Nick walks to the end of the stack. Seeing nothing immediately, his entire body tightens. He glances in every direction, even behind him.
Hesitantly he follows the path he thinks he saw the girl take.
Her ponytail catches his eye again, taunting him, guiding him through the maze of library shelves – a game of cat and mouse. It feels as if they are going around in circles, deeper and deeper into the dark corners of the library.
He hears Logan and Aidan talking far away, their voices, whispers that echo through the books. His heart beats wildly…. In expectation? Of what?
Each time he sees, or thinks he sees the girl she looks younger and younger, until he thinks he’s following a child rather than a teenage girl. She still sports the blonde ponytail, but when he sees it, it glides away just a little lower each time.
And then…. He slips around a stack and faces her full on, a little girl in a blue dress looking up at him, blue eyes framed in long dark lashes. A soft light surrounds her. She reaches to him with one hand.
Without thinking too much about it, he drops to his knees and offers his hand to her.
When she touches it, wraps her fingers around his, they are warm and a feeling of coming home slides up his arm and snakes around his heart.
He knows her. He’s seen her before, talked to her. For the life of him, he can’t remember exactly where or when.
She pulls his hand to a book on the shelf behind her.
On a row of self-help books, she guides his hand to The Secret. He pulls it out. She drops his hand and watches.
Nick flips through the book. Nothing. Not even a bookmark or margin notes. Not even the telltale yellow highlights sometimes left in school library books.
He looks at the shelf and reaches his hand through the empty space. Running his fingers along the back of the shelf, he feels something…different.
He applies just a little pressure to the wood at the back and a piece of the paneling opens, dropping a small ornate key into the palm of his hand.
Nick pulls it out and examines it in the soft glow of the girl still standing next to him.
It is slender and about the length of his middle finger. The weight of it tells him it must be pewter rather than old silver. The bow of the key is as large as the pad on his thumb and carved delicately to look like an ornate skull. The blade is double-sided, more delicate carving wrapped around it like vines.
(I’m pretty proud of this tiny piece of art even though it only opens the one doorway in the library that leads to the tunnels below.)
The girl takes Nicks hand again.
(I love leading questers through mystery. It’s just a little quirk of mine. Sure, I can pop them back to my place or guide them there myself, but it’s much more fun to watch them uncover something secret. And, of course, it keeps the unwanted from my front door…an added security measure.)
She pulls him to a corner shelf, her wide blue eyes (so familiar) gaze at him for a long moment. Then, she shimmers and fades to nothing, leaving him in the darkest corner of the library, alone.
Now, Nick has to find the door all by himself.
He glances around, not seeing anyone else. Then he cocks his head to locate the voices of his brother and the girl, Aidan.
He finds them on the other side of the library, in brilliant rays of sunlight broken by the stacks, glancing through open doorways into smaller rooms, still looking for Chloe.
He catches Logan’s eye and makes an almost imperceptible motion with his head. Logan nods and says to Aidan, “We can go to the front office and ask if she’s here. We don’t want to take up too much of your time.”
“It’s no trouble. No trouble at all,” her voice drifts off as she studies him. She does not give any indication of leaving. “Besides, on Saturdays, she may not even check in at the front office. It’s not like you clock in for volunteer work.” She crosses her arms and leans against a nearby shelf.
“Why do you need her anyway? Maybe I can help.”
(My family is so stubborn. All Nick wants is to get rid of her so he and Logan can find the lock that his newfound key opens. Aidan is curious as well as hardheaded, a mix I usually love about her. Part of me simply wants to let this play out, see how creative the boys can be. Another part of me, the part that realizes priority, reaches for the one person that can distract Aidan long enough.)
“We think she can help us find our friend,” Logan offers.
Nick pulls out the picture he has of me. Aidan takes it, studies it, her eyebrows twitch.
(Yup, she’s seen me, the real me before, but I’ve erased the details a few times.)
“She seems…familiar, but…I don’t think I can help you.” Aidan memorizes my face, files it away for later.
A voice from the front of the library calls, “Aidan?”
Aidan’s reaction is instant. Her breath quickens. She stands straight and pushes past the boys. Where her arms touch them, they can feel the tension in her body. She puts herself squarely between them and the voice.
“I’m here,” she says, walking quickly.
The boys follow her. When they see who belongs to the voice, they go into warrior mode, weight on toes, hypervigilant.
The vampire takes their measure, reaches out for Aidan’s hands, which she ignores.
“Yes, Mr. Morgan?” she says, something in her voice disturbs all of them.
“They need you on stage.” He looks her over carefully, as if determining her health and well-being.
“Sorry, boys. Hope you find Chloe.” Aidan moves quickly into the hallway as if knowing the vampire will follow her, as if she knows she cannot leave the three of them alone together. Her steps accelerate and the vampire follows, leaving the boys alone in the library.
“Dude,” Logan says breathily.
“I know,” Nick responds, “but we’ve got something else right now. Garret said it’s important to find this woman quickly. And I think I’ve got something.” He shows Logan the key in the palm of his hand. It glitters in the sunlight.
“Where did you find that?”
“Behind The Secret,” Nick grins.
“Nevermind. Help me find what this unlocks.” Nick leads his brother to the corner. They both pull out penlights and start examining the shelves, the walls, the books.
A few silent moments later, Logan lets out an gruff exclamation.
Between the shelves along the walls are old fashion-looking sconces. Back when lights like this were popular, switches would raise or lower the wicks inside, brightening or softening the light. These aren’t old. Just made to look antique, the switches that look like the bows of keys merely turn them on and off, separate from the main switch on the wall next to the front desk. One of these sconces lacks a switch.
Logan takes the key from Nick and slides it into the hole meant for the switch, glances at Nick and turns.
The shelf to the left of the sconce pulls back into shadows and slides to the side leaving the black hole of the entrance.