Lauren Oliver’s REPLICA had us on the edge of our seats from start to finish – and the shocking twists continue in RINGER – the mind-bending conclusion to the duology. RINGER follows our two heroines – Gemma and Lyra – in the aftermath of the events from book one. Both girls are living life outside the walls of Haven and hoping they are free of its clutches forever – but will soon discover that may be easier said than done.
Just like REPLICA, RINGER is told in an innovative dual-narrative flip book. So you can read Gemma’s story first, Lyra’s story first, or read both narratives in alternating chapters. We’ve got a sneak peek at both Gemma and Lyra’s stories below so you can start this thrilling read right now!
Haven’t read REPLICA yet? Check out a sneak peek at the first few chapters here!
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🎶Today is the day🎶 #REPLICA is out in paperback, woop! To celebrate, I'm giving away a copy of the Replica PB AND a galley of #RINGER to one of you lovelies – just tell me what you're reading this summer in the comments below and boom, you're entered! I'm currently reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and starting History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund – really enjoying both! Open to US & International, winner picked randomly 6/26 😍💃🦋
Lyra had started collecting things. When she saw something she liked, she pocketed it, and usually by the end of the day she was weighty with the sloughed-off skin of someone else’s life: losing lottery tickets, Snapple bottle caps, ATM receipts, pens, chewed-up foil that came off the cheap bottles of wine sold down at Two Brothers Beer & Liquor.
In the privacy of her small room in the double-wide trailer gifted to them by Gemma’s father, which to Lyra, formerly known as 24, felt very luxurious, she shook out her new belongings on the comforter and tried to listen, tried to hear them speak to her of this new world and her place in it. Her old belongings had spoken: the bed at Haven had whispered, and the Invacare Snake Tubing asked questions, the snobby syringes had insulted her with their sharp little bite, and the long-nosed, greedy biopsy needles used for marrow extraction had always wanted gossip, more and more of it.
But these new objects told her nothing, spoke of nothing. Or maybe it was just that the outside world was so noisy she couldn’t hear.
She was no longer a human model. She was a she, not an it. But it was now, here, with a room of her own and photographs from her earliest childhood Scotch-taped to the walls, that she didn’t know who or what she was.
Here she could wake when she wanted and eat what she liked, although since she’d never prepared her own food, she and Caelum, who had been 72 until she named him, mostly subsisted on cans of soda and granola bars Rick bought from the grocery store. They did not know how to fry an egg. Rick taught her to use a can opener, but the microwave bothered her; its humming energy reminded her of Mr. I.
Caelum spent hours sitting cross-legged on the couch, watching whatever channel happened to be on when he first pressed the power button: news channels, movie channels, and his favorite, the Home Shopping Network. Lyra had learned to read. Caelum learned how to watch. He learned the world through the things it bought and sold.
He did not want to learn how to read.
There were sixty-two trailers in the Winston-Able Mobile Home Park, and the whole thing could have been slotted down comfortably in two of Haven’s wings. But to Lyra it seemed infinitely bigger, because it was unknown, because of all the things she’d never seen before: wind chimes and old Halloween decorations and cars on cinder blocks and pink plastic flamingos; lawn chairs and barbecues.
Caelum stayed inside and watched the world through the pinhole of the TV screen, and Lyra walked for hours a day and put things in her pockets and sorted through them like an archeologist trying to decode hieroglyphs. They were both trying to learn in their own way, she thought, but she didn’t like it even so. Sameness was the only way she had ever understood who she was. What she was. Now, everything had changed. He was inside, and she was outside, and that made them different—at least, during the day.
Night came again and again like a tide foaming over the trailers and the cars and the scrubby trees, and turning it all to the same smudge of darkness, rubbing shapes into shadows. The night broke Lyra and Caelum’s separateness. It collapsed the space between them; they fell into its depth and landed, blind, together.
Rick worked the graveyard shift, and when he didn’t, he went to bed early, still sweating a faint chemical smell. Every night, Lyra and Caelum walked down to the unoccupied trailers on lots 57 and 58. He found a garden hose, and in the sticky air they’d let it flow, drink from it, throw water between their hands at each other just for the fun of it, because fun was new.
They kissed. They kissed for hours, until Lyra’s lips were sore and tender to touch, still heavy with the pressure of his mouth. With her tongue she found the ridges of his teeth, and the soft rhythms of his tongue in response. She touched the vault of his mouth and the strange slick texture of the inner side of his cheeks. She let him do the same, let him learn her through his tongue. Sometimes it was kissing, and sometimes it was something like learning, like collecting seashells, the way Cassiopeia had, turning them over and over to memorize the miracle of ridges and whorls built by thousands of years of soft water.
