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“You should go back to sleep, love. You’re probably more tired than you think—”

I walk right up to him, reach around and grab the jar before he can do much to stop me.

“That is a violation of privacy,” he says sharply, sounding more like himself. “Give that back to me—”

“Medicine?” I ask, surprised. I turn the little jar around in my hands, reading the label. I look up at him. Finally understanding. “This is for scars.”

He runs a hand through his hair. Looks toward the wall. “Yes,” he says. “Now please give it back to me.”

“Do you need help?” I ask.

He stills. “What?”

“This is for your back, isn’t it?”

He runs a hand across his mouth, down his chin. “You won’t allow me to walk away from this with even an ounce of self-respect, will you?”

“I didn’t know you cared about your scars,” I say to him.

I take a step forward.

He takes a step back.

“I don’t.”

“Then why this?” I hold up the jar. “Where did you even get this from?”

“It’s nothing—it’s just—” He shakes his head. “Delalieu found it for me. It’s ridiculous,” he says. “I feel ridiculous.”

“Because you can’t reach your own back?”

He stares at me then. Sighs.

“Turn around,” I tell him.

“No.”

“You’re being weird about nothing. I’ve already seen your scars.”

“That doesn’t mean you need to see them again.”

I can’t help but smile a little.

“What?” he demands. “What’s so funny?”

“You just don’t seem like the kind of person who would be self-conscious about something like this.”

“I’m not.”

“Obviously.”

“Please,” he says, “just go back to bed.”

“I’m wide-awake.”

“That’s not my problem.”

“Turn around,” I tell him again.

He narrows his eyes at me.

“Why are you even using this stuff?” I ask him for the second time. “You don’t need it. Don’t use it if it makes you uncomfortable.”

He’s quiet a moment. “You don’t think I need it?”

“Of course not. Why . . . ? Are you in pain? Do your scars hurt?”

“Sometimes,” he says quietly. “Not as much as they used to. I actually can’t feel much of anything on my back anymore.”

Something cold and sharp hits me in the stomach. “Really?”

He nods.

“Will you tell me where they came from?” I whisper, unable to meet his eyes.

He’s silent for so long I’m finally forced to look up.

His eyes are dead of emotion, his face set to neutral. He clears his throat. “They were my birthday presents,” he says. “Every year from the time I was five. Until I turned eighteen,” he says. “He didn’t come back for my nineteenth birthday.”

I’m frozen in horror.

“Right.” Warner looks into his hands. “So—”

“He cut you?” My voice is so hoarse.

“Whip.”

“Oh my God,” I gasp, covering my mouth. I have to look toward the wall to pull myself together. I blink several times, struggle to swallow back the pain and rage building inside of me. “I’m so sorry,” I choke out. “Aaron. I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t want you to be repulsed by me,” he says quietly.

I spin around, stunned. Mildly horrified. “You’re not serious.”

His eyes say that he is.

“Have you never looked in a mirror?” I ask, angry now.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re perfect,” I tell him, so overcome I forget myself. “All of you. Your entire body. Proportionally. Symmetrically. You’re absurdly, mathematically perfect. It doesn’t even make sense that a person could look like you,” I say, shaking my head. “I can’t believe you would ever say something like that—”

“Juliette, please. Don’t talk to me like that.”

“What? Why?”

“Because it’s cruel,” he says, losing his composure. “It’s cruel and it’s heartless and you don’t even realize—”

“Aaron—”

“I take it back,” he says. “I don’t want you to call me Aaron anymore—”

“Aaron,” I say again, more firmly this time. “Please—you can’t really think you repulse me? You can’t really think I would care—that I would be put off by your scars—”

“I don’t know,” he says. He’s pacing in front of his desk, his eyes fixed on the ground.

“I thought you could sense feelings,” I say to him. “I thought mine would be so obvious to you.”

“I can’t always think clearly,” he says, frustrated, rubbing his face, his forehead. “Especially when my emotions are involved. I can’t always be objective—and sometimes I make assumptions,” he says, “that aren’t true—and I don’t—I just don’t trust my own judgment anymore. Because I’ve done that,” he says, “and it’s backfired. So terribly.”

He looks up, finally. Looks me in the eye.

“You’re right,” I whisper.

He looks away.

“You’ve made a lot of mistakes,” I say to him. “You did everything wrong.”

He runs a hand down the length of his face.

“But it’s not too late to fix things—you can make it right—”

“Please—”

“It’s not too late—”

“Stop saying that to me!” he explodes. “You don’t know me—you don’t know what I’ve done or what I’d need to do to make things right—”

“Don’t you understand? It doesn’t matter—you can choose to be different now—”

“I thought you weren’t going to try and change me!”

“I’m not trying to change you,” I say, lowering my voice. “I’m just trying to get you to understand that your life isn’t over. You don’t have to be who you’ve been. You can make different choices now. You can be happy—”

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