Adam is staring, too. He’s standing with his tray in his hands, his head cocked and his eyes confused. He smiles a tentative sort of smile when our gazes meet.
I head toward him.
“Hey—wait up, kid.” Kenji jumps up to grab my arm. “You know I was just messing with—” He follows my eyes to where Adam is standing. Slaps a palm to his forehead. “Of course! How could I forget? You’re in love with my roommate.”
I turn to face him. “Listen, I’m grateful you’re going to help me train now—really, I am. Thank you for that. But you can’t go around proclaiming your fake love to me—especially not in front of Adam—and you have to let me cross this room before the breakfast hour is over, okay? I hardly ever get to see him.”
Kenji nods very slowly, looks a little solemn. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I get it.”
“Adam is jealous of our love.”
“Just go get your food!” I push him, hard, fighting back an exasperated laugh.
Kenji is one of the only people here—with the exception of Adam, of course—who isn’t afraid to touch me. In truth, no one really has anything to fear when I’m wearing this suit, but I usually take my gloves off when I eat and my reputation is always walking 5 feet ahead of me. People keep their distance. And even though I accidentally attacked Kenji once, he’s not afraid. I think it would take an astronomical amount of something horrible to get him down.
I admire that about him.
Adam doesn’t say much when we meet. He doesn’t have to say more than “Hey,” because his lips quirk up on one side and I can already see him standing a little taller, a little tighter, a little tenser. And I don’t know much about anything in this world but I do know how to read the book written in his eyes.
The way he looks at me.
His eyes are heavy now in a way that worries me, but his gaze is still so tender, so focused and full of feeling that I can hardly keep myself out of his arms when I’m around him. I find myself watching him do the simplest things—shifting his weight, grabbing a tray, nodding good morning to someone—just to track the movement of his body. My moments with him are so few that my chest is always too tight, my heart too spastic. He makes me want to be impractical all the time.
He never lets go of my hand.
“You okay?” I ask him, still feeling a little apprehensive about the night before.
He nods. Tries to smile. “Yeah. I, uh …” Clears his throat. Takes a deep breath. Looks away. “Yeah, I’m sorry about last night. I kind of … I freaked out a little.”
“About what, though?”
He’s looking over my shoulder. Frowning.
“Why were you freaked out?”
His eyes meet mine again. Wide. Round. “What? Nothing.”
“I don’t understa—”
“Why the hell are you guys taking so long?”
I spin around. Kenji is standing just behind me, so much food piled on his tray I’m surprised no one said anything. He must’ve convinced the cooks to give him extra.
“Well?” Kenji is staring, unblinking, waiting for us to respond. He finally cocks his head backward, in a motion that says follow me, before walking away.
Adam blows out his breath and looks so distracted that I decide to drop the subject of last night. Soon. We’ll talk soon. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m sure it’s nothing at all.
We’ll talk soon and everything is going to be fine.
Kenji is waiting for us at an empty table.
James used to join us at mealtimes, but now he’s friends with the handful of younger kids at Omega Point, and prefers sitting with them. He seems the happiest of all of us to be here—and I’m happy he’s happy—but I have to admit I miss his company. I’m afraid to mention it though; sometimes I’m not sure if I want to know why he doesn’t spend time with Adam when I’m around. I don’t think I want to know if the other kids managed to convince him that I’m dangerous. I mean, I am dangerous, but I just
Adam sits down on the bench seat and I slide in next to him. Kenji sits across from us. Adam and I hide our linked hands under the table and I allow myself to enjoy the simple luxury of his proximity. I’m still wearing my gloves but just being this close to him is enough; flowers are blooming in my stomach, the soft petals tickling every inch of my nervous system. It’s like I’ve been granted 3 wishes: to touch, to taste, to feel. It’s the strangest phenomenon. A crazy happy impossibility wrapped in tissue paper, tied with a bow, tucked away in my heart.
It often feels like a privilege I don’t deserve.
Adam shifts so the length of his leg is pressed against mine.
I look up to find him smiling at me, a secret, tiny sort of smile that says so many things, the kinds of things no one should be saying at a breakfast table. I force myself to breathe as I suppress a grin. I turn to focus on my food. Hope I’m not blushing.
Adam leans into my ear. I feel the soft whispers of his breath just before he begins to speak.
“You guys are disgusting, you know that, right?”
I look up, startled, and find Kenji frozen midmovement, his spoon halfway to his mouth, his head cocked in our direction. He gestures with his spoon at our faces. “What the hell is this? You guys playing footsie under the table or someshit?”
Adam moves away from me, just an inch or 2, and exhales a deep, irritated sigh. “You know, if you don’t like it, you can leave.” He nods at the tables around us. “No one asked you to sit here.”
