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First published in USA 2011 by HarperCollins Children’s Books

First published in Great Britain 2018

by Electric Monkey, an imprint of Egmont UK Limited

The Yellow Building, 1 Nicholas Road, London W11 4AN

Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Children’s Books,

a division of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York, USA

Text copyright © 2011 Tahereh Mafi

First e-book edition 2018

ISBN 978 1 4052 9175 0

Ebook ISBN 978 1 7803 1868 4

www.egmont.co.uk

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Stay safe online. Any website addresses listed in this book are correct at the time of going to print. However, Egmont is not responsible for content hosted by third parties. Please be aware that online content can be subject to change and websites can contain content that is unsuitable for children. We advise that all children are supervised when using the internet.

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Dear Reader:

The strikethroughs in the Shatter Me books are intentional. The writing in this series is occasionally as erratic as its main character, and serves as a visual representation of the chaos in Juliette’s mind. The repetition, the hyperbolic language, the obsession with numbers—these are not errors on the page. As our heroine grows and evolves, so too does the prose, and as she finds her voice, the strikethroughs disappear, the language softens, the repetition dissolves, and the numerals ease into written words. This is, ultimately, a story of change. Thank you so much for reading.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

and that has made all the difference.

ROBERT FROST, “The Road Not Taken”

CONTENTS

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Epigraph

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

TWENTY-TWO

TWENTY-THREE

TWENTY-FOUR

TWENTY-FIVE

TWENTY-SIX

TWENTY-SEVEN

TWENTY-EIGHT

TWENTY-NINE

THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE

THIRTY-TWO

THIRTY-THREE

THIRTY-FOUR

THIRTY-FIVE

THIRTY-SIX

THIRTY-SEVEN

THIRTY-EIGHT

THIRTY-NINE

FORTY

FORTY-ONE

FORTY-TWO

FORTY-THREE

FORTY-FOUR

FORTY-FIVE

FORTY-SIX

FORTY-SEVEN

FORTY-EIGHT

FORTY-NINE

FIFTY

EPILOGUE

Back series promotional page

ONE

I’ve been locked up for 264 days.

I have nothing but a small notebook and a broken pen and the numbers in my head to keep me company. 1 window. 4 walls. 144 square feet of space. 26 letters in an alphabet I haven’t spoken in 264 days of isolation.

6,336 hours since I’ve touched another human being.

“You’re getting a cellmate roommate,” they said to me.

We hope you rot to death in this place For good behavior,” they said to me.

Another psycho just like you No more isolation,” they said to me.

They are the minions of The Reestablishment. The initiative that was supposed to help our dying society. The same people who pulled me out of my parents’ home and locked me in an asylum for something outside of my control. No one cares that I didn’t know what I was capable of. That I didn’t know what I was doing.

I have no idea where I am.

I only know that I was transported by someone in a white van who drove 6 hours and 37 minutes to get me here. I know I was handcuffed to my seat. I know I was strapped to my chair. I know my parents never bothered to say good-bye. I know I didn’t cry as I was taken away.

I know the sky falls down every day.

The sun drops into the ocean and splashes browns and reds and yellows and oranges into the world outside my window. A million leaves from a hundred different branches dip in the wind, fluttering with the false promise of flight. The gust catches their withered wings only to force them downward, forgotten, left to be trampled by the soldiers stationed just below.

There aren’t as many trees as there were before, is what the scientists say. They say our world used to be green. Our clouds used to be white. Our sun was always the right kind of light. But I have very faint memories of that world. I don’t remember much from before. The only existence I know now is the one I was given. An echo of what used to be.

I press my palm to the small pane of glass and feel the cold clasp my hand in a familiar embrace. We are both alone, both existing as the absence of something else.

I grab my nearly useless pen with the very little ink I’ve learned to ration each day and stare at it. Change my mind. Abandon the effort it takes to write things down. Having a cellmate might be okay. Talking to a real human being might make things easier. I practice using my voice, shaping my lips around the familiar words unfamiliar to my mouth. I practice all day.

