They’re everywhere, on display as if they were works of art. Glossy, dark wood units are built into the walls, shelves lined with rows and rows of shoes. All the other closet space is dedicated to hanging racks, each wall housing different categories of clothing.
Everything is color coordinated.
He owns more coats, more shoes, more pants and shirts than I’ve ever seen in my life. Ties and bow ties, belts, scarves, gloves, and cuff links. Beautiful, rich fabrics: silk blends and starched cotton, soft wool and cashmere. Dress shoes and buttery leather boots buffed and polished to perfection. A peacoat in a dark, burnt shade of orange; a trench coat in a deep navy blue. A winter toggle coat in a stunning shade of plum. I dare to run my fingers along the different materials, wondering how many of these pieces he’s actually worn.
It’s always been apparent that Warner takes pride in his appearance; his outfits are impeccable; his clothes fit him like they were cut for his body. But now I finally understand why he took such care with my wardrobe.
He wasn’t trying to patronize me.
He was enjoying himself.
Aaron Warner Anderson, chief commander and regent of Sector 45, son of the supreme commander of The Reestablishment.
He has a soft spot for fashion.
After my initial shock wears off, I’m able to easily locate my old armoire. It’s been placed unceremoniously in a corner of the room, and I’m almost sorry for it. It stands out awkwardly against the rest of the space.
I quickly shuffle through the drawers, grateful for the first time to have clean things to change into. Warner anticipated all of my needs before I arrived on base. The armoire is full of dresses and shirts and pants, but it’s also been stocked with socks, bras, and underwear. And even though I know this should make me feel awkward, somehow it doesn’t. The underwear is simple and understated. Cotton basics that are exactly average and perfectly functional. He bought these things before he knew me, and knowing that they weren’t purchased with any level of intimacy makes me feel less self-conscious about it all.
I grab a small T-shirt, a pair of cotton pajama bottoms, and all of my brand-new underthings, and slip out of the room. The lights immediately switch off as soon as I’m back in the bedroom, and I hit the button to close the panel.
I look around his bedroom with new eyes, reacclimating to this smaller, standard sort of space. Warner’s bedroom looks almost identical to the one I occupied while on base, and I always wondered why. There are no personal effects anywhere; no pictures, no odd knickknacks.
But suddenly it all makes sense.
His bedroom doesn’t mean anything to him. It’s little more than a place to sleep. But his closet—that was his style, his design. It’s probably the only space he cares about in this room.
It makes me wonder what the inside of his office looks like, and my eyes dart to his door before I remember how he’s locked himself inside.
I stifle a sigh and head toward the bathroom, planning to shower, change, and fall asleep immediately. This day felt more like a few years, and I’m ready to be done with it. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to head back to Omega Point and finally make some progress.
But no matter what happens next, and no matter what we discover, I’m determined to find my way to Anderson, even if I have to go alone.
I can’t scream.
My lungs won’t expand. My breaths keep coming in short gasps. My chest feels too tight and my throat is closing up and I’m trying to shout and I can’t, I can’t stop wheezing, thrashing my arms and trying desperately to breathe but the effort is futile. No one can hear me. No one will ever know that I’m dying, that there’s a hole in my chest filling with blood and pain and such unbearable agony and there’s so much of it, so much blood, hot and pooling around me and I can’t, I can’t, I can’t breathe—
“Juliette—Juliette, love, wake up—wake up—”
I jerk up so quickly I double over. I’m heaving in deep, harsh, gasping breaths, so overcome, so relieved to be able to get oxygen into my lungs that I can’t speak, can’t do anything but try to inhale as much as possible. My whole body is shaking, my skin is clammy, going from hot to cold too quickly. I can’t steady myself, can’t stop the silent tears, can’t shake the nightmare, can’t shake the memory.
I can’t stop gasping for air.
Warner’s hands cup my face. The warmth of his skin helps calm me somehow, and I finally feel my heart rate begin to slow. “Look at me,” he says.
I force myself to meet his eyes, shaking as I catch my breath.
“It’s okay,” he whispers, still holding my cheeks. “It was just a bad dream. Try closing your mouth,” he says, “and breathing through your nose.” He nods. “There you go. Easy. You’re okay.” His voice is so soft, so melodic, so inexplicably tender.
I can’t look away from his eyes. I’m afraid to blink, afraid to be pulled back into my nightmare.
“I won’t let go until you’re ready,” he tells me. “Don’t worry. Take your time.”
I close my eyes. I feel my heart slow to a normal beat. My muscles begin to unclench, my hands steady their tremble. And even though I’m not actively crying, I can’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. But then something in my body breaks, crumples from the inside, and I’m suddenly so exhausted I can no longer hold myself up.
Somehow, Warner seems to understand.
He helps me sit back on the bed, pulls the blankets up around my shoulders. I’m shivering, wiping away the last of my tears. Warner runs a hand over my hair. “It’s okay,” he says softly. “You’re okay.”
“Aren’t y-you going to sleep, too?” I stammer, wondering what time it is. I notice he’s still fully dressed.
“I . . . yes,” he says. Even in this dim light I can see the surprise in his eyes. “Eventually. I don’t often go to bed this early.”
“Oh.” I blink, breathing a little easier now. “What time is it?”
“Two o’clock in the morning.”
It’s my turn to be surprised. “Don’t we have to be up in a few hours?”
“Yes.” The ghost of a smile touches his lips. “But I’m almost never able to fall asleep when I should. I can’t seem to turn my mind off,” he says, grinning at me for only a moment longer before he turns to leave.