Now I see Mom’s shadow stop in the middle of the room. She doesn’t say anything. I imagine her hunched shoulders, her head in her hands, her brave face finally gone.
John sighs. Footsteps echo above me, and I know he must’ve crossed the room to hug her. “Eden will be okay. Maybe this virus is less dangerous and he’ll recover on his own.” There’s a pause. “I’m going to see what we have for soup.” I hear him leave the bedroom.
I’m sure John hated working at the steam plant, but at least he got to leave the house and take his mind off things for a while. Now he’s trapped here, with no way to help Eden. It must be killing him. I clench the loose dirt under me and make as tight a fist as I can.
If only the hospital had cures.
Moments later I see Mom walk across the room and sit at the edge of Eden’s bed. Her hands are all bandaged up again. She murmurs something comforting to him and leans over to brush his hair from his face. I close my eyes. In my mind I conjure up a memory of her face, soft and beautiful and concerned, her eyes bright blue and her mouth rosy and smiling. My mother used to tuck me in, smoothing down my blankets and whispering a promise of good dreams. I wonder what she’s whispering to Eden now.
Suddenly I’m overwhelmed with missing her. I want to rush out from under here and knock on our door.
I push my fists harder into the dirt. No. The risk is too great. I’ll find a way to save you, Eden. I promise. I curse myself for risking so much money in a Skiz bet instead of finding a more reliable way to get cash.
I pull out the sea daisies that I had tucked into my shirt’s sleeve. Some of the blossoms are crumpled now, but I prop them up as carefully as I can and gently pat down dirt around them. Mom will probably never see them here. But I know they’re here. The flowers are proof to myself that I’m still alive. Still watching over them.
Something red in the dirt beside the daisies catches my eye. I frown, then brush aside more of the dirt to get a better look. There’s a symbol here, something inscribed underneath all the dirt and pebbles.
It’s a number, just like Tess and I had seen by the bank of the lake, except this time it says: 2544
I used to hide down here sometimes when I was younger, back when my brothers and I would play hide-and-seek. But I don’t remember seeing this before. I lean down and put my ear against the ground.
At first there’s nothing. Then I hear a faint sound, a whoosh—then a hissing and gurgling. Like some sort of liquid, or steam. There’s probably a whole system of pipes down there, something that leads all the way out to the lake. Maybe all around the sector. I brush aside more dirt, but no other symbols or words appear. The number looks faded with age, the paint chipped away in little flakes.
I stay there for a while, quietly studying it. I glance one last time through the vent at the bedroom, then make my way out from under the porch, into the shadows, and away into the city.
I WAKE UP AT DAWN. THE LIGHT MAKES ME SQUINT (where is it coming from—behind me?), and for an instant I’m disoriented, unsure of why I’m sleeping in an abandoned building facing the ocean with sea daisies growing at my feet. A sharp pain in my stomach forces a gasp out of me. I’ve been stabbed, I realize in a panic. And then I remember the Skiz fight and the knife and the boy who saved me.
Tess hurries over when she sees me stir. “How are you feeling?”
She still looks wary of me. “Sore,” I mutter. I don’t want her to think that she wrapped my wound badly, so I add, “Much better than yesterday, though.”
It takes me a minute to realize that the boy who had saved me is sitting in the corner of the room, dangling his legs over the balcony and looking out toward the water. I have to hide my embarrassment. On a normal day, with no knife wound, I never would’ve let a detail like that go unnoticed. He went somewhere last night. When I was slipping in and out of sleep, I’d made a mental note of the direction he took (south, toward Union Station).
“I hope you don’t mind waiting a few hours before eating,” he says to me. He’s wearing his old newsboy cap, but I can see a few strands of white-blond hair beneath it. “We lost the Skiz bet, so there’s no money left for food right now.”
He blames me for his loss. I just nod. I recall the sound of Day’s crackly voice from the speakers and compare it quietly to this boy’s. He looks at me for a while without smiling, as if he knows what I’m doing, then returns to his vigil. No, I can’t be sure the voice belongs to him. Thousands of people in Lake could match that voice.
I realize that the mouthpiece in my cheek is still turned off. Thomas must be furious with me. “Tess,” I say. “I’m going to head down to the water. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“You sure you can make it by yourself?” she asks.
“I’ll be fine.” I smile. “If you see me floating unconscious out to sea, though—by all means, come and get me.”
The steps of this building definitely used to be part of a stairwell, but now they sit open to the outside. I get to my feet and limp down the stairs one at a time, careful not to slip off the side and plummet down to the water. Whatever Tess did last night seems to be working. Although my side still burns, the pain is a little duller and I can walk with less effort than yesterday. I make it down to the bottom of the building faster than I thought I would. Tess reminds me of Metias, of how he’d nursed me back to health on the day of his induction.
But I can’t handle memories of Metias right now. I clear my throat and concentrate on making my way to the water’s edge.