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Chapter no 12

Shatter Me

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 look.

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.

He finally decides to look at me, but when he does his eyebrows trip, his eyes blink and freeze, his lips part in surprise. I wonder if I’ve washed off a new face for myself and I flush, hoping he’s not disgusted by what he might see. I don’t know why I care.

He drops his gaze. Takes a deep breath. “I’ll be waiting outside.”

I stare at the purple dress with Adam’s fingerprints I study the inside of the armoire for only a moment before I abandon it. I comb anxious fingers through my wet hair and steel myself.

I am no one’s property.

And I don’t care what Warner wants me to look like.

I step outside and Adam stares at me for a small second. He rubs the back of his neck and says nothing. He shakes his head. He starts walking. He doesn’t touch me and I shouldn’t notice but I do. I have no idea what to expect I have no idea what my life will be like in this new place and I’m being nailed in the stomach by every exquisite embellishment, every lavish accessory, every superfluous painting, molding, lighting, coloring of this building. I hope the whole thing catches fire.

I follow Adam down a long carpeted corridor to an elevator made entirely of glass. He swipes the same key card he used to open my door and we step inside. I didn’t even realize we’d taken an elevator to get up this many floors. I realize I must’ve made a horrible scene when I arrived and I’m almost happy.

I hope I disappoint Warner in every possible way.

The dining room is big enough to feed thousands of orphans. Instead, there are 7 banquet tables draped across the room, blue silk spilling across the tabletops, crystal vases bursting with orchids and stargazer lilies, glass bowls filled with gardenias. It’s enchanting. I wonder where they got the flowers from. They must not be real. I don’t know how they could be real. I haven’t seen real flowers in years.

Warner is positioned at the table directly in the middle, seated at the head. As soon as he sees me Adam he stands up. The entire room stands in turn.

I realize almost immediately that there is an empty seat on either side of him and I don’t intend to stop moving but I do. I take quick inventory of the attendees and can’t count any other women.

Adam brushes the small of my back with 3 fingertips and I’m startled out of my skin. I hurry forward and Warner beams at me. He pulls out the chair on his left and gestures for me to sit down. I do.

I try not to look at Adam as he sits across from me.

“You know . . . there are clothes in your armoire, my dear.” Warner sits down beside me; the room reseats itself and resumes a steady stream of chatter. He’s turned almost entirely in my direction but somehow the only presence I’m aware of is directly across from me. I focus on the empty plate 2 inches from my fingers. I drop my hands in my lap.

“And you don’t have to wear those dirty tennis shoes anymore,” Warner continues, stealing another glance before pouring something into my cup. It looks like water.

I’m so thirsty I could inhale a waterfall. I hate his smile.

Hate looks just like everybody else until it smiles. Until it spins

around and lies with lips and teeth carved into the semblance of something too passive to punch.

“Juliette?”

I inhale too quickly. A stifled cough is ballooning in my throat. His glassy green eyes glint in my direction.

“Are you not hungry?” Words dipped in sugar. His gloved hand touches my wrist and I nearly sprain it in my haste to distance myself from him.

I could eat every person in this room. “No, thank you.”

He licks his bottom lip into a smile. “Don’t confuse stupidity for bravery, love. I know you haven’t eaten anything in days.”

Something in my patience snaps. “I’d really rather die than eat your food and listen to you call me love,” I tell him.

Adam drops his fork.

Warner spares him a swift glance and when he looks my way again his eyes have hardened. He holds my gaze for a few infinitely long seconds before he pulls a gun out of his jacket pocket. He fires.

The entire room screams to a stop.

My heart is flapping wings against my throat.

I turn my head very, very slowly to follow the direction of Warner’s gun only to see he’s shot some kind of meat right through the bone. The platter of food is slightly steaming across the room, the meal heaped less than a foot away from the guests. He shot it without even looking. He could’ve killed someone.

It takes all of my energy to remain very, very still.

Warner drops the gun on my plate. The silence gives it space to clatter around the universe and back. “Choose your words very wisely, Juliette. One word from me and your life here won’t be so easy.”

I blink.

Adam pushes a plate of food in front of me; the strength of his gaze is like a white-hot poker pressed against my skin. I look up and he cocks his head the tiniest millimeter.

His eyes are saying Please. I pick up my fork.

Warner doesn’t miss a thing. He clears his throat a little too loudly. He

laughs with no humor as he cuts into the meat on his plate. “Do I have to get Kent to do all my work for me?”

“Excuse me?”

“It seems he’s the only one you’ll listen to.” His tone is breezy but his jaw is unmistakably set. He turns to Adam. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell her to change her clothes like I asked you to.”

Adam sits up straighter. “I did, sir.”

“I like my clothes,” I tell him. I’d like to punch you in the eye, is what I don’t tell him.

Warner’s smile slides back into place. “No one asked what you like, love. Now eat. I need you to look your best when you stand beside me.”

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