I shared some of my writing a couple months, and I wanted to post a few more pieces, so I hope you enjoy these! They were all written for my intro to creative writing - fiction class this fall.
This first one is the piece I submitted for workshop and then revised and put in my midterm portfolio. I planned to add onto it and have the second piece be my second workshop submission but life got in the way and I wrote something else that I'll share later in this post. ANYWAYS.
Rachel never told anyone at school how much she loved the Art Institute of Chicago. But the truth was she felt like she was home every time she walked up the grand staircase. She could spend hours in the Thorne Rooms, could stare at “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” forever, could live in the Impressionist gallery.
Wouldn’t it be grand to live in a museum like Claudia and Jamie did? she often pondered, her thoughts flickering to one of her favorite childhood books.
All of the paintings, sculptures, architecture, and photographs made her wish that she, too, was an artist. At least she could appreciate the fine arts, even if she couldn’t participate in them. She could draw stick figures and doodles, and that was about it.
Today was the junior class’s annual field trip to the Art Institute. The bus ride was Rachel’s least favorite part. Almost all of her classmates turned into whiny, grumpy children and didn’t act at all like the high schoolers they were. Most of them didn’t appreciate art; they were all mathematically, politically, or athletically-minded. In fact, right that minute, Rachel could see Yasmin doing some trig homework, and Juan and Michael were arguing whether the Cubs or the Cardinals would win the division series playoffs.
It didn’t help that her best friend, Kelly, wasn’t there; she was on a trip with her family. But Rachel tried to not let all of that get her down. Her classmates wouldn’t ruin a day at her favorite place. She couldn’t wait to pass the two bronze lions out front, step into the lobby, and breathe in the smell of art: paint, stone, canvas, and cleanliness.
Wren, her seat-mate, was chatty. Rachel tried to be nice, since at least someone besides her seemed excited about the field trip. As far as she could gather, the brunette liked to read and play the piano but she had no artistic talent either. Rachel felt herself warm up to Wren over that mutual point.
Once the students were off the buses and in the lobby of the museum, Rachel drifted towards the back of her class. Her attention was drawn to the art-deco ceilings and the strong marble columns. Rachel would’ve been left behind, had Wren not hurried over and pulled her back to the group. The chaperones gathered them in a tight group before letting them wander.
The head teacher told them, “You’ll be in groups of three. Each group will stay in one exhibit for two hours and find a piece of artwork to write about—your writing can be an analysis, a critique, a poem, an essay, or a short story. Then we’ll convene for lunch in the museum café. After that, we’ll split into our core groups for additional study. And please remain respectful of other visitors. You’re all representing Woodstock North High School.”
Rachel’s morning group had chosen the Modern Wing. Well, she hadn’t picked it. Her assigned groupmates had, without asking her opinion. She’d never understood modern art. At least her afternoon group would be going to the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art gallery, which would be fascinating. That was one area she hadn’t explored enough even though she’d been to the Art Institute more times than she could count.
After wandering aimlessly for thirty minutes past the works of Picasso, Ernst, Dalí, and Mondrian, Rachel made her way back to the few Magritte paintings she’d seen. His art wasn’t as weird as some of the others’, so she decided to write about his work entitled “The Banquet.” She nodded to one of the guards, since he was watching her a bit closely. He had probably dealt with too many disorderly teenagers. As she turned to find a bench nearby to sit on, her shoulder clipped a man clothed in dark blues and khaki tones.
“Sorry!” she said hurriedly.
The man smiled good-naturedly and waved his hand as if to say it was all right. He didn’t say a word. Rachel settled on the nearest bench; when she looked back up, he was gone. She figured he’d been moving onto another part of the exhibit, so it didn’t trouble her. Instead she situated herself so she could study “The Banquet” for a while without growing uncomfortable.
She wasn’t very good at critiques or analyses, and she didn’t think modern paintings could inspire any short stories. But as she stared at the rich scarlet and ash tones, something like a song started to flow through her mind. As soon as her poem was written, Rachel snuck off to the Thorne Rooms. She’d have a good twenty-five minutes with them before she needed to get back to her group. As she wound her way back to the main entrance, she passed several of her peers in each of the exhibits. There were multiple groups in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection on “The Bridge” (as the museum map called it), and Rachel wished she could linger with them. She loved Monet’s work, as well as Renoir’s, Degas’, and Van Gogh’s.
