I stared at Rem’s excited expression and could only muster up surprise in return. We had gone up to Rem and Merrill’s room after our delicious dim sum dinner to talk more about the Hunter’s findings. I hadn’t known what I’d been expecting, really. But somehow it hadn’t been this.
From what Rem had told me, Douglas had found out everything about Donna. Everything that mattered, at least. That wasn’t the surprising part. Donna had remarried a year after her and Patrick’s divorce, and now had a new husband and two kids under the surname Brooke. The family had lived abroad for the last six years, but a couple of years ago they had move back to SimNation. They now lived in a town called Willowglade, a place I’d heard of vaguely, mostly because it was not far away from…
“Twinbrook?” I said out loud when we finally got to that part of Rem’s hushed explanation, “She’s been a twenty-minute drive away from our old home this whole time?”
“Not this whole time,” Rem corrected, “More like a few years. But yeah, it’s funny. Maybe she couldn’t stay away from her home, but didn’t want to go all the way back.”
Maybe. Not that it really mattered. What mattered was that it was actually very convenient for us.
“Well, at least we have an excuse to travel there, if it comes down to that” I said, “We can tell mum and Patrick that we want to visit grandma and grandpa. And see our old friends.”
Rem nodded, a familiar bright smile splitting his face.
“That’s a good idea! You can ask. I don’t think I can ask it in a way that dad doesn’t get suspicious. You’re better at pretending that this isn’t a big deal.”
I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not. Maybe it was supposed to be.
“Weren’t you supposed to call her first?”
“Oh, right. Yeah, I’ll do that right away.”
We heard Patrick calling us downstairs. We glanced at each other with an unspoken agreement.
The next day things didn’t look quite as promising any longer. Rem left to the town centre in the morning, and I knew it was because he wanted to call from somewhere where he could be sure that mum and Patrick couldn’t hear him. He was gone for far too long for one measly phone call, though, and returned in the afternoon, all yesterday’s excitement gone from his face. I caught up with him at the porch and we sat on the stairs that were still warm after the sunny day.
Rem looked down, embarrassment mixing with sadness on his face.
“She hung up on me,” he said very quietly, “I told her who I was, and she became angry. Said that dad had promised not to butt into her life.”
Wow. Harsh. And strange. What was going on with Rem’s old family?
“What did you do?” I asked gently. I still wasn’t good at this comforting thing, but I at least had to try.
Rem leaned heavily against the railing, trying to disappear into his oversized sweater.
“Well, I tried calling her one more time, but the result was the same. So I went to a park to calm down. Sat in a tree all day.”
“And… after all that, you still want to talk to her?” I asked, even though I knew what the answer was going to be.
“Yes. I have to go there.”
“Rem…” I hesitated a moment, “I know you want answers, but are you sure this is the smart idea? Just showing up on her doorstep?”
Rem bit his lip.
“I don’t know,” he finally said, “But I have to get some answers. You’ll help me, right? I promise I won’t ask you to do anything so… possibly stupid ever again.”
I sighed and reminded myself that we’d already come this far. To the point where we’d really have to work to get even more forward.
I’d do it. I already knew that when I questioned it in my mind.
The first step was to ask for permission to go all the way to Twinbrook by ourselves. I waited until my next driving lesson with mum to do that. Then I had an excuse to not look her directly in the eyes when I talked. I kept my eyes on the road like I’d been taught and tried to keep my grip on the steering wheel relaxed. My mouth felt dry, and I licked my lips nervously, hoping mum wouldn’t notice it.
“Hey, mum,” I began, “I’ve been thinking… well, Rem and I’ve been thinking that we’d like to visit Twinbrook again.”
Mum nodded, an enthusiastic smile on her face.
“Of course,” she said, “I’m sure Patrick can take you. I’m so busy with my articles right now.”
“Umm… Actually, we were wondering if we could just take the bus. You know, to see our friends.”
I saw mum frown and hurried to add:
“We can ask Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan if we can stay there for a couple of nights.”
Mum’s eyes softened at that.
“I get it,” she said with laughter in her voice, “You don’t want your old mum and dad dragging you around on a family vacation.”
