They’re staring at her, at each other, and then all of them—all of them—turn to look at me.
“Bro, did you know about this?” Ian asks.
Invisibility is my thing. My thing, goddammit.
No one ever said I had to share that with anyone. Especially not with someone like Nazeera, a lying, manipulative—
Gorgeous. Gorgeous human being.
I turn, stare at the wall. I can’t be distracted by her anymore. She knows I’m into her—my infatuation is apparently obvious to everyone within a ten-mile radius, according to Castle—and she’s clearly been using my idiocy to her best advantage.
Smart. I respect the tactic.
But that also means I have to keep my guard up when she’s around. No more staring. No more daydreaming about her. No more thinking about how she looked at me when she smiled. Or the way she laughed, like she meant it, the same night she yelled at me for asking reasonable questions. Which, by the way—
I don’t think I was crazy for wondering out loud how the daughter of a supreme commander could get away with wearing an illegal headscarf. She told me later that she wears the scarf symbolically, every once in a while, that she can’t get away with wearing it all the time because it’s illegal. But when I pointed this out to her, she gave me hell. And then she gave me shit for being confused.
I’m still confused.
She’s not covering her hair now, either, but no one else seems to have registered this fact. Maybe they’d already seen her like this. Maybe everyone but me already had that conversation with her, already heard her story about wearing it symbolically, occasionally.
Illegally, when her dad wasn’t watching.
“Kenji,” she says, and her voice is so sharp I look up, stare at her despite my own very explicit orders to keep my eyes on the wall. All it takes is two seconds of eye contact and my heart hits itself.
That mouth. Those eyes.
“Yeah?” I cross my arms.
She looks surprised, like she wasn’t expecting me to be upset, and I don’t care. She should know that I’m pissed. I want to her to know that invisibility is my thing. That I know I’m petty and I don’t care. Plus, I don’t trust her. Also, what is up with these kids of the supreme commanders all being super-good-looking? It’s almost like they did it on purpose, like they made these kids in test tubes or someshit.
I shake my head to clear it.
Carefully, Nazeera says, “I really think you should sit down for this.”
She frowns. For a second she looks almost hurt, but before I have a chance to feel bad about it, she shrugs. Turns away.
And what she says next nearly splits me in half.
I’m sitting on an orange chair in the hallway of a dimly lit building. The chair is made of cheap plastic, its edges coarse and unfinished. The floor is a shiny linoleum that occasionally sticks to the soles of my shoes. I know I’ve been breathing too loudly but I can’t help it. I sit on my hands and swing my legs under my seat.
Just then, a boy comes into view. His movements are so quiet I only notice him when he stops directly in front of me. He leans against the wall opposite me, his eyes focused on a point in the distance.
I study him for a moment.
He seems about my age, but he’s wearing a suit. There’s something strange about him; he’s so pale and stiff he seems close to dead.
“Hi,” I say, and try to smile. “Do you want to sit down?”
He doesn’t return my smile. He won’t even look at me. “I’d prefer to stand,” he says quietly.
We’re both silent awhile.
Finally, he says, “You’re nervous.”
I nod. My eyes must be a little red from crying, but I’d been hoping no one would notice. “Are you here to get a new family, too?”
“Oh.” I look away. Stop swinging my feet. I feel my bottom lip tremble and I bite it, hard. “Then why are you here?”
He shrugs. I see him glance, briefly, at the three empty chairs next to me, but he makes no effort to sit down. “My father made me come.”
“He made you come here?”
He stares at his shoes and frowns. “I don’t know.”
“Shouldn’t you be in school?”
And then, instead of answering me, he says, “Where are you from?”
“What do you mean?”
He looks up then, meets my eyes for the first time. He has such unusual eyes. They’re a light, clear green.
“You have an accent,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “Yeah.” I look at the floor. “I was born in New Zealand. That’s where I lived until my mum and dad died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
I nod. Swing my legs again. I’m about to ask him another question when the door down the hall finally opens. A tall man in a navy suit walks out. He’s carrying a briefcase.
It’s Mr. Anderson, my social worker.
