“Lila? My grandmother just told me she's going out for lunch, so I can have breakfast with...” Catherine's eyes widened as she took note of Lila's rapid, random pacing. “Are you all right?”
“Just restless,” Lila said. Just restless. Like an animal in a cage in a zoo.
“That isn't an answer.”
All the pent-up frustration and tension picked that moment, faced with Catherine's concern, to break down the door she'd been hiding it behind, even from herself. “I'm used to being active and doing things, working and being able to go out, and I have no one to touch, every sensitive I've ever met needs to touch lots, brushing your hair for you every night helps but it just isn't enough, and I don't know anything outside these rooms except what you tell me, no radio or TV or anything, and I've spent as long as I can remember moving around between apartments and shelters and new cities and now I've done nothing for more than two weeks other than look at this godawful ugly wallpaper and I'm scared to even look out the windows in case someone looks up and sees me... and... and... oh shit.” She sagged against the wall, struggling with tears. “It's stupid. I'm safe, I shouldn't be bitching about this stuff.”
Catherine let her wind down without interruption, but her dismay made Lila immediately feel guilty for the outburst.
“I'm sorry, it isn't your fault, you've been doing everything you can...”
“No, I would say I haven't,” Catherine said, her forehead furrowed. “I've been thinking in the wrong frame of reference.”
“Come sit down? I believe we need to talk. Besides, the toast will get hard.”
Confused now, Lila followed Catherine to the library, and joined her on the pillows, accepting a plate that held a couple of slices of toast, each with a poached egg sitting neatly in the centre.
“If a mage were confined for a time in a limited space,” Catherine said, slowly, as if working out the concept even as she spoke, “what she would need to be reasonably content consists largely of good meals, a comfortable bed, and plenty to read along with a place to do so and minimal interruption. Feeling isolated would not be an issue. We're trained from the time we're very young to avoid contact. Some mages enjoy or prefer company, but it's not usually unendurable to lack it. Scrying, calling up images in a mirror or in water, is a fairly straightforward ability. A glamour to make a space look different or larger requires a little more effort, but it's certainly possible. A limit to physical activity, for anyone save the hunters, would in most cases not be noticed. I completely failed to consider whether any of that is universal, and I'm sorry. Some of this I'm certain can be changed. So. Tell me what will make it more comfortable for you. Everything. Then we can see what I can arrange.”
“You're doing enough!”
“Humour me.” Catherine smiled. “I'd prefer to see you under as little stress as possible. No radio or TV, you said. I imagine I can buy at least a radio with no trouble at all. What else was there? Having nothing to do but read, and being unable to escape the decor. What are you used to doing?”
“Working jobs that mean ten or twelve hours a day of physical labour, or being out scrounging and panhandling in between jobs, or hanging out with other sensitives when we run into each other.”
Lila sighed. “Shit jobs, the kind no one else wants. The only kind you can get when you haven't finished high school and never stay anywhere long and don't have any legal ID or a resume. Loading and unloading trucks. Janitor stuff. Helping someone clean up a lot of brush and garbage. Washing dishes. Whatever. When we go out, we go dancing, usually, or wander and see what's going on, or blow a few bucks in an arcade or on a movie.” And have sex... wonder what she'd think of how casually sensitives take sex with other sensitives? “Not very intellectual stuff, but hey, sensitives are usually pretty physical.”
Catherine's frown deepened, thoughtfully, and she looked at the walls as though seeing them for the first time. “Do you know anything about getting rid of old wallpaper?”
“Sure, that's easy,” Lila said automatically. “All it takes is a paint scraper from the dollar store and a kettle for steaming the old paper off. Easier if there's an extension cord so you can reach the whole room.”
Catherine nodded decisively. “Good. Then I'll get those for you, and you can solve one problem by working on solving another one. Surely I can find more pleasant wallpaper.”
“Could just paint it,” Lila said dazedly. “You're going to redecorate 'cause I don't like it?”
“I don't much like it either. I was throwing a simple glamour over it whenever I was up here and thought about it. I haven't been because you aren't comfortable around magic. A perfectly ordinary physical change would be easier for me in the long run, I simply haven't bothered to. You are, however, quite welcome to do so. Let me know what you need, and I'll bring it here. Or would you rather not?”
“No, that'd certainly keep me feeling busy and useful for a while. You do realize this will mean a lot of shifting furniture around and general inconvenience while I do it?”
“I'm quite good at functioning around obstacles. If you think you can handle a little magic, telekinesis—moving things magically—makes rearranging solid oak furniture much easier. So. A radio, a kettle, an extension cord, and a paint scraper, for the moment, correct?”
Catherine nodded again. “I'll take care of it after breakfast. I have some free time before I need to start preparing supper. What will you need for painting?”
No point trying to divert a force of nature. Lila obediently gave her a list of the supplies that would be necessary or useful.
Catherine took the empty plates away with her, and Lila sat alone in the library, head spinning while she tried to figure out what had just happened in the last few minutes.
Then she gave up on the effort—it was just more of Catherine being crazy—and went to bed.
* * *
Catherine wandered around her small kingdom, gazing at the rooms in delight. “Oh, Lila, this is so much better, it doesn't even look like the same place!”
Lila regarded her week's efforts critically. The walls behind the old paper had proven to be plaster, soft and crumbly, hard to work with. But, despite that and her limited experience with this sort of thing, she thought she'd done quite a tolerable job. Each room was painted a different almost-white tint, and the hall in a fifth, creating a subtle shift in atmosphere between them. The bedroom was tranquil blue, of course, and the library a warm peach, the bathroom sea-green and the dressing room a simple cream, the hall an inviting lilac. The stair railing and the trim around the windows had been redone in glossy white, and she'd managed to repair the railing so it wasn't quite so wobbly. “Looks pretty good.” It had taken multiple layers of paint in each, but what else did she have to do?
“Not just pretty good. This is wonderful!” The pleasure turned to thoughtfulness. “Perhaps if we change the curtains to something lighter...”
“Then someone might see if there are lights on at night,” Lila pointed out.
Catherine's thoughtful frown creased her forehead. “I might be able to devise a glamour to cast on the windows, it wouldn't need to be a complicated one, so I shouldn't need to concentrate on it to keep it in effect. One that makes the windows look empty and dark all the time. Then we could exchange the curtains for much lighter ones, which would make it even brighter in here. As for the floors... they really are dreadful, aren't they? It shows up terribly against these nice walls. A long runner should cover most of the hall... something colourful, but not gaudy. And a throw rug each in the bedroom and dressing room should be enough, there isn't much bare floor in those rooms.”
Protesting would do no good at all, Catherine would do what she chose to do and there was nothing Lila could do to change that. So she gave in. “One by the bed would feel nice when we get up.”
“I agree. Could you measure the floors when you get a few minutes? I'll buy the rugs right away, and see what can be done about the windows.”
No matter what happened to her when she left here, at least she could know that Catherine was living in more pleasant surroundings. It wouldn't necessarily be much consolation if she got caught, but at least she'd done something to repay Catherine's generosity, and she could remember Catherine's sparkling eyes and brilliant smile.
For the first time she could remember, she found herself praying, not for the bad weather that ended the hunt for another season, but that the good weather continue a little longer.
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