It’s hard, you know? she said. I love this town. I love its art deco architecture and its never-ending music festivals. Its overly friendly locals. But … there’s no future for me here. No career. When my mom’s settled, I’m moving to Atlanta. North frowned. To work with your grandparents? No. But her smile returned, because he’d remembered. Animation. She scooted forward with a new eagerness and told him about the studios that were only three-and-a-half hours away. How the market in Atlanta had been growing for years—how the major television networks were all creating shows down there. She told him about her YouTube channel, her success, her aspirations. Marigold told him everything. Everything except the crucial role that she’d wanted him to play in this. North leaned in. Do you want to go to college for that? For animation? I want to work. I’m ready to work. Marigold paused. Do you want to go to college? Yeah. I do… But he trailed off, embarrassed. Marigold leaned in. Mirroring him. His words came out in a rush as he gestured at his T-shirt. I know it’s a dying art and all that, but I want to study broadcasting. I want to work in radio. An alarm sounded, full blast, inside Marigold’s head. Someone once told me I had a good voice for radio, he continued. I’ve never been able to get it out of my head. And I love radio. And podcasts. I listen to This American Life and WTF and Radiolab all day long, obsessively, while I work. You do have a good voice. You have an amazing voice. North looked taken aback by her level of enthusiasm, but it was too late to stop. I have a confession, she said. And the rest of her story poured out, the one that revealed that this whole night had been about the sound of his voice. North was frozen. —and I’ve clearly freaked you out, and I’m totally mortified, and now I’m going to stop talking, she said. And now I’m going to die. There was a long and painful silence. And then North’s features slid back into their usual state of composure. First of all, he said, as smoothly and sardonically as anything he’d said yet, I’m flattered that you came looking for me and not a tree. This shows excellent taste on your behalf. The corners of Marigold’s mouth twitched. I came looking for your voice. Second of all, I can’t believe it took you an entire month—not to mention, me physically entering your apartment—for you to ask me that question. Which, by the way, you still haven’t formed into an actual query, so I couldn’t possibly give you my reply until you do. Marigold sat back and crossed her arms. North grinned. Obviously, I don’t have anything else to do tonight. So I can sit here as long as it takes. North, she said through gritted teeth. Would you please consider lending me your voice for my new video? That depends. He placed his hands behind his head. How much does it pay? Marigold’s heart staggered. She couldn’t believe it, but she’d never even thought about paying him. Her friends and coworkers had always done it for free. But of course she should pay him. Of course. Marigold, he said, after she’d been silent for twenty seconds. I’m kidding. What? I’m kidding. Of course I’ll do it. It sounds awesome. I could pay you in food, she said quickly. From Henrietta’s. North stared at her. You know what’s the strangest thing about tonight? Tonight, being an astoundingly strange night? What’s that? That you still don’t realize I’m willing to do anything, anything—he gestured in a full circle around them—to stay in your company. You don’t need to pay me. Marigold’s heart was in her throat. It’d been over a year since she’d been in a situation like this with a boy. A handsome boy. Suddenly, she couldn’t think straight. North nudged one of her boots with one of his. Her boot—her foot—tingled. A pounding on the door startled her out of her trance. Keep it down in there! Some of us are trying to sleep! Jesus, North said. She doesn’t stop. Never. Marigold got up and trudged to the door. I mean, this is the quietest we’ve been since I arrived. She does this even when my mom and I are asleep. She’ll wake us up. Marigold opened the door and plastered on a fake smile. Ms. Agrippa. How can I help you? It’s midnight. I can’t sleep with this racket— Ms. Agrippa cut herself off. Oh my lord! You’ve been robbed! No! Marigold took a step forward. Ms. Agrippa bolted back—one shaking hand on her chest, the other pointing at North. That man! There’s a strange man in your apartment! That’s my friend. Marigold steadied her voice. He works at the tree lot next door. You saw him up here earlier? He’s been helping me clean. Doesn’t it look nice? Do you need me to phone the police? Ms. Agrippa hissed. Are you in danger? Really and truly, everything’s fine. That’s North. He’s my friend. North waved. Ms. Agrippa’s expression changed. Does your mother know he’s here? Of course she does, Marigold said firmly. Better to lie about that one. Good night, Ms. Agrippa. Will he be leaving soon? You’ve been so loud tonight— Yes, Ms. Agrippa. We’re sorry to have disturbed you. Marigold wanted to slam the door shut, but she waited. Stared down her neighbor. It had gotten chillier outside, brisker. It felt … almost like snow weather. At last, Ms. Agrippa relented and headed down the stairwell. Marigold exhaled. Hello, friend, North said, right behind her ear. Marigold startled. And then she chanced it—she bumped his chest with her shoulder, lightly. North looked delighted. Is that… He sniffed the air. Snow. It smells like snow.
Oh, he’ll get better all right. I glared at Angelique. When we get home, he won’t have a choice.My friend patted my shoulder. It won’t be anything you can’t overcome together.
I wasn’t so sure. I knew Q. I knew when he sank into his thoughts and twisted himself into hundreds of knots trying to do the right thing. Doing his best at killing himself to be something he wasn’t. When he got like that, nothing could reach him. The last time, he’d sent me back to Australia after the best sexual experience of my life.If he tries to push me away again…I stopped those thoughts immediately.
I couldn’t contemplate that. Anger was much better at keeping the uncertainty and pain at bay. The pain of knowing today was the last day of our stolen vacation, and tomorrow, we’d all travel back to reinsert ourselves into life. And it’d been ruined.Q would return to work, even though he promised me he’d cut back his hours, and I would continue to be the figurehead for our charities and run the household. He’d use the long hours to keep his issues buried until I blew up at him and we had a fight that rattled the windows of our home.
Not only had he pissed me off, but he’d also refused to accept his birthday gift.
If he didn’t want to name this puppy, I would. I wasn’t giving him or his siblings and mother up. They needed me. Just like Q needed me even when he pretended he didn’t.What’d you do that for? Milo demanded.
You were ignoring me. I took a step back from him, finding a peculiar comfort in putting distance between him and the book. I tried to seem nonchalant and tucked my hair behind my ears. I asked what Jack said about it.He said you had a book that Peter wrote about vampires, Milo shrugged.
My heart had sped up, and I saw a flicker in Milo’s eyes as he registered it. I felt protective of the book because it was the only thing I really had of Peter, and I don’t know why it was important that I still feel a connection with him.Thinking about it only made my body scramble, and my best answer was to turn and quickly put the book in my top dresser drawer.