The Last Thing He Told Me (2 page)

BOOK: The Last Thing He Told Me
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Bailey twirls some pasta onto her fork, studying it. “This looks different than Poggio.”

“Well, it's not. I convinced the sous chef to give me the recipe. He even sent me to the Ferry Building to pick up the garlic bread he serves with it.”

“You drove into San Francisco to get a loaf of bread?” she says.

It's possible that I try too hard with her. There is that.

She leans in and puts the whole bite in her month. I bite my lip, anticipating her approval—a small yum escaping her lips, in spite of herself.

Which is when she gags on it. She actually gags, reaching for a glass of water.

“What did you put in that?” she says. “It tastes like… charcoal.”

“But I tasted it,” I say. “It's perfect.”

I take another bite myself. She's not wrong. In my confusion over
my twelve-year-old visitor and Owen's note, the butter sauce had transformed from its slightly malted, foamy richness into actually just being burnt. And bitter. Not unlike eating a campfire.

“I gotta go anyway,” she says. “Especially if I want to get a ride from Suz.”

Bailey stands up. And I picture Owen standing behind me, leaning down to whisper in my ear,
Wait it out.
That's what he says when Bailey is dismissive of me. Wait it out. Meaning—she'll come around one day. Also meaning—she's leaving for college in two and a half short years. But Owen doesn't understand that this doesn't comfort me. To me, this just means I'm running out of time to make her want to move toward me.

And I do want her to move toward me. I want us to have a relationship, and not just because of Owen. It's more than that—what draws me toward Bailey even as she pushes me away. Part of it is that I recognize in her that thing that happens when you lose your mother. My mother left by choice, Bailey's by tragedy, but it leaves a similar imprint on you either way. It leaves you in the same strange place, trying to figure out how to navigate the world without the most important person watching.

“I'll walk over to Suz's,” she says. “She'll drive me.”

Suz, her friend Suz, who is also in the play. Suz who lives on the docks too. Suz who is safe, isn't she?

Protect her.

“Let me take you,” I say.


No
.” She pulls her purple hair behind her ears, checks her tone. “That's okay. Suz is going anyway…”

“If your father isn't back yet,” I say, “I'll come and pick you up. One of us will be waiting for you out front.”

She drills me with a look. “Why wouldn't he be back?” she says.

“He will. I'm sure he will. I just meant… if I come get you, then you can drive home.”

Bailey just got her learner's permit. It'll be a year of her driving with an adult until she can drive alone. And Owen doesn't like her driving at night, even when she's with him, which I try to utilize as an opportunity.

“Sure,” Bailey says. “Thanks.”

She walks toward the door. She wants out of the conversation and into the Sausalito air. She would say anything to get there, but I take it as a date.

“So I'll see you in a few hours?”

“See ya,” she says.

And I feel happy, for a just a second. Then the front door is slamming behind her. And I'm alone again with Owen's note, the inimitable silence of the kitchen, and enough burnt pasta to feed a family of ten.

Don't Ask a Question You Don't Want the Answer To

At 8
P.M.
, Owen still hasn't called.

I take a left into the parking lot at Bailey's school and pull into a spot by the front exit.

I turn down the radio and try him again. My heartbeat picks up when his phone goes straight to voice mail. It's been twelve hours since he left for work, two hours since the visit from the soccer star, eighteen messages to my husband that have gone unreturned.

“Hey,” I say after the beep. “I don't know what's going on, but you need to call me as soon as you get this. Owen? I love you. But I'm going to kill you if I don't hear from you soon.”

I end the call and look down at my phone, willing it to buzz immediately. Owen, calling back, with a good explanation. It's one of the reasons I love him. He always has a good explanation. He always brings calmness and reason to whatever is going on. I want to believe that will be true even now. Even if I can't see it.

I slide over so Bailey can jump into the driver's seat. And I close my eyes, running through different scenarios as to what could possibly be going on. Innocuous, reasonable scenarios. He is stuck in an epic work meeting. He lost his phone. He is surprising Bailey with a crazy present. He is surprising me with some sort of trip. He thinks this is funny. He isn't thinking, at all.

This is when I hear the name of Owen's tech firm—The Shop—coming from my car radio.

I turn the radio up, thinking I imagined it. Maybe I was the one who said it in my message to Owen.
Are you stuck at The Shop?
It's possible. But then I hear the rest of the report, coming from the NPR host's slick, grippy voice.

“Today's raid was the culmination of a fourteen-month investigation by the SEC and the FBI into the software start-up's business practices. We can confirm that The Shop's CEO, Avett Thompson, is in custody. Expected charges include embezzlement and fraud. Sources close to the investigation have told NPR that, quote,
there is evidence Thompson planned to flee the country and had set up a residence in Dubai.
Other indictments of senior staff are expected to be handed down shortly.”

