unfair and maniacal.
He held me until I ran out of breath and collapsed into him, no longer fighting. I turned my face into his chest and sobbed silently, the way I had for my mother. I cried without making any noise, and perhaps that was the worst way to cry, because the noise was trapped inside me like a hurricane, blasting my mind, scouring my heart.
It’s a dream, it’s a nightmare, it cannot be real.
If I opened my eyes I would be back at camp, in my cot, with my mother’s dream catchers hanging over me.
“The bad dreams will get tangled in the strings,” my mother used to say. “They’ll hang there like flies in a web until dawn, and they’ll evaporate in the morning, and you’ll never have a nightmare as long as they hang over you.”
She had lied. I was sinking into a nightmare that never seemed to end—first my mom, now Theo, and probably my dad too. I couldn’t imagine finding him alive, like I had forgotten how to hope.
“Dad,” I gasped out. I hurriedly wiped my eyes with my kaffiyeh. “I have to find Dad.” I scrambled to my feet and took off, ignoring Sam when he called for me to wait. The others were leaning against the truck and stared at me as I brushed past, my eyes on the ground, searching for Dad’s trail. When I found it, I took off like a bloodhound following a scent. His prints wound this way and that, zigzagging through the bush—until he seemed to have evaporated. The trail disappeared. Why? Had they taken him? Or had he begun hiding his tracks? He knew how to disappear without a trace, just as Theo did. Well, if that was what he’d done, then there was no chance of me tracking him down now. I stared into the darkening bush, at the silhouettes of the trees against the twilight. I told myself that he was safe, that he knew how to survive out here.
“Nothing,” I murmured when I arrived back at the truck. “He’s out there somewhere. Maybe he got away.”
The others remained quiet. They all looked terrified. I knelt in the sand by Theo, exhausted and numb. Sam had followed me back but held his distance uncertainly, looking as if he wanted to help but didn’t know how.
“Why would they do this?” I asked. “Why kill him? He was the gentlest person in the world. He was my friend.”
Sam murmured, “I know, I’m sorry. I understand, Sarah. I do.”
“How could you
?” I whispered.
He came forward then and knelt rigidly beside me, his mouth tightening into a thin line. “When Adam was killed, it felt like I’d been buried alive. I went insane for a while. I was just so
, at Adam, at myself, at the army, at every person I met. For a long time, I just wanted to break stuff. Punch things. Make the world feel my pain, you know? No one could handle me. I’d grown up in foster homes since I was five, and it sucked, but Adam was always there, you know? He was there to promise me that we’d get out one day, that we’d just grab our bags and go see the world. He was all I had. The one constant thing in my life.”
I thought of Theo, of my mom. Sam might as well have been describing what they had been to me. They were the steady center around which I orbited. Without them, I drifted aimlessly through an empty, broken sky.
“If he made those promises,” I asked, “why did he join the military?”
Sam let out a breath. His eyes were hard. “We got into some trouble, ran with the wrong crowd. Ended up stealing a car when I was fourteen. Adam was eighteen, and he took most of the rap for it, saying it was his idea. I hated him for that, hated and loved him, you know? I got a hundred hours of community service. He got a jail sentence but dodged it by volunteering to join the army. He died on his second tour.”
Instead of distracting me from my own grief, Sam’s story sharpened it like one knife to another. My chest compressed, and I felt a sob welling deep inside me, growing like a tumor. He must have sensed it, because he quickly took my hands and held