Chapter no 16 – Juliette Ella

Defy Me (Shatter Me Book 5)

Mr. Anderson says I can have lunch at his house before I meet my new family. It wasn’t his idea, but when Aaron, his son—that was the boy’s name— suggested it, Mr. Anderson seemed okay with it.

I’m grateful.

I’m not ready to go live with a bunch of strangers yet. I’m scared and nervous and worried about so many things, I don’t even know where to start. Mostly, I feel angry. I’m angry with my parents for dying. Angry with them for leaving me behind.

I’m an orphan now.

But maybe I have a new friend. Aaron said that he was eight years old— about two years older than me—so there isn’t any chance we’d be in the same grade, but when I said that we’d probably be going to the same school anyway, he said no, we wouldn’t. He said he didn’t go to public school. He said his father was very particular about these kinds of things and that he’d been homeschooled by private tutors his whole life.

We’re sitting next to each other in the car ride back to his house when he says, quietly, “My dad never lets me invite people over to our house. He must like you.”

I smile, secretly relieved. I really hope that this means I’ll have a new friend. I’d been so scared to move here, so scared to be somewhere new and to be all alone, but now, sitting next to this strange blond boy with the light green eyes, I’m beginning to feel like things might be okay.

At least now, even if I don’t like my new parents, I’ll know I’m not completely alone. The thought makes me both happy and sad.

I look over at Aaron and smile. He smiles back.

When we get to his house, I take a moment to admire it from the outside. It’s a big, beautiful old house painted the prettiest blue. It has big white shutters on the windows and a white fence around the front yard. Pink roses are growing around the edges, peeking through the wooden slats of the fence, and the whole thing looks so peaceful and lovely that I feel immediately at home.

My worries vanish.

I’m so grateful for Mr. Anderson’s help. So grateful to have met his son. I realize, then, that Mr. Anderson might’ve brought his son to my meeting today just to introduce me to someone my own age. Maybe he was trying to make me feel at home.

A beautiful blond lady answers the front door. She smiles at me, bright and kind, and doesn’t even say hello to me before she pulls me into her arms. She hugs me like she’s known me forever, and there’s something so comfortable about her arms around me that I embarrass everyone by bursting into tears.

I can’t even look at anyone after I pull away from her—she told me her name was Mrs. Anderson, but that I could call her Leila, if I wanted—and I wipe at my tears, ashamed of my overreaction.

Mrs. Anderson tells Aaron to take me upstairs to his room while she makes us some snacks before lunch.

Still sniffling, I follow him up the stairs.

His room is nice. I sit on his bed and look at his things. Mostly it’s pretty clean except that there’s a baseball mitt on his nightstand and there are two dirty baseballs on the floor. Aaron catches me staring and scoops them up right away. He seems embarrassed as he tucks them in his closet, and I don’t understand why. I was never very tidy. My room was always—

I hesitate.

I try to remember what my old bedroom looked like but, for some reason, I can’t. I frown. Try again.


And then I realize I can’t remember my parents’ faces. Terror barrels through me.

“What’s wrong?”

Aaron’s voice is so sharp—so intense—that I look up, startled. He’s staring at me from across the room, the fear on his face reflected in the mirrors on his closet doors.

“What’s wrong?” he says again. “Are you okay?”

“I— I don’t—” I falter, feeling my eyes refill with tears. I hate that I keep crying. Hate that I can’t stop crying. “I can’t remember my parents,” I say. “Is that normal?”

Aaron walks over, sits next to me on his bed. “I don’t know,” he says.

We’re both quiet for a while. Somehow, it helps. Somehow, just sitting next to him makes me feel less alone. Less terrified.

Eventually, my heart stops racing.

After I’ve wiped away my tears, I say, “Don’t you get lonely, being homeschooled all the time?”

He nods.

“Why won’t your dad let you go to a normal school?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about birthday parties?” I ask. “Who do you invite to your birthday parties?”

Aaron shrugs. He’s staring into his hands when he says, “I’ve never had a birthday party.”

“What? Really?” I turn to face him more fully. “But birthday parties are so fun. I used to—” I blink, cutting myself off.

I can’t remember what I was about to say.

I frown, trying to remember something, something about my old life, but when the memories don’t materialize, I shake my head to clear it. Maybe I’ll remember later.

“Anyway,” I say, taking a quick breath, “you have to have a birthday party. Everyone has birthday parties. When is your birthday?”

Slowly, Aaron looks up at me. His face is blank even as he says, “April twenty-fourth.”

“April twenty-fourth,” I say, smiling. “That’s great. We can have cake.”

