“Hey—” He grabs the blanket off my bed and crouches next to me, wasting no time wrapping the thin cloth around my thinner shoulders. “You okay?”
I try to smile. Decide to avoid his question. “Thank you for the blanket.”
He sits down next to me and leans against the wall. His shoulders are so close too close never close enough. His body heat does more for me than the blanket ever will. Something in my joints aches with an acute yearning, a desperate need I’ve never been able to fulfill. My bones are begging for something I cannot allow.
He glances at the little notebook tucked in my hand, at the broken pen clutched in my fist. I close the book and roll it into a little ball. I shove it into a crack in the wall. I study the pen in my palm. I know he’s staring at me.
“Are you writing a book?”
“No.” No I am not writing a book.
“Maybe you should.”
I turn to meet his eyes and regret it immediately. There are less than 3 inches between us and I can’t move because my body only knows how to freeze. Every muscle every movement tightens, every vertebra in my spinal column is a block of ice. I’m holding my breath and my eyes are wide, locked, caught in the intensity of his gaze. I can’t look away. I don’t know how to retreat.
I’ve been lying to myself, determined to deny the impossible.
I know him I know him I know him I know him
The boy who does not remember me I used to know.
“They’re going to destroy the English language,” he says, his voice careful, quiet.
I fight to catch my breath.
“They want to re-create everything,” he continues. “They want to redesign everything. They want to destroy anything that could’ve been the reason for our problems. They think we need a new, universal language.” He drops his voice. Drops his eyes. “They want to destroy everything. Every language in history.”
“No.” My breath hitches. Spots cloud my vision.
“No.” This I did not know.
He looks up. “It’s good that you’re writing things down. One day what you’re doing will be illegal.”
I’ve begun to shake. My body is suddenly fighting a maelstrom of emotions, my brain plagued by the world I’m losing and pained by this boy who does not remember me. The pen stumbles its way to the floor and I’m gripping the blanket so hard I’m afraid it’s going to tear. Ice slices my skin, horror clots my veins. I never thought it would get this bad. I never thought The Reestablishment would take things so far. They’re incinerating culture, the beauty of diversity. The new citizens of our world will be reduced to nothing but numbers, easily interchangeable, easily removable, easily destroyed for disobedience.
We have lost our humanity.
I wrap the blanket around my shoulders until I’m cocooned in the tremors that won’t stop terrorizing my body. I’m horrified by my lack of self-control. I can’t make myself still.
His hand is suddenly on my back.
His touch is scorching my skin through the layers of fabric and I inhale so fast my lungs collapse. I’m caught in colliding currents of confusion, so desperate so desperate so desperate to be close so desperate to be far away. I don’t know how to move away from him. I don’t want to move away from him.
I don’t want him to be afraid of me.
“Hey.” His voice is soft so soft so soft. His arms are stronger than all the bones in my body. He pulls my swaddled figure close to his chest and I shatter. Two three four fifty thousand pieces of feeling stab me in the heart, melt into drops of warm honey that soothe the scars in my soul. The blanket is the only barrier between us and he pulls me closer, tighter, stronger, until I hear the beats humming deep within his chest and the steel of his arms around my body severs all ties to tension in my limbs. His heat melts the icicles propping me up from the inside out and I thaw I thaw I thaw, my eyes fluttering fast until they fall closed, until silent tears are streaming down my face and I’ve decided the only thing I want to freeze is his frame holding mine. “It’s okay,” he whispers. “You’ll be okay.”
Truth is a jealous, vicious mistress that never ever sleeps, is what I don’t tell him. I’ll never be okay.
It takes every broken filament in my being to pull away from him. I do it because I have to. Because it’s for his own good. Someone is sticking forks in my back as I trip away. The blanket catches my foot and I nearly fall before Adam reaches out to me again. “Juliette—”
“You can’t t-touch me.” My breathing is shallow and hard to swallow, my fingers shaking so fast I clench them into a fist. “You can’t touch me. You can’t.” My eyes are trained on the door.
He’s on his feet. “Why not?”
“You just can’t,” I whisper to the walls.
“I don’t understand—why won’t you talk to me? You sit in the corner all day and write in your book and look at everything but my face. You have so much to say to a piece of paper but I’m standing right here and you don’t even acknowledge me. Juliette, please—” He reaches for my arm and I turn away. “Why won’t you at least look at me? I’m not going to hurt you—”
You don’t remember me. You don’t remember that we went to the same school for 7 years.
You don’t remember me.
“You don’t know me.” My voice is even, flat; my limbs numb, amputated. “We’ve shared one space for two weeks and you think you know me but you don’t know anything about me. Maybe I am crazy.”
“You’re not,” he says through clenched teeth. “You know you’re not.”
