Seconds Away Page 35

“I don’t know what he meant,” Rachel said too quickly. “Dad said she was out of control. He said he had to get a court order to get her treatment. I was so confused. I was angry and scared and sad. I mean, it made sense, in a way . . .” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I just thought, well, my mother is crazy. My father, he tries, I guess, but he’s distant. It didn’t matter. I had my friends and school.”

Rachel finally looked away from the bloodstain.

“Two weeks ago, my mom was let out again. By this time there were all kinds of court orders against her to stay away from us. She couldn’t visit me without a social worker present, stuff like that. But I wanted to see her. So when she called, we met up in secret. I didn’t tell my dad. I didn’t tell anyone.” Rachel looked up and a small smile came to her lips. “When we first met up, Mom hugged me and, I don’t know, this will sound weird, but I flashed back to being a happy kid again. Do you know what I mean?”

I thought about the way my own mother hugged me. “Yes.”

“I realized something—no one hugged me anymore. Isn’t that weird? My dad, well, it got awkward as I got older, and boys never just wanted to hug like that, if you know what I mean.”

I wished that I didn’t. I nodded, feeling a lump in my throat. I thought about Troy Taylor and realized how incredibly selfish that was, so I made myself stop.

“So it was nice,” I said, “seeing your mother.”

“For a few days, it was great. And then something went wrong.”


“Mom started ranting again, saying what an evil man my father was, how he lied about her and poisoned her and told everyone she was crazy just to protect himself. She became paranoid and started asking me if Dad knew that we were meeting. I tried to reassure her, but she just kept saying he’d kill her if he found out.”


“What did you do?”

Rachel shrugged. “I tried to calm her down. I asked about her meds. In a way, I mean, I wasn’t surprised. I had seen her like this before. Maybe I blamed myself too.”


“It’s like, if I had been a better daughter, maybe—”

“You know that isn’t the case.”

“I do know. I mean, my dad explained it to me a hundred times. She was sick. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t his fault—and it wasn’t her fault. Like Cynthia Cooper’s mother has cancer, my mom had a disease that attacked the brain. She couldn’t help it.”

I thought about my own mother, in a rehab clinic. They told me the same thing, about how her drug addiction was an illness. It wasn’t a question of willpower and I shouldn’t take it personally, the experts said, but still, no matter how much you told yourself that, no matter how much I still loved her and was sympathetic to what had happened to her, a part of me always felt that in the end my mother chose drugs over her son.

“So I’m looking at this woman who had raised me, the last person to show me genuine warmth, and suddenly I started to wonder something strange—something I hadn’t really considered before.”

“What?” I asked.

Rachel turned and suddenly her eyes were dry and clear. “What if my mother wasn’t crazy? What if she was telling the truth?”

I said nothing.

“What if my dad did do something to her?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. She kept going on about how she knew something bad about him. What if she was telling the truth? I mean, my father didn’t just get her committed to a mental hospital—he also divorced her and remarried. He explained it to me—how they had fallen out of love years ago and how he deserved his own happiness and all that. But still. Did he really have to lock her up? Couldn’t he have found another way? This was my mother—the only woman who ever loved me. Shouldn’t I give her at least a little benefit of the doubt? If I don’t believe her, who else will?”

“So what did you do?”

Now a tear escaped her eye. “I started looking a little harder at my father.”

“What do you mean?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.”


“The police say it was an intruder—maybe two of them. Burglars or something. See, my father was supposed to be away for the night, so I had my mom stay at the house with me. He would have been furious if he knew. I was in my bedroom. Mom was down here, watching television. It was late. I was on the phone with you when I heard voices. I thought maybe my father had come home. So I came down the stairs. I turned the corner . . .”

“And then?”

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t remember anything else. I woke up in the hospital.”

“You said you heard voices?”


“As in, more than one?”


“Male, female?”

“Both. One was my mother.”

“And the others?”

“I told the police that I didn’t recognize them.”


“I don’t know. I thought maybe one of them . . . it may have been my father.”


“But your father would never shoot you,” I said.

She didn’t reply.


“Of course he wouldn’t.”

“You said you started to check into your father—to see if your mother might be telling the truth. Did you find something?”

“That doesn’t matter. The police say it was an intruder. I probably just imagined my father’s voice.”

But I could hear the evasiveness now in her tone. “Hold up a second. At the hospital, why did Chief Taylor say not to say anything to Investigator Dunleavy?”

“I don’t know.”

I started to press her. “And why was that butterfly on the door?”

“Why do you think?”

I just looked at her. “You’re working for Abeona.”

She said nothing.

“How could I have been so stupid?” I almost slapped myself in the head. “You didn’t just happen to be the one to help Ashley—you knew why she was hiding in our school, didn’t you?”

Again she didn’t answer.

“Rachel, after all we’ve been through, you still don’t trust me?”

“I trust you,” she said with a sharp edge, “like you trust me.”

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