I straighten and back up a step as if it might help me dodge the blow of his words. “Julian wanted me and Cami to live there. It made sense when we were about to get married.”
“You and I are already married,” he snaps. He scoops the box with the glass orchid off the desk and sneers down at it. Then it’s his turn to back away. “But I guess just on paper, right? Have you even told your parents about me yet? Were you ever planning to tell them about your husband, or did you keep me your dirty little secret like you always have?”
I wrap my arms around myself, but it does nothing to soothe the hollow ache I feel there. “They’re still trying to come to terms with me canceling my wedding to Julian.”
“So, you’ll tell them next week? Next month? Next year? Will it ever be a good time to admit that you want to be with a piece of shit like me?”
I choke back a sob, wishing he’d never come in that door, wishing I’d had time to get my feelings in line before I had to explain them to him. “They don’t see you like I do. They look at you and see . . .” My stomach heaves. I’m going to be sick.
“Finish that sentence,” he says. But I can’t. He knows I can’t. When I bow my head, he huffs out a breath. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“You’re not being fair.”
“Fair? I’d do anything for you. Anything at all. And that’s always been true. I told myself you’d do the same if circumstance hadn’t been in the way.” He pulls the glass orchid from the box, and I can’t tear my eyes away, convinced the neck will snap at any moment in his angry hands. There’s too much hurt in the air, and it’s too fragile. “I’m realizing now I’ve been lying to myself.”
He tosses the orchid onto my desk, and it shatters into a million little pieces. I stare and stare and stare. I stare, knowing the answers would be there if I could put it together again. I stare, knowing I can’t.
They’ll always look at you and see the reason they lost their daughter.
I can’t make myself look up, but Marston’s footsteps echo in my ears as he walks away.
June 4th, before
My parents said I didn’t have to go to school today, but I didn’t see the point in staying home. I don’t want to sit around and think about Brittany. I didn’t want to watch my mom hide her tears or the whole staff walk on eggshells around my father, who’s been more prone to outbursts than usual.
I don’t want to be here, but I don’t want to be anywhere else, either. Except maybe home with my sister, hiding in a blanket fort in her room and saying goodbye one last time. That’s where I want to be.
“I’ve been calling you,” Marston says beside me.
I blink up at him. He has dark circles under his eyes, and his skin’s pale, like he might be sick.
And all I can think about when I look at him is that I wasn’t there for her. I turned off my phone and I missed my chance to say goodbye. I disobeyed my parents and wasn’t there for my sister the night she decided she’d finally had enough and stole those pills.
Marston looks me over, and his gaze snags on the bruise on my wrist. His nostrils flare. “That asshole put his hands on you again.”
I pull the books for my first two classes out of my locker. “It’s not his fault.”
“Brinley, there are fingerprint bruises on your wrist. Don’t lie to me.”
I slam my locker door shut and turn to Marston. “It’s not his fault,” I whisper. “It’s my fault because I snuck out. It’s my fault because I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and I made him worry.” It’s my fault because I wasn’t there to stop her and she died.
He shakes his head. “None of that gives him the right to—”
I push past him. “I’m gonna be late for class.”
I don’t hear a word my teachers say all day, but none of them call me on it. I can’t look at them, because the pity in their eyes is a reminder I don’t want. I barely register the whispers all around me. At lunch, I’m vaguely aware of Stella yelling at some people to stop staring, but I can’t blame them.
I’m the girl with the dead sister. I’m the girl who didn’t even answer her phone when her only real family was calling to say goodbye.
* * *
I don’t have money for a suit, but Aunt Lori pulled Uncle Henry’s old one from storage for me. It’s too tight across my shoulders and the pants are a couple of inches too short, but it’s the best I can do.