I’m surprised I remember how to speak.

I sit up on the cloth-covered springs I’m forced to sleep on. I wait. I rock back and forth and wait.

I wait too long and fall asleep.

My eyes open to 2 eyes 2 lips 2 ears 2 eyebrows.

I stifle my scream my urgency to run the crippling horror gripping my limbs.

“You’re a b-b-b-b—”

“And you’re a girl.” He cocks an eyebrow. He leans away from my face. He grins but he’s not smiling and I want to cry, my eyes desperate, terrified, darting toward the door I’d tried to open so many times I’d lost count. They locked me up with a boy. A boy.

Dear God.

They’re trying to kill me.

They’ve done it on purpose.

To torture me, to torment me, to keep me from sleeping through the night ever again. His arms are tatted up, half sleeves to his elbows. His eyebrow is missing a ring they must’ve confiscated. Dark blue eyes dark brown hair sharp jawline strong lean frame. Gorgeous Dangerous. Terrifying. Horrible.

He laughs and I fall off my bed and scuttle into the corner.

He sizes up the meager pillow on the spare bed they shoved into the empty space this morning, the skimpy mattress and threadbare blanket hardly big enough to support his upper half. He glances at my bed. Glances at his bed.

Shoves them both together with one hand. Uses his foot to push the two metal frames to his side of the room. Stretches out across the two mattresses, grabbing my pillow to fluff up under his neck. I’ve begun to shake.

I bite my lip and try to bury myself in the dark corner.

He’s stolen my bed my blanket my pillow.

I have nothing but the floor.

I will have nothing but the floor.

I will never fight back because I’m too petrified too paralyzed too paranoid.

“So you’re—what? Insane? Is that why you’re here?”

I’m not insane.

He props himself up enough to see my face. He laughs again. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

I want to believe him. I don’t believe him.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

None of your business. What’s your name?

I hear his irritated exhalation of breath. I hear him turn over on the bed that used to be half mine. I stay awake all night. My knees curled up to my chin, my arms wrapped tight around my small frame, my long brown hair the only curtain between us.

I will not sleep.

I cannot sleep.

I cannot hear those screams again.

TWO

It smells like rain in the morning.

The room is heavy with the scent of wet stone, upturned soil; the air is dank and earthy. I take a deep breath and tiptoe to the window only to press my nose against the cool surface. Feel my breath fog up the glass. Close my eyes to the sound of a soft pitter-patter rushing through the wind. Raindrops are my only reminder that clouds have a heartbeat. That I have one, too.

I always wonder about raindrops.

I wonder about how they’re always falling down, forgetting their parachutes as they tumble out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors.

I am a raindrop.

My parents emptied their pockets of me and left me to evaporate on a concrete slab.

The window tells me we’re not far from the mountains and definitely near the water, but everything is near the water these days. I just don’t know which side we’re on. Which direction we’re facing. I squint up at the early morning light. Someone picked up the sun and pinned it to the sky again, but every day it hangs a little lower than the day before. It’s like a negligent parent who only knows one half of who you are. It never sees how its absence changes people. How different we are in the dark.

A sudden rustle means my cellmate is awake.

I spin around like I’ve been caught stealing food again. That only happened once and my parents didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t for me. I said I was just trying to save the stray cats living around the corner but they didn’t think I was human enough to care about a cat. Not me. Not something someone like me. But then, they never believed anything I said. That’s exactly why I’m here.

Cellmate is studying me.

He fell asleep fully clothed. He’s wearing a navy blue T-shirt and khaki cargo pants tucked into shin-high black boots.

I’m wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face.

His eyes scan my silhouette and the slow motion makes my heart race. I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage.

Stop looking at me, is what I want to say.

Stop touching me with your eyes and keep your hands to your sides and please and please and please—

“What’s your name?” The tilt of his head cracks gravity in half.

I’m suspended in the moment. I blink and bottle my breaths.

He reminds me of someone I used to know.

