- Fracture Me
Juliette’s the only real exception to that rule.
I look back at her and notice the red rims around her eyes as they dart across the dining hall. She looks both wide awake and crazy tired and she can’t seem to sit still; her foot is tapping fast under the table and her hands are trembling a little.
“Hey are you okay?” I ask.
“Yes, absolutely,” she says too quickly. But she’s shaking her head.
“Did you, um, get enough sleep last night?”
“Yes,” she says, repeating the word a few times. She does that occasionally—repeats the same word over and over again. I’m not sure she’s even aware of it.
“Did you sleep well?” she asks. Her fingers drum against the table, then against her arms. She keeps glancing around the room. She doesn’t even wait for me to respond before she says, “Have you heard anything about Kenji yet?”
That’s when I understand.
Of course she’s not okay. Of course she didn’t get any sleep last night. Last night she almost killed one of her closest friends. She’d just started trusting herself and not being afraid of herself; now she’s back to where she started. Shit. I’m already sorry I even brought it up.
“No, not yet.” I cringe. “But,” I say, hoping to change the subject, “I have heard that people are pretty pissed at Castle about what happened with Warner.” I clear my throat. “Did you hear about him breaking out of here?”
Juliette drops her spoon.
It clatters to the floor and she doesn’t seem to notice. “Yes,” she says quietly. She’s blinking at her water cup, holding her napkin in her hands, folding and refolding it. “People were talking about it in the halls. Do they know how he escaped?”
“I don’t think so.” I frown at her.
“Oh.” She says that a few times, too.
She sounds strange. Scared, even. Juliette has always been a little different from everyone else—she was like a crazed, skittish kitten when I first saw her in that cell—but she’d been getting a lot better over the last few months. Once she finally started trusting me, things changed. She evolved. She started talking (and eating) more and even got a little cocky. I loved seeing her come back to life. I loved being with her, watching her find herself.
I think this experience with Kenji really set her back.
I can tell she’s only halfway here, because her eyes are unfocused and her hands are moving mechanically. She does this a lot. It’s like sometimes she just disappears, retreats into a corner of her brain and stays there awhile, thinking about something she’ll never talk about. She’s acting a lot like her old self right now, and right now she’s eating the cold rice on her plate one grain at a time, counting each bite under her breath.
I’m about to try speaking to her again when James finally comes back to the table. I stand up immediately, grateful for the opportunity to shake off the awkward. “Hey buddy—why don’t we go have a proper good-bye?”
“Oh,” James says, sliding his tray onto the table. “Okay, sure.” He glances at me before glancing at Juliette, who’s now chewing a grain of rice very carefully.
“Hi,” he says to her.
Juliette blinks a few times, her face breaking into a wide smile the moment she notices him. It changes her, those smiles. And those are the moments that kill me a little.
“Hi,” she says, so happy so suddenly you’d think James had hung the moon for her. “How are you? Did you sleep well? Would you like to sit down? I was just having some rice; would you like some rice?”
James is already blushing. He’d probably eat his own hair if she asked him to. I roll my eyes and drag him away, telling Juliette we’ll be right back.
She nods. I look over my shoulder as we walk away and notice that she doesn’t seem to mind sitting alone for a little while. She stabs at something on her plate and misses, and that’s the last I see of her before we turn the corner.
“What’s going on? Why do we need to talk?” More questions from James. He’s a freaking question machine. “Is everything okay? Can you tell Juliette not to eat my breakfast?” He cranes his neck to catch a glimpse of her, still sitting at the table. “Sometimes she eats my pudding.”
“Hey,” I say, grabbing hold of his shoulders. “Look at me.”
James turns to face me. “What’s wrong, Addie?” He searches my eyes. “You’re not really going to die, are you?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“Don’t say that,” he says quietly, dropping his gaze. “Don’t say that. It’s not nice to talk like that.”
He looks up again, slowly this time.
I drop to my knees and pull him close, resting my forehead against his. I’m staring at the floor, and I know he is, too. I can hear our hearts racing in the silence.
“I love you,” I finally say to him. “You know that, right? You always come first. Everything I do is to take care of you. To protect you. To provide for you.”
“It’s you first,” I say to him. “It’s always you first and everyone else second. And that’s never going to change. Okay?”
James nods again. A tear falls on the floor between us. “Okay, Addie.”
“Come here,” I whisper, tugging him into my arms. “We’re going to be okay.”
James clings to me, acting more like a child than he has in a long time, and I’m happy to see it. Sometimes I worry he’s growing up way too fast in this shitty world, and though I know I can’t protect him from everything, I still try. He’s been the only constant in my life for as long as I can remember; I think it’d rip me apart if anything happened to him.
