I patted my chest, my stomach, all the places I’d been pummeled. No pain. I lifted my right arm and rotated the shoulder. No problem. “It feels like I’ve got a new arm,” I said, marveling.
“You’re lucky you didn’t need a new head,” came another voice—Sharon, ducking to fit his full height through the doorway. “In fact, it’s a shame they didn’t give you one, because apparently the one you’ve got now is full of sawdust. Disappearing like that, running off without a clue where you were going—and after all my warnings about the Acre! What were you thinking?” He towered over Emma and me, wagging his long white finger.
I grinned at him. “Hello, Sharon. Nice to see you again.”
“Yes, ha-ha, it’s all smiles now that everything’s rosy, but you nearly got yourselves killed out there!”
“We were lucky,” Emma said.
“Yes—lucky I was there! Lucky my gallows-rigging cousins were available that evening and I was able to catch them before they’d had too much Ditch lager at the Cradle and Coffin! They don’t work for free, by the way. I’m adding their services to your tab, along with my damaged boat!”
“Fine, fine!” I said. “Settle down, okay?”
“What were you thinking?” he said again, his awful breath settling over us like a cloud.
And then it came back to me, what I’d been thinking, and I kind of lost it. “That you were an untrustworthy lout!” I fired back. “That it’s only about money with you, and you probably would have sold us into slavery the first chance you got! Yeah,” I said, “we looked into it. We know all about the shady things you peculiars get up to around here, and if you think for a minute we believe that you”—I pointed at Sharon—“or any of you”—I pointed at the doctor—“are helping us purely out of kindness, you’re nuts! So either tell us what you want with us or let us go, because we’ve … we’ve got …”
A sudden, crashing wave of exhaustion. My vision unfocused.
“Got better things to …”
I shook my head, tried standing up, but the room had begun to spin. Emma held my arms and the doctor pushed me back gently onto my pillow. “We’re helping you because Mr. Bentham asked us to,” he said tersely. “What he wants with you, well, you’ll have to ask him yourself.”
“Like I keep saying, Mister whoever can kiss my mmmff—”
Emma clapped a hand over my mouth. “Jacob’s not feeling himself at the moment,” she said. “I’m sure what he meant to say was, thanks for saving us. We’re in your debt.”
“That, too,” I mumbled through her fingers.
I was angry and scared, but also genuinely happy to be alive—and to see Emma whole and healed. When I thought about that, all the fight leaked out of me and I was filled with simple gratitude. I closed my eyes to stop the room from spinning and listened to them whisper about me.
“He’s a problem,” said the doctor. “He can’t be allowed to meet Mr. Bentham like this.”
“His brain is addled,” Sharon said. “If the girl and I could just talk with him in private, I’m sure he could be brought around. Might we have the room to ourselves?”
Reluctantly, the doctor left. When he was gone, I opened my eyes again and focused on Emma, looking down at me.
“Where’s Addison?” I asked.
“He got across,” she said.
“Right,” I said, remembering. “Have you heard from him? Has he come back yet?”
“No,” she said quietly. “Not yet.”
I considered what that might mean—what might have happened to him—but I couldn’t bear the thought. “We promised to go after him,” I said. “If he can get across, so can we.”
“That bridge hollow might not have cared about a dog getting across,” Sharon butted in, “but you he’d peel off and toss right into the boil.”
“Go away,” I said to him. “I want to talk to Emma in private.”
“Why? So you can climb out the window and run away again?”
“We’re not going anywhere,” Emma said. “Jacob can’t even get out of bed.”
Sharon wasn’t swayed. “I’ll go to the corner and mind my own business,” he said. “That’s my best offer.” He went and perched himself on Nim’s one-armed chair and began to whistle and clean his fingernails.
Emma helped me sit up, and we pressed our foreheads together and spoke in whispers. For a moment I was so overwhelmed by her closeness that all the questions flooding my brain vanished, and there was only her hand touching my face, brushing my cheek, my jaw.
“You had me so frightened,” Emma said. “I really thought I’d lost you.”
“I’m fine,” I said. I knew I hadn’t been, but it embarrassed me to be worried over.
“You weren’t. Not at all. You should apologize to the doctor.”
“I know. I was just freaked out. And I’m sorry if I scared you.”
She nodded and then looked away. Her eyes drifted briefly to the wall, and when they returned, a new hardness glittered in them.
“I like to think I’m strong,” she said. “That the reason I’m free right now instead of Bronwyn or Millard or Enoch is that I’m strong enough to be depended upon. That’s always been me—the one who could take anything. Like there’s a pain sensor inside me that’s not switched on. I can block out awful things and get on with it, do what needs doing.” Her hand found mine atop the sheets. Our fingers knotted together, automatic. “But when I think about you—how you looked when they pulled you off the ground, after those people …”
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