“Why are you here?” I ask the cracks in the concrete wall. 14 cracks in 4 walls. The floor, the ceiling: all the same slab of stone. The pathetically constructed bed frames: built from old water pipes. The small square of a window: too thick to shatter. My hope is exhausted. My eyes are unfocused and aching. My finger is tracing a lazy path across the cold floor.

I’m sitting on the ground where it smells like ice and metal and dirt. Cellmate sits across from me, his legs folded underneath him, his boots just a little too shiny for this place.

“You’re afraid of me.” His voice has no shape.

“I’m afraid you’re wrong.”

I might be lying, but that’s none of his business.

He snorts and the sound echoes in the dead air between us. I don’t lift my head. My throat is tight with something familiar to me, something I’ve learned to swallow.

2 knocks at the door startle my emotions back into place.

He’s upright in an instant.

“No one is there,” I tell him. “It’s just our breakfast.” 264 breakfasts and I still don’t know what it’s made of. It smells like too many chemicals; an amorphous lump always delivered in extremes. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes too salty, always disgusting. Most of the time I’m too starved to notice the difference.

He hesitates for only an instant before edging toward the door. He slides open a small slot and peers through to a world that no longer exists.

“Shit!” He practically flings the tray through the opening, pausing only to slap his palm against his shirt. “Shit, shit.” He curls his fingers into a tight fist and clenches his jaw. He’s burned his hand. I would’ve warned him if he would’ve listened.

“You should wait at least three minutes before touching the tray,” I tell the wall. I don’t look at the scars gracing my small hands, at the burn marks no one could’ve taught me to avoid. “I think they do it on purpose,” I add quietly.

“Oh, so you’re talking to me today?” He’s angry. His eyes flash before he looks away and I realize he’s more embarrassed than anything else. He’s a tough guy. Too tough to make stupid mistakes in front of a girl. Too tough to show pain.

I press my lips together and stare out the small square of glass they call a window. There aren’t many animals left, but I’ve heard stories of birds that fly. Maybe one day I’ll get to see one. The stories are so wildly woven these days there’s very little to believe, but I’ve heard more than one person say they’ve actually seen a flying bird within the past few years. So I watch the window.

There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a—

His hand.

On me.

2 tips

of 2 fingers graze my cloth-covered shoulder for less than a second and every muscle every tendon in my body is fraught with tension that clenches my spine. I don’t move. I don’t breathe. Maybe if I don’t move, this feeling will last forever.

No one has touched me in 264 days.

Sometimes I think the loneliness inside of me is going to explode through my skin and sometimes I’m not sure if crying or screaming or laughing through the hysteria will solve anything at all. Sometimes I’m so desperate to touch to be touched to feel that I’m almost certain I’m going to fall off a cliff in an alternate universe where no one will ever be able to find me.

It doesn’t seem impossible.

I’ve been screaming for years and no one has ever heard me.

“Aren’t you hungry?” His voice is lower now, a little worried now.

I’ve been starving for 264 days. “No.” I turn and I shouldn’t but I do and he’s staring at me. Studying me. His lips are only barely parted, his limbs limp at his side, his lashes blinking back confusion.

Something punches me in the stomach.

His eyes. Something about his eyes.

It’s not him not him not him not him not him.

I close the world away. Lock it up. Turn the key so tight.

“Hey—”

My eyes break open. 2 shattered windows filling my mouth with glass.

“What is it?”

Nothing.

I focus on the window between me and my freedom. I want to smash this concrete world into oblivion. I want to be bigger, better, stronger.

I want to be angry angry angry.

I want to be the bird that flies away.

“What are you writing?” Cellmate speaks again.

These words are vomit.

This shaky pen is my oesophagus.

This sheet of paper is my porcelain bowl.

“Why won’t you answer me?” He’s too close too close too close.

No one is ever close enough.

My eyes are focused on the window and the promise of what could be. The promise of something grander, something greater, some reason for the madness building in my bones, some explanation for my inability to do anything without ruining everything. There will be a bird. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. There will be a bird. It will be—

“Hey—”

“You can’t touch me,” I whisper. I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him. He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him. Please touch me, is what I want to tell him.

