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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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“This kid hates me,” Declan says.

I don’t think he’s wrong. The six-month-old baby he’s holding is sitting stiff as a board on his knee, red-faced and screaming. Everybody at this party feels sorry for the kid, except Daisy. She’s beaming like she’s never seen anything so adorable.

“I can practically see her ovaries exploding,” Mia murmurs beside me.

“You’re holding him wrong,” Ezra says. He scoops the baby up in one deft motion, cradling him in the crook of his arm. “Just relax. They can tell when you’re nervous.” The kid stops crying and gives Ezra a giant, toothless grin. Ezra tickles his stomach before holding him out toward Declan. “Try again.” “No thanks,” Declan mutters, getting to his feet. “I need a drink.”

A pretty, dark-haired woman climbs the porch stairs, squeezing Ezra’s arm as she passes. “You’re so good with him!” She’s the baby’s mother, Ryan Rodriguez’s sister, and we’re all hanging out at her house two weeks after Peter Nilsson’s murder attempt like everything’s back to normal.

I don’t know. Maybe it is, or maybe we’re finally figuring out that we haven’t been normal for years and it’s time to redefine the word.

Declan heads for a cooler in the backyard, and Mia nudges my arm. “No time like the present,” she says.

I glare at my brother’s back. “Why is it even my responsibility? He’s older. He should extend the olive branch first.” Mia adjusts her cat’s-eye sunglasses. “You thought he was guilty of murder.” “Yeah, well, Ellery suspected me at one point. I got over it.”

“Ellery had known you for less than a month then. She wasn’t your brother.” “He didn’t even visit me in the hospital!”

She enunciates every word carefully. “You. Thought. He. Was. Guilty. Of. Murder.” “I almost got murdered.”

“You could do this all day, or you could be the bigger person.” Mia waits a beat, then punches me in the arm. “At least he showed up.” “All right, fine,” I grumble, and take off after Declan.

I wasn’t sure he’d be here. We’ve only spoken a couple of times since I was released from the hospital, mostly to sort stuff out related to Mom. That’s a mess; all of Peter’s assets are frozen, so she’s got nothing to her name except a bank account that won’t cover more than a couple months’ worth of expenses. We’ll be moving to Solsbury soon, and while I can’t get out of the Nilssons’ house fast enough, I don’t know what happens after that. Mom hasn’t worked in over a year, and my dad’s harder to reach than ever.

We got a semilucrative offer to tell our side of the story to a tabloid, but we’re not desperate enough to take it. Yet.

Declan’s at the far corner of the yard, pulling a frosted brown bottle from a blue cooler. He twists the cap off and takes a long sip, then catches sight of me and lowers the bottle. I’m a few feet away when I notice how white his knuckles are. “What’s up, little brother?” “Can I have one?” I ask.

He snorts. “You don’t drink.”

“I might need to start.”

Declan reopens the cooler and plunges his hand into its depths, extracting a bottle identical to the one he’s holding. He hands it to me, expressionless, and I manage to get the top off without wincing when the sharp edges cut into my palm. I take a tentative sip, waiting for bitterness to explode in my mouth, but it’s not half bad. Smooth and almost honey flavored. I’m nervous and thirsty, and a quarter of the bottle is gone before Declan grabs my arm.

“Slow down.”

I meet his eyes, and force out the words I’ve been practicing for two weeks. “I’m sorry.” Seconds pass that feel like minutes. I’m ready for just about any response; for him to yell at me, to walk away without saying anything, even to sock me in the jaw. The bruises from Kyle’s attack are almost gone, just in time for some new ones.

But Declan doesn’t do any of those things. He sips his beer, then clinks his bottle against mine. “Me too,” he says.

The bottle almost slips out of my hand. “What?”

“You heard me.”

“So you’re not …” I trail off. You’re not mad still seems impossible.

Declan looks back at the porch we left, squinting in the bright sun. It’s one of those incredible late-October days we get sometimes in Vermont, upper seventies with a cloudless blue sky, the trees around us exploding with color. Daisy is holding the baby now, talking earnestly with Ryan’s sister. Mia and Ezra are sitting side by side on the wooden railing, knees dangling and their heads bent close together. The sliding door to the house opens and a girl steps outside, dark curls bouncing around her shoulders.

I’ve been waiting for her to show up, but I guess I can wait to talk a little longer.

“I’ve been a shit brother to you, Mal,” Declan says finally. “For years. I just— I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t give a crap about you when we were kids. Too caught up in my own stuff. And you weren’t … I don’t know. Enough like me for me to pay attention.” A muscle in his cheek jumps, his eyes still on the porch. “Then everything went to hell and I took off. I didn’t think about you then, either. Not for years. So I’m not sure why I expected you to be on my side when somebody found my class ring at a murder site.” My throat’s uncomfortably dry, but I don’t want any more beer. “I should’ve realized you didn’t have anything to do with that.” Declan shrugs. “Why? We barely know each other. And I’m the adult, or so they tell me. So that’s on me.” He opens the cooler again and pulls out a ginger ale, holding it out to me. I hesitate, and he takes the beer from my hand, setting it down on a nearby table. “Come on, Mal. That’s not you.” I take the ginger ale. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Mom.” “I don’t either. That shit’s not great. We’ll figure it out, though. You guys can get a place near Daisy and me. Solsbury’s all right.” He grins and takes a sip of beer. “The regulars at Bukowski’s Tavern aren’t half bad when you get to know them.” The tightness in my chest loosens. “Good to know.”

A wisp of a cloud passes over the sun, briefly shading Declan’s face. “You talk to Katrin?” he asks.

