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It was ok. Wasn't as good as the first time I read it, though I was obsessed with romance back then. Book has way too many metaphors which makes the writing kind of suck. Metaphors are fine as long as they aren't every single sentence.
29 June 2020 (04:48)
This book was incredible. After finishing the series I was forever changed. The series broke my heart and crushed my soul but I loved it so much it was worth every heartbreak.
07 November 2020 (05:56)
The novel is the greatest book I have ever read and am happy to read
11 December 2020 (17:58)
Great novel. Interesting!
10 January 2021 (23:51)
This book is amazing. I love reading this book again and again.
10 January 2021 (23:53)
dude i have no words...this book broke my heart into pieces and glued it back again, I am so in love with this amazing series and I cannot reccomend it enough.
18 January 2021 (15:07)
It was soo good 5 stars
15 March 2021 (07:42)
This book is so bad. It is only for the readers who like weak female protagonists falling in love with the bad or good guy and has a love triangle. I just read half of the first book and was so bored. people who read this haven't read Rick Riordan, Cassandra Clare, JK rowling and Sarah j maas. If u haven't read their books first cause it is spectacular.
15 March 2021 (19:53)
You really should have read the rest of the first book and the next two because as Juliette progresses through the story she grows a lot from the broken girl she was at the beginning of book one. Yes, she appeared weak, but she was also abused and locked away until the age of seventeen. After she is freed she works through her trauma to reach her full potential. However, Rick Riordan and Sarah J. Mass are great authors.
You really should have read the rest of the first book and the next two because as Juliette progresses through the story she grows a lot from the broken girl she was at the beginning of book one. Yes, she appeared weak, but she was also abused and locked away until the age of seventeen. After she is freed she works through her trauma to reach her full potential. However, Rick Riordan and Sarah J. Mass are great authors.
31 March 2021 (22:19)
Mahad mohamed ahmex
I am 25 year and i am an engineer
03 April 2021 (00:46)
Hi everyone ! I’m gonna read this book now, hopefully it’s good ?
03 April 2021 (17:25)
I THINK THIS IS WORTH READING
13 April 2021 (12:06)
The book was mind 'Shattering' . This book was my first fantasy read and it didn’t let me down. Tahereh Mafi is one of my favourite authors now. The whole series was filled action romance betrayal and daddy issues and good looking bad boys. And my favourite character was kenji , he makes me wish I had a friend like him. Though Juliette/Ella has lots of metaphors it was still good. Overall it is so worth reading ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
13 April 2021 (19:18)
Literally one of the best books I've ever read! Even after I finished the series I couldn't stop coming back and reading it all over again, it was that gripping! I love how Juliette progresses through the story, going from a weak, shy girl to a strong and independent woman. And I have read Rick Riordan, Sarah J. Maas, Rick Riordan and Cassandra Clare, and this book is definitely worth sitting next to them on the bookshelf!
17 April 2021 (16:30)
I am obsessed with this book as well as the rest of the series. the character development was amazing and the story is amazing and interesting. I absolutely recommend reading it if you haven't yet! <3
26 April 2021 (21:39)
I'm soo excited to read it after I've read all these commnets, but does anyone know how to actually download the book? Because I've tried so many times, yet I've only failed. Is my phone the problem and can it not support a certain pdf format or am I just an idiot?
01 May 2021 (18:26)
It ripped my soul and broke my heart and then glued it back together
02 May 2021 (18:05)
This book, the whole series is just *chef's kiss*. I saw people just reading it because of the line "Lift your hips for me, love" in the third book. But dude, just read it, the first chapters are good, and really catchy.
06 May 2021 (09:06)
I need a little help, I am new to this website and I don’t where/what to click to start reading the story. Please can someone tell me what to do.
07 May 2021 (08:24)
Oh nvm- I got it lol
07 May 2021 (08:30)
Amazing READ RN 4/5 sorry I love trashy romance guess what…. The third is soooo good
07 May 2021 (17:04)
It was okay. I felt like the author was going for deep book, but it didn’t really hit the mark. We learn that Juliette is very powerful, yet she is weak as a character. Yes, she is powerful using her ability and not really strength, but it was still disappointing to see her be dragged around so much. I also wanted more background on Warner (sorry if that’s the wrong name) but once I started the second book, i couldn’t read it. Too much nonsense sentences that didn’t help with anything. I do think its worth reading the book, but you might not be compelled like the author intended.
07 May 2021 (21:26)
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don't you contact him through
GREAT Dr CLEMENT CAN AS WELL CURE all diseases as well as FOLLOWING.
5. HEPATITIS B
7. HUMAN PAPILOMA VIRUS DISEASE(HPV
Contact him Whatsapp +2347051758952
08 May 2021 (22:07)
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09 May 2021 (20:04)
Whoever says this book is a good must be a fake account promoting the novel. Truth is it really sucks. Like it doesn't even compel to read the following books. The storyline is not interesting. The main character is like an background character coz they aren't that involved. I honestly don't want to waste a lot of energy on this but just to save you... don't waste your time reading it.
17 May 2021 (21:25)
@Morgan wtf u talking about idiot
26 May 2021 (17:27)
this wasn't my favorite book, to say the least, I really liked the beginning but then there was so much going on. It also didn't make sense that coincidentally all the boys she likes she can touch without killing them. about halfway through I wanted to finish it just to talk to someone about how bad it was. Remember this is just my opinion but I don't understand how some people can say this is their favorite book. I give it a 2/10 because i liked the beging but that was it.
31 May 2021 (08:31)
If you can look for a diferent one to download, this one doesnt have a preatty cover. But great saga :)
09 June 2021 (00:36)
hi, i cant read the downloaded ebook. is there any specific app i need to have on my laptop to read it?
10 June 2021 (17:56)
SO TENSE!!!! I read it all the way through and savored every feeling and letter.
14 June 2021 (00:08)
Hi, Faith, I don't know if you've figured it out already, but you can convert it to say: PDF and then download it.
14 June 2021 (00:09)
Idk why someppl say its not good, but trust this random person its dmn amazing
14 June 2021 (18:28)
disapointed to say the least
16 June 2021 (04:27)
okay it was okay, disapointed to say the least
24 June 2021 (16:07)
sooo good i love it...i ship warnette
26 June 2021 (14:52)
i read 60% of the book and i'm so bored
01 July 2021 (10:51)
Mild spoiler here, sorry.
I liked it, though the convenience of only being able to touch the people included in the love triangle brings the score down a bit. Overall, I liked the book and it was quite exciting, I'm contemplating whether I should get the next one.
I liked it, though the convenience of only being able to touch the people included in the love triangle brings the score down a bit. Overall, I liked the book and it was quite exciting, I'm contemplating whether I should get the next one.
05 July 2021 (01:07)
good book!! It sooo good
09 July 2021 (22:42)
It's a 5/5 for me. The writing style is so good, I feel like I have access to Juliette's mind and how she responds to various situations.
13 July 2021 (10:49)
It's a "hard" book to read. The writing style wasn't for me, neither was the story... It was super slow or super fast. Didn't get the hype from tiktok!
16 July 2021 (12:50)
okay honestly this book series was really good. I enjoyed it a lot, there is romance but there is an ongoing plot which I like. To someone who wants a lot of romance I would say this series is not going to be the best for you until the 3rd book. the plot is amazing tho and it makes you wanna read all books including the novels. i would say the only thing that made me a bit disappointed was the ending didn't feel as completed as I would've hoped for but the author just announced another book sized novel coming out in November so hopefully that will tie everything together in the end.
17 July 2021 (03:09)
This book was not good and it was waaaay to over hyped. The writing wasn't good and I felt like I was reading something written by a 16 year old on Wattpad. It felt very rushed and everything happened so fast. The love interest didn't feel authentic because of how quickly the two characters fell in love. Not to mention how tone deaf the two characters were at times... literally thinking about making out in the worst possible situations!! The only reason I pushed through and carried on reading this book was the thought of it being over.
21 July 2021 (11:35)
not my fav genre but ig it’s okay. but i don’t think it’s worth the hype tho.