“It’s not that,” I said, but then rethought it, “Well, it kind of is. But we’d love to go somewhere as a family too! Just… sometimes I’d really like to just… go, you know? On my own. Well, with Rem now, obviously. I promise I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”
Damn. I wasn’t good at this. Why did I agree to be the spokesperson? Mum was quiet for a while, and for that while I was sure that she’d start a lecture about how she and Patrick had always known about our little plan and how we shouldn’t hide things from them, and-
“This is what it’s been about, then,” she said, “You and Rem have been planning something, haven’t you? It’s been this trip.”
It took a lot of self-control to stop a groan of defeat. I mean, she only knew the half of it. The most important part was still safe. I hoped.
“Yeah,” I said, playing up the guilt in my voice a bit, “We’ve both been missing our friends.”
Mum nodded, but she still wasn’t totally fine with it.
“You do remember that… Laketon is out of prison now,” she said, “I don’t want to scare you with him, but I just…”
“Yeah, I know,” I said and swallowed down a lump in my throat, “But he’s not in Twinbrook, right? He’s probably back at his home. And I don’t think he’ll just jump out at us from the first bush even if we go there.”
I squeezed the steering wheel a bit tighter, and then forced myself to relax then.
“We’ve been talking about how we can’t be afraid forever,” I said, “I think it’s high time to prove that we aren’t.”
I was surprised to realise that I believed my own words. Almost, at least. It was a far cry from the time we’d run away from our old home because we’d felt that Laketon’s prison cell had been too close to it. Mum was probably thinking along those lines as well, because she gave me a shaky smile.
“Well then, I guess you are old enough to get on a bus on your own. But we have to talk with Patrick about this. And you will have to stay at Brandi and Lórccan’s.”
I nodded furiously.
“Sure! Let’s call them right away. Well, after we get back home.”
Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan were ecstatic to accommodate us for a few days. Not surprising, since we hadn’t had time to properly visit them more than once this summer.
Well, Patrick and Merrill had driven there one Wednesday when the rest of us had been busy, and I could imagine that visit had been nothing but gushing over how much Mer had grown and how cute he still was. I had to admit that I was pretty excited to see Grandma and Grandpa too. Not to mention that I’d have a chance to spend some time with Bree and Jace. I had been neglecting them too lately, only talking to them through video calls and social media. We agreed to go to Twinbrook the very next week, and to stay there for four nights. It wasn’t a long time considering we needed to secretly hunt for some clues about Rem’s past while we were there, but we didn’t want to push it either. We would already be bothering Grandma and Grandpa enough, even though they probably wouldn’t mind.
I still minded, though. Not just bothering them, but bothering a family who had clearly cut ties to Patrick and Rem ages ago. The whole thing felt wrong to me. What kind of mother hangs up on their child, even if her divorce with the dad had been a rocky one? I again thought of Laketon, and how much trouble and pain he had caused us by just appearing on our doorstep. Now we would be doing pretty much the same to the Brookes. And even though Douglas had said that they seemed like a normal, happy family of four, I was afraid of what we were going to find.
Rem seemed to be bothered too. He immersed himself into painting for hours and hours every day, using his current in-progress commission as an excuse. I could see through it, though, and I’m sure that mum and Patrick did too. They weren’t stupid. I hoped Rem at least knew how obviously suspicious he was being with his shifty eyes and restless feet. But even if he knew, he just couldn’t help it.
It especially strained his relationship with Patrick. There was a tense silence between them more often than not. I really hoped it was not permanent. Patrick and Rem had always been on such great terms. Maybe Rem was afraid that Donna would get annoyed enough by the two calls he’d made that she’d seek out Patrick’s number and unknowingly bust us. To be fair, I was a bit afraid of that too. But if either mum or Patrick were suspicious of something, they didn’t say anything about it.
Then the week of awkward silence was over, and Rem and I were standing at our porch, a bunch of clothing stuffed into our backpacks. Mum, Patrick, and Merrill crowded the front door to say goodbye to us. I supposed it shouldn’t have been such a big deal for teenagers to take a bus to their grandparents on their own, but to be fair, most teenagers probably hadn’t been traumatised and/or burned half to death because of angry and possibly crazed fathers either. Thank goodness, really.
