She creeps across the floor cautiously. If Grady hears her, he doesn't show it. He remains slumped in front of his laptop, typing lethargically. Eliza clears her throat daintily and waits for a reaction. It takes a minute, but finally she gets one.
"What?" Grady sits up slightly but makes no move to turn.
"Grady," Eliza begins. Her voice is small, frightened. "Do you have time?"
"Not really," he grumbles.
"Can you – can you tell me about your Father?" she refuses to let his coldness deter her.
There is a pause, and for a second Eliza is sure he's going to refuse. She holds her breath.
"You've met the guy," says Grady, and despite his weak attempt at exasperation, his voice is considerably kinder. "You know what he's like. What do you want to know?"
"I didn't get to meet him that often," says Eliza. "Mom liked his place better than ours. I really didn't get to see him. C-could you tell me about him?"
"What do you want to know?" Grady sounds resigned, as though they had been arguing for hours.
"Why did your dad decide to move here?" she settles back on her heels, leaning into the counter top.
"He does a lot of work in Sacramento. That's where the office that technically employs him is. He has to travel a lot, but most of his work is run through that particular place. We used to live out in the middle of nowhere. Dad worked at a small branch out there that specialized in local advertising. When I was about six or so, he got a promotion. He started having to go to the city a lot. It took him about three and a half hours to get there in the morning. He decided to move. For a while he actually lived in the city, but he Mom didn't want him to raise us there. She was afraid something bad would happen. She didn't like big cities."
"How old were you when you moved here?" Eliza asks.
"Let's see... I was about nine. Yeah, that sounds about right. So it would have been... early 1999," says Grady thoughtfully.
"Why here, though? We're still about an hour from Sacramento. I know that your Dad could probably buy a closer place."
"I don't know. It's actually not a bad drive from here."
"I'm not trying to be weird, but since your Dad isn't here very often – does he actually have another place?" Eliza tries for subtlety.
"I don't know," Grady shrugs. He pauses and looks down at the table like he's lost in thought. "We don't talk very often."
"I can tell that he trusts you a lot," Eliza says softly. She looks around the kitchen, eyes lingering on the window. "He leaves you in charge of all of this. He must put so much faith in you."
Grady snorted cynically.
"No, he's just too cheap to hire a babysitter," he says bitterly.
"He hired a private doctor for Alex," says Eliza. She can't help the affection that runs through her. Even with all this responsibility on his shoulders, Grady is still just a typical teenager inside. "If he didn't trust you, I'm sure he wouldn't leave you here by yourself."
Grady snorts again.
"You don't know him."
"Grady- ," Eliza hesitates for a split second before forcing herself onward. "I – there's something I can't understand. I'm not very good with money, and I don't know much about it. I don't know advertising, and I don't know what's standard. But – why does your Dad make so much money?"
Grady stiffens. For a second it seems like she's gone too far. She is about to apologize and back down when he speaks up.
"I don't... really... know," he says slowly. "His coworkers don't make this much money. They're also not out of the country this often."
He turns around suddenly, and his expression is a cross between tired and pleading.
"Just let it be, Eliza," he says. "Just leave it alone."
"I don't -," her words are fleeting, halting, like something physically scrambling away from her beneath her fingertips. "I don't want to cause trouble. But I don't understand. I don't care – whatever he did or is doing doesn't – I mean – I don't care! I don't. But... why does it feel like something is wrong here? That man, the detective, he KNOWS what's wrong here, doesn't he?"
Grady goes from looking shocked, to looking worried, and finally to looking despaired. He stares at her as if she's just said what he was praying that she wouldn't.
"Eliza," he says, both firmly and gently. "Our Father didn't do anything. At least, nothing that the detective knows about."
"But he hates us. Why would he hate us if nobody did anything wrong?" she asks. Frustration takes the place of her earlier caution. She feels like she could rip her own hair out. What does it take to get a legitimate answer in this house?
Grady sighs. He looks at her as if he's trying to size her up, to figure out what she can and cannot handle.
"Eliza," he finally says. His voice is barely above a whisper. "A long, long time ago, my father was a suspect in the Stephany Mirez murder."
Time seems to stop. Her stomach turns to ice.
