Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1)(17)

by Seanan McGuire

Dinner was worse. Nancy was sitting across from Jack and Jill when the girl with the brown braids walked up to the table and dumped her soup over Jack’s head. “Oops,” she said, flatly. “I slipped.”

Jack sat rigidly unmoving, soup dripping down her forehead and running down her nose. Jill gasped, leaping to her feet. “Loriel!” she shrieked, the sound of her voice bringing all other conversation in the dining hall grinding to a halt. “How could you?”

“It was an accident,” said Loriel. “Just like your sister there ‘accidentally’ took apart Angela’s guinea pig, and ‘accidentally’ murdered Sumi. She’s going to get caught, you know. This would all go a lot faster if she’d confess.”

“Loriel sneezed in that before she poured it on you,” said the girl’s companion to Jack, a look of fake concern on her face. “Just thought you’d want to know.”

Jack began to tremble. Then, still dripping soup, she jerked away from the table and bolted for the door, leaving Jill to run after her. Half the students burst out laughing. The other half stared after her in mute satisfaction, clearly condoning anything that made Jack miserable. She had already been tried and found guilty by a jury of her peers. All that remained was for the law to catch up.

“You’re horrible,” said a voice. Nancy was only a little surprised to realize that it was hers. She pushed back her chair, leaving her own dinner of grapes and cottage cheese relatively untouched, and glared at the two. “You’re horrible people. I’m glad we didn’t go through the same door, because I would hate to have traveled to a world that didn’t teach its tourists any manners.” She turned and stalked away, head held high, following the trail of soup out of the dining room and down the hall to the basement stairs.

“You walk slow, but you move fast. How do you do that?” said Kade, catching up with her at the top of the stairs. He followed her gaze down into the darkness. “That’s where the Addams twins live. They were in your room for a while, until the kid who had the basement before them graduated.”

“Had he been to the same world?”

“No, he visited a race of mole people. I think he realized he enjoyed sunshine and bathing, and sort of gave up on the idea of going back.”

“Oh.” Nancy took a tentative step down. “Is she going to be all right?”

“Jack doesn’t like being messy. They have their own bathroom. She’ll be all cleaned up and back in tip-top faintly morbid shape before group is over.” Kade shook his head. “I just hope this is as bad as it gets. Jack can handle a little soup, and she worked for a mad scientist; for her, the wrath of the locals is all part of a day’s work. But if people want to get violent, she’ll fight back, and that’ll just prove that they were in the right to accuse her.”

“This is awful,” said Nancy. “I let my parents send me here because Miss West said she understood what had happened to me and could help me learn how to live with it.”

“And because you were hoping that if you understood it, you’d be able to do it again,” said Kade. Nancy didn’t say anything. He laughed ruefully. “Hey, it’s okay. I understand. Most of us are here because we want to be able to open our doors at will, at least at first. Sometimes the desire goes away. Sometimes the door comes back. Sometimes we just have to learn to deal with being exiles in our home countries.”

“What if we can’t?” asked Nancy. “What happens to us then?”

Kade was silent for a long moment. Then he shrugged, and said, “I guess we open schools for people who still have what we want most in the world. Hope.”

“Sumi said ‘hope’ was a bad word.”

“Sumi wasn’t wrong. Now come on. Let’s get to group before we get in trouble.”

They walked silently through the halls, and they saw no one moving in the rooms around them. The idea that sticking together was the only way to be safe seemed to have taken root with preternatural speed. Nancy found herself matching her steps to Kade’s, hurrying to keep up with his longer stride. She didn’t like hurrying. It was indecorous and would have resulted in a scolding back ho—back in the Underworld. Here, however, it was necessary, even encouraged, and there was no reason to feel guilty about it. She tried to hold to that thought as she and Kade stepped into the room where group was being held.

Everyone turned to look at them. Loriel actually sneered. “Couldn’t get the little killer out of her basement?”

“That’s quite enough, Miss Youngers,” said Lundy sharply. “We have already agreed to stop speculating about who may have harmed Sumi.”

She gets a name now, not a title and surname, thought Nancy. That’s not right. The dead deserve more dignity, not less. Dignity is all the dead possess. Aloud, she said nothing, only made her way to an open chair and sat. She was gratified when Kade took the seat next to her. Loriel’s glare intensified. Apparently Nancy wasn’t the only one who found Kade beautiful, although she would have been willing to bet she was the only one who found his beauty more aesthetic than romantic.

“You agreed,” said Loriel. “The rest of us are scared. Who would kill her like that? And mutilating the body afterward? That’s just sick. We have a right to want to know what’s going on, and how to keep ourselves safe!”

“I’m reasonably sure she bled out from her injuries, given the mess; corpses don’t bleed as much,” said Jack. Everyone in the room turned to see the twins, freshly scrubbed and wearing clean clothes, as they made their entrance. Jack looked more the old-fashioned professor than ever, wearing a tweed vest over a long-sleeved white shirt that buttoned at the wrists. Jill was wearing a cream-colored gown that Nancy would have considered sleepwear, not something to wear to group therapy. “Whoever killed her was no scientist.”

“What do you mean?” asked one of the few boys, a tall Latino kid who was spinning a long piece of wood carved to resemble an ulna between his fingers. Nancy felt an odd kinship when she looked at him. Perhaps he’d been to someplace like her Underworld, filled with shadows, secrets, and safety. Perhaps he would understand if she went to him and spoke of stillness and respect for the dead.

But this was not the time. Jack met the question with a haughty sniff, and a too-calm, “I saw her body, like the rest of you. I know some of you have decided that I’m responsible for her death. I know further that those of you who believe my guilt will probably refuse to believe anything else. Draw on what you know of me. If I had decided to start killing my classmates, would I have left a body?”