An excerpt from my upcoming novel. Out 7/15!
“I know you,” Sophie had muttered. At Finch’s instinctive objection: “No. I know you. Just like I know any other time than this ‘vacation’ you would take your coffee with skim milk, no sugar. I also know you don’t know the first thing about emotions. You seem, quite frankly, shocked, any time you feel anything. You would watch my father and I, just doing everyday things, with this look of utter concentration on your face. Like you were trying to figure out why we smiled, or laughed, or what that lower tone of voice might mean. Your smile is stilted. And for all the pain I see in your eyes,” she’d whispered, “I’ve never seen it leak out.”
Not as Sophie’s eyes were leaking then.
“I know this must be hard for you,” she’d finally murmured. “You don’t know what to do with your own emotions, let alone someone else’s, but…” She’d worked through the next sob, shuddering from her chest. “I really need my friend right now.”
How could Finch do anything else? But pull Sophie into her arms. But murmur into that sunlight hair, “I’ll stay.”
She’d laughed then, a sad, wet sound, and admitted, “Good. Because you’re snowed in anyway.”
And Finch had realized, regardless of her good sense, or lack thereof, she was here for the rest of the winter. She was fated to return to Sakha, to the Mad Mother, to likely death or at least she’d wish so fervently for it, only in the spring.
So why hadn’t Sophie simply led with that?
“I wanted to know if you would choose to stay.”
The words still haunt her, three days later. Because she did, didn’t she? She chose to stay. Knowing that to do so means her grandmother’s wrath. Means she will be thrown back in the Barracks, if she’s not killed outright. She will likely be given some particularly distasteful task to prove her loyalty anew. Maybe even the Gathering, snatching babies from their beds, their blood on her hands as they fight to the death in the yearly tournament. “Culling,” Gregor calls it. She will have the blood of ten babies on her hands by the time they graduate. One dead each year. The ‘weakest’. The rest, arguably, would be better off dead.
And for all that…
She still chose Sophie.
She realizes she has never had a friend before. That what passes for friendship in the Barracks is only enemies united against more enemies. Lies. Bargains. Survival.
This is… everything.
One day Sophie might teach Finch how to smile and cry and speak in low tones.
Sophie might teach her how to love.
So she’ll stay. As long as Sophie wants her to.