Written in Red Page 27

She turned on the disc player and started sorting mail, her hips following the beat of the music.

“Courtyard Business Association,” Meg muttered as she read the name on the envelope. “They have a business association? Where?” She put the envelope on the ask-Jester stack.

There were several envelopes for the Chambers that had a red FINAL NOTICE stamped on them. She had a feeling she would find earlier warnings in the mailbags at the bottom of the pile.

Was there some kind of rule that Others couldn’t sort mail, or did they expect that everything would go on as it was until they got someone to do it? Or were they really all so busy doing Other things that they didn’t have time to take care of mail and packages?

She was still pondering that when the front door opened. Meg set down the stack of envelopes and went to the counter, closing the Private door partway.

The woman approaching the counter had sleek, shoulder-length blond hair, brown eyes, and a carefully made-up face that Meg decided matched the “beautiful” training images. The woman’s parka was unzipped, revealing a curvy body in snug jeans and sweater.

Having no yardstick for the outside world, Meg couldn’t decide if a woman dressed like that in the daytime indicated a movie star or a prostitute.

“I’m looking for the new Liaison,” the woman said.

“I’m the Liaison,” Meg replied.

“Really?” Anger flashed in the woman’s eyes at the same time she gave Meg a wide smile. “Why, you’re almost a pocket pet.”

Anger and a smile were conflicting images, but a conflict she had seen often enough on the faces of the Walking Names, especially when Jean had caused trouble and stirred up some of the other girls.

Unsure of how to respond, Meg took a step back. If she needed help, there was a phone in the sorting room as well as on the counter here, and the Private door had a lock.

The woman studied her, then said, “Oh, honey, you don’t have to be scared. I’m annoyed with Simon for hiring someone else after he all but promised me this job, but I’m not upset with you.”

“Excuse me?”

The woman waved a hand. “Water under the bridge, as they say.” A friendly smile now. “I’m Asia Crane. I’m a student at Lakeside University. Howling Good Reads is sort of my home away from home, so I expect we’ll see a lot of each other.”

Not likely, since she didn’t intend to spend much time at the bookstore—at least, not when Simon Wolfgard was around to glare at her or take offense at her hair. “I’m Meg Corbyn.”

Asia clapped her hands. “Crane. Corbyn. Our names are so similar, we could be sisters!”

“Except we don’t look anything alike,” Meg pointed out. Was Asia’s behavior typical of the way people responded to meeting a stranger?

“Oh, poo. Don’t go spoiling things with details! And please don’t be insulted about the pet remark. It’s a phrase I must have picked up from the romance novels I’ve been reading for fun.”

Meg couldn’t picture Simon stocking romances. Maybe someone else had a say in ordering books for the store?

“It was nice to meet you, Asia, but I have to get back to work,” Meg said.

“Doing what?” Asia leaned on the counter and wrinkled her nose as she looked around. “It doesn’t look like there’s much to do here to keep from dying of boredom. Maybe I’m glad I didn’t get this job after all.”

“There’s more to do than watch the counter and sign for packages,” Meg said defensively.

“Like what?”

She hesitated, but answering the question didn’t seem like a terrible thing to do, especially since Simon had all but promised the job to Asia.

But if he promised the job to her, why did he hire me? “I sort the mail for the Courtyard,” she said, trying to ignore the prickling that suddenly filled her right arm.

Asia’s eyes widened. “For the whole Courtyard? Not just the stores, but the whole thing? By yourself?”

Meg nodded.

“Oh, honey, if that’s the case, I’m not sure that man can pay anyone enough to do that much tedious work.”

“It’s not tedious, and it’s not that much work—or it won’t be after I take care of the backlog.” The prickling in her arm got worse, and she began to feel uneasy. She shouldn’t have that sensation so soon after a cut. Was it a sign that there was something wrong with her? The Walking Names always told the girls they couldn’t survive long outside the compound because they would be overwhelmed by the world. Jean said that was a lie, but it had been a long time since Jean had lived on the outside, so maybe she didn’t remember things correctly anymore.

“Well, why don’t you bring some of that mail out here so we can get acquainted? I could even give you a hand,” Asia said.

Meg shook her head and shuffled her feet back another half step toward the Private door. “It’s nice of you to offer, but the mail has to stay in the sorting room, and no one else is allowed in there without Mr. Wolfgard’s permission.”

“Well, Simon isn’t going to mind me helping out.” Asia braced her hands on the counter. A little jump and turn had her sitting on top and swinging her legs over.

That was when the Private door opened all the way and Simon lunged out of the sorting room, knocking Meg aside. As he made a grab for Asia, she squealed, swung her legs back over the counter, and scrambled out of reach.

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