But things happen when people touch me. Strange things. Bad things.

Dead things.

I can’t remember the warmth of any kind of embrace. My arms ache from the inescapable ice of isolation. My own mother couldn’t hold me in her arms. My father couldn’t warm my frozen hands. I live in a world of nothing.

Hello.

World.

You will forget me.

Knock knock.

Cellmate jumps to his feet.

It’s time to shower.

THREE

The door opens to an abyss.

There’s no color, no light, no promise of anything but horror on the other side. No words. No direction. Just an open door that means the same thing every time.

Cellmate has questions.

“What the hell?” He looks from me to the illusion of escape. “They’re letting us out?”

They’ll never let us out. “It’s time to shower.”

“Shower?”

“We don’t have much time,” I tell him. “We have to hurry.”

“Wait, what?” He reaches for my arm but I pull away. “But there’s no light—we can’t even see where we’re going—”

“Quickly.” I focus my eyes on the floor. “Take the hem of my shirt.”

“What are you talking about—”

An alarm sounds in the distance. A buzzing hums closer by the second. Soon the entire cell is vibrating with the warning and the door is slipping back into place. I grab his shirt and pull him into the blackness beside me. “Don’t. Say. Anything.”

“Bu—”

Nothing,” I hiss. It’s a home, a center for troubled youth, for neglected children from broken families, a safe house for the psychologically disturbed. It’s a prison. They feed us nothing and our eyes never see each other except in the rare bursts of light that steal their way through cracks of glass they pretend are windows. Nights are punctured by screams and heaving sobs, wails and tortured cries, the sounds of flesh and bone breaking by force or choice I’ll never know. I spent the first 3 months in the company of my own stench. No one ever told me where the bathrooms and showers were located. No one ever told me how the system worked. No one speaks to you unless they’re delivering bad news. No one touches you ever at all. Boys and girls never find each other.

Never but yesterday.

It can’t be coincidence.

My eyes begin to readjust in the artificial night. My fingers feel their way down the rough corridors, and Cellmate doesn’t say a word. I’m almost proud of him. He’s nearly a foot taller than me, his body hard and solid with the muscle and strength of someone close to my age. The world has not yet broken him.

“Wha—”

I tug on his shirt to keep him from speaking. We’ve not yet cleared the corridors. I feel oddly protective of him, this person who could probably break me with 2 fingers. He doesn’t realize how his ignorance makes him vulnerable. He doesn’t realize that they might kill him for no reason at all.

I’ve decided not to be afraid of him. I’ve decided his actions are more immature than genuinely threatening. He looks so familiar so familiar so familiar to me. I once knew a boy with the same blue eyes and my memories won’t let me hate him.

Perhaps I’d like a friend.

6 more feet until the wall goes from rough to smooth and then we make a right. 2 feet of empty space before we reach a wooden door with a broken handle and a handful of splinters. 3 heartbeats to make certain we’re alone. 1 foot forward to edge the door inward. 1 soft creak and the crack widens to reveal nothing but what I imagine this space to look like. “This way,” I whisper.

I push him toward the row of showers and scavenge the floor for any bits of soap lodged in the drain. I find 2 pieces, one twice as big as the other. “Open your hand,” I tell the darkness. “It’s slimy. But don’t drop it. There isn’t much soap and we got lucky today.”

He says nothing for a few seconds and I begin to worry.

“Are you still there?” I wonder if this was the trap. If this was the plan. If perhaps he was sent to kill me under the cover of darkness in this small space. I never really knew what they were going to do to me in the asylum, I never knew if they thought locking me up would be good enough but I always thought they might kill me. It always seemed like a viable option.

I can’t say I wouldn’t deserve it.

But I’m in here for something I never meant to do and no one seems to care that it was an accident.

My parents never tried to help me.

I hear no showers running and my heart stops. This particular room is rarely full, but there are usually others, if only 1 or 2. I’ve come to realize that the asylum’s residents are either legitimately insane and can’t find their way to the showers, or they simply don’t care.

I swallow hard.

