Jim didn’t let me out of bed for anything short of going to the bathroom after Daniel left. I felt strong enough to do more, but I enjoyed him fretting over me. I couldn’t remember anyone looking after me because they cared. Jim didn’t see me as an asset he needed to protect. Even if Daniel considered his hand in my recovery an investment, Jim treated me like someone precious. I knew my other friends cared, but I couldn’t imagine leaning on them like this.
My parents transferred my guardianship to the state for a tax concession. I did my best not to begrudge them for that. It was a common enough story, after all. They didn’t have the money for an academy education. If they had my magic bound instead, I’d be another mouth to feed when they had four other children to care for already. It made financial sense to give me up. I couldn’t help but resent the lack of communication after that. Plenty of other children got visits and letters from their families.
The academy staff took care of me as an asset, not someone they cared about. They did not abuse us. Most of the staff did their jobs with kindness. The rest handled us with professional detachment. None of them loved their charges, though. Not that I thought Jim loved me. We hadn’t known each other long enough for me to believe he loved me. Did I love him? My attraction and affection for him came on faster than with anyone else. Did that make it love?
“Have you always lived here?” I asked. Jim’s home had four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, a dining room, a library, a conservatory, a workshop, an attic, and a basement. As far as I could tell, he didn’t share the space with anyone. I’d only seen Jim’s bedroom and now one of the kitchens. I sat at the table in the first-floor kitchen while Jim cooked breakfast. It took some convincing for him to let me get out of bed.
“No, I came to the city after my aunt passed. Not long after, I met Hugo. He owned this place before me. He needed help with the maintenance here, and I needed somewhere to stay,” he said. A gloomy expression settled on his face.
“I’m sorry about your aunt. It must have been hard to move right after a loss like that,” I said. I wanted to ask about Hugo. Where was he now?
“It was. Hugo helped me through that time. He left the house to me last year. He didn’t have any family left,” Jim continued. So, he’d lost Hugo, too. I wished I could say something to make him feel better. One blessing of not knowing my family was not experiencing a loss like that. How could I comfort him without going through any grief of my own?
“Does staying in the house help you feel close to him?” I asked, hoping to find some solace for him.
“It does,” he said with a sad smile. “I have a three-story reminder of how much he cared. Not everyone gets so lucky.”
“That’s a good way to look at it,” I said.
“I think he’d have liked you,” Jim told me. This time, his smile reached his eyes.
“Really?” I asked.
“He loved magic, just like you. He didn’t have any, but his son was a WatchCaster,” He said as he brought our food to the table. “Have you ever been to the history museum on King Street?”
“I go on their free admission day every month,” I said. I collected berries on my fork with a piece of pancake and took my first bite.
“He donated the pocket watch collection there,” he said.
“Wait, you’re talking about Hugo Montague?”
“Yeah,” he said. He gave me a curious look.
“Oh, wow. He raised so much money for the magic education system that the school I went to named the library in his honor,” I explained.
“Hugo never mentioned that,” Jim said.
“He became a recluse after his son died. There were a lot of rumors, but no one got confirmation of what really happened to him,” I rambled. “The Montague trust pays the taxes for several properties around the city. As far as I know, it will keep going for generations.”
“Huh, that explains a lot,” Jim said. “Hugo didn’t like talking about his past much. I usually let him be.”
“Would you mind giving me a tour after breakfast?” I asked. I’d already wanted to explore the house, but finding out it belonged to Hugo Montague amplified that desire tenfold.
“Are you sure you’re up for that much walking?” Jim asked.
“Absolutely,” I answered. I ate faster with anticipation.
Jim led me around the first floor after finishing the dishes. I’d offered to help, but he’d turned me down. His bedroom was the only one on ground level. Every room shared the same dark wood floors. The dining room had a table that sat twenty people, a full wine hutch, and matching serving tables the length of one wall. My breath caught in my lungs when I saw the library. A large fireplace dominated the wall to the right. Four narrow windows interrupted floor-to-ceiling bookshelves across from the doors. More shelves filled the left wall and the one behind us. The shelves matched the dark stain of the wood floors. Small gold plates labeled the shelves by subject. I nearly had Jim stop the tour so I could browse the collection. But I reminded myself I could come back before the weekend ended. I had no doubt Jim planned to keep me here the next two days, following the doctor’s orders exactly. The conservatory looked out on a lush garden fenced in by a tall brick wall.
The basement held the second kitchen as well as servants’ quarters. It had an entrance independent of the main house. If he wanted to, Jim could have rented the space out, and his tenant could come and go without disturbing him. Both bedrooms on the second floor were large enough to be split in half and still fit a full furniture set. Hugo filled them with sturdy-looking antiques. I doubted anyone had used the rooms since Jim inherited the house, but he kept them clean. The third-floor bedroom had more personality than the two below. I assumed Hugo’s son lived there based on the sketches of sigils hanging on the walls. Benjamin Montague specialized in creating enchantments for medical professionals. I wondered if he’d framed his work and hung it or if Hugo did it after he passed. Jim led me into a WatchCaster workshop across from the last bedroom. The supplies Benjamin left behind would sell for a small fortune even without telling the buyer about their provenance.
Long unused furniture and untouched boxes filled the attic. I imagined if professional appraisers explored the room, they’d be able to open a Montague museum with everything they found. Did Jim know the value of what he had? Probably not if he didn’t know much about Hugo’s history. Given how well he kept the house, I doubted selling Hugo’s belongings would interest Jim. I kept the thought to myself rather than risk offending him. With the tour over, Jim led me back to the library.
“Now I know Hugo would have liked you,” he said.
“Hmm?” I’d already started perusing the shelves.
“Anyone who looks at books the way you do would’ve gotten along with him,” Jim continued.
Jim started a fire for us, and we curled up on the couch in front of it. I picked a book from the romance section and leaned against Jim as I read. He put an arm around me and played with my hair. The more we touched, the more nuanced our magic’s interaction got. Our emotional states seemed to guide the intensity of the sensation. The night I woke up, the sigils heated with our passion when we kissed. But when we relaxed together, they felt like soft caresses. Eventually, Jim left me to read while he fixed lunch for us. I’d have stopped for him if I thought he’d let me help. He planned to do as much for me as possible for the next few days.