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One of Us Is Back: Part 2 – Chapter 40


Friday, July 24

Three days later the world is a very different place, although I haven’t seen much of it. My family has been holed up in our apartment ever since the story broke. I’ve left only once, to visit Nate in the hospital after he finally regained consciousness. Bronwyn was by his side, like always, holding his hand while I perched at the edge of a chair beside his bed.

“Why are you always the one who gets hurt?” I asked.

“Because I’m an idiot who’s easy to get rid of,” Nate grumbled. “Doesn’t matter what crime we’re dealing with—when shit goes down, I’m out of commission.”

“I was, too,” I reminded him, which earned me a wry grin.

“Yeah, well, you’ve got some catching up to do. I’m three for three,” Nate said. I held out a fist for him to bump, and he was nice enough not to leave me hanging.

Bronwyn brushed a lock of dark hair off his forehead. “You’re looking at this all wrong, Nate,” she said. “We couldn’t have figured anything out without you. If you weren’t spending time with your dad, letting him know that he could count on you, we wouldn’t have found Phoebe or Reggie. Plus, nobody but you could’ve brought Vanessa in, or put her and Ms. Riordan together, and you’re the only one who knew Gavin—”

Nate grimaced. “Not sure I want to take credit for that.”

“Still,” Bronwyn said. “You’re at the center of everything. Could you even have imagined that two years ago?”

“I couldn’t have imagined this many scars,” Nate muttered, brushing his fingertips against the new one at his temple. But he looked a little pleased too.

“I’m really glad you’re okay,” I told him. I feel like I know Nate the least of anyone in the Bayview Crew chat, because by the time we started hanging out, I was already keeping secrets. But I want to change that—especially because now, there’s nowhere left to hide.

Everything about Owen is out in the open, and my family, once again, is being dissected by the media. I was braced for the worst, but Mikhail Powers Investigates set the tone early, descending on Bayview the night Chelsea killed Jake. “Chelsea Alton devised an elaborate and vengeful scheme aimed at punishing those she deemed responsible for Bayview’s deadly, toxic past,” Mikhail said in his first broadcast. “And now the town has a choice. Will they harass a grieving boy who made a terrible decision, or address the broader cultural problem of privilege and entitlement that has become this town’s legacy?”

So far, at least, Bayview appears to be going for option B. People have gone out of their way to express sympathy for me and concern about Owen. It helped, I think, that Emma’s lawyer, Martin McCoy, appeared on Mikhail Powers’s second broadcast and shared the final transcripts between Jared and Owen. That wasn’t supposed to happen, Owen wrote after Brandon died. In all the back-and-forth, Martin explained, Jared had never talked about actually killing Brandon until it was done. Owen hadn’t realized he was helping to plot a murder. Emma, at age seventeen, understood that something about Jared was off and stopped communicating with him. Owen, five years younger, didn’t have the same instinct.

A lot of the coverage is zeroing in on Mr. Riordan, although it’s unclear what’s going to happen to him. Bayview Police are trying to trace the letter Chelsea received back to Simon. But even if they do, Martin says, it could be considered hearsay. Still, there are enough details about what happened that most people believe it’s a version of the truth. It’s like Addy keeps saying—the main reason that Simon Kelleher had such a hold over so many people, for so many years, is because he never, ever lied.

Chelsea and Gavin managed to make it out of Bayview after she killed Jake, and no one knows where they are. She left behind detailed notes in her apartment—kind of like Simon’s manifesto from two years ago—taking responsibility for everything that happened to Phoebe, Reggie, and Jake. I’m sorry that Reggie died, she wrote at the end. I only meant to scare him. But I’m not sorry about what I’m going to do to Jake. He took my father away, he helped Simon Kelleher die, and he tried to kill Addy Prentiss. He was going to spend the rest of his life hurting people, and nobody would have stopped him. So I will.

There’s a massive hunt underway for Chelsea and Gavin, and the police keep asking for any details they might have let slip that could help track them down. I suppose I could share the fact that Chelsea once told me that if she could live anywhere, it would be Colorado, but…I haven’t. I can’t bring myself to hate her, and I’m not sure I want her caught. After all, half my family launched their own revenge plan after our father died, and Brandon jamming that forklift was an accident. I can’t imagine the rage we’d feel if he’d done something like Jake did.

