“If it were Warner he wouldn’t be knocking,” he says, though he doesn’t lower his weapon.
I know he’s right. Warner would’ve shot down the door, used explosives, killed a hundred people to get to me. He certainly wouldn’t wait for me to open the door. Something calms inside of me but I won’t allow myself to get comfortable. “Who do you think—?”
“It might be Benny—she usually checks up on James—”
“But wouldn’t she know he’d be at school right now?”
“No one else knows where I live—”
The pounding is getting weaker. Slower. There’s a low, guttural sound of agony.
Adam and I lock eyes.
One more fist flailing into the door. A slump. Another moan. The thud of a body against the door.
Adam rakes a hand through his hair.
“Adam!” someone cries. Coughs. “Please, man, if you’re in there—”
I freeze. The voice sounds familiar.
Adam’s spine straightens in an instant. His lips are parted, his eyes astonished. He punches in the pass code and turns the latch. Points his gun toward the door as he eases it open.
A short wheeze. A muffled groan. “Shit, man, what took you so long?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Click. I can hardly see through the small slit of the door, but it’s clear Adam isn’t happy to have company. “Who sent you here? Who are you with?”
Kenji swears a few more times under his breath. “Look at me,” he demands, though it sounds more like a plea. “You think I came up here to kill you?”
Adam pauses. Breathes. Doubts. “I have no problem putting a bullet in your back.”
“Don’t worry, bro. I already have a bullet in my back. Or my leg. Or some shit. I don’t even know.”
Adam opens the door. “Get up.”
“It’s all right, I don’t mind if you drag my ass inside.”
Adam works his jaw. “I don’t want your blood on my carpet. It’s not something my brother needs to see.”
Kenji stumbles up and staggers into the room. I’d heard his voice once before, but never seen his face. Though this probably isn’t the best time for first impressions. His eyes are puffy, swollen, purple; there’s a huge gash in the side of his forehead. His lip is split, slightly bleeding, his body slumped and broken. He winces, takes short breaths as he moves. His clothes are ripped to shreds, his upper body covered by nothing but a tank top, his well-developed arms cut and bruised. I’m amazed he didn’t freeze to death. He doesn’t seem to notice me until he does.
He stops. Blinks. Breaks into a ridiculous smile dimmed only by a slight grimace from the pain. “Holy shit,” he says, still drinking me in. “Holy shit.” He tries to laugh. “Dude, you’re insane—”
“The bathroom is over here.” Adam is set in stone.
Kenji moves forward but keeps looking back. I point the gun at his face. He laughs harder, flinches, wheezes a bit. “Dude, you ran off with the crazy chick! You ran off with the psycho girl!” he’s calling after Adam. “I thought they made that shit up. What the hell were you thinking? What are you going to do with the psycho chick? No wonder Warner wants you dead—OW, MAN, what the hell—”
“She’s not crazy. And she’s not deaf, asshole.”
The door slams shut behind them and I can only make out their muffled argument. I have a feeling Adam doesn’t want me to hear what he has to say to Kenji. Either that, or it’s the screaming.
I have no idea what Adam is doing, but I assume it has something to do with dislodging a bullet from Kenji’s body and generally repairing the rest of his wounds as best he can. Adam has a pretty extensive first aid supply and strong, steady hands. I wonder if he picked up these skills in the army. Maybe for taking care of himself. Or maybe his brother. It would make sense.
Health insurance was a dream we lost a long time ago.
I’ve been holding this gun in my hand for nearly an hour. I’ve been listening to Kenji scream for nearly an hour and I only know that because I like counting the seconds as they pass by. I have no idea what time it is. I think there’s a clock in James’ bedroom but I don’t want to go into his room without permission.
I stare at the gun in my hand, at the smooth, heavy metal, and I’m surprised to find that I enjoy the way it feels in my grip. Like an extension of my body. It doesn’t frighten me anymore.
It frightens me more that I might use it.
The bathroom door opens and Adam walks out. He has a small towel in his hands. I get to my feet. He offers me a small smile. He reaches into the tiny fridge for the even tinier freezer section. Grabs a couple of ice cubes and drops them into the towel. Disappears into the bathroom again.
I sit back on the couch.
It’s raining today. The sky is weeping for us.
Adam comes out of the bathroom, this time empty-handed, still alone.
I stand back up.
He rubs his forehead, the back of his neck. Meets me on the couch. “I’m sorry,” he says.
My eyes are wide. “For what?”
“Everything.” He sighs. “Kenji was a sort of friend of mine back on base. Warner had him tortured after we left. For information.”
I swallow a gasp.
“He says he didn’t say anything—didn’t have anything to say, really—but he got messed up pretty bad. I have no idea if his ribs are broken or just bruised, but I managed to get the bullet out of his leg.”
