Prologue

Or, Where Bear Answers the Door

 

DO YOU remember how it all began?

I do.

This is the way my world ended.

Bear,

I know this is going to be hard for yu to read, but I hope yull understand.

I have to leave, Bear. Tom got a job out of state and Im going with him. Im doing this becuz I think it will be easier on all of us if it is red rather then sed.

This is a chance for me to make something for myself. Tom sez there are a lot of jobs where we’re going which will be better then here in Seafare. Remember my last job? At the Pizza Shack? Remember how well that went? In case yu can’t tell from this just being a letter, I was being sarcastic. It didn’t go well at all. (At least we know my future is not in pizza!)

I know yu never liked Tom, but he treats me ok. Yu shoudnt worry about him and me, as we’ll be fine. Well, I know yu won’t worry about him, but still. Hes stuck around longer then yur father did, and don’t even get me started on Ty’s dad. At least Tom hasn’t hit me yet or anything. He even said that when I save up enouf money, he’ll let me get one of those online degrees from University of Phoenix Arizona, or whatever its called. Imagine me, with a college degree!

Speaking of that, I hope that yull get a chance to be a writer like yu want to. I know this kind of messes up yur plans about going to school next year, but why do u need college for that? Yuve been making up stories since you were a little kid n e ways so its not like they could teach yu anything else, right? But that skolarship thing will be there later, right? It’s not like yu could never get it again. It just cant be right now becuz I need yu to do something for me.

Tom sez that Ty can’t go. He sez that having the Kid around will just “freak” up his concentration. (Ok, he didn’t say freak, but yu know what I meant) I know this seems like I am making a bad decision but last nite I had a dream. It was all black around me and there was a flashing light really far away. I felt like I had to walk a long time to reach it. I finally got there and the light was a sign for a motel. Yu know what the motel was called, Bear? It was called the LAST CHANCE MOTEL. Do u see what that means? LAST CHANCE MOTEL. It means it’s my last chance! My dream was a message, I know it, and I think Whoever is watching over us knew I was having a tuff time making this decision and that’s why I had the dream.

But Tom does say that Ty can’t go. So I am going to leave him here with yu. Yu were always better at taking care of him then me. Remember when I was sick for like a month last year couldn’t move, and u took care of Ty becuz we couldn’t afford to send him to camp at the YMCA? Yu did a really good job then and I remember thinking yur going to be a good dad some day, not like yur dad. Now that I think about it, yu take care of Ty a lot more then I did anyways like a good brother should and yu were always better at it. That is why I feel ok about leaving him here with yu. I just think it would be better for him if he stayed here. What if something happens to me when Im with Tom? I don’t want him to see that.

I got sumthing I printed from the internet for yu. Its called a Power Of Attorney. It means that yu can do stuff for Ty without me. Like doctors and school and stuff. It means yull be in charge I guess. At least thats what I got from it. Denise from downstares told me about it. Yu would normaly have to be there with me to have it notterized, but Denise owes me for that time I gave her some smokes when she couldn’t afford to buy more. Her kid is a nottery public or something (do yu really have to go to school to learn how to sine and stamp papers? How hard can that be?) and she will cover for me and notterize it. Yull have to wait for yur birthday but thats real soon. Its my present to yu. I hope yu like it.

I am going to miss yu, so yu know. Yu grew up ok, despite everything. I hope yu don’t hate me or n e thing for this, but maybe Ill be back one day if this doesn’t work out. Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe, I was never meant to be a mom. I see yu sometimes and I think how much better it would have been for yu if yu were never born. But I remember yu as such a happy baby, not like Ty who cried all the time. Yur smile still makes it worth it and I hope yull still smile even after this.

Please make sure Ty gets the note I wrote for him.

I don’t know what else to say.

Please don’t try looking for me. I don’t want Tom to get mad.

Mom

P.S. I left a little bit of muney to help yu out for now. I really can’t give more becuz Tom sez we need to save for our future. Remember, Rent is due at the beginning of the month, along with the other bills. Yu paid those for me n e ways, but what kind of a mom would I be if I didn’t remind yu.

 

 

There was a second note.

Do you remember that one too?

Ty,

Yu listen to yur brother and do what he sez, ok? Mommy loves yu!

Mom

 

That’s what I found when I came home from work that day. It was a Saturday night. I didn’t know where the Kid was.

She left $137.50 in an envelope with my name on it.

The next day, I turned eighteen. Three days after that, I graduated high school.