They played a game where their eyes stayed closed and they had to see with their mouths instead. Lyra knew bodies for what they did and what they failed to do, and her only feelings had been in sickness or in pain. She learned the soft wonder of the human body on the planes of his chest, and on the angles of his shoulders, and in the soft fuzz of hair, like the gentlest kiss, below his belly button. She learned it on his scalloped ears, and on his kneecaps, and on his long and gentle fingers.
She learned his body, and she learned that her body was a strange and watery thing that pooled and flowed and turned all at once to a current; the pressure of his tongue, on her neck, on her nipples, on her thighs, turned her into a million other things. She became air and the electric possibility of lightning. She became a furred animal, howling in summer. She became his mouth, and she existed in his mouth. She poured her whole body into the radius of the circles he made with his tongue. And at the same time her body became huge, like a long shout of joy hanging in the quiet.
They had a game to kiss each other on every scar, slowly, starting from the neck. They had a game to find the darkest place they could and touch each other until they couldn’t keep track of whose body was where. Your knee or mine? he would say. Your hand or mine? They had a game to act like the night when it came, and erase all the space between them, to lose their bodies entirely, until they didn’t know who was holding and who was being held. She didn’t have a name for some of the things they did, only a melody, a rhythm that hummed in her skin after they were done.
She wanted things she hardly understood: to be closer, closer, closer than bodies could ever be. She wanted to take her body off and for him to shed his, too, and to stand like two shadows overlapping with not a shiver of space between them.
And she wanted to keep her body, so he would keep kissing it.
She learned how to tell time, and every morning, she counted the hours until dark, when Caelum was no longer Caelum, and she was no longer Lyra, and both of them became each other.
She was terrified that one day it wouldn’t work, that the distance would put up a hand, and hold them apart.
And then, on Thursday, it happened.
At Haven, Lyra had been bored so often that, paradoxically, she had almost never been bored at all. Little things consumed her attention: the petty squabbles she imagined between her belongings; the replicas who went to the Box or were disciplined by the nurses; her small missions, planned and executed with all the precision of a military invasion, to steal words from medicine bottle labels or even the nurses’ cigarette packs.
But now that there was so much to see, so much to do, she was often bored. On Thursday, a bright day of puffed-up clouds, the world beyond her windows looked dizzy in its own light. But when Lyra suggested to Caelum that they take a walk, he looked at her with eyes burned like wounds in his face.
“No,” he said. And then, looking back at the TV, “This isn’t my place.”
Caelum had wanted to escape. He’d been Code Black. And now when Lyra thought of Haven and what had happened to it, her memories were intertwined with him, with the moment she’d slipped through the fence past the drums of old construction litter and biohazard signs and where he’d first touched her wrist. If she had known about the world, about space and time, she would have known that matter bends the universe around it. But even without knowing that, she saw how Caelum had bent her universe, and made everything change.
He had wanted to be free, and to see how real people lived. But now they were free and he wouldn’t go outside except at night, when there was nothing at all to see. He learned the world only from what he saw on TV.
“It will never be your place if you don’t try,” Lyra said.
“It will never be my place even if I do,” he said.
She went alone. Going anywhere by herself thrilled and terrified her, no matter how often she did it. At Haven she had almost never been alone. There were nurses to accompany them everywhere, and researchers to watch behind glass. There were the silhouettes of the medical machines themselves, and the doctors to operate them. And of course, there were thousands of replicas, all of them dressed identically except for their bracelet tags. They ate and bathed and showered together. They moved together as a single mass, like a swarm of gnats, or a thundercloud.
“Hey. You. I’m talking to you.”
Lyra turned around, still unused to people who addressed her directly, who looked in her eyes instead of at her forehead or shoulder blades. Something strange had happened to her in the outside world: she had begun to forget how to stay invisible.
The girl outside lot 47 was chewing gum and smoking a cigarette from something that resembled a pen. After a closer look Lyra recognized it as the kind of e-cigarette some of the nurses had smoked. “You’re new here,” she said, exhaling a cloud of vapor.
It didn’t sound like a question, so Lyra didn’t answer. She put a hand in her pocket, feeling her newest acquisition: a cold metal bolt she’d found half-embedded in the dirt.
