“I need to take care of your legs,” he says, a whisper against my skin, electric in my blood. For a moment I don’t even understand what he means. I don’t even care. My thoughts are so impractical I surprise myself. I’ve never had the freedom to touch anyone before. Certainly no one has ever wanted my hands on them. Adam is an entirely new experience.
Touching him is all I want to think about.
“The cuts aren’t too bad,” he continues, the tips of his fingers running across my calves. I suck in my breath. “But we’ll have to clean them up, just in case. Sometimes it’s safer being cut by a butcher knife than being scratched by a random scrap of metal. You don’t want it to get infected.”
He looks up. His hand is now on my knee.
I’m nodding and I don’t know why. I wonder if I’m trembling on the outside as much as I am on the inside. I hope it’s too dark for him to see just how flushed my face is, just how embarrassing it is that he can’t touch my knee without making me crazy. I need to say something. “We should probably get going, right?”
“Yeah.” He takes a deep breath and seems to return to himself. “Yeah. We have to go.” He peers through the evening light. “We have some time before they realize I’m still alive. And we have to use it to our advantage.”
“But once we leave this place—won’t the tracker start back up again? Won’t they know you’re not dead?”
“No.” He jumps into the driver’s side and fumbles for the ignition. There’s no key, just a button. I wonder if it recognizes Adam’s thumbprint as authorization. A small sputter and the machine roars to life. “Warner had to renew my tracker serum every time I got back. Once it’s gone? It’s gone.” He grins. “So now we can really get the hell out of here.”
“But where are we going?” I finally ask.
He shifts into gear before he responds.
“You have a house?” I’m too shocked for manners.
Adam laughs and pulls out of the field. The tank is surprisingly fast, surprisingly swift and stealthy. The engine has quieted to a soothing hum, and I wonder if that’s why they switched their tanks from gas to electric. It’s certainly less conspicuous this way. “Not exactly,” he answers. “But a home of sorts. Yeah.”
I want to ask and don’t want to ask and need to ask and never want to ask. I have to ask. I steel myself. “Your fathe—”
“He’s been dead for a while now.” Adam’s not smiling anymore. His voice is tight with something only I would know how to place. Pain. Bitterness. Anger.
We drive in silence, each of us absorbed in our own thoughts. I don’t dare ask what became of his mother. I only wonder how he turned out so well despite having such a despicable father. And I wonder why he ever joined the army if he hates it so much. Right now, I’m too shy to ask. I don’t want to infringe on his emotional boundaries.
God knows I have a million of my own.
I peer out the window and strain my eyes to see what we’re passing through, but I can’t make out much more than the sad stretches of deserted land I’ve grown accustomed to. There are no civilians where we are: we’re too far from Reestablished settlements and civilian compounds. I notice another tank patrolling the area not 100 feet away, but I don’t think it sees us. Adam is driving without headlights, presumably to draw as little attention to us as possible. I wonder how he’s even able to navigate. The moon is the only lamp to light our way.
It’s eerily quiet.
For a moment I allow my thoughts to drift back to Warner, wondering what must be going on right now, wondering how many people must be searching for me, wondering what lengths he’ll go to until he has me back. He wants Adam dead. He wants me alive. He won’t stop until I’m trapped beside him.
He can never never never know that I can touch him.
I can only imagine what he’d do if he had access to my body.
I breathe in one quick, sharp, shaky breath and contemplate telling Adam what happened. No. No. No. No. I squeeze my eyes shut and consider I may have misjudged the situation. It was chaotic. My brain was distracted. Maybe I imagined it. Yes.
Maybe I imagined it.
It’s strange enough that Adam can touch me. The likelihood of there being 2 people in this world who are immune to my touch doesn’t seem possible. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m determined I must have made a mistake. It could’ve been anything brushing my leg. Maybe a piece of the sheet Adam abandoned after using it to punch through the window. Maybe a pillow that’d fallen from the bed. Maybe Warner’s gloves lying, discarded, on the floor. Yes.
There’s no way he could’ve touched me, because if he had, he would’ve cried out in agony.
Just like everyone else.
Adam’s hand slips silently into mine and I grip his fingers in both my hands, suddenly desperate to reassure myself that he has immunity from me. I’m suddenly desperate to drink in every drop of his being, desperate to savor every moment I’ve never known before. I suddenly worry that there’s an expiration date on this phenomenon. A clock striking midnight. A pumpkin carriage.
The possibility of losing him
The possibility of losing him
The possibility of losing him is 100 years of solitude I don’t want to imagine. I don’t want my arms to be devoid of his warmth. His touch. His lips, God his lips, his mouth on my neck, his body wrapped around mine, holding me together as if to affirm that my existence on this earth is not for nothing.
