Read Destroy Me by Tahereh Mafi Chapter 3
Delalieu is the only person here who does not hate me.
He still spends the majority of his time in my presence cowering in fear, but somehow he has no interest in overthrowing my position. I can feel it, though I don’t understand it. He’s likely the only person in this building who’s pleased that I’m not d**d.
I hold up a hand to keep away the soldiers who rush forward as I open my door. It takes an intense amount of concentration to keep my fingers from shaking as I wipe the slight sheen of perspiration off my forehead, but I will not allow myself a moment of weakness. These men do not fear for my safety; they only want a closer look at the spectacle I’ve become. They want a first look at the cracks in my sanity. But I have no wish to be wondered at.
My job is to lead.
I’ve been shot; it will not be f***l. There are things to be managed; I will manage them.
This wound will be forgotten.
Her name will not be spoken.
My fingers clench and unclench as I make my way toward the L Room. I never before realized just how long these corridors are and just how many soldiers line the halls. There’s no reprieve from their curious stares and their disappointment that I did not d*e. I don’t even have to look at them to know what they’re thinking. But knowing how they feel only makes me more determined to live a very long life.
I will give no one the satisfaction of my d***h.
I wave away the tea and coffee service for the fourth time. “I do not drink caffeine, Delalieu. Why do you always insist on having it served at my meals?”
“I suppose I always hope you will change your mind, sir.”
I look up. Delalieu is smiling that strange, shaky smile. And I’m not entirely certain, but I think he’s just made a joke.
“Why?” I reach for a slice of bread. “I am perfectly capable of keeping my eyes open. Only an idiot would rely on the energy of a bean or a leaf to stay awake throughout the day.”
Delalieu is no longer smiling.
“Yes,” he says. “Certainly, sir.” And stares down at his food. I watch as his fingers push away the coffee cup.
I drop the bread back onto my plate. “My opinions,” I say to him, quietly this time, “should not so easily break your own. Stand by your convictions. Form clear and logical arguments. Even if I disagree.”
“Of course, sir,” he whispers. He says nothing for a few seconds. But then I see him reach for his coffee again.
He, I think, is my only course for conversation.
He was originally assigned to this sector by my father, and has since been ordered to remain here until he’s no longer able. And though he’s likely fortyfive years my senior, he insists on remaining directly below me. I’ve known Delalieu’s face since I was a child; I used to see him around our house, sitting in on the many meetings that took place in the years before The Reestablishment took over.
There was an endless supply of meetings in my house.
My father was always planning things, leading discussions and whispered conversations I was never allowed to be a part of. The men of those meetings are running this world now, so when I look at Delalieu I can’t help but wonder why he never aspired to more. He was a part of this regime from the very beginning, but somehow seems content to d*e just as he is now. He chooses to remain subservient, even when I give him opportunities to speak up; he refuses to be promoted, even when I offer him higher pay. And while I appreciate his loyalty, his dedication unnerves me. He does not seem to wish for more than what he has.
I should not trust him.
And yet, I do.
But I’ve begun to lose my mind for a lack of companionable conversation. I cannot maintain anything but a cool distance from my soldiers, not only because they all wish to see me d**d, but also because I have a responsibility as their leader to make unbiased decisions. I have sentenced myself to a life of solitude, one wherein I have no peers, and no mind but my own to live in. I looked to build myself as a feared leader, and I’ve succeeded; no one will question my authority or posit a contrary opinion. No one will speak to me as anything but the chief commander and regent of Sector 45. Friendship is not a thing I have ever experienced. Not as a child, and not as I am now.
One month ago, I met the exception to this rule. There has been one person who’s ever looked me directly in the eye. The same person who’s spoken to me with no filter; someone who’s been unafraid to show anger and real, raw feeling in my presence; the only one who’s ever dared to challenge me, to raise her voice to me—
I squeeze my eyes shut for what feels like the tenth time today. I unclench my fist around this fork, drop it to the table. My arm has begun to throb again, and I reach for the pills tucked away in my pocket.
“You shouldn’t take more than eight of those within a twenty-four-hour period, sir.”
I open the cap and toss three more into my mouth. I really wish my hands would stop shaking. My muscles feel too tight, too tense. Stretched thin.
I don’t wait for the pills to dissolve. I bite down on them, crunching against their bitterness. There’s something about the foul, metallic taste that helps me focus. “Tell me about Kent.”
Delalieu knocks over his coffee cup.
The dining aides have left the room at my request; Delalieu receives no assistance as he scrambles to clean up the mess. I sit back in my chair, staring at the wall just behind him, mentally tallying up the minutes I’ve lost today.
“Leave the coffee.”
“I—yes, of course, sorry, sir—”
Delalieu drops the sopping napkins. His hands are frozen in place, hovering over his plate.
I watch his throat move as he swallows, hesitates. “We don’t know, sir,” he whispers. “The building should’ve been impossible to find, much less to enter. It’d been bolted and rusted shut. But when we found it,” he says, “when we found it, it was . . . the door had been destroyed. And we’re not sure how they managed it.”
I sit up. “What do you mean, destroyed?”
He shakes his head. “It was . . . very odd, sir. The door had been . . . mangled. As if some kind of animal had clawed through it. There was only a gaping, ragged hole in the middle of the frame.”
I stand up entirely too fast, gripping the table for support. I’m breathless at the thought of it, at the possibility of what must’ve happened. And I can’t help but allow myself the painful pleasure of recalling her name once more, because I know it must’ve been her. She must’ve done something extraordinary, and I wasn’t even there to witness it.
“Call for transport,” I tell him. “I will meet you in the Quadrant in exactly ten minutes.”
I’m already out the door.