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“Kent wasn’t that bad, J.” Kenji frowns. “You’re not giving him enough credit. He’s been acting kind of dickish lately, but he’s a good guy. You know he is. Shit is just really rough for him right now.”

“I know,” I sigh, feeling sad, somehow. “But this world is still falling apart. Even if we win this war, everything is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.” I pause. Stare into my hands. “And I think people become who they really are when things get rough. I’ve seen it firsthand. With myself, my parents, with society, even. And yeah, Adam is a good guy. He really is. But just because he’s a good guy doesn’t make him the right guy for me.”

I look up.

“I’m so different now. I’m not right for him anymore, and he’s not right for me.”

“But he still loves you.”

“No,” I say. “He doesn’t.”

“That’s a pretty heavy accusation.”

“It’s not an accusation,” I say. “One day Adam will realize that what he felt for me was just a crazy kind of desperation. We were two people who really needed someone to hold on to, and we had this past that made us seem so compatible. But it wasn’t enough. Because if it were, I wouldn’t have been able to walk away so easily.” I drop my eyes, my voice. “Warner didn’t seduce me, Kenji. He didn’t steal me away. I just . . . I reached a point where everything changed for me.

“Everything I thought I knew about Warner was wrong. Everything I thought I believed about myself was wrong. And I knew I was changing,” I say to him. “I wanted to move forward. I wanted to be angry and I wanted to scream for the first time in my life and I couldn’t. I didn’t want people to be afraid of me, so I tried to shut up and disappear, hoping it would make them more comfortable. But I hate that I let myself be so passive my whole life, and I see now how differently things could’ve been if I’d had faith in myself when it mattered. I don’t want to go back to that,” I tell him. “I won’t. Not ever.”

“You don’t have to,” Kenji points out. “Why would you? I don’t think Kent wanted you to be passive.”

I shrug. “I still wonder if he wants me to be the girl he first fell for. The person I was when we met.”

“And that’s bad?”

“That’s not who I am anymore, Kenji. Do I still seem like that girl to you?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“You don’t know,” I say, exasperated. “That’s why you don’t understand. You don’t know what I used to be like. You don’t know what it was like in my head. I lived in a really dark place,” I say to him. “I wasn’t safe in my own mind. I woke up every morning hoping to die and then spent the rest of the day wondering if maybe I was already dead because I couldn’t even tell the difference,” I say, more harshly than I mean to. “I had a small thread of hope and I clung to it, but the majority of my life was spent waiting around to see if someone would take pity on me.”

Kenji is just staring at me, his eyes tight.

“Don’t you think I’ve realized,” I say to him, angrier now, “that if I’d allowed myself to get mad a long time ago, I would’ve discovered I had the strength to break through that asylum with my own two hands?”

Kenji flinches.

“Don’t you think that I think about that, all the time?” I ask him, my voice shaking. “Don’t you think it kills me to know that it was my own unwillingness to recognize myself as a human being that kept me trapped for so long? For two hundred and sixty-four days, Kenji,” I say, swallowing hard. “Two hundred and sixty-four days I was in there and the whole time, I had the power to break myself out and I didn’t, because I had no idea I could. Because I never even tried. Because I let the world teach me to hate myself. I was a coward,” I say, “who needed someone else to tell me I was worth something before I took any steps to save myself.

“This isn’t about Adam or Warner,” I tell him. “This is about me and what I want. This is about me finally understanding where I want to be in ten years. Because I’m going to be alive, Kenji. I will be alive in ten years, and I’m going to be happy. I’m going to be strong. And I don’t need anyone to tell me that anymore. I am enough, and I always will be.”

I’m breathing hard now, trying to calm my heart.

Kenji is staring at me, mildly terrified.

“I want Adam to be happy, Kenji, I really do. But he and I would end up like water going nowhere.”

“What do you mean . . . ?”

“Water that never moves,” I say to him. “It’s fine for a little while. You can drink from it and it’ll sustain you. But if it sits too long it goes bad. It grows stale. It becomes toxic.” I shake my head. “I need waves. I need waterfalls. I want rushing currents.”

“Damn,” Kenji says. He laughs nervously, scratches the back of his head. “I think you should write that speech down, princess. Because you’re going to have to tell him all of that yourself.”

“What?” My body goes rigid.

“Yeah.” Kenji coughs. “Adam and James are coming here tomorrow.”

“What?” I gasp.

“Yeah. Awkward, right?” He tries to laugh. “Sooo awkward.”

“Why? Why would he come here? How do you even know?”

“I’ve, um, kind of been going back?” He clears his throat. “To, you know, check up on them. Mostly James. But you know.” He looks away. Looks around.

“To check up on them?”

“Yeah. Just to make sure they’re doing okay.” He nods at nothing. “Like, I told him that we had a really awesome plan in place,” Kenji says, pointing at me. “Thanks to you, of course. Really awesome plan. So. And I told him the food was good,” Kenji adds. “And the showers are hot. So, like, he knows Warner didn’t cheap out on us or anything. And yeah, you know, some other stuff.”

“What other stuff?” I ask, suspicious now. “What did you say to him?”

“Hmm?” Kenji is studying the hem of his shirt, pulling at it.


“Okay, listen,” Kenji says, holding up both hands. “Just—don’t get mad, okay?”