The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(10)


by Katharine McGee

Inside, the apartment was already crammed wall-to-wall with people, and growing warmer despite the ventilation system. Eris saw Maxton Feld in the enclosed greenhouse, trying to reprogram the hydration system to make it rain beer. She paused at the dining room, where someone had propped the table on hovercoasters for a game of floating pong, but didn’t see Cord’s telltale dark head in there either. And there was no one in the kitchen except a girl Eris didn’t recognize, in a dark ponytail and formfitting jeans. Eris wondered idly who she was, just as the girl began stacking dishes and carrying them away. So Cord had a new maid—a maid who was already out of uniform. Eris still didn’t understand why he paid for a maid; only people like the Fullers, or Eris’s grandmother, had them anymore. Everyone else just bought all the various cleaning bots on the market and set them loose whenever things seemed dirty. But maybe that was the point: to pay for the human, un-automated-ness of it all.

What are you supposed to be? “Too cool for costumes”? “Oversleeper”? Avery flickered her.

I prefer “professional attention-getter,” Eris replied, smiling as she glanced around the room.

Avery was at the living room windows, dressed in a simple white shift with a pair of holo-wings and a halo floating above her head. On anyone else it would look like a lame last-minute angel costume, but Avery was, of course, ethereal. Next to her stood Leda, in a black feathery thing, and Ming, who was wearing a stupid devil costume. She’d probably heard that Avery was being an angel and wanted to seem like they were a set. How pathetic. Eris didn’t feel like talking to either girl, so she flickered Avery that she would be back and kept on looking for Cord.

They’d started hooking up this summer, when they had both been stuck in town. Eris had been a little worried at first—everyone else was jetting off to Europe or the Hamptons or the beaches in Maine, while she’d be stranded here in the city, interning at her dad’s medical practice. It was the trade he’d insisted on in exchange for the surges he did last spring. “You need work experience,” he’d said. As if she planned on working a day in her life. Still, Eris had agreed. She wanted the surges that badly.

And it was all just as boring as she’d expected, until the night she ran into Cord at Lightning Lounge. One thing led to another, and soon they were taking atomic shots, and walking out onto the enclosed balcony. It was there, pressed up against the enforced flexiglass, that they had kissed for the first time.

Now Eris could only wonder why it hadn’t happened sooner. God knows she’d been around Cord for years, ever since her family moved back to New York when she was eight. They’d spent several years in Switzerland so her dad could study all the latest European surge techniques. Eris had attended first and second grades at the American School of Lausanne, but when she came back—speaking a strange polyglot of French and English, with no understanding of a multiplication table—Berkeley Academy had gently suggested she repeat second grade.

She would never forget that first day back, when she’d walked into the lunchroom not knowing anyone in her new class. It was Cord who had slid into the seat beside her at her empty table. “Wanna see a cool zombie game?” he’d asked, and showed her how to set her contacts so the cafeteria food looked like brains. Eris had laughed so hard she’d almost snorted into her spaghetti.

That was two years before his parents died.

She found Cord in the game room, seated around the massive antique table with Drew Lawton and Joaquin Suarez, all of them holding real paper playing cards in their hands. It was one of Cord’s weird quirks, how he insisted on playing Idleness with that old card set. He claimed that everyone looked too vacant when they played on contacts, sitting around a table but staring away from one another, into space.

Eris stood there a moment, admiring him. He was so insanely gorgeous. Not in the smoothly perfect way that Avery was, but in a swarthy, rugged sort of way; his features a perfect mix of his mom’s Brazilian sensuality and the classic Anderton jaw and nose. Eris took a step forward, and Cord glanced up. She was gratified by the flash of appreciation in his ice-blue eyes.

“Hey there,” he said as she pulled up an empty chair. She leaned on her elbows so that the neckline of her top skimmed lower over her breasts, and studied him across the table. There was something shockingly intimate in his gaze. It felt like he could reach over and touch her with nothing but his eyes.

“Want to play?” Cord swept a pile of cards toward her.

“I don’t know. I might go dance.” It was so quiet in here. She wanted to go back to the loud chaos of the party.

“Come on, one hand. Right now it’s just me against these two. And it hasn’t been that fun, playing with myself,” Cord quipped.

“Fine. But I’m with Joaquin,” Eris said, for no real reason except that she wanted to push him a little. “And you know I always win.”

“Maybe not this time.” Cord laughed.

Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, the pile of chips in front of her and Joaquin had tripled in size. Eris stretched her arms overhead and pushed her chair back from the table. “I’m getting a drink,” she said meaningfully. “Anyone want one?”

“Why not?” Cord met her eyes. “I’ll come with you.”

They stumbled into the coatroom, their bodies pressed close together. “You look fantastic tonight,” Cord whispered.

“No more talking.” Eris yanked his head down and kissed him, hard.

Cord leaned forward in response, his mouth hot on hers. He snaked his hand around her waist, playing with the hem of her shirt. Eris could feel his pulse quickening where his wrist touched her bare skin. The kiss deepened, became more insistent.

She pulled away and stepped back, leaving Cord to stumble forward. “What?” he gasped.

“I’m going to dance,” she said simply, reaching up to straighten her bra and smooth her hair; her motions brisk, neat, practiced. This was her favorite part, reminding Cord that he wanted her. Making him just a little bit desperate. “See you later.”

As she started down the hallway, Eris could feel the weight of Cord’s gaze tracing the long lines of her body. She didn’t let herself look back. But the corner of her mouth, her red paintstick just a little bit smudged, turned up in a triumphant smirk.

WATT

“REMIND ME WHY we’re here again?” Watzahn Bakradi—Watt to everyone but his teachers—comm-linked his best friend, Derrick Rawls.