“I’m not falling for Warner,” I say quietly.
“Sure you aren’t.”
“I’m not,” I insist. “I’m just—I don’t know.” I sigh. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”
“They’re called hormones.”
I shoot him a dirty look. “I’m serious.”
“Me too.” He cocks his head at me. “That’s like, biological and shit. Scientific. Maybe your lady bits are scientifically confused.”
“My lady bits?”
“Oh, I’m sorry”—Kenji pretends to look offended—“would you rather I use the proper anatomical terminology? Because your lady bits do not scare me—”
“Yeah, no thanks.” I manage to laugh a little, my sad attempt dissolving into a sigh.
God, everything is changing.
“He’s just . . . so different,” I hear myself say. “Warner. He’s not what you guys think. He’s sweet. And kind. And his father is so, so horrible to him. You can’t even imagine,” I trail off, thinking of the scars I saw on Warner’s back. “And more than anything else . . . I don’t know,” I say, staring into the darkness. “He really . . . believes in me?” I glance up at Kenji. “Does that sound stupid?”
Kenji shoots me a doubtful look. “Adam believes in you, too.”
“Yeah,” I say, looking into the darkness. “I guess.”
“What do you mean, you guess? The kid thinks you invented air.”
I almost smile. “I don’t know which version of me Adam likes. I’m not the same person I was when we were in school. I’m not that girl anymore. I think he wants that,” I say, glancing up at Kenji. “I think he wants to pretend I’m the girl who doesn’t really speak and spends most of her time being scared. The kind of girl he needs to protect and take care of all the time. I don’t know if he likes who I am now. I don’t know if he can handle it.”
“So the minute you opened your mouth you just shattered all his dreams, huh?”
“I will push you off the roof.”
“Yeah, I can definitely see why Adam wouldn’t like you.”
I roll my eyes.
Kenji laughs. Leans back and pulls me down with him. The concrete is under our heads now, the sky draped all around us. It’s like I’ve been dropped into a vat of ink.
“You know, it actually makes a lot of sense,” Kenji finally says.
“I don’t know, I mean—you’ve been locked up basically forever, right? It’s not like you were busy touching a bunch of dudes your whole life.”
“Like—Adam was the first guy who was ever . . . nice to you. Hell, he was probably the first person in the world who was nice to you. And he can touch you. And he’s not, you know, disgusting looking.” A pause. “I can’t blame you, to be honest. It’s hard being lonely. We all get a little desperate sometimes.”
“Okay,” I say slowly.
“I am just saying,” Kenji says, “that I guess it makes sense you’d fall for him. Like, by default. Because if not him, who else? Your options were super limited.”
“Oh,” I say, quietly now. “Right. By default.” I try to laugh and fail, swallowing hard against the emotion caught in my throat. “Sometimes I’m not sure I even know what’s real anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know,” I whisper, mostly to myself.
A heavy pause.
“Did you really love him . . . ?”
I hesitate before answering. “I think so? I don’t know?” I sigh. “Is it possible to love someone and then stop loving them? I don’t think I even know what love is.”
Kenji blows out a breath. Runs a hand through his hair. “Well shit,” he mutters.
“Have you ever been in love?” I ask, turning on my side to look at him.
He stares up at the sky. Blinks a few times. “Nope.”
I roll back, disappointed. “Oh.”
“This is so depressing,” Kenji says.
“So tell me again why you like Warner so much? Did he, like, take all his clothes off or something?”
“What?” I gasp, so glad it’s too dark for him to see me blushing. “No,” I say quickly. “No, he—”
“Damn, princess.” Kenji laughs, hard. “I had no idea.”
I punch him in the arm.
“Hey—be gentle with me!” he protests, rubbing at the sore spot. “I’m weaker than you!”
“You know, I can sort of control it now,” I tell him, beaming. “I can moderate my strength levels.”
“Good for you. I’ll buy you a balloon the minute the world stops shitting on itself.”
“Thank you,” I say, pleased. “You’re a good teacher.”
“I’m good at everything,” he points out.
“And really good-looking.”
I choke on a laugh.
“You still haven’t answered my question,” Kenji says. He shifts, folds his hands behind his head. “Why do you like the rich boy so much?”
I take a tight breath. Focus on the brightest star in the sky. “I like the way I feel about myself when I’m with him,” I say quietly. “Warner thinks I’m strong and smart and capable and he actually values my opinion. He makes me feel like his equal—like I can accomplish just as much as he can, and more. And if I do something incredible, he’s not even surprised. He expects it. He doesn’t treat me like I’m some fragile little girl who needs to be protected all the time.”
“That’s because you’re not fragile,” Kenji says. “If anything, everyone needs to protect themselves from you. You’re like a freaking beast,” he says. Then adds, “I mean, you know—like, a cute beast. A little beast that tears shit up and breaks the earth and sucks the life out of people.”
“I’m here for you.”
“I can tell.”
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