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37

'I need some answers about your father's case, Paige,' Mary said, sitting on the chair across the coffee table from the young woman. A bouquet of white silk freesia in a glass vase sat atop the oak table, and the morning sun streamed though the windows, suffusing the living room with light. Mary didn't mention that she wasn't Jack's lawyer anymore. It was only a sin of omission, anyway.

'So early?' Paige blinked against the brightness, dressed in her blue chenille robe and slippers. Her hair fell loose to her shoulders, in a sleepy tangle, but grey circles ringed her blue eyes. 'I'm not a morning person.'

'Sorry about that.' Mary felt a momentary twinge. If Paige were pregnant, she wouldn't be feeling so well in the mornings. She wondered if Paige had gotten an abortion, but she couldn't be distracted now. 'It's important.'

'All right, if you say.' Paige sat before a cup of take-out coffee that Mary had brought her, for which she still hadn't been thanked, but she found herself less bothered by Paige's rudeness than before. Mary was seeing her differently, more fully. This was a girl who had been raised with both privilege and cruelty, and Mary felt she had less and less right to judge her. She just wanted to save her father's life.

'By the way, you're alone this morning, aren't you?'

That's kind of personal, but yes.'

'Sorry. I wanted to make sure that Trevor wasn't here. I thought you guys might have gone out last night,' Mary lied. Okay, so it was a sin of commission. Drastic measures were called for.

'No, he couldn't meet me last night. He had to study.'

So Trevor had lied to her, of course. Mary would save it for later. 'Here are my questions. First, I was in your old bedroom, at your parents' house, and there's a lot I didn't understand.' She pulled a pen, a legal pad, and a large manila envelope from her briefcase. The envelope held the diary, which puffed out its middle in a clear, square outline. She sat the envelope with the diary down between them like bait, but didn't refer to it. 'Wonder if you can help me out.'

'Sure,' Paige said. If she noticed the puffy envelope, it didn't show. 'I can help you, but why were you in my room?'

'As defense lawyer, I have to check out the crime scene. That's what we do, to help your father. You want to help your father, don't you?'

'Sure, yes.'

'I figured as much.' Mary glanced at her legal pad as if there were notes there. 'Let's see, I saw your CD player and a whole bunch of CDs. How come you left that stuff?'

'I didn't need it. I got a new one.'

'But this was a new one, and so were the CDs.'

'I wanted an even newer one.'

Mary checked the blank pad again. 'Your driver's license was in your room, too.'

'Oh? I thought I lost it.'

'But it was right in the middle of your desk. I'm surprised you didn't see it there if you were looking for it.'

'Well, I didn't.' Paige shifted in her plush robe. 'What's the difference?'

'Don't get attitudinal, I was just asking. It seemed like there were lots of things in that room that you would have taken with you if you could. I got the feeling that you didn't go back once you moved out, and you left things that mean something to you. Like your Madame Alexander dolls.'

'My dolls?'

'Yes.' Mary leaned back in the soft couch and watched Paige carefully. 'I loved your collection. The doll from Africa, and from Italy. Take it from me, though. Italians don't wear red and green ribbons in their hair anymore. That is so last season.'

Paige forced a smile, then her eyes fell on the manila envelope on the coffee table.

'You had the little I Love Lucy set, too. Lucy and Ethel, dressed for the chocolate factory. Do they give you the chocolates or not? Bonbons not supplied?'

'Uh, no.' Paige eyed the envelope, guileless enough to betray herself. Mary could see her wanting to grab it and run.

'You have the doll in the black lace dress, with the French hat. I love that one. But my favorite was the big doll with the blue dress, from a fairy tale. Who was she? Cinderella?'

'Yes, it was Cinderella.' Paige's eyes shifted from the envelope and met Mary's with resignation. 'So. You found my diary.'

'I did. I wasn't looking for it, but I found it. And I know your mother was horrible to you, growing up. I know that she was mean and abusive to you. I know that she put enormous pressure on you to succeed as a model and that you thought about leaving home for years until you finally moved out. She was furious at you for that, wasn't she? And your dad took your side, which caused even more problems than before.'

Paige's lips parted in sad recognition.

'I know that she wouldn't let you back into your room and that's why everything was left behind. Everything you owned or had been given. All your stuff.'

Wetness welled in Paige's eyes.

'I know that you two fought at the Bonner shoot. I know, too, that you're pregnant and thinking about an abortion. How'm I doin'?' Mary slid the envelope

gently across the coffee table, and Paige reached out and picked it up.

