“You could be lying.”
“Yes, I could be.” He nods, as if to himself. Blows out the candle.
I try to fight it
I try to stay awake
I try to find my head but I can’t.
I collapse from sheer exhaustion.
Why don’t you just kill yourself? someone at school asked me once.
I think it was the kind of question intended to be cruel, but it was the first time I’d ever contemplated the possibility. I didn’t know what to say. Maybe I was crazy to consider it, but I’d always hoped that if I were a good enough girl, if I did everything right, if I said the right things or said nothing at all—I thought my parents would change their minds. I thought they would finally listen when I tried to talk. I thought they would give me a chance. I thought they might finally love me.
I always had that stupid hope.
My eyes snap open with a start. I’ve never been a heavy sleeper.
Warner is staring at me, sitting at the foot of his own bed in a fresh suit and perfectly polished boots. Everything about him is meticulous. Pristine. His breath is cool and fresh in the crisp morning air. I can feel it on my face.
It takes me a moment to realize I’m tangled in the same sheets Warner himself has slept in. My face is suddenly on fire and I’m fumbling to free myself. I nearly fall off the bed.
I don’t acknowledge him.
“Did you sleep well?” he asks.
I look up. His eyes are such a strange shade of green: bright, crystal clear, piercing in the most alarming way. His hair is thick, the richest slice of gold; his frame is lean and unassuming, but his grip is effortlessly strong. I notice for the first time that he wears a jade ring on his left pinkie finger.
He catches me staring and stands up. Slips his gloves on and clasps his hands behind his back.
“It’s time for you to go back to your room.”
I blink. Nod. Stand up and nearly fall down. I catch myself on the side of the bed and try to steady my dizzying head. I hear Warner sigh.
“You didn’t eat the food I left for you last night.”
I grab the water with trembling hands and force myself to eat some of the bread. My body has gotten so used to hunger I don’t know how to recognize it anymore.
Warner leads me out the door once I find my footing. I’m still clutching a piece of cheese in my hand.
I nearly drop it when I step outside.
There are even more soldiers here than there are on my floor. Each is equipped with at least 4 different kinds of guns, some slung around their necks, some strapped to their belts. All of them betray a look of terror when they see my face. It flashes in and out of their features so quickly I might’ve missed it, but it’s obvious enough: everyone grips their weapons a little tighter as I walk by.
Warner seems pleased.
“Their fear will work in your favor,” he whispers in my ear.
My humanity is lying in a million pieces on this carpeted floor. “I never wanted them to be afraid of me.”
“You should.” He stops. His eyes are calling me an idiot. “If they don’t fear you, they will hunt you.”
“People hunt things they fear all the time.”
“At least now they know what they’re up against.” He resumes walking down the hall, but my feet are stitched into the ground. Realization is ice-cold water and it’s dripping down my back.
“You made me do that—what I did—to Jenkins? On purpose?”
Warner is already 3 steps ahead but I can see the smile on his face. “Everything I do is done on purpose.”
“You wanted to make a spectacle out of me.” My heart is racing in my wrist, pulsing in my fingers.
“I was trying to protect you.”
“From your own soldiers?” I’m running to catch up to him now, burning with indignation. “At the expense of a man’s life—”
“Get inside.” Warner has reached the elevator. He’s holding the doors open for me.
I follow him in.
He presses the right buttons.
The doors close.
I turn to speak.
He corners me.
I’m backed into the far edge of this glass receptacle and I’m suddenly nervous. His hands are holding my arms and his lips are dangerously close to my face. His gaze is locked into mine, his eyes flashing; dangerous. He says one word: “Yes.”
It takes me a moment to find my voice. “Yes, what?”
“Yes, from my own soldiers. Yes, at the expense of one man’s life.” He tenses his jaw. Speaks through his teeth. “There is very little you understand about my world, Juliette.”
“I’m trying to understand—”
“No you’re not,” he snaps. His eyelashes are like individual threads of spun gold lit on fire. I almost want to touch them. “You don’t understand that power and control can slip from your grasp at any moment and even when you think you’re most prepared. These two things are not easy to earn. They are even harder to retain.” I try to speak and he cuts me off. “You think I don’t know how many of my own soldiers hate me? You think I don’t know that they’d like to see me fall? You think there aren’t others who would love to have the position I work so hard to have—”
“Don’t flatter yourself—”
He closes the last few inches between us and my words fall to the floor. I can’t breathe. The tension in his entire body is so intense it’s nearly palpable and I think my muscles have begun to freeze. “You are naive,” he says to me, his voice harsh, low, a grating whisper against my skin. “You don’t realize that you’re a threat to everyone in this building. They have every reason to harm you. You don’t see that I am trying to help you—”
“By hurting me!” I explode. “By hurting others!”
