But morning feels like a million years from now.
The twins are still asleep when someone knocks. Sonya and Sara showed me where the girls’ bathrooms are so I had a chance to shower last night, but I’m still wearing Kenji’s oversized clothes. I feel a little ridiculous as I pad my way toward the door.
I open it.
Blink. “Hey, Winston.”
He looks me up and down. “Castle thought you might like to change out of those clothes.”
“You have something for me to wear?”
“Yeah—remember? We made you something custom.”
“Oh. Wow. Yeah, that sounds great.”
I slip outside silently, following Winston through the dark halls. The underground world is quiet, its inhabitants still asleep. I ask Winston why we’re up so early.
“I figured you’d want to meet everyone at breakfast. This way you can jump into the regular routine of things around here—even get started on your training.” He glances back. “We all have to learn how to harness our abilities in the most effective manner possible. It’s no good having no control over your body.”
“Wait—you have an ability, too?”
“There are exactly fifty-six of us who do. The rest are our family members, children, or close friends who help out with everything else. So yes, I’m one of those fifty-six. So are you.”
I’m nearly stepping on his feet in an effort to keep up with his long legs. “So what can you do?”
He doesn’t answer. And I can’t be sure, but I think he’s blushing.
“I’m sorry—” I backpedal. “I don’t mean to pry—I shouldn’t have asked—”
“It’s okay,” he cuts me off. “I just think it’s kind of stupid.” He laughs a short, hard laugh. “Of all the things I should be able to do,” he sighs. “At least you can do something interesting.”
I stop walking, stunned. Horrified. “You think this is a competition? To see which magic trick is more twisted? To see who can inflict the most pain?”
“That’s not what I meant—”
“I don’t think it’s interesting to be able to kill someone by accident. I don’t think it’s interesting to be afraid to touch a living thing.”
His jaw is tense. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just . . . I wish I were more useful. That’s all.”
I cross my arms. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
He rolls his eyes. Runs a hand through his hair. “I’m just—I’m very . . . flexible,” he says.
It takes me a moment to process his admission. “Like—you can bend yourself into a pretzel?”
“Sure. Or stretch myself if I need to.”
I’m gawking so openly I must be embarrassing myself. “Can I see?”
He bites his lip. Readjusts his glasses. Looks both ways down the empty hall. And loops one arm around his waist. Twice.
I’m gaping like a dead fish. “Wow.”
“It’s stupid,” he grumbles. “And useless.”
“Are you insane?” I lean back to look at him. “That’s incredible.”
But his arm is back to normal and he’s walking away again. I have to run to catch up.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I try to tell him. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” But he’s not listening and I’m wondering when I became a motivational speaker. When I made the switch from hating myself to accepting myself. When it became okay for me to choose my own life.
Winston leads me to the room I met him in. The same white walls. The same small bed. Only this time, Adam and Kenji are waiting inside. My heart kicks into gear and I’m suddenly nervous.
Adam is up. He’s standing on his own and he looks perfect. Beautiful. Unharmed. There’s not a single drop of blood on his body. He walks forward with only a slight discomfort, smiles at me with no difficulty. His skin is a little paler than normal, but positively radiant compared to his complexion the night we arrived. His natural tan offsets a pair of eyes a shade of blue in a midnight sky.
“Juliette,” he says.
I can’t stop staring at him. Marveling at him. Amazed by how incredible it feels to know that he’s all right. “Hey.” I manage to smile.
“Good morning to you, too,” Kenji interjects.
I startle. I’m pinker than a summer sunset, and shrinking just as quickly. “Oh, hi.” I wave a limp hand in his direction.
“All right. Let’s get this over with, shall we?” Winston walks toward one of the walls, which turns out to be a closet. There’s one pop of color inside. He pulls it off the hanger.
“Can I, uh, have a moment alone with her?”
Winston takes off his glasses. Rubs his eyes. “I need to follow protocol. I have to explain everything—”
“I know—that’s fine,” Adam says. “You can do it after. I just need a minute, I promise. I haven’t really had a chance to talk to her since we got here.”
Winston frowns. Looks at me. Looks at Adam. Sighs.
“All right. But then we’ll be back. I need to make sure everything fits and I have to check the—”
“Perfect. That sounds great. Thanks, man—” And he’s shoving them out the door.
“Wait!” Winston slams the door back open. “At least get her to put the suit on while we’re outside. That way it won’t be a complete waste of my time.”
Adam stares at the material in Winston’s outstretched hand. Winston rubs his forehead and mumbles something about people always wasting his time, and Adam suppresses a grin. Glances at me. I shrug. “Okay,” he says, grabbing the suit. “But now you have to get out—” And pushes them both back into the hallway.
