Updated: Nov 17, 2021
If you haven't read the book yet, here's one of my favorite interactions between Alek and Channel ❤️
“Don’t drink it,” he calls, and I look up. He’s half-dressed and in the middle of pulling his shirt over his head.
“What?” I yell back, holding a hand to my ear.
“Don’t drink the water. It’ll kill you.”
“I know that, thanks.” I did not know that. It will kill me? Is it even safe to touch?
“It won’t irritate your skin much—just keep your mouth, nose, and eyes closed if you go under.”
I sniff. “I wasn’t planning to go under, but again. Thanks.” I was totally planning to go under. This guy is a complete know-it-all, and it irks me.
He sets his shoes on the ground and slips his feet into them. They’re like no shoes I’ve ever seen before, and I squint for a better look. Apparently, he takes this as an invitation to walk toward me, carefully navigating the rocky ledge between our beaches.
“I guess you’ll be fine, then,” he says, jumping lightly from the rocks to the flat ground. He walks closer and stops near enough for me to see his features clearly. His messy hair drips on his shoulders, leaving dark spots on the shirt with a collar. Everything about him is foreign and mysterious, and as much as I don’t want him to know I’m intrigued, I can’t stifle my curiosity much longer.
“What kind of shoes are those?” I ask before I can stop myself.
He looks amused. “These?” Lifting his foot, he glances down.
“I’ve never seen anything like them.”
He shrugs. “I don’t think they’re a ‘kind’ of shoe. My dad made them for me.”
“He made them?”
Alek laughs at my look of astonishment. “Yeah, we make everything. We don’t have a Community providing everything for us, remember?”
“Right,” I say awkwardly. He must think I’m so entitled and weak. After meeting them, I might think I’m entitled and weak.
“Are those the clothes you wear in the Communities?” He points at my grey shirt and pants.
I nod. “Nobody ever sees them, though.” Now it’s his turn to look confused, and I grin. “I was telling your sister about that earlier." Realizing I’m still holding my shoes, I set them down on a log near my feet. “Since our implants are connected to the Edge, we choose what we want everyone else to see. We can change our appearance every day—every hour—if we want.”
“Sounds like a lot of work.”
“Nobody really does it that often.”
He walks closer, and my heart races.
“Can I see it?”
“What?” I ask, my voice catching.
“Your implant.” He continues moving toward me, and I clear my throat.
“I don’t think you can see anything from the outside. That’s the cornea,” I say, pointing to the front of my eye. “The implant is inside on the retina—”
He stands directly in front of me and reaches out, placing his fingers under my chin and tipping my face upward.
“I know my anatomy,” he says, his voice low as he stares intently into my eyes.
My heartbeat quickens. He’s so close. Though I try to shut it down, my body remembers how good it felt that last night with Aave. But this is not Aave, I remind myself. He tips my face from side to side, and his eyes narrow as he scrutinizes me.
I pull away, my cheeks hot.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“I’m not a science experiment, okay?” I turn back toward the lake and reach down to pick up a pebble.
“I know, I was just—”
“Thanks for the information about the water,” I say, cutting him off. “I’d like to bathe now if that’s alright with you. I need to get things ready to go home tomorrow.”
He ponders this a moment, not retreating like I’d hoped. “You’re going back?”
“Of course I’m going back.”
The silence is palpable. I sift pebbles in my hand until I’m sure he must be gone. When I turn, I’m relieved to find myself alone again. I quickly pull off my clothes, walk back to place them next to my shoes, and freeze. On the log is a small, round disc.
Carefully setting my clothes down, I pick it up. The scent of lavender and—oranges? Lemons?—fills my nostrils. Sighing gratefully, I grip it tightly and step into the inky water.