I wanted to draw something else.
My fingers traced the fine, elegant bones in his face. “It’s okay.”
“It is not okay,” he snapped. “They had you committed. They sent you here because of what I told them.”
“Because of what Jude did.”
He laughed without humor. “Your mother said I couldn’t see you—that you had to deal with this as a family now, and that they were going to send you somewhere for proper help. I couldn’t comprehend it—that the last time I heard your voice for months, it would be riddled with terror as you begged for your life.” He closed his eyes. “And I wasn’t there.”
“You were at the hospital,” I said, brushing my thumb over his beautiful mouth. “Daniel said you didn’t leave.”
Noah opened his eyes but avoided mine. “I managed to see you, once.”
He gave a short nod. “You were unconscious. You were—they had you in restraints.” He said nothing for what seemed like a very long time.
We didn’t have enough of it. There was so much he still didn’t know.
“I saw Abel Lukumi,” I said.
Noah’s brows drew together. “What?”
“In the hospital. On the second day, I think. When I woke up—my mother told me why I was there and I . . .”
Freaked out. I freaked out, and they sedated me. “I tried to explain to her what happened, with Jude, but I—I lost it,” I said. “Before the drugs kicked in, I saw Lukumi by the hospital room door.”
Noah was silent.
“It wasn’t a hallucination,” I said firmly, because I was afraid he was thinking it. “You didn’t see him in the building, did you?”
“No” was all he said.
Of course not. I went on to tell Noah about everything else that happened that night—about finding the unmarked disc in my room, and what was on it. I told him about seeing Rachel, watching her through the lens of Claire’s video camera. Watching the asylum collapse.
I left out the part about hearing my laughter after it did.
When I finished, Noah said, “I should never have left you.” He shook his head. “I thought John would be enough.”
“You trusted him. He watched the house for days, and everything was fine.” I paused, then asked, “What happened?”
“He had a stroke. Just sitting there, in the car.”
I felt like I’d been bathed in ice. I tried not to sound as freaked out as I felt. “So did the officer.”
“When Jude—at the dock,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “At the marina, before I passed out—there was a man, an off-duty cop, who came to help when he saw me hurt. He tried to call for help but then Jude—”
Jude stabbed himself in the side.
I still couldn’t make sense of it—the images in my memory bled into one another, and the feelings, too. Terror and rage, fear and panic. So I described what happened on the dock to Noah—he had seen it, but from a different perspective. Maybe together, we could connect the points.
“There were dead fish under the dock,” I said to him as his eyes sharpened. “Just floating in the water.”
Like the Everglades, I thought, remembering Noah’s words. We had been trapped in the creek. I had to get to Joseph but couldn’t. There were only two choices: fight or flight, and I couldn’t flee. I was backed into a corner. So without thinking, my mind fought.
My fear killed everything in the water around us. Alligators. Fish. Everything. And I was afraid at the marina, too. I was terrified of Jude. He didn’t die, but in trying to kill him, did I kill everything around me too?
Did I kill the police officer? The one who tried to help?
My throat burned with the thought and my stomach twisted with guilt. But then I remembered—
John. He also died of a stroke. And I hadn’t even seen him that night. I might be responsible for the rest of it, but not him.
My mind churned, trying to work through it. I glanced up at Noah, wondering what he was thinking, so I asked.
“I wasn’t there,” he answered, with that same vacant look.
I moved toward him then. Slid my arms around his neck and drew him against me. Noah winced at the contact. I ignored it. Now that we were this close, I could see what I missed before.
Noah acted like he felt nothing because he felt everything. He seemed not to care because he cared too much.
I smiled against his lips. “You’re here now.”
NOAH’S VOICE SLICED THE AIR LIKE A RAZOR blade when he spoke. “I’m here because you’re alive, Mara. If he had killed you—”
“He didn’t,” I said, and the words lingered in my mouth. “He didn’t kill me,” I repeated, and edged my back up against the wall as the words transported me to the marina. I saw myself prone and bleeding on the dock.
I could not look away from the deepening gashes on my wrists.
But Jude knew. I could tell by the way he was staring at the cuts as he held my forearms, studying them. To make sure I bled, but not too much. He didn’t want to kill me. He wanted something else.
“Jude left me alive,” I said out loud. “On purpose. Why?”
Noah ran a hand over his shadowed jaw. “To live so he could torture you another day?” He smiled, and it was full of malice. “If only I’d had enough time in central holding to make friends.”
I looked up, surprised. “You were in jail?”
Noah shrugged, his shoulder moving against mine.
“When was this?”
“When I found out they were sending you here and there was nothing I could do. The situation demanded something . . .” Noah searched for the right word. “Outlandish. I had to convince my father that I would be an embarrassment to him—a public one—every second I couldn’t be with you.”
“Wait—was this after the Lolita incident?”
Noah gave a brief nod.
“Noah,” I said cautiously. “What did you do to that poor whale?”
He cracked a real smile, then. Finally. I wanted to make him smile like that for the rest of my life.
“She’s fine,” he said. “I only pushed someone into her tank.”
“A little bit, yes.”
I shook my head in mock disdain.
“He was encouraging his budding sociopath child to bang on the glass,” Noah said, his voice matter-of-fact.