“I could build you a house,” he whispers. “I thought about it while I watched you paint.”
I suck in the corner of my bottom lip. Is he saying this because he’s simply playing along with the idea that we’re unattached to anyone or anything but each other for the night? “Where?”
He points to where the mountains lie. “Up there. I can see you sitting on our front porch, completely entranced with the land below. You’d have all the inspiration you’d need and never have to leave our home.”
Our home. A thrill circles in my chest. “So I stay home and you…” I drop the statement, curious how he’d answer.
“Stay home with you.” Oh, God, his deep voice vibrates down to my soul.
“One of us has to make money. I’m assuming houses on mountains, especially those in national forests, are pricey.”
With a pop, more embers fly into the sky, and the fire begins to fade. Noah releases me, and cold air rushes to my back. He edges close to the fire and uses a long stick to stir the flames. “Didn’t you know? You bank millions off your paintings, and I run my architecture firm from home.”
My smile spreads from ear to ear, and I love how Noah’s chocolate-brown eyes dance when he peers at me from over his shoulder. I’m especially in love with the game we’re playing. It makes life, as Aires had told me, seem less complicated.
“Will we have pets?” I bite back the question regarding kids. While this might be a fun fantasy, imagining being responsible for something like that is terrifying.
“Sure.” Noah stays near the fire on one bent knee and occasionally pokes it to keep the dwindling flames alive. “I had a dog once.”
“A mix of some sort. Part Lab, part something smaller than Lab. Its paws were too big for its body, so it skidded across the kitchen floor.”
“Is that what you want?”
“If we’re going to live alone on a mountain, we need a guard dog. A German shepherd. Something like that.”
“Guard dog?” Not what I had in mind for the fantasy. “We need something cute and cuddly.” I squish my fingers in the air as if I have the little puff ball in my hands. “It can sleep in our bed.”
“No fucking way, Echo. I’m not sharing my bed with a dog.”
There’s something indescribably titillating about Noah taking this theoretical glimpse into our future so seriously. While I couldn’t care less if a dog sleeps in the bed I’d share with Noah, I can’t help but tease him. “But it’ll be our baby. We can’t let it stay on the cold floor.”
“I’ll buy it a pillow,” he says way too slowly.
I giggle and scoot to the end of the blanket to be near him. Placing my toes behind the heel of my other foot, I kick off my shoes, one after another. Then I peel off my socks and nudge Noah’s butt with my toes.
Noah eyes my foot then flashes a wicked grin. “Trying to tell me something, baby?”
I shrug. Maybe. “So we’ll have a front porch?”
“Wraparound.” Noah falls back to sit beside me and grabs my bare feet to put on his lap. “With a porch swing facing the west so we can watch the sunset every night.”
I blink and survey Noah as if it’s the first time I’ve seen him. He’s in the same clothes as when we left: black T-shirt, jeans, black boots. The bottom of the cross tattooed on his biceps peeks out from under his sleeve. The firelight dances across his face, and his hair hangs over his eyes. Noah’s just as beautiful as the time I sat next to him in the school’s main office all those months ago, but the words he just said—those aren’t from the boy that asked me to smoke pot with him the night of Michael Blair’s party.
Noah traces the small bones on the top of my foot, and I’m amazed how the simple touch races up my veins to private areas.
“Um.” Clear thoughts, clear thoughts. “One story? Two?”
“One and a half.” He won’t meet my eyes, and I’m okay with it. He’s permitting me into his typically guarded thoughts. “Rustic cabin style, but with all the amenities. Wide-open floor plan. Living room, large kitchen, stairs up the side that go to the loft that’ll hold our bedroom.”
“You’ve really mulled this over, haven’t you?”
Noah continues to draw his fingers along the top of my toes and stays silent. The fire cracks, and only a dim flame remains. He exhales as if he’s jumping off a cliff. “I’ve already drawn the plans.”
Echo tilts her head, and her red curls tumble over her shoulder. I love how she looks in the firelight. The flickering flames create a soft glow around her and highlight her green eyes. “You drew plans for a house for me?”
I have a hard time meeting her gaze, so I stare at the red center of the fire. “Yeah.”
“When did you do it?”
I meant to give it to her as a graduation present, but chickened out. “Few weeks ago.”
Echo’s feet rock in my lap. “That’s…”
“…the best thing anyone has ever done for me.”
My eyes snap to hers, and the peaceful smile playing on her lips is all I need. “It’s just a floor plan.”
Echo slides her feet off my lap and sits up on her knees next to me. “Do you have it with you?”
Tell her no. “Yeah.”
I shove a stick at the hot coals at the bottom of the fire, and they dissolve into white ash. A few months back, Echo drew pictures of my parents and she was desperate to stop me when I flipped the page to see what she had done. I thought she was acting stupid for trying to steal the sketch pad from me, but now I understand her anxiety.
“Can I see it?” she asks.
I toss the stick into the flames as the fire is done for the night. “It’s in my pack. Back pocket in a folder.”
Echo jumps to her feet. “Are you coming?”
“Let me put this out, and I’ll join you in a few.” Because if she hates it, I’ll notice, and that would break my fucking heart.
“I can help,” she says.
“I promised you wouldn’t do a thing.”
She angles her body in the direction of the restroom. “It’s not a big deal. I can tote some water from—”
“Gave my word, and you’re going to let me keep it.”
Echo rolls her eyes and ignores my statement as she reaches for an empty water jug. She asked for it. In a swift motion, I bend over and ease her over my shoulder. Echo squeals as her feet dangle near my chest. I unzip the netting of the tent and slip Echo in. Her curls cover her face, and the sound of her laughter soothes my weary soul.