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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (35)

Forty-One

PEIGHTON

When they arrived home, Peighton was surprised to see Isabel’s car in the driveway. It was the first time she’d been over in the days since their fight. Honestly, Peighton wasn’t sure when or if she’d see her again.

Though the mystery surrounding Todd’s death had been somewhat solved, she still felt uneasy as she walked into her house. Isabel sat next to Kyle on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table.

“Isabel?” Peighton asked. “What are you doing here?”

The woman looked confused. “I work here, don’t I?”

“Well, I was beginning to wonder,” Peighton answered honestly.

“I needed time, Ms. Peighton. I’m sure you can understand that.”

“Can I talk to you?” Peighton asked, motioning for the men to follow her. Kyle looked at her.

“You aren’t firing her, are you?”

“Why would I fire her, Kyle?”

“Because she kept my secret and helped me hide. It wasn’t her fault, Mom. I begged her to help me.”

Peighton’s face fell, her heart breaking at his words. “You…knew? Did everyone know before me?” she asked, looking around the room.

Isabel stood up from the couch, her hands held neatly in front of her. “I should have told you, Ms. Peighton, but it wasn’t my secret to tell. You of all people should relate to that. I only did what I believed was best for Kyle. I know helping him hide wasn’t wise, but I wanted to protect him. I’ve always had his best interests at heart. He’s like a son to me.”

“I understand keeping secrets, Izzy. And I know why you did it. I’m honestly so thankful you were there for him when I couldn’t be.” She didn’t mention how much it hurt her to know nearly everyone around Kyle had known before she had. “Now, could we talk, please?” she asked again, continuing to walk into the kitchen. The three adults followed her. Kyle stood to come, but Frank pointed his finger at him.

“Stay here, Kyle,” he instructed.

Looking irritated, Kyle crossed his arms. “What’s going on?”

“Just wait here,” Isabel agreed.

Pouting slightly, he sat back on the couch, huffing. “I’m not a child, you know,” he called after them.

They all looked at each other in an almost comical fashion, his words causing them to smile. “Yes, you are,” all four voices rang out at once.

Once they arrived in the kitchen, Peighton turned to face Izzy. “How did you know about Todd’s death?” she asked bluntly.

“Know what, dear?”

“Frank said you told him you know Todd’s death wasn’t an accident. How did you know that was true?”

“I certainly didn’t know for sure. Mr. Todd was nervous, depressed even, for days before his death. When I heard he’d died, well, I just…knew. I can’t explain it. It was a feeling in the bottom of my stomach unlike anything I’d ever felt.”

“What does that have to do with Drew? And why wouldn’t you tell me? Or the police?”

“Drew? What on earth are you talking about?”

“How did you know that Drew…well…” Peighton couldn’t bring herself to say the words.

“Killed Todd,” Frank finished for her.

Isabel’s face fell, horror filling her eyes. “What?” She gasped.

“You didn’t know?” Clay asked her.

“How could I have? Mr. Todd was a nice man. A good man. Why would anyone want to hurt him?”

“But, Izzy, I thought you knew. You said

“I said we both knew his death wasn’t an accident because I thought he’d…well, killed himself,” she told them. “I thought his secret had started weighing on him too much. I never would’ve guessed it could be anything else.” She touched Peighton’s arm softly, staring off into space. “I can’t believe it. Why would he do such a thing?” Utter shock filled her voice.

“We don’t know,” Peighton answered. “We think he may have killed Clay’s wife too. He was more dangerous than we knew.”

“I never would’ve believe it. He was a polite young man. His eyes were kind,” Isabel said, shaking her head.

“I know,” Peighton agreed. “I don’t want to believe it, either, but it’s true.”

“You can’t tell anyone,” Frank spoke suddenly, “this is just between us for now.”

“I’ve never told a single secret I’ve learned in these four walls. I won’t start sharing now,” she vowed. “But the question remains, why did he do it? And how?”

Peighton didn’t answer. The logistics hadn’t occurred to her: why he’d been there, what would make him do something so horrible. For Sarah, she believed it could have been jealousy over Clay if Drew had fallen for him. She was living proof of how easy that was to do. But, he’d loved Todd. He’d even said so in the letter. Then again, Peighton had seen his evil side when he’d threatened to go public with the relationship. He was capable of destroying a person.

“Maybe he wanted Todd back and he refused. He would’ve wanted to punish him, like before,” Frank said. “Todd would’ve let him in if he’d come by. He trusted Drew.”

“What about the cameras?” Peighton asked, the idea popping into her mind. “Could we check them? See if he came by that day?”

“They only record when the alarm is sounded,” Frank told her quickly. “I’d already thought of that.”

Hopelessness overcame Peighton. She pictured her sweet husband opening the door for a man he’d believed to be a friend, a man he’d once loved, only to have his life ended so senselessly. It broke Peighton’s heart to think of her husband’s kind soul, trusting even to his downfall. She felt tears filling her eyelids and brushed them away quickly.

Isabel, noticing Peighton’s sorrow, patted her arm. “There, there, dear. You loved him with all you had. That’s all he could’ve asked for,” she soothed.

It wasn’t true though, Peighton thought. Sure, she’d loved Todd just as much as any wife could love her husband. Their marriage had been full of happiness, there was no doubt, but the truth was that he deserved more. He deserved a long and healthy life, a marriage with someone he could love in every way, and to watch his son grow up. He could’ve asked for more—he should have.

Peighton touched Izzy’s hand, unable to express all that she was thinking. “Thank you.” Frank and Clay stepped toward her, comforting her too.

“We’re here for you,” Frank said.

“I’m here too, Mom,” Kyle said, walking into the room.

“Kyle,” she scolded, “you weren’t supposed to be listening.”

“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t be?” he asked. Without waiting for a response, he went on. “You guys have to stop treating me like a baby. I’m old enough to handle the truth.”

Peighton pressed her lips together. “You shouldn’t have to, though, Kyle. Don’t you see that? I just want you to be a kid.”

“I don’t want you to have to deal with all this alone. It’s just like when Dad would go on business trips and ask me to protect you. He’d say I was the man of the house until he came back. Well, he’s not coming back, Mom, not this time. So, let me be the man he wanted me to be. It’s time.”

Peighton didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She stood and watched as her baby, the seven-pound, six-ounce infant that she’d brought into this house less than sixteen years ago became a man right before her eyes.

And in that moment, though she knew it was impossible, she couldn’t help but think he looked just like his father.