BUBBLY-MAKING

Zane pulled back, his eyes narrowing.


"Oh, I'm sorry," Tally sputtered. "I don't know what..."

As she trailed off, Zane nodded slowly. "No, that's okay."

"I didn't mean to ... ," Tally started again, but Zane waved her silent, a thoughtful look spreading across his beautiful features. He stared at the ground, pulling up blades of grass between two fingers.

"I remember now," he said.

"Remember what?"

"That was his name."

"Whose name?"

Zane spoke in quiet, even tones, as if trying not to wake someone sleeping nearby. "He was the one who was supposed to take us to the Smoke. David."

Tally heard herself gasp softly. Her eyes were squinting, as if the sun had been turned up a notch.

She could still feel the ghost of Zane's lips on hers, the warmth where his hands had touched her, but suddenly she was shivering.

She took Zane's hand. "I didn't mean to say that."

"I know. But things come back sometimes." He looked up from the grass, his golden eyes flashing. "Tell me about David."

Tally swallowed and turned away.

David. She could see him now, his funny big nose and high forehead. The handmade shoes he wore, and a jacket made out of dead animal skins sewn together. David had grown up out in the Smoke, had never set foot in a city his whole life. His face was ugly from top to bottom, tanned imperfectly by the sun, with a scar that went through his eyebrow... but remembering him sparked something inside Tally She shook her head, amazed. Somehow, she'd forgotten David.

"You met him in the Rusty Ruins, right?" Zane pressed her.

"No," she said. "I'd heard about him from Shay, and she tried to signal him once. But he never showed up. He was the one who took Shay to the Smoke, though."

"He was supposed to take me, too." Zane sighed. "But you went to the Smoke on your own, didn't you?"

"Yeah. But when I got there, he and I..." Tally remembered now. It all seemed a million years ago, but she could see herself - her ugly self - kissing David, traveling with him across the wilderness for weeks alone. A weird ping of memory moved through her, how strong and never-ending being with him had felt back then.

And then, somehow, he'd disappeared.

"Where is he now?" Zane asked. "Did the Specials catch him when they took down the Smoke?"

She shook her head. Her other memories of David were tricky and faded, but the moment when they had parted was simply...gone. "I don't know."

Tally felt faint, the world growing unsteady for the hundredth time that day. She reached out toward the breakfast tray, but Zane took her hand. "No, don't eat."

"What?"

"Don't eat anything else, Tally. In fact, take a couple of these." He pulled a packet of calorie-purgers from his pocket - four had already been punched out.

"It helps if your heart's beating faster." He punched out two more, and bolted them down with a drink of coffee.

"Helps what?" she asked.

Zane pointed at his head. "Thinking. Hunger focuses your mind. Any kind of excitement works, actually." He grinned, and pressed the packet into her hand. "Like kissing someone new. That works really well."

Tally gazed down at the calorie-purgers, uncomprehending. The shiny foil glimmered painfully in the sun, and the packet's edges felt sharp as razors.

"But I've eaten hardly anything. Not enough to gain weight."

"It's not about losing weight. I need to talk to you, Tally. I need you with me for another minute.

I've been waiting for someone like you for a long time. I need you...bubbly."

"Purgers are supposed to make me bubbly?"

"They help. I'll explain later. Just trust me, Tally-wa." His gaze remained on her, almost crazily intense, like when he explained some new trick idea to the Crims. It could be hard to resist Zane when he was like this, even if he wasn't making any sense.

"Okay, I guess." With clumsy fingers, she punched out two purgers and brought them to her mouth, but hesitated. You weren't supposed to take them if you hadn't eaten. It was dangerous. Back in the Rusty days - before the operation, when everyone had been ugly - there had been a disease where people deliberately didn't eat. They were so afraid of getting fat that they got way too skinny, sometimes even starving themselves to death in a world full of food. It was one of the scary things the operation had gotten rid of.

But a couple of purgers wouldn't kill her. When Zane handed Tally his coffee, she washed them down, then grimaced at the acid taste.

"Strong coffee, huh?" he said, grinning.

After a moment, her heart started beating fast, her metabolism kicking up. Her vision stayed sharp. Like the night before, she felt as if a thin film of plastic between her and the rest of the world were being peeled away. She squinted harder in the bright sunlight.

"Okay," Zane said. "What's the last thing you remember about David?"

Tally tried to steady her shaking hands, ransacking her brain to fight through the fog around her ugly memories. "We were all out in the ruins," she said. "You remember Shay's story about how we kidnapped her?"

Zane nodded, though Shay had more than one way of telling that story. In some versions, Shay had been kidnapped by Tally and the Smokies right from Special Circumstances headquarters. In other versions, she left the city to rescue Tally from the Smokies, and the two of them escaped back to the city together. Of course, Shay's weren't the only stories that changed sometimes. Crims always exaggerated stuff about the old days, because making it bubbly was the point. But Tally had a feeling that Zane wanted the truth.

