Shadow Me

Chapter 7

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Chapter

They clearly have crazy chemistry.

Their relationship never made a lot of sense to me—I couldn’t understand how someone like Warner could be an emotional partner to anyone, much less someone like Juliette: a girl who eats, sleeps, and breathes emotion. I rarely saw him emote anything. I worried that Juliette was giving him too much credit, that she put up with too much of his bullshit in exchange for—I don’t even know what. A sociopath with an extensive coat collection?

Mostly, I worried that she wasn’t getting the kind of love she deserved.

But now, suddenly—

Their relationship makes sense. Suddenly everything she’s ever said to me about him makes sense. I still don’t think I understand Warner, but it’s obvious that something about her lights a fire in him. He looks alive when she’s in his arms. Human like I’ve never seen him before.

Like he’s in love.

And not only in love, but beyond salvation. When they break apart they both look a little crazy, but Warner looks especially unhinged. His body is shaking. And when she suddenly takes off running down the hall, I know this won’t end well.

My heart aches. For both of them.

I watch as Warner slumps back, against the wall, sinking into the stone until his limbs give out. He collapses onto the floor.

“I’ll talk to him,” Castle says, and the devastated look on his face surprises me. “You go find Ms. Ferrars. She shouldn’t be alone right now.”

I take a tight breath. “Got it.” And then: “Good luck.”

He only nods.

I have to pound on Juliette’s door a few times before she finally opens it. She cracks it open an inch, says, “Never mind,” and then tries to slam it closed.

I catch the door with my boot.

“Never mind what?” I lean my shoulder into the door, and with a little shove, I manage to squeeze my way inside. “What’s going on?”

She stalks across the room, as far away from me as she can get.

I don’t understand this. I don’t understand why she’s treating me like this. And I open my mouth to say exactly that when she says—

“Never mind, I don’t want to talk to any of you. Please go away. Or maybe you can all go to hell. I don’t actually care.”

I flinch. Her words land like physical blows. She’s talking to me like I’m the enemy, and I can’t believe it. “Are you—wait, are you serious right now?”

“Nazeera and I are leaving for the symposium in an hour,” she snaps at me. She still won’t look at me, though. “I have to get ready.”

“What?” First of all, when the hell did she become best friends with Nazeera? And second of all: “What’s happening, J? What’s wrong with you?”

She spins around, her face a stunning caricature. She looks mutinous. “What’s wrong with me? Oh, like you don’t know?”

The force of her anger sends me a step back. I remind myself that this girl could probably kill me with the twitch of her hand if she wanted to. “I mean, I heard about what happened with Warner, yeah, but I’m pretty sure I just saw you guys making out in the hallway, so I’m, uh, really confused—”

“He lied to me, Kenji. He lied to me this whole time. About so many things. And so did Castle. So did you—”

“Wait, what?” This time I grab her arm before she has a chance to walk away again. “Wait—I didn’t lie to you about shit. Don’t mix me up in this mess. I had nothing to do with any of it. Hell, I still haven’t figured out what to say to Castle. I can’t believe he kept all of this from me.”

Juliette goes suddenly still. Her eyes widen, bright with unshed tears. And then, finally, I understand. She thought I’d betrayed her, too.

“You weren’t in on all this?” she whispers. “With Castle?”

“Uh-uh. No way.” I take a step forward. “I had no clue about any of this insanity until Warner told me about it yesterday.”

She stares at me, still uncertain.

And I can’t help it; I roll my eyes.

“Well, how am I supposed to trust you?” she says, her voice breaking. “Everyone’s been lying to me—”

“J,” I say, “c’mon.” I shake my head, hard. I can’t believe I even have to say this. I can’t believe she doubted me—that she didn’t talk to me about this sooner. “You know me,” I say to her. “You know I don’t bullshit. That’s not my style.”

A single tear escapes down the side of her face and the sight of it is simultaneously heartbreaking and reassuring. This is the girl I know. The friend I love. She’s all heart.