The girl stood up. She was skinny, though not as thin as Lyra, and wearing low-waisted shorts and a shirt that showed off her stomach. She had a birthmark that made a portion of her face darker than the rest. Lyra had once seen something similar, on one of the infants in the Yellow crop before they died in the Postnatal wing.
“My friend Yara thinks you’re a bitch,” the girl said calmly, exhaling again. “Cuz you never talk or say hi to anyone. But I don’t think you’re a bitch. I think you’re just scared. That’s it, isn’t it? You’re scared because you came from somewhere else and never expected to end up here, and now you’re wondering if you’ll ever get out.”
Once again, Lyra said nothing. She didn’t know what a bitch was, although she thought, years ago, she might have heard the word—something to do with Nurse Em, one of the other staff members complaining about her.
“So?” The girl’s eyes were a dark, rich color that reminded Lyra of the mud along the banks in the marshes, teeming with invisible life. “Who’s right? Me or Yara?”
“Neither,” Lyra said. She was startled by the way her voice rolled across the short distance between them. Even though it had been weeks since she’d left Haven, she wasn’t in the habit of speaking. When Caelum came out with her at night, or when he snuck into her room and slid into bed beside her, they rarely spoke out loud. They breathed and touched, communicating through language of the body: pressure and touch, tension and release. “I never thought I’d end up here. I didn’t know there was a here to end up. But I’m not worried about getting out. This is out.” She stopped herself from saying anything she shouldn’t.
To Lyra’s surprise, the girl smiled. “I knew you weren’t as dumb as you looked. Half the people round here could double for shitbricks, so you never know. I’m Raina. What’s your name?”
Lyra almost said twenty-four. Rick always called her Brandy Nicole. But she had lost so many things in her life; she wasn’t ready to lose her name, too, and the memory of the woman who’d given it to her.
“Lyra,” she said.
Raina smiled. “You drop out of school or something?”
Lyra didn’t know how to answer.
“School’s dumb anyways,” Raina said. “I finished last year and look at me now, on the nine-to-five shift at Fantasia.” She tilted her head and Lyra thought of the funny, knob-kneed birds that used to scuttle through the gardens at Haven, looking for crabs as small as the fingernails of the infants in Postnatal. The only part of her that wasn’t skinny was her stomach, which had the faintest swell, as if there were a tiny fist inside of it. “You want a Coke?”
Lyra almost said no.
But instead, almost accidentally, she said yes.
Lyra was with Raina, and then she was home, and she couldn’t remember anything that had happened in between. She’d obviously fallen down. Her palms stung and there were flecks of gravel in her skin. Her knee was bleeding.
It was happening more frequently now, these jump cuts in her mind. She knew that what they’d done to her at Haven, what they’d grown in her, was to blame, and remembered that Gemma had said prions made holes grow in the brain, slowly at first, then faster and faster.
That was exactly what it felt like: like holes, and hours of her life simply dropped through them.
Rick’s car, tawny with dust, was parked in front of lot 16, and the lightning bugs were up, as well as swarms of no-see-ums that rose in dark clouds. She heard raised voices as she came up the porch steps, but it wasn’t until she was standing inside, under the bright overhead lights on a secondhand Welcome Home mat, that she saw Caelum and Rick had been fighting. Their last words slotted belatedly up to her consciousness.
It’s enough now. You can’t stay here if you don’t find a way to help.
Both of them turned to look at her. Caelum she couldn’t read. But Rick’s eyes were raw, and his expression she knew from the youngest researchers at Haven whenever they accidentally messed up an IV and blood began to spurt or the replicas cried out: guilt.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Rick said quickly. Patches of scalp showed through his hair, shiny and bright red. “Nothing. Just having a family talk, that’s all.”
“You’re not family,” Caelum said. “You said so yourself.”
Rick stared at him for a long minute. Then he shook himself, like a dog, and moved for the door.
“I’m working a double,” he said. “I just came back for a bite. I’ll be home later tonight.” He stopped in front of her and reached out two fingers to touch her shoulders. This was a gesture they’d agreed on, an expression of affection she could tolerate. “Will you be all right?”
“Yes,” Lyra said. She knew he wanted more from her but wasn’t sure what or how to give it to him. Sometimes Lyra tried to see herself in his nose and jaw and smile, tried to climb down a rope of feelings to get to one that made sense, but he still looked like a stranger, and felt like one, too. He had given her photographs from when she was a baby, but they felt like images from someone else’s life.
