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.”
I rolled my eyes. My mother slid a plate over to me, and I ate quietly next to her and Joseph and Noah, who were talking about going to the zoo this weekend. Their bright moods were palpable in the kitchen that morning, and I felt love and guilt swell in my chest. The love was obvious. The guilt was for what I’d put them through. What I might still put them through, if I didn’t figure out my problem. But I pushed that thought away, kissed my mother on the cheek, and made my way to the front door.
“Ready?” Noah asked.
I nodded, even though I wasn’t.
“Where are we really going?” I asked as Noah drove, knowing full well that it couldn’t be school. It wasn’t safe there for me. Because I wasn’t safe around anyone else.
“1821 Calle Ocho,” Noah said. “You wanted to go back to the botanica, didn’t you?”
“Daniel’s going to notice we’re not in school.”
Noah shrugged. “I’ll tell him you needed a day off. He won’t say anything.”
I hoped Noah was right.
Little Havana had somehow become our familiar haunt, but nothing about it was familiar today. Crowds of people surged through the streets, waving flags in time to the drum-beat of the music blaring from an unidentified source. Calle Ocho was closed to traffic, so we had to walk.
“What is this?”
Noah’s sunglasses were on, and he scanned the colorfully dressed multitudes. “A festival,” he said.
I glared at him.
“Come on, we’ll try to push through.”
We did try, but it was slow going. The sun beat down on us as we cut a precarious path through the people. Mothers holding the hands of children with painted faces, men shouting over the music to one another. The sidewalks were crowded with tables, so customers could watch the festivities as they ate. A group of guys leaned against the wall of the cigar shop, smoking and laughing, and the domino park was filled with onlookers. I scanned the storefronts for the odd assortment of electronics and Santeria statutes in the window but didn’t see it.
“Stop,” Noah called out over the music. He was four or five feet behind me.
“What?” I walked back to where he stood, and on the way, bumped into someone, hard. Someone in a navy baseball cap. I froze.
He turned around and looked up from under the brim. “Perdon,” he said, before walking away.
I took a deep breath. Just a man in a hat. I was too jumpy. I made my way over to where Noah stood.
Noah took off his sunglasses as he faced the storefront. His face was expressionless, completely impassive. “Look at the address.”
My eyes roamed over the stenciled numbers above the glass door of the toy store. “1823,” I said, then took a few steps in the other direction, to the next one. My voice caught in my throat as I read the address. “1819.” Where was 1821?
Noah’s face was stone, but his eyes betrayed him. He was shaken.
“Maybe it’s on the other side of the street,” I said, not believing it myself. Noah said nothing. My eyes roamed the length of the building, inspecting it. I made my way back to the toy store and pressed my nose up to the cloudy glass, peering in. Large stuffed animals sat in a duck-duck-goose arrangement on the floor, and marionette puppets were frozen mid-dance in the window, congregating around a ventriloquist dummy. I stepped back. The shop had the same narrow shape as the botanica, but then, so did the stores on either side of it.
“Maybe we should ask someone,” I said, growing desperate. My heart raced as my eyes scanned the shops, looking for anyone to ask.
Noah stood facing the storefront. “I don’t think it would matter,” he said, his voice hollow. “I think we’re on our own.”