“No,” Victor said, shaking his head. “Adrenaline and its physical and emotional inducers and consequences. Biochemical thresholds. Fight or flight. That kind of thing.”
He watched Professor Lyne’s face, waiting for a sign, and Lyne eventually nodded.
“Don’t make me regret it,” he said.
And then he turned to Eli, the last person to answer. “Mr. Cardale.”
Eli smiled calmly. “EOs.”
The whole class, which had devolved more and more into muffled conversation as students declared their topics, now stopped. The background chatter and the sound of typing and the fidgeting in chairs went still as Professor Lyne considered Eli with a new look, one that hung between surprise and confusion, tempered only by the understanding that Eliot Cardale was consistently top of the class, top of the entire pre-medical department, even—well, alternating with Victor for first and second spot, anyway.
Fifteen pairs of eyes flicked between Eli and Professor Lyne as the moment of silence lasted and became uncomfortable. Eli wasn’t the kind of student to propose something as a joke, or a test. But he couldn’t possibly be serious.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to expand,” said Lyne slowly.
Eli’s smile didn’t falter. “An argument for the theoretical feasibility of the existence of ExtraOrdinary people, deriving from laws of biology, chemistry, and psychology.”
Professor Lyne’s head tilted and his chin tipped, but when he opened his mouth, all he said was, “Be careful, Mr. Cardale. As I warned, no points will be given for ambition alone. I’ll trust you not to make a mockery of my class.”
“Is that a yes, then?” asked Eli.
The first bell rang.
One person’s chair scraped back an inch, but no one stood up.
“Fine,” said Professor Lyne.
Eli’s smile widened.
Fine? thought Victor. And, reading the looks of every other student in the room, he could see everything from curiosity to surprise to envy echoed in their faces. It was a joke. It had to be. But Professor Lyne only straightened, and resumed his usual composure.
“Go forth, students,” he said. “Create change.”
The room erupted into movement. Chairs were dragged, tables knocked askew, bags hoisted, and the class emptied in a wave into the hall, taking Victor with it. He looked around the corridor for Eli and saw that he was still in the room, talking quietly, animatedly, with Professor Lyne. For a moment the steady calm was gone and his eyes were bright with energy, glinting with hunger. But by the time he broke away and joined Victor in the hall, it was gone, hidden behind a casual smile.
“What the hell was that?” Victor demanded. “I know the thesis doesn’t matter much at this point, but still—was that some kind of joke?”
Eli shrugged, and before the matter could be pressed, his phone broke out into electro-rock in his pocket. Victor sagged against the wall as Eli dug it out.
“Hey, Angie. Yeah, we’re on our way.” He hung up without even waiting for a response.
“We’ve been summoned.” Eli slung his arm around Victor’s shoulders. “My fair damsel is hungry. I dare not keep her waiting.”
Sydney’s arms were beginning to ache from lifting the shovel, but for the first time in a year, she wasn’t cold. Her cheeks burned, and she was sweating through her coat, and she felt alive.
As far as she was concerned, that was the only good thing about digging up a corpse.
“Couldn’t we do something else?” she asked, leaning on the shovel.
She knew Victor’s answer, could feel his patience thinning, but she still had to ask because asking was talking, and talking was the only thing distracting her from the fact that she was standing over a body, and digging her way toward it instead of away from it.
“The message has to be sent,” said Victor. He didn’t stop digging.
“Well then, maybe we could send a different message,” she said under her breath.
“It has to be done, Syd,” he said, finally looking up. “So try to think of something pleasant.”
She sighed, and started digging again. A few scoops of dirt later, she stopped. She was almost afraid to ask.
“What are you thinking of, Victor?”
He flashed a small, dangerous smile. “I’m thinking about what a lovely night it is.”
They both knew it was a lie, but Sydney decided she’d rather not know the truth.
* * *
Victor wasn’t thinking of the weather.
He hardly felt the cold through his coat. He was too busy trying to picture what Eli’s face would look like when he received their message. Trying to picture the shock, the anger, and threaded through it all, the fear. Fear because it could only mean one thing.
Victor was out. Victor was free.
And Victor was coming for Eli—just as he’d promised he would.