“Okay. Good. Okay.” He dropped his hand. The noise was loud in the quiet. Then he was gone, leaving Caelum and Lyra alone.
The room smelled faintly sour, as it always did. Another thing Lyra had not gotten used to was the dirt in the corners and the insects that tracked behind the faucet, plates and pans half-crusted in the sink when Rick went to work, fruit flies that lifted in clouds from the garbage, and the giant water bugs that came up from the drains in the shower.
Caelum stared at Lyra for a second, then turned back to the TV, although he didn’t sit down.
“What happened?” she said. It wasn’t the first time that Caelum and Rick had fought. Several times she had been startled into awareness by the sound of raised voices, or come out of her bedroom to find them standing too close together. “What did he say to you?”
“Nothing.” Caelum turned up the volume. Words flashed on the screen, but they were gone too fast for Lyra to read them. “What happened to your knee?”
So he’d noticed. Lyra bent down and thumbed the blood off. She’d heard at Haven that blood was only red after it oxidized. Strange the way everything changed on contact with the world.
“Nothing,” she said, since that was the answer he’d given her.
“You were gone for a long time,” he said. It wasn’t exactly a question, but Lyra nodded. “Where were you?”
“I made a friend,” Lyra said, and nearly regretted it when Caelum looked up, his face seizing around a quick spasm of pain. “She invited me to a party on Saturday. You’re invited too.”
“A party,” he said. He said the word as if it were in a different language, the way the birthers had said water or help or doctor, if they spoke English at all. “Why?”
“There’s no reason,” she said. She didn’t have an answer. But this made her defensive, not embarrassed. “It’s what people do.”
“People,” he repeated. Now he made the word sound like a medicine that turned bitter as it dissolved. “Your people.”
“Don’t,” she said. They had gone through this before, when Gemma had first told her that she had a father, that she wasn’t really a replica. I thought we were the same. But we’re not. We’re different, Caelum had said, but she hadn’t believed him then.
But now a new voice began to whisper. Maybe he was right.
“I can’t stay here much longer,” he said. “He doesn’t want me here.” Caelum refused to use Rick’s name. “And you don’t, either.”
“Of course I do,” Lyra said.
Caelum just shook his head. “You have a new life here,” he said.
All the anger she’d been keeping down broke free. It was like a rope whipping up words in her chest. “Why did you leave Haven?” she burst out. “Why did you run away? What do you want?”
“I got what I wanted,” he said, and with a quick step came closer to her. In an instant everything stilled and went white, and she thought he was going to say you, and wings of feeling lifted in her chest. But instead he said, “I wanted to do something on my own. For myself. I wanted to choose.”
“So you chose. Congratulations.” In words, now, she heard the echo of Raina’s voice, the edge of her sarcasm. “Are you happy now?”
“Happy.” He shook his head. “You even talk like one of them now.”
“So what?” She hated him then. More than she’d hated any of the doctors or the nurses or the sanitation teams who’d bundled up the dead replicas in paper sheaths, making jokes the whole time: How many clones does it take to screw in a lightbulb? “So I talk like them. So maybe I have a friend. What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s a lie, that’s what’s wrong with it,” he said. “You’re sick.”
“You don’t seem sick,” Lyra said automatically, and only registered a split second later that he hadn’t, in fact, said we’re sick. And with a kind of yawning horror she realized that what she had said was true. Caelum had been so skinny when they met that his collarbones stood out like wings. But he had put on weight. He didn’t get nauseous, not that she could see, and he never got confused, like she did.
There was a long, terrible moment of silence.
“You’re not sick,” she said at last. She could barely get the words out. Then: “What cluster were you in?”
He looked away. She closed her eyes, tried to picture him as she’d first seen him, his wild eyes and dirt-
encrusted fingernails, the wristband looped around his dark skin . . .
He said it at the same time she remembered. “White.”
It was stupid she’d never wondered, stupid she’d never asked. It was all her fault.
White was control.
And control meant that he was fine.
“Lyra . . .” He tried to reach for her and she backed away from him, nearly toppling the table in the front hall, bumping against the door. “I’m going to find a way to fix it. I promise. I’m going to find a way to help.”
When he tried to touch her again she lurched past him, knocking a coat from the rack pegged to the wall. She felt like she would cry. She hardly ever cried.
Maybe this too was something that had oxidized: her feelings had changed color, and flowed more quickly now. She imagined that inside of her, the prions pooled like dark shadows, waiting to swallow her up.
