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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi Chapter 21

Twenty-One

Read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi Chapter 21

Twenty-One

Killing time isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand.

I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hand tick tick tick its final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I’ve been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind.

It’s been one week since I’ve spoken a word to Adam.

I turned to him once. Opened my mouth just once but never had a chance to say anything before Warner intercepted me. “You are not allowed to speak to the soldiers,” he said. “If you have questions, you can find me. I am the only person you need to concern yourself with while you’re here.”

Possessive is not a strong enough word for Warner.

He escorts me everywhere. Talks to me too much. My schedule consists of meetings with Warner and eating with Warner and listening to Warner. If he is busy, I am sent to my room. If he is free, he finds me. He tells me about the books they’ve destroyed. The artifacts they’re preparing to burn. The ideas he has for a new world and how I’ll be a great help to him just as soon as I’m ready. Just as soon as I realize how much I want this, how much I want him, how much I want this new, glorious, powerful life. He is waiting for me to harness my potential. He tells me how grateful I should be for his patience. His kindness. His willingness to understand that this transition must be difficult.

I cannot look at Adam. I cannot speak to him. He sleeps in my room but I never see him. He breathes so close to my body but does not part his lips in my direction. He does not follow me into the bathroom. He does not leave secret messages in my notebook.

I’m beginning to wonder if I imagined everything he said to me.

I need to know if something has changed. I need to know if I’m crazy for holding on to this hope blossoming in my heart and I need to know what Adam’s message meant but every day that he treats me like a stranger is another day I begin to doubt myself.

I need to talk to him but I can’t.

Because now Warner is watching me.

The cameras are watching everything.

“I want you to take the cameras out of my room.”

Warner stops chewing the food/garbage/breakfast/ nonsense in his mouth. He swallows carefully before leaning back and looking me in the eye.

“Absolutely not.”

“If you treat me like a prisoner,” I tell him, “I’m going to act like one. I don’t like to be watched.”

“You can’t be trusted on your own.” He picks up his spoon again.

“Every breath I take is monitored. There are guards stationed in five-foot intervals in all the hallways. I don’t even have access to my own room,” I protest. “Cameras aren’t going to make a difference.”

A strange kind of amusement dances on his lips. “You’re not exactly stable, you know. You’re liable to kill someone.”

“No.” I grip my fingers. “No—I wouldn’t—I didn’t kill Jenkins—”

“I’m not talking about Jenkins.” His smile is a vat of acid seeping into my skin.

He won’t stop looking at me. Smiling at me. Torturing me with his eyes.

This is me, screaming silently into my fist.

“That was an accident.” The words tumble out of my mouth so quietly, so quickly I don’t even know if I’ve actually spoken or if I’m actually still sitting here or if I’m actually 14 years old all over again all over again all over again and I’m screaming and dying and diving into a pool of memories I never ever ever ever ever

I can’t seem to forget.

I saw her at the grocery store. Her legs were standing crossed at the ankles, her child was on a leash she thought he thought was a backpack. She thought he was too dumb/ too young/too immature to understand that the rope tying him to her wrist was a device designed to trap him in her uninterested circle of self-sympathy. She’s too young to have a kid, to have these responsibilities, to be buried by a child who has needs that don’t accommodate her own. Her life is so incredibly unbearable so immensely multifaceted too glamorous for the leashed legacy of her loins to understand.

Children are not stupid, was what I wanted to tell her.

I wanted to tell her that his seventh scream didn’t mean he was trying to be obnoxious, that her fourteenth admonishment in the form of brat/you’re such a brat/you’re embarrassing me you little brat/don’t make me tell Daddy you were being a brat was uncalled for. I didn’t mean to watch but I couldn’t help myself. His 3-year-old face puckered in pain, his little hands tried to undo the chains she’d strapped across his chest and she tugged so hard he fell down and cried and she told him he deserved it.

I wanted to ask her why she would do that.

I wanted to ask her so many questions but I didn’t because we don’t talk to people anymore because saying something would be stranger than saying nothing to a stranger. He fell to the floor and writhed around until I’d dropped everything in my hands and every feature on my face.

I’m so sorry, is what I never said to her son.

