Pain and power are bleeding through his body into mine, jolting through his limbs and crashing into me until I nearly drop him. It’s like reliving a nightmare I’ve spent 3 years trying to forget.
“Absolutely amazing,” Warner sighs through the speakers, and I realize I was right. He must be watching through a 2-way mirror. “Brilliant, love. I’m thoroughly impressed.”
I’m too desperate to be able to focus on Warner right now. I have no idea how long this sick game is going to last, and I need to lessen the amount of skin I’m exposing to this little boy’s body.
My skimpy outfit makes so much sense now.
I rearrange him in my arms and manage to grab hold of his diaper. I’m holding him up with the palm of my hand. I’m desperate to believe I couldn’t have touched him long enough to cause serious damage.
He hiccups once; his body quivers back to life.
I could cry from happiness.
But then the screams start back up again, no longer cries of torture but of fear. He’s desperate to get away from me and I’m losing my grip, my wrist nearly breaking from the effort. I don’t dare remove his blindfold. I’d rather die than allow him to see this space, to see my face.
I clench my jaw so fast I’m afraid I’m going to break my teeth. If I put him down, he’ll start running. And if he starts running, he’s finished. I have to keep holding on.
The roar of an old mechanical wheeze revives my heart. The spikes slip back into the ground, one by one until they’ve all disappeared. The room is harmless again so swiftly I fear I may have imagined the danger. I drop the boy back onto the floor and bite down on my lip to swallow the pain welling in my wrist.
The child starts running and accidentally bumps my bare legs.
He screams and shudders and falls to the floor, curled up into himself, sobbing until I consider destroying myself, ridding myself of this world. Tears are streaming fast down my face and I want nothing more than to reach out to him and help him, hug him close, kiss his beautiful cheeks and tell him I’ll take care of him forever, that we’ll run away together, that I’ll play games with him and read him stories at night and I know I can’t. I know I never will. I know it will never be possible.
And suddenly the world shifts out of focus.
I’m overcome by a rage, an intensity, an anger so potent I’m almost elevated off the ground. I’m boiling with blind hatred and disgust. I don’t even understand how my feet move in the next instant. I don’t understand my hands and what they’re doing or how they decided to fly forward, fingers splayed, charging toward the window. I only know I want to feel Warner’s neck snap between my own two hands. I want him to experience the same terror he just inflicted upon a child. I want to watch him die. I want to watch him beg for mercy.
I catapult through the concrete walls.
I crush the glass with 10 fingers.
I’m clutching a fistful of gravel and a fistful of fabric at Warner’s neck and there are 50 different guns pointed at my head. The air is heavy with cement and sulfur, the glass falling in an agonized symphony of shattered hearts.
I slam Warner into the corroded stone.
“Don’t you dare shoot her,” Warner wheezes at the guards. I haven’t touched his skin yet, but I have the strangest suspicion that I could smash his rib cage into his heart if I just pressed a little harder.
“I should kill you.” My voice is one deep breath, one uncontrolled exhalation.
“You—” He tries to swallow. “You just—you just broke through concrete with your bare hands.”
I blink. I don’t dare look behind me. But I know without looking backward that he can’t be lying. I must have. My mind is a maze of impossibility.
I lose focus for one instant.
Every moment is loaded.
“If any of you hurt her I will shoot you myself,” Warner barks.
“STAND DOWN, SOLDIER—”
The rage is gone. The sudden uncontrollable anger is gone. My mind has already surrendered to disbelief. Confusion. I don’t know what I’ve done. I obviously don’t know what I’m capable of because I had no idea I could destroy anything at all and I’m suddenly so terrified so terrified so terrified of my own two hands. I stumble backward, stunned, and catch Warner watching me hungrily, eagerly, his emerald eyes bright with boyish fascination. He’s practically trembling in excitement.
There’s a snake in my throat and I can’t swallow it down. I meet Warner’s gaze. “If you ever put me in a position like that again, I will kill you. And I will enjoy it.”
I don’t even know if I’m lying.
Adam finds me curled into a ball on the shower floor.
I’ve been crying for so long I’m certain the hot water is made of nothing but my tears. My clothes are stuck to my skin, wet and useless. I want to wash them away. I want to drown in ignorance. I want to be stupid, dumb, mute, completely devoid of a brain. I want to cut off my own limbs. I want to be rid of this skin that can kill and these hands that destroy and this body I don’t even know how to understand.
Everything is falling apart.
“Juliette . . .” He presses his hand against the glass. I can hardly hear him.
When I don’t respond he opens the shower door. He’s pelted with rebel raindrops and kicks his boots off before falling to his knees on the tile floor. He reaches in to touch my arms and the feeling only makes me more desperate to die. He sighs and pulls me up, just enough to lift my head. His hands trap my face and his eyes search me, search through me until I look away.
“I know what happened,” he says softly.