“You watch yourselves out there,” said mum, “And give our regards to Brandi and Lórccan.”
“We will,” said Rem, “And you take care too. Bye, Merry!”
Merrill giggled when Rem wiggled his fingers at his face as a goodbye.
“Bye!” Mer said, “Watch out for thombies!”
“Zombies,” I corrected, “And yeah, we’ll watch out for them.”
They gave us a bit more hugs before we were set to go. Rem hopped down the stairs and started sprinting.
“Hey, Lynn! I’ll race you to the bus stop!”
He broke into a run, and I trailed behind without really accepting his challenge. Once we were almost at the road I glanced back and saw mum, Patrick, and Merrill still watching us go, waving and smiling.
I really hoped that once this was done, we could come back to this and everything would still be the way it was now.
I really, really hoped that.
Twinbrook still looked the same, at least. The swamp was still there, uninviting but somehow reassuringly Twinbrook-ish. The Always Studious Bookstore was still open, and the library was as sturdy as ever. Our school went by, and a few blocks from where our bus meandered through was our house. We didn’t catch a glimpse of it, but I still looked towards it as if I could see it through the centre’s buildings. It all made me feel nostalgic, and I wondered if it could feel like home again. Maybe. Not that we were planning on moving back. We were Sunset Valley people now, more or less.
Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan were waiting for us at their porch like a proper welcome committee. They greeted us with hugs and ushered us inside. They were all smiles and warm welcomes, and Grandma Brandi practically hopped into their kitchenette to cook some salad for us. There was an enthusiastic hostess mixed with a huge dose of bohemian in her, and I loved it. It was the kind of hospitality that was ready with warm beverages but also approved of feet on the table. As Grandma Brandi worked, Grandpa took out some sleeping bags, and we set them on the living room floor.
Rem was especially excited about the sleeping bags, probably getting campfire and marshmallow-filled flashbacks courtesy of his Boy Scout days.
“This is neat!” he said, “It’s like we’re camping, but indoors. I mean, it’s not as neat as a forest, but this place has samurai swords on the wall!”
“And the music box,” I said, amused. My brother was never going to grow up, was he?
His smile widened.
“Exactly! Hold on, I haven’t greeted good old Davey yet!”
I sat down on the old couch and watched my brother scurry to his favourite table and start fiddling with the music box. I felt Grandpa Lórccan’s presence shifting the couch cushions.
“You know, I would never have guessed that an old, spinning gnome would become a constant thing in our lives,” I said, “Or at least in our visits here.”
Grandpa Lórccan smiled, and I could see that he looked older than before. Like he had aged a year or five between our visits. He looked more tired, too. That didn’t stop him from laughing the same warm laugh I’d got used to hearing from him.
“Hey, anything can become a constant. I’d say a dancing gnome isn’t a bad choice.”
“It could be worse, I guess.”
“Definitely,” Grandpa Lórccan chuckled, “But aside from playing with music boxes, what are your plans here? Going to see your friends, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I agreed to meet with Bree Vasquez at her summer job place. She’s working at a café.”
“I’ve seen her working. Café Pistachio, right? It’s a nice place. And your other friend, Jace?”
“He’ll catch up with us. It’s all figured out. And Rem’s meeting up with his old buddies on his own. It’s going to be a fun day.”
Well, a fun morning, at least. The bus to Willowglade would leave in the afternoon. But Grandpa and Grandma didn’t need to know that. We’d be back for the evening, and everything would be fine.
The gnome danced to the tune it never got tired of. Rem’s eyes were closed, and he was smiling serenely. It was the last time I saw him so relaxed in a long time.
Café Pistachio was a small cupcake of a house in the midst of more business-like buildings. I remembered it being there before, but I hadn’t paid it much notice before. Now I was looking at it with a different perspective. Bree had been really excited about the job she’d got there, and I could kind of see why. The place was pretty, cosy, and warm, and the woman behind the counter was smiling like she’d known me all her life. Usually that kind of friendliness didn’t fly with me, but she made it look so genuine and natural that it made me smile too.
“Hello!” the woman said, “Don’t tell me! You’re here for Bree, right?”
