I couldn’t wrap my mind around his words. “So, what, you just changed your mind?”
“The people we care about are always worth more to us than the people we don’t. No matter what anyone pretends.” And for the first time in what felt like a long time, Noah sounded real. He was still as he watched me. “I didn’t think you had to make the choice you said you made then. But if I did have to choose between someone I loved and a stranger, I would choose the one I love.”
I blinked. The choice I said I made?
I didn’t know if Noah was saying that he didn’t care about what I’d done, or if he no longer believed that I did it. Part of me was tempted to push him on this, and the other part—
The other part didn’t want to know.
Before I could decide, Noah spoke again. “But I don’t believe you have the power to remove someone’s free will. No matter how much you might want to.”
Ah. Noah thought that even if I did somehow put the gun in that woman’s hand, I didn’t make her pull the trigger. And so in his mind, I wasn’t responsible.
But what if he was wrong? What if I was responsible?
I felt unsteady, and pressed myself more tightly against the wall. “What if I could?”
What if I did?
I opened my eyes to find that Noah had taken a step toward me. “You can’t,” he said, his voice firm.
“How do you know?”
He took another step. “I don’t.”
“So how can you say that?”
Two more. “Because it doesn’t matter.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand—”
“I was more worried about what your choices would do to you than what the consequences would be for anyone else.”
One more step, and he’d be close enough to touch. “And now?” I asked.
Noah didn’t move, but his eyes searched mine. “Still worried.”
I looked away. “Well, I have bigger problems,” I said, echoing my mother’s words. I didn’t need to elaborate, apparently. One glance at Noah’s suddenly tense frame told me he knew what I meant.
“I won’t let Jude hurt you.”
My throat went dry when I heard his name. I remembered the frozen frame on the psych ward television, the blurred image of Jude on the screen. I remembered the watch on his wrist.
“It’s not just me,” I said, as my heart began to pound. “He was wearing a watch, the same one you saw in your—in your—”
Vision, I thought. But I couldn’t quite say it out loud.
“He had the same watch as Lassiter,” I said instead. “The same one.” I met Noah’s eyes. “What are the chances?”
Noah was quiet for a moment. Then said, “You think he took Joseph.”
It wasn’t a question, but I nodded in assent.
Noah’s voice was low but strong. “I won’t let him hurt your family either, Mara.”
I inhaled slowly. “I can’t even tell my parents to be careful. They’ll think I’m just being paranoid like my grandmother.”
Noah’s brows knitted in confusion.
“She committed suicide,” I explained.
“I was a baby,” I said. “My mom told me yesterday; she’s even more worried about me because we have a ‘family history of mental illness.’”
“I’m going to have some people watch your house.”
Noah seemed calm. Relaxed. Which only added to my frustration. “My parents would probably notice, don’t you think?”
“Not these men. They’re with a private security firm and they’re very, very good. My father uses them.”
“Why does your father need private security?”
“Death threats and such. The usual.”
It was my turn to be confused. “Doesn’t he work in biotech?”
A wry smile formed on Noah’s lips. “A euphemism for ‘playing God,’ according to the religious and environmental groups that hate his subsidiaries. And you’ve seen our house. He doesn’t exactly maintain a low profile.”
“Won’t he notice?”
He shrugged a shoulder. “They don’t all work for my father, so I doubt it. What’s more, he wouldn’t care.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “It’s amazing.”
“Your freedom.” Even before everything happened—before the asylum, before Rachel died—my parents had to know everything about my life. Where I was going, who I was going with, when I was coming back. If I went shopping, my mom had to know what I bought and if I went to the movies, she insisted on talking about what I’d seen. But Noah floated in and out of his family’s palace like air. He could go to class, or not. He could spend money like water or obstinately refuse to drive a luxury car. He could do anything he wanted whenever he wanted, no questions asked.
“Your parents care about you,” Noah said then. His voice was soft, but there was a rawness to it that shut me up. Though he said nothing else and though his expression was still glass-smooth and unreadable, I heard the words he didn’t say: Be grateful you have them.
I wanted to smack myself. Noah’s mother had been murdered in front of him when he was just a kid; I knew better than to ever act like the grass was greener on the other side. I was grateful to have my parents, even though the hovering was out of control, even though they didn’t believe me when I told them the hardest truth there was to tell. It was a stupid thing to say and I wished I hadn’t said it. I looked up to reach for Noah, to whisper I was sorry against his skin, but he had pulled away.
He sprawled out on my bed and returned the subject to Jude. “If we can find out where he lives—”
I took Noah’s former place and leaned against my desk. “Wait, where is he living? He’s legally dead. It’s not like he could just get a job and rent an apartment.”
Noah raised his eyebrows.
“It’s Miami,” he said, as if it was obvious.
“Meaning there’s no shortage of methods by which to acquire money and housing without a social security number. But I do wonder. . . .”
“You wonder . . .?”
“Might he have gone back to his parents? After the collapse?” Noah stared at my ceiling.
“You think they know he’s alive?”