hated lying to Asher about my plans, but I knew what I had to do.
Something in my mother’s recordings had stuck in my mind. She’d said I had the power to make the Protectors mortal again. It’s why she’d kept me hidden from them. But how had she known that? Because if I was the first, how could she have guessed the extent of my power? Someone, somewhere had to know something.
If Asher could become human again, I needed to understand the extent of my Healer powers. I couldn’t stop using my ability, and no matter how careful I was, I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret forever. My mother had understood that. It was why she’d provided me with the clues to find my grandfather. She’d known she wouldn’t be around to help me, and that someday I would need to go to the Healers, even if it meant hiding my Protector half from them.
My mother had chosen Dean over me a thousand times. A thousand times he’d hurt her, and I had picked up the pieces by healing her injuries and hiding my own. The cigarette burns and the broken bones had threatened to break me—but the old scars strengthened me now, coiling steel around my spine.
I could never forget Dean shooting Lucy, or the way his face had twisted with pleasure when he held me hostage, torturing me to see how my powers worked. The way he’d looked at the end with terror in his eyes as he fell from the cliff at the Edge of the World, with every injury he’d inflicted on me transferred to him, lived in my nightmares. Dean’s body would never be found and my injuries had healed, but the memories had burrowed so deep that my guts were now made entirely of scar tissue.
I would never be a victim again. My friends and family would not be victims because of me. My grandfather might be able to help. At least my mother had told me to go to him if things turned dangerous. Maybe he knew another way I could keep my family safe from the Protectors. At the very least, I could learn more about Healers. Gabe had been so sure they would want to use me or see me dead if they knew the extent of my powers. My mother thought the same. Time to find out, and stop living in status quo. Status quo was too easy and could leave everyone unprepared when the danger landed on our doorstep.
So when I left Asher in Townsend Park and returned home, I wrote my grandfather a long e-mail. My mother’s people had set up codes and ways to communicate to each other long ago, and the rules had been ingrained into her as a child. She’d been taught how to reach her parents through the personal ads if she was separated from them during a Protector attack. I couldn’t imagine a childhood that would have required such precautions. I’d doubted her when she said he would respond. After all, she’d run away from him and his anger. Why would he still have been checking the ads? Yet, the proof was in his response. And now I was glad that she’d passed this information on to me in her final recording.
I used what I’d learned as I explained who I was and that I had inherited my grandmother’s healing powers. It took me hours to figure out how to tell him about my mother’s death. He’d blamed her for my grandmother’s death. My mother had blamed herself, too. She’d told the wrong person about my grandmother’s abilities, and the Protectors had found her. My grandfather had watched his wife get tortured to death. And now he’d lost his only child.
In the end, I couldn’t think of a way to cushion the news, so I wrote about it matter-of-factly, hoping he wouldn’t be offended by my bluntness. I had enough strikes against me, considering that I was half-Protector.
I just hoped he never found out about my mixed blood.
Ben woke me by waving a chipped ceramic mug of coffee under my nose. I opened one eye, and my dad grinned, his salt-and-pepper black hair tumbling over his forehead. “I waited as long as I could. Laura told me to let you sleep.”
Graduation day. Yay. I sat up to take the mug. Our fingers brushed, and I sensed the irregular beat of his heart. I’d given up trying to heal it a month ago. Every time I did, it simply returned. My father didn’t know it, but he had Protector blood running through his veins and it affected the internal workings of his body. From what I knew about his parents, they’d passed away when he was pretty young. Like my mother, my father didn’t have any powers. They skipped generations, and both he and my mother had been part of the generation sans power. Lucky me.
I moved over to make room for Ben, and he sat next to me with his back against the headboard, and his long denim-covered legs crossed at the ankle. I tipped my head to lean against his arm, as I sipped my coffee.