He sunk the shovel into the cold earth with a satisfying thud.
TEN YEARS AGO
“You’re seriously not going to tell me what that was about?” asked Victor as he followed Eli through the massive double doors and into the Lockland International Dining Suite, more commonly known as LIDS.
Eli didn’t answer as he scanned the eating hall for Angie.
The whole place resembled a theme park, in Victor’s opinion, all the mundane trappings of a cafeteria hidden beneath plastic and plaster facades that were out of scale and out of place beside each other. Circling a quad-sized stretch of tables, eleven eatery options each boasted different menus in different fonts with different decor. By the doors was a bistro, complete with a low little gate erected for a waiting line. Next to it Italian music played, several pizza ovens gaping behind the counter. Across the way the Thai, Chinese, and sushi places sat in paper-lantern colors, bright and primary and inviting. Joining these were a burger joint, a carving station, a comfort food kitchen, a salad bar, a smoothie shop, and a basic café.
Angie Knight was sitting near the Italian eatery, twirling pasta on her fork, her coppery curls wandering into her eyes as she read a book pinned beneath her tray. A small prickle ran through Victor when he spotted her, the voyeuristic thrill of seeing someone before they see you, of being able to simply watch. But the moment ended when Eli saw her, too, and caught her gaze without a word. They were like magnets, thought Victor, each with their own pull. They showed it every day in class, and around campus, people always drifting toward them. Even Victor felt the draw. And then when they got close enough to each other... well. Angie’s arms were around Eli’s neck in an instant, her perfect lips against his.
Victor looked away, giving them a moment of privacy, which was absurd considering their public display of affection was very... public. A female professor looked up from a folded paper several tables over, one eyebrow quirking before she turned the page with a loud crack. Eventually, Eli and Angie managed to pry themselves apart and she acknowledged Victor with a hug, a gesture that was simple but genuine, all the warmth, but none of the heat.
And that was okay. He was not in love with Angie Knight. She didn’t belong to him. Even though he met her first, even though he’d been a magnet for her once, and she’d wandered toward him in LIDS that first week of school freshman year, and they’d had smoothies because it was still ungodly hot out even in September, and her face was red from track and his was red from her. Even though she hadn’t even met Eli until sophomore year when Victor brought his new roommate to sit with him at dinner because it seemed like good karma.
Fucking karma, he thought as Angie pulled away and floated back to her seat.
Eli grabbed soup and Victor bought Chinese, and the three sat in the growing noise of the eating hall and ate and made mindless conversation, even though Victor desperately wanted to find out what the hell Eli was thinking picking EOs as a thesis. But Victor knew better than to interrogate him in front of Angie. Angie Knight was a force. A force with long legs and the most severe case of curiosity that Victor had ever encountered. She was only twenty, had been coveted by the top schools since she could drive, had been given a dozen business cards followed by a dozen offers and just as many follow-ups, both subtle and not-so-subtle bribes, and here she was at Lockland. She’d recently accepted an offer from an engineering firm, and upon graduation would be the youngest—and, Victor wagered, the brightest—employee of their company. She wouldn’t even be able to drink yet.
Besides, judging by the looks the other students had given Eli when he made his thesis selection, word would reach her soon enough.
Finally, after a lunch dotted with pauses and occasional warning glances from Eli, the bell rang and Angie left for her next class. She wasn’t even supposed to have a next class, but she’d taken on an extra elective. Eli and Victor sat and watched her cloud of red hair bob away with all the glee of someone off to eat cake, not explore forensic chemistry or mechanical efficacy or whatever she’d picked up as a pet project this time.
Or rather, Eli watched her go, and Victor watched Eli watch her, something twisting in his stomach. It wasn’t just that Eli stole Angie from Victor—that was bad enough—but somehow Angie had stolen Eli from him, too. The more interesting Eli, anyway. Not the one with perfect teeth and an easy laugh, but the one beneath that was glittering and sharp, like broken glass. It was in those jagged pieces that Victor saw something he recognized. Something dangerous, and hungry. But when Eli was with Angie, it never showed. He was a model boyfriend, caring, attentive, and dull, and Victor found himself studying his friend in Angie’s wake, searching for signs of life.