As soon as the door slammed shut between them, the angry tears she had been biting back began to flow.
Anger at who or what she wasn’t sure; Jon had been an easy target, but she could just as easily have yelled at Daniel. It was Daniel who had decided to take the deal, after all. She could tell that he would. And as soon as he did, it would be over.
It would be over for him, at least. But to her it felt like a betrayal.
She collapsed onto her bed and dissolved into sobs. She had never pictured that this is how it would end. She’d worked all these years to get him exonerated and he was throwing it all away because he was tired of fighting. She was tired of fighting, too.
It felt like it had always been a fight. She loved her brother dearly but had very few happy memories of him. She’d been so young when he’d gone to prison, and after he was gone it was like her childhood memories of him had begun to slip away, replaced instead with the hollow look on her mother’s face and relentless torment from her classmates.
And then her father had died. Her mother became even further out of reach, and Amantha was alone.
But even through that she had never considered giving up. She’d fought tooth and nail to see her brother walk out of that prison and he was going to admit for the record that he’d done it after all.
What a slap in the face.
What was she going to do now?
She heard Jon milling about in the kitchen and felt a stab of regret. He didn’t deserve this. All he’d done was get dragged into their family tragedy. And despite all her drama, all he’d done for years was try to help her help her brother.
And so much of your life has been Daniel’s case.
He wasn’t wrong. And that’s why it hurt. Because without Daniel’s case, who was she? What did she have? Without Daniel’s case, what would protect her from the world and the disappointment she would inevitably bring to herself if she had to live for herself? Here she was, 32 years old, with no friends, no husband, no children, no career. Maybe she’d thrown herself into Daniel’s case so hard so she didn’t have to worry about failing herself.
Because she was certain she would never let her brother down. But she wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t let herself down.
Jon knocked on the door before peaking his head in.
“Amantha?” he called out to her, any anger gone from his voice. Sweet Jon, who took a battering from her and kept coming back for more.
She rolled over to face him, tears still damp on her cheeks, red nose. Probably smeared mascara, too, though she knew he’d seen her worse. Nothing brought out a girl’s beauty like frantic last-minute attempts to stay an execution, after all, and he’d been there for all of it.
He took it as an invitation and came to sit next to her on the edge of the bed. “Do you want me to go to the hotel tonight?”
She shook her head no and reached her hand out to him. He took it, interlacing their fingers, before kissing the back of her hand. Tears welled again and she felt a surge of irritation at herself. Lately it felt like all she’d done was cry, but maybe it was good. Get it out once and for all.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
He shook his head at her. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” she argued.
He looked at her for a moment, questions swirling in his eyes. He moved closer to her on the bed, reaching his other hand to smooth her hair back from her face.
“I know the plea deal isn’t your fault, Jon. I know you had to tell him. I just wish,-” she broke off. “I don’t know what I wish anymore.”
With that he moved to lay next to her and tugged her into his arms. She rested her head on his chest as she had dozens of times before, but this felt different somehow.
“It’s okay,” he repeated. His anger had melted as he’d heard her sobbing through the door. He’d meant what he’d said to her, he’d been Daniel’s lawyer for as long as he’d known her. But he also understood that Daniel’s case had been her life for as long as she could remember, and he couldn’t fathom her letting go easily. It just wasn’t who she was.
She didn’t argue this time, instead burrowed further into him as a few more tears shook loose. Jon stroked her back and let her take her time. Eventually she came back to herself and pulled back a little to look up at him. He moved with her, rolling onto his side so they were facing each other.
“Oh god,” she moaned.
“Crying sucks. My head feels like I got beat with a hammer.”
He gave her an affectionate smile, though she was too busy cradling her head in her hands to notice.
“Aspirin and some food?” he suggested.
She dropped her hands and gave him a small smile.
“You’re a Godsend, Jon Stern,” she told him, only half-joking.
He kissed her forehead. “No matter what Daniel decides, Amantha, it is going to be okay,” he reassured her.
“I hope you’re right, Jon. I hope you’re right.”
And maybe it would be.