01 August 2021 (11:01)
Actually I was not that interested in readin book but I started nowadays and it's kinda good u know
02 August 2021 (19:12)
TAHEREH MAFI is a girl. She was born in a small city somewhere in Connecticut and currently resides in Orange County, California, where the weather is just a little too perfect for her taste. When unable to find a book, she can be found reading candy wrappers, coupons, and old receipts. Shatter Me is her first novel. You can visit her online at www.taherehmafi.com or follow her on Twitter (@TaherehMafi). This Australian edition first published in 2011 First published in the USA by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in 2011 Copyright © T.H. Mafi 2011 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act. Allen & Unwin 83 Alexander Street Crows Nest NSW 2065 Australia Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100 Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.allenandunwin.com A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the National Library of Australia www.trove.nla.gov.au ISBN 978 1 74237 820 6 Cover photograph: dress designer - Alex London; styling – Katherine Erwin; hair & makeup – Arturo Swayze Typography: Ray Shappell Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 For my parents, and for my husband, because when I said I wanted to touch the moon you took my hand, held me close, and taught me how to fly. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all t; he difference. —ROBERT FROST, “The Road Not Taken” Contents One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen Nineteen Twenty Twenty-One Twenty-Two Twenty-Three Twenty-Four Twenty-Five Twenty-Six Twenty-Seven Twenty-Eight Twenty-Nine Thirty Thirty-One Thirty-Two Thirty-Three Thirty-Four Thirty-Five Thirty-Six Thirty-Seven Thirty-Eight Thirty-Nine Forty Forty-One Forty-Two Forty-Three Forty-Four Forty-Five Forty-Six Forty-Seven Forty-Eight Forty-Nine Fifty Epilogue Acknowledgments ONE I’ve been locked up for 264 days. I have nothing but a small notebook and a broken pen and the numbers in my head to keep me company. 1 window. 4 walls. 144 square feet of space. 26 letters in an alphabet I haven’t spoken in 264 days of isolation. 6,336 hours since I’ve touched another human being. “You’re getting a cellmate roommate,” they said to me. “We hope you rot to death in this place For good behavior,” they said to me. “Another psycho just like you No more isolation,” they said to me. They are the minions of The Reestablishment. The initiative that was supposed to help our dying society. The same people who pulled me out of my parents’ home and locked me in an asylum for something outside of my control. No one cares that I didn’t know what I was capable of. That I didn’t know what I was doing. I have no idea where I am. I only know that I was transported by someone in a white van who drove 6 hours and 37 minutes to get me here. I know I was handcuffed to my seat. I know I was strapped to my chair. I know my parents never bothered to say good-bye. I know I didn’t cry as I was taken away. I know the sky falls down every day. The sun drops into the ocean and splashes browns and reds and yellows and oranges into the world outside my window. A million leaves from a hundred different branches dip in the wind, fluttering with the false promise of flight. The gust catches their withered wings only to force them downward, forgotten, left to be trampled by the soldiers stationed just below. There aren’t as many trees as there were before, is what the scientists say. They say our world used to be green. Our clouds used to be white. Our sun was always the right kind of light. But I have very faint memories of that world. I don’t remember much from before. The only existence I know now is the one I was given. An echo of what used to be. I press my palm to the small pane of glass and feel the cold clasp my hand in a familiar embrace. We are both alone, both existing as the absence of something else. I grab my nearly useless pen with the very little ink I’ve learned to ration each day and stare at it. Change my mind. Abandon the effort it takes to write things down. Having a cellmate might be okay. Talking to a real human being might make things easier. I practice using my voice, shaping my lips around the familiar words unfamiliar to my mouth. I practice all day. I’m surprised I remember how to speak. I roll my little notebook into a ball I shove into the wall. I sit up on the cloth-covered springs I’m forced to sleep on. I wait. I rock back and forth and wait. I wait too long and fall asleep. My eyes open to 2 eyes 2 lips 2 ears 2 eyebrows. I stifle my scream my urgency to run the crippling horror gripping my limbs. “You’re a b-b-b-b—” “And you’re a girl.” He cocks an eyebrow. He leans away from my face. He grins but he’s not smiling and I want to cry, my eyes desperate, terrified, darting toward the door I’d tried to open so many times I’d lost count. They locked me up with a boy. A boy. Dear God. They’re trying to kill me. They’ve done it on purpose. To torture me, to torment me, to keep me from sleeping through the night ever again. His arms are tatted up, half sleeves to his elbows. His eyebrow is missing a ring they must’ve confiscated. Dark blue eyes dark brown hair sharp jawline strong lean frame. Gorgeous Dangerous. Terrifying. Horrible. He laughs and I fall off my bed and scuttle into the corner. He sizes up the meager pillow on the spare bed they shoved into the empty space this morning, the skimpy mattress and threadbare blanket hardly big enough to support his upper half. He glances at my bed. Glances at his bed. Shoves them both together with one hand. Uses his foot to push the two metal frames to his side of the room. Stretches out across the two mattresses, grabbing my pillow to fluff up under his neck. I’ve begun to shake. I bite my lip and try to bury myself in the dark corner. He’s stolen my bed my blanket my pillow. I have nothing but the floor. I will have nothing but the floor. I will never fight back because I’m too petrified too paralyzed too paranoid. “So you’re—what? Insane? Is that why you’re here?” I’m not insane. He props himself up enough to see my face. He laughs again. “I’m not going to hurt you.” I want to believe him I don’t believe him. “What’s your name?” he asks. None of your business. What’s your name? I hear his irritated exhalation of breath. I hear him turn over on the bed that used to be half mine. I stay awake all night. My knees curled up to my chin, my arms wrapped tight around my small frame, my long brown hair the only curtain between us. I will not sleep. I cannot sleep. I cannot hear those screams again. TWO It smells like rain in the morning. The room is heavy with the scent of wet stone, upturned soil; the air is dank and earthy. I take a deep breath and tiptoe to the window only to press my nose against the cool surface. Feel my breath fog up the glass. Close my eyes to the sound of a soft pitter-patter rushing through the wind. Raindrops are my only reminder that clouds have a heartbeat. That I have one, too. I always wonder about raindrops. I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors. I am a raindrop. My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab. The window tells me we’re not far from the mountains and definitely near the water, but everything is near the water these days. I just don’t know which side we’re on. Which direction we’re facing. I squint up at the early morning light. Someone picked up the sun and pinned it to the sky again, but every day it hangs a little lower than the day before. It’s like a negligent parent who only knows one half of who you are. It never sees how its absence changes people. How different we are in the dark. A sudden rustle means my cellmate is awake. I spin around like I’ve been caught stealing food again. That only happened once and my parents didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t for me. I said I was just trying to save the stray cats living around the corner but they didn’t think I was human enough to care about a cat. Not me. Not something someone like me. But then, they never believed anything I said. That’s exactly why I’m here. Cellmate is studying me. He fell asleep fully clothed. He’s wearing a navy blue T-shirt and khaki cargo pants tucked into shin-high black boots. I’m wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face. His eyes scan the silhouette of my structure and the slow motion makes my heart race. I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage. Stop looking at me, is what I want to say. Stop touching me with your eyes and keep your hands to your sides and please and please and please— “What’s your name?” The tilt of his head cracks gravity in half. I’m suspended in the moment. I blink and bottle my breaths. He shifts and my eyes shatter into thousands of pieces that ricochet around the room, capturing a million snapshots, a million moments in time. Flickering images faded with age, frozen thoughts hovering precariously in dead space, a whirlwind of memories that slice through my soul. He reminds me of someone I used to know. One sharp breath and I’m shocked back to reality. No more daydreams. “Why are you here?” I ask the cracks in the concrete wall. 14 cracks in 4 walls a thousand shades of gray. The floor, the ceiling: all the same slab of stone. The pathetically constructed bed frames: built from old water pipes. The small square of a window: too thick to shatter. My hope is exhausted. My eyes are unfocused and aching. My finger is tracing a lazy path across the cold floor. I’m sitting on the ground where it smells like ice and metal and dirt. Cellmate sits across from me, his legs folded underneath him, his boots just a little too shiny for this place. “You’re afraid of me.” His voice has no shape. My fingers find their way to a fist. “I’m afraid you’re wrong.” I might be lying, but that’s none of his business. He snorts and the sound echoes in the dead air between us. I don’t lift my head. I don’t meet the eyes he’s drilling in my direction. I taste the stale, wasted oxygen and sigh. My throat is tight with something familiar to me, something I’ve learned to swallow. 2 knocks at the door startle my emotions back into place. He’s upright in an instant. “No one is there,” I tell him. “It’s just our breakfast.” 264 breakfasts and I still don’t know what it’s made of. It smells like too many chemicals; an amorphous lump always delivered in extremes. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes too salty, always disgusting. Most of the time I’m too starved to notice the difference. I hear him hesitate for only an instant before edging toward the door. He slides open a small slot and peers through to a world that no longer exists. “Shit!” He practically flings the tray through the opening, pausing only to slap his palm against his shirt. “Shit, shit.” He curls his fingers into a tight fist and clenches his jaw. He’s burned his hand. I would’ve warned him if he would’ve listened. “You should wait at least three minutes before touching the tray,” I tell the wall. I don’t look at the faint scars gracing my small hands, at the burn marks no one could’ve taught me to avoid. “I think they do it on purpose,” I add quietly. “Oh, so you’re talking to me today?” He’s angry. His eyes flash before he looks away and I realize he’s more embarrassed than anything else. He’s a tough guy. Too tough to make stupid mistakes in front of a girl. Too tough to show pain. I press my lips together and stare out the small square of glass they call a window. There aren’t many animals left, but I’ve heard stories of birds that fly. Maybe one day I’ll get to see one. The stories are so wildly woven these days there’s very little to believe, but I’ve heard more than one person say they’ve actually seen a flying bird within the past few years. So I watch the window. There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a— His hand. On me. 2 tips of 2 fingers graze my cloth-covered shoulder for less than a second and every muscle every tendon in my body is fraught with tension and tied into knots that clench my spine. I stay very still. I don’t move. I don’t breathe. Maybe if I don’t move, this feeling will last forever. No one has touched me in 264 days. Sometimes I think the loneliness inside of me is going to explode through my skin and sometimes I’m not sure if crying or screaming or laughing through the hysteria will solve anything at all. Sometimes I’m so desperate to touch to be touched to feel that I’m almost certain I’m going to fall off a cliff in an alternate universe where no one will ever be able to find me. It doesn’t seem impossible. I’ve been screaming for years and no one has ever heard me. “Aren’t you hungry?” His voice is lower now, a little worried now. I’ve been starving for 264 days. “No.” The word is little more than a broken breath as it escapes my lips and I turn and I shouldn’t but I do and he’s staring at me. Studying me. His lips are only barely parted, his limbs limp at his side, his lashes blinking back confusion. Something punches me in the stomach. His eyes. Something about his eyes. It’s not him not him not him not him not him. I close the world away. Lock it up. Turn the key so tight. Blackness buries me in its folds. “Hey—” My eyes break open. 2 shattered windows filling my mouth with glass. “What is it?” His voice is a failed attempt at flatness, an anxious attempt at apathy. Nothing. I focus on the transparent square wedged between me and my freedom. I want to smash this concrete world into oblivion. I want to be bigger, better, stronger. I want to be angry angry angry. I want to be the bird that flies away. “What are you writing?” Cellmate speaks again. These words are vomit. This shaky pen is my esophagus. This sheet of paper is my porcelain bowl. “Why won’t you answer me?” He’s too close too close too close. No one is ever close enough. I suck in my breath and wait for him to walk away like everyone else in my life. My eyes are focused on the window and the promise of what could be. The promise of something grander, something greater, some reason for the madness building in my bones, some explanation for my inability to do anything without ruining everything. There will be a bird. