- Unravel Me
But I don’t know what else to do.
“Juliette?” Adam is still holding me tight, still so close and warm and wonderful. “Are you okay?”
And I’m not sure what makes me ask it, but suddenly I need to know.
“Are you ever going to tell him?”
Adam pulls back, just an inch. “What?”
“Warner. Are you ever going to tell him the truth? About the two of you?”
Adam is blinking, stunned, caught off guard by my question. “No,” he finally says. “Never.”
“Because it takes a lot more than blood to be family,” he says. “And I want nothing to do with him. I’d like to be able to watch him die and feel no sympathy, no remorse. He’s the textbook definition of a monster,” Adam says to me. “Just like my dad. And I’ll drop dead before I recognize him as my brother.”
Suddenly I’m feeling like I might fall over.
Adam grabs my waist, tries to focus my eyes. “You’re still in shock,” he says. “We need to get you something to eat—or maybe some water—”
“It’s okay,” I tell him. “I’m okay.” I allow myself to enjoy one last second in his arms before I break away, needing to breathe. I keep trying to convince myself that Adam is right, that Warner has done terrible, awful things and I shouldn’t forgive him. I shouldn’t smile at him. I shouldn’t even talk to him. And then I want to scream because I don’t think my brain can handle the split personality I seem to be developing lately.
I tell Adam I need a minute. I tell him I need to stop by the bathroom before we head over to the medical wing and he says okay, he says he’ll wait for me.
He says he’ll wait for me until I’m ready.
And I tiptoe back into the dark tunnel to tell Warner that I have to leave, that I won’t be coming back after all, but when I squint into the darkness I can’t see a thing.
I look around.
He’s already gone.
We don’t have to do anything at all to die.
We can hide in a cupboard under the stairs our whole life and it’ll still find us. Death will show up wearing an invisible cloak and it will wave a magic wand and whisk us away when we least expect it. It will erase every trace of our existence on this earth and it will do all this work for free. It will ask for nothing in return. It will take a bow at our funeral and accept the accolades for a job well done and then it will disappear.
Living is a little more complex. There’s one thing we always have to do.
In and out, every single day in every hour minute and moment we must inhale whether we like it or not. Even as we plan to asphyxiate our hopes and dreams still we breathe. Even as we wither away and sell our dignity to the man on the corner we breathe. We breathe when we’re wrong, we breathe when we’re right, we breathe even as we slip off the ledge toward an early grave. It cannot be undone.
So I breathe.
I count all the steps I’ve climbed toward the noose hanging from the ceiling of my existence and I count out the number of times I’ve been stupid and I run out of numbers.
Kenji almost died today.
Because of me.
It’s still my fault that Adam and Warner were fighting. It’s still my fault that I stepped between them. It’s still my fault that Kenji felt the need to pull them apart and if I hadn’t been caught in the middle Kenji never would’ve been hurt.
And I’m standing here. Staring at him.
He’s barely breathing and I’m begging him. I’m begging him to do the one thing that matters. The only thing that matters. I need him to hold on but he’s not listening. He can’t hear me and I need him to be okay. I need him to pull through. I need him to breathe.
I need him.
Castle didn’t have much more to say.
Everyone was standing around, some wedged into the medical wing, others standing on the other side of the glass, watching silently. Castle gave a small speech about how we need to stick together, how we’re a family and if we don’t have each other then who do we have? He said we’re all scared, sure, but now is the time for us to support one another. Now is the time to band together and fight back. Now is the time, he said, for us to take back our world.
“Now is the time for us to live,” he said.
“We’ll postpone tomorrow’s departure just long enough for everyone to have a final breakfast together. We cannot go into battle divided,” he said. “We have to have faith in ourselves and in each other. Take a little more time in the morning to find peace with yourselves. After breakfast we leave. As one.”
“What about Kenji?” someone asked, and I was startled to hear the familiar voice.
James. He was standing there with his fists clenched, tearstains streaked across his face, his bottom lip trembling even as he fought to hide the pain in his voice.
My heart split clean in half.
“What do you mean?” Castle asked him.
“Will he fight tomorrow?” James demanded, sniffing back the last of his tears, fists beginning to shake. “He wants to fight tomorrow. He told me he wants to fight tomorrow.”
Castle’s face creased as it pulled together. He took his time responding. “I … I’m afraid I don’t think Kenji will be able to join us tomorrow. But perhaps,” he said, “perhaps you could stay and keep him company?”
James didn’t respond. He only stared at Castle. Then he stared at Kenji. He blinked several times before pushing through the crowd to clamber onto Kenji’s bed. Burrowed into his side and promptly fell asleep.
We all took that as our cue to leave.
