“Hiral,” she said carefully, making no move toward him. “I’m so glad you’re out.”
“Thanks to you, babe.” He looked her over and gave a strange smile. “Ready to go celebrate?”
“Why don’t you come in,” she said instead, opening the door.
“What, no welcome-back kiss?”
“Hiral, have a seat. We need to talk,” she said, using the same words she’d used on Cord earlier, though this time she meant them. The bitter irony of it wasn’t lost on her.
He slid into one of their plastic chairs, his fingers drumming on the table. He looked even more muscular than when he’d left, as if the contours of his body had been shaded with a pencil, though Rylin had no idea how he’d managed to bulk up in prison. “You’re still upset that I asked you to help with my bail sale,” he guessed, watching her.
That was part of it. “I don’t like V, yes.”
“It’s because of V that I was able to get out. You should be grateful to him!”
“He made me steal again!”
Hiral’s brows lowered. “You just don’t like doing the dirty work. God, Ry, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you weren’t happy to see me.”
She couldn’t have asked for a better opening. “I want to break up.”
The words hung there between them. She tensed up, waiting for a sudden outburst, violence—
Hiral gave a harsh, joyless laugh. “Can’t say I’m surprised, after the way you acted when you visited me in jail. Like you felt forced to see me.” His eyes narrowed. “At first I thought you were just scared about everything, but then you didn’t even want to touch me. When I kissed you good-bye, you flinched.”
“You threatened me!”
“And it worked! We both know you wouldn’t have handled the sale otherwise.”
When Rylin didn’t answer, he leaned forward, his face twisted into an ugly snarl. “It’s Anderton, isn’t it,” he accused. “You’re seeing that highlier asshole.”
“Hiral, you and I have been over for a long time. We both know it,” she said, as gently as she could.
“Holy shit,” Hiral said, and the fury in his voice was unmistakable. “You slept with him.”
Rylin said nothing. She didn’t trust herself to lie. But the truth must have been written there on her face, because suddenly Hiral made an angry, guttural sound and knocked the entire table onto its side.
“What the hell?” Rylin breathed, in the wake of the crash. A leg had broken off the table, glasses clattering across the floor. Hiral was red-faced, taking great, heaving breaths.
“I trusted you, Rylin!”
“Clearly you didn’t, or you wouldn’t have been forced to blackmail me!” she yelled.
In the sudden stillness, an eerie calm settled over Hiral’s face. “Maybe I still will,” he said. “Maybe now that I know how you cheated on me, I’ll tell the cops all about you, and your little illegal activities.”
“No, you won’t,” Rylin said, more bravely than she felt. “Because even though you act like it sometimes, you aren’t hateful. You’re still the person I fell in love with, even if we’ve gone our separate ways.” Her voice lowered, a little wistful. “I know you told V that you were the one who stole the Spokes. Thank you. For protecting me.”
Hiral looked at her for a moment. “You disgust me,” he said at last, and walked out, slamming the door behind him.
“Rylin?” Chrissa appeared from the bedroom. She was very pale.
“Did you hear everything?”
“Yeah. What’s going on?”
Rylin’s head was spinning. She couldn’t think. She’d wanted to protect Chrissa, to keep her out of all of this, and yet she was failing at every turn.
“Okay,” she said. “Just … promise to hear me out before you get upset.” She took a deep breath, and told Chrissa everything. From the first night she’d worked at Cord’s, to stealing, to Hiral’s arrest and subsequent threat, and everything that had happened since. She left out only the private moments, like the beach.
Chrissa said nothing as she talked, just listened wide-eyed. Together they lifted the table back upright—it wobbled on three legs, but managed to hold—and restacked the fallen cups. Finally, when Rylin was out of words, she sat down and put her head in her hands, closing her eyes.
“You love him,” Chrissa said softly.
Rylin nodded, not looking up.
“So go tell him!”
“I can’t! His brother threatened me!”
“If he loves you the way you love him, you’ll figure it out! He’ll stop his brother from going to the cops. Or he’ll say that he gave you the Spokes. It’ll work out somehow!”
Rylin hesitated at something in Chrissa’s voice. It was hope, she realized: a stupid, naive, romantic hope that love could conquer all. Rylin felt silly for believing in it, but Chrissa was right.
She had to at least try.
“Go up there!” Chrissa said eagerly, gaining momentum. “Go tell him the truth, exactly the way you told me!”
Rylin shook her head. “He’s at a party right now, on the thousandth floor. Thrown by some girl named Avery.” The last thing she wanted was to crash a party, and make a big scene.