“I’ll get Mom and Dad to bring me back this weekend. We might as well put that membership to good use,” Rachel told herself, but she lingered for a minute by “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.”
There were too many people around, though, for her to fully enjoy herself. There were a lot of guards, too, she noted.
Maybe they’ve had some thievery threats, Rachel thought with a shrug and continued on her way.
She danced down the grand staircase; she loved the sound her ballet flats made on the stone steps. When she reached the lowest level of the museum, she turned the corner, ready to gaze upon the miniature cathedral that was the first Thorne Room and—
“Oh, crap,” she said.
The security guard, who always sat at the desk, lied on the ground just inside the exhibit. His face was as blue as her sweater. Just beyond him was a well-dressed woman, her limbs splayed and blood spreading out from her waist and soaking the carpet.
“What do I do, what do I do?” she murmured.
Almost involuntarily, she moved closer to the bodies. Maybe the woman was still alive… A thud further into the exhibit caused her to jump back. Rachel didn’t dare move further into the Throne Rooms now. It had to be the murderer, and—
Oh saints above, I’m next, she couldn’t help but think.
There was no one else downstairs, no other responsible adults who could take over with a level head while she panicked. So she pivoted and ran for the stairs. As her heart rate sped up, she managed, somehow, to calm down a little and see things more clearly. By the time she reached the top of the steps, she was able to feign complete composure.
“So, um, I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Rachel began when she sidled up to the first guard she saw in the lobby, “but I just went down to the Throne Rooms and there’s…” She leaned closer so she could whisper and not alarm any other museum visitors. “There are two dead bodies in the exhibit. And I think the murderer is still in the exhibit. I wasn’t going to check, but I heard a noise, and it’s only logical that it would be the person who did the killing, right?”
The guard was startled of course. Then his eyes narrowed and his brow furrowed. Rachel could guess what he was thinking: Is this kid playing a prank, or is she telling the truth?
“It’s the truth, I swear!” Rachel said. “You can check for yourself or call for back-up, but, well, I’d deal with it soon if I were you. You don’t want any other visitors, particularly children, stumbling across the bodies. Do you?”
At those words, the guard raised his walkie-talkie and said, “A teenage girl just reported a code Marat in the Thorne Rooms gallery. Can someone go check on that?”
A moment later, his radio beeped and crackled, and a tinny voice said, “Roger that.”
Rachel rocked back and forth from her toes to her heels. The minutes ticked by. The guard, although he mostly kept his eyes on the rest of the lobby, kept glancing at her, probably to make sure she wasn’t going to cause any more trouble. Well, it wasn’t her fault someone had committed a murder at the Art Institute.
“Joe, ya there?” the guard’s radio crackled.
Joe lifted the walkie-talkie to his mouth. “Yeah, Leonard, I’m here. What did you find?”
“There aren’t any dead bodies down here, so I’d say this is just a prank but…the carpet is definitely stained and possibly wet. We should check the camera footage,” said Leonard over the walkie-talkie. “Why don’t you bring the girl down here? She’ll need to come to the offices to give the police her account anyways.”
Great. Rachel was due to meet her group ten minutes ago, and now she had to wait for the police. Her teachers were going to kill her, and then there would be a third murder in one day at the Art Institute.
“Let’s go,” said Joe.
They headed to the grand staircase, but just as Rachel’s foot hit the top step, she heard someone call her name. She looked up and across to the second floor and saw Wren waving to her. The petite girl ran down the stairs and over to Rachel.
“Mr. Pickerell has been looking for you everywhere! He’s gonna be really mad, Rachel.” She noticed the guard and her expression changed. “What’s going on? Are you in trouble?”
“I, well, I saw two dead bodies downstairs. The guards said I have to go with them to confirm what I saw and then they need to get a statement,” Rachel said. She tucked her hands into her jacket pockets to hide how they shook slightly.
Wren’s eyes grew even wider. “Oh my gosh. Well, I’ll go tell Mr. Pickerell what’s going on. He’ll probably send one of the chaperones. You need an adult with you if you’re going to talk to the police.”
They parted ways. In the Thorne Rooms, it was just like the other guard had said. The bodies weren’t there, even though Rachel knew she hadn’t imagined them. Once the chaperone, Ms. Jacobson, arrived, the guards led the way to the security offices.