He beams at me. “You’re all set. Your new family is dying to meet you. We have a couple more things to do before you can go, but it won’t take too lon—”
I can’t hold it in anymore.
I start sobbing right there, all over the new dress he bought me. Sobs rack my body, tears hitting the orange chair, the sticky floor.
Mr. Anderson sets down his briefcase and laughs. “Sweetheart, there’s nothing to cry about. This is a great day! You should be happy!”
But I can’t speak.
I feel stuck, stuck to the seat. Like my lungs have been stuck together. I manage to calm the sobs but I’m suddenly hiccuping, tears spilling quietly down my cheeks. “I want—I want to go h-home—”
“You are going home,” he says, still smiling. “That’s the whole point.”
I look up at the sound of his voice. So quiet and serious. It’s the boy with the green eyes. Mr. Anderson, I realize, is his father.
“She’s scared,” the boy says. And even though he’s talking to his dad, he’s looking at me. “She’s really scared.”
“Scared?” Mr. Anderson looks from me to his son, then back again. “What’s there to be scared of?”
I scrub at my face. Try and fail to stop the tears.
“What’s her name?” the boy asks. He’s still staring at me, and this time, I stare back. There’s something in his eyes, something that makes me feel safe.
“This is Juliette,” Mr. Anderson says, and looks me over. “Tragic”—he sighs—“just like her namesake.”
Nazeera was right. I should’ve sat down.
I’m looking at my hands, watching a tremor work its way across my fingers. I nearly lose my grip on the stack of photos I’m clutching. The photos. The photos Nazeera passed around after telling us that Juliette is not who we think she is.
I can’t stop staring at the pictures.
A little brown girl and a little white girl running in a field, both of them smiling tiny-toothed smiles, long hair flying in the wind, small baskets full of strawberries swinging from their elbows.
Nazeera and Emmaline at the strawberry patch, it read on the back.
Little Nazeera being hugged, on either side, by two little white girls, all three of them laughing so hard they look like they’re about to fall over.
Ella and Emmaline and Nazeera, it read.
A close-up of a little girl smiling right into the camera, her eyes huge and blue-green, lengths of soft brown hair framing her face.
Ella on Christmas morning, it read.
“Ella Sommers,” Nazeera says.
She says her real name is Ella Sommers, sister to Emmaline Sommers, daughter of Maximillian and Evie Sommers.
“Something is wrong,” Nazeera says.
“Something is happening,” she says. She says she woke up six weeks ago remembering Juliette—sorry, Ella—
“Remembering her. I was remembering her, which means I’d forgotten her. And when I remembered Ella,” she says, “I remembered Emmaline, too. I remembered how we’d all grown up together, how our parents used to be friends. I remembered but I didn’t understand, not right away. I thought maybe I was confusing dreams with memory. Actually, the memories came back to me so slowly I thought, for a while, that I might’ve been hallucinating.”
She says the hallucinations, as she called them, were impossible to shake, so she started digging, started looking for information.
“I learned the same thing you did. That two girls named Ella and Emmaline were donated to The Reestablishment, and that only Ella was taken out of their custody, so Ella was given an alias. Relocated. Adopted. But what you didn’t know was that the parents who gave up their daughters were also members of The Reestablishment. They were doctors and scientists. You didn’t know that Ella—the girl you know to be Juliette—is the daughter of Evie Sommers, the current supreme commander of Oceania. She and I grew up together. She, like the rest of us kids, was built to serve The Reestablishment.”
Ian swears, loudly, and Adam is so stunned he doesn’t complain.
“That can’t be possible,” Adam says. “Juliette— The girl I went to school with? She was”—he shakes his head—“I knew Juliette for years. She wasn’t made like you or Warner. She was this quiet, timid, sweet girl. She was always so nice. She never wanted to hurt anyone. All she ever wanted was to, like, connect with people. She was trying to help that little boy in the grocery store. But then it just—everything ended so badly and she got sucked into this whole mess and I tried,” he says, looking suddenly distraught, “I tried to help her, I tried to keep her safe. I wanted to protect her from this. I wanted t—”