Read Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi Chapter 37
“I’m really happy you’re taking it so well—I am—but James, this really isn’t something to be excited about. We’re running for our lives.”
“But we’re doing it together,” he says for the fifth time, a huge grin overcrowding his face. He took a liking to Kenji almost too quickly, and now the pair of them are conspiring to turn our predicament into some kind of elaborate mission. “And I can help!”
“No, it’s not—”
“Of course you can—”
Adam and Kenji speak at the same time. Kenji recovers first. “Why can’t he help? Ten years old is old enough to help.”
“That’s not your call,” Adam says, careful to control his voice. I know he’s staying calm for his brother’s sake. “And it’s none of your business.”
“I’ll finally get to come with you,” James says, undeterred. “And I want to help.”
James took the news in stride. He didn’t even flinch when Adam explained the real reason why he was home, and why we were together. I thought seeing Kenji’s bruised and battered face would scare him, unnerve him, instill a sense of fear in his heart, but James was eerily unmoved. It occurred to me he must’ve seen much worse.
Adam takes a few deep breaths before turning to Kenji. “How far?”
“By foot?” Kenji looks uncertain for the first time. “At least a few hours. If we don’t do anything stupid, we should be there by nightfall.”
“And if we take a car?”
Kenji blinks. His surprise dissolves into an enormous grin. “Well, s**t, Kent, why didn’t you say so sooner?”
“Watch your mouth around my brother.”
James rolls his eyes. “I hear worse stuff than that every day. Even Benny uses bad words.”
“Benny?” Adam’s eyebrows stumble up his forehead.
“What does she—” He stops. Changes his mind. “That doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to keep hearing it.”
“I’m almost eleven!”
“Hey, little man,” Kenji interrupts. “It’s okay. It’s my fault. I should be more careful. Besides, there are ladies present.” Kenji winks at me.
I look away. Look around.
It’s difficult for me to leave this humble home, so I can only imagine what Adam must be experiencing right now. I think James is too excited about the dangerous road ahead of us to realize what’s happening. To truly understand that he’ll never be coming back here.
We’re all fugitives running for our lives.
“So, what—you stole a car?” Kenji asks.
Kenji barks out a laugh. “NICE.”
“It’s a little conspicuous for daytime, though.” “What’s conspicuous mean?” James asks.
“It’s a little too . . . noticeable.” Adam cringes. “S**T.” Kenji stumbles up to his feet.
“I told you to watch your mouth—”
“Do you hear that?”
Kenji’s eyes are darting in every direction. “Is there another way out of here?”
Adam is up. “JAMES—”
James runs to his brother’s side. Adam checks his gun. I’m slinging bags over my back, Adam is doing the same, his attention diverted by the front door.
“THERE’S NO TIME—”
“What do you—”
And we’re running, following Adam into James’ room. Adam rips a curtain off of one wall to reveal a hidden door just as 3 beeps sound from the living room.
Adam shoots the lock on the exit door.
Something explodes not 15 feet behind us. The sound shatters in my ears, vibrates through my body. I nearly collapse from the impact. Gunshots are everywhere. Footsteps are pounding into the house but we’re already running through the exit. Adam hauls James up and into his arms and we’re flying through the sudden burst of light blinding our way through the streets. The rain has stopped. The roads are s***k and muddy. There are children everywhere, bright colors of small bodies suddenly screaming at our approach. There’s no point being inconspicuous anymore.
They’ve already found us.
Kenji is lagging behind, stumbling his way through the last of his adrenaline rush. We turn into a narrow alleyway and he slumps against the wall. “I’m sorry,” he pants, “I can’t—you can leave me—”
“We can’t leave you—,” Adam shouts, looking everywhere, drinking in our surroundings.
“That’s sweet, bro, but it’s okay—”
“We need you to show us where to go!”
“You said you would help us—”
“I thought you said you had a tank—”
“If you hadn’t noticed, there’s been an unexpected change of plans—”
“I can’t keep up, Kent. I can barely walk—”
“You have to try—”
“There are rebels on the loose. They are armed and ready to fire. Curfew is now in effect. Everyone return to their homes immediately. There are rebels on the loose. They are armed and ready to fi—”
The loudspeakers sound around the streets, drawing attention to our bodies huddled together in the narrow alley. A few people see us and scream. Boots are getting louder. Gunshots are getting wilder.
I take a moment to analyze the surrounding buildings and realize we’re not in a settled compound. The street James lives on is unregulated turf: a series of abandoned office buildings crammed together, leftovers from our old lives. I don’t understand why he’s not living in a compound like the rest of the population. I don’t have time to figure out why I only see two age groups represented, why the elderly and the orphaned are the only residents, why they’ve been dumped on illegal land with soldiers who are not supposed to be here. I’m afraid to consider the answers to my own questions and in a panicked moment I fear for James’ life. I spin around as we run, glimpsing his small body bundled in Adam’s arms.
His eyes are squeezed shut so tight I’m sure it hurts.
Adam swears under his breath. He kicks down the first door we can find of a deserted building and yells for us to follow him inside.
“I need you to stay here,” he says to Kenji. “And I’m out of my mind, but I need to leave James with you. I need you to watch out for him. They’re looking for Juliette, and they’re looking for me. They won’t even expect to find you two.”
“What are you going to do?” Kenji asks.
“I need to steal a car. Then I’ll come back for you.” James doesn’t even protest as Adam puts him down. His little lips are white. His eyes wide. His hands trembling. “I’ll come back for you, James,” Adam says again. “I promise.”
James nods over and over and over again. Adam kisses his head, once, hard, fast. Drops our duffel bags on the floor. Turns to Kenji. “If you let anything happen to him, I will k**l you.”
Kenji doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t scowl. He takes a deep breath. “I’ll take care of him.”
He takes my hand, and we disappear into the streets.