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird. It will be— “Hey—” “You can’t touch me,” I whisper. I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him. He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him. Please touch me, is what I want to tell him. But things happen when people touch me. Strange things. Bad things. Dead things. I can’t remember the warmth of any kind of embrace. My arms ache from the inescapable ice of isolation. My own mother couldn’t hold me in her arms. My father couldn’t warm my frozen hands. I live in a world of nothing. Hello. World. You will forget me. Knock knock. Cellmate jumps to his feet. It’s time to shower. THREE The door opens to an abyss. There’s no color, no light, no promise of anything but horror on the other side. No words. No direction. Just an open door that means the same thing every time. Cellmate has questions. “What the hell?” He looks from me to the illusion of escape. “They’re letting us out?” They’ll never let us out. “It’s time to shower.” “Shower?” His voice loses inflection but it’s still threaded with curiosity. “We don’t have much time,” I tell him. “We have to hurry.” “Wait, what?” He reaches for my arm but I pull away. “But there’s no light—we can’t even see where we’re going—” “Quickly.” I focus my eyes on the floor. “Take the hem of my shirt.” “What are you talking about—” An alarm sounds in the distance. A buzzing hums closer by the second. Soon the entire cell is vibrating with the warning and the door is slipping back into place. I grab his shirt and pull him into the blackness beside me. “Don’t. Say. Anything.” “Bu—” “Nothing,” I hiss. I tug on his shirt and command him to follow me as I feel my way through the maze of the mental institution. It’s a home, a center for troubled youth, for neglected children from broken families, a safe house for the psychologically disturbed. It’s a prison. They feed us nothing and our eyes never see each other except in the rare bursts of light that steal their way through cracks of glass they pretend are windows. Nights are punctured by screams and heaving sobs, wails and tortured cries, the sounds of flesh and bone breaking by force or choice I’ll never know. I spent the first 3 months in the company of my own stench. No one ever told me where the bathrooms and showers were located. No one ever told me how the system worked. No one speaks to you unless they’re delivering bad news. No one touches you ever at all. Boys and girls never find each other. Never but yesterday. It can’t be coincidence. My eyes begin to readjust in the artificial cloak of night. My fingers feel their way through the rough corridors, and Cellmate doesn’t say a word. I’m almost proud of him. He’s nearly a foot taller than me, his body hard and solid with the muscle and strength of someone close to my age. The world has not yet broken him. Such freedom in ignorance. “Wha—” I tug on his shirt a little harder to keep him from speaking. We’ve not yet cleared the corridors. I feel oddly protective of him, this person who could probably break me with 2 fingers. He doesn’t realize how his ignorance makes him vulnerable. He doesn’t realize that they might kill him for no reason at all. I’ve decided not to be afraid of him. I’ve decided his actions are more immature than genuinely threatening. He looks so familiar so familiar so familiar to me. I once knew a boy with the same blue eyes and my memories won’t let me hate him. Perhaps I’d like a friend. 6 more feet until the wall goes from rough to smooth and then we make a right. 2 feet of empty space before we reach a wooden door with a broken handle and a handful of splinters. 3 heartbeats to make certain we’re alone. 1 foot forward to edge the door inward. 1 soft creak and the crack widens to reveal nothing but what I imagine this space to look like. “This way,” I whisper. I tug him toward the row of showers and scavenge the floor for any bits of soap lodged in the drain. I find 2 pieces, one twice as big as the other. “Open your hand,” I tell the darkness. “It’s slimy. But don’t drop it. There isn’t much soap and we got lucky today.” He says nothing for a few seconds and I begin to worry. “Are you still there?” I wonder if this was the trap. If this was the plan. If perhaps he was sent to kill me under the cover of darkness in this small space. I never really knew what they were going to do to me in the asylum, I never knew if they thought locking me up would be good enough but I always thought they might kill me. It always seemed like a viable option. I can’t say I wouldn’t deserve it. But I’m in here for something I never meant to do and no one seems to care that it was an accident. My parents never tried to help me. I hear no showers running and my heart stops in place. This particular room is rarely full, but there are usually others, if only 1 or 2. I’ve come to realize that the asylum’s residents are either legitimately insane and can’t find their way to the showers, or they simply don’t care. I swallow hard. “What’s your name?” His voice splits the air and my stream of consciousness in one movement. I can feel him breathing much closer than he was before. My heart is racing and I don’t know why but I can’t control it. “Why won’t you tell me your name?” “Is your hand open?” I ask, my mouth dry, my voice hoarse. He inches forward and I’m almost scared to breathe. His fingers graze the starchy fabric of the only outfit I’ll ever own and I manage to exhale. As long as he’s not touching my skin. As long as he’s not touching my skin. As long as he’s not touching my skin. This seems to be the secret. My thin T-shirt has been washed in the harsh water of this building so many times it feels like a burlap sack against my skin. I drop the bigger piece of soap into his hand and tiptoe backward. “I’m going to turn the shower on for you,” I explain, anxious not to raise my voice lest others should hear me. “What do I do with my clothes?” His body is still too close to mine. I blink 1,000 times in the blackness. “You have to take them off.” He laughs something that sounds like an amused breath. “No, I know. I meant what do I do with them while I shower?” “Try not to get them wet.” He takes a deep breath. “How much time do we have?” “Two minutes.” “Jesus, why didn’t you say somethi—” I turn on his shower at the same time I turn on my own and his complaints drown under the broken bullets of the barely functioning spigots. My movements are mechanical. I’ve done this so many times I’ve already memorized the most efficient methods of scrubbing, rinsing, and rationing soap for my body as well as my hair. There are no towels, so the trick is trying not to soak any part of your body with too much water. If you do you’ll never dry properly and you’ll spend the next week nearly dying of pneumonia. I would know. In exactly 90 seconds I’ve wrung my hair and I’m slipping back into my tattered outfit. My tennis shoes are the only things I own that are still in fairly good condition. We don’t do much walking around here. Cellmate follows suit almost immediately. I’m pleased that he learns quickly. “Take the hem of my shirt,” I instruct him. “We have to hurry.” His fingers skim the small of my back for a slow moment and I have to bite my lip to stifle the intensity. I nearly stop in place. No one ever puts their hands anywhere near my body. I have to hurry forward so his fingers will fall back. He stumbles to catch up. When we’re finally trapped in the familiar 4 walls of claustrophobia, Cellmate won’t stop staring at me. I curl into myself in the corner. He still has my bed, my blanket, my pillow. I forgive him his ignorance, but perhaps it’s too soon to be friends. Perhaps I was too hasty in helping him. Perhaps he really is only here to make me miserable. But if I don’t stay warm I will get sick. My hair is too wet and the blanket I usually wrap it in is still on his side of the room. Maybe I’m still afraid of him. I breathe in too sharply, look up too quickly in the dull light of the day. Cellmate has draped 2 blankets over my shoulders. 1 mine. 1 his. “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole,” he whispers to the wall. He doesn’t touch me and I’m disappointed happy he doesn’t. I wish he would. He shouldn’t. No one should ever touch me. “I’m Adam,” he says slowly. He backs away from me until he’s cleared the room. He uses one hand to push my bed frame back to my side of the space. Adam. Such a nice name. Cellmate has a nice name. It’s a name I’ve always liked but I can’t remember why. I waste no time climbing onto the barely concealed springs of my mattress and I’m so exhausted I can hardly feel the metal coils threatening to puncture my skin. I haven’t slept in more than 24 hours. Adam is a nice name is the only thing I can think of before exhaustion cripples my body. FOUR I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. Horror rips my eyelids open. My body is drenched in a cold sweat, my brain swimming in unforgotten waves of pain. My eyes settle on circles of black that dissolve in the darkness. I have no idea how long I’ve slept. I have no idea if I’ve scared my cellmate with my dreams. Sometimes I scream out loud. Adam is staring at me. I’m breathing hard and I manage to heave myself upright. I pull the blankets closer to my body only to realize I’ve stolen his only means for warmth. It never even occurred to me that he might be freezing just as much as I am. I’m shivering in place but his body is unflinching in the night, his silhouette a strong form against the backdrop of black. I have no idea what to say. There’s nothing to say. “The screams never stop in this place, do they?” The screams are only the beginning. “No,” I mouth almost mutely. A faint blush flushes my face and I’m happy it’s too dark for him to notice. He must have heard my cries. Sometimes I wish I never had to sleep. Sometimes I think that if I stay very, very still, if I never move at all, things will change. I think if I freeze myself I can freeze the pain. Sometimes I won’t move for hours. I will not move an inch. If time stands still nothing can go wrong. “Are you okay?” Adam’s voice is concerned. I study the balled fists at his sides, the furrow buried in his brow, the tension in his jaw. This same person who stole my bed and my blanket is the same one who went without tonight. So cocky and careless so few hours ago; so careful and quiet right now. It scares me that this place could have broken him so quickly. I wonder what he heard while I was sleeping. I wish I could save him from the horror. Something shatters; a tortured cry sounds in the distance. These rooms are buried deep in concrete, walls thicker than the floors and ceilings combined to keep sounds from escaping too far. If I can hear the agony it must be insurmountable. Every night there are sounds I don’t hear. Every night I wonder if I’m next. “You’re not insane.” My eyes snap up. His head is cocked, his eyes focused and clear despite the shroud that envelops us. He takes a deep breath. “I thought everyone in here was insane,” he continues. “I thought they’d locked me up with a psycho.” I take a sharp hit of oxygen. “Funny. So did I.” 1 2 3 seconds pass. He cracks a grin so wide, so amused, so refreshingly sincere it’s like a clap of thunder through my body. Something pricks at my eyes and breaks my knees. I haven’t seen a smile in 265 days. Adam is on his feet. I offer him his blanket. He takes it only to wrap it more tightly around my body and something is suddenly constricting in my chest. My lungs are skewered and strung together and I’ve just decided not to move for an eternity when he speaks. “What’s wrong?” My parents stopped touching me when I was old enough to crawl. Teachers made me work alone so I wouldn’t hurt the other children. I’ve never had a friend. I’ve never known the comfort of a mother’s hug. I’ve never felt the tenderness of a father’s kiss. I’m not insane. “Nothing.” 