The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)(10) by Heidi Heilig

His eyes refocused, and he met my stare with a steady gaze, but the silence stretched between us like a rope about to snap. Was that doubt? I turned my face so he wouldn’t see my expression, but when my eyes fell on the Sutfin map, my smug smile wilted. I wanted the map to fail, but why take joy in tormenting him? At heart, all he wanted was an escape, and that I understood—only too well. “Tell me more about Navigating,” I said then, too eagerly, breathless at the thought of freedom.

Slate laughed a little. “Why should I?”

“Because . . . because I asked.” He laughed again, louder, and I stiffened. “Please?”

He did not answer me. He was so quiet I couldn’t even hear him breathing. Finally I faced him; he was watching me and his expression was serious. “Why, Nixie?” he asked again, but it was clear he already knew.

Still, I did not answer. If I told him the truth—that I would leave him behind and never look back, that I longed to go anywhere and everywhere he was not—he would argue; worse, if I confirmed it, he would never teach me. “Because I helped you,” I said at last.

He made a face. “We don’t strike bargains, Nixie, not between you and me. We don’t haggle over things.”

I clenched my jaw. “I’ll try to remember that the next time you ask for money to buy a map.”

“This is a good map, Nixie,” he said, stabbing another dumpling. “There won’t be a next time.”

I went back outside, leaving Slate to his dinner. There was no sign now of the party; the deck was clear for tomorrow. I leaned on the rail, staring without seeing at the cars moving along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The warmth of the day had long faded, and the night air was quite cool; the condensation gave the headlights halos.

I pressed my thumb between my brows. I already regretted arguing with the captain. What had been the point? He was certain—or at least, he said he was—and nothing I could say would turn him from his tack.

At least I’d gotten something out of it. It was a small thing—one bright minnow in a school—but the captain had always been tight-lipped about Navigation. Now I knew why. Had he finally discovered the map I’d taken? No . . . he could have guessed I’d want to strike out on my own someday. Besides, he didn’t know his collection well enough to notice one map missing.

I’d tucked it away in my cabin, at the bottom of my sea chest, along with my entire life savings: six hundred and forty-two dollars, after today. The map was small, fragile, the color of tea: Carthage during Roman rule, 165 A.D. There, white salt, so cheap in modern America, could be traded for gold, or jewels. Or a small, fast ship of my own.

Slate had so many maps of his past; why shouldn’t I have a map of my future? I couldn’t spend my life stuck on my father’s ship, tossed by his tempestuous moods, waiting for the day when he managed to steer us directly onto the rocky shore where his siren sang. I wanted my freedom, even though it likely meant never seeing the rest of the crew again. Once I knew how to Navigate, nothing could keep me aboard the Temptation.

Then I heard bare feet on the deck behind me, and the silver sound of tiny ankle bells. “I like it when you don’t try to sneak up on me.”

“I know,” Kash said, coming to stand beside me. “You’re up late.”

“It’s my watch.”

“Ah, well, then you won’t mind if I borrow your hammock?” He held up the bundled canvas and raised an eyebrow.

I had a room, of course, belowdecks; we all did. There was plenty of room on the Temptation that on any other ship would be taken up by a larger crew, or a motor, or any number of things in any number of eras. Still, I preferred to sleep on deck on nice nights. My room was too empty to lend itself to easy dreams. This was in sharp contrast to the rest of the crew, who filled their rooms to bursting with relics or reminders of their lives before they’d come aboard: locks of hair and curved bull horns, baskets, bells, begging bowls. I hadn’t really had a life to bring with me.

We strung the hammock between the mast and the rail. Kashmir bowed graciously. “After you?” He waited till I’d settled in, cross-legged, before climbing in to sit facing me. The hammock barely swung; he was a natural acrobat. The Englishman in Calcutta had never stood a chance of catching him.

He must have seen it in my face—the admiration—and he put his hands behind his head, feigning a stretch, giving me a smug look. I rolled my eyes. “You’re blocking the view.”

“I am the view, amira,” he said, framing himself with his hands—his crisp linen shirt, his careless hair—then laughed. After a moment, though, his humor faded a bit, as did mine. “I’m sorry you’ll miss your talk about Armenia.”

“Well, thanks to you, I did have a chance to learn something interesting.” I pulled a newspaper clipping out of my pocket, an article from the paper he’d stolen for me. “ISLAND UN-DISCOVERED. Sandy Island . . . a little dot we have on an 1850s whaling map of Australia. Up until the other day, you could see it on Google maps too, but it didn’t come up on satellite view. A bunch of scientists tried to visit and they couldn’t find it, so Google erased it.”

He frowned. “What happened to it?”

“It might have been an atoll, finally covered by the sea. Or maybe it was a myth in someone’s cosmology. Either way, it’s gone now.”

“Ah, well. Nothing lasts forever.”

I kicked him, making the hammock sway. “That’s very glib. We have shelves full of maps of places that only used to exist. Everything unique is vanishing.”

“The age of exploration is long over, amira. Now it’s the age of globalization. And once everyone agrees something is one way, all the other ways it could have been disappear.”

I folded the slip of paper back into a neat little square, the ink smudging my fingers. “I wish we didn’t all have to agree.”

“We don’t. You yourself are very disagreeable,” he said, still grinning. “Don’t worry, I still love you. Which reminds me—” He reached into his shirt pocket and drew out a slender silver chain upon which dangled a black pearl set like a bud between two leaves of filigreed silver. He held it up before my eyes like a hypnotist’s pendulum.

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes. Did you think your only gift from me would be a secondhand newspaper?”

“It’s not like you paid for either of them.”

“How do you know? I had all that money from the captain.”

“Because I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“Doesn’t that depend on the map?” I rolled my eyes, and he laughed. “Come, amira! Yesterday you were glad I was a thief.”

I folded my arms. “I know, but still.”

“A compelling retort. Then again, if I weren’t a thief, we’d never have met.”

“Good point,” I said, finally smiling. “Although maybe more for my side than yours.”

Kashmir had come running to the Temptation, a skinny stowaway from a fantastical city in the Vaadi Al-Maas where snakes the size of the mainmast slithered through a carpet of diamonds the size of plums. I’d been on watch the night he’d clambered aboard and pressed behind the bulwark; he’d only had enough time to meet my eyes and put his finger to his lips before a troop of guards came trotting down the street in stiff formation, their shamshir glinting in the light of the sickle-shaped moon. When the captain of the guard glanced my way, I pointed down the street.

I should have guessed Kashmir would become a nuisance. And a bad influence. But most importantly, a friend.

And all in the last two years, in times and places I’d never have visited had my history been different. Slate himself had warned me, a few days after he’d learned about our newest crew member: “He wasn’t always here, and he won’t be here forever.” I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry at the memory. My father only had two years with Lin. Would it be worse to lose Kashmir, or never to have known him? For a moment, I pitied Slate as much as I resented him.

The necklace blurred in my vision and I blinked rapidly. Then I held out my hand, and Kashmir dropped the pearl into it, the chain pooling like mercury in my palm. Who had he stolen it from? Did she know it’d been taken, or did she think it was only lost? It would soon join the rest of my growing collection: a gold bracelet, ruby earrings, even a thick platinum band too big to fit any of my fingers. I never wore the stuff, but Kash took any excuse to give me stolen jewelry. He didn’t seem to care that I didn’t enjoy acquiring it half so well as he did, and it tickled him to take theft day literally. “Thanks, Kash.”

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