“Not yet. We’re supposed to dress up as the person we most admire and write a speech from their point of view for school.”
“And you are . . .”
“I didn’t know he was partial to pocket squares.”
“He isn’t.” Daniel appeared from the kitchen, his fingers wrapped around a very thick book, the title of which I couldn’t read. “That was Joseph’s special touch.”
“Wait, isn’t it Sunday?” I asked.
Daniel nodded. “It is. But even with the entirety of spring break to practice, our little brother doesn’t appear to want to wear anything else.”
Joseph lifted his chin. “I like it.”
“I like it too,” I said, and ruffled his hair before he ducked away.
Daniel grinned at me. “Glad to have you back, little sister.” His eyes were warm, and I’d never felt happier to be home. He ran a hand through his thick hair, creating a gravity-defying mess. I cocked my head—the gesture was unusual for him. It was more reminiscent of—
Noah glided out of the kitchen before I could finish my thought, holding his own massive book. “You’re completely wrong about Bakhtin—” he started, then looked from my parents, to me, to Daniel, and then back to me.
Scratch that. I’d never felt happier to be home until now.
“Mara,” Noah said casually. “Good to see you.”
Good did not do my feelings justice. All I wanted was to pull Noah into my room and pour out my heart. But we were under observation, so all I could say was, “You too.”
“Mr. Dyer,” he said to my father, “you’re looking quite well.”
“Thank you, Noah,” my Dad said. “That gift basket you brought kept me from starving. The hospital food nearly killed me.”
Noah’s eyes met mine before he answered, “Then I’m thrilled to have saved your life.”
NOAH SPOKE TO MY FATHER, BUT HIS WORDS were meant for me.
An unsubtle reminder of what he did for me after what I did to my father, and it stung. Everyone kept talking but I stopped listening, until my mother pulled me aside.
“Mara, can I speak to you for a second?”
I cleared my throat. “Sure.”
“You guys figure out what you want for dinner,” she called out, then led me down the long hallway into my room.
We walked by our own smiling faces on the wall, past the gallery of family pictures. When I passed my grandmother’s portrait, I couldn’t help but look at it with new eyes.
“I want to talk to you about Noah,” my mother said once we were in my room.
Stay cool. “What’s up?” I asked, and slid onto my bed until my back leaned against the navy wall. Despite everything, I felt oddly relaxed in my room. More like myself in the dark.
“He’s been spending a lot of time here, which I know you know, but also after you were—gone.”
Gone. So that’s how we were going to refer to it.
“Noah’s become one of Daniel’s close friends, and he’s great with Joseph, too, actually, but I also know you’re . . . together . . . and I have some concerns.”
She wasn’t the only one. Noah came to the hospital today because he knew about Jude. He knew I was in trouble. He came because I needed him.
But was he there because he wanted to be? I didn’t know yet, and part of me was afraid to find out.
“I’m nervous,” my mother continued. “With all of the pressure you’re already under—I’d like to speak to Noah about your . . . situation.”
My face flushed with color. Couldn’t be helped.
“I wanted to ask your permission.”
A conundrum. If I said no, she might not let me see him. He was the only person on the planet who knew the truth, so being cut off from that—from him—was not an uplifting prospect. And if she didn’t let me see him, and he still wanted to see me after we had the chance to actually talk, sneaking around would be tough.
But my mother talking to Noah? About my precarious mental health? I could almost feel myself shrinking.
My fingers curled into my fluffy white quilt but I don’t think she noticed. “I guess,” I finally said.
My mother nodded. “We all like him, Mara. I just want to set some parameters for you both.”
“Sure . . .” My voice trailed off as my mother left and I waited in near-agony. Words like “schizotypal disorder” and “antipsychotics” would surely come up. Any sane boy would surely run.
But after a few minutes, I realized that I could still hear my mother’s voice—were they talking in Joseph’s room? It was only two rooms away. . . .
I stood, and leaned out of my doorway and into the hall to listen.
“Are you sure about this?”
Not my mother’s voice. My father’s.
“I’d rather them both be here where we can watch them; his parents are in and out all next week, and there’s no supervision there anyway—”
My mother wasn’t talking to Noah—she was talking to my father, about Noah. I edged out farther into the hall and slipped into my brothers’ bathroom—right next door to Joseph’s room—so I could eavesdrop properly.
“What if they break up, Indi?”
“We have bigger problems,” my mother said bitterly.
“I just don’t like thinking about what something like that would do to her. Mara’s really—she scares me sometimes,” Dad finished.
“You think she doesn’t scare me?”
Maybe I didn’t want to hear this conversation after all. In fact, I was becoming rather certain that I didn’t, but I appeared to be rooted to the spot.
My mother raised her voice. “After watching what my mother went through? This scares the hell out of me. I am terrified for her. My mother was mostly functional, thank God, but if we knew then what we know about mental illness now? Maybe I would’ve realized it was more serious before it was too late—”
“Maybe I could have gotten her the help she needed and she could have had a more fulfilling life—she was so alone, Marcus. I mostly thought she was eccentric, not delusional.”
“You couldn’t know,” my father said softly. “You were just a kid.”
“Not always. I wasn’t always a kid. I—” My mother’s voice cracked. “I was too close to see it—that there was something really wrong. And the one time I said something to her about talking to someone? She just—she just shifted. She was so much more careful around me after that; I wanted to think—I wanted to think she was getting better but I was too preoccupied with my own—in college, sometimes I went months without hearing from her, and I didn’t—”