Home > Firstlife (Everlife #1)(7)

Firstlife (Everlife #1)(7)
Gena Showalter

When I came along, their contracts had to be renegotiated. Now their benefits are dependent on my decision. An incentive to raise me the “right” way.

If I haven’t signed with Myriad by the time I’m a legal adult, my parents will lose everything they love more than they ever loved me. Money, prestige. Homes. Cars. Boats. Not to mention the things they were promised in the Everlife.

Bow sighs. “Another day, another breakfast. Or a meal pretending to be breakfast.”

A sense of doom overtakes me, a shadow I’m unable to shake. Bad is coming. Bad is always coming. But since six days have passed without incident—bad is coming soon.

Sounding resigned, she says, “Our cell will open in—”

“Three, two, one,” I finish.

The doors slide apart, and we race into the hall.

Sloan spots me and flips me off. I know she’s pleased four guards are missing, but she’s also ticked about something—clearly—and lashing out.

I look her over and find finger-size bruises around her neck. Someone tried to choke her out. Been there, lived through that.

If I show her an ounce of sympathy, she’ll try to throat punch me. I blow her a kiss.

“Come on,” I say to Bow.

We make our way to the cafeteria, where I count the occupants out of habit. My gaze lands on a boy I’ve never before seen and oh, wow. Okay. He. Is. Gorgeous. Not that I care about a pretty face. Pretty can hide a monster. But I’m not overhyping when I say he’s a living ad for every dream-boy fantasy every girl in the universe has ever had.

He has dark hair that hangs over a stern brow. I can’t make out the color of his eyes, but just like with Bow, I can feel the intensity of them—because they’re locked on me. His nose is straight, perfect, and his lips soft and pink. His jaw is strong and dusted with the shadow of a beard.

He leans back and drapes his tattooed, muscular arms over the tops of the chairs flanking him, and smiles, a slow unveiling of perfect, white teeth.

In moments like this I miss Clay more than usual. He was—is!—such a good judge of character. He can take one look at a new inmate or guard and tell me if they have a heart of gold or one that’s as wrinkled as a prune. We called him the heartalyst.

Where are you, Clay?

“Son of a Myriad-troll.” Bow snarls, taking a step forward, about to move out of line. “How dare he show his ugly face!”

I shackle her wrist in a hard grip to hold her in place.

“Don’t worry,” she says, huffing and puffing. “I won’t break the rules and murder him. I’ll just introduce him to my fists—repeatedly!”

When she continues to struggle, I plant myself in front of her, forcing her to concentrate on me. “Calm down. Now. Or you’ll be dragged out of here kicking and screaming.”

She tries to glare at the boy over my shoulder.

“My TL once said hate is like drinking a vial of poison and expecting it to harm the other person,” I tell her, and she finally settles. “You’re not hurting the guy, only yourself.”

“But...but... I’m justified,” she says with a whine.

“So is everyone else, I’m sure.” As I peer at her, curiosity fills me. “How do you know him? What’d he do to you?”

Stiffening, she turns away. “We’ve crossed paths a time or two. He’s pure Myriad evil, trust me.”

“He can’t be that bad. I’m sure—”

In a flash of motion, she’s facing me again, fisting my shirt, clinging to me, her copper eyes imploring me to understand. “He’s worse than bad. Stay away from him. Okay? All right?”

I dare another glance at “pure Myriad evil.” He’s focused on Bow now, looking her up and down like he’s a predator and it’s finally mealtime. He smiles again, even more slowly, a lot more wickedly, and runs his tongue over his teeth, as if he can already taste her...and he only wants more.

I lose the ability to breathe.

“Move,” the inmate behind Bow commands, giving her a push.

I snap to and toss the girl a scowl that rivals Sloan’s, silently promising violence. Only when she’s staring at her feet do I step forward and accept my tray from a creeper with greasy hair and an even greasier mustache. I’m pretty sure Dr. Vans purposely hires the scourge of the earth to scare us straight.

Bow accepts her tray and shepherds me across the cafeteria, as far away from New Guy as possible. I let her get away with it for only one reason: that stupid curiosity. Along the way we pass Sloan, who just can’t resist the opportunity to stick out her leg to trip Bow. But Bow is a freak of nature. She jumps over the obstacle and kicks back, hooking Sloan’s ankle between her feet and ripping the girl out of her chair.

As Sloan goes down, her elbow slams into her tray. Food pours over her head, and as she shrieks, the rest of the cafeteria grows quiet. Finally a chuckle cuts through the shock, and it’s like a starting bell. The rest of the room explodes into squawks of laughter.

Bow doesn’t grin over her triumph; she frowns. Once again wishing she’d handled things differently? “I’m sorry,” she calls over her shoulder.

What a conundrum she is. Smart, with sharply honed protect-yourself-at-any-cost instincts. But she also has a deep-seated need to soothe others.

When we find a table, she stares at me, intent. “Listen. Things are different now. Things you won’t understand. You have to trust me, and you have to keep me nearby from now on. No matter what. Okay? All right? I’ll see to your safety. If you’ll let me.”

“You can’t see to my safety.” No one can. “There are too many threats.”

“Dude. I’ve already proved otherwise, and yet still you doubt me?”

“And,” I continue as if she hasn’t spoken, “I don’t want you to try. I mean it. You’ll only get yourself into trouble.”

“Ten—”

“No. No arguments.” I may be confused about my future, but I’m not confused about my present. I’ll never place my well-being in the hands of someone else. Once, I trusted my parents. They sent me here. I trusted James. Since his death, I’ve been stuck with a terrible sense of loss. I trusted Marlowe, who’d been pro-Troika, but ultimately, she was so desperate to leave the asylum and enter the realm, she hung herself. She also abandoned Clay, who loved her.

Now I don’t know if she’s actually in Troika or Many Ends—if it’s real. Suicide is expressly forbidden by both realms, and it can even render a contract null and void.

I trusted Clay, too. He managed to stay clean and sober until Marlowe’s death. Afterward, he spiraled, doing I-don’t-know-what to buy “happy” drugs from a nurse.

His mind roilin’ and boilin’, he asked me to escape with him. Said he’d paid the guards to do what they’d done for James. I’d already lost my boyfriend and couldn’t bear the thought of losing another friend, so I turned him down and begged him to give me time to figure out a better way.

The next day, he was gone.

That was three months ago. Where is he? Free? Or was he caught? Is he somewhere within these horrible walls?

Sometimes I think I hear screams rising from my concrete floor.

“That boy...he’s Myriadian, you know,” Bow mutters.

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