The Thousandth Floor

Page 23

“It was my mom’s,” she said shortly, hoping that would end it. She’d given the necklace to her mom as a birthday present one year, and after that her mom never took it off. Rylin remembered the pang she’d felt when the hospital sent it back to her, folded in plastiwrap and labeled with a cheerful orange tag. Her mom’s death hadn’t felt real until that moment.

“Why the Eiffel Tower?” Cord pressed, sounding interested.

Why the hell do you care, Rylin wanted to snap back, but caught herself. “It was an inside joke of ours,” she said simply. “We used to always say that if we ever had the money, we would take the train to Paris, eat at a fancy ‘Café Paris.’” She didn’t bother explaining how she and Chrissa used to turn their kitchen into a snooty French café. They would make paper berets and draw mustaches on their faces with their mom’s paintstick, and adopt terrible French accents as they served her the “chef’s special”—whatever frozen food packet had been on sale that week. It always made their mom smile after a long day’s work.

“Did you ever end up going?” Cord asked.

Rylin almost laughed at the stupidity of the question. “I’ve barely left the Tower.”

The room sounded with sudden shouting and water spraying, as the screen lit back up with the holovid. Cord quickly shut it off. His parents had died years ago, Rylin remembered, in a commercial airline crash.

“It’s nice that you have those vids,” she said into the silence. She understood why he would be possessive about them; she would have done the same if she and Chrissa had any. “I wish we had more of my mom.”

“I’m sorry,” Cord said quietly.

“It’s fine.” She shrugged, though of course it wasn’t fine. It wouldn’t be fine ever again.

The tension was broken by a sudden rumble sounding in the room. It took Rylin a moment to realize that it had come from her own stomach. Cord looked at her curiously. “You hungry?” he asked, though the answer was obvious. “We could break out the leftovers, if you want.”

“Yes,” Rylin said, more enthusiastically than she’d meant to. She hadn’t eaten since lunch.

“Next time you should eat the catering,” Cord said as they started out of the holoden and down the sweeping glass staircase. “Guess I should have told you that.” Rylin wondered what made him think there would be a next time.

When they reached the kitchen, the fridge cheerfully informed Cord that he’d consumed four thousand calories so far today, 40 percent of which were from alcohol, and per his “Muscle Regime 2118” he was allowed nothing else. A glass of water materialized in the fridge’s export slot.

“Muscle regime. I should get one of those,” Rylin deadpanned.

“I’m trying to be healthy.” Cord turned back to the machine. “Guest override, please,” he mumbled, then looked at Rylin, redder than she’d ever seen him. “Um, could you just put your hand on the fridge to prove you’re here?”

Rylin placed her palm on the refrigerator, which dutifully swung open. Cord began pulling out containers at random, pumpkin seed milk bars and hundred-layer lasagna and fresh appleberries. Rylin grabbed a box of pizza cones out of his hand and tore into one. It was cheesy and fried and perfect, maybe even better cold. When Cord handed her a napkin, she realized that sauce had dripped onto her chin, but somehow she didn’t care.

As he leaned back against the counter, Rylin caught sight of something over his shoulder, and let out a squeal. “Oh my god. Are those Gummy Buddies? Do they actually move when you bite off their heads, like they do in the adverts?”

“You’ve never had a Gummy Buddy?”

“No.” A bag of Gummy Buddies cost more than what she and Chrissa spent on food in a week. They were the first edible electronics, with microscopic radio frequency ID tags inside each candy.

“Come on.” Cord tossed her the bag. “Try one.”

Rylin pulled out a bright green gummy and popped it whole into her mouth. She chewed expectantly, then glowered at him when nothing happened.

“You didn’t do it right.” Cord seemed to be struggling to keep his face straight. “You have to bite off the head, or the legs. You can’t just eat it all at once.”

She grabbed another gummy and bit off the bottom half. The RFID chip in the remaining top part of the gummy abruptly let out a high-pitched scream.

“Crap!” Rylin yelled, dropping the gummy head on the floor. It kept twitching near her feet, and she took a step back.

Cord laughed and grabbed the rest of the gummy, tossing it into the trash, which suctioned it off to the sorting center. “Here, try again,” he said, holding out the bag. “If you bite off the head, they don’t scream, just move around.”

“I’m good, thanks.” Rylin tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and glanced back up at Cord. Something about the way he was looking at her made her fall silent.

Then he was closing the distance between them, and lowering his mouth to hers.

At first Rylin was too startled to react. Cord kissed her slowly, almost languidly, pressing her back against the counter. The edge of it dug sharply into Rylin’s hip, jarring her back to reality. She put both hands on his chest and pushed, hard.

She crossed her arms as Cord stumbled backward, his breath ragged, his eyes dancing with amusement. A smile curled at the corners of his lips.

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