It makes me want to look in the mirror.
“You and I are not as different as you might hope.” His grin is so cocky I want to twist it with my fist.
“You and I are not as similar as you might hope.”
He smiles so wide I’m not sure how to react. “I’m nineteen, by the way.”
“I’m nineteen years old,” he clarifies. “I’m a fairly impressive specimen for my age, I know.”
I pick up my spoon and poke at the edible matter on my plate. I don’t know what food really is anymore. “I have no respect for you.”
“You will change your mind,” he says easily. “Now hurry up and eat. We have a lot of work to do.”
Killing time isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand. I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hand tick tick tick its final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I’ve been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind.
It’s been one week since I’ve spoken a word to Adam.
I turned to him once. Opened my mouth just once but never had a chance to say anything before Warner intercepted me. “You are not allowed to speak to the soldiers,” he said. “If you have questions, you can find me. I am the only person you need to concern yourself with while you’re here.”
Possessive is not a strong enough word for Warner.
He escorts me everywhere. Talks to me too much. My schedule consists of meetings with Warner and eating with Warner and listening to Warner. If he is busy, I am sent to my room. If he is free, he finds me. He tells me about the books they’ve destroyed. The artifacts they’re preparing to burn. The ideas he has for a new world and how I’ll be a great help to him just as soon as I’m ready. Just as soon as I realize how much I want this, how much I want him, how much I want this new, glorious, powerful life. He is waiting for me to harness my potential. He tells me how grateful I should be for his patience. His kindness. His willingness to understand that this transition must be difficult.
I cannot look at Adam. I cannot speak to him. He sleeps in my room but I never see him. He breathes so close to my body but does not part his lips in my direction. He does not follow me into the bathroom. He does not leave secret messages in my notebook.
I’m beginning to wonder if I imagined everything he said to me.
I need to know if something has changed. I need to know if I’m crazy for holding on to this hope blossoming in my heart and I need to know what Adam’s message meant but every day that he treats me like a stranger is another day I begin to doubt myself.
I need to talk to him but I can’t.
Because now Warner is watching me.
The cameras are watching everything.
“I want you to take the cameras out of my room.”
Warner stops chewing the food/garbage/breakfast/nonsense in his mouth. He swallows carefully before leaning back and looking me in the eye. “Absolutely not.”
“If you treat me like a prisoner,” I tell him, “I’m going to act like one. I don’t like to be watched.”
“You can’t be trusted on your own.” He picks up his spoon again.
“Every breath I take is monitored. There are guards stationed in five-foot intervals in all the hallways. I don’t even have access to my own room,” I protest. “Cameras aren’t going to make a difference.”
A strange kind of amusement dances on his lips. “You’re not exactly stable, you know. You’re liable to kill someone.”
“No.” I grip my fingers. “No—I wouldn’t—I didn’t kill Jenkins—”
“I’m not talking about Jenkins.” His smile is a vat of acid seeping into my skin.
He won’t stop looking at me. Smiling at me. Torturing me with his eyes.
This is me, screaming silently into my fist.
“That was an accident.” The words tumble out of my mouth so quietly, so quickly I don’t even know if I’ve actually spoken or if I’m actually still sitting here or if I’m actually 14 years old all over again all over again all over again and I’m screaming and dying and diving into a pool of memories I never ever ever ever ever
I can’t seem to forget.
I saw her at the grocery store. Her legs were standing crossed at the ankles, her child was on a leash she thought he thought was a backpack. She thought he was too dumb/too young/too immature to understand that the rope tying him to her wrist was a device designed to trap him in her uninterested circle of self-sympathy. She’s too young to have a kid, to have these responsibilities, to be buried by a child who has needs that don’t accommodate her own. Her life is so incredibly unbearable so immensely multifaceted too glamorous for the leashed legacy of her loins to understand.
Children are not stupid, was what I wanted to tell her.
I wanted to tell her that his seventh scream didn’t mean he was trying to be obnoxious, that her fourteenth admonishment in the form of brat/you’re such a brat/you’re embarrassing me you little brat/don’t make me tell Daddy you were being a brat was uncalled for. I didn’t mean to watch but I couldn’t help myself. His 3-year-old face puckered in pain, his little hands tried to undo the chains she’d strapped across his chest and she tugged so hard he fell down and cried and she told him he deserved it.
I wanted to ask her why she would do that.
