The Thousandth Floor

Page 78

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Later that night, after they’d eaten—Rylin had insisted on cooking, even wrapping the roast chicken in bacon, which she never could afford to do at home—she curled up on the couch in the living room. She should go back. Chrissa would be getting home soon; she’d had late practice all week, with the state tournament coming up. But Rylin felt drained by the spectrum of emotions she’d whirled through today. She needed to rest, just for a minute.

“Do you want to stay?” Cord asked, his usual confidence faltering a little. Rylin knew what he was asking. She couldn’t go there, not yet.

“I need to get home,” she said, and gave a huge yawn. “Can I just … for five minutes …” She leaned her head back on the pillow. Cord started to walk away, but Rylin found that she didn’t want him to. “Wait,” she protested sleepily.

He settled next to her, and Rylin shifted so that her back was against his chest. Slowly her breathing became more regular.

Eventually Cord wriggled off the couch. Rylin was asleep by then, so she didn’t see him search for a blanket in the cupboard and tuck it carefully around her. She didn’t see him look at her for a moment, studying the way her lashes fluttered in her sleep. She didn’t see him lean down and brush back her hair, then kiss her lightly on the brow before heading to his room and shutting the door behind him.

But when she woke up in the middle of the night and felt the blanket around her, Rylin snuggled deeper into it, and smiled into the darkness.


ERIS WAS LYING on the floor of her art history classroom, looking up at the ceiling along with her classmates as they watched a holographic Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. She could hear Avery next to her, sighing each time the painter made another brushstroke. She never understood why Avery loved this stuff so much—it was Avery’s fault Eris had enrolled in this class in the first place. Their teacher began lecturing about something, popes maybe, but Eris wasn’t listening. She moved her purse under her head to get more comfortable. Her eyes drifted to a figure in the corner of the ceiling, holding a scroll and looking anxiously over her shoulder at a painted angel. The girl’s hair was the same color as her own.

She wondered what Mariel would say about this immersive learning. Probably she would just laugh and roll her eyes, and make some comment about how rich people didn’t spend their money very well. Eris looked around the room. Gone were the desks and display board and windows. Thanks to an elaborate, incredibly expensive system of holograms and mirrors, every surface was utterly transformed into the sixteenth-century church. Eris wondered, suddenly, how many lower-floor families they could feed for the cost of the tech equipment in this room alone.

She couldn’t wait till this class ended, when she could sneak to the edge of the tech-net and see if Mariel had messaged her. They’d spent most of the last week together, ever since Mariel came by Eris’s apartment the morning after church. “Okay,” Mariel had said simply, and Eris had nodded, and that was that.

They’d fallen into an unspoken pattern of meeting up in the evenings, when Mariel got off work. Sometimes they would just do homework together, or sit on the couch and watch mindless comedies on the vid-screen, or run errands for Mariel’s mom, who was a salesperson at a department store. Most of the time Mariel’s mom would insist that Eris stay for dinner. Eris had eaten at their place the past three nights. It was nice, being part of a family again. The more time Eris spent with Mariel, the more she wanted to keep spending time with her.

A high beeping noise cut through the sounds of holographic Michelangelo’s humming. A message from the front office, Eris thought, her interest piqued. And then she heard her own name.

“Eris Dodd-Radson?”

The old Eris would have loved this moment, stood up slowly and tossed her hair, letting everyone think she was off somewhere fabulous. But now she just lurched to her feet and grabbed her things. She ignored Avery’s whisper and walked quickly out the door to the headmaster’s office.

The last person she expected to see waiting there was her mom.

“Eris!” Caroline exclaimed, striding forward and hugging her. Eris stood there numbly, shocked that her mom was here, at school, picking her up. “Let’s get going.” Her mom put a hand firmly behind her back and steered her out the school’s side door. The headmaster’s secretary gave them a fake smile, already turning back to her tablet screen.

A hover waited for them on the side of the school. “We can’t afford to take a hover.” Eris turned, reminding her mom, but Caroline was already shooing her inside and keying in the destination. “Here,” she said, handing Eris a self-steaming garment bag. “Change now. We’re running late as it is.”

“Are you serious?” Eris asked.

“Please. Like this is the first time you’ve changed in a hover,” her mom replied. She had a point.

Eris shimmied out of her school uniform and into the sundress inside the bag—her nicest one, a purple Lanvin with big splashes of blue and white. Eris hadn’t managed to pack this one before the move. She shot her mom a glance, but Caroline just shrugged. “I got it from storage for you,” she said, and Eris felt a pang of gratefulness.

Finally they pulled up to the paved courtyard of the Lemark Hotel on 910. Eris still had no idea what was going on. “Mom,” she snapped, losing her patience, “you can’t just pull me out of school and expect me to—”

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