“You can’t help me,” she said. “No one can.”
“Pick,” April said, and then leaned over to jab Gemma with a finger. “Come on. It doesn’t work if you don’t pick.”
“Left,” Gemma said.
With a flourish, April revealed the bag of chips in her left hand: jalapeño-cheddar flavored. “Sucker,” she said, sliding the chips across the table to Gemma. “Maybe if you’d been paying attention . . .” She produced a second bag of chips, salt and vinegar, Gemma’s favorite, and opened it with her teeth. She offered the bag to Gemma. “Good thing I’m so nice.”
This was a tradition dating from midway through freshman year, when the school had for whatever reason begun stocking various one-off and weird chip flavors—probably, April theorized, because they got them on the cheap in discount variety packs. They’d made a game of picking blind—one good bag, one bad—even though they always split the salt and vinegar anyway.
But Gemma wasn’t hungry. She hadn’t been hungry in weeks, it seemed, not since spring break and Haven and Lyra and Caelum. Before, she’d always been hungry, even if she didn’t like to eat in front of other people. Now, everything tasted like dust, or the hard bitter grit of medicine accidentally crunched between the teeth. Every bite was borrowed—no, stolen—from the girl who should have come before.
She, Gemma, wasn’t supposed to be here.
“Hey. Do I have to get you a shock collar or something?” April’s voice was light, but she wasn’t smiling.
Gemma reached over and took a chip, just to make April feel better. Across the cafeteria, the Bollard twins were huddled over the same phone, cabled to the same headphones, obviously watching a video. Brandon Bollard was actually smiling, although he didn’t seem to know how to do it correctly—he was kind of just baring his teeth.
“Did you know some twins can communicate telepathically?” Gemma asked suddenly.
April sighed so heavily her new bangs fluttered. “That’s not true.”
“It is,” Gemma said. “They have their own languages and stuff.”
“Making up a language is different from communicating telepathically.”
“Well, it’s both.” It was weird to see Brandon and Brant together. Brandon was dressed all in black, with a fringe of black hair falling over his eyes and a sweatshirt that had two vampire fangs on it. Brant was wearing blue Chucks and low-rider jeans, and his hair was brown and curly and kept long, supposedly because Aubrey Connelly, his girlfriend and the most coldhearted of all the coldhearted pack wolves, loved to pull it when they were having sex in the back of her BMW.
It didn’t make a difference: they had the same slouch, the same lips, the same wide-spaced brown eyes, the same way of slugging through the halls as if the destination would come to them and not the other way around.
“Did you know that sometimes twins, like, absorb each other in the womb?” Gemma went on. “I watched this thing online about it. This woman thought she had a tumor and then they found teeth and hair and stuff inside. Can you imagine?”
April stared at her. “Eating,” she said, except she had just taken a bite of her sandwich and it came out eaffing.
“Sorry,” Gemma said.
April swallowed and took a huge sip of coconut water, eyeing Gemma the whole time, as if she were a bacterial culture in danger of infecting everybody. “You’re not hungry?” she said.
Gemma moved her sandwich around on her tray a little. “I had a big breakfast.” She wouldn’t meet April’s eyes. April always knew when she was lying.
April shoved her tray aside and leaned forward to cross her arms on the table. “I’m worried about you, Gem.”
“I’m fine,” Gemma said automatically. She must have said it a thousand times in the past few weeks. She kept waiting for it to be true.
“You are not fine. Your brain is on auto-tune. You’re hardly eating anything. Suddenly you’re obsessed with the Bollard twins—”
“I’m not obsessed with them,” Gemma said quickly, and forced herself to look away from Brandon, who was slouching toward the door, so pale he could have been the ghost of his twin brother.
“Obsessed,” April repeated. “You talk about the Bollard twins more than you talk about your own boyfriend. Your new boyfriend,” she continued, before Gemma could open her mouth. “Your new awesome boyfriend.”
“Keep your voice down,” Gemma said. At the next table, she caught a group of sophomore boys staring and made a face. She didn’t care if they thought she was crazy. She didn’t care about any of it.
April shoved her hands through her hair. April’s hair was like some kind of energy conductor: when she was upset, her curls looked like they were going to reach out and electrocute you. “Look,” she said, lowering her voice. “I understand—”
“You don’t,” Gemma said, before she could finish.
April stared at her. “I saw it too,” she said. “Pete saw it. We were there.”
It isn’t the same, Gemma wanted to say. But what was the point? Just because they had seen the same things didn’t mean they felt the same way.
