- Unravel Me
All 3 of us are stunned.
“I really wish I could tell you,” Castle says to me. “I wish I knew more. As of right now, I can only do my best to extrapolate from the information I have, and all I’ve concluded thus far is that Warner has made a glaring error that needs to be set right. Somehow you managed to get caught in the middle.” A pause. “Warner’s father,” he says, “has asked very specifically for you in exchange for the hostages. He says if you do not arrive at the appointed time, he will kill our men. And I have no reason to doubt his word. Murdering the innocent is something that comes very naturally to him.”
“And you were just going to let her walk into that!” Adam knocks over his garbage can as he jumps to his feet. “You weren’t even going to say anything? You were going to let us assume that she wasn’t a target? Are you insane?”
Castle rubs his forehead. Takes a few calming breaths. “No,” he says, his voice carefully measured. “I was not going to let her walk right into anything. What I’m saying is that we will all fight together, but you two will go with Ms. Ferrars. The three of you have worked together before, and both you and Kenji have military training. You’re more familiar with the rules, the techniques, the strategy they might employ. You would help keep her safe and embody the element of surprise—your presence could be what gives us an advantage in this situation. If he wants her badly enough, he’ll have to find a way to juggle the three of you—”
“Or—you know, I don’t know,” Kenji says, affecting nonchalance, “maybe he’ll just shoot us both in the face and drag Juliette away while we’re too busy being dead to stop him.”
“It’s okay,” I say. “I’ll do it. I’ll go.”
“What?” Adam is looking at me, panic forcing his eyes wide. “Juliette—no—”
“Yeah, you might want to think about this for a second,” Kenji cuts in, sounding a little nervous.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” I tell them. “But I’ll go.”
Castle smiles, relief written across his features.
“This is what we’re here for, right?” I look around. “We’re supposed to fight back. This is our chance.”
Castle is beaming, his eyes bright with something that might be pride. “We will be with you every step of the way, Ms. Ferrars. You can count on it.”
And I realize this is probably what I’m meant to do. Maybe this is exactly why I’m here.
Maybe I’m just supposed to die.
The morning is a blur.
There’s so much to do, so much to prepare for, and there are so many people getting ready. But I know that ultimately this is my battle; I have unfinished business to deal with. I know this meeting has nothing to do with the supreme commander. He has no reason to care so much about me. I’ve never even met the man; I should be nothing more than expendable to him.
This is Warner’s move.
It has to be Warner who asked for me. This has something and everything to do with him; it’s a smoke signal telling me he still wants me and he’s not yet given up. And I have to face him.
I only wonder how he managed to get his father to pull these strings for him.
I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
Someone is calling my name.
I stop in place.
He runs up to me just outside the dining hall. His hair, so blond; his eyes, so blue, just like his older brother’s. But I’ve missed his face in a way that has nothing to do with how much he reminds me of Adam.
James is a special kid. A sharp kid. The kind of 10-year-old who is always underestimated. And he’s asking me if we can talk. He points to one of the many corridors.
I nod. Follow him into an empty tunnel.
He stops walking and turns away for a moment. Stands there looking uncomfortable. I’m stunned he even wants to talk to me; I haven’t spoken a single word to him in 3 weeks. He started spending time with the other kids at Omega Point shortly after we arrived, and then things somehow got awkward between us. He stopped smiling when he’d see me, stopped waving hello from across the dining hall. I always imagined he’d heard rumors about me from the other kids and decided he was better off staying away. And now, after everything that’s happened with Adam—after our very public display in the tunnel—I’m shocked he wants to say anything to me.
His head is still down when he whispers, “I was really, really mad at you.”
And the stitches in my heart begin to pop. One by one.
He looks up. Looks at me like he’s trying to gauge whether or not his opening words have upset me, whether or not I’m going to yell at him for being honest with me. And I don’t know what he sees in my face but it seems to disarm him. He shoves his hands into his pockets. Rubs his sneaker in circles on the floor. Says, “You didn’t tell me you killed someone before.”
I take an unsteady breath and wonder if there will ever be a proper way to respond to a statement like that. I wonder if anyone other than James will ever even say something like that to me. I think not. So I just nod. And say, “I’m really sorry. I should’ve told y—”
“Then why didn’t you?” he shouts, shocking me. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did everyone else know except for me?”
