“Lowen,” he says, watching as I try to swallow the Crown and Coke with a straight face. I squint because it burns. “What happened?”
Oh, let’s see, Jeremy. Your brain-damaged wife made eye contact with me. She walked to her bedroom window and waved at your son. She tried to abort your babies while you were asleep in your bed.
“Your wife,” I say. “Her books. I just... There was a scary part and it freaked me out.”
He watches me for a moment, expressionless. Then he laughs. “Seriously? A book did this to you?”
I shrug and take another sip. “She’s a great writer,” I say, setting the glass on the table. “I’m easily spooked, I guess.”
“Yet you write in the same genre as her.”
“Even my own books do this to me sometimes,” I lie.
“Maybe you should switch to romance.”
“I’m sure I will once this contract is over.”
He laughs again, shaking his head as he begins gathering the papers in front of him. “You missed dinner. It’s still warm if you want some.”
“I do. I need to eat.” Maybe that will help me calm down. I carry my drink to the stove, where there’s a chicken casserole covered in tinfoil. I make myself a plate and grab a water out of the refrigerator, then take a seat at the table again. “Did you make this?”
I take a bite. “It’s really good,” I say with a mouthful.
“Thanks.” He’s still staring at me, but now he looks more amused than concerned. I’m happy to see the amusement take over. I wish I could find this entertaining, but everything I just read makes me question Verity. Her condition. Her honesty.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Just tell me if I’m being too nosey. But is there a chance Verity could make a full recovery?”
He shakes his head. “The doctor doesn’t believe she’ll ever walk or talk again since she hasn’t already made that kind of progress.”
“Is she paralyzed?”
“No, there wasn’t any damage to her spinal cord. But her mind...it’s similar to the mind of an infant now. She has basic reflexes. She can eat, drink, blink, move a little. But none of it is intentional. I’m hoping with continued therapy, she’ll be able to improve a little, but—”
Jeremy looks away from me, toward the kitchen entryway, when he hears Crew coming down the stairs. Crew rounds the corner in his footed Spiderman pajamas and then jumps onto Jeremy’s lap.
Crew. I forgot about Crew while I was reading. If Verity actually despised those girls after they were born as much as she despised them in utero, there’s no way she would have agreed to have another child.
That can only mean she must have bonded with them. That’s probably why she wrote what she wrote, because in the end, she fell just as in love with them as Jeremy was. Maybe writing about her thoughts during pregnancy was like a release for Verity. Like a Catholic going to confession.
That thought calms me, along with Jeremy’s explanation of her injuries. She has the physical and mental capabilities of a newborn. My mind is making all of this more than it is.
Crew leans his head back against Jeremy’s shoulder. He’s holding his iPad, and Jeremy is scrolling through his phone. They’re cute together.
I’ve been so focused on the negative things that have happened in this family, I need to remember to focus more on the positive that still remains. And that is definitely Jeremy’s bond with his son. Crew loves him. Laughs around him. He’s comfortable with his dad. And Jeremy isn’t afraid to show him affection, because he just kissed the side of Crew’s head.
“Did you brush your teeth?” Jeremy asks.
“Yep,” Crew says.
Jeremy stands up and lifts Crew with him, effortlessly. “That means it’s bedtime.” He throws Crew over his shoulder. “Tell Laura goodnight.”
Crew waves at me as Jeremy rounds the corner and disappears with him upstairs.
I take note of how he calls me by the pen name I’ll be using in front of everyone else, but he calls me Lowen when it’s just us. I also take note of how much I like it. I don’t want to like it.
I eat the rest of my dinner and wash the dishes in the sink while Jeremy remains upstairs with Crew. When I’m finished, I feel somewhat better. I’m not sure if it was the alcohol, the food, or the realization that Verity probably wrote that horrific chapter because a much better one follows it up. One where she realizes what a blessing those girls were to her.
I walk out of the kitchen, but my eye is drawn to several family photos that hang on the hallway wall. I pause to look at them. Most of them are of the kids, but a few of them have Verity and Jeremy in them. They bear a striking resemblance to their mother, while Crew takes after Jeremy.
They were such a beautiful family. So much so that these photos are depressing to look at. I take them all in, noticing how easy it is to distinguish the girls from each other. One of them has a huge smile and a small scar on her cheek. One of them rarely smiles.
I lift my hand to touch a photo of the girl with the scar on her cheek and wonder how long she’d had it. Where it came from. I move down the line of pictures to a much older photo of the girls when they were toddlers. The smiling one even has the scar in that picture, so she got it at a young age.
Jeremy walks down the stairs as I’m looking at the photos. He pauses next to me. I point at the twin with the scar. “Which one is this?”
“Chastin,” he says. He points to the other one. “This is Harper.”
“They look so much like Verity.”
I’m not looking at him, but I can see him nod out of the corner of my eye.
“How did Chastin get that scar?”
“She was born with it,” Jeremy says. “The doctor said it was scarring from fibrous tissue. It’s not uncommon, especially with twins because they’re cramped for room.”
I look at him this time, wondering if that’s actually where Chastin’s scar came from. Or if maybe—somehow—it was a result of Verity’s failed abortion attempt.
“Did both the girls have the same allergy?” I ask.
As soon as I ask it, I bring a hand up and squeeze my jaw in regret. The only way I know one of them even had a peanut allergy is because of what I read about her death. And now he knows I was reading about the death of his daughter.
“I’m sorry, Jeremy.”
“It’s fine,” he says quietly. “And no, just Chastin. Peanuts.”
He doesn’t elaborate, but I can feel him staring at me. I turn my head, and our eyes meet. He holds my gaze for a moment, but then his eyes drop to my hand. He lifts it with delicate fingers, flipping it over. “How’d you get this one?” he asks, running his thumb over the scar across my palm.
I make a fist, not because I’m trying to hide it. It’s faded, and I rarely think about it anymore. I’ve trained myself not to think about it. But I cover it because of how my skin felt when he touched it, like his finger burned a hole right through my hand.
“I can’t remember,” I say quickly. “Thank you for dinner. I’m gonna go shower.” I point past him, toward the master bedroom. He steps out of my way. When I get to the room, I open the door quickly and close it just as fast, pressing my back against the door, willing myself to relax.
It’s not that he makes me uncomfortable. Jeremy Crawford is a good man. Maybe it’s the manuscript that makes me uncomfortable, because I have no doubt that he would have shared his love equally with his three children and his wife. He doesn’t hold back, even now. Even when his wife is virtually catatonic, he still loves her selflessly.
He’s the sort of man a woman like Verity could easily become addicted to, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand how Verity could be so consumed and obsessed with him, to the point that creating a child with him would ignite that kind of jealousy in her.
But I do understand her attraction to him. I understand it more than I want to.
When I push off the door, something pulls my hair, and I end up back against it. What the hell? My hair is tangled in something. I pull at my hair until I break free, and then turn around to see what I got hung up in.