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I feel so shy so suddenly. So blind, so unnecessarily bold. I know nothing about what I’m venturing into. All I know is I don’t want anyone’s hands on me but his. Forever.

Adam leans back and I can just make out the outline of his face, his eyes always shining in the darkness. I stare at his lips when I speak. “I’ve never asked you to stop.” My fingers rest on the button holding his pants together. “Not once.”

He’s staring at me, his chest rising and falling a few times a second. He seems almost numb with disbelief.

I lean into his ear. “Touch me.”

And he’s nearly undone.

My face is in his hands and my lips are at his lips and he’s kissing me and I’m oxygen and he’s dying to breathe. His body is almost on top of mine, one hand in my hair, the other feeling its way down my silhouette, slipping behind my knee to pull me closer, higher, tighter. He drops kisses down my throat like ecstasy, electric energy searing into me, setting me on fire. I’m on the verge of combusting from the sheer thrill of every moment. I want to dive into his being, experience him with all 5 senses, drown in the waves of wonder enveloping my existence.

I want to taste the landscape of his body.

He takes my hands and presses them against his chest, guides my fingers as they trail down the length of his torso before his lips meet mine again and again and again drugging me into a delirium I never want to escape. But it’s not enough. It’s still not enough. I want to melt into him, trace the form of his figure with my lips alone. My heart is racing through my blood, destroying my self-control, spinning everything into a cyclone of intensity. He breaks for air and I pull him back, aching, desperate, dying for his touch. His hands slip up under my shirt, skirting my sides, touching me like he’s never dared to before, and my top is nearly over my head when a door squeaks open. We both freeze.

“Adam . . . ?”

He can hardly breathe. He tries to lower himself onto the pillow beside me but I can still feel his heat, his figure, his heart pounding in my ears. I’m swallowing back a million screams. Adam leans his head up, just a little. Tries to sound normal. “James?”

“Can I come sleep out here with you?”

Adam sits up. He’s breathing hard but he’s suddenly alert. “Of course you can.” A pause. His voice slows, softens. “You have bad dreams?”

James doesn’t answer.

Adam is on his feet.

I hear the muffled hiccup of 10-year-old tears, but can barely distinguish the outline of Adam’s body holding James together. “I thought you said it was getting better,” I hear him whisper, but his words are kind, not accusing.

James says something I can’t hear.

Adam picks him up, and I realize how tiny James seems in comparison. They disappear into the bedroom only to return with bedding. Only once James is tucked securely in place a few feet from Adam does he finally give in to exhaustion. His heavy breathing is the only sound in the room.

Adam turns to me. I’ve been a slice of silence, struck, shocked, cut deep by this reminder. I have no idea what James has witnessed at such a tender age. I have no idea what Adam has had to endure in leaving him behind. I have no idea how people live anymore. How they survive.

I don’t know what’s become of my parents.

Adam brushes my cheek. Slips me into his arms. Says, “I’m sorry,” and I kiss the apology away.

“When the time is right,” I tell him.

He swallows. Leans into my neck. Inhales. His hands are under my shirt. Up my back.

I bite back a gasp. “Soon.”

Chapter Thirty-Four

Adam and I forced ourselves 5 feet apart last night, but somehow I wake up in his arms. He’s breathing softly, evenly, steadily, a warm hum in the morning air. I blink, peering into the daylight only to be met by a set of big blue eyes on a 10-year-old’s face.

“How come you can touch him?” James is standing over us with his arms crossed, back to the stubborn boy I remember. There’s no trace of fear, no hint of tears threatening to spill down his face. It’s like last night never happened. “Well?” His impatience startles me.

I jump away from Adam’s uncovered upper half so quickly it jolts him awake. A little.

He reaches for me. “Juliette . . . ?”

“You’re touching a girl!”

Adam sits up so quickly he tangles in the sheets and falls back on his elbows. “Jesus, James—”

“You were sleeping next to a girl!”

Adam opens and closes his mouth several times. He glances at me. Glances at his brother. Shuts his eyes and finally sighs. Runs a hand through his morning hair. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“I thought you said she couldn’t touch anyone.” James is staring at me now, suspicious.

“She can’t.”

“Except for you?”

“Right. Except for me.”

And Warner.

“She can’t touch anyone except for you.”

And Warner.

“Right.”

“That seems awfully convenient.” James narrows his eyes.

Adam laughs out loud. “Where’d you learn to talk like that?”

James frowns. “Benny says that a lot. She says my excuses are ‘awfully convenient.’” He makes air quotes with two fingers. “She says it means I don’t believe you. And I don’t believe you.”

