My son Jonah didn’t leave. For a moment I thought he would, but he seemed to change his mind because he stayed seated.
“Has your mother said anything else?”
He shook his head. “Nothing that makes any sense. She asked about her puppy. I told her all the dogs were fine.”
I lifted my eyebrows. “Her puppy?”
“Yeah. I assumed she meant Jewel and the pups, from the island. Juliet has Jewel, Talon’s boys have two of the pups, and Ruby has the other.”
“But she said puppy? Singular? Not dogs? Not puppies?”
“Yeah. Singular.” He arched his eyebrows. “Does that mean something to you?”
I didn’t answer right away. Daphne had an old stuffed puppy she’d brought to the ranch after Jonah was born. She called him Puppy, which was why the word stood out to me.
I hadn’t seen the thing in years.
“You going to speak?” Jonah asked.
“I’m just thinking. Do you remember an old stuffed dog of your mother’s?”
He shook his head. “No. Should I?”
“No reason you should, but the toy meant a lot to her. It was the only thing from her childhood she ever kept. She never would have thrown it away, but she’s been gone from the main house so long. It can’t possibly still be there.”
“You’re saying that’s the puppy she’s asking about?”
“It could be. Your mother’s illness has her trapped in time when we were all much younger. She may well remember the stuffed dog.”
“Should I try to find it for her?”
“I don’t know. It was old and tattered back then.”
“Did you get rid of it?”
“It meant too much to her. I never would have thrown it out.”
“I don’t remember seeing it, but we didn’t throw anything out after you”—air quotes—“died the first time.”
I cringed. Couldn’t help it.
“It must still be in the main house somewhere,” he said.
“Maybe you should look for it. If your mother is mentioning it, maybe it means something to her. It might give her comfort.”
“I think it’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but I’ll tell Tal and Jade to look for it. Maybe it’s down in the basement crawl space with all your old files.”
My brows shot up. Like a file in my mind, I saw myself packing Daphne’s things after I sent her away and told the children she had died. That old tattered puppy. I couldn’t bear to get rid of it because it had meant so much to her. How could I have forgotten?
“It is. That’s where it is.”
“Crazy. The memory just spiked into my mind when you said crawl space. I can’t believe I forgot. Though it was thirty years ago now. There should be an old box marked Daphne in the crawl space. Look for it. You’ll find the stuffed animal.”
He sighed. “All right. If you think it will give her comfort, I will. Anything for my mother.”
“Thank you, son.”
He didn’t reply. I figured he’d get up and leave, but he didn’t.
What seemed like an hour passed.
Finally, he looked me straight in the eye. “Level with me.”
“About what?” I asked.
“About Mom. Talon, Marj, and I have been talking.”
“You know how Ryan feels. She’s not his mother.”
“She loved him as much as she loved the rest of you.”
“I believe she did. That’s the kind of woman she was. Capable of so much love. What broke her?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
Such a fucking lie. It tasted like sour milk on my tongue.
But no. Just no. Never would I reveal Daphne’s secrets to her firstborn son. She’d overcome so much because of him. For him.
He needed to remember his mother the way she was. Strong and determined.
But did he remember her that way?
If any of them could, Jonah could. He was nearly fifteen when I orchestrated her “death.” I hadn’t called it a suicide, but my firstborn had figured it out. He’d come to me, demanding the truth.
I couldn’t tell him the real truth—that she was alive and shuffled away to a place where she could live in her own world—so I’d invented the suicide myth.
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