Chapter no 69

The Hawthorne Legacy (The Inheritance Games, 2)

black light revealed writing on the postcards, the same way it had on Toby’s walls. The same handwriting. Toby had written these words. The answers we were looking for—there was a chance that they were all here, but it took everything in me just to read the salutation, the same on every postcard.

Dear Hannah,” I read, “the same backward as forward.”

Hannah. I thought about the tabloid’s accusations that my mom was living under a fake identity. I’d spent my whole life thinking she was Sarah. The words on the postcards blurred in front of me. Tears. In my eyes.

My thoughts were detached, like this was all happening to someone else. The room around me was still filled with the buzzing electricity of the moment, of what I’d just discovered, but all I could think was that my mom’s name was Hannah.

I have a secret.… How many times had we played? How many chances had she had to tell me?

“Well,” Xander piped up, “what do they say?”

Everyone else was standing. I was on the floor. Everyone was waiting. I can’t do this. I couldn’t look at Xander—or Jameson or Grayson.

“I’d like to be alone,” I said, my voice rough against my throat. I realized now how Zara must have felt reading her father’s letter. “Please.”

There was a beat of silence and then: “Everyone out.” The realization that it was Jameson who had spoken those words, Jameson who was willingly stepping back from the puzzle—for me—rocked me to my core.

What was his angle here?

Within moments, the Hawthornes were gone. Oren was a respectful six feet away. And Libby knelt beside me.

I stole a glance at her, and she squeezed my hand. “Did I ever tell you about my ninth birthday?” Libby asked.

Through a fog, I managed to shake my head.

“You were about two then. My mom hated Sarah, but sometimes she’d let her babysit. Mom always said it didn’t count as charity if that bitch did it, because if it weren’t for Sarah and for you, maybe Ricky would have come back to us. She said your mom owed her, and your mom acted like she did so she could spend time with me. So I could spend time with you.”

I didn’t remember anything like that. Libby and I had barely seen each other growing up—but at two, I wouldn’t have remembered much.

“My mom dumped me at your place for almost a week. And it was the best week of my life, Ave. Your mom baked me cupcakes on my birthday, and she had all these cheap Mardi Gras beads, and we must have been wearing about ten apiece. She got these clip-on hair streaks in a rainbow of neon colors, and we wore them in our hair. She taught you to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ My mom didn’t even call, but Sarah tucked me in every night, into her bed, and she slept on the couch, and you would crawl into bed with me, and your mom would kiss us both. Every night.”

The tears in my eyes were falling now.

“And when my mom came back and she saw how happy I was—she never let me come over to your place again.” Libby’s breath went ragged, but she managed to smile. “My point is that you know who your mom was, Avery. We both do. And she was wonderful.”

I closed my eyes. I willed myself to stop crying, because Libby was right. My mom was wonderful. And if she’d lied to me or kept too many secrets—maybe she’d had to.

Taking a deep breath, I turned back to the postcards. There were no dates, so it was impossible to tell the order in which they’d been written; no postmarks, so they hadn’t ever been mailed. I spread the postcards out on the floor and started with the one on the far left, aiming the black light at it. Slowly, I read it.

I drank up every word.

There were things in that first postcard that I didn’t understand— references whose meaning was lost with my mom. But near the end, there was something that caught my eye. I hope you read the letter I left you that night. I hope that some part of you understood. I hope you go far, far away and never look back, but if you ever need anything, I hope you do exactly what I told you to do in that letter. Go to Jackson. You know what I left

there. You know what it’s worth.

“Jackson,” I said, my voice coming out wispy. What had Toby left for my mother in Jackson? Mississippi? Had that even been on Tobias Hawthorne’s list?

Setting the first postcard aside, I kept reading and realized that Toby had never meant to send these messages. He was writing to her, but for himself. The postcards made it clear that he was staying away from her on purpose. The only other thing that was clear was that they were in love. Epic, incomplete-without-the-other, once-in-a-lifetime love.

The kind of love that I’d never believed in. The next postcard read:

Dear Hannah, the same backward as forward,

Do you remember that time on the beach? When I didn’t know if I would ever walk again, and you cursed at me until I did? It sounded like you’d never cursed before in your life, but oh, how you meant it. And when I took that step and swore right back at you, do you remember what you said?

“That’s one step,” you spat. “What now?”

You were backlit, and the sun was sinking into the horizon, and for the first time in weeks, it felt like my heart had finally remembered how to beat.

What now?

It was hard to read Toby’s words without feeling a wealth of emotion. My whole life, my mom had never been involved with anyone but Ricky. I’d never seen anyone adore her the way she deserved to be adored. It took me longer to focus on the implications of the words. Toby had been injured

—badly enough that he wasn’t sure if he would walk again, and my mother had cursed at him?

I thought about what the old man had said in his letter to Zara and Skye, about a fisherman pulling Toby from the water. How badly had he been injured? And where had my mother come in?

My mind spinning, I read on. Another postcard and then another, and I realized that, yes, my mom had been there, in Rockaway Watch, in the

wake of the fire.

Dear Hannah, the same backward as forward,

Last night, I dreamed of drowning, and I woke up with your name on my lips. You were so quiet in those early days. Do you remember that? When you couldn’t stand to look at me. Wouldn’t speak to me. You hated me. I felt it, and I was awful to you. I didn’t know who I was or what I’d done. I remembered nothing of my life or the island. But still, I was horrid. Withdrawal was a beast, but I was worse. And you were there, and I know now that I didn’t deserve a damn thing from you. But you changed my bandages. You held me down. You touched me, more gently than I could ever deserve.

Knowing what I know now, I don’t know how you did it. I should have drowned. I should have burned. My lips should never have touched yours, but for the rest of my life, Hannah, O Hannah—I will feel every kiss. Feel your touch when I was halfway dead and wholly rotten and you loved me despite myself.

“He lost his memory.” I looked up at Libby. “Toby. Jameson and I thought that he might have had amnesia—there was a hint to that in Tobias Hawthorne’s old will. But this letter confirms it. When he met my mom, he was hurt and in withdrawal—probably from some kind of drug—and he didn’t know who he was.”

Or what he’d done. I thought about the fire. About Hawthorne Island and the three people who hadn’t survived it. Had my mom been from Rockaway Watch? Or another nearby town?

More postcards, more messages. One after the other, without answers.

Dear Hannah, the same backward as forward,

Ever since the island, I’m terrified of water, but I keep forcing myself onto ships. I know that you would tell me that I don’t need to, but I do. Fear is good for me. I remember all too well what it was like when I had none.

If I had met you then, would your touch have broken through to me? Would you have hated me until you loved me? If we’d met in a

different time, under different circumstances, would I still dream of you every night—and wonder if you dream of me?

I should let you go. When everything came crashing back, when I realized what you’d been hiding from me, I promised that I would. Promised myself. Promised you.

Promised Kaylie.

The name stopped me dead in my tracks. Kaylie Rooney. The local who’d died on Hawthorne Island. The girl on whom Tobias Hawthorne had pinned much of the blame in the press. I scoured the rest of the postcards, all of them, looking for something that would tell me what exactly to make of Toby’s words, and finally—finally—I found it, near the end of a message that started off with a much dreamier tone.

I know that I will never see you again, Hannah. That I don’t deserve to. I know that you will never read a word I write, and because you will never read this, I know that I can say what you forbade me to say long ago.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, Hannah, O Hannah. I’m sorry for leaving in the dead of night. I’m sorry for letting you love me even a fraction as much as I will, to the day I die, love you. I’m sorry for what I did. For the fire.

And I will never stop being sorry about your sister.

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