Children of Eden Page 58

“It’s . . . it’s perfect,” I say, so ardently that she laughs.

“Let me see if Lark is awake. She probably is, just like her namesake. I feel like she never slept for the first three years of her life. Up with the larks. Lark!” she shouts. “Your friend is here!”

I flinch at the sudden volume of her voice. “Won’t you wake her dad?”

“No, he’s night manager at Water Reclamation. Water flows by sun and moon, he always says.” She rolls her eyes, but she’s grinning, thinking about her husband. I bet they love each other, and get silly together. I bet they’re completely and totally happy. I’d like to see them together.

Lark comes out, looking fresh-faced and awake. The only sign of her ordeal is the fact that she’s wearing long sleeves. I know they hide the bruises she received during her capture and interrogation.

“I forgot we were going to . . .”

“Study,” I fill in, and then before she can accidentally introduce me by my old name, I hold out my hand to her mom and say, “I’m Yarrow.”

“River,” she replies.

“I can call you by your first name?” I ask, surprised. I’ve been tutored in politeness, for the day I would finally be out in the world, and I wasn’t expecting to be so informal.

She gives a little shrug. “Outer circle folk like us don’t tend to be sticklers for the rules.” There’s a note of defiance in her voice. She wants to remind me that she and Lark aren’t privileged inner circle people.

It makes me wonder again why there are poor and rich, why there are inner and outer circles, why some have everything they could want and more, and some are literally starving. Eden isn’t just supposed to be a shelter against the dead world, a place of survival and hibernation. It should be a utopia. There’s no reason for inequality.

But Lark drags me away to her room and that conundrum slips away.

The second the door closes behind us, she has her arms around me, her head resting between my neck and shoulder. “I remember,” she says. “They said I wouldn’t, and it was all a bit blurry for a while, but when it wore off I remembered everything.” She turns her head, pressing her lips to my throat. “You were so brave. So strong. You saved my life.”

She pulls back, looks into my eyes, and gasps.

“Your eyes! They . . .”

She doesn’t say any more, but I can see disappointment in her face. Was I just something exotic to her, a strange-eyed second child? Even though she lived in the inner circles she mingled with the poor, the Bestial, the odd . . . Was I just another oddity on her list? A way for her to feel special?

Now that I can pass as a first child, am I just like everyone else?

Lark seems to sense my mood. “I have just the thing to cheer you up. So you lost a little color in your eyes. We’ll just have to give you more color somewhere else!”

She sits me down on her bed and takes a contraption out of a small chest.

“I used to change my hair color all the time. Now I’m pretty set on this shade.” She twirls a lock of her lilac hair. “But sometimes I put a streak in for something different.” She sits me down on the floor, and perches on her bed, a knee on each side of my shoulders, my hair in easy reach. “Now, do you want to pick for yourself, or do you trust me?”

I stiffen. Stop asking me that, I think. But once her hands start to caress my hair I lean back into her and relax. She takes this as assent. “Ultramarine, I think, with a bit of turquoise and jade. Nothing overwhelming, and mostly underneath. I want your natural dark hair to dominate.” She strokes the machine along strands of my hair, combing it out with her fingers. I wish this could last forever, me with my head on her lap, safe under her care. But nothing lasts.

“There!” she says finally, and jumps up to bring me a hand mirror. At first I hardly notice any difference. “Shake your head,” she instructs me. I do, and the colors suddenly emerge, vivid streaks in my dark hair.

“I love it,” I say honestly. But my gaze keps being drawn back to my dull, flat, lifeless eyes. The hair can’t make up for that. But I don’t want to say that to Lark after she’s been so kind.

She must be looking at my eyes, too, though, because as she looks at my reflection from over my shoulder she asks, “How did you get them?”

“I . . . It’s probably better if I don’t get into it. The more you know, the more they’ll think you’re a dangerous liability.”

“Are they going to kill me for having contact with you?”

“No. Lachlan will take care of that.”

“Lachlan.” She repeats the name as if tasting something bitter. “Where did he come from, anyway? How well do you know him?”

“He saved my life.”

“You don’t know him as well as you know me, though, do you?” She sounds younger, smaller, weaker, not her usually vibrant and confident self.

“Do you trust him?”

I resent her questioning. “He’s not the one who let the Center know about my mother,” I snap before I can stop myself. “He’s done everything possible to keep me safe. Can you say the same?”

“How dare you!” she seethes, stepping back from me. “I’m taking you into my home. I’m putting my father—my whole family, myself included—at terrible risk to help you! I made a mistake trusting other people, I know, and there are no words to tell you how sorry I am. But I meant well, and I’ll never trust anyone again. No one except you.”

Her voice has grown steadily softer, her anger dissipating. She glides closer to me, but this time I’m the one who takes a step back. Trusting anyone is dangerous.

“You can trust Lachlan, too,” I say.

“Oh, really? What did you have to do to get those lenses, then?”

“Nothing! What do you mean?”

“I saw you from my window. He looked like he owned you. You looked like you didn’t mind being owned. That’s not the Rowan I know.”

“Is that what this is about? Me and Lachlan?”

I don’t want to fight. I’m tired, so incredibly tired, and I hardly even know why she’s mad. If anyone should be mad, it’s me. But I’m here, because I need her to help Lachlan and me save Ash. “I’m not the Rowan you know. I’m not Rowan anymore. I’m Yarrow. And I’m going to bed.”

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