Adam gets to his feet. The early morning light filters through the small windows at the perfect angle, the perfect moment. He’s bathed in gold, his muscles taut, his pants still a little low on his hips and I have to force myself to think straight. I’m shocked by my own lack of self-control, but I’m not sure I know how to contain these feelings. Adam makes me hungry for things I never knew I could have.

I watch as he drapes an arm over his brother’s shoulders before squatting down to meet his gaze. “Can I talk to you about something?” he says. “Privately?”

“Just me and you?” James glances at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Yeah. Just me and you.”

“Okay.”

I watch the two of them disappear into James’ room and wonder what Adam is going to tell him. It takes me a moment to realize James must feel threatened by my sudden appearance. He finally sees his brother after nearly 6 months only to have him come home with a strange girl with crazy magical powers. I nearly laugh at the idea. If only it were magic that made me this way.

I don’t want James to think I’m taking Adam away from him.

I slip back under the covers and wait. The morning is cool and brisk and my thoughts begin to wander to Warner. I need to remember that we’re not safe. Not yet, maybe not ever. I need to remember never to get too comfortable. I sit up. Pull my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around my ankles.

I wonder if Adam has a plan.

James’ door squeaks open. The two brothers step out, the younger before the older. James looks a little pink and he can hardly meet my eyes. He looks embarrassed and I wonder if Adam punished him.

My heart fails for a moment.

Adam claps James on the shoulder. Squeezes. “You okay?”

“I know what a girlfriend is—”

“I never said you didn’t—”

“So you’re his girlfriend?” James crosses his arms, looks at me.

There are 400 cotton balls caught in my windpipe. I look at Adam because I don’t know what else to do.

“Hey, maybe you should be getting ready for school, huh?” Adam opens the refrigerator and hands James a new foil package. I assume it’s his breakfast.

“I don’t have to go,” James protests. “It’s not like a real school, no one has to—”

“I want you to,” Adam cuts him off. He turns back to his brother with a small smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here when you get back.”

James hesitates. “You promise?”

“Yeah.” Another grin. Nods him over. “Come here.”

James runs forward and clings to Adam like he’s afraid he’ll disappear. Adam pops the foil food into the Automat and presses a button. He musses James’ hair. “You need to get a haircut, kid.”

James wrinkles his nose. “I like it.”

“It’s a little long, don’t you think?”

James lowers his voice. “I think her hair is really long.”

James and Adam glance back at me and I melt into pink Play-Doh. I touch my hair without intending to, suddenly self-conscious. I look down. I’ve never had a reason to cut my hair. I’ve never even had the tools. No one offers me sharp objects.

I chance a peek and see Adam is still staring at me. James is staring at the Automat.

“I like her hair,” Adam says, and I’m not sure who he’s talking to.

I watch the two of them as Adam helps his brother get ready for school. James is so full of life, so full of energy, so excited to have his brother around. It makes me wonder what it must be like for a 10-year-old to live on his own. What it must be like for all the kids who live on this street.

I’m itching to get up and change, but I’m not sure what I should do. I don’t want to take up the bathroom in case James needs it, or if Adam needs it. I don’t want to take up any more space than I already have. It feels so private, so personal, this relationship between Adam and James. It’s the kind of bond I’ve never had, will never have. But being around so much love has managed to thaw my frozen parts into something human. I feel human. Like maybe I could be a part of this world. Like maybe I don’t have to be a monster. Maybe I’m not a monster.

Maybe things can change.

Chapter Thirty-Five

James is at school, Adam is in the shower, and I’m staring at a bowl of granola Adam left for me to eat. It feels so wrong to be eating this food when James has to eat the unidentifiable substance in the foil container. But Adam says James is allocated a certain portion for every meal, and he’s required to eat it by law. If he’s found wasting it or discarding it, he could be punished. All the orphans are expected to eat the foil food that goes in their Automat. James claims it “doesn’t taste too bad.”

I shiver slightly in the cool morning air and smooth a hand over my hair, still damp from the shower. The water here isn’t hot. It isn’t even warm. It’s freezing. Warm water is a luxury.

Someone is pounding on the door.

I’m up.

Spinning.

Scanning.

Scared.

They found us is the only thing I can think of. My stomach is a flimsy crepe, my heart a raging woodpecker, my blood a river of anxiety.

Adam is in the shower.

James is at school.

I’m absolutely defenseless.

I rummage through Adam’s duffel bag until I find what I’m looking for. 2 guns, 1 for each hand. 2 hands, just in case the guns fail. I’m finally wearing the kind of clothes that would be comfortable to fight in. I take a deep breath and beg my hands not to shake.

The pounding gets harder.

I point the guns at the door.

“Juliette . . . ?”

I spin back to see Adam staring at me, the guns, the door. His hair is wet. His eyes are wide. He nods toward the extra gun in my hand and I toss it to him without a word.

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