In my bedroom later that evening, I found myself sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the corkboard tacked full of pictures of my friends and me. I didn’t even know when I started looking at them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them.
Luc had left shortly after #grilledcheesegate, which was for the best. Even if they sort of smoothed things over, it was best if they got some space between them. Probably a whole zip code worth of space. I wanted to be hopeful that they could get along, but I also knew that may be expecting too much from both of them.
I sighed, my gaze crawling over the photos. Some of them were photos of us just chilling or goofing off. Others showed us in Halloween costumes or dressed up in fancy dresses, hair and makeup on point. Me. Heidi. James. Zoe.
She’d been the first friend I’d made at Centennial High four years ago. We’d hit it off immediately, both of us having suffered—or at least thinking we had—unimaginable loss after the invasion. Our little party of two quickly expanded to include Heidi and then, eventually, James. The four of us had been thick as thieves, but Zoe had been lying, too. Just like Luc. Just like Mom. Zoe had been ordered to be my friend, to watch over me because Luc couldn’t, and maybe Luc had been right earlier. Maybe she was made to become my friend, but we’d become best friends all on our own. Who knew? I didn’t. And we’d never know.
My stomach grumbled once more, and I knew it was time to go downstairs, because my stomach felt like it wanted to eat itself. Part of me hoped Mom had holed herself up in her bedroom. I felt terrible for thinking that, but things were always super-uncomfortable after a fight, and I didn’t have the brain space to deal with it. The moment I hit the foyer and heard the TV on, I knew I wasn’t that lucky.
Taking a deep breath, I squared my shoulders and entered the living room. An episode of Hoarders was playing on the TV, and I shook my head as I continued into the living room.
She was at the island, a bottle of mustard, loaf of bread, and a packet of deli meat spread out before her. There was even a bag of sour cream and cheddar chips, my favorite. Roast beef. She was making roast beef sandwiches, and it was apparent, based on the fact there was only mustard on the bread, that she’d just started.
Mom looked up as she picked up the packet of meat. “Hoping you’re hungry.”
My steps slowed. “How did you know I was coming down? Were you listening for sounds of life outside my bedroom door?”
“Maybe.” A sheepish look crossed her face. “I was planning to coax you out with this if you didn’t.”
I stopped to stand behind the barstool that I’d knocked over earlier. “I am hungry.”
“Perfect.” She motioned at the barstool. “It’ll be ready in a few moments.”
“Thanks.” I sat down, letting my hands fall to my lap as I watched her drape a slice of roast beef over the bread and then another. I had no idea what to say as the silence stretched out between us. Luckily or unluckily, she knew exactly what to say.
“If you’re still upset with me, I completely understand,” she said, cutting right to the point in typical Colonel Dasher fashion. Another slice of roast beef went onto the sandwich. “I apologized, but I know I said things today to Luc that I shouldn’t have, and you were right. After everything, you didn’t need that today.”
I loosely folded my arms in my lap as I looked around the kitchen. “Luc … He did sort of start it. I mean, he didn’t need to bring up the whole pulling-a-gun-on-him thing, and I know you two are probably never going to get along, but—”
“You need him,” she answered for me, placing the bread on the meat.
Warmth hit my cheeks. “Well, I wouldn’t say that.”
A faint smile tugged at her lips as she looked up at me. “You are as much a part of him as he is a part of you.” Her smile faded as she shook her head. “Luc thinks he knows everything. He doesn’t.”
Thank God Luc wasn’t here to hear her say that.
“And he especially thinks he knows why I did what I did when I decided to … help you become Evie, but he doesn’t. He’s not in my head,” she said, and I wondered if she realized that Luc could read thoughts. She had to. “And I know he doesn’t trust me. I can’t blame him for that.”
“But you stopped my fath— You stopped Jason from trying to shoot him,” I pointed out. “And you weren’t the only one keeping secrets. So was he. It’s not like you’ve given him any other reason to not trust you. The same goes for him.”
She nodded as she reached for the bag of chips. “You’re right. Maybe we’ll try it again, and next time, we’ll have better results.”
“Maybe,” I murmured.
“You don’t sound too certain.”
“I’m not,” I admitted with a laugh.
A wry grin appeared as she dumped some chips onto the paper plate, next to the sandwich. “But something you can be certain of is that I am your mother. I may not be her by blood or by certificate, and I may have only been in your life for these last four years, but you are my daughter and I love you. I would do anything to make sure you’re safe and happy, just like any mother out there would.”
My lower lip trembled as my chest and throat burned. Daughter. Mother. Simple words. Powerful ones. Words I wanted to own.
“I know you’re mad about how I kept everything from you, and I understand that. I suspect it will take a long time for you to get over that. I don’t blame you. I wish I had been more up front with you about him and who you were. The first time he showed up here, I should’ve told you the truth.”
“Yeah, you should have, but you didn’t. We can’t change any of that, right? It is what it is.”
Mom looked away then, smoothing her hand over the front of her shirt. She’d changed out of the blouse and into a pale blue cotton shirt. “I just wish I’d made different choices so that you could have made different ones.”
I lifted my gaze and looked at her—really saw her. Something about her seemed off. Mom looked at least a decade or so younger than her age, but she seemed paler than normal. Her features were drawn, and there were faint lines around the corners of her eyes and deeper grooves in her forehead that I’d sworn hadn’t been there two weeks before.
Despite all the lies and all the million things I still didn’t understand, concern blossomed. “Are you okay? You look tired.”
“I am a little tired.” She reached up, lightly touching her shoulder. “It’s been a while since I tapped into the Source.”
A tremor coursed through my entire body. She’d used the Source when fighting Micah. “Is that normal?”
“It can be when you haven’t used the Source in a while, but I’ll be fine.” She smiled then, a faint but real one. “Eat up.”
Feeling a little bit better about everything and almost normal, I scarfed down the sandwich and chips so fast it was amazing I didn’t choke. Once I was done, I was still hungry. Dumping my paper plate in the garbage, I went to the fridge and stared inside, debating if I wanted to go to the trouble of cutting up the strawberries I spotted and smothering them in sugar or if I wanted something easier.
“When you’re done cooling yourself off standing in front of the fridge, there’s something I want to show you,” Mom announced.
I snorted as I grabbed a packet of string cheese. Walking over to the trash can, I pulled off the wrapper and tossed it into the trash. “What?”
“Follow me.” She turned, and I followed her to the front of the house, to the French doors that led to her office. She opened the doors, and my steps slowed.
A tiny part of me didn’t want to go into the office.
I’d found pictures of her in there, the real Evie, hidden away in a photo album. I’d always been told that we didn’t have any old photo albums. That Mom hadn’t had the chance to grab any of them during the invasion. I’d blindly believed in that, but now I knew the truth, and I knew why there could be no photo albums.
I wouldn’t have been in them. The real Evie would’ve been.
“You remember the night you called me while I was at work because you thought someone was in the house?” she asked.
The question caught me off guard. She was talking about the night I’d been here alone and had heard someone downstairs. “Yeah, I’m probably not going to forget that until I’m eighty. You thought I imagined it.”
“You didn’t.” She turned to her desk. “Someone was in here, and they did take something.”
I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t get any of the words out. That was probably a good thing, because most of the words building on my tongue were curses. Finally, I found my voice. “You said nothing was taken.”
“I was wrong. I wasn’t hiding anything from you. I just didn’t realize until this afternoon. I was organizing my office when I discovered it,” she said.
I had no idea how she could organize her office any more than she normally had. For Pete’s sake, her office was already more organized than a monthly planner.