“No,” I say. She ended up cooperating fully with the DA’s office, handing off one final piece of evidence: Brooke’s cell phone case. Katrin had found it the day Peter organized the search party, after she’d gone digging through his office looking for a phone charger. Apparently Peter destroyed Brooke’s phone but kept the case—as though it were some kind of sick trophy. Just like he had with Lacey’s ring.

It wasn’t something you’d find in a store—Brooke had made it herself with a clear case, dried flowers, and nail polish. It was one of a kind, and when Katrin saw it tucked away like that, she knew her father was involved. Instead of turning him in, she’d re-created one of Viv’s anonymous threats to try to deflect attention.

Katrin’s lawyer painted as sympathetic a picture of her as he could. He claimed Peter had methodically estranged Katrin from her mother for years so he could control and manipulate her, to the point where she was totally dependent on him and unable to distinguish right from wrong. A different type of victim from Lacey and Brooke—but still a victim.

And maybe she was. Is. I don’t know, because I haven’t answered the one text she sent me since she was released into her aunt’s custody. Katrin isn’t allowed out of the country, and her mother’s not willing to move here.

He’s all I have.

I didn’t answer. Not only because it wasn’t true—she’d had me and my mom, at the very least, plus her aunt and even Theo and Viv—but because I can’t think about my stepsister without remembering the last time I saw Brooke in her driveway, glancing back at me over her shoulder before she went inside. Fifteen minutes later, according to police, she slipped out again to meet up with Peter.

I don’t think I can ever accept the fact that Katrin knew Peter was involved in her best friend’s disappearance, and stood by him anyway. Maybe one of these days, when everything is less raw, I can try to understand what it was like to grow up with that toxic sewer for a father. But two weeks after he tried to kill me isn’t that time.

“Probably a good thing. That whole family’s rotten to the core,” Declan says, taking another long pull at his bottle. “Anyway, you and Mom should come over for dinner this week. Daisy and I bought a grill.” I start laughing. “Holy hell. You bought a grill. You’re holding babies. What’s next, suburban dad? You gonna start talking about your lawn?” Declan narrows his eyes, and for a second I think I’ve gone too far. Then he grins. “There are worse fates, little brother. Much worse fates.” He turns toward the porch again, shading his eyes against the sun. Ellery has her hands clasped stiffly in front of her as she talks to Ryan’s sister. “Why are you still over here yapping at me? Go get your girl.” “She’s not my—” I start, and Declan shoves me. Only a little too hard.

“Don’t be such a wuss, Mal,” he instructs, pulling the ginger ale from my hand. But he smiles when he says it.

So I leave him, crossing the yard toward the porch. Ellery spots me when I’m about halfway there and waves. She says something to her half sister, then bounds down the stairs with an energy that sets my nerves jumping. I’ve seen her only a couple of times since we left the hospital, always with some combination of Ezra, Mia, or her grandmother around. I even saw Sadie briefly before she went back to rehab. Ellery and I aren’t alone here either, but for a few seconds in the middle of the backyard, everybody else fades away and it feels like it.

“Hey,” she says, stopping within a foot of me. “I was hoping you’d be here.” Her eyes flick over my shoulder to Declan. “How’d that go?” “Better than expected. How are things with your new half siblings?”

“Same,” she says. “Better than expected. They’re nice. I’m not as comfortable with the other two as I am with Ryan, though. Ezra’s fitting in more easily than I am. As usual.” She brushes a stray curl off her temple. “How are you feeling?” “Other than the headaches? Not too bad. No permanent effects. That’s what the doctors say, anyway.” “Me too.” She hesitates. “I mean … I guess the nightmares will go away eventually.” “I hope so.” I wait a beat, then add, “Listen, I’m really sorry you didn’t get any closure about your aunt. I know that would have meant a lot to your family. If it’s any consolation … even if you didn’t hear him say it, I’m pretty sure we know. You know?” “I know. I just wish—” Her eyes get bright with tears, and before I can think too much about what I’m doing I pull her into my arms. She leans her head on my chest and I bury my face in her hair. For a few seconds I feel something I haven’t experienced since I was a little kid, before my parents started fighting and my brother either ignored or taunted me. Hope.

“It’ll be all right,” I say into her hair.

Her voice is muffled against my shirt. “How? How are we supposed to get past something like this?” I look over her head at the porch, where Declan’s rejoined Daisy and they’re talking with Ryan and Mrs. Corcoran. Ezra’s gotten off the porch railing to hold the baby again, and Mia’s making faces at it. The Kilduffs arrived at some point, and even though my mother’s not here, I can almost picture her venturing into something like this one day. Forgiving herself for believing a monster’s lies. We all have to figure out a way to do that. “Just living, I guess,” I finally say.

Ellery pulls away from me with a small smile, swiping the back of her palm against her wet cheeks. Her dark lashes are spiky with tears. “Seriously? That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?” “No. I have an ace in the hole I’ve been saving to cheer you up.” Her brows rise, and I pause for dramatic effect. “Would you like to visit a clown museum with me?” She starts to laugh. “What, now? In the middle of a party?”

“Can you think of a better time?”

“After the party?” Ellery suggests.

“It’s right down the street. We could be there and back in half an hour. Forty-five minutes, tops. There’s free popcorn, and dogs. And clowns, obviously.” “It does sound tempting.”

“Then let’s go.” I link my fingers through hers and we start for the driveway. “You’re going to have to drive, though. I’ve had almost half a bottle of beer.” “You rebel.” She smiles at me. “But you did say living, after all.”

I squeeze her hand and bend my head toward hers. “I’m working on it.”

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