I thought my hands were helping

I thought my heart was helping

I thought so many things

I never

never

never

never

never though

“You killed a little boy.”

I’m nailed into my velvet chair by a million memories and I’m haunted by a horror my bare hands created and I’m reminded in every moment that I am unwanted for good reason. My hands can kill people. My hands can destroy everything.

I should not be allowed to live.

“I want,” I gasp, struggling to swallow the fist lodged in my throat, “I want you to get rid of the cameras. Get rid of them or I will die fighting you for the right.”

“Finally!” Warner stands up and clasps his hands together as if to congratulate himself. “I was wondering when you’d wake up. I’ve been waiting for the fire I know must be eating away at you every single day. You’re buried in hatred, aren’t you? Anger? Frustration? Itching to do something? To be someone?”

“No.”

“Of course you are. You’re just like me.”

“I hate you more than you will ever understand.”

“We’re going to make an excellent team.”

“We are nothing. You are nothing to me—”

“I know what you want.” He leans in, drops his voice.

“I know what your little heart has always longed for. I can give you the acceptance you seek. I can be your friend.” I freeze. Falter. Fail to speak.

“I know everything about you, love.” He grins. “I’ve wanted you for a very long time. I’ve waited forever for you to be ready. I’m not going to let you go so easily.”

“I don’t want to be a monster,” I say, perhaps more for my sake than his.

“Don’t fight what you’re born to be.” He grasps my shoulders. “Stop letting everyone else tell you what’s wrong and right. Stake a claim! You cower when you could conquer. You have so much more power than you’re aware of and quite frankly I’m”—he shakes his head—“fascinated.”

“I am not your freak,” I snap. “I will not perform for you.”

He tightens his hold around my arms and I can’t squirm away from him. He leans in dangerously close to my face and I don’t know why but I can’t breathe. “I’m not afraid of you, my dear,” he says softly. “I’m absolutely enchanted.”

“Either you get rid of the cameras or I will find and break every single one of them.” I’m a liar. I’m lying through my teeth but I’m angry and desperate and horrified. Warner wants to morph me into an animal who preys on the weak. On the innocent.

If he wants me to fight for him, he’s going to have to fight me first.

A slow smile spreads across his face. He touches gloved fingers to my cheek and tilts my head up, catching my chin in his grip when I flinch away.

“You’re absolutely delicious when you’re angry.”

“Too bad my taste is poisonous for your palate.” I’m vibrating in disgust from head to toe.

“That detail makes this game so much more appealing.”

“You’re sick, you’re so sick—”

He laughs and releases my chin only to take inventory of my body parts. His eyes draw a lazy trail down the length of my frame and I feel the sudden urge to rupture his spleen. “If I get rid of your cameras, what will you do for me?” His eyes are wicked.

“Nothing.”

He shakes his head. “That won’t do. I might agree to your proposition if you agree to a condition.”

I clench my jaw. “What do you want?”

The smile is bigger than before. “That is a dangerous question.”

“What is your condition?” I clarify, impatient.

“Touch me.”

“What?” My gasp is so loud it catches in my throat only to race around the room.

“I want to know exactly what you’re capable of.” His voice is steady, his eyebrows taut, tense.

“I won’t do it again!” I explode. “You saw what you made me do to Jenkins—”

“Screw Jenkins,” he spits. “I want you to touch me— I want to feel it myself—”

“No—” I’m shaking my head so hard it makes me dizzy. “No. Never. You’re crazy—I won’t—”

“You will, actually.”

“I will NOT—”

“You will have to . . . work . . . at one point or another,” he says, making an effort to moderate his voice. “Even if you were to forgo my condition, you are here for a reason, Juliette. I convinced my father that you would be an asset to The Reestablishment. That you’d be able to restrain any rebels we—”

“You mean torture—”

“Yes.” He smiles. “Forgive me, I mean torture. You will be able to help us torture anyone we capture.” A pause. “Inflicting pain, you see, is an incredibly efficient method of getting information out of anyone. And with you?” He glances at my hands. “Well, it’s cheap. Fast. Effective.” He smiles wider. “And as long as we keep you alive, you’ll be good for at least a few decades. It’s very fortunate that you’re not battery-operated.”

