He turned around, tapping the doorframe.
The oven dinged downstairs, and I heard Tin-Tin yelping in delight.
We were running out of time.
I thought Sam was going to say some parting words.
About my bold move.
About the risk I’d taken for my husband.
But that would imply Sam Brennan was impressed.
And if there was something I knew with every bone in my body, it was that, unfortunately for Aisling, my friend, woman-hater Sam Brennan would never be impressed by the other sex.
“I’ll be going away after today, but things are about to change here. I thought you should know.” I sat Tinder down in front of the burnt, disfigured cookies. Neither of us touched the sweets. His big brown eyes clung to me like I was a lifeline.
“Your father is not treating you well. He shouldn’t do the things he is doing, and I cannot—will not—be able to be here all the time to protect you. There will come a day when you grow up and make your mind up about what I’m about to do. You will either hate me or appreciate me.” I shook my head, feeling the tears welling up in my eyes, but held myself back. Tinder deserved more. He deserved my composure and reassurance. He deserved the world. “However you choose to feel about me, I will accept and respect it. I think I’m going to put your daddy in a lot of trouble soon, but you will still have your mommy and your brother, and they’re the important part, you hear me? They’re the part I want you to focus on.”
He nodded slowly, taking it all in. It was a lot. Even I wasn’t sure if I fully grasped what I was about to do. I dropped my forehead to Tinder’s, breathing him in. If I inhaled really deeply, I could still detect it faintly. That elusive baby smell that made my bones melt.
“Have I ever told you about The Wish Cloud, Tin-Tin?”
He shook his head.
“I’m about to gift you one wish. Something to remember me by. But you’ll have to choose your wish carefully. You only get one. And you can only cash in on the wish when you see a lone cloud in an otherwise clear sky.”
“I know what I’ll ch-ch-choose, Auntie Persy,” he said, smiling. “I’ll choose what I always choose. I’ll choose you.”
Two hours later, the rest of the family returned from the charity event. I stood from the couch and walked over to the entrance. As soon as Andrew walked through the door, I pointed at him with my finger, my expression very possibly manic.
Joelle backed away, stumbling with a gasp. Tree looked back and forth between his father and me.
“What’s going on?” The young boy sniffed.
“I know what you did to Tinder,” I whispered to Andrew. “I need to talk to you two. Alone.”
Andrew’s eyes zoned in on mine, his nostrils flaring.
“Tree, take your brother and go up to your room,” he instructed. The boys bolted up the stairs. Andrew opened his mouth, but I held my hand up. We were still standing at the doorway.
“Save it. I know about the ruler. About the beatings. How you pushed Joelle from the railings.”
Joelle shrieked behind her husband, covering her face in her hands and sobbing. Her carefully staged world was collapsing.
“I know about Cillian,” I finished softly. I was mostly bluffing but knowing with certainty that burned inside me that he did to my husband something that made him the way he was. That changed him beyond recognition.
Andrew’s face paled, his jaw slacking. “He told you?”
I couldn’t bring myself to lie, so I smiled in what I hoped resembled confidence, shrugging.
“Your secret is becoming not so secretive. Doesn’t bode well for your role as the chairman of Green Living. At any rate, I’m here to tell you that was the last time you hit your son. I am taking this to Child Protective Services. Since it’s not my first rodeo with CPS, let me tell you how it’s going to play out. I will file a complaint, they’ll visit your house within twenty-four hours to check for the wellness of your children, and once they find signs of neglect or abuse—which they will, because Tinder is physically injured—they’ll remove the children to a foster home and press charges against you.”
Joelle nearly choked.
“Since I’ve worked with numerous schools during my short career and know quite a few CPS agents, I can probably help Joelle get full custody since she wasn’t complicit in the abuse. Now, as for you—” I turned to Joelle, who buckled with her back against the wall, crying on the floor. Her face was wet with sweat, tears, and snot.
“You should put your children above all else. Always.”
“I did.” Joelle grabbed ahold of my dress, tugging at it desperately. “I do! Do you think I liked what he did? Do you think it’s my fault? I had no idea it was going to be this way. I would have never married him, Persy. Ever.”
I didn’t think it was her fault. She wasn’t the abusive party. If anything, she was a victim, too. But I knew her children might not see it that way. They might grow up to resent the woman who clung on their father’s arm with a big smile on her face, knowing what he did behind closed doors.
“Doesn’t matter what you thought. It’s time you take responsibility and step away from this toxic relationship. Put you and the twins first. Consider this my official resignation. Oh, and Andrew? Drop the lawsuit against my husband. You’ll either have to resign or get fired within the next few days, and you have bigger legal fish to fry.”
I grabbed my keys and bag, glancing behind my shoulder. What I saw broke my heart. Tinder and Tree were huddled together on the last step of the stairway, gaping at me with tears in their eyes.
I broke down, falling to my knees, letting all the tears I kept at bay loose. Starting this job, I knew I’d get attached, but I never thought I was going to love them so fiercely.
“Come here, boys.” I opened my arms.
They ran to me, yelping. As always, I fell back from the momentum, from the storm of their embrace, allowing them to bury their heads in my shoulders, crying along with them.
Later that night, I sifted through the material on the disc-on-key Sam gave me.
It took me three hours and two glasses of wine to find the file I’d been looking for. It was simply named. CFF.
Cillian Frances Fitzpatrick.