I feel frozen as the words settle around me. Within me. The revelation isn’t entirely new and yet—the pain is fresh. Time seems to slow down, speed up, spin backward. My eyes fall closed. My memories collect and expand, exploding with renewed meaning as they assault me, all at once—
Ella through the ages.
My childhood friend.
Ella, ripped away from me when I was seven years old. Ella and Emmaline, who they’d said had drowned in the lake. They told me to forget, to forget the girls ever existed and, finally, tired of answering my questions, they told me they’d make things easier for me. I followed my father into a room where he promised he’d explain everything.
I’m strapped to a chair, my head held in place with heavy metal clamps. Bright lights flash and buzz above me.
I hear the monitors chirping, the muffled sounds of voices around me. The room feels large and cavernous, gleaming. I hear the loud, disconcerting sounds of my own breathing and the hard, heavy beats of my heart. I jump, a little, at the unwelcome feel of my father’s hand on my arm, telling me I’ll feel better soon.
I look up at him as if emerging from a dream.
“What is it?” he says. “What just happened?”
I part my lips to speak, wonder if it’s safe to tell him the truth.
I decide I’m tired of the lies.
“I’ve been remembering her,” I say.
My father’s face goes unexpectedly blank, and it’s the only reaction I need to understand the final, missing piece.
“You’ve been stealing my memories,” I say to him, my voice unnaturally calm. “All these years. You’ve been tampering with my mind. It was you.”
He says nothing, but I see the tension in his jaw, the sudden jump of a vein under skin. “What are you remembering?”
I shake my head, stunned as I stare at him. “I should’ve known. After everything you’ve done to me—” I stop, my vision shifts, unfocused for a moment. “Of course you wouldn’t let me be master of my own mind.”
“What, exactly, are you remembering?” he says, hardly able to control the anger in his voice now. “What else do you know?”
At first, I feel nothing.
I’ve trained myself too well. Years of practice have taught me to bury my emotions as a reflex—especially in his presence—and it takes a few seconds for the feelings to emerge. They form slowly, infinite hands reaching up from infinite graves to fan the flames of an ancient rage I’ve never really allowed myself to touch.
“You stole my memories of her,” I say quietly. “Why?”
“Always so focused on the girl.” He glares at me. “She’s not the center of everything, Aaron. I stole your memories of lots of things.”
I’m shaking my head. I get to my feet slowly, at once out of my mind and perfectly calm, and I worry, for a moment, that I might actually expire from the full force of everything I feel for him. Hatred so deep it might boil me alive.
“Why would you do something like this except to torture me? You knew how I felt about her. You did it on purpose. Pushing us together and pulling us apart—” I stop suddenly. Realization dawns, bright and piercing and I look at him, unable to fathom the depth of his cruelty.
“You put Kent under my command on purpose,” I say.
My father meets my eyes with a vacant expression. He says nothing.
“I find it hard to believe you didn’t know the whereabouts of your illegitimate children,” I say to him. “I don’t believe for a second that you weren’t having Kent’s every move monitored. You must’ve known what he was doing with his life. You must’ve been notified the moment he enlisted.
“You could’ve sent him anywhere,” I say. “You had the power to do that. Instead, you let him remain in Sector 45—under my jurisdiction—on purpose. Didn’t you? And when you had Delalieu show me those files—when he came to me, convinced me that Kent would be the perfect cellmate for Juliette because here was proof that he’d known her, that they’d gone to school together—”
Suddenly, my father smiles.
“I’ve always tried to tell you,” he says softly. “I’ve tried to tell you to stop letting your emotions rule your mind. Over and over, I tried to teach you, and you never listened. You never learned.” He shakes his head. “If you suffer now, it’s because you brought it upon yourself. You made yourself an easy target.”
Somehow, even after everything, he manages to shock me. “I don’t understand how you can stand there, defending your actions, after you spent twenty years torturing me.”
“I’ve only ever been trying to teach you a lesson, Aaron. I didn’t want you to end up like your mother. She was weak, just like you.”
I need to kill him.
I picture it: what it would be like to pin him to the ground, to stab him repeatedly through the heart, to watch the light go out of his eyes, to feel his body go cold under my hands.
I wait for fear.
They don’t come.
I have no idea how he survived the last attempt on his life, but I no longer care to know the answer. I want him dead. I want to watch his blood pool in my hands. I want to rip his throat out.
I spy a letter opener on the writing desk nearby, and in the single second I take to swipe it, my father laughs.
Out loud. Doubled over, one hand holding his side. When he looks up, there are actual tears in his eyes.
“Have you lost your mind?” he says. “Aaron, don’t be ridiculous.”
I step forward, the letter opener clutched loosely in my fist, and I watch, carefully, for the moment he understands that I’m going to kill him. I want him to know that it’s going to be me. I want him to know that he finally got what he wanted.
That he finally broke me.
“You made a mistake sparing my life,” I say quietly. “You made a mistake showing your face. You made a mistake thinking you could ask me to come back, after all you’ve done—”
“You misunderstand me.” He’s standing straight again, the laughter gone from his face. “I’m not asking you to come back. You don’t have a choice.”
“Good. That makes this easier.”
“Aaron.” He shakes his head. “I’m not unarmed. I’m entirely willing to kill you if you step out of line. And though I can’t claim that murdering my son is my favorite way to spend a morning, that doesn’t mean I won’t do it. So you need to stop and think, for just a moment, before you step forward and commit suicide.”
I study him. My fingers flex around the weapon in my hand. “Tell me where she is,” I say, “and I’ll consider sparing your life.”
“You fool. Have you not been listening to me? She’s gone.”
I stiffen. Whatever he means by that, he’s not lying. “Gone where?”
“Gone,” he says angrily. “Disappeared. The girl you knew no longer exists.”
He pulls a remote out of his jacket pocket and points it at the wall. An image appears instantly, projected from elsewhere, and the sound that fills the room is so sudden—so jarring and unexpected—it nearly brings me to my knees.