“But we were hiding one day,” he says. “My mother and I.” His eyes are up, off, lost in another place. He might not be talking to me at all. “It was my sixth birthday and she was trying to hide me. Because she knew what he wanted to do to me.” He blinks. His voice is a whisper, half dead of emotion. “I remember her hands were shaking,” he says. “I remember because I kept looking at her hands. Because she was holding mine to her chest. And she was wearing this ring.” He quiets, remembering. “I’d never seen much jewelry in my life. I didn’t know what it was, exactly. But she saw me staring and she wanted to distract me,” he says. “She wanted to keep me entertained.”
My stomach is threatening to be sick.
“So she told me a story. A story about a boy who was born with very green eyes, and the man who was so captivated by their color that he searched the world for a stone in exactly the same shade.” His voice is fading now, falling into whispers so quiet I can hardly hear him. “She said the boy was me. That this ring was made from that very same stone, and that the man had given it to her, hoping one day she’d be able to give it to me. It was his gift, she said, for my birthday.” He stops. Breathes. “And then she took it off, slipped it on my index finger, and said, ‘If you hide your heart, he will never be able to take it from you.’”
He looks toward the wall.
“It’s the only gift,” he says, “anyone has ever given to me.”
My tears fall backward, burning as they singe their way down my throat.
I feel strange, all day.
I feel off, somehow. Kenji is thrilled to be getting off base, excited about testing my strength in new places, and everyone else is jealous that we get to leave. So I should be happy. I should be eager.
But I feel strange.
My head is in a weird place, and I think it’s because I haven’t been able to shake Warner’s story from my mind. I can’t stop trying to imagine him as he was. As a small, terrified child.
No one knows where he’s headed today. No one knows the depth of it. And he does nothing to betray how he’s really feeling. He’s been as calm as ever, controlled and careful in his words, his actions.
Kenji and I are meeting him again in just a moment.
We’re slipping through the door in the gun wall, and I’m finally able to see firsthand how Warner sneaked them inside. We’re crossing through a shooting range.
There are gun stations and little cubicles with targets set hundreds of feet away, and right now, the entire place is deserted. This must be another one of Warner’s practice rooms.
There’s a door at the end of the walkway, and Kenji pushes it open. He doesn’t need to touch me at all anymore in order to keep me invisible, and it’s so much more convenient this way. We can move freely as long as I’m within fifty feet of him, which gives us the flexibility we need to be able to work outside today.
We’re now on the other side of the door.
Standing in an enormous storage facility.
The space is at least five hundred feet across, and maybe twice as high. I’ve never seen more boxes in my entire life. I have no idea what they contain, and no time to wonder.
Kenji is pulling me through the maze.
We sidestep boxes of all different sizes, careful not to trip over electrical cords and the machinery used to move the heavier items. There are rows and rows and more rows divided into even more rows that house everything in very organized sections. I notice there are labels on every shelf and in all the aisles, but I can’t get close enough to read them.
When we finally make it to the end of the storage room, there are two huge, fifty-foot doors that lead to the exit. This is clearly a loading zone for trucks and tanks. Kenji grabs my arm and keeps me close as we pass several guards stationed by the exit. We dart through the trucks parked all around the loading zone, until we finally get to the meeting point where we’re supposed to find Warner.
I wish Kenji could’ve been around to make me invisible when I first tried to get on and off base. It would’ve been so nice to just walk out like a human being, instead of being carted through the halls, jolting and teetering and clinging to the legs of a wheeling tray table.
Warner is leaning against a tank.
Both doors are open, and he’s looking around like he might be overseeing the work being done with the loading units. He nods to several soldiers as they pass.
We clamber into the passenger side unnoticed.
And just as I’m about to whisper a notification to Warner, he walks around to the passenger side, says, “Watch your legs, love,” and shuts the door.
And then he climbs into the other side. Starts driving.
We’re still invisible.
“How did you know we were in here?” Kenji asks immediately. “Can you, like, see invisible people, too?”
“No,” Warner says to him, eyes focused in front of him. “I can feel your presence. Hers, most of all.”
“Really?” Kenji says. “That’s some weird shit. What do I feel like? Peanut butter?”
Warner is unamused.
Kenji clears his throat. “J, I think you should switch spots with me.”
“I think your boyfriend is touching my leg.”
“You flatter yourself,” Warner says.
“Switch spots with me, J. He’s making me feel all goosebumpy and shit, like maybe he’s about to knife me.”
“Fine.” I sigh. I try clambering over him, but it’s difficult, considering I can see neither my own body nor his.
“Ow—dammit—you almost kicked me in the face—”
“Sorry!” I say, trying to scramble over his knees.
“Just move,” he says. “God, how much do you weigh—”
He shifts, all at once, slipping out from under me, and gives me a small shove to move me over.
I fall face-first into Warner’s lap.
I hear Warner’s brief, sharp intake of breath, and I scramble upright, blushing so hard, and I’m suddenly so relieved no one can see me right now.
I want to punch Kenji in the nose.
No one talks much after that.
As we get closer to unregulated territory, the scenery starts to change. The simple, signless, semipaved roads give way to the streets of our old world. The houses are painted in shades that promised to be colorful once upon a time, and the roads are lined with sidewalks that might’ve carried children safely home from school. The houses are all falling apart now.