Rachel had to repeat her story for the police—and they didn’t even show up for thirty minutes. Her stomach wouldn’t stop growling, and it was enough to make her almost regret wandering off from the group. Almost. But now she had stumbled upon a mystery, and while she was certain the Chicago police were quite capable, she wanted to try and solve the case, too. After all, she was involved in it now, and thanks to all the time she’d spent watching Veronica Mars and reading Nancy Drew, she couldn’t resist a good mystery.
The guards and police made the decision to close the museum for the rest of the day. For a moment, as they discussed plans, they seemed to forget Rachel and her chaperone were there.
“We don’t want to alarm anyone,” said an officer, “but if there’s a murderer on the loose, we need to evacuate all the visitors and you’ll need to close the museum for the rest of the day.”
“The murderer could’ve left the premises,” a guard said. “There’s no way they could’ve gotten a weapon past the security checkpoint so they probably used a back door, which they could’ve easily exited through already. That’s presumably how they got in, after all. We should check those doors and see if any had their alarms deactivated…”
“Is Rachel free to go?” Ms. Jacobson spoke up. “If there’s actually been a murder, I’d like to get my students back on the bus as soon as possible.”
“Oh! Right. Of course, ma’am. I’m sorry this had to interrupt your day,” said the guard. “Thank you for speaking with us, Miss Reynolds and Ms. Jacobson. One of my men will escort you two back to your group.”
Ms. Jacobson rushed her to the cafeteria. The group from Woodstock North was splitting off for their various afternoon tours, but Ms. Jacobson quickly spread the word that the museum was closing. Mr. Pickerell made the decision to head for the front doors and get out before the chaos began. The group of high schoolers slowly filed through the building and the exit security checkpoint the guards had already set up. Rachel cast a sad glance at the gift shop. She’d brought spending money and everything.
After a few minutes outside while they waited for the buses, Rachel noticed someone edging closer to her in her peripheral vision. She turned to her left and saw Wren and a guy she vaguely recognized.
“Hey,” Wren whispered. “Do you know what happened?”
Rachel shook her head. “The police let me return to the group as soon as they had my statement. I guess we’ll have to watch the newspapers or something to see if they ever solve the case.”
The guy looked skeptical. “You’re not even the slightest bit curious?”
“I’m not,” Wren interjected. “Haven’t you ever read any books, Liam? Whenever teenagers try and solve murder mysteries, more bad things happen—usually one of the Nancy Drew wannabes dies.”
Rachel looked around to make sure none of the chaperones were standing nearby. She leaned closer towards Wren and Liam. “Oh, I’m definitely curious. And I plan to solve this murder. Whether that happens before or after the police do doesn’t matter.” She paused as an idea formed. Then she smiled. “Wanna help?”
Wren’s eyes grew even wider, if that was possible. “No way. We’ll get in trouble, or someone else will die. And I don’t know about you guys, but I kind of want to live to graduate from high school. Why can’t we just let the police handle it?”
“Oh, c’mon, Wren,” Liam said. “Don’t be a Debbie Downer. This could be really fun. How many teenagers get to say they solved a murder mystery?”
“Tried to solve,” Rachel interjected. “I don’t solve a lot of mysteries. We may totally suck at this. I mean, I’ve watched a lot of TV shows and movies with detectives, but who’s to say I absorbed their skills?”
He continued, “Well we’ll be careful—won’t we, Rachel? You’ve never struck me as the type to do anything super dangerous.”
“Um, yeah. I’m just planning to use any information available to the public and come back to the museum this weekend. I’m not going to sneak into any buildings after hours, or tail potential murderers, or anything like that,” she said.
“They always say that,” Wren muttered. Rachel gave her a startled look, and the girl was quick to add, “In the books and TV shows, I mean.” Then she sighed. “If I can’t stop you guys from investigating, I guess I’ll help. Maybe then I can keep you from doing anything particularly stupid.”
“We’re going to have to lie to our parents,” said Rachel. “There’s no way mine’ll let me come back to the museum so soon. Let’s just say we want to go to Millennium Park.”
Wren looked uncertain, but Liam practically bounced on his toes. “That’s fine.”
“Liam! Rachel! Wren!” a teacher called. “We’re leaving. Come get on the bus.”
