The Thousandth Floor

Page 65

Their kiss on the roof last night was replaying nonstop in her mind. And Avery was brimming with questions. How would they handle things, after what had happened last night? What would they tell Leda? What would they do about their parents? “Atlas?” she said, not sure exactly how to phrase this—only to realize that he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were focused on where the front door had just shut behind Leda.

“Yeah?” he asked slowly, turning to her.

Avery’s resolve faltered. Why wasn’t he smiling at her, now that they were alone?

“I was wondering … um …”

A beep sounded from the kitchen, indicating the arrival of a food delivery. The next thing Avery knew, Atlas was walking in to pick it up, not even looking at her. She followed him, deflating a little, as he reached for the delivery box that had just been whisked up from their favorite bakery.

“Wait. You ordered from Bakehouse?”

“Yeah. Want one?” he asked, and she shook her head.

She couldn’t believe it. She’d been pacing her room all morning, her heart about to burst—while Atlas had been lying in bed ordering waffles?

“Sorry. What was it you wanted to ask me?”

“Oh—I …” A sick worry settled over her. She couldn’t do it. “Never mind,” she said, trying to play it off.

This was all wrong. Avery wanted to scream. She stirred a rehydration tablet into a glass of orange juice, just to have something to do.

“Can I have one of those?” Atlas said awkwardly, after a moment. Avery wordlessly tossed him the bottle. “Thanks,” he went on, and popped a couple of the tablets. “God, I’m really hungover.”

“It was a crazy night, wasn’t it?” She hoped it would provoke him. She couldn’t believe he was doing this, pretending the kiss had never happened.

“You throw great parties, Aves.” The microcooker beeped and Atlas pulled out the waffle, dousing it in syrup. He was still doing that thing where his eyes didn’t quite meet hers. “I can’t remember the last time I got after it that hard. Those whiskey-soda bubbles …” He shook his head and took a huge bite. “Man, I’m hungover,” he said again.

“Me too,” Avery agreed, at a loss. What was going on? Atlas was just sitting at the counter, eating breakfast as if it was any old morning—as if they hadn’t kissed last night. As if the entire world hadn’t just shifted on its axis, as if the very fabric of Avery’s existence hadn’t been forever changed.

Could Atlas really have been so drunk that he didn’t remember what had happened? Or worse, was he pretending it hadn’t happened because it didn’t mean anything to him—because he regretted it?

“Avery? This just arrived for you.” Their maid, Sarah, stood in the doorway, hugging a flower arrangement in a hammered metal tin. Avery immediately glanced at Atlas, wondering if he’d sent it. Maybe he’d just been acting cautious earlier, and the flowers were his way of showing how he felt while keeping everything a secret.

Avery strode over, keeping her robe tied close around her, and pulled the heavy cream notecard from the side of the flowers. Avery, was written in antique loopy handwriting on the front. Of course, she thought with a little thrill of pleasure, Atlas remembered her favorite calligraphy style. She opened the note, hiding her smile.

But it wasn’t from Atlas. Some long roots, for your greenhouse, it read. Watt.

Watt? Avery registered, bewildered. She thought back to their conversation last night. Who was this guy, exactly, and why didn’t she know more about him? She buried her face in the bouquet to hide her confusion and inhaled deeply. It was an intoxicating scent, light and airy. Avery realized that the flowers had been very carefully selected, baby’s breath and peonies and a single white rose at the center. All flowers with long roots. And there was soil in the tin, which was wide and deep. These plants weren’t cuttings: they were all still alive, so if she wanted to, she could try to transplant them to deeper soil.

Watt had clearly put a lot of thought into this gift. She was touched, in spite of everything.

“Should I take them to your room?” Sarah asked.

“What about right here instead, on the kitchen table?” Avery’s eyes were on Atlas as she said it. She hoped the flowers would elicit some kind of reaction from him: jealousy, or at least curiosity. But he was just chewing his waffle, not even looking their way. “Atlas, what do you think of these?” she pressed, irritated.

“They look great.”

He hadn’t even asked who sent them. Her heart aching, Avery leaned her elbows on the table and looked down at her new flowers. They seemed so beautiful now, but they were all doomed, she thought darkly, their tiny roots racing toward the inflexible confines of the pot.

She broke off a sprig of baby’s breath and tucked it into the pocket of her robe, then retreated to her room and shut the door quietly behind her.


ERIS STOOD IN line at the grocery on the corner, a tiny shopping basket slung over one arm, clutching a stack of coupons that flashed with the cheap instapaper of lower-floor flyers. Her mom had transferred her a few nanodollars so that Eris could buy dinner for tonight. Caroline was out meeting with “someone very important,” she’d said, putting on a white pressed blouse and pearls for the first time in weeks. Eris had wondered, briefly, if that someone was Everett. Not that she really cared what he did anymore. Besides, it was much more likely that it was some kind of job interview, she’d concluded, losing interest.

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