“What’s your name?” he says. I can feel him breathing much closer than he was before. My heart is racing and I don’t know why but I can’t control it. “Why won’t you tell me your name?”

“Is your hand open?”

He inches forward and I’m almost scared to breathe. His fingers graze the starchy fabric of the only outfit I’ll ever own and I manage to exhale. As long as he’s not touching my skin. As long as he’s not touching my skin. As long as he’s not touching my skin. This seems to be the secret.

My thin T-shirt has been washed in the harsh water of this building so many times it feels like a burlap sack against my skin. I drop the bigger piece of soap into his hand and tiptoe backward. “I’m going to turn the shower on for you,” I explain, anxious not to raise my voice lest others should hear me.

“What do I do with my clothes?” His body is still too close to mine.

I blink in the blackness. “You have to take them off.”

He laughs, amused. “No, I know. I meant what do I do with them while I shower?”

“Try not to get them wet.”

He takes a deep breath. “How much time do we have?”

“Two minutes.”

“Jesus, why didn’t you say somethi—”

I turn on his shower at the same time I turn on my own and his complaints drown under the broken bullets of the barely functioning spigots.

My movements are mechanical. I’ve done this so many times I’ve already memorized the most efficient methods of scrubbing, rinsing, and rationing soap for my body as well as my hair. There are no towels, so the trick is trying not to soak any part of your body with too much water. If you do you’ll never dry properly and you’ll spend the next week nearly dying of pneumonia. I would know.

In exactly 90 seconds I’ve wrung my hair and I’m slipping back into my tattered outfit. My tennis shoes are the only things I own that are still in fairly good condition. We don’t do much walking around here.

Cellmate follows suit almost immediately. I’m pleased he learns quickly.

“Take the hem of my shirt,” I instruct him. “We have to hurry.”

His fingers skim the small of my back and I have to bite my lip to stifle the intensity. No one ever puts their hands anywhere near my body.

When we’re finally trapped in the familiar 4 walls of claustrophobia, Cellmate won’t stop staring at me.

I curl into myself in the corner. He still has my bed, my blanket, my pillow. I forgive him his ignorance, but perhaps it’s too soon to be friends. Perhaps I was too hasty in helping him. Perhaps he really is only here to make me miserable. But if I don’t stay warm I will get sick. My hair is too wet and the blanket I usually wrap it in is still on his side of the room. Maybe I’m still afraid of him.

I breathe in too sharply, look up too quickly in the dull light of the day. Cellmate has draped 2 blankets over my shoulders.

1 mine.

1 his.

“I’m sorry I’m such an asshole,” he whispers to the wall. He doesn’t touch me and I’m disappointed happy he doesn’t. I wish he would. He shouldn’t. No one should ever touch me.

“I’m Adam,” he says slowly. He backs away from me until he’s cleared the room. He uses one hand to push my bed frame back to my side of the space.

Adam.

Such a nice name. Cellmate has a nice name.

It’s a name I’ve always liked but I can’t remember why.

I waste no time climbing onto the barely concealed springs of my mattress and I’m so exhausted I can hardly feel the metal coils threatening to puncture my skin. I haven’t slept in more than 24 hours. Adam is a nice name is the only thing I can think of before exhaustion cripples my body.

FOUR

I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane. I am not insane.

Horror rips my eyelids open.

My body is drenched in a cold sweat, my brain swimming in unforgotten waves of pain. My eyes settle on circles of black that dissolve in the darkness. I have no idea how long I’ve slept. I have no idea if I’ve scared my cellmate with my dreams. Sometimes I scream out loud.

Adam is staring at me.

I’m breathing hard and I manage to heave myself upright. I pull the blankets closer to my body only to realize I’ve stolen his only means for warmth. It never even occurred to me that he might be freezing as much as I am. I’m shivering in place but his body is unflinching in the night, his silhouette a strong form against the backdrop of black. I have no idea what to say. There’s nothing to say.

“The screams never stop in this place, do they?”

The screams are only the beginning. “No,” I whisper. A faint blush flushes my face and I’m happy it’s too dark for him to notice. He must have heard my cries.