Rachel led the way. She felt eyes boring into her head, and she turned slightly to look up at the museum. There was no one there, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
This next one is the second part of "Spiced Wine," which I wrote so the story could be put in my final portfolio. It's still not complete because, like I said last time, we weren't allowed to write fantasy or sci-fi and the story definitely takes a fantasy turn after this scene. *crosses fingers y'all like it*
"Spiced Wine - Part 2":
A week later was the children’s party. Frederick and Marie didn’t like to short their children, so Fritz and Clara deserved a ball, too, in the elder Drosselmeyers’ minds.
They organized a party that was just as extravagant as their ball. The tree was trimmed with the same ornaments, and the packages underneath were real presents for all the guests unlike the fake ones at the adult party. The servants put up fresh greenery and added new ribbons above the doorways. The entire house smelled of cinnamon, sugar, apples, and pumpkin; the cook had been very busy. There would be no spiced wine that night, however.
Clara was ready early. She wore a satiny raspberry pink dress fluffed out with tulle and petticoats. Her hair was in perfect curls, thanks to her mother’s lady’s maid, and her cheeks shone with a natural flush of excitement.
She tiptoed down to the mezzanine level of their home where the balconies were, to try and catch a peek at the ballroom. But her grandfather had been expecting this, and he’d posted a servant to keep his young granddaughter out. Clara wasn’t easily thwarted, and she considered bribing the servant to let her in for just a minute. Her grandfather had posted his valet, however, and George was built like a rhinoceros. So she left. She would have to wait and see the ballroom with her guests.
Clara and her brother, Fritz, played at hosting that night. They stood in the foyer and greeted their young guests. Their parents, who were the real hosts of the evening, stood just beyond them to welcome the other adults. Everyone gathered in the hall where they would stay until the clock struck six; then the ballroom and its decorations would be revealed.
Clara ruled over the cluster of girls like a passive queen whose power simmered under the surface, waiting for the right moment to emerge. Her four friends were at the core with her and the other young ladies gathered around them. The five main girls had known each other since their nurses pushed their buggies through the park, and they all wore similar styles of dress that night. Each one donned a different color, though: Clara in raspberry pink, Eve in ice blue, Anna in leaf green, Margaret in plum purple, and Priscilla in lemon yellow. Their little group was a bright spot in a flock of black, brown, burgundy, pine, and navy. That night, the adults wore more somber colors since this party wasn’t for them.
Frederick and Marie eventually glided across the hall and stopped in front of the wide ballroom doors. A hush fell over the crowd. Clara stood quietly, but she could see Fritz bouncing on his toes. She rolled her eyes. Her brother was the most annoying boy she knew.
Her father spoke, but Clara tuned him out. She was too busy scanning the guests and looking for a certain stone-faced boy. In her mind, it made sense that he would be there again since he’d been at the last Drosselmeyer party. She wanted to speak to him if he showed up; she wouldn’t let him get the upper hand this time.
“Ooh,” everyone breathed, and Clara swiveled back around to look at the shimmering ballroom.
The decorations that night were primarily in shades of gold, emerald, and scarlet. The ribbons lining the balconies looked velvety, even from afar. A long curved table settled against the far wall, and it practically buckled under the weight of the pastries, candies, and other decadent foods. The polished marble floors shone in the dim candlelight, and a fire crackled upon the hearth on the left wall. The night was warmth and elegance.
The children ran into the ballroom, and they gathered around the tree. Their voices rose and mingled, creating a jumbled chatter of exclamations. Their parents followed more sedately—although there was a hint of excitement in their steps—and appreciative murmurs joined the children’s words.
There were party games first, which caused laughter and shouts. That was followed by the father-daughter dance, proudly led by Frederick and Clara. Then, it was time for presents.
The children tore through the wrappings. Paper and ribbon flew through the air, and the ballroom continued to ring with shouts. Fritz received an array of toy soldiers, which he and his friends promptly arranged and sent into battle. Clara watched as her friends opened packages containing paint sets, yarn for knitting, and books. She had plenty of gifts of her own to attend to, but she enjoyed seeing what her friends had first.
Just as Clara turned her attention to her stack of packages, the clock struck eight. The ballroom doors opened with a bang, and all the guests startled. A figure dressed entirely in black stalked into the room. The women gasped, and the children shrank back—all except one. Clara ran forward to greet the new arrival, for she recognized her beloved grandfather. He swooped her into a hug, and she kissed his cheek. Her eyes sparkled. Grandfather loved dramatic entrances and if he was there that night, he must have brought the best presents.
