“You’re so beautiful,” he says to me.
I’m pink and red and maroon all at once. I duck my head and trip away from the mirror only to have him catch me in his arms. “I’d forgotten my own face,” I whisper.
“Just don’t forget who you are,” he says.
“I don’t even know.”
“Yes you do.” He tilts my face up. “I do.”
I stare at the strength in his jaw, in his eyes, in his body. I try to understand the confidence he has in who he thinks I am and realize his reassurance is the only thing stopping me from diving into a pool of my own insanity. He’s always believed in me. Even soundlessly, silently, he fought for me. Always.
He’s my only friend.
I take his hand and hold it to my lips. “I’ve loved you forever,” I tell him.
The sun rises, rests, shines in his face and he almost smiles, almost can’t meet my eyes. His muscles relax, his shoulders find relief in the weight of a new kind of wonder and he exhales. He touches my cheek, touches my lips, touches the tip of my chin and I blink and he’s kissing me, he’s pulling me into his arms and into the air and somehow we’re on the bed and tangled in each other and I’m drugged with emotion, drugged by each tender moment. His fingers skim my shoulder, trail down my silhouette, rest at my hips. He pulls me closer, whispers my name, drops kisses down my throat and struggles with the stiff fabric of my dress. His hands are shaking so slightly, his eyes brimming with feeling, his heart thrumming with pain and affection and I want to live here, in his arms, in his eyes for the rest of my life.
I slip my hands under his shirt and he chokes on a moan that turns into a kiss that needs me and wants me and has to have me so desperately it’s like the most acute form of torture. His weight is pressed into mine, on top of mine, infinite points of feeling for every nerve ending in my body and his right hand is behind my neck and his left hand is reeling me in and his lips are falling down my shirt and I don’t understand why I need to wear clothes anymore and I’m a cumulonimbus existence of thunder and lightning and the possibility of exploding into tears at any inopportune moment. Bliss Bliss Bliss is beating through my chest.
I don’t remember what it means to breathe.
what it meant to feel.
An alarm is hammering through the walls.
The room beeps and blares to life and Adam stiffens, pulls back; his face collapses.
“This is a CODE SEVEN. All soldiers must report to the Quadrant immediately. This is a CODE SEVEN. All soldiers must report to the Quadrant immediately. This is a CODE SEVEN. All soldiers must report to the Quadra—”
Adam is on his feet and pulling me up and the voice is still shouting orders through a speaker system wired into the building. “There’s been a breach,” he says, his voice broken and breathy, his eyes darting between me and the door. “Jesus. I can’t just leave you here—”
“Go,” I tell him. “You have to go—I’ll be fine—”
Footsteps are thundering through the halls and soldiers are barking at each other so loudly I can hear it through the walls. Adam is still on duty. He has to perform. He has to keep up appearances until we can leave. I know this.
He pulls me close. “This isn’t a joke, Juliette—I don’t know what’s happening—it could be anything—”
A metal click. A mechanical switch. The door slides open and Adam and I jump 10 feet apart.
Adam rushes to exit just as Warner is walking in. They both freeze.
“I’m pretty sure that alarm has been going off for at least a minute, soldier.”
“Yes sir. I wasn’t sure what to do about her.” He’s suddenly composed, a perfect statue. He nods at me like I’m an afterthought but I know he’s just slightly too stiff in the shoulders. Breathing just a beat too fast.
“Lucky for you, I’m here to take care of that. You may report to your commanding officer.”
“Sir.” Adam nods, pivots on one heel, and darts out the door. I hope Warner didn’t notice his hesitation.
Warner turns to face me with a smile so calm and casual I begin to question whether the building is actually in chaos. He studies my face. My hair. Glances at the rumpled sheets behind me and I feel like I’ve swallowed a spider. “You took a nap?”
“I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“You’ve ripped your dress.”
“What are you doing here?” I need him to stop staring at me, I need him to stop drinking in the details of my existence.
“If you don’t like the dress, you can always choose a different one, you know. I picked them out for you myself.”
“That’s okay. The dress is fine.” I glance at the clock for no real reason. It’s already 4:30 in the afternoon. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”
He’s too close. He’s standing too close and he’s looking at me and my lungs are failing to expand. “You should really change.”
“I don’t want to change.” I don’t know why I’m so nervous. Why he’s making me so nervous. Why the space between us is closing too quickly.
He hooks a finger in the rip close to the drop-waist of my dress and I bite back a scream. “This just won’t do.”
He tugs so hard on the rip that it splits open the fabric and creates a slit up the side of my leg. “That’s a bit better.”
