“There’s nothing I wouldn’t tell you. No secrets,” he said. His eyes opened, and he looked at me, finally. “I hope you know that.”
I hadn’t known that. I had never before asked what I was about to, because I’d never felt like I needed to hear his answer. But I needed to hear it now. “Do you love me?”
There was a pause before Noah spoke. He shifted in the bed and rested his hand on my cheek.
“Madly,” he said, and I felt the truth of it in the pressure of his hand.
But when he took it away, the feeling went with it.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
Hopelessly, I thought. “Madly,” I said.
He leaned over me, his long lashes casting shadows on his cheeks, and kissed my forehead. The words “I need you” left my mouth as soon as his lips touched my skin.
I had never said those words to anyone before, and I’d never imagined I would say them now, even—or especially—to him. But it was the truth, and I wanted him to know it, no matter what happened next. No one else would or could do what Noah had done for me. What he did for me even now.
“You have me,” he said back.
But then why did he feel so far away?
THERE IS SOMETHING DIVINE ABOUT seeing my mother’s faded words incarnated in the girl beside me. Even while sleeping, she looks like a deadly goddess, an iron queen. Mara is anything but peaceful—even in repose she is a silky gray cloud, bright with the promise of lightning. I will not find peace with her. But there will be no greater passion.
She sleeps with her cheek on my chest as my fingers trace the blades of her shoulders below the sheets. I imagine wings cutting through her skin and unfolding around us, blanketing me in velvet darkness before I close my eyes.
But I startle in my sleep, as if I’d dreamed I was falling over and over and over again. I wake up remembering fragments of dreams; Mara bending to smell a flower, watching it die under her breath. Her stepping barefoot into the snow and watching it bleed red beneath her feet.
Her sleep seems untroubled, her breathing deep and even. Peaceful. How could everyone be so wrong about us? It is impossible that she could make me weak. Next to her, I feel invincible.
I don’t know what day it is, or what time; I left the hospital feeling like I could sleep forever, but now I’m restless, so I leave Mara in bed. I descend the stairs. Jamie and Daniel are nowhere to be found. The view beyond the windows is dark, though the sky is edged with gray. They must still be asleep.
I wander the house and end up in what appears to be an apartment converted to a music room. There’s a drum set, a keyboard, and a few guitars lying about, as well as a piano at the opposite end of the room, by the garden doors. I head for the piano and sit at the bench. I want to play, but I can’t think of any music.
“Is there anything you don’t play?”
Mara’s standing at the foot of the stairs. Blocking my exit, I notice.
“The triangle,” I respond.
She manages a smile. “We have to talk.”
“Do we,” I say. I’m caught, I think.
She holds something in her hand. I think it’s my letter, the one from my mother, and I tense, until I realize its hers.
“I don’t care about that,” I say, and mean it.
She shoves it into my face anyway. “Read it,” she says. “Please.”
I know the second I begin what it will say, and what will happen when I finish, and with every word my body slackens and I dissociate. We’re going to have the same fight again, but this time, for the first time, I feel like I deserve to lose.
I look up when I finish. “What do you want me to say?”
“You heard what your father said about us.”
“I’m not deaf.”
“And you read what the professor said.”
I narrow my eyes. “The professor?”
She blinks and gives an almost dreamy shake of that dark, curly head. “Lukumi, I mean.”
I hand the letter back to her. “I’m not illiterate.” I want to provoke her, to taunt her, to distract her so she doesn’t say what I know she’ll say next.
She says my name. It sounds like good-bye.
I want to tear up her letter, pull the words my father spoke, the words Lukumi wrote, out of her brain. Instead I get up from the bench and open the garden doors. It’s drizzling outside. I don’t care.
She would be right to leave me, after everything. But I’m a coward and can’t bear to hear it. She follows me out anyway, of course.
“I’ll love you to ruins,” she says, and my eyes close. “I get what it means now.”
“It doesn’t mean anything,” I say stupidly, because I can’t think of anything else.
“My ability negates yours. With me you’re—”
“Powerless, weak, et cetera. I know.”
She’s quiet for a moment. “It’s real, Noah. That you’ll die if we stay together.”
I don’t respond.
“You died already, once.”
So did you. “And yet, here I am.”
“I need you safe.”
“From what?” I ask.
She takes the bait. “Me.”
I face her then, armed with my argument. I have no defense for what I allowed to happen to her, what I did to her, so like the asshole I am, I go on offense instead. “You mean you want to protect me from yourself.”
“The way my father was trying to protect me?”
A shadow passes over her face. “Fuck you.”
A thrill travels down my spine. She’s never said that to me before. “Good,” I say, and take a step toward her. “Get angry. It’s better than listening to you talk in that voice from hell about doing what’s best for me as if I’m a child. As if I don’t have a choice.” I should be screaming. I want to. But the voice that comes out of my mouth is dead and flat. “How could you treat me that way?” I ask, sensing an advantage. “Like him?”
Her nostrils flare. “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”
But she doesn’t, so I speak instead. “I have a choice. I can walk away from you anytime I want,” I lie.
“Can you?” she asks. “Can you really?”
That’s when I know I’ve lost.
“Your father said—”
“Don’t ever begin a sentence with ‘Your father said.’ He’s nothing.”