Matt suddenly put on his turn signal and pulled the car over to the shoulder. Rain pounded down on the windows as other cars sped by us on the freeway. He turned to face me completely, putting an arm across the back of my seat.
“Wendy Luella Everly, there is nothing bad about you. Nothing,” Matt emphasized solemnly. “That woman is completely insane. I don’t know why, but she was never a mother to you. You can’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Be serious, Matt.” I shook my head. “I’ve gotten expelled from every school I’ve ever gone to. I’m unruly and whiny and stubborn and so picky. I know that you and Maggie struggle with me all the time.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re bad. You’ve had a really traumatic childhood, and yeah, you’re still working through some things, but you are not bad,” Matt insisted. “You are a strong-willed teenager who isn’t afraid of anything. That’s all.”
“At some point that has to stop being an excuse. Sure she tried to kill me, but I have to take responsibility for who I am as a person.”
“You are!” Matt said with a smile. “Since we’ve moved here, you have shown so much promise. Your grades are going up, and you’re making friends. And even if that makes me a little uncomfortable, I know it’s a good thing for you. You’re growing up, Wendy, and you’re going to be okay.”
I nodded, unable to think of an argument for that.
“I know I don’t say it enough, but I’m proud of you, and I love you.” Matt bent over so he could kiss the top of my head. He hadn’t done that since I was little, and it stirred something inside me. I closed my eyes and refused to cry. He straightened back up in his seat and looked at me seriously. “Okay? Are you okay now?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I forced a smile.
“Good.” He pulled back into traffic, continuing the drive home.
As much as I inconvenienced Matt and Maggie, it would break their hearts if I left. Even if going with Finn would be more promising, it would hurt them too much. Leaving would put my needs in front of theirs. So if I stayed, I put them before me.
Staying would be my only proof that I wasn’t evil.
When we got home, I went up to my room before Maggie could try to talk to me. My room felt too quiet, so I went over to my iPod and started scrolling through songs. A light tapping sound startled me from my search, and my heart skipped a beat.
I walked over to my window, and when I pulled back the curtain, the rain had stopped, and there was Finn, crouched on the roof outside. I considered closing the curtain and ignoring him, but his dark eyes were too much. Besides, this would give me a chance to say a proper good-bye.
“What are you doing?” Finn asked as soon as I opened the window. He stayed out on the roof, but I hadn’t moved back so he could come in.
“What are you doing?” I countered, crossing my arms.
“I came to make sure you’re all right,” he said, concern in his eyes.
“Why wouldn’t I be all right?” I asked.
“It was just a feeling I had.” He avoided my gaze, glancing behind him at a man walking his dog on the sidewalk before turning back to me. “Mind if I come in so we can finish this conversation?”
I took a step back and tried to seem as indifferent as possible, but when he slid through the window past me, my heartbeat sped up. He stood in front of me, his dark eyes burning into mine, and he made the rest of the world disappear. I shook my head and stepped away from him, so I wouldn’t let myself get mesmerized by him anymore.
“Why did you come in the window?” I asked.
“I couldn’t very well come to the door. That guy would never let me in here to see you.” Finn was probably right. Matt had hated him ever since the dance.
“That guy is my brother, and his name is Matt.” I felt incredibly defensive and protective of him, especially after the way he supported me after we saw Kim.
“He’s not your brother. You need to stop thinking of him like that.” Finn cast a disparaging look around my room. “Is that what this is all about? This is why you won’t leave?”
“You couldn’t possibly understand my reasons.” I went over and sat on my bed, making a point of laying physical claim to this space.
“What happened tonight?” Finn asked, ignoring my attempts at defiance.
“How are you so certain something happened?”
“You were gone,” he said, without any fear that I might find it disturbing that he knew about my comings and goings.
“I saw my mother. Er, well . . . the woman who is supposed to be my mother.” I shook my head, hating the way this all sounded. I considered lying to him, but he already knew more about all of this than anyone. “What do you call her? Is there a name for her?”
“Usually her name will suffice,” Finn replied, and I felt like an idiot.
“Yeah. Of course.” I took a deep breath. “Anyway, I went and saw Kim.” I looked up at him. “Do you know about her? I mean . . . how much do you really know about me?”
“Honestly, not that much.” Finn seemed to disapprove of his own lack of knowledge. “You were incredibly elusive. It was rather disconcerting.”
“So you don’t . . .” I realized with dismay that I was on the verge of tears. “She knew I wasn’t her daughter. When I was six, she tried to kill me. She had always told me that I was a monster, that I was evil. And I guess I had always believed her.”
“You’re not evil,” Finn insisted earnestly, and I smiled thinly at him, swallowing back my sadness. “You can’t possibly stay here, Wendy.”
“It’s not like that anymore.” I shook my head, looking away from him. “She doesn’t live here, and my brother and my aunt would do anything for me. I can’t just leave them. I won’t.”
Finn eyed me carefully, trying to decide if I was serious. I hated how attractive he was and whatever power it was he held over me. Even now, with my life in complete shambles, the way he looked at me made it hard to focus on anything besides my racing heart.
“Do you realize what you’re giving up?” Finn asked softly. “There is so much that life has to offer you. More than anything they can give you here. If Matt understood what was in store for you, he would send you with me himself.”