Perfect Lies Page 23

’’May I get up and see if my father still has a pulse, or will you shoot me, too?’’ James snarls.

I lower the gun, feel James walk in front of me.

’’I'm sorry,’’ I say, because I am. ’’It had to be done.’’

It did. I am as certain of that as I have ever been of anything. So many deaths-too many deaths-because of this man. He can't hurt us anymore.

’’You're ruined now, too.’’ Fia's voice is sad, so sad. ’’I couldn't save you.’’

I lean my head against her shoulder. ’’This was my choice, Fia. I made the right choice so you didn't have to make a wrong one. I saved you.’’

’’What now?’’ she whispers.

’’I honestly have no idea.’’ The only future I'd seen is gone now.

’’You could have stopped this,’’ James says. He sounds dazed and lost.

Fia leans closer to me.

’’She couldn't have,’’ I say. I changed everything. I took what fate had laid out for us, and I made a different choice.

’’No one's going to kill me.’’ Sadie sounds relieved and puzzled, and very, very small. James clears his throat of a strangled sob. Fia drifts in his direction, then stops, tethered by my hand.

James sounds exhausted, but there is that edge of anger to his voice, the edge that has always been there. It sounds hardened, now, baked in a fire to a razor-sharp sheen. ’’I wasn't lying, Fia. We were almost there. I was so close.’’ He stands, his voice getting distant. I imagine him looking out the window, back turned to us all. Fia lets out a small, lonely sound, and I squeeze her hand tighter.

James continues. ’’My father killed himself. He discovered his accounts were drained almost dry, that another company had bought controlling shares in all his endeavors, and that there was a whistle-blower whose information would have sent him to prison. I'm going to discover his body in here in a few minutes, along with a note.’’

’’We'll be leaving, then,’’ I say, relieved. But it also makes me wonder-how had Fia never questioned James's comfort level with disposing of bodies? ’’Come on, Sadie.’’

’’No, I don't think so.’’ His change in tone freezes me in place. ’’You have powder residue on your fingers, you are on all our security footage, I have multiple witnesses putting you in the building. You leave. I never want to see you again. As far as I'm concerned from this time forward you really are dead. Sadie stays with Fia and me.’’

’’You can't-’’

’’I can,’’ he snaps. ’’Unless you want to shoot me, too, and figure out how to get out of this mess on your own. Be my guest, Annie. Blow my brains out.’’

I stutter, my mind skipping through ways around his demands, but . . . I have nothing. I have no leverage. I saved Fia for now, but I didn't save Sadie.

’’No?’’ James asks, mocking me. ’’Well. Then get out of my building before I call security.’’

’’You have no money,’’ Fia says, and she sounds sad.

’’What are you talking about?’’ He takes a breath, then sounds kinder. ’’Come here, Fia. It's okay. I'll let Annie go. My father-I-’’ His voice catches and I wonder if it's an act or if it's real. ’’I didn't want this. But it's done, and you're safe, and we can move on now. Everything he had is mine. We can finally move on.’’

’’Everything you had is mine,’’ she says. She moves closer to me, and I realize someone else is standing on her other side. A low murmur lets me know that it's Mae.

’’I don't understand,’’ James says.

’’All the accounts. All the money. I hid it.’’

I don't know whether he sounds angrier or sadder. ’’Why would you do that?’’

I feel her shoulder move in a shrug next to me. ’’Just felt like I should. Been doing it for months.’’

’’Fia.’’ Her name is a growl coming from deep in his throat. ’’I know this isn't what you had planned. And I'm sorry I let you think we were going to destroy everything and then walk away. But I can't. We can't. I owe it to my mother to see to her legacy. People know girls like you, like Sadie, exist now. They're not safe. If we're here, if we're in control, then we are the most powerful and we can keep them safe. Together.’’

’’I love you. But I can't-’’ Her voice changes;she's turned her head away, toward the window. ’’I can't stay. I can't live with what you wanted me to do.’’ Another small shrug, like she's trying to shake something off her shoulders. ’’What I would have done.’’

Mae chimes in. ’’Annie gets the school, and oversight into everything you do with the girls in your networks.’’

’’Absolutely not.’’

I hear Fia whispering beneath her breath, ’’A Keane is a Keane is a Keane, my Keane. I'm going to burn the school to the ground.’’

’’You have no choice.’’ Mae sounds matter-of-fact, like a teacher explaining the rules on the first day of class. ’’If you don't do what Fia says, you'll have nothing left. She's listing account numbers in her head right now. She had access to everything, and you never checked up on her. I'm sorry, sir.’’ The sarcasm positively drips from her voice. ’’She never thought about this around me. Otherwise I definitely would have reported it to you like a loyal employee.’’

