“I love this. It’s an amazing surprise,” Mariel said, in the sudden quiet.
“This isn’t the surprise,” Eris said, “at least, not all of it.”
The cheers from South Street were getting louder. Eris could hear music playing, and saw the pink dancing lights of halluci-lighters across the water. “Is there some kind of rave going on tonight?” Mariel asked.
Eris laughed. “They’re all here for the same reason we are,” she said, and drew her arm around Mariel. “Look.” She pointed up, and they both tipped their faces to the stars.
A comet sliced through the velvet-dark sky, its tail streaming after it like a fan.
“It’s beautiful,” Mariel breathed.
Eris drank in the sight, trying not to think about the University Club, how Avery and Leda were probably pressed up against the windows this very moment, wearing expensive gowns and holding champagne flutes as the comet blazed past. Stop it, she told herself. This was so much better.
“It’s almost named after me, you know,” she said, recalling what she’d read earlier. “Eros instead of Eris. Supposedly it won’t pass Earth again for a thousand years.”
“The god of love.” Mariel laughed. “Eris, on the other hand, is the goddess of—”
“Chaos,” Eris said ruefully. She’d always teased her mom about that. Caroline claimed she hadn’t known, that she’d picked the name because she thought it was pretty.
“Sometimes love and chaos are the same thing,” Mariel said softly.
Eris turned around and kissed her in reply, blocking the comet from her view.
Mariel responded eagerly, slipping her arms around Eris’s shoulders. There was something new in the kiss, a tenderness Eris wasn’t familiar with.
Eventually Mariel pulled back. “Eris. I’m afraid.”
“What? Why?” The comet had faded from the sky. Downtown, they could hear the screams of revelers toasting its arrival. Eros, the love comet.
“I just …” Mariel seemed about to say something. Eris could feel nervousness crackling across the surface of her skin, like electricity. “I don’t want to get hurt.”
Eris felt for some reason that hadn’t been what Mariel originally meant to say. But she just leaned in, resting her head lightly on Mariel’s shoulder. “I’ll never do anything to hurt you. I promise,” she said softly.
The cynical, worldly part of Eris laughed at herself for saying that, for making a promise she could never hope to keep. Well, she would just have to keep it this time, she thought firmly.
She felt Mariel relax a little next to her. Their boat rocked back and forth, gently buffeted by the waves. “I promise,” Eris said again, and the words drifted up like smoke into the darkness.
“THANKS FOR THE ride home,” Avery said when the hover pulled up to her apartment. Her parents had left the party hours ago, and she wasn’t sure where any of her friends were by now, not even Leda or Atlas. She’d been too distracted by the dancing, the laughing, the swirl of coordinated excitement surrounding the comet. And by Watt.
She’d had fun with him tonight, far more fun than she’d expected to. He was somehow earnest without being serious, confident without being an asshole. As he walked her to the front door, Avery realized that Watt would have to go almost eight hundred floors downTower after dropping her off. She tried to picture his home life and drew a blank. Why hadn’t she asked more questions about him? she thought, a little embarrassed at how self-centered he must think she was.
“Of course.” Watt reached gingerly behind her ear for the incandescent. It was dried and brown now, its fragrance cloyingly sweet. Just hours ago it had been a living star.
“I guess the night’s really over, isn’t it?” she remarked wistfully. Watt made a move to throw the flower away, but she stopped him. “No, don’t—not yet. I want to keep it. Just for a little while.”
He obediently held out the incandescent, his eyes on her, thoughtful. Avery reached for the dead blossom and held it tight in her palm. She felt like she could hear Watt’s heartbeat echoing across the space between them.
Ever so lightly, Watt leaned down to place his lips on her forehead. He paused, giving Avery time to pull away. She didn’t, but she didn’t lean in either. She just stood still, and waited.
By the time he was brushing his lips to hers the kiss felt inevitable. Avery kissed him back without thinking, eager to see what Watt felt like, tasted like. The kiss was soft and slow and she loved how warm his hands were on her hips.
When they finally broke apart, neither of them spoke. Avery felt a strange, aching happiness. She’d finally done it: kissed someone who wasn’t Atlas. For real this time, not someone she was halfheartedly avoiding, not a sloppy makeout at a holiday party, but someone she might actually like. It felt like sacrilege, and yet it hadn’t been that hard at all.
Maybe this was what she needed, she thought, to help her get over Atlas once and for all. Maybe Watt was what she needed.
“Good night, Avery,” he said, turning back toward the hover. The feelings swirling uncertainly around Avery’s mind coalesced into a single word.
Watt stopped, the door halfway shut.
Avery’s heart was beating too fast, her breathing uneven. She wondered if Atlas was home and would see them together. Stop thinking of Atlas. She didn’t want Watt to leave, and yet she wasn’t sure she was ready for this. But maybe she never would be.