“Damn, princess, is that really you?”
Juliette appraises Kenji once, swiftly, but doesn’t respond.
“Who are you three?” she says, nodding at the newcomers. They stand slowly. Uncertainly.
“These are our new guests,” I say, but now I can’t bring myself to look at her. To face her. “I was just about to introduce them to Castle and Kishimo—”
“And you weren’t going to include me?” says a new voice. “I’d like to meet the new supreme commander, too.”
I turn around to find Lena standing in the doorway, not three feet from Juliette, looking around the room like she’s never been so delighted in all her life. I feel my heart pick up, my mind racing. I still have no idea if Juliette knows who Lena is—or what we were together.
And Lena’s eyes are bright, too bright, her smile wide and happy.
A chill runs through me.
With them standing so close together, I can’t help but notice that the differences between her and Juliette are almost too obvious. Where Juliette is petite, Lena is tall. Juliette has dark hair and deep eyes, while Lena is pale in every possible way. Her hair is almost white, her eyes are the lightest blue, her skin is almost translucent, save the many freckles spanning her nose and cheeks. But what she lacks in pigment she makes up for in presence; she’s always been loud, aggressive, passionate to a fault. Juliette, by comparison, is muted almost to an extreme this morning. She betrays no emotion, not a hint of anger or jealousy. She stands still and quiet, silently studying the situation. Her energy is tightly coiled. Ready to spring.
And when Lena turns to face her, I feel everyone in the room stiffen.
“Hi,” Lena says loudly. False happiness disfigures her smile, morphing it into something cruel. She holds out her hand as she says, “It’s nice to finally meet Warner’s girlfriend.” And then: “Oh, wait—I’m sorry. I meant ex-girlfriend.”
I’m holding my breath as Juliette looks her up and down.
She takes her time, tilting her head as she devours Lena with her eyes and I can see Lena’s offered hand beginning to tire, her open fingers starting to shake.
Juliette seems unimpressed.
“You can call me the supreme commander of North America,” she says.
And then walks away.
I feel an almost hysterical laughter build in my chest; I have to look down, force myself to keep a straight face. And then I’m sobered, all at once, by the realization that Juliette is no longer mine. She’s no longer mine to love, mine to adore. I’ve never been more attracted to her in all the time I’ve known her and there’s nothing, nothing to be done about it. My heart pounds faster as she steps more completely into the room—a gaping Lena left in her wake—and I’m struck still with regret.
I can’t believe I’ve managed to lose her. Twice.
That she loved me. Once.
“Please identify yourselves,” she says to our three guests.
Stephan speaks first.
“I’m Stephan Feruzi Omondi,” he says, reaching forward to shake her hand. “I’m here to represent the supreme commander of Africa.”
Stephan is tall and dignified and deeply formal, and though he was born and raised in what used to be Nairobi, he studied English abroad, and speaks now with a British accent. And I can tell from the way Juliette’s eyes linger on his face that she likes the look of him.
Something tightens in my chest.
“Your parents sent you to spy on me, too, Stephan?” she says, still staring.
Stephan smiles—the movement animating his whole face—and suddenly I hate him. “We’re only here to say hello,” he says. “Just a little friendly union.”
“Uh-huh. And you two?” She turns to the twins. “Same thing?”
Nicolás, the elder twin, only smiles at her. He seems delighted. “I am Nicolás Castillo,” he says, “son of Santiago and Martina Castillo, and this is my sister, Valentina—”
“Sister?” Lena cuts in. She’s found another opportunity to be cruel and I’ve never hated her so much. “Are you still doing that?”
“Lena,” I say, a warning in my voice.
“What?” She looks at me. “Why does everyone keep acting like this is normal? One day Santiago’s son decides he wants to be a girl and we all just, what? Look the other way?”
“Eat shit, Lena,” is the first thing Valentina has said all morning. “I should’ve cut off your ears when I had the chance.”
Juliette’s eyes go wide.
“Uh, I’m sorry”—Kenji pokes his head forward, waves a hand—“am I missing something?”
“Valentina likes to play pretend,” Lena says.
“Cállate la boca, cabrona,” Nicolás snaps at her.
“No, you know what?” Valentina says, placing a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “It’s okay. Let her talk. Lena thinks I like to pretend, pero I won’t be pretending cuando cuelge su cuerpo muerto en mi cuarto.”
Lena only rolls her eyes.
“Valentina,” I say. “Please ignore her. Ella no tiene ninguna idea de lo que está hablando. Tenemos mucho que hacer y no debemo—”
“Damn, bro,” Kenji cuts me off. “You speak Spanish, too, huh?” He runs a hand through his hair. “I’m going to have to get used to this.”
“We all speak many languages,” says Nicolás, a note of irritation still clinging to his voice. “We have to be able to communi—”
“Listen, guys, I don’t care about your personal dramas,” Juliette says suddenly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I have a massive headache and a million things to do today, and I’d like to get started.”
“Por su puesto, señorita.” Nicolás bows his head a little.
“What?” she says, blinking at him. “I don’t know what that means.”
Nicolás only smiles. “Entonces deberías aprender como hablar español.”
I almost laugh, even as I shake my head. Nicolás is being difficult on purpose. “Basta ya,” I say to him. “Dejala sola. Sabes que ella no habla español.”
“What are you guys saying?” Juliette demands.
Nicolás only smiles wider, his blue eyes crinkling in delight. “Nothing of consequence, Madam Supreme. Only that we are pleased to meet you.”
“And I take it you’ll all be attending the symposium today?” she says.
Another slight bow. “Claro que sí.”
“That’s a yes,” I say to her.
“What other languages do you speak?” Juliette says, spinning to face me, and I’m so surprised she’s addressing me in public that I forget to respond.
It’s Stephan who says, “We were taught many languages from a very young age. It was critical that the commanders and their families all knew how to communicate with one another.”
“But I thought The Reestablishment wanted to get rid of all the languages,” she says. “I thought you were working toward a single, universal language—”
“Sí, Madam Supreme,” says Valentina with a slight nod. “That’s true. But first we had to be able to speak with each other, no?”
Juliette looks fascinated. She’s forgotten her anger for just long enough to be awed by the vastness of the world again; I can see it in her eyes. Her desire to escape. “Where are you from?” she asks, the question full of innocence; wonder. Something about it breaks my heart. “Before the world was remapped—what were the names of your countries?”
“We were born in Argentina,” Nicolás and Valentina say at the same time.
“My family is from Kenya,” says Stephan.
“And you’ve visited each other?” she says, turning to scan our faces. “You travel to each other’s continents?”
“Wow,” she says quietly, but mostly to herself. “That must be incredible.”
“You must come visit us, too, Madam Supreme,” says a smiling Stephan. “We’d love to have you stay with us. After all, you are one of us now.”