“No. I won’t put up with this anymore. I’ve given up too much, put up with too much. Vinny wouldn’t be in this state if I’d taken her to live with me.”
“So this is my fault? I’m the one with Evelyn every single day of her life, helping her with school, making her meals, and looking after her but because you think I didn’t do a good job you’re going to take her away?”
“Don’t twist my words, Rose. I just think-”
“Keep your voice down or you’ll wake her up.”
If it was possible to hiss words, then Mother hissed. She didn’t give Daddy a chance to jump in, either. “You think that Evelyn’s problems are all my fault. Because you think you can walk in now and fix everything when you haven’t even been here for years.”
“Whose fault do you think it is? Two of her friends are dead and she’s popping pills and drinking right under your nose and you don’t even see what’s going on.”
A rattling sound. “I have her medication right here. I’m supervising everything she takes.”
“Nice of you to care now that she already overdosed.”
Mother seemed to forget about keeping her voice down. “And where the hell were you? Off with that tramp of yours?”
“Don’t play the victim with me, Rose.”
“No, I suppose I should have just stayed home and kept my mouth shut while you were sleeping with your partner.”
“Like you’re totally innocent.”
“I wasn’t the one screwing around, Tom. Whatever else you did, I put up with it, but not that. Not cheating on me.”
“Cut the sanctimonious crap. I know you were seeing someone.”
A gasp. “What?”
“Going out every Thursday, seeing some guy, coming home smelling of his cologne.”
Mother laughed. A cruel, harsh laugh.
Daddy again. “You think that’s funny? You think it was funny for me, week after week, having you rub it in my face?”
“That’s really what you thought? That I was having an affair? I was going to dance class.”
There was a split second of silence, just long enough to be noticeable. Vinny could picture the shock on Daddy’s face. The confusion and uncertainty in his dark eyes.
Vinny leaned back against the wall and shut her eyes. She remembered Mother’s dance instructor. Tall, with dark hair and eyes like coal.
Just like her father.
“Y-you expect me to believe that?” A tiny hesitation in Daddy’s response. A quiver of doubt.
“Believe whatever the hell you want. I took Evelyn with me. She knows.”
“She… she never said.” Sounding unsure. Daddy realizing he was wrong about something.
“You never even talked to me. You never even tried.”
“And what about all those weeks when she was sick? You left her lying in her room, alone.”
“Her choice, Thomas. Her choice. Every day I asked her to read a book, play a game, watch a movie.”
Another hesitation. “Vinny would have said something.”
“I don’t care what you believe. It’s the truth. The only thing I insisted on was her coming with me on Thursdays, and she didn’t tell you about that, did she?”
“You weren’t there for her. You neglected her.” Hollow accusations now.
“You only saw what you wanted to see, Tom. You never even tried to talk to me.”
“Then why didn’t you say something?”
“You’d turned her against me. Her own mother. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be rejected by your own child, to be stuck in a house every single day with your daughter, and she refuses to spend time with you?”
Why couldn’t she make them both stop?
Vinny closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall, as the waves of guilt washed over her. So focused on protecting her dad, on preventing the next fight, on not getting caught doing what she wanted to do, the things Daddy let her do. Like play with slingshots and read adventure books. Protecting him, protecting herself, protecting their secrets.
Never thinking about how it hurt her mother.
She’d been so selfish. So had Daddy.
“I never was the wicked witch you made me out to be, Thomas.” Mother, full force now. Vinny imagined her mother like a wild cat, tossing her blonde hair back as light flashed in her green eyes, ready to pounce on her prey now that it was vulnerable.
She loved her mother, but sometimes, she didn’t really like her. Vinny could picture Mother so clearly, she began to forgive herself. She remembered why she’d protected Daddy.
“You aren’t as innocent as you’d like to think.” Daddy’s voice trembled with anger.
That was a good description. She liked putting words together. Vinny wondered if she’d ever used a description like that when she wrote for Mrs. Crosby.
She wrote. For herself, in her diary, and for her teacher at school. Vinny wrote about everything.
“You never even gave me a chance,” Rose said.
“It’s my fault you never tried?”
“You thought you had it all figured out. You, the perfect parent. Everything was always my fault. You haven’t even been here for her, Tom. You never were. Just when it suited you. It’s easy to waltz in and tell everyone else what they’ve done wrong when you haven’t done a goddamn thing yourself.”
“Don’t you turn this around on me. The minute you figured out Vinny wasn’t the little princess you’d always wanted you were begging me to have another baby.”
“Well, unlike you, I didn’t walk out on her. I’ve been here, every day, no matter how hard things got.”
“Yeah, you’re a real martyr, Rose. You’ve got it all worked out.”
Vinny pressed her hands over her ears, but it wasn’t enough to block out the sound of them shouting. A blanket of white static reached up from inside her, covered her eyes and blinded her.
Before Daddy left there’d been so many fights…
“I’ve hired a lawyer. He says I’ll win with the evidence I’ve got. I’m going to take Vinny and she’s going to live with me.”
Vinny dropped back against the wall, slid down to the floor, and choked on the scream that threatened to force its way out of her.
How long had she been biting back the tears and the words?
She pushed herself up. The shooting pain in all her limbs screamed through her nerve endings and the white static intensified. Vinny forced herself forward and staggered back to her room, lifted the mattress and grabbed the gun.
The one she’d found on the hill. The hill where Adam had been shot.