Plus, even though Chelsea was twisted, she was right about a lot of things. Especially when it comes to me, Emma, and Owen.

We’ve had a lot of family time over the past few days. A lot of time to try to explain to our mother why we kept quiet—that it wasn’t a lack of trust, but a messed-up attempt to protect her when she’d already suffered so much. It was, as Mom has told us repeatedly, an absolutely horrible choice. One that we’re going to relive in therapy indefinitely, starting with our first family session tomorrow, and individual sessions next week.

I’m kind of looking forward to it, to be honest. We all need it.

“Can we watch something else?” Owen murmurs from the couch when Mikhail Powers goes to commercial. He’s sitting between me and Emma, our mother seated on a stool at the kitchen island, brow furrowed at her laptop. Lately, when we’re home, we’re never more than a few feet away from one another unless we’re sleeping.

“I think Liz Rosen is doing a special report on Channel Seven,” Emma says, reaching for the remote. “She’s supposed to have Marshall Whitfield on.”

“Ugh,” I mutter. I’m glad Marshall isn’t getting doxed anymore, but I can’t bring myself to view him as anything close to heroic. Even if he did help get me out of Chelsea’s house.

“I mean, something that’s…not this,” Owen says, hunching his shoulders. “I can’t stand hearing my name anymore.”

Emma pauses the channel instead of turning it. “People are being pretty decent about you, though,” she says.

“Yeah. That’s the problem,” Owen says. “I’m one of those guys everyone is talking about, you know? Who doesn’t get any consequences for doing something bad.”

I reach for his hand, a little surprised when he lets me take it. Even though he towers over me, he seems more like my little brother now than he has in months. “You are getting consequences. They’re just age-appropriate.”

Owen swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Even Brandon’s parents were nice,” he says.

I don’t remind him that Brandon’s parents are still living with the guilt of Brandon’s carelessness being the cause of the accident that killed our father. I can empathize, now, with their reasons for protecting him; we did the same thing for Owen. “They know you didn’t understand what Jared was planning,” I say instead.

“I was so stupid. And don’t say I was twelve,” Owen adds before I can. “It’s not like I didn’t know better. I just…I missed Dad so much, I couldn’t think straight.”

“I know,” Emma says, taking his other hand. “Me too.”

“Me three,” I say, thinking with a pang how happy Dad would be to see the three of us holding hands again. Even if it took all this to get there.

“Poor Phoebe,” Emma says. “You’re less guilty than anyone, but you always take the brunt of the fallout.”

“At least I’m not Nate,” I say.

“What are you three talking about?” Mom calls over her laptop.

“Our relative guilt,” Emma says. Brutal honesty is one of our new family rules.

“Maybe it’s time to watch something else,” Mom says, looking at Mikhail Powers’s frozen face on the television screen.

“That’s what I said,” Owen says.

“What about you, Mom?” I ask nervously. She’s been at that laptop for a while. “Anything new?”

“Just going back and forth with Martin. He’s been incredibly helpful,” she says. “We’re going to meet up for lunch tomorrow to discuss legal strategy. He doesn’t think there will be any charges against Owen, given public sentiment and the fact that the messages show a clear lack of intent. But he says we need to be prepared for anything.”

Emma clears her throat. “Mom, in the spirit of brutal honesty, I think that Martin might be preparing to ask you on a nonlegal date.”

There’s a moment of shocked silence before my mother sputters, “That’s preposterous!” Owen sinks into the cushions, groaning, as I reach over to punch Emma on the shoulder.

“I was thinking the same thing!” I say, and we grin at one another.

“In sync once again,” she says. “For good.”

“Not for evil,” I say.

“Well, yeah,” Emma says. “But I also meant—from now on.”

The intercom buzzes then, and Owen leaps to his feet like he’s afraid of getting stuck in a group hug otherwise. “I’ll get it,” he says, heading for the door. I hear the crackle of an indistinguishable voice, and then Owen returns and flops back onto the couch. “It’s Knox,” he reports. “I buzzed him in.”