5 more seconds. “Can I sit next to you?” That would be wonderful. “No.” I’m staring at the wall again. He clenches and unclenches his jaw. He runs a hand through his hair and I realize for the first time that he’s not wearing a shirt. It’s so dark in this room I can only catch the curves and contours of his silhouette; the moon is allowed only a small window to light this space but I watch as the muscles in his arms tighten with every movement and I’m suddenly on fire. Flames are licking at my skin and there’s a burst of heat clawing through my stomach. Every inch of his body is raw with power, every surface somehow luminous in the darkness. In 17 years I’ve never seen anything like him. In 17 years I’ve never talked to a boy my own age. Because I’m a monster. I close my eyes until I’ve sewn them shut. I hear the creak of his bed, the groan of the springs as he sits down. I unstitch my eyes and study the floor. “You must be freezing.” “No.” A strong sigh. “I’m actually burning up.” I’m on my feet so quickly the blankets fall to the floor. “Are you sick?” My eyes scan his face for signs of a fever but I don’t dare inch closer. “Do you feel dizzy? Do your joints hurt?” I try to remember my own symptoms. I was chained to my bed by my own body for 1 week. I could do nothing more than crawl to the door and fall face-first into my food. I don’t even know how I survived. “What’s your name?” He’s asked the same question 3 times already. “You might be sick,” is all I can say. “I’m not sick. I’m just hot. I don’t usually sleep with my clothes on.” Butterflies catch fire in my stomach. An inexplicable humiliation is searing my flesh. I don’t know where to look. A deep breath. “I was a jerk yesterday. I treated you like crap and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” I dare to meet his gaze. His eyes are the perfect shade of cobalt, blue like a blossoming bruise, clear and deep and decided. His jaw is set and his features are carved into a careful expression. He’s been thinking about this all night. “Okay.” “So why won’t you tell me your name?” He leans forward and I freeze. I thaw. I melt. “Juliette,” I whisper. “My name is Juliette.” His lips soften into a smile that cracks apart my spine. He repeats my name like the word amuses him. Entertains him. Delights him. In 17 years no one has said my name like that. FIVE I don’t know when it started. I don’t know why it started. I don’t know anything about anything except for the screaming. My mother screaming when she realized she could no longer touch me. My father screaming when he realized what I’d done to my mother. My parents screaming when they’d lock me in my room and tell me I should be grateful. For their food. For their humane treatment of this thing that could not possibly be their child. For the yardstick they used to measure the distance I needed to keep away. I ruined their lives, is what they said to me. I stole their happiness. Destroyed my mother’s hope for ever having children again. Couldn’t I see what I’d done, is what they’d ask me. Couldn’t I see that I’d ruined everything. I tried so hard to fix what I’d ruined. I tried every single day to be what they wanted. I tried all the time to be better but I never really knew how. I only know now that the scientists are wrong. The world is flat. I know because I was tossed right off the edge and I’ve been trying to hold on for 17 years. I’ve been trying to climb back up for 17 years but it’s nearly impossible to beat gravity when no one is willing to give you a hand. When no one wants to risk touching you. It’s snowing today. The concrete is icy and stiffer than usual, but I prefer these freezing temperatures to the stifling humidity of summer days. Summer is like a slow-cooker bringing everything in the world to a boil 1 degree at a time. It promises a million happy adjectives only to pour stench and sewage into your nose for dinner. I hate the heat and the sticky, sweaty mess left behind. I hate the lackadaisical ennui of a sun too preoccupied with itself to notice the infinite hours we spend in its presence. The sun is an arrogant thing, always leaving the world behind when it tires of us. The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections. I stare out the window for so long I forget myself. I hold out my hand to catch a snowflake and my fist closes around the icy air. Empty. I want to put this fist attached to my wrist right through the window. Just to feel something. Just to feel human. “What time is it?” My eyes flutter for a moment. His voice pulls me back down to a world I keep trying to forget. “I don’t know,” I tell him. I have no idea what time it is. I have no idea which day of the week it is, what month we’re in, or even if there’s a specific season we’re supposed to be in. We don’t really have seasons anymore. The animals are dying, birds don’t fly, crops are hard to come by, flowers almost don’t exist. The weather is unreliable. Sometimes our winter days hit 92 degrees. Sometimes it snows for no reason at all. We can’t grow enough food anymore, we can’t sustain enough vegetation for the animals anymore, and we can’t feed the people what they need. Our population was dying off at an alarming rate before The Reestablishment took over and they promised us they had a solution. Animals were so desperate for food they were willing to eat anything and people were so desperate for food they were willing to eat poisoned animals. We were killing ourselves by trying to stay alive. The weather, the plants, the animals, and our human survival are all inextricably linked. The natural elements were at war with one another because we abused our ecosystem. Abused our atmosphere. Abused our animals. Abused our fellow man. The Reestablishment promised they would fix things. But even though human health has found a modicum of relief under the new regime, more people have died at the end of a loaded gun than from an empty stomach. It’s progressively getting worse. “Juliette?” My head snaps up. His eyes are wary, worried, analyzing me. I look away. He clears his throat. “So, uh, they only feed us once a day?” His question sends both our eyes toward the small slot in the door. I curl my knees to my chest and balance my bones on the mattress. If I hold myself very, very still, I can almost ignore the metal digging into my skin. “There’s no system to the food,” I tell him. My finger traces a new pattern down the rough material of the blanket. “There’s usually something in the morning, but there are no guarantees for anything else. Sometimes . . . we get lucky.” My eyes flick up to the pane of glass punched into the wall. Pinks and reds filter into the room and I know it’s the start of a new beginning. The start of the same end. Another day. Maybe I will die today. Maybe a bird will fly today. “So that’s it? They open the door once a day for people to do their business and maybe if we’re lucky they feed us? That’s it?” The bird will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. “That’s it.” “There’s no . . . group therapy?” He almost laughs. “Until you arrived, I hadn’t spoken a single word in two hundred sixty-four days.” His silence says so much. I can almost reach out and touch the guilt growing on his shoulders. “How long are you in for?” he finally asks. Forever. “I don’t know.” A mechanical sound creaks/ groans/cranks in the distance. My life is 4 walls of missed opportunities poured into concrete molds. “What about your family?” There’s a serious sorrow in his voice, almost like he already knows the answer to that question. Here is what I know about my parents: I have no idea where they are. “Why are you here?” I talk to my fingers to avoid his gaze. I’ve studied my hands so thoroughly I know exactly where each bump cut and bruise has ravaged my skin. Small hands. Slim fingers. I curl them into a fist and release them to lose the tension. He still hasn’t responded. I look up. “I’m not insane,” is all he says. “That’s what we all say.” I cock my head only to shake it a fraction of an inch. I bite my lip. My eyes can’t help but steal glances out the window. “Why do you keep looking outside?” I don’t mind his questions, I really don’t. It’s just strange to have someone to talk to. It’s strange to have to exert energy to move my lips to form words necessary to explain my actions. No one has cared for so long. No one’s watched me closely enough to wonder why I stare out a window. No one has ever treated me like an equal. Then again, he doesn’t know I’m a monster my secret. I wonder how long this will last before he’s running for his life. I’ve forgotten to answer and he’s still studying me. I tuck a piece of hair behind my ear only to change my mind. “Why do you stare so much?” His eyes are careful, curious. “I figured the only reason they would lock me up with a girl was because you were crazy. I thought they were trying to torture me by putting me in the same space as a psychopath. I thought you were my punishment.” “That’s why you stole my bed.” To exert power. To stake a claim. To fight first. He drops his eyes. Clasps and unclasps his hands before rubbing the back of his neck. “Why’d you help me? How’d you know I wouldn’t hurt you?” I count my fingers to make sure they’re still there. “I didn’t.” “You didn’t help me or you didn’t know if I’d hurt you?” “Adam.” My lips curve around the shape of his name. I’m surprised to discover how much I love the easy, familiar way the sound rolls off my tongue. He’s sitting almost as still as I am. His eyes are pulled together with a new kind of emotion I can’t place. “Yeah?” “What’s it like?” I ask, each word quieter than the one before. “Outside?” In the real world. “Is it worse?” An ache mars the features of his finely chiseled face. It takes him a few heartbeats to answer. He glances out the window. “Honestly? I’m not sure if it’s better to be in here or out there.” I follow his eyes to the pane of glass separating us from reality and I wait for his lips to part; I wait to listen to him speak. And then I try to pay attention as his words bounce around in the haze of my head, fogging my senses, misting my eyes, clouding my concentration. Did you know it was an international movement? Adam asks me. No I did not, I tell him. I do not tell him I was dragged from my home 3 years ago. I do not tell him that I was dragged away exactly 7 years after The Reestablishment began to preach and 4 months after they took control of everything. I do not tell him how little I know of our new world. Adam says The Reestablishment had its hands in every country, ready for the moment to bring its leaders into a position of control. He says the inhabitable land left in the world has been divided into 3,333 sectors and each space is now controlled by a different Person of Power. Did you know they lied to us? Adam asks me. Did you know that The Reestablishment said someone had to take control, that someone had to save society, that someone had to restore the peace? Did you know that they said killing all the voices of opposition was the only way to find peace? Did you know this? is what Adam asks me. And this is where I nod. This is where I say yes. This is the part I remember: The anger. The riots. The rage. My eyes close in a subconscious effort to block out the bad memories, but the effort backfires. Protests. Rallies. Screams for survival. I see women and children starving to death, homes destroyed and buried in rubble, the countryside a burnt landscape, its only fruit the rotting flesh of casualties. I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favorite lipstick all smeared into the earth. So much everything all the things dead. The Reestablishment is struggling to maintain its hold over the people, Adam says. He says The Reestablishment is struggling to fight a war against the rebels who will not acquiesce to this new regime. The Reestablishment is struggling to root itself as a new form of government across all international societies. And then I wonder what has happened to the people I used to see every day. What’s become of their homes, their parents, their children. I wonder how many of them have been buried in the ground. How many of them were murdered. “They’re destroying everything,” Adam says, and his voice is suddenly a solemn sound in the silence. “All the books, every artifact, every remnant of human history. They’re saying it’s the only way to fix things. They say we need to start fresh. They say we can’t make the same mistakes of previous generations.” 