Stuck With You - Chapter 7

Her head whipped around when the door closed. It couldn't be him. He was only here because he needed their help finding his stolen map, not because he belonged with the carnival troupe.

Chapter 7
Winter 460, a few days later

The first thing Blythe noticed when she walked through the door was the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg permeating her home. The second thing she noticed, after hanging up her coat and heading towards the kitchen, was her new roommate-of-sorts stuffing his face in the midst of a mess. The third thing... was that her stove? What happened to her stove?

She cleared her throat. When he didn't notice, she repeated it louder and asked, "What's going on in here?"

Adair spun around with his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk and crumbs dusting the front of his shirt. The boy ate constantly. He hadn't lived here three days and already her pantry was half-empty. He waved his arm at a counter top that had once been so clear and scrubbed clean that Blythe could see her reflection in it. She had planned on using that space to start the sprouts for her outdoor window boxes, but this idea was out said window.

When his mouth was finally free to talk, his answer was less than helpful. "Making dinner."

"More like eating dinner." Blythe flicked the largest crumb from the front of his shirt. "Do you even know what you're doing?"

"Do I..." he stammered. "It's food! Yeah, I know what I'm doing."

"Then can you tell me what happened to the stove?"

Adair was cooking so he must be the one responsible for this. The top burner had been replaced with a more complicated one, four shiny new knobs graced the front, and she could swear the fire inside was the wrong color. She took back her first thought. Adair might have been the catalyst, but he wasn't the one who'd done this.

"Oh. That. It took forever to heat up and then it wouldn't get evenly hot so I asked Sol to fix it. You don't mind, do you?"

Of course it was Sol, someone who really should know better than to "fix" something of hers without her permission. While she rarely used the stove for anything other than boiling water, this wasn't really the point. "Ask next time, okay?"

Adair smiled a crumb-lipped smile. "I promise. It'll be done in a few minutes."

As long as he cleaned up after himself, she was willing to let this slide. The smell of sweet spices made her stomach growl and she'd forgive him for just about anything if dinner happened in the next few minutes. Adair had dragged over every flat surface he could find to work on: the lone, much-patched chair, a large upturned flowerpot, and someone-- probably Sol-- had rigged up a second counter from an old door and a pile of fruit crates. With the chair being used as a table, she settled to the floor and opened the book about seed germination she'd borrowed from the troupe's lead healer. She ignored Adair's bustling about until a bowl was placed in front of her.

He shifted nervously from foot to foot-- obvious from her position on the floor-- and said, "I hope you like it. Sol told me what you like and I hope he wasn't kidding when he said oatmeal. I tried to do new stuff to it-"

She smacked him lightly on the knee with her spoon. "I'm sure it's fine. It smells great. Stop worrying."

It was more than fine, it was incredible. Who knew you could make oatmeal interesting? To be honest, it was only her favorite food because it didn't take much effort to make and it would keep warm without burning if she got called away to heal someone.

Adair's legs came back into view. "I'm going to take some to Sol to thank him for fixing the stove."

Blythe waved him off. It was really good, with new flavors arriving on her tongue to compliment the first wave of spice. If her guess was right, he'd added honey and apple and a few other things she couldn't pinpoint. She would swear he had culinary weaving if not for the fact that he was a cartographer. When she filled a second bowl and reached for her spoon again, color where there shouldn't be color caught her eye. She dropped the spoon so she could stare at her hand.

The black soul-mark on her fingertip had turned the shifting rainbow of the rest of her hand. It was such a tiny mark that it could have changed at any point recently without her noticing. She hadn't left the troupe in a few days and it couldn't belong to any of the other carnies because she'd touched or bumped into all of them by now. The newest troupe members were Etri and Sol and they'd joined months ago. If it wasn't another carny, could it belong to some random person she'd touched when she'd last been into the city? That would make it impossible to figure out whose it was. At one time she hadn't thought much of these soul-marks and considered the whole thing about important people a dumb idea... then her marks had pointed her to three people she couldn't imagine living without. Dray, who had left the troupe but only after swearing an oath of blood sibling with her. Sol, who was a little frustrating and bothersome, but who she considered a little brother to watch over even if he was four years older. And Etri, who she wouldn't hesitate in calling her best friend. The marks were correct in judging who was important and now her last one had turned without her having any clue who it belonged to.

