Then Noah walked in. He ran his fingers through his still-wet hair and sat nowhere near me, his long legs languidly stretched out in front of him as he slouched in a too-small plastic chair. He didn’t say a word—to me, or anyone else. He seemed—different.
I studied him, trying to figure out why. He looked perfectly imperfect in destroyed jeans and a vintage T-shirt, his hair a beautiful mess above his unreadable face. Everything about him was the same, except—
His necklace. It was gone.
I rubbed my eyes. Noah was still there when I opened them.
Jamie acknowledged him. Barney did too. That normally would have been enough to convince me that he was real.
But when everyone tells you you’re crazy and no one believes you when you swear you aren’t, a small part of you will always wonder if they’re right.
So when Stella stood to get a drink, I stood with her. “Hey,” I said.
She brushed the hair back from her olive skin as she pulled the tap on the water cooler. “Hi.”
What is the appropriate way to ask someone if you’re hallucinating the appearance of your boyfriend in your glorified mental hospital?
“Do you see that guy over there?” I asked, nodding slightly at Noah, who had now crossed his arms behind his head.
Stella wound a curl around her finger as she looked back and forth, from him to me. “The hot one?”
That would be him, yes. “Yeah,” I said.
Her full lips split into a smile. “The really, really hot one?”
Indeed. I looked over at him, but he didn’t meet my eyes. “Yes.”
Stella looked, too. “Tall, with dark brown, perfect hair.” Someone said something to Noah, provoking an arrogant grin. “Unbelievable smile,” Stella said as he looked in our direction. “Blue eyes?”
“Yes,” I said, still staring at the inexpressibly gorgeous boy who told me he loved me a few days ago, and who didn’t acknowledge me now.
“Yeah, I see him,” Stella said, and took a sip of water. “I’m not sure I’d mind seeing more of him. Wait,” she said, cocking her head at me. “Do you know him?”
I considered my answer. Can you ever really know someone? “I don’t know,” I said.
She peered at me, then sat back down. I did too, still dazed. Jamie dropped down in the chair next to me and poked me in the arm.
“Ow,” I said, rubbing it.
“Oh, good, you’re alive. I was afraid I’d have to do CPR.” He cut his eyes at me. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were surprised by this development.”
It took a monumental effort to answer Jamie when I still couldn’t take my eyes off of Noah. I thought I wouldn’t see him for months. That I’d have to wait to tell him what Jude did and about Lukumi in my hospital room and about the footage from Claire’s camera that Jude had left for me.
But now Noah was here. I wouldn’t have to wait at all, and I could have cried with relief.
“Surprised,” I finally said. “Yes.”
“As if you didn’t know he was joining us on the island of misfit children?”
“What?” I tore my eyes from Noah and met Jamie’s. “I didn’t.”
“Right,” Jamie said. “They’re making me room with him, Mara. I hate you.”
“You think I did this?”
“Please.” Jamie shot me a withering look. “As if he could resist a damsel in distress.”
“I didn’t tell him to come,” I said, but I had never been happier to see him in my life. “And before you complain about your roommate, I was informed by Mr. Robins that I have to sleep in the same room as Phoebe.”
Jamie looked appropriately horrified.
“Yeah,” I said. I complained about it immediately, of course, but was told I’d have to take it up with Dr. Kells. And she wasn’t at the retreat today—she only came a few times a week, they told me, to supervise the residential staff. So until I saw her again, I was stuck.
Brooke clapped her hands. “All right, everyone back? Great! Well, it looks like we have another new member of the Horizons family, everybody! Let’s give a big welcome to Noah Shaw.”
“Hi, Noah,” everyone said in chorus.
“Noah’s here for the retreat this weekend, to see if it suits. Why don’t you tell everyone about yourself, Noah?”
“I was born in London,” he said with complete disinterest. “My parents moved here from England two years ago.”
My mouth parted.
“I don’t have a favorite color, though I strongly dislike yellow.”
“I play the guitar, love dogs, and hate Florida.”
And then Noah finally met my eyes. I was expecting a trademark half-smile, but when he looked at me his eyes were empty. My heart cracked.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Noah. Would you feel comfortable telling us why you’re here?”
He grinned, but there was no warmth in it. “I’ve been told that I have an anger management problem.”
Everyone shared their fake feelings for an hour, and then we broke for lunch. Noah caught up with me in the hallway. He looked down at me.
He looked broken.
“You’re a hard girl to get a hold of,” he said quietly.
I barked out a laugh, but Noah covered my mouth with a gentle hand.
My lids dropped at his touch. I could feel him. He was real.
All I wanted in the world was to hold him and be held. But when I lifted my hands to his waist he said, “Don’t.”
I blinked, and then I thought I might cry, and Noah must have seen it because he rushed to speak. “They don’t know we’re together. If they find out, they’ll take care to separate us and I won’t be able to bear that.”
I nodded beneath his hand and he lifted it, looking over his shoulder. The hallway was clear, but who knew for how long?
“How did you get in?” I asked.
The ghost of a smile touched his mouth. “It’s a long story that involves copious quantities of alcohol and Lolita.”
My brows knitted in confusion. “The book?”
He made me smile, despite everything. “Do I even want to know?”
“Probably not,” he said tonelessly. He avoided my eyes.
Something was wrong. I wanted to ask what it was, but I was nervous so I asked where his necklace was instead.
Noah sighed. “I had to take it off during that delightful near-strip search they offer here. Hermencia quite enjoyed it, I think. I’ll be sending her a bill.”