“Good point.” I try to smile.
Adam has been unusually quiet these past couple weeks.
I don’t know if it’s because Kenji talked to him and told him to be careful, or if it’s because he’s really resigned himself to this situation. Maybe he’s realized there’s nothing romantic happening between me and Warner. Which both pleases and disappoints me.
Warner and I seem to have reached some kind of understanding. A civil, oddly formal relationship that balances precariously between friendship and something else that has never been defined.
I can’t say I enjoy it.
Adam doesn’t interfere, however, when James speaks to Warner, and Kenji told me it’s because Adam doesn’t want to traumatize James by giving him a reason to be afraid of living here.
Which means James is constantly talking to Warner.
He’s a curious kid, and Warner is so naturally private that he’s the most obvious target for James’s questions. Their exchanges are always entertaining for all of us. James is thoroughly unapologetic, and bolder than most anyone would ever be when talking to Warner.
It’s kind of cute, actually.
Other than that, everyone has been progressing well. Brendan and Winston are back to perfect, Castle is in better spirits every day, and Lily is a self-sufficient kind of girl who doesn’t need much to be entertained—though she and Ian seem to have found a sort of solace in each other’s company.
I suppose it makes sense that this kind of isolation would bring people together.
Like Adam and Alia.
He’s been spending a lot of time with her lately, and I don’t know what that means; it might be nothing more than friendship. But for most of the time I’ve been down in the training room, I’ve seen him sitting next her, just watching her sketch, asking the occasional question.
She’s always blushing.
In some ways, she reminds me a lot of how I used to be.
I adore Alia, but sometimes watching them together makes me wonder if this is what Adam’s always wanted. A sweet, quiet, gentle girl. Someone who would compensate for all the roughness he’s seen in his life. He said that to me once, I remember. He said he loved that about me. That I was so good. So sweet. That I was the only good thing left in this world.
I think I always knew that wasn’t true.
Maybe he’s starting to see it, too.
“I have to visit my mother today.”
These are the seven words that begin our morning.
Warner has just walked out of his office, his hair a golden mess around his head, his eyes so green and so simultaneously transparent that they defy true description. He hasn’t bothered to button his rumpled shirt and his slacks are unbelted and hanging low on his waist. He looks completely disoriented. I don’t think he’s slept all night and I want so desperately to know what’s been happening in his life but I know it’s not my place to ask. Worse still, I know he wouldn’t even tell me if I did.
There’s no level of intimacy between us anymore.
Everything was moving so quickly between us and then it halted to a complete stop. All those thoughts and feelings and emotions frozen in place. And now I’m so afraid that if I make the wrong move, everything will break.
But I miss him.
He stands in front of me every day and I train with him and work alongside him like a colleague and it’s not enough for me anymore. I miss our easy conversations, his open smiles, the way he always used to meet my eyes.
I miss him.
And I need to talk to him, but I don’t know how. Or when. Or what to say.
“Why today . . . ?” I ask tentatively. “Did something happen?”
Warner says nothing for a long time, just stares at the wall. “Today is her birthday.”
“Oh,” I whisper, heart breaking.
“You wanted to practice outdoors,” he says, still staring straight ahead. “With Kenji. I can take you with me when I leave, as long as he promises to keep you invisible. I’ll drop you off somewhere on unregulated territory and pick you up when I’m heading back. Will that be all right?”
He says nothing else, but his eyes are wild and unfocused. He’s looking at the wall like it might be a window.
“Are you scared?”
He takes a tight breath. Exhales it slowly.
“I never know what to expect when I visit her,” he says quietly. “She’s different each time. Sometimes she’s so drugged up she doesn’t even move. Sometimes her eyes are open and she just stares at the ceiling. Sometimes,” he says, “she’s completely hysterical.”
My heart twists.
“It’s good that you still visit her,” I say to him. “You know that, right?”
“Is it?” He laughs a strange, nervous sort of laugh. “Sometimes I’m not so sure.”
“Yes. It is.”
“How can you know?” He looks at me now, looks at me as though he’s almost afraid to hear the answer.
“Because if she can tell, for even a second, that you’re in the room with her, you’ve given her an extraordinary gift. She is not gone completely,” I tell him. “She knows. Even if it’s not all the time, and even if she can’t show it. She knows you’ve been there. And I know it must mean so much to her.”
He takes in another shaky breath. He’s staring at the ceiling now. “That is a very nice thing to say.”
“I really mean it.”
“I know,” he says. “I know you do.”
I look at him a little longer, wondering if there’s ever an appropriate time to ask questions about his mother. But there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to ask. So I do.
“She gave you that ring, didn’t she?”
Warner goes still. I think I can hear his heart racing from here. “What?”
I walk up to him and take his left hand. “This one,” I say, pointing to the jade ring he’s always worn on his left pinkie finger. He never takes it off. Not to shower. Not to sleep. Not ever.
He nods, so slowly.
“But . . . you don’t like to talk about it,” I say, remembering the last time I asked him about his ring.
I count exactly ten seconds before he speaks again.
“I was never allowed,” he says very, very quietly, “to receive presents. From anyone. My father hated the idea of presents. He hated birthday parties and holidays. He never let anyone give anything to me, and especially not my mother. He said that accepting gifts would make me weak. He thought they would encourage me to rely on the charity of others.