Chapter Twenty

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Aftermath Pt. 2

'Mum, I still can't see you. It's the little button in the corner of the screen. No, not that one. Now you've muted yourself. It's on the other side, in the shape of a camera.'

My laptop screen flashes before my eyes, and the picture of Mum standing by the Leaning Tower of Pisa disappears as a live version of her takes its place.

She sits beside an island of the Lake House's kitchen, with a wide window behind her showing off Florida's enviously blue sky. Like mine, my Mum's hair is dark, pin-prick straight as it effortlessly glides down and over her shoulders in a fashion I could only dream of.

She must have recently been to the stylists, because red highlights glimmer in the sunlight and her skin is positively glowing. As always, Mum looks perfect; there's not a single strand out of place. Her image is almost comical next to mine, which sits pathetically in the corner of my screen.

Before our call, I'd tried to make myself look presentable. Well – as presentable as I can get with a broken wrist, red eyes from crying too much and having just seen a sight I know I'll never forget.

Just ten minutes ago, Eden sat with me in my bedroom, pulling a brush through my knotted hair whilst I hastily applied concealer beneath my eyes. The effect made me look like a clown; my hair was frizzy and my face pale like a ghost.

If anything, the make-up made me look worse. So, after Eden left with the promise to return after my call, I washed it all off, pulled my hair into a scrunchie and sprinkled cold water across my face. It made me look refreshed – wet, but refreshed.

All things considered, it's probably the best I can hope for.

But as soon as Mum sees me, those hazel eyes narrow and her perfectly-shaped brows arch. It's not surprising; the dark circles beneath my eyes can be seen from a mile away, and she's probably wondering what kind of monster has overtaken her daughter's body.

Not to mention that nothing gets past her – not even when Elliot snuck back into the house in the early hours of the morning did she fall victim to his lies.

I choose to ignore this reaction, however, focusing instead on the sizzling sound in the background – no doubt Dad preparing lunch. If I look carefully enough, I can see him jutting in and out of the frame as he stands before the frying pan.

For a second, I entertain the smells that could be rising from it. Is it Mum's favourite – pasta with creamy cheese and bacon? Or a simple grilled cheese sandwich?

I suspect the prior; Dad's always been a romantic.

'Haley, honey?' Mum leans forward and I can almost make out the golden flecks in her eyes. 'What's wrong? You look different.'

'That's one way to describe it,' I reply, blinking away the burn in my eyes.

She frowns. 'What's that supposed to mean?'

'Just... a lot's happened in the last week, you know? I'm alright,' I say, 'so don't worry. It's just... hard to adjust to everything.'

She makes a low sound in her throat that tells me she agrees, but is still worried.

'It took Elliot a month to get settled in, but then he didn't have someone break into his room the first day.' She pauses, tilting her head. Her eyes narrow, protective in the motherly way I know so well. 'What are they doing about that, by the way? I haven't heard anything. You'd think –'

'– There's not much they can do. The guy's dead. Nothing will change that.'

She rolls her eyes, and the act is so similar to Daisy that, for a second, I'm left speechless.

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