He shook his head. “If they did, they’d have told others by now, and we’d have heard.”
My voice turned quiet. “Daniel said his hands were cut off.”
“He told me.”
I gripped the edge of my desk. “It doesn’t make any sense. How did he survive? How is that possible?”
Noah bit his thumbnail as he leaned back against my pillow. “How is any of this possible?” he asked under his breath.
How was it possible? How could Noah heal? How could I kill?
The room had grown dark, and the subject made me uneasy. I peeled myself away from my desk and edged carefully onto my bed. Closer to Noah, but not quite touching.
I looked down at him. Not even a week ago, I was lying next to this disarmingly beautiful boy, feeling his heart beat against my cheek. I wanted to be there now, but I was afraid to move.
So I spoke instead. “You think he’s like us?”
“That, or the remains they found weren’t his.”
I shook my head. “Wouldn’t they do DNA testing?”
Noah’s eyes narrowed as he stared at nothing. “Only if they had reason to believe it wasn’t him. Regardless, records can be fabricated and lab rats can be bought.” There was an edge to his voice now, one that wasn’t there before.
My question was cut off by Daniel calling our names.
“Be right there!” I called back.
Noah swung his legs over my bed, carefully avoiding my body and my eyes as he rose. “I don’t know, but we aren’t going to find out in your bedroom.”
“And I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a babysitter.” I couldn’t help but sound bitter. “So you’re on your own.”
Noah shook his head and then, finally, looked at me. “I’m not leaving you any more than I have to.” He was on edge again. “Not like this.”
I wished it was because he didn’t want to be apart more than because he thought we had to stay together.
“So . . . how long are you staying?” My tone was more tentative than I intended. Much more.
But my favorite half-smile appeared on his mouth. I wanted to live in it. “How long do you want me?” he asked.
How long can I have you? I thought.
Before I could say anything, Daniel called us again.
“Alas,” Noah said, glancing at the door. “I’m afraid that’s my cue. Your father wanted to spend your first night back as a family.”
I might have sighed.
“But your mother knows all about my cold and empty home life, and she’s taken pity on the motherless urchin you see before you.”
“Well, you are quite pitiful,” I said, unable to help my smile.
“I told her that my enormous mansion will be terribly lonely this week in particular, so I expect I’ll be here quite a lot. Unless you object?”
“Then I’ll see you tomorrow,” Noah said, and moved to the door. “And I shall formulate a plan to work on your father as well.”
Noah cracked a smile. “We bonded in the hospital a bit, but I think he enjoys playing the benighted father; ‘I was a teenage boy once too, I remember what it was like,’ et cetera.” But Noah spoke with affection.
“You like them,” I realized.
Noah’s eyebrows lifted in question.
“Like, as people.”
“As opposed to . . . furniture?”
“They’re my parents.”
“That is my understanding, yes.”
I made a face. “It’s weird.”
“What is, exactly?”
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to find the right words. “Knowing that you’ve, like, talked to them without me there?”
“Well, if you’re worried about your mother showing me your most embarrassing childhood pictures, don’t be.”
“I’ve already seen them.”
“I’m a particular fan of your fifth-grade haircut,” he deadpanned.
“Never.” Noah’s grin turned devious, and I matched it despite myself. “They’ll relax, you know,” he said then. “They’ll get complacent. As long as you keep improving.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Is that your way of telling me to keep my shit together?”
At this, Noah closed the distance between us. He leaned down until his lips grazed my ear. My pulse raced at the contact and my eyes closed at the feel of his five o’clock shadow on my cheek.
“It’s my way of telling you that I can’t bear to look at my bed without seeing you in it,” he said, and his words made me shiver. “So do try to avoid a lockdown.”
I felt him withdraw, and I opened my eyes. “I’ll get right on that,” I breathed.
One final wicked smile. “You’d better.”
AFTER NOAH WENT HOME, MY FATHER CRACKED bad jokes at dinner, Joseph talked at fifty thousand miles a minute, my mother watched me too closely, and Daniel seemed like his lovably pretentious self. It almost felt like I’d never left.
When we finished, my mom watched me take the multiple antipsychotics I was now on but didn’t need, and then everyone went to their respective rooms before bed. I passed by the first set of French doors in the hallway but stopped short when I thought I saw a shadow move outside.
The air left my lungs.
The street lamps cast an unusually bright glow on the backyard, which was covered in a thin fog. It didn’t look like there was anything there, but it was hard to see.
My heart was pounding so loudly I could hear it. Just last week, I would have dismissed it as nothing; just my misbehaving mind ruled by fear. I would have hurried into my bedroom and burrowed under the covers and whispered to the dark that it wasn’t real. I was afraid of only myself then; what I might see, what I might do. But now, now there was something real to be frightened of.
Now there was Jude.
But if he wanted to hurt me, why show up at Croyden once and then leave me alone? Why appear at the Cuban restaurant and disappear seconds later? If he did take Joseph, my brother was still unharmed when we found him. And why would he walk into the police station, close enough for me to see, close enough for me to touch, just before walking out?
What was the point? What did he want?
I stood still in the safety of my house, my breath quick as my eyes searched for Jude behind the glass. The darkness revealed nothing, but I was still afraid.