I want to close my eyes at night and never be afraid that I’ll open them up and see Jude.
I want to wake up in the morning safe in my bed and never worry that I’ve been anywhere else.
“I don’t know,” I said out loud, and my voice had this awful, desperate tinge. “I’m afraid—I’m afraid I’m losing control.”
I’m afraid I’m losing myself.
The idea was a splinter in my mind. Always there, always stinging, even when I wasn’t conscious of it. Even when I wasn’t thinking about it.
Noah held my gaze. “I won’t let that happen.”
“You can’t stop it,” I said, my throat tightening. “All you can do is watch.”
It was a few seconds before Noah finally spoke. “I have been, Mara.” His voice was aggressively blank.
My eyes filled with infuriating tears. “What do you see?” I asked him.
I knew what I saw when I looked at myself: A stranger. Terrified, terrorized, and weak. Was that what he saw too?
I drew myself up. “Tell me,” I said, my voice edged with steel. “Tell me what you see. Because I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t or what’s new or different and I can’t trust myself, but I trust you.”
Noah closed his eyes. “Mara.”
“You know what?” I said, crossing my arms over my chest, holding myself together. “Don’t tell me, because I might not remember. Write it down, and then maybe someday, if I ever get better, let me read it. Otherwise I’ll change a little bit every day and never know who I was until after I’m gone.”
Noah’s eyes were still closed and the planes of his face were smooth, but I noticed that his hands had curled into fists. “You cannot fathom how much I hate not being able to help you.”
And he couldn’t fathom how much I hated needing help. Noah said before that I wasn’t broken but I was, and he was learning that he couldn’t fix me. But I didn’t want to be the injured bird who needed healing, the sick girl who needed sympathy. Noah was different like me but he wasn’t broken like me. He was never sick or scared. He was strong. Always in control. And even though he’d seen the worst of me, he wasn’t afraid of me.
I wished I wasn’t afraid of myself. I wanted to feel something else.
Noah stood beside his bed, his body taut with tension.
I wanted to feel in control. I wanted to feel him.
“Kiss me,” I said. My voice was sure.
Noah’s eyes opened, but he didn’t move. He was considering me. Trying to gauge whether or not I meant it. He didn’t want to push me before I was ready.
So I had to show him that I was.
I pulled him fiercely into his soft bed and he did not protest. I rolled beneath him and he braced himself above me and his arms were a perfect cage.
We were forehead to forehead. From this angle, it was impossible to ignore the length of his lashes, the way they skimmed his cheekbones when he blinked. It was impossible to ignore the shape of his mouth, the curve of his lips when he said my name.
It was impossible not to want to taste them.
I arched my neck and my hips and stretched my body up toward his. But Noah placed one hand on my waist and very gently pushed me back down.
“Slowly,” he said. The word sent a thrill through every nerve.
Noah leaned down slightly, just slightly, and let his lips brush my neck. My pulse raced at the contact. Noah drew back.
He could hear it, I remembered. Every heartbeat. The way my breathing changed or didn’t. He thought my heart was pounding with fear, not desire.
I had to show him he was wrong.
I arched my neck off of the pillow and angled my lips toward his ear and whispered, “Keep going.”
To my complete shock, he did.
Noah traced the line of my jaw with his mouth. He was braced above me and touched me nowhere else. Then he hooked one finger under the collar of my T-shirt and pulled it down into a slight V, exposing a triangle of skin. He kissed the hollow at the base of my throat. Then lower. Once.
I was spinning. Pinned to his mattress by the space between us but I was desperate to close it—desperate to feel his mouth on mine.
“No,” he whispered against my skin.
His mouth made me ache, sweet and furious. It was impossible to keep still, but when my body instinctively curved toward his, he drew away.
“Now?” I breathed.
“Not yet.” His lips found my skin again, this time beneath my ear.
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly take any more, Noah lowered his mouth to the curve of my shoulder, and his teeth grazed my skin.
I was ignited, on fire, flooded with heat and ready to beg.
I thought I saw the smallest hint of a half-smile on his mouth, but it was gone before I could be sure. Because Noah’s gaze dropped from my eyes to my mouth, and then his lips brushed mine.
The kiss was so light I wouldn’t have believed it happened if I hadn’t watched. His lips were cloud soft and I wanted to feel them more. Harder. Fiercer. I ran my fingers through his perfect hair and wrapped my arms around his neck. Locked them there. Locked him in.
But then he unbound them. Pulled away and kneeled back until he was at the foot of the bed. “I’m still here.”
“I know,” I said, frustrated and breathless.
A smile lifted the corner of his mouth, lazy and sublime. “Then why do you look so angry?”
“Because,” I started. “Because you’re always in control.”
And I’m not. Not around you.
I felt and probably looked like a wild thing while Noah kneeled there like an arrogant prince. Like the world was his, should he choose to reach out and take it.
“You’re so calm,” I said out loud. “It’s like you don’t need it.” Need me, I didn’t say. But I could tell by the way his delinquent smile softened that he knew what I meant.
Noah moved forward, toward me, next to me then, the slender muscles in his arms flexing with the movement. “I’m not sure you can appreciate how much I want to lay you out before me and make you scream my name.”
My mouth fell open.
So why won’t you? I wanted to ask. “Why don’t you?”
Noah lifted a hand to the nape of my neck. Trailed one finger down my spine, which straightened at his touch. “Because part of you is still afraid. And I don’t want you to feel that. Not then.”
I wanted to argue that I wasn’t afraid anymore. That we kissed and he was still here and so maybe I did dream that he almost died, maybe it wasn’t real. But I couldn’t say any of those things, because I didn’t believe them.