“Why?” she asked, letting go of his hands, but still straddling him.
Eli managed to push himself onto his elbows. He fought the answer down like bile. Don’t say to kill you. Don’t say to kill you. Don’t say to kill you. He felt the words claw their way up his throat.
“To kill you.”
The girl frowned decidedly, but didn’t move. “Why?”
The answer poured out. “You’re an EO,” he said. “You have an ability that goes against nature, and it’s dangerous. You’re dangerous.”
Her mouth quirked. “Says the boy trying to kill me.”
“I don’t expect you to understand—”
“I do, but you’re not going to kill me tonight, Eli.” She said it so casually. He must have frowned, because she added, “Don’t look so disappointed. You can always try again tomorrow.”
The room was dark and the party thudded on beyond the walls. The girl leaned forward and plucked the red sequined horns from his dark hair, nestling them in her own blond waves. She was lovely, and he struggled to think straight, to remember why she had to die.
And then she said, “You’re right, you know.”
“About what?” asked Eli. His thoughts felt slow.
“I’m dangerous. I shouldn’t exist. But what gives you the right to kill me?”
“Because I can.”
“Bad answer,” she said, running her fingers along his jaw. And then she let her body slip down on top of his, jean to jean and hip to hip and skin to skin.
“Kiss me again,” she ordered. And he did.
* * *
SERENA Clarke spent half her time wishing she were dead, and the other half telling everyone around her what to do, and wishing someone wouldn’t do it.
She’d asked to leave the hospital, and the sea of staff had practically parted to let her pass before her IV was even out. It had been pleasant, at first, getting her way so easily, if not a little foreign. Serena had always been strong, always ready to fight for something she wanted. But suddenly there was no need, because the fight had gone out of everyone else. The world went limp around her, a complacent glaze filling the eyes of anyone she met and spoke to. The lack of opposition, of tension, became maddening. Her parents simply nodded when she said she wanted to go back to school. Her teachers ceased to be a challenge. Her friends bent and bent and bent to every whim. Boys lost their fire, gave her anything she wanted, and anything she didn’t want, but was bored enough to ask for.
Where before Serena’s world had bowed beneath the strength of her will, now it simply bowed. She didn’t have to argue, she didn’t have to try.
She felt like a ghost.
And worst of all, Serena hated to admit how easy and addictive it was, getting her way, even when it made her miserable. Every time she got tired of trying to make people fight her, she would slink back into the comfort of control. She couldn’t turn it off. Even when she didn’t order, even when she only suggested, only asked, they did it.
She felt like a god.
She dreamed of people who could fight back. Of wills strong enough to resist her.
And then one night, she got mad—truly mad—at the boy she was seeing, at the stupid, glazed look in his eyes that she knew too well, and when he refused to fight her, refused to deny her, because for some infuriating reason she couldn’t order him to do that, his desire to bend superseding any attempt at violence, she told him to go jump off a bridge.
And he did.
Serena remembered sitting cross-legged on her bed and listening to the news, her friends huddled on the comforter around her—but not touching; there seemed to be a thin wall separating them from her, fear, or maybe awe—and it was then she realized that she wasn’t a ghost, or a god.
She was a monster.
* * *
ELI examined the small blue card the girl had slipped in his pocket the night before. On one side she’d written the name of a café off the main library—the Light Post, it was called—along with a time, 2 p.m. On the other side, she’d written Scheherazade—she’d even spelled it correctly. Eli knew the reference, of course. Arabian Nights. The woman who told the sultan stories and never finished at night, lest he kill her. Instead she drew the stories over until the next day.
As he made his way through U of Merit’s campus, he felt hungover for the first time in a decade, his head heavy and his thoughts slow. It had taken him most of the morning to drag fully free of the girl’s compulsion, to think of her as a target. Only a target.
He slipped the card back into his pocket. He knew Serena wouldn’t show up. She’d be a fool to come anywhere near him after last night. After he’d admitted his intentions. And yet there she was, sitting on the patio of the Light Post wearing sunglasses and a dark blue sweater, her blond hair wisping around her face.
“Do you have a death wish?” Eli asked, standing beside the table.
She shrugged. “I’ve done it once. The novelty must be wearing off.” She gestured to the empty chair across from her. Eli weighed his options, but he couldn’t exactly kill her in the middle of campus, so he sat down.
“Serena,” she said, sliding the sunglasses on top of her head. In the daylight, her eyes were even lighter. “But you already know my name.” She sipped her coffee. Eli said nothing. “Why do you want to kill me?” she asked. “And don’t say because you can.”
The moment Eli’s thoughts formed they were sliding across his tongue. He frowned as the words spilled out. “EOs are unnatural.”
“You said that already.”
“My best friend became one, and I saw the change. Like a devil had climbed into his skin. He killed my girlfriend, and then he tried to kill me.” He bit into his tongue and managed to stem the flow of words. Was it her eyes, or her voice that was compelling him?
“So you go around blaming every other EO you can find,” said Serena. “Punishing them in his place?”
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I’m trying to protect people.”
She smiled behind her coffee. It wasn’t a happy smile. “Which people?”
“The normal ones.”
“The natural ones,” pressed Eli. “ExtraOrdinaries shouldn’t exist. They haven’t just been given a second chance, they’ve been given a weapon and no manual. No rules. Their very existence is criminal. They aren’t whole.”
The thin smile fell from Serena’s red lips. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that when a person revives as an EO, not all of them comes back. Things are missing.” Even Eli, blessed as he was, knew that he was missing pieces. “Important things like empathy and balance and fear and consequence. Those things that might temper their abilities, they’re missing. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me you feel all those things the way you did before.”
Serena leaned forward, setting her coffee on a stack of books. She didn’t contradict him. Instead, she said, “And what is your ability, Eli Ever?”
“What makes you think I have one?” He spat the words out as quickly as he could, filling the need to speak. It was such a small victory, countering like that, but he knew she registered it. And then her smile sharpened.