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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (19)

Twenty-Two

PEIGHTON

At half past nine, Peighton and Clay were still sitting on Frank’s couch. He appeared from the kitchen, handing them each a beer.

“I know you don’t like beer, Peight, but I don’t have much else,” he told her.

She offered up a small smile. “Under the circumstances, I don’t think I care what I drink.”

Clay took a drink of his, setting it down on the coffee table. “Well, at least we know he’s safe,” he said softly. It was the second time that night he had mentioned it, each time annoying Peighton a bit more.

“We don’t know he’s safe. We don’t know where he is or who he’s with. He could be halfway across the country. He could be doing drugs. He could be overdosing in a ditch somewhere and who knows if I’ll ever see him again.”

Frank sat down beside her and pulled her to him. She pressed her face into his chest. “He isn’t a bad kid, Peight. You know that. He’s never been a trouble maker. I’m sure he’s just letting off some steam. He’ll come back when he cools down.”

“Could you find him?” she asked, looking up at Frank.

“What?”

“I mean…that’s what you do, right? Couldn’t you track him down?”

“Well, I mean, sure, I could, but

“Then do it!” she said, sitting up.

“Peighton, it’s not that simple,” he said softly.

“What if that just pushed him away further?” Clay asked.

She leaned back on the couch, looking back and forth between them. “So what if it does? He can be mad at me all he wants as long as he’s home and safe.”

“And what’s to stop him from running away again? We see this a lot at the precinct. Sometimes the best thing to do is just to let them be gone for a day or two. Now that we’ve heard from him, we know he’s alive and deliberately away

“What could you possibly know about this?” she asked, her voice harsher than she meant it. “You don’t have children.”

His face registered more hurt than she’d expected as he leaned back away from her. He pressed his lips together, his hands gripping his knees. “You know what?” he asked. “This is a family matter and I am not family. I think I’m just going to go.” He stood up from the couch, walking toward the door.

“Clay, I’m sorry,” Peighton called after him, though she couldn’t muster up the will to say anymore. She watched him open the door and disappear out of it, not bothering to look back.

When the door shut, she turned to Frank, waiting to see if there would be judgement in his eyes. He stared at her long and hard before he spoke.

“You know he’s right.” When she didn’t answer, he went on. “Kyle isn’t a kid anymore. Especially now. He’s had to grow up so much since Todd died. You have to let him heal in his own way. Chasing after him right now might be the worst thing you could possibly do.”

“I can’t just sit here and not know what’s going on with my son, Frank,” she said.

“I know that. I know this is hard. Kyle is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a son, but I trust him to make his own decisions…the right decisions. He’s a good kid. You raised a good kid. I think he’ll come home.”

“But what if he doesn’t? What if he hates me?”

“He could never hate you, Peighton. You’re his mother. You’re blood. That means something, even when you’re hurting.”

“So, what are you saying I should do?”

“I’m saying you should wait. Give it a day. See if he comes home or at least calls you. If not, I’ll try to track him down. But even if I find him…I don’t know that the right thing would be to go after him. If we can find him and know that he’s safe and just keep an eye on him from a distance while he figures all of this out, maybe that’s what would be best for him right now. For you too, honestly. You might need the space just as much as he does.”

“I don’t want space from my son.”

“I know you don’t want space, Peight. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need it.”

She picked up her beer, taking another drink before leaning back on him. They propped their feet up on the coffee table comfortably. She felt his chest moving with each of his breaths, heaving a sigh. “Can I stay here tonight?” she asked finally.

“If you want to,” he said, placing an arm around her shoulders.

“I don’t want to go home tonight.”

“That’s okay,” he said softly, pressing his cheek onto hers. “You know you don’t have to ask. I may not be around as much, but you’re still family.”

“Thanks,” she said, scooting further down into the couch.

“So, the cop?”

“What about him?” she asked.

“Are you two…a thing now?” he asked, surprising her.

She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.” He nodded, not responding right away. “He says we’re too complicated.” Frank stifled a laugh. “Why’s that funny?” she asked, looking up at him.

“Everything you’ve ever done has been complicated, Peighton. It’s kind of your thing.”

She frowned, realizing he may be right. “You would think I’d be good at it by now.”

He rubbed her shoulder, his hands warming her cool skin. “I don’t think you’re doing too bad of a job.”

“I just wish Todd were here.”

“If Todd were here, you would’ve never met Clay Nealson.”

“No, that’s true,” she said, “but if I’d never met Clay, Kyle wouldn’t be mad at me and my life wouldn’t be such a mess.”

“Don’t kid yourself, your life would still be a mess,” he teased, “just a different kind of mess. But for the record, I wish he were here too.”

“I know,” she said, throwing her leg over his casually. It had been months, years maybe, since she’d spent time like this with Frank. They both knew they were missing their counterpart. He should have been there. The three of them had just always worked together, their personalities fitting seamlessly. But since one corner of their triangle had disappeared, everything between her and Frank felt out of place. After all, it was Todd who had introduced them…of course the relationship would change without him there to hold them in place.

“Where do you think he is, Frank?” she sighed.

“Todd?” he asked, sounding shocked.

“Kyle,” she corrected.

“Oh,” he said softly, “I wish I knew. I’m sure he’s with a friend. They’re probably helping him hide from us.”

“Do you think he’s safe?”

“I hope so,” he answered honestly. “I think he’s going through a lot right now and he’s coping the best way he knows how.”

“I just want him home.”

