“Bye, Mom, we’ll be back … later.”
“Wait, Mara,” my mother said as she took a few steps out the door. Noah’s eyes lifted to us, but when my mother pulled me aside, he kept walking to his car, leaving us alone.
Mom held out her hand. A little round white pill was inside it.
“Mom,” I whispered through gritted teeth.
“I’d feel better if you took it.”
“Dr. Maillard said I didn’t have to,” I said, glancing over at Noah. He stood next to his car and looked away.
“I know honey, but—”
“Fine, fine,” I whispered, and took it from her. Noah was waiting, and I did not want him to see. This was blackmail of the worst kind.
“Take it now, please?”
I tossed the pill in my mouth and held it under my tongue as I pretended to swallow. I opened my mouth.
“Thank you,” she said, a sad smile on her face. I didn’t respond, and walked away. When I heard the front door close, I extracted the pill from my mouth and threw it on the ground. I hadn’t decided not to take the drugs, but I didn’t want to be forced.
“Pre-date pep talk?” Noah asked as he sauntered over to open the passenger door for me. I wondered if he’d seen the pill exchange. If he did, he didn’t act like it.
“This isn’t a date,” I said. “But that was quite a performance in there. She didn’t even ask what time I’d be coming home.”
Noah grinned. “Glad you enjoyed it.” He glanced down at my clothes and nodded once. “You’ll do.”
“You’re so fucking patronizing.”
“You have such a filthy mouth.”
“Does it bother you?” I smiled, pleased by the thought.
Noah grinned and shut the door behind me. “Not in the least.”
I WAITED FOR NOAH TO LIGHT A CIGARETTE ONCE he started to drive. Instead, he handed me a plastic cup filled with iced coffee.
“Thanks,” I said a little surprised. It looked like it had just the right amount of milk. I took a sip. And sugar. “So how long of a drive is it? To get wherever?”
Noah lifted his own cup and extracted the straw from it with his mouth. The muscles in his jaw worked as he chewed. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. “We’re stopping to see a friend, first,” he said.
A friend. It didn’t sound ominous, and truly, I tried not to be paranoid. But a part of me wondered if I was being set up for something. Something bigger than what Anna had planned. I swallowed hard.
Noah clicked on his iPod with one hand while he kept the other on the wheel.
“Hallelujah,” I said, smiling.
“The song. I love this cover.”
“Really?” Noah looked obnoxiously surprised. “Doesn’t seem like your thing.”
“Oh? What’s my thing?”
“I had you pegged for a closeted pop fan.”
“If I must.”
The song ended and something classical came on. I reached for the iPod. “May I?” Noah shook his head in exaggerated disappointment, but waved me on anyway. “Calm yourself. I wasn’t going to change it, I just wanted to see.” I scrolled through his music; Noah had excellent but consistent taste. I was much more diverse. I smiled with satisfaction.
Noah arched an eyebrow. “What are you smirking about, over there?”
“I’m more well-rounded than you.”
“Not possible. You’re American,” he said. “And if it is true, it’s only because you like crap.”
“How is it that you have friends, Noah?”
“I ask myself that daily.” He chomped down on the plastic straw.
“Seriously. Inquiring minds want to know.”
Noah’s brow creased, but he stared straight ahead. “I guess I don’t.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“That wouldn’t be difficult.”
That stung. “Go to hell,” I said quietly.
“Already there,” Noah said calmly, pulling out the straw from his mouth and chucking it on the floor.
“So why are you doing this?” I asked, careful to keep my voice even, but an unpleasant image of myself at a prom night soiree covered in pig’s blood crept into my mind.
“I want to show you something.”
I turned away and looked out the window. I never knew which Noah to expect from day to day. Or hell, minute to minute.
Tangled overpasses wove around and above us, the hulking concrete monstrosities the only scenery on this part of I-95. We were heading south, and Noah and I didn’t speak most of the way.
At some point, the urban landscape gave way to ocean on both sides of the highway. It narrowed from four lanes to two and a steep, high bridge loomed in front of us.
Very steep. Very high.
We climbed behind the swarm of brake lights that crawled up the overpass in front of us. My throat closed. I gripped the center console with my bandaged hand, the pain screaming under my skin as I tried not to look straight ahead or to either side, where the turquoise water and the Miami skyline receded into smallness.
Noah placed his hand on mine. Just slightly. Barely touching.
But I felt it.
I tilted my head to look at his face, and he half-smiled while staring straight ahead. It was contagious. I smiled back. In response, Noah laced his fingers in between my bandaged ones, still resting on the plastic. I was too preoccupied by his hand on mine to feel any pain.
“Are you afraid of anything?” I asked.
His smile evaporated. He nodded his head once.
“Well?” I prodded. “I showed you mine …”
“I’m afraid of forgeries.”
I turned away. He couldn’t even reciprocate. Neither of us spoke for about a minute. But then.
“I’m afraid of being fake. Empty,” Noah said tonelessly. He released my fingers and the palm of his hand rested on the back of mine for a moment. My entire hand would fit almost completely into his. I flipped mine over and laced our fingers together before I realized what I was doing.
Then I realized what I was doing. My heart skipped a beat. I watched Noah’s face for something. A sign, maybe. I honestly didn’t quite know what.
But there was nothing there. His expresion was smooth, his forehead uncreased. Blank. And our fingers were still entwined. I didn’t know if mine were holding his in place by force and if his were just resting or—
“There’s nothing I want. There’s nothing I can’t do. I don’t care about anything. No matter what, I’m an impostor. An actor in my own life.”