This is Adam making a concerted effort to be nice to Kenji. The 2 of them were friends back on base, but somehow Kenji knows exactly how to provoke Adam. I almost forget for a moment that they’re roommates.
I wonder what it must be like for them to live together.
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Kenji says. “I told you this morning that I had to sit with you guys. Castle wants me to help the two of you adjust.” He snorts. Nods in my direction. “Listen, I don’t have a clue what you see in this guy,” he says, “but you should try living with him. The man is moody as hell.”
“I am not moody—”
“Yeah, bro.” Kenji puts his utensils down. “You are moody. It’s always ‘Shut up, Kenji.’ ‘Go to sleep, Kenji.’ ‘No one wants to see you naked, Kenji.’ When I know for a fact that there are thousands of people who would love to see me naked—”
“How long do you have to sit here?” Adam looks away, rubs his eyes with his free hand.
Kenji sits up straighter. Picks up his spoon only to stab it through the air again. “You should consider yourself lucky that I’m sitting at your table. I’m making you cool by association.”
I feel Adam tense beside me and decide to intervene. “Hey, can we talk about something else?”
Kenji grunts. Rolls his eyes. Shovels another spoonful of breakfast into his mouth.
Now that I’m paying closer attention, I can see the weariness in Adam’s eyes, the heaviness in his brow, the stiff set of his shoulders. I can’t help but wonder what he’s going through. What he’s not telling me. I tug on Adam’s hand a little and he turns to me.
“You sure you’re okay?” I whisper. I feel like I keep asking him the same question over and over and over
His eyes immediately soften, looking tired but slightly amused. His hand releases mine under the table just to rest on my lap, just to slip down my thigh, and I almost lose control of my vocabulary before he leaves a light kiss in my hair. I swallow too hard, almost drop my fork on the floor. It takes me a moment to remember that he hasn’t actually answered my question. It’s not until he’s looked away, staring at his food, when he finally nods, says, “I’m okay.” But I’m not breathing and his hand is still tracing patterns on my leg.
“Ms. Ferrars? Mr. Kent?”
I sit up so fast I slam my knuckles under the table at the sound of Castle’s voice. There’s something about his presence that makes me feel like he’s my teacher, like I’ve been caught misbehaving in class. Adam, on the other hand, doesn’t seem remotely startled.
I cling to Adam’s fingers as I lift my head.
Castle is standing over our table and Kenji is leaving to deposit his bowl in the kitchen. He claps Castle on the back like they’re old friends and Castle flashes Kenji a warm smile as he passes.
“I’ll be right back,” Kenji shouts over his shoulder, twisting to flash us an overly enthusiastic thumbs-up. “Try not to get naked in front of everyone, okay? There are kids in here.”
I cringe and glance at Adam but he seems oddly focused on his food. He hasn’t said a word since Castle arrived.
I decide to answer for the both of us. Paste on a bright smile. “Good morning.”
Castle nods, touches the lapel of his blazer; his stature is strong and poised. He beams at me. “I just came to say hello and to check in. I’m so happy to see that you’re expanding your circle of friends, Ms. Ferrars.”
“Oh. Thank you. But I can’t take credit for the idea,” I point out. “You’re the one who told me to sit with Kenji.”
Castle’s smile is a little too tight. “Yes. Well,” he says, “I’m happy to see that you took my advice.”
I nod at my food. Rub absently at my forehead. Adam looks like he’s not even breathing. I’m about to say something when Castle cuts me off. “So, Mr. Kent,” he says. “Did Ms. Ferrars tell you she’ll be training with Kenji now? I’m hoping it will help her progress.”
Adam doesn’t answer.
Castle soldiers on. “I actually thought it might be interesting for her to work with you, too. As long as I’m there to supervise.”
Adam’s eyes snap up to attention. Alarmed. “What are you talking about?”
“Well—” Castle pauses. I watch his gaze shift between the two of us. “I thought it would be interesting to run some tests on you and her. Together.”
Adam stands up so quickly he almost bangs his knee into the table. “Absolutely not.”
“Mr. Kent—,” Castle starts.
“There’s no chance in hell—”
“It’s her choice to make—”
“I don’t want to discuss this here—”
I jump to my feet. Adam looks ready to set something on fire. His fists are clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed into a tight glare; his forehead is taut, his entire frame shaking with energy and anxiety.
“What is going on?” I demand.
Castle shakes his head. He’s not addressing me when he speaks. “I only want to see what happens when she touches you. That’s it.”
“Are you insane—”
“This is for her,” Castle continues, his voice careful, extra calm. “It has nothing to do with your progress—”
“What progress?” I cut in.