“I know,” he said, continuing to rub her arm. Suddenly, she felt a vibration under her, causing her to jump. He sat up, laughing at her, and looked at his phone. “Oh, hey, I have to take this.” He slid his finger across the screen, disappearing out of the room before Peighton could see who was calling. She tried to listen, picking up the sound of his voice but no distinguishable words. Who in the world could be calling him so late? she wondered, thinking quickly it must be a woman.

Feeling out of place, she stood up, wondering if she were intruding. She didn’t want Frank to be cancelling any date because of her. She walked to the bedroom, sticking her head in the door. He was facing the bed, one hand cupping his neck as he spoke softly into the phone.

“I’m going to go,” she whispered softly, trying to get his attention. He turned to face her, shaking his head and holding up a finger.

Wait, he mouthed silently.

She shook her head, winking at him playfully. “I’m fine,” she whispered, walking out of the room quietly.

“I’m—I’m so sorry. I’m going to have to call you back,” she heard him say. His footsteps crept up behind her. She turned to face him.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to go home. Honestly, Frank, I didn’t mean to intrude. Of course you have a life away from my crazy, messed up family. Don’t cancel your date because of me. Go out and have fun. I’m just going to go home and try to get some sleep.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. “What date?”

“Oh, come on, you snuck away to answer that call. It’s obviously a woman. And that’s perfectly fine. You don’t owe me an explanation and you don’t have to babysit me. Go on.” She waved him away, tiptoeing backward toward the door.

He grabbed hold of her arm. “It wasn’t a woman, Peighton. It was…something I’ve been avoiding talking to you about. But we need to talk.”

“Are you breaking up with me?” she tried to joke. When he didn’t smile, her face fell. “What is it?”

“I’m…I’m leaving town.”

The news hit her like bricks slamming into her chest, stealing the wind out of her lungs. She inhaled deeply, touching her stomach. “You’re what?”

“I’m leaving. Moving.”

“What are you talking about? Where? Why? For how long?” The questions poured out of her, the room spinning.

“I’m heading to New Orleans. That call was from the manager of a nightclub I’ve been trying to get a contract through for years. They’re restructuring and looking for a new company to run their security. It’s…it’s good money. With Todd gone, most of my profit is coming from our larger areas: the Tampa office, Houston, and St. Louis. If we could break into New Orleans too it would be world changing for SecureHome. I never would’ve considered it before. But now, well…there’s nothing left for me here.”

She felt her chin begin to quiver, her knees feeling weak. “I’m going to miss you,” she said honestly.

He held out an arm, pulling her in for a hug. “You and me both, babe.”

She hugged him tightly, trying to keep the tears at bay. “What am I going to do without you? You’re the closest thing I have to a brother. The only uncle Kyle’s ever known.”

“This doesn’t change that. I’ll still be around. Just a plane ride away rather than a car now.”

“I know it’s the best thing for you, but the selfish part of me doesn’t care about that,” she said, pulling out of his hug. “I’m really going to miss you. When are you leaving?”

“Probably in a week or two, maybe a month. It’ll depend on what I find out from this guy.”

“You have to wait until Kyle’s home. You have to be the one to tell him. I just can’t do it.”

He paused. “I already told him.”

“You what?” she exclaimed. “What do you mean you already told him?”

“I told him it was a possibility last night.”

“That’s why he’s run away then,” she nearly screamed at him. “Didn’t you realize that?”

“What? No! He seemed fine with it when I told him.”

She sighed. “Frank, of course he seemed fine. He’s a teenage boy. He’s not going to tell you how he feels. He left because you’re leaving him just like his dad left him. I’m all he has left and he…he hates me.” She broke down, tears falling freely. He caught her just as her knees gave out underneath her, holding her tight. He rubbed her hair carefully.

“He doesn’t hate you.”

“He does.”

“And I’m not leaving him.”

“You are.”

He scooped her up, carrying her to the couch and laying her down. “He doesn’t hate you,” he repeated, wiping a tear from her cheek. He reached beside the couch, pulling out his laptop.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m finding Kyle so he can tell you how much he doesn’t hate you.”

“What are you talking about? You said I had to wait. Give him space.”

“He needs that, but you obviously can’t take it. He can be mad at me all he wants, but he’s not going to leave you like this.”

“Frank, don’t.”

He stopped, staring at her. “You don’t want to know where he is?”

She frowned, biting her lip. “It’s that simple?”

“I’m good at my job,” he said to her.

“Why didn’t you just check on him earlier? Before we called the police? If it was that easy, why wouldn’t we just track him down this way all along?”

“I did before I called you. His phone showed he was home. You said he wasn’t, so I assumed he’d left it there to throw us off the trail. Then you said you talked to him when you were out searching, so he must’ve gone back to get his phone.”

She sucked in a deep breath. “I never said I was at home.”

“Huh?” he asked, typing again.

She grabbed his arm. “Frank, I never said I was home. I was at Clay’s house when you called. Has he been at home this whole time?” she asked, sitting up and staring at the computer screen.

Frank cursed under his breath. “You were at his place?”

“That’s an entirely different argument. Where is he now?” she asked, watching the flashing red dot on the screen.

“It looks like his phone is off right now. I don’t have a tower signal in the last hour.”

“What does that mean?”

“He may have figured out that we were planning on tracking him.”

“He’s smart,” Peighton said proudly. “He would figure that out.”

Suddenly, Frank gasped. “Oh my god.”

“What is it?”

“Where’s your phone?” he demanded.

“On the counter. Why? What is it?” she asked.

“His last signal wasn’t from home,” he said adamantly, “but I know where it was from.”

“What? Where?”

He turned to face her, confusion filling his face. “He’s with Isabel.”

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