Avery looked at her expectantly. And Eris found that she couldn’t do it anymore. She burst into tears.
Avery wrapped her arms around Eris’s shoulders, letting her cry. “Hey, it’s okay,” she murmured. “Whatever it is, it’ll all be okay.”
Eris pulled back and shook her head, tears running down her face. “It won’t, though,” she whispered.
“Are your parents splitting up?” Avery prompted.
“It’s worse than that.” Eris caught a shaky breath, then said it, the thing she couldn’t bear to say aloud. “Turns out my dad isn’t my dad.” There. Now the truth was out in the open.
Slowly, as they ate their lunches and regained a sense of normalcy, Eris told Avery everything—how she’d learned the truth because of the DNA test she’d had to do as part of her trust fund paperwork. How her father was brokenhearted, barely able to even look at her, he felt so betrayed. How she and her mom had moved down to 103, and had practically no money. How Eris’s old life was gone forever.
Avery listened quietly, horror flitting across her face at the mention of the 103rd floor, though she quickly masked it. “I’m so sorry,” she said when Eris had finished.
Eris didn’t answer. She had no words left.
Avery twirled a piece of grass between her thumb and forefinger, seeming to think carefully about something. “What about your birth father?”
“What about him? I have zero interest in him,” Eris said tersely.
“I’m sorry,” Avery apologized, immediately backing down. “I didn’t mean to—never mind.”
They were silent for a while. Eventually Eris’s curiosity overcame her defensiveness. “You think I should try to meet him or something?”
“Oh, Eris.” Avery sighed. “That’s up to you. I just know that if it was me, I would want to know. Besides, he might be more interested in seeing you than your dad—than Everett is.”
“That’s not exactly a high bar,” Eris replied, and for some reason she laughed. It was a bizarre laugh, half ironic and bitter, but Avery joined in. Afterward Eris felt slightly better, the hard knot in her chest loosening just a little.
“So,” Avery asked finally, “what can I do to help?”
“Just don’t tell anyone. I don’t want them … you know.” Pitying me.
“Of course. But, Eris, you should sleep at my place anytime, borrow clothes, whatever you want. I still can’t believe all this,” she said, a little wonderingly. Eris just nodded. “Wait,” Avery added, “what about your birthday?”
“You mean the reason I’m in this mess to begin with? My mom and I haven’t exactly talked about it. I think we’re ignoring it this year.”
“Absolutely not.” The bell rang signaling the end of lunch, and Avery stood up, holding out a hand to pull Eris to her feet. An elegant diamond tennis bracelet was stacked next to an Hermès bangle on her wrist, a fresh manicolor on her nails. Eris’s nails were chipped and dry in comparison. She curled her hands into fists at her side. “Please, let me throw you a party,” Avery was saying. “Bubble Lounge, Saturday night?”
“I can’t let you do that,” Eris protested weakly. But her heart had leapt at the mention of a party, and Avery could see it in her eyes.
“Come on. Let me take care of everything,” Avery insisted. “Besides, I could use something to distract myself with right now.”
Eris wasn’t sure what she meant by that. “Okay,” she conceded. “If you’re sure. Thank you.”
“You’d do the same for me.”
They turned out of the courtyard and into the hallway. “Dress shopping later?” Avery went on, pausing outside the door to her next class. “My treat, obviously.”
“Avery, you’re doing too much already, I can’t—” Eris argued, but Avery talked over her.
“Eris. That’s what friends are for,” she said firmly, and ducked into her class as the bell rang.
Eris walked slowly down the now empty halls, late to calculus and not caring at all. Her heart felt lighter than it had in weeks.
* * *
That afternoon when Eris came home, she found her mom in the living room. She was sitting cross-legged in a sea of document scans, wearing cropped artech pants and a drapey sweater, and her riot of red-gold hair was pinned up with an enormous white clip. Old-fashioned eyeglasses were perched on her nose. She looked thin, and tired, barely older than her daughter. Eris fought the urge to go hug her.
“Why are you wearing those?” Eris couldn’t help asking, as she stepped over a stack of papers on her way to the kitchen. The glasses looked silly and outdated. Hadn’t her mom gotten her eyes lasered a long time ago?
“I used to wear these in college. Thought they might help me focus on all these job applications,” Caroline said with a rueful shrug.
Oh, right; Eris always forgot her mom had attended a year of undergrad before she dropped out to move to New York. “So what do you want for dinner?” Caroline went on, as cheerfully as she could manage, the way she used to say it back when they were deciding between expensive sushi and black truffle pizza. “I was thinking maybe—”
“Who’s my birth father?” Eris interrupted. She was half surprised to hear herself ask the question, yet the moment she asked it, she was glad she did; it had been there in the back of her mind, slowly gaining significance, ever since Avery had brought it up at lunch.