“What are you doing—”
His hands snake up my waist and clamp my arms in place and I know I need to defend myself but I’m frozen and I want to scream but my voice is broken broken broken. I’m a ragged breath of desperation.
“I have a question,” he says, and I try to kick him in this worthless dress and he just squeezes me up against the wall, the weight of his body pressing me into place, every inch of him covered in clothing, a protective layer between us. “I said I have a question, Juliette.”
His hand slips into my pocket so quickly it takes me a moment to realize what he’s done. I’m panting up against the wall, shaking and trying to find my head.
“I’m curious,” he says. “What is this?”
He’s holding my notebook between 2 fingers.
This dress is too tight to hide the outline of the notebook and I was too busy looking at my face to check the dress in the mirror. This is all my fault all my fault all my fault all my fault I can’t believe it. This is all my fault. I should’ve known better.
I say nothing.
He cocks his head. “I don’t recall giving you a notebook. I certainly don’t remember granting you allowance for any possessions, either.”
“I brought it with me.” My voice catches.
“Now you’re lying.”
“What do you want from me?” I panic.
“That’s a stupid question, Juliette.”
The soft sound of smooth metal slipping out of place. Someone has opened my door.
“Get your hands off of her before I bury a bullet in your head.”
Warner’s eyes close very slowly. He steps away very slowly. His lips twitch into a dangerous smile. “Kent.”
Adam’s hands are steady, the barrel of his gun pressed into the back of Warner’s skull. “You’re going to clear our exit out of here.”
Warner actually laughs. He opens his eyes and whips a gun out of his inside pocket only to point it directly at my forehead. “I will kill her right now.”
“You’re not that stupid,” Adam says.
“If she moves even a millimeter, I will shoot her. And then I will rip you to pieces.”
Adam shifts quickly, slamming the butt of his gun into Warner’s head. Warner’s gun misfires and Adam catches his arm and twists his wrist until his grip on the weapon wavers. I grab the gun from Warner’s limp hand and slam the butt of it into his face. I’m stunned by my own reflexes. I’ve never held a gun before but I guess there’s a first time for everything.
I point it at Warner’s eyes. “Don’t underestimate me.”
“Holy shit.” Adam doesn’t bother hiding his surprise.
Warner coughs through a laugh, steadies himself, and tries to smile as he wipes the blood from his nose. “I never underestimate you,” he says to me. “I never have.”
Adam shakes his head for less than a second before his face splits into an enormous grin. He’s beaming at me as he presses the gun harder into Warner’s skull. “Let’s get out of here.”
I grab the two duffel bags stowed away in the armoire and toss one to Adam. We’ve been packed for a week already. If he wants to make a break for it earlier than expected, I have no complaints.
Warner’s lucky we’re showing him mercy.
But we’re lucky the entire building has been evacuated. He has no one to rely on.
Warner clears his throat. He’s staring straight at me when he speaks. “I can assure you, soldier, your triumph will be short-lived. You may as well kill me now, because when I find you, I will thoroughly enjoy destroying every bone in your body. You’re a fool if you think you can get away with this.”
“I am not your soldier.” Adam’s face is stone. “I never have been. You’ve been so caught up in the details of your own fantasies you failed to notice the dangers right in front of your face.”
“We can’t kill you yet,” I add. “You have to get us out of here.”
“You’re making a huge mistake, Juliette,” he says to me. His voice actually softens. “You’re throwing away an entire future.” He sighs. “How do you know you can trust him?”
I glance at Adam. Adam, the boy who’s always defended me, even when he had nothing to gain. I shake my head to clear it. I remind myself that Warner is a liar. A crazed lunatic. A psychotic murderer. He would never try to help me.
“Let’s go before it’s too late,” I say to Adam. “He’s just trying to stall us until the soldiers get back.”
“He doesn’t even care about you!” Warner explodes. I flinch at the sudden, uncontrolled intensity in his voice. “He just wants a way out of here and he’s using you!” He steps forward. “I could love you, Juliette—I would treat you like a queen—”
Adam puts him in a swift headlock and points the gun at his temple. “You obviously don’t understand what’s happening here,” he says very carefully.
“Then educate me, soldier,” Warner wheezes out. His eyes are dancing flames; dangerous. “Tell me what I’m failing to understand.”
“Adam.” I’m shaking my head.
He meets my eyes. Nods. Turns to Warner. “Make the call,” he says, squeezing his neck a little tighter. “Get us out of here now.”
“Only my dead body would allow her to walk out that door.” Warner exercises his jaw and spits blood on the floor. “You I would kill for pleasure,” he says to Adam. “But Juliette is the one I want forever.”