The last high school bell I will ever hear rings as all the students around me jump to their feet and flee from the prison of learning. I slowly gather my few things into my old ratty satchel then saunter to the door and into the already empty hallway where the squeak of my deteriorating sneakers seems louder than necessary. Once I finally arrive at my locker I pile all my many books, papers, and general school items into my satchel or the trash then stop when I hear a faint noise not coming from myself. When I turn around I see the only person that could possibly cheer me up on this most miserable of days, Daniel.
"Hey Lily. You up for anything tonight?" his voice is soft but with an obvious undercurrent of command that I always find thrilling. I know not to answer these types of questions from him, if he wants to do something we will be doing it, so I stay silent and just raise a slender eyebrow at his dark blue, almost navy, irises and keep tossing things into the garbage.
"We're going for a walk. I have a special surprise just for you." Daniel leans back against the lockers as he says this and the tone of his voice makes me pause and give him a questioning look suggesting that I can plainly hear his barely contained excitement. His dark brown shaggy hair, in need of a trim, falls across his strong jawline covering a sly smile on perfectly formed slightly red lips. I sigh as I drop my small metal shelf into the roll away trash can and stare silently into my depressingly bare locker. My mouth screws up to one side like it always does when I'm disappointed in something, but it quickly relaxes when Daniel trails his hand down my cheek. I give him a tight smile but can't hide the sadness in my brown eyes. He holds my gaze intensely for a moment then breaks the silence with a quiet burst of his unique clipped laughter.
"Sorry, your just so cute when your sad and can't help looking that way." he whispers this as I roll my eyes and pull my bag to my shoulder. I grunt loudly as I try and yank my long wavy brown hair out from under my strap and Daniel laughs again at my discomfort. I finally begin walking quickly down the hall toward the back parking lot where the route we always walk to my house starts.
"Hey, hey! I didn't mean to upset you, Lil." Daniel grabs my arm and his face pinches out of concern and uncertainty as he frantically apologizes. He tells me he's sorry if I didn't want him to touch me, that he was only trying to comfort me. A smile creeps across my face at him showing his age like he hates to do. I take his hand and wink at him flirtasously, silently telling him it's fine to touch me and that he still has alot to learn. We begin walking, hand in hand, and I feel perfectly at ease then I look over at Daniel, his young soft body, and am reminded that I'm out of high school but he still has 3 years to go. My smile must have fallen because Daniel is staring at me with one hand still in mine and the other on my cheek, brushing his thumb lightly across my creamy skin. I fake a smile, trying to erase his worry lines, but when that doesn't work I wrap my arms around him and lay my head on his chest. He knows exactly what's wrong, it's what we've been shoving to the back of our minds all year but now we have no way to avoid what's barreling down upon us. Hopefully, in a few months I'll be leaving for college but Daniel will still be here.
"Come on, I know my surprise will cheer you up!" Daniel squeezes my hand and we start almost jogging toward my house. I let out a small giggle knowing that I should enjoy the time I have with this wonderfully intelligent young man. His long lanky arm pulls me across the hilly ground making me stumble and him laugh but we finally end up at my modest home tucked away behind a line of trees.
"Go throw your stuff in your room and change into something comfy then meet me by the garden!" Daniel pushes me toward the door and yells this over his shoulder as he runs toward my backyard. A little more than confused, I slowly walk into the house listening for any sign of occupency and hoping no one is home. I creep into the kitchen and, seeing it empty, grab an apple and head to my room at the end of a narrow hallway at the back of the house. I open my door and see my mess of a bedroom with clothes, notebooks, shoes, and who knows what else covering the floor and sigh. I have been meaning to clean it up but things just got in the way and it never got done so now I step lightly and only on the patches of carpet I can see toward my closet. I let my bag fall to the floor on my way and once inside my doorless closet I strip my uncomfortable denim shorts and blue polo in exchange for black gym shorts and a comfy T-shirt. I carefully walk to my window and take a bite of my apple enjoying the solid sound it makes when I snap a chuck out of the bright red skin revealing its soft white innards. Out my small window I see the considerable backyard behind my house with it's perfectly manicured grass, trickling fountain, and flower and pepper garden of which Daniel is lounging next to fondling the sweet smelling plants. I smile remembering all the times I have looked out this window and seen him there waiting for me, playing with the flowers or throwing pebbles into the fountain looking every bit as handsome as the day we met. Tall, lanky but not awkwardly so, dark brown hair always perfectly styled, gorgeous blue eyes I could stare into for hours if he would let me, sharp masculine features, and every part of him fitting together and moving gracefully all the time. I am pulled from my reverie by the sound of my phone vibrating in the shorts I had worn today. I flip it open and read two new messages from Daniel:
Like what you see? ;) why don't you pull yourself away from that window and come out here!
