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.
It was strange how midnight always seemed to make them younger. If they had actually been as young as they felt, they wouldn’t have been allowed to touch such deep hours with a fingertip, and yet they felt like children, seizing them with both hands.
Jas was stealing the sweetbreads out of the cupboard. Stealing them, when he was the one who baked them and stored them away, and no one in that house was old enough to make him feel caught in the act. He still curled his shoulders forward, hiding them with a grin, and jumped over the back of the chair to gain his seat again before he started tossing bits to everyone in the room.
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.
As far as bruises went, it was a beauty, the kind that any ten-year-old would have run to show their friends and catch another chance to tell their epic story of Falling Out of the Jackson’s Tree. It was more blue than black, with fresh red edges, not dense enough to have been any deep hit, but bright enough to catch attention. It ran in a straight line, just above the back of Sadie’s knee, almost hidden in the hem of her skirt as she moved up the stairs ahead of Dana, like a seamstress mark for alterations.
“What happened?” Dana asked.
Sadie looked back, curious, then bent back to look at her leg, smiling. “Chair climbing expedition.”
“Ah.” Dana nodded. “Everything okay?”
“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.