The Last Thing He Told Me (23 page)

BOOK: The Last Thing He Told Me
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“They may find him even if he doesn't come home,” he says.

“Well,” I say. “They haven't found him yet.”

He tilts his head, takes me in. “I think you're wrong,” he says. “I think it's the last thing Ethan would want, to spend his life away from his daughter…”

“I don't think it's the last. No.”

“What is?” he says.

Something happening to Bailey
, I want to say.
Something happening because of Owen, because of his ties to all of this, that ends with Bailey getting hurt. That ends with her getting killed.

“Something else,” I say.

Protect her.

Charlie touches my shoulder. “Your ride is here,” he said. “You need to go.”

I get up to leave. Nicholas had seemed to hear me but then doesn't seem to want to hear anything at all. And it's over.

There is nothing else to do. So I follow Charlie. I walk toward the door.

Then Nicholas calls out after us.

“Kristin…” he says. “Do you think she'll be open to meeting me?”

I turn around and meet his eyes. “I think so,” I say. “Yes.”

“What will that look like?”

“She's going to be the one to decide how much and how often she sees you. But I will make sure that the well isn't poisoned. I'll make sure she understands that a lot of what happened here has nothing to do with how you feel about her. And that she should know you.”

“And she'll listen to you?”

A week before the answer would have been no. Earlier today, wasn't it no too? She walked out of the hotel room, knowing I wanted her to stay put. And yet, I need him to believe the answer is yes. I need him to believe it and I need to believe it too, in order to pull this off. I know everything comes down to this.

I nod. “She will.”

Nicholas pauses for a moment. “Go home,” he says. “You'll be safe. Both of you. You have my word.”

I take a deep breath in. I start to cry, right in front of him, covering my eyes quickly.

“Thank you,” I say.

He walks up to me, hands me a tissue. “Don't thank me,” he says. “I'm not doing it for you.”

I believe him. I take his tissue anyway. Then I get out of there as quickly as I can.

The Devil Is in the Details

Grady says one thing in the car that will stay with me forever.

He says one thing to me on the way back to the U.S. Marshals' office where Bailey is waiting.

The sun comes up over Lady Bird Lake as we drive, Austin stirring in the early morning. When we merge onto the highway, Grady turns from the road to look at me—as if I would miss it otherwise, how unhappy he is with what I've decided to do.

Then he says it.

“They're going to get their revenge against Owen, one way or another,” he says. “You should know that.”

I hold his eyes, because it's the least I can do. Because I'm not going to let him scare me.

“Nicholas just doesn't let things go,” he says. “You're being played.”

“I don't think so,” I say.

“And what if you're wrong?” he says. “What's the plan? To get on a plane, go back to your life and just hope you guys are safe? You're not safe. It doesn't work that way.”

“How do you know?”

“Fifteen years' experience for one thing.”

“Nicholas has no problem with me,” I say. “I walked into this without knowing anything.”

“I know that, you know that. But Nicholas doesn't, not beyond a doubt. And that's not the kind of wager he makes.”

“I think this is an exceptional circumstance.”


“I think he wants to know his granddaughter,” I say. “More than he wants to punish Owen.”

That stops him. And I can see him considering it. And I see him coming to the conclusion I came to—that, just maybe, that's true.

“Even if you're right about that, if you do this, you'll never see Owen again.”

There it is, the buzzing in my ear, in my heart. Nicholas saying it, now Grady saying it. As though I don't know it. I do know, the gravity of it running through me, through my blood.

I'm giving up Owen. I'm giving up the chance that on the other side of all this, if there is another side, things will get to go back to Owen and me, together. That it will ever go back to the two of us. I can doubt that Owen is coming home. I can doubt it, but this way I know it.

Grady pulls over, on the side of the highway, trucks racing past, the wind shaking the car.

“It's not too late. Fuck Nicholas. Fuck whatever deal that Nicholas thinks you just made him,” he says. “It wasn't your deal to make. You need to think of Bailey.”

“Bailey is
I'm thinking about,” I say. “What is best for her. What Owen would want me to do for her.”

“You honestly think he'd want you to pick a path where he never gets to see her again? Never gets to have a relationship with her?”

“You tell me, then, Grady,” I say. “You've known Owen a lot longer than I have. What do you think he wanted me to do when he disappeared?”

“I think he wanted you to lie low until I could help resolve this. Hopefully without his face ending up on the news. Hopefully with a
way for you all to keep your identities intact. And, if necessary, with me finding a way to move you all so you could stay together.”

“That's where you lose me,” I say. “Every time.”

“What are you talking about?” he says.

“What are the chances, Grady? If you moved us, what are the chances they find us anyway?”


“Meaning what? Five percent chance? Ten percent chance?” I say. “How about the leak last time? Was there a slim chance of that happening too? Because it did happen. Owen and Bailey were put in jeopardy under your watch. Owen wouldn't want to risk that. He wouldn't roll the dice on something happening to Bailey.”

