“This thing, right?” I ask quietly.
“Yeah,” Jessica says, closing her eyes. “I found the one…the one that says ‘Murder Suspect Still at Large’.”
My breath shudders in my chest. After all these years, my past can still catch up to me. No matter what I do, it continues to ruin my life.
“And you read it,” I say dully.
“All of them,” Jessica says, her voice barely audible. She smoothes Owen’s hair off his forehead. He’s still sleeping, blissfully unaware of the tension between his parents. “There were so many, and your name was on them all. Then I saw the arrest report. And some of the pictures…” She shakes her head. “It didn’t explain everything. I was so confused. What had happened? So I…”
She loses her voice again. But she’s come too far to stop now.
“What did you do?” I ask. I feel cold.
“I went to Alex,” she whispers.
Alex, who had looked me in the eye and apologized. Who had somehow managed to ruin my relationship with Jessica. Has he known, every time he looked at me, that he played a hand in Jessica leaving me?
“Alex… He didn’t want anything to do with it,” Jessica says with a hollow laugh. “He scolded me for even thinking the worst. But I begged him. I needed peace of mind. I needed to know what happened because some photos and some reports weren’t enough. You weren’t in jail, so were you innocent? I begged him and begged him until he finally gave in. He said…” She swallows. “He said he’d only do it if I talked to you about it too; he said you had a right to defend yourself.”
The fleeting anger that I felt toward Alex disappears, leaving me feeling empty and tired.
“He’s a good friend,” I say quietly.
“He is,” she says. She closes her eyes. “He kept me updated on the search for information. Then, one day, after he told me he had tracked down the arresting officer, he suddenly stopped telling me anything. And then he said he had to drop the case. He said there was nothing to worry about and to stop thinking about it, to talk to you instead.”
“I guess you didn’t do that,” I said with a wry lilt to my voice.
“Obviously,” Jessica sighs. “I figured he must be hiding something. So I broke into his office.”
I remember that. Alex had been so upset, and we never figured out who it was. Oddly, nothing had been stolen. It’s funny that I finally solve that little mystery three years later.
“I took pictures of all the files he had on you, and left,” Jessica continues. “Then I went home.” She looks down. “I don’t know if I got everything he had. But what he did have was pretty damning. The interview with the arresting officer was the worst. He…”
“I bet he had nothing good to say,” I snort when she trails off. “He hated me. Thought I was guilty.” I slump. “You did, too.”
It isn’t a question. None of this would have happened if she had thought I was innocent.
“Yeah,” she says inaudibly.
My mind is blank. I can barely comprehend what I’m hearing. Part of me knows that I should be hurt or upset, but I’m just numb. Jessica wrings her hands beside me, anxious.
“If you move Owen now, would he wake?” I ask quietly.
“What?” Jessica asks, thrown. “No…he’d probably sleep through me taking him home at this point.
I nod. “Good. I’ll call the two of you a taxi.”
Jessica blinks at me. “But…”
“No.” I barely recognize my own voice. “I need some time to think. Please leave.”
I can almost hear her gearing up for a fight. She’s right in that we probably really do need to talk about this. But I can’t bring myself to, righ
t now. I’m too cold.
After a moment, maybe seeing this, she settles down.
“Okay,” she says quietly. “Don’t worry, I’ll call the cab. We’ll wait in the lobby.”