The Thousandth Floor

Page 122

The enormous church organ struck up, and everyone stood to sing a funeral hymn. Avery reached for the old-fashioned songbook—this wasn’t the kind of church that projected the words onto your contacts, like hers did—and tried to follow along, her voice hoarse. She was holding the book with her right hand, but her left, the one next to Atlas, was hanging by her side. He brushed his pinky finger against hers, ever so carefully, in a gesture of silent support.

Avery ignored it. She could feel Leda staring at her from the row behind, just daring Avery to test her limits.

Avery didn’t know what to do about Atlas. She loved him so much that it hurt, with a love that saturated every fiber of her being. But her love was complicated now, underpinned as it was by tragedy, and grief.

They couldn’t run away, not with Leda knowing the truth the way she did. It would have been all right before—their parents would have figured out some story, a way to spin it the way they’d done last year when Atlas went missing. But if they left now, Avery knew Leda would expose their secret the moment they were gone. She refused to subject her parents to that. She and Atlas had to stay, at least until they figured out how to handle Leda.

A secret for a secret, she thought caustically. Yes, she had a secret on Leda, to counteract what Leda knew about her and Atlas. But how long could this tenuous balancing act really last?

Everything was different now. The time before Eris’s death felt like another lifetime, another world. That Avery was gone. That Avery had broken, and a new Avery—harder, more brittle—had stepped out of the shards.

As she stood there, unable to even cry in grief over her friend, it seemed to Avery that she would never feel safe again as long as Leda was around.



MARIEL STOOD AT the back of the church, half hidden in the shadows, almost a shadow herself. She was wearing the dress that Eris had hated so much—she didn’t own any other black dresses—but she’d thrown a sweater over it; paired with her black flats and fake pearl studs, it didn’t look so terrible. She’d even left off her normal red lipstick, only dusting a little powder around her red-rimmed eyes, raw from crying. She wanted to look nice as she said her final good-bye to Eris. The only girl she’d ever really loved, though she hadn’t told Eris, at least not in so many words.

She clutched the rosary in her pocket so tight that her hand turned white, and looked around.

The church was packed with hordes of people in black couture, clutching their quilted patent-leather bags and sniffling into monogrammed handkerchiefs. Were they all really Eris’s friends? They couldn’t have known her as intimately as Mariel had. Certainly they didn’t miss Eris the way she did, with a howling grief that roared up from inside her, threatened to drown her. Every morning for the past three days, Mariel had woken up and thought of something she wanted to tell Eris—only to remember. And then the grief would hit her all over again.

Mingled with the grief was a terrible gnawing guilt, about the cruel things she’d said the night Eris died. She hadn’t meant any of them; she’d just been upset in the moment, afraid that once Eris moved upTower, Mariel would lose her to that world. When Eris went to the party alone, Mariel had been nearly frantic.

She knew she loved Eris more than Eris loved her—that Eris might not even love her at all. That knowledge terrified her.

She’d loved Eris from the beginning, almost. She couldn’t say why, but she’d felt inexorably pulled in from the very first moment. Eris was bright and careless, sure; but she was also luminous and magnetic, with an energy that made Mariel feel suddenly alive. She’d tried to fight it, for a while, but in the end Mariel had never really had a choice. She couldn’t help loving Eris.

When Eris called her that night from the party, Mariel was overcome with relief. They were going to make up. Eris said she would be there soon. Mariel had stayed up all night and half the morning waiting, but Eris never came.

In the end, she lost Eris to this upper-floor world after all.

Mariel’s gaze traveled to the casket at the front of the church. She couldn’t believe that Eris was really in that thing. It wasn’t big enough to hold her, with her deep, rich laugh and her exaggerated gestures and her larger-than-life emotions. This entire church—no, this entire Tower—wasn’t big enough to hold her. Eris was more than all of it.

As the priest droned on, Mariel kept thinking about the way Eris had died. They said she’d followed her stupid friends up a ladder, onto part of the Tower’s roof that should have been closed off. That she’d had too much to drink, and slipped and fell—a terrible, tragic, avoidable accident.

Mariel knew it wasn’t true. Eris had told her she wasn’t drinking. And then she’d sent that strange text, about how she needed to do something for a friend first. What was it that Eris had needed to do? What kind of friend would send Eris up onto the roof? Something didn’t add up, and it was tormenting Mariel.

These highliers thought they were immune to real-life problems, that they were safe up here, ensconced miles above the ground with their money and their connections. But they were wrong. Mariel was going to find out the truth about Eris’s death. If anyone was responsible—if anyone had anything to hide—she would make them pay.

She stayed in the back of the church for the rest of the funeral service, uninvited and ignored. But anyone who looked would have noticed the candelabra casting shadows on her dramatic cheekbones, illuminating the tears that streamed down her face.

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