The Thousandth Floor

Page 28

“No worries.” Avery’s eyes were back to Leda. “Are you guys heading home? Want to share a hover?”

“Works for me. You ready to go?” Atlas said, turning to her.

“Sure,” Leda said, telling herself that she’d get more time with Atlas soon enough. What Nadia had done once, she could easily do again.

As they started back toward the club’s entrance, Avery reached to pull Leda back. “Can we talk about last night?”

“Right. Sorry I left without telling you,” Leda said, deliberately misunderstanding. “I just got really tired all of a sudden, and I couldn’t find you to say bye. You know how it is.”

“No, I meant about earlier. I didn’t mean to push you, about—”

“I told you, it’s fine,” Leda said, more curtly than she meant to. But seriously, couldn’t Avery just take a hint?

“Okay. If you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

“Thanks.” Leda glanced warily at Avery and decided to turn the tables. “What about you? Atlas said you were really drunk at the end of the night? That he had to take you home?”

“First party back, guess I got a little carried away.” There was something funny in Avery’s tone, though Leda couldn’t say exactly what.

“I get it. That was a great party,” she concurred, not sure why she was overcompensating.

“Definitely.” Avery wasn’t even looking at Leda. “It was great.”

They didn’t say anything else until they caught up with Atlas near the entrance. Leda couldn’t remember the last time she and Avery had been at a loss for words.

Then again, I’ve never kept a secret from her before, Leda thought, just as Atlas turned back to smile at them both, and she realized of course that wasn’t true at all; her biggest secret was standing right there before her.

She just hoped he wasn’t also her biggest mistake.


“SO THERE I was, standing alone on a rainy cobblestone street—and I couldn’t get any kind of signal because, you know, Florence is a tech-dark mess—and this group of midTower kids comes up!” Avery was telling the story on autopilot, talking without fully registering what she was saying, a skill she’d picked up from her mom. She couldn’t shake the strange feeling that had settled over her when she saw Leda and Atlas together. It doesn’t mean anything, she kept telling herself, but part of her knew that wasn’t true. It meant something to Leda.

When she’d first seen them across the grill, Avery had smiled and waved, only to lower her hand self-consciously. They were too absorbed in their conversation to notice her. For a brief instant, she wondered what they were talking about—and then she saw the look on Leda’s face, and the realization hit her like a punch to the stomach.

Leda liked Atlas.

Why hadn’t Leda ever told her? Because he’s your brother, the rational part of her mind supplied, but Avery was too shocked and hurt to think rationally. There aren’t supposed to be any secrets between me and Leda, she thought bitterly, momentarily forgetting that she was keeping the same secret.

Not to mention Leda’s defensive, overwrought reaction when Avery caught her in a lie about the summer. Why can’t you just let it go? Leda had exclaimed—and Avery wanted to let it go, except Leda’s reaction had worried her. She felt a sudden flash of anger. She’d been so concerned about her friend that she’d been planning to stop by Leda’s on the way home from yoga. And the whole time Leda had been eating nachos and flirting with Atlas.

When had she and Leda started hiding so much from each other?

“Then what happened?” Atlas prompted.

Avery turned in her seat to answer; she’d selfishly, and strategically, taken the hover’s middle spot. “They offered to help me find my dorm! Because I was wearing your old hockey sweatshirt and they apparently played us last year. Can you believe it? Mile-high kids, all the way in Italy! What are the chances?”

“That’s crazy,” Leda said flatly, and Avery felt a burst of shame for the way she’d told the story. “Mile-high” was the term upTower kids used for the suburban wasteland of the middle floors, since it was literally a mile above ground level. Leda had been a mile-higher, once upon a time.

“I just can’t believe you were wearing that old sweatshirt abroad,” Atlas teased.

“Yeah, it looked ridiculous.” Avery shrugged and fell silent, suddenly embarrassed that she’d snuck into Atlas’s room and grabbed the sweatshirt. Even though he’d been gone for months by then, it had still smelled like him.

The hover turned out of the vertical corridor onto floor 962, toward Treadwell, the gated luxury community where the Coles lived. “Hey, Avery,” Leda began. The hover pulled up to the gate and she leaned out, letting the scanner review her retina and confirm that she was a resident. “Are you doing antigrav yoga again tomorrow? Want to go together?”

“Maybe.” Avery shrugged noncommittally. “I’m kind of sore from today.”

The hover turned onto Treadwell’s wide, tree-lined boulevard, which felt even bigger thanks to the elevated ceiling that stretched five stories overhead. Treadwell was modeled after the old Upper East Side brownstones. Some of its homes had actually been salvaged from the old neighborhood, then reconstructed stone by stone inside the Tower.

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