Chapter 40

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I feel like a fish out of water when I walk through Lizzie's school gates. It was fine standing outside, watching her wave to her friends and get in her bodyguard's car and head off to swimming lessons. But as I cautiously step onto the school grounds, it feels like walking into a prison, only I don't fit in and I'm not guilty of anything.

The school day ended half an hour ago. Lizzie said she needed to finish up an assignment and that her teacher gave her access to the gym. I only pass a couple of students and they throw puzzled looks at me. So do a couple of the teachers. I keep my head down and make my way to the gym.

It's smaller than I expected for such a prestigious school. The roof is low and there's lots of space. The equipment must be locked up in another room. Today, there's a pile of mats still in the corner and a basket full of different sporting equipment. I can see Lizzie over in the corner putting on her expensive fencing uniform with the jacket, underarm protector and breeches. I feel very out of place.

Lizzie turns around as I approach and I can see immediately that she'd rather be anywhere but here. Something's happened to her.

"Hey," she mutters.

"Um ... hi." I drop my bag next to her stuff. She angrily shoves her fingers into her glove. "Are you okay?"

Lizzie nods too firmly. "Yeah. It's just been one of those days."

I'm definitely not the type of girl to sit down and have a 'D&M' with. My days of chick-flick moments are long gone. Still, I know this is a mission and I have to find out as much information about this girl as possible.

"Well, we might not know each other ... pretty much at all–" Lizzie cracks a small smile, "–but sometimes it's good to tell a stranger about your problems, knowing they don't have any opinion at all and they will never tell a word because they don't know who the fuck you're talking about."

Lizzie looks up at me and breathes a laugh. There are tears in her eyes. "You've got a point."

Forgetting the fencing, I sit down on one of the mats. "Lay it on me."

Lizzie rips her glove off and sits down beside me. She takes her time, either trying not to sound emotional or choosing her words carefully.

"No one knows what it's like to be me, Jess," she says as we gaze at the empty room. "People think I have the most wonderful life because I have popular friends, a hot boyfriend and all the money in the world. But I'm miserable inside."

I nod sympathetically, even though I'm thinking classic rich-bitch speech about having a hard life even though everything she needs is provided for her. She should try sleeping on a park bench without having a bite to eat in forty-eight hours and a chilly winter night ahead of her.

"People also don't know how hard it is to be Alonzo Garcia's daughter."

"Alonzo Garcia is your dad?" I feign surprise.

She frowns. "You didn't know that?"

Yes, I did. "No, I didn't."

"Well ... I'm not blind. I know what he gets up to at his 'computer' company. I know he does illegal things and uses his work as a cover."

I nod, pretending I know as much as she does.

"But when it comes to family, he treats us exactly like the guys he works with – like we have to do everything he says or he'll cut off one of our fingers or something icky like that."

I shudder and give her a grossed-out face. Lizzie laughs.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to freak you out or anything. I'm just sick of how controlling he is. It's like the world is sitting in the palm of his hand. I can't imagine the people he's hurt and the families he's destroyed. He's already destroyed ours."

I start to get uncomfortable now. Suddenly I don't want to know about her family problems. I can't afford to get too emotionally involved or I won't be able to go through with this.

But Lizzie doesn't give me a chance to back out. It's like I've opened the flood gates of the emotion dam.

"He doesn't want me to go to this shack with my friends this weekend because he hates my boyfriend and he wants to spend time with the family because there might not be much time left, and –"

"Hold on, what do you mean there might not be much time left?"

Lizzie shoots an uncertain glance at me. I freak out that I've pushed her too far but it's like she can't stop herself.

"My mom has cancer."

I freeze up. I can't look at her but I can't look away. The utter defeat in her eyes makes me feel as though someone is squeezing every internal organ in my body and I can't breathe.

"I found out in the summer. We were on the beach when she told me." That explains the jar of sand in her room. Maybe. "It was a holiday in the Hamptons. I've been wearing my brave face for so long but now I'm terrified. And I think, deep down, my dad is too. He doesn't want to see her go. But she will. The doctors stay positive but I know how this works. She's in treatment right now but the cancer keeps spreading fast. And ... it feels like our family is falling apart because of it."

Suddenly I feel ill. I don't need to know this. I don't want to know this. Because now, everything is different. I can't kill Garcia. Lizzie will lose her mother too, and to lose both her parents will utterly destroy her, not to mention Danny. And if I kill Garcia before her mother dies, how will that affect her treatment, her recovery?

Everything is different.

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