Rain drowned the world in white noise. Sarah would have preferred snow, to muffle the world into a tensionless silence, but it didn’t snow here. Rain was rare enough. She listened to it tap against the window, hum on the roof, and decided to be grateful for the way it barred her from everything outside her living room walls.
She didn’t have an easy time keeping herself away from others; she invited them into every moment. Her phone was always in her hands. Her car was always gassed up. She left work, exhausted, and took her rest in a shared drink and a long, loud conversation. Alone was never a state she wanted to settle into, but she knew she needed it just now. It didn’t matter how quick she had trained herself to be, how easy she had made it to keep her own mind sitting right next to another opinion.
She was uncertain now, and she needed the quiet.
Once, when Karleigh was younger, a boy had climbed the elegant façade of her uncle’s house to tap on her bedroom window. It had been a deeply moonlit night, so she had caught his shadow across the glass before he knocked for her, and his hair had a silver sheen like something precious, and her stomach had gotten butterflies just from the storybook timing.
A year later, she realized it wasn’t romance in the stories. It was just practicality. Dashing young men who tried to climb on darker nights, probably fell and broke their backs. Even if the pretty girl was only on the second story.
“There is nothing under the eight suns, or under the thousand stars, or in the hundred oceans, that would convince me to do that,” Leonathan said. Spine straight, arms crossed, eyebrows high to strengthen the emphatic syllables, he spoke with the assurance and wariness and absolute shock that made Chaela smile, then cover her mouth just to hold in a laugh.
She glanced over at the rope bridge swaying between cliffs. It was old, missing a few boards. The knots anchoring the end were thick, but fraying in age. It looked a little dangerous, a little like it might have the heart and the sense of humor to drop you into the water fifty feet below.
But the bridge had been there for as long as Chaela could remember and she had wanted to cross it for twice as long.
Jaera stood just inside the door, hands at her sides, back straight, a perfect piece in the set of guards spread around the outside of the hall.
A long table split the hall down the center. Cups and pitchers still littered its surface, but the plates had been cleared away long ago and the guests roved the room. Some of them had settled to either side in cushioned chairs, others gathered around game tables, and the rest stood and walked and talked as they pleased. Jaera watched them, almost bored, but a little too captivated by the shifting colors and voices.
Zain slid in beside her, resting a shoulder against the wall.
“I need your help,” he said.
Becca slid the book across the table like contraband, smiling like she was sitting on the best end of the deal. Sadie accepted it with all the trepidation and curiosity of a kid who was about to find out if vodka really burned the way people said. Walking through the front door, Dana knew that something was going down.
“What’s that?” she asked. She walked into the living room, setting her bag in the corner and peeling out of her jacket.
“It’s just a book,” Becca said.
Dana pinned her with a dry look, just to point out how unhelpful that was. Then she tilted her head to examine the cover. It was populated with half a dozen young, attractive people, all staring moodily off the edge of the book. Three different breezes played havoc with their hair. The title was partly obscured under Sadie’s thumb, but it looked something like The Noise of the Waiting Crowd.
“What’s it about?” Dana asked.
“It’s a love story,” Sadie said, turning the book over to read the back. Dana wasn’t sure whether she sounded amused or terrified.
“When will you be back?” Chaela asked. Leonathan walked beside her, close enough that his shoulder brushed hers from time to time. He kept his hands in his pockets, so she held hers in front of her, playing with her fingernails.
Shaking his head, Leonathan looked out at the harbor, dyed gray and red in the sunset. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’re headed farther south before we turn back for home. It’ll be months before we make it that far. Stars only know how long it will be before we sail out again, or which way we’ll be going.”
“Won’t you be coming this way on your way back home?” she asked.
Leonathan shook his head a little more firmly. “That’s not how the wind works.”