(Chaos Theory #2)
Publication date: September 16th 2014
Genres: Dystopia, New Adult
In her stunning New Adult debut, The Wicked We Have Done, Sarah Harian introduced readers to the Compass Room: a twisted experimental jail where the guilty and the innocent suffer alike. But breaking out was only the beginning…
Even though she’s escaped, twenty-two-year-old Evalyn Ibarra is anything but free. She’s desperate to return to a life that no longer exists, but prying reporters continually draw her back into nightmarish memories, using the tabloids to vilify her. Bad press is the last thing she needs during the trial of the year: the case that she and her fellow survivors staked against the Compass Room engineers. A case that could terminate the use of the inhumane system forever…
But in her dreams, she is still locked in that terrifying jail.
When she wakes, someone is trying to communicate with her in secret, through strange and intricate clues. As Evalyn follows their signs, she uncovers a conspiracy that goes so much deeper than her own ordeal. A dangerous intrigue that only she can bring to light. One that will force her to work with the one person she doesn’t want to see.
The person who owns her heart…
Time is a luxury I didn’t acknowledge until recently.
“Wait,” I repeat.
His eyelashes flutter against me as he blinks. I count, forcing myself to wait a full minute before our lips meet. His tongue coaxes me open, hands fisting the back of my shirt.
I unwrap him, fingers fumbling on every button of his coat. He shrugs it off, and my hands roam from his collar to his belt, sliding beneath his shirt to risen scars. Familiar territory.
“Fuck the media. Fuck everyone. I can’t live like this.” He flips me onto my back and slides on top of me, even though I know he’s hurting. “I can’t keep ignoring you. I can’t keep pretending I don’t give a shit about your life when half the country would kill you if they had the chance.”
“It’s too dangerous.” The second the sentence leaves my mouth, I know it will never persuade him. Hand cupping the back of my neck, he says, “I’d take a bullet for you.”
“Don’t you ever say that again,” I threaten.
He rolls his eyes. “Regardless, we’re fucked anyway, Ev.”
No, I want to say. I’m fucked. And it’s the truth. Before we entered the Compass Room, we signed a contract that said we could be retried for our original crimes. Casey’s lawyer is fantastic. His sentence will be minimal.
Me on the other hand—no further evidence has been found unearthing what really happened the day of the shooting; it’s a closed case. If I’m lucky, I’ll be sentenced to life in prison.
I don’t remind Casey of this. It isn’t just his hip that pains and slows him. I see the shape of his soul in his eyes and the lines of his face. And I want him, as selfish as that is. While I deserve all of this self-loathing, being with Casey reminds me that I’m capable of other emotions too.
I nod. “Then we’ll make something work.”
His smile reaches his eyes, skin crinkling around his lashes. He leans in, and our kiss is slow. His sweeping tongue savors me, and the feeling borders between euphoria and pure torture.
My fingers fumble with his belt buckle until he stops me.
I gape at him, but before I can argue, he cuts me off. “Evalyn, I have three more hours before the sun comes up and all I want to do is stare at you. Let me.”
I relax in defeat and touch my forehead to his. His eyes search mine and I want to ask what he’s looking for, but the question would be too much of an interruption.
So for three hours, we say nothing. His fingers comb through my hair as I think of our confessions of love in the Compass Room, wondering if they were contrived by circumstance—by desperation. Maybe they were and maybe I don’t care. Casey makes me feel human. It’s different with Mom, and even with Liam in the brief moments I’ve seen him since I escaped. In the same breath they say they believe me, they also want to forget, hoping I’ll reboot and begin again.
Casey knows better. He knows it’s more complicated than starting over.
At five in the morning, we call our cars and leave our shitty Missouri hotel. I shut the door behind me, and beneath the eaves, he leans in and kisses me on the cheek.
As he limps toward his car, I realize we haven’t exchanged a word in three hours. And those three hours were exactly how they should have been.
In my dream, I’m alone.
The forest swells up all around me, warm and dark and moist. It’s a cocoon of comfort, if I didn’t know better. This is always the worst part of the dream—the feeling of entrapment, of loneliness. I’m lying on the ground, the underbrush of the woods spidering over my body, and I smell the Compass Room again. The wood fire, the soil, the sweat—and the blood, permeating above all the other odors.
It’s always night in the dream-Compass Room. Fog rolls through the air, thick enough to taste.
I hear the other candidates. Tanner and Jace scream the loudest. Shrieks of anguish, like their flesh is slowly being ripped from their bones. I shut my eyes to wait it out because I know that I can’t save them.