He had indeed. Grandfather Drosselmeyer had brought chocolate and marzipan, hair ribbons and wooden whistles, and stuffed bears and dolls. Once the excitement over those was dying down, he clapped his hands. Four footmen rolled four large crates into the room; each one was taller than Clara. The footmen removed the sides of the crates, and the children crowded close. Grandfather spread his arms wide as he showed off his creations: life-size, lifelike mechanical dolls. He gently lifted one and set it on the floor. As he wound up the key in its back, he gestured for the guests to make a large circle. Then he stepped back and the doll began to dance, to the delight of the children and adults alike. This process repeated twice—as two of the dolls were a matched set—and then Grandfather instructed the footmen to put away the dolls for safekeeping. Clara understood his underlying meaning: her grandfather didn’t want Fritz to break his delicate creations.
Drosselmeyer announced he had one more gift. He pulled a slim box out of his billowing black overcoat and presented it to Clara and Fritz. Clara held the box as her brother tore off the brown paper and pulled open the lid. Inside, nestled on a bed of soft fabric, as a nutcracker. He wore a shiny red jacket the color of holly berries and black trousers with a gold stripe running down the side. His boots were as shiny as obsidian, and his carved, painted hat reflected the cheery blue of the sky. Every painted detail was meticulous, and Clara loved him.
Fritz did not share her admiration. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. He let Clara take the nutcracker, and she ran over to show off her new toy to her friends. They didn’t appreciate the gift as much as she did, mostly because they had expected another spectacular creation like the dancing dolls. Clara didn’t mind; the nutcracker was splendid, her best present by far.
She had forgotten, though, how spiteful her brother could be, and because she was too caught up in admiring the nutcracker, she neglected to be watchful. Fritz darted into the midst of the girls and snatched the nutcracker from his sister. Clara tried to grab it back, but he was too quick. He threw it to one of his friends, and the boys began a game of keep-away as the girls fought to reclaim Clara’s beloved gift.
Then one of the boys missed the throw, and the nutcracker tumbled to the ground. It landed with a harsh crack. Clara gasped and stumbled forward. She cradled her toy and gazed upon its broken jaw. Her grandfather appeared at her side, and he whipped a ribbon out of his coat. He gently took the toy from his granddaughter and bound the nutcracker’s jaw with the ribbon. Then he knelt gingerly, his knees creaking, and instructed Clara to take special care of the nutcracker until it could be fixed.
The party ended soon after, and the Drosselmeyer children were sent up to bed. Clara tossed and turned for hours as she worried about her poor nutcracker and wondered why the mysterious boy hadn’t made an appearance. Or…perhaps he had and she had been too preoccupied to notice; that was just as distressing for the young girl. Since she couldn’t sleep, Clara got out of bed and pulled on her robe and slippers. Then she tiptoed down to the ballroom where she’d left the nutcracker on a doll bed she’d received that evening from her parents. She resolved to go to the kitchen for warm milk after that, and then she’d be able to fall asleep. She hoped that would happen at least. But when she reached the ballroom doors, she was not expecting what she found inside.
Okay, and this final piece is the one I submitted for the second workshop and then put in my final portfolio. It's pretty long (10 pages on Microsoft Word), so if you read the whole thing, props to you.
When I first saw him, I really only noticed the pile of books he carried. The stack went from his hips to his chin, but he carried the books confidently, as if he didn’t worry about dropping them at all. I envied him for that. If I wanted to carry more than five books, I needed help—or at least a basket. I peered at the titles in his arms. There were a lot of British novelists—I spotted an E.M. Forster novel and one by Virginia Woolf, as well as Animal Farm and Brave New World. He also carried, to my delight, several young adult books.
It was a busy afternoon at Barnes & Noble, and the only open chair was right next to me. I’d staked my seat out over an hour before and hadn’t budged since I settled in with the latest Lunar Chronicles book. I’d loved the series since the first one came out three years ago. The guy gave me an inquiring, almost pleading, look and I nodded. I didn’t really mind if people sat next to me, as long as they kept to themselves. His stack of books thudded as they hit the table between us, and he plopped into the chair with a relieved sigh.
“Smart,” he said to me as he pointed at the basket at my feet. It was filled to the brim with books. “Wish I’d thought of that.”
I smiled briefly and then returned to my novel. I was at an exciting part, and, if I was ever interrupted for long, the reading mood was completely ruined.
