I’m mean? That’s the worst you can throw at me?Mean and self-pitying. Does that make it better?And what are you, Astrid? he shouted. A smug know-it-all! You point your finger at me and say, ‘Hey, Sam, you make the decisions and you take all the heat.’Oh, it’s my fault? No way. I didn’t anoint you.Yeah, you did, Astrid. You guilted me into it. You think I don’t know what you’re all about? You used me to protect Little Pete. You use me to get your way. You manipulate me anytime you feel like it.You really are a jerk, you know that?No, I’m not a jerk, Astrid. You know what I am? I’m the guy getting people killed, Sam said quietly.Then, My head is exploding from it. I can’t get my brain around it. I can’t do this. I can’t be that guy, Astrid, I’m a kid, I should be studying algebra or whatever. I should be hanging out. I should be watching TV.His voice rose, higher and louder till he was screaming. What do you want from me? I’m not Little Pete’s father. I’m not everybody’s father. Do you ever stop to think what people are asking me to do? You know what they want me to do? Do you? They want me to kill my brother so the lights will come back on. They want me to kill kids! Kill Drake. Kill Diana. Get our own kids killed.That’s what they ask. Why not, Sam? Why aren’t you doing what you have to do, Sam? Tell kids to get eaten alive by zekes, Sam. Tell Edilio to dig some more holes in the square, Sam.He had gone from yelling to sobbing. I’m fifteen years old. I’m fifteen.He sat down hard on the edge of the bed. Oh, my God, Astrid. It’s in my head, all these things. I can’t get rid of them. It’s like some filthy animal inside my head and I will never, ever, ever get rid of it. It makes me feel so bad. It’s disgusting. I want to throw up. I want to die. I want someone to shoot me in the head so I don’t have to think about everything.Astrid was beside him and her arms were around him. He was ashamed, but he couldn’t stop the tears. He was sobbing like he had when he was a little kid, like when he had a nightmare. Out of control. Sobbing.Gradually the spasms slowed. Then stopped. His breathing went from ragged to regular.I’m really glad the lights weren’t on, Sam said. Bad enough you had to hear it.I’m falling apart, he said.Astrid gave no answer, just held him close. And after what felt like a very long time, Sam moved away from her, gently putting distance between them again.Listen. You won’t ever tell anyone…No. But, Sam…Please don’t tell me it’s okay, Sam said. Don’t be nice to me anymore. Don’t even tell me you love me. I’m about a millimeter from falling apart again.Okay.
Michael Grant