Star Cursed - Page 55/73

“Don’t do anything you’ll regret, Maura, please,” Tess says, and I think she’s talking about more than just their room.

Maura straightens, flipping a red curl away from her face. “You don’t need to worry about me anymore, Tess. I’m none of your concern.”

Chapter 15

WE ARE HALFWAY THROUGH OUR breakfast when the doorbell sounds. Sister Sophia slides a plate of steaming hotcakes onto our table and hurries away to answer it. Around the room, breakfast pauses. Is it the Brothers? Who else would be calling at such an early hour? Lucy and Rebekah are dueling with butter knives, practicing their animation; the knives clatter to the table as they drop their spells. Girls transform their textbooks into Scriptures. Color slowly leeches from the room as we attire ourselves in drab, Sisterly dresses. Next to me, Rory’s dress goes from a bright mandarin orange cascading with lace to a somber black wool. Transformation accomplished, she takes a hotcake and slathers it in butter. I push my plate aside.

“Mei?” Sister Sophia appears in the doorway. “Your brother’s here to see you. He’s waiting in the front parlor.”

“I bet it’s news about Li and Hua.” Mei pushes her chair back, her round face worried. “Cate, will you come with me?”

“Of course.” The chatter around the table picks up again, the room flooding with pink and violet and sapphire as girls release their glamours. Rilla drowns her hotcake in maple syrup.

I hide a smile, locking eyes with Tess. Mei will be relieved to hear that her sisters are home, safe and sound. It’s one bright spot in an otherwise dreadful day.

Only—I can tell from the minute we see Yang standing before the cold fireplace in his patched brown coat that something is wrong. This isn’t the merry, mischievous brother whose clever pranks Mei loves to recount. His full mouth tilts down at the corners, and his dark eyes dart anxiously away from hers. Whatever news he’s got, he doesn’t relish the telling of it.

Mei stops dead beside me, clenching my hand so tightly the bones crunch. She doesn’t bother with introductions. “What is it?”

“Li and Hua were recaptured this morning.” Yang swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “The guards came for them before dawn.”

“Recaptured?” Mei blinks at him. “I—I don’t understand.”

My stomach plummets. “Where did they take them?” I hope against hope that they’ll stand trial and be sent to Harwood. If it’s Harwood, I can save them. If it’s Harwood, we still changed Tess’s vision.

“The prison ship,” Yang says, confirming my fears. “They broke out of prison yesterday. Or—someone broke them out. Witches, they said. All the prisoners escaped, except for two that were killed by the guards. We were going to send the girls to Cousin Ling, but Mama wanted them to get a good night’s sleep first. They were packing their things when the guards came. An hour later, and they would have been gone.” He pounds a fist into his palm.

Mei presses her hand to her mouth. “There won’t be a trial?”

“No. The guards said we were lucky they weren’t arresting the whole lot of us for harboring fugitives.” Yang shakes his head, his shaggy black hair falling over his forehead. “They had a whole wagon full of prisoners out front. They were rearresting anyone they found at home, I guess. Hopefully, most of them were smart enough to hide out somewhere else.”

Mei sinks into the silk chair, her dress a sunny yellow against the ugly brown. I’d told her earlier that she looked like a daffodil. Now she’ll probably always associate the pretty dress with this dreadful news. I can tell she’s trying not to cry, but her lip wobbles.

“I may never see them again,” she says softly.

“Don’t think like that.” I kneel next to her.

“Aw, Mei,” Yang says, putting his hand on her shoulder.

She shrugs him off. “At least you got to say good-bye!”

“Did they say how long the sentence will be?” I ask.

Yang gulps. “Five years.”

I stare down at the ugly brown rug, wondering if they would have been released had we not interfered. Instead of preventing her vision, did Tess and I make it happen?

“At least it’s not Harwood,” he offers. “They have a chance, this way.”

Mei stands, squaring her shoulders, throwing off her despair in one quick movement. “They’ll make it through this. We’ve got to have faith.”

“In who, the Lord? The Brothers?” Yang scoffs.

“In Li and Hua. They’re strong girls. Smart. They’ll look out for each other.” Mei puts her hand on her brother’s arm. “You’re the oldest one at home now that Li’s gone. You have to watch out for the little ones and help Baba in the shop. And you mustn’t do anything rash, understand?”

Yang nods. He’s only fifteen himself. “I won’t.”

“Good. Get on home now,” Mei says, giving him a quick hug. “Be careful.”

“I will,” he says, shuffling off, face red. His pant legs and coat are still dripping from the long walk here through the snow.

Mei waves to him, shivering, from the open doorway. Vi’s father, Robert, is shoveling a path down the front steps. The sky is still a heavy gray, and snowflakes are still falling, but they’re the fat ones that mean the storm is tapering off. We watch until Yang disappears down the street, and then Mei walks back into the parlor, plops down onto the settee, and looks at me with utter despair.

“I should go home,” she says.

“I’m sure everyone would understand if you want to be with your family for a few days.” I crouch to light the fire.

“I mean for good. If I left, perhaps I could get work from someone on the quiet. I’m not the seamstress Li is, but I could try. Or I could look after the little ones so Mama could work,” Mei says.

I sprawl onto the hearth, rearranging the logs with the poker. “You’ll be seventeen in a few weeks. You’d have to find a husband right quick.”

Mei kicks off her red slippers and tucks her feet beneath her. “Baba has friends whose sons want Chinese wives. Their families might pay a dowry for me. I’m not doing any good here. How long will it be before the Brothers shut the convent school down entirely?”

“I’d be sad to see you go,” I admit, thrusting the poker into the fire again. A log crashes down with a shower of sparks. Selfishly, I hope she’ll stay and help me with the Harwood plan. My stomach tightens just thinking of it. It’s down to three days now. Elena’s been away this week, visiting family across town, but she was at breakfast. I’ll have to go to her and beg for help, loathe as I am to do it.

There’s a timid knock on the door, and Tess peers in at us. She’s smiling, expecting news of the jailbreak. “What happened to your sisters, Mei?”

I wave her away, nerves jangling. She’s going to be devastated. “I’ll tell you later, Tess.”

Her smile falters. “No. Tell me now.”

Mei props her chin on her knees. “They escaped yesterday, but they were recaptured this morning.”

“No.” Tess’s gray eyes go enormous. “How?”

“The guards were going house to house, rearresting all the prisoners, Yang said. They’re all being sentenced to five years on the prison ship.”