SITTING NEXT TO NOAH WHILE HE DROVE ME home the next morning was the worst kind of torture. It hurt to look at him, at his sun-drenched hair and his worried eyes. I couldn’t talk to him. I didn’t know what to say.
When he pulled into my driveway, I told him I didn’t feel well (truth) and that I would call him later (lie). Then I went to my room and closed the door.
My mother found me that afternoon in my bed with the blinds shut. The sun slotted through them anyway, casting bars against the walls, the ceiling, my face.
“Are you sick, Mara?”
She closed the door and I turned over in the membrane of my sheets. I’d been right; something was happening to me, but I didn’t know what to do. What could I do? My whole family moved here for me, moved here to help me get away from my dead life, but the corpses would follow wherever I went. And what if the next time it happened, it was Daniel and Joseph instead of Rachel and Claire?
A cold tear slid down my burning cheek. It tickled the skin next to my nose but I didn’t wipe it away. Or the next one. And soon, I was flooded with the tears I never cried at Rachel’s funeral.
I didn’t get up for school the next day. Or the next. And there were no more nightmares, now. Which was unfortunate, because I deserved them.
The oblivion when I slept was blissful. My mother brought me food but otherwise left me alone. I overheard her and my father speaking in the hallway but didn’t care enough to be surprised by what they said.
“Daniel said she was doing better,” my father said. “I should have withdrawn from the case. She’s not even eating.”
“I think—I think she’ll be all right. I spoke to Dr. Maillard. She just needs a bit of time,” my mother said.
“I don’t understand it. She was doing so well.”
“Her birthday had to have been hard for her,” my mother said. “She’s a year older, Rachel isn’t. It makes perfect sense for her to be going through something. If nothing changes by her appointment Thursday, we’ll worry.”
“She looks so different,” my father said. “Where’d our girl go?”
When I went to the bathroom that night, I turned on the light and looked in the mirror to see if I could find her. The husk of a girl not-named Mara stared back at me. I wondered how I would kill her.
And then I dove back into bed, my legs shaking, teeth chattering, because it was just so scary, too scary, and I didn’t have the guts.
When Noah appeared in my room later that evening, my body knew it before my eyes could confirm it. He had a book with him: The Velveteen Rabbit, one of my favorites. But I didn’t want him there. Or rather, I didn’t want to be there. But I wasn’t about to move, so I lay in bed, facing the wall, as he began.
“Long June evenings, in the bracken that shone like frosted silver, feet padded softly. White moths fluttered out. She held him close in her arms, pearl dewdrops and flowers around her neck and in her hair,” he said.
“‘What is Real?’ asked the boy. ‘It is a thing that happens to you when a girl loves you for a long, long time. Not just to play with,’” Noah said. “‘But really loves you.’ ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the boy. ‘Sometimes. When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
“She slept with him, the nightlight burning on the mantel-piece. Love stirred.”
“Swayed gently,” he said. “A great rustling. Tunnels in bedclothes, an unwrapping of parcels. Her face grew flushed—”
So did mine.
“Half asleep, she crept up close to the pillow and whispered in his ear, damp from—”
“That is not The Velveteen Rabbit,” I said, my voice hoarse from disuse.
“Welcome back,” Noah said.
There was nothing to say but the truth. “That was awful.”
Noah responded by defiling Dr. Seuss. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, became an instructional rhyme on fellatio.
Fortunately, Joseph walked into my room just as Noah recited his next title. The New Adventures of Curious George.
“Can I listen?” my brother asked.
“Sure,” Noah said.
Filthy visions of the Man in the Yellow Hat and his monkey desecrated my mind.
“No,” I said, my face muffled by my pillow.
“Don’t pay attention to her, Joseph.”
“No,” I said louder, still facing my wall.
“Come sit next to me,” Noah said to my brother.
I sat up in bed and shot Noah a scathing look. “You can’t read that to him.”
A smile transformed Noah’s face. “Why not?” he asked.
“Because. It’s disgusting.”
He turned to Joseph and winked. “Another day, then.”
Joseph left the room, but he was smiling as he went.
“So,” Noah said carefully. I was sitting up, cross-legged and tangled in my sheets.
“So,” I said back.
“Would you like to hear about Curious George’s new adventures?”
I shook my head.
“Are you sure?” Noah asked. “He’s been such a naughty monkey.”
Then Noah gave me a look that broke my heart. “What happened, Mara?” he asked in a low, quiet voice.