’’Secrets,’’ Fia says, and I can hear the smile on her voice but it doesn't sound like a happy smile. ’’Even from you, James. Especially from you.’’

’’Fine.’’ His teeth strain the sounds of the words. ’’We'll talk about this at home. There's no reason to make a decision now. I have a dead father to take care of.’’

’’I'm not going home,’’ Fia says.

Fia is pulled away from me. ’’I'm sorry,’’ James says. ’’I'm sorry for everything. I shouldn't have asked you to do this. I was scared, and desperate. I thought we could handle it together, like we've always done. This doesn't have to-this isn't the end. This is the beginning. You and me. I love you. I can't lose you. Not now.’’

’’I love you, too. But that doesn't make it right. I can feel that now, I think.’’ Fia takes my hand again, turns me around.

’’Fia,’’ James says, and for once he doesn't sound angry. He sounds lost.

Fia doesn't go to him.

’’You can't burn it to the ground, Fia,’’ Mae says, voice teasing. ’’So stop thinking it. Annie and Cole will work out the details of the school with James after the funeral.’’

’’Yeah. Come on, Sadie,’’ Cole says. I feel safe with him here, shielded from James so that I can focus on Fia.

She walks forward and I walk with her. ’’Good-bye, Pixie,’’ Fia says. ’’I'm sorry. I lied about everything.’’

’’You can't lie to me.’’ Tears play at the edges of Mae's words. ’’I always knew you liked me, you stupid brat. I'm coming with you. I have a suspicion I'm out of a job as a receptionist. My typing skills sucked anyway.’’

We walk out to the elevator, Mae talking down security, saying exactly what they need to hear to turn around and leave before finding Mr. Keane's body. Eden is waiting in the lobby, flirting madly with the guard. ’’Well,’’ she says, huffing. ’’It's about time.’’

Together, we walk out. Five very not-dead girls, plus the love of my life. This future was never supposed to be any of ours. It wasn't one Sadie saw, or I saw. It was one Sarah couldn't begin to hope for, to the point where it drove her mad. It was a future not even Fia could make for herself.

This is my future. The future I made happen.

We are free.

The New York day is bitter cold and sunshine free, but I'm warm.

Chapter Twenty-Eight



’’I NEED YOU.’’ ANNIE SCOWLS IN FRUSTRATION AND disbelief. ’’I can't do this without you.’’

I smile, because she always has been the worst liar. ’’You can.’’

’’But I don't want to.’’ When I don't answer, she changes tactics. ’’What about Adam? He's going to be in Chicago near the school. We have to keep an eye on what he does, help him. And he's in love with you, Fia.’’

I zip up my bag, tap tap tap tap the zipper, try to think of anything I've forgotten.

I'd like to forget nearly everything.

Adam, sweet gray eyes long fingers Adam. ’’I hope he finds someone who can love him back.’’

’’But where will you go?’’

I close my eyes, breathe deeply, think of nothing. I need to be nothing. I need to be nothing for a very, very long time until I can decide what something I want to be. ’’James bought me a sailboat.’’

’’He what? I thought you two weren't speaking.’’ She stands, alarmed. She has a right to be. Most minutes it's all I can do to breathe without him.

’’It's okay. He doesn't know he bought it for me.’’ I can't figure out whether the idea of seeing James or never seeing him again hurts more. I don't want to talk to him until I can figure it out. We walked the path together, but he almost took me so far down it I would have fallen off the edge. Not even he could have caught me then.

Annie laughs, and I wrap my arms around her, bury my face in her hair, soak her in enough to last me for as long as I need it to.

’’I can't believe I'm saying this, but . . . I think James has the right idea. Granted, I don't trust him to actually do it well, but someone has to be here. Someone has to find these girls and help them before they get taken advantage of like we were. I think we're doing a good thing.’’

’’You are,’’ I say, smiling. Annie is staying. I am leaving.

It is right.

Funny, what a freeing thing right is. And how . . . flexible it is. There is all sorts of right available to me now. Before, when I had to choose between Adam and James, I chose the hardest right path. It almost killed me. For now, I'm choosing the easiest right path.

It's time to go. ’’Tell your grouchy boyfriend I said good-bye.’’

Annie blushes deeply, touches her lips. ’’He's not my boyfriend.’’

’’I'm rolling my eyes,’’ I inform her. ’’A lot. And take care of Pixie for me.’’

’’I will.’’

I smile. I know she will.

And me?

I have a date with the endless empty ocean. I am ready to leave.

I am choosing nothing, and, for once, nothing is exactly right.

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