2 knocks at the door and we’re both on our feet, abruptly startled back into this bleak world. Adam raises an eyebrow at me. “Breakfast?” “Wait three minutes,” I remind him. We’re so good at masking our hunger until the knocks at the door cripple our dignity. They starve us on purpose. “Yeah.” His lips are set in a soft smile. “I wouldn’t want to burn myself.” The air shifts as he steps forward. I am a statue. “I still don’t understand,” he says, so quietly. “Why are you here?” “Why do you ask so many questions?” He leaves less than a foot of space between us and I’m 10 inches away from spontaneous combustion. “Your eyes are so deep.” He tilts his head. “So calm. I want to know what you’re thinking.” “You shouldn’t.” My voice falters. “You don’t even know me.” He laughs and the action gives life to the light in his eyes. “I don’t know you.” “No.” He shakes his head. Sits on his bed. “Right. Of course not.” “What?” “You’re right.” His breath catches. “Maybe I am insane.” I take 2 steps backward. “Maybe you are.” He’s smiling again and I’d like to take a picture. I’d like to stare at the curve of his lips for the rest of my life. “I’m not, you know.” “But you won’t tell me why you’re here,” I challenge. “And neither will you.” I fall to my knees and tug the tray through the slot. Something unidentifiable is steaming in 2 tin cups. Adam folds himself onto the floor across from me. “Breakfast,” I say as I push his portion forward. SIX 1 word, 2 lips, 3 4 5 fingers form 1 fist. 1 corner, 2 parents, 3 4 5 reasons to hide. 1 child, 2 eyes, 3 4 17 years of fear. A broken broomstick, a pair of wild faces, angry whispers, locks on my door. Look at me, is what I wanted to say to you. Talk to me every once in a while. Find me a cure for these tears, I’d really like to exhale for the first time in my life. It’s been 2 weeks. 2 weeks of the same routine, 2 weeks of nothing but routine. 2 weeks with the cellmate who has come too close to touching me who does not touch me. Adam is adapting to the system. He never complains, he never volunteers too much information, he continues to ask too many questions. He’s nice to me. I sit by the window and watch the rain and the leaves and the snow collide. They take turns dancing in the wind, performing choreographed routines for unsuspecting masses. The soldiers stomp stomp stomp through the rain, crushing leaves and fallen snow under their feet. Their hands are wrapped in gloves wrapped around guns that could put a bullet through a million possibilities. They don’t bother to be bothered by the beauty that falls from the sky. They don’t understand the freedom in feeling the universe on their skin. They don’t care. I wish I could stuff my mouth full of raindrops and fill my pockets full of snow. I wish I could trace the veins in a fallen leaf and feel the wind pinch my nose. Instead, I ignore the desperation sticking my fingers together and watch for the bird I’ve only seen in my dreams. Birds used to fly, is what the stories say. Before the ozone layer deteriorated, before the pollutants mutated the creatures into something horrible different. They say the weather wasn’t always so unpredictable. They say there were birds who used to soar through the skies like planes. It seems strange that a small animal could achieve anything as complex as human engineering, but the possibility is too enticing to ignore. I’ve dreamt about the same bird flying through the same sky for exactly 10 years. White with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It’s the only dream I have that gives me peace. “What are you writing?” I squint up at his strong stature, the easy grin on his face. I don’t know how he manages to smile in spite of everything. I wonder if he can hold on to that shape, that special curve of the mouth that changes lives. I wonder how he’ll feel in 1 month and I shudder at the thought. I don’t want him to end up like me. Empty. “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. Touch me. 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. Oh. God. His eyes. 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. “I know.” “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. Hurt. “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. SEVEN 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. Get up, Juliette. Get up. If you don’t, they’ll shoot Adam. I heave myself up to my knees and fall back on the wall behind me, stumbling forward to catch my balance. Lifting my hands is more torture than I knew I could endure. My organs are dead, my bones are cracked, my skin is a sieve, punctured by pins and needles of pain. They’ve finally come to kill me. That’s why they put Adam in my cell. Because I’m leaving. Adam is here because I’m leaving, because they forgot to kill me on time, because my moments are over, because my 17 years were too many for this world. They’re going to kill me. I always wondered how it would happen. I wonder if this will make my parents happy. Someone is laughing. “Well aren’t you a little shit?” I don’t even know if they’re talking to me. I can hardly focus on keeping my arms upright. “She’s not even crying,” someone adds. “The girls are usually begging for mercy by now.” The walls are beginning to bleed into the ceiling. I wonder how long I can hold my breath. I can’t distinguish words I can’t understand the sounds I’m hearing the blood is rushing through my head and my lips are 2 blocks of concrete I can’t crack open. There’s a gun in my back and I’m tripping forward. The floors are falling up. My feet are dragging in a direction I can’t decipher. I hope they kill me soon. EIGHT It takes me 2 days to open my eyes. There’s a tin of water and a tin of food set off to the side and I inhale the cold contents with trembling hands, a dull ache creaking through my bones, a desperate drought suffocating my throat. Nothing seems to be broken, but one glance under my shirt proves the pain was real. The bruises are discolored blossoms of blue and yellow, torture to touch and slow to heal. Adam is nowhere. I am alone in a block of solitude, 4 walls no more than 10 feet in every direction, the only air creeping in through a small slot in the door. I’ve just begun to terrorize myself with my imagination when the heavy metal door slams open. A guard with 2 rifles strung across his chest looks me up and down. “Get up.” This time I don’t hesitate. I hope Adam, at least, is safe. I hope he doesn’t come to the same end I do. “Follow me.” The guard’s voice is thick and deep, his gray eyes unreadable. He looks about 25 years old, blond hair cropped close to the crown, shirtsleeves rolled up to his shoulders, military tattoos snaking up his forearms just like Adam’s. Oh. God. No. Adam steps into the doorway beside the blond and gestures with his weapon toward a narrow hallway. “Move.” Adam is pointing a gun at my chest. Adam is pointing a gun at my chest. Adam is pointing a gun at my chest. His eyes are foreign to me, glassy and distant, far, far away. I am nothing but novocaine. I am numb, a world of nothing, all feeling and emotion gone forever. I am a whisper that never was. Adam is a soldier. Adam wants me to die. I stare at him openly now, every sensation amputated, my pain a distant scream disconnected from my body. My feet move forward of their own accord; my lips remain shut because there will never be words for this moment. Death would be a welcome release from these earthly joys I’ve known. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking before another blow to my back cripples me. I blink against the brightness of light I haven’t seen in so long. My eyes begin to tear and I’m squinting against the fluorescent bulbs illuminating the large space. I can hardly see anything. “Juliette Ferrars.” A voice detonates my name. There’s a heavy boot pressed into my back and I can’t lift my head to distinguish who’s speaking to me. “Weston, dim the lights and release her. I want to see her face.” The command is cool and strong like steel, dangerously calm, effortlessly powerful. The brightness is reduced to a level I’m able to tolerate. The imprint of a boot is carved into my back but no longer settled on my skin. I lift my head and look up. I’m immediately struck by his youth. He can’t be much older than me. It’s obvious he’s in charge of something, though I have no idea what. His skin is flawless, unblemished, his jawline sharp and strong. His eyes are the palest shade of emerald I’ve ever seen. He’s beautiful. His crooked smile is calculated evil. He’s sitting on what he imagines to be a throne but is nothing more than a chair at the front of an empty room. His suit is perfectly pressed, his blond hair expertly combed, his soldiers the ideal bodyguards. I hate him. “You’re so stubborn.” His green eyes are almost translucent. “You never want to cooperate. You wouldn’t even play nice with your cellmate.” I flinch without intending to. The burn of betrayal blushes up my neck. Green Eyes looks unexpectedly amused and I’m suddenly mortified. “Well isn’t that interesting.” He snaps his fingers. “Kent, would you step forward, please.” My heart stops beating when Adam comes into view. Kent. His name is Adam Kent. I am aflame from head to toe. Adam flanks Green Eyes in an instant, but only offers a curt nod of his head as a salute. Perhaps the leader isn’t nearly as important as he thinks. “Sir,” he says. So many thoughts are tangling in my head I can’t untie the insanity knotting itself together. I should’ve known. I’d heard rumors of soldiers living among the public in secret, reporting to the authorities if things seemed suspicious. Every day people disappeared. No one ever came back. Though I still can’t understand why Adam was sent to spy on me. “It seems you made quite an impression on her.” I squint closer at the man in the chair only to realize his suit has been adorned with tiny colored patches. Military mementos. His last name is etched into the lapel: Warner. Adam says nothing. He doesn’t look in my direction. His body is erect, 6 feet of gorgeous lean muscle, his profile strong and steady. The same arms that held my body are now holsters for lethal weapons. “You have nothing to say about that?” Warner glances at Adam only to tilt his head in my direction, his eyes dancing in the light, clearly entertained. Adam clenches his jaw. “Sir.” “Of course.” Warner is suddenly bored. “Why should I expect you to have something to say?” “Are you going to kill me?” The words escape my lips before I have a chance to think them through and someone’s gun slams into my spine all over again. I fall to the floor with a broken whimper, wheezing into the filthy floor. “That wasn’t necessary, Roland.” Warner’s voice is saturated with mock disappointment. “I suppose I’d be wondering the same thing if I were in her position.” A pause. “Juliette?” I manage to lift my head. “I have a proposition for you.” NINE I’m not sure I’m hearing him correctly. “You have something I want.” Warner is still staring at me. “I don’t understand,” I tell him. He takes a deep breath and stands up to pace the length of the room. Adam has not yet been dismissed. “You are kind of a pet project of mine.” Warner smiles to himself. “I’ve studied your records for a very long time.” I can’t handle his pompous, self-satisfied strut. I want to break the grin off his face. Warner stops walking. “I want you on my team.” “What?” A broken whisper of surprise. “We’re in the middle of a war,” he says a little impatiently. “Maybe you can put the pieces together.” “I don’t—” “I know your secret, Juliette. I know why you’re in here. Your entire life is documented in hospital records, complaints to authorities, messy lawsuits, public demands to have you locked up.” His pause gives me enough time to choke on the horror caught in my throat. “I’d