We sat in silence for several minutes. The noise of the bookstore hummed in the background, but it was barely noticeable—just a few voices, the coffee machines, and footsteps. Bookstores are one of my favorite places because they’re relatively tranquil—halfway between an eerily silent library and any other store. The only customers who raise their voices are kids, and I always sit far enough away from the children’s area so they can’t disturb me. Usually, other people have the common sense to not interrupt me.
“Sorry to bother you.” The boy interrupted me again. It’s like he didn’t know my cardinal rule: Thou shalt not bother Allison while she’s reading.
“Would you mind watching my books? Just to make sure no one takes them? I want to go grab a few more,” he said.
“Sure, no problem,” I said, not really paying attention. I wouldn’t let him distract me from my book.
He wandered off, and I dove back into Winter. As I read, I sipped my caramel apple cider. I barely noticed time passing. He returned eventually; he carried only three more books—all Agatha Christie mysteries. I glanced at my phone and realized I’d been at Barnes & Noble for two hours. It was a Saturday afternoon, but I knew I couldn’t escape reality forever. I started to gather my things—coat, scarf, purse, and books.
“That book must be really good,” the boy commented.
I glanced up to find him watching me from his chair. He had a cheerful face and straight black hair. A chunk of it fell over his forehead and brushed the rim of his glasses. I figured he was around my age, maybe a year or two older. He seemed nice enough, but he didn’t seem to grasp the boundaries of book-reading.
“Yeah, it is,” I replied. I ran my hand over the blue-violet cover and sighed. “Too bad I can’t buy it. I’ll probably come back tomorrow afternoon and finish it.”
I realized too late what my comment indicated: that I was so poor I couldn’t even afford to buy one book that day, let alone the thirteen others in my basket. My cheeks grew warm, so I hurried off before the boy could see. I went to return all the books to their shelves. As each one left my hand, I felt a tiny bit of happiness slip out of my heart like air from a balloon. I wished I was rich enough to afford every single one of the books I’d read that day.
The next afternoon, after church and lunch, I managed to slip out and head back to Barnes & Noble. I lived in an apartment with my parents and siblings only a few minutes from the not-so-nice part of the downtown area of Crystal Lake, but the bookstore was about two miles away. I was used to the walk, though, when one of my parents couldn’t drive me. The air wasn’t too cold that day, which was unusual for northeast Illinois in November. I would never complain about that, though. Warmer weather meant it was possible for me to walk everywhere; when the snow, ice, and below-zero temperatures came, I’d be stuck at home.
My feet scuffed along the dirty sidewalk. I paused at each intersection and felt the cars go whizzing by. Within about fifteen minutes, I reached the store complex where Barnes & Noble and crossed the parking lot to Barnes & Noble.
The store was much quieter than it had been the day before. I could even hear the music piped over the speakers. The warm air surrounded me, and I took a deep breath, hoping I’d smell paper and ink. All I could smell was coffee, thanks to the café at the back.
My mom had given me ten dollars to spend that day. I figured she’d had a little extra in the monthly budget or something, and she took pity on me when she saw my face after I returned home the day before. Two miles is a long time to think about all the books you could’ve bought.
I grabbed another basket and wandered over to the young adult section. I strolled through the three rows of shelves, walking up and down until I thought my eyes had seen every cover or spine. When that was done, I filled one side of the basket with all the books I could actually consider buying and the other side with ones that I would have to read at the store. The left side was all fantasy and historical fiction titles in paperback and the right side held Winter, plus several science fiction titles that sounded interesting.
Once that was done, I wandered around the store to find the perfect seat. There weren’t many full, but my favorite was taken. So I headed for the one I’d snagged the day before; it wasn’t a bad spot at all—not too close to the door or children’s section, but a little closer to the café than I would normally like.
My footsteps faltered when I got closer. The chair I’d had yesterday was empty, but the other one wasn’t. The boy from yesterday was there again. Had he even moved in the last twenty-four hours?
Ok, that was a stupid question. He’d clearly changed clothes, and his stack of books was much shorter—and in a basket. It looked like he’d followed my lead.
I was about to break my number one rule, but I couldn’t resist. I cleared my throat once I was only a few feet away, and he glanced up with slightly-glazed eyes. Whatever he was reading, it had to be good. I’d recognized that look in some of my fellow bibliophile friends’ eyes. The look disappeared when he recognized me, and a smile broke out across his face.
“You’re back!” he said.
