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One of Us Is Back: Part 2 – Chapter 42


Thursday, July 30

“I thought you were ready,” Ashton says, gazing at the piles of clothes around my room.

“I am,” I say. “I’m ready to put all of these into my suitcase. Soon.”

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” she reminds me.

“I’m aware,” I say, adding a pair of flip-flops to one pile.

Mom pokes her head in then, waving my passport in one hand. “Addy, you have got to stop leaving this lying around,” she says.

“It’s not lying around,” I say. “It was exactly where I wanted it. I have a system, Mom. Can you put it back, please?”

She heaves a theatrical sigh before withdrawing. “Do not blame me if you miss your flight tomorrow because your system fails,” she says on her way downstairs.

“Thank you, G-Ma!” I call after her.

Ashton perches at the edge of my bed, one hand on her ever-growing stomach. “You can’t tell her it’s not spelled G-E-E-M-A,” she says. “She’s started signing her emails like that. It’s very cute.”

“It’ll be our little secret,” I say, miming a zip of my lips.

“Is that the only one?” Ashton asks, arching her brows. I hesitate, not sure what she’s talking about. “Eli admitted last night that he never actually threw away the note from the obstetrician. You’re both so sneaky,” she complains when I grin. “Did you take a look?”

“I didn’t. Do you want it back?”

“No,” she says. “I want you to destroy it, so I don’t ask for it in a moment of weakness when I’m nine months pregnant.”

“Done,” I say. “I’ll toss it into the ocean.”

“You don’t have to be so dramatic,” Ashton says with a smile.

“Fine,” I sigh, and flop onto my back beside her on the bed.

“Do you want to know another secret?” she asks.

“Obviously I do.”

“We decided on names.”

Instantly, I’m upright. “What are they?”

“If it’s a boy, William Elijah. After Eli, of course. We’ll call him Will.”

“Love it. Perfect. And if it’s a girl? Don’t pick an A name,” I say before realizing that’s a terrible thing to say before Ashton reveals the name. “Unless it’s an awesome A name, of course. Which I’m sure it would be. I’m just thinking about patterns, you know, and maybe…” Maybe we need to start some new ones for the girls in this family.

That’s silly, though. We already did.

“It’s not an A name,” Ashton says. She pauses, enjoying the suspense, and I make a big show of gnawing on my knuckle. “If it’s a girl, we’re going to call her Iris Adelaide.” I blink at her, tears springing into my eyes, as she adds, “After her kick-ass aunt.”

“Oh my God,” I whimper. Into Ashton’s shoulder, since I’m half strangling her with a hug. “Really? That’s…that’s amazing. Thank you.”

“What else would we call her?” Ashton says, hugging me back. “I couldn’t use Adelaide for the first name, because there’s only one Addy, but I hope she’s just like you. I really, really do.”

“Well.” I gulp, thinking of all the mistakes I’ve made over the past few years. The past few weeks, even. I don’t know if I could’ve done anything different to stop Chelsea, but I wish we’d been able to have a real conversation when I first got to know her as Evie. Before she did what she did and forever changed the course of her life. I think I would have understood, better than she might have imagined, how it felt to learn the truth about how her father died. “Maybe not just like me.”

“Oh, hush,” Ashton says. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I could use a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s marathon flight, but there’s one more thing I need to do, and I wanted the beach to be nice and deserted while I did it. It’s chilly at midnight, though, and I’m glad for my extra-thick hoodie and sweatpants.

Back when I was in high school and we used to throw parties on this beach, I was never the one who started the bonfire. Jake always wanted to do it, and he liked to explain his methods in great detail. I’d made dozens of campfires with my father and Ashton when we were little, but I listened patiently instead of telling him that I already knew.

And he never asked.

The fire I make now is a small one, because this isn’t a party. While I was packing, I dropped a pair of socks behind my bed, and as I fished around for them, I pulled out a scrap of paper. It was a photo booth picture of Jake and me, one from the sophomore-year school fair that I thought I’d thrown away long ago. We were fifteen years old, both of us making goofy faces—my eyes popping wide, his tongue practically touching his nose. A lot of my memories of Jake are bad in retrospect, but I remember this day as nothing but fun. Jake had a lot of charm, and when he directed it toward me, I felt like the most important person in the world.

I don’t know when Jake’s dark side took over. Maybe it was always there, given the kind of person the father he grew up with turned out to be. Maybe it was that sense of entitlement the media loves to talk about. I can’t spend any more time wondering, though, because I’ve already tortured myself with enough what-ifs to last a lifetime. And I realized a while ago that I never really knew him.

I take one last look at our happy faces, then drop the photo into the fire. “Good-bye, Jake,” I say as the edges blacken and curl. “I hope you’re at peace.”

Within seconds, the photo is nothing but ash. I watch the flames dance for a few more minutes, then take a crumpled envelope out of my pocket. I put a finger beneath the seal and tear, pulling out a sheet of paper. I unfold it, read the single line, and start smiling so wide that my cheeks hurt. Then I carefully refold the paper and put it back into my pocket. I’ll get rid of it eventually, because I promised I would, but not yet. I’m going to bring this piece of news to Peru with me; it’ll be our first adventure together. The first of many, I hope.

I toss the envelope onto the fire and say, “I can’t wait to meet you, Iris Adelaide.”


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