“When will we talk about it?” she says against my chest. “All of it? Everything that’s happened—”
“I’m okay,” I lie to her. “It’s just hair.”
“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
I look away. Stare at nothing. We’re both quiet a moment.
It’s Juliette who finally breaks the silence.
“Are you upset with me?” she whispers. “For shooting him?”
My body stills.
Her eyes widen.
“No—no.” I say the words too quickly, but I mean them. “No, of course not. It’s not that.”
“I’m not sure you’re aware of this,” she says finally, “but it’s okay to mourn the loss of your father, even if he was a terrible person. You know?” She peers up at me. “You’re not a robot.”
I swallow back the lump growing in my throat and gently extricate myself from her arms. I kiss her on the cheek and linger there, against her skin, for only a second. “I need to take a shower.”
She looks heartbroken and confused, but I don’t know what else to do. It’s not that I don’t love her company, it’s just that right now I’m desperate for solitude and I don’t know how else to find it.
So I shower. I take baths. I go for long walks.
I tend to do this a lot.
When I finally come to bed she’s already asleep.
I want to reach for her, to pull her soft, warm body against my own, but I feel paralyzed. This horrible half-grief has made me feel complicit in darkness. I worry that my sadness will be interpreted as an endorsement of his choices—of his very existence—and in this matter I don’t want to be misunderstood, so I cannot admit that I grieve him, that I care at all for the loss of this monstrous man who raised me. And in the absence of healthy action I remain frozen, a sentient stone in the wake of my father’s death.
Are you upset with me? For shooting him?
I hated him.
I hated him with a violent intensity I’ve never since experienced. But the fire of true hatred, I realize, cannot exist without the oxygen of affection. I would not hurt so much, or hate so much, if I did not care.
And it is this, my unrequited affection for my father, that has always been my greatest weakness. So I lie here, marinating in a sorrow I can never speak of, while regret consumes my heart.
I am an orphan.
“Aaron?” she whispers, and I’m pulled back to the present.
She moves in a sleepy, sideways motion, and nudges my arm with her head. I can’t help but smile as I open up to make room for her against me. She fills the void quickly, pressing her face into my neck as she wraps an arm around my waist. My eyes close as if in prayer. My heart restarts.
“I miss you,” she says. It’s a whisper I almost don’t catch.
“I’m right here,” I say, gently touching her cheek. “I’m right here, love.”
But she shakes her head. Even as I pull her closer, even as she falls back asleep, she shakes her head.
And I wonder if she’s not wrong.
I’m having breakfast by myself this morning—alone, but not lonely.
The breakfast room is full of familiar faces, all of us catching up on something: sleep; work; half-finished conversations. Energy levels in here are always dependent on the amount of caffeine we’ve had, and right now, things are still pretty quiet.
Brendan, who’s been nursing the same cup of coffee all morning, catches my eye and waves. I wave back. He’s the only one among us who doesn’t actually need caffeine; his gift for creating electricity also works as a backup generator for his whole body. He’s exuberance, personified. In fact, his stark-white hair and ice-blue eyes seem to emanate their own kind of energy, even from across the room. I’m starting to think Brendan keeps up appearances with the coffee cup mostly out of solidarity with Winston, who can’t seem to survive without it. The two of them are inseparable these days—even if Winston occasionally resents Brendan’s natural buoyancy.
They’ve been through a lot together. We all have.
Brendan and Winston are sitting with Alia, who’s got her sketchbook open beside her, no doubt designing something new and amazing to help us in battle. I’m too tired to move, otherwise I’d get up to join their group; instead, I drop my chin in one hand and study the faces of my friends, feeling grateful. But the scars on Brendan’s and Winston’s faces take me back to a time I’d rather not remember—back to a time when we thought we’d lost them. When we’d lost two others. And suddenly my thoughts are too heavy for breakfast. So I look away. Drum my fingers against the table.
I’m supposed to be meeting Kenji for breakfast—it’s how we begin our workdays—which is the only reason I haven’t grabbed my own plate of food. Unfortunately, his lateness is beginning to make my stomach grumble. Everyone in the room is cutting into fresh stacks of fluffy pancakes, and they look delicious. All of it is tempting: the mini pitchers of maple syrup; the steaming heaps of breakfast potatoes; the little bowls of freshly cut fruit. If nothing else, killing Anderson and taking over Sector 45 got us much better breakfast options. But I think we might be the only ones who appreciate the upgrades.
Warner never has breakfast with the rest of us. He pretty much never stops working, not even to eat. Breakfast is another meeting for him, and he takes it with Delalieu, just the two of them, and even then I’m not sure he actually eats anything. Warner never appears to take pleasure in food. For him, food is fuel—necessary and, most of the time, annoying—in that his body requires it to function. Once, while he was deeply immersed in some important paperwork at dinner, I put a cookie on a plate in front of him just to see what would happen. He glanced up at me, glanced back at his work, whispered a quiet thank you, and ate the cookie with a knife and fork. He didn’t even seem to enjoy it. This, needless to say, makes him the polar opposite of Kenji, who loves to eat everything, all the time, and who later told me that watching Warner eat a cookie made him want to cry.
Speaking of Kenji, him flaking on me this morning is more than a little weird, and I’m beginning to worry. I’m just about to glance at the clock for the third time when, suddenly, Adam is standing next to my table, looking uncomfortable.
“Hi,” I say, just a little too loudly. “What’s, uh, what’s up?”
Adam and I have interacted a couple of times in the last two weeks, but it’s always been by accident. Suffice it to say that it’s unusual for Adam to be standing in front of me on purpose, and I’m so surprised that for a moment I almost miss the obvious:
He looks bad.
Rough. Ragged. More than a little exhausted. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve sworn Adam had been crying. Not over our failed relationship, I hope.
Still, old instinct gnaws at me, tugs at ancient heartstrings.
We speak at the same time:
“You okay . . . ?” I ask.
“Castle wants to talk to you,” he says.
“Castle sent you to come get me?” I say, feelings forgotten.
Adam shrugs. “I was walking past his room at the right time, I guess.”
“Um. Okay.” I try to smile. Castle is always trying to make nice between me and Adam; he doesn’t like the tension. “Did he say he wants to see me right now?”
“Yep.” Adam shoves his hands in his pockets. “Right away.”
“All right,” I say, and the whole thing feels awkward. Adam just stands there as I gather my things, and I want to tell him to go away, to stop staring at me, that this is weird, that we broke up forever ago and it was weird, you made it so weird, but then I realize he isn’t staring at me. He’s looking at the floor like he’s stuck, lost in his head somewhere.
“Hey—are you okay?” I say again, this time gently.
Adam looks up, startled. “What?” he says. “What, oh—yeah, I’m fine. Hey do you know, uh”—he clears his throat, looks around—“do you, uh—”
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