Ties That Bind Chapters Nine and Ten

Chapter Nine

Nick tried to keep Paige calm while she drove home, but she wasn’t sure it worked. Part of her wondered if she should even be driving. If she was smart, she’d pull over and wait for someone to come get her, but she wanted to get as far away from her grandpa’s house as possible. She needed to get somewhere she felt safe, and that would be at home with Taylor and Nick.

“If it wasn’t bad enough that my mom was working in the classroom that day, she let it slip to the entire class that I had my first crush on this girl Kimber. She thought it was the cutest thing, and it didn’t even occur to her that I wouldn’t want the world to know. We were doing some sort of project, and the object of my affection asked my mom for help. I’m on the opposite side of the room when my mom yells, ‘Oh Nicky, you’re right. She is cute.’ The entire class turns to look at me, and half of them start laughing at me. If that mortification wasn’t enough, that was the moment I sneezed, sending a huge ball of snot onto my desk.”

Paige could hear Taylor laughing in the background. The sound, and the humor in Nick’s voice as he told his story, did the trick. Her hands were no longer shaking as she pulled onto her street, then eventually into her driveway. Before she had the car in park, the front door swung open, revealing her best friend. Instead of standing on the stoop waiting for her to gather her things, Taylor ran through their tiny yard to meet Paige at the car.

“Are you okay?” Taylor asked as soon as Paige opened the car door.

She tried to give her friend a reassuring smile, but it ended up probably being closer to a grimace than anything else. Glancing over at Nick, she saw the concern on his face and nearly lost it. The man had put himself into at least a dozen dangerous situations over the years to get the story. Seeing his concern for her hammered home that something wasn’t right about what was happening to her. She could try to explain it away as a mistake or misunderstanding, but not even she would buy whatever random thing she’d try to sell. 

Someone had sought her out with the sole goal of scaring her. Someone didn’t want her to dig into Abby Foster’s death. 

Taylor didn’t wait for an invitation. As soon as she could get around the car door, she wrapped Paige in a hug that nearly knocked the wind out of her. Paige soaked up her friend’s strength while she also tried to ignore the fear threatening to explode out of her. Nick caught her gaze again, then tipped his head toward the car. She nodded back at him, then pulled back from Taylor, so she could meet her friend’s eyes.

“Let’s go inside. I need a drink.”

Taylor laughed, though it might’ve been the saddest sound Paige had ever heard. She wrapped her arm around her friend’s waist, then guided her back toward the house. As they made their way through the front door, she heard her car door open and close and knew Nick had taken care of grabbing her purse, keys, and the box on her passenger seat. She was thankful that was one less thing she needed to worry about.

She let Taylor lead her to the couch, then wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. To say her friend was fussing over her like a mother hen would be an understatement. But there was no way Paige was going to tell her to stop. They both needed it. Taylor was obviously on edge, while Paige was just barely holding it together. 

“Get comfy. I’ll go make you a drink.”

Nick followed them into the house, then walked by her into the alcove where their tiny two-person kitchen table sat unused, except as a catch-all for their stuff. Most of the time, if they were home, they tended to eat dinner together on the couch while binge-watching an episode or two of reality TV. He set the box down on the table after pushing aside the pile of mail that they needed to go through. 

Once the box was taken care of, Nick returned to the living area, pushing the overstuffed ottoman to the opposite side of the table from where Paige sat. He took a seat, then gave her a once over.

“I know you’re not okay, so I’m not even going to ask.”

“Thanks. I honestly don’t know how I am right now. Confused. Scared. Angry. And a whole lot of other things that I can’t put into words.”

Before Nick could say anything, Taylor returned to the living room with a large glass filled nearly to the brim with a red concoction that Paige knew would be more vodka than cranberry juice. It was just what the doctor ordered.

“Nick, do you want anything?” Taylor asked after she handed the drink off. 

While she listed off her brother’s options, Paige downed a third of the liquid in her glass. The burn of the vodka warmed her from the inside out, something she desperately needed. She hadn’t been able to stop shaking since she realized someone had been in the house with her. Not even the fleece blanket pulled around her shoulders was enough to ward off the chill skating down her spine.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Taylor asked after they’d each nearly finished their drinks.

Paige shook her head. “No, but I need to. I don’t know what’s happening anymore.”

Admitting that she was out of her depth, that something sketchy was happening with her family, or at the very least with the camera, was more difficult than she expected. What had she gotten herself into? And what in the hell had her family done to Abby Foster?

She supposed there was still a chance that the camera had come from a thrift store or that it had been a gift, but neither of those explanations felt plausible. Those were the kind of things your brain thought up when you were trying to justify what you knew truly happened was absolutely horrible. No matter what she tried to tell herself, Paige knew she’d stumbled on what was potentially a literal skeleton in her family’s closet. 

