Mr. Huxley slides a protective arm around his wife, and they turn to leave, kissing Madison goodbye before stepping into their waiting stretch Tesla. Did I mention the Huxleys aren't regular people? Robert "Bob" Huxley used to be vice president—of the United States. His wife is taking advantage of his former veep status to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas. Early polls indicate she will win.
"I met her," Madison tells Tessa. "A few weeks ago."
"Who?" Tessa rummages through her bag, looking bored.
"My Similar. I've got one, of course. She came to our house. My parents paid her off and warned her not to show her face—my face—ever again."
"So she's not coming to Darkwood?"
"Of course not. If the public found out I had a Similar, it would end my mother's political career."
"So where's she going to go?" Tessa asks, finally looking up from her leather tote.
"Who cares? As long as we never see her again."
That's when Tessa notices me standing there, eavesdropping. She stares at me. Tessa and Madison both do.
I feel a nauseating lurch in my stomach. The serrated-knife feeling starts to throb in my chest. I hightail it out of there, pushing my way through the crowd of students toward Cypress, my dorm. It's just beyond a cluster of trees north of the main house. Once comprised of servants' quarters, Cypress is as gloomy as the rest of Darkwood's architecture, what with its gray stone exterior and polygonal tower that looks crooked, as if it might fall at any moment, taking the entire dormitory down with it.
I drag my bags to my dorm room, then flash my gold key in front of the sensor. The lock chimes open, and I slump inside. My room hasn't changed since I was last here in May. It's not much to look at, but even with its plain Shaker-style furniture and lone window looking out onto the depths of Dark Lake, it feels more like home than my real one. Of course, a big part of that isn't what's inside it, but rather who. Pru. Friend to everyone. But mostly to me.
She drops the book she's reading and jumps up when she sees me.
I don't let her finish her thought.
"Ugh," I say, depositing my bags next to my bed. "I completely forgot Madison and Tessa are still on the transplant list."
Pru frowns. "Transplant list? What transplant list?"
"You know." I slouch down on my sagging twin mattress. "To receive actual beating hearts."
Pru cracks a half smile, her brown eyes lighting up. "What have they done now?"
"Besides contributing to climate change every time they open their mouths and breathe out their toxic fumes of elitism? Everything."
I slip off my shoes and am about to flop back onto my bed when Pru's arms are around me, holding me so tight I can barely breathe. I don't have to ask her why she's squeezing me like a lifeline. I already know. She's thinking of the thing that happened, and of the 843 things she wants to say to me but can't. It's okay. She already said them, this summer, in a buzz with the subject line: Re: RE: RE: RE: FWD: Oliver.
"You should have let me come to California," Pru says, finally letting go of me. "I wanted to be at Ollie's funeral, Emma. I feel awful that I missed it..."
"You had to take care of your mom. She needed you." There's no way I would have let Pru leave her mother's side, not when she's been decimated by a cancer so rare, even nanobots can't reverse its effects. "How is she? I haven't heard from you in two weeks. I was worried when you went dark..." I don't want to say the words out loud. I thought your mom died.
Pru sweeps a strand of her curly black hair out of her eyes. "She's doing okay. They think this latest treatment is going to work."
"Good," I say. I'm grateful to Pru; besides Oliver, she's the one person I can actually stand to be around. Still, I turn away from her, feeling the tears coming hot and fast. The hug from my friend has lodged the serrated knife deep in my chest, and as much as I love Pru, all I want is to be alone.
"So tired," I say, lying back and shutting my eyes. "Must rest."
"I'll see you at assembly," Pru says, as I drape an arm over my eyes for dramatic effect and wait for her to slip out of our room. "And Emma..." she adds, lingering in the doorway. "I'm sorry."
When I hear the door click shut behind her, I sit up. Sleep is my own personal brand of hell, but Pru has no way of knowing that I do almost anything to avoid being unconscious. I never know what, or whom, I might encounter in my dreams.