Senta finished washing her face and brushing her teeth. She walked back to her bed and examined the dress that lay there. Even though Zurfina had not returned, clothing continued to appear each morning. Sometimes Senta ignored it and wore one of the dresses that she had purchased for herself at Mrs. Bratihn’s, but more often she simply slipped into whatever strange accouterments appeared. She had already put on her underclothes, including her bustle, when she lifted up the dress by the shoulders to examine it. This one was actually not too bad. It was black with puffy white sleeves and white lace trim around the neckline and the bottom. The only problem was that the bottom was just below her knees.
Senta rolled her eyes then slipped on the dress. She reached behind her and easily fastened the row of tiny buttons that ran up the back. Opening her top dresser drawer, she rummaged around and found her knee-high socks with one-inch horizontal black and white stripes. She sat down on the bed and pulled them on, and then put on her black patent leather high heels. Looking in the cheval glass, she decided that it didn’t look too bad.
Once downstairs, she thought for a brief moment about preparing some breakfast, but decided she’d rather walk to Mrs. Finkler’s. It was a new month and her pockets were once again filled with her stipend. The desire not to have to clean the kitchen and the fact of her newfound wealth had both conspired to disincline Senta to cook since Zurfina had left. And as Bessemer didn’t seem to mind, preferring to catch and eat wild prey anyway, she scarcely took the time to prepare any meals at home anymore. She looked at the steel dragon’s empty corner and then headed out the front door.
Senta had almost completely crossed the yard before she noticed Graham standing at the gate. His brown hair was neatly combed and his freckled face had been recently scrubbed. He wore a tan and white horizontally striped shirt that made him look chubbier than he actually was and a new pair of dungarees cut extra long and rolled up into cuffs over his work boots. In his right hand, he clasped a handful of small white flowers.
“You look kind of ridiculous,” she said.
“You should talk. I mean… you look nice. Here, these are for you.” He shoved the handful of flowers in her direction.
“Thanks. I didn’t think there were any flowers in bloom yet.”
“These are the only ones. They grow in the dinosaur poo.”
“Pretty. So what made you decide to come around here?”
“I don’t know.”
“You must have some idea. I haven’t seen you in a whole month.”
Graham mumbled something.
“I said I guess I missed you or something.”
Senta smiled and stepping over to him wrapped her arms around his left arm.
“I was on my way to Mrs. Finkler’s for breakfast. Come with me.”
“I’ve already eaten,” said Graham. He didn’t say this to decline her invitation and she didn’t take it that way. It was understood between them that for him two meals in a row was no problem. “I’m buying though.”
“Then it will be a real date,” said Senta.
“No, not really.”
Graham turned and headed toward town, Senta still holding onto his left arm.
“I think you’ve grown since I saw you last,” said Senta, who was several inches taller than Graham.
“Yep. Da says I’m in a spurt. Look. If we’re going to be friends…”
“We are friends,” she corrected.
“Okay. Yes, we are friends. But you can’t go fighting my fights for me. You have to let me take care of myself. I’m a man.”
“Nope. That’s not how it works. You are my friend and if anyone messes with you, I will crush them.”
Graham stopped and pulled his arm from her grasp so that he could put both of his hands on his hips.
“And,” she continued. “If anyone messes with me, you can do the same, just like you did with that Freedonian wanker Streck.”
The boy thought for a moment. “Well, that seems fair.”