The room he occupied was not much bigger than a horse stall, holding only a bed and a chair. There were cushions, pillows, framed needlework on the walls, a lamp with beaded fringe. Had he not been so ill, he would have gone mad in the overstuffed little room.
The gadjo who had brought him there… Hathaway… was a tall, slender man with pale yellow hair. His gentle manner, his diffidence, made Kev hostile. Why had Hathaway saved him? What could he want from a Romany boy? Kev refused to talk to the gadjo and wouldn't take medicine. He rejected any overture of kindness. He owed this Hathaway nothing. He hadn't wanted to be saved, hadn't wanted to live. So he lay there flinching and silent whenever the man changed the bandage on his back.
There was only one time Kev spoke, and that was when Hathaway had asked about the tattoo.
"What is this mark for?"
"It's a curse," Kev said through gritted teeth. "Don't speak of it to anyone, or the curse will fall on you, too."
"I see." The man's voice was kind. "I will keep your secret. But I'll tell you that as a rationalist, I don't believe in such superstitions. A curse has only as much power as the subject gives it."
Stupid gadjo, Kev thought. Everyone knew that to deny a curse was to bring very bad luck on oneself.
It was a noisy household, full of children. Kev could hear them beyond the closed door of the room he had been put in. But there was something else… a faint, sweet presence nearby. He felt it hovering, outside the room, just out of his reach. And he yearned for it, hungered for relief from the darkness and fever and pain.
Amid the clamor of children bickering, laughing, singing, he heard a murmur that raised every hair on his body. A girl's voice. Lovely, soothing. He wanted her to come to him. He willed it as he lay there, his wounds mending with torturous slowness. Come to me…
But she never appeared. The only ones who entered the room were Hathaway and his wife, a pleasant but wary woman who regarded Kev as if he were a wild animal that had found its way into her civilized home. And he behaved like one, snapping and snarling whenever they came near him. As soon as he could move under his own power, he washed himself with the basin of warm water they left in his room. He would not eat in front of them but waited until they had left a tray by the bed. His entire will was devoted to healing enough to be able to escape.
On one or two occasions the children came to look at him, peeking around the edge of the partially open door. There were two little girls named Poppy and Beatrix, who giggled and squealed with happy fright when he growled at them. There was another, older daughter, Amelia, who glanced at him with the same skeptical assessment the mother had. And there was a tall blue-eyed boy, Leo, who looked not much older than Kev himself.
"I want to make it clear," the boy had said from the doorway, his voice quiet, "that no one intends to do you any harm. As soon as you are able to leave, you are free to do so." He had stared at Kev's sullen, feverish face for a moment before adding, "My father is a kind man. A Samaritan. But I'm not. So don't even think of injuring or insulting any of the Hathaways, or you'll answer to me."
Kev respected that. Enough to give Leo a slight nod. Of course, if Kev were well, he could have bested the boy easily, sent him to the ground bleeding and broken. But Kev had begun to accept that this odd little family really didn't mean him harm. Nor did they want anything from him. They had merely provided care and shelter as if he were a stray dog. They seemed to expect nothing in return.
That didn't lessen his contempt for them and their ridiculously soft, comfortable world. He hated them all, nearly as much as he hated himself. He was a fighter, a thief, steeped in violence and deceit. Couldn't they see that? They seemed to have no comprehension of the danger they had brought into their own home.
After a week, Kev's fever had eased and his wound had mended enough to allow him to move. He had to leave before something terrible happened, before he did something. So Kev woke early one morning and dressed with painstaking slowness in the clothes they had given him, which had belonged to Leo.
It hurt to move, but Kev ignored the fierce pounding in his head and the jabbing fire in his back. He filled his coat pockets with a knife and fork from his food tray, a candle stub, a sliver of soap. The first light of dawn shone through the little window above the bed. The family would be awake soon. He started for the door, felt dizzy, and half-collapsed onto the mattress. Gasping, he tried to collect his strength.
There was a tap at the door, and it opened. His lips parted to snarl at the visitor.
"May I come in?" he heard a girl ask softly.
The curse died on Kev's lips. His senses were overwhelmed. He closed his eyes, breathing, waiting.
It's you. You're here.
"You've been alone for so long," she said, approaching him, "I thought you might want some company. I'm Winnifred."
Kev drew in the scent and sound of her, his heart pounding. Carefully he eased to his back, ignoring the pain that shot through him. He opened his eyes.
He had never thought any gadji could compare to Romany girls. But this one was remarkable, an otherworldly creature as pale as moonlight, her hair silver-blond, her features formed with tender gravity. She looked warm and innocent and soft. Everything he wasn't. His entire being responded so acutely to her that he reached out and seized her with a quiet grunt.
She gasped a little but held still. Kev knew it wasn't right to touch her. He didn't know how to be gentle. He would hurt her without even trying. And yet she relaxed in his hold, and stared at him with those steady blue eyes.