"The Specials had destroyed the Smoke," she continued. "But there were a few of us still hiding out in the ruins."

"The New Smoke. That's what the uglies were calling you."

"That's right. But how did you know about that? Weren't you pretty by then?"

Zane grinned. "You think you're the only brand-new pretty I ever got to tell me stories, Tally-wa?"

"Oh." Remembering the kiss of a moment before, Tally wondered exactly how Zane had gotten the others to remember their ugly days.

"But why did you come back to the city?" he asked. "Don't tell me Shay actually rescued you."

Tally shook her head. "I don't think so."

"Did the Specials catch you? Did they get David, too?"

"No." The word reached her lips without hesitation. However fuzzy her memories were, David was still out there somewhere, she knew. In her mind she could see him clearly now, hiding in the ruins.

"Tell me, Tally, why did you come back here and give yourself up?"

Zane still held her hand, was squeezing it hard as he waited for an answer. His face was close again, gold eyes luminous in the dappled shade, drinking in everything she said. But somehow, the memories wouldn't come. Thinking about those times was like banging her head against a wall.

She chewed her lip. "How come I can't remember? What's wrong with me, Zane?"

"That's a good question. But whatever it is, it's wrong with all of us."

"Who? The Crims?"

He shook his head, glancing up at the party spires that loomed over them. "Not just us.

Everyone. At least, everyone here in New Pretty Town. Most people won't even talk about when they were uglies. They say they don't want to discuss boring kid stuff."

Tally nodded. She had figured that out pretty quickly about New Pretty Town - outside the Crims, talking about ugly days was totally fashion-missing.

"But when you push them," Zane continued, "it turns out most of them can't remember."

Tally frowned. "But us Crims always talk about the old days."

"We were all troublemakers," Zane said. "So we have exciting stuff stored in our heads. But you have to keep telling those stories, listening to one another, and breaking the rules. You have to stay bubbly, or you'll gradually forget everything from back then. Permanently."

Returning his powerful gaze, she suddenly realized something. "That's what the Crims are for, isn't it?"

He nodded. "That's right, Tally - to keep from forgetting, and to help me figure out what's wrong with us."

"How did you...what makes you so different?"

"Another good question. Maybe I was just born this way, or maybe it's because I made myself a promise after I chickened out that night last spring: One day I'm going to leave the city, pretty or not."

Zane's voice faded on the last words, and he breathed out through his teeth. "It just turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Things were getting seriously boring there for a while, and I was starting to forget."

He brightened. "But then you showed up, with your screwy stories that don't make sense. Things are definitely bubbly now."

"I guess they are." Tally looked down at her hand in his. "One more question, Zane-la?"

"Sure." He smiled. "I like your questions."

Tally looked away, a little embarrassed. "When you kissed me just then, was that to help you stay bubbly and to make me remember better? Or was it..." She trailed off, looking nervously into his eyes.

Zane grinned. "What do you think?" But he didn't give her a chance to answer. He took her shoulders and pulled her close again, and kissed her deeper this time, the warmth of his lips mixing with the strength of his hands on her, the taste of coffee and the smell of his hair.

When it was done, Tally leaned back, breathing hard because the kiss had been totally oxygen-missing. But it had made her bubbly, more than the calorie-purging pills or even jumping off the party spire the night before. And she remembered another thing that should have been totally obvious to mention before now, but somehow hadn't been.

And it was going to make Zane totally happy.

"Last night," Tally said, "Croy told me they had something for me, but he didn't say what. He was going to leave it here in New Pretty Town, hidden so the wardens wouldn't find it."

"Something from the New Smoke?" His eyes grew wide. "Where?"

"Valentino 317."

VALENTINO 317

"Wait a second," Zane said. He pulled off her interface ring and then his own, and led her deeper into the pleasure garden. "Better lose these," he said. "Don't want them following."

"Oh, right." Tally remembered ugly days, how easy it was to trick the dorm minders. "The wardens last night -  they said they were going to keep an eye on me."

Zane chuckled. "They're always keeping an eye on me."

He threaded the rings onto two tall reeds, which bowed under the weight of the metal bands.

"The wind will move them every now and then," he explained. "That way, it won't look like we took them off."

"But won't it look weird? Us staying in one place for so long?"

"It is a pleasure garden." Zane laughed. "I've spent my share of time in here."

A nasty ping went through Tally, but she didn't let it show. "What about finding them again?"

"I know this place. Quit worrying."

"Oh. Sorry."

He turned to her and laughed. "Nothing to be sorry for. This is the best breakfast I've had in ages."

They left the rings and headed down toward the river and Valentino Mansion, Tally wondering what they would discover in Room 317. In most mansions, each room had its own name - Tally's room in Komachi was called Etcetera; Shay's was Bluesky - but Valentino was so old that the rooms had numbers. Valentinos always made a big deal out of stuff like that, sticking to the ancient traditions of their crumbling home.

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