The Thousandth Floor

Page 5

“Avery!” Risha was the first to catch sight of them. The other girls, all reclining on brightly colored beach towels, glanced up and waved. “And Leda! When did you get back?”

Avery plopped in the center of the group, tucking a strand of flaxen hair behind one ear, and Leda settled down next to her. “Just now. I’m straight from the copter,” she said, pulling her mom’s vintage sunglasses out of her bag. She could have put her contacts on light-blocking mode, of course, but the glasses were sort of her signature. She’d always liked how they made her expression unreadable.

“Where’s Eris?” she wondered aloud, not that she particularly missed her. But you could usually count on Eris to show up for tanning.

“Probably shopping. Or with Cord,” said Ming Jiaozu, a suppressed bitterness in her tone.

Leda said nothing, feeling caught off guard. She hadn’t seen anything about Eris and Cord on the feeds when she checked this morning. Then again, she could never really keep up with Eris, who’d dated—or at least messed around with—nearly half the boys and girls in their class, some of them more than once. But Eris was Avery’s oldest friend, and came from old family money, and because of that she got away with pretty much anything.

“How was your summer, Leda?” Ming went on. “You were with your family in Illinois, right?”


“That must have been awful, being in the middle of nowhere like that.” Ming’s tone was sickly sweet.

“Well, I survived,” Leda said lightly, refusing to let the other girl provoke her. Ming knew how much Leda hated talking about her parents’ background. It was a reminder that she wasn’t from this world the way the rest of them were, that she’d moved up in seventh grade from midTower suburbia.

“What about you?” Leda asked. “How was Spain? Did you hang out with any of the locals?”

“Not really.”

“Funny. From the feeds, it looked like you made some really close friends.” In her mass-download on the plane earlier, Leda had seen a few snaps of Ming with a Spanish boy, and she could tell that something had happened between them—from their body language, the lack of captions under the snaps, most of all from the flush that was now creeping up Ming’s neck.

Ming fell silent. Leda allowed herself a small smile. When people pushed her buttons, she pushed back.

“Avery,” Jess McClane said, leaning forward. “Did you end things with Zay? I ran into him earlier, and he seemed down.”

“Yeah,” Avery said slowly. “I mean, I think so? I do like him, but …” she trailed off halfheartedly.

“Oh my god, Avery. You really should just do it, and get it over with!” Jess exclaimed. The gold bangles on her wrists glimmered in the solar panel’s light. “What are you waiting for, exactly? Or maybe I should say, who are you waiting for?”

“Give it a rest, Jess. You can’t exactly talk,” Leda snapped. People always made comments like that to Avery, because there was nothing else to really criticize her about. But it made even less sense coming from Jess, who was a virgin too.

“As a matter of fact, I can,” Jess said meaningfully.

A chorus of squeals erupted at that—“Wait, you and Patrick?” “When?” “Where?”—and Jess grinned, clearly eager to share the details. Leda leaned back, pretending to listen. As far as the girls all knew, she was a virgin too. She hadn’t told anyone the truth, not even Avery. And she never would.

It had happened in January, on the annual ski trip to Catyan. Their families had been going for years: at first just the Fullers and the Andertons, and then once Leda and Avery became such good friends, the Coles too. The Andes were the best skiing left on earth; even Colorado and the Alps relied almost exclusively on snow machines these days. Only in Chile, on the highest peaks in the Andes, was there enough natural snow for true skiing anymore.

The second day of the trip, they were all out drone-skiing—Avery, Leda, Atlas, Jamie, Cord, even Cord’s older brother, Brice—falling from the jump seats of their individual ski-drones to land on the powder, cut a line through the trees, and reach back up to grab their drones before the drop-off at the glacier’s edge. Leda wasn’t as strong a skier as the others, but she’d swallowed an adrenaline drop on the ride up and was feeling good, almost as good as when she stole the really good stuff from her mom. She followed Atlas through the trees, trying her best to keep up, loving the way the wind clawed at the contours of her polydown suit. She could hear nothing but the swish of her skis through the snow, and, beneath it, the deep, hollow sound of emptiness. It struck her that they were tempting fate, hurtling through the paper-thin air up there on a glacier, at the very edge of the sky.

That was when Avery had screamed.

Everything afterward was a blur. Leda fumbled in her glove to push the red emergency button that would summon her ski-drone, but Avery was already being scooped up a few meters away. Her leg jutted out at a garish angle.

By the time they got back to the hotel’s penthouse suite, Avery was already on a jet home. She would be fine, Mr. Fuller assured them; she just needed her knee refused, and he wanted her to see experts in New York. Leda knew what that meant. Avery would visit Everett Radson afterward to have the surgery microlasered. God forbid there be the slightest trace of a scar on her perfect body.

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