I wanted to ask her so many questions but I didn’t because we don’t talk to people anymore because saying something would be stranger than saying nothing to a stranger. He fell to the floor and writhed around until I’d dropped everything in my hands and every feature on my face.
I’m so sorry, is what I never said to her son.
I thought my hands were helping
I thought my heart was helping
I thought so many things
“You killed a little boy.”
I’m nailed into my velvet chair by a million memories and I’m haunted by a horror my bare hands created and I’m reminded in every moment that I am unwanted for good reason. My hands can kill people. My hands can destroy everything.
I should not be allowed to live.
“I want,” I gasp, struggling to swallow the fist lodged in my throat, “I want you to get rid of the cameras. Get rid of them or I will die fighting you for the right.”
“Finally!” Warner stands up and clasps his hands together as if to congratulate himself. “I was wondering when you’d wake up. I’ve been waiting for the fire I know must be eating away at you every single day. You’re buried in hatred, aren’t you? Anger? Frustration? Itching to do something? To be someone?”
“Of course you are. You’re just like me.”
“I hate you more than you will ever understand.”
“We’re going to make an excellent team.”
“We are nothing. You are nothing to me—”
“I know what you want.” He leans in, drops his voice. “I know what your little heart has always longed for. I can give you the acceptance you seek. I can be your friend.”
I freeze. Falter. Fail to speak.
“I know everything about you, love.” He grins. “I’ve wanted you for a very long time. I’ve waited forever for you to be ready. I’m not going to let you go so easily.”
“I don’t want to be a monster,” I say, perhaps more for my sake than his.
“Don’t fight what you’re born to be.” He grasps my shoulders. “Stop letting everyone else tell you what’s wrong and right. Stake a claim! You cower when you could conquer. You have so much more power than you’re aware of and quite frankly I’m”—he shakes his head—“fascinated.”
“I am not your freak,” I snap. “I will not perform for you.”
He tightens his hold around my arms and I can’t squirm away from him. He leans in dangerously close to my face and I don’t know why but I can’t breathe. “I’m not afraid of you, my dear,” he says softly. “I’m absolutely enchanted.”
“Either you get rid of the cameras or I will find and break every single one of them.” I’m a liar. I’m lying through my teeth but I’m angry and desperate and horrified. Warner wants to morph me into an animal who preys on the weak. On the innocent.
If he wants me to fight for him, he’s going to have to fight me first.
A slow smile spreads across his face. He touches gloved fingers to my cheek and tilts my head up, catching my chin in his grip when I flinch away. “You’re absolutely delicious when you’re angry.”
“Too bad my taste is poisonous for your palate.” I’m vibrating in disgust from head to toe.
“That detail makes this game so much more appealing.”
“You’re sick, you’re so sick—”
He laughs and releases my chin only to take inventory of my body parts. His eyes draw a lazy trail down the length of my frame and I feel the sudden urge to rupture his spleen. “If I get rid of your cameras, what will you do for me?” His eyes are wicked.
He shakes his head. “That won’t do. I might agree to your proposition if you agree to a condition.”
I clench my jaw. “What do you want?”
The smile is bigger than before. “That is a dangerous question.”
“What is your condition?” I clarify, impatient.
“What?” My gasp is so loud it catches in my throat only to race around the room.
“I want to know exactly what you’re capable of.” His voice is steady, his eyebrows taut, tense.
“I won’t do it again!” I explode. “You saw what you made me do to Jenkins—”
“Screw Jenkins,” he spits. “I want you to touch me—I want to feel it myself—”
“No—” I’m shaking my head so hard it makes me dizzy. “No. Never. You’re crazy—I won’t—”
“You will, actually.”
“I will NOT—”
“You will have to . . . work . . . at one point or another,” he says, making an effort to moderate his voice. “Even if you were to forgo my condition, you are here for a reason, Juliette. I convinced my father that you would be an asset to The Reestablishment. That you’d be able to restrain any rebels we—”
“You mean torture—”
“Yes.” He smiles. “Forgive me, I mean torture. You will be able to help us torture anyone we capture.” A pause. “Inflicting pain, you see, is an incredibly efficient method of getting information out of anyone. And with you?” He glances at my hands. “Well, it’s cheap. Fast. Effective.” He smiles wider. “And as long as we keep you alive, you’ll be good for at least a few decades. It’s very fortunate that you’re not battery-operated.”