“You can,” I said gently.
“No, but if I can’t, though . . . I mean, if I screw up, what if she calls the police?”
“Then you’d better not screw up.” I smiled.
“Don’t be such a dick,” Jamie said, but he was smiling too. Then he rang the bell. He looked ready to bolt at any second.
“Just a moment!” The three of us heard shuffling, and then a pair of doors swung open. A bespectacled elderly woman appeared, beaming at us. Well, not all of us.
“Oh my,” she said as she got a good look at me. “Oh, sweetheart, are you all right?”
I mustered up my most winning smile. It did not have the desired effect.
“Um, we’d like to book a room,” Jamie said quickly as the woman held her hand to her chest. Stella nudged him. “Two rooms. Three rooms,” he amended.
“Dear, what happened to you?” she asked me. “Do you need a doctor?”
“Um, no—We were just—Jamie,” I said through gritted teeth, still smiling awkwardly. “Do something.”
I could see the woman’s confusion turn to nervousness and then to fear as she looked from me to the others. “Three rooms, you say?” Her voice wobbled slightly. “You know, I think I have just the ones for you. I’ll just run and do a quick check and make sure they’re ready. It’s been a while since we’ve had anyone up in the suites. Won’t be but a minute.”
“There’s no need to check,” Jamie said suddenly. His voice wasn’t loud, but it still felt like it was the only sound in the room. “The suites will be perfect. What floor are they on?”
“Third,” the woman said, blinking at him. “Third floor, rooms 311, 312 and 313.”
“Those will be perfect.”
The woman nodded, looking a bit dazed. “Yes. Perfect. I’ll just need your names?” She took out a guest book and a pen, and looked at Jamie expectantly.
Something came over Jamie then. He lifted his chin as he said, “Barney.” I cocked my head to the side. “Rubble.”
Stella put her head in her hands.
“And this,” he said, a smile spreading across his lips as he sidled up to Stella, “is Betty.” He put his hand on her shoulder. She smiled weakly. “And this is our daughter.” Jamie placed a hand on my head. “Bamm-Bamm.” I stepped on his foot.
“Ow,” he said through a clenched smile.
The woman clapped her hands together, clearly pleased. “What a lovely family you have, Mr. Rubble.” Her green eyes twinkled as she wrote our names in the guest book. “I’ll just need a credit card and one form of ID?” she asked Jamie.
“We already gave it to you,” Jamie replied.
“Oh yes!” she said, shaking her head. “You already gave it to me. Of course you did. Forgive me. The old brain’s not what it used to be. And how long is it that you’ll be staying?”
Jamie looked at me. I shrugged.
“Indefinitely,” he said, flashing a dazzling smile at her.
The woman handed him three keys. He handed one to Stella, one to me, and pocketed the last for himself.
“One last thing, Mrs.—”
“Beaufain,” the woman answered.
“Mrs. Beaufain, are there any security cameras on the premises?”
“I’m afraid not,” she said. “We had some once, right by the entrance, but they broke, and my son’s not out here often enough to help me fix them, so I just let it go already. Life’s too short.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” Jamie said, and thanked her.
Stella and I began to head up the stairs. “I’ll catch up with you in a minute,” Jamie said, looking shaky and gray.
“I’m—I don’t know. Mrs. Beaufain, is there a bathroom down—downstairs?”
She shook her head. “Just in the rooms, Mr. Rubble.” It was a testament to Jamie’s amazingness that she said it with a straight face.
Jamie nodded and turned on his heel. We watched him push open the glass door and heave into a hedge out front.
“Ugh,” Stella said. “You think he’s okay?”
“Should we wait for him?” I asked. As the words left my mouth, I felt a prickle of awareness, like I was being watched. I glanced at Stella.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing.” I peered behind us. My skin was still crawling; it felt tight, stretched over my bones. Even when Jamie appeared, looking normal and healthy under the circumstances, I couldn’t shake the sense that something was deeply wrong.
“You look weird,” Jamie said, as we headed up the stairs. “You okay?”
I shook my head but said nothing. I didn’t know what to say.
We unlocked the doors to our rooms, but congregated in one for a powwow about what just happened. Jamie and Stella did most of the talking. My tongue felt thick in my head even as my thoughts raced. I couldn’t focus on what had happened—I was thinking about what would have to happen next.
I crossed the room and looked at Noah’s bag. My fingers unzipped it before I realized what they were doing. And then my hands settled on something familiar. The textured cover, the spiral binding—I pulled out my sketchbook. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen it.
I heard Jamie say my name, but I ignored him as I opened it. My heart turned over when I saw the pictures of Noah that I’d drawn at Croyden. In every stroke of the pencil, every smudge of charcoal, there was a sense of cautious happiness, of restrained excitement. It felt like someone else had drawn those pictures. It felt like another life.
I moved through them quickly without knowing why, but then, when I turned the next page, I stopped.
I was staring at a picture drawn in negative space. The entire page was black, except for the figure at the center of it. It was unmistakably Noah, etched out in white; his messy hair, his sleeping face. His eyelids were closed, and I thought I’d drawn him sleeping until I looked at his chest.
His ribs were cracked and open. They pierced his skin and exposed his heart.
Time stretched and flowed around me. The world rushed by me, but I stayed still. I didn’t know if I was awake or dreaming until Noah appeared and took my hand.
He led me out of the room, out of the bed-and-breakfast. When he opened the door for me and I stepped through, we were in New York. We walked hand in hand down a crowded street in the middle of the day. I was in no rush—I could walk with him forever—but Noah was. He pulled me alongside him, strong and determined and not smiling. Not today.