My throat is a reptile, covered in scales. “Someone should just kill me,” I croak, cracking with every word.
Adam’s arms wrap around me until he’s tugged me up and I’m wobbling on my legs and we’re both standing upright. He steps into the shower and slides the door shut behind him.
He holds me up against the wall and I see nothing but his white T-shirt soaked through, nothing but the water dancing down his face, nothing but his eyes full of a world I’m dying to be a part of.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he whispers.
“It’s what I am,” I choke.
“No. Warner’s wrong about you,” Adam says. “He wants you to be someone you’re not, and you can’t let him break you. Don’t let him get into your head. He wants you to think you’re a monster. He wants you to think you have no choice but to join him. He wants you to think you’ll never be able to live a normal life—”
“But I won’t live a normal life.” I swallow a hiccup. “Not ever—I’ll n-never—”
Adam is shaking his head. “You will. We’re going to get out of here. I won’t let this happen to you.”
“H-how could you possibly care about someone . . . like me?” I’m barely breathing, nervous and petrified but somehow staring at his lips, studying the shape, counting the drops of water tumbling over the hills and valleys of his mouth.
“Because I’m in love with you.”
I swallow my stomach. My eyes snap up to read his face but I’m a mess of electricity, humming with life and lightning, hot and cold and my heart is erratic. I’m shaking in his arms and my lips have parted for no reason at all.
His mouth softens into a smile. My bones have disappeared.
I’m spinning with delirium.
His nose is touching my nose, his lips one breath away, his eyes devouring me already and I’m a puddle with no arms and no legs. I can smell him everywhere; I feel every point of his figure pressed against mine. His hands at my waist, gripping my hips, his legs flush against my own, his chest overpowering me with strength, his frame built by bricks of desire. The taste of his words lingers on my lips.
“Really . . . ?” I have one whisper of incredulity, one conscious effort to believe what’s never been done. I’m flushed through my feet, filled with unspoken everything.
He looks at me with so much emotion I nearly crack in half.
And he’s kissing me.
Once, twice, until I’ve had a taste and realize I’ll never have enough. He’s everywhere up my back and over my arms and suddenly he’s kissing me harder, deeper, with a fervent urgent need I’ve never known before. He breaks for air only to bury his lips in my neck, along my collarbone, up my chin and cheeks and I’m gasping for oxygen and he’s destroying me with his hands and we’re drenched in water and beauty and the exhilaration of a moment I never knew was possible.
He pulls back with a low groan and I want him to take his shirt off.
I need to see the bird. I need to tell him about the bird.
My fingers are tugging at the hem of his wet clothes and his eyes widen for only a second before he rips the material off himself. He grabs my hands and lifts my arms above my head and pins me against the wall, kissing me until I’m sure I’m dreaming, drinking in my lips with his lips and he tastes like rain and sweet musk and I’m about to explode.
My knees are knocking together and my heart is beating so fast I don’t understand why it’s still working. He’s kissing away the pain, the hurt, the years of self-loathing, the insecurities, the dashed hopes for a future I always pictured as obsolete. He’s lighting me on fire, burning away the torture of Warner’s games, the anguish that poisons me every single day. The intensity of our bodies could shatter these glass walls.
It nearly does.
For a moment we’re just staring at each other, breathing hard until I’m blushing, until he closes his eyes and takes one ragged, steadying breath and I place my hand on his chest. I dare to trace the outline of the bird soaring across his skin, I dare to trail my fingers down the length of his abdomen.
“You’re my bird,” I tell him. “You’re my bird and you’re going to help me fly away.”
Adam is gone by the time I get out of the shower.
He wrung his clothes out and dried himself off and granted me privacy to change. Privacy I’m not sure I care about anymore. I touch 2 fingers to my lips and taste him everywhere.
But when I step into the room he’s not anywhere. He had to report downstairs.
I stare at the clothes in my closet.
I always choose a dress with pockets because I don’t know where else to store my notebook. It doesn’t carry any incriminating information, and the one piece of paper that bore Adam’s handwriting has since been destroyed and flushed down the toilet, but I like to keep it close to me. It represents so much more than a few words scribbled on paper. It’s a small token of my resistance.
I tuck the notebook into a pocket and decide I’m finally ready to face myself. I take a deep breath, push the wet strands of hair away from my eyes, and pad into the bathroom. The steam from the shower has clouded the mirror. I reach out a tentative hand to wipe away a small circle. Just big enough.
A scared face stares back at me.
I touch my cheeks and study the reflective surface, study the image of a girl who’s simultaneously strange and familiar to me. My face is thinner, paler, my cheekbones higher than I remember them, my eyebrows perched above 2 wide eyes not blue not green but somewhere in between. My skin is flushed with heat and something named Adam. My lips are too pink. My teeth are unusually straight. My finger is trailing down the length of my nose, tracing the shape of my chin when I see a movement in the corner of my eye.