Chapter no 33

Shatter Me

“Why don’t I take a look at those cuts?”

Adam is standing in front of James’ door, his hands tucked into his pockets. He’s wearing a dark red T-shirt that hugs his torso. His arms are expertly chiseled, professionally painted with tattoos I now know how to recognize. He catches me staring.

“I didn’t really have a choice,” he says, now examining the consecutive black bands of ink etched into his forearms. “We had to survive. It was the only job I could get.”

I meet him across the room, touch the designs on his skin. Nod. “I understand.”

He almost laughs, nearly smiles. Shakes his head just a millimeter. “What?” I jerk my hand away.

“Nothing.” He grins. Slips his arms around my waist.

“It just keeps hitting me. You’re really here. In my house.”

Heat rushes up my neck and I fall off a ladder holding a paintbrush dipped in red. Compliments are not things I know how to process. I bite my lip. “Where’d you get your tattoo from?”

“These?” He looks at his arms again.

“No.” I reach for his shirt, tugging it up so unsuccessfully he nearly loses his balance. He stumbles back against the wall. I push the material up toward his collar. Fight back a blush. Touch his chest. Touch the bird. “Where’d you get this from?”

“Oh.” He’s looking at me but I’m suddenly distracted by the beauty of his body and the cargo pants set a little too low on his hips. I realize he must’ve taken his belt off. I force my eyes upward. Allow my fingers to fumble down his abs. He takes a tight breath. “I don’t know,” he says. “I just—I kept dreaming about this white bird. Birds used to fly, you know.”

“You used to dream about it?”

“Yeah. All the time.” He smiles a little, exhales a little, remembering. “It was nice. It felt good—hopeful. I wanted to hold on to that memory because I wasn’t sure it would last. So I made it permanent.”

I cover the tattoo with the palm of my hand. “I used to dream about this bird all the time.”

This bird?” His eyebrows could touch the sky.

I nod. “This exact one.” Something like realization slides into place. “Until the day you showed up in my cell. I haven’t dreamt of it ever since.” I peek up at him.

“You’re kidding.” But he knows I’m not.

I drop his shirt and lean my forehead on his chest. Breathe in the scent of him. He wastes no time pulling me closer. Rests his chin on my head, his hands on my back.

And we stand like that until I’m too old to remember a world without his warmth.

Adam cleans my cuts in a bathroom set a little off to the side of the space. It’s a miniature room with a toilet, a sink, a small mirror, and a tiny shower. I love all of it. By the time I get out of the bathroom, finally changed and washed up for bed, Adam is waiting for me in the dark. There are blankets and pillows laid out on the floor and it looks like heaven. I’m so exhausted I could sleep through a few centuries.

I slip in beside him and he scoops me into his arms. The temperature is significantly lower in this place, and Adam is the perfect furnace. I bury my face in his chest and he pulls me tight. I trail my fingers down his naked back, feel the muscles tense under my touch. I rest my hand on the waist of his pants. Hook my finger into a belt loop. Test the taste of the words on my tongue. “I meant it, you know.”

His breath is a beat too late. His heart just a beat too fast. “Meant what

. . . ?” Though he knows exactly what I mean.

I feel so shy so suddenly. So blind, so unnecessarily bold. I know nothing about what I’m venturing into. All I know is I don’t want anyone’s hands on me but his. Forever.

Adam leans back and I can just make out the outline of his face, his eyes always shining in the darkness. I stare at his lips when I speak. “I’ve never asked you to stop.”

My fingers rest on the button holding his pants together. “Not once.”

He’s staring at me, his chest rising and falling a few times a second.

He seems almost numb with disbelief.

I lean into his ear. “Touch me.” And he’s nearly undone.

My face is in his hands and my lips are at his lips and he’s kissing me and I’m oxygen and he’s dying to breathe. His body is almost on top of mine, one hand in my hair, the other feeling its way down my silhouette, slipping behind my knee to pull me closer, higher, tighter. He drops kisses down my throat like ecstasy, electric energy searing into me, setting me on fire. I’m on the verge of combusting from the sheer thrill of every moment. I want to dive into his being, experience him with all 5 senses, drown in the waves of wonder enveloping my existence.

I want to taste the landscape of his body.

He takes my hands and presses them against his chest, guides my fingers as they trail down the length of his torso before his lips meet mine again and again and again drugging me into a delirium I never want to escape. But it’s not enough. It’s still not enough. I want to melt into him, trace the form of his figure with my lips alone. My heart is racing through my blood, destroying my self-control, spinning everything into a cyclone of intensity. He breaks for air and I pull him back, aching, desperate, dying for his touch. His hands slip up under my shirt, skirting my sides, touching me like he’s never dared to before, and my top is nearly over my head when a door squeaks open. We both freeze.

“Adam . . . ?”

He can hardly breathe. He tries to lower himself onto the pillow beside me but I can still feel his heat, his figure, his heart pounding in my ears. I’m swallowing back a million screams. Adam leans his head up, just a little. Tries to sound normal. “James?”

“Can I come sleep out here with you?”

Adam sits up. He’s breathing hard but he’s suddenly alert. “Of course you can.” A pause. His voice slows, softens.

“You have bad dreams?” James doesn’t answer.

Adam is on his feet.

I hear the muffled hiccup of 10-year-old tears, but can barely distinguish the outline of Adam’s body holding James together. “I thought you said it was getting better,”

I hear him whisper, but his words are kind, not accusing. James says something I can’t hear.

Adam picks him up, and I realize how tiny James seems in comparison. They disappear into the bedroom only to return with bedding. Only once James is tucked securely in place a few feet from Adam does he finally give in to exhaustion. His heavy breathing is the only sound in the room.

Adam turns to me. I’ve been a slice of silence, struck, shocked, cut deep by this reminder. I have no idea what James has witnessed at such a tender age. I have no idea what Adam has had to endure in leaving him behind. I have no idea how people live anymore. How they survive.

I don’t know what’s become of my parents.

Adam brushes my cheek. Slips me into his arms. Says, “I’m sorry,” and I kiss the apology away.

“When the time is right,” I tell him.

He swallows. Leans into my neck. Inhales. His hands are under my shirt. Up my back.

I bite back a gasp. “Soon.”

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