Days until Tacet: 25
WHEN I WAS LITTLE, MY grandfather told me nothing was impossible. Given enough time and the right choices, anything could happen. I believed him.
Then I grew up. I stopped believing.
Turns out, he was right.
• • •
Walking between worlds turns you invisible. Echoes don’t notice you until you touch one of them, so people are forever looking past you. You’re a vague impression, more sensed than seen, a flicker in their peripheral vision.
Invisibility suited me fine. Coming here was a risk; I wasn’t allowed to Walk unaccompanied, and there was always a chance an Original would spot me crossing. But some things you need to see—or hear—to believe.
I hovered like a ghost at the edge of the crowded hallway. But when Simon Lane came around the corner, dark hair falling into blue eyes, jaw square and stubborn, smile full of trouble . . .
I knew I was the one being haunted.
Pain roared through me, hungry as a wildfire. Not my Simon, though the pitch of this world was sharp and familiar. An Echo of him, and one I knew well: the shape of his hands fitted with mine; the feel of his mouth against my throat; the lazy, prowling movements that made my knees go weak. Doughnut Simon—as vibrant and magnetic as his Original—should no longer exist.
The sound of him reached me clearly, despite the distance and bodies between us. The same frequency as the rest of the Echo, but stronger, as if his volume was turned up to eleven when everyone else was a ten.
He should have been silent. A terminal Echo, one whose Original had died. A little more than a week ago, his Original had trapped himself in a world unraveling to nothingness to save me and the rest of the multiverse. His death in the cleaving should have unraveled his Echoes, robbing them of their frequency and their lives.
This Simon should have been silent, but his pitch was true as ever.
The only explanation was that my Simon had survived the cleaving. He’d escaped, somehow, into the vastness of the multiverse.
Hope beat in my chest, the faintest of wings. I tried to smother it, but hope feeds on the impossible as surely as grief feeds on memory.
Simon’s voice reached me first, a baritone resonating warmly through my bones.
One touch, to be certain, and I would leave. He might not remember me. Echoes didn’t, usually. A few minutes, or hours, or days after a Walker left a world, her impression faded from the minds of Echoes like a mirage in the desert. This Simon might forget we’d ever met. I didn’t know if the thought relieved me or broke me anew.
He swaggered through the hallway, surrounded by friends, all of them in similar layers of leather and flannel and denim, Simon in the center like a sun amid planets. I readied myself, muscles tense and ears attuned. Time slowed as he drew even with me, and my feet moved of their own accord.
He turned, laughing offhandedly at some inane comment, and caught sight of me.
His eyes met mine.
He stopped laughing.
I froze. He’d seen me. He remembered me. Before I could react, he broke away from his friends and grabbed me. The shock of his frequency made me go limp with relief.
My Simon was alive.
This Simon, though, was pissed.
“Del,” he growled, waving his friends along and yanking me to the side of the hall. “Where the hell have you been?”
“I’m not supposed to be here,” I said. His hand was like iron around my arm. “You’re hurting me.”
He let go and I breathed him in, leather and rain.
“What do you want?” His palms slammed against the wall
on either side of me, boxing me in. “Why are you here?”
“I needed to know if you were okay.” I tore my gaze away from the silver railroad spike flashing at his wrist.
“I’m fucking awesome.” The bitterness in his laugh made me flinch. “Until now. What do you want?”
I curled my fingers into fists, fighting the urge to reach for him. This close, he looked the same, right down to the scar at the corner of his mouth. He wasn’t mine, but he was proof the real Simon was waiting for me, somewhere in the multiverse.
He reached for his wallet and pulled out the origami star I’d given him the night we first kissed. The Key World’s frequency drifted from the dark green paper, strengthening as I took it from him. “You said you weren’t coming back.”
I’d broken off our relationship—which wasn’t really a relationship at all, just a series of brain-melting hookups—to be with my Simon. But like every other time I’d messed around with the multiverse, my plan went sideways. The Original Simon had seen the breakup. He’d seen everything. Half-Walker himself, he saw through his Echoes’ eyes any time they interacted with a Walker. All the times I’d kissed this Simon, the real one had experienced it as a dream; when he found out, I’d nearly lost him.
Now, maybe I could use it to find him.
“Simon.” I laced my fingers with his, star pressed between our palms. “I need you to wait for me.”
“I’m done waiting,” he snapped.
I ignored the words and focused on his eyes, a darkly gleam
ing blue. “Hang on a little bit longer. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”
“I’m right here,” he said, confusion softening his expression.
“Listen to me. I will find you. I’ll figure it out, but you need to leave me some breadcrumbs.”
Tears gathered on my lashes, and he used his free hand to sweep them away. “Del . . .”
“I’m coming, I swear. I will find you, and we’ll fix this, and we’ll be good.”
“You’re crazy,” he said, but his fingers stayed twined with mine.
Was I? We’d done so much damage to the multiverse, his signal disrupting world after world . . . could my message get through?
I held his gaze, searching for some flicker of understanding, some sign he’d heard me. Nothing. I’d just have to believe.
We both would.
He slid his hand along my neck, drew me closer until our foreheads touched. “Tell me how to help.”
“Listen,” I said, dizzy from his nearness. “I’m not kissing him. I’m kissing you.”
I touched my lips to Echo Simon’s for the briefest moment—a promise more than a kiss, and my heart began to crack, a million tiny fault lines threatening to break wide open. And then, because I couldn’t bear to say good-bye, I ran.
• • •
Losing Simon had turned the music of the multiverse muted and flat. As I raced up the stairs, reality came rushing back. I’d
Walked the Echoes since I was a kid, and no matter how changeable the ground under my feet, I’d always found a way forward. Now I had a destination: Simon, wherever he might be.
I skidded to a halt outside the library and slipped inside, heading for the stacks. Tucked amid the biographies stood the pivot I’d arrived through. The air shivered and hummed where the skin of the world had split. I reached for the rift, felt it widen as my fingers hooked along the edge.
The library doors banged open. “Del!” Simon shouted, only to be shushed by the librarian. Through a gap in the shelves I caught a glimpse of him, raking his hands through his hair in frustration. His gaze swept the room.
Time to go.
I lunged for the Key World’s frequency, and the pivot closed around me, the familiar sensation of too-weighty air pressing against my skin and filling my lungs.
An instant later I was home—same library, different books, and no Simon. For the first time in weeks, his absence didn’t fill me with despair.
I’d find him soon enough.