"They had no evidence," he stumbles on. "All they were going on was a pen they found next to the body that was from my father's company. It had his name on it. They searched his office and didn't find anything. He was cleared a long time ago. But for some reason, Farren never got over it. He really thought it was dad. Hell, he still probably thinks that. That was as close as he ever came to finding a clue. He just clings to that because he has nothing else. You've met the guy. He's a little insane. He's at work all the time and he still can't crack that case."
Suddenly the floor is gone. She has to grab the counter to stay upright. Her knees buckle, and it's all she can do to keep herself upright. She can't catch her breath. Everything is spinning.
"He didn't do it, Eliza," Grady's voice sounds like it's coming through a tunnel. "I promise you, Eliza, he didn't do it. I wouldn't have told you if I wasn't sure. I'm only telling you what the detective thinks."
Eliza looks up at him slowly. His face is worried and lined with a sort of pitiful, almost guilty need to make her understand.
"Wh-why didn't you tell me this before?" her voice trembles weakly. She isn't even sure if this question matters, but it's the only thought she can latch onto in her whirling mind.
"I didn't think it mattered," says Grady. "No, I knew it did. But Eliza, my father didn't do it. I promise you."
She feels sick. Her throat contracts suddenly, and she barely has enough time to stumble across the kitchen and fall into the sink before she's emptying her stomach of the day's contents. When she's done she falls onto the floor, unable to hold herself upright anymore.
She starts. She had almost forgotten that she isn't alone. She looks up, and Grady meets her gaze. Now he definitely looks guilty.
"Are – you gonna be okay?" he asks. His voice is small, timid. "Are you alright?"
"Why would – why wouldn't you have told me?" she asks. Her throat is rough and filled with a bitter taste. She coughs, hard, and Grady draws back slightly.
"Because... it really doesn't matter, Eliza. Even if nothing I say can make you believe me, I know that my father is innocent. Nothing happened with him and her. But I can't expect you to believe that. You said it yourself – you barely know the guy. And now look at you. I can tell that you blame him. I can see it in your face!"
Her mind runs through the ghoulish scene once again – the dark night, the car, the weight of the tire iron in her hands. It's as familiar to her as breathing. But now, something doesn't add up. She pictures Mr. Fuller as he looked the last time she saw him.
"How – how old was your father at the time of the murder?" she asks. Her voice is so quiet she's surprised that Grady can hear her.
"I don't know – let's see... he's like... and then...," he raises his fingers, mouthing the math and moving them accordingly. "About... twenty-some?"
Twenty-some. That doesn't add up. The man who killed Stephany Mirez knew her for years. They had been friends for ages. They has most likely gone to school together. If Stephany was just about to graduate high school, then it stood to reason that the killer was also about to graduate, which would put him in a much closer age group.
She looks up and meets Grady's gaze for the first time.
"I believe you," she says. "It's freaky, and it worries me, but I believe you."
Gratitude floods his face. He smiles a sweet and innocent smile, suddenly looking much younger than sixteen.
"But," Eliza continues firmly, and the smile slips from his face. "I don't know why you didn't tell me this earlier. And why hasn't Detective Farren let this go?"
Grady's shoulders sag as he sighs yet again.
"Because I knew how it would sound," he says. "I couldn't expect you to believe me. I mean, hell, I wouldn't believe me. And as for Farren, well... I don't know. You already know that the Mirez case was a very big deal back in the day. That level of brutality... people thought it might be a serial killer. Everyone was pressing the police to find the guy. Stephany's parents were raising a huge fuss with the media to get attention. My dad was the closest thing they ever had to a legitimate suspect. They couldn't find anything else, no matter how hard they looked. They went over that scene with a fine-toothed comb. And still they had nothing. That pen by the body was the only possible evidence. They didn't even know how long it was there. Detective Farren was the lead detective at on the case. Well, him and his partner, but god only knows where that guy is. I guess... I don't know. He probably just couldn't let it go. I mean, that was as close as he could get to solving the biggest case in years. He probably got in a lot of trouble because he couldn't find anything."
Eliza pulls her knees to her chest absently and crosses her arms. She lays her chin down and stares at the empty space in front of her. She digests his words slowly, sifting through them for anything that's out of place. It all makes sense.
