No one knows what happened to the killer. Janie Johnson's two families appear to have made peace. Life seems almost normal. Janie has even decided to speak to her former boyfriend, Reeve, again. But then Janie's Connecticut father suffers a stroke, and the tragedy leaves her mother reeling. Janie must step in to manage family finances and to support her mother emotionally.
While handling her father's business matters, Janie discovers the one undeniable fact that could destroy both of her beloved families. And she alone must decide what to do.
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Last seen flying west.
Over and over, Janie read those last four words on the report.
I could do that, she thought. I could be "last seen flying west." I too could vanish.
By not being here, I could be a hundred times more powerful and more present. No one could ever set me down. I would control all their lives forever, just by being gone.
She actually considered it.
She didn't worry about the logisticsplane ticket, money, shelter, food, clothing. Janie had never lacked for shampoo or supper or shoes and she couldn't imagine not having them.
She considered this: She could become a bad person.
In the time it took for a jet to cross America, she, Janie Johnsongood daughter, good friend, good student, good sisterwith no effort, she could ruin a dozen lives.
She was stunned by the file folder in her fingers, but she was more stunned by how attracted she was to this ideaJanie Johnson, Bad Guy.
In all that had happenedthe kidnapping, the new family, the old family, even Reeve's betrayalnothing had brought such fury to her heart as the contents of this folder.
She couldn't even say, I can't believe it. Because she could believe it
easily. It fit in so well. And it made her so terribly angry.
She knew now why her older brother, Stephen, had dreamed for years of college. It was escape, the getaway from his massive store of anger.
She herself had just finished her junior year in high school. If college was the way out, she could not escape until a year from Septemberunless she escaped the way Hannah had, all those years ago.
Janie Johnson hated her father at that moment with a hatred that was wallpaper on every wall of every room she had ever lived in: stripes and circles and colors of hate pasted over every other emotion.
But gently she slid the police report back into the file folder and put
the folder in among the others, pressing with her palm to even up all the folders so that the one that mattered vanished.
It took control to be gentle. Her fingers wanted to crush the contents of the folder, wad everything up and heave it out a window, and then fling the folder to the floor and drag her shoes over it.
The drawer was marked Paid Bills. Her father was very organized, and now that he could do nothing himself, her mother wanted Janie to be organized in his place. For a few minutes, it had seemed like fun; Janie Johnson, accountant and secretary.
The drawer contained a long row of folders, each with a center label, each label neatly printed in her father's square typewriter-looking print, each in the same blue ink. Folders for water bills and oil bills, insurance policies
and tax reports.
And one folder labeled with two initials.
It was invisible in the drawer, hidden in the forest of its plain vanilla sisters. But to Janie it flamed and beckoned.
You don't have to stay here, being good and dutiful and kind and thoughtful, said the folder. You can be Hannah.
Reeve Shields was sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, his cutoff jeans and long tan legs sticking out toward Janie. Mrs. Johnson had been sure the project of Mr. Johnson's papers would include plenty of work for Reeve, but so far she had not thought of an assignment for him. That was okay. He was too busy studying Janie to sort papers.
Janie had a very expressive face. Her features were never still but swung from thought to thought. If he could read cheeks and forehead and chin tilt, he could read Janie.
But although he had lived next door to her ever since he could remember, and although they had once been boyfriend and girlfriend and had been through two hells together, right now he could not read her face.
He did, however, know that he wanted to read the contents of that file.
The label was very tempting. The way she had returned it to the drawer, the silence she was keepingalso very tempting.
Don't even think about it, he told himself. How many times are you going to jerk her around? She tells you how to behave, you say, Sure, Janie, and then do exactly what you want. You going to do it now, too? She's speaking to you
again, letting you here in the house again, and once again, you can't wait to trespass on her. You promised yourself you'd grow up. So maybe tonight would be a good time. Maybe tonight you should not look in that folder, which obviously contains the most interesting papers Janie has ever seen in her life.
But not for you, sport. Give it up. Offer a distraction, mention dinner, get out of the house, get away from this office, do not interfere.
So Reeve said, "Let's all go get a hamburger. Brian? Janie? Mrs. Johnson? You up for McDonald's? Or you want to go to Beach Burger?"
"Beach Burger," said Brian Spring quickly. He loved that place. It had its own oceanfront, a tiny little twenty-foot stretch of rock, and you could get
your hamburger and fries and milk shake, and leave your socks and shoes in the car, and crawl over the wet slimy rocks and the slippery green seaweed and sit with your toes in the tide. Of course, you had to get back in the car with wet pants and sticky salty skin, but he loved the smell of it: the sea scent you
carried home and then, sadly, had to shower off.
Brian felt so included here. It was weird to be part of a large friendly family like his own family in New Jersey and yet never feel included. Up here, visiting Janie (his sister, but not part of his family), he felt strangely more welcome.
That wasn't quite fair.
What he felt was less useless.
He missed his older brother, Stephen, badly. But Stephen was not going to return in any real way. A night here, a week therebut Stephen was gone.
Brian's twin was no company at all, still a shock to Brian, who had thought they would be best friends all their lives. Brendan had not noticed Brian for a whole year. And with the close of school, and the end of baseball (Brendan, of course, was captain and his pitching won the local and regional
championships and they even got to the semifinals) and now summer training campsbasketball and soccerwell, the best Brian could do was stand around and help fold his brother's jeans when he packed.
(Brendan even said that. "At least you know how to fold T-shirts," said
Bren. "Although I don't screw around with that myself, I just shove 'em in.")
And the other good reason for going to Beach Burger was that Brian wanted food in his hands, so that he wouldn't leap forward and yank that file folder out of Janie's hands. Because he knew in his gut that she had found something important. And everything important to Janie was important to Brian's family. Her other family.
But Brian at this moment did not feel a lot of affection for his own family. No matter what he did there, he was last in line. He was sick of it. Up here in Connecticut with Janie, he wasn't first, but he was part of them, and he wasn't going to wreck that.
What he was going to do, he decided, after the rest of them went to visit Janie's father in the hospital tonight, was walk in here boldly and scope out that folder, as if it were his business.
Because he was pretty sure it was his business.