been considering it for a long time, but I wanted to make sure you weren’t actually psychotic. Isolation wasn’t exactly a good indicator, though you did fend for yourself quite well.” He offers me a smile that says I should be grateful for his praise. “I sent Adam to stay with you as a final precaution. I wanted to make sure you weren’t volatile, that you were capable of basic human interaction and communication. I must say I’m quite pleased with the results.” Someone is ripping my skin off. “Adam, it seems, played his part a little too excellently. He is a fine soldier. One of the best, in fact.” Warner spares him a glance before smiling at me. “But don’t worry, he doesn’t know what you’re capable of. Not yet, anyway.” I claw at the panic, I swallow the agony, I beg myself not to look in his direction but I fail I fail I fail. Adam meets my eyes in the same split second I meet his but he looks away so quickly I’m not sure if I imagined it. I am a monster. “I’m not as cruel as you think,” Warner continues, a musical lilt in his voice. “If you’re so fond of his company I can make this”—he gestures between myself and Adam— “a permanent assignment.” “No,” I breathe. Warner curves his lips into a careless grin. “Oh yes. But be careful, pretty girl. If you do something . . . bad . . . he’ll have to shoot you.” There are wire cutters carving holes in my heart. Adam doesn’t react to anything Warner says. He is doing a job. I am a number, a mission, an easily replaceable object; I am not even a memory in his mind. I am nothing. I didn’t expect his betrayal to bury me so deep. “If you accept my offer,” Warner interrupts my thoughts, “you will live like I do. You will be one of us, and not one of them. Your life will change forever.” “And if I do not accept?” I ask, catching my voice before it cracks in fear. Warner looks genuinely disappointed. His hands are clasped together in dismay. “You don’t really have a choice. If you stand by my side you will be rewarded.” He presses his lips together. “But if you choose to disobey? Well . . . I think you look rather lovely with all your body parts intact, don’t you?” I’m breathing so hard my frame is shaking. “You want me to torture people for you?” His face breaks into a brilliant smile. “That would be wonderful.” The world is bleeding. I don’t have time to form a response before he turns to Adam. “Show her what she’s missing, would you?” Adam answers a beat too late. “Sir?” “That is an order, soldier.” Warner’s eyes are trained on me, his lips twitching with suppressed amusement. “I’d like to break this one. She’s a little too feisty for her own good.” “You can’t touch me,” I spit through clenched teeth. “Wrong,” he singsongs. He tosses Adam a pair of black gloves. “You’re going to need these,” he says with a conspiratorial whisper. “You’re a monster.” My voice is too even, my body filled with a sudden rage. “Why don’t you just kill me?” “That, my dear, would be a waste.” He steps forward and I realize his hands are carefully sheathed in white leather gloves. He tips my chin up with one finger. “Besides, it’d be a shame to lose such a pretty face.” I try to snap my neck away from him but the same steel-toed boot slams into my spine and Warner catches my face in his grip. I suppress a scream. “Don’t struggle, love. You’ll only make things more difficult for yourself.” “I hope you rot in hell.” Warner flexes his jaw. He holds up a hand to stop someone from shooting me, kicking me in the spleen, cracking my skull open, I have no idea. “You’re a fighter for the wrong team.” He stands up straight. “But we can change that. Adam,” he calls. “Don’t let her out of your sight. She’s your charge now.” “Yes, sir.” TEN Adam puts on the gloves but he doesn’t touch me. “Let her up, Roland. I’ll take it from here.” The boot disappears. I struggle to my feet and stare at nothing. I won’t think about the horror that awaits me. Someone kicks in the backs of my knees and I nearly stumble to the ground. “Get going,” a voice growls from behind. I look up and realize Adam is already walking away. I’m supposed to be following him. Only once we’re back in the familiar blindness of the asylum hallways does he stop walking. “Juliette.” One soft word and my joints are made of air. I don’t answer him. “Take my hand,” he says. “I will never,” I manage between broken bites of oxygen. “Not ever.” A heavy sigh. I feel him shift in the darkness and soon his body is too close so disarmingly close to mine. His hand is on my lower back and he’s guiding me through the corridors toward an unknown destination. Every inch of my skin is blushing. I have to hold myself upright to keep from falling backward into his arms. The distance we’re walking is much longer than I expected. When Adam finally speaks I suspect we’re close to the end. “We’re going to go outside,” he says near my ear. I have to ball my fists to control the thrills tripping my heart. I’m almost too distracted by the feel of his voice to understand the significance of what he’s saying. “I just thought you should know.” An audible intake of breath is my only response. I haven’t been outside in almost a year. I’m painfully excited but I haven’t felt natural light on my skin in so long I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it. I have no choice. The air hits me first. Our atmosphere has little to boast of, but after so many months in a concrete corner even the wasted oxygen of our dying Earth tastes like heaven. I can’t inhale fast enough. I fill my lungs with the feeling; I step into the slight breeze and clutch a fistful of wind as it weaves its way through my fingers. Bliss unlike anything I’ve ever known. The air is crisp and cool. A refreshing bath of tangible nothing that stings my eyes and snaps at my skin. The sun is high today, blinding as it reflects the small patches of snow keeping the earth frozen. My eyes are pressed down by the weight of the bright light and I can’t see through more than two slits, but the warm rays wash over my body like a jacket fitted to my form, like the hug of something greater than a human. I could stand still in this moment forever. For one infinite second I feel free. Adam’s touch shocks me back to reality. I nearly jump out of my skin and he catches my waist. I have to beg my bones to stop shaking. “Are you okay?” His eyes surprise me. They’re the same ones I remember, blue and bottomless like the deepest part of the ocean. His hands are gentle so gentle around me. “I don’t want you to touch me,” I lie. “You don’t have a choice.” He won’t look at me. “I always have a choice.” He runs a hand through his hair and swallows the nothing in his throat. “Follow me.” We’re in a blank space, an empty acre filled with dead leaves and dying trees taking small sips from melted snow in the soil. The landscape has been ravaged by war and neglect and it’s still the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in so long. The stomping soldiers stop to watch as Adam opens a car door for me. It’s not a car. It’s a tank. I stare at the massive metal body and attempt to climb my way up the side when Adam is suddenly behind me. He hoists me up by the waist and I gasp as he settles me into the seat. Soon we’re driving in silence and I have no idea where we’re headed. I’m staring out the window at everything. I’m eating and drinking and absorbing every infinitesimal detail in the debris, in the skyline, in the abandoned homes and broken pieces of metal and glass sprinkled in the scenery. The world looks naked, stripped of vegetation and warmth. There are no street signs, no stop signs; there is no need for either. There is no public transportation. Everyone knows that cars are now manufactured by only one company and sold at a ridiculous rate. Very few people are allowed a means of escape. My parents The general population has been distributed across what’s left of the country. Industrial buildings form the spine of the landscape: tall, rectangular metal boxes stuffed full of machinery. Machinery intended to strengthen the army, to strengthen The Reestablishment, to destroy mass quantities of human civilization. Carbon/Tar/Steel Gray/Black/Silver Smoky colors smudged into the skyline, dripping into the slush that used to be snow. Trash is heaped in haphazard piles everywhere, patches of yellowed grass peeking out from under the devastation. Traditional homes of our old world have been abandoned, windows shattered, roofs collapsing, red and green and blue paint scrubbed into muted shades to better match our bright future. Now I see the compounds carelessly constructed on the ravaged land and I begin to remember. I remember how these were supposed to be temporary. I remember the few months before I was locked up when they’d begun building them. These small, cold quarters would suffice just until they figured out all the details of this new plan, is what The Reestablishment had said. Just until everyone was subdued. Just until people stopped protesting and realized that this change was good for them, good for their children, good for their future. I remember there were rules. No more dangerous imaginations, no more prescription medications. A new generation comprised of only healthy individuals would sustain us. The sick must be locked away. The old must be discarded. The troubled must be given up to the asylums. Only the strong should survive. Yes. Of course. No more stupid languages and stupid stories and stupid paintings placed above stupid mantels. No more Christmas, no more Hanukkah, no more Ramadan and Diwali. No talk of religion, of belief, of personal convictions. Personal convictions were what nearly killed us all, is what they said. Convictions priorities preferences prejudices and ideologies divided us. Deluded us. Destroyed us. Selfish needs, wants, and desires needed to be obliterated. Greed, overindulgence, and gluttony had to be expunged from human behavior. The solution was in self-control, in minimalism, in sparse living conditions; one simple language and a brand-new dictionary filled with words everyone would understand. These things would save us, save our children, save the human race, is what they said. Reestablish Equality. Reestablish Humanity. Reestablish Hope, Healing, and Happiness. SAVE US! JOIN US! REESTABLISH SOCIETY! The posters are still plastered on the walls. The wind whips their tattered remains, but the signs are determinedly fixed, flapping against the steel and concrete structures they’re stuck to. Some are still pasted to poles sprung right out of the ground, loudspeakers now affixed at the very top. Loudspeakers that alert the people, no doubt, to the imminent dangers that surround them. But the world is eerily quiet. Pedestrians pass by, ambling along in the cold, frigid weather to do factory work and find food for their families. Hope in this world bleeds out of the barrel of a gun. No one really cares for the concept anymore. People used to want hope. They wanted to think things could get better. They wanted to believe they could go back to worrying about gossip and holiday vacations and going to parties on Saturday nights, so The Reestablishment promised a future too perfect to be possible and society was too desperate to disbelieve. They never realized they were signing away their souls to a group planning on taking advantage of their ignorance. Their fear. Most civilians are too petrified to protest but there are others who are stronger. There are others who are waiting for the right moment. There are others who have already begun to fight back. I hope it’s not too late to fight back. I study every quivering branch, every imposing soldier, every window I can count. My eyes are 2 professional pickpockets, stealing everything to store away in my mind. I lose track of the minutes we trample over. We pull up to a structure 10 times larger than the asylum and suspiciously central to civilization. From the outside it looks like a bland building, inconspicuous in every way but its size, gray steel slabs comprising 4 flat walls, windows cracked and slammed into the 15 stories. It’s bleak and bears no marking, no insignia, no proof of its true identity. Political headquarters camouflaged among the masses. The inside of the tank is a convoluted mess of buttons and levers I’m at a loss to operate, and Adam is opening my door before I have a chance to identify the pieces. His hands are in place around my waist and my feet are now firmly on the ground but my heart is pounding so fast I’m certain he can hear it. He hasn’t let go of me. I look up. His eyes are tight, his forehead pinched, his lips his lips his lips are 2 pieces of frustration