“I know all this, Clear, but—”
“He was so nice. He seemed to see just how lonely I was. He knows what it’s like to be alone. He admires me for not aborting Kensey or giving her away; for trying to make a good life for us.”
I frowned, wondering what ‘aborting’ meant.
“The moment he laid eyes on her, he fell in love with her. He proposed to me. Out of all those women trying to get his attention, professing their undying love, and asking him to marry them, he. Chose. Me.” My mom took a shaky breath. “You know the story of his upbringing. You know his mother went through the same thing that I did. But she didn’t love him. She let her boyfriends abuse him and then she gave him away. No, she sold him. Sold him for crack to sick bastards who did despicable things to him.”
My hands balled up and I swallowed hard. What mom would sell their kid?
“And when he looks at you, Clear, he sees that he was right—his mother could have done better by him, and he was right to kill her and all those other women that were substitutes for her. Are you hearing me, Clear? He murdered his own mother. Murdered a bunch of other—”
“I know what he did, Sherry.”
I started to shake. My mom had told me that the girls at school lied; that he hadn’t killed anyone. But he had. Tears blurred my vision, and my eyes stung just as bad as the cut on my knee. Blood was still dripping down my leg, wetting my sock, but I still didn’t move.
“He’s different now,” said my mom. “Like he said, prison changes people. They have nothing but time. Time to think and reflect. He’s sorry for what he did.”
“He’s a sociopath, Clear. They don’t feel love or guilt or remorse.”
“I don’t believe that. Maybe he simply feels a different kind of love. Heaven knows I’ve seen plenty of men have affairs when they supposedly love their wives. Honestly, I think most of them do love their wives. But if they still find that having affairs is okay, they feel the kind of love that I don’t understand.”
“What do you think would happen if Michael ever got out of prison? He won’t. He’ll never even be up for parole. But what do you honestly think would happen if he was released?”
“I think we’d all be happy.”
“I think he’d kill again.”
That was when I ran back outside.
Kensey, age 15
Back hurting from the weight of my backpack, I adjusted the strap on my shoulder. Almost home, I thought, as I reached the curb. It had been a shitty day that consisted of a trigonometry test, a standoff with Libby the Loser, and detention for slapping Libby the Loser. It didn’t matter that the bony bitch had started it. Nope. And it never did.
Once there was a lull in the busy traffic, I crossed the street and strode up the path of my yard. I frowned when I saw that the front door was ajar, and then I heard arguing.
“We’re not moving,” clipped Clear.
“You don’t belong in Redwater. Never have.”
I knew that voice. Eloise Buchanan. Not a pleasant woman, by anyone’s standards. The Buchanan family was wealthy and stuck-up. Eloise, the ‘matriarch’ of the family, was the Principal of a snooty private school in the upper crust of Redwater City, Florida. She was also my paternal grandmother. Biologically, anyway. In practice? Not so much.
“I don’t see why that should bother you, Eloise,” said Clear. “Your family lives at the other end of the city.”
“Yes, and you live here.” There was distaste in her tone. Yeah, well, this neighborhood was a far cry from where the Buchanans lived. There were no private schools, mansions, or pretty sky scrapers here. No, there were run-down houses, derelict buildings, a landfill, and a homeless shelter. There was also a biker compound on the outskirts, which I thought was pretty cool.
“I’m offering you the kind of money that could set you up in a nice place somewhere else,” added Eloise.
“I don’t want your money, and I don’t want to be somewhere else. This is my home. This is my daughter’s home.”
“A daughter who broke my grandson’s nose!”
“Well, if your precious grandson hadn’t come down here to bitch at Kensey, it wouldn’t have happened. He grabbed her by the throat and tried shoving her against a wall! You should be glad that all she did was headbutt him.”
“He was only defending his girlfriend!”
No, he wasn’t. Libby was a First-Class bitch who could create drama in an empty room. One of the reasons she picked on me was to impress my half-brother, Joshua.
“Your daughter threatened Libby,” said Eloise. “She’s completely wild. Always getting into fights.”
Wild? If I wasn’t hanging with Sarah or Cade, I was reading or writing. Hardly a wild lifestyle. And I didn’t get into fights, I fought back when people cornered or hurt me; there was a distinct difference.
“I’ve seen the way she dresses,” Eloise went on. “No girl in their right mind would walk around looking like that. She’s obviously as messed up as the monster you decided to marry.”
A year ago, I adopted a goth-slash-steampunk style. Everything I wore, including my lipstick, was black. And, yeah, maybe I’d taken it a little too far with the multiple facial piercings and the inhuman contact lenses—I was wearing my reptile ones today. But with my fucked-up family situation, I was ripe for bullying. People called me a freak, so I gave them a freak; fought back by taking the sting and power away from their insults.
“There’s nothing wrong with my daughter. And you honestly have the nerve to call her messed up when your grandson actually physically assaulted a young girl?”
“Joshua’s angry, and that’s only to be expected. If you hadn’t seduced my son, Maxwell’s marriage would have been a good one. But Linda could never get past Maxwell’s betrayal and now she’s divorcing him.”
“Can’t say I blame her—she should have done it long ago. As for seducing Maxwell? I was seventeen and naïve enough to believe he loved me and that he was already in the process of divorcing Linda. I thought we’d be a family.”
“Family? You know nothing about family. You humiliated yours when you seduced a married man!”
“Considering your son refuses to acknowledge his daughter and has never paid any money toward her care, I don’t think your family is in a position to throw stones.”
Wealthy and successful, Maxwell could sure afford to tip his gravy our way. Instead, he denied that I was his. As I mostly resembled my half-Latina mother with my dark hair and honey skin tone, he might have gotten away with it … if I hadn’t inherited his mismatched eyes—one green, one blue.
I was a walking, talking reminder of his ruthlessness and infidelity. So, yeah, the Buchanans—or as I affectionately referred to them, ‘the Assholes’—pretty much hated me and Clear. Especially since Clear later went on to marry a convicted serial killer. Being loosely associated with the situation further stained the precious Buchanan name.
“I never asked Maxwell for a single cent,” said Clear. “Never bothered any of you all these years. But you just can’t extend that same courtesy to me, can you?”
“Look at you, acting all innocent and claiming to be the injured party. There’s nothing good about you. No. You claim to love your daughter, but I don’t believe that. You put yourself before her when you married Michael Bale. You had to know what problems it would bring her and how it would darken her life, but you didn’t care about that. No. You only care about you and what you want. I heard about the boy who turned up at her school, ranting and raving that he was Bale’s son and she’d stolen him. That’s the kind of person you invited into her life when you married that monster. The only good thing you did for her was refuse to take his surname.”