“Mara, if you’re tired, I can hear it. If you’re hurt, I can feel it. And if you lie, I will know it.”
I closed my eyes, just now beginning to fully realize what Noah’s ability meant. Every reaction I had—every reaction I had to him—he would know. And not just mine— everyone’s.
“I love not having to hide it from you,” Noah said, hooking his finger under the collar of my shirt. He pulled the fabric to the side and kissed the bare skin of my shoulder.
I pushed him back slightly so I could see his face. “How do you deal with it?”
He looked confused.
“Hearing and feeling everyone’s physical reactions around you constantly. Don’t you go crazy?”
If he didn’t, I certainly would, knowing that as long as I was near him, I had no secrets.
Noah’s eyebrows drew together. “It just becomes background noise, mostly. Until I focus on one person in particular.” His finger grazed my knee, and he drew it up the side of my leg, over my hip, and my pulse raced in response.
I smiled. “Stop it,” I said, and pushed his hand away. He grinned broadly. “You were saying?”
“I can hear everything—everyone—but I can’t feel them. Only the four I told you about, and only when they—you— were injured. You were the first one I met, actually, then Joseph. I saw you, where you were, and felt a reflection, I think, of what you both were feeling.”
“But there are a lot of injured people out there.” I stared at him. “Why us?
“I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do?”
A smile turned up the corner of Noah’s mouth as he traced mine with his thumb. “I can think of a few things.”
I grinned. “That won’t help me,” I said. And as I said it, a wave of déjà vu rolled through me. I saw myself clenching a glass bottle in a dusty shop in Little Havana.
“I’m confused,” I said to Mr. Lukumi. “I need help.”
“That won’t help you,” he said, looking at my fist.
But he had helped me remember then.
Maybe he could help me now.
I was on my feet in an instant. “We have to go back to the botanica,” I said, darting to my dresser.
Noah gave me a sideways glance. “It’s well after midnight. There won’t be anyone there now.” His eyes studied mine. “And anyway, are you even sure you want to go back? That priest wasn’t particularly pleasant the first time around.”
I remembered Mr. Lukumi’s face, the way he seemed to know me, and grew frantic.
“Noah,” I said, rounding on him. “He knows. That man— the priest—he knows about me. He knows. That’s why what he did worked.”
Noah raised an eyebrow. “But you said it didn’t work.”
“I was wrong.” My voice sounded strange, and the quiet room swallowed my words. “We have to go back there.” Gooseflesh pebbled my arms.
Noah came over to where I stood, pulled me close, and stroked my hair until my breathing slowed, watching my eyes as I calmed down. My arms hung limp at my sides.
“Isn’t it possible that you would have remembered that night anyway?” he asked quietly.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “If you have a better idea, let’s hear it.”
Noah took my hand and laced his fingers in mine. “All right,” he said, as he led me back to bed. “You win.”
But it felt, somehow, like I had already lost.
THE NEXT MORNING, I WOKE UP NEXT TO Noah.
With my arm draped over his waist, I felt his ribs move under the thin fabric of his T-shirt as he breathed. It was the first time I’d ever seen him like this— the first time I could study him unhindered. The swell of his biceps under his sleeve. The few curls of hair that peeked out from the ripped collar of his abused shirt. The necklace he always wore had slipped out during the night. I looked closely at it for the first time; the pendant was just a slim line of silver— half of it hammered into the shape of a feather, the other half a dagger. It was interesting and beautiful, just like him.
My eyes continued to wander over the inhumanly perfect boy in my bed. One of his hands was clenched in a fist next to his face. A sliver of soft light illuminated the strands of his dark, tousled hair, making them glow gold. I breathed him in, the scent of his skin mingling with my shampoo.
I wanted to kiss him.
I wanted to kiss the small constellation of freckles on his neck, hiding next to his hairline. To feel the sting of his rough jaw under my lips, the petal-soft skin of his eyelids under my fingertips. Then Noah let out a soft sigh.
I was drunk with happiness, intoxicated by him. I felt a stab of pity for Anna and for all the girls who may or may not have come before, and what they lost. And that birthed the follow-up thought of just how much it would hurt me to lose him, too. His presence blunted the edges of my madness, and it was almost enough to make me forget what I’d done.
I slid my hand down to Noah’s and squeezed it. “Good morning,” I whispered.
He stirred. “Mmmm,” he murmured, then half-smiled with his eyes closed. “It is.”
“We have to go,” I said, wishing we didn’t, “before my mother finds you in here.”
Noah rolled over and leaned on his forearms above me, not touching for one second, two, three. My heart raced, Noah smiled, then slipped out of my bed and out of my room. We met up in the kitchen, once I was dressed and brushed and generally presentable. Sandwiched between Daniel and Joseph, Noah grinned at me over a cup of coffee.
“Mara!” My mother’s eyes went wide when she saw me standing, and dressed, in the kitchen. She quickly composed herself. “Can I get you anything?”
Noah gave me a surreptitious nod of his head.
“Um, sure,” I said. “How about” —my eyes scanned the kitchen counter— “a bagel?”
My mother grinned and took one from the plate, popping it into the toaster. I sat down at the table across from the three boys. Everyone seemed to be pretending I hadn’t sequestered myself in my bedroom for the past few days, and that was fine with me.
“So, school today?” my mother asked.
Noah nodded. “I thought I’d drive Mara,” he said to Daniel. “If that’s all right.”
My eyebrows knit together, but Noah shot me a look. Under the table, his hand found mine. I stayed quiet.
Daniel stood and smiled, walking over to the sink with his bowl. “Fine with me. This way, I won’t be late.”