Sometimes I wish I never had to sleep. Sometimes I think that if I stay very, very still, if I never move at all, things will change. I think if I freeze myself I can freeze the pain. Sometimes I won’t move for hours. I will not move an inch.

If time stands still nothing can go wrong.

“Are you okay?” His voice is concerned. I study the furrow buried in his brow, the tension in his jaw. This same person who stole my bed and my blanket is the same one who went without tonight. So cocky and careless so few hours ago; so careful and quiet right now. It scares me that this place could’ve broken him so quickly. I wonder what he heard while I was sleeping.

I wish I could save him from the horror.

Something shatters; a tortured cry sounds in the distance. These rooms are buried deep in concrete, walls thicker than the floors and ceilings combined to keep sounds from escaping too far. If I can hear the agony it must be insurmountable. Every night there are sounds I don’t hear. Every night I wonder if I’m next.

“You’re not insane.”

My eyes snap up. His head is cocked, his eyes focused and clear despite the shroud that envelops us. He takes a deep breath. “I thought everyone in here was insane,” he continues. “I thought they’d locked me up with a psycho.”

I take a sharp hit of oxygen. “Funny. So did I.”

1

2

3 seconds pass.

He cracks a grin so wide, so amused, so refreshingly sincere it’s like a clap of thunder through my body. Something pricks at my eyes. I haven’t seen a smile in 265 days.

Adam is on his feet.

I offer him his blanket.

He takes it only to wrap it more tightly around my body and something is suddenly constricting in my chest. My lungs are skewered and strung together and I’ve just decided not to move for an eternity when he speaks.

“What’s wrong?”

My parents stopped touching me when I was old enough to crawl. Teachers made me work alone so I wouldn’t hurt the other children. I’ve never had a friend. I’ve never known the comfort of a mother’s hug. I’ve never felt the tenderness of a father’s kiss. I’m not insane. “Nothing.”

5 more seconds. “Can I sit next to you?”

That would be wonderful. “No.” I’m staring at the wall again.

He clenches and unclenches his jaw. He runs a hand through his hair and I realize for the first time that he’s not wearing a shirt. It’s so dark in this room I can only catch his curves and contours; the moon is allowed only a small window to light this space but I watch as the muscles in his arms tighten with every movement. Every inch of his body is raw with power, every surface somehow luminous in the darkness. In 17 years I’ve never seen anything like him. In 17 years I’ve never talked to a boy my own age. Because I’m a monster.

I close my eyes.

I hear the creak of his bed, the groan of the springs as he sits down. I unstitch my eyes and study the floor. “You must be freezing.”

“No.” A strong sigh. “I’m actually burning up.”

I’m on my feet so quickly the blankets fall to the floor. “Are you sick?” My eyes scan his face for signs of a fever but I don’t dare inch closer. “Do you feel dizzy? Do your joints hurt?” I try to remember my own symptoms. I was chained to my bed by my own body for 1 week. I could do nothing more than crawl to the door and fall face-first into my food. I don’t even know how I survived.

“What’s your name?”

He’s asked the same question 3 times already. “You might be sick,” is all I can say.

“I’m not sick. I’m just hot. I don’t usually sleep with my clothes on.”

Butterflies catch fire in my stomach. I don’t know where to look.

A deep breath. “I was a jerk yesterday. I treated you like crap and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

I meet his gaze.

His eyes are the perfect shade of cobalt, blue like a blossoming bruise, clear and deep and decided. He’s been thinking about this all night.

“Okay.”

“So why won’t you tell me your name?” He leans forward and I freeze.

I thaw.

“Juliette,” I whisper. “My name is Juliette.”

His lips soften into a smile. He repeats my name like the word amuses him. Entertains him. Delights him.

In 17 years no one has said my name like that.

FIVE

I don’t know when it started.

I don’t know why it started.

I don’t know anything about anything except for the screaming.

