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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (26)

Thirty-One

PEIGHTON

It was afternoon when a knock on the door sounded again. Peighton rushed to it, leaving Clay in the kitchen. She swung the door open, not sure what to expect.

“Kyle?” she gasped, seeing her son standing in front of her. Before he could speak, she wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him until he gasped for air.

“Mom, let go!” he begged.

“I was so worried about you,” she said, looking him over. She was half tempted to count all ten fingers and toes, like she had the first time she’d laid eyes on him.

“I’m fine,” he said, walking past her into the house.

She looked up at Frank, who was standing behind him holding his bag. “Where on earth did you find him?” she asked.

“At your mother’s,” he said, walking into the house.

“My mother’s?” she gasped. She looked around the room, realizing Kyle had already disappeared down the hall.

“Before you get upset, she didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be there.”

“How could she not have known? Why wouldn’t she at least call me?”

“I don’t know,” he said, setting Kyle’s bag down. “She just didn’t think about it, I guess.”

“Her teenaged grandson shows up on her doorstep, one who has only seen her at Christmas for at least the last eight years of his life, and she doesn’t question it? Seriously?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, babe. You’d have to ask her.”

“Yeah,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “I will.”

“He’s safe, that’s the important thing, right?”

“Why did he run away in the first place?”

“I have no idea. He wasn’t exactly in the talking mood on the way home. Maybe you can get it out of him.”

She nodded. “Thank you for going to get him.” She wrapped her arms around him. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if he hadn’t come home.”

“You know I’ll always protect you,” he told her. “Both of you. I’m just sorry he ran away while he was with me.”

“You couldn’t have known.” She paused. “How did you find him, anyway?”

“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” he began. “We should sit down.”

Just then, Clay walked into the room. “He’s home?” he asked, a smile on his face.

“Yes, Frank found him,” she said happily.

“Is he all right?” he asked.

“I think he’s going to be fine. He’s just…confused right now,” Frank said.

“Right, what was it you were going to tell me?” Peighton asked, turning back to Frank.

“Should we talk alone?” Frank asked, eyeing Clay.

“I don’t mind leaving,” Clay agreed. “You should have time with Kyle tonight anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Peighton asked.

“Of course,” Clay said, giving her a kiss on the mouth. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned to Frank, a look of dominance in his eyes Peighton hadn’t seen before. “Frank,” he greeted him politely.

Peighton walked him to the door, kissing him once more as he left. “Thank you.”

“You guys need time. I would never take that from you. Kyle comes first,” he said. “I’ll be back soon.”

Peighton waved at him as he disappeared down the covered path to the driveway before turning back around to face Frank.

“Okay,” she said finally. “So, what’s going on?”

“It’s about Isabel.”

“Isabel? Is everything all right?”

“I don’t know, Peighton. Last night, after I had you leave, I stayed behind and tried to watch her. I was hoping Kyle would’ve come out from where he was hiding. Instead, I overheard a phone call. She was helping him hide.”

“What? Why?” Peighton asked, the betrayal a slap in the face.

“I don’t know for sure.”

“But you have a theory?”

“I think she wants us to tell him the truth.”

“About?”

“About everything,” he said, his eyebrows raised.

“We can’t,” she whispered heatedly.

“I’m just telling you what I think.”

“Why should she care?”

“I don’t know, Peighton. I think it was her idea that he go away.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I don’t know for sure, it’s just a theory. And there’s something else.”

“What else could there be?” Peighton asked, her heart pounding.

“I’m worried Izzy may have had something to do with Todd’s death.”

She froze, unable to move or speak. The words hit her hard, knocking the breath straight out of her. She clutched her chest, her eyes wide. “What? Why would you…why would you think that?”

“It’s just…something she said to me.”

“What did she say?”

“Last night, when I was at her house, she told me that she thought Kyle needed to go away for a while to clear his head. She said if we told him the truth about everything, maybe he would understand more about who he is.”

“What does that even mean?” she asked, utterly confused.

“I honestly don’t know. But when I told her we weren’t going to tell him, she told me she’d hate to see something happen to him like what happened to Todd.”

