Their cribs were head to head, and I was surprised Chastin was sleeping through Harper’s screams. I walked past Harper and looked down at Chastin.
It hurt how much I felt for her in that moment. It hurt how much I wanted Harper to shut up.
I lifted Chastin out of her crib and carried her to the rocking chair. When I sat down with her, she stirred in my arms. I thought about my dream and how terrified I was to see Harper trying to hurt her. I thought I might cry just from the thought of losing her someday. At the thought of it all one day possibly coming true.
Maybe what I felt was mother’s intuition. Maybe, deep down, I knew something terrible was going to happen to Chastin, and that’s why I had been given that immense and sudden love for her. What if it was the universe’s way of telling me to love that baby girl as much and as hard as I possibly could, because I wouldn’t have her for as long as I would have Harper?
Maybe that was why I felt nothing for Harper yet. Because Chastin was the one whose life was going to be cut short. She would die, and then Harper would be the only one left.
I knew, somewhere inside me, I must have been burying the love I had for Harper. Saving it for after my time with Chastin.
I squeezed my eyes shut, getting a headache from Harper’s screaming. Shut the fuck up! Crying, crying, crying! I’m trying to bond with my baby!
I tried to ignore it for a few more minutes, but I was afraid it would concern Jeremy. I eventually put Chastin back in her bed, surprised she was still asleep. She really is a good baby. I moved to Harper’s crib and looked down at her, filling with anger. It somehow felt like her fault that I’d had the dream.
Maybe I was misinterpreting my dream. Maybe it wasn’t a premonition. Maybe it was a warning. If I didn’t do something about Harper before it was too late, Chastin would die.
I suddenly had this overwhelming urge to rectify what I knew was going to happen. Never in all my life had a dream been that vivid to me. I felt if I didn’t do something about it in that moment, it would come true any day. For the first time, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Chastin. It hurt almost as much as the thought of losing Jeremy.
I didn’t know anything about ending a life, much less the life of an infant. The one time I’d tried, it resulted in nothing more than a scratch. But I’d heard of SIDS. Jeremy had made me read about it. It’s not uncommon, but I didn’t know enough about it to know if they would be able to tell a difference between suffocation and SIDS.
I’d heard of people choking in their sleep on their own vomit, though. That would probably be harder to declare an intentional act.
I touched my finger to Harper’s lips. Her head moved back and forth quickly, thinking it was a bottle. She latched on and began sucking the tip of my finger, but she wasn’t satisfied. She released my finger and started screaming again. Kicking. I shoved my finger farther into her mouth.
She was still crying, so I continued to shove. She made a gasping sound, but was somehow still crying. Maybe one finger wasn’t enough.
I pushed two fingers into her mouth and throat, until my knuckles were pressed against her gums and she was no longer crying. I watched her for a moment, and soon, her arms began to stiffen between each violent jerk of her little body. Her legs locked up.
This is what she would have done to her sister if I hadn’t done it to her first. I’m saving Chastin’s life.
“She okay?” Jeremy asked.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I pulled my fingers out of Harper’s mouth and picked her up, pressing her face into my chest so Jeremy couldn’t hear her gasping for air. “I don’t know,” I said, turning to him. He was making his way across the room. My voice was frantic. “I can’t make her happy. I’ve tried everything.” I was petting the back of her head, attempting to show him how concerned I was.
That’s when she puked on me. As soon as she puked, she screamed. Wailed. Her voice sounded hoarse, and she was gasping between screams. It was a cry like neither of us had ever heard before. Jeremy quickly grabbed her, pulling her from me so he could try to soothe her.
He didn’t even care that she had puked on me. He didn’t even look up at me. He was full of concern, his eyebrows drawn together, his forehead wrinkled as he inspected her. But out of all that concern he held, none of it was for me. It was only pointed in Harper’s direction.
I held my breath and walked straight to the bathroom, afraid to breathe in the smell. It was the one thing I hated most about being a mother. All the fucking vomit.
While I was in the bathroom, Jeremy made Harper a bottle. By the time I got out of the shower, she’d already fallen back to sleep. He was in our bed, plugging the video monitor back in.
I froze as I was climbing into bed. I stared at the video monitor, at the perfect view right into Harper and Chastin’s cribs.
How did I forget the fucking monitor?
If he had seen what I was doing to Harper, he would have ended it with me.
How could I have been so careless?
I slept very little that night, wondering what Jeremy would have done to me had he caught me trying to save Chastin from her sister.
Oh, my God. I double over in my chair, clutching my stomach. “Please…please…” I say out loud. Though I don’t know why or to whom I’m saying it.
I need to get out of this house. I feel like I can’t breathe. I should go sit outside and attempt to clear my head of everything I just read.
Every time I’m reading her manuscript, my stomach cramps from all the time I spend clenching it. I skimmed several more chapters beyond chapter five, but none were as horrifying as the chapter that detailed how she tried to choke her infant daughter.
In the subsequent chapters, Verity focused mainly on Jeremy and Chastin, rarely mentioning Harper at all, which grew more disturbing with each paragraph. She talked about the day Chastin turned one, and she talked about when Chastin spent the night at Jeremy’s mother’s house for the first time at the age of two. Everything that had initially been “the twins” in her manuscript eventually dwindled down to just “Chastin.” If I didn’t know any better, I would think something had happened to Harper long before it did.
It wasn’t until the girls were three that she wrote about both of them again. But as soon as I start the chapter, there’s a sharp rapping on the office door.
I open the desk drawer and quickly shove the manuscript inside it. “Come in.”
When he opens the door, I have one hand on the mouse and the other resting casually in my lap.
“I made tacos.”
I smile at him. “Is it time to eat already?”
He laughs. “It’s after ten. It was time to eat three hours ago.”
I look at the clock on the computer. How did I lose track of time? I guess that happens when you’re reading about a psychotic woman abusing her children. “I thought it was eight.”
“You’ve been in here for twelve hours,” he says. “Take a break. There’s a meteor shower tonight, you need to eat, and I made you a margarita.”
Margaritas and tacos. Doesn’t take much.
I ate on the back porch while we sat in rocking chairs and watched the meteor shower. There weren’t very many at first, but now we’re seeing one every minute, at least.
At one point, I moved from the porch to the yard. I’m on my back in the grass, staring up at the sky. Jeremy finally gives in and positions himself next to me.
“I forgot what the sky looked like,” I say quietly. “I’ve been in Manhattan for so long now.”
“That’s why I left New York,” Jeremy says. He points to the left, at the tail end of a meteor. We watch it until it disappears.
“When did you and Verity buy this house?”
“When the girls were three. Verity’s first two books had released by then and were doing really well, so we took the plunge.”
“Why Vermont? Do either of you have family here?”
“No. My father died when I was in my teens. My mother died three years ago. But I grew up in New York State, on an alpaca farm, if you can believe that.”
I laugh, turning to look at him. “Seriously? Alpacas?”