Vision in Silver Page 11

“So now there’s a semitrained Crow cutting everyone’s hair?” Meg’s voice rose. She pictured a cartoon drawing of a Crow cutting someone’s hair, wildly waving the scissors while snips of hair flew everywhere. The image looked ridiculous enough to make her feel calmer.

“It wasn’t careless,” she said. “I couldn’t see what was happening, but the movements felt deliberate, even thoughtful.” The slight tug of hair being lifted, the sound of the scissors. Had the Crow become so absorbed in the movement, in the way the shiny scissors opened and closed, that she hadn’t wanted the experience to end?

“Well,” Merri Lee said after a moment. “Your hair is a solid black now. Not even a stray orange tip anywhere. And on the bright side, your hair will be easy to care for this summer.”

Meg hesitantly brushed a hand over her head. Different. Everything would feel different; all her routines would need to be adjusted.

“What?” Merri Lee asked. “You’ve got a look on your face like you just realized something.”

“I’m not sure. I need to use the bathroom.”

“Do you have a spare pad of paper? I’ll pick up a notebook at the Three Ps later that we’ll keep in here for our notes.”

“That drawer.” Meg pointed. “I have an extra pad that fits the clipboard I use for deliveries.”

She went into the bathroom, keeping her eyes focused below the level of the mirror. She studied her hands, the familiar shape. The familiar scars. Then she rested her fingers against her face and looked in the mirror. Fair skin with a hint of rose in the cheeks. Gray eyes. Black hair, eyebrows, eyelashes.

Today this is my face. This is the face Simon recognizes as Meg.

She lowered her hands. No panic this time.

She couldn’t recall any training images of a person being surprised by having a haircut. Now she had the image of her own face in the mirror, shocked and unprepared for the physical alteration. And she had Merri Lee’s story of a similar action that had shaken a person’s sense of herself.

As Meg left the bathroom, she glanced at the under-the-counter fridge and realized she hadn’t had lunch yet. If Merri Lee hadn’t eaten either, maybe they could call Hot Crust and have a pizza delivered. Pizza was comfort food, wasn’t it?

She crossed the threshold, glanced around, and froze. “No.” She rushed to the CD player on the counter, knocking Merri Lee aside, and moved the stack of CDs from the left side of the player to the right.

Merri Lee took a step back. “Gods above and below, Meg! What’s wrong with you?”

Meg pressed her hands on the stack of CDs. “You can’t move these.”

“I was just making a little room on the counter!”

“You can’t change the constant things!” Meg screamed.

Merri Lee stared for a long moment. Then she stepped forward and placed her hand over Meg’s. “Calm down. The CDs are back where they belong. Breathe, Meg. Just breathe.”

Breathe. She could breathe. Simple. Routine.

“Will you be okay if I go into the back room and get us some water?” Merri Lee asked.

Meg nodded.

Merri Lee hurried out of the room, then hurried back in carrying a bottle of water and two glasses. After pouring the water, she handed a glass to Meg. They drank, avoiding eye contact, staying silent.

“Okay,” Merri Lee said. “I guess it’s time to ask some questions. You’ve been here four and a half months. Things change in this office every day, and you haven’t freaked out until now. Was the haircut the trigger? The one thing too many? If you can’t tolerate things changing, how have you survived? How do you survive? We need to figure this out.”

“It’s just a bad day,” Meg protested weakly.

“Yeah, a bad day and the shock of the haircut. Emotional overload. I understand that, Meg. I do. Just like I understand experiencing information overload, when you just can’t take in anything else. I even understand being a bit obsessive-compulsive about your things. But you pushed me aside and screamed at me. Which I guess is better than breaking down, because at least you’re still interacting with me. And that’s the point. You’ve done so much, and so much has happened to you in the past few months, and today—today—you reached your limit. But Simon said those other girls are breaking down every day, and they’ve been out of the compound less than a month. What about other girls who want to leave, who want to live outside and are faced with trying to cope?”

“I don’t know how to help them.” Tears stung Meg’s eyes.

“Yes, you do, but what you did to help yourself you did instinctively. Now Meg, the Trailblazer, has to figure out what she did so that we can tell the other girls.”

Brushing away the tears, Meg took another sip of water.

“The constant things can’t change,” Merri Lee prompted. “What makes something a constant thing?” She studied the stack of CDs. “Always five? But not the same five? And always to the right side of the player?”

“Yes.” Meg looked around the room. “I expect things to change in the sorting room because that’s what happens here. That is the function of the room. Things go in and out, but the room stays the same. The table is always in the same place. So is the telephone and the CD player. The pigeonholes in the back wall don’t move.”

“What about when you’re at home?”

“I have a routine. I follow the routine, just like I follow the roads in the Courtyard when I’m making deliveries.”

“And when the routine is disrupted? Like the times when our Quiet Mind class was canceled?”

“I feel . . . uneasy . . . until I decide what to do instead.”

“Constant versus change. A limited tolerance for change within the constants. And feeling stressed when routines are disrupted.”

Meg recalled images of expressions and decided fear was closest to what she saw on Merri’s face. “You know something.”

“I don’t know anything yet. We need to get Mr. Wolfgard’s permission to do a few experiments before I’ll feel easy about telling someone else what I’m thinking. But if I’m right about why the blood prophets on Great Island are having breakdowns, all the cassandra sangue who left captivity are in serious trouble.”

CHAPTER 4

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