“And apparently, so are you,” I said. I gazed down at his basket of books, but I could only see the top two. “Did you find anything good?”
“Yeah, actually I did.” He set aside the book he was reading and beckoned me closer. Then he began pulling novels out of his basket. “Yesterday, I was mainly here to get books for a class, but today is all for me. I’m not a big fantasy person, but there are some great contemporary and historical fiction options here. Have you read Prisoner of Night and Fog?”
“Not yet, but I want to,” I replied. I wanted to exclaim at his lack of interest in fantasy but I practiced some restraint and asked, “Have you read Rose Under Fire?”
If it was possible, I thought his eyes lit up even more.
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “I love that one and Code Name Verity.” He shoved a novel into my hands, and I almost dropped my own trove of books. “You have to try this one. I found it yesterday, and I’m totally going to get it today.”
I studied the cover, which was fairly simple. It reminded me of an embroidery project; it looked like fabric, and there was raised, tangled marks that represented stitches and formed curved lines. At the center of the lines was a heart. I flipped inside to read the synopsis. It was clearly a contemporary novel, but the cover was awfully pretty…
“Sounds cool,” I said. “I’ll put it on my list to read sometime.” I wasn’t entirely sure if I meant that.
“Oh, I never introduced myself. I’m Henry,” he said, adjusting his glasses.
“Allison,” I replied.
“Nice to meet you.” He stuck his hand out, and I shook it. His fingers were long and bony but warm. I was the first to pull away. He didn’t make me feel uneasy, though. I was just a bit outside of my comfort zone. Yeah, I hung out with guys at school but this…this was somehow different.
I settled in to read for a little while. I got through another third of Winter before I felt my phone vibrate. I discreetly pulled it out so Henry wouldn’t see my cheap Tracfone. From his sweater vest and peacoat, to his gold watch, and down to his shiny Oxfords, he definitely looked upper middle-class. Even though he seemed nice, I’d known enough wealthier people who would judge you just for your poverty.
The text was from my dad and it said: I should be done grocery shopping soon. Will pick you up in about 15 minutes.
With a resigned sigh, I pushed myself up out of the chair. Fifteen minutes was just enough time to pick which book to buy and return the others to their spots on the shelves.
“You’re leaving?” said Henry.
“Yeah,” I replied. I opened my mouth to say more but then I changed my mind and darted off to the young adult section. After ten minutes of agonizing over the decision, I picked my one book and went to pay for it.
My dad sat outside in our old Honda Accord. He waved when I emerged. I slid into the passenger seat, and he pointed the car towards home.
“What book did you get?” he asks.
“It’s called The Winner’s Curse,” I said. I pulled it out of the bag and admired the cover with its wood floors and rosy pink dress and the dagger. “I haven’t read it yet, but Ms. McGinnis said it’s good.”
“Ms. McGinnis is your school librarian, right? Christine McGinnis?”
“I went to school with her,” my dad said. “She’s always had her nose in a book, just like you.” His words were fond and not unkind.
“She’s great,” I said.
After a moment of easy silence, my dad told me, “Don’t go disappearing to your room when we get back. Mom’ll want your help with chores.”
I opened my mouth to protest but caught myself. I’d had two escapes to the bookstore that weekend, so it was only fair that I helped out. Still, I wished I were one of the protagonists in my books. They never had chores—they sometimes didn’t even have jobs—and they could spend their free time however they wished.
I couldn’t. Instead, when we got back to the apartment, I helped unload the groceries. When that was done, I put my book in a safe place in my room and kept the twins busy while Mom and Lily cleaned the bathroom. I didn’t mind watching Kayla and David until they started fighting. Then I wished I was back at Barnes & Noble.
Three weeks later, I returned to Barnes & Noble with one of my friends, Miranda. We went after school on a Thursday, and our plan was to start our Christmas shopping, although I hoped I’d finish quickly enough to have time to browse for myself. I honestly didn’t think I’d have much success at the bookstore, anyways. As much as I loved Barnes & Noble, it was a bit out of my budget for my family. I’d have better luck at Walmart.
Miranda disappeared off to the mystery section to find something for her dad. I hastened to the children’s area. Maybe I could find an inexpensive chapter book for Kayla or David—even though the former would likely prefer a new soccer ball and the latter wanted Legos.
