Spy Glass Page 74

“What’s next?” she asked.

“A bath.” When her stubborn chin jutted, I added, “The bathhouse is empty right now. Unless you want to wait until morning and be there with all the students? Your choice.”

“No it isn’t. Don’t play those games with me. You be straight with me and I’ll be straight with you. Deal?”

She didn’t sound like an eight-year-old. “No sugar-coating?”

“None.”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Does it matter?”

“To me, yes. You’re either a child genius or older than you look.”

She flashed me a grin. “I’m both.”

“Humor’s okay then?”

“Yes.”

“All right. So na**d truth it is. Do we need another handshake or maybe a blood oath just for something different?” I asked.

Another grin. “I’m ten, and my mother taught me to listen past people’s words and hear their true intentions.”

“Smart lady. Did she teach you to play fair?” One of my pet peeves, I believed schooling kids to play fair failed to prepare them for adulthood.

“No.” Reema tucked her stuffed dog under Teegan’s covers. He rolled over and curled his arm around the toy. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t you want to know my name?”

“I know it. That healer called you Opal when we arrived.”

Smart girl. The bathhouse was straight north of the infirmary. As I guided Reema, I played tour guide as we passed the dining hall and formal garden located in the center of the Keep’s complex. The two apprentice wings curved around the sides of the garden like an incomplete ring around a bull’s eye. Torches lit the empty pathways. No pools or webs of magic touched me. A nice respite. I hurried Reema past the Fire Memorial. I didn’t have the energy to explain its significance to her.

As predicted, we had the bathhouse to ourselves. I helped her wash her hair. After multiple scrubbings, her true color emerged—white blond. Beautiful.

Reema frowned at the long coils.

“It’s lovely,” I said, combing out the knots before it could dry.

“It stands out. Not a good thing where I live.” She scanned the elegant bathhouse.

The arched walls and high ceiling had been decorated with colorful mosaics. Blue-green tiles lined the oval pool. In the corner, the washing area had metal spigots protruding from the walls above head level. The water would rain from one of them when the lever hanging next to it was pulled. A rack nearby held piles of clean towels. A mirror image of this half of the bathhouse resided on the other side for the males.

“I guess around here, you’d want to stand out,” Reema said. “You’d want to be the best and brightest at the Magician’s Keep. Right?”

“The magicians and teachers don’t compare you to other students, but everyone knows who is strong and who has limited power. By the end of the first season of the first year, the pecking order has been established.”

“It must have been fun being at the top.”

I paused. Why would she…? Oh. She had watched me enter a building no one else could, not even a Master Magician. Naked truth sounded refreshing, but might be harder than I first thought.

“Actually, I was at the very bottom,” I said.

She turned. “Really?”

I considered. “It’s a long complicated story.”

“Tell me…please.”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Stories help me sleep at night.”

I imagined her life. Living in a condemned warehouse, no parents, no food unless she found, stole or begged for some, she had to constantly worry about predators and the Citadel’s guards. Stories would be an escape from her harsh reality.

My future life may be uncertain, but I would not let Reema go back to that horror. I vowed I would find her a home.

I told her about my misadventures as a first-year student. Her light laugh spurred me to dig deeper for the humorous moments. Interesting, I hadn’t consider them funny at the time. I stopped once we arrived back at the infirmary. She jumped into the extra bed in Teegan’s room without reclaiming her stuffed dog. I guessed she felt safe.

Pulling the covers up to her chin, I promised to return in the morning. I turned the lantern down to the lowest setting and said good-night.

“Good night, Fire Lady,” she said.

I paused in the threshold. I’d been called various names before, but that was a new one. Unable to squelch my curiosity, I asked, “How do you know Teegan was referring to me?”

“I just do.”

“Why fire?”

“You’ll have to ask my brother.”

I’d spent time with Reema over the course of the next couple days. She mainly stayed by Teegan’s side, but she needed fresh air and Hayes needed information about her and Teegan. I’d shown her more of the Keep’s complex, hoping to deepen our connection. Unfortunately, she had refused to share any more details. At least her brother’s strength increased every day.

When I arrived on the third morning, Reema sat cross-legged on her bed. She read aloud from a book resting on her lap. I listened for a while, glad she could read. It would give her an advantage on the streets.

Finding her a home was proving to be impossible. My visit to Child Services had been a frustrating and depressing experience. By the time I reached the correct agent, she took Reema’s file, set it atop a three-foot-high pile and instructed me in a dead voice to deliver the child to care facility number two. Knowing Reema, she would be there for five minutes before escaping. When I asked if Reema had a chance to be adopted, the woman looked at me as if I was an idiot.

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