'You read my diary.' Her tone was hushed and she picked up the envelope only slowly, as if in shock.

'Open it,' Mary said, and Paige fumbled with the brass clasp, opened the manila envelope, and reached inside. The diary came out with its latch hanging apart, and the teenager started at the sight.

'You broke it!' she cried.

'No, I didn't. Somebody else did.'

Paige opened the diary and gasped. The first page was charred from a burn at the center, as if someone had burned it with a cigarette. The charring spread almost to the end of the page, obliterating the handwriting beneath. Paige turned the page carefully. The second page was burnt the same way, gone at the center and black around the edges. The only writing still visible was blackened. She flipped the pages frantically but they began to crumble in her hand. 'Oh my God,' she said, but it sounded like a moan.

'Your mother did this, didn't she?' Mary asked, and Paige nodded slowly, her eyes fixed on the cinders where the diary's pages used to be.

'Of course she did. She'd wanted to hurt me. She loved to hurt me. She knew I wrote in it when I was upset. She knew how much it meant to me. She must have done it when I told her I was leaving. She went crazy. Dad couldn't stop her.' Paige looked at Mary with wet eyes. 'You didn't read my diary. You couldn't have.'

'No, I found it that way.'

Then how did you know everything?'

'I put it together. I tried to figure out what would make a smart little girl grow up into a very troubled young woman. You wanna tell me? I can help.'

Tell you about my mother, how it was with us? I mean, you've probably heard it all before, like on Jerry Springer or something.' Page tried to smile but it quivered into a

downturn. 'But, you know, when bad things happen to you, it's like they never happen to anyone else in the world, ever. Even though they do, you know?'

'Yes.' Mary thought instantly of her husband's death. 'Well put.'

'Urn, you see, I think my mother, she hated me. No matter what I did, she hated me. I was never good enough. And you know what? I hated her. I don't even miss her. I'm glad she's dead. Glad. That's the whole story, that's all I want to say.' Paige tossed her head, her red hair falling back. 'At her memorial service today, I should get up and dance around. She's history. It's all history. I don't want to talk about it anymore.' Her eyes welled up again, but Mary ignored the waterworks.

'I understand, but we do have to talk about the truth. You have to tell me what happened the night your mother was murdered. Because I know your father didn't kill your mother, and I don't want to see him convicted for a crime he didn't commit. I have to believe that in your heart you don't want that, either. It's time for you to take responsibility for yourself.'

Paige blinked back her tears.

'Nothing that your mother did to you justifies what you are doing to your father. You are letting your father take responsibility for your crime. And that's wrong, no excuses. So stop crying and talk to me, like an adult. Like a woman.'

Paige swallowed hard. Mary could see her tiny dimple of an Adam's apple travel down her reddening throat.

'Did you kill your mother, Paige?'

She didn't say anything, and Mary resisted the urge to beat the truth out of her. •

'Was Trevor involved in it?'

She still didn't answer, setting Mary's teeth on edge. If Paige had been on a witness stand, Mary would have torn into her, but that wouldn't work here.

'Look, Paige, I know you lied to me and that Trevor was

with you that night. Why are you protecting him? Because he fathered your baby?'

'How do you know -'

'I know more than that, more than you. He's no good, believe me. You don't know everything about him.'

'What do you know?' she asked, and Mary hesitated. The girl didn't need another shock, but Mary wouldn't get a second chance.

'After he left you yesterday, Trevor met someone else. Another woman. He went with her to New York last night. I saw them together at Thirtieth Street station.'

'I don't believe you!' Paige shouted. Anger tinged her cheeks. 'Trevor was home studying.'

'No, he wasn't.'

'He was, too!'

'How do you know? Did you call? Did he answer? I doubt it. Would you put your own father in prison to save a jerk like that?'

'He's not a jerk! You don't know him at all! I think it's time for you to go.' Paige rose to her feet as quickly as Jack had, and Mary was getting used to being rejected by the members of the Newlin family. She reached down for her briefcase and legal pad.

Think about what I'm saying, Paige. The longer you wait, the worse it is, for your father and for you. And Trevor, too. Read the newspaper today. The cops are on to you and Trevor.'

'Get out! I won't hear this!' Paige hustled to the door and opened it wide, but Mary stopped at the threshold.

'Your father fired me this morning, for saying to him what I said to you. He is giving his life for you. And Trevor won't even return your calls. Is that the kind of man you choose? For you and your baby?'

Paige's only response was to look away, and Mary should have tried to convince her, if not throttle her. But instead she simply walked out on her, not wanting to be in her presence a moment longer.


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