Tied (All Torn Up #2) - Page 12
He chews his bagel and swallows. “That’s because she told Lizzie, a few years ago, you were an angel in heaven. Lizzie thought you were dead, and now here you are, alive and well.” He says it matter-of-factly, without easing into it.
“What?” My muffin sticks in my throat, and I sip some of my latte to try to force it down. It’s so sugary sweet, it gives me a momentary jolt. “Mom told her I was dead?”
“Yeah.” He looks like he can’t believe it himself.
“You’re dead, little girl. Dead, dead, dead. You don’t even exist.”
“But…why? Did they have any reason to think I was dead?” I ask. It never even occurred to me, while I was gone, that my family would assume I was dead. I always believed they would keep looking for me until they found me.
Zac shakes his head. “No…there was nothing that ever hinted at that. No evidence at all. Your friend ran home and told her mother what happened, and she called nine-one-one. Everything happened so fast. But you disappeared without a trace. In her panic, Sammi didn’t notice what the guy looked like, or his car. She’s always felt really guilty about that…we’ve talked a few times over the years. You should maybe contact her. She would probably love to hear from you.” I had never even thought to contact my childhood friend who had run off while the man dragged me into the car, and I’ve never wondered how she felt about it. “Unfortunately, no one saw anything, even though you two were right in our neighborhood. The leads dried up pretty quickly. It just seemed hopeless. And so I think, for Mom, it was easier to say you had died than to tell Lizzie you were kidnapped and missing. That’s scary for a little girl to hear.”
“I lived it, Zac. It was scary for me.”
“Holly, I know that.” He leans forward. “But Mom is just…in denial about a lot of things. She always has been. She can’t deal with reality.”
I push the other half of my muffin across my plate, my appetite gone. “No wonder Lizzie stares at me all the time.”
My brother takes an uneasy pause. “Mom’s very overprotective of her. She had a total meltdown after you were taken. For months, all she did was lie in bed and eat Valium. When she wasn’t sleeping, she was pacing all over the house or walking up and down the street. She didn’t start to act normal again until she got pregnant and Lizzie came. Lizzie totally distracted her from everything and, in some ways, that was good—but bad in a lot of ways too. She put herself in denial about what happened to you and projected all her love and happiness onto Lizzie. She barely lets her out of her sight.” He lets me absorb that for a few minutes before continuing. “And Dad just thrust himself into his work. Our whole family fell apart. Nothing has ever been the same.”
I shouldn’t feel jealous that my mother is trying to protect Lizzie from something bad happening to her, like what happened to me. But I do. A mix of envy, jealousy, and anger simmers deep in my stomach. “I don’t even know what to say,” I finally tell him, not wanting my emotions to come vaulting out of my mouth in the middle of this quiet café.
“They feel guilty, Holly. They blamed themselves for a long time. Still do. What parent wouldn’t?”
Does blame and guilt make you wish your child was dead instead of missing? Was that actually easier for them to cope with? My bottom lip quivers. “I think they wish I never came back. Maybe me being dead would have been better for them. For all of you…”
Zac’s eyes turn a darker shade of brown. “Jesus Christ, Holly. Don’t even say that. We’re all glad you’re back, safe and alive. We love you.”
Counting to ten, then fifteen, I breathe deeply, feeling overwhelmed. Emotional. Feelings I’m not used to. “It doesn’t always feel that way. And I don’t mean you…you’ve been so nice to me since I came back, you’ve never acted weird around me. I always look forward to seeing you. And I really like Anna. But I feel like an outsider around everyone else. It all feels…awkward. I feel like I don’t belong.”
There. I finally said it. A tiny weight lifts from my shoulders.
He listens intently, leaning on the table, exactly like when we were younger. “I know, Holly. Listen,” he says. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something. Next summer, Anna and I are moving to New York. My friend John has a business out there. Do you remember John?”
I search my memory, trying to remember a John. “John from next door?” I ask as the image of a skinny, sandy-haired boy with hazel eyes comes to mind.
