The Thousandth Floor

Page 89

At the front of the line stood Avery’s date. Watt, if she remembered right. Leda hadn’t actually been introduced to him at Eris’s party, though she’d seen him there, wandering around after Avery like a lost puppy. And now he was Avery’s date to the University Club gala? It seemed impossible that he’d just appeared in their lives out of nowhere, with no backstory and no explanation.

“Watt, right?” she asked, sidling up to him. “You’re here with Avery.”

“You do realize you just cut an entire line of people to get to the front of the bar.”

“It’s fine, they’re all friends,” Leda said, with an airy gesture. Well, it was sort of true.

“Who am I to argue with that logic,” Watt replied, his mouth twitching with a barely suppressed smile. Was he laughing at her? “Since you’re clearly thirsty, let me buy you a drink.”

“It’s an open bar,” Leda snapped in irritation, as the white-gloved bartender turned to Watt. She started to tell him that she wanted a—

“Whiskey soda for the lady. Beer for me. And a champagne,” Watt said.

When the bartender handed him the drinks, Watt and Leda moved aside, to a high-topped table past the crush of people. “How did you know what I wanted?” Leda asked, a little discomfited. Whiskey soda wasn’t exactly a ladylike drink, but it was the only thing that calmed her when she felt truly agitated.

“Lucky guess,” Watt said easily. “But be careful. It only takes one.”

She shot him a glance, startled. What the hell did he mean by that? It only takes one was what they used to say back at Silver Cove. But Watt was just sipping his beer innocently.

“I’m sorry,” she said, in the nicest tone she could muster. “I haven’t even introduced myself. I’m Leda Cole.” She held out a hand, and Watt shook it, that maddening smirk still on his face.

“I know,” he answered.

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair,” she went on, more flustered than she’d wanted to be. “I don’t know anything about you! Tell me about yourself.”

“Oh, I’m not very interesting,” he said lightly.

“Where do you go to school?”

“Jefferson High.”

She frowned, wishing she could look up things like this on her contacts without being obvious about it. “I don’t know it. Are you—”

“It’s on the two hundred fortieth floor,” he interrupted, leaning on the table, watching her. He wasn’t tall, but there was something imposing about his stance. She found herself wishing they were seated.

“I see.” Leda had no idea how to respond. She hadn’t talked to anyone from that far down even back when she was a mile-higher. “And how did you say you met Avery?”

“I didn’t say.” He winked. “You seem awfully curious about me. It’s because Avery is your best friend, right?” He said it knowingly, and Leda flushed, angry. Had Avery told this guy about their falling out?

“She is,” Leda said defensively.

Avery appeared as if on cue. Her hair was swept up in a twist, a few tendrils escaping to frame her face, an incandescent tucked behind one ear like everyone used to do in middle school. It was totally lame and yet, of course, Avery pulled it off effortlessly. God, by next week everyone would probably be wearing incandescents again. Avery moved forward and the light dazzled over her gown, which was high necked and covered in miniature shards of mirror. Of course you picked that, Leda thought, with a surprising bitterness. It’s a dress that literally reflects you to yourself ad infinitum.

“Hi.” Avery stepped close to Watt, only to stiffen once she noticed Leda. “Oh. Hey, Leda. How’s your night?”

Oh, I just messed things up with the guy I like, and my dad’s acting weird, and I really miss my best friend. Other than that, it’s completely— “Fantastic,” Leda said, a smile settling over her face like a mask.

Avery nodded. “I saw your mom earlier. She said you guys might go to Greece over Christmas? I had no idea,” she added clumsily.

Of course you had no idea. We don’t talk anymore. “Yeah,” Leda said, suddenly sad. “Remember that time we had to be Greece for model UN?” she blurted out, not sure why she was bringing it up.

“And our homemade baklava made everyone sick?” Avery joined in.

“That’s one way to win. Send everyone else running home,” Leda said seriously, and then they both laughed. For a fleeting instant, the world seemed normal again.

Until their laughter died down, and they looked at each other across the table, and both seemed to realize that things weren’t all right between them at all.

Avery was the first to escape. “Can we go dance?” she asked, turning to Watt and leaving her still full champagne on the table.

“As you wish.” Watt took Avery’s hand. “Nice meeting you, Leda.”

“Bye, Leda,” Avery called over her shoulder as she pulled Watt into the crowd.

“Yeah, see you,” Leda mumbled, but they were already gone.

Leda stayed at the table for a while, downing the whiskey soda and then the champagne Avery had left behind. There was something weird about that Watt guy. She didn’t trust him. She wanted to ask Avery about him … but then there was so much she needed to talk about with Avery, and she didn’t know how anymore.

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