Elodie reached up to tuck her hair behind her ears until she realized the hair wasn’t there. “Anyone who thinks love and hate have to be opposites is wrong.” She darted a glance at Stellan, then at Jack.
“The border will be even harder to get through if people are this nervous,” Stellan said, ignoring her.
Every time I took a breath, my lungs seemed to shrink. As the sun came up, I watched the landscape go by. It was dry. Stubby trees and sunbaked greenery, pastel in the morning light. The occasional stand of palm trees. It looked like the more desert-y parts of Southern California. Soon, we’d gone through a resort town on the sea and the bus stopped for immigration procedures.
Elodie had finished the program that would upload when we were within range of the immigration computer. She’d handed out our fake passports—I was Brittany Barnes, from Michigan—and we’d rehearsed the story. In the concrete box that passed for the bathroom where we got off the bus, I had to give Elodie her wig back, to match our passport photos.
She adjusted it in the mirror. I could tell she didn’t want me to see it, but the tension that had built up in her during the bus ride loosened the second she had it back on.
“Thank you for letting me use it,” I said. She looked at me warily, like she wasn’t sure whether the friendliness was real. Neither Jack nor Stellan had said a word directly to her the whole bus ride. I could see why they were upset with her, but from her side, it must have been terrible keeping this secret from every friend she had. And their reaction now must have been exactly what she was afraid of. It wasn’t even my stress and it was making my chest tighter. “I understand why you didn’t tell us. They do, too, even if they’re not acting like it. I’m sorry.”
She glanced at me in the cloudy mirror and sighed. “It’s okay. I almost had you murdered once, so I guess we’re even.”
I turned off the single faucet and the pipes screeched in protest. “Do you mean Prada? That was you?”
“It was an accident. I only meant for them to get some information out of you. It was very suspicious having you show up like you did, you know. But they were new to the Order, and they got overzealous. And then Luc and Stellan killed them, and that was such a pretty dress that got ruined . . . Not my best plan.”
I wiped my wet hands on my leggings. I had assumed that the attack that had left me bloody and terrified in a ball gown on my first day in Paris was Lydia and Cole, too, before they knew who I was. I remembered running down the stairs, being chased by a guy with a knife. I remembered dead bodies on a checkerboard floor, the black and white streaked with red.
Outside, there was a salty breeze coming off the sea, and the fresh air should have made me feel better, but didn’t. By the time we got to the front of the line, all of us tense and anxious, my chest had tightened so much, I could barely breathe.
We were waved to the desk, and handed over the four passports as a group. The official flipped through them, and then frowned. He asked about our entry stamps, and we launched into the dumb tourist act we’d rehearsed. We had entry stamps on another piece of paper, but oops, were you supposed to keep them? Elodie was saying to me.
I could barely reply with, Oh no, did you throw them away with the brochure for the Dead Sea the hotel gave us?
While we were arguing, Elodie was letting the program upload. I could see her glancing down at her phone. I met her eyes, and she shook her head slightly, her brow pinched.
The official’s hand drifted to his gun. It might have been unconscious, but my chest got even tighter, like there was a balloon inside it, expanding and crushing my lungs. He took our passports and went into the booth. We could see the computer screen, and him typing things into it. A red screen came up. He looked back at us, typed something else. Another red screen.
“Okay?” Jack muttered beside me.
Maybe there was something wrong. For hours I thought I was just nervous, but it was starting to feel like more than that. “I’m sure it’s nothing. I just feel weird.”
“Weird how?” Jack sounded alarmed. It didn’t help. I must have looked really bad. He rested a warm hand on my back. “Do you need to sit down?”
I tried to swallow. It was hard. What if I could catch the virus? What if that was the reason my chest felt tight? Maybe it took longer to kill me because I was the source.
There was a soldier patrolling, and he stopped in front of me, frowning, his gun held across his chest. “What is wrong with you?”
“She had too much to drink last night,” Elodie said, shooting me a look that said, What is wrong with you?
I gave the faintest smile.
Elodie let out a flirty laugh and pointed at our bus, distracting the soldier with some dumb question about tours. He gave me one last lingering glance, and then moved to talk to her. I could tell Jack was practically buzzing with alarm, mentally searching for what he could use for first aid. “Avery—” he whispered.
Stellan hadn’t spoken to any of us since we’d gotten off the bus, but now he stepped up and slipped a casual arm around my shoulders.
“What are you doing? She needs—” Jack started to protest.
“I don’t think you actually know what she needs.” Stellan drew me out of the line, and I could see Jack deciding whether to follow and make a scene.
“Leave me alone,” I murmured to Stellan, knowing I should be more annoyed than I was capable of right now. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. You’re shaking and sweating. That’s not good at a border crossing where they’re already on alert.”
“Can I catch the virus?” I glanced at the back of the soldier with the gun, now walking away from Elodie, and at the official inside the booth, trying our passport numbers one more time. One more red screen. We weren’t going to get through. We were going to get turned over to the Circle.