“What happened?” she asked Cord. She wasn’t really surprised they’d broken up—neither of them had seemed particularly invested in it—but she was still curious what he would say. Cord just shrugged, not answering. “Is there someone else?” Avery prodded, watching him. She knew all his tells.
“No, we just got bored,” he said. He was a good liar; Avery had to give him that, at least. She wondered who the new girl was.
“I’m looking for Brice,” Cord went on. “Have you seen him?”
“Brice is in town?” Avery didn’t particularly like Cord’s older brother. She blamed him for the asshole attitude Cord tried to put on these days.
“Who knows?” Cord shrugged it off, but Avery could tell he was bothered. “He got here last weekend, and his stuff’s still at home, but he hasn’t been by the apartment since yesterday. I thought I’d check a few places before I start going through his bank charges.”
“I hope you find him,” Avery said earnestly, though she was far more worried about Eris. “Hey,” she added, realizing she was hungry, “wanna get some truffle fries? I’ve been craving them lately.” She and Cord used to come here for truffle fries with Atlas sometimes, late at night after a party. It was the best comfort food in the entire Tower.
Cord shook his head. A few threads of the couch behind him were still lit up a fiery crimson, producing the strange effect of a halo. “I’m okay. You should get some, though.” His eyes softened a little. “You look tired, Avery.”
“Gee, thanks,” she said sarcastically, though in a way she was grateful, to have at least one person in her life who didn’t always tell her how great she looked.
“Anytime.” He laughed, and headed off.
Avery sat there a few minutes longer, pinging Eris again—though by now she’d given up on an answer—and finishing the last of her lemonade. The hotel bar was getting more crowded as she watched, filled with businesspeople talking in low tones, a group of women clinking champagne glasses. Avery’s eyes were drawn to a couple who seemed to be on their first date, their body language still a little stiff but their interest in each other apparent. The girl leaned forward, as if she wanted to put a hand on the guy’s arm but didn’t dare. For some reason it all saddened Avery, and she headed home.
Waiting in the delivery chute in their kitchen was a brown paper delivery bag. Avery looked at the reference tag, wondering if Atlas had ordered something, but the package was addressed to her. Puzzled, she opened it—and was greeted by the smell of warm, truffled grease. Cord. Sure enough, the receipt inside had been billed to him.
She took a bite of one of the fries, hot and crispy with truffle oil, and gave a reluctant smile. What a messed-up start to junior year, she thought, that the only friend she could count on right now was Cord Anderton.
ERIS WALKED DOWN the hallway at school, automatically nodding at or ignoring people based on whether she liked the way they looked, keeping her expression as icily calm and unflappable as ever. But inside, she was seriously losing it.
She still couldn’t believe she’d gone home with Mariel on Saturday. She’d been trying to act like the whole thing never happened, but Mariel didn’t seem to get it. She’d messaged Eris twice, asking if she’d gotten home okay, then referencing some song they’d listened to that night. Eris had deleted the messages without responding. She was writing the whole thing off and moving on, and the sooner Mariel figured that out, the better.
She headed into the cafeteria and went through the line on autopilot. At the blender bar she had the robot make a raspberry smoothie with almond butter, then grabbed a protein snack for later. Lately she’d been trying to squeeze everything she could out of her meal plan, since home was mostly cheap sandwiches and ramen bowls. Eris had no idea what they would do when they ran out of money.
“Eris.” Avery fell into step next to her as they started toward their usual table. “We need to talk.”
“Uh-oh,” Eris teased, “are you breaking up with me?” But her heart was hammering; she could hear the solemnity in Avery’s voice and she had a feeling, somehow, that Avery knew.
“Let’s go over here, just the two of us,” Avery suggested, and led Eris toward the school’s shaded interior courtyard. It felt so much like outdoors it was practically real, with live oak trees growing in the soil, even a hammock strung between two of them, though no one ever used it. They settled down in the projected sunshine, sitting mermaid-style with their pleated uniform skirts belling around their waists.
Avery took a tiny pink speaker from her bag and put it on silencer, which used similar technology to the privacy cone, blocking all sound waves in a seven-foot radius. The world was abruptly hushed, as if they’d stuck their heads underwater. “Great,” Avery said, opening her kale-and-mango salad and setting it on her lap, “now we can talk in private. Eris, what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?” Eris asked unsteadily.
“I went to the Nuage yesterday, to look for you.” Eris’s heart sank. She should have thought of a better lie. “When I got there, they said you aren’t staying there—but that your dad is. Alone.”
“Right. Well, the thing is … um …”