My mother screaming when she realized she could no longer touch me. My father screaming when he realized what I’d done to my mother. My parents screaming when they’d lock me in my room and tell me I should be grateful. For their food. For their humane treatment of this thing that could not possibly be their child. For the yardstick they used to measure the distance I needed to keep away.

I ruined their lives, is what they said to me.

I stole their happiness. Destroyed my mother’s hope for ever having children again.

Couldn’t I see what I’d done, is what they’d ask me. Couldn’t I see that I’d ruined everything.

I tried so hard to fix what I’d ruined. I tried every single day to be what they wanted. I tried all the time to be better but I never really knew how.

I only know now that the scientists are wrong.

The world is flat.

I know because I was tossed right off the edge and I’ve been trying to hold on for 17 years. I’ve been trying to climb back up for 17 years but it’s nearly impossible to beat gravity when no one is willing to give you a hand.

When no one wants to risk touching you.

It’s snowing today.

The concrete is icy and stiffer than usual, but I prefer these freezing temperatures to the stifling humidity of summer days. Summer is like a slow-cooker bringing everything in the world to a boil 1 degree at a time. I hate the heat and the sticky, sweaty mess left behind. I hate the sun, too preoccupied with itself to notice the infinite hours we spend in its presence. The sun is an arrogant thing, always leaving the world behind when it tires of us.

The moon is a loyal companion.

It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human.

Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.

I stare out the window for so long I forget myself. I hold out my hand to catch a snowflake and my fist closes around the icy air. Empty.

I want to put this fist attached to my wrist right through the window.

Just to feel something.

Just to feel human.

“What time is it?”

His voice pulls me back down to a world I keep trying to forget. “I don’t know,” I tell him. I have no idea what time it is. I have no idea which day of the week it is, what month we’re in, or even if there’s a specific season we’re supposed to be in.

We don’t really have seasons anymore.

The animals are dying, birds don’t fly, crops are hard to come by, flowers almost don’t exist. The weather is unreliable. Sometimes our winter days hit 92 degrees. Sometimes it snows for no reason at all. We can’t grow enough food anymore, we can’t sustain enough vegetation for the animals anymore, and we can’t feed the people what they need. Our population was dying off at an alarming rate before The Reestablishment took over and they promised us they had a solution. Animals were so desperate for food they were willing to eat anything and people were so desperate for food they were willing to eat poisoned animals. We were killing ourselves by trying to stay alive. The weather, the plants, the animals, and our human survival are all inextricably linked. The natural elements were at war with one another because we abused our ecosystem. Abused our atmosphere. Abused our animals. Abused our fellow man.

The Reestablishment promised they would fix things. But even though human health has found a modicum of relief under the new regime, more people have died at the end of a loaded gun than from an empty stomach. It’s progressively getting worse.

“Juliette?”

My head snaps up.

His eyes are wary, worried, analyzing me.

I look away.

He clears his throat. “So, uh, they only feed us once a day?”

His question sends both our eyes toward the small slot in the door.

I curl my knees to my chest and balance my bones on the mattress. If I hold myself very, very still, I can almost ignore the metal digging into my skin. “There’s no system to the food,” I tell him. My finger traces a new pattern down the rough material of the blanket. “There’s usually something in the morning, but there are no guarantees for anything else. Sometimes . . . we get lucky.” I glance out the window. Pinks and reds filter into the room and I know it’s the start of a new beginning. The start of the same end. Another day.

Maybe I will die today.

Maybe a bird will fly today.

“So that’s it? They open the door once a day for people to do their business and maybe if we’re lucky they feed us? That’s it?”

The bird will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly. “That’s it.”

“There’s no . . . group therapy?” He almost laughs.

“Until you arrived, I hadn’t spoken a single word in two hundred sixty-four days.”

His silence says so much. I can almost reach out and touch the guilt growing on his shoulders. “How long are you in for?” he finally asks.

Forever. “I don’t know.” A mechanical sound creaks/groans/cranks in the distance. My life is 4 walls of missed opportunities poured into concrete molds.

“What about your family?” There’s a serious sorrow in his voice, almost like he already knows the answer to that question.