He turned to mush, the way he did every time I called him Dad. The experience was still so new to both of us. We were strangely alike despite our years apart, right down to the way we looked and certain expressions we shared. My height mimicked his tall stature, and I shared the warm brown shade of his skin. My mother’s contributions—the dirty blond shade of my hair, the haphazard freckles sprinkled across my skin, and fragile bone structure—reminded everyone that I’d been a latecomer to the O’Malley household.
“Hey, kid. How’re you doing this morning?” he asked.
He’d been worried about me since March when he’d arrived at the hospital in New York and found me broken from the latest confrontation with Dean. It was as if Ben had seventeen years of worry to make up for in a few short months. I didn’t mind. His worry felt like a balm on the wounds caused by his abandonment and my mother’s betrayal. Ben hadn’t known what he’d abandoned me to, but sometimes that didn’t make a damn bit of difference when the old feelings of betrayal nipped at me.
For now, inhaling the scent of wood shavings that always clung to Ben, I studied his bare feet and loved that he sat beside me and worried about me. “Ask me again when I wake up,” I grumbled.
A long moment of companionable silence passed, and then Laura’s voice trailed up the stairs. “Ben O’Malley, you’d better not be up there waking that girl up!”
He studied me from the corner of navy blue eyes. I stared back at him from eyes like his, until we both laughed.
“You’re in trouble now.”
“Only if you tell on me,” he said. “You ready for today?”
“You mean the whole cap and gown thing? Not my best look, but I think I can pull it off with Lucy’s help.”
“Smart-ass. I mean, the whole cap and gown thing without your mom there.”
He nudged me with his foot when I didn’t respond right away. I tried to find the right words. My feelings for my mother were a crazy mixture of love and hate and sorrow. Sometimes there weren’t words, so I shrugged.
“It’s enough that you guys will be there.”
Ben didn’t push for more. “Everything okay with Asher and Lucy? Things have seemed a little tense between all of you the last couple of days.”
I shrugged again. “High school stuff. Nothing we won’t get over in a few days.”
It hurt that I couldn’t tell the truth. That Lucy was still mad at me for putting myself at risk. That my lie of omission had strained things with Asher. I’d been blocking him from my mind constantly for the last couple of days so he wouldn’t learn about the e-mail I’d written my grandfather. The constant tension had affected both of us.
“I love you, kiddo. I’ll get out of your hair so you can get ready.”
Ben dropped a kiss on my forehead when I glanced up, and I smiled. He rose, and I followed, stumbling to my feet and over to my dresser.
“Remy?” He stood at my bedroom door with his hand on the doorknob. “I’m proud of you. You know that, right?”
Warmth flooded through me to hear him say it. He turned to leave, and suddenly I wanted to come clean about one thing. It was the least I could do.
“Dad? You never asked what my plans were. After school, I mean.”
He nodded, his hesitation palpable. “I didn’t want to push. I thought you might want to take some time off after everything that’s happened this year.”
“Well, I didn’t want to say anything when I didn’t know if I would be sticking around, but I applied to a few colleges last year. Premed. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t get any scholarship money. I feel stupid for even applying when I knew I couldn’t afford to go, but I got into Columbia. I—”
Ben cut off my air when he picked me up and crushed my ribs in a bear hug. His shout threatened to deafen me, but I couldn’t stop grinning at him.
He looked at me with awe when he set me down. “We’ll figure out the tuition. Damn, my kid’s going to be a doctor.”
Lucy appeared in the doorway to our shared bathroom in her pajamas at the same time my stepmother burst in from the hall with her short red curls swinging.
“What happened?” Lucy grumbled.
Laura thumped my father in the back with the dish towel she had in one hand. “Ben, I told you to let her sleep in.”
He turned to face both of them with an arm thrown over my shoulder. “Listen to this. Tell them, Remy.” Before I could do more than open my mouth, he blurted out, “Our daughter got admitted into Columbia University’s premed program.”
Laura’s shout was louder than Ben’s, as she rushed to embrace me. I watched Lucy over her shoulder and saw her struggling to resist the pull of family when she wanted to stay mad at me. I knew the feeling because I’d tried for weeks to not care about any of them when Ben first brought me here, and I’d failed.
