“We’re just trying to help her figure out how to affect nonliving organisms,” Castle is saying. “Animals and humans we’ve figured out—we know one touch is sufficient. Plants don’t seem to factor into her abilities at all. But everything else? It’s … different. She doesn’t know how to handle that part yet, and I want to help her. That’s all we’re doing,” he says. “Helping Ms. Ferrars.”
Adam takes a step closer to me. “If you’re helping her figure out how to destroy nonliving things, why do you need me?”
For a second Castle actually looks defeated. “I don’t really know,” he says. “The unique nature of your relationship—it’s quite fascinating. Especially with everything we’ve learned so far, it’s—”
“What have you learned?” I jump in again.
“—entirely possible,” Castle is still saying, “that everything is connected in a way we don’t yet understand.”
Adam looks unconvinced. His lips are pressed into a thin line. He doesn’t look like he wants to answer.
Castle turns to me. Tries to sound excited. “What do you think? Are you interested?”
“Interested?” I look at Castle. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about. And I want to know why no one is answering my questions. What have you discovered about Adam?” I ask. “What’s wrong? Is something wrong?” Adam is breathing extra hard and trying not to show it; his hands keep clenching and unclenching. “Someone, please, tell me what’s going on.”
He’s studying me, confused, his eyebrows pulled together. “Mr. Kent,” he says, still looking at me. “Am I to understand that you have not yet shared our discoveries with Ms. Ferrars?”
“What discoveries?” My heart is racing hard now, so hard it’s beginning to hurt.
“That’s none of your business,” Adam snaps.
“She should know—”
“We don’t know anything yet!”
“We know enough.”
“Bullshit. We’re not done yet—”
“The only thing left is to test the two of you together—”
Adam steps directly in front of Castle, grabbing his breakfast tray with a little too much strength. “Maybe,” he says very, very carefully, “some other time.”
He turns to leave.
I touch his arm.
He stops. Drops his tray, pivots in my direction. There’s less than half an inch between us and I almost forget we’re standing in a crowded room. His breath is hot and his breathing shallow and the heat from his body is melting my blood only to splash it across my cheeks.
Panic is doing backflips in my bones.
“Everything is fine,” he says. “Everything is going to be fine. I promise.”
“I promise,” he says again, grabbing my hand. “I swear. I’m going to fix this—”
“Fix this?” I think I’m dreaming. I think I’m dying. “Fix what?” Something is breaking in my brain and something is happening without my permission and I’m lost, I’m so lost, I’m so much everything confused and I’m drowning in confusion. “Adam, I don’t underst—”
“I mean, really though?” Kenji is making his way back to our group. “You’re going to do that here? In front of everyone? Because these tables aren’t as comfortable as they look—”
Adam pulls back and slams into Kenji’s shoulder on his way out.
Is all I hear him say before he disappears.
Kenji lets out a low whistle.
Castle is calling Adam’s name, asking him to slow down, to speak to him, to discuss things in a rational manner. Adam never looks back.
“I told you he was moody,” Kenji mutters.
“He’s not moody,” I hear myself say, but the words feel distant, disconnected from my lips. I feel numb, like my arms have been hollowed out.
Where did I leave my voice I can’t find my voice I can’t find my
“So! You and me, huh?” Kenji claps his hands together. “Ready to get your ass kicked?”
“I want you to take me to wherever they went.”
Kenji is looking at me like I’ve just asked him to kick himself in the face. “Uh, yeah—how about a warm hell no to that request? Does that work for you? Because it works for me.”
“I need to know what’s going on.” I turn to him, desperate, feeling stupid. “You know, don’t you? You know what’s wrong—”
“Of course I know.” He crosses his arms. Levels a look at me. “I live with that poor bastard and I practically run this place. I know everything.”
“So why won’t you tell me? Kenji, please—”
“Yeah, um, I’m going to pass on that, but you know what I will do? I will help you to remove yourself the hell out of this dining hall where everyone is listening to everything we say.” This last bit he says extra loudly, looking around at the room, shaking his head. “Get back to your breakfasts, people. Nothing to see here.”
It’s only then that I realize what a spectacle we’ve made. Every eye in the room is blinking at me. I attempt a weak smile and a twitchy wave before allowing Kenji to shuffle me out of the room.
“No need to wave at the people, princess. It’s not a coronation ceremony.” He pulls me into one of the many long, dimly lit corridors.
