Chapter no 26

Hidden Pictures

I wait until dark, until I’m sure Teddy is asleep in bed, before going into the house to speak with Ted and Caroline. They’re sitting in the den, at opposite ends of the sofa, surrounded by all my crazy sketches of dark forests, lost children, and winged angels. In one corner of the room, there’s a drop cloth and some painting supplies—rollers, drywall compound, two gallons of Benjamin Moore Atrium White. Like they’re planning to paint in the morning, after Russell takes me away.

Caroline is sipping a glass of wine and there’s a bottle of Kendall-Jackson merlot within reach. Ted is holding a mug of hot tea, he’s carefully blowing across its surface, and they’re listening to some yacht rock radio station on their Alexa speaker. They look happy to see me.

“We were hoping you’d come by,” Caroline says. “Are you all packed?”

“Just about.”

Ted holds out his mug, encouraging me to smell it. “I just boiled some water. For ginkgo biloba tea. Can I pour you some?”

“No, that’s all right.”

“I think you’d like it, Mallory. It’s good for inflammation. After a long workout. Let me get you some.” It’s not really a choice anymore. He darts into the kitchen and I swear I see a flicker of annoyance in Caroline’s eyes.

But all she says is, “I hope you enjoyed the dinner?” “Yes. It was really nice. Thank you.”

“I’m glad we could give you a proper sendoff. And I think it was good for Teddy. To give him a sense of closure. It’s important for children.”

There’s an awkward pause. I know the questions I need to ask, but I want to wait until Ted is back, so I can see both of their reactions. I allow my eyes to drift around the room and my gaze lands on two drawings that I’d somehow overlooked—small and fairly close to the floor. It’s no wonder Adrian and I missed them. The pictures are near an electrical outlet—in fact, one drawing is composed around the outlet, as if the electricity was surging out of the socket and into the picture. The angel is wielding some kind of magic wand, pressing it to Anya’s chest—surrounding her in a field of energy, paralyzing her.





“Is that a Vipertek stun gun?”

Caroline smiles over her glass of wine. “I’m sorry?”

“In these drawings. I didn’t notice them on Friday.

Doesn’t her wand look just like your Viper?”

Caroline reaches for the wine bottle and tops off her glass. “If we try to interpret all the symbols in these pictures, it’s going to be a long night.”

But I know these pictures aren’t symbols. They’re part of the sequence, they’re the missing pieces. Adrian was right about the cryptic black scribbles. Anya’s telling us she’s finished, he’d said. There are no more drawings. We already have everything we need.

Ted is back in less than a minute with a steaming mug of gray liquid. It looks like dirty mop water and smells like a pet store. I reach for a coaster and set it down on the coffee table. “It doesn’t need to steep,” Ted says. “You can drink whenever it’s cool enough.”

Then he sits next to his wife and fidgets with his laptop, changing Marvin Gaye to Joni Mitchell, that song about rows and flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air.

“I learned something interesting about Mitzi,” I tell them. “She was sending me a text right before she died. She wanted me to know that Anya isn’t a name. It’s something else. Detective Briggs couldn’t make sense of it.”

“Well, it’s definitely a name,” Ted says. “It’s the Russian diminutive of Anna. It’s popular all over Eastern Europe.”

“Right, well, I tried putting it into Google Translate. And apparently it’s a word in Hungarian. It means ‘mommy.’ Not mother, but mommy. Like a child would say. Isn’t that weird?”

“I don’t know,” Caroline says. “Is it?”

“The tea’s better warm,” Ted says. “It thins the mucus in your sinuses.”

“You know what else is weird? Teddy says he’s never been on an airplane. Even though three months ago, you all flew here from Barcelona. And according to American

Airlines, that’s an eight-hour flight. I checked. How does a little boy forget about the biggest airplane trip of his life?”

Caroline starts to answer but Ted quickly talks over her. “That’s actually a funny story. Teddy was nervous about the trip so I decided to give him a Benadryl. They say it helps kids fall asleep. I just didn’t realize that Caroline had already given him a Benadryl. So he got a double dose. He was out cold for the whole day. Didn’t wake up until we were in our rental car.”

“Seriously, Ted? That’s your explanation?” “It’s the truth.”

“A double dose of Benadryl?” “What are you implying, Mallory?”

He forces a smile and his eyes are pleading with me to stop asking questions.

But I can’t stop now.

I still have to ask the big one.

The question that will explain everything. “Why didn’t you tell me Teddy is a girl?”

I watch Caroline’s reaction very carefully—and if she reveals anything, it’s a kind of self-righteous indignation. “Well, for starters we find the phrasing of your question offensive. Do you understand why?”

“I saw him in the shower. After swimming. Did you think I’d never find out?”

“You almost didn’t,” Ted says sadly.

“It’s not a secret,” Caroline says. “We’re certainly not ashamed of his identity. We just didn’t know if you could handle it. Obviously, Teddy was born a girl. And for three years we raised him as a girl. But then he made it clear he identified as a boy. So yes, Mallory, we let him express his gender with his clothes and hairstyle. And of course we let him choose a more masculine name. He wanted his daddy’s name.”

“There is so much interesting research on transgender children,” Ted says, and his eyes are still pleading with me

to please please please shut the fuck up. “I have some books in my office, if you’re interested.”