“Yeah,” I said shyly, “I’m Lynn.”
“It’s lovely to meet you,” the woman said, and her smile confirmed that it indeed was lovely to meet me, “I’m Shauna. Bree’s in the back, but I told her to take the morning off so she can see you. We don’t get that many customers at this hour anyway. Bree! Your friend’s here!”
Bree emerged from the back, beaming as if Shauna’s smile was contagious. And I had to admit that it kind of was. She greeted me with a hug, and I didn’t mind it this time. We hadn’t seen each other outside of video calls for a year. Again.
“I’m so not getting out of here before you’ve tried some of the hot cocoa here,” Bree said as soon as she released me, “And Shauna’s lemon tarts are the best!”
“All right, I guess I have to.”
“Now, Bree, what have I said about holding your friends hostage here?” Shauna said in a joking tone.
Bree pretended to think about it.
“Only if I make them try some cookies too?”
We all laughed and ordered some cocoa and cookies. There was no way I was going to say no.
We talked for a couple of hours, and it felt like too short a time. Bree hadn’t become an astronaut or a leader, but she was furiously saving up money to go to the university so she could study business. She was also involved in a mind-boggling amount of projects in and out of school, ranging from music events to amateur filmmaking and volunteer work. She had always had that superpower of crazy time-managing and endless energy for activities. She also had a boyfriend now. Someone named Preston Daley. I remembered him vaguely as the kid who’d delivered newspapers back when we’d lived here. Huh, everyone had to grow up someday, I supposed.
I told her about the writing contests, jogging, gaming sessions with Michel, and Merrill’s latest cute moments. An hour into our meeting Jace barged in like we’d agreed, out of breath after running from helping his parents with something all morning.
“Hey, Jace,” I said, and Jace froze for a moment, his eyes darting to me with impressive speed.
“Hey, Lynn! You’re here,” he said.
“Yeah. Just like we agreed.”
“Yeah, yeah, we did. Hey, Shauna, you still have that good coffee?”
“What’s up with him?” I whispered when Jace had clumsily excused himself and walked to the counter way too nonchalantly to really be nonchalant.
Bree stared back at me with something akin to disbelief.
“You can’t guess? Still?” she asked.
“You seriously can’t?” Bree chuckled, “Okay then, I’ll tell you later.”
“Rrrriiiight. Way to make me feel dumb for not getting something you find obvious.”
Bree shook her head, still way too amused.
“Sorry! It’s just that this is not the best of times to talk about it. Jace is super awkward about this.”
“So, Lynn!” Jace said and slapped his coffee cup on the table, almost all of his previous nervousness gone, “How’re things?”
I glanced at Bree, but she just smiled again in an annoyingly knowing way. Man, I hated it when I stumbled upon some inside thing I’d missed because I didn’t live here anymore. Wouldn’t be the first time that had happened. As much as it annoyed me, though, it seemed I wouldn’t get an explanation now. So I just turned to Jace and smiled and started talking again. There was, after all, a lot of catching up to do.
Jace was still into sports. His parents were a bit distant both from each other and from him, but Mr. Bob was as awesome an uncle as ever. Apparently Mr. Bob was planning to get married with a man he’d been dating for a few years now. His name was Brian, and he told funny jokes and had the most awesome dreadlocks Jace had ever seen.
Jace wasn’t too concerned about what he was going to do after high school yet. And he was also still single, something he reminded me quite often about for some reason. It was a bit annoying, really, but I gave him the usual “Oh, you’ll find someone; give it time” reply I always did. It was probably not the best or the most encouraging response, but it was all I could do. Romance was just something I couldn’t get excited about.
In return I showed them my tattoo, even though they’d already seen pictures of it. I told a bit more about how things were going in Sunset Valley, and deftly managed to leave out my and Rem’s secret plans once again. I checked the time when I was starting to feel a bit too comfortable with how much time we had.
“Oh, shoot,” I huffed, “It’s almost one. I agreed to meet up with Rem half past.”
“You’re already leaving?” Jace asked, sounding as disappointed as I was feeling.
“Yeah, sorry,” I said, “But hey, we can meet up again later, before we go back to Valley. I’ll message you, okay?”
