Aidan drops her books onto the table next to the computer. It holds the contents of the entire school library and is the focus of her frustration. Digital is supposed to be easier than the ancient card catalog near the front desk. Theoretically, the right keyword or phrases will bring up all pertinent information.
She stares at the blinking cursor. What she is looking for probably wouldn’t be found here. For almost two weeks, she’s wasted her lunch hour on fiction. Entertaining as it is, she is after facts.
She flips through the pages of a small notebook until she finds the one where she and Celia brainstormed during yesterday’s study hall. Being telepathic has it benefits. They don’t have to be in the same room. They don’t even have to be in the same city.
Ten minutes later, she feels as if she’s been banging her head against a brick wall. She scratches out the last word with a ferocious stroke of her pen. Frustrated, she buries her head in her hands.
(Sure, I can put what she needs right in her hand, but the journey to enlightenment is never the easy path. The best I can do is…)
“Interested in the occult?”
She recognizes the voice, but cannot immediately place it. Raising her head, she finds Corey leaning over her shoulder close enough to whisper in her ear. Her heart jumps to her throat. If she leans forward, her lips would brush his cheeks. She can smell shampoo and a touch of musky cologne.
It is almost impossible to speak. “Just curious.”
“You’re not a Satanist or anything, are you?” he asks with a twitch of his lips.
“Nope, just your typical paranormal freak.”
“You’re not going to get anywhere with this.” He waves at her notes.
“Come on.” He places his books beside hers and says, “I’ll show you where you should be looking.”
Aidan glances back the librarian at the front desk. Mrs. Glen peers over her glasses, watches them go, then turns to the papers the woman next to her slides on the desk. The woman flicks a long braid to her back and winks over the librarian’s head at Aidan.
Aidan follows Corey on a winding path through the stacks to a room in the far corner. His brow furrows slightly. He runs his fingers lightly over the spines of the books with a proprietary touch. “Remember,” he says, “no good school librarian lets anything resembling the occult in the school library. But on the flip side, no good librarian will pass up anything with historical or cultural value.”
“How do you know this?”
“Everything is just stories. Different people telling them, different cultures creating them. Just go outside your homogeneous head.”
He pulls a book from a lower shelf and hands it to her. “Don’t ignore myths and legends. Nothing is truly new. Everything has a grain of truth. You just have to find it.”
He hands her another one. The cover is dotted with pictures of gemstones.
“This is another starting point. Did you know birthstones evolved from many different cultures?” She shakes her head. He hasn’t even looked up. He keeps talking as he kneels to look at the bottom shelf. “That book tells what each stone means or what they were used for. They used to grind up some stones to make healing elixirs or poisons. When you get home, check your Bible. Even Christians believed some stones held certain powers, especially if worn close to your heart.”
Already she envisions long hours with Corey comparing notes. She wonders if he likes coffee. She watches as he plucks two more books and places them into her hands. “I think that’s enough for now,” she says.
“One more,” he insists and pulls out a tiny paperback. On it is an iron cross.
“More specifically, Christian symbology. Christians had a habit of stealing symbols from those they were trying to convert. They claimed it made the pagans think they’d been worshiping the One True God all along. Check out the Christmas stuff. It says they refigured the date of Christ’s birth to coincide with the Winter Solstice.”
“So that’s true?”
“You can’t think that America is the first to be conspiratorial?”
“Well, no, but…”
He pulls on her sleeve to guide her into a corner and switches on one of the sconces above a set of recliners. Without thinking, she sits. He sits on the arm of the other chair.
“Look it’s true, if we don’t know our history, we are bound to repeat it. That’s not just the broad strokes of politics and religion. Take it down to a personal level and think about what you know and what you may not know. Why do the same experiments repeatedly when someone else has already figured out what works? We can learn a lot from our past. All we need is to know the questions to ask.” His eyes hold her like the markings on a cobra.
He reaches for her hand.
The bell rings.
Aidan jumps to her feet. Her head hits the sconce above her. She rubs the tender spot and backs away from Corey.
“Guess we’ll finish this later?”
“Um, sure.” Aidan whispers.
He follows her back to the computer table to retrieve their books and walks with her to the front desk.
Mrs. Glen peers at them over her glasses and almost but not quite frowns as she scans everything quickly.
The woman who had distracted the librarian with paperwork before, leans on the table behind the desk and toys with the end of her braid. She smiles at them. “Find everything all right, Aidan?”
Aidan nods her head. “See you Saturday?”
“I may be a little late. But I’ll probably be here eventually. I have no life,” Chloe chuckles.
Corey follows Aidan into the hall and through the crowd. They join the flow of students down the stairs. As they walk he says, “Listen, I know Celia’s pressuring you to double Saturday night.” He runs his hand through his hair nervously. “It wouldn’t hurt my feelings too much if you say no. But now I’m asking.”
Reaching her locker, Aidan glances around for Celia. Her cousin is nowhere to be seen. Corey is the one watching her work the combination, his mouth open as if he is going to say more. She knows very well what he is trying to say, but in a weird way wants to hear it. “What?” she prods.
