“Sabotoge,” shouted Tholamew. He paced back and forth, shaking his thick hair with his hands. Between him and the front door stood the others, each tending to their clothes. Charlie’s arms were wrapped around himself, and though he looked the least wet he had begun to shiver. Bones hit a derby against his thigh to clear it of condensation, and Mike had begun to pull off his shoes. Matt “Stacka” Wood had the front of his linen shirt in his hands and was flapping it up and down, revealing a pale round stomach with each motion. Jay the Rope had his arms crossed and was leaning against the doorway with a frown on his face, staring outside.
“Just our luck, eh?” Bones asked while looking out at the pouring rain.
“Best game I ever played, to,” Jay said, shaking his head.
“Sabotoge,” Tholamew said again, still walking back and forth in a short line. “It was mine for sure, I saw it was mine, but then this cursed water came to snatch it away.” He stopped and shook a fist at the open doorway. He was skinny and in his mid-teens. His brows were dark, thick and unkempt and already he had signs of acne on his youthful face. His brown pants were rolled up to his knees, revealing long socks that went down into pennyloafers dark with moisture.
They stood in a large lobby area. At its back ascended a wide staircase which split into two smaller flights where it reached the back wall. Both sides of the lobby led into wide hallways lined with doors. As the boys stood around a woman’s voice called out loudly from upstairs.
“Bartholamew! Are you inside yet?” the voice said.
“Double sabotoge,” Tholamew said in a low voice. From down the stairs came a young woman panting and holding a bundle of blankets. Her hair was tied up with a white cloth and she wore an apron over a tall dress.
“There you are, good,” she said. “Can you come up and read to Fiona for a spell? I have to get some of the little ones into dry clothes before they catch cold. Those new boys are giving me troubles.”
Tholamew glanced to Stacka, who raised his brows for a second. “Certainly, ma’am, I’d be happy to,” Tholamew answered. “I’ll be up in a jiff.”
“Thank you, hon. She’s in her room with a couple others.” There was a shout from somewhere upstairs and the woman hurried back up and out of sight.
“Double sabotoge,” Tholamew said with a sigh.
“Who, who is Fiona?” Mike asked. He had both of his shoes off and was sitting against the wall under a painting of an old watermill. Stacka snickered.
“Only the swellest little redhead you ever seen,” Stacka started. He prodded Tholamew with his elbow. “He’s sweet on her, but he won’t say so,” Stacka said, clasping his hands next to a cheek and fluttering his eyes.
“She is nothing of the sort. Ignore the brute,” Tholamew said. “Maybe if you had the brains to read you would have the pleasure of being stuck inside with her every couple of days.” Jay snickered and Charlie smiled.
“Is, is she a little girl?” Mike asked. “I didn’t s-see any other little ones before.”
“Nah, she’s about my age,” Bones said.
“She can’t read, b-but she likes stories?” Mike said. The only answer was the sound of the heavy rain beating on the wooden roof.
“She can’t see,” Bones said after a few moments. “Had some accident before she got here, something messed up her eyes.”
“A tragedy, her story,” Tholamew began. “A child of literature, forced into a world of darkness.”
“See? He’s sweet on her, he is,” Stacka said, turning away to avoid Tholamew’s sneer.
“I just hope she doesn’t have that little rodent with her this time,” Tholamew said.
“Ha-ha, you mean Picadilly?” Charlie said.
“She’s utterly intolerable,” Tholamew said.
“She’s no harm to you,” Jay said. “She’s just sweet on your socks.” He laughed, a stilted combination of snorts and gasps. Tholamew shook his head.
“She really likes those socks, that’s for sure,” Bones said. He slapped Tholamew on the back. “You going up or not? You know Sarah’ll get after you if you don’t rush up there.”
“Fine, fine,” Tholamew said, dragging his feet as he crossed the lobby and ascended the stairs. When he had gone the others sat quietly for some time.
“S-so, what now?” Mike asked.
Bones leaned back and took a quick glance down both hallways, then bent down toward the rest. “I’ve got a swell idea,” he said.