I left reluctantly after saying goodbyes, and Shauna waved at me from behind the counter as I passed her. I jogged to meet Rem near the bus stop where the bus to Willowglade was going to leave from. Rem was already waiting for me there.
Our chosen meeting place just happened to be right next to our old house. We’d both agreed that it was totally just a coincidence. The house was still where we’d left it. Not that I’d expected anything else. It was still the same kicked-over industrial building that had been turned into a nice place to live. It was apparently now occupied by a family with kids, just like it had been when we’d lived there. But it was different too. There was no garden or the small fountain I’d sometimes sit at. There was no car in the yard either, which was probably good seeing how it meant that at least some of the occupants weren’t at home to witness a weird pixie boy and his sister staring at their house.
“Look at that!” Rem said with overdramatic outrage, “These new people have a trampoline! I’ve always wanted one!”
“Huh. But it looks like they had to fell one of our trees to fit it there.”
“Yeah, that’s true. So… not worth it,” Rem sighed, “This place even smells familiar.”
“That sounds creepy,” I automatically took a deep breath, “But yeah, it’s also true.
We stood there together, lost in a stalkery nostalgia trip. It was funny; all these years I’d sometimes missed this place, but I’d never spared much thought to who might be living here now. I had never even asked if mum or Patrick knew. I wondered briefly what the new occupants were like. If the pirate ship in the yard was loved, and if the kids playing with it were even more so. What would it be like to just go there and ring the doorbell? How had they set up their furniture? Who lived in my room now?
I decided not to get any answers to those questions. We would already be harassing one unfamiliar family during this trip.
“Should we get going?” I asked, “The bus will be at the stop soon.”
Rem nodded slowly.
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
Willowglade looked a lot like Twinbrook in my eyes. Except with much less swamp and more willows. And glades. Someone had been very unoriginal with names. The Brookes lived in a yellow house that we found after some wandering around and using my phone’s navigator. The house looked so… normal. It was hard to imagine a pixie-woman living here with her family. But it had to be her, right? That was Rem’s theory anyway. The whole place was peaceful and pleasant and everything I wouldn’t want to disturb with ghosts from the past and family feuds. But here we were, nevertheless.
Rem reached his hand towards the mailbox that said Brooke, and hesitated for a long moment.
“Are you getting cold feet now?” I asked, “You could have told me before we wasted our money coming here.”
“No… I’m fine,” said Rem, not sounding fine at all, “It’s just… I’m getting a feeling… flashes of something unpleasant. I’m not sure what, though.”
He sighed, this time heavily.
“Why can’t I ever see anything that could actually help us?”
I considered patting his shoulder, but then decided not to.
“Life sucks, doesn’t it?” I just said, “Sorry, you know I’m not very good at this. So… maybe we should just ring that doorbell and see if things really are as bad as you think, right? I mean, we already made it through one fire. Why not another one?”
Rem smiled weakly.
“You’re right. I got this.”
He walked up to the innocent-looking front door and pushed the doorbell button. The ring was ominously cheery and kind of annoying at the same time. I’m pretty sure it played some kind of public domain tune that I couldn’t quite place except in my dullest nightmares. The door opened quickly, and an astronaut greeted us.
“Hi!” the child’s voice was a bit out of breath, but still bright as a bell. She probably sounded like magic when she started singing, “Who are you? We’re not buying anything.”
Rem cleared his throat.
“And we’re not selling anything. Is… is your mother named Donna?”
The astronaut nodded and bounced up and down.
“Yeah, she is! I’m Gabrielle! Mum is right here at home now! Do you want to talk to her? Who are you people? Your ears are funny! Are they real? Why’re your eyes yellow? I’d like to have funny eyes too!”
She talked so fast and so cheerfully that I shut down for a second. Rem didn’t seem to mind, though. Probably because he was almost as bubbly at the best of times.
“I look like this because I’m magic,” he said with a smile, “And yes, I would like to talk to your mum. Can you ask her to come here?”
Gabrielle’s eyes sparkled with excitement.
“You’re really magic?”
“Awesome! Come on in!”
