“Sing with me!” her mother had said. “You have a beautiful voice, Darya.”

She had started on a song that Darya knew, and though Darya had felt that this woman was a stranger, she could not help but join in. She had made up a harmony on the spot, slipping her lower voice beneath her mother’s, and tears—happy ones—had come into her mother’s eyes.

“Beautiful,” she had said.

That was the week Darya chose violin as her third instrument—every Hearkener needed to be proficient in three—even though her fingertips were too soft for the strings, and she had trouble holding her fingers in tension for so long. She chose it not because she liked it, but because it was challenging, because she knew bearing through the pain would result in greater joy.

The nurse checking the incision site noticed that Darya was awake, and she smiled. She said something Darya couldn’t hear, thanks to the glorified earmuffs she still wore. The nurse removed her rubber gloves and tossed them into a nearby trash can. Darya was finally awake enough to look around—she was in a large room full of beds, with curtains separating each one. She could only see the toes of the man next to her.

A stack of books stood on the bedside table—some of Khali’s favorites and some of her own. Darya slid one of Khali’s from the stack and started to read, propping herself up on the pillows.

About an hour later, Khali walked into the room, dabbing at one of her eyes with a handkerchief. Her face was discolored—she had obviously been crying. My face looks like raw hamburger when I cry, Khali used to say. It’s so embarrassing. I can never hide it.

Khali clutched a phone in her right hand, the one without the handkerchief. Her grip was so tight it looked like she was about to crack the battery in half with her fingernails.

“What?” Darya said. She could feel the word vibrating in her throat, but she had no idea how loudly she had spoken. Khali didn’t shush her, so she assumed it hadn’t been that loud.

Khali picked up the notebook and pencil resting next to the stack of books, and started to write.

Mom’s request for a liver transplant was denied.

Darya nodded. Obviously. They didn’t give new livers to alcoholics.

So I had her transferred here, so she’ll be close to us. She’s in room 3128.

Darya wanted her mother to be as far away as possible.

She looks awful.

Khali stared at her, wide-eyed, waiting. Waiting for what? Darya wondered, but it was a silly question. She knew what Khali was waiting for: an offer, I’ll go record her death song for you.

But Darya didn’t offer. She took the pad of paper from her sister’s hands and scribbled, Okay. Thanks for telling me.

It was midnight. Khali had left hours ago, right after Darya wrote back to her, but not in a huff—that was not Khali’s way. She always made sure to smile when she said good-bye.

Darya put her feet over one side of the bed and let them dangle for a moment before touching them to the tile. It was cold, or her feet were warm from being buried under blankets for so long. She stretched her arms over her head and felt her back crack and pop, though she didn’t hear it. The noise blockers were still over her ears.

She walked into the bathroom and looked at her reflection. What she saw shocked her. She had not expected the implant to transform her the way it had. The black veins sprawled across her temple, arching over her eyebrow and down to her cheekbone. She turned her head to see how far back the dye had traveled—it stretched over her scalp as far as the bandage that covered the incision site. Soon her hair would grow over it.

She touched the layer of fuzz that was already growing in. It would grow back faster than normal hair, she knew—the nurse had told her, with a wink, that she had put some hair-regrowing salve on it, the kind they used for vain men and cancer patients. Looking at her reflection, Darya didn’t think she would have minded keeping the shaved portion for a while. It made her look tough, just like the implant dye.

She made sure the back of her gown was tied tightly, slipped her shoes on, and walked down the hallway. At the end of it was a large waiting room that looked out over the city. The hospital was one of the taller buildings in this part of Minneapolis, so she would be able to see more than usual.

She shuffled down the hallway, her head aching, but not enough to stop her. In one corner of the waiting room, by the television screen, were what looked like a brother and sister. The sister was rocking back and forth, her hands pressed between her knees. Both stared at the television but were not really watching it.

Standing near the window on the other end of the room was a young man with the same ear covers she wore, but his whole head was buzzed instead of just eight inches of it. When he looked to the side, she recognized him as Christopher Marshall.

He smiled at her and beckoned for her to come closer. She did, scanning the tables for something she could write on. But then she saw that he was already holding a notebook, balancing it against the railing near the windows, and there was a pen behind his ear.

She stood next to him and touched her fingertips to his chin to turn his head. She wanted to see which implant he had chosen. The red dye on his temple disappointed her. She had hoped that their paths would intersect in the future, but if he had chosen life songs, he would be in different classes for the next two years and work in different places thereafter.

He wrote something on the pad of paper:

What made you choose it?

She sighed and took the pen from him. She paused with the tip of the pen over the paper for a few seconds before she began to write, then scribbled out what she had written and began again. It took her several tries to find a response she liked: Life’s something we already understand. Death is a mystery.

He nodded, looking impressed, and wrote, I’ve heard dying people are ornery toward Hearkeners. Hornby got that scar above her eyebrow because one of her clients chucked an alarm clock at her head.

Darya laughed and reached across him to write back. So is that why you picked life? You can just wear a helmet, you know.

He shook his head. No. I guess I just wanted to . . . People don’t celebrate life as much as they used to. I think they should.

She nodded and leaned her elbows on the railing. He did the same thing next to her. Their arms, side by side, were as different as the paths they had chosen—his were pale, dotted with freckles, and long; hers were brown and short.

The city lights were beautiful at night, glowing from distant offices and blinking atop buildings, like the Christmas lights her father had put up because he liked the way they looked, though he only turned them on for an hour a day to save on the electric bill. But there was no limit on these lights—they would be on all night, as long as it was dark enough to see them.

Christopher was writing in the notebook again.

Have you listened to anyone yet?

She shook her head.

He bit his lip and wrote, Do you mind if I listen to you?

Darya hesitated. Hearkeners had listened to her life song before, but this was different. This was his first one, and he wanted it to be her? She doubted he was thinking of it that way, but it seemed that way to her.

You can say no. I just want it to be someone I know, not whoever runs into me first when I walk out of the hospital, he wrote.

He made a good point. She would be the first, but she would also be the first of many. She took the pen from him and wrote, Go ahead.

He took off his ear covers, slowly, so they didn’t slip and hit the incision site. She turned to face him, though she knew it wouldn’t be any easier for him to hear her song if he was looking at her. He stood with the headphones clutched in front of him for a few seconds, frowning and squinting as he made sense of the new sounds in his mind.

Then, after a few seconds, he stopped squinting or frowning. His face relaxed, and his mouth drifted open, forming a loose O. Darya shifted, holding the railing with one hand, uncomfortable as he stared at her. And he stared. His eyes, normally so courteous, were wide and on her,

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