I smiled again, but Noah didn’t. I didn’t know what had changed or why, but I needed to. Even if I might not like the answer. “What happened?” I asked him.
He lifted my hand, my wrist, and held it out in answer.
“They think I tried to kill myself,” I said.
Noah closed his eyes. For the first time ever, he looked like he was in pain.
“Do you?” I asked him.
The muscles in his throat worked. “No,” he said. “I saw—I saw everything. I saw Jude.”
When he opened his eyes, his expression was vacant again. A smooth, unreadable mask. I was reminded of a different conversation we shared under very different circumstances:
“And what if something happens and you’re not there?” I had asked him, miserable and guilty and horrified after we returned from the zoo.
“I’ll be there,” Noah had said, his voice clear and sure.
“But what if you’re not?”
“Then it would be my fault.”
Was that what this was? I looked up at him now and shook my head. “It’s not your fault.”
“Actually,” he said with unparalleled bitterness, “it is.”
But before Noah could say anything else, a counselor interrupted us, and we were ushered away.
WE HAD NO TIME ALONE THE rest of the day. Noah was shuttled from pointless thing to pointless thing with Adam, Stella, Megan and the other temporaries as I was left to endure more talk therapy and generally languish in solitude. I met a few permanents, who didn’t seem obviously disturbed. Not as bad as Phoebe, anyway, by a long shot.
When we finally sat down for dinner, I dropped down into a seat across from Noah. A few boys I didn’t know well shared the table, but they weren’t too close.
I was desperate to talk to him. I had so much I wanted to say.
He was so close, but too far away to touch. My fingertips ached with the need to feel him, solid and warm and real under my hands.
I said his name, but Noah gave a single shake of his head. I bit my lip. I could scream from frustration and I wanted to. I felt like I was drifting and needed him to tether me to the earth.
But then he scribbled something on a napkin with a crayon—he must have stolen it from the art studio they had here—and handed it to me.
I glanced up, then around, then down at the message as discreetly as I could.
Music studio. 1 a.m.
“But—” I whispered.
Trust me, Noah mouthed.
I wished the sunlight away as I finished dinner that evening across from a silent, unusually sullen Stella. She picked at her food and every now and then, her eyes would sweep the room. When I asked her what was wrong she excused herself, leaving me alone.
I couldn’t wait for night to fall and I gazed out the thick, distorted windows at every opportunity. The darkness nipped at the heels of the sunset, waiting to swallow it.
The sounds of silverware clinking against ceramic dishes died away as the sun sank below the horizon. Counselor Wayne came around with everyone’s evening meds in tiny little paper cups, just like in Miami.
Stella swallowed hers in front of me, her white T-shirt riding up slightly with the movement. I glanced up and saw Jamie, who downed the contents of his makeshift shot glass too. His Adam’s apple bobbed, and Wayne moved on.
Then it was my turn. There were two additional pills inside my cup today. Oval and blue.
“You know the drill, Mara,” Wayne said.
I did. But I couldn’t have been more unenthused about taking them. What if they made me tired? My eyes flicked up, trying to find Noah in the small sea of faces in the dining room. He wasn’t there.
“Mara,” Wayne said, warmly but with a touch of impatience.
Damn it. I took the cup in my hands and swallowed the pills, chasing them with a gulp of water.
“Open,” he said.
I opened my mouth and showed him my tongue.
Wayne smiled and moved on to the next person. I grudgingly stood and brought my dishes over to the counter, then followed the line of girls walking down the hallway to their respective rooms. I grabbed my little tote with my shampoo and soap in it, helpfully packed by my mother as if she’d sent me off to summer camp, and headed to the girls’ bathroom for a shower. There were stalls, thankfully, but we had to avail ourselves of the spa-like bathroom in groups or pairs. My other half was Phoebe, of course. At that point, I was too used to my life sucking to care.
When I finished, my limbs felt weak with exhaustion and I almost dropped my towel before slipping on my robe. I managed not to embarrass myself, barely, then followed Phoebe’s stupid steps out of the bathroom and back down the hall. She opened the door to our unadorned white room, occupied by a pair of identical white twin beds. Phoebe sat on one at the far end of the room, leaving me the bed closest to the door.
Phoebe was quiet. She hadn’t said anything to me all day, in fact, and I counted myself fortunate. She watched me for a minute, then stood and turned out the main light while I rummaged in my recently-filled dresser for something to wear to bed, even though I had no plans to sleep. I shot her an annoyed look, which she either didn’t notice or ignored. Then she slipped under her covers and I changed and slipped under mine.
Each room had a schoolhouse clock positioned on the wall between both of the beds. Ours read ten o’clock, then ten thirty, then eleven. The seconds ticked away as I listened to Phoebe snore.
Then, in the darkness, two words:
A harsh, female voice reached into my brain. I wanted to stab it.
My eyes opened slowly. Phoebe hovered near my bed. I started to sit up, but was surprised to find I was already sitting.
I was more surprised to find that my feet were on the floor, the slick tile surface cool beneath them.
“You were getting out of bed,” Phoebe said mechanically.
“What?” My voice was thick with sleep.
“You woke up,” she said to me. “You were going to get out of bed.”
I rested my forehead in one hand. My eyes traveled to the clock.
Four a.m. I missed it. Missed Noah. I was too late.
“Want to get some water?” Phoebe asked.
My throat was sour, my mouth and tongue coated with film. I nodded, not quite sure why Phoebe was being so uncharacteristically nice but not really with it enough to ask. I stood on unsteady feet and followed Phoebe out into the dimly lit hallway. We made our way soundlessly to the bathroom, passing Barney who was now at his console desk.
“We’re going to the bathroom,” Phoebe announced. He nodded at us, smiled, and returned to his book. Silence of the Lambs.