“Then maybe it’s you,” I say carefully, slowly. “Because one of us is.”
“That’s not true—”
“Tell me why you’re here, Adam. What are you doing in an insane asylum if you don’t belong here?”
“I’ve been asking you the same question since I got here.”
“Maybe you ask too many questions.”
I hear his hard exhalation of breath. He laughs a bitter laugh. “We’re practically the only two people who are alive in this place and you want to shut me out, too?”
I close my eyes and focus on breathing. “You can talk to me. Just don’t touch me.”
7 seconds of silence join the conversation. “Maybe I want to touch you.”
There are 15,000 feelings of disbelief hole-punched in my heart. I’m tempted by recklessness, aching aching aching, desperate forever for what I can never have. I turn my back on him but I can’t keep the lies from spilling out of my lips. “Maybe I don’t want you to.”
He makes a harsh sound. “I disgust you that much?”
I spin around, so caught off guard by his words I forget myself. He’s staring at me, his face hard, his jaw set, his fingers flexing by his sides. His eyes are 2 buckets of rainwater: deep, fresh, clear.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I can’t breathe.
“You can’t just answer a simple question, can you?” He shakes his head and turns to the wall.
My face is cast in a neutral mold, my arms and legs filled with plaster. I feel nothing. I am nothing. I am empty of everything I will never move. I’m staring at a small crack near my shoe. I will stare at it forever.
The blankets fall to the floor. The world fades out of focus, my ears outsource every sound to another dimension. My eyes close, my thoughts drift, my memories kick me in the heart.
I know him.
I’ve tried so hard to stop thinking about him.
I’ve tried so hard to forget his face.
I’ve tried so hard to get those blue blue blue eyes out of my head but I know him I know him I know him it’s been 3 years since I last saw him.
I could never forget Adam.
But he’s already forgotten me.
I remember televisions and fireplaces and porcelain sinks. I remember movie tickets and parking lots and SUVs. I remember hair salons and holidays and window shutters and dandelions and the smell of freshly paved driveways. I remember toothpaste commercials and ladies in high heels and old men in business suits. I remember mailmen and libraries and boy bands and balloons and Christmas trees.
I remember being 10 years old when we couldn’t ignore the food shortages anymore and things got so expensive no one could afford to live.
Adam is not speaking to me.
Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe there was no point hoping he and I could be friends, maybe it’s better he thinks I don’t like him than that I like him too much. He’s hiding a lot of something that might be pain, but his secrets scare me. He won’t tell me why he’s here. Though I don’t tell him much, either.
And yet and yet and yet.
Last night the memory of his arms around me was enough to scare away the screams. The warmth of a kind embrace, the strength of firm hands holding all of my pieces together, the relief and release of so many years’ loneliness. This gift he’s given me I can’t repay.
Touching Juliette is nearly impossible.
I’ll never forget the horror in my mother’s eyes, the torture in my father’s face, the fear etched in their expressions. Their child was is a monster. Possessed by the devil. Cursed by darkness. Unholy. An abomination. Drugs, tests, medical solutions failed. Psychological cross-examinations failed.
She is a walking weapon in society, is what the teachers said. We’ve never seen anything like it, is what the doctors said. She should be removed from your home, is what the police officers said.
No problem at all, is what my parents said. I was 14 years old when they finally got rid of me. When they stood back and watched as I was dragged away for a murder I didn’t know I could commit.
Maybe the world is safer with me locked in a cell. Maybe Adam is safer if he hates me. He’s sitting in the corner with his fists in his face.
I never wanted to hurt him.
I never wanted to hurt the only person who never wanted to hurt me.
The door crashes open and 5 people swarm into the room, rifles pointed at our chests.
Adam is on his feet and I’m made of stone. I’ve forgotten to inhale. I haven’t seen so many people in so long I’m momentarily stupefied. I should be screaming.
“HANDS UP, FEET APART, MOUTHS SHUT. DON’T MOVE AND WE WON’T SHOOT YOU.”
I’m still frozen in place. I should move, I should lift my arms, I should spread my feet, I should remember to breathe. Someone is cutting off my neck.
The one barking orders slams the butt of his gun into my back and my knees crack as they hit the floor. I finally taste oxygen and a side of blood. I think Adam is yelling but there is an acute agony ripping through my body unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’m utterly immobilized.
“What don’t you understand about keeping your mouth SHUT?” I squint sideways to see the barrel of the gun 2 inches away from Adam’s face.
“GET UP.” A steel-toed boot kicks me in the ribs, fast, hard, hollow. I’m swallowing nothing but the strangled gasps choking my body. “I said GET UP.” Harder, faster, stronger, another boot in my gut. I can’t even cry out.