I’ll never love anyone the way I love this kid.
After breakfast, the dining hall is practically empty. James had to report to the Safe Room with the other kids—and the elderly—staying behind, and everyone else is getting ready to head out. Some families are still saying final good-byes. Juliette and I have been avoiding eye contact for a few minutes now. She’s staring at her hands, studying her fingers like she’s checking to make sure they’re still there.
“Well damn. Who died?”
Holy hell. That voice. That face.
“Holy crap. Holy shit.” I’m on my feet.
“Good to see you too, Kent.” Kenji smiles wide and nods at me. He looks like hell. Tired eyes, pale face, hands shaking just a little as he holds on to the table. And what’s worse is that he’s already suited up—like he actually thinks he’s heading out onto the battlefield. “You ready to kick some ass today?”
I’m still staring at him in amazement, trying to find a way to respond, when Juliette jumps up and practically tackles him. Just a hug, really, but yikes.
A little too soon for that, I think.
“Whoa—hey—thank you, yeah—that’s—uh—” Kenji clears his throat. He tries to be nice about it, but it’s clear he’s trying to back away from Juliette, and yeah, she notices. Her face falls and she goes pale, her eyes wide. She hides her hands behind her back, even though she’s wearing her gloves. There’s really no obvious threat to Kenji right now, but I understand his hesitation.
The dude almost died. He tried to break up a fight at the same time Juliette did, and bam, he went down in an instant. It was scary as hell—and even though I know Juliette didn’t mean to do it, there’s really no other explanation. It had to have been her.
“Yeah, um, maybe you should hold off on touching me for a little while, yeah?” Kenji is smiling—again, nice guy—but no one’s buying it. “I’m not too steady on my feet just yet.”
Juliette looks so mortified it breaks my heart. She’s trying so hard to be okay—to make all this shit be okay—but sometimes it’s like the world just won’t let her. The hits keep coming, and she keeps hurting. I hate it.
I have to say something.
“It wasn’t her,” I say to Kenji. I shoot him a sharp look. Leave her alone, I mouth. “You know she didn’t even touch you.”
“I don’t know that, actually,” Kenji says, ignoring my more subtle hints to change the subject. “And it’s not like I’m blaming her—I’m just saying maybe she’s projecting and doesn’t know it, okay? Because last I checked, I don’t think we have any other explanations for what happened last night. It sure as hell wasn’t you,” he says to me, “and shit, for all we know, Warner being able to touch Juliette could just be a fluke. We don’t know anything about him yet.” A pause. “Right? Unless Warner pulled some kind of magical rabbit out of his ass while I was busy being dead last night?”
I frown. Look away.
“Right,” Kenji says. “That’s what I thought. So. I think it’s best if, unless absolutely necessary, I stay away.” He turns to Juliette. “Right? No offense, right? I mean I did nearly just die. I think you could cut me some slack.”
“Yeah, of course,” Juliette says quietly. She tries to laugh but it comes out all wrong. I wish I could reach for her; I wish I could wrap her up in my arms. I want to protect her—I want to be able to take care of her, but that seems impossible now.
“So anyway,” Kenji says. “When are we leaving?”
That gets my attention.
“You’re insane,” I say to him. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Bullshit I’m not.”
“You can barely stand up on your own!”
“I’d rather die out there than sit in here like some kind of idiot.”
“Kenji—,” Juliette tries to say.
“Heeeeey, so I heard through the very loud grapevine that Warner got his ass the hell out of here last night.” Kenji looks at us. “What’s that about?”
“Yeah,” I say, my mood darkening. “Who even knows. I never thought it was a good idea to keep him hostage here. It was an even stupider idea to trust him.”
Kenji raises an eyebrow. “So first you insult my idea, and then you insult Castle’s, huh?”
“They were bad calls,” I say to him, refusing to back down. “Bad ideas. Now we have to pay for it.” It was Kenji’s idea to take Warner hostage, and Castle’s idea to let him out of his room. And now we’re all suffering. Sometimes I think this whole movement is led by a bunch of idiots.
“Well how was I supposed to know Anderson would be so willing to let his own son rot in hell?”
I wince involuntarily.
The reminder of my father and what he’d be willing to do to his own son is too much for me this morning. I swallow back the bile inching up my throat.
Kenji notices. “Oh, hey—I’m sorry man—I didn’t mean to say it like that—”
“Forget it,” I say to him. I’m glad Kenji’s not dead, but sometimes all I really want to do is kick his ass. “Maybe you should get back to the medical wing. We’re leaving soon.”