Reads: 7

By the time Avery pulled into her drive, it was a little after three in the morning. After killing the engine, she sat in the hushed darkness, fatigue rushing through her. She had given up an option of any rest to remain with Abigail. Her twin was adamant she was fine alone, but her body language betrayed her and Avery only saw fear and nerves. Before Abigail’s mind and body gave in to her exhaustion, she held Avery’s hand tight, contradicting her words of strength. With her fortitude tested at every turn, Avery felt helpless to protect her. 

There were only a few moments as of late that held clarity. Sitting in Abigail's bed, head pressed against the headboard, her sister’s hand within hers, the answers were clear. She was right to step back. The last thing she wanted was to hinder the case in any way if she hadn’t already. They were at least safe. Answers would be revealed, even if she wasn't prepared for the truth. Giving in to Tyson’s insistence he’d keep watch over Abigail, she kissed her forehead and drove the short distance to her home.

Finally stepping out of her car, Avery took in the crisp air as it swelled in her lungs. Above the cluster of treetops, a cloudless sky revealed a sea of stars. Avery had always found when she felt like she was floundering she needed to pause and look up. The vast beauty above and around her had a way of settling and grounding her. A breeze rustled through the leaves, causing a loose pile to swirl and skid across the ground in front of her. As she watched them dance, a sudden unease rippled up her spine. Anxiety and paranoia filled her, but she flexed her shoulders to shake off the tension and head inside. Once she pushed the door closed and latched the bolts, she habitually dropped her keys and phone on the side table. At the same time she unbuckled her duty belt, she pulled the drawer open. With the release of the magazine, she placed the separated pieces of her weapon inside.

Avery scooped up her phone and turned to scan her living space. She decided to not bother with lights, as she planned to shower and then head back to the office to see Sydney off. She followed the sporadic flicker of the night lights along the floorboards. They created a welcoming glow that led throughout the home. When she cut around the corner, a shadowed figure standing in the middle of the room had her breath hitching in her throat. To confront the intruder, she fumbled with the series of switches on the wall. A flash of light revealed her quant kitchen, dining area, and unwanted guest. Faced with the person in front of her, Avery found her typical quick defensive response failing.

In a non-threatening stance holding a teacup stood a pure mirror image of her mother, only decades older. Pulled back into a loose braid were streaks of gray strands layered through jet-black hair. The telling signs of age carved themselves around her face. Vibrant blue eyes Avery had always remembered dancing with joy and light, now clouded over with what she read as troubling pain. A gentle smile broke the immediate tension, but Avery found herself struggling to comprehend if the woman was real. 

"It's quite a mess we have here," she finally said.

The familiarity of her voice sent a shockwave through Avery, causing her steadiness to waver even more and she felt as if her legs wouldn't hold her up.

"Please sit, I’m sure you have questions."

Avery clasped her hands and adjusted her weight, showing that she was in control. “I’m good right here.”

“I get it, but none of this is easy to say and I’m sure it will be hard to hear.” 

Avery worked to get a handle on her shock as the stranger weaved her way to the table and pulled out a chair. Remaining guarded and cautious, Avery relented and took a seat. The desire for answers winning out. 

Once she saw that Avery had settled, she began to speak. "I'm-” she paused before rephrasing. "I need your help." 

Her lips quivered and her head fell forward in embarrassment. When their eyes met again, tiny beads of tears welled in the corner of her eyes. The look on her face read as sincere, but Avery couldn't ignore the glaring red flags.

"Help with what?" Avery asked. “And why this dramatic show, when you could have come to the office?”

"My life is in danger, this was my safest option," she said with a sigh. “I think you could appreciate that at least.”

"Okay.”

“Travis Bailey,” she continued. “He wants me dead.”

More questions began to layer on top of each other. Avery compartmentalized the building connections and chose to work on one issue at a time. “He can’t hurt you, he’s in custody.”

She tapped the side of the cup, her gaze upward in thought. “I knew he wouldn’t be able to hold his cool and would slip up.” 

She was either speaking of Morgan or Sydney, regardless Avery heard no actual concern in her voice. Avery’s walls of suspicion began to build again. In truth, the woman wouldn’t have even a breath to explain why she was in her home, but the ache for clarity won out. 

“Who are you?”

“My name is Candace Blake.”

The name sounded rougher than the delivery, an unwanted memory slicing into her. 

“And?” Avery asked, trying to hold onto a thread of sanity.

Candace traced her finger around the rim of the cup before releasing a slow breath. “Your mother's twin."

Avery forced little physical reaction to the answer she anticipated. Everything felt heavier as it began to make sense. She was still unsure how to navigate the information she had already received.

"Your grandparents couldn't handle twins, I guess. I drew the short straw." Deep-set anger tinged her words, while a single tear broke through and carved its way down her once-dry cheeks. After a long-drawn-out pause, she finally regained her composure and began to speak again. "I decided as an adult to look for my real family. When I found Emily she welcomed me with open arms. A feeling I never expected."

"Wait," Avery finally interrupted. "Why didn't she tell us about you? I imagine my mother wanting to yell from the rooftops that she had a sister."

"No one knew because it had to remain a secret to keep me safe. I found myself pregnant and stuck in an abusive relationship. Emily didn't hesitate and opened her home to me."

She spoke with such precision and calmness that every action and word felt rehearsed. After the initial blow eased, Avery began to piece the past together. With it, a spark of anger began to flicker and were moments from erupting into a firestorm. She had never been able to understand why Chandler had been so hyper-fixated on the name Candace. Now the answer was in front of her.