"I believe you," says Eliza slowly. She stands up. Her legs still feel like rubber, but now at least she can stand. She smiles weakly. "I believe you, Grady. Right now, I need to be alone."
She starts across the kitchen slowly. She can feel Grady's eyes following her. She looks back.
"Thank you," she says. He doesn't say anything, but she can see the relief in his eyes.
"Cole, come on!"
Cole sends him an irritated look.
"It's curling up into a ball!" he says, gesturing at the caterpillar on the ground in front of him. Liam scowls. His brother is acting like he's never seen an insect before.
"It's going to rain. Hurry up, Cole!" He insists firmly. Cole scowls even deeper and ignores him. Liam can feel the last of his patience ebb away. He clenches his fists, hard, and tries to take a deep breath.
"Cole, COME ON," he snaps.
"The house is right there!" Cole yells back, gesturing just across the street from them. "If you want to go, go!"
Liam takes another deep breath and lets it out. He unfurls his fingers just in time to keep his palms from being cut.
"Maybe I will," he murmurs furiously. He waits uncertainly, searching for any sign of movement in his twin. Aside from the other boy nudging the caterpillar with his shoe, there is nothing. Liam looks over his shoulder uncertainly at the house. It's right there. All he has to do is cross the street.
But doing that will leave Cole alone. And leaving Cole alone is never a good idea. It's only a matter of time before his idiot brother is running around a stranger's lawn, screaming for help. He has a borderline ridiculous tendency to find trouble in the most innocent of places. Maybe Liam should stay. Just to make sure Cole doesn't set himself on fire or something.
Oblivious to his twins turmoil, Cole nudges the caterpillar again. Liam sighs. On second thought, he'll just go home.
He turns around and nearly steps forwards before his brain catches up. When it does he jumps back, craning his neck in surprise to look up at the face of detective Farren. The man stares at him, blinking slowly, face impassive. Liam swallows hard.
"Hello," the detective says.
"Hello," Liam squeaks. His heart is racing. He tries to catch his breath without making it too obvious just how scared he was.
"Out for a walk?" says the detective tonelessly. He sends a brief glance over at Cole.
"Back from the pool. We were looking for Kim," says Liam as casually as possible.
"How does she get along with that new girl?" The detective tilts his face to the side and narrows his eyes. Liam shifts uncomfortably. Something feels wrong here, but he can't place his fingers on what, exactly, it is. "You know, that one girl who stays with you?"
"Eliza," says Liam, and immediately he wishes he could take it back. It seems wrong to discuss the details of their life with this man, like he's exposing something too private. He doesn't know why, but he has a feeling that Grady wouldn't approve. "Yeah, she's staying with us. And, uh, yeah, I guess she and Kim get along, a little."
The detective's lips twist, and it takes Liam a moment to realize that it's supposed to be a smile.
"Two girls," he says slowly. "They get along worse than a pair of old cats."
Liam shrugs uncomfortably, averting his gaze back to the house longingly. He wishes that someone, anyone would come out and see what was happening so that he would have an excuse to get away.
"How's your Dad been?" detective Farren interrupts his musing. Liam looks up quickly.
"He's been fine," he says quickly.
The detective nods, looking somewhere over Liam's head.
"Where is he again?"
"He's in Tianjin," Liam answers.
"How long has he been gone?"
Instantly Liam's defenses are raised. Grady has warned him never to say how long their father has been away, and that if anyone starts asking question, to memorize the person's face and clothes and LIE.
"What is there to do, up there in Tianjin, anyways?" the detective continues. "Can't be much business."
"There's a medical supply company there," says Liam quickly, eager to ignore the first question. "My Father has a deal with them. He's also looking into getting a local paint company to use them."
The detective nods disinterestedly.
"And how long has he been there?"
"A while," Cole says suddenly from right behind Liam's shoulder. Liam starts, and his heart skips a beat and then picks up its pace to compensate. Why, oh why can't Cole keep his mouth shut? Why now, of all times? And why can't he remember what Grady has only said a hundred times?
"Not very long," Liam counters, before his brother can do any more damage. "It just feels like it's been a long time."
He leans back slightly and curves his elbow, preparing to send it into Cole's stomach should he butt in again.
"Who stays with you when he's away?" detective Farren continues. "I'm sure he doesn't leave you alone."