She led us inside into a house that at first glance looked a bit small for a family of four. It was pretty homely, though, so maybe the size worked for its advantage. At least it was most likely less of a pain to clean than our two story house.
“Mum!” said Gabrielle, “There’s a magic boy and a punky girl who want to talk to you here!”
I shifted my focus from the brick walls to the family in front of me. A boy my age was playing a video game and wearing a pretty nice studded collar. I did some quick counting and figured that he was probably not biologically Donna’s kid, considering Donna had been married to Mr. Brooke for just around thirteen years. A very neatly dressed man had his back turned to me, but I could catch a glimpse of a thick book on his lap. Then there was Donna, who was an older, much more neatly dressed version of the world-embracing woman I’d seen in Patrick’s yearbook. I heard Rem stop breathing for a while, and I had to admit that I didn’t really know what to feel either, other than like my stomach had suddenly been carved hollow.
Donna Brooke took one look at us, and gasped, and I knew she recognised at least one of us too.
“Um…” said Rem, but couldn’t continue. He didn’t have time to, either, because Donna jumped up from her seat.
“Kids, honey, could you give us some privacy?” she asked tensely.
Her husband looked at her questioningly, but took control of the kids with admirable ease and led them outside after taking a good look at us to make sure we wouldn’t pose a threat to his precious wife. It was all over in a few moments, and I had to admire the efficiency this family displayed. Or maybe Donna had expected us in a way and briefed the family in case of our arrival. Rem had called her pretty recently, after all.
Donna stood in front of us, and the silence was so heavy it was hard to breathe in.
Finally, she spoke, in an icy voice that cut the silence in half.
“What are you doing here?”
Man, she could be intimidating. Rem actually cringed and hid halfway behind me. I looked at him pointedly. I was definitely not going to be the one to do the talking here.
“I’m sorry!” Rem managed to squeak, “I don’t want to bother you! I just-“
“Then why are you here?” Donna asked. This time her voice was a bit softer, almost gentle. Rem peeked from behind my shoulder.
“I know you don’t want to talk to me, but I just wanted to know… why you left… and if I… if you were…”
He was probably going to say “like me”, or “magic”, but he trailed off before he could finish. I could understand why. There was nothing magical about Donna Brooke. At least not in the way it applied to Rem or Villia. Even I could see that.
…So yeah, something was not right.
Donna frowned, and looked for a moment like she was going to just shoo us out and go on with her life, but then she sighed.
“Fine,” she said, “So Patrick hasn’t told you anything?”
“She said you had problems,” Rem replied timidly, “Nothing more. I was just wondering… I just wanted to meet my biological mum.”
Donna sighed again.
“Okay, you get one talk with me. Sit down. And who are you supposed to be?”
I was startled when I realised she was looking at me with a suspicious look on her face. Rem was quick to come to my defence, though:
“She’s Lynn. My sister. Well, stepsister, but still. She’s with me.”
“Well, if you say so,” there was still suspicion on Donna’s face, but it was now directed more at the situation in general, “Sit down, both of you, then.”
Her voice was again like a knife. I didn’t like it. It didn’t fit the image of the smiling woman in the pictures.
Donna took a long moment to think about her words. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, because what she had to say was not pretty. I was dreading it already when she pressed her palms together in front of her mouth and then lowered them slowly like she was about to announce a death sentence to someone. Perhaps to hope or optimism.
“To be honest,” she started slowly and wearily, “I’ve been dreading this day for years now. I had a hunch that Patrick wouldn’t want to talk about this to… you. Then again, I probably wouldn’t want to either, seeing how no child wants to hear that their parents… well, split up because of them.”
It took me a moment to process what she had just said. Apparently it took some time for Rem too.
“Wait… what?” he said, “What… what do you mean?”
“At first I was so angry at Patrick. At you,” Donna said as if she hadn’t heard him, “I imagined either of you showing up here and me just… yelling at you. Screaming, really. But now… I’ve had some more time to think. And… you were just a baby, so it couldn’t have been your fault.”
“What?” Rem asked in a shaky voice.
Donna pressed her mouth into a thin line.
“I am not your mother.”
A very painful silence filled the living room. I was too busy chanting What? in my head to speak, and probably Rem was too. Donna, however, was again lost in a memory she clearly didn’t like.