“Oh.” I blink at my phone, looking for some kind of notification that I missed, but there isn’t one. “I wasn’t expecting him, but…okay. Let me just, um…” I stand up and look around our cramped apartment, and at the three faces staring expectantly at me. Brutal honesty doesn’t have to mean a total lack of privacy, right? “I’ll meet him downstairs.”

“He’s coming up, though,” Owen says as I head for the door.

“Then I’ll meet him in the hall,” I say, ducking out.

Knox must’ve gotten lucky with elevator timing, because as soon as I close the door behind me, he steps into the hallway. “Hey,” he says, stopping in his tracks. “I was just coming to see you.”

“I know,” I say. “I thought we could go outside, maybe? It’s kind of crowded in my apartment right now.”

“Yeah, sure,” Knox says. “Or we could go up on the roof deck, if you want.”

I raise my eyebrows. “You? On a roof deck?”

“I’m getting used to them,” he says with a rueful smile.

“If you’re sure,” I say, one hand on the stairwell door.

“I’m sure.”

I push the door open then, with Knox at my heels. We’ve texted a lot since the police pulled me from Chelsea’s house, but this is the first time I’ve seen him. I wanted to, but I don’t know what to say. Given how quiet our climb up the stairs is, I’m guessing he doesn’t either.

“I’m sorry for showing up out of the blue,” he says when we finally reach the roof. “But I was afraid that if I texted first, you’d tell me not to come.”

There are tables here now, and I pick one closest to the center of the deck and sit. “Why would I do that?” I ask.

“Because of how I acted the night you told me about Owen.” Knox runs a hand through sun-streaked hair as he takes a seat across from me. “I didn’t handle it well. I said a lot of wrong things—”

“No, you were right,” I interrupt. “About all of it.” If I’d talked to my mom that night, Owen could’ve come clean before Chelsea had the chance to shove Reggie’s necklace into his backpack. I wouldn’t have gone to her apartment, and I wouldn’t have gotten kidnapped again. Maybe everything else would’ve still happened exactly the same way, but my family might have started putting ourselves back together a lot sooner.

“Still,” he says. “It didn’t come across the way I wanted.” He lets his gaze wander, then blanches at the open sky and quickly returns his eyes to me. “It meant a lot that you trusted me enough to tell me, and I feel like I let you down.”

“You didn’t,” I say.

“Good. Because I hate not talking to you.”

“Me too,” I say, and we share a smile that makes me feel ten times lighter.

“You look great,” Knox blurts out. Then his expression shifts, like he’s not sure it’s the right time for a compliment. “I mean, considering what you’ve been through.”

My lips quirk. “So great on, like, a sliding scale?”

“No. Well, obviously, circumstances being what they are, it wouldn’t be surprising if you were, um, affected by that, visually speaking, but…” I swallow a guilty laugh, enjoying his discomfort way too much, until he finishes, “But what I meant to say is, you look beautiful, Phoebe. Like always.”

“Oh.” The sudden intensity in Knox’s gaze leaves me a little breathless. “Thank you.”

“Do you want to, um…” He trails off as he looks around us. My heart starts beating a little faster, until he says, “Go back to your apartment?” I must look disappointed, because he quickly adds, “I know you have a lot of family stuff going on, so—”

“True,” I say. “It’s not a good time. But when it comes to you and me, it never is. And I’m tired of it. So…” I reach for his hand, threading my fingers through his. “I do want to go downstairs, but then I want to go to your house and watch movies. In your room.” I smile as a blush spreads across his cheeks. He’s ridiculously cute when he’s embarrassed. “Unless you’d rather be in the living room, in which case, I’ll make a giant bowl of popcorn to put between us and we’ll never speak of this again.”

“God, no,” he says in a strangled voice. “No living room.”

“Good. Let’s tell my mom we’re leaving,” I say. Knox jumps up way too fast, still holding my hand, and I laugh when his knee bangs hard against the table. “Don’t injure yourself,” I tease. “And don’t look over the edge. You’ll get dizzy.”

“Too late,” Knox says with a grin, letting me pull him toward the stairwell. “For the record, though? It’s not the heights.”


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