I caught up to him in the gardens, where he was pacing by the head of the path to the cemetery and shoving his hands through his hair. “Noel,” I said, and then called louder, “Noel!” and reached out to grasp his shoulder.
He started, and then looked at me with an expression of such complete misery that I ignored the fact that the house was full of people who could have us arrested, and pulled him into my arms. “Sh, sh,” I said, and stroked his hair and kissed his face. “Sh, sh.”
Noel buried his face in my shoulder. He hit my other shoulder with his fist, not hard enough to hurt, and I took his hand and kissed it, too.
“Talk to me,” I said, but he shook his head.
“Not now. Later, when everyone’s gone. I can’t — I can’t face them. All those smiles and lies.” He lifted his head from my shoulder. “You know they’re going to go home and talk about me — about us, the poor Thibodeauxes. They’ll rehash every bit of gossip there ever was. They’ll talk about how I killed my mother.”
“You didn’t,” I said. I held his face between my hands and kissed his mouth. “You didn’t kill her. She died, that’s all.”
His eyes filled and he shook his head, and then buried his face in my neck again. “I can’t go back in there.”
“Then we’ll stay out here.” I kept an arm around him and led him to one of the benches under a tree. He clung to my hand and his head hung low, and I rubbed his back and rested my head on his shoulder.
We stayed outside until the last of the black cars pulled away. Rene came outside not long after that, and stood in front of us with his hands on his hips. “Caleb wants you, Noel,” he said.