“When my first child was born, it was a perfect moment,” she said, a sad smile on her face, “Patrick and I were so happy. He was a perfect little boy. But we… we didn’t even make it out of the hospital before they told us that our child was very sick and might not make it.”
She swallowed down what sounded like tears.
“It made no sense. He’d been perfectly healthy once he’d been born. Our Nathaniel… We couldn’t see him for days. They said they were doing their best to save him, but… the hardest part was to wait without knowing if… if we’d have to face the worst.”
I remembered Rem’s first name being an emergency naming. I remembered Patrick talking about how sick Rem had been when he’d been a baby. But Donna wasn’t done yet:
“Then we heard that he was going to be just fine. That they’d saved him. I was… again almost as happy as when our Nathaniel was born. Then they brought him back to me, and…”
This time the tears did make it through.
“It wasn’t him. But they all claimed it was. That I was wrong. That I couldn’t recognise my own child somehow.”
“They took my child from me. And tried to replace him with you.”
She looked at Rem with such open hostility, then, that he cringed back in his seat.
“But…” he said in a broken voice, “I don’t think Twinbrook’s hospital would do anything like…”
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!” Donna snapped, and Rem actually jumped up to get away from the raging woman, “Do you think I haven’t heard that a million times already?! Do you think I haven’t sat in therapy for hours for being ‘delusional’? Do you think it was easy when even Patrick refused to believe me and loved the… the thing that those hospital people had presented as our Nathaniel? Do you think it’s easy doubting that all this time, it really has been me who got it wrong? That I have hated my own child? NO! I… I…”
She took a few deep breaths.
“I think you should just go… I… I tried to… I just can’t…”
She couldn’t even finish the sentence.
Rem seemed to sway on his feet, and then managed a very, very quiet:
“I… I see. I’m so sorry.”
He turned and ran right through the front door and disappeared outside. I was too shocked to react to anything anymore. This was just… what? I couldn’t even find the words in my mind. I excused myself, stood on legs that had been much stronger when we’d got in, and ran after Rem.
I imagined Donna Brooke standing in her living room, with the tears still in her eyes.
Rem didn’t make it far. He collapsed on the Brookes’ yard, and his shoulders shook with the sobs I could hear even to the front door.
I really, really couldn’t blame him.
Hell, at least my dad had been more straightforwardly messed up. Then again, at least Donna hadn’t burned us. Physically, at least. With her words, however, she’d probably more like cut Rem to ribbons.
“Hey,” I said as gently as I could, “Are you okay?”
Rem was up so quickly it was almost scary.
“Well what the hell do you think?!” he snapped, screamed, really.
I took a step back when he practically lashed out at me. For a moment I feared that hallucinatory plants would start appearing around us again.
“Okay, calm down,” I said, “This was definitely not what we expected, and yeah, it was… pretty bad. Well, really bad. But…”
But what? There was really nothing I could say to make this better.
Rem glared at me, tears running down his cheeks. Then he broke again, all of his rage spent in just a few seconds.
“I… I don’t know what to do,” he whispered.
He looked like he was about to collapse again, but something – and I still don’t know what – barely kept him standing.
“The worst part…” his words broke, and he fumbled to get them back together, “The worst part is that I know that she was right. That I…”
He couldn’t finish it. I slowly stepped towards him and, when he didn’t lash out, pulled him into a tight hug.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
I could have said that it was going to be alright, but at the moment I knew that Rem didn’t want to hear it.
I’d say it later, when it would actually mean something.
Author’s Note: Whew, finally got this done! It took some time because for some reason the café scene really got me stuck. I even considered leaving it out but it does sort of reintroduce Bree and Jace so… yeah.
Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’ve also started a new story called The Chrysanthemum Tango! It’s a fantasy story with a bit of an attempt at some kind of humour (though so far not that much), and it’s going to be an adventure/mystery with some slice-of-life thrown in. Kind of like this one, except not really in any way.
Check it out if you haven’t already and are feeling curious! Three chapters are already out. Note that although I’m writing that story as well, it doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on this one. I’m just juggling these two according to what I feel like doing at the moment.
Have a wonderful time!