It was a thought that had been plaguing Julie for months now. When she first started to work against her dad, she wasn't aware of the great lengths he went to to destroy anyone who went against him. But now, after fighting along side her friends, and witnessing what the citizens of Motorcity constantly had to sacrifice everyday just to live until tomorrow, she knew she had to say something before it was too late.
Kane's methods were becoming more desperate and deadly. She also knew that he'd have to catch her sooner or later—he was smart, and he was going to eventually find out that someone on the surface was giving all his plans to the Burners. And who else would that be but the girl who had access to all of his files? Lived in the house where he kept his secrets hidden?
Because of these facts, Claire was in danger for just being her friend. And Julie couldn't allow that.
She decided not to head down into Motorcity that night. She apologized to her fellow Burners, telling them that it was important and that they could expect her tomorrow. They heard the stress in her voice but none of them tried to get more out of her.
With her dad gone, Julie could safely invite Claire over. That didn't quell her nerves though. She sat waiting on the couch in the living room until a knock echoed through out the hall. She ran to open the door, inviting her friend in. “Hi, Claire,” she said as she hugged the other girl, a bit more tightly than she intended.
Claire didn't mind the hug, returning it with a smile. “Hey.” When she pulled back though, she noticed the distress in her friend's face. “Oh my gosh, Julie. Did something happen?”
Julie wasn't surprised that Claire picked up on her emotions so quickly. The girl was freakishly good at doing that. “Oh, um, just come inside first,” she responded with a weak smile. She hurried Claire in and closed the door quietly. “Let's go to my room.”
Claire was confused but she acquiesced. Once they both reached the bedroom, she closed the door behind her and went to go stand in front of Julie. She grabbed her hands and squeezed them lightly. “What's the matter?”
Julie bit her lip and avoided looking at her. She feared that if she looked into her face, and saw those beautiful eyes, she'd lose her courage. “It's about my dad,” she began.
The other girl felt her heart jump into her throat as she choked out, “He hasn't discovered...”
“No, no,” Julie quickly threw in. “Not yet, I mean. But...” she sighed. “Here,” she tugged on Claire's hands, “let's sit down.” She led the both of them towards her bed, Claire sitting down beside her.
Claire lightly placed her head on her friend's shoulder and asked quietly, “What's the matter?” Julie didn't respond at first, which further worried Claire. “You can tell me anything. I'm here for you. You know that, right?”
Julie smiled sadly and shook her head. “I know. That's what makes this so hard. I--” she began with tears already burning in her eyes, “I don't want to lose you.”
“Lose me?” Claire pulled back. “What're you talking about?” She strengthened her grip on the shaking hands that still resided within her own.
“I've been selfishly putting you in danger with this life of mine. I joined the Burners to stop my dad but I never considered anything past that.”
Claire frowned, partly in frustration. “It's been my choice too. I know it's dangerous when I go down with you.”
Julie shook her head, “It's not only dangerous there, but it's dangerous here too. Especially since you know me and what I've been hiding.” She stopped for a moment to catch her breath. Her voice was getting shaky now. “Dad can't ever know that you were involved with me or the Burners. He can't ever hurt you.”
The Burner wasn't the only one with a wildly beating heart. Claire's chest began to ache, scared of what Julie was getting at. She needed her. The only other thing she had in Deluxe was her family, and even they cared little for her. She could never say goodbye. “W-What are you trying to say?” she asked. “You're not leaving me, are you?”
Julie's response was an embrace. She wrapped her arms desperately around Claire, clinging to the clothes on her back. “God, you know I could never do that.” I'm not strong enough, she added silently. She felt Claire lay her small hands delicately on her back.
“It's something else though,” Claire stated, her voice barely above a whisper. She was beginning to understand what Julie wanted.
Julie nodded into her neck, almost afraid to let go. “Yes. Which is why you have to promise me something.”
Claire closed her eyes, not even trying to hold back the tear that rolled down her dark cheek. She knew what was coming up. “Anything for you.”
Julie took a shaky breath before speaking. “If I get caught and I can never come back to Deluxe, you can't follow me. It wouldn't be safe for you to visit or even keep in touch with me. Act like you hate me for betraying Kane, or lying to you or, or something.” She pulled herself away from Claire to look her in the face clearly for the first time that night. Both of them had tears in their eyes, and Claire was trying so hard to keep herself together.
“I can't ever see you?” she asked sadly.
Julie shook her head. “Too dangerous. My dad will be suspicious of you, of everyone I've ever talked to.”
Claire couldn't respond, didn't know how to respond.
“Please,” Julie continue with desperation in her voice, “If he ever finds out, promise me that you'll erase me from your life completely.”
“Julie,” Claire choked out before finally letting her emotions win. She covered her face to try and hide the tears. She attempted some words but they fell back into her throat.
This was tearing Julie apart. She had always tried to be strong for the both of them, and she hated that she had to ask Claire to do the same.
She reached her hands out and slid them under Claire's. Claire gripped them tightly as she continued to cry, unaware that Julie had leaned in to kiss her lightly on her forehead. “I love you, Claire,” she muttered into the skin, “That's why I'm asking you. I-I know it's hard, but I need you safe. I need someone to come home to when we win this battle. If you get hurt because of me before then, it won't feel like a victory at all.”
Claire nodded quietly. She struggled on the words, but she managed to make her vow, “I'll wait for you. I promise.”
Julie released a sigh of relief and pulled Claire close to her. “Thank you.”
It was a few minutes before either of them spoke again, Claire still encased in Julie's arms. She rested her head on her chest, calmed down by the sound of her heartbeat, thought it wasn't enough to put a stop to all of her tears. She'd been running all of the words through her head, and one painful question still remained to be asked. “Julie?”
“What'll happen if you don't win?”
She didn't want to even consider that scenario. It was a hard question to answer, but Julie just said what her heart felt and hoped it would be enough. “If that happens, I can at least go down fighting knowing that I kept you safe.”
After all, the reason the Burners fought was to protect the ones they loved.