After going over what happened, neither Taylor nor Nick said anything for longer than was comfortable for Paige. Her best friend looked like she might be sick. To keep herself busy, Taylor picked up their empty glasses and the empty bottle her brother had left on the table, then disappeared into the kitchen. 

Surprisingly, her absence allowed Paige to breathe a little easier. She hadn’t realized how much her friend’s anxiety contributed to her own until she was no longer sitting beside her. Instead of being comforting, Taylor’s presence was making things worse. Of course, she’d never admit that to anyone. Not even Nick.

With a new round of liquid fortification in hand, Taylor returned to the living room, bringing her energy with her. The next part of the conversation would be the hardest, and Paige didn’t have to ask her question to know what her friend’s answer would be. It was the opinion of the man sitting across from her that she really wanted. He was the expert in the situation, and his experience would weigh a lot when it came to her decision.

“I don’t know what to do. Keep looking for the truth or…”

“Let it go, Paige,” Taylor interrupted her, the tone of her voice more frantic than anything Paige had ever heard before. “Someone obviously doesn’t want you digging into this, so listen to them. Leave it alone.”

Her reaction was precisely what Paige had expected. And she had to admit doing what Taylor said was probably the smart thing, but it didn’t feel right. She didn’t even have to dig deep down to see that letting it go wasn’t the option she wanted, but maybe it was the smart one. Who said she had to be the one to give closure to Abby Foster’s loved ones?

Just thinking that made Paige sick to her stomach. 

“Don’t you think Abby deserves justice?” Paige asked her friend.

“Fuck, Paige. You don’t even know for sure that Abby’s death wasn’t an accident. You’re making trouble…”

“Come on, Taylor. We might not have known before tonight that Abby’s death wasn’t an accident, but I’m pretty fucking sure that someone leaving a note on my car and scaring the shit out of me while I was in the attic says something bad happened to her that night and someone in my family is responsible.”

“But who does it help to really know the truth? And what happens to you if you uncover it?”

Two very valid questions that Paige wasn’t sure how to answer. It had been 30 years. Abby’s friends had obviously moved on, and maybe her family had too. Would opening things up be more painful for them than actually knowing the truth?

And what would happen to Paige? 

Someone obviously wasn’t happy that she was asking questions. But how did they even know she was doing anything? How did they know she’d found the camera in the first place?

Shit was worse than she even realized, yet, Paige wasn’t sure she had it in her to contemplate the truth of it all. 

She glanced over at Nick, who’d been uncharacteristically quiet while his sister had given her opinion on the situation. His hair was a wreck like he’d not only run his fingers through it a million times but like he’d pulled on the strands as well. In the roughly six years she’d known him, she’d never seen him so disheveled. Not even when Taylor was doing her best to drive him crazy.

Paige needed to know what he was thinking. She needed to know what he’d do if he was in her shoes. 

“Nick, you’re the expert here. If this happened to you while you were investigating something, what would you do?”

She could tell by the way Taylor tensed beside her that her friend wasn’t happy she’d asked the question. They both knew Nick wasn’t a quitter. The question was really what advice he’d give Paige. Would he tell her to keep going, or would he tell her to back off?

A look passed between the siblings, one that Paige could’ve read a mile away. Her best friend was trying to tell her older brother to lie. To give her the advice that was the safest. They all knew that wouldn’t happen, no matter how much the look in Taylor’s eyes said her brother was a dead man if he did the opposite of what she wanted.

Nick glanced over at his sister one last time, then his gaze met Paige’s. The intensity there would’ve brought her to her knees had she been standing.

“You want to know what I’d do?” he asked, though he didn’t wait for her to respond. “I’d keep going until I knew the truth.”

Chapter Ten

The last thing Paige wanted was for her family’s bullshit to affect her work, but there was no way she could concentrate until she figured out what the hell was going on. Plus, after the emotional toll the night before had taken, she’d gotten very little sleep. Even if she could find it in her to deal with the mundane details of her job, she’d never be able to focus. 

Taylor had been pissed when Paige sided with Nick. She couldn’t quit looking into what had happened. If she was honest with herself, there’d never even been a chance she’d back down, despite how scared she’d been after finding the note on her car. Something inside of her would never allow her to give up. Not even after Nick offered to hire his private investigator friends to look into things for her.

After telling them both that she couldn’t give up, she’d agreed to send the pictures home with Nick so he could work some kind of magic with them. He thought maybe he could enhance them or, if not, find something in them that might help with their investigation. Paige was so desperate for answers she’d jumped at the chance to let a professional take a stab at getting more out of what they had.

Now, Taylor was barely speaking to her, she was jeopardizing her job, and she was potentially about to open a can of worms with her mother that she knew she’d never be able to close. But none of that mattered if she could figure out the truth about her family and what happened to Abby. 

