I burst back into Lorwyn’s lab.
“I can watch Yorani for another minute, Miyara,” Risteri says with some amusement. “I’m not in that big of a rush.”
Lorwyn, though, realizes something has changed. “Why do you look so intense right now?”
“Taseino requested a last-minute change to the schedule today,” I say, “because it’s his birthday.”
“So?” Lorwyn asks. “You’ll let him out early then, won’t you? That seems like a you thing to do.”
“It’s Taseino’s birthday,” I repeat.
“Yes, I got that the first time you said it,” Lorwyn says.
I wave my hands helplessly. “I didn’t know he had a birthday coming up. I don’t have anything prepared!”
“Why should you?” Lorwyn asks. “He’s not your friend; he’s your coworker. Were you going to throw him a party?”
“I—oh, I suppose that would be too much?”
“But he’s not just a coworker,” I protest. “I mean, he is, but I value him as a person, not just for his labor. I would like to do something to show my appreciation for him. Is that not appropriate among coworkers?”
“The other guides do stuff like that all the time,” Risteri confirms. “But they’re all older, so their style of gifts and celebration is, uh, probably not appropriate for a seventeen year old. At least not coming from his manager.”
Lorwyn snorts. “Miyara, whatever you’re thinking, stop. This is Taseino. If you even think about going all out on a gift for him, you will scare him.”
“Well then if all my ideas are going to be wrong, what am I supposed to do?” I ask.
Hesitantly, Risteri begins, “I mean, with our servants—”
“You stop too,” Lorwyn tells her. “Whatever you were about to say there, don’t.”
Risteri purses her lips. “Okay. My experience is pretty limited, though.”
Risteri and I both turn expectantly to Lorwyn.
“Why are you looking at me?” she demands. “Do you think I throw birthday parties?”
Risteri says, “I think I’ve met your sisters and know what would befall you if you didn’t.”
“I’m beginning to think I need to meet your sisters,” I say.
“Don’t even think about it,” Lorwyn growls. “That’s just what I need.”
The door to the front opens, and Taseino steps inside. “Sorry to interrupt—”
Lorwyn cuts him off. “Consider this your birthday present from me. You want to turn around and walk right back through that door.”
Without missing a beat, Taseino about-faces and closes the door quietly behind him.
“See?” I ask. “You know you like him.”
“I do appreciate being obeyed unquestioningly, it’s true,” Lorwyn says.
“Not to mention he’s not disruptive,” I say. “Surely that behavior deserves positive reinforcement.”
“I really prefer to punish its opposite,” Lorwyn says. “It’s more personally satisfying.”
“Less effective, though, if Iskielo is any indication,” I say.
“Give me time,” Lorwyn says. “But fine. No party, but here’s what you’re going to do.”
“So, is it okay if I head out a little early?” Taseino asks. “I’m really sorry about this. I know it’s late notice, but I didn’t know—”
“It’s fine,” I assure him. “We’ll manage. But first, we have something for you. From all of us at the store.”
Taseino blinks, then echoes, “All of you.”
Too observant by half. I smile. “I should be the one apologizing—I didn’t realize it was your birthday. So Meristo and Iskielo have signed the card, but the rest is from me and Lorwyn.”
That startles him. “Lorwyn?”
“She’s fond of you,” I say. “I hardly had to do any persuading at all.”
Taseino smiles faintly. “I’ll make sure to pretend I didn’t hear you say that.”
“You forgot Talmeri, though,” he notes.
“I did not forget Talmeri,” I say, handing him a small package. “I sent a messenger for her and was informed she couldn’t be reached in time. So we will assume she would have been rightly persuaded and continue on.”
“Aha.” He looks at the package, then back up at me uncertainly. At my nod, he carefully unwraps it. “Wait. Is this—?”
“I wondered, what can we possibly make use of in this shop for a gift that Taseino wouldn’t be horribly bored by?” I say. “Here it is: the stuff dreams are made of.”
“Dreamreacher drops,” Taseino whispers. “You’re giving me a whole stopper?”
Dreamreacher drops are, to date, the most sought after, expensive item to come out of the Cataclysm. Talmeri already refuses to let Lorwyn waste them, hoarding them instead—which means she’ll never notice they’re gone.
“I trust you,” I say simply. “You know how to use them safely. You won’t waste them, and they last forever. If you have need of them, whether it’s for yourself or for someone else, they’re yours. Happy birthday, Taseino.”
He stares at me in silence for a long moment, and then ducks his head with a smile. “Lorwyn thought she was going to prevent you from going overkill, didn’t she?”
“She did offer this wasn’t what she had in mind when she told me to select a gift from among the stock,” I admit, “but she didn’t argue with my choice, either.”
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