The Thousandth Floor

Page 94

She just carefully climbed up her steps, letting him see how unaffected she was, stubbornness and wounded pride keeping her head aloft. She wondered what he would say, if he knew that the last time he’d pulled something like this, she’d gone on a wild tailspinning bender that ended in two months of rehab.

She should have known better. She should have known that Atlas would play boomerang with her emotions again, ask her out to big public events and then tell her stiffly that he wanted to be “fair.” I’ll show you fair, she thought, walking in her front door without turning her head even a fraction of a degree back in his direction.

But the moment she was safely in her room, Leda crumpled to the floor, cradling her head in her hands. A terrifying part of her hated Atlas for the way he’d treated her. She wanted to hurt him, him and whatever stupid girl he supposedly had feelings for.

Leda realized with a start that she still hadn’t used the best weapon in her arsenal. She started mumbling, composing a message to Nadia. You were wrong. Atlas just told me that he’s in love with someone else. Figure out who it is, or you’re fired.

A moment later, a response she didn’t expect flashed across her vision. Too late. I quit.

Her blood boiled. No one quits on me. You can’t quit, not now.

And you wanted to fire me. It sure is hard to keep up with your mood swings.

You little—

Sorry, but I’m done with all of you, Nadia interrupted, and then the link was broken as Nadia blocked her permanently.

Leda didn’t know what the hacker meant by “all of you,” and she didn’t particularly care. She felt blindsided. Everything was pressing in on her. Losing her best friend, then Atlas, and now Nadia on top of everything else … god, she just wanted to talk to someone … not to mention all the weirdness lately, about her dad … Leda felt cornered, panicked. She wanted to lash out. Think, she told herself, but her thoughts weren’t coming. She closed her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath.

She couldn’t take it anymore.

She pulled up the unsent flicker to Ross, still waiting there in her drafts box, and sent it under her breath. It’s me. What have you got?


AVERY SIGHED AS she pulled her feet up onto the soft gray couch in the living room. She waved halfheartedly, the gesture scrolling through the thousands of channels on the holoscreen. But all she could think about was Watt, and the look on his face when she’d kicked him out of her room.

Avery felt terrible about how she’d ended the night. She really hadn’t meant to lead Watt on. The moment he turned up on her doorstep, looking so magnificent in his tux, she’d felt a little thrill of excitement. And that feeling had only grown as the night wore on.

Maybe it was the way he tried to talk to her, really talk to her, and paid attention to things that mattered to her. Maybe it was the warm, clean scent of him, when she leaned her cheek on his shoulder on the dance floor. Or maybe it was just that something in Avery’s life would have to change, drastically, if she had any hope of getting over Atlas, and this was the most drastic change she could think of. Whatever the reason, standing there at the end of the night, she’d decided to follow Jess’s advice—to do it, and get it over with. She was going to have sex with Watt.

Yet when the moment came, Avery froze up completely. She liked Watt, she really did, and still she couldn’t do it. She knew it was messed up, but she’d always imagined that moment with Atlas. No matter how hard she tried to convince herself, she couldn’t bear the thought of being with anyone else.

She thought of what Watt had said earlier, about how she was always looking backward while he looked forward. She wondered, suddenly, if part of why she was so interested in the past was because it was easier than thinking of the future—of her future. Because a future with Atlas was impossible, and yet a future without him would be unbearable.

Avery glanced at her messages again. Still nothing from Watt. She’d sent him a brief flicker saying she was sorry for the way things ended, and she hoped he got home okay, but she hadn’t heard back.

If only she could talk this out with Leda. But she had no idea if Leda and Atlas were still at the gala, or at Leda’s place … Avery swiped at the holo channels again, trying desperately not to think about Leda and Atlas. Better to focus on the lesser hurt, of how royally she’d screwed things up with Watt.

She heard the telltale beep of the front door and sat up, startled, tucking her stray wisps of hair behind her ears. Her parents had come home hours ago and were asleep in their master at the far end of the hall. It had to be Atlas.

“Avery?” He stood in the doorway. “I didn’t realize you were home.”

“You’re back,” she pointed out, stupidly.

“Yeah.” He settled on the couch next to her.

“I thought you were with Leda,” Avery couldn’t help saying.

“I was, but I dropped her off.” He paused. “I told Leda we shouldn’t go out again.”

“Oh.” Avery felt a surge of triumph at the news and hated herself for it, for rejoicing in her friend’s suffering. Part of her knew that if it weren’t Atlas, Leda would be calling her right now, to vent about the whole thing and scheme some Leda-esque revenge.

They sat there for a moment, both of them staring straight ahead at the holoscreen, where a commercial for a new dragonfruit snack pack was playing. Animated dragons flew around the screen in circles, batting their long eyelashes.

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