Page 12


And there’re not many other perks to being a Spinster, as it turns out. I can’t force myself to pretend there is a window in the cell. Because there is no sun. No clock. No hum of insects. I have no idea how long I’ve been here. I’m starting to wonder if I’m dead. I decide to sleep and not wake up. If this is the afterlife, I should be free from dreams. But no such luck – nightmares continually interrupt my sleep. I lie here, eyes burning in the dark, still trying to adjust, hopelessly, and my mind rages with the injustice.
And then the door opens and light streams in, blinding me, until my eyes begin to see the dark outlines of the tiny chamber.
Is that my name? I can’t remember.
‘Adelice!’ Less timid this time, but still a squeaky yap.
‘Take her up to the clinic and rehydrate her. I want her in the salon in an hour.’ The squeaky voice instructs someone I don’t care to see. The voiceless one crosses over to me, boots clicking against the stones, and lifts me casually over his shoulder.
‘What a stink. Never thought something so foul could come out of such a tiny thing.’ He laughs. Maybe later he can buy himself a drink to celebrate his cleverness. ‘At least you’re light.’
I consider reminding him that starving a person has an influence on her weight, but I don’t want to encourage his feeble sense of humour. And I’m too weak to think of something smart to defend myself.
‘Are you even old enough to be chosen?’
I say nothing.
‘I know they found you during testing,’ he continues. I begin to count each of his tangled curls. They’re so dark they are almost black, but looking closer I realise his hair is actually brown. He’s not like metro men, who are polished and groomed and chiselled until their jawlines are angular and smooth without a trace of facial hair. Even my father scrubbed his nails and shaved each night. He smells of hops and sweat and work. He must do more physical labour than most men in Arras, because he carries me like I’m nothing, and I can feel how taut the muscles of his arms and chest are against my thin gown.
‘Not much to say, huh,’ he mocks. ‘Well, good. It’ll be a nice change not to have another over-privileged brat bossing us around. I wish they were all mute like you.’
‘I suppose even a mute girl,’ I snarl, ‘has more privileges than the scum that has to drag her stinking body upstairs.’
He drops me, and it’s a testament to how long I was imprisoned that being dropped on a hard stone floor doesn’t hurt. I’m so used to it that I sit and stare up at him. I’m surprised to find that my eyes have adjusted enough to see the look of loathing on his face. He’s as dirty as he smells, a coat of grime almost theatrically applied to his face and neck, but underneath it, he’s striking. His cobalt-blue eyes, accented by the dirt, radiate out against the filth all over him and for a moment something stirs in my stomach, and I’m rendered speechless again.
‘You can walk on your own. I was doing you a favour,’ he growls. ‘I thought maybe you were different. But don’t worry, you’ll fit right in with the rest of them.’
I swallow hard and stumble to my feet. I almost lose my balance, but I’m too proud to apologise or to ask for the strange boy’s help. And I can’t deny that now that I’ve really looked at him, I feel funny about letting him touch me again. Girls don’t talk to boys back home, and they certainly don’t let boys carry them. Most parents, like my own, bring their daughters into the metro rarely, to avoid any pre-dismissal contact with the opposite sex. But I’m guessing the electric pulse racing through me where his arms and hands held me up wasn’t caused by the modesty the academy tried to instil in me for years. I find myself wanting to say something clever to him, but the words won’t come, so I concentrate on trying to walk. Something that’s definitely harder than it used to be.
‘You can tattle on me when you’ve been processed. Maybe they’ll rip me for mistreating a new Eligible.’ His tone is cruel, and I’m surprised at how much it stings. I lumped him in with all my other captors, and now he’s lumping me in with the Guild, too.
He walks briskly, and I can barely keep up. My feet prickle, shooting needles up my legs, but I follow behind him and eventually catch up. He glances down, obviously surprised to see me walking beside him.
‘Probably dying to get your hands on some fancy cosmetics,’ he chides, and I’m tempted to call him scum again.
‘The Spinsters have the best aestheticians,’ he continues. ‘It’s one of the perks. All you poor, new Eligibles are so eager to get beautified. It must be such a burden to wait sixteen years to wear lipstick.’
I hate being treated like I’m some stupid metro girl eager to paint her face, curl her hair, and step into the working world. I’ve seen pictures of the Spinsters made up until they look like moulded plastic, but I’m not about to talk to him about it. He can think whatever he wants; he’s a nobody anyway. I repeat the words in my head – he’s a nobody – but I can’t seem to believe it myself.
‘’Course, you were in the cells,’ he continues, clearly not needing me to participate in this conversation, ‘which means you tried to run.’ Our eyes meet for the first time and the brilliant blue seems to warm a little. ‘Guess you have some fire in you, girl.’
That does it. ‘Do you always call women a few years younger than you “girl”?’