“We’re going to be right outside,” Kenji shouts. “Like five seconds away—”
Adam closes the door behind them. Turns around. His eyes are burning into me.
I don’t know how to calm my heart. I try to speak and fail.
He finds his voice first. “I never had a chance to say thank you,” he says.
I drop my eyes. Pretend heat isn’t fighting its way up my face. Pinch myself for no real reason.
He steps forward. Leans in. Takes my hands. “Juliette.”
I peek up at him.
“You saved my life.”
I bite the inside of my cheek. It seems so silly to say “You’re welcome” for saving someone’s life. I don’t know what to do. “I’m just so happy you’re okay,” is all I manage.
He’s staring at my lips and I’m aching everywhere. If he kisses me right now I don’t think I’ll let him stop. He takes a sharp breath. Seems to remember he’s holding something. “Oh. Maybe you should put this on?” He hands me a slinky piece of something purple. It looks tiny. Like a jumpsuit that could fit a small child. It weighs less than nothing.
I offer Adam a blank stare.
He grins. “Try it on.”
I stare differently.
“Oh.” He jumps back, a little bashful. “Right—I’ll just—I’ll turn around—”
I wait until his back is to me before I exhale. I look around. There don’t seem to be any mirrors in this room. I shed the oversized outfit. Drop each piece on the floor. I’m standing here, completely naked, and for a moment I’m too petrified to move. But Adam doesn’t turn around. He doesn’t say a word. I examine the shiny purple material. I imagine it’s supposed to stretch.
In fact, it’s unexpectedly easy to slip on—like it was designed specifically for my body. There’s built-in lining for where underwear is supposed to be, extra support for my chest, a collar that goes right up to my neck, sleeves that touch my wrists, legs that touch my ankles, a zipper that pulls it all together. I examine the ultrathin material. It feels like I’m wearing nothing. It’s the richest shade of purple, skintight but not tight at all. It’s breathable, oddly comfortable.
“How does it look . . . ?” Adam asks. He sounds nervous.
“Can you help me zip it up?”
He turns around. His lips part, falter, form an incredible smile. His eyebrows are touching the ceiling. I’m blushing so hard I don’t even know where to look. He steps forward and I turn around, only too eager to hide my face, the butterflies racing through my chest. Adam touches my hair and I realize it’s almost all the way down my back. Maybe it’s time I cut it.
His fingers are so careful. He pushes the waves over my shoulder so they won’t get caught in the zipper. Trails a line from the base of my neck down to the start of the seam, down to the dip in my lower back. I can hardly keep myself upright. My spine is conducting enough electricity to power a city. He takes his time zipping me up. Runs his hands down the length of my silhouette. “God you look incredible,” is the first thing he says to me.
I turn around. He’s pressing his fist to his mouth, trying to hide his smile, trying to stop the words from tumbling out of his lips.
I touch the material. Decide I should probably say something. “It’s very . . . comfortable.”
I look up.
He’s shaking his head. “It’s sexy as hell.”
He steps forward. Slips me into his arms.
“I look like a gymnast,” I mumble.
“No,” he whispers, hot hot hot against my lips. “You look like a superhero.”
I’m still tingling when Kenji and Winston burst back into the room.
“So how is this suit supposed to make my life easier?” I ask anyone who’ll answer.
But Kenji is frozen in place, staring without apology. Opens his mouth. Closes it. Shoves his hands into his pockets.
Winston steps in. “It’s supposed to help with the touching issue,” he tells me. “You don’t have to worry about being covered from head to toe in this unpredictable weather. The material is designed to keep you cool or keep you warm based on the temperature. It’s light and breathable so your skin doesn’t suffocate. It will keep you safe from hurting someone unintentionally, but offers you the flexibility of touching someone . . . intentionally, too. If you ever needed to.”
He smiles. Big. “You’re welcome.”
I study the suit more closely. Realize something. “But my hands and feet are totally exposed. How’s that supposed to—”
“Oh—shoot,” Winston interrupts. “I almost forgot.” He runs over to the closet and pulls out a pair of flat-heeled black ankle boots and a pair of black gloves that stop right before the elbow. He hands them to me. I study the soft leather of the accessories and marvel at the springy, flexible build of the boots. I could do ballet and run a mile in these shoes. “These should fit you,” he says. “They complete the outfit.”
I slip them on and tip up on my toes, luxuriate in the feeling of my new outfit. I feel invincible. I really wish I had a mirror for once in my life. I look from Kenji to Adam to Winston. “What do you think? Is it . . . okay?”