Children of Eden Page 57



SHE TOOK ME by her home on one of our nights out. I remember gazing at the small, comfortable residence. Most houses in Eden are connected, apartments built around a courtyard, or rows of upper-story apartments in commercial districts, but hers was like ours, detached from its neighbors. It was much smaller than ours, but as we stood outside, our shoulders touching, her lilac hair brushing my dark locks, I thought that it looked so warm and homey. Even at that late hour there was a golden light in one of the windows, where, she said, her father was working far into the night.

This is where Lachlan and I go when we flee Serpentine.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to stay?” he asks. “She’ll let you, and keep you safe, and secret?”

“I’m positive,” I say. “Will you make sure Flint’s order that we never see each other is rescinded?”

“Of course. I’m not completely happy about this . . .”

“What choice do we have? It’s not like I have a lot of first child friends.”

“Take this, just in case.” He tugs up his shirt and pulls his gun out of his waistband.

I back away a step. “I can’t,” I stammer. “My mother . . .”

“I know,” he says, so gently, and he brushes a strand of hair from my cheek. “But if the worst should happen, maybe this will keep you from sharing her fate.”

I squeeze my eyes closed . . . but reach for the gun. “I don’t know how to use it,” I say as I heft its unfamiliar weight. It is small, but dense.

He shows me how to slide the gun from its form-fitting holster (I’m so ignorant I think it’s part of the gun) and where the trigger is. “Finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire, like this.” He demonstrates, cupping my hand, laying his forefinger over mine.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to use it,” I protest, but he shakes his head.

“You don’t know what you’re capable of. None of us do, until we’re put to the test. But you’ve been tested a lot lately, and you’ve shone. Back in Serpentine when that Greenshirt was going to kill me and you—”

“Don’t!” I say sharply. I can still smell the blood. I think I will forever. I don’t want to think about what I did. I try to tell myself that it wasn’t really my fault, that I would have only threatened the Greenshirt, that he only died because Lachlan shoved him upward. An accident. Forgivable.

But I know in my heart that if he hadn’t dropped the weapon, if I really thought he was going to ignore my threat and kill Lachlan, I would have plunged the knife into his throat deliberately, an act of will.

The knowledge frightens me. So does the way I don’t make Lachlan take the gun back, but instead slip it under my own shirt, where it presses, cold and hard, against my belly.

I have things inside of me I don’t understand. Things I don’t like.

But they’re things that are useful, that will keep me, and the people I care about, alive.

When he’s about to leave, I experience a moment of panic. “Stay with me.”

He shakes his head. “You can pass with Lark’s parents. You’ve got the eyes for it.” He winks his own second-child eye at me.

“I haven’t even seen them yet,” I say. There wasn’t exactly time to look for a mirror when we were under fire. “How are they?”

I expect him to say they look just fine, maybe even to call them beautiful. Call me beautiful. Instead he cocks his head and ponders far too long for comfort. “They’re . . . not you.”

I feel myself crumble. I don’t want the stupid lenses. I just want to be me, safe and happy. I hang my head so he can’t see my eyes.

Lachlan takes me by the chin and makes me lift my head, makes me look at him. “Rowan is inside. You’re not all this.” He makes a sweeping gesture that encompasses my body from head to toe to head again. “You’re this.” His palm comes to rest on my heart. I can feel it beating wildly against him.

He pulls me closer . . . but only kisses me on the forehead.

“It’s almost dawn. Get inside. I’ll come back for you after dark.”

Without another word he strides purposefully away, and in a moment he’s lost in the night’s last darkness.

I turn to knock, and as I do so I see a light in one of the rooms, softened by a curtain. It’s not the same window I saw illuminated before, Lark’s father’s room. The curtain moves, and I see a glimpse of a face. Is that Lark? Did she see Lachlan touch me, kiss me?

I knock, and wait. And wait.

When the door finally opens, it’s not Lark, but a woman in her forties, face a little puffy from sleep, her long fair hair tied in a hasty knot on the top of her head.

“Yes?” she asks, more in curiosity than concern.

“I . . . I’m a friend of Lark’s,” I manage to choke out. Even though I know I cleaned myself thoroughly in a public convenience on the way here, I feel an overwhelming desire to check for telltale smears of dark red dried blood. I force myself to look at her, to look pleasant, normal.

“An odd hour for a social call.” Her voice has that bit of a twang common in the outer circles. I never noticed it in Lark, but of course she’s been going to school here. “Are you early or late?”

“What?” I ask, confused.

“Up early to study for tomorrow’s test, or out late from last night’s party?”

“I . . .” I gulp. “Early?”

“Right,” she drawls. “Don’t worry, none of the parents talk to me, and I’m sure yours are no different. I won’t be blabbing to them. Was it a good party?” I can’t think of an answer, and she laughs, standing aside to motion me in. “Get your story straight before you try it on your parents.”

When I’m inside, I feel a heavy pressure pushing against my eyes. I’m going to cry. I can’t cry ever again. If I do, I’ll never stop.

It’s just . . . I know I don’t have a lot of experience. Maybe every house feels like this. But Lark’s place is somehow so obviously a home. There’s a warmth, a smell of last night’s cooking. There’s a feel to it that I can’t define. An aura of love, of safety, of family.

“It’s not much,” Lark’s mom begins, almost apologetically.

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