“Haven isn’t your problem anymore. It’s not who you are. Lyra and Caelum are safe. There are people, major top-level people, investigating Dr. Saperstein. Your part is done. You wanted to know the truth and now you do. But you can’t let it destroy you.”
Gemma knew April was trying to help. But something black and ugly reached up out of her stomach and gripped her by the throat, a seething anger that had, in the past three weeks, startled her with its intensity.
“I mean, plenty of people have seriously screwy backstories.” That was April’s big problem: she never knew when to stop talking. The anger made Gemma’s head throb, so she heard the echo of the words as though through a cloth. “You know Wynn Dobbs? The sophomore? I heard her dad actually tried to kill her mom with a shovel, just lost it one day and went after her, which is why she lives with her aunt. . . .”
April couldn’t understand what it meant for Gemma to be a replica, and she didn’t want to understand. Gemma was well and truly a freak, and though she and April had joked for years that they were aliens in high school, Gemma might as well have been from a different planet. In fact, she almost wished she were an alien—at least then she’d have somewhere to go back to, a true home, even if it was millions of light-years away.
Instead she’d been cloned, made, manufactured from the stem cells of her parents’ first child, Emma. She was worse than an alien. She was a trespasser. It felt now as if she were living her whole life through one of those vignette filters, the kind that eats up the edges and the details. As if she’d hacked into someone else’s social media accounts and was trying to catfish as someone else. Emma should have been sitting at this table, happily crunching through a bag of chips, stressing about her precalc exam. Not Gemma.
Gemma should never have been born at all.
“Gemma? Hello, Gemma?”
Somewhere in the deep echoes of the past, her lost twin, her lost replica, cried out soundlessly to be heard.
What was the point of trying to explain that?
Gemma forced herself to smile. “I’m listening,” she said.
On days that April stayed after school for chorus, Gemma had always taken the bus, refusing her father’s offer of a driver because it would only make her more of a target. But now Pete drove her home, at least on days when he wasn’t working behind the register at the Quick-Mart.
It was Wednesday, May 11, nearly three weeks since she’d last seen Lyra. Pete had gotten rid of the eggplant-colored minivan they’d driven down to Florida. He said it was because of the mileage, but Gemma suspected it was because of the memories, too. Even when they were riding around in his brown Volvo station wagon—the Floating Turd, he called it, although it was definitely an improvement over his last ride—she imagined dark-suited men and women passing her on the streets, tailing her in featureless sedans.
Paranoia, obviously. Her dad had taken care of it, he’d promised her, just like he’d taken care of springing Lyra’s dad from jail and setting him up with a job and an apartment in some big Tennessee trailer park Gemma had never known he owned. April was right, at least about that part: Lyra and Caelum were safe, and staying with Lyra’s father in a mobile home tucked deep in rural Tennessee. Dr. Saperstein had survived the explosion and subsequent fire at Haven, but he and his sick experiments would, her dad assured her, lose their funding after the disaster at Haven. She couldn’t bring herself to ask what would happen to all the replicas who’d managed to survive, but she liked to believe they would be placed somewhere, quietly fed into the foster care system or at least moved into hospice care before the disease they were incubating chewed them up for good.
Pete always held her hand on the way to the parking lot, and even though the drive was only fifteen minutes, it often took them nearly an hour because he was always pulling over to kiss her. Whenever Gemma’s mom was home, she invited him in for sweet tea made by their housekeeper, Bernice, who came in the morning. The whole thing was so normal it hurt.
Except that it wasn’t, because she wasn’t, and they weren’t, and the more she tried to pretend, the more obvious it was that something had cracked. Meeting Lyra and Caelum, knowing they were out there, knowing Haven and the people in charge of it were still out there somewhere—it had knocked her life off its axis. And Pete and April thought they could make things right just by acting as if they were all right. Gemma felt all the time as if they were all circling a black hole, bound by the gravity of their denial. They would all fall: they had to.
“What is it?” Pete brought a hand to her cheek. She loved the way he did this, touched her face or her lips with his thumb. They were parked at the very end of her driveway, the final quarter-mile stretch through graceful birches and plane trees whose branches interlocked their fingers overhead. “What’s wrong?”
She wondered how many times he’d had to ask in the past weeks. “Nothing,” she said automatically. “Why?”
“Your eyes were open,” he said. “Like, staring. It was like kissing a Chucky doll.”
That made her laugh. That was the amazing thing about Pete, his special talent: he could make anyone laugh. “Thanks a lot.”
“Let’s try again, okay?” He leaned into her. She closed her eyes. But she couldn’t relax. Something was digging into her butt. She must be sitting on a pen. This time, she was the one to pull away.
“Sorry,” she said.
For a split second, Pete looked irritated. Or maybe she only imagined it. The next moment, he shrugged. “That’s all right. We should probably keep it clean for Ms. Leyla over here.” He reached out and flicked the hula girl on the dashboard, who promptly began to shimmy. Then he put the car in drive again. Gemma was relieved, and then guilty for feeling relieved. What kind of monster didn’t want to make out with her adorable, floppy-haired, freckle-faced, absolutely-scrumptious-kisser boyfriend?
A monster who couldn’t move on. A monster who felt like moving on was giving up, even though there was nothing, anymore, to fight for.
“Where’d you get this thing, anyway?” She leaned forward and gave the hula girl another flick. Her face was chipped away and the only thing left was a small, unsmiling mouth.
Pete shrugged. “Came with the car. Your dad thinks she must have good engine juju.”
Gemma got a weird prickly feeling, like a spider was walking on her spine. “When did my dad see your hula girl?”
“When he dropped the car off.” He shoved the gear into park as they pulled up to the house, which never failed to emerge suddenly, enormous and unexpected, from behind the long column of trees. If a house could pounce, Gemma’s would have.
Pete caught her staring at him. “What? He didn’t tell you? His friend was selling the car and he knew we were looking to cash in the Eggplant. He offered to make the trade. It was nice,” he said, frowning, and Gemma knew she must have been making a face.
“Sure,” she echoed. “Nice.”
This time, he was definitely annoyed. He rolled his eyes and got out of the car without waiting for her to unbuckle her seat belt. Already the front door was open; Rufus bounded outside, as quickly as he could given his age, and began licking Pete’s kneecaps. Gemma’s mom, Kristina, appeared in the doorway, waving overhead with a big, beaming smile, as if she were heralding him from across a crowded dock and not from twenty feet away.
It was a stupid thing. Tiny. Minuscule. So what if her dad had a friend selling some shitty old turd-colored Volvo? Her dad had friends everywhere. Friends in the police department. Friends at the Formacine Plastics Facility, where Rick Harliss was now employed, a short ten-minute bus ride from the Winston-Able Mobile Home Community and Park, where he, Lyra, and Caelum were living.
Still, she didn’t like it. She’d told her father weeks ago she would come home only if things changed. It would be her rules. Her life now. And yet weeks later she was as trapped as she’d ever been. They were trying to soothe her, appease her, distract her, make her forget. Even Pete wanted to forget.
It’s too big for us, he’d said to her, shortly after they returned home. It’s too heavy for us to carry.
Gemma knew exactly what he meant. She felt the weight too, the constant pull of something deep and black and huge. Except she wasn’t carrying it, not even a little.
It was carrying her. What would happen, she wondered, when she fell?
“No way will we put troops on the ground.” Gemma’s father talked through a mouth full of half-chewed tenderloin. Geoffrey Ives believed strongly in table manners—for other people. “No way will the American public stand for it.” He leveled a fork at Ned Engleton, an old friend of his from high school, now a detective with the Chapel Hill Police Department. “Patriotic outrage is all well and good, but once you start shipping out these poor kids from Omaha, Des Moines, wherever, it’s a different story. I’ve seen robotics stocks go up tenfold the past month. Everyone’s gambling on drones. . . .”
“May I be excused?” For the past few weeks, Gemma had seen her father for dinner more than she had in the previous ten years. Usually, Gemma and Kristina ate takeout sushi in front of the TV in their pajamas, or Gemma was left to scour the refrigerator for whatever Bernice had left her while Kristina floated between various benefits and social obligations.
But after Gemma had come back from Florida, and Lyra, Caelum, and Mr. Harliss had been packed off (protected, Kristina said; given new life, her father said, although Gemma thought it was more like out of sight, out of mind), Gemma’s parents had determined they needed more together time. As if everything Gemma had learned, everything she’d seen, was just a nutritional deficit and could be resolved by more home-cooked meals.
It turned out Geoffrey Ives’s idea of family time was simply to bring his business home. In the past week alone they’d had dinner with a professor of robotics at MIT; a General Something-or-other who’d helped Ives land a lucrative consulting contract with a biotech firm that did work for the US government; and a United States senator on recess whom Gemma had surprised later on that night in her kitchen, standing in his underwear in the blue light of the refrigerator, staggering drunk.