It’s funny, then, after everything, that when the doorbell rings, I don’t even think of her.

I haven’t thought of her in months.

There are other things now.

Like the man before me, that look of fond exasperation on his face as I spout off about how our kid is going to grow up to be a serial killer with a tail. God, I love him so fucking much. “Did we even test for that?” I ask him, sounding hysterical. “Was that one of the tests? To see if our sperm makes serial killers with tails?”

“No, Bear,” my husband sighs. “I don’t think there was a test for serial killers with tails.”

“Well, there should have been!” I shout at him, even as we stand in the room painted the palest of blues with cartoon elephants and tigers stenciled onto the walls in a field of grass and flowers. There are clouds on the ceiling above and a goddamn crib, a crib where our son is going to be in about three months, because for some reason, Otter fucking Thompson convinced me that we should knock up some woman we didn’t even know, a pretty young thing named Megan who was injected with my spunk and now has a child growing inside her. A fucking baby that no one knows about, and what the hell were we thinking?

I’m pretty sure I’m on my way to a full-scale meltdown.

The doorbell rings.

A phone rings.

Otter looks over his shoulder. “That’s my phone. It’s downstairs. You need to take a deep breath and answer the door. Someone showed up a bit early.”

“No violent video games!” I tell him. “And he eats all his vegetables! I don’t care what he tries to say. Those goddamn brussels sprouts are going down his throat or he can stay at the dinner table all night!”

“All night,” Otter agrees. He drops his big hands on my shoulders, squeezing me tightly, grounding me. “Bear. Focus.”

Which, honestly, is probably the wrong thing to say.

“I am focused,” I snap at him. Granted, I was focused on the idea of our son murdering people with his tail and feasting on their insides, but whatever.

“You need to get the door,” he says, steering me toward the stairs. “I need to see who called to make sure everything’s okay.”

His phone cuts off but immediately starts ringing again.

There’s a knock at the door.

We reach the bottom of the stairs, and before I can walk to the door, he spins me around and kisses me hard, mouth working over mine, the barest hints of his tongue on my lips. Pretty much everything short-circuits at that, like it normally does with him, even after all these years. I’m rather breathless when he pulls away and can’t even glare at the smug little twist in his smile.

“Good?” he asks me.

“Blargh,” I tell him.

“Good,” he says, pushing me toward the door. He turns to the living room, where his phone has started ringing again, and whoever it is better have a good goddamn reason for blowing up his phone like that.

The doorbell rings again.

“Huh,” I hear Otter say. “It’s Megan.”

Which, honestly, given that she just had another OB appointment (it’s like she’s going daily), is not making me feel any better. I don’t know how parents of serial killers ever show their faces in public again. I mean, what the hell would the neighbors think?

The phone rings again.

There’s a pounding on the door.

I open it just as I hear Otter say, “Is everything okay, Megan?”

I’m thinking about how things are changing.

I’m thinking about how we’re having a kid.

I’m thinking about how I would go to the ends of the earth for the man standing in the living room.

I’m thinking about my brother, who is finally coming home.

I’m thinking about his boyfriend, who I think knows the surprise Otter and I have, even though we’ve been trying to keep it a secret.

I’m thinking about my best friend and his wife. How happy they’re going to be for us.

I’m thinking about their parents, who will love this kid so much that he’ll never be alone.

I’m thinking about a lovely, crazy, beautiful old woman who had gathered us up in her arms and did her best to shelter us from the sharp edges of the world.

I’m thinking about everything we’ve gone through to get to this point.

But I’m not thinking about her. Even though she was the catalyst for it all, never her.

She’s no longer part of my vocabulary. She doesn’t have the right to be.

Maybe there are days when she’s there, just skirting the edges of my thoughts. But I don’t ever allow myself to focus on her. Not now. Not after all she’s done. Not since the Kid came home from his wayward journey in Idaho to see for himself what she’d become.

So, no.

I’m not expecting this.

There’s a little girl standing on the porch of the Green Monstrosity. And maybe I’m a little distracted, trying to half listen to Otter on the phone behind me, but there’s something about her, with her dark hair braided down the back of her head, loose little wisps hanging around her face. There’s a smudge of dirt on her nose. She’s got a backpack slung over her shoulder, her hand tight on the strap. Her eyes are wide as she stares up at me. She looks exhausted, and there’s something familiar about her that I can’t quite place.

“Can I help you?” I ask, trying not to show this little girl that I’m pretty much a fucking lunatic who is capable of impregnating a woman with a serial killer baby who could be born with a tail.