I blush furiously and quickly grab my iPod from my bag then run out the door, down the hall, and through the back glass doors. I slow down when I see Daniel trying hard not to laugh at my obvious embarrassment. Once I cross the lawn to the garden Daniel is up anxiously motioning me to the hole in our chain link fence that is covered by vines and is our usually way of escape when we want to take a walk. He holds back the ivy flourishing his arm, like the gentlemen he always is, and I curtsy then elegantly float through the opening. With Daniel at my heels I head off on our usually route to a secluded spot not too far away. I take one step and am abruptly halted by his long arm and a smirk answering my confusion. Daniel lets his hand slide from my shoulder to my hand as he pulls me in another direction, off any foot path, making me a bit nervous.
"Don't worry, I know where I'm going. I promise." Daniel's voice is softer than usual as he steps lightly through the woods, confidently and with an air of excitement radiating from his whole body. I hesitantly let him pull me forward, I trust him but straying from our usual path does frighten me. I look down at the forest floor, trying to make sure I don't trip, and see that this is almost a path itself with patches of dirt where feet have rubbed the grass away and along the trees I see small broken branches. These slight indications of travel calm my nerves enough so I can wonder where Daniel might be taking me. Scenarios race through my mind that we both could enjoy such as an old war museum, a small pond in a meadow, or a falling building we could explore. I sigh out loud imagining us learning about our favorite wars, swimming and then laying out to dry, or climbing up stone ruins and finding lost treasures. My fantasies are interrupted when I smack into Daniel's back and he has to grab my arms to steady me while trying to hold back his laughter.
"Pay attention Lily! We're almost there I don't want you to fall and hurt yourself or me before you even see your surprise!" Daniel tries to sound mad but I know he really just wants me to do what I always do when he's upset with me. I take his hand and let my other hand trail across his shoulder and chest making him shiver then I stand on my tip toes and lightly kiss his soft lips.
"I can never stay mad at you, Lil." Daniel buries his face in my hair as he whispers this to me and holds me tight. I smile and kiss his cheek making us both giggle as he lets go of me. He then looks around us and takes a deep breath like he's about to confess something and I patiently wait.
"Um...okay well, you know how I've been kind of doing weird random things lately? Well...I've actually been exploring out here looking for somewhere special we could have during the summer. I found this place a few weeks ago and I really think your going to love it." I feel butterflies rise in my stomach as Daniel reveals this to me. My boyfriend Daniel, the now sophmore who always bottles his feelings and keeps to himself, is opening up to how much he wants to be with me even though I'll be going to college. I know my whole face must have lit up because he starts laughing and tells me to calm down and to close my eyes. I obey him and begin shaking giddily while Daniel slowly guides me to our mysterious destination.
I feel the trees fall away from around us and realize we're in some sort of clearing and that it has suddenly become extremely quiet. All I can hear is the sound of our shuffling feet across the grassy floor. Daniel stops me after a few feet and turns me just a bit to the right then stands behind me. I feel his strong slender hands hold my waist and I feel his lips kissing my cheek and up next to my ear so he can whisper to me.
"Lily, this is my gift to you. I know we will use this place well. Now...open your eyes." I take a deep breath, readying myself for this wonderful surprise, and finally open my eyes.