And the crazy thing is: I think they honestly expect me to pretend this is all normal. “You’re telling me your five-year-old is transgender and somehow it just never came up?”

“We knew you’d react this way,” Caroline says. “We knew you had strong religious convictions—”

“I don’t have any problem with transgender people—” “Then why are you making such a fuss?”

I’ve stopped listening to her. My mind is already galloping ahead. Because I’m realizing how all Teddy’s quirks and strange behaviors suddenly make sense. His avoidance of the little boys on the playground. His bouts of screaming whenever Ted dragged him to the barbershop. His obsession with wearing the same striped purple T-shirt. It’s a very light purple, almost lavender, the most feminine color in his wardrobe.

And all those annoying questions from the school about kindergarten registration …

“You don’t have vaccination records,” I realize. “Maybe you have a birth certificate. I’m sure there’s a way to buy a forgery, if you have enough money. But schools in Spring Brook are very serious about vaccines. They want those forms sent directly from a doctor. And you can’t get them. That’s why the school keeps calling.”

Ted shakes his head. “That’s not true. We had an excellent pediatrician in Barcelona—”

“Stop saying Barcelona, Ted. You never went to Barcelona. Your Spanish is terrible. You can’t even say potato! I don’t know where you’ve been hiding these past three years, but it wasn’t Barcelona.”

If I weren’t so flustered, I might have noticed that Caroline has suddenly become very quiet. She has stopped speaking and now she is just watching and listening.

“You stole someone’s little girl. You dressed her as a boy. You raised her into believing she’s a boy. And you’re getting

away with it, because she’s five. Because her world is so small. But what happens when she goes to school? When she makes friends? When she’s older, when her hormones kick in? How do two people with college diplomas really imagine this could work? You’d have to be—”

And I let the sentence trail off, because the word I want to use is “crazy.”

I realize I need to stop talking, I am sharing my conclusions with the wrong people. Did I really expect the Maxwells to agree with me? To come clean and admit everything they’ve done wrong? I need to leave right now, I need to go find Detective Briggs, and I need to tell her everything.

“I should pack,” I tell them, stupidly.

And I stand up, like they’re just going to let me walk out of there.

“Ted,” Caroline says in a calm voice.

I’m halfway to the door when glass shatters against the side of my head. I fall forward, dropping my phone. Wetness runs down my face and neck. I reach up to stop the bleeding and my hand comes away red. I’m covered in Kendall-Jackson merlot.

Behind me, I can hear the Maxwells bickering. “It’s in the kitchen.”

“I checked the kitchen.”

“The big drawer. Where I keep the stamps!”

On his way out of the den, Ted steps gingerly over my body, taking great pains not to step on me, even though he’s just smashed a bottle over my skull. He walks right past my smartphone, facedown on the carpet. There’s an emergency button on my home screen—a single-touch app that will ping the Maxwells’ address to an emergency call center. But I’m not close enough to reach it, and I’m too hurt to stand up. The most I can do is plant the toes of my sneakers and push off, inching across the floor on my belly.

“She’s crawling,” Caroline says. “Or trying to.”

“One second,” Ted calls back.

I reach for my phone and realize my depth perception is way off. It’s no longer inches away from me—suddenly it’s halfway down the hall, a distance the length of a football field. I can hear Caroline walking up behind me, I hear her shoes crunching shards of broken glass. I don’t recognize her anymore. She is no longer the kind caring mother who welcomed me into her home and encouraged me to believe in myself. She has turned into—something else. Her eyes are cold and calculating. She regards me like I’m a stain on the floor, a blemish that needs to be rubbed out.

“Caroline, please,” I tell her, but the words don’t come out right; my speech is all slurry. I raise my voice and try again but my lips won’t form the proper shapes. I sound like a toy that’s running out of battery.

“Shhhh,” she says, holding a finger to her lips. “We don’t want to wake Teddy.”

I roll onto my side and I feel jagged shards of glass pressing into my hip. Caroline is trying to step around me without getting too close, but I’m sprawled across the corridor, blocking her way. I bend my right knee and thank God it moves the way it’s supposed to. I draw my right thigh all the way up to my body. And when Caroline finally musters the nerve to step over me, I kick out my leg, connecting the flat of my heel with the front of her shin. There’s a loud crack and she comes down hard, collapsing on top of me.

And I know I can take her. I know I am stronger than her and Ted combined. I have spent the last twenty months preparing for this moment. I have been running and swimming and eating right. I’ve been doing fifty push-ups every other day while Ted and Caroline sit and drink wine and do nothing. So I will not just sit back and give up. Caroline’s forearm lands close to my face and I clamp my teeth on it, biting hard. She cries out in surprise, wrests back her arm, and scrambles for my phone. I grab the back

of her dress and pull and the soft cotton rips like paper, exposing her neck and shoulders. And in that moment I finally glimpse her much-maligned tattoo from college, the one from her artsy phase, when she was obsessed with John Milton and Paradise Lost.

It’s a pair of large feathered wings, right between her shoulder blades.

Angel wings.

Ted hurries back from the kitchen. He’s got the Viper in his hand and he’s shouting at Caroline to get out of his way. I bring back my leg again—I know it’s my only hope—if I knock him down, maybe he’ll drop the Viper, maybe I can—

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