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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (33)

Thirty-Nine

PEIGHTON

Peighton woke up sweating. She rolled over, throwing the covers off of her body in an effort to cool down. Beside her, Clay stirred, opening his eyes slowly. He lifted his head, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

“Good morning,” he said, smiling.

“Good morning.” She leaned over and kissed him softly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. I forgot you were here.”

He touched his chest playfully. “Ah, right to the heart!”

She laughed. “I haven’t slept with a man in over fifteen years, so you’ll have to cut me some slack.”

“Well, you haven’t lost your touch,” he told her, kissing her again.

“I’m so flattered,” she told him as their lips parted. She sat up in bed, running a hand through her tangled hair as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She glanced at the clock. “Oh, it’s almost eight. I planned on taking Kyle back-to-school shopping today.”

Clay sat up, grabbing his pants off the floor and pulling them on. “I’ll head out then.”

“Actually, would you want to join us?”

“Are you sure Kyle would be okay with that?” he asked.

“I think he would. It would be a chance for you all to get to know each other better. You haven’t really been given that opportunity. You don’t have to, though, if you don’t want to.”

He walked over to her side of the bed, sitting down as he pulled his shirt over his head. “I want to. He’s a cool kid,” he said. “I’d love to get to know him more.”

She smiled as she stood up, pulling her robe over her. When they walked out of the bedroom, she was surprised to see Kyle was already awake, sitting on the living room couch.

“Morning, kiddo,” Peighton greeted him. His face looked even worse than before, the purple bruise had now faded to a dark black. He smiled at her.

“Morning, Mom, morning, Clay,” he greeted them both, no hostility in his voice. Peighton was relieved. It had been so long since her son had regarded her with anything but anger and resentment. She only wished they could’ve made it here sooner.

“I was thinking of taking you back-to-school shopping today, what do you think?” she offered.

He thought for a moment. “I don’t know. What will people think of my face?”

Before Peighton could answer, Clay spoke up. “They’ll think…man, I wonder what happened to the other guy?”

Kyle smiled half-heartedly at his ridiculous dad-joke. “I don’t know. Don’t you think it would be better if we waited?”

“It’s up to you, sweetheart,” Peighton said. “But I’m happy to take you if you want to go. We can even leave Pawley’s Corner if you’d like. That way you won’t have to see anyone you know.”

“It’s not that. I don’t want to avoid anyone, I just don’t really feel like going out today. I thought we could just hang out here. They’ve got a Walking Dead marathon on.”

Peighton smiled. “I’m fine with that.” She looked at Clay, raising her eyebrows. “What do you say?”

“Uh, sure. Yeah.”

“Are you a fan?”

“I’ve never watched it,” Clay answered.

Their jaws dropped. “Oh, sit down, my friend. We’re about to educate you,” Kyle joked, patting the couch beside of him. Clay looked at Peighton, who nodded, before he moved to sit beside Kyle. Kyle began explaining the show as he turned the volume up, pointing to different characters.

Grinning to herself, Peighton walked into the kitchen, planning to start cooking something for breakfast when her phone began ringing. She hurried back toward the bedroom, grabbing it from the nightstand.

“Frank?” she asked, seeing his name on the caller ID.

“I’ve got her,” he said.

“What?” she asked.

“Beelzebub.”

The world around her seemed to freeze, goosebumps immediately lining her arms. “What?” she repeated.

“I found her. Or, I should say, him.”

“What are you talking about?” she demanded, her voice shaking.

“You guys should have let me help a long time ago. My system was able to pull the location where the email addresses were set up: a library. He thought he was being smart. Too bad that half of the times he responded to emails, he was using a cell phone on a home WiFi network. I’m guessing he thought because it was a burner cell, he was safe, but he didn’t know who he was dealing with.”

“What are you saying, Frank? Who is it? Who is he?”

“It’s Drew, Peighton. Beelzebub is Drew.”

The breath disappeared from her lungs instantly, her blood running cold. “What do you mean? How do you know it’s Drew?”

“The address. The cell phone signals were all coming from an address in Absher. When I ran the deed, I found out the house is registered to Andrew Ross, aka Drew.” He said it so simply, as if her entire world wasn’t being shaken.

“So, what do we do? We should call the police, right? Tell them what we know?”

“Why would we do that?” he asked. “We don’t even know that he’s done anything wrong other than talking to Todd and Clay online. Until we know something more concrete, I don’t think there’s a point in contacting the police or telling anyone other than the three of us…unless you want all of our secrets leaked. The affair, Todd’s sexuality, Clay keeping Beelzebub a secret all this time…there’s a good chance that would all be brought to light. But, it’s up to you.”

“No,” she admitted, “I don’t want that. So, what do you suggest we do?”

“We go confront him. I want to find out what he knows and what he’s done.”

“What if he doesn’t want to tell us, Frank? What if he actually did have something to do with Todd’s and Sarah’s deaths? What if he’s really dangerous after all? It might not be a good idea for us to go after him if we don’t know what he’s capable of.”

“Well, first of all, you don’t know what I’m capable of either. I can promise you, as long as I’m with you, you’ll be safe. Danger is irrelevant, babe. Second, if, Peighton, if he had anything to do with Todd’s death…” he paused. “We’ll all be better off if there aren’t cops there.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning he’ll be lucky if I don’t kill him.”

“Me too,” she agreed, still overwhelmed with confusion. “Frank, what about Isabel? You said she might have known his death wasn’t an accident? Do you think she knew about Drew? What if they were working together somehow?”

“Easy there, Nancy Drew. Let’s take this one step at a time.”

Peighton nodded, though he couldn’t see her. “I’m scared,” she admitted.

“We’ll get this figured out. It’s all going to be okay.”

“Okay,” she said softly, not sure she believed him.

“I’m coming to get you now,” he told her. “We’re going today.”

With that, Peighton hung up the phone, walking out of her bedroom. When she got into the living room, Clay looked up at her from the couch, concern on his face. “Everything okay?”

She shook her head. “I’m going to have to run out for a bit. Will you two be okay here?” she asked, looking at Kyle.

“Sure,” Kyle responded instantly, turning back to the TV.

Clay stood up, following her into the kitchen. “Where are you going?” he asked, keeping his voice low.

“Frank found Beelzebub.”

“What?” Shock resonated on his face.

“He thinks she, well he, is Drew. We’re going to Absher to find him and ask him to tell us the truth.”

“I’m coming with you,” Clay said.

“No, you should stay with Kyle. Frank and I can handle it.”

“No way in hell,” Clay scoffed. “If this Drew guy is Beelzebub, there’s a huge chance he’s dangerous.”

“Frank will be with me.”

“Yeah, all the more reason for me to go,” he said firmly.

“He’s not

“I know you trust him,” he interrupted her, holding his hands up to stop her protest, “but that doesn’t mean I have to. And I don’t, for the record. He has yet to prove to me that I should. So, we’ll just have to agree to disagree for now. Either way, I’m not leaving you alone with him for a second. I’m coming with you.”

Not seeing a point in continuing to argue, she nodded. “Fine. He’s on his way now, so we need to get ready.”