The Shop. She is talking about The Shop.

How is this possible? Owen is honored to work there. Owen has used that word.
Honored
. He told me that he took a salary cut to join them early on. Nearly everyone there had taken a salary cut, leaving bigger companies behind—Google, Facebook, Twitter—leaving big money behind, agreeing to stock options in lieu of traditional compensation.

Didn't Owen tell me they did this because they believed in the technology The Shop was developing? They aren't Enron. Theranos. They are a software company. They were building software tools set to privatize online life—helping people control what was made available about them, providing child-easy ways to erase an embarrassing image, make a website all but disappear. They wanted to be a part of revolutionizing online privacy. They wanted to make a positive difference.

How could there be fraud in that?

The host goes to commercial and I reach for my phone, flipping to Apple News.

But just as I'm pulling up CNN's business page, Bailey comes out of the school. She has a bag swung over her shoulder and a needy look on her face that I don't recognize, especially directed at me.

Instinctively, I turn the radio off, put my phone down.

Protect her.

Bailey gets in the car quickly. She drops into the driver's seat and buckles herself in. She doesn't say hello to me. She doesn't even turn her head to look in my direction.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

She shakes her head, her purple hair falling out from behind her ears. I expect her to make a snide remark—
Do I look okay?
But she stays quiet.

“Bailey?” I say.

“I don't know,” she says. “I don't know what's going on…”

This is when I notice it. The bag she has with her isn't her messenger bag. It is a duffel bag. It's a large black duffel bag, which she cradles in her lap, gently, like it's a baby.

“What is that?” I say.

“Take a look,” she says.

The way she says it makes me not want to look. But I don't have much of a choice. Bailey hurls the duffel bag onto my lap.

“Go on. Look, Hannah.”

I pull back the zipper just a bit and money starts spilling out. Rolls and rolls of money, hundreds of hundred-dollar bills tied together with string. Heavy, limitless.

“Bailey,” I whisper. “Where did you get this?”

“My father left it in my locker,” she says.

I look at her in disbelief, my heart starting to race. “How do you know?” I say.

Bailey hands me a note, more like tosses it in my general direction. “Call it a good guess,” she says.

I pick the note up off my lap. It's on a sheet from a yellow legal pad. It is Owen's second note that day, on that piece of yellow legal paper.

The other half of my note.
BAILEY
is written on the front of hers, underlined for her twice.

Bailey,

I can't help this make sense. I'm so sorry. You know what matters about me.

And you know what matters about yourself. Please hold on to it.

Help Hannah. Do what she tells you.

She loves you. We both do.

You are my whole life,

Dad

My eyes focus on the note until the words start to blur. And I can picture what preceded the meeting between Owen and the twelve-year-old in shin guards. I can picture Owen running through the school halls, running by the lockers. He was there to deliver this bag to his daughter. While he still could.

My chest starts heating up, making it harder to breathe.

I consider myself to be pretty unflappable. You could say that how I grew up demanded it. So, there are only two other times in my
life that I've felt this exact way: the day I realized my mother wasn't coming back and the day my grandfather died. But looking back and forth between Owen's note and the obscene amount of money he's left, I feel it happening again. How do I explain the feeling? Like my insides need to get out. One way or another. And I know if there is ever a moment I could vomit all over the place, it's now.

Which is what I do.

We pull up to our parking spot in front of the docks.

We've kept the car windows wide open for the duration of the ride and I'm still holding a tissue over my mouth.

“Do you feel like you're going to hurl again?” Bailey asks.

I shake my head, trying to convince myself as much as I'm trying to convince her. “I'm fine,” I say.

“ 'Cause this could help…” Bailey says.

I look over to see her pull a joint out of her sweater pocket. She holds it out for me to take.

“Where did you get that?” I say.

“It's legal in California,” she says.

Is that an answer? Is it even true for a sixteen-year-old?

Maybe she doesn't want to give me the answer, especially when I'm guessing she got the joint from Bobby. Bobby is more or less Bailey's boyfriend. He's a senior at her school and on the surface he's a good guy, if a bit nerdy: University of Chicago bound, head of student government. No purple streaks in his hair. But there is something about him Owen doesn't trust. And while I want to write off Owen's dislike to overprotection, it doesn't help that Bobby encourages Bailey's disdain toward me. Sometimes after spending time with him, she'll come home and lob an insult my way. While I've tried not
to take it personally, Owen has been less successful. He had an argument with Bailey about Bobby just a few weeks ago, telling her he thought she was seeing too much of him. It was one of the only times I saw Bailey look at Owen with the dismissive glare she normally reserves for me.

