Bailey could only toss and turn in the bed, not sleep. It was comfortable enough; in fact it was probably more comfort than they had experienced in months. The problem was that this was Rebecca’s room.
Nothing of the missing mage’s possessions remained, yet Bailey could tell. The room smelled like her. She must have lived here for quite some time. If Rebecca’s housemates were allowing someone else to use it, they weren’t expecting her back, at least not soon. Their motive for letting Bailey stay was a mystery, but if Rebecca was gone, there was little point to staying.
Finally giving up on sleep, Bailey threw the blankets off and got out of bed. All of the rooms were mostly empty. A bed and set of drawers in the bedroom. A couch and coffee table in the main room. Nothing that might serve as a distraction. Restlessness growing, Bailey approached the main door.
Sarah had warned against wandering the hallways alone. Opening the door, there was nothing obviously dangerous outside. Bailey stuck their head out and looked both ways. The hallway was empty and appeared just as it had when they had been escorted to the rooms. For an extended moment, Bailey considered taking the risk. It wasn’t fear that stopped them but curiosity. If they left, they would never know why these people had let them stay.
Closing the main door, they turned to the one that led to the kitchen. It opened easily, and the other side was obviously a kitchen. A double-sized refrigerator stood against one wall, and a large island took up the center of the room. Several stools were placed around it. One of them was occupied, and upon hearing the door open, Sarah looked up.
“Hello, Bailey. Come on and have a seat.”
It wasn’t an order. The woman seemed genuinely to want Bailey to sit down with her. That just added to their overall puzzlement. Sarah was a stranger; why would she be so friendly?
They walked in and sat on a stool across from the woman. Something was different about her, but it took Bailey a moment or two to realize that her hair was shorter and perhaps a little darker. There was something else, too, but it was impossible to pin down what else had changed.
“Did you get a haircut?”
Sarah chuckled. “Thanks for noticing, but no. I just changed my appearance a little. My special talent.”
“Ah.” Magic, then. Bailey wasn’t used to mages being so open with their gifts. This was her house, though, so maybe not so open after all. “Rebecca’s not coming back, is she?” They had considered slowly working up to the question but thought it might be better to try to catch Sarah off guard.
Sarah ducked her head a little, perhaps out of embarrassment. “I don’t know. I hope so. I think she’d be better off here.”
“Why did she leave?”
“I think that’s her story to tell, not mine. I’m sorry.”
Bailey nodded. As much as they wanted to know, Sarah’s deference to Rebecca’s privacy was something they could respect.
“Okay, but then why did you let me . . .”
A door suddenly materialized in the middle of the kitchen, interrupting the conversation. Julia walked through, looking much as she had before, and the door vanished.
“Oh, you’re both here. Good evening.”
Sarah gave a small wave.
“Hello again, Julia,” Bailey said.
“I hope the room is okay. If you need any furnishings for it, let me know.”
Sarah frowned. “Not stolen, I hope.”
Julia rolled her eyes. “No. I remember the rules. I have sources, legitimate ones, so you don’t need to worry.”
Bailey tried to interpret the dynamic between the two women, but couldn’t. They seemed friendly, yet guarded. There was something between them, but it wasn’t clear what it might be.
“I guess a television wouldn’t hurt.”
“No problem.” Julia looked at Sarah like she was daring the other to ask where it would come from. “One thing you should know . . . Sarah probably warned you about the hallway . . . But I wanted to reassure you that I won’t go into your rooms without your permission. Another one of the rules. As long as you’re a guest no one can get into those rooms without your approval. Unless there’s an actual emergency. Just in case you were worried about that.”
“I . . . I wasn’t.” That possibility hadn’t even occurred to Bailey, thought it probably should have. “But thank you for letting me know.”
“No problem. I’ll drop off the TV first thing tomorrow.” Another door appeared behind her.
“Julia. Wait.” Sarah stopped her. “I don’t want to intrude but . . . if you want to talk . . .”
Julia smiled, which seemed to catch Sarah by surprise. “Thanks Sarah. I know you want to help. I just need some time.” Then she stepped through the door and vanished.
There was silence in the kitchen as Sarah was lost in thought. Eventually, Bailey decided to leave her to her reflection. Just as they stood to leave, though, Sarah spoke.
“You want to know why I said you could stay? It’s for her. You seem to coax her out in a way no one else has been able to. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve seen and heard Julia more since you arrived than in the two months prior. It’s completely selfish, but I hope you’ll stay. And to make it worth your time, I am trying very hard to get in touch with Rebecca. Maybe you can even get her to return. Obviously, I’ll understand if you want to leave. But I hope you won’t.”
Sarah didn’t wait for a response. She stood and left the kitchen quickly – by an apparently normal door – as though she was afraid Bailey would reject her.
It was several minutes more before Bailey stood and went back to their room. They didn’t know what to make of Sarah or Julia. Only when they were back in bed did they realize they had forgotten to get something to eat.