“What?”

“She said we both knew it wasn’t an accident,” he said quietly, his eyes locked with hers. “She wouldn’t tell me anymore. I left after that. It freaked me out.”

“What the hell? Was she threatening him?”

“I don’t know, that’s how I took it.”

“But it’s Izzy,” she said, “she can’t have—I mean, she would never actually hurt Todd. Or Kyle for that matter.”

“I didn’t think so either.”

“But now you do?” she asked.

“I don’t know what to believe, Peighton. Honestly, the woman I saw last night was nothing like the woman I thought I knew.”

“But why? What possible reason could she have for wanting Todd dead? Todd was kind to her. She was part of the family.”

“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m just as confused as you are. For all I know, I’m completely off base. I just wanted to tell you, so you could make a decision.”

“I don’t want to make any decisions, Frank,” she said. “I just want everything to go back to normal. I hate this.”

“I know,” he said, rubbing his hands back and forth on his knees like he did when he was nervous.

“Should I fire her?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, that might make her angrier. What if she is dangerous? What if she tries to hurt us?” she asked, her fear growing. “This is Izzy we’re talking about. This seems crazy.”

“Peighton.” He said her name, grabbing hold of her shoulders and trying to get her to look at him. “You have to calm down.”

She froze. “What am I supposed to do, Frank?”

“I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer. On top of all of this, I’ve got more bad news.”

She glanced at him, reading the look on his face. “You’re leaving?”

He sighed, pressing his lips together with a sad smile. “In a week or two.”

She let out a sob she hadn’t been expecting. “Does Kyle know?”

“No, I figured you needed to talk to him. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.”

She nodded. “Okay. I’ll do it. What do I do about Izzy though? What if she really is dangerous? With you gone, how will we stay safe?”

“You have your own personal cop now.” He laughed. “I’d say you’re safer than you’ve ever been.” He nudged her, trying to get her to smile. When she didn’t, he went on. “Besides that, you’ve still got the alarm and camera system I installed. I’ll keep an eye on you guys. And you know I’m a phone call away any time you need anything. I’d just…keep an eye on her. Don’t let her know anything is up. And like I said, I could be completely wrong. Nothing in her past suggests that she’s dangerous. We know her. She’s been in your home for years. I’m just cautious when it comes to you two and what she said shook me up. I just want you to be careful.”

“She could easily hurt us though. She has all of the alarm codes, keys to the house, access to everything.”

“If it makes you feel better, I’ll have someone monitor your house until you’re comfortable again. They can do surveillance and keep an eye on your outdoor cameras. If you want Izzy fired, I’ll take care of her and change all your locks and access codes. You just say the word. I’ll trust your judgement.”

“Wait—that’s the second time you’ve mentioned cameras. What cameras?”

He furrowed his brow, staring at her in confusion. “Todd had me install cameras when I had your security system installed. You didn’t know?”

She shook her head, fear filling her. What could have been seen? “He never told me.”

“Don’t worry. They are only set to record if a break-in occurs. The rest of the time, its only live and access to the cameras is passcode protected. Only Todd or I had access to them and they aren’t anywhere in the house. They just monitor the entry points, so that if anyone were to try and break in, we would catch them.”

“Wait, so you actually have cameras pointing toward the doors in my house and I never knew it?”

“Well, they’re hidden cameras. Todd should’ve told you when I had them installed.”

Peighton shook her head once more. “So, do you have footage from the time there was a break-in?”

“When was there a break-in?” he asked, looking around the house.

“After Todd died,” she said. “Didn’t you know?”

“No,” he said firmly. “I don’t monitor your alarm system unless there’s a reason for me to. Did the alarm panel catch it?”

“Yes,” she said. “I was called and the police showed up. They never found anyone, and nothing was missing. I’ve never heard anything else about it.”

“Well, where’s Todd’s laptop?” he asked. “We can look now.”

She pointed toward the hallway. “In his office,” she said.

He stood up, walking toward the hallway. He stopped, turning to face her. “Are you coming?”