“You—you—” I sputter.

“You should be thanking me. I saved you from that sick hole of an asylum —I brought you into a position of power. I’ve given you everything you could possibly need to be comfortable.” He levels his gaze at me. “Now I need you to focus. I need you to relinquish your hopes of living like everyone else. You are not normal. You never have been, and you never will be. Embrace who you are.”

“I”—I swallow—“I am not—I’m not—I’m—”

“A murderer?”

“NO—”

“An instrument of torture?”

“STOP—”

“You’re lying to yourself.”

I’m ready to destroy him.

He cocks his head and presses back a smile. “You’ve been on the edge of insanity your entire life, haven’t you? So many people called you crazy you actually started to believe it. You wondered if they were right. You wondered if you could fix it. You thought if you could just try a little harder, be a little better, smarter, nicer—you thought the world would change its mind about you. You blamed yourself for everything.”

I gasp.

My bottom lip trembles without my permission. I can hardly control the tension in my jaw.

I don’t want to tell him he’s right.

“You’ve suppressed all your rage and resentment because you wanted to be loved,” he says, no longer smiling. “Maybe I understand you, Juliette. Maybe you should trust me. Maybe you should accept the fact that you’ve tried to be someone you’re not for so long and that no matter what you did, those bastards were never happy. They were never satisfied. They never gave a damn, did they?” He looks at me and for a moment he seems almost human. For a moment I want to believe him. For a moment I want to sit on the floor and cry out the ocean lodged in my throat.

“It’s time you stopped pretending,” he says, so softly. “Juliette—” He takes my face in his gloved hands, so unexpectedly gentle. “You don’t have to be nice anymore. You can destroy all of them. You can take them down and own this whole world and—”

A steam engine hits me in the face.

“I don’t want to destroy anyone,” I tell him. “I don’t want to hurt people —”

“But they deserve it!” He pushes away from me, frustrated. “How could you not want to retaliate? How could you not want to fight back—”

I stand up slowly, shaking with anger, hoping my legs won’t collapse beneath me. “You think that because I am unwanted, because I am neglected and—and discarded—” My voice inches higher with every word, the unrestrained emotions suddenly screaming through my lungs. “You think I don’t have a heart? You think I don’t feel? You think that because I can inflict pain, that I should? You’re just like everyone else. You think I’m a monster just like everyone else. You don’t understand me at all—”

“Juliette—”

“No.”

I don’t want this. I don’t want his life.

I don’t want to be anything for anyone but myself. I want to make my own choices and I’ve never wanted to be a monster. My words are slow and steady when I speak. “I value human life a lot more than you do, Warner.”

He opens his mouth to speak before he stops. Laughs out loud and shakes his head.

Smiles at me.

“What?” I ask before I can stop myself.

“You just said my name.” He grins even wider. “You’ve never addressed me directly before. That must mean I’m making progress with you.”

“I just told you I don’t—”

He cuts me off. “I’m not worried about your moral dilemmas. You’re just stalling for time because you’re in denial. Don’t worry,” he says. “You’ll get over it. I can wait a little longer.”

“I’m not in denial—”

“Of course you are. You don’t know it yet, Juliette, but you are a very bad girl,” he says, clutching his heart. “Just my type.”

This conversation is impossible.

“There is a soldier living in my room.” I’m breathing hard. “If you want me to be here, you need to get rid of the cameras.”

Warner’s eyes darken for just an instant. “Where is your soldier, anyway?”

“I wouldn’t know.” I hope to God I’m not blushing. “You assigned him to me.”

“Yes.” He looks thoughtful. “I like watching you squirm. He makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t he?”

I think about Adam’s hands on my body and his lips so close to mine and the scent of his skin drenched in a steaming downpour soaking the two of us together and suddenly my heart is two fists pounding on my ribs demanding escape. “Yes.” God. “Yes. He makes me very . . . uncomfortable.”

“Do you know why I chose him?” Warner asks, and I’m run over by a tractor trailer.

Adam was chosen.

Of course he was. He wasn’t just any soldier sent to my cell. Warner does nothing without reason. He must know Adam and I have a history. He is more cruel and calculative than I gave him credit for.

