Chapter Eighteen

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Noah knocks the frosted glass pane of the chipped wooden door three times, hearing the hollow sound reverberate down the hallway of the old terrace house.

No one answers. 

He tries another three times, his resolve fracturing with every impact on the glass. He doesn't fully know why he's here, only that this is his last resort - his final fool's shot at finding his sister. 

There's still no answer, and he's just beginning to turn away when the door cracks open an inch, shedding a thin sliver of light into the darkened home beyond. 

Michael's eyes widen fearfully at the sight of Noah and his pained expression. "Is she..." he begins, not daring to finish. Dead. The word remains unspoken between them, but it's no less real. 

Noah shakes his head, searching for the right words, "No. Still nothing yet." 

Michael visibly slumps, dragging the door further open and gesturing for Noah to come inside.

He barely checks that Noah is following him as he runs a hand over his haggard face - something almost too pained and old for someone so young about him - and pads barefoot into the kitchen. 

Never in Noah's life has he seen his sister's best friend in such a sorry state. The boy looks as if he hasn't slept in days; his face is drawn and tired, with dark circles under his eyes to rival Noah's own. His usually warm skin has lost its healthy hue and his blonde hair is pressed on one side like he hasn't bothered brushing it since he'd last slept. 

"Why are you here, then?" Michael asks, his voice dull as he gestures to a chair at the kitchen table with a defeated wave of his hand. 

Noah sits, peering around the small kitchen. It's old and dilapidated but it has a welcoming air about it. Mustard yellow curtains hang at the thin glass windows and aging oak cupboards line the walls. The table in the centre is flecked with years of marks and scratches and the whole place smells like home cooking. Homely, that's how Noah can think to describe it. No wonder Eva liked - likes - coming here so much.

"I was wondering whether you could help me," Noah begins as Michael slides into the chair across from him. "Did Eva say anything to you in the days... before? Anything unusual?" 

Michael shakes his head. "She was just a bit shaken up over what happened in the graveyard. Nothing else, really." 

Noah sighs, not wanting to meet Michael's inconsolable eyes. "And you have no idea where she could have gone?" It's a question he already knows the answer to. 

"I'm sorry. Believe me, if I knew anything, you'd be the first one I'd tell," Michael replies, his face earnest. "Have you turned up anything at all at work?" 

Noah grimaces. "They took me off the case." 

"What?" Michael's voice is trembling. 

"They said it was too personal for me to get involved in. That I should go home and spend time with my family," Noah explains dejectedly. "But I can't just sit around and do nothing. They don't know her like I do, they don't..." he trails off. He knows the odds. It's been three days, and he knows that by now his colleagues have started looking for a body. 

He refuses to believe that Eva is anything but alive and well, but every moment she's gone is excruciating. 

The alternative theory is hardly better. In the eyes of the police, it's the only other feasible explanation for why she's not come home: she has something to do with Sephtis Atlas' death. 

He doesn't tell Michael that, of course. The boy already looks miserable enough without being told that his best friend is a wanted criminal.

Noah lays something on the table, the only shred of a clue he can offer. 

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