As Noah asserted his knowledge of what I wanted, my mind rebelled. “Why not? I’ve killed people for less than murdering and butchering a teenage girl and kidnapping my baby brother.” I grew incomprehensibly giddy.
“And last week—that was you at peace with it, then?”
Noah’s words stopped me in my tracks. But then. “Maybe I’m a sociopath, but I don’t feel sorry about Mabel’s owner. At all.”
“I wouldn’t either,” Noah admitted. The muscles worked in his jaw. “Jude deserved it, too, you know.”
I tilted my head at him. “Did he? You say that because he almost hurt me—”
“He did hurt you,” Noah said, suddenly fierce. “Just because it could have been worse doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt you.”
“He didn’t rape me, Noah. He hit me. He kissed me. I killed him for that.”
Noah’s eyes darkened. “Good riddance.”
I shook my head. “You think that’s fair?” Noah said nothing, his eyes a thousand miles away. “Well, the way you feel about him is the way I feel about Lassiter.”
“No,” he said, as he turned off the highway on to a bustling street. I could see the courthouse in the distance. “There’s a difference. With Jude, you were alone and terrified and your mind reacted without you even knowing it. With him it was self-defense. With Lassiter—it would be an execution.”
The air swallowed his words as he let that sink in. Then he said, “There are other ways to solve that problem, Mara.”
Noah swung into the shaded parking lot next to the courthouse and cut the engine. We flew out of the car, my mind turning over his words as we ran up the courthouse steps.
There were other ways to solve the problem, Noah had said. But I knew they wouldn’t work.
I WAS BREATHLESS BY THE time we reached the wide glass front doors. After Noah went through the metal detector, I emptied my pockets into the little plastic bin and held out my arms so the security guard could wand me. I bounced a little on the balls of my feet, beyond anxious.
Our footsteps echoed down the enormous hall, mine following Noah’s, and I swung my head in both directions, checking the room numbers as I went. Noah stopped at room 213.
I wiped the sweat from my face with my sleeve. “Now what?”
Noah walked over to a hallway and made the first left. I hovered in the background as he spoke to a young guy sitting at the front desk. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I examined his face. It told me nothing.
When he was done, he returned to my side and began walking in the direction we came in. He didn’t say a word until we were outside, back on the courthouse steps.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“The jury’s been out for two hours.”
My feet turned to stone. I couldn’t move.
“It’s not too late,” Noah said, his voice quiet. “They may come back with a conviction. Hell, Florida’s a death penalty state. You might get lucky.”
I bristled at Noah’s tone. “He went after my brother, Noah. My family.”
Noah placed his hands on my shoulders and forced me to look at him. “I will protect him,” Noah said. I tried to turn away. “Look at me, Mara. I will find a way.”
I wanted to believe him. His confidence was unshakable, and it was tempting. But Noah was always sure. And he was sometimes wrong. In this case, I couldn’t afford it.
“You can’t protect him, Noah. This is not something you can fix.”
Noah opened his mouth to speak but I cut him off. “I’ve been so lost since Rachel died. I’ve tried to do the right things. With Mabel, Morales—I did everything the right way; calling Animal Control, telling the principal. But nothing worked until I did it my way,” I said, and my own words sparked something inside of me. “Because everything that’s happened—it’s been about me from the beginning. Understanding who I am and what I’m supposed to do. This is what I’m supposed to do. It’s what I have to do.”
Noah looked down, directly into my eyes. “No, Mara. I want to know why this is happening to us, too. But this isn’t going to help.”
I looked at Noah, incredulous. “It doesn’t matter for you, can’t you see that? So you get headaches and you see hurt people. What happens if you never figure it out? Nothing,” I said, and my voice cracked.
Noah’s eyes went flat. “Do you know what it means that we were able to help Joseph?”
I didn’t speak.
“It means the two others I saw were real. It means I didn’t help them and they died.”
I swallowed and tried to compose myself. “It’s not the same thing.”
“No? Why not?”
“Because now you know. Now you have a choice. I don’t. Unless I can channel it—use it, maybe, for a purpose—things will keep getting worse. I make everything worse.” A tear rolled down my burning cheek. I closed my eyes, and felt Noah’s fingers on my skin.
“You make me better.”
My chest cracked open at his words. I stared into Noah’s perfect face and tried to see what he saw. I tried to see us— not individually, not the arrogant, beautiful, reckless lost boy and the angry, broken girl—but what we were, who we were, together. I tried to remember holding his hand at my kitchen table and feeling for the first time since I’d left Rhode Island that I wasn’t alone in this. That I belonged.
Noah spoke again, cutting my thoughts short. “After you remembered, I saw what it did to you. It won’t compare to knowing you did it on purpose.” Noah closed his eyes and when he opened them, his expression was haunted. “You’re the only one who knows, Mara. The only person who knows me. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Maybe you won’t,” I said, but I was already gone. And when I looked at him, I saw that he knew it.
He reached for me anyway, one hand curving behind my neck, the other skimming my face.
He would kiss me, right now, after everything I’d done. I was poison, and Noah was the drug that would make me forget it.
So of course I couldn’t let him.
He saw it in my eyes, or maybe heard it in my heart, and dropped his hands from my body as he shifted back. “I thought you only wanted to be normal.”
I looked at the marble steps beneath my feet. “I was wrong,” I said, trying not to let my voice crack. “I have to be more than that. For Joseph.” And for Rachel. And for Noah, too, though I didn’t say it. Couldn’t say it.