Here is what I know about my parents: I have no idea where they are. “Why are you here?” I talk to my fingers to avoid his gaze. I’ve studied my hands so thoroughly I know exactly where each bump cut and bruise has ravaged my skin. Small hands. Slim fingers. I curl them into a fist and release them to lose the tension. He still hasn’t responded.

I look up.

“I’m not insane,” is all he says.

“That’s what we all say.” I cock my head only to shake it a fraction of an inch. I bite my lip. My eyes can’t help but steal glances out the window.

“Why do you keep looking outside?”

I don’t mind his questions, I really don’t. It’s just strange to have someone to talk to. It’s strange to have to move my lips to form words necessary to explain my actions. No one has cared for so long. No one’s watched me closely enough to wonder why I stare out a window. No one has ever treated me like an equal. Then again, he doesn’t know I’m a monster my secret. I wonder how long this will last before he’s running for his life.

I’ve forgotten to answer and he’s still studying me.

I tuck a piece of hair behind my ear only to change my mind. “Why do you stare so much?”

His eyes are careful, curious. “I figured the only reason they would lock me up with a girl was because you were crazy. I thought they were trying to torture me by putting me in the same space as a psychopath. I thought you were my punishment.”

“That’s why you stole my bed.” To exert power. To stake a claim. To fight first.

He looks away. Clasps and unclasps his hands before rubbing the back of his neck. “Why’d you help me? How’d you know I wouldn’t hurt you?”

I count my fingers to make sure they’re still there. “I didn’t.”

“You didn’t help me or you didn’t know if I’d hurt you?”

“Adam.” My lips curve around the shape of his name. I’m surprised to discover how much I love the easy, familiar way the sound rolls off my tongue.

He’s sitting almost as still as I am. “Yeah?”

“What’s it like?” I ask, each word quieter than the one before. “Outside?” In the real world. “Is it worse?”

It takes him a few heartbeats to answer. “Honestly? I’m not sure if it’s better to be in here or out there.”

I wait for his lips to part; I wait for him to explain. And then I try to pay attention as his words bounce around in the haze of my head, fogging my senses, clouding my concentration.

Did you know it was an international movement? Adam asks me.

No I did not, I tell him. I do not tell him I was dragged from my home 3 years ago. I do not tell him that I was dragged away exactly 7 years after The Reestablishment began to preach and 4 months after they took control of everything. I do not tell him how little I know of our new world.

Adam says The Reestablishment had its hands in every country, ready for the moment to bring its leaders into a position of control. He says the inhabitable land left in the world has been divided into 3,333 sectors and each space is now controlled by a different Person of Power.

Did you know they lied to us? Adam asks me.

Did you know that The Reestablishment said someone had to take control, that someone had to save society, that someone had to restore the peace? Did you know that they said killing all the voices of opposition was the only way to find peace?

Did you know this? is what Adam asks me.

And this is where I nod. This is where I say yes.

This is the part I remember: The anger. The riots. The rage.

My eyes close in an effort to block out the bad memories, but the effort backfires. Protests. Rallies. Screams for survival. I see women and children starving to death, homes destroyed and buried in rubble, the countryside a burnt landscape, its only fruit the rotting flesh of casualties. I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favorite lipstick all smeared into the earth.

So much everything all the things dead.

The Reestablishment is struggling to maintain its hold over the people, Adam says. He says The Reestablishment is struggling to fight a war against the rebels who will not acquiesce to this new regime. The Reestablishment is struggling to root itself as a new form of government across all international societies.

And then I wonder what has happened to the people I used to see every day. What’s become of their homes, their parents, their children. I wonder how many of them have been buried in the ground.

How many of them were murdered.

“They’re destroying everything,” Adam says, and his voice is suddenly solemn. “All the books, every artifact, every remnant of human history. They’re saying it’s the only way to fix things. They say we need to start fresh. They say we can’t make the same mistakes of previous generations.”

2

knocks

at the door and we’re both on our feet, abruptly startled back into this bleak world.

Adam raises an eyebrow at me. “Breakfast?”