Chapter 12

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The small scar left by the burning coal on my calf was a lasting reminder. It never let me forget that people couldn't be trusted and romance wasn't an option for me. It had kept me from making any more stupid mistakes.

As I sat on the balcony and waited for Noah, I rubbed the little burn thoughtfully. The game had changed now. Maybe love was an option. I still didn't know exactly what I was, but I finally had someone who understood, truly understood what it was like to be different.

Noah landed, interrupting my thoughts. He descended like a majestic raven, and I rushed to embrace him.

"Keira, don't." He held up his hands to halt me, and I stopped and tried not to feel slighted.

"I'm sorry," he said. "But if you come too close, if I hold you..." I saw his face, torn and contorted.

I shook my head and flicked my pony tail, trying to shake off that same old feeling of rejection. "It's okay, I'm sorry. I just... I don't know how else to be around you."

"You don't have to be anything," Noah said, his voice rough. "You... just be you."

We stood as the dawn began to appear, so much unsaid. I didn't fully understand Noah's rule about waiting, but I didn't want to seem like a woman of questionable morals by pushing things against his wishes. It was hard. Even without touching, I could feel the current that ran between us, a connection like liquid fire.

Noah spoke eventually. "Come with me."

He led me downstairs, past the dim and silent kitchen and further up the hall to a small studio. Once the lights were on, I could see the shelves were covered with musical instruments. There was a saxophone, clarinet, flute, harp, bagpipes and dozens more. In the corner of the room was a baby grand piano, jet black and shiny like a little whale.

By the window stood an easel. Large canvases leaned against the walls in various stages of completion and I recognised the artwork from the paintings in my room.

Noah opened a cupboard and pulled out a fresh white canvas and a selection of paints. "Sit," he said, gesturing at a low chair near the piano.

"You... you paint?" I stammered. "Those are your paintings upstairs? They're beautiful. You're amazing."

"I'm good," said Noah, not boasting, just honest. "But I've never had anything truly worthwhile to capture before. Sit. I want to paint you."

That's what we did. It was oddly sensual. Noah gazed openly at every aspect of me, and I delighted in the opportunity to look upon him so carefully as well. I understood this was Noah's way of restraining things while still absorbing each other, following an unspoken agreement that muse and artist must never touch. It was sweet torture to stare and soak each other up in complete detail while never physically connecting.

It was almost entirely silent in the studio. We didn't talk; the words seemed superfluous to how we already felt. So the sound of the ocean was our background music as Noah filled the canvas with the liquid colours.

Just before lunch time in the ordinary world, Noah stood and announced, "It's finished."

I joined him on the artist's side of the canvas and breathed out in awe. "That can't be me."

The painting showed a girl with shining hair and silver eyes. She wore an expression of longing on her fragile face, and the painted sun seemed to shine right off the canvas as it filtered through her translucent, white wings.

"That can't be me," I said again. "That girl is gorgeous."

"Why can't it be you?" said Noah, a hard edge on his voice.

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