Chapter 1: The Agreement

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Noah Dunom clutched his mug of tea as he surveyed his street from the half-open window in his living room. Fresh summer air wafted in, teasing the curtains and dispelling the steam that curled from his cup like a crooked finger. Noah forced himself to sip his tea. The mug rattled as he replaced it on his saucer. He took a deep breath, filling his nostrils with the sweet perfume of begonias and freshly cut grass. His hands trembled a moment longer, then stilled.

He lowered himself into the cushy recliner nearest the window. Leather creaked as he leaned over and twitched the curtain to peer out again. Nothing had changed. Couples walked dogs on leashes. Small boys pedaled tricycles in a caravan along the sidewalk, and a gaggle of girls drew figures with colored chalk and played hopscotch. He let the curtain fall, sat back, and reached for the breast pocket of his checkered shirt. Then his hand froze, as if awakening from a trance and realizing where it was and where it had nearly ventured, then dropped to his lap.

He had waited one thousand, four hundred and eighty-two years. He could wait a few more hours.

Time crawled. The bright blue skies of afternoon faded. Outside, mothers called children in for dinner. Windows glowed like golden squares on a luxurious chessboard. A few cars glided past the house until the neighborhood fell silent, and all Noah could hear was the low tick... tick... tick coming from his breast pocket. He set his tea aside and permitted his hands to unlace, but only to stroke his long, white beard. Not to reach toward his breast pocket, and not to peer outside again.

The call came at 7:15. He was up out of the chair and into the kitchen to pick up his phone before the first ring finished. The woman spoke quickly, and he promised to come immediately. He hung up the phone, returned to the front window, closed his eyes, and drew in a lungful of air. He opened his eyes to find himself in the neighborhood's eastern district, standing in the middle of a street lined with towering houses built from brick or obsidian or marble. Sleek cars that spoke to the high salaries of bankers and insurance sales agents and hedge fund managers sat in each driveway, gleaming in the moonlight.

He mounted the front porch of the nicest house in the eastern district and jabbed the doorbell. Inside, bells clanged to a melody he knew but could not focus on. At last he reached into his pocket and withdrew a gold pocket watch connected to a chain and flipped open the cover.

7:16.

Just under forty-five minutes. Plenty of time. Plenty.

The chimes faded. His thumb hovered over the doorbell when a strained voice called, "Coming, coming." There was a rattle as a chain was unlatched. The door opened a crack to reveal Isabelle Lewis's round face, aglow with sweat. "Noah. That was—"

She gasped and clenched her teeth. "Fast," she managed.

"I was in the neighborhood," he said.

She fumbled with the chain and opened the door wide. Isabelle Lewis, Noah observed, was very pregnant. All according to plan, down to the minute.

"Thank you for doing this," she wheezed as she waddled across an expansive living room. Overhead, a crystal chandelier flooded the space with artificial brightness. "I could have called Susie Marshall next door, but yours was the first name to pop into my head."

"Not at all, Belle, not at all."

"Any minute now," Belle said as Noah stepped inside, closed the door, and replaced the chain. She was lowering herself onto a sectional sofa. Halfway down, feet braced against the mahogany floor, knuckles white on the armrests, panting as if she were sprinting, she changed her mind and heaved herself upright.

"Shall I call him?" he asked, holding up his mobile phone.

Her face went pale. "No! He doesn't know. He can't—"

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