I let out a deep breath. Eden. Of course it’s Eden—still acting like a little engineer even with the plague. At least I managed to get some medicine. Everything’s going to work out. Eden will be okay for a while, and I don’t mind dealing with John’s lectures. As for my lost pendant, well . . . for an instant I’m glad that my mother can’t find out about this, because it would break her heart.
“I couldn’t find any cures, and I didn’t have time to do a search.”
“It’s okay,” Tess replies. She prepares a fresh bandage for my arm. I see my worn old cap hanging on the back of her chair. “Your family has some time. We’ll get another chance.”
“Whose house are we in?”
As soon as I ask this question, I hear a door close, then footsteps in the room next to ours. I look at Tess in alarm. She just nods quietly at me and tells me to relax.
A man walks in, shaking dirty drops of rain from an umbrella. He carries a brown paper bag in his hands. “You’re awake,” he says to me. “That’s good.” I study his face. He’s very pale and a little chubby, with bushy eyebrows and kindly eyes. “Girl,” he says, looking at Tess, “do you think he can leave by tomorrow night?”
“We’ll be on our way by then.” Tess picks up a bottle of something clear—alcohol, I guess—and wets the edge of the bandage with it. I flinch when she touches it to where a bullet had grazed my arm. It feels like a match lit against my skin. “Thank you again, sir, for letting us stay here.”
The man grunts, his expression uncertain, and awkwardly nods his head. He looks around the room as if searching for something he’s lost. “I’m afraid that’s as long as I can keep you. The plague patrol’s going to do another sweep soon.” He hesitates. Then he pulls two cans from the paper bag and sets them down on a dresser. “Some chili for you. It’s not the best, but it’ll fill you up. I’ll bring you some bread, too.” Before either of us can say anything, he hurries out of the room with the rest of his groceries.
For the first time, I look down at my body. I’m clothed in a brown pair of army trousers, and my bare chest and arm are bandaged. So is one of my legs. “Why’s he helping us?” I ask Tess in a low voice.
She looks up from wrapping the fresh bandage around my arm. “Don’t be so suspicious. He had a son who worked at the warfront. He died of the plague a few years ago.” I yelp when Tess ties a finishing knot on the bandage. “Breathe in for me.” I do as she says. Several sharp pains stab me as she presses her fingers delicately against different parts of my chest. Her cheeks turn pink as she works. “You might have a crack in one of your ribs, but definitely no breaks. You should heal quickly enough. Anyway, the man didn’t ask our names and so I didn’t ask his. Best not to know. I told him why you got yourself injured like this. I think it reminded him of his son.”
I lay my head back down on the pillow. My body hurts all over. “I lost both my knives,” I mutter, so that the man doesn’t hear me. “They were good knives.”
“Sorry to hear it, Day,” Tess says. She brushes a stray hair from her face and leans over me. She holds up a clear plastic bag with three silver bullets inside. “I found these caught in the folds of your clothes and figured you might want them for your slingshot or something.” She stuffs the bag into one of my pockets.
I smile. When I first met Tess three years ago, she was a skinny ten-year-old orphan rummaging through trash bins in the Nima sector. She’d needed my help so much in those early years that I sometimes forget just how much I rely on her now.
“Thanks, cousin,” I say. She murmurs something I can’t understand, and looks away.
After a while, I fall back into a deep sleep. When I wake up again, I don’t know how much time has passed. The headache is gone and it’s dark outside. It might be the same day, although I feel like I’ve slept far too long for that. No soldiers, no police. We’re still alive. I lie unmoving for a moment, wide-awake in the darkness. Looks like our caretaker hasn’t reported us. Yet.
Tess is dozing on the edge of the bed with her head tucked into her arms. Sometimes I wish I could find her a good home, some kind family willing to take her in. But every time I have this thought, I push it away—because Tess would be back on the Republic’s grid if she ever joined a real family. And she’d be forced to take the Trial because she never took it before. Or worse, they’d learn about her affiliation with me and interrogate her. I shake my head. Too naive, too easily manipulated. I wouldn’t trust her with anyone else. Besides . . . I’d miss her. The first two years I’d spent wandering the streets by myself were lonely ones.
I gingerly move my ankle in a circle. It’s a little stiff, but otherwise pretty painless—no torn muscles, no serious swelling. My bullet wound still burns and my ribs ache something fierce, but this time I’m strong enough to sit up without too much trouble. My hands go automatically up to my hair, which is loose and hanging past my shoulders. With one hand, I pull it into a messy tail and twist it into a tight knot. Then I lean over Tess, grab my beaten newsboy cap from the chair, and pull it on. My arms burn from the effort.
I smell chili and bread. There’s a bowl with some steam rising from it on the dresser next to the bed and a small loaf of bread balanced on the bowl’s edge. I think back to the two cans our caretaker had placed on the dresser.
My stomach growls. I devour it all.