Sarah’s waiting for Helena outside her classroom when she finishes Sarah’s German lesson. “Hi,” she says, grinning in a big flash of white teeth. Helena reaches out and grabs Sarah’s hands, squeezing their fingers together. There. Safe. “Hi,” she says back, but quietly.
“We have two hours ‘til History,” Sarah says cheerfully. “You wanna go to the conf’rence room with the chairs on wheels?”
Of course Helena does. Last time they’d gone, her chair had crashed into a wall – bang bang – and her knee had split open and bled. It tasted like salt. They’d had to bang Sarah’s knee against the wall until it bled the same, but Sarah kept saying she didn’t mind.
Her blood tasted like salt too. But it had to, because their blood is exactly the same.
“Okay,” Sarah says, and then she tugs Helena after her. To go to the room with the chairs on wheels you have to take the elevator or run up two flights of stairs and make a right and run along a hallway and then make a left and then another left. Helena likes that plan better, because the man in the elevator always frowns when he sees them on their own.
“How was French?” she asks as they skip along, loafers tapping against the ground. She keeps smiling at adults when they walk by. Either the adults smile back, or they look away and walk faster. Either way Helena wins. And she likes winning. So.
“Boring,” Sarah says. “Je ne l’aime pas.”
“Tu n'aimes pas toutes les langues.”
“Um,” Sarah says. “Oui? Non? I don’t.”
They reach the staircase, head up. Tap tap tap tap tap. Helena can hear voices echoing from downstairs, making great strides, I don’t want to be the one to tell her. She could wonder what they’re working on, these people with their scared voices, but she doesn’t have to! So she doesn’t. They slip from her mind like water by the time they’re at the top of the stairs.
“How was German,” Sarah says.
“I like it,” Helena says. And then, more quietly: “I like being you.”
“Me too,” Sarah says, and bumps her shoulder against Helena’s. They’re on the right floor, now, and their hands tighten around each other’s. They’re probably not supposed to be here. They’re not supposed to be in most places, which doesn’t matter – except if someone catches them, because then they have to listen to Aldous lecture them and that’s so, so boring.
“What was the word that meant sick but with more syllables,” she says.
Nauseatingly boring. So it’s better if they don’t get caught by anyone who knows they shouldn’t be here. Sarah crouches down – Helena follows – and looks under the door until all the feet passing by leave. “Clear,” she whispers, and Helena opens the door with her left hand. Empty hallway. They slide out into it. Up here everything smells like sunlight. Warm glass, maybe? All the walls are glass, so that’s probably it. They make a right, head down the next hallway. Helena reaches up and plucks a leaf off of one of the ivy-walls, tucks it in Sarah’s hair. “There,” she says. “Perfect.”
Sarah snorts, giggles, plucks the leaf out. “They’ll know we were here,” she whispers, twirling the stem of the leaf in one hand as they go. Right on cue, from the other end of the hallway: footsteps. Sarah looks at Helena, Helena looks at Sarah, wide eyes. Then Sarah drops the leaf to pull open the door to one of the offices and shove them both inside. They crouch behind the door until the footsteps pass. The professor’s getting— and they’re gone.
“I’m sorry,” says a voice from behind the desk. “Whose children are you?” Helena’s hand tightens against Sarah’s hand, and she looks up. The owner of the really angry-sounding voice is a man with a beard and a frown. He’s looking at them like they’re nothing, and Helena can feel Sarah next to her getting mad.
“The professor’s,” Helena says. She looks at Sarah. The what, Sarah’s face says. I don’t know, Helena says back.
“We’re allowed anywhere we want,” Sarah says in that voice that she’s learning to do, the one that people believe. “But we can ask, if you want us to go interrupt important research and find out.”
“Remember the last time we did that,” Helena giggles, “and that man got fired.” She presses her lips together, smiles around them. At the desk the man’s gone white. His fingers twitch toward his phone but he doesn’t grab it. Adults are so stupid. You just have to find what makes them afraid and they’ll do anything.
“How about,” the man says, “you run along, and none of us suffer interruptions.”
“Give us your sandwich,” Helena says, pointing with the hand that’s not holding Sarah’s hand. There’s a half-eaten sandwich on the desk. It looks like roast beef. Sarah bumps her: that wasn’t in the plan. Helena bumps her back: it looks good though.
“Your mother,” the man starts, and then he stops. He shakes his head. He holds out the sandwich and the two of them dart forward and grab it, quick, before he can take it away from them. One half for each. Perfect.
“You were never here,” he says.
“We weren’t,” Sarah says, eyes wide. She gives Helena a smile, secret, just at the corners. Helena smiles back and tugs them towards the door. She takes a bite of the sandwich as she goes. It tastes like salt. Helena likes it, lots.