“I won't let anything happen to Bailey—”

“If these men did find us, they would get to Owen however they could, wouldn't they? They wouldn't stand on ceremony or particularly care if Bailey got caught in the crosshairs. That's correct, is it not?”

He doesn't answer me. He can't.

“Bottom line is that you can't guarantee that won't happen. You can't guarantee me and you couldn't guarantee Owen,” I say. “Which is why he left her with me. Which is why he disappeared and didn't come directly to you.”

“I think you're wrong about that.”

“And I think my husband knows who he married,” I say.

Grady laughs. “I would think if this taught you anything it's that no one knows who they marry,” he says.

“I disagree,” I say. “If Owen wanted me to sit still and let you run this, he would have said so.”

“So how do you explain the email correspondence he sent me? The detailed files he kept? They're going to help ensure that Avett
is punished for his crimes. The FBI is already into a plea deal that is going to put Avett away for the next twenty years…” he says. “How do you explain your husband doing that? How do you explain away his setting everything up so he could enter witness protection?”

“I think he did that for another reason.”

“What's that?” he says. “His legacy?”

“No,” I say. “Bailey's.”

He smirks, and I can hear all the things he wants to tell me but feels like he can't tell me. I can hear all the things he knows about Owen—the same things Nicholas knows, but with a different sheen on them. Maybe he thinks telling me something closer to the truth will move me closer to his side. I've already picked a side though. Bailey's. And mine.

“I'm going to say this as simply as I can,” he says. “Nicholas is a bad fucking man. He is going to punish you one day. Bailey may be safe, but if he can't get to Owen, he'll punish you in order to hurt him. You're completely expendable to him. He doesn't care about you.”

“I don't think he does,” I say.

“So then you have to know how risky this is for you to just try and go back to your life?” he says. “I can only protect you if you let me.”

I don't answer him, because he wants me to say yes—yes, I'll let him protect me. Yes, I'll let him protect us. And I'm not going to say that. I'm not going to say it because I know this much is true: he can't.

Nicholas can probably get to us anyway, if that's what he wants to do. That's what this all has taught me. One way or another, things come back. Things
came back. So I may as well take a shot at doing the best thing for Bailey. And, by doing it this way, Bailey gets to stay Bailey.

No one gave her that choice before. She is already losing so much. The least I can do is give it to her now.

Grady starts the car up again, heads back into traffic. “You can't trust him. It's crazy for you to think you can. You cannot make a deal with the devil and expect it to turn out okay.”

I turn away from him, look out the window. “Except I just did.”

Finding My Way Back to Her

Bailey sits in the conference room. She is crying hard.

And before I even reach for her, she jumps up and races toward me. She holds tightly to me, her head in the crook of my neck.

I hold her like that, ignoring Grady, ignoring everything but her. She pulls away, and I take in her face, her eyes swollen from crying, her hair sticking to her head. She looks like the little girl version of herself, needing more than anything for someone to tell her that she is safe now.

“I shouldn't have left the room,” she says.

I push her hair off her face. “Where did you go?”

“I shouldn't have gone anywhere,” she says. “I'm sorry. But I thought I heard a knock on the door, which completely freaked me out. And then my cell phone rang and I picked it up. And there was all this static. I kept saying hello and getting that static. And so I went into the hall to see if I could hear any better, and I don't know…”

“You kept going?” I say.

She nods.

Grady shoots me a look, like I'm out of bounds to comfort her. Like I'm simply out of bounds. This is how he sees things now. His plan for Owen and Bailey is on one side of a line and I'm on the other. This is the only way he sees me now—as the main impetus toward his imagined solution.

“I thought it was my father on the phone. I don't know why. Maybe it was the static, or the blocked number. I just felt it strongly that he was trying to reach me and so I thought I'd walk for a minute, see if he tried me again. And when he didn't, I just… kept going. I didn't think too much about it.”

I don't ask her why she didn't at least let me know before she left that she was okay. Maybe she didn't trust that I would let her do what she needed to do. That was probably a part of it. But I knew the other part wasn't about me, so I decide not to make it about me now. It's never about someone else the moment you realize it is up to you to get yourself to a better place. It's only about figuring out how to get there.

“I went back to the library,” she says. “I went back to campus. I had Professor Cookman's roster with me and I just started going through the yearbook archive again. We ran out of there so fast after seeing the photograph of… Kate. And I just thought… I thought I needed to know. Before I left Austin.”

“And did you find him?”

She nods. “Ethan Young,” she says. “The last guy on that list…”

I don't say anything, waiting for her to finish.

“And then he did call,” she says.

That stops me. “What are you talking about?” I say.

I almost faint. She spoke to Owen. She got to speak to Owen.

“You spoke to your father?” Grady says.

She looks up at him, offers a small nod.

“Can I talk to Hannah alone?” she asks.

He kneels down in front of her, not leaving the room. Which apparently is his way of saying no.

“Bailey,” he says, “you've got to tell me what Owen said. It will help me help him.”

She shakes her head, like she can't believe she has to have this conversation in front of him. Like she has to have it, at all.

I motion for her to tell me, to tell us. “It's okay,” I say.

