Credence Page 2

I walk back to the stove, letting out a breath. My parents left me to deal with this shit.

Steam rises from the pot, and I turn off the burner and pour the ramen into a bowl. I rub my dry lips together and stare at the yellow broth as my stomach growls. I haven’t eaten or drank anything all day, but I’m not sure I had any intention of eating this when I finally wandered into the kitchen tonight to make it. I just always liked the process of cooking things. The recipe, the procedure… I know what to do. It’s meditative.

I wrap my hands around the bowl, savoring the heat coursing through the ceramic and up my arms. Chills break out over my body, and I almost swallow, but then I realize it’ll take more energy than I have.

They’re dead, and I haven’t cried. I’m just more worried about tomorrow and handling everything.

I don’t know what to do, and the idea of forcing small talk with studio executives or old friends of my parents over the weeks to come as I bury my mother and father and deal with everything I’ve inherited makes the bile rise in my throat. I feel sick. I can’t do it.

I can’t do it.

They knew I didn’t have the skills to deal with situations like this. I can’t smile or fake things I’m not feeling.

Digging chopsticks out of the drawer, I stick them in the bowl and pick it up, carrying it upstairs. I reach the top and don’t pause as I turn away from their bedroom door and head left, toward my own room.

Carrying the bowl to my desk, I pause, the smell of the ramen making my stomach roll. I set it down and move to the wall, sliding down until I’m sitting on the floor. The cool hardwood eases my nerves, and I’m tempted to lie down and rest my face on it.

Is it weird I stayed in the house tonight when they died just down the hall this morning? The coroner estimated the time of death about two a.m. I didn’t wake up until six.

My mind races, caught between wanting to let it go and wanting to process how everything happened. Mirai is here every day. If I didn’t find them, she would’ve. Why didn’t they wait until I’d gone back to school next week? Did they even remember I was in the house?

I let my head fall back against the wall and lay my arms over my bent knees, closing my burning eyes.

They didn’t leave me a note.

They dressed up. They put the dog out. They scheduled Mirai to come late this morning, instead of early.

They didn’t write me a note.

Their closed door looms ahead of me, and I open my eyes, staring across my bedroom, through my open door, down the long hallway, and to their room at the other end of the hall.

The house sounds the same.

Nothing has changed.

But just then, a small buzz whirs from somewhere, and I blink at the faint sound, dread bringing me back to reality. What is that?

I thought I turned off my phone.

Reporters know to field requests for comment through my parents’ representatives, but that doesn’t stop the greedy ones—of which most are—from digging up my personal cell number.

I reach up, pawing for my phone on my desk, but when I press the Power button I see that it’s still off.

The buzzing continues, and just as realization dawns, my heart skips a beat.

My private cell. The one buried in my drawer.

Only my parents and Mirai had that number. It was a phone for them to reach me if anything was urgent, since they knew I turned off my other one a lot.

They never used that number though, so I never kept it on me anymore.

Pushing up on my knees, I reach into my desk drawer and pull the old iPhone off its charger and fall back to the floor, looking at the screen.

Colorado. I don’t know anyone in Colorado.

This phone never gets calls though. It could be a reporter who somehow tracked down the phone, but then it’s not registered under my name, so I doubt it.

I answer it. “Hello?”


The man’s voice is deep, but there’s a lilt of surprise in it like he didn’t expect me to answer.

Or he’s nervous.

“It’s Jake Ver der Berg,” he says.

Jake Van der Berg…

“Your Uncle Jake Van der Berg.”

And then I remember. “My father’s…?”

“Brother,” he finishes for me. “Step-brother, actually, yes.”

I completely forgot. Jake Van der Berg had rarely been mentioned in this house. I didn’t grow up with any relatives, so I’d completely blanked on the fact that I had one.

My mother grew up in foster care, never knew her father, and had no siblings. My dad only had an estranged, younger step-brother I’d never met. I had no aunts, uncles, or cousins growing up, and my father’s parents were dead, so I didn’t have grandparents, either.

There’s only one reason he’s calling me after seventeen years.

“Um,” I mumble, searching for words. “My mother’s assistant will be handling the funeral arrangements. If you need the details, I don’t have them. I’ll give you her number.”

“I’m not coming to the funeral.”

I still for a moment. His voice is on edge.

And he hasn’t offered condolences for “my loss,” which is unusual. Not that I need them, but why is he calling, then? Does he think my father wrote him into his will?

Honestly, he might have. I have no idea.

But before I can ask him what he wants, he clears his throat. “Your father’s attorney called me earlier, Tiernan,” he tells me. “Since I’m your only living relative, and you’re still underage, your parents apparently left you in my care.”

In his care?

Apparently. Sounds like this is news to him, too.

I don’t need anyone’s care.

He continues, “You’ll be eighteen in a couple months, though. I’m not going to force you to do anything, so don’t worry.”

Okay. I hesitate for a moment, not sure if I feel relieved or not. I didn’t have time to process the reminder that I wasn’t a legal adult, and what that meant now that my parents were gone, before he assured me that it wouldn’t mean anything. My life won’t change.


“I’m sure, growing up in that life,” he says, “you’re a hell of a lot more world-wise than we are and can take pretty good care of yourself by now anyway.”

“We?” I murmur.

“My sons and I,” he says. “Noah and Kaleb. They’re not much older than you, actually. Maybe a few years.”

So, I have cousins. Or… step-cousins.

Whatever. It’s basically nothing. I play with the light blue thread on my sleep shorts.

“I just wanted to reach out to tell you that,” he finally says. “If you want to emancipate yourself, you’ll get no argument from me. I have no interest in making anything harder for you by uprooting you from your life.”

I stare at the thread, pinching it between my nails as I pull it tight. Okay, then.

“Well… thank you for calling.”

And I start to pull the phone away from my ear, but then I hear his voice again. “Do you want to come here?”

I bring the phone back to my ear.

“I didn’t mean to sound like you weren’t welcome,” he says. “You are. I just thought…”

He trails off, and I listen.

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