Fletcher’s limbs are bent at odd angles on the cold, concrete floor. Blood is pooling around him and still no one moves. No one says a single word. No one betrays a single look of fear.
I keep touching my lips to see if my screams have escaped.
Warner tucks his gun back into his jacket pocket. “Sector 45, you are dismissed.”
Every soldier falls on one knee.
Warner slips the metal amplification device back into his suit and has to yank me free from the spot where I’m glued to the ground. I’m tripping over myself, my limbs weak and aching through the bone. I feel nauseous, delirious, incapable of holding myself upright. I keep trying to speak but the words are sticking to my tongue. I’m suddenly sweating and suddenly freezing and suddenly so sick I see spots clouding my vision.
Warner is trying to get me through the door. “You really must eat more,” he says to me.
I am gaping with my eyes, gaping with my mouth, gaping wide open because I feel holes everywhere, punched into the terrain of my body.
My heart must be bleeding out of my chest.
I look down and can’t understand why there’s no blood on my dress, why this pain in my heart feels so real.
“You killed him,” I manage to whisper. “You just killed him—”
“You’re very astute.”
“Why did you kill him why would you kill him how could you do something like that—”
“Keep your eyes open, Juliette. Now’s not the time to fall asleep.”
I grab his shirt. I stop him before he gets inside. A gust of wind slaps me across the face and I’m suddenly in control of my senses. I push him hard, slamming his back up against the door. “You disgust me.” I stare hard into his crystal-cold eyes. “You disgust me—”
He twists me around, pinning me against the door where I just held him. He cups my face in his gloved hands, holding my eyes in place. The same hands he just used to kill a man.
His thumb brushes my cheek.
“Life is a bleak place,” he whispers. “Sometimes you have to learn how to shoot first.”
Warner follows me into my room.
“You should probably sleep,” he says to me. It’s the first time he’s spoken since we left the rooftop. “I’ll have food sent up to your room, but other than that I’ll make sure you’re not disturbed.”
“Where is Adam? Is he safe? Is he healthy? Are you going to hurt him?”
Warner flinches before finding his composure. “Why do you care?”
I’ve cared about Adam Kent since I was in third grade. “Isn’t he supposed to be watching me? Because he’s not here. Does that mean you’re going to kill him, too?” I’m feeling stupid. I’m feeling brave because I’m feeling stupid. My words wear no parachutes as they fall out of my mouth.
“I only kill people if I need to.”
“More than most.”
I laugh a sad laugh, sharing it with only myself.
“You can have the rest of the day to yourself. Our real work will begin tomorrow. Adam will bring you to me.” He holds my eyes. Suppresses a smile. “In the meantime, try not to kill anyone.”
“You and I,” I tell him, anger coursing through my veins, “you and I are not the same—”
“You don’t really believe that.”
“You think you can compare my—my disease—with your insanity—”
“Disease?” He rushes forward, abruptly impassioned, and I struggle to hold my ground. “You think you have a disease?” he shouts. “You have a gift! You have an extraordinary ability that you don’t care to understand! Your potential—”
“I have no potential!”
“You’re wrong.” He’s glaring at me. There’s no other way to describe it. I could almost say he hates me in this moment. Hates me for hating myself.
“Well you’re the murderer,” I tell him. “So you must be right.”
His smile is laced with dynamite. “Go to sleep.”
“Go to hell.”
He works his jaw. Walks to the door. “I’m working on it.”
The darkness is choking me.
My dreams are bloody and bleeding and blood is bleeding all over my mind and I can’t sleep anymore. The only dreams that ever used to give me peace are gone and I don’t know how to get them back. I don’t know how to find the white bird. I don’t know if it will ever fly by. All I know is that now when I close my eyes I see nothing but devastation. Fletcher is being shot over and over and over again and Jenkins is dying in my arms and Warner is shooting Adam in the head and the wind is singing outside my window but it’s high-pitched and off-key and I don’t have the heart to tell it to stop.
I’m freezing through my clothes.
The bed under my back is filled with broken clouds and freshly fallen snow; it’s too soft, too comfortable. It reminds me too much of sleeping in Warner’s room and I can’t stand it. I’m afraid to slip under these covers.
I can’t help but wonder if Adam is okay, if he’ll ever come back, if Warner is going to keep hurting him whenever I disobey. I really shouldn’t care so much.
Adam’s message in my notebook might just be a part of Warner’s plan to drive me insane.
I crawl onto the hard floor and check my fist for the crumpled piece of paper I’ve been clutching for 2 days. It’s the only hope I have left and I don’t even know if it’s real.
I’m running out of options.
“What are you doing here?”
