Authors: Michelle Knudsen
“Cyn? That you?” My dad’s voice, calling over the sound of the TV.
“Yeah,” I call back. I walk down the hall and peek into the den. “Where’s Mom?”
“Still at the office.” He’s flipping through various news shows he’s recorded, catching up on whatever seems important to catch up on. He’s obsessive about staying informed. About some things, anyway. He glances over at me, smiles distractedly. “There’s Chinese food in the fridge. I wasn’t sure when you were coming home.”
tonight,” I remind him, as I remind him every time, but he’s already back in information-land, soaking it all in from every source he can find. I head to the kitchen to heat myself up some dinner.
Armed with a heaping plate of chicken lo mein and sautéed string beans, I head up to my room to call Annie. Her little brother answers, and it takes me several tries to convince him to go tell her she has a phone call. I don’t know why she lets him answer her phone in the first place.
him,” she says when I ask her this directly, after a long wait during which it sounds like Peter is kicking the phone across the floor as he moves from room to room. “He just takes it when I’m not looking, and I usually don’t even realize until somebody calls.”
“Well, make him stop. It’s annoying.”
She sighs. “I’ll try. Sometimes it’s easier to just let him do stuff like this. You’d understand if you had brothers and sisters. Some things just aren’t worth the fight.”
“Hmph.” I know I’m being unreasonably grouchy, but I still haven’t quite recovered from the librarian thing. It seems silly now, the way I got so freaked out over a couple of spooky shadows, but I still can’t quite shake the feeling of being scared and trapped. I take a bite of lo mein while I think about how to try to talk to Annie about it.
“Chinese food?” she asks.
I swallow hastily. “How can you always tell?”
“I don’t know. It sounds different from when you’re eating other things. Plus, it’s like a fifty-fifty chance most nights, isn’t it? Your mom working late again?”
“Yeah. Big case, I guess.”
We’re both quiet for a minute. “I stopped by the library after rehearsal,” I say finally. “I had a feeling you might still be around.”
“Oh, you probably just missed me! I was tagging books for Mr. G. We got to talking and I hung around later than I’d planned to. How was rehearsal? Did you see your secret love?”
I hesitate, torn. I want to talk to her about Mr. Gabriel, about how weird and creepy he is and how worried I am about the way she has become so infatuated with him. But I’m afraid she’ll only get defensive about it again, and I don’t want to make her mad at me. And I really, really want to tell her about Ryan.
So I let it go. For now.
I tell her about how I slammed into him in the hallway, leaving out the detail that I had been running to see her, and she goes smoothly from yelling at me for not telling her about it during study hall to commiserating about the humiliation of it while still pointing out the not-so-slight upside of having been in full bodily contact with him for at least several seconds. That’s my Annie, always right there with me.
“I know, I can’t believe I didn’t tell you earlier,” I say, setting my plate down beside me. “I guess the Billy and Kelly show kind of took over my head for a little while.”
“Yeah, although, you know that’s crazy — you have to stop letting them get to you.”
“Yeah, well, whatever. Listen, I still haven’t told you the
upside from the whole Ryan tackling thing!” I relate the post-rehearsal conversation, line by line, with moment-to-moment descriptions of his facial expressions and my thoughts and internal physical reactions, repeating sections as requested, and I can tell that Annie is literally jumping around on the other side of the phone as she squeals excitement for me.
Cyn! You guys are, like, talking! For real! Finally!”
I can’t help grinning, her enthusiasm on my behalf making me even more excited about everything. “And all I had to do was knock him down in the hallway. Who knew?”
We discuss what I should wear tomorrow in order to look my best for Italian, and how I should say hello when I see him, and whether I should make myself not stare at him quite so much as usual if I can possibly help it. By the time we hang up I can hardly remember what my library freak-out was really all about. I bring my dishes downstairs and then return to my room to start trying on potential clothing items for tomorrow’s Ryan-ready ensemble.