His laugh is cold, mirthless. He backs away from me, suddenly disgusted. The elevator slides open but he doesn’t step outside. I can see my door from here. “Go back to your room. Wash up. Change. There are dresses in your armoire.”
“I don’t like dresses.”
“I don’t think you like seeing that, either,” he says with a tilt of his head. I follow his gaze to see a hulking shadow across from my door. I turn to him for an explanation but he says nothing. He’s suddenly composed, his features wiped clean of emotion. He takes my hand, squeezes my fingers, says, “I’ll be back for you in exactly one hour,” and closes the elevator doors before I have a chance to protest. I begin to wonder if it’s coincidence that the one person most unafraid to touch me is a monster himself.
I step forward and dare to peer closer at the soldier standing in the dark.
Adam who now knows exactly what I’m capable of.
My heart is a water balloon exploding in my chest. My lungs are swinging from my rib cage. I feel as though every fist in the world has decided to punch me in the stomach. I shouldn’t care so much, but I do.
He’ll hate me forever now. He won’t even look at me.
I wait for him to open my door but he doesn’t move.
“Adam?” I venture, tentative. “I need your key card.”
I watch him swallow hard and take a tiny breath and immediately I sense something is wrong. I move closer and a quick, stiff shake of his head tells me not to. I do not touch people I do not get close to people I am a monster. He doesn’t want me near him. Of course he doesn’t. I should never forget my place.
He opens my door with immense difficulty and I realize someone’s hurt him where I can’t see it. Warner’s words come back to me and I recognize his airy good-bye as a warning. A warning that severs every nerve ending in my body.
Adam will be punished for my mistakes. For my disobedience.
I want to bury my tears in a bucket of regret.
I step through the door and glance back at Adam one last time, unable to feel any kind of triumph in his pain. Despite everything he’s done I don’t know if I’m capable of hating him. Not Adam. Not the boy I used to know.
“The purple dress,” he says, his voice broken and a little breathy like it hurts to inhale. I have to wring my hands to keep from running to him. “Wear the purple dress.” He coughs. “Juliette.”
I will be the perfect mannequin.
As soon as I’m in the room I open the armoire and yank the purple dress off the hanger before I remember I’m being watched. The cameras. I wonder if Adam was punished for telling me about the cameras, too. I wonder if he’s taken any other risks with me. I wonder why he would.
I touch the stiff, modern material of the plum dress and my fingers find their way to the hem, just as Adam’s did yesterday. I can’t help but wonder why he likes this dress so much. Why it has to be this one. Why I even have to wear a dress.
I am not a doll.
My hand comes to rest on the small wooden shelf beneath the hanging clothes and an unfamiliar texture brushes my skin. It’s rough and foreign but familiar at the same time. I step closer to the armoire and hide between the doors. My fingers feel their way around the surface and a surge of sunshine rushes through my stomach until I’m certain I’m bursting with hope and feeling and a force of stupid happiness so strong I’m surprised there aren’t tears streaming down my face.
He saved my notebook. Adam saved the only thing I own.
I grab the purple dress and tuck the paper pad into its folds before stealing away to the bathroom.
The bathroom where there are no cameras.
The bathroom where there are no cameras.
The bathroom where there are no cameras.
He was trying to tell me, I realize. Before, in the bathroom. He was trying to tell me something and I was so scared I scared him away.
I scared him away.
I close the door behind me and my hands are shaking as I unfurl the familiar papers bound together by old glue. I flip through the pages to make sure they’re all there and my eyes land on my most recent entry. At the very bottom there is a shift. A new sentence not written in my handwriting.
A new sentence that must’ve come from him.
It’s not what you think.
I stand perfectly still.
Every inch of my skin is taut with tension, fraught with feeling and the pressure is building in my chest, pounding louder and faster and harder, overcompensating for my stillness. I do not tremble when I’m frozen in time. I train my breaths to come slower, I count things that do not exist, I make up numbers I do not have, I pretend time is a broken hourglass bleeding seconds through sand. I dare to believe.
I dare to hope Adam is trying to reach out to me. I’m crazy enough to consider the possibility.
I rip the page out of the small notebook and clutch it close, actively swallowing the hysteria tickling every broken moment in my mind.
I hide the notebook in a pocket of the purple dress. The pocket Adam must’ve slipped it into. The pocket it must’ve fallen out of. The pocket of the purple dress. The pocket of the purple dress.
Hope is a pocket of possibility.
I’m holding it in my hand.
Warner is not late.