“Fancy meeting you here,” says Noah. He’s right behind us, in slim, dark jeans and a faded black T-shirt. His hair is carelessly tousled and noticeably clean. He’s carrying a shopping bag, which dangles lightly from his fingers.
I look him over with narrowed eyes. “How long have you been following us?”
I touch a finger to my lips. “Funny, you don’t look like you’ve been running.”
Jamie claps his hands once. “That would be my cue!” He kisses me on the cheek. “I’m going to bid farewell to my illustrious cousin, your illustrious attorney.”
“Say hi to her for me.”
“Me as well,” Noah chimes in, but Jamie’s already walking away. He raises his hand to give him the finger from over his shoulder. Noah’s mouth spreads into a grin.
“So where were you?”
He moves the shopping bag farther behind him. “Oh, hookers, blow, the usual.”
“Why do I even love you?”
“Because I come bearing gifts,” Noah says, and withdraws the thing from the bag with a flourish. A sketchbook.
My cold heart melts a little. “Noah.”
“The old one was a bit morbid,” he says, the corner of his mouth turning up with a smile. “Thought you could use a fresh start.”
I rise on my toes to kiss him.
“Wait,” he murmurs against my lips. “You haven’t seen the best part.”
“There’s another part?” I ask as he takes my hand and tugs me toward a bench. He slips the sketchbook under his arm and sits me down by my shoulders.
“Close your eyes,” he says, and I do. I hear him turning the pages of the sketchbook. “All right. Open.”
I’m looking at a drawing, if you could call it that. But of what, I have no idea.
“I thought I’d christen it for you, so I drew your portrait.”
“Oh!” Oh, hell. “It’s . . . really special, Noah. Thank you.”
He bites his lip. “Mmm.”
“But wait.” I turn it horizontally. “Why do I have a tail?”
He tilts his head to look at it. “That’s not a tail, that’s your arm.”
“Why is it coming out of my ass?”
He closes the sketchbook. “Behave.”
“Or what, you’ll spank me?”
He leans toward me. His mouth makes contact with my earlobe, his rough jaw with my cheek, and he says, “That would be a reward, darling. Not a punishment.”
My heart is already racing. Gets me every time. “Speaking of,” I say softly. “I missed you this morning.”
“I’ll have to find a way to make it up to you. Have you packed?”
“We have time still,” I say, because I’m not ready to go.
Noah knows what I’m thinking. He laces his fingers between mine. “We’ll be back.”
We would be. I could feel it. I stretch out next to Noah, my head in his lap, my feet on the rail. People weave around us, but it feels like we’re alone in a sea of beating hearts and breathing lungs. I watch smoke rise from a manhole across the street, and can almost see it form words in the air: welcome home. We could be anonymous here. Just a normal couple, young and in love and holding hands in New York.
I lean down and withdraw a book from my own bag as Noah plays with my hair. It’s the SAT book. Wrong one. I drop it back in and finally find the one I’m looking for—a novel, freshly bought, about superpowered teens. Call it research.
I show Noah the cover, then flip to the last page.
“Wait—are you—Mara Dyer, are you reading the ending first?”
“You are fascinating.”
“I’m weird,” I say, without looking up. “There’s a difference.”
“Really though, how did I not know this about you? This changes everything.”
I glare at him and snap the book shut.
“Oh, don’t stop on my account.”
“I am. I am stopping on your account.”
“No you’re not.”
“No, I’m not. Besides, we should probably be reading . . .” My neck crunches as Noah leans over to rummage in my bag. He pulls out the SAT book. “This. A Daniel purchase?”
“How’d you ever guess?”
“Here, I’ll quiz you.”
“No, no, I insist.” He flips through it. “All right, first word: quintessence.”
“I do not want to play this game.”
He ignores me. “Nom de plume.”
“That’s not obscure.”
“And it’s not really a word, is it? More like a phrase. Who wrote this book anyway?”
“Who cares?” I pluck the book from his hands, drop it into my bag, and slip out a notebook instead. And earphones.
“What are you doing?”
I take a deep breath. “I am running away to join the circus. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“The circus would never have you. You’re not flexible enough. We’re going to have to work on that.”
I hit him. Hard.
“Are you going to draw?”
“Shame. I was going to ask you to do me like one of your French girls.”
“You’re quoting it wrong.”
“Am I?” He pretends to look thoughtful. “Freudian slip, I suppose. So what are you doing?”
“I decided I need a new hobby.”
“Trying to,” I say, annoyed.
Earlier this week, I’d signed a retainer agreement with Rochelle. She is a criminal defense attorney, I’m a criminal—it’s a perfect match. We thought Jamie would be able to damage-control most of what had happened to us, in terms of exposure, but I actually want to go public. Rochelle warned me against it, as any good lawyer would, citing the lack of evidence, the possibility of countersuits—all solid arguments. But I couldn’t pretend that this last year hadn’t happened. People needed to know about it. I needed to share it.
It was Daniel’s idea to publish our story as fiction that wasn’t really fiction. I swore to Rochelle that I’d change names and redact dates and adopt a pseudonym. She was skeptical, but she knew she couldn’t stop me, so she agreed to help instead.