She stepped off the Ifty at Niale, the closest stop to Hiral’s family’s apartment. Most of the shops that littered the main thoroughfare were still asleep, their neon signs flashing booze logos or one-stop clothing stores, or the tech pawnshops that everyone knew carried stolen holo hardware in their basements. A stray cat peed into a doorway. Pets were supposed to exist in the Tower by permit only, and permits were expensive; but no matter how hard Animal Control tried to clear them out, the cats always reappeared. Rylin remembered the time Chrissa had brought home a bright orange kitten, its ribs sticking out starkly beneath its scruffy fur. Their mom had let Chrissa feed it, but later that night Rylin had caught her nudging the kitten out the front door. “We can’t afford it,” Rose had said defensively to ten-year-old Rylin, who had nodded. The next morning, they both told Chrissa it had run away.
Rylin kept her head down as she turned right, toward the residential area, and onto Hiral’s street. The occasional worker walked past on the way to an upper-floor service job, their starched uniforms and glazed exhaustion giving them away.
“Rylin!” Davi, Hiral’s mom, answered the door while Rylin was still knocking. Her broad face broke into a smile. “Come in, come in.”
Rylin shifted her weight, staying in the doorway. “I was wondering if—”
“Hiral!” Davi bellowed, not that she needed to; the apartment was barely bigger than Rylin’s, and for twice as many people. Hiral’s older brother, Sandeep, had just moved out last year; but Hiral still shared a room with his brother Dhruv, who’d been in Rylin’s class at school before she dropped out.
“I think the boys are still asleep.” Davi turned to her. “Can I make you some breakfast while you wait?”
“I’m okay,” Rylin said quickly.
“Some tea, at least.” Davi’s tone brooked no argument. She put her hands on Rylin’s shoulders and steered her forcibly toward the kitchen. Instaphotos of the family were tacked all over the fridge. Rylin’s attention was caught by a pic of her and Hiral at an eighth-grade formal, back before they both became too cool for stuff like that. Rylin had on a bright green dress that brought out her eyes, and her arms were wrapped tight around Hiral, whose face looked rounder and more boyish than it did now. She’d forgotten about this party, this photo. How long had it been since she came to the Karadjans’ apartment? Whenever she and Hiral spent time together anymore, it was always out somewhere.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” Davi said gently, clearly thinking the same thing. “How are you? How is your sister?”
“We’re okay.” Rylin wished Hiral would hurry. Here she was, about to break up with him, and his mom was being so damned nice.
“You know you can always come to me, whatever you need.” Davi curled Rylin’s fingers around a mug of hot tea.
“Ry?” Hiral stepped into the kitchen, wearing nothing but the black fleece sweatpants she’d gotten him last year. “What’s up?”
“How many times have I told you to wear a shirt around guests!” Davi exclaimed.
“Rylin’s not a guest,” Hiral protested.
“I was wondering if you wanted to go on a walk,” Rylin jumped in, before Hiral’s mom could reply. She didn’t want to do this here.
“Sure.” Hiral shrugged. “I’ll just get a shirt, I guess.”
But as they turned back toward the narrow hallway, a sudden banging sounded on the front door. “Police!” a low voice yelled, pounding relentlessly.
“Get back,” Hiral’s mom hissed, pushing them both aside and setting her shoulders in determination. Rylin glanced at Hiral. His face was ashen.
Davi opened the front door. “Can I help you, officers?” she asked, standing squarely in the doorway to block Rylin and Hiral from view.
“We’re looking for Hiral Karadjan. Is he home?” The two officers were trying to push through, craning their necks to see inside.
“I’m sorry, what—”
“We have a warrant for his arrest.”
Rylin made a strangled noise deep in her throat. Hiral shot her a look, panicked, but it was too late; the police were already barging past Davi to surround him. “Hiral Karadjan, you are under arrest for the distribution and sale of illegal substances. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you …” The officer’s voice was gruff. His partner flashed a search warrant and stormed into Hiral and Dhruv’s room, where Dhruv mumbled an outraged but sleepy protest. The officer ignored it and began overturning furniture, lifting up mattresses, sifting through drawers. Rylin knew he wouldn’t find anything. She wasn’t sure where Hiral kept his drug stash, but he was too smart to keep it at home.
Davi stood aside, wringing her hands. Rylin felt Dhruv come to stand beside her. Rylin reached for his hand and gave it a supportive squeeze. She couldn’t look away from Hiral. His upper lip was curled into a sneer, his bare shoulders flexed as his wrists were yanked behind his back and fastened with magnetic cuffs. Something in his eyes seemed almost frightening.
Rylin stood there as the police took Hiral away, her whole body trembling with shock. “What are we going to do?” Dhruv turned to her.
“I don’t know,” Rylin whispered. She wasn’t really sure of anything anymore.