* * * * *
Mumma is taking care of me. This is so unusual these days that Rie is confused. She tries sitting on my bed next to me in hopes of getting the same treatment, and when that doesn’t work, she simply perches on her own bed on the other side of the room, curls up in a little knot of arms and legs, and watches our shockingly softened Mumma fuss over me and attempt to force-feed me chilled soup. I know it’s just Mumma’s way to keep from feeling helpless, but I’m not ill and I hate it, all of it. I especially hate Rie’s staring. From far away, her eyes look like the nameless man’s eyes—flat, barricaded, and unreadable. Still. I can hate myself, but not Rie.
Why didn’t I say anything?
Sometimes, the thought makes me feel like I am going to throw up. I roll over across the faded patchwork quilt and lean over the edge of the bed, but there’s nothing in my stomach and all I get is bile searing the back of my throat. I cough and swallow and drag myself back onto the mattress, trying to lose my thoughts in the feel of the worn cotton against my cheek and the sounds from the street outside my open window.
It doesn’t work.
Why didn’t I say anything?
Glenna and her mother come to see me, though I’m hardly an invalid and I don’t want to talk to either of them. They sit in chairs and I sit cross-legged on the bed and we spend fifteen minutes in carefully-observed silence before Glenna gets up, pushes a wilting bouquet and an envelope across the quilt, and leaves.
“Nate is awake,” Glenna’s mother says quietly.
I look up from the little bundle of flowers and see that she is smiling at me with the kindly, patronizing expression of an adult trying to coax a child into speech. I stare back. I don’t know what she sees in my face, but a moment later her smile flutters, falters, and falls away entirely. Without another word, she stands and follows her daughter out.
I’m both angry and glad Micah didn’t come with them. Seeing Glenna is bad enough, because she, like me, didn’t say anything. Micah did all the saying, and for that, I can’t forgive him.
The envelope is a letter from him, but I won’t open it.
* * * * *
It’s been a week since the accident, and Rie is acting strangely. A few days ago, she was spending her afternoons running up and down the streets near the inn, stopping every so often to peer past the bars on drains, down into the darkness of the sewers beyond. Over and over again, she followed the same pattern: Medwin Street, Eckhart Street, Quindon Boulevard, Palmer Street, and back to Medwin.
Yesterday, however, the game changed, though it took me a little while to figure it out. Now Rie is going into the inn’s empty guest rooms and closing every door and window she can find. Today, I’ve taken to following her and opening them again, because it’s too hot to have anything closed—we need the air circulation. I’m just undoing her handiwork in Mumma’s room when she catches me in the act.
“No!” she yells, running forward and yanking at my arms. “No! No! No!” Pulling my elbow free of her grasp, I push the window the rest of the way open, and she screams like I’ve just stabbed her and begins clawing at my waist and chest with sharp little fingernails.
“Rie, stop it! Rie, you’re hurting me. Rie. Rie!” I grab her in a sideways bear-hug, pinning her arms to her sides, lift her, and set her on the bed. She continues to thrash and scream, her neat braids disintegrating into flyaway tangles, and I’m suddenly conscious of the open window and door and the fact that Mumma’s room is closest to the guest rooms.
“Okay Rie!” I say. “We can close the window. Okay? Okay? Look.” I release her and move back to the window, swinging the panes inwards until they thunk into place and the clockwork lock clicks. Rie’s screams immediately subside into hiccupping sobs, but I go and close the door to Mumma’s room too for good measure, then turn back to look at her.
“There,” I say. “Look. It’s all closed. It’s all fine. You’re okay.”
Rie sits huddled with her legs tucked underneath her, the skirt of her yellow dress tangled with her knobbly knees. She’s only whimpering now, though her breathing still hitches every few seconds and the tears and sweat have made her face glow slightly in the late afternoon sunlight pooling on the coverlet. She refuses to look at me as I perch on the edge of the bed next to her. I reach out and put a hand on her back, and she flinches slightly, but doesn’t move away.
“It’s okay,” I say again.
We don’t speak for several long moments. I gently rub Rie’s back and watch how the flawed glass in the upper-right hand windowpane makes the sunlight bend and ripple as I tilt my head from side to side.
“Why do the windows have to be closed?” I say after a while.
Rie is now fiddling with the hem of her dress, and at first, I don’t think she’s going to respond at all. But then she sniffs and says, “Can’t let him in.”
It takes me a couple of seconds to figure out what she means, but I think my body knows before I do because my stomach immediately ties itself in a knot.
“Can’t let who in?” I ask.
I blink. “Lucas who?”
“Just Lucas.” She tugs at the hem of her dress, smoothing it against her leg. “He was only Lucas. He said...he said they took away the other part, and he couldn’t find it.”
The sinking feeling returns, but I press on: “You mean the man without a name?”
Rie turns to look at me, her eyebrows furrowed, the tears on her cheeks no more than a sticky residue now. “No. His name is Lucas.” She turns back to smoothing her dress. “But he isn’t allowed in our house.”
“Why?” I say. I feel sick. She is talking about him in the present tense and I don’t know if that’s because Rie being Rie or because Mumma didn’t tell her. “You always wanted to let him in before,” I say.
“Mumma said...” She trails off.
“What did Mumma say?”
“She said...he hit a boy. And hurt him a lot.” She sits up straighter and sniffles. “That’s why he can’t stay here. And I have to lock things.”
There’s an expanding ache in my chest that’s bigger than the nausea, and I have to do something about it, but I don’t know what. It feels like my ribs are going to crack, but I can’t cry; there’s just this ruthless pressure in my chest and throat. So instead, I gently pull Rie towards me and wrap my arms around her.
Then I get up, go downstairs, and walk out into the heat-drenched street.
I let the door lock behind me.