“Are you okay? We can rest for longer if you want.”
“We rested all day.”
“Well, it wasn’t all resting,” he said with a teasing smile that made me blush. He grabbed me around the waist and kissed me. It was true that we’d spent a very good portion of the day doing more kissing than sleeping.
“Thank you,” he said when he released me. “For coming with me. For not giving me shit about wanting to see my parents.”
“I have most definitely given you shit.”
“Then thank you for giving me minimal shit.”
“That way?” he asked, pointing.
I nodded and laced my fingers through his as we started down the road. There were no humans out tonight. Not a single one, which confirmed that I remembered right—there was a strict curfew in the Austin slums.
I kicked at the dirt with my boot, the wind blowing it back onto my pants. The chilly breeze slapped at me, and I wrapped an arm around my stomach and scrunched my face up against it.
My feet dragged, the sound of my boots scraping against the ground comforting and familiar.
“Do you want to stop?” Callum asked, casting an amused glance down at my feet.
“No. It reminds me—” I looked up to see the schoolhouse on my right. The three white buildings looked the same. It was bigger than the schoolhouse in Rosa, and definitely cheerier. They painted it with whatever materials they had. Someone had drawn big dripping flowers in some sort of thick black liquid.
The side of the biggest building was covered in something, and I took in a sharp breath as I remembered what it was.
“Can we pause for a minute?” I asked, slipping my hand out of Callum’s.
“Sure. What is it?” he asked, following me.
“They do a photo collage. Of all the kids who died.”
His face lit up. “You’re up there? The human you?” He bounded ahead of me.
“Probably not. I think the parents give them the photos. But I thought maybe . . .”
I stopped in front of the wall. Hundreds of photos were stuck to the building, protected behind thick plastic. Every month or so the teachers would remove the plastic and put the new ones up and we would gather around and tell stories about the kids we’d lost.
“What about this one?” Callum asked.
I looked at the lanky blond girl. “No.”
My eyes scanned the pictures, but I didn’t see my human self in any of them. I doubted my parents had that many pictures of me, and I found it hard to believe anyone went looking for them after we died.
Then I saw her.
The little girl didn’t frown at the camera, but she was obviously displeased. Her blond hair was dirty and her clothes were too big, but she looked tough. As tough as an eleven-year-old human could look. Her eyes were blue, the only part of her face that was pretty.
It was me.
I put my finger to the plastic, touching the ugly human’s little face.
“Is it you?” Callum asked, appearing next to me. “Oh, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is,” I said softly.
He squinted at the picture in the darkness. Maybe he was looking at the sunken cheeks or the pointy chin or the way she stared past the camera.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes. A teacher took it, I remember.”
“You look different now.”
“She was so ugly.”
“You weren’t ugly,” he said. “Look at you. You were cute. Not particularly happy, but cute.”
“She was never happy.”
“It’s freaking me out how you keep referring to yourself in the third person.”
A smile crossed my lips. “Sorry. I don’t feel like that person anymore.”
“You’re not.” He glanced at it again. “I never thought about it before, but I’m glad you’re not a human. Is that a weird thing to say?”
“No. I’m glad you’re not a human, too.” I held my hand out to him. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” he said, taking a camera from his bag. He held it up close to the picture and snapped a shot. “You need at least one picture of her.”
He stowed the camera away and took my hand as we headed into town. The road widened as we walked past the market and shops. The center of town was a long, straight road, one I had replaced in my head with the one from Rosa.
It wasn’t the same. The wooden buildings were all painted, like they belonged to rich people with money to spare. But they weren’t painted normal colors like white or gray. They were done up with elaborate designs—huge pink flowers, orange-and-red flames spewing across doors, funky colorful skeletons dancing on the sides of buildings.
“It’s nicer here than in Rosa,” Callum said in surprise.
“Those are Tower Apartments,” I said, pointing to the three-story complex at the end of the street.
He gave my hand a squeeze. We had reached Tower Apartments faster than I had expected. I was surprised I had taken us in the right direction, much less directly there.
“They . . . could be worse,” Callum said as he looked up at them.
They could be worse. Someone had painted a sun at the top edge of the building, and little trees and sky between the apartment windows. I remembered none of that, only that at three stories, it was the tallest building in the Austin slums.
We approached the door and Callum studied the Human Occupancy Register affixed to the wall.
“Apartment 203,” he said, pointing to the name Reyes.
He pulled on the main door, but it was locked. He yanked harder, until the lock gave in and we slipped through the door.
I trudged up the stairwell behind him and onto the second floor. The walls were a plain, dingy white, the concrete floors dirty. I could hear the muffled sounds of humans talking and Callum pressed his ear to the door marked 203.
He gestured for me to come closer but I moved forward only a few feet, dread setting itself squarely in my tummy. I should have fought him harder on this.
He knocked, softly, and I heard the voices on the other side of the door go silent.
“Mom? Dad?” he whispered.
A bang erupted from the apartment and Callum jumped. I wanted to cover my eyes with my hands, hide until it was all over, but I stood firm.
The door opened a crack. I couldn’t see anyone, but Callum smiled. The door inched open wider.
The man holding it ajar looked very much like Callum. He was tall and lanky with dark hair that was shaggy like the old pictures of his son.