The Thousandth Floor

Page 99

The weirdest part was seeing Leda at school and being unable to say anything. Mr. Cole had asked Eris to let him be the one to tell her, in his own time. Of course, it was his secret to tell. Yet Eris hadn’t been able to keep herself from stealing glances at Leda all week, marveling at the fact that they were half sisters, searching for some common features in their utterly different faces. Perhaps something around the mouths, she’d thought one day during lunch, watching Leda across the table. They both had that deep Cupid’s bow, and a full, sensuous lower lip. Eris had always thought, uncharitably, that a mouth like that was wasted on Leda, who was clearly too uptight to put it to good use. But she’d never noticed how similar it was to her own.

“What? Do I have something in my teeth?” Leda had snapped, noticing her staring. Eris rolled her eyes and looked away, as if bored by the question.

Now she tossed her hair with the old entitled confidence and nodded at the hostess. “Mr. Cole’s party,” she murmured, and followed the girl to where her birth father was sitting, at a small round table by the windows.

“Eris,” Mr. Cole said warmly as she took a seat. “You look lovely.”

“Thank you.” She was wearing a dress of Avery’s that she’d borrowed, a navy shift with tiny darts that hugged her figure and flared around her knees. She’d thrown her mom’s pearl necklace on over it, and felt almost normal again.

“I’m sorry my mom couldn’t make it,” she began, about to explain that she’d looked for Caroline everywhere, but Mr. Cole shook his head.

“I already spoke to her.” For a moment his jaw tightened, but then the moment passed and he relaxed into a smile. “So, Eris,” he said genially, “I hear I missed your birthday last month.”

Had it really only been a month since her party at Bubble Lounge, since all the trappings of her former life were finally gone? It seemed like longer.

“It’s okay,” she said, but Mr. Cole was pulling something out of his briefcase—a signature orange Calvadour scarf box. Eris held her breath and untied the fat paper ribbon. Propelled by tiny compostable microsensors, it self-folded into an origami butterfly and flew off in search of the nearest recycle bin.

Eris gasped. Inside the box was a beautiful, hand-embroidered cashmere scarf, covered in a buckled equestrian print with a scarlet floral border. She’d seen this in the window at Calvadour; it was a one-of-a-kind piece, and inordinately expensive. Exactly the kind of thing Eris used to buy for herself, back when money was no object.

“This is too much. I can’t accept it,” she murmured, though of course she had no intention of giving it back. She buried her face in the cashmere and took a deep breath.

“Consider it seventeen years’ worth of birthday presents from your father,” Mr. Cole said gruffly.

Father. Wasn’t that the first time he’d used that word in reference to her? Feeling impulsive, Eris stood up and leaned across the small table to kiss him lightly on the cheek, the way she always used to do with the man she’d thought was her dad.

Her father seemed a little surprised by the show of affection, but accepted it. Eris wondered if Leda didn’t do stuff like that. Oh well, he’d just have to get used to Eris’s impulsiveness. “Thank you,” she said, and tied the scarf in a jaunty knot around her neck, letting the distinctive embroidery fall over her back. It was the perfect accessory for her navy dress.

The waiter approached and they ordered dinner. The lights overhead dimmed, candelabra on the walls flaming into life. Eris glanced out the old-fashioned mullioned windows that overlooked Haxley Park, a small, tucked-away public space with gardens and running fountains. She realized that someone might see them together, here by the windows. Her father, seeming to think the same thing, angled his chair a little closer toward the center of the restaurant.

“So, Eris. Tell me about your apartment.”

“Our apartment?”

“Where you and your mother are living right now. It’s not quite … spacious enough for the two of you, is it?”

“It’s not huge,” Eris admitted.

“What floor is it on?”

“The hundred and third.”

He paled at the number. “Oh, god. I hadn’t realized it was that bad.” Eris didn’t quite like the distaste in his voice, but let it go. “Poor Caroline,” he said, almost to himself.

Their entrées arrived. Eris’s father continued to pepper her with questions: about her mom, their life downstairs, her schoolwork, whether she’d heard anything from Everett Radson. Eris answered all his questions, wondering what exactly he was leading up to. Maybe the crazy thought she’d had wasn’t so crazy after all. Maybe he really was going to suggest they start spending time together, all of them, as a family. Eris considered the possibility and found that she wasn’t completely averse to it—though it would feel weird at first, being publicly and openly related to Leda. But if that was what he was hinting at, he didn’t quite say it.

Finally they finished eating, and the waiter came to clear away their plates. “Thank you,” Eris said as her father inclined his head to pick up the check. She shook the scarf out over her shoulders against the sudden chill. “I’ll make sure my mom comes next time.” Though it had been surprisingly nice, having her father to herself all evening.

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