Defy Me (Page 30)
I shake my head, wiping furiously at my cheeks. “I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about any of it until I know Warner is okay.”
“I’m so sorry, J. I really am.”
I sniff, hard. “You know my name is Ella, right?”
“Right,” he says, his eyebrows pulling together. “Yeah. Ella. That’s wild.”
“I like it,” I say. “I like it better than Juliette.”
“I don’t know. I think both names are nice.”
“Yeah,” I say, turning away. “But Juliette was the name Anderson picked out for me.”
“And Ella is the name you were born with,” Kenji says, shooting me a look. “I get it.”
“Listen,” he says with a sigh. “I know this has been a rough couple of weeks for you. I heard about the memory thing. I heard about lots of things. And I can’t pretend to imagine I have any idea what you must be going through right now. But you can’t blame yourself for any of this. It’s not your fault. None of it is your fault. You’ve been a pawn at the center of this conspiracy your entire life. The last month wasn’t going to change that, okay? You have to be kinder to yourself. You’ve already been through so much.”
I offer Kenji a weak smile. “I’ll try,” I say quietly.
“Feeling any better now?”
“No. And thinking about leaving here without Warner—not knowing if he’ll even make it onto this plane— It’s killing me, Kenji. It’s boring a hole through my body.”
Kenji sighs, looks away. “I get it,” he says. “I do. You’re worried you won’t have a chance to make things right with him.”
“I won’t do it. I can’t do it, Kenji.”
“I understand where you’re coming from, kid, I swear. But we can’t afford to do this. If they’re not back here in five minutes, we have to go.”
“Then you’ll have to leave without me.”
“No way, not an option,” he says, getting to his feet. “I don’t want to do this any more than you do, but I know Nazeera well enough to know that she can handle herself out there, and if she’s not back yet, it’s probably because she’s waiting for a safer moment. She’ll find her way. And you have to trust that she’ll bring Warner back with her. Okay?”
“Kenji, stop.” I get to my feet, too, anger and heartbreak colliding.
“Don’t do this,” he says, shaking his head. “Don’t force me to do something I don’t want to do. Because if I have to, I will tackle you to the floor, J, I swear—”
“You wouldn’t do that,” I say quietly. The fight leaves my body. I feel suddenly exhausted, hollowed out by heartache. “I know you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t make me leave him behind.”
I turn around, a bolt of feeling leaving me breathless. Just the sound of his voice has my heart racing in a way that feels dangerous. The jarring shift from fear to joy has my head pounding, delirious with feeling. I’d been so worried, all this time, and to know now—
His face, unmarked. His body, intact. He’s perfect and beautiful and he’s here. I don’t know how, but he’s here.
I clap my hands over my mouth.
I’m shaking my head and searching desperately for the right words but find I can’t speak. I can only stare at him as he steps forward, his eyes bright and burning.
He pulls me into his arms.
Sobs break my body, the culmination of a thousand fears and worries I hadn’t allowed myself to process. I press my face into his neck and try, but fail, to pull myself together. “I’m sorry,” I say, gasping the words, tears streaming fast down my face. “Aaron, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
I feel him stiffen.
He pulls away, staring at me with strange, scared eyes. “Why would you say that?” He looks around wildly, glances at Kenji, who only shakes his head. “What happened, love?” He pushes the hair out of my eyes, takes my face in his hands. “What are you sorry for?”
Nazeera pushes past us.
She nods at me, just once, before heading to the cockpit. Moments later I hear the roar of the engine, the electric sounds of equipment coming online.
I hear her voice in the speakers overhead, her crisp, certain commands filling the plane. She tells us to take our seats and get strapped in and I stare at Warner just once more, promising myself that we’ll have a chance to talk. Promising myself that I’ll make this right.
When we take off, he’s holding my hand.
We’ve been climbing higher for several minutes now, and Kenji and Nazeera were generous enough to give us some illusion of privacy. They both shot me separate but similar looks of encouragement just before they slipped off into the cockpit. It finally feels safe to keep talking.
But emotion is like a fist in my chest, hard and heavy.
There’s too much to say. Too much to discuss. I almost don’t even know where to start. I don’t know what happened to him, what he learned or what he remembers. I don’t know if he’s feeling the same things I’m feeling anymore. And all the unknowns are starting to scare me.
“What’s wrong?” he says.
He’s turned in his seat to face me. He reaches up, touches my face, and the feeling of his skin against mine is overwhelming—so powerful it leaves me breathless. Feeling shoots up my spine, sparks in my nerves.
“You’re afraid, love. Why are you afraid?”
“Do you remember me?” I whisper. I have to force myself to remain steady, to fight back the tears that refuse to die. “Do you remember me the way I remember you?”
Something changes in his expression. His eyes change, pull together in pain.
“Because I remember you,” I say, my voice breaking on the last word. “I remember you, Aaron. I remember everything. And you have to know— You have to know how sorry I am. For the way I left things between us.” I’m crying again. “I’m sorry for everything I said. For everything I put you thr—”
“Sweetheart,” he says gently, the question in his eyes resolving to a measure of understanding. “None of that matters anymore. That fight feels like it happened in another lifetime. To different people.”
I wipe away my tears. “I know,” I say. “But being here— All of this— I thought I might never see you again. And it killed me to remember how I left things between us.”
When I look up again Warner is staring at me, his own eyes bright, shining. I watch the movement in his throat as he swallows, hard.
“Forgive me,” I whisper. “I know it all seems stupid now, but I don’t want to take anything for granted anymore. Forgive me for hurting you. Forgive me for not trusting you. I took my pain out on you and I’m so sorry. I was selfish, and I hurt you, and I’m so sorry.”
He’s silent for so long I almost can’t bear it.
When he finally speaks, his voice is rough with emotion. “Love,” he says, “there’s nothing to forgive.”
Ella is asleep in my arms.
I can’t really think of her as Juliette anymore.
We’ve been in the air for an hour now, and Ella cried until her tears ran dry, cried for so long I thought it might kill me. I didn’t know what to say. I was so stunned I didn’t know how to soothe her. And only when the exhaustion overcame the tears did she finally go still, collapsing fully and completely into my arms. I’ve been holding her against my chest for at least half an hour, marveling at what it does to me to just be this close to her. Every once in a while, it feels like a dream. Her face is pressed against my neck. She’s clinging to me like she might never let go and it does something to me, something heady, to know that she could possibly want me—or need me—like this. It makes me want to protect her even if she doesn’t need protecting. It makes me want to carry her away. Lose track of time.
Gently, I stroke her hair. Press my lips to her forehead.
She stirs, but only slightly.
I had not been expecting this.
Of all the things I thought might happen when I finally saw her, I could never have dreamed a scenario such as this.
No one has ever apologized to me before. Not like this.
I’ve had men fall to their knees before me, begging me to spare their lives—but I can’t remember a single time in my life when someone apologized to me for hurting my feelings. No one has ever cared about my feelings long enough to apologize for hurting them. In my experience, I’m usually the monster. I’m the one expected to make amends.
I’m stunned. Stunned by the experience, by how strange it feels. All this time, I’d been preparing to win her back. To try to convince her, somehow, to see past my demons. And up until just this moment, I don’t think I was ever truly convinced anyone would see me as human enough to forgive my sins. To give me a second chance.
But now, she knows everything.
Every dark corner of my life. Every awful thing I ever tried to hide. She knows and she still loves me.