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“You know,” she says suddenly, “I’ve never, ever shown anyone what I can do.”

I’m caught off guard.

“No one? Ever?” I say, stunned.

She shakes her head.

“Why not?”

She’s quiet for a minute before she says, “The answer to that question is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you.” She touches an absent hand to the diamond piercing at her lip, tapping the tip of one finger against the glittering stone. “So,” she says. “Do you know anything real about your past?”

And the pain is swift, like cold steel, like knives in my chest. Painful reminders of today’s revelations. “I know some things,” I finally say. “I learned most of it this morning, actually.”

She nods. “And that’s why you ran off like you did.”

I turn to face her. “You were watching me?”

“I’ve been shadowing you, yeah.”

“Why?”

She smiles, but it looks tired. “You really don’t remember me, do you?”

I stare at her, confused.

She sighs. Swings both her legs under her and looks out into the distance. “Never mind.”

“No, wait—what do you mean? Am I supposed to remember you?”

She shakes her head.

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“Forget it,” she says. “It’s nothing. You just look really familiar, and for a split second I thought we’d met before.”

“Oh,” I say. “Okay.” But now she won’t look at me, and I have a strange feeling she’s holding something back.

Still, she says nothing.

She looks lost in thought, chewing on her lip as she looks off in the distance, and doesn’t say anything for what feels like a long time.

“Um. Excuse me? You put me in a tree,” I finally say. “What the hell am I doing here? What do you want?”

She turns to face me. That’s when I realize that the object in her hand is actually a bag of little hard candies. She holds it out to me, indicating with her head that I should take one.

But I don’t trust her. “No thanks,” I say.

She shrugs. Unwraps one of the colorful candies and pops it in her mouth. “So,” she says. “What’d Warner tell you today?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Did he tell you that you have a sister?”

I feel a knot of anger beginning to form in my chest. I say nothing.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she says. She bites down hard on the candy in her mouth. Crunches quietly beside me. “Did he tell you anything else?”

“What do you want from me?” I say. “Who are you?”

“What did he tell you about your parents?” she asks, ignoring me even as she glances at me out of the corner of her eye. “Did he tell you that you were adopted? That your biological parents are still alive?”

I only stare at her.

She tilts her head. Studies me. “Did he tell you their names?”

My eyes widen automatically.

Nazeera smiles, and the action brightens her face. “There it is,” she says, with a triumphant nod. She peels another candy from its wrapper and pops it in her mouth. “Hmm.”

“There what is?”

“The moment,” she says, “where the anger ends, and the curiosity begins.”

I sigh, irritated. “You know my parents’ names?”

“I never said that.”

I feel suddenly exhausted. Powerless. “Does everyone know more about my life than I do?”

She glances at me. Looks away. “Not everyone,” she says. “Those of us with ranks high enough in The Reestablishment know a lot, yeah,” she says. “It’s our business to know. Especially us,” she says, meeting my eyes for a second. “The kids, I mean. Our parents expect us to take over one day. But, no, not everyone knows everything.” She smiles at something, a private joke shared only with herself, when she says, “Most people don’t know shit, actually.” And then, a frown. “Though I guess Warner knows more than I thought he did.”

“So,” I say. “You’ve known Warner for a long time.”

Nazeera pushes her hood back a bit so I can better see her face, leans against a branch, and sighs. “Listen,” she says quietly. “I only know what my dad told us about you guys, and I’m wise enough to the game now to know that most of the things I’ve heard are probably nonsense. But—”

She hesitates. Bites her lip and hesitates.

“Just say it,” I tell her, shaking my head as I do. “I’ve already heard so many people tell me I’m crazy for falling for him. You wouldn’t be the first.”

“What? No,” she says, and laughs. “I don’t think you’re crazy. I mean, I get why people might think he’s trouble, but he’s my people, you know? I knew his parents. Anderson made my own dad seem like a nice guy. We’re all kind of messed up, that’s true, but Warner’s not a bad person. He’s just trying to find a way to survive this insanity, just like the rest of us.”

“Oh,” I say. Surprised.

“Anyway,” she says with a shrug, “no, I understand why you like him. And even if I didn’t, I mean—I’m not blind.” She raises a knowing eyebrow at me. “I get you, girl.”

I’m still stunned. This might be the very first time I’ve heard anyone but myself make an argument for Warner.

“No, what I’m trying to say is that I think it might be a good time for you to focus on yourself for a little while. Take a beat. And anyway, Lena’s going to be here any minute, so it’s probably best for you to stay away from that situation for as long as you can.” She shoots me another knowing look. “I really don’t think you need any more drama in your life, and that whole”—she gestures to the air—“thing is bound to just—you know—get really ugly.”

“What?” I frown. “What thing? What situation? Who’s Lena?”

Nazeera’s surprise is so swift, so genuine, I can’t help but feel instantly concerned. My pulse picks up as Nazeera turns fully in my direction and says, very, very slowly, “Lena. Lena Mishkin. She’s the daughter of the supreme commander of Europe.”

I stare at her. Shake my head.

Nazeera’s eyes widen. “Girl, what the hell?”

“What?” I say, scared now. “Who is she?”

“Who is she? Are you serious? She’s Warner’s ex-girlfriend.”

I nearly fall out of the tree.

It’s funny, I thought I’d feel more than this.

Old Juliette would’ve cried. Broken Juliette would’ve split open from the sudden impact of today’s many heartbreaking revelations, from the depth of Warner’s lies, from the pain of feeling so deeply betrayed. But this new version of me is refusing to react; instead, my body is shutting down.

I feel my arms go numb as Nazeera offers me details about Warner’s old relationship—details I do and don’t want to hear. She says Lena and Warner were a big deal for the world of The Reestablishment and suddenly three fingers on my right hand begin to twitch without my permission. She says that Lena’s mom and Warner’s dad were excited about an alliance between their families, about a bond that would only make their regime stronger, and electric currents bolt down my legs, shocking and paralyzing me all at once.

She says that Lena was in love with him—really in love with him—but that Warner broke her heart, that he never treated her with any real affection and she’s hated him for it, that “Lena’s been in a rage ever since she heard the stories of how he fell for you, especially because you were supposed to be, like, fresh out of a mental asylum, you know? Apparently it was a huge blow to her ego” and hearing this does nothing to soothe me. It makes me feel strange and foreign, like a specimen in a tank, like my life was never my own, like I’m an actor in a play directed by strangers and I feel an exhalation of arctic wind blow steadily into my chest, a bitter breeze circling my heart and I close my eyes as frostbite eases my pain, its icy hands closing around the wounds festering in my flesh.

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