The Proposal (part 46)

“Nev is full of hot air, that’s all,” Ayn continued. “I mean, did you see the vid? It was laughable.”

“Ayn—”

“I’ll bet she—”

“Ayn.” The hard edge in her dad’s voice silenced her. “Nev is not as innocent as you think.”

“He didn’t take those photo images,” Ayn said.

“I don’t know about that,” her dad said. “I can’t say.”

“What are you talking about then?” She watched her dad go through some internal struggle—his jaws clenched, eyebrows knitting over closed eyes—as he decided what to tell her.

When he opened his eyes to look at her again, even Zoe flinched. His face was set with determination, like it had been the day of mom’s funeral. Whatever was happening for him, it wasn’t something he was happy about, but something he felt he had to do, had to get through. She wished that realization made her feel better. But it didn’t. She felt alone and, she realized, beneath the anger, she was scared.

“There are certain … factions,” he said, “that …”

“Do you mean the conspiracy theories?” Ayn tried to laugh, but the sound was harsh and stung her throat. “You know those aren’t real, Dad. Nev is harmless. That’s what you always said.”

“True enough that Nev himself may be harmless, but he’s chosen to associate with people who may not be.”

Ayn sucked in her breath.

Zoe whined at her feet.

“You did frame  him,” she said.

Her dad looked miserable, but didn’t reply.

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