“Over my dead body. She’s staying right here, where I can take proper care of her. You don’t know how hard it’s been and you aren’t ready to take care of her. You never were. That’s why I got custody to begin with.”
“Oh, cry me a goddamn river, Rose. The courts were so sexist. They assumed mothers actually care about their kids. They’ve started to realize some women are like you.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? That’s just like you, Thomas. Disagree with me and try to belittle me and say I don’t love my daughter. How dare you. You don’t know how much I’ve sacrificed to try to fix the damage you did to Evelyn. You have no idea how hard this has been on me.”
“Poor you. It’s always been about you.”
“And where were you every time you canceled a visit? Every time your plans changed?”
“You know my work schedule. You refused to give me flexibility when I was working a case.”
“You didn’t even have the decency to pick up the phone and tell Vinny yourself. I always had to tell her. To see the look in her eyes. Do you know what it’s like to have your child wonder why her father doesn’t love her enough to see her?”
“No, and neither do you, because she never said that.”
“I could see the look in her eyes, the doubt.”
“You saw what you wanted to see. And I bet you couldn’t wait to pile on with how rotten I am and how wonderful you are,” Daddy said.
“You think that would matter? No matter what you did she always loved you more. She forgave you everything. Everything!” Mother was crying now. “And no matter what I did it was always wrong.”
“Well, maybe if you’d stopped long enough to think about what you were doing to her-”
“What I was doing to her?”
“You’ve pushed her to be something she isn’t. Telling her to listen to Ivy. Setting up that, that girl as an example when she’s the root of all the trouble.”
“This isn’t even about Vinny. It’s about how much you hated her becoming friends with a girl. Not being so influenced by the boys. That was all you wanted, a little boy, your precious Vinny. You couldn’t even accept her for who she was.”
“You’re talking about the wrong parent there, Rose. That was you, pushing her to wear dresses and play with dolls and have girly friends.”
“And you’d rather she play with a half-breed mongrel. A rapist.”
“Jonah never touched her.”
“Just like you to take his side over your own daughter’s!”
“He hasn’t been charged.”
“Of course not. You made sure of that.”
“He didn’t do anything, and I can prove it.”
“You dare to come into this house and defend him after what he did to my daughter.”
“He didn’t touch her, Rose. You filed a false report.”
Vinny pressed her hands over her ears, cold steel of the gun against her temple as she tried to squeeze out their words.
If Mother knew Ivy had lied. She had to know. Mother wasn’t that naïve, was she?
If Daddy knew what had really happened that night…
She slid down the wall, but not all the way to the floor, her hand on her forehead.
There had to be a way to make it stop.
All the memories and all the lies were like that game, Jenga. Pull out the wrong one and they’d all come crashing down.
“Get out. Now. You get the hell out before I call the police.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Rose. I have a court order right here. All these things that happened, she was in your custody. You’re unfit.”
“You sonofabitch. You’d use this against me? Evelyn needs help and you’re just thinking about yourself, about what you want and how you can hurt me, so you’re going to take her away?”
“The best help I can give her is taking her away from you.”
“She needs us to stop fighting and work together to help her, Tom. This is wrong. You can’t change the scenery and expect it to fix all of her problems. She’s been in trouble since she was young, you just wouldn’t see it. You never saw it.”
“She doesn’t need you, or those pills. She needs to start over.”
Vinny pushed herself up and walked down the hall. The compulsion prompting every footstep Vinny took was beyond her conscious understanding. She wrapped her fingers around the gun.
“NO NO NO.”
Rose was looking at her as she walked into the kitchen.. Vinny hadn’t realized the words had come out of her mouth until then.
The pure fury had turned to fear as Mother’s eyes widened and she stepped back. “Oh, Evelyn, no.”
Vinny couldn’t make sense of what was in her head. Mother and the pills she wanted, she needed. Mother Mother Mother.
Daddy was going to take her away.
Tom never wanted a daughter. Mother had said so. So many times.
Daddy. Yelling at her. Telling her to stay away from Ivy.
That day in the living room, after the divorce, Dad’s mouth pressed down hard over that woman’s, his arms around her, his hands clenching her ass, pulling her up towards him…
Running around with that tramp. Mother’s words.
Mother wanted a little princess. Mother had Lily. That’s what Daddy said.
Daddy never wanted a daughter. He kept her mother from loving her.
That’s what Mother said.
The light in the kitchen blinded her, seared her eyes. Pain shot down her spine and out to the hand that trembled as it held the gun.
“Vinny.” Her dad extended his arms in surrender.
“I-I want it to stop,” Vinny said as she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Okay. You’re right. We shouldn’t fight. We’ll stop. Right now. Right, Rose?”
Mother stared blankly.
“Stop.” Vinny closed her eyes. “Quiet. I just want to hear quiet.” Her voice sounded funny. High pitched. Waves of pain screamed from her arms as she stood and stared at her parents.
“Just put the gun down. We’ll be quiet.”
Her head shook. It felt as though a wall had gone up between her and herself. She was watching herself now. Not in control.
“Go,” Vinny whispered.
“You want me to go?” Daddy’s voice was calm. “Okay, Vinny. Just put the gun down.”
“Go!” She screamed the word this time, her arms still extended, finger on the trigger.
“Please. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“It’s too late for that.”
Daddy’s eyes changed, as though for the first time he’d realized what they’d done. “I’m sorry, Vinny. Please. I’ll go. I promise I’ll go. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I know,” she said, and she pulled the trigger.