When I arrived on the beach, Noah was flawless. Now his tie was loose, his cuffs were undone, sand and sea had ruined his five-thousand-dollar suit, and his hair had been ravaged by my hands. His gray sapphire eyes were blazing and his velvet lips were swollen from mine.
This was the boy I loved. A little bit messy. A little bit ruined. A beautiful disaster.
Just like me.
IT FELT LIKE THE WEIGHT OF MY WORLD DISSOLVED with that kiss.
It wasn’t feather-light, like the others. It was wild and dark. It was incredible.
And Noah was still here.
I wore the goofiest grin on the ride back to the marina; I couldn’t stop smiling and didn’t want to. After both of us had changed into our normal clothes and I returned his mother’s necklace so that it would stay safe, what we decided was this:
I was right. Something changed in me when we kissed.
But Noah was also right. I didn’t hurt him the way I was sure I would.
I didn’t know if it was because he was listening for something this time, for that change, maybe, or if it was because I really couldn’t hurt him, just like he said. I was thrilled that he was okay, obviously. Deliriously so. But it shook my confidence in my memory a little—I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, after all this, I had dreamed or imagined or hallucinated that first kiss in his bed. I told Noah as much, but he took my hands and looked into my eyes and told me to trust myself, and to trust my instincts, too. I tried to coax more out of him but then he kissed me again.
I could spend the rest of my life kissing him, I think.
I was buoyant the rest of the weekend. We had answered one question out of a thousand, but it was a happy answer. I wanted to believe that after everything I’d been through, I deserved it.
Noah seemed different, too. He told me he brokered a deal to buy the security tapes from the carnival people to resolve one way or another whether Roslyn Ferretti was bribed, and if so, by whom. He also wanted to fly to Providence and try to find out more than his investigator, to see if he could learn more about Jude himself. I was happy to let him go. Nothing had happened since John started watching the house, and I didn’t need to be attached to Noah every second. The fake fortune-teller’s words mattered less to me now that I knew I couldn’t hurt him, and so I in turn cared less about them. I didn’t feel afraid.
I felt free.
Noah’s hands lingered on my waist when he kissed me good-bye on Sunday night, and I smiled at the two charms that now hung around his neck. I loved that he was wearing mine for me.
My good mood was obvious to everyone, including my parents, apparently.
“We’re really proud of you, Mara,” my father said on the drive to Horizons on Monday morning. “Your mom and I were talking about the retreat this week and we decided that if you don’t want to go, you don’t have to.”
The Horizons retreat; part of the evaluation I was signed up for—to see if I would be better suited to the residential program than the outpatient one. I’d forgotten all about it, but I guess now it didn’t matter because I didn’t have to go.
I was shocked but thrilled by this development. “What brought this on?”
Dad shook his head. “We never wanted you to live somewhere else. We love having you home, kid. We just want you healthy and safe.”
A worthy goal. I had no protest.
The thing about happiness, though, is that it never lasts.
When I walked into Horizons I was handed a worksheet, which turned out to be a test. A sociopath test, if the questions were any indication. It was obvious which answer you were supposed to provide when prompted to choose—those tests always are—so I answered benignly, growing slightly uncomfortable about the fact that most of my real answers were not particularly nice.
Do you lie or manipulate others when it suits your needs or to get what you want?
Often. “Rarely,” I circled.
Do you feel that the rules of society don’t apply to you, and will you violate them to accomplish your goals?
Sometimes. “Never,” I chose.
Do you easily talk your way out of trouble without guilt?
Have you killed animals in the past?
Sometimes, I was loath to admit. “Never,” I chose.
And on it went, but I tried not to let it sour my mood. When I sat down for Group, I was able to maintain my golden bubble for a little while longer, even though everyone’s tiny miseries kept pressing up against it. I clenched my mouth against the snark and made sure my inner monologue stayed inner; I didn’t want anything to derail my Get Out of Inpatient Treatment Free pass.
Jamie looked like he was having as hard a time with all the sharing today as I was after one of Adam’s standard narcissistic diatribes, so when we broke for snack time I edged over.
“I hate that guy,” I said, grabbing a cookie.
“Yeah,” was all I got out of him, quite uncharacteristically. He filled a glass with water and sipped it very slowly.
I sat on the couch beside him. “Who died?” I asked.
There was a thin film of sweat on his forehead, which he wiped with the back of his sleeve. “Anna Greenly.”
“The very same.”
I stared at him for a beat, waiting for the punch line. Then realized there was none.
“Seriously?” I asked quietly.
“Careened off an overpass. Drunk.”
“I’m . . .” But I didn’t know what I was. I had no idea what to say. You say you’re sorry when someone loses a person they love. Not a person they hate.
“Yeah,” Jamie said, though I hadn’t said anything. He did not look well.
“You okay?” I asked softly.
He shrugged. “I have a stomach thing. Don’t get close.”
“Well, now you’ve spoiled everything,” I said casually, working hard to fake it. “I was planning to seduce you in the broom closet.” I pointed. “Right there.”
A joyless smile appeared on Jamie’s lips. “We are far too screwed-up for a goddamned love triangle.”
That’s my Jamie.
After a minute of silence, he said, “You know how every now and then there’s a news story about kids being bullied into suicide?”
“Someone always says, ‘Kids are mean.’ ‘Kids will be kids.’ Which implies that the kid bullies will grow out of it someday.” The muscles in his jaw tightened. His stare was unfocused and far away. “I don’t think they do. I think kid bullies turn into adult bullies and it pisses me off that I’m expected to feel sad because one of them is gone. Anna was like . . . like a social terrorist,” he said, staring at the floor. “Aiden too.” His nostrils flared. “I was in that cesspool of douchebaggery with them for seven years and there was a lot—whatever. Let’s just say beating the shit out of me and having me unjustly expelled from school wasn’t the worst of it.” A wave of something passed over his face but he said nothing else.