What if I was carrying one?
OUR NEXT STOP SHOULD’VE BEEN DC, but I made that difficult.
I couldn’t stand being in the car. I was sweating through my clothes, even though Jamie had made the air as cold as it would go. Every hour or so I got sick, and I didn’t always have control over it. Stella and Jamie took turns at the wheel so one of them could sit with me in the backseat.
It was a quiet drive—no one said anything about the night before, least of all me, but by some tacit agreement, Jamie stopped in the middle of the eight-hour drive to switch cars and hole up at another hotel, for my sake, no doubt. Jamie persuaded the owner of a convertible to lend it to us, thinking the air might make me feel less nauseous. After the owner tossed him the keys, Jamie threw up himself behind a bush.
He was getting more and more confident about using his ability, but I still caught him digging his nails into his palms sometimes, or biting his lip until it bled. Perversely, it made me feel better to see him struggle too. Like I was less of a freak among freaks. Maybe what we had was an illness, like Kells had said. Sometimes I caught Stella watching me nervously, like I might be contagious.
But Jamie never acted that way. We talked about it later that night, in my room in one of the motels we’d found clustered by the highway exit, while Stella went off in search of something more palatable than fast food.
“I think Stella’s a little scared of you,” he said, while I changed for bed in the bathroom.
“And you’re not?” I called out.
“Of you? You have the soul of a kitten.”
I popped my head out of the bathroom. “A kitten.”
“An assassin kitten.”
I laughed for the first time in I couldn’t remember how long. The thing about Jamie was that he didn’t seem disturbed enough, sometimes, by the things I’d done. He’d say they were fucked up the way he would point out that the sky was blue. Just a fact, like anything else. But the things I did never seemed to really bother him. I never seemed to bother him. In some ways it made him easier to talk to than even Noah.
“So, what are we going to do with you?” Jamie asked.
“In what sense?”
“In the sense that you go from zero to homicidal in sixty seconds.”
“You’re manic,” Jamie said.
“Promise to put me out of my misery before an alien erupts from my stomach?”
“No lie, I think Stella thinks that’s a thing that could actually happen. You scare the filling out of her doughnut.”
“I’m not pregnant. Not with an alien or anything else.”
Jamie quickly changed the subject. “You know, I’ve been thinking—”
“About your ability,” he said, ignoring me. “Have you ever tried to, like, make good shit happen?”
“Nothing.” I paused, wondering if I should ask something I’d been thinking about for a while. Oh, why not. “Do you ever think about Anna?”
“Nope,” Jamie said without hesitation, which is how I knew he was lying. But I understood why. Sometimes lies are easier to believe.
Jamie changed the subject. “It’s too bad you can’t just, like, will yourself to win the presidency.”
“Whatever. I just mean—if the stuff you imagine could actually happen, you could change the world.”
“I don’t think I’d want to be president.”
“Really?” Jamie looked incredulous. “God, I’d love it.”
“Someone has to be leader of the free world. It might as well be me.”
“And what would you do with your great power? It comes with great responsibility, you know.”
“New world order,” he said, grinning. “The freaks shall inherit the earth.”
“I don’t think that’s how democracy works.”
“Democracy is overrated.”
“Spoken like a true dictator. If only we could trade abilities.”
“I have an inappropriate amount of enthusiasm for that idea.”
“This whole conversation is inappropriate.” Which was probably why I was enjoying it.
Jamie frowned. “We need some music up in this joint.” He looked around. “Is that Noah’s laptop?”
I had opened his bag, as well as mine, and the computer was sticking out. “Yeah.”
“Have you . . . looked at it?”
I shook my head. “Password protected.”
“You can’t crack it?”
“Can I try?”
I shrugged. If I hadn’t had any luck, he probably wouldn’t either.
Less than five minutes later his eyes closed and his face fell. As I predicted.
“No, I got it,” he said. His voice was weird.
“Really?” I felt a nervous thrill in my stomach. “What was it?”
Jamie hesitated before he spoke. Then he said, “Marashaw.”
I couldn’t breathe. I dropped my head between my knees, but when Jamie put his arm around me I flinched.
I had not seen that coming. It was sweet, too sweet for Noah. If he were there, I’d make fun of him for it, tease him about doodling my would-be married name on his binder.
But he wasn’t there. I couldn’t tease him. Suddenly it was just too much. I reached for the laptop.
“Should I go?” Jamie asked. I nodded, not looking at him. I heard him leave the room.
My fingers trembled as I poked around in Noah’s files, looking for something, anything that might tell me where to find him, but nothing stood out. Finally I just started opening things at random. What I found made me wish I hadn’t.
It was in a folder labeled MAD:
Gather my leaves,
Twist them into crowns
Let me be the king of your forest
Climb on my branches,
I will seek out your hide
As you sleep beneath the shade
Of my giving tree
I held my breath as I read poem after poem that Noah had written for me—the old Velveteen Rabbit one, a new Lolita one, and even the terribly filthy Dr. Seuss one. My hands shook and my throat ached but I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. I felt angry instead. If he could have been with me, he would have been, which meant he couldn’t. I would make whoever kept him from me pay.
I turned on the bathtub faucet and closed the door, breathing in the steam as the tub filled with water, trying to calm myself down. I let myself imagine Noah in there with me as I undressed.