His eyes grew wide, wider, and the widest. He whispered, awed, “You know about switchboards?”
That was it. Hook, line, sinker. The rest of us didn’t even need to be there as we ate because Cyclone was shooting question after question at me, all about robotics, engineering, switchboards, and what kind of wiring would make the most cohesive connection. I could almost see the rest glaze over in boredom, but no one was protesting.
Matt seemed to be getting a kick out of the whole conversation. He kept watching Cyclone, me, then swinging his head to Quinn and smirking. By the end of our last course, which was just two spoonfuls of sherbet with a mint leaf over the top, Seraphina was yawning. She lifted her hands to rub at her eyes. Quinn caught one, stopping her.
“Don’t mess your eyes up, darling.” She swept the table, lingering on me, then Cyclone. “Honey, your own tutor is coming as well. You have just enough time to go to your room, have a play or a nap, before Benjamin arrives.”
Cyclone’s nose wrinkled up. “I want to work on my robot. Can Bailey stay and help me?”
I was Bailey now, not Miss Bailey.
I felt a nice tickle in the back of my throat at that one.
“No.” Quinn was no-nonsense, standing from the table as Theresa came in to start collecting the rest of the dishes. “Benjamin travels a great distance to teach you German. He’s very expensive, so we don’t want to waste his time. Seraphina, sweetheart…” She ran her hand down Seraphina’s hair, tucking the end of her braid over her shoulder. “Victoria will be here soon. Are you ready for your lessons of the day?”
Seraphina, who I still hadn’t heard say a word, snuck a look at me, then nodded at her mother. “Hmm.”
“Pronounce your words, dear.” Quinn cupped her daughter lightly under her chin. Her tone was disapproving, but the smile was all love. “That’s the basics of being a lady in our society. The world will expect you to use your words. Understand?”
She squeezed softly.
Seraphina smiled, whispering, “Yes, Mother. I understand.”
“Good.” Her hand dropped, but her smile spread bigger. “You’ll do amazing.”
“Thank you, Mother.” Another whisper.
Quinn nodded to me, that smile dimming. “It was lovely to have you for lunch. I assume that Matthew will see to you from here now?”
Matt stood, his gaze a little dark and locked on his stepmother. “But of course, Quinn. Being such good friends with Kash, and coming here in her time of need, she’s practically family.” He paused a second. “Just like the Bonhams.”
Quinn’s eyes snapped to his, and she froze in place. Her face took on a haggard look, then a blink, and she was smiling again. “Drew and Amanda Bonham are wonderful friends of ours. I don’t think Miss Bailey will be the same. She’ll return home before long.”
Where was the popcorn?
A slow grin spread. Matt added, “Yes. I’m aware how close the Bonhams are with you, and you never know with Bailey. I won’t let her down.”
I waited. Seraphina and Cyclone paused too. Quinn and Matt were at an impasse, but Quinn forced out a wry chuckle. “Yes. Of course. I’ll see you both later, hmm? I’m off to a charity meeting.” She turned, a bit clipped in her movement. “Seraphina, let me know when Victoria arrives, would you?”
“Of course, Mother.”
Quinn left the room.
Tiny arms wrapped around my waist. Cyclone tipped his head back, looking up at me. “We have family movie night when Dad comes home from his trips. Kash comes too, sometimes. Would you come without him, if he didn’t?”
He was inviting me to family … Emotion ripped through me. “Of course I will.” My little brother asked, so I was going to make it happen. I grinned back down at him, hugging him. “If you need help with your robot, you can ask me. I’ll see if I can help.”
“Thanks.” And he was off, running from the room. “Bye, Matt!”
Matt chuckled, coming to stand next to me. “The kid’s in love with you.”
Another small hand fitted in my hand, and that warmth skyrocketed to something deeper. Seraphina wasn’t looking at me. She stood at an angle, half turned away, but I heard her whisper, “It was nice meeting you,” before she squeezed my hand again, just so softly. I tried to form the words, but she disappeared from the room almost as quickly as Cyclone had.
They were like air, there on the inhale and gone on the exhale, and I wanted to keep breathing them for the rest of my days.
That lunch. That squeeze from Cyclone, the hand-holding from Seraphina—it was all worth it. They were worth it.
“Thank you.” I ran a hand over my face.
“So.” Matt regarded me with a cautious half grin. One of his hands went into his pocket, and the other raked through his hair. “What’s on the agenda now?”
“You telling me about the Bonhams.”
Me: Who are the Bonhams? Matthew won’t tell me.
Me: There was a weird exchange between Matt and Quinn today. He won’t tell me. And you won’t let me go on the internet.
Kash: You’re a menace.
Kash: Bonhams are a trap door. Don’t step on it.
Me: Sigh. You’re boring.
Me: I want to know about the Bonhams.
Kash: Trap door. And I’m not supposed to be texting.
Kash: Nosey too.
Me: I’m bored. An idiot took away my internet.
Kash: Smart guy.
Me: You made me laugh. That doesn’t compute with the dick image I have of you.
Kash: Dick image?
Me: You know what I mean.
Kash: Um …
Me: Stop flirting.
Kash: Who brought up dick image?
Me: I’m not laughing.
Kash: Cameras say otherwise.
Kash: Go to bed. Text me when you wake up.
Me: Only if you tell me about the Bonhams and why you can’t be texting.
Kash: Don’t text me in the morning.