But then I hear Casey.
The underbrush ropes me to the ground, growing tighter as I twist and writhe, trying to free myself to get to him. His voice rips the night in half, and I scream to match his, back arching off the earth, the entire forest shattering into a thousand sharp pieces.
I jerk awake, lying on my back with my hand pressed to my chest, waiting for my heart to stop pounding. I inhale the cold air of my living room and hold it in my lungs as the terror dissipates. It’s like waiting for a brain freeze to end. I get up, flipping on all the light switches in the silent house, checking the shadowy corners for dream monsters.
Not dream monsters. Illusions. Nick or Meghan, a Compass Room test crawling from the darkness. There’s nothing in the house, but of course there wouldn’t be.
I peel back the curtain in the living room. Fingers of the dark trees sway back and forth with the wind and I want to throw up my heart. I let the curtain fall back into place, rush to the kitchen, and take a long pull from the tequila bottle. The good tequila bottle.
Returning to the living room, I flop back onto the bed.
The woods in my dreams are thick, always lurking with Compass Room devils. The woods around my home are nothing more than a scattering of sad little trees, but my mind doesn’t care.
Gemma and the division thought they erased Compass Room C from existence, but they can’t. It’s everywhere.
She walks forward slowly, and it isn’t until now that I realize how damn tall she is. Why hadn’t I noticed before? Her eyes bore down on me with such intensity that I want to shrink into the corner, but I hold my ground.
“I’m really, really trying to understand your privilege, your choices. I get your fortune in Casey’s survival. You didn’t have to experience him dying so you don’t know what the grief of losing him—really losing him—feels like. And that’s why I’m trying to understand how, after everything, you could leave him. You want to protect him, so you think hiding—burrowing in this shit hole in the middle of nowhere—is the only way you can fix everything you think you fucked up.” I don’t think she can be any closer to me until she takes another step. “But don’t pretend you’re on my level. Don’t pretend that I can confide in you because you’re suffering the same, because you aren’t.” She turns from me, walking to the bed and falling onto it.
End of conversation, except I can’t let it be. “It isn’t fair that I’m not suffering as much as you.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“But it should.” I have the audacity to fall next to her on my back. We lie side by side for a while. “I don’t want you to grieve alone. I don’t want you to hold that burden. I wasn’t in love with her, but I miss her too.”
I roll my head over to watch her. Her eyes are glazed with tears. They ripple, desperate to tumble across her face, but she doesn’t let them.
“Let me in,” I whisper.
Her chest rises and falls. “The dreams are the worst, but I’m so happy I have them, you know? I can see her again.” She pauses for a long time, but I can’t think up a way to respond. The dreams are sick little moments of hell, and I can’t imagine the darkness she must feel every day to need them for relief.
“You’re an idiot for letting a little law and order get in the way of the two of you. I’d kill to have a forbidden romance right now. Literally. I’d kill.”
I wince. “You know I’d rather have died instead of her.”
“Stop it. That’s the other thing. No more of this ‘oh woe is me’ bullshit. You’re alive, goddamnit. And I think it’s time you finally realized that you’re a different person too.”
I shake my head, even though I know she’s staring at the ceiling.
“He knows the truth, you know. What you did and why you did it.”
“Casey?” I sit up, my insides clenching. Suddenly I need a drink, but I left my damn screwdriver on the kitchen counter. “You’ve spoken to him?”
“Of course . . . after you left him without so much as a good-bye.”
I slowly blink, knowing how obvious the guilt on my face must look.
“Yeah, you better be ashamed.”
“So he’s okay, then? He understands?”
“I wouldn’t go as far as ‘understands.’ He sees the logic, I’m sure. You still tore him up, kid. After all the shit he’s already had to deal with.”
“We’ve all had shit,” I snap.
“Whatever, Evalyn. Whatever you have to say to make yourself feel better.”
I scowl and get up to grab my drink, even though she’s right. Liz was adamant about me leaving Casey, but I can’t help wondering whether the status of our relationship would make a difference in the long run. Sure, he’s become a somewhat loveable character in the eyes of the media, and despite his crime, people have sympathy for him, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he killed his dad and will be retried for that crime whenever the hell they decide to arrest us. It’s possible we both only have minutes of freedom left. We might as well have spent it together. And it’s a slap to Valerie’s face that we aren’t.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Harian grew up in the foothills of Yosemite and received her B.A. and M.F.A. from Fresno State University. When not writing, she is usually hiking some mountain or another in the Sierras, playing video games with her husband, or rough-housing with her dog.