She takes in my words, her eyes pouring into mine. “I don’t want to be taken care of.”

Her honesty stings, but I have to remember that she’s a few years older than me and has been doing this life thing by herself for a while.

“I don’t want my parents’ help. I don’t want your help. I don’t want anyone’s help. I just want to figure my shit out and cause the least amount of problems possible along the way. I will only bring you trouble . . . it’s what I do. It’s who I am. I’m not saying this to be dramatic—I’m serious, Landon.”

She looks at me, her eyes begging me to listen. To really listen. “I carry too much baggage, and I’m not looking for a knight in shining armor to rescue me.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to fix this, or if she even needs to be fixed.

I’m not used to not being needed. I’ve always been the fixer. Who I am without that role?

I don’t know.

“I know, princess,” I say, trying to add a little humor, break some of this tension I don’t know what to do with.

“Eew.” She makes a face of pure disgust. “I’m no princess.”

“What are you, then?” I ask her, genuinely wondering how she views herself.

“A human.”

There’s more to her words than sarcasm.

“I’m no damsel in distress, no princess. I’m a woman who is human in every sense of the word.”

My eyes meet hers and she hugs me again.

“Can we just stand like this for a few seconds? Can you just hold me for a few seconds so I can memorize how it feels?”

I hate that her words sound so ominous, like she’s saying more than goodbye.

I don’t respond. I just hold her in my arms until she lets go a few seconds later.

“I wish you would tell me what’s going on,” I finally say when she pulls away.

Her eyes don’t meet mine when she says, “So do I.”

Nora stands up straight and opens her eyes wide. “Okay. Let’s decorate this cake and give Ellen the best birthday of her life.”

The change in her demeanor is immediate and total. It worries me how quickly she can shut down and change the subject.

I want more from Nora. I want answers. I want to know the magnitude of her problems so I can offer a solution. I want to hold her in my arms until she believes that I’ll be here for her. I want to kiss her pain away and make her laugh until she forgets why she keeps herself hidden from me. I want her to know that I see her, even though she doesn’t want me to.

I want so many things, but I can’t want them alone . . . she has to want them, too. But I give her the response she seems to need right now and plaster a fake smile on my face.

“Let’s.” I raise my hand to high-five her and she cracks a smile.

She lifts her hand to mine and smacks it. “You’re the corniest person I know,” she says, opening the bathroom door.

I follow behind her. “I’m fine with that.”

And just like that, we’re “friends” again.

Tessa and Lila are still in the living room when we walk down the hallway together. Lila is still entranced by her car and Tessa is sitting cross-legged on the couch, watching the little girl with a big smile on her face.

Tessa looks at me, then at Nora, then back to me. Her face doesn’t hide her curiosity or her