Page 46

I thought The Reestablishment would fall.

I was wrong.

Our supreme commander has hours to prepare before having to address a room of the 554 other chief commanders and regents in North America. She will be expected to lead. To negotiate the many intricacies of domestic and international diplomacy. Haider, Nazeera, and Lena will all be waiting to send word back to their murderous parents. And I should be by her side, helping and guiding and protecting her. Instead, I have no idea what kind of Juliette will emerge from my father’s rooms in the morning. I have no idea what to expect from her, how she will treat me, or where her mind will go.

I have no idea what’s going to happen.

And I have no one to blame but myself.

JULIETTE

I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane.

—AN EXCERPT FROM JULIETTE’S JOURNALS IN THE ASYLUM

When I open my eyes, everything comes rushing back to me.

The evidence is here, in this drumming, pounding headache, in this sour taste in my mouth and stomach—in this unbearable thirst, like every cell in my body is dehydrated. It’s the strangest feeling. It’s horrible.

But worse, worse than all that are the memories. Gauzy but intact, I remember everything. Drinking Anderson’s bourbon. Lying in my underwear in front of Kenji. And then, with a sudden, painful gasp—

Stripping in the shower. Asking Warner to join me.

I close my eyes as a wave of nausea overtakes me, threatens to upend the meager contents of my stomach. Mortification floods through me with an almost breathtaking efficiency, manufacturing within me a feeling of absolute self-loathing I’m unable to shake. Finally, reluctantly, I squint open my eyes again and notice someone has left me three bottles of water and two small white pills.

Gratefully, I inhale everything.

It’s still dark in this room, but somehow I know the day has broken. I sit up too fast and my brain swings, rocking in my skull like a weighted pendulum and I feel myself sway even as I remain motionless, planting my hands against the mattress.

Never, I think. Never again. Anderson was an idiot. This is a terrible feeling. And it’s not until I make my way to the bathroom that I remember, with a sudden, piercing clarity, that I shaved my head.

I stand frozen in front of the mirror, remnants of my long, brown waves still littering the floor underfoot, and stare at my reflection in awe. Horror. Fascination.

I hit the light switch and flinch, the fluorescent bulbs triggering something painful in my newly stupid brain, and it takes me a minute to adjust to the light. I turn on the shower, letting the water warm while I study my new self.

Gingerly, I touch the soft buzz of what little hair I have left. Seconds pass and I get braver, stepping so close to the mirror my nose bumps the glass. So strange, so strange but soon my apprehension dulls. No matter how long I look at myself I’m unable to drum up appropriate feelings of regret. Shock, yes, but—

I don’t know.

I really, really like it.

My eyes have always been big and blue-green, miniatures of the globe we inhabit, but I’ve never before found them particularly interesting. But now—for the first time—I find my own face interesting. Like I’ve stepped out of the shadows of my own self; like the curtain I used to hide behind has been, finally, pushed back.

I’m here. Right here.

Look at me, I seem to scream without speaking.

Steam fills the room in slow, careful exhalations that cloud my reflection and eventually, I’m forced to look away. But when I do, I’m smiling.

Because for the first time in my life, I actually like the way I look.

I asked Delalieu to arrange to have my armoire moved into Anderson’s quarters before I arrived yesterday—and I find myself standing before it now, examining its depths with new eyes. These are the same clothes I’ve seen every time I’ve opened these doors; but suddenly I’m seeing them differently.

But then, I feel differently.

Clothes used to perplex me. I could never understand how to piece together an outfit the way Warner did. I thought it was a science I’d never crack; a skill beyond my grasp. But I’m realizing now that my problem was that I never knew who I was; I didn’t understand how to dress the imposter living in my skin.

What did I like?

How did I want to be perceived?

For years my goal was to minimize myself—to fold and refold myself into a polygon of nothingness, to be too insignificant to be remembered. I wanted to appear innocent; I wanted to be thought of as quiet and harmless; I was worried always about how my very existence was terrifying to others and I did everything in my power to diminish myself, my light, my soul.

I wanted so desperately to placate the ignorant. I wanted so badly to appease the assholes who judged me without knowing me that I lost myself in the process.

But now?

Now, I laugh. Out loud.

Now, I don’t give a shit.

WARNER

When Juliette joins us in the morning, she is almost unrecognizable.

I was forced, despite every inclination to bury myself in other duties, to rejoin our group today on account of what seems now to have been the inevitable arrival of our three final guests. The twin children of the South American supreme and the son of the supreme commander of Africa all arrived early this morning. The supreme commander of Oceania has no children, so I have to assume this is the last of our visitors. And all of them have arrived in time to accompany us to the symposium. Very convenient.

I should have realized.

I had just been in the middle of introducing the three of them to Castle and Kenji, who came down to greet our new visitors, when Juliette made her first appearance of the day. It’s been less than thirty seconds since she walked in, and I’m still trying and failing to take her in.

She’s stunning.

She’s wearing a simple, fitted black sweater; slim, dark gray jeans; and a pair of flat, black, ankle-length boots. Her hair is both gone and not; it’s like a soft, dark crown that suits her in a way I never could’ve expected. Without the distraction of her long hair my eyes have nowhere to focus but directly on her face. And she has the most incredible face—large, captivating eyes—and a bone structure that’s never been more pronounced.

She looks shockingly different.

Raw.

Still beautiful, but sharper. Harder. She’s not a girl with a ponytail in a pink sweater anymore, no. She looks a great deal more like the young woman who murdered my father and then drank four fingers of his most expensive Scotch.

She’s looking from me to the stunned expressions of Kenji and Castle to the quietly confused faces of our three new guests, and all of us appear unable to speak.

“Good morning,” she finally says, but she doesn’t smile when she says it. There’s no warmth, no kindness in her eyes as she looks around, and I falter.

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