Mara ignores me. “He said you can’t help but want me. That it’s like a side effect. I’m not a choice for you. I’m a—a compulsion.”
I shrug, as if the thought doesn’t wound me the way it wounds her. I don’t want to believe it. I can’t believe it. “I don’t believe anyone can help who they love.”
“What if you could?”
“I wouldn’t want to.”
She pauses, unsure. “Would you risk it, if you were me?”
I already did. “I trust you enough to let you make your decisions for yourself. I wouldn’t make them for you.”
“I don’t believe you,” she says plainly.
“You keep hearing and believing that I’m going to die if we stay together. But when? Has your fortune-teller told you that?”
She is silent.
“Maybe I will and maybe I won’t, but if I do, it isn’t because of destiny or fate—it’s because everyone dies someday. We get one life, Mara. You might live forever and I might die tomorrow, but right now we’re both here. And I want to spend the time I have with you.”
She looks up at me, and I can tell she’s going to say something mean. “You didn’t want to last night.”
“Wrong. I did want to. But considering I gave you a lethal injection not twenty-four hours ago, I thought you might not be in the mood.”
A smile flickers on her lips. I move closer. “I don’t know how to make you understand what you do to me. Just thinking about kissing you is enough. Feeling your tongue against mine. The way you taste. The sounds you make. Everything. I’ve wanted you so much, for so long, but in the way you want things you’ll never, ever have. Like no matter what I do, you’ll always be just out of reach. But when you kiss me? It’s like I’m on fire.”
Her breath catches, but I’m not quite sure why. Her face is unreadable.
“I want to touch every part of you,” I go on, because if I flinch now, it’s over. “I want to touch you now,” I say, and close the distance between us. I wrap a curl of her hair around my finger and give it a little tug. She shivers. “Maybe I didn’t have a choice in the beginning because I didn’t understand what I was choosing. But I do now. I know now. You are what happiness means to me. And I would rather have today with you than forever with anyone else.”
I can tell she wants to believe it, and I pray that she does, because I don’t think I can stand to lose her. I can’t let her go. Not yet. I take her face in my hands. “We will do this while we can, and when we can’t anymore, I will remember the feel of your mouth on me and the taste of your tongue and the weight of your hands on mine, and I will be happy.” I whisper against her skin, “If you choose me.”
THE CHOICES YOU MAKE WILL change you.
The words appeared in my mind, unbidden. I’d chosen Noah before, and I wanted to again, now that we both knew who and what we were. I didn’t care if it changed me. I did care about how it might change him.
“You make me happier than I deserve,” I said thickly. His touch, his scent, his everything was distracting me.
Noah smiled. “Then why do you look so sad?”
My hope for him, his mother’s hope for him, was that he would help create a better world. Without you, he can.
“I have no right to want you,” I said, unable to hide my bitterness.
“You have every right. It’s your choice. It’s ours. We don’t have to be what they want.”
But we were.
“We can live the lives we want.”
Noah took off his necklace and held it out in his palm. He’d chosen. I closed my eyes and tried to remember his mother’s face, my grandmother’s words, but it was useless. All I could see was him.
I shook my head. “I tried so hard not to love you.”
“Well, you’re a failure, I’m sorry to say.” He kissed me on one cheek.
“No, you’re not.”
“No. I’m not.” He kissed the other.
“You know, when I met you, I thought you had everything. A perfect life.”
“Mmm.” My neck.
“I thought you were pretty perfect too.”
He stopped, went still. “And now what do you think?”
I didn’t answer at first. “You didn’t have what I thought you had. I think part of you must have always known how fragile your life really was, if you were willing to risk it for me.”
He shook his head. “You don’t get what you give me.”
I wanted him to say it. Needed him to say it. “Tell me.”
“It’s like you’re a mirror, and you show me who I want to be, instead of who I am.”
I closed my eyes.
“When I look at myself, I see nothing,” he said. “When you look at me? You see everything.” I felt his fingers in my hair, on my neck. “I need to be the person I am with you.”
“You’re that person all the time.”
Noah’s expression was uncharacteristically open. Earnest. He meant what he was saying. Believed it. “Maybe sometimes we can only see the truth about ourselves if someone shows us where to look.”
I didn’t need Noah to see the truth about myself—I found it on my own. But he needed me to see the truth about him.
“Maybe we are codependent,” he went on. “Maybe we are fucked up. Maybe I’m stupid and you’re trouble and both of us would be better off alone.”
He ignored me. “I don’t care. Do you?”
The list of what he would lose with me was longer than what I could give him. But no. I didn’t care.
Noah had seen me scarred and broken, dirty and limp, covered in blood and wearing someone else’s smile. He didn’t cringe or flinch or hide. He knew who I was, he’d seen what I’d done, and he knew what I would do to him someday too. But he was still here. I would be a fool to let him go, and I was many things—a liar, a criminal, a murderer—but I was not a fool.
You can be seen and not loved, or loved and not seen. Noah loved me, and saw me. But more than that, he chose me. I couldn’t give him forever, even though he deserved it. I couldn’t keep him safe, even though I wanted to. But I could give him today. Tonight. And I would try to give him tomorrow, and every day after, for as long as I possibly could. It wasn’t enough for me, but it was enough for him.