Well. Everyone but me, Adam, Castle, and the girls. I find it interesting that everyone refers to Sonya and Sara as “the girls,” as if they’re the only girls in this entire place. They’re not. I don’t even know how they got that nickname and while a part of me wants to know, another part of me is too exhausted to ask.
I curl into my seat and stare at Kenji, who is struggling to breathe in and out. I prop my head up on my fist, fighting the sleep weaving its way into my consciousness. I don’t deserve to sleep. I should stay here all night and watch over him. I would, too, if I could touch him without destroying his life.
“You two should really get to bed.”
I jolt awake, jerking up, not realizing I’d actually dozed off for a second. Castle is staring at me with a soft, strange look on his face.
“I’m not tired,” I lie.
“Go to bed,” he says. “We have a big day tomorrow. You need to sleep.”
“I can walk her out,” Adam says. He moves to stand up. “And then I can be right back—”
“Please.” Castle cuts him off. “Go. I’ll be fine with the girls.”
“But you need to sleep more than we do,” I tell him.
Castle smiles a sad smile. “I’m afraid I won’t be getting any sleep tonight.”
He turns to look at Kenji, his eyes crinkling in happiness or pain or something in between. “Did you know,” Castle says to us, “that I’ve known Kenji since he was a small boy? I found him shortly after I’d built Omega Point. He grew up here. When I first met him he was living in an old shopping cart he’d found on the side of the highway.” Castle pauses. “Has he ever told you that story?”
Adam sits back down. I’m suddenly wide-awake. “No,” we both say at the same time.
“Ah—forgive me.” Castle shakes his head. “I shouldn’t waste your time with these things,” he says. “I think there’s too much on my mind right now. I’m forgetting which stories to keep to myself.”
“No—please—I want to know,” I tell him. “Really.”
Castle stares into his hands. Smiles a little. “There’s not much to it,” he says. “Kenji has never talked to me about what happened to his parents, and I try not to ask. All he ever had was a name and an age. I stumbled upon him quite accidentally. He was just a boy sitting in a shopping cart. Far from civilization. It was the dead of winter and he was wearing nothing but an old T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants a few sizes too big for him. He looked like he was freezing, like he could use a few meals and place to sleep. I couldn’t just walk away,” Castle says. “I couldn’t just leave him there. So, I asked him if he was hungry.”
He stops, remembering.
“Kenji didn’t say a single thing for at least thirty seconds. He simply stared at me. I almost walked away, thinking I’d frightened him. But then, finally, he reached out, grabbed my hand, placed it in his palm and shook it. Very hard. And then he said, ‘Hello, sir. My name is Kenji Kishimoto and I am nine years old. It’s very nice to meet you.’” Castle laughs out loud, his eyes shining with an emotion that betrays his smiles. “He must’ve been starving, the poor kid. He always,” Castle says, blinking up at the ceiling now, “he always had a strong, determined sort of personality. So much pride.
Unstoppable, that boy.”
We’re all silent for a while.
“I had no idea,” Adam says, “that you two were so close.”
Castle stands up. Looks around at us and smiles too brightly, too tightly. Says, “Yes. Well, I’m sure he’s going to be just fine. He’ll be just fine in the morning, so you two should definitely get some sleep.”
“Are you su—”
“Yes, please, get to bed. I’ll be fine here with the girls, I promise.”
So we get up. We get up and Adam manages to lift James from Kenji’s bed and into his arms without waking him. And we walk out.
I glance back.
I see Castle fall into his chair and drop his head into his hands and rest his elbows on his knees. I see him reach out a shaky hand to rest on Kenji’s leg and I wonder at how much I still don’t know about these people I live with. How little I’ve allowed myself to become a part of their world.
And I know I want to change that.
Adam walks me to my room.
It’s been lights-out for about an hour now, and, with the exception of faint emergency lights glowing every few feet, everything is, quite literally, out. It’s absolute blackness, and even still, the guards on patrol manage to spot us only to warn us to go straight to our separate quarters.
Adam and I don’t really speak until we reach the mouth of the women’s wing. There’s so much tension, so many unspoken worries between us. So many thoughts about today and tomorrow and the many weeks we’ve already spent together. So much we don’t know about what’s already happening to us and what will eventually happen to us. Just looking at him, being so close and being so far away from him—it’s painful.
I want so desperately to bridge the gap between our bodies. I want to press my lips to every part of him and I want to savor the scent of his skin, the strength in his limbs, in his heart. I want to wrap myself in the warmth and reassurance I’ve come to rely on.
In other ways, I’ve come to realize that being away from him has forced me to rely on myself. To allow myself to be scared and to find my own way through it. I’ve had to train without him, fight without him, face Warner and Anderson and the chaos of my mind all without him by my side. And I feel different now. I feel stronger since putting space between us.