CHAPTER FORTY-NINE (draft)

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CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

I'm not sure what Laronda was thinking when she thought to throw me a party. I mean, how in the world are we supposed to do that at the NQC? And where, exactly? Surveillance cameras are everywhere. . . . And we're not supposed to be "fraternizing" too much, even in the platonic friendly meet-ups sense.

"Don't worry, Birthday Girl, I'll take care of everything, you'll see," Laronda whispers to me as we sit down for breakfast at the cafeteria on the morning of my birthday. "I'll get everyone you know to show up, and you'll see, we'll even have cake!"

And she turns to Dawn. "Girlfriend, you're in charge of dessert-gathering."

"Huh?" Dawn says, raising one brow. "You mean, like prehistoric hunter-gathering?"

"As in, you grab a few pieces from the food bar, now-just whatever they might have, pie, cookies, jello, you name it-whatever can fit in a napkin and in your roomy uniform pocket."

"Jello? Hell no! That's disgusting."

"Okay, whatever, just grab something, Dawny-baby-poo, and tell a couple of people we know to do the same."

"Baby-poo?" Dawn punches Laronda on the arm, and Laronda says, "Aww!"

"You're serious?" I mutter with a snort.

"Oh, yeah." Laronda cackles, rubbing her hands together. "We will have the best, yummiest bunch of asteroid-end-of-the-world-compound-cafeteria yummies gathered in one place."

"And what place will that be?"

"Let me think about it, let me ponder, and I will let you know by lunch!"

"O-okay," I say. But I'm shaking my head, because I know how crazy this whole thing is.

* * *

And so, for the rest of the day I am exposed to the "crazy." Candidates of all Four Quadrants from my own Section Fourteen whisper "Happy Birthday!" as they pass me by in the halls, in the classrooms, outside in the long streets between our dorms, and pretty much wherever I turn.

I swear, I don't even know most of these people!

At one point, just before lunch, when Charlie Venice from Red Quadrant Dorm slides by me on the street and gives me a genuinely painful pinch on my waist, accompanied by a very breathy falsetto "Happy You-know-what, Me-e-ez President!" I've had just about enough.

"Yo, Charlie!" I say. "What's up with this already? How many people know about my birthday? Who told you?"

But Charlie grins widely, and makes a horsey laugh noise, and runs along to wherever the hell's he's going.

"Little dummy jerk!" I say to his retreating back.

When I turn around, there's Logan.

My heart does a happy jump, and my pulse starts racing as soon as I see his warm hazel eyes and the slow smile.

"I hope you don't mind," Logan says, falling in with me as we walk back to my dorm. "Gracie told a couple of people at our dorm about your Fun Day. Oh, and-Happy Birthday." And with that Logan takes my hand briefly and brushes his fingers against my palm, so that now my pulse is really racing. "I don't have a present for you here with me, but will I have something for you at the party."

I can't help smiling. "Thanks. As far as presents, don't be silly, you don't have to! I mean, where will you get presents? And, yeah, I can't believe I'm seventeen. Heh. . . . One more year, and I can vote. Not that it means anything. Or, like, who needs a driver's license these days? Or whatever."

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