The Last of August

Page 68

“You’re awful,” he said, laughing. “I can’t believe you made me think—”

“You just had yourself beaten unconscious. I thought we might as well get you a comfortable bed.” Watson had laughed. His eyes had crinkled at the corners. Hours ago I thought he might have been dead. “There’s also a view of the river,” I said, and like a miracle, he laughed again.

Oftentimes, I withhold information from Watson for this very reason. He resents this, I think. My “magic tricks.” I don’t know if he’s understood yet who the reveals are really for.

Inside, the desk clerk raised an eyebrow at Watson’s battered face. “Lawn-mowing accident,” I told her, and she averted her eyes.

“Wouldn’t there be blades if it’d been a lawn-mowing accident?” he asked in the elevator. “Wouldn’t I be, like, sliced open?”

“It could have been a riding mower. You could have fallen off it.”

“Yes,” he said. “Please continue stripping my heroic act of all its heroics.”

“You did throw him to the ground,” I allowed. “Before he knocked you out, of course.”

The doors on our hall were all appropriately medieval. Hammered nails, stained glass, that sort of thing. When we found ours, Watson smiled to himself, and let us in.

We talked that night. It wasn’t so different from these sorts of talks when we’d had them before—I want this, and What you want isn’t possible, and What’s left for us, then, to be to each other? I always felt as though he wanted us to reach a solution, as though he and I were a mathematical proof that simply needed to be balanced. For a very long time, I thought he considered me to be the problem, and then I worried he thought that I was the solution. I’m neither. I’m a teenage girl. He is my boy best friend. We would be everything to each other until we couldn’t. The room had two beds, but we slept on opposite sides of the same one, and if I woke in the middle of the night in his arms, I can tell you that he slept through it.

He slept through it, too, when I disentangled myself from him and went to sit alone on the bathroom floor until the screaming in my head subsided. I am in control, I reminded myself. I am in control. I took fourteen breaths. I thought about the kit I had hidden away in my bag for emergencies, and then I forced myself to stop thinking about it. I am in control of this, I repeated, and felt better, and then I got back into Watson’s bed.

I had never wanted him to see me vulnerable. But what if showing vulnerability was a decision I myself made?

“Wake up.”

He stirred the smallest amount.

“Wake up,” I said again. “I need you to answer a question.”

This time, he sat up. His face was a mottled wreck. Eyes blackened, lips cut and bruised. Empirically, I knew that he needed sleep to heal, and if this wasn’t so important, I would never have woken him up. I wasn’t my great-great-great-grandfather. There was no pleasure to be had in ordering him into danger, in waking him before dawn.

I preferred to watch Jamie Watson sleep, because if he slept and I was watching, he was safe. I would rather Watson be at home, doing research and reading novels, because one prefers to have their heart locked safely in their chest. When I loved August Moriarty, it was that I recognized myself in him and saw that self redeemed. He and I were so alike in how we were raised, in how we saw the world, and he culled what he needed from that childhood and he resisted the rest with his whole self. He thought of others first. He read indiscriminately, traveled the world, listened to me when I spoke as though I wasn’t an experiment or a wind-up doll, but a person, a complete one, with the contradictions that all people had. I wanted to be him, me, when I never wanted to be anyone else. If I wanted to be with him, it was because of that.

And Watson? If August was my counterpoint, my mirror, Jamie was the only escape from myself I’d ever found. When I was beside him, I understood who I was. I spoke to him, and I liked the words I said. I spoke to him, and the words he said back surprised me. Sharpened me. If August reflected me, Jamie showed me myself made better. He was loyal and kind, stalwart, like the knights from the old tales, and yes, he was handsome, even with a bruised face and a furrowed brow, miles away from the place we met or from the places we called home.

“What is it?” His voice was thick with sleep.

“Do you want this?” I asked him. I’d asked it once before, when I wanted to gauge how much distance I’d have to put between us if he did.

“I think so,” he said. “Only—do you?”

I took off my clothes. I’d been wearing pajamas, so it wasn’t a particularly slow reveal, or a seductive one. He watched me with shadowed eyes. When I reached for the hem of his shirt, he stopped me. I’ll do it, his face said, and with a grimace, he lifted it over his head. His torso was a wreck, battered purples and reds, and from the way he moved his shoulders, like an old, tired boxer, it was clear that the painkillers he’d been given had worn off in the night.

“Do you want this?” he asked me, with effort.

“I do,” I said, and hated my voice for breaking. “Can we—can we get under the blankets?”

I lay down first, and he did next, gingerly, pulling the blankets over our heads like we were children. I had the insane urge to laugh, not because he was in pain but because I was, too. I hadn’t known my own motives until then. I was always so good with logic, causality. If, then. If, then.

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