It was nighttime, and maybe it was because I was tired, or because I’d started talking. Or because it was the first time he ever asked me, or because Noah looked so heartbreakingly, impossibly beautiful sitting on the floor beside my bed, haloed by the light of my lamp, that I told him.
I told him everything, from the beginning. I left nothing out. Noah sat stone still, his eyes never leaving my face.
“Jesus Christ,” he said when I was finished.
He didn’t believe me. I looked away.
“I thought I was mad,” Noah said to himself.
I snapped my eyes to his. “What? What did you say?”
Noah stared at my wall. “I saw you—well, your hands, anyway—and heard your voice. I thought I was going mad. And then you showed up. Unbelievable.”
“Noah,” I said. His expression was remote. I reached out and turned his head to me. “What are you talking about?”
“Just your hands,” he said, taking my hands in his and turning them over, flexing my fingers as he inspected them. “You were pressing them against something but it was dark. Your head ached. I could see your fingernails; they were black. Your ears were ringing but I heard your voice.”
His sentences knotted together in a way that didn’t fit. “I don’t understand.”
“Before you moved here, Mara. I heard your voice before you moved here.”
The memory of Noah’s face that first day of school arranged itself into an unthinkable shape. He looked at me like he knew me because—because somehow, he did. Any words I could have spoken next vanished from my tongue, from my brain. I could not make sense of what I was hearing.
“You weren’t the first one I saw. Heard. There were two others before, but I never met them.”
“Others,” I whispered.
“Other people I saw. In my mind.”
His words sunk like a stone in the air around us.
“I was driving the first time, at night,” he said in a rush. “I saw myself hit someone; but it was on a completely different road, and it wasn’t my car. But I headed straight for her. She was our age, I think. Pinned behind the steering column. She didn’t die for hours,” Noah said, his voice hollow. “I saw everything she went through, heard everything she heard, and felt everything she felt, but was somehow still on my road. I thought it was a hallucination, you know? Like at night when you’re driving sometimes, and you imagine going over the shoulder, or hitting another car. But it was real,” Noah said, and his voice was haunted.
“The second one was very ill. He was our age as well. I dreamed one night that I was preparing food for him, then fed him, but the hands weren’t mine. He had some sort of infection and his neck hurt so badly. He was so sore. He cried.”
Noah’s face was drawn and pale. He leaned his head into his hand and rubbed it, then ran his fingers back through his hair, making it stand on end. Then he looked up at me. “And then in December, I heard you.”
The blood drained from my face.
“I recognized your voice on your first day at school. I was giddy at the impossibility of it. I thought I was going insane, imagining sick and dying people and feeling it, feeling an echo of what they must have felt. And then you showed up, with the voice from my nightmare, and you called me an ass,” Noah said, smiling faintly.
“I asked Daniel about you, and he told me, vaguely, what had happened before you moved here. I assumed that’s what I saw. Or dreamed. But I thought if—I don’t know. I thought if I knew you, I might be able to understand what was happening to me. That was before Joseph, obviously.”
My mouth felt like it was filled with sand. “Joseph?” That wasn’t real.
“A couple of weeks ago, in the restaurant, I had a—a vision, I suppose,” he said, sounding embarrassed. “Of a document, a deed from the Collier County archives.” Noah shook his head slowly. “Someone—a man wearing a Rolex—was pulling files, photocopying, and he lingered on that document. I saw it like I was the one looking straight at it,” he said, inhaling deeply. “It had a property address, a location. And when I saw it, I got a screaming headache, which is typical. I just couldn’t stand all the sounds. So I left you until it passed.” Noah raked his fingers through his hair. “A couple of days later, when I got home from school, I passed out. For hours—I was just gone. When I woke up, I felt high. And I saw Joseph asleep on the cement, before someone closed a door. And whoever it was wore the same watch.”
I sat still, my feet tucked underneath me, growing numb as Noah went on.
“I didn’t know if it was real or if I’d dreamed it, but after what happened to you, I thought it might actually be happening. In real time. Looking back, with the others, I’d always seen some indication of where they were—which hospital, which road. But I never realized it was real.” Noah’s eyes fell to the floor. Then he closed them. He sounded so tired. “And so with Joseph, I took you with me—just in case I passed out again, or something else.” His jaw tightened. “When it turned out that he was there, how could I explain that to you? I thought I was mad.” He paused. “I thought I took him.”
I heard an echo of Noah’s voice from that night. “Do whatever you have to do to wake Joseph.”
He said that before we even saw him.
“Holy shit,” I whispered.
