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It’s just an idea.

A hypothetical scenario.

But the possibility blooms in my mind: Juliette smiling, laughing with another man—

And then worse: his hands on her body, her eyes half closed with desire—

I feel suddenly like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

I close my eyes. Try to be steady.

But now I can’t stop picturing it: someone else knowing her the way I’ve known her, in the dark, in the quiet hours before dawn—her gentle kisses, her private moans of pleasure—

I can’t do it. I can’t do it.

I can’t breathe.

“Hey—I’m sorry—it was just a question—”

“I think you should go,” I say. I whisper the words. “You should leave.”

“Yeah—you know what? Yeah. Excellent idea.” He nods several times. “No problem.” Still, he doesn’t move.

“What?” I snap at him.

“I just, uh”—he rocks back and forth on his heels—“I was wondering if you, uh, wanted any more of those medicine thingies though? Before I get out of here?”

“Get. Out.”

“All right, man, no problem, yeah, I’m just gonna—”

Suddenly, someone is banging on my door.

I look up. Look around.

“Should I, um”—Kenji is looking at me, a question in his eyes—“you want me to get that?”

I glare at him.

“Yeah, I’ll get it,” he says, and runs to answer the door.

It’s Delalieu, looking panicked.

It takes more than a concerted effort, but I manage to pull myself together.

“You couldn’t have called, Lieutenant? Isn’t that what our phones are for?”

“I’ve been trying, sir, for over an hour, but no one would answer your phone, sir—”

I roll my neck and sigh, stretching the muscles even as they tense up again.

My fault.

I disconnected my phone last night. I didn’t want any distractions while I was looking through my father’s files, and in the insanity of the morning I forgot to reconnect the line. I was beginning to wonder why I’ve had so much uninterrupted time to myself today.

“That’s fine,” I say, cutting him off. “What’s the problem?”

“Sir,” he says, swallowing hard, “I’ve tried to contact both you and Madam Supreme, but the two of you have been unavailable all day and, and—”

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

“The supreme commander of Europe has sent her daughter, sir. She showed up unannounced a couple of hours ago, and I’m afraid she’s making quite a fuss about being ignored and I wasn’t sure what to d-do—”

“Well, tell her to sit her ass down and wait,” Kenji says, irritated. “What do you mean she’s making a fuss? We’ve got shit to do around here.”

But I’ve gone unexpectedly solid. Like the blood in my veins has congealed.

“I mean—right?” Kenji is saying, nudging me with his arm. “What’s the deal, man? Delalieu,” he says, ignoring me. “Just tell her to chill. We’ll be down in a bit. This guy needs to shower and put his shirt on straight. Give her some lunch or something, okay? We’ll be right there.”

“Yes, sir,” Delalieu says quietly. He’s talking to Kenji, but flashes me another look of concern. I do not respond. I’m not sure what to say.

Things are happening too quickly. Fission and fusion in all the wrong places, all at once.

It’s only once Delalieu has gone and the door is closed that Kenji finally says, “What was that about? Why do you look so freaked?”

And I unfreeze. Feeling returns slowly to my limbs.

I turn around to face him.

“You really think,” I say carefully, “that I need to tell Juliette about the other women I’ve been with?”

“Uh, yeah,” he says, “but what does that have to do with—”

I stare at him.

He stares back. His mouth drops open. “You mean—with this girl—the one downstairs—?”

“The children of the supreme commanders,” I try to explain, squeezing my eyes shut as I do, “we—we all basically grew up together. I’ve known most of these girls all my life.” I look at him, attempting nonchalance. “It was inevitable, really. It shouldn’t be surprising.”

But Kenji’s eyebrows are high. He’s trying to fight a smile as he slaps me on the back, too hard. “Oh, you are in for a world of pain, bro. A world. Of. Pain.”

I shake my head. “There’s no need to make this dramatic. Juliette doesn’t have to know. She’s not even speaking to me at the moment.”

Kenji laughs. Looks at me with something that resembles pity. “You don’t know anything about women, do you?” When I don’t respond, he says, “Trust me, man, I bet you anything that wherever J is right now—out there somewhere—she already knows. And if she doesn’t, she will soon. Girls talk about everything.”

“How is that possible?”

He shrugs.

I sigh. Run a hand over my hair. “Well,” I say. “Does it really matter? Don’t we have more important things to contend with than the staid details of my previous relationships?”

“Normally? Yes. But when the supreme commander of North America is your ex-girlfriend, and she’s already feeling really stressed about the fact that you’ve been lying to her? And then all of a sudden your other ex-girlfriend shows up and Juliette doesn’t even know about her? And she realizes there are, like, a thousand other things you’ve lied to her about—”

“I never lied to her about any of this,” I interject. “She never asked—”

“—and then our very powerful supreme commander gets, like, super, super pissed?” Kenji shrugs. “I don’t know, man, I don’t see that ending well.”

I drop my head in my hands. Close my eyes. “I need to shower.”

“And . . . yeah, that’s my cue to go.”

I look up, suddenly. “Is there anything I can do?” I say. “To stop this from getting worse?”

“Oh, so now you’re taking relationship advice from me?”

I fight the impulse to roll my eyes.

“I don’t really know man,” Kenji says, and sighs. “I think, this time, you just have to deal with the consequences of your own stupidity.”

I look away, bite back a laugh, and nod several times as I say, “Go to hell, Kishimoto.”

“I’m right behind you, bro.” He winks at me. Just once.

And disappears.

JULIETTE

There’s something simmering inside of me.

Something I’ve never dared to tap into, something I’m afraid to acknowledge. There’s a part of me clawing to break free from the cage I’ve trapped it in, banging on the doors of my heart begging to be free.

Begging to let go.

Every day I feel like I’m reliving the same nightmare. I open my mouth to shout, to fight, to swing my fists but my vocal cords are cut, my arms are heavy and weighted down as if trapped in wet cement and I’m screaming but no one can hear me, no one can reach me and I’m caught. And it’s killing me.

I’ve always had to make myself submissive, subservient, twisted into a pleading, passive mop just to make everyone else feel safe and comfortable. My existence has become a fight to prove I’m harmless, that I’m not a threat, that I’m capable of living among other human beings without hurting them.

And I’m so tired I’m so tired I’m so tired I’m so tired and sometimes I get so angry

I don’t know what’s happening to me.

—AN EXCERPT FROM JULIETTE’S JOURNALS IN THE ASYLUM

We land in a tree.

I have no idea where we are—I don’t even know if I’ve ever been this high, or this close to nature—but Nazeera doesn’t seem bothered at all.

I’m breathing hard as I turn to face her, adrenaline and disbelief colliding, but she’s not looking at me. She looks calm—happy, even—as she looks out across the sky, one foot propped up on a tree branch while the other hangs, swinging gently back and forth in the cool breeze. Her left arm rests on her left knee and her hand is relaxed, almost too casual, as it clenches and unclenches around something I can’t see. I tilt my head, part my lips to ask the question when she interrupts me.

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