“We’re in Iran!” I don’t even try to hide the terror in my voice, but Noah pushes my fear aside.
“Technically, Iran sold this land back to the city at the same time they gave up diplomatic relations with Adria. Iran still owns the building, of course. But the land is fair game.” He points down to the base of the cliffs, the small stretch of beach that reaches from the sea to the back of the abandoned building.
“It’s a shame. It’s the only embassy with private beach access. I tried to talk our ambassador into buying it, but for some reason the Israelis didn’t think the Iranians would be up for a real estate swap.”
“Fancy that,” I tell him.
Noah gasps in mock surprise. “I know!”
“So the local teenagers come up here to party … in what used to be Iran?”
“What can I say? We’re resourceful. But, Grace —” He steps closer to me. “We do not go past the fence. I mean, we could. But we don’t. Because none of us are superexcited about starting World War Three. So we do not go past the fence.” He stares at me, as if waiting for a protest that never comes. “Say it with me, Grace. We do not go past the fence.”
“We do not go past the fence,” I tell him.
“Because we do not want to start World War Three.”
“We do not want to start World War Three,” I add.
Noah smiles and takes a few steps closer to the party. For a second, he can’t quite meet my gaze. It’s a look (or, rather, a non-look) that I know well.
“So what did Ms. Chancellor tell you about me?” I ask.
Noah shrugs a little. “Not much.”
“You flare your nostrils when you lie.”
“I knew that,” he says, nostrils flaring again.
The clouds are gathering over the moon, and for a moment we are shrouded in shadow, there atop the rocky cliffs. Someone changes the music and it’s quiet for a split second. But that is all it takes for me to see it — the look that fills people’s eyes when they think they know the truth about me and what happened. About my mom’s death and what I did — or didn’t — see. It isn’t fear; it’s pity. And I hate that even more.
“I’m not crazy,” I tell him.
“I know that, too,” he says. This time it’s obvious he’s telling the truth. Or at least he thinks he is.
“Do you want to ask me about it?” I ask as the music comes back on.
Noah takes my hand. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
He leads me toward the party. It isn’t much, as big, rowdy shows of adolescent rebellion go. As we walk closer, I feel the gazes of three dozen strangers land upon me. Noah drops my hand. This isn’t a date. We aren’t a couple. Only then do I register that people aren’t staring just at me.
“On our left,” Noah starts slowly, speaking low into my ear, “we have the wealthy locals.” He points to a small group of kids speaking Adrian and Spanish and Arabic. They wear expensive watches and nice clothes and immediately stop talking when we pass, glare after us as if we aren’t supposed to be there.
“The gifted locals.” These kids nod at Noah, but don’t speak to me. They are in skinny jeans and T-shirts for bands that I don’t know. “Popular embassy kids.” We pass another small pocket of kids, who are sitting around the fire. It looks like a miniature, more beautiful version of the United Nations. There are probably half a dozen countries represented in that one small group alone. A girl asks a question in Spanish. A boy answers her in French. But the looks they give me are universal. I am the new girl in every possible language.
“And, finally, embassy kids who just really want to go home.” Noah points to the last group. Here, the kids stand on the outskirts of the party, shifting their weight from foot to foot, constantly checking their phones.
“So the unifying factor is … what?” I ask. “You all go to the international school?”
“Correction.” Noah raises a finger. “We all go to the international school. Or we will come fall. Tonight, we are the children of summer.”
He raises his hands dramatically, gesturing to the fire and the groups of talking teens, the cliffs and the crashing waves of the sea that sweeps out below us.
“The children of summer?” I try to tease.
“It sounded better in my head.”
“And where do you fit into all of this?” I glance back at the carefully sequestered cliques.
“I am a man without a country. Or I’m a man with too many countries — you pick. Ultimately, in both global politics and the high school power hierarchy, they amount to the same thing. Do you want some water or something? Wait here. I’m going to get you some water.”
I nod, and Noah wanders off into the night, leaving me alone with the wind and the sea and, finally, with a small voice that says, “Hi.”
For a second, I think I must have dreamed it. I turn, looking for whoever spoke, but it’s like the word came from the wind.
“Hi,” the voice says again. “I’m down here.”
And then I see her, on a ledge that sticks out from the cliff below me — not clinging, not frightened, just sitting there, staring up at where I’m standing. It’s the girl from the wall outside my window. Again, she is so pale and solitary that I think for a moment she might actually be a ghost. I can’t help but glance around, wondering if I’m the only one who can see her.
“You’re the new American,” she says.
“So I’ve been told.”
“Do you want to see a trick?”
“Sure,” I say.
She gets up, and no sooner is she on her feet than she begins to run straight for a tree that’s growing out of the side of the cliff, and I can do nothing but stand, dumbfounded, as the girl jumps straight into the air and grabs its lowest limb. The force of her momentum pushes her around the branch, swinging in a broad circle not once but twice before she lets loose of the limb and flies through the air, landing safely right in front of me as if it’s as easy as falling off a log.
“Wow,” I say. “That was … Wow.”
“I was going to be a gymnast. But now I’m not. Too big,” she explains, even though, to me, she looks positively tiny.