Shadow Me Page 2

I shouldn’t.

Leave it alone, I tell myself.

I open my mouth to change the subject. I open my mouth to move on, and, instead, I hear myself say—

“C’mon, bro. We both know that’s bullshit.”

Warner looks away. A muscle jumps in his jaw.

“You had a hard day yesterday,” I say. “It’s all right to have a rough morning, too.”

After a long pause, he says, “I’ve been up for a while.”

I blow out a breath. It’s nothing I wasn’t expecting. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I get it.”

He looks up. Meets my eyes. “Do you?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“I don’t think you do, actually. In fact, I hope you don’t. I wouldn’t want you to know how I feel right now. I wouldn’t wish that for you.”

That hits me harder than I expect. For a moment I don’t know what to say.

I decide to stare at the floor.

“Have you seen her yet?” I ask.

And then, so quietly I almost miss it—


Shit. This kid is breaking my heart.

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he says, his eyes flashing as they meet mine.

“What? I don’t— I’m not—”

“Get dressed,” Warner says sharply. “I’ll see you downstairs.”

I blink, startled. “Right,” I say. “Cool. Okay.”

And then he’s gone.


I stand in the doorway for a minute, running my hands through my hair and trying to convince myself to move. I’ve developed a sudden headache. Somehow, I’ve become a magnet for pain. Other people’s pain. My own pain. The thing is, I have no one to blame but myself. I ask the follow-up questions that land me here. I care too much. I make it my business when I shouldn’t, and I only ever seem to get shit for it.

I shake my head and then—wince.

The only thing Warner and I seem to have in common is that we both like to blow off steam in the gym. I pushed too much weight the other day and didn’t stretch afterward—and now I’m paying for it. I can hardly lift my arms.

I take a deep breath, arch my back. Stretch my neck. Try to work out the knots in my shoulder.

I hear someone whistle down the hall and I look up. Lily winks at me in an obvious, exaggerated way, and I roll my eyes. I’d really like to be flattered, because I’m not modest enough to deny that I have a nice body, but Lily could not give fewer shits about me. Instead, she does this—mocks me for walking around without a shirt on—nearly every morning. Her and Ian. Together. The two have been low-key dating for a couple of months now.

“Looking good, bro.” Ian smiles. “Is that sweat or baby oil? You’re so shiny.”

I flip him off.

“Those purple boxers are really working for you, though,” says Lily. “Nice choice. They suit your skin tone.”

I shoot her an incredulous look. I might not be wearing a shirt, but I’m definitely—I glance down—wearing sweatpants. My underwear is nowhere in sight. “How could you possibly know the color of my boxers?”

“Photographic memory,” she says, tapping her temple.

“Lil, that doesn’t mean you have X-ray vision.”

“You’re wearing purple underwear?” Winston’s voice—and a distinct whiff of coffee—carries down the hall. “That’s inspired.”

“All right, fuck off, all of you.”

“Hey— Whoa— I thought you weren’t allowed to use foul language.” Winston comes into view, his boots heavy on the concrete floor. He’s fighting back a laugh when he says, “I thought you and Castle had an agreement.”

“That’s not true,” I say, pointing at him. “Castle and I agreed I could say shit as much as I wanted.”

Winston raises his eyebrows.

“Anyway,” I mutter, “Castle isn’t here right now, is he? So I stand by my original statement. Fuck off, all of you.”

Winston laughs, Ian shakes his head, and Lily pretends to look offended, when—

“I most definitely am here right now, and I heard that,” Castle calls from his office.

I cringe.

I used to swear profusely as a teenager—much worse than I do now—and it really used to upset Castle. He said he worried I’d never find a way to articulate my emotions without anger. He wanted me to slow down when I spoke, to use specific words to describe how I was feeling instead of angrily shouting obscenities. He seemed so worried about it that I agreed to tone down my language. But I made that promise four years ago, and as much as I love Castle, I often regret it.

“Kenji?” Castle again. I know he’s waiting for an apology.

I peer down the hall and spot his open door. We’re all squeezed up against each other, even with the new accommodations. Warner basically had to reinvent this floor, and it took a lot of work and sacrifice, so, again, I’m not complaining.

But still.

It’s hard not to be annoyed by the overwhelming lack of privacy.

“My bad,” I shout back.

I can actually hear Castle sigh, even from across the hall.

“A touching display of remorse,” Winston says.

“All right, show’s over.” I wave them all away. “I have to shower.”

“Yeah you do,” Ian says, raising an eyebrow.

I shake my head, exhausted. “I can’t believe I put up with you assholes.”

Ian laughs. “You know I’m messing with you, right?” When I don’t respond he says, “Seriously—you look good. We should hit the gym later. I need someone to spot me.”

I nod, only a little mollified, and mumble a goodbye. I head back into my room to grab my shower caddy, but Winston follows me in, leans against the doorframe. It’s just then that I notice he’s holding a paper to-go cup.

My eyes light up. “Is that coffee?”

Winston pulls away from the door, horrified. “It’s my coffee.”

“Hand it over.”

“What? No.”

I narrow my eyes at him.

“Why can’t you get your own?” he says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “This is only my second cup. You know it takes at least three before I’m even half awake.”

“Yeah, well, I have to be downstairs in five minutes or Warner’s going to murder me and I haven’t had any breakfast yet and I’m already exhausted and I really—”

“Fine.” Winston’s face darkens as he hands it over. “You monster.”

I take the cup. “I’m a goddamn joy.”

Winston mutters something foul under his breath.

“Hey”—I take a sip of the coffee—“by the way— Did you, uh—?”

Winston’s neck goes suddenly red. He averts his eyes. “No.”

I hold up my free hand. “Hey—no pressure or anything. I was just wondering.”

“I’m still waiting for the right time,” he says.

“Cool. Of course. I’m just excited for you, that’s all.”

Winston looks up. Shoots me an uncertain smile.

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