She whispers, “You promise?”

“Hey.” I hold out my hand. “Come here, kid.”

She still seems a little skeptical, but she takes the necessary steps forward and I reel her in, pulling her against my chest and squeezing tight. She’s so tiny. Like a little bird with hollow bones. You’d never know she was technically invincible. That she could probably melt the skin off my face if she wanted to. I squeeze a little tighter, run a hand up and down her back in a comforting, familiar gesture, and I feel her finally relax. I feel the exact moment when the tension leaves her body, when she collapses fully against my chest. Her tears soak through my shirt, hot and unrelenting.

“You’re going to be okay,” I whisper. “I promise.”

“Liar.”

I smile. “Well, there’s a fifty percent chance I’m right.”

“Kenji?”

“Mm?”

“If I find out you’re lying to me about any of this, I swear to God I will rip all the bones out of your body.”

I almost choke on a sudden, surprised laugh. “Uh, yeah, okay.”

“I’m serious.”

“Uh-huh.” I pat her head. So fuzzy.

“I will.”

“I know, princess. I know.”

We settle into a comfortable silence, the two of us still holding on, and I’m thinking about how important this relationship is to me—how important Juliette is to me—when she says, suddenly:

“Kenji?”

“Mm?”

“They’re going to destroy Sector 45.”

“Who is?”

“Everyone.”

Shock straightens my spine. I pull back, confused. “Everyone who?”

“All the other supreme commanders,” Juliette says. “Nazeera told me everything.”

And then, suddenly, I get it.

Her new friendship with Nazeera.

This must be the secret Warner said she was hiding—Nazeera must be a traitor to The Reestablishment. It’s either that, or she’s lying to all of us.

The latter doesn’t seem likely, though.

Maybe I’m being foolishly optimistic, but Nazeera practically said as much to me the other night with her whole speech about wearing a symbol of resistance and hating her dad and honoring the women he shamed.

Maybe Nazeera’s big secret is that she’s actually here to help us. Maybe there’s nothing to be afraid of. Maybe the woman is just perfect.

I’m suddenly grinning like an idiot. “So Nazeera is one of the good guys, huh? She’s on our team? Trying to help you out?”

“Oh my God, Kenji, please focus—”

“I’m just saying.” I hold up my hands, take a step back. “The girl is fine as hell is all I’m saying.”

Juliette is looking at me like I’ve lost my mind, but she laughs. She sniffs, gently, and brushes away a few forgotten tears.

“So.” I nod, encouraging her to speak. “What’s the deal? The details? Who’s coming? When? How? Et cetera?”

“I don’t know,” Juliette says, shaking her head. “Nazeera is still trying to figure it out. She thinks maybe in the next week or so? The kids are here to monitor me and send back information, but they’re coming to the symposium, specifically, because the commanders want to know how the other sector leaders will react to seeing me. Nazeera says she thinks the information will help inform their next moves. I’m guessing we have maybe a matter of days.”

My eyes go painfully wide. A matter of days was not what I was expecting to hear. I was hoping for months. Weeks, at the very least.

This is bad.

“Oh,” I say. “Shit.”

“Yeah.” Juliette shoots me a beleaguered look. “But when they decide to obliterate Sector 45, their plan is to also take me prisoner. The Reestablishment wants to bring me back in, apparently. Whatever that means.”

“Bring you back in?” I frown. “For what? More testing? Torture? What do they want to do with you?”

“I have no idea,” Juliette says, shaking her head. “I have no clue who these people are. My sister is apparently still being tested and tortured somewhere. So I’m pretty sure they’re not bringing me back for a big family reunion, you know?”

“Wow.” I look away. Blow out a breath. “That is some next-level drama.”

“Yeah.”

“So—what are we going to do?” I say.

Juliette studies me for a second. Her eyes pull together. “I mean, I don’t know, Kenji. They’re coming to kill everyone in Sector 45. I really don’t think I have a choice.”


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