The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)(11) by Heidi Heilig

He waved my words away. “It’s nothing. Besides,” he added with a grimace and a nod toward the captain’s cabin. “I can see you’ve already got a seagull around your neck.”

“The saying is ‘albatross.’” I sighed. “And this particular albatross is an inheritance from my mother. A family heirloom.”

“Heavy burden to bear. Makes me glad I never had a family.”

The breeze ran its fingers through my hair. I twisted my curls together and knotted them at the nape of my neck. “You didn’t leave anyone behind when you ran?”

A secret smile in his eyes didn’t reach his lips. “No one who would miss me. Not like you, if you go.”

I snorted. “You give the captain more credit than he deserves.”

Now the smile appeared. “I wasn’t talking about him.” He winked outrageously; I laughed. Then Kash reached over to tuck an errant strand of hair behind my ear; the hammock swayed gently, or was it the ship? Behind us, the city sparkled with lights, reflected in the black water. “You’ve never been a little curious?” he said. “About where you’re from?”

“I’m not from Hawaii. I was just born there. And even if I was curious, I wouldn’t want to be stuck there forever. There are so many other places to see.”

“Well,” he said then, straightening. “Seeing as how you’re saving up to run away, shall I take that trinket to your room and throw it on the pile?” He held out his hand.

His joke hit too close to home. “Who said anything about me running away?” But I thought again of my map of Rome and my little stack of bills, hidden at the bottom of my trunk—the first place anyone would look. I glared at him. “I wish you’d stay out of my room.”

“That’s a funny joke, princess, when you’re talking to a thief.”

I passed the necklace over. “Not a very good one, if you give away all your loot.”

“I enjoy it too much to stop.”

“Stealing jewelry from people in port?”

“Bringing you treasures you care nothing for.” He spoke lightly, but his words were too flippant and behind his eyes was something I recognized: loneliness. The moment stretched.

“I do,” I said finally. “I do care.” I looked at the necklace, glimmering in his palm, and saw it with new eyes: in all our scrambling for money, I’d never once considered selling off the jewelry he’d stolen for me. “Here.” I bowed my head and lifted my hair out of the way. Kashmir hesitated before he leaned in, his nimble hands darting around my throat and attaching the clasp at the nape of my neck. His breath smelled of cloves, and his fingers were warm.

I bit my lip, trying to remember the Farsi phrase I’d found in an Iranian guidebook and tucked away in my head for a moment like this. “Takashor.”

He laughed, showing his white teeth. “Tashakor,” he repeated.

“That’s what I said.”

“No, it’s not.”

I pursed my lips. “All right. Let me try again. Thank you, my friend,” I reiterated, this time in my own language. I put my hand to the pearl. “It’s beautiful.”

“As are you, amira,” he said, putting his hand over mine, and we both smiled like it didn’t mean anything.

The next morning, we left the harbor and returned down the Hudson, our sails glowing like paper lanterns in the sun. We passed the buoys at the mouth of the river and skimmed the foamy waves of the green Atlantic as my fears approached and circled like sharks.

Not a cloud marred the sky and the horizon was clear; soon the coast of Long Island was a distant rim on a bowl of mazarine blue. Bee had her hand lightly on the wheel, and Rotgut sat in the crow’s nest, his feet swinging like a child’s in a big chair. I leaned over the rail at the bow, tugging at the pearl of my necklace. The captain was still in his cabin, but Kashmir was trimming the sails.

“A little help, amira?”

Side by side, we cleared the deck, as we did before any Navigation . . . or attempted Navigation. As I worked, it was easy to forget, but after we finished securing the boom, we had nothing left to do but wait.

I stood in the meager shade of the mast. The wind from the south toyed with my hair and made the sea shimmer. It was foolish to worry, I told myself. The map wouldn’t work. No matter what my father believed.

Then the door to the captain’s cabin creaked open, and he emerged. I stood up straight as Bee stepped aside and Slate took the wheel, staring out over the bow. I stared too, watching for fog and seeing none. My hand returned to the pearl at my throat.

Kashmir elbowed me, and I let out the breath I hadn’t known I was holding. I elbowed him back, so glad he was near. Because in the back of my mind, I did not doubt the map, after all.

“So, what do you think? Combien de temps jusqu’a ce qu’il renonce?” Kash said, glancing at Slate. “How long until he gives up?” Kashmir had come to the ship with a solid grasp of a handful of languages; I had taught him how to read, and in return, he’d taught me French, so he could make private jokes in public. “Les jours? Les semaines?”

“Oh, weeks, definitely,” I answered with forced levity. “He’ll stare at the horizon until he drops, then wake up and try again tomorrow. We’re in for a long wait.”

“Ah, well.” Kash folded his arms and looked over the rail into the water; it was a deep jade, a shade darker than his eyes. “Rotgut tells me you can catch lobsters here.”

“He told me too. He’s very excited.”

“He’s always excited when it comes to food,” Kash said.

“Can you blame him? He was a monk before he was a cook.”

“Speaking of food, are you hungry for breakfast? There’s cold pizza in the galley. Unless Rotgut’s eaten it all.”

I laughed. “Not yet, but I’m glad we’re stocked up in case he has us drifting for . . .” I turned to point my chin at the captain, and saw his eyes. They were faraway and focused on something else, something on the horizon, something the rest of us couldn’t see.

The words lodged in my throat as I followed his gaze. The fog had come just off the bow, pale and shimmering like organza. Behind us, New York’s hazy coast had evaporated like dew. For moment, the whole world was still and my blood rushed loud in my ears. Then the wind picked up again, in a different direction, twisting my curls past my face and bringing a new scent, sweet as milk after the briny breeze that raced along the shores of Long Island. The mist was melting away as quickly as it had appeared, revealing a wide sea the color of cobalt.

The map had worked.

My thoughts scattered like chipped ice, and my vision blackened at the edges, as though I was staring through a spyglass. For a moment, I thought the Pacific Ocean would be the last thing I ever saw. Then warm hands gripped my arms, and I sagged against Kashmir’s chest, my breath burning in my lungs.

“Amira?” He lifted my chin and I focused on his eyes, seeing fear there for the first time since the day he’d come aboard.

“I’m fine.” I locked my knees and pushed against him, trying to find my footing. Then I ran my hands over my arms, as if to reassure myself I was still here. “I’m fine.”

“Land to starboard!” Rotgut called from his perch. “Steamer aways aft.”

I dragged in a gulp of air and shaded my eyes. I could barely make out a smudge of lead gray that would, within a few hours, resolve itself into a string of islands, as Rotgut had said, away off starboard: the one place and time in the world I didn’t want to visit.

It had been so easy. Almost as if we were welcome here.

“Make ready!” Bee reminded us as she hauled at the halyard, raising our sails. The Temptation creaked as she swung around and caught the following wind.

“Right,” I said aloud, as much to shake myself into action as to answer her. “Nineteenth century, nineteenth century, ah, running lights.” The thoughts were coming slow, but they were coming. By 1850, both the United States and the United Kingdom had mandated colored signal lamps aboard ship. We were along a major shipping route, after all; the steamship puffing away south and east of our position was not the only other ship we’d see today.

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