“Go out with us, Aidan.” He shakes his head. His hair falls back into his face charmingly. He stumbles over the words. “No. I mean, go out with me.”
She pretends to think about it while she switches books, wondering all the while if this is something she wants, if he made her nervous because of something more than just physical attraction. When she looks at him again, his aura swarms around her with a comforting urgency, something that feels safe.
She swallows. “Since you helped me, I guess I owe you one.” She watches his lips twitch. “But, let me make this clear. It is not a date.”
“Whatever you say,” Corey grins. “What do you have next?”
“You’re kidding. I’m across the hall from you in Art History.”
“I know,” she whispers into the locker before she closes it, and turns to walk with him.
They only get a few steps before a girl Aidan barely knows nearly collides with her.
“Oh,” the girl says in surprise. “Celia said you’d be down here. I wanted to deliver this personally.” She drops an envelope on top of Aidan’s books. “We’ll talk later. My number’s there. Bring your friend,” she says eyeing Corey. Then she is gone in a flash of gold hair and green eyes.
Corey takes Aidan’s books so she can open the envelope.
“What is it?”
“An invitation.” Aidan scowls, puzzled. “I barely know her. Why would she invite me?”
“Who is she?”
“Kelly. Celia knows her. Her mother’s on a couple of boards and committees with Aunt Riley. Maybe she’s inviting me because she’s inviting Celia.”
“I’ve got dibs for Saturday,” he says.
“It’s not for this Saturday. It’s for next Saturday.”
“So, no conflict.”
She takes her books from him as they reach the classroom. “See you later.”
“It’s a date.” He ducks into his class before she could reply. She finds herself smiling when she reaches her seat.
She glances at the assignment on the board behind Mr. Hutton. Today is a writing day. Tomorrow will be discussion. Aidan opens her class journal, writes a page and a half about nothing in particular, and on a fresh sheet jots down a free form poem about…mmmm…trees. Twenty minutes later, she turns them both in.
The rest of the class is silent, working quietly at their desks. Mr. Hutton pulls a paper from another stack, smiles at her and bends his head to read.
With Corey next door, Mr. Morgan in her next class, an unusual invitation and a wealth of information waiting in her locker, Aidan can’t concentrate on anything else school related. She takes out the invitation.
No one ever invites her to anything. Now she has a date and an invite to a party with…a mystery guest? What kind of crap is this? Meh. Celia will drag her to a stupid party.
In her family’s history, they never stayed long enough in one place for the “natives” to suspect they were strange. Her mother and Celia’s changed all that. Factor in what happened to her mother; neither Aunt Riley nor her father followed in the family tradition.
Thus, it was only a matter of time before kids started picking on the cousins. Luckily, in this day and age, that’s as far as it went, even in the south. One stupid, childish prank long ago taught them more than their parents ever had to hide their abilities and strive to appear normal. Celia is much better at it than Aidan.
Aidan would much rather stay home and read as she does now, reading until the bell rings.
After class, she finds Corey leaning against the wall, waiting for her.
“It occurred to me we haven’t exchanged numbers.”
Aidan’s eyebrows rise and she speaks without thinking. “An epiphany all by yourself. I’m almost impressed.”
“Oooh, five dollar word….how long did it take you to save up for that?”
She stops and turns to him and finds him grinning.
“Thought we’d discussed those defenses already,” he says.
Her face heats. “Sorry.”
He leans closer to her and plucks a pen from her ponytail. As they walk, he scribbles his number on the cover of her notebook. “Text me.”
Celia’s voice parts them. “See ya Saturday, Corey.” He smiles at Aidan and tosses a wave in Celia’s general direction.
“See. No interest whatsoever. It’s all you, babe.” Celia elbows Aidan. They watch him climb the stairs. “Although he does have a nice rear view.”
Aidan shakes her head and pulls her cousin to class. “You’re dating his best friend. He’s too nice to be obvious. Give him some time.”
“Ye of little faith. Even guys have rules about things like that. Besides, I see the way he looks at you. You may not believe me, but he’s been looking at you like that for a while. Tell me I’m right and he’s got a brain.”
“You know you are. Corey found those books in our locker. What I want to know is why the hell Kelly invited us to a stupid party.”
Celia rolls her eyes. “I have no clue. Should be fun.”
“Don’t think you’re talking me into it.” Goosebumps lift the hair on Aidan’s arms. They have to walk into English together, English with Victor Morgan the substitute. And while she’s been able to brush off the weird hypervigilance she gets when she knows he’s near all day, being in the classroom is not going to be easy.
“What? It’s not like you’re busy.”
“I could be.” She glances up.
Mr. Morgan looks as if he’s wearing the same jeans and scuffed boots from the day before. The shirt is different: blue button-down rolled up to his elbows and a darker blue tie with a smiley face large and off-center. His eyes fixed on the book in front of him, his lips curve up in an almost-smile.
Is it her imagination or do his eyes flicker to her for a second?