Brenna reached into her bag and pulled out the journal. She could feel Mr. Friday Casual watching her from across the waiting room, his gaze on her shaking hands.
Help me, Clea.
Brenna’s breath came back as she opened the diary, words jumping out at her as she flipped the pages: Ecstasy . . . Dream . . . So beautiful . . . Death . . .
There were parts of this journal Brenna wouldn’t read, parts she’d look at and slam the book shut—the parts where Clea talked about their father.
All these years, Brenna’s mother had let her believe that their father had left them, that he’d started a new life somewhere and never called and never written because, as her mother put it, “He doesn’t care about our family.”
This had hurt Brenna, yes. But to have been lied to. To have been lied to all these years by her own mother about something like this, something this important . . .
Brenna could have looked into it. She was a missing persons investigator, after all. But as dogged as she was when it came to tracking down long-gone prostitutes or little girls who had wandered off from parties, as persistent as she was at finding elderly parents or billionaires who’d faked their own deaths or, for that matter, her own forever-missing sister, Brenna had never tried looking for her father. Not once.
He doesn’t care about our family , her mother had said. And as untrustworthy as Brenna’s mother could be, Brenna had taken her at her word. He’s gone , she had thought.
We all believe what we need to believe .
Brenna had been just seven years old when her father had left them, and her memories of him were trapped in that fallible area of her mind from before the syndrome kicked in—everything hazier, growing more so by the year, none of it connecting at all.
Including her father’s leaving them. Especially her father’s leaving them. She had a dimming recollection of that morning, eggs sizzling in a frying pan, her mother in her green terry-cloth robe, her hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her mother’s voice, so calm. You girls are going to stay with your grandmother for a couple of weeks.
Brenna didn’t remember if either of them had asked why. But she did remember Clea asking to go into their father’s workshop—a room off the garage where he kept the paints and woodworking equipment. She remembered because of her mother’s reaction. Don’t you ever ask me that again , she had said.
When Brenna and Clea had returned, every sign of their father had been disposed of—his clothes, his papers, every picture he’d been in or had taken. “He’s gone,” Brenna’s mother had said. “He’ll never be calling again.”
And Brenna had never thought to ask, How do you know? How can you be so sure?
She’d sounded so positive, after all. Or maybe that was just the way Brenna remembered it, knowing what she did now. The present informing the past. She couldn’t be sure of anything.
We all believe what we need to believe . . .
A year later, Brenna’s mother had a huge slab of marble delivered to their house. For weeks and weeks, she’d chiseled away at it, the weeks running into months, months stretching out until finally she had completed her creation: an exact replica of Ammannati’s Neptune—naked and muscular and incredibly embarrassing. “What the hell is that supposed to be?” thirteen-year-old Clea had asked.
Their mother had replied, “A man who won’t leave.”
Brenna’s gaze focused on the diary page in front of her—the entry from July 15, 1979. She stared at Clea’s handwriting, looping into a word: Temple .
“ You know what a temple is?” That’s what Mom asks me, like I’m five instead of fourteen. She says, “It’s that soft part of your skull, right next to your eye.” Duh, Mom.
She says, “He took the gun. It was a .45 caliber automatic pistol. He kept it in his workshop. Your father took that gun, Clea, and he pressed it to his temple, and