Realizing she hadn’t moved, she stood up, following close behind him. They entered the office and Frank immediately sat down at the laptop, opening it. Peighton swallowed, seeing another man sit at Todd’s desk made her throat grow dry. She frowned, suddenly feeling like she couldn’t catch her breath.

“I’m going to check on Kyle,” she said softly, wanting nothing more than to get out of that room.

“Do you want me to come with you?” Frank asked, starting to stand.

“No,” she said. “You should stay. I’ll be back in just a minute.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

She grabbed hold of the door, walking out of the room and taking a deep breath. She walked up the stairs, and down the hallway, headed for Kyle’s bedroom. Staring at the light leaking out from under the door, she listened, trying to hear what her son might be doing. “Kyle?” she called. When he didn’t answer, her pulse began to race, her thoughts headed to the worst place imaginable. What if he’d disappeared again? What if he wasn’t coming back this time? Why hadn’t she followed him immediately?

She grabbed hold of the door handle, pushing the door open quickly. “Kyle!” she yelled, entering his room with gusto. He lay upside down on his bed, his head hanging off the side, staring up at her with a blank expression.

“Yeah?” he asked, appearing annoyed.

She slapped a hand to her collar bone, letting out a dramatic sigh. “Oh, thank god. Why weren’t you answering?” she demanded.

“I didn’t hear you,” he said simply. “What do you want?”

“I want to see you,” she told him. “I’ve been missing you.” When he didn’t respond, she continued. “Are you going to tell me why you ran away?”

He rolled over on his bed, sitting up. When he still didn’t answer, she sat down beside of him. “Kyle?”

“What, Mom?” he snapped.

“Can you please talk to me? Why did you leave? Do you have any idea how worried about you I was?” she asked, her voice growing quieter as she fought back tears.

He looked at her then, his eyes truly meeting hers, and a softness filled his face. He was quiet for a moment longer before he spoke. “I didn’t mean to worry you,” he said honestly.

“Why would you leave? What did I do wrong?” she asked, welcoming the tears that fell suddenly. “Don’t you know that you’re all I have left? You’re everything that matters to me, Kyle.”

He looked away awkwardly, his eyes darting back to his mother every few seconds. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said finally.

“Why then?” she asked. “Why would you run away? Why would you go to your grandmother’s house instead of just talking to me?”

He shrugged, rubbing his arms as if he were cold. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t like that answer, Kyle. I need to know why. I need to know what I can do to make sure that never happens again,” she begged him.

“I came home, Mom. I don’t know what else you want from me.”

“I want the truth,” she said. “I want you to tell me why you left. Is it because Frank told you about the job?”

“No,” he said firmly.

“Is it because of Clay? Because he stayed overnight?”

He looked disgusted. “No!

“Then what? What is it?”

“I just needed to get away,” he said finally.

“Away from what? Away from me?”

He stood up from the bed, appearing agitated. “Just…just away. Away from all of it.”

She stood too, walking toward him. He backed away. “Kyle, I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

“You can’t help me anyway, Mom. Just drop it, okay?” he asked, his chest rising and falling as he breathed heatedly.

“Kyle—” she pleaded, interrupted by the bedroom door swinging wide open. In the doorway stood Frank, his eyes wide.

“Peighton, come with me,” he told her.

“We’re in the middle of something. Is everything all right?” she asked, fear filling her.

“Now,” he said simply, turning and walking back down the hall. She moved toward the door, turning back to face Kyle before she left.

“We’ll finish this conversation in a minute,” she said, casting a longing look at him once more before disappearing out the door.

When she walked into the office behind Frank, she thought she was prepared for the worst. “What did you find?” she asked, bracing herself for trouble.

“I found out who broke into your house the last time your alarm went off.”

“Okay,” she said, holding her breath. He stared at her for a moment, his face serious. “Show me, Frank!” she demanded. He sat down at the desk, grabbing hold of the laptop and spinning it to face her. She stared down at the computer, lowering herself to look at the dark screen. She squinted, trying to make out just what she was looking at before gasping.

“Is that—?” she asked, but she knew exactly who she was looking at. She’d looked into that face so often lately. Trusted that face. Loved that face.

“Peighton, it’s Clay.”