forged together. I step backward and 10,000 tiny particles shatter between us. He drops his eyes. He turns away. He inhales and 5 fingers on one hand form a fickle fist. “This way.” He nods toward the building. I follow him inside. ELEVEN I’m so prepared for unimaginable horror that the reality is almost worse. Dirty money is dripping from the walls, a year’s supply of food wasted on marble floors, hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical aid poured into fancy furniture and Persian rugs. I feel the artificial heat pouring in through air vents and think of children screaming for clean water. I squint through crystal chandeliers and hear mothers begging for mercy. I see a superficial world existing in the midst of a terrorizing reality and I can’t move. I can’t breathe. So many people must’ve died to sustain this luxury. So many people had to lose their homes and their children and their last 5 dollars in the bank for promises promises promises so many promises to save them from themselves. They promised us—The Reestablishment promised us hope for a better future. They said they would fix things, they said they would help us get back to the world we knew— the world with movie dates and spring weddings and baby showers. They said they would give us back our homes, our health, our sustainable future. But they stole everything. They took everything. My life. My future. My sanity. My freedom. They filled our world with weapons aimed at our foreheads and smiled as they shot 16 candles right through our future. They killed those strong enough to fight back and locked up the freaks who failed to live up to their utopian expectations. People like me. Here is proof of their corruption. My skin is cold-sweat, my fingers trembling with disgust, my legs unable to withstand the waste the waste the waste the selfish waste in these 4 walls. I’m seeing red everywhere. The blood of bodies spattered against the windows, spilled across the carpets, dripping from the chandeliers. “Juliette—” I break. I’m on my knees, my body cracking from the pain I’ve swallowed so many times, heaving with sobs I can no longer suppress, my dignity dissolving in my tears, the agony of this past week ripping my skin to shreds. I can’t ever breathe. I can’t catch the oxygen around me and I’m dry-heaving into my shirt and I hear voices and see faces I don’t recognize, wisps of words wicked away by confusion, thoughts scrambled so many times I don’t know if I’m even conscious anymore. I don’t know if I’ve officially lost my mind. I’m in the air. I’m a bag of feathers in his arms and he’s breaking through soldiers crowding around for a glimpse of the commotion and for a moment I don’t want to care that I shouldn’t want this so much. I want to forget that I’m supposed to hate him, that he betrayed me, that he’s working for the same people who are trying to destroy the very little that’s left of humanity and my face is buried in the soft material of his shirt and my cheek is pressed against his chest and he smells like strength and courage and the world drowning in rain. I don’t want him to ever ever ever ever let go of my body. I wish I could touch his skin, I wish there were no barriers between us. Reality slaps me in the face. Mortification muddles my brain, desperate humiliation clouds my judgment; red paints my face, bleeds through my skin. I clutch at his shirt. “You can kill me,” I tell him. “You have guns—” I’m wriggling out of his grip and he tightens his hold around my body. His face shows no emotion but a sudden strain in his jaw, an unmistakable tension in his arms. “You can just kill me—” I plead. “Juliette.” His voice is solid with an edge of desperation. “Please.” I’m numb again. Powerless all over again. Melting from within, life seeping out of my limbs. We’re standing in front of a door. Adam takes a key card and swipes it against a black pane of glass fitted into the small space beside the handle, and the stainless steel door slides out of place. We step inside. We’re all alone in a new room. “Please don’t let go of me put me down,” I tell him. There’s a queen-size bed in the middle of the space, lush carpet gracing the floors, an armoire flush against the wall, light fixtures glittering from the ceiling. The beauty is so tainted I can’t stand the sight of it. Adam gentles me onto the soft mattress and takes a small step backward. “You’ll be staying here for a while, I think,” is all he says. I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t want to think about the inevitable torture awaiting me. “Please,” I tell him. “I’d like to be left alone.” A deep sigh. “That’s not exactly an option.” “What do you mean?” I spin around. “I have to watch you, Juliette.” He says my name like a whisper. My heart my heart my heart. “Warner wants you to understand what he’s offering you, but you’re still considered . . . a threat. He’s made you my assignment. I can’t leave.” I don’t know whether to be thrilled or horrified. I’m horrified. “You have to live with me?” “I live in the barracks on the opposite end of this building. With the other soldiers. But, yeah.” He clears his throat. He’s not looking at me. “I’ll be moving in.” There’s an ache in the pit of my stomach that’s gnawing on my nerves. I want to hate him and judge him and scream forever but I’m failing because all I see is an 8-year-old boy who doesn’t remember that he used to be the kindest person I ever knew. I don’t want to believe this is happening. I close my eyes and curl my head into my knees. “You have to get dressed,” he says after a moment. I pop my head up. I blink at him like I can’t understand what he’s saying. “I am dressed.” He clears his throat again but tries to be quiet about it. “There’s a bathroom through here.” He points. I see a door connected to the room and I’m suddenly curious. I’ve heard stories about people with bathrooms in their bedrooms. I guess they’re not exactly in the bedroom, but they’re close enough. I slip off the bed and follow his finger. As soon as I open the door he resumes speaking. “You can shower and change in here. The bathroom . . . it’s the only place there are no cameras,” he adds, his voice trailing off. There are cameras in my room. Of course. “You can find clothes in there.” He nods to the armoire. He suddenly looks uncomfortable. “And you can’t leave?” I ask. He rubs his forehead and sits down on the bed. He sighs. “You have to get ready. Warner will be expecting you for dinner.” “Dinner?” My eyes are the size of the moon. Adam looks grim. “Yeah.” “He’s not going to hurt me?” I’m ashamed at the relief in my voice, at the unexpected tension I’ve released, at the fear I didn’t know I was harboring. “He’s going to give me dinner?” I’m starving my stomach is a tortured pit of starvation I’m so hungry so hungry so hungry I can’t even imagine what real food must taste like. Adam’s face is inscrutable again. “You should hurry. I can show you how everything works.” I don’t have time to protest before he’s in the bathroom and I’ve followed him inside. The door is still open and he’s standing in the middle of the small space with his back to me and I can’t understand why. “I already know how to use the bathroom,” I tell him. I used to live in a regular home. I used to have a family. He turns around very, very slowly and I begin to panic. He finally lifts his head but his eyes are darting in every direction. When he looks at me his eyes narrow; his forehead is tight. His right hand curls into a fist and his left hand lifts one finger to his lips. He’s telling me to be quiet. Every organ in my body falls to the floor. I knew something was coming but I didn’t know it’d be Adam. I didn’t think he’d be the one to hurt me, to torture me, to make me wish for death more than I ever have before. I don’t even realize I’m crying until I hear the whimper and feel the silent tears stream down my face and I’m ashamed so ashamed so ashamed of my weakness but a part of me doesn’t care. I’m tempted to beg, to ask for mercy, to steal his gun and shoot myself first. Dignity is the only thing I have left. He seems to register my sudden hysteria because his eyes snap open and his mouth falls to the floor. “No, God, Juliette—I’m not—” He swears under his breath. He pumps his fist against his forehead and turns away, sighing heavily, pacing the length of the small space. He swears again. He walks out the door and doesn’t look back. TWELVE 5 full minutes under piping hot water, 2 bars of soap both smelling of lavender, a bottle of shampoo meant only for my hair, and the touch of soft, plush towels I dare to wrap around my body and I begin to understand. They want me to forget. They think they can wash away my memories, my loyalties, my priorities with a few hot meals and a room with a view. They think I am so easily purchased. Warner doesn’t seem to understand that I grew up with nothing and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want the clothes or the perfect shoes or the expensive anything. I didn’t want to be draped in silk. All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart. I saw the world and its lack of compassion, its harsh, grating judgment, and its cold, resentful eyes. I saw it all around me. I had so much time to listen. To look. To study people and places and possibilities. All I had to do was open my eyes. All I had to do was open a book— to see the stories bleeding from page to page. To see the memories etched onto paper. I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction. They want to delete every point of punctuation in my life from this earth and I don’t think I can let that happen. I slip back into my old clothes and tiptoe into the bedroom only to find it abandoned. Adam is gone even though he said he would stay. I don’t understand him I don’t understand his actions I don’t understand my disappointment. I wish I didn’t love the freshness of my skin, the feel of being perfectly clean after so long; I don’t understand why I still haven’t looked in the mirror, why I’m afraid of what I’ll see, why I’m not sure if I’ll recognize the face that might stare back at me. I open the armoire. It’s bursting with dresses and shoes and shirts and pants and clothing of every kind, colors so vivid they hurt my eyes, material I’ve only ever heard of, the kind I’m almost afraid to touch. The sizes are perfect too perfect. They’ve been waiting for me. The sky is raining bricks right into my skull. I’ve been neglected abandoned ostracized and dragged from my home. I’ve been poked prodded tested and thrown in a cell. I’ve been studied. I’ve been starved. I’ve been tempted with friendship only to be left betrayed and trapped into this nightmare I’m expected to be grateful for. My parents. My teachers. Adam. Warner. The Reestablishment. I am expendable to all of them. They think I’m a doll they can dress up and twist into prostration. But they’re wrong. “Warner is waiting for you.” I spin around and fall back against the armoire, slamming it closed in the craze of panic clutching my heart. I steady myself and fold away my fear when I see Adam standing at the door. His mouth moves for a moment but he says nothing. Eventually he steps forward so forward until he’s close enough to touch. He reaches past me to reopen the door hiding the things I’m embarrassed to know exist. “These are all for you,” he says without looking at me, his fingers touching the hem of a purple dress, a rich plum color good enough to eat. “I already have clothes.” My hands smooth out the wrinkles in my dirty, ragged outfit. He finally decides to look at me, but when he does his eyebrows trip, his eyes blink and freeze, his lips part in surprise. I wonder if I’ve washed off a new face for myself and I flush, hoping he’s not disgusted by what he might see. I don’t know why I care. He drops his gaze. Takes a deep breath. “I’ll be waiting outside.” I stare at the purple dress with Adam’s fingerprints I study the inside of the armoire for only a moment before I abandon it. I comb anxious fingers through my wet hair and steel myself. I am no one’s property. And I don’t care what Warner wants me to look like. I step outside and Adam stares at me for a small second. He rubs the back of his neck and says nothing. He shakes his head. He starts walking. He doesn’t touch me and I shouldn’t notice but I do. I have no idea what to expect I have no idea what my life will be like in this new place and I’m being nailed in the stomach by every exquisite embellishment, every lavish accessory, every superfluous painting, molding, lighting, coloring of this building. I hope the whole thing catches fire. I follow Adam down