After a quick shower and a cup of coffee that she downed almost like a shot, Paige was on her way to her family home. Odds were good that Cal would be there eating breakfast with her mom. For years, they’d been nearly inseparable. Whether they were dating or not, she didn’t know. She’d never caught them in an intimate moment, but sometimes the way they looked at each other gave away more than she wanted to know.

 Sure enough, as she parked her car on the street in front of the house she grew up in, Cal’s SUV sat in the driveway next to her mother’s BMW. Part of her had been hoping she’d be wrong and that she’d get to talk to her mom without her pseudo-uncle’s interference. Now she’d have to deal with both of them at the same time when she couldn’t truly trust either of them.

Once she mustered up the courage and the energy to get out of the car, she’d barely made it up the walkway to the house when her mom threw open the door to the house, a smile on her face. If Paige hadn’t been looking for it or prepared for it, she would’ve thought it was just a smile, but she could tell by the tension thrumming through her mom’s body that it was so much more than that. 

“Paige, what a surprise. Two days in a row. How did I get to be so lucky?”

Paige had to strain against the snort of derision that threatened to escape her. What a load of crock. Lisa Reynolds was feeling everything but lucky while watching her only daughter walk toward her. She could smell the lie, like someone had spread manure along the concrete in front of her.

“Hi, mom. I hope you don’t mind me dropping by again. I just had a couple of questions and figured it would be easier to ask them in person.”

“Of course, dear. Come on in.”

Despite the invitation, Paige could tell by the clipped tone and the fact that her mother’s teeth were audibly grinding together that her presence was anything but welcomed. That didn’t matter. Whether she was wanted or not, she had questions, and she was going to ask them. 

“Thanks, mom,” she said as she pushed past the woman who raised her. “I’m glad Cal’s here, I wanted to talk to him too, so this is like killing two birds with one stone.”

It was also like walking into the lion’s den. Part of her wondered if she should’ve taken Nick up on his offer to accompany her. The man had basically jumped at the chance to be part of the investigation. And while the weird part of her that had had a crush on the man since she met him wanted to believe it was because he wanted to protect her, the rational part of her knew it was because he wanted the exclusive if they figured out what happened to Abby.

Honestly, she couldn’t blame him. 

Uncovering the truth of a thirty-year-old mystery was a big deal. Especially when true crime was all the rage thanks to the hundreds of podcasts taking up residence on the internet. Unsolved mysteries and cold cases were a huge commodity. So many had been resurrected and solved with the help of new technology. If they could do the same for Abby’s death, it would be a big deal for Nick’s career.

“Look, Cal, Paige is here to visit us again,” Lisa announced as they walked into the kitchen. 

The words were sharp, said through clenched teeth but with a weirdly chipper tone to them. Her mother was doing her best to fake being happy to see her little girl. Still, Paige knew she was pissed and worried, a potentially dangerous combination. The fact that she used the word’ us’ when she announced her presence to Cal was slightly concerning, but there was nothing she could do now. 

“Hey, Uncle Cal,” Paige said as she walked into the kitchen and found the man sitting in his usual spot at the island. 

She walked over and kissed him on the cheek, even though it was the last thing she wanted to do. Keeping up appearances was the only way she could keep them from seeing the truth behind her actions. They needed to think her questions were innocent enough. She didn’t blame anyone or believe that anyone in her family could do anything terrible. Hopefully, she was convincing enough, even if she didn’t feel like she was.

“Hey, Peanut! I can’t believe our luck. It’s always great to see you.”

Cal’s excitement actually seemed genuine. Then again, he had no idea why she was there. Paige had no doubt her mom would ruin the surprise any second.

“She says she has some questions for us.”

And there it was. 

Paige watched a shadow pass over Cal’s face, his smile dropping for less than a second. The man was a much better actor than her mother. The question really came down to whether he was a better liar than she was. Unfortunately, she’d know soon enough.

“What kind of questions? I’m happy to help however I can.”

She fought the urge to roll her eyes. He definitely wasn’t a better liar. In fact, his last statement smelled worse than the bullshit her mother had tried to shovel her way back at the front door. Neither of them wanted her to ask questions, even though she hadn’t told them what they were about. The tension in the air just proved to Paige that her instincts about them lying to her the day before had been even more spot-on than she realized.

Her mom and Cal knew something about Abby Foster. 

Despite the hope that bubbled in her gut, Paige knew neither of them would tell her what she wanted to know. The lies would continue. 

However, neither of them realized that no matter what they said, Paige wouldn’t give up. Their lies would only fuel her fire to figure out what happened to Abby and what her family had to do with it. She would get to the bottom of what happened thirty years ago, with or without their help.