There’s a bathroom in here, thank God, and I escape into it and bolt the door behind me. I look at my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror, at my empty eyes, my blank face. Then they disappear and I see other things. The pale blue veins in Mara’s arm before I stuck the needle in it. Her closed eyelids, unnaturally still.
I want to cut myself into pieces no one can reassemble. Instead I take off my shirt, knowing, fearing what I’ll see.
There are stitches in my chest, as expected, and the wound is almost completely healed, as I’d feared.
I steal scissors from the medicine cabinet and cut the stitches out, wondering without much curiosity at all if I’ll have a scar. Hope so.
“Knock, knock.” Daniel’s voice, muffled, accompanied by tapping on the door. I step out of the bathroom as he says, “Everyone decent?”
Mara opens her eyes blearily, looking up at me from the bed. Her hair is a wild, tangled mess. I want to fill my hands with it.
“Who is it?” she asks.
“Your brother,” I say.
She’s up in an instant and launches herself out of bed, stubbing her toe in the process, swearing creatively as a result. She flings the door open and attacks him with a hug. Daniel staggers back, but his arms wrap around her just as tightly.
“I’m so sorry,” she says, her voice muffled. “So sorry.”
He backs up and holds her shoulders. “It’s not your fault.”
She’ll never believe you, I almost say. But this is not my moment.
Daniel looks at me anyway, as if he knows what I’m thinking. “Noah. Thank you.”
The words make me sick.
“For saving me and my sister.”
Except I didn’t save him, or his sister. If it weren’t for me, Daniel would never have been in danger. His father never would have moved their family to Florida. Mara never would have been at the asylum. Jude never would have hurt her—she’d never have met him. Everything that happened to them was because my father made it happen. I think about the times I promised to keep her and her family safe, when all the while she was in danger because of me. Just thinking about it makes me want to swallow a bullet.
I can’t say any of this to Daniel, obviously, for fear of sounding like a little bitch.
“So this is where the party is,” Jamie says as he sweeps into the room. “Guess what?”
Mara raises an eyebrow.
“We’ve got mail.”
He tosses something at me, and I catch it, wincing slightly. My full name is on the cream-colored envelope, otherwise unmarked. Jamie hands one to Mara, too.
“From?” she asks.
“Lukumi. Lenaurd. Whoever that dude is. There’s one for Stella, too, but . . .” He holds up his hands as if to say, What can you do?
“How do you know they’re from him?” Daniel asks.
Jamie holds up a larger manila envelope in his other hand. “It was addressed to ‘The Temporary Residents of 313 West End Avenue.’ That’s us,” he adds superfluously.
Mara pouts. “You opened it without me?”
“I thought you might be having sex.”
“You would have heard it.”
Their banter is intimate in a way. I’m not jealous, exactly, but I feel like a stranger, watching them play together. Left out. Cue violins.
“Who knows, you could’ve been at it for hours,” Jamie continues. “I wasn’t going to wait.”
All right, enough. “Please refrain from being a tool,” I say. “What’s in them?”
“I dunno.” Jamie shrugs. “I was supposed to wait to read mine till you had yours. Now you have them.” Jamie rips his open with a dramatic flourish. Mara begins to open hers.
Daniel frowns. “I feel so left out.”
“Count your blessings,” Mara says to him, with unusual seriousness.
“You can have mine, if you like,” I offer. Mara looks at me queerly. “What? I don’t care what it says.”
Her eyes narrow. “Can I read it, then?”
I hand it over. She opens it carefully and begins to read, but stops almost immediately. I can’t tell if she’s afraid or angry or upset; her expression is flat. Blank.
Christ. She looks like me.
She holds the letter out. “It’s for you.”
“Yes, I’m aware. I’m trying, vainly it seems, to communicate that I don’t want it.”
“Take it,” she says softly. “Please.”
Bloody hell. I feel Daniel’s eyes bounce back and forth between us.
“I’m . . . going to go make something to eat,” he says, backing slowly out of the room. “Come down if you’re hungry?”
Jamie waves at him without looking up. Mara says yes.
I finally, reluctantly take the letter from her. I owe her at least that.
There’s another envelope inside it, addressed to no one. Sealed. I unfold the note and begin to read.
Enclosed is a letter from your mother. I managed to find it before your father did. She left it in an old jewelry box she never used, along with her necklace, which you now wear. If you take it off, I will know of your decision.
I want to be strong enough not to read it, but I’m not. Of course I’m not.
Noah, my son,
I’m practically crying already. Jesus.
Most parents, when asked why they want to have children, say that they want to raise a child to be happy. To be healthy. To be wanted. To be loved.
That is not why I had you. I want more for you than that.
I want you to topple dictatorships. To end world hunger. To save the whales. To make sure that your great-grandchildren will know what gorillas look like, not because they have seen them behind a moat, playing with dog toys in a zoo, but because they have tracked them in the mountains of Uganda with sweat bees in their eyes and leeches in their socks. You will see children with bellies fat with worms instead of food. You will sit down to meals, only to find that endangered animals are on the menu. Happiness will elude you, and there will be no rest—you will have to fight every day because there is so much injustice and horror to fight against.
But if you don’t fight, you will grow lazy and discontent under the guise of wanting peace. You will acquire money to acquire toys, but the biggest ones will never be big enough. You will fill your mind with trash because the truth is too ugly to look at. And maybe, if you were another child, someone else’s child, maybe that would be all right. But you aren’t. You are mine. You are strong enough and smart enough and you are destined for greatness. You can change the world. So I leave you with these words: