These Broken Stars Page 76

I’m chewing on the ration bar and standing in the doorway for nearly a minute, sleepily surveying the clearing, before it hits me. The door to the shed is standing ajar. Why would Lilac go there? I cross the clearing and stick my head inside. Something’s missing.

The shovel’s gone.

And in a moment of horrified realization, I know why.

The morning walks, despite her weakness; the way she waits for me to sleep before she slips out; the way she returns each day at dawn, before I can go looking for her.

She’s looking for her grave.

The ration bar turns to ash in my mouth, and I throw the rest aside as I break into a run. I dodge through the trees and break out the other side, coming to a halt at the edge of the stream.

I’m too late. My mound of flowers—dead and wilted now—has been churned up and pushed aside. She’s on her knees, shovel by her side, gazing down into the hole she’s dug. From here I can see only a glimpse of red hair in the grave, but Lilac can see everything.

I want to drag her away, take away the memory, somehow get her to unsee what she’s seen. I wish I could turn back time and stop her before she ever found the grave.

But I can’t. And now we both know.

“You can glare at me as long as you like, Major. I am in no hurry whatsoever.”

“Was I glaring? Must’ve drifted off there.”

“If you’d care to answer the question, perhaps I can send for some dinner, and we can take a break.”

“What question?”

“What reason would you have to lie?”



I LET HIM LEAD ME BACK TO THE STATION, and even after he lets me go and retreats to the common room, I can feel his hand in mine.

Now, back in the dormitory, I’m standing in front of a mirror. It shows me freckles. Scattered across the nose, pointed up, too pert for real beauty. This nose I’ve always hated—now it doesn’t even seem like mine. A tiny white line graces the edge of one cheekbone, a memento of the blow Tarver delivered in his delirium. The lips are chapped. The eyes sunken, the skin below them like a bruise. Under the freckles, my face is pale.

For a moment I’m standing again in the forest, looking into a shallow grave at the translucent gray porcelain skin, the long lashes sweeping the cheek, the hair a bright mockery against the dull gray earth. Her lips are violet, slightly parted, as though she might draw breath in another moment. My own breath stops, the sound of my heartbeat roaring in my ears.

For a dizzying moment I don’t know which body I am: the one in the grave or the one in the mirror.

No. I’m not her.

I’m not her.

Then I am once again back in front of the mirror in the station, staring at this too-thin body wrapped in a towel. Not my body—something else, something other. Something created.

The towel chafes at me, an agony of sensation. I let it fall. Tarver isn’t here anyway. There’s no one to see this body but me.

I close my eyes, shutting out the sight of the face in the mirror. Before I found the grave, I was a prisoner in my own body, feeling the impulse to reach out, to touch, to love, but unable to act on it. Now it’s like I’m an echo, inhabiting nothing more than a statue. A memorial to the Lilac who once lived here.

The old Lilac, the one Tarver loved, would have patted herself dry, combed out her hair until it dried shiny and smooth. She would have stood near enough for him to feel her warmth, for their arms to brush now and then, her hair to tickle his shoulder, until he could not help but turn and reach for her, on fire. She would have loved him.

For the first time in a life of balls and salons, designers and high fashion, flirtations and intrigue—that Lilac came alive inside her own skin. Who am I now?

Tarver is so certain I’m me, I’m his girl—but how can he know? I want to believe him. Sometimes I almost do. I want to believe I’m more than imaginary smoke drifting from an imaginary chimney. But for the scrape of fabric against my bare, raw skin as I dress, I would think myself no more than a memory.

By the time he returns I have forced myself into my clothing, put my wet hair into a knot that drips ice down my neck, cleaned my teeth, sipped enough water to give these chapped lips a semblance of color.

Tarver pauses on the threshold as he enters and smiles at me.

“Lilac,” he says. He thinks I don’t see how he starts to reach for me and stops, the movement so quick it’s barely there. My thoughts scream at him not to use that name. Lilac. An echo.

Without him to say the name, I could just fade away.

He busies himself trying to make the bare dormitory habitable, oddly domestic. I know he’s doing it for my sake, but he’s also not used to being helpless. He sees me falling apart, little by little. He’s torn, wanting my help to sort through documents and try to bypass the locking mechanisms, and wanting me nowhere near the underground station and its weakening influence.

He doesn’t know I want him to touch me, that I want nothing more than to throw myself into his arms. My body’s still raw but I don’t care anymore. I want his fingers in my hair and his lips on my face—I want his warmth and his strength so much it hurts. I want it every moment, for as long as I can, before I’m gone forever.

But I am not his Lilac. I can’t think about what I am or who I’ve become, or let him touch me—all I have is what drove me before I died in the clearing. All I have is the need to find rescue and get him home. If I’m to be dust at any moment, and I can’t fight it, then at least I can finish what I started when I blew the doors off the station.

I can save him.

He’s better able to tolerate the strange energy field in the bowels of the station, the power radiating from behind that door. He’s not the one who knows electronics, though, so I’m slowly dismantling the wall panels, inspecting the circuits, trying to bypass the lock electronically. I think the only reason he hasn’t forcibly dragged me away from the round door in the basement is that he thinks getting through is our only hope. Everything that’s happened here has led us to that door, and he thinks he can use what’s behind it, if only he can get to it. He thinks whatever’s behind the door will save me.

But how can you save someone who’s already dead?

I’m beginning to think I know what’s behind the door. The shakes, the metallic taste, the dizziness that touched me every time I received a vision or a dream—the sensations are overwhelming when I come close to the door.

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