She nods, keeps her eyes on me. Then she starts talking.

“I had just found this photograph of Dad, he looked heavy and his hair was so long, like shoulder length… like basically a mullet. And I just… I almost laughed, he looked so ridiculous. So different. But it was him,” she says. “It was definitely him. And I turned my phone on to call you, to tell you. And then I was getting an incoming call on Signal.”

Signal. Why does that sound familiar? It comes back to me: the three of us eating dumplings at the Ferry Building a few months back, Owen taking Bailey's phone and telling her he was putting an app on it. An encryption app called Signal. He told her nothing on the internet ever goes away. He made some terrible joke about if she ever sends
sexy messages
(he actually said
), she should use the app. And she pretended to throw up her dumplings.

And then Owen got serious. He said if there were a phone call or a text she wanted to disappear, this was the app she should use. He said it twice so she took it in.
I'll keep it on there forever, if you never use the word
around me again,
she said.
he said.

Now, Bailey is talking fast. “When I said hello, he was already talking. He didn't say where he was calling from. He didn't ask if I was okay. He said he had twenty-two seconds. I remember that. Twenty-two. And then he said that he was sorry, sorrier than he could tell me, that he'd organized his life so he would never have to make this phone call.”

I eye her as she fights back tears again. She doesn't look at Grady. She only looks at me.

“What did he say?” I ask gently.

I see it weigh on her. I see it weigh deeper than anything should weigh on such young shoulders.

“He said it's going to be a long time before he can call again. He said…” She shakes her head.

“What, Bailey?” I say.

“He said… he can't really come home.”

I watch her face as she tries to process that—this terrible, impossible thing. The terrible, impossible thing he never wanted to say to her. The terrible, impossible thing I've been suspecting myself. The terrible, impossible thing I've

He is gone. He isn't coming back.

“Does he mean… ever?” she asks.

Before I even answer her, Bailey moans, quick and guttural, her voice catching against that knowledge. Against what she knows too.

I put my hand on her hand, her wrist, and hold her tight.

“I really don't think that…” Grady jumps in. “I just… really don't think you know that's what he meant.”

I drill him with a look.

“And as upsetting as the phone call was,” he says, “what we need to be talking about right now is next steps.”

She keeps her eyes on me. “Next steps?” she says. “What does that mean?”

I hold her gaze so it's just the two of us. I move in close so she'll believe me when I tell her she is the one who gets to decide.

“Grady means where the two of us go now,” I say. “Whether we go home…”

“Or whether we help you create a new home,” Grady says. “Like I was talking to you about. I can find you and Hannah a good place to stay where you'll get to start over fresh. And your father will join you when he thinks it's safe to come back. Maybe he thinks that can't
happen tomorrow, maybe that's what he was trying to say in the phone call, but—”

“Why not?” she interrupts him.

“Excuse me?”

She meets his eyes.

“Why not tomorrow?” she says. “Forget tomorrow. Why not today? If my father truly knows you're the best option, then why isn't he here with us now? Why's he still running?”

Before he can stop himself, Grady lets out a small laugh, an angry laugh, as though I coached Bailey to ask that question—as though it isn't the only question someone who knows and loves Owen would be asking. Owen avoided being fingerprinted. He avoided having his face plastered all over the news. He did what he needed to do to avoid outside forces blowing up Bailey's life. Her true identity. So where is he? There's nothing else to play out. There's no other move to make. If he were going to be coming back, if he thought it was safe to start over together, he'd be here now. He'd be here beside us.

“Bailey, I don't think I'm going to give you an answer right now that will satisfy you,” he says. “What I can do is tell you that you should let me help you anyway. That's the best way to keep you safe. That's the only way to keep you safe. You and Hannah.”

She looks down at her hand, my hand on top of it.

“So… that is what he meant then? My father?” she says. “He's not coming back?”

She is asking me. She is asking me to confirm what she already knows. I don't hesitate.

“No, I don't think he can,” I say.

I see it in her eyes—her sadness moving into anger. It will move back again and from there into grief. A fierce, lonely, necessary circle as she starts to grapple with this. How do you begin to grapple with
this? You just do. You surrender. You surrender to how you feel. To the unfairness. But not to despair. I won't let her despair, if it's the only thing I manage to do.

“Bailey…” Grady shakes his head. “We just don't know that's true. I know your father—”

She snaps her head up. “What did you say?”

“I said, I know your father—”

“No. I know my father,” she says.

Her skin is reddening, her eyes fierce and firm. And I see it—her decision forming, her need cementing, into something no one can take from her.

Grady keeps talking but she is done trying to hear him. She is looking at me when she says the thing I thought she would say—the thing I thought she would come to all along. The reason I went to Nicholas, the reason I did what I did. She says it to me alone. She has given up on the rest of it. With time, I'm going to have to build that back. I'm going to have to do whatever I can to help her build that back.

“I just want to go home,” she says.

I look at Grady, as if to say,
you heard her
. Then I wait for the thing he has no choice but to do.

To let us go.

BOOK: The Last Thing He Told Me
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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