And I’m floored for a moment, floored by the hurt in his voice, the anger in his eyes. I never knew he considered me a friend, and I realize I should have. James hasn’t known many people in his life; Adam is his entire world. Kenji and I were 2 of the only people he’d ever really met before we got to Omega Point. And for an orphaned child in his circumstances, it must’ve meant a lot to have new friends. But I’ve been so concerned with my own issues that it never occurred to me that James would care so much. I never realized my omission would’ve seemed like a betrayal to him. That the rumors he heard from the other children must’ve hurt him just as much as they hurt me.
So I decide to sit down, right there in the tunnel. I make room for him to sit down beside me. And I tell him the truth. “I didn’t want you to hate me.”
He glares at the floor. Says, “I don’t hate you.”
He picks at his shoelaces. Sighs. Shakes his head. “And I didn’t like what they were saying about you,” he says, quieter now. “The other kids. They said you were mean and nasty and I told them you weren’t. I told them you were quiet and nice. And that you have nice hair. And they told me I was lying.”
I swallow, hard, punched in the heart. “You think I have nice hair?”
“Why did you kill him?” James asks me, eyes so open, so ready to be understanding. “Was he trying to hurt you? Were you scared?”
I take a few breaths before I answer.
“Do you remember,” I say to him, feeling unsteady now, “what Adam told you about me? About how I can’t touch anyone without hurting them?”
“Well, that’s what happened,” I say. “I touched him and he died.”
“But why?” he asks. “Why’d you touch him? Because you wanted him to die?”
My face feels like cracked china. “No,” I tell him, shaking my head. “I was young—only a couple of years older than you, actually. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know that I could kill people by touching them. He’d fallen down at the grocery store and I was just trying to help him get to his feet.” A long pause. “It was an accident.”
James is silent for a while.
He takes turns looking at me, looking at his shoes, at the knees he’s tucked up against his chest. He’s staring at the ground when he finally whispers, “I’m sorry I was mad at you.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth,” I whisper back.
He nods. Scratches a spot on his nose. Looks at me. “So can we be friends again?”
“You want to be friends with me?” I blink hard against the stinging in my eyes. “You’re not afraid of me?”
“Are you going to be mean to me?”
“Then why would I be afraid of you?”
And I laugh, mostly because I don’t want to cry. I nod too many times. “Yes,” I say to him. “Let’s be friends again.”
“Good,” he says, and gets to his feet. “Because I don’t want to eat lunch with those other kids anymore.”
I stand up. Dust off the back of my suit. “Eat with us,” I tell him. “You can always sit at our table.”
“Okay.” He nods. Looks away again. Tugs on his ear a little. “So did you know Adam is really sad all the time?” He turns his blue eyes on me.
I can’t speak. Can’t speak at all.
“Adam says he’s sad because of you.” James looks at me like he’s waiting for me to deny it. “Did you hurt him by accident too? He was in the medical wing, did you know that? He was sick.”
And I think I’m going to fall apart, right there, but somehow I don’t. I can’t lie to him. “Yes,” I tell James. “I hurt him by accident, but now—n-now I stay away from him. So I can’t hurt him anymore.”
“Then why’s he still so sad? If you’re not hurting him anymore?”
I’m shaking my head, pressing my lips together because I don’t want to cry and I don’t know what to say. And James seems to understand.
He throws his arms around me.
Right around my waist. Hugs me and tells me not to cry because he believes me. He believes I only hurt Adam by accident. And the little boy, too. And then he says, “But be careful today, okay? And kick some ass, too.”
I’m so stunned that it takes me a moment to realize that not only did he use a bad word, he just touched me for the very first time. I try to hold on for as long as I can without making things awkward between us, but I think my heart is still in a puddle somewhere on the floor.
And that’s when I realize: everyone knows.
James and I walk into the dining hall together and I can already tell that the stares are different now. Their faces are full of pride, strength, and acknowledgment when they look at me. No fear. No suspicion. I’ve officially become one of them. I will fight with them, for them, against the same enemy.
I can see what’s in their eyes because I’m beginning to remember what it feels like.
It’s like a drop of honey, a field of tulips blooming in the springtime. It’s fresh rain, a whispered promise, a cloudless sky, the perfect punctuation mark at the end of a sentence.
And it’s the only thing in the world keeping me afloat.
“This isn’t how we wanted it to happen,” Castle says to me, “but these things never usually go according to plan.” Adam and Kenji and I are being fitted for battle. We’re camped out in one of the larger training rooms with 5 others I’ve never met before. They’re in charge of weapons and armor. It’s incredible how every single person at Omega Point has a job. Everyone contributes. Everyone has a task.