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She looks like a vision from an unknowable time.

I still have no idea what to say.

Naturally, she does not share my problem.

“You ready to talk yet?” she says to me.

“How—how did you—”

“Yeah?”

“How did you get here?” I spin around, scanning the distance. How did she know I was here? Was I being followed?

“I flew.”

I turn back to face her. “Where’s your plane?”

She laughs and jumps off the freeway sign. It’s a long, hard fall that would’ve injured any normal person. “I really hope you’re joking,” she says to me, and then grabs me around the waist and leaps up, into the sky.

WARNER

I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my life, but I never thought I’d have the pleasure of seeing Kishimoto shut his mouth for longer than five minutes. And yet, here we are. In any other situation, I might be relishing this moment. Sadly, I’m unable to enjoy even this small pleasure.

His silence is unnerving.

It’s been fifteen minutes since I finished sharing with him the same details I shared with Juliette earlier today, and he hasn’t said a word. He’s sitting quietly in the corner, his head pressed against the wall, face in a frown, and he will not speak. He only stares, his eyes narrowed at some invisible point across the room.

Occasionally he sighs.

We’ve been here for almost two hours, just he and I. Talking. And of all the things I thought would happen today, I certainly did not think it would involve Juliette running away from me, and my befriending this idiot.

Oh, the best-laid plans.

Finally, after what feels like a tremendous amount of time, he speaks.

“I can’t believe Castle didn’t tell me,” is the first thing he says.

“We all have our secrets.”

He looks up, looks me in the eye. It’s not pleasant. “You have any more secrets I should know about?”

“None you should know about, no.”

He laughs, but it sounds sad. “You don’t even realize what you’re doing, do you?”

“Realize what?”

“You’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of pain, bro. You can’t keep living like this. This,” he says, pointing at my face, “this old you? This messed-up dude who never talks and never smiles and never says anything nice and never allows anyone to really know him—you can’t be this guy if you want to be in any kind of relationship.”

I raise an eyebrow.

He shakes his head. “You just can’t, man. You can’t be with someone and keep that many secrets from them.”

“It’s never stopped me before.”

Here, Kenji hesitates. His eyes widen, just a little. “What do you mean, before?”

“Before,” I say. “In other relationships.”

“So, uh, you’ve been in other relationships? Before Juliette?”

I tilt my head at him. “You find that hard to believe.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that you have feelings, so yeah, I find that hard to believe.”

I clear my throat very quietly. Look away.

“So—umm—you, uh”—he laughs, nervously—“I’m sorry but, like, does Juliette know you’ve been in other relationships? Because she’s never mentioned anything about that, and I think that would’ve been, like, I don’t know? Relevant?”

I turn to face him. “No.”

“No, what?”

“No, she doesn’t know.”

“Why not?”

“She’s never asked.”

Kenji gapes at me. “I’m sorry—but are you—I mean, are you actually as stupid as you sound? Or are you just messing with me right now?”

“I’m nearly twenty years old,” I say to him, irritated. “Do you really think it so strange that I’ve been with other women?”

“No,” he says, “I, personally, don’t give a shit how many women you’ve been with. What I think is strange is that you never told your girlfriend that you’ve been with other women. And to be perfectly honest it’s making me wonder whether your relationship wasn’t already headed to hell.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.” My eyes flash. “I love her. I never would’ve done anything to hurt her.”

“They why would you lie to her?”

“Why do you keep pressing this? Who cares if I’ve been with other women? They meant nothing to me—”

“You’re messed up in the head, man.”

I close my eyes, feeling suddenly exhausted. “Of all the things I’ve shared with you today, this is the issue you’re most interested in discussing?”

“I just think it’s important, you know, if you and J ever try to repair this damage. You have to get your shit together.”

“What do you mean, repair this damage?” I say, my eyes flying open. “I’ve already lost her. The damage is done.”

At this, he looks surprised. “So that’s it? You’re just going to walk away? All this talk of I love her blah blah and that’s it?”

“She doesn’t want to be with me. I won’t try to convince her she’s wrong.”

Kenji laughs. “Damn,” he says. “I think you might need to get your bolts tightened.”

“I beg your pardon?”

He gets to his feet. “Whatever, bro. Your life. Your business. I liked you better when you were drunk on your meds.”

“Tell me something, Kishimoto—”

“What?”

“Why would I take relationship advice from you? What do you know about relationships aside from the fact that you’ve never been in one?”

A muscle twitches in his jaw. “Wow.” He nods, looks away. “You know what?” He gives me the finger. “Don’t pretend to know shit about me, man. You don’t know me.”

“You don’t know me, either.”

“I know that you’re an idiot.”

I suddenly, inexplicably, shut down.

My face pales. I feel unsteady. I don’t have any fight left in me today and I don’t have any interest in defending myself. I am an idiot. I know who I am. The terrible things I’ve done. It’s indefensible.

“You’re right,” I say, but I say it quietly. “And I’m sure you’re right that there’s a great deal I don’t know about you, too.”

Something in Kenji seems to relax.

His eyes are sympathetic when he says, “I really don’t think you have to lose her. Not like this. Not over this. What you did was, like—yeah, that shit was beyond horrible. Torturing her freaking sister? I mean. Yeah. Absolutely. Like, ten out of ten you’ll probably go to hell for that.”

I flinch.

“But that happened before you knew her, right? Before all this”—he waves a hand—“you know, whatever it is that happened between you guys happened. And I know her—I know how she feels about you. There might be something to save. I wouldn’t lose hope just yet.”

I almost crack a smile. I almost laugh.

I don’t do either.

Instead, I say, “I remember Juliette telling me you gave a similar speech to Kent shortly after they broke up. That you spoke expressly against her wishes. You told Kent she still loved him—that she wanted to get back together with him. You told him the exact opposite of what she felt. And she was furious.”

“That was different.” Kenji frowns. “That was just . . . like . . . you know—I was just trying to help? Because, like, logistically the situation was really complicated—”

“I appreciate your trying to help me,” I say to him. “But I will not beg her to return to me. Not if it’s not what she wants.” I look away. “In any case, she’s always deserved to be with someone better. Maybe this is her chance.”

“Uh-huh.” Kenji lifts an eyebrow. “So if, like, tomorrow she hooks up with some other dude you’re just gonna shrug and be like—I don’t know? Shake the guy’s hand? Take the happy couple out to dinner? Seriously?”

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