“No.” Inhale. “I don’t know why.” Exhale. I can’t forget to breathe.

“He volunteered,” Warner says simply, and I’m momentarily dumbstruck. “He said he’d gone to school with you so many years ago. He said you probably wouldn’t remember him, that he looks a lot different now than he did back then. He put together a very convincing case.” A beat of breath. “He said he was thrilled to hear you’d been locked up.” Warner finally looks at me.

My bones are like cubes of ice clinking together, chilling me to my core.

“I’m curious,” he continues, tilting his head as he speaks. “Do you remember him?”

“No,” I lie, and I’m not sure I’m alive. I’m trying to untangle the truth from the false from assumptions from the postulations but run-on sentences are twisting around my throat.

Adam knew me when he walked into that cell.

He knew exactly who I was.

He already knew my name.

Oh

Oh

Oh

This was all a trap.

“Does this information make you . . . angry?” he asks, and I want to sew his smiling lips into a permanent scowl.

I say nothing and somehow it’s worse.

Warner is beaming. “I never told him, of course, why it was that you’d been locked up—I thought the experiment in the asylum should remain untainted by extra information—but he said you were always a threat to the students. That everyone was always warned to stay away from you, though the authorities never explained why. He said he wanted to get a closer look at the freak you’ve become.”

My heart cracks. My eyes flash. I’m so hurt so angry so horrified so humiliated and burning with indignation so raw that it’s like a fire raging within me, a wildfire of decimated hopes. I want to crush Warner’s spine in my hand. I want him to know what it’s like to wound, to inflict such unbearable agony on others. I want him to know my pain and Jenkins’ pain and Fletcher’s pain and I want him to hurt. Because maybe Warner is right.

Maybe some people do deserve it.

“Take off your shirt.”

For all his posturing, Warner looks genuinely surprised, but he wastes no time unbuttoning his jacket, slipping off his gloves, and peeling away the thin cotton shirt clinging closest to his skin.

His eyes are bright, sickeningly eager; he doesn’t mask his curiosity.

Warner drops his clothes to the floor and looks at me almost intimately. I have to swallow back the revulsion bubbling in my mouth. His perfect face.

His perfect body. His eyes as hard and beautiful as frozen gemstones. He repulses me. I want his exterior to match his broken black interior. I want to cripple his cockiness with the palm of my hand.

He walks up to me until there’s less than a foot of space between us. His height and build make me feel like a fallen twig. “Are you ready?” he asks, arrogant and foolish.

I contemplate breaking his neck.

“If I do this you’ll get rid of all the cameras in my room. All the bugs. Everything.”

He steps closer. Dips his head. He’s staring at my lips, studying me in an entirely new way. “My promises aren’t worth much, love,” he whispers. “Or have you forgotten?” 3 inches forward. His hand on my waist. His breath sweet and warm on my neck. “I’m an exceptional liar.”

Realization slams into me like 200 pounds of common sense. I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be making deals with him. I shouldn’t be contemplating torture dear God I have lost my mind. My fists are balled at my sides and I’m shaking everywhere. I can hardly find the strength to speak.

“You can go to hell.”

I’m limp.

I trip backward against the wall and slump into a heap of uselessness; desperation. I think of Adam and my heart deflates.

I can’t be here anymore.

I fly to the double doors facing the room and yank them open before Warner can stop me. But Adam stops me instead. He’s standing just outside. Waiting. Guarding me wherever I go.

I wonder if he heard everything and my eyes fall to the floor, the color flushed from my face, my heart in pieces in my hand. Of course he heard everything. Of course he now knows I’m a murderer. A monster. A worthless soul stuffed into a poisonous body.

Warner did this on purpose.

And I’m standing between them. Warner with no shirt on. Adam looking at his gun.

“Soldier.” Warner speaks. “Take her back up to her room and disable all the cameras. She can have lunch alone if she wants, but I’ll expect her for dinner.”

Adam blinks for a moment too long. “Yes, sir.”

“Juliette?”

I freeze. My back is to Warner and I don’t turn around.

“I do expect you to hold up your end of the bargain.”

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