I woke up in the kitchen, facing the dark window above the sink. Noah was next to me. I had sleepwalked again but I was flooded with relief as I glanced at his chest—it was very much whole, and he was very much alive.
The nightmare wasn’t real. Noah was all right.
But when I looked up at his eyes, they were desolate. Hopeless. It was the expression he wore in my dream, before he gave me his heart.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, panicked.
“Nothing,” he said, and his hand found mine. “Come back to bed.”
Noah woke me a few hours later and urged me into my own bed before the rest of the house woke up. I left because I had to but I was unsettled and didn’t want to be alone.
I felt sick. My muscles were tight and sore and my vertebrae crackled when I stretched my neck. My skin felt hot and the brush of my clothes against my skin seared my flesh. I felt wrong, like someone had poured me into a different body overnight.
What was happening to me?
I walked into my bathroom and turned on the light. I was shocked by what I saw.
Looking at myself in the mirror was like looking at a picture of myself in the future, like I had aged a year in an hour—I was still me, but not quite the same. The curves of my cheeks seemed hollow, and my eyes looked hollow too.
Was I the only one who could see it?
Did Noah see it?
“All you can do is watch,” I had said to him, in his bed but lying alone.
“I have been, Mara.”
If that was true then he had to see me changing, and whatever he saw I had to know. Noah seemed so haunted when I woke up in the kitchen: I’d sleepwalked before, but he never looked at me that way before. . . .
I was profoundly uneasy. I climbed back into bed, but it was a long time before I finally fell asleep.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” my mother called, her face peeking out from behind my door. “It’s almost noon.”
My eyes felt like they were pasted shut. I pushed myself up on my elbows and groaned.
“You feeling okay?”
I nodded. “Just tired.”
“You want to go back to bed?”
I did, but I shouldn’t. “No, I’ll be out soon.”
“Should I make you some lunch? Breakfast, I mean?”
I wasn’t really hungry, but knew I should eat anyway. “Thanks.”
My mother smiled, then left. I stood slowly and leaned against my dresser, arching my back.
I kept seeing Noah in my mind. The way he looked last night, in the kitchen and in my dream. Something was really wrong. We needed to talk because I couldn’t make sense of it by myself—the dream, the pendants, my grandmother, the picture. I was falling apart, and all my pieces were scattering to the wind.
When I dressed and made my way to the kitchen, Joseph was eating a sandwich, but aside from my mother, he was the only one.
“Where’s—everyone?” I asked. Didn’t want to be too obvious.
“Dad’s playing golf,” Joseph said between bites.
“Daniel went to hear Sophie rehearse for a recital she has in a couple of weeks.”
Except neither of them mentioned Noah. I sat down at the table and poured myself some juice. I glanced at the phone. I’d call.
“Noah went to pick something up at his house,” my mother said, a smile in her voice. “He’ll be back later.”
So I was that obvious. Excellent.
“Thanks,” I said.
“What do you want to do today?” she asked me.
“Horseback riding,” Joseph answered, mid-bite.
“I’m not sure I’d even know where to go for that.”
“Noah does,” Joseph said. “He knows everything.”
“I see we have a bit of hero worship happening here.” My mother handed me a plate of toast as she shot Joseph a knowing look. “I think maybe we should let Noah have some space today and do what he wants to do. Why don’t we see a movie?”
My brother sighed. “Which one?”
“Whichever one you like—”
Joseph flashed a mischievous smile
“That’s rated no higher than PG-13.”
His expression fell. Then brightened again. “What about Aftermath?”
My mother squinted. “Is that the one about the plague?”
Joseph nodded vehemently.
My mother looked at me. “Okay with you?”
I didn’t particularly want to go anywhere. In fact, I could think of nothing I’d rather do than have the house to myself for a while. Maybe try to read more New Theories, or research the pendant symbols, the feather—something.
But my mom would never agree to leave me alone, and if I said I didn’t want to go out, she might wonder why. And wondering would lead to worrying, which would only make her less likely to release me from captivity anytime soon. So I assented. I could make Joseph happy, at least.
The movie didn’t start for over an hour, so I found myself with time to kill. I nearly called Noah to ask him about last night, but my mother was right. He deserved some space.
Which is why my insides squirmed with guilt when I found myself standing in the doorway of the guest room. I didn’t know what I was looking for until my eyes found it.
I didn’t touch his things. I didn’t dig through his black nylon bag. The room was as neat as if it had never been slept in, as if no one had ever been inside. Everything of his had been carefully put away. But just before I turned to leave, I noticed the corner of something peeking out from the crack between the wall and the bed.
Noah didn’t take notes.
I took a step into the room. Maybe it wasn’t his. Maybe Daniel or Joseph had left it there and forgotten, or maybe it belonged to one of their friends? I could look at the first page. Just to check.
No. I marched out of the room and picked up the phone to call Noah. I’d ask if it was his and if it was he’d know that I found it but didn’t betray his trust by looking inside.
This was my inner monologue as I dialed his number, as his phone continued to ring. Eventually, I heard a click, but it was only his voice mail. He didn’t pick up.
Within moments, I found myself back in the room.
The notebook probably wasn’t even his. I’d never seen him with one, ever, and anyway, there was no reason for him to bring one to my house. On spring break, no less. I would just flip through it to see whose it was; I wouldn’t read whatever was inside.
A Gollum/Sméagol conundrum. Would evil or good prevail?