The Thousandth Floor

Page 88

“What’s going on with you and Avery?”

“What?” Surely Leda had misheard. She’d been distracted by the direction of her thoughts.

“I asked what’s going on with you and Avery,” Atlas repeated. He’d moved to sit in a chair at the edge of the dance floor, and Leda wordlessly sank down next to him.

“It’s fine,” she said automatically, annoyed that even when Avery wasn’t around, everything inevitably came back to her. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up a sensitive subject. I just noticed that you two haven’t spent much time together lately, and I wanted to make sure …” He sighed. “Normally I’d ask Avery about it, but we’re not exactly on great terms right now.”

That made Leda sit up a little straighter. Had Avery and Atlas fought about her? Maybe Avery had said something to Atlas, told him that Leda wasn’t good enough for him, and Atlas had stood up for her. Leda didn’t want to believe it of her best friend … but was Avery even her best friend anymore?

“Thank you for asking. I don’t really want to talk about it, though.”

“I’m sorry. Forget I said anything.” Atlas sounded genuinely regretful. “Want to dance?”

Leda nodded gratefully, and he swept her back onto the dance floor. “Is it weird, being back?” she asked after a while.

“Kind of,” Atlas admitted. “The Tower is just so different from everywhere else, you know?”

“Well, it certainly is different from the Amazon,” Leda said without thinking.

Atlas’s feet were suddenly rooted in place. “How did you know about the Amazon?” he asked, very slowly.

Shit. “You mentioned it, I think,” she told him, wishing she could unspeak the words.

“I’m sure I didn’t,” he corrected her.

“Well, Avery, then, or your parents, I don’t know. I heard it somewhere,” she said offhandedly.

But Atlas wasn’t so easily fooled. “Leda. What’s going on with you?” His brown eyes narrowed.

“Nothing, I promise. I’m sorry.”

Atlas nodded, seeming to let it go, and they kept dancing. But Leda could still see the tightness in his jaw, the tension in his body. She felt it strumming through the space between them.

After another song, he took a step back. “Want a drink?”

“Yes,” Leda agreed, a little too emphatically. She started to follow him, but Atlas shook his head.

“The bar’s so crowded—let me bring it to you. Champagne, right?”

“Thanks,” Leda said helplessly, even though champagne wasn’t her drink at all; it was Avery’s.

She wandered toward the enormous side rooms off the ballroom, wondering where her friends were. But before she saw them her eyes were drawn to her dad, who was standing alone in a corner. He was folded in on himself, looking like he didn’t want to be noticed, and muttering, clearly on a call.

Leda’s mind went immediately to last weekend, when he’d lied about golf. Before she thought twice about it she’d logged into LipRead on her contacts and focused intently on her dad’s mouth, dozens of meters away. LipRead was intended as a tool for the hearing-impaired, but Leda had discovered that it worked great for spying, when you used the new superzoom contacts.

“I can’t tell my family yet,” a robotic voice translated her dad’s words into her ear, in a grating monotone. What couldn’t he tell them, Leda wondered, the words giving her pause. A moment later: “Fine. I’ll talk to her next weekend.”

Leda, dazed at what she’d overheard, watched him end the ping and walk away, just as her mom appeared at her shoulder. “Leda! You look gorgeous!” Ilara exclaimed, as if she hadn’t seen her daughter getting ready. “Where’s Atlas?”

“Bringing us drinks,” Leda said shortly.

“Leda …”

“I’ll be good, I promise,” she added, still thinking about her dad’s behavior. She glanced over her mom’s crimson gown and expensive jewelry, realizing that she didn’t recognize the bracelet on her wrist. “Is that new?” she asked, momentarily distracted.

“Your father just gave it to me for our anniversary.” Ilara held out the bracelet, an intricate wrought-gold net studded with tiny diamonds, for Leda to inspect.

“That and a Calvadour scarf? Wow.” Leda had never seen her dad so generous.

“I didn’t get a Calvadour,” Ilara said, puzzled. “What do you mean, hon?”

“There are my two girls!” Leda’s dad pushed through the crowd to hook his arm through her mom’s. They made a striking pair, him so light and her so dark, the red pocket square in his tux mirroring the color of her dress. Leda wondered what his bizarre ping had been about, and what had happened to the scarf. Did he think better of it, and return it? It made sense, but still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something bigger was going on.

“I need to go find Atlas.” Leda stepped back, feeling suddenly uneasy, almost panicked. She wanted a drink. Now.


“See you at home,” she called out over her shoulder.

When she got to the bar, she shoved shamelessly forward to the front of the line, looking for Atlas. “Excuse me. I’m sorry,” she muttered, not really caring who she pushed past. Her need was like an itch crawling desperately over her skin. In some part of her mind, she registered this as a warning flag, but she’d deal with it later, when her chest wasn’t so tight.

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