a long carpeted corridor to an elevator made entirely of glass. He swipes the same key card he used to open my door and we step inside. I didn’t even realize we’d taken an elevator to get up this many floors. I realize I must’ve made a horrible scene when I arrived and I’m almost happy. I hope I disappoint Warner in every possible way. The dining room is big enough to feed thousands of orphans. Instead, there are 7 banquet tables draped across the room, blue silk spilling across the tabletops, crystal vases bursting with orchids and stargazer lilies, glass bowls filled with gardenias. It’s enchanting. I wonder where they got the flowers from. They must not be real. I don’t know how they could be real. I haven’t seen real flowers in years. Warner is positioned at the table directly in the middle, seated at the head. As soon as he sees me Adam he stands up. The entire room stands in turn. I realize almost immediately that there is an empty seat on either side of him and I don’t intend to stop moving but I do. I take quick inventory of the attendees and can’t count any other women. Adam brushes the small of my back with 3 fingertips and I’m startled out of my skin. I hurry forward and Warner beams at me. He pulls out the chair on his left and gestures for me to sit down. I do. I try not to look at Adam as he sits across from me. “You know . . . there are clothes in your armoire, my dear.” Warner sits down beside me; the room reseats itself and resumes a steady stream of chatter. He’s turned almost entirely in my direction but somehow the only presence I’m aware of is directly across from me. I focus on the empty plate 2 inches from my fingers. I drop my hands in my lap. “And you don’t have to wear those dirty tennis shoes anymore,” Warner continues, stealing another glance before pouring something into my cup. It looks like water. I’m so thirsty I could inhale a waterfall. I hate his smile. Hate looks just like everybody else until it smiles. Until it spins around and lies with lips and teeth carved into the semblance of something too passive to punch. “Juliette?” I inhale too quickly. A stifled cough is ballooning in my throat. His glassy green eyes glint in my direction. “Are you not hungry?” Words dipped in sugar. His gloved hand touches my wrist and I nearly sprain it in my haste to distance myself from him. I could eat every person in this room. “No, thank you.” He licks his bottom lip into a smile. “Don’t confuse stupidity for bravery, love. I know you haven’t eaten anything in days.” Something in my patience snaps. “I’d really rather die than eat your food and listen to you call me love,” I tell him. Adam drops his fork. Warner spares him a swift glance and when he looks my way again his eyes have hardened. He holds my gaze for a few infinitely long seconds before he pulls a gun out of his jacket pocket. He fires. The entire room screams to a stop. My heart is flapping wings against my throat. I turn my head very, very slowly to follow the direction of Warner’s gun only to see he’s shot some kind of meat right through the bone. The platter of food is slightly steaming across the room, the meal heaped less than a foot away from the guests. He shot it without even looking. He could’ve killed someone. It takes all of my energy to remain very, very still. Warner drops the gun on my plate. The silence gives it space to clatter around the universe and back. “Choose your words very wisely, Juliette. One word from me and your life here won’t be so easy.” I blink. Adam pushes a plate of food in front of me; the strength of his gaze is like a white-hot poker pressed against my skin. I look up and he cocks his head the tiniest millimeter. His eyes are saying Please. I pick up my fork. Warner doesn’t miss a thing. He clears his throat a little too loudly. He laughs with no humor as he cuts into the meat on his plate. “Do I have to get Kent to do all my work for me?” “Excuse me?” “It seems he’s the only one you’ll listen to.” His tone is breezy but his jaw is unmistakably set. He turns to Adam. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell her to change her clothes like I asked you to.” Adam sits up straighter. “I did, sir.” “I like my clothes,” I tell him. I’d like to punch you in the eye, is what I don’t tell him. Warner’s smile slides back into place. “No one asked what you like, love. Now eat. I need you to look your best when you stand beside me.” THIRTEEN Warner insists on accompanying me to my room. After dinner Adam disappeared with a few of the other soldiers. He disappeared without a word or glance in my direction and I don’t have any idea what to anticipate. At least I have nothing to lose but my life. “I don’t want you to hate me,” Warner says as we make our way toward the elevator. “I’m only your enemy if you want me to be.” “We will always be enemies.” My voice is cracked into chips of ice. The words melt on my tongue. “I will never be what you want me to be.” Warner sighs as he presses the button for the elevator. “I really think you’ll change your mind.” He glances at me with a small smile. A shame, really, that such striking looks should be wasted on such a miserable human being. “You and I, Juliette—together? We could be unstoppable.” I will not look at him though I feel his gaze touching every inch of my body. “No, thank you.” We’re in the elevator. The world is whooshing past us and the walls of glass make us a spectacle to every person on every floor. There are no secrets in this building. He touches my elbow and I pull away. “You might reconsider,” he says softly. “How did you figure it out?” The elevator dings open but I’m not moving. I finally turn to face him because I can’t contain my curiosity. I study his hands, so carefully sheathed in leather, his sleeves thick and crisp and long. Even his collar is high and regal. He’s dressed impeccably from head to toe and covered everywhere except his face. Even if I wanted to touch him I’m not sure I’d be able to. He’s protecting himself. From me. “Perhaps a conversation for tomorrow night?” He cocks a brow and offers me his arm. I pretend not to notice it as we walk off the elevator and down the hall. “Maybe you could wear something nice.” “What’s your first name?” I ask him. We’re standing in front of my door. He stops. Surprised. Lifts his chin almost imperceptibly. Focuses his eyes on my face until I begin to regret my question. “You want to know my name.” I don’t do it on purpose, but my eyes narrow just a bit. “Warner is your last name, isn’t it?” He almost smiles. “You want to know my name.” “I didn’t realize it was a secret.” He steps forward. His lips twitch. His eyes fall, his lips draw in a tight breath. He drops a gloved finger down the apple of my cheek. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he whispers, too close to my neck. I inch backward. Swallow hard. “You already know my name.” He’s not looking at my eyes. “You’re right. I should rephrase that. What I meant to say was I’ll tell you mine if you show me yours.” “What?” I’m breathing too fast too suddenly. He begins to pull off his gloves and I begin to panic. “Show me what you can do.” My jaw is too tight and my teeth have begun to ache. “I won’t touch you.” “That’s all right.” He tugs off the other glove. “I don’t exactly need your help.” “No—” “Don’t worry.” He grins. “I’m sure it won’t hurt you at all.” “No,” I gasp. “No, I won’t—I can’t—” “Fine,” Warner snaps. “That’s fine. You don’t want to hurt me. I’m so utterly flattered.” He almost rolls his eyes. Looks down the hall. Spots a soldier. Beckons him over. “Jenkins?” Jenkins is swift for his size and he’s at my side in a second. “Sir.” He bows his head an inch even though he’s clearly Warner’s senior. He can’t be more than 27; stocky, sturdy, packed with bulk. He spares me a sidelong glance. His brown eyes are warmer than I’d expect them to be. “I’m going to need you to accompany Ms. Ferrars back downstairs. But be warned: she’s incredibly uncooperative and will try to break free from your grip.” He smiles too slowly. “No matter what she says or does, soldier, you cannot let go of her. Are we clear?” Jenkins’ eyes widen; he blinks, his nostrils flare, his fingers flex at his sides. He takes a short breath. Nods. Jenkins is not an idiot. I start running. I’m bolting down the hallway and running past a series of stunned soldiers too scared to stop me. I don’t know what I’m doing, why I think I can run, where I think I could possibly go. I’m straining to reach the elevator if only because I think it will buy me time. I don’t know what else to do. Warner’s commands are bouncing off the walls and exploding in my eardrums. He doesn’t need to chase me. He’s getting others to do the work for him. Soldiers are lining up before me. Beside me. Behind me. I can’t breathe. I’m spinning in a circle of my own stupidity, panicked, pained, petrified by the thought of what I’m going to do to Jenkins against my will. What he will do to me against his will. What will happen to both of us despite our best intentions. “Seize her,” Warner says softly. Silence has stuffed itself into every corner of this building. His voice is the only sound in the room. Jenkins steps forward. My eyes are flooding and I squeeze them shut. I pry them open. I blink back at the crowd and spot a familiar face. Adam is staring at me, horrified. Shame has covered every inch of my body. Jenkins offers me his hand. My bones begin to buckle, snapping in synchronicity with the beats of my heart. I crumble to the floor, folding into myself like a flimsy crepe. My arms are so painfully bare in this ragged T-shirt. “Don’t—” I hold up a tentative hand, pleading with my eyes, staring into the face of this innocent man. “Please don’t—” My voice breaks. “You don’t want to touch me—” “I never said I did.” Jenkins’s voice is deep and steady, full of regret. Jenkins who has no gloves, no protection, no preparation, no possible defense. “That was a direct order, soldier,” Warner barks, trains a gun at his back. Jenkins grabs my arms. NO NO NO I gasp. My blood is surging through my veins, rushing through my body like a raging river, waves of heat lapping against my bones. I can hear his anguish, I can feel the power pouring out of his body, I can hear his heart beating in my ear and my head is spinning with the rush of adrenaline fortifying my being. I feel alive. I wish it hurt me. I wish it maimed me. I wish it repulsed me. I wish I hated the potent force wrapping itself around my skeleton. But I don’t. My skin is pulsing with someone else’s life and I don’t hate it. I hate myself for enjoying it. I enjoy the way it feels to be brimming with more life and hope and human power than I knew I was capable of. His pain gives me a pleasure I never asked for. And he’s not letting go. But he’s not letting go because he can’t. Because I have to be the one to break the connection. Because the agony incapacitates him. Because he’s caught in my snares. Because I am a Venus flytrap. And I am lethal. I fall on my back and kick at his chest, willing him away from me, willing his weight off of my small frame, his limp body collapsed against my own. I’m suddenly screaming and struggling to see past the sheet of tears obscuring my vision; I’m hiccupping, hysterical, horrified by the frozen look on this man’s face, his paralyzed lips wheezing gasps through his lungs. I break free and stumble backward. The sea of soldiers parts behind me. Every face is etched in astonishment and pure, unadulterated fear. Jenkins is lying on the floor and no one dares approach him. “Somebody help him!” I scream. “Somebody help him! He needs a doctor—he needs to be taken—he needs—he— oh God—what have I done—” “Juliette—” “DON’T TOUCH ME—DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH ME—” Warner’s gloves are back in place and he’s trying to hold me together, he’s trying to smooth back my hair, he’s trying to wipe away my tears and I want to murder him. “Juliette, you need to calm down—” “HELP HIM!” I cry, falling to my knees, my eyes glued to the figure lying on the floor. The other soldiers are finally creeping closer, cautious as though he might be contagious. “Please—you have to help him! Please—” “Kent, Curtis, Soledad—TAKE CARE OF THIS!” Warner shouts to his men before scooping me up into his arms. I’m still kicking when the world goes black. FOURTEEN The ceiling is fading in and out of focus. My head is heavy, my vision is blurry, my heart is strained. There is a distinct flavor of panic lodged somewhere underneath my tongue and I’m fighting to remember where it came from. I try to sit up and can’t understand why I was lying down. Someone