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“It means a million things,” I say to him, standing on tiptoe to look him in the eye. “But it also means that now I will never end up with anyone by default. I can do anything I want now. Be with anyone I want. And it’ll be my choice.”

Kenji just looks at me for a long time. Smiles. Finally, he drops his eyes. Nods.

And says, “Go do what you gotta do, J.”

FIFTY-FIVE

When I get off the elevator and step into Warner’s office, all the lights are off. Everything is swimming in an inky sort of black, and it takes me several tries to adjust my eyes to the darkness. I pad my way through the office carefully, searching for any sign of its owner, and find none.

I head into the bedroom.

Warner is sitting on the edge of the mattress, his coat thrown on the floor, his boots kicked off to the side. He’s sitting in silence, palms up on his lap, looking into his hands like he’s searching for something he cannot find.

“Aaron?” I whisper, moving forward.

He lifts his head. Looks at me.

And something inside of me shatters.

Every vertebra, every knuckle, both kneecaps, both hips. I am a pile of bones on the floor and no one knows it but me. I am a broken skeleton with a beating heart.

Exhale, I tell myself.

Exhale.

“I’m so sorry,” are the first words I whisper.

He nods. Gets to his feet.

“Thank you,” he says to no one at all as he walks out the door.

I follow him across the bedroom and into his office. Call out his name.

He stops in front of the boardroom table, his back to me, his hands gripping the edge. “Please, Juliette, not tonight, I can’t—”

“You’re right,” I finally say. “You’ve always been right.”

He turns around, so slowly.

I’m looking into his eyes and I’m suddenly petrified. I’m suddenly nervous and suddenly worried and suddenly so sure I’m going to do this all wrong but maybe wrong is the only way to do it because I can’t keep it to myself anymore. There are so many things I need to tell him. Things I’ve been too much of a coward to admit, even to myself.

“Right about what?” His green eyes are wide. Scared.

I hold my fingers to my mouth, still so afraid to speak.

I do so much with these lips, I think.

I taste and touch and kiss and I’ve pressed them to the tender parts of his skin and I’ve made promises and told lies and touched lives all with these two lips and the words they form, the shapes and sounds they curve around. But right now my lips wish he would just read my mind because the truth is I’ve been hoping I’d never have to say any of it, these thoughts, out loud.

“I do want you,” I say to him, my voice shaking. “I want you so much it scares me.”

I see the movement in his throat, the effort he’s making to keep still. His eyes are terrified.

“I lied to you,” I tell him, words tripping and stumbling out of me. “That night. When I said I didn’t want to be with you. I lied. Because you were right. I was a coward. I didn’t want to admit the truth to myself, and I felt so guilty for preferring you, for wanting to spend all my time with you, even when everything was falling apart. I was confused about Adam, I was confused about who I was supposed to be and I didn’t know what I was doing and I was stupid,” I say. “I was stupid and inconsiderate and I tried to blame it on you and I hurt you, so badly.” I try to breathe. “And I’m so, so sorry.”

“What—” Warner is blinking fast. His voice is fragile, uneven. “What are you saying?”

“I love you,” I whisper. “I love you exactly as you are.”

Warner is looking at me like he might be going deaf and blind at the same time. “No,” he gasps. One broken, broken word. Barely even a sound. He’s shaking his head and he’s looking away from me and his hand is caught in his hair, his body turned toward the table and he says “No. No, no—”

“Aaron—”

“No,” he says, backing away. “No, you don’t know what you’re saying—”

“I love you,” I tell him again. “I love you and I want you and I wanted you then,” I say to him, “I wanted you so much and I still want you, I want you right now—”

Stop.

Stop time.

Stop the world.

Stop everything for the moment he crosses the room and pulls me into his arms and pins me against the wall and I’m spinning and standing and not even breathing but I’m alive so alive so very very alive

and he’s kissing me.

Deeply, desperately. His hands are around my waist and he’s breathing so hard and he hoists me up, into his arms, and my legs wrap around his hips and he’s kissing my neck, my throat, and he sets me down on the edge of the boardroom table.

He has one hand under my neck, the other under my shirt and he’s running his fingers up my back and suddenly his thigh is between my legs and his hand is slipping behind my knee and up, higher, pulling me closer, and when he breaks the kiss I’m breathing so fast, head spinning as I try to hold on to him.

“Up,” he says, gasping for air. “Lift your arms up.”

I do.

He tugs up my shirt. Pulls it over my head. Tosses it to the floor.

“Lie back,” he says to me, still breathing hard, guiding me onto the table as his hands slide down my spine, under my backside. He unbuttons my jeans. Unzips them. Says, “Lift your hips for me, love,” and hooks his fingers around the waist of my pants and my underwear at the same time. Tugs them down.

I gasp.

I’m lying on his table in nothing but my bra.

Then that’s gone, too.

His hands are moving up my legs and the insides of my thighs and his lips are making their way down my chest, and he’s undoing what little is left of my composure and every bit of my sanity and I’m aching, everywhere, tasting colors and sounds I didn’t even know existed. My head is pressed back against the table and my hands are gripping his shoulders and he’s hot, everywhere, gentle and somehow so urgent, and I’m trying not to scream and he’s already moving down my body, he’s already chosen where to kiss me. How to kiss me.

And he’s not going to stop.

I’m beyond rational thought. Beyond words, beyond comprehensible ideas. Seconds are merging into minutes and hearts are collapsing and hands are grasping and I’ve tripped over a planet and I don’t know anything anymore, I don’t know anything because nothing will ever be able to compare to this. Nothing will ever capture the way I’m feeling right now.

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