“It’s real this time,” Teagan says. “Different.”
“If it’s so different, can you explain why he thought you were me?”
“She had to pretend to be you to keep the job,” Teagan says.
I stare at my sister. My twin. My only family and my own personal saboteur. “I was going to tell him the truth, but he needed to hear it from me. And now . . .” Now he’s walked away. Now he’s been betrayed. Now I’ve lost him.
“You should have told her you were coming,” Teagan says to Veronica.
“What, so I could play along and pretend to be Nicole?” She shakes her head, and she doesn’t look apologetic or regretful. She looks angry. “You weren’t going to tell him. You’re too afraid to be alone to really be yourself. And I should have known you’d be too afraid to really go after your dreams.”
Teagan’s chest puffs out and she steps forward. I hold my arm out. “Don’t. I’ve got this.”
“She’s the fucking evil twin,” Teagan mutters.
“Why are you even here?” I ask Veronica. “Shouldn’t you be in Alabama, living my life?”
“Look who’s talking,” Veronica says.
“I’m here because of you. Because you slept with my fiancé and got pregnant with his baby.”
“You’re welcome.” Veronica throws up her hands. “I’ve been living with Marcus for a month, and I can tell you without a doubt in my mind that ruining your wedding is the best thing I’ve ever done for you. He’s bossy and controlling. He thinks he can tell me where to go and who to talk to. He wouldn’t even let me talk to my own fucking sister.” Her voice cracks and a tear slides down her cheek. “I walked away. I came here because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. You told me I could come with you, but you’re doing it again. Throwing your life and plans away for a guy. Again.”
Teagan shakes her head. “You’re a real trip, girl.”
“I can’t talk to you right now,” I tell Veronica. I wrap my arms around myself and walk away. “I need to figure out how to clean up the mess you just made of my life.”
“My life,” she shouts after me.
“Nana! You’re home!” Lilly rushes into the living room. There’s a single light on by the recliner where my mom is sitting with her feet up.
I’m still registering the shock of Nic’s twin, so I’m not as quick as my daughter to register the surprise of Mom’s presence.
I follow Lilly into the living room. “What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be—” I stop speaking when I see her. She has a knit cap on her head, and her face is haggard. “Mom? Are you okay?”
Lilly climbs into her lap and puts a hand on either side of her nana’s face. “Nana’s sick, Daddy.”
My mom nods. “It’s true, sweetie. Nana is sick, but I’m getting better. I’m determined.”
“When did you get sick? Why didn’t you call?”
“I’ve been sick for a long while, Ethan.” She lifts her eyes to mine and shakes her head. “I was wrong. Nic was right. I shouldn’t have left.”
I tense at the mention of Nic’s name. “What does Nic have to do with any of this? What’s going on?”
She puts her hand behind Lilly’s head and brings her forehead to her for a kiss. Lilly snuggles into her chest, and my mom strokes her back. “I’ve missed my grandbaby.”
“I missed you too, Nana.”
“Did you draw me those pictures?”
Lilly pulls back and nods enthusiastically. “I did!”
“Will you go get them for me?”
She jumps off her nana’s lap and rushes from the living room, her little feet moving as fast as they can up the stairs.
“I wasn’t exploring Europe,” Mom says. “I was in Germany getting cancer treatments.”
“Cancer?” My heart sinks to the floor, and it feels like I’m on one of those rides at the fair that throws you into the air far too quickly. And just like on those rides, I’m sure I’m going to crash to the ground at any moment. My dad had cancer. And then, after he fought for months, cancer had him. I never let myself imagine my mother falling to the same fate. “Why didn’t you tell us? Why did you leave?”
“Because I didn’t want my family to watch me die. I didn’t want my children to say goodbye to their mother again and again like they did with their father. I didn’t want you to see me slipping away one day at a time like you did with Elena.”
I feel like someone’s squeezing my throat, and the grip goes tighter with each word.
“I was trying to be noble,” she says. “I wanted to spare everyone that, but especially you and Lilly.”
“If you’re sick, you should be at home.”
She nods. “Yes. Nic convinced me of that. Eventually.”