“You wouldn’t have to.” Diana pressed a kiss to his cheek. “But I think you will.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I know you, and I know the mistakes I made before. I won’t repeat them again.”
He sighed, his resolve crumbling as she stared at him, silently pleading. It was only twenty years; he could make it until then if it meant not hurting her more than he already had. And this time, he thought, glancing at the body on the bed once more, he wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes either.
“I’ll miss you while you’re gone,” he said, and her shoulders slumped with relief. “But this will be the last one. If she fails, I’m done.”
“Okay,” she said, squeezing his hand. “Thank you, Henry.”
He nodded, and she let go. As she walked to the door, she, too, looked at the bed, and Henry swore to himself that this would never happen again. No matter what it took, pass or fail, this one would live.
“This isn’t your fault,” he said, the words tumbling out before he could stop himself. “What happened—I allowed it. You aren’t to blame.”
She paused, framed in the doorway, and gave him a sad smile.
“Yes, I am.”
Before he could say another word, she was gone.
I spent my eighteenth birthday driving from New York City to Eden, Michigan, so my mother could die in the town where she was born. Nine hundred and fifty-four miles of asphalt, knowing every sign we passed brought me closer to what would undoubtedly be the worst day of my life.
As far as birthdays go, I wouldn’t recommend it.
I drove the whole way. My mother was too sick to stay awake for very long, let alone drive, but I didn’t mind. It took two days, and an hour after we’d crossed the bridge to the upper peninsula of Michigan, she looked exhausted and stiff from being in the car for so long, and if I never saw a stretch of open road again, it’d be too soon.
“Kate, turn off here.”
I gave my mother a funny look, but turned my blinker on anyhow. “We’re not supposed to exit the freeway for another three miles.”
“I know. I want you to see something.”
Sighing inwardly, I did as she said. She was already on borrowed time, and the chances of her having an extra day to see it later were slim.
There were pine trees everywhere, tall and looming. I saw no signs, no mile markers, nothing but trees and dirt road. Five miles in, I began to worry. “You’re sure this is right?”
“Of course I’m sure.” She pressed her forehead to the window, and her voice was so soft and broken that I could barely understand her. “It’s just another mile or so.”
After a mile, the hedge started. It stretched down the side of the road, so high and thick that seeing what was on the other side was impossible, and it must’ve been another two miles before it veered off at a right angle, forming some kind of boundary line. The entire time we drove by, Mom stared out the window, enraptured.
“This is it?” I didn’t mean to sound bitter, but Mom didn’t seem to notice.
“Of course it isn’t—turn left up here, sweetie.”
I did as I was told, guiding the car around the corner. “It’s nice and all,” I said carefully, not wanting to upset her, “but it’s just a hedge. Shouldn’t we go find the house and—”
“Here!” The eagerness in her weak voice startled me. “Right up there!”
Craning my neck, I saw what she was talking about. Set in the middle of the hedge was a black wrought-iron gate, and the closer we got to it, the bigger it seemed to grow. It wasn’t just me—the gate was monstrous. It wasn’t there to look pretty. It was there to scare the living daylights out of anyone who thought about opening it.
I slowed to a stop in front of it, trying to look between the bars, but all I could see were more trees. The land seemed to dip in the distance, but no matter how I craned my neck, I couldn’t see what lay beyond it.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Her voice was airy, almost light, and for a moment, she sounded like her old self. I felt her hand slip into mine, and I squeezed hers as much as I dared. “It’s the entrance to Eden Manor.”
“It looks…big,” I said, mustering up as much enthusiasm as I could. I wasn’t very successful. “Have you ever been inside?”
It was an innocent question, but the look she gave me made me feel like the answer was so obvious that even though I’d never heard of this place, I should have known.
A moment later, she blinked, and the look was gone. “Not in a very long time,” she said hollowly, and I bit my lip, regretting whatever it was I’d done to break the magic for her. “I’m sorry, Kate, I just wanted to see it. We should keep going.”
She let go of my hand, and I was suddenly keenly aware of how cool the air was against my palm. As I pressed the accelerator, I slipped my hand back into hers, not wanting to let go yet. She said nothing, and when I glanced at her, she was resting her head against the glass once more.
Half a mile down the road, it happened. One moment the road was clear, and the next a cow was in the road not fifteen feet in front of us, blocking the way.
I slammed on the brakes and twisted the wheel. The car spun a full circle, throwing my body sideways. My head hit the window as I fought for control of the car, but it was useless. I might as well have been trying to get it to fly for all the good I was doing.