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.
Noah peered at the pile. “And Northwestern. And NYU. You ought to go to NYU. More diversity. It’s not healthy to have too many geniuses packed into one campus.”
Daniel grinned. “You have a point. But it is nice to have options,” he said, then placed the envelopes back down. He eyed Noah’s cuts appreciatively. “Aiden made them call an ambulance, and insisted on being carried out on a stretcher,” he said to Noah.
“I’d have preferred it if it were a coffin,” Noah said.
“I heard his mother’s calling for your expulsion, too, FYI.”
Noah’s eyes met my brother’s. “The rest of the board will never approve.”
Daniel nodded. “This is true.”
My eyes darted back and forth between them. “What do you two talk about when I’m not around?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Daniel said as he stuffed his keys in his pocket and grabbed his handful of validation. Joseph reappeared holding a Ziploc bag full of ice and handed it to Noah.
“Thanks,” Noah said with a grin. Joseph looked like he won the lottery. “I should go. I’ll see you in a few days?” Noah said to me.
I nodded. “Don’t forget to go to the doctor.”
Noah shot me a look. “Good-bye, Mara,” he said, and strolled off to his car. I narrowed my eyes as I watched him walk away, and closed the door once he was gone.
Daniel’s arms were crossed when I turned inside. I peered at him. “What?”
“You need to go to the doctor,” he said, looking at my arm.
I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes. “Come on, Daniel.”
“Come on yourself. When was the last time you changed the dressings?”
“A few days ago,” I lied.
“Well, Mom said you have an appointment for a checkup. So, either I take you, or she does.”
“Fine,” I groaned and headed out the door. Daniel followed behind me.
“I heard about Jamie, by the way.”
“You know what really happened?” I asked my brother. He nodded. I stared at my feet. “I can’t believe Anna and Aiden did that to him. And they’re going to get away with it.” I felt a stabbing pain in my hands all of a sudden, and looked down. I’d been clenching my fists so that my nails dug into my palms. I tried to relax. “School is going to be misery without him.”
“At least you have Noah.”
I stared straight ahead. “It’s not like I’ve exceeded my friend quota,” I said quietly.
Daniel started the car and pulled out of the driveway. “I’m sorry I said that to you, you know.”
“It’s fine,” I said, looking out the window.
“How are you doing otherwise?”
“When’s your next therapy appointment?”
I glared at him. “Next Thursday. Did you tell Noah about it?”
“Of course not,” Daniel said. “But I don’t think he’d care.”
I leaned my head back against the seat and turned away. “I’d rather he not know the depths of my crazy.”
“Oh, come on. The guy’s been in two fights in as many weeks. He clearly has some issues of his own.”
“And yet, here you are, pimping me out to him.”
“Nobody’s perfect. And I’m not pimping you out. I think he’s good for you. He’s been through a lot too, you know.”
“And I don’t think he really has anyone who he can talk to about it.”
“Sounds like he’s talked to you about it.”
“Not really. Guys don’t really hash things out like girls do. I just know enough—whatever. All I’m saying is that I think he’d get it.”
“Yeah. Nothing like hearing the girl you just started dating is on antipsychotics.”
Daniel took the opportunity to change the subject. “How are those going, anyway? Any side effects?”
“Not that I’ve noticed.”
“Do you think they’re working?”
With the exception of the disturbing phone call. “I think so.”
“Good. So you think you’ll be up for Sophie’s surprise party Friday night? I’m planning a big shebang. Well, not so big. But a shebang nevertheless.”
“I don’t know,” I said, thinking now about the phone call. The threat. Jamie. I wasn’t sure I’d be in a partying mood. “Maybe.”
“What about your birthday? You and Noah have any plans?”
“I didn’t tell him,” I said in a low voice, as I looked out the window at the passing cars. We were almost at the doctor’s office. My stomach clenched at the realization.
I sighed. “I don’t want to make a big deal of it, Daniel.”
He shook his head as he pulled into the parking lot of the doctor’s office. “You should let him in, Mara.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.” I opened the door to the office and Daniel followed behind me. I signed in on the clipboard and waited until they called my name. It was better than the hospital, but the same smell—that medical smell—made my breath quicken and my throat close. When the nurse took my blood pressure, my pulse thudded against the cuff as it constricted my arm. I gasped for breath and the nurse looked at me like I was crazy. Little did she know.
She led me into a room and pointed to the vinyl bench covered in doctor’s office paper. I sat down, but the rustle and crunch of it annoyed me. The doctor walked in to see me a few minutes later.
“Mara?” she asked, reading her clipboard. Then she met my eyes and extended her hand. “I’m Dr. Everett. How’s that arm?”
“Feels fine,” I said, holding it out for her.
“Have you been changing your dressings every two days?”
“How’s the pain?”
“I actually haven’t noticed it much,” I said. Her eyebrows lifted. “I’ve been really busy with exams and school stuff,” I said, by way of explanation.
“Distraction can be good medicine. Okay, Mara, let’s have a look.” She unwrapped the gauze from my elbow first, and worked her way down my forearm. Her forehead creased and she pursed her lips as the bandage unraveled further and further, revealing my pale, intact skin. She glanced over at her clipboard. “When did this happen?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“Hmm. The ER doctor must have made a mistake. Probably an intern,” she said to herself.
“What?” I asked, growing nervous.
“Sometimes first-degree burns are mistaken for second-degree, especially on the arms and feet,” she said, turning over my arm and inspecting it. “But even so, the redness usually lasts for quite some time. Any pain when I do this?” she asked as she extended my fingers.
I shook my head. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Mara,” she said, staring at my arm. “It’s completely healed.”