My mouth falls open and I inhale sharply as my eyes and mind take in the most beautifully archaic mansion I had ever seen. The building is all old wood and brick but still sturdy looking with its' three stories and being nearly two times the length of my own house. I let my eyes rake over the entire building from the foreboding attic at the top, down all three floors with their rickety windows and peeling paint, to the cracking stone of the front steps. My eyes are pulled to a small plaque next to a set of double doors at the top of those stairs. I head straight towards it, forgetting that my lovable boyfriend is standing next to me, and slowly creep up the short staircase and take care in looking at every detail I can see. I touch the brick columns next to the entrance and I notice wood detailing around the doors and the warped porch then finally the plain almost black plaque which reads:
Kaigin Family Library
"For those of us who understand the need for adventure in life."
Open All Days, at All Times.
I glance back at Daniel at the bottom of the steps and quizzically scrunch my eyebrows, pointing at the sign. I feel my excitement from this beautiful place bubbling inside me and about to spill out violently as I watch him walk much too slowly up the crumbling steps, torturing me with his lethargy. As soon as his wide foot lands on the porch I grab his hand and yank toward me, making him stumble and almost hit the wall. He regains his balance with a palm against the door frame and squints at the plaque I'm gesturing to frantically. I see his supple lips tremble, barely forming the words under his breath, then his mouth screws up slightly once he gets to the last line. I make him look at me and nod then wait for some kind of explanation for why a giant old library would need to be open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.
"Um...I don't know, I guess back when this was built everybody wanted to read all the time? I can't imagine there being so many people here that this three story mansion would be full at all hours of the day and night but I could be wrong. I mean I'm sure that policy isn't still in effect now." Daniel's adorable mischievous smile spreads across his pointed painfully white face as he practically announces there are still people inside! I feel my eyes pop wide open, my jaw fall, and my heart rate speed up. Daniel squeezes my hand and laughs at me as he pulls me through the rickety double doors into a spacious lobby with dingy tile floors, a few shelves on our left side, and a cozy looking seating area to the right. I let go of him and run to the shelves to look through the sparse amount of books on each shelf. The books are not arranged traditionally by author but by theme, time of publication, or just placed at random. On the top shelf of the first bookcase are all books set in London ordered from most number of pages to least, I see The Repentant Morning in the middle and glance to the end where Bitter Sweets ends the collection. I go to the next case and figure out they are all books by men named John something. My confusion deepens at every shelf as I see two whole shelves full of books who's main character is named Rachel, another of books under one hundred pages, and yet another of books with green covers. I turn around looking for Daniel but see him far down at the other end of the room waiting for me by the door. I sigh but he doesn't hear me so I brace myself to do what I hate doing even to him, speak aloud. I clear my throat quietly and breath deeply.
"Hmm...Daniel?" He whips his head to the sound of my small soft voice and comes running to my side. I point at the books and shake my head sighing because I don't understand.
"Well maybe someone got really bored and decided to rearrange them like this." Daniel laughs halfheartedly and shrugs his shoulders as I roll my eyes and walk calmly toward the door to the rest of the odd library. As I walk I stare at paintings that are beautiful but make no sense to me. I see a white horse in one with no back half standing on the still water of a moonlit lake, the fish underneath the half horse kiss its hooves and the sky above them is deep purple with a crescent moon made blurry as if seen as a reflection on water. Another painting is very small, only a few inches across, of a kite torn to pieces and bleeding but around the picture is the largest frame I have ever seen. It is so large that it matches the height and width of the other wall paintings that have normal small frames and large pictures. I stifle a groan and walk faster not wanting to be any more puzzled than I already am. I hear Daniel pick up the pace and laugh as we pass another abnormal painting featuring a young girl with a dull gray dress but a bright blue, orange, and red tropical bird head.
We finally reach the doors on the other end which are ornately carved with gold inlay and bright twinkling jewels of every color. I blindly reach for the handles, distracted by the dazzling display, but find nothing. A door with no handles? How do people get in? I step back and stare at where it's obvious by the torn wood and peeling gold that the knobs were ripped from the doors. I touch them and feel the raw, exposed, splintered wood and push lightly, nothing happens. I place both hands on either door and push as hard as I can. They shift slightly then burst open and I stumble in after them nearly falling on my face.