“I wanted to tell you the truth—about me, about this—before he was even taken. But then when he was, I didn’t know what to say. I honestly I thought I was responsible somehow. That maybe I was the one hurting everyone I’d seen, and repressed the memories … or something. But then whose headlights were those in the Everglades? And why would they pull into the drive by the shed?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know. It made no sense. I’d thought I was crazy, but realized I wasn’t. I thought Joseph’s kidnapping wasn’t real, but it was.
“I didn’t take him,” Noah said. His voice was clear. Strong. But his intense stare was still fixed on the wall. Not on me.
I believed him, but asked, “So who did?”
For the first time since Noah started speaking, he turned to me.
“We’ll find out,” he said.
I tried to assemble all of this information into something that made sense. “So Joseph never texted you,” I said. My heart beat faster.
Noah shook his head, but flashed the barest suggestion of a smile at me.
“What?” I asked.
“I can hear that,” Noah said.
I stared at him, bewildered.
“You,” he said quietly. “Your heartbeat. Your pulse. Your breath. All of you.”
My pulse rioted, and Noah’s smile broadened.
“You have your own sound. Everything does; animals, people. I can hear all of it. When something, or someone’s hurt, or exhausted, or whatever—I can tell. And I think— fuck.” Noah lowered his head and tugged on his hair. “So, this is going to sound mad. But I think maybe I can fix them,” he said, without looking up. But then he did, and his eyes fell on my arm. On my shoulder.
“When you asked why I smoke, I told you I’ve never been ill. It’s true—and when I’ve gotten into rows, I hurt for a while and then—nothing. No pain. It’s over.”
I looked at him, disbelieving. “Are you saying that you can—”
“How’s your shoulder, Mara?”
I had no words.
“You’d be in quite a lot of pain right now, even once it was back in its socket. And your arm?” Noah said, taking my hand and extending it. He traced his finger down from the indent of my elbow to my wrist. “You’d still be blistering, and probably starting to scar,” he said, his eyes roaming over my unbroken skin. Then they met mine.
“Who told you about my arm?” I asked. My voice sounded far away.
“No one told me. No one needed to. Mabel was dying when you brought her to me. She was so far gone, my mother didn’t think she’d survive the night. I stayed at the hospital with her and I don’t know, I held her. And heard her heal.”
“It makes no sense,” I said, staring at him.
“You are telling me that somehow, you’ve seen a handful of people who were about to die. You could feel an echo of what they felt. And that whenever my heart—or anyone else’s— races, you can hear that.”
“And somehow, you can hear what’s broken in people, or what’s wrong, and fix it.”
“While the only thing I’m capable of is—” Murder. I could barely think it.
“You had visions as well, no? Saw things?” Noah’s eyes studied mine.
I shook my head. “Hallucinations. Nothing was real except the nightmares, the memories.”
Noah paused for a beat. “How do you know?”
I thought back to every hallucination I had. The classroom walls. Jude and Claire in the mirror. The earrings in the bathtub. None of them had actually happened. And the events I thought didn’t happen—the way I’d excused Morales’s death and the death of Mabel’s owner—did.
I did have PTSD. That was real. But what had happened, what I did, what I could do, was also real.
“I just know,” I said, and left it at that.
We stared at each other, not laughing, not smiling. Just looking; Noah serious, myself incredulous, until I was seized by a thought so potent and so urgent that I wanted to scream it.
“Fix me,” I commanded him. “This thing, what I’ve done— there’s something wrong with me, Noah. Fix it.”
Noah’s expression broke my heart as he brushed my hair from my face, and skimmed the line of my neck. “I can’t.”
“Why not?” I asked, my voice threatening to crack.
Noah lifted both of his hands to my face, and held it. “Because,” he said, “you aren’t broken.”
I sat perfectly still, breathing slowly through my nose. Any sound would shatter me. I closed my eyes to stop myself from crying, but the tears welled anyway.
“So,” I said as my throat constricted.
“Both of us?”
“Seems that way,” Noah said. A tear trickled onto his thumb, but he didn’t move his hands.
“What are the odds of—”
“Highly unfavorable,” Noah cut me off.
I smiled under his fingers. They were painfully real. I was so aware of him, of us, lost and confused and with no new understanding of what was happening or why.
But we weren’t alone.
Noah moved closer and kissed my forehead. His expression was calm. No, more than that. It was peaceful.
“You must be starving. Let me get you something from the kitchen.”
I nodded, and Noah stood to leave. When he opened my bedroom door, I spoke.
“When you heard me before—before I moved here. What did I say?”
Noah’s face grew somber.” ‘Get them out.’ “