The man stood framed. With his height and the black hat he didn’t remove, he nearly brushed the top of the doorway. “I’m looking for a free girl.”
A chill like stepping into cold seawater started at Bridget’s ankles and raced up the length of her body. The fish in her stomach said, “Yes. Yes.” But mostly they said, “No. No.”
Matron stabbed a crooked finger to her place in the ledger—the knuckle round as a marble—her eyes flashing. “You’re late,” she said to the man. “The adoptable orphans are gone.”
He spoke through lips buried in white beard. “What about that one? She free?”
Bridget tried to make her lips smile, but they wouldn’t do it. He wore black clothes. His black coat hung to his knees, then black trousers and black boots. Not coal black, not the way she remembered Uncle Rowan’s clothes after a day in the mine. Nor was this man’s hair covered in dust. Long and white, it hung beneath the black hat he still hadn’t removed. Where his hair stopped beneath his ears, his beard had already begun, covering his cheeks and ending long and skinny at the second button on his coat. In the center of the bush was the crack she’d seen: the twisted twig of his mouth.
She knew the man! The realization made her breath suck in. That’s why she’d felt such cold the moment before. She’d dreamed him. Remembering made her clutch again at the red wool. She’d dreamed him her last night with Grandma Teegan. She’d cried out and Grandma Teegan, beside her on the cot, pulled her even closer.
“Only a dream,” Grandma Teegan said. Pretending she hadn’t also been dreaming the same dream, and that her own throat hadn’t also cried out. Pretending the awake world and the dream world were separate. Which Bridget knew wasn’t true. Too many dreams followed her out of the night, banged on the door of her daytime world, and stepped in.
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