"No, someone watches us," says Liam quickly, before his twin can screw things up any worse than he already has.
"Really?" the detective raises an eyebrow. "Who?"
Liam leans back a little further, willing Cole to stay quiet. His mind scrambles for a name, any name, preferably belonging to an adult. Suddenly he knows what to say. Hopefully Cole will keep his mouth shut.
"The Doctor," he says.
Detective Farren looks surprised.
"Your Doctor?" he says, blinking rapidly.
"Yes. He usually looks after Alex, but sometimes he looks after us too. He comes by pretty often," Liam replies. The words tumble out of his mouth without any conscious thought, and he can't help but feel proud of himself for being able to think on his feet. He forces the corners of his lips down – he doesn't want the detective to see his smirk.
"Is that so?" asks Farren. It seems to Liam as if he grits his jaw. "What exactly is wrong with your brother, anyways? You're talking about the pale, skinny one, right?"
"He's a hemophiliac," Liam answers. The words are so familiar that they're meaningless. He almost can't understand the surprise on the detective's face. "His blood can't clot right by itself."
"Hemophiliac?" The detective parrots. "That's pretty rare, isn't it?"
Liam shrugs. His ears pick up a distant grumble of thunder.
"So," the other man drawls. "He's a hemophiliac, huh? And your Father doesn't worry about leaving him alone?"
"Like I said, he has the Doctor," says Liam without looking at him.
"But still. Hemophilia is a pretty serious condition," detective Farren shifts so that even with his face turned away, Liam can still see him out of the corner of his eye. For some reason this makes Liam nervous. He leans further towards the house. "Just about anything can kill him, right?"
Something about the way he says this sends shivers down Liam's spine. He grits his teeth, not wanting to answer even in his head.
"You'd think your dad would want to stay close to home more," the detective continues, either oblivious to the tension he's causing or simply not caring about it. "And what about you kids? You're pretty young to be out by yourself."
"We were looking for Kim," Liam answers, voice hard. "We were going to swim with her before we saw that it's going to rain."
"Mm," the detective hums. For a few long moments, an awkward silence stretches between them. It fills the air with a sort of electricity that dances across Liam's skin, like the legs of a thousand tiny, kicking spiders.
"Well, I'll let you boys get home," detective Farren says finally. He steps back, and Liam moves his head slightly, keeping his eyes glued mistrustfully on the man's feet as he turns. Before he's even gone a yard away from them Liam grabs Cole by the arm, hard, and begins power walking towards the house, ignoring his twin's squawking protests.
"Lemme go! You're hurting me! Lemme go, dummy!"
"Oh, before I forget."
Liam turns, slowly, a knot of dread forming in his stomach. There's no way the detective could know he was lying earlier, right?
"Tell your father that I said hello," the detective says, and his lips pull back in an ugly smile, forced and uneven and somehow not like a smile at all. The knot in Liam's stomach turns to ice. He whirls around quickly, not bothering with a reply, and starts to run, still dragging Cole behind him.
Ugh. Talking to one of the Fullers always leaves a sour taste in Farren's mouth. He watches the retreating backs of the two boys, the young lookalikes, the latest in a seventeen-year string of failures to gather evidence.
Of course, he hadn't actually expected the boy to open up. He's probably too young to know anything about the murder anyways. But it would have been nice if the boy had let something slip about how long it had actually been since he last saw his father. That's really the most that Farren can ask for right now. If he has something, anything that he can use as leverage, he might be able to pry something out of one of them.
'And so the game continues,' he thinks to himself. He watches as one of the twins fumbles around for something in his pocket. He holds it up to the door and struggles for a moment. Finally it opens lazily, freeing the sound of a loud, piercing scream from within.
Author's notes: Dun dun DUN! Cliffhanger! ... considering how long it's been since I last updated this, if anyone is either a little mad or a little concerned about how soon the rest is coming, that might be a valid opinion. However, I have been writing a lot lately! It looks like world war three is about to erupt in my house again, which means that I'm more likely to sit down and type for a few hours at a time as opposed to staring at the wall and wondering what's wrong with me. I guess from everything bad, there comes some good, right? In this case, the good would be me getting some motivation.
Well, thank you, everyone who read this! Definitely drop a review, if you have the time. I love to read them!