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Rolls off the tongue. It’s amazing I’ve never said it before.

I can tell Alex is pleased. The smile in his voice grows bigger. “The no- plumbing thing is kind of a bummer,” he says. “But you have to admit the view is killer.”

“I wish we could stay here,” I blurt out, and then quickly stutter, “I mean, not really. Not for good, but . . . You know what I mean.”

Alex moves his arm under my neck, so I inch over and lay my head in the spot where his shoulder meets his chest, where it fits perfectly. “I’m glad you got to see it,”

he says.

For a while we just lie there in silence. His chest rises and falls with his breathing, and after a while the motion starts to lull me to sleep. My limbs feel impossibly heavy, and the stars seem to be rearranging themselves into words. I want to keep looking, to read out their meaning, but my lids are heavy too:

impossible, impossible to keep my eyes open.



“Tell me that poem again.” My voice doesn’t sound like my own; my words seem to come from a distance.

“Which one?” Alex whispers.

“The one you know by heart.” Drifting; I’m drifting.

“I know a lot of them by heart.”

“Any one, then.”

He takes a deep breath and begins: “‘I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart. I am never without it. . .


He speaks on, words washing over me, the way that sunlight skips over the surface of water and filters into the depths below, lighting up the darkness. I keep my eyes closed. Amazingly, I can still see the stars: whole galaxies blooming from nothing—pink and purple suns, vast silver oceans, a thousand white moons.

It seems like I’ve only been asleep five minutes when Alex is gently shaking me awake. The sky is still inky black, the moon high and bright, but I can tell by the way the candles are pooling around us that I must have been out for at least an hour or so.

“Time to go,” he says, brushing the hair off my forehead.

“What time is it?” My voice is thick with sleep.

“A little before three.” Alex sits up and scoots off the bed, then reaches out a hand and pulls me to my feet.

“We’ve got to cross before Sleeping Beauty wakes up.”

“Sleeping Beauty?” I shake my head confusedly.

Alex laughs softly. “After poetry,” he says, leaning down to kiss me, “we move on to fairy tales.”

Then it’s back through the woods; down the broken path that leads past the bombed-out houses; through the woods again. The whole time I feel as though I haven’t quite woken up. I’m not even scared or nervous when we climb the fence. Getting over the barbed wire is infinitely easier the second time around, and I feel as though the shadows have texture, and shield us like a cloak. The guard at hut number twenty-one is still in the exact same position—head tilted back, feet on his desk, mouth open—and soon we’re weaving our way around the cove. Then we’re slipping silently through the streets toward Deering Highlands, and it’s then I have the strangest thought, half dread and half wish: that maybe all of this is a dream, and when I wake up I will find myself in the Wilds. Maybe I’ll wake up and find I’ve always been there, and that all of Portland—and the labs, and the curfew, and the procedure—was some long, twisted nightmare.

37 Brooks: In through the window, and the heat and the smell of mildew slams us, a wall. I only spent a few hours there and I miss the Wilds already—the wind through the trees that sounds just like the ocean, the incredible smells of blooming plants, the invisible scurrying things—all that life, pushing and extending in every direction, on and on and on. . . .

No walls. . . .

Then Alex is leading me to the sofa and shaking out a blanket over me, kissing me and wishing me good night.

He has the morning shift at the labs, and has just barely enough time to go home, shower, and make it to work on time. I hear his footsteps melting away into the darkness.

Then I sleep.

Love : a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor.

It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.

Before and after—and during, a moment no bigger or longer than an edge.

Chapter Nineteen

“Live free or die.”

—Ancient saying, provenance unknown, listed in the Comprehensive Compilation of Dangerous Words and Ideas, One of the strangest things about life is that it will chug on, blind and oblivious, even as your private world— your little carved-out sphere—is twisting and morphing, even breaking apart. One day you have parents; the next day you’re an orphan. One day you have a place and a path. The next day you’re lost in a wilderness.

And still the sun rises and clouds mass and drift and people shop for groceries and toilets flush and blinds go up and down. That’s when you realize that most of it— life, the relentless mechanism of existing—isn’t about you. It doesn’t include you at all. It will thrust onward even after you’ve jumped the edge. Even after you’re dead.

When I make my way back into downtown Portland in the morning, that’s what surprises me the most—how normal everything looks. I don’t know what I was expecting. I didn’t really think that buildings would have tumbled down overnight, that the streets would have melted into rubble, but it’s still a shock to see a stream of people carrying briefcases, and shop owners unlocking their front doors, and a single car trying to push through a crowded street.

