The second we reached Noah’s car, I lunged for the handle. It was locked.
“Open it,” I said, still not meeting his gaze.
“Look at me first.”
“I can’t handle that right now,” I said through clenched teeth. “Just open the door.”
He did. I folded myself into the passenger seat.
“Take me home, please.”
He started the car and we drove in silence. I stared at my lap the whole way but as we slowed down, I finally looked out the window. The scenery was familiar, but wrong. When we passed the gated entrance to his house, I shot him a steely glare.
“What are we doing here?”
He didn’t answer, and I understood. Since my confession, Noah had only been humoring me. He said he believed me, and maybe he did really believe that there was something off, something wrong with me. But he didn’t get it. He thought I’d been dreaming when I kissed him and he almost died. That Rachel, Claire, and Jude were killed when an old, decrepit building collapsed on them. That Mabel’s owner could have fallen and cracked his skull open, Ms. Morales could have died of shock, and the whole thing might just add up to a series of terrible coincidences.
But he couldn’t think that now. Not after tonight, after what I’d just done. That could not be explained away. That was real. And now, Noah was ending it, and I was glad.
I would figure out the next step by myself.
He parked the car in the garage and opened the passenger door. I didn’t move.
“Mara, get out of the car.”
“Can you do it here? I want to go home.”
I needed to think, now that I was completely and utterly alone in this. I couldn’t live this way, and I needed to make a plan.
I got out of his car but hesitated by the door. The dogs sensed something wrong with me the last time I was here, and they were right. I didn’t want to be anywhere near them.
“What about Mabel and Ruby?”
“They’re crated. On the other side of the house.”
I exhaled and followed behind Noah as he entered a corridor and climbed a narrow staircase. He reached to take my hand but I flinched at his touch. Feeling him would only make this harder for me. Noah kicked the door open and I found myself in his room. He turned to face me. His expression was quietly furious. “I’m sorry,” he said.
This was it. I had lost him, but was surprised to find that instead of anguish, or misery, I just felt numb.
“I don’t know what to say.”
My voice was cold, removed when I spoke. “There’s nothing to say.”
“Just look at me, Mara.”
I raised my eyes to his. They were savage. I would have been afraid if I didn’t know better. The scariest thing in the room was me.
“I’m so, infinitely, forever sorry,” he said. His voice was empty, and my chest constricted. He shouldn’t feel guilty about this. I didn’t blame him. I shook my head.
“No, don’t shake your head,” he said. “I fucked up. Egregiously.”
The word escaped from my throat before I could stop it. “What?”
“I never should have let it get that far.”
My expression morphed into shock. “Noah, you didn’t do anything.”
“Are you joking? I tortured you. I tortured you.” There was a quiet rage in his voice. His muscles were tense and coiled; he looked like he wanted to smash something. I knew the feeling.
“You did what had to be done.”
His voice was laced with contempt. “I didn’t believe you.”
I had known that.
“Just tell me this,” I said. “Were you lying about what you could do?”
“So you elected not to do anything?”
Noah’s expression was hard. “It was too fast. The—sound— or whatever, was different from the last time with Morales.”
“Morales?” I said dully. “You heard that?”
“I heard—something. You. You sounded wrong. But I didn’t know why or what it was or what it meant. And with Anna and Aiden, when Jamie got expelled, you were off, too, but I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t understand it; only that he threatened you, and I wanted to break him for it. This time, tonight, wasn’t the same, and I don’t think the alligators were either.”
My mouth went dry as Noah confirmed what I’d done. He ran both of his hands over his face and back through his hair.
“There was too much going on—too much noise of everything else in the marsh. I didn’t know if they’d just disappeared, but I—I had a feeling something had happened.” He paused, and his face went still. “I’m sorry,” he said flatly.
I felt sick listening to him—my throat closed and I couldn’t breathe. I needed to get out of there. I made for Noah’s door.
“Don’t,” Noah said, crossing the room. He reached for me but I shied away. He took my hand anyway and walked me over to his bed. I acquiesced, knowing that this would be our last conversation. And as much as that hurt me, even though I knew it was necessary, I found myself unable to break away just yet. So we sat side-by-side, but I pulled my hand from his. Noah turned away.
“I thought—I thought maybe you were just seeing what was about to happen; that you were seeing things sort of like me. I thought you just felt guilty about Rachel.”
Just what my mother would say.
“I didn’t get it, and I pushed you, and then I pushed you further.”
He looked at me from underneath those lashes and his stare pierced the cavity where my heart used to be. He was furious with himself, not me. It was so wrong, so backward.
“It wasn’t your fault, Noah.” He started to speak, but I placed my fingers over his beautiful, perfect mouth, aching at the contact. “This was your first time seeing it. But it wasn’t my first time doing it. If I don’t—” I caught myself before I told him what I thought I had to do. What I did have to do. “I can’t handle seeing the look on your face the next time it happens, okay?”
Noah glared at me. “It was because of me, Mara, because of what I made you do.
“You didn’t make me kill every living thing in that room. I did that all by myself.”
“Not everything in that room.”