After her mom closed the bedroom door, Rae watched the sliver of light creep under her door. If the bathroom light was on, then she could pretend that her parents were awake in the living room. And if her parents were awake in the living room, then she was safe.
She clung to this thought as she hid beneath the covers. Everyone knew that monsters couldn’t get through the blankets. As bursts of orange and yellow began to morph into shapes in her mind, she heard a train whistle as clear as if it was in her room. Now her parents would dismiss this. Call it a dream or tell her she only heard the train passing a few neighborhoods away. But it was so distinct and close.
Rae sat up, eyes darting to make sure her dolls hadn’t moved. They never did, but she could feel them watching. Her eyelids drooped, but her mind bugged her heart until her body twitched with panic. She gathered her courage, bundled her blanket into a lump behind her, turned on her dog flashlight, and leaned over to look under the bed. Two bins of Barbies took up the space there. She pushed them back against the wall so that nothing could hide behind them. No movement or noise indicated that there was anything more there than toys.
Sitting back up, Rae tried to reassure herself. She was being silly. What could a train do to hurt her? How could a train even get in her bedroom?
Adjusting her grip on her flashlight, she headed towards the closet. The doors squealed on their tracks as they slid open. She dropped the flash light. She didn’t need it. Where her clothes should have been was a train compartment. Sunlight streamed through the window onto two dark green benches. She looked behind her into her ordinary, boring room and stepped into the train car.
The closet door slid shut and morphed into frosted glass. The glass door opened. “Candy, Miss?” a train worker asked, gesturing to a tray of chocolate.
Rae accepted two plain pieces of chocolate. “Where are we going?”
“To The Library.”
“The Library. It has every book ever written, including the ones no one has published.”
Rae had never heard of this library, but it sounded perfect. “Do I get to read the books? How many books are there? Can I read them all tonight?”
“You’ve been invited by Lucinda Powell, the head scholar of The Library. She’s studied every book that it contains, and she can answer all of your questions.” With that, the worker left.
Time passed quickly. Rae watched the scenery go by: hills, plains, mountains, back to hills, and then a dense forest overcame them. The train slowed, and Rae pressed her face against the window as a tall twisting glass palace appeared in the middle of the trees. White iron held the large panels of glass together. It was unlike any building Rae had ever seen, prettier than any skyscraper.
The train pulled directly up in front of the palace. Rae knew this was her stop. She passed empty compartments and climbed out of the train onto the grass. A petite woman wearing a purple dress with a shoulder cloak held out her hand. The woman’s blonde bob bounced as she gestured for Rae to follow her. “I’m Amira. It’s nice to meet you. We never get visitors. It distracts all of the scholars.”
“Are you a scholar?” Rae asked, following Amira up the steps of to the front door.
“No. Just a receptionist. Scholars don’t like handling phone calls. I’m a people person, so I do it for them.” Amira’s perky voice put Rae at easy.
The entrance hall of the library was smaller than Rae had imagined, but a crystal chandelier hung over the center of the room, making the hall magnificent regardless. Amira gestured to a pale tan leather armchair against the wall. “Wait here please.” Before Rae sat, Amira disappeared through a side door.
A heavy wooden door blocked the entrance hall from the rest of the library. If Rae knew that the door wasn’t locked or that an alarm wouldn’t blare, then she would’ve snuck in and grabbed as many books as she could carry. Instead, she sat, swinging her legs and trying to ignore the tiredness creeping over her.
“Rae, I’m Dr. Lucinda Powell.” A tall, grey-haired woman with a few wrinkles strode across the entrance hall. She moved fast and her blue gown revealed a thin figure. “I’m so glad that you could join me this evening.”
Rae smiled, unable to find words. Lucinda seemed to understand. “I want to show you the main chamber. The Library has multiple wings and rooms. With so many books, how could it not?”
The floor to ceiling wooden doors thundered open, and Rae melted. The main chamber was as wide and long as a football field. Bookshelves were built into the walls. Windows and bookshelves were staggered, rising up five stories in a twisting shape. Rae didn’t understand how to get to the ones so high up, but she didn’t wonder long because the main level was filled with cozy armchairs of every color and fabric. Scholars occupied most of them with stacks of books resting on their end tables.
Rae wanted to run for the nearest shelf, grab an armful, and claim a chair for the night. Lucinda watched the anticipation and excitement grow on Rae’s face. “That’s how I felt when I first came here. Would you like to read one?”
“I’ll find a good one. Pick a chair.”
Rae scouted a chair near a window and away from the other scholars. It was floral, blue and yellow. She curled up in the seat. She could fit comfortable with her legs bent. Lucinda brought a heavy, brown leather book over. It was a little bit smaller than a normal book, like it was a field guide. The title read: Magick, Wisdom, and Reason: The Ultimate Guide to a Knowledge and a World Beyond the Visible. Rae dove in. Every page had little notes scrawled in blue ink alongside the printed text. Things were underlined and circled and crossed out. Rae couldn’t stop turning the pages. It wasn’t until she finished it that she realized Lucinda was watching her. Rae pretended to read the last page longer so that she wouldn’t have to give it back. But she couldn’t pretend forever.
“Did you like it?” Lucinda asked, letting Rae hold onto the book a little longer.
Rae nodded, all of her questions demanding to be asked. She didn’t know which one to say first.
“I was your age when I moved into The Library. Like you, I wanted to know everything that I could. I wanted to read every book and understand things that no one else had. I wanted to decipher the meaning of life, the origin of the world, and how it all ends. And I have.” Lucinda lowered her voice. “There is a Book of Time that begins before the beginning and ends beyond Time. In order to comprehend it, you need to learn everything that you possibly can. You have to read every book. Only then will you be able to handle it.”
Rae wanted to handle it. She was ready now.
“I invited you here because you love learning and reading. I’m inviting you to be a Scholar of The Library.”
Rae nodded eagerly, ready to accept so that she could keep reading.
“Do you understand that you will stay here?”
Rae nodded. “I’ll get my clothes and tell my parents.”
“The Library is a secret of scholars. You won’t be able to go home.” Lucinda looked sad. “I know that this is a big decision for someone so young.”
Rae bristled. She didn’t like adults thinking she was a child. She had full capability of her thoughts and actions, and she didn’t like being told otherwise. Her thoughts were reasonable, thank you very much. And she wanted to stay more than anything.
But she remembered that time her mom had thought she was missing. The panic and fear in her mom’s voice. Rae never wanted to hear it again. She missed her bed.
Reluctant, Rae handed the book back to Lucinda, and Lucinda called the train.
Like a lot of people, I watched Game of Thrones and couldn’t wait to see how it ended. I was sure that the white walkers were going to wreck havoc. They were alluded to at the very beginning of episode one, and they were built up to be the ultimate threat to humanity. I was very excited for the white walkers to march south, to prove to Cersei that this war with the walkers was her problem too. But that didn’t happen. The white walkers were defeated in one battle. The threat of all threats was brushed aside.
I’m one of those writers who plans and keeps notes. I don’t plot out my entire story, but I like to have an idea of where I’m going before I set sail. That said, I’ve seen a lot of writers make aesthetic boards for their stories. These boards are supposed to summarize the story and create an easy way for the writer to remember the world of their story. I don’t use them and always found them to be a distraction from actually writing. But I recently read an article about why they can be useful. It didn’t completely change my mind, but it’s a good article and could help any fellow writers who are considering using aesthetics as a planning device: https://www.eloracook.net/single-post/2019/02/14/Why-Making-Aesthetics-Is-More-Than-a-Procrastinating-Tool
I hadn’t expected Allie to propose. I couldn’t think straight. She doesn’t even know me. She thinks she does, but I haven’t told her the truth yet.
The bathroom is empty thankfully. Each stall is separated by full walls with wooden doors, the way every bathroom should be. Whose bright idea was it to leave gaps anyway? Does it actually save that much money on materials?
Hiding in the first stall, I expect Allie to come running after me. I expect my phone to buzz with her concerned texts and calls. Neither thing happens. I just stand there sniffling into too soft toilet paper. This restaurant is ridiculously fancy. I should’ve know.
The bathroom door opens. Two girls walk in talking about how awful their double date is. I lift my hand. “Silencio.”
My stall seals, blocking the outside sounds. Allie doesn’t know that I’m a witch.
Being gay is easier than being a witch. My friends were all supportive of the former. None of them know the latter. I can’t see the terror in Allie’s eyes when I tell her. I can’t deal with her looking at me like I’m a dangerous freak.
I wanted to tell Allie at the right time. But if I don’t tell her now, then I’ll lose her. My throat tightens. I’ll never be able to go back and speak the words. So I pull out my phone.
The ringing fills my ear. It goes to voicemail. Allie must be pissed. Her voicemail beeps.
“Hi, Allie. I’m so sorry that I left you like that. I just–I haven’t been fully honest. I–this should be an in person conversation, but I’m too afraid. I’m a witch. I have and use magic. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner. Please call me back. If you still want to marry me after this then, you’re a better person than me. I love you.”
A steaming plate of lasagna sits in front of me, uneaten. Elyssa’s spaghetti is getting cold. I want to go find her. I want to apologize. I want to take it all back.
Ring box closed, I put it beside her food. She’ll come back when she’s done freaking out. I try to eat my food, but my stomach churns every time I look at it.
The waitress asks if everything is okay. I say yes, that my girlfriend is just in the bathroom. She doesn’t feel well, I lie. The waitress looks at the ring box and offers takeout boxes. I accept. I pay the check.
My phone vibrates. It’s Allie. Is she calling to apologize? Did she leave? Is she moving out? As soon as her message is recorded, I listen to the voicemail.
Three years of dating and one year of living together, and she thought I didn’t catch on? I’d suspected the truth for the last year. Did she really expect me to believe that she could clean the entire apartment in ten minutes?
I shouldn’t be mad, but she basically insulted my intelligence. I don’t call her. Instead I text: I know you’re a witch. I loved you anyway. How could you not trust me with this sooner? Ring and dinner will be on the kitchen table. I won’t be there.
