Home > The Last Letter(10)

The Last Letter(10)
Rebecca Yarros

At least Gentry had been up-front and honest about the fact that Ryan sent him here. Honest, bad choices, I could handle. Lies were intentional, inflicted pain for selfish reasons, and unforgivable.

“What are you going to do?” Hailey leaned forward like she was front row to her own soap opera.

“I’m going to ignore him. He’ll leave soon enough, once he feels like he’s done his duty to Ryan, and I can shut that door on…everything.” On Chaos. “And in the meantime, I’m going to pick up Maisie from school, because we’re supposed to be in Montrose in two hours for her scans. That’s what matters right now. Not some Chris Pratt look-alike who has a huge guilt complex.”

I was almost back to my office—I needed Maisie’s treatment binder—when I heard Hailey laughing.

“Ha! So you did notice!”

“I said it didn’t matter. I didn’t say I was dead.” Binder in hand, I raced back through the foyer, grateful we were empty this Monday with the exception of Mr. Gentry.

“And those eyes? Just like emeralds, right?”

Seriously, Hailey had reverted to junior high.

“Sure,” I said with a nod, shoving my boots back on. “Ada, will you grab Colt after school? Crap. He’s got that cell art project due tomorrow, too. It needs another layer of paint on the edge, can you—?”

“Absolutely. Don’t worry. Go take care of our girl.”

“Thank you.” I hated this, leaving them with everything, walking out on yet another thing that Colt needed. But needs came in seasons, right? This was simply the season that Maisie needed me more. I just had to get her through this, and the next time Colt needed me, I’d be there.

Checking the time on my phone and cursing, I raced down the porch steps, nearly missing the last one. I grabbed ahold of the wooden railing, my momentum sending me spinning around the base of the steps and straight into a very tall, very solid figure.

One with massive arms that not only caught me, but also saved Maisie’s binder and my phone from landing in the mud.

“Whoa.” Beckett steadied me and then stepped back.

I blinked up at him for a moment. The guy’s reflexes were insane. He’s special operations, moron.

“I’m late.” What? Why the heck had those words come out instead of thank you, or something else that could even pass as social?

“Apparently.” There was a slight turn to his lips, but I wouldn’t call it a full-out smile. More like mild amusement. He handed over the binder and my phone, and I took them in what felt like the most awkward exchange in the history of awkwardness. Then again, the guy was literally saving me when I’d just said I didn’t need saving.

“Was there something you needed?” I hugged the binder to my chest. Maybe he’d taken my words to heart and was getting out of Telluride, or at least off my property.

“I think there’s a key I’m missing. The gate to the dock?” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans.

“I guess that means you’re not leaving.”

“Nope. Like I said, I made the promise to—”

“Ryan. I got it. Well, feel free to…” I waved my arm out toward the wilderness, like the end of the sentence would magically appear through the aspens. “Do…whatever it is you’re going to do.”

“Will do.” His mouth did that quasi-smile thing again, and there was a definite sparkle in his eyes. Not the response I was going for. “So, you’re late?”

Shit. I flipped my phone over. “Yes. I have an appointment for my daughter, and I have to go. Now.”

“Anything I can help with?”

Holy crap, he looked sincere. I was torn between bewilderment that he’d really shown up here to ask questions just like that and annoyed as hell that a stranger automatically assumed I couldn’t handle my life.

The fact that I really couldn’t definitely wasn’t on the table for consideration.

Clearly, annoyance won out.

“No. Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this. Ask Hailey for the gate key, she’s at—”

“The front desk. No problem.”

And he’d noticed who Hailey was…perfect. That’s exactly what I needed, a lovesick receptionist who would inevitably get her heart broken when he left.

“I so don’t have time for this,” I muttered.

“So you keep saying.” Beckett stepped to the side.

Shaking my head at my own inability to stay focused, I walked past him, opened the door to my Tahoe, and tossed the binder onto the passenger seat. I started the engine, plugged my phone into the jack to charge, and then put the car into gear.

Then I slammed the brakes.

Being annoyed was one thing. Being an all-out bitch? That was quite another.

I rolled down the window as Beckett reached the front door.

“Mr. Gentry?”

He turned, and so did Havoc, who felt more like a shadow, more an extension of Beckett than a separate entity.

“Thank you…for the steps. Catching me. The binder. Phone. You know. Thanks.”

“You don’t ever have to thank me.” His lips pressed in a firm line, and with an indefinable look and a nod, he disappeared into the main house.

An emotion I couldn’t name passed through me, racing along my nerve endings. Like an electric shock, but warm. What was it? Maybe I’d simply lost the ability to define emotions when I’d turned them off a few months ago.

