When Peighton pulled up to where her son stood, red faced with clenched fists, she all but leapt from the car on her way to him. She gathered him in her arms, her heart immediately calming. “Are you okay?” she asked, rubbing his shoulders and looking him over.
“I’m fine, Mom, god,” he insisted, pushing her off of him as he looked over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t being seen. He rushed to the car, opening the passenger’s side door, and climbing in, his head down.
She walked around to the driver’s side, staring at him as she buckled her seat belt. “I’m sorry if I scared you,” she said, the worried feeling still not completely eased.
“Whatever,” he said, kicking his feet up on the dashboard and placing a hand on his forehead, his mind already lost in his phone. They drove in silence for a few moments before he finally spoke again. “So, am I grounded or what?”
“What?” she asked, looking his way.
“For being at Jessica’s. We weren’t doing anything, Mom. Just hanging out. Toby, Bryant, Jason, Kedrian, and two other girls from school.”
“Oh,” she said, trying to collect her thoughts. Her son’s lie was the last thing on her mind. “If you weren’t doing anything wrong, why would you need to lie about it?”
He shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me, Kyle.”
“It’s just…I know you don’t like her.”
“I never said I don’t like her,” she said, her body tensing at his words.
“So, you do like her?”
She paused. The very few times she’d seen Jessica DeLong, she’d been dressed in what could hardly be called clothing with enough eyeliner to last Taylor Momsen a year surrounding her eyes. She wasn’t exactly a mother’s dream. “Kyle, I don’t know her. What happened to Charlotte? I thought you liked her.”
“Mom,” he sighed. “Just forget it.”
Before she could say anything else, they pulled into the long drive that led to their subdivision and both gasped. Kyle threw his legs to the ground, leaning forward into the seat to try to get a better look. “What is that?”
She couldn’t answer, her entire body shaking as she pulled as close to their house as she could. They both stared at the swarm of ambulance and police cars that lined their driveway, spilling out into the yard.
“Kyle, stay here,” she instructed him, though she knew it was useless. He leapt out of the car, leaving the door wide open, and barreled through the yellow tape surrounding their house. Peighton was close behind. From the outside, the house looked completely normal. She looked for signs of a fire or other emergency that would warrant this type of attention. Suddenly, there was a police officer in front of them, his hand up.
“You can’t go through here, son,” he told Kyle.
“It’s okay. We live here,” Peighton said. “Can you tell us what’s happening?”
“Oh,” the man said, his face immediately falling. Peighton knew what was coming before he spoke again. He grabbed hold of her arm. “Ma’am, would you like to talk in private?”
“Is it my dad?” Kyle asked, his voice small and reserved.
The man sighed, crossing his arms, and looking at Peighton for guidance. Peighton put her arms around her son, her eyes remaining on the officer.
“Is he all right?” she begged him to answer, tears welling in her eyes.
“There is a man inside the house who has been confirmed dead, ma’am. We don’t know for certain who it is yet. I’m very sorry.”
Peighton’s knees gave way under her. “I’m sorry—what?” she asked, though she had been expecting it. “I can’t…I can’t…” She clutched her chest, sinking slowly to the ground. Her son stood beside her, a solid wall of silence. She kept hold of his leg with her free hand, squeezing him tight. The world around her seemed to go still, though she could still hear the officer speaking, see him reaching down toward her. She took a deep breath, wiping the tears away.
“What happened?” she asked from the ground where she was crouched.
“We don’t know yet,” he answered softly.
“What do you know?” she asked, standing up slowly, yet still unable to look the officer in the eye. Her voice felt as though it were coming from someone else entirely, steady and sure, though she felt anything but.
“I’m afraid we don’t know much, ma’am. We responded to a 911 call around an hour ago. A neighbor heard a scream from inside the house and grew worried—” he stopped talking just as the front door of the house was swept open. “Stand back,” he told them, holding his arm out to push them back, though they were still in the yard several feet from the front porch.
Peighton’s hand flew to her mouth, her body shaking, as Kyle shoved past the cop. “Dad! That’s my dad!” he screamed, rushing toward the stretcher cloaked in a white sheet. Peighton could see the blood that had begun seeping through the white cloth; her stomach churned. She watched helplessly as her son approached the police officers and coroner, begging to see his father. She watched their solemn faces as they tried to hold him back, their eyes darting to her for help. She was supposed to help them. She was supposed to stop her son from trying to break their barricade, stop him from trying to see the very thing that would destroy him. She knew that and yet she could not move, could not stop her body from shaking, her skin from growing cold. She was back on the ground, her sobs swallowing her up as she watched her world crashing all around her.
As the back of the coroner’s van was closed and the officers began loading up into their vehicles, the man standing next to her grabbed her arm, gently helping her to her feet. “Ma’am, when you’re ready, I’m going to have to have you and your son come with me.”
“Come with you? Come with you where? I need to go inside…I need to talk to my son.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible right now. We have to ask you some questions, get an official I.D. on the vic. I’m so sorry.” His eyes grew soft as he said the word, vic—victim. “You won’t be able to go into your home for a few days. Not until the investigation is over.”
“What are you…what does that…my son…I can’t…our home…this is—” her thoughts tumbled out of her mouth, not making any sense to either of them, yet the officer seemed to understand.
He touched her shoulder. “Do you have somewhere you can stay?”
“Yes,” she said, though she had no idea if that were true. “We’ll…it’ll be okay.”
“Okay,” the officer spoke softly. “Okay, that’s good.”
Peighton nodded, trying to collect her thoughts. She glanced around, looking for Kyle. He stood at the edge of the porch, staring off in the direction they had taken the body. “Kyle, honey, come back here,” she called. He turned, staring blankly, and began walking back toward her, tears streaming down his porcelain face. She spoke to the officer again. “Can you, um, tell us what…what happened?” she asked, choking out her words.
The officer shook his head, but before he could answer, Kyle’s voice cut them off. “What did you do, Mom?”
“What?” she asked, staring at her son. Their eyes met for what felt like the first time in weeks, months maybe.
He looked to the officer then, his expression empty and broken, and fell to his knees in tears. He covered his eyes with his fists, sobbing loudly. “She knew this was going to happen.”