The Thousandth Floor

Page 68

Eris hesitated, surprised at how much she wanted to stay. “My mom is out, but I’d love to,” she admitted.

Mariel’s mom grinned and stepped inside. Mariel stood there looking at Eris, a funny expression on her face.

“What is it? Do you not want me to stay?” Eris asked.

Mariel shook her head. “No, it’s just … Every time I think I’ve figured you out, you do something unexpected.”

Eris laughed. “Good luck with that,” she said. “Even I haven’t figured me out, and I’ve been trying for eighteen years.”

Mariel rolled her eyes and led Eris inside.

Eris sat contentedly at the Valconsuelos’ kitchen table—turned out that was Mariel’s last name—while Mariel’s parents clattered pots and pans around in their warm, cozily cluttered kitchen. Moments later Eris heard the sizzle of tomatoes and sausages cooking. Her mouth watered; she hadn’t had anything lately but canned food and takeout, except what she got at the school cafeteria.

Dinner was delicious, and cheerfully chaotic. Eris loved the way the Valconsuelos kept teasing and challenging one another, arguing about some basketball match, naming players Eris had never even heard of. Finally Mariel’s dad went to take a ping in the bedroom, and her mom led a yawning Marcos out of the room. “Eris and I have got the dishes,” Mariel volunteered, watching Eris’s face.

“Oh, Eris is a guest,” Mariel’s mom called out from the hallway.

“I’m happy to help,” Eris insisted, and stood up to clear the table, gratified by the astonishment in Mariel’s expression. Please, she thought, amused, I can handle washing a few plates.

They cleaned the kitchen in silence. “Why did you let me come with you tonight?” Eris asked after a while.

Mariel shrugged. “You said you were lonely. Mass always helps me, when I’m feeling that way.”

Finally, when everything was cleared, Mariel reached up to turn out the overhead lights and clicked on an artificial candle. “Sorry,” she said, setting the candle in the middle of the table. “We’re just trying to lower the electric bill.”

“Is that my cue to leave?” Eris asked, feeling a little reckless.

The candle made strange shadows dance across Mariel’s face, strong-boned and willful, her eyes pools of darkness that Eris couldn’t read. She’d never felt this way about anyone before—that they were achingly familiar and yet at the same time a stranger. She started to reach across the table for Mariel’s hand, but Mariel yanked it away, shaking her head.

“It is your cue to leave, actually,” Mariel said, and sighed. “I can’t go down that road with you again, Eris, knowing how it will end.”

Eris knew she should go, but Mariel was leaning forward imperceptibly, her eyes locked on Eris’s. She hadn’t quite made up her mind yet. “It won’t end the same way this time,” Eris heard herself say.

“Why should I believe that?”

“What if we take things slow?” Eris offered, standing up. She wasn’t sure why she wanted this, exactly, but she knew that she did.

Mariel tilted her head in consideration. The candlelight caught the cheap red stones of her earrings, a spark of red fire against the dark curtain of her hair. “Maybe,” she said at last.

Eris nodded. “You know where to find me,” she called out, and shut the door behind her.

Eris Dodd-Radson, she thought, self-professed queen of the casual hookup, offering to take things slow. Who would have guessed?


RYLIN STOOD IN her kitchen, her tablet pressed to her ear, trying to get through to the police station yet again. It had been a week since Hiral’s arrest, and they still hadn’t put him on the approved list for visitors. What was taking them so long?

“Hi,” she said, the moment the front desk officer picked up. “I’m calling to ask about Hiral—”

“Miss Myers, like I told you yesterday, your boyfriend isn’t cleared yet,” the guard snapped, recognizing her voice. “We’ll let you know, okay?” With that, he hung up.

Rylin leaned her elbows on the counter, her head in her hands. Even if she didn’t love Hiral anymore, she hated the thought of him in jail, suffering. She’d gone to see his parents every night over the past week, just to check on them, to assure them that Hiral was innocent and everything would turn out fine. Dhruv would look at her, an eyebrow raised, and Rylin would blush at being caught in the lie. But what was she supposed to tell the Karadjans—that there wasn’t any hope?

She sighed and kept packing Cord’s sleek silver cooler with electrolyte drinks and energy bars. In spite of everything else going on, Rylin was determined to make it to Chrissa’s volleyball tournament this morning. She hadn’t seen Chrissa play in months. She was even bringing team snacks like some of the other girls’ moms always did. It had been Cord’s idea, actually; he’d insisted on lending her the cooler, because of course Rylin didn’t own one.

A smile played around her lips at the thought of Cord. It was weird, how easily he’d transitioned from being her employer to … well, to whatever he was. It was weird—and yet it also felt natural, almost inevitable.

Cord had insisted on continuing to pay her all week, claiming it was his fault that she’d gotten fired from the monorail job. Rylin took the money—she couldn’t exactly afford not to—but she determinedly kept cleaning despite Cord’s assurance that she didn’t need to. The only times she left were to go on interviews for other jobs, none of which had worked out. She’d been rejected from five positions in the past week. “I don’t see why you won’t just stay here,” Cord kept telling her. “You should be going back to school instead of getting another dead-end job. You’re too smart for that stuff, Rylin.” It was tempting, the idea of just taking Cord’s help, but Rylin was already uncomfortable with the imbalance in their relationship. Maybe he was right about graduating, but she’d have to figure out the money some other way first.

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