I take his hand. Squeeze.
“He got shot running away,” Adam says after a moment.
And something slams into my consciousness. I panic. “The tracker serum—”
Adam nods, his eyes heavy, distraught. “I think it might be dysfunctional, but I have no way of knowing for sure. I do know that if it were working as it should, Warner would be here by now. But we can’t risk it. We have to get out, and we have to get rid of Kenji before we go.”
I’m shaking my head, caught between colliding currents of disbelief. “How did he even find you?”
Adam’s face hardens. “He started screaming before I could ask.”
“And James?” I whisper, almost afraid to wonder.
Adam drops his head into his hands. “As soon as he gets home, we have to go. We can use this time to prepare.” He meets my eyes. “I can’t leave James behind. It’s not safe for him here anymore.”
I touch his cheek and he leans into my hand, holds my palm against his face. Closes his eyes.
“Son of a motherless goat—”
Adam and I break apart. I’m blushing past my hairline. Adam looks annoyed. Kenji is leaning against the wall in the bathroom hallway, holding the makeshift ice pack to his face. Staring at us.
“You can touch her? I mean—shit, I just saw you touch her but that’s not even—”
“You have to go,” Adam says to him. “You’ve already left a chemical trace leading right to my home. We need to leave, and you can’t come with us.”
“Oh hey—whoa—hold on.” Kenji stumbles into the living room, wincing as he puts pressure on his leg. “I’m not trying to slow you down, man. I know a place. A safe place. Like, a legit, super-safe place. I can take you. I can show you how to get there. I know a guy.”
“Bullshit.” Adam is still angry. “How did you even find me? How did you manage to show up at my door, Kenji? I don’t trust you—”
“I don’t know, man. I swear I don’t remember what happened. I don’t know where I was running after a certain point. I was just jumping fences. I found a huge field with an old shed. Slept in there for a while. I think I blacked out at one point, either from the pain or from the cold—it is cold as hell out here—and the next thing I know, some dude is carrying me. Drops me off at your door. Tells me to shut up about Adam, because Adam lives right here.” He grins. Tries to wink. “I guess I was dreaming about you in my sleep.”
“Wait—what?” Adam leans forward. “What do you mean some guy was carrying you? What guy? What was his name? How did he know my name?”
“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me, and it’s not like I had the presence of mind to ask. But dude was huge. I mean, he had to be if he was going to lug my ass around.”
“You can’t honestly expect me to believe you.”
“You have no choice.” Kenji shrugs.
“Of course I have a choice.” Adam is on his feet. “I have no reason to trust you. No reason to believe a word that’s coming out of your mouth.”
“Then why am I here with a bullet in my leg? Why hasn’t Warner found you yet? Why am I unarmed—”
“This could be a part of your plan!”
“And you helped me anyway!” Kenji dares to raise his voice. “Why didn’t you just let me die? Why didn’t you shoot me dead? Why did you help me?”
Adam falters. “I don’t know.”
“You do know. You know I’m not here to mess you up. I took a goddamn beating for you—”
“You weren’t protecting any information of mine.”
“Well, shit, man, what the hell do you want me to say? They were going to kill my ass. I had to run. It wasn’t my fault some dude dropped me off at your door—”
“This isn’t just about me, don’t you understand? I’ve worked so hard to find a safe place for my brother and in one morning you ruined years of planning. What the hell am I supposed to do now? I have to run until I can find a way to keep him safe. He’s too young to have to deal with this—”
“We’re all too young to have to deal with this shit.” Kenji is breathing hard. “Don’t fool yourself, bro. No one should have to see what we’ve seen. No one should have to wake up in the morning and find dead bodies in their living room, but shit happens. We deal with it, and we find a way to survive. You’re not the only one with problems.”
Adam sinks into the sofa. 80 pounds of worry weigh down his shoulders. He leans forward with his head in his hands.
Kenji stares at me. I stare back.
He grins and hobbles forward. “You know, you’re pretty sexy for a psycho chick.”
Kenji is backing up with his hands in the air. Adam is pressing a gun to his forehead. “Show some respect, or I will burn it into your skull.”
“I was kidding—”
“Like hell you were.”
“Damn, Adam, calm the hell down—”
“Where’s the ‘super-safe place’ you can take us?” I’m up, gun still gripped in my hand. I move into position next to Adam. “Or are you making that up?”
Kenji lights up. “No, that’s real. Very real. In fact, I may or may not have mentioned something about you. And the dude who runs the place may or may not be ridiculously interested in meeting you.”
“You think I’m some kind of freak you can show off to your friends?” Locked. Loaded.