I manage to avoid him the rest of the day, napping after brunch and ignoring him at dinner.
Our cabins are on the same floor, below the galley and above the master bedroom where our parents sleep. Thankfully he keeps his word and leaves me alone, even stepping aside to let me pass when I head back to the observation deck at midnight. I suck in a breath to make extra sure no part of my body touches his.
Wind whips at my hair, salty and cool, as I step out of the hold.
I grasp the cold metal railing and let it ground me. Why does Christopher bother me so much? In my pocket there are a couple of joints and a lighter. I light myself something to calm down, because I would rather not know the answer to that question.
In a practiced move I swing my leg over the railing and pull myself up. This is my favorite place to sit, from the time I was six years old and my nanny would fall asleep in the room next door. I can pretend the yacht isn’t here, pretend it’s just me and the ocean, rocking and rocking. The movement bounces me softly, my ass against the metal bar.
Weed makes it better, more like a meditation. The more drags I take, the more it feels like the whole world is rocking, and maybe I’m the only one sitting still.
“Do you have a death wish?”
The question comes out of the darkness behind me, and I jump, almost slipping off the rail. I manage to catch myself, clutching the metal bar with one hand and the joint with another. Survival and sanity, the two most important things in life. “Do you always hide in the shadows?”
I snort, which is a friendlier sound than I want to make with him. “That doesn’t surprise me.”
He takes a step forward and holds out his hand. “You’re making me nervous.”
“That’s kind of my standard operating procedure,” I say, ignoring his hand and taking another drag. “You get good grades. I get into trouble.”
“So the death wish thing…”
“Pretty accurate,” I say, wishing he would go belowdecks. And wishing he wouldn’t. There’s something complicated about him, the way he makes me want opposite things at the same time. “I don’t want to die, but I want to live. People call that having a death wish.”
With clear reluctance he pulls his hand back and settles his arms on the railing a few feet away from my ass. His eyes are trained on the dark horizon, but I can tell he’s still watching me. “This is what living means? Falling into the ocean with no one around to rescue you?”
I point at the choppy water. “The captain dropped anchor before dinner. We aren’t even moving. What do you think is going to happen?”
“Head trauma. Hypothermia. Drowning.”
“For your information I’ve been coming up here by myself for a decade. No one ever comes with me. Haven’t fallen overboard once.”
“Then statistically speaking, you’re overdue.”
“Wow, you really are my dad’s heir.” Part of me is glad to have company on one of my nightly reveries. The other part of me feels the distinct intrusion of having a stranger in my space.
“Go back down and play with your calculator.”
There’s a pained pause. “I can’t. Not when I know you’re up here, getting high and hanging off a two-hundred-foot yacht. If something happened to you—”
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.” The sea takes that moment to bump bump bump me, my ass a full two inches off the rail with every pull of the yacht. I’m holding on tight so I don’t go flying, not forward or backward, my perch secure.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather paint a mythical creature on the observation deck?”
“I know you’re making fun of me right now, but no. I don’t have enough paint for that.”
“Can you just sit on a deck chair like a normal person?”
“Do I look normal to you? Don’t answer that.”
There’s a flash of white teeth. That’s how I know he’s smiling even though the rest of his face is in shadow. The smile is there one second and gone the next, as temporary as his presence in my life but strangely momentous. “I’m sorry I called you a poor little rich girl.”
“Are you just saying that so I’ll get off the railing?”
“Is it working?”
“No, but I appreciate the effort.”
And strangely that was true. Not many people have ever cared enough to follow me up to the deck at midnight, to make sure I didn’t fall into the ocean. Definitely not one of the stepsiblings, who would probably have given me a little push to get rid of the competition for the inheritance.
It makes me want to prove myself to him, to convince him that I’m worth saving even if he apparently already thinks so. “Medusa wasn’t for attention. I mean, she was, but not because I wanted Daddy to pay for a new science lab.”
“Then why’d you do it?”
“This girl got roofied at a party.”
He sucks in a breath. “Harper.”
“It wasn’t me.” I glance sideways to see his black eyes staring at me, so hard and fierce it almost seems possible that he can go back in time and rip the balls off a frat boy. What would he say if he knew my past? “It wasn’t me, I swear. I wasn’t even friends with her.”
After a searching look, he turns back to the ocean. “A girl got roofied.”
“Everyone knew about it, like the next day. One of the football players slipped it in her drink, and then the football team, I mean the entire football team, took advantage of her.”
“They suspended the guy who brought the roofie to the party, one of the players, but not the one who gave it to her—the quarterback. And not the rest of the team. A big game was coming up. You can’t play a game without all your players.”
He’s quiet a moment. “I’m sorry.”
For that I pass him the joint and watch while he takes a drag, his lips touching where mine have been. “The honor society set up a protest and everyone who went got suspended. And after all that there wasn’t a single word about the party in the local papers. The morning before the game there was going to be a big pep rally with the cheerleaders and the school’s donors. The press was going to be there. They had the janitors stay late shining the floor. Real press, from a newspaper that wouldn’t take money not to print the story.”
He passes the joint back to me. “So you painted Medusa.”
“She was raped by Poseidon, who so happened to be the school mascot.” I have to blink away stupid tears. I don’t know why it would make me cry now, when it didn’t before. Not when I had to walk down the hallway next to boys who would hurt me if they had the chance. When I had to wear my skirt a certain length and my hair a certain way, as if I was the reason they were cruel.
“Did everyone turn to stone?”
I look down at the water, where I can see more white crests against the ink. It looks rough for a calm night. “The reporter took pictures and started asking questions, but he didn’t get the whole story that day. A week later the story was printed. The entire team was suspended. The headmaster was ready to suspend me too, but Daddy flew down and smoothed it over.”
“The science lab.”
“Which means I’m no better than those players, using my family money.”
His voice is soft enough I have to strain to hear it over the murmur of the waves. “You’re plenty better, Harper. Don’t you ever doubt that. You’re fucking gold.”
My heart skips a beat. I should know better than to fall for a line, but this boy has me messed up. I’m caught by his eyes, which are somehow darker than the sea beneath us and infinitely more deep. I’m drowning there; that must be the reason I don’t feel it coming.
My hand finds cold metal, and I have a moment of sweet relief—until the slickness of sea spray coats my palm and I lose my grip. For a moment I’m suspended in air, my gaze still locked on his, my shock reflected in that black mirror.
And then I’m falling.