Lucy wasn’t any stronger than me. A small smile curved her stubborn mouth when her eyes met mine. I held out an arm, and she settled next to me in our small circle.
Only I heard her whisper, “You’re still a jerk, but I love you.”
It was tougher than I thought to get through graduation. My eighteenth birthday had been a quiet enough event a few weeks ago, but then we’d been caught up in the aftermath of Dean’s attack. I’d been so busy worrying about my grandfather and the consequences of the e-mail I’d written him that I hadn’t thought about how graduation would affect me.
The ceremony itself passed in a blur of red gowns and ended when matching red caps flew in the air. My family sat in the crowd behind me, along with Asher’s brother and sister. My father had guessed what I hadn’t. The absence of my mother hovered over me like the fog that sometimes crept in to hug the coastline.
Asher sat beside me in a matching gown, and I knew he sensed my sadness despite my raised defenses. He gave me a frustrated glance, and I guessed I had to confess the truth. I’d intended to wait for my grandfather’s response to my e-mail to confess. If he didn’t write, I had no need to upset anyone. I couldn’t keep blocking Asher, though, not when he looked so hurt.
While others celebrated around us, I hugged him.
Let’s enjoy today. We’ll talk later, okay?
My father appeared at my side with a bouquet of roses and pulled me away. Laura planned to cook my favorite meal of baked mac and cheese to celebrate, and I invited Asher to join us that evening. He agreed before his own family arrived to pull him away. I put aside thoughts of him and savored my father’s excitement as he told anyone who listened about Columbia U.
Later, at home, I stripped off my cap and gown as I entered the house. Telling my family I wanted to change, I raced up the stairs. As I did a thousand times a day, I checked my e-mail.
My grandfather’s e-mail address popped up, and I clicked on the e-mail, my heart beating faster. There was an attachment, and I opened that first. An airline e-ticket. He’d sent me an airplane ticket to San Francisco.
I am so very grieved to hear about my daughter. Your mother meant the world to me, and I have never forgiven myself for the way I treated her. I wish that we’d had the chance to meet again so I could apologize. My only consolation is that I’ve discovered I have a granddaughter. There is much we need to discuss. So much that I have to tell you. You are in danger, as is whoever you are living with. I’ve attached this ticket in hopes you will come to me, as your mother could not. Please do not delay—it’s time to heal the wounds of the past.
That last line I recognized from my mother’s recordings—a code designed to tell me two things. I could go to my grandfather safely, and I should do it as quickly as possible. I looked at the ticket again. The flight would leave JFK in less than a week. My mother had insisted I keep my father a secret from my grandfather, unsure how he would react to Ben having Protector blood, so I’d led him to believe I’d lived with friends in Brooklyn since she’d died. More lies.
I’d known I would have to leave Blackwell Falls at some point, but I hadn’t expected that time to come so soon. How would I tell my family? How would I tell Asher? They would fight me.
But if going would keep them all safe, I had to go.
Really the only question was, how would I survive without them?
I ripped the Band-Aid off right away.
I heard Ben, Laura, and Lucy in the kitchen when I thudded downstairs, my leaden feet heavy with dread. Lucy and Ben sat at the kitchen table chatting, while Laura stood at the stove stirring pasta for homemade macaroni and cheese.
“I need to talk to you,” I said.
They all turned to face me, and I almost lost my nerve.
Ben’s brows rose. “That sounds serious.”
“It is. After Mom died, I found my grandfather’s information in some of her paperwork.” I ignored Lucy’s suspicious stare and continued. “I e-mailed him to let him know what happened to her. He wrote back, and he wants me to come for a visit.”
Laura’s mouth pinched in concern. “Do you want to go?”
I nodded. “I’ve never met him, and I’d really like to.”
I’d thought the argument would come from Ben, but Lucy protested first.