Miriam's mouth must have been hanging open because Key turned around and smiled down at her. "Are you still hung up on the I'm-a-girl thing? Don't worry about it, Miriam. It surprises lots of people."
"But why didn't you just tell me?"
"People have been making that mistake so long, I got tired of correcting them. And you heard Mat. Boy, girl, doesn't really matter."
Here, Miriam was on safer ground. When she had lived in Harthang province with her parents, most people didn't care about trivialities like gender, and the few who did politely mentioned it on introductions. It wasn't until she had moved in with her uncle that words like he and she had important distinctions, and even then, most of her uncle's guests had been men. Mistaking the first girl she met for a boy did not bode well.
What was worse, Miriam was a truth wizard, and she felt like her natural magic should have clued her in that Key wasn't who she appeared to be. She should have been able to hear the chords of truth in her voice. But the fact was, when Key and Mat spoke, she heard chords she'd never heard before. And that, more than anything, shook her to her core. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts it took her a moment to realize she had reached the front of the line.
"Excuse me?" Miriam faced a girl with a dead-bored expression and bubblegum pink hair that clashed with the blue sleeves of her Hawthorne House jacket.
"What's your name?"
The girl handed Miriam her keys and class schedule. She was in room 112, at the end of the girls' hall. As she carried her bag toward the room, she realized another girl stood next to the door. She looked a few inches taller than Miriam, with pale skin and two black braids. And somehow, her white Faraday shirt and her blue and orange wrap skirt were absent of a single wrinkle. Miriam had only traveled thirty minutes on the train, and her clothes were as rumpled as if she'd pulled them out of the hamper.
"Hey wait!" she called as her roommate started to close the door. The girl looked up at the sound and must have seen Miriam because she waited. After double-checking the room number, Miriam introduced herself. "I'm your roommate. My name's Miriam." She noticed the girl's right arm ended shortly below the elbow, so she put out her left hand, which gave her the added benefit of not having to set down her suitcase.
"Do you always shake hands with your left?" The girl asked as she slowly slipped her hand into Miriam's.
"No... but... I figured..." She gestured to the girl's nub as she tried to determine what she had done wrong. Maybe this girl was from Liri, where almost everyone had a missing limb, and they didn't greet each other the same way. Miriam was beginning to wonder how she was going to keep track of niceties here.
"Sorry, most people don't think like that. I'm Ayan. It's nice to meet you."
Miriam cocked her head, listening to the chords in her voice. Everything she said was true, but it didn't make sense. "What do most people think like?"
Ayan shrugged. "Most people ask how I lost it."
"Oh. I've been told it's rude to ask things like that. Besides, you'd probably lie..." she trailed off at the sound of Ayan laughing. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No." Ayan took a deep breath. "You said the absolute right thing. I've been dealing with nobility and the... upperclass for the last year." She said 'upperclass' in a mocking, breathy sort of voice. "It's nice to talk to someone who's... straightforward."
Again, Miriam was on solid ground. "Nobility are rarely straightforward." She had spent years serving tea to her uncle at his business meetings, where she listened in on the conversations and reported their lies back to him. Miriam looked around the room. "Do you care which bed you have?"
"Well, I already put my sewing machine on this side." Ayan nodded her head toward something in a quilted fabric case on one of the desks.
"Oh, do you do fabric magic? That would explain why your clothes look so nice."
"Thanks." Ayan set her backpack on her bed and pulled a dress out of it. She shook it once and all the wrinkles fell away as if melting off the fabric. "And yes, I do." She laid the dress on the bed and re-folded it in four quick movements. She glanced over her shoulder. "You aren't going to ask if it's hard for me to sew with only one hand?"
Miriam set her own suitcase down and began to unpack. "I don't suppose it can be that difficult for you. If it was hard, you probably wouldn't sew much, and if you didn't sew much, you wouldn't have bothered bringing your own machine to school."
Ayan laughed. "I'm really glad your my roommate."
"Why is that?"
"I think we're going to be good friends."