The days pass in a stifled panic, an excruciating crescendo toward madness. The hands of the clock seem to close around my throat and still, I say nothing, do nothing.

I wait. Pretend.

I’ve been paralyzed here for two weeks, stuck in the prison of this ruse, this compound. Evie doesn’t know that her plot to bleach my mind failed. She treats me like a foreign object, distant but not unkind. She instructed me to call her Evie, told me she was my doctor, and then proceeded to lie, in great detail, about how I’d been in a terrible accident, that I’m suffering from amnesia, that I need to stay in bed in order to recover.

She doesn’t know that my body won’t stop shaking, that my skin is slick with sweat every morning, that my throat burns from the constant return of bile. She doesn’t know what’s happening to me. She could never understand the sickness plaguing my heart. She couldn’t possibly understand this agony.


The attacks are relentless.

Memories assault me while I sleep, jolting me upright, my chest seizing in panic over and over and over until, finally, I meet dawn on the bathroom floor, the smell of vomit clinging to my hair, the inside of my mouth. I can only drag myself back to bed every morning and force my face to smile when Evie checks on me at sunrise.

Everything feels wrong.

The world feels strange. Smells confuse me. Words don’t feel right in my mouth anymore. The sound of my own name feels at once familiar and

foreign. My memories of people and places seem warped, fraying threads coming together to form a ragged tapestry.

But Evie. My mother.

I remember her.


I pop my head out of the bathroom, clutching a robe to my wet body. I search my room for her face. “Evie, are you there?”

“Yes?” I hear her voice just seconds before she’s suddenly standing before me, holding a set of fresh sheets in her hands. She’s stripping my bed again. “Did you need something?”

“We’re out of towels.”

“Oh—easily rectified,” she says, and hurries out the door. Not seconds later she’s back, pressing a warm, fresh towel into my hands. She smiles faintly.

“Thanks,” I say, forcing my own smile to stretch, to spark life in my eyes.

And then I disappear into the bathroom.

The room is steaming; the mirrors fogged, perspiring. I grip the towel with one hand, watching as beads of water race down my bare skin. Condensation wears me like a suit; I wipe at the damp metal cuffs locked around my wrists and ankles, their glowing blue light my constant reminder that I am in hell.

I collapse, with a heavy breath, onto the floor.

I’m too hot to put on clothes, but I’m not ready to leave the privacy of the bathroom yet, so I sit here, wearing nothing but these manacles, and drop my head into my hands.

My hair is long again.

I discovered it like this—long, heavy, dark—one morning, and when I asked her about it, I nearly ruined everything.

“What do you mean?” Evie said, narrowing her eyes at me. “Your hair has always been long.”

I blinked at her, remembering to play dumb. “I know.”

She stared at me awhile longer before she finally let it go, but I’m still worried I’ll pay for that slip. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how to act. My mind is being attacked, assaulted every day by emotion I never knew existed. My memories were supposed to be erased. Instead, they’re being replenished.

I’m remembering everything:

My mother’s laugh, her slender wrists, the smell of her shampoo, and the familiarity of her arms around me.

The more I remember, the less this place feels foreign to me. The less these sounds and smells—these mountains in the distance—feel unknown. It’s as if the disparate parts of my most desperate self are stitching back together,

as if the gaping holes in my heart and head are healing, filling slowly with sensation.

This compound was my home. These people, my family. I woke up this morning remembering my mother’s favorite shade of lipstick.


I remember watching her paint her lips some evenings. I remember the day I snuck into her room and stole the glossy metal tube; I remember when she found me, my hands and mouth smeared in red, my face a grotesque reimagining of herself.

The more I remember my parents, the more I begin to finally make sense of myself—my many fears and insecurities, the myriad ways in which I’ve often felt lost, searching for something I could not name.

It’s devastating. And yet—

In this new, turbulent reality, the one person I recognize anymore is him. My memories of him—memories of us—have done something to me. I’ve changed somewhere deep inside. I feel different. Heavier, like my feet have been more firmly planted, liberated by certainty, free to grow roots here in my own self, free to trust unequivocally in the strength and steadiness of my own heart. It’s an empowering discovery, to find that I can trust myself—even when I’m not myself—to make the right choices. To know for certain now that there was at least one mistake I never made.

Aaron Warner Anderson is the only emotional through line in my life that ever made sense. He’s the only constant. The only steady, reliable heartbeat I’ve ever had.

Aaron, Aaron, Aaron, Aaron

I had no idea how much we’d lost, no idea how much of him I’d longed for. I had no idea how desperately we’d been fighting. How many years we’d fought for moments—minutes—to be together.

It fills me with a painful kind of joy.

But when I remember how I left things between us, I want to scream. I have no idea if I’ll ever see him again.

