A long pause. My mom was crying. My insides curled up.
After a minute, she spoke again. “Anyway,” she said, quieter now, “this is about Mara. And it’s scary, yes, but we can’t act like she’s an ordinary teenager anymore. The same rules don’t apply. I didn’t—I didn’t see the Jude thing coming.”
My shoulder was pressed against the bathroom wall and it began to hurt, but I found I couldn’t move.
“She’s a complicated—she’s complicated,” my mother finally said.
She’s a complicated case was what she almost said.
“And you really think Noah being here, you think that’s helpful?”
“I don’t know.” My mother’s voice was stretched and thin. “But I think trying to keep them apart will only create a unit: them versus us. She’ll run in the opposite direction.”
“And if Noah’s here, then Mara will want to be here, and that will make her easier to watch.”
Also true, unfortunately.
“She’s not in school anymore, she doesn’t have any friends here that I’ve met—it’s not normal, Marcus. But it is normal for a teenage girl to want a boyfriend. Which means that right now, Noah’s the most normal thing in her life.”
Little did they know.
“She’s comfortable around him. He pulled her right out of that depression on her birthday—I think he helps keep her in the here and now, and we need her to stay there. My mother was so isolated.” Her voice cracked on the word, and there was another long pause. “I don’t want that for her. It’s good for her to have someone her own age who she can talk to about things.”
“I wish she had someone female,” my father mumbled.
“He won’t take advantage.”
“I’ve talked to him,” Mom added.
“Come on, he’s a teenage boy. I just don’t see what he’s getting out of this—”
“Mara isn’t really allowed out, they won’t be together at school—”
My mother interrupted him. “If you expect the worst from people, that’s exactly what you’ll get.”
“I wonder what his family thinks about him spending so much time here.” A diplomatic change of subject. Well played.
Mom made a derisive noise. “I doubt they’ve noticed; they’re a mess. His father is some kind of business mogul and from what Noah’s said, he sounds like a raging asshole. The stepmother is always out because she can’t deal with it. The kids basically raised themselves.”
I’d met Noah’s stepmom—and she seemed nice. Like she cared. Noah’s father, on the other hand . . .
“Wait—a business mogul—not David Shaw?”
“I didn’t ask his name.”
“It must be,” my father said, and let out a low whistle. “I’ll be damned.”
This I wanted to hear.
“You know him?”
“Know of him. There were some federal indictments handed down a year ago for the executives of one of his megacorporation’s subsidiaries—Aurora Biotech? Euphrates International, maybe? There are dozens, I don’t remember which.”
“Maybe he needs a white-collar defense lawyer?”
“It would be safer.”
“That depends.” Dad’s voice was louder now. He must have opened Joseph’s bedroom door to leave.
“Who you’re getting into bed with,” he answered, and left the room.
I EDGED AWAY FROM THE DOOR AND WAITED FOR my parents’ footsteps to disappear. The way they talked about me—what they thought of me—
Especially my father. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said.
“I just don’t see what he’s getting out of this.”
He thought I had nothing to offer Noah. That he had no reason to want to be with me.
Even as I rebelled against the idea, a tiny, miserable part of me wondered if he might be right.
I eventually pulled myself together enough to stave off a good cry—at least until I was back in my room. But much to my surprise, it was already occupied.
Noah’s long legs straddled my white desk chair, and his chin rested lazily on his hand. He wasn’t smiling. He didn’t look anxious. He didn’t look anything. He just looked blank.
You are my girl, he had said at the courthouse.
Was it still true?
Noah arched an eyebrow. “You’re staring.”
I blushed. “So?”
“You’re staring warily.”
I didn’t know how to frame my thoughts, but something about Noah’s coolly indifferent tone and his languid posture kept me from moving closer. So I just closed the door and hung against the wall. “What are you doing here?”
“I was discussing Bakhtin and Benjamin and a thesis about de se and de re thoughts as relevant to notions of self with your older brother.”
“Sometimes, Noah, I feel an overwhelming urge to punch you in the face.”
An arrogant grin crept across his mouth.
“That doesn’t help.”
He glanced up at me through those unfairly long lashes, but didn’t move an inch. “Should I leave?”
Just tell me why you’re here, I wanted to say. I need to hear it.
“No,” was all I said.
“Why don’t you just tell me what it is that’s bothering you?”
Fine. “I didn’t expect to see you here after . . . I didn’t know if we were still . . .” My voice trailed off annoyingly, but it took several seconds for Noah to fill the silence.
My eyes narrowed. “You see?”
Noah unfolded himself and rose then, but didn’t approach. He backed up against the edge of my desk and leaned his palms against the glossy white surface. “You thought after hearing that someone who hurt you—someone who hurt you so badly that you tried to kill him—was alive, that I’d just leave you to deal with it on your own.” He was still calm, but his jaw had tightened just slightly. “That’s what you think.”
I swallowed hard. “You said at the courthouse—”
“I remember what I said.” Noah’s voice was toneless but a hint of a smile appeared on his lips. “I would say you’ll make a liar out of me, but I was one long before we met.”