I hadn’t read chapter books in ages, so I wasn’t sure which ones were good besides The Magic Treehouse series and the American Girl books. My search ended empty-handed. I headed to the young adult section; Miranda would know to look for me there. I still hadn’t finished Winter, so I went to look for a copy. I turned into the main science fiction/fantasy aisle, and I froze. Henry stood halfway down the row of bookshelves. He was thumbing through a book that distinctly looked like Cinder, the first in The Lunar Chronicles. I did an about-face and darted into the next aisle instead. I leaned against a bookcase and crossed my arms over my stomach.
Why did I keep running into that boy? Was he stalking me? If I were in some book, I’d chalk it up to serendipity and Henry and I would fall madly in love. But, as much as I love books, that sort of thing doesn’t actually happen.
Thanks to him, I wouldn’t be able to read any more of Winter and I was dying to know what happened next.
I jerked to the right. Henry stood there, holding Cinder; he looked pleased. I swallowed a sigh. It wasn’t that I disliked Henry—I didn’t at all. He was just so enthusiastic and friendly, and I didn’t want him getting too close. My friends had known me most of my life and I knew they didn’t pity or judge me. But when I met anyone and they found out that I wasn’t middle class and I lived in an apartment, I could immediately see the change in how they treated me. I didn’t want that to happen with another person.
“Have you finished Winter yet?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. I haven’t had time. I’ve got the ACTs coming up and homework…”
“Don’t go anywhere,” he said.
Then he hurried off. Puzzled, I watched him go. I should’ve gone and found Miranda, but as much as I had tried before, I couldn’t be rude to someone who didn’t deserve it. So I turned and studied the shelves around me while I waited. I admired the pretty spines, and my eyes followed the rise and fall of the tall hardbacks and small paperbacks. The titles flowed into lines of poetry that I mouthed. That was why I loved books—not only for the escape they provided from bleak reality, but also because they were an art on so many levels.
Henry returned; he had his hands behind his back and he rocked back and forth like someone who was keeping a really good secret. Then he pulled a book out from behind his back and handed it to me. It was Winter.
“Ummm…” I said.
“I bought it for you! So you don’t have to keep coming here to read it,” he explained.
I could feel the confused expression on my face go cold. I shoved the book back at him.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“Why not? I don’t expect anything in return, I really don’t.”
“I’m not a charity case.”
“Think of it as a gift! I love seeing people just as passionate about books as me—even if they’re a genre I don’t normally read—and I don’t want you to miss out on something you were enjoying.”
I hesitated. As much as I wanted to accept the book, it didn’t feel right. My cheeks burned with embarrassment because, no matter what Henry said, it still felt like charity and pity. Maybe he didn’t quite know I was poor, but he clearly realized I couldn’t buy the book.
“Please, Allison, I want to be friends. Friends give each other gifts, right?” he said, holding the fat tome out to me.
My fingers itched to take it, and I felt incredibly torn. On the one hand, I wanted the book so badly. Every time I’d had to leave it behind, I’d ached inside. But on the other hand, my parents had drilled it into me over the years that we were a family that didn’t need help, that we were strong and independent and could carve our own path. There were no rules against gifts, though.
So I accepted the book. I smoothed my hand over the matte cover and smiled. “Thank you, Henry,” I said. “I’d like to be friends, too.” Then I looked up. “I think I need to know a little more about you so I can say we’re friends.”
So we sat down in the middle of the young adult section, and he told me all about himself—he was the middle child of five, his parents had come to the States from Thailand for school and had ended up staying, he loved literature and history and planned to study those in college, he was already doing dual enrollment through the community college, and, while he’d come back that Sunday in hopes of seeing me again, today’s meeting was entirely coincidence.
I didn’t tell him much about my family, and I think he sensed that I was holding back. Still, he learned important things about me—that I refuse to eat my cereal with milk, how much I love the Christmas season, and that I want to learn to crochet. Then I told him the most important story of all: how I fell in love with books as a six-year-old in the public library.
“One of the children’s librarians was the one who introduced me to the Little House on the Prairie books, and she was the one who recommended so many of my favorites as I grew up,” I explained. “Sometimes I imagine what my life would be like if she hadn’t invested so much in me. I’m not quite sure what I want to study in college or what I want to do for a career, but I’m leaning towards teaching English or being a librarian because I want to be that person in someone else’s life, the person who introduced them to a world of books.”
Thanks for reading! I really hope y'all enjoyed these. ^.^