me. “Thanks,” he said. “You’re the best.”
Julie giggled as she grabbed a handful. “Not saying much, considering the company.”
“Whatever.” He tossed a few kernels at her.
Watching them waste perfectly good popcorn, I sank back and inhaled the scent that always sent my heart racing—citrus and soap.
The arm on the back of the couch behind me slipped off and wrapped around my shoulders. He pulled me against his side and lowered his head, his lips brushing the curve of my neck as he whispered, “Missed you.”
Good pressure built in my chest as I tipped my head back and met eyes so blue they reminded me of electricity. “I was only gone five minutes.”