But they stole everything.
They took everything. My life. My future. My sanity. My freedom.
They filled our world with weapons aimed at our foreheads and smiled as they shot 16 candles right through our future. They killed those strong enough to fight back and locked up the freaks who failed to live up to their utopian expectations. People like me.
Here is proof of their corruption.
My skin is cold-sweat, my fingers trembling with disgust, my legs unable to withstand the waste the waste the waste the selfish waste in these 4 walls. I’m seeing red everywhere. The blood of bodies spattered against the windows, spilled across the carpets, dripping from the chandeliers.
I’m on my knees, my body cracking from the pain I’ve swallowed so many times, heaving with sobs I can no longer suppress, my dignity dissolving in my tears, the agony of this past week ripping my skin to shreds.
I can’t ever breathe.
I can’t catch the oxygen around me and I’m dry-heaving into my shirt and I hear voices and see faces I don’t recognize, wisps of words wicked away by confusion, thoughts scrambled so many times I don’t know if I’m even conscious anymore.
I don’t know if I’ve officially lost my mind.
I’m in the air. I’m a bag of feathers in his arms and he’s breaking through soldiers crowding around for a glimpse of the commotion and for a moment I don’t want to care that I shouldn’t want this so much. I want to forget that I’m supposed to hate him, that he betrayed me, that he’s working for the same people who are trying to destroy the very little that’s left of humanity and my face is buried in the soft material of his shirt and my cheek is pressed against his chest and he smells like strength and courage and the world drowning in rain. I don’t want him to ever ever ever ever let go of my body. I wish I could touch his skin, I wish there were no barriers between us.
Reality slaps me in the face.
Mortification muddles my brain, desperate humiliation clouds my judgment; red paints my face, bleeds through my skin. I clutch at his shirt.
“You can kill me,” I tell him. “You have guns—” I’m wriggling out of his grip and he tightens his hold around my body. His face shows no emotion but a sudden strain in his jaw, an unmistakable tension in his arms. “You can just kill me—” I plead.
“Juliette.” His voice is solid with an edge of desperation. “Please.”
I’m numb again. Powerless all over again. Melting from within, life seeping out of my limbs.
We’re standing in front of a door.
Adam takes a key card and swipes it against a black pane of glass fitted into the small space beside the handle, and the stainless steel door slides out of place. We step inside.
We’re all alone in a new room.
“Please don’t let go of me put me down,” I tell him.
There’s a queen-size bed in the middle of the space, lush carpet gracing the floors, an armoire flush against the wall, light fixtures glittering from the ceiling. The beauty is so tainted I can’t stand the sight of it. Adam gentles me onto the soft mattress and takes a small step backward.
“You’ll be staying here for a while, I think,” is all he says.
I squeeze my eyes shut. I don’t want to think about the inevitable torture awaiting me. “Please,” I tell him. “I’d like to be left alone.”
A deep sigh. “That’s not exactly an option.”
“What do you mean?” I spin around.
“I have to watch you, Juliette.” He says my name like a whisper. My heart my heart my heart. “Warner wants you to understand what he’s offering you, but you’re still considered . . . a threat. He’s made you my assignment. I can’t leave.”
I don’t know whether to be thrilled or horrified. I’m horrified. “You have to live with me?”
“I live in the barracks on the opposite end of this building. With the other soldiers. But, yeah.” He clears his throat. He’s not looking at me. “I’ll be moving in.”
There’s an ache in the pit of my stomach that’s gnawing on my nerves. I want to hate him and judge him and scream forever but I’m failing because all I see is an 8-year-old boy who doesn’t remember that he used to be the kindest person I ever knew.
I don’t want to believe this is happening.
I close my eyes and curl my head into my knees.
“You have to get dressed,” he says after a moment.
I pop my head up. I blink at him like I can’t understand what he’s saying. “I am dressed.”
He clears his throat again but tries to be quiet about it. “There’s a bathroom through here.” He points. I see a door connected to the room and I’m suddenly curious. I’ve heard stories about people with bathrooms in their bedrooms. I guess they’re not exactly in the bedroom, but they’re close enough. I slip off the bed and follow his finger. As soon as I open the door he resumes speaking. “You can shower and change in here. The bathroom . . . it’s the only place there are no cameras,” he adds, his voice trailing off.
There are cameras in my room.
“You can find clothes in there.” He nods to the armoire. He suddenly looks uncomfortable.
“And you can’t leave?” I ask.