Annie texts me in the morning to say she’s going early to the library to “do some stuff” for Mr. Gabriel, and so she’ll just see me in Italian. I am somewhat disappointed that she won’t be here to approve my outfit before we head to school, but I guess it was considerate of her not to show up half an hour early again. She doesn’t need my permission, after all. Of course she can go early to school if she wants to. It’s not like there’s some law that says we have to walk together every day. Except, we always have, unless one of us is sick or on vacation. She’s certainly never ditched me for a librarian before.
I hear how whiny my thoughts are becoming and force myself to cut it out. Annie has always been there for me, one hundred percent, and it’s incredibly selfish of me to want to keep her all to myself when she’s got something else she wants to do. I can pretend it’s only that I’m worried about this librarian thing, and I
worried . . . but that’s not what’s bothering me now. It’s that she’s putting something else first, someone else before me. And that’s not okay. Is this how I’d be if she had a boyfriend? Selfish and self-centered?
But he’s not a boyfriend,
my brain reminds me.
He’s the librarian.
The very creepy librarian.
Okay, yes, it’s weird and wrong and I still need to talk to her about it. But I can do that later, and I can certainly walk to school all by myself like a big girl.
I pass by the library between homeroom and first period, and without quite meaning to I drift over to the double doors to peek inside as I go by. There are several students lingering in there, or maybe they’re early for a class session. But something looks off to me. I stand there, trying to figure out what it is. Three girls are sitting at one of the long tables, but they’re not really doing anything — just sitting there. One has her elbows on the table and her head leaning forward against her hands, as though she is really tired, or maybe has a headache or is upset about something. The other two are sort of staring into space, one with her head tilted a little to one side.
Mr. Gabriel is standing near the circulation desk, and a small group of students surrounds him. They all appear to be listening raptly to whatever he is saying, and as he speaks he reaches out to touch first one, then another, moving his hands from arms to shoulders and even once to pat some guy on the head. No — not just some guy. I squint to make sure I am seeing this correctly. Richie Donovan, a senior on the football team and a huge, foulmouthed kid who is infamous for his temper getting him into trouble in class. I’ve seen him swat teachers’ hands away for daring to touch his notebook without permission; I cannot quite believe I have just witnessed him allowing the librarian to pat him on the head like a small dog.
As I continue to stand there staring, perplexed, Mr. Gabriel shifts position slightly and his eyes meet mine through the glass of the library door windows. His expression doesn’t change, but there is something different in his eyes themselves.
s, I think senselessly. I don’t even know what I mean by that. Knows what?
That I know. That I know he’s up to something.
I pull back from the window, turning aside and away, pressing my back against the wall beside the door, suddenly afraid. And then I feel an immediate temptation to look again, to keep trying to puzzle out what exactly he’s doing or saying, but I am filled with the certainty that if I look back through the window he will be right there on the other side, pressed up against the glass like that gremlin thing from that old
episode with William Shatner and the plane, and I can’t bring myself to do it. Instead I start to edge away, reminding myself that I should be hurrying toward Italian so I can say hello to Ryan now that we’re all friendly and everything and see Annie and not just keep standing here feeling scared and alone. The doors swing open and I almost scream, but it’s only the students finally filing out into the hall. They walk slowly, not speaking, apparently all lost in thought. I take off before the last of them emerges, just in case Mr. Gabriel is following them out.
I make it to Italian about two seconds after the bell rings, and Signor De Luca gives me a reproachful look as I slide into my seat. I mouth the word “sorry” at him and busy myself with taking out my notebook. When I next glance up, Ryan is looking back at me. He gives me a dead-on replica of the De Luca Look of Lateness and I have to bite my fist to keep from laughing out loud. It’s better than the hello I’d been imagining would have been, way better, like a million times better. When Ryan winks at me and turns back around, I look over at Annie to make sure she has witnessed this exhilarating exchange, but she isn’t looking back at me. She’s just sitting there, staring into space.