Whatever it was, I didn’t have time to focus on it.

Ten minutes later, I pulled up in front of the elementary school and parked in the “school bus only” lane. Sue me, the buses weren’t due for another three hours, and I needed every minute I had to get to her appointment on time.

I opened the doors to the school and scrawled my name on the clipboard at the window, signing Maisie out.

“Hey, Ella,” Jennifer, the receptionist, said as she smacked her gum. She was a little older than I was, having graduated with Ryan’s class. “Maisie’s back here; I’ll buzz you through.”

The double doors buzzed, the universal sign of acceptance for entry, and I pushed through, finding Maisie sitting on a bench in the hallway with Colt next to her and the principal, Mr. Halsen, on her other side.

“Ms. MacKenzie.” He stood, adjusting his Easter-print tie.

“Mr. Halsen.” I nodded, then turned my attention to my oldest by three minutes. “Colton, what are you doing here?”

“Going with you.” He hopped off the bench and tugged at the straps of his Colorado Avalanche backpack.

My heart crumpled a little more. Heck, the thing had been so battered over the last few months I wasn’t even sure what normal felt like anymore. “Honey, you can’t. Not today.”

Today was scan day.

His face took on the stubborn set I was all too used to. “I’m going.”

“You’re not, and I don’t have time to argue, Colt.”

The twins shared a meaningful look, one that spoke volumes in a language I could never hope to speak or even interpret.

“It’s okay,” Maisie said, hopping off the bench and taking his hand. “Besides, you don’t want to miss fried chicken night.”

His eyes threw daggers straight at me, but they were nothing but soft for his sister. “Okay. I’ll save you the legs.”

They hugged, which had always seemed to me like two pieces of a puzzle fitting back together.

They shared another one of those looks, and then Colt nodded like a tiny adult and stepped back.

I knelt down to his level. “Bud, I know you want to go, just not today, okay?”

“I don’t want her to be alone.” His voice was the softest whisper.

“She won’t be, I promise. And we’ll be back tonight, and we’ll fill you in.”

He didn’t bother to agree, or even say goodbye, just turned on his little heel and walked down the hall toward his classroom.

I let out a sigh, knowing I’d have damage control to do later. But that was the problem. It was always later.

Maisie slipped her little hand in mine. She couldn’t even be promised now, which meant that as much as I hated it, Colt had to wait.

“Ms. MacKenzie—” Mr. Halsen wiped invisible dirt off his thick-rimmed glasses.

“Mr. Halsen, I was a kid in these halls when you first took over. Call me Ella.”

“Ella, I know you’re on your way to yet another appointment—”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Do not snap at the principal.

“But when you get back, we need to discuss Margaret’s attendance. It’s impacting the quality of her education, and we need to have a real discussion about it.”

“A discussion,” I repeated, because if I said what was actually on my mind, it wouldn’t reflect well on my kids.

“Yes. A discussion.”

“On Maisie’s attendance.” Like I gave a crap about kindergarten attendance. She was fighting for her life, and the man wanted to discuss if she’d missed the day where they’d discussed the virtues of K being for kangaroo?

“Yes, a discussion on Margaret’s attendance.”

For an educator, I would have thought he’d have another word.

I looked down at Maisie, whose forehead puckered in her trademark whatever look that I recognized all too well…since it was mine. In sync, we looked back to Mr. Halsen.

“Yeah, we’ll get right on that.”

After chemo. And scans. And nausea and vomiting. And wiped-out blood counts. And everything else that came with a kid whose own body had turned against her.

Two hours later, we sat in the San Juan Cancer Center, me pacing at the end of the exam table while Maisie kicked her legs back and forth, battling whatever iPad app she’d chosen for the day.

I was too keyed up to do anything but wear out the floor. Please let it be working. My silent prayer went up with the million others I’d sent. We needed the tumor to shrink, to get small enough that they could attempt a surgery to take it out. I needed all these months of chemo to have been for something.

But I also knew how dangerous the surgery would be. I glanced at my tiny daughter, her hot-pink beanie with matching flower standing out against the white walls. The panic that had been my constant companion these five months crept up my throat, the what-ifs and what-nows attacking like the sanity-stealing thieves they were. The surgery could kill her. The tumor certainly would kill her.

“Mama, sit down, you’re making me dizzy.”

I took a seat next to her on the wide side of the exam table and placed a kiss on her cheek.

“Well?” I asked as Dr. Hughes came in, flipping through something on Maisie’s chart.

“Hi, Doc!” Maisie said with an enthusiastic wave.

“Nice to see you, too, Ella.” She raised her eyebrow. “Hiya, Maisie.”

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