On the way back, Perry spotted Cinder at the edge of the woods. He was waiting by the trail, fidgeting with his cap.
Roar rolled his eyes as soon he saw him. “See you later, Per. I’ve had enough,” he said, jogging off.
Cinder was toeing the grass as Perry walked up.
“I’m glad you came back,” Perry said.
“Are you?” Cinder said bitterly, without looking up.
Perry didn’t bother replying. He crossed his arms, noticing that his shoulder felt better than it had that morning. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. It won’t happen again. ”
Cinder shrugged. After a few moments, he finally looked up. “Is your shoulder …?”
“It’s fine,” Perry said.
“I didn’t know about what happened when I came to see you. The girl—Willow—she told me this morning. She was real scared. For herself and her grandfather. And for you. ”
“I was scared too,” Perry said. It almost seemed unbelievable to him now. A day ago he’d been underwater, seconds away from dying. “It wasn’t my best day. I’m still here, though, so it wasn’t the worst. ”
Cinder flashed a smile. “Right. ”
With Cinder’s temper finally settling, Perry saw his opportunity. “What happened in the storeroom?”
“I just got hungry. ”
“In the middle of the night?”
“I don’t like eating during supper. I don’t know anybody. ”
“You spent the winter with Roar,” Perry said.
“Roar only cares about you and Aria. ”
And Liv, Perry thought. It was true that Roar had few loyalties, but they were unbreakable. “So you snuck into the storeroom. ”
Cinder nodded. “It was dark in there, and so quiet. Then all of a sudden I saw this beast with yellow eyes. It scared me so bad I dropped the lamp I was holding, and next thing I knew there was fire burning across the floor. I tried to put it out, but I was only making it worse, so I ran. ”
Perry was stuck on the first part of the story. “You saw a beast?”
“Well, I thought so. But it was just the stupid dog, Flea. In the dark he looks like a demon. ”
Perry’s mouth twitched. “You saw Flea. ”
“It’s not funny,” Cinder said, but he was fighting a smile too.
“So Flea, the demon dog, scared you, and the lamp was what made that fire? It wasn’t … what you do with the Aether?”
Cinder shook his head. “No. ”
Perry waited for him to say more. There were a hundred things he wanted to know about Cinder’s ability. About who he was. But Cinder would speak when he was ready.
“Are you going to make me leave?”
“No,” Perry said immediately. “I want you here. But if you’re going to be part of things, you need to be a part of all of it. You can’t run off whenever something goes wrong, or take food in the middle of the night. And you need to earn your way like everyone else. ”
“I don’t know how,” Cinder said.
“How to what?”