When the girls wake, the four of them break their fast and ready themselves for the day’s journey ahead.
“You made a lot of progress last night,” Adam tells Coraleth as the girls settle into the back.
Cora climbs up next to him. “It took awhile for me to feel tired. I was just so excited from the day.”
Adam smiles. “It sure was exciting.”
Cora looks at him as he clicks to the horses and they move along forward. She wonders again when she can kiss him. When he glances at her, she turns her eyes quickly to the sky and says,
“The storm should hit today.”
He nods, laughing under his breath, “Yes, it looks that way.”
Without much more to say at that point, the trip proceeds silently. Milo makes little conversation in the morning, but Rain asks Coraleth question after question about her life. Not prying questions, and not uncomfortable or painful ones. She asks things like, “What’s Atherton like?” and “What do you eat there?” and “What’s your worst fear?” After awhile, Cora asks questions back, and information about everyone is shared. Apparently, Rain hates onions and snakes. Milo loves to play the lute, dislikes mornings, which Cora already guessed, and is afraid of heights. Cora tells them she’s afraid of drowning, suffocation, and spiders. When Cora asks Adam what he’s afraid of, he doesn’t tell her.
“Come on,” she insists. “We all told you ours.”
“I didn’t ask,” he says with a laugh.
“Please, Adam,” Rain interjects. “We promise we won’t laugh.”
Cora’s surprised she doesn’t already know. Adam said they’ve known each other since they were children.
“I know what he’s afraid of,” Milo announces.
“What?” Cora wonders.
Adam shoots her a deadly look.
“Being tickled,” Milo says, and they all laugh when she reaches forward and pokes his ribs. He squirms and tries to push her away with one hand while haphazardly driving with the other. The wagon zig-zags along the road and the plains’ air is filled with their laughter.
The day passes all too quickly, with the drivers rotating multiple times between the four of them. Coraleth doesn’t believe she’s had this much fun in a very long time. It seems like there’s an endless list of things to talk about, ranging from general facts about each other to opinions on dress style, politics, or future plans. Rain plans to get married and have a big family, Milo wants to run the inn someday, and Adam doesn’t know yet what he wants. Neither does Coraleth.
Night comes, and it’s more humid than ever, with no storm yet. Rain and Milo retire earlier than Adam and Cora. They stay up, with Cora driving, until they can hardly keep awake anymore. Then, groggily, they climb into the back.
“Lie next to me tonight,” Adam tells Coraleth, taking his driving torch from its place and bringing it with him into the back.
Cora’s heart flips. He’s been very kind, but this is the first time all day he’s said something remotely romantic to her. He snuffs out the torch and the darkness is too heavy to see anything. Cora gropes for a spot next to him to sleep. She feels his hand wrap around hers and guide her to the empty space beside him. She lies down facing him, and he reaches for her again, trailing his hand up her arm and resting it very lightly on her cheek. She melts under his touch.
He situates a blanket at their feet, in case they need it during the night, and then they just lie there in total silence. It’s strange for Cora to sleep next to him, but not in a bad way. After a long quiet moment, she asks,
“Adam, what are you afraid of?”
Another silent moment, then he whispers, “Darkness.”
Odd. Not the answer she was expecting, though she didn’t know what to expect. Maybe that’s why he wanted her to sleep next to him. Maybe this pitch-black night scares him. It’s odd to think he’s afraid of anything.
“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone,” he says.
Coraleth freezes at the question. Something I’ve never told anyone. Is there such a thing?
Then her mind is flooded with answers. I hated Lucas’ kisses. I haven’t apologized to my father. I’m a liar. I was wrong. I made a mistake. I should have made things right. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Those were things she’d never said. Things she always should have.
But the words that come to her lips are: “I never loved Lucas.”
More silence, then she says, “Tell me something you’ve never told anyone.”
“Well, obviously my family knows this, but I’ve never told anyone. Some people in Hale know...”
I’m adopted,” Adam tells her.
“What?” Cora sits up. “You are?”
“Yes. I was born in Bannerford but I ran away from home when I was about six. Milo actually found me outside Hale.”
He sounds like he’s going to say more, but he doesn’t. Coraleth lets out her breath heavily.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” she says. “So we’re actually visiting the city in which you were born?”
“Yes. And I still know people there, so don’t be shocked if we’re stopped in the streets and I talk for an hour with someone.” He laughs softly, and she does too.
“Does Rain know? I mean, if you were friends since you were children, she must know you’re not Milo’s blood sister.”
“She doesn’t know. She was about three when I came, so she doesn’t remember me coming.”
Suddenly, a flash of light illuminates Adam’s face, followed by an incredible roll of thunder that drowns out Coraleth’s voice entirely. The earth shakes with the power of it.
“Finally,” Adam says to the sky as he sits up.
Drops of rain splatter Cora’s face when she, too, rises. She picks up the blanket and covers her head with it. But just when she has it over her head, Adam pulls up a corner of it and asks,
“Don’t you ever want to run outside during a rainstorm?”
She smiles, remembering the morning they’d climbed the cliff together. The first time he really told her about his hunger for adventure. It’s life. You can’t just not live it.
Throwing off the blanket, Coraleth seizes Adam’s hand and jumps off the side of the cart just as the rain begins to pour. It’s as if the heavens themselves have broken open. The rain is cool, a beautiful refreshment from the sticky, humid air. Lightning splits the sky, and thunder shatters the air, but Cora laughs and spreads her arms, getting absolutely drenched and not caring. She watches as Adam does the same.
They spin and dance and lift their faces to the night sky, enjoying every drop, relishing each violent tremor of the ground, filled to the brim with euphoria. There’s just something freeing about it, about standing in a torrential downpour.
When Cora lowers her face from the sky, lightning once again flashes over Adam, who is walking toward her with a new look in his eyes. And before she can process what it means, he’s kissing her.
The kisses from Lucas were never like this. Never. If his were the only kisses she’d ever receive, she’d be missing out for the rest of her life.
Passion. That’s the word she’s thinking of right now, as Adam’s lips press deeply against hers, and his hands take hold of her face. He’s warm, very warm. A warm she’s never felt before. So warm it should be burning but it isn’t. It only draws her in, with the water soaking her through and not managing to cool her off.
Cora pulls the dripping hair out of her face and kisses him again, wrapping her arms around his neck. One of his hand coils around her waist and draws her closer. She fits against him, like she’s always belonged there.
As lightning flashes again and again, and the unyielding rain struggles to drown them, they still stand there. And Cora discovers that she really likes kissing after all.