The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(17)


by Katharine McGee

“I did not!” Avery propped herself up on her elbows to glare at him in mock anger.

“It’s okay. I didn’t mind,” he said softly.

Avery leaned back on her pillows. How strange that there had ever been a time in her life before Atlas. It didn’t seem possible anymore.

“Aves?” she heard Atlas say. “If there was something I needed to know, you would tell me, right?”

She opened her eyes and looked at his face, so clear and guileless. He wasn’t suggesting the truth—was he? He couldn’t be. He didn’t know what it was like, wanting something you could never have; how impossible it was to un-want it once you’d let the feeling in.

“I’m glad you’re back. I missed you,” she told him.

“Me too.”

The silence stretched between them. Avery fought to stay awake, to drink in Atlas’s presence, but sleep was dragging her down. After a moment he stood and walked to the hallway.

“I love you,” he said, and pulled the door quietly shut behind him.

I love you too, her heart whispered, curling around the phrase like a prayer.

ERIS

I’M HEADING HOME, Eris flickered Cord, not bothering to wait for his response. His apartment was emptying as the party began to slowly disintegrate, people stumbling home alone or in pairs. Everywhere she looked Eris saw the debris of an epic night, scattered cups and lost costume pieces and broken halluci-lighters.

She hadn’t meant to stay this long. She’d been flitting from group to group and lost all sense of time. She wasn’t sure where Cord was and she felt too exhausted, suddenly, to go looking for him. All she wanted was a cleansteam shower and her thousand-thread-count sheets.

Eris started toward the door, scrolling idly through her messages, and realized with a start that she had several missed pings from home. They were timestamped from a couple of hours ago—she’d been on the dance floor; she remembered tossing her head back and forth, ignoring them—but she hadn’t registered at the time that they were from her parents. She wondered what was going on.

When she reached her apartment on 985, Eris opened the door as slowly as she could, her black shoes in one hand and her clutch in the other. She knew the moment she stepped inside that something was wrong. The lights were on their brightest setting, and an awful strangled sound came from the living room. Oh god. It was her mom, crying.

Eris dropped her shoes on the floor with a loud clatter.

“Eris?” Caroline lifted her head from where she lay curled on the couch. She was still wearing her evening gown, a beautiful scarlet question mark against the white cushions.

Eris ran forward to throw her arms around her mom, pulling her close. She thought suddenly of when she was little and her parents would come home from parties. Eris would hear her mom’s heels clacking in the hallway—a sound she’d always found strangely reassuring—and no matter how late it was, Caroline had always come to brush Eris’s hair and tell her about all the wonderful, magical, grown-up things she’d seen that night. How many times had Eris fallen asleep listening to the sound of her mom’s voice?

“It’s okay,” Eris said softly, though clearly it wasn’t. Her eyes darted nervously around the apartment. Where was her dad?

“No, it’s not okay.” Caroline took a deep breath, and pulled back to look Eris squarely in the eye. Mascara-filled tears etched black rivers down her face. “I’m so sorry.”

“What happened?” Eris scooted back from her mom to sit upright, the movement brusquer than she’d intended. “Where’s Dad?”

“He … left.” Caroline looked down, studying the hands clasped tight in her lap, the crumpled folds of her magnificent crimson dress.

“What do you mean, he left?”

“Remember that DNA test you took today?”

Eris nodded impatiently. Of course she remembered; she’d taken countless tests, given a cheek swab and peed on a stick, and signed so many old-fashioned paper documents with a real ink pen that her hand had cramped with the unfamiliar movement.

Wordlessly Eris’s mom tapped the coffee table, which, like all the surfaces in their apartment, had touch-screen capabilities. A few quick swipes and she’d pulled an attachment from her message queue. Eris leaned forward to look.

Her DNA was mapped there in all its glory, its strands an unrealistic bubblegum pink, but Eris’s eyes were already skimming past that, to the jumble of medical words and bar charts below. She knew they’d run her DNA against her dad’s, which was already on file, yet she couldn’t process what she was seeing now. What did it all have to do with her?

Her eyes caught on a single line at the bottom—percentage match: 0.00%—and she reached out a hand to steady herself. An ugly, sticky realization was closing around her throat.

“I don’t believe this.” She sat up straighter, her voice gaining volume. “The lab messed up the sequencing. We need to ping them back, get them to redo it.”

“They did redo it. It’s not wrong.” It seemed as if her mom was talking from very far away, as if Eris were underwater, or buried under a mountain of sand.

“No,” Eris repeated blindly.

“It’s true, Eris.”

The finality in Caroline’s tone made Eris cold all over. And then she understood why her DNA wasn’t a match, why her mom wasn’t acting more surprised. Because Eris wasn’t her father’s daughter, after all.

Her mom had cheated on her dad, and kept it a secret for the past eighteen years.

Eris shut her eyes. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. If she kept her eyes closed it would go away, like a bad dream.

Her mom reached out a hand and Eris shot to her feet, knocking over the coffee table as she did. Neither of them looked at it. They just stared at each other, mother and daughter, so painfully alike—and yet to Eris they had never felt more like strangers.

“Why?” she asked, because it was the only word her mind could process. “Why did you lie to me all those years?”

“Oh, Eris. I didn’t mean—it wasn’t about you—”

“Are you serious? Of course it’s about me!”

Caroline winced. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just … whatever happens between me and Everett—it’s not your fault.”