If I could go against one of the most formidable men in Boston—a man I loved—why couldn’t she demand her boy be treated as his brother’s equal?
I vowed to make it a memorable day for Tinder. A treat, rather than a punishment. We went to Sparrow Brennan’s high-end diner for breakfast, where we shoved pancakes and waffles down our throats, then lounged by Charles River, watching the clouds as I told him Greek mythology tales, just as Auntie Tilda used to do with me.
Tinder chewed on the shark necklace I gave him, sniffing as he pointed at an almost identical injury on his other knee.
“T-This one, too,” he stuttered.
I kissed both knees better.
“Let’s go to Walgreens and get super cool Band-Aids for them. What do you say?”
“Y-Y-Yes! Maybe they’ll have Puppy Dog Pals.” His nose twitched. I slipped my hand in his. We walked past the green bannisters, kayaks, and pedal boats. The sun pounded on our faces.
“So what happened?” I asked. “Did you fall off your bike? I hope you know it happens to everyone.”
“No,” he answered quietly. “It wasn’t t-the bike.”
“What was it, then?”
The silence that followed was crammed with the thoughts teeming in my head. Like that weird letter I got from Paxton, that sounded nothing like Paxton, and his mirage-like disappearance, that happened as quickly as his reappearance.
Or how my husband had been avoiding me the entire week, not only refusing to accept my house calls every time I dropped by, but also dodging my text messages. I was days away from showing up at his office and embarrassing us both. The only thing keeping me from doing so was I understood his need to be fully focused on the Green Living lawsuit against Royal Pipelines ahead of the trial.
But I needed to tell him about Paxton. About Andrew Arrowsmith and my plan.
“It was Daddy.”
The words hit me in the chest, cracking it open and spilling a feeling I’d never felt before. Not even to Byrne. Or Kaminski. Or Paxton.
Pure, consuming hatred.
I stopped in the middle of the busy street. A woman walking a French bulldog bumped into us, making a cyclist who whizzed by swear. Ignoring them, I crouched to my knees, holding Tinder’s arms, my eyes leveling with his.
“How did he do this to you?” I asked, in a voice I just barely managed to keep steady.
Tinder looked down, drawing a circle with the tip of his shoe in the sand. He flinched, his movements jumpy.
“I-I-I-I…” He tried, then stomped his foot and bit his tongue. “Oof! I can’t get the words out. N-N-No wonder he hates me.”
“Tinder,” I whispered. He was having a tic attack. The first I’d witness him having. He recoiled in the same manner every few seconds, a repetitive movement, pinching his shoulders together and thumping his head. He couldn’t stop.
“I’m not your father. I’m your friend. You’ve got all the time in the world to tell me what happened. I just want to know so I can help you. You are not in trouble.”
I let him ride the tic out, taking a step back to allow him as much space as possible. The tics subsided after a few minutes, melting into small, familiar nose twitches. I scooped him in my arms, stopped at a street vendor, bought him apple juice and a soft pretzel, and sat him on a bench.
“Tell me everything, Tin-Tin.”
“He used a ruler.”
Saying nothing, I waited for more while my heart looped around itself, rolling into a pile of painful knots.
“He-He-He-He said that it works. He said he could c-c-cure me. Said he did it b-before. He told Mommy we will both be grateful when it-it was done and over with. He-he let me read the ABCs and then some n-n-numbers, and every time I stuttered or ha-ha-had a tic, he hit the metal ruler on my knees. He did it until I bled and M-M-Mommy told him she would call the police. I cried even though Mommy asked me no-no-not to.”
Feeling like I, myself, was on the verge of an attack of sorts, I forced myself to keep my voice calm. There was no need to scare Tinder any more than he already was, but the violent urge to take him away from this family left me gasping for air.
“Is this the first time your daddy has done this to you?”
I couldn’t let go of the memory of Andrew shaking his son when the latter had trouble explaining himself.
“No.” Tinder picked off the salt from his pretzel absentmindedly. “One time, after we came back from a party where I embarrassed him, he put my head in a si-si-si-sink full of water, in and out, in a-and out. He-He-He said that he would only stop if I stopped a-acting like a weirdo. Bu-but it worked because I stopped for a whole week.”
I couldn’t blink.
My world collapsed under the weight of the unspoken truth that landed on my feet, and suddenly, everything became crystal clear.
I stepped onto a mine Cillian was trying to keep me well away from. Unraveling a secret that wasn’t for me to find.
“Does your daddy treat your mommy and brother this way, too?”
“No. He loves Tree and tells him he will send him to a fancy school in England. I th-think he loves Mommy, too. Even if sometimes he pushes her around. He never pushes too hard.” He paused, contemplating his words with a frown. “Other than the time he pushed her off the railings, and she fell downstairs. But she fell to the couch and was-wasn’t hurt. And she laughed about it so maybe it was a joke.”
Or maybe she didn’t want her sons to know what a piece of work their dad was.
I knew I had three problems to deal with.
One was to keep Tinder safe.
The second was to execute my plan as soon as today while I was still welcome in the Arrowsmith household.
And the third was to confront my husband about what I’d suspected all along.
I checked the time on my phone. It was two o’clock. The Arrowsmiths weren’t going to be home until at least six. I had a key, though I was expected to pass the time out of the house with Tinder.
They did trust me enough to give me a key in case of an emergency. After all, I was in their camp. Supposedly. Living separate lives from my husband and despising him as far as they were aware. The different bank accounts, the strategic complaining about Cillian, and letting them in on our separation had paid off.
Now it was time to kick my plan into third gear.
To save Tinder.
To save Cillian.
And who knew? Maybe even my marriage.