Strangers, Storms, and Scars – Part 4

Sienna smiled at him. For all she was dangerous, adept at protecting herself and her companion on their travels, and her talents had been described by several lawmen to rival that of master thieves, Sienna’s wants were simple. She never dreamed of laying hands on gems or gold, anything of money value, that was not her own.

‘All we want is somewhere to stay. Somewhere we don’t have to pay. Can you help us out?’

‘Why should I?’ Nathan asked, showing unexpected nervy boldness that endeared him to Sienna further. ‘I don’t know you. You’re not supposed to be here. You could be criminals.’

Nadia laughed brightly at his use of the word “could.” They were travellers. In that day and age, all travellers could at one point be described as criminals, petty or otherwise.

‘Why should I help you?’

‘Because we didn’t kill you before,’ Sienna said, but not without another smile when Nathan blanched. ‘But not killing someone’s not quite the same thing as giving them a hand, I know. Give us the chance, and you’ll get a favour. Come on, Nathan. The only things we’ve taken and plan to take won’t be missed. Just junk.’

‘Old electronics to strip and sell,’ Nadia piped up, showing him the hard drive she’d filched from the storeroom.

‘And if you invite us to stay, it’s not like we’re breaking any laws being here,’ Sienna wheedled further. ‘Just entering via a more interesting route.’

‘We’re not supposed to let anyone in … if Ms Hackney found out I’d be in real trouble, and so would you.’

Nadia laughed again, this time at the thought that any Ms Hackney could get she or Sienna in trouble. Sienna hushed her. ‘It’s a communal home, right? You can’t invite friends to stay here with you?’

‘Friends?’

Sienna slung an arm around his shoulder. Nathan started at the friendly motion. ‘I’d say we’d already been through a lot together. Friend?’

‘Friend?’ Nadia echoed hopefully.

Nathan looked trapped, but at the same time, he felt suddenly inexplicably happy. Grateful he’d ventured up there in the dark when his roommate had said he was mad, hearing things that weren’t there.

‘And no one has to find out,’ Nadia told him reassuringly. ‘There are enough rooms here, I’ll bet. You can hide us somewhere we can pass the night. Tell us how to get in and out without being seen. You know this place back to front, don’t you?’

‘Better than most,’ Nathan admitted with a small smile. ‘I like to go walking. Exploring.’

‘You do that in here?’ Nadia asked curiously. ‘What’s wrong with outside?’

‘We can’t go outside,’ Nathan said, wide-eyed, as though Nadia were mad to suggest it.

‘You can’t invite friends to stay with you, and you can’t go outside?’ Sienna said, frowning deeply as Nadia’s mouth opened in a little pink circle of surprise. ‘What kind of place is this?’

‘Is that not right?’ Nathan asked, confused. The girls exchanged a glance.

‘It’s strange. Are you all sick here, or something? Or are you part of a cult?’

‘I don’t think so …’ Nathan trailed off, perturbed by his new friends’ suddenly sombre expressions.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ Nadia said, giving Sienna a look saying they’d discuss it later. ‘Have you got somewhere we can sleep? Sorry, we’re kinda tired. We were travelling all day.’

‘Outside?’

‘Of course outside!’ Nadia exclaimed.

‘If this Ms Hackney says not to let anyone in, where do you think they’d be trying to get in from?’ Sienna questioned Nathan. ‘Where do you think we came in from?’

‘But it’s dangerous out there,’ Nathan protested. ‘That’s what Ms Hackney says. Too dangerous to be out there. It’s not safe.’

Sienna and Nadia bypassed his concerns as best they could, telling him they’d talk more later. Nathan, still overwhelmed at the thought he’d just made friends with two girls who routinely traversed land under open sky and sun, quietly led them to an unoccupied room a few levels below. Then he gave them directions, describing how to reach the front door without climbing through an upstairs window and down the side of the building.

The two dumped their belongings and each sat on one of the twin beds. ‘The only time anyone should come in here is to clean,’ Nathan whispered. ‘Hide under the beds or in the cupboard if someone comes, but no one cleans empty rooms very well. I sleep on the floor below you. Room eleven-eighteen. If Ms Hackney finds you …’ he trailed off, looking exceedingly nervous.

‘She won’t,’ the girls reassured him. ‘You can’t get us anything to eat?’ Nadia asked hopefully.

He shook his head apologetically. ‘Not until breakfast.’

‘Where are the kitchens?’ Sienna asked. Nathan’s black and blue eyes expanded alarmingly.

‘Don’t! They’re right by Ms Chang and Mr Thompson’s rooms!’

‘Fine, we won’t,’ Sienna promised. She thought about breaking her word, empty stomach rumbling uncomfortably as she tried to ease her weary body into sleep, but chose not to. Breaking a promise was no way to begin a new friendship.

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