Emma looked at Julian. It was shadowy in the attic, but she could see his hands clenched at his sides. Was he angry at her for following him?
“But Cortana has never been broken,” she said.
“It’s only a story,” Julian said.
“There is truth in stories,” said Arthur. “There is truth in one of your paintings, boy, or in a sunset or a couplet from Homer. Fiction is truth, even if it is not fact. If you believe only in facts and forget stories, your brain will live, but your heart will die.”
“I understand, Uncle.” Julian sounded tired. “I’ll be back later. Please eat something. All right?”
Arthur lowered his face into his hands, shaking his head. Julian began to move across the room to the stairs; halfway there, he caught Emma’s wrist, drawing her after him.
He exerted no real force, but she followed him anyway, shocked into compliance simply by the physical sensation of his hand on her wrist. He only touched her to apply runes these days—she missed those friendly touches she was used to from the years of their friendship: a hand brushing her arm, a tap on her shoulder. Their secret way of communicating: fingers drawings words and letters on each other’s skin, silent and invisible to everyone else.
It seemed like forever. And now sparks were racing up her arm from that one point of contact, making her body feel hot, stinging, and confused. His fingers looped her wrist as they went out the front door.
When it closed behind them, he let go, turning to face her. The air felt heavy and dense, pressing against Emma’s skin. Mist obscured the highway. She could see the heaving surfaces of gray waves slapping against the shore; from here, each looked as big as a humpbacked whale. She could see the moon, struggling to show itself between clouds.
Julian was breathing hard, as if he’d been running flat out for miles. The dampness of the air stuck his shirt to his chest as he leaned back against the wall of the Institute. “Why did you come to the attic?” he said.
“I’m sorry.” She spoke stiffly. She hated being stiff around Jules. They’d rarely had a fight that didn’t end in a casual apology or joking. I had this feeling, that you needed me, and I couldn’t not come. “I understand if you’re angry—”
“I’m not angry.” Lightning sizzled out over the water, briefly whitening the sky. “That’s the hell of it, I can’t be angry, can I? Mark doesn’t know a thing about you and me, he isn’t trying to hurt me, none of it’s his fault. And you, you did the right thing. I can’t hate you for that.” He pushed off from the wall, took a restless few paces. The energy of the pent-up storm seemed to crackle off his skin. “But I can’t stand it. What do I do, Emma?” He raked his hands through his hair; the humidity was making it curl into ringlets that clung to his fingers. “We can’t live like this.”
“I know,” she said. “I’ll go away. It’s only a few months. I’ll be eighteen. We’ll take our travel years away from each other. We’ll forget.”
“Will we?” His mouth twisted into an impossible smile.
“We have to.” Emma had begun to shiver; it was cold, the clouds above them roiling like the smoke of a scorched sky.
“I should never have touched you,” he said. He’d drawn closer to her, or maybe she’d moved closer to him, wanting to take his hands, the way she always had. “I never thought what we had could break so easily.”
“It’s not broken,” she whispered. “We made a mistake—but being together wasn’t the mistake.”
“Most people get to make mistakes, Emma. It doesn’t have to ruin their whole lives.”