'Sephy, listen to me. You mustn't let all this get you down. I know it's easier said than done, but you've got to ease up on yourself.'
There it was again, that flat, dead tone to her voice. It matched the look in her eyes. I wanted to grab her and shake her or hug her — anything to bring back my original Sephy. Not this sorrowful, hurting girl before me.
'How's Callie?' I asked.
'She's fine. I'm sorry I haven't been to see you this week . . .'
'Sephy, I know you've had other things on your plate. And although I appreciate you coming to see me every week, it doesn't mean that I can't ever come and see you.'
Sephy shrugged. 'I didn't think you'd be comfortable travelling around here.'
I shook my head. Sephy had a strange idea about me. Did she really think I was some delicate flower who only had to step out of my house to wither? Didn't she understand that I would travel to anywhere on the planet to be with her if she needed me?
'Sephy, would you like to come home with me for a while?'
When Sephy began to shake her head, I rushed on. 'I don't mean to live. I know you'd rather stay with Meggie. But just for a while. I can shield you from the reporters and the TV cameras. They won't get past my security.'
'But you can't shield me from how people think and feel about me, Mother,' said Sephy sadly. 'Most people think he did it, and thanks to me, he got away with it. And the ones who truly believe he's innocent despise me for not stepping up and telling the police he was with me on the night Cara Imega died.'
'I don't give a damn about other people,' I told her. 'My only concern is you and Callie Rose.'
Sephy looked at me, the merest trace of a smile playing across her lips. 'Thanks.'
'I mean it, Persephone. My home is open to you, any time, day or night. You don't even have to ask.'
Sephy nodded, her head bent. Then she looked up and asked, 'D'you think Jude did it?'
'I don't know enough about the case to make an informed judgement, one way or another,' I told her carefully. I'd learned from my mistakes on that score at least.
Sephy nodded again, but didn't reply.
'Sephy, love, I'm worried about you. Are you all right?'
Sephy shook her head. 'No, but I will be.'
I looked at her, and I wasn't so sure. Sephy was always so ready to face life and come out fighting, but now she just looked totally worn down and worn out. The spark inside her had been extinguished.
My glance fell away from Sephy's. I realized at once that I shouldn't've done that. I should've looked her in the eye.
'Does she hate me?'
'She's a bit upset,' I said carefully. 'But she'll get over it.'
'I doubt it,' sighed Sephy. 'Did she tell you why she's mad at me?'
'Not really,' I admitted. 'She said she told you something in confidence and you used it. Against her?'
'I didn't use it against her,' Sephy denied. 'I used it against myself maybe, but not against her. Did I get her into trouble?'
'She's still got her job – just – if that's what you mean,' I said. 'She reckons no one but her knows for sure where you got your information from. But her boss did ask some searching questions. Minnie's afraid she might not get another front page for some time.'
'I wouldn't blame her if she did hate me,' said Sephy.
And what could I say to that? Nothing.
'Can I tell you something?' Sephy said after a long pause.
'I . . . I love you, Mother. You know that, don't you?' Sephy said unexpectedly.
My eyes immediately began to water. I looked away and pinched the bridge of my nose the way I always did when I had the beginnings of a headache, but it did no good. The tears still threatened. I took out a tissue and blew my nose. 'The pollen's driving me mad,' I muttered.
When my eyes cleared of tears, Sephy was smiling at me.
She looked at me like she was drinking me in for the first and last time. I don't know how else to explain it. She had a look on her face like she was saying goodbye.
'Sephy, darling, please let me help you,' I pleaded.
'No, Mother. You can't do anything for me now,' said Sephy softly 'No one can.'