I bite down on a scream and stumble up, over, and sideways, nearly slamming into Adam where he’s lying on the floor next to me. I didn’t even see him.
“Juliette?” He doesn’t move an inch. His gaze is fixed on me: calm, unflappable; 2 buckets of river water at midnight. I’d like to cry into his eyes.
I don’t know why I tell him the truth. “I couldn’t sleep up there.”
He doesn’t ask me why. He pulls himself up and coughs back a grunt and I remember how he’s been hurt. I wonder what kind of pain he’s in. I don’t ask questions as he grabs a pillow and the blanket off my bed. He puts the pillow on the floor. “Lie down,” is all he says to me. Quietly, is how he says it to me.
All day every day forever is when I want him to say it to me.
They’re just 2 words and I don’t know why I’m blushing. I lie down despite the sirens spinning in my blood and rest my head on the pillow. He drapes the blanket over my body. I let him do it. I watch as his arms curve and flex in the shadow of night, the glint of the moon peeking in through the window, illuminating his figure in its glow. He lies down on the floor leaving only a few feet of space between us. He requires no blanket. He uses no pillow. He still sleeps without a shirt on and I’ve discovered I don’t know how to breathe. I’ve realized I’ll probably never exhale in his presence.
“You don’t need to scream anymore,” he whispers.
Every breath in my body escapes me.
I curl my fingers around the possibility of Adam in my hand and sleep more soundly than I have in my life.
My eyes are 2 windows cracked open by the chaos in this world.
A cool breeze startles my skin and I sit up, rub the sleep from my eyes, and realize Adam is no longer beside me. I blink and crawl back up to the bed, where I replace the pillow and the blanket.
I glance at the door and wonder what’s waiting for me on the other side.
I glance at the window and wonder if I’ll ever see a bird fly by.
I glance at the clock on the wall and wonder what it means to be living according to numbers again. I wonder what 6:30 in the morning means in this building.
I decide to wash my face. The idea exhilarates me and I’m a little ashamed.
I open the bathroom door and catch Adam’s reflection in the mirror. His fast hands pull his shirt down before I have a chance to latch on to details but I saw enough to see what I couldn’t see in the darkness.
He’s covered in bruises.
My legs feel broken. I don’t know how to help him. I wish I could help him.
“I’m sorry,” he says quickly. “I didn’t know you were awake.” He tugs on the bottom of his shirt like it’s not long enough to pretend I’m blind.
I nod at nothing at all. I look at the tile under my feet. I don’t know what to say.
“Juliette.” His voice hugs the letters in my name so softly I die 5 times in that second. His face is a forest of emotion. He shakes his head. “I’m sorry,” he says, so quietly I’m certain I imagined it. “It’s not . . .” He clenches his jaw and runs a nervous hand through his hair. “All of this—it’s not—”
I open my palm to him. The paper is a crumpled wad of possibility. “I know.”
Relief washes over every feature on his face and suddenly his eyes are the only reassurance I’ll ever need. Adam did not betray me. I don’t know why or how or what or anything at all except that he is still my friend.
He is still standing right in front of me and he doesn’t want me to die.
I step forward and close the door.
I open my mouth to speak.
My jaw falls off.
“Wait,” he says with one hand. His lips move but make no sound. I realize in the absence of cameras there might still be microphones in the bathroom. Adam looks around and back and forth and everywhere.
He stops looking.
The shower is 4 walls of marbled glass and he’s sliding the glass open before I have any idea what’s happening. He flips the spray on at full power and the sound of water is rushing through, rumbling through the room, muffling everything as it thunders into the emptiness around us. The mirror is already fogging up on account of the steam and just as I think I’m beginning to understand his plan he pulls me into his arms and lifts me into the shower.
My screams are vapor, wisps of gasps I can’t grasp.
Hot water is puddling in my clothes. It’s pelting my hair and pouring down my neck but all I feel are his hands around my waist. I want to cry out for all the wrong reasons.
His eyes pin me in place. His urgency ignites my bones. Rivulets of water snake their way down the polished planes of his face and his fingers press me up against the wall.
His lips his lips his lips his lips his lips
My eyes are fighting not to flutter
My legs have won the right to tremble
My skin is scorched everywhere he’s not touching me.
His lips are so close to my ear I’m water and nothing and everything and melting into a wanting so desperate it burns as I swallow it down.
“I can touch you,” he says, and I wonder why there are hummingbirds in my heart. “I didn’t understand until the other night,” he murmurs, and I’m too drunk to digest the weight of anything but his body hovering so close to mine.
“Juliette—” His body presses closer and I realize I’m paying attention to nothing but the dandelions blowing wishes in my lungs. My eyes snap open and he licks his bottom lip for the smallest second and something in my brain bursts to life.