“Prove it,” Noah shot back.
“I can prove it.”
“All right,” I said, “this rivalry is getting a little intense. Yes, Noah, I’m hungry.”
“Then if you’ll pardon me, nemesis,” he said to Joseph. “We will rematch another day.”
“You’ll still lose.”
The corner of Noah’s mouth lifted as he walked to the kitchen. I joined him and watched him rummage in the refrigerator.
“Fancy a . . . cucumber?” he said, holding one up.
“You’re not very good at this.”
“Right, then. Takeout it is.”
I looked behind us, toward the hallway. “Where’s my mother?”
Noah shook his head. “One of her friends picked her up for coffee, I think?”
“Out with Sophie. I’m responsible for everyone’s welfare until she returns.”
“God help us,” I said with a grin, but I was glad. I lowered my voice. “So last night—”
“Pizza!” Joseph called out.
“Must we?” Noah yelled back. He turned to face me. “What do you want?”
“Not pizza,” I agreed. “I feel kind of gross.”
“Gross. Indeed. Can you think of any food item in particular that would make you feel less gross?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know—soup?”
“Pea soup, perhaps?”
“I hate you.”
“But you make it so easy. Chinese?”
I shook my head and glanced out the window. I didn’t really care. I just wanted to talk.
“Never mind, you’re making this quite difficult. Joseph!” Noah called out.
“Where are Daniel and Sophie?”
“Avigdor’s!” my brother shouted.
Noah looked at me with raised eyebrows.
“Fine with me,” I said.
“What kind of food is it?” Noah asked.
“Do they have soup?”
“Sushi too!” Joseph yelled.
“Enough with the yelling!” I shouted, then sank into a kitchen chair. I put my head in my hands while Noah ordered and texted Daniel to bring the food home with him. Eventually, Joseph abandoned the video game and went to his room.
Leaving us alone. I opened my mouth to speak but Noah interrupted me before I could.
“What did you do at your place today?”
“We shared our fears. Listen, last night—”
“That sounds appropriately hellish.”
“I didn’t have to go, they split the group in half. It’s my turn tomorrow—”
“Daniel’s anxious to see it,” Noah said, interrupting me again. “He said he’s going to a family therapy thing in a few days? Should be delightful.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, no. Noah—are you staying tonight?”
“Actually, I’ve arranged for us to meet with your new guardian. Why?”
“I was going to suggest you sleep in my room, this time.”
Noah gave me a sly look. “Not that I’m necessarily opposed, but why?”
The words Jude was in my room congealed on my tongue. When I finally spoke them, my voice sounded different. Terrified. I hated it.
I hated that I was afraid of him. And I hated the way Noah tensed when he saw it.
So I swallowed hard. Then lightened my voice. “He left me a little present in my underwear drawer,” I said casually, working hard to fake it.
Noah’s eyes never left mine, but his frame relaxed just slightly. “Dare I ask?”
“The doll,” I explained. “He must have seen me throw it out.”
I shook my head. “He was probably watching creepily from some bushes or something.”
“Mara,” Noah said louder.
“The neighbor’s hedge is really tall,” I went on. “What is wrong with him?”
“It wasn’t Jude,” Noah said quietly.
“What wasn’t Jude?”
“The doll in your bedroom. He didn’t put it there.”
I blinked, not getting it. “Then who did?”
It felt like forever before Noah finally spoke.
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” MY VOICE was quiet. Shaky. “I threw it away.”
Noah nodded. “And then later you woke up and got out of bed. You didn’t say anything, so I assumed you left to get a drink or something, but given recent events, when you didn’t come back, I followed you. You left through the back door.”
Invisible fingers tightened around my throat. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“I thought you were awake,” Noah said, his voice measured and even. “I asked what you were doing and you said you made a mistake—that you threw away something you wanted to keep. You seemed completely with it; you walked outside and I watched you take the doll from the waste bin and bring it back inside. You went to your room and then nearly came back to bed when I suggested you wash your hands first. You laughed, you did, and then you came back to bed and promptly fell asleep. You don’t remember any of this?”
I shook my head because I wasn’t sure I could speak. Nothing like this had ever happened before; I had nightmares, sure, and I blacked out before, yes. But this was new.
Like my reflection in the mirror.
I swallowed hard. “Do I look different to you?”
Noah’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“This morning, after—after I found the doll in my drawer,” I said. After I put it there, I didn’t say. “I looked in the mirror and I feel like—like I look different.” I glanced up at Noah, wondering if he saw it, but he only shook his head. “Look again.”
Noah took my face in his hands then and drew me close. So close I could see flecks of navy and green and gold in his eyes as he studied mine. His stare was incisive. Piercing.
“Right?” I asked under my breath.
Noah said nothing.
Because I was right. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
His eyes narrowed until all I could see were slits of blue. “You don’t look different,” Noah said. “Just . . .”
“Just different.” I pulled away. I was frustrated. Anxious. I glanced in the direction of my bedroom, in the direction of the doll. “Something’s happening to me, Noah.”