She smiles and it is empty and it freezes my blood because I’ve seen that smile on myself.
In the morning, she remembers nothing.
It is March 29th.
I couldn’t breathe when I read the date. March 29th is today.
I WAS A SEETHING CAULDRON OF THOUGHTS, NONE OF which I could process before I heard Daniel calling my name.
I rushed to put the notebook back where I found it and slipped out of the guest bedroom and into the kitchen. Daniel was twirling his keys.
“We’re going out,” he said.
I glanced at the hallway. “I don’t really feel like—”
“Like staying home. Trust me.” Daniel flashed a cryptic smile. “You’ll thank me later.”
I doubted that. I needed to sit still, by myself, and just think. About what I would say to Noah when I finally saw him. What I would tell him after what I read.
The entries about me were one thing. Noah wrote them for me, meant for me to see them, someday.
But the rest. The rest was his. His. I felt sick.
“I got you out of seeing that awful-looking movie with Mom and Joseph. Come on,” Daniel said with an exaggerated arm-wave. “COME ON.”
He was relentless so I followed him sulkily into the car. “Where are we going?” I asked, trying to sound casual. Trying to sound okay.
“We are going out for your birthday.”
“Hate to break it to you, but you’re a little late.”
He stroked his chin. “Yes, yes, I see how it may seem that way from your unenlightened perspective. But in fact, seeing as how your technical birthday resulted in what we shall henceforth call your ‘Dark Period’, it was discussed and then agreed that you should have a do-over.”
I shot him a sidelong glance as he turned onto the highway. “Discussed and agreed by . . .?”
“By everyone. Everyone in the whole world. There is no other topic of discussion other than Mara Dyer, didn’t you get the memo?”
I sighed. “You’re not going to tell me where we’re going, are you?”
Daniel mimed zipping his lips.
“Right,” I said. It was hard not to smile, even though I wasn’t in the mood. My brother was trying to make me happy. It was my fault that I was miserable, not his.
We eventually stopped at a marina, which, obviously, I did not expect. I got out of the car, my feet crunching on the gravel, but Daniel stayed put. I looped around to his window and he rolled it down.
“This is where I leave you,” he said with a salute.
I glanced back at the entrance. The sky was beginning to change, and silver-pink clouds appeared low over the tall masts. No one was there. “Am I supposed to do anything?”
“All shall be revealed in time.”
There was a plan, clearly, a plan that likely involved Noah, which made me want to smile and cry at the same time. “Does Mom know?” was all I asked.
“Sort of . . . not really.”
“It’s worth it, you deserve this. Hey, look behind you!”
I turned. A man in a nautical-ish uniform was walking from a long dock into the parking lot, a garment bag draped over his arms. When I looked back at Daniel, he’d rolled up his window. He winked through it and waved.
A lump formed in my throat as I waved back. I didn’t deserve him.
The uniformed man spoke. “If you would be so kind as to come with me, Miss Dyer, I’ll bring you to the boat.”
I smiled, but it didn’t reach my eyes. I thought Noah would catch me reading his journal, maybe. He’d get angry. We’d fight. I’d explain, we’d make up, we’d move on.
But now as I walked toward what was sure to be a grand gesture of the grandest sort, it was polluted by my betrayal. I had to tell him; the longer I waited, the worse it would be.
The man introduced himself as Ron and led me toward the end of the dock. The air smelled of brine and seaweed and water lapped beneath our heavy steps. We finally came to a stop before a sleek, stunning boat. I was helped up the steps and asked to take off my shoes; the blond wood deck gleamed beneath my bare feet, shining and spotless.
Once we were on board, Ron turned to me and asked if I’d like anything to drink. I said I was fine, even though I wasn’t.
A flurry of activity began behind me. Knots were being untied and it looked like we were getting ready to leave.
“Where are we going?” I asked him.
“It won’t be a long trip,” he said with a smile. I looked at the sky; it was nearly sunset now, and I wondered when Noah would appear.
Ron handed me the garment bag. “I’ve been instructed to tell you that you don’t need to change, but that this was made for you if you’d like to wear it. Either way, it’s yours to keep.”
Something fluttered in my chest and in my mind as I took the bag from him gingerly.
“But if you’d like to, I can show you the cabin?”
I thanked him and he led me down a small, narrow half-staircase, half-ladder situation. We climbed down into an abbreviated hallway that sprouted off into a few separate rooms; a man in a chef’s hat worked in the galley, and we passed two bedrooms before he showed me into the third. I looked for Noah in all of them. He wasn’t there.
“Let me know if there’s anything you need,” he said.
He inclined his head and closed the door behind him, leaving me alone.
I could have been in a boutique hotel. Plush white bed linens adorned the bed that anchored the room, and twin swing-arm sconces flanked either side of the tufted leather headboard. There was a small bar built into the wall below a row of round windows. I spread the garment bag onto the bed and unzipped it.
A sliver of dark blue, almost black cloth peeked out, and when I lifted the strapless dress—the gown, really—out of the bag, the fabric felt like water beneath my fingers. It was extraordinary; so soft and perfect it didn’t feel real. I slipped on the dress, and looked in the mirrored wall.
It was like I was wearing night itself. The color made my skin look like cream; flawless, instead of just pale. The dress gently skimmed every curve as if it had been taught how by someone who knew every line and dip and arch of my frame. The act of wearing it was intimate, and my skin flooded with heat.
But most astonishing of all was that when I looked at my reflection, it seemed more familiar to me than it had in weeks.
When I finally tore my eyes away, I opened the closet to see if there were shoes. There weren’t. I searched in a few places I thought shoes might be, but I didn’t see a box.