The Thousandth Floor

Page 3

With Jamie everything was simple and straightforward, and he never seemed to worry that much at all. He and Leda didn’t even look alike—where Leda was dark and spritely like their mom, Jamie’s skin was almost as pale as their dad’s, and despite Leda’s best efforts he always looked sloppy. Right now he was sporting a wiry beard that he’d apparently spent the summer growing.

“Whatever Leda wants,” Leda’s dad replied. Sure, because letting her choose their takeout would make up for everything.

“I don’t care.” Leda glanced down at her wrist. Two tiny puncture wounds, remnants of the monitor bracelet that had clung to her all summer, were the only evidence of her time at Silver Cove. Which had been located perversely far from the ocean, in central Nevada.

Not that Leda could really blame her parents. If she’d walked in on the scene they’d witnessed back in July, she would have sent her to rehab too. She’d been an utter mess when she arrived there: vicious and angry, hyped up on xenperheidren and who knew what else. It had taken a full day of what the other girls at Silver Cove called “happy juice”—a potent IV drip of sedatives and dopamine—before she even agreed to speak with the doctors.

As the drugs seeped slowly from Leda’s system, though, the acrid taste of her resentment had begun to fade. Shame flushed over her instead: a sticky, uncomfortable shame. She’d always promised herself that she would remain in control, that she wouldn’t be one of those pathetic addicts they showed in the health class holos at school. Yet there she was, with an IV drip taped into her vein.

“You okay?” one of the nurses had said, watching her expression.

Never let them see you cry, Leda had reminded herself, blinking back tears. “Of course,” she managed, her voice steady.

Eventually Leda did find a sort of peace at rehab: not with her worthless psych doctor, but in meditation. She spent almost every morning there, sitting cross-legged and repeating the mantras that Guru Vashmi intoned. May my actions be purposeful. I am my own greatest ally. I am enough in myself. Occasionally Leda would open her eyes and glance around through the lavender smoke at the other girls in the yoga tepee. They all had a haunted, hunted look about them, as if they’d been chased here and were too afraid to leave. I’m not like them, Leda had told herself, squaring her shoulders and closing her eyes again. She didn’t need the drugs, not the way those girls did.

Now they were only a few minutes from the Tower. Sudden anxiety twisted in Leda’s stomach. Was she ready for this—ready to come back here and face everything that had sent her into a tailspin in the first place?

Not everything. Atlas was still gone.

Closing her eyes, Leda muttered a few words signaling her contacts to open her inbox, which she’d been checking nonstop since she left rehab this morning and got service again. Three thousand accumulated messages instantly pinged in her ears, invitations and vid-alerts cascading over one another like musical notes. The rumble of attention was oddly soothing.

At the top of the queue was a new message from Avery. When are you back?

Every summer, Leda’s family forced her to come on their annual visit “home” to Podunk, middle-of-nowhere Illinois. “Home is New York,” Leda would always protest, but her parents ignored her. Leda honestly didn’t even understand why her parents wanted to keep visiting year after year. If she’d done what they did—moved from Danville to New York as newlyweds, right when the Tower was built, and slowly worked their way up until they could afford to live in the coveted upper floors—she wouldn’t have looked back.

Yet her parents were determined to return to their hometown every year and stay with Leda and Jamie’s grandparents, in a tech-dark house stocked with nothing but soy butter and frozen meal packets. Leda had actually enjoyed it back when she was a kid and it felt like an adventure. As she got older, though, she started begging to stay behind. She dreaded being around her cousins, with their tacky mass-produced clothing and eerie contactless pupils. But no matter how much she protested, she never could worm her way out of going. Until this year.

I’m back now! Leda replied, saying the message aloud and nodding to send it. Part of her knew she should tell Avery about Silver Cove: they’d talked a lot in rehab about accountability, and asking friends for help. But the thought of telling Avery made Leda clutch at the seat beneath her until her knuckles were white. She couldn’t do it; couldn’t reveal that kind of weakness to her perfect best friend. Avery would be polite about it, of course, but Leda knew that on some level she would judge her, would always look at Leda differently. And Leda couldn’t handle that.

Avery knew a little of the truth: that Leda had started taking xenperheidren occasionally, before exams, to sharpen her thinking … and that a few times she’d taken some stronger stuff, with Cord and Rick and the rest of that crowd. But Avery had no idea how bad it had gotten toward the end of last year, after the Andes—and she definitely didn’t know the truth about this summer.

They pulled up to the Tower. The copter swayed drunkenly for a moment at the entrance to the seven-hundredth-floor helipad; even with stabilizers, it still faltered in the gale-force winds that whipped around the Tower. Then it made a final push and came to a rest inside the hangar. Leda unfolded herself from her seat and clattered down the staircase after her parents. Her mom was already on a call, probably muttering about a deal gone bad.

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.