Everyone in the house was running. The servants were tearing up and down the stairs. Nohemi’s mother was darting back and forth collecting reports from them. Nohemi’s father stayed at the very top of the stairs, turning circles to watch everyone else, and shouting at the top of his lungs. The closer the servants came to him, the faster they ran.
Nohemi watched them search the house, but at midnight after an evening smoothed with music and a fine dinner, she wasn’t sure what had inspired it. The night had stayed quiet as they dismissed their guests and meandered around the house on their way to bed. Then, after her father had gently shut the door to the master bedroom, the very air erupted. Shouts. Running. Servants half in their night clothes searching every closet, drawer, corner, hidden door, hole under the floor, and flower vase. Nohemi wasn’t sure whether to laugh or hide.
Two servants ducked past her and searched her room. She listened over her shoulder, trying to decide whether to argue with them over it, but for all their hurry, the search seemed gentle. She heard no ripping, no knocking over, no slamming shut, or toppling down. When they ran back out, she quietly slipped in. There was no real damage from their attention. She checked her bed, and her Secrets Box under the mattress, then her drawers and the closet. She touched her favorite dresses, still hanging perfectly in their places, just to make sure.
And something shifted behind them.
Nohemi shoved her clothes to the side, very fast and stared at the dark haired girl tucked into the back corner.
“You,” she breathed, blinking hard. She’d seen the girl in the street the other day, staring back at her father as if she hadn’t been two feet shorter and half as light. Nohemi had memorized the look of her. It wasn’t often she saw her father dealing business with a girl no older than twelve. She herself wasn’t even allowed to eavesdrop.
The girl pressed one finger to her lip, demanding silence and glanced behind Nohemi.
Nohemi shut her mouth immediately. Then she felt ridiculous. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” the girl said, and somehow she made the word sound earnest.
Nohemi wished she could make the girl repeat it, just so she could memorize the tone to use the next time she need to wriggle out of a tight spot. “What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” the girl said. “I swear on all of heaven’s ducks. As soon as everybody stops pretendin’ to a thunderstorm out there, I’ll go. And I’m not takin’ a thing with me.” She spread her empty hands in front of her, as far as the fingers would go.
Nohemi considered her for a moment. She looked at her hands, then down at her breeches, checking for full pockets, but didn’t find anything. “How did you get in?” she asked, while she thought.
The girl bit her lip and tilted her head. “That’s complicated. Kinda the front door. Kinda the roof. Kinda a window. Kinda a pigeon.”
Nohemi decided that wasn’t really the important question and moved on without trying to understand. “Why did you come here?”
“Thought your da needed a lesson about sneaks and what they can do,” the girl said carefully. “Specially twelve-year-old girl sneaks.”
“What did you do?”
The girl shrugged. “I hid all his shoes.” She looked at Nohemi seriously. “Your da has a lot of shoes.”
Something crashed in the hall. Nohemi whirled toward the sound, expecting something terrible. Everyone in the hall continued running and shouting like nothing had happened. She turned back in time to catch the end of a wince on the girl’s face.
“I wish he’d just go to bed,” she murmured. “He’d find all the right ones if he’d just go to bed…”
Nohemi clamped a hand over her mouth, holding back a laugh.