“Hello, Sydney,” she said, as she tapped the gun absently against her leggings.
“Hello, Serena,” said her sister.
“Don’t run,” said Serena. It never occurred to Sydney to do so. She couldn’t tell, though, if the thought had been there and bled away at her sister’s words, or if she was brave enough to have never considered running, or if she was simply smart enough to know she couldn’t outrun bullets twice, especially without a forest and a head start.
Whatever the reason, Sydney stayed very, very still.
Dol growled as Serena stepped into the hotel room, but when she told him to sit, he did, back legs folding reluctantly. Serena strode past her little sister, surveying the ashes in the sink, and the carton of chocolate milk on the counter (Sydney had silently resolved to drink it—at least some of it—if Mitch didn’t come back soon), before turning back to Sydney.
“Do you have a phone?” she asked.
Sydney nodded, her hand drifting of its own accord to her pocket and retrieving the one Victor had given her. The one that matched his, and Mitch’s. The one that made them a team. Serena held out her hand and Sydney’s hand held out itself, depositing the device into her sister’s palm. Serena then walked to the balcony, where the doors were still open to vent the smoke, and lobbed the phone over the railing and into the night.
Sydney’s heart sank with the rectangle of falling metal. She’d really liked that phone.
Serena then shut the balcony doors and perched on the back of the couch, facing her sister, her gun resting on her knee. She sat the way Sydney did, or rather, Sydney sat the way she always had, with only half her weight, as if she might need to dash up at any second. But where Sydney’s perching looked coiled, Serena somehow made the act look casual, even lazy, despite the weapon.
“Happy birthday,” she said.
“It’s not midnight yet,” said Sydney quietly. You can come up and stay through your birthday, Serena had promised. Now she smiled sadly.
“You used to stay up until the clock turned, even though Mom told you not to because she knew you’d be tired the next day. You’d sit awake and read and wait and when the clock struck midnight you’d light a candle you’d stashed under the bed, and make a wish.” There was a coat draped on the back of the couch, the red one Sydney had thrown off after Victor told her she had to stay behind, and now Serena fiddled with one of the buttons. “It was like this secret birthday party,” she added softly. “Just for you, before everyone else could join in and celebrate.”
“How did you know?” asked Sydney.
“I’m your big sister,” said Serena. “It’s my job to know things.”
“Then tell me,” said Sydney. “Why do you hate me?”
Serena held her gaze. “I don’t.”
“But you want me to die. You think I’m somehow wrong. Broken.”
“I think we’re all broken,” said Serena, tossing her the red coat. “Put that on.”
“I don’t feel broken,” Sydney said quietly as she tugged on the too-big sleeves. “And even if I am, I can fix other people.”
Serena considered her sister. “You can’t fix the dead, Syd. EOs are proof of that. And besides, it’s not your place to try.”
“It’s not your place to control people’s lives,” snapped Sydney.
Serena raised a brow, amused. “Who taught you to sing so loud? The little Sydney I knew could barely chirp.”
“I’m not that Sydney anymore.”
Serena’s face fell. Her grip tightened on the gun.
“We’re going for a walk,” she said.
Sydney cast glances around the room, even as her feet followed Serena toward the door with the same simple obedience that had possessed her hands to offer up the phone. Treacherous limbs. She wanted to leave a note, a clue, something, but Serena got impatient and grabbed her sleeve, shoving her toward the hall. Dol sat in the middle of the room, whining as they passed.
“Can I bring him?”
Serena paused, and ejected the magazine of the gun to check the number of rounds.
“Okay,” she said, snapping it shut again. “Where’s his leash?”
“He doesn’t have one.”
Serena held open the door and sighed.
“Follow Sydney,” she said to Dol, and the dog sprang to his feet and loped over, pressing himself against the girl’s side.
Serena led Sydney and Dol down the concrete stairs that ran beside the elevator, all the way to the parking garage, an open-walled structure pressed against the Esquire’s spine. The place smelled like gas, the light was dim, and the air was biting cold, a sideways wind ripping through in short, sharp gusts.
“Are we driving somewhere?” asked Sydney, pulling the coat close around her.
“No,” said Serena, turning on her sister. She brought the gun up to Sydney’s forehead, rested it against her skin, between her watery blue eyes. Dol growled. Sydney brought a hand up and rested it against his back to quiet him, but didn’t take her gaze off Serena, even though it was a struggle to focus her vision around the barrel of the gun.
“We used to have the same eyes,” said Serena. “Yours are paler now.”
“I like that we’re finally different,” said Sydney, fighting back a shiver. “I don’t want to be you.”
Silence fell between the sisters. A silence full of shifting pieces.
“I don’t need you to be me,” said Serena at last. “But I need you to be brave. I need you to be strong.”
Sydney squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m not afraid.”
* * *
SERENA stood in the garage with her finger on the trigger, the barrel resting between Sydney’s eyes, and froze. The girl on the other side of the gun was and was not her sister. Maybe Eli was wrong and all EOs weren’t broken, at least not in the same way. Or maybe Eli was right and the Sydney she knew was gone, but still, this new Sydney wasn’t hollowed out, wasn’t dark, wasn’t truly dead. This Sydney was alive in a way the other had never been. It shone through her skin.
Serena’s fingers loosened on the gun, and she let it slide from her sister’s face. Sydney kept her eyes squeezed shut. The gun had left a mark on her forehead, a small dent where she’d leaned into the weapon, and Serena reached out and smoothed it away with her thumb. Only then did Sydney’s eyes drift open, the strength in them wavering.
“Why—,” she started.
“I need you to listen now,” cut in Serena in her even tone, the one that no one—not even Eli—knew how to refuse. An absolute power. “I need you to do as I say.” She pressed the gun into Sydney’s hands, and then took her by the shoulders and squeezed.
“Go,” she said.
“Where?” asked Sydney.
Serena let go and gave her sister a small push backward, away, a gesture that once might have been playful, normal. But the look in her eyes and the gun in Sydney’s hands and the cold night hardening around them served as a vivid reminder that nothing was normal now. Sydney tucked the gun into her coat, but didn’t take her eyes from her sister, and didn’t move.