Chapter Five: Unsolved

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"Jesus, Eliza, you scared the crap out of me!"

Joe had been waiting on the dorm's front steps, pacing back and forth and muttering to himself. When she'd stepped out of the Uber, he'd rushed over, grabbing her shoulders and checking for wounds in the illumination of the campus security lights.

"Come on, Joe, for the millionth time I'm fine."

His eyes were huge and panicky, filled with the fear of a boy who'd never received so much as a parking violation. "There were sirens, Eliza. It was like the apocalypse in there. We all watched you sprint away from the lab. I wanted to come and help, but Tori told us all to run for it and in the chaos I didn't see where you went and I spent hours searching the woods, but you weren't there —"

"Joe!"

Eliza pressed her hands to either side of his face, stopping the tirade.

"I'm fine," she said, careful to keep her words even. Because she was fine, wasn't she? She was in one piece. She hadn't been shot by military grunts or died from a head injury.

So why did everything feel so not fine?

Eliza sighed, letting her hands drop.

"Look, I jumped the fence. And I...." She swallowed. "I accidentally ended up in Ian Eckelson's mansion."

Joe's eyes, impossibly, grew even wider.

"What?"

Eliza shrugged, peering into the distance where she could just make out the spired rooftop of the estate. She wondered what was going on in there, in the wake of her exit. What Ian Eckelson was thinking now.

"I can't explain it," she said, frustration twisting into her voice. "I just kind of... woke up there."

Eliza knew she was treading dangerous waters. Could she tell Joe about what she'd seen? About the boy with wings and the super-strong soldier? Or would that be dragging him into her mess, putting his life at risk for her curiosity?

Swallowing the conflicted tangle of her emotions, she tried to smile at her best friend.

"Hey, it was an adventure, right?"

Joe's breath exploded out of him.

"I think that's enough adventure for one school year, don't you think?"

This time, Eliza didn't have to fake her smile.

"Oh, you're not getting the quiet life that easy."

"Lord help me," Joe said, but he was grinning with relief, ruffling his auburn hair. He threw one arm around Eliza's shoulders and pulled her tight against his side. "Come on, you lunatic, I'll walk you to your door."

"At least they won't be calling you names anymore," Eliza said, letting Joe steer her inside.

"We'll see. I don't trust the honesty of drunk people."

Eliza paused in the entrance to her hallway, emblazoned with a big sign that read No Boys Beyond This Point. Questions fizzed like Pop Rocks on her tongue, desperate to be released. To be validated. She met Joe's eyes. This was the person who had invited her to sit with him on that first awful day at Meru, who had stood by her despite the tender spots on her soul that sometimes made her act without thinking. She wanted to tell him so badly it ached.

But she couldn't. She'd seen that woman's expression, and worse, seen the destruction of the rogue soldier.

Eliza wouldn't forgive herself if Joe got hurt because of her.

So, rocking onto her tiptoes, Eliza pressed a light kiss to Joe's cheek, pretending to ignore the way his flush climbed all the way to his coppery eyebrows.

"What was that for?"

Eliza grinned.

"For tolerating me."

Joe straightened, his face cracking into a wide grin.

"Well, life would be pretty boring without you."

If only you knew, Eliza thought.

"Get some sleep," she said instead, shoving open the hallway door.

Tori was waiting for her, still fully clothed and scrolling through Instagram on her phone. She barely glanced up as Eliza entered but her thumb froze over the touchscreen.

"So you're alive then?"

Eliza smirked as she hung up her hoodie. She imagined Tori had been sitting here, wide awake for all the hours Eliza was gone, wondering if her roommate been arrested, if Eliza would rat on the one who'd sent her into the base.

Or maybe, just maybe, the blonde monster had been worried.

"I touched the lab," Eliza said as she plopped onto her narrow twin bed, covered in a floral comforter her mother had insisted on sending along, despite her protests.

Tori rolled oversized blue eyes, letting her phone fall onto her chest as she leveled a cold glare at Eliza.

"Look, let's just pretend it never happened, ok? It was stupid. I didn't think you'd actually do it."

"Well I did," Eliza said, folding her arms.

"Fine. I'll leave you and your boyfriend alone. But let's just drop it, alright?"

"Why? Worried the teachers might realize that their favorite student spends her weekends drinking in the woods?" Eliza said in a mocking voice.

They glared at one another, both refusing to blink. But Eliza had bigger things to worry about than Tori's reputation.

Like a boy with wings who'd saved her life.

"Whatever," Eliza said, rolling onto her side so that her back was turned. After a long, stretched moment, Tori huffed and turned off the light.

Eliza lay there in the darkness for a long time, thinking about super-soldiers and mansions and millionaires. But her mind kept circling the image of that boy in the window, watching her. Who was he? Why did he save her? And who were the other shadows who had loomed over her in the dark? The questions tumbled through her mind like gymnasts, but after hours and hours of puzzling Eliza came to only one conclusion.

She wasn't going to rest easy until she figured out what was going on.

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