Aiden laughed. “With what, a cocktail sword?”
I rounded on him before I realized what I was doing. “Leave. Right now, before I hurt you.”
Aiden closed the distance between us in seconds. Up close, he was even bigger. The muscles in his biceps twitched. “Why wait?”
Noah’s hand was at Aiden’s throat in an instant, and he pushed him up against the lockers. “You stupid motherfucker,” Noah said to Aiden. “Jamie, get Mara out of here.”
“Noah,” I protested.
“Go!” he snapped.
Jamie grabbed my hand and pulled me away, past Anna. I heard the sound of bodies slamming into metal behind me and tried to turn, but Jamie was surprisingly strong.
“Noah can take care of himself, Mara.”
I tried to pull away. “Aiden’s huge.”
Jamie flashed a small, bitter smile as he gripped my hand tighter and pulled me along. “But Noah fights dirty. He’ll be fine. Promise.”
He didn’t let go until we stood next to the cul-de-sac, in front of his parents’ car.
“Grounded likely means no phone or computer,” Jamie said. “But if I encounter an owl, I’ll try to smuggle a message to the outside, okay?”
I nodded, just as Jamie’s dad rolled down his window.
“Bye, sugar,” Jamie said, and kissed me on the cheek. “Don’t let The Man keep you down.”
And just like that, he was gone.
I STOOD THERE, COMPLETELY DAZED AND STARING at the empty campus. The one friend I’d made in the short time that I’d been here, aside from Noah, was gone. I felt a hand whisper on my back. I turned around. Noah’s beautiful face was a disaster. A bright red bruise bloomed beneath his left cheekbone, under a thicket of gashes that extended from his eyebrow to his ear.
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
Noah flashed a deviant grin. Then winced. “Come on. We need to go.” He steered me to the parking lot, glancing over his shoulder just once before we climbed into his car. Little beads of blood formed over his knuckles, then dripped on the console as he shifted the car into gear.
“Should we go to the hospital?
Noah smiled again. It looked painful. “You should see the other guy.”
“What did you do?”
“Oh, once he’s healed, he should be able to live a normal life.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Kidding.” Noah brushed the hair from my cheek and tucked it behind my ear, and winced again. “He’ll be fine in a few days, I’m sorry to say,” Noah said, his jaw tightening. “He’s lucky I left him alive. If he threatens you again, I won’t.” Noah turned his eyes back to the road. “But in the meantime, I have to take my suspension tomorrow for that thing with Kent last week, and if Aiden or Anna tattles—well. I’m going to lay low, as it were.”
When we pulled into my driveway, Noah parked, but didn’t get out of the car. “I’ll see you Friday,” he said, lifting his sunglasses. “I don’t think your parents ought to see me like this. It wouldn’t help our case.”
Noah reached around to clasp the back of my neck, and ran his thumb over the hollow below my ear. His breath caught with the movement. “I’d like to be around you for a while.”
My heart thrashed against my ribs at the feel of Noah’s hand on my neck. I was incoherent. What Jamie said and what Noah looked like and how close he was … the thoughts tumbled in my brain before I could make sense of them.
“Why did you sleep with Jamie’s sister?” I blurted. Completely graceless. I wanted to punch myself in the face.
Noah’s hand remained on my neck, but a look of amused contempt washed over his face. “What did he tell you?”
Well, I’d made my bed, and now I had to lie in it. I swallowed. “That you didn’t like that he was with Katie, so you did it for revenge.”
Noah studied my eyes. “And you believe him?”
All of sudden, my throat was dry. “Should I?”
He held my gaze, his hand still on my neck. “Yes. I suppose you should,” he said tonelessly. Noah’s eyes were dark, his expression unreadable.
I knew I should care about his answer. I knew that what Jamie had said meant something—that I was, and had been, a foolish girl who coveted something many girls had coveted and paid for before, and that I would pay soon. I should haul back and smack him, strike a blow for feminism or something or at the very least, get out of the car.
But then his thumb traced my skin and without quite realizing it, I leaned toward him and rested my forehead against his. Noah’s lids dropped at my touch.
“You really should go to the doctor,” was all I could say. I hated myself for it.
His smile was nothing but a turned up corner of mouth. His bottom lip was split. Noah looked at me then, and leaned in closer. His eyes fell on my lips. “I’m busy,” he said in a low voice, pausing, lingering there with mere inches between us until I tilted my face closer to his without meaning to.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I whispered, even though I was the one who would probably get hurt.
Our noses touched, and there was just one perfect, aching moment separating our mouths from each other. “You can’t.”
Someone knocked on the driver’s side window, scaring me senseless. I broke away. Noah closed his eyes for a beat, then rolled down the window.
Daniel and Joseph stood there, Daniel’s face contorted in mock disapproval, while Joseph grinned.
“Sorry to break it up,” Daniel said, looking at me. “Just thought you’d want to know that Mom’s five minutes behind us.”
“What happened to your face?” Joseph asked Noah, clearly impressed.
Noah half-shrugged. “Got in a bit of a row.”
“You want to come in?” Daniel asked Noah. “Get some ice for that?”
Noah glanced at the clock. “Five minutes?”
“She had to stop at the dry cleaners. You can make it if you hurry.”
We got out of the car and the four of us headed into the house. Joseph unlocked the door and ran to the kitchen, presumably to get ice for Noah’s face. Daniel rifled through the mail on the console table.
“What lucky institution of higher education accepted me today?” he asked, eyes on the envelopes. “Ah, Harvard. That’s nice. And Stanford!” Daniel grabbed my hand and twirled me in a circle.