“If you don't want it, don't take it,” she says. “I was just trying to help.”

“I'm good. But thanks.”

She starts to put the joint back in her pocket and I flinch. I try to avoid making any big parenting moves with Bailey. It's one of the few things she seems to like about me.

I start to turn away, making a mental note to discuss this with Owen when he gets home—let him decide whether she keeps the joint or hands it over. But then it hits me. I have no idea when Owen will be home. I have no idea where he is now.

“You know what?” I say. “I'm going to take that.”

She rolls her eyes but hands the joint over. I shove it into the glove compartment and reach down to pick up the duffel bag.

“I started counting it…” she says.

I look up at her.

“The money,” she says. “Each roll has ten thousand dollars in it. And I got to sixty. When I stopped counting.”

“Sixty?”

I start grabbing the loose rolls of money that have fallen on the seats, on the floor, and put them back inside the bag. Then I zip it closed, so she won't have to contemplate the enormous stash inside anymore. So neither of us will.

Six hundred thousand dollars. Six hundred thousand dollars and counting.

“Lynn Williams reposted all these
Daily Beast
tweets to her Insta
Stories,” she says. “All about The Shop and Avett Thompson. How he's like Madoff. That's what one of them said.”

I go back through what I know—sharp, fast. Owen's note to me. The duffel bag for Bailey. The radio report suggesting embezzlement and massive fraud. Avett Thompson the mastermind of something I'm still trying to understand.

I feel like I'm in one of those twisted dreams that only happen when you go to sleep at the wrong time, the afternoon sun or midnight chill greeting you upon waking, disorienting you—and leaving you to turn to the person next to you, the person you trust most, looking for clarity. It was only a dream: There is no tiger under the bed. You weren't just chased through the streets of Paris. You didn't jump off the Willis Tower. Your husband didn't disappear, leaving you no explanation, leaving his daughter six hundred thousand dollars. And counting.

“We don't have that information yet,” I say. “But even if it's true that The Shop is involved in something, or if Avett did something illegal, that doesn't mean that your father had anything to do with it.”

“Then where is he? And where did he get this money!”

She is yelling at me because she wants to be yelling at him. It's a feeling I can relate to.
I'm just as angry as you are,
I want to say. And the person I want to say it to is Owen.

I look at her. Then I turn away, stare out the window, out at the docks, the bay, at all the night-lit houses in this strange little neighborhood. I can see directly into the Hahns' floating home. Mr. and Mrs. Hahn are sitting on the couch, side by side, eating their nightly bowls of ice cream, watching television.

“What do I do now, Hannah?” she says. My name hangs there like an accusation.

Bailey pushes her hair behind her ears, and I can see her lip start
to quiver. It is so strange and unexpected—Bailey has never cried in front of me—that I almost reach out to hold her to me, like it's something we do.

Protect her.

I unbuckle my seat belt. Then I reach over and unbuckle hers. Simple movements.

“Let's go into the house and I'll make some phone calls,” I say. “Someone's going to know where your father is. We'll start there. We'll start by finding him, so he can explain this all.”

“Okay,” she says.

She opens her car door and steps outside. But she turns back to look at me, her eyes blazing.

“But Bobby's coming over,” she says. “I won't say anything about my father's special delivery, but I really want him here.”

She isn't asking. What choice do I have anyway, even if she were? “Just stay downstairs, okay?”

She shrugs, which is as close to an agreement as we are going to reach on the matter. And before I can worry too much about it, I see a car pulling up, headlights blinking at us, bright and demanding.

My first thought is:
Owen. Please be Owen
. But my second thought feels more precise and I prepare myself. It's the police. It has to be the police. They're probably here to find Owen—to gather information about his involvement in his firm's criminal activities, to assess what I know about his employment at The Shop, and about his current whereabouts. As if I have any information to pass along to them.

But I'm wrong on that count too.

The lights go off and I see that it's a bright blue Mini Cooper and I know it's Jules. It's my oldest friend, Jules, hustling out of her Mini Cooper and racing toward me at top speed, her arms wide and
outstretched. She is hugging us, hugging both Bailey and me, as hard as she can.

“Hello, my loves,” she says.

Bailey hugs her back. Even Bailey loves Jules, despite the fact that I'm the one who brought her into Bailey's life. This is who Jules is to everyone who is lucky enough to know her. Comforting, steady.

It may be why of everything I'm guessing she'll say to me in that moment, the one thing I don't expect is what actually comes out of her mouth.

“It's all my fault,” she says.

BOOK: The Last Thing He Told Me
8.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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