“Slow down, slow down,” Otter says into the phone. “Say that again, Megan.”

“Man,” the little girl on the porch says. “He sure wasn’t kidding. The color of this house is like an abomination against Mother Nature.”

A buzzing starts in my ears. “Who wasn’t kidding?”

She rolls her eyes, and I take a step back as if I’ve been shoved. I know that look. “Tyson,” she says. “You must be Bear. Derrick.”

“Wait,” Otter says. His voice sounds rough, like he’s having trouble speaking. “What?”

“How do you know my name?” I ask the girl, gripping the door tightly.

She fidgets on the porch. Looks away. Back at me, then away again. She opens her mouth, then closes it. She sniffs and grips the strap to her backpack even tighter. “Ty said if I ever needed help, I could find him here.”

“He’s on a trip,” I say dumbly. “He’ll be back this afternoon.”

“You’re shorter than I thought you’d be,” she says as if it’s nothing. “How disappointing to know that’s what I’ve got ahead of me.” She takes a deep breath. It comes out shaky.

“I don’t…,” Otter says, and he sounds so unsure that I want to go to him, but I can’t seem to make my feet move. “What do you mean hidden behind the other one?”

It hits me then. This little girl. Even though I probably knew as soon as I opened the door and saw her eyes that looked so much like my brother’s, so much like my own, so much like hers, it still takes me by surprise, and it’s like the Kid and I are standing in the kitchen picking ourselves back up again. That’s what we do. We get knocked down, we spit the blood out onto the ground, and we push ourselves back up. That’s what we’ve always done. That’s who we are.

She’s lost, Bear. And I don’t think she’s ever going to be found. Nothing’s changed. But….

What?

I met Izzie.

“Izzie?” I whisper.

Bear, she’s… amazing. She’s like me. Smarter, even. I don’t know if I have words to even describe her. No, I take that back. She’s like us. She’s you and me.

We can’t….

She nods. “Ty said to find him if I needed help.” She sniffs again, and I can tell she’s trying to keep it together. But it’s a losing battle. “And I need help.”

I know. There’s nothing… bad happening. I don’t think. She wasn’t bruised. But Julie was never like that.

There’s more than one type of abuse.

“Are you sure?” Otter says from behind me. “How could they never see that…? I don’t—there’s two… oh fuck.”

“What happened?” I manage to ask.

I told her the same thing. Julie.

Will she listen?

I don’t know. Bear, we can’t forget about her.

But I did, didn’t I? To an extent. Out of sight, out of mind, and I have a life, I am building a life with my husband. We are having a child, and things are finally going our way. We are happy, we are healthy, we are whole, and I haven’t had time for things that I’ve pushed away in an attempt to keep my sanity.

There’s not much more we can do, Ty.

And maybe that had been a lie.

Julie would never let us see her.

She said as much. But there has to be some way, right?

We can ask Erica Sharp, but I don’t know how many rights siblings have when the parent is still involved. Even one with a history like Julie McKenna.

I’d left a message for Erica Sharp. She’d called back a day or so later. It’d gone to voicemail. I’d gotten distracted with life after that.

And I didn’t call her back.

I promised Izzie too. Just like you.

What?

That I wouldn’t forget about her.

We won’t. I just… I don’t know what we can do.

A tear spills over her cheek. Just one. She looks up at me, and even before she says it, I know. Somehow I know. And in the darkest corners of my heart, there is only relief, and I can’t be bothered to feel any guilt because of it. Maybe that’ll come later. But right now, it’s just relief.

“She’s dead,” Isabelle McKenna says. “Mom. She’s dead and I have nowhere else to go and Ty said if I needed help to find him and I need help! I need help so bad.” Her chest hitches, and it’s that, that little action, a little girl on the verge of tears standing in front of me, looking up at me like I’ll have all the answers that causes my knees to buckle.

And for the first time in my life, my little sister launches herself into my arms. The weight of her reminds me so much of Ty that I can barely breathe around the lump in my throat. She sobs bitterly against my chest. The blood roars in my ears.

You and me. That’ll never change, Papa Bear.

But it will, won’t it?

It’s already happening.

“Twins,” Otter says from somewhere behind us. He sounds just stupid with awe, and through the haze, I am barely grasping what he’s saying. “Jesus Christ. We’re having twins?”

 

 

Do you remember how it all began?

I do.

And this is where it begins again.

One last time.