But then Noah turned to me. His face was uncharacteristically open and honest but his eyes were defiant as they held mine. My pulse raced without my permission.
“Let me try.”
I EXPECTED SEVERAL DIFFERENT SCENARIOS AFTER my little freak-out. Noah rolling his eyes and laughing at me. Noah making a smart-ass comment, driving me home, and dumping me at my door.
His actual response was not one of them.
His question hung in the air. Let him try what? I didn’t know how to answer because I didn’t understand what he was asking. But Noah stared at me, expectant, with the barest suggestion of a smile on his lips and I needed to do something.
I nodded. That seemed to be enough.
When Noah pulled into my driveway, he got out of the car and strode quickly to the passenger door to open it for me. I gave him a look, but he interrupted me before I had the chance to speak.
“I like doing it for you. Try to remember so I don’t have to sprint every time.”
Every time. I felt strange as we walked up the brick path to my front door. Something had shifted between us.
“I’m picking you up tomorrow morning,” Noah said, as he brushed a strand of hair from my face and tucked it behind my ear. His touch felt like home.
I blinked hard, and shook my head to clear it. “But it’s out of your way.”
“And Daniel has to drive to school anyway.”
Noah placed a finger on my lips. “Don’t. Don’t ask me why. It’s annoying. I want to. That’s it. That’s all. So let me.” Noah’s face was so close. So close.
Focus, Mara. “Everyone’s going to think that we’re together.”
“Let them,” he said as his eyes searched my face.
“But nothing. I want them to think that.”
I thought of everything that would imply. Because it was Noah, people wouldn’t just think that we were together, but that we were together, together.
“I’m a bad actress,” I said by way of explanation.
Noah skimmed his fingers down the line of my arm and lifted my hand to his mouth. His lips brushed over my knuckles, impossibly soft. He looked into my eyes and killed me.
“Then don’t act. See you at eight.” He let go of my hand and walked back to his car.
I stood on the doorstep, breathless as Noah drove away. I turned his words over in my mind. Let me try. I want them to think that. Don’t act.
Something was starting between us. But it would finish me if it ended. When it ended, which would be soon, if Jamie was to be believed. Dazed, I went into the house, leaned against the back of the door, and closed my eyes.
“Welcome back.” I heard the smile in Daniel’s voice, even though I couldn’t see it.
I tried to regain my equilibrium because my brother was in it deep, and I was not about to let it go just because my insides were mid-quiver. “You have some ‘splainin’ to do,” was all I managed to say.
“Guilty,” Daniel said, but he didn’t look it. “Did you have fun?”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe you did that to me.”
“Did. You. Have. Fun?”
“That’s. Not. The. Point,” I said back.
Daniel’s grin widened. “I like him.”
“What does that have to do with anything? How could you tell him, Daniel?
“Okay, hold on a second here. First of all, the only thing I told him was why we moved from Laurelton. There was an accident, your friends died, and we moved to start over. You don’t have the monopoly on that explanation, so relax.” I opened my mouth to protest but Daniel continued. “Second, he’s a good guy.”
I agreed with him, but didn’t want to. “Other people don’t think so,” I said instead.
“Other people are usually wrong.”
I glared at him. “Moving on. Tell me what happened. Leave nothing out.”
“After our first day of school, I went to discuss my independent music study with the teacher and Noah was there. He composes, by the way, and he’s really freaking good. Sophie told me she did a few open mic nights with him last year.”
I thought of little blond adorable Sophie, and felt a sudden urge to kick her in the shins and run away.
“Anyway, when he found out my name, he asked me about you.”
I rewound my thoughts. “But I didn’t meet him until our second day of school.”
Daniel shrugged. “He knew you somehow.”
I shook my head slowly. “Why lie, Daniel? Why pretend not to know each other this morning?”
“Because, I surmised—and correctly, I might add—that you would flip out. But really, Mara, you’re overreacting. You were barely mentioned in our conversation. We spent most of the time discussing the Kafka-Nietzsche nexus and the parodic sonnets in Don Quixote.”
“Don’t try to distract me with your smart talk. You shouldn’t have gone begging for friends for me. I’m not that pathetic.”
“That’s not what I did. But even if it was, have you exceeded your friend quota here in Miami already? Is there something I missed?”
I stiffened. “That’s a dick thing to say,” I said in a low voice.
“You’re right. It is. But you’re always insisting that everyone treat you normally, so answer the question. Have you made any other friends since we’ve been here?”
I gave him the death stare. “Yes, actually.”
“Who? I want a name.”
“The Ebola kid? I heard he’s a little unstable.”
“That was one incident.”
“Not what I’ve heard.”
I clenched my teeth. “I detest you, Daniel. I really do.”
“Love you too, sister. Good night.”
I went to my room and slammed the door.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt heavy, like I’d gotten too much sleep, but my head ached as though I hadn’t. I glanced at my clock. 7:48 a.m.
I swore and stumbled out of bed, rushing to put on clothes. But when I passed my desk, I stopped. A small white pill floated on top of a napkin. I closed my eyes and inhaled. I hated the thought of taking it—hated. But the art show debacle was scary, not to mention the bathtub incident last week. And I didn’t want to freak out in front of Noah again. I just wanted to be normal for him. For my family. For everyone.
Before I overthought it, I swallowed the pill and dashed out of my room. I collided with my father as he turned the corner, and sent the accordion file he’d been carrying flying. Papers scattered everywhere.