“That’s him. We’ve been best friends since we were kids. He’s offered me a great job. A partnership, actually. The money is good, and the business is doing great,” he says, his eyes lighting up. “I don’t think it’s an opportunity I can pass up.”
I almost drop my coffee at what he’s implying. My brother and his girlfriend are the only ones I feel even remotely close to, other than Grandma, and now they’re going to move away?
“You’re leaving?” My voice wavers on the words.
“Yeah, that’s the plan. I haven’t even told Mom and Dad yet. The thing is, we wanted to ask if you want to come with us. We can get an apartment that has enough room for you, and you could kind of…start over. You could go to school or maybe look for a job—something easy just to get your feet wet. We’ll help you.” He rubs his hand across the short beard he’s grown recently. “I think a change of scenery might be good for you.”
I’m shocked speechless at his offer and take a few moments to catch my breath as well as my thoughts. “Really? You mean that?”
“I do. I wouldn’t joke about something like this.” He takes a bite of his bagel. “I love our parents, but they’re not exactly easy to get along with. I think you figured that out.” I nod over the edge of my cup. “I’ve seen how they act like you’re a visitor, and I can see how much it hurts you, how much you’re struggling. Anna has noticed it too. And honestly? We think it sucks for you. Maybe living with me and Anna will be less stress on you emotionally. You can just take your time to figure stuff out with people that are a little more easygoing, who love and support you. It’s a clean slate.”
“Am I allowed to move? Where is New York?”
He lets out a small laugh. “Holly, you’re going to be twenty in two months. You’re an adult. You can do whatever you want. And New York is about four or five hours away by car. It’s where the Statue of Liberty is.”
“Mom and Dad say I’m not ready to have a job, or make decisions, or meet too many people. They think it’s best I stay at Merryfield…maybe for another year or two.” Maybe they’re right and I’m not ready for any of those things. Just the thought of getting any kind of job and having to see new people every day scares me. While Merryfield is a therapeutic facility, living there as an outpatient resident has been a nice transition for me. I’ve learned a lot during my time there, and it’s been a good way for me to learn independence with a safety net. But I do have to admit, the few times I’ve ventured out of the safe confines of Merryfield have been a bit of a shock.
“Dr. Reynolds seemed to feel the same as I do every time I was at the meetings with you. She wants you to get out there, make some friends, find some hobbies, figure out who you are. Maybe do some friendly dating. Your entire childhood was spent locked in a room with some lunatic telling you what to do. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life hiding, avoiding new things, and having Mom and Dad tell you what you can and can’t do, do you?”
I shrug slightly. “Part of me does, and part of me doesn’t.”
“I think that’s normal, Hol. But as your big brother, I want better than that for you. If I can help you, then I’m going to. You’re beautiful, sweet, and smart. Don’t let what that guy did ruin the rest of your life. If I can, I’m not going to let that happen.”
I’m shaken by his words, which are so new to me. His care and concern for me haven’t changed at all over the years. He’s still the same protective big brother I had as a little girl.
Pulling my sleeves down to my palms, I stare out the window at all the people walking by, wondering if I can blend in with them, or if I’m always going to be the Girl in the Hole. Almost everyone in this small town knows what happened to me. Moving to a new place would give me a chance to start over and, hopefully, put everything behind me.
“You have a lot of time to think it over. You don’t have to decide today,” he says. “I just wanted you to have an option. You need to have choices, Holly. I think it’s important. If you want to move with me and Anna, we’d love to have you. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always come back here.”
I give him a weak but grateful smile. “I’m going to think about it. Seriously. I honestly never even thought I could go somewhere else.”
My first real adult decision has been put in front of me, and it’s terrifying. Sometimes I wish the bad man were still telling me what to do, forcing me to do things, and putting clear choices in front of me that don’t involve a lot of thinking. I can’t tell anyone that, though, without them thinking I’m crazy.