“Thank you,” I say, and point at him in a gesture that says to everyone:
See? This is loyalty.
“James and I aren’t running anymore,” Adam says, his eyes going cold as he speaks. “I understand if the rest of you have to leave, but James and I will stay here. I was a Sector 45 soldier. I lived on this base. Maybe they’ll give me immunity.”
I frown. “But—”
“James and I aren’t leaving anymore,” Adam says. Loudly. Definitively. “You can make your plans without us. We have to take off for the night, anyway.” Adam stands, turns to his brother. “It’s time to get ready for bed.”
James stares at the floor.
“James,” Adam says, a gentle warning in his voice.
“I want to stay and listen,” James says, crossing his arms. “You can go to bed without me.”
“But I have a theory,” the ten-year-old says. He says the word theory like it’s brand-new to him, like it’s an interesting sound in his mouth. “And I want to share it with Kenji.”
Adam looks so tense that the strain in his shoulders is stressing me out. I think I haven’t been paying close enough attention to him, because I didn’t realize until right now that Adam looks worse than tired. He looks ragged. Like he could collapse, crack in half, at any moment.
James catches my eye from across the room, his own eyes round and eager.
“What’s your theory, little man?”
James’s face lights up. “I was just thinking: maybe all the fake-killing thing was, like, a distraction.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Like, if someone wanted to kidnap Warner and Juliette,” James says. “You know? Like you said earlier. Causing a scene like that would be the perfect distraction, right?”
“Well. Yeah,” I say, and frown. “I guess. But why would The Reestablishment need a distraction? When have they ever been secretive about what they want? If a supreme commander wanted to take Juliette or Warner, for example, wouldn’t they just show up with a shit ton of soldiers and take what they wanted?”
“Language,” Adam says, outraged.
“My bad. Strike the word shit from the record.”
Adam shakes his head. He looks like he might throttle me. But James is smiling, which is really all that matters.
“No. I don’t think they’d rush in like that, not with so many soldiers,” James says, his blue eyes bright. “Not if they had something to hide.”
“You think they’d have something to hide?” Lily pipes up. “From us?”
“I don’t know,” James says. “Sometimes people hide things.” He steals a split-second glance at Adam as he says it, a glance that sets my pulse racing with fear, and I’m about to respond when Lily beats me to it.
“I mean, it’s possible,” she says. “But The Reestablishment doesn’t have a long history of caring about pretenses. They stopped pretending to care about the opinion of the public a long time ago. They mow people down in the street just because they feel like it. I don’t think they’re worried about hiding things from us.”
Castle laughs, out loud, and we all spin around to stare at him. I’m relieved to finally see him react, but he still seems lost in his head somewhere. He looks angry. I’ve never really seen Castle get angry.
“They hide a great deal from us,” he says sharply. “And from each other.” After a long, deep breath, he finally gets to his feet. Smiles, warily, at the ten-year-old in the room. “James, you are wise indeed.”
“Thank you,” James says, blinking up at him.
“Castle, sir?” I say, my voice coming out harder than I’d intended. “Will you please tell us what the hell is going on? Do you know something?”
Castle sighs. Rubs the stubble on his chin with the flat of his palm. “All right, Nazeera,” he says, turning toward nothing, like he’s speaking to a ghost. “Go ahead.”
When Nazeera appears, as if out of thin air, I’m not the only one who’s pissed. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who’s pissed.
But everyone else looks surprised, at least.
They’re staring at her, at each other, and then all of them—all of them—turn to look at me.
“Bro, did you know about this?” Ian asks.
Invisibility is my thing. My thing, goddammit.
No one ever said I had to share that with anyone. Especially not with someone like Nazeera, a lying, manipulative—
Gorgeous. Gorgeous human being.
I turn, stare at the wall. I can’t be distracted by her anymore. She knows I’m into her—my infatuation is apparently obvious to everyone within a ten-mile radius, according to Castle—and she’s clearly been using my idiocy to her best advantage.
Smart. I respect the tactic.
But that also means I have to keep my guard up when she’s around. No more staring. No more daydreaming about her. No more thinking about how she looked at me when she smiled. Or the way she laughed, like she meant it, the same night she yelled at me for asking reasonable questions. Which, by the way—
I don’t think I was crazy for wondering out loud how the daughter of a supreme commander could get away with wearing an illegal headscarf. She told me later that she wears the scarf symbolically, every once in a while, that she can’t get away with wearing it all the time because it’s illegal. But when I pointed this out to her, she gave me hell. And then she gave me shit for being confused.
I’m still confused.
She’s not covering her hair now, either, but no one else seems to have registered this fact. Maybe they’d already seen her like this. Maybe everyone but me already had that conversation with her, already heard her story about wearing it symbolically, occasionally.
Illegally, when her dad wasn’t watching.
“Kenji,” she says, and her voice is so sharp I look up, stare at her despite my own very explicit orders to keep my eyes on the wall. All it takes is two seconds of eye contact and my heart hits itself.
That mouth. Those eyes.
“Yeah?” I cross my arms.
She looks surprised, like she wasn’t expecting me to be upset, and I don’t care. She should know that I’m pissed. I want to her to know that invisibility is my thing. That I know I’m petty and I don’t care. Plus, I don’t trust her. Also, what is up with these kids of the supreme commanders all being super-good-looking? It’s almost like they did it on purpose, like they made these kids in test tubes or someshit.
I shake my head to clear it.
Carefully, Nazeera says, “I really think you should sit down for this.”
She frowns. For a second she looks almost hurt, but before I have a chance to feel bad about it, she shrugs. Turns away.
And what she says next nearly splits me in half.
I’m sitting on an orange chair in the hallway of a dimly lit building. The chair is made of cheap plastic, its edges coarse and unfinished. The floor is a shiny linoleum that occasionally sticks to the soles of my shoes. I know I’ve been breathing too loudly but I can’t help it. I sit on my hands and swing my legs under my seat.