“Hey,” I whisper at her. When that doesn’t get her attention, I tear off a sheet of notebook paper and crumple it up into a tiny ball. When De Luca is safely engrossed in writing today’s vocabulary list on the board, I throw it at her. It hits her arm and bounces silently onto the floor. It takes her a second too long to notice it, but finally she sort of shakes her head and looks down at her arm, then up at me.
Her face seems weirdly slack, and my first thought is that she must be getting sick or something. Some vibrancy is gone from her expression, some essential Annie-ness that makes her look like her normal bouncy self.
“Are you okay?” I mouth at her.
She looks slightly confused, then slowly nods. Then nods again more quickly, seeming to come a little bit back to herself.
“Yeah,” she whispers. “Yeah, sorry. Kind of spaced out there for a minute, or something.”
you did,” I whisper back. Before I can say anything else, Signor De Luca’s deep voice booms warningly at us from the front of the room.
he says meaningfully, and we both turn around and start copying down vocabulary words in our books. I steal glances at her throughout the rest of class. She seems okay, mostly, but still a little out of it. I want the bell to ring so I can ask her what’s going on. But when it does, she gets up before I can say anything and walks to the teacher’s desk in the front of the room. Students are standing up around me and my view is partly blocked, but it looks like, as she speaks, she reaches forward and touches Signor De Luca on the back of the hand. He jerks a little, as though — as though he’s felt one of those little static electricity shocks. Or maybe just because it’s a little awkward to have one of your cute young female students touch your hand while she talks to you. Or maybe I didn’t quite see what I thought I saw, and it’s just my stupid imagination going crazy on me again.
I stand up to try to see better, but then Ryan walks by and gives me another smile and a chin-nod on his way out, and I stand there grinning like an idiot until Annie comes back over to my desk.
“Did I just see what I thought I saw?” she says, bouncing a little on her toes. “Was that a smile and a nod I observed? An acknowledgment of your existence with a simultaneous expression of pleasure across the lovely face of one Ryan Halsey?”
“Hey, shut up,” I say, glancing around to make sure no one else was close enough to hear her. But she’s smiling her Annie smile and is so suddenly and completely back to herself that I don’t spend too much time being nervous about it. “That’s nothing. I can’t believe you missed what he did before that,” I tell her as she falls in beside me on our way out into the hall.
“Right when I came in. When you were still lost inside your head, or whatever was going on with you before. What was that, anyway? Are you sure you’re okay?” She seems okay now, though. Like nothing ever happened.
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine.” She brushes off my concern and grabs my arm, pulling me along with her down the hall. “Tell me what I missed!”
I swallow my misgivings and give in, since I’m dying to replay it for myself, anyway. Annie is duly appreciative, and I begin to feel that happy excitement of potential with a much-liked boy bubbling up inside me, that lightness and frenetic hopefulness that I haven’t allowed myself to feel in what seems like a very long time.
For some reason the hallway seems especially clogged with students, and it takes forever to make it down to the stairwell at the far end of the hall.
with everyone today?” Annie asks, pushing past another group of students partially blocking our way.
I look around, searching for the explanation. It’s not like there’s a fight or something going on, because we’d hear it, and no one seems to be selling candy or hanging up flyers or spreading loud gossip or any other obvious thing that would account for all the slow-moving hallway blockiness that seems to be happening. In fact, the more I look around, it seems like nothing is happening. At all. People are just sort of standing around, looking a little lost.
Kind of like those kids looked in the library before first period.
Kind of like Annie looked at the beginning of Italian.
I look at her now, and her face is as animated and excited as ever, even in her frustration at having to push past people every few steps who are standing in her way for no particular reason.
Without really consciously deciding to do so, I turn around to look back down the hall, toward the classroom we just left.
Signor De Luca is standing in the doorway, looking after us. His face is slack and a little confused.
“Annie!” I turn back around as I call her name, wanting her to see, to confirm that I’m not imagining things. But she’s already in the stairway entrance, too far away.