Chapter 31

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We all stood in the kitchen, frozen. Even Buster, sitting on the bench, was silent for once.

Pop opened the envelope and began to read out-loud. "Dear family, I am safe and well. I am sorry for the extended silence, I am sure you must have been concerned. I ask that you respect my need for space at this time, but know that I am where I need to be. Noah."

We'd all been waiting for word for so long. Now we had it and I had to remind myself to breathe.

"That's it?" snapped Leigh. "After all this time, that's all he has to say? God, he sucks."

Pop spoke, the voice of wisdom in the room. "We know he's safe, that's a start. More than we did know. It's Noah; we can't expect a long, flowery love letter."

More than ever, I felt the weight of responsibility for Noah's absence. "I'll leave you guys to it," I said and slipped out quickly, feeling Leigh's careful gaze on me as I left. I retreated to my room to turn over the news in my mind.

Noah was okay. My first reaction was relief, followed closely by an ache that I thought had healed. Turned out there was still a place in my heart for Noah, even after how he ditched me and the time since.

But the fact was, he had left. He had chosen his faith over me and left. And not called or written for weeks, uncaring enough to let us worry and start to believe the worst. And when he had finally written, it hadn't been warm or repentant. He hadn't even used our names. He had shown how much he didn't care anymore. Maybe he never had.

That was the catalyst for me. I knew what I had to do; I had to talk to Leigh.

I'd really been trying not to pursue Leigh since the disastrous night at the movies and I thought I'd been doing pretty well. No more requests for stretching or finger-chess. I needed him too much to lose him by reaching for more.

The terror I felt when I saw his face in the news article was indescribable. My throat closed over, deep shakes took over my body, my mind beat against my head like a bird trapped in a cage. The thought that I might have caused Leigh to become hunted or put in danger in any way... I couldn't handle it. I vowed to leave it all alone. I could cope with not being his girlfriend. I couldn't cope with losing him as my best friend.

But the Mario-Kart-tickle-battle lowered my defences. I'd put a hand on Leigh's heart, the place I was hoping would be mine. I could actually feel him. In the most bizarre way, I could feel his goodness, his light, his hope. Despite the promise I'd made to myself, I opened my mouth to ask a question that would change everything – and then Pop yelled, and the letter arrived, and the moment was gone.

Alone in my room, I leapt to my feet. Why does the letter have to mean anything? For me, it was simply confirmation of what I already knew; Noah wasn't coming back and I should move on. Screw the soap: I knew who I wanted. It was time to go see if he wanted me too.

I stepped out onto the balcony, heading for Leigh's room at the opposite end of the house to Noah's. I paused at his open sliding door, seeing him sitting on his bed, head in his hands, wings pulled tight against his body.

"Leigh?" I ventured. "Can we talk about today?"

His head snapped up and he wiped angrily at his face. "Keira, dammit. Don't you knock?"

"I'm... I'm sorry," I said, taken back by his harsh tone. I'd never heard Leigh speak even remotely rudely before, especially not to me.

He pushed off the bed and began to pace, his wings twitching like golden flags in the wind. "No. No, I don't want to talk about today. I can't do it, okay? I can't do 'friends' with you anymore."

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