The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(14)


by Katharine McGee

“Yeah?” he said softly.

Avery took a step forward. Her body was reacting instinctively to his nearness, like a plant that had been too long in the dark and was finally exposed to sunlight.

“Fuller!” Ty Rodrick barreled over and slapped Atlas on the back. The rest of the hockey guys appeared, pulling him forward, their voices loud.

Avery bit back a protest and stepped away. Act normal, she reminded herself. Over the chaos she locked eyes with Atlas, and he winked at her. Later, he mouthed.

She nodded, breaking every promise to herself, loving him.

LEDA

LEDA DROPPED HER clutch on the marble countertop of Cord’s bathroom and blinked at her reflection. Her hair was pulled into a bun and adorned with feathers, and her black ballerina costume clung to her in all the right places, even managing to create the illusion of cleavage. Real, illegal peacock feathers dusted the hem of her tutu. She reached down to run her fingers along them. Totally worth the import bribes.

Leda had long ago accepted that she wasn’t beautiful. She was too severe, all sharp edges and narrow angles, and her chest was painfully small. Still, she had her mother’s rich brown skin and her father’s full mouth. And there was something interesting in her face—a bright, hard intelligence that made people look twice.

She took a deep breath, trying to ignore the sense of uneasiness prickling over her. It almost didn’t seem possible, yet after all these months, it had finally happened.

Atlas was back.

Music played suddenly in her eartennas, the upbeat melody of a pop song she and Avery had been obsessed with last spring. Avery’s ringtone, again. Leda shook her head to decline the ping. She knew Avery was looking for her, but she couldn’t face her best friend yet, not after the way Leda had blown up at her earlier. She hadn’t meant to; she was just on edge and defensive about the rehab stuff. Why couldn’t Avery just stop pushing and give her some space? Leda didn’t want to talk about it.

Especially not now, when the whole reason she’d broken down in the first place was back again, and as gorgeous as ever.

Snap out of it, Leda told herself. Reflexively she reached into her bag for her lip gloss and reapplied, then stepped back out into the party, her head held high. She wouldn’t let Atlas get to her. She couldn’t afford to, not again.

“Leda.” Cord fell into step alongside her, wearing a dark costume with a sash slung across his chest. “Long time, no see.”

“Hey,” Leda said cautiously. She’d always been a little unsure of herself around Cord. Unlike Avery and Eris, she hadn’t known him since childhood, and ever since she had asked him for help getting xenperheidren a few years ago, it felt somehow like he had the upper hand.

“How was your summer?” he asked, reaching for a pair of atomic shots from a passing tray and handing her one. “Cheers,” he added before tossing his back.

Leda’s fingers curled around the glass of clear liquid. She’d promised her mom she wouldn’t drink tonight. Cord watched her, reading her hesitation, missing nothing. He raised an eyebrow in sardonic amusement.

Then she heard a familiar burst of laughter from behind them—Atlas was walking past. Why not? Leda thought suddenly; it wasn’t like one atomic would send her back to popping xenperheidren. She raised the shot to her lips and took it in a single gulp. It burned her throat, not unpleasantly.

“Now I remember why I like you,” Leda said, setting the shot glass down.

He laughed in approval. “I missed you this summer, Cole. I could have really used my smoke buddy.”

“Please. You have plenty of other people to get high with.”

“None as interesting as you,” Cord insisted. “Everyone else just gets dumber the more stuff they take.”

Leda shifted uncomfortably at the reminder. I’m sharp enough without xenperheidren, she told herself, but the words didn’t ring as true as they had just a few days ago. Mumbling an excuse, she turned and moved farther into the party. The feathers on her ballerina skirt had started falling off, leaving a little trail on the floor.

Hey, where are you? she flickered to Avery. Avery didn’t know about how she used to smoke occasionally with Cord—and Leda didn’t want to tell her—but seeing her might help calm Leda down.

“Leda?”

She turned slowly, trying to seem like she didn’t care, though of course she did.

Atlas was standing in a group of his old hockey friends. Leda waited, unmoving, as he mumbled something to the guys and came over toward her. “Hey,” he said simply.

Leda’s temper flared. That was all he had to say, when the last time they’d seen each other was naked in a hot tub, halfway across the world?

“So where were you?”

Atlas blinked. “I took a gap year, traveled around.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit.” She crossed her arms. “I know the truth, okay?”

“I don’t …”

“It was a pretty shitty thing to do, leaving like that. Especially after—you know.” Her mind flashed to that night, to the way he’d touched her and the snow that had fallen over both of them, melting wherever it met the heat of their skin. She felt herself flush at the memory.

“Fuller!” Henry Strittmayer yelled out. “We’re starting Spinners! Get your ass over here.”

“In a minute.” Atlas’s eyes were locked on hers. “I’m glad you said something, Leda. I was thinking about you a lot while I was gone.”

“Oh?” she said cautiously, trying not to get her hopes up.

“I owe you an apology.”

Leda felt like she’d been slapped. “You don’t owe me anything,” she said quickly, defensive. Stupid, she chided herself, thinking that Atlas might have missed her, when all he apparently felt was that he owed her. God, she hated that word. It was about as far from romantic as you could get.

They looked at each other in layered silence. “Want to play Spinners?” he asked after a moment.

“No.” The last thing she wanted was to sit next to Atlas like everything was normal, and play a game that might end with them being forced to kiss. “I’m going to find Avery,” she amended. “She seemed a little drunk earlier.”

“I’ll come with you,” Atlas offered, but she was already pushing past him.