The Thousandth Floor (The Thousandth Floor #1)(9)


by Katharine McGee

The earrings were exorbitantly expensive, hand-blown from the panes of an old church window. Eris’s dad had bought them at an auction, as a twentieth-anniversary present. Pushing aside her twinge of guilt, Eris reached up and screwed the delicate droplets into her ears.

She was almost at the front door when her dad called out from the living room. “Eris? Where are you headed?”

“Hey, Dad.” She turned around, keeping one heeled bootie in the hallway so she could make a quick exit. Her dad was sitting in his favorite corner of the brown leather couch, reading something on his tablet, probably a medical journal or patient record. His thick hair was almost entirely gray, and his eyes were creased with worry lines, which he refused to surge away like most of Eris’s friends’ parents did. He said that patients found the lines reassuring. Eris secretly thought it was kind of cool of her dad, to insist on aging naturally.

“I’m going to a friend’s party,” she explained. Her dad glanced over her outfit, and Eris realized a second too late that she hadn’t concealed the earrings. She discreetly tried to pull her hair forward to hide them, but Everett was already shaking his head. “Eris, you can’t wear those,” he said, sounding a little amused. “They’re the most expensive thing in this apartment.”

“That’s an exaggeration, and you know it.” Eris’s mom sailed in from the kitchen wearing a scarlet evening dress, her hair piled atop her head in a cascade of curls. “Hey, sweetie,” Caroline Dodd said, turning to her daughter. “Want some bubbly before you go? I’m about to open a bottle of that Montès rosé you like.”

“The one from the vineyard where we swam in the pool?”

“The one with the ‘Pool Closed’ sign, you mean.” A smile lifted up the corners of her dad’s mouth. That had been a particularly ridiculous family trip. Eris’s parents had let her drink the wine pairings at lunch, and it was so hot out that Eris and her mom kept trying to fan each other with their napkins the whole meal, then ended up sneaking, giggling, into a gated-off hotel pool and jumping in fully clothed.

“We never saw that sign!” Caroline laughed in protest and popped the bottle. The sound reverberated through the apartment. Eris took the outstretched glass with a shrug. It was her favorite.

“So whose party is it?” Caroline prompted.

“Cord’s. And I’m already late …” Eris still hadn’t told her mom about her and Cord. She shared almost everything with her mom, but never the hookup stuff.

“I believe it’s called fashionably late,” her dad added. “And you’ll only be a minute later and just as fashionable once you put the earrings back.”

“Oh, come on, Everett. What harm can she do?”

Eris’s dad shook his head, giving in, as Eris had known he would. “All right, Caroline. If you aren’t upset, then Eris can wear them.”

“Outvoted again,” Eris teased, and exchanged a knowing smile with her dad. He always joked about being the least powerful person in the apartment, outnumbered as he was by two highly opinionated women.

“Every time.” Everett laughed.

“How could I say no when they look so gorgeous on you?” Caroline put her hands on Eris’s shoulders and turned her around to face the massive antique mirror on the wall.

Eris looked like a younger version of her mom. The only tiny differences, aside from age, were the slight modifications Eris’s dad had agreed to give her this spring—nothing major, just the insertion of the gold flecks in her eyes and the lasering on of a few freckles for texture. There was nothing else to be done for her, really. Eris’s features were all her own, her full mouth and cute upturned nose and most of all her hair, a lustrous riot of color, copper and honey and strawberry and sunrise. Eris’s hair was her greatest beauty, but then, there was nothing about her that wasn’t beautiful, as she was well aware.

She gave her head an impatient toss and the earrings danced, catching all the glorious colors of her hair as if lit from within.

“Have fun tonight,” Eris’s mom said. Eris met her eyes in the mirror and smiled.

“Thanks. I’ll take good care of these.” She finished her champagne and set it on the table. “Love you,” she said to both her parents on her way out. The earrings glowed against her hair like twin stars.

* * *

The downTower C lift was pulling up right as she walked into the station, which Eris considered a good sign. Maybe it was because she was named after a Greek goddess, but she’d always attributed an omen-like significance to even the smallest things. Last year there had been a smudge on her window that looked like a heart. She never reported it to outside maintenance, so it stayed that way for weeks, until the next rain day finally washed it away. She liked to imagine that it had brought her good luck.

Eris followed the crowds on board and edged toward the side of the lift. Normally she might have taken a hover, but she was running late and this was faster; and anyway, the C line had always been her favorite, with its transparent view panels. She loved watching the floors shoot past, light and shadow alternating with the heavy metal framework that separated each level, the crowds waiting for the local lifts blurring together into an indistinguishable stream of color.

Mere seconds later, the elevator pulled to a stop. Eris pushed past the swirl of activity around the express station, the waiting hovers and the newsfeed salesbots, and turned onto the main avenue. Like her, Cord lived on the expensive north-facing side of the Tower, with a view uncluttered by the buildings of midtown, or the Sprawl. His floor was slightly larger—the Tower narrowed as it got higher, ending in Avery’s apartment, which was the only thing on the top level—but she could feel the difference even in those sixteen floors. The streets were just as wide, lined with tiny grass plots and real trees, fed by discreetly hidden misters. The solar lamps overhead had dimmed to match the real sun, which was only visible from the outward-facing apartments. But the energy down here was somehow different, louder and a little more vibrant. Maybe it was thanks to the commercial space that lined the center avenue, even if it was only a coffee shop and a Brooks Brothers fitting room.

Eris reached Cord’s street—really just the shadowed cul-de-sac that ended in the Andertons’ front steps; no one else lived on this block. A dramatic 1A was inscribed over the doorway, as if anyone needed reminding whose home this was. Like the rest of the world, Eris wondered why Cord had continued to live here after his parents died and his older brother, Brice, moved out. It was way too much space for one person.