Her head whipped around when the door closed. It couldn't be him. He was only here because he needed their help finding his stolen map, not because he belonged with the carnival troupe. There was no one else it could be, though, when no one else new had crossed her path in days. Then there was the fact that Sol had an Adair mark and she, Etri, and Sol overlapped with each other's marks as it was... but if she asked and she was wrong, she would sound like an idiot. Besides, how could Adair not have noticed a newly-changed mark?

Adair nudged the cat off the counter and began to clean up, giving Blythe the chance to scope him out while she finished eating. If he had her mark, it wasn't on his hands or lower arms. He still had the large black patch that covered his entire left forearm and meant there was at least one more soulmate he was destined to touch. It wasn't on his face because she would have noticed that and she wouldn't have touched him there anyway. It probably wasn't on his legs for the same reason; although rare, leg marks were possible-- Sol had one on his shin.

Having ruled out the obvious locations for a mark, that left the less obvious and meant getting creative. She took her bowl over to the sink and, hoping Adair took the bait, pointed at his collar. "Hey, a spider just crawled down your shirt."

Adair overreacted better than she hoped. She'd thought he might spot a newly-changed mark himself when he looked into his shirt. Instead sponges and soapy water went flying, followed immediately by his shirt when he tossed it across the wagon. "Get it off get it off get it off!"

This might have been perfect for her spotting the mark if he wasn't flailing around like the floor was covered in hot coals. "Hold still. I need to find it."

He didn't have to know that she sought something else and once he stopped waving his arms around, she did in fact find it. A few, actually. Above either hip were black marks the size and shape of hand prints. On his back was the rainbow mark Sol had proudly said was his. Across from this, at the exact center of Adair's chest, was a tiny colorful smudge no bigger than a coin-- or a fingertip. She prodded this with her finger and the size matched up perfectly. "Aha!"

"Aaaaaaah! Is that the spider? Get it off me!"

When he started to flap his arms some more, Blythe rolled her eyes. In hindsight she could have verified her theory in a less stupid way. "No. Look."

Adair lowered his head slowly and glanced at it through the corner of his eye, as though trying to pretend that his torso didn't belong to him. He perked up when he saw it wasn't a bug. "Oh! Did you just do that? Is it like a secret healer thing to know when you've got your soul-mark on someone?"

That proved it was hers. She'd half-worried that she had it all wrong and this mark had changed on Adair ages ago. She scooped the shirt off the floor and held it out to him. He took a step back and threw his arms behind his back so fast his hand smacked against the counter. Blythe sighed. She certainly could have done this a much better way. "There never was a spider."

"Then what was that all about if there wasn't?"

Adair sounded skeptical and she couldn't blame him. This was kind of a mean trick to pull, but it wasn't like he'd ever told her that he was arachnophobic. "I'm sorry. It's just that I wanted to see your chest."

That got Adair's frown to turn into a wide grin, which wasn't an improvement. Three days was plenty long enough to know that a bad joke would spill out of his mouth in five... four... three... "Are you coming on to me? The oatmeal was that good, huh?"

Blythe tossed the shirt at him. "The only thing coming onto you is your shirt. Get dressed, you dork."

Adair laughed and pulled it over his head. "I guess this means you're stuck with me."

It could be worse. At least this soulmate could cook. Creators knew her other three soulmates were useless at it. He'd be worth keeping around for that alone.

His laugh turned into a grunt. "Hey, wait. Help, I'm stuck!"

But at what cost for having edible food? A daily test of patience against terrible jokes and an inability to dress himself properly? She sighed again, deeper this time, and untangled him from his sleeve. "You're absolutely hopeless."

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