I scanned hundreds of words as quickly as I could when Daniel appeared back at my side. “Table’s ready,” he said. “Come on.”
“Give me a second.” My brother sighed and went off to sit with Sophie. But as promised, he didn’t leave me alone.
“Find anything?” Noah’s voice was velvet and warm next to my ear. I shook my head, but then four letters caught my eye.
They peeked out from under the corner of another flier. I folded the top one over, feeling a rush of hope—
The full word was Lukumi, but as I squinted to try and read the small type, I realized I was having trouble understanding the sentence. Either the context was off, or my Spanish was already fading from disuse.
“It’s a church,” Noah said, reading the text along with me. “Church of Lukumi.”
I bit my lip. “Well, he’s a priest . . . maybe it’s his church?”
Noah withdrew his iPhone and typed something in. “Of course,” he said, sounding resigned.
He showed me the screen. There were hundreds of thousands of hits—mostly referring to the Church of Lukumi and a Supreme Court case bearing its name.
“It’s another name for Santeria,” he said, and met my eyes. “For the religion. Whatever that man’s name was, it wasn’t Abel Lukumi.”
He had used a fake name.
I tried not to let my disappointment show as I ate, but it was hard. Sophie didn’t appear to notice, though, and Daniel pretended not to. When we finished dinner, we left the building loaded with Styrofoam boxes full of plantains and beans to spare.
“That was incredible,” Sophie said, her voice dreamy. “I can’t believe I’ve lived twenty minutes away and never knew about it.”
“Good choice,” Daniel agreed, chucking Noah on the shoulder. We all climbed back into the car, and Sophie put her iPod into the dock and played some tense, obscure piece she wanted Daniel and Noah to hear. But just as the music swelled to a crescendo, something small hit our windshield and slid down.
Sophie screamed. Daniel screeched to a stop.
The wheels skidded slightly on the wet pavement, and we found ourselves under a pool of light. The streetlamp illuminated a bloody smear on the glass and the windshield wipers swooped, spreading the stain.
We hadn’t even turned off of Calle Ocho, but it was late and rainy and there was no one behind us, so my brother got out of the car. Noah followed right behind him.
The car was silent but my heartbeat roared in my ears. They were outside for less than a minute before the car doors creaked open again.
“It was a bird,” Noah said, slipping into the backseat beside me. He laced his fingers between mine, and I began to calm down.
“A crow,” my brother clarified. He sounded drained and guilty.
Sophie reached over and put her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.
My brother just sat there, idling in the lane. He shook his head. “I’ve never hit anything in my whole—”
His sentence was cut off by another soft thump, this time on the roof.
This time, the car wasn’t moving.
“What the—” Daniel started.
But before he could finish his sentence, the thump was followed by dozens more. And not just on our car but also on the road, on the parked cars that lined the street.
We were shocked into silence as a murder of crows fell from the sky.
AFTER WE DROPPED SOPHIE OFF, DANIEL AND Noah exchanged theories on the way home. The storm. Disease. There were a bunch of scientific possibilities, but a feeling gnawed at me.
A feeling that it was something else.
Seconds seemed like lifetimes as I waited for Noah to come to my room that night. I stared at the clock on my nightstand, but the hours passed and he didn’t show. He didn’t tell me he would, but I assumed it.
Maybe I assumed wrong.
Maybe he fell asleep?
I threw off the blanket and slipped out of my room. The guest room was on the other side of the house, but I was confident I could silently make my way over and see if he was still awake. Just to check.
I stood outside the guest room door and listened. No sound. I pushed it open a crack.
“Yes?” Noah’s voice. Wide-awake.
I opened the door the rest of the way. A small lamp was on a circular accent table in the corner of the room, but Noah was painted in shadow. He was still dressed and he was reading, his face entirely obscured by a book. He lowered it just enough to reveal his eyes.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” I said again.
Noah lowered his book farther. “Is everything all right?”
I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. “I just came to say good night.”
“Good night,” he said, and returned to the book.
I had no idea what was going on, but I didn’t like it. I half-twisted toward the door, then stopped. Glanced back at Noah.
He arched an eyebrow. “What?”
I’m just going to say it. “I’m just going to say it.”
“I thought you were coming to my room.”
Well, that stung. I reached for the door.
Noah sighed. “I can’t, Mara.”
Noah set down the book he was reading and crossed the room. He stopped next to me but stared out the window. I followed his eyes.
I could see the ridiculously long hallway that led to my bedroom from here, and the three sets of French doors that spanned its length. The hall light was on, which made it nearly impossible to see anything outside. But if someone went inside, Noah wouldn’t miss it.
Was that why he didn’t come? “You can keep an eye out on my room from my bed too, you know,” I said.
Noah lifted his hand to my cheek; I wasn’t expecting it and my breath hitched. He then ran his thumb over my skin and under my jaw, tilting my face up, drawing my eyes to his.
“Your mother trusts me,” he said quietly.
A mischievous grin curved my mouth. “Exactly.”
“No, Mara, she trusts me. If I’m caught in your bed, I won’t be allowed to be here. Not like this. And I have to be here.”
I tensed, remembering words I said to him not even a week ago, before I knew that Jude was alive. Back when I was only afraid of myself.
“I want a boyfriend, not a babysitter.”
The circumstances had changed, but the sentiment hadn’t. “You don’t have to be here,” I said. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”