Elyssa crosses the restaurant to meet me. This is it. After three years, I’m going to propose today. The ring feels heavy in my dress pocket. She’ll love it. It’s one of the designs from her Pinterest board.
Her hips sway as she approaches. Her little black dress fits her perfect curves. Sometimes I’m jealous of her. Sometimes I want her tiny form instead of my wide thighs and shoulders. She’s an hourglass. I’m a pear.
Not a single hair strays from Elyssa’s blonde bun as she slides into the booth across from me. “Have you been waiting long?” She asks, scanning the wine list.
“No,” I’m not sure. Every second has felt like an eternity. I won’t be calm until she says yes.
The waiter takes our drink orders. I get coconut rum and lemonade. She gets a sweet red wine.
Leaning across the table, she takes my hand. “Didn’t feel like Chinese food and binge-watching or did you want an excuse to wear that dress?”
We bought the dress together a few weeks ago. It’s my first real cocktail dress: burgundy, knee-length, off the shoulder. It’s gorgeous. Elyssa rubs her thumb across the back of my hand and her green eyes fix on my lips. My heart hitches the way it did that first time right before we kissed. Her soft pink lips break into a smile. “What’s the occasion?”
“We’ve lived together for a year without killing each other. Isn’t that occasion enough?”
“No,” she says, but she doesn’t press further.
We order and I wonder when I’m supposed to bust out the ring. People usually wait until after they’ve started eating, right?
“Allie, are you okay? You look pale.” Elyssa puts her hand against my forehead. “You’re burning up. Should we take the food to-go?”
She always does this. If I feel slightly nauseous, she tries to take care of me. It’s sweet and sometimes annoying. I brush her hand away. “I’m fine.” Shit. I said the f word.
“Hey, please talk to me.”
“I’m really okay. Just nervous.” I try to drink more alcohol without seeming suspicious.
“This isn’t our first date. We live together.” She takes both of my hands. “I love you, remember?”
I can’t wait until our food comes. In the mirrored wall beside us, I barely recognize my slick, black hair. I’m glad that Elyssa straightened it for tonight. “Elyssa,” I stand up, move to her side of the table, and get on one knee. The carpet feels gross. Maybe I should’ve worn pants.
Despite her foundation, Elyssa’s face burns red. “Allie?”
I take the ring out with shaking hands. I can barely see her face. I think I’m blacking out. “Will you marry me?”
Her mouth moves, but I can’t hear the answer. She’s crying. She isn’t smiling. Then she’s moving past me towards the bathroom.
The words came undone and broke apart in Alaina’s mouth as the ferris wheel lifted her and her boyfriend, Cam up to the top, “I think we need to take a break.” She had been testing the words in her mouth since they’d gotten on, but they had only just slipped out when her heart lurched. Was she making a big mistake?
Cam’s hand loosened in hers. Alaina looked out over the happy faces of their church picnic. She couldn’t look at him, but she saw in her mind his hurt and confusion. She pictured his eyebrows scrunched into zigzags above watery eyes.
“How long have you felt this way?”
Out of all the questions Alaina had prepared for, this wasn’t one she wanted to answer. The truth was months, but they’d talked about moving in together after college as recently as last week. Part of her had believed that this was what she wanted, but the other part knew the truth. She was doing the right thing. “Not long.”
Alaina turned her head towards him, but stared at their hands. “I applied for a really good job in Florida, and I got an offer.”
“Did you accept it?”
In her mind, she saw his eyes glazing and his mouth pressing into a hard line. “Yes.” She couldn’t pass on it. It was exactly what she wanted to do. How could he ask her to give up her dreams?
Cam’s hand shifted onto his knee, leaving her fingers half-curled. He cleared his throat. “I understand. This was always temporary, wasn’t it?”
The ferris wheel stuttered to a halt. Their cart swung in the breeze. The early summer air still held a chill. “I thought I could find a job here, but I can’t.” She’d tried applying for any job remotely close to her degree, but she wasn’t passionate about them. She hadn’t even gotten an interview. She was doing the right thing.
The wheel turned and stopped. They were two carts from the bottom. Alaina forced herself to look over at Cam. He stared out in front of them, eyes locked on trees behind the church.
“Please say something.” Alaina hated the crack in her voice. She was supposed to be strong for him.
One cart between them and the bottom.
Cam shrugged. “What am I supposed to say? Everything’s different now.”
“Will we still talk?”
Their cart inched towards the platform where the bored carnival worker stood waiting to usher them off and usher on the next couple. Cam met her eyes and the indifference in his cut through her stomach. “No. I’m not going to help you feel better about what you’re doing. You chose this. Good luck in Florida.”
Alaina climbed out of the cart after him, but he walked down the platform and through the crowd before she could stop him. She pulled her phone out of her jean shorts pocket. She had done the right thing, hadn’t she? She needed to grow without him, to pursue a career that would make her happy. She scrolled through her old texts, reading the reassurances from her friends. She’d made the right move. She was doing the right thing. This was right, wasn’t it?