The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(15)


by Katharine McGee

“It’s okay,” she said quickly, heading into the hall. “I’ve got it.”

The pull she felt toward him was as insistent and powerful as it had been in Catyan, when their bodies were so intertwined that he’d felt like a part of her. Yet she didn’t understand him any better now than she had then. Maybe she never would.

Leda’s stomach gave a sudden twist, her head pounding angrily. It felt like something was pressing at her from within, the way she used to feel when she came down too abruptly from a high—

She needed to get out of here. Now.

She elbowed through the hot, teeming crowd that filled Cord’s apartment, a mechanical smile pasted on her face, and slipped into the first hover she could find.

By the time she got home Leda was nearly frantic. She raced down the hall to her room and flung open the door, reaching for her lavender-scented aromatherapy pillow and burying her face in it, taking several deep, desperate breaths. Hot tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. God, she was an idiot. She couldn’t believe how easily seeing Atlas had sent her veering toward the edge.

Finally Leda plopped into the chair at her vanity. She began wiping the makeup—and the tears—from her face with brusque, angry movements. Her body was so tense it was almost shaking.

A tentative knock sounded at her door. “Leda?” Ilara Cole appeared in her daughter’s doorway. “How was the party?”

“You didn’t need to stay up.” Leda didn’t turn, just met her mom’s gaze in the mirror. Ilara never used to wait up for her before.

Her mom ignored the comment. “I saw some of the snaps, from the feeds,” she persisted, in a clear attempt to be upbeat. “All the costumes looked fantastic. Especially you and Avery together!”

Leda spun around on the vanity chair and stood up, her hands clenching into sudden fists. “You’re spying on me now? I thought you said you would trust me this year!”

“And you said that if I let you go to the party, you wouldn’t drink!”

Leda recoiled, and her mom’s tone softened. “I’m sorry,” Ilara went on. “But, Leda, I’m not stupid. I can smell the atomic from here. What am I supposed to think?”

“It was just one drink,” Leda said tersely. “That’s not exactly going on a xenperheidren bender last I checked.”

Ilara started to put a hand on her shoulder, but Leda brushed it away, and she lowered her hand in defeat. “Leda, please,” she said softly. “I’m trying here. I want to trust you again. But trust has to be earned. And so far I’m not seeing any effort from you, to—”

“Fine,” Leda said woodenly, interrupting her mom. “The party was great. Thank you for letting me go. I promise I won’t drink at the next one.”

They stared at each other, neither of them sure what to say next. There was affection on both their faces, but wariness too. They weren’t sure how to act around each other anymore.

Finally Ilara sighed and turned away. “I’m glad you had fun. See you in the morning.” The door clicked shut behind her.

Leda yanked off her dress and shimmied into her monogrammed pajamas. She sent a quick flicker to Avery, apologizing for her earlier outburst and saying that she’d left the party early. Then she crawled into bed, her mind spinning.

She wondered if Avery and Atlas were still at the party. Was it weird of her, to have left early? Was Avery upset with her about earlier? Why couldn’t Avery just accept that some things in Leda’s life were private? And now, as if she didn’t have enough to deal with, her stupid mom had started monitoring her every move on the feeds. Leda hadn’t even realized Ilara knew how to look that stuff up.

At the thought of the feeds, she decided to pull up Atlas’s, though she already knew what she would find. Sure enough, it was as vague as it had always been. While most of the guys she knew lived their entire lives on the feeds, Atlas’s profile had nothing but an old picture of him at his grandparents’ beach house and a few favorite quotes. He was so maddeningly opaque.

If only Leda could see past the public profile, to his messages and hidden check-ins and everything else he wasn’t sharing with the world. If only she knew what he was thinking, maybe she could put all this behind her and finally move on.

Or maybe she could get him back, part of her whispered; the part she couldn’t seem to ignore.

Leda rolled onto her stomach, tangling her fists in her sheets in frustration—and had an idea so simple that it must either be brilliant, or stupid.

Atlas might be hard to read, but maybe there was another way to figure him out.

AVERY

SEVERAL HOURS INTO the party, Avery found herself in the liquor closet off Cord’s kitchen. She wasn’t quite sure why she’d come in here: maybe for some of the gold-leafed bourbon lined up on the top shelf, or the stash of illegal retros. She paused, swirling the ice chips in her empty cup. Her two empty cups, she realized; she had one in each hand.

Atlas was back. The look on his face when he saw her—and that word, later—kept replaying in her head. She’d been desperate for him to come home for so long, and yet now that he was finally here she didn’t know what it meant. So she’d decided the best course of action was to get as drunk as possible. Evidently she’d succeeded.

A shaft of light sliced through the darkness as the door was pushed open. “Avery?”

Cord. She sighed, wanting to just be alone with her thoughts right now. “Hey. Great party,” she murmured.

“Here’s to your guy,” he said, and reached over her to grab a handle of the bourbon. He took a long, slow sip, his eyes glittering in the dim light.

“Who?” she asked sharply. Did Cord somehow know? If anyone could figure it out, she thought darkly, it would be him. He’d known her forever. And he was screwed up enough himself to guess the crazy, twisted truth.

“Whoever got you so hot and bothered, and brought out Double-Fisting Fuller. Because it isn’t Zay Wagner. Even I can tell that.”

“You’re a real asshole sometimes, you know,” Avery said without thinking.

He barked out a laugh. “I do know. But I throw such great parties people forgive me for it. Kind of like they forgive you for being prudish and unreadable, because you’re the best-looking person on earth.”

Avery wanted to be angry with him, but for some reason she wasn’t. Maybe because she knew what Cord was really like, under all the layers of sarcasm.