He rubs his forehead and sits down on the bed. He sighs. “You have to get ready. Warner will be expecting you for dinner.”
“Dinner?” My eyes are the size of the moon.
Adam looks grim. “Yeah.”
“He’s not going to hurt me?” I’m ashamed at the relief in my voice, at the unexpected tension I’ve released, at the fear I didn’t know I was harboring. “He’s going to give me dinner?” I’m starving my stomach is a tortured pit of starvation I’m so hungry so hungry so hungry I can’t even imagine what real food must taste like.
Adam’s face is inscrutable again. “You should hurry. I can show you how everything works.”
I don’t have time to protest before he’s in the bathroom and I’ve followed him inside. The door is still open and he’s standing in the middle of the small space with his back to me and I can’t understand why. “I already know how to use the bathroom,” I tell him. I used to live in a regular home. I used to have a family.
He turns around very, very slowly and I begin to panic. He finally lifts his head but his eyes are darting in every direction. When he looks at me his eyes narrow; his forehead is tight. His right hand curls into a fist and his left hand lifts one finger to his lips. He’s telling me to be quiet.
Every organ in my body falls to the floor.
I knew something was coming but I didn’t know it’d be Adam. I didn’t think he’d be the one to hurt me, to torture me, to make me wish for death more than I ever have before. I don’t even realize I’m crying until I hear the whimper and feel the silent tears stream down my face and I’m ashamed so ashamed so ashamed of my weakness but a part of me doesn’t care. I’m tempted to beg, to ask for mercy, to steal his gun and shoot myself first. Dignity is the only thing I have left.
He seems to register my sudden hysteria because his eyes snap open and his mouth falls to the floor. “No, God, Juliette—I’m not—” He swears under his breath. He pumps his fist against his forehead and turns away, sighing heavily, pacing the length of the small space. He swears again.
He walks out the door and doesn’t look back.
5 full minutes under piping hot water, 2 bars of soap both smelling of lavender, a bottle of shampoo meant only for my hair, and the touch of soft, plush towels I dare to wrap around my body and I begin to understand.
They want me to forget.
They think they can wash away my memories, my loyalties, my priorities with a few hot meals and a room with a view. They think I am so easily purchased.
Warner doesn’t seem to understand that I grew up with nothing and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want the clothes or the perfect shoes or the expensive anything. I didn’t want to be draped in silk. All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart. I saw the world and its lack of compassion, its harsh, grating judgment, and its cold, resentful eyes. I saw it all around me.
I had so much time to listen.
To study people and places and possibilities. All I had to do was open my eyes. All I had to do was open a book—to see the stories bleeding from page to page. To see the memories etched onto paper.
I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.
They want to delete every point of punctuation in my life from this earth and I don’t think I can let that happen.
I slip back into my old clothes and tiptoe into the bedroom only to find it abandoned. Adam is gone even though he said he would stay. I don’t understand him I don’t understand his actions I don’t understand my disappointment. I wish I didn’t love the freshness of my skin, the feel of being perfectly clean after so long; I don’t understand why I still haven’t looked in the mirror, why I’m afraid of what I’ll see, why I’m not sure if I’ll recognize the face that might stare back at me.
I open the armoire.
It’s bursting with dresses and shoes and shirts and pants and clothing of every kind, colors so vivid they hurt my eyes, material I’ve only ever heard of, the kind I’m almost afraid to touch. The sizes are perfect too perfect.
They’ve been waiting for me.
The sky is raining bricks right into my skull.
I’ve been neglected abandoned ostracized and dragged from my home. I’ve been poked prodded tested and thrown in a cell. I’ve been studied. I’ve been starved. I’ve been tempted with friendship only to be left betrayed and trapped into this nightmare I’m expected to be grateful for. My parents. My teachers. Adam. Warner. The Reestablishment. I am expendable to all of them.
They think I’m a doll they can dress up and twist into prostration.
But they’re wrong.
“Warner is waiting for you.”
I spin around and fall back against the armoire, slamming it closed in the craze of panic clutching my heart. I steady myself and fold away my fear when I see Adam standing at the door. His mouth moves for a moment but he says nothing. Eventually he steps forward so forward until he’s close enough to touch.
He reaches past me to reopen the door hiding the things I’m embarrassed to know exist. “These are all for you,” he says without looking at me, his fingers touching the hem of a purple dress, a rich plum color good enough to eat.
“I already have clothes.” My hands smooth out the wrinkles in my dirty, ragged outfit.