I WAITED EXACTLY ONE HOUR before hunting Noah down. I wanted to give him space, but I also wanted to tell him about what I’d read. What I remembered. I wanted to ask him what he thought we should do.
I knew what I thought I should do, but I needed to work up the nerve to do it.
I was not the girl I’d been when Noah had met me. I was not even the girl I’d been before Horizons. I’ve been remade by what happened to me, by the things I’ve done. I’ve become someone new; I feel something, I do it. I want something, I take it. Maybe I haven’t changed to Noah but I have changed. He’d seen pictures, heard words, detailing my crimes, but he didn’t watch me commit them. Part of me was glad. There are some things the people you love should never see you do.
And I did love him. Whatever parts of me had been burned away by what I’d been through, what I’d done, that wasn’t one of them.
But Noah was like the Velveteen Rabbit. I would love his whiskers off, love him until he turned gray, until he lost shape. I would love him to death. And he would let me. Gladly.
I found him hiding out in a different guest bedroom. He had his duffel bag with him, the one Stella had rescued from Horizons after we left the morgue. He’d finished reading the letter from his mother, but he hadn’t come to find me. I wondered what she’d said to him, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask.
I stood in the doorway, unacknowledged. “Can I come in?” He was reading something, and he nodded over the edge of his book.
“What are you reading?” I asked, then sat on the bed. Whatever it was, he was almost done with it.
“The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.”
My book. He must have taken it with him to Horizons. I hadn’t even noticed it in his bag.
“Did you like it?”
“The editor never tells you whether the protagonist is mad or was pursued by the devil. He didn’t resolve anything.” Noah set the book down on the nightstand. I moved closer, until I could feel his heat.
We’d been exhausted the night before and had passed out without talking, and when I’d woken up this afternoon, Daniel and Jamie had been there with the Lukumi letters. We needed to talk about what had happened yesterday, last night, and what would happen tomorrow, but the words I needed to say to him wouldn’t come. All I wanted to think about was today. Tonight.
I was not sure I ever really believed that Noah was dead, but I wasn’t sure I really believed he was alive either. I still couldn’t quite adjust to the reality of him. There were shadows beneath his eyes, and his cheeks were rough with stubble. The fading afternoon light from the window behind the bed shone through his hair, turning the strands gold. I never wanted to stop looking at him. I wished I wouldn’t have to.
Maybe I don’t have to yet, I thought. There was so much to say, but maybe I didn’t have to say it now. Noah was alive. Here. Neither of us was in mortal danger. We were sitting next to each other in a bed. I wanted to reach out to him, but my hands stayed knotted in the sheets.
“I let you die,” Noah said casually. “In case you were wondering.”
I wasn’t wondering. “Because I begged you to.”
Noah hesitated before he asked, “Do you want to die?”
“No.” It was the truth. I would have, for my brothers, but I didn’t want that for myself. “Do you want to die?”
I knew the answer, but I asked the question anyway, because he’d asked me. Maybe he wanted to talk about it. Maybe we needed to.
“Yes,” he said.
“Tell me why.”
“I don’t have the words.” His voice was smooth, his expression unreadable, but I knew it masked how worthless he felt, how screwed up and damaged and wrong he thought he was. How he felt responsible for everyone, for me, and how it broke him that he hadn’t saved me.
I didn’t know what to say to him, so I asked, “Are you thinking about your father?”
His jaw tightened; it was the only sign that he’d heard me. After what seemed like forever, he said, “I’m never going back there.”
“Wherever he is, I won’t be. He’s dead to me.”
I wondered if that were really true. I hoped, selfishly, that it was.
I remembered the way his father had spoken to him. David Shaw was guilty of many crimes, and the way he’d treated Noah was one of them. I would make sure he suffered for all of them someday. He would be punished, somehow, the way he deserved, before he could hurt anyone else.
But one look at Noah told me this was not the time to mention it. “What about your sister?” I asked. “And Ruth?”
He stared blankly at the opposite wall. “I’ll figure something out, I suppose.”
“What will you do? If you don’t go home?”
He didn’t say anything, just shrugged. I had a bad feeling about where this conversation was going, and changed the subject in fear.
“What do you think about the letter?” I asked him, but he didn’t respond except to say, “I’m tired.”
He had shut down. I couldn’t blame him—he’d had less time to process things than the rest of us, and in a way he had even more to process.
We used to process things together. Before yesterday. Before Horizons.
It was like the life we’d lived before was in some alternate time line. There was something missing in both of us, and when we first met there, we found it in each other. But now, after, everything was different. We’d slipped out of that time line, and that life was lost to us. We were strangers to each other now. We weren’t even a foot apart, but it felt like a thousand miles.
Noah stood up, pulled back the covers and held them until I crawled under. I expected to feel him slide back into the bed behind me, to feel his arms wrap around my chest, my waist, to feel his legs tangle with mine. But he didn’t. He just gently tucked me in.
“Stay,” I said. He hesitated for a moment, but then stretched out next to me.
“I dreamed about you, while you were gone,” I said.
That smile appeared again on his lips, just for a moment.
“Was it good?”
“Yes,” I lied. “Yes, it was good.”
He closed his eyes, but I didn’t close mine.
“Mara?” he asked, without opening them.
“Can I ask you something?”