“You may not.” Geoff forked some more steak—home-cooked by Bernice, of course—and barely missed a beat. “But I don’t think air strikes are going to get the job done, not when these psychos are so scattered. Warfare keeps evolving, but have our methods evolved with it?”
Gemma felt a sudden hatred light like a flare inside her. She turned to Kristina, who had said next to nothing. Normally she didn’t pill-pop when they had company. But Gemma thought she was getting worse. Two, three, four glasses of wine, a Valium or two, and by bedtime she could hardly speak a word, and her smile was blissed out and dopey, like a baby’s, and made Gemma sick to look at.
“I’m thinking of going to visit Lyra this weekend,” Gemma said loudly, and there was a terrible, electric pause, and then Kristina let her wine glass drop, and suddenly Geoff was on his feet and cursing and Gemma felt sorry and triumphant all at once.
“I spilled,” Kristina kept saying dumbly. Red wine pooled over her plate and made a handprint pattern on her shirt. “I spilled.”
Geoff was shouting in staccato bursts. “For God’s sake, don’t just sit there. The carpet. Gemma, get your mother something to clean up with.”
In the kitchen, Gemma wound a long ribbon of paper towel around her hand like a bandage. She was shaky. It felt as if someone was doing a detail number on her insides, vacu-sucking and carving and hacking her raw. Muffled by the door, Kristina’s words took on the bleating, repetitive cadence of an injured sheep.
Before she could return to the dining room, the door opened and Geoff appeared. She was sure he was going to yell at her for mentioning Lyra’s name in the presence of a guest—not that anyone could guess who she was.
But he just took a step forward and held out a hand for the paper towels.
Feeling bolder, she took a deep breath and repeated herself. “I want to see Lyra this weekend,” she said. “You promised I could.” For a second, their hands touched, and she was briefly shocked. They almost never touched. She didn’t think her father had hugged her more than once or twice in her life. His fingers were cold.
“This weekend is your mother’s birthday,” Geoff said. “Did you forget about the party?”
“I’ll go Sunday,” she said, unwilling to give up. She half suspected that he was filling her time with celebrations and dinners and obligations precisely so she couldn’t see Lyra.
“Sunday we’re going to church,” he said, and his voice was edged with impatience. “I’ve told you we’re going to do things differently from now on, and damn it, I meant it.”
“I’ll go after church,” Gemma said. She should have dropped it. She knew her dad was getting angry; a small cosmos of broken blood vessels darkened in his cheeks. “I’ll get Pete to drive me. It’ll only be a few hours—”
“I said no.” He slammed a fist on the counter so hard that the plastic kitchen timer—untouched by anyone but Bernice—jumped. “Sunday is a day for family, and that’s final.”
Gemma turned away from him, balling her fists tight-tight, as if she could squeeze out all her anger. “Some family.”
“What did you say?” He got in front of her, blocking her way to the stairs, and for a moment she was gutted by a sudden fear. His eyes were hollowed out by shadow. He looked almost like a stranger. She could smell the whiskey he’d had at dinner, could smell the meat on his breath and the way he was sweating beneath his expensive cashmere sweater and she remembered, then, seeing her mother once sprawled at his feet after one of their arguments.
She tripped, he’d said. She tripped. Gemma had never known whether to believe it or not.
And in that second, weirdly, she felt time around her like a long tunnel, except the tunnel collapsed, and became not a road she was traveling but a single point, a compression of ideas and memories; and she saw her father with a dead baby, his first and only born, and knew that he’d done what he’d done not from grief but because it offended him, this natural order over which he had no control, the passing of things and the tragedy of a world that whip-snapped without asking his permission. He’d done it not for love but to restore order. Nothing would break unless he was the one to crush it. People didn’t even have the right to die, not in Geoffrey Ives’s house.
“Whether you like it or not, you follow my rules,” he said, and she wanted to cry: this was her father, who should have been both a boundary and a promise, like the sun at the edge of every picture, the thing that gave it light. “You’re still my daughter.”
“I know,” she said, and turned away. But in her head she said no. In her head, and in the deepest part of who she was, she knew she wasn’t. She was born of the sister, the self, who had come before her. She was the daughter of a silent memory, except the memory wasn’t silent anymore. It had reached up out of the past and taken Gemma by the throat, and soon, she knew, it would begin to scream.
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