“There you go.” Professor Valerian wrapped up the last of what she called Juniper’s hothouse Workings. “You sure I can’t convince you to come out to the real sun? It’s better for you, you know.”
Juniper stretched up to the warmth. She should not have been surprised by an arboreal Change, not with her name, but for the life she’d chosen, something like a mole Change might have suited her better. “I’m not going out there,” she murmured.
It had taken her a year to master all of the Workings that made the Library seem peaceful and quiet, no matter what was happening out there. Once she’d gotten them down, she found that, although Ellehemaei magic was not supposed to be sympathetic, she didn’t want to speak above a whisper, either.
“Very well, then. I brought you a letter from your sister.” Professor Valerian passed over a thick envelope. “You know, if you—”
“I’m not.” They’d had this discussion once a week for the last five years. Juniper understood why Professor Valerian pushed the issue, but the Professor, in turn, understood why Juniper stood firm. “I’m not letting them touch me. I’m not letting anyone touch me.”
“You know, there’s always surrogacy…”
That was new. Juniper raised her eyebrows at the professor, who shifted, her shoulders moving in a way only Valerian, Rowan, Holly, and Juniper managed – like a tree in the wind – and her feet setting firmly.
“Look. Wisteria and I have both talked to the Director, and she won’t budge. She says if she budged for you, she’d have to budge for everyone, and…” Valerian’s frown deepened. “Well, there’s a crisis coming, and we can’t budge yet. But surrogacy — Aelgifu and Ioanna had a child this past spring, and they’re both women. If they can do it, you wouldn’t need to even think about a man’s sperm touching your egg.”
There was more than one reason that Professor Valerian had taken over as Juniper’s Mentor, although Wisteria handled most of her schooling. “And I wouldn’t have to see it?”
“And you wouldn’t have to see it. Dr. Caitrin would take your egg or eggs, and the rest would be handled in the lab.”
Dr. Caitrin had come to Juniper in the library, after — after. She’d told her, in her firm but soft voice, you just stay here, if that’s where you’re comfortable. Nobody is going to make you leave.
Sometimes Juniper wondered how much of that counted as budging, since no other students had joined her in her Library retreat. She couldn’t imagine it had gotten any less brutal out there; she couldn’t imagine there weren’t others that wanted to run away and never look back. Aella had tried, their first year, and look where that had gotten her.
“I’ll — I’ll think about it, at least. But…”
“If it happened, if you could leave, we would walk you out of here, Wisteria and I, and nobody would see you or touch you. We’d find you a place to live where you could acclimate, and we wouldn’t tell your sister or family you’d left until you were ready.”
Juniper relaxed. Holly had never forgiven her. Holly had never really understood, either. She’d had it easy, as Addergoole went, and she loved her children. Juniper thought she probably loved Juniper’s baby, too, although in accordance with their agreement, she never wrote about that one.
Let her. Juniper didn’t want anything to do with it. She hadn’t even looked at it.
She gave the professor a wavering smile. “Do I have homework for this week?”
“Of course you do.” Professor Valerian’s smile was warmer, like the sunlamp Working overhead. “Let’s see. Here are Michelle and Shira’s assignments—” Valerian liked to do that, to call Professor VanderLinden Michelle. It made Juniper smile, but she doubted that was why she did it. “And let’s see, here’s Shou and Reid’s homework, and here’s mine. This week we’re working on Egypt and some questionable history there.”
Juniper had been here since her first year, but she found that there was always more to study. And since she was stuck here indefinitely, she didn’t argue with the persistent homework. It gave her something to do with her time besides shelve books and read the next journals, or learn about Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress shelving.
“Here’s last week’s assignments. There’s some questions for Professor Solomon, but he can just send them back with next week’s homework. He doesn’t need to come here. I don’t like it when he comes here.”
She was already growing uncomfortable, spending all this time with Professor Valerian.
“I understand, dear. I’ll see you next week, then.”
When she got back to her comfy apartment, deep in the stacks, she found a note waiting for her in Wisteria’s spidery handwriting.
I’ve been talking to someone who could use a ghost in their private library. I’m committed, but you might consider the position.
A ghost. The idea made Juniper smile. And a ghost in a library – she might be the second-most qualified person for that.
Maybe she would consider surrogacy. Maybe she’d actually leave this place.