Rival Page 56

She folded her lips between her teeth. “Are you?”

I didn’t have to tell her what I was sorry about. Nothing escaped her notice in this house, and I knew she knew that the divorce mess was my fault. That Madoc being sent away was my fault.

“Yes, I am,” I assured her. “I never meant for this to happen.”

And that was the truth. I’d wanted to be the one to leave Madoc, and I’d wanted Jason and my mother to feel a pinch, but I didn’t know my mother would fight the divorce so hard or that Madoc would be caught in the middle.

Truth is, I hadn’t thought of Addie at all.

She exhaled through her nose, and her scowl stayed trained on her sweeping. “That bitch thinks she’s going to take this house,” she mumbled. “She’s going to take the house, sell off everything in it, and let it sit.”

I stepped closer. “She won’t.”

“It doesn’t matter, I guess.” Her bitter tone cut me off. “Jason is choosing to spend most of his time in the city or at Katherine’s house, and Madoc hasn’t been home in months.”

I looked away, shame burning my face.

I did this.

My eyes were starting to sting, so I closed them and swallowed. I’ll fix it. I have to. I should never have come back. Madoc was fine. They were all fine before me.

This house, once alive with laughter and parties, was empty now, and Addie’s family that she’d loved and taken care of was separated and broken. She’d been almost entirely alone these past three months. Because of me.

I backed away, knowing she wouldn’t want to hear another apology. Turning around, I started back for the patio doors.

“You still have things in your room,” Addie called out, and I turned back around. “And you have some boxes in the basement.”

What? I didn’t have anything in the basement.

“Boxes?” I asked, confused.

“Boxes,” she repeated, still not looking at me.

• • •


I headed into the house, but rather than go upstairs to pack up the clothes I’d left months ago, I went straight for the basement door off to the side of the kitchen.

It didn’t make sense for me to have anything down there. My mother threw away everything from my room, and I hadn’t come to live here with much to start with.

I walked down the brightly lit stairs, my feet almost silent on the carpeted staircase.

For a huge-ass house like this, it featured an equally huge basement with four rooms. One was decorated as an extra bedroom, and another was Mr. Caruthers’s liquor storage. There was also a room dedicated to tubs of holiday decorations, and then the large open area that held a gaming center with standing video games, a pool table, air hockey, foosball, a gigantic flat screen, and just about every other entertainment a teenage boy like Madoc could enjoy with his friends. The room also held a refrigerator full of refreshments and couches for relaxing.

But the only part I ever enjoyed about coming down here was when Mr. Caruthers decided that I needed my own outlet for activity in the basement.

My half-pipe.

He thought it was a way for Madoc and me to bond, and since I wasn’t making friends, it served to put me side by side with Madoc’s. While they played, so could I.

It didn’t work.

I simply stayed out of there when Madoc entertained, and I worked on my skills at other times. It wasn’t him so much but his friends. I found Jared moody and everyone else dumb.

Looking around the large area, I noticed everything was spotlessly clean. The beige carpets looked new, and the wood smelled of furniture polish. Light poured in from the set of patio doors leading outside to the sunken backyard off the side of the house. The tan walls still burst with Notre Dame paraphernalia: flags, pennants, framed photos, and souvenirs.

An entire wall was splashed with family photos, mostly of Madoc growing up. Madoc opening Christmas presents when he was eight or nine. Madoc hanging from the goal post on a soccer field at ten or eleven. Madoc and Jared under the hood of his GTO as Madoc throws a goofy gang symbol with his hands.

And then one of him and me. Right in the middle of the wall, over the piano. We were out by the pool, and Addie had wanted a picture of us. We must’ve been about fourteen or fifteen. We had our backs to each other, leaning against each other with our arms crossed over our chests. I remember Addie kept trying to get Madoc’s brotherly arm around my shoulder, but this was the only way we’d pose.

Studying the picture closely, I noticed that I was half-scowling at the camera. There was, however, a hint of a smile. I tried to look bored despite the butterflies in my stomach, I remembered. My body had started having a reaction to Madoc, and I’d hated it.

Madoc’s expression was . . .

His head was turned toward the camera but down. He had a tiny smile on his lips that looked like it was bursting to get out.

Such a little devil.

I turned around and ran my hand over the old piano that Addie said Madoc still played. Though not anymore, since he was away at school.

The lid was down, and there was sheet music scattered on the top. The music rack had Dvorˇák on it, though. Madoc had always been partial to the Eastern European and Russian composers. I can’t even remember the last time I heard him play, though. It was funny. He was such an exhibitionist when it didn’t matter and not one when it did.

And that’s when my foot brushed something. Peering down underneath the piano, I noticed the white cardboard boxes.

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