It seems absurd that they don’t know, haven’t felt any change or tremor, even as my life has been completely turned upside down. As I head home I keep feeling paranoid, like someone will be able to smell the Wilds on me, will be able to tell just from seeing my face that I’ve crossed over. The back of my neck itches as though it’s being poked with branches, and I keep whipping off my backpack to make sure there aren’t any leaves or burrs clinging to it—not that it matters, since it’s not like Portland is treeless. But no one even glances in my direction. It’s a little before nine o’clock, and most people are rushing to get to work on time. An endless blur of normal people doing normal things, eyes straight ahead of them, paying no attention to the short, nondescript girl with a lumpy backpack pushing past them.

The short, nondescript girl with a secret burning inside of her like a fire.

It’s as though my night in the Wilds has sharpened my vision around the edges. Even though everything looks superficially the same, it seems somehow different— flimsy, almost, as though you could put your hand through the buildings and sky and even the people. I remember being very young and watching Rachel build a sand castle at the beach. She must have worked on it for hours, using different cups and containers to shape towers and turrets. When it was done it looked perfect, like it could have been made out of stone. But when the tide came in, it didn’t take more than two or three waves to dissolve its shape entirely. I remember I burst into tears, and my mother bought me an ice cream cone and made me share it with Rachel.

That’s what Portland looks like this morning: like something in danger of dissolving.

I keep thinking about what Alex always says: There are more of us than you think. I sneak a glance at everyone who goes by, thinking maybe I’ll be able to read some secret sign on their faces, some mark of resistance, but everyone looks the same as always: harried, hurried, annoyed, zoned out.

When I get home, Carol’s in the kitchen washing dishes.

I try to scoot past her, but she calls out to me. I pause with one foot on the stairs. She comes into the hallway, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

“How was Hana’s?” she asks. She flicks her eyes all over my face, searchingly, as though checking for signs of something. I try to will back another bout of paranoia.

She couldn’t possibly know where I’ve been.

“It was fine,” I say, shrugging, trying to sound casual.

“Didn’t get a lot of sleep, though.”

“Mmm.” Carol keeps looking at me intensely. “What did you girls do together?”

She never asks about Hana’s house, and hasn’t for years. Something’s wrong, I think.

“You know, the usual. Watched some TV. Hana gets, like, seven channels.” I can’t tell if my voice sounds weird and high-pitched, or if I’m just imagining it.

Carol looks away, twisting her mouth up like she’s accidentally gotten a mouthful of sour milk. I can tell she’s trying to work out a way to say something unpleasant; she gets her sour-milk face whenever she has to give out bad news. She knows about Alex, she knows, she knows. The walls press closer and the heat is stifling.

Then, to my surprise, she curls her mouth into a smile, reaches out, and places a hand on my arm. “You know, Lena . . . it won’t be like this for very much longer.”

I’ve successfully avoided thinking about the procedure for twenty-four hours, but now that awful, looming number pops back into my head, throwing a shadow over everything. Seventeen days.

“I know,” I squeeze out. Now my voice definitely sounds weird.

Carol nods, and keeps the strange half smile plastered to her face. “I know it’s hard to believe, but you won’t miss her once it’s over.”

“I know.” Like there’s a dying frog caught in my throat.

Carol keeps nodding at me really vigorously. It looks as though her head is connected to a yo-yo. I get the feeling she wants to say something more, something that will reassure me, but she obviously can’t think of anything because we just stand there, frozen like that, for almost a minute.

Finally I say, “I’m going upstairs. Shower.” It takes all my willpower just to get out the words. Seventeen days keeps tearing through my mind, like an alarm.

Carol seems relieved that I’ve broken the silence.

“Okay,” she says. “Okay.”

I start up the stairs two at a time. I can’t wait to lock myself in the bathroom. Even though it must be more than eighty degrees in the house, I want to stand under a stream of beating hot water, melt myself into vapor.

“Oh, Lena.” Carol calls out to me almost as an afterthought. I turn around and she’s not looking at me.

She’s inspecting the fraying border of one of her dish towels. “You should put on something nice. A dress—or those pretty white slacks you got last year.

And do your hair. Don’t just leave it to air-dry.”

“Why?” I don’t like the way she won’t look at me, especially since her mouth is going all screwy again.

“I invited Brian Scharff to come over today,” she says casually, as though it’s an everyday, normal thing.

“Brian Scharff?” I repeat dumbly. The name feels strange in my mouth, and brings with it the taste of metal.

Carol snaps her head up and looks at me. “Not alone,”

she says quickly. “Of course not alone. His mother will be coming with him. And I’ll be here too, obviously.

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