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.
Jaxon poured the coffee, listening to the rolling splash fade to silence as he filled both cups. Both he and Aidra watched the steam curl over the tops, as if it were proof of something vital. Then Jaxon blinked and put the pot back on a cooler corner of the stove top.
He sat across from Aidra and they both pulled a cup toward them. She cradled hers an inch from her chest, breathing in the heat and soaking it in through her palms. He just wrapped both hands around his cup and left it on the table. Neither of them drank.
Blue suit jacket open and tie undone, he smiled at her.
“Are they gone?” she murmured and caught herself before she peeked over his shoulder into the next room. She already felt as if she had come to the kitchen to hide from the last late-night party guests. She had to bite back a smile at the ridiculousness of her urge to check around the corner for them, as if she were checking under the bed.
“I just packed Aunt Edie into the car myself,” he said. He squeezed her arms gently. “She wanted to stay to help you fold napkins or write place cards or something, but I saved you.”
Mom taught Shae to play the piano when she was seven and her short fingers were the only thing that got in her way. Sitting still, she watched the white and black keys and everything she saw on them was painted in the same distinct colors. She heard the way notes fit together, and if her pulse wasn’t her own perfect metronome, she faked it well enough to fool even herself.
She mimicked Mom until she didn’t have to anymore. Then she played as if she had never learned, but always known. One hand pulled out melody, the other harmony, like white rabbits from a hat. When her timing stumbled, she just muttered about wanting to stretch her fingers and kept going.
When I was five, I pulled Mom to the piano, grinning, jumping up and down on the end of her arm because of what I figured I had stolen, spying over Shae’s shoulder. I played for her with one hand, half the right notes with all the wrong timing in between.
“Ta-da!” I shouted at the end, with my hands over my head, and she grinned back at me.
“Did I do it right?” I asked.
“This is the sort of place you get homesick for, even when it’s never been home,” Andie said, holding her cup of coffee.
Leah put her handful of strange small coins onto the counter and waved the scarf she was purchasing at the vendor. She had said hello a few moments before, asked how much, and exhausted her vocabulary frighteningly fast. She was holding tight to the word, good-bye so it would still be whole in her mind when she turned to walk away.
The man across the counter pulled the coins into his palm and counted them, smiling as he got the end of the rough stack. Then he handed one back, and nodded to her.
Zain’s father was an intelligent man. He knew it, from what he’d heard about him and what he remembered of the shelves upon shelves of books that he was not allowed to touch when he was small. Still, the wordlessness with which he showed his quick questions and capability of reading the answers without any response, was interesting, and Zain stayed where he was. He answered with his own curious look, and slight tilt of his head.
“Are you angry with me?” Cade asked. “Or is this just the way you are? Crisp and polite and cold with strangers…”
Zain blinked. He had never been called cold before. It was a fascinating statement, if only for its newness, but it was not altogether pleasing. “I don’t think anyone would say my father counted as a stranger,” he said simply.
“I think, with a little more explanation, you could get almost anyone to say that a seventeen-year-old who hasn’t been home in ten years, or seen his parents more than a dozen times since he was five, could name his father a stranger,” Cade mused back. “And you’re smart enough to know without my saying, that you didn’t answer my question.”
Zain shook his head. “And folks would agree, that by that last statement, you prove you’re no stranger. Strangers think I’m an idiot.”
Galen was not home when Tarra came back at the end of her work day. He was supposed to be at the table, bread and cheese and yesterday’s happy find of fresh carrots and zuchinni spread on the table for dinner. Instead, the house was dark as Tarra approached, and she spent ten minutes lighting the lamps and calling his name in every room upstairs and down, looking for him.
She exhausted every cranny that a seven-year-old could stuff himself into. Then she stood at the base of the stairs, listening for him. All she heard was her heart beat.
He was not home.
And the house was too empty.
Wrapping herself back into her coat, she snuffed the lamp, and ran outside. She knocked on one neighbor’s door, then the others. Neither Arri nor Ceddir had seen him. Ceddir who usually sat at his front window all afternoon putting in hems and patches, hadn’t even seen him come home.
There was a sharp knock at the door to Karleigh’s rooms. She folded her book shut, left it on the table, and answered it with a slow step back to keep her skirts out of the way as it brushed against the thick carpet.
When she saw her uncle, she smiled. “Back so soon?” she asked. It had only been two years since she’d last seen him.
Toar looked tired, as he always did, with a smile hovering one good breath under the surface. It took him that breath to catch the full weight of her joke, and then he did smile, his usual slanted twist of the lips. Shaking his head, he stepped inside.
“Good to see you, too,” he said, and gave her a sharp little bow.
She dipped a shallow curtsey and motioned him farther into her sitting room. He followed her hand, and his apprentice, Jaera followed him, one and a half steps behind him in her proper place.
When Connell heard that he had gotten a place on his first ship, he was ready to walk out the door with just his shirt, breeches, boots and the few boy’s oddments stuffed in their pockets. He had his pocket knife. He had a piece of string as tall as he was. He had a stone worn smooth, and a bent nail and a frog’s skull, and a piece of cake wrapped in good wax paper, and a second knife that he wasn’t quite sure was his, but after a year and a half in a hidden pocket of his shirt it didn’t much matter any more.
It wasn’t that he been expecting the call to come so soon, and so had got himself ready. It was just that he was waiting for it, and – in his usual nature – could get ready in the space of two breaths and a heartbeat.
He grinned as soon as he realized what his Da was telling him, then listened close to make sure he caught the name of the ship and where he was supposed to meet it.
The Bearer. East docks. Third pier. Leaving today at evening tide. Got it. Good.
Kadelyn allowed her bodyguard to step through the door ahead of her, let him sweep the hall for all the usual dangers, then gently dismissed him. He looked at her questioningly and glanced over his shoulder as he went. She left the door open, and stepped farther inside.
“I called for your brother, not you,” Damion said, sitting at the long redwood table under the windows. He was leaning his chin against his bent fingers, one eye lit by the afternoon sunlight and the rest of his face cut by shadow.
“I know,” she said, without looking at him.
She stopped in front of the servant standing at the ready near the door. “You can go,” she said. The girl bent in a quick bow, and hurried out.
Kadelyn turned, eying her father over her shoulder. “But I know what’s coming.”