"You're the reason Chandler Mason came into our lives," Avery whispered to herself and scrubbed her hand across her face. She wasn't prepared to acknowledge that this stranger sitting across from her could be their biological mother, as she never came out and said it. Let alone that Carter was right, and Chandler Mason was their father. She had adamantly fought the past rumors, and now everything was coming to a head. 

“Is he-” she began to ask, yet unable to finish the burning question searing the tip of her tongue.

"No, Chandler's not your father. Another reason I had to get away."

Even with the brief relief of the admittance, Avery felt her head shake back and forth in denial of what she was being told. "Did you know that Chandler was here stalking our mother before he brutally murdered her?"

Candace lifted a shoulder and looked away. "I had no control of that situation."

"Are you kidding me?" Avery wanted to scream at the nonchalant attitude Candace had toward the event that altered their lives forever.

“This conversation is getting into complicated territory. One I didn’t come here to delve into.” Candace's face contorted in agitation. "You have no true understanding of what I went through and am currently going through."

"I understand everything," Avery responded and leaned forward to make sure that Candace knew how serious she was. "All those terrible rumors spread about our mother. It's you. You're the con artist, the thief. You and Chandler Mason stole money and when you got pregnant you took off with the money." Avery laughed but found no humor in her deduction. "You conned your way into our mother’s life with some impressive sob story, and she innocently helped you. Fifteen years later Chandler came calling looking for you and found her."

"What happened was not my fault," Candace argued. “I wasn't even in the country.”

"But you did nothing to warn our mom or intervene, did you? His insanity makes so much sense now. My mother held your secret to the end and you see it now as an inconvenience."

"I didn't think he would kill her."

"Unbelievable."

"Let's move on." Candace looked away. "I'm not here to reconcile the past."

"No, you don't get to do that. You led a murder here, again.” Avery felt like she was watching a terrible movie that was slow to unfold. One she couldn't look away until the end made the whole terrible plot make sense. “You're BlakentlyTrue, you played into Morgan’s fantastical investigation, and she trusted you. Did you know what Travis would do?”

“I can't control the motives of others. I didn’t make Travis do anything he didn’t want to do.”

“You have more control than you are admitting and know it,” Avery said, shaking her head. “Did you encourage Carter too? He was a nice added distraction.”

"As I said, it's a mess."

Avery rapped her fingers onto the table releasing frustration and emphasizing her point. "A mess that you created." 

"All the details would bore you, but understand, you and your sister are still alive because of me."

"If you had control of whether Abigail and I were spared, why not step in for the Green sisters as well?” 

"They allowed the wolf in.” Candace rolled her eyes in annoyance. ??”I had warned them Travis was out to avenge his uncle’s reputation and an extremely dangerous man. Morgan was determined to prove her little true crime story to be accurate.”

“I’m done listening to you, I’m taking you in.”

"I knew I should have started with Abigail." She swiped at imaginary crumbs on the table. "But, enough time has been wasted.”

“What are you talking about?”

"Look, I'm going to level with you." Candance's voice lowered and she leaned toward Avery. “I tried to do this a different way and each turn has pushed me to adjust in a direction that has led me here.” 

With her comment, Avery saw something dark flash in Candace's eyes. The older woman held the silence and busied herself with a cell phone. She tapped the screen and scrolled before setting the device on the table and sliding it toward Avery. Confused and curious, Avery picked up the phone. The image of Sydney bound and gagged stole any control she thought she had. It was an immediate reminder that the situation wasn't right, or safe. Avery pushed upward to a standing position, every muscle tensing to make whatever defensive or offensive move needed.

“Have a seat,” Candace ordered.

Avery swallowed hard but didn’t budge. "There’s no need to threaten Sydney."

“Sit down,” Candace repeated with more force behind the command. “You think I'm stupid?”

“You’re proving not to be, but this whole game is unnecessary.”

“You’re wasting time, Bruce is way more violent and impatient than Travis.”

Avery lowered back down, her mind scrambled to reset, but she found herself in survival mode. “What do you really want?” she asked, placing her hands on the table.

"To retrieve what is mine," she answered with certainty.

"What exactly is yours?”

"I had put a good lump sum of money in an account. When I came to collect it, there were only a few thousand dollars left. Your mother was the only person who had access. I figure she gave it to you and your sister." She took a sip of her tea as if what she was saying was natural conversation. 

“Where did you get that crazy idea?”

“I know she liked puzzles, and she's messing with me, leaving a cryptic note in a safe deposit box. It was addressed to you and your sister.”

Avery leaned back in shocked amazement. “Don’t you think if we knew or had your money that note wouldn’t be there?”

“Possibly, but I mean, you two live pretty well for such crappy jobs. Homes in this beautiful town, nice cars.”

“The civil suit was public, but if you want that money I’d hand it over a million times over to losing my mother.”

“Maybe, but money has a way of altering one’s thinking and actions.”

“You’re making that clear. You don’t need to make this big show.” Avery’s hands gripped into a fist, an attempt to keep her growing disdain under control. “Let Sydney go.”

“Once you show me where the time capsule is.”

“I don’t understand, those had nothing more than childish trinkets in them, if they’re still intact.”

Candace pushed the now empty cup to the middle of the table and rose. Within a step, she was hovering over Avery. In rebellion Avery remained, back straight, staring ahead.

The older woman leaned down and whispered into her ear, “How many people have control over someone else’s fate, and think there is a choice? Right now, you have a choice.”

A cold shuttered through Avery as the gravity of Candace’s words centered her. Now more than ever she was desperate to remember where they had buried the capsules. But, more for them to be intact with whatever it was Candace was willing to threaten Sydney’s life for. She didn’t trust her but had no choice but to comply.

 


Submitted: November 24, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Kathrynmp. All rights reserved.

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