That manuscript is definitely fucking with my head. I feel like I’m falling in love with the man, and I’ve only known him for a few weeks. But I’m not only falling in love with him in real life. I’ve fallen in love with him because of Verity’s words. Everything she revealed about him has given me insight into the kind of person he is, and he deserves better than what she gave him. I want to give him what she never did.
He deserves to be with someone who will put her love for his children before anything else.
I pull the pillow off my face and I place it under my hips, lifting them so that everything he just left inside me doesn’t seep out.
I dreamt about Crew when I fell back asleep. He was older, about sixteen. Nothing significant happened in my dream, or at least, if it did, I can’t remember it. I only remember the feeling I had when I looked into his eyes. Like he was evil. It was as if everything Verity had put him through and everything he’d seen was embedded into his soul, and he had carried that with him through childhood.
It’s been several hours since then, and I can’t help but wonder if keeping silent about the manuscript is in Crew’s best interest. He saw his sister drown. He saw his mother do very little to help her. And while he is very young, there’s a possibility that memory will stay with him. That he’ll always know she told him to hold his breath before she tipped the canoe over on purpose.
I’m in the kitchen with him, just Crew and myself. April left about an hour ago, and Jeremy is upstairs, putting Verity to bed. I’m seated at the kitchen table, eating Ritz crackers and peanut butter, staring at Crew as he plays on his iPad.
“What are you playing?” I ask him.
At least it’s not Fallout or Grand Theft Auto. There’s hope for him yet.
Crew glances up at me, seeing me take a bite of my cracker. He sets down his iPad and crawls onto the table. “I want one,” he says.
It makes me laugh, watching him crawl across the table to reach the peanut butter. I hand him the butter knife. He spreads a huge glob onto a cracker and takes a bite, sitting back on his knees. His eyes fill with excitement. “It’s good.”
Crew licks the peanut butter off the knife and I scrunch up my nose. “Gross. You aren’t supposed to lick the knife.”
He giggles, like it’s funny.
I lean back in my seat, admiring him. For all he’s been through, he’s a good kid. He doesn’t whine, he’s quiet, he still somehow finds humor in the small things. I don’t think he’s an asshole, anymore. Not like the first day I met him.
I smile at him. At his innocence. And again, I begin to wonder if he has any recollection of that day. I wonder if Crew’s memories would determine which therapeutic program is best for him. Since his own father doesn’t know the extent of what he’s been put through by Verity, I feel like that’s on me. I’m the one with the manuscript. I’m the one with the responsibility to tell Jeremy if I think his son has been damaged more than he thinks.
“Crew,” I say, reaching down to the jar of peanut butter, spinning it with my fingers. “Can I ask you a question?”
He gives me one exaggerated nod. “Yup.”
I smile, wanting him to feel comfortable with my line of questioning. “Did you used to have a canoe?”
He pauses in the middle of licking the butter knife again. Then he says, “Yes.”
I scan his face for clues that I should stop, but he’s not giving me any. “Did you ever play in it? Out on the water?”
He licks the knife again, and I feel a little relief that he doesn’t seem too disturbed by my conversation. Maybe he doesn’t remember anything. He’s only five; his perception of reality as it happens is different from an adult’s. “Do you remember being in the canoe? With your mother? And Harper?”
Crew doesn’t nod or say yes. He stares at me, and I can’t tell if he’s scared to answer the question or if he just doesn’t remember. He glances down at the table, breaking eye contact with me. He sticks the knife into the jar again and puts it in his mouth, closing his lips over it.
“Crew,” I say, scooting closer to him, placing a gentle hand on his knee. “Why did the boat tip over?”
Crew’s eyes flick back to mine and he pulls the knife out of his mouth for a moment, long enough to say, “Mommy said I shouldn’t talk to you if you ask me questions about her.”
I feel the color drain from my face as he casually licks the knife again. I grip the edge of the table, my knuckles white. “She. . . Your mother talks to you?”
Crew stares at me for a few seconds without giving me an answer, and then he shakes his head with a look in his eye that makes me feel like he’s about to backtrack. He realizes he shouldn’t have said that.
“Crew, does your mommy pretend she can’t talk?”
Crew’s teeth clench down while the butter knife is still in his mouth. I see the knife slip up between his teeth, into his gums.
Blood begins to slide down his front teeth, onto his lips. I shove my chair back hard enough that it hits the floor as I grab the handle of the butter knife and pull it out of Crew’s mouth.
I cover Crew’s mouth with my hand, looking around for a towel that might be within reach. There’s nothing. Crew isn’t crying, but his eyes are full of fear.
“Jeremy!” I’m screaming now, partly because I need him to help me with Crew and partly because what just happened terrified me.
Jeremy is here now, in front of Crew, tilting his head back, looking inside his mouth. “What happened?”
“He…” I can’t even say it. I’m gasping for air. “He bit the knife.”
“He needs stitches.” Jeremy scoops him up. “Grab my keys. They’re in the living room.”
I rush to the living room and swipe Jeremy’s keys from the table. I follow them to the garage, to Jeremy’s Jeep. Crew has tears in his eyes as if the pain is setting in. Jeremy opens the back door and puts Crew in his booster seat. I open the front door to climb into the Jeep.
“Lowen,” Jeremy says. I turn around just as he closes Crew’s door. “I can’t leave Verity here alone. I need you to stay.”
My heart plummets deep into the pit of my stomach. Jeremy is helping me down from the Jeep before I can object. “I’ll call you after they see him.” He grabs his keys from my hand, and I’m frozen in one spot as I watch him back out of the garage. He turns his Jeep around and peels out of the driveway.
I look down at my hands, covered in Crew’s blood.
I don’t want to be here anymore, I don’t, I don’t, I hate this job.
A few seconds pass before I realize it doesn’t matter what I want. I’m here, and so is Verity, and I need to make sure her door is locked. I rush back into the house, up the stairs to her room. Her door is wide open, probably because Jeremy rushed downstairs in a hurry.
She’s in her bed. The covers are halfway off her body, and one of her legs is dangling, as if Jeremy heard me screaming before he could get her all the way in the bed.
Not my problem.
I slam the door shut and lock it, then think about what I can do next to ensure my own safety. I rush downstairs when I remember seeing the baby monitor in the basement. The last place I want to be is in the basement, but I power through my fear, using the light on my cell phone, and walk down the stairs. When I was down here with Jeremy, I didn’t give the basement much of an inspection. But I know some of the boxes that were stacked up were closed.
As I shine my light around the room, I notice almost all of the boxes have been moved and opened, as if someone were rummaging through them. The thought that it might have been Verity makes my mission more urgent. I don’t want to be down here longer than I need to be. I head for the area where I saw the baby monitor sticking out of a box. It was right on top when I noticed it the first time—in one of the only unopened boxes.
It’s been moved.
Right when I’m about to give up my search out of fear of being down here, I see the box on the floor a few feet away. I grab the monitor and the receiver and head back for the stairs, my heart heavy in my feet as I try and ascend the steps. Relief spreads through me when the door opens and I escape.