The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(6)


by Katharine McGee

She looked at Leda with a question in her eyes. For a moment, Leda was struck by how much Avery reminded her of Atlas. They weren’t related by blood, and yet they had the same white-hot intensity. When they turned the full force of their attention on you, it was as blinding as looking into the sun.

Leda shifted uncomfortably. “Of course,” she said. “He’ll come back soon.”

She prayed it wasn’t true, and at the same time, she couldn’t help hoping it was.

RYLIN

THE NEXT EVENING, Rylin Myers stood at the door to her apartment, struggling to wave her ID ring over the scanner while balancing a bag of groceries in one arm and a half-full energy drink in the other. Of course, she thought as she kicked shamelessly at the door, this wouldn’t be a problem if they had a retinal scanner, or those glitzy computerized lenses that the highlier kids all wore. But no one could afford anything like that where Rylin lived, here on 32.

Just as she was drawing back her leg to kick again, the door opened. “Finally,” Rylin muttered, shoving past her fourteen-year-old sister.

“If you got your ID ring fixed like I keep telling you to, this wouldn’t happen,” Chrissa quipped. “Then again, what would you say? ‘Sorry, officers, I keep using my ID ring to open beer bottles, and now it’s stopped working’?”

Rylin ignored her. Taking a long sip of her energy drink, she heaved the grocery bag onto the counter and tossed her sister a box of veggie-rice. “Can you put this stuff away? I’m running late.” The Ifty—Intra Floor Transit system—was down again, so she’d been forced to walk all twenty blocks from the lift stop to their apartment.

Chrissa looked up. “You’re going out tonight?” She’d inherited their mom’s soft Korean features, her delicate nose and high arched brow, while Rylin looked much more like their square-jawed dad. But they’d both somehow gotten their mom’s bright green eyes, which glowed against their skin like beryls.

“Um, yeah. It’s Saturday,” Rylin answered, purposefully ignoring her sister’s meaning. She didn’t want to talk about what had happened on this day a year ago—the day their mom died and their entire world fell apart. She would never forget how Child Services came to their house that very night, while the girls were still holding each other crying, to tell them about the foster system.

Rylin had listened to them for a while, Chrissa’s head turned into her shoulder as she kept on sobbing. Her sister was smart, really smart, and good enough at volleyball to have a serious shot at a college scholarship. But Rylin knew enough about foster care to know what it would do to them. Especially to Chrissa.

She would do anything to keep this family together, no matter what it cost her.

The very next day she’d gone to the nearest family court and declared legal adulthood, so that she could start working her terrible job at the monorail stop full-time. What other choice did she have? Even now, they were barely keeping up—Rylin had just gotten yet another warning notice from their landlord; they were always at least a month behind on rent. Not to mention all their mom’s hospital bills. Rylin had been trying to pay those down for the last year, but at this interest rate the mountain of debt was actually starting to grow. Sometimes Rylin felt like she’d never be free of it.

This was their life now, and it wasn’t changing anytime soon.

“Rylin. Please?”

“I’m already late,” Rylin said, retreating into her roped-off section of their tiny bedroom; thinking about what she would wear, about the fact that she didn’t have to go into work for a whole thirty-six hours, about anything but the reproachful look in her sister’s green eyes, which looked so painfully like their mom’s.

* * *

Rylin and her boyfriend, Hiral, clattered down the steps of the Tower’s Exit 12. “There they are,” Rylin muttered, raising a hand against the glare of the sun. Their friends were gathered at the usual meeting place, a hot metal bench across the street at 127th and Morningside.

She glanced at Hiral. “Are you sure you don’t have anything with you?” she asked again. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about the fact that Hiral had started selling—at first just to their friends, then on an even bigger level—but it had been a long week, and she was still on edge after her conversation with Chrissa. She could really use a hit, of relaxants or halluci-lighter, anything to silence the thoughts that were cycling endlessly through her brain.

Hiral shook his head. “Sorry. Cleared my whole inventory this week.” He glanced at her. “Everything okay?”

Rylin was quiet. Hiral reached for her hand, and she let him take it. His palms were rough with work, and there were black circles of grease underneath his fingernails. Hiral had dropped out of school last year to work as a liftie, repairing the Tower’s massive elevators from the inside. He spent his days suspended hundreds of meters in the air like a human spider.

“Ry!” her best friend, Lux, exclaimed, rushing over. Her hair, cut in jagged bangs, was ash-blond this week. “You made it! I was worried you weren’t going to come.”

“Sorry. Got caught up,” Rylin apologized.

Andrés snorted. “Had to get a little transmission in before the concert?” He made a crude gesture with his hands.

Lux rolled her eyes and pulled Rylin into a hug. “How are you holding up?” she murmured.

“Fine.” Rylin didn’t know what else to say. She felt a confused pang of gratefulness that Lux had remembered what day it was, mingled with irritation at the reminder. She caught herself toying with her mom’s old necklace and quickly let go of it. Hadn’t she come out precisely to avoid thinking about her mom?

Shaking her head, Rylin let her gaze roam over the rest of the group. Andrés was leaning back on the bench, stubbornly wearing a leather jacket in spite of the heat. Hiral stood next to him, his deeply bronzed skin gleaming in the setting sun. And on the far side of the bench was Indigo, wearing a shirt that she’d barely managed to turn into a dress, and sky-high boots.

“Where’s V?” Rylin asked.

“Providing the fun. Unless you were planning on bringing today?” Indigo said sarcastically.

“Just partaking, thanks,” Rylin replied. Indigo rolled her eyes and went back to messaging on her tablet.

Rylin took plenty of illegal drugs, of course—they all did—but she drew the line at buying or selling. No one cared much about a few smoking teenagers, but the laws were harsher on dealers. If she ended up in jail, Chrissa would go straight to foster care. Rylin couldn’t risk that.