Still, I’m holding on to the hope that he’s alive, out there, somewhere. Evie said she couldn’t kill him. She said that she alone didn’t have the authority to have him executed. And if Aaron is still alive, I will find a way to get to him. But I have to be careful. Breaking out of this new prison won’t be easy— As it is, Evie almost never lets me out of my room. Worse, she sedates me during the day, allowing me only a couple of lucid hours. There’s never enough time to think, much less to plan an escape, to assess my surroundings, or to wander the halls outside my door.

Only once did she let me go outside. Sort of.

She let me onto a balcony overlooking the backyard. It wasn’t much, but even that small step helped me understand a bit about where we were and what the layout of the building might look like.

The assessment was chilling.

We appeared to be in the center of a settlement—a small city—in the middle of nowhere. I leaned over the edge of the balcony, craning my neck to take in the breadth of it, but the view was so vast I couldn’t see all the way around. From where I stood I saw at least twenty different buildings, all connected by roads and navigated by people in miniature, electric cars. There were loading and unloading docks, massive trucks filing in and out, and there was a landing strip in the distance, a row of jets parked neatly in a concrete lot. I understood then that I was living in the middle of a massive operation— something so much more terrifying than Sector 45.

This is an international base.

This has to be one of the capitals. Whatever this is—whatever they do here—it makes Sector 45 look like a joke.

Here, where the hills are somehow still green and beautiful, where the air is fresh and cool and everything seems alive. My accounting is probably off, but I think we’re nearing the end of April—and the sights outside my window are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Sector 45: vast, snowcapped mountain ranges; rolling hills thick with vegetation; trees heavy with bright, changing leaves; and a massive, glittering lake that looks close enough to run to. This land looks healthy. Vibrant.

I thought we’d lost a world like this a long time ago.

Evie’s begun to sedate me less these days, but some days my vision seems to fray at the edges, like a satellite image glitching, waiting for data to load.

I wonder, sometimes, if she’s poisoning me.

I’m wondering this now, remembering the bowl of soup she sent to my room for breakfast. I can still feel the gluey residue as it coated my tongue, the roof of my mouth.

Unease churns my stomach.

I haul myself up off the bathroom floor, my limbs slow and heavy. It takes me a moment to stabilize. The effects of this experiment have left me hollow.


As if out of nowhere, my mind conjures an image of Evie’s face. I remember her eyes. Deep, dark brown. Bottomless. The same color as her hair. She has a short, sharp bob, a heavy curtain constantly whipping against her chin. She’s a beautiful woman, more beautiful at fifty than she was at twenty.


The word occurs to me suddenly, and a bolt of panic shoots up my spine.

Not a second later there’s a sharp knock at my bathroom door. “Yes?”

“Ella, you’ve been in the bathroom for almost half an hour, and you know how I feel about wasting ti—”

Evie.” I force myself to laugh. “I’m almost done,” I say. “I’ll be right out.”

A pause.

The silence stretches the seconds into a lifetime. My heart jumps up, into my throat. Beats in my mouth.

“All right,” she says slowly. “Five more minutes.”

I close my eyes as I exhale, pressing the towel to the racing pulse at my neck. I dry off quickly before wringing the remaining water from my hair and slipping back into my robe.

Finally, I open the bathroom door and welcome the cool morning temperature against my feverish skin. But I hardly have a chance to take a breath before she’s in my face again.

“Wear this,” she says, forcing a dress into my arms. She’s smiling but it doesn’t suit her. She looks deranged. “You love wearing yellow.”

I blink as I take the dress from her, feeling a sudden, disorienting wave of déjà vu. “Of course,” I say. “I love wearing yellow.”

Her smile grows thinner, threatens to turn her face inside out. “Could I just—?” I make an abstract gesture toward my body.

“Oh,” she says, startled. “Right.” She shoots me another smile and says, “I’ll be outside.”

My own smile is brittle.

She watches me. She always watches me. Studies my reactions, the timing of my responses. She’s scanning me, constantly, for information. She wants confirmation that I’ve been properly hollowed out. Remade.

I smile wider.

Finally, she takes a step back. “Good girl,” she says softly.

I stand in the middle of my room and watch her leave, the yellow dress still pressed against my chest.

There was another time when I’d felt trapped, just like this. I was held against my will and given beautiful clothes and three square meals and demanded to be something I wasn’t and I fought it—fought it with everything I had.

It didn’t do me any good.

I swore that if I could do it again I’d do it differently. I said if I could do it over I’d wear the clothes and eat the food and play along until I could figure out where I was and how to break free.

So here’s my chance.

This time, I’ve decided to play along.

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