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{You can read the entire story as I write it here; I’ll add a chapter each week, after I post to Instagram.}

The drive back to Jude’s house was quiet. Eerily so. Maddie didn’t attempt to fill it with chatter or lingering questions.

Which was good. Because there were already enough questions clogging the silence of that twenty-minute drive.

Jude stopped the car in the driveway and Maddie shot him an apologetic look before disappearing inside. The hair on Eden’s arm prickled when Jude reached for her hand, but her subtle shift stopped him.

“I agreed to come here so you could explain. We’re here. So, explain.”

Jude leaned back in the driver’s seat but didn’t relax. “Noah was sick. He was dying.”

Eden nodded. Like it was a perfectly normal thing to hear. Like Jude was explaining some banality of life, not the end of one of her oldest friends. God, this was awful.

She cleared her throat with a cough. “Yeah. You said that already. Details, Jude.”

“Right. Shit.” His sigh was jarring. “Noah got the diagnosis about two years ago, but I think he suspected something was wrong long before that. You know how chill he was. How go-with-the-flow.”

Jude laughed in spite of himself. “He was never some brooding artist, you know? He didn’t take his shit out on anybody. Then, all of a sudden, that started to change. He’d have these intense mood swings. Which was strange, sure. But what really freaked him out was when he’d get off-balance. Or lose his coordination all of a sudden. He went from being the kid who could dribble circles around us on the soccer field, to the man I’ve seen practically scale buildings to get the perfect shot, to, all of a sudden, a guy who had a hard time putting one foot in front of the other.”

“Shit,” Eden whispered. “What did the doctor’s say? Please don’t tell me he had a brain tumor.”

“You have no idea how much I wish I could.”

Eden whipped to face Jude. It was an awful thing to say, a comment she could barely understand. But the bleakness on Jude’s face prompted her to bite her tongue, and wait.

“A brain tumor could have been operable. Noah might have lived if it had been a tumor.” Jude rubbed his hands across his thighs, like he was trying to scrub feeling back into them. “No, it was so much worse. Noah had Huntington’s.”

Eden didn’t realize she was crying until her hand flew to her face and she was met with moisture. “What? How?” She stopped, gulping down air. “It’s hereditary. He would have known if he was at risk. He would have said something. He would have told me.”

Eden didn’t want to think about all the times Noah had gone quiet on the other end of the phone, as if he’d been steeling himself to tell her something he knew she wouldn’t want to hear. How many times had she sensed it, the pregnancy of those pauses? Eden didn’t want to think about how many times she’d barreled on, assuming Noah had been about to bring up Jude, or Allie, or Maddie, or home. Shit. The tears fell faster when she realized he’d been trying to figure out how to tell her something else entirely.

“Most cases of Huntington’s are hereditary, yes. But not all. I swear, Eden, we got second and third and forth opinions. But the tests all came back the same. Noah fell into the small margin of cases that come from a new mutation. He never knew he was at risk. There was no way for him to have ever guessed. Not until things got so bad he couldn’t avoid going to the doctor.”

Jesus Christ. Eden swiped furiously at her cheeks and tried to corral her choppy breathing. “The rest,” she managed. “Tell me the rest.”

Jude stared out the windshield and nodded. Then began. He explained how it was a terminal diagnosis. That Huntington’s was incurable. He explained how the doctors had painted the picture for Noah very clearly. Clinically. Gradually, his coordination would get worse. It would become hard to walk. Eventually, impossible to talk. Noah’s brain cells would continue to die until he fell into a state of dementia. His chances for pneumonia and heart disease would sky rocket. He would require full-time, long-term care. He would be alive, but he would be dying. Slowly and painfully.

Jude managed to get through most of it without stopping, like he’d recited it so often it had become rote. But when he got to the end he had to stop and work through the emotion clogging his voice.

“The doctors also warned that he would be, uh, tempted to…to take things into his, uh, own hands. That it wasn’t an uncommon way for people with Huntington’s to die.”

Eden grabbed Jude’s hand. She thought he might have squeezed back, but she couldn’t be sure. She’d gone completely numb.

“You’re talking suicide.”

A huge rush of breath preceded Jude’s, “Yes.”

“You told me, Jude, in the orchard. You told me it wasn’t suicide. You told me!” Her sudden fury felt so much better than the utter helplessness of seconds ago.

His eyes were squeezed tight when he shook his head, his hand still a cage around her fingers. “I don’t think it was. I swear, I don’t think it was.”

Jude sounded as tortured as she felt and his confession from the lake came flooding back. She pulled out of his grasp. “What did you mean when you said you killed him? If he was sick, Jude, if he was dying, how could you have possibly killed him?”

They weren’t touching anymore, but that didn’t prevent Eden from feeling the pain that lanced through him.

“We fought that night. Noah had decided that if you weren’t coming home, he’d go to you. He’d already packed up most of his things. I don’t even know what he was planning on doing after he found you. He wouldn’t say. Maybe he was going to travel while he still could? Maybe he thought he could convince you to come back? Who knows. But I didn’t think he should go. I told him that and we got into it. God, I was desperate, Eden. And he was so fucking determined. And it got so out of hand.”

“Why didn’t you want him to find me? He was well enough to travel, right? Had it gotten so bad he couldn’t fly on his own?”

“No,” Jude answered quietly. “Things hadn’t gotten that bad. Not yet.”

Eden ran her gaze down the man next to her. His eyes looked sunken and flat. His lips were thin, pressed tight in what looked like anguish. And guilt was radiating off him in waves.

“Why?”

“I thought if he found you, that if you and Noah were far away together…that it would be over.”

“Jude! What would be over?” Eden didn’t hold back the bite in her voice.

“Us! Okay? Us.”

Her lip wobbled and she didn’t know if it meant more tears or maniacal laughter. “Wh-what do you mean, us?”

“Don’t you get it, Eden? Will you never fucking get it?” Jude was on the brink of fraying, a lick of madness coating his words. “It’s always about you. For me, it has always been about you. I’ve made decision after decision that I thought was right and they have always turned out to be so fucking wrong all because I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

“I-I–”

“Tell me, what are the chances that if Noah found you and told you everything that you’d have actually come back? He’d already given up the gallery. His house was more or less boxed up. Everything that meant anything to him, he was planning on taking. He would have found you, he would have stayed, and you would never have come home.”

A muscle in the corner of Jude’s jaw ticked. When he continued his voice had dropped an octave and Eden watched, wide-eyed, as a tear escaped.

“He was always the thing that kept you tied to this place, Eden. He was my only hope for ever seeing you again. With him gone, that hope vanished. You vanished. And the idea drove me crazy. Crazy to the point that I became so enraged with my oldest friend that I said things I should never have said. And I made him angrier than I’d ever seen him. And what did Noah always do to calm down when he was angry?”

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. There were a lot of things ricocheting against Eden’s skull but none of them were coherent thoughts.

“What did Noah always do?” Jude asked again with the stoicism of a guilty man waiting for his sentence. Like a man waiting to be condemned.

“He went into the lake,” she finally answered.

“He went into the lake,” Jude confirmed. “And that night, that’s exactly what he did. It was late. It was dark. He’d already had a few scares when swimming, times when he’d had to struggle to get back to shore. But that didn’t stop him. Goddamn it. We fought, I left. He went into the lake, and he never came out. That’s what I mean, Eden. That’s way Noah is dead, now, and not twenty years from now. And that’s how I know I killed him.”

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