“Tell me what’s happening.” I have to blink several times before my eyes adjust to the lighting. “This isn’t fair—everyone knows what’s going on except for me.”
He shrugs, leans one shoulder against the wall. “It’s not my place to tell. I mean, I like to mess with the guy, but I’m not an asshole. He asked me not to say anything. So I’m not going to say anything.”
“But—I mean—is he okay? Can you at least tell me if he’s okay?”
Kenji runs a hand over his eyes; exhales, annoyed. Shoots me a look. Says, “All right, like, have you ever seen a train wreck?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “I saw one when I was a kid. It was one of those big, crazy trains with a billion cars all hitched up together, totally derailed, half exploded. Shit was on fire and everyone was screaming and you just know people are either dead or they’re about to die and you really don’t want to watch but you just can’t look away, you know?” He nods. Bites the inside of his cheek. “This is kind of like that. Your boy is a freaking train wreck.”
I can’t feel my legs.
“I mean, I don’t know,” Kenji goes on. “Personally? I think he’s overreacting. Worse things have happened, right? Hell, aren’t we up to our earlobes in crazier shit? But no, Mr. Adam Kent doesn’t seem to know that. I don’t even think he sleeps anymore. And you know what,” he adds, leaning in, “I think he’s starting to freak James out a little, and to be honest it’s starting to piss me off because that kid is way too nice and way too cool to have to deal with Adam’s drama—”
But I’m not listening anymore.
I’m envisioning the worst possible scenarios, the worst possible outcomes. Horrible, terrifying things that all end with Adam dying in some miserable way. He must be sick, or he must have some kind of terrible affliction, or something that causes him to do things he can’t control or oh, God, no
“You have to tell me.”
I don’t recognize my own voice. Kenji is looking at me, shocked, wide-eyed, genuine fear written across his features and it’s only then that I realize I’ve pinned him against the wall. My 10 fingers are curled into his shirt, fistfuls of fabric clenched in each hand, and I can only imagine what I must look like to him right now.
The scariest part is that I don’t even care.
“You’re going to tell me something, Kenji. You have to. I need to know.”
“You, uh”—he licks his lips, looks around, laughs a nervous laugh—“you want to let go of me, maybe?”
“Will you help me?”
He scratches behind his hear. Cringes a little. “No?”
I slam him harder into the wall, recognize a rush of some wild kind of adrenaline burning in my veins. It’s strange, but I feel as though I could rip through the ground with my bare hands.
It seems like it would be easy. So easy.
“Okay—all right—goddamn.” Kenji is holding his arms up, breathing a little fast. “Just—how about you let me go, and I’ll, uh, I’ll take you to the research labs.”
“The research labs.”
“Yeah, that’s where they do the testing. It’s where we do all of our testing.”
“You promise you’ll take me if I let go?”
“Are you going to bash my brain into the wall if I don’t?”
“Probably,” I lie.
“Then yeah. I’ll take you. Damn.”
I drop him and stumble backward; make an effort to pull myself together. I feel a little embarrassed now that I’ve let go of him. Some part of me feels like I must’ve overreacted.
“I’m sorry about that,” I tell him. “But thank you. I appreciate your help.” I try to lift my chin with some dignity.
Kenji snorts. He’s looking at me like he has no idea who I am, like he’s not sure if he should laugh or applaud or run like hell in the opposite direction. He rubs the back of his neck, eyes intent on my face. He won’t stop staring.
“What?” I ask.
“How much do you weigh?”
“Wow. Is that how you talk to every girl you meet? That explains so much.”
“I’m about one hundred seventy-five pounds,” he says. “Of muscle.”
I stare at him. “Would you like an award?”
“Well, well, well,” he says, cocking his head, the barest hint of a smile flickering across his face. “Look who’s the smart-ass now.”
“I think you’re rubbing off on me,” I say.
But he’s not smiling anymore.
“Listen,” he says. “I’m not trying to flatter myself by pointing this out, but I could toss you across the room with my pinkie finger. You weigh, like, less than nothing. I’m almost twice your body mass.” He pauses. “So how the hell did you pin me against the wall?”
“What?” I frown. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you”—he points at me—“pinning me”—he points at himself—“against the wall.” He points at the wall.
“You mean you actually couldn’t move?” I blink. “I thought you were just afraid of touching me.”
“No,” he says. “I legit could not move. I could hardly breathe.”
“Have you ever done that before?”