The Thousandth Floor

Page 2

Avery wished that was the only thing wrong with her.

She shook out her hair, yanked it into a loose bun, and walked purposefully from her room. In the kitchen she swung open the pantry door, already reaching for the hidden handle to the mech panel. She’d found it years ago during a game of hide-and-seek with Atlas. She wasn’t even sure whether her parents knew about it; it wasn’t as if they ever set foot in here.

Avery pushed the metal panel inward, and a ladder swung down into the narrow pantry space. Clutching the skirts of her ivory silk gown with both hands, she folded herself into the crawl space and started up, counting the rungs instinctively in Italian as she did, uno, due, tre. She wondered if Atlas had spent any time in Italy this year, if he’d even gone to Europe at all.

Balancing on the top rung, she reached to release the trapdoor and stepped eagerly into the wind-whipped darkness.

Beneath the deafening roar of the wind, Avery heard the rumbling of various machines on the roof around her, huddled under their weatherproof boxes or photovoltaic panels. Her bare feet were cold on the metal slabs of the platform. Steel supports arced from each corner, joining overhead to form the Tower’s iconic spire.

It was a clear night, no clouds in the air to dampen her eyelashes or bead into moisture on her skin. The stars glittered like crushed glass against the dark vastness of the night sky. If anyone knew she was up here, she’d be grounded for life. Exterior access over the 150th floor was forbidden; all the terraces above that level were protected from the high-speed winds by heavy panes of polyethylene glass.

Avery wondered if anyone had ever set foot up here besides her. There were safety railings along one side of the roof, presumably in case maintenance workers came up, but to her knowledge, no one ever had.

She’d never told Atlas. It was one of only two secrets she had kept from him. If he found out, he would make sure she didn’t come back, and Avery couldn’t bear the thought of giving this up. She loved it here—loved the wind battering her face and tangling her hair, bringing tears to her eyes, howling so loud that it drowned out her own wild thoughts.

She stepped closer to the edge, relishing the twist of vertigo in her stomach as she gazed out over the city, the monorails curving through the air below like fluorescent snakes. The horizon seemed impossibly far. She could see from the lights of New Jersey in the west to the streets of the Sprawl in the south, to Brooklyn in the east, and farther, the pewter gleam of the Atlantic.

And beneath her bare feet lay the biggest structure on earth, a whole world unto itself. How strange that there were millions of people below her at this very moment, eating, sleeping, dreaming, touching. Avery blinked, feeling suddenly and acutely alone. They were strangers, all of them, even the ones she knew. What did she care about them, or about herself, or about anything, really?

She leaned her elbows on the railing and shivered. One wrong move could send her over. Not for the first time, she wondered how it would feel, falling two and a half miles. She imagined it would be strangely peaceful, the feeling of weightlessness as she reached terminal velocity. And she’d be dead of a heart attack long before she hit the ground. Closing her eyes, she tilted forward, curling her silver-painted toes over the edge—just as the back of her eyelids lit up, her contacts registering an incoming ping.

She hesitated, a wave of guilty excitement crashing over her at the sight of his name. She’d done so well avoiding this all summer, distracting herself with the study abroad program in Florence, and more recently with Zay. But after a moment, Avery turned and clattered quickly back down the ladder.

“Hey,” she said breathlessly when she was back in the pantry, whispering even though there was no one around to hear. “You haven’t called for a while. Where are you?”

“Somewhere new. You’d love it here.” His voice in her ear sounded the same, warm and rich as always. “How’re things, Aves?”

And there it was: the reason Avery had to climb into a windstorm to escape her thoughts, the part of her engineering that had gone horribly wrong.

On the other end of the call was Atlas, her brother—and the reason she never wanted to kiss anyone else.


AS THE COPTER crossed the East River into Manhattan, Leda Cole leaned forward, pressing her face against the flexiglass for a better look.

There was always something magical about this first glimpse of the city, especially now, with the windows of the upper floors blazing in the afternoon sun. Beneath the neochrome surface Leda caught flashes of color where the elevators shot past, the veins of the city pumping its lifeblood up and down. It was the same as ever, she thought, utterly modern and yet somehow timeless. Leda had seen countless pics of the old New York skyline, the one people always romanticized. But compared to the Tower she thought it looked jagged and ugly.

“Glad to be home?” her mom asked carefully, glancing at her from across the aisle. Leda gave a curt nod, not bothering to answer. She’d barely spoken to her parents since they’d picked her up from rehab earlier this morning. Or really, since the incident back in July that had sent her there.

“Can we order Miatza tonight? I’ve been craving a dodo burger for weeks,” her brother, Jamie, said, in a clear attempt to cheer her up. Leda ignored him. Jamie was only eleven months older, about to start his senior year, but he and Leda weren’t all that close. Probably because they were nothing alike.

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