A NIGHT IN THE BOOKDOCKS
As all the kids settled into their separate rooms for the evening, Gia made her way to Kei’s door and gave it three quick raps.
Kei answered within moments, perfect skin and downy lashes framing the sharp eyes that gazed up at her with near-cartoon innocence.
“May I come in?” Gia asked. “I need you to help me understand something.”
Kei’s head dipped in polite consent as the door opened wide for Gia.
She entered, closing the door behind her as she held up a small notebook. “I have an accounting of items that went missing at our stops today.” She opened the notebook. “Item One: a roll of stickers a little girl made.” She arched a brow. “Know anything about that?”
Kei’s head dipped again. “The girl’s name is Ember and she needs to raise $350 so she can go live in a tent for five days with her social group. I cannot understand why it should cost so much for a child to live up in the mountains, but am happy to cover Ember’s costs in exchange for her stickers. I only had the money for ten, but wanted an entire scroll.”
Gia held her tongue on at least a dozen different responses before going with, “So you just took what you wanted?”
Kei nodded. “Yes.”
Wow. A full confession. Easy as that.
Too easy, in fact.
Gia’s eyes narrowed on Kei before reading off the rest of her list. “And does the same logic hold for the deck of blank playing cards, sketchbook, seven mechanical pencils, three packs of Sharpies, eight magazines, three packs of nuts, two bags of sunflower seeds, and local crime dollar-paper?”
Kei held out a note to her with a slight bow. “Yes. Your accounting is correct. Most impressive. Now, if you would please pass this note to my parents, they will handle everything.”
“Already handled,” Gia said, not reaching for the note. “You may give your notes to your parents after this trip is over if you like. But, per our written agreement, I will not be passing them on. Understood?”
“Understood,” Kei said as if amused somehow.
Gia hated to admit it, but the condescension in Kei’s tone tickled at her temper a little bit. She’d have to watch this one just a little bit closer.
All the information she’d received on Kei before the trip had advised her that Kei was an agent of chaos. Untethered. Irrational. Unpredictable.
But that simply was not true.
Kei was incredibly structured within a core set of rules. Gia could see that now, which meant tomorrow would be better.
“Kei, you are not the exception of the five-dollar rule,” she said. “Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Said so easily, as if it was as simple as that.
Gia held her hand out. “I need you to give all the items you stole back. No one gets to shoplift just because they plan to pay things off later.”
Gia studied Kei for a moment, waiting for a flinch of guilt that never came.
“No?” she asked. “You’re not going to give them to me?”
“No,” Kei affirmed, voice as gentle as a happy grandma sitting in a spot of sunshine. It made Gia feel like a brute to insist, but she bruted on anyway.
“Then I’m going to need to go through your stuff until I find it all.”
“Okay,” Kei replied with such a total lack of concern that Gia felt certain she wouldn’t find the items among Kei’s things. They’d been stashed elsewhere, and Gia really didn’t have time for a full-scale search at the moment. She was on a tight schedule for the next little bit.
Or, rather, Adam was on a tight schedule and he was the job. Everyone else was a tourist. Including Kei.
“I’ll do a search before we load up in the morning,” Gia promised as she moved toward the door. “Until then, the sterile-packed sheets and inflatable mattress you requested are—“
“I saw them,” Kei interrupted. “And you are now 200 seconds behind schedule. I will be fine until morning. You may go.”
Hmm, was all Gia could as she fought the urge to correct the claim about her running late.
If Gia hadn’t had a team working with her, then she would have been behind schedule. But she did have a team, which meant she was about to be right on time.
Gia did not correct Kei, however. She simply decided never to underestimate the teen icon again as she paused at the door to leave Kei with a final thought.
“If you steal anything at any stops on our path tomorrow, I will send you home. You are a guest on this trip, not the boss of it. I can’t let you be the reason we leave a trail others can follow. Do you understand?”
This time, the response was delayed. Then came, “I understand.”
Gia knew she’d have to wait until tomorrow to find out exactly what Kei meant by that. In the meantime, she had a schedule to keep.
“I’ll wake you at six o’clock, sharp,” she said, closing the door behind her as she left. “Sleep well, until then.”