Realization is a pendulum the size of the moon. It won’t stop slamming into me.
I swallow back the bullet in my throat. “Yes?”
“Why are you crying . . . ?” His voice is almost as gentle as his hand as it breaks free from my grip. He touches the tears rolling down my face and I’m so humiliated I almost don’t know what to say.
“You can touch me,” I say for the first time, recognize out loud for the first time. My words fade to a whisper. “You can touch me. You care and I don’t know why. You’re kind to me and you don’t have to be. My own mother didn’t care enough to—t-to—” My voice catches and I press my lips together. Glue them shut. Force myself to be still.
I am a rock. A statue. A movement frozen in time. Ice feels nothing at all.
Adam doesn’t answer, doesn’t say a single word until he pulls off the road and into an old underground parking garage. I realize we’ve reached some semblance of civilization, but it’s pitch-black belowground. I can see next to nothing and once again wonder at how Adam is managing. My eyes fall on the screen illuminated on his dashboard only to realize the tank has night vision. Of course.
Adam shuts off the engine. I hear him sigh. I can hardly distinguish his silhouette before I feel his hand on my thigh, his other hand tripping its way up my body to find my face. Warmth spreads through my limbs like molten lava. The tips of my fingers and toes are tingling to life and I have to bite back the shiver aching to rock my frame.
“Juliette,” he whispers, and I realize just how close he is. I’m not sure why I haven’t evaporated into nothingness. “It’s been me and you against the world forever,” he says. “It’s always been that way. It’s my fault I took so long to do something about it.”
“No.” I’m shaking my head. “It’s not your fault—”
“It is. I fell in love with you a long time ago. I just never had the guts to act on it.”
“Because I could’ve killed you.”
He laughs a quiet laugh. “Because I didn’t think I deserved you.”
I’m one piece of astonishment forged into being. “What?”
He touches his nose to mine. Leans into my neck. Wraps a piece of my hair around his fingers and I can’t I can’t I can’t breathe. “You’re so . . . good,” he whispers.
“But my hands—”
“Have never done anything to hurt anyone.”
I’m about to protest when he corrects himself. “Not on purpose.” He leans back. I can just barely see him rubbing the side of his neck. “You never fought back,” he says after a moment. “I always wondered why. You never yelled or got angry or tried to say anything to anyone,” he says, and I know we’re both back in third fourth fifth sixth seventh eighth ninth grade all over again. “But damn, you must’ve read a million books.” I know he’s smiling when he says it. A pause. “You bothered no one, but you were a moving target every day. You could’ve fought back. You could’ve hurt everyone if you wanted to.”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone.” My voice is less than a whisper. I can’t get the image of 8-year-old Adam out of my head. Lying on the floor. Broken. Abandoned. Crying into the dirt.
The things people will do for power.
“That’s why you’ll never be what Warner wants you to be.”
I’m staring at a point in the blackness, my mind tortured by possibilities. “How can you be sure?”
His lips are so close to mine. “Because you still give a damn about the world.”
I gasp and he’s kissing me, deep and powerful and unrestrained. His arms wrap around my back, dipping my body until I’m practically horizontal and I don’t care. My head is on the seat, his frame hovering over me, his hands gripping my hips from under my tattered dress and I’m licked by a million flames of wanting so desperate I can hardly inhale. He’s a hot bath, a short breath, 5 days of summer pressed into 5 fingers writing stories on my body. I’m an embarrassing mess of nerves crashing into him, controlled by one current of electricity coursing through my core. His scent is assaulting my senses.
are at my ear when he speaks. “We’re here, by the way.” He’s breathing harder now than when he was running for his life. I feel his heart pounding against my ribs. His words are a broken whisper. “Maybe we should go inside. It’s safer.” But he doesn’t move.
I almost don’t understand what he’s talking about. I just nod, my head bobbing on my neck, until I remember he can’t see me. I try to remember how to speak, but I’m too focused on the fingers he’s running down my thighs to form sentences. There’s something about the absolute darkness, about not being able to see what’s happening that makes me drunk with a delicious dizziness. “Yes,” is all I manage.
He helps me back up to a seated position, leans his forehead against mine. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s so hard for me to stop myself.” His voice is dangerously husky; his words tingle on my skin.
I allow my hands to slip up under his shirt and feel him stiffen, swallow. I trace the perfectly sculpted lines of his body. He’s nothing but lean muscle. “You don’t have to,” I tell him.