The Thousandth Floor

Page 90

Leda thought she saw Atlas over by the dance floor, where he’d left her. She should go back and find him.

But she turned back toward the bar instead, her small shoulders drawn upward like a knife. First she would get another drink.


ERIS LAY ON Mariel’s bed, curled idly onto one side. Through half-closed lids she watched Mariel at her desk, furiously typing away at some assignment. The walls were painted a soft green, covered in instaphotos of Mariel and her friends, and various photography posters—the sun setting over a jagged mountain range, the moon lit up during an eclipse. Country music played on Mariel’s speakers. Eris had never met anyone obsessed with country music except Avery, and she’d long ago written it off as one of those incomprehensible Avery quirks. It was kind of funny, that Eris’s best friend and the girl she was dating had something so unusual in common.

“Are you almost finished?” Eris asked Mariel, though she didn’t really mind. She liked it more than she would’ve expected, actually, spending time with Mariel in peaceful quiet while Mariel did her homework. She couldn’t remember ever lying on someone else’s bed and just hanging out, without any expectations at all.

“Almost,” Mariel said, her brow furrowed in concentration.

Where are you? Caroline flickered. “I’m at Mariel’s,” Eris said aloud, composing a reply. Caroline had met Mariel, and knew that she and Eris were spending time together lately. “My mom,” she added in explanation, since Mariel had heard the message.

Mariel nodded. “Seems like things are getting better between you two,” she pointed out.

It was true. After their lunch with Leda’s dad—after Eris learned that he was her dad too—she and her mom had fallen into a sort of truce. They’d started hanging out again, the way they used to: wandering through their favorite upper-floor haunts, even having dinner together most nights. It was nice, no longer feeling so resentful toward her mom. “Have you heard anything else from your birth dad?” Mariel asked. “When will you see him again?”

“I don’t know,” Eris told her. They hadn’t made any plans to meet up again, hadn’t discussed what kind of support, if any, Mr. Cole would give them. She’d mentioned it to her mom earlier, but Caroline had said not to worry, it was being taken care of. What did that mean? Eris wondered, crazily, if she and her mom would move upstairs and start being one big family with the Coles.

“Well, I’m sure he’ll reach out,” Mariel said, with more confidence than Eris felt. “It’s probably just as weird and new for him as it is for you.”

“Thanks,” Eris said, glad she’d decided to tell Mariel the whole story.

She’d come and spilled everything to Mariel the afternoon that it happened. Partly because she needed to share the news with someone, and couldn’t talk to anyone from the upper floors, since they all knew Leda. But mainly she told Mariel simply because she wanted the other girl to know, and was interested in her opinion. Eris didn’t know anyone else who approached life the way Mariel did, who thought the way Mariel did.

“Let’s not talk about me anymore,” Eris said, suddenly eager for a distraction. “I want to talk about you.”

“But I so enjoy always talking about you,” Mariel quipped. Eris sat up and glared at her, and Mariel laughed. “Sorry,” she said, though she didn’t sound sorry at all. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I know I’m endlessly fascinating,” Eris said drily. “But seriously. We met, what, a month ago? And there’s still so much I don’t know about you.”

“Has it really been a month?”

Eris tossed a pillow at Mariel, who ducked. “Fine, fine, what do you want to know?”

“Favorite color,” Eris said automatically.

“What a typical Eris question,” Mariel replied, but before Eris could throw another pillow, she answered, “Green! Mint green, actually.”

“Favorite class in school.”

“That’s easy. Debate.”

“Really?” Eris couldn’t help asking. All the debate kids she knew were so awful, with their obnoxious uniform vests and know-it-all attitudes. Mariel seemed way too cool to be one of them.

“If you’re that surprised, clearly I haven’t argued with you enough,” Mariel teased.

“Feel free to try.” Eris smiled. “What do you want to do, someday?”

“Be on the holos.”

“Me too!”

Mariel laughed again. She’d spun her chair around to face Eris and pulled her feet up to cross them. One of her socks was pink with white polka dots, the other dotted with tiny orange pumpkins. “I don’t think we’d have the same holos career,” she said, her eyes dancing. “I want to be a political commentator.”

“Those people who read the news?”

“The ones who lead presidential debates, and talk about the issues, and write articles for the newsfeeds.” Mariel looked down, pulling at the sleeves of her sweater. “I just want to help people understand what’s going on. Help them decide their opinions.”

“